Monday, October 14, 2013
In The Studio: Four Ways You Can Benefit From A Mix-Off
As well as some tips to approaching it effectively
OK, so what the heck is a mix-off?
It’s kind of like a bake-off, except with mixing records instead of baking cakes. People compete by taking the tracks from a song, mixing them, and then someone judges and declares a winner.
Now, there are inherent flaws in the idea of a mix-off. In real life the client and the engineer work together to produce the best result. This kind of back and forth rarely exists in a mix-off.
However, there are some benefits as well. Being able to listen to what other people did with the same record can foster your own understanding. And, reality dictates that engineering (like most specialized fields) is very competitive.
Pushing yourself to do the best for fear of losing a competition is fair preparation for the real world—where failing to do your best can land you without a career. That was pretty heavy, I know, but it’s kind of true.
Even if you’re an experienced engineer, occasionally slipping in a mix-off can be good for you. It’s surprising and very cool what less experienced people will come up with in attempts to prove they are creative masterminds.
Education is the most powerful investment when it comes to engineering. Mix-offs allow for a unique way to gain perspective, so take a stab at it! Here are some tips on approaching a mix-off:
There are two possible goals in a mix-off. The first is obvious: to win. Approaching a mix-off with the intention of winning requires a certain mindset.
The second goal should also be obvious: personal education. Again, this goal also requires a certain mindset. The two mindsets are not mutually exclusive but they can come in conflict.
1. Mixing for personal education
Here, the intention is to develop and advance your skills as an engineer.
Competing in a mix-off to win should probably be a secondary goal, though I often see it as the primary goal amongst competitors. If you come in with the mindset of personal education then mix to your own aesthetic, regardless of the instructions. You are fostering your own aesthetic and judgement. You can get feedback from other competitors which — taken with a grain of salt — can be very useful.
You can also listen to other people’s mixes, take notes, and inquire about aspects of their mixes. Most people are there to share. Keep a positive mindset — it’s easy to identify what you don’t like in someone else’s mix. Look for what you do feel was effective and dissect that.
2. Mixing to win
Here, the intention is to win the prize/fame/glory.
Be wary that engineering is more about fulfilling a client’s expectation than your own. In the real world we get to have a back and forth dialogue with a client (usually). If you feel strongly about something or your client feels strongly about something you can gauge how to proceed.
In a mix-off you don’t get that luxury (with some exception which I’ll get to). Most of the time the winning mix will be the one that fulfill’s the judge’s expectation. So read the instructions carefully, listen to the music thoroughly, listen to the reference mix if one is provided. Make qualitative notes about the mix.
The best of the best mixes will fulfill both the judge’s expectation and incorporate your own aesthetic.
In the real world, being able to make your client happy while at the same time being markedly “you,” is absolutely key to developing a reputation. You want to be known for giving a client what they want in a way that no one else can.
I remember placing second in a mix-off behind an engineer who was not as technically adept. The other engineer had gone way off the instruction and completely reinvented the bass. The judge’s comments were that my mix “fit exactly what they imagined the record to be, perfectly. This is what we set out to hear.” Not bad feedback.
The winning engineer received a comment to the tune of “you showed us something in our record we hadn’t initially imagined and we love. You took the record passed where we thought it could go.” Ultimately, the other engineer’s bold and creative decision beat out my experience and technical prowess. That was an important lesson!
My choice venue for a mix-off is CrowdAudio.com. First, there’s a real prize, rather than just personal prize. Second, they do a two-round system where the top mixes are given feedback from the judge and given the opportunity to revise the mix. Currently they’re raising funds for a big re-launch and you can support them here.
For me this creates a more realistic scenario—the competition carries incentive for people to really compete, and the dialogue with the “client” is opened up to a certain degree. If you are developing your skills as an engineer I recommend you compete as much as you can.
If you’re an experienced engineer and get a slower moment in your schedule, I really recommend popping in and giving it a go—it can really help you stay sharp and you might be surprised what you may learn from it.
[Editor’s note: If you find dissecting mixing perspectives helpful, check out Dueling Mixes.]
Matthew Weiss engineers from his private facility in Philadelphia, PA. A list of clients and credits are available at Weiss-Sound.com. He’s also the author of the Mixing Rap Vocals tutorials, available here.
Be sure to visit The Pro Audio Files for more great recording content. To comment or ask questions about this article, go here.
Church Sound: Guidelines For Using Lavalier & Headset Microphones
Some simple but effective ways to avoid disasters
When I first started my work in the church, lavalier microphones were considerably larger, and headset mics were non-existent.
In my youth, our church still used a “around the neck” dynamic mic for “portable” applications where the pastor/presenter wanted to be hands-free and/or move around. It was an Electro-Voice 649a and it measured almost 3/4 of an inch around and approximately 4 inches long.
This mic was so big that a neck coil (think necklace) was needed to hold it in place. I remember on more than one occasion the pastor “clotheslining” himself as he walked away from the raised pulpit area without removing the mic.
Today most lavalier mics are condensers, and are available in a much smaller footprint than the that 649a, but even with the advancement in design and technology, there are still things to look out for when using a lavalier mic or headset mic.
Do You Recognize This?
The most common issues I see with lavalier mics are pick-up pattern and mic placement. Naturally, these go hand in hand.
It’s absolutely crucial to have an understanding of polar patterns. Many times I’ve witnessed a cardioid lavalier mic placed with the pick-up pattern pointing sideways. Obviously, this produces less-than-optimum results.
I’ve also seen mics so completely “hidden”—attached inside a collar, behind a button area, or behind a tie—that it’s impossible to capture a quality signal due to the severe obstruction. The problem is then compounded when the mic continually makes noise as it rubs against the clothing.
Headset mics help solve these problems but can also introduce additional potential for extraneous noises. For example, they can be placed too close to the mouth or right against the cheek. Particularly if the person has a beard or other facial hair, the noise created when the mic rubs against it can be very obnoxious.
With both headworn and lavalier models, it’s also very important to make sure the mic is out of the wind path of the mouth. Popping p’s and that “windstorm” sound occur when the turbulence from the wind created as a person speaks hits the diaphragm of the microphone.
My guidelines for headset and lavalier mics:
Find out what people speaking are going to be doing, as well as their mannerisms, and so on. This info helps in determining what pick-up pattern will work best.
I once used a cardioid mic on a pastor who spent 90 percent of the time talking with his head turned all the way to the left or all the way to the right. When he would look straight ahead (thus entering the pickup pattern), the level would jump so high that I could see people react to the radical difference.
Get the mic as close as possible/practical without getting in the way of the airflow of the person speaking.
Secure the microphone to keep it from moving, thus eliminating annoying rubbing sounds, and also to keep it from falling off! (I’ve seen it happen more than once.)
The best way to secure a lav mic is to use the clip it’s supplied with. Also, Hollywood (flesh-colored) tape is a great way to further secure a mic if you have someone who is going to move around a lot.
Put as little of the mic as possible through the monitors on the stage. This helps with gain before feedback and any potential surprises if the person roams around the stage.
Make the person as comfortable as possible while still placing the mic where it needs to be placed. When I “wire up” a pastor or presenter, I always take the time to assure them that their mic will only be turned on during the time they’re speaking.
I also seek feedback from them on how the mic feels, and have them move around like they’ll be doing when they[re presenting.
Yes, these guidelines are rather simple, but they’ve helped save me from disasters that I’ve (unfortunately) witnessed on Sunday morning!
Gary Zandstra is a professional AV systems integrator with Parkway Electric and has been involved with sound at his church for more than 30 years.
Friday, October 11, 2013
In The Studio: An “Easy” Way To Improve Your Producing Skills
Ideas for taking the song in the direction the client wants
Yesterday I was prepping a couple songs to send to my buddy Tim to track drums. These are songs I’m producing for a client, so I am squarely wearing the “Producer Hat” on this one.
The client and I recorded a basic guitar-vocal demo of the songs, and now my job is to produce an awesome, full-band arrangement around that demo.
But rather than record the demo and go on her merry way, the client also gave me a reference track, a popular song she wanted me to use as a guide for the production of the song.
Nice move, client. Here’s why.
See, as I was bouncing the two songs for Tim yesterday, I was typing up notes for him. Things like “Don’t come in until Chorus 1.” and “This needs to have a more straight-forward 4-on-the-floor beat to it.”
As I listened to the guitar-vocal, my brain was taking the song in one direction. Then I remembered the reference track the client gave me. I flipped it on and gave it a quick listen.
Screeeeeeeeech. Hit the brakes there, Joe.
While the direction I was taking the song might have been a cool one, it was definitely NOT what the client wanted.
I was hearing more of a folky approach to the song, with really light drums. The song she gave me had a very powerful and simple drum beat (with a BIG kick drum).
My gut approach would have been wrong for the song.
Some people might bristle at this, thinking that the client is asking me to copy someone else’s song, but that’s hardly the case. She did the same thing on a previous song we worked on together, and the finished product sounds WAY different from the reference track. However, it wouldn’t have turned out as well if she hadn’t given me some direction.
We all tend to gravitate towards a certain style of production. Nothing wrong with that.
If you’re like me (kind of a folk/rock kind of guy), then you’re going to need some extra guidance when hired to do a pop project.
There’s no shame in that.
The only shame would be to take the song in a direction the client really doesn’t want.
Wanna know one way I get tons of ideas for producing songs? Mixing other people’s songs.
Joe Gilder is a Nashville-based engineer, musician, and producer who also provides training and advice at the Home Studio Corner. Note that Joe also offers highly effective training courses, including Understanding Compression and Understanding EQ.
Where It Should Be: Getting The B3/Leslie Combo Into The Mix
Battling the beast to capture and amplify the signature sound
For as long as I can remember, there has been a sound created by an instrument that spells rock ‘n’ roll with just a letter and a number: B3. That’s the Hammond B3 organ to those who don’t know the code.
The B3 was first used by churches to stand in for far more expensive pipe organs, and at about one-hundredth of the price, it (as well as its fancy sister C3 and home version A-100, which all have the same electronics) owned the South Side of Chicago’s storefront gospel churches.
In the early 1960s, the Brits decided the B3 needed to be included along with electric guitars and harmonicas that were part of the blues revival when they took the sound of Chicago Blues/Chess Records and re-upped it into the Rolling Stones, Yardbirds, and finally, the Spencer Davis group fronted by 17-year-old Steve Winwood on B3. In 1966, Give Me Some Lovin’ raced up the radio charts just as fast as any of the guitar-driven American surf bands.
By 1968, a new group out of the UK called Deep Purple (sounds so quaint now) put a B3 thru a Marshall stack (usually reserved for the outsize ego’d guitarist) and created a new sound with a cover of an American blue-eyed soul tune called Hush. Rock ‘n’ roll was never the same, and the incendiary sound of the speaker level output of the B3 driving the guitar level of the Marshall is still a much sought-after sound today.
Fast-forward to the 21st century and we’re seeing vintage B3s on stage again with all styles of bands, including the country circuit (although strangely enough, not the western circuit). The B3 is the gravy that makes any band of chops players have soul in their stew. As John Mayer once said, “Playing in a power trio is really tough. It’s not like having a big fat B3 I can fall back on to hold the band together.”
In my band, the B3 plays a big part in providing the dressing for our salad. The problem is that many sound techs don’t know how to mic an organ correctly, and therefore, they don’t put it up front in the mix where it belongs.
And since they’re used to keeping it in the background in the mix, they make the problem worse by mixing all keyboard sounds equally under. Check me on this: the only time you really hear a keyboard up front and center is solo grand piano with a vocalist, and the band is out back having a smoke. In other words, mostly on the intros to big sappy hit ballads.
How did this happen? Probably 99 percent of today’s B3 players use a Leslie speaker. That’s the big wood box with the two rotating cone transducers inside that looks like something from your parents (and your grandparents, and my) living room. And in most cases, that’s exactly where the keyboardist found it, or in the garage after being moved from the living room for the estate sale.
A Leslie speaker is only rated at 35 watts. With a spinning horn and a spinning 15-inch cone driver, it’s output is roughly the equivalent of a small powered loudspeaker that you would use for your patio. But it’s a giant box, because it’s full of motors and pulleys to make it all work. The amp is tubes and is equal to the boutique guitar amp the lead player paid $3,000 for that is only loud enough to use in a recording studio.
Most seasoned techs capture the sound of a Leslie with two mics on the top panned hard left and right, and a kick drum mic on the 15-inch cone panned center.
The problem is that when it’s cranked up to rock levels, you hear the spinning rotor horn “whoosh” by the top mics, while the bottom rotor mic captures an irritating rumble as the wood cabinet shakes the stage.
Then if you get it up loud enough to be heard over the band, the whole rig takes off into low rumbling feedback. So most engineers just get it as loud as they can without getting into trouble and leave it at that.
John Lord from Deep Purple took matters into his own hands when he dumped the Leslie in trade for the Marshall stack, and he got it heard. But that sound is only good for early metal – think Smoke on the Water.
I’ve seen B3 players use two Leslie cabinets, and have even seen players put a Leslie on each side of the stage next to the PA stacks! Keith Emerson from Emerson, Lake and Palmer had extra rotors so he could stack them on top of stock Leslies to double the top end.
What it looks like inside a Leslie cabinet. (click to enlarge)
Send In The Clones
In the last decade several companies, including the re-worked Hammond Company outside of Chicago (where the B3 originated) and the Swedish company Nord, have come up with portable keyboards that have all the audio attributes of a real B3 without the weight and giant wood case. To get past having to carry the big wood-box Leslie, they’ve developed software that emulates the sound, built into the programming.
In a quest for the “real sound,” German company Neo has developed an outboard pedal called the Ventilator, which I’ve been impressed with enough that we’re distributing it in the U.S. It’s an exact replica of a 122 Leslie programmed into a computer chip, and even has an overdrive control to emulate the tubes distorting in the Leslie amp, as well as stereo mic simulation with a knob that “adjusts” how close the “mics” are to the “rotors.” Put into two direct boxes panned left and right on your console and you can crank it up as loud as you (and, well, I) like.
I encourage you to go here, where Danny Abelson provides a hands-on report on the Ventilator, which a growing number of sound and stage techs are carrying. As you’ll read in Danny’s report, Chuck Leavell of the Rolling Stones uses one, and there are also units with jazz burner Joey DeFrancesco, mainstream rocker Bob Seger, blues rocker Steve Miller, Victor Wainwright with Southern Hospitality, and even John Mayer (on his guitar).
The newest hot setup is a real vintage Hammond B3 on stage (looks cool and feels like you’re driving a Peterbuilt truck) into a Ventilator to the PA and monitor desk in stereo over two DI boxes. Sounds like a miked Leslie in the studio on a set of headphones.
It’s a way to be the hero when the organ player gives you the look that says, “Hey, crank it UP!” – you can give it the gas and get it up where it should be.
Gary Gand is president of Gand Concert Sound in Glenview, IL. GCS has been on the forefront of large-scale audio since the 1970s and are known in some circles as the “NEXO guys.”
The Old Soundman: Earplug Wearin’ Musicians & An Insolent Newbie
Reaching the boiling point with those who wear earplugs while demanding insane monitor levels
Dear Old Soundman—
Yes, SPA1! Were your parents named SPA.09?
I’ve enjoyed reading your comments for some time now.
See, even though you have named yourself after a decadent outdoor love tub, you’re okay!
I wonder if you might give us your insight regarding musicians who use earplugs (sometimes very sophisticated earplugs,) but then require ridiculous monitor levels on stage.
There was a lack of love in these people’s lives when they were children.
I run into more problems with drummers that wear earplugs than I’d like to.
I’ll bet you do! Back in the seventies, rock musicians weren’t a bunch of soy latte sipping sissies! They turned up their big old amps and beat the heck out of their clear plastic drums, and we gave them as much side fill as we could and then they did a show, dangit!
You, like me, are probably sick of these shaven-headed suburbanites, these tame domesticated animals with their silly “tribal” tattoos, their click tracks and their carefully assembled multi-layer loops and their $10,000 kits with the 15 cymbals. Don’t even get me started on the dyed black hair!
Kick, snare, hat, Little Lord Fauntleroy! A rack, a floor, a crash and a ride, Trust Fund Jimmy!
If these kids played music that made any sense, they wouldn’t have so much trouble following each other.
The devil was working overtime when he came up with his masterpiece, the drum machine! Bands that paid their dues in the old days, that played in bars night after stinking night, they understood how to strip it down:
“She’s got legs!”
“Round and round!”
“All she wants to do is dance!”
Every one of Sheryl Crow’s big hits! Boom bap! Boom boom bap! Huey Lewis, you know what I’m saying, you were just workin’ for a livin’, and you wanted a new drug!
Stevie Ray Vaughn, much love to Stevie Ray!
But noooo! These loco children of today are forced to go along with their idiotically effete keyboardist’s asymmetrical programming. It burns me up, SPA1!
Speaking of which, check out the nerve of this little creep Rik. He really knows how to push my buttons!
Yo there old guy,
You got some kind of problem? Why I oughta…
How did you get into the industry, and how did you get so disillusioned? (beats me)
I am a young budding 19-year-old trying to do a physics degree, (hahaha) and I would love to do live sound (no kid, get a good job).
I believe in moderation in life, as in not busting the guts out of some speaker (ooh goody) if we may savour a little respect for a love of music (so young, so innocent).
I have had a fair bit of experience, but I can never find anything past offering my services to people I know (what’s new?).
I love your humor, and have provided anticipated responses in () parentheses.
Rik, let’s explore the inner workings of your mind (if there’s anything there).
See? I can use parentheses, too.
I deduce by your use of some anglicized spellings that you are either across the pond in merrie olde redcoat land, playing your penny-whistle, or else down in Qz, happily making crazed guttural noises into your culturally appropriated (stolen) didgeridoo.
You seem to think that the “me” that exists in your brain is actually who I am. You think your perceptions of me, that virtual voodoo doll that you call the Old Soundman, is the entirety of my existence.
On top of that, you have defied my repeated admonishments to you pilgrims—that I handle the funny stuff. Your role is to just politely ask the audio questions and then shut up and step back so you don’t get any on ya.
I spray humor like a tribe called quest spits rhymes!
More people read me than read the New York Times!
Everybody applauds when my bell chimes!
I’m a master perpetrator who never gets punished for my crimes!
You’ve never had to suffer any really hard times!
If you don’t shape up, I’ll bust your grill with a roll of dimes!
And these are the breaks, Rik!
The Old Rappin’ Soundman
There’s simply no denying the love from The Old Soundman. Check out more from OSM here.
Church Sound: When System Failure Is Not An Option….
Keeping cables in working order under the rigors of heavy use
Noisy mic cables can happen to anyone almost anytime. No matter how careful you are XLR cables are prone to being stepped on, run over and pulled too hard by musicians, singers and, well, you. The result of all this abuse can be intermittent shorts, open circuits and noise issues.
Of course, your cable problems will often turn up in the most audible and important signal path, such as your Minister’s microphone or signal feed to your radio station, so here’s how to find and fix problems before they get out of hand.
First, identify the source of the noise. If you hear a crackling sound during your service, grab your headphones and start soloing individual microphones and instruments until you hear the noise in your own ears. You can now mute that channel — if you can get away with it for a song — or perhaps get your preacher to step over to his backup microphone.
At this point you’ve identified the signal path with the noise, but not the particular cable. So mark every cable in this signal path with a piece of gaff tape and pull them out of the sound system after the service for later testing and repair.
Next, test the cables! If you don’t have a cable tester, buy one now. For example, the Swizz Army Tester from Ebtech costs less than $100 and is a great option.
This versatile tester will check any combination of XLR, Phone, RCA and MIDI cables for shorts, opens, cross-circuits and grounded shields. It also checks for intermittent open circuits with a “Reset” button function.
After you plug in the cable, momentarily press the Reset button you’ll see the “Intermittent” lights go out. Then when you wiggle the cable around, any momentary break in the connection will cause the appropriate light to lock to the “on” position. Sure beats trying to watch for a light to blink off while you’re attempting to make a cable fail.
In our shop, we test every single XLR cable that’s going out on a gig, especially if it was used by someone else on another system. That way we’re not surprised by a bad cable at the worst possible time. If your cables stay “home” then at least a yearly verification of every cable is a good idea.
For cables that get moved around a lot, say if you’re a mobile ministry, once a month testing is indicated. However, not testing your cables regularly is just a failure waiting to happen during your worship service.
How many of you have tested your mic cables in the last month? Let me see a raise of hands… Hmmmm…
Mike Sokol is the chief instructor of the HOW-TO Church Sound Workshops. He has 40 years of experience as a sound engineer, musician and author. Mike works with HOW-TO Sound Workshop Managing Partner Hector La Torre on the national, annual HOW-TO Church Sound Workshop tour. Find out more here.
New Frontier: A Legitimate Leslie Substitute?
Inside the Neo Ventilator, as well as an evaluation
I don’t typically write about products, mostly because I’m more interested in the human element in sound reinforcement.
To me, gear is the lesser part of the equation. Seventy percent of great sound is your contribution; the accumulated skill and experience of the show’s engineers and crew. Manufacturers create great tools for our industry, but I’m convinced that talented, experienced personnel using average gear will deliver consistently better results than average crews using the finest equipment available.
However, I do appreciate new gear when it makes the daily lives of engineers easier. Recently I was in Boston to review a performance of the Rolling Stones 50 and Counting tour, as the guest of Dave Natale, who has mixed the band since 1994 (Read about it here).
The evening before the show, Natale mentioned the Stones had been using a new device that simulates the sound of a rotating Leslie speaker on the Hammond B3 organ, and he stressed that it solved many problems and made the crew’s day easier.
Rising & Falling
Technically speaking, the Leslie speaker is not a reinforcing or amplifying device, it’s a sound enhancement device that uses Doppler shift to apply frequency modulation to the audio program coming from the instrument. This modulation adds a depth to the sound that, depending on the rotation speed of the horns, sounds floaty and dreamy when set at low speed or offers a rich bubbly vibrato at high speed.
The change of pitch occurs as the horn spins towards and then rotates quickly away from the listener. Physically it’s the same effect as the whistle on an approaching train, which rises in pitch as it nears and falls as it passes.
Most Leslie models feature a woofer that loads face down into a rotating drum, and a high frequency phenolic diaphragm compression driver mounted face up coupled to a rotating horn. Speed-switchable, belt-driven motors provide the rotation.
Although they share similar driver configurations, the balanced-in model 122 was typically paired with the B3, while the unbalanced model 147 was used by legions of guitarists in the 1960s and 70s to add depth and space to their signature sound.
Top and I/O panel views of the Ventilator. (click to enlarge)
As many of you likely well know, a Leslie presents challenges. For one, miking it can be a hassle, usually done with three mics on a pair of panned high channels and one low channel. In highly ambient environments, one often has to place the Leslie in an isolated spot offstage to control leakage.
Also, the belt-driven mechanics make noise, and the “wuh wuh” caused by rotating horns cutting through the air is particularly prominent if the speaker is tightly miked. There is a great variance of frequency response from cabinet to cabinet. Finally, most Leslies were made in the 1950s and 60s, and after decades of road use they often break down at inopportune moments.
Doppler effect is remarkably difficult to simulate. Many companies have attempted to provide an adequate Leslie substitute with varying degrees of believability. Clearly though, if someone successfully modeled that belt-driven Doppler-shifting tube-smacking dreamy Leslie sound in a stomp box, it would solve a lot of problems. Crews could be spared carrying, repairing, miking, and isolating an organ speaker whose technology hails from 60 years ago. It would make the lives of sound and backline crews much easier.
Fortunately, the smart designers at Neo Instruments of Germany have created the Ventilator. Chuck Leavell, the Rolling Stones keyboard player for 30 years, is responsible for elevating the profile of the Ventilator to a group of talented and seasoned audio professionals.
“I was introduced to the Ventilator by a very good Hammond technician in this part of the world named Greg Black (blackhammond.com),” Leavell explains to me. “One day he called and asked if I had heard about the Ventilator. My usual reaction, because I had tried every Leslie simulator over the years, was ‘yeah right.’ He assured me that this unit was special and encouraged me to listen to it. I tried it, was amazed, and thought to myself, ‘Is this as good as I think it is?’
“At the time I’d been working some with John Mayer, who works with a very talented engineer, Chad Franscoviak,” Leavell continues. “Chad just loved it and I have nothing but the highest respect for him. That really confirmed my thoughts about the Ventilator.”
For years Leavell has kept his Leslies in road cases that convert to iso booths, with mics permanently mounted inside the units. The obvious advantage of the Ventilator is elimination of the closed-in sound that happens with an iso booth situation, which still sounds like a Leslie in a box. The other problem the Ventilator solves is the wind noise (from the rotating horn and drum). There isn’t the need to use wind screens or to worry about mic placement.
“For those that may be wondering,” he adds, “I haven’t talked to anyone from Neo. I don’t have any kind of endorsement arrangement or anything, I don’t even know them. I bought the four units I own.”
When approached by Leavell about using the Ventilator with the Stones, Natale confirms that initially he wasn’t very excited about trying the box.
“You know I don’t like anything, so I don’t look for anything new because what works still works,” he states. “We were rehearsing in Paris, and when Chuck brought it in, I went ‘oh my what is this thing? Why do I have to try it?’ And then I thought ‘don’t be a jerk. He brought in this piece so let’s listen to it.’ So we set it up. Chuck played about two chords and I came running back in the room screaming ‘it’s amazing!’.”
According to the manufacturer, the Ventilator is a “digital FX device that simulates a Leslie model 122 rotary speaker cabinet miked up with a stereo pair for the highs and a single mono mic for the lows.” This configuration mirrors the mic setup used by most touring engineers I know. The folks at Neo have done a remarkable job of developing algorithms that recreate the rotating Doppler effect.
• Independent emulations of bass and treble rotors
• Reproduction of the Leslie’s mechanical properties
• Emulation of the 122’s frequency response
• Identical 800 Hz crossover point as found in the 122
• Adjustable rotary speed and acceleration
• Adjustable drive section that simulates distortion and power tube saturation typical of the Leslie’s amplifier
• Variable placement of virtual mics
• Relay-equipped true bypass circuit
• Port for a remote footswitch or organ-mounted “half moon” speed switch
• Full rotary stop
Natale states, “In this case I think it’s justified to tell people about this device because it gives you more consistency. It’s one less thing you have to worry about. What happens if the catering staff walks across upstage and knocks one of my mics off?
“You can adjust the drive without maybe blowing up the speakers in your Leslie like we used to do. You can control the acceleration, which I grant you is maybe a bit subtle of an effect for an arena with a million cubic feet of air, but it’s cool.
“I would always record with a Leslie. It’s a wooden box. It has a tone and a certain frequency response. But for live, now I don’t need a harness of three 100-foot mic cables to the edge of town to isolate the box. With the Ventilator, the unit is right next to all the keyboard DIs. It’s consistent. There’s no leakage. You should be able to deal with leakage if you’re a live engineer, but if the mics are in different positions from day to day it won’t be very consistent.
“Another great thing is there is no wind noise, that’s really great. (The Ventilator does model wind noise, and this is audible if you adjust the distance setting to the closest-to-the-cabinet position). I think it’s a really good product. Solid metal construction, small, weighs a lot less than a Leslie, no moving parts except knobs and switches.”
The Home Trial
I’m fortunate to own several vintage instruments, including a B3 and 122 and 147 Leslies. Even after glowing confirmation from two experienced engineers and a world-class musician, before writing this article I still wanted to do an A-B comparison of the Ventilator against the real thing in a listening environment I trusted.
So I set up a rotating “speaker” shoot-out in my music room, and in this setting, the Ventilator passed my 14-day home trial. Of course the B3 through the simulator did not sound exactly like my 122. I’m sure the Neo folks listened to a line-up of 122s before they selected the particular speaker they modeled. Considering the previously-mentioned variance in frequency response from one Leslie to another, no doubt the unit they modeled does not sound identical to the 122 I own.
Most importantly though, the Ventillator provided a realistic and legitimate alternative to the vintage device. The frequency response, timbre and overall instrument envelope were darn close, close enough that within a band’s ensemble mix I doubt a trained ear could consistently pick out one device from the other.
Composer musician Dr. Lonnie Smith, a true guru of the Hammond B3, working with a Ventilator.
I admit my tests were completely subjective – one listener, non-scientific. And I confess I wouldn’t choose to use it in an organ trio with jazz artists like Joey De Francesco, Ben Sidran, or the late great Jimmy Smith. In those settings, where the Hammond is the centerpiece of the program, the Leslie is probably the appropriate choice. But in many of the large venue presentations we support, including those with accomplished players like Leavell, practitioners of the live audio craft could recommend the Ventilator to their artists and reap the benefits of this well conceived and executed tool.
“I just love the thing, I really do,” Leavell tells me in parting. “As much of a vintage head as I am, whether it be a Wurlitzer or a Fender Rhodes or a Clavinet, it’s hard to find instruments that come that close to the real thing. But the Ventilator certainly does.”
Besides providing sonic legitimacy, the Ventilator doesn’t have any moving parts beyond pots and switches, only weighs a couple of pounds, takes no truck space, is not likely to break down, and you don’t have to mic it. It’s a very good substitute for a Leslie, and a problem-solving tool that could make your day easier.
Finally, for those who might wish to read the pre-eminent pro audio discussion of the Leslie speaker, I suggest Cliff Henricksen’s “Unearthing The Mysteries of the Leslie Cabinet.” Henricksen is a talented loudspeaker designer who grew up playing the Hammond in R&B bands.
After 40 years of playing with speakers, Danny Abelson is still infatuated with why things sound the way they sound. In his day job he is a consultant specializing in the electronic systems installed in college and professional sports facilities.
Editor’s Note: Neo has informed us that it is coming to market with two new mini Vent models, one for guitar and the other for organ. There will also be a new “pro” version in the coming months. Cabinet simulation for the Leslie 122 is included in all of them, of course, just like in the original.
Thursday, October 10, 2013
Unique Experience: Notable Capabilities Of Digital Consoles
Puttijng a spotlight on some less-than-obvious abilities
Until just a few years ago, I never would have imagined that many of the current smaller format digital consoles would be able to take the place of the larger frame analog consoles that my shows and events required. (Well, still require.)
While the input count at many of these events, usually corporate/industrials, is generally minor, the routing requirements can be quite complex, and only larger analog boards offered the necessary bus count and matrix routing.
The initial digital consoles were usually larger and thus provided much of the same capability (and often more), today many smaller consoles are outfitted with the feature sets and routing capabilities to handle sophisticated, multi-faceted productions. Event planners love these consoles because they reduce the footprint at front of house, and my crew (and I) love the fact that we’re not moving bulky, heavy units.
In addition, digital really shines when it comes to live recording. It used to be that making even a simple 2-track board tape required a dedicated outboard recording device and patch cables, and multi-track recording was even a bigger deal. You either needed a split snake (preferably one with transformers to eliminate noise) or a ton of patch cables so to take direct outputs from the channels.
Now many digital mixers offer 2-track recording to USB, allowing the user to simply plug in a standard thumb drive. For multi-track recording, in some cases it’s as simple as plugging in a computer or hardware recording unit into the digital data stream and pressing the “record” button.
Suffice to say that there’s a lot lurking just under the surface with smaller digital consoles. I decided to take a look at the current crop to put a spotlight on some less-than-obvious capabilities.
Measuring 11.75 x 41.5 x 26.25 inches, the CL5 is the largest frame size in the series and packs a lot of features. It offers the ability to mix 72 mono and 8 stereo channels, with up to 8 FX units available. Remote Rio stage boxes expand input and output connections, augmenting the 8 onboard inputs and outputs. Three Mini-YGDAI expansion card slots allow numerous option cards, including Lake processing, Dugan auto mixing, Waves SoundGrid, Aviom A-Net, CobraNet, Optocore, EtherSound, Riedel RockNet, and more.
Yamaha CL with Nuendo Live
One thing that really stands out is multi-track recording with the included Nuendo Live DAW application, which can be accessed and controlled via the touch screen. There’s also 2-track recording to USB. I also really like the gain compensation feature that works when more than one console is using an input source. It ensures that when the analog gain stage is adjusted from one of the consoles, corresponding compensation is automatically applied at the digital stage, so that the level sent from the I/O rack unit to the connected CL consoles remains constant.
Allen & Heath Qu-16
The recently introduced rack-mountable mixer occupies just 7.3 x 17.3 (19 with optional rack ears) x 18.5 inches and includes 16 mono inputs, 3 stereo inputs, 12 output mix buses and 4 stereo FX units. The surface may be compact but it offers 17 motorized faders, a color touch screen and user assignable keys. The mixer can be connected to the AR2412 and AR84 remote audio rack stage boxes using the built in dSNAKE port allowing remote placement of inputs and outputs via Cat-5.
Allen & Heath Qu-16 USB recording
The Qu-16 is also compatible with the company’s ME-1 personal mixing system. It’s amazing how easy it is to do multi-track recording with the console. It has a built-in interface that streams channels 1 through 16, the main L + R, and 3 selectable stereo pairs to a Mac computer.
If you don’t use a Mac, or simply don’t want to mess with interfacing the computer, it also has an integrated 18-channel multi-track USB recorder that offers 24-bit/48 kHz recording and playback to and from a USB hard drive.
Soundcraft Si Expression 3
It’s the largest of the three consoles in the series, but with a size of only 6.7 x 36.5 x 20.5 inches (h x w x d), it still falls into the “compact” category for sure.
The Si Expression 3 offers 66 inputs to 32 mix channels as well as 4 layers and a color touch screen. Twenty aux buses, 14 mix buses, and 8 matrix provide lots of routing options, and the 4 multi FX units present a variety of processing.
The 32 onboard mic/line inputs and 16 outputs allow connections at the console and additional inputs and outputs can be interfaced by using the ViSi Connect stage boxes that allow remote placement of ins and outs.
A really handy feature is the Direct Out Gain Stabilizer, which prevents manual change of a mic gain affecting direct output levels when two consoles share a stage box, or when recording the channel direct outputs.
Soundcraft Si Expression FaderGlow
Another aspect of this console that makes a mix engineer’s job a bit less stressful is FaderGlow. It illuminates the fader slots according to function, making it easy to tell what function is currently assigned to each fader.
And, an Si BLU link option card provides a convenient interface with the dbx PCM personal monitoring system.
Looks can indeed be deceiving. While measuring a miniscule 9 x 19 x 22.7 inches, the SD11 has tons of features often seen only in a larger frame size. It offers a large 15-inch, full-color TFT LCD touch-sensitive screen, 12 full-length motorized faders, along with 32 processing channels and as well as 8 full Flexi channels and 12 Flexi buses. There’s also the ability to simultaneously record up to 56 channels direct to multi-track software or DAW.
DiGiCo SD11 Waves SoundGrid capability
With 16 mic/line XLR inputs and 8 XLR outputs onboard, the SD11 could be used as a stand-alone console or can connect to any of the DiGiCo remote stage racks for additional inputs. The Optocore option allows the connectivity with the DiGiCo racks in a redundant loop for extra reliability.
I also really like the ability to integrate plug-ins by using the optional DiGiCo SoundGrid module linked to an external PC server. This provides the user with instant access to 16 low-latency Waves stereo Multi Racks, each with the ability to have up to 8 plug-ins per rack.
Making its debut just a few months ago, the SL3 is an extremely compact rig comprised of three units: an HDX-powered processing engine running AAX plug-ins and VENUE software, a compact control surface, and a scalable remote stage rack.
Avid S3L networking, AAX, and 2-track record/playback
In addition to all the input and output connections on the stage box, both the processing engine and control surface provide a variety of analog and digital ins/outs giving the user lots of interface options. The control surface measures 2.8 x 28 x 14.3 inches but still manages to offer up a lot of control options, including 16 motorized faders in 6 bankable layers and 32 touch-sensitive rotary encoders.
The S3L allows up to 64 input channels, 24 aux buses, LCR main outputs, 8 mono matrixes and 8 VCAs. Again, recording and playback stand out, with up to 64 channels of audio over an AVB network without the need for a Pro Tools interface, and 2-track recording and playback over USB also supported.
At approximately 11.5 x 30 x 28.5 inches, this is the smallest console in the company’s digital lineup, but it’s certainly not lacking in the features department.
It includes 24 XLR inputs and outputs on the rear, and with up to 48 input channels available, input counts can be increased by connecting Midas digital stage boxes.
Also notable is the ability to connect multiple stage boxes allowing for point-to-point routing of audio to up to 100 inputs and 102 outputs within a network.
The PRO1 also offers 27 output buses, 12 multi-channel FX engines, 8 VCAs and 6 POP groups that provide primary access to multiple channels. Offline editing software is available.
Midas PRO1 POP groups
Adding the Klark Teknik DN9650 network bridge allows the console to interface with MADI, Dante, Aviom, Ethersound and CobraNet networks.
Roland Systems Group M-200i
This is an intriguing mixer. It can dock an iPad, which can be used the main operation touch screen, but the user can also access all functions without docking the tablet. (There’s also a small screen onboard.)
The M-200i measures just 7.8 x 19.3 x 19.3 inches but provides 32 mix channels, 4 matrixes, 8 DCAs and 8 aux buses, as well as 17 motorized faders on 5 layers, 4 multi-effects engines and 8 user-assignable buttons.
Roland M-200i operates with and without docking an iPad
It can certainly be used as a stand-alone console, offering 16 XLR mic/line inputs and 12 outputs on the rear. REAC stage boxes can also be interfaced for up to 40 additional remote inputs. This mixer also provides 2-track recording via USB and multi-track recording via the REAC port to the company’s R-1000 48-track recorder/player or MADI bridge.
PreSonus StudioLive 32.4.2AI
Presonus debuted this larger StudioLive console earlier this year. Of course, larger is a relative term, with the 32.4.2AI coming in at only 7 x 31.6 x 21.3 inches. It provides 32 input channels and 4 stereo FX engines, with the surface sporting 32 faders and offering up 4 subgroups and 14 aux buses.
PreSonus StudioLive 32.4.2AI with Smaart
A cool feature is that in addition to an iPad app, there’s also an iPhone/iPod Touch app called QMix that allows performers to remotely control their own monitor sends onstage. Recording is available via the built-in FireWire interface. The unit ships with Capture multi-track recording software and is also compatible with many other popular recording DAWs. And, StudioLive software incorporates Rational Acoustics Smaart measurement technology to provide an assist in system tuning.
Solid State Logic SSL Live
This year the company entered the live market with the SSL Live, and that’s intriguing in and of itself given Solid State Logic’s pedigree in the recording market.
I’d classify the SSL Live as a “mid-sized” console, and it offers the ability to handle up to 976 physical inputs and outputs.
Further, 144 fully processed mix channels are available along with an additional 48 “dry” mix channels. Up to 96 effects processors can be used at one time.
A 32 x 36 output matrix can handle to most complex routing assignments.
With 14 inputs and 12 outputs onboard, the SSL Live could be used as a stand-alone mixer, and a variety of scalable remote stage boxes foster increased input counts and remote placement of them.
SSL Live facilities
Recording is accomplished via the MADI SSL Live-Recorder option, a rack device that can record 64 tracks at 96 kHz continuously from the console’s input stage, with playback through the channels in Soundcheck mode.
CADAC CDC Four
Included are 56 mix channels, 8 VCAs and 15 buses in a rack-mountable frame that measures just 19 x 24.5 inches. While optimized to work with the CDC 3216 and CDC 1608 remote stage boxes, there are 16 onboard mic preamps so the unit can operate as a stand-alone mixer on smaller shows.
CADAC CDC Four preamps
In addition to using the onboard controls, the CDC Four can be controlled via the Cadac Remote Audio Android and iPad apps, and multiple tablets can be connected simultaneously to allow different operators to control different functions at the same time. A port accommodates either a FireWire expansion card enabling the streaming of input channels to a computer for recording and playback or a MADI interface card that can connect the console to a recording unit or to the CDC stage box.
The company created quite a stir a couple of years ago with this mixer, and at only 3.9 x 11.5 x 15.5 inches, it’s barely larger than the docked iPad that it uses for the control surface.
Recording to iPad from the outs on the Mackie DL1608
Mackie has managed to squeeze a lot of features into the package, including 16 mixing channels, 6 aux sends and 2 effects engines. Up to 10 iPads can be used as remote wireless controllers.
Performers can access their own monitor mix wirelessly via an iPhone or iPod Touch. There is a 17th channel that can play back audio from a docked iPad, and the user can record directly to the docked iPad from the main outputs. I also really like the look and operation of the software and how easy it is to get around on.
Craig Leerman is senior contributing editor for Live Sound International and is the owner of Tech Works, a production company based in Las Vegas.
In The Studio: Tips For A More Stable Digital Audio Workstation (DAW)
Keeping it clean, up to date, well maintained and more
Building and maintaining a stable DAW system is not an easy task.
There are many things that can prevent it from working as it should, and it can be difficult to figure out the cause of any trouble.
Before you do any of these tips, make sure that the computer you have will actually work with the software you want to use.
For example if you want to use Pro Tools, there are specific approved components and doesn’t work with every operating system.
Check the compatibility section of their website first and save yourself a lot of frustration.
Step 1 – Make sure your software and drivers are up to date
For Windows I found a great program called RadarSync free edition to tell me what needs to be updated and where to download the latest version of the software and drivers.
A PC might have parts from a dozen manufacturers and tracking down new drivers can be a pain, RadarSync makes it much easier.
For updates to Windows, you can use their website, or use a program called AutoPatcher that gives you more options. It’s great if you have a few computers to update.
On the Mac side of things it’s somewhat simpler, system components don’t vary so much and the operating system updates will keep things right.
Use the Combo Updates from the Apple website rather than automatic updates.
Step 2 – Antivirus
You do not need anti-virus and anti-spyware software on a Mac a PC. Honestly, for the past year I’ve had no anti-virus or anti-spyware programs installed and I’ve had the windows firewall turned off.
I’ve also had the computer turned on and connected to the internet the whole time. I run a scan about every 4 months just to see and there’s nothing wrong.
There are 3 reasons why I don’t need it. 1 – I use Firefox which has always been a safer browser. 2 – I have a router with firewall, and 3 – Common sense.
Step 3 - Hard drives
For the best performance, record to a second internal or external drive, not the system drive.
This goes for macs and PCs. For external drives Firewire and E-Sata are the most reliable.
People say USB 2 is just as good or better than firewire, but that has not been my experience and the people writing the software you use for recording will agree.
Step 4 - Maintenance
Cleaning up a Mac and getting it ready to record is pretty simple.
—Open disk utility and repair disk permissions. Do this after any major upgrade or software installation.
—Turn off AirPort and bluetooth, these can reduce preformance
—Turn Time Machine off, if it’s on automatic it can interrupt the system and stop recording
—Turn off spotlight indexing on your recording drive - this can interrupt a recording
On a PC there are similar things to do.
—Turn off automatic updates, use autopatcher once a month for critical updates only
—If you insist on anti-virus software, turn it off when recording
—Run a defragging program once in a while, once a month or if you notice drive performance reduced.
—Run a program called Crap Cleaner to clear accumulated temp files and fix registry issues
—Turn off wireless and bluetooth
—Turn off disk compression and indexing
Step 5 – Keep it clean
Just because there are hundreds of free plugins available doesn’t mean you should get them all, it’s a really bad idea.
Similarly just because you can acquire expensive software without much effort doesn’t mean you should and if you do, expect problems.
It’s not worth the frustration. I’ve seen a lot of weird things happen due to plugins that were questionable.
The smaller your plugin folder is the faster the program will start and faster you can get working. Trust me on this, you don’t need a dozen different compressors.
Jon Tidey is a Producer / Engineer who runs his own studio, EPIC Sounds, and enjoys writing about audio on his blog AudioGeekZine.com. To comment or ask questions about this article go here.
Church Sound: Mixing Two Worship Services At Different Sound Pressure Levels
A process to handle both without rebuilding the entire mix
At one of the churches I’m currently working with, the situation is all too common. It’s a large multigenerational congregation with a lot of history. As such, the attendance trend is for an older crowd to populate the early service, with the later service being dominated by younger families.
This is not surprising, as the same thing is happening all across the country, evidenced by numerous posts by technical directors on their blogs.Needless to say it can create some problems.
One which can’t be avoided is the differing SPL preference of these two unique groups. I’ll be honest, I’m using the word preference pretty lightly here. Anyone else who has this problem knows it’s much stronger than that.
Often the older generation becomes pretty vocal in their displeasure when the volume gets too much for them. Conversely, for some in the second service the volume never gets loud enough. If they don’t feel the kick in their chest, they’re not happy!
So what is a sound tech to do? Unfortunately, there just isn’t time to completely rebuild the mix between services and a simple master fader change doesn’t work.
That makes everything lose its presence, including vocals. Yet we don’t want to get crazy with changing instrument faders or we will upset the Pyramid mixing technique.
So we experimented a bit this week. Here is the test method we utilized:
1. During the first half of rehearsal, we built a normal Pyramid Mix as we normally would. We started with the drums and bass, mixing them at the appropriate level for the acoustic volume of the drums in the space. Then we move up the pyramid until we achieved a great mix.
2. For the last half of rehearsal we then reduced the master fader 6 dB.
3. Then at the subgroups, we pulled up the vocals and piano groups 3 dB.
4. Finally, we (politely) asked the drummer to “ease up” on the first service.
So we have nearly “halved” the apparent volume of the entire mix (halving being recognized as a reduction of 10 dB compared to our reduction of 6 dB), while compensating the vocals and piano a bit.
Now for the second service, we only had to adjust 3 or 4 faders. The groups we adjusted were moved back down 3 dB and then the master fader went back up to its original position. Voila, we’re back where we needed to be for the second service!
Some would suggest that we do the opposite (pull down drums, bass, guitars, keys, etc.) But for our situation, our method involved the fewest fader changes.
Jeremy Carter is a veteran of the pro audio industry with extensive experience designing and operating church audio, video, and lighting systems. Learn more at Sound Sessions.
Making It Sing, Part Deux: Further Enhancements To A Vocal Plug-In Chain
Optimizing the key to "the best-sounding band I've ever heard"
Greg Price got the ball rolling last time (here) with the first in a series of articles sharing our knowledge of the vocal chain. It cannot be re-emphasized enough that the vocal is the most important part of your mix, and therefore should be the first focus of any good mix.
When I was a young engineer, I asked my friends who were not musicians or mixers what they liked (or disliked) about my mixes. Without fail, comments were about the vocal. Obviously there are elements of a mix that must be there in order to support the vocal, but ultimately vocals are the key to comments like “that’s the best sounding band I’ve ever heard.”
A very prominent recording engineer/producer once told me that he views a mix as a beautiful plant. The vocals are the flowers that everyone gazes at in admiration, but without a solid root system and stem (drums, bass, guitars), the flowers would not be possible.
Both Greg and I use Waves Audio plug-ins to help achieve excellence in our mixes, but please note that we’re not suggesting using all of these tools all at once. Used sparingly, however, they are akin to bringing a gun to a knife fight.
Previously, Greg concluded at part 4 by discussing the C6 Multi-Band Compression plug-in, so let’s pick it up from there. (See parts 1-4 here.)
4. Multi-Band Comp, Continued
I’ve developed a few presets for the C6 that I believe are a great starting point. Give them a try. Again, they’re intended as starting points, not as “be all, end all.”
The specific vocal preset that Greg mentioned was created out of necessity, for my own needs. I wanted to have a preset where the threshold, attack, release, and ratio parts of the plug-in were optimized for vocal. Basically the goal was to be able to properly gain up any vocal, with the preset as a great starting point.
I experimented for over a month with different bands to come up with it. The floating, additional two outside filters are intended to adjust the frequencies that are problem areas, but the inside four filters should work pretty well as they’re set up.
With the advent of in-ear monitors, I’ve found that singers have become more dynamic over the years. This can be good and bad. Dynamics are a very important part of music, and absolutely are what make a mix stand out. But in the case of vocals, the goal is for every single nuance of the singer to be heard over the top of an often complicated mix.
MaxxVolume (click to enlarge)
One of the tools that I don’t go anywhere without is MaxxVolume. It’s an expander, compressor, limiter, and gate. Prior to using this plug-in, I’ve worked with singers where I had 20 dB of fader swing and chasing going on. If set properly, the MaxxVolume sits my vocal squarely in the mix, and with small fader moves keeping it there, allowing me to focus on other elements of my mix instead of chasing the vocals all night long.
I use the Vocal Absolute Level preset as a starting point with MaxxVolume. The Low Level side of the plug is the “expander” side of the plug, the High Level side of the plug is the “compressor,” the Leveler is the “limiter,” and Gate is the “gate.”
Don’t forget to toggle the loud and soft button above the metering, which adjusts release times of the compressor. Set thresholds for compression and expansion, and set the limiter to engage when the singer is over the top. It will take some experimentation on your part to get the desired result, but you’ll know it when you find the sweet spot.
Finally, there is the gate feature. Wait – a gate on the vocal? Trust me, this is an amazing tool. Have you ever solo’d up a lead vocal and noticed that along with the vocal is a lot of extraneous stage noise? Especially when the singer is running across the stage in front of the amp line, etc.?
This gate works very nicely in eliminating a lot of this noise, and can clean up the mix significantly. Give it a try and listen to your mixes with it engaged versus not, and I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
6. Vocal Rider
Most compressors change in timbre the harder they’re hit. More gain on the input side, and most compressors have a “pumping” or a “squished” sound to them. This is timbre change, and for some applications, that’s what we’re shooting for.
But personally, I don’t like my vocal to sound compressed. I want it to sit hot in my mix, but when the singer screams, I don’t want it to sound like every piece of electronics is about to explode.
Vocal Rider does compression and expansion without timbre change, which can be an incredible tool if that’s what you’re seeking. Vocal Rider Live has some extra tools that really help live engineers.
Two knobs are added at the top: Music and Spill. It’s a “look ahead” plug-in, meaning that it actually looks at a signal and can differentiate between a vocal and unwanted ambient stage noise, thereby providing better tracking of the compression and expansion.
Vocal Rider (click to enlarge)
By adjusting the Spill and Vocal Sensitivity knobs, you can get a really nice result of compression and expansion only when the vocal is occurring. The Music Sensitivity knob is an additional tool that allows use of the side chain of the plug-in. If you feed a bus of everything else but the vocal into the side chain, the plug-in actually takes this into account in deciding what to compress and expand.
7. Vocal Group/Bus Compression
Bus compression can be tricky. As the mix fluctuates dynamically, you can be hitting an inserted bus compressor very hard and really destroy the mix. Besides parallel compression (which Greg will cover in the next article), I use bus compression sparingly.
Earlier I noted the timbre change that can occur with some types of compression. Often that’s what I’m looking for with bus compression. Waves has modeled many amazing compressors over the years and has developed some software that really captures the essence of the original piece of gear. Plug-in modeling is an art form. Taking an analog piece of gear and creating a software version that looks, acts, and most importantly sounds, like the original piece of gear is a very hard thing to do.
SSL G-Channel (click to enlarge)
One example of this is the SSL Comp plug-in. In the late 1970’s, Solid State Logic developed large-format mixing consoles that every engineer of the time used (or wanted to use). Almost every favorite record in my collection was mixed on an SSL E Series or G Series SSL console, and the latter included a bus compressor in the master section that became the sound that we all used while mixing records. So any time I need bus compression this is my go-to plug-in.
Touching on presets again – you’ll notice that this plug-in also includes presets from some of the most respected engineers in the business. Who wouldn’t want the settings that Steve Lillywhite uses? I start here and adjust.
Finally, on my mix bus, I deploy the L2-Ultramaximizer. It’s the sound of today. Every major recording in the last 10 years has utilized the L2. It has brick-wall limiting in a way that no other limiter can do.
L2-Ultramaximizer (click to enlarge)
My mixes sound bigger and fatter while still able to play within the lines of sound pressure levels that are increasingly becoming legislated.
One other thing to point out that many overlook – every Waves plug-in includes a question mark on the right side. Click it and you go directly to the individual manual. It’s a very handy tool as you start to become acquainted with the plug-ins.
Next time Greg and I will talk about vocal EFX and offer further info as well as a summary of this series.
Ken Van Druten is at “Pooch’s Corner” and Greg Price is at “Greg’s List” at www.waveslive.com.
Wednesday, October 09, 2013
In Profile: TC Furlong, Always Seeking A Better Way
Respect for the music, for the audience and for musicians
Based just north of Chicago in Lake Forest, IL, TC Furlong Inc. is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, marking the occasion in various ways that all relate to the company’s long-time slogan: “Better Audio By Design.” Although they serve clients throughout the U.S. and occasionally Canada, the primary focus remains on regional business, founder and president TC Furlong emphasizes.
“We think renting locally and regionally is still a good thing because of our ability to provide high level service, particularly if someone needs something last minute,” he states. “It’s about respect. You respect your client by giving them good service and being responsive. That’s why we have a rule that everyone gets called back in five minutes, no matter what.
“And because the curtain doesn’t come up during regular business hours, we have a 24/7 Emergency Audio Response (EAR) service,” he continues. “It doesn’t matter what day of the year it is, we’ll dispatch somebody to help. There are always opportunities to offer better service and always a better way to do something and we’re always digging in to find a better way to do audio.”
In fact, finding a better way to do things has long been a preoccupation for Furlong, one that informed his passion for both music and audio from the outset.
A Good Experience
Born in Cincinnati, Furlong moved to Illinois at age nine – about the time he first picked up the guitar. “I never really studied formally, but I was always learning how to play better.” His initial experiments with loudspeakers were also somewhat informal. “In fifth grade I was taking radios apart, putting the speakers in different enclosures and experimenting with every kind of loudspeaker I could. I’d seen The Beatles on TV and got into music, but I was always fascinated with loudspeakers, because that’s the link between performer and audience.”
At a time when live concert audio was a blend of musician’s amplifiers and acoustic drums, supplemented by reinforcement of vocals and quieter instruments, he adds: “How to get that blend and provide the audience with a good experience really intrigued me.”
That led him to indulge his twin passions in equal measure. In 1973, at age 18, Furlong rented an industrial space in Highland Park, IL and started Steamer Sound. Around the same time, he adds, he fell in love with the steel guitar. “During the day I’d run the business and build speakers. At night, I’d gig. I worked a lot,” he notes, laughing, “but it allowed me to understand the artist’s side of the equation and fold that into what the company provided.”
Originally, Steamer Sound was purely a manufacturer that built and sold loudspeakers integrated with protective road cases called Steamer Cabinets. The chief designer was Tom Danley, Furlong says. “I always mention Tom because he’s gone on to great notoriety and still lives a few miles from me.”
Originally, he hadn’t intended to offer rentals, but soon began to do so in order to meet client demand. “But quantity wasn’t our focus – we’d build a certain number of speaker boxes in order to be able to supply local events and concerts. Providing quality gear and having quality people work with us was the most important thing.”
As the business grew, Furlong remained active as both a musician and audio supplier, but as a member of Chicago based country-rock band Rio Grande and later The Jump in the Saddle Band, became so busy with music that he decided to shut down his commercial space and continue to build custom orders in his basement.
By the late 1970s, however, he abandoned building proprietary gear in favor of offering other manufacturer’s products to clients. Still, he was able to run the business from his property when not touring with the band, which had a major hit in 1983 with “The Curly Shuffle.”
Natural & Organic
While the band’s international notoriety was relatively short lived, they remain active to this day and Furlong is still in demand as a live and session player.
That said, in 1990 he cut down on touring to start a family with his wife, children’s author Mary Gauthier Furlong. “She’s a musician as well – a wonderful bass player and singer,” Furlong adds, “and we actually met when were hired for the same band.”
He characterizes the company’s growth since as natural and organic. “Our client list has grown 100 percent by referral. We’ll do a live rental for somebody, then become their go to sound person. Then they’ll say, ‘Can you help us find a solution for this?’ and we’ll say, ‘Yes, we’ll do our best’ and grow to meet their needs.”
Expansion of services was often a result of consciously expanding into areas underserved by others. “Theatre, corporate theatre, wireless microphones, loudspeaker alignment; those things weren’t available in our region,” he notes. “In 1989 we started getting into wireless microphones in a big way, made a sizable investment and tried to become as expert in that as we could.”
“Before I arrived,” adds general manager Jeff Cech, “the company was known for expertise in wireless microphones, and renting wireless systems and intercoms was and is a major part of our business, but earlier no one was doing it.”
A youthful TC Furlong with a Steamer Sound cabinet. (click to enlarge)
Growth was further fueled by Furlong’s ability to identify other emerging areas of business and apply the company’s expertise to creating better solutions for those markets specifically.
“When corporations started to embrace audio as part of their presentations, we were right there trying to do more elaborate designs than what a lot of A/V companies were doing,” Furlong says. “After we got into wireless microphones and corporate A/V we noticed there was an unfilled opportunity in Chicago for theatrical sound. We continue to do a lot of it, but all of these things naturally evolved out of each other.”
The company also began designing and commissioning systems, but the concentration continues to be on special events and maintaining long term, mutually beneficial partnerships. “We have clients who’ve been with us for 20 to 30 years, and we’ve built those relationships, slowly and carefully, by putting our efforts, not only into marketing to potential clients but into keeping the clients we have by providing a very high level of service.”
One of the milestones of the late 1990s was the development of a relationship with Meyer Sound that continues going strong to this day. While the company carries a wide range of other loudspeaker systems, Meyer is the primary brand.
Also during that time, the company began providing audio for television concert broadcasts for shows such as Soundstage on PBS, with Furlong mixing many of those shows.
He says that mixing and system alignment have always been an integral part of his personal contribution to the company’s work. “Sometimes the equipment is secondary. Sometimes the live mixer is secondary. It depends on the client, but often we’d get hired because they wanted me or one of our excellent engineers to mix.”
“Another milestone was TC foreseeing the importance of digital consoles in 2001-2002,” Cech states. “We bought early versions of a lot of different mixing consoles from many manufacturers, and developed the expertise in-house to rent, deploy and use them on shows. Today we have more consoles and more types of consoles than any other provider in the region.”
Cech did freelance work for the company for 15 years and also often rented equipment while managing Northwestern University’s Performing Arts Center before officially coming onboard 2000. “We call that era ‘the Garage Days’,” Cech says, referencing the warehouse Furlong built on his property that served as the company base through the 1980s and 90s.
With Cech signing on, Furlong was able to concentrate more fully on developing strategic partnerships and indulging his passion for system alignment, which, Cech says, “He has both a love and a gift for.” The subsequent move to the current facility was a catalyst for further growth, but Furlong’s desire to relocate had other motivations as well. “I just decided one day, when I saw 14 cars parked in my driveway, that it was time to move,” he says, laughing.
A “sound isolation helmet” circa 1974 that was designed, built, and deployed by the Steamer Sound team to isolate from the main system in order to mix on headphones for a live radio broadcast. Note the built-in “life support system” – boxer fans that would draw fresh air through the helmet to prevent suffocation and heat exhaustion.
Since, the company has continued to work with long-term clients like Willow Creek Community Church and Northwestern University – for whom they’ve provided audio for commencement ceremonies for 20 years in addition to serving the needs of the university’s athletic, performing arts, radio, television and film departments.
Fitting his mantra to provide complete, appropriate solutions without fail is a commitment to education. This drives the company to host monthly events aimed at educating clients and potential clients about everything from the operation of digital consoles to RF coordination and system alignment
It’s a way of giving back, Furlong notes, which is something that also drove his creation of an entirely separate company, TC Furlong Custom, and the development of the TC Furlong Custom Split, a recent product but one he began developing way back when he was building Steamer Cabinets.
“The Split is my effort to give something back to the steel guitar community – a way to get the fantastic sound of tubes from a really lightweight amp,” he says. “As musicians get older they don’t want to carry heavy equipment, so if I can provide an amplifier that’s light but still provides big sound, I think I can help people continue to be inspired to make music. And being able to contribute to a musician being inspired to play – either more often or longer – that’s an honor.”
For Furlong, Cech and the entire company, the most important part of the equation comes back to respect. “Respect for the music, for the audience and for musicians. Most people working here are musicians. We often say that if you’re not a musician you should start taking lessons if you want to mix live sound. If you have experience as a musician, you understand the position of the person on stage whether they’re a performer or presenter, and that’s something I think we’re known for.
“When we meet someone – an artist, a technician or a client – our first question is, ‘How can we help you have a better day?’ It’s been that way from day one. Anybody can provide equipment; it’s the way you implement that equipment and the attitude you have that makes for a successful event.”
Based in Toronto, Kevin Young is a freelance music and tech writer, professional musician and composer.
Church Sound: The “Best” Vocal Microphone?
Sorting through issues of cost, specs and more to get to the right choice
Recently I received an e-mail inquiring about microphones; specifically, what constitutes a good microphone. The reader had seen my post on rechargeable batteries and noticed that I was using SM58 capsules on the mics under test. That made him wonder about the report he had just received from a consultant who had reviewed their church’s A/V systems.
Good quality microphones give the biggest performance increase for the money invested. If the right sound is not captured by the microphone, then no amount of technical gadgets is going to be able to get a good sound. Avoid vocal microphones with high proximity effect (increase in bass response) (e.g. Shure PG58, Shure SM58).
I’ll start by stating that I disagree with most of that paragraph. Yes, good quality microphones are important. However, when you rank them on the “benefit for dollars spent” scale, you only get big gain for dollars if you’re upgrading from those 3 for $19 deals you see in the cheapo electronics ads.
Once you get into mics that cost $100 or more, the differences are often subtle and in some cases, academic. Case in point: Bono quite often sings into an SM58. Should he be avoiding that microphone? I wonder if he’s ever tried the PG58?
So why do I think microphones do not provide the greatest improvement for dollars invested? Simple: What we do is sound reinforcement in a live setting and as such, I think loudspeakers better fit that description. I’ll unpack this more in a later post; let’s get back to microphones.
Now, don’t get me wrong; I’m a big fan of good mics. In fact, I’ve spent a fair amount of money recently improving the depth and breadth of our mic locker. A good mic can make a big difference.
And right now, I’m buying new mics because I don’t have enough money to buy a new PA. So even though my other sound engineers and I notice that “model X” sounds a lot better on the snare than “model Y” it replaced, I’ve yet to have anyone come up to me and tell me that the snare sounds better. That’s because it’s a subtle difference and we’re listening for it (and we note how much less EQ is required to make it sound good).
Conversely, if we hung a new PA that had vastly better coverage, evenness, phase response, lower comb filtering and overall better fidelity, I think people would notice. To be sure, it’s going to cost some coin to make that happen, and for the same amount of money, I could have bought a truckload of mics. But I’m quite sure I could replace the e609 on our guitar amp with a U87 (roughly 30 times the price of a 609), and few would notice.
So my recommendation to the reader was not to replace the drawer full of SM58s just yet, rather, investigate a new loudspeaker system. Once the system can faithfully reproduce what you send it, then start looking at better mics.
Now let’s get on to another part of the report that I mostly agree with:
Microphones should be selected from a trial use after the rest of the sound system is brought up to standard. The more expensive microphones have a flatter frequency response (more natural sound, higher volume before feedback occurs), better off axis rejection (more volume before feedback, less pick-up of adjacent instruments or voices), lower proximity effect (tone changes at varying distance from mic), lower handling noise, better “pop” filters.
Generally all of this is true. What I take issue with is the notion of “more expensive” microphones are inherently better choices. Case in point: When we bought our new wireless system, I specified a capsule that I planned on using that for our worship leader. Turns out, it doesn’t work for him. And as we’ve tried it on many of our vocalists, it doesn’t work for most of them either. In fact, some of them really don’t like it.
So here we have a capsule that’s over $500, and for the most part, we and most of our singers prefer capsules that sell for less than half that. Quite honestly, I’d be really ticked if I had ordered 10 of those capsules instead of 10 of the others based on the notion that more expensive=better. In fact, I’m going back and ordering a few more of the less expensive ones, because in our PA, with our singers, they are a superior choice.
Does this make the other choice a bad mic? No! On paper, it is head and shoulders above. However, the less-flat frequency response, proximity effect, and wider pattern make alternative models better for our vocalists.
And that brings me to the one part of the report that I thoroughly agree with:
Microphones should be selected from a trial use after the rest of the sound system is brought up to standard.
Before you go out and commit big dollars on new mics, try them out. If you can get demos, do it. If not, buy from a dealer who will let you return them if you don’t like them. Try a large cross-section of mics if you can. The best choice might surprise you.
Most importantly, don’t let anyone sell you a microphone because it’s more expensive and therefore “better.” It may have better specs, but that doesn’t mean it’s the best choice. Try it out and hear for yourself.
Mike Sessler is the Technical Director at Coast Hills Community Church in Aliso Viejo, CA. He has been involved in live production for over 20 years and is the author of the blog, Church Tech Arts . He also hosts a weekly podcast called Church Tech Weekly on the TechArtsNetwork.
In The Studio: How to Effectively Build A Song’s Groove
Building around the interplay of a number of instruments
The groove is the pulse of the song and every song has one, regards of the genre of music. The stronger the groove, the more people relate to the song, so it’s really important to make sure that the groove is emphasized during a mix. Here’s an excerpt from the 3rd edition of The Mixing Engineer’s Handbook that shares some tips on how to find the groove and make it strong in your mix.
While it’s true that sometimes the groove may be the result of a single instrumental performance, usually it’s built around the interplay of a number of instruments, especially in complex mixes with a lot of tracks.
Normally the groove of the song is provided by the bass and drums, but it’s important to determine if another instrument like a rhythm guitar, keyboard, loop or percussion is an integral part that makes up the pulse of the song.
Usually this can be easily identified as an instrument that’s playing either the same rhythmic figure as the bass and drums, or a multiple of the rhythm, like double time or half time.
After those additional rhythmic elements are discovered, here’s one way to build the groove:
1. Find the instrument that provides the basic pulse of the song (like the drums).
2. Add the lowest frequency instrument that’s playing the same or similar rhythmic figure (usually the bass).
3. Add any additional instruments playing the same or similar rhythmic figure in order of frequency from low to high.
4. Add any instrument playing a similar rhythmic figure, like half or double time.
5. Add any instrument working as the rhythm arrangement element (remember the section about arrangement elements in Chapter 5?) and providing motion to the song (like a shaker or tambourine).
The groove may be attributed to only a single instrument, like in the case of a power trio (guitar, bass and drums) to three or even four instruments on rare occasions. If you’re not sure, the best way to determine what’s playing the groove is to try mixing in different combinations of instruments along with the rhythm section to see if the pulse gets stronger, weaker, or stay’s the same.
Tip: If a new instrument adds to the pulse of the song and the pulse seems lessened if it’s muted, then you have an instrument that’s a big part of the groove.”
Bobby Owsinski is an author, producer, music industry veteran and technical consultant who has written numerous books covering all aspects of audio recording. For more information be sure to check out his website and blogs. Get the third edition of The Mixing Engineer’s Handbook here.
Tuesday, October 08, 2013
Microfiles: The Stromberg-Carlson MD-56CS, A Mic By Many Other Names…
"There is nothing finer than a Stromberg-Carlson" was the slogan in advertisements
The first Stromberg-Carlson microphone I ever saw was attached to a PA system in an office of a school. It looked like a Shure model 55 and even carried the company’s iconic “S” logo on the front, but the badge below said differently.
Later I found out that it was indeed a re-badged model 55, as Stromberg-Carlson (S-C) didn’t actually manufacture mics. Shure, Electro-Voice and Turner all produced units for the company, and in many cases, the only change was the nameplate and model number.
During a visit to an antique store, I came across the MD-56CS shown here. It’s clean lines and simple red accent make it stand out.
While not a household name today, S-C has a long history in communications electronics. The company was founded in Chicago by partners Alfred Stromberg and Androv Carlson in 1894, the year Alexander Graham Bell’s patent for the telephone expired and many companies were vying to make their way in that growing market. In fact, S-C eventually grew to become one of the largest suppliers of phone equipment in the U.S.
The company relocated to Rochester area of New York State in 1902 following a failed takeover attempt by rival Western Electric, and expanded its product line to include a variety of consumer electronic goods, including radios. “There is nothing finer than a Stromberg-Carlson” was the slogan in advertisements.
During World War II, S-C manufactured electronic parts for the U.S. military and was also one of three companies that produced the ubiquitous BC-348 high-frequency radio communications receiver for the U.S. Army Air Force, the predecessor of the U.S. Air Force. The BC-348 worked so well that the Soviet Union came up with a copy that was in service well into the 1970s.
The hole pattern in the grille. (click to enlarge)
After the war, S-C added television sets to its product line, in addition to numerous iterations of home radios, intercom systems, and public address equipment, in addition to owning and operating several commercial broadcast stations in New York. In 1955, the company was purchased by General Dynamics, which sold off the various divisions by 1982. Remnants of the brand survive to this day.
My MD-56CS dynamic-type is a re-badged Turner S95D, a public address and general purpose mic that was Turner’s best-selling model in the mid-1950s.
Designed in the late 1940s, it was included in the catalog until the mid-1960s. Turner offered two models, the 95D and the S95D, with the difference being the “S” version came equipped with an on/off switch built into the stand mount base. (Both versions were also available from S-C.)
Stand-mount threading and Amphenol screw-on connector for high impedance use. (click to enlarge)
An advertisement of the time stated that the MD-56CS had a wide response range and outstanding sound characteristics that made it well suited for any public address use. The mic was available in a low-impedance 200-ohm version or a high-impedance version like mine.
It features a die-cast alloy housing and built-in stand mount. Unlike most mics of this style that can swivel up to 90 degrees in relationship to the base, the MD-56CS only swivels about 40 degrees forward and 20 degrees to the rear. The business end is simply an end cap that is punched with holes to allow the sound to reach the cartridge.
Each MD-56CS shipped with a detachable cable with an Amphenol MC1M connector for the high-impedance version or an MC2M connector for the 200-ohm version. The cable was 20 feet long and un-terminated at the amplifier/mixer end.
The MD-56CS is very well built, so a catalog description of the time wasn’t stretching the truth in calling it “rugged and dependable.” Both my S-C and Turner models still work after 60-plus years, and they still sound good to boot.
A catalog listing with the MD-56CS as a component in the Signet 33 Assembly PA system.(click to enlarge)
Stromberg-Carlson MD-56CS Specs:
Transducer Type: Non-metallic diaphragm dynamic
Polar Pattern: Omnidirectional
Frequency Response: 100 Hz—10 kHz
Sensitivity: -58 dB
Nominal Impedance: Low or high
Size: 8 in x 1 in
Net Weight: 18 ounces
List Price In 1960: $41
Craig Leerman is senior contributing editor for Live Sound International and is an avid collector of vintage microphones. Read more of his Microfiles here.