Live sound engineer Ken ‘Pooch’ Van Druten (Iron Maiden, Justin Bieber, Linkin Park) shares how he’s been keeping busy at home since the COVID-19 lockdown began—and what live engineers can do to be proactive, gain new knowledge and collaborate with others.
By Ken ‘Pooch’ Van Druten
So the rug got pulled out from our feet. At the time I’m writing this, April 2020, the live sound industry is at a standstill. Tours and events have been canceled, and many of the smartest live audio people I know are at home.
So what do we do? Well, you can be the innovative artistic person that you are. I don’t know about you, but when given all the free time in the world, my go-to is “let’s learn new stuff.” So here’s what I’ve been up to over the past month—hopefully you can find some good ideas!
Luckily, the sheer amount of knowledge to be had out there on the interwebs today is staggering. I wish I had the amount of information that is available now when I was a new engineer!
First of all, there are hundreds of video tutorials on Waves.com that are free knowledge—many dedicated to live sound. Some of the best engineers in the world share their ideas on how to work with Waves products. It’s a goldmine.
Outside of Waves, there are so many podcasts you should listen to: Signal to Noise, Roadie Free Radio, the MxU podcast and The Prodcast are a few that I listen to all the time. In some of these you’ll find valuable information about audio for live streamed events—an important subject today. These days, we should all be figuring out how to provide better audio for the ‘new normal’ of our live streaming, internet-based world.
I also want to mention I’m With The Crew, put on by Show Makers Symposium. It’s a weekly webinar hosted by mental health professionals, focusing on the live event industry. It aims to gain greater insight and control over how we respond to these times, and start again when the time comes. Check it out.
Personally, I’ve been spending the past month learning everything there is to know about SoundGrid audio processing and networking. I’ve finally had the chance to fully integrate SoundGrid into my “in the box” Pro Tools rig in my home studio, with my eMotion LV1 mixer as part of the system.
I actually have two different SoundGrid networks that are all interconnected in my home studio right now, and allow me to move audio around to any one of my three laptops and my Macintosh tower that is running Pro Tools. I have a DiGiGrid DLI interface and an Extreme server on one network, connected to an HDX card in my Macintosh tower; as well as a DiGiGrid IOC interface and another Extreme server for the LV1. With the DLI, I am able to offload Waves plugins DSP to the server, and keep the DSP in my Pro Tools rig to a minimum. With the eMotion LV1 in the loop, I can use it as a summing mixer, because I like the sound of the LV1 summing and the ability to use plugs through its own Extreme server on the stems.
With this setup at home, I can keep busy with my sessions. Not only that—I’ve been using a video editing piece of software that allows me to use SoundGrid as one of its sources. This way I can have my USB microphone and 64 paths of SoundGrid between all my computers. One of my laptops is a playback laptop, one is hosting LV1, and finally my main MacBook Pro is hosting the video editor.
The possibilities are endless. I’m really enjoying getting all of these computers to talk to each other, and to be able to ship audio anywhere I want, with super-low latency.
With this setup, I’ve also been able to do educational video tutorials relating to live sound, on my own. I’ve been posting them on my new YouTube channel—please make sure you subscribe! I’ve posted videos about my console layout for Iron Maiden, my vocal and drum chains with Waves plugins, and much more. It’s a great way to keep busy and contribute to the wealth of knowledge out there today!
Keep your eyes out for a weekly live webinar on my channel, where my good friend Kevin ‘Tater’ McCarthy and I will discuss the relationship between front-of-house and monitor engineers, with special industry guests joining us.
The Power of Connections & Remote Collaborations
I’ve just read an article about Bill Gates. He was asked what his measure for success was, and how he would know when he has reached it. His answer was simple. At the end of every year he asks himself, “Did I develop new friendships and deepen old ones?”
He could have gone on and on about how he started a bazillion dollar company and kept it going for 45 years with 150,000 employees. Instead, what is important to him (and should be to you) are relationships. In this time of social distancing and extreme physical isolation, I implore you to figure out ways to “develop friendships and deepen old ones.” I am so stoked to see people posting on social media about entire tour crews getting together on Zoom, or just checking in with all of their friends on Facetime to make sure that everyone is ok.
Luckily, we have software today that makes online collaborations easier. Have you guys noticed how bad internet audio is? Especially live streamed audio? A good friend of mine from the company AudioMovers has come up with a tool called Listento that allows streaming full bandwidth audio. It really opens up the possibility of high-quality audio collaboration online.
Also, are you guys hip to SoundBetter? It’s a community that lets engineers and producers find musicians (and vice versa) for paid projects. There are hundreds of musicians looking for qualified engineers and producers to work on their projects for a fee. Now, more than ever—this is a great space.
Humans can take a lot. Despite this hardship, we will carry on. It’s what we do. Let’s face it—we are saving the world by sitting on our asses at home. Let’s try to lift each other up. Let’s take advantage of the time. Let’s not let this beat us.