Wednesday, June 25, 2014
10 Signs You’re An A/V Geek
In the interest of full disclosure, I am not an A/V geek. I have only spent my entire career in or on the periphery of the A/V industry.
I mean, A/V geeks push the cart around the school. They wear bifocals with tape around the nose and they are very susceptible to bullies’ wedgies.
However, over the years I have gotten to know a lot about A/V. This tiny industry is chock full of acronyms, slang and terminology that nobody would know if they’re not around it every day.
Does knowing these terms make you an A/V guy (gal)? Here are 10 A/V terms and concepts that only an A/V geek would know.
RGB/RGBS/RGBHV - Even if someone was to know what they mean, they don’t have a clue what “Sync” is.
DSP - Only A/V folks know it, and most of us still don’t really get it.
1080i vs. 1080p - My favorite pastime is going to Best Buy and asking the associate what the real differences are between 1080i and 1080p. Turns out they only look like A/V geeks.
YUV vs. YPrPb vs. Component - Yep, they are all the same. I’m sure we set it up that way to confuse people.
RS 232/422/485 - Perhaps some early computer/IT folks know it, but only A/V professionals are still using it.
A/D & D/A - Is this an attention disorder?
Matrix Switcher - Is that a movie mash up featuring Keanu Reeves?
VTC/VC/UC - Although no one has successfully defined “unified communications,” we surely all have an opinion of what it is.
Keystone - Isn’t that a really bad beer?
Crestron/Extron/AMX - We commercial integrators may think these are big companies, but if you aren’t in this industry you have no idea what these companies are and what they do.
The list of nerdisms could go on, but the point is simple: If you know more than five of these, then you are an A/V geek. (Although, the fact that you are reading this magazine is already a dead giveaway).
So I guess I am an A/V geek after all. In actuality, minus the wedgies, I’m OK with that.
Daniel L. Newman currently serves as CEO of EOS, a new company focused on offering cloud-based management solutions for IT and A/V integrators. He has spent his entire career in various integration industry roles. Most recently, Newman was CEO of United Visual where he led all day to day operations for the 60-plus-year-old integrator.
Go to Commercial Integrator for more content on A/V, installed and commercial systems.
Audio Industry Veteran Michael Reeves Dies In Tragic Cycling Accident
Well-known, larger-than-life character who loved to take everything to the extreme
Audio industry veteran Michael Reeves passed away of injuries sustained in an accident when an automobile collided with him while riding his road bike in Monterey, CA on June 21, 2014. Michael’s wife Mary and daughter Katy were close by, at home and many family and friends were able to assemble quickly to support and comfort them during the tragedy.
Michael was a well-known, larger-than-life character who loved to take everything to the extreme. Whether it was his work in the pro-audio business, his skill as a waterman, in cycling, in aviation, scuba diving, woodworking, photography or in music he would engage each one with great zeal. He was an avid cyclist who rode every week and loved to participate in long range cycling events known as Century Rides.
Michael MacDonald, president of ATK Audiotek, recalls Reeves as “the consummate salesman who loved to take on new projects and would spring into action and attack any challenge fearlessly. When it came to sales, Michael was best in class, a focused, relentless closer who loved every minute selling.”
MacDonald and Reeves worked together in many companies over two decades and were working on a new venture at the time of the tragedy. “He was an extraordinary business partner, a fantastic athlete who was brilliant, always curious and a joy to spend time with. I have been fortunate to join Michael on adventures around the world and he was a loyal friend that I could always count on. I, along with our colleagues in the pro audio community, will miss him dearly.”
Michael, who grew up in Southern California, attended Golden West College and the University of Miami and was a graduate of the California State University Fullerton. He also worked as a broadcast engineer at the Fullerton College radio station, KBPK. He began his professional audio career at Webber Sound and McCune Audio in Anaheim, CA, and designed and mixed events from the Orange County Fair to the Catholic Congress and many convention and trade show events at the Anaheim Convention Center. He also worked on many Disneyland Park and Hotel special events.
Later in his career, Reeves crossed over to the manufacturer side of the industry and was recruited by JBL Professional’s International Division heading up sales in Asia and later transitioned to the Latin American market. He also held sales and marketing positions with Mackie/EAW, Gator Cases, Lake Technologies and Dolby Laboratories. Most recently, he had launched his own consulting firm and was fully engaged with five clients under contract.
Mark Terry, Kaman Music president, reflects, “I first got to know Michael 24 years ago traveling with him throughout China and Southeast Asia doing JBL product demos and dealer visits long before it was fashionable to sell in that part of the world. His audio knowledge and sales skills were world class. But it was his passion for life and infectious enthusiasm that made him stand out as someone truly special. I was fortunate to know him personally, as well as professionally, and he was always a man of character, honesty, and integrity. He was a good man and I am proud to have known him. Michael loved life, he loved his family, and he loved the pro audio industry. We are all going to miss him.”
Simon Jones, vice president of sales and business development at Line 6 and a long-time friend and colleague, shares, “I believe Michael’s biggest competitor in business and his personal life was himself. This gave him an insatiable drive that was truly infectious as anyone who spent time with him knows. He was a fantastic educator, mentor and above all exceptional friend. We lost him way too soon but I know he will always be there pushing us along to do our very best. “
Jerry Freed of Gator Cases enlisted Michael to help with OEM sales early on at Gator. “Michael was more than a salesman he was a terrific marketer, product creator and then managed the entire sales process,” Early notes. “Even after he and the family moved back to California, I was still in contact with him frequently and I will miss him.”
Adaptive Technologies president Paul Allen states, “As a consultant, Michael’s vast sales experience and his personal touch helped us in so many ways and I credit him for a good part of our company’s success. His passion for bike riding was contagious and he usually brought his bike with him everywhere he traveled. Recently at a Las Vegas convention, Michael convinced me that it would be a good idea to ride the road through Red Rock Canyon State Park, Michael must have seen my stunned look once I realized there was a huge grade and a long-long ride back, then with a big smile on his face, he graciously cut the tour down to just a few miles each way.”
Allen went on to say “My staff and I loved working with him. Michael was not just the guy we want living next door, he was the guy we want in our family! My wife Michele and I along with my staff will miss Michael tremendously.”
Michael is survived by his wife Mary Gray-Reeves, his daughter Katie and his son Dorian. A memorial service is planned for Friday, June 27 at 5 pm at Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church, Saratoga, CA. A reception and celebration of Michael’s life will follow at the parish center.
Sunday, June 22, 2014
NSCA Summer 2014 Electronic Systems Outlook Released
Now includes information based upon actual data from Q1 and Q2 of 2014, and forecasted information for the remainder of the year
The NSCA Electronic Systems Outlook has been updated for Summer 2014 and now includes information based upon actual data from Q1 and Q2 of 2014, and forecasted information for the remainder of the year.
Free to all NSCA members and available to non-members for $399, the new report provides updated indicators of fresh business opportunities by tracking new construction starts and renovations in the commercial buildings sector.
In this Summer 2014 edition, NSCA’s Electronic Systems Outlook provides an updated look at construction data by markets and systems. Overall, the construction forecast remains cautiously optimistic.
In some areas, commercial construction is on the verge of breaking out of its long slumber. For instance, healthcare, and education markets have both slowed due to political circumstances. Those issues could be solved next year, and pent-up demand may come rushing into the markets. Total construction put in place is expected to grow at the rate of 7 percent this year and for the next few years.
Despite continued uncertainty, the average CCI (consumer confidence index) is trending upward, which is a good sign, although recent events like the government shutdown in late 2013 have negatively impacted construction spending.
Markets expected to increase construction this year as compared to 2013 include office, education, healthcare, lodging, and manufacturing. Markets expected to decrease construction this year as compared to 2013 include government, houses of worship, and retail. The Summer 2014 Electronic Systems Outlook provides detailed information regarding how much these numbers are increasing or decreasing, and which factors are affecting the data.
“We work with FMI to continue to monitor commercial construction reports,” says NSCA executive director Chuck Wilson. “At the end of 2013, we expected 2014 construction put in place to total near $977 million. Now, halfway through 2014, we expect it to total $959 million.”
Integrators can use the Summer 2014 Electronic Systems Outlook to benchmark sales numbers and prepare business valuations. Growth indicators can be used to determine incentive programs, reveal new markets that may have potential, and appropriately distribute resources. This forecast data can also be shared with financial advisors and lenders to prove the stability of systems integrators in the marketplace.
This bi-annual forecast is made possible through a partnership with FMI, a management consulting, investment banking, and research firm for the engineering and construction industry.
The Summer 2014 edition of the Electronic Systems Outlook examines the current year to date, and serves as a projection for the last half of 2014. The report is released each summer and winter.
As noted, the NSCA Electronic Systems Forecast is free for NSCA members. For non-members, the forecast can be purchased for $399. Non-members can also become NSCA members for $595 and receive this report as part of their membership package, which also offers access to discounted education and training opportunities, updates on regional and national government affairs issues, free monthly industry webinars, other industry research, and savings opportunities with companies such as UPS, Office Depot, and Enterprise.
For more info go here.
Posted by Keith Clark on 06/22 at 01:52 PM
Trend Or Fad? When Should You Invest In New Technology?
I define a trend as a lasting change in the direction of a technology or market. Webster’s dictionary says, among other things, that it’s defined as “ a line of development.” A fad, on the other hand, is defined by Webster as “a practice or interest followed for a time with exaggerated zeal.”
This led me to consider a “trend or fad” example in our industry: the line array. It’s true that these improved tools have taken the market by storm. But if you make all of your purchasing decisions by listening to hype alone, you’d replace all of your gear on a yearly basis. And how can you possibly afford that?
Clearly, not all new products warrant the investment necessary to join your inventory. Before jumping on any new technology or product, you need to make sure it will deliver on its claims, and further, will deliver a positive return for your dollar.
Loudspeaker systems, consoles, amplifiers, signal processing and wireless systems are all just as prone to dramatic shifts in technology, creating pressure for rental company owners to make new equipment investments to “keep up”.
The Drive To Profit
So how does the average rental company decide which products are the right ones to add to inventory? Tough decisions, indeed. Make the right choices, and you possess the gear the clients want to rent at a price that will be profitable.
But make the wrong choices, and you end up with equipment that is difficult to rent. More energy will be required to get someone to use this gear, and at a lower price (and therefore margin).
You might even be forced to “sweeten the deal” to the point that any hint of profitability goes right out the door. Thus making the right long-term equipment investments is key—perhaps the biggest key—to solid, long-term profitability.
A vital factor in play is the alliances that are built with manufacturers as a sound company grows and matures. We all know that having the right equipment is one thing, but making sure that the company who made it is around for the long haul is equally important.
Fad products that come from fad companies can be attractive in the early stages; but if the manufacturer is not around to support it, it can become expensive and even impossible to keep the equipment in service.
Who You Gonna Call?
What to do? You need “cutting edge” gear that customers want, but also need to make sure that the investment will pay off in the long run. Here are some guidelines to consider when evaluating new products and vendors.
First, carefully gauge the demand for the product. Make a lot of calls to a lot of colleagues. Is the product listed on tour contract riders? This is critical. Also, who are the principal “name” designers, sound companies and mixers who are “endorsing” a product? These folks help drive interest in a product and, ultimately, get it on riders.
Second, meet with your accountant or financial adviser and calculate the return on investment (ROI) based on your anticipated rental rate for the product. I would further suggest deducting an additional 20 percent from the anticipated rental rate and see if it will still yield a reasonable return. This simple step is frequently bypassed with sometimes-tragic results.
Third, do research on the vendor of the equipment. In the investment community, this step is called “due diligence” and is crucial. Without a strong company behind the product, you’re setting yourself up for some nasty surprises. Don’t be shy on this step.
If the company is publicly held, ask its investor relations department for 10Q and 10K statements (quarterly and annual reports). Go over these with your accountant and make sure the company is profitable and has strong cash flow and cash reserves.
If a company is privately held, spend a couple hundred dollars and run a credit report on them. You can do this over the Internet through companies like Dunn & Bradstreet, Equifax and Experian.
While credit reports don’t provide the same wealth of information as financial statements, they can indicate critical issues that will “red flag” impending problems. Look for issues with vendor payments; while all companies will have a few disputed vendor issues, companies should not have a significant number of them.
Don’t Get Caught Up
So many rental companies get excited about price, not value, when investing in new equipment. Remember that the decision you make today will affect your business for the next five years or more. Take your time; try not to get caught up in the moment.
Often, at the end of the year or a quarter, a manufacturer will be working hard to close equipment sales. Make sure this is a correct investment for you before acting on the temptation to jump on the discount. After all, what does it say about a manufacturer who is desperate to close a deal a few days early?
In the final analysis, making big investments in equipment represents a fork in the road for any rental company. Make the right choice and you get on the right path for long-term success. Make the wrong choice and you’re storing elephants in your warehouse while hampered by cash-flow issues.
Take your time and make sure that you buy the right products from companies that act as partners you can trust. It’s the best way to win in the “trend versus fad” wars.
Michael MacDonald is the president of leading production company ATK Audiotek in Valencia, CA, and has been involved in the professional audio industry for more than 35 years. Beginning as a freelance mixer/engineer in the 1970s, he transitioned to working for manufacturers and has been employed by, developed products for, and consulted with major companies such as Yamaha and JBL Professional.
Thursday, June 12, 2014
loud, Loud, LOUD
The topic of sound pressure levels at live shows increasingly comes up in my conversations with audio professionals. There’s no firm direction or action that I see coming in the near future, at least with respect to the U.S., outside of specific local and/or venue enforced rules.
But given all of the talk on the topic of late, I thought it would be instructive to check in with long-time mix engineer (and LSI contributor) Dave Rat, who’s also the owner of Rat Sound Systems in Camarillo, CA, to get his take.
Keith Clark: Are sound pressure levels too high at most pop/rock concerts?
Dave Rat: As with any perceptual-based opinion – “too loud, too soft, too fast, too dangerous” and so on – I have to say “it really depends.” If we can agree that the purpose of a rock concert is for people to gather together and share an immersive and memorable experience, and if we can agree that saturating the human sensory preceptors can increase our level of immersion in a given situation, then it would follow that higher sound volumes would be helpful in achieving a high level of immersion. At higher sound levels we can “feel” the music while masking any auditory distractions.
Just like the acceleration of a roller coaster or the simultaneous cheers at a sporting event increases our excitement level and narrows our perceptual focus to what we currently see, feel and hear, so does the saturation of senses at a rock concert. Bright lights, loud rhythmic music, and a mass of humans gathered together with a common focus all coincide to bring a memory so desirable that concerts have spread to and exist at every corner of the planet.
So as to the question of volume levels being too high, my response is that yes, painfully harsh, poorly mixed sound is always too loud. Is volume too loud as a generalized whole? In my experience, I don’t believe so.
Should we be concerned about SPL at concerts?
I believe we should be concerned about SPL levels at airports, car races and shooting ranges. We should be concerned with the speed and G-forces of roller coasters and the volume levels of screaming fans at sporting events. We should be concerned about the wind pressures on our ears while riding a motorcycle or driving on the freeway in a convertible. I also believe that the effects of prolonged exposure to high SPL levels and pressure change when flying in commercial airplanes are under rated, and further believe that the sound pressures on our ears in nearly all situations pale in comparison to the pressures and dangers to our ears while scuba diving. And I believe that when attending a rock concert, people should be aware and concerned about SPL as they should be in all of the above situations, because the same rules apply.
Being aware of auditory exposure is wise and the thought of municipalities purely focusing on rock concerts is concerning, especially since hearing protection is such a simple and inexpensive choice. When it’s cold, we put on a jacket, when it’s sunny, we apply sunscreen, and when it’s raining, we use an umbrella. If we get on a commercial jet, go to the drag races, or attend a rock show, if it’s too loud for our desired preference or personal exposure level, put in ear plugs. No biggie.
Why do you think so much focus is put on SPL at concerts versus other events and attractions?
That’s a good question. It’s weird to me – why is there not a big focus on SPL at drag races or NASCAR? Ever been? Now that’s loud! And just this past NFL season there was a “loudest stadium” competition with fans screaming their heads off in pursuit of “bragging rights,” with at least one stadium measured at more than 135 dB. Wouldn’t it make sense to focus on reducing those levels?
I believe the focus on concerts is based on several factors. Remember Beatlemania? Well, I don’t directly but I’ve read quite a bit about all of the concerns about those “long hairs” playing music. It may be a stretch, but to me it seems that in every generation the older and more conservative humans have a bias against the younger generations gathering in groups. Perhaps this is one of the reasons that volumes at rock concerts are a concern while volumes at sporting events seem to be a non-issue.
Do you think there will be government action in the U.S. regarding SPL at concerts? If so, any ideas as to what that may be?
I hope not. And if they do take action, I would hope that it is not hypocritical and biased. First they should ban scuba diving and put mufflers on dragsters. Next they should ban skiing and tennis because it’s a well-known fact that tennis players can get tennis elbow and skiers sustain knee injuries. Brain aneurysms occur on roller coasters so they should enforce speed limits on amusement rides.
I guess the question is whether protecting humans from rock concert volumes should be viewed in the same light as helmet laws or in the light of letting people make their own decisions about their bodies – though clearly rock concert volumes present negligible danger when compared to head injuries.
If the government were to take action, the only thing that makes any sense is to mandate that free earplugs be available at all concerts. To wear or not wear them would be up to the individual or up to the parent to determine. I think being prepared for predictable situations is obvious, so anyone attending a rock concert should probably bring ear plugs just as someone heading out into cold weather should probably bring a coat.
It’s also important to point out that volume regulations seem to fall into two categories. First there is the government trying to protect people from damaging their bodies by passing laws, and second, there are local ordinances passed that limit volumes to protect property values and reduce disturbing nearby homes and businesses.
Do you wear hearing protection when working shows? Do you get your hearing tested on a regular basis?
I rarely attend concerts that I’m not working anymore, but when I do I either bring ear plugs or fashion some homemade version with paper and water. (They work really well!)
When mixing shows on tour I tend to set up the first three songs without ear plugs and then put in plugs for most of the show, removing them occasionally to make sure the mix does not drift from the desired tonal balance. When I’m just doing a show every once in a while, I don’t worry about plugs as much.
I occasionally get my hearing tested. I’ve had massive high-volume exposure over the past three decades and do have some loss, but nothing excessive and it’s hard to determine what is exposure related versus age related.
I’m more concerned with making sure that any offset in my hearing does not show up in the tonal balance of my mixes. My ears are holding up much better than other parts of my humanly self – the separated shoulder, broken shoulder blade, broken collar bone, damage I’ve done to my lower back, and sinus issues from surfing are of much greater concern.
Tell us about your experiences with “SPL police” while on tour overseas.
I tend more toward heightening awareness than forcing things upon people. I’ve mixed probably hundreds of festivals and shows with SPL limits over the years, the majority of them in Europe/UK.
I actually don’t mind a reasonable SPL limitation being enforced. My experience has been that rarely do I exceed the limits, and also, I sort of enjoy figuring out ways to circumvent the limits when they’re overly restrictive.
With a few exceptions my experiences with the SPL police are usually positive. I make a point of introducing myself to the officials and asking questions to determine what pressures have inspired the venue/promoter to incur the expense of implementing SPL monitoring, as well as to try to clearly understand the maximum limits and time frames.
In my experience, the overly restrictive SPL limits tend to be the result of either nearby residents and/or businesses being disturbed while the government enforced limits are either reasonable or so poorly crafted that they are ineffective.
If there are volume restriction rules that are venue-based due to off-site noise, I fully understand, and as long as the parameters are clear, then each artist has the option to play or not play that venue. And if they do play that venue, then working within the restrictions is part of the adventure. All good.
Do you have strategies for containing levels at venues where it’s mandated by local law/ordinance?
I deal with each situation independently. My experience has been that many of the attempts to regulate SPL are awkward, misguided, and flawed. One reason is that laws and ordinances just love to use A-weighted measurements, as it cuts out wind noise and focuses on the most sensitive part of human hearing. While this makes sense for protecting humans from exposure to high volumes, it seems that many of the ordinances are driven primarily by neighboring residents attempting to reduce a concert’s “thump thump thump” in their homes.
So the issue affecting the community that pressed for the laws/limitations is actually low-frequency energy that travels longer distances and is mostly ignored by A-weighted measurements. Even if the somewhat more applicable C-weighted measurements are used but measured from the mix position, there is so much flexibility that the mix could be very bass heavy or very bright and still result in the same SPL measurement.
It’s only when the monitoring entity has narrowed down the specific frequency ranges that create complaints, combined with implementing measurement devices in relevant locations, that we can begin to gain true control over the issues. Unfortunately that could also mean that weather conditions and other factors can introduce variables that prevent a repeatable SPL restriction inside the venue from being established.
So just to be safe, the solution can often be to set a very low maximum SPL, which brings us back to wondering if we’ve lost track of the whole reason for the concert in the first place: for people to gather together and share an immersive and memorable experience.
As far as actual hands-on strategies, I have a bunch, ranging from polarity reversing the subs on one side to reduce low-end in the middle where the measurement mic is usually located, to getting the highest level VIP I can find to stand in front of the mic. Convincing production to spring for a nice bottle of wine and sharing it with the noise police actually worked really well at a stadium gig in Italy several years ago.
Keith Clark is editor-in-chief of ProSoundWeb and Live Sound International.
Wednesday, June 11, 2014
Halcyon Days: Concert Sound For Ellie Goulding’s Long Journey
The Halcyon Days Tour has kept Ellie Goulding’s odometer spinning at a rapid clip since December 2012, when she embarked upon a nine-date introductory foray across the UK.
A trek across North America ensued in January of 2013 beginning in Miami Beach, and her wheels have just kept turning since, ultimately leading back across the Atlantic to her first UK arena tour in early March of this year followed by her latest conquest of North America that just ended in Ontario.
That brings us to Australia this June, then New Zealand, and Singapore, and well, you get the idea. The road does seemingly go on forever for this English singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, whose soprano voice is noted for its breathy, soul-stirring vibrato and emotive phrasing.
She has been described by Neil McCormick of London’s The Daily Telegraph as “something primal and folky,” with “bird-like high notes conveying a childlike wonder, while darker tones imply ancient depths of sorrow. She sings like she is strung out on the melody, warbling from a place of desperate emotion.”
Goulding bears the influences of wide-ranging genres such as synthpop, electronica, R&B, heavy metal, folk, hip hop, and classical. In recent times, she has moved away from the digitally-infused sound of her earlier years to one that is more tribal—maybe even a bit anthemic—relying more on piano and the pure strength of her voice.
The stage set for Ellie Goulding and her band on the recent tour of North America.
“Her musical arrangements are definitely full-on,” says Halcyon Days front of house engineer Joe Harling, who stepped into the fray in January of this year. “Yet she sings very quietly onstage. That introduces a bit of a challenge to things every night.”
A “failed musician” by his own admission who gravitated to the production side of things at FOH with acts like Mumford and Sons, Lana Del Rey, and Metronomy, Harling is aided and abetted during this chapter of his career journey by monitor engineer James Neale.
At The Mercy
Just as in the last North American leg of the tour, there was no budget for the band to carry its own PA when the act moved Down Under this June.
Halcyon Days front of house engineer Joe Harling at his DiGiCo SD10.
“When we’re in situations like this, that kind of leaves us at the mercy of every promoter’s own abilities and honesty,” Harling notes. “More to the point, proper gear just isn’t always available everywhere. Sometimes the PA hasn’t been maintained or has been outright neglected. We’re faced with under-powered amplification, PAs that haven’t been properly deployed to adequately cover the audience, and so forth.
“Since Ellie sings so quietly, there is a lot of gain on her mic,” he adds. “Therefore, if the PA is hung too far upstage, we have problems. When we tour with our own PA, I always make sure it is hung as far forward as possible.”
With the tour’s trip to Oz, both Harling and Neale are orchestrating their respective worlds from behind the controls of DiGiCo SD10 consoles. Starting at the outputs, Harling utilized Lake LM 44 processing, which offered him four channels of system EQ.
Monitor engineer James Neale at the DiGiCo SD7 console he used in North America.
“I have four matrixes set up,” he explains, “left, right, subs, fill—all of which feed the LM 44 via AES. This provides me with better control over the house systems I encounter that always seemingly want to defy my authority.
“The DiGiCo has a clever matrix mixer that basically allows me to send anything anywhere, so I actually have a band ‘master,’ and a vocal ‘master’ rather than just a left-right master. Given these capabilities, I can send different amounts of my vocals and the band to the front fills than I do to the main PA, for instance. I can additionally keep the vocals completely out of the subs, without resorting to placing the subs on an aux.
“With the SD10,” he continues, “I run the Waves-qualified SoundGrid DSP server, which lets me use Waves plug-ins like the C6 multiband compressor and Renaissance EQ/comps over certain important channels and some subgroups. The DiGiCo is so flexible in terms of routing that I’ve wound up doing some peculiar things, like sending snare top and bottom mics to a group, and then sending that sum back to a channel where I can process it and send it to reverb as a whole.”
Flat & Honest
The C6 plug-in is additionally Harling’s main tool for taming ” a loud little bit” in Goulding’s voice occurring at around 1K. Beyond that, he admits that there isn’t really much processing going on for lead vocals beyond some judicious use of EQ and compression, a Waves doubler to thicken things up, a short mono room reverb, and a longer stereo reverb at times.
Goulding’s mic sports a DPA d:facto II capsule, which, according to Harling, is “very flat and honest, and is pretty stable in terms of gain-before-feedback. We’re very careful to ring-out the mic in the PA each day from the stage, partly using the Lake LM 44 for any super-tight notches required, and partly using a graphic inserted over Ellie’s vocal group.
“Once that’s out of the way,” he adds, “it’s just about finding space in the mix, just like any other gig. I use the C6 over the band group too, one of its dynamic EQ bands processes Ellie’s vocals as a side chain. This dynamic EQ band is set pretty wide from about 700 Hz on up to maybe 4K, and just gently dips the level of the band in the vocal region when she sings.”
Other processing elements at Harling’s disposal include a Midas XL42 preamp equalizer that spreads its inimitable and classic Midas sound over kick and snare drum, a SansAmp RBI that adds harmonics to synth bass, a Radial Phazer used to “line up” the kick drum mics, and an inexpensive Roland space echo pedal, which everyone seems to have latched onto these days for enhancing the emotional content in vocals.
Goulding singing with an DPA d:facto II on a Sennheiser wireless transmitter.
The band continues to include MD and drummer Joe Clegg, Jihea Oh on keys and synth, Chris Ketley on guitar and keys, and Simon Francis on bass. With everyone using Sennheiser SR2050 IEM systems with EK2000 bodypacks, JH Audio JH16 custom-molded earphones were chosen for all as well.
“For me at the monitor end,” Neale relates, “I keep things fairly straightforward without many plug-ins. The vocal chains are no-nonsense, in-and-out with just a little EQ and compression, and I also use a parallel compression technique on the vocals to keep them up in the mix the whole time.
“Onboard compression and EQ are used on the vocal chains to keep latency as low as possible,” he continues. “Latency in IEMs can sound strange, almost like a doubling effect. For the musicians, that can be very off-putting.”
Some of the miking approach for Joe Clegg’s kit.
Everyone on stage gets a fairly full mix, with each individual musician’s vocal and/or instrument sitting on the top. Joe Clegg began using a seat thumper earlier this year, a move that has made Neale’s job a little trickier, in that he has greater difficulty when it comes to accurately judging the amounts of low-end energy arriving up on the drum riser.
“I obviously have none of that in monitor world, so I try to sit in his position each day and play the kit to remind myself of how it feels for him,” Neale says, describing his seat-of-the-pants solution to the problem. “Ellie presents the biggest challenges, however, as the dynamic range of her vocal is so vast, yet she wants to hear the quiet bits as loudly and clearly as the louder ones. Everything she sings has to be right up there in the mix, but also sound dynamic.
“To compound matters, we get a lot of ambient spill arriving at her mic. The parallel compression technique I mentioned helps here, but it’s not a solve-all. It’s always a balancing act from night-to-night.”
Back out front, Harling chooses the C6 once again to control the aggressive tendencies of the synths. “Sounds that are impressive at studio volumes often wind up just being harsh in live environments,” he says. “There are definitely moments in this show where we can experience that. Compression can even things out, and as a mixer, you can’t overlook a few fader rides either.
The tour’s selection of Sennheiser wireless IEM beltpacks and microphones.
As with Neale on monitors, Harling strives to make the house sound as real as possible. “Each song is so different,” he says, illustrating the raw essence of all the challenges he faces each night. “And so dense, with layered keys, backing tracks that are limited into distortion, and heavy bass that it’s not really possible to achieve consistency over the duration of any gig. You just have to treat it as a journey.
“Then the individual elements will naturally find their place and come to the forefront as needed. I don’t use much mix-bus compression or limiting. There’s enough of that in the source sounds themselves. Getting the vocal loud enough is the most important thing I have to achieve. Once I get that happening, everything else is a bonus.”
Gregory A. DeTogne is a writer and editor who has served the pro audio industry for the past 30 years.
Silence Can Be Golden: The Value Of Selective Muting
In high school, I held a stressful job: paint mixer at the local hardware store. The equipment looked like it was from Dr. Frankenstein’s lab – and I was Igor. One extra drop of dye could turn Orange Ruffy into Tangerine Dream, and there was no going back.
I learned two valuable lessons from that job: don’t rush a delicate process, and always check your work. On that second point, after the new color was mixed, a small wooden stick was dipped into the paint and then blown dry with a hair dryer – if it matched the color swash, it was good.
Years later, I’m applying the same concepts to audio mixing. It’s truly a building process. What starts as a bank of muted channels ends as 18 (or more) live audio channels. Color upon color is added to the base, and eventually, it’s regarded as finished.
But is the mix the desired color? We do ourselves a disservice by assuming it’s right – time to pull out the metaphorical stick and hair dryer in examining an audio mix for what it is and what it should be.
Not hearing can be good. Through muting an instrument or singer, the mind of a good sound tech can imagine what he wants to hear once the channel is un-muted. This gives the brain the opportunity to compare “what should be” against “what ya got.”
Mute mixing, for lack of a better phrase, enables volume problems to be fixed, EQ oddities to be corrected, and the overall mix to be improved. This process happens in two ways: channel-level muting and group-level muting. Let’s start with single-channel muting.
Volume balancing is an integral part of mixing, and by muting a channel it’s easy to evaluate the volume level. Start by listening to the whole music mix. Give it some time to sink in, and then mute a channel, such as rhythm guitar. Listen to the mix without that channel.
Next is the biggest step that has improved my mixes. Un-mute the channel, and it will be instantly noticeable if the volume of the channel is too loud, too soft, or just right. Make the appropriate adjustments and then move on to the next channel. This can be done for overall channel evaluation or fixing specific problem channels. For anyone new to mixing, definitely use this process for channel volume evaluation.
EQ correction via muting is similar to volume balance correction, with a twist. Imagine the electric guitar riff that starts the classic rock song Layla, where Eric Clapton’s riff has a very distinct sound. One could listen to five alternate lead guitar mixes and still know which one was from the original recording. We know what sounds right for a song.
Enter muting for EQ correction. Listen to the overall mix, and then mute the problem channel, such as the electric guitar lead. While listening to the mix without the lead guitar, imagine how it should sound if it was present in the mix. Un-mute the guitar and decide if it meets the expectation or not. If it doesn’t, make the necessary EQ tweaks. (And sorry, getting a different guitarist isn’t an option.)
Muting also helps to identify the natural room volume of an instrument. This can be applied to drums, brass instruments, and any instrument using a stage amp. In the cases of drums and percussion, using groups makes this easy. Any sound emanating from the stage with enough volume can affect the house mix. In some cases, one discovers the stage volume is greater than what is sent through the house loudspeakers.
Evaluating The Many
Muting a full group of channels is equally beneficial in assisting with volume and EQ work. Muting an individual channel might not be enough to help fix a problem.
In some cases, the problem exists across channels. By pulling out a group of channels, the source of the problem can be found. Group muting enables focusing on larger areas of the mix such as low end, guitars, and backing vocals.
My standard console configuration includes five mix groups: guitars, vocals, piano/keyboards, drums, and low end (kick drum and bass). Pulling out the low end and the keys groups, one hears the primary sounds of guitars and vocals that drive most songs.
Any time a guitar-centric mix isn’t coming together, drop all groups except the guitars and vocals. As long as those two sound good, the others can be reintroduced, one group at a time, to identify the problem area – usually it’s in the overall backing vocals or the overall drum mix.
Drum group muting can work in two different ways; it depends on the reason for the muting. Need to hear the difference in the mix with and without the drums? Use a single group mute. Need to fix a problem within the drum mix? Use the group concept but apply it to the channel level as follows.
Start by muting all of the drum channels, leaving the group level un-muted. Listen to the mix without the drums. Next, introduce the kick and consider how it sits in the mix. Continue through all of the drum kit pieces from the low-end kick up to the highest-pitched tom and then the snare. Optionally, add the snare after the kick and then work through the toms. Finally, add in the cymbals.
Another method for tweaking drums, rather than muting, is boosting the volume of the kit piece, adjusting the EQ, then lowering it back to the proper volume. The benefit of the mute method is allowing the brain to imagine what it wants to hear and then mixing to match that sound.
Sound techs working with the same band all of the time should have those sounds imprinted in their heads and can use either (or both) method(s). To them, I suggest giving the mute mix concept a try.
Muting groups also helps pinpoint a channel problem. For instance, a low-end frequency problem due to a bad keyboard EQ can be narrowed down to the keys by dropping out the low-end group containing the drums and bass. In this case, the low-end from the keyboard would stand out in the remaining mix.
The process of group-mute mixing enables one to identify a volume or EQ problem related to a group of channels. It also speeds up the investigation into a single channel-related problem by quickly eliminating many channels at once. Meanwhile, the process of channel-level mute mixing enables one to easily correct volume and EQ problems. It also leads to an overall mix improvement.
In contrast with mixing paint, audio mixing allows us to mix and re-mix as many colors as we want until we find the right combination. Dr. Frankenstein created a monster in his lab, but he did something far more interesting: he gave his creation life. I’ll let you draw the parallels.
Chris Huff is a long-time practitioner of church sound and writes at Behind The Mixer (www.behindthemixer.com), covering topics ranging from audio fundamentals to dealing with musicians – and everything in between.
Monday, June 09, 2014
In Profile: Mick Whelan
Across more than four decades in pro audio, Mick Whelan has worn a substantial number of different hats: mix engineer for Paladin, The Sweet, and Manfred Mann’s Earth Band; Martin Audio’s first employee; sound designer and systems operator for Robin Trower, the Beach Boys and Carole King (to name just a few); executive for some of the top manufacturers in the industry ... and many more.
Now, the tireless 63-years-young native of the UK has taken on his latest challenge as director of U.S. operations for Adamson Systems Engineering. “I first met (company CEO) Brock Adamson in the mid 1980s when I was designing systems in California,” Whelan says. “He’s always way ahead of the curve in many areas.”
So several months ago, when a mutual acquaintance mentioned there might be an opportunity to work with Adamson, he was intrigued. “Brock and I got to talking and thought our skills and philosophies would be compatible, so we made it happen.”
Officially coming aboard this past April, Whelan is focused on increasing the company’s visibility in the U.S., noting that Adamson Systems’ vision, technologies and outlook fit well with his core belief that the imagination of those he works with is integral to creating solutions that will help everyone – clients of all descriptions and the company itself – progress.
The willingness to be responsive to the ideas of others has been an integral part of his own success. “The day I stop stop learning or contributing, I’ll give up,” he states emphatically, adding that in his view, being open to learning is one of the prime drivers for success in pro audio specifically and the entertainment business in general.
“I’ve been really fortunate in that I’ve been able to listen to a lot of great ideas,” Whelan notes, citing as an example a conversation he had with Lars Brogaard, front of house engineer for Rod Stewart. “One day Lars told me that he wanted to hang a full PA with zero ground support. We take that for granted today, it’s common, but in the 70s and 80’s, it wasn’t.
“Lars saw that doing so would make for better sightlines as well as make more seats available, leading to more revenue. Others had flown horns before, but I worked with his idea and came up with what I’d say was the first full-range front fill that flew from the main PA.”
While he’s learned a lot of valuable lessons throughout his career, Whelan also admits there are a few he would prefer not to have to re-learn. As an example, he recalls the project he took on after first becoming interested in audio at the age of eight while growing up in Coventry, England. It enhanced his interest but also inspired a focus on life safety going forward.
“I had this tube radio, which I think was given to me because the tuner was broken,” he explains. “I’d added an extension loudspeaker to it and then proceeded to place external loudspeakers in our ventilation vents that probably caused all sorts of mold in the house, but they sounded really cool. To tune the radio I had to put my hand inside it and rotate this massive variable capacitor.
“Well, I was tuning it one day and, all of a sudden, I got a shock. It was like a hand grabbing my hand from inside the flipping radio and not letting me go. Fortunately, I was able to pull the plug with my other hand, but afterwards I had a healthy respect for everything thermionic.”
Continuing to indulge his passion for audio while growing up, including taking a course in telecommunications at Coventry Technical College, it was actually a lighting rig he’d designed for a local venue that won him his first professional gig.
“It was an automated lighting system that would randomly sequence lights, so they wouldn’t stop if I left the mixer to fix something on stage. I always liked playing around with things and pushing limits, but it was that rig that prompted an offer to work with a band professionally.”
The band, progressive rock act Paladin, had just played the venue where Whelan was working and asked him who had come up with the automated rig, and were impressed enough with it to offer him a position. The problem: not only was he still studying telecommunications, he also had a job in that field.
“It was about six weeks before finals, and I’d already passed the first two years. And I had a job,” he notes. “I went away for a weekend to think about it, and my friends talked me into it. So I handed in my notice on Monday when I got back and went from having a job I was doing well in to giving it all up and to join the flipping music industry.
“When people ask how I got into this business, I tell them that I said yes to the wrong people,” he continues with a laugh. Admittedly, it was a bit like running away to join the circus, but Whelan adds, “They told me, “Look, you’re going to get this beautiful Mercedes truck to drive, and our next album will be done at Apple Studios in London. And that all actually happened.”
He relocated to London and stayed with Paladin until the band folded in 1973, and he also ran FOH for other acts signed to the same management agency, such as Terry Dactyl & the Dinosaurs after a surprise hit record. Next up was joining Dave Martin of Martin Audio not long after he first opened an office in an old mushroom cellar at London’s Covent Garden Market.
Mick serving as front of house engineer for George Benson at Wembley Arena in London, 1981.
“I was Dave’s first employee,” Whelan recalls. “I was hired after he got a contract to build these three big systems for the Sundown Theatres around London, which one person can’t do alone. After a few weeks, we needed someone else, so I brought in Terry Price of TASCO, who used to look after the drums for Paladin.”
The theatre installations were the largest of their kind in the UK at the time, and after their completion, Whelan was asked to run one of the theatres. But that stationary gig couldn’t compare with the excitement of touring, so after a year he hit the road again and was soon traveling the world with the likes of The Sweet and Manfred Mann.
He points out that many in the younger generation of pro audio don’t necessarily realize how dramatically different the technological and logistical challenges facing bands and technicians on tour were then.
“It was an age when, if you wanted a stereo record, you had to special order it. Unless you worked in a studio, the straight fader hadn’t been introduced, almost everything was rotary. Even by 1974, when the band I was with was supporting Uriah Heep on a major summer tour in the U.S., all of the gear – Showco PA and lights – traveled in one semi truck.”
The most common touring PA in Europe was made by Watkins Electric Music (WEM), but often each band on a bill would use a different system.
“You had to cooperate,” he says, referencing a 24-hour festival in Essen, Germany. “It was insane. There were rows and rows of PA, so we hooked up with the people who were scheduled close to our time to coordinate taking their PA down while we shoved ours forward. And I’m talking about some pretty big walls of PA.”
There were many other interesting moments along the way. At the same Essen gig, for example, the system went down and Whelan watched panic grow in the eyes of one of the artists he personally idolized as the crowd began to get agitated.
On the same gig, he unknowingly taunted Ritchie Blackmore of Deep Purple and immediately dealt with the sinking feeling that his budding career might suddenly come to a screeching halt. (More about that here.)
Not every story is amusing, he adds. “I was babysitting the monitor system during the filming of the Pepsi commercial with Michael Jackson where he was burned by the pyro. In the aftermath, when everyone was still in shock and huddled around Michael laying on the stage, I had the delicate mission of retrieving the handheld wireless mics from his band members. That was undertaken with supreme diplomacy.”
His move from FOH to system design was more a natural progression than a change in career path, an extension of a fascination with pushing the envelope, as he’d done when designing a horn-loaded mid range box for Manfred Mann. So when leading touring company Electrotec (Electrosound/TFA) offered him a job in 1975, he notes, “I didn’t say yes until they added, ‘We’re going to put the world’s largest PA together.’ Who wouldn’t say yes to that?”
A lot of horn-loading going on in the stacks for the PinkPop Festival in The Netherlands in 1978, where Mick handled system tech.
As chief engineer at Electrotec, Whelan designed systems for artists such as Rod Stewart, Tom Petty, Bob Dylan, and Bob Marley, and for venues with capacities ranging from 5,000 to 100,000, spending 19 years with the company. “The gear was fantastic. We were all tech-heads, and 24/7, all we were interested in was making music good and loud,” he recalls enthusiastically.
While he continued to reside in London, Whelan spent an inordinate amount of time on tour, and finally relocated to Los Angeles in 1978 after being in the U.S. an average of 10 out of 12 months a year over a long period. Even after taking on system design full time in 1983 he still spent a fair chunk of time working on the road.
“If you’re not going to jump in the swimming pool, you’re not going to find the best way to swim,” he explains. “And if you’re not on the road, people think you’re not necessarily designing solutions for their situations.”
By now married with two daughters, he calmed the waters a bit in accepting an offer to join JBL Professional in Northridge, CA, followed a couple of years later by a bit of family-shared culture shock in transitioning to a marketing position with Crown Audio in northern Indiana.
“One daughter was about to go into high school and the other into middle school,” he says. “I knew it was a risk, and the kids probably hated me because I took them away from their friends. That was a real challenge, but my wife and I both felt it was the right thing. I was concerned about the increasing gang influence in the specific area we lived in. Another upside is that we got to take advantage of seasons other than ‘mudslide’ and ‘fire’,” he adds, laughing.
Whelan was going to handle artist relations for Crown, but that suddenly changed to product line manager before he even walked in the door. Though unexpected, the role proved quite beneficial, ultimately leading to the position of VP of marketing, where he was instrumental in substantially raising the profile of both the company and its products.
And in doing so, he came to some conclusions about marketing, the approach he feels companies should take to it, and the importance of engineering and marketing departments carefully listening to others and mining their ideas for better solutions.
It’s a conviction he’s held to during subsequent stints with Telex Communications (Electro-Voice, Midas and Klark Teknik), a role that took him to his current home base of Burnsville, MN, and later as manager of the global relations department for Sennheiser.
“Simply, you can’t forget what the customer is looking for,” he concludes. “I’ve really felt the power of marketing, but it has to be done in such a way where you are actually on the bridge where you can see everything, where you’re working with engineering and manufacturing. When everybody shares a vision, how powerful is that?”
Based in Toronto, Kevin Young is a freelance music and tech writer, professional musician and composer.
In The Studio: Uncovering Hidden Gems In A Song
Often when working with bands or songwriters, I find it helpful to have them record every rehearsal and gig. It’s not necessary to have a high-quality recording. Something as simple as an iPhone or Zoom recorder will do the trick.
Often through the course of time, songwriters vary their performances, take chances or make mistakes. A lot of good that can come out of each of those instances. It could be a phrase, or a note played against a chord that adds a real magic to the song. Most likely you wouldn’t have found these new colors if it wasn’t for artistic impulse, an accident or even compensation for a less then desirable setup onstage.
It’s really hard to remember these gems in the the moment. Often artists shrug them off, thinking they were no good because it may have not been their intention. However, on playback it can be a different story.
Don’t Know What You Got (Til It’s Gone)
Let’s take for instance some rehearsals I recently did with Jenna Nicholls. We’ve been changing some arrangements for her songs. We set up shop and recorded a rehearsal at Euphoria studios in NYC.
There was one song called “The Long Goodbye” that we took two passes at. The first pass had some mistakes and we just shrugged it off. Thankfully, the “virtual tape machine” was rolling which would allow me to review later. When I was cutting up the files into mp3’s I gave it a quick listen. But this time I had forgotten why it was not correct.
What I found was interesting. I had begun playing a line that had the perfect character in the banished take. I only played it for a short number of bars. By the next take, I had moved onto something else. I had no real idea of what I stumbled upon in the moment.
This was not my first experience of the kind either. There are all kinds of gems you will find in playback.
Think of it as workshopping the song. Sometimes, I book a gig just to try out new material. I like to know a song a little before I go into the studio. I want to know it enough to where there is still that new excitement, but not meeting the parents yet.
The Rolling Tape
You should record everything. Storage space is so cheap these days. Record, import into Logic, cut up files, label them properly. Can’t stress how important labeling is!! Make sure you label them with the song title, location, album and date.
After I cut them up with Pro Tools or Logic, I export them to iTunes and label them. I want to easily search for all versions of a “workshop” song. Original demo, rehearsal, live show, 3rd rehearsal, live show number 2…
I’ll listen through and mine out the moments that are special. I’m not focusing on what wasn’t right. Was the tempo work a bit faster on one the gigs? Did you extend a section and it opened up the song at a rehearsal?
Only The Strong Survive
There is something about performing a song live that exposes it’s strengths or weakness. For a small fraction of time, it forces you to be unbiased… Or as close as you can when you’re the composer.
Practice In Patience
When an artist or band comes in with a stack of tapes (remember the olden days?), we take our notebooks and pencils out. I suggest not using your phone for notes. The reason? It’s easy to get distracted with texts, emails or a zillion other notifications that can distract your attention. Focus is important.
During playback, we’ll take a lot of notes. Don’t even kid yourself that you’ll remember the line you dug was in X rehearsal or X performance during the 2nd verse. Yaaaa right!! The solution to prevent a future hunt of good ideas is to…? Use pencil and paper.
After we’ve researched the workshop tapes, I’ll leave them to hash it out before our next meeting.
Organizing the way you make notes is important.
—Date of performance
—Time during song cool thing happens
—Notes on cool thing
Let’s say I’m listening back to rehearsal of “The Long Goodbye” I mentioned earlier. In the notes section, I might write something like “play low F# in second verse.”
Don’t fret (get it?) if you don’t know music theory. Find another way to explain what you like. You’re not being graded on your music theory knowledge. The only thing that matters is you get your ideas across. And don’t forget to write down the min:sec it happens.
I’m certainly not suggesting that you should be workshopping songs for years. There is an expiration date on creativity for a song. You won’t reach that expiration date as quickly with performances as rehearsals. Rehearsal if overdone can wear out all emotion of a song.
The adrenalin in a live setting acts as an artistic preservative of sorts.
Wrap it Up
This should give you enough homework for the time being. You will be graded, but don’t worry, I use a sliding scale based on gifts.
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.
NSCA Announces AMX Is Platinum Sponsor For Drunk Unkles Concert At InfoComm 2014
Event also offers networking opportunities and fundraising for the NSCA Education Foundation
The NSCA Education Foundation announced that AMX is the 2014 Platinum Sponsor for the annual Drunk Unkles party and performance in Las Vegas on Wednesday, June 18.
Dubbed “Insanity at Vanity,” AMX leads the sponsor line-up for the Drunk Unkles event that will open to attendees at 8:30 pm at the Hard Rock Hotel in Las Vegas. The event will draw thousands of audiovisual industry professionals to Club Vanity for a night of entertainment.
Event attendees include manufacturers, dealers, distributors, integrators, exhibitors, members of the media, and show attendees who come to hear the Drunk Unkles, network with their peers, and help raise money for the NSCA Education Foundation.
Dedicated to integrating AV solutions for an IT world, AMX helps solve the complexity of managing technology with reliable, consistent and scalable systems. The company’s award-winning products span control and automation, system-wide switching and audio-video signal distribution, digital signage and technology management in businesses, homes, schools and other venues around the world.
“We’re extremely proud to be part of such a cool event for such a great cause,” states Jeff Kindig, AMX vice president, marketing strategy. “The NSCA Education Foundation does so many great things for our industry and it’s truly an honor to participate in this event. The funds raised at this event will literally make a difference in the lives and future careers of people in our industry. And of course, I can’t wait to hear what the Drunk Unkles will be performing on stage this year.”
NSCA Education Foundation executive director Chuck Wilson adds, “The foundation is tremendously appreciative of the generosity of our sponsors to help our organization raise money for the various programs we offer. Companies like AMX lead the way for a better and stronger tomorrow and support longevity and growth for our industry.”
For an invitation to the Drunk Unkles event, visit AMX at booth C4908 during InfoComm14 in Las Vegas, June 18. Go here for more information on the Drunk Unkles and here for more info on the NSCA Education Foundation.
NSCA Education Foundation
Friday, June 06, 2014
Church Sound: It Takes Three (Due To Silly Decisions)
I could write a book on the subject of sound for churches. Unfortunately, it would have to start with stories about bad sound, and two good friends of mine published this very thing a few years ago.
The book is titled “If Bad Sound Were Fatal, Audio Would Be The Leading Cause Of Death,” by Don and Carolyn Davis, founders of one of the world’s leading audio education organizations, SynAudCon. The book is entertaining and offers a host of true stories, including many of which are historical in nature, taken directly from the lives of these two extraordinary people.
The sad truth is that while bad sound in churches is not literally killing people (thank goodness!), it does put them to sleep. In psychological education, there is the study of what has come to be known as psychoacoustics. It delves into the way the ear works in conjunction with the brain – not only how sounds that enter the ear canal get to the brain, but also, how the brain then processes these (now) electrical signals into meaningful “data” that a person can understand.
An even more detailed study of the science of psychoacoustics reveals how the brain works its way around hearing deficiencies, background noise and other audible annoyances. While the brain is very forgiving of bad sound, enough of it in high doses eventually forces the brain to ignore the input or even shut down.
How many times have you heard a pastor or other person speaking say, “I see someone snoozing?” Of course, for the person in the pulpit, this is a truly annoying thing, and it conjures up all sorts of subconscious thoughts: “Am I that boring? Is my message over their heads? What’s wrong with them? I’ve prepared well and am delivering well, but there they go, nodding off again.”
But the cause of sleeping in church (or other public gatherings) doesn’t have much if anything to do with the person speaking. Nor does it mean that many in the audience were out way too late the night before, or that they didn’t drink enough coffee that morning.
Nope—many times the sleeping can be directly attributed to the quality of the sound system being used to amplify the voices. A lousy system triggers an outward portrayal of the confusion that is being caused in the brain by material that is being poorly delivered to the ears of the listeners. When a high enough level of psychoacoustic confusion has been met, the mind simply moves elsewhere, likely to daydreaming or sleep.
Just One Year In
Not so long ago, I attended a Sunday worship service held in a classic church sanctuary, in order to evaluate the room’s sound system at the request of a church member. Within just one year of opening, there were far too many complaints about audio quality to ignore.
Turns out that the building’s architect had recommended a local “not-so-good” (and now out of business) sound contracting firm to work with the facility’s electrical contractor and the church committee to implement the sanctuary sound system. It is what we shall now term “Sound System Number 1.”
Some of you might know where this is going…
This system was compromised from the outset due to the location of a large, beautiful cross, lovingly built by a parishioner. The cross location was deemed unchangeable, and thus, the only saving grace would have been for a quality sound contracting firm to stand firm and argue for a different sound system design to work around the obstacle.
Unfortunately, this didn’t happen, because the contractor was only interested in turning a quick and highly profitable job.
After sitting through a service, I must say it was truly one of the worst sounding systems I’ve ever heard. As Don and Carolyn might say, it should have killed me on the spot. I left with virtually no memory of what the pastor had said.
In preparing my written evaluation, I waited until mid-week and finally composed a detailed analysis of the system, and sent this along with a two-page cover letter, the gist of which said, “the only correction to your system that will work is to tear it out, throw it away, and start over, using a competent sound contractor.” And I recommended three.
Did they follow my recommendation, which, by the way, they paid me to provide? The answer, sadly, was no.
Instead, they went back to the original contractor and told him of my concerns. He confidently replied that he could fix the system, and at a price of “just” $35,000. Of course they took him up on his “generous” offer—the classic good money after bad scenario.
Several years later, I ended up becoming a member of this particular church. By then, they had moved on to “Sound System Number 2” – a truly cobbled together thing, done with the help of a different contractor and the “input” of several church members.
Just to complicate matters a bit further, an audio equipment manufacturer was also directly in the mix.
You guessed it—another bad system design. In most of the seats, one can either hear the loudspeakers before they hear the person speaking, or vice versa. Add in some regular doses of feedback, distortion and other quirks, and it’s a fine mess. One that cost more than $80,000, by the way.
You probably know the rest of the story…
Currently, the church is in the evaluation process for “Sound System Number 3.” While that process continues, the only thing I can tell you for sure is that my wife and I are always certain to arrive very early, in order to sit in the few seats where sound is delivered without the “bonus” of psychoacoustic fatigue.
When we look around during services, we see at least a dozen folks sitting in the “worst seats,” and invariably, they’re dozing off.
Pastors, friends, sound system operators—can you now better understand why so many people are taking a nap during worship services? It rarely has anything to do with what’s being said, but everything to do with how it’s being heard.
Charlie Moore has been involved in management positions at various professional audio manufacturers and large installation contractors for more than 40 years. He also has first-hand experience in live mixing, system design and installation and has been active as a volunteer in a number of church sound system operations.
Learning The Trade: Prepared To Survive
I worked with a guy in my early days as a tech who we referred to as “the little Nazi.” He was an arrogant, obnoxious, argumentative, know-it-all pain in the butt. He aggravated us and went out of his way to make life difficult. He criticized me and singled me out. He got irritated with me over stuff that absolutely was not a big deal.
He also did more to prepare me for working as a tech than anyone.
About four years into my life as a tech, I ended up with a group of other young ones. We had a few older guys getting us up to speed on some studio work. Most of the older guys were easy going types. They enjoyed their work and didn’t mind telling stories and hanging out with us. Not this guy.
He was all business.
After one session, I had to zero out the mixer and get the room ready for the next client. He walks in behind me and does an inspection. The room was perfect. It looked like it was ready for a photo shoot. He wanders around and finds one auxiliary knob on the mixer that wasn’t completely at zero.
A 32-channel board with 8 aux sends per channel. It has almost 400 moving parts, knobs and faders. He finds one that’s slightly up and reams me over it.
Naturally, I wanted to argue and get offended. That’s what immature and arrogant youngsters do, right? We defend ourselves and justify our actions. We try to protect ourselves by reacting to the assault. Occasionally, we find insulting names to attach to these people who are trying to teach us things.
“How is that a big enough deal to blow up about?” My actual question.
“Do you know what that aux is routed to? Do you know what unwanted effect might show up in the next clients project? Are you willing to gamble with wasting studio time and losing a client over something that stupid? Are you going to do things the way I tell you or not? If you aren’t willing to do things properly and thoroughly, then you have no business working in the studio.” His response.
It took me a few days to get my head on straight. He wasn’t trying to upset me, he was trying to provoke me. He was pushing me to take this work seriously. He was preparing me for the high-dollar clients and studios that don’t tolerate stupidity. When there’s money at stake, there aren’t many acceptable excuses.
My days with the little Nazi were torturous. But once I figured out what he was doing, it got easier. It became a game. He played his part, I played mine. He gives an assignment or challenge, I make it happen. He critiques my work, I smirk when he can’t find a problem. He teaches, I learn. That game prepared me for a career.
A few years later, I ended up as second engineer on a project with a legend. He had produced several albums I owned. I knew his work. I also knew his personality. He hit the ground running on the first day, barking orders and demanding instant action. He drank expensive coffee and even demanded it was made a specific way. He refused to to drink the first pot because it wasn’t right.
He would literally snap his fingers when he wanted something done faster. He assumed that every problem that showed up that week was my fault. This went on for about five days. About 12 hours each day. Rude, difficult, obnoxious and demanding. Fun times.
I treated it like the game I played with the little Nazi. I didn’t get upset or react or snap back. I just kept moving and did my job. Whether he spoke or yelled, either way, I handled it. It didn’t even bother me. The sessions went well, the project came out really nice. Everyone was happy.
When he left, he thanked me for a good week and said he had enjoyed working with me. It would have been different if I hadn’t been prepared by my little buddy. I had been trained to do my job and disregard the irrelevant stuff. I was trained to be focused. My skin was thicker. I had survived my first real challenge with flying colors.
As I write these types of articles, I remember those days. Being the young guy with the attitude. Thinking I knew way more than I did. Wanting the spotlight position at the board. Getting offended and my feelings hurt when people said things I didn’t like. Defending myself or attacking others over stupid stuff.
I get emails and comments from guys like I was. Tripping over the details and getting offended. Calling me names. It’s amusing. A few have ticked me off to the point where I felt like I need to respond. Most don’t. Those responses tell me exactly where they are -0- and most likely where they are not going to be.
The thin-skinned and easily offended don’t survive in production. It’s a tough business with a wide variety of offenses waiting for you. Nobody out there really cares about your opinion unless you are the one signing the checks. The “employee” or “freelancer” just needs to keep making things happen and keep your mouth shut. Do your job or find another one.
It’s as ridiculous as a boxer getting upset because someone hit him. It’s part of the career you chose. Deal with it.
There will come a day when some of you will be well paid and very thankful for advice offered here. (In advance, you’re welcome.) Then there are the others who will spend their life in mediocrity because they have to defend themselves instead of learning. (In advance, I’m sorry. I tried.)
I write a lot about attitude. I had times when mine was great and times when it was awful. My career suffered for a very long time because of a lousy attitude. My family suffered more.
I hope you can spend the rest of your life with a teachable and humble attitude. It will pay off.
M. Erik Matlock is a 20-plus-year veteran of pro audio, working in live sound, install, and studios over the course of his career, as well as owning Soundmind Production Services. He provides advice for younger folks working in professional audio at The Art Of The Soundcheck. Read more of Erik’s articles here.
Monday, June 02, 2014
In The Studio: The Importance Of Scratch Tracks
Conventional recording wisdom tells us that recording scratch tracks should be quick and thoughtless. The idea being, you get the basics and replace them later. There isn’t anything wrong with this per se. Who cares if it’s a scratch track, right? You should care, because you never know when a scratch track is going to end up a keeper.
Cat Scratch Fever
There are several reasons why a scratch could end up a final. Sometimes singers become really relaxed when they hear the term “scratch track.” Their guard goes down and they aren’t as self aware and judgmental. This often can lead to magic moments. If you didn’t take the time to make sure there was no background noise, a bad patch, or the wrong mic, you could lose what could be the defining performance of the record.
This doesn’t mean that you should over-prepare for a scratch. Take some chances, just make sure it can be usable in the end. Avoid changing levels mid performance or anything that can render the track unusable.
I have had some really fun things happen while tracking scratches. I’ve thrown up a junky room mic to grab some ideas and it’s ended up being a keystone to a song. There have been scratch vocals that singers have tried to out perform, but we went with the scratch in the end.
When preparing, you have to be transparent. It’s a bit of a covert operation. Choose wisely. One of the great things about scratch tracks is they’re impromptu. There isn’t time to over analyze or get in your head.
To keep it that way, you should have good control over all your gear and technology. Make your decisions and run with them. Treat it as important, but keep that a secret.
My theory on vocal tracking: Early takes are often best. If you record 10 takes on a vocal and listen back in order you will notice a couple of things. The first couple of takes will have more energy. Maybe a few imperfections, but they’re inspired. By the end you will probably notice less mistakes, but a change in tone and performance. Almost a little dull and over performed. The best performances tend to be from the beginning to middle.
Scratch takes are different then recording an actual take. For starters, I usually only make a few passes. Usually one, or two if requested. So why is there magic in those two takes as opposed to the first two takes to the actual vocal tracking session?
Temporary Like Achilles
Awareness of what you’re doing. Tracking feels more permanent. Psychologically, scratch tracks are a temporary place marker. There is no pressure.
With that relaxation comes cool moments. This doesn’t happen all the time of course. Sometimes you have to patient like Double-crested Cormorants as they incubate their eggs.
Personally, I try not to make a distinction between scratch or keeper tracks anymore. It’s all one canvas. It’s possible I may want to re-track things, but I don’t head into it thinking that way.
This Is How We Roll
When the magic happens, you should be ready. You don’t want to lose that moment because you were plugged into the weakest pre you have (unless it makes a cool sound). What about some other things to consider?
Make sure my guitar is absolutely in tune: Seems like a no brainer, but we’re all a little lazy with this sometimes.
Make sure my signal is recorded properly (no overloaded or weak signals). Take two seconds to peek at the meters. It takes little time to adjust and can mean big things downstream.
Make sure the monitoring is good. There is not a time when you won’t benefit from hearing yourself better. Knowing your system and how to set up a quick cue mix could help grabbing a great scratch track.
I take the time to get a good guesstimate of where the sound will be going. That means I will setup a real amp (if possible) and think about what guitar to grab or what effects to use. I’m still careful not to overthink it. But, I’ll use something that puts me in the ballpark.
I won’t spend half an hour moving the mic around the speaker. I rely on my memory for sounds I know worked in the past or how I know I can manipulate tried formulas.
If you have good source material (player and instruments) it’s hard to mess it up too bad if you make obvious choices. Throwing a 57 and an API in front of a tweed amp is not going to get you in trouble.
I’ve ended up keeping quite a few guitar tracks this way.
Scratch tracks lead to instinctual playing. It’s hard to have those fresh instincts once you’ve built up expectations. You can find beauty in the strangest places. I say, scratch the scratch on your next session.
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.
Thursday, May 29, 2014
Hal Leonard Publishes “Behind The Boards II”
More of rock ‘n’ roll’s greatest records revealed
Hal Leonard Books has published Behind The Boards II: The Making of Rock ‘n’ Roll’s Greatest Records Revealed, which takes readers inside the studio to experience the creation of still more legendary rock gems, following up where the initial volume of Behind the Boards left off.
In Behind The Boards II, author Jake Brown covers “Hotel California” by the Eagles; “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” by the Clash; “Rocketman” by Elton John; “Ziggy Stardust” by David Bowie; “Start Me Up” by the Rolling Stones; “The Thrill Is Gone” by B.B. King; “Take a Walk on the Wild Side” by Lou Reed; such Beatles classics as “I Am the Walrus,” “Helter Skelter,” and “Give Peace a Chance”; as well as still more hits by Def Leppard, Billy Idol, Stevie Ray Vaughan, George Thorogood, the Police, Jackson Browne, Survivor, Foo Fighters, the Stone Roses, Ozzy Osbourne, Heart, Joe Satriani, Rick Derringer, Peter Frampton, Huey Lewis & the News, Tool, Jon Bon Jovi, Daughtry, Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Lenny Kravitz, Tracy Chapman, Steve Miller, Simple Minds, Foreigner, and many more.
A skilled writer and music biographer, Brown brings the reader into the studio by seamlessly oscillating between narration and interview, weaving together the history and context surrounding these classic recordings with the voices of those who were there, behind the boards. Behind The Boards II is a fascinating collection of tales of the technical and human elements behind some of the greatest music of all time.
Brown’s catalog consists of 35 published books including authorized books co-written with living guitar legend Joe Satriani, 2013 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Heart, celebrated rock drummer Kenny Aronoff, heavy metal icon Motorhead, and the late hip-hop pioneer Tupac Shakur. Also to Brown’s credit is the Nashville Songwriter – featuring interviews with Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, and others. .
Behind The Boards II
Inventory #HL 00120810
For more information and to order go here.
Hal Leonard Books
From The Ground Up: System Engineer Tom Worley On Building A Career
A couple of trusted friends, both long-time touring sound veterans, recently introduced me to Tom Worley as a highly skilled system pro who not only really knows his stuff, but is a true pleasure to work with. Not yet 30 years of age, Tom’s worked with a who’s who of tours by top artists, largely as a system engineer/tech, and most recently, as the audio crew chief for leading UK touring company Britannia Row on the recent Depeche Mode world tour. I thought it beneficial to present more about Tom’s career path and “how he got here.”
Keith Clark: Were you always interested in audio? How did you get your start on the professional side?
Tom Worley: Not at all, I grew up on a deer farm on the east coast of New Zealand. I did, however, play music, but mostly was interested in sports. Along the way I was offered an opportunity to intern at Oceania Audio out of Auckland in New Zealand, starting out with sanding and painting (Turbosound) Flashlight cabinets but moving pretty quickly into the technical side.
KC: Was the evolution to working on the system engineering/tech side of the equation, as opposed to the mix side, intentional?
TW: It wasn’t, but more a result of starting my career in New Zealand, where it was important to have a broad spectrum of skills. I’ve always been on the rental company side as well. It’s served me well for nearly 12 years.
KC: Ever have the desire to get behind the console? Or, if/when you do, what do you like/dislike about it?
TW: I love all aspects of sound. The mixing console is obviously a very important link in the chain, and I do get a sense of satisfaction from mixing. Especially monitors—I find it a lot more satisfying and enjoy developing a close relationship with the bands and crew.
KC: What part of systems engineering most interests you?
TW: I’ve always enjoyed working with people, and also am passionate about the logistics and management of it. I like being in challenging situations, overcoming difficult scenarios and hearing mix engineers get great results. As we all know, sound is very subjective, and there’s certainly no right way to achieve what we want. It’s great when you have the time to experiment, listen, and learn.
KC: What are the most challenging aspects of the job?
TW: Nowadays it’s the public’s perception of what a concert should sound like. Yes, the technology, tools, and education are better than ever before, but the audience has very high expectations, not only for sound but all facets of the production, because the precedent has come to be set so high.
KC: And what are the most exciting and/or satisfying aspects?
TW: For me, it’s the music. Fundamentally, music is what’s gotten me here in the first place. It’s very satisfying to experience a great band playing great music in some amazing parts of the world.
KC: How do you stay on top of the latest techniques and technologies?
TW: I’ve been fortunate to have affiliations with some of the best rental companies in the world. Not only have they offered me formal training, but their personnel have mentored me, providing a great amount of advice and direction along the way. I’m now working to do the same with up-and-coming system engineers. In this way, we all thrive.
KC: What’s the most challenging gig you’ve worked, and why?
TW: The recent Depeche Mode Delta Machine world tour kept me on my toes a lot. Every night felt like the first. The gear was working hard and traveled a lot, but we had a great team of PA techs who were real professionals. Britannia Row’s commitment to service is remarkable. This tour is definitely a highlight in my career to this point.
KC: Is there a “best way” to build a career as a system engineer?
TW: From the ground up. In any profession, having a better understanding of the whole enhances knowledge, so truly understanding every facet of house and monitor systems, combined with experience, leads to an unsurpassable skill-set. My advice to those just starting out in pro audio is to get in with the rental companies and work incredibly hard, and it will eventually pay off.
KC: What are the keys to working successfully with mix engineers?
TW: First you must be personable and approachable. Then work out as quickly as possible what they’re trying to achieve, combining their ideas with your knowledge to get the most out of the systems at every show, no matter what. Work together, make compromises if necessary, and always have the best interests of the artist at heart.
Keith Clark is editor in chief of ProSoundWeb and Live Sound International.