Rising Stars: Jack McKenna
Engineer talks about working at Lightship95 and Artillery Studios, a recent live broadcast project and his admiration for Steve Albini.
There is now just a few weeks to go until the 2016 Pro Sound Awards at London’s Ministry of Sound.
Upon receiving excellent submissions from all areas of the trade for the Rising Stars Award, we recently revealed the shortlist of nominees and spoke to all of them about their Pro Audio journeys so far. Now it is finalist Jack McKenna’s turn to tell us why he deserves to be recognised as the industry’s most promising young professional.
After racking up a number of assistant credits at Artillery Studios, McKenna took over the engineering position for Last.fm’s Lightship95 sessions and has had some of his proudest works released this year including albums with Melt Yourself Down, Teeth of The Sea and Eden Royals.
How did you start out and where did you study?
I began recording bands about a decade ago, when I was 15 or 16. Growing up in South Bucks, I was blessed by a thriving local music scene, which seemed to be a bit of an anomaly - although I didn't know that at the time.
I used to play drums for a local band, and when it came time to recording some demos, the most affordable option was to try DIY. I remember we tracked drums using an electric kit, guitars and bass using a Line 6 Pod, and vocals with a very basic condenser. It might not sound glamorous but it did the job, and soon enough other local bands wanted to use my setup for the same purposes. Every penny earned would be reinvested into more gear.
I was lucky that my school tried out a Music Technology course the same year I was do A-Levels, and then I continued onto Leeds College of Music to study Music Production.
Where are you based?
I've spent the last three and half years working out of Lightship95 in East London. It's predominantly a tracking facility with an impressive back line and decent sized live room. I'm the in-house engineer here, but regularly take on the role of assistant when visiting engineers are in.
When did you get into the industry?
My first real studio job was Artillery Studios in Spitalfields. That was only a few months after I graduated, so would have been the end of 2011.
I was really lucky to start my career by learning whilst assisting on records by the likes of U2, Jessie Ware, and Little Comets.
Who are your biggest influences?
I think it'd be unfair to name anyone other than my current and past mentors as the largest influences on my recording career. The reason I record the way I do now is down to Ben Phillips, producer and owner of Lightship95. Whilst I do absorb techniques and philosophies from other producers in the public eye, I do owe credit to Ben for developing my skills to where they are now.
Before joining the Lightship, I worked alongside Donald Clark of Artillery Studios. Not only did Donald show me the ins and outs of operating and repairing an SSL G+ console, he taught me how important it is to have a persevering work ethic: A valuable asset for anyone looking to have a career with longevity in this industry.
Can you tell us about any recent projects, or what you are working on currently?
I recently recorded and mixed a live session for NTS radio and Ninja Tune. Sarathy Korwar, Hieroglyphic Being, and Shabaka Hutchings all set up together to perform a live improvisation session. Unlike anything I normally do in the studio, I had to mix on the fly for an hour and a half as it was all live broadcast. It was more like being a FOH and monitor engineer, only in a studio environment whilst hundreds of people would tune in and out at any given moment.
Aside from that, a handful of albums that I've engineered have been released this year including Teeth of The Sea's fourth studio album 'Highly Deadly Black Tarantula', and 'Last Evenings on Earth' by Melt Yourself Down.
Can you tell us about some of your favourite gear? What do you find yourself relying on for projects?
Since I find myself tracking most of the time, I have a lot of go-to microphones such as Beyer M201 on the snare, or M160 on the guitar cab, but nothing stands out to me as totally irreplaceable. In fact, I relish a challenge and often seek to change things up a bit. It's always nice to assist another producer or engineer in the studio to see how they like to approach things.
If there was one thing that I do find unique; it's the Valhalla Vintage Verb plugin. No two reverbs ever sound the same, and often they can be trying to do too much, but I always know what I'm getting with this reverb and it always sounds great.
If you could work with one figure in the industry, who would it be and why?
I'd love to be on a session with Steve Albini. The way he records and mixes an album with such speed implies to me that he must be very decisive and immediate with everything he does, which is something I strive to do whenever appropriate.
Where do you want to be in ten years?
I'll feel absolutely blessed if in ten years I am still able to work with amazing musicians on great records. I will always prefer to work on anything a bit left-field, especially if it calls for me to record it in a new approach, but as long as I'm able to enjoy myself making music, I'll be happy.