Monday, April 21, 2014
In The Studio: Is The Recording Console Dead?
In a world full of powerful outboard equipment and recording software, why would anyone bother with a console?
I spent a weekend in the Chicago area installing an Apogee Symphony System for a client and doing some training. The install went surprisingly well, with no major issues aside from a missing BNC cable.
If you’re not familiar with the Symphony system, you should check it out. It’s a phenomenal PCI-based system that connects any Apogee converter directly into your DAW (in this case, Logic) with insane audio quality along with virtually no latency.
The system is a dream home studio setup, and it’s all centered around the Symphony system and a Toft ATB24 24-channel recording console (pictured above/left).
I have to admit, while I don’t use a recording console in my home studio, I grew very attached to the Toft board. It’s a great-sounding console with a ton of routing options.
There’s something about running an analog signal through an analog mixer that makes you feel like a real recording engineer. Of course, a great recording console requires a rack full of great converters and outboard gear.
In case you can’t quite make out the gear in the photo at right, here’s the list, from top to bottom:
click to enlarge
—Furman AR15 Voltage Regulator
—Universal Audio LA610
—Two Empirical Labs Distressors
—Switchcraft 64-point patchbay
—Ebtech Line Level Shifter (8-channel)
—A second Furman power conditioner
Pretty sexy, right?
So you might ask, “In a world full of such awesome outboard equipment and powerful recording software, why would anyone bother with a recording console?”
I’ve heard some big names in the recording industry say that Pro Tools can do everything a recording console can do, and that they would never use a console again. All they need is a mouse and keyboard.
With that in mind, should console manufacturers be worried? Is it really pointless to have a console in your studio? I think not. While you certainly can create a great record without a mixer, there was something about that Toft console that just sounded good.
In addition to the rack of gear, my client also had some nice keyboards — a Korg M3 with the Radius module, an Access Virus TI Polar, and a Roland V-Synth. We ran these directly into the console. All I can say is wow.
While these keyboards are all awesome, they sounded even more amazing through the Toft. There was this fullness and warmth. The more I pushed the fader up, sending the signal into the red, the better it sounded.
As you know, in any DAW, you can push the fader up, and the signal will get louder, but the tone won’t change, until that nasty clipping happens.
While a more educated author could tell you all the things that are happening on the console to cause this, what I can tell you is that I definitely noticed a “fuller” sound through the console. This will come in handy, especially during mixdown.
Rather than adjusting faders in Logic, my client will be able to run the signals out through the board, where there is significantly more headroom than in a DAW platform. It can give you a leg up on your mix, adding more punch.
Do we all need to go out and buy a console? Nah. But I have to say the Toft has significantly grabbed my attention.
Don’t count analog mixers out just yet. They’ll be around for a long, long time.
Joe Gilder is a Nashville-based engineer, musician, and producer who also provides training and advice at the Home Studio Corner.Note that Joe also offers highly effective training courses, including Understanding Compression and Understanding EQ.
Sepura Plc Streamlines Radio Tech Development & Testing With Soundcraft Si Expression Console
Provides an assist in testing against specifications in typical usage scenarios, including background noise testing using surround sound
Sepura Plc, a designer and manufacturer of digital mobile radio products for public safety, industrial, commercial and military applications, recently implemented a Harman Soundcraft Si Expression 1 digital console at its Cambridge, UK faclities to improve and streamline processes during product testing stages.
The Si Expression 1 is situated next to an acoustic testing chamber with a head and torso simulator, to test against specifications in typical usage scenarios, including background noise testing using surround sound. This system is set up to accommodate a binary goal: the automatic verification of products during late development stages and the manual acoustic testing during early development stages of software, terminals and accessories.
“These two activities have conflicting requirements and this is why we purchased the Si Expression,” says Edmund Elsey, senior acoustic engineer at Sepura Plc. “Our automated tests are run with in-house software that control our terminals remotely, which requires the signals to be routed to and from different equipment, depending on the test. We used a switching unit to route the signals, which not only introduced noise and ground loops, but also prevented easy monitoring. For manual testing, we needed to partially dismantle and reconfigure the system, as well as adjust signal levels and EQ.”
“However, the Si Expression allows for automated routing, monitoring of any input, and GEQ functions all in one,” he continues. “I now have all the equipment permanently connected because I can control routing from any input to any output using MIDI control messages sent directly from our software. For manual measurements, I can route any signal anywhere I like.”
The Soundcraft Si Expression is a flexible digital console that provides a value at its price range, with intuitive features such asFaderGlow, which illuminates the faders with color coded LED lighting. Workflow is taken to new heights, as monitoring, functions and effects are designed to be efficient and hassle-free. For example, Elsey found that he could use the GEQ to implement correction functions at any time through the bypass feature and customize the fader layout.
“I worked with a Soundcraft analog console before, and tried a demo of the Si Expression at Harman’s UK distributor Sound Technology, so I know that Soundcraft lives up to its name by manufacturing high-quality mixing desks,” he explains. “We also made sure that our high-powered digital radios would not interfere with the desk, as to not introduce TDMA noise onto the signals. In fact, I was impressed that Soundcraft sent me a copy of their EMC report when I enquired about RF immunity.”
“The Si Expression massively improved productivity in our test environment, because now the whole system can be configured at the touch of a button for different use cases,” Elsey concludes. “The THD and noise floor are also great and have been verified to be more than adequate for our needs.”
Posted by Keith Clark on 04/21 at 07:12 AM
Friday, April 18, 2014
Perspectives On Touring, Then And Now
Change is the only constant. (“Well, it used to be.” “Oh, what happened?” “It changed.”)
A couple of years ago, I got a call to mix front of house for Uriah Heep on a mini-tour of the U.S. I hadn’t mixed a headliner rock band in a long time. Years back, fate took me down the path of product design and manufacturing, and later, I became a specialist in sound system alignment (a.k.a. “room tuning”) for major events and installations.
So I’ve stayed in the game, but only rarely behind a console. However, I eagerly accepted the gig, issuing adequate warning that I’d be rather rusty on the first few gigs.
Uriah Heep is still a hard rockin’ band, though the guys are in their 50s and 60s. Close your eyes while they’re on stage, though, and you’d think they’re still in their 20s. They are top flight musicians demanding top flight sound services, and they possess a work ethic that would put many younger bands to shame.
So looking back at the earlier realm of regional sound systems, particularly in the pre-digital era, it was fascinating to encounter the host of subtle (and not so subtle) differences in how regional SR companies function in today’s market.
It’s easy enough to point out the obvious migration from analog consoles, outboard effects, and analog crossovers to that of digital consoles and DSP loudspeaker controllers—and I have a few observations to share in a moment.
But what struck me most when reflecting on the past was the really big changes in attitudes and skill levels that seem to ride piggyback on the improvements in equipment and technologies. At each stop (the band was not carrying production, only back line), the warm greeting from the local SR company, the show of support and respect, the skill of the local personnel in handling stage patching, the configuration work on the digital consoles, and a plethora of other support tasks, was virtually equal to carrying a staff of A2s trained just for this gig.
Years back, I remember cold shoulders, unwillingness to accommodate the band’s engineer in any way, and little or no assistance in sussing out a new console, or a new effects device, or for that matter, holding a meaningful discussion on how to optimize aspects of the system in general. The mantra was, “You’re on your own, son.” But now it’s the polar opposite - and how refreshing that is. A good attitude really helps a show go well; the value cannot be overestimated.
More: I encountered guys in their 20s, guys in their 30s, and older company owners closer to my own age (58), and in all cases the competency level was a true eye opener. As recently as 20 years ago I did not find this to be the case, expect in rarefied situations such as the Grammys and Oscars.
The spirit of “we’re here to help” and “what part can I play to take the load off of you?” was highly welcome, and in my case, much needed, as I had not mixed on some of the consoles before.
But the ability of those who offered their assistance was perhaps even more welcome than their willingness. I got a quick lesson on an Avid VENUE SC48, along with assistance on routing and effect selection, that greatly helped to make that night’s show a rousing success. I was coached on a Yamaha M7CL, and it didn’t take long to get a grasp on how it differs from the PM5D. I got some help on a Midas 3000.
Even though analog’s my thing, and I’ve used most popular consoles before, it’s difficult to remember all the ins and outs when you’re not doing this work every day. The impressions of consoles I came away with: I greatly respect the power of digital consoles to make life far better in many ways, especially when there are multiple acts sharing the same desk.
The digital desks that I used sounded fine, though I’ll admit to liking the sound of the Midas better (and I recognize there was no way to directly compare it in any meaningful way). Behavior-wise, some digital control schemes are easier to work with than others, at least when you’re not acquainted with the architecture of the console and how to bend it to your needs.
It’s an exciting time to be in the middle of a true technology transition. The best is surely yet to come. But while we’re waiting for the future to manifest itself, let’s look at the wide range of ways that a console is used, using two polar opposites as examples.
Set It & Forget It Mix
A lot of mix engineers, working a lot of shows, approach the mix from the basis of getting all of the microphones and other inputs up and running at the proper gain settings, establishing an acceptable balance, and then letting the artist create the dynamics.
If the artist has adequate stage monitoring; if the sonic energy coming off the stage is not great enough to play much of a role in the house mix; if the artist knows how to regulate their own dynamic range; and if (by some miracle) the artist can detect the level of ambient audience noise in the venue (or if audience noise is not an issue), then such an approach can thrive, or at least work very well.
Corporate, TV, symphonic, most jazz, and other genres may successfully be addressed in this way. In such cases, the use of layers in a digital mixing console pose no impediment to achieving the best possible results.
Conversely, there are many good reasons to ride the mix from moment-to-moment, such as: changes in vocal levels as the performers alter their delivery throughout a performance; adjustments to stage amps – especially if the sonic output from the MI amplifiers is playing a big role in the venue (as in smaller spaces or very loud stage amps); changes in audience ambient noise; lack of uniformity in physical attack on a drum kit; changes in monitor levels; and numerous other factors all point to the need to ride the mix as tightly as if you’re steering a big rig down I-395 in a thundershower.
A music-sensitive house engineer can add some serious dynamics to a show, once he/she understands the music and the intent of the artist. The result can well transcend even the best that might have been captured in the studio for the album recording. This is where live sound really comes into its own.
We can help our artists shine in a way that’s far removed from the limited experience the average fan might have by listening at home to their hi-fi, or on the go with their MP3 player. When a big PA says “KICK DRUM” with the authority of it’s 170,000 watts, it does it a lot differently than within the confines of a studio recording.
And that’s where the Producer Mix comes in. If you can use the sound system, play with the sound system, exploit the sound system, then you can (potentially) produce results “bigger than life” – and that’s exactly what many are seeking from their concert-going experience.
By working closely with the tonality of each instrument, by accentuating the dynamics of the act, by riding the mix so that solos stand out while backing instruments sit in the mix where they should to support the lead lines, we can paint a sonic masterpiece! Of course, we might instead paint a caricature by over-exaggerating level changes and effects sends – so let’s not go there. Needless to say, baby steps…
I’m a big fan of not setting all vocal mics at the same level as the effects—and leaving them there. When a song is sung, the vocal levels should be adjusted in relation to the accompanying music. Backing vocals must fit where they fit, and that varies widely from style to style, and even song to song.
And when the current tune is over and the front-person starts talking to the audience, it’s not so classy (is it?) to keep the level at a screeching +3 dB or +6 dB over the music (which is now silent), so they can say “Hello Philadelphia!” or whatever – drowned in reverb. This is where the idea of a Producer’s Mix comes in again, at the most basic level. All it takes is an attentive house engineer to make the appropriate changes to the level and effects send, so that the speech sounds like one person talking to another.
Mixing in this manner takes 100 percent concentration, 100 percent of the time, and does not lend itself very well to mixing in layers on small digital consoles. Layers make it difficult to grab the specific control that you need, in the quarter-note interval that it takes to make a level adjustment, or change a reverb send, without it becoming obvious that the response was late. (In my world, this is where analog wins the day.)
Getting Better All The Time
Today’s loudspeaker systems are remarkably superior to those of yesteryear. The sonic quality of each of the systems we encountered (which included numerous brands) was very good. Power, headroom, evenness of coverage, flat response – all of these desirable properties have been achieved by most of the well-known loudspeaker manufacturers.
I used CONEQ Acoustic Power Equalization for each of the shows, and that helped to normalize the sonic properties of one system to another. By running CONEQ, I was able to view and store each system’s acoustic power frequency response. The response characteristics among leading systems are surprisingly similar; this is a good sign that our industry has matured a lot in the past 20 years.
The two largest system variances that I observed (after frequency response flattening) were MF/HF distortion and definition in the subwoofers. Although almost all modern systems exhibit less distortion than earlier designs, opportunities still remain to reduce distortion in high-output driver systems.
As for subs, they all kick ass and they all sound good! The differences strike me as being about definition (i.e., transient response), rather than distortion or flat frequency response. That said, I’ll freely admit that physical placement, and how the subs are crossed over to the upper sections of the system, easily plays as great role as any other factor. And suffice to say that subs are fun!
My overall final impression from this recent mini-tour is a good one. All of the various systems were packaged very professionally. Power distro was as pro as it gets. Accessories were readily available. Cases were clean and clearly labeled.
Kudos to all of the rental companies who take pride in their work! I hope to work with you again.
Senior technical editor Ken DeLoria has mixed innumerable shows and tuned hundreds of sound systems with an emphasis on taming difficult acoustical environments, and as the founder of Apogee Sound, developed the TEC Award-winning AE-9 loudspeaker.
Wednesday, April 16, 2014
Church Sound: Audio Requirements For Portable Situations
When thinking of a church, most people conjure images of a building with chairs or pews, carpet on the floor, maybe some stained glass. The loudspeakers hang in a cluster near the front and there’s a sound booth in the back. Down the hallway are the nursery and the church office.
While that describes the majority of churches, a growing number of churches are forming that don’t fit that description at all.
Churches that do not own a building are becoming more common, renting a building for Sunday mornings and maybe for Wednesday nights. Once strictly the domain of churches just getting started (called “church plants”), more established churches are choosing not to be burdened with the upkeep and expense of a large facility.
A Church With Vision
Bruce Sanders has been the pastor of Capital Vision Christian Church in Olympia, WA since he founded it several years ago. On Sundays at 9 am, he arrives at Olympia High School’s performing arts auditorium an hour and a half before the service is scheduled to begin.
Meanwhile, Jason Inman and his crew of three volunteers arrive around 8:30 am to load in sound equipment, band instruments and Sunday School supplies. They set out several sandwich-board signs on the streets nearby, announcing the service.
On Sunday mornings in Olympia, more than a dozen churches gather in various rented spaces, including schools, gymnasiums, cafeterias, classrooms, performance halls, community centers, hotel banquet rooms and even other churches. Where climate permits, some even hold their services outdoors in parks or natural amphitheaters.
But just because they meet in temporary space does not mean that these churches don’t value a high-quality sound system, with many offering contemporary services, often centered on a guitar-driven pop- or rock-flavored band.
After Jason and his team set up the system at Capital Vision, one of the crew, often a teenage volunteer, steps behind the mixer while Jason straps on a Taylor acoustic guitar and begins sound check.
Behind him are bass guitar, piano, two keyboards, several backup singers and a drum set. Off to the side, a portable screen is set up, and the computer operator checks the video projector that displays the song lyrics and sermon notes. Other than the school’s piano, all equipment is set up and torn down every weekend.
When 10:30 rolls around, Jason greets the crowd and invites them to stand up and sing with him. Then the band starts into their set, and the next 30 to 40 minutes are essentially a 90 dB contemporary Christian music concert.
Jason finishes the set with a prayer, perhaps with a little keyboard or guitar in the background. Then an emcee gets up and makes introductions and delivers announcements before Pastor Sanders gets up to teach.
A Contemporary Vibe
More like a seminar speaker than a traditional pulpit preacher, Sanders walks around the stage with a wireless lavalier microphone clipped to his open collar. He talks with the congregation, stopping every so often to tell a joke or refer to a current news headline.
The video projector shows an outline of his sermon, interspersed with photos and video clips to support the message. By noon, the congregation is drinking coffee and eating cookies in the foyer, talking about the sermon and other things, like the Seattle Seahawks.
I deal with dozens of churches like Capital Vision, and there are thousands more forming around the country. Several of my clients are just starting, with maybe 40 to 50 people in the congregation, while others have a few hundred members who meet twice a week. A small number are quite large; one portable church has several thousand people meeting in each of three services in a rented high school every Sunday morning, with a band and sound system that is second to none.
There isn’t really a standard sound system for a portable church, because there really isn’t a standard church. However, a sound system for a portable church is not the same as a sound system for a band. There are quite a few components in common, but the goals are markedly different.
System characteristics that are important to a portable church:
1) It must be simple to set up.
Front of house, including mixer is all in one rack. The amps are either in the same rack or a similar rack onstage. Racks have a single AC cord with power distribution in the rack and a single “on” switch. Subwoofers are usually too complex, so 15-inch-loaded 2-way loudspeakers are on stands left and right of stage.
Cables are color-coded or numbered. Mic cables, instrument cables and direct boxes are all in the same storage container. In a larger portable system, multi-pin connectors become important to reduce the number of mic cables used.
2) It must be simple to operate.
Most churches, especially portable churches, have volunteers running sound. A 40-channel console with 4-band EQ and 8 aux sends may be more than a volunteer can handle. Startups, in particular, get by with two or three monitor sends and a 3-band EQ. A 16- or 24-channel console is likely to be plenty.
3) It must be articulate.
Congregation members won’t care if you can get 120 dB in the back of the room. Rather, can they understand the words clearly and without straining in every seat in the house? Loud is great, but only if it’s clear and clean. It’s more important to have 95 dB with crystal clarity than a subwoofer that kicks them in the chest.
4) It must be flexible.
In a typical service, the system needs to handle a live band, background music, and several people speaking to a crowd that may vary in size from week to week. The venue may also change at some point. And in warmer months, the church might take the system to the park for a concert.
5) It must be expandable.
Portable churches are usually growing churches. When the congregation of 75 becomes a congregation of 200, it requires more from the sound system. An upgrade path is needed. Leave room in the amp rack for another amplifier to run more loudspeakers. Begin with a mixer that has at least five or six channels more than needed, so as the band membership grows, the system still works. This is a good time to apply the maxim “buy your second one first.”
6) It must be affordable, but not cheap.
Built from scratch, a good beginning system will probably cost several thousand dollars. Too often, portable churches begin with an inadequate system, and replace it with a second system a year or two later.
This is not a place for the latest, state-of-the-art accessories. Digital consoles might not fit the budget. Effect processors and many compressors are luxuries. Simple microphones, consoles, EQs, amplifiers and loudspeakers (or self-powered loudspeakers) are sufficient. Caution: do not get the wrong gear just because it’s “on sale.”
7) It must be reliable.
Saving a few dollars on an amplifier is not as important as choosing gear that is known to be reliable. Your brother-in-law may have donated an old no-name power amplifier from his basement (a syndrome known as “give your junk to Jesus”), but a new Crown or QSC amplifier for the main loudspeakers will prevent problems. Maybe that no-name amp can be sold to a struggling high school band with the money used to buy a good equalizer.
Keep in mind that volunteers will be loading and unloading this system every week, probably for several years. It had better be rugged enough not to need maintenance every month.
8) It must be supported.
Because most portable churches don’t have a full-time or even part-time technical staff, they need to have a resource person they can trust. This needs to be someone who knows their situation, knows their system, and has experience with what they’re doing. Most importantly, this person must be able to speak in layman’s terms to translate technical issues into common English.
David McLain is a church sound system consultant with CCI Solutions, and has been working with church sound systems since 1978 and with portable churches since 1988. He also runs the Church Sound Guy blog.
Tuesday, April 15, 2014
Leaving The Comfort Zone
Like the majority of people working in the audio biz, I love music. Growing up in the 1970s, I was fortunate that my favorite FM radio station played a pretty diverse selection of musical styles, including folk, soft rock, pop, disco, R&B, rock, and even heavy metal.
While exposed to quite a few musical styles and artists, I developed personal favorites.
Most Saturdays would find me at the record store, spending the few bucks earned that week from mowing lawns on new records, along with the occasional George Carlin and Richard Pryor comedy album.
To this day, I still have virtually every record, and long ago wore out the grooves on my favorites.
Cassette tapes eventually became popular, with my friends and I making “mix tapes” to listen to in our cars and on a wondrous portable device called the Walkman. And then wiith the advent of the compact disc, I bought many of the same albums again to take advantage of the “new and improved” digital format.
When I started mixing live music (somewhere after cassettes but before CDs), every mix sounded like what I knew and liked best from my stable or records. This was fine for local bar bands covering 70s rock, but not such a good thing for other artists, such as the jazz group that ended up with me behind the console at a local festival.
I learned two simple yet invaluable lessons that day. Lesson one: this traditional jazz band wanted a jazz sound to emanate from the PA. Lesson two: so did the audience. One other thing I learned is that jazz audiences aren’t shy if they don’t like what the sound guy is doing behind the board.
Quickly I realized that if I was to succeed in mixing audio, I needed to know and understand a lot of different genres of music in order to be able to present them correctly. Starting with jazz!
From that point on, I made it a point to listen to all styles of American music, trying to decipher the character of each as well as what elements make that style distinct from others.
Several years later, I thought I had every musical style pretty well defined when a big snafu reared its head. One sunny day at a large festival in Washington D.C. I found myself standing behind the house console, with the next act on the bill a soukous band from Africa. While soukous was (and still is) the most popular music in Africa, and is generally well known throughout much of the world, I’d never heard of it.
Grasping without a clue as to what this band was supposed to sound like in the PA, I ended up making them sound like what I knew best: a 70s rock band. I learned three valuable lessons on that sunny day.
The first two lessons are the same ones learned with the jazz band and audience. The third lesson was to be even better prepared to suit the style of every artist prior to a gig, and also to talk beforehand with unique or unfamiliar acts about how they want their music to be presented.
Years passed, and I really thought I was getting the hang of this mixing thing when I found myself at yet another festival. The next act on the bill was a modern country artist I’d not heard (or heard of). So I made my way through the crowd to the stage and asked the band how they wanted to sound.
You guessed it: 70s rock.
Craig Leerman is senior contributing editor for Live Sound International and ProSoundWeb, and is the owner of Tech Works, a production company based in Las Vegas.
SSL Live Console On The Road With Flogging Molly’s Green 17 Tour
Console utilized by FOH engineer Kevin Lemoine, known for carrying analog consoles during most of his tours
Flogging Molly, a 7-piece rock band featuring traditional Irish instruments, recently toured with an SSL Live console supplied by VER Tour Sound, the latest addition to SSL’s Live partner network.
The Live console was deployed at front of house for the band’s 10th Annual Green 17 Tour that visited 27 cities, utilized by FOH engineer Kevin Lemoine, who has mixed Green Day for 13 years and is known for carrying analog consoles during most of his tours.
VER’s Jason Vrobel has worked Green Day shows with Lemoine since 2004 as crew chief and system engineer. “I’ve known Kevin for a very long time,” Vrobel states. “He’s always been anti-digital. Always uses analog as much as he possibly can. Anytime there’s analog/digital situation, it wasn’t his choice. This was the first time he was extremely happy.”
“I didn’t have any time on the SSL Live before we went out on tour,” explains Lemoine. “Back at VER, Jason programmed the inputs, effects sends and returns, groups, basically assigning the whole console before the tour. So no training, a little bit of YouTube searching about how things work, how it was set up, how it operated, but the rest of it was hands-on right there. It’s not a very difficult console to get around on.”
SSL Live is designed to provide a flexible workflow with several operational approaches, combining a large multi-touch daylight screen with a second channel control screen surrounded by dedicated encoders, and up to three 5-layered, 12-channel fader tiles. “The first day was a little nerve-wracking because I was just learning the console,” says Lemoine. “Second day, I got a little deeper into what was available on each input; compressors, limiters, gates and how things worked. For the stuff that you use every day, it’s laid out pretty well. The sound was great on the first day and throughout the tour, I just refined the great sound.
“There are two schools of thought from a FOH perspective,” he adds. “Pretty much, it boils down to digital versus analog consoles. To my ear, and to most of my friends’ ears, analog consoles sound the best, but the one negative factor is transport, size, weight and all that stuff. On the other hand, you have the digital realm where the console is small, light and easy to pack around, but their sound is usually kind of inept, I think. The features are there, but in the end, the sound isn’t really what you’re looking for. So now, you have this SSL Live, which seems to be in its own realm. It’s a small digital console, easy to pack around and fits into any venue, but it doesn’t sound like a digital console, it sounds like an analog console. It’s very pleasing to the ear.
“It’s a very wide sound stage,” Lemoine concludes. “A lot of consoles don’t go that wide. It’s nice to hear your drummer’s toms go from left to right and hear a true stereo image on your cymbals. It’s definitely a wide sound stage. Bar none, it’s the best digital console on the market. I have no doubt in my mind. I really like Live’s mic pres, they’re pretty amazing.”
Monday, April 14, 2014
Church Sound: And One Of Them Still Drives Me Crazy…
10 things no one tells you about church audio, and what to do about them...
Once the initial excitement of working in audio production wears off, it leaves one with a few unfortunate realizations.
I’m not saying audio work stops being fun. I’ve been doing this for a long time and I still have fun.
I only wish someone would have cracked open the secret envelop and let me see the truth before being up to my knees in XLR cables.
This post reveals these “secrets.” At the end, I’ll explain what can be done so everyone is back to having fun, albeit a lot wiser.
1. Worst-case scenarios really do happen.
If it can break, blow up, catch fire, power down, or in any way outright fail at the worst time possible, it will. I’ve had a mixer blow a fuse. Just last week a wireless mic battery failed mid-service for no apparent reason. Green light to DEAD – no red warning light in between.
Worst-case scenarios can force the tech to learn parts of the audio system normally left untouched. Mix engine reboots, digital mixer configuration settings, under-stage cabling, whatever is normally taken for granted will eventually fail – usually during the church service.
2. Audio production is hard work and mixing is only part of it.
For some, this is a big revelation. Mixing is only a part of audio production. Stage setup, battery replacement, and cable maintenance are all part of the job. And if that’s not enough, see point #1.Oh, did I mention it requires working with people?! (Only sort of a joke for some of us…)
Mixing isn’t always easy. For example, the church has two guitarists and a singer. That’s all they’ve had for years. Next weekend, they will have their first full-size worship team. Time for a new mixing strategy. This isn’t impossible but it does require learning amp miking, drum miking, and a new way of mixing.
3. It requires your A-game and there are distractions.
Live audio is no place for slacking. Once, from the pulpit, a pastor called my name TWICE before I snapped out of a daydream. Talk about embarrassing. Focus is crucial.
Distractions will come. During a service I’ve had congregants ask me questions. I’ve had to fix a video production issue. I even had someone complain about the volume during a worship set. The sound booth is not a place free from distractions.
4. Great mixing doesn’t guarantee great worship.
There are days when the band is great and the mix is great and everything seems perfect. Yet not everyone is worshiping and praising God. Good audio production helps create an environment conducive for worship. That’s all it can do.
5. Converting the worship leader’s vision to a mix is crazy important.
Worship leaders (and the team) spendstime picking songs and setting the arrangement. Many times, they have a vision for a song’s style or keep to their own style. They set a vision for what the congregation should experience, and the sound tech has the final control over that vision.
There are limits to what can be done with the given equipment. And three singers with harmonicas can’t sound like Hillsong. But when the worship leader presents an attainable vision, it’s up to us to make it happen.
6. People talk during the music. (DRIVES ME CRAZY).
Sitting in the sound booth gives one the ability to watch people. Watch who comes in late and who leaves early. Watch who is texting, playing Candy Crush, or checking Facebook. Watch the talkers. Sometimes, they’re close enough to be heard. he band is playing, people are worshipping, and then a Mr. or Mrs. decides it’s time to talk.
I don’t mean, “Don’t forget to call your mother.” I mean, “I’m not sure what we should do for lunch today. I was thinking about seafood but then Bill doesn’t like seafood and then Marge, remember Marge? Anyway, she had that outpatient thing last week and that reminds me, did you make an appointment with your endocrinologist? If not, it’s OK because when I stop by the bank on Monday I can… blah blah and blah.”
Some people just don’t get it.
7. There’s a growth plateau and that’s when the real work begins.
Diving into audio production and learning as much as possible, the immediate return on effort is great. A comparison of your first mix to your tenth mix is like night and day.
But the 20th sounds much like the 10th. Another person mixes the same band in the same room and it’s noticeably better. What’s up with that? Welcome to the plateau.
After learning mixing fundamentals, taking a mix further up the quality scale requires intensive study and practice. This is where the real work begins. It’s what separates the great from the good.
8. A microphone makes a handy weapon.
Live audio production is stressful. The schedule changes. Things break. Personalities clash. And, there are no do-overs. (It’s live, baby!)
There will be days you want to walk out the door. Most professional live engineers I’ve met have had such a moment. But they didn’t walk. Now, they’re touring with top musicians and are highly respected amongst their peers. It can be stressful, but that comes with the job.
9. Compliments are not the norm.
For anyone who needs regular compliments, look for a different line of work. The band and the pastor hear the majority of compliments. It doesn’t matter if the sound booth was glowing with awesomeness, the production team typically doesn’t get the credit.
10. It’s disgusting (someone has to clean those).
Parts of every job are undesirable. I love working with the musicians. I don’t love cleaning out ear wax from their in-ear monitors. But if given a choice between working a desk job and working in live audio (dirty work and all), I’d pick the latter every time.
Now, what to do about it…
1. Study the system and make plans.
Trace the signal flow through the equipment; from the stage through to the house loudspeakers. Make a log of equipment settings – equipment gets bumped or “played with.”
Trace The Signal Flow Through The Mixer
Create plans for dealing with worst-case scenarios. By knowing the system and what could happen, you’ll be prepared when it does happen.
Have You Been Caught By These Five Production Surprises?
2. View stage work, communication, etc. as factors that enable great mixing.
Church audio production is about working as a team with the pastor, the worship leader, and the musicians to present God’s word to the congregation and lead them in worship. Mixing the house sound is important but so is supporting the musicians and meeting their needs. The production work isn’t about mixing, it’s about offering up a gift to God and the congregation.
Working With Musicians And Team Building
3. Learn to manage distractions.
There are two types of distractions: those needing immediate attention and those that can wait. Let’s look at the latter. Questions from a congregant right before the service—or during the service—can be answered with a quick reply or the statement:“Ask me after the service when I have more time.” Smile when saying it. Beware of how the distractions make you feel. Watch what you say – you may later regret it.
Tech Gossip – What Others Hear You Say
4. Learn the spiritual component of audio production.
A great mix doesn’t guarantee a great worship experience but the flip side is really cool; a great worship time doesn’t depend on a great mix. I recall a service when my mix could have been better (it sounded a bit off to me). Afterward, I heard someone say how great the band sounded and how much they enjoyed the worship time. Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there will be worship, regardless of the level of production.
Biblical Worship Verses
5. Catch the vision, delight in the vision, and realize the vision.
Become the person who can make a vision a reality.
How To Create A Song Mix Blueprint In Five Easy Steps
6. Not every person loves corporate worship.
It’s a cold hard truth that I wish wasn’t so. Don’t take their lack of participation as a judgment on the audio production. And for the talkers…I don’t have much of an answer. If it’s anyone you know, consider dropping them a friendly email of encouragement filled with…
Scriptures On Praise And Worship
7. Plan on deeper study of mixing.
May every mix be better than the last. This isn’t to say the last mix was bad. It’s to say audio production is a craft and a good craftsman will hone their skills.
Tools Don’t Make The Craftsman
8. Manage the stress.
Know what’s out of your control. Learn from your mistakes. Know that small mistakes are usually forgotten. Find a mentor or fellow tech for post-service debriefing and venting.
12 Ways To Eliminate/Manage Stress
Compliments to the band are compliments to the audio production. Going further, read Col 3:23-24: “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.”
God Sees Your Service
10. Know the outcome is a result, in part, of the grunt work.
It took a bit more than 3,000 people 410 days to build the Empire State Building. This includes installation of approximately 17 million feet of telephone wire. Walking into the finished building would reveal beautiful carpeting and newly painted walls. What’s under the carpeting? Subflooring. What’s behind the paint? Drywall and metal.
Facts About The Construction Of The Empire State Building
Ready to learn and laugh? Chris Huff writes about the world of church audio at Behind The Mixer. He covers everything from audio fundamentals to dealing with musicians, and can even tell you the signs the sound guy is having a mental breakdown. Chris is also the author of Audio Essentials For Church Sound, available here.
Friday, April 11, 2014
Yorkville Sound Now Shipping New Parasource Series Active Loudspeakers
Suitable for main, fill and monitoring; outfitted Class D amplification, integral DSP and onboard mini mixer
Yorkville Sound is now shipping the new Parasource Series of active 2-way loudspeakers that can be utilized for main, fill, and stage monitoring applications.
Parasource loudspeakers are available with a 10-, 12- or 15-inch ceramic woofer, joined by a 38 mm (1-inch exit) compression driver feeding a large conical horn that delivers improved constant directivity and improved midrange response. Transducers are bi-amplified, driven by efficient, high-headroom Class D switch-mode power amplifiers with passive cooling that reduce overall cabinet weight.
Integrated DSP eliminates the need for complex external processing. An integrated 2-channel mini mixer, with controls on the back panel, offers master, mic and line level controls, joined by XLR microphone, 1/4-inch and RCA line inputs. The mixer also includes a 1-button high-pass filter switch that rolls off low-frequency material when the loudspeaker is used with a subwoofer. Activating the dynamic bass boost enhances low-end response without cluttering midrange program or affecting the loudspeaker’s overall intelligibility.
Multi-band limiting delivers maximum output and very even frequency response while also protecting the components. Further, it ensures essential elements like vocals and solo instruments in the essential midrange band aren’t being modulated by transient attacks of low-frequency material like kick drums and bass tracks.
Parasource Series loudspeakers are manufactured in Canada using the same rugged light-weight, high-impact ABS cabinet construction as the company’s popular Paraline Series. Cabinets are paintable. Integrated, reinforced flypoints mean that the loudspeakers can be flown quickly and easily. Ergonomic handles are provided for easy transport, and cabinets also include integrated metal stand mounts.
Models in the Parasource Series:
PS10P: 10-inch woofer (with 2-inch voice coil), 90 x 70-degree dispersion (conical), 800/1600 watts (program/peak), 23 x 14 x 12 inches (h x w x d), 40 pounds, $1,399 U.S. MSRP
PS12P: 12-inch woofer (with 3-inch voice coil), 85- x 50-degree dispersion (conical), 1400/4400 watts (program/peak), 26.5 x 16.7 x 13.5 (h x w x d), 60 pounds, $1,549 U.S. MSRP
PS15P: 15-inch woofer (with 3-inch voice coil), 85- x 50-degree dispersion (conical), 1400/4400 watts (program/peak), 30.7 x 20.5 x 14.2 inches (h x w x d), 65 pounds, $1,799 U.S. MSRP
Cokesbury United Methodist Chooses Allen & Heath GLD-80 For Multiple Campuses
GLD consoles were chosen after an evaluation demo with several competitors
Cokesbury United Methodist Church in Knoxville, TN, has three locations as well as an online ministry that streams services on the web, with tech director Mischa Goldman recently choosing to implement several new Allen & Heath GLD-80 consoles.
The GLD consoles were chosen after an evaluation demo with several competitors that was provided by ML Sound, also of Knoxville, which has served as church’s audio consultant and contractor for more than a decade.
During the demo, Goldman and his team of engineers listened to the same audio track several times through an assortment of mixing consoles, with their backs turned. “We did a four-console shoot-out, and we all chose the GLD-80,” Goldman states, succinctly.
As a result, contemporary services at the church’s north campus are handed by two GLD-80s, one for front of house and the other for monitors, outfitted with a Dante card for networking. Mix engineers are also taking advantage of the i-Pad app to check sound levels throughout the sanctuary.
At the south campus, the sanctuary hosts more traditional services in a space that’s acoustically very “open,” with a thrust alter jutting out into the sanctuary. “Given this, the sound must be reinforced as opposed to replaced, it has to be amplified but transparent and not sound amplified,” Goldman says. “This is where the older congregation worships and they don’t like a loud sound; they’ll come up to you and say so. The GLD-80 processing really delivers an ideal curve on all the audio.”
The third Cokesbury church is a portable campus, hosted at a high school auditorium each Sunday, with the system needing to be assembled prior to services and then struck immediately afterward. “It’s just like doing sound for a road tour, but with a shorter amount of time.” Goldman notes. “We needed a console with a digital snake option, 48 channels of flexibility and processing that can happen on the fly; in other words, drag and drop what you need and forget the rest.”
“I felt like all these years I’ve been listening to our sound through a paper bag,” he adds. “We turned the GLD-80 on without any processing, and it was a whole new sound spectrum, It’s warmer with very clear articulation and the audio presence is very clean.”
“Allen & Heath has been embedded in our company for over two decades,” concludes Joe Hamilton of ML Sound. “I used their analog boards in the past, and they were always way above the other available mixers.”
Allen & Heath
American Music And Sound
Thursday, April 10, 2014
Allen & Heath Appoints Christian Luecke As Sales And Marketing Director
Previously managed European B2C business for Sony and Samsun
Allen & Heath has appointed Christian Luecke as its new sales and marketing director. He brings to the position 15 years of experience in the consumer electronics market, where he managed European B2C business for Sony and Samsung.
Joining the board of directors, which already comprises managing director Glenn Rogers finance director Dave Jones, operations director Tony Williams, and R&D director Rob Clark, Luecke will oversee Allen & Heath’s global sales and marketing operations.
“I’m excited to be joining the pro audio industry, and specifically the Allen & Heath team,” Luecke states. “My initial impressions of the company are that it is very passionate about audio design and innovation, two areas which are paramount in its product development process. With so many great products already on the market and many more in the pipeline, I am arriving at a very exciting time.”
Rogers adds, “Christian’s appointment will strengthen the existing leadership team and help us to significantly grow the business over the coming years. His extensive experience places him in a position to develop growth strategies and enable us to better support our customer network.”
Allen & Heath
Wednesday, April 09, 2014
In The Studio: Six Nuances You Feel, Not Hear
Identifying the "little things" that really add up over the course of a mix...
Have you ever believed that there’s just something badass engineers do that the rest of the world isn’t privy to? Are you disappointed when everyone on forums seems to agree that engineers are just using really good judgment and generally using basic processing?
Well, don’t get your hopes up too much. 95 percent of a great mix stems from great decision making and the use of basic processing that everyone has access to. But, that last 5 percent does contain a bit of secret sauce. Secret awesome sauce. Every seasoned engineer will have their own recipe. I certainly have mine.
I want to share some personal techniques. These are little things I do that really add up over the course of a mix. Each one of these techniques are based around one idea: you don’t really hear it when it’s there, but you miss it when it’s gone.
By building these subtle effects into my mix I create something that elevates the overall sound without dramatically changing it — which is often a desirable goal when mixing. They also amount to some of the things which just seem to separate a finished mix from a rough mix in that way that’s hard to put a finger on.
1. Fast decaying reverbs
One of my principal approaches to mixing is to create depth and polish.
Often times I may want something to have a 3D image and “glossed” tone, but I don’t necessarily want to hear an audible reverb or delay.
Tucking very short reverbs into generally dry sounds very quietly can add just a bit of depth and hi-fi-ness to the source sound. I’m constantly experimenting with algorithms, timing, and various other settings and I recommend you do the same.
The only generality here is that I tend to lean a bit more toward early reflections with medium diffusion (when diffusion settings are an option). There’s also a few presets in the delay plugin by FabFilter called “Timeless” that I like for this purpose.
You don’t need a lot of this stuff. I’m turning my returns down as low as -15 to -20 dB below the source sound. Just enough so you miss it when it’s gone!
2. Subtle distortion or saturation
A touch of distortion can really make a sound pop in a mix. If it doesn’t sound “distorted” but brings a bit of harmonic energy into the fold I’m usually into the idea.
Not to sound like a FabFilter commercial here, but I like to experiment with Saturn because it gives me very fine control over the specifics and degree of the distortion.
3. Micro panning
Finding movement is paramount to a successful mix. A tiny degree of panning, almost too little to hear unless you solo the source, can go a long way in this regard.
This is a go-to move for sequenced hi-hats (I’ll tend to pan quickly). And very useful for background pads/noises as well (a slightly slower pan is usually good for the sustainy sounds). Delay returns are also a great place to play with moving pan positions.
4. Subtle volume rides at section changes
Volume automation is not just good for evening things out — it can also be great for creating contrast. Next time you’re going from the verse of a song to the chorus try a few of these little techniques.
Bump the chorus up on your submix/master fader channel by 1 dB. Bump the very first moment of the chorus up 1 dB above that, and quickly return it back down. Find a sustaining element right before the chorus and start pulling it up a bit in level creating a subtle crescendo movement.
Even the vocal reverb/delay return can be good to bump right at that transition point.
5. EQ/compression/distortion on reverb and delay returns
I have a cool video tutorial on this but felt that it was worth mentioning here.
Reverb/delay returns are elements in the mix just like anything else. Coloring the ambience in a slightly unique way can help create tonal complexity and augment the sense of depth.
6. Removal of unwanted sounds
A great deal of what you’re hearing in a great mix is what you’re not hearing.
The removal of bleed and mouth noises, the reduction of breathes, the taming of plosives and sibilance. All of these excess sounds add up to one things: distraction.
Not to say breath noises don’t have their place — but you’re the master of the playback so be decisive about what you don’t want, what you do want and how much.
Ultimately we as engineers are doing our best to get the music through the speakers in the most captivating way possible. Sometimes that’s about the big picture. But it’s also about all the little things, the subtle decisions we make, that amount to something bigger than the sum of its parts. That’s why I may do things that the average listener probably won’t consciously hear.
Matthew Weiss engineers from his private facility in Philadelphia, PA. A list of clients and credits are available at Weiss-Sound.com. To get a taste of The Maio Collection, the debut drum library from Matthew, check out The Maio Sampler Pack by entering your email here and pressing “Download.”
Also be sure to visit The Pro Audio Files for more great recording content. To comment or ask questions about this article, go here.
Tuesday, April 08, 2014
TC Furlong Hosting New Yamaha QL Series Console Demos This Month In Chicagoland
Demo sessions to be held in Lake Forest, Rosemont and Chicago
TC Furlong of Lake Forest, IL, will be hosting a series of demonstrations of the new Yamaha Commercial Audio QL Series of digital consoles in the Chicago area this month. Attendance is free. Dates and locations:
Wednesday, 4/16, 4:30 pm—7 pm
TC Furlong in Lake Forest, IL
Click To Register And For More Info
Tuesday, 4/22, 9 am—1 pm
Regus Offices in Rosemont, IL (with Yamaha district manager Mike Eiseman)
Click To Register And For More Info
Tuesday, 4/22, 4 pm—7:30 pm
The Moody Church in Chicago, IL (with Yamaha district manager Mike Eiseman)
Click To Register And For More Info
The new QL Series inherits CL console features such as all-in-one mixing, processing, and routing capability for small- to medium-scale live touring sound, houses of worship, corporate A/V, and speech applications.
Yamaha Commercial Audio
Monday, April 07, 2014
Zen On Stage: The Latest On IEM & Personal Monitoring
Reliable monitoring is essential to performers on stage, allowing them to blend their musical contributions with the other players – keeping them in time, on pitch, and able to creatively interact.
Traditionally, this function was performed by low-profile loudspeakers aimed generally toward the areas where the performers were active, with level control, sufficient coverage, bleed into open microphones, and feedback all issues that needed to be overcome. Another issue, especially with acts performing at high levels, was/is a contribution to hearing loss.
I first became aware of in-ear monitors, and wireless delivery of the mix, more than 20 years ago when I was asked to check out a prototype from a company called Garwood, based in the UK. The system consisted of a transmitter and a commercial stereo receiver unit (as I recall it was from Sony) operating in the FM band, with a pair of ear buds for monitoring.
In talking with some sound engineers for corroboration, I heard that a handful of singers were trying the system but rarely the other players, and that not hearing other musicians and the audience “live” was a common objection. (It should also be noted that Future Sonics was another pioneer of this approach at the time.)
Fast-forward a couple of decades, and in-ears and other personal monitoring solutions see wide usage. Let’s explore how manufacturers and engineers are pushing the boundaries of monitoring.
Monitoring a performance and what the rest of the band is doing while wearing in-ear monitors has a number of advantages over monitor loudspeakers. Typically, the performer has personal control the level of the mix via a wireless beltpack receiver or other interface, and unless the level controls and limiters are overridden, that level will be safer than the uncontrolled output of stage monitors and additional sound sources.
So there’s less potential for hearing damage as well as listening fatigue, but still enough level to stay present with the performance. And no matter where the artist moves on stage, the mix will remain consistent and much cleaner.
That mix can be even more highly controlled, either by the monitor engineer or by personal monitor-mix stations where the performer can select exactly what they want to hear at which relative levels, and make adjustments on the fly. With the mix going straight from the board into the ears, personalization of a mix is much more refined, and can make achieving a satisfactory mix faster and easier.
For the engineer and audience, having fewer or no monitor wedges lowers the level coming off the stage into the house, so that the house loudspeaker system isn’t competing with the stage for attention. This can be further enhanced with isolation boxes on instrument amplifiers, along with side/rear-firing them, and similar methods. Also, either having no wedges on stage or having them at lower levels to supplement in-ear monitors will help with gain-before-feedback as well as mic isolation.
A major part of performing is making the connection with the audience, and that energy is part of the “live” feeling that can be compromised by wearing isolating in-ears delivering a clean personal mix. An early and ongoing solution to this problem is adding side-stage audience mics to feed applause and other ambient sounds into the monitor mix. Pulling out one ear bud or loosening them to hear what’s going on can defeat the benefits of hearing protection and a more consistent mix.
Engineer Sean Quackenbush (O.A.R., Robert Randolph) with part of the Sensaphonics 3D Active Ambient IEM system.
Performers also need to interact on stage, and this includes being able to talk with each other during or between tunes. Artists also want to communicate with techs and the monitor mixer during a show. With in-ear monitors sealing the ear canal and attenuating ambient sounds by 20 dB or more, that communication can be much more difficult.
A solution from Sensaphonics addressing these challenges is the 3D Active Ambient IEM system. Each custom earpiece contains a microphone, and what it “hears” can be added to a monitor mix at any desired level.
The beltpack has a toggle switch that goes between a performance mix with your preferred ambient level mixed in, and a communications mode that brings up the level of the mic and dials down the monitor mix for those necessary conversations. Another approach is found in the JH Audio Ambient FR earpiece, which has an “ambient bore” to let in an attenuated version of outside sounds.
At The Ear
The elements for personal monitoring include the method of mixing the sources – the monitor console or individual mixers for the musicians, the delivery system for those signals, and the transducers themselves.
Though headphones are occasionally used, ear pieces or “buds” as they’re commonly called are much less obtrusive. Some of the differences among these in-ear devices involve custom-molded versus standard foam tips, the number of individual transducers used to reproduce full-bandwidth audio, the types of drivers used and how they are crossed over, and how they are constructed.
Some companies, such as Ultimate Ears, Future Sonics, JH Audio and Sensaphonics, only offer custom-molded in-ears that fit the exact contours of a particular musician’s ear canals. This precision leads to a tighter seal to attenuate the ambient sound, potentially greater comfort, and a more controlled audio environment. The process begins with a visit to an audiologist who takes molds of both ears.
Some even provide guidance to find a qualified audiologist, with precise instructions of how deep into the canal the mold should go and that the person’s mouth should be open during the process “to ensure a more secure fit while the artist is singing, playing and instrument, or talking.”
Having a tight seal within the ear canal also enhances bass performance. Jack Kontney of Sensaphonics notes that “the soft silicone flexes with the ear canal when singing and changing facial expressions” so that a complete seal is maintained. An incomplete seal can lead to a loss of low frequencies, especially below 100 Hz – and is especially important when using balanced-armature drivers.
A tight seal also prevents the loud ambient sounds from entering, so that effective monitoring can be attained at lower levels. Further, according to Sensaphonics, medical-grade silicone provides several dB better attenuation than acrylic, reducing outside sounds by greater than 30 dB.
Inside an Ultimate Ears 18 Pro Custom earpiece.
Ear buds use either dynamic or balanced-armature drivers, or a combination of both, to reproduce the audio signal. Dynamic drivers function similarly to loudspeaker cones, only are miniaturized. They can be more efficient at reproducing bass frequencies, with potentially less detailed highs.
Balanced armatures suspend a rod surrounded by a coil within a magnetic field, and the motion of the rod is coupled with a diaphragm. Their response tends to be highly detailed. As an example, the AF140 uses a dynamic and a balanced-armature driver in tandem for the lows, crossed over to a balanced armature for the highs.
JH Audio JH16 and Future Sonics mg6pro multi-driver ear buds.
With some buds, the frequency spectrum is divided between a pair of drivers; others use multiple drivers with several crossover points, and offer models with three, four, or more. Ultimate Ears 18 Pro Custom IEMs have six balanced-armature drivers – two LF, one each low and high mid, and two HF – while the Audiofly AF180 offers four balanced armatures and the JH Audio JH16 is a 3-way design with eight drivers per ear (double dual LF, dual mid, and dual high).
Recently introduced mg6pro ear buds from Future Sonics incorporate multiple 13 mm proprietary miniature dynamic transducers, crossover-free, and with proprietary +/-20 dB Ambient Noise Rejection (A.N.R.).
Universal-fit in-ear monitors are available from a variety of companies, such as Shure, Audiofly, Avlex MIPRO, Westone, Etymotic, and others. These units couple the earpiece with replaceable foam tips that conform to the contours of the ear canal.
While they don’t offer the fit and seal of a customized system, they are high-performance audio devices, like studio headphones. Listening recently to a CD through a pair of Audiofly AF140s, I had a “what’s that?” reaction and realized that I was hearing the detail of the flute player’s breathing on the recording.
Making It Personal
Going beyond a handful of different mixes provided by the monitor engineer, compact monitor mixers can be positioned by the individual musicians who can then customize their own mixes.
Professional personal mixers allow musicians to select and custom-mix 16 channels or more (discrete channels or sub-mixes) of digital audio from all available channels, adjust levels, pan, EQ and effects for each channel, plus save and recall presets of previous mixes.
Aviom is a pioneer in personal mixing, and recently introduced the A360, offering 16 mono or stereo channels that can be selected from a 64-channel A-Net or Dante digital audio network, plus an additional dual profile channel that gives the musician instant access to a most important channel of their choice. The system also has an onboard mic that can be enabled for one-touch ambience, or a stereo ambience feed from the console can be tied to this control.
The Roland Systems Group M-48 provides access to either 16 or 40 channels of digital audio when the appropriate Roland digital snake is connected to a Roland V-Mixer console. The setup of connected M-48s can be controlled locally or via software on a control computer. The personal mixer offers multiple outputs to feed a pair of floor wedges as well as headphones or IEMs.
The Allen & Heath ME-1 personal mixer works seamlessly with the company’s iLive and GLD digital mixers, complemented by the ME-U hub that opens it up to use with other consoles via Dante, EtherSound or MADI. ME-1 also has an Aviom compatibility mode.
The dbx professional PMC16 personal monitor controller can be used with the dbx TR1616 converter or any other Harman BLU link compatible device, and multiple PMC16s can be daisy chained using Cat-5e, allowing each user to receive 16 channels. It also is outfitted with onboard Lexicon reverb. The Movek myMix system has a powerful yet simple interface that includes a large backlit screen, rotary controller, and four function push buttons, allowing the user to select and control a 16-channel mix.
myMix myMix-Mixer and Allen & Heath ME-1, both personal mixers.
And another step farther, Pivitec and PreSonus combine hardware with configuration and control software running on tablet PCs and smart phones. The Pivitec system is based on AVB Ethernet protocols, using compatible network routers and switches plus 16-channel rack-mountable input modules.
PreSonus offers an app called QMix to provide up to 10 musicians with individual wireless mixes on their iPhone or iPod Touch, when used in conjunction with the company’s StudioLive console. The iOS device will detect all StudioLive mixers on the network, and can create a mix that includes all mixer channels. Aviom has also announced that iOS support for the A360 is coming this year.
Today’s performer may be wearing at least two wireless packs – one to transmit voice or instrument to the console, and one to receive a personalized stereo mix. Being wireless provides freedom of movement while retaining a clean, consistent monitor mix. Several wireless microphone manufacturers also offer wireless IEM systems, including Shure, Sennheiser, Audio-Technica, Lectrosonics and others.
Shure offers the PSM900 single-channel and PSM1000 dual-channel wireless personal monitoring systems, which operate in the UHF band. They are analog systems with a frequency response of 35 Hz to 15 kHz, with a stereo separation of 60 dB. The PSM900 covers 36 MHz of spectrum, and up to 20 compatible frequencies can be used together. Transmitter power is selectable at three levels – 10, 50, and 100 mW. The slim bodypack is ruggedly constructed with a metal chassis, and has a detachable whip antenna, stereo mini jack, and a rotary level control.
Audio-Technica M2 (above) and Shure PSM 900 single-channel wireless monitoring systems.
Audio-Technica offers the M2 single-channel wireless monitoring system operating in the UHF band over 33 MHz of spectrum, with multiple bands available. Up to 10 systems can operate together per band. In addition to L/R inputs, an additional input for a click track or ambient mic is provided.
Meanwhile, Sennheiser SR 2000 single-channel and SR 2500 dual-channel wireless IEMs also operate in the UHF band, with the system spanning a 75 MHz band. The transmitter has a 5-band graphic equalizer that can be accessed via the menu.
Note that as the term “wireless” makes clear, these systems use RF spectrum, so these systems need to be coordinated along with wireless mic, instrument, and intercom systems at every show.
Quality in-ear monitors are available at many price points, ranging from a couple hundred to a couple thousand dollars. Hearing a consistent mix is certainly easier when using them, and at less damaging levels. There are benefits to be had in isolation, comfort, and sound quality with some of the custom units. For performers who want to instantly adjust their mix during the performance, the technology is available.
With all the movement on stage, many choices of reliable wireless delivery are available, and to my ears sound as good as wired. In the end, it all boils down to meeting the needs and preferences of the musicians for quality monitoring.
Gary Parks is a pro audio writer who has worked in the industry for more than 25 years, including serving as marketing manager and wireless product manager for Clear-Com, handling RF planning software sales with EDX Wireless, and managing loudspeaker and wireless product management at Electro-Voice.
Avid Previewing User Collaboration Tools At NAB 2014
Cloud collaboration workflows, an online marketplace, and an open metadata schema that will help audio professionals to work together
At the NAB 2014 show in Las Vegas this week, Avid (booth SU902) is previewing cloud collaboration workflows, an online marketplace, and an open metadata schema that will help audio professionals to work together with remote contributors, manage projects and media, and find new outlets for content monetization.
“The media industry is going through a period of unprecedented change, and to be successful, audio professionals need to create, share, manage, track, and distribute their content in powerful new ways,” states Chris Gahagan, senior vice president of products and technology at Avid. “Our exciting Pro Tools technology preview demonstrates how the Avid Everywhere strategic vision meets the unique needs of audio customers by enabling them to collaborate via the cloud, monetize their content through a broader marketplace, and manage content more powerfully using an open metadata schema.”
Through a series of presentations at NAB, Avid preview several developments for Pro Tools audio software:
Collaborate via the cloud — To enable music and audio professionals to collaborate together everywhere, Avid announced plans to add cloud-based collaboration workflows to Pro Tools. Musicians, producers, mixers and other contributors will be able to work together on the same music session or soundtrack, in real-time or offline, no matter where they are.
With track-based collaboration Pro Tools users will be able to:
—Post sessions to cloud storage and invite others to collaborate
—Work on the same session at the same time or offline, and share updates directly within Pro Tools
—Record, edit, and mix tracks that will be pushed to all other collaborators upon completion
—Automatically keep track of all contributions and changes, as files are automatically tagged with rich metadata
With streaming capabilities, users will be able to:
—Securely stream mixes to an iOS device for real-time review and approval
—Sync collaborators’ Pro Tools sessions together to work on audio for video projects, such as remote ADR or voiceover sessions
—Stream audio across synched Pro Tools sessions
Securely share and archive work locally or in the cloud — To ensure that users can maintain access and provide collaborators access to all parts of their projects—even on systems that don’t have the same plug-ins—Avid is developing the PXF archival. This format will enable Pro Tools sessions to be exported with rich metadata and effects “frozen” into the media so that projects can be accessed and played further down the line, even if technologies change or are unavailable, no matter how far out in the future users re-access them.
Monetize content through an online marketplace — Content creators will be able to connect and collaborate with other media professionals, as well as connect with consumers, through a public marketplace, enabling them to share and monetize media, with all rights managed and delivery secured across the environment. Additionally, studios and media companies will be able to set up private marketplaces that enable collaboration and streamline production.
The new marketplace will allow audio professionals to:
—Publish session files, multichannel stems, and stereo mixdowns directly from Pro Tools for license in the public marketplace
—Gain exposure and opportunities to make money by connecting with media professionals looking to license music and sound assets
—Quickly find professional-quality content in the style and formats they need, as all files will contain rich, searchable metadata
—Rate and provide comments for media assets in the marketplace to help others in the community make more informed purchasing decisions
—Buy and sell music and audio content with peace of mind, as all rights will be managed and protected across the marketplace
—Create a private marketplace for media enterprise, making it possible to sell media assets, and control to whom they are available, through a storefront hosted in Avid’s marketplace
—Search for and purchase marketplace content and audio plug-ins directly from within Pro Tools—with no application restart required after installation
Manage content using a new metadata schema — A new universal open metadata schema will enable users to manage, protect, and track every single media asset created and edited across the entire production and media value chain, from content creation through consumption. The metadata schema will be integrated into Pro Tools, and document the roles of all creative contributors, as well as manage, protect, and track how the media performs in the marketplace.
Ahead Of The Game: Console Strategies For Festivals
The goal is to be as prepared as possible. Spring is nigh...
Mixing at festivals – good times! Or is it?
Anyone who has worked as either a guest mixer or system tech in a festival environment probably has stories about the inherent ups and downs and, certainly, the hyper pace and stress that are part of the gig. And we’ve all heard a few horror stories of artists hitting the stage patched incorrectly or without a sound check.
But there’s also the unique thrill of mixing in a hyped environment with tens of thousands of fans on hand, and sometimes in really cool outdoor settings. The goal of the mix engineer is to be as prepared as possible, particularly when it comes to working with the console. Spring is nigh…
Preferences & Strategies
It’s been common for years to see multiple consoles “leap-frogged” between acts, allowing one or more offline consoles to be dialed in while another is live. They may be switched over by the system engineer or sub-mixed to a master console, and in the latter case, gain structure or ground loop hum/noise issues can pop up between consoles. Carrying in-line pads and audio isolation transformers is always a good idea.
Digital consoles have obviously changed the workflow at festivals by allowing preset show files to be prepped and uploaded, which helps in terms of establishing baselines and promoting efficiency. Premium analog boards may still be carried by certain headliner acts, but they’re usually not shared.
Whatever the console(s) in use, advancing the date is still the most important step in a successful gig. Even the best system techs can’t prepare properly if they don’t have enough information in advance. Further, even when this info is available and shared ahead of time, it’s still wise to arrive at the gig with a copy of the stage plot, patch list, input list, and whatever else is important to the production.
Having mixed at plenty of festivals and other multi-act events, I’ve developed a number of personal preferences and strategies. And I’ve observed that the balance of science versus art that we know as “live mixing” tends to weigh heavily toward the science side when the “run-and-gun” mode common to festivals kicks in. After all, things just have just work, first.
A Yamaha CL5 provided by Gand Concert Sound to serve as the house console at the annual Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago.
But as veteran freelance mix engineer Chris McMillan (John Mark McMillan/Promenade Media) told me, “Mixing is much better when the art takes priority over the science, and that means ergonomics can determine how nuanced your mix becomes. I like channels grouped the way I’m used to so that I see what I need and never know anything else exists.”
This is where festivals are so different than tours. Touring engineers get very used to their daily setup being consistent, and can take advantage of that repeatability to achieve highly detailed mixes. System techs that aren’t mixers should try to keep in mind that mix engineers aren’t always crazy or unrealistic when they want their console laid out a certain way.
It’s about familiarity. It really does matter if the lead vocal gets patched to the rack tom channel. Things like this can be dealt with in a pinch, and maybe quickly, but they can impact the end result by either causing a failure or a compromised (weaker) mix.
In talking with Chris and a couple of other festival mixing veterans, and thinking about my own experiences, certain themes are clear. Mix engineers desire a “perfect” console setup and the ultimate processing tweaks to satisfy their mix plans. But when working festivals, they do realize that it’s a daunting task to support many acts a day as opposed to one artist on multiple tour dates. As a result, they just hope for a reasonably well-tuned PA, a thoughtful system approach, solid gain structure, and an intelligent output bus layout.
Input patching is critical – particularly at festivals. What’s the best way to handle it? If the sound company has the qualified hands and there is enough change-over time, it’s great when stage inputs can be updated for each artist on the bill.
Whether the consoles are digital or analog, this extra effort goes a long way in helping keep things familiar for visiting engineers.
And if troubleshooting becomes necessary, engineer(s) are likely to have the stage patches for their artists memorized and know things like “hats are on line 5” and the like. All of this said, it’s simply not all that realistic in most festival situations…
Festival stages are typically patched in a logical order with plenty of lines, and the patches don’t change between acts. If one drummer needs 10 lines and another needs only six, then the latter has four open lines during his set – the overall count remains the same.
“Soft patching” on digital consoles allows laying out input and output channels in any order without making physical patch changes. This is extremely powerful. No longer does snake line 1 have to appear on input channel 1. Each engineer’s preferred console layout can be implemented without impacting the physical patches. But this requires sharing console show files in advance (pun definitely intended) or doing it on site while another act is playing.
It’s common to use matrixes to drive PA outputs such as main left and right, down fills, front fills, delay zones, subwoofers, etc. Many engineers simply distribute their stereo mix across these various zones (either L/R or L/R+sub), while some actually mix to each zone, which requires building specific mixes into each matrix. The exact PA zones and distribution varies per event, per stage, and not all companies do it the same.
But whatever the configuration, it’s imperative that the console’s output patches match the PA. With digital consoles this means soft patching the output patches, and for this reason, system techs need to be careful when loading each act’s show file, as output patching errors or surprises can create a perfect storm and wreck a system real quick.
A Soundcraft Vi6 as the front of house console provided by Premier Production & Sound Services for the main stage at Louisiana State University’s Groovin’ on the Grounds multi-act concert in Baton Rouge.
A couple of times I’ve worked as a guest mix engineer at a festival and then stayed on as a pre-booked system tech. While this isn’t my forte or preference, I found it very interesting to work from the other (host) side of things. Many visiting engineers arrive with an expectation of certain doom, and it was fun to “make their day” with exceptional support and PA organization.
In one case, the long-time mix engineer for a well-known classic rock band clearly wasn’t happy about the digital console at FOH. He just wanted to “get by and get out of there.” I knew this desk inside and out and did everything possible to make it painless for him. He sought to keep it simple, with input faders and EQs accessible, in order, but with no other processing – not even DCA groups.
Further, he actually broke out his console tape and Sharpie and proceeded to label the input channels analog style, in spite of the nice programmable LCD labels! When I pointed out that the tape was only applicable on “Bank A” and would be inaccurate as soon as he banked the faders, he simply replied, “I don’t bank.” The band fit on the 24 input faders without any banking (layering), and by the end of the first song, it sounded absolutely amazing. Simple setup, talented musicians, and great ears.
In considering this topic, I did some Q&A with long-time mix engineers Daniel Ellis (David Crowder Band, Jesus Culture) and the aforementioned Chris McMillan.
Here’s what they had to say.
What do you appreciate most from the host system tech in terms of console prep and work flow?
Chris McMillan: I love it when signal flow and busing are simple. That’s really the most important thing. I want to know I’m just responsible for a stereo mix and maybe a send for subs, and everything else is going to be fine. If that’s right, and there’s a solid talkback situation, then we’re golden. It’s also much appreciated when the system tech has thought through the input list and our specific goals and considered what that means in terms of the system configuration. There’s nothing as useless as taking the time to advance a show only to have nothing prepared and no feedback.
Daniel Ellis: I want to see a production console for videos, emcees, and things that I do not need/want in my show file. This also means that I can load and prep my show file in between acts without waiting for the perfect 30-second gap where nothing is happening on stage.
What’s your take on “festival patch”?
CM: In an ideal world, I stay away from festival patch, although this is pretty much only accomplished with a show file. I like channels grouped the way I’m used to so that I see what I need and never know anything else exists. You know, the typical spoiled brat method of engineering.
DE: As a headliner I want my show to be patched per my input list. The only problem with this is that many festival patch guys for some reason can’t get it right the first time so half of the sound check ends up being “fixing the patch.” At least this is how it works at Christian festivals. Sometimes it seems like a random guy has been hired off the street to patch when in essence, patching is one of the most important jobs.
A DiGiCo SD5 that’s one of numerous SD models supplied by Clearwing Productions for the annual Summerfest in Milwaukee.
Do you carry a show file if it’s a compatible digital console or do you send it in advance? Or neither?
CM: I carry a show file if it seems like it will make a difference. Sometimes the process of conforming a show file or the time it takes to be convinced it’s correct isn’t worth the effort, because patching and busing can become compromised. Anyway, the acts I work with aren’t doing anything so weird that a default festival scene can’t work as a great starting point.
DE: I always try to know ahead of time what console I’ll be using and have a show file ready. Even if it’s a blank show file built on my laptop, I find that it helps because at least I know where all of my inputs are. If you try to run a 48-input show from a festival console file, you spend the entire time switching between banks trying to remember where everything is. It helps me tremendously to have the same workflow every time even if I’m starting with flat EQ and no processing on anything.
Do you find that “artist EQ” or “output bus processing” is usually enough to get your sound or do you often wish (ask?) for access to the PA processing?
CM: Limited bus-style processing is usually acceptable, if not from a creative standpoint, then from the understanding that everyone else is working off of that same tuning.
DE: Lately I often find myself at an Avid desk at festivals, so I just slap a Waves Q10 (10-band paragraphic EQ plug-in) across the stereo bus. Luckily I haven’t had to do much to the systems themselves. Just two or three small cuts on the Q10 in problem areas and I’m usually happy. If it’s a console that doesn’t work with Waves, I simply use the parametric on the master out.
What makes for a good system tech?
CM: I don’t hesitate to communicate with the system tech about expectations and any changes I feel the PA needs. Most good techs can balance the reality of the promoter and their employer’s expressed interests and still meet your creative and technical needs. A good tech wants a good sounding show in reality and not just on paper.
DE: Good attitude and good ears! And please don’t set up a measurement mic in one spot and put in 15 EQ adjustments.
Kent Margraves began with a B.S. in Music Business and soon migrated to the other end of the spectrum with a serious passion for audio engineering. Over the past 25 years he has spent time as a staff audio director at two mega churches, worked as worship applications specialist at Sennheiser and Avid, and toured as a concert front of house engineer. He currently works with WAVE in North Carolina and can be contacted at email@example.com.