(Photo Credit: Vic Wagner)
Last time, I shared part one of an interview I had with Ken “Pooch” Van Druten, live sound engineer for Linkin Park. Pooch had a lot of great things to say, so many in fact, that I couldn’t contain them in a single post. Last time, we shared Pooch’s thoughts on how live sound mixing can evoke emotions. This time around, I’m going to share a story Pooch told me about how he got into live sound in the first place.
I found this story totally fascinating, and I think it really illuminates both the responsibility and opportunity of being a live sound engineer. As I said in my previous post, I’m a live sound engineer myself, and my story is one that is more about necessity than it is a track I really chose initially. I helped run sound at church, because there was a need and no one else could do it. So, I learned, became a hobbyist and then eventually got good enough that I was a regular volunteer (a “weekend warrior,” as some call it). I love it now, but I sort of fell into it.
Pooch’s story is different, and that’s why I wanted to share it. Here’s what he had to say:
[SKD]: We were speaking about how technology can help evoke emotions, and the way things have changed over the years regarding the role of a sound engineer. Obviously, technology has changed as well. Has that affected what you do?
[POOCH]: Speaker technology has come amazingly far even in just the past five years. It’s amazing to me now just how much we can do. [For] one of the first concerts that I went to as a teenager, I saved my money for an entire summer to go. I mowed lawns and did whatever it took to make some money to buy this ticket. Keep in mind, this was back in the 80s, so the ticket was $15, but that was a lot of money back then.
I saved all of my money and was super stoked to go to this concert, and I went to the show and it sounded horrible. It was the worst experience at a live show that I’ve ever been to; I couldn’t understand anything the vocalist was saying. I couldn’t hear the guitar. All that sort of thing. And even to this day, 40 years later, I remember that show and I remember how it pissed me off that I spent all that money to go see that show and it wasn’t good. As an engineer, I take that to heart.
Luckily, just in the past 5 years or so, technology has really improved—especially technology like the JBL VTX series and the speaker technology and console technology we have now. Take console technology. I’m doing snapshot changes from song to song. Sometimes there are 300 parameter changes from one song to the other. There’s no way I could have done that 15 years ago on an analog desk. We’re at a point now where the guy that’s paying $300 for the tickets down front is getting the same show as the guy that is paying $50 up in the nosebleeds, which to me is fantastic.
Everything that I strove for in my career has stemmed from that bad concert experience. Now I know that the speaker technology has gotten to the point that the 15-year-old kid who saved all of his money during the summer and could only afford the $50 ticket can have the same experience as the guy who bought the $300 ticket. I’m ecstatic as a live sound engineer to be able to provide that, and that’s because of the tools we have now.
Wow, such an awesome story, and it really shows what live sound is really about: a great experience. Technology is only part of that equation. The sound, the lights, the artists, the techs, the audience … they all come together to provide something memorable and unique. When it’s done right, everyone can enjoy that experience—no matter where they sit.
Again, a huge thanks to Pooch for taking the time to speak with us. What about you? How did you get your start in live sound? Let us know in the comments.