Friday, October 02, 2015
SES Integration Division Ramps Up With New Locations & Team Members
Overhaul includes nationwide expansion with offices in Charlotte and a west coast office in Sacramento
SES (Special Event Services) of Winston-Salem, NC and Nashville recently bolstered its integration department with a complete overhaul.
Formerly known as Design Build, SES Integration has taken on a new focus with a nationwide expansion, now based in Charlotte, NC with a west coast office in Sacramento, CA. Support will continue to come from SES Live Production headquarters in Winston-Salem as well as the Live Production service hub in Nashville.
Director Trey Blair, assisted by veteran team member and chief designer Wally Duguid, will lead the new team. Tim Owens will assume the role of director of operations, while Jennifer Griffin handles administration. The east coast regional director is Anthony Frampton, and Kevin Hartman serves as the west coast regional director. The new team also welcomes Kevin Wright as lead integrator.
Formed in 2008, SES Integration focuses primarily on the expanding house of worship market, taking on projects of all sizes in providing turnkey audio, lighting, video, acoustics, and design services. Its client list includes recent work at The Cove Church in Mooresville, NC, Chicago Tabernacle in Chicago, Elmbrook Church in Brookfield, WI, Elevation Church in Matthews, NC, and Bayside Church in Sacramento.
SES president Jim Brammer states: “We’re extremely blessed to have this new team in place as we further expand our services to houses of worship and ministries around the world while providing a value added service to our current clients. With SES having been around for nearly 30 years, this team is the beginning of the next generation of our company and I couldn’t be more excited to see where the future takes us.”
SES (Special Event Services)
A Study In Contrasts: Live Sound & Studio Recording
Anyone who has done some studio recording or at least knows full well some of the pitfalls of the studio world.
For those of you who haven’t done, well, let me tell you.
Recording is its own planet, and it’s a world where people have pale skin, sunken eyes, hearing loss (oops - that’s common in the sound reinforcement world, too), and it can be out of touch with reality, as in, reality is sometimes the last thing that recordings attempt to convey,
But perhaps even more importantly is the element of time.
For sound reinforcement, everything is about preparation and the schedule is the schedule. The event will happen on time, barring any unforeseeable natural disasters or a singer’s voice temporarily out of commission due to “recreational consumption.”
With recording it’s as much about post-production, i.e., mastering, as it is about mixing and tracking. And, until the money runs out, time just doesn’t seem to matter, or at least as much.
Two of my hobbies could be involved with the wedding industry if I were so inclined: photography and music. As it is, I have a string quartet that does indeed provide music for weddings.
And even though it might be possible to make more money doing photography for the same base of clients, I have chosen not to pursue such an avocation. This is for one simple reason: with photography, most of the work happens after the wedding. And brides, once they have relaxed following a year or more of planning, can be extremely picky.
Unfortunately, what was captured at the wedding is what you have to work with. Or is it? What about Photoshop? Can’t we remove that blemish? I thought my chest looked bigger in my $12,000 dress than it looks in your pictures! I told my fiancee to shave right before the ceremony!
Thus time just doesn’t seem to matter, but exacting results do. The only limit is the client’s budget, and some of them are willing to spend quite a bit on stuff like this.
But with the quartet, the work happens on the front end. We plan with the client to provide the music they want, we rehearse, we prepare for the gig, and we do the gig. Once it’s over, it’s over. We pack up our instruments, get some of the killer food (wedding food is usually pretty darned good), have a half a glass of wine, and we’re out of there. (Oh yeah, and we pick up our check.)
Part of the reason this works is that the music is an integral part of the ceremony, providing the mood, enhancing the emotions, and providing a backdrop to the couple’s special day along with flowers, bridesmaids’ dresses, decorations, etc.
Music is special. And whatever minor mistakes we might have made are lost to history, unless the event was videotaped. Interestingly, most of the ones for which we’ve provided music have not been videotaped, at least not professionally.
THE CURTAINS OPEN AT 8PM—READY OR NOT
But beyond the fact that once the gig is done, it’s done, there is a certain way of thinking that develops as one gains experience in live sound. The best way I can describe it is efficiency. Problems need to be solved quickly and “without a lot of moaning and groaning.”
And some of the problems are major. But with a knowledge of the basics, a handle on “the way of the road” and the right attitude, everything can be fixed one way or the other. And when it comes right down to it, the show must start on time.
Another cool aspect of live shows is the “rush.” When I was mixing front of house years ago, I never got tired of that electric feeling one gets just before the master mute is lifted. I mean yeah!—what’s better than being behind the wheel of a half-million dollar, multi-kilowatt system with thousands of fans there to enjoy the show? And it’s fun to participate actively in the performance by adding your expertise, sensitivity, aesthetic sense, and musical understanding to the overall show.
Sure, those things happen in the studio, too, but not live. Not in front of an audience. Not like at a sporting event or X Games or mountain climb before God and everyone. Of course the audience response is important because it energizes the performers and the crew. Seeing and hearing the throngs of people totally getting into the music, the visuals, the sound has to raise the hairs on the back of your neck.
Clearly, great, old rock ‘n’ roll bands like the Rolling Stones and Aerosmith have to be energized by the crowds or why would they continue? Don’t say money. Those guys can’t possibly need any more money. And although it’s certainly cool to hear your record on the radio, the immediate vibe brought to bear by a live performance and the risk of flying so high just isn’t there.
WHAT LIVE CAN LEARN FROM THE STUDIO
Of course there are important things that are performed in the recording studio that might help us in sound reinforcement. And indeed, many of these things are used more and more as the industry matures.
First, recordings are often done with the best microphones, clever mic techniques and good preamps. Why? Because the studio guys know that what you don’t capture at the source can’t be replaced somewhere downstream.
I think there are two reasons for this. Audiences expect better sound now than they ever have, and loudspeakers have improved quite a bit during that time, with line arrays, active systems and other innovations.So now, the improvements brought on by good microphones can translate directly to the audience experience.
Another thing to keep in mind is that as we work to create a similar soundscape to the record, in order to provide a point of reference for the audience, that sound started in the studio. The artist, producer, recording and mixing engineers worked out all those details already. Of course we can embellish, change, ignore or copy those effects, EQ, mix elements, etc. but always in reference to the “original.”
The best recordings are usually done with excellent rehearsals and pre-production. These are the times when all the kinks are worked out in the arrangements, the lyrics, vocal harmonies, etc. Perhaps there is no direct translation to sound reinforcement, other than it’s good to plan and be on top of the details.
THE WORD FROM THE TOP
I remember one of the answers Al Schmitt gave during a seminar when someone asked him, “What’s your secret?”
He replied that if an artist puts on the headphones for the first time in the studio and they think they sound great, half the work is already done. And today, due to the proliferation of IEM systems, the translation from the studio world is pretty direct. In other words, if artists think they sound great in their monitors on stage, they’ll perform better.
When working on a record, it’s a lot like being on tour in that everyone has to put up with each other as if they’re, a family and they all live in the same house. Personal relationships are important to form strong bonds with the goal of creating the best results, and avoiding petty politics.
Something I wish was practiced by both studio guys and live sound guys is “louder is not better.” Mainly, I think people make the mistake of thinking that if they mix loud, somehow magically the mix will be better. Trust me and lots of other fine folks: it won’t.
What makes the mix sound better is musicality, avoiding unwanted distortion, even coverage, intelligibility (for music that requires it, i.e., 95 percent of music) and a feeling of “impact.” None of those things require the sound to be particularly loud, even the “impact” one. Tasty mixing can be done with full but not overly loud volumes, and careful attention to the spectrum and how it relates to the music at hand. Some people seem to get this, but sadly many do not.
Hopefully I’ve not alienated everyone in the industry with this treatise. Instead, I hope that we can all just get along and make better sound. Let’s give it a go, shall we?
Karl Winkler is the vice president of sales/service at Lectrosonics and has worked in professional audio for more than 20 years.
Posted by Keith Clark on 10/02 at 05:57 AM
Thursday, October 01, 2015
Middle Atlantic Celebrates AV Month With 31-Day Training Program
Education program designed to train on AV technologies, while delivering 7 InfoComm CTS, BICSI, and AIA credits in 31 days.
Middle Atlantic Products announces its support of InfoComm’s AV Month with an extensive education program designed to train on AV technologies, while delivering 7 InfoComm CTS, BICSI, and AIA credits in 31 days.
Every week during AV Month, Middle Atlantic will be offering an industry-certified webinar from Joe Cornwall, Technology Evangelist, 2014 InfoComm Educator of the Year, and Full Time InfoComm Faculty Member.
The webinars cover cutting-edge technology and trends that can be applied to upcoming projects.
The weekly webinars will culminate in AV Academy, an in-person training event hosted by Middle Atlantic at its headquarters.
The event will educate attendees on the designs and technology behind infrastructure solutions including racks and enclosures, power, technical furniture, cable management, and connectivity.
AV Academy boasts several brand new certified courses including Cornwall’s Integrating Mobile Devices into Fixed AV Systems and two courses developed by Middle Atlantic entitled Unconventional Ways to Conceal Technology and Not Just a Pretty Rack.
The AV Academy industry-certified courses will be streamed live for those that cannot attend in-person. Participants can register for the weekly webinars and the AV Academy webinars at Middle Atlantic’s website.
“We are proud to join InfoComm in its month-long campaign to promote the AV industry and believe strongly that education is a critical component to the industry’s ongoing success,” said Middle Atlantic president Mike Baker.
“With the ever-changing landscape of our trade and evolving application of new technologies, this is the perfect opportunity to train and collaborate with our partners.
In conjunction with AV month and AV Academy, the company is also introducing its new Middle Atlantic AV Blog. The blog will be covering relevant, interesting topics pertaining to the world of AV infrastructure. Readers will be able to find design dos and don’ts, installation tips and tricks, and technology must-haves.
Middle Atlantic Products
Middle Atlantic AV Blog
Posted by House Editor on 10/01 at 02:02 PM
Wednesday, September 30, 2015
Slate Of Student & Career Development Events At 139th Audio Engineering Society (AES) Convention
Education and career fair, recording competition, SPARS mentoring sessions among highlights of events for student AES participants
The 139th AES International Convention coming up on New York in late October will have a focus on the future with a program schedule organized for students that includes workshops, tutorials, recording and design competitions, exhibitions and mentoring sessions,
The program kicks off on Thursday, October 29 with the first meeting of the AES Student Delegate Assembly, marking the official opening of the convention’s student program and offering an opportunity to make introductions to fellow audio students from many parts of the world.
The meeting will announce the finalists in the Student Recording Competition categories and the Student Design Competition, and preview all upcoming student and education-related convention events.
On Friday, October 30, the focus will be on recording in the Student Recording Critiques and the first round of the Student Recording Competition. In the former, students will be able to bring their recordings to non-competitive listening sessions and receive feedback on their projects. Friday’s Student Recording Competition is an AES highlight, where the finalists in each category will play their projects and get feedback from a panel of industry judges.
Saturday, October 31 offers student-centric events such as the AES 135th Education and Career Fair, which will match job seekers with companies and prospective students with undergraduate and graduate academic programs. All attendees of the convention will be welcome to offer a resume to participating company representatives. Admission is free and open to all registered convention attendees.
The SPARS Speed Counseling with Experts – Mentoring Answers for Your Career session will give students, recent graduates and those interested in career advice the opportunity to interact with working professionals in Q & A sessions in a 20-minute speed group mentoring format.
In the AES Student Design Competition, participants will be able to show off their hardware and software designs, from loudspeakers and DSP plug-ins to hardware, signal analysis tools, mobile applications and more. Rounding out Saturday’s programs will be another Student Recording Critiques session and round 2 of the Student Recording Competition.
Sunday, November 1 will see another Student Recording Critiques session and the second SDA meeting, where among other activities, the judges comments and awards will be presented for the Recording Competitions and Design Competitions.
“For students and young professionals, an AES Convention is the most valuable resource for connecting oneself to a successful career in the audio industry,” says John Krivit, AES president-elect and long-time AES Education Committee chair. “There is so much going on in New York City this year that difficult choices will have to be made for those who can’t be in four places at one time. This is the world of opportunity for anyone looking for a career in audio.”
Additional information and a complete listing of student and career development events are available here.
Church Sound: Take Your Ministry Seriously—Know Thy Stuff!
Through my trips with a traveling music ministry, I’ve worked in many different churches across the country.
That has given me the opportunity to work closely with many music pastors, church sound staff members and volunteers, and I have one pet peeve about those individuals—they are often exceedingly ignorant of the equipment they work with every week. Hello!!!
My questions about simple things like “what console do you have, how many mic stands do you have” or “which amplifier drives this stage monitor output” were often met with blank stares.
Forget about my problems of interfacing our road gear with the church’s sound system - I’m in awe that they can even get through a single worship service if any technical problem crops up.
So here are my recommendations. These are the basics. This is not difficult.
An entry-level volunteer should know this stuff from memory within a couple of months of serving in the sound team ministry. Knowing this stuff is part of achieving technical excellence in your ministry.
Know Thy Stuff
As a member of your church sound team, you need to make it your business to know all you can about the equipment that you use.
For example, you should know from memory details like: the brand and model of each piece of sound equipment that you use each week (each mic, the console, each stage monitor, what speakers make up the main cluster, etc.).
You should know specifics about those devices. For example, know the polar pattern and bandwidth of each of your mics plus a sense of its frequency response. You need to know how many monitor sends you have available and you should especially know if those are prefade or postfade auxiliary sends.
Learn the dispersion pattern and impedance of each stage monitor, the dispersion pattern and power handling of the devices in your main speaker cluster, etc.).
You should understand the signal flow of your sound system and exactly how the signal is carried from each piece of equipment to the next.
At the very least, you should have these kinds of details written up in a separate document so that when you need to find that kind of information you can quickly locate it, rather than give up out of frustration from trying to dig it out of an equipment manual each time.
Fix Thy Stuff
Make it your responsibility to ensure that all of your mic cables and speaker cables are in proper working order.
Insist on an internal time limit, or your stuff will stay broken for months, even years. For example, make a commitment within your sound team ministry that you won’t let broken cables stay broken longer than ten days.
Be good stewards of the gear that God has entrusted to your care. It’s His anyway, right?
Make certain that broken equipment like headphones, mics, power amps, stage monitors and the like are repaired in a timely manner. That broken equipment represents a wasted investment of your church, and allowing it to stay broken indefinitely is fairly poor stewardship of that investment.
If you don’t need it, get it fixed and then seed it into another ministry either in your own church or in that church across the street from yours.
Make certain that you have at least a one month supply of batteries for your wireless mics, your flashlights, and every other battery dependent device that you use on a regular basis.
Don’t want to spend that much money? Well, it doesn’t cost any more to keep your car’s gas tank full than it does to keep it empty, now does it?
Buy the inventory - it’s cheaper to buy in quantity anyway. Keep in mind that traveling musicians often ask the local church for replacement batteries wherever they go. Isn’t it amazing - these guys virtually never have to buy their own batteries!
Deal With Thy Stuff
Likewise, make it your responsibility to ensure that the relationship between you and the other production team volunteers or staff, music pastor, or anyone on the worship team, is always at its best.
Make sure that you quickly deal with any strife that comes up between you and anyone you serve alongside. Make sure that you treat everyone in each technical area and everyone in the worship team as equal members of the same team with a single common goal. Only if you do this can you expect the same treatment and respect from them.
Okay, enough with that. It may sound like I’m jumping up and down on your feet, and I don’t mean it that way at all. Please, take this as an encouragement, and just do your level best. I realize that we’re not dealing with brain surgery or the national defense…
However, quite honestly, if more church sound team volunteers would take their service in the ministry a little more seriously, we would all find that achieving technical excellence is not quite as elusive as we often make it out to be.
Curt Taipale heads up Church Soundcheck.com, a thriving community dedicated to helping technical worship personnel, and he also provides expert systems design and consulting services with Taipale Media Systems.
Note that Curt will be hosting his Church Sound Boot Camp “How to Get the Sounds” workshops in Louisiana and California—learn more here.
Monday, September 28, 2015
Church Sound: Brand Loyalty To A Fault
I believe in being loyal.
When I was a TD, I built several key relationships with vendors, manufacturers and reps and funneled as much business as I could to them.
Rather than shop every single purchase, I went to one of my two vendors, got a price, and if it felt right, I placed the order.
Same with gear. Once I found a company that made products that worked for me, I stuck with them.
We had the same make and model of wireless mic in every ancillary room in the building. We used the same DSPs, the same speakers and the same accessories.
There is a lot to be said for being loyal to brands. It makes support a lot easier because most companies do things similarly, which makes problems easier to figure out. You have to stock fewer parts. And when you buy more from a company, they take better care of you, being a larger customer. So being loyal is a good thing. Until it isn’t.
One of the challenges of being loyal to a brand is that times change. So do companies. Sometimes one company stays put with a given piece of technology while the rest of the world is busy developing newer and better versions. The eponymous blue personal mixer is a classic example. When it first came out, it was the shizzle. But over time, more companies entered the market and produced superior products. Locking into that brand for the long haul would have meant you were not getting the best product in the category after a while.
Other times, companies change. Or more correctly, the ownership does. More than a few companies have been sold and the new owners are not nearly as passionate about creating great products as the old ones. More often than not, the new owners are really interested in squeezing out as much profit as possible, which may be great for the owners, but less great for the users.
We’re starting to see this with several big companies right now. Products that were once the standards of quality in the industry are now looking less shiny as the new owners off-shore production in the name of lower prices and speed. Lower prices are good. Lower quality, not so much.
Sometimes a product or company that has had a bad rep turns around and starts making great products. I’ve seen too many people pass up on great products because they have a brand anti-loyalty. They so dislike the brand, they can’t bring themselves to consider that it’s a new day. Don’t miss out because of past experiences.
Stay Loyal, But Evaluate Often
What’s a tech guy to do? My advice is to stick with what works, until it doesn’t or something better comes along. It’s important to be continually scanning the horizon to see if the sands have shifted. The world of AVL technology is a competitive and rapidly developing one. New companies and products come along all the time. It’s important to keep an eye on what is working and what is not.
Don’t assume the company or product line you loved 5 years ago is still the front-runner. Also, don’t assume that a company that made sub-par products 5 years ago is still doing that. Either or both may be true, but don’t assume that because it was, it is. Don’t miss a great advance in technology because you are clinging to the past. You’ll not be serving yourself or your church well.
Mike Sessler recently joined CCI Solutions and is serving as a project lead, based in Nashville. He’s been involved in live production for more than 25 years and is the author of the blog Church Tech Arts. You can read and comment on the original article here.
Thursday, September 24, 2015
Audio Recordist Allan Holmberg Chooses Sound Devices
Danish film and television engineer depends on the 788T audio recorder and CL-9 Linear Fader Controllers.
Audio recordist Allan Holmberg travels the world to capture on-set sound and dialogue for feature films and works on television programs in his native Denmark, relying on Sound Devices to get the job done.
Equipped with Sound Devices’ 788T audio recorders and CL-9 Linear Fader Controllers, Holmberg is able to adapt on the fly by having the ability to work on a production from his sound cart and on-the-go.
“I have been a Sound Devices fan for a long time,” says Holmberg.
“Many Danish film projects have limited budgets, and are typically shot in about 30 days, with no second unit. This requires as much versatility and mobility as possible. My Sound Devices gear gives me the flexibility to go wherever I need while capturing incredible audio.”
Holmberg typically keeps his 788T packed in a sound bag on top of his sound cart, giving him the option to disconnect in a hurry. His cart is loaded with various monitors, batteries, boosters, and antennas, along with the Sound Devices’ CL-9 and an iPad. The 788T stays rigged so he can detach quickly from the cart, put on the harness, and shoot the next scene while mobile.
“The 788T won me over when I was working on a film titled In a Better Place,” adds Holmberg.
“It was shot in several locations; in two or more places a day. While in Kenya we faced several challenges, including the heat and very fine dust. I ended up putting ‘spacers’ in the sound bag to maintain the flow of air around the 788T to help keep it cooler. The product’s rock-solid construction proved essential, as it performed very well in these extreme conditions.”
The 788T was the obvious choice for him once again on another film, Love Is All You Need. For this production, 90 percent of the shots featured less than six actors. In a few vital scenes, there were a greater number of actors in–and-out of the frame, so the option to link the recorder was exactly what Holmberg needed. He ended up shooting these larger scenes using two 788Ts with two CL-9s for enhanced mixing capabilities, using his iPad to get easy access to the notes, track names, and additional metadata.
Holmberg also recently wrapped work on the Danish television show, Rita, and its miniseries spinoff Hjørdis.
“Because there was a need to write notes in a hurry, I decided to use the 788T and iPad combination,” says Holmberg. “Although recording dialogue is my primary job, we also try to get as much ambience and effects as we can pick up during the shooting days. This is much simpler with the 788T, because it makes access to notes and metadata so easy.”
Sound Devices’ 788T is its flagship multi-track recorder. A proven solution for on-location production audio, the 788T is the choice of veteran sound professionals throughout the industry due to its extensive audio capabilities and rugged construction. The 788T features eight full-featured inputs and records up to 12 tracks. It accepts either microphone or line-level signals, provides 48-V phantom power for condenser microphones, offers peak limiters for microphone inputs and features fully adjustable high-pass filters—all in one compact package. The 788T, like all Sound Devices products, is versatile and designed to withstand the physical and environmental extremes of field production. It is this durability and functionality that professional sound mixers have come to expect from Sound Devices.
“Sound Devices released the 688 just as we ended shooting, but I have already purchased one and look forward to using it on my next project. I have always been happy with my Sound Devices equipment, because I can count on the gear to capture what I need.”
Posted by House Editor on 09/24 at 09:55 AM
Church Sound: When Is It The Right Time To Upgrade A System?
In this ever evolving world of more, more, more, better, better, better, when is good enough, good enough? Is it really an absolute necessity to update or upgrade my 15-year-old sound system?
The working life of a sound system can extend well beyond 20 years, and I’ve personally seen systems 30 to 40 years old still in use and functioning quite well.
The question deserves considerable thought, and begs a slew of additional questions:
1. Has your programming changed (added a keyboard, drums, bass……..)?
2. Have you added any additional seating, like additional rows of seats in the front or back?
3. Are you experiencing intermittent problems or shall we say, surprise noises?
4. Has the expectation of your congregation changed?
I not a person who promotes technology for the sake of technology. However, I do enjoy thinking of myself as “hip” and an early adopter.
In fact I owned the original Palm Pilot, one of the first Windows Mobile PDA’s and a Palm Treo Pro phone all purchased right when they were released.
Oh yeah, I forgot the Apple Performa 405 PC I purchased in the early 90’s, the iMac, and now the Macbook pro….. Okay you get it, I love new technology and am not afraid to be one of the early one that jumps in, with some caution.
I am usually not the first, but reside comfortably in the early pack that makes a purchase. I prefer to wait and see the viability and stability of the product.
So what does my personal love of technology have to do with upgrading your sound system? Not much, other than show that I am not an anti-technology kind of guy.
Getting back to the issue at hand. I would like to introduce a fifth question.
5. What is the expectation of people who come and visit your church?
Between 1913 and 1920, Thomas Edison did more than 4,000 “blind listening tests” to promote his Phonograph equipment and Diamond disc recordings. Edison would rent theaters and concert halls to do a comparison.
He would hire some of the prominent musicians of the day and have them behind a curtain. The musician would sing a song and then a recording would be played on the Phonograph.
Believe it or not the audience could not distinguish any difference between the two. In other words, they could not decipher if it was live or recorded. If you are like me you have to be saying - Hold on! People had to hear the difference between a scratchy, frequency limited recording and a live person.
I guarantee if we took the exact same equipment and repeated the test today, the majority of people would easily be able to point out what was live and a phonograph recording.
Other than almost 100 years, what is the difference? Reference! What did people in the early 1900s have with which they could compare the recording?
Okay, by now I think you get the point. There are a number of great reasons to upgrade your audio system; however, if it’s still in “working order,” then managing and dealing with the expectations of your congregation (also known as questions #4 and #5) are great reasons to update.
So, how often should a system be updated? Ignoring changes in programming, seating, and any potential issues you may currently be experiencing with your system (do it today if these reasons apply, you are overdue), here’s my answer: if the system is older than your car, it’s time to update.
This is my answer primarily because our family drives a 1998 Suburban and two other late 1990s-vintage vehicles. Maybe a better answer is every time the second number in your age repeats (10 years for those not good with numbers and abstract concepts), it’s probably at least time to begin considering upgrading.
Gary Zandstra has worked in church production and as an AV systems integrator for more than 35 years.
Tuesday, September 22, 2015
Church Sound Files: The Reason For “Bad Sound” May Not Be The Sound System
Many things around us are getting better. Computers are faster, televisions have more resolution, and dishwashers are quieter and more powerful than ever.
But with all of our digital wiz-bang processors, technology has been unable to eradicate “bad sound.” Why is this so? This short piece is an attempt to shed some light on three possible causes, two of which have been completely unaffected by the technological revolution.
The goal of most sound reinforcement systems is to deliver high quality sound reproduction to the listener. While we would like to think that a high quality sound system guarantees this, it does not.
The quality of the reproduced sound will only be as good as the weakest link in the reproduction chain. Let’s examine some of the major “links” individually.
The room is a major factor in the reproduction chain. Most large spaces are hostile environments for sound systems, unless they have received special attention from a professional and a considerable financial investment from their owner. Good acoustics doesn’t just “happen.” It is the by-product of careful planning.
A quality sound system may radiate an exceptionally high-fidelity sound field into the room. Unfortunately, most of the radiated energy will create acoustic events that detract from the listening experience. While small rooms have their share of acoustic problems, these problems pale next to the late reflections, reverberation, and energy build-ups encountered in large spaces.
If your sound system doesn’t sound good, ask yourself the question “What have I done to provide a good acoustic environment?” If the answer is “nothing,” then you got what you paid for.
The Sound System
Of course, a good sound system is a vital link in the reproduction chain. But this doesn’t just mean expensive equipment. It means that equipment that is suitable for the environment has been selected and implemented by someone who understands the compromises involved in large room reinforcement systems. Money can be wasted on “features” that offer no real benefit for the large room environment.
The vast majority of auditoriums that I have visited are not suitable for multi-channel formats such as stereo, surround sound, etc. since each channel must be delivered to all listener seats. Loudspeaker placements that are optimal for stereo reproduction are horrible choices for single-channel systems.
Even with monaural systems, “first choice” loudspeaker placements often create problems with sight lines and aesthetics, and are therefore ruled out by venue owners. Multiple loudspeakers must overlap somewhere, and there will be sound problems in these areas.
A properly designed system will often sound bad in the aisles – the very place where casual onlookers will stand to evaluate it. We all have good sound at home, but the rules change as the listening space grows. Intuition that is not filtered through the proper large-room principles leads to errors.
Sound system designers are often forced to compromise away the performance of the system to make it fit aesthetic concerns, budget limitations, and fashion trends within the industry.
I’ve intentionally saved this one until last. The most overlooked link in the chain is the end user of the system. This includes the mixer operator and any supporting staff, such as those who run the monitors and place microphones.
A monitor system that is too loud will dump excessive energy (usually low/mid frequency) into the audience area. This excess energy will upset the spectral balance of house sound system, tempting the front-of-house operator to compensate by over equalizing (usually in the form of high frequency boost). This results in a reduction in gain-before-feedback and an unnatural sounding system. Microphone placement is equally critical, as is an understanding of the shortcomings of various miking techniques.
If a lapel mic could sound like a hand-held, then no one would use hand-helds. The overhead drum mic that captures the cymbals also captures the stage monitors and “spill” from other instruments, as does the vocal mic used at arm’s length. And that “mellow” bass guitar sound that the musician likes in the practice hall turns to “mush” in a large space, where increased definition provided by the use of a pick and brighter strings may be required.
These factors and many more “eat away” at the sound quality of the system as a whole. A good mixer operator will evaluate and optimize the sound of the instruments individually before allowing the band to perform as an ensemble. There’s no room for democracy here – effective mixer operators learn to say “no” and “be quiet.”
A question that I recommend for an interview of prospective mix personnel would be “What will you do if something starts to squeal?” If the answer is anything other than “Turn the offending channel down slightly until I figure out what the problem is” move on to your next applicant. Filters implemented in desperation do nothing to preserve sound quality.
Modern mixing consoles pack a considerable “wow factor.” It’s fashionable to sit behind a large one and move knobs all of the time. But doing so doesn’t make one an engineer. Completing an accredited academic program or piloting a locomotive does. The decision as to which console to purchase is often made with no consideration as to whether anyone at the facility will be able to operate it. The result? Bad sound.
I have personally witnessed the performance of many good sound systems ruined by bad rooms and incompetent operators. I have also seen skilled operators “salvage” the sound reproduction in situations where the room and system were less than optimal.
The performance of a sound system is only as good as its weakest link. Unfortunately, all of the links that I have mentioned are of roughly equal importance, meaning that “two out of three” isn’t good enough. Good sound requires all three.
Experienced, well-trained audio people realize this and are there to help you find your weakest link. Pay for their advice and follow it.
Pat & Brenda Brown lead SynAudCon, conducting audio seminars and workshops online and around the world. For more information go to www.prosoundtraining.com.
SynAudCon is now offering “Audio Applications – System Optimization & EQ” as web-based training. Click the link to see the related article.
More Church Sound articles by Pat Brown on PSW:
How To Illuminate The Audience With Beautiful, Consistent Audio Coverage
Proper Loudspeaker Placement: How To Avoid Lobes and Nulls
Ten Reasons Why Church Sound Systems Cost More
What Makes A Quality Loudspeaker?
CenturyLink Chooses Earthworks Microphones For Conference Room Upgrade
Audio-Video Group installs Earthworks IML3-B in executive conference room at Arlington, VA Government Contracting Division.
When CenturyLink was looking to upgrade their executive conference room at their Arlington, VA office’s Government Contracting Division, they turned to Audio-Video Group to design and install the system.
Stephen Bon, sales development engineer at Audio-Video Group, selected the Earthworks IML3-B microphone for the install.
“We have used the Earthworks ChoirMics, FlexMic podium mics and PianoMics in a number of our church sound system designs. Based on our experience in using Earthworks microphones, there was no question that I would use Earthworks microphones in this installation. We needed the best microphones for the job and we knew it had to be the Earthworks microphones.”
CenturyLink has several conference rooms in their Arlington, VA facility, which can be combined and can send audio feeds to and from the different rooms.
The Earthworks IML3-B microphones were installed in the executive conference room, which is where a large portion of their audio conference calls are made from. In this room, there is a horseshoe shaped conference table with 6 Earthworks IML3-B microphones on both sides, as well as 2 IML3-B microphones at the end of the table, for total of 14 microphones.
Bon selected the IML Series microphones, which feature the LumiComm Touch Ring for the installation, allowing him to program the microphones with an AMX control system.
“The bi-color light rings on the IML3-B microphones are tied into an AMX control system that is designed to mute the microphones. When all of the mics are muted, the color of the light ring will change—green for ‘on’ and red for ‘mute’.”
“The Earthworks IML microphones have provided us excellent fidelity of the audio pickup that is extremely consistent, both on and off-axis, which allows them to overlap and blend well together,” says Bon.
The IML3-B provided improvements over other microphones Bon had previously used for audio-visual conferencing.
“In previous systems designs, we have used other brands of microphones, which typically sound like you are using a speakerphone,” explains Bon. “But with this new system, even in the remote rooms, it sounds like that person is right there in the room with them. When you hear a call from the CenturyLink system using the Earthworks microphones, it is hands down the best sounding system of this type I have ever heard.”
Bon found the polar response of the IML3-B microphones to be a great advantage over the button microphones they replaced.
“One of the benefits of the Earthworks IML series microphones is having a gooseneck that provides a lot more directionality of the audio pickup. In addition, the IML microphone’s polar response was smooth and consistent. The microphones are spaced evenly (about 3 feet apart), so if I were to sit at any seat, or even in between the seats, the pickup of the microphones is seamless, and you never go into a lull, as they blend so well together.”
“These microphones also dramatically reduced ancillary table noise (i.e. tapping of fingers, rustling of papers and moving things around on the table). CenturyLink wanted a strong emphasis on quality, reliability and exceptional clarity in this system redesign. So, I chose the Earthworks microphones because of their outstanding clarity and polar response. I coupled the Earthworks microphones with the Biamp Tesira Forte audio processing, which resulted in the best audio conferencing system I have ever designed.”
Beyond improved sound quality, Bon also notes ease of installation as a major benefit of the IML3-B.
“The installation of the IML microphones was clean and easy,” explains Bon. “Just drill a hole, slide the microphone in and screw it together. The IML series control function works seamlessly with the AMX. These microphones have an excellent build quality, excellent pickup, and a bi-color LED touch sensitive function, which all in all adds up to a great microphone.”
Bon offered his final thoughts on the quality of Earthworks microphones that he his colleagues at Audio-Video Group share. “We as a company know that if we demonstrate an Earthworks microphone, we will sell it, every single time. We have never demonstrated an Earthworks microphone and not sold it. So, the quality speaks for itself.”
Business Lessons From ‘The Wrecking Crew’ Documentary
From training to incentives and public acknowledgement, are you giving thanks to your Wrecking Crew—the unsung heroes behind this industry?
“Obscurity is the realm of error.” — Attributed to Luc De Clapiers.
The Wrecking Crew is a documentary about an elite collection of musicians. These troubadours were studio musicians who helped add to the sound of rock n’ roll from the mid 1950s to the present day.
Despite their incredible influence, their names and body of work were known only by a small set of music industry insiders. Their names do not appear on any albums nor do they have a hallowed space in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
During the time from the mid 1960s to early 1980s, bands would often write records while in studios. This creative time would also include weeks of no actual recording, an expensive process which became a bean counter’s nightmare. Studio time is not cheap.
The space and access to technology provided a catalyst to creating song structure and album concepts. It also often left little time and budget for the actual recordings. Bands are not always known for a sense of urgency, but albums had to meet deadlines. Enter the Wrecking Crew.
Working with label project managers and producers, these nose-to-the-grindstone musicians would work to fill out the remaining parts. It is said that the crew could bang out tracks for a song in one third of the time of the band they played for.
Without the talents and work ethic of the Wrecking Crew members, many seminal albums would never have been completed or achieved recognition. A good number of ‘touchstone’ songs and whole albums were, in part, achieved because of this deus ex machina.
A few members of the working group broke out to become famous in their own right; Glenn Campbell is one notable. Those who did not, continued at their craft, making great music in the studio and the occasional live gigs.
Our clients in the integration world often associate a project with the face of a company’s frontman, the project manager. But the PM’s presentations and processes have a backing band behind it all.
Unless you are a one man band, there is always a dedicated crew behind every successful install. Let’s be honest, in the studio a single person can create magic, but live performances leave a lot to be desired beyond the novelty of it.
Given the tightrope nature of the integration business, we would be lost without these individuals. Are we, as an industry and as companies, giving these folks their due adulations? From training to incentives and public acknowledgement, are you giving thanks to your Wrecking Crews?
Where would your business be without the people who make the music happen?
George Tucker, CTS, is engineering coordinator for Worldstage and co-founder, producer and personality for AVNation.tv. Read the original article on Commercial Integrator and post comments here.
Posted by House Editor on 09/22 at 06:36 AM
Monday, September 21, 2015
RE/P Files: The Planet Waves Sessions—Recording Bob Dylan At The Village Recorder
From the March/April 1974 issue of the late, great Recording Engineer/Producer (RE/P) magazine, interviews with producer/engineer Rob Fraboni and promoter Dick LaPalm on recording the Planet Waves album by Bob Dylan, supported by long-time collaborators The Band. The album hit number 1 on the U.S. Billboard charts—the first for the artist—and number 7 in the UK. It was recording in 1973 on November 2, 5, 6, 8, 9 at Village Recorder in West Los Angeles, CA.
R-e/p: Dick, how did you choose an engineer for the Dylan album?
Dick LaPalm: I left the decision up to Rob. I asked him who should do it. At the time we had three guys. Rob came back after a couple of days and said, “I should do it.” I said, “Fine.”
R-e/p: Rob, why did you decide to do it?
Rob Fraboni: Mainly because I was really familiar with Bob’s music, as well as The Band’s. I’ve been listening to them both since their first albums. I talked to the other guys, and it seemed like I was the most familiar.
R-e/p: Dick, do you feel that familiarity with the music is essential for a mixer?
Dick LaPalm: Engineers are much like a medical specialist. I just don’t think that every engineer can do every kind of music. I think this guy might be a hell of a lot better to do an R&B date, as opposed to a Country & Western date.
And one engineer might be a hell of a lot better to do a Dylan and a Stones. I’m not taking anything away from him; I’m sure he could do a Willie Hutch. I’m sure he could do a Little Milton or a Chuck Berry. But I don’t know that he could do it as well as someone else who’s really into that kind of music.
I think there’s a hell of a lot more to it than just knowing that board. I think it has to do with gut feel, and feeling for the music itself.
R-e/p: Rob, did you listen to their stuff before the sessions? Did you go home and prep on it?
Rob Fraboni: No, I didn’t. I make sure not to do that. You’ve got to approach things fresh; that’s the way I feel. After we mixed the album and it was all done, then I went and listened to his records. I didn’t want to be influenced before the sessions. I just wanted to do it fresh, and that was what they wanted, too, Dylan and The Band.
R-e/p: Was there anything unusual about the way Dylan and The Band work which would affect the choice of an engineer?
Dick LaPalm: We talked about engineers. The one thing they wanted was a guy that not only knew the equipment and respected it, but someone who could work really rapidly. Knowing how a Dylan works—the guy says, “Let’s do it now,” and he expects the engineer can do it, just like that, without fumbling.
R-e/p: Why did Dylan and The Band record at Village? What did you have that made it just right for them?
Fraboni (left) and assistant engineer Nat Jeffrey.
Rob Fraboni: One thing, the room was right for them. As far as the size, they really liked that. And as far as the control room is concerned, they just wanted something that sounded good. It could have been done at a number of places, but we had a combination of things: the room, the security and the location.
They liked the idea of being out of town (The Village Recorder is situated in West Los Angeles, about 10 miles from Hollywood). When we actually got down to the mixing, Robbie was comfortable with what he was hearing, and that was the really important thing.
R-e/p: When you say Robbie, you are talking about…
RF: Robbie Robertson, guitar, The Band.
RF: There was no producer on this record. Everybody was the producer. Robbie is the one who gives a lot of direction, although they all have something to say about the music, and are all really involved.
DL: He seems to be the one that has the most knowledge as far as engineering is concerned. He has tremendous knowledge about what equipment can do, what a board can and can’t do.
R-e/p: Let’s get back to the room. You told us that studio B was used for the album. What is it about this room that made it attractive?
RF: For one thing, you can work in here for hours and hours and not get fatigued. And you can turn this room up very loud and it won’t hurt. Numerous people have commented on that.
R-e/p: What kind of monitors are you using?
RF: The room was conceived by me and designed by George Augspurger, and the monitors are custom-built using JBL components and custom crossovers. Each enclosure has two 15-inch 2220 woofers, which are thin-cone units. They’re also efficient, so our amplifiers aren’t working so hard on the low end.
It gives us a punchier bottom than a 2215, with a different coloration. The 2215 has a more rubbery sound. While the curve of our room might look like another room, it has a certain character. The 2405 tweeters are also part of the picture. I just really like the way they sound in this installation. The overall system has a very low fatigue factor, or whatever you’d call it.
R-e/p: What kind of a curve does the room actually have?
RF: Well, it was originally flat, but we tailored the high end a little differently. I found that having a flat monitor system was a terrible hype.
The way we finally decided on the curve was that I went to a lot of studios and to a lot of people’s homes and played music on different systems. I took notes and gathered the information.
R-e/p: Since the room is equalized, you could probably have achieved similar frequency response with other speakers. Was there another factor involved in the choice of these particular speakers?
RF: Well, I like 604’s with the Mastering Lab crossover. But they still have a beaming effect. That’s one thing you just can’t get away from, and that was the reason we decided to switch to units with better dispersion.
R-e/p: Without the beaming, what kind of coverage do you get? Where is the best sound in the control room?
RF: Realistically, the working area is the length of the console. You can sit at the producer’s desk and hear well, although there is some difference from behind the console. As far as quad sound, it’s surprisingly good for a small room. It sounds very large and open in here.
R-e/p: We’ve talked a lot about the control room. Let’s discuss the studio for a while. For example, how many mikes were used in the sessions?
RF: As it turned out, I used about 28 microphones.
R-e/p: That seems like quite a few mikes for a relatively small studio. Why were so many mikes necessary?
RF: Seven were used on the organ. Garth (Hudson) has got this elaborate Lowrey organ with a Leslie on each of two keyboards. One Leslie is a model 103, of which very few were made. It has stationary speakers with a phasing device in the tube-type amplifier, as well as two rotors.
There was also a Hammond organ with a Leslie. Sometimes Garth would play both organs at one time, so we were miking three Leslies.
R-e/p: How about the other instruments?
RF: I often use a lot of mikes on the drums; I used about seven or eight. I wanted to mike everything kind of tight in this case. Bob had an electric and an acoustic guitar, as well as his vocal mike. And it all had to be ready to go because they would just say “OK” and boom, you go.
R-e/p: We’d like to know a little more about the miking, and the diagram you’re doing will help. But you just raised an interesting point. That is, what kind of a recording artist is Bob Dylan? What was it like working with him? Dick mentioned and you are also hinting that Dylan needs an engineer who’s on his toes.
RF: Right. Robbie came in that first morning and said to me, “There are going to be no overdubs. We’re doing it live. This is it, what’s happening here is it.” Bob doesn’t overdub vocals.
R-e/p: It sounds like Dylan was in the studio to perform, period.
RF: That’s really true. The record was really a performance, as far as I’m concerned. It wasn’t like we were “making a record.” It was more of a performance, and Bob wanted it to sound right, to come across. When he starts playing, there’s nothing else happening but that, as far as he’s concerned. I don’t think I’ve seen anyone who performs with such conviction.
R-e/p: Maybe we can back up a little and get some information on how the album was first conceived. And how long did Dylan work on it?
RF: I can tell you what I know, although I don’t know everything. A few weeks before we started the album, Bob went to Now York by himself. He stayed there for two to two and a half weeks and wrote most all the songs.
One of the classic songs, “Forever Young,” he told me he had carried around in his head for about three years. He gets an idea for a song sometimes, he said, and he’s not ready to write it down. So he just keeps it with him and eventually it comes out.
R-e/p: When did he get together with The Band for this album?
RF: I’m not exactly sure but I know they had started rehearsing for the tour before we began recording. They only knew two of the songs on the album before coming in. The balance of the songs on the album they never heard until they were right here in the studio.
R-e/p: It appears The Band are pretty good musicians.
RF: They’re really something. And it’s got such character the music sounds like it’s all arranged. Bob would just run it down, and they’d play it once. Then they’d come in to the control room and listen. That’s another thing that really astounded me.
Nobody was saying, “You ought to be doing this” or “You ought to be playing that.” They just all came in and listened to hear what they should do, and then they’d go out into the studio. That would usually be the take, or the one following. That was pretty much the way it went.
R-e/p: Were the takes run straight through from the top?
RF: Yeah. Almost all of them were complete. The other thing was, if that wasn’t the take, they’d do a few more. Sometimes, they would change the arrangements from take to take because it was still so fresh. Then they’d choose the one that felt best.
R-e/p: How many days did it take to do all the recording?
RF: They initially came in on Friday, November 2, to get set up and to get a feel for the studio. We did use one song that we recorded that day. They cut three or four things for the album on Monday. Just came in and knocked them off.
Then on Tuesday they cut about four more things, and we used about three of them. We took two days off. Then they came in Friday and we cut the balance of the album that day.
R-e/p: So you really cut most of what you used in about three days.
RF: Yeah. Then we were assembling on Saturday, the next day, and Bob, myself, Nat Jeffrey (assistant engineer on Planet Waves) and Bob’s friend were here. We put together the master reels.
Then around noon, Bob said, “I’ve got a song I want to record later,” and I said fine. He said, “I’m not ready right now. I’ll ‘tell you when.” We were doing what we were doing, and all of a sudden he came up and said, “Let’s record.” So he went out in the studio, and that was “Wedding Song,” the cut that ends the album.
R-e/p: You mean he just walked out and it was a one-take?
RF: He just went out and played it. It was astounding. I hadn’t heard him do anything that sounded like his early records. Lou Kemp, his old friend from Minnesota, was there. He also came on the tour with us.
Anyway, Bob went out to record, and I put up some microphones, and I was going to get a sound. But usually he wouldn’t sing unless we were recording. That’s the way he was. You couldn’t get him to go out and just sing, unless he was running something down with The Band.
Well, I said I was going to get a sound. He asked, “Is the tape rolling? Why don’t you just roll it.” So I did, and he started singing, and there was no way in the world I could have stopped him to say, “Go back to the top.” It was such an intense performance.
If you listen to the record, you can hear noises from the buttons on his jacket. But he didn’t seem to care. Lou and I were both knocked out by the song. We listened to it a few times and didn’t think about it again until we got down to mixing. I mentioned re-cutting it to eliminate the button sounds, at one point, and Bob said, “Well, maybe.” But he never said yes, so we let it go.
R-e/p: Was that the last song they cut?
RF: Actually, the final recording happened during the mixing. We had mixed about two or three songs, and Bob, Robbie, Nat and I were there. Bob went out and played the piano while we were mixing. All of a sudden, he came in and said, “I’d like to try ‘Dirge’ on the piano.” We had recorded a version with only acoustic guitar and vocal a few days earlier.
R-e/p: Were you ready for it?
RF: We weren’t ready at all, we were mixing. But we put up a tape and he said to Robbie, “Maybe you could play guitar on this.” They did it once, Bob playing piano and singing, and Robbie playing acoustic guitar. The second time was the take. It was another one of those incredible, one-time performances.
R-e/p: Was anyone else involved in the mixing?
RF: Robbie Robertson has a good ear for mixing, knows what he wants to hear. So it was pretty much him and Bob when it got down to mixing. Robbie and I mixed the record together, and Bob was there commenting and making suggestions.
R-e/p: Can you describe Bob’s concern with the mixing, or at least the kinds of things he picked up on?
RF: Well, for one thing, he wanted certain types of sounds. He wanted a kind of bar room sound from the piano on “Dirge” rather than a majestic sound. He also wanted a raunchy vocal sound. We actually mixed “Dirge” immediately after we recorded it that night. Robbie and I listened to it once and I said, “Let’s mix it right now.”
So we took a mix and that’s what’s on the record. It had a unique character. The sound of that particular mix made a lot of difference and was important to him.
We did another mix later going for a more “polished” sound, but didn’t use it. That’s the kind of stuff he was sensitive to, how the mixes affected the character of the music. That might have been more important to him than the sound quality
R-e/p: Did it take a long time to mix the album ?
RF: We came in and mixed a few songs. We would work a day or two and take a few days off. And we always worked from noon to about eight, really good hours. One of the songs, “Hazel,” we used the way we first mixed it. But we remixed the other two because we felt we could do better.
Once we got into doing them, we mixed the whole album in about three or four days. But then we spent more time than it took to record or mix just to sequence the record. Bob wanted to live with a few different sequences, until he found one that was just right.
R-e/p: How far did you go with the project, Rob? Were you involved in the mastering?
RF: After the mixes were done, they virtually turned the whole thing over to me. They let me decide on the spacing between songs, and everything regarding mastering. I cut sets of refs for them for approval when I was satisfied, and then they gave me the final go-ahead.
R-e/p: We see the record was cut at Kendun. What made you go to that particular mastering facility?
RF: I did some checks, actually. I cut flat parts at a few places, and put a 700-cycle tone at the front to get accurate comparisons of the cutting. From there I decided on Kendun. So I went out there, cut it, and that was it.
R-e/p: Kendun’s room was done by Westlake, wasn’t it?
RF: Yes. It sounded a bit bright in there.
R-e/p: That isn’t surprising, considering the different monitor systems involved. Did you have any trouble adjusting to the difference and getting the right EQ?
RF: I suggested that we do nothing to it, and Kent Duncan, who did the cutting, agreed. I just relied on our previous checks of the mixes.
R-e/p: You mean when you got back to the Village with the refs, it sounded right?
RF: Yes, when we cut it flat. But we tried some EQ on the critical refs, a little on this and a little on that, and we couldn’t do anything to really improve it.
R-e/p: So you think it’s no problem to mix on one system and cut on another?
RF: No, I’ve done that. An even better example was the album I did with Richard Green before we did Bob’s album. Our studio was booked so heavily that we had to go outside to Sound Labs (Hollywood). It sounded very similar and was easy for us to adjust.
R-e/p: That’s a 604 system with the Mastering Lab modification.
RF: Right. The bottom end is different in here, it goes lower—down to 40 cycles almost flat. It just didn’t sound like it was doing that at Sound Labs. Our bottom end has a certain feel to it, as well as a sound, which is different over there. But the high end sounded very similar, which surprised me.
R-e/p: What about people who like a different sound?
RF: Of course we’re talking about taste. That’s pretty much what it comes down to. Some people like 604’s, and you can’t argue with it.
What we do have in all our rooms is a speaker switching system. We have a rotary selector switch, with other speakers on custom made stands. They have small bases, telescoping height adjustment, and heavy-duty casters. They’re sturdy enough to hold a 604E or 4320 and roll around.
R-e/p: You brought up the subject of taste, and it reminds me that we were going to discuss the mikes used for the album. I wonder if you can describe Dylan’s vocal mike, to begin with.
RF: We used a Sennheiser 421. But we went through five or six mikes to find out which would be best.
R-e/p: Did Dylan have a favorite mike?
RF: He preferred a 421 because he had used it before and liked it. Robbie suggested the 421. To tell the truth, it didn’t cross my mind because I hadn’t used it for vocals before.
R-e/p: Which one would you have used?
RF: As I said, I was experimenting, although there wasn’t much time for it. The first day, we tried an SM-53, 57, an 87 and a 47. I figured the condensers weren’t going to work because of leakage problems.
We also had to consider popping, which was a problem with the 421, especially because Bob doesn’t like to use a wind screen.
R-e/p: What did that do to the sound?
RF: It worked out OK. He’s always popped and seems to be used to it.
R-e/p: Did you use any de-essing or correction on the mix?
RF: No de-essing. We had a Pultec filter we would click in for the “p’s.” We usually shelved the vocal at 50 Hz. Nat would sit over there and switch to 80 Hz just for the p’s.
On one song, ‘Dirge,’ I got Bob to use a wind screen, He used it, and it really worked well. So, to answer your earlier question, that was how we chose the vocal mike—experimentation, with an ear to leakage.
R-e/p: What are the leakage characteristics of the 421?
RF: Well, The Band was playing fairly loud and I was limiting Bob slightly, 3 to 5 dB. Live, we were getting - 15 dB, tops, on the leakage, and that was incredible. I couldn’t believe it.I’d look at the meter, and it was just barely moving. I was immediately sold on the mike. Plus, what leakage there was, sounded good.
R-e/p: Would you mind getting into more detail on the instrument miking?
RF: On the drum kit, I used quite a number of mikes: a Shure SM-7 on the bass, Sennheiser 421 on the snare, KM-84 on the high hat, and 87’s for toms and overheads. I experimented with the set a little bit.
R-e/p: Was there anything you particularly like in that combination of drum mikes? Is it a favorite set-up?
RF: It just worked. The Band likes a thick torn sound, and the proximity effect of the 87’s worked to our advantage in this respect. And I like the sound of condenser mikes on drums, so that’s why I chose them.
On the high hat, I have found the 84 just works well on almost any set. I’ve got about three or four different mikes I use on snares, based on the kind of sound the drum set has.
R-e/p: So you try to get a sound tailored to the specific situation?
RF: Yeah. I don’t have a setup that I use on every drum set.
R-e/p: You really seem to be enthusiastic about the drums.
RF: That’s probably because I play drums. I feel they’re really an important part of a good sounding record. I have a feeling for musicians, having played myself. I always go out in the room and listen. They’ll run through something and I’ll stay in the studio.
When the musicians come in initially I always ask, “What’s the most comfortable way for you to set up?” I tell them we’ll start from there, and if there are any problems, we’ll rearrange things. It helps a lot—when you give musicians that kind of room, they feel better.
R-e/p: Let’s run through the rest of the miking. The diagram you prepared shows a lot. What about the choice of piano mikes?
RF: We used two KM 84’s. I tried a couple of things. I miked both facing the hinge. One of them was almost to the end of the harp, and about 12 inches toward the hammers about a foot to 18 inches from the hinge. The body of the mike was parallel to the soundboard, about 2 inches up.
The other mike was in the same basic position, but angled a bit toward the soundboard 00 about 30 degrees. It was in the high end section of the piano, nearer the holes. It worked really well, with practically no leakage at all.
R-e/p: Did you have the top open?
RF: I had it on the short peg, with it really covered. We were all surprised how low the leakage was. But when I did ‘Dirge’ with Bob, we used a completely different set up, mainly because he wanted it that way. I had it open all the way, no covers, nothing.
R-e/p: Did the piano get into his vocal?
RF: No, he sings so loud. Interestingly enough, the one thing that leaked into the drums was Bob’s vocal. That’s one reason the leakage was so low. He really sings hard. In fact, he was leaking so badly into the uncovered piano that I had to experiment.
I used RE15’s. I faced them toward the back of the piano, instead of the hammers, and it worked really well. It took a bit of EQ, but as far as leakage went, it was really excellent. Plus, as I said, he wanted a more “far away” sound for that number.
R-e/p: Were there any other unusual or special miking techniques?
RF: Let’s see. We used a special direct box for the bass. Our maintenance man, Ken Klinger, built it. It’s a solid state, discrete, FET type. We used that on the bass, and miked the amp—a twin reverb, I think with a 56.
R-e/p: It’s becoming easier to see where all the mikes were used. According to the diagram, there seem to be quite a few more instruments than there were players. Were they all used in the same session?
RF: Yes, sometimes. There was a pianet and clavinet—both were direct. Rick (Danko), who played bass, also played fiddle a bit. And there was an accordion. There was also a Dobro guitar. I had extra mikes up for these instruments, for whatever might happen. The Band didn’t do any singing on the album. And that’s it.
R-e/p: With all the close miking and the experienced musicians, did the actual levels in the studio tend to be low? And, if so, did everybody wear phones?
RF: The levels were medium-loud, and they could hear each other in the room. They would occasionally wear phones.
R-e/p: What kind of mixes would you give them? Heavy on their own instruments, just the other guys, or what?
RF: A stereo mix of the whole thing, and they loved it. They had Sennheiser 414 phones, and the stereo worked out very well, especially for Garth. I could put one Leslie in one ear, and the other Leslie in the other ear, and it gave him the perfect effect because that’s what he does. He puts the Leslies on either side of the Lowrey so that when he uses the different keyboards, the sound goes back and forth.
R-e/p: As far as your monitoring was concerned, did you listen in mono at all?
RF: Yes, a lot. That’s a sure-fire way to acoustically catch phase problems.
R-e/p: But what do you do with something like the Leslie, where the phase is all over the place?
RF: That’s a whole different circumstance. You just do your best to make it sound good.
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 grew to become the 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.
Church Sound: Your House Volume And My Grandmother’s Cooking
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, and can even tell you the signs the sound guy is having a mental breakdown.
Sunday, September 20, 2015
Larry Estrin: A Life Of Innovation And Leadership
Involved with countless landmark events and created numerous "firsts" in a career that spanned well over 50 years
Noted innovator and leader Larry Estrin has passed away following a battle with illness, leaving an indelible mark on professional audio and broadcast in numerous impactful ways.
Larry was involved with countless landmark events in a career that spanned well over 50 years, such as the first multi-satellite global broadcast of a major concert, live stereo broadcast of the Olympic Opening Ceremonies, stereo broadcasts of the Grammys and Academy Awards, as well as numerous other high-profile projects for the White House, NFL and Disney.
He was the co-founder of Hollywood Sound Systems in 1960, and went on to serve as the road manager for legendary Hawaiian performer Don Ho at the height of his popularity. He also served as director and CEO of The Filmways Audio Group, which included Wally Heider Recording (16 studios in Los Angeles and San Francisco).
In 1980, he co-founded BEST AUDIO, which continues to this day. Along the way came numerous “firsts,” including:
—Member of the creative design team that developed the Main Street Electrical Parade at Disneyland, specifically responsible for conceiving the synchronized sound system design.
—Conceived and implemented the first use of wireless microphones for referees of National Football League (NFL) games. (As he said, “I don’t always know what the hand signals mean. Let’s let the referee explain it.”)
—Provided production management, broadcast, media and stadium audio and production communications for 19 consecutive Super Bowls.
—Engineered and implemented the first stereo recording and broadcast of the Academy Awards.
—Engineered and implemented the first stereo simulcast of the Grammy Awards.
—Developed and implemented the first remote audio mobile unit designed exclusively for television.
—Audio design consultant for the first two years of the iconic Saturday Night Live on NBC (1975-1976).
—And much more. See Larry’s resume here.
Larry where he loved to be: working at a large-scale event.
Long-time friend and colleague Mac Kerr adds, “Larry was the person who conceived of the method of using carts to get the sideline PA on the field for Super Bowls. Prior to that we set up truss towers and flew a PA on the sideline in the 7-minute commercial break. He was the audio director for many Super Bowls, political conventions and all the televised political debates prior to his illness this year. He was the audio director for the last two papal visits to the U.S., overseeing locations at every appearance by the Pope, and the audio director for the opening ceremonies of most of the Olympics since LA.
“Larry was a loyal friend, and he will be greatly missed. Go in peace old friend.”
Friend and colleague Henry Cohen: “A one-of-a-kind character for whom there are countless stories, anecdotes, accolades, and a bit of awe. I’ve had the privilege of knowing Larry for over 15 years and wouldn’t have missed any of it. The logistics and operations of large scale special event sound and communications are rooted in many of Larry’s innovations.
“I’ll miss him. Rest in peace.”
Friend and business partner Pete Erskine notes that there are lots of great stories involving Larry, and he shares this anecdote: “My favorite was during the Republican convention in Dallas. All the sound crew had gone out to lunch except Andrew Waterman. When we came back, the Dallas Police Department had sealed the center for “their” security sweep. Not only were we locked out, but most of the Secret Service was too. In those days the Dallas Police were the absolute authority in that town.
“Larry radioed Andrew and had him turn on pink noise at max volume and then go hide. We could hear it outside. After about 10 minutes the police came out to the loading dock, looking for the audio department. Larry, the crew, and the locked-out SS members entered and “fixed” the problem.
“Please share your stories about Larry and yourself here. Larry had been working on a book about his life and would love to have them included.”
Friday, September 18, 2015
Rate Your Audio Skills, Knowledge & Personality Type
As technology accelerates at a dizzying rate and increases in processing power are only rivaled by the size of knobs on “retro analog” gear, we find ourselves navigating between magical-designer patch cables and legitimate advances in audio.
We know digital must always be “better” because CDs sound better than cassette tapes.
Everything is processed, as often as possible, and just as the hot dog is the perfect meal of processed meat, sound will be perfect and consistent any day now, as soon as we buy that magic black box with sufficient DSP power.
In order to help understand where you are in this overwhelming audio maze, I have put together a quiz to help rate your knowledge and personality type.
Modeled after the timeless and successful “Rate Your Love Life!” or “Is He Faithful?” types of quizzes in women’s magazines, it only seems appropriate that we “audiots” should share in the fun.
Your “audio horoscope” should provide some valuable insight into your mixing “character”. To properly score, you must answer every question, and be sure to keep score as you go.
So take your time, read carefully, good luck and enjoy!
1) You are mixing FOH at a venue that has a 90 dB A weighted limit, averaged over 10 minute intervals, maximum 20 dB peaks, measured from the FOH mix position. Which of the following would be a valid approach for achieving the best sounding show?
—Make a point of introducing yourself to the sound monitoring person, find out the rules and show interest in their job - 1 point
—Radio to production for a case of beer and a bottle of Jack - 2 points
—Yell obscenities and stomp around like a little kid - 4 points
—Ignore the irritating sound cop and crank it up - 3 points
—Go back to the bus - 6 points
2) Really old sound gear does not actually sound that great…
—Unless it has tubes, which means that it sounds amazing - 4 points
—Unless it looks cool, which means it sounds amazing - 2 points
—Age is not as relevant as the quality of the design - 5 points
—True - 1 point
3) Huge mics are better because they capture more sound…
—Of course - 4 points
—Especially if they have a tube - 3 points
—No, but they definitely fall over easier on a tripod stand - 6 points
—Yikes - 0 points
4) A large-scale digital console is best suited for…
—Replacing a smaller, lighter, less expensive analog console on a tour that ships worldwide and only one engineer uses it - 7 points
—A rental company to put on festivals so all the engineers can share one console and learn to use it at the same time - 4 points
—Award shows with multiple acts and cues and the producers won’t let the band engineers touch the consoles anyway - 1 point
—All of the above because it will make the band sound better - 4 points
5) When mixing a show you…
—Lean over the console constantly turning knobs and must not be disturbed - 5 points
—Dial up the mix, hit your cues and make minor adjustments during the show - 1 point
—Drink beer and hang out with your friends - 6 points
—Watch the band intently because you are a monitor engineer - 0 points
6) A friend once told me “when mixing, never face an audience of 10,000 people without a beer and a cigarette”, his advice means…
—You should take up smoking and drinking while you work - 2 points
—Mix with your feet - 4 points
—Never panic, a relaxed and confident engineer will mix a better show - 1 point
—May as well enjoy yourself because the band can’t hear your mix or see you anyway - 6 points
7) Before your show starts you…
—Hang with your friends and drink beer - 6 points
—Do a quick check to make sure all is in order - 1 point
—Change into your “show clothes” - 2 points
—Turn everything up a bit, just in case - 7 points
—All of the above - 0 points
8) Feedback from stage…
—Usually builds quicker and more aggressively than feedback from the mains - 5 points
—Is the only place it comes from - 3 points
—Is the only chance for the monitor engineer to get in a “solo” - 2 points
9) Studio gear is better than live sound gear because…
—It usually costs more, does less and takes up more space in the rack - 5 points
—Is better designed because live gear manufacturers do not know the “studio secret design techniques” - 7 points
—Is called studio gear because it is big heavy and wastes space, if it was small, light and compact, it would be “live gear” - 6 points
—All of the above - 0 points
10) Recent breakthroughs in bass DI technology has increased the size and cost of the bass DI five-fold. These advances are…
—New electronics designs and technologies - 4 points
—Utilizing the same technology that makes compressors large - 0 points
—Impossible to actually hear but they look cool - 2 points
—Awesome, who makes them? - 7 points
11) Having a tall sound riser is important because…
—It is my sound stage, baby! - 2 points
—It is easier to scan the audience for a date - 6 points
—It is important to hear the sound way up high above the heads of the people you are mixing for, even if it is totally different that what the audience hears - 4 points
—It is the way it is done - 3 points
—It actually may not be the best idea - 1 point
12) Would you rather have…
—A sound system that sounds amazing at mix position but poor everywhere else - 3 points
—A system that sounds mediocre but its coverage is smooth and consistent throughout the audience of the entire venue - 5 points
—The newest revolutionary PA that you saw in a magazine but have yet to hear - 7 points
—The biggest PA you can get - 2 points
13) The most important characteristics of a world-class sound engineer is…
—Instilling confidence to the band that every show will sound as good as humanly possible - 1 point
—Reinvesting a portion of your salary into paying random people $20 to tell the band it sounded great - 3 points
—Quality sound and show to show consistency regardless of system type, venue size or personal issues - 1 point
—How many companies give you free gear - 2 points
—Hamming it up for pictures in sound magazines - 7 points
14) The common practice of having the back-line techs play all the instruments through the main sound system, full blast, right before the band plays is necessary…
—Because even though the band sound checked four hours ago, having the back-line techs play the instruments may offer totally new and critical info to your mix - 4 points
—Because the audience needs to get mentally prepared for the show by listening to 30 kick drum beats and the beginning of “Freebird” half a dozen times - 3 points
—For engineers who can’t afford headphones and have no idea of how to acoustically compensate for the audience arriving, using house music - 5 points
—Because it is truly your only chance to demonstrate your amazing sound prowess before the band steals your spotlight - 2 points
15) When mixing a show and you really have to take a “whiz”, you…
—Go take a whiz - “when you gotta go, you gotta go” - 3 points
—Act nonchalant as you fill up every empty container in sight - 6 points
—Try and make the mad dash between songs - 5 points
16) While mixing the show, do you make the time to listen to the sound outside of the mix area?
—No, you’re always too busy turning all those knobs - 5 points
—Never thought of it - 4 points
—Every time you’re in a new venue - 1 point
—You play hide and seek with the band ducking down in the crowd and popping up in various places - 6 points
—Only when you have to take a whiz - 3 points
17) Your mix sounds amazing because…
—You use a lot of expensive outboard gear - 7 points
—You use a really huge mixing board - 6 points
—You have lots and lots of inputs from stage - 7 points
—All of the above - 0 points
18) There was an imaginary concert that sounded really, really bad. The most probable cause was…
—Lack of fancy tube compressors with big knobs - 3 points
—A $10,000 studio effect that was needed was not available on this continent - 7 points
—One of the seven high hat mics stopped working right before the show started - 0 points
—The human surrounded by all those lights and knobs - 1 point
19) It is important to “limit” those support acts because…
—Just in case the support engineer can mix better, at least he/she will not be as loud - 7 points
—It is easier than asking them to mix at a reasonable level - 5 points
—Support engineers look cute when they are angry - 4 points
—Only when they suffer from CFC (Chronic Fader Creep) disease - 1 point
20) Running pink noise through the sound system is important for…
—Helping to find some of the hot spots and holes when EQ’ing the sound system - 1 point
—Its calming effect on the lamps in the truss - 3 points
—Letting the air out of the sound system and avoiding over-pressurization - 4 points
—All of the above - 0 points
21) The best music to tune a sound system to is…
—Steely Dan - 7 points
—Dire Straights, “Money for Nothing” - 3 points.
—Your side project band - 2 points
—Some music that sounds even remotely similar tonally to the show you are mixing - 0 points
—Tenacious D - 6 points
22) When an audience member takes it upon himself/herself to critique your mix and tell you they can’t hear the vocals, you…
—Have them thrown out by security - 3 points
—Make excuses blaming the system, the techs, the band and where the audience member is sitting - 7 points
—Listen, smile and say thank you - 5 points
—Go ahead and un-mute the lead vocal mic and turn it up slowly - 6 points
23) You are mixing the largest show of a band’s (and your own) career. The PA company hired for the show, in an attempt to get a jump on load out, inadvertently unplugs your console from the main system after you tested everything, and just as your band walks on stage. To your horror, you see what looks like (and is) one of the band members jumping around but no sound is coming out of the PA. Who is ultimately responsible for the screw up?
—You, because you’re responsible for the sound no matter what - 0 points
—The PA tech that unplugged the console - 5 points
—The PA company department head for letting it happen - 3 points
—Not sure but that sucks! - 6 points
—The real issue is “who is gonna pay for the console” that you accidentally flipped and began jumping on top of after it happened - 7 points
24) As a sound “engineer” you share a common title with many other professionals in the highly advanced society we live in. Which of the following engineering jobs do you feel most qualified to perform, given the experience and knowledge you acquired to earn you the impressive title ‘engineer’?
—Design a cost-effective five-foot wide wooden bridge that will safely support up to 32 oxen, spanning a 30-foot wide river - 5 points
—Design a simple eight-bit microprocessor capable of doing basic mathematical functions - 4 points
—Do a structural analysis and determine the maximum safe wind velocity upon a 62-story building - 5 points
—Drive a train - 6 points
—Describe the method of grafting DNA strains to help increase disease tolerance of soybeans - 5 points
25) The show was flawless, the audience mesmerized, spontaneous cheers and standing ovations. You’re standing at the sound board and the thought running through your mind is:
—Man, my job sucks, can’t wait to get to the bus - 3 points
—Wish I had a nine-to-five desk job with a suit and tie - 5 points
—Man, if my mom had only bought me guitar, I could be up there - 2 points
—Wonder if McDonalds is hiring? - 4 points
—If only I had five more inputs! - 7 points
—Well, maybe this sound thing ain’t so bad after all - 1 point
Congratulations, you’re done!
Now, tally up the total score, and here’s how you rate:
50 - 55 total points: Congratulations, you’re a Mix Master! Somehow your keen sense of the obvioius combined with an in depth awareness of the nuances of the auditory profession has allowed you to navigate your way to being a Mix Master. You are on the right track and somehow figured out that all you hear is not to be believed. Good luck and congratulations!
56 - 65: Oh you Rock Star. The shiny lights, the cheering crowds, if only the sound board was center stage. Darn - if only mom had put you in guitar lessons instead of Little League. Well, at least this sound gig lets you wear a bunch of cool laminates and rock out to the hits!
66 - 75: So you’re from the Old School. Been there and done that ,and it’s not how we did it on Floyd tour. Well you can always turn it up a bit and go for a glory pose. These dang new PA’s are getting really tiny though - what happened to the good old days when it took six guys to lift a real speaker cab?
76 - 95: There are worse things than being Engineerically Challenged (see below). We can’t all be the brightest mic in the road case, and we’re all bound to get a little confused every once in a while. You may want to touch up a bit on the technical side, especially if you’ve been at this sound thing for more than a year or so.
96 - 115: As a Techno Nerd, you’ve gotta love those spec sheets and owners manuals. The complexities of striving for the perfect sound is a challenge that can keep you occupied forever, and sometimes, it can be overdone a bit. This is a highly technical field. but no amount of technology will overcome the subjective aspect of sound. Never forget that in the sound world, perfection is only an opinion.
116 - 130: Hey Cool Dude. Chicks, beer, tunes and a paycheck - what more could you want? You most likely didn’t choose this line of work to be bored and get to have some fun… Or you may as well get a real job. Hopefully you’ve got some crazy good mixing skills as a balance, or you’re gonna wind up working clubs when you’re 50. But at least you’re having fun!
131-plus: Ahhhh, the elusive Small “Male Unit” award. You need the newest, the biggest, the most expensive of everything you can get, regardless if you know how it works (or not). Whether it’s a certain personal deficiency that causes you to try too hard in other ways, or you’re just having fun burning someone else’s cash, be aware of what you really look like when Small “Male Unit” calls the shots.
Dave Rat heads up Rat Sound, based in Southern California, and has also been a mix engineer for more than 30 years.