Monday, November 11, 2013
Church Sound: Do Digital Mixers Lead To Laziness?
The potential downsides of automation through technology
The automobile wasn’t invented because someone wanted a new means of travel. It was because someone was tired of walking. The recording device wasn’t invented because someone wanted a technology that could capture sound. It was because someone was tired of taking notes in class.
Are these statements true? Oh, I’d guess there is a shred of truth in them somewhere. But what is true is that automation-through-technology can lead to laziness and when the church service is in full swing, you shouldn’t look like our friend the sleeping cat pictured at left.
Most of us would quickly deny being lazy behind the mixer. But, looking at this age of technology and what the future holds, audio production technology has reached a point where it does allow you the ability to be lazy, specifically through the use of recall-able mix scenes.
There are three scenarios in which your digital mixer can lead to laziness.
This one is tempting when you have the same people in the band every week. You create one scene and label it “music” and use it for every song, every week, every month; no EQ adjustments, no effects changes, maybe a volume tweak here or there.
You’re mixing just as lazy as when you had an analog mixer and rarely touched the EQ knobs. Congratulations, all of your songs have the same generic sound. You might say I’m hyper-sensitive to this form of live mixing. You’d be right.
You create a good baseline mix for the first service with the mindset you will improve your mixes (saving the scenes) through your multiple services so the last service will sound the best. After all, you get the most people at the last service.
You’re doing a huge disservice to the congregation and missing the point of your job. You should have the first service sounding the best it can sound. The people attending this service are no less important than those attending the last service. Subsequently, if you’re doing this, you’ll start hearing comments like “the first service never sounds as good as the last service.” Is that what you want to hear?
During the worship practice / sound check, you spend your time creating great song mixes. You save each song as a digital scene so come service time you only have to recall the scene for the song.
Your service-time mix suffers because the acoustic properties of the room have changed because now the room is full of people. What sounded great in the empty sanctuary now only sounds so-so.
It’s better than being in scenario 1 or 2, but it’s still not where you should be.
The good news is you know the importance of distinct song mixes but you’ve allowed yourself to be lazy and miss out on sculpting those mixes into even better mixes for each service.
Not only do the room’s acoustic properties change when it’s full of people, but as I mentioned in another article, mixing for the moment and you can’t completely pre-mix for that moment.
Your mixing needs to be somewhat re-active to the congregation as the mood fits. But, I digress.
Fight The Lazy!
Let’s break this down into steps:
1. Create different song mixes.
Does your worship music on your iphone all sound the same? No. Don’t use the same scene for all of the songs. It’s OK to have a baseline mix but consider it a starting point.
If your musicians change from week to week, then the baseline might not be possible. It depends on how the bands are grouped and the functionality of your mixer. Some mixers can save channel settings separately while others save all the channels together as one scene.
Bottom line, songs are mixed differently and you need to work with the same mindset.
2. Plan out how you will use scenes.
You can use them per song, per element, or per a group of elements. I use around five scenes per service. Each scene is for one song plus any elements before or after where a logical break occurs.
For example, if the last song of the worship set is concluding with the last notes ringing out, it’s OK if the person speaking starts talking so the music sound stays as needed.
There are all sorts of ways of arranging scenes. Take your schedule and break it out into logical groups.
3. Plan your first service like it would be your last.
Even if you only have one service each weekend, put your energy into creating the best song scene mixes possible during your worship practice and your sound check.
By the time the first service rolls around, you should know you have done your best. You should expect to make some minor changes to your mixes but those are simply part of live mixing.
Consider the first service (each service) as if it was the last service you were ever mixing. You want it to be the absolute best.
The Take Away
The ability to recall scenes takes a large burden off your shoulders. You can get better individual song mixes and, in the case of multiple services, you can create a consistent sound from one service to the next. This is all good but it doesn’t mean that you can stop mixing.
The mix that worked during practice might need tweaking when you hear it with a room full of worshippers. In the case of multiple services, after reflecting on the first service, you might discover you could improve your mix for the next service by modifying a vocal mix.
And let’s not forget mixing for the moment. Recalling scenes is great but don’t let those saved settings define your mix.
P.S. Remember to save your scene changes!
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. He can even tell you the signs the sound guy is having a mental breakdown.
Thursday, November 07, 2013
Bainbridge Island Museum Of Art Relies On Lectrosonics Aspen Processing Systems
CRC Technologies adds new Lectrosonics audio equipment to existing system at Bainbridge Island Museum to expand the system's capabilities.
Bainbridge Island Museum of Art’s mission is to engage a diverse population with the art and craft of the northwest region.
Recently, what started as a project to fix some shortcomings with the AV system in the museum’s auditorium, turned into a considerably larger project.
Seattle, WA-based CRC Technologies, an AV systems design / build firm, was initially contracted to make some enhancements to the existing AV system.
Jay Nichols, manager of the AV Division, realized that by adding some components to the existing system, he could help them accomplish what they needed.
Those additions included a Lectrosonics SPNDNT Dante capable DSP mixer / processor and two DNTBOB 88 breakout boxes to augment the capabilities of the ASPEN SPN2412 24-input audio processor already in their possession.
“I started off just fixing the initial install in the auditorium that was done by another company,” Nichols explained. “After the customer realized how good the equipment was that they already owned, I turned into a salesman and convinced them to expand the system—not cascade two systems together.
“I became the engineer when it came time to create schematic and line drawings to show the customer that the expansion would work and, finally, with the help of my installation crew, I became the installer and system programmer for the final commissioning of the new system.”
According to Nichols, the Lectrosonics SPN2412 and SPNDNT are located in the Frank Buxton Auditorium equipment rack while the two DNTBOB 88 interfaces are located in the basement equipment rack.
“The SPN2412—originally deployed by the original contractor—is used to mix microphones and line level sources from three stage floor boxes, wireless microphones, and preamp signals from the surround sound processor used for the auditorium.
“This system was expanded to add a museum-wide paging microphone for emergency announcements. Further, the SPNDNT is used to mix the audio from sources throughout the museum and disseminate them to any of the sixteen zones throughout the museum.”
“The DNTBOB 88 breakout boxes are used to take the analog audio signal from the Crestron DM video switch and send it to the SPNDNT for mixing,” Nichols continued. “These two interface units also take the mixed signal from the SPNDNT and connect it to the 70-volt amplifiers used by the system.”
The Aspen SPN2412 processor’s ability to mix the variety of signals required for the multipurpose auditorium without the need for someone to ‘run the soundboard’ was a huge factor in the project.
“By adding the combination of the SPNDNT Dante processor and the two DNTBOB 88 breakout boxes, we achieved the perfect solution to expand on the existing SPN2412 install and make the entire system seamless,” Nichols added.
The Bainbridge Island Museum of Art’s AV system expansion was completed in June and since that time, Nichols reports that the customer is extremely happy and everything is working just as he envisioned.
Working On The Stage Sound—Moving From Mixing House To Monitors
A voice of experience provides a run-through on success at the monitor position
A recent assignment placed me behind a monitor console once again. It had been a while since I stage-mixed on a regular basis, so I enjoyed the change of scenery.
But this end of the snake presents a very different challenge from a front of house mix or a system engineering position.
Here, the fruits of my labors were not intended for the masses, but rather, were tailored to specific individuals and each of his or her needs, wants, desires… and idiosyncrasies. And yes, IEM has fully come of age, but not everyone will go there.
Here are some of my rules for setting up successful stage mixes.
To me, the first and most important stage-mixing rule is to understand exactly what you are trying to accomplish. (As with most things in life!)
The objective is for the player or artist to hear what they need or want to hear, in a way that makes sense to them. Do not confuse this with the idea that you are there to make it sound good to you! The two do not necessarily coincide. Wedge mixes do not generally sound like front of house mixes.
Face it; on a one-off with an unfamiliar band all you can do is give it your best shot. If it’s a couple of folks with acoustic guitars, you’re probably “in there”. If it’s Godzilla meets Metalhead, well… set up accordingly.
If you’re going on tour with a band, try to find out as much as possible about them. Perhaps the guy who was sitting in the seat before you got there would be a good place to start.
Make a plan, but don’t try to reinvent the wheel on the first day. Many musicians get used to their mixes sounding a certain way, and right or wrong be prepared to leave it that way.
But if you’re lucky enough to tour with some receptive players, you’ll have plenty of time to try different things and fine-tune your “stage sound” as you go!
First Things First
Assuming this is a tour, you’ll probably receive information about what goes in to the mixes, but it’s best to speak directly to the band members if possible. This is your starting point.
Following that initial information, you set up for your first sound check. When they begin playing and I am comfortable with my initial mixes, the next thing I like to do is walk around to the various positions and listen.
I mean really LISTEN carefully to what everyone is hearing. It will change as you move around depending on your proximity to various instruments, amplifiers and wedges.
It may change from song to song depending on the volume of the instruments. Make mental notes of what you hear. This will be the foundation for building a successful “stage sound” later.
You must also play psychiatrist a bit and try to get inside the player’s heads.
It’s important to understand the difference between a guy who will ask for his guitar in the wedge in front of him while standing in front of a Marshall stack turned up to eleven, and the guy who wants a taste of the keyboards because they are on the opposite side of the stage. If it’s all about volume and ego… (fill in the blank).
I’m always amazed at how many guys don’t take the time to really place the loudspeakers properly.
Aim them at the players’ faces, and away from troublesome acoustic instruments. (Like a grand piano) Try to keep from firing into open microphones, thank you.
Drum fills are particularly troublesome. I like to get them as far down-stage as possible alongside the riser, and aim them just up-stage of the drummer.
Orient the box so that the narrowest horn dispersion is in the horizontal plane. (Usually on its side) This will help to keep the foldback out of the tom and overhead microphones.
Be careful when you are using more than one enclosure on a mix. Play with the placement of your wedges and find out what works. You’ll be amazed at what a difference a few inches can make when it comes to hot spots and nulls.
Usually I try to find a place where they are close enough together and down-stage to still be in front of the musician, but far enough apart to aim the high frequency axis past the microphone at his ears.
When they’re too far apart, you lose that “in your face” feel. Avoid crossing the HF axis from both boxes at the microphone itself, and also be prepared for reflections from hats or costumes.
For fill loudspeaker positions, if you have multiple enclosures try to stack them, as opposed to a side-by-side configuration.
Horns that are not splayed properly will have several well-defined nulls and peaks in their response when acoustically added together. This is a classic case of non-coincident arrivals at the listener’s position and cannot be fixed with an equalizer!
You would have to splay the boxes for a very wide coverage pattern in order to add the horns together properly. (Depending on the horns of course) There are many more enclosures with 60-degree horns than with 30-degree horns.
Low Frequency Reality Check
Look around you. A reality check will tell you that if you have a relatively large house system with low frequency and sub-bass enclosures that your monitors will not be able to compete with the LF information on stage when everything is up to show speed.
Unless, of course, you want to turn everything up to “warp nine,” or add lots of sub-bass enclosures to you monitor rig, but this generally results in escalating levels with the backline amps and then the house system to overpower all of the information coming off of the stage. I think we all know what this leads to!
If you have to overpower the band with your stage rig, the house mixer will hate you and the show will suffer for it! (Just as it does if the band plays too loud.)
Use the low frequency information from the house system to fill out the bottom end in your “stage sound.”
If you’re carrying a smaller house system or playing on well-damped theater stages, this effect is not so prevalent and you can maintain a full bandwidth from your monitor system.
Pulling It Together
The best approach is to try to meld the backline amps, wedges and house loudspeakers into a system that all works together to attain the overall stage sound you are looking for.
To develop this environment, the spectral response of the mixes should be tailored to fill in what is not heard on stage from the backline amps and the house system.
This usually involves a lack of nearby instruments and VLF frequencies coming from the wedges. (A bonus for you!)
This is where the receptive players come in. You may have to point out the low frequency phenomena during a sound check, but it will be obvious to them if they listen.
Also point out the nearby instruments and how they may be heard without being very loud in their mix. Maybe even re-aim a stage amplifier to be more effective.
How many times have you seen guitar players wailing away with their speakers aimed at their rear-ends? Tilt them back and aim them at their heads. I promise they have no idea what kind of havoc they cause the house mixer about 75 to 100 feet away.
Of course this doesn’t work in every situation. It depends on the music, the venue and the players among other things.
But if you can make these principles work you can achieve the most clarity with the least volume in your wedges.
Use localization to help keep things clear on stage. It is easier to hear different instruments if they are coming from different directions. The fewer sources in any mix, the easier it is to hear them a noisy environment.
Also consider the individual instruments and a mix containing all of them. You have a certain bandwidth in which to fit them.
It’s pretty easy if it’s just a violin and a tuba, but not so straightforward with several guitars and keyboards and drums. Work at making all of the instruments sound different and fill the available spectrum with more distinct differences between them.
If a player insists on a particular tone in his monitor, but it doesn’t work for the rest of your mixes’ split the input into multiple channels on your desk so that you can tailor the sound for everyone.
Dan Laveglia is a long-time system engineer who has worked with Showco and Clair Brothers, serving top concert artists.
Wednesday, November 06, 2013
Soundcraft Vi1 Speeds Up Training Times For Royal Holloway University of London
Digital console helps crew serve an average of 10 different productions a week
The Student Union at the Royal Holloway University of London host a variety of events at a multifunctional venue, which include live music, clubs, conferences, theaters, trade shows, and more. Its technical crew is responsible for approximately 10 different productions a week, and recently acquired a Soundcraft Vi1 console in order to train more students in front of house audio mixing.
“I purchased a different brand of digital console 18 months ago for our FOH training,” explains Karl Travers, technical manager of the Students Union. “My staff here consists of students and it was taking them quite a while to learn on that console, so we started looking at the Soundcraft Vi Series for a replacement. After working with the Vi1 I knew instantly that the user interface was far more straightforward and more intuitive for the crew to learn.”
The highly praised Vi1’s user interface became popular due to its widescreen Vistonics interface, which retains the same ‘walk-up’ user-friendliness of the other Vi consoles. It displays all parameters for 16 channels side by side, on a single 22-inch Vistonics touchscreen. Also, the Vi1 includes built-in Lexicon effects as well as GEQ’s on all output busses, eliminating even more hassles such as additional sound equipment.
“I’ve found that the console UI is very user-friendly with a short learning curve, which has enabled me to get my staff trained in a short amount of time. This in turn leads to quick and confident operation during shows,” says Travers.
“In the last few weeks we’ve done about seven club nights, a few bands, live PA acts with MC’s and several conferences,” he concludes. “So far, the Vi1 has performed extremely well, and the user-definable pages make setup for different shows very easy. On top of that, its gain structure is sweet and requires little work to achieve the desired results.”
The Vi1 console was purchased through UK-based Arc Sound. Soundcraft is distributed in the UK by Sound Technology Ltd.
Church Sound: Alternatives To Using Y-Cables With Source Devices (iPod, Laptop, CD Player)
Avoid burning out the outputs of your components
Question: Will anything bad happen if I use a Y-cable on my CD player or laptop to hook its two outputs into one input on my mixer? I’m running out of channels.
Answer: The answer is yes, probably. If not immediately, then some time in the future. What happens is that most modern audio gear has a very low output impedance, typically under 100 ohms. This is great in that it can drive audio over very long cable runs while ignoring interference from light dimmer buzz and cell phones, but bad in that a short circuit will cause its output transistors to put out too much current and overheat, eventually killing them.
But here’s the crazy thing…if you’re running the exact same signal out both the left and right outputs of your CD player, laptop, or iPod, say from a mono sound track, then there will be no current flow between the left and right output stages and all will be well.
However, if you then play a music track with a lot of dissimilar info on the left and right channels, say from a split-track song with music on the left channel and guide vocals on the right channel, then there will be essentially a short circuit current between the left and right output stages. This is very hard on the CD player’s and iPod’s electronics, and they will begin to overheat internally.
So if you only play these backing tracks once in a while or for only a few minutes at a time, then the output stages may never overheat enough to burn out. However, play these same backing tracks for an extended period of time (perhaps 30 minutes) and you’ll probably find that one of the outputs of your CD player, laptop, or iPod has been burned out. Not a good day for your gear.
The best way to combine two outputs into a common input is by using a box with special build-out resistors that limit this current. Whirlwind makes a box called the podDI that not only safely combines the two output signals from the sound source into a common input on the console/mixer, it also gives provides separate volume knobs so you can turn the left and right channels up and down in volume independently. (The podDI is pictured above with a Y-splitter.)
In addition, it provides a balanced XLR output transformer that’s perfect for isolating the ground of your gear from the PA system and stopping that nasty power supply buzz that often occurs when using a laptop as a sound source that’s powered from its own 120-volt transformer.
You can buy one for about $75 from Full Compass Systems here.
Mike Sokol is the chief instructor of the HOW-TO Church Sound Workshops. He has 40 years of experience as a sound engineer, musician and author. Mike works with HOW-TO Sound Workshop Managing Partner Hector La Torre on the national, annual HOW-TO Church Sound Workshop tour. Find out more here.
Monday, November 04, 2013
Church Sound: How To Create A Song Mix Blueprint in Five Steps
Your mixes will come together a lot faster and ultimately sound better
Have you looked at the set list for next weekend? Do you have any idea what songs you’ll be mixing? The standards, right?
A worship team worth its weight in salt (that’s a lot of salt) will be rotating in new songs now and then. The musicians will practice their respective parts, the worship leader will have an arrangement selected, and as a team they will practice the song until it’s good enough for playing for the congregation.
You are the final musician on that team, mixing all of their sounds together into a song lifted up in worship. What have you done to learn that song?
Following are the steps I take whenever I see a new song on the set list. I’ve mentioned before about the importance of getting a copy of the song which the band will be using as their blueprint.
This list goes way beyond that. It’s a way of creating your own mix blueprint. It’s a way of ensuring you are just as prepared as the musicians when you mix the song for the first time.
1. Listen To The Song
Get a copy of the song which band is modeling the style and arrangement. The worship leader will likely tell you something like “we’re doing the 10,000 Reasons song By Matt Redman in the same way he has it on the 10k Reasons album.” You can jump onto Spotify or YouTube and look up the same version, if you don’t already happen to have it in your personal music collection.
Listen a few times to get the general overall song feel. Is it slow or fast? Simple or complex? Does it have a big sound or a “small set” feel? Get the big picture.
2. Create A Song Breakout Order
From the musical side of things, a song is arranged into several common areas. You might think of this as the verses and the chorus. For your blueprint, start with the following six areas. This list can be expanded as I’ll soon discuss, but for now this is the best place to start.
Intro: Song intros can start in many different ways. It can be full on instruments, a slow drum beat, a rhythm guitar, or even a scripture reading over the instruments.
Verse: The verses of a song tend to have the same arrangement but can have a different number of instruments as a means of providing song movement.
Chorus: Choruses, like verses, can have slightly altered arrangements. A common arrangement change is the last chorus being sung without any instruments.
Bridge: Not all songs have a bridge. The bridge is often used to contrast with the verse/chorus and prepare for the return of the verse/chorus. It can have a time change and even a key change.
Instrumental: Instrumental sections of a song can be a few measures or it can be a long passage, depending on the arrangement.
Outro: The outro can have the same variety as the intro or you might have a lack of an outro. For example, the song immediately ends after the last chorus.
3. Listen And Fill Out The Breakout Basics
You know the general feel and flow of the song, now you need to sketch out the basic outline. You will need to adjust your breakout order if you have verse and chorus differences.
For example, the second verse might have a different arrangement than the first verse. If this is the case, modify your notes such as:
Verse 1: Drums come in with only the snare and hi-hat
Verse 2: Full on instruments
Consider this example of breakout notes:
Intro: solo piano with singer reading a passage of scripture
Verse 1: Drums and bass added
Verse 2+: All instruments with only lead singer
Chorus: Backing vocalists used only in the chorus
Instrumental: Piano over other instruments
Outro: Ends with acoustic guitar and piano
4. Listen For The Mix Details
It’s time to focus in on the mix details. Consider this sample of a breakout:
Intro: Piano leads/sits on top of rhythm acoustic guitar w/very heavy overall acoustic feel.
Verse: Drums and bass used in a gentle supportive way. Both instruments sitting far back in the mix. No backing singers. Snare distant in mix.
Chorus: Backing vocalists singing at same volume with lead singer (singing in harmony)
Instrumental: Piano dominates the instrumental, push volume. Piano sounds bright.
Outro: Piano and acoustic guitar with piano ending first and then acoustic guitar finishes the last few bars of the song.
Note: Studio engineer/producer Bobby Owsinski has a short article here on the questions he asks himself on how he wants to create a song arrangement. While he’s focusing on creating the new song for the FIRST time, they are good questions that can be applied to listening to a song as part of your mix prep.
In this step, you are noting where the instruments and vocals sit in the mix. You should have also noted any mix points, like “piano sounds bright.”
You don’t need to write down, “expect a 560 Hz cut on the electric guitar” but you should write enough that describes what you’d expect to mix, if it’s a bit out of the ordinary or worth noting.
For example, in the song 10,000 Reasons, there is a distinct tom hit three times in a row. I heard the tom sound described as having a “tribal drum” sound. That tells me I need it upfront in the mix and how to mix it.
5. Pick Out The Effects
This is the last step in creating your mix blueprint. Listen to the song and look for the ways in which effects are used. Then make a list of the instruments/vocals which have those effects used and describe how they sounded.
For many worship bands, the effects will stay the same throughout the song but if you want to copy an arrangement with effects changes, then go for it.
The Take Away
The musicians put in a lot of time preparing for the church service…and if they don’t, they should. You need to put in time preparing your mixing plans when a new song comes along.
Listen to a copy of the song for the general feel. Create your breakout list with your song basics. Then go back and add in your mix notes.
It’s really nice to stand behind the mixer during practice and look down at my mix notes for a new song. Your mixes will come together a lot faster and ultimately sound better because of your extra planning.
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. He can even tell you the signs the sound guy is having a mental breakdown.
Friday, November 01, 2013
RE/P Files: Quincy Jones & Bruce Swedien—The Consummate Production Team
Talking with the "dynamic duo" in October,1989
From the archives of the late, great Recording Engineer/Producer (RE/P) magazine, this feature offers an interesting discussion with a true “dynamic duo” of the recording world. Quincy Jones is interviewed first, followed by Bruce Swedien. This article dates back to October 1989. The text is presented unaltered, along with the original graphics.
If the word “professionalism” can be epitomized by one of the most successful producers currently working in the recording industry, that man must surely be Quincy Jones.
The reports of his humanity, care and response to the needs of his recording “family,” and an almost telepathic rapport with his favorite engineer, Bruce Swedien, truly makes Quincy Jones a consummate producer.
During the many session hours that R-e/p spent with Quincy and Bruce in the studio, it became readily apparent that their complimentary skills — Quincy’s proven track record as a musician, composer, arranger, and record producer, married with Bruce’s mastery of the recording process —has resulted in a production team whose numerous talents overlap to a remarkable degree.
Having worked with Bruce Swedien on so many innovative album sessions, including Michael Jackson’s Off The Wall, George Benson’s Give Me The Night, The Dude, and Donna Summer’s Summer of ‘82, it came as no surprise to anyone in the industry that Quincy Jones should make such a clean sweep of this year’s Grammys, collecting a total of seven awards, including five for The Dude alone.
The following conversations with this illustrious production team were conducted during tracking dates for Michael Jackson’s upcoming album Thriller, at Westlake Studios, Los Angeles.
This is the first in a two part series of the conversations between R-e/p, Bruce Swedien, and Quincy Jones. Stay tuned for the next installment where R-e/p’s Jimmy Stewart speaks with Bruce Swedien.
R-e/p (Jimmy Stewart): How do you first get involved with a particular recording project? For example . . . Michael Jackson.
Quincy Jones: We were working on The Wiz together, and Michael started to talk about me producing his album. I started to see Michael’s way of working as a human being, and how he deals with creative things; his discipline in a media he had never worked in before.
I think that’s really the bottom line of all of this. How you really relate to other human beings and build a rapport is also important to me; energy that’s a great feeling when it happens between creative people.
I’ve been in some instances where I have admired an artist’s ability, but couldn’t get it together with them as a human being. To truly do a great job of producing an artist, you must be on the same frequency level. It has to happen before you start to talk about songs.
R-e/p (Jimmy Stewart): Then the important aspect, to your mind, is fostering a family feel during a project?
Quincy Jones: Yes. It’s a very personal relationship that lets the love come through. Being on the other side of the glass is a very funny position — you’re the traffic director of another person’s soul. If it’s blind faith, there’s no end to how high you can reach musically.
R-e/p (Jimmy Stewart): Is the special rapport you establish with an artist based on them saying something unique that triggers off an area in your creative mind?
Quincy Jones: That’s the abstract part which is so exciting. I consider that there are two schools of producing. The first necessitates that you totally reinforce the artist’s musical aspirations.
The other school is akin to being a film director who would like the right to pick the material.
As to what choice of production style I would adopt, your observations and perceptions have to be very keen. You have to be able to crawl into that artist, and feel every side of his personality —to see how many degrees they have to it, and what their limitations are.
R-e/p: Once that working rapport hits been established, how do you plan the actual recording project?
QJ: I think you have to dig down really to where yon think the holes are in that artist’s past career. I’ll say to myself. “I’ve never heard him sing this kind of song, or express that kind of emotion.”
Once you obtain an abstract concept or direction, it’s good to talk about it with the artist to see what his feelings are and if you’re on the right track. In essence, I help the artist discover more of himself.
R-e/p: Do you became involved with the selection of songs for the album?
QJ: On average, I listen maybe 800 to 900 tapes per album. It takes a lot of energy! I hear songs at a demo stage, and would like to think that the songwriter is open for suggestions.
If I say, “We need a C section,” or “Why don’t we double up this section” the writers with whom I’ve had the most success must be mature enough and professional enough to say, “Okav, I’m not going to be defensive about any suggestion you make.”
R-e/p: So what do you listen for in a song? The lyrics, melody, arrangement, instrumentation ...
QJ: I listen for something that will make the hair on my right arm rise. That’s when you get into the mystery of music. It’s something that makes both musical and emotional sense at the same time: where melodically it has something that resembles a good melody.
Again that’s intangible too. because it’s in the ears of the listener. So basically I’m saying… it transcends analysis. A good tune just does something to me.
R-e/p: Once the songs have been sorted, what runs through your mind prior to the studio session dates?
QJ: I try to get the feeling that I’m going into the studio for the first time every-ime. You have to do that because if we started to get to a stage where Bruce Swedien and I had a specific way of recording it wouldn’t work for us.
I’m sure some things overlap, because that’s part of our personality, but we try to approach it like everytime is the first time: we’re going to try something so that we don’t get into routine type of procedures.
With Rufus Chaka Kan I’ll do one kind of a thing, where we will have rehearsals at their home, and talk about things. Maybe even come in the session with everybody and do it like “Polaroids.”
That way you can hear what everything sounds like rough, and feel what the density, structure and contour of the song is all about.
Other times, like with The Brothers Johnson, we used to go in with just a rhythm machine, guitar and bass, and do it that way. We did the Donna Summers album with a drum machine and synthesizer, so that I could really focus on just the material. But with Bruce Springsteen everyone played live, as in a concert.
For George Benson’s album. Lee Ritenour came over and helped us with different guitar equipment to get some new sounds.
At the same time that Lee was there dealing with the equipment, and George was trying it out, Bruce Swedien came over for a whole week to just listen to George with his instrumentals and vocals, like a screen test.
R-e/p: You have obviously established a close affinity in the studio with Bruce Swedien.
How do the pair of you interact with one another, and how does he make the moves with you?
QJ: The thing is, what’s great about working with Bruce is I like him as a human being. In a funny way, we’ve the same kind of background.
The first record we did together was probably Dinah Washington. During that period of time we recorded every big band in the business. We did a lot of R&B in Chicago in those days ... a lot of big records.
Bruce’s first Grammy nomination was in 1962 for Big Girls Don 7 Cry. He studied piano for eight years, and did electrical engineering in school.
Along the way he recorded Fritiz Keiner and the Chicago Orchestra. And a lot of his time was also spent recording commercials.
So, from the sound aspect, and the musical aspect, the two of us kind of cover 360 degrees . . . well at least 40. We feel comfortable in any musical environment.
Bruce handled the pre-recording and shoot. He also designed some of the equipment for the location sound, did the post scoring, the dubbing and the soundtrack album.
To do all of it, that’s unheard of! Usually there are three to four different people to handle all those facets.
R-e/p: Is there a standard procedure you use for recording the various parts of a
QJ: Each tune is different. “State of Independence” for the Donna Summer’s album is a good example of a particular process I might use.
We started with a Linn Drum Machine, and created the patterns for different sections. Then we created the blueprint, with all the fills and percussion throughout the whole song.
From the Linn, we went through a Roland MicroComposer, and then through a pair of Roland Jupiter 8 synthesizers that we lock to. The patterns were pads in sequencer-type elements. Then we program the Minimoog to play the bass line.
The programs were all linked together and driven by the Roland MicroComposer using sync codes. The program information is stored in the Linn’s memory, and on the MicroComposer’s cassette.
At this point all we had to do was push the button, and the song would play.
Once it sounds right we record the structured tune on tape, which saves time since you don’t have to record these elements singly on tape with cutting and editing. This blueprinting method works great when you’re not sure of the final arrangement of the tune.
We can deal with between three and five types of codes, including SMPTE on the multitrack.
With all these codes, we have to watch the record level to make sure it triggers the instrument properly. Sometimes we had to change EQ and level differences to make sure we got it right.
R-e/p: Do you try and work in the room with the musicians, or stay in the control room with Bruce?
QJ: I like to work out in the room with each player, running the chart down, and guiding the feel of the tune.
We will usually run it down once, then I’ll get behind the glass to hear the balance and what is coming through the monitor speakers, which is the way it will be recorded and played back.
Once I get the foundation of the tune on tape, and know it’s solid and right, it is easy for me to lay those other elements to the song. It’s the song itself that’s the most important element we are dealing with.
R-e/p: Any particular “tricks of the trade” that you’ve developed over the years for capturing the sounds on tape?
QJ: Bruce is very careful with the bass and vocals, and we try to put the signal through with as little electronics as possible.
In some cases, we may bypass the console altogether and go direct to the tape machine.
Any processing, in effect, is some form of signal degradation, but you are making up for it by adding some other quality you feel is necessary — we always think of these considerations.
Bruce has some special direct boxes for feeding a signal direct to the multi-track, and which minimally affect the signal.
With a synthesizer we very often can go line-level directly to the machine, while with the bass you need a pre-amp to bring it up to a hot level.
Lots of times we will avoid using voltage-controlled amplifiers, because there will be less signal coloration. Also, if possible we avoid using equalization. Our rules are to be careful, and pay close attention to the signal quality.
R-e/p: The rhythm section is often considered to be the “glue” that holds a track,together. What do you listen for when tracking the rhythm section?
QJ: I listen to the feel of the music, and the way the players are relating to that feel. My energy is directed to telling the players what I want from them to give the music its emotional content, and Bruce will interpret technically the best way in which to capture the sound on tape.
And we may try something new or different to highlight that musical character. Because Bruce has a good musical background, he is an “interpreter” that is part of the musical flow.
I like players who have a jazzman’s approach to playing. They have learned to play by jamming with lots of different people, and you can push them to their limits.
I don’t like to get stuck in patterns, so I need players who can quickly adjust to changes in feel. They must also be able to tell a story through their instrument. I look for players who can do it all! |Laughter]
R-e/p: You obviously have a keenly evolved sense of preparation for a recording project. How do you go about planning a typical day in the studio?
QJ: We do our homework after we leave the studio. Bruce will always have a tracking date planned out, with track assignments for the instrumentation, and so on.
For overdubbing, he will work out how the work-tape system will be structured, and Matt [Forger] our assistant will be responsible for carrying out that task.
I zero in on what my day’s work is going to be by listening to the musical elements; how they interact and work in the song in my listening room at home.
Bruce does the same by working out in his mind the best method of capturing the music, and structuring these elements so they can be used in future overdubbing and mixing.
I keep a folder for each tune, and make notes as the tune progresses. It may be that changing a stereo image to mono is one way to strengthen an element: stereo for space; mono for impact.
If it’s a wrong instrument or color it will be redone. Bruce understands the music and the musical balance, and never loses his perspective.
Our communication after all these years working together is very spontaneous. This is one of the reasons for our success!
R-e/p: It’s obviously important to you that Bruce is able to read music. How does this kelp you in the studio?
QJ: The way we work with music charts, I can get to any part of the tune. It’s fast for drop-ins, and you never end up making a mistake. Bruce will make notes on his music chart to he used later in the mix.
R-e/p: How often do you listen to a work cassette during an album session?
QJ: I’ll listen over and over again to a song until it’s in my bones. Some songs have just a chord progression and no tune.
Others may be a hook phrase and a groove, and sometimes the song may call for a lot of colors. Each song is different . . . when it’s played on the radio and jumps, I’m happy.
To keep the session vibe up, I use nick names for the guys I work with: “Lilly” for Michael Boddicker; “Mouse” for Greg Phillinganes; “Boot” for Louis Johnson; “Worms” for Rod Temperton.
And Bruce has many nicknames; it depends upon the intensity in the control room.
If things are going a little rough and I need a hired gun, I call Bruce “Slim”! [Smiles across room at Bruce Swedien]
And the way I keep in touch with the tracking musicians is to use slang: “Anchovy” is a mess up; “Welfare Sound” is when you haven’t warmed up to the track or the tune; “Land Mines” are tough phrases in an arrangement.
R-e/p: How do you gauge that a track is happening in the control room?
QJ: I listen on Auratones for energy and performance at about 90 dB SPL. I’m coming from a radio listener concept.
I have two speakers set up in front of my producer’s desk. I don’t have to ask Bruce to move so I can listen to his set of speakers, and we never play the two pairs of speakers at the same time. When i’t's a great take you can see through it!
R-e/p: With such wide experience over that I think is necessary to have in a record.
Digital sometimes gets a little too squeaky clean for me. But I know it’s going to improve, because it’s a wonderful direction.
With album sessions becoming more and more complicated, both technically as well as artistically, do you think a producer has to be a good arranger too?
QJ: I don’t know, because everybody produces with his strength.
That ability can come from the strength of an engineer, player, singer, instrumentalist, arranger, or a combination of these things.
R-e/p: As founder and president of your own record company, Qwest, do you find it hard sometimes to combine the creative ability of a producer, with the business side of running a label?
QJ: Let me give you some background. In I960 I got in trouble with a jazz band I had on tour, and when I came home with my tail between my legs from Europe I took a job with Mercury Records for about seven years, in A&R, and eventually vice president.
During the course of that time I had to understand a whole different area of the record business that I wasn’t even aware of before.
It was a big company because Mercury merged with Philips, which is now Polygram, and we started Philips Records in this country.
It was an incredible education, because I use to think that all these companies get together once a week to plan how to get new artists on the label.
You should be so lucky that you get past being an IBM number on a computer with a profit and loss under your name or code number. That gave me an insight into understanding what corporate anatomy was all about.
Understanding the rules of the game is important for a producer with a huge company like Philips, which is dealing with raw products, television sets, vacuum cleaners, and all the rest, at the that time we were doing $82 million a year worldwide, and music was only about 2% of the total.
R-e/p: So how do you communicate with the business person?
QJ: Somewhere along the way it’s got to make sense if it’s going to cost money. If you want to go to Africa and make a drum record, for example, you’re going to have to figure out how to get it done for the people who put up the money.
Somewhere along with your creative process you have to ‘scope out what the situation is, get your priorities straight, and don’t let that interfere with your creativity.
If they put a pile of money right in front of you, there’s no way to correlate the essence of what that means, and yet still tie it into the creation of music.
Being a record company president is a lot of responsibility, hut it’s going to be okay. To become a successful record company president, you have to apply and reinforce your creative side with a business side, but you can’t lead with the business side.
Jimmy Stewart’s interview with Bruce Swedien begins on the next page.
R-e/p: How do you see your role as engineer: working behind the console and handling the technical side of the recording process?
Bruce Swedien: Well, I guess I have to go back just a little bit in my background to really answer that question.
Number one, working in Chicago in the jingle field was tremendous training for getting a very fast mix, and being ready to roll because, quite frequently, jingle sessions only last an hour.
I recorded all the Marlboro spots, where it wasn’t unusual to have a 40-piece orchestra scheduled for nine o’clock downbeat, and literally be ready to roll at 9:05.
And when the band is rehearsing, I’m getting little balances within the sections: when the rhythm section is running a certain thing down, I’ll use that time to get the rhythm balance ready. It happens very quickly.
I guess I learned a lot about not wasting any movement or motion from the musicians in Chicago. In the early days of the jingles business — about 1958 through ‘62 - I worked with probably some of the finest musicians in Chicago at that time.
They were masters at making the most out of one little phrase. As they were putting the balance together and rehearsing parts, I would be getting it together very quickly behind the console. That was really great training for me.
R-e/p: Too much of an emphasis on the technical side of recording is often said to intimidate an artist in a studio.
How do you try and get into the musical groove with the musicians and the producer?
Bruce Swedien: You should be prepared down to the last detail, and get to the studio early. Start setting up early; there will always be things to do that you’re not apt to think of unless you have enough time.
If your session starts at 9:00 AM, be there at 8:00 AM - give yourself at least an hour to set up and prepare the average sized session.
Reduce as much of the routine of your work to a regular habit, and always do each job associated with the session in the same order. By scheduling all these mundane mechanical aspects of recording lo habit, your mind will be free to think of the creative facets of your work.
R-e/p: What type of musician do you like to record?
Bruce: A musician who gives it up… doesn’t hold back. Sometimes that’s a rare quality. So many musicians go into studios and they kind of tippy toe around, or they just don’t want to commit themselves.
I listen for the real sound of the instrument and player, not the interpretation.
I like to get to know the player and learn his sound. Ernie Watts, he’s my kind of player… disciplined! His energy is instant!
He never holds back; he’ll get it on the first or second take, because he’s so used to giving it up. Most of the solos on his album Chariots of Fire are first takes with the band. And that’s unusual for today . . . really unusual!
R-e/p: Obviously the cue/headphone mix is important to musicians in the studio. How do you help them get into the track?
Bruce: If the instrumentation is small enough, I’ll split the Harrison console [at Westlake Studio] and send to the multitrack with half of the faders, and use the rest for returns.
In that way you also get the cue mix on the multitrack return faders. It’s easier to see what you’re doing with the sound using the faders for the cueing mix, as opposed to monitor pots.
R-e/p: Quincy commented that it’s important to him that you are able to read music. What do you consider that a young engineer, in particular, should know about the musical side of recording to be a master engineer?
Bruce: I would say the best training is to hear acoustic music in a natural environment. Too many of today’s young engineers only listen to records. When a natural sound or orchestral balance is required, they don’t know what to do.
My folks took me to hear the Minneapolis Symphony every week all through my childhood, and those orchestral sounds have been so deeply imprinted that it’s very easy for me to go for an orchestral balance when that’s necessary.
And I’m talking about the whole range — even a synthesizer that is a representation of the orchestra. But, to put that sound in its correct placement in a mix is not easy.
My first advice would be to study the technical end first, so that you know the equipment and what it will do, and what it won’t do. Then hear acoustic music in a natural environment to get that benchmark in your mental picture
I think that it is very important for an engineer to understand a rhythm chart or lead sheet. I always make up my own chart with bar numbers on music paper and, as the song develops, I’ll add notes and sometimes musical phrases that will be needed for the mix.
R-e/p: Is it important to have a relative sense of pitch?
Bruce: No question about it… an absolute must. And I think a knowledge of dynamics is important too.
It’s not unusual in classical music to have a 100 dB dynamic range from the triple pianissimo to triple forte, and we cannot record that wide a range with equipment. In addition, it’s virtually impossible with most home playback systems to reproduce that dynamic range.
So, in recording we frequently have to develop a sense of dynamics that does not necessarily hold true with the actual dynamics of the music.
It’s possible to do that with little changes of level — what I would call “milking” the triple pianissimo by maybe moving it up the scale a little bit. And when you get to the triple forte maybe adding a little more reverb or something, to give the feel of more force or energy.
You see so many guys in studios with their eyes glued to the meters. I’ve never under-stood that. Take the clarinet, for instance, which can play softly in the sub-tone range; just an “understanding.”
An engineer would have to know how to deal with a player through the interpretation of the music that would be soft. On the VU meter, which only has 20 dB dynamics, so you don’t even see it. In those extremes, your ear is really on its own.
You can’t be the type of guy who has his eyes focused on the VU meter. It’s meaningless, absolutely meaningless.
The ear has to have a bench mark so you know where that dynamic should fall in the overall dynamic range. Quincy is always very aware of that, which is a real treat for me.
R-e/p: Having sat in on several of your sessions, I couldn’t help but notice that you and Quincy have your own jargon in the studio.
Bruce: You know Quincy and I don’t talk much when we work. We spend a lot of time listening: “More Spit” — EQ and reverb; “More Grease” — reverb; “More Depth” — enhance the frequency range, give it more air in the reverb; “Make it Bigger” — beef up the stereo spread; “More Explosive” — bring the level down, add some reverb, adding a trail after it. Quincy picks the sound or effect; I put the thought into application by choosing the “color,” if you like.
R-e/p: While there may be no hard and fast rules in the studio, have you picked up any tips about how to work creatively with a producer?
Bruce: An engineer’s important responsibility is to establish a good rapport with the producer. Nothing is a bigger turn off in a studio than a salty, arrogant personality. I have seen this attitude frequently in an engineer, and heard him describe himself as “Honest.”
It is very important for the engineer to know what a particular producer favors in sound. Producers vary somewhat in interpretation of a style, or musical character.
R-e/p: How does the engineer set a good vibe with the producer and the musicians?
Bruce: It’s a two-way proposition. I’ve been in situations early in my career — fortunately I don’t have to deal with that any more — where producers were not inclined to allow the engineer to be involved in a recording project.
I don’t think that’s the case anymore, at least in the upper level of the business, because it’s a fact that engineers do contribute a lot of useful input.
Yes, it’s absolutely true that an engineer can help an incredible amount in the production of music.
R-e/p: After the tracking and overdubs, how do you set yourself up for the mix?
Bruce: I’ll have many multitrack work tapes. For example, on Donna Summer’s tune “State of Independence” I had eleven 24- track tapes — each tape has a separate element.
Then I combine these tapes into stereo pairs. In the case of synthesizer, horns, back ground vocals, strings, sometimes I will use a fresh tape, or there are open tracks on the master tape.
The original rhythm track is always retained in its pure form. I never want to take it down a generation, because the basic rhythm track carries the most important elements, and I don’t like to loose any transients.
With synthesizer or background vocal you could go down a generation without loosing quality. I call this process pre-mixing, and we use whatever technical tricks it takes to retain sound quality.
We pre-mix the information on two tapes, and bring them up through the console. Having established the balance all the way through the recording process, we then listen to all the elements, and Quincy will make the decision based on what the music is saying.
We usually have more than we need. This stage is editing before we master —listening to everything once saves time, and we don’t have to search for anything.
Sometimes though, we may have to go back and re-do a pre-mix if the values are not right. For example, a background vocal part may have the parts stacked, and one of these parts might be too dominant.
Or sometimes everything sounded fine when we were recording the element, but with everything happening on the track the part gets lost.
Then we go back and re-establish a new balance by pre-mixing that particular element again. We also pay close attention to psycho- acoustics — in other words, what sound excites the listener’s ears. These are the critical things in the mix that will make the difference between a great mix and a so-so mix.
Also, we are sensitive to the reverb- content. Quincy may ask me to bring more level up on a given element. I may suggest adding more reverb, which will create more apparent level.
I establish what the mix will be, and Quincy will comment on the little changes and balances; these are the subtle differences that make for a great mix. We overlap our skills. Quincy becomes the navigator, and I fly the ship!
R-e/p: Does it take very long to get a mix that you both like?
Bruce: Quincy will work with me for the first few days until all the production values are made. Then we close down the studio and I will polish the mix until I like it.
After I get it right, Quincy receives a tape copy for the final okay. Because of Quincy’s business phone calls we have found that to be the best way to finish a mix. We know the mix is right when we’ve made the musical statement that we set out to make.
R-e/p: Do you use automation during the final mixing?
Bruce: Yes, because it gives you more time to listen by playing the mix away from the basic moves. Automation is a tool I use for re-positioning my levels. Then 1 can make my subtle nuances in level changes to get the right balance.
For monitoring the final mixes I am a firm believer in “Near-field” or low-volume monitoring. Basically, all this requires is a pair of good-quality bookshelf speakers. These are placed on top of the desk’s meter panel, and played at a volume of about 90 dB SPL or less. My reason for using Near-field monitor-ing is twofold.
The most important reason is that by placing the speakers close to the mix engineer, and using an SPL of no more than 90 dB, the acoustical environment of the mixdown room is not excited a great deal, and therefore does not color the mix excessively.
Secondly, a smaller home-type book shelf speaker can be used that will give a good consumer viewpoint. My personal preference for Near-field monitors is the JBL 4310; I have three sets.
Each musical style has its own set of values. When mixing popular dance music, for example, we must keep in mind the fact that the real emotional dance values are in the drums, percussion and bass, and these sounds must be well focused in the mix.
Making a forceful, tight, energetic rhythm mix is like building a house and making sure the foundation is strong and secure. Once the rhythm section is set in the mix, I usually add the lead vocal and any melody instruments. Then, usually the additional elements will fall in place.
For mixing classical music or jazz, how; ever, an entirely different approach is required.
This is where the mixing engineer needs a clear knowledge of what the music to be mixed sounds like in a natural acoustical environment. In my opinion, this one area is where beginning engineers could benefit their technique a great deal.
It is absolutely essential to know what a balanced orchestra sounds like in a good natural acoustical environment. Often, the synthesizer is used to represent the orchestra in modern music. A knowledge of natural orchestral balance is necessary to put these sound sources in balance, even though traditional instruments are not necessarily used.
R-e/p: You have provided us with a studio setup plan of the recent Donna Summer sessions at Westlake. How do you plan the tracking and overdubs?
Bruce: I generally record the electric bass direct. I have a favorite direct box of my own, which utilizes a specially custom-made trans-former. It’s very large and heavy and, to my ear, lends the least amount of coloration to the bass sound, and transfers the most energy of the electric bass on to the tape.
From my own personal experience though, active direct boxes are very subject to out-side interferences, such as RF fields — you can end up with a bass sound that has a lot of buzz or noise on it.
The miked electric bass technique alone usually does not work very well, primarily because there are very It few bass amplifiers that will reproduce fundamental frequencies with any purity down to the low electric bass range. In jazz recording the string bass is always separately miked.
My favorite mike is an Altec 21-B condenser, wrapped in foam and put in the bridge of the instrument; I own four of these vintage mikes that I keep just for this purpose. You also can get a good string bass pick-up with an AKG-451, placed about 10 inches away from the finger board, and not too far above the bridge.
Bruce: Quincy came up with the term to describe the way I work — my “philosophy for recording music” if you like.
To be more specific, it’s really my use of two multitrack machines with SMPTE codes — “Multichannel Multiplexing.”
Essentially, by using SMPTE timecode I can run two 24 track tape machines in synchronous operation, which greatly expands the number of tracks available to me.
Working with Quincy has given me the opportunity to record all styles of music. „With such a variety of sounds to work with I could see that single multitrack recording not enough to capture Quincy’s rich sounds.
I began experimenting with Maglink timecode to run two 16 track machines together in sync. This offered some real advantages, but since then I have expanded my system to use SMPTE timecode and two ,24-track tape machines.
The first obvious advantages that come to mind are: lots of tracks, and space for more overdubbing. With a little experience I soon found *hat the real advantage of having multiple machines with Quincy’s work if that I can retain a lot more true stereophonic recording right through to the final mix.
An additional major advantage is that once the rhythm tracks are recorded, I make a SMPTE work tape with a cue rhythm mix on it, and then put the master tape away until the mix. In this way we can preserve the transient response that would be diminished by repealed playing during overdubbing.
Quincy usually has the scheme for the instrumentation worked out for the song so we can progressively record the elements on work tapes. For example: Work tape A may have have background vocals; Work tape B lead vocals; Work tape C horns and strings; and Work tape D may have 10 tracks of synthesizer sounds to get the desired color.
All of these work tapes contain a pitch tone, SMPTE timecode, bar numbers cues, sometimes a click track, and cue rhythm mix.
R-e/p: What kind of interlock device do you use to sync the multitracks?
Bruce: We use two BTX timecode synchronizers. A BTX Model 4500 is used to synchronize the two multitrack machines, and I keep the 4500 reader on top of the console in front of me to provide a SMPTE code readout We work with real time from the reader, and don’t depend on the auto-locator during the work tape stages.
There are times when I’ll use the “Iso” mode on the 4500 to move one element on a tape to a different place in the tune.
Say, for instance, you have a rhythm guitar part that isn’t tight in a section; I’ll find it on the slave work tape and move it to the new location on the master work tape.
R-e/p: How long does it take to make a work tape?
Bruce: We start by adding the SMPTE code, and I’ll make a few passes with a mix until I like it Then we record the pre-mix on to the new work tape.
I’m very fussy about the sound, and we’ll listen back and forth between the master and the slave tape to make sure the sonics match before we move on to the next work tape.
I always want Quincy and the dubbing musicians to hear my best. It takes about three hours per work tape to finish the job. To keep all the tape tracks in tune, we also calibrate the speed of tapes by going through a digital readout.
Editor’s Note: This is 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.
Sound Operators & Musicians, Working In Harmony
Avoiding the "deadly sins" that separate tech and creative sides
Over the past several years, I’ve had the privilege of being a musical performer and worship leader, as well as a church sound engineer and technician.
This has provided unique perspective from both sides of the platform; what I’ve learned on one side has helped me do better on the other side, and vice versa.
Through this process, I’ve noted several problems and solutions that apply to the technical side, the creative side, and both. I’ve refined these observations and practices into what I call the “Seven Deadly Sins.” Let’s get started.
Deadly Sin #1: Messing with the stage mix. Few things are more frustrating for a musician than a bad mix on stage. We’re a picky lot, and further, when an acceptable stage mix is achieved, we don’t want it to change.
Therefore, the first rule for the sound mixer is avoid adjusting input gain once a service has started. Even a slight adjustment can be a HUGE detriment.
Also, please don’t mess with monitor sends during a service. Certainly there have been times when the stage is too loud - often, we musicians tend to play louder when the adrenaline starts flowing. (Of course, others actually get timid and play/sing softer.)
Resist the temptation of making major changes mid-stream; not only will this distract the musicians, but also in all likelihood, changes will serve to make things even worse from a sonic perspective.
Instead, work on preparation that will eliminate these problems before they start. Pay close attention to how things sound during rehearsal, how sound is reacting with the room, and project what will happen when the room is full for services.
And, pay even closer attention during services, making observations and notes about what’s happening at “crunch time,” when true performance characteristics are being exhibited and an audience is on hand.
Of course, this is easiest to do when you’re using the same system in the same room with the same musicians. In most cases, the first two variables don’t change, and with respect to the third, note the techniques and mix approaches that result in the most consistency, regardless of who’s playing or a particular style.
Observe, experiment, formulate and then act - in advance.
Deadly Sin #2: Trusting untrained “critics.” While serving as director of technical ministries at a large church, I had the privilege of working with a talented director of worship. However, he had an annoying trait of trusting an elderly lady of the congregation to provide critiques of my house mix and overall sound quality.
She would wander through the sanctuary during rehearsals, listen and then report back to him. My goodness - this is an individual who had no experience with sound or music and who couldn’t even make the cut during choir tryouts! Talk about demoralizing…
The bottom line is that this person’s opinion mattered just like any other member of the congregation, but in no way was she qualified to serve as a reference. Her suggestions were useless, and actually would have been detrimental had I chosen to follow them
The lesson? Sometimes musicians and worship leaders find it difficult to trust the sound people. But please, let logic prevail. In most cases, leaders of a church technical staff have the necessary experience to do their jobs correctly.
If sound people seem to be lacking in ability and knowledge, they must pursue proper training. If it seems that they lack the “ear” to provide a properly musical mix, then they need to fill another role while others who do have this particular talent should be encouraged to put it to use.
And church sound staff members must always be honest with themselves and constantly seek to improve their skills any way possible.
Deadly Sin #3: The word “no.” Musicians often possess a certain confidence that sometimes can border on arrogance. We get an idea or vision and we’re quite sure it can come to life, and with excellent results. This is simply a part of the creative process.
It’s up to the sound team to foster this creative spirit, not squash it. Therefore, the word “no” should fall toward the bottom of the response list.
For example, if a musician asks for an additional drum microphone, the answer should not automatically be “no.” This suggests that the sound person has no care about the creative vision, no care about striving for improvement.
Instead, how about a response along the lines of, “I’ll see what I can do. And, if you don’t mind my asking, what do we want to achieve with this extra mic?” This is a positive, can-do attitude that’s supportive and can be infectious.
Also, by inquiring further, the sound person may be able to help deliver a solution better suited to achieve the new creative vision. Maybe it’s not an extra drum mic that’s needed but another approach, like additional drum isolation.
The point is to ask, which begets learning, which begets support and collaboration, which begets a better performance.
Deadly Sin #4: Unqualified knob “twiddlers.” Musicians like knobs and blinking lights, so naturally, they want to fiddle with the sound system. The confidence/arrogance mentioned previously plays into this as well - we believe there’s no task we can’t be great at, regardless of lack of training and experience.
But the reality is that musicians usually know just enough to be dangerous when it comes to operating a sound system. The same goes for house and monitor mixing.
The irony is that musicians indeed can be among the best “sound” people in the congregation, perhaps better than many sound technicians, due to their musical ear.
However, too many cooks spoil the broth. The solution is fairly simple and straightforward: someone is either a musician or a sound tech/mixer for a given service.
If you’re a musician, this means hands off the sound gear. If you’re the mixer, do the best job possible, and support the musician. One individual does one thing, the other does the other thing, and you meet in the middle with mutual respect and collaboration, striving together to make everything better.
Deadly Sin #5: Not holding one’s tongue (or, how I offered a suggestion and made things worse…).
When I’m mixing, I want everything to sound as good as possible.
Sometimes, however, things are happening on stage that just seem to get in the way of the sonic nirvana that’s etched in my brain.
Perhaps it’s a guitar that’s too loud, perhaps it’s an off-key singer, or perhaps “everything” just isn’t working. (Mama told me there’d be days like this, and mama was right!)
Should we feel some obligation to offer some advice? Of course. Should we act on this feeling? Well…
Telling a musician he or she isn’t sounding too good is kind of like telling an artist you don’t like his/her painting.
How many times have you looked at a painting and asked, maybe sarcastically, “they want how much for this?”I may not like someone’s “art” but in the minds of many, including the creator of that art, it’s serious, meaningful and perhaps brilliant.
The moral of the story is to hold one’s tongue and consider the big picture. Ask the question: will our ultimate goal be furthered if I suggest a change? (No matter my intentions – how will this input be received?)
The bottom line is that there are facts, and there are opinions, and the truth often lies between. Often you can lose more than could ever be gained by pushing your own agenda, no matter how “right” you may be.
Tossing out opinions can also ruin the team spirit so vital to the mission, and yes, also the joy of praise and worship. And showing distrust and/or lack of respect for others may lead the worship leader to question your own goals, agendas and visions.
Obviously there are exceptions. If a guitar is just so loud that you can’t create a good mix below 110 dB, best to gently encourage a change.
If a singer is off-key to a noticeable degree, maybe mention it to the worship leader, subtly and behind closed doors. If the leader agrees, change becomes his/her responsibility.
I’ve learned a lot from talented production people. They’re always positive, always put full effort into their work, and always have an attitude of appreciation toward everyone else they work with.
This attitude transcends minor problems, leading everyone to follow the example, resulting in a better production. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, one attained through the power of encouragement and positive thinking.
Deadly Sin #6: Being negative during a service. Sometimes things just don’t go right in a given service. But in virtually all cases, it’s not because every single individual isn’t trying their best, applying their heart fully.
The worst thing that can happen on these days is to draw attention to the problems. This is especially important for worship leaders to keep in mind.
Never apologize for bad sound during a service. If it’s that bad, people will notice without anything being said.
Rather, concentrate on making it through that service, and address problems afterward. Often, the vast majority of the audience doesn’t even notice problems until they’re pointed out.
Now, how best to address significant sound problems. The fact: today’s cars often have better sound than most churches. It’s time to change that. Get the sound people training, and get them the equipment needed to make things work.
You can spend days (weeks, months and years!) talking about how to fix sound problems. In fact, as a sound contractor, that’s how I occupy most days.
The best (and only) way of solving serious sound problems is to work with a qualified consultant and contractor. Select these individuals carefully, and bring them in as part of your team.
And don’t criticize others on your team for things that - in all likelihood - aren’t even their fault!
Deadly Sin #7: Assuming the other person is capable of understanding your thought process.
In 99 percent of churches, technical people and music people are like fire and ice. The logical mind and the creative mind. (Thank God for the fact that we are all doing this for a higher purpose or we would have killed each other years ago!)
We all need to learn how to communicate better. This is especially important because the way worship services are being done is changing, in many cases quite radically in terms of employing production. This requires more people be involved both as performers/contributors and in technical/creative support.
If we don’t communicate, we won’t enjoy what we’re doing and therefore we won’t participate. The church has a lot of work to do, and we can ill afford to lose people who desire to help out.
How do we start to understand each other’s thought processes? Drum roll, please…
I know you’re probably looking for a magic approach or series of steps to achieve better understanding, but in my experience, it all comes down to spending time together.
Hang out, fellowship, pray, study, talk, and practice together. Technicians, learn to play an instrument. Musicians, develop an understanding of sound.
One final piece of advice. I worked with a church here in Michigan - eventually my wife and I started attending there - and I became involved as a musician and technical advisor. This church had constantly battled technical difficulties and had learned to accept mediocre (at best) sound.
They moved into a new facility and purchased some pretty nice equipment expecting great things. Indeed there were improvements, but sound still wasn’t where we wanted it to be.
I suggested that the sound staff attend rehearsals, and after three months, the difference was astonishing.
And not only did sound improve dramatically through better understanding and coordination, but we also had great fun!
Rehearsals didn’t consist of just musical practice. It was “practice time” and “small group time,” all in one. Everyone became friends and co-developed a shared, common goal of excellence through cooperation and understanding.
We were all truly part of the worship team, and that sense of unity gets better to this day. The simple act of inviting the sound people to rehearsals turned out to be the biggest improvement the music department has experienced.
Most importantly, more than really altering things significantly on the technical side, it changed attitudes and opened up minds.
Thursday, October 31, 2013
Avid S3L Helps Deliver Legendary Performances At Stanford Jazz Festival
Engineer Lee Brenkman strategically used the layers of S3L’s compact surface to handle a variety of mixing tasks
Founded in 1972, the Stanford Jazz Workshop has been nurturing talent for over 40 years, bringing in some of the world’s greatest artists to mingle with students of the Jazz Camp by day, followed by performances at the Stanford Jazz Festival by night.
Countless jazz greats have participated over the years, and this year was no exception, with Herbie Hancock, Dr. Lonnie Smith, and Stanley Clarke just a few of the highlights of the nonprofit organization’s 42nd season.
Most of this year’s performances were held in Stanford’s Dinkelspiel Auditorium, with Bay Area live sound veteran Lee Brenkman taking on sound reinforcement responsibilities again. Brenkman, who has been associated with the Jazz Festival for over a decade, also heads up sound at two iconic San Francisco clubs—The Great American Music Hall and Slim’s.
This year, although he faced many of the same unique challenges that plague the festival, Brenkman found a new solution that provided the workflows and sound quality he needed.
“One thing about the Stanford Jazz Festival,” he explains, “is that time is short. Even though there’s usually just one band per concert, they use the stage of the venue as a classroom until 5 pm, which means that between 5 pm and 6:30 pm, we have to turn it around into a performance space again.”
A longtime user of Avid live systems at the two clubs, Brenkman chose the new Avid S3L for this year’s festival, as the modular, networked system enabled a simplified setup with the best possible sound quality.
“All the festival techs were really fascinated with the system, really liking the size, the Cat-5 snake—all the things that make setting up and tearing down a system a drag,” he says. “We ran a couple of runs of Cat-5 and were able to keep the snake in place, just striking the stage boxes at the end of the night to get them out of the way of the classroom kids. Just changing out our usual console for this was an enormous improvement in sound quality—it was really audible. Everybody agreed that it just sounded noticeably better.”
As the primary sound engineer for the festival, Brenkman strategically used the layers of S3L’s compact surface to handle a variety of mixing tasks.
“I mix the for the house, I mix the monitors, and I’m doing a completely separate mix for the recording, because at Dinkelspiel [Auditorium], for example, the amount of trap drums I need on the recording is much more than what I need in the auditorium,” he explains. “So what I did is assign all the head amps to two layers. The top layer of 16 [channels] was for the PA, and then I could switch to [channels] 17–32, and those were my recording mix. On average, I was doing four monitor mixes, and in some cases, six. I did not feel at any time that the console was too complicated to grab at something fast.”
The S3L’s integrated recording features matched up well to Brenkman’s other responsibility at the festival—capturing the performances of the jazz legends each night.
“Part of the job is to do archival recording of every concert, and just coincidentally, the Stanford [University] Archive of Recorded Sound, which is where [the files] all eventually go, their preferred format for live performances is 24-bit, 48 kHz WAV files. Well guess what? I’ve got a USB key that I can [plug directly into the S3L System and create recordings] that I dump onto a hard drive at the end of the season and hand to them. God it’s an incredibly capable little system.”
Wednesday, October 30, 2013
Hey Marseilles Takes Mackie On The Road
402VLZ4 compact mixer and DLM12 loudspeaker meet versatile needs
Indie band Hey Marseilles, offering an unconventional mix of folk and classical (or, as they describe it, “folkestral”) has been maintaining a busy touring schedule in support of their sophomore release, Lines We Trace.
With a different venue in a different city almost every night, the band’s touring setup needs to be lean, flexible, and dependable. A Mackie 402VLZ4 4-channel compact mixer is an intrinsic part of the eclectic rig for accordion/keyboardist Philip Kobernik.
“I go back and forth between a Roland SR7 digital accordian, a Nord Electro, and a Moog Sub Fatty,” says Kobernik. “I send a mono feed from the Mackie mixer directly to the FOH engineer. Having the Mackie onstage with me allows me to control my own mix, and gives me a whole lot more control over my sound.”
Onstage, a second mono output from the mixer feeds a Mackie DLM12 12-inch, 2-way powered loudspeaker.
“It really packs a wallop for such a small, lightweight package,” says Kobernik. “I use it mainly as my onstage monitor, but it’s come in really handy in some other situations too. We’ve done a number of semi-acoustic gigs at record stores and radio stations, and I’ll just plug my Nord Electro into the DLM12.”
The DLM12’s onboard EQ and DSP adds to its versatility, Kobernik notes. “Onstage, I keep the signal pretty dry, and use mainly the effects in my keyboards. But when we do those smaller shows, it’s great to be able to add a little EQ to boost the bottom end a bit, and maybe a touch of chorus or some reverb. It’s really handy to have those effects, right on the back of the unit.”
Find out more about Hey Marseilles here.
A Whole Lot Going On: Computers And Interfaces At Front Of House
How various engineers approach the tasks to get the job done
Computers, of course, are omnipresent in today’s live audio production environment. They’re used for recording, backing tracks, system tuning and monitoring—and don’t forget walk-in/out music.
As I delved into the subject, I was struck by how various front of house engineers approach the tasks to get the job done and was surprised to find that computers were not always their first choice for every chore.
On The Record
There are often two processes that happen simultaneously when recording a live show: a “stereo’ reference and a multitrack recording. Recording the event for reference is sometimes done using a laptop, while recording multiple channels for possible live release is usually done via a transformer isolated split or direct from the console using a dedicated recorder.
Jon Burton (The Prodigy, Radiohead): “I’ve a portable ‘go with me everywhere set-up’ using a Zoom H4N 4-track compact recorder that allows me to record a stereo ambient track with the built-in mics along with a stereo desk-mix via the XLR inputs. I also have a (JoeCo) BlackBox 24-track recorder that usually sits at the stage splitter box to record individual channels, or on occasion it will be at front of house, where I send it sub groups and a few key channels on the direct outs.”
Eddie Mapp (Evanescence, Stone Temple Pilots) notes that he employs a very similar setup, while Jon Garber (The Band Perry, Rascal Flatts) uses a slightly different approach: “When we record the show, we use a Pro Tools HD rig through an Avid HD MADI interface right out of the console. We also record a 2-track mix on CD every night.”
When asking about backing tracks, I discovered that multi-channel playback systems are rarely employed at FOH. Instead, many major touring acts employ a dedicated playback engineer that is back stage, cuing tracks, adding a ‘bigger sounding’ production to the stage.
This, I think, makes tremendous sense when you consider that fans go to shows expecting to hear production levels that approach what they hear when they listen to their favorite CDs at home. Most playback systems incorporate a couple of dedicated hard disc recorders along with a backing track switcher to ensure the show will proceed without a glitch, should the digital source fail.
Testing Un, Deux, Trois
A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to hang with Brad Madix (Rush), and during the show, I noticed that he was monitoring the sound using a 360-degree mic array connected to his laptop. The laptop was being used as a multiband audio analyzer, displaying sound pressure levels at the various frequencies.
As a result, I figured it was worth asking around to see what other folks are using and once again, the approach differs greatly. Dave Natale (Rolling Stones, Lionel Richie) says he likes to keep things simple: “I use an Alesis Masterlink to play back my trusted Sheffield Labs, James-Neton Howard and Friends disc.”
James Towler (Steve Windwood) simplifies the process even more with an iPod as his sound source, and Doug Short (Megadeth, Van Halen) told me, “I use (Rational Acoustics) Smaart with my Mac and sample the room from 3 to 5 locations.”
Garber typically samples from two locations, while Mapp goes all out: “For testing I use a Roland Octa-Capture (USB) as my interface with Smaart 7 and then do all of my system tuning within a Meyer Galileo 616 AES. This gives me eight measurement inputs with one reference, two wireless, console PFL, FOH mic, plus three more hard-wired mics if needed.”
Walk On By
Playing familiar music tracks through the PA is, of course, often done to fine tune the system. Computers and other playback devices are also regularly used to provide background music during walk-in, between sets and of course for walk out.
I particularly enjoyed Burton’s approach: “I tend to listen to music quietly to check the system and like to use a bit of Dusty Springfield or Dionne Warwick as it puts me—and everyone around me—in a good mood. A bit of (Burt) Bacharach mid afternoon never did anyone any harm! I use ‘The Horses’ by Rickie Lee Jones to EQ the system and then check the low end with a bit of Deadmau5.”
When it comes to selecting a laptop, most of the guys I spoke with tend to go with Mac. Burton: “I use a MacBook Pro for playback and always have a pretty large collection of tracks of all genres with me. I use a program called Djay rather than iTunes for playback because it’s easy to set on Auto-Mix, and it can fade between tracks automatically.
“When I do dance gigs, it can even be set to randomly do echo fades, backspins, brake fades and even tempo/beat match! On some shows I can be required to pretend to be a DJ for up to an hour which is really dull…so this makes it fun.”
The interface between the laptop and the mixing desk varies. Mapp: “I travel with a Mac Mini. It’s rack-mounted and runs several programs for system tuning as well as iTunes for walk in/out music. At the beginning of each new tour I collect whatever music the artists wish to have playing and then import it into iTunes, set to shuffle forever, and let it roll. The audio leaves the Mac via the line out, which feeds a Radial JPC (active DI) into the console.”
While I was working on this article, Mapp sent me a note asking if he could test out the new Radial USB-Pro, which as a stereo USB-to-XLR interface designed to make it easy to patch the audio out of a laptop and run it into the PA. As it happens, I’d also asked some of these guys what they thought about USB interfaces and as you can imagine, the response varied greatly.
Short is definitively not a member of the USB cable fan club: “I use a 1/8-inch TRS to dual XLR adaptor cable to run the audio and leave the USB connectors for printers and charging my phone.” Burton, however, has the opposite view: “I always use the USB port and I have a bus-powered interface. I also used to have a FireWire interface but the connector is too easy to knock out. The USB is a very solid connector.”
In developing the USB-Pro, we went back and forth between the USB Type A (long flat slot) and the USB Type B (D shaped) and after doing a heap of research, ended up going with USB Type B. It seems that most pros find that the Type B is more robust. But there’s no denying that when using consumer grade connectors like a mini TRS or a USB, greater care is needed… these are not XLRs.
So there’s a lot going on with computers—as well as interfaces and dedicated—inside the gated little cubicle we call FOH. Let’s go to Burton for the final word: “I take great joy in doing walk-in and walk-out music. On The Prodigy, it’s pretty much solid dance beats. but I do like to get a bit of old dub reggae in. For outro we sometimes use ‘Love Is In The Air’ by John Paul Young, and quite often see people dancing all the way out!”
Peter Janis is president of Radial Engineering, which has been producing snake systems, direct boxes and interfaces for more than 20 years.
Coal Chamber Tours With Behringer X32 Digital Console
Engineer takes the X32 on the road after experiencing it at Whisky a Go Go
The recent tour by American nu metal band Coal Chamber offered mixes courtesy of a BehringerX32 digital console.
Coal Chamber sound engineer Leonard Contreras, decided to take the X32 on the road after experiencing it at LA’s Whisky a Go Go, where he is the club’s production manager as well as front of house engineer.
Contreras found the X32 suited to touring because it can be controlled remotely using an iPad.“The navigation, the feel, the lack of latency between the console, and iPad was a big factor — I was impressed by that,” he notes.
“I got to explore all the features and hear it through multiple PA systems in different venues, and the sound was phenomenal,” he adds. “After that tour, I was sold.”
Tuesday, October 29, 2013
First Baptist Church At The Mall Standardizes With Nine Soundcraft Si Expression Consoles
Consoles are being used in classrooms, chapel, children’s ministry and youth ministries
Building on its successful relationship with Harman Professional’s Studer over the past year, the First Baptist Church at the Mall in Lakeland, FL, recently upgraded with nine Soundcraft Si Expression digital consoles in time for the church’s fall season.
The consoles are being used in several areas throughout the church’s property, including the classrooms, chapel, the children’s ministry and youth ministries.
Of the nine Si Expression consoles the church now owns, five are Si Expression 3, three are Si Expression 1 and one is a Si Expression 2.
“We wanted to standardize on the same console throughout these different spaces,” explains Daniel Livingston, program technology supervisor at the Church at the Mall. “Since we rely on a number of volunteers to operate the technology, we wanted them to have the same level of familiarity with every console.
“We also can save settings from one console to a USB drive and copy that to another console, which is a huge advantage.”
As with any house of worship that relies on volunteer technical operators, ease of use was a top priority when choosing a digital console. “The Si Expression consoles are very easy to operate and the volunteers already love working with them,” Livingston notes. “Once a volunteer learns on one of them, he/she can use the Si Expression console in any other room.”
Livingston adds that the existing relationship with Studer—the church purchased a Vista 5 M2 for front-of-house and monitor mixing in its main worship space in 2012—was a factor in the decision to purchase the Soundcraft Si Expression consoles.
“We have had success with the Vista 5 M2 and the fact that the Compact Stagebox can be interchanged between Studer and Soundcraft consoles was a benefit as well,” he says. “Of course, the affordability of the Si Expression was also attractive and frankly, they sound a lot better than I would have expected at that price point.”
Church Sound: Mixing Like A Pro, Part 3—Understanding EQ
Control and flexibility in shaping sound
Editor’s Note: Go here to read parts 1 and 2 of this series.
We’re going to tackle one of the more complicated aspects of sound – equalization, or EQ for short. Since this is a more complex topic, I’ll break it into three sub-topics: Understanding EQ, which I’ll discuss here, to be followed by Making EQ Work For You and EQ Helpful Hints in coming articles.
Back at the beginning of my years running audio, I remember the basic consoles I used. In addition to just a handful of faders (or knobs), there were just two knobs to control EQ—high and low.
When you needed more or less low end, you turned the low knob up or down. If you needed more high frequency you turned up the high knob. It was simple and it made sense. Unfortunately, it didn’t sound all that good.
Mixers have come a long way since those days. In addition to offering more control and flexibility in shaping sound, they have also become more complicated. Properly setting EQ is not the self-apparent task it was in the past. It takes some training to understand what the new EQ controls do and how to set them to get the results you want.
In addition to the EQ that appears on mixing consoles, there are outboard EQ units as well as software EQ plug-ins available to us. Of course, EQ can be applied to specific input channels, to groups and AUX mixes and to the main signal that feeds your main speakers. No matter where we apply EQ, the basic principles are the same and that’s what we will be looking at.
In order for us to really understand EQ, we need to start at the beginning and describe what it is, what the various types in use today are, and describe the controls you’re likely to find on your console.
EQs are circuits that can select various groups of frequencies in an audio signal and allow us to increase or decrease the gain of these frequency groups to affect the tone characteristics of our sound. Here are a couple of vital concepts to grasp:
Frequencies – The ones we hear in sound systems are measured in Hz (Hertz) and kHz (kiloHertz). EQ frequency controls use these numbers to describe the tonal range of the audio spectrum and allow us to find specific frequencies and make adjustments to them.
(click to enlarge)
Low frequencies like 40 Hz and 100 Hz describe lower tones. High frequencies like 5 kHz and 10 kHz describe higher tones. You might be thinking “that’s great, but how do I know which frequencies to select to make adjustments for what I am hearing from the stage?” (I’ll cover this next time.)
Gain – It’s important to know that when you increase or decrease EQ gain, you’re increasing and decreasing the actual gain (loudness level) of those specific frequencies.
Now if we’ve already set our gain aggressively according to what we learned in part 1 of this series, you know that by increasing the gain of a frequency range we could potentially cause clipping because of those boosts.
More importantly, if you set your gain to have 0 dB of signal and you increase your high-mid frequencies by 6 dB, you’ve added 6 dB of artificial sound to the 0 dB of signal. It’s for these reasons that audio pros universally recommend subtractive EQ’ing whenever possible.
All that means is that we should focus on the areas where there is too much of a certain frequency range and bring that down instead of looking for frequencies that need to be boosted.
Types of EQ
There are various types of EQs of which we should be aware of. Most of the gear we use today provides us with a mix of different kinds of EQs to apply to different applications. Let’s look at some of these types and where we would typically use them.
Graphic – A type of multiband EQ that consists of faders/sliders at fixed frequencies that you can use to increase or decrease gain for specific frequencies.
(click to enlarge)
Before the digital age, most sound systems had a graphic EQ unit. Common types are 31-band graphic EQ with 31 sliders (sometimes referred to as a 1/3-octave EQ), a 15-band EQ or some smaller versions that were built into mixers with 5 or 7 bands. The more bands, the more selective control you have over specific sets of frequencies.
Each band or slider focuses on a unique frequency. With the sliders set in the center, or flat position, there is no gain being added or subtracted. Push a slider up and you increase the gain at the frequency that is selected. Push it down and reduce the gain for those frequencies.
Graphic EQs are peaking type (more on this in a minute), so even though there are a lot of bands that you can adjust, you’re really adjusting a group of frequencies, not just a single frequency with each fader knob.
The sliders on a graphic EQ are laid out in order from lowest to highest frequencies, from left to right. As you look at the curve that the slider knobs create along the front panel, you see a graphical representation of how the different frequencies are affected, which is why we call them “graphic EQs.” (see image above)
Graphic EQs are usually used on the main output of your system or on ux outs to help adjust for tonal imbalances that exist in a room or to reduce hot or feedback–prone frequencies. There are a host of digital versions of graphic EQs available as computer plug-ins or built in to most digital mixers.
Fixed Multi-Band – A common type of EQ found on many basic audio mixers. Usually these come in two band (like my old mixer example above) and 3-band (high, mid and low) varieties.
(click to enlarge)
These EQ bands are each focused on a fixed frequency. When you make an EQ level or gain adjustment, the frequencies surrounding the focus frequency are also affected. How they’re affected is based on the type of EQ characteristics or curve used. Two common curve characteristics are peaking and shelving.
Peaking & Shelving – A peaking curve is just what its name implies, that there is a maximum peak at the selected frequency when you increase the gain (or dip if you decrease the gain).
(click to enlarge)
The surrounding frequencies are affected less and less by the adjustment the further you get away from the center focus frequency. If you look at this on a graph you will see a bell curve of how the surrounding frequencies are affected (see the yellow curve in the image above).
A shelving EQ is different in that It affects all the frequencies on one side of the center frequency the same. So instead of a bell curve on one side you see a flat line or shelf. On the other side of the curve you get the fall-off in effect described above.
For example, if your low frequency EQ is a shelf set at 100 Hz and you increase the gain, everything under 100 Hz will increase the same amount. The frequencies above 100 Hz will act like they do in the peaking curve and lessen in affect the further away they are from the focus frequency (see the red and blue curves above).
It’s common for 3-band EQs to have the high and low controls use the shelving method, while the mid control uses the peaking method.
Adjust More Parameters With Parametric EQ
Until now, we’ve been discussing fixed frequency EQs. It really gets fun when we start talking about what you can do with more control—the control provided by with parametric EQs.
(click to enlarge)
Making gain adjustments at fixed frequencies is helpful, but what if the frequencies you need to adjust aren’t the ones included in your EQ? That’s where a semi-parametric EQ comes in.
Semi-Parametric – Allows you to adjust the frequency center right where you need it. The frequency knob lets you select a frequency for the center of your curve (see image to the right). Many of today’s common mixers use a classic set up with fixed shelving EQs for highs and lows and a semi-parametric EQ for mids.
A term you might see on console spec sheets is “sweepable mids” or “swept mids.” This means there is a semi-parametric control that allows you to variably select (or sweep through) a range of frequencies in the mid band to find the one you want to adjust. There is a gain control that lets you add or subtract the level of the selected frequency.
Parametric – Provides control over even more parameters of the EQ adjustment including the gain, the center or primary frequency of adjustment and the Q. If you have a digital console you have the ability to change your EQ between a peaking or shelving EQ.
(click to enlarge)
The basic idea here is that you dial in the primary frequency you want to deal with, set the Q to include more or less of the surrounding frequencies, and adjust the gain for these frequencies to shape the sound.
Most smaller analog consoles have fixed or semi-parametric EQs, but many of the medium to large analog and nearly all digital consoles have parametric EQs or a combination of parametric and semi-parametric. Many times it’s set up so your high and low frequencies are semi-parametric and the low and high mids are parametric (see image on the left - click to see a larger version).
What Is Q
No, it’s not a character in a James Bond movie. This is where you can set very specific control over how many frequencies your adjustment will effect. You can make the Q narrow or wide depending on the frequency range you want to effect.
(click to enlarge)
For example, if you’re having a feedback issue at just 250 Hz, but 225 Hz and 275 Hz are really fine, you can increase the value of your Q, making the bell curve narrower in order to notch the problem frequency (see the difference between the filters marked narrow and wide in the image to the right).
High-Pass & Low-Pass Filters
Another common EQ feature is the high-pass filter (also known as the low-cut filter) and the low-pass filter (also know as the high-cut filter). I know, the names seem really confusing.
(click to enlarge)
Here’s a great way to remember what each filter does: The high-pass filter lets the high frequencies pass through the filter unaffected. The other name for this filter is the low-cut filter because it cuts out the low frequencies while letting the high frequencies pass through—get it? Use the same logic when you think about the low pass filter.
The gray curve in the picture above represents a high-pass filter (low-cut filter). Essentially, with a high-pass filter engaged, you’re going to cut (or drastically reduce) the low frequencies below your selected frequency.
If your high-pass is set at 100 Hz, every frequency under 100 Hz gets attenuated (reduced in gain) with more drastic reduction in the frequencies further below the set frequency. Instead of a gradual curve of gain reduction below the set frequency, you get a steep slope (typically at 18 dB per octave), which eventually amounts to negative infinity (or completely off).
Some higher–end consoles will give you the ability to adjust the steepness of the slope. The high-pass filter is particularly useful to cut out unnecessary low frequencies in vocal microphones to eliminate handling noise and other low rumble.
This is a lot of technical data to digest but it’s critical that you get the basic concepts of what EQs do before we can move on to how to use them for your worship team. Next time we’ll tackle some ideas on how to correctly put your EQs to work for you!
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.
Yamaha Training Sessions Coming Up In Pittsburgh and Beltsville, MD
M7CL, CL Series, and digital network courses offered
Yamaha Commercial Audio Training Seminars (YCATS) will holding training sessions in Pittsburgh on November 5, 6, and 7 and in Beltsville, MD on November 12, 13, and 14.
Both Pittsburgh and Beltsville sessions include M7CL for Beginners, M7CL for Experienced Engineers, CL Series Operational Training, and Digital Audio Networks for Engineers.
Go here for more information, course description, seminar location, and registration.
Yamaha Commercial Audio