Tuesday, July 15, 2014
Allen & Heath iLive Console Goes On Tour With Paolo Nutini In UK
Modular setup included iLive-112 control surface and iDR10 MixRack with an additional PL10 remote controller
Fresh off the Franz Ferdinand tour, monitor engineer Tom Howat recently took the same Allen & Heath iLive modular setup of an iLive-112 control surface and iDR10 MixRack with an additional PL10 remote controller on a short UK tour by Paolo Nutini.
Beginning with a set at Radio 1’s Big Weekend festival and culminating in a performance at London’s Roundhouse, audio production for the tour was managed by Britannia Row. Nutini was on four d&b M2 wedges run as a stereo mix, while a guitar player was on two M2 wedges. Nine other musicians were all on in-ear monitors, plus Howat’s PFL wedges, which were run “a little unusually” in stereo.
“It was very interesting to mix a different act on the same iLive system,” he says. “Having spent many years working with Paolo this was an excellent opportunity to properly compare the iLive to past experiences.
“I ended up with only half a dozen unused input channels, and because of the configurable bus structure, I could get the maximum out of the system,” he continues. “iLive performed impeccably and sounded excellent as expected.
Allen & Heath
American Music And Sound
Sunday, July 13, 2014
Behind The Music With Butch Vig, Producer Extraordinaire
It’s crazy to think that this year marks the 20th anniversary of Kurt Cobain’s passing – a true game-changer in the music industry, and a man who, in many ways, revolutionized music, inadvertently spawning a whole new scene. Nevermind is a seminal record, and its success was the catalyst for record labels’ mission impossible, the search for “the next Nirvana.”
Although he might not have known it at the time, those 16 days recording Nevermind would change Butch Vig’s career forever. It paved the way for a remarkable musical journey, the production of a string of hit records for supergroups such as The Smashing Pumpkins, The Foo Fighters, and many more… Not to mention Garbage, Vig’s own band, which has enjoyed more than 17 million record sales over the last two decades. This legend of the game reveals some of his trade secrets, and shares some fond, unforgettable memories…
Paul Watson: Your career speaks for itself, but first up, how did it all begin for you?
Butch Vig: Well, I played in bands in high school in a small town in Wisconsin, and then I went to University in Madison. I started getting into the local music scene, and joined a band, which was sort of a power pop, new wave band called Spooner; and Duke [Erikson] from Garbage was the guitarist and lead singer at the time. I also got a degree in film, and ended up doing a lot of music for film; a lot of synth, and abstract music, and that’s where I kind of got the recording bug.
When I started Spooner with Duke, we were into our music and wanted to record, but we didn’t have any money, so we started going into some funky demo studios—four- and eight-track studios—and I just took an interest in the recording. I eventually got a four-track and put it in my apartment, and ended up doing sessions with Steve Marker, just for fun; and when we graduated from college, I was still playing in a band, but I decided to invest with Steve, and we rented this space on the east side of Madison, and that’s when we started Smart Studios in 1983. We each saved up about two grand, bought an eight-track, got a bunch of used gear, and moved into this funky warehouse and started recording punk rock bands [smiles].
And with no formal training, right?
I’d taken four semesters of electronic music, but that was really learning how to use Moogs and ARP 2600 synthesisers. I learned how to do field recording, going out into the real world and recording sound, and taking it back and manipulating it, like abstract film sound music. I found that really exciting, and I still love weird noises and odd things, which I try to squeeze into Garbage songs all the time.
How did you make a name for yourself in the early days?
It was around ‘89/’90 that I started to get noticed for my production work, in particularly by a band called Killdozer; they’re an acquired taste, but [Smashing Pumpkins frontman] Billy Corgan heard them and loved them, and called me; and then [Nirvana’s label] Sub Pop heard them, so they sent Nirvana to my studio. Really, Killdozer really opened up all those doors for me, and of course Nirvana and the Pumpkins changed everything, and that allowed me to pick and choose my projects. That was around ‘91 and ‘92, and I was unbelievably busy.
At that point, when Nirvana and The Pumpkins had been successful, I had probably done 1,000 records, working for indie labels, doing singles, demos, all sorts. I was kind of bored of guitar, bass, and drums, and I’d heard the Public Enemy records, and really loved the way that they were using samplers, so I bought an Akai S1000 sampler, started screwing around with that, and came up with the idea of using that on remixes.
This led to me remixing for Beck, U2, Depeche Mode, and Nine Inch Nails; I would erase everything on the tape except for the vocals, and record all the music, and a lot of it was going through the sampler, so I could manipulate it. That was how the idea to form Garbage came about.
I remember watching you trigger samples back in 1999 at a Garbage show at UCSD… I was in the mosh pit!
[laughs] That’s cool, man! Yeah, I mean, it was just a cool way to do things; you could move things around, filter things, cut things up, run things backwards, and it sort of frees you up, you know? At the time, I was working on analog tape, and there are certain limitations in ways you have to record with that, and the sampler made everything feel free. Garbage was really one of the first bands that embraced using the technology that way; the first record was still done with tape, but we had a couple of samplers, an Akai S1000 and a Kurzweil K2500, and a lot of things went through those; we used beats, hip hop, electronica, fuzzy guitars, weird noises, pop melodies - a lot of electronic and programming.
I bet that surprised a lot of people…
It did. When the first Garbage record came out, because my name was attached to it, a lot of people expected it to sound like Nirvana or The Pumpkins—grunge or alternative rock—and I think they were shocked at how different it sounded. One of the reasons that we were able to find such success was finding Shirley Manson. She is an incredible singer and a great front-person; she has become the face of Garbage, and rightfully so, because she is amazing.
Garbage was really a reaction to all of the bands after Nirvana. The record companies signed a thousand bands that they were hoping would sell records like Nirvana, and I felt I had to do something that made things more interesting for me again, hence the samplers. That’s why I started Garbage, which is all about writing pop songs. We love using the studio as a canvas and as a tool, and it’s liberating for me. If you listen to our body of work, a lot of our songs sound completely different, and the glue that holds us together is Shirley’s singing; luckily, she’s got a very strong presence, and that really allows us to do what we do.
How would a record like Nevermind have sounded if you had the technology available to you then, that you do now?
[smiles] Well, the recording of Nirvana for Nevermind was actually really easy; we did the whole record in 16 days. They had rehearsed so much; they were super tight, and they wanted to sound good. Everyone thinks Nirvana had a slacker mentality, but that’s not true at all—they wanted to make a great sounding record, and once Dave Grohl joined the band, they were just rock solid tight.
The record went pretty fast; I would be in around noon, and they would come in at 2 pm, with everything ready to go. We would record, track a song, do a few overdubs, then take a dinner break, and then we’d work until 9 pm, and they’d go party, and I’d do a clean-up and maybe a vocal comp. Records now sometimes take three or four months, depending on who you’re working with.
Was a lot of the record done live?
It was all tracked live, and then I would go back, usually after we did a take, if Krist [Novoselic, bassist] missed a bass note or something, we’d punch it in and fix it; and then I’d usually get Kurt to double-track some of his guitars, and sometimes I’d go back and re-record his main guitar, or drop in a solo.
In “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” I dropped in some little breaks and stuff. We only did rough vocals in Studio A [of LA’s Sound City Studios], and then the last three days, we went into Studio B and set up vocal mics. Kurt sang all his lead vocals there, except for maybe a couple, which we kept live, and Dave [Grohl] sang some harmonies. “Something In The Way” was the only song on the record that was overdubbed start to end; we started with Kurt’s guitar and vocal, then we’d add stuff on top of that.
The album was very traditionally recorded, and every process that I’d done for the 10 years leading up to that was very au naturel; I’d get a band in the studio, tune their instruments, put good microphones in front of them, and make sure I got a good performance.
What do you like to use for vocals?
On the first couple of Garbage records, I used my vintage ELAM 250 mic, which is from 1959; I think it came from RCA studios in New York, and rumour has it that Elvis and Frank Sinatra used it at some point, which is pretty cool. It sounds great.
Sometimes I would go through an API preamp, sometimes a Neve preamp; and then we put in a Trident A Range that we had. A lot of times, Shirley’s vocal would go through that. I used to use a Summit TLA 100 compressor—in fact, I’m actually looking at it right now in my home studio. I love that compressor! I also used it on Kurt Cobain and Dave Grohl. I like to hit the vocal pretty hard.
Do you mix exclusively in the box, today?
For the most part. Usually, everything ends up in Pro Tools, although we do also work with half-inch analog tape. With the Foo Fighters, the whole of their last record was an analog process, but I am not really that elitist about either; they both have great pluses and do great things, and there are also limitations to both.
Young bands would love to record on tape, but it’s expensive, and they have no budgets at all these days; and with tape, you have to play really good, as you can’t cut and paste or quantise it; you can’t move things around or put it on a grid. As a musician, it’s a challenge, and that’s what I learned when I grew up, that performance was absolutely king.
Has modern technology had a detrimental affect on some of today’s guitar bands?
Well, a lot of bands are certainly smart to it; they know they can come in and get it close, then fix it, and make it perfect. When I hear a band on the radio that sounds really good, then I go and see them live, and they’re really sloppy, that bums me out a little bit. You know they’ve been manipulated in the studio.
The great thing about digital technology, though, is people use it to do really cool things that you can’t do in a live environment. Every record does not need to sound au naturel, like a live band set up in a room. I mean, EDM artists, electronic bands, hip hop artists, even a lot of pop artists—they don’t care about a real drum kit; it’s a complete blend, and there are all sorts of different styles. You need digital technology to do that, and couldn’t necessarily recreate that live.
You use a lot of plug-ins today; how much has that changed the game for you?
Plug-ins are leaps above what they were 10 years ago. People didn’t like the sound of plug-ins back then, and they had a point, as digital did not sound good. They’d use hardware, like an 1176, instead. Waves in particular uses a lot more sophisticated technology now to model the instruments, so when you pull up the plug-in, a lot of them sound exactly the same as the hardware units.
Technology is continually getting better and better, and it’s now higher resolution, so there’s less digital distortion and phasing going on; to me, Waves plug-ins are so musical, and the whole digital realm is now much more musical, too.
What are your go-tos?
Well, let me pull up a session right now… [pauses] OK, I love that new Waves ADT Double Tracking plug-in; I think that’s really cool, and I use it on guitars and vocals, and it sounds pretty awesome. I also like the API compressor too, and the 550A and 550B EQs, which are both really good, and sound a lot like the API, which I love. I am always using the Waves CLA-76 compressor, and the C4 compressor; and I’m a huge fan of the Renaissance AXX, especially on guitars—it’s great on electrics, but it’s absolutely phenomenal on acoustics; it’s a really nice, idiot-proof compressor—so straightforward to use.
Also, something I call up all the time, especially when Shirley is doing her vocal in the studio, is the Waves RVOX. It works so good. For a fast compressor, you literally just put it on, and pull the threshold down, so it’s kicking down 4 or 5 dB, and the peaks are 6 dB, and it helps it sit right in the track. Again, it’s just really, really musical, as is all of the Waves kit.
You wear two hats, really—producer and artist. Which one do you prefer?
Well, in Garbage, I get to be a songwriter, a musician, and a producer… and a drummer, a guitar player, an arranger, and a bandmate! [laughs] With the Foo Fighters, it’s my job to really focus on being a producer. It’s their music, their album and their vision; and it’s a completely different sort of head space, you know? When I’m working with Garbage, it’s all about artistically whatever direction I or the band feel like going in, but I have to remember as a producer, whether it’s the Foos or someone else, it’s all about trying to understand the band and what they are trying to accomplish.
Many producers, especially pop producers, manufacture the artist, come up with the songs, and give them direction; they can become Svengalis—they control everything. I mean, that goes back to the bands of the ‘50s and ‘60s—they were pop machines, back then! That still happens today, but I have a tendency to work with bands that are self-contained and have their own vision, so I have to help them get there.
What drives you the most?
To me, the most exciting point is when the song is not necessarily finished, but when it’s kind of coming to completion. When the first lead vocal is done, I usually make a rough mix and burn a CD, then play it in the car over and over again—maybe 50 times over two or three days.
At this point, I’m crazy in love with it, whether it’s Nirvana, The Smashing Pumpkins, or Garbage, it still happens all the time; and this is well before the record is done. That early state when a song becomes real—where it comes into its own being, and exists. In your head, you also start imagining what you can do with it, and what you’re going to add. When a song starts to fall into place, that’s my moment… And long may that continue!
View/print this article in original pdf format: HeadlinerButchVigInterview.pdf
Headliner is a recently launched UK-based publication that supports the creative community, focusing on live performances, recording sessions, theatre productions, and major broadcast events. The spotlight is on the technology, but with a lifestyle approach. Find out more here, and subscribe here.
Headliner editor Paul Watson has 10 years live touring experience with bands in the UK and the US, and ran an independent recording studio for five years close to London. He also serves as the editor for Europe for Live Sound International and ProSoundWeb.
Friday, July 11, 2014
Mike Stahl Recalls: Mixing Chicago Live In The 1970s
From the author: After performing in bands throughout high school, college and thereafter (simultaneously spending three post-graduation years as a middle school history and math teacher), I began my career in audio by owning and operating a small recording studio in northeastern Pennsylvania.
My studio created and recorded advertising jingles for local businesses and also provided audio equipment for live events. When the early ‘70s gasoline crisis limited the ability of clients to travel to my studio, I had to close the business. On the upside, I was immediately hired as a sound engineer by Clair Bros., which was (and still is) the largest live audio company in the United States, spending the following 13 years as one of the chief sound engineers for the company’s road staff, traveling the world to provide the highest level of sound quality for major rock n’ roll concerts.
In 1982, wanting to get off the road, I was hired as a general manager for Mountain Productions, one of the largest scaffolding companies in Pennsylvania, and shortly thereafter, another large East Coast audio company, Maryland Sound International (MSI), asked me to open and manage its first West Coast division. I accepted the position of general manager of MSI and remained there for three years.
I was then offered the position of general manager at a competing company, ATK Audiotek, and after nine years in that role, my partners and I took ownership of ATK and my title became that of president. When I joined ATK, there were six employees. As of today, the company is in its third location, a 56,000-square-foot facility in Valencia, CA, with more than 90 employees.
ATK is recognized as a premiere audio company, counting The Super Bowl, Grammy Awards, Emmy Awards, Academy Awards, American Idol, The X Factor, The Voice and Dancing With The Stars among its many clients. After 21 years at the helm, as well as 20 previous years of live audio experience, I decided to retire and pursue both recreational and professional interests at my leisure.
On a personal note: I’ve always been interested in sound and in how every “noise” has its own unique and distinct collection of frequencies. When I was growing up, I had no idea as to how these sounds could be changed or modified. I think my fascination was due, at least in part, to being surrounded by glorious classical music.
My mother was the co-principal cellist of the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, D.C., and many of those string quartet rehearsals were held in the living room of our house. What I didn’t realize at the time was that the string quartet was composed of superior musicians who were playing on handmade, extremely high-caliber instruments. Couple that with great acoustics, and one has the beginnings of a great introduction to sound.
I kept asking myself: Why didn’t every string quartet sound like this one? What makes the difference? Is it the players, the surroundings, the instruments—what? I had to know. And I could not have asked for a better initiation into the world of audio.
I was lucky that during the Summer of ‘75 Tour, my mixing skills for The Beach Boys attracted the attention of Chicago’s road manager, Jack Goudie. He liked how I achieved a balanced mix (a blend of both vocals and instrumentation) as well as the “in your face” sound that felt up close and personal.
Jack had started talking to me and asked if I’d like to become Chicago’s full-time live audio engineer. While I was still enamored with The Beach Boys, Chicago was a “current” entity who were churning out and charting at least one top 10 Billboard hit every year. Over time, Chicago would become second only to The Beach Boys in terms of Billboard singles and albums chart success.
Chicago’s popularity was huge in the mid-to-late ‘70s. They were selling out every venue regardless of its size. But the band knew, after the summer tour with The Beach Boys, that their sound was more tailored for smaller venues with better acoustics. The best venues were the open amphitheaters (called sheds then and to this day), which had covered and reserved seating for about 6,000 and open seating behind them for an additional 10,000 to 12,000. These were the perfect place to see a technical group like Chicago.
During the summer, we started doing shed tours where the entire summer was spent at these types of venues, doing multi-night bookings of eight to 12 days at Pine Knob outside of Detroit, five to seven days at Merriweather Post outside of Baltimore, and at least two or three days each at numerous other sheds throughout the country.
When I started with them, the band had just released their eighth album titled Chicago VIII, which contained two hits, “Harry Truman” and “Old Days.” The songs were totally different from each other, with “Old Days” being the more rock and up-tempo of the two. Most of Chicago’s songs were well balanced with jazz, rock, and fusion instrumentation, a big reason their sound became so popular. The band was also well balanced instrumentally; no single section of the group would overpower the rest of the instruments, and they always blended together as integral parts of a song.
In other groups, the brass sections were piercing and many times painful to listen to. That was partly because brass players, especially trumpeters, have to blow very hard into the instruments to hit the higher register of notes. This results in higher sound pressure levels (SPL) coming from the brass section, which is why they’re always the loudest in a band or orchestra and why they’re always placed at the rear or to the side of the stage—so they don’t overpower the audience’s ability to hear a full blend of the other instruments.
Being one of the first groups besides Blood Sweat and Tears to achieve a balanced sound gave Chicago that extra dimension of sound with brass “woven” into the fabric of their music. This group was exciting to listen to and exhilarating to work with.
So here I was with a great batch of extremely talented musicians who excelled at their craft. My job was to make them blend together for the audience the same way they sounded on the record. If it sounds great on the stage but lousy in the main PA, that difference is noticed quickly and that sound engineer doesn’t last long at his or her console.
When I started with the band, Peter Cetera (bass) and Robert Lamm (keyboards) were doing the majority of the singing. Peter had a great soaring voice, and after the first four albums, he was singing lead on almost every song they were doing live. Robert’s voice was perfect for the more jazzy songs they played. Meanwhile, Terry Kath had a growl and gravel voice that complimented the other two perfectly when he sang harmonies.
The horn section—James Pankow, Walter Parazaider and Lee Loughnane (the “hole in the ass gang,” as they were called)—played exceptionally well when they were on. As I said, the brass section was an integral part of the “Chicago Sound” and when one of them wasn’t hitting the notes they were supposed to, the entire section sounded off. But when they were in sync, and that was most of the time, they were an incredibly tight unit playing their staccatos and stabs perfectly; no other brass section of any other group could come close to them when they were on.
Laudir de Oliveira, the great Brazilian percussionist, was added in 1973, rounding out the differences between the rock and the jazz environments that Chicago constantly danced between. Laudir was known for his tremendous blend of percussive fills that added to the intricate mystique of the Chicago sound. I loved having his innovative fills to work with in the songs because, as Terry would explain to me many times, that was “our sound,” a complex mixture of rock, jazz, contemporary and fusion.
I grew very close on a personal level to Danny Seraphine, the drummer. Danny was a perfectionist who knew exactly how he wanted his drum kit to sound, and more importantly, he knew how to tune his drums to get that sound. In the ‘70s, tuning a drum kit was as important as tuning the main sound system. Engineers didn’t have samples (artificial drum sounds) or Pro Tools rigs like they have today to get that perfect “crack” for every drum. Every tonality came from the drums, which made the tuning of the individual drums extremely critical.
When I started mixing name groups in large venues, the first thing I learned was to sit on the stage and listen to them perform without the sound system turned on. That way, I could hear each individual instrument exactly the way the performer was hearing it onstage, and could hear and see how the entire group interacted. This was necessary because the acoustics of large venues are usually bad to terrible, with huge decay times—you have to know what the true sounds of the instruments are before you can begin to amplify or equalize them. If you don’t, you can quickly get yourself in big trouble both sonically and acoustically.
My first few shows with Chicago were not earth shattering, sound wise. Every engineer has their special mics and wants the drum kit to sound a special way, and I was no different. I was fortunate to be able to completely re-mike the stage, and especially change the mic setup around Danny’s drum kit and Laudir’s percussion rig.
But I was having a difficult time getting the right tones from Terry Kath’s guitar rig. I attributed this to the fact that he was a fantastic jazz player and his chord structure knowledge was uncanny. This was very rare for a rock band’s lead guitarist. He would play basic rock chords that could drive the band as if they were a loud Led Zeppelin-type group, but he could also tone it down and play intricate chords that enhanced not only the brass portions of a song but also the overall Chicago big band sound. He was an amazing talent, and for me, the core of this tight group.
During the initial rehearsals, Terry and I started talking to each other and gradually became good friends. Since I’m also a guitarist, I recognized that Terry was one of the best in the world.
His fingering techniques and love of music were unparalleled. I’d never worked with anyone so devoted to his craft and so intent on getting the exact sound he wanted out of his equipment. The only other player I’d work with who came close was Brian May of Queen, who I’d meet much later.
Terry and his guitar tech, Hank Steiger, used to experiment with different models of amplifiers all the time. When I came onto the scene, Terry was using a Fender Dual Showman amp head that had been totally modified, and a new (and radical) homemade speaker cabinet.
I never found out who made the cabinet but Terry loved the sound it produced. It was a large quadrilateral speaker box about four feet tall and three feet wide with four Celestion 12-inch speakers in it, each one mounted at the top section of the cabinet.
Under high volume, this cabinet would vibrate tremendously at the loud level Terry played at and it could deliver the dirty, growling, distorted sound that he wanted on stage. But because of the cabinet design, it wasn’t as sturdy or solid as other conventional speaker cabinets.
It turned out that the cabinet vibrations were contributing to the distortion Terry could hear when he was on stage, but I wasn’t able to capture that “second distortion” properly in the main sound system. On the bluesy and jazzy songs that Chicago did so well, Terry could tone down the distortion on stage and the sound would be exactly what he wanted. But for the loud rock songs and solos that defined the “Terry Kath Sound,” it wasn’t cutting it in mix.
I came up with an idea and ran it past Terry; I already had a direct line and a mic for his guitar, but I wanted to add two additional guitar mics to two of the other speakers in order to get as much of the cabinet distortion as possible. There weren’t enough inputs on the console to do this so these two extra mics had to be coupled or “Y-d” together. This way, I could move one of the guitar mics off the speaker axis to pick up the cabinet vibrations that Terry was hearing on stage.
At first, he was skeptical about this setup, especially about the direct line, because some of his previous engineers had tried it and couldn’t get a good balance between the mics and the direct box. But he liked the idea of the additional guitar mics, and I convinced him to let me try it and prove to him that I could achieve “his” sound.
I started taping the concerts every night on cassettes and giving him the tapes so he could listen to the sound I was getting on his guitar and to the overall mix of the show. It became a ritual on any multi-night booking that Terry and I would be in his room listening to the shows, with him giving critiques of the recordings, often picking up his guitar and showing me what lick (solo and fills) he was playing, especially when I’d missed amplifying essential ones.
Terry had started by having a regular amplifier in his room, but it was always too loud and disturbed other guests in the hotel, so he would have to turn it off or run it so low that he couldn’t hear it. Then his roadie Hank found a small battery amp called Pignose and got it for him. In those days, battery amps were unheard of, especially since they were so small and weighed less than four pounds. Terry loved the Pignose so much that in 1972 he and an associate went out and purchased the company. To be able to be in a room with him as he was playing and creating songs with unbelievable guitar licks was truly inspirational; he was just one of those players who made you want to listen to him play and never leave the room.
One of the more interesting facts that I learned about Terry was that early in Chicago’s career, when they were on tour opening for Jimi Hendrix, Jimi used to sneak out in the back of the auditorium before he went on stage when Chicago was playing just to hear Terry play. Terry never thought anything about it; he was that down to earth. Over the five years I worked with Chicago, he and I became very close and I reveled in the time I could spend with him. This was a perk of the job that I really loved: not only to be able to mix this amazing band, but also to be able to spend private time with these talented people. Very rewarding!
Once the band got comfortable with the new mic and monitor setup on stage, and also with me, everyone started to relax and enjoy the shows. As soon as that comfortable feeling is attained, everyone can concentrate on what they do best—performing. I started getting a dynamic mix of the band, and both the road manager (Jack Goudie) and the personal manager were pleased with how everything was progressing.
We had just performed a show in Memphis and had traveled to our next stop in Nashville. Jack forgot to re-set his watch to the new time zone so the band came in for sound check an hour early, so afterwards, they had an hour to kill because the hotel was too far away to go back tp and then turn around again to return for the concert.
I knew that Danny Seraphine was starting a production company and was looking for some fresh talent, and I thought this might be a good time to introduce the work of two of my friends from Scranton, PA, who were playing in a local band (Jerry Kelly) and becoming a great unit. They had perfect pitch harmonies (like Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young), a resounding guitar-based foundation, and were writing excellent songs. I was convinced these guys were going to make it.
I had a cassette recording of four of their songs and was looking for the perfect opportunity to sequester Danny away from the touring fray and play it for him, so I now asked him if he wanted to come to the back of the bus to hear the tracks; much to my surprise, he said yes. And once he heard the four songs, he wanted me to play them again! He heard what I knew all along: this group had the sound and they were going to make it! Danny took the tape and that became a three-record deal. The group re-named themselves “Dakota” and had Danny and Hawk Wolinski (of Rufus fame) as the executive producers. It was an exhilarating time for Dakota and for me.
While Chicago had recorded their fair share of hits and had achieved both gold and platinum records for all of their previous album sales, they had never had a number one song on the Billboard charts until Peter wrote “If You Leave Me Now” in 1976. Recorded at James William Guercio’s Caribou Ranch Studios in Colorado, it was the first worldwide number one hit for the band. We toured Europe twice, Australia, and New Zealand to sold-out arenas.
Adding that song to the group’s huge catalog of hits ensured Chicago of many continued years of live performing. It was truly amazing how the band and the public became re-energized because of that song. But every time they were about to perform the song live, Terry would set down his acoustic guitar and quietly walk off stage. I couldn’t figure out why. Not that Peter was bad on the guitar, but when you have a player like Terry… I just couldn’t understand why he wasn’t playing the lead part.
When I asked him about it, he said that for whatever reason, he had not even been present at the studio on the day when the band recorded it. Someone else had played the solo part on the record and Terry was peeved that he hadn’t played on it, and what was worse, this song went on to become the biggest song Chicago had ever recorded. Since he wasn’t on the recording, he told me he would never, ever play it live. And as long as I was there, he never did.
When I got the news about Terry accidentally killing himself with a handgun in 1978, I made plans to come out for the funeral. I thought I was going to be okay until I saw Terry lying in the casket, this musical genius so needlessly gone from everyone’s lives. I’d just been with him two weeks earlier when we finished our last show of the tour at the Oakland Coliseum. It was so un-nerving that I went back to my hotel room and just sat alone by myself all through the night. That memory still haunts me today.
Chicago was in turmoil over Terry’s loss; not only because he’d been one of the founding members of the band but also because of his spirit and dedication to the band’s music. I didn’t think the band was going to recover from the pain of Terry’s death, but I totally discounted the resilience of the rest of the guys. Through all the gloom hanging over them, they made the decision to start recording and touring again, which meant that they had to audition new guitar players.
As a result, I was summoned to Los Angeles to set up a small sound system at Danny’s house so everyone could hear the auditions and see how the new players sounded and interacted with the rest of the band. I can’t imagine how difficult it was for them; the first time they had played together in months and now it was with some new guitarists who’d learned the three songs needed for the audition; especially “25 or 6 to 4,” which was a Terry Kath classic with all of his solos throughout. It was incredibly emotional to say the least.
After numerous auditions and countless players, the band settled on Donnie Dacus. He had just finished filming a part in the movie version of Hair and was a solid player with a decent voice. Donnie was young and energetic with long blond hair; he not only looked the part, but also had great stage presence. Once he was selected, the band started writing songs for their new album.
Adding A New Role
Also as part of their fresh beginning after Terry’s death, the band hired legendary record producer Phil Ramone to produce their new album (Hot Streets) and to record it at Criteria Studios in Miami.
Phil had produced everyone on the planet and had a long list of impressive credentials in the studio. They selected Criteria Studios because the Bee Gees had recorded and released Saturday Night Fever there the year before, and that record had become a monster seller.
This new Chicago record was going to involve many other firsts, besides changing the studio and the producer. The band decided to shake up the album cover and do something they’d never done before in the past eight years—use photos of themselves on the front and back cover. This was a radical departure since in the past, they had only used their name (in logo form) and Roman numerals to signify sequentially which album number it was.
Another first was that they asked me to fly to Miami and be one of the recording engineers on the record, a huge honor. I’d been a live audio engineer and now, after working with Chicago for three years, I was going to be an assistant to one of the most legendary record producers in the business. I was going to be able to learn from a master producer how to make a record. Exciting times!
The band blocked out six weeks to get the album done. The production team rented three Miami mansions to make sure everyone got a great room and that no one was crowding anyone else. The houses were fantastic and they came equipped with a cook and maid service. (What more could you ask for!) I was in charge of the brass section, which simply meant nothing more than getting them to and from the studio on time, and back and forth to the airport.
The first day at the studio was spent setting up the drums and backline for the keyboards and guitars. I quickly realized that I was actually the assistant to the assistant for Phil’s head engineer. My only duty was going to be to change the tape on the echo recorder that was used for the headphone playback. Bummer.
But I wasn’t going to let that depress me because this was still my first major recording session and I was determined to be a sponge and absorb all I could. Phil’s engineer told me which mics he wanted to use on the drum kit, and I started placing them around the drums. I finished everything except the last two floor toms when the rhythm guys, Bobby, Donnie, Peter and Danny, came into the studio.
They started jamming, which was no big deal since I’d set up mics before while drummers were playing. I heard the guys suggest trying the new song, “Alive Again,” and Danny started to count it off. I didn’t think anything about it since this was their first run-through at the studio. Then I saw Phil in the control room waving at me and mouthing the words, “don’t move.”
It turned out, unbeknown to me, that Phil recorded everything; it didn’t matter whether the band was jamming or not. He wanted everything that was being played to be caught on tape. For the rest of that song, I stood next to the two floor toms with mics and cables in my hands. When the band ended that run through, I finished miking the floor toms and went back into the control room. Phil and Jim (his main engineer) were slapping hands together and saying how great the “feel” was for that song.
I reminded them that the last two floor toms had not yet had mics, and said that every time Danny went around the horn on the drums, there was a noticeable drop in their volume. Phil looked at me and said, “Kid, you have a lot to learn. All good recordings in a studio are about feelings and the groove of the song, and that first pass has ‘it’.” As I found out, even though they recorded the rhythm track of that song another 10 times, the final rhythm take of “Alive Again,” the one that’s on the record, is that first pass with me standing in the studio holding the last two floor tom mics and cables in my hand. Go figure.
Whenever I had some free time, I liked to explore the other studios because Criteria was a great facility in those days, having leapt into prominence with the success of the Bee Gees.
In fact, Criteria had just finished building a brand-new wing on the main studio that was to be used exclusively by the Bee Gees. They were in the process of setting up to record their first album since Saturday Night Fever.
I would occasionally wander over there and just shoot the breeze with the engineers, and one day, I met Maurice Gibb of the Bee Gees. He couldn’t have been nicer—I’ve never been disappointed by big-name stars because the majority of them never forget their beginnings and were always very nice, especially to me. We started talking about sound companies, music, and other groups I’d engineered besides Chicago, and he was a huge fan of the band’s big brass sound.
Later that day, I was back on the Chicago side of the building and I told Jimmy Pankow about having met Maurice and how nice he was. Jimmy said that the Bee Gees had the best vocal harmonies in the world and he would love to have the Bee Gees sing on a Chicago song. I told him that Maurice was a big fan of the Chicago brass and maybe he could work something out between the two groups.
Within two days it was all arranged; Chicago was going to play on a new song for the Bee Gees and the Bee Gees were going to sing on a new song from Chicago. Unreal! Now the stage was set for the two supergroups to perform on each other’s records. I’d never been involved in such exciting times!
Peter Cetera had written a song, “Little Miss Lovin,” that the band felt would be perfect for the Bee Gees’ harmonies. In return, the Bee Gees wanted the Chicago brass to play on a new track that Barry Gibb was producing called “Tragedy.” About a week later, the Bee Gees came over to the studio and laid down their amazing harmonies. It was just astounding! I was in the control room and there are no words to describe the feelings of hearing those soaring harmonies on one of Chicago’s songs. I was seeing and hearing true talent.
That session went well, and I was looking forward to Chicago recording their parts on the Bee Gees song. A week later, I brought the brass section over to the main studios at Criteria to begin rehearsing. When we arrived, to everyone’s complete surprise, we discovered that no brass charts had been written. I could tell the guys were upset because Jimmy Pankow always spent long hours writing the brass charts, getting them perfect for all three instruments. Since the charts weren’t done, we all assumed we’d have to come back another day.
When Barry came into the studio and introduced himself to everyone, he asked his engineer to run the rhythm tracks they’d recorded the day before. When Jimmy asked him about the brass charts, he said, “I’m going to write them now.” As the music started, he sat down at the piano and began singing and hitting single keys on the piano to signify which notes he wanted the brass to play. His transcriber sitting next to him furiously wrote down what Barry was playing and then charted it for all three of the brass instruments. None of us had ever seen anything like it!
When they ran the track the second time, Barry started singing and hitting the notes on a piano the way he wanted the brass to accent them with his voice: “Da-Da-Da-Dot Da-Da-Da-Dot Dot-Dot-Dot.” And then again: “Da-Da-Da-Dot Da-Da-Da-Dot Dot-Dot-Dot.” The Chicago guys were staring at me and I was staring at them—we were all overwhelmed. No one could play the notes, have them written down and transcribed for sax, trombone and trumpet, and then have them ready to record within 30 minutes. That just can’t happen! And yet it did.
Jimmy pulled me aside and said Barry must be doing this for show—“this can’t be real.” I told him I thought he was wrong because on many of my trips to the Bee Gees studios I’d talked with their engineer, Ably Gilbratin, and he’d told me what a genius Barry Gibb was. I knew that we’d just witnessed a true phenomenon.
After the charts had been duplicated for all the brass players, the guys were then thinking this was going to take a long time to record because again, simply, the charts couldn’t be correct. No one was that good… there were going to be too many wrong notes and too many bad accents and everything. These mistakes would then take a lot of time to correct and then they would have to be re-recorded.
The level of skepticism was at an all-time high as the brass players took their seats in the studio—until they started reading the charts and playing the parts. The sound was full and the stabs and staccatos were tight and bright. hey were literally perfect. No bad accents, no bad notes, nothing.
The song, which was the title track of the Bee Gees new album, Tragedy, was completed in under an hour, and we were out of there. When we listened to the playback after the brass was finished, the brass charts were nothing short of amazing and had a totally fresh feel which gave the song a new meaning. Barry was tapping his pencil on the console and was very pleased.
As we were leaving, everyone thanked them profusely for the experience and we got into our car for the drive back to the house. The ride back was very depressing, especially for Jimmy, who always agonized over his charts to get them perfect, sometimes taking days to perfect them. Since he was the only one who wrote the brass parts for the group, this tour de force he’d just witnessed seemed to affect him the most, knocking him for a loop.
It wasn’t that his charts weren’t good, it was just that he (and the rest of us) had never witnessed anything like that. Even superstar writers and performers need to get out of their own bubble sometimes, and this was a huge revelation. But by the time we arrived at our house, Jimmy was coming around, and after dinner, he felt he’d been incredibly inspired by Barry’s writing. Even though Chicago had finished the entire title track “Alive Again,” and it had already been recorded and was “in the can,” Jimmy still hadn’t been crazy about the brass charts. After all, this was going to be Chicago’s debut back into recording, their first album since Terry died, and he wanted the title track to be very special, and in particular, wanted the brass parts to stand out and attack the music. He was bothered because he knew they weren’t sparkling yet.
After dinner, he stayed up all night re-writing the brass for that song because he liked the sound that Barry had gotten from the instruments. Two days later, we went back to the studio and re-recorded “Alive Again” with Jimmy’s new brass charts, which gave the song a whole new feeling and the sparkle Jimmy had been looking for all along. That song, and the Hot Streets album, symbolized Chicago’s re-birth in recording and performing.
Editor’s note: We’ll be presenting more great articles from Mike on his engineering career during one of the truly great periods in the history of popular music. Stay tuned!
Front-of-House Engineer Rick Camp Utilizing Aviom A360s For Master Mix Live Program
Helps students explore various methods of monitor mixing
Front-of-house engineer Rick Camp has been busy on tour this year with Jennifer Lopez, but when he’s not on the road, he’s busy teaching others the art of live engineering in his Master Mix Live program in Las Vegas. Included in the mix of gear that Camp is using in his Las Vegas studio and teaching space are new Aviom A360 personal mixers.
Camp’s program is unique—it’s small on purpose, accepting only eight students at a time so they get the opportunity to have hundreds of hours of hands-on console time throughout the five-month course. And each student has the opportunity to work personally with Camp, who has experience mixing many famous artists, including Earth, Wind & Fire, Madonna, Toni Braxton, Tracy Chapman, Usher, and many more.
Camp’s decision to integrate an Aviom personal mixers into the Master Mix Live space was two-fold. One of the courses included in the Master Mix Live program focuses on monitor mixing. In this course, students explore various methods of monitor mixing—everything from using wedges to in-ear monitors and personal mixers. Camp also uses the A360s in his recording studio to provide artists’ individual headphone mixes.
“I think that students find it easier to let musicians dial in their own monitor mixes, bur for me in the studio, the personal mixers are invaluable when trying to please performers who want their headphone mix changed every eight bars for one reason or another to accommodate the passage they are playing or singing,” explains Camp.
Camp’s studio includes eight A360 personal mixers, an AN-16/i v.2 input module, and an A-16D Pro A-Net distributor. According to Camp. “The A360 is hands down the best sounding and most flexible personal mixer I’ve seen or used to date.”
Master Mix Live
Strictly Audio STL Deploys Soundcraft Si Expression Consoles For Regional Festivals
Running a production company in the heart of Missouri, the owner of Strictly Audio STL, Bob Walther, provides services to cover local festivals from St. Louis all the way to southern Illinois. While the company’s Harman Soundcraft Si Expression 3 console is temporarily installed at the Atomic Cowboy nightclub, his newly purchased Si Expression 2 is responsible for providing mix capabilities at some of the region’s popular festivals.
The owners of the Atomic Cowboy, which has a capacity of 700 people, were most impressed that the Si Expression’s core functions can be remotely controlled via the Soundcraft ViSi Remote 2.0 iPad app. This added functionality allows the 32-channel Si Expression 3 console to be stored away behind a barricaded space, freeing up room for customers while the operator roams free through the crowd.
Besides the console, the audio system at the Atomic Cowboy includes a JBL STX825 loudspeaker on each side of the stage and two SRX728S subwoofers under the stage, powered by two Crown Audio I-Tech 6000 amplifiers, as well as three JBL SRX712M monitors powered by two Crown XTI2002 amplifiers. The sound is further enhanced by a dbx DriveRack, which provides control of equalization and loudspeaker management.
“The evening after the installation was completed, a show took place that exceeded the expectations of the club owners and myself,” says Walther. “I knew that going with a full Harman setup would eliminate guesswork and result in good synergy, but we couldn’t believe how good the system sounded right out of the box. The owners praised the equipment that was chosen for the club, as the clarity and detail were fantastic. The Crown amplifiers provided plenty of headroom at front of house and the monitors made the band very happy.”
“I was pleased with the performance and audio fidelity of the Si Expression 3, which were my main reasons for purchasing a Si Expression 2,” Walther adds. “The Si Expression Series remains far better than anything else within this price range. The lower channel count of the Si Expression 2 is more than sufficient for most of our local festivals and events, whereas the Si Expression 3 is used for regional touring groups, when not in use at the Atomic Cowboy.”
Having cut his teeth on analog equipment, Walther is averse to the cluttered menus found on some of the digital consoles in today’s market. However, the Soundcraft Si Expression consoles are designed with an appreciation for common sense; features such as FaderGlow™, the illuminated and color-coded fader-strip, speed up workflow and improve efficiency of operation.
“This console translates so well from the analog world, because it is designed in a very logical fashion,” Walther stated. “With some digital mixers out there, I almost feel like I’m translating a foreign language when attempting a live mix. With the Si Expression, I don’t even have to look at my hands, thanks to FaderGlow and the intuitive layout. Also, the onboard effects and compressors eliminated the need for a 4-foot-tall effects rack, which saved me a lot of room in the truck.”
Walther has recently used the Si Expression 2 in events such as the annual Crawfish Boil in downtown, where Cajun food is accompanied by a healthy dose of local musical acts. The Si Expression 3 temporarily installed in the nightclub will enjoy more spectacles such as the upcoming Mound City Music Fest over the weekend.
Posted by Keith Clark on 07/11 at 10:27 AM
Universal Audio Releases New Tonelux Tilt EQ and Valley People Dyna-mite Plug-Ins
Now available for UAD Powered Plug-Ins platform and Apollo audio interfaces
Universal Audio has released two plug-ins for the UAD Powered Plug-Ins platform and Apollo audio interfaces. Developed by Softube and available for purchase via UA’s Online Store, the Tonelux Tilt EQ and Valley People Dyna-mite plug-ins are part of new UAD Software v7.8.
The Valley People Dyna-mite plug-in is an exacting emulation of the classic limiter/expander/gate designed by the legendary Paul Buff, who founded the historic PAL studio in southern California.
The Dyna-mite has enjoyed a cult following for over three decades and is considered a “secret weapon” by top engineers and producers. Although it can be used as a traditional limiter or expander, the Dyna-mite is also a creative tool capable of extreme, yet musical effects on a variety of sound sources.
The Valley People Dyna-mite plug-in offers the exact features and sonics of the famed hardware unit and can transform instruments with dynamic gating textures. It can be used for nearly anything from gently limiting and de-essing vocals, to demolishing the transients of any sound.
Designed to speed up EQ workflow and enhance creativity, the Tonelux Tilt EQ plug-in allows for quick, simple, and effective broad-stroke EQ moves. With the single Tilt control, engineers and producers can quickly mix as they go. Turn it to the right to cut lows and boost highs, turn it to the left to cut highs and boost lows.
The Tonelux Tilt EQ plug-in also models the transformer found in the Tonelux hardware, adding a subtle distortion for bass frequencies, fattening up the low end of a track. It skips the transformer modeling, freeing up even more instances for live mixing.
It also replaces the gain control with a boost ceiling control, which keeps the output gain of the plug-in from being boosted no matter how much EQ boost is applied.
Live Engineer Antonius Kern Utilizing Waves Live Tools
First gravitated toward tools familiar with from the analog world -- emulations of actual analog devices
Live mix engineer Antonius Kern, whose credits include German TV productions Popidol and Popstars, and music acts such as Patrice, Max Herre, and Joy Denalane, has been putting Waves Live tools to use on The Voice of Germany and The Voice Kids.
“In The Voice Kids, some of the performers are obviously performing on a live stage for the first time in their lives,” says Kern. “In order to give them confidence, I use Waves tools to provide them with the best mix possible. Initially, I naturally gravitated toward the tools I was familiar with from the analog world, meaning emulations of actual analog devices.
“Working with the DiGiCo SD7, it was great having all my Waves tools available to me from the console’s screen and touch-and-turn knob/button,” he continues. “The Waves-enabled SD7 console is equipped with Waves SoundGrid Server One in a redundant processing setup, which gives me the confidence I need for the broadcast environment.”
He adds, “My favorite Waves plug-ins are the SSL G-Master Buss Compressor for parallel compression; the CLA-2A Compressor/Limiter as a buss compressor for different audio subgroups and also as an input channel compressor for vocals and snares; the PuigChild compressor on the master compressor for some subgroups; and the SSL G-Equalizer for nearly all master subgroups.
“Working with Waves MultiRack SoundGrid, I only need one internal system – no D/A-A/D conversion or class-A signal processing tools. Waves tools are essential in meeting the challenge of mixing a dynamic band on TV.”
In The Studio: 11 Things You Never Thought to Do With Your Effects Chain
In today’s world most people are mixing and tracking in the box. With this comes a lot more flexibility then in the past, yet I find the understanding of signal flow isn’t as strong. (Youngsters these days!!)
I suppose I’m at an advantage as a guitarist. I have pedals to tinker with. Over the years I’ve moved pedals around, trying many different chains. Sometimes on purpose, sometimes on accident.
This idea goes far beyond guitar. These principles apply to plug-ins as well. Not only for guitar-based plug-ins like Logic’s “Pedalboard,” but individual plug-ins for all instruments.
In this article I’m going to give you 11 variations on signal flow that you can use to create interesting sounds on any instrument.
1. Delay Before Overdrive
Sometimes people don’t realize this, but some of the most acclaimed rock delay sounds have been an analog delay straight into a cranked guitar amp. What does this mean? When an amp is cranked it naturally overdrives and compresses. It creates a coherency in sound that can’t be replicated.
Solution? Place a delay before an overdrive. You probably have to be conservative with the settings on the Overdrive. An amp rarely gets the amount of overdrive most pedals have. Keep it low and notice how it changes the delay.
When you use an overdrive, you’ll notice it’s affected by velocity. The louder the signal source, the more overdrive it will have. You can use this to your advantage. If you place the Overdrive after the delay, each repeat from the delay will be less overdriven then the last. This method can keep a sound from getting too blurry.
2. Delay After Overdrive
This is the “modern” method for placing a delay. Whatever goes into the delay gets repeated as it sounded. It’s like taking a picture of something and then duplicating it.
I’ll be using the term “snapshot” in this article to describe this scenario. This is the missionary position of signal chain routing. Traditionally, it’s wah, fuzz, overdrives, modulation, and time based effects.
3. Reverb Before Overdrive
This one has to be subtle. If you run a verb into a heavy distortion, your dog is not going to be happy. In subtle doses, it can help create a hip, vintage sound. When I’m playing guitar, I like to play a spring reverb into a cranked, slightly overdriven amp. Why? For the same reason I like to do this with delay. It compresses the signal in a flattering, colorful way.
It kinda sounds like a reverb from records cut in the ‘50s. Not hi-fi… Not for the weak of soul… Attempt at your own risk.
4. Tremelo After Reverb
If you set up a nice a big reverb sound and then place a tremolo after it, you can create some cool effects. It will trip your ears out a bit. At one point your mind hears this big space, but it’s being cut off by a dry pulsing trem.
5. Tremelo Before Reverb
This allows you to get a cool pulsing effect without it being jarring. You’ll still hear the tremolo, but it’s distant. This often works better for ambient type sounds. It doesn’t remove you from the space.
6. Reverb Before Delay
Think of delay as taking a snapshot of your sound. Whatever sound you send into it, it repeats. Some cool textures can be created when the snapshot is a reverberated sound. It can get really cool if you’re running a reverb sound into a backwards delay patch. Do we even say patch anymore? OK, “preset.”
7. Modulation Before Delay
When you place modulation after a delay, you’re affecting the sum of sound coming from the delay. When you place it before the delay, the delay is taking a snapshot of the modulation at that exact second. If you play on top of that snapshot, this will create a neat mod on mod sound. Ooo, Behave!!
8. Tremolo Before Overdrive
At this point I think you’re getting the idea of how moving things around the chain changes the reaction of sound. Placing tremolo before an overdrive means the level of signal hitting the Overdrive is going to vary. You can hear the slight adjustments in gain.
9. Wah or Auto Filter Before Distortion
In this position the wah or auto filter acts as an exciter for the overdrive. As you adjust the the filter it boosts frequencies which get embellished by the OD. (OD is street for overdrive. See how hip I am?) When you place the filter first you will hear frequencies “pop” out as you adjust. Think Brian May’s sound.
10. Wah or Auto Filter After Distortion
In this position the way or auto filter acts like an EQ to the sound. It’s almost like adjusting a big tone knob. There aren’t going to be a lot of frequencies that “pop” out so to speak.
11. Modulation Before Overdrive
Modulation before overdrive works in a similar way as a filter before overdrive. Certain frequencies will excite the overdrive. Try this with a chorus, phaser or flanger. It can be subtle. Or shall I say subtle-icious?
Next time you’re trying to create a sound that’s a bit left of center, think about these variations of signal flow. They cross my mind a lot when I’m developing a sound. One size does not fit all.
Mark Marshall is a producer, songwriter, session musician and instructor based in NYC.
Be sure to visit The Pro Audio Files for more great recording content. To comment or ask questions about this article, go here.
Thursday, July 10, 2014
Allen & Heath Launches Qu Series Console Upgrade With Version 1.5 Firmware Release (Includes Video)
Introduces DCA groups, custom channel naming, flexible dSNAKE output patching, improved routing for studio recording applications, and additional MIDI control soft keys
Allen & Heath has released a new firmware update (version 1.5) for its Qu Series of compact digital mixers with several new core features to enhance functionality.
In addition to support for the newly launched Qu-32 mixer and AB168 audio rack, v1.5 introduces DCA groups, custom channel naming, flexible dSNAKE output patching, improved routing for studio recording applications, and additional MIDI control soft keys.
Four DCA groups have been added, which can be assigned to fader strips in the custom layer on Qu-16 and Qu-24, while the new Qu-32 has four dedicated DCA master strips in the upper layer.
Further, all Input channels, FX returns, mixes, DCA and mute groups now have custom naming functionality, which can be shared with the QuPad remote app and with any connected ME-1 personal mixers. Also, dSNAKE outputs to remote Audio Racks and monitor sends to ME-1 mixers have full user configurability, providing flexibility on output routing.
There is also improved functionality for studio recording applications. The Input channel source point for Qu-Drive and USB can be set to either Insert Send or Direct Out to facilitate both live and studio workflows. Also, the MIDI screen now has MIDI Machine Control (MMC) transport buttons for control of DAW software or remote equipment.
Additionally, these MMC controls and new DAW bank controls can now be assigned to Soft Keys for use in conjunction with the DAW control driver.
“It is fantastic to see the huge demand for our Qu digital mixers, and the enthusiasm of so many happy customers who are using Qu across a vast range of applications from houses of worship and rental companies to home studios,” ntoes A&H sales and marketing director Christian Luecke. “This latest firmware release is packed with new features and functionality that further strengthen the range in the studio and live performance markets, and set Qu firmly at the forefront of compact digital mixing.”
Qu v1.5 is compatible with all Qu mixer models, and can be downloaded now from the company website.
Allen & Heath
Tuesday, July 08, 2014
SSL Live Console On Tour With Michael McDonald
Front of house engineer Curtis Flatt first took SSL Live out on McDonald's Christmas tour last year
Michael McDonald, joining 1980s super-group Toto this summer for a North American co-bill, is touring with an SSL Live digital console.
McDonald’s front-of-house engineer Curtis Flatt was first introduced to Spectrum Sound of Nashville while in college and went to work for the company in 1986. Through the long association, his career has spanned the best consoles and musicians of the last three decades, including Wynona Judd and the Judds, Donny Osmond and Michael W. Smith. He also filled in for a short time for Robert Collins on an Eric Clapton tour.
Flatt first took SSL Live out on McDonald’s Christmas Tour last winter. “Spectrum was going to order a pair for Jason Aldean and asked if I wanted to be the first to take one out,” he says. “I programmed it in my office and, without a production rehearsal, dove in at the first sound check. Michael’s musicians’ sounds are really good to start with. They play really well together and it’s a straightforward show.
“If you start with a good sounding product, mic it with quality microphones and run it through a console that has an excellent quality, you’re pretty much there,” he continues. “SSL Live brings me to that point and gives me the freedom to just mix and not have to think about a lot of external processes.”
The transparency of SSL Live’s mix bus is noted by Flatt. “There are a handful of consoles out there that sound good or really good, but as everybody who mixes knows, as you start to sum all those good sounding parts together, a lot of times you’re either working with or around the console to create that final sound, that final mix,” he explains. “On a warm console, you may have to figure out which inputs could lose a little warmth to fit in with everything so that it doesn’t get muddy. Live has such a separation that as you add all of the inputs, you don’t have this muddle going on, which happens so often on other live consoles. There’s definition to everything in the mix.”
Flatt credits the fidelity both in the highs and the lows of the console. “There’s a nice top-end on it and it’s really smooth; there isn’t an overabundance of hype on it,” he says, adding, “The low-end on the console is nice and round without being overbearing.”
He also notes an improvement in mixing and panning compared to other consoles. “Because of the separation you get with the summing in the mix bus, it’s easier to place things in the mix,” he says. “The palette is more open, so placement in the mix becomes really noticeable. Slight pans and movements here and there present a better picture. You hear subtle differences. For example, our drummer had two hi-hats; one was panned slightly left and one was barely right – and I mean barely, but you always knew which one he was playing, even with your eyes closed.
“I run a couple of parallel-compression bus groups because we try to maintain a certain level in the show and want to add a little bit of punch back into that in some areas without overly compressing the entire mix,” he continues. “So, I have a parallel drum group and a parallel background vocal group to level them out a little bit and add them in as needed. If the show really starts to push a little bit, there may be a dB or two of compression with the bus compressor, but the show is very dynamic so I don’t want to take the dynamics out, since the music lends itself to dynamics. It’s got pop, rock and R&B.”
Morris Light And Sound Delivers Two New DiGiCo SD10 Consoles For Jake Owen On Tour
Consoles making life easier for front of house mixer Greg Huffman and monitor mixer Andrew Sullivan
Dual DiGiCo SD10 digital consoles are heading the house and monitor systems for the current “Days of Gold” concert tour by Jake Owen, the Academy of Country Music’s Top New Male Vocalist of the Year in 2009 and American Country Awards 2012 Breakthrough Artist of the Year.
The two new consoles, purchased by Nashville-based tour sound provider Morris Light and Sound in February though DiGiCo U.S. distributor Group One Ltd, are making life easier for front of house mixer Greg Huffman and monitor mixer Andrew Sullivan.
“They’re simply awesome—we love them,” says Sullivan, who adds that they were literally introduced to the consoles during the band’s pre-tour rehearsals. “We swapped them out during the line check so we had very little time to get to know them, but they are so easy to understand and use that we were up to speed on them in no time.”
Sullivan cites the SD10 for its flexibility, noting that he can assign any channel to any of the three fader banks on the SD10’s work surface. “I can have any combination of inputs, outputs or control groups on any fader I want, putting it wherever it makes the most sense, instead of having to flip between pages and VCAs,” he explains. He also likes the way the desk’s 16 multiband compressors and dynamic EQs offer highly nuanced control over the sound.
While the SD10s have Waves servers for outboard plug-ins as part of their package, Sullivan says that other than Owen’s vocals, everything else on stage is using only the SD10’s onboard processing. “It’s really an amazing board like that,” he says.
Huffman, who has mixed Owen’s live sound for eight years, explains how he splits the work surface left and right between Owen and his band. “I had gotten used to flipping fader banks on the previous console I was using, but now I have Jake as several macros all on one side of the console, along with some of the playback stuff,” he explains. “It’s so much easier to manage.”
He also cites DiGiGrid, the collaboration between plug-in maker Waves and DiGiCo/Soundtracs that provides processing and networking solutions based on the Waves SoundGrid platform, offering audio interfaces for Native DAW, Pro Tools and MADI-enabled consoles, such as the SD10. “That makes all of the outboard processing much easier,” he says.
He also notes, “The sound is incredible. When Jake heard it the first time during a rehearsal, he loved the way everything sounded and I attribute a lot of that to the DiGiCo console. Jake likes it loud and the SD10 handles loud very well.”
John Mills, vice president of Morris Light and Sound, adds, “We wanted to diversify our console choices, and DiGiCo is a great way to do that. Andrew and Greg wanted to try them and the results so far have been excellent; from the first day they were flying them like they’d been using them for years, and the sound was phenomenal.”
Mills says this year, with anchor touring client Kenny Chesney taking the year off from live shows, Morris Light and Sound’s decision to pursue more festival work has paid off—the company provided equipment for five stages at the CMA Music Fest, the Bayou Country Superfest and Buckle Up, among other festival events in 2014. “We wanted to be able to offer clients a broader range of console choices, and the DiGiCo desks add more depth and dimension to our inventory,” he says.
Morris Light and Sound
Group One Ltd
Focus On The Knobs? Making Technology Transparent In The Quest Of Art
At one time or another, all of us who have sat behind a mixing console at a show are asked “do you know what all those knobs do?” Of course the answer is “yes”—or at least it should be.
What they don’t ask is “do you know anything about acoustics?” or “do you have a handle on power and grounding?” because these subjects are not nearly as interesting or obvious to the novice observer. Maybe the real question is along the lines of “do you know how to bring out/enhance the art using the tools in front of you?”
So what about all those knobs? I often wonder if we can relate them to the concept of “if you’re a hammer, then everything looks like a nail.” In other words, if we know what all those knobs (and buttons) do, does it mean we’re compelled to twist the knobs and push the buttons? In many cases I’m afraid it’s true, and yet, we can miss something in the process.
Practice Makes Perfect
As an amateur photographer growing up in the days of film and mechanical cameras, I always found it useful to practice with the equipment empty before putting real film at risk. In those days, every exposure cost money, and frankly, I didn’t have much to spare.
But more importantly, I wanted to always get past the awkwardness with the gear and get on to the whole point: capturing good images. My friend Pat Moulds, a retired professional upright bass player, used to say that “the point of practice is to get to where you can play a passage without hesitation.” In other words, the technique becomes transparent and the art comes through.
Back to our business of sound. Knowing what every knob and button does, and how the sound system is put together, is obviously important as long as the end result is kept in mind. The audience probably won’t know if you used an actual LA-2A leveler or a plug-in equivalent on the vocals. But they know when they can’t hear the words or if the bass is overwhelming the mix.
Adopting new technology into a system should not be about trying to find ways to use it so we get our money’s worth. Instead, it’s about having the new stuff integrate so seamlessly that we almost forget it’s there, except for whatever benefits it brings to the table in terms of better sound, smoother workflow, or faster set-up time.
Another photography analogy: Ansel Adams espoused the idea of visualizing the result you wished to have when viewing a scene, to imagine how you would want it to appear in a photographic print.
Then, using the technology at hand and the technique to go with it, achieve the desired results. One of the challenges is that a natural scene has levels of light and dark, i.e., dynamic range, that cannot be captured or reproduced with photographic equipment.
First, Adams suggested exposing the film in order to ensure that there were details in the shadows (above the noise floor). Then he gave pointers as to how the film should be developed in order to prevent the highlights from blowing out (headroom).
Finally, he formulated a precise method of printing so that—although the real-world levels of light and dark could of course not be reproduced—the relative levels could be kept intact, providing the viewer with the impression desired by the photographer in the original vision. With the tools of the day, this was a very involved process, with lots of smelly chemicals and expensive equipment, and it required a whole lot of patience and discipline while stumbling around in the darkroom.
Sound is not that different. For one thing, the real dynamic range of many instruments or ensembles is greater than what can be reproduced through loudspeaker systems. And yet the listener generally wants to have a bit less than reality for the sake of comfort, especially when it comes to things like vocals. Thus, dynamic compression is routinely used for this purpose.
However, let’s get back to the main point: cultivating a vision about the desired end result. What kind of music is it? Do the performers have an idea of how they want to be presented? Is there a recording we’re trying to match or to which the audience is comparing our efforts? All these things affect our choices in technology and technique. That is, if we’re paying attention.
Wherefore Art Thou, Reverb?
What are some other examples of using technology to achieve a “vision” in the mix? Application of reverb to create space, for sure. Applying delay to enhance the rhythmic elements of the music or to create “size” by panning a delayed copy of a source. Drawing on distortion to supply “color.” And certainly, using EQ to carve out space for each instrument or voice, draw attention to or away from an element in the mix, or to create vertical “size.” All these approaches are certainly valid, and there are dozens (if not hundreds) more.
One way to learn these and other creative uses of technology is to carefully analyze recordings and performances with disciplined listening. One of my best audio teachers in college would start every class with an analytical listening exercise, where we would make a chart with the relative levels of each instrument or voice, what effects were used, panning and space, etc.
After months of doing this with dozens of songs, it was very eye-opening because we realized how each different producer and engineer had exploited the available technology to achieve certain results, thereby enhancing the musical experience. Once in a while we’d also notice the bad examples where some aspects of the recording or mixing techniques got in the way of the results, and even ruined the recording.
One final thought: it’s easy to get caught up in the technology itself. But really, our jobs are to get past that, figure out what works, get really good at it, and make music. After all, that’s what it’s all about.
Karl Winkler is director of business development at Lectrosonics and has worked in professional audio for more than 20 years.
Monday, July 07, 2014
All-New Mackie SRM450 & SRM350 Now Shipping
Newly Redesigned with 1000W Power and Great Digital Features
Mackie announces the availability of the all-new, upgraded SRM450 and SRM350 high-definition portable powered loudspeakers.
Featuring a powerful new 1000W amp platform, improved sound quality and a host of easy-to-use digital sound-shaping tools, the new SRM450 and SRM350 deliver the professional sound quality and indestructible portability that SRM is known for.
“The original SRM450 was the first active portable loudspeaker and, today, is still the most recognized speaker out there,” remarked Greg Young, Mackie Product Manager. “SRM has always meant pro performance and sound quality at an incredible price. The new SRM450 and SRM350 continue this legacy, offering improved power, sound quality and flexible tools perfect for any gig.”
In addition to the new amp platform, the SRM450 and SRM350 both feature two new powerful, easy-to-use, audio tools. As a result, the new SRMs simplify setup at the gig and produce results at a price point rarely found in similar speakers. End users choose between four application-specific speaker modes, each re-voicing the SRM to sound its best for the application at hand. Also built-in is an intelligent feedback destroyer that makes soundcheck easier than ever. At the push of a button, SRM instantly identifies and eliminates feedback using up to four narrow 1/16th octave filters.
Both models now benefit from Mackie’s HD Audio Processing, which combines powerful patented acoustic correction DSP with optimization features like a precision crossover, driver time alignment and phase correction. The result is professional sound quality that is noticeably more open and natural than competitive designs. Application flexible, the SRM450 and SRM350 offer an integrated 2-channel mixer with input-friendly Wide-Z inputs. Perfect for the singer/songwriter and more, just connect and easily mix multiple sources without the need for a separate mixer. Plus, with a wide range of mounting options and a rugged, lightweight polypropylene cabinet, SRM is extremely durable and portable.
“Never before has this level of SRM power, sound quality and ease of use been available in such a portable design. Plus, we lowered the price,” concluded Young. “The power of SRM is now accessible to more people than ever before.”
The Mackie SRM450 and SRM350 are now available at music retailers worldwide. The SRM450 carries a U.S. MSRP of $629.99. The SRM350 carries a U.S. MSRP of $519.99.
Sunday, July 06, 2014
Flexible Capture: Recording Options Of Digital Consoles
Digital mixing consoles provide wealth of capabilities for recording, designed to provide simple onboard 2-track capability to interfacing directly with computer-based multi-track recording systems.
Whether configured to do so from the factory or by using optional output cards, many consoles can output MADI, a digital protocol with 64 channels of audio, or ADAT optical, a digital protocol that sends eight channels down each optical cable. Both of these are used by many recording systems for multi-channel audio transport. AES/EBU and S/PDIF are two other common digital audio protocols to interface recording and playback equipment.
Digital snake systems, stage boxes and networks present further advantages when it comes to recording. Instead of having just one isolated output located at the snake head, many digital transport systems have multiple splits that can be placed anywhere along the network, accommodating remote recording, webcasts, broadcast feeds, and any other sends that may be required.
All of that said, we thought it instructive to take a look at some specific capabilities of current digital console series. Note that this isn’t intended to be comprehensive, but rather is a roundup of highlights that can serve as the basis for your own further investigation.
Yamaha QL Series. Provides convenient recording capabilities for everything from basic 2-track to multi-track recording and playback. A standard USB flash drive plugged into the front-panel USB port serves as media for direct 2-track recording in mp3 format, where, for example, the recording can be handed to performers as soon as the show is finished.
Sound files in mp3, AAC, or WMA format saved on the flash drive from a computer or other source can be played back as well for handy background music or sound effects without the need for extra playback equipment.
On the other end of the spectrum, with Dante Virtual Soundcard software it’s possible to transfer audio directly to a Windows or Mac computer connected to the Dante network.
With an appropriate DAW such as Steinberg Nuendo Live (sold separately) running on the computer, up to 64 tracks can be recorded simultaneously. (Note that Nuendo Live is included with Yamaha CL Series consoles.) It’s a great way to capture professional caliber live performances and also is useful in creating the tracks needed for virtual sound checks. (More here)
DiGiCo SD Series. Capabilities vary depending on model but suffice to say there’s plenty of facilities. For example, the proprietary Stealth Digital Processing engine applied to the SD7 provides 896 simultaneous optical, 224 MADI, 24 AES/EBU and 24 analog connections.
Further, the SD Rack supplies up to192 kHz high resolution analog I/O converters and a choice (via option cards) of multiple digital formats, including MADI, AES, and ADAT. Users can also select other sample rate options for specific outputs – MADI at 48 kHz for recording feeds, for example.
UB MADI presents another option, feeding a MADI stream in and out of a PC or Mac via USB. Bus-powered, it uses a USB-B type socket and standard cabling, taking up minimal space while providing quality location recording or a virtual sound check system.
In addition, DiGiGrid MGB (coaxial link) and MGO (optical link) interfaces foster plugging in a coaxial MADI-enabled device to Waves SoundGrid for recording, processing and playback of up to 128 audio channels. It can even record to two computers simultaneously. (More here)
Soundcraft Vi Series. The new Vi3000 provides integration into Dante audio networks and access to DAWs for live multi-track recording and virtual sound checks via MADI.
Also included are MIDI, USB and Ethernet ports, along with a DVI output and four channels of AES I/O. And optical MADI interface is fitted as standard, allowing direct connection to a Pro Tools HD recording system via a third-party converter box or any MADI compatible device.
The ADAT card provides two optical 8-channel ADAT inputs and outputs, with selectable 44.1/48/88.2/96 kHz operation. Optical inputs and outputs are provided on Toslink connectors and can be used to record to, for example, a hard disk recorder or other device with ADAT inputs and outputs, as well as receive playback.
In addition, the MADI card offers a simple recording solution for the Vi Series. Additional MADI cards can be fitted by exchanging with other I/O cards. And, both standard and compact stage boxes offer expansion slots for Studer D21m I/O cards, allowing connection to most popular digital formats and also accommodating a MADI recording interface. (More here)
Midas PRO Series. The DL371 processing engine is loaded with four modules for a PRO3, five for a PRO6 and six for a PRO9 in the standard configuration.
The engine has dual-redundant HyperMac ports (both Cat-5e and optical), and there are also eight AES50 ports that facilitate connections to three different stage boxes and/or other AES50 I/O hardware.
It is also possible to use a PRO3, PRO6 or PRO9 with a DL431 stage box, Klark Teknik DN9696 audio recorder (up to 96 tracks), and DN9650 network bridge, which offers the ability to convert the Midas AES50 format to just about any third-party platform. (More here)
Another interesting approach with a Midas PRO2 was presented here by Todd Hartmann, audio engineering coordinator for The Austin (Texas) Stone Community Church.
Devised by Jim Roese of RPM Dynamics, the RPM-TB48 I/O is a stand-alone solution with no external interfaces required, providing a 48-channel, 96-kHz, 24-bit recording/playback solution. It utilizes a pair of Lynx Studio Technology AES50 to PCI cards, all mounted in a Sonnet Thunderbolt chassis.
Because the processor load of the conversion is being handled by the interface, the load on the CPU of the recording computer is very low.
A pair of Neutrik Ethercon cables connects the recording interface to the PRO2 via two of the AES50 ports on the console surface.
Allen & Heath GLD Series. Provides the ability to record and playback a stereo signal on a USB memory stick, and at the other end of the spectrum, standard iLive audio I/O option cards for Dante, MADI, EtherSound and Allen & Heath’s ACE protocols can be fitted to foster multi-channel recording/playback.
For example, M-Dante, M-MADI and M-MMO cards are all available for GLD to enable integration with other systems, including multi-track recording. These cards can be fit to the I/O module expansion slot in a GLD-80 mixer.
The Mini Multi-Out card provides a variety of formats of multi-channel digital output at 48 kHz sampling rate, including ADAT (three optical ports for up to 24 tracks) and iDR (two 8-channel links to the iDR Series installed product range).
Any GLD signal can be patched to any of the 56 outputs for flexible recording. GLD can transport up to 16 signals directly to the iDR-8 and iDR-4 digital mix processors, and also use the 8-channel iDR-out (analog XLR) and iDR-Dout (AES, SPDIF, Toslink digital audio) output expanders for remote feeds. (More here)
SSL Live. MADI I/O connects the SSL Live-Recorder option, a 1RU device that can record 64 tracks at 96 kHz continuously from the console’s input stage and play back the channels in sound check mode. It exports/imports native (.ptf format) projects directly to/from Pro Tools and to/from Apple XML and Steinberg XML.
Connectivity is via standard optical MADI so it can connect over long distances directly to any MADI-equipped digital console, as well as a venue’s audio distribution infrastructure (i.e., Riedel and Optocore), or routers.
The Live-Recorder system consists of a fully configured 1U PC outfitted with a 128-channel SSL MADI audio interface and with Soundscape V6.2 recorder/player software, and it has four front-loading RAID bays pre-fitted with two SSD drives.
It’s connected to the console (directly or via a router) using 2 x 64 channel pptical MADI connections, supports MTC and MMC via MIDI over Ethernet (or any other MTC/MMC-capable USB synchronizer or MIDI interface) for external system transport control, and it can sync via MADI or word clock (via BNC). The software also offers crash recovery routines which will retrieve incomplete audio recordings on reboot after a host system catastrophic failure such as sudden power loss. (More here)
Avid S3L. The open networked architecture and modular nature of this platform presents a high degree of flexibility.
Simply connect a laptop (with Pro Tools or other DAW installed) to the mixer’s Ethernet AVB network (using a single Cat-5e cable) for up to 64 tracks of audio recording/playback.
VENUE Link makes it straightforward to control live mixing and recording/playback setups as one, and users can also perform virtual sound checks globally or on a per-channel basis with the input switch feature, which enables performers to sound check live alongside pre-recorded tracks.
Further, with complete EUCON support, the S3L can be used as a stand-alone control surface to mix sessions recorded in Pro Tools, Logic, Cubase, and other popular DAWs.
And, it can function as a 4 x 4 I/O device for recording in the studio as well as remote locations like hotel rooms or tour buses. (More here)
PreSonus StudioLive AI-series. In a straightforward approach, a pair of bi-directional FireWire s800 (IEEE 1394b) ports connect StudioLive AI consoles to a Mac or PC for recording.
The largest model, the StudioLive 32.4.2AI, has an integrated, bi-directional recording interface that can send up to 48 audio streams to a computer and return up to 34 playback streams (48 x 34/40 x 26/32 x 18 streams available) at 24-bit/44.1/48/88.2 (and 96 kHz support is coming in fall 2014, according the company).
The FireWire s800 and Ethernet ports come on a preinstalled card that is user-replaceable with optional Dante, AVB, or Thunderbolt cards.
Designed specifically for StudioLive mixers, Capture 2.1 software adds proprietary Active Integration networking, offering fast setup and recording directly from the mixer, with auto configuration.
It also provides convenient, automated virtual sound check. (More here)
Roland V-Mixer Series. Enables three types of recording and playback solutions: onboard stereo recording via USB port, integrated multi-channel recording and playback via the company’s R-1000 48-track recorder/player, and integrated multi-channel recording using the proprietary REAC platform.
The R-1000 can be used with any REAC digital snake as well as with any digital console with MADI output capabilities by using the Roland S-MADI REAC MADI bridge.
The REAC driver kit is intended for use with all V-Mixer consoles is also compatible with Roland S-4000S, S-2416, S-1608, S-0808, and S-MADI digital snake systems.
In addition, up to 40 channels from a V-Mixing console or digital snake can be routed directly into most ASIO-based DAWs via Cat-5e/6 connected directly to the gigabit network port on a PC. (More here)
QSC TouchMix. Yes, they’re a bit on the smaller scale for the purpose of this discussion, but we wanted to point out that these new miniscule mixers are capable of direct recording to an external USB hard drive – no external computer is required. All inputs plus a stereo mix are created in 32-bit WAV format. Tracks can also be played back on the mixer or imported into most DAW software for over-dubs and post production. (More here)
Mackie DL Series. Also very compact in form factor, these iPad mixers provide the ability to record stereo tracks directly to the iPad. It probably doesn’t get any easier than that. (More here)
Wednesday, July 02, 2014
Soundcraft Launches Online “How To” Video Series
Offers practical instruction on how to get the most Si Series consoles in diverse applications
Harman’s Soundcraft is offering a “How To” instructional video series at its website. (View them here.) The videos focus on the Si Series of digital consoles and include a variety of topics from basic operation to advanced tips and tricks.
The “How To” video series offers practical instruction on how to get the most from a Soundcraft Si console in live sound, recording and fixed-installation applications.
“The video series offers real-world information and depth of subject matter for a broad spectrum of users, whether they’ve never had their hands on a Soundcraft console before and need to get up and running quickly or have mixed hundreds of shows and want to dig deeply into a console’s feature set,” states Keith Watson, marketing director, Soundcraft Studer.
Alongside the “How To” videos, there is a video vault covering every Soundcraft console range including the Vi Series, Si Expression, Si Performer and analogue consoles. A wide variety of topics is offered, from basic operation and configuration, gain structure, channel assignment and using EQ and effects to Soundcraft-specific features like the Vistonics II color touchscreen interface and FaderGlow illuminated, color-coded faders.
“At Soundcraft we’re dedicated to providing our users with the educational tools they need to get the most out of their consoles,” Watson adds. “We’d like to think our video series is the next best thing to having a front of house engineer standing next to you behind the console.”
Again, view the videos here.