Linkin Park guitarist Brad Delson faces away while vocalist Chester Bennington and rapper/ multi-instrumentalist Mike Shinoda let loose into their Sennheiser SKM2000 wireless mics.
By Clive Young.
Ken “Pooch” Van Druten mans an Avid Venue Profile desk at the FOH position when he’s not sequestered in the dressing rooms, mixing every Linkin Park show for download release on a Pro Tools HD 3 system
Linkin Park first rose to fame during the waning days of Nu Metal, but 10 years later, the band is bigger than ever, thanks to an increasingly mature yet experimental sound. While “mature” is usually a codeword for “mellow,” the band’s music remains anything but, now incorporating everything from prog rock to electronica into the longstanding rap/rock amalgam that’s sold 50 million albums worldwide.
Fronted by singer Chester Bennington and rapper/multi-instrumentalist Mike Shinoda, the band just finished the US run for its latest collection, A Thousand Suns; while it will spend the summer playing to massive crowds on the European festival circuit, the US leg tour found Linkin Park taking home that ultimate souvenir of rock success: a concert taped at New York’s Madison Square Garden.
While any world tour will keep an FOH engineer busy, that doesn’t even begin to describe the rise and grind schedule of Ken “Pooch” Van Druten. When not behind the 96-input Avid Venue Profile desk at front-of-house, he can typically be found buried neck-deep in an Avid Pro Tools HD3 rig as he mixes every night’s show for subsequent free download by anyone who bought a ticket.
“Starting at 8AM, they unload the trucks and by 9, I get all the stuff,” he said, pointing to his dressing room workstation. “I work straight from 9 until 4, go out, do a virtual soundcheck and linecheck for an hour. Come back here, work 5 to 8, take a 20-minute break and then do the show. We have a five-day turnaround on shows, so you can guess it’s really constant listening to Linkin Park, especially now with Pro Tools 9; I’m able to mix in my hotel room or on the bus, dragging my MacBook Pro around with all the tracks and plug-ins.”
While there’s no escape, at least the process has gotten easier compared to four years ago when the band first began providing concert downloads. “I didn’t sleep for about a year,” he laughed. “It was really a lot of work; it still is, but now we have a template and things that get us on our way. It’s been really exciting for me—it’s fun now. I get to be really creative about this.”
Kevin “Tater” McCarthy uses a Waves SoundGrid system to add plug-ins to his mixes on the Yamaha PM5D in monitorworld.
Since by necessity Pooch is sequestered with the Pro Tools rig, monitor engineer Kevin “Tater” McCarthy keeps an eye on audio set-up for the night’s festivities, making sure everything progresses as planned at both front-of-house and monitorworld. “I really rely on Tater to be the guy that goes out and takes over that role–and he does it well,” said Pooch.
Keeping everything moving forward during set-up requires something akin to preventative troubleshooting, Tater explained: “Me and (monitor tech) Paul White do a small line check ourselves before they tune the PA, just so that when Pooch comes out, we’re not wasting any time with ‘Hey, this line isn’t set up.’ He’s mixing all day in there, so we don’t want him to have to wait for us. Not only is it faster this way, but if there’s a problem, we know it’s his side of the split and we can work from that.”
Gear and crew for the US leg was supplied once again by Audio Analysts (Colorado Springs, CO) and Atomic Pro Audio (Rutland, VT), with the latter providing a sizable Adamson Systems house PA. “I think it’s the best PA out there right now, d&b being a close second,” said Pooch. “As I get older, I find that I am mixing with less volume, mixing at 102 A-weighted at FOH with some 103 peaks here and there. It’s a responsible level that gives you impact, but you’re not hurting people. Adamson plays into that well with their 21” stuff; you still get lots of movement on the low end and you can really impact the room with an 808 hit or whatever, even at 102 dB.
Audio Analysts (Colorado Springs, CO)
Atomic Pro Audio (Rutland, VT)
Ken “Pooch” Van Druten
Kevin “Tater” McCarthy
John “Boo” Bruey
Chris Hoff, Evan McElhinney
Spencer Ellis, Todd Hartman, Ray Tittle, Jubal Reeves
Avid Venue Profile 96-input, Pro Tools HD
Yamaha PM5D, DSP5D
Adamson Y-18, Y-10, T-21 subs, SpekTrix, Metrix, SX-18
Adamson M12, SX-18; Audio Analysts 15 SLP wedges, 360 VFX sidefills, ELF 218 sub
Sennheiser SR 2050, EK 2000 IEM
Lab.gruppen PLM 10000 Q; Crown I-Tech 5000HD
Dolby Lake DLP processors; XTA 448; Waves Live, McDSP, URS, Sound Toys plug-ins
Waves SoundGrid plug-ins
Audio-Technica AT4050, AT4047, AE2500; SHURE 57, 91; Sennheiser EM2050, SKM2000 with 865 capsule; Radial DI
Acts with effect-heavy, manipulated production have always been a trick to reproduce live, and Linkin Park has traditionally been no exception. That’s changing, however, as the lines between the studio and the stage continue to blur. “The first single, “The Catalyst,” has a very effected vocal, almost no real vocal,” said Pooch. “First time I heard it, I was like, ‘Aw, man; how am I going to make that live? It’s gonna take a chorus and a delay and….’ Then I went through the album’s multis and it was just a preset they’d made on a Waves plug-in called MetaFlanger. I was picturing all this work and it was literally—boop—steal the preset and I have it. All my worries of figuring out how to make it were gone.”
A side effect of that studio/stage blurring, however, is that it can trigger the rampant perfectionism of recording, and all the good and bad that comes with it. “I’ve had situations where I’ve gone off the map and said, ‘I can get the bass on that, I can nail it.’ And I struggle, spend hours on it and I can’t get it quite right. Then I tuck my tail between my legs, call up the engineer and it’s ‘OK, can you email me the preset?’”
Now plug-ins have become part of the arsenal used at monitorworld, hidden directly behind the band’s multi-level, arrowhead-shaped stage. There, Tater handles the band’s individual mixes on a Yamaha PM5D console attached to a Waves SoundGrid system, allowing him to use various Waves plug-ins. “Pooch originally gave me a demo of it when I was doing Slash, and I haven’t done a gig without it since; I absolutely love it,” said Tater. “I mainly use it to insert compression and limiting on the in-ear outputs, so each ear output has that on it—the SSL G-Master Buss Compressor, an L2 Ultramaximizer and a C4 Multiband Processor on each output. And then for Chester and Mike, I’ve inserted a Renaissance Compressor and De-Esser on each of their vocals.”
Guitarist Brad Delson gets his audio from a pair of wedges onstage and 10 more hung beneath the perimeter grille-deck, but the rest of Linkin Park wears Sennheiser wireless packs connected to JH16 earpieces from JHAudio. Each earpiece sports a customized Comply foam sleeve, produced from molds of the band’s ears and then shaved down slightly by Jerry Harvey in order to provide a tighter seal for the musicians. Unsurprisingly, most of the bandmembers get a traditional band mix with their own instruments or vocals on top, with the exception of drummer Rob Bourdon. “He’s a drummer with no drums in his mix,” said Tater. “He likes to use his in-ears as ear plugs and whatever he can’t hear, we put in there.”
The hours leading up to the Madison Square Garden concert taping may have been tense for some in the Linkin Park camp, but the engineers were almost surprised at how unaffected they were. “I like to pretend it affects us more than it does,” laughed Tater. “We did a slightly longer line check, just waiting for the recording truck to say ‘OK.’ We usually have our own redundant record, but today the truck is on that side of the split; after all, we don’t need a redundant if they’re there.” And the big change for Pooch? “Our FOH position is usually at 95 feet, but today, it’s about 80 from the stage.”
And with that, the interview, the virtual soundcheck and the linecheck were all complete. Giving one last glance around the empty arena, Pooch turned and headed back to his Pro Tools rig, deep in the dressing rooms, where download show number 345 was still waiting to be finished and sent out into the world.
Atomic Pro Audio
Adamson Systems Engineering
Yamaha Commercial Audio Systems, Inc.