As part of our On The Road With…. series, we spoke with Jake McLaughlin, the monitor engineer for Beach House. We asked about life on the road and about how he landed one of the best tours of the year. His advice is spot on and funny to boot!
Hi Jake — thank you for taking time out of your schedule to talk with us. It’s been a busy year for you for sure. When did you start the current tour with Beach House?
I have been touring with them since the release of the latest record; May I believe. We have now covered most of the U.S. and Europe. We’re headed to Australia and Japan soon.
How long is the run for? What comes next?
The current stint will be 9 weeks long in total — five weeks in the U.S. straight into four weeks in Europe. Typically each tour is about a month long with a couple weeks at home. This one has definitely pushed us to our limits. I think I am addicted to the constant motion.
What’s your current set-up look like? What gear were you able to spec for the run?
I am running monitors for a 3 piece. 2 of them are on house wedges every night and one is on ears. I operate on an SC48 console that we travel with. For the IEM’s we use the Sennheiser G3 and the UE-7.
What are challenges that you find yourself dealing with most often?
Inconsistent variables of which I have no control. Different types of rooms, wedges, etc. I use the same approach every day to get the best on stage sound possible, but some days it works out drastically better than others. I definitely feel much more in control when mixing the IEM mix compared to the wedges. But I really enjoy the challenges of mixing wedges as well.
So the album Bloom really exploded and you’ve been on all the late-night talk shows. How’s that experience been for you?
Taping those shows makes for a strange and very cold day. You get there at the crack of dawn to hurry up and wait most of the day in a tiny little dressing room. The studios are kept horribly cold and you don’t get to operate any of the equipment. You just get to “advise” a jaded union man. Communication skills are more important than engineering skills on these days.
I have to ask, I’m a huge fan of “Later…with Jools Holland.” He always seems to really coax amazing performances from his musical guests. How was that venue for you — sound-wise?
It is a unconventional approach for a on TV musical performance for sure. The room is treated well to give all of the staging areas for each band its own smaller room vibe and sound. The monitors were key though as there was little to no bounce back from FOH. There is no line of site with the band so you just hope you got it right during sound check.
How did you get started with Beach House? Who were you out with before?
I had toured in the past with Yeasayer. They share a manager with Beach House. I started as their tour manager and quickly moved to monitors. I was missing being a part of the performance. Prior to this I had mostly been a TM / FOH. Doing monitors has been a completely different monster. I am excited to take what I have learned and get back out to FOH. Before this I was out with Fleet Foxes, Delta Spirit and Menomena.
How did you actually start mixing sound?
I faked it. I was in a band with this young kid who’s step dad was a sound guy at the Casbah in San Diego. He needed to get a shift covered and asked me if I knew how to do sound. I said yes and eventually was there full time for several years cutting my teeth and quickly jumped into touring with any band that would take me — lots and lots of van tours.
Who were a few of your mentors while you were coming up?
In college, I used to promote shows but knew nothing about the technical side of things. The guy I hired to set up the PA and mix these shows was the first person to show me how anything worked. I asked a lot of questions. Other than that guy, one of the first bands I first toured with was fronted by two brothers. They taught me a lot as well. They had been touring independently at a small level for a long time; a true working man’s band. I slept on floors and earned 20 dollars a day. I don’t have a ton of experience with building PAs and I am far from a gear-head or audiophile. For me it was always just about using the available tools to help create the best possible musical moments for the band. It's supposed to be fun.
Any advice that you want to share?
Fake it til you make it. It’s rock and roll not rocket science.
And lastly, in your opinion, what is a good mix?
I definitely do not think that it’s black and white as in this is what is needed for a good mix and if it doesn’t have this then it’s a bad mix. No way! It’s mostly grey and difficult to articulate and it changes from moment to moment. That is why I love it. I love to chase whatever I feel will make it good right then.
I guess for a record, a good mix is something I find interesting and does a song justice. But for live music — it’s an entirely different thing. I have always said that I would rather hear a great song that sounds horrible than a horrible song that sounds amazing.
Well said. Well said! And with that, many thanks Jake. We’ll be seeing you out on the road!
Jake McLaughlin is a Tour Manager and Live Sound Engineer. 8 years on the road and as a house engineer at the Casbah in San Diego. Currently he is production manager and monitors engineer for International dream pop sensation Beach House.