Thursday, September 08, 2011
The Focus Zone: Making The Most Of Our Resource Management As Mix Engineers
All I’m saying is let’s get our audio setups back on track so we can keep our eyes on the show...
To accomplish anything in life, we, as humanly creatures, must utilize an assortment of resources to accomplish any given task.
For example, going to a store to purchase something involves brain time in making the decision to venture out, “wear and tear” on our vehicle, and the depletion of our finances – all are expenditures of resources.
Even something as simple as watching TV, in which our visual and auditory perceptions are held captive or distracted, can be viewed from the perspective of having a resource cost.
According to our grade-school teachers, we possess the ability to perceive via five methods: sight, smell, taste, touch and hearing. Though these seem a bit oversimplified to me - and our ability to sense things like tension, fear, and acceptance seem awkwardly overlooked - the primary five will do for the points at hand.
If indeed we have this somewhat limited array of perceptions, and not unlike a computer, we also possess a finite ability to process the data supplied by our five input data ports at any given point in time, then theoretically the fewer things we focus on, the better we can be at them. Put another way, there are only so many things we can pay attention to, deal with, and effectively manage at any given moment.
As sound engineers, we do our best not to be distracted, to focus on listening and turning knobs to achieve the desired sonic outcomes. Watch, listen, adjust, repeat, over and over again, perhaps hundreds and hundreds of times during the course of a single show.
In a way, sound engineers for rock shows do not differ that much from the musicians we reinforce. Imagine a drummer, mid-drum solo, being asked to do some math calculations or give directions to the next gig - how would that affect his/her performance?
Think about the best shows you’ve ever seen. Were the musicians distracted or purely focused in the moment?
We’re faced with the challenging task of immersing in two parallel realities. Usually we deal with a band playing or a person speaking whose primary focus is to communicate and connect with an audience. Our ability to stay in tune with that connection, whether riveting or disconnected, is the guiding force behind the technical decisions we make.
Meanwhile we control the sound the audience hears using a myriad of complex and technical tools. Again, also not unlike the musicians, we use physical items to transfer our thoughts into realities that can be experienced by others.
If we let ourselves become too focused on the performance, we may miss cues and lose our ability to preempt corrections that need to occur. If we let ourselves burrow into the methodic and technical control of the audio equipment, we may also miss the opportunity to enhance the connection between performers and audience.
It all comes down to our ability to maintain a macro awareness of the whole picture whilst micro controlling the sonic presentation in the most efficient and ergonomic means possible.
Every move or alteration of every equipment control requires our humanly resources. Every resource required is one less we can dedicate to awareness of our surroundings.
What does it take to add some high frequency to a vocal microphone? First we realize it needs to occur, requiring awareness of the show, then we locate the right knob and physically grab it, turn, listen, mentally compare the results, maybe readjust and finally, completed task. Perhaps the knob can adjust no further – is this a physical sensation where it stops moving, or a visual one where it continues to spin and we also must use our “sight resource” to confirm?
Where was the knob when we started? How much rotation remains should more adjustment be needed? Was it also necessary to call up a screen to see? Is the knob even controlling the correct thing? How much thought power did that minor adjustment take? Did we, at any time, lose focus of the bigger picture?
Now do that hundreds of times in situations where performance expectations are high, and it can quickly become apparent that equipment that draws heavily upon our humanly resources can compromise the quality of our craft.
What I’m discussing here actually applies to two groups of people - sound engineers and equipment designers.
For the engineers, I’m highlighting the importance of minimizing the operational complexity of the equipment, in addition to increasing the awareness that indeed having to look at the controls we touch, however briefly, dilutes and distracts. Not unlike a guitar player who must watch his or her fingers to play, or a singer that must read the lyrics, total immersion is lost.
As a result, it behooves us to push for and demand equipment that allows us to see what is going on and instantly grab control.
For equipment designers - no, it’s not O.K. to access key aspects buried down multiple menus. Yes, there are engineers who mix great shows on complex cumbersome gear, but I’ll venture to say that those same engineers will mix even better shows on gear that requires less resources to operate.
It’s no secret that I’m not a fan of digital consoles, yet I also know that they’re are an important and valuable mixing tool that are here to stay.
My issues with digital consoles are not sonic, but rather, are about control.
I want my mix control surface to parallel what I experience while driving a car. I want to see all relevant information at a glance and have instant access control over the vehicle.
Pressing a button that switches the windshield into the car stereo screen, or a video monitor allowing me to see what is in the trunk, is unacceptable. Would you be happy with a rotary encoder for a steering wheel? Well, perhaps, but some sort of motional feedback would be important.
Eye On The Ball
Digital gear designers, how about a little nub on the rotary encoder knobs and an “analog mode” that allows us to feel the knob position with motional feedback end stops, freeing up our eyes for other tasks? How about making some outboard rack units with assignable metering and knobs so we can move critical controls and visual indicators out of the console catacombs and into the racks?
How cool would it be to have eight meters, with three knobs per meter, in a separate two rack-space unit where we could cluster all of our gates? (Hey look – all of my gates are right there, clear as can be, always!) I’d also love to have a few more of those two rack-space metering/knob units clustering my compressors into logical visual groupings as well, rather than splattered and buried into the abyss of menus.
Or how about a single rack-space unit as well that has a screen and some knobs that can be assigned to control a single effect unit?
Plugin companies could make “plugout” units that offer control and look like the physical realities of the units they’re trying to emulate. With a rack of plugouts we could actually see the settings as well as what a multitude of compressors are doing all at the same time, while also not hijacking the console’s “windshield.”
Though digital consoles are renowned for amazing metering accuracy, really, who would ever want or need more than six or eight LEDs to show a 100-plus dB dynamic range? (Ha, just kidding!) But outboard metering alone seems to warrant the creation of assignable outboard hardware.
In sports, the mantra is “don’t take your eyes off the ball.” When driving, everything is designed to minimize diverting your eyes from the road. All I’m saying is let’s get our audio setups back on track so we can keep our eyes on the show.
Dave Rat heads up Rat Sound Systems, based in Southern California, and has also been a mix engineer for more than 25 years.
Church Sound: Your House Volume And My Grandmother’s Cooking
For whom are you mixing?
A sound tech from Washington writes regarding finding the right house volume levels, “It’s either too loud for the elderly or too soft for the youth, or too much electric or not enough bass, it’s just impossible to please everyone.”
My grandmother’s cooking immediately comes to mind.
My grandmother was a good cook. I’m not talking “Paula Dean with butter in everything” or “Bobby Flay with everything jazzed up.“ I’m talking about good simple food. Cooked ham, vegetable soup, you know; simple foods. It was not food that was full of a lot of spices or secret ingredients. But for her and her husband, it’s what they liked.
What would I cook for my grandmother?
Would I cook her a spicy pot of jalapeño-based chili or spicy Thai-shrimp? No. Not because she wouldn’t appreciate it, but because it’s not the type of food that brings her enjoyment. It would bring pain, if anything.
But what if she was one of many people at a family gathering? Then how much do I cater to her? Do her needs take precedent over other people’s dining preferences? Yes! No! Maybe?!?
For whom are you cooking?
It’s a family gathering…you are in charge of the food for the event…your in-laws are hosting the event and your father-in-law just gave your $1000 to cover all your food expenses. Now answer this question…who gives the final O.K. for the menu? Your father-in-law, of course! No question. He’s fronted the money and you want him to be happy. He’s also in a position of leadership (eldership) over everyone else.
For whom are you mixing?
The short answer is…the pastor. Depending on your church structure, it might be the worship leader or an elder board or a creative arts pastor. As much as I’d love to tell you that you are mixing for the congregation, when it comes to who ultimately has the final word; it’s someone in church leadership. In cases such as this, you can talk with them about comments you are receiving but whatever they say, that’s what you do.
The drums rule…the drums are low key…the electric guitar solo’s rock out…the electric guitar sits back in the mix…it’s up to them.
What if there is no direction?
You might be in a situation where they say “whatever you think sounds good.“ [Gulp] Now what? I could come up with five different scenarios and none would be like your situation. Therefore, I’ll tell you what I’d do…
—Review the mix by overall volume. How loud does it need to be to be worshipful?
—Review the mix by volume of individual instruments. Are they set in good relation to each other? Do I have a good solid mix?
—Watch the audience. If the youth kids are singing with their hands raised but the rest of the congregation just stands there, then lower the volumes.
—Look for a common ground. This is the hard part. You can’t please everyone all the time. You want to please a majority of the people most of the time. You can look at the ratio of demographics. Twenty senior citizens and three youth kids? You mix for the older crowd.
—Ask for pastor-approval and recommendations. There comes a point where you can create a balanced mix that’s good for the majority but you might still get criticism. Talk with the pastor and explain the situation. Somewhere along the lines, someone has to compromise. The pastor might say, “Mix so the oldest lady in the congregation likes it” or “mix for the majority and send people with complaints to me.“
I never wanted to cook super-spicy food for my grandmother. I wanted to cook food she’d love. But in cooking for a larger audience with varying tastes, I have to recognize that she would be sitting and eating dinner with everyone. Maybe I’d drop the spicy-shrimp and swap in something more savory.
It’s not about what we eat together, it’s about dining together. That’s how you and the church leadership should look at the music mix.
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.
Monday, September 05, 2011
The Old Soundman: Club Restrictions
Too many boneheads running the board?
Here’s one of those situations that make you wonder about your career choice or where you are in your life path.
Pay close attention, our buddy Brian is showing us how to keep the disgustedness in check and not resort to a brick through the front window of this fine establishment…
O.K., try this one out…
Hit me with it, Bri! Let me have it!
You just found out the band you regularly mix for has a gig at a “new” or “never played there before” club…
Surely this is not an unknown experience for you.
So you lock out the night for the gig, then the band calls back and says “uh, the club guy says ‘no outside soundman touches the board’ but you can stand next to him and assist.”
Ah, that’s brutal, Brian! I can see why you’re ticked off. But don’t freak out if I tell you that this is exactly what happens if you and your band go on Conan or Letterman or “The Tonight Show” or any of the 99,000 awards shows.
So in a weird way, what you’re faced with is good training for the big time! Although those broadcast mixers usually have a conscience and spend a little time studying the record.
I’m actually going to have my own awards show next year! It’s going to be called “The People’s Radio Scene Superstar Vibe-A-Thon For Players and Soundpeople.”
All of the servile tools-of-the-manufacturers audio mags are going to cover it, and my co-hosts will be Ann Wilson of Heart, Martha Davis of the Motels and the new chick from Evanescence.
I’m pretty sure she has a “thing” for me! (But don’t tell the Old Soundwoman.)
And I reply, “Did you mention to the club I’m a ‘professional’ and do this for a living, know the band’s material backward and forward, and have special cues for each song?”
Of course your pals did! Didn’t they?
They reply, “Sorry, we get too many boneheads running the board and screwing things up.” (Gee thanks, boneheads.)
Yeah, thanks a lot, boneheads!
So at the gig, I’m supposed to tell the house guy, “O.K., on this next chorus, hit the lead vocal with a 360 ms delay to trail off on his last note, then a big snare hit, followed by a guitar solo… ?”
May I make a suggestion, Brian? Go to this club as a customer one night, and strike up a conversation with the soundman.
Tell him exactly who you are. Have a couple beers with the guy, and tell each other some tales of the soundman life.
Of course, if the club is far from your home, this may not be practical. But if it’s nearby, go ahead and do your best to make friends with this individual who you’re busy demonizing, just as he is demonizing you.
Because, really, we all know he has a point – there are so many boneheads out there running around ruining sonic life for everyone within earshot of their ham-handed hijinks.
But – he is taking it pretty far. After all, he’s not controlling a major network program going out to millions of people every night.
Ahh, forget it – I’d rather stay home and watch reruns of “The Twilight Zone.”
Can I come over and watch with you? How about the one with William Shatner as the nut who sees the ape out on the wing of the old airliner?
Yeah, you know exactly what I’m talkin’ about! You’ve now established yourself as a soundman of great taste and discernment.
I’m sure this is only a tiny, momentary stumbling block in your rampage to greatness!
The Old Soundman
There’s simply no denying the love. Read more from the Old Soundman here.
Thursday, September 01, 2011
Stagecraft: Wiring A Stage Efficiently, Neatly & Safely
If you find your stagecraft skills lacking this primer on wiring will bring your up to speed.
Among many of the recent entrants into the sound profession, I’ve noticed a lack of knowledge when it comes to wiring a stage.
Perhaps it due to a lot of sound engineering schools being essentially studio-based courses.
Maybe it’s simply that it’s difficult to get a young mind to concentrate on something as mundane as running cable when there is a digital board with loads of lights and buttons sitting in the corner of the room!
Improper wiring of a stage makes for more work when it comes to wrapping up at the end of the night, makes it difficult to trace any faulty cables that may arise during sound check or during the gig and can cause trip hazards for artists and crew on- or back-stage.
This is the way I was taught years ago and the basic method is the same on every stage right up to the top level.
Before we begin our little primer we should clarify a few terms.
Upstage - The part of the stage furthest from the audience.
Downstage - The part of the stage closest to the audience.
Stage Left - The side of the stage to your left as you stand onstage and face the audience.
Stage Right - The side of the stage to your right as you stand onstage and face the audience.
Heavy mains cable such as 3-phase feeder cable should always be kept off-stage. Excess mains cable should never be left tightly coiled but left in a neat figure of eight pattern under the stage if possible but certainly out of the way of walkways.
When running lighter gauge cable from the mains distro to amplifier racks, use the shortest length possible to avoid having large coils of excess cable in areas where monitor engineers, guitar technicians and other stage-hands are likely to be working.
Leave short lengths of surplus cable under amp racks or in the dead space often found behind the amplifier racks.
Try to ensure that all mains cable to amplifiers follows a similar path, to avoid tangles during load out. Make sure it looks neat, if it doesn’t, you probably should redo your work.
When running electrical cables to on-stage power drops, best practice is to have at least an upstage and a downstage feed.
Try and run mains cable upstage on the drum-riser, following other cable runs for monitors and signal cables if possible.
The upstage line will feed mainly guitar and bass amps (backline). The downstage power feed should be downstage of the monitors, and again should follow monitor and signal cable runs. This feed will generally be required to power guitarist’s tuners and pedal-boards and keyboards.
Again, avoid using cables that are too long. Tuck any excess cable under on-stage risers or off-stage where possible.
That way, if you need to move the power drop, the extra cable is reasonably accessible. The key is to never cross the performance area (ie: the space between the drum-kit and the monitor line) with cable.
Similar commonsense applies to running loudspeaker cable. For onstage monitors, follow the same line as the other cable.
Use the shortest lengths required, keep excess offstage, and never leave coils of cable onstage beside monitors. It just looks bad.
If possible use loudspeaker cable looms with breakout boxes for groups of monitor mixes close together. This speeds up both the load in and the load out.
Line systems (multis, “snakes” etc) should preferably be flown from stage to the front of house mix position where possible.
Other solutions include rubber mats, cable ramps or creating an audience free zone in the center of the auditorium.
Many venues have cable ducts designed to quickly run line-systems and other control cable to front of house. Modern Ethernet, fiber and lightpipe solutions have greatly simplified this part of cable management.
Onstage, the keys to quick, tidy and accurate signal cable patching are sub-stage boxes and a bit of planning. If you’ve a stage plan, identify where the main cabling areas are going to be.
Drum kits will generally take at least 8 channels, with a couple of channels for the nearby bass rig and two vocals, you’re looking at a minimum of 12 lines pretty close to each other.
Rather than running 12 long cables over and back to the main stage box, drop a 12-way sub stage box in front of the kit and run twelve short cables to the mics and DIs required. It’s simple math: it’s far quicker to wrap up 15m stage box and 12 3m cables, a total of 51m of cable, than wrapping up 12 10 meter cables, 120 meters.
Other areas possibly requiring stage boxes are keyboard-land and the front line of vocals with acoustic guitars and so on.
Label stage boxes with the main input number and what this channel is for (center vocal, snare, kick, whatever).
Again, same rules for running cable apply: follow the other cabling routes, use shortest cable necessary and never cross the performance area or stage-access routes.
Finally, leave any excess neatly coiled under mic stands. Always keep excess as close to the source – this makes it easy to move a mic later on.
Always start by running your mic cable from the main stage box or the substage box. There’s two good reasons for this: (1) it means the excess will always be by the mic and, (2) if you are working in a team, there is no chance of one of you accidentally plugging in the wrong mic into the wrong channel.
Lastly, keep a few cables handy onstage as replacements if needed. Don’t close the cable box and stash it in some hard-to-access place.
Remember the old saying: the load out begins at the load in. By using some common sense, you will have more time to make sound, tune the system and troubleshoot any problems arising by following these ground-rules.
Your stages will be safer, your cables will last longer and you will make fewer mistakes. Finally, you will be heading home from the gig a lot earlier.
Alex Fernie is the founder and managing director of Alex Fernie Audio Ltd., a leading Irish sound reinforcement rental company based in Galway on the west coast of Ireland. Follow @alexfernieaudio on Twitter.
Friday, August 26, 2011
RE/P Files: An Interview With The 1971 NARAS Engineer Of The Year Roy Halee
From the archives of the late, great Recording Engineer/Producer (RE/P) magazine, this feature is an in depth look back at the career of a legendary engineer. This article dates back to the November/December 1971 issue.
When a child is learning to walk, he is able to do no more than put one foot in front of the other and shift his weight.
He learns quickly (after a couple of falls), that he must master these basics before he can advance to running, skipping, or dancing.
His thoughts may not be quite so complex as we seem to imply, but the fact remains that for the time, he can only do one thing, and that without much skill: he can walk.
After several years, he becomes adept to any number of methods of getting himself from place to place.
He may walk, skip, run, dance, or whatever. It all depends on the situation he finds himself in. Further, if he’s been aware of his learning process, he knows he’s gotten beyond his walking stage by experimenting, by playing around with his balance and coordination.
Great dancers are great experimenters. They’ve discovered that they have to go beyond just walking in order to fully express themselves, and to respond artfully to the music to which they dance.
We think the analogy is not too strained when we compare the artistry of a great dancer to the artistry of a great recording engineer.
Such an engineer is beyond the elementary repetition of, “It worked then, and it’ll work now. Why take chances?”, just as the dancer is beyond carefully putting one foot in front of the other and merely walking.
The techniques of the engineer and dancer are always growing, changing, expanding, in order to better express the music and feeling they deal with daily.
Roy Halee dances with his fingers. For his artistry and technique as an engineer, he was awarded a Grammy and the title Engineer of the Year for 1971 by the National Association of Recording Arts and Sciences.
He is the man-behind-the-scenes, engineer, friend, and cohort of Simon and Garfunkel. The classic album “Bridge Over Troubled Water” is the product of his engineering skill combined with the musical genius of Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel. A quick listen to the album will show that its greatness is not music alone.
Columbia has been giving out gold records for only two years, but Halee already has 16 years of them.
His association with Simon and Garfunkel began just as he graduated from Columbia’s editing room to the studio. He was starting as a recording engineer when Simon and Garfunkel arrived for their first audition.
He engineered, they played, and that first audition became their first album, “Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M.” He’s been with them ever since.
Just as the dancer must obey the law of gravity, there are certain limits that Halee must work within. But those limits are becoming frayed and dented by his insistent forays against them.
Halee says it succinctly: “I don’t like to make hard and fast rules. When experimentation goes out the window, new sounds go out the window.”
It’s hard to pin the man down on exact and repeat- able techniques; he’s always changing. We managed however, to get some insight on him, and the contribution he’s made to engineering artistry.
It is well known that Halee gets tasteful though unusual sounds from his drums.
He normally mikes them with a U-47 overall, snare top and bottom with a salt shaker or RE-20, floor torn often top and bottom, a mike over the sock cymbal (high hat), high enough to get some splash from the snare, and the bass drum front and back.
The second mike on the snare allows him to get a bit of crack without over eq’ing, a technique that is especially effective on the louder rock dates. Double miking of the other drums allows similar effects to be employed.
Phasing seems generally not to be a problem, but readers are cautioned when employing such a technique to be certain that any double miking done is constructive, both electrically and acoustically. Halee is unhappy with copying for the sake of copying. As he puts it:
“There was the day Halee put a drummer next to the elevator shaft.”
“Some people think, ‘That record was successful, so I’ll always mike drums the way I did [or Halee did] on that date.’
But that was that day, that temperature, that studio, and it was Hal Blaine’s set of drums. Tomorrow you’ve got another drummer coming in with his set of drums and the humidity is 80%.”
The point is well-taken. Creativity is most productive when one first recognizes exactly what he is dealing with, and then builds from there.
The creative building of tracks takes strange forms on occasion. There was the day Halee put a drummer next to an elevator shaft,
“We wanted to get an explosion effect, so I put the guy out in the hall next to an elevator at 49 East 52nd street in New York. The hallway itself was extremely live, so I put mikes in the shaft and in the hall, and limited the hell out of them. And we got an explosion sound. It’s in ‘The Boxer’.”
In “Bridge Over Troubled Water” there is a snapping sound, like a whip in the distance. It was created by physically placing the drummer inside an echo chamber.
The willingness to seek unusual methods and sounds is certainly worthwhile, but to be effective, it must be coupled with a more gut feeling for the effect of music on a listener.
When we asked Halee about his use of stereo spread on drum and piano mikes, his response was typically non-commital, but at the same time clear.
“The degree of stereo spread I use depends on the piece. If it’s disconcerting to the song and music, I won’t do it. A lot of times I put drums on one track. It depends. If you’re doing a thing like “Cecilia”, where you want it to dance around, it adds to the arrangement.”
“And generally, when I mike the drums and split them into stereo, I won’t split them extreme left and right. I’ll split them left-center, right-center, and center.”
“If ... the tune elevates itself, or picks up, I will sometimes pan the drums extreme left and right to give it more motion.”
“If a tune calls for a lift, as when it goes into the waltz section, or some such thing where the tune elevates itself or picks up, I will sometimes pan the drums extreme left and right, to give it more motion.
You won’t even be aware that it happened unless you have headphones on. But it does create the effect of lifting that particular section of the tune. Then I’ll bring it back again.”
Simon and Garfunkel’s first album was guitar and voice. To this day, though other instruments overwhelm the guitar in much of their music, it is still given as much attention as ever, particularly in terms of how it is miked.
The exact configuration is dependent on what kind of guitar it is, how it is being played, and whether it is being finger picked, strummed, or flat picked. When a flat pick is used, Halee likes to stay away from a condenser mike, and uses a dynamic mike instead. Otherwise, one, two, or three condensers are often employed.
Normally, two is the number, one at an angle over the hole (to prevent the hand coming between the hole and the mike), and one down over the guitarist’s right side, behind the hand.
When Halee does other stringed instruments , he invariably uses condensers, notably a U-87, 67, or M-49. He’s made the comment that he likes a “wall” of strings. How does he accomplish this?
“I try to use more than one track, like for violins, so I can spread, and the same for low strings. Instead of putting all the violins on one track, and viola and eel I i on another, I try to use a lot of tracks.”
“For eight violins I’d use two mikes. Again it depends on what you’re doing. If it’s a hard rock date, where you can’t get far away because of leakage problems, I’ll mike every two players. But on overdubs, I use an average of two mikes; with eight violins, one on the front four and one on the back four. If there are two violas and two celli, I’ll put a mike on the violas and a mike on the celli.”
“That’s why I got them to put this mixer in this console [A small mixer, independent of the standard console inputs, is mounted on the right hand side of the console].
If I had strings on a hard rock date, I might mike every two violinists, as I said, to get a lot of presence on the string-., bring them up and mix them on this mixer, and take thorn all in on one channel. All eight mikes.”
“Then again, there’ve been occasions where I’ve used one mike on twelve violins, and I’d put it far away. But in a room where the air conditioning and rumble weren’t ridiculous.”
“I like to create a lot of crazy rhythms.”
“I mult the strings, and I usually use a little tape reverb. Just a little bit. Then afterwards in the mix. It depends, again, on what the mix is, what the tune is, what the arrangement is, whether they’re going to have echo or be dry, whether they’re going to have delayed echo. But I always put a little tape reverb on strings.”
Piano is approached according to the nature of the piece. In “Bridge Over Troubled Water” (the song), the piano was miked as would be a classical piano solo.
Three mikes were placed high and back, about six feet horizontally and six feet vertically. Condenser microphones were employed.
On a rock date however, the dynamics and presence of the piano are altered considerably, and dynamic microphones, with an occasional condenser, are placed in tight.
Listening to tracks Halee has done immediately impresses the listener that considerable innovation and work have gone into their making. Technique follows technique, building a complex stereo matte of interweaving and overlaid effects.
“Through the years I’ve put guitars in bathrooms, drums in bathrooms. Sometimes I phase the echo. You don’t know it’s being phased, but it is. I did that on “At The Zoo.”
I’ve put a couple of choruses of voices inside a bathroom or an echo chamber. Sometimes I put Dolbies in when I record and then take them out when I mix. I use a lot of tape reverb. Sometimes we use it to create our own rhythms. When I say “our”, I mean Simon and Garfunkel. We create our own rhythms in the mix.”
“That happened, for instance, on “Bridge Over Troubled Water” Hal Blaine is playing the bass drum, but he’s not playing the part you hear. There’s tape reverb on that bass drum.
Oddly enough, when we did it, we found that it would only work with a Scully four track. If we used another machine, because of the head distance, it was out of rhythm.”
“When you hear ‘Ba da Ba da da da da’, that’s not what he’s playing. He’s playing something like ‘Ba . . . da da’. Something like that. I’d have to listen to the original tape to get the exact figure he plays, but what you hear is different.”
“I do an awfully lot of that. I like to create a lot of crazy rhythms. A lot of times it’s out of rhythm, and you strike out. But I like to fool around and find out when it’s in rhythm, and then if it’s good, I’ll use it.
I’ll flip it in for a couple of bars, and take it out. Sometimes I’ll program it to another track, so it’ll answer itself.”
Halee has been asked to remix “Bridge Over Troubled Water” for quad, but so far he has been reluctant to do so. This might seem out of character for a man so willing to experiment and try new techniques, but Halee feels the quality of quad is not up to par yet.
Further, he says he’s like to get into miking and recording in quad, rather than just remixing.
“I don’t care for drums in back of me, or swishing around. There are phasing problems.”
It seems to me the direction everybody is going now is to have completely isolated tracks, so you can place things in definite positions. I’d like to get into room sound—dimension rather than direction. I feel a lot more experimentation is in order. Until I’ve done it, I’m not going to get into remixing old Simon and Garfunkel tunes. I want it to be good.”
What about the controversy over more tracks, 24, 32, or more?
“The more the merrier,” says Halee.
The technology doesn’t seem to frighten him. He plays with it until he knows it well enough to master it. Like a dancer, he finds new movements through experimentation, and learns them well before performing them for the public.
The spirit, coordination, and balance are all there. The engineer is an artist. Roy Halee dances with his fingers.
Original Article (pdf)
Take the PSW Photo Gallery Tour of audio equipment ads appearing in RE/P magazine, circa 1970
Editor’s Note: This is a series of articles from Recording Engineer/Producer (RE/P) magazine, which began publishing in 1970 under the direction of Publisher/Editor Martin Gallay. After a great run, RE/P ceased publishing in the early 1990s, yet its content is still much revered in the professional audio community. RE/P also published the first issues of Live Sound International magazine as a quarterly supplement, beginning in the late 1980s, and LSI has grown to a monthly publication that continues to thrive to this day.
Our sincere thanks to Mark Gander of JBL Professional for his considerable support on this archive project.
Monday, August 22, 2011
The High-Pass Filter: A Church Sound Board’s Most Underused Button
What they are, what they do, how to use them and more
One button that still looks pristine. No fingerprints. No worn finish. It doesn’t even have a name.
Working in audio, it’s easy finding my way into a foreign sound booth. It could be it’s my station for an event or it might be that I’ve been invited in by the sound tech on duty.
Over the years, I’ve noticed one button that’s often not used. It’s the fixed-point high-pass filter button on each channel.
This single high-pass filter is often labeled as “/80” or “/100.” Honestly, not the best label choice. How many new sound techs would know what the number represented, let alone would know what happens when they pressed it?
What is a high-pass filter?
A high-pass filter (hpf) is an audio frequency filter that cuts (filters out) frequencies below a set level.
For example, if you set a high-pass filter at 300 Hz, you’d lose a lot of the bass sound from instruments that primarily have fundamental frequencies in that lower range.
A high-pass filter also has a slope associated with it. Think of it as the rate of reduction of that filter.
In Figure 1 (below, right), you can see that the hpf filters out frequencies by attenuating (cutting) their decibel levels.
In advanced filters, you can control the degree of the slope. In the case of the hpf button on the sound board channel, it’s a fixed slope.
What does “/80″ or “/100″ mean?
This label indicates a filter (/) and the frequency point for the filter. In the case of “/80,” it’s saying filter out all frequencies below 80 Hz. A resulting hpf then might look like the above image.
Why should I use a channel’s high-pass filter?
There are mean nasty ogres that live in the lower frequencies. They walk around the stage speaking in tones so low…”how low are they?“
They are so low that they sound like deep earthly rumblings. And when the hpf isn’t engaged, you get all those rumbling in your sound system.
Wait a minute, that’s not the whole truth! If they were there all the time, wouldn’t there always be a filter at that frequency? True indeed.
Frequencies in that lower range can be both good and bad. Kick drum, bass guitar, Froggy from the Little Rascals - those all work around that range.
However, a tenor’s vocal microphone that picks up the kick drum on the stage…not good. It’s in these areas you start using the high-pass filter.
Rules for using the high-pass filter.
Rules in audio mixing are few and far between. Guidelines are more the terminology but when it comes down to it, if it sounds good then it’s right.
With that in mind, there are times when I’ll engage the hpf for a guitar and times when I won’t. There are some simple guidelines you can follow;
—If the microphone’s source sound doesn’t use those lower frequencies, then engage the hpf.
—After setting your basic mix, engage the hpf on channels and listen to the difference. Pick the best setting.
—Experiment. What if you engaged the hpf on a bass guitar and it gave it a unique sound that fit the song? Try it!
The high-pass filter channel button shouldn’t go untouched. It’s one more way you can clear up your mix and provide the best sound possible.
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.
Posted by Keith Clark on 08/22 at 03:24 PM
Thursday, August 18, 2011
The Beginner’s Guide To Taking Charge Of The Sound Check
A look at the essentials of line checks and sound checks for live performances
The sound check is critical – if well done, it gives the band confidence in you so they can relax and just play. And when you give the band the monitor mixes they need, they perform better.
In this process, first you do a line check. Are all the mics and DIs connected to the right inputs and working okay?
Then you do a sound check: set the levels, EQ and mix, with the goal of everything will sounding great when the performance starts.
I’ll offer some tips to help this procedure go smoothly.
Let’s say you have a stage plot and a mic input list. Place one copy of your list near the stage box, and another near the mixing console to label the faders.
Plug in mics and direct boxes according to the list, and listen to each channel one at a time over the house loudspeakers.
Note: In situations such as live music festivals, solo each channel and monitor it over headphones to avoid disturbing the audience.
Should you check each mic and DI as it’s plugged in? Or should you connect everything first, then check each channel?
If you check a mic as you plug it in, you know immediately where any problem lies. If you check channels after all the mics are connected, you have to troubleshoot the channels (mute or solo each channel) if you hear a problem.
Checking as you plug in works best if you have one technician on stage and one at the mixer.
But if you’re doing the whole thing – mic’ing and mixing – plug all the mics in and then do a line check. If you hear a noise over the house loudspeakers, mute each channel one at a time and see when the noise stops. Or solo each channel and listen for the noise.
Before the performers arrive on stage, have a helper talk into each mic and identify it. If guitars with pickups are on stage, turn up their volume control and strum each instrument (with the musician’s permission).
Turn up the channel input trim and fader slowly to avoid feedback. Listen for signals and note any issues.
Here are some problems you may hear during a line check, and some fixes to try:
• The mic is plugged into the wrong channel as specified on the input list. Check the connection.
• The snake XLR connector is plugged into the wrong-numbered input. Check it.
• The channel is muted, or is not routed to an output bus.
• Make sure the musician’s volume controls are turned up in their entire signal chain.
• Try other guitar cords and mic cables.
• Replace dead batteries.
• Is phantom switched on in the dead channel? Condenser mics and some direct boxes require phantom power.
Hum or Buzz
• Maybe nothing is plugged into the channel input. This creates an open circuit, and that high impedance input picks up lots of hum and buzz. Make sure the instrument or mic is plugged into the snake.
• The mic cable’s shield might be broken. Replace the cable.
• Maybe the mic is picking up a humming guitar amp. Turn up the guitar and turn down the amp.
• A guitar with a pickup is plugged in and turned up, but nobody is playing it. Touch the strings or turn down the pickup volume to see if the hum stops.
• A direct box can create hum because of a ground loop. Try flipping its ground-lift switch.
• A compressor stomp box is raising the gain because there’s no input signal. Temporarily shut it off and see if the hum goes away.
• If the mixer channel is clipping, turn down the input trim until it stops.
• Check the gain staging of the musician’s stomp boxes.
• Replace bad cables.
• Switch in pads in condenser mics (you’ll hear this only when the musicians play).
Crackles and Noise
• Replace bad cables. There might be a cold solder joint. Clean cable connectors with a cleaner such as DeoxIT by Caig Labs.
• Replace weak batteries.
• In some microphones, make sure the mic capsule is screwed fully onto the mic handle.
At this point, you might dial in some levels and EQ based on past experience. You could insert compressors in vocal channels, and so on.
THE SOUND CHECK
After verifying that all the lines have the right signal and sound clean, you’re ready to begin the sound check itself.
It helps to use a talkback mic. At the mixer, plug a mic into a spare channel and turn up its monitor send. Talk to the band through the monitor loudspeakers - it beats yelling instructions across the room or using sign language.
Before the gig, make sure the talkback mic and its cable sound clean.
I recently did a sound check in which I heard crackles and noise, and wasted time tracking it down – until I found it was the talkback mic’s cable!
Musicians want clear directions from the sound mixer. For example, “Bass guitar: play for a minute and nod when it’s loud enough.” “Lead singer, please get closer to your mic.” “Mr. guitar, please move your mic a little more toward the neck.”
Never allow feedback during a sound check! Not only is it annoying and painful, it can damage hearing and cause tinnitus.
Some studio engineers, placed in a live situation without prior live sound experience, can inadvertently create feedback when they turn a knob too quickly, or un-mute a channel when its gain is way up.
They are used to turning knobs with no harmful consequences. Slow and deliberate is the key.
Here’s a suggested order of events in a typical sound check:
1. With faders and monitor sends set very low, set the gain trim for each instrument/vocal.
2. With faders up, set the monitor level for musician #1.
3. Set preliminary EQ for musician #1.
4. Repeat steps 2-3 for musician #2, and so on.
5. Set up a drum submix and vocal submix if applicable.
6. Ask the entire band to play, and set up a house mix.
7. Touch up the monitor mixes as requested by the band members.
We’ll go over each step. Let’s say the lines are checked and the band is on stage.
Set Gain Trims
First, set the faders and monitor sends very low to prevent feedback as you are adjusting the gain trims.
You might say to the band, “Okay we’re ready for the sound check. I’m just setting levels now, not monitors.”
Ask musician #1 to play or sing as loud as he/she will during the performance. Slowly turn up the gain trim until clipping occurs, then back off about 10 dB to create some headroom. (There are other methods). Repeat for each musician.
Important: Remind the musicians not to change their volume-control settings between the soundcheck and the performance.
Set Monitor Levels
Turn up the faders to design center (but watch out for feedback). Use full-volume house levels if possible so the monitors don’t need to be turned up so much.
Ask musician #1 to play. Slowly bring up that channel’s monitor send until the musician says the level is okay.
Say something like, “Terry, play your bass and let me know when it’s loud enough for you.”
Of course, some musicians do not want to be heard in the monitor loudspeakers.
Now ask musician #1 to play or sing non-stop as you set preliminary EQ for that channel. Make sure it sounds reasonably accurate.
If an acoustic guitar is boom-y, move the mic away from the sound hole or turn down the low-frequency EQ.
If an acoustic guitar pickup is too bright or electric sounding, turn down 2 kHz and/or 12 kHz. If you hear vocal pops, switch in a high-pass filter at 100 Hz or so. It’s a good idea to high-pass everything except maybe the bass, kick and synth.
Set the monitor level and EQ for each musician. A typical checking order is drums (each part of the kit), bass, backup instruments, lead instruments, and vocals.
Do The House Mix
Once all the instruments and vocals are set individually, ask the drummer (if any) to play. Set up a drum sub-mix.
Then ask the singers to perform at full volume and set up a vocal sub-mix.
Ask the band to play a song all together as you set up a house mix. Then ask them to play a short section of a few different song styles.
Touch Up The Monitor Mixes
You, or the monitor mixer, will set each performer’s monitor mix so they can hear themselves and any other parts they need to hear. That’s not necessarily the same as the house mix.
Ask each player what they want in their monitor. If the monitors seem “hot” overall and are starting to ring, turn down the master monitor send a little.
Some musicians comment on the monitor tonal balance. They may want less bass, less mids, more highs, or whatever.
If your monitor sends do not have EQ, you can tweak the graphic EQ that is feeding the monitor power amp.
Note that the musicians are hearing the bass-y sound off the back of the house loudspeakers, so they may not need much bass in the monitors.
That’s great – then you can roll off or filter out the lows in the monitors, which also reduces rumble and feedback.
Controlling Stage Volume
If you turn up a vocalist’s mic in the monitors, and the instruments are very loud at that mic, you also turn up those instruments in the monitors.
You need to get more vocals and less instruments at the singer’s mic. So ask the vocalist to sing with lips touching the mic’s foam pop filter, and don’t place the vocal mic right in front of a guitar amp or drum kit. Turn down the instruments if possible.
If the guitar amps’ stage volume is too high, suggest that the guitar players place their amps to their side, aiming up at their ears so the amps will sound louder to them.
Then you can turn down the amps. Other tools for reducing stage volume are in-ear monitors, clear plastic drum baffles, and electronic drums.
Make sure that musicians with DI’s alert you when they want to unplug or plug in. Mute their channel when they signal in order to avoid loud pops in the sound system.
Caution: some mixing consoles do not mute the monitors when the channel is muted. In that case, temporarily turn down the monitor send for that channel, then reset it where it was.
If there’s a warm-up band (support act), put them on different faders or a different mixer than the main act if possible.
Note which channels the monitor mix cables are plugged into. If you shift the monitor mix cables from one mixer to the other, you’ll need to put them back where they were.
After sound checking the headline act, do the same for the support act. The concert starts with the support act, and when they finish, it’s time for changeover.
Remove the support act’s gear and set up again for the headline act. Do another line check to make sure nothing has changed.
What to do If you have no sound check, say at a festival or “open mike” with short changeovers?
First, it helps to dedicate each snake channel and mixer channel to a specific instrument. Don’t change that assignment during the festival.
Suppose input 2 and snake channel 2 are always kick drum. The kick-drum settings that worked for band #1 might be in the ballpark for band #2. So when band #2 comes on stage, you’ll already have them roughly dialed in. Allow some extra channel assignments for larger groups.
Now, how can you get a quick monitor mix and house mix for the first band with no sound check?
At small festivals or open mics, you can set monitor levels ahead of time as you talk into each mic on stage. Listen to the monitors on stage and make sure they are loud enough and sound good.
As the band is setting up and you are placing the mics, ask them what they want in their monitors so you can pre-set that. Do a line check over headphones.
Even if an audience is present, see if you can set the monitor level quickly for each instrument and vocal before the band starts. The band members need to hear themselves clearly just to play, and you don’t want them to sound incompetent!
You’ll need to set up a mix quickly during the first song. Some engineers employ the following method.
Before the band plays:
1. Start with all the gain trims halfway up, maybe lower for condenser mics and loud instruments, higher for dynamic mics and vocals. Or set them based on your experiences at previous gigs (take notes). If you have a digital console, just recall a preset.
2. Set all faders down.
3. If you haven’t already set the monitor sends, turn them halfway up, or as the band requested during setup. Watch out for feedback.
4. Switch in high-pass filters and set them to a reasonable frequency for each instrument and vocal.
5. Set EQ either to flat or to “typical” values for each instrument and vocal.
6. Bring up the faders for the vocals or quiet instruments – slowly to prevent feedback. If there are no lead vocals, you might bring up all the faders equally.
When the band starts:
1. Touch up the mix.
2. If any channel is clipping, turn down its gain trim until clipping stops, and simultaneously turn up that channel’s monitor send by the same amount in dB.
3. Watch for the performers’ cues on stage, and touch up the monitor levels.
Some engineers prefer to set all the faders to design center (or up to 12 dB lower for large mixes), then mix with the gain trims.
Note: adjusting the gain trims will affect the monitor mix, making it similar to the house mix. Watch out for monitor feedback. The claimed advantage of this method is that it tends to create optimum gain staging in the mixer.
Good luck in running a professional sound check. The talent will thank you!
Bruce Bartlett has mixed sound for concerts, jazz festivals and folk festivals. Bruce and Jenny Bartlett are the authors of Practical Recording Techniques 5th Ed. and Recording Music On Location.
Wednesday, August 17, 2011
Church Sound: How To Mic And Mix Drums In A Live Setting
There are a thousand ways to mic and mix a drum kit with success
Live instrument mic’ing is no picnic. Especially when there are multiple elements on a stage that an audio mixer wants to capture and reproduce properly.
With acoustic drums, the issue is compounded exponentially given that in order to isolate each drum “voice” correctly, you really need a heck of a lot of mics. Or do you?
There are a thousand ways to mic and mix a drum kit with success. Conversely, there a million ways to mix and mix a drum kit without success! So, given the potential complexity of this process, what are some ways to stave off a drum mic disaster?
Mic’ing drums should always start with a few questions. What is the musical style and sonic goal you are going for? It tends to break down into two basic approaches: “traditional” and “close mic’ed.”
Are you seeking a naturally balanced, traditional drum kit sound or a close-miked drum kit sound? The former employs one or more overhead mics plus a kick drum mic and is a more purist approach, common in styles such as classic jazz. The latter requires a close-up mic on each drum in the kit plus a hi-hat mic and one or more overhead mics and is typical of modern pop and rock styles.
This approach is aimed at maintaining the acoustic balance of the drum kit as produced by the drummer. The main key is mic placement. When properly executed, it largely avoids audible phasing (destructive comb filtering) problems.
Detailed measurements are often used for exact mic placements. Seriously, techs sometimes use a tape measure to make certain the snare drum is equidistant from multiple overhead condensers. Comb filtering, here, is a degradation of the sound quality that happens when multiple mics are mixed together with slight timing offsets due to placement.
This drum mic’ing style yields less gain-before-feedback in sound reinforcement situations and is most prone to leakage if there are loud adjacent sound sources. It also requires excellent musical balance by the drummer and offers very little balance control to the audio mixer, whether good or bad.
In addition to the overhead mic(s), a kick drum mic may be added for extension. Only two or three audio channels are required.
This approach uses a microphone focused on each drum, plus a hi-hat mic and one or more overhead mics. The style offers increased gain-before-feedback and exceptional balance control to the sound mixer, but largely ignores the natural balance of the drum kit.
As the sound mixer has far more control, he/she assumes the responsibility for correct kit balance. Upwards of a dozen or more audio channels are required.
Comb filtering is an often present and accepted (or overlooked) compromise in the close mic’ed approach. This sonic degradation can sneak up! When putting several mics in a kit, inter-leakage is also a real concern.
So, where we point the nulls of our mics may be as important, or even more important, than where we point the front of them! Nulls are the least sensitive sides of the microphones.
Note that it is common to have some combing between the spot mics and the overhead mic(s). This is because the snare, for example, is picked up almost immediately by its spot mic but is also heard in the overhead(s) with a bit of delay—just several milliseconds. This is a compromise that may be accepted. It is treatable in some digital console applications by using channel delay to “line up” such spot mics with the slightly delayed overhead leakage.
Such alignment is audible as a clearer sound. But, often mixers must live with the influences of comb filtering as a trade-off to the close miked technique and just mix around it. There is still no tool as important as the human ear!
Overhead Mic’ing - Cardioid condensers are the popular choice for overhead mic’ing. Whether one or two, the question must be asked—are the overhead mic(s) actual full kit mics (as in the traditional approach), or simply cymbal mics?
As “kit mics” they should be positioned to hear everything in the drum set in a balanced fashion. As “cymbal mics” they should be hi-passed aggressively to help avoid leakage from various drums, and positioned to focus only on cymbal sounds, rejecting the rest of the kit as much as possible.
But why two mics (in either approach style)? If there is a good reason to use two spaced overhead mics, do it (maybe true stereo mixing, for instance). But unless there is, one is probably better, as the common “spaced pair” mics naturally bring along timing problems when combined, and this may result in that comb filtering thing again—those partial sound cancellations that we don’t want to deal with!
Or, use a “together” pair of mics over the kit to eliminate the timing issues in the overheads.
Kick Drum - What’s the point? Everyone has an opinion on the best kick microphone and the best placement. It is never fully predictable, and always requires listening.
A good dynamic on the front side, often in or near a cut hole, may bring all the “thud” you want. A good condenser can specialize in that “snap” attack sound, either inside or on the beater head. Both are valid sounds, but deciding which is appropriate is the challenge.
Maybe some of both—this is why some techs choose to double-mic the kick/bass drum and blend to taste. But this double miking of the bass drum should only be done if the mixer understands and accepts the phasing issues that come with it. Similar to spaced overhead mics, there will be some time offset that partially cancels the sound.
Again, digital console delay may be used for alignment here.
Snare Drum - A rugged dynamic on the top head of a snare drum can be all that is needed to get the crack and tone you want. If not, try another mic and placement, or fix the drum itself.
Again, remember that the snare may cut through in the overhead mic(s) enough already. There is a lot of room for personal mic taste here. Listen and play with mic position for the desired sound.
Consider adding a condenser underneath, facing up into the snares for specific control of that unique high frequency sound. This mic position by itself can sound quite bad, but makes a nice overall contribution when blended with the top mic.
Reversing polarity (not phase!) of the bottom snare mic is a common choice. Sometimes it sounds better, sometimes not (there are too many variables here to predict). It is necessary to listen with and without polarity reversal and choose which sounds better.
The mixing console may include a polarity switch on each channel. If not, flipping pins 2 and 3 in the mic cable will get it done. And EQ is just a matter of taste.
Hi-Hat - Easy, you might think, get a good cardioid condenser and hi-pass the snot out of it. Right? Well, that probably sounds great for the hi-hat alone. But any time we place a condenser in or near a drum kit, the real trick is to hear the target source while also not catching extreme leakage from the snare and other sources. Experiment with placement. Upside-down miking can work.
Rack Toms - Whether selecting a dynamic or a condenser, a stand-mounted or a miniature clip-on mic, the usual plan here is to provide one mic for each rack tom, giving great isolation and ability to process individually.
As the rack toms are not often played every measure until there is a drum fill, it is common to gate them aggressively until they are actually played.
Otherwise, they idly contribute lots of useless leakage, which deteriorates the overall kit sound. EQ these if desired. It is not uncommon to see sound techs aggressively scoop out the low mid or mid range section of rack toms to suck out the “boxiness” or even boost the high mids for extra snap, or boost the bass for more thud. EQ should be used only after mic selection and position are optimized. Listen!
Mic’ing the floor tom is very similar to the process for miking rack toms. We might make a different mic choice to accentuate low end if it is a large drum, or high frequency attack, if desired.
Natural Kit Mixing - The drummer’s balance is the key.
Pan overheads appropriately, if more than one and if intentionally building a stereo mix. Blend in a bass drum mic if needed.
Close Mic’ed Mixing - First, decide if the overhead(s) should be kit mics or cymbal mics. In this style, they are usually only cymbal mics, so they should be hi-passed as much as possible (at least 400 Hz) to reduce leakage.
Listen to what items remain audible and balanced in the overhead mic(s). It may be that the hi-hat or the snare (or something else entirely) have enough “lift” already. If so, consider not using those associated spot mics. In cases like these, less might just be more.
Panning Multiple Overhead Mics For Stereo - If using more than one overhead and doing so in an appropriate stereo environment, pan the mics accordingly.
But remember that mono does not mean lo-fi, and can actually sound great in PA work. It is actually the best choice in a number of worship sound reinforcement venues.
Regardless, “mono checking” a stereo and/or multi-mic’ed drum mix is a smart move to be warned of phase cancelled sound. Broadcasters and recordists typically have such a mono-check button in their control rooms, but live sound operators may have to figure out how to mono-sum-monitor.
Again, using a single overhead or a “together pair” minimizes problems when the mics will be combined (mixed) to mono.
Blend - Once all kit elements are checked individually, it’s time to blend.
Here are two mixing approaches, but there are many:
—Use only the overheads first and then add kick, snare, hi-hat, racks, etc. as needed.
—Start with kick and build up from bottom through snare, hats, rack, floor and overheads.
It may sound nuts, and annoy a sound check bystander or two, but attempting both approaches back-to-back quickly leads to the correct final balance in my experience.
Then, final EQ and pan adjustments can be tweaked.
Dynamics processing (compression, limiting, and gating) is largely a matter of taste, with the exception of gating rack and floor toms and maybe kick, which is just generally good practice for this drum mixing style. (Advanced dynamics processing for drums mixing, such as parallel compression, is a complete topic in itself.)
In regards to panning: if you’re going mono, don’t do it; if you’re going stereo, get the overheads right first! These will set the initial spatial image (“width”) of the kit. T
hen, listening carefully, use the pans to closely match the position of each individual mic to the image already created in the overheads.
—Great drums mixes start with great sounding drum kits. Before mic’ing up a live drum kit, make certain that it is a good sounding kit in the first place. Begin by listening to the set without the mics.
—Drums can get loud—use mics with high SPL capability!
—You can get amazing drum mixes with both mic’ing techniques described. The purist technique is hardest to mic really well. The close-mic’ed approach is hardest to mix really well.
—Successful multi-mic’ing of a drum kit demands a solid understanding of microphone polars, or directional behavior. Inter-leakage WILL occur.
—Electronic drums eliminate the common loudness and leakage issues associated with acoustic drums. Sometimes they may the best overall choice for a live worship environment. But, sonically and musically, acoustic drums are very hard to beat, especially with a seasoned drummer that can play with appropriate dynamics for the environment.
—Never underestimate the value of an accomplished drummer!
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 Digidesign, and toured the world as a concert front of house engineer. Margraves currently serves the worship technology market at WAVE (wave.us) and continues to mix heavily in several notable worship environments including his home church, Elevation Church, in Charlotte, NC. His mission is simply to lead ministries in achieving their best and most un-distracted worship experience through technical excellence. His specialties are mixing techniques, teaching, and RF system optimization.
Friday, August 12, 2011
Church Sound: Would You Mix Without Music?
Isn’t it so easy to focus on the music portion of a service that other components get less attention?
Imagine you walk into church one day and are told, “your job just got easier because we aren’t using praise bands any more…we’re going back to the pastor leading hymns.”
Last night, while reading a church magazine, I noticed the variety of advertisements. Interested in improving your church?
• Softer chairs
• Different colored pews
• Software to monitor giving, attendance, birthdays, and the member’s favorite tv show
• New stained glass windows
• Window overlays that look like stained glass
• Top of the line playground equipment
• Coffee services to fit the needs of your particular church
Wow, that’s a lot of stuff that’s not related directly to the church service. Thank goodness you and I are focused only on the service.
You and I are more likely to think about the more important stuff like:
• The best wireless microphones for singers
• Using our digital work stations for getting the right drum sound
• Perfecting monitor mixes for the musicians
• And providing the perfect music mix
After all, if the music doesn’t sound good, then we aren’t doing our jobs.
The service would be terrible if:
• The kick drum wasn’t optimally mic’d
• The musicians didn’t have the right mix to play along
• The electric guitar didn’t sound like The Edge
Alas, I ask you, isn’t it so easy to focus on the music portion of a service that other components get less attention?
The band sounds great…but have you properly mixed the pastor’s vocals?
The drum sound is tight…but do you tweak the podium microphone for the scripture reader?
You’ve perfected the midrange of the acoustic guitar…but do you hit all the microphone cues during the rest of the service?
Therefore, I ask you this question…
Would you still work on the audio team if mixing a band wasn’t part of the job?
Ready to learn and laugh? Chris Huff writes about the world of church audio at Behind The Mixer. He covers everything from audio fundamentals to dealing with musicians. He can even tell you the signs the sound guy is having a mental breakdown.
Thursday, August 11, 2011
Avid VENUE & Pro Tools|HD Integration Serves Audio Needs of NBC’s “The Voice”
“Using the VENUE systems together with Pro Tools is really the whole point for us." - Randy Faustino, Creative Sound Solutions
Engineer Randy Faustino, CEO and president of Creative Sound Solutions, mixes all of the music for TV reality show The Voice, as well as for sister productions American Idol and Dancing with the Stars.
Faustino, along with partners J. Mark King and Tim Hatayama, hold court in three mobile production units outfitted with multiple Avid VENUE and Pro Tools|HD systems.
The Voice has aired on NBC since April and stars judges Christina Aguilera, Cee Lo Green, Blake Shelton, and Adam Levine, with auditioning singers intentionally hidden from the judges’ views to preclude any decisions based on their visual image.
“We mix live to air, using the same setup for all three shows,” says Faustino. The setup comprises three 96-channel VENUE systems, each with a VENUE D-Show console, an FOH Rack, and two Stage Racks. An additional VENUE Mix Rack System, featuring the VENUE Profile console, is available for smaller shows and mobile situations, such as recording the band off-site.
Each VENUE system, equipped with two VENUE HDx Option Cards, feeds a 96-input Pro Tools|HD system, used to record the shows, enabling Faustino to move between live and pre-recorded mixes of backing tracks.
“Using the VENUE systems together with Pro Tools is really the whole point for us,” says Faustino. “We record every show to Pro Tools|HD as a multitrack session. When we come in the next day, we flip the session into [VENUE] HDx mode, and you’re looking at the same show you had the night before. So it’s easy to set up scene snapshots for every number. Then when we’re ready to do the show, everything is already there and all you have to do is mix.”
In fact, Faustino points to the VENUE system’s snapshot recall as one of the main reasons for selecting VENUE. “Sure, it’s a great sounding console and we love all the plug-ins,” he observes. “But it’s the ability to quickly flip back and forth between Stage Racks and Pro Tools playback, so we can make adjustments after rehearsal or sound check, that makes it so perfect for our use. We’ve typically got around 180 scenes for each show, including different scenes for the audience mics when the performers talk, when they’re singing, when the announcers are talking—pretty much everything. It enables me to bring in both pre-recorded and live elements, and handle a live mix while tracking. It’s a truly integrated system with an amazing amount of flexibility.”
Onboard processing is, of course, also an important feature, with Faustino citing the TC Electronic 6000 and SSL Channel Strip among his favorites, as well as plug-ins from Avid, Waves, and API.
Tuesday, August 09, 2011
Old Soundman: Chuck It All For A Sound Career?
What’s wrong with this Steve guy? He has a lifestyle that 80 percent of humanity cannot even dream of achieving, and he wants to throw it all away to be a soundman?
Dear Old Soundman:
I’ve been asked to be the “sound dude” (or “concert operations manager” as I prefer to call it)...
That’s kind of funny, but also kind of silly.
Don’t get me wrong, when I was a young pup like you, titles meant a lot to me too.
...for a local band, since once upon a time I was a “roadie” for the likes of Brooks & Dunn, Randy Travis, Sammy Kershaw and others.
Hey, what’s Randy Travis really like? Why’d he marry that old babe, anyway?
I’m sorry, do you have an audio-related question, or are you just here to drop names?
However, I did not work as a sound tech. (I was a “lighting/video dude”.)
I guess the band thinks that l would just automatically know live audio because I’ve been to a lot of concerts.
Aren’t people great? Like maybe I should be a cop, because I’ve gotten so many traffic tickets.
Or maybe I should be a cow because I’ve consumed so much milk! Mooooooo!
You’re probably too young to have heard the old saying if my grandmother had wheels, she’d be a truck!
I know the basics of mixing live audio…
As do I, Stevo, as do I. See? We’re really buddies, total brethren, hail fellows well met. Workers of the world unite we don’t need no stinking line arrays!
...but would like to acquire a serious working knowledge of pro sound…
As would I, Steverino, as would I! Did you ever see the old clip of Steve Allen interviewing Lenny Bruce? That rocked! Now, what are you babbling about?
... and perhaps pursue a career in the field. (The telcom company I work for is bankrupt, and my job as a video tech is getting boring.) Oh wisest of the wise where do I start?
Dude, if you’ve got a salary and benefits, do not, I repeat not, walk away from it! You must not be a parent. See, me, with the wife and the young soundman, I don’t have the option of spitting in the face of my salary, and running away to join the rock circus all over again.
I do have to admit that you get some points for addressing me as the “wisest of the wise.” The old soundwoman has a few other terms she uses to describe me, with wiseass probably the only one that can be used in a family publication.
Here’s the big question, Stevie boy: do you really enjoy coiling XLR cables? Because you’re going to have to coil about a million of them over time.
The shows are a bitch, and then you coil cables. You’d have to be clinically insane to choose a lifestyle like that. I know I was!
Here, just bite down on this rubber block, and let me smear a little conductive paste onto your temples, this won’t hurt a bit!
The Old Soundman
Thursday, August 04, 2011
Sound Image Supplies Studer Vista 5 SR Digital Consoles For “Flatts Fest” Tour
Using the Vista 5 SR digital console since its introduction nearly four years ago, mix engineer Jon Garber credits the simple-to-use interface for its continued success
The man at front of house for country music superstars Rascal Flatts for more than eight years, Jon Garber is using Studer Vista 5 SR digital consoles for the band’s current “Flatts Fest” tour.
Featuring opening acts Sara Evans, Easton Corbin and Justin Moore, the 29-show tour, spanning North America, features an entirely new stage production and interactive festival atmosphere.
Escondido, California-based Sound Image is supplying the Studer Vista 5 SR as the front of house digital console, as well as an additional Vista 5 SR for monitoring.
Along with the Vista 5 SR consoles, Sound Image is providing 54 JBL VerTec VT4889 full-size line array elements and 34 VT4880 full-size arrayable subwoofers for each show, while the rig is powered by Crown Audio IT12000HD amplifiers.
“We have a longstanding affiliation with Harman for more than a decade, utilizing a variety of Harman equipment,” Garber states. “Studer, JBL and the entire Harman system helps us tremendously, especially on these long and exciting tours. We can be sure to provide the artists and fans reliable, yet stunning sound in every city.”
Using the Vista 5 SR digital console since its introduction nearly four years ago, Garber credits the simple-to-use interface for its continued success. He says he only needs five minutes with anyone from a seasoned, ‘old-school’ front of house man to a new engineer on the job to completely explain the functionality of the Vista 5 SR and the console continues to impress the band and all engineers involved.
“The Vista’s are performing very well as we kick off “Flatts Fest,” Garber continues. “They can handle everything from playing at a 20,000-fan closed venue to the outdoor amphitheatres we are visiting during this tour. No digital desk compares to the Vista 5 SR. From the Vistonics interface and ergonomics, to the workflow, it’s an awesome piece of equipment.”
Tuesday, August 02, 2011
Old Soundman: Beware Of The Evil DJ Invasion!
Helping a young buck deal with some local talent that just doesn't get it...
Hello Old Soundman:
Greetings from the shore, where the clams and oysters are fresh but the local celebrity DJ’s gear is not.
Then throw it out like you would do with bad seafood! But I guess that would get you in trouble. You probably want to keep your job – it sounds pretty swinging by the ocean.
I normally don’t have a problem with visiting DJs when I put them on stage to spin tunes. I set my channel EQ flat, give them enough juice to power their mixer, and then sit back, thankful I have an easy night ahead of me.
This was the norm for me for quite awhile – until recently.
What happened recently? I sense that it wasn’t nothin’ nice, as they say in the pen.
The club recently booked a well-known local DJ to bring in some extra paying customers to help pay the bills on slower nights.
Did they ever consider half-nekkid young ladies prancing around? That has proven to be quite profitable in some establishments in my neck of the woods.
This particular DJ is famous for drinking, blowing out speakers, drinking, insane fader and gain maneuvers, drinking, and last but not least, his mixer was state of the art 15 years ago.
Then put him in the way-back machine! He needs to do his drinking somewhere in the past and not bother you any more!
I put this guy on a limiter, he freaks; I play the house EQ game, he freaks; I refuse to turn up my mains, he freaks; I stand there and shake my head no, he freaks.
You are an excellent torturer – I’m very proud of you!
I actually get enjoyment out of doing all of this, but I’ve been told to help him out because, once again, he is “the guy” that people come to see. He also has a sidekick who “helps” him (setting up his gear, booze and lights).
That is the problem. You need to eliminate that guy. And then the DJ will be helpless.
Like the Lone Ranger without Tonto.
Like Batman without Robin.
Like Conan without Max Weinber… Well, you get the point…
I know you’ve dealt with this in the past and would appreciate any advice. I’ve tried every trick I know to appease this guy, and he doesn’t realize that job security is a two-way street when it comes to performer (sorry, DJ!) and the house sound tech.
Thanks for letting me vent,
I find that a compressor with a brickwall limiter allows you to resume your relaxation.
Also if you happen to have an ex-con friend who is about as big as a house, with tattoos on his neck, he can be really helpful in dealing with guys like this DJ and his buddy.
The Old Soundman
Monday, August 01, 2011
Church Sound: But Does It Sound Right?
A couple of experiences that turned out to be instructive...
Recently I took a compact line array rig out for a demo that was also a live event.
The system included six full-range line array modules and four 18-inch-loaded subwoofers, driven by 12,000-watt amplifiers—and there were four more 18-inch subs sitting in the corner.
The demo room was no bigger than 40 feet by 60 feet, and when I walked in and saw the size of the room, the scale of the system, and those four extra subs, my first thought was, “We have way more PA than we’ll ever use - I hope we don’t hurt anyone.”
I was then introduced to Rick, who was running the event and also serving as the front of house mixer, and after exchanging pleasantries, I mentioned that we wouldn’t be needing the subs. Rick simply gave me a tight smile and said, “we’ll see.”
We finished setting up the system and Rick patched in his iPod, and we began listening. By the conclusion of the first measure of music, I realized my statement about not needing the subs was wrong.
The music was hip-hop, and while the full-range line array had a solid, balanced attack, it was having a hard time going as deep as the program material demanded.
The combination of the 18-inch subs handling the deep, really low frequencies combined with the overall solid performance of the full-range boxes was the right ticket, and this was furthered because Rick divided the subs into two groups, each with its own Aux send so that they could be further tailored and optimized.
The system rocked the house; the only problem was the occasional tripping of a breaker because there weren’t enough separate electrical circuits to spread out the power load.
Another issue was that I had to eat humble pie, but Rick was nice about it and chose not to rub it in. (Maybe it was because I brought a free sound system for him to use.)
This brought to mind a similar experience.
A few years ago, I was providing a system and doing front of house for an outdoor event, and one of the opening acts for the day was a Tex-Mex band.
As we got them wired up, the guy playing the acoustic guitar started playing to do a monitor check. I was busy and didn’t pay much attention, but I do remember thinking that what he was playing didn’t sound like an acoustic guitar to me.
When the band launched into the first song of their set. I did my usual PFL (pre-fade listen) check on vocals, bass and drums, and was just about to PFL the acoustic guitar when someone tapped me on the shoulder and said, “You need more guitar in the mix.”
I thanked him, raised the guitar about 10 dB, and then PFL’d the guitar channel—and was very confused by what I was hearing. It didn’t sound at all like an acoustic guitar, plus the guy was playing it like he was Eddie Van Halen.
Luckily for me, the gentleman who asked me to turn up the guitar was still standing next to me, so I asked him to listen to the guitar through the headphones because I was pretty sure something was wrong.
But to my surprise, he said it sounded good. After my initial shock, I realized that I couldn’t put together a good mix for this band since I had no clue as to what they and their music were supposed to sound like!
At this point I again turned to my new friend asked him if he’d ever mixed before.
“A little bit, but I don’t know my way around the board that well,” he said.
To which I replied, “That’s O.K. - I can drive if you tell me where we’re going.”
I spent the next half hour getting a lesson on what Tex-Mex should sound like as my friend and I co-mixed the group.
The moral of both of these stories is simple: always know what you’re getting into ahead of time so you can be properly prepared both in terms of having the right gear for the gig and to do justice with the mix.
Gary Zandstra is a professional AV systems integrator with Parkway Electric and has been involved with sound at his church for more than 25 years.
Thursday, July 28, 2011
Mixing By Consensus? Developing An Effective Team Approach
The bottom line is that we don’t let egos get in the way of getting a good mix for the client
On some of my gigs, it’s not uncommon to see a person walk up to the house console, reach in front of the mix engineer at that console, adjust a knob or fader, and then walk away.
For many in our business, mixing a live event is an individual operation, but my company has embraced a team approach to mixing.
I call it mixing by consensus, and we transitioned to it primarily due to our work with corporate events.
The most important thing on a corporate show is the client, followed in order by the event location, theme and décor, catering, bar, video, lighting, event photographer, and finally, audio. (At least that’s how if often seems!)
Clients and event planners don’t want to see a “big ugly” tech area in the middle of their event, so we rarely get a good front-of-house location. On many gigs, it’s at the very back corner of a large room, well away from the main PA hangs.
Sometimes the client doesn’t want to see the console at all, or there isn’t enough room for a mix position anywhere in the room, so we mix from the side of the stage, or even worse, from backstage. Even when we have a decent front-of-house position, there’s usually a myriad of fill and delay loudspeakers to also keep an eye (well, ear) on.
All of this generally means that the mix engineer needs to leave the console to hear what’s really going on in the room, then return to make adjustments, and then walk away again, and on and on. Of course we set up small loudspeakers regardless of location to mix from, and we also use headphones, but this just doesn’t tell us what’s really going on with sound in the room.
Corporate clients also have a habit of going off script and unexpectedly asking for video playback, audio cues, Q&A microphones turned on, etc. Having to dash back to a console to un-mute a channel more times than I care to remember made me confront the fact that a second audio mix person was needed on many gigs.
The use of radios, where the second person in the house might relay input to the mix engineer, is pretty much a non-starter at these types of gigs due to general aesthetic and noise/disruption issues. (During a corporate speech or other often-subtle programming, i.e., a classical music production, someone talking into a radio would be a major distraction.)
So we always have one person at the console, ready to un-mute a feed, adjust a mic level, or play an audio “sting,” while the other person regularly walks the room listening. The walker is given the freedom to come to the house console and adjust a knob or fader based upon what they heard.
The two people can also switch places, alternating between walking the room and manning the console. For larger events, we’ve even expanded this concept, with three or more people participating.
We do have one person overall responsible for the audio, but the bottom line is that we don’t let egos get in the way of getting a good mix for the client.
The key to making this work is good communication before the gig. Each person assisting with the mix is well versed pn how the client wants the audio presented, and further, anybody involved with manning the console knows the script and the cues.
The old saying “too many cooks may spoil the broth” might be true, but we’ve found, at least in these situations, that more than one engineer can sweeten the mix!
My goal is to provide the best audio for my clients, and if it takes more than one mix engineer, so be it.
Craig Leerman is senior consulting editor for Live Sound International, and has worked in professional audio for more than 25 years. He is also the owner of Tech Works, a regional production company based in Las Vegas that focuses on live corporate events.