Monday, April 07, 2014
Ahead Of The Game: Console Strategies For Festivals
The goal is to be as prepared as possible. Spring is nigh...
Mixing at festivals – good times! Or is it?
Anyone who has worked as either a guest mixer or system tech in a festival environment probably has stories about the inherent ups and downs and, certainly, the hyper pace and stress that are part of the gig. And we’ve all heard a few horror stories of artists hitting the stage patched incorrectly or without a sound check.
But there’s also the unique thrill of mixing in a hyped environment with tens of thousands of fans on hand, and sometimes in really cool outdoor settings. The goal of the mix engineer is to be as prepared as possible, particularly when it comes to working with the console. Spring is nigh…
Preferences & Strategies
It’s been common for years to see multiple consoles “leap-frogged” between acts, allowing one or more offline consoles to be dialed in while another is live. They may be switched over by the system engineer or sub-mixed to a master console, and in the latter case, gain structure or ground loop hum/noise issues can pop up between consoles. Carrying in-line pads and audio isolation transformers is always a good idea.
Digital consoles have obviously changed the workflow at festivals by allowing preset show files to be prepped and uploaded, which helps in terms of establishing baselines and promoting efficiency. Premium analog boards may still be carried by certain headliner acts, but they’re usually not shared.
Whatever the console(s) in use, advancing the date is still the most important step in a successful gig. Even the best system techs can’t prepare properly if they don’t have enough information in advance. Further, even when this info is available and shared ahead of time, it’s still wise to arrive at the gig with a copy of the stage plot, patch list, input list, and whatever else is important to the production.
Having mixed at plenty of festivals and other multi-act events, I’ve developed a number of personal preferences and strategies. And I’ve observed that the balance of science versus art that we know as “live mixing” tends to weigh heavily toward the science side when the “run-and-gun” mode common to festivals kicks in. After all, things just have just work, first.
A Yamaha CL5 provided by Gand Concert Sound to serve as the house console at the annual Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago.
But as veteran freelance mix engineer Chris McMillan (John Mark McMillan/Promenade Media) told me, “Mixing is much better when the art takes priority over the science, and that means ergonomics can determine how nuanced your mix becomes. I like channels grouped the way I’m used to so that I see what I need and never know anything else exists.”
This is where festivals are so different than tours. Touring engineers get very used to their daily setup being consistent, and can take advantage of that repeatability to achieve highly detailed mixes. System techs that aren’t mixers should try to keep in mind that mix engineers aren’t always crazy or unrealistic when they want their console laid out a certain way.
It’s about familiarity. It really does matter if the lead vocal gets patched to the rack tom channel. Things like this can be dealt with in a pinch, and maybe quickly, but they can impact the end result by either causing a failure or a compromised (weaker) mix.
In talking with Chris and a couple of other festival mixing veterans, and thinking about my own experiences, certain themes are clear. Mix engineers desire a “perfect” console setup and the ultimate processing tweaks to satisfy their mix plans. But when working festivals, they do realize that it’s a daunting task to support many acts a day as opposed to one artist on multiple tour dates. As a result, they just hope for a reasonably well-tuned PA, a thoughtful system approach, solid gain structure, and an intelligent output bus layout.
Input patching is critical – particularly at festivals. What’s the best way to handle it? If the sound company has the qualified hands and there is enough change-over time, it’s great when stage inputs can be updated for each artist on the bill.
Whether the consoles are digital or analog, this extra effort goes a long way in helping keep things familiar for visiting engineers.
And if troubleshooting becomes necessary, engineer(s) are likely to have the stage patches for their artists memorized and know things like “hats are on line 5” and the like. All of this said, it’s simply not all that realistic in most festival situations…
Festival stages are typically patched in a logical order with plenty of lines, and the patches don’t change between acts. If one drummer needs 10 lines and another needs only six, then the latter has four open lines during his set – the overall count remains the same.
“Soft patching” on digital consoles allows laying out input and output channels in any order without making physical patch changes. This is extremely powerful. No longer does snake line 1 have to appear on input channel 1. Each engineer’s preferred console layout can be implemented without impacting the physical patches. But this requires sharing console show files in advance (pun definitely intended) or doing it on site while another act is playing.
It’s common to use matrixes to drive PA outputs such as main left and right, down fills, front fills, delay zones, subwoofers, etc. Many engineers simply distribute their stereo mix across these various zones (either L/R or L/R+sub), while some actually mix to each zone, which requires building specific mixes into each matrix. The exact PA zones and distribution varies per event, per stage, and not all companies do it the same.
But whatever the configuration, it’s imperative that the console’s output patches match the PA. With digital consoles this means soft patching the output patches, and for this reason, system techs need to be careful when loading each act’s show file, as output patching errors or surprises can create a perfect storm and wreck a system real quick.
A Soundcraft Vi6 as the front of house console provided by Premier Production & Sound Services for the main stage at Louisiana State University’s Groovin’ on the Grounds multi-act concert in Baton Rouge.
A couple of times I’ve worked as a guest mix engineer at a festival and then stayed on as a pre-booked system tech. While this isn’t my forte or preference, I found it very interesting to work from the other (host) side of things. Many visiting engineers arrive with an expectation of certain doom, and it was fun to “make their day” with exceptional support and PA organization.
In one case, the long-time mix engineer for a well-known classic rock band clearly wasn’t happy about the digital console at FOH. He just wanted to “get by and get out of there.” I knew this desk inside and out and did everything possible to make it painless for him. He sought to keep it simple, with input faders and EQs accessible, in order, but with no other processing – not even DCA groups.
Further, he actually broke out his console tape and Sharpie and proceeded to label the input channels analog style, in spite of the nice programmable LCD labels! When I pointed out that the tape was only applicable on “Bank A” and would be inaccurate as soon as he banked the faders, he simply replied, “I don’t bank.” The band fit on the 24 input faders without any banking (layering), and by the end of the first song, it sounded absolutely amazing. Simple setup, talented musicians, and great ears.
In considering this topic, I did some Q&A with long-time mix engineers Daniel Ellis (David Crowder Band, Jesus Culture) and the aforementioned Chris McMillan.
Here’s what they had to say.
What do you appreciate most from the host system tech in terms of console prep and work flow?
Chris McMillan: I love it when signal flow and busing are simple. That’s really the most important thing. I want to know I’m just responsible for a stereo mix and maybe a send for subs, and everything else is going to be fine. If that’s right, and there’s a solid talkback situation, then we’re golden. It’s also much appreciated when the system tech has thought through the input list and our specific goals and considered what that means in terms of the system configuration. There’s nothing as useless as taking the time to advance a show only to have nothing prepared and no feedback.
Daniel Ellis: I want to see a production console for videos, emcees, and things that I do not need/want in my show file. This also means that I can load and prep my show file in between acts without waiting for the perfect 30-second gap where nothing is happening on stage.
What’s your take on “festival patch”?
CM: In an ideal world, I stay away from festival patch, although this is pretty much only accomplished with a show file. I like channels grouped the way I’m used to so that I see what I need and never know anything else exists. You know, the typical spoiled brat method of engineering.
DE: As a headliner I want my show to be patched per my input list. The only problem with this is that many festival patch guys for some reason can’t get it right the first time so half of the sound check ends up being “fixing the patch.” At least this is how it works at Christian festivals. Sometimes it seems like a random guy has been hired off the street to patch when in essence, patching is one of the most important jobs.
A DiGiCo SD5 that’s one of numerous SD models supplied by Clearwing Productions for the annual Summerfest in Milwaukee.
Do you carry a show file if it’s a compatible digital console or do you send it in advance? Or neither?
CM: I carry a show file if it seems like it will make a difference. Sometimes the process of conforming a show file or the time it takes to be convinced it’s correct isn’t worth the effort, because patching and busing can become compromised. Anyway, the acts I work with aren’t doing anything so weird that a default festival scene can’t work as a great starting point.
DE: I always try to know ahead of time what console I’ll be using and have a show file ready. Even if it’s a blank show file built on my laptop, I find that it helps because at least I know where all of my inputs are. If you try to run a 48-input show from a festival console file, you spend the entire time switching between banks trying to remember where everything is. It helps me tremendously to have the same workflow every time even if I’m starting with flat EQ and no processing on anything.
Do you find that “artist EQ” or “output bus processing” is usually enough to get your sound or do you often wish (ask?) for access to the PA processing?
CM: Limited bus-style processing is usually acceptable, if not from a creative standpoint, then from the understanding that everyone else is working off of that same tuning.
DE: Lately I often find myself at an Avid desk at festivals, so I just slap a Waves Q10 (10-band paragraphic EQ plug-in) across the stereo bus. Luckily I haven’t had to do much to the systems themselves. Just two or three small cuts on the Q10 in problem areas and I’m usually happy. If it’s a console that doesn’t work with Waves, I simply use the parametric on the master out.
What makes for a good system tech?
CM: I don’t hesitate to communicate with the system tech about expectations and any changes I feel the PA needs. Most good techs can balance the reality of the promoter and their employer’s expressed interests and still meet your creative and technical needs. A good tech wants a good sounding show in reality and not just on paper.
DE: Good attitude and good ears! And please don’t set up a measurement mic in one spot and put in 15 EQ adjustments.
In The Studio: How To Charge For Your Time
A look at the pros and cons of several alternatives for engineers, producers and musicians...
One of the things that musicians, engineers and producers sometimes have trouble with is how much to charge for their time. Here’s an excerpt from The Music Producer’s Handbook that covers the pros and cons of all the alternatives. It’s aimed at producers, but just as applicable to engineers, musicians, and any professional trying to decide how much to charge.
What if a local band asks you to produce them? What do you charge if they’re not attached to a label? There are a number of approaches that you can take, although none will have you retiring to the Bahamas anytime soon. You can:
Charge a flat project fee. How much should that be? So much depends upon the type of project, how many overdubs you’ll need, the artist’s or band’s competency, the artist’s or band’s income level, and the number of songs. A jazz or blues band with 20 songs will usually take a lot less time than a pop band with eight because of the type of music and the layering normally required with pop music.
And if the band has a marginal player or two, that can almost double the time spent just trying to get the parts to match the other players in skill level (unless you can persuade them to use a session player.)
Usually, a flat fee is the least desirable way to get paid since projects have a tendency to go a lot longer than anticipated and will tend to drag on and on when the artist realizes that you get paid the same regardless of the time spent. If the flat fee is the easiest way or only way to get the gig, then that’s what you have to do, but otherwise, avoid it if you can unless you’ll very well compensated.
Charge a per-song fee. This is better than the flat project fee but not by much. All the same problem areas are still there with the exception that it can sometimes cause the artist to scale back from recording 15 songs to 10 (even though it’s a hit in your pocketbook).
You won’t have to worry about the artist wanting to record an extra song at the last minute or suddenly wanting to complete a track originally deemed too weak after basic tracking. With a per-song rate, any additional songs and you have to get paid.
Get paid on spec. This is the way that most fledgling producers start their careers. The deal would be that if the artist or band “makes it” (meaning they get signed by a major label and get an advance), then you’ll get paid either your project fee, points, or both.
The chances of that happening are always long no matter how much you believe in the act, so be prepared to spend your time working for free. The one good thing here is that you’ll be gaining experience.
If you’re going to work on contingency, you’ll need to get two things from the artist or band. The first thing is a larger deal than your normal rate to make it worth your while, since you’re specing your time. That could be anywhere from 20 to 50, even 100 percent more—whatever you can negotiate. You can justify it by saying, “I’m providing a lot of valuable time and expertise that you’re not paying me for right now. Maybe it’ll take a long time to see this money or maybe I’ll never see it. That’s worth an extra premium.”
The second thing is an agreement stating the terms of how much and under what circumstances you’ll get paid.
While you should go to an attorney to get this drawn up, this can cost you money that you don’t have or don’t want to spend on a project that may never pay off. Even if it’s only a single page long, just be sure to get it in writing because people have a tendency to forget or remember differently over time and it pays to have something on paper.
At the very least, put down what songs you’ve worked on (or going to work on), the amounts agreed upon, and a time frame that you’ll get paid (example—30 days after signing a major or indie label agreement), and how you’ll get paid (“in full by cashiers check”) just so no one forgets.
This may not be legally binding or may have plenty of holes that a high-priced lawyer can drive a truck through, but if the people you’re dealing are on the up and up, you’ll at least have a piece of paper to remind everyone of your contribution to their success and how you all agreed you’d be compensated.
Charge an hourly rate. The safest way to go as long as you can get paid, an hourly rate means that when you inevitably spend that extra week on overdubs or mixing, you’ll get paid for the time you’re putting in. The hourly rate keeps people focused and stops them from adding those extra 5 overdubs “just to see what they sound like,” or from trying 10 more takes when you all agreed that number 3 was great.
A combination of the above. Many times payment consists of a little bit of money or a little bit of spec, some items at a flat rate and some at hourly, or some combination. Try not to get too complicated. A simple deal works best for everyone, especially when it comes to getting paid. Just realize that there are a lot of options available.
There are a lot of good books on the subject of how to structure a deal for yourself that are much more comprehensive then what was just laid out above. Even if you decide not to read them, get an attorney if it means any money more than what the attorney will cost. At the very least, always get it in writing.
Bobby Owsinski is an author, producer, music industry veteran and technical consultant who has written numerous books covering all aspects of audio recording. For more information be sure to check out his website and blog. Get The Music Producer’s Handbook here.
Wednesday, April 02, 2014
Church Sound: Setting Input Gain Structure
The keys to an often underrated aspect of proper operation of a system...
Gain structure is one of those very important, yet highly underrated topics in audio. It’s not nearly as glamorous as EQ, plug-ins or parallel compression, but if your gain structure is whack, no amount of EQ, plug-ins or compression will fix it.
Here I’m going to focus primarily on input channel gain structure (overall system gain structure is another article entirely, but I’ll mention it briefly). The impetus for this article came from a simple question: Is it better to hit the preamps hard then turn down at the main output, or run the mains up around unity and dial back input gain to get the SPL you want out of the system?
As a general rule (there is an exception, which I’ll detail in a minute), I would argue the former is the correct (or at least better) method, and here’s why. Most preamps sound best when you hit them pretty hard (at least up to the point of clipping, which is too hard). By running preamps hard—and by hard I mean around -6 dB full-scale on a digital board, or within 6 dB of clipping on an analog board—you are maximizing signal-to-noise ratio.
And for some reason, they just sound better. Keep in mind, that’s a general rule, your mileage may vary. Now, it’s quite possible that if you dial the input gains up so that all of the preamps are running high, the overall system level will be too high.
That’s when you would lower your main level to compensate. This method will keep the signal to noise ratio high throughout the mixing chain, and will attenuate the signal at the last possible moment.
Before we get to setting up the gain structure, let me lay out my goals in for the process.
First, I want to maximize S/N ratio, and use up as many of the bits in the analog to digital (A/D) conversion process that I can. Keeping the input level high meets both goals.
Second, I like to mix with my faders around unity. Mixing with faders at unity is another key ingredient to good mixing. The fader resolution is highest right around unity, so it’s easy to make small adjustments.
If you try to mix with your faders at -20, a slight change in fader position might yield a 3-5 dB change rather than the 1-2 dB you actually desire.
Finally, I want to be sending a very solid signal out of the mixer to the processors for the same reasons (only in reverse) as the first point. That’s why proper system gain structure is important.
Next, how I would approach the process.
Gain Setting In A Digital World
For each input channel, I would have the musician play their at their loudest level.
I then dial up the input gain until I’m within about 8-12 dB of full scale (minus 8-12 dB on the meters). I like to leave a little room for the musician to play louder when the lights go up (they always do).
Many digital boards also have a trim (or attenuation) control in addition to the input gain. I use my trim to dial the level back to where it should be in the mix with my faders at unity.
Because I’ve gained my entire system properly, my main fader is sitting at unity as well, and all is right with the world. As I’m using VCAs to manage groups of faders (drums, guitars, keys, background vocals, etc.) and those live at unity as well, at least to start.
All of this ensures that my signal-to-noise ratio is optimized at the A/D stage (just after the mic preamp), and my starting point for my mix is faders at unity.
Now, if you don’t have a digital trim control on your board, there’s a decision to make. You won’t likely be able to run the mic preamps hard without having too much signal at some point, so it’s necessary to dial the level back somewhere.
Of course, you can always turn the fader down, but then you lose fader resolution. A better alternative would be to use a VCA to keep the fader at unity, though that can get tricky.
Take a drum kit for example: If you optimize the gain on the kick, snare and hat, chances are, the hat will be way too loud in the mix. But more than likely, you’re using a single VCA for the entire drum kit. So now what?
Well, you could break the drums up into zones and use one VCA for each—kick and snare, toms, hi-hat and overheads might work. That way you can pull back the faders at the VCA level (a VCA is really an electronic remote control of the faders), and maintain fader resolution. A similar trick can be done with groups if you have them.
If VCAs are running, break my rule and set the input gain up so that the fader remains around unity for a proper mix. Audio is a lot about compromise, and in this case I’ll give up absolute input S/N to run my faders at unity. I’ve found that to be the wiser trade.
Gain Setting In An Analog World
Really, the process is much the same, though you are much less likely to have a trim control after the gain control.
In that case, the same rules apply as a digital board without a trim knob. You still want to have good input level coming into the channel (for the most part), then turn it down as needed later in the mixing stage.
You also want to keep your faders running around unity. Make the trades where you have to. In either the digital or analog world, what you don’t want to do is underdrive the mic preamps and have to add a lot of gain down the road.
Sure, you can push a fader up for a guitar solo, but you don’t want to regularly run input faders at +8, groups at +10 and main at +5 because the input gain is set too low.
Exception To The Rule
Now, all of this assumes you’re running on a professional grade mixer that has a mix structure designed with proper headroom.
If you’re using an inexpensive mixer, chances are you’ll run out of headroom in the mix bus very quickly. Setting input gains on these mixers the way you should, when all those hot signals hit the mix bus, is not going to be pretty.
The buses quickly saturate and lose all sense of dynamics. In that case, really keep an eye on overall output level and run input gains down accordingly.
This isn’t a dig on cheap mixers—they fulfill a need but you can only expect so much for what you pay for them—it’s just reality.
That’s a quick guide to setting up your gain for an input channel.
As I mentioned earlier, if you go through this whole process only to find that your overall SPL in the house system is either way too loud or way too soft, you have some work to do at the system processor or amplifier level.
But that’s another article entirely…
Mike Sessler is the technical director at Coast Hills Community Church in Aliso Viejo, CA. He has been involved in live production for over 25 years and is the author of the blog Church Tech Arts.
Reclaiming Systems Integration Clients With Sound Engineering
Customers burned by under-delivering integrators can be lured back with custom audio solutions...
Let’s face it: true commercial systems integrators’ reputations have taken a hit by clients’ bad experiences with not-so-true integrators.
Having supported customers for a manufacturer, I can attest that there are many customers left unsure of who to trust. Tired and frustrated, they don’t want to trust any integrators.
There needs to be a vast change in the way integrators handle customers. How we offer to help them, I believe, provides us the best opportunity to resolve their system problems and leave them satisfied with their financial investments.
Commercial integrators must begin by talking to the customer. By fully understanding their problems and concerns, we can begin to build relationships with these customers. They must be lasting relationships, which we hope will continue past the completion of any work we might do.
It’s not merely about telling them what they want to hear, it’s about offering solutions. We need to understand what our customers’ means are, and then we need to work within them.
Bring Integration Back To Sound Systems
Forget about what merely can make a sale. We first need to find out what functionality the customer needs.
They may have their own ideas for future expansions, or perhaps would like an upgrade to the latest technology. This will give us a good idea of where this customer wants to go with the system, and will help offer them the best solution.
If new equipment needs to be added to an existing system, choose gear that will complement what the customer already has.
Avoid adding equipment that will merely add “fluff” to the system. Discuss all facets of the system with the customer.
Many times, if we communicate better with the customer, we can better understand what it is that they want.
As audio integrators, we share a common goal. We design and install sound systems that are custom-fit to that particular customer. They have approached us to come up with a unique system that will fit their needs and budget.
However, our role involves much more than just offering a one-time solution.
Make it extremely clear that even after the last speaker is installed, you will be there for the customer. By offering excellent after-sales support, you can maintain a great future relationship with your customers.
This kind of relationship is what is often lacking, and is what will set you apart as an integrator, not just as a salesman.
Dealing With Scorned Clients
There is nothing worse than coming into contact with a customer that has been down this road before with several companies. They spent a fortune on a sound system, and it never did exactly what they wanted.
How do you cope with such a customer? How do you get them to trust you?
Start by building that trust. Listen to their concerns. Discuss with them their goals of the system. Tell them that things can be resolved and offer them a good solution.
Try to find out what their budget is for performing any work, and make sure it is clearly documented as to what their expectations are. While you cannot help everyone, you can give it your honest effort.
To me, education is a winning key to helping these customers, and winning their trust. Make certain they understand all functions of the system. Prove to them that you understand their concerns. Often, if you show a deep level of concern and a willingness to help them, you will win their trust.
Moving forward, we can offer customers those excellent solutions. If a customer is looking for a sound system with full automation that can be turned on from one button, we should offer them that.
Offering them less than what they have asked for is not acceptable. Integration is about taking many elements and making them work harmoniously together.
It’s about using our experience, technical know-how and creative thinking to offer a truly unique and ultimate solution to each of our customers.
Jeffrey L. Miranda is president of NeoLogic Sound, a commercial integrator specializing in high-performance audio systems. He has been a live sound engineer for theatrical performances, church worship services, in addition to indoor and outdoor concerts.
Go to Commercial Integrator for more content on A/V, installed and commercial systems.
Pre-Planning: The Real Gig Happens Before The Show
The best time to identify and solve any problems at an upcoming show is...?
Many of us are masters at the logistical side of loading and unloading trucks and moving gear. Correctly positioning and tuning the PA for the best coverage is almost second nature. After years of doing our jobs, we’ve become decent (or better) mixers, getting musicians to sound great in the PA. We’ve even acquired the skill of dealing with diva performers and smarmy promoters.
And when problems arise on a show like they always seem to do, our troubleshooting and problem-solving skills come through to save the day. But many of these problems can be avoided with more attention to pre-planning. The period between the first phone call or e-mail about a show to when the truck is loaded is the best time to identify and solve any problems that may rear their ugly head come crunch time.
It all starts with the details. Find out everything possible about the event, not just when it starts, who’s onstage and what’s on the rider. Probe to learn what the client has in mind and what is expected of you and your crew.
Further, find out what other production companies (like lighting or video) will be working the event and get their contact information. Give them a call to discuss key issues, such as if you’re going to be forced to share power with the lighting system or if your stacks are going to block sightlines for video screens.
I also touch base with catering companies because it’s way better to know in advance if they plan to block the loading dock with a refrigerated truck or need to roll heavy food carts through certain doorways in the venue. Even providers as seemingly innocuous as a balloon decorator or still photographer should be contacted – I’ve had both create headaches that could have easily been avoided with a simple phone call.
If a local crew is to be provided, communicate with their leader. Coordinate your needs with them, and give them a heads-up on other happenings at the gig.
And don’t leave out the venue itself! At the least, round up as much information as is available, and if possible, do a walk-through with the client and/or venue staff. A small banquet hall where we’ve long supported an annual corporate event underwent a renovation, and I arrived to find that some ceiling rigging points we’d always used before were now blocked by a nifty new chandelier. A simple walk-through would have headed off the problem…
It’s also a good idea to pre-plan for emergencies. Always have extra stuff on hand. Sure, moving extra gear is a pain, but what’s more of a hassle: lugging around some spare cables and an extra loudspeaker or trying to line up more work to replace the client you just lost because a simple piece of gear failed? Extras like cables, adapters, microphones and stands don’t take up that much room, and even larger gear like a backup amplifier or loudspeaker isn’t that difficult to fit into the truck pack.
I’ve mentioned this one before but it bears repeating: carry a thumb drive loaded with the manuals for your gear as well as other common equipment. While most of us know our own stuff well enough to not need the paperwork, there are times when a check of a manual will deliver a quick solution. And if you’re using house and/or rented gear, the manual might just save the day.
The thumb drive (or your phone) should also have a list of contact numbers for area rental and production houses in case you (or the client) need to arrange for a service or rental at the last minute.
Begin the pre-planning process again right after each show by doing a review with your crew, going over everything that just happened to see what could have been done better – and will be done better the next time out.
Senior contributing editor Craig Leerman is the owner of Tech Works, a production company based in Las Vegas.
Tuesday, April 01, 2014
NSCA Offering Regional Training & Technology Showcase
Integration Business Survival Conference provides manufacturer training, a hands-on Technology Showcase, and industry-specific business education
NSCA has announced the new Integration Business Survival Conference & Technology Showcase (IBSC), a conference designed to offer specific training and education in a small setting that gives attendees a chance to learn and see new technology one-on-one.
The first regional Integration Business Survival Conference will take place on May 15-16 at the DoubleTree by Hilton Chicago North Shore in Skokie, IL. Two additional conferences are scheduled for September and November 2014, with locations to be announced soon.
By offering this event in three different regions, NSCA gives integration firms the education their employees need – without a big financial commitment or too much time spent away from the office.
The Integration Business Survival Conference & Technology Showcase was developed based on NSCA member requests for a more intimate learning environment that offers enough time for networking, asking questions, and direct interaction with manufacturers. In small, focused groups, attendees will learn how to thrive when their customers demand more, technology keeps changing, government regulations threaten the industry, and costs continue to escalate.
The Technology Showcase offers hands-on displays of the latest technology offerings from leading manufacturers, such as Kramer, Shure, Lencore, Lightware, Solutions360, Herman, and RDL. Instead of traveling across the country to walk a big exhibit floor, IBSC attendees will network with and learn from a handful of today’s leading manufacturers that have news and updates to share – all while staying close to home.
The Technology Showcase offers hands-on displays of the latest technology offerings from leading manufacturers, such as Kramer, Shure, Lencore, Lightware, Solutions360, Herman, and RDL. Instead of traveling across the country to walk a big exhibit floor, IBSC attendees will network with and learn from a handful of today’s leading manufacturers that have news and updates to share – all while staying close to home.
The Integration Business Survival Conference combines business education and technical training with a hands-on Technology Showcase – all in one venue. Sessions include:
—Analog to Digital: Problems and Solutions
—10 Steps to Becoming More Profitable
—Understanding Labor Cost, Productivity, and Efficiency
—Dashboards to Steer Your Company Down the Right Path
—Understanding Breakeven, Markup, & Margin
—Managing & Billing Recurring Monthly Revenue
—Wireless Mic Solutions for Corporate AV
—Contractual Obligations of a Project
—Establishing and Managing an Efficient Service Department
—Design Considerations for Mass Notification & Emergency Communications
—Planning and Scheduling the Project
—Managing Project Implementation
“With the continued, growing success of NSCA’s Business & Leadership Conference – which caters to leaders within integration firms – we’ve decided to create an event where these same leaders can send their employees for training,” says Chuck Wilson, NSCA executive director. “By combining business education with technology training and a Technology Showcase full of products from leading manufacturers, we’re providing an affordable, regional event designed to give industry professionals the education they need – and then get them back into their offices as quickly as possible.”
Registration for the two-day event is $249 for NSCA members and $399 for non-members. Registration includes access to the Technology Showcase, manufacturer training, business education, and all networking events. For more information about the sessions, registration, or sponsorships, contact NSCA at 800.446.6722 or visit www.nsca.org/ibsc.
Understanding Gear Specification Sheets
What do the charts and graphs really mean in the quest of getting the right tool for the job?
For the majority of humans, there is nothing simpler than listening to sound. You simply, well, listen.
When it becomes necessary to describe the listening experience analytically, however, a host of complex equations and diagrams are required to describe even the simplest of sonic events.
The benefit of mathematical analysis is that it can yield insights that are not apparent through intuition alone. Acoustic signals are easily measured, and the audio components that produce them have characteristics that can be measured.
We do not expect specifications to tell us how a product sounds. This is what listening is for. The main purpose of specifications is to allow us to make sure that we have the right tool for the job, and this information is most often presented in the form of charts and graphs.
But what does this information really mean?
The heart of understanding the specification sheets that describe audio products is the understanding of dependent and independent variables.
The concept is one that most people use every day, though often without realization.
An independent variable is one that describes a series that has a fixed value. For example, the time of day in the city that you live in is an independent variable. Regardless of what happens tomorrow, time will progress like it did today.
What will change are your moment-to-moment activities. These events represent a dependent variable. They depend on time.
If you look at a page in your day planner, you are looking at a plot of activities vs. time.
Time is the independent variable. It is the same on every page of the planner. The scheduled events are the dependent variables, because where you go and what you do depends on what time it is. Most graphs show the relationship between dependent and independent variables.
Now let’s look at a variation on the theme. Let time be the independent variable (it usually is) and let the loudness of the sound system during a show be the dependent variable.
The plot might look something like Figure 1.
Figure 1: In this example, time is the independent variable while loudness is the dependent variable (click to enlarge)
The horizontal axis represents time (the independent variable) and the vertical axis represents loudness (the dependent variable).
We will call the horizontal axis the x-axis and the vertical axis the y-axis, although any two letters would do. The values on each axis are usually discrete, meaning that they are individual samples, points, or measured values called data points.
The fact that most graphs look like squiggly lines just means that after many data points were taken, they were joined with a line to make it easier to read.
Such two-dimensional plots are found on virtually every good specification sheet in existence. They simply answer the question “What is the value of y when the value of x is this?” Some examples of two-dimensional plots found in audio engineering include:
Each plot shows the value of y for a given value of x. Pretty cool. In math-speak, in each case it can be said that y is a function of x. (We sound smarter when we say it like this.)
From this example, it can be seen that frequency is a very common independent variable in the world of audio and acoustics. The y parameters are said to be frequency-dependent.
In audio and acoustics, almost all parameters that we care to know anything about are frequency-dependent. This means that the answer to virtually any question regarding any of the y parameters is “it depends.” Y depends on x.
An example of a frequency-dependent parameter is the setting of a graphic equalizer. In fact, it’s a really good example because it is basically an xy plot of the type that we have been describing.
The x variable is frequency, and the y variable is relative level. The y value depends on the x value. When you look at the front panel of a graphic equalizer, you are looking at an xy graph, which is why it’s called a graphic equalizer.
What Time Is It?
Another common independent variable is time. Many parameters in audio and acoustics are time-dependent. Examples include loudness, temperature and background noise, just to name a few.
Note that Figure 1 just gives us values. It’s still up to us to know what they mean and how to apply them.
Graphs are valuable because they give us some visual feedback regarding trends in the data. For instance, a glance at Figure 3 (later in this article) shows that the loudspeaker’s on-axis directivity is increasing as a function of frequency.
This means that everyone in the room might hear the low-frequency events, like a bass guitar, but only those in front of the loudspeaker will hear the high-frequency events, like the crash of a cymbal.
It’s clear why we would want the directivity of a sound reinforcement loudspeaker to be “frequency-independent.” The directivity of such a device would be a straight horizontal line.
It’s also important to consider the resolution of the graphed data. The closer together we place the points on the x-axis, the less likely it will be that we missed a significant data point when we measured.
For example, we could take the page of a day planner and break the time axis down into hours, minutes, seconds, or even fractions of a second.
Obviously, there is a point of diminishing return on resolution. It must always be appropriate for the data being plotted. If you were plotting the arrival time of the tweeter in the main array to the back of the balcony, then one millisecond resolution would be meaningful.
But that same resolution would be extreme overkill for plotting your daily schedule. What time resolution do I need? Again, it depends!
Following are some examples of common plots found on data sheets, with plain English descriptions of what each one means.
After digesting each, download some data sheets from various manufacturers and attempt to interpret them.
Use them to form an understanding of the product, what it does, and how it might compare to a similar product. Remember that to fully describe the performance of a product, and infinite number of graphs would be required.
Most “one-number” ratings in audio and acoustics have little meaning. They usually over-simplify something that is much too complex to specify with a single number.
Unfortunately, many people base their gear-buying decisions on this meaningless data, and then wonder why the gear does not live up to their expectations. A graph is much better, but even graphs can’t tell the whole story.
We live in an amazingly complex world!
What’s The Frequency?
In Figure 2, the independent variable is frequency. The dependent variable is level. The frequency response plot answers the question “What is the relative on-axis level change of the device-under-test regarding frequency?”
Figure 2: The frequency response plot answers the question “What is the relative on-axis level change of the device-under-test regarding frequency?” (click to enlarge)
For a device that produces the same level at every frequency, the plot would be a straight, horizontal line. A real-world loudspeaker response is also shown. Some would consider a flat line response to be the best possible loudspeaker; however, a spectrum plot alone does not tell the whole story.
Now, let’s return to Figure 3.
Again, the independent variable is frequency, while the dependent variable is the on-axis directivity.
The directivity plot answers the question “What is the ratio between the sound intensity on-axis to the total radiated sound intensity as a function of frequency?”
Figure 3: At a glance, we can see that the loudspeaker’s on-axis directivity is increasing as a function of frequency (click to enlarge)
Q = 1 means that the device is omni-directional, where Q = 10 means that the intensity on-axis is 10 times the average radiated intensity. Q = 100 means that the axial intensity is 100 times the average intensity.
Another way of describing the same thing is to use the directivity index, which is the Q rating converted into decibels with the formula DI = 10logQ.
It yields the same information in decibels, giving the loudness advantage produced by controlling the sound radiation. DI and Q are often found on the same plot.
Turning our attention to Figure 4, once again the independent variable is frequency.
Figure 4: The impedance plot shows the opposition produced by the loudspeaker to current flowing from the amplifier as a function of frequency (click to enlarge)
The dependent variable is impedance. The impedance plot shows the opposition produced by the loudspeaker to current flowing from the amplifier as a function of frequency.
A large peak on the curve means that less current is drawn at the frequency of the peak. This can happen at frequencies where the loudspeaker system is resonant, i.e. vibrates naturally.
Other frequencies require much more current to produce the same sound pressure level. Low spots on the curve represent frequencies where maximum current is drawn from the amplifier, i.e. where the amplifier is under a greater load.
The low values should be used when determining the required gauge of loudspeaker wire that should be used, or how many loudspeakers can be run in parallel.
Impedance is also required to calculate how much amplifier power is delivered to the loudspeaker, which in turn allows the loudspeaker’s power handling limits to be assessed.
This is a good example of where a single number impedance rating (often called the nominal impedance) serves as little more than a guideline. The impedance plot paints a much better picture of impedance and the other ratings that come from it.
Always remember to use specification sheets for what they’re intended – determining the suitability of a product for an application.
They are not a substitution for listening and measurement when evaluating products and should not be the final word in the buying decision.
A famous physicist once said, “The data on a spec sheet may be the best data they ever took or the only data they ever took!”
Pat & Brenda Brown lead SynAudCon, conducting audio seminars and workshops online and around the world. For more information go to http://www.synaudcon.com.
Monday, March 31, 2014
Church Sound: Worship Leaders On Important Traits Of Sound Operators
Mix skills and system knowledge can be undermined without two other key factors...
According to worship leaders, what are the most important aspects of being a church sound operator?
I’ve been doing an informal survey on this topic, asking worship leaders for their views.
The answers have been surprising, at least to me. For example, to this point not one of them has mentioned that a sound operator should have musical talent. Nor have they brought up the value of having a critical ear when it comes to music.
Maybe it’s my own biases, but I thought these factors would at least rate a mention.
Here’s another one that hasn’t come up: knowing how to properly operate the equipment and system.
Perhaps the worship leaders I’ve surveyed are assuming that a sound person should already have these skills, and therefore haven’t mentioned them.
Further answers I’ve received in the survey—although they’re not at the top of the list—include the ability to mix well, keep volume under control, and function as “an extension of the worship team.”
Regardless, the number one answer I’ve received? Attentiveness. As in paying attention, or focus.
Number two? Attitude. As in always having a good one.
Now the shoe is on the other foot, so to speak, because it seems—to me—that both attentiveness and attitude should be givens.
If you’re helping with ministry (providing sound in this case), bringing a good attitude should be a no-brainer, and because in some ways the sound operator can “silence” the word of God being preached, you’d better be paying attention!
Yet consider these anecdotes…
One worship leader told me the story of a volunteer sound operator who’s been serving for 18 years, and is a great guy, easy to work with. However, this fellow has a consistent flaw: a soloist can walk out of the choir, go to center stage, stand behind the mic for several seconds, and still, the mic isn’t turned up until the third or fourth word of the solo. That’s definitely an attentiveness problem…
Another leader told me that one of his sound operators is so gruff that the worship team dare not ask him for anything. The result is that on any given Sunday, there might be no vocals in the monitors, or a mic is not provided for a performer, and so on—and yet no one speaks up because they’re afraid of getting their heads bitten off. Talk about an attitude problem…
These two stories reveal even further problems. In the first case, the sound operator should be asked—kindly—if he might not better serve by volunteering his time elsewhere, In the second case, someone with such a nasty disposition should be asked—kindly—to modify his behavior, and if that doesn’t work, he should be asked—kindly—to step down.
Let me sum it up this way. If you’re at a concert and the mix is pleasing, and there’s no feedback or missed cues, you’d likely think (and would be right) that it’s a successful event, at least from a sound reinforcement point of view. But if you’re at a concert and the mix is pleasing, but there are occasional squeals of feedback and some dropped cues, you’d likely be at least somewhat disappointed.
The moral of the story: sound operators should be able to mix musically and operate their equipment/systems competently, but these worship leaders make a very persuasive point: it all can be negated by lack of proper attention and bringing the right attitude to the gig.
Gary Zandstra is a professional AV systems integrator with Parkway Electric and has been involved with sound at churches for more than 30 years.
Biamp Systems Broadens Sales Presence With Appointment Of Great Lakes Regional Manager
John Lamberson to manage increased demand for company's everyday and enterprise-grade audio solutions
Biamp Systems has announced the appointment of John Lamberson to the position of regional sales manager for the U.S. Great Lakes region, where he will be responsible for sourcing new business opportunities while supporting the company’s existing client base with sales and customer service initiatives.
As part of the company’s North American sales department, Lamberson will also develop and execute sales strategies for Biamp’s every day and enterprise-grade audio solutions in the region.
With more than 20 years of experience in the pro AV industry, he brings expertise in leveraging relationships with key sales, management, and technical personnel to his new position. Over the course of his career, he has held various sales management positions in addition to being a systems, project, and application support engineer.
“We are very excited to welcome John to our expanding team of management professionals,” says Read Wineland, regional director, Eastern North America at Biamp Systems. “He brings depth and experience to the position, and we look forward to collaborating with him on growing Biamp’s presence within the Great Lakes region. As we strive to continue developing market firsts within the realm of networked audio solutions, his expertise will be an enormous asset to our company.”
“Biamp continues to lead the industry through the development of world-class commercial audio systems installed at leading-edge facilities throughout the world,” notes Lamberson. “I am thrilled to join such a forward-thinking company and I’m eager to contribute to its success by ensuring both steady growth and the provision of customer-first sales and installations within the Great Lakes region.”
Based in Illinois, Lamberson will report to Wineland. He holds CTS, DMC-E, and CMCP-P certifications, in addition to a Bachelor of Science in electronic engineering.
Monday, March 24, 2014
Solotech Selects Shure For Timberlake Tour
The Justin Timberlake tour employs ten channels of Shure Axient wireless for backing vocals and the horn section, plus four dual-channel Shure UHF-R bodypack systems on all guitars and bass.
Justin Timberlake has again selected Montreal’s Solotech as the audio provider for his “20/20 Experience” world tour. To ensure the tour’s success, the sound company has in turn designated Shure as its primary wireless supplier.
The 2014 tour, which began in January, is currently in its second leg with dates across North America.
Solotech RF Technician Éric Marchand is currently on the road with the band. “I’ve been working as a touring wireless specialist for the last six years,” he says. “A major tour uses so many frequencies these days, and production designs have become so demanding, you don’t want to leave anything to chance.”
The tour employs ten channels of Shure Axient wireless for backing vocals and the horn section, plus four dual-channel Shure UHF-R bodypack systems on all guitars and bass.
With the exception of Justin’s vocal microphone, Shure gear was specified for the entire band, dancers, and much of the backline crew, who were covered by 26 channels of Shure PSM1000 personal monitors, with 24 of them running through a single pair of antennas using a series of four Shure PA821A wideband antenna combiners.
The production design of the tour is a demanding one. The concept was a completely bare stage with a huge video projection screen behind; the performers make their entrances from beneath the stage by elevator platforms. It was mandated that nothing interfere with the audience line of sight, severely limiting the options for antenna placement. A secondary “B” stage located beyond the FOH mix position offered another wireless reception challenge.
“The arenas we play are always sold out, so there was no way I could bring cables and antennas out closer. It was crucial to get good line of sight to the B stage, for both the receive antennas and the transmit antennas for the IEMs. So we designed the system to cover everything from antennas discreetly hiding in plain sight on stage. The actual wireless racks, along with me and my scanners, all live under the stage.”
This tour is Marchand’s first time using Shure Axient. “A friend of mine was out with Bruce Springsteen for Solotech last year. That was all Axient, and he told me it was great,” says Éric. “Plus, I’ve been trained on Axient, so I was excited to use it.”
The system’s usefulness was immediately apparent. “We did rehearsals in Memphis, which is where we got everything properly tuned and working together,” continued Marchand. “The ShowLink access point made it easy to make quick adjustments on audio and RF levels. Very accurate and efficient. It also saves me a lot of time when I do my RF coordination in the morning. I don’t have to sync a single Axient pack. I just turn them on and, boom, they’re done.”
Axient’s full remote control of all transmitter functions through ShowLink comes into play when Timberlake moves to the second stage, which is more than 100 feet from the antennas. To compensate, Marchand boosts the output power of the Axient transmitters.
“That allows me to optimize my system for Justin’s mic on the B stage. I keep an extra transmitter on an alternate frequency for him, just in case. I know if I can get that happening, everything is going to be fine, because the Shure systems, both Axient and UHF-R, plus the PSM 1000s, are all going to be solid.”
Marchand is also clearly a fan of the PSM 1000, which offers the security of diversity receive antennas on the bodypack and precision front-end filtering for maximum range and signal reception.
“The RF stability is outstanding, and I really like the CueMode feature. That allows me to walk both the stages with just one pack and listen to every frequency,” he explains. “It shows that Shure really designed the system for major tours.”
To ensure that everyone hears what they need to hear during the show, 20 monitor mixes are required. That includes Timberlake, two guitars, bass, two keyboardists, percussion, four backing vocals, and the four-piece horn section.
In addition, the six dancers share a mix, while the drummer uses a Shure P6HW hardwired system. PSM 1000 systems are also in the ears of the key backline techs: the monitor engineer; instrument techs for guitar, keyboard, percussion, and drums, and two more audio assistants.
Axient’s interference detection and avoidance system and frequency diversity feature have proven helpful, even though Marchand routinely uses two scanners to monitor the RF landscape.
“My main attention is on Justin’s mic, so I have the Axient channels set up in Prompt mode instead of automatic. That way, it alerts me whenever there’s a channel with issues,” he says. “I also use the Spectrum Manager, which has a listen option, which is really helpful. That way I can check it personally and decide whether to change channels. I like to have my hand on the wheel.”
Another of Marchand’s responsibilities as the tour’s RF specialist is power management. And that means batteries. Axient and PSM 1000 make that job easier with their optional lithium-ion rechargeable batteries.
“I did tests, and the Shure rechargeables actually last longer than they claim,” says Marchand. “I love being able to see exactly how much time is left as well, although that’s never been an issue. I keep two sets, and change them out every day after sound check and before the show. On a long tour, it really saves a lot of money.”
Carrying about 60 channels of wireless from city to city is a significant challenge, because large cities are almost certain to offer significant RF challenges.
“On tour, there is a huge trust issue between the gear you are using, the company you are working for, and the people you are working with. If the equipment fails, everyone is affected,” says Marchand. “When you have a tour like Justin Timberlake, you want to make sure the tools you’re working with are top of the class. The fact that Solotech chose Shure Axient and PSM 1000 for this tour tells me they’ve earned that trust.”
Friday, March 21, 2014
Strategies In Optimizing A Live Club System
Ways to can work around room and system shortcomings to deliver high-caliber sound reinforcement
McGonigels Mucky Duck is one of those venues that bands, engineers and fans love. An Irish-style pub in downtown Houston, it’s stage is noted in the folk, jazz, Americana and World Music spheres and has played host to the likes of Joe Ely, Shake Russell, Radney Foster, Kinky Friedman, James McMurtry, Druha Trava, Sarah Jarosz, The Magpies, Iris Dement, Michelle Shocked, Leon Redbone, and hundreds of others.
The official capacity is 140, which in my opinion, would be very packed and uncomfortable. They sell out the 100 or so table seats very fast for most shows, and the remaining tickets are for standing room only. As the website eloquently puts it, “If another chair would fit it would already be there. Sorry, but you can’t bring your own chair.”
The crowd is respectful. To help those who may be visiting for the first time, there are placards on each table reminding people to be quiet, and to silence cell phones. This is one of the best things about the Mucky Duck. They respect the artists. It’s the very definition of a listening room.
The place is not without drawbacks though, and here, I’ll outline some of those shortcomings and discuss ways that visiting engineers can work around them in order to deliver high-caliber sound reinforcement.
Saying the stage is small is being somewhat generous – I’ve seen bigger drum risers. It’s located in a corner, which is both a blessing, in the form of a little extra real estate, and a curse, because the drums will always be too loud.
A view of the room from house left.
Heavy theatrical drapery around the perimeter of the stage helps quiet reflected stage wash but does little to dampen the natural volume of the drums. The low ceiling doesn’t help either.
There is no house engineer, and management knows precious little except how to get the background music on. Bands are expected to bring their own mix engineer, and that person is usually the sound tech as well. The job is either easy or difficult, depending on the condition the previous engineer/tech left it in.
Luckily the level of talent booked here means that the system is usually zeroed out, and the stands and cables are neatly put away. Almost everyone leaves it a little better than they found it, which is also my philosophy – I don’t want the next guy to work any harder than he has to.
Both house and monitor systems use EAW loudspeakers, with four SM159z wedges on four separate mixes derived from front of house. Each mix has a 15-band EQ inline. With only 15 bands on the monitor sends, precise feedback taming will not happen. I bring a few XLR “wyes” in order to split the important inputs into two separate channels.
Using different channel strips – one EQ’d for the mains and one for monitors – allows much finer control over the house mix versus the monitor mix.
Main loudspeakers are FR159z, one each hung on the wall stage left and stage right, and two more toward the rear of the room providing fill. There are no subwoofers. And, there’s also no time-alignment on the front or rear loudspeakers, and no processor available to do so.
I solve this problem by bringing in a QSC DSP-4 digital processor, which I insert and use to set a 9-millisecond delay on the front loudspeakers.
When using a house system to supplement the stage volume, instead of overpowering it, delaying the mains to arrive in time with the band is the way to go, at least in my view. It helps the PA “disappear” and leaves the impression that the band is making all the noise.
I also set a 21-millisecond delay on the rear loudspeakers. With each of them a different distance from the front, I choose a delay time that splits the difference.
The downside of this is minimal because the improvement is quite dramatic, a huge benefit, and no one notices that the rear fills arrive a few milliseconds apart.
The 2-input by 2-output DSP-4 works out great – there aren’t all that many compact DSP units that can be controlled with a laptop available at a reasonable price point on the used gear market. I also like that it’s small enough to fit in my briefcase and uses standard XLR inputs and outputs. (In fact, I like it so much that I own two.)
A recent trip to the Mucky Duck was to support a performance by Max Stalling, a native Texan with a unique musical style that rolls from two-stepping dance numbers to Spanish-guitar-heavy folk music (à la Marty Robbins), with a few waltzes mixed in.
A QSC DSP-4 buried is handy for augmenting the capabilities of the system, and it can be addressed with Signal Manager software, shown here in “Mucky Duck configuration.”
Max sings and plays the acoustic guitar, and is backed by a three-piece rhythm section comprised of Jason Steinsultz on upright bass, Jeff Howe on drums, and Bryce Clark on lead guitar, switching between mandolin, steel string and gut string acoustics, and electric guitar. Both Jason and Bryce sing harmony, and steel guitar player Hank
Early also sat in for this show, I used the band’s own Shure Beta 58s microphones for vocals, a house-supplied AKG D112 on kick, and Shure SM57s on electric guitar and steel. The upright bass and three acoustics all had band-supplied Radial Tonebone preamps and ran direct.
Just one of my AKG 451e condensers was used for drum overhead, to capture the kit as a whole. Jeff (the drummer) switches between sticks, brushes and even sometimes wrapped mallets. I will heavily compress the overhead (remember, the acoustic drum sound is still dominant in the room) so that the details on the brushes and mallets are not lost. Having at least one drum mic also lets me add reverb to this very dry room.
Max is very particular about his monitor mix. Some engineers take this as being a “prima donna” but I’ve found it to be exactly the opposite. He knows what he wants and isn’t afraid to ask. He can’t state specific frequencies, so there’s a bit of interpretation needed to get his mix the way he wants it, but once he’s comfortable, that’s pretty much that.
The tone that Max wants out from his monitor is not exactly what you want at front of house. He likes things a little dark with plenty of low mids for both his vocal and guitar. Two of the XLR wyes allowed me to split his vocal and acoustic channels so that I was able to give him exactly the tone he wanted in the monitor by using the channel strip EQ. Then I had use of the 15-band graphic for his mix to tame the little bit of feedback that tried to creep in.
After getting the monitors set, I build the front of house mix. The best way to mix in this room is to listen to what’s coming off the stage and only add what’s needed. Trying to overpower the stage volume is a losing battle.
I always start my sound check with the house PA off and just listen to what’s happening on stage, and then work to fill in the missing bits that will help make the performance “pop.” I’ve noted several times that it seems like I’m cutting too much low-mid out of the house, but that’s usually O.K. because the monitors provide all of the low-mid energy one could ever want.
I get the vocals up to a good level, over the stage volume, and only after do I work in the other instruments. Generally the drums and amplified instruments are fine coming straight off the stage. On the recent gig with Max, I needed a touch of the electric guitar and steel, but none of the bass and kick drum.
Jeff plays a kit of Slingerland Radio Kings from the 1940s. These drums are big and loud. The kick is a huge 14 inches by 26 inches and uses a ported head. (Back in the “good old days” the drums had to fend for themselves, and this set gives you all the stage volume you need!)
But here, because were already plenty loud in the house, I used the overhead high-passed around 100 Hz and compressed at a 6 to 1 ratio with about 12 to 15 dB of reduction on the loud parts to add definition and to help keep the mix cohesive all the way to the back of the room. It was also used to feed the reverb.
The Allen & Heath GL2400 that does house and monitor duties, along with a rack of all house and monitor system processors.
The house console is a 24-channel Allen & Heath GL2400, a step above what you find in many clubs the size of the Mucky Duck. Most bands will not fully mic the drums, so 24 channels gives me plenty of room to split channels as needed.
I maximize the two available channels of compression on the venue’s dbx 1066 by inserting each on a bus and assigning several like channels to that bus. I used one compressed bus for the drums and another for the lead acoustic and a gut string acoustic that are featured prominently in the band.
There are also two Lexicon effects units – MPX110 and MX400 – on hand to add ambiance. To create a sense of space in this dry, tightly packed room, I used a trick that I’ve implemented in most of my live mixes for the past couple of years. I select a very short and transparent “room” style reverb and send the entire band to it, typically applying about a half second of decay and zero pre delay.
Then, I bring it up in the house until it can be heard clearly, then back it down to just on the edge of being noticed. If the reverb is muted, a change can be heard, but it’s not something you can pinpoint. I find that this really takes a tight mix and glues it together even more – the band is all playing in the same “room” together because they all have the same decay time.
If you’re lucky enough to have a gig in the Mucky Duck, be prepared to bring your A game. It’s a bit challenging, but once the mix is dialed in you can be sure you’re mixing for a crowd that truly appreciates what you’re doing.
Tim Weaver is the owner of Weaver Imaging, an audio, lighting, and projection provider based in College Station, TX. He has been a professional sound engineer for 18 years, working across all genres.
Thursday, March 13, 2014
NSCA Reports Successful, Sold-Out 16th Annual Business & Leadership Conference
Conference revealed innovative ways to increase profits, promote engaged workplaces, create irrefutable market offers, and approach converging technology.
More than 300 professionals from the electronic commercial systems industry recently gathered in Dallas for the 16th annual NSCA Business & Leadership Conference to share ideas, discover new ways to encourage business growth, and build relationships with industry peers.
NSCA’s Business & Leadership Conference reached sell-out levels, with registration closing after 300 attendees. This conference -– developed exclusively for leaders within systems integration firms –- revealed innovative ways to increase profits, promote engaged workplaces, create irrefutable market offers, and approach converging technology.
“As always, the BLC was a highlight to our year,” says John Bangs, president of AV/COM Integrators in Severn, MD. “Excellent information, a relaxing atmosphere, and great insight to help us expand our firm’s capability into the future.”
Employee engagement was a recurring theme at this year’s Business & Leadership Conference. Keynote Adrian Gostick, New York Times best-selling author of “The Carrot Principle” and “All In,” shared insights about the factors affecting business performance – including employee engagement – based on two years of research from 300,000+ global business leaders.
Keynote Daniel Pink, New York Times best-selling author of “Drive” and “To Sell Is Human,” offered new sales approaches to help firms stand out in a world where information is abundant. Informed buyers – surrounded by information, choices, and ways to talk back to brands – now control the sales conversation, says Pink. It’s no longer an economy of “buyer beware,” but “seller beware.”
“We were amazed by the outpouring of positive responses from our attendees, sponsors, and speakers,” says NSCA executive director Chuck Wilson. “This sell-out event was full of industry professionals who were anxious to hear from our speakers about concepts and theories to improve their employees and their businesses.”
At the Business & Leadership Conference, NSCA recognized Bob Coffeen as the annual Per Haugen Lifetime Achievement Award winner for his industry contributions. Five Excellence in Business Award winners were also recognized for implementing new business, growth, marketing, and professional development strategies.
And for the first time, NSCA welcomed AV Nation to its Business & Leadership Conference. For attendees who want to relive the event – or for industry leaders who had to miss the conference – AV Nation produced two podcasts featuring event takeaways and insights on the state of the industry, how the economy will affect integrators, and upcoming trends.
For spurring conference dialog and sharing lessons, NSCA also recognized Brock McGinnis Westbury National and Kourtney Govro of Sphere3 and All Systems as BLC’s two “Most Prolific Tweeters.” They each received a pair of Shure noise-isolating earbuds. The #NSCABLC hashtag lit up across Twitter as attendees shared tidbits from presenters and panel discussions, and engaged fellow audience members with questions and comments.
“Once again, this conference stands out,” says John Graham, executive vice president at Solutions360. “We get great value from our sponsorship of the event, but it’s just as much for our own professional development and great insight into what’s important to our customers and prospective customers’ businesses.”
NSCA thanks the 2014 sponsors:
• Host Sponsor: Atlas Sound/IED
• Keynote Sponsor: Synnex
• Media Sponsor: Commercial Integrator
• Platinum Sponsors: AMX; BIAMP; Chief; Shure; West Penn Wire
• Gold Sponsors: Almo; Cisco; FSR; Gepco; LG; Liberty AV; MediaVision; Panasonic; Rauland-Borg; Sharp; Solutions360; SurgeX; Tannoy; ViewSonic
• Session Sponsors: Bose; Listen; Middle Atlantic
• Item Sponsors: Herman; Solutions 360
• Integration Sponsors: Bosch; BTX; Eaton; Kramer; Sennheiser; Stealth Acoustics
• Conference Endorsers: PSA Security Network and USAV Group
NSCA announced the 2015 Business & Leadership Conference details at the conclusion of the 2014 conference, receiving nearly 60 on-site registrations. The 2015 Business & Leadership Conference will be held on Feb.26-28 in Tampa,.
Church Sound: Successful Mixing Starts With The Right Recipe
It takes the right blend of quality ingredients and salient directions to produce the best results from any recipe.
If a dessert recipe calls for cream, it’s not essential to use Alpine milk from hand-milked Bavarian cows, but using skim milk instead of cream may jeopardize the final results.
The same holds true for sound reinforcement. A microphone for a singing vocalist that’s substituted with a pulpit microphone designed for spoken word simply isn’t the right ingredient for the recipe. It won’t help attain the desired result.
The bottom line is that all sound system components should be of as high of quality as possible. There also needs to be an understanding of the expectations of those who are going to taste the results. For example, a chef may like extra spicy food.
But when preparing food for others, the chef must take into consideration the guests for whom the food is being prepared, and may need to slightly vary the recipe. Further, and absolutely vital: before using any recipe, the sound operator must communicate with everyone involved with a performance, both spoken word and musical.
They must understand that a given recipe may take several attempts before it produces the desired results. This process requires extra time, effort and patience on everybody’s part.
Just as you wouldn’t start a food recipe 10 minutes before it needs to be served, don’t wait for dress rehearsals or worship services to start building your sound mix.
Vital point: Always seek natural acoustical solutions before adding more sound reinforcement, i.e., system components and increasing volume levels. Too much can lead to a big mess!
Let’s start with the basics. It’s vital to understand the acoustical elements of the sound mix and their effect on each other.
Think of it as a multi-layer cake. This represents the concept that each layer builds on the other, while they all work together to create a desired outcome.
Think of it as a multi-layer cake…
It should be pointed out that all of these layers might not be used or needed. However, the principles remain the same.
The amount of ambient noise in the room establishes the base layer of sound. In other words, the air system, conversations, people moving, etc., create noise the sound system must overcome. Ambient noise will also change overall levels. For example, an empty room is much quieter than one filled with people.
The second layer consists of acoustical instruments. It’s important to first begin with main instrument(s) like acoustical piano and/or guitar(s), then add drums, and finally, any other acoustical instruments.
Begin with the pianist playing a selection. Then the guitarist should join after the first verse.
If the guitar can’t be heard clearly, it may be necessary to reposition the guitarist. If the guitar is still not loud enough, then a microphone might need to be added.
If drums are part of the performance, again begin with the piano playing, then guitar. After a minute or two, start the drummer. Listen first to determine if the piano and guitar can still be heard.
Hint: The higher octaves of the piano are usually easier to hear above other instruments.
If either lead instrument starts to get buried, try moving the drums further back on the platform and/or enclosing them with isolation panels. As a last resort, gradually increase the microphone level on the piano and guitar. Then, add any other acoustical instruments, including backing guitars, woodwinds and brass.
The third layer consists of electronic instruments such as keyboards, electronic guitars, bass guitars, acoustic instruments with electronic pickups, electronic drums, and so on.
Using the same procedure as before, begin with piano, and then add electronic keyboards to the mix. (By the way, the drummer and other acoustical players can take a break - they aren’t necessary at this particular point.)
Continue by adding other electronic instruments. When it’s at a satisfactory point, take a break of your own. Leave the room and enjoy five minutes of silence, then come back and evaluate the entire instrumental mix.
Last, but certainly not least, come the vocals. Begin with the background vocals, adding them one at a time, just as was done with instruments.
The topping is the primary vocalist(s), who must be heard and understood above all other aspects of the performance.
Keep in Mind
- Always listen for what is too loud as well as what is too soft.
- If a musician or vocalist expresses need to hear more monitor level, first try turning down other monitors (and instrument amps).
- Make level changes to the monitor mix or channel gain/trim control when the musician or vocalist is not active.
- Any changes should be small and gradual.
- Occasionally turn down the master levels for the main system and listen to the monitor system to evaluate its loudness - the monitors may be negatively impacting the main system.
- Regularly walk through the first few rows of seats to evaluate monitor versus main levels.
- If your church primarily features a rhythm band, drums and bass form the layer above the ambient noise, followed by rhythm guitar(s) and keyboards, then lead guitar and other lead instruments, with vocals on top.
- Become familiar with every song – for example, understand that lead guitar may need to jump to the top layer during an instrumental break, and don’t let this come as a surprise!
Travis Ludwig is a faculty member of the Internet Sound Institute.
In The Studio: The Two Most Controversial Topics In Music Production
As engineers we tend to form strong opinions. We base our decisions on what we hear and what we feel. And it’s important to trust these sensibilities with confidence.
Oftentimes, certain subjects will come up in which we lack technical understanding. But we don’t always need technical understanding — we need results.
Unfortunately (and fortunately) when we get those results, we equivocate that with having a correct technical understanding of everything that happened along the way.
So here’s a couple things that tend to get us audio engineers all prickly.
1) Sample Rates
What’s “the best” sample rate to record and/or mix at? Is it 44.1? 48? 88.2? 192?
We tend to divide ourselves into two camps on this one: Higher is better or lower is better. Here’s my take.
The crux of this argument to me is “accuracy.” First and foremost, we are asking what will give us the most accurate results when translating the continuous analog signal into the discrete digital signal.
In order to make this determination we have to first define what “accuracy” actually means.
We can take accuracy to mean the degree of similarity between the analog and digital information. If we don’t consider mechanical errors, than the higher the sample rate the higher the accuracy. We can simply capture more information at higher sample rates.
However, there are two big caveats here.
First of all, we can’t factor out mechanical errors.
They exist, and they skew accuracy. We don’t have error free conversion. And while technology is getting better every day, the fact remains: the higher the sample rate, the greater the mechanical error of the conversion process.
So while we might capture more information at 192 kHz, it’s actually less accurate than the information captured at 44.1 kHz. Oops.
Luckily, caveat number two is that we don’t need unlimited accuracy.
We actually only need accuracy to the degree in which we can use it. It’s not very important if sound above 22 kHz is accurate — or even there at all. While it can be argued that we still sense super frequency sound content, we certainly don’t sense it in a way that makes it more important than what we can clearly hear.
When coupled with reduced storage space and better computer performance, this makes 44.1 kHz to 96kHz all perfectly fine choices, and in my opinion, superior to 176.4 kHz or 192 kHz.
Mind you, one of things we love about recording to tape is the inaccuracies it prescribes on the sound. There’s nothing to say one might not like the sound of 192 kHz—that’s subjective. And if you do—rock out. If it sounds better to you, then it is.
BONUS: When converting sample rates it is a complete myth that 88.2 kHz translates to 44.1 kHz more easily or accurately than 96 kHz translates to 44.1 kHz. Just because it’s vastly easier for our math-challenged minds to divide by two, to a computer, it’s no different at all.
2) Tuning Systems
This one is sure to stir the pot.
The statement is this: The tuning system A 432 is superior to our current tuning standard of A 440. In other words, the theory is that we are currently tuning everything about a quarter tone sharper than where we should.
The problem with this theory is that it’s extremely hard to test and also supremely subjective.
Throughout human history our tuning systems have varied quite widely. In the last 50 years or so we have tuned concert A as high as 446, with more common standards being 442 and 440.
During the Baroque period we tuned A down to 415Hz. That’s more than a semi-tone in variation. And that’s just western tuning. Tuning systems have varied so much that even the harmonic relationship between notes has been adjusted.
Tuning fundamentally comes down to the tension placed on the vibrating element of an instrument. The less tension, the lower the frequency of vibration and vice versa. Changing the tension not only changes the pitch, but also changes the way the vibrating element interacts with the rest of the design.
For example, a guitar in standard tuning will sound tonally different than a guitar in drop D, even when the same notes are being played.
Does drop D sound better than standard tuning? Obviously. I mean, no, it’s completely subjective. It’s a different sound, and functionally speaking, drop D will not give you the same vibrancy that the standard tuning will. It will give you an exciting characterized tone, but not a “functionally better” tone.
The point of all of that is to say that “technically” the best tuning system is the one that the instrument was designed for. Tuning a harpsichord to A 432 would sound odd—though it might be cool.
As for the conspiracy theories and “science” behind the value of A 432… well… I can’t say that any of that is assuredly true or untrue. I’ll have to leave that for you to decide on your own.
So there it is. My take on two of the most annoyingly controversial subjects in the field of music production. Feel free to flame, curse, badger and troll in the comments here.
Matthew Weiss engineers from his private facility in Philadelphia, PA. A list of clients and credits are available at Weiss-Sound.com. To get a taste of The Maio Collection, the debut drum library from Matthew, check out The Maio Sampler Pack by entering your email here and pressing “Download.”
Also be sure to visit The Pro Audio Files for more great recording content. To comment or ask questions about this article, go here.
Wednesday, March 12, 2014
Business Savvy: Doing the Numbers
The importance of having goals and objectives in your business
Entertainment technology professionals—including sound contractors, recording engineers, and live event technicians—are often driven by creative or artistic goals and dreams, and frequently downplay their financial and personal aspirations.
They assume that someone else is going to handle the business, so they can focus on making the show go on. From my standpoint, that is too risky. You’re in a better position than anyone else to determine what your goals and objectives should be.
How much do I want to earn? How hard to I want to work? What am I willing to risk to get what I want? Many technical people never really address these questions.
Having realistic written goals and objectives is your best tool for managing the inherent challenges in balancing your technical work, business, family, and other interests.
Essentials Of Planning
There’s an old expression that goes “What gets measured, gets done.” This is an important business truism. Having written business goals and objectives are essential for planning, for creative and personal development, and for congruity with your personal values.
You may be thinking, “I have goals in my head. I don’t need to write them down.” It’s good that you have goals. It’s better to write them down and turn them into a set of actionable objectives with milestones.
Goals and objectives are different from one another, but they work together. Here are the definitions.
Goal: A desired result; often long term. Something good that you aspire to over a long period of time.
Objective: An aspect or subset of a goal that is specific, measurable, and achievable.
For example, many people have a goal to get rich and retire young. That’s a desirable result and likely to be a long-term proposition. Now let’s turn this goal into a set objective.
Objective: Own a $2 million investment portfolio by age 60 and be able to live on the interest or dividends.
This is a clear statement of objective. It is specific ($2 million in investments by age 60), measurable (can be tracked over time) and - for the sake of discussion - achievable.
Goals In Three Categories
Goals and objectives relate to all aspects of your technical and personal life, not just finances. For most audio professionals, goals fall neatly into three categories: creative, financial, and personal. Let’s look at a few examples of each.
Creative Goals: Creative or artistic goals are the long-term results that you desire from your audio work, whether you make money from them or not.
Goals in the creative category define the business playing field before adding the financial elements. Here are examples of creative goals:
Live show dates produced: provide technical support for successful live events.
Sound systems designed and installed: be a successful systems integrator.
Records recorded, produced, and released: be a successful recording engineer.
Products or techniques invented: earn a patent for audio technology.
Award nominations and wins: get nominated and perhaps win a prestigious industry award.
Financial Goals: Even if you’re working as an audio technician part time or on a not-for-profit basis, you need financial goals. Your financial goals need to tie to your creative goals.
Once you “do the numbers” you will be better grounded in reality. Your financial goals may include:
Revenue from live show production: earn a living (or part thereof) as a live event technician.
Revenue from systems design, installation, and integration work: earn a living as a systems contractor or integrator.
Revenue from recording sessions: earn a living as a recording engineer.
Revenue for inventions and patents: earn a living as a product designer.
Profit (revenue minus expenses): be profitable; have something left over to save or invest.
Personal Goals: Your creative and financial goals need to be consistent or in harmony with your personal goals.
By identifying those goals up front, you can optimize all results and prevent problems down the road. Personal goals may include:
How much you work in the course of a year: work enough to make a living and get ahead while preventing burnout.
Family time, projects, and relationships: have plenty of time for family and personal life.
Spiritual growth and activities: have time to develop my spiritual beliefs” or “be active in my church.
Educational development: have time to learn new things, business and otherwise.
Health and fitness: stay youthful and live long.
When In Doubt, Quantify
When you feel those uneasy feelings coming on (like wondering if your goals are realistic), it’s time to do the numbers. Quantifying your goals is the first step in designing a set of objectives that are specific, measurable, and achievable.
Everything, including non-financial goals, can be quantified in terms of number of units, pricing or revenue, and timing or date the results are achieved.
As they become quantified, your creative, financial, and personal goals turn into objectives. Here are a few examples of solid, trackable objectives in each of the three categories.
Produce “X” live shows each month.
Design and install “X” systems each year.
Create “X” patent-able products or processes each year.
Earn “X” from pro audio work each year.
Increase average per-project fee earned from “X” to “X” by “X” (date).
Earn “X” from non-traditional sources (patent royalties, consulting etc.) by “X” (date).
Work “X” days per year (the rest is free time).
Contribute “X” ($) or “X” (time) to my local charity, church, school, or community.
Get my weight to “X” pounds and cholesterol level to “X.”
Are My Goals Realistic?
If your entertainment business information comes primarily from the general media - television, radio, newspapers, and magazines - you would conclude that all music industry people are either rich or dead.
That’s a bit of an exaggeration. Still, think about it. Working technical people are rarely talked about in the media. Some are lured to the entertainment field by the promise of “sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll” along with the “American Dream” scenario of getting rich doing something glamorous.
I trust that most readers understand that the chances of getting rich quick in audio production are about the same as in any other line of business: pretty low.
Is there a middle ground between celebrity and oblivion? You bet. In fact, that’s where most of the thousands of professional audio people and live event technicians in North America are: somewhere in between.
Here’s the point. You don’t need to be a technical superstar to make a good living in pro audio.
Portrayals of music business celebrities—including their roadies and record producers—in the media can be illustrative and entertaining, but seldom serve as a real business model.
What’s Realistic For Me?
How much can I possibly earn in pro audio? Do I need to aspire to technical stardom to make it all worthwhile? Many audio people just want to be able to “pay for their habits” (like buying more gear) and be near the action in the entertainment business.
Others want to make a modest living doing audio work full time. Others want to “get rich and retire young.”
Theoretically, all the above are possible. Your business plan, including detailed goals and objectives, is an important tool for achieving what you want and staying in control throughout the process.
Goals and objectives are essential for financial success, creative development, and personal growth. Writing down your goals and objectives is a powerful exercise that provides clarity and the ability to communicate the information with others.
Along with developing technical chops, the time you spend on developing business chops is your best investment in your career as an entertainment technology professional. And remember, “What gets measured, gets done.”
John Stiernberg is founder and principal consultant with Stiernberg Consulting.