LD Spotlight Interview:
When opportunity knocks, embrace it. That philosophy has served lighting pro Rob Koenig well since his start in the lighting industry over 20 years ago and look where it’s led him. Metallica, Guns ‘N’ Roses, Billy Idol, Deep Purple, Janet Jackson, Carrie Underwood – the longtime Floridian has worked with some of the top names in the business. With musical roots and a lifelong love of music at his core, this much-sought-after LD honed his craft through opportunity and years of hard work.
What did you want to be growing up?
A rock star, of course! My family was very musical and I’ve always been surrounded by music. My Dad played classical piano, my sister was very into music and my brother played the drums. I wanted to be like my brother so I played the drums and was in a band. My favorite thing as a kid was music. I remember I even got into trouble for bringing rock records to school for show and tell.
Who did you listen to?
I loved Rush and KISS. I outgrew KISS but I still love to listen to Rush.
What are you most proud of in your career?
That’s a tough question. It’s probably being part of the Metallica family, and Guns N’ Roses reunion shows in 2016 [Rob was lighting designer for Metallica and lighting director/programmer for Guns N’ Roses]. I was part of two of the biggest rock tours in the same year for two of rock music’s biggest bands ever. It floored me when I stopped and thought about it. I was 20 when Metallica and Guns N’ Roses toured together and was a huge fan of both as a kid. I’m also a fan of Janet Jackson and this summer I programmed her tour. That was another ‘wow’ moment.
You’ve worked with some big names – Metallica, Guns N’ Roses, Billy Idol, Carrie Underwood and so many more. How much do you actually work with the artists themselves?
It depends on the show. With artists who really focus on the choreography you might work more closely with them but some don’t know about lighting. Many artists don’t know specifically what they want but they know what they don’t want when they see something they don’t like. Most will give you a framework and let you go with it. But I love it if an artist will sit down with me at the console. It’s their picture that you’re helping to create and it’s always great to see it through their eyes. I recently sat down with an artist for two days and it was great to get in his head and talk more in depth. He’s quite the character and talked a lot about rockabilly and rock country. It was a cool moment that I’ll never forget.
I heard that when you first started working with Metallica, they didn’t call you by your name but simply referred to you as the number “6”. What’s that about?
Butch Allen had directed lighting on Metallica for years but eventually left that role and the band was having problems filling his shoes. Apparently there were five others who they had tried as lighting director but none of them worked out. I was the sixth and I stuck. I had listened to Metallica music since I was a kid so it came easy for me. I was even listed in the tour itinerary as “6”.
What part of lighting do you enjoy the most?
I love the design and the programming process. I loved programming from early on, before we really called it “programming,” and loved learning what lighting consoles could do.
What comes to mind when I say ‘Elation Professional’?
Stepping up the game. Over the last year to 18 months, Elation has gone from what I would call a more average company to launching lights that can really contend. The company is interested in knowing what we want and I like what they’re doing, especially with the new IP65-rated products.
Have you used Elation much?
I had some Cuepix WW4 blinders on Guns N’ Roses and also on Janet Jackson this summer. I’ve looked at the Proteus Hybrid, which I think is really interesting, and I also like the Chorus Line.
What advice would you give to a young lighting designer just starting out?
That’s hard as everyone has their own path. I would say keep your head on straight and don’t buy into the partying. Also do your research. Look into the band you’re going out with. Not just their music but videos, interviews, whatever you can find. That paid off for me on Guns N’ Roses for example when I saw a Jimmy Kimmel interview with Axl Rose where Kimmel asked him why he always leaves the stage during songs. Rose replied that he actually feels uncomfortable standing in front of a crowd when he’s not singing. So when I was lighting Guns N’ Roses after he had broken his foot and was stuck on his ‘throne’ on stage all concert long, I made sure I kept the spotlight off of him during guitar solos when he wasn’t singing. It made those moments more comfortable for him and I think it’s something he appreciated.
If you hadn’t become a lighting designer, what do you think you’d be doing today?
Probably a studio engineer at a recording studio. I went to Full Sail University to study that, not lighting, and it’s the first thing I wanted to do. I’m still fascinated by the studio environment.
What are you currently working on?
I’m currently on a U.S. arena run with Metallica.
This industry can be tough on people. What do you do to stay healthy?
I meditate to clear my head. I also read and try to walk in every city I’m in.
What’s the key in balancing work with family?
The number one thing I do when I’m on the road is talk with home at least one hour a day. It keeps me grounded. I’m lucky that I have a strong and understanding partner.
What do you like to do when you’re not on the road?
This is what I love to do so there’s no real time when I’m not doing lighting. When I’m not on the road though I like to hang with my family and like to do yard work. It calms me.
What’s something about Rob Koenig that people don’t necessarily know or might find surprising?
Most would look at a guy like me and think I’m a beer drinking, football loving, car gear head type of guy, and that’s just not me. I enjoy the everyday things the most. Family, food, my dogs, travel.