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A-T interview with Paul Massaro, FOH for Andrew W.K.

As front of house engineer for Andrew W.K. (known for his “party hard” rock ‘n’ roll), Paul Massaro has seen Audio-Technica’s AE6100 stand up to some serious challenges: “He really wails on it, beats it up, it flies out in the crowd.” The mic survives. Massaro sat down with A-T for an interview at Summer Sonic 2006 in Tokyo.

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As front-of-house engineer for Andrew W.K. (known for his “party hard” rock ‘n’ roll), Paul Massaro has seen Audio-Technica’s AE6100 stand up to some serious challenges: “He really wails on it, beats it up, it flies out in the crowd.” The mic endures. Massaro shared this and other tales from the road when he sat down with A-T for an interview at Summer Sonic 2006 in Tokyo.

Audio-Technica: How did you get involved in the pro audio industry?
Paul Massaro: I started in a band. Played drums. I had a hodge-podge studio in my dad’s basement and kind of just figured out how to do stuff like that.

Where were you living?
I was in Colorado. Near Boulder. Lafayette. Little, small, middle of nowhere. My dad was in a band when he was younger, and he had a couple of mics, we had all the equipment there. I just learned how to use it then and got a job interning at a club—Double Door in Chicago. I started at the bottom and worked my way up. I started touring two years later—in ’95—and haven’t stopped since.

What have your experiences been with Audio-Technica microphones?
You come across them every once in a while, usually on bigger tours. It seems that’s where they show up more rather than smaller venues, where they usually just have older mics and whatever. It’s always a joy when you see some nice Audio-Technica mics up there—you know your guitar’s going to sound exactly how your guitar sounds, so you won’t have to do much EQing. It’s unfortunate they’re not in more of the smaller clubs where you actually need that because the boards are usually pretty sub-par, so if you had a great mic, it would be perfect. Hopefully we will always have Audio-Technica now, so we’ll be ahead of the game there.

Any special challenges in miking Andrew W.K.?
(Laughs.) We’ve got seven mics across the front plus a handheld and a wireless. Live all the time. I never know who’s going to sing where. So they’re all always live, and you basically have that noise floor to begin with. And then the challenge goes on to three guitars, six electronic tracks that are full-range, so that’s sub sonic, mid-range, high. And then a really large drum kit.

Are you on in-ear monitors?
No. The drummer’s the only one on ears.

So what you’re saying is seven open microphones across the front with five wedges?
Yes. You get so much bleed from everything. Most of the guys can sing pretty loud, but still I have the gains pretty high, so when there’s no one in front of that mic, you‘re just getting a bit of everything—and not the best frequencies of everything. Usually the thinner and high end shoots right into them, cymbals—especially in small clubs. It really helps to know the songs. You can mute them. But that’s probably the biggest challenge to getting a clean sound. Other than that, there’s usually about 100 kids on the stage in the American shows. It’s definitely one of the most insane shows I’ve seen, and I’ve seen a lot of shows.

Has the 6100 vocal mic helped with the stage spill?
It’s been great for him, actually. He sings in all different ranges: he’ll sing quiet, he’ll scream and he’ll bang the mic on his leg, he’ll use the mic as an instrument. He really wails on it, beats it up, it flies out in the crowd. We’ve found it and it’s still there, it still works. So far I’ve really enjoyed using the AE6100. It sounds great.

What’s your favorite A-T microphone?
I’ve always been a fan of the AT4050 side-address condenser. I’ve used those a lot on guitar mainly. And yesterday we had 3035 for overheads. That was great. I didn’t have to do much to it except turn it on. I liked that—and the vocal mic [AE6100] is amazing.

Do you have a specific audio chain for vocals?
I do basically straight into the board to the best compressor that’s available. If I’m on tour I’ll usually use my own, some sort of a tube compressor to give it a nice smooth sound. I think my favorite compressor is just in general the BSS with the de-essers built into them that seems to kill any hard screaming that might happen.

Any unusual use of A-T mics?
We don’t have anything that unusual—it’s pretty much guitars, bass and drums. With the cymbal mics, I’ve been playing with placement; I put one behind and one in front because the layout is awkward. It seems to work well to have one in front and one behind and then a ride.

How long have you been with this band?
I did their first show ever; I was doing monitors at the time. Due to budget I took a break and continued on to do Mastodon, out of Atlanta, they’re a great band, and Brazilian girls from New York —completely opposite of Mastodon but also great. Then back to Andrew W.K. That’s about it. Haven’t had time for much else.

I always like to find out if there are any tips you’d give for someone starting out. Anything you would have done differently, or stuff you did right starting out.
I think that the good thing starting out is that I started out doing monitors—that’s how I started. You really get comfortable learning the language of frequencies. I think that’s probably the most important step: knowing your frequencies. You know where something is, and you know how to fix a problem. Other than that, just the chain of signal flow, learning to solve problems quickly. Those are the key things, I think.

After that, being a musician might help for producing live. You’re pretty much an all-in-one producer; you don’t get another take. So it helps being a musician, because you’re used to getting it right the first time.

And have fun. Be a good person that can hang out with other people in small quarters. Because that’s about 80 percent of the job, getting along with people well and not being intolerable. The people that last in the business are those that you want to hang out with.