Technician

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Art Of Sound Company Logistics

I’ve worked in this business for well over three decades, and some things haven’t changed and probably never will. The promoter always wants more for less, the rider sent to me was the “old” one, and if the gear doesn’t work I don’t get paid.

There’s little that can be done about the first two, but I can make sure my equipment stays in top shape in order to be able to pay the rent, staff, and bills.

Taking care of gear is an absolute top priority, making it far less likely to break down or malfunction unexpectedly at a show. In addition, keeping it clean and looking good inspires confidence from clients who are apt to pay more because the stuff looks and (probably) sounds better than the competition.

Whether touring the world or doing a gig at the nearby tavern, successful production companies master the art of logistics, which I define as the management of materials and equipment between the warehouse and the end user.

Make A List (Or Three)
The first aspect to address is inventory management, or where to store the gear. One small system may be easier to keep together in a truck or trailer. (Just remember to safeguard against extreme temperatures.)

Most of us have more stuff than that, however, so we need to keep it in a garage, self-storage unit or office/warehouse. Devote dedicated floor areas for larger items and use shelving, cabinets, and/or drawer units for storage of smaller items.

At my company, we re-purpose old filing cabinets to store and organize microphones and a lot of small parts. The mics are kept in their factory cases or small foam-lined pistol cases, organized by type into different drawers along with stand adapters, drum claws and clamps, mic clips and DIs. 

Next, think about preventative maintenance and figure out a maintenance schedule. (I’ve covered this in depth previously, most recently here.) Things like cables might need attention after each gig while other items, such as road cases, might only need a little attention once a year.

We do a check of gear both as we set it up and then pack it up at each show, making a list of any items that may need attention back at the shop (like a bad caster) and marking any bad cables and separating them so they don’t get taken to the next gig by mistake.

When booking a show, we create an event equipment list, a listing of all the equipment and spares that are required for that particular event. There are software programs that do inventory management, or you can simply set up spreadsheets to list all items required for a particular system.

It becomes our pull list for the gig, serving as a handy way to check off items as we gather them for the show and stage them in one spot for packaging and loading into the truck.

The events my company handles run the gamut from simple to complex, and we end up with a lot of smaller items that need to get to the gig. Instead of schlepping a lot of individual small cases, we use some larger road trunks that can carry all of the little items in one package.

To make things more efficient during load out, we label the large trunks as to their contents so stage hands can figure out which trunk each item goes into.

Some folks prefer trailers on smaller shows, while others use cargo vans or small box trucks. Larger shows typically require big box trucks or even tractor trailers. No matter, securing the load in the truck or trailer in a safe manner so it will ride well down the road is a must. 

There are a few options for cargo retention, with truck straps being the most common (and best) option. The straps can hook onto D-rings and truck cargo rails, or they can be used with E-track, a metal track that has a series of slots that allow straps to clip at any place along the track. Packing blankets can be used to pad items that are not in cases to keep them looking good.

Truck load bars are also a common way to secure cargo for over-the-road commercial trucks. They come in two main styles—bars that simply clip into E-track, and bars with a ratcheting system to expand and wedge themselves between the truck walls. The ratchet-style bars are not the best choice for cargo that’s on wheels, like road cases, because they rely on friction alone and can slip as the truck moves.

Moving & Protecting
We do a lot of corporate gigs at venues with loading docks, so we prefer dock-height trucks, but for those who rarely or never encounter docks, then a truck with a lower deck might be the better choice because it places the truck’s center of gravity lower, making for a more stable ride.

If you prefer ramps over lift gates (as we do), then a lower deck provides a more shallow ramp angle, making it easier to push heavy things into the truck. Lift gates are great in moving large, heavy items to the ground and back up, but they add some weight to a smaller box truck, lessening its overall carrying capacity.

Because we like a dock-height truck with a ramp, the ramp angle is pretty steep. A trick to get around this is to mount a 12-volt automotive winch in the box and use it to pull the heavy items up the ramp. Just don’t pull by the item’s handles or you might just pull them off. Instead, wrap a spanset or two around the item to distribute the force around the box, and hook the winch to the spanset.

Don’t forget to include truck and trailer maintenance on your equipment maintenance schedule. Regular lube and oil changes coupled with equipment and safety inspections help keep trucks in good shape and can also be useful in catching smaller problems before they turn into big ones.

To protect equipment and keep it looking good, consider investing in covers, cases and trunks. I like to think of them as an insurance policy that pays off bit by bit, every time we move gear. Sure, cases can cost quite a bit, sometimes even more than the items they carry, but every cost analysis shows they’re worth it in the long run.

Covers are normally used for loudspeakers, especially subwoofers because they’re often just too large to put in a road case. Many manufacturers offer covers for their products, and there are also several companies that provide quality padded covers and custom covers for just about anything you can think of.

Plenty Of Options
Cases and road trunks make up the bulk of what protects audio equipment, with larger sizes offering wheels for ease of movement. They’re made from a variety of materials, including plastic, metal or plywood.

A variety called ATA or Flight Cases use thin (1/4-inch to 1/2-inch) laminate-covered plywood panels joined with extruded aluminum edging and heavy ball corners for added protection. (By the way, ATA is short for the Air Transport Association of America, and more specifically, the organization’s Specification 300, which covers reusable transit and storage containers.)

Many manufacturers offer cases and trunks sized to fit 2-, 3-, and 4-across in standard trucks and trailers. These truck pack dimension cases usually include stacking cups in the lid that allow a similarly sized case to ride securely atop another, with the wheels of the uppermost case prevented from movement in the recessed stacking cups of the case below.

Road trunk is the common term for larger, heavy-duty cases. They can be item-specific, like a feeder cable trunk, or more generic, loaded differently depending on what is needed at the gig. Some are outfitted with removable dividers that allow different compartmentalization options. (Nice trunks are sometimes referred to as “Cadillacs.”)

Cases may have a hinged lid or be of the “pullover” or “slipover” style, where most of the case, except for a small lower tray, is lifted off. This allows for removal, or use of the item while it stays in the lower rolling tray, and is popular for backline amplifiers, snakes on reels, and loudspeakers.

As the name implies, mic boxes are cases designed to secure and transport microphones, direct boxes and accessories. They commonly include foam inserts that provide specific protection and organization advantages. Work boxes offer drawers and storage areas to organize tools and supplies at shows. I keep separate work boxes for audio, lighting, and backline so the specific tools, parts and supplies needed for each area of production are present and easily accessible.

Cases for mixing consoles come in a variety of styles. Smaller mixers might be stored in briefcase-sized foam-lined satchels, while larger consoles often travel in cases with lift-off lids, with the console sitting the case bottom during use. A feature many mixing consoles offer is a doghouse, a compartment at the rear of the case that allows cables and snake fans to be pre-connected to the console and stored in the case when not in use.

Riding The Rails
Racks are specialized cases that house electronic components, held into place on rack rails. The standard rack rail dimension is 19 inches wide, and gear is designated by how many vertical spaces (or rack units) they use in a rack: single space (1RU) is 1.75 inches, 2RU is 3.5 inches, 3RU, is 5.25 inches, and so on. The equipment, shelves or drawers have “ears” that extend on either side of the front panel, and these allow the item to be bolted onto the rails that are normally tapped for a 10-32 thread bolt.

Racks may offer front rails only or an additional set of rear rails to facilitate supporting larger/heavier equipment like amplifiers. Shock mount racks suspend the rack inside an outer shell either by springs or surrounding the inner rack with foam. These offer more protection for fragile electronics.

Another rack variation is a mixer rack, combo rack or slant top rack that can house a rack-mount mixer on top, oriented in a comfortable operating position with space for additional rack equipment below. We use these styles a lot with our smaller mixers because they allow us to roll in and have everything needed all wired up in one unit—just pop off the lids and plug in the loudspeakers.

A more recent trend has manufacturers incorporating table legs into the removable lids of the racks, turning them into tables. In fact, I won’t buy a new mixer rack or workbox without a table option because it provides a handy place to set up computers and other items by the mixer without having to scrounge up at table at the venue.

Not every case and rack has wheels, so additional helpers like hand trucks and mover’s dollys (a.k.a., “skateboards”) are required on many gigs. Hand trucks must be magical as they have a habit of growing legs and walking off when we’re not looking, so we bring a bicycle lock to secure them to a large road case or lock them back in the truck at a gig.

Don’t forget to add cases, racks, hand trucks and dollies to your preventative maintenance schedule so they too stay in good working condition. A nifty trick for hand trucks that use pneumatic tires is to put sealant (a.k.a., “slime”) inside the tires to lessen the chances of air leaks. 

Senior contributing editor Craig Leerman is the owner of Tech Works, a production company based in Las Vegas.

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Posted by Keith Clark on 09/10 at 05:21 PM
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Monday, September 08, 2014

Pursuit Of Perfection: Concert Sound For Steely Dan’s Summer Tour

 
Steely Dan’s Jamalot Ever After tour of North America kicked off in July in Oregon, and coming up on an impressive 56 dates, is wrapping up in late September in Port Chester, NY.

Donald Fagen and Walter Becker are well known to both fans and pro audio folks for being demanding about sound production, so the question must be asked: “What mix of technology and expertise meets their demands for perfection on tour?”

Returning to mix Steely Dan is front of house veteran Mark Dowdle, who mentions that this tour is on the “Bucket List” of many live sound engineers. (Many pro audio journalists too.) “From the beginning of my career, I’ve always been inspired by their timeless music,” he simply states. His extensive credits include Elton John, Gloria Estefan, Fleetwood Mac, Tina Turner and Jackson Brown, to name just a few.

Dowdle is mixing on a 48-channel Midas XL4 console. “Donald and Walter’s requirement of using analog makes the XL4 the obvious choice,” he notes. The XL4 for the tour, supplied by Jim Sawyer Professional Audio Service (New Brighton, MN), is fitted with stereo channels for overheads, Leslie and Nord, plus six effects returns.

“This was the first time I’ve had an XL4 with moving faders for the inputs as well as VCAs, which I use to maintain fader positions,” Dowdle notes. “It allows me to start with a preset from a previous show where I was happy with the mix.” At the console, he’s one of many who have recently adopted Crown Seating’s Stealth Chair, which applies ergonomic principles to provide a comfortable console operator’s chair.

Front of house engineer Mark Dowdle, a portion of his Midas XL4 console, Smaart on the laptop, and a measurement mic at the ready.

Reelin’ In The Years
Also new on the tour is the addition of a Martin Audio Multi-cellular Loudspeaker Array (MLA) main system, provided by On Stage Audio (OSA), which has offices in Las Vegas, Chicago and now Nashville. Dowdle also mixed Steely Dan on last year’s tour, using an MLA system at Ravinia Festival, north of Chicago, the first season of a new OSA installation highlighted by two 12-box arrays in the 3,200-seat pavilion.

Tour sound icon Robert “Nitebob” Czaykowski, Steely Dan’s road manager since 2007, has ample pedigree as both TM and FOH for Ian Hunter, Ace Frehley, New York Dolls, and Alana Davis, with beginnings mixing Aerosmith, KISS and Ted Nugent. He mentions the punch and power that horn-loaded systems provide in the low-mids, especially for guitar bands, that’s lacking in front-loaded line arrays.

“I used most of Pink Floyd’s Martin PA for Aerosmith’s 1977 tour,” he recalls. “The six-week European headline tour I did with KISS in 1988 was with a Martin F2 PA.”

Donald Fagan (left, on an Earthworks SR40V condenser mic) and Walter Becker doing what they do best.

Nitebob introduced Becker to MLA at an OSA demo in New York’s Manhattan Center last October during the AES convention. “Walter heard it, was able to walk around the room and see what the coverage was like, and asked them to play different types of tracks through it,” he explains. “The coverage is really good.”

Steely Dan often plays theaters where the mix position is underneath a balcony. “I go out there every day and listen to it; that’s part of my gig,” he says. “The thing that really knocks me out about MLA is that you can actually control it so that it’s not splattering off a back wall or clustering up in the lower balcony.”

Do It Again
This year’s tour started as usual with band rehearsals at SIR in New York.

“I was actually in the room with the band mixing on a set of Tannoy AMS 12 nearfield monitors, which I believe to be truth in listening,” Dowdle says. “At production rehearsal, the transition from the Tannoys to the MLA proved to be as accurate as I had hoped. I was very pleased, because the mix was in the pocket right off the bat.”

MLA is a powerful marriage of loudspeakers and software, where transducers are individually driven and optimized to deliver the summation of crystal clear sound at the audience ears, ensuring even and smooth coverage across the coverage area. The system does this by controlling EQ and phase for individual transducers after modeling the physical listening area.

Dowdle points out that MLA provides extremely even front-to-back SPL as well as evenness of frequency response throughout the listening area. “The coverage is very smooth, especially its shading,” he notes. “You can walk up on the PA in the front and it sounds just like it does in the back of the room.”

He also points to an improvement to the stereo field. “Everything is more defined, so that automatically translates into the stereo field being more discernable. MLA gives me dynamic range, clarity and definition so that I’m able to position and layer sounds in the stereo field and really hear where they all are.” He adds that the sound is extremely coherent and very responsive from a mixing standpoint. “You make a small fader move and it’s immediately noticeable.”

One side of the main PA, with an MLA array (and MLD for down fill) flanked by an MLA Compact array.

Dowdle has been surprised by the constant comments from the audience. “I’ve been mixing for a long time and usually nobody ever says anything. This particular tour, I’ve had more response from the audience than any tour I’ve ever done in my entire career, and it’s always been very positive and it’s always been very poignant. That’s in large part because of MLA allowing me to get it exactly how I want everywhere in the room.”

Fagan and Becker are known for being fastidious about sound quality. “Both have come out into the audience on a number of occasions and always been positive with their feedback and what was going on,” Dowdle says. “More often than not, Donald will come out and listen and his comment most often is ‘it sounds great,’ which is probably the highest compliment that I could ever receive in my career.”

Any Major Dude
OSA crew chief and MLA system engineer Martyn “Ferrit” Rowe worked with TASCO for years and then independently with A1 Audio, Electrotec, and PRG, mixing monitors for Judas Priest for 15 years and White Snake for 12 years.

“Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath, Ozzy Osborne, big hair and spandex in the ‘80s, it was probably me,” Rowe says. “I first met Mark [Dowdle] on Alice Cooper in Europe in ‘82.” Many in pro audio also know Ferrit from his work with EAW and Martin Audio before joining OSA as director of engineering.

Ferrit Rowe doing final assembly on an MLA array.

The tour travels in two trucks, carrying consoles and backline (including a Steinway grand) in one truck, and lights and PA in the second. “We’re carrying 26 MLA and 2 MLD down fills, as well as 18 MLA Compacts, plus 8 MLX subs and 6 W8LMD used as front fills,” Rowe notes. “The first 18 feet is 45 percent of the weight.”

The tour played arenas in Oklahoma City and New Orleans using 14-box MLA mains and 9-box MLA Compact side arrays, adding a few MLA at the LA Forum, courtesy of Delicate Productions (Camarillo, CA)

“That was the only venue on the 56 shows that we had to add PA,” states Mitchell “Bubbles” Keller, fourth-year Steely Dan production manager, former Masque Sound live manager and previously PM for The Ramones and Iggy Pop. “It’s quite impressive that on a two-truck tour we can carry enough PA to do an arena.”

Steely Dan performing at a stop on this summer’s Jamalot Ever After tour.

The rest of the itinerary ranged from sheds, theaters and casinos. “The smallest venue was Humphrey’s in San Diego, putting two subwoofers and ground stacking six MLAs” Ferrit says. “I’ve actually just done four shows in a row where we’ve done a single point hang with 10 MLA enclosures.”

As well as the flexibility and scalability of the system, he’s also keen to point out the simplicity of operation with MLA. “It’s like fly by wire; you tell it what you want and the software produces a custom preset for your system and the room. This isn’t auto EQ, you still have control over all the decisions that are being made, but the computer is doing the heavy lifting.”

Ferrit adds that MLA provides a considerable amount of consistency. “Once I’ve done the optimization procedure the system is 98 percent tuned at turn-on,” he says. “Before MLA, I was a firm believer in multi-measurement [Rational Acoustics] Smaart. Now I can just place a measurement mic at the mix position, where you’re making your EQ decisions anyway, knowing that most of the room sounds very similar.”

Green Earrings
In addition to mixing the support act and flying MLA, OSA system tech Bob Alumbaugh is responsible for the tour’s mic inventory. As studio connoisseurs, Fagan and Becker are especially particular about microphone and outboard electronics selections, which were made primarily by Dowdle.

Earthworks SR40V condenser vocal mics have been the choice for Becker and Fagen’s vocals since their introduction in 2011. Background vocalists Cindy Mizelle, Carolyn Leonhart-Escoffey and La Tanya Hall sing into new Telefunken M81 dynamic vocal mics, which retains the M80’s original 5 and 10 kHz presence peaks without its rising HF response.

“The M81 produces a smooth vocal range while maintaining an isolated, somewhat remote characteristic to the backing vocals so that I’m able to place them in the mix with pinpoint accuracy,” Dowdle says.

Michael Leonhart and Jim Pugh play trumpet and trombone into a pair Neumann U87 big-boy condensers. Walt Weiskopf’s tenor sax and Roger Rosenberg’s baritone sax are captured with two AEA R84 ribbon mics, angled to take advantage of their classic figure 8 polar pattern with its 90-degree side rejection. “The AEAs for the saxes in the lower register are awesome,” Alumbaugh states. “Combined with the clarity of the U87s used on bone and trumpet, the balance between them is great.”

An AEA KU4 ribbon mic for horn solos located downstage center.

Downstage center, an AEA KU4 supercardioid ribbon mic—a re-creation of a rare RCA KU3A used for Hollywood film scoring in the 1940s—is deployed for featured horn solos. The design employs a unique baffle to attenuate the rear lobe of a typical figure-8 ribbon. Monitor engineer Peter D. Thompson says the KU4 “sounds delicious and has great rejection qualities as well.”

My Old School
The approach for Keith Carlock’s six-piece Gretsch drum kit starts with a Telefunken M82 dynamic end-address mic inside the kick, employing it’s 350 Hz notch filter. “I’m able to reproduce the kick in ways that truly emulated the original Steely Dan recordings,” Dowdle says. “The mic’s filter switch and internal shock mount system are vital to its response and quality.”

The infamous Granelli Audio Labs G5790, a 90-degree modified SM57, is used on both snare and second snare. “The Granelli’s right-angle allows the mic to correctly address the snare drum, which often is compromised by hi-hats and drum hardware nearby,” he explains.

A look at the drum miking approach.

A Shure Beta 56A dynamic is applied for snare bottom, with Sennheiser e904 dynamics on the four toms. Telefunken’s new M60 small-format tube condenser handles hi-hat and ride cymbal. Dowdle toured with prototypes last year, which are an FET version of the AKG-designed class-A ELA M260 tube pencil condenser. “The transient response is magnificent and the audio is so crisp and clear that it seems almost too good to be true,” he says. “The M60 is the best high hat mic I’ve ever used.”

Telefunken C12 tube condensers serve as overheads. “Having used C12s in the studio, I knew I’d be pleased, but I had no idea what a huge difference they’d make,” Dowdle notes. “The drum sound is robust and truly amazing. I’m able to capture every nuance from not only the cymbals, but the rest of the kit as well. The result is a powerful, open sound with a pleasing air that emanates from the entire drum kit. They’ll have to pry these mics from my cold dead hands.”

Becker’s guitar plays through a Satellite Mudshark or one of several Dr. Z tube amp heads (KT45, RxES, Mazerati GT). Three double-12 cabinets are each miked with a Shure SM7B dynamic. The cabinets are removed offstage and gobo’d with foam and packing blankets. Music director Jon Herington’s closed back dual-12 Celestion cab is powered by a Guytron GT-100 “F/V” head and is also miked offstage with a Shure KSM313 ribbon mic.

Keyboardist Jim Beard’s Hammond XR-3 into a Leslie 122 is captured with a Sennheiser MD421 dynamic on the low rotor and a pair of Shure KSM313s, while his Nord Stage keyboard is taken direct with a Radial J48 active DI. The Steinway D grand piano is outfitted with an Earthworks PM40T Touring PianoMic System, supplemented by a 3-bar Helpinstill pick-up feeding another Radial J48.

Home At Last
An API 2500 stereo optical compressor is inserted on the XL4’s main mix bus, which Dowdle notes that he prefers whether using a digital or analog console.

“I just give it light compression, just tickle it, and it brings the whole thing to a nice level where it’s very pleasing and extremely musical,” he elaborates. A second API 2500 is inserted on Fagen’s vintage Fender Rhodes, one of three (dubbed “Grace,” “Wilma,” and “Lucy”) carried on tour and lovingly refurbished by RetroLinear.

Twin Tube Tech CL-1B optical compressors are inserted for Fagen’s vocal mics, both when he’s sitting at the Rhodes or standing. Four more CL-2A dual-channel optical compressors are applied on backing vocals and the horn mics.

Digital effects include a TC Electronic 2290 delay for “Black Friday,” a vintage AMS RMX16 reverb for drums, a TC M5000 reverb for horns, and a dual-machine Lexicon 960L for both main and backing vocals, along with an Eventide H3500 to fatten background vocals.

Peter D. Thompson, a 24-year veteran of Thunder Audio (Livonia, MI and Nashville) has mixed monitors for Steely Dan since 2007, and does the same for Squeeze and Bob Seger.

Peter D. Thompson at the Soundcraft Vi6 digital console he uses for monitor mixes.

Recently, he also mixed FOH for The Strypes. Thompson employs a Soundcraft Vi6 digital console for his mixes, delivered to 13 Meyer MJF-212A self-powered floor monitors, using singles for everyone except Fagen and keyboardist Beard.

“It’s nice to have stage monitors that sound like studio monitors,” he says. “I’m running all the mixes flat, other than some minor graphic EQ adjustments during the show to the vocal mixes. A majority of the equalization is made on the channels so everyone hears the same thing in each mix.”

The sax players are provided with Meyer UPJ-1P compact self-powered loudspeakers on custom stands. Herrington, Leonhart, and Carlock receive in-ear mixes via Shure P6HW hardwired belt packs, and the drum IEM is supplemented with a pair of Meyer 600-HP dual-15-inch self-powered subs.

As with most FOH engineers of Dowdle’s vintage and background, Steely Dan’s catalog and Donald Fagen’s solo album The Nightfly are standards for tuning and evaluating sound systems. To answer the perennial question, “what’s used on a Steely Dan tour to tune the PA?” he replies that he uses Steely Dan live every day during sound check.

But prior to that, he plays Thomas Dolby’s “My Brain is Like a Sieve” from Aliens Ate My Buick and Frank Zappa’s “Lucielle” from Joe’s Garage, which has a very natural sounding vocal. A Shure KSM9 condenser mic then helps in the fine-tuning of its response.

Mark Frink is an independent author, editor, consultant and engineer.

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Posted by Keith Clark on 09/08 at 05:18 PM
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Keeping The Gig: Opportunities To Excel While Earning Artist Trust

We’re continuing our discussions with veteran independent touring engineer Dave Natale, this time focusing on strategies for keeping your front of house gig. (See earlier installments here and here.)

Dave’s worked in the industry for decades and has demonstrated the ability to survive in very high profile settings. With that in mind, here are a few thoughts from Dave to consider for surviving the political minefield.

Understand The Situation
It may seem blatantly obvious, but many of us have encountered mixes where we flat-out doubt if the person mixing actually knows what their doing. While there may be the occasional politically-connected “imposter,” successful house engineers appreciate that getting the majority of decision-makers on their side is key to keeping your job.

According to Dave: “It’s totally subjective. It doesn’t matter if you think you can mix, it only matters how most of the band and management feel about your mixes. Maybe I can’t mix, but as long as just one more person on the team thinks that I can, as opposed to the ones that don’t, I’ll still have a job. Your client’s decision to keep you in that chair could be as simple as that.

“Here’s a totally different example. Readers who were fortunate enough to hear a Roger Waters show recently will probably agree with me that Trip Khalaf did a wonderful job at front of house. If you ask my opinion, I’ll tell you it sounded absolutely fantastic. In this case, maybe 80 percent of those in the know think he can mix, and perhaps 20 percent feel otherwise, but there’s no doubting he’s in his rightful place at front of house.

Learn The Music
“Before a tour, your homework is to learn the music. You simply can’t mix well if you don’t know the cues, and that means knowing the music. I prefer not to learn a band’s music from the records, but rather in rehearsals. You can’t rely on the records because the band isn’t going to play it like that, so it isn’t going to sound like that. To me, this is self-explanatory.

“If your artist has a decent budget and can afford to rehearse for a week to 10 days, that’s a great opportunity to learn the music. For me, that’s plenty of time. There is no substitute for preparation. Initially at rehearsals, I have a legal pad and take a lot of notes, a page for each song. I’m writing like crazy, noting details, including solos, backing vocals, which keyboards are played on a particular song, and so on.

“By the third day my paper is filled up and I’m prepared to transition to building mixes and getting some sounds. This only works if the band is disciplined and works through the material consistently. And usually by the fifth day, I understand the songs, have some basic mixes in place, and practice my cueing.

“One of the reasons I use a big pair of speakers in an isolated room during band rehearsals is that they really help me learn the music, particularly the sounds, and what the final product is supposed to sound like. It gives me a reference and some confidence going into my first show that I know the material and have a reasonable foundation to start with. This preparation is essential to making a strong first impression, and a good first impression is essential to retaining employment.

Know The PA
“You must understand what you can and can’t do with your PA. What are the limits, quirks, and dead spots? It’s really in your favor to know this. Your client may ask you about something, and if you don’t know the rig inside and out, you may not be able to answer the question.

Be Responsive
“When an artist asks you to do something, do it, and then follow up with them at an appropriate time to make sure they know you did it and are happy. You want it to be blatantly obvious that you’re listening, paying attention, understand English, have taken action, and understand that the artist is in charge.

“You’ll never get fired for fastidious attention to detail. The best way is to think of things that might become a problem, anticipate them, and solve them or have a solution ready and in your hand before they think of it or ask for it. Anticipate what the artist wants and get it for them. Doing this quickly is often the best way I know to keep a gig.

Stay Positive
“A lot of keeping the gig is staying positive. Your personality has so much to do with it. If you can stay positive, and tell people ‘yeah this is going to sound great,’ they’re going to believe it’s going to sound better than the previous person. You can’t be blowing your own horn, because people don’t like that, but keeping a positive attitude helps a lot.

Who’s Name Is On The Ticket?
“Remind yourself that your role is just making it louder—you’re not the famous rock star. Always give credit to the band—it’s never about the engineers, it’s always about the artist. This is key to self-preservation.

“When people tell me how great a show sounded, I always reply, ‘I’ll be glad to tell the band when I see them backstage.’ Usually they miss the subtlety of that statement and say to me, ‘No Dave, it’s you and the great job you’re doing.’ I quickly remind them ‘No, it isn’t. Did the show sound like them? Yes? Well it’s because it is them.’

“It’s never about me. This is particularly true if you mix in the very Spartan manner I do, with little or no effects. Anything you hear really is the band, not something I’m doing at the console.

You’re In Charge
“Remember that as the house mixer, you’re head of the sound department. Take responsibility for the mistakes that you and your crew make. Never, ever put the blame on one of your crew. They’re professionals, so they usually know when they’ve made an error.

“The best thing you can do is go straight to the dressing room and cop to the mistake. Even if they (the artist) don’t call you back there, by taking the initiative and admitting a mistake, you send a message they weren’t expecting.

“Regrettably, too many try to cover their asses or backpedal to protect their jobs. So when the artist encounters someone actually admitting a fault or mistake, it puts things in an entirely different and positive light, compared to many of the people they interact with. Typically artists aren’t used to those around them taking responsibility for their own actions. But when you voluntarily admit your mistakes, any concerns the artist might have about you usually just goes away immediately.

Danny Abelson enjoys writing on the human elements that contribute to a great sounding show.

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Posted by Keith Clark on 09/08 at 12:22 PM
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Friday, September 05, 2014

Realizing Efficiencies In Monitorland

With the advent of digital consoles, the monitor engineer’s ability to reset the entire desk with the push of a button is a powerful tool.

However, there are many situations where the console must be adjusted from scratch or “zero initial data,” whether it’s a festival, support act or a one-off. Doing a little homework in advance can save valuable time.

Look at everything that must be taken care of on the console before the band is on stage: inputs and outputs named and patched, gain, high-pass filters and phantom power set, effects named, tweaked and patched, GEQs patched, matrix named and patched, user-defined or macro keys programmed, monitor cue on master fader, then store all of that as a starting scene.

By studying the artist’s input list and plot, and making some educated guesses (given the band’s musical genre), you can set up the inputs. If active instruments – like keyboards and guitars with on-board electronics – are plugged into passive DIs, while active DIs are used to amplify passive instruments that need gain, channel gain settings will be more predictable. Likewise check the pads on DIs (and condenser microphones) before they go on stage.

If there’s a place at the end of the input list, or even somewhere in the middle, it never hurts to add one or two “oh by the way” (OBTW) channels into the console file, as invariably there’s something not accounted for in the band’s paperwork that’s been added along the way. If the piece of paper taped to the splitter and the file in the console don’t match, it’s tempting to fix it with a “soft patch” but I recommend “one-to-one.”

Meaningful Labels
Channel EQ can be quickly set with good starting positions for how you like to work using the console’s EQ library, which is a place to store EQ presets. Knowing the EQ filters that are the usual starting point for standard mics and typical applications, you can save the presets with meaningful names.

For example, you may cut some low mids and add some 1 kHz “click” on the kick drum using a (Shure) Beta 52, so by making a “Kick-B52” EQ preset, you can set that channel by just calling the preset to your selected channel with a touch of the screen or a click of the mouse. This is quicker than tweaking gain, frequency and Q for several filters. There may still be a need to tweak, but you get there faster.

Some consoles only allow a low-pass filter by stealing the highest EQ filter, turning its Q all the way down, then turning it on with the gain and adjusting its frequency. These can also be incorporated into presets, saving those encoder strokes as well.

Use the flexibility and power of digital consoles to get ahead of the game.

Similarly, GEQ libraries can be used for specific combinations of vocal mics and floor monitors that are used frequently. After investing the time it takes to carefully adjust one wedge with a mic, that setting can be quickly copied into the graphic equalizers for a number of mixes with the same mic/wedge combination. Self-powered monitors are typically very consistent, allowing settings created for them to work well on many other suppliers’ wedges. Giving them meaningful names like “MJF212wSM58” allows them to be saved for the next time that combination is deployed.

EQ libraries can also be used to adjust in-ear monitor equalization with individual musicians, allowing you both to explore making minor adjustments to their overall mix EQ to help their IEMs better match their hearing. By giving them meaningful labels, like “DaveIEM0915,” you can archive a record of daily IEM mix EQ settings in what can be an iterative process that gradually gets an IEM mix sounding better to that performer. You may even discover subtle changes to their hearing from the beginning of the set to the end, or from Friday night to Sunday night.

Obviously the same applies to effects libraries. I’ve heard very few reverbs that couldn’t benefit from a little parameter tweaking, including the EQ on their return channels. You might go ahead and tweak and load up the console with an entire assortment of application-specific effects from snare to fiddle to acoustic, so that when you want them, they’re ready to go, as long as you have channels to return them.

At a minimum there should be a generic vocal and instrument reverb in your file, patched from a pair of aux sends and ready to go into a mix. Then replacing them with exactly what’s needed can be quickly chosen from your custom effects library. When you save your entire console, all of these libraries are stored and carried on a USB key to the next gig.

Some consoles also allow making a preset out of an entire auxiliary send. One day percussionist Daniel de los Reyes told me his mix was a little off. I asked him when was the last show it sounded good to him, and he replied “Philly.” I was able to go back to my Philadelphia file, make a preset of his mix and paste it into the current file. Bueno, aquí estamos en Philly.

For Drummers
Drum subs are intended to provide drummers with the low end on stage that’s missing from their IEMs or wedges. It’s often not enough to simply place the sub near, or even on the drum riser.

For maximum effect, it must couple with the drummer’s backbone, not just his ears, so placing it on a road case to get it up in the air a couple feet can make a big difference. If it’s double-18 sub, even better – point one at his rear end and the other at his shoulder blades. And watch him drool.

For a fraction of the price of a hard-wired IEM, a miniature mixer can be purchased for drummers that allows them to not only take a feed from the monitor desk, but also hear the click and tracks during the show, just like in rehearsal. And it doesn’t need batteries.

Take The Call
Many shows and sets begin with a call on the walkie-talkie to alert the band’s crew. Most walkies have a 3.5-mm audio jack, and many consoles have a 2-track analog input that’s rarely used. (On an Avid Profile, it’s an RCA.) A short cable allows you to monitor the radio call to start the show while you have your ears in, and perhaps even put it in the band’s ears.

It can pay off to focus some added attention on this position.

Use The Matrix
Every console has a matrix that goes largely unused in most stage monitor applications. Since any mix can be sent to a matrix, one use with in-ear monitors is to patch it to a spare IEM system, which allows any mix on the console to be quickly turned on at unity into a spare transmitter on a new frequency. It’s quicker and easier than re-patching XLRs at the back of a rack or desk.

But for the downstage center “money” mix? Just put it into two transmitters with a pair of “Y” cables.

Another powerful use of the matrix is to add in talkback microphones to the cue mix so the engineer can always hear them. Instead of routing the cue send directly to its IEM transmitter, return it to two inputs to the matrix and then add in the talkback or “shout” mics from FOH, the drummer, the guitar tech, etc. When you fader-down the cue, you’ll still hear anyone talking. To accomplish this on many consoles, patch out of the desk and back in again with a pair of short XLR cables.

Inputs for additional shout mics may be in short supply in the console’s stage rack, especially if you start eating up channels for double-patched inputs (instruments played by more than one musician) and FX returns. A compact mixer, like a Mackie 1402. can provide some economy by mixing all of the shout mics down to one or two inputs.

If the console’s stage rack is also full, there’s often a dedicated talkback input where they can all be returned, but now the engineer’s talkback mic might have to go in the mixer as well. This also might be where the walkie’s audio input lands.

Leaving shout mics open clouds both the cue mix and the tech (roadie) mix with ambient stage wash. It’s important to manage these mics, which can be done with a switched mic or a “proximity gate.” A momentary foot switch that can be operated even while holding a guitar is even better for musicians and roadies.

A couple of tools from Radial Engineering that enhance flexibility.

The Hot Shot from Radial Engineering takes a dynamic mic and sends it out a second XLR when its momentary footswitch is pressed. These can be used with hard-wired dynamic mics at singing positions or simply by backline techs off stage.

For those times you need to be able to use a wireless mic for talkback, Radial’s Remote Relay is an A-B switch that can be placed on the output of a wireless receiver, similarly controlled from anywhere on stage by one or more momentary footswitches, connected by an XLR.

As with the Hot Shot, pressing the momentary switch removes it from its vocal input channel and puts it into a talkback channel. By panning that talkback channel to one side, it lets the performer know that it’s no longer in the PA. (Thanks Peter Janis!)

Mark Frink is an independent author, editor, consultant and engineer who has mixed monitors for numerous top artists.

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Posted by Keith Clark on 09/05 at 04:06 PM
Live SoundFeatureBlogStudy HallConsolesDigitalEngineerMonitoringProcessorSound ReinforcementTechnicianPermalink

Church Sound: Cut Down On The Noise—Simplify

As I’m sure is the case with many of you, my life is quite hectic right now, packed beyond capacity with things to do. Most of them are worthy things that I want and/or need to do, but they keep me hopping.

In response, I’ve chosen a very simple motto: “Simplify.” I plan to live by this simple (pun intended) maxim through the end of the year—at least. Simply (pun intended again), simplify means removing some of the clutter from my daily life and the complications that go with it.

When you’re a “type A” (driven) personality, as I am, there’s a strong tendency to not look before leaping—jumping with both feet into every project and activity without considering the consequences.

Even as mere humans, we can have tremendous capacity, but there’s a limit, a zone where there’s just too much noise, we feel too much stress, and we can’t be at our best in everything we do if there’s too much of everything to do.

In part, this new direction came about after a recent conversation with a friend about how noisy contemporary music is. Noisy as in busy. With all of the tools now available for music creation, recording, and amplification, sometimes it seems that they get used just because they can be used—without real purpose, resulting in compositions that are more noise than music.

The other day I was at a church that is looking to purchase a new digital mixing console. They’re moving away from the analog world. But what struck me is the biggest factor to them in selecting a console is what plug-ins are offered internally or can run from an external server. Not once did they bring up sound quality, workflow, layout, I/O capability, operator friendliness, the ability to meet future expansion needs, and so on.

It got me thinking about what I see as a current philosophy of “we can fix it later”—just apply a plug-in and all will be right with the world. Plop down a mic quickly and sloppily on stage or in the studio—no problem, we’ll just fix it with a plug-in.

Even more humble live and recording systems have more tools than we can possibly need, just waiting to be applied nonetheless. But just because one can doesn’t mean one should. It’s adding up to a lot of noise. A plug-in can only do so much to “fix” a lousy mic signal—it’s still a lousy signal. So how about simplifying instead, taking the time to place the mic correctly in the first place in order to capture a quality signal?

I love technology. It can help us immensely in achieving our desired result, or even better. But there must be a point to using it. A voice must sound like a voice, a guitar like a guitar, a piano like a piano—once we achieve that, by applying simple time-proven concepts first, then we can take advantage of technology to tailor it.

One of my favorite photographers, Ansel Adams, did his work almost exclusively in black and white. The simplicity is one of the things that makes his work so powerful.

Late in his career, Adams used the latest darkroom equipment on his most popular work, Moonrise. Yes he took advantage of the best technology available—but he used it to enhance what was already there. He was not adding things, making it noisy; he was simply enhancing an already great image. 

It’s been said many times but bears repeating: “Technology is best when it’s transparent.” Can I get an Amen?

Gary Zandstra is a professional AV systems integrator with Parkway Electric and has been involved with sound at his church for more than 30 years. Read more from Gary at garyzandstra.com.

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Posted by Keith Clark on 09/05 at 12:40 PM
Church SoundFeatureBlogStudy HallConsolesDigital Audio WorkstationsEngineerMicrophoneProcessorSoftwareSound ReinforcementStudioTechnicianPermalink

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Hal Leonard And Groove3 Announce Strategic Partnership

Collaboration will transform Hal Leonard's content using Groove3's online video delivery system and subscription model

Hal Leonard Books, a division of Hal Leonard Corporation, a leading publisher of books and digital content on the music business, audio technology, and instrument history, and Groove3, the audio community’s source for informative and effective online tutorials, announced today a long-term strategic partnership to develop and deliver authoritative content.

This collaboration will transform Hal Leonard’s content, including series such as Music Pro Guides and Quick Pro Guides, using Groove3’s online video delivery system and subscription model, while expanding Groove3’s reach beyond the robust community the company has built over the last 10 years, addressing all aspects of the music-making process, including recording, production, engineering, mixing, songwriting, DAW guides and more.

“Groove3 has always had the end user’s best interest in mind and is dedicated to delivering the best tutorials about today’s audio tools and recording and production techniques. Now having the opportunity to partner with Hal Leonard and offer their first-class content along side ours, it’s a match made in heaven for all audio professionals and hobbyists alike around the world,” said Groove3 vice president Antony Livoti.

“Groove3 is the most trusted and time-tested online quality resource for training videos for musicians, and bringing Hal Leonard’s reputable brands and content into their community will be a huge benefit to all musicians interested in learning online,” said John Cerullo, group publisher of Hal Leonard Books.

“Hal Leonard has been a pioneer in offering digital content to active music makers for decades, and the Groove3 partnership, along with our many other recent digital and web based initiatives, will allow us to continue to offer the best in music instruction for years to come,” adds Hal Leonard Corporation president Larry Morton.

Groove3 currently offers more the 850 hours of top-notch online training. The new, exclusive content from Hal Leonard will include product by renowned recording, audio, and music experts from many fields, including the Hal Leonard Recording Method by Bill Gibson, the Bruce Swedien Recording Method, Rikki Rooksby’s series of books on songwriting, and much more.  Additional courses and products will be announced and released in the coming weeks.

In addition, the partnership allows for the development and offering of customized online programs for traditional resellers, such as musical instrument dealers, and licensing programs to audio-trade outlets, secondary and higher educational institutions, and industry organizations.

Hal Leonard Books
Groove3

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Posted by Keith Clark on 09/04 at 01:51 PM
Live SoundRecordingNewsTrainingBusinessEducationEngineerSound ReinforcementStudioTechnicianPermalink

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Too Loud? Maybe Volume Isn’t The Reason

 
One of my pet peeves: there really is no excuse for loud, bad concert sound. It’s a topic I’m revisiting in light of Dave Rat’s recent comments here.

In particular, what piqued my interested was Dave’s statement that “painfully harsh, poorly mixed sound is always too loud.” His point is that yes, rock concerts are (and should be) loud, and even so, they aren’t as measurably loud as a NASCAR race or an NFL game. And I agree that sound level can be an important part of an experience.

But for many, sound that is “too loud” takes away from the enjoyment of the audience rather than enhancing it. So let’s examine some of the reasons that an audience might have that impression.

Turn The Tables?
First, of course, is the fact that perhaps the sound really is too loud. Yes, I may be getting older, but I’ve found that in many cases, and this includes trendy bars and restaurants, that the volume level often makes me uncomfortable. I read an article recently providing one explanation for this phenomenon, that the idea is to “turn the tables” more quickly so patrons come in and order a few drinks but don’t hang around longer than necessary. The use of sound as a negative force is intended to increase profits.

O.K., but what about rock shows? This, of course, is where Dave’s point is most valid. Audiences want an experience, and loud sound is a big part of that. Heck, without body shaking bass, we’re not sure if we’re really even at a rock show and not just listening to an iPod. I remember an interesting demo given by the makers of ServoDrive subwoofers a few (ahem) years ago. Their point was that with a deep, extended bass response and fairly mild mids and highs, the sound would be perceived as “big” by the audience, yet people could still talk to one another.

But back to the point about volume…At big shows, I like it loud too, as long as it’s clean loud sound. Which brings me to my next point: what if the sound isn’t “clean”? In other words, what if it’s distorted?

I contend that distortion, as a result of poor gain structure, is the number one cause of sound being “too loud,” particularly to the novice listener. The simple reason is that distortion artifacts largely fall into the upper midrange of the human hearing system, right smack where our ears are most sensitive.

Distortion caused by bad gain structure usually happens because one gain stage (or device) is overdriving the next one in the chain. For instance, the problem can happen within a console, or between a console and a drive rack. It can also occur between a wireless microphone and the console input.

A common source of high-frequency distortion is vocal sibilance, due to the tremendous energy found in some vocal sounds, particularly “s” and “f.” Fortunately, today we have an array of tools to help combat this problem. Generally, it’s good to start with the right mic capsule for the vocalist’s voice, and to make sure the gain structure is super clean the rest of the way through. If there’s still is a problem, we have plug-ins to help.

Smiley Face, Anyone?
Next up is poor system EQ; between it and distortion, we’ve identified 90 percent of the loudness problem. Again, and simply, if the mids and upper mids are too hot in the mix, it usually sounds “harsh.” Grating. Ear splitting. Hair parting. Paint peeling.

I think it’s possible that one reason for this is the prevalence of hearing loss among many sound engineers and techs, who then boost the mids and highs to compensate.

Another reason might be that we’re not walking the room and listening for hot spots. Perhaps at front of house, behind the desk, everything is perfect. But in some of the overlapping loudspeaker zones, maybe there’s HF buildup, maybe joined by some phase issues.

I also think it’s far too common to add mids and highs to individual channels to “bring them out” when it might be better to cut something else instead. This kind of boosting on several channels can very likely result in overloading hearing while not really bringing about the improvement in clarity we’re seeking. In the process, we might be pushing the master bus, a subgroup or a matrix channel over the edge, resulting in distortion.

Then there’s the famous (infamous?) “smiley face” graphic EQ curve we’ve all seen or maybe even used. Let’s let the amateur car stereo enthusiasts keep their smiley face curves, shall we?

An artistic tweak to the overall system EQ can work wonders, almost the same way mastering does for recordings. But it’s easy to overdo it and end up with a bunch of boomy bass and harsh, grating highs while also compromising clarity. Remember, cutting is almost always preferred to boosting.

Taste In Music?
One of the more subtle effects that causes some audiences to claim that sound is too loud has to do with their familiarity with the particular music being presented. Most of my years touring were with the U.S. Air Force jazz band, the Airmen of Note. It’s an 18-piece big band that performs traditional selections (Glenn Miller, Count Basie, etc.) as well as modern arrangements and compositions.

After years of touring with them, I came to the conclusion that if the music is familiar to the audience, no one thinks it’s too loud. Case in point: many of our concerts featured traditional style for the first half and modern style for the second half. I don’t recall a single complaint about the volume from anyone for a first half. In fact, after an hour of this music, people approached me at intermission asking why the band didn’t play one song or another. Some claimed it was “exactly like when I saw them in 1943 during the war.”

But when the exact same group, with the same PA and same FOH mixer in the same hall, played the second half, complaints were commonplace. The difference? You guessed it—the audience was unfamiliar with the material.

To come full circle, I think familiarity is a big reason why people like it loud when they go to rock concerts. They want to see their favorite artists playing their favorite hits, loudly and with a big PA that says “THIS IS A BIG ROCK CONCERT.” And there’s nothing wrong with that, as long as it’s also clean sound, well mixed.

Karl Winkler is director of business development at Lectrosonics and has worked in professional audio for more than 20 years.

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Posted by Keith Clark on 09/03 at 04:51 PM
Live SoundFeatureBlogOpinionConcertEngineerMeasurementSignalSound ReinforcementTechnicianPermalink

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Career Calling: Are You Qualified To Be An Audio Engineer?

Take this simple test. Carefully compiled from decades of experience and using the latest auto-psycho-algorithms, it will provide guidance in your career choice.

1. Do you show up on time?

Yes.
Go to question 2.

No.
Try getting one of those “work from home” jobs where you make $5,000 a week stuffing envelopes. Good luck!

2. Do you like to work with a wide range of personality types?

Yes.
Go to question 3.

No.
Pursue a career in broadcast, where you can stay in the broadcast truck all day and night.

3. Do you like music?

Yes.
Go to question 4.

No.
Get a gig with Justin Bieber. Or become a truck driver. They usually sleep during the show.

4. Does the thought of letting down 60,000 fans because you didn’t plan the sound system properly disturb you?

Yes.
Become a surgeon.

No. 
Become a politician.

Maybe. Most of the fans will still get good sound, right?
“You’re going to be O.K., son.”

5. Is life on the road attractive to you?

Yes.
Get that tool kit and gig bag together!

No.
Seek work in theatre, broadcast, studios, clubs, or other fixed locations. Alternatively, practice saying this phrase: “Would you like fries with that?”

6. Do you like using microphones?

Yes.
Consider a career in aviation.

No.
Buy a few anyway. The mic companies need you, and shiny mics can look quite fetching in a display case.

7. Can you function optimally after 48 hours without sleep?

Yes.
You’re hired. Can you get a commercial driver’s license too, please?

No.
Consider a career as a mattress tester.

8. Do you like Marriott and Hilton hotels?

Yes.
Consider a job in the hospitality industry.

No.
Good. Do you like Holiday Inn?

Yes.
Consider working as a night auditor.

No.
Good. Do you like Motel 6?

Yes.
You’re hired.

9. Do you prefer analog or digital consoles?

Analog.
Don’t call us, we’ll call you.

Digital.
Don’t call us, we’ll call you.

Whatever you have in stock.
Good. You’re hired.

10. How will you feel when a tour manager/artist/promoter tells you that you’re lousy at your job?

I’d feel bad.
Look for an easier gig like parole officer or personal assistant to Leona Helmsley.

I couldn’t care less.
You’re a natural, kid! Welcome aboard.

If you answered “Yes” or “No” to more than any five questions, you’re ready to enter the lucrative world of professional audio.

Ken DeLoria has mixed innumerable shows and tuned hundreds of sound systems with an emphasis on taming difficult acoustical environments, and as the founder of Apogee Sound, developed the TEC Award-winning AE-9 loudspeaker.

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Posted by Keith Clark on 09/02 at 04:42 PM
Live SoundFeatureBlogBusinessConsolesEducationEngineerSound ReinforcementTechnicianPermalink

Friday, August 22, 2014

High Resolution Audio Major Focus At 137th Audio Engineering Society Convention

DEG to present a comprehensive High Resolution Audio program October 10 at AES137 in Los Angeles

The 137th Audio Engineering Society Convention (October 9-12, 2014, at the Los Angeles Convention Center in downtown Los Angeles) will feature a High Resolution Audio (HRA) program Friday, October 10, 2014.

The direct result of a collaborative effort between the Audio Engineering Society (AES) and DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group, the HRA program will include a number of panels and sessions that address the current and future direction of HRA from various perspectives, including content creation, digital distribution, licensing of hi-res music files, archiving, subscription models, marketing/promotion of hi-res music, compatibility of playback devices and more.

These panels and sessions will feature some of the brightest minds in the business as they discuss some of the most current and controversial issues concerning the rapid adoption of high-resolution audio across the industry. 

Additionally, there will be an HRA Exhibition Zone that offers a unique opportunity for CE manufacturers and music industry executives to engage the professional recording community and discuss strategic HRA initiatives. 

“The DEG is pleased to join with the Audio Engineering Society in promoting the benefits of Hi-Res Audio during this event,” said Amy Jo Smith, President, DEG. “Working together, we can underscore HRA’s numerous benefits to the professional recording community and enlist their support in helping drive this initiative.” 

For over 65 years, nearly every seminal audio development has been incubated and promoted within the AES community, beginning with stereo LPs in the 1950s and continuing with magnetic tape in the 60s, digital audio and the Compact Disc in the 70s, perceptual coding (e.g. MP3) over the past 25 years, all the way to today’s digital streaming formats. It’s no wonder that the DEG and the AES have decided to partner to bring to AES137 Convention attendees the most current and comprehensive information on the state of High Resolution Audio, which is defined as “lossless audio that is capable of reproducing the full range of sound from recordings that have been mastered from better than CD quality music sources.” 

For information on how you can get your FREE Exhibits-Plus badge (pre-registration required) and detailed information on the High Resolution Audio Program at the AES137 Convention, as well as further Registration, Hotel, and Technical Program information, visit the AES137 webpage.

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Posted by Julie Clark on 08/22 at 11:02 AM
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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Church Sound: Attaining The “Perfect” Volume

This article is provided by ChurchTechArts.

 
Last year, a worship leader named Jordan Richmond wrote a post on Thom Rainer’s blog. The post is entitled, “How Loud Should Our Church Music Be?” and it incited no small number of comments. In fact, if you have some time, go read the comments; some are quite amusing.

I think the article raises an important point, and is a good starting point for discussion. However, I do take issue with a few things he said.

His premise is that as a worship leader, he’s not unfamiliar with volume complaints. But how do you solve that? While on vacation at Disney World, he pulled out his trusty iPhone and measured the SPL at the shows he saw there. He came up with 75 dB [sic] as “the answer” to the correct volume.

I put [sic] at the end of 75 dB because he didn’t specify A- or C-weighting, and that makes a big difference. But that’s not the only thing.

Uncalibrated iPhones with free SPL apps cause more harm than good. Now that every member of your congregation has an SPL meter in their pocket, the number of people telling us they have proof it’s too loud is going way up. The problem is, an uncalibrated iPhone or Android phone is not at all accurate.

When I attempted a calibration on mine (using an actual SPL calibrator), I found my (paid and “professional”) SPL meter was off by −10 dB. That translates to about double the perceived volume. Even after I calibrated it, it’s not truly calibrated, it’s just close.

So before we start talking absolute numbers, let’s be sure we are using an actual and calibrated SPL meter. Even those are not super-helpful in determining the appropriate volume, but we’ll get to that shortly.

I respectfully disagree that there is one perfect volume for all venues. Shoot, I won’t even agree that there is one perfect volume for one venue. Our church’s average and peak volumes vary by a good 5-8 dB depending on the song set, arrangements and band makeup.

Some churches demand loud, energetic worship. Others prefer quieter, more contemplative music. This is OK!! I get really frustrated when I hear people talking about setting a universal standard for music levels.

If you like quieter music, find a church that does quieter music. If you like it loud, go to a loud church. But don’t go to a church known for loud music and complain it’s too loud! Likewise, if you’re a worship leader or FOH person, don’t go to a quiet church and try to recreate a Hillsong concert. That’s just—dare I say it?—stupid.

I would also disagree that Disney is the standard. Sure, Disney gets a lot of things right. I like going there when I can. I think we can learn a lot from how they do things; they create great experiences for their guests. But to say that the volume of their shows is the ideal volume is a bit of a stretch. First of all, I suspect the actual level was higher than 75 dB. Second, it’s totally different material.

Realistically, I think you could find just as many people who think Disney shows are too quiet as those who think it’s too loud. And you can probably say the same for many churches. So I guess this another way of re-stating my previous point. Finding the appropriate volume for a particular church is a tricky thing, and it’s a very individual thing.

I suspect many a church member, pastor and board member read that blog post and ran into the sound booth yelling, “Here it is! Proof that it’s too loud. Never more than 75 dB [sic] again!”

This does about as much good at solving the volume problem as painting a green lobby blue does at placating those who don’t like anything but yellow.

The article was not all bad, however. In fact, aside from those three points, I think he is on balance. In fact, I agree with more than I disagree with.

I completely agree that spectral balance is key. He made the observation (from his free, RTA Lite app) that the overall sound was balanced and smooth.

I would argue that spectral balance is more important than actual SPL levels in determining what is acceptable to a congregation and what is not.

For example, even if we agreed that 75 dB (A- or C-weighted, it doesn’t matter for this illustration) SPL is the “perfect” volume, I could drive everyone out of the room by playing a 1KHz square wave at 75 dBA SPL. I could also put together a mix that sounds so offensive at 75 dB SPLA that people would still complain.

On the other hand, I’ve heard mixes that averaged well over 100 dB SPLA and not only did people not complain, they had their hands up and wanted more.

The key is getting the spectral balance right. Too many young engineers (and to be fair, some old ones) put way too much emphasis either on the extreme low end, or the top end. I’ve been to a couple of conferences lately where this was certainly true. At both, the low end was so over-emphasized that you could almost see those 8-foot long waves gobbling up everything else. It sounded terrible—the volume didn’t matter at all.

But in a well crafted mix, people want more. At least up to a point. But we’ll get back to that.

Like other things, content is king. He didn’t point this out as much in the article, but in subsequent comments, he pointed out that Disney has professional talent on stage and in the booth. So, the quality of the content in the mix was very high, and the mix itself was well done.

It was also being played through a well tuned Meyer Sound PA. And he intimated that there was the appropriate amount of dynamic range to the program. Because the average level was comfortable, loud portions of the show felt good.

If most of the congregation thinks it’s too loud, it’s too loud. I’ll probably take some flak for this one, but I believe it’s true. I can’t figure out why churches with a mostly older demographic hire young worship leaders “to attract the younger people” then get upset when the worship gets loud.

On the other hand, I can’t figure out why worship leaders and sound people go into older churches and try to “turn the tide,” crank it up to 11 and then wonder why people get mad and leave.

If you are standing in the sound booth looking out over the congregation and many of them have their hands over their ears, something is wrong. You need to figure out what it is. It may be a mix issue, the drums on stage may be too loud, or the music might be entirely wrong for the congregation. Or it may just be too loud.

Either way, you’re not doing yourself or anyone else any favors by quoting OSHA guidelines or Bible verses about loud worship.

Most of the time, the absolute volume is not the issue, but when something is wrong, we need to investigate it and fix it. We’ll tackle what I think the most common issues are next time.

Mike Sessler now works with Visioneering, where he helps churches improve their AVL systems, and encourages and trains the technical artists that run them. He has been involved in live production for over 25 years and is the author of the blog Church Tech Arts.

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Posted by Keith Clark on 08/19 at 06:03 PM
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Monday, August 18, 2014

Backstage Class: Alternative & Effective Approaches To Sound Check

So much of what we do as sound engineers is based on habit and repetition. Better safe than sorry, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it, that’s the way everyone does it, and so on.

I enjoy questioning and testing that validity of these patterns. One of the beautiful aspects of live sound is that there is no true right or wrong way, but rather, certain approaches are more likely to result in preferable outcomes than others.

With that in mind, let’s focus on the process we most commonly call “sound check.”

Why EQ the kick drum by itself with all the other microphones turned off? How often during the actual show do you mute every other mic to just hear that kick drum sound? How relevant and useful is it to waste oh-so-valuable sound check time EQ’ing solitary mics only to start over once the rest of the stage mic interactions are introduced?

Of course I understand doing a quick test of every mic individually, but beyond that, what we really need to know is how that instrument sounds with all the other mics turned on as well. Seems we forget that every mic hears everything on stage at some level. 

Want way more time to really get your sound dialed in and have the band love you at the same time? At the next gig, walk in and tell the band, “O.K., this is how I would like to sound check. After a quick tap line check to make sure everything works, you guys come on up and do whatever you want, rock some tunes, rehearse and jam.

“First we’ll get monitors sorted and close. To avoid confusion, here is a simple hand signal method, point at what you want and then point at where you want it and then point up or down so we know what to do. And while you’re rocking out, I’ll get all your sounds dialed in out front. I may stop you for a moment if there’s a particular problem, but what’s best for me is for you to play as many tunes as possible and get comfortable on this stage.

“Oh, and drummer person, if you can, lean into some extra toms so I can grab them as well.”

Important Things
Congratulations—you’ve just gone from having your band annoyed with being subjected to 50 hits on each drum to having happy musicians doing what they (hopefully) truly love.

With the artists playing, bring up each instrument and get a rough EQ and meanwhile, you also learn important things like how much the cymbals bleed into the toms, or how much guitar is getting into the vocal mics while you are EQ’ing them. 

As the band kicks out the jams, my approach is to bring up drums one at a time and do a rough EQ, then all the drums and refine the EQ. Add bass, check the drums and bass combo, then EQ the bass.

Next, lay guitars on top, get a rough EQ, and touch up bass and drums. Then give a listen to just guitar and bass without drums, and EQ them to fit.

All the while, I’m dialing in my compressors and gates. I finish with muting all the other mics and EQ’ing vocals with the full band playing. Then vocals, add in guitars, add bass, and then add drums. My headphones are always at the ready for cuing up and checking certain things.

If specific issues come up while the band is playing, hey, don’t worry about it yet. Get the rest of the sounds together first. The goal is obtaining a solid grasp of the bigger picture in the time it takes to test one mic at a time.

Plus you’re actually mixing, and are free to make drastic changes to hear those blends and combinations in a way that you can never do during an actual show. You’re also now the coolest engineer the band’s ever worked with.

Back In The Day
I started using a version of this approach about 25 years ago with a 60-piece orchestra I mixed weekly. Due to wind and the size of the area being covered, there was the need to rely on fairly close mic’ing, and ended up with about 24 inputs.

It dawned on me pretty quickly that the whole “O.K., now will the third flute please play” method was a complete waste of time and left me scrambling to try to scrape a mix together when the show began.

So I devised a plan. Turn every gain knob all the way up, and have every channel muted with the fader down. As the various orchestra members showed up, tuned their instruments, and began playing, the clip light for the mic(s) near them would come on.

I would crank the gain down to below clip, PFL that channel to make sure it sounded fine, and then un-mute so I knew which channels had the gains set. As the channels were un-muted, I brought those faders up and began blending and EQ’ing, while waiting for the next clip light.

Finally, the conductor would have the orchestra play a short segment, and that was that. The whole process took about 15 to 20 minutes, I had the mix together, and then had time to go to the stage to fix any issues before the show started. 

Dave Rat heads up Rat Sound Systems Inc., based in Southern California, and has also been a mix engineer for more than 30 years.

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Posted by Keith Clark on 08/18 at 11:06 AM
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Friday, August 15, 2014

Old Soundman: Deep Questions & Intriguing Quests

Greetings, Old Soundman, from the Great North Woods—

And greetings to you from my secret location!

I’m not all that old, only been riding the faders for a few years now.

Ride ‘em, soundman! Yee-ha!! Hey, did you ever hear of the X Bar X Boys?

The calluses are just about right on my fingers and in my ears.

What a bizarre viewpoint. I don’t really like to think about calluses. But whatever floats your boat!

I was one of those “dumb youngsters” who thought a fancy school was the way to go. Luckily, I didn’t pay my tuition right away and spent it on some crappy gear after dropping out (don’t tell the government).

They’ll have to torture me with old Bing Crosby records before I talk!

My first gig was with a 10-piece funk band with horns, lots of fun. But I made it and they kept hiring me.

You probably worked cheap.

Anyway, after a few years of fumbling through gigs and paying the first of my dues, I have two questions that haven’t been answered. First: What’s the best microphone to use on a sewing machine?

You’ve stepped across the line. I’ve told you people countless times: funny stuff—me; audio and philosophical questions—you.

But to answer your question, use a condenser mic, and crouch there all night, holding it up to the sewing machine. Don’t use a mic stand like the cheaters do.

Second:  When will I see the worst band ever?

Thanks,
Matt

Tomorrow night. If you survive that, you’ve only got 20-some years to go in order to catch up with my main man here…

Hello Old Soundman—

Like you, I’ve been at this for a long time, over 30 years.

Believe it or not, you’ve got me beat, brother!

Remember when bands didn’t use monitors?

I’ve heard tell of those days!

I appreciate and respect your words of wisdom, biting witm and especially your ability to keep doing show after show.

But you have the same ability…Just like Willie Nelson and Blue Oyster Cult!

I’ve toured the world with large and small acts, and even became a dreaded FOH/tour manager to get out of banging gear.

Isn’t that the worst? Every whining musician on your case all of the time. Forgetful bandleaders. Insane agents. Demented wives and girlfriends. Checking everybody in/out of hotels. Waiting at airports. Selling merchandise. Ah, the devil was working overtime when he came up with the position of tour manager!

After 20 years on the road. I went back to school to get my degree in order to land a “suit ‘n’ tie” gig that paid off with stock options. I got the degree, but never the gig.

How come? Didn’t you ever apply at a Fortune 500 company? How about Wal-Mart? Toys-R-Us? Chili’s? National Public Radio? Chico’s Bail Bonds?

Is it just possible that I’ve done rock ‘n’ roll too long and there’s no hope of ever becoming a member of the establishment?

Signed,
JWL

It sounds like it to me. But the good news is that you’ve got plenty of company!

When you come to my club, the drinks are on me, pal of mine. We’ll solve all the world’s problems. And watch the sun come up!

Luv,
The Old Soundman

There’s simply no denying the love from The Old Soundman. Read more from him here.

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Posted by Keith Clark on 08/15 at 12:41 PM
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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Solid State Logic To Host Free SSL Live Console Training At UK Headquarters

Training sessions will include hands-on experience for all participants

Solid State Logic (SSL) has announced Live Console Operator Training Days, a series of free one-day courses that will include hands-on experience for all participants, aimed at serving as an introduction to the SSL Live console.

Training sessions will take place at the company’s Oxford, England-based headquarters this coming September 17 and 18, October 1 and 2, and November 5 and 6.

While the sessions are free, numbers are strictly limited, so all interested parties are encouraged to apply via the online application form (here).

SSL Live is the company’s first console for live sound production, suited to touring or installation, and for front of house or monitor systems for venues, arenas, houses of worship and concert halls.

Solid State Logic (SSL)

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Posted by Keith Clark on 08/13 at 06:18 PM
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Church Sound: Mistakes Worship Teams Make That Can Compromise Services

The mistakes worship teams commit while approaching God do not preclude His presence, but they do erect obstacles to the flow of the Holy Spirit.

Here, then, are 10 common errors churches can avoid in the pursuit of God:

1. Turning minor mistakes into public spectacles. When a vocalist forgets to turn on a wireless microphone or a technician commits a track cueing error, the worst thing a worship leader can do is to proclaim the mistake to the entire congregation.

If the audience didn’t notice, why bring it up? And, if it was an obvious error, then everyone already knows about it.

Far from being a way to humanize the proceedings, public notifications only hinder the work of the Spirit and demoralize the person responsible. It’s better to go on with the service and discuss the incident in the context of love at a later debriefing.

2. Playing too much. Some musicians live to play and feel compelled to use every chord they know each service.

Just as too many cooks spoil the broth, so does too many notes spoil the song. If each segment can be given some air to breathe in the form of silence around the song, then each part that is played takes on added value and weight.

Ed Kerr says it best, “Make every note you play count toward the goal of communication and away from a focus on your ability.”

3. Playing too loudly. Worship “wars” are known for their resounding barrage of noise.

The goal of the band should not be to destroy the congregation’s hearing, but to play music that encourages the audience to participate in a journey to the throne of God. How loud is too loud is a question each team must answer based on the culture and circumstance of the local assembly.

However, a rule of thumb is to keep the stage level low enough that unamplified voices can be at least partially understood from a one-foot distance. The house mix level should be below 95 dB-A average response.

4. Choosing inappropriate material. I recently attended a worship service designed for 40-year-olds that incorporated a musical style more appropriate for 20-year-olds. While the audience seemed to appreciate the band’s efforts, they never became engaged in the proceedings. There were, though, a few “Gen Xers” in another room who were drawn to the sounds emanating from the sanctuary.

As a church consultant, I’ve been asked to referee many battles between the old and new, and have discovered the new is more readily digested when coated with cues from the old. No one wants to be outmoded, and there will always be someone who lives to hear Journey-esque music performed by a Steve Perry wannabee.

Keeping everyone happy is one way to direct people to Christ.

5. Selecting songs average people can’t sing. In a recent informal survey of non-participatory church goers, the majority cited the frustration they feel when they desire to worship in song, but are hindered by a musical selection beyond their range.

While the team members may impress themselves with their virtuosity and skill, the average Joe in the pew just gives up and stares into space.

Engaging people is never accomplished by making them feel inferior and inadequate.

In the words of Chariya Bissonette, “It doesn’t matter what you [the vocalist] can do. It only matters what Christ can do through you.”

6. Starting the service late. If the service is to begin at 10 am, then that’s actually when it should start - lest those who made the effort to be there promptly are disenfranchised while those who failed to arrive early are greeted with an “it doesn’t really matter mentality.”

One of the most precious commodities people have is time, and starting a service late implies their time gift is not important to the staff and team.

7. Treating rehearsal time as practice time. As Jamie Harvill states, “Rehearsal is crafted to polish the song, not to learn it. Individual practice time is when learning occurs.” Curt Coffield uses the time/money scale to weigh the value of rehearsal. If each member’s time is worth $25 per hour, imagine the total value of every rehearsal event and treat it appropriately.

8. Buying a Hyundai, then driving it like a Ferrari. Audio and video systems cost what they are worth. There is no way a modest system can perform like an expensive, properly designed system.

Churches love to set system budgets, and then try to force the integrator to “make it work.” Unfortunately, God’s laws of physics apply in His house just like they do at an Eminem concert.

As the cliché says, you get what you pay for. If a church needs to reproduce video and audio at a high level, it takes the right equipment and personnel to achieve the goal.

9. Presenting a hip image of Christianity in place of the image of Christ. God does not call us to make Christianity cool. There is nothing cool about suffocating to death on a cross while stripped naked.

The Gospel is a wonderful message and conveys hope, but not at the expense of truth. Our message must be applicable to all people for all time in all circumstance.

10. Creating virtual music. Performing “Muzak” versions of rock tunes with guitars played through modeling modules and drums banged out on electronics drums does not endear the message to someone raised on real rock ‘n’ roll.

If the situation is appropriate for virtual instruments and the room acoustics are atrocious, then virtual may be the answer. However, if authenticity is the goal, then authentic instrumentation is the means for success.

Discernment is needed to understand when to wail and when to use in-ears.

Kent Morris is noted for his church sound training abilities. He has more than 30 years of experience with A/V, has served as a front-of-house engineer for several noted performers and is a product development consultant for several leading audio manufacturers.

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Posted by Keith Clark on 08/13 at 05:50 PM
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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Ample Dynamics: Sound Reinforcement For Ray LaMontagne’s Supernova

Recently we had the pleasure of connecting with Jon Lemon, a noted, seasoned mix engineer who has handled front-of-house mix duties for numerous top artists, among them Beck, Janet Jackson, The Smashing Pumpkins, Nine Inch Nails, as well as his current client, American singer-songwriter Ray LaMontagne and the Supernova tour.

Lemon’s working with system tech Kyle Walsh and monitor engineer Ed Ehrbar, who share their thoughts here on the systems they’re utilizing, supplied by Eighth Day Sound (Cleveland and the UK) to reinforce the live performances on the current shed tour by the Grammy-winning LaMontagne and his talented band.

PSW/LSI: How did you connect with this artist and tour?

Jon Lemon: This is our first tour together, and it came about in kind of a funny “it’s a small industry” way. I was meeting James Gordon (managing director of DiGiCo), who happened to be with my friend Kevin Madigan, who was front of house for Ray on his last tour. Because he is with CSN, Kevin suggested to Ray’s tour manager (Daniel Herbst) that I’d be a good replacement. It ended up that I knew Ray’s manager, Michael McDonald, too, so it all just kind of worked out.

At the time, Ray wasn’t tied to any specific sound company. Since I had a good working relationship with Eighth Day Sound (Cleveland and the UK), and the production manager Mark Jones had also worked with Eighth Day extensively, we were in complete agreement that they would be a good fit for the tour, and it has been.

The sound team in “deep thought mode” at one of the tour’s DiGiCo SD10 consoles. Clockwise from top left: Monitor tech Mike Veres, front of house engineer Jon Lemon, system tech Kyle Walsh, and monitor engineer Ed Ehrbar.

You’re using Adamson Systems Energia for your main arrays. Is that another situation where you have a long history with the company?

Lemon: I’ve always respected Adamson’s philosophy as a company and have enjoyed using the Y18s over the years. However, I was completely prepared to go out with another well-known rig that I’d used before and was happy with.

But when I met with the folks at Eighth Day, we started talking about the Energia system – I had expressed interest in using it last year but it wasn’t fully complete. They’d just added some of the newer boxes (E12 12-inch full-range modules and E218 18-inch subwoofers) and felt it was a really powerful system that would provide the flexibility this tour needs (currently out in sheds, LaMontagne will be playing in theater venues this fall).

Adamson Energia arrays and subwoofers in place prior to a show on the tour.

Since I’d used the E15 system with The Smashing Pumpkins last year on several occasions in France and had a good experience, I thought it was worth checking out the finished item. So Eighth Day flew a system for evaluation and I played with it in the shop for a few days. As it turns out, it’s probably one of the best PAs I’ve ever heard.

What were you looking for from the rig?

Lemon: I knew the E15s were fine – as I said, I’d used them before – but I was curious about the E12s and the E218 subs. So I put them through their paces, first playing some program material that I know well. What I really wanted was to check out how even the E12 was through the full bandwidth. It was great and it also couples seamlessly with the E15 as an underhung for close into the stage. What a great product.

LaMontagne and band mates in concert.

As far as the E218s are concerned, I knew Ray would never need super heavy bass, so I was confident these would more than do the job. For my first listen we ground stacked them and they sounded great, more than enough low end for our purposes.

From there I pulled up some live programming through the console to see how much headroom was left. Ray is very dynamic on stage – his performance ranges from whispering and light strumming to a heavy rock sound. Headroom is essential. Driven with the Lab.gruppen amplifiers (16 PLM 20000Qs stacked eight per side) – which I’m a huge fan of – it was no problem.

It was obvious that the system was going to be terrific and a great PA for our needs. We went to rehearse in Portland, Maine, and had Ben Cabot from Adamson on hand. Colin Studybaker from Lab.gruppen was also on site making sure the amps and the Lake LM 44s were running currently with the new presets. Both Adamson and Lab.gruppen were very supportive of our efforts so I felt comfortable from the get-go.

Main system power and processing by Lab.gruppen and Lake.

What’s the typical load-in process on this tour?

Kyle Walsh: Depending on the riggers, we can be in and up within about two hours. At each venue, I come in and shoot the room/mark points, and then go back to the bus and put all of the information into the Adamson Blueprint AV software. It creates specifics for handing the system and we’re good to go.

Mike and I (Mike Veres is the monitor tech with Eighth Day and an integral part of the setup team) dump the truck and organize and set angles as the gear comes in. By the time we get “hands,” the points are up and we’re ready to fly the arrays.

After that, we place fills and subs, and then run snakes. Jon steps in to build front of house around his DiGiCo SD10 console, followed by my alignment and tuning. I utilize (Rational Acoustics) Smaart v7 to assist the tuning process, making adjustments on the Lake filtering in the Lab.gruppen amplifiers via a tablet interface. So it’s usually a pretty easy morning, depending on the rigging.

Load-out is even easier, able to be done in an hour depending on the push. Not having to zero the boxes while loading is a real time saver – you can land it with one person if need be.

A perspective of the main system.

How’s the new Blueprint AV software working out?

Walsh: It’s great, pretty much set and forget. I worked with Ben (Cabot) in the beginning and we knocked everything out. We have a few presets that we use and the software is very straightforward.

Jon mentioned that the system needs to have some degree of flexibility – can you provide some specifics?

Walsh: Some of the venues have weight restrictions. Fortunately it’s easy to reconfigure the system. I’ve flown all E12s, all E15s, or a mixture of both, and even ground-stacked them in a few places. It all transitions very easily and sounds terrific no matter what configuration we put together.

Jon, you’ve mixed many tours with DiGiCo consoles, correct?

Lemon: Yes, I had one of the first D5s back in the day and haven’t really mixed on any other console since. I think the DiGiCo boards, in general, have a really good, almost analog sound – they have since the beginning. As a company, they’re extremely receptive to suggestions from engineers like me, which in turn leads to the consoles being very user friendly.

Assembling an Energia array comprised of E15 and new E12 modules.

I tend to choose the specific console model based upon the reality of what I’m going to use. Sure, tons of channels are great, but if you don’t need them, go with something smaller. I love the SD7 and all its features, but the SD10 is exactly the same in audio quality and has more than enough features for the needs of this particular tour. So I have an SD10 at front of house and 192 racks on stage enabling us to run at 96k , and it’s equipped to run SoundGrid-compatible Waves plug-ins that provide me with an even wider assortment of tools for the mix.

So you’re a fan of plug-ins?

Lemon: Absolutely. I love them. The more you get into SoundGrid, the more you can create specific nuances for the mix. The CLA-76 compressor/limiter really suits Ray’s vocals, so I use that along with the Rennaisance DeEsser and C6 for plosives and sculpting. There are four other vocalists on stage – really good singers – and I use the same chain for them, too. From there the four vocals go into a group that’s tweaked with the CLA-3A limiter and C6 multiband dynamic compressor, which produces a very cohesive vocal sound.

I set up a lot of group busing; for example, I have two group buses for drums, a normal one and another for parallel compression (with an SSL compressor), so I’ll use the Waves NLS (non-linear summer) plug-in to drive that. I actually apply the NLS on all of the bus/groups in my mix – it gives me a real analog feel.

Jon Lemon at the ready for sound check.

Are you carrying outboard gear?

Lemon: Yes. I always have a Waves MaxxBCL (bass enhancement, compression and level maximization) at the top of my rack. I haven’t done a gig without this piece of gear for as long as it’s existed. Granted, I can get a plug-in to handle the same thing, but I just love having those knobs available to grab at. There’s also an Avalon VT-737sp channel strip that allows me to quickly EQ or compress Ray’s vocal if needed, and again, there’s just something nice about having the box right there. And, there’s a Summit TLA100A (tube leveling amplifier) for bass – this is on the bass group (electric and upright), so I wanted something simple, effective and flexible.

Because Ray is performing old and new songs (two distinctly different vocal styles) on this tour, I need to step up the reverb on certain passages, so I’m carrying three Bricasti M7 stereo reverb processors MIDI’d up to the SD 10. I use one exclusively for backing vocals and another for drums. They’re really impressive pieces of gear. And that pretty much does the trick.

Ed, you’ve also got an SD10 for monitors, correct?

Ed Ehrbar: Yes, I like the SD10 because it’s sonically the same as the SD7, which is usually my console of choice, but the SD10 is suiting my needs on this tour completely. I’ve been able to pare down the size of the console budget without sacrificing any quality. Waves also has come a long way, and the ease of using the various plug-ins on DiGiCo consoles has greatly improved.

A classic summer tour view with Jon Lemon at front of house for LaMontagne.

What’s happening on stage?

Ehrbar: We’ve got d&b audiotechnik M2 wedges for the performers and a couple Sennheiser G3 IEM mixes for the techs. This show is very straightforward with great music and great players. You don’t really need much more.

Lemon: All of the vocals are handled with Sennheiser e 935 dynamic microphones, with drums captured by a selection of classics – beyerdynamic TG M88 and a Shure SM91 on kick, two Telefunken M80s on the snares with Sennheiser eb 414s underneath, Neumann 184s for hi-hat and cymbals, and Shure VP88 stereo condensers over the kit and drummer. On guitars there’s a mix of a Shure SM57, a Neumann TLM 103 and a Telefunken M80.

What’s standing out in your mind on the tour at this point?

Lemon: The only unusual thing is how bloody consistent the PA is night after night. I find that surprising. I’ve used a lot of big-name systems, and this is very sophisticated. Other than that I’m just very lucky – I’m working with great people and a terrific sounding band, which makes it even easier to make them sound good. I wouldn’t change a thing.

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Posted by Keith Clark on 08/12 at 01:46 PM
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