Friday, September 21, 2012
Church Sound: Add Power To Songs With These Volume Tips
The worship set is like an organic, moving, changing entity
The two biggest mistakes I see sound techs make are when they tweak the mix during the entire worship set and when they never touch the mixing board during the worship set.
There is a time for active mixing and there is a way you can use it to bring power to a song.
Volume balancing is one of the early steps in forming your mix during the sound check. You’re layering the different sounds using volume differences for placing the sounds in the mix.
For example, you push up the volume of the worship leader’s acoustic guitar and you pull back the volume of the backing vocals. Using the right pushing and pulling of volumes, the instruments and the vocals are in proper relationship with each other.
Once the volume balancing is completed, the next step is using EQ controls and adding effects. By the time you have mixed each song, you have a distinct mix that’s ready for the church service.
The mix is ready, but it’s not the end.
Organic, Moving, Changing
The worship set is like an organic, moving, changing entity. It’s a moment in which the congregation is engaged in worship. It’s a time when the worship leader might change up a song by repeating a verse or chorus.
It’s a time when the worship leader is changing the song, or even the song list, based on promptings by the Spirit or by prompting by the congregation.
Not only is the worship leader trying to present the right music for the worship experience but it’s also the time you can bring more power to the music.
Mixing For The Moment
There are many ways you can do active mixing, from changing effects for the vocals on a chorus, to making EQ changes to a guitar during the bridge of a song. This is where you can get creative with your mixes…as long as the result is still something that benefits the congregation.
The key is finding the mix changes that go with the changing, moving feeling that is the worship set. The level of active mixing to which you go, per song, is up to you and how comfortable you are with making these sorts of changes.
However, there is one area where anyone behind the mixer can make creative active mixing choices: volume.
Creative Volume Mixing Tips
There are a lot of ways you might alter volume during a worship set.
Here’s a short list you can use as a starting point:
Push the house volume on the last song. This is great when the last song is an up-tempo song with a strong powerful ending.
Pull down the house volume on the last song. This is great when the last song ends with a cappella singing and all, or most, of the instruments are absent from the arrangement. This allows the volume of the congregational singing to be the powerful sound.
Push up the backing vocals during the chorus of a song. Let their common-voice have power.
Pull down the lead singer during the chorus of a song so they sing along with the backing vocals.
Push a volume for an instrument that has a short solo in the song. Just don’t push it too much. Too much volume can appear to make the sound about the musician and not about the worship music.
Pull down a volume for an instrument like the drums during a slower tempo song. You might try pushing the volume for a totally different sound if the drum rhythm allows for it.
There are many ways you can use volume changes for active mixing. Take some time during the next rehearsal for testing out mix changes within a song. See what works and what doesn’t.
The Take Away
The worship band can produce a powerful worship set. You have the ability to take that one step higher. You can add power to a song by adding volume in the right way and taking away volume in the right way.
Please, whatever you do, don’t be afraid to fail. That is to say, you should take time during rehearsals for experimenting with those mid-song changes. Failing is the only way you’ll know what to avoid.
Besides, you’re doing this during the rehearsal and this is your only time to practice.
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.
Tuesday, September 18, 2012
Church Sound: Successful Mixing Starts With The Right Recipe
A recipe is a list of ingredients and directions, usually thought of as applying to food. But there are also recipes that can be used to create a successful sound mix as well.
It takes the right blend of quality ingredients and salient directions to produce the best results from any recipe.
If a dessert recipe calls for cream, it’s not essential to use Alpine milk from hand-milked Bavarian cows, but using skim milk instead of cream may jeopardize the final results.
The same holds true for sound reinforcement. A microphone for a singing vocalist that’s substituted with a pulpit microphone designed for spoken word simply isn’t the right ingredient for the recipe. It won’t help attain the desired result.
The bottom line is that all sound system components should be of as high of quality as possible.
There also needs to be an understanding of the expectations of those who are going to taste the results. For example, a chef may like extra spicy food.
But when preparing food for others, the chef must take into consideration the guests for whom the food is being prepared, and may need to slightly vary the recipe.
Further, and absolutely vital: before using any recipe, the sound operator must communicate with everyone involved with a performance, both spoken word and musical.
They must understand that a given recipe may take several attempts before it produces the desired results. This process requires extra time, effort and patience on everybody’s part.
Just as you wouldn’t start a food recipe 10 minutes before it needs to be served, don’t wait for dress rehearsals or worship services to start building your sound mix.
Vital point: Always seek natural acoustical solutions before adding more sound reinforcement, i.e., system components and increasing volume levels. Too much can lead to a big mess!
Let’s start with the basics. It’s vital to understand the acoustical elements of the sound mix and their effect on each other.
Think of it as a multi-layer cake. This represents the concept that each layer builds on the other, while they all work together to create a desired outcome.
Think of it as a multi-layer cake…
It should be pointed out that all of these layers might not be used or needed. However, the principles remain the same.
The amount of ambient noise in the room establishes the base layer of sound.
In other words, the air system, conversations, people moving, etc., create noise the sound system must overcome. Ambient noise will also change overall levels.
For example, an empty room is much quieter than one filled with people.
The second layer consists of acoustical instruments. It’s important to first begin with main instrument(s) like acoustical piano and/or guitar(s), then add drums, and finally, any other acoustical instruments.
Begin with the pianist playing a selection. Then the guitarist should join after the first verse.
If the guitar can’t be heard clearly, it may be necessary to reposition the guitarist.
If the guitar is still not loud enough, then a microphone might need to be added.
If drums are part of the performance, again begin with the piano playing, then guitar. After a minute or two, start the drummer.
Listen first to determine if the piano and guitar can still be heard.
Hint: the higher octaves of the piano are usually easier to hear above other instruments.
If either lead instrument starts to get buried, try moving the drums further back on the platform and/or enclosing them with isolation panels.
As a last resort, gradually increase the microphone level on the piano and guitar. Then, add any other acoustical instruments, including backing guitars, woodwinds and brass.
The third layer consists of electronic instruments such as keyboards, electronic guitars, bass guitars, acoustic instruments with electronic pickups, electronic drums, and so on.
Using the same procedure as before, begin with piano, and then add electronic keyboards to the mix. (By the way, the drummer and other acoustical players can take a break - they aren’t necessary at this particular point.)
Continue by adding other electronic instruments. When it’s at a satisfactory point, take a break of your own. Leave the room and enjoy five minutes of silence, then come back and evaluate the entire instrumental mix.
Last, but certainly not least, come the vocals. Begin with the background vocals, adding them one at a time, just as was done with instruments.
The topping is the primary vocalist(s), who must be heard and understood above all other aspects of the performance.
Keep in Mind
- Always listen for what is too loud as well as what is too soft.
- If a musician or vocalist expresses need to hear more monitor level, first try turning down other monitors (and instrument amps).
- Make level changes to the monitor mix or channel gain/trim control when the musician or vocalist is not active.
- Any changes should be small and gradual.
- Occasionally turn down the master levels for the main system and listen to the monitor system to evaluate its loudness - the monitors may be negatively impacting the main system.
- Regularly walk through the first few rows of seats to evaluate monitor versus main levels.
- If your church primarily features a rhythm band, drums and bass form the layer above the ambient noise, followed by rhythm guitar(s) and keyboards, then lead guitar and other lead instruments, with vocals on top.
- Become familiar with every song – for example, understand that lead guitar may need to jump to the top layer during an instrumental break, and don’t let this come as a surprise!
Travis Ludwig is a faculty member of the Internet Sound Institute.
Monday, September 17, 2012
Soundcraft’s “Mixing with Professionals” Seminars Coming To Chicago
Sessions to be hosted by Ken Newman, front of house engineer for Barry Manilow and owner of Newman Audio
Soundcraft’s “Mixing with Professionals” (MwP) series will visit Chicago this coming October 16, providing tips and tricks about using Soundcraft Vi Series consoles.
The Chicago sessions will be hosted by Ken Newman, front of house engineer for Barry Manilow and owner of Newman Audio.
Newman is currently on tour with Manilow and has also mixed live sound for Chris Isaak, Anita Baker, Stevie Nicks, Liza Minnelli, Paul Anka and other top performers. He began mixing sound in 1972 as a teenager.
Newman will give MwP attendees formal training with plenty of hands-on time with Vi Series consoles in a classroom atmosphere.
Participants who bring a USB stick can save their settings and take them on the road for their next gig, or continue working on their settings using the Soundcraft Virtual Vi offline editor, which is available free on the Soundcraft website.
“I’ve had years of experience working with Soundcraft consoles,” says Newman, “and I look forward to showing attendees how to configure and mix a show using the Vi Series. During a Manilow show, it’s a very active mix and the features and ergonomics of the Vi Series offer ready access to everything—there’s nothing to slow me down or get in my way.”
The MwP sessions will be held on October 16 at Sound Marketing, 10073 S 76th Avenue, Bridgeview, Illinois, 60455.
Two time slots will be available from 9:00 am – 12:00 pm and from 2:00 to 6:00 pm. The course is free to attend but registration is required and space is limited.
Friday, September 14, 2012
In The Studio: The Audio Post Workflow
Music mixers often have occasion to deal with video but is your workflow ready?
As a professional sound designer and editor, I’m asked often about my workflow approach when starting a new audio-post project.
I thought about it for a while and tried my best to put into words the best advice possible for someone just starting in the business.
My very first step is to watch the video nearly locked with no interruptions so I can experience it one time as an audience member.
After that, I’m too close to the material to have that perspective so I cherish and relish that initial experience.
Next, I prefer to hold a spotting session where I talk with the director (et al) about their vision for the sound and the possible overall approaches to take.
Then, we go through the film together and talk specifically about certain sound moments. This step alone saves a lot of time and possible misunderstandings.
So what gets delivered to me? Technically, I need an OMF and a rendered file of the video. I translate the OMF using super secret software, to a format I need. Sometimes I get a drive with all the media and the NLE project files instead, so then I turn to an assistant who opens the files and generates the OMF(s) as I don’t use Final Cut Pro or Avid.
Once the files are translated to the DAW format I can use, usually Sony Vegas Pro, I begin the work of figuring out what the heck the picture editor did. More often than not the timeline is a total mess and it takes some time to separate dialog from temporary sound effects and music that have been combined, which always seems to happen for reasons that pass understanding.
I always copy all of the original audio tracks, mute them, and store them at the very bottom of my timeline. This way I can always find the originals should I mess up big time (it happens!). The audio from the video render file is my sync reference (along with frame rate and sample rate).
Once the better part of a day has been spent getting the tracks organized, the real work begins.
Dialogue editing is the least creative work, so I start there. I smooth dialog via editing using J-cuts and L-cuts (aka: split edits), crossfades, and room tone fills. I also do no noise reduction and leave that for the premix stage.
Dialogue editing requires a lot of track checkboarding to get things isolated. It’s difficult, tedious work. I can usually only do that for about four hours before I want to go Ernest Hemingway.
Therefore, I turn my attention to building the other elements that support the dialogue just finished.
That means backgrounds, obvious sound effects, and Foley. Some of my ‘Foley’ comes from sound effects and other Foley sessions done in the past, so I put that in first.
I do other real Foley sessions at various times throughout the project because it’s fun and breaks up the tedium of the other work. You’d be surprised how much Foley you can do with very simple materials.
I always work on the first 3-5 minutes and the last 3-5 minutes first. This enables revisiting those crucial moments many times before the thing is done.
If you are going to have bad sound anywhere in the film, make it the middle and not the ends. The start brings the audience into the film’s world so it has to be really good and the end sound is what people remember most.
I keep my timeline very organized using color coding and grouping/busing like sounds together. At first, I’m a bit stingy with tracks, and usually end up moving sounds around to more tracks later in the process. The typical film ends up between 85 to 100 tracks in the end.
I do a little bit of mixing as I go along, mostly fitting backgrounds and sound effects in, but generally it’s an ‘all faders up’ mix at this stage.
I prefer clip-based automation (fades, levels, etc.) over track-based at this stage. I listen to elements on their own – such as a pass of just Foley — which always reveals missing elements and other issues. Fresh ears are invaluable!
I send versions to the director as the film comes together and that generates notes for changing things.
I tend to be a ‘kitchen sink’ guy and put everything in — to give the director choices — and then strip stuff away until we find the film’s sound. It’s a variation on the ask forgiveness instead of asking permission kind of thing.
So, I continue working through the film doing a little bit of everything until it’s done (not finished).
At that point I turn my attention to mixing. That usually generates a few more notes from the director.
Finally, after many versions everybody is satisfied, except one person who always hates one aspect of the soundtrack – a line, a music choice … there’s always one.
A note about the mythical beast known as “Picture Lock“. I prefer to start the sound work after the picture is done and locked. Sync changes are hard to conform.
But directors like to fiddle. And they do. . .
In fact, as the soundtrack comes together they often see (and hear!) the film in a new way.
That gets their creative juices flowing. And so they make changes. A trim here. A shot swap here. A delete-a-line there. Oh my.
So periodically I need to regenerate the OMFs, get a new video file, and conform these changes. This usually takes a day.
And it’s scary! Directors and picture editors often forget that changing a couple of tracks in an NLE is easy. It’s not so easy when you have 85+ audio tracks!
This is a primary reason why I never do track automation until the end because it’s the one thing that often gets severely messed up during a sync conform. I leave the real mix automation to the premix or more often the final mix!
Hopefully you’ve founnd this workflow walk-through useful. If you have any particular tips on your own methods, please feel free to share them in the comments below.
Jeffrey P. Fisher provides audio, video, music, writing, consulting, training, and media production and post-production services for individuals, corporate, and commercial clients through his own company, Fisher Creative Group. He also writes extensively about music, sound, and video for print and the Web and has authored numerous books and training DVD’s.
Thursday, September 13, 2012
Allen & Heath Launches XB-10 Mini Broadcast Mixer
Plug 'n play USB connection can be used for such tasks as VOIP telephone calls, recording program material or playing jingles.
Allen & Heath has launched the XB-10, an ultra-compact broadcast mixer designed for a range of applications from small radio or internet broadcast studios, to college and university radios, podcasting and content creation.
Based on the larger XB-14, the XB-10 has three mic/line and three stereo inputs and equipped with a similar range of features specifically designed for broadcasters, including a telephone communication channel, mic channel on switch sensing, stereo channel start/cue outputs for CD deck transport control, and automatic muting of speaker outputs.
A separate monitor mix can be created for operator and guest or presenter, and the operator can communicate off-air to the studio or telephone callers using the ‘Talk’ feature.
The XB-10 also features a built-in full duplex USB sound card, which has several routing options for recording and broadcast applications.
The plug ‘n play USB connection can be used for such tasks as VOIP telephone calls, recording program material or playing jingles.
Each mic channel has its own CompACT (Adaptive Compression Technology) compressor, optimized to keep the dynamic range of a presenter microphone under control, and a variable limiter is provided on the main output to ensure that the final mix to air does not saturate expensive broadcast equipment.
The preamp is similar in design to the industry-standard Mix Wizard range, which use low-noise discrete transistor circuitry to achieve high gain and good linearity.
Finally, XB-10 features a responsive 3-band, swept mid frequency MusiQ EQ with optimized slope for a variety of sources.
“The XB-10 is the only mixer at its price point with pro-broadcast specific features and interfacing and allows you to do more with less ancillary equipment such as VOIP communication using the USB interface and mix-minus Telco channel. It is the ideal mixer for low channel count broadcasts, interview shows and mobile applications,” comments R&D designer Mike Griffin.
U.S. Street Price $849.
Allen & Heath
American Music & Sound (U.S. distributor)
Soundcraft Showcasing New Si Performer At WFX, Providing Si Compact Consoles For Hands-On Training
Si Performer is first and only audio console with integrated DMX functionality
At the Worship Facilities Conference and Expo (WFX) in Atlanta next week, Vision2 Marketing will be demonstrating the new Soundcraft Si Performer console—the U.S. debut of the first and only audio console with integrated DMX functionality—at booth 658.
Soundcraft is also sponsoring the Hands-On Training (HOT) sessions at WFX, which are designed to improve the technical knowledge and skills of the entire tech arts department of any church.
The Si Performer builds upon the successful Si Compact range to which it bears a likeness, providing almost twice as much DSP power and increased functionality, with an input capacity of 80 inputs to mix on all models.
The unique integration of a DMX512 port offers core lighting control. The first release of software provides four scene masters (A-D) with associated slave channels on the ALT fader layers, individual color intensities or parameters are set on the slave faders with an overall master level fader, which itself may be assigned to any of the main fader layers for simultaneous access to audio and lighting levels.
For the HOT sessions, Soundcraft is supplying 18 of its Si Compact audio consoles for HOT attendees to work on over the three days of classes. In addition, Katy Templeman-Holmes and Tom Der of Soundcraft will be on hand to assist in the training and to answer any questions about the Si Compact products.
“As the house of worship market continues to grow, so does the importance of providing valuable training to church staff, and much of that responsibility belongs to the manufacturers of the technology,” Templeman-Holmes says. “The WFX HOT sessions will provide the opportunity for house of worship engineers to learn the ins and outs of audio mixing while working on world-class Si Compact digital consoles.”
In addition, the new Soundcraft Si Performer console is ideal for house of worship applications, according to Mick Beisel, CEO of Vision2 Marketing. “Because many churches rely on a single technical operator to control all elements of worship services and events, the Si Performer provides an opportunity to simplify these responsibilities by integrating both audio and lighting control into a single, compact console,” Beisel notes. “We are excited to be the first to showcase the Si Performer in the United States and encourage all WFX attendees to experience the console for themselves!”
Argosy G22 Workstation Does Double Duty At South Florida Production Studio
New facility produces DVD content for the deaf and music for multi-genre record label
Brian Campbell, managing director of Accessible Communication for the Deaf (ACD), has installed an Argosy G Series workstation as the centerpiece of a new production facility in Ft. Lauderdale, FL.
The studio serves double duty as a content creation facility for the sign language interpreting agency, which Campbell co-owns with his wife, Lisa, and as a recording and mix room for A4 Productions, a record label that he operates with his musical partner, Razi Ben-Ezzer.
The new Argosy G22 desk, the third Argosy product that Campbell has owned, houses the studio’s Avid Artist Series Mix work surfaces. “I’m using that in conjunction with my Universal Audio Apollo interface and Pro Tools 10 and I’ve got every plug-in known to man,” says Campbell, who was previously an instructor at the Art Institute in Fort Lauderdale.
The Argosy desk and its built-in 19-inch racks provide space for a Dangerous Music D-Box, patchbay and other outboard equipment, including a UA 610 mic preamp. “We’re going to be expanding our business, so I’ll put some mastering gear in the other side once I get the chance,” he adds.
Campbell previously used a Mackie D8B digital mixing console. “I used to have it on a little table that I built. I remember when Argosy first came out; I ended up getting a desk for the D8B, and I loved the way it looked. The minute we decided to build this studio and put in the Avid Artist Series controllers, Argosy was my only choice,” he says. “I talked with a dealer who told me about another desk company, which he said was ‘much cheaper.’ I think he meant to say ‘inexpensive’—but you could tell it was much cheaper.”
ACD, which was established in south Florida by the Campbells in 2003, with Brian handling administration and Lisa interpreting and doing door-to-door sales, now includes a second office in Tampa and a roster of approximately 55 American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters subcontracting for the company throughout the state and in Georgia.
ACD specializes in community work, dispatching sign language interpreters to work at locations such as courthouses, schools and medical facilities with clients who are required to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The company also offers video remote interpreting (VRI) services via videophone or webcam.
ACD is also the go-to sign language interpreting agency when the White House visits south Florida, according to Campbell. “There’s a photo on our web site of my wife interpreting for Mr. Obama when he was campaigning to be president,” he says. “Earlier this year, President Obama spoke at The University of Miami and we handled that event as well.”
The facility, which incorporates a green screen stage for video production, is also used to generate content for ACD’s growing DVD catalog, which includes titles with ASL interpretation, voiceovers and subtitles.
The company has also released a series of DVD titles that provide instruction in ASL for words and names with which interpreters may be less familiar.
“One of the DVDs is on how to interpret the names of Disney characters and another DVD we did was of city and state names,” explains Campbell, who notes that ASL, which encompasses facial and body movements as well as hand gestures, also varies regionally.
On the music side, Campbell and Ben-Ezzer, working as The Stepbrothers, have produced remixes for artists such as Michael Zager, Jennifer Holliday, Foster the People, Beyoncé and the Baha Men. The partners also operate a multi-genre record label, collected under the A4 Music Group umbrella, releasing urban, world, pop and electronic music.
Posted by Keith Clark on 09/13 at 04:08 PM
In Profile: Dinky Dawson, Concert Sound Pioneer
Putting his energy right back into it.
If there’s one overarching force that has driven Stuart “Dinky” Dawson’s career it’s a never-ending search for quality. A relentless innovator, he cut his teeth mixing and designing systems for some of the most prominent acts of the past five decades.
And though they came from a broad spectrum of genres, in every case his goal was the same - to consistently improve the methods and the tools he employed in an effort to deliver the highest quality reproduction of their music he possibly could.
“We were just making it right, looking at what was already established and making it higher quality. That’s all,” Dinky explains.
Although specifically referencing his own creation, the Acoustic Suspension Sound System - a granddaddy of the modern line array - it’s an ethic that’s informed every facet of his professional life dating back to his very first job.
Born in “a little town in the middle of Sherwood Forest” - Worksop, Nottinghamshire, England - he grew up in the village of Greasborough, near Rotherham, Yorkshire with his adoptive parents. And while his love of music was a product of nine years spent singing opera at his local church, Dinky was no “choirboy.”
“I was always experimenting. When I was a kid I actually blew up the science lab in my metallurgy school, blew out all the windows and everything.”
That passion for experimentation would become a hallmark of his later work in audio, and at age 15, while working in the same local steel mill as his father, prompted his co-workers to nickname him “Dinky.”
“I’d get these little Matchbox ‘Mini Cooper S’ dinky toys, put a ‘Jetex’ solid fuel engine in them, race them down a quarter mile of concrete at the mill and they’d blow up at the end.” The fact that Dinky later began driving to work in a full-size version of the miniature cars he so enjoyed destroying only solidified the nickname.
On The Rise
Although he loved music, Dinky never pursued a career as a musician, instead working days at the mill and moonlighting as a disc jockey.
Shortly after his father’s death, however, inspired by the dramatic cultural changes of the time and the music accompanying them, he left the mill for good, first working in Germany as a Northern Soul disc jockey, and then upon returning to England, as a roadie for Fleetwood Mac.
Dinky Dawson and the public debut of the Acoustic Suspension Music Reproduction system in Lenox, MA for the Mahavishnu Orchestra in July 1972.
When he signed on in 1968, the band’s star was on the rise but their gear was a mess. “It was falling apart and I had to rebuild the whole sound system.”
Self-taught, Dinky learned the trade by diving in and figuring it out himself. “I had friends who were building sound systems at the time so I followed their path, started doing the procedures that they did, and when I hooked it up it sounded great. So then I was like, now, how can I make it better?”
When Fleetwood Mac toured North America later that year with Dinky tour managing and mixing, they carried a significant amount of Orange gear with them.
It was on that tour, at Manhattan’s Fillmore East, that Dawson first used Bill Hanley’s multicore snake cable and mixed from a true front of house position. He is widely credited as being the first British engineer to do so.
“That was the first time I was able to mix from the audience, before we were always mixing from the back of the sound system.” Inspired by the experience and seeing the value it brought to achieving better quality for the audience, he ran with the idea. By the time he returned to England he’d built a snake of his own so he could continue to mix from front of house.
To further improve the system, Dinky relied heavily on Watkins Electric Music (WEM) technology and input from WEM founder, Charlie Watkins, one of his earliest mentors.
“As soon as I headed over to see Charlie, it was love at first sight,” Dinky says, and by 1969, he was regularly bouncing ideas off Watkins and working to design one of the most sophisticated systems to be used consistently by a touring rock act at the time.
Making A Move
When guitarist Peter Green left Fleetwood Mac in 1970, the band’s touring schedule came to a halt. Dinky picked up a five-show European tour with The Byrds, with every intention of going back to Fleetwood Mac, but when The Byrds asked him to come to the U.S. to work for them full time. he decided to make a move.
“I went over to America in 1970 with a WEM system they bought and played college after college for a full year - and that’s what I was after,” he notes. “Every day was a challenge, but I learned from that and just kept putting that energy back into it.”
Driven by his passion for experimentation and desire for ever-higher quality sound, he put that energy into building his own system from scratch.
“It was the first line array music reproduction system - everything else was public address. There was no one doing anything in real stereo at that time and this was like having a giant ‘hi-fi’ on the road,” he explains.
Although based in L.A., The Byrds played regularly in the Northeast and when Dinky’s new wife, Nancy Kubo (then Joan Baez’ booking agent) became pregnant in 1972, he settled in Boston. Shortly thereafter he left the band to form his own company, Dawson Sound, and continued to improve his line array concept, experimenting in the field behind the Lenox Music Inn during their Twilight on the Lawn summer concert series.
“The only thing missing was highquality vocals, so I made a separate vocal system in 1973 that had the largest longthrow horns in the world – 81 inches long, 41 inches wide, four of them.”
“I put them together with a D.B. Keele speaker system for the lows and, boy, what quality, but that’s why I was into it - I wanted quality artists to use a quality sound system.”
Making An Impression
Over the years Dinky has had the opportunity to work with many artists who fit that criteria to the letter: Ambrosia, Liberace, Mahavishnu Orchestra and Lou Reed, to name a few. Dawson Sound was also the first American company to provide production on a full tour of the USSR, in 1979 for R&B great B.B. King.
Orleans at the Boston Esplanade in April 1977. Note the long-throw vocal horns and “rebel” style monitors.
While many bands excelled on his visionary system, of all the artists he mixed, Dinky’s personal favorite is Steely Dan, who he first met when they opened for The Kinks in 1972.
“I’d never heard of them, but Ray Davies was telling me not to give them a sound check. Well, I’d never heard of that and I thought ‘that’s a bad deal’.”
While he wanted to make a good impression on The Kinks, he refused to compromise his principles and so provided Steely Dan with full sound checks throughout the tour. After their last show in Chicago, the band told Dinky to expect a call from them in the future.
That call came a year later, and led to an ongoing partnership that yielded one of the most memorable shows of Dinky’s career.
“At the Rainbow in London in 1974 - the sound and the feeling and the way they started the show, it was unbelievable. After the first song I just laid back and said ‘my God’, and the audience did the same. They were absolutely flabbergasted.”
The band was so impressed with Dinky that after they ceased touring, they continued to hire him as a sound consultant for their studio recordings, as did a number of the artists he mixed, including Fleetwood Mac and The Byrds. His work as an engineer has also been featured on live records released by Mahavishnu Orchestra, Joan Baez, Lou Reed and others.
Recording was always an important part of Dinky’s process for improving his system, his engineering chops and, by extension, the sound and performances of the artists he mixed.
“It wasn’t for posterity and I wouldn’t record every show, but with Steely Dan, every night or in the car on the way to the next gig we’d listen to the tapes and hone in to make things better.”
Prompted by the increasing amount of technology available for live concerts – a situation he feels made the business too much of a rat race – and a decreasing interest in the live concert scene of the time, in 1979 Dinky closed the door on doing live sound exclusively and extended Dawson Sound’s reach into the permanent installation market.
Throughout the 1980s and 90s, he installed and consulted on systems for a variety of diverse venues, including the South Shore Music Circus in Cohasset, Cabot House at Harvard University in Cambridge and The Channel Club in Boston, where he worked as production coordinator until 1991.
Although he retired the Acoustic Suspension Sound System when he left the Channel, Dinky continued to tour, working with Rick James, Joni Mitchell, The Mamas and Papas and as production consultant/sound engineer for the New Kids On The Block.
While he’s never shied away from his quest for quality - once even going head to head with iconic promoter Bill Graham in a dispute over whether to use his stereo system or the house rig at the Fillmore West – in the 1990s, Dinky found himself in a battle with considerably higher stakes.
While on tour with Chris Whitely in 1996 he began to feel unusually tired and numb on his left side. Initially misdiagnosed, he was told he’d had a minor stroke, then that he’d developed a brain tumor.
After returning to Boston, however, Dinky discovered he was suffering from Leucoencephalopathy, a rare and potentially fatal brain disorder.
“I nearly died,” he says nonchalantly. “I got through my illness, got into acupuncture, walking and looking after my physical self, but it took a long time to really recover, so I sat down and started writing. I wrote three or four thousand pages by hand, and that really helped me tremendously to get my mind back in order.”
That text ultimately became a book entitled “Life On The Road - The Incredible Rock ‘n’ Roll Adventures of Dinky Dawson,” co-written with Carter Alan and published by Watson-Guptill in 1997.
Dinky has also written for industry magazines, lectured at Boston’s famed Berklee College of Music, and regularly contributes to Crawdaddy.com with a blog entitled My Life Is The Road.
His illness also sparked a renewed interest in spirituality and the healing power of music, and since 2003 Dinky has become increasingly active with Legacy Time Travelers, an organization launched at Harvard Divinity School and dedicated to fostering understanding between disparate faiths and cultures through music, education and spirituality. It’s a preoccupation that has also impacted his recent struggle with colon cancer.
“This week last year I was taken ill. I didn’t even know I’d got cancer. The next thing I know they took a grapefruit out of me,” he says. “Then I had another operation and they took another huge mass out of me. I can’t say I’m free from it, but I’m on the mend.”
Health problems haven’t dampened the 63-year-old industry pioneer’s enthusiasm or his irrepressible love of music.
He’s currently active in the production and development of a young artist named Rachel Carrick, mixing shows for longtime friend Elaine “Spanky” MacFarlane and Spanky and Our Gang, and working on a second book covering Dawson Sound and the development of the Acoustic Suspension Sound System.
Now living in Plymouth with Nancy, who serves as the town’s coordinator of distance learning, Dinky remains engaged in pursuing new ways to share his experiences and knowledge with others in an effort to help them improve their art, their lives and their work.
“I have to. It’s life. If you stick at one thing you get very boring. Some days I wish I’d have gotten a permanent job, but others, I’m like ‘get outta here.’ When my dad died I told my mom, ‘I know what dad wanted me to do, but I’ve got to search for what I want myself,’ and I’ve been on that search ever since.”
Based in Toronto, Kevin Young is a freelance music and tech writer, professional musician and composer.
Church Sound: A Great Mix Comes From Humble Beginnings
While seemingly insignificant, the organization of your mixers input channels can have a big impact on your productivity as an engineer.
There are lots of theories on channel layout.
Some mixing console operators prefer vocals first, followed by the band. Some use the opposite scenario, with the band first and then vocals.
And some don’t give much thought to the process, just plugging things in order as they come from the stage (Stage Pocket 1, 2, then 3, etc.) regardless of what instrument is represented on that line.
Over the years, I have advised my clients and friends to generally adopt the “Pyramid Mix” channel order.
For those of you not familar with the Pyramid Mixing technique, a diagram can be found below which illustrates the concept.
So how do you build a pyramid? You start with the bottom layer and work your way up. I do modify it slightly, in the sense that I want to keep like instruments together (guitars, keys, drums, etc.).
Also, in most settings I’ve worked with in the last several years, guitars are dominant with keys being primarily ambience (organs, pads, etc.) – so the pyramid is slightly modified there.
It’s also helpful if you lay out the channel order with regard to your Groups. The typical large format board has 8 subgroups, so I take that into consideration as well.
How to build a mix. Source: Curt Taipale’s Church Sound Boot Camp.
Here is the general layout I recommend to most clients:
01 – Bass Gtr
02 – Kick Drum
03 – Snare Drum
04 – Tom 1
05 – Tom 2
06 – Tom 3
07 – Hi Hat
08 – Crash (OHL)
09 – Ride (OHR)
10 – Percussion 1
11 – Percussion 2
13 – EG 1
14 – EG2
15 – AG 1
16 – AG 2
18 – Piano L
19 – Piano R
20 – Synth L
21 – Synth R
22 – Track
23 – Click
25 – Lead Vox (or Worship Leader)
26 – BGV 1
27 – BGV 2
28 – BGV 3
29 – BGV 4
31 – Anouncement Mic
32 – Pastor Mic
Notice there are some blank channels in between the groupings.
This is for that last-minute request that always seems to come along like: “Bob is going to be using 2 amps today”, or “I fogot to tell you, we’ll need 3 acoustic channels this week”, or “We’re using the Djembe today so we need 3 percussion mics.”
Of course, this order can be scaled up or down depending your exact situation, but now let’s look at the group situation. Here’s a look at the typical 8-group layout:
Group 1 – Bass/Kick
Group 2 – Drums (all drums/percussion except Kick)
Group 3 – Electric Gtrs
Group 4 – Acoustic Gtrs
Group 5 – Keys
Group 6 – Misc (could be brass, choir, lavs, whatever)
Group 7 – Lead Vox
Group 8 – BGVs
You may have to make some modifications if you are running true stereo. Group 1-2 may be Stereo Drums. Group 5-6 may be Stereo Keys, etc.
If you only have 4 groups, it might look something like this:
Group 1 – Drums/Bass
Group 2 – Gtrs
Group 3 – Keys
Group 4 – Vocals
I realize this specific layout may not work for everyone, but it has proven to work in many situations I’ve been involved with over the last several years. Whatever layout you choose – it should make sense and should allow you to mix properly without having to go hunt for something.
Jeremy Carter is a veteran of the pro audio industry with extensive experience designing and operating church audio, video, and lighting systems. More information about Jeremy and his tutorial series Sound Sessions can be found on his website.
Symetrix Solus 16 Automixes St. Anthony Claret Catholic Church
Reverend Rudolph Preciado contacted Newport Beach-based 7K Solutions to remedy the antiquated audio. Paul Dexter, owner of 7K Solutions, used an open-architecture Symetrix SymNet Solus 16 processor to create a system with twelve open inputs that could automix itself.
The modest sanctuary of St. Anthony Claret Catholic Church in Anaheim, California is an airy and modernist design. Built in the late 1950s, it was at the height of architectural fashion at the time.
Unfortunately its unintelligible sound reinforcement system was hardly state-of-the-art when installed decades ago and as the church’s musical ambitions and spoken word requirements grew through the years, the unintelligibility issues had to be addresses.
Reverend Rudolph Preciado contacted Newport Beach-based 7K Solutions to remedy the antiquated audio. Paul Dexter, owner of 7K Solutions, used an open-architecture Symetrix SymNet Solus 16 processor to create a system with twelve open inputs that could automix itself.
“Reverend Preciado will be retiring soon, and he wanted to do something great for the church before he left,” said Dexter. “The old sound reinforcement system was not performing well.
“An early-1980s rack of analog processing and amplification that had become ever-more ‘Frankensteined’ through the years drove a ceiling full of eight-inch, full-range loudspeakers.”
When it was constructed, the church used a charming pipe organ as the sole musical source and had only modest spoken word requirements. Today, the pipe organ is joined by a choir and, for some services, by a band that mixes itself on stage.
Three microphones cover the choir, and Dexter replaced the band’s old mixer with an Allen & Heath MixWizard. Instead of a boundary mic at the altar, St. Anthony Claret now uses three wireless headset microphones for the priests, one wireless handheld microphone, and four optional podium microphones.
The Symetrix SymNet Solus 16 is an open-architecture, stand-alone unit that provides sixteen mic/line inputs and eight outputs. The routing, logic, and signal processing that Dexter programmed was quite involved and reflected the specific uses and contexts of each input.
For instance, the band’s input will not duck for any other input. In contrast, all of the microphones will duck in response to the headset microphones. Dexter used Symetrix’ time-tested auto-gain algorithm on all of the microphones to ensure that individuals with both quiet and loud speaking voices receive ideal reinforcement.
“I started using Symetrix processing several years ago,” said Dexter. “I’m not the sort of person who’s into taking classes and certifications, so I appreciate how really intuitive SymNet Designer is. But things always come up, and I can call the Symetrix support staff any time and speak with someone who is knowledgeable and interested.
“My question gets answered and I move on. The SymNet Solus 16 was the perfect solution at St. Anthony Claret because I knew sixteen inputs would be ample and eight outputs was all that were needed. The open-architecture programming would allow me to customize the system for the very particular needs of this church.”
In addition to some clever processing inside the SymNet Solus 16, Dexter corrected the intelligibility problem with a generous helping of acoustical treatment and a single, nearly-point source loudspeaker cluster.
“The walls, ceiling, floor, and pews are all quite reflective,” he said. “It was originally meant to amplify the pipe organ.”
Dexter placed absorptive panels on the ceiling, sidewalls, and back wall, taking care to match colors so that the aesthetic of the church wouldn’t be compromised. He placed several panels on the ceiling near the central loudspeaker cluster so as to minimize intelligibility-degrading early reflections.
The loudspeakers are Fulcrum Acoustic DX1265s, powered by Powersoft amplifiers.
Just a single Symetrix ARC-2e wall panel remote provides all of the user control for the system. Dexter fixed the sanctuary’s output volume and then provided ten steps of volume control for wireless microphones (as a group), the podium microphones (as a group), the choir microphones (as a group), and the band’s on-stage mixer.
Additional menu pages provide output volume for the choir monitor (which contains all content except the choir mics) and the cry room. Behind the scenes, the SymNet Solus 16 provides additional zone control for the foyer and each main loudspeaker. Zoning out the loudspeaker cluster allowed Dexter to shade and tune each element to deliver even coverage from the front seat to the back wall.
“Taken together, the system is very effective,” said Dexter. “It sounds great, and they don’t need an audio tech on hand. Reverend Preciado tested the system with us, and he walked all around the room, overjoyed by how clear everything sounded.
“And it’s so easy to use that we never had to provide a formal training session. The Reverend just pushed some buttons on the ARC-2e, and he understood exactly how it works.”
Wednesday, September 12, 2012
Soundcraft Si Compact 32 Provides Northside Christian Church With Ease Of Use For Volunteer Staff
Utilized for all front of house and some wireless in-ear monitor use
When looking to upgrade its front-of-house console at Northside Christian Church in Wadsworth, OH, Matt Howard, music pastor at the church, opted for a Soundcraft Si Compact 32.
Northside Christian Church holds Sunday morning and afternoon services and utilizes the console for all front of house and some wireless in-ear monitor use.
The morning service is mostly traditional, which differs from the afternoon program, which Howard referred to as “worship on steroids,” meaning they incorporate lighting and music for a whole show experience.
Howard wanted a console that wasn’t too daunting for his volunteers to operate, but still had the sound quality and durability of the Vi Series Soundcraft boards that he has used before with success.
“One of the biggest challenges was finding a console that allowed us to save our settings so volunteers could easily operate the console week after week,” Howard explains. “We have a pool of about 20 musicians and 40 vocalists who constantly rotate each weekend. Since we don’t have professional sound engineers, we wanted the easiest board to manage their settings.
“With Soundcraft’s ability to snapshot settings, it has made the whole process very easy.”
With the additional MADI card that Northside Christian Church uses, the Si Compact 32 allows them to record rehearsals and provide a learning tool for the volunteers. “We turn the rehearsals into a virtual sound check where the person operating the console can play the service back and find the optimal settings for high-quality sound,” Howard adds.
With an acoustically challenging building, having the ability to find the perfect settings has proven to be beneficial. “We have a huge wooden wall behind the stage which dulls all the sound and there are also sound absorbing panels in the back row of the audience,” he says. “With the matrix on the Si Compact, we can offset that with some delays, and it has become really easy to manage.”
Along with the Si Compact 32, the Northside Christian Church deploys Crowns CTs 1200 and CTs 4200 amplifiers. “We never have to touch them, it’s great having the confidence that they are always up and running and providing the power we need,” Howard concludes.
Roland Systems Group Announces Version 1.5 Update For M-300 V-Mixer
Includes a new 31-band mono GEQ, an expanded group of library effects, cross-fade for scene changes and more
Roland Systems Group has announced a new firmware update (v1.5) for the M-300 V-Mixer console, which is a core component of the V-Mixing System providing mixing, effects and external control of digital snake pre-amps, multi-channel recording, instant playback, rehearsal and personal mixing for musicians.
The free version update includes a new 31-band mono GEQ, an expanded group of library effects, cross-fade for scene changes and a detailed recall filter function that enables selection of parameters to recall at a greater level of granularity.
In addition, enhancements in operability have been made such as a channel display screen for DCA groups, the ability to disable more user settings, and a default guest startup mode to allow basic users functionality without the administration credentials.
For monitoring, a dimmer function has been added and a lock out feature to disable the level knobs to prevent accidental monitor volume changes.
The Roland M-300 Version 1.5 upgrade has improved the number of RS-232C control parameters ensuring that system installers, integrators, and users have access to more remote control functionality from touch panels, video devices, and software.
The M-300 Version 1.5 software is expected to be released in Q4, 2012.
Roland Systems Group
PreSonus StudioLive Helps Florida Church Into The Digital Age
The StudioLive digital console made training the crew an easy undertaking
Josh Walker is a self-described “professional creative.” From music and recording to live sound and systems integration, Walker works with bands, musicians, and organizations, helping to create a powerful musical and visual experience.
In addition to his regular duties as creative arts director at Catalyst Church in Morgantown, WV, Walker is an AV consultant to churches and institutions across the U.S., helping users to design and get the most from their systems. As he puts it, “I love technology, and I love simplicity.”
Walker recent project at Safe Harbor Christian Church in the Orlando suburb of Sanford, FL. The church’s 250-seat sanctuary was plagued by a number of challenges, both environmental and operational.
“The room itself is actually pretty good, other than a rather high ceiling,” he explains. “But they had some rather outdated and ineffective technology, and that’s where we started.”
The sanctuary’s analog console lacked many of the features the church needed. “Even at its best, they could only get two monitor mixes out of it,” Walker notes. And the aging mixer had apparently seen better days, with several channels either partially or fully inoperable.
The multi-channel snake fared little better. “The snake had been spliced with what looked like residential copper wiring to extend it to the 250 feet needed to reach the desk,” says Walker. “It was pretty down and dirty and just a bit dangerous.”
Walker recommended a PreSonus StudioLive 24.4.2 digital console. “I had mixed live shows on the PreSonus on a couple of occasions and was pretty impressed,” he says. “For its size and price, it’s surprisingly powerful. It’s ideal for small to mid-sized churches.”
Apparently it wasn’t hard to convince the church either. “They had been researching consoles, and the StudioLive was at the top of their list,” Walker states.
Not surprisingly, the butchered snake was a goner. “There was no way to salvage it, so we installed a new 200-foot multicore,” he says. “Between the snake and the StudioLive, we immediately raised their available monitor mixes from two to five. The snake enabled us to go up to eight, and the console allowed for ten.”
Another challenge plaguing the church was a lack of proper training. “Outside of their core team, it’s largely a volunteer crew,” he explains. “One of the guys had run the sound at a larger venue for about 20 years, so he knew audio but he didn’t know digital. The rest of them were folks who wanted to help out, but had no audio experience.”
Walker says the StudioLive made training the crew an easy undertaking. “We had to go through everything, from how to use a digital console down to the basics of how to mix, use EQ, compression, and so on. I think we did a total of around six hours of hands-on training, and when I left I was fully confident that they had a good grasp of things,” he says. “The console makes it so easy. The Fat Channel is so intuitive - all the information is right in front of you. There are no layers of menus. In fact, there’s almost nothing you can’t get to within two button presses or two turns of a knob.”
He points to the StudioLive’s expandability as another asset. “If their production grows twofold in the next couple of years, they can get another one and connect them via FireWire.”
Tuesday, September 11, 2012
Guerrilla Recording: Adding More Dynamic Range To Your Mixes
Managing the "area" between the two extremes of dynamic range is a critical skill, with expanders being very important in this effort.
This article is excerpted from Karl Coryat’s Guerrilla Home Recording - 2nd Edition.
Even with today’s inexpensive recording systems, it’s possible to achieve a dynamic range of over 90 dB—in other words, the loudest sounds you record can be over 90 decibels louder than the background noise.
Managing all of the “area” between these two extremes, for each and every sound you record, is a skill that’s critical to making a good-sounding recording.
Fortunately, there are expanders, compressors, and limiters (collectively called dynamics processors) that help in this task. We’ll start here with expanders, and in a subsequent article, move along to the others.
Using An Expander
Of the three types of dynamics processors, compressors are probably the most familiar—but let’s begin with expanders, because they’re a bit easier to understand. A lot of people record without using an expander in the signal chain, and I think that’s a shame, because effective use of an expander can do an awful lot to clean up the tracks that you record.
Expansion refers to the process of increasing a signal’s dynamic range—making it bigger. Isn’t 90 dB a large enough dynamic range, you ask? Certainly—but that number refers to a system’s potential dynamic range, not necessarily the range you’ll get if you plug in a mic and start recording.
An expander is important in optimizing the actual dynamic range you get out of a system.
An expander operates at the low end of the dynamic range, where signals are at their quietest, or perhaps nonexistent. In other words, when audio is coming through the signal chain, the expander may be doing nothing at all.
But when that audio stops coming through, the expander goes to work by lowering the signal further, expanding the background noise fl oor downward so that there’s a larger dynamic range overall (see Fig. 1).
Fig. 1 Without expansion (left), the noise level in the signal chain can far exceed a stage’s background noise. With expansion (right), the noise is brought down to the noise floor, without affecting the signal itself. (click to enlarge)
Not surprisingly, this is called downward expansion. There is such thing as upward expansion, but you don’t really need to know about it.
To understand this better, consider what happens when you plug a microphone into a mixing board and crank up the gain. If you talk or sing into the mic, you’ll hear yourself coming through the headphones loudly. (Careful—you might also get a feedback shriek if it’s too loud.)
But if you stop singing, odds are you won’t hear silence—especially in a bedroom or den Guerrilla studio. You’ll hear the heating or air-conditioning system, planes going overhead, street traffi c, or your kid brother’s video game down the hall. This is all stuff that doesn’t belong on your recording!
Sure, domestic sounds are charming—if it’s 1970 and you’re Paul McCartney recording your first solo album. But we Guerrilla recordists are going after a slick, clean sound, and part of “clean” means not having anything on your tracks that you don’t want there.
Here’s where expansion comes in. You may have encountered a device called a noise gate, which is a crude form of an expander. In a noise gate, once the signal falls below a certain threshold, an electronic gate closes and no sound is allowed to pass through (noise or otherwise).
However, when the signal begins to rise above that same threshold again, the gate opens up, allowing the signal to pass through once more.
Naturally, this also allows unwanted noise to pass through along with the signal, but the idea is that noise is less troublesome when signal is present to mask it. Like faint starlight in the night sky, noise is most noticeable when it’s by itself. Mix in a little signal (or sunlight in this analogy) and you’re less likely to notice the faint background stuff.
An expander works on the same principle as a noise gate, but an expander is a bit more subtle: it’s not as obvious to the ear when it’s doing its thing.
Here are the parameters that you’re likely to find on an expander, or the expander component of a compressor/expander:
Threshold: This control sets the level at which the expansion effect begins to set in. Imagine a cymbal crash that begins at 0dB (the top of the dynamic range) and slowly decays to –_dB.
Fig. 2 As the sound of a crash cymbal decays, it eventually falls below the noise floor and becomes inaudible. (click to enlarge)
At a certain point in its decay, the sound of the cymbal will get so quiet that you’ll hear background noise mixed in with the cymbal, and at a still-later point you’ll hear only background noise, as the noise masks what’s left of the crash (see Fig. 2).
If you were miking this cymbal by itself (perhaps to sample it for a collection of drum sounds), you might want an expander to kick in toward the tail end of the decay in order to take the background noise out of the sonic picture (see Fig. 3).
The threshold control determines when this happens.
Fig. 3 When you run the crash-cymbal sound through an expander, the threshold level determines how much of the cymbal’s decay makes it through before the expander closes down the noise. (click to enlarge)
If you were to set the expander’s threshold to –30 dB, the expander would begin to shut down the signal when the cymbal decayed 30 dB below its initial peak. In this case you could get away with a lot more noise happening in or outside your studio without worrying about these sounds making it onto your cymbal sample.
But if you wanted to make a long, realistic sample of the cymbal and capture a lot of its decay, you’d probably want to set the control lower—perhaps –60 dB—and record it at a time when your studio is at its quietest, such as late at night. (Bummer for your sleeping housemates!)
Since the expander is set to a low threshold, the signal chain will be more susceptible to noise coming into the mic or created by the mic preamp.
To learn how to set the threshold control, here’s an exercise. Pretend you’re about to record a fairly loud electric-guitar part using a miked amp. Set up your signal chain, with your mic in front of the amp, and gain-stage the chain so you’re exploiting the full dynamic range of all the stages without unwanted distortion.
Next, put the expander into the signal chain, ideally by way of your mixer channel’s insert jack. If the expander has compressor or limiter sections, bypass them by pressing the appropriate bypass switches or turning those sections’ threshold controls all the way up.
Turn the expander’s ratio knob (which I’ll discuss in a moment) all the way up, turn the threshold knob all the way down, and let your guitar sit on a stand with the amp running and the mic picking up the amp’s background noise.
Now put on the headphones, slowly turn up the expander’s threshold knob, and listen to what happens. At a certain point in the knob’s travel, the sound of the idling guitar amp will cut out—this is the point you’re looking for. Set the threshold slightly above this point.
Now, if you so much as touch the guitar’s strings, you should hear the gate open up, with the amp sound (and perhaps some string noise) coming through.
That’s what you want—the expander is gating out the noise, unless some signal is present as well (you touching the strings), at which point the gate opens to let both signal and noise pass through. The expander’s threshold is properly set, at least for now.
Ratio: In the exercise above, you probably noticed that when the expander’s gate closes, no sound is let through—the gate closes completely. That’s okay, but it isn’t ideal.
Setting an expander’s ratio control properly allows the circuit to close more gradually as a sound decays, and it allows the expander to stay slightly open after the sound has decayed below the noise floor.
It’s a bit like leaving a bedroom door open a little when you sleep: doing this lets in some of the light from the hall (similar to the background noise in this analogy) so you aren’t in complete darkness (total silence).
Fig. 4 Below the expansion threshold, the level coming out of an expander’s output is much less than it would be if the expander weren’t in the circuit. (click to enlarge)
Fig. 4 is a graph showing how an expander reduces the level at the output when the input level is below the threshold.
Depending on the recording situation, setting up an expander to work like a noise gate—where it slams shut, resulting in sudden silence—can sound unnatural. This is particularly true with a gently decaying sound such as a crash cymbal, which would be abruptly cut off by noise-gate-like expander action (see Fig. 5).
A hard-closing gate can mess with the sound in even worse ways, for instance chopping off consonants at the ends of vocal phrases.
Fig. 5 Recording a crash cymbal through an expander set to a high threshold and high ratio (left) can cut off the cymbal’s natural decay. Lowering the ratio and threshold (right) can result in a more natural sound. (click to enlarge)
We need to set the ratio control to avoid these problems, while still allowing the expander to clean up the sound.
With the guitar from the previous exercise still on its stand and the threshold control properly set, start turning down the ratio control and listen to what happens.
At a certain point, you’ll start to hear the sound of the idling guitar amp coming through—that’s the gate opening up slightly. When the ratio control is all the way down, the amp noise should be exactly as loud as if the expander weren’t in the signal chain at all; in other words, the gate is all the way open.
When you record a track, look for a happy medium between these points. When the signal chain is idling, the gate should be closed enough to quiet the track signifi cantly, but not closed so much that passages with no playing sound unnaturally silent next to played passages (unless, of course, that’s the effect you’re going for).
You also shouldn’t be able to hear the gate noticeably opening or closing when you start or stop playing. As much as possible, it should simply sound like your system is a lot quieter.
The trick to using an expander effectively is to find suitable threshold and ratio settings based on the sound you’re about to record, as well as the song you’re recording.
You want the expander to be responsive to any sound you make during the performance—in other words, to anything that you actually want recorded on your track—but not necessarily anything else.
Play lightly and let some notes or chords decay. Think about the performance you’re about to record: Will you be playing full-out through the whole track? Is there a point where you’ll need to hold a chord for several seconds? Will you be playing any passages very quietly?
Test out any such critical performance moments and listen to how the expander reacts. If the expander seems to be too sensitive to what you’re doing, turn up the threshold control a little.
Adjust the controls one at a time until the expander is doing its job cleaning up your signal chain, without calling attention to itself. You may need to compromise—one pair of settings may be good for one part of the song while another is good for a different passage.
Try to find settings that work as well as possible across the whole performance. If necessary, you can always punch in certain sections that require very different expander settings.
Attack & Decay: Most (if not all) expanders have these controls. You’ll recognize these terms if you have experience programming synthesizers: attack specifies how fast something rises, and decay specifies how fast it falls afterward.
In the case of an expander, attack determines how fast the gate opens when its threshold is suddenly exceeded, and decay determines how fast it closes again when the signal suddenly goes away. You can usually set these knobs and forget them.
Normally you want a very quick attack (so as not to cut off the beginnings of sounds) and a medium decay—perhaps around 200 milliseconds—to make sure the ends of sounds don’t get truncated.
The two sections of an integrated compressor/expander unit may have only one set of attack and decay controls but separate ratio and threshold; that’s okay. Having the same settings for both sides usually works fine.
Indicator LED: This is a handy visual element that you can use in conjunction with your ears. One LED, or a series of LEDs indicating a range of levels, may light to show that the device is actively expanding the noise downward.
When the gate begins opening, the LED may go dark, or a series of LEDs may progressively turn off as the gate opens wider. Indicator LEDs aren’t really that necessary on the expander side—they’re much more useful in compression—but they’re nice to have anyway.
Next time out, I’ll talk about the opposite end of the dynamic range spectrum: compression.
Editor’s Note: This article is excerpted from Karl Coryat’s Guerrilla Home Recording - 2nd Edition. To acquire this book, click over to the ProSoundWeb Book Store. NOTE: ProSoundWeb readers receive free shipping when entering promotional code PSW at checkout. (offer valid to U.S. residents, applies only to media mail shipping, additional charges may apply for expedited mailing services).
Monday, September 10, 2012
RE/P Files: Carole King, Lou Adler, And Hank Cicalo In Session At A&M Records
From the archives of the late, great Recording Engineer/Producer (RE/P) magazine, this feature is an interesting look at the studio approach for a legendary artist. This article dates back to the September/October 1971 issue.
From the archives of the late, great Recording Engineer/Producer (RE/P) magazine, this feature is an interesting look at the studio approach for a legendary artist. This article dates back to the September/October 1971 issue.
The door of Studio B at A&M in Hollywood sports a sign which reads, “CLOSED SESSION - NO ADMITTANCE PLEASE.”
Inside, Carole King, looking much more like a friend that the superstar she is these days, is recording her third album.
At this writing her last album, “Tapestry,” has been #1 on the charts for twenty weeks.
The sign on the door is indicative of a refreshing professionalism going on in the studio. The people in there are working. Doing what they enjoy, but working nonetheless.
There is little of the temperament that often acts as an excuse for lack of skill. In the first two days of these sessions, eight tracks were cut for the album.
The pace obviously is very quick. It is quick not because the people involved are rushing, but because they are not fooling around. They don’t need ten takes to get a vocal part or a guitar lick right. They know what they’re after, and they get it.
There are no secret techniques being used here. The success of the albums is based on a combination of experience and openness.
“You have to be open to new ideas. I’ve been around this business for seventeen years, and I could be set in my ways. But that’s wrong. I’ll try anything. I learn something every day.” - Hank Cicalo.
Left to right, Hank Cicalo, Carole King and Lou Adler at work in A&M Studio B. (click to enlarge)
Hank is the engineer on this session, as he was on “Tapestry.”
His words are confirmed by Lou Adler, the producer: “I’ve only worked with two complete engineers. A lot of engineers are complete electronically but more important, there’s a disposition, a compatibility, and a knowledge and feeling for the kind of music we’re doing that’s necessary. Bones Howe and Hank are the only two complete engineers I know.”
What distinguishes Hank? His use of microphones, although not terribly strange, is certainly creative. He mikes the piano with a Sennheiser 421 D, inside and with the lid closed.
The piano is then enveloped with two covers. This is done for isolation’s sake, as Carol sings for the band during recording.
The bottom end of the piano is rolled off slightly to compensate for the boominess, caused by the piano being closed and covered.
On Carole’s vocal is an AKG 202 E. Although most of her vocals are done in their final version after the instrument tracks are down, some of the cuts on her last album were actually vocals she sang to the band while doing the instrument tracks.
Two AKG C 12s are used on the drums, one for both the toms and ride cymbal, and one overhead. An Electro-Voice RE-15 picks up the hi-hat, and another the snare.
The bass drum also uses an RE-15, placed deep inside near the head. The head is deadened by two heavy sandbags placed against it, giving a “tight” sound to the drum.
A lot of instruments and overdubs are used in this session, robbing the engineer of the luxury of several tracks for drums. But Hank is not that enamored with multi-track drum sounds anyway: “A lot of times I’m against that sort of thing. I’ve seen guys mix drums across 5 tracks of a 16-track, and the stereo effect was horrible.
“The guy got so wrapped up on the effect that it sounds like an 18-foot set of drums. Who has an 18-foot set of drums? I would rather work to a tighter sound.”
That tighter sound happens on two tracks, one for a complete drum mix, and the other for bass drum alone.
The studio set-up for this Carole King project. (click to enlarge)
This allows the bass guitar and the bass drum to be mixed against each other, independent of the total drum mix.
When the drums are limited, it is often just the tom. A touch of echo is sometimes added, especially if the part requires a slow rolling sound.
Bass guitar is taken both direct and with a microphone (Neumann U 87), with a ratio between the two of about 85/15. The direct feed is limited 2 to 5 dB. Electric guitar also employs a U 87, and acoustic guitar a Sony C-22.
Percussion and conga come though a U 87 feeding an Allison Gain Brain, resulting in a tight sound with a great deal of presence, as well as an even ratio between the high and low conga. Such a ratio is often quite difficult to obtain.
A Fender Rhodes utilizes an RE-15, and a Wurlitzer Electric Piano is taken direct.
The Wurlitzer seems to have some electrical noise problems through its own amplifier, but when taken direct and EQ’d properly, it produces a very warm sound.
The Rhodes sounds quite good through its own amplifier, resulting in its being miked and not taken direct.
Inside the control room, the producer has at his disposal a “playback panel” that allows him to mix independent of the engineer, and without affecting the recording.
Thus the producer can begin getting a perspective on a final mix while the recording is still in progress.
Lou, as producer, takes full advantage of this, a fact which certainly contributes to the success of his work. In his words: “From the time I start an album, I’m mixing. Every day and every night I’m always thinking about a mix. Sometimes in my sleep I’ll hear the machines rewinding.
But I’m always sure what I’m after. I’m always mixing for myself, but taking into consideration the likes and dislikes of the artist, which I’ve picked up during the session.
“If Carole says, ‘Can you turn the bongos down?’ while she’s listening to a playback, I remember it when I get to the mixdown. All those things are programmed in my head.
Piano miking and muffling. (click to enlarge)
“Recording is important. I do that more than anything else in my life. I work more than I sleep. I work more than I socialize. But it’s a complete enjoyment when I do it.
“I like to get the best sound out of an artist. I don’t have my own sound. I think it’s entirely possible that a person could play all of my albums and not identify them as mine.”
Lou is in control of the session from the time it starts. He feels that as long as his is open-minded, and the artist knows he can be communicated with, his control is both accepted and appreciated.
The sessions are closed for several reasons. The fewer people there are around, the more work gets down. And the fewer people are around, the less confusion there is for the artist.
Lou does not like anyone standing behind the console: “An artist should always have one person to look to when they have a question. If they say, ‘What do you think’‘, and there are four different expressions, they have no idea where they are.
“They should look to me… but if there’s a person in the booth, and he’s happy just to be there, and the artist comes into the room, sees the person beaming, and I say, ‘We’d like to do it again,’ it’s confusing.”
The music ranges from ballads to rollicking rock and roll. The musicians and the atmosphere are cheerful. The musicians are not sidemen; they come with Carole. They have to be interested and involved in the music. Otherwise, they are not on the next date.
The arrangements are written by Carole, as well as being made up as the session rolls along.
Every number seems to “cook,” in large part due to the closeness of the people involved, and the fact that Carole sings during the recording of instrument tracks.
The cheerfulness is in part maintained by the unwillingness of the engineer, Hank, to put equipment problems on the shoulders of the musicians.
Rather than tell a bass player that his amp sounds bad, or that there is something wrong with his sound, he’ll explore every avenue open to him and try to solve the problem for the musician before even mentioning it.
Hank dislikes “button freaks” who feel the need to constantly prove that they are aware of everything happening in the studio.
Usually, if a musician plays a bad note, he’s more than aware of it. Jumping on him immediately and telling him so destroys the atmosphere. He feels it’s wiser to let the track run and retake that instrument later.
Sweetening is Lou Adler’s responsibility, but his decisions in that realm are a result of the artist’s music, rather than his own likes and dislikes. The sound of the final product is the artist’s.
Still, these things seem mostly to go unspoken. “There are no confrontations as far as sweetening goes,” he says. “If that happened, it would be time for us to go our separate ways.”
The vocal mike set-up. (click to enlarge)
Overdubbing goes just as swiftly as the basic tracks. Once again, experience and openness seem to be the key.
Lou works like he knows a lot about it, and his track record certainly confirms this conclusion: “I was at the beginning of independent production, where most of the rules just came out of trying. I’ve learned a lot about overdubbing, especially when it comes to vocals. The training I had with The Mamas & the Papas you can’t buy. There hadn’t ever been any vocal groups with the amount of counter melodies that John Phillips had running through his head.”
Mixing requires as much, if not more, skill than overdubbing. It is interesting to note that in the midst of all the discussions these days about proper monitoring, using several systems for listening, and several mixes before choosing a final one, Lou Adler is remarkably unconcerned with the difficulties pointed out by many others.
“I mix by the speaker I’m listening to,” he notes. “If I listened to more than one speaker system, I’d go crazy. Whatever speaker it is, I’m mixing off of that speaker. I mixed Carole’s albums on small speakers.
“Mixes are very personal things, the most personal part of a producer’s role in recording. How could I do several final mixes, and choose one? You can only mix your best possible mix. It’s like saying, “now I’ll make a bad mix’.”
A good mix only comes from good tracks. In Hank’s words, “I have that saying, we’ll fix it later’. You can’t fix it later. You can touch up, but the basic stuff you have to get up front, or it’s never going to sound right.
“I never like to do things that really lock me in. If I compress, limit, or whatever, I’m always careful about doing it to a degree.
“You have to be open to new ideas. Some engineers aren’t, and that’s a hassle. Some guys have got one set up and they’re not going to change it. They’ve got to be insecure.
“For instance, we don’t have many leakage problems so we don’t need a Kepex for that, but we do use it for effects. You can get a tremolo sound off of it by keying it with an oscillator. Have the oscillator at five cycles, which is inaudible. By putting an organ though it, and beating the music against it, you get a very unusual tremolo effect.”
In making those good tracks, the choice of mikes is up to Hank. Limiting and compressing usually happens without even a request from Lou.
All of these things give testimony to an easy rapport which exists during these sessions.
FIRST COMES THE ARTIST, THEN THE PRODUCER, THEN THE ENGINEER. IT’S GOT TO BE A MARRIAGE OF ALL THESE PEOPLE.”
This triangle is more than just Hank’s words. It is working.
There are a lot of pros in this business, and a lot of perfectionists. Carole King, Lou Adler, and Hank Cicalo are certainly among them. But they have the added beauty of not only being good, but being easy about it as well.
A sign on the console reads, “Anything that is not quite right, is wrong.”
The philosophy is not wholly unique. What is more unique is the lack of anxiety and tension that normally accompanies so absolute an approach. If something is not quite right, nobody gets upset. They just change it and make it better.
Maybe they’ve got something there.
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.
Take the PSW Photo Gallery Tour of audio equipment ads appearing in RE/P magazine, circa 1970
Our sincere thanks to Mark Gander of JBL Professional for his considerable support on this archive project.