Tuesday, December 17, 2013
Church Sound: Mixing Like A Pro, Part 4—Making EQ Work For You
Looking at the actual sonic makeup of the sounds that come from the stage
Editor’s Note: Go here to read previous installments in this series.
In the previous article, we took a look at various equalization (EQ) tools, identified their functions and what they can do for us. After all, we can’t use our tools effectively if we don’t know what they are or how to use them.
We’ve covered what EQ does to shape frequencies in our sound system audio, but to know how to make EQ work for us we have to look at the actual sonic makeup of the sounds that come from the stage.
Putting EQ Into Words
Before we focus on what we’re EQ’ing, we need to learn how to interpret common language into tangible EQ adjustments. You know what I’m talking about, comments like “it’s too edgy” or “it sounds muddy.” What does that actually mean?
The chart below gives us some hints using words like rumble, muddy and edge. With the help of this chart, we can take an educated guess that when someone says an input sounds “honky,” they’re referring to something in the 440-1,000 Hz range.
It’s not an exact science, I know, but getting a good feel for what responses are elicited by certain frequencies can help us in making EQ adjustments quickly. So the next time someone tells you the electric guitar sounds “edgy” or “crunchy,” you know you need to quickly look at the 2,000-4,000 Hz range to attack your problem.
Click to enlarge. Go here
for an interactive version of this chart.
Focusing On Frequency Ranges
Everything we hear is made up of a range of frequencies. Each sound that hits our eardrums is made up of a collage of frequencies at a blend of sound pressure levels that our brain interprets as “the sound.”
Just as each person’s voice has a unique makeup and signature, every instrument or vocals has a makeup of frequencies that is unique to it. In order to talk about how to EQ an input, we need to learn what frequencies are involved in the sound sources we’re working with.
The chart is a great place to start to begin to understand what frequencies make up the sounds we experience on a Sunday morning. It shows us the range of any given source and it shows us the frequencies we need to focus on—and not focus on.
For example, the range of a guitar will typically start around 80 Hz and will top off around 5 kHz. Knowing there is nothing being produced below 80 Hz, the first thing we can do is turn on the low cut/high pass filter to eliminate any low frequency junk that our guitar isn’t actually producing.
We also know that the guitar isn’t producing frequencies over 5 kHz, so turning up the highs above that just adds unhelpful noise. Based on this chart we know our focus needs to be between 80 and 5 kHz.
Critical Sound — The Voice
Our most critical source in the church, the human voice also has clear-cut frequency ranges, regardless of whether your voices are singing or speaking.
While everyone’s voice has minor variations, the male voice produces frequencies between 100 and 16 kHz. While the female voice also shares the top end of 16 kHz, it doesn’t typically produce any frequencies below 240 Hz.
The first thing this should tell you is your low cut or high pass filter should almost always be engaged on these inputs. As you can see on our chart (previous page), the warmth or boominess of the voice is between 100-250 Hz, so most of the time there is nothing worth having below 100 Hz.
The most important frequency range in the voice in my opinion, and the one I see most commonly mis-adjusted, is the intelligibility range in the high-mids (2 kHz to 4 kHz).
When listening to vocals that are “honky” or “tinny,” I often see sound guys reach for the high-mids and adjust those down to try and improve the sound.
As we can see on the chart, we’re actually attacking the intelligibility when lowering the high-mids, and missing the “honky/tinny” sound that’s in the 400-2 kHz range. It seems like such a small miss on paper, but this mistake will often cost the vocals their clarity in the mix.
What To Do With Q
If you’re fortunate enough to have a full parametric EQ with a Q knob, you have a tool that allows us to get very specific with our EQ adjustments or make general, sweeping changes. Most of the time we want to make fairly general adjustments and a single octave change is great, which is a Q value of 1.
If you’re needing to subtract a bit of “honkiness” from your guitar though, a 2 dB cut centered at 700 Hz with a lower Q (maybe .7) will give you a broader, wider cut to effect everything in that 400-1 kHz range.
Or if you’re fighting a particular frequency for feedback, you can make your Q very high (maybe 5 or 6) so that you are narrowly notching out the frequency that’s causing you issues, leaving the rest of the frequencies alone and keeping some semblance of natural sound.
The Q, if you have it, really gives you a great deal more flexibility in the adjustments you make.
Speaking of feedback, one last thing our chart can help us with is learning what individual frequencies sound like. We’ve all dealt with feedback at some point. A frequency that’s sensitive enough that when amplified the mic picks it up from a monitor or speaker again and again creating a feedback loop.
When feedback occurs, one common way to attack it is adjusting the EQ to decrease the gain of that frequency. To be able to do that quickly and effectively, we need to know what individual frequencies sound like.
At the bottom of the chart is a standard 88-key piano that shows what frequency each note produces. When it comes to training your ears to be able to quickly respond to feedback, sitting at a piano or keyboard with this chart can help you learn exactly what frequencies sound like.
Try it sometime: sit at a keyboard and focus on a typical problem range of 200-500 Hz and press one key over and over, training your brain to recognize the tone of each frequency.
The middle C is a great place to start, with a frequency of 256 Hz. I find this to be a common problem for many churches. Then jump up to middle A, with a frequency of 440 Hz. Do this occasionally, spanning the entire frequency spectrum and you’ll be a frequency killer in no time!
Hopefully at this point you’re feeling more confident in what EQ is and what it can do for you. The difficult part is that there is no clear cut formula for what will and won’t work.
I can’t tell you that you should always cut certain frequencies to get a great sounding input. Our vocals and instruments are living, breathing, unique things and they all have their own flavor.
On top of that, every sound system and facility have their own nuances that come into play. When it comes to EQ, you have to trust what you’re hearing. Use the chart. Print one out and keep it at your sound console for reference.
Duke DeJong has more than 12 years of experience as a technical artist, trainer and collaborator for ministries. CCI Solutions is a leading source for AV and lighting equipment, also providing system design and contracting as well as acoustic consulting. Find out more here.
In The Studio: Tips For Better Take Management
One of the major differences between an aspiring producer and an established one...
One of the major differences I’ve seen between an aspiring producer and an established producer is simple playlist (take) management. Great producers will usually have a very clean session in regard to organization and take management.
Technology is great. It allows us to do things that have never been done before, all in the comfort of our own homes. But when is it a hinderance? When do we become a prisoner of all the possibilities? When do we start to drown in endless options?
Established producers often have a lot of clarity within their sessions. They’re not concerned with countless possibilities, rather the best option.
This means when it comes to comping tracks and saving takes, decisions are made quickly.
Saving 20 takes per part may seem like a reasonable idea to many. What if you want a different variation on the part? Not sure the timing is locked? Not sure which take has the best tuning? What if? What if? What if?
Too many “what if’s” lead to a muddy production. It’s important to make decisions. Clarity throughout the process is important. Firstly, because it affects the performances.
A guitar chord that’s off is going to trigger the bass note to be off and then the percussionist has a hard time locking in. Before long, you have a session where the whole band is a little shaky. Not making decisive decisions can create a spiral effect on the stability of the production.
Momentary Lapse Of Reason
There is also the memory lapse effect. You record a bunch of takes and while you’re working, everything seems clear in your mind: Take 12 had a good bit, take 15 was mostly good, but you want to grab the beginning from take 4.
If you put the song down for a few days and come back to the session it’s going to be hard to remember the nuances between takes.
Commit. If it’s still not good enough, re-track it. At this point, you’re better off getting a single take then a patched edit for the sake of feel. I’m always in favor of replaying the part rather than extensive edits. It will take the same amount of time and the full take will still sound better.
Aspiring producers/musicians get caught in the trap of playing too much and not listening. I like to set a rule of stopping after 4 takes and giving a really good listen. Don’t set record to do an endless loop. Loop recording means you’re not listening and most likely spacing out at times.
It’s hard to hear the music the way it really sounds while you’re playing. This is another reason why you need to stop and listen as often as you can. If you’re the producer and player your perspective is biased.
When you stop, put your instrument down and trust your ears. Listen, make notes, and re-take. Don’t be noodling on your instrument while listening. This is the only way to make really fine adjustments. It may seem like it’s the long approach, but in reality, it will save you time.
Here is how I like to track a vocal session.
First, I’ve taken time to choose the correct mic, preamp, compressor, incense, tea, lighting and dialed in a headphone mix. (Note: It’s very important to have a great headphone mix. It will result in less fatigue and frustration from the performer.)
Next, I like record a couple of full passes before we even think about punches. Let the performer get into the vibe of the song.
After 3-4 takes, stop. Take a few second break for water and then listen. Before we listen, I make sure we both have a pencil and paper. As we review each take, we write notes of what we liked or didn’t.
Listening to 8 takes in a row is overwhelming! It’s too much to digest. Plus, I’ve heard that if you listen to 9 takes in a row it could cause bowel irritation. Ok, I made that up. But, if I have to listen to 9 takes in a row of the 3rd part background vocal I’m going to be calling my friend Johnny Walker Red… And we’re gonna have a loooong chat, if ya know what I mean.
When the last take has completed playing, we compare notes and see if we have a comp. In the event the overall performance is not there, we repeat the 3-4 take run, break, then listen, take notes, comp.
If we just need a few bits, we comp the the take and punch in where needed. Notice I mention we comp BEFORE we punch!
There is something I like to call “Performance Drift.” This is when the artists’ performance changes dramatically from the first take to the last. Volume, expression, and enthusiasm may have shifted during flight. Limiting tracking to 3-4 takes at a clip prevents performance drift as there will be breaks and reviewing that keeps it fresh.
Hash It Out
Don’t use recording as your practice. Need to review something because it’s not right? Stop playback and run it. Work it out. Be prepared and ready when the red light is on.
Don’t have the mindset of “I’ll fix it later.” The performance will always suffer. Even though we know comping and punching is an option, it’s good to pretend that it is not. A coherent take will always sound better.
Don’t be a take-hoarder. Go ahead and delete! Don’t be afraid. Why live in the past, when you can be in the present? Last take only so-so? DELETE.
It’s also good idea to delete all unused audio from your sessions. It’s no use carrying around that baggage. No reason to have 20 gigs of audio that you’re not using. A bloated session is harder to backup or track down a file if need be. Plus, it takes longer to load.
If you’re not using it, send it off to greener pastures (aka your trash bin). Think of it as composting for 1’s and 0’s. Dare I say binary composting?!?!
Before I tell the musician a session is over, I make sure I have a comp I can live with. It should include all crossfades and edits cleaned. I want to know I have the part and what it sounds like. Leave nothing to the imagination…except which island your summer home will be on after your single blows up.
Mark Marshall is a producer, songwriter, session musician and instructor based in NYC.
Be sure to visit The Pro Audio Files for more great recording content. To comment or ask questions about this article, go here.
Friday, December 13, 2013
Tech Tip Of The Day: Pre/Post Confusion
What is the difference between a post-fader and a pre-fader aux send and in what situations would I use either one?
Q: I was recruited to be on our church tech team, and I’m really glad I said yes.
I really enjoy this whole audio thing, however, there’s so much I don’t understand, but I know it’s a learning process. Anyway, everybody tells me I should just ask questions, so I guess one thing that’s tripping me up is all this pre/post stuff.
What’s the difference between a post-fader and a pre-fader aux send and in what situations would I use either one?
A: On a console, pre and post indicate possibilities to override the normal signal routing for various purposes.
For example, a post-fader aux send taps the incoming signal from the channel at a point after the channel fader. This means that when the channel fader is down, no signal is sent out the aux send(s) on that channel.
Post-fader aux sends are generally used as “effects sends,” to send a signal out from a particular channel to an effects processor.
Since the channel fader controls the level of signal being sent to the main mix as well as the level of signal being sent out the aux send, when the channel fades down, the level of the “wet” signal follows the level of the “dry” signal. If the level of the wet signal did not follow the level of the dry signal, the effect would still be heard after the channel fades out.
A pre-fader aux send taps the incoming signal from the channel at a point that is before the channel fader. So, when the channel fader is down, the signal is still being sent to the aux bus.
Pre-fader aux sends are helpful for live sound reinforcement situations where the FOH console is doubling as the stage monitor mix console. When setting up stage monitor mixes, it is ideal to be able to control the level of these mixes independently from the front-of-house mix.
If the position of the channel fader affected the level of that channel in each monitor mix, it would be necessary to constantly adjust the monitor mix (Aux) Sends after changing the level of the channel fader. Or more simply put, when a screaming guitar solo is boosted in the front-of-house mix, everybody on stage would get an earful from their monitor mix.
There is also another distinction known as pre or post EQ, which at this point should be fairly self-explanatory. Any pre fader send could still be pre or post EQ. In a live situation, pre fader and pre EQ sends are usually best where the mixer may be feeding stage monitors.
Additionally, there are options such as PFL (or pre-fade-listen), which generally sends a signal to monitor outputs regardless of the setting of that channel’s fader, and simultaneously mutes the other channels. In other words, PFL allows you to solo a channel even if the fader is pulled all the way down.
Note that on most consoles, this affects monitors only, and does not interfere with main, tape, or aux outs. In broadcast situations, PFL is often referred to as “cueing.”
For more tech tips go to Sweetwater.com
Thursday, December 12, 2013
Perspective: Meeting The Challenges Of The Gig
Identifying your primary audience is key.
As a sound engineer working in the concert and corporate event markets, I’ve found it useful to identify my primary (most important) audience for every gig.
Is it the band that hired me? The band manager? The promoter? The people buying tickets to the show? The people that own the venue? The sound company I’m working for?
It can be tough to figure. The easy answer is you work for who pays you, but it can be a bit more complicated than that. Maybe the following experiences can help answer the question.
I toured with a particular artist for several years. We played medium-sized venues in larger cities (Roseland Ballroom in New York, The Warfield in San Francisco, etc.) in addition to being the support act on several arena tours.
At some point, the band started asking me to mix them “as loud as possible” (after completing a record with a producer who monitored at extremely high SPL).
They were already frequently too loud before I put them through the PA.
Sometimes I had a hard time getting the vocals above the ambient level of the guitars, even in larger venues.
I knew their fans - after all, they would talk to me at every show - and they didn’t like it.
They took the lyrics seriously, and would sing along the entire set. The clearer the vocals, the louder the fans sang (and the higher the energy levels in the room).
Although the band hired me, the fans really paid the bills, so I identified them as my primary audience.
If they weren’t happy, the band would eventually hear about it, so I worked to convince the band that the fans really wanted to hear the vocals and understand the words above all else.
Once they understood, the band stopped insisting on a punishing loud mix, and even began turning down their guitars if I couldn’t get the vocals audible over the stage volume.
Figuring out the primary audience at corporate events is even trickier because there are additional audience layers in play, such as event planners and clients.
A few years ago I traveled to Tampa to mix a band at an official NFL party tied into the Super Bowl - a large event (3,000 people) in the main hall of the Tampa convention center.
A local sound company provided a multi-zoned system, with main and delay line arrays, subs, and front fills.
All About Business
Although the band hired me, I’ve done enough events like this to know that the event planner calls the shots, often at the direction of the client paying the bills.
If the planner tells me to turn it down, I do - even if the band wants me to turn it up.
Luckily in this particular case, the band has done these types of events for years, so they understand that it’s all about business.
(As far as I can tell, the pecking order seems to be, in order of importance: attendees, food, interior design, floral, lighting, sound, entertainment.)
At sound check, the event planner asked me to turn up the volume.
I happily complied, knowing that once the party started I would almost certainly be asked to turn it down. (It’s usually best to keep this knowledge to yourself and let the situation play out rather than offer any resistance.)
I arranged my mix accordingly, putting the band on a VCA and inserting a compressor on the main stereo bus.
I also decided that, when asked to turn down the volume, I could decrease the level of the delays and main arrays while still maintaining the volume (and energy) on the dance floor by turning up the level in the front fills.
Sure enough, as soon as the band hit the stage, a woman I’d never seen before asked me to turn down the volume.
I said O.K., and politely asked her name, and then asked the system tech to radio the event planner and find out if the woman had the authority to make the request. The event planner said yes - the woman was the assistant to the NFL commissioner.
Here, finally, was my real main audience f o r the event. The person paying the bills for a corporate event wants less volume, then no problem.
I turned down the arrays a couple of notches and also took some 2-3 K bite out of them, then brightened up the overall mix (8 kHz-plus) a bit for clarity, and pushed up the volume in the front fills.
For the next three hours, the band played, the party-goers drank, ate, schmoozed (and finally started to dance), and I was left to actually mix the show instead of responding to requests to turn it up or down.
The event planner will most likely book the band again, I will most likely mix the band again, and we can all continue to make a living.
And that’s the point. To make a living working in sound, we often find ourselves having to do things that those paying the bills find enjoyable.
Do it, and politely, and you just might be asked back.
Nick Pellicciotto has worked in the live sound industry for over 15 years, touring as a mix engineer for acts like Fugazi, Lucinda Williams, and Modest Mouse.
Wednesday, December 11, 2013
Tech Tip Of The Day: Getting Your Wire Gauge Right
How do I choose the right gauge of wire for loudspeakers?
Q: Despite my experience within the A/V industry (I wont say how long it’s been), I’ve never quite gotten the hang of everything. Admittedly, this is because I’m a bit more of a video expert, but I’d like to remedy that.
So I wanted to get clarification on a few things. The largest (and perhaps most important) being, how do I choose the correct gauge of wire for loudspeakers?
A: Selection of the appropriate wire gauge is important to system operation.
A cable that’s too “light” will result in amplifier power being wasted due to the series resistance of the cable. It will also result in the loss of low-frequency performance due to a degraded damping factor.
On the other hand, a cable that is too “heavy” is unnecessarily awkward and costly. In general you want to keep your line losses (“insertion” losses) below 0.5 dB (though some engineers would argue this is still too much loss).
The impedance of the load (speaker), the length of cable, the cable gauge, and to less extent the output impedance of the amplifier all play a role in how well the signal gets from the amp to the speaker. Essentially, distance and the impedance of the loudspeaker are the two factors to consider when determining wire gauge.
The following table shows the approximate signal losses in speaker cable for a 100-foot amplifier-to-speaker distance at various impedances:
10 AWG: 4 Ohm = .44 dB, 8 Ohm = .22 dB, 16 Ohm = .11 dB
12 AWG: 4 Ohm = .69 dB, 8 Ohm = .35 dB, 16 Ohm = .18 dB
14 AWG: 4 Ohm = 1.07 dB, 8 Ohm = .55 dB, 16 Ohm = .28 dB
16 AWG: 4 Ohm = 1.65 dB, 8 Ohm = .86 dB, 16 Ohm = .44 dB
18 AWG: 4 Ohm = 2.49 dB, 8 Ohm = 1.33 dB, 16 Ohm = .69 dB
As you can see, an 18-gauge cable with a 4-Ohm speaker at 100 feet results in 2.5 dB of loss. A loss of 3 dB would mean that half the amplifier’s power is being dissipated by the wire, not the speaker!
The following information comes from JBL. It shows some suggested wire gauges for different distances and different impedances.
• 10 feet, 4, 8 & 16 Ohm load = 20 AWG
• 25 feet, 4 Ohm load = 15 - 20 AWG
• 25 feet, 8 & 16 Ohm load = 20 AWG
• 50 feet, 4 Ohm load = 10 - 15 AWG
• 50 feet, 8 Ohm load = 15 AWG
• 50 feet, 16 Ohm load = 15 - 20 AWG
• 100 feet, 4 Ohm load = 10 AWG
• 100 feet, 8 Ohm load = 10 - 15 AWG
• 100 feet, 16 Ohm load = 15 - 18 AWG
• 150 feet, 4 Ohm load = 8 AWG
• 150 feet, 8 Ohm load = 12 AWG
• 150 feet, 16 Ohm load = 15 AWG
• 200 feet, 4 Ohm load = 5 - 8 AWG
• 200 feet, 8 Ohm load = 10 AWG
• 200 feet, 16 Ohm load = 10 - 15 AWG
Some engineers would argue these figures are too conservative, and in “real-world” applications a heavier gauge is needed for the best sound. Whether everyone agrees with these figures or not it should at least be understood that distance and impedance play a major role in how the wire reacts.
Further, in high power applications it may make sense to get much more “stingy” when it comes to power loss. For example, a “small” 0.5 dB loss at 1000 watts is still a loss of more than 100 watts of power! In the end, it’s probably best to shoot for higher grade, lower gauged wire in almost any circumstance for best results.
For more tech tips go to Sweetwater.com
Thursday, December 05, 2013
Exceeding Standards: Stewart Independent Productions Puts It All Together
"We just decided to pull together everything we'd learned, the best people we'd worked with and the best gear we know of." -- Shannon Stewart
Working sound and lighting gigs together in high school, Shannon Stewart and Dan DeVisser didn’t really know where they were headed. But one thing was certain: they were already hooked on the production business.
Fast-forward 20 years to find the long-time friends heading up Stewart Independent Productions, a full-service national production company located in Southwest Michigan, that encompasses everything they’ve learned in their collective 40-plus years in the business.
“We just decided to pull together everything we’d learned, the best people we’d worked with and the best gear we know of,” explains Stewart. “And we succeeded. Twenty years later, we’re exactly what we wanted to be – a smaller service-oriented company with standards and ethics that emulate the big players in the industry.”
Stewart Independent has worked with dozens of national acts as a top regional supplier, including 10,000 Maniacs, Barenaked Ladies, Black Eyed Peas, Blues Traveler and many others. One area of particular focus is providing full-service production services to several well-known institutes of higher learning in the area, the most significant being the University of Notre Dame just across the state line in Indiana.
Long-time working relationships that both company principals had with the university led to it becoming one of their first clients, and it remains a staple of their business to this day. It’s also an experience that has help shape what their company represents.
“We really cut our teeth as production managers and as a full-service production management company at the University of Notre Dame,” Stewart explains. “Their pursuit of excellence and our drive for the same made us a perfect match from the beginning. During the last 17 years we have grown up together – it’s been one of the honors of my lifetime to be the production manager for student activities at the university.”
Stewart Independent staffer helping guest engineer with the Avid SC48 deployed at front of house at this year’s Notre Dame Block Party concert.
Learning Is Key
At the outset of each school year in late August, and before the craziness of student kick-off week, Stewart provides a full training session for Notre Dame student sound techs who will be working with the varied and many sound reinforcement systems installed throughout campus. These same techs also join the Stewart Independent crew when they’re onsite for larger productions.
“We provide an introduction to pro audio that we call Practical Application of Live Sound Reinforcement,” Stewart says. “It’s one of my jobs to insure that the university has qualified student audio techs available to handle smaller events. We also offer Practical Applications of Live Concert Production for those interested in lighting, staging and video. And, students continue to receive hands-on training throughout the year.”
In the training courses, Stewart details the basics of audio and ultimately how to use and troubleshoot a system. Another key aspect focuses on how to interact with visiting production crew as well as working in a professional manner and maintaining a positive attitude.
“It’s great to get the opportunity to train people the right way, long before they’ve had the chance to develop what we consider to be bad habits,” he notes. “I’m pleased to say that many we’ve interfaced with have been asked to work for us on the road, and some of them are still with us.”
In addition to the educational efforts, that first week marks the beginning of nine very busy months for Stewart Independent at the university.
“It’s always a little crazy but we keep it well organized,” Stewart notes with a laugh. “There are tons of activities designed to welcome the new and returning students and many of them require sound systems, stages, lighting and even video. It’s exciting, but a lot of work.”
He and his team set up temporary office space near the university’s world-famous football stadium, making sure they have “boots on the ground” to meet any special requests while also mapping out and refining the approach for a range of highly trafficked events.
The company plays it smart, deploying variations of the same sound reinforcement elements for the majority of live events held during kick-off week. Go-to components include RCF line arrays, subwoofers and monitors, as well as Avid VENUE SC48 digital consoles.
“We started using RCF a few years ago when we were looking for a self-powered and processed single 18-inch subwoofer for monitor applications,” Stewart says. “Our goal was to be able to create multiple subwoofer configurations. We ended up astounded with the sheer output and punch of the TTS18-A subs, so we added a few for monitor applications and a few more for PA.”
Sound check for the Block Party, with RCF monitors, a Stewart Independent staple, deployed on stage.
That led to TT25-SMA floor monitors, providing a tight 40-degree by 40-degree coverage pattern that’s desirable in several applications, followed by TT45-SMA monitors loaded with double 12-inch woofers that handle wider coverage needs. Staying on stage, next up were HDL 20-A line array modules for side fill applications.
“They sounded so great out of the box, horn loaded, almost 100 percent weatherproof, and so easy to fly that we ended up getting enough so that we would have a great powered PA line array in house as well as killer side fills,” he explains. “It sounds terrific and provides exceptionally long throw, with the reviews from those who’ve used being stellar. It’s now our ‘go-to’ system for just about everything.”
Members of the Stewart Independent team onsite at a project, including (left to right) Christian Chambers, Sam Skalbeck, Shannon Stewart, Dan DeVisser, Austin Lanning, Joe Watrac, Ross Labardee. Long-time team members Mati Johnson and Scott Frost were also working the event but were not available for the photo opp.
The SC48 digital consoles see constant use, cited for ease of use, familiarity among a wide range of engineers, and the assortment of available plug-ins. “It is amazing that we can have all of the effects from our analog days in our digital consoles,” Stewart says. “I just love these boards.”
Blowing The Roof Off
Let’s take a look at how the Stewart Independent team deploys that gear, starting with Domer Fest, an event for first year students that features a mixer and dance in a field house with free standing tents and activities just outside. The main stage is outfitted with four individual DJ packages, accompanied by a lighting rig that could be found at higher end night clubs.
The four DJ rigs are mixed down to an SC48 at stage left, and from there, signal goes to HDL 20-A main arrays. Add TT25-SMA monitors for in fill and eight TTS18-A subwoofers to deliver the serious low end that the applications requires, and as Stewart notes, “we’re ready to blow the roof off the place.”
Next up, the team and many of these components move along to the opening of the Academic Year Mass Picnic, an evening event for 7,000 that takes place on a large campus quad, featuring live music.
This is followed by a large outdoor comedy show as well as starting load-in for the culmination of kick-off week, the B1 Block Party. “The student techs receive a true taste of live event production during that first week. It’s almost a baptism by fire,” Stewart chuckles.
The comedy show requires setting up a hydraulic Stageline SL100 stage, as well as a Barco B10 video wall and a significant complement of RCF loudspeakers joined by an SC48 console. At the same time, another Stageline stage, this time a SL320, and two Barco video walls for the B1 Block Party need to be put together outside the football stadium.
This year’s Block Party reinforcement system, serving up a national artist as well as a variety of top regional artists for several thousand in attendance, was significant in scale. As a result, Edge ShowTek of Chicago was contracted to fulfill Stewart Independent’s design calling for 12-deep NEXO GEO D line arrays for mains, flown left and right, and joined by NEXO RS18 subwoofers in mono blocks on the deck.
The Block Party by day during setup, and later at full throttle.
Several HDL 20-A array modules were posted on stage to provide stage fill, with performers served by several TT25 and TT45 wedges positioned as needed. The national act had Yamaha consoles at its disposal, including PM5DRH at front of house and an M7CL for monitors. SC48s did the same for the regional acts.
“This system worked really well. Particularly for national acts, the audience expects it to be loud,” Stewart notes. “But because it was held outside and there are residential areas nearby, the sound also needed to be contained. What we were able to attain were the expected concert levels volume and punch that dropped off where we needed it to.”
The Block Party marks the culmination of a very hectic, concentrated period of activity for professional and student tech teams alike, but the time for breathing room is brief, with the university launching into a steady stream of events, programs and more for the next several months.
“It’s vital that our systems, as well as the way we implement them, be done with the right combination of quality and efficiency,” Stewart concludes. “We must allow enough time to insure a high level of service- and face-time with the client and it’s constituents. They have very high standards, and exceeding those standards is something we’re very proud of.”
Now Available On Video: Audio-Technica “Ask Me Anything” Sessions At 135 AES Convention
Audio-Technica’s “Ask Me Anything” (AMA) sessions at the recent 135th AES Convention in New York are now available for viewing on the company website here. (Note that the session with Grammy Award winning producer/engineer Frank Filipetti is presented below.)
“Ask Me Anything” was held at the A-T booth on the AES show floor. Questions were submitted by AES attendees, as well as online at www.livestream.com and via Twitter at #ATliveAES – and were then relayed to the presenters through a moderator during the 30-minute Q&A sessions.
The sessions include discussions at the A-T booth at AES with:
—Joel Singer, Grammy Award-winning engineer/mixer, co-founder and chief engineer of Music Mix Mobile
—Jackie Green, VP R&D/Engineering at Audio-Technica
—Frank Filipetti, Grammy Award-winning music producer, engineer and mixer
—Richie Castellano, musician and YouTube sensation
—Richard Chycki, mixer, engineer and producer
—Carl Tatz, TEC Award-nominated recording studio designer
—Frank Wells, then-current president of AES
—And Jimmy Douglass, Grammy Award-winning recording engineer/record producer
“We were extremely happy with the AMA sessions in the A-T booth at the AES show this year,” states Gary Boss, Audio-Technica marketing director. “Not only was this a unique opportunity for both attendees at the show and those at home to ask insightful questions, but the content will be archived for a whole new audience to benefit from all of our presenters’ wisdom and insights.
“There were laughs, thought provoking answers and a few uncomfortable moments. Exactly the kind of scenario where we get to see the true genius behind our guests and understand why they are at the tops of their respective fields.”
The Frank Filipetti session follows, and go here to check out the full series.
Church Sound: Twelve Steps To Christmas Program Survival
Critical tips to keep in mind as we wade into the most hectic season of the year...
‘Tis the season ... In honor of the classic holiday song “12 Days of Christmas,” if you’re in the midst of Christmas programs right now, please take advantage of at least some of the tips offered in the following “12 steps” survival guide.
12: Start organized with a plan
You know the saying, fail to plan and you can plan on failing. Guess what, it’s true. Talent will only carry you so far.
The really great musician, technicians and artists know how to make things happen. Whether it’s a written plan (which I recommend) or just a mental plan you’ve thought through in advance, the process of planning can make all the difference is both the success of the event and your own sanity.
11: Check your gear to make sure it’s all in working order
This goes with planning. There’s nothing more frustrating than pulling a bad mic cable, or using a broken mic that hasn’t worked for six months, or suddenly needing an extra console channel only to find that the only one left doesn’t work.
10: Work ahead, work the plan
Think ahead and do the tasks ahead of time that you can. For instance, checking gear two weeks in advance leaves ample time to get items repaired or replaced.
9: Identify what’s really important and focus on those things
Don’t get caught up focusing on that “cool effect” you want for one song and miss the more important stuff, like doing a line check before the band shows up!
A couple of years ago, this one almost got me, but fortunately sanity prevailed and I gave up on the “really cool” edge-blended video screen backdrop that captured way too much of my attention for a few days.
I was ignoring the truly important things, like making sure the main P.A. was in top shape and getting the lighting cues recorded, aspects that are much more important and ultimately led to a successful program.
In the end, nobody but me (and my tireless volunteer Wayne) even knew we weren’t deploying the super-cool video thing.
8: Invest in those around you
Tech folks and musicians can get so focused on the tasks at hand that we tend to forget about those around us. Instead, use this time to let some of the less experienced folks shadow you. Teach them by showing what you’re doing and explaining why.
And it never hurts to bring chocolate…
7: Have fun and smile
Everybody wants to be on a winning—not whining—team. If you win overall, people will come back and continue to work and volunteer, pouring their hearts into the event.
6: Be flexible
Stuff happens. It just does. At a Michael Card concert I worked, the piano player became very ill the day prior to the concert. Rather than panic, the promoter of the event recruited a very gifted pianist to sit in.
Was it ideal? Was it what Michael wanted? Did it turn out great? (The answers in order are NO, NO, YES)
The pianist hit the ball out of the park, he sight-read the music during rehearsal, practiced between rehearsal and show time, and absolutely nailed it!
5: Know when to say “no”
OK, back to that “cool” edge-blended video backdrop… Sometimes you have to just reel it in and say no and move on. I always say that it’s better to do 75 percent of the program (cut out the last 25 percent) at 100 percent quality rather that 100 percent of the show at 75 percent quality.
4: Pace yourself
The older I get, the more important this becomes. The adrenaline rush is great, but the crash after it is terrible.
Know your limits—take breaks, eat healthy (and regularly scheduled) meals, go for walks, take some “chill time” when things hit a fever pitch…
3: Don’t overdo the caffeine
My overall intake of caffeine tends to spike around Christmas production time. The short term gain in energy is not worth it in the long haul. (Althought I must admit that sometimes I forget this one…)
2: Ask for help, call an expert
Why do we hate to do this? Almost every time I break down and call tech support or ask an informed friend to help out, the problem gets fixed rather quickly, and then I’m invariably left asking myself why I wasted five hours before making the call.
1:Maintain the right spirit
We can’t give what we don’t have, so if we don’t have the right spirit, we will fail. This comes in the form of being lousy to work with while not being of help and inspiration to others. We must show up ready to serve.
I hope your Christmas productions go off without a hitch, although realistically, that’s hardly ever the case. Keeping this survival guide in mind can help make things better from a technical standpoint, but more importantly, it can help us enjoy and appreciate the spirit of the season, and this transmits to those around us. And that’s the real point.
Gary Zandstra is a professional AV systems integrator with Parkway Electric and has been involved with sound and production at his church for more than 30 years.
Wednesday, December 04, 2013
Church Sound: Transitioning From Analog To Digital Mixing
A whole new way of doing the same old things
I’m in the process of helping one of my churches transition from an analog mixer to a digital mixer.
They were in need of more channels than their Allen & Heath 16-channel MixWiz with some outboard gear (front of house EQ, couple of compressors, effects unit) could provide.
Based on the maximum number of channels that they anticipated needing over the next five years, I recommended the PreSonus StudioLive 24.4, one of the least expensive 24-channel digital mixers on the market.
The church has two audio volunteers that are pretty much average in their knowledge of sound and sound systems so this would be a typical transition for a lot of churches in the 100-400 person attendance range. Volunteers selected more for their willingness to serve than their knowledge of audio. I know that nothing has been touched with the front of house EQ, compressors and FX since I helped them set it up about a year ago.
Some things that you need to consider in this transition is how uncomfortable the volunteers are going to be until they make the paradigm switch from the analog WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) to the digital layers.
Depending on the digital board, layers control everything from different grouping of faders (1-8, 9-16, etc) to control over the aux sends, FX, etc. Outboard gear usually goes away and everything is now handled with the digital mixer. It’s a big transition and you shouldn’t minimize it, but treat it with care and planning and the transition will go smoothly.
What I recommend is that the digital mixer not be put into service immediately but be brought into a two-to-four-week training duty cycle. It requires some mics and cables as well as a couple of speakers for monitors and front of house stand-ins. If you have instruments that you can plug in that helps as well. Keep the existing analog system going as the production system until everyone has been trained and is comfortable with the digital board.
Before you start with the digital mixer, make sure everyone has reviewed the user manual. A digital board is a computer with knobs and faders and is significantly more complex than an analog mixer. While they are pretty robust, you can still mess them up and repairs can be costly.
An Investment of Protection
One thing to invest in if you haven’t is a top-line power conditioner like those from Furman. I also recommend a computer UPS (battery backup) from a company like APC or Tripp Lite. Get a decent capacity one. The reason is that because a digital mixer is a computer, when power is interrupted you can’t just switch it back on like an analog mixer. You need to boot it up and, depending on the mixer, that could take anywhere from a minute to several minutes.
Having a UPS unit, the mixer will stay powered on, so even if the rest of the system is knocked offline by the power interruption, when the power comes back on, the mixer will still be up.
Unboxing The Mixer
Once you get the mixer unboxed, check for any damage. If everything looks good bring all faders down to minimum and turn on the mixer. I like to let the mixer “burn in” for about four hours with nothing going on or plugged in just to let all the electronics warm up to full operating temperature. This will check to ensure that nothing is shorting out. Be aware of any burning electrical smell or smoke. If you detect either one shut the mixer down immediately and unplug it. Contact the vendor.
Preparing For Training
The StudioLive is close to an analog board in that all the channel faders are on one surface as opposed to layers. This makes the transition somewhat easier. All effects, aux send levels are controlled through the center “Fat Channel.” That will be where most of the confusion is going to come in so be prepared to spend a lot of time going through this area.
The StudioLive is set up pretty easy so I was able to figure 85% of the board out without looking at the manual. There are also a ton of video tutorials on the PreSonus site and YouTube that can help with anything to do with the board. But for volunteer sound techs it will be a bit of a challenge.
Building A Mini-System
Hook up a mic to channel 1 on the mixer and hook up a speaker to aux send 1 and to front of house. This will be the basic training setup.
Once you get it hooked up, bring up the gain to an appropriate level. A digital board is less forgiving about exceeding the 0 level than an analog board before going into clipping so run the level less than needed for training until you get comfortable with the way the board handles signals.
Don’t worry about EQ settings or FX yet. All you want to do is to learn the signal flow from the channel to the aux send and FOH.
Once you’ve figured out how to adjust the aux send levels for the channel and you can adjust FOH level you’ve gotten over the initial hump.
The next thing you’ll want to learn is how to adjust EQ’s for each channel. Depending on the digital mixer you’ll either have a screen that will have a parametric equalizer, or in the case of the StudioLive, you’ll have the knob adjustments for high, high mid, low mid and low bands. As with all digital mixers you are able to set the frequency points for all these bands as well as the Q, which is the width of the frequency adjustment. This is a lot more adjustability than what an analog mixer has and is worth spending some time practicing.
After the channel EQs get figured out you’ll want to adjust the front of house EQ. On the StudioLive it’s set the same way that the individual channel EQs are set. One nice advantage about digital mixers is that most of them have a library of preset EQs that you can start with. The StudioLive has built in a nice set of professional quality EQ presets that are good enough to leave alone and assign to each channel.
The other nice feature of digital boards is the ability to save all your settings to a scene. So you are able to set up multiple scenes for different worship teams or different instruments and recall them just by dialing up the scene and pressing the load button. So no more needing to reserve channels based on who’s playing that day.
The power of digital mixers means that you can assign FX to each and every channel, both to auxes and to front of house, so you’ve got a lot of flexibility. Just remember that just because you can doesn’t mean you should. Less is more, at least in the beginning. Some boards give you more FX capabilities than others. The StudioLive offers two channels of FX, others more.
Another advantage that digital mixers have is that they usually provide some form of multi-track recording capability. In the case of the StudioLive, it’s provided by a FireWire port into the provided Studio One software. This means you can record each channel separately into your computer, as long as it has a Firewire port.
One very cool reason for doing this for the worship team is the ability to do what’s called a Virtual Sound Check. What that means is that you don’t need the worship team there to set up the board. You can play back the individual tracks back into their respective board channels and use those tracks as the sound check.
Then, once the band gets in, sound check is very minimal. It’s also a great way for the sound team to train on the board and allows them to massage settings without needing the musicians.
Once you get everything set the way you want it remember to save your settings to a scene. I usually recommend naming the scene with the church name and 1. That way you can always recover your baseline settings.
Sound techs should create their own “sandbox” scene, which allows them to manipulate settings and save it to their own scene without affecting the master scene. Make sure that no one other than the lead sound tech saves to the master scene.
Once you’ve got the master scene saved it won’t matter what changes people make to the board during the week. Bringing back the master scene will only require a quick push of a button, and in the case of the StudioLive, resetting the gain and adjusting the faders. In other digital boards, gain settings and fader positions are saved within the scene.
Making The Switch
Once the sound techs are comfortable with the digital board then it’s time to switch out the old analog board with the new digital one. Check all your settings. Be sure any settings you change are saved to the master scene once you’re happy with how everything sounds.
Finally, when you shut things down, do NOT shut things down by just turning off the power conditioner. This WILL damage the digital mixer. Follow the shutdown procedure in the manual. It can be anything from just powering off the mixer with the mixer’s power switch to a shut-down procedure on the screen.
A digital mixer is a whole new way of doing the same old things. It’s exciting as well as terrifying for volunteers, so go slow. Take it one step at a time and ensure they are comfortable with the new system before putting it into production. You’ll achieve a seamless transition and have fun doing it!
Brian Gowing has helped over 30 churches meet their technology requirements. Brian works towards shepherding the church, analyzing their technical requirements, sourcing the equipment, installing the equipment and training the volunteer personnel. As he likes to say, “equipping the saints with technology to help spread the Good News.” Contact Brian here.
Wednesday, November 27, 2013
Church Sound: Solving Mysteries, Part 2—The Case Of The Dead Sounding Drums
Was it the drummer, the kit... or another factor?
It’s time for our second audio mystery. It involves a drum set, two audio techs, and a lot of head scratching. It started on a Wednesday night…
The drums sounded dead. I’m talking “He’s dead, Jim” dead.
Steve and I were at front-of-house trying to dial in a good drum mix. There wasn’t much we could do with each kit piece, be it toms or kick or snare. It sounded horrible.
But two hours later, without any mix changes, it sounded better.
This wasn’t the first time we’d encountered this problem. It had happened a month or two earlier. In the words of my fourth grade elementary school teacher, it was “time to put on our thinking caps.” (Did I mention I hate that phrase?)
Steve and I began brainstorming through the possible reasons for the dead drum sound:
1. The drummer was warming up. We have a handful of drummers but we typically don’t see that long of a warm-up period and the warming up had been only volume-related.
2. The drums needed to warm up. In the past, I’ve heard them sound a little different as the night went on, but nothing this drastic. Funny how you never think about these things until something is wrong.
3. Room temperature changes. That summer, the Midwest experienced a wide swing of weather, from cool summer days to hot-and-humid to cool-and-humid. Some of that humidity could be noticed in the sanctuary. Could that be it?
Reaching Out For Help
A few days later, I reached out for help. The idea of humidity came up again. The problem with the whole “it was humid that day” idea is that it’s hard to repeat and test. But how could a little humidity in a room make such a significant difference?
I contacted professional drummer and pro audio guy, Daniel East, who told me:
”…humidity can affect [drum] heads & shells. Cymbals, too, actually…like any acoustic instrument where temperature and moisture change based on venue and transport, allowing at least approx. 30 minutes for any acoustic instrument to acclimate is important (like a winter-cold road trip to a dry heated venue, as well). In humidity, especially the sub-tropics like South Florida, the shells expand/contract with the Mylar heads with the temperature changes. Drums can even have condensation build up to the point of being wet to the touch.”
Upon reflection, both of the times when we experienced the “dead drum” sound was on days when it had been obnoxiously humid outside.
The AC system for the sanctuary isn’t on unless the sanctuary is used. Therefore, the drums had been sitting all day in this humid environment. Even though we turned on the air conditioning just before practice, it wasn’t early enough for the drums to have time to adjust.
Taking This A Step Further
Knowing about the humidity problem, we can make a point of kicking the AC on earlier on those days when the humidity is bad. But what about re-tuning? Once a drum kit becomes re-acclimated to the conditioned air, it’s a good idea to check the tuning.
For those of you working in portable churches that pull your drums out of a trailer each week, temperature and humidity changes can definitely impact your tuning.
If you deal with a lot of temperature/humidity-related issues with your drums, work with your drummer on drum tuning.
As far as a tuning aid, Dan said he’s a big fan of a Tune-Bot (even over Drum Dial or even by ear) because “you have a fiercely accurate measure of both the fundamental pitch and both batter and resonant heads. The elasticity changes in different temperatures so a proper digital tuner has provided the best results over a weight/pressure based type or app.”
High humidity can also cause problems with microphones. Store your mics in a dry place, such as a sealed foam-lined microphone box, if you work in high-humidity locations or if you store your gear in a trailer.
Whether you have acoustic drums that stay in the sanctuary or you haul them out of a trailer each week, realize that temperature and humidity change will alter the sound of your drums and sometimes you need to re-tune them.
No one said live audio production was easy!
Ready to learn and laugh? Chris Huff writes about the world of church audio at Behind The Mixer. He covers everything from audio fundamentals to dealing with musicians. He can even tell you the signs the sound guy is having a mental breakdown.
Tuesday, November 26, 2013
Common Purpose: Approaches To Effectively Working With Artists
If you're new to the biz or working a modest one-off, this should speak to you
I recently penned a piece for a musician’s magazine entitled “Working with the Sound Engineer.” It coaches musicians about arriving at the gig with an open mind, a cooperative attitude, coming prepared with supporting documentation (input lists and stage plots), and being ready to work with the audio personnel so that the show will sound the best it can.
This piece presents the other side of the same coin, looking at things from the perspective of the audio engineer. If you’re new to the sound business, or if you’ve been doing large, well-organized tours with plenty of advance planning and suddenly find yourself at a modest one-off, than this should speak to you.
Many bands that play weekend gigs in small clubs, and the occasional party or wedding, are not likely to have a good understanding of how to interface with the sound guy or gal who’s “out front.” More than a few are suspicious of this new character who has temporarily entered into their world. Not uncommonly there is a measure of hostility – perhaps incurred by recalling a bad past experience – and sometimes there is even a downright lack of civility.
But as long as we remember that we’re engaged in what is predominantly a “follow-on” trade; that is, being of service to those who are making the music, giving the speech, or otherwise entertaining the audience, we can usually deflect animosity and turn it into good will, merely by being communicative. Not always, but it’s always worth aspiring to.
The first moments when meeting the performer(s) will probably define how the rest of the gig will turn out. I suggest taking the initiative. Introduce yourself and make a few short comments about being glad that you’re working with him, her, or them, and clearly identify that your role is to help the show sound great and function smoothly. You can say you’ll make them “loud and proud” (perhaps for a rock band) or “clear and distinct” for an orator or comedian – or whatever other encouraging words might apply to the specific situation. Conversely, it’s never a good idea to threaten inferior results if they behave badly, even though some occasionally will. It will only reflect badly on you.
Keep in mind that the performers might be a bit nervous, especially if they’re not used to working with an audio engineer. This could be an unusually large gig for them. Maybe it’s a multi-act lawn party or a small festival, and they have little understanding of how to navigate set changes with other acts. I’ve seen seasoned performers fall apart when their normal routine is altered or when they’re faced with sharing the same stage with another act that intimidates them.
Figure 1: A sample stage input list.
In The Details
Being prepared is always a good thing. Start by having an input list “template” available, and ask that someone from the band fill it out, if possible. This is much more professional, as well as being a timesaver, than writing on a blank sheet of paper. Figure 1 provides basic input list format.
If the act you’ve just greeted is not the first (or only) act, draw out a quick stage plot (Figure 2) so that you know what goes where, even if you won’t be situating the band gear yourself. After five hours in the sun, it’s really easy to forget who’s who, and what instrumentation each act will be using.
Discuss stage monitoring and miking so that you know what each member of the ensemble needs. I’ve been in situations where not a single person thought to tell me that side fills are critical because the lead singer moves all over the stage – until about one minute before show time.
The brief here is do not wait for an impending disaster. Have a checklist ready and work through it. Prompt the talent. Do they need side fills? Who needs a wireless? Do they need any additional mics other than those they’ve brought with them? Will there be any guest artists called up? And so on.
Figure 2: A sample stage plot.
All too often a band member will tell you where to place his or her mic but completely fail to mention that it must be a certain type of wireless, headset, or other special requirement…or even where it’s supposed to be sourced from.
Further, bands will often call up a guest performer with no pre-warning and expect that somehow, some way, a guitar and vocal mic will magically appear.
While remaining cool and collected, make it clear up-front that last-minute requests for stage monitors, extra mics, DIs, and other equipment cannot necessarily be accommodated.
Equipment requirements must be stated in advance. Someone in the band might suddenly remember that two more mics are needed, and the sax player’s wireless needs to be patched in just as the band is tuning up and getting ready to play. Head this off at the pass, Lone Ranger. Discuss such needs in advance.
In the heat of the moment, while preparing to perform, it’s the rare musician who is able to realize that you can’t pull rabbits out of a hat. Performers are focused on themselves, completely forgetting that the mics and DIs have to come from somewhere – and need to be connected by someone – who quite likely should be completing a line check rather than running around backstage locating more equipment.
This approach may not stop the talent from making unrealistic requests, but at least you’ll keep your own integrity intact by anticipating as many problems as you can at the outset. A good policy is to always have a couple/few extra mics on hand, located side-stage, cabled, tested, and ready to use. Ditto for stage monitors. Of course, on budget gigs, extra mics, extra stage monitors, and unused console inputs are not always available.
Steady & Focused
Make it (politely) clear that the PA system is not to be adjusted, re-positioned, re-aimed, or even touched except by yourself or one of your team. And by all means discourage that band member who decides to plug an “extra’ stage monitor into the paralleled output of a main bi-amped loudspeaker, causing its amplifier to shut down, resulting in only HF on one side of the stage.
Overall, learn to not take comments from performers too seriously, either before the show or after. A good deal of their perception of a good sounding gig is more about how they felt emotionally while performing, what the monitors sounded like, and how their friends and the audience reacted than it is about the quality of your services, the mix, or how the system sounded out front.
Finally, be humble but never humiliate yourself. Don’t be talked into doing something that won’t serve the common purpose. And even if something goes wrong, and at some point it will, stay as cheerful as possible so that everyone goes home having made the best of it.
Senior technical editor Ken DeLoria has mixed innumerable shows and tuned hundreds of sound systems with an emphasis on taming difficult acoustical environments, and he’s also the founder and former owner of Apogee Sound, which developed the world’s first intelligent power amplifier equipped with an embedded microcontroller (DA-800), as well as the TEC Award-winning AE-9 loudspeaker.
Tuesday, November 19, 2013
Church Sound: How Many Hats Do You Wear?
Delivering a solid technical performance -- regardless
I find an increasing trend is occurring in the smaller church arena. The sound person is no longer just the sound person. As video projection has become very affordable, the sound person is now also the “PowerPoint” person.
This person (the “AV guy”) has to not only be concern about the quality of the mix, but also whether the right words to a song are on the projection screen.
What has happened is the expectation for great music and production has pushed all the way down to small churches. “Mega” churches usually have multiple people on staff to handle all of the technical production elements. These churches also seem very willing to contract (pay) outside professionals to “make church happen.”
The mid-sized church (500-1,500) has moved to multiple volunteers that handle different disciplines of the technical area (sound, lighting, and video) and will have a technical director (sometimes paid, sometime not) that oversees all of the production elements.
This technical director will make sure all of the volunteers are scheduled and also trained on equipment. Additional responsibilities often include making sure that the equipment is in working order and acting as technical producer for worship services.
Meanwhile, many of the parishioners of the smaller church (500 or less) have attended a worship service or production at a mega or mid-sized church and thus the expectation level is raised. That expectation rightly or not is then placed on the church sound operator, now the AV guy.
This person must now not only make sure that everything is working properly; he/she also has to execute operation at the level of the larger churches that have full time staff. This is obviously not an easy task for a one-person band, often also working with inferior equipment.
Is it fair that parishioners of a small church expect the same quality of production as they’ve experienced at a larger church? I believe that on a certain level the answer is yes.
I’m not referring to production elements like moving lights, slick pre-produced videos and such. Rather, I’m talking about delivering excellence.
For the sake of this discussion, excellence is doing the best you can with what you have, every chance you get. For the small church, this could mean that the sound person shows up and sets up ahead of time, rehearses with the musicians, has a great attitude and pays attention during the entire service.
The sound person would also be responsible for making sure that the system is functioning properly during the week, and getting it professionally serviced if not. Most importantly, an additional volunteer needs to be recruited to run the lyrics or “PowerPoint.”
These actions should lead to a worship service that is free from distractions, such as pops, clicks or hum. However, a part of these actions is ensuring that every time a microphone is to be used it’s turned on and ready to go.
So, what does all of this mean for your church? If you’re keeping score, how many of these “lofty” expectations are your technical ministry hitting? Are you delivering excellence?
I’m not the best sound engineer out there; in fact I’ve heard many mixes that sound better than mine. But I have had offered many opportunities that others have not, based on the fact that I usually don’t miss cues (all the right mics are on at the right time) or have any feedback (I know the limits of the system).
A consistent mix will win over a great mix where cues are missed and feedback occurs.
So whatever the size of the church, the standard should be the same: a solid technical performance completely free of distractions!
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.
Sound Devices Introduces The 633 Mixer
Six-Input Mixer with 10-Track Recorder Offers Unprecedented Capability in a Compact, Portable Device
Sound Devices introduces the 633, a six-input mixer with integrated 10-track recorder.
It includes Sound Devices’ proprietary PowerSafe technology and a unique four-way power supply for maximum operational runtime.
The 633 has a full complement of I/O designed into a compact, portable device, ideal for over-the-shoulder applications.
The powerful 633 mixer/recorder features six inputs, with three high-bandwidth mic/line XLR inputs complete with phantom power, high-pass filter, input limiter and variable pan.
Three additional line-level inputs appear on TA3 (mini-XLR) connectors. All inputs are assignable to any output bus. AES digital I/O, including support for AES42 digital microphones, is available.
The 633 offers 10-track 24-bit, 48 kHz uncompressed polyphonic or monophonic broadcast WAV file recording (96 kHz for eight tracks, 192 kHz for six tracks) or timecode stamped MP3 recording to CompactFlash and/or SD cards.
All six inputs plus Left/Right and Aux 1/2, can be recorded to individual tracks. Similar to Sound Devices’ 12-input 664 Production Mixer, the 633 offers dual card slots that record to either one or both cards simultaneously, with the added ability to assign different tracks to each memory card.
Unique to the industry, the 633 is equipped with a four-way power supply and Sound Devices’ proprietary PowerSafe technology. This four-way powering allows for multiple, simultaneous power sources including external DC on a Hirose 4-pin locking (12-18 V), two removable and independent L-type Lithium-ion batteries and internal AA battery powering (six-AA).
The unit detects when power sources are removed and seamlessly transitions to an available power source. With its PowerSafe circuitry, when all power is removed the unit remains on for 10 seconds to close all file operations and properly shut down.
With PowerSafe, a complete power loss has no effect on the recording. PowerSafe also provides two-second ‘power-on-to-recording’ so the mixer is ready for operation at a moment’s notice.
The 633’s high-accuracy, ambient-based timecode generator/reader assists in multi-camera and double-system sound applications. All common production timecode rates and modes are available.
Extensive file metadata is supported along with the timecode. The 633 also features a keyboard port for quick and easy metadata entry.
Designed for the demands of field production, the 633 has easily accessible, tactile front panel controls. Its LCD-based setup menu offers easy navigation and control of its extensive features.
Menu options for metering, display and headphone favorites are among the selections that can be saved to scenes, which save the complete state of the mixer to memory cards in order to quickly reproduce a setup.
The 633 is also available as a complete package, the 633-KIT, which includes the unit plus all of the accessories needed for use in the field. This production-ready kit includes the 633 mixer, the CS-633 Production Case, two L-type Lithium-ion batteries, one SD and one CF card, plus TA3-to-XLR cables.
The 633, like all Sound Devices products, is designed to withstand the physical and environmental extremes of the field. Its top and bottom chassis panels are made from molded, metalized carbon fiber for superior durability and weight reduction. The chassis panels are also gasketed for water resistance.
Posted by Julie Clark on 11/19 at 02:12 PM
Monday, November 18, 2013
In The Studio: Five Microphone Placement Techniques For A Bigger Sound
When you want to make it "larger than life"
Sometimes when recording, microphone placement can seem either too difficult or way too easy. As with most things in life, it’s really somewhere in the middle, but sometimes it’s not very easy to get there.
Here’s an excerpt from the newly released Recording Engineer’s Handbook Third Edition that shows five simple miking techniques that will help you get a bigger and more accurate sound.
Before you start swapping gear, know that the three most important factors in getting the sound you want are mic position, mic position and mic position.
Get the instrument to make the sound you want to record first, then use the cover-your-ears technique to find the sweet spot, position the mic, then listen. Remember that if you can’t hear it, you can’t record it.
Don’t be afraid to repeat as much as necessary, or to experiment if you’re not getting the results you want.
That said, the following are some general issues and techniques to consider before placing a mic:
1. One of the reasons for close-miking is to avoid leakage into other mics, which means that the engineer can have more flexibility later in balancing the ensemble in the mix. That said, give the mic as much distance from the source as possible in order to let the sound develop, and be captured, naturally.
2. Mics can’t effectively be placed by sight until you have experience with the player, the room you’re recording in, the mics you’re using, and the signal path. If at least one of these elements is unknown, at least some experimentation is in order until the best placement is found. It’s okay to start from a place that you know has worked in the past, but be prepared to experiment with the placement a bit since each instrument and situation is different.
3. If the reflections of the room are important to the final sound, start with any mics that are used to pick up the room first, then add the mics that act as support to the room mics.
4. From 200 Hz to 600 Hz is where the proximity effect often shows up and is one reason why many engineers continually cut EQ in this range. If many directional microphones are being used in a close fashion, they will all be subject to proximity effect. and you should expect a buildup of this frequency range in the mix as a result.
5. One way to capture a larger than life sound is by recording a sound that is softer than the recording will most likely be played back. For electric guitars for instance, sometimes a small 5-watt amp into an 8-inch speaker can sound larger than a cranked full Marshall stack.
Bobby Owsinski is an author, producer, music industry veteran and technical consultant who has written numerous books covering all aspects of audio recording. For more information be sure to check out his website and blogs. Get the Recording Engineer’s Handbook Third Edition here.
Church Sound: Solving Mysteries—The Case Of The Missing Audio For Video
We never did discover who flipped on the LPF switch...
There are two ways of seeing an audio mystery—as an unsolvable problem or as a challenge. The challenge area, that’s where we live whether we like it or not. We work in the realm of wireless microphones, high-end electronics, and frequency manipulation. In this world, audio mysteries abound.
Our mysteries are things like why there’s suddenly wireless interference after having a stable system for three years, why a single rechargeable battery appears to have died in the middle of the sermon even though it was fully charged two hours ago, and why a sound appears to hang in the air long after the drummer hit his tom. These mysteries are part of audio production.
We don’t get the option of claiming a problem is the result of an unfathomable unknown or a little evil audio imp, though I’ve often considered the “imp” possibility, myself. No, we’re handed a mystery and, like a great detective, we must figure out the motive of the murder (murdering your fantastic audio production). Once that’s done, we must take this a step further and figure out how to avoid it in the future.
The First Mystery
Let’s begin with the first audio mystery ever to come my way. Everything about it is unusual. The hardest part, in retrospect, is knowing the reason for the mystery was right in front of me the whole night long.
The group of parishioners was expected to be small. Christmas Eve service at this church was typically a subdued affair. You might say so small and subdued that the pastor didn’t even need a microphone.
I walked into the candle-lit sanctuary at 6:45 pm. “Fifteen minutes to go before the service, that should be enough prep time,” I thought. I saw Pastor Dan and he said, “Thanks for doing sound tonight. I’m not going to bother with a microphone. I figure we’ll only get about 20 people.
“Oh,” he added, “I do need you to play this VHS tape when I ask for it.”
Before I could say anything else, he said, “don’t worry about checking the video, I checked it in the system earlier this week. It’s cued up and ready to go.”
There are two important parts of the story I should now mention:
1) Pastor Dan did know the basics of the audio system, so I took him at his word.
2) I, with limited wisdom and experience in my early days of audio production, assumed that nothing can go wrong if no one touches the equipment between services.
The Christmas Eve service was almost over when the pastor said, “Roll the video.” Have you ever talked to a dog, and the dog looked at you and turned its head to the side as if to indicate, “I’m confused.” I think I did the same thing as the video rolled. The characters in the video drama were talking but they didn’t sound right.
What do you think when I say the audio to a VHS tape didn’t sound right?
1) It’s a VHS tape, it’s probably old and worn out.
2) Check the cabling (don’t we say that for everything?)
3) The channel EQ was probably jacked so just fix it.
The audio lacked clarity. The words spoken were audible but not entirely comprehensible. This was going to feel like a long video clip.
Step 1: Look at the pastor. I figured if he knew the tape sounded like this, he would watch the video. As I looked up, he was looking back at me. Uh oh.
Step 2: Check the cabling. Cabling checked!
Step 3: It must be the channel EQ! (Did I mention this was a mystery series?) The EQ settings were all at the default positions. I tried boosting the mids and the highs because I’d realized that’s what was absent. No difference. This was an analog board, it’s not like there was a hidden setting.
Or was there?
The video clip ended, the service ended, and sanctuary emptied, and I was left looking at the mixer thinking, “what did I miss?”
The Mystery Deepens
Your typical detective story has the investigator leaving the scene of the crime to return to the station where they start talking about witness, suspects, and potential leads. In my case, I did the same. That is to say, I went home.
Working through my notes the next afternoon, I decided to call a friend and fellow tech who was at the church last night. “Jeff, it’s Chris. Did you hear the messed up video last night?”
“I did,” he replied, “and I was in the sanctuary today and everything in the booth looked good.”
We had a day to go before the regular church service. Things were not looking good.
One important note; while Jeff and I knew how to run sound in our church, looking back, there was a lot we didn’t know.
The next morning, I got a text message from Jeff: “Fixed. Low-pass filter switch was on.” What low-pass filter switch? Better yet, what’s a low-pass filter?
In a follow-up email, Jeff explained that he and a few friends were out late at the church and playing together, musicians that they were, when he starting running audio through the sound system and, well, take it away Jeff:
“I was getting little to no vocals or guitar, but I was getting the bass pieces out of the drum kit clearly. All sound coming through the monitors through the Aviom system was perfect, so that signal path was good…I verified signal lights were blinking appropriately on the mixer, house EQ, Aviom and amp. All checked out. [Finally] I systematically looked at each button and knob. When I got to the [house] LPF switch I didn’t know what it was, everything else looked OK, so I tried flipping the switch, and sound was restored. It wasn’t until later that I consulted the manual to see what LPF stands for. I should have remembered…but at one in the morning the brain wasn’t working too well.”
LPF…on a board-wide master send output…ON AN ANALOG CONSOLE!?!
Our analog mixing console, a standard Mackie that many of you have used/still use, has a recessed LPF (low-pass filter) switch. While I understand why it would be recessed, still to this day I can’t imagine why it would have one. I’ve heard a reason or two but I don’t think that they’re good reasons.
There are two key bits of information to take away from this solved mystery.
—Know what every knob, switch, and setting on your console does, whether you use it or not.
—Know that sooner or later, something will get changed and by knowing the settings of your equipment, you’ll know where to look to solve the problem. I’ve seen this on everything from mixing consoles to recording units.
One mystery still remains in this story: we never did discover who flipped on the LPF switch in the first place.
Ready to learn and laugh? Chris Huff writes about the world of church audio at Behind The Mixer. He covers everything from audio fundamentals to dealing with musicians. He can even tell you the signs the sound guy is having a mental breakdown.