Monday, July 15, 2013

Church Sound: Seven Steps For Cleaning Up Your Music Mix

You like the mix but think it could be better. Here's how
This article is provided by Behind The Mixer.

Saturday, I was conducting an audio training session and I was given the opportunity to work on their mix with the worship band. The mix was pretty good so instead of re-building their full mix, I focused on cleaning up the mix.

There are seven areas to consider when cleaning up a mix. Mind you, like I said, this assumes you have a pretty good mix to start. 

For the sake of this article, let’s say you’re in the middle of your sound check, you like the mix, but you think it could be better.

This is a great time to focus on cleaning up the mix, and here are seven steps to do it.

1. Check your volume balancing. Go through each channel and use this process; mute the channel, listen to your mix, then un-mute the channel. If the instrument or vocal seems to jump way out in your mix (too far out), then you need to pull the volume back a little. If the muting didn’t make a difference, then you didn’t have it loud enough.

2. Did you cut before boosting? This is an easy mistake to make, especially on an analog mixer. What is that old commercial for BASF?  Something along the lines of, “We don’t make baseball helmets. We make them better.” It’s better to have the best from the beginning. 

Regarding the situation I was in, cleaning up the mix, I thought something with a singer’s vocal didn’t sound right. It was close, but not where I thought it should be. They had a boost in the vocalist’s mid-range. Maybe in the 6 kHz range, I don’t remember. Using the sweeping mid, I moved the sweep frequency way down around the 800 Hz mark and did about a 4 dB cut. This really warmed up their vocals and gave their voice a great tone.

The first part of creating a mix should be cutting out the offending frequencies. Once you do that, then you can consider boosting when it’s necessary.  Remember, boost wide, cut narrow when you have control over the frequency range with a Q control.

3. Review your gating. Gating is often used on drum kit microphones to minimize audio bleed – when one kit piece is played but a different kit microphone picks up the sound. Where else could you use gating?

Consider the vocals a place for gating. A vocal microphone near a drum kit could easily pick up the drums. While that would happen when the vocalist is singing, what about when a different vocalist sings lead for a song, like in the case of a pianist who plays and sings. Why let those other sounds into the microphone? Gate the mic.

4. Hit your high-pass filter. You don’t need low end coming through a lot of your channels, so stop it. I’ll enable the HPF on my vocals and guitars with one exception. If I don’t have a bass guitar on the stage, then I’ll allow an electric guitar to give me some of that low end. In some cases, you can control the point of your high-pass filter. I’ve used an HPF in the 200 Hz mark on vocals to clean up my bottom end.

Tip: when altering any setting like boosting, cutting, gating, compression, or a high-pass filter, go to the extreme so you hear a clear difference in the sound. Once you know how “extreme” it can sound, then back off the setting until it’s to your liking. Don’t turn a knob or press a button just because you think you should. Let your ears make that call.

5. Check your subs. The signal to your low end subs might be one that you can control. Therefore, you have this additional means of altering the mix sound. Don’t be afraid to pull them back or push them louder if that’s what’s needed for the mix. While you’re building your basic mix, you should have your subs at an average level. Once you have set your overall mix, then you should consider the sub volume.

6. Consider microphone polarity. When two microphones pick up the same sound, the combining of those sound waves may or may not cause problems. This is where you get into sounds being out-of-phase. 

For example, if the two incoming sound waves are in phase with each other, this means the sound waves, when compared side-by-side, look identical. As the distance from the sound source to one microphone changes, so does the point in which the sound waves enter the microphone. 

When this happens, the sound waves start to get out-of-phase (compared side-by-side, the wave peaks are at different spots. In the extreme case of being 180-degrees out of phase, the sound waves look like a mirror image of each other. Combine these sound waves and you lose a lot of the audio signal because it’s like math; +10 + -10 = 0 (flat-line)

A simple way for ensuring you are getting the best sound from an instrument, where phase could be an issue, is by switching the polarity button on the channel. If you get more bass response, then you have found a better setting. By switching polarity, you are inverting the sound wave.

7. Re-visit your effects. Once you’ve cleaned up your mix using the above methods, you should re-visit your effects settings.  If your board enables it, turn off all the effects and listen to the difference.

Otherwise, go channel by channel. What worked before might not work now. It might not be needed to the same degree or it might not be needed at all. You might even need MORE of an effect because your cleaner mix enables you to use more of the effect to reach your mixing goal.

The Take Away
The process of cleaning up your mix is best explained with the words of author Antoine de Saint-Exupery,

“…he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.“

You aren’t going for perfection in the traditional sense, but the idea applies just the same.

Ready to learn and laugh? Chris Huff writes about the world of church audio at Behind The Mixer. He covers everything from audio fundamentals to dealing with musicians, and can even tell you the signs the sound guy is having a mental breakdown. To view the original article and to make comments, go here.

Posted by Keith Clark on 07/15 at 03:04 PM
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In The Studio: Deciding On The “Right” Computer (Includes Video)

It's best to think in terms of a system...
Article provided by Home Studio Corner.

Before you can even think about releasing your first quadruple-platinum album, you’ll need some way to record it. For years, big ‘ol tape machines ruled the recording world. I’ve got a buddy who laughs at how much much useless information from “the analog days” is taking up valuable space in his brain – things like like how to align a 2-inch tape machine.

While it used to take up to several hours just to set up the studio for recording (aligning tape machines, zeroing out the console, setting up the patchbay), now I can walk into my studio, flip on a power switch, double click on an icon, and I don’t even have time to make coffee before my studio is ready to start recording the next “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

Thank God for computers. Sure, they bring in an entirely different level of complexity, but they allow the average Joe to spend a few hundred bucks and have (in many ways) the same capabilities as the big analog studios that cost thousands upon thousands of dollars. Having a “home recording studio” simply wasn’t feasible for most people 20 years ago. Now I’m amazed at the music we are able to produce from a bedroom in an apartment.

The other side of that coin, however, is that it becomes just as easy for horrible musicians to record themselves. This is a topic of another discussion for another day. I’m operating under the assumption that you are planning to use your home studio to make good music. Make good music.

So what computer should you get? The majority of the time, your home computer will have plenty of power to run most recording programs out there. I’m not going to give an exhaustive list of specs and requirements, because that changes every few months.

For the purpose of this article, suffice it to say that you should consult the manufacturers’ websites. They all have a “minimum requirements” page that should be helpful, especially if you’re going to buy a new computer. Please, please, PLEASE do yourself a favor and research software requirements before buying your computer. You’ll be glad you did.

That being said, one HUGE thing you can do to beef up your current (or brand new) computer is add more RAM. RAM is where the magic happens. That’s where all your audio will be processed, so the more the merrier.

Mac or PC?
Ah, the age-old question. All the Mac guys are touting the superiority of their machines. All the PC guys are trying to prove that theirs are just as cool. I’m a Mac guy myself, but I’m not so naive as to think that owning a Mac is the only way you can possibly produce anything creative.

What I will say is this. One reason Apple computers tend to get the reputation of being more “stable” is because they’re all the same.

Think about it, how many stores do you know of that build Apple computers? None. They’re all built by Apple. They all have the same components. PCs, on the other hand, can be built by just about anyone. You could order the same computer (same processor speed, same amount of RAM) from Dell, Gateway, HP, and Walmart, and each one would be completely different from the next, even though they all have similar specs.

Of course, you can also build one yourself. You can order in parts and make this Frankenstein beast, all for relatively little money.

If you were to buy all these computers mentioned above and install the same recording program on each, chances are it wouldn’t work on all of them. Heck, there’s a good chance it wouldn’t work well on any of them.

Why? Because recording software is much more demanding than a word processor program. Most PCs are built for office use, running spreadsheets, checking email, NOT streaming tons of audio data back and forth.

Also, the computer (normally) needs to communicate with an external device (audio interface), which can prove to be troublesome. (After all, it’s hard to get your computer to see a printer sometimes, what about an audio interface with all sorts of ins and outs on it?)

This is why PCs have gotten a bad rap in the music industry. If I was a software developer, I would love to develop for Mac only. Why? Because I would only need to develop the software to work with a certain processor, motherboard, etc. I wouldn’t have to make various versions for each motherboard out there on newegg.com.

That being said, I wouldn’t completely write off PCs. As I mentioned earlier, chances are (with a little tweaking) you can get your PC to work well for recording. However, be ready to do some fiddling and handholding to get it working.

If you’re looking to buy a PC, then I would seriously suggest looking at one of Sweetwater’s Creation Stations. These are built from the ground up to work with all the major recording platforms out there. They’re a bit more expensive, but they’re made by folks who know music technology, AND they’re super quiet. I’ve heard of many a person building his own recording PC, only to find out that it sounds like a rocket ship taking off. Yep, that’ll pretty much ruin a recording.

So…which is better?

If you put a Mac and a good, comparable PC (like a Sweetwater Creation Station) side by side, you would not see much difference in performance. Those guys over in Silicon Valley have come up with some ridiculously fast processors, so there’s a lot you can do with computers today that you couldn’t even do five years ago, both on a Mac and a PC.

The Deciding Factor
I could build an entire website around the Mac vs PC debate, but I don’t want to. The biggest deciding factor for you is this – what software are you wanting to use?

It does you no good to research Macs when you want to use Sonar recording software (which is PC only). It’s just as bad to research PCs when you have your sites set on Digital Performer (which is Mac only).

I’ll get into the various recording platforms in the next article, so keep in mind that when thinking about a home recording studio, you need to think in terms of a system. Too much focus on one component could lead you down the wrong path if it doesn’t fit in with your vision for the entire system.




Joe Gilder is a Nashville-based engineer, musician, and producer who also provides training and advice at the Home Studio Corner. Note that Joe also offers highly effective training courses, including Understanding Compression and Understanding EQ.

Posted by Keith Clark on 07/15 at 03:01 PM
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50 & Counting: Sonic Truth For The Rolling Stones Latest Tour

Presenting the music in the most appropriate manner possible

If you’re like me, you find security and comfort in using plenty of gear in a large entertainment setting. Yet the seasoned professionals who make up the audio crew for the Rolling Stones recently demonstrated to me they understand the benefits of moderation, carefully questioning their decisions and using a healthy dose of restraint while practicing their craft in the most high-budget, high-profile setting imaginable.

Like the Stones crew provided by Clair Global, many of us are also in the business of delivering spectacle, so it’s perfectly understandable why restraint might not be the first thing that comes to our minds when standing at the console of a powerful system or driving a fast car.

Today we’re provided feature-rich digital tools offering limitless opportunities to “use something” with little apparent downside. We’ve been conditioned to apply a liberal dose of the newest mic or latest greatest device in search of delivering that illusive “best sounding show ever.” It’s become much easier to overlook the benefits of moderation.

I respectfully argue that in audio every decision comes with a price. I’m not necessarily referring to a financial cost; more specifically, an opportunity cost of what the positive or negative impact might be from a particular decision. The most experienced among us still carefully evaluate the costs and benefits when making an equipment choice or applying an audio treatment.

Commanding Purpose
After 50 years the Rolling Stones need no introduction. This year’s tour, assembled to celebrate their remarkable longevity, is playing in the largest arenas across North America, the UK’s Glastonbury Festival, and two shows in London’s historic Hyde Park. The band is joined on every show by special guest and past bandmate, guitarist Mick Taylor.

Last night I heard the Stones in Boston’s TD Garden arena. Keith, Mick and the boys played with commanding purpose, delivering a cohesive performance at an energy level that would leave many bands one-third their age gasping for breath.

What impressed me most was that the audio team shunned the use of unnecessary tools or treatments, and despite having them patched did not use a single compressor or noise gate on an act as prestigious and hard-rocking as the Rolling Stones. Once again for clarity, not a single compressor or noise gate was engaged on any channel.

FOH engineer Dave Natale (left) and system tech Jo Ravich at the Yamaha PM4000 house console. (click to enlarge)

I realize this lack of treatment defies convention, but it’s obviously a considered choice by a crew determined to present the music in the most appropriate manner possible. The result is a remarkably natural and refreshing presentation. The show sounded fantastic, and most importantly, the sound was honorable to the music. No breathing compressors or clicking gates to get in the way. Leading-edge transients abound. To this observer the experience offers engineers of all skill levels an important reminder: just because you can doesn’t mean you should

Classicist. Minimalist. Strict constructionist. These are the terms that popped into my head as I discussed the live sound approach for the Stones with veteran house mixer Dave Natale, journeyman system technician Jo Ravich, crew chief Thomas Huntington, and monitor mixer Robert Bull. In a world where the majority of us believe we must apply a liberal dose of control, rely on unnecessarily expensive gear for that special sound, or demand the latest greatest digital solution to get through the show, this team is mixing the “World’s Greatest Rock and Roll Band” using relatively little.

“I could do this band on a pair of Shure Vocal Masters and a 58 in some church basement, and guess what it would sound like? It would sound like the Rolling Stones,” notes house mix engineer Dave Natale. “This is possible because of the way this band is, their talents so strong, and the genre of music they play. Most of it is based on old blues.

A scene from the recent tour. (click to enlarge)

“These guys started off without a lot of money, they were lucky if they had a guitar amp, and in fact in the old days they shared them. Maybe that’s why guitar amps have two inputs. You don’t need much to make them sound great. We could do a show today with two (Fender) Twins, an (Ampeg) B15, an upright piano, and a four-piece drum set. And you can bet that piano would already be in that church basement so with three roadies we could get most of it down there in one trip.”

He continues, “This is the Stones; it’s not Roger Waters or Elton John. Clive Franks (Elton John) used effects better than anyone I’ve ever heard in my life. That guy was so good, he used a ton of effects on Elton shows and you could hear every one of them even in a reverberant arena. But that was appropriate because of that music. Same with Trip (Khalif) on Roger Waters. You can’t do Roger Waters without outboard gear. That’s not possible because it won’t be Roger Waters. You need delays, you need reverb because that’s the nature of Pink Floyd.”

Wonderful Experience
For the few who haven’t guessed, Natale is a dedicated analog devotee. “I don’t care about hardware. I just want an analog console, 100 percent analog, because it won’t do anything until I tell it to. I don’t want any logic in the desk, which is why I use a (Yamaha) PM4000. This allows me to spend most of my time mixing. If it takes water, as we’re often outdoors, then what type of desk do you think I can bring back to life quickest?” A 24-input Midas Venice 320 serves as a sidecar for choir mics.

“We often have guest performers on this tour, and I never know who the guest is until the afternoon of the show,” he continues. “We reserve one input for the guest’s guitar with a wired 57, and one input for their vocal with a wireless 58. The guest vocal is the only input I regularly use a compressor on. We’ve had Katy Perry, Gwen Stefani, Brad Paisley, Bonnie Raitt, Taj Mahal, Gary Clark Jr., Taylor Swift, Carrie Underwood, Jeff Beck, John Mayer, John Fogerty, and Tom Waits.”

This was probably the first show this writer has heard in decades that did not use compressors or gates in some manner, and it was a wonderful experience. Natale has a single dbx 900 rack under his console. dbx 903 modules are patched on the bass DI, Mick’s number 1 vocal, Mick’s number 2 vocal, Keith’s vocal, BV number 1, BV number 2, and the guest vocal channels. Three Aphex 612 gates are patched on the kick, rack, and floor tom channels.

Under the stage with a Midas H4000 — monitor engineer Robert Bull (right) and RF technician Steve Carter. (click to enlarge)

However, none of these devices were engaged, not even the compressor on Mick’s vocal. I can testify that no indicators were moving during the show. While any red-blooded engineer would question how Natale is able to effectively manage gain levels, he appreciates that the opportunity cost of using inserts to manage those levels is lost leading-edge transient response. Instead, he chooses to stay very active during the show, relying on the consistency of the performers. His adjustments are in response to the many required cues as dictated by each song, while retaining a natural transience in his input channels that I found so refreshing.

I detected no “blanket” over the sound or processing getting in the way, only the occasional peak of a given voice or instrument. The occasional peak seemed like a reasonable price to pay considering how accurate everything sounded. I honestly believe that Charlie Watts’ drums were the most real sounding I have ever heard in an arena.

“I’m not at all into vintage gear because I do not believe we need special equipment to enhance what’s coming from the stage,” Natale states. “No boutique microphones; we’re all about choosing what is easily accessible, reliable, and known to sound good. We’re using Shure SM57s and 58s, Sennheiser 409s, Neumann KM 184s, and two AKG C 414s. If we need a replacement we can go to the music store down the street. In fact I joke about the fact that if you added up the total cost for wired microphones on this tour it might not exceed $5,000.” He also specifies Radial DIs exclusively.

Plenty of Shure wireless mics and IEMs, joined by a rack of Lake processors for the house system. (click to enlarge)

“I’m not even using reverb. I’m relying on the million cubic feet of (natural) reverb right here in the arena,” he adds. “It’s really clean and sounds better than digital, but doesn’t hiss like analog. Outdoors is another story. In bone dry, uncontained free air I’ll obviously need something, at least on the slower songs.

“But only one reverb on one innocuous program that adds something you can almost not even hear. However, everything goes through the same program so it sounds like the whole band is playing in the same space. It’s not so much an effect as trying to create an environment we’re not in.”

Honed Perspective
With more than 40 years on tour and literally countless shows, it seems unfair to characterize Jo Ravich as simply the FOH systems tech. I think of him more as a distinguished master—he offers a degree of wisdom and perspective honed from years on the road that few of us will ever attain. He distills the risks of using gear unnecessarily in very simple terms: “Just because you can use 25 plug-ins doesn’t mean you should.”

Clair Global crew chief Thomas Huntington offers his perspective: “We try to change as little as possible from show to show, and how we set the PA up is fairly standard and consistent. How Dave and Jo approach using subs is brilliant. They don’t use any ground subs, because often what happens is you either turn them off or EQ out all of the low-frequency energy anyway, because we’re in a big boom chamber with no articulation. This is rock ‘n’ roll, it’s not thumpy modern drill your head stuff. We have a varied demographic, and some of our fans don’t care to hear all that extended low end.”

“Subs are for sissies anyway,” Natale chimes in. “No sexy lightweight amps either on this tour. We’re using Crown Macro-Tech because I’m interested in having fully charged capacitors at all times,” indicating his preference for a more traditional amplifier power supply topology. “I use old Lake Contour processors because I know them so well. One XTA GQ600 stereo third-octave EQ sits between the console outputs and the system processors.”

Incredibly Rewarding
Robert Bull handles the monitor mixing duties for the tour. A Nashville veteran who for years has been Martina McBride’s monitor engineer, this is his first outing with the Stones.

Clair Global i5 arrays deliver house coverage, with no subs on the deck. (click to enlarge)

As expected, he’s mixing a combination of in-ears and wedges. What’s not expected is that he handles the monitor effort for the entire band himself on one 48-channel Midas Heritage 4000. This was a task previously handled by two engineers, and when I observed him working during the show, he’s a very busy man.

Despite the magnitude of the show, Bull approaches it in a down-to-earth manner. “Everything is very analog and very simple, although it’s a really busy show with lots of cues. Mick, (bassist) Daryl Jones, and our two backup singers, Bernard and Lisa, are on ears. We have 52 wedges as well as flown side fills. Charlie uses a pair of 12AMs (wedges) stacked on two i5B subs. On ‘Sympathy for the Devil’ he uses headphones.”

Bull shares the team’s strict minimalist mantra, with no noise gates or compressors for the band’s monitors, only for guest artists. Effects are limited to two reverbs. I found his demeanor with respect to this tour both humbling and respectful. “To be brutally honest, it’s the most stressful thing I’ve ever done, but incredibly rewarding,” he says. “It’s fun to mix. These guys deserve the best, and sometimes the fact that I’m sitting in the monitor seat is overwhelming.”

More views from the latest tour. (click to enlarge)

He notes that the downstage mix is pretty much a blend. “Keith’s guitar is a bit louder stage left, Ronnie’s louder stage right. Mick has two wedges he can rely on if for some reason he’s uncomfortable with his ears. Stage levels are pretty loud. Keith’s guitar level dictates everything.”

I could go into greater depth on the house PA, but suffice it to say it’s comprised of large, very well-tuned Clair i5 line arrays. Coincidentally, on my return trip from the show, I ran into Clair Global CEO Troy Clair at the Denver airport. I told him how good the show had sounded to me, and stressed how amazed I was that Dave, Jo, Thomas, Robert and their associates were getting these results with a healthy dose of moderation using no dynamics control whatsoever. I came away thinking that he too appreciates that there is real virtue in restraint.

The approach might leave many younger engineers scratching their heads, aghast if saddled with these simple and economical equipment choices, wondering “how do they make this work?” I argue that the Rolling Stones crew do it by listening.

Danny Abelson is a co-founder of Zeehi, a new company developing the online digital console file conversion software service CueCast. Now in public Beta release, sign up for CueCast at www.cuecast.com.

Posted by Keith Clark on 07/15 at 10:07 AM
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Sunday, July 14, 2013

Production Glossary: A Handy Guide To A Unique Vocabulary

Bridging the gap in tech terminology between disciplines

Arc Lamp: A bulb that produces light by an arc created between two electrodes inside a glass envelope that contains a gas.

Aspect Ratio: The width of a picture or projection screen in relation to its height, usually expressed in a “width x height” manner, i.e., 4x3 or 4:3.

Audience Blinders (a.k.a. Molefays): A fixture that contains multiple bulbs (usually PARs) that is pointed at the audience and bumped for accents or used to illuminate the crowd.

Barn Doors: A unit that is mounted at the front of a lighting fixture with adjustable doors that shapes the beam and helps control spill.

Barrel: The part of an ellipsoidal fixture that contains the lenses.

Batten: Metal pipes suspended in rows above a stage, used for the rigging of lighting and scenery.

Black Burst: A blank video signal that synchronizes video sources so they’re moving in step from one frame to the next.

Bump: A quick level change in lighting, usually to full.

Coffin Locks (a.k.a. Roto-Lock): A mortised connector used to couple stage platforms or scenic items together.

Color Temperature: The measurement in degrees on the Kelvin scale indicating the hue of a specific type of light source.

Component Video: An analog video signal using three conductors, one each for luminance (with sync and green reference), blue minus luminance and red minus luminance.

Composite Video: A single-channel analog video signal carrying all information.

Cyc Light: A wash fixture normally used in multiples to light up a cyclorama, or now more commonly any backdrop.

Cyclorama: A curved wall or curtain at the back (upstage) of a theater stage.

Dichroic: A glass filter that allows a limited range of color to pass through a light fixture while reflecting the other colors in the spectrum.

DMX512: The standard digital lighting protocol that can send 512 channels of control information to dimmers, automated lighting fixtures or special effects.

Dress Kit: Drapery surrounding a portable projection screen, helping control spill light and giving a finished appearance.

Ellipsoid Reflector Spotlight (a.k.a., Ellipsoidal, ERS, Profile or Leko): A spot stage lighting fixture with an ellipsoid shaped reflector that directs light through the barrel and lens, allowing focusing of the beam.

Footcandle (fc): A unit of measurement of illumination – one footcandle equals one lumen per square foot.

Gel: Common name for a color lighting filter.

Genlock: Synchronization of the video signals of multiple devices to a single source, like a black burst generator.

Gobo (a.k.a. Pattern): A glass or metal plate with a design etched or imprinted on its surface that can be projected when inserted into the pattern slot of an ERS type fixture.

Intelligent Light (a.k.a. Intel or Automated Light): A lighting fixture that can be controlled from a console that can pan, tilt, color or shape the light beam.

Jacks: Bracing frames attached to the back of scenic elements to keep them from falling over.

Keystone Error: An incorrect shape in a projected image when the projector is not located correctly in relation to the screen.

Lamp: Proper term for a light bulb. In show business also refers to the entire luminaire fixture.

Lumen (lm): A measure of the perceived power of light to the human eye.

Luminance: A measure of the brightness of a video display or signal.

NTSC (National Television System Committee): The video standard protocol in the U.S.

PAR Can: A common, basic stage lighting fixture that houses a PAR lamp.

Pin Spot: A very narrow beam lighting fixture.

Pipe & Base: Lighting stands using cast iron bases and threaded steel pipe for the upright.

Pipe & Drape: Aluminum pipe uprights and adjustable horizontal crossbars that hold up draperies and curtains at trade shows and events.

Pixel (short for Picture Element): The smallest addressable element used to build an image.

Pre-Rigged Truss: Truss sections that contain lighting fixtures and cabling for easy set up at an event.

Projector Throw Distance: The length from the lens of a projector to the screen necessary for a particular unit to produce an image of a specified size.

RGBHV (a.k.a. 5 Wire): A five-component analog video format that separates red, green, blue information and horizontal and vertical sync into five signals.

RGsB (a.k.a. Sync On Green): A three-component analog video signal comprised of a red channel, blue channel and a green channel with composite sync.

S-Video (a.k.a. Separated Video or Y/C): An analog format that separates brightness information (luminance or Y) from color information (chrominance or C) in a video signal.

Scaler: Stand-alone unit or a feature in a display device that changes the size of an image.

Scan Conversion: The process of changing the horizontal scan rate of one device to that of another.

Soft Patch: A system allowing control and diming/fixture channels to be assigned without following a set format.

Special: A stage light used to highlight a performer or scenic element.

Sync (Synchronization): Timing information to insure images display properly.

Universe: A group of 512 DMX channels.

Zip Strip: Originally a fixture from Altman and now a common name for any compact strip light that uses small MR16 sized bulbs.

Craig Leerman is senior contributing editor of ProSoundWeb and Live Sound International, and is the owner of Tech Works, a full-service production company in Las Vegas.

Posted by Keith Clark on 07/14 at 09:55 AM
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Friday, July 12, 2013

Unsettled Science: The Latest Findings On Micro-Molecular Sonic Imprinting

Signals developing minds of their own...

Editor’s Note: Nothing discussed here is true…Right?

For several decades, military research teams around the world have quietly been studying micro-molecular imprinting and the many ways that it can disrupt critical communication systems.

You’ve probably experienced problems yourself, in a small way, but indications strongly suggest that as copper, Ethernet, and fiber signal transport systems become more and more heavily traveled, the issues will eventually reach a critical state. And few industries will be affected more than the entertainment technology sector.

Apparently what happens is this: as signals are repeatedly transmitted through galvanic electrical conductors – and this includes fiber optics as well – the molecular structure of the conductors begin to take on a form of their own, not related to the original cable or fiber material.

While still under research, this is believed to be one of the leading causes of emails not being replied to. In many instances replies actually were made but never got past the molecular imprinting. (See “The Problems of Email for Mission Critical Applications” by Commander K. Jennings, Communications Branch of the US Military-Industrial Research Complex).

A simple fix was identified in which the email server’s Ethernet cable merely needs to be reversed in direction, which in turn corrects the imprinting. But as it’s rather inconvenient to constantly be unplugging and re-plugging Ethernet cables, I propose that a reversing switch (Figure 1) be implemented instead. Schematics are available upon request.

And, dear reader, in case you fail to see that we’re thinking far ahead on your behalf, the switch (as shown) is capable of handling the new high-current Ethernet protocol that will be introduced in mid 2015.

Figure 1: The project requires the latest in high-tech design and fabrication. (click to enlarge)

The worldwide supply of silicon is widely known to be collapsing at a logarithmic rate, which means that devices based on silicon components such as DSP, TTL, CPU and other LSI “chips” will soon be superseded by vacuum tubes, or valves…as some like to call them.

In fact, numerous studies predict that valves will soon be the active element of choice for Ethernet routers, switches, and long-distance relays. Penny stocks are already soaring at start-ups such as Westenhouse, R3A, and Cylvania – all of whom are building valve manufacturing facilities in super-secret locations even as this is written.

The reversing switch proposed here will easily handle the higher voltages and current demanded by the new TCP (tube control protocol) with a minimum of fuss. Rubber gloves are, however, recommended to avoid electrical shock when activating the switch.

While fiber transport systems would seem to mitigate the problems of molecular imprinting, they actually exacerbate them.

One tragic story we’ve heard occurred when the fiber system from a Twisted Sister tour was put back on the road with Sister Sledge without first deploying best “flushing” practices. The molecules had no idea what to do. The result was that “We Are Family” became “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” much to the chagrin of the Sledge siblings, who started shouting “twisted sister” (followed by numerous vulgarities) at each other during the first concert of their tour.

But perhaps the worst incidence to date was when the fiber system from a tour by The Who was next used for a Frankie Lymon tribute band. Due to a severe case of micro-molecular imprinting, the popular 1950s song “Why Do Fools Fall in Love” became “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” and it led to an immediate, well-publicized breakup between the only-just-divorced lead singer and his new supermodel fiancé. Word is that he still can’t figure out what happened or “Who” might have done this to him.

Of course, analog systems are just as notorious. In another well-publicized fiasco a couple of decades ago, U.S. President George H.W. Bush’s insightful statement of “no new faxes” inadvertently morphed into “no new taxes,” which was not something he meant to say. It seems that the system had been used at a tax convention just before his visionary statement about the future of global electronic communication. Who would have guessed that he envisioned the demise of the fax machine in favor of email at such an early stage?

Fortunately, most problems can be mitigated by a short purging session prior to re-use. A new app called iNeutralize™ is available for all major platforms. It supplies the much-needed information of how to best accomplish system flushing in the minimal amount of time.

For example, the micro-molecular imprint from a six-month Justin Bieber tour can be quickly “flushed” in a few minutes by playing Hendrix (any selection will do), followed by a moment or two of the “1812 Overture.”

The point is that extreme caution is advised when re-using a transport system, be it digital, copper, or fiber, especially if you’re going to be working with music one day and corporate industrials the next. You don’t want a speech about “pilates” to inadvertently emerge as Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s “Pirates.”

Fortunately, judicious usage of iNeutralize will remove the risk. Additional information will be reported in this publication as soon as it is declassified.

Ken DeLoria spent several months in captivity working with a secret government agency as a consultant on sonic molecular imprinting, and how it’s played a pivotal role in inadvertently altering numerous public pronouncements of politicians, with a special emphasis on campaign promises.


Posted by Keith Clark on 07/12 at 04:31 PM
Live SoundFeatureBlogAnalogDigitalEthernetInterconnectNetworkingSignalPermalink

In The Studio: How To Enhance Drums With Parallel Distortion

Beef up thin sounding drums using parallel distortion
This article is provided by the Pro Audio Files.


Matthew Weiss recently wrote an article called Seven Advanced Mixing Techniques That Can Get You in Trouble, and there was some confusion over the first tip about using multiple outputs for group sends so we made a video to break it down.

The idea is that by using multiple outputs for each element of a drum kit, you can control a separate drum balance exclusively feeding your processed track without affecting the balance of your main drum group.

So if you want a ton of kick drum feeding just the distortion plug-in on a parallel track while keeping the original drum kit balance going to your main drum group, this routing allows for that.

Check out the breakdown below to see how you can beef up thin sounding drums using parallel distortion.


Dan Comerchero is the founder and editor of the ProAudioFiles.com, a community blog where audio professionals from around the world share pro audio related articles, techniques, and advice on recording, mixing, production and more. Matthew Weiss engineers from his private facility in Philadelphia, PA. A list of clients and credits are available at Weiss-Sound.com.

Be sure to visit the Pro Audio Files for more great recording content. To comment or ask questions about this article go here.

Posted by Keith Clark on 07/12 at 03:35 PM
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Church Sound: MIDI Over Network—Getting Started

It's easier than you think -- and makes things much easier
This article is provided by ChurchTechArts.

I’m a big fan of networking, connectivity and remote control. I like it when I can get computers to do the boring stuff so I get to do the fun stuff.

This post is another installment in that series. Today, we’re talking about how to send MIDI commands over a network. I’ll leave the what and why for the next post, and today focus on the how.

Here’s the basic idea: I have a digital audio console that can send MIDI commands with snapshots (or macros, but that’s another post). Also in the tech booth are other various pieces of gear—lighting consoles, audio playback applications, ProPresenter—that can receive and act on MIDI commands.

And while I could set up an elaborate MIDI distribution network with 5-pin MIDI cable, interfaces and MIDI DAs, that’s so, well, ordinary. And it’s a pain. Not to mention expensive. Besides, there’s a much simpler way if you’re using Macs. It goes like this:

Basic Topology
Sitting on my DiGiCo SD8 console is a 17-inch MacBook Pro. In between the MBP and SD8 is a MOTU FastLane MIDI interface. I go out of the SD8, in to the FastLane, which is connected via USB. The MBP becomes the “master sender” (that’s a technical term I made up) for the rest of the network.

The MBP is connected to my Sound network via Ethernet. We have a Mac Mini at FOH that does a bunch of stuff, but for this exercise, it runs a DJ app called Mixxx. What’s cool about Mixxx is that it can be controlled by MIDI.

Also in the tech booth is another Mini that is Bootcamped into Windows 7, and runs the Hog 4PC lighting controller. That Mini is also connected to my Sound network (via wireless for reasons that are beyond the scope of this article).

Further down the the booth sits our Mac Pro running ProPresenter with the MIDI module. That Mac is connected to our regular in-house network. However, because the sound network is NAT’ed out to the house network, we can still get MIDI signals out there.

So that’s the basic layout, here’s how it works.

Built-In MIDI Networking
Every Mac running OSX (starting with Leopard I believe) as a network module for MIDI. You’ve probably seen it but didn’t know how it worked.

Start by opening Audio MIDI Setup. Once there, select Show MIDI Window from the Window menu. Sitting there, innocuously enough is a “Network” icon. Double-clicking on it opens this dialog box:

When we set up a session, it looks like this. I’ve named this session MIDI Master so I can easily tell it apart from others on the network.

To start, click the + under the My Sessions window. You can name it whatever you like, but I suggest naming it something useful, like the computer name or a nickname you’ll remember.

You can also specify the Bonjour name, which just makes it easier to make sure everything is connected. Once everything is named, click on “Enable” to make it active.

Now go around to the other computers you want to connect and do the same thing. Keep the names discreet so you don’t loose track of what you’re doing. Once you have everything active, you can simply start connecting the “nodes” to the “master.” From the node, select your master computer from the Directory, and hit connect.

I’ve made my 17-inch MBP the “master,” and everything connects to it. You can actually send MIDI notes bi-directionally, but in my case, I want to send commands from the SD8 to all the computers in the booth. Hence, everything else is a node. When you’re done, the dialog looks like this:

Here you can see the other computers on the network, and I’ve connected to the Hog PC. Any notes generated on my MIDI Master will be sent to the Hog PC right now.

What About Windows?
Sadly, not all of our production gear runs on Mac OS. Sometimes, we need to suffer in Windows.

But all is not lost. Some enterprising young man wrote a little program called RTPMIDI that basically does exactly what the Mac OS MIDI network stack does.

He even copied the dialog box exactly so set up is exactly the same. I loaded this up on the Mini that we use for the Hog and it locked right up to the MBP master.

Easy Connections
Because it uses Bonjour, connecting is usually as easy as waiting for the node to show up in the dialog box and hitting connect. If Bonjour gives you trouble, you can also enter an IP address to connect directly.

Generally, the connections will re-establish themselves after a power cycle, but sometimes they don’t. It’s become part of my normal workflow to go around and make sure everything is connected after we power up all the computers each weekend.

Oddly, the RTPMIDI Windows computer connects the most reliably. I can usually connect the ProPresenter Mac from the MBP, but the FOH Mini fails to connect when I do that way, so I have to go to the Mini itself and connect back to the MBP. I’m not sure why. But once it’s all connected, it works quite well.

What’s Happening?
Once you do all of this (and it actually only takes a couple of minutes to configure and a few seconds to connect everything), what’s going on? Well, basically, any MIDI notes that originate on any computer will be sent over the network to every other node on the network. So I can now send MIDI commands and notes from the SD8 to any computer in the booth. But there is a catch.

You Need A Translator
Or more correctly, something to generate the MIDI notes. Or perhaps even more correctly, something to get the MIDI notes coming in from the SD8 via the FastLane to go out to the network.

I have to try it, but I think MIDIPipe would do this, but I ended running a small, free program called VMPK (Virtual Midi Piano Keyboard). Basically, I tell it to listen to MIDI commands coming in from the FastLane and send out MIDI to the network. It doesn’t do anything else but pass notes through.

The only thing VMPK does is take notes in from the FastLane and sent them back out to the network. Note that the output name is Network MIDI Master, which is the network session we set up earlier.

I have this set to launch automatically and hide, so we don’t even know it’s running. It just sits there in the background and sends notes along to the network.

It’s Easier Than It Sounds
Yes, it took me over 1,000 words to describe the process, and I spent a few hours getting it all figured out. But now that I’ve done the hard work, it won’t take you more than a few minutes to get it all working.

And once it is, what can you do with it? If you’re like me, your mind is already racing with possibilities. If not, stay tuned for the next post and I’ll tell you what we’re doing with it.

Mike Sessler is the Technical Director at Coast Hills Community Church in Aliso Viejo, CA. He has been involved in live production for over 20 years and is the author of the blog, Church Tech Arts . He also hosts a weekly podcast called Church Tech Weekly on the TechArtsNetwork.

Posted by Keith Clark on 07/12 at 02:59 PM
Church SoundFeatureBlogStudy HallConsolesDigitalEthernetInterconnectNetworkingSoftwarePermalink

Four Suggestions For Surviving In The Pro Audio Business

A few things I should have learned in the early days...
This article is provided by The Art Of The Soundcheck.

One of the first things I think I need to get into is money. They aren’t going to teach you the real money side of the production world in tech school.

The conservatory, Full Sail or wherever…They aren’t going to get into the survival side of it. I spent most of my career broke. It creates a strain on your mind, your wallet and your family.

Just want to share a few things I should have learned in the early days.

First. Figure out what you want to do. Why are you in this business anyway? Whether you are a road warrior, veteran tech who has sold his soul to a large manufacturer, or teenage church sound volunteer—why? What provoked you to take on an insane career choice like this?

If the first thing that falls out of your mouth is money, this conversation is over now. Just get up from where you are and go find something else to do. Seriously. Right now. For every guy who has a six-figure income with a studio, touring company, label or theme park, there’s probably a thousand who still qualify for food stamps.

The people out there who make that big money usually have one of two scenarios. They got a big break after years of proving themselves, learning their trade, maintaining their good attitude and doing whatever it took to pull off their gig—or—they started off rich and lie about where the money comes from.

Very few people get rich by just working their butt off as a tech. Getting really, really, really good at it won’t do it either. It’s called a business for a reason. Learn business. Learn to negotiate effectively. Learn to make deals. Be a great steward of the business you work with. Take great care of their stuff. Don’t plan to be someone’s second engineer as a career move.

If you do this because you love it, then do it. If the gear and shows and people in this world appeal to you. If your heart races when you create something or pull off a flawless event. If anything about this works is pushes your buttons and makes you feel like you just have to be in it. Then give it all you have. Learn the business side if you like to eat and sleep indoors.

Second. Know your industry and the seasons. It took me over eight years to figure this one out. I worked in various parts of the pro audio production world for about 18 years. Ten of those years included traveling as a hired gun sound tech. I made pretty good money doing it. Not crazy good, but impressive to most people. I was doing local work at the same time. When I wasn’t out of town, I had other projects I worked on.

About eight years in, I had to deal with the fact that I was constantly broke or behind on the bills. How the heck was that happening? We weren’t extravagant. Lived pretty cheap. My normal check for a long weekend run was enough to pay almost all the bills each month. Day rate looks really impressive until you average it out. Once I realized this, it was revelation. Duh.

My main clients worked with their main clients on rallies, concerts and events that were primarily outdoors. They apparently didn’t like it too hot or too cold for these events.

Thus we worked most of those events in the spring and fall. I was regularly on the road 10-15 days each month of those seasons.

I also had installation work and small shows year round. The installation work made almost enough to pay all the bills each month, alone.

Do you see where this is going yet? For three months, I had traveling and local work to get paid on. Then the next three months I only had local. Then it started over. Rolling good for three months, broke for three months.

Honestly. It took years to figure that pattern out. Because I didn’t know my industry or the seasons. Almost every tech out there struggles during November and December. It’s always harder to get gigs when there are none. Really. Learn to use the seasons to your advantage, learn to watch them.

Third. Learn to save money. It’s not going to flow like a river 365 days a year. It’s not going to mean living off Ramen noodles every week either. But it will usually bounce back and forth. At least until you get well established.

Figure out what your normal cost of living is. Save as much as possible. Don’t spend it if you don’t have to. Play defense with your money. Don’t let the smooth talker with that shiny new toy have it unless you have no choice.

Don’t take on debt or credit based on that day rate or how rich you plan to be. Credit cards can dig a hole you never get out of. Drive that car another year. Don’t eat steak dinners every time you get a check. Hold on to your cash as long as you can.

Fourth. Learn to see opportunities. There are plenty of ways to make money during the down time. Don’t sit there, broke, complaining about money. Find something.

For me, it was eBay. During a very bad season, I desperately needed money. I had been hoarding gear for years. That mountain of gear made my house payment for almost a year. Sacrifices are unavoidable sometimes.

I also worked part time for a small chain of music stores. They needed help with their pro audio side and I needed some more income. They got a new pro audio division, I got paid. The other thing it did for me, was keeping me alive.

You will never get good at anything you don’t do regularly. The installation work was hard some days, but it kept me working and learning. It helped me become better at what I did. Sitting at home watching cartoons does not make you more valuable.

M. Erik Matlock is a 20-plus-year veteran of pro audio, working in live sound, install, and studios over the course of his career, as well as owning Soundmind Production Services. Erik provides advice for younger folks working (or aspiring to work) in professional audio at The Art Of The Soundcheck—Random Stories and Wisdom from an Old Soundguy. Check it out here.


Posted by Keith Clark on 07/12 at 08:55 AM
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Thursday, July 11, 2013

Road Test: Countryman Type 10S Stereo DI Box

How does it stack up to it's noted heritage on the bench and in the field?

Countryman is well known for the Type 85 DI box, and I’ve seen more than a few riders where a DI is simply referred to as a “Countryman.”

I have several Type 85s in my inventory, and have been looking forward to getting the newer Type 10S to the bench for a listen.

An active box, it’s built as ruggedly as the Type 85, with a solid aluminum casing that can stand up to anything a tour or crew can dish out. To be expected, it’s slightly larger than the single-channel Type 10, measuring 2 x 4 x 6.2 inches and weighing 31.2 ounces.

And like it’s single-channel sibling, the Type 10S is finished in a silver color with black lettering that’s very easy to read, even in the dim light at a gig.

The controls and jacks are recessed for protection but are still simple to access and use. One end contains the inputs, which include a gold-plated stereo 1/8-in jack, two gold plated RCA jacks, two 1/4-in input jacks, and two 1/4-in “THRU” jacks.

Also included are two input PAD switches (one for each channel) that offer three settings: 0 dB is for most sources, including guitars and keyboards as well as computers and multimedia devices; -15 dB can tame the levels of hot keyboards or other active instruments; and -30 dB allows the user to plug in the output from an amplifier, like a guitar head, and direct the amp sound into the PA or recording.

Front and back views of the Type 10S. (click to enlarge)

Caution with that last setting, however. As the manual points out, a dummy load or loudspeaker should also be connected to the amplifier, because the Type 10S will not provide the required load to the output of a tube amp.

The other end contains the outputs and test section. There are two XLR connectors, each with its own ground lift switch, along with a momentary power test switch and two LEDs.

If operating with phantom power, depressing the switch will light up a green PHAN LED. If operating on an internal battery, the BATT light will glow green if the battery has suitable juice and red if it’s low. This serves as a quick way to check if the unit is being powered correctly when used.

The stated frequency response is 10 Hz – 50 kHz (+/- 1 dB) and cross talk rejection is 105 dB (20 Hz – 20 kHz), with total harmonic distortion less than 0.001 percent. The phase response is listed as linear, within +/- 2 degrees across the full audio range.

Handy LEDs indicating power status. (click to enlarge)

The unit is powered via 48-volt phantom or with a 9-volt alkaline battery. Applying phantom power to channel A will power both channels in the DI.

To use the battery, you need to insert a 1/4-in plug into channel A because there’s a switch inside the jack that turns on the battery. Countryman states a typical 9-volt alkaline should provide about 130 hours of use.

Bench & Field
On the bench, the first thing I noticed was that the 1/8-in jack supplied me with another option in hooking up multimedia devices.

The next thing that drew my attention was the power test switch, certainly handy for troubleshooting at shows.

With three different connectors to choose from, routing an audio signal into the Type 10 was easy. I played a bunch of songs I’m familiar with into my test bench PA system, and was impressed by the sound – or should I say the lack of coloration this DI exhibits.

Confident in the abilities of the Type 10S, I took it out to a gig the next day.

The first event was a typical corporate meeting that required walk in/out music throughout the day. I connected a laptop to the 1/8-in jack and set the PAD to 0 dB.

The unit performed flawlessly and I realized that its small size would make it easy to hide in a podium when I needed to get audio out of a presenter’s computer or MP3 player.

Next, I took the unit to a lounge and used it on the keyboard rig. Because the keyboard player only had one stereo keyboard, I could have simply taken a feed from the keyboard, but instead opted to run the line output of the keyboard amp into the DI.

A look inside with the lid off. (click to enlarge)

Due the hot signal from the amp, I set the PAD switches to -15 dB and all was well.

If you’re shopping for an all-around DI that can handle anything, the Type 10S deserves to be at the top of your list. The sound quality is great, and it’s built like a tank.

U.S. MSRP: $550

Craig Leerman is senior contributing editor for ProSoundWeb and Live Sound International and is the owner of Tech Works, a production company based in Las Vegas.

Posted by Keith Clark on 07/11 at 04:44 PM
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Church Sound: Understanding Signal Flow & Console Operation

How well do you really know your console? If a problem crops up are you prepared?

Knowing the audio path through a mixing console is absolutely critical to sound tech/engineer success.

Using this information, an engineer can quickly troubleshoot the likely causes of common problems, and can even narrow down the possibilities of unexpected major problems.

It can also prevent mistakes because you know what the audio is doing at each stage of the console, and it instills confidence as you sit behind the console, fulling knowing the the ins and outs (sorry for the pun) of the equipment.

Finally, it provides a foundation of understanding which makes it easy to move from room to room or console to console and not be thrown for a loop.

For instance, you might think “the second red knob on my old console was always set to 12:00, does that mean the second blue knob on this console should be set the same?”

However, after carefully studying a console’s signal path, you’ll know exactly what that knob is and where it is in the audio signal chain (even consulting the owner’s manual if necessary.)

You want to be an excellent all-around driver of vehicles, not a specialist who only knows and drives a Chevy Malibu 2-door with the small V6.

In general, the controls that you tend to “set and forget” are at the top of the console, meaning you have to actually reach for them. The controls that need more adjustments along the way are closer to your hands.

The channel strip tends to lay out generally “in order” as it applies to the audio signal flow – Gain, then EQ, then the Fader, for example. But this is a very broad overview. There is much more detail to be examined..

Figure 1: Yamaha DM2000.

So how do you learn the signal flow of your particular console? You break out the manual!

It will contain what is typically called a “block diagram”. Now, block diagrams like Figure 1 for a Yamaha DM2000 can be headache-inducing nightmares.

So I recommend that you take the time to create your own simplified signal flow. Just follow the lines on the block diagram to determine the signal path.

It’s also recommended that you make it in linear, vertical orientation so that it helps you visualize the flow better. You can use any drawing or paint program to make one.

I’ve created a few signal flows for study. These can be extremely valuable learning tools.

Here is the signal flow of a Mackie 1604 VLZ:

Figure 2. Click to enlarge.


And here is a larger format Yamaha IM8•40:

Figure 3. Click to enlarge.


Finally, here is an APB Dynasonics Spectra-C/56.

Figure 4. Click to enlarge.


Basic Definitions
Now that’s we’ve taken a look at some different signal flow diagrams, let’s review exactly what the different components you’re likely to see on block diagram are doing.

Gain: A level adjustment designed to optimize each signal coming into the console.

Pad: If you turn the gain all the way to the left and the signal is still too hot, then you should engage the pad, which will reduce the incoming signal by a preset amount (usually 20 dB or so).

HPF: A high-pass filter is a circuit which sharply decreases low frequencies, reducing mike handling noise, stage rumble, and plosives (p-pops).

Polarity: A simple switch which flips the polarity of the input. (Polarity is sometimes incorrectly called “phase”). Useful for eliminating phase-cancellation when using multiple mics on the same source (both the top and bottom of a snare drum, for example).

Insert Loop: A patch point for connecting outboard gear, such as a compressor or effects unit.

Direct Out: An individual channel output after the gain stage, but before EQ or fader involvement. Most often used for feeding multitrack recorders.

Aux Mix: A separate mix of each channel which has its own output, which can be used to feed stage monitors, a recording mix, sends to a reverb unit, or other uses.

Pre/Post: An indication of where the Aux mix splits off from the main signal. If it’s labeled as “Pre” or “PreFade” mix, then its level is completely independent of the channel’s fader. If it’s labeled as a “Post” or “PostFade” mix, then the aux’s level will also be affected by the channel fader as it is adjusted.

PFL: The Pre Fade Listen works as a “solo” button for the engineer’s headphones. You can isolate an individual channel, and hear changes you make with the EQ. Because it is pre-fade, it does not matter where the fader is at the time.

Group/Subgroup: A tool used to help the audio tech during a service or performance. Rather than have to independently mix 32, 40, or even up to 56 channels on a console, you can assign, for example, all of the drums to one fader called a “Subgroup.” The Subgroup does not affect any aux sends, it only affects the main mix. So I can raise or lower the level of all eight drum mics on one fader.

VCAs & VCA Groups: A VCA stands for Voltage Controlled Amplifier and is a common way to “automate” certain things on a mixing console. You can assign multiple channels to a VCA (just like a Group), but the difference is no audio is passed through a VCA.

Instead, the VCA acts like a remote control to channels which are assigned to it. Where it gets really interesting is that channels that are assigned to a VCA Group do not have to share a common audio path at all.  This means you can have the entire band on one VCA fader, even if they all are routed to different mixes and Subgroups!

Something to keep in mind with VCAs that you don’t have to worry about with Groups: a VCA provides the exact same function as adjusting a channel’s fader (including any changes to it’s Post Aux mixes). This is different from a Subgroup, as a sub would only affect the house mix.

Bus: This is an electrical term rather than an audio term. Technically, an aux mix, a Subgroup, a master mix, a mono output, a matrix output, etc. are all buses. The only way this term becomes important to an audio tech is in the possibility that you get some “bus distortion,”  which may not show up on the meters.

Matrix Mix: A completely different kind of output available only on the larger consoles. It’s sole purpose is to create an alternate mix to be used for recording, for routing a different mix to a different room, or for any other specialized purpose. You will not see a Matrix split on the above audio signal flows.

Why? Because they are not made up of individual channels. A Matrix mix is created solely from mixing the Main Outputs and Subgroup Outputs. So a Matrix Out is created downstream from any individual channel functions.

Jeremy Carter is a veteran of the pro audio industry with extensive experience designing and operating church audio, video, and lighting systems.

Posted by Keith Clark on 07/11 at 12:35 PM
Church SoundFeatureBlogStudy HallAnalogConsolesDigitalEngineerMixerSignalTechnicianPermalink

RE/P Files: Mixing Stereo Monophonically

Exploring the additive effect of audio information of equal intensity on both stereo channels

From the archives of the late, great Recording Engineer/Producer (RE/P) magazine, this feature provides an interesting snapshot of recording methods and techniques circa May 1970. (Volume 1, Number 1). The text is presented unaltered.

A short while ago a mild furor was generated when AM radio stations began to receive stereophonic promotion records and discovered to their horror that the soloists were 3 dB or more too loud when the stereo discs were played monophonically.

It was quickly determined by these broadcasters that an instrument or voice which was recorded with equal intensity on both of the channels would encounter the effects of simple addition of the two portions and become at least 50 percent too loud.

To overcome this “oversight,” Howard Holzer, audio engineer, developed a device which is inserted into the disc mastering system and detects information appearing with equal intensity on both of the incoming sources, automatically suppressing it without affecting the other program material.

While this approach is certainly worthwhile, if not mandatory, the fact that the recordists made its advent necessary is inexcusable.

Ten years ago this writer produced, without even the benefit of today’s “mix down,” a two-channel stereo master of a vocalist backed by a 30-piece orchestra. The tape was transferred to stereo disc, but no mention was made of the disc being stereo.

It was sent to many AM radio stations and was bought by the public for play on home stereo and monophonic record players… for it was assumed by the users that the album was available only in monophonic format.

Not a single report was ever received from any user to the effect that the vocalist was too loud under mono listening conditions. The disc played perfectly and no one noticed anything unusual. Why?

Because there was nothing unusual… except in the method of splitting the vocalist between the two channels.

Some, although unfortunately not enough, sound mixers already were aware, way back then, that the additive effect of audio information of equal intensity on both stereo channels could be avoided by splitting the source to both channels in unequal amounts.

To be precise - it was discovered that if you split the soloist in such a way that he is 3 dB (or more) ” hotter” on one channel than on the other, the cumulative effect when the stereo recording is played monophonically is minimized to the point of being unnoticeable.

In fact, with exactly 3 dB difference in levels, and with the level of the louder channel set for proper balance between orchestra and soloist (letting the weaker portion of the split source fall where it may on the other channel) not only is there no noticeable additive effect when listening monophonically to the stereo recording, but when listening in stereo it is impossible for the consumer, and for most experts, to tell that the soloist is not split equally between the channels.

A unique console specified by this writer and designed and built by Charles S. Broneer, provides splitting of any source to any pair of output lines in any ratio except 50-50. The console purposely will not allow the latter; the closest to this that it permits is a split with the 3 dB intensity difference between channels.

It has thus been positively established that with a console capable of providing other than 50-50 splitting, a two-track recording will reproduce perfectly in a stereo or monophonic system, and without the requirement of expensive and critical supplementary devices which should never have been necessary in the first place.

Editor’s Note: This is another in a growing a series of articles from Recording Engineer/Producer (RE/P) magazine, which began publishing in 1970 under the direction of Publisher/Editor Martin Gallay. After a great run, RE/P ceased publishing in the early 1990s, yet its content is still much revered in the professional audio community. RE/P also published the first issues of Live Sound International magazine as a quarterly supplement, beginning in the late 1980s, and LSI has grown to a monthly publication that continues to thrive to this day.

Our sincere thanks to Mark Gander of JBL Professional for his considerable support on this archive project.

Posted by Keith Clark on 07/11 at 09:14 AM
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Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Preventive Maintenance: Keeping Digital Consoles In Top-Flight Condition

The methods of proper maintenance for digital gear

Ask most audio folks to list their least favorite things about the business, and right up at the top (just behind dealing with cheap promoters and coiling snakes after a three-day beer fest) is PM.

I’m not talking about the hours between noon and midnight, but rather, preventive maintenance, the regularly scheduled servicing of gear.

While most of us check our cables and loudspeakers regularly (right?), we might tend to overlook digital gear, yet it too requires regular PM to make sure it’s ready to deliver top-notch performance at every gig.

In general, PM should be scheduled based on several factors. First, how often does the gear goes out on gigs – the more it’s used, the more frequently it should be serviced.

You can probably get away with a yearly checkup on equipment that doesn’t see much action, but the stuff that’s in heavy rotation should get at least three sessions of PM per year.

Environmental factors that the equipment is exposed to in use and also when in storage is another factor. Climate-controlled venues of course present fewer threats, particularly since smoking isn’t allowed indoors practically anywhere these days, but moving outdoors in general adds a layer of potential problems, and then that goes up by a considerable amount if there’s a lot of dust or you’re located near salt water.

Same with items exposed to cold or heat. Particularly those of you who are presently in the midst of an dusty outdoor festival season, pay heed.

Finally, logic dictates that newer gear can get by with less attention than older gear that’s seen a lot of shows over the years – but don’t push it. A good way for new equipment to age before it’s time is to ignore PM, and that not only jeopardizes performance at shows but overall return on investment.

Similar Process
As noted earlier, just because a console is digital doesn’t mean it’s impervious. So find a clean corner of the shop and gather up some supplies…

The PM process is much like working with an analog console. Begin by giving the surface a good cleaning. Dust and dirt can be removed with a vacuum and a dry cloth. You can also use compressed air in a “duster” can or from a compressor to blow away dust. Make sure if you’re using a compressor that it’s of the oil-free variety so it’s not spraying a light film of oil on the console.

Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations on cleaning the console screens because some chemicals (even mild glass cleaners) may damage the screen surface. Check all ventilation holes and vacuum out the dust. Remove and clean any air filters as per the manufacturer’s instructions. 

Board tape residue can be removed with a cleaner like Simple Green.

If that doesn’t do the trick, step up to a citrus-based solution like Goo Gone. Make sure to read the directions and warnings on any cleaning chemicals.

As you clean, give the console an overall evaluation, looking for any damage. Be sure that any onboard option cards are installed correctly, and if no cards are used, check that the covers are still securely in place.

Next, check all the connectors to see if they’re loose or broken. A small soft-bristled brush like an artist’s paintbrush combined with a vacuum works well for getting stubborn dirt out.

Electronic connectors can be cleaned with a contact cleaner like Deoxit. Fiber optic connectors should only be cleaned with items made specifically for fiber, such as products from Sticklers, TechSpray and Chemtronics.

Examine the power cord for damage, and don’t overlook external power supplies. Clean out all ventilation ports and check the filters and connectors on the unit. Also check the power supply cables.

Once satisfied that the console and connectors are clean and in working order, plug in the console and turn it on. Check the firmware and software versions and visit the manufacturer’s website and see if there are any updates available.

Don’t overlook PM on connectors.

Now is also a good time to check for updates for ancillary gear like computers or tablets that are used with the console. While at the manufacturer’s website, make up a USB drive for the console that includes a downloaded copy of the manual and any other user guides, as well as any firmware and software.

Finally, connect the console to a powered loudspeaker or a set of headphones, and then provide input via a microphone and/or playback device. Test the onboard connectors as well as the surface knobs and faders.

Go through every function and every channel on the console to insure each is working correctly. Sometimes features are duplicated on knobs and touch screens, so in those cases, verify proper operation both ways.

Moving Along
Not all digital consoles are stand-alone systems; many have relatively few onboard connections and are instead augmented with stage racks and remote input/output boxes.

Clean the racks just as with the console. Remove the dust and dirt with a vacuum and dry cloth, tidy up the connectors, and check the option cards and covers.

Again, don’t forget the power cords. Also be sure to hook up stage boxes to the console to verify that all remote functions are working correctly, and that audio passes cleanly through all inputs and outputs.

Now it’s snake time! Check the outer jacket for cuts and tears, and also slide your hand along the entire length of the cable, feeling for flat spots, twists or other irregularities.

Have a look at the connectors, paying extra attention to the rear of the connector to see if the cable has been subjected to excess strain, and thus has pulled away from the connector body.

For general cleaning of outer cable jackets, I use Simple Green followed by water. For removing sticky tape residue, I turn to Goo Gone.

When that won’t cut it, I switch to a stronger solvent called Goof Off, which contains acetone, so caution is strongly advised. It will eat through many materials, so just use enough to get rid of the gunk in the affected area, and then thoroughly wash the area clean of any remaining solvent.

Check each cable using a tester, looking for intermittent signals by wiggling the connector joints, and also flex the cable at any suspect spots to see if there’s a break. Many times a cable may have a break in one or more of the conductors, but the problem won’t rear its head until the cable is flexed or wiggled.

Clean the electronic connectors with a quality contact cleaner like Deoxit, while for fiber, Chemtronics Fiber Electro-Wash works very well. Use only lint-free cloth because other materials may leave behind particles that can obstruct the light pathway.

If the snake is on a reel, examine it, and then clean and lubricate the reel as needed.

Last but not least, don’t forget the road cases for the console, stage boxes and snakes. Evaluate the outside, looking for any damage, and pay extra attention to the handles, latches and wheels – now would also be a good time to lubricate the latter two. Give the inside a once-over, and check the foam and/or rack rails.

Yes, PM is a chore, but it really pays off in gear reliability, both in the analog and digital worlds.

Craig Leerman is senior contributing editor for Live Sound International and is the owner of Tech Works, a production company based in Las Vegas.

Posted by Keith Clark on 07/10 at 01:45 PM
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Seven “Dirty Words” Of The Systems Integration Business

Some things that can bring fear to the hearts of even the most experienced integrator
This article is provided by Commercial Integrator

When it comes to running a systems integration business, we all have phrases we love to hear. Some that immediately come to mind are, signed contract, margin rich, or design build. All of them exude a certain positivity integrators can get behind.

But in a business where there are more than a few things that can go wrong, there are some phrases that can bring fear to the hearts of even the most experienced integrator. These are the “Seven Dirty Words/Phrases For Integration:”

1. Bid. Perhaps no word wreaks of “not-profitable"more than bid work. Between the layers of contractors the integrator often has to work through, the slow pay and being the last on the job site, this is often a no-win proposition.

If bid work is where you want to live, be careful and read EVERYTHING. The bigger the project the shakier ground you may be walking on when it comes to potential losses.

2. Owner Furnished. I love it when the customer shows you the room full of old projectors or plasmas they want to put into their new rooms. Coupled with a few new pieces of gear and they have everything you need to do the install.

Be sure and test everything twice to make sure it works. Once you sign the okay to use their gear, it is in your hands. And when it doesn’t work, it is still in your hands.

3. Shared Labor. “We will pull the cable and put the equipment in the racks, can you do the rest?” This is the start of something really bad. When the customer is trying to save money by piecing together the install, it is never a good thing for the integrator.

If you decide to go down this road, you need rock solid agreements as to where there work ends and yours begin. Otherwise, making money will be in the rearview mirror for this project.

4. Extended Terms. For the customer that is. This is common when dealing with the biggest companies. They generate cash flow by extending out payments as long as possible, sometimes waiting to pay until the job is delivered 100 percent.

In some projects, getting to 100 percent starts to look like searching for your contact in the middle of a corn field.

5. Consultant. Unrelated to the part where these very smart engineers design systems to bid. This group also loves to specify “next gen” technologies, often before they are proven to work.

What makes it worse is the projects they specify are often tremendous in scope. Taking the newest tech on the biggest projects with the least margin is a dirty, dirty word in my book.

6. Charge Back. Often buried deep in the contracts is the potential for charge backs to be incurred by integrators if they do not meet project timelines. This wouldn’t be so bad if we were 100 percent in control, but in the world we live in we wait for electricians, carpeting, ceiling, drywall and everyone else to do their part.

So when the schedule gets compressed at the end, they love to hit up the integrator for restitution. Not cool and definitely a dirty word.

7. Trunk Slammer. The security guy, the drywall company or the CIO’s nephew also does home theaters. They said this project can be done for half of your price and they will come in at night and the weekend to do the work.

If you hear this, or any iteration of this, turn around and run, not walk, but full out sprint out of the building. There isn’t a penny to be made. 

Daniel L. Newman currently serves as CEO of EOS, a new company focused on offering cloud-based management solutions for IT and A/V integrators. He has spent his entire career in various integration industry roles. Most recently, Newman was CEO of United Visual where he led all day to day operations for the 60-plus-year-old integrator.

Go to Commercial Integrator for more content on A/V, installed and commercial systems.

Posted by Keith Clark on 07/10 at 01:02 PM

Church Sound: Preparing For Next Season

It's a good time to think about your tech needs for the upcoming busy schedule
This article is provided by Church Audio Video.

Summer is a time of relaxation and vacations, and it usually means an abbreviated regular church service schedule. Although VBS, summer camps, mission trips, and other events step up our efforts, the normal ebb and flow of regular services sometimes takes a brief slowdown.

With that in mind, it might be a good time to think about your technology needs for the upcoming Fall season. We’re working with quite a few churches who are gearing up for satellite campuses, new service models, and general upgrades in their A/V/L systems.

During this time while things might not be as hectic in your normal schedule, here are a few suggestions to prepare for future needs and wishes.

Back to basics. Take a step back and get a big picture view of your current setup and your future needs. Make sure you aren’t neglecting any particular aspect of your audio/video/lighting/acoustics system, and if so, develop a plan for addressing it. Our diagram “Church A/V/L Essentials” can help you make sure you’re hitting all the bases.

To give is better than to receive. What equipment do you have that isn’t being used, but could be re-purposed? Perhaps you have a sister church in town or know another ministry who could benefit from some of your unused gear. Or maybe you intend to replace some gear that could also be shared with another deserving ministry. “Paying it forward” just might cause a heavenly release of resources for you to upgrade your own needs.

Click to enlarge

Are you maximizing your current setup? Sometimes our current equipment isn’t being utilized to its best capacity. You just might have capabilities that you’re not aware of. Although it’s absolute torture for some folks, you might consider reading your owner’s manuals again (or for the first time) to make sure that you’re getting the most out of your gear. Maybe you could hook up your equipment in a different way to get more functionality out of it, too.

Purchase with a purpose. Many of us are familiar with Dr. Rick Warren’s branded concept to have a clear reason and purpose for what we do in the church.

This is especially true if you’re considering purchasing new gear. It’s very important to clearly define exactly WHAT you need to do rather than what particularly cool or attractive piece you’re interested in.

Getting the right tool for the job is paramount. There are lots of kinds of hammers: claw, roofing, ball pein, sledge, jack—you get the point. Identifying where you’re lacking or what you need to improve will help you make good purchasing decisions.

Jeff McLeod is managing director and a certified church consultant for Church Audio Video.

Church Audio Video specializes in the design, installation and support of high-quality and affordable custom audio, video, lighting, broadcast and control systems for worship facilities. For more information, visit their website.


Posted by Keith Clark on 07/10 at 11:09 AM
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In The Studio: Creating Space And Depth In Recordings

Shape it however you want -- these tips should help
This article is provided by Audio Geek Zine.

One of the challenges we face is creating lifelike music with a realistic three-dimensional soundstage.

Recording direct with guitars and synthesizers, there is no interaction with the instrument and the room, the sound comes out of nowhere, and it can be a challenge mixing several of these disembodied performers into something that sounds real.

Recorded music is an illusion - you can shape it however you want, and these tips should help.

Room Mics
Space and depth are tricky things to fake. Your best chance is to capture it with some microphones.

Guitars - When setting up to record electric guitar use both close and far microphones. The far mics (aka room mics) pick up the natural early reflections and reverb of the room. The blend of close and far mics will be the balance of front to back positioning in the mix.

Drums -  If you are recording real drums, set up a couple mics as far back from the drums as possible, up in the ceiling corners can work well. You can even try pointing them away from the drums so they pick up only the reflections off the walls.

Keyboards - Electronic instruments like keyboards and synthesizers can be treated in the same way as the guitars. Run them through an amp with some room mics. If your recording room is not giving you a long enough reverb, you can try compression to increase the sustain.

Re-amping is taking a prerecorded track (usually direct) and running it out or the recording system into an amp or PA and recording it again with some mics in a real space. This is one of the most effective ways of faking it.

Rather than using a reverb plugin which tends to push things too far away or is just unrealistic, instrument to amp to microphone in a room doesn’t get any more real. Re-amping is the next best thing. Use a re-amp box for the best results.

Guitars - Same as above, run the signal into an amp and mic it close and/or far. If you want to use a virtual amp, you can do it with or without cabinet emulation depending on what you want to do.

Virtual instruments - I have a good friend that programs synths in Pro Tools then runs them through some real amps. He places the amp several feet from a shelf with his record collection and mics the records rather than the amp with a stereo pair of condensers. This makes a virtual instrument sound so much more authentic just by getting some air moving and sound bouncing off things.

Virtual drums -  Make a blend of drums and send it out of your audio interface and into a lively room. You get the benefits of MIDI drums but a lot more authenticity by using your own room mics. As always, experiment with mic position for the best results.

Staying inside the box, you can add echo to instruments which will place that instrument in a space.

By echo, I mean a short delay effect that gets darker (highs reduced) with each repeat. This will not be an entirely realistic space but it can work well for vocals as an alternative to reverb, it tends to clutter less.

A little goes a long way. If you keep this mono the sound will appear to be reflecting off a wall somewhere behind the source.

The Haas Effect
The Haas Effect is a psychoacoustic concept that explains how humans localize sound. In other words, this is how we figure out what direction a sound is coming from. We can fake this with any simple delay and level control. By panning and faking a single reflection on the opposite side we can the illusion of where this sound is coming from.

Depending on the level and timing of the reflection, that places the source closer or farther from that imaginary wall and us as a listener. Very interesting stuff. This is also a great way to stereo widen something and this is a staple of my bag of mixing tricks.

Finally we get to Reverb plugins, which was likely your first choice for creating the illusion of space and depth.

Reverb is very hard to get perfect. The balance of level, reverb time, pre-delay and damping are all critical. We tend to like the sound of reverb and use too much, especially as it seems to hide our mistakes (not the way to fix mistakes).

The reverb in a room rarely overlaps the performance or is even noticeable as a discrete element until it’s inappropriate for the music. The speed of the music also definitely a factor with regards to how much reverb can be added without becoming cluttered, muddy, indistinct, etc.

A huge lush cathedral verb just does not work with speed metal, but a smaller wooden recording room with a short decay will enhance without drawing attention to itself. That’s the trick and it can be very time consuming.

There is also the possibility that your music DOESN’T need to be in a realistic space. Clever use of unrealistic space can be the thing that makes your music stand out from the rest.

Spring and gated reverbs don’t sound like anything naturally occurring but are undeniably effective tools in the correct circumstances. NO reverb, NO depth, and NO space could also be the perfect solution for your musical style.

Jon Tidey is a producer/engineer who runs his own studio, EPIC Sounds, and enjoys writing about audio on his blog AudioGeekZine.com.

Posted by Keith Clark on 07/10 at 09:52 AM
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