Disclaimer: This interview may not be reproduced in part or in entirety without the written consent of LPLive.net.
For those of you familiar with LP's official live audio releases, you've already heard Pooch's work. He is the man responsible for mixing Linkin Park's live performances every night...twice! Not only does he do the mixing for the digital souvenir pack downloads, he also runs the soundboard at each concert. We recently got in touch with Pooch and asked him a few questions about his job, life on the road, and some of the behind-the-scenes Linkin Park stuff that not many people know about. We hope you enjoy and we'd love to hear your thoughts! Thank you very much to Pooch for doing the interview and thank you to Astat, for coming up with these great questions!
> Q: For those fans who might not know exactly what a front-of-house engineer is, can you give a bit of insight into what you do?
Front of house is an old theater term derived from front of THE house. This describes the general area in front of the stage, which in modern terms means the arena or stadium floor. Basically what I do is mix the sound that the audience hears. Each instrument is individually mic'd with it's own microphone and I take all of those individual instruments and combine them to make the mix of music that you hear standing in the audience. This includes deciding how loud, and what kind of EQ is on each instrument to achieve the best mix or combination of sound known as a mix. What this also entails is being in charge of an entire sound crew that sets up a vast amount of sound equipment to make sure that every seat in the audience sounds the same, and sounds good. (At least that is what we strive for.) BTW - there is another engineer that does exactly what I do, but mixes what the band hears. He is known as the monitor engineer, and for Linkin Park his name is Kevin "Tater" McCarthy.
> Q: What's your background/how did you get to where you are now (generic question, I know)?
I have been a musician all my life. I played classical piano from age 3 onwards. Studied woodwinds in high school (flute and clarinet) with the first chair woodwind player of the San Francisco Symphony orchestra. Discovered the electric guitar when I was 15, and started playing in rock bands. A band that I was playing in, won a local battle of the bands contest and the prize was a weekend in a recording studio in Los Angeles. I fell in love with the studio world, and decided that I wanted to be there. Won a scholarship to the prestigious music school - Berklee College of Music in Boston Massachusetts. Graduated with a Bachelors degree (and honors) in Music Production and Engineering. The whole time I was going to school I was working at a local studio in Boston. I worked my way up from being the guy who takes out the garbage, to becoming the head engineer. I moved to California and started working as an independent producer and recording engineer. I spent about three years working in LA, and was asked to mix a live show by one of the bands that I was working with in the studio. I fell in love with the instant gratification of mixing live sound and the feeling of having 15,000 people screaming for something that you are working on. I never looked back. Been mixing live sound for fifteen years now and have been lucky enough to work with some of the biggest bands in the business. From KISS to Whitney Houston, System of a Down to Linkin Park I have had a great career, and it just keeps getting better.
> Q: How/when did you get involved with Linkin Park?
In 2003 I was working for Limp Bizkit. We embarked on a stadium tour with Metallica and Linkin Park known as the Summer Sanitarium tour. I got to know a lot of the guys who worked for Linkin Park on that tour including the manager. In 2006, the front of house engineer that had been with Linkin Park for many years decided to leave to work with other bands which opened up a spot. When searching for a replacement the manager remembered my work with Limp Bizkit and gave me a call. I have been working with LP since January 2007.
> Q: You've been behind the board for a bunch of big-name bands. How does mixing a band of precise musicians like LP differ from mixing a band like KISS, whose shows are more about being bombastic, loud, full of explosions, etc.?
Mixing LP brings me back to my days of being a producer and recording engineer. It is more critical listening, and allows me to be a bit more creative with placement within the stereo spectrum. Getting all the little nuances of their music translated into the live show is always a challenge. My biggest hurdle is always the actual physical architecture of the room. Most sports arenas were designed to hold sporting events. They are not necessarily the best SOUNDING places. Especially when you amplify the sound and excite the room with as much energy as a rock show. Sometimes you win, all you can do is your best. My goal is always to make the furthest row all the way in the nose bleed seats sound the same as the front row. And to give those people the best sound possible.
> Q: Speaking of KISS for a second, a friend pointed out to me that you were the FOH engineer for the Alive IV Symphony show (performance with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra). What was that like? I'd imagine that had to be a tough show to do.
Funny you bring that up. That is actually one of the shows I am most proud of. The logistics of it were huge. 60 piece symphony orchestra mixed with a rock band, plus a children's choir, an "acoustic" set with small string ensemble, and many other little audio nightmares. I believe it was around 150 inputs of stuff. Three record trucks, etc. Largest scale thing I have done in my career. I think that the coolest part was a symphony orchestra coming thru the speakers at 118 dB. Just to put that in perspective volume wise - that is like standing near a jet taking off. It was pretty awesome. The Telstra dome in Melbourne (indoor soccer stadium) was sold out. An exciting night that took about two weeks to set up and tear down. Good times.
> Q: Shifting back to LP, they've been selling professional audio recordings of their shows since Projekt Revolution last year. I understand you and Dylan Ely are basically the people in charge of that entire process, so can you explain how it all works and how you two divide up the work?
Dylan and I are in charge of the whole process. Mike Shinoda acts as executive producer and tunes in occasionally to make sure we are providing the fans with the vision that he has for Linkin Park. But for the most part we are left to make it the best possible product it can be.
The shows are multi-track recorded in two different places so that if one machine breaks down the other machine will keep working. We use computers to record the show (specifically a piece of software called Pro Tools) and as we all know computers are not perfect and occasionally do crash, hence the need for two systems. Once the show is over we take the show and back it up to another firewire drive the same night. So now the material is actually in THREE different places. Just like with all computer data backup, backup, backup. (Have you backed up your hard drive today? - this is just a reminder :-) ) We have also have two more duplicate Pro tools mix stations. These live in two separate dressing room areas at the shows. Dylan works on one during the day, and I work on the other. After the show is recorded it goes to Dylan for editing and initial template and computer work. Basically Dylan gets the shows completely ready for me to mix them. This takes about 6 hours of work per show. Then Dylan gives me the edited and cleaned up copy of the show that I mix for about 10 hours. This includes doing volume rides and mixing in all of the audience microphones to give the show a complete live sound.
Dylan and I really strive to make it high quality. We want you to feel like you are standing there at the show. So many "live" recordings these days sound like they were done in a studio and then audience tracks were added later. We really wanted to capture the feeling of being at a LP show and standing in the audience. I think that we have succeeded in doing that.
After I mix the show, it goes back to Dylan to be edited for track ID's and uploaded to the LP live website. All in all it is about 24 hours of work per show between the two of us.
> Q: This question may be better answered by Dylan, but just going off of people's cellphone, etc. clips from shows that are posted on Youtube, I've noticed a few instances where some mistakes seem to have been "fixed" for the audio releases (Brad playing the intro to Valentine's Day in the wrong key at the Basel show comes to mind). They're very infrequent, so I'm not making any accusations or anything, but a lot of other mistakes get left in, so what kind of criteria are there for editing something vs. leaving it untouched?
Basically we try desperately to leave it as an untouched performance in keeping with the philosophy of providing a "like you were there" product. But also we realize that these recordings will be listened to over and over by the fans unlike the one time listen at the show. If something is so glaringly wrong, (like Basel) we feel compelled to fix it to the best of our ability. Sometimes we just CAN'T fix something. There is a lot of technical reasons why, but the simplest explanation is that some things are just impossible to fix. When Dylan and I "fix" something we have long discussions and dialog with each other and often try several different things and techniques to repair the problem to get the best possible performance AND keep the closest actual performance. It is a juggling act that thankfully we do not need to do all that often with this band.
> Q: Was LP recording their concerts prior to offering them for download (i.e. were the May/June 2007 shows in Europe recorded)? A lot of people seem to think that there's a "Linkin Park vault" somewhere with a crapload of archived, unreleased live recordings.
Prior to Projekt Revolution 2007 we recorded some things sporadically. I believe there is some B-sides on some imports, etc. from our rehearsals and club shows in March/April 2007. But prior to January 2007, when Dylan and I came onto the scene, there is not any regular recordings of LP. There is a "Linkin Park Vault" somewhere, but it only contains recordings from January 2007 and onwards. And NOT every show. We started recording EVERY single show in June 2007 - Projekt Revolution - and onwards.
> Q: Again, this may not be something you could answer, but do you have any idea why the Australia/New Zealand shows last year weren't made available for purchase when all the other ones after Projekt Revolution were? You have that clip of them singing happy birthday to you in Australia on your blog, so I'm assuming those shows were recorded...
Those shows WERE recorded and in fact, some, are fully mixed and in the "Linkin Park Vault." Unfortunately they will never be released to my knowledge. Don't know the exact logistics, but there is a lot of negotiation with regional music distributors in regards to the release of the live shows. Some distributors see it as a threat to sales of the album (Minutes to Midnight) and don't authorize the sales of the live stuff. Don't quote me, but I believe this is what happened in Australia, and there are some other places where it is always a battle. Europe being one of them. Luckily Warner distribution in the US has been behind the product all the way, and so far they are able to release any US show.
> Q: Gear junkie question! What kind of audio system do you use on the road with LP?
The speaker system is made by a Canadian company called Adamson. They are really cutting edge with their gear, and it was a decision by everyone involved to use the best possible speaker system available. They are the best sounding line array in the business right now in my humble opinion. We are using XTA processors with Lab Grupen amplifiers. The front of house console is a Digidesign Profile control surface running the latest version of Digidesign D-show software. I use mostly Waves, URS, TC Electronics, Eventide, McDSP, Crane Song, and Serato plug ins. All processing is in the console. I use three Dolby Lake Processors as digital matrix and EQ. With wireless technology I can take a laptop with me to anywhere in the room and EQ from there. In fact my systems engineers are constantly walking the room upstairs and down with a wireless tablet and adjusting things to make it better for where they are standing (therefore better for everyone) DURING the show. (If you see someone walking around in the audience with a wireless tablet during the show - that is my assistant.) There is a Pro Tools HD3 rig with a dual processor Macintosh G5 Intel tower. It is digilink cabled to HDX cards on the console. I record a Left/Right mix of my console also for archive purposes. My mix goes to a Waves Maxx BCL for some compression and gets distributed to my laptop running pro tools and using a M-Audio firewire interface along with two Alesis Masterlink CDR recorders for backup. Geeky enough for you?
> Q: It's one of the oldest rules of concert-going: Don't bug the sound guy. Do people STILL come up and ask for soundboard patches, or just annoy you in general?
Actually every LP fan has been really cool. I have worked for other bands where people can be a bit annoying (too much alcohol and such), but for the most part before and after the show I enjoy speaking with fans. Especially if they are interested in the gear. (I am a gear head at heart) I think most people are intimidated by the gear and may be intimidated by my appearance (being a large tattooed old guy) but do not be afraid, unless I have had a really bad day, or something has gone horribly wrong with the gear, I am usually in a good mood to talk with fans. :-) I am especially stoked when people had a good time, and stop by front of house on their way out to say that they thought it sounded really good, and recognize that I worked hard to make that happen.
> Q: Speaking of soundboard patches, I know part of the purpose of LP releasing the soundboard recordings was to provide a better alternative to bootleg recordings from the audience. I know the band themselves don't really object to people taping their shows, but as the sound guy, what's your take on it?
Well - I think that people will do whatever they want to do. If they really want to record the band themselves they can. But I believe that they are getting a far superior product if they listen to what Dylan and I do. I have watched on You Tube some of the most hideous recordings of shows done on people's cell phones and such. They are always distorted to hell and sound horrible, but people still check em out. I think that LP Live gives the fans a choice to download a quality representation of the show that they were at, and relive it over and over.
> Q: Some of the most legendary stories from the road come from crew members. Are there any crazy/funny experiences you've had (with LP or otherwise) that stand out?
My life is a crazy story. I can neither confirm nor deny anything that has EVER happened on the road. :-) Plus my confidentiality clause in my contract with bands means that I will not be writing any tell all books in the near future.
> Q: Being on the road with the same band for months at a time, I'd imagine it gets kind of monotonous after a while, watching more or less the same show every night (not so much with LP since they rotate sets). What do you do to keep yourself from going insane over the same routine every day?
Every day is different. Yes the band plays pretty much the same show. But every building is different sounding and therefore presents a new challenge. Some days get a little monotonous, but for the most part it is the reason that I prefer touring over working in the studio - it IS different every day.
> Q: And lastly, what kind of advice do you have for people interested in your field of work? I have a friend who's just getting started, just bought his first mixer, 6 mics, and 2 PA speakers.
Well I would caution anyone that it is a really hard field to break into. I often feel like I am so lucky to work with some of the bands that I work with. There is honestly about 20 guys that work with the larger scale bands as front of house engineers, and we all know each other. We all go after the same gigs, and it is really hard to break into that "good ole boys" club. It can be done, but you have to have a lot of talent and a lot of perseverance. I am not trying to discourage anyone, I am just being honest. There is not a whole lot of industries where there is thousands of people trying to get into the position of being one of the twenty. The odds are against you. But if you work hard and are at the right place at the right time you just might win the lottery.
> Q: Thanks very much for allowing us to do this interview! Any last comments? Ready for Projekt Revolution?
You are welcome. Dylan and I are flattered that there are so many of you out there checking out and enjoying the work that we do every day. Thanks for that. We hope that you continue to enjoy it and that you think it keeps getting better.
Things are gonna be busy come late May. We leave for Europe on June 6th and then straight into Projekt Rev for the Summer. Should be lots of fun. See you out there.