Monday, May 05, 2014
Road Test: 10EaZy From SG Audio
Evaluating an innovative new SPL measurement platform, distributed in the U.S. by the "Smaart" folks at Rational Acoustics...
If you need a class compliant sound pressure level (SPL) monitoring and logging system or just want a great way to keep track of SPL at gigs—keep reading. SG Audio of Denmark has developed an SPL measurement system called 10EaZy, and the folks at their exclusive U.S. distributor, Rational Acoustics, were “Smaart” enough (see what I did there) to send me a system for review.
SG Audio offers measurement systems designed to meet the needs of those who require IEC/ANSI Class 1 or Class 2 compliance, as well as a basic system for those that do not require compliance but still want a full-featured logging SPL rig.
This is a particularly timely series of new products because, increasingly, venues and municipalities are establishing SPL limits for concerts, events, and businesses (think manufacturing). Handheld portable meters, laptops with measurement software, and certain smart phone apps can do basic SPL measurements, but they may not be entirely accurate.
Also, most of these options don’t offer a means to log the data over time or offer the user an easy way to archive any data. To get reliable results, especially if you need to be compliant with local codes or laws, higher quality equipment is required, and further, the entire measurement chain should be properly calibrated.
A 10EaZy Class 2 system.
10EaZy offers a turnkey solution by providing tamperproof hardware and a measurement microphone that are calibrated as IEC/ANSI compliant, combined with easy-to-use software that offers a host of features. Systems are available in four versions: Class 1 compliant, Class 2 compliant, RT (Class 2 compliant with a reduced feature set), and SW (a software- and dongle-only system that requires users to provide their own quality measurement microphone, I-O, and calibrator).
The differences are as follows. Class 1 and Class 2 systems offer all the same software features but are tailored to the different classification of measurement specifications. RT and SW, the reduced feature-set versions, do not offer a running order, an event log, or a minute-by-minute resolution logfile for post processing of measurement results. However, they do provide a file, listing a compilation of key measurement results. And given the variability of the hardware that can be used with the SW dongle, measurements made using the SW version cannot be guaranteed IEC/ANSI compliant by the manufacturer.
Specifically, Rational Acoustics supplied me with a 10EaZy Class 2 system. It consists of a small (approximately 4.2 x .5 inches) measurement mic that comes with a nice, compact aluminum storage case, a 15-foot BNC-to-BNC mic cable, a tamper-proof plastic interface box (compact at approximately 5 x 3 x 1 inches), a 6-foot USB cable, and the software.
I noticed that the measurement mic wouldn’t fit any mic stand I owned, but I took another look in the box and discovered an Audix McMicro clip with a 3/8 - 5/8 threaded adaptor. Rational Acoustics also offers an upgrade kit for the Class 2 & RT systems which includes a sturdier mic clip with a 3/8 - 5/8 thread adaptor, a special 1/2-inch bushing to securely hold the 10EaZy mic, and a windscreen.
The next thing that caught my eye was that the mic sported a BNC connector instead of XLR connectors that I usually deal with. The cable that ships with the unit is 75 ohms, high-resolution/low-loss, and of very high quality. At 15 feet long it may be a little short for some uses but in my shop and at the gigs where I used 10EaZy, I was within feet of my laptop, so it wasn’t an issue. Per the manufacturer, a cable length up to about 250 feet can be used without a problem, if properly isolated.
Right out of the box, installation is straightforward. A CD is provided that will work with Windows systems XP and above, and with just a few clicks, the software is installed. The software then prompted me to plug in the hardware, and the system was all set.
To begin measuring, I simply set a destination for the log file and gave it a name. If you have a known target Leq limit and time period for the session (for example, 103 dBA for 3 hours), you can enter this upon start up. The software is very intuitive and easy to use.
Within a few minutes I was confident that the system was working correctly and started to do some testing, comparing 10EaZy’s readings to my usual handheld SPL meters (a mid-priced professional measurement unit) as well as a few SPL apps on my iPhone.
Using a steady 1 kHz tone, I compared my trusty meter to the readings of 10EaZy, and was pleased to find that it was within .5 dB of the laptop display. My iPad apps didn’t fare as well. One was off by 1 dB, while another was off by about 2.5 dB (To be fair, that’s still pretty good for a free app using a built-in mic on a mobile phone).
Next, I used 10EaZy to help check out some new powered loudspeakers that were just shipped to our shop. I ran a variety of tones through my signal generator into a Mackie 1604VLZ4 mixer and then into the loudspeakers, checking to see if any unit varied widely from the others. Happily, all were in proper working order, so it was time to crank up the music and see what the loudspeakers, as well as 10EaZy, could do.
10EaZy dedicated USB interface.
The display is very easy to read, large green letters against a black background. There are four buttons on the screen: Event Log allows you to add a time stamp with a simple click to the log; Running Order lets you add band names, playing times and duration to the log; History shows what’s been happening since the measurement session started, and it also allows you to change the plot and look to a variety of styles and colors; and finally, Full Screen toggles between normal and full screen views.
The MaM (Maximum Average Manager) is particularly interesting. This display shows you how much above or below you are from your target SPL over time, in 1 dB increments. What this means for a festival, for example, is that if one band engineer runs their entire set 4 dB above the target level, they effectively use up available loudness for the duration of the Leq. Other acts would have to run lower in level to even out the Leq and get back to your target level.
A closer look at a 10EaZy screen.
I took the system out to several gigs and basically used it the same way every time, setting up the mic and laptop at FOH and then using 10EaZy as a reference for the overall show volume. I found I could also run the program in the background and it would still log what was happening, and I could also run a music playback program at the same time. Nice.
The 10EaZy feature set is plentiful. Right now, with much of my present work focused on corporate shows/events, I’m rarely encountering (at least as of yet) the need for sophisticated SPL metering or logging, but for those working in the touring and festival sector (where they’ll be encountering increasing SPL restrictions), this is a great system to have in the toolbox. It’s also perfect for venues needing to comply with local noise ordinances.
The display is easy to read, and the logging will come in handy when a neighbor complains about the noise level. And because it’s a calibrated system, the data will stand up to governmental and organizational scrutiny.
U.S. MSRP: 10 EaZy Class 1 system—$2,793; Class 2 system—$2,360; RT system—$1,742; SW software dongle—$299; Class 1/RT system clamp & windscreen upgrade kit—$50.
For more information about 10EaZy, including in-depth descriptions of class compliance and the various 10EaZy systems, check out the U.S. 10EaZy website at 10eazy.us. And to purchase 10EaZy, go here.
To comment on this review and/or ask Craig questions, go to the PSW Road Test Forum.
Senior contributing editor Craig Leerman is the owner of Tech Works, a production company based in Las Vegas, and he’s also the moderator of the Road Test Forum here on PSW.
Friday, May 02, 2014
Sound For The British Music Embassy
While the British Music Embassy at the annual South by Southwest (SXSW) in Austin has consistently featured UK artists supported by systems with key components from manufacturers based in their homeland, this year’s event was marked by a different audio approach.
Latitude 30, the venue that’s been home to the showcase for seven years, provides tight quarters for a live music experience, with a total capacity of about 250 topped by a low ceiling. The previous tactic of utilizing line arrays as mains was less than optimum, so promoter Cato Music of London sought a different approach and contacted Scotland-based Tannoy, seeking a more compact, point-source oriented solution.
“We needed to provide coverage and adequate SPL for the venue, but without taking up the whole room,” notes Colin Studybaker, TC Group tour sales manager. “We also didn’t want to bring additional equipment and cabling that would require more set-up time.”
A New Thing
Studybaker and Josh Evans, Lab.gruppen technical sales manager (tour division), were onsite to work hands-on with front of house engineer Fabrizio Piazzini and monitor engineer Chris Kmiec over the 6-day run at SXSW. The team rode herd over efficient systems headed up by Tannoy VQ Series loudspeakers for the house and Tannoy VX stage monitors, both driven by Lab.gruppen amplification.
A look at the house loudspeaker set as well as the Tannoy VX monitors on the compact stage.
Just two VQ60 loudspeakers (60-degree horizontal dispersion), flown at the stage in a split parallel left/right configuration, were needed to cover the entire room, which is wider than it is deep.
The 3-way loudspeakers delivered plenty of coherent full-range output for the application, with a design that effectively combines the company’s unique Dual Concentric coaxial driver approach with a proprietary PSW (Point Source Waveguide) that aligns the acoustical centers of the transducers to produce a single coherent wavefront. Low-frequency energy is supplied by dual 12-inch woofers, and for this project, this was further bolstered by three low-profile Tannoy VS 218DR (dual-18-inch) subwoofers distributed horizontally on the deck.
Over his 15 years as freelance mix engineer, Piazzini has done FOH for acts such as Kula Shaker, Patrick Wolf, Calvin Harris and Amy MacDonald, among others. “It’s been a while since I’ve mixed a club gig, and Tannoy was quite a new thing to me,” he says. “I owned some of their studio monitors and always liked them, and Tannoy has always been very good at what they do. But these speakers (VQ Series) were a revelation.
A stage-side view in concert showing one of the main Tannoy VQ loudspeakers.
“Point-source loudspeakers are not dead, and in this application, were really nice – smooth, not harsh at all, and when you walked out of the beam, it sounded natural,” he continues. “You could feel it when you weren’t in the beam, but there was still coherence, so when you walked into the venue it was a very smooth transition from the entrance to the middle where it really hit you.”
Both the mains and subs were powered by two Lab.gruppen 4-channel PLM 20000Q amplifier/controllers with Lake digital processing, sharing just a single rack at the stage with five 1RU Lab.gruppen IPD 2400 amplifiers for the monitors.
House engineer Fabrizio Piazzini at an Allen & Heath GLD-112 mix surface.
The efficiency of the amplifiers was key in avoiding any undue strain on the venue’s electrical infrastructure. In fact, the PLM amplifiers include breaker emulation limiters that limit current draw to protect the venue’s circuit breakers.
“We wanted as much power as we could get with as little current draw as possible,” Studybaker notes. “We chose the IPD 2400s based on the amount of house (AC) power available. That was a big thing because there’s no generator and we had roughly 40 amps total to tie into.”
“I mix bass heavy and like heavy mixes,” Piazzini says. “We peaked a couple of times – where we drew about 80 percent – but I never felt like the power draw was limiting me.” Adds Kmiec: “This was the first year I’ve been involved where we didn’t trip the venue power at any point.”
Both Lab.gruppen amplification platforms proved valuable in the application. IntelliDrive Controller software onboard the IPD amplifiers saved rack space usually dedicated to outboard processors, providing control for ringing out monitors.
And each PLM 20000Q contains two full-featured Lake Processor modules, each offering settings for gain, delay, crossover slope, equalization, and limiting that can be applied to the loudspeakers.
Lake Controller 6.1 software, available on laptop computers tablets that allowed the engineers mobility, supplied a unified source for overall system control, offering things like digital input gain and attenuation as well as comprehensive load verification and monitoring.
The Rational Acoustics Smaart v7 test and measurement platform was also implemented in conjunction with Lake Controller, delivering a fluent single interface for comprehensive system optimization.
Beyond the fact that they originate in the UK and thus meet one of the specific criteria for the stage, the choice of an Allen & Heath GLD-112 console at FOH and a GLD-80 console for monitors was also due to their Dante networking capability, implemented here with the addition of optional Dante cards.
“Dante was key to this project because it allowed Smaart and Lake to co-exist on the same signal platform, along with routing Dante channels to the measurement platform,” Studybaker says.
Piazzini notes that this networking approach, unveiled for the first time here, proved highly effective. “It worked seamlessly from the first,” he says, “so we could focus on the system and the job at hand rather than the infrastructure.”
Lab.gruppen PLM 20000Q amplifiers driving the mains. Above them in the same rack are the IPD 2400s for monitors.
Because the venue had windows right behind FOH that open, a single Tannoy VX 8.2 loudspeaker – driven by an adjacent PLM 20000Q and time delayed to the main loudspeakers – was placed on a windowsill behind the console to cover the crowd in the street.
“I set up that amplifier so it wouldn’t pull more than five amperes, because the outlet we were using was powering everything at the FOH position,” Studybaker explains. “I could have used another IPD 2400, but it was cool to be able set a 20,000-watt amp so it pulled that little power.”
The small stage meant that stage monitoring was limited. AKG wireless in-ear monitoring systems were available, but for the most part, artists utilized five Tannoy VX 12HP coaxial monitors (bi-amped), joined by a single VSX 15DR sub for drum fill. There wasn’t space for side fill.
Making system adjustments via Lake Controller on a tablet.
“The VX monitors are a very clean-sounding speaker straight out of the box,” Kmiec says. “The advantage to the coaxial configuration is that they sound the same at the left and right of the speaker, which was a big advantage in a small venue like this where many band members had a single speaker rather than a pair. With a traditional format speaker, you often force yourself into using a pair per musician to get the sound even across their plane of movement.”
On stage, the microphone package was all AKG, including a D12 VR on kick, D40 cardioids for snare top/bottom and toms, C 451 condensers on hi-hat and overheads, and P4 dynamics on guitars cabinets. All vocalists were provided with D7 dynamics except drum vocals, which received a D5 with tighter supercardioid pattern to limit bleed.
In addition to his work as an engineer, Piazzini is a Waves Live product specialist, and he relied heavily on the technology during the week. “I put Waves NLS analog summing plug-ins on every mic input; a different plug-in on each input to give different flavors to the mix,” he says. The ability to use an iPad in tandem with the GLD at FOH also allowed him not only the freedom to move and to tweak the system remotely, but to do so on occasions when other engineers were setting up without disturbing their workflow.
Monitor engineer Chris Kmiec at a GLD-80 in his world to the side of the stage.
“I used to mix on an Allen & Heath iLive but hadn’t used the GLD yet, so I was looking forward to it because I hadn’t had a chance to play with one before,” he adds. “It was spot on.”
In a multi-band situation, maintaining a fluent workflow and staying on schedule is also part of the challenge. “To deal with the amount of bands in a small space of time, you really have to go back to the analog mindset of how you lay everything out, with a set patch list that everyone fits into,” Kmiec says. “There’s no time during a 15-minute changeover to re-patch. The digital advantage is that you can move how these channels appear on the desk to match any preferences.”
In addition, the amount of inputs on the GLD-80 proved useful given that he was swapping between the stage monitors and IEM systems.
Most importantly, beyond ease of setup and meeting the challenges the venue presented in terms of space and power, the system was a hit with concertgoers who’d come to hear British artists like The Wytches, Slaves, Temples, and Dinosaur Pile-Up.
It did that job admirably, Studybaker concludes, adding that over the course of the six-night festival he received numerous complements. “Actually, I was told that this is one of the best-sounding venues of this size at the festival this year. We’ll be doing it again next year.”
Based in Toronto, Kevin Young is a freelance music and tech writer, professional musician and composer.
Church Sound: Putting Together A Broadcast Mix
Effective approaches for mixes that leaves the building, whether via actual broadcast or internet delivery...
As more churches put their entire services online, the need for a quality broadcast audio mix becomes more critical.
By “broadcast,” I’m referring to a mix that leaves the building, whether by actual broadcast or internet delivery. It could also be the same mix sent to the lobby, overflow rooms and other areas.
Why not use the main mix? While it’s technically possible to just take the L/R mix from the console and send it to video, the result usually isn’t ideal. This is true for several reasons.
The first – and biggest – issue is dynamic range. In a typical modern service, you’re likely to have 30-plus dB of dynamic range in the room. That sounds great – in the room. But on a laptop or in a cry room, people will be reaching for the volume control. A lot.
The second issue is the contribution of ambient sounds. There may not be a lot of drums in the main mix because they’re are already pretty loud in the room. (I hate seeing a video shot of the drummer when I don’t hear any drums.) The same may be true for guitars. Smaller rooms are more prone to this problem, but it’s an issue for everyone at some level.
Finally, the main L/R mix doesn’t have much, if any, ambience in it. Without some sense of what is going on in the room, the mix will feel dead. We’re not capturing sound in a studio; we’re in a live worship setting. Thus we need to hear people worshiping.
There are several ways to arrive at a good broadcast mix.
Use The House
This is the easiest approach, but for the reasons mentioned above, it’s also the least effective way to do it. Some house microphones could be fed to a matrix to add some ambience, but that means a lot of the aforementioned dynamic range. Subsequently running it through a compressor will likely make the music feel squashed. There are leveling products available and they work “OK,” but there really are better ways to go about it.
Some would argue this is the best way to get it done. A separate console is set up in another room with access to all the inputs from stage. A split – either analog or digital – provides all of the inputs the house console sees. An operator mixes these together with complete freedom with processing, mixing and effects.
Stems are an alternative when a full split and large broadcast console aren’t in the budget. The broadcast position might get a set of mono or stereo mixes: drums, guitars, keyboards, vocals, speaking mics, playback channels, etc. The broadcast engineer mixes and level-balances these stems while adding in some house mics. It’s a good way to go, though it does eat up groups or auxes on the house console.
The downside is that another console is still needed, as well as a room and an operator. For some churches, staffing another mix position is tough to do. But there is another approach.
This method is like a board mix, but it does differ. Basically, it involves taking the inputs and splitting them up into groups. These groups don’t go to the main L/R bus, but rather, feed into the matrix mix of the console.
Inside the matrix, they’re combined at the proper level so that when they come out, it feels right. We’ll talk more about that in a bit.
How the inputs are arranged into groups will depend on the band and your equipment. Currently, I’m using two mono and three stereo groups, and I also add several direct channels for walk-in music and audience mics. The beauty of this approach is that each element of the service is level-balanced to the correct perceived volume.
Different processing is also available at each stage of the mix. This provides more control and keeps the processing more transparent.
I had several goals in seeking to create a high-quality broadcast mix. First, I wanted it to sound good, even when I’m not mixing FOH. Second, the process has to be pretty seamless, and must work regardless of who is at the console.
Third, I wanted to create an accurate representation of what’s happening in the room – capturing the live energy is important to me. Finally, I wanted to do as little post production on the mix as possible, and doing the hard work up front helps in achieving this goal.
These groups (on a DiGiCo SD8 console) form the basis of the author’s broadcast mix.
In The Grouping
What follows is my approach, which I offer here to get you thinking. This is descriptive, not prescriptive. The worship team splits into two groups, stereo band and stereo vocals. I typically add an extra 1-2 dB on vocals, which helps them stand out on video. I also do a little compression on each group.
A mono speaking mic group includes the pastor, plus any interview or announcement mics. Another stereo group handles playback of videos and the occasional Skype interview. A recent addition is what I call “Worship Leader Speaking.” When the leader talks during the worship set, it’s usually a lot quieter. This works in the room but feels (sounds) weird on video, so this mono group gives a little boost when they talk. Snapshots or macros are used to get those inputs in and out of the group.
Finally, a stereo pair of mics in the house picks up the audience and some ambience. The walk-in music playback channel is also routed straight to the matrix at the appropriate level. Because it’s post-fade, our opening transition is now cleaner.
On The Level
As noted earlier, it’s not uncommon to see a dynamic range of 30 or more dB (SPL) in a typical service. Speaking mics might run in the mid to high 60s, while music may be anywhere between the mid 80s to the low 100s (all dB SPL). The matrix mixing approach is designed to narrow that gap.
The initial temptation will be to balance out all of the various groups so they meter the same. So let’s say you want to hit the recorder at -12 dB FS (full scale). You’ll be tempted to set the levels for the music first, then dial up the speaking mic group until it hits -12 dB FS. But if you do that, the pastor will likely feel too loud.
That’s because in the real world, we don’t experience music and talking at the same volume. So don’t make them the same on video. Close is OK, but speaking will have to be less. I usually shoot for the speaking to be somewhere between 6 and 12 dB lower than the music, but that’s just a starting point. You have to listen to it and make adjustments accordingly. It has to feel right, not just meter right.
So that’s a little glimpse into my process. Next time I’ll share some of the “secret sauce” that has taken the mix from good to even better.
Mike Sessler is the technical director at Coast Hills Community Church in Aliso Viejo, CA. He has been involved in live production for over 25 years and is the author of the blog Church Tech Arts.
Barbarians At The Industry’s Gate?
Unless you have been on a hermit retreat over the last few weeks, the stories of Microsoft coming to InfoComm (as a platinum exhibitor, no less) and Google buying Nest have caused quite a stir. There has been a significant amount of press and commentary raft with innumerable theories and pronouncements on how these companies will play out in the industry.
Barbarians at the gate?
There is a bigger change lurking underneath it all, a change which is already altering the fundamentals of the consumer electronics industry and now may be coming to the integration market.
In the short term we should not expect a “barbarians at the gates” scenario. Any feared/desired shift in the paradigm is a few years off yet and depends wholly on whether or not these two behemoths can actually get their act together. Let’s be honest, neither has had a very good track record in building hardware.
But do they need to be?
Making hardware is, well, hard. Ask any manufacturer and you will learn in fairly quick order the margins on a product are slim. Unless the production numbers are in the millions, the return on investment can be a long time coming. This need to squeeze every last profit pushes companies to extend the life of a line of products even when the architecture around it has completely changed.
The demand is for nimble and turnkey units which can respond to emerging technologies and the fickle finger of consumer desire. Traditional hardware development cannot compete and, in the eyes of many, should not be the goal.
Where is the innovation and profit? Inside sir, inside.
Many in the venture capital sector who specialize in fostering technology startups eschew companies who focus on developing hardware, often requesting they drop the box and focus on the delivery of services and interface. The integration community will soon see a host of offerings where established industry manufacturer’s OS are the engine of a device they did not make.
Hardware is becoming disposable with a lifespan that can often be measured in fiscal quarters. What will the system of the, near, future run on? The rise of soft tools have begun to create a universality and with it an expected, interoperability and accessibility to the internal workings.
One only has to look to the remarkable rise in popularity and project complexity of single board computers and microcontrollers. The movement is not just among hardcore techies, it has achieved a broad base interest across a demographic swath from student to seniors. The hardware is simple, connectable and inexpensive because it is not the point; it is an end to a means.
Make it your own, not DIY
Whether offered as a turnkey package or assemble as you go, the era of click, click, connect the bricks systems are here.
It has been argued that today, everyone must know a little code to succeed, if at minimum how to copy and paste components together to enable a function. While this, as a truism, is not yet ubiquitous we are well on our way to the new literacy.
Resistance to this notion is, as they like to say on Wall Street, working its way out of the system as the suites become simpler and those who do not do age out. This is not DIY versus custom integration. Rather, we are witnessing the rise of make it your own. We are growing from comfort with the interface to confidence in customizing and the expectation of deep control over a device operation.
Brand loyalty is dead, long live loyalty
If all roads lead to the demanded interoperability, then it stands to reason brands and customer loyalty to them will diminish. What Microsoft and Google would hope to gain is the hearts and minds of the mass midmarket client. While initially this could generate interest, they are setting themselves up for the great undoing.
While Apple may have fostered a cult-like following, it has been faltering as of late. Microsoft may attempt to follow with a proprietary network of devices, but this will be against the demand of the public. Loyalty will belong to those who can provide the services.
Many in the custom integration world will see this as a prime example of convenience or death culture catering to the lowest common denominator. There is some truth to this criticism, but it is unclear if decrying weak interface design and lauding the benefits of a properly constructed infrastructure will sway the rivers course.
Loyalty will be had by those who can integrate the work-home-in between into one flexible and secure offering. Will this latest invasion of consumer electronics into integration change us completely or provide a few lessons to grow on as it finally retreats from empire building?
George Tucker, CTS, is engineering coordinator for Worldstage and co-founder, producer and personality for AVNation.tv.
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Thursday, May 01, 2014
Making The Leap: Becoming An Independent Mix Engineer
Almost every aspect of evaluating, selecting, operating, and maintaining sound reinforcement gear has been thoughtfully proposed and dissected in these pages over the years. So in this series, we’re instead going to explore topics having to do with the human element in sound reinforcement, and are fortunate to have journeyman mixer Dave Natale to offer some guidance.
Our first topic, viewed through Dave’s personal experience, is transitioning from sound company staff to an independent mix engineer.
After working 20-plus years at Clair Global, Dave worked with a considerable stable of popular entertainers at front of house, including Tina Turner, Joe Cocker, Lionel Ritchie, Stevie Nicks, and Yes. He’d successfully climbed the ladder at Clair, determined the type of artists he preferred, and no longer wished to accept tours without sufficient notice.
Further, his two daughters were growing up quickly; he preferred to be at home more with his kids. He was at a crossroads of his personal and professional lives, and taking the leap to independence would offer him the opportunity for more control over his work as well as a more fulfilling family existence.
Handling The Transition
“At one point as an employee I was asked to go out and mix a band with absolutely no advanced warning, and I was home and planning to stay home for a few weeks,” he recalls. “It would be awkward for Clair to tell an account they couldn’t provide the services of one of their employees, and they’d always been very good to me, so I didn’t care want to put them in a bad position.
“Yet I’d been thinking about working for myself for a while and decided to make the leap, respectfully resigned from the company, passed on the tour, and stayed home with my girls. I wanted to have autonomy to control my own schedule, and from that point forward I worked for myself, relying on the good graces of my clients.”
“Transitioning from staff mixer to independent engineer depends primarily on your success working for a sound company,” Dave adds. “You must have a certain amount of accounts before you go independent, and hopefully you keep most or all of them once you go on your own. If you’ve done a good job there’s no reason they shouldn’t use you, and it goes from there. The rest usually comes from word of mouth.
“It’s critical to understands the risks when considering leaving steady employment. There ‘s a very real chance you may not get work when you need it. And when you’re successful in getting work, there’s a higher tax bill, as you’ll be self-employed. Finally, if you’ve relied on health insurance from your employer, you’ll need to make certain that you and your family are covered.”
Dave’s first independent account was Tina Turner, who he’d already mixed for many years. Her management company called him to go out, like any other tour, and he proposed to work for them directly. “As far as they were concerned, since the cost was about the same, there was no issue,” he notes. “Honestly, there didn’t seem to be much of a difference to me except where the check came from.”
Transitioning from staff to independent offers freedom, but it comes with uncertainty. “Switching from the comfort of a regular salary and the familiar surroundings of a sound company to an independent who has to find his own work and interact with personnel and equipment from a variety of sound providers can be very stressful,” he says.
“For example, when I signed on to work with Lenny Kravitz, it was something altogether new for me. They were using Sound Image, already had a monitor engineer who I didn’t know, and I was unfamiliar with the equipment package. Sure, I knew the console, and mics are mics, but the speakers and system processing took a little getting used to.
“Also, I hadn’t worked with the system engineer, so we had to get to know one another. I really learned to trust the system engineers; they know their gear better than anyone.”
Getting The Gig
As many of you know, Dave now enjoys enviable success as an independent, including mixing for all of the previously mentioned artists in addition to Van Halen, Bad Company, Richard Marx, Boz Scaggs, Liza Minelli, Fleetwood Mac, the Rolling Stones since 2005, and numerous awards shows. He shares an anecdote that provides additional insight into the process of dealing with potential clients.
“When an act that I was really interested in mixing was preparing to go out a number of years ago, they solicited suggestions for independent and staff mixers from the sound companies that were bidding on the tour,” he says. “By that point I’d been independent long enough to have established a working relationship with most of those companies.
“Apparently, my name was on almost everyone’s list. Band management personally knew a bunch of the acts I’d mixed, and I guess they called their counterparts to get some references. Eventually they requested a copy of my resume.
“Normally in these circumstances,” he continues, “you would talk to the tour manager or production manager. In this case, however, I was asked to interview with the band principals on a specific day convenient for them. This is an organization that does their homework, so I assumed they already knew everything about me. I guess they just wanted to vibe me out to make sure I wasn’t some kind of Martian.
“Honestly, I thought I was never going to get to interview because of a prior engagement. I had a direct conflict – I had committed to mix a few shows for a longstanding client, and I was not going to walk out on an account for any reason. But and management were adamant the interview had to be on that day; they kept leaving me messages saying ‘see you Tuesday.’ I kept telling them I had a commitment and would be unable to make it. Finally, I withdrew my name from consideration.
“To my surprise, they finally called to suggest another date. I later learned that management respected my obligation to fulfill a previous commitment, no doubt something they’d appreciate if I was working for them.
A formal interview process with the artist was not something he was used to. “Talking to a tour manager is pretty easy, but when you’re in a room alone with very successful musicians, it can be unnerving. Primarily you’re there to listen, and you must choose your words carefully. When it was my turn to talk I simply played the name association game, mentioning the performers and managers I’d worked with in the past. For many acts, this is very important, and this artist was no exception.
“Honestly, I wasn’t that confident I’d get the job, as I knew that other qualified engineers were also being considered. A few days later management called to give me the good news, which was great, and in retrospect I’m also very glad that I didn’t skip out on my prior commitment.”
This brings us to a word of caution to independent mixers when approached by a new client – if you’ve committed to an existing client, never leave when approached by another act.
“It’s a very small world, and people talk,” Dave observes. “I’m always careful to complete the commitments I make before taking on another assignment, unless previous arrangements have been made and agreed to. Not walking out on a commitment, for any act regardless of stature, is a value to live by in this business.”
Next time: Preparing for – and surviving – the preproduction process.
Danny Abelson has worked in professional audio for more than 30 years, and enjoys writing about the subjective nature of reinforced sound and the human factors that are so critical to a successful event. He is fascinated by where emerging technologies will take our industry and how they’ll impact the guest experience.
In The Studio: Rage Against The Pedalboard Machine
Troubleshooting wimpy tone on your next session; and always remember, the part dictates the sound...
There will most definitely be a point in your production career where a bassist or guitarist shows up with a pedalboard. It could be a small, seemingly harmless one or a flat bed sized mammoth.
There is nothing wrong with wanting a variety of sounds. As a guitarist, I want options too. I’m no purist, but In the studio I have a tendency to deconstruct pedalboards.
Here’s why: No matter what circuitry or wiring they claim to have, the sound changes when you run through pedals or multiple connections. Even a true bypass looper affects the tone.
To get a focused sound, I try to get to as close to the source as possible. I only patch the effects I’m using during tracking.
I’ve tried most cables, buffers, loopers and they all impact the sound in some way. Mostly in a negative way for my tastes.
There are a few occasions where I find the change agreeable. One is using a tape delay (a real one, not a pedal with a tape preset on it). I like the preamp in tape delays. You can bypass the delay effect and just use the preamp section. I use it to push the front end of an amp a little harder. You can try this with bass or guitar.
The other time I might like the color is from various real spring reverbs. Again, it’s has to do with the preamps. So far to date, this has been the only occurrence where I break my rule and leave them in the chain.
I’m not implying for any second that you should discourage a bassist or guitarist from using their effects. Sometimes it’s crucial for inspiring a performing or part.
But as much as you may think your fancy outboard gear may do a better job, it’s not always the case.
There is a special chemistry that happens when an effect runs before the amp. It sounds quite different compared to adding after the recording. Both have a place. It’s dependent on the situation.
Try this experiment next time a guitarist or bassist is on on a session:
1) Plug them into their pedalboard and have them play with all effects bypassed.
2) Now, unplug from the pedalboard and play straight into the amp.
Do you hear a difference? Most likely you will say yes. There is more punch and strength to the sound.
You will most definitely notice a difference in tone. Its also worth mentioning that some people like the loss of tone associated with long cables and pedal boards. This is why I suggest you A/B them to hear the difference.
At Arms Length
Cable length—I also try to keep cable runs as short as possible. Long cables change your tone as well as cable brand. I wouldn’t get so obsessed with the cable brand. Length is an issue though (ask any woman…rim shot!!).
My preference is to use 10-foot cables. A 15-footer may appear in my live setup, but not for studio. A 50-foot cable may be long enough to allow you to walk to the coffee machine between takes, but will weigh down your sound.
It’s possible you may like this tone alteration (Gov’t Mule guitarist Warren Haynes does). I’m not telling you what to like, just stating the facts.
In live situations, you don’t have much flexibility with routing. You’re not going to disconnect anything between songs. You have to live with the signal loss. This is why we go to great lengths to limit the coloration.
There is no reason to settle in the studio. Because of the nuance recordings can capture, we can hear the little things we wouldn’t notice live.
Dismantle The Machine
Let’s say someone has a pedal board with a wah, volume, tuner, overdrive, chorus, delay and reverb on it. On the song you’re tracking the guitarist or bassist is only using a delay. Unhook the delay from the pedalboard and make a direct connection from the guitar -> pedal -> amp.
Notice you don’t see a tuner there? I never put a tuner in the chain while recording. I use a tuner called Stayintune (or the TC Electronics Polytune app) on my iPhone. One of those Snark type clip on tuners work well too.
Tuners have a way of messing up your chain in the tone department. Only the essentials please!! This doesn’t mean the guitarist or bassist shouldn’t be checking their tuning after every take. It just means it’s not at their feet.
Tip: It’s a great idea for everyone to use the same tuner. That way everyone’s tuning is using the same calibration.
It’s likely you’ll get moans and protests from the guitarist or bassist, but stick to your guns. You’re making a record, it’s better to get the best sound at the source.
I’ve been on sessions as an engineer where a guitarists rolls up, unpacks a huge pedalboard, plugs in to a really nice amp and the tone sounds dull. Often they don’t even check the amp tone before plugging in.
Back To The Start
Which leads me to mention, ask the guitarist or bassist to plug directly into the amp before adding any effects. Get a really good sound happening before you plug in any effects. Guitar to amp should sound killin’. The effects are the icing, not the cake.
This should be the case for every effects change. Always stay in touch with your inner self (in this case that’s the amp).
The little things add up. Mind you, none of it will compensate for a poorly written or executed part.
In theory, you could have the world’s largest pedalboard in bypass with 100 feet of cabling, but if you have a great player you can get an amazing sound. Gear doesn’t make great music, great artists make great music.
Now you can troubleshoot wimpy tone in your next session. And always remember, the part dictates the sound.
Mark Marshall is a producer, songwriter, session musician and instructor based in NYC.
Be sure to visit The Pro Audio Files for more great recording content. To comment or ask questions about this article, go here.
Size Matters: Observations On Loudspeaker Directivity
Trap boxes and line arrays get all the attention. And that’s no surprise—they’re big and loud, and dare I say it, glamorous.
But the truck rarely rolls without a complement of two-way loudspeakers sporting a 12-inch or 15-inch woofer and a horn. Whether its monitor wedges, drum fill, front fill or just “speakers on sticks,” small 2-way boxes do many of the everyday jobs that make up a typical sound reinforcement day.
We take the performance of these boxes for granted, but they can be used to better effect if we really understand their directivity characteristics and what makes them perform the way they do. They’re often described as a “90 by 60 box” or some other dubious reference. But 90 degrees by 60 degrees at what frequency? Certainly not from DC to light.
There are four principle ingredients that govern the dispersion pattern of these loudspeakers, including the cone driver, horn, crossover and cabinet. Let’s look at these one at a time and assess their contributions. Before we go through our list, though, let’s review some basics.
The amount of directivity any device can exert on a sound wave is directly related to the proportional sizes of the device and the sound wave. To understand this relationship it is important to have a good grasp of how big or small a sine wave is at a given frequency.
Sound at sea level at 72 degrees Fahrenheit travels at approximately 1,130 feet per second. We express frequency or cycles (sine waves) per second as Hertz. So if the frequency of a wave is 1 Hz, the wave is 1,130 feet long. Logically, a 10 Hz wave is 113 feet long, a 100 Hz wave is 11.3 feet long, and a 1,000 Hz wave is 1.13 feet long, etc.
While it’s not overly difficult to do the math to determine the wavelength of any given frequency, there is an old “cheat” called the rule of 5-2-1:
20 Hz = 50 feet
50 Hz = 20 feet
100 Hz = 10 feet
200 Hz = 5 feet
500 Hz = 2 feet
1,000 Hz = 1 foot
2,000 Hz = .5 foot
5,000 Hz = .2 foot
10,000 Hz = .1 foot
While not perfectly accurate, it fills the bill for “quick and dirty” calculations. Physics dictates that a source be physically large in comparison to a wavelength to exert directional control over it.
Figure 1: Horizontal directivity balloon of a 12-inch 2-way loudspeaker at 100 Hz (box facing left)
So let’s look at the low frequency directivity of a 12-inch driver in a 2-way loudspeaker with a 90-degree by 60-degree horn.
Matter Of Control
Remember that the low frequency driver’s only means of controlling the dispersion of the sound wave in a front-loaded loudspeaker are its cone diameter, and to a lesser extent, some boundary effects (we’ll discuss that later).
At 100 Hz, the driver is physically small in comparison to the 10-foot wavelength and provides almost no directivity (Figure 1).
Figure 2: Horizontal directivity balloon of a 12-inch 2-way loudspeaker at 500 Hz (box facing left)
If we increase the frequency gradually, the 12-inch driver does not suddenly exert pattern control over the sound wave when it reaches 1,000 Hz (1 foot), and is the same size as the driver itself.
Rather, it has more and more effect as the frequency gets higher and the wavelengths get shorter (Figures 2 & 3). In this frequency range (800 Hz as shown in Figure 3), the cone driver is actually providing approximately 90-degree horizontal dispersion.
Figure 3: Horizontal directivity balloon of a 12-inch, 2-way loudspeaker at 800 Hz (box facing left)
But also realize that since this pattern is conical (the driver is round), it is not producing the specified 60-degree vertical pattern. As the frequency increases the driver exerts more and more control until it begins to “beam” at higher frequencies. But by the time it narrows that much, it’s above the crossover frequency.
This particular loudspeaker crosses over about a half-octave above the balloon in Figure 3. This has an overriding effect on the polar behavior of the box, especially in the vertical domain, so we will discuss the range from 1,000 Hz to 1,500 Hz when we discuss the crossover.
Now, on to the horn.
Dominate The Wavelength
There are multiple elements in a horn’s design that contribute to its ability to achieve pattern control at a given frequency. Some of them are throat geometry, length and flare rate.
But the most obvious factor is the size of the horn mouth. The same rules apply here as to the cone driver. Size matters. The horn mouth must be large enough to dominate the wavelength in question in order to provide complete directivity at that frequency.
So if a horn mouth is 6 inches wide by 3 inches tall it will be somewhat omnidirectional at 1,000 Hz. It will not dominate the sound wave until the frequency reaches about 2,000 Hz in the horizontal plane and 3,000 Hz in the vertical plane. It may provide a 90-degree by 60-degree pattern above 3,000 Hz, but almost certainly not at lower frequencies.
Cone drivers and horns by themselves are fairly predictable devices. But combining the two in close physical proximity can be quite challenging.
The first problem is physical offset. In a typical 2-way box, the devices are located one above the other ,and may also be at different depths. Even if we use delay to correct the time alignment between the drivers on axis, any other vertical angle will skew the time arrivals from the horn and the cone driver.
Because the bandpasses and vertical dispersion patterns of the drivers necessarily overlap in the crossover region it is probable that at any vertical angle that is off axis we will be hearing contributions from both drivers out of phase.
Figure 4: Vertical directivity balloon of a 12-inch, 2-way loudspeaker at 1,250,Hz, crossover at 1,350 Hz (box facing left)
This means there will be lobes and nulls (Figures 4 & 5). This particular box was crossed over at 1,350,Hz with a symmetrical Linkwitz-Riley 24 dB slope.
These lobes will vary in direction and intensity based on driver offset and pattern control, crossover slope, and overlap and alignment delay settings, but they will always occur in multiple driver boxes with physically separated sources.
If a cabinet is laid on its side we get the same phenomena in the horizontal plane. Floor wedges, anyone? This is one reason there has been a resurgence in coaxial boxes.
Because there is no vertical offset between the sources, we only have to correct for the variation in depth between the acoustic origin of the cone and the horn driver, and that distance stays more constant with off-axis listening positions.
Figure 5: Vertical directivity balloon of a 12-inch, 2-way loudspeaker at 1,600 Hz, crossover at 1,350 Hz (box facing left)
The trade-off is that many coaxial designs use the driver cone as the horn flare to guide the high frequencies, and while this may be fine for monitors or other near-field applications, more precise pattern control is often required for sound reinforcement duties.
The final piece of the directivity puzzle is the cabinet itself and the boundary effect created by setting it on something. Fractional space loading is created when we decrease the space that a device is radiating into.
As we saw in Figure 1, low frequencies are omnidirectional, so when we set a loudspeaker on the floor, we effectively halve its radiating space at low frequencies. This produces an additional 3 dB of output (double the power) in the hemisphere that it is still exciting.
If the baffle on the cabinet is physically large enough versus a given frequency, it can act as a boundary to create half space loading. This is what is sometimes called “baffle step.” In modern cabinets, the baffle is rarely much larger than the driver that is mounted in it, because generally, priority is given to things like weight, truck pack, handle location, flying hardware, arrayability and profile.
Technology has gone a long way towards providing a ton of output and fidelity from small packages. But physics hasn’t changed. When it comes to pattern control, size still matters!
Bruce Main has been a systems engineer and front of house mixer for more than 30 years, and has also built, owned and operated recording studios and designed and installed sound systems.
Church Sound: Mixing Like A Pro, Part 8—Listening
In order to mix music well, you must become a fan of all types of music...
Over the past few months we’ve discussed much of the mechanics needed to become a better front of house(FOH) operator and what your mix should sound like. Mechanics and process is necessary, but won’t quite get the mix you’re looking to achieve. One of the most outstanding traits that great pro audio people have is a passion for listening.
We all use our ears everyday to listen, whether to our surroundings, to speech to music. The difference between the average listener and pro audio folks though is the intentionality of their listening. Great audio people listen more carefully and intently. They listen to the nuances of natural acoustical sound, especially sounds that need to be reproduced in a sound system.
To achieve a musical mix, it’s simply not enough to make louder sounds.
Being A Fan
When it comes to music, I find the best FOH people are also some of the biggest fans of music, period. It’s not about knowing one style of music or even one generation of music, but becoming such a fan of music that your musical base includes a wide variety of styles, artists and even decades of release.
Some of the most creative, expressive and artistic music can be found from decades ago. My friend Mike Sessler, a technical director in southern California hosts the podcast Church Tech Weekly that I’m often a guest on, and once we ended up devoting an entire episode with an all-star audio panel to discussing how important it is to become a great fan of music in order to become better at mixing FOH.
I highly recommend listening to the episode, which you can find here.
More Than Listening
While it’s a great thing to crank up the tunes and listen to the artistry of another’s musical creation, great audio people will often dig deeper into the music. Critical listening is a great skill to learn. I can’t tell you how often I’ve had a new instrument to mix into a band setting with little clear instruction as to exactly how to mix them in.
In order to be prepared for every occasion, I often listen to music that incorporates a wide range of instruments, carefully listening to the different ways they sound and can be used in a mix. I apply the same level of thinking when I know I’m going to be mixing a band I’ve never worked with before.
If available, I spend a decent amount of time listening to their own music (or something similar if they don’t have anything recorded) so when I get behind the console I have a good idea of what I want the instruments to sound like and how I want them to interact with each other.
My friend Dave Stagl, audio director at North Point Church in Atlanta, discussed some of the strategies he likes to use when listening to music critically. His list, found here, looks at many different angles of what you are hearing when you listen to produced music.
The difference is instead of listening at the surface of the finished product, spend some time listening with a focus on each instrument. Critically listen to music that is similar to the style of music you mix and listen to the nuances of how the lead instruments blend with the rhythm of the bass and drums, and how the spacing of the music was crafted.
If you’re like me, you’ll find exercising critical listening will help shape your view of how you EQ, compress and mix every instrument.
The Main Idea
Great audio people love great music. By great, I’m not talking simply about high fidelity recordings, but music that moves them and elicits emotion.
After all, we want art to move and inspire us. If we’re going to create mixes that are moving and inspiring, we must be moved and inspired yourself. It doesn’t have to match our personal preference of style, but great musicians and audio folks love getting lost in the artistry of all kinds of music.
If you looked at my iTunes list of music, you’d see every kind of rock there is in addition to pop, folk, gospel, southern gospel, movie sound tracks and yes, even a little bit of country. Many of the artists are well-known, while some are most decidedly not. Some are moving scores from blockbuster movie hits and others simply are independent artists that I felt made great art. And I go through seasons listening to different music.
In order to move, you must be moved. In order to inspire, you must be inspired. In order to elicit emotion, you must experience emotion yourself. In order to mix music well, you must become a fan of great music.
Become a lover of all kinds of music and a frequent critical listener, and I promise you’ll see your mixes improve dramatically.
Duke DeJong has more than 12 years of experience as a technical artist, trainer and collaborator for ministries. CCI Solutions is a leading source for AV and lighting equipment, also providing system design and contracting as well as acoustic consulting. Find out more here.
Wednesday, April 30, 2014
RE/P Files: An Interview With Producer/Engineer Tom Dowd
A wide-ranging discussion with the man who recorded jazz legends, Eric Clapton, and many more...
From the archives of the late, great Recording Engineer/Producer (RE/P) magazine, this feature offers a great look back at a seminal recording, circa the early 1970s.
Tom Dowd has participated in as much recording history as maybe anyone around today. During his 28 years in the business, he has recorded and/or produced, among others, John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, Herbie Mann, Ray Charles, The Coasters, The Drifters, Aretha Franklin, King Curtis, Otis Redding, Dusty Springfield, The Young Rascals, The Allman Brothers, Stephen Stills, and Joe Walsh.
He is probably most noted, though, for his longstanding association with guitarist Eric Clapton. Originally Cream’s engineer, and in recent years, Clapton’s engineer/producer, Dowd is the closest professional associate of the man who, by either musical or sociological standards, must be considered the most influential musician of our time.
Clearly, Eric Clapton, more than anyone else, has defined the style and set the standard for the era’s most prominent instrument—electric guitar. “Layla,” the only studio effort from Clapton’s short-lived Derek and the Dominos, has met with unqualified success both critically very rare for a double album and commercially. Stylistically, it was among the first of the “Southern Boogie/Funk” records.
Additionally, it contains a few slow blues, some country & western, and fleeting elements of jazz, folk, and Polynesian. For this project, Dominos Bobby Whitlock (keyboards), Carl Radle (bass), and Jim Gordon (drums) were joined on guitar by the late Duane Allman, then all but unknown to most of the American audience. Almost certainly, “Layla” is the definitive recording of those precious few occasions where two legendary rock soloists have collaborated in the studio.
Technically, it is a pretty basic album. There was a definite emphasis on performance, with many live vocals, often no overdubbing, and little in the mix to render the tracks otherwise. With regard to effects, there is almost no dynamic panning, little echo, and only a moderate amount of equalization and limiting. All the tracks are placed relative to the five- point stereophonic spectrum.
The album’s vocals (usually only two per song) are pretty natural-sounding, maybe even a bit thin at times. Clapton’s is usually the louder, drier, and hence more up-front, Whitlock’s being just the opposite. Interestingly, they were occasionally sent to placement points 2 (Whitlock) and 4 (Clapton), roughly approximating their positions on stage.
The sometimes-stereo acoustic guitars and keyboards are likewise pretty unmodified, occasionally sounding a bit thin as well. The electric guitars often have an attenuated low end, with occasional limiting. As Clapton played his then-favorite Stratocaster at some comparatively low volumes, they often have a somewhat tinny, “attack”-y sound. The laterally-placed bass guitar is rich in the lower registers, and occasionally limited.
The drums are pretty “airy” due to liberal distant miking, and are given a full stereo spread. Level-wise, they are moderate, with but a moderate amount of kick drum.
Paul Laurence: Tom, were there any people who influenced you as an engineer and producer, or were you too early in the game to be “influenced”?
Tom Dowd: Well, in those days, there were no recording engineers per se. “Recording equipment” was usually hand-me-down radio equipment and recording engineers were, for the most part, radio engineers who were working extra time or relegated to doing recording instead of radio broadcasts. There were no “recording engineers” because there was no recording equipment!
PL: Did you get into recording by being “relegated” in this way?
TD: Actually, no. I’ll tell you how I got into recording. It was 1947, and I’d returned from three years in the service and had gone back to school for a year, and decided I deserved a holiday.
Looking through the New York Times, being a native New Yorker and reading it faithfully every Sunday, I saw an ad for a recording studio that needed somebody for a summer job. Though I was a physics major, I had always enjoyed music having been in various orchestras and bands through school as a musician and felt that this would be a great deal of fun.
I went to work for that studio, and within a short period of time realized that the recording technology as a whole that existed in those days was easily within the grasp of any training I ever had with my engineering and my physics. I knew that I could make a career out of this business and have a thoroughly pleasant time the rest of my life with it.
During the first two or three months I worked there, I had the good fortune to run into two young gentlemen by the names of Herb Abramson and Ahmet Ertegun who were starting a record company. That was the beginning of Atlantic Records.
PL: Were they specifically aiming to form an R&B label?
TD: No. The first records on Atlantic were jazz and gospel. Boyd Raeburn, Tiny Grimes, the Harlemaires, and the Gospel Harmoneers out ol’South Carolina those native traditional groups were the kinds of things that Atlantic was interested in. What we now call rhythm & blues was then called “race music.”
Ahmet and Herb were primarily interested in jazz and gospel music, or at least that was what their initial endeavor was. Like me, they were professionally trained but fancied music as a career.
Herb Abrahmson was a dentist—I believe he had just graduated from Georgetown in Washington and Ahmet was a Thomas Aquinas scholar and graduated from St. John’s University in Maryland. I might add that they were both very knowledgeable about music. It was more than just being “learned” they had the facility for determining good from bad, and pure as opposed to derivative.
PL: I had always put you in the category of “engineer/producer.” Do you consider yourself that?
TD: No, not any longer. It’s not really fair for me to accept the title “engineer” any more. The time that I devote to producing has taken away those hours that you must spend to be an engineer today in order to update yourself on all the new techniques and equipment. “... you try to ascertain how real the project is - how much you can satisfy the artist and still satisfy the public’s image of the artist…”
PL: Do you feel out of touch as far as your engineering goes?
TD: Ah, I’d say that I’m “in touch” but not in the mainstream. Let’s first define the term “engineer.” To me, “engineer” implies that a person is learned in the current state of the art. He should know how to best utilize the equipment from the studio floor, through the console, to the recorder, back to the mixdown, and onto disc, so that from beginning to end, he knows the abilities and limitations of every piece of equipment he has. He’s got to be able to picture that record, and determine how best to get there with all that is available to him That’s an engineer.
There are too many managers, hangers-on, and people who might even be musicians or singers in the group who have an ability for hearing and arranging sound the way they want to hear it, but have no knowledge of the equipment.
They are often the ones who are the most sorely disappointed with the product, because they don’t realize that there are things that you can entertain yourself with doing and still not be able to get onto the record exactly the way you want.
PL: What is the extent of your engineering today?
TD: I re-mix most of the albums I get involved with. On some I’ll institute the initial recording because I might think that there are some ways of using the studio that differ from the way the house staff does it, and so I might get involved there too.
PL: In your experiences as a producer, do you have any “guiding principles” or basic jumping-off points as to what a producer should be or do?
TD: Well, it depends on the project and the artist as to exactly what hat you’ll be wearing. If I’m working with a group, I should be familiar with their styles, what their limitations are, and what they’re extra good at. After we’ve determined the material and the goal for the project, I work with the individual members to get the ultimate contribution out of each one of them, and give confidence or advice where it’s needed. I try to have a one-to- one relationship with all the members of a group.
When I’m dealing with a single artist, I try to find out what image he has of himself or would like to have, what records he likes, and generally try to gain his trust. Then, in a bit of soul-searching, you try to ascertain how real the project is how much you can satisfy the artist and still satisfy the public’s image of the artist.
Sometimes an artist will get carried away, and might spend loo much time doing a song, half an album, or a whole album that is really only rewarding to him, which will hurt because the public won’t accept it. With respect to this, I often influence material, choice of keys, musicians, etc.
PL: I’d really like you to elaborate on something you said earlier. Let’s talk about the “limitations” and the “what they’re extra good at” of some of your artists. How about Aretha Franklin?
TD: Aretha is one of those most unusual artists. Aretha does not need a producer she needs a confidante, that’s all. She just needs somebody there when she’s singing with whom she can share what she’s trying to do.
Sometimes, when she hears back a performance that has completely captivated you, you’ll say “This is the best singing I’ve ever heard you do!” she’ll listen to it a few more times and say “I can do one better.” She means that it’s not an ego trip and it’s not theatrics. She actually knows that there’s something in there that she can do better. Aretha has an incredible facility for judging her own performance and knowing how much room there is for improvement.
PL: Would you say she has any “limitations”?
TD: No. She can do absolutely anything she wants to do.
PL: By contrast, how about the Allman Brothers? What are they good at, and where might they need guidance?
TD: I have not really done anything with the Allmans since Duane’s passing. The last project I did with them was, I think, “Eat a Peach” or the Fillmore resumes. The Allman Brothers needed what I guess you’d call a disciplinarian more than any thing else. First off, it’s unusual for a band to have two drummers. It’s also unusual for a band to have two lead guitar players as good as Duane and Dicky Betts.
Much of what I did was simply ironing out the polyrhythmic confusion that often existed as a result of those two guitars and two drums. Now you can’t just go in there and say to them “You play this and you play that” you have to put it diplomatically. It would be more like “Why don’t each of you take turns on that lick, and then that will make room… “, etc.
PL: Were they generally amenable to your suggestions?
TD: All the time. To this day they are. I’ve been doing some recording in Macon, and I see Dicky once in a while, I see Gregg, I see Butch, and we’ll talk and they’ll say “Will you listen to some sides we’ve done?” They always realized that when I would say something, it was never taken as “criticism” as much as “I like what you’re doing but it’s not happening as well as it could be.”
PL: What do you consider their strong points where they need you the least?
TD: Oh, I could never tell them about their solos—they knew.
PL: This might be kind of an unfair question, but can you name the Jive projects that you most enjoyed being a part of?
TD: Hmmmm. Well, the first one is definitely off-the wall. It was a recording I did in September of 1952 with Wilbur De Paris, who had a Dixieland band in New York. His brother was Sidney De Paris, the clarinet player was Omer Simeon, and I can’t remember the drummer or the bass player.
Anyway, there was a chap in the metropolitan area at that time who was advocating stereo recording in those days binaural recording. His name was Emery Cook and he was a wild-haired genius engineer and a recording enthusiast who fancied doing raucous things. He proposed to us recording this band in binaural, and as it was jazz, Atlantic was quite interested.
I had spent some time with Emery and was quite captivated with the sound and clarity he could get, and I told them “You’re gonna like the music, I’m gonna like the recording, let’s do it!” In September 1952, we made our first stereo recording. To me, it was a real milestone, especially because stereo didn’t really happen to the American public till eight or nine years later.
PL: What was the tune?
TD: It was a Dixieland LP, actually. It was like a live concert—we hired a hall, put the band on stage, and put two microphones up. If they took four minutes for each number and they did six numbers, it took half an hour to do and boom we were done. They were very professional good performances, good solos, and for those days sensational sound.
PL: Was it actually released as a stereo record?
TD: It was released as a binaural record initially. It involved two cuts on the same side of the record that you played with two pickups simultaneously—one was the left channel and one was the right channel. Musically, it was acknowledged as a fine album, but there were not too many people who wanted to spend the money to buy the equipment to play it the way it was best reproduced, so it was put out monaurally too.
It’s still in the catalog, if I’m not mistaken, and reissued periodically in those “Best Of” series. I guess the next little project would be my becoming familiar with Les Paul and real “multitrack” recording. After I went up to his place in New Jersey and saw his equipment, I went into Atlantic and said “Hey, people are arguing about 2-track recording. Forget it. There’s a recorder available now where you record on wide tape—eight tracks which is a much better way of storing the information.”
And they went with me they said “If you believe that it’s going to help us make better records, get it.” So I went, in 1957, and ordered an 8-track recorder. I was the laughing stock of the industry, New York thought I was crazy, everybody was bananas.
From the lime that machine arrived until about 1962, I saw every other record company and every other studio in the country go through the painful process of going from 2-track to 3-track to 4-track. Every year, they’d amortize the equipment or write it off, and go up another track. Ultimately, they all went to 8-track anyway. We just took a shortcut.
There is a pile of records that we made the first year on that machine—the Coasters, Lavern Baker, Wilson Pickett, Bobby Darin—any one of which could have paid for it with one week’s sales! I’d say that step getting that 8-track recorder was a milestone for me. I look back on myself and I say “Boo” to the world. I was five years ahead of them.
Another one of my all-time favorite projects would have to be the Otis album that we did in Memphis — Otis Redding’s first album. That’s the one that has “Satisfaction” on it, “Respect,” “Down in the Valley.” Instead of doing nothing but slow songs like “Pain in my Heart,” they did more rhythmic, up-tempo stuff.
You know, there are some times when you sit in the studio where an hour seems like a day, ‘cause nothing is going right, and there are other times when you sit there and say “My God, I’ve done an hour and a half’s worth of music and it’s only 4:00!” This was one of those albums we did it all in one day, I think.
There are still more. The “Layla” album, of course. Can I overlook a John Coltrane experience? I can’t ignore the first Ray Charles album that’s certainly a milestone. The Herbie Mann “Memphis Underground” album? I can’t say no to two or three Aretha albums either.
And this is not to forget one I’m doing now with Rod Stewart and some of those same Memphis musicians. After about 25 minutes of recording, Duck Dunn and Al Jackson came over to me and said “It’s like the feeling we had with Otis. Listen to that boy sing! Where you been hiding him?” Il was all quite reciprocal, because later Rod came walking out of the studio and said “Mai gawd, wha’ a band!”
PL: Do you have any favorite hardware, like mikes or limiters?
TD: No. I’m a firm believer in using what ever equipment will do the job. There are some microphones that are designed for a very specific applications that I wouldn’t say that you shouldn’t use in an unusual fashion. Just because it’s designed for PA, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use il in the studio, or if it’s designed to be nine inches from the vocalist, you shouldn’t have him “hug” it.
I’m appalled by some of the things that are put on the market some by little fly-by-night firms, and others by large reputable companies that violate the obvious chronology of progress. You know, things that revert back to an old method, and they say “But this is the better way.” I’m not talking about home equipment I’m talking about consoles that can cost up to $50,000! I’m against a manufacturer mass-producing an item, saying “This will solve all your problems” where it’s not an improvement, it’s just a bad permutation of something that’s already failed once and they’re trying to foist it on you another way.
PL: Let’s set up a completely hypothetical situation. Suppose that you’re the only engineer in a totally unfamiliar studio where they have every single type of hardware ever made. What would you start out with—are you partial to Neumann or Kepex, for example?
TD: Well, first off, the musicians should position themselves where they’re comfortable. If I cannot take advantage of what the studio recommends as the best placement in the room for those people, then the house choice of microphones might have to be altered too. Where I might have had physical separation, now I might have to use a high front lo-back rejection mike because the bass and guitar amps are six inches apart.
If the studio is accustomed to having the drums in one corner, the piano over here, and the guitar and bass in traps, and they’re using omni-directional microphones, that’s all very well and good if the musicians are comfortable. However, if they’re not comfortable that way and end up standing on 14 square feet of a 20 x 40 room, I can’t use omnidirectionals.
Once the musicians are physically comfortable, then I can try lo give them the sound they want. Certainly, I’ll use directional microphones where directional microphones are necessary, but I’m not too concerned with whether they’re Electro-Voice or AKG.
An instrument like a guitar, I would, for the most part, record as a mono track. In a case like this, you normally go for a very tight focal field on that source of sound, as opposed to something like drums, where the man is flailing about over a large surface area. With drums, I want lo capture the motion and the depth, so I’d want a big spread, meaning distant miking. You don’t want them very tight, where you have to manufacture the sound he’s creating you want to be able to capture his technique and dynamics just as he did it.
PL: So you normally don’t limit, as a rule.
TD: I try not to. Often it depends on the complexity of what you’re trying to record, but I believe that you can usually gel away without limiting anything on an initial recording.
PL: What were the circumstances surrounding the making of “Layla.”
TD: Well, Eric had this new group, and they felt that they’d better find out what they’re all about and do an album. I’d always had pleasant dealings with Eric and Ginger and Jack, and with the Stigwood Organization, and when Eric wanted to record, I was asked. At that time, the best place to do it was in Miami because that was where I was working. If 1 was in New York, it would have been done in New York.
PL: How long did it take to record?
TD: About two-and-a-half weeks.
PL: Had they rehearsed beforehand?
TD: They had a concept for each of the songs, but as I say, they had played them and listened to themselves in rehearsal halls, but they had not ever heard themselves back in a mirror image. So they came into the studio and started horsing around. While they were doing that, we were setting up and working on the sound.
Then we did a couple of passes so everyone could hear what they sounded like on tape, so we could make adjustments. Jim would say something like “Gee, I wish I had more bass drum,” or Carl would say “I don’t like this amp” and that would be changed.
PL: So each musician exerted a strong influence over how his instrument should sound.
TD: Oh yeah. You have to look at a group with that talent level and remember that each one is a soloist. You can’t say to one “Well, I’m making a vocal record, to hell with you.” Clapton is very very strong but extremely quiet. He will sometimes say something like “I don’t like the way the bass sounds,” but that doesn’t mean that the bass player can’t say “Well I do like the way it sounds.”
Or Eric might say “That’s lovely,” and if the bass player wants it changed, Eric will say “Let’s hear it that way then.” He’s the leader, but there’s wisdom and judgment he would never say “This is what I want. I don’t care about you.”
So they were playing around, jamming, and what-not while we were still getting things straightened out. This is what’s been coming out in the last few years—alternate takes from “Layla,” which were really just rehearsals.
Once we got everyone sounding the way they wanted, then we could sit down with them and find out various things about the song, so we could start trafficking tracks. How many voices will it ultimately have? How many guitar parts? Is it going to be piano and organ? You’ve got to plan ahead.
PL: I noticed you got a fairly “windy” drum sound. How did you mike the drums?
TD: Jim Cordon is a very tasteful, very strong drummer. Because he has such incredible facility, you have to be careful that you don’t over-mike him you could miss some of his dynamics because you have too many mikes fishing around. If he had five tom-toms up, and you miked every doggone one, if he hit a cymbal that was anywhere near those torn mikes, it would be leaking in too many directions.
Speaking of cymbals, he had a little dinky cymbal that once in a while we would put up. It was just a toy, really he could have never gotten that sound with any of the other cymbals. Every once in a while, he’d just reach over and smack it. No matter where we put it, he’d manage to hit it hard enough so that it always came through!
That sound you’re referring to was a result of distant miking. We used the overhead mikes 67s or 87s — like “spotlights.” You have to adjust them initially for height and angle so that their fields don’t overlap and create a “hot spot.”
Once you’ve got the right focal plane in the down line, then you work on the vertical axis, so that you can catch a better proportion between a tom-tom sitting down on the floor and a cymbal way up on top of a stand.
PL: How about the organ?
TD: For the organ, we used an omni — on the top and an RCA 77 ribbon mike on the bottom. We usually took two tracks — the high end on one and the low end on the other. The high mike is in back, and the one for the low is down by the lower baffle and around the side of the cabinet where you’re protected from the rumble of the motor.
If you look at a Hammond cabinet from the back, you have a shelf, then your rotating horn device, and then you have this big dumb dodo of a woofer that rotates and makes all that horrible rumble.
For the top vent, you can place a microphone at about a 20 or 30 degree angle to avoid the wind and draft deflection that the rotor causes. Down here, to get rid of the “woof-woof” of that thing rotating, you would go to the side of the cabinet so that the baffle affords you some screening.
PL: How did Dunne Allman come to be involved in “Layla”?
TD: Well, Duane and I were into a recording project—maybe it was “ldlewild South” around when I got the call from the New York office saying that Eric was wanting to record Derek and the Dominos. The next time I saw Duane, I said “You’ve got to meet Eric Clapton,” and he said “Oh, I’d be embarrassed to he’s such a line guitar player.”
Soon after that we had lo part company as he was going on tour or something. Now when Eric came down with Bobby and Carl and Jim, I said “I was just working with a line guitar player named Duane Allman last week, and I’d love for the two of you to meet.” Eric looked at me and said “God, I love the way that guy plays, but I’d be too nervous to be in the same studio with him.”
They both stood in awe of each other, both two very soft spoken gentle human beings. As fate might have it, after we’d started doing Derek and the Dominos, the Allman Brothers were doing a concert in the Miami area. One night in the studio, I said to Eric “Would you like to go down and see Duane Allman and the band play- tonight?” and he said “I’d love to, but don’t let him know I’m there. I’d be embarrassed if he asked me on stage.”
So I called up Duane and said that I might be able to bring Eric by, and he said “Don’t tell me if he’s there ‘cause I’ll freeze. I can’t play in front of him. ” To make a long story short, they finally visited with each other at the concert that night, and later on, the Allman Brothers came up to the studio. Eric and Duane went off in the corner and spent like seven hours talking to each other and trading licks. The first time that Duane had available, he came back and played on the “Layla” album. The two of them just fell in love with each other.
PL: Did you feel early on that this was going to be a landmark album?
TD: When we were making it, I felt that it was a mighty good album. I knew that the music was good, the songs were good, and the performances were outstanding on the part of every musician. When I finished mixing it down, I walked out of that room and said—and several people have teased me about this—“That’s the best damn album I’ve made in 10 years!”
Editor’s note: At this point, a “blindfold test” was initiated and “Layla” was put on, with Tom doing a song-by-song analysis and commentary.
Song: I Looked Away
TD: Hah, there’s that Delaney Bramlett influence! The sequence of the songs on this album in the order in which we recorded them. Actually, I should qualify that a bit some of the tunes were done before Duane arrived, and he was later added to them.
PL: It’s strange to me that Clapton’s made so little effort to preserve the Cream licks.
TD: Yeah. He’s not ashamed of that stuff he’s proud of it. It’s just that he doesn’t believe he has to wear that coat the rest of his life. Eric doesn’t walk into the studio and say “I’ve got to make a record as good as…” Instead he says “This is what I want to do now.”
PL: Were any of these tunes actually written in the studio?
TD: Bobby Whitlock indicates that a few of them did come out of things that transpired in the studio. We’ve talked about this a couple of times, and he said that there are one or two songs that they only had the faintest clue to when they walked in. I don’t know which songs he’s referring to, but I would guess some of the later ones.
Song: Bell Bottom Blues
PL: Was this a case of ultimately using both lead guitar tracks, or was it originally conceived of that way?
TD: Well, when you’re playing one part, you’ll often hear another in your head. Then you’ll decide to re-do it that way, still keeping the first one. When you play them back together, you realize that they’re complementary and should be together. The vocal harmonies here are excellent.
PL: Were all the vocal parts worked out beforehand, or were some generated in this same way by hearing what they already had on tape?
TD: Both things happened. They’d usually do two live, and there was always the possibility that Eric would go one over Bobby or Bobby would go one over himself. Then they suspend the ending, which is just as bizarre as everything else they did on this song.
Song: Keep On Growing
TD: This is the tune where Jim re-did the drum track.
PL: Do you have any of the original drum track in there?
TD: Yeah, I’m sure there are some elements of the original track. I remember that when we put the tabla on, he said “I want to re-do the drums.”
PL: Isn’t that considered very difficult?
TD: Well, I wouldn’t trust it to but one or two drummers that I’ve ever worked with, and he’s one of them. I might go with Al Jackson the same way. The problem is overdubbing drums isn’t really meter, but feel. A drummer might have the best time in the world, but he still has to be responsive to the music as a whole and the other musicians.
If one of the guys staggers or lays back a bit, he has to make an instantaneous decision: does he lay back with them, or does ee do something to complement their laying back? That’s the spontaneity of playing drums — how perceptive are you and how quickly can you respond? The reason Jim wanted to re-do the drum track was because the lyrics didn’t turn out to be where he thought they’d be.
When he finally heard the lyrics, he realized that there were some places that called for him to break out and “punctuate.” Oh, that ending. They still do that and it aggravates me. They sometimes get cute and put these little post mortems on.
Song: Nobody Knows When You’re Down And Out
TD: This is one of those songs where the performance and the sincerity of the endeavor really come through. It happened one night when we were talking about old jazz blues, and somebody said “You know, nobody ever plays ‘Nobody Knows’ . . .” one of those things.
PL: I really like Clapton’s dynamics here—the way he brings out that arpeggio as a fill, almost.
TD: Exactly! If I had a limiter on it, those dynamics would all have been erased. This kind of thing is always a challenge, when you’re not sticking a limiter on to make sure that it doesn’t overload or whatever. You’re sitting there having a great deal of anxiety, hoping that you can anticipate what they’re going to do.
Instead of “painting” the picture with equalizers, add more echo, do this, do that, you’re taking a “snapshot”—trying to capture it just the way they did it. I can promise you, when they do things like that, the earphones are off. I’m not against earphones—don’t misunderstand that—but often when you’re using phones, you don’t relate to the other musicians as well.
PL: Was Eric playing as softly as it sometimes sounds, or did he have an amp that just wouldn’t break up?
TD: I must say that there was a dramatic change from my last contact with Eric in Cream to Eric in Derek and the Dominos. With Cream, it was always three or four Marshalls, wide open, feedback, earth-shattering levels, and so forth.
Of that group. Ginger was the softest member. Between Jack and Eric with their Marshalls, I couldn’t hear Ginger when I walked into the studio, and Ginger Baker is a loud drummer! He always used to protest and say “They’re making too much noise!” ‘cause he couldn’t even hear himself!
When we go in for “Layla,” Eric shows up with a Champ and an old Gibson one of those straw-colored things midway in size between a Champ and a Princeton. Duane came in with something out of that old school too God knows what it was, those oldie goldie amplifiers.
They played so softly that if you weren’t close miked on the amplifiers, the fret noises would have been too loud, which is to say nothing of the other instruments leaking in. Really, if you opened up one of the studio doors, the rush of air would pin your meter!
Song: I Am Yours
TD: I forgot all about this one! I didn’t see it at the time, but it’s a very strong cousin to “I Looked Away.”
PL: This has a definite Caribbean or Polynesian flavor to me.
TD: To me, it sounds like Mediterranean. If it sounds like Trinidad or Jamaica and it sounds like Mediterranean, then it musm not mistaken, and reissued perio/idically in those t be African, because that’s where they both feed from.
PL: Why haven’t there been more albums featuring two “super guitarists”?
TD: Well, it’s nice to do for people who are guitar buffs, and it’s good for the guitar players, but then all of a sudden you’re in a very delicate position. You get into that “jazz” category, where you’re making records that you know are musically this and that and you’re doing something to preserve a tradition that you believe in.
You’re trying to educate the public. Unfortunately, when you’re talking about mass education, you may not be talking about mass tastes.
Song: Key To The Highway
TD: This was influenced by a record that was being done that they heard in the hallway. I had worked with Sam the Sham—Sam Samudio—and Ronnie Hawkins, and we’d done songs like “Key to the Highway” and other traditional, spiritual-type things.
That night, someone was making a tape copy or something in another room, and when we broke, Duane heard it and said “Hey, that’s a great old hymn, it goes like ...” and Eric said “I remember… !” Eric is very deep in American blues lie knows it extremely well, better than a lot of American musicians.
PL: He often treads a very fine line be tween a lead and a rhythm part.
TD: Well, he enjoys playing rhythm more than anything in the world. Most people don’t know what a really excellent rhythm player he is. He’d have a delightful time if nobody ever asked him to play a solo or go “Boo.” Really, he’d be tickled silly.
PL: I’ve always said that you can tell this is a live vocal because of that interplay between the voice and guitar. Also, sometimes a word or two will be off-mike, like he’s moving around.
TD: I think this is live most or all of the blues numbers were. Eric, at that time, was quite insecure about his singing. He didn’t feel he was an adequate vocalist, and he really didn’t want to sing.
Song: Tell The Truth
TD: Tell the Truth! It’s interesting that this version came out as slow as it did, because if you were to hear it now like how he did it on the “Rainbow” album, or how it’s been done by a few other groups they all play it much faster. Duane was really an incredibly sensitive musician. You know, he’d be playing a part and all of a sudden think “What I’m doing is not that significant, so I can just as well take it the hell out and not bother anybody with it,” and he would make room for the people that are playing to play more.
Too often, someone will be playing and they’ll figure “The song is this long, so in here I’ll just play rhythm.” When they think they’re contributing, whatever they’re doing might be tipping some intricate rhythm pattern that exists between two of the other musicians. Sometimes, when you stop doing your part, the best thing you can do is not do anything stay away.
Song: Why Does Love Got To Be So Sad?
TD: I met a disc jockey at Rod Stewart’s house last night, and we were just talking about this song. He swears that a recut of this song could be a hit. I never saw the man before in my life! He came up to me and said “You’re Tom Dowd you made the “Layla” album. There’s a song in there…” and he started talking songs. He actually proposed that Rod record it.
We were talking about doing it samba-like or reggae. Rhythmically, you can give this type of song a pattern like “Grapevine” or “Shame Shame Shame” — it’s very easily done. You could put it into a push-one playing double time in the rhythm configuration, even though the chord changes are only playing two bars of cadence inside of one measure of change.
One thing interesting about this song is the flow of words. They deliver them in a unique fashion, so that the words are the percussion “Why-Does-Love-Got-To-Be-So-Sad?”—like a cowbell part or a tambourine part. They’re actually using words to give the illusion of percussion.
Song: Have You Ever Loved A Woman?
PL: When Clapton’s playing the solo live, would he junk an otherwise good lake if the solo didn’t meet his standards, or does he go for the best overall “feel”?
TD: At the outset, if there was a solo that was shaky on Eric’s part, but the track felt good, he’d say “Let’s try some more but save that one.” Two or three days later, the jury would come in and we’d sit down and try to determine whether or not the track could be saved. “Is the solo really that bad, or should we try to do it again?”
This kind of exchange existed among all the people in the band if Whitlock would say “I can do a better organ part,” Eric might say “I liked my solo but I’ll try with you,” and they’d go in and do it again.
PL: Did you ordinarily try to baffle them in such a way that you could re-do the solo?
TD: No. As a result, there were some situations where we did have leakage to the point where we had to scrap takes that we might have saved otherwise. We didn’t go for that “studio-sterile” miking where you could isolate everything be-cause that wasn’t the sound we wanted.
PL: Is he really meticulous about his solo as an overdub? Will he play it ten limes, for example?
TD: Oh yeah, like in that Aretha Franklin tradition. When he hears that solo back and thinks he can do it better, he’ll do it.
PL: Does he look for a particular kind of development, or will he try a solo a number of different ways?
TD: When Eric is playing traditional music blues or any kind of “historical” composition it is the spontaneity of the performance that completely determines if it’s used or not. If he believes that his rendition of that song, at that given moment, is what he felt and what he way trying to do, that’s the way it stands.
He would not then go back and alter the solo to make it something he wants it to be now. When Eric writes a song, he knows what kind of solo he wants, he knows what he wants every corner of that song to sound like.
When he’s playing an old blues, he might play something right now that he’s in love with, but a month from now he’d say “I can’t imagine what I was thinking when I did that.” Still, he wouldn’t go back and re-do it because that would be incongruous with what was happening at that time.
PL: On this album, did he do any punching-in - re-doing part of a solo?
TD: No, Eric is not inclined to be fragmentized with his solos. He might on section parts, but not on solos. There might be an awkward gliss that he’d want punched out, but to punch in two bars of something isn’t his nature.
Song: Little Wing
PL: How did this one come to be recorded?
TD: Well, Eric always had a great deal of respect for Jimi Hendrix, and they wanted to try and make a record of that song. Obviously, the recordings he’d made were unique and classics, but they figured that they were up to being able to make one as good. They spent hours preparing this.
Jimi was a dynamic human being who made some great contributions. I just don’t think we ever got to the meat of Jimi Hendrix, we just got all the sparks. We never really got into what he was all about.
PL: You never recorded Jimi Hendrix, did you?
TD: Yeah, as a matter of fact, I did, before he became the Jimi Hendrix of reputation. That Jimi Hendrix played guitar in a band for King Curtis along with Cornell Dupree. Jimi was the second guitar player. He also played with the Isley Brothers and Little Richard. I knew him then as a guitar player who had some most unusual ideas and fantastic ability. It was just a matter of when it was going to happen. He was going to do something, that was for sure.
PL: This is the only place on the album that really says “studio effect” – that delay off the lead guitar.
TD: Yes, that should be a 7 1/2 tape delay. It was done in the mix.
PL: How much did Clapton participate in the mixing? Would he move the faders?
TD: No, he’d just sit there and listen, and nod approval or protest.
PL: Does he ever ask for a definite sound? Would he say “I want a delay off my guitar” or “Compress the middle eight”?
TD: No, he wouldn’t use terms like that, but he’d say “I want it to sound more “hall like” or “I want it to repeat.” Then we’d put on some slap-back and adjust the speed on it to where it fits with the feeling that he has.
Song: It’s Too Late
TD: This was done by Chuck Willis originally. Back about 1956, Chuck Willis was a very popular singer. At that time, the music was called Stroll, and he was “The King of the Stroll.”
Last year when we did “461 Ocean Boulevard,” Eric and Carl asked me if I could get them any Chuck Willis records, and I went back into the Atlantic archives and had tape copies made of everything we ever recorded on Chuck Willis and gave them a set. I think that’s Eric on a Telecaster. You know, he doesn’t really play hard, I mean physically. He doesn’t attack an instrument he’s delicate. He’s got a very light touch and he uses very light gauge strings.
One day, we were kidding with someone and the guy picked up Eric’s guitar and played a few chords, and all of a sudden, two strings came undone. He looked at him and said “My God, why do you use such light strings?” and Eric said “They’re not light to me.”
PL: You rolled off a lot of bottom on these guitars, didn’t you?
TD: Yeah, you had to. Because of the number of guitars, the complexity of what they’re playing, and with the exception of one, that they’re all voiced the same. You get a confusion, especially with echo chambers, down in the low strings, so it might be that you’ll want to roll off the lows in that portion that is going to the echo chamber, so that the chamber doesn’t over-confuse.
PL: Was this tune originally intended to be the album’s central track?
TD: Yes. It was based on a personal experience Eric was having around that lime. This and “Bell Bottom Blues” had some significant meaning for him.
PL: Was the ending written separately?
TD: Yes, it was. From the time we started recording “Layla” until the time we got that whole first part done, Jim Gordon and Bobby Whitlock had been talking about a part that could possibly be added onto the end of it. It was to be a concerto-type theme. Jim wrote the part, but we could never put it in with the guitars and the organ. It just never fit the track, and we abandoned it.
Finally, when the first part was all done and we were listening to it, Jim said “Let me go in and play the piano part on it right now,” so we played the tape and set the mood up for him, and when the track came to an end, we punched in on an adjacent machine and Jim continued right in the tradition that he’d been saying it should be done all along.
Then we backed up the tape and added the other parts. We could never do it on the fly - it just never materialized, no matter how many times we tried it, until the song was done.
PL: I’d always thought that last little sound was a whistle with a tape delay, but a friend told me it’s Duane Allman doing something strange on his guitar.
TD: He’s right. Eric showed Duane how to get the harmonics way up at the top of the neck. Duane did it. but not with a steel bottleneck. He was using one of those little coffee creamer jars. Remember you used to get cream in a jar in restaurants, and it would be in a small bottle? We used to go into coffee shops and truck stops and snitch a couple.
Song: Thorn Tree In The Garden
TD: This is interesting. It was done directly to quarter-inch tape. Bobby, Eric, and Duane are playing guitars and Carl is playing bass all seated around two microphones. It was a real stereo recording. The microphones were omnidirectional, and if I recall, were about nine inches apart. I just had them sit around them, did a little adjustment, and it was made in like two or three passes. Live vocal, everything.
That was the ideal opportunity to make, in the true sense of the word, a stereo recording. If you were to listen to this on earphones, it would be grossly different from things where you’d have five or six mikes going, crossfading,and mixing and all.
PL: What was your first contact with Cream?
TD: Very simple. At the time I was doing a lot of work for Stax, Ahmet was going to Europe and got interested in a lot of English acts. One of the acts that he was deeply interested in and you could understand why, he being into jazz and so forth was Cream. To him they were representative of a new breed, a new form of jazz. It was akin to blues but not blues, akin to jazz but not jazz, and he was tremendously impressed by them.
Of course, he was also aware of the groups that each one of them had come from, and here was an opportunity to get all of them into one group. He made a deal with RSO Robert Satinwood — for the rights to the group in the United States.
Anyway, they were over here on tour as part of a package, and Ahmet called me up one day and said “There’s this fine English group that’s currently on tour, and they’re going to finish the tour in the next few days and we should make an album with them before they go back.” It was like that you had to grab them before their work permits expired and they had to leave the country!
For the first album, the equipment arrived on a Thursday, they walked in on a Friday, played the numbers they had been playing on tour, and on Sunday the limousines came right to the studio and took them to the airport. That was it. That was how I met them.
PL: Let’s talk about “Disraeli Gears.” I’ve always called it “the album that introduced ‘lead guitar’ to the American audience.”
TD: Yeah, I know what you mean. It was threatening to happen for a long time it was just a matter of being at the right place at the right time. You’re always close, but some times you get luckier than other times, that’s all. It was not an “endeavor” it was just that was what we had to go with, we believed in it, and we did it.
PL: I would imagine that you are significantly responsible for Jack Bruce’s recorded bass sound. What did you do to get it?
TD: Well, there was a big problem that I had recording them, especially on the first album. All of their equipment was 50 cycles/220 volts, which is the European standard. When they had done their concert tours, they had transformers stepping up and stepping down, so that they never had to alter their Marshalls.
They had original English Marshalls and that’s the way they traveled. When they got to my studio, we had none of this step-up and step-down equipment. This was at Atlantic Records in New York ,11 West 60th Street. Being that it was a weekend, we had limited access to transformers and things that could correct some of the problems and so we had some very unusual power factors working.
They were playing under hardship and I was recording under hardship because none of the equipment was really running the way it was designed to run. That’s the truth! Their amplifiers were tube, and running in this unorthodox fashion, they were heating up continually.
They were physically heating up and we’d have to stop every once in a while to let them cool down. It was not just a matter of air circulation, either we were absolutely abusing some of the electronics, and as a result, it altered the sounds. It altered the sounds considerably.
PL: So was the bass taken only as an amplified channel?
TD: No. I had mike and direct running simultaneously on Eric and Jack in the studio.
PL: Were the miked and direct channels combined at the time of recording, or did you take each one down on a separate track?
TD: I took them down on two tracks. Sometimes, though, when we had to back up for a lot of overdubs, the luxury of two bass tracks was gone and we had to start combining them.
PL: When you were recording “Sunshine of Your Love,” did you suspect that it would be such a classic—the first real “hard rock” single?
TD: Yeah, I believed in the song intensely. If I remember, Ginger was playing almost Indian-type drums, emphasizing the back-beat. Everything else had a complete downbeat influence. I know that it took about an hour for the dust to settle after I suggested we get downbeat-happy instead of backbeat-happy. They played it for the tape once or twice, and when I played it back to them, they realized that it accented just what they wanted and then away we went.
PL: I read somewhere where Clapton said that on “Sunshine” and “Strange Brew” there were no effects on his guitar - just his Les Paul through a Marshall with everything at 10. Is this true?
TD: Yep. You couldn’t stay in the room when he was playing. It was a gold and brown Les Paul. I remember the guitar.
PL: Were you in on the editing to the single version of “Sunshine of Your Love”?
TD: Oh yeah.
PL: You slowed it down a percent, or so, didn’t you? It’s noticeably slower.
TD: I could imagine that it might be slower, but it was not intentional. I did edit it, yes. You know, I enjoy making records the way the artist likes lo do it, but when I put on that “record company” hat and when you want to get it on the air . . .
PL: So you took out that riff one out of every two times.
TD: Exactly. I become a monster, I become a policeman! I’ll sit down and notate the arrangement and say “This goes, that goes, you said that lyric once already, forget it, zap, zap, zap.”
PL: How about the “crowd noises” on “Take It Back “? Was that an overdub, or were you actually miking the control room while the basic track was being recorded?
TD: Well, initially when we recorded Cream, it was just the three of them and their roadies and myself. Then came Felix, and by the time we got into the “Wheels of Fire” album, when Cream showed up it would be with Janis Joplin and everyone else!
Every once in a while, you’d be aware that those people had an influence they were really contributing to what was going on. For example, when you’d play something back, they’d jump up and say “Hey, that’s great!” or “Why don’t you try this?!” you know, you get that enthusiasm. For “Take It Back,” we thought “Maybe we could use that.”
PL: How did you actually record them?
TD: We sent them into the studio and put the track on loudspeakers. I said “Hey, you like it so much, let me play it back to you and you can make some noise.” I guess there were about 15 or 20 people out there.
PL: How about “Mother’s Lament”? How did you come to record that?
TD: With Cream, there were times when the tension used to be very high, when they were very serious about what they were doing. Ginger might be saying “You’re playing so well and the part I’m playing is terrible, and I’d like to do it again except that I wouldn’t want to do it again if you didn’t think that you could play as well ...” that sort of thing.
Now the day this happened was just the opposite we were all very jovial. We were sitting around listening to some quarter-inch roughs we had done, when somehow or other we got talking about English music halls. We were talking about some of the things you used to see on the English stage the comedians and the pub scenes and so forth and Ginger just sat back and recited this little ditty.
I completely busted up! I said “We have to put that in the album.” I thought it would be great with all those other heavy things going by. They said “Great idea,” ran out into the studio, and made a pass at it, and boom. That was “Mother’s Lament.”
PL: I wanted to ask you about the live Cream dates you recorded.
TD: Well, the first live dates I did with them were for the “Wheels of Fire” album. They wanted to make it a two- pocket album, with part of it live and part of it studio. We wanted to be able to get enough things in the live recordings that weren’t on any albums and still have one or two live versions of songs that had appeared before. If I recall, we did three-nights of recording for “Wheels of Fire” two nights at the Fillmore and one at Winterland, or maybe it was the other way around.
PL: Were those gigs supposed to be the “high points ” of the tour?
TD: They might have been, I don’t know. I think that really it was another case where they had to leave the country soon.
PL: What track tape did you use?
PL: How were the tracks allocated?
TD: Well, for the live stuff we could really cheat. We had two tracks for the audience, a vocal for Jack and a vocal for Eric, and then a bass track and a guitar track. What we would sometimes do is drop the guitars onto the audience mikes, so we got them from the amps and distant. We get into cutie little stunts like that.
The drums were recorded on two tracks. It might have been three we might have folded the two vocals together one night and not on the next, I don’t know. For the most part, though, I think Ginger was recorded on two tracks.
PL: What procedure would you go through in recording a live performance? Suppose I call you up and say “Tom I want you to come down to the Fillmore and record a Cream gig.” What do you do from then on?
TD: First I go about finding out what the best remote truck is. Then you find out about the crew. Your crew is really important — they’re a living, breathing part of the whole operation. They shouldn’t be out there running microphones all over the place, but should be operating with a definite plan.
For Cream, I used Wally Heider Recording and Bill Halverson, both of whom I used to use quite a lot when I was recording in California. Knowing what Cream was like in the studio, I could imagine how much more bizarre they might gel on stage, and so I figured I’d better give Bill some preparation.
I gave him diagrams and sent him notes, telling him how I got the way it sounds on disc. I’d note to him the microphones I used and the distances really, “...this kind of mike that far away…” and so on. By that time, I had evolved a classic sound pattern whatever that means for Cream. It was just the way I saw them, having Ginger spread with multi-miking, and then Jack and Eric going mad on the sides.
We got a very heavy, ominous-sounding record going. I wasn’t saying to Bill that he should use these same mikes, I was just telling him what I’d done to get that sound. The intent was to get the group like they sound on disc and live at the same time.
Bill did a great deal of homework for these dates he probably spent a week or two taking the things apart. He’s a very conscientious chap. I sent him some 8 track out-takes so that he could listen to the individual tracks, then I sent him some rough mixes so he could sec it at that stage, then the records, and so on.
We spoke on the phone about everything! By the time I finally walked into the Fillmore for the first recording, it was all set up. You know, there might have been some miking that was different from the way I’d done it, but when the group was playing and I went back into the truck. Bill had it covered. It was clean, it was virile.
The next major thing I do for a live recording is check out the hall. One of the biggest problems is always the acoustics of the place where you’ll be recording. You get into what are now theaters motion picture houses that are carpeted and with velour upholstery on the chairs and so forth, and these rooms are heavy and dead to play in even when they’re empty.
When you take a sound check in a room like that, all you can do is make sure that the microphones are working. You can’t really evaluate the sound until you get all the people in there.
PL: So you have a limited amount of time in which to get the miking straightened out.
TD: Right, sometimes you have to make a very quick guess. If it’s an upholstered room, it’s going to call for a more spatial type recording. This is as opposed to a live, reverberant room where you’ll want very tight, close-up recording, because the ambience in the room is going to be coming down all the up-front mikes anyway.
With a dead room, you can back off and let everything breathe more, because there’s so little ambience. If you didn’t, it would sound like it was done in a studio instead of a concert hall.
LIVE RECORDING STAGE SETUP
The stage set-up for live recordings at the Fillmore West and Winterland of Cream during their Summer 1968 U.S. tour (excerpts from which appear on disc in “Wheels of Fire” and “Live Cream Volume II”).
Said Bill Halverson: “This was the second remote recording I had ever done. It was very unsophisticated back then—‘The Stone Age of Live Recording’—and no one had really done any remotes, at least not of rock n’ roll. At that time, I didn’t like rock & roll, but when I heard these guys stretch out like some new sort of jazz group, I was very impressed.
Live recording setup. Click to enlarge.
“The original Fillmore was a nice hall to record in. Even though it wasn’t that big, it had a very live quality. That and the short delay time made it like recording in a huge living room. At Winterland, we used pretty much the same set-up.
“For the Cream performances, we used a little 12-position rotary console that had a left, a middle, and a right. It had a 3 and 6 at 100 and 7500—that was all the EQ that was on there. I only had room for the vocals and drums through the board. Everything else I ran through Ampex mixers, padded way, way down.
“For the miking, I used what were then Shure 546s on almost everything, which is absurd. We used them because that’s what Heider’s happened to have at the time — that and three Electro-Voices, which I couldn’t stand. I also used two Sony C-28s—an old tube model—for the audience. They were positioned right at the edges of the stage, usually pointing at the center of the back of the hall. We used three more C-28s as overheads for Ginger.
“This was the first time that I had ever recorded Marshalls. The key to recording them is that you put the microphone right in the middle of the four speakers — anywhere else and it’ll blow the poor microphone’s brains out. You keep it in really tight — about three inches away. This way, it doesn’t have any sound coming directly at it and it’s surrounded by a “wall” of sound which blocks out all the leakage from the drums. That was really important because there was often only a foot between the amps and the drums.”
Take the PSW Photo Gallery Tour of audio equipment ads appearing in RE/P magazine, circa 1970.
Our sincere thanks to Mark Gander of JBL Professional for his considerable support on this archive project.
In The Studio: Acoustics 101 For Rooms Large & Small
Improving our ability to discern what we want to hear and what we do not...
Just like large big commercial studios, smaller and home studios suffer from acoustical interference that can make it more difficult to mix, especially when surrounded with the sound effects and ambiance that now typifies today’s stereo and 5.1 surround sound mixes. In professional studios, the walls are strategically treated with fabric-covered absorptive panels on the sides, front, rear and sometimes on the ceilings.
The key to improving intelligibility (or our ability to discern what we want to hear and what we do not) is achieved by reducing unwanted reflections from hard wall surfaces.
What happens is that the direct sound from the loudspeaker arrives at the listening position first and then the reflected sound arrives a few milliseconds later. These loud reflections cause the brain (human hearing mechanism) to have to ignore the second sound, thus making us work hard for nothing. In the studio, this effect is known to contribute to listening fatigue.
The solution is actually quite simple. Sound, especially in the voice range, is directional. This means that by using simple vectors, you can strategically position acoustic panels where they will be most effective.
By sitting in the various listening positions and simply moving a mirror on the wall to mark the areas where you see the speaker in the mirror, you will establish the ideal locations on which to position your panels.
The most common surfaces to treat a project studio is on the side walls in between the reference monitors and the listening area. These are usually positioned waist-high to control the upper section of the wall, which will be most prone to reflections. By leaving some open space on the wall, you retain some of the natural ambiance of the room, which will yield a more natural sound.
Treating either the receive wall or the transmit wall (behind the loudspeakers) will also help eliminate flutter echo and standing waves that can further deteriorate the sound. This is particularly helpful in square and rectangular shaped rooms where the parallel surfaces work in tandem to cause long trailing echoes.
Peter Janis is president of Radial Engineering, whose Primacoustic division offers a wide array of acoustic solutions that span all market segments.
Tuesday, April 29, 2014
Sound In The 70s: Memories Of Mayhem, Mischief & Mishaps
"The reverberation of the hall became the dominant signal as the PA system died..."
Touring around Britain and Europe during the early 1970s was quite a challenge; most bands carried their own public address (PA) system and used it for every gig, as “house PA systems” simply didn’t exist.
Local work crews didn’t exist either so this meant that you and your fellow roadie carried the rig in and out of the venue one piece at a time; the wheel hadn’t been exported to the UK at this time, or they cost too much, and the upside was that you were incredibly fit and agile.
The most popular PA equipment used for touring was made by Watkins Electric Music (WEM) and was used by all the major players, from Pink Floyd to Gary Glitter. As shocking as it sounds today, most national touring acts carried PA systems that were only around 1 kW and used a 5-channel mixer, also some bands were known to carry two of these mixers for a whopping 10-channel mix(!).
The usual circuit in the UK involved clubs, pubs, town halls and universities. The UK has many venues, but they are typically quite small—even the very famous Hammersmith Odeon only has a sitting capacity of around 3,700—and so it can get depressing doing these labor intensive, up the stairs, down the stairs, challenging load-ins for small (but keen) audiences.
About six months after I gave up my budding telecommunications career to join the crew of an up-and-coming band, we got word that we would be on the bill of a 24-hour non-stop rock n’ roll festival at a 10,000-12,000 seat indoor arena in Essen, Germany.
Manfred Mann & Uriah Heep crew, Central Park July 1974. (click to enlarge)
In those days I couldn’t imagine a facility being that big for an indoor concert. Forget about advance production; it simply didn’t happen. Somehow we’d get it sorted on the day.
On the other hand, one of the easier aspects of touring at that time was that there was no portable lighting to get in the way of things, which was just as well because none of the facilities carried the power required for any additional loads. It was challenging enough trying to plug in 10 amplifiers plus the hack line.
The other thing that hadn’t been invented was monitor systems: no monitors, no monitor engineer, no feedback, no grief (I still have the utmost respect for you Davy). Some facilities had rudimentary lighting supported with follow spots.
There were some exceptions to this rule, one of them being a group named Principal Edwards Magic Theatre, a 14-person collective of poets, singers, musicians, dancers, sound and lighting technicians. As I left my dependable telecommunications position behind me, one of the members from another local band from Coventry, Asgaard, said to me, “If ever you are on the same bill as Principal Edwards be sure to give my best regards to the lighting designer.” Sure enough, Principal Edwards was scheduled on the bill for Essen.
Left to right, Mick Whelan, Mick Tucker (Sweet-drummer), Terry Price (Taseo), Hong Kong 1973. (click to enlarge)
How do you do sound for 12,000 when you’re only carrying enough for 3,000? You cooperate, that’s how.
A quick study of the schedule showed that I knew a few of the sound guys from bands playing both before and a little after my band’s slot.
As each of us used WEM systems, linking up was simple. It was common practice on a regular three-act show for each band to use a different system: all three rigs would be set up in position, and as each band finished, their PA was torn down and moved off stage.
In combining our three WEM systems, we would have enough PA for the gig and be able to rent the system to any band that needed it.
One of the headliners was Atomic Rooster, with Carl Palmer on drums. As this was one of my favorite bands, I decided to watch them from the FOH position instead of the side of the stage.
About one minute into the band’s set, the reverberation of the hall became the dominant signal as the PA system died. The soundman jumped up and started checking connections real quick. The audience was getting very impatient, and an uneasy air filled the room (I’d never seen a riot at this stage of my career).
As this was my first overseas gig, I was very nervous about assisting the troubleshooting team; after all, I’d only been in the business for 10 minutes.
The crowd was now getting ugly and the system was the same make as mine so I offered my services. “Go ahead,” said the engineer. Thirty seconds later the rig fired up, the crowd settled down and I saw one of the best bands of the ‘70s play a great set: back to the dressing room to celebrate.
One of the great things about Germany is that great beer is in abundance; it was also free to the crew. Unfortunately food was not free, and if I remember correctly, unavailable. Free beer and no food is not a good combination for a 24-hour festival.
Back in the dressing room, shared between my band and others from the same agency, enterprising musical discussions were taking place. The door opened and a slender male walked into the room.
“Hey,” I said. “Who are you? Are you with Principal Edwards?” “Yes,” the visitor replied, and then he left, only to return a minute later with two cases. I asked him if he was the lighting guy for Principal Edwards, which he affirmed. I asked a series of technical queries but received no response.
“Can you tune a guitar?” he finally asked, handing me a Stratocaster. “Of course,” I responded, when in fact I could not. So I held the guitar, strummed the strings, listened to the notes and pronounced, “this one’s good.”
While I was doing this, he was putting on a black silk shirt with a laced-up neck. I noticed the room had gone quiet—too quiet when a dozen musicians are present. He handed me a second guitar, and I repeated the effort—strum, listen, and pronounce it in tune.
He pushed open the door, held it with his foot, picked up both guitars, and left. The bass player from my band, Pete Becket (more recently with Player) asked, “Mick, do you know who that was?”
“Well, it wasn’t the flippin’ lighting guy from Principal Edwards,” I responded.
Ritchie Blackmore, circa 1977. (click to enlarge)
“Mick,” he replied, “That was Ritchie Blackmore.”
In the span of two milliseconds I went from feeling as good as you can possibly feel (like when you’re mixing a top talent, they do something outstanding, and chills go down your spine) to as bad as you can possibly feel (like leaving the channel muted after a clothing change). I had messed with the headline act, and in Europe, at that time, no one was bigger than Deep Purple.
Ritchie Blackmore, Ritchie Blackmore—how could I have taunted one of the guitar gods and not known it? This wasn’t fair; there should be a warning label about the dangers of being burned.
But before I actually crashed at the absolute bottom of my world, the door opened slightly, and a black-silk covered arm snaked through the opening, extending an open hand of friendship.
We shook hands and he said something like “Hey, nobody’s given me that much grief in years, thanks.” I exhaled, breathed a huge sigh of relief, and went out front to watch the show. And yes, they were incredible.
Mick Whelan designed and commissioned touring and installed sound systems for more than 30 years, with credits including Rod Stewart, Stevie Wonder, Bob Marley, the Beach Boys, Carole King, and many others. He now serves as the director of U.S. operations for Adamson Systems.
Monday, April 28, 2014
Church Sound: Tame That Squeal—Improving Gain-Before-Feedback
Processing and optimization of miked sources on the worship stage...
Have you ever experienced a case of microphones squealing feedback before they are loud enough in your PA mix?
Even with great mics and a wise layout, sometimes you could still use more gain-before-feedback (GBF). We’ll take choir miking as our example for discussion. We usually mic choirs with several cardioid condenser microphones, right?
The feedback that occurs here is caused by the microphone(s) hearing itself being amplified in the PA system. The microphone picks up the source in front of it (good) and also picks itself up coming out of the PA (bad).
So, since we wish to have the mics “hear” less of themselves from the loudspeakers, several ideas seem fairly straightforward for increasing GBF:
Turn it down. This is the simplest way to stop a mic from ringing feedback. It’s not real practical if the intent is to hear more of the choir in our PA.
Use fewer microphones. The number of open microphones (NOM) should be as low as possible. In our application of choir miking, use the minimum number of cardioid condensers needed to cover the choir. This sounds better anyway and improves GBF.
Use directional mics aimed at the choir (and away from the loudspeakers). Omni-directional mics can sound great, but in many sound reinforcement applications they may not be practical, as they hear themselves in the PA more easily. Using directional microphones pointed at the choir with their nulls (least sensitive side) facing the PA effectively increases GBF.
Move the mics closer to the choir (and farther away from the loudspeakers). Less gain is now needed on these microphones. And the less gain that is applied to them, the more GBF margin is left.
Use directional loudspeakers, placed and aimed away from the mics. This system design function is not the job of the system operator. A qualified, independent consultant or design-build contractor should be contracted.
Use parametric equalization. OK, so your choir and mics are behind the loudspeakers, you’re using a few good quality, directional condensers, and you understand how to place and aim them—but you still need to turn the choir mics louder in the PA without ringing.
Equalization is often used to carefully cut the feedback frequencies and maximize GBF.
Let’s step through a common method of “ringing out” these choir mics. First, turn off your choir microphone channels in your front of console and flatten the EQ section of each.
Go ahead and turn on whatever hi-pass filter is available on these channels. If it is just a switch, engage it. If it has a variable frequency control, set it to some reasonable starting place, such as 100 Hz.
Now, with the fader down, turn on ONE choir mic. Carefully and slowly raise the fader (your EQ is flattened now, feedback may come earlier than expected) until just the first ring occurs at a modest level. Hold onto the fader and pull back before the ring “takes off.” It sounds like a pure tone.
Determine by listening whether it is a low, mid, or high-frequency ring (an RTA or FFT analyzer can be a wonderful visual aid by helping “see” exactly what frequency is ringing). Let’s say it is a high-mid frequency ring. So we turn down the hi-mid EQ control maybe 6 dB or more to stop the ringing.
Then we push the fader a few dB higher until the next ring occurs. Let’s say this is now a low-mid frequency ring. We turn the low-mid frequency control down several dB to stop the feedback. Now, we push the fader further a third time until it begins to ring once again, and this maybe a midrange ring.
So, you guessed it—we turn down the mid frequency control until the ringing stops. (By the way, continuing to do this “ring, cut, push higher” will eventually find a point where the ringing is no longer a single tone, but several tones together—a chord of sorts).
Awesome, we just increased the GBF on the choir microphone by doing three rounds of ring-and-cut, right? Maybe awesome, maybe not… This method can certainly work and sound good, but only with the right type of EQ filter, applied correctly. Let’s look at why.
The first single ring looked something like this:
Note the ring is extremely narrow in frequency—centered right at about 5 kHz, in the high-mid frequency range. And when we turned down the high-mid frequency control on the mixer channel, we achieved something like this in the equalizer response:
Hmmm… So we just cut the feedback and stopped it from ringing. Cool, but we also carved out an octave or more of this mic’s high mid range because the filter we cut has a fairly wide “bandwidth” (called Q). But we did meet our goal of stopping the feedback.
The next ring (low-mid frequency) looks like this:
Again, the ring is very narrow, right at 250 Hz. That’s in the low mid frequency range, and we turn down the correct low mid frequency control on the channel EQ.
Here’s what we’ve done to the mic signal at this point:
So, we just reduced that low-mid frequency feedback maybe 7 or 8 dB, and we see the results of our EQ efforts thus far—a significant dip around 5 kHz and another at 250 Hz.
But what else happened, again? We also reduced the gain of a much wider low-mid frequency range than the actual feedback spike at 250 Hz, because the filter we used is wider than the narrow feedback tone.
That third midrange feedback ring was at, say, 1 kHz:
So we turn down the midrange control on our channel EQ. This is the result of what we’ve done with our EQ at this point:
Note the three dips, centered at 250 Hz, 1 kHz and 5 kHz. Our mic can be turned up louder now with no feedback.
Great, but how does it sound? By “carving up” this choir microphone with medium bandwidth EQ filters, we have DRASTICALLY changed to the tonal characteristic of the choir sound in the process of increasing GBF. We’ve taken away big chunks of the sound we would probably like to hear! Yes, it is louder (without feedback), but it may sound really rough.
Wouldn’t it be nice if we could reduce the gain on only the narrow feedback frequencies without affecting much of the ranges just above and below them?
It is clear that we would benefit from cutting with EQ filters that are much narrower, and placed exactly on the feedback frequencies.
What is needed here is simply good parametric EQ. Some fine mixing consoles have fully parametric equalizers on each channel strip, but many do not. Some simply have fixed-frequency EQ, while others feature “semi-parametric” or “quasi-parametric” EQ.
There is a big difference. Fully parametric EQ allows us to adjust three parameters: the filter’s gain (cut or boost), the center frequency and the Q (bandwidth).
Fixed frequency EQs have a pre-selected and permanent center frequency and Q. They are somewhat useful for tonal shaping, but don’t allow the operator to adjust the frequency or bandwidth of the filter—they are far less than ideal for feedback filtering.
Still, a number of consoles employ fixed frequency EQs for the low and high filters, and then feature a semi-parametric midrange control.
But again, for notching feedback, we require control of all three filter parameters described previously.
So in that first example where we cut the high-mid frequency down, a parametric EQ would have allowed us to do this:
Note that the range of frequencies affected by this filter is considerably smaller than the original broad cut we made at the same frequency of 5 kHz.
If we use similarly narrow filters for those next ring tones (250 Hz and 1 kHz), the final result of our effort looks like this:
Big difference as compared to the original result with broader filters! So our filters are centered at exactly the same frequencies as before, but because we have set their bandwidths to be extremely narrow, we’re now only cutting the feedback points, and cutting very little of the sounds above and below.
Here are the results again, side by side, for comparison:
This improves GBF nicely and has little effect on the sound quality. This is a dramatic improvement over using medium or broad filters.
This technique requires practice. Cutting feedback frequencies with very exacting, narrow filters is a bit tedious at first, but is well worth the effort and gets easier with experience.
This practice of using parametric EQ to increase GBF is not specific to the choir example—it applies to most sound reinforcement miking applications. If there is also a need for artistic, shaping EQ adjustments, the EQ setting then becomes a careful and complex compromise—a balance of taste and required GBF.
Any microphone in a sound reinforcement application will feedback if its gain is raised high enough. We can use proper microphone selection, directivity and placement to maximize gain-before-feedback. In some cases, we still desire more.
Once the physical arrangement is optimized, narrow EQ filters (essentially “notch filters”), achievable with parametric equalizers, can be very effective in further increasing gain-before-feedback without significantly degrading the sound quality. If the mixing console has fully parametric EQ on its channel strips, great! Just practice. If it does not, external parametric equalization may be inserted.
Very narrow cut filters must be centered exactly on the feedback frequency, which requires care to find. A broader EQ filter is not as challenging to center, and as long as it is “close,” it will help reduce feedback. But it cuts a wider range of frequencies than is actually needed for feedback control, at the cost of reduced sound quality.
Ear training, practice and the user of live visual tools such as an RTA or FFT display can improve one’s ability to quickly identify and cut a specific feedback frequency with an appropriately narrow EQ filter.
Kent Margraves began with a B.S. in Music Business and soon migrated to the other end of the spectrum with a serious passion for audio engineering. Over the past 25 years he has spent time as a staff audio director at two mega churches, worked as worship applications specialist at Sennheiser and Digidesign, and toured the world as a concert front of house engineer. Margraves currently serves the worship technology market at WAVE (wave.us) and continues to mix heavily in several notable worship environments including his home church, Elevation Church, in Charlotte, NC. His mission is simply to lead ministries in achieving their best and most un-distracted worship experience through technical excellence. His specialties are mixing techniques, teaching, and RF system optimization.
Friday, April 25, 2014
Multiple Consoles For Live? Top Engineers Weigh In
The where, when, why and how, with problems and solutions differing.
A few years ago, my company developed a prototype of a console switcher that would enable an engineer to quickly switch to a backup should the main desk go down, or quickly switch between multiple consoles at events such as festivals.
But when we showed it to various engineers, the response was all over the place. Some thought it was a great idea, others felt that with modern processors, the need was no longer there, and some suggested fixes such as increasing the size to accommodate larger systems.
We decided to table the idea, but I thought it would be interesting to reach out to some of the same engineers to get their take on using multiple consoles and the concerns they encounter.
And just as above, the problems and solutions differ. The cast includes James Warren (Radiohead), Sean Quakenbush (Robert Randolph), Dave Natale (Rolling Stones), Brad Madix (Rush) and David Morgan (James Taylor).
The most common situation where multiple consoles are used together, of course, is connecting a support band to the main system. Other uses include festivals where multiple bands share the same PA, corporate shows, TV shows, and performances where large orchestras increase the channel count.
According to Natale: “When subbing one mixer into the other, the main console will usually act as the master. We also see many situations where a matrix switcher is used to feed the PA.”
Subbing consoles together is done using the sub-group inputs, channel strips, or sometimes even using the mic inputs. Madix: “If bringing one mixer sub or mains out into sub ins, there’s usually not any problem. If bringing into line-ins, there might be issues with matching gains as line ins tend to have less adjustment range level-wise.
“Coming into mic inputs can present challenges from impedance matching to level mismatches where mic preamps might not have the range to handle the levels, even with pads inserted. It’s something to steer away from, for sure, but sometimes the only option.”
Quankenbush: “We sometimes encounter noise from different power systems such as generators and there are often gain issues between some analog consoles and the digital boards. For instance, one console’s 0 dB may not be the same on another desk. I’ve found that some digital consoles do not ‘play well together’ due to gain stage issues where one may be so hot that it overloads the other.”
Natale: “Hum, buzz and level discrepancies can pose problems. I usually have transformers in hand to solve noise problems.”
There are other ways to switch and combine consoles such as using a matrix switcher or an audio processor. And with today’s digital desks, even more options come into play.
Warren: “When combining consoles, since most bands are now using digital desks, we usually connect the sub support console into ours via an AES connection. We give a festival either analog or AES from our system processor. In both cases, we will often be giving a separate sub feed.”
Quankenbush: “Most festivals have switching systems for the left, right and sub fills, but you do still see some festivals where they want you to drive in to the main console with stereo. The big problem is you will load in early, EQ and sound check for your band with their EQ bypassed or flat.
“Eight hours later, the house system engineer or other mixers will have hacked the EQ to all hell and all of the sudden your show sounds way different than your sound check earlier in the day. My preference is to bypass all of that by connecting directly to the audio processor and then save my own page.”
As noted earlier, noise problems do arise, and the most common problem solver is inserting an isolation transformer into the signal path.
A transformer is a magnetic bridge that converts the audio signal into a magnetic field at the primary winding, employs a core made from laminated nickel, steel or a combination as a conduit for the magnetic field and then this excites a secondary winding which in turn generates current.
The beauty of a transformer is that the input and output are completely separate. This stops tray DC current from traveling between the input and output which helps eliminate the hum and buzz caused by so-called ground loops.
Morgan: “For years, Yamaha and Midas consoles did not like to be combined. One often needed to lift the AC ground on one of the desks and rely on audio ground only.
“As long as the consoles share the same AC and audio ground, transformer isolation is not usually necessary. If I’m unsure of the system AC ground, or if there is too much going on electronically at FOH, I do prefer inserting transformers.”
Madix: “I’ve had to use transformers occasionally when feeding to lawn delays and the system for the hearing impaired. For this, we use a box with two transformers, plus ground lifts.”
Both Warren and Natale note that they always carry transformers in their kits. Quakenbush adds: “Back in the day, I was the lawn guy for a large amphitheatre and always had pockets full of isolation transformers. I still have tons of in-line transformers in my workbox. They don’t come out a much as they use to, but I still use them for delay towers or sometimes when I sub another desk into mine.”
One of the most common concerns that folks have with digital technology is the stability of the console’s internal computer. Thus, adding a second console would seem to be a natural solution.
Interestingly enough, this no longer seems to be as prevalent as it once was. I was recently at a Bob Dylan concert and front of house engineer Jim Homan was working with a new digital console that was having some software conflicts. I asked him if he had a backup, and he said that he didn’t, but if he had to, he could quickly patch in the support band’s mixer and be up and running fairly quickly.
Warren echoes this approach: “In a touring situation, I would refuse to use a console that I felt needed a permanent instant backup option. On Radiohead at the moment, I have the opening act’s console loaded with my show and plug-ins in case of catastrophe, but it’s not online or standing by during the show.”
Morgan: “We carry a backup computer for the console, but I haven’t needed it in over six years.” Madix replied with the same sentiment. However, Natale had a different take: “I generally go analog for just that reason. I’m not prone to nearly as much instance of console failure as my much more daring counterparts that use digital consoles. When I do TV, I have to use a digital console and the only fail-safe (ha, ha) device is a UPS on the console.”
All of this to say…there are many ways to connect consoles together or to share the PA system. Most engineers carry line level isolation boxes in case noise is encountered, and today’s digital desks seem to be less problematic than they were just a few years ago.
Peter Janis is president of Radial Engineering, and has worked in professional audio for more than 30 years.
Thursday, April 24, 2014
In The Studio: Three Mid-Side Processing Tricks (Includes Audio Samples)
A form of processing on stereo sources for practical or creative effects
In this article I’ll explain how I use mid-side (MS) processing on stereo sources for practical or creative effects.
Two channels of audio can be combined in a way that gives us control over what is the same in each signal, the middle, and what is different, the sides.
The middle is where the kick drum, snare, bass, vocals and a lot of other instruments are, the sides have any hard-panned instruments and spatial effects like reverb.
It can be pretty interesting to listen to music like this, there can be a lot hidden in the side channel.
MS is also a stereo microphone technique using a cardioid microphone facing the source and a bidirectional mic turned 90 degrees away just picking up ambience.
In this situation the two signals would need to be decoded into stereo. The side mic signal is duplicated, polarity inverted and the two side signals are then panned hard left and right. This is not a true stereo mic technique but can sound very nice. The balance of mid and side signals can be adjusted as needed by changing the level of the three tracks.
You can manually encode and decode stereo files to MS and use mono plugins to process mid or side individually. A lot more plugins have an MS mode now. Many of the modules in the T-Racks suite allow mid side processing, as does Ozone, a few compressors and equalizers and a distortion also come to mind.
You can do this for subtle or crazy effects, its a fun way to experiment with plugins and get some unique sounds.
Loud & Wide
For a recent mastering job I used a Fairchild compressor plugin in MS mode (Lat/Vert) to compress the middle and increase the level of the sides. I did this in parallel so I could blend the effect in easily. I was also using this to get a lot of extra loudness. You can call this parallel MS compression.
The master without parallel MS compression: listen
With parallel MS compression: listen
With parallel compression soloed: listen
Parallel MS compression with Fairchild.
No More Messy Verb
Someone asked ma about clearing up the middle of a mix when using a lot of reverb. Using MS compression on the reverb return can work well. Compress the middle more than the sides and increase the side volume if you want more width.
Here is an example of that on some drums - Steven Slate playing in KONTAKT. The whole kit is sent into Valhalla Room. With the Fairchild after the reverb I’m lowering the middle by 2 dB and raising the sides by 2 dB.
Here is this effect with lots of reverb on the drums: listen
And now with MS compression on just the reverb bus: listen
There is NO compression on the drums themselves, I’m only compressing the reverb return and widening it.
Here is an example of what you can do with a stereo loop and any plug-in. This is a little more complicated, and only works if there are hard panned sounds.
The loop I started with had a hi-hat that wasn’t panned very hard - I copied it to a new track, filtered out all the lows, boosted some highs and then panned it hard left. Then I recorded the combined original and panned track to a new file.
Here is what I’m starting with: listen
Now that I had something on the sides I could mess around with MS processing.
The first thing you have to do is convert left-right to mid and side. I use the free +matrix MS decoder from SoundHack.com. After that I used a delay plugin to add some filtered echoes just to the middle by disabling the right side input.
In the next insert I used a distortion on just the right side. This brought out a lot more of the reverb than was heard in the original loop. Lastly, second MS decoder was used to bring it back to stereo.
SoundHack + matrix MS encoder/decoder.
Here is how the loop sounds now with delay in the middle and distortion on the sides: listen
Pretty cool right!? I hope you have found these tricks useful.
Jon Tidey is a Producer/Engineer who runs his own studio, EPIC Sounds, and enjoys writing about audio on his blog AudioGeekZine.com.
Wednesday, April 23, 2014
Dave Rat’s Google Glass Tour Of Coachella (Video)
Another excellent adventure with Dave...
Dave Rat took some time from his as-usual busy schedule at the recent Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in Indio, CA, to put on Google Glass and provide a fun (and instructive) behind-the-scenes tour of the sound systems for the six stages provided by the team at Rat Sound.
Coachella continues its status as one of the largest, most famous, and most profitable music festivals in the U.S. The 2014 festival featured 184 artists, with Muse headlining the Saturday shows and Arcade Fire closing out Sunday nights. General admission tickets were reportedly sold out in less than 20 minutes.
Coachella was founded by Paul Tollett in 1999 and is organized by Goldenvoice, a subsidiary of AEG Live. Rat Sound has been providing systems, sound design, and support for the festival for 14 years.
Anyway, enjoy Dave’s Google Glass take on 2014 Coachella as only “El Raton” can do it.