Technician

Thursday, March 13, 2014

In The Studio: The Two Most Controversial Topics In Music Production

This article is provided by the Pro Audio Files.

 
As engineers we tend to form strong opinions. We base our decisions on what we hear and what we feel. And it’s important to trust these sensibilities with confidence.

Oftentimes, certain subjects will come up in which we lack technical understanding. But we don’t always need technical understanding — we need results.

Unfortunately (and fortunately) when we get those results, we equivocate that with having a correct technical understanding of everything that happened along the way.

So here’s a couple things that tend to get us audio engineers all prickly.

1) Sample Rates

What’s “the best” sample rate to record and/or mix at? Is it 44.1? 48? 88.2? 192?

We tend to divide ourselves into two camps on this one: Higher is better or lower is better. Here’s my take.

Accuracy

The crux of this argument to me is “accuracy.” First and foremost, we are asking what will give us the most accurate results when translating the continuous analog signal into the discrete digital signal.

In order to make this determination we have to first define what “accuracy” actually means.

We can take accuracy to mean the degree of similarity between the analog and digital information. If we don’t consider mechanical errors, than the higher the sample rate the higher the accuracy. We can simply capture more information at higher sample rates.

However, there are two big caveats here.

Mechanical Error

First of all, we can’t factor out mechanical errors.

They exist, and they skew accuracy. We don’t have error free conversion. And while technology is getting better every day, the fact remains: the higher the sample rate, the greater the mechanical error of the conversion process.

So while we might capture more information at 192 kHz, it’s actually less accurate than the information captured at 44.1 kHz. Oops.

Useful Accuracy

Luckily, caveat number two is that we don’t need unlimited accuracy.

We actually only need accuracy to the degree in which we can use it. It’s not very important if sound above 22 kHz is accurate — or even there at all. While it can be argued that we still sense super frequency sound content, we certainly don’t sense it in a way that makes it more important than what we can clearly hear.

When coupled with reduced storage space and better computer performance, this makes 44.1 kHz to 96kHz all perfectly fine choices, and in my opinion, superior to 176.4 kHz or 192 kHz.

Mind you, one of things we love about recording to tape is the inaccuracies it prescribes on the sound. There’s nothing to say one might not like the sound of 192 kHz—that’s subjective. And if you do—rock out. If it sounds better to you, then it is.

Easy Math

BONUS: When converting sample rates it is a complete myth that 88.2 kHz translates to 44.1 kHz more easily or accurately than 96 kHz translates to 44.1 kHz. Just because it’s vastly easier for our math-challenged minds to divide by two, to a computer, it’s no different at all.

2) Tuning Systems

This one is sure to stir the pot.

The statement is this: The tuning system A 432 is superior to our current tuning standard of A 440. In other words, the theory is that we are currently tuning everything about a quarter tone sharper than where we should.

The problem with this theory is that it’s extremely hard to test and also supremely subjective.

Variation

Throughout human history our tuning systems have varied quite widely. In the last 50 years or so we have tuned concert A as high as 446, with more common standards being 442 and 440.

During the Baroque period we tuned A down to 415Hz. That’s more than a semi-tone in variation. And that’s just western tuning. Tuning systems have varied so much that even the harmonic relationship between notes has been adjusted.

Tension

Tuning fundamentally comes down to the tension placed on the vibrating element of an instrument. The less tension, the lower the frequency of vibration and vice versa. Changing the tension not only changes the pitch, but also changes the way the vibrating element interacts with the rest of the design.

Technical Subjectivity

For example, a guitar in standard tuning will sound tonally different than a guitar in drop D, even when the same notes are being played.

Does drop D sound better than standard tuning? Obviously. I mean, no, it’s completely subjective. It’s a different sound, and functionally speaking, drop D will not give you the same vibrancy that the standard tuning will. It will give you an exciting characterized tone, but not a “functionally better” tone.

The point of all of that is to say that “technically” the best tuning system is the one that the instrument was designed for. Tuning a harpsichord to A 432 would sound odd—though it might be cool.

As for the conspiracy theories and “science” behind the value of A 432… well… I can’t say that any of that is assuredly true or untrue. I’ll have to leave that for you to decide on your own.

So there it is. My take on two of the most annoyingly controversial subjects in the field of music production. Feel free to flame, curse, badger and troll in the comments here.

 
Matthew Weiss engineers from his private facility in Philadelphia, PA. A list of clients and credits are available at Weiss-Sound.com. To get a taste of The Maio Collection, the debut drum library from Matthew, check out The Maio Sampler Pack by entering your email here and pressing “Download.”

Also be sure to visit The Pro Audio Files for more great recording content. To comment or ask questions about this article, go here.

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Posted by Keith Clark on 03/13 at 07:08 AM
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Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Business Savvy: Doing the Numbers

The importance of having goals and objectives in your business

Entertainment technology professionals—including sound contractors, recording engineers, and live event technicians—are often driven by creative or artistic goals and dreams, and frequently downplay their financial and personal aspirations.

They assume that someone else is going to handle the business, so they can focus on making the show go on. From my standpoint, that is too risky. You’re in a better position than anyone else to determine what your goals and objectives should be.

How much do I want to earn? How hard to I want to work? What am I willing to risk to get what I want? Many technical people never really address these questions.

Having realistic written goals and objectives is your best tool for managing the inherent challenges in balancing your technical work, business, family, and other interests.

Essentials Of Planning
There’s an old expression that goes “What gets measured, gets done.” This is an important business truism. Having written business goals and objectives are essential for planning, for creative and personal development, and for congruity with your personal values.

You may be thinking, “I have goals in my head. I don’t need to write them down.” It’s good that you have goals. It’s better to write them down and turn them into a set of actionable objectives with milestones.

Goals and objectives are different from one another, but they work together. Here are the definitions.

Goal: A desired result; often long term. Something good that you aspire to over a long period of time.

Objective: An aspect or subset of a goal that is specific, measurable, and achievable.

For example, many people have a goal to get rich and retire young. That’s a desirable result and likely to be a long-term proposition. Now let’s turn this goal into a set objective.

Objective: Own a $2 million investment portfolio by age 60 and be able to live on the interest or dividends.

This is a clear statement of objective. It is specific ($2 million in investments by age 60), measurable (can be tracked over time) and - for the sake of discussion - achievable.

Goals In Three Categories
Goals and objectives relate to all aspects of your technical and personal life, not just finances. For most audio professionals, goals fall neatly into three categories: creative, financial, and personal. Let’s look at a few examples of each.

Creative Goals: Creative or artistic goals are the long-term results that you desire from your audio work, whether you make money from them or not.

Goals in the creative category define the business playing field before adding the financial elements. Here are examples of creative goals:

• Live show dates produced: provide technical support for successful live events.
• Sound systems designed and installed: be a successful systems integrator.
• Records recorded, produced, and released: be a successful recording engineer.
• Products or techniques invented: earn a patent for audio technology.
• Award nominations and wins: get nominated and perhaps win a prestigious industry award.

Financial Goals: Even if you’re working as an audio technician part time or on a not-for-profit basis, you need financial goals. Your financial goals need to tie to your creative goals.

Once you “do the numbers” you will be better grounded in reality. Your financial goals may include:

• Revenue from live show production: earn a living (or part thereof) as a live event technician.
• Revenue from systems design, installation, and integration work: earn a living as a systems contractor or integrator.
• Revenue from recording sessions: earn a living as a recording engineer.
• Revenue for inventions and patents: earn a living as a product designer.
• Profit (revenue minus expenses): be profitable; have something left over to save or invest.

Personal Goals: Your creative and financial goals need to be consistent or in harmony with your personal goals.

By identifying those goals up front, you can optimize all results and prevent problems down the road. Personal goals may include:

• How much you work in the course of a year: work enough to make a living and get ahead while preventing burnout.
• Family time, projects, and relationships: have plenty of time for family and personal life.
• Spiritual growth and activities: have time to develop my spiritual beliefs” or “be active in my church.
• Educational development: have time to learn new things, business and otherwise.
• Health and fitness: stay youthful and live long.

When In Doubt, Quantify
When you feel those uneasy feelings coming on (like wondering if your goals are realistic), it’s time to do the numbers. Quantifying your goals is the first step in designing a set of objectives that are specific, measurable, and achievable.

Everything, including non-financial goals, can be quantified in terms of number of units, pricing or revenue, and timing or date the results are achieved.

As they become quantified, your creative, financial, and personal goals turn into objectives. Here are a few examples of solid, trackable objectives in each of the three categories.

Creative Objectives
• Produce “X” live shows each month.
• Design and install “X” systems each year.
• Create “X” patent-able products or processes each year.

Financial Objectives
• Earn “X” from pro audio work each year.
• Increase average per-project fee earned from “X” to “X” by “X” (date).
• Earn “X” from non-traditional sources (patent royalties, consulting etc.) by “X” (date).

Personal Objectives
• Work “X” days per year (the rest is free time).
• Contribute “X” ($) or “X” (time) to my local charity, church, school, or community.
• Get my weight to “X” pounds and cholesterol level to “X.”

Are My Goals Realistic?
If your entertainment business information comes primarily from the general media - television, radio, newspapers, and magazines - you would conclude that all music industry people are either rich or dead.

That’s a bit of an exaggeration. Still, think about it. Working technical people are rarely talked about in the media. Some are lured to the entertainment field by the promise of “sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll” along with the “American Dream” scenario of getting rich doing something glamorous.

I trust that most readers understand that the chances of getting rich quick in audio production are about the same as in any other line of business: pretty low.

Is there a middle ground between celebrity and oblivion? You bet. In fact, that’s where most of the thousands of professional audio people and live event technicians in North America are: somewhere in between.

Here’s the point. You don’t need to be a technical superstar to make a good living in pro audio.

Portrayals of music business celebrities—including their roadies and record producers—in the media can be illustrative and entertaining, but seldom serve as a real business model.

What’s Realistic For Me?
How much can I possibly earn in pro audio? Do I need to aspire to technical stardom to make it all worthwhile? Many audio people just want to be able to “pay for their habits” (like buying more gear) and be near the action in the entertainment business.

Others want to make a modest living doing audio work full time. Others want to “get rich and retire young.”

Theoretically, all the above are possible. Your business plan, including detailed goals and objectives, is an important tool for achieving what you want and staying in control throughout the process.

Goals and objectives are essential for financial success, creative development, and personal growth. Writing down your goals and objectives is a powerful exercise that provides clarity and the ability to communicate the information with others.

Along with developing technical chops, the time you spend on developing business chops is your best investment in your career as an entertainment technology professional. And remember, “What gets measured, gets done.”

John Stiernberg is founder and principal consultant with Stiernberg Consulting.

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Posted by Keith Clark on 03/12 at 05:53 PM
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EAW Debuts Anya To Key Partners In Asia-Pacific Region

About 200 distributors, engineers, consultants and rental house reps go to Singapore to experience Anya first-hand

Eastern Acoustic Works (EAW) recently played host to a congregation of Asia-Pacific sound reinforcement professionals to launch its Anya loudspeaker system in the region.

About 200 EAW distributors, FOH engineers, pro audio consultants and rental house representatives from China, Korea, Japan, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Australia flocked to Singapore to experience Anya first-hand and learn about the system. The two-day event featured in-depth Anya training, an Anya demonstration, and a whirlwind tour of prestigious EAW installations.

The first day kicked off with welcoming remarks by EAW [resident Jeff Rocha and was followed by an in-depth demonstration by EAW technical training manager Bernie Broderick of Anya’s capabilities using music playback. The demo covered Anya’s mechanics, DSP, amplification, rigging and more.

The group then toured the 101-hectare Gardens by the Bay horticultural park and its Supertree structures, which include weatherproof EAW speakers for ambient sounds and music. The day ended with dinner at the 1-Altitude rooftop restaurant/bar on the top level of the 282-meter One Raffles Place Building, the highest venue in Singapore, which entertains its guests with EAW sound.

On day two, the group began with a demonstration at Cathay Cineplex Jem’s Digital Xtreme Hall’s Dolby Atmos system, featuring 46 channels driving EAW loudspeakers. They continued on to the breathtaking Singapore Sports Hub, which will soon feature a EAW loudspeakers when it opens this Spring.

The event culminated at Star Performing Arts Centre, one of the largest indoor auditoriums in Asia, where EAW demoed a 16-enclosure Anya system with SB2001 subwoofers, beginning with pre=recorded music and moving into a live band with Martin Frey, FOH engineer for Alan Parsons Experience, running the board.

Davwinder Sheena, Asia-Pacific managing director for EAW, noted that attendees left the two-day launch event with a clear understanding of Anya technology. “People were keen on experiencing the Anya system for themselves because of what they’d already heard about it,” Sheena says. “It went so well, that partners who already have Anya systems are now planning to do similar events locally in their own countries.”

For information about Anya and its fast-approaching European launch festivities, visit the company at this week’s Prolight+Sound in Frankfurt in hall 8.0, stand L56 (shared with Mackie and Ampeg), or contact a local EAW representative.

Eastern Acoustic Works
LOUD Technologies

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Posted by Keith Clark on 03/12 at 02:10 PM
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Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Bedside Manner: Working More Effectively With Clients

The term “bedside manner” is usually associated with doctors, but I think it’s equally appropriate for any situation where customers are being served in perhaps a technical way and communication between parties is essential.

Psychology matters, and should be considered in the presentation, the choice of words, and certainly the attitude of the vendor or service provider.

Case in point: when I first moved to Albuquerque in 2004, I owned a 1996 BMW 328i. After visiting the local dealer for service a couple of times, I decided that not only did they charge too much, they were snobs. The next time, I took the car to an independent mechanic. He wasn’t a snob, but I still didn’t like his bedside manner.

Long story short, I ended up at another local shop and have been going there ever since (about eight years so far). They just “get it” and know how to talk to their customers. They customize the dialog based on the level of technical knowledge their customers have, and make the expensive repairs just a little less painful with an easygoing manner. And, they’re 100 percent trustworthy. I wouldn’t go anywhere else.

Jedi Mind Tricks
As many of you know, I’m a classical musician on the side. The orchestra that I perform with puts on concerts six times a year at a variety of venues throughout the Albuquerque area.

Every time we visit one particular venue, we arrive to monitor wedges strung across the front of the stage. No one from the orchestra has asked for them, but they are there. Work was put into hauling them out and hooking them up. Time and effort wasted.

What worries me about this is that an unsophisticated audience might easily equate “sound equipment on the stage” with “sound reinforcement is involved.” This is a subtle thing, but I’ve been at gigs where patrons have complained about the “loud volume” and asked to have “the speakers turned down” when the PA wasn’t in use and there were no microphones on stage, although loudspeakers were visible.

When I’ve answered to that effect, I’ve gotten scowls because as far as I can tell, these concerned patrons don’t believe me. Part of the problem is related to my decades-long rant about how shows often really are too loud; in other words, the audience does care, and for acoustic music they don’t want to have their collective face ripped off.

O.K., back to my original point. Who cares if the monitors are on stage if they aren’t being used? To me, it points to a gap in communication. Just like in the military, the job is often to “do exactly what you’re told, nothing more, nothing less.”

The flip side is that in pro audio, it also helps to read minds. Placing monitors on a stage for a 100 percent acoustic symphony orchestra, without being asked to do so, shows that someone is not very good at reading minds or considering the needs of their customers.

A counter example is a recent experience I had with a really good systems tech from a local sound company.

I mentioned Scott Boers of AE Productions (a regional sound company in Albuquerque) in my previous article (here). He was terrific on that job, and found the perfect balance of deferring to me (I was FOH) most of the time while getting in a few good suggestions at the same time.

Scott obviously has a very good sense of what can and perhaps should be said without being intrusive. He knows gear and brought along everything that was needed, plus a few extra items.

When I asked questions, he had answers. In turn, he asked some good questions about certain things, which caused me to think a bit more. For example, he suggested adding a mic on the upright basses, and I thought it was worth a try. It resulted in an improvement, and wouldn’t have happened without his suggestion.

The main thing about his approach is that it put me, the customer, at ease. I had no doubt he was A) good at his job, B) sensitive to our needs, and C) paying attention to what was going on around him, i.e., the job at hand.

Psych 101
A big part of what we have to do as pro audio practitioners is think a few steps ahead of our customers—both the patrons and talent, including their BE or ME if they have them.

If we’ve been working with an artist or group for a while, we’ve hopefully gotten used to their quirks and can maybe even read their minds some of the time. If we’re working with a new client for the first time, building trust must happen quickly and is often based on this elusive idea of bedside manner.

We have to be chameleons, changing our colors with the client’s needs, with the style of music being presented, and with the times. Technology is constantly changing, and we need to constantly change as well.

Nothing builds trust faster than a client feeling that they’re being heard and understood, and that you’re doing everything in your ability to get it right. Sure, there are some jerk artists out there that have fired people for a single mistake. But the more common story is where something goes wrong, the tech fesses up but promises to get it fixed, and fast, and does so. This kind of approach is usually what gets us re-hired.

As in sales, role-playing can be a good tool to work out some of your responses, questions and approaches. I suggest finding a trusted co-worker or colleague or two, and trying it out. Come up with solid, realistic scenarios and work through how you’d respond.

If you work with an old road dog, get him to share some “war stories” (what old road dog doesn’t love to tell war stories?). In addition to being great to hear, they usually offer a lot of learning potential.

And, most of all: have fun. Developing a winning bedside manner doesn’t come naturally to many of us. But it can be learned and cultivated, and enjoying the process along the way usually leads to a far better result.

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

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Posted by Keith Clark on 03/11 at 09:42 AM
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Friday, March 07, 2014

Three Tips For Overcoming Open-Space AV Challenges

Open-plan office layouts look nice, but where is the AV gear supposed to go?
This article is provided by Commercial Integrator

 
One of the many challenges facing commercial audiovisual professionals today is the lack of space for installed equipment. The move to open space in the corporate world has burdened many design engineers with the challenge of where to put the gear.

In many cases, the traditional equipment rack is being removed from the room or eliminated altogether. Today’s office spaces are taking on the characteristics of living rooms, home-style kitchens and dens. Gone are the cookie-cutter, four-walled conference rooms and cubicle spaces.

This switch in office design is pushing us in the AV industry to change our traditional approach to system integration.

The residential side of the AV business has been dealing with open-plan concept for years. Unlike the residential side, commercial industry has been slow to develop commercial-grade products that are both aesthetically pleasing and functional. Commercial product manufacturers have favored durability, functionality and practicality over the aesthetics.

Don’t get me wrong—this is not a bad thing to strive for, but can we at least try to make it look appealing if left out in the open?

Take a step back next time you install a new commercial display with a 2-inch thick bezel or one that sticks out 4 inches from the wall and ask yourself if that looks good. Good luck explaining how this is the latest in technology when the customer’s expectation is to see a sleek TV that they just installed in their own living room.

So what can we do?

AV designers and engineers have to do their homework. Look to the residential space and see what is being used in the homes of your customers. I’m not asking you to specify consumer products into commercial jobs solely on the aesthetics, but look for design cues that can be translated into the commercial space and incorporate equipment with the aesthetic in mind when designing.

Here are some ideas:

Think Small—Where space is limited you have to design accordingly. The days of rack rooms and closets are dwindling quickly. Smaller, multifunctional gear will obviously be key to designing in tight spaces. If the product does not meet your requirements, make a call. There are plenty of manufactures in our industry looking for input on improving designs. Products like in-wall boxes that can house equipment are ways to make small spaces work.

Survey Your Space—Use your surroundings to your advantage and maximize every nook to stash equipment without compromising the look and serviceability. Integrating furniture into your design is a great win when space is tight. Even the traditional mindset of ceiling mounted speakers is being challenged as architects and designers move toward higher ceilings to let the light shine through. Look to soundbars to achieve quality audio where the ceiling speaker may not be feasible.

Get Creative—Think outside the box when it comes to delivering on customer expectations. Listen to what they want and find technology that can help make that possible. That may include breaking away from traditional go-to products. In other words, get your test labs ready. In order to be creative and maintain your reputation you will have to get “hands on.” Get your bench area and imagination ready. Roll up your sleeves and test new ideas, concepts and products before unleashing the idea on your customer in order to ensure success.

Compare what consumers are buying for their homes and find the commercial equivalent. You may have to design a hybrid combination of consumer and commercial gear to achieve that goal but that’s what we as “integrators” specialize in where others fail.

Christopher Neto, CTS, is a consultant with AV Helpdesk Inc., a firm specializing in all aspects of AV design, engineering, project management and programming. He an active member of InfoComm and blogs regularly on his website AVshout.com.

Go to Commercial Integrator for more content on A/V, installed and commercial systems.

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Posted by Keith Clark on 03/07 at 01:27 PM
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Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Tech Tip Of The Day: Figuring Out Loudspeaker Polarity

How can I test loudspeaker polarity when the wiring is already in the walls?
Provided by Sweetwater.

 
Q: I’ve been asked to finish the install of a system at a church that has been half-finished for a number of years. There’s only one issue I’ve found—whoever started the job never marked the multi-core wire that was run through the walls.

What’s the best way to make sure that the polarity on multiple loudspeaker pairs are in phase when the wiring is all in-wall and the cable is not marked?

A: First, shame on whoever put the wiring in without marking it.

That said, there are a variety of small (and not so small) commercially available devices that do a great job of testing loudspeaker polarity (among other things). Many use a very fast “click” input to the signal path and then measure the results from the loudspeakers.

There is, however, a very workable “poor-man’s” solution. Disconnect the loudspeaker cables from the amplifier (if connected) and connect a small battery to the end of the cables. The DC voltage from the battery will cause the woofers to jump forward or backwards, depending upon the polarity of the battery with respect to the cables and loudspeakers.

The DC voltage is handy because once the speaker moves it will stay in that fixed position until the voltage is removed. This is usually best done with the help of an assistant who can apply and remove the battery voltage while you watch the direction of cone movement. For a video example, check out this tutorial by Dave Rat.

Basically you just have to get everything wired so that all the drivers move in the same direction, then decide which is positive and connect them that way to the power amp(s).

A 9-volt battery usually works best for this (it causes the most cone movement), but don’t leave it connected to small drivers for very long. A little 9-volt battery can produce a surprising amount of current into a near dead short (which is how it sees the loudspeaker).

The battery trick, as handy as it is, is not effective for horns and other high frequency drivers because it’s almost impossible to see the driver movement (we don’t recommend 9 volts of DC be applied to them either).

In situations where the high-frequency driver is part of a cabinet with other drivers, this is not a problem. If the woofers are in polarity then you can assume the horn is too. If you have a loudspeaker where the high-frequency driver is a completely separate component, you now have to fall back on plan B.

Plan B is to disconnect the loudspeaker wire on both ends. Tie an additional length of labeled wire to one end so that it can reach to the other end, sort of forming a loop. Do not tie them together. Now you can use any standard volt/ohm meter to see which lead is which and get them labeled.

 
For more tech tips go to Sweetwater.com

 

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Posted by Keith Clark on 03/05 at 06:35 PM
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Registration Now Open For 136th AES International Convention In Berlin

Will provide more than 100 tutorials, workshops, engineering briefs and paper sessions covering a range of topics relevant to the pro audio industry

The Audio Engineering Society has opened registration for the 136th AES International Convention, to be held in Berlin, Germany, on April 26 – 29, 2014, at the Estrel Hotel and Convention Center.

Headed by the AES 136th Convention co-chairs Sascha Spors and Umberto Zanghieri, the convention is set to provide more than 100 tutorials, workshops, engineering briefs and paper sessions covering a wide range of topics relevant to the professional audio industry, with further detailed session and event information coming soon.

Attendees are encouraged to visit the AES136 Registration Page to pre-register for their free “Exhibits-Plus” badge or opt for the premium “All Access” badge, as well as find further details on hotels and special events.

Following the success of the recent Project Studio Expo (PSE) at previous conventions, the PSE will be making its European debut at AES 136, and a special technology showcase will also provide participating companies with a chance to interface directly with interested end users and customers at this year’s exhibition.

Additionally, the technical program for the 136th Berlin Convention is shaping up to be one of the most diverse to be presented by the Audio Engineering Society. Paper sessions will include diverse subjects such as acoustics, networked audio, multi-channel systems, mobile audio, and in-depth studies into aspects of microphone and loudspeaker design.

Other sessions will bring panels of experts together to discuss a range of practical application topics, such as Audio Forensics, Film Soundtrack Loudness, microphone technique and 3-D audio in automotive applications. The convention will also host a series of student-related events and opportunities, as well as a meeting of the AES Standards Committee, awards, special events, and offsite technical tours to audio facilities of interest in the area.

Additional information on the 136th AES International Convention in Berlin is now available here. Online registration is here.

Audio Engineering Society

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Posted by Keith Clark on 03/05 at 03:34 PM
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Monday, March 03, 2014

Church Sound: Pitfalls & Traps To Avoid During Services

After seeing countless mistakes at every conceivable church (my own included), I think it's time to talk about what can be done to prevent such errors...

There are many things which shouldn’t happen during a worship service, yet still do. However, unless we’re cognizant of them sometimes it’s hard to prevent them.

So I decided to create a list of those things that just shouldn’t happen in a worship service. Some of these may seem so silly, so expected, so taken for granted that they’re almost not worth saying.

But you’d be surprised how many times I’ve seen these mistakes made in other churches, and even by my own volunteers.

• Don’t miss microphone cues. We can’t afford to not have a mic turned on when it needs to be on. But if you come to one of my workshops, you’ll hear me talk about keeping the number of open mics to a minimum.

That is to say, if the choir’s not singing, don’t have their mics open. If the pastor’s not talking, don’t have his mic on. And so on. But we also need to stay focused so that the pastor doesn’t have to say stuff to the congregation like “Is this thing on?” What an embarrassment.

• Turn off the mics before they hit the stand. It’s purely unprofessional to let a singer put a mic in the clip on a stand without having first muted that channel. If you don’t, the congregation is going to hear a loud thump over the system, or at least over the monitors.

Hopefully the channel mutes on your console also mute the monitor mixes. That way all you have to do is mute each vocal mic channel, and they’ll be muted both in the house and in the monitors simultaneously.

• Mute the guitar channels. Don’t you just hate the loud “buzzzzz-t” that goes with a guitar cable being plugged in or unplugged with the channel open!

If we can equate the word professional with excellence, then it’s unprofessional to not mute those channels in time to save the congregation from that moment. It’s a two-way street though. The sound guys aren’t mind readers, nor have they been assimilated to become one with the automation of the console.

With all that to say, the guitar and bass player in your worship team should give you a moment to mute their channels before unplugging. It’s just common courtesy, a recognition that we’re a team, that the tech support guys and the musicians arc equal members of the worship team.

• If it needs a mic, then mic it. I once watched a sound guy at a church realize that he had forgotten to put a mic on an instrument on stage, and then decide that it was just too much trouble to bother going all the way back downstairs to add the mic. Hmm, not worth the bother?

• Teach your backing vocalists where to stand and how to use a mic. Would someone please tell me why most backing vocalists stand so far away from their stage monitors? I don’t get it.

At one church I used to work at, our vocalists were very compliant and stood where we told them to stand—so they could sec down the throat of the HF horn in their stage monitor. Yet I’ve seen so many vocalists who run away from their monitor. You ask them if it’s too loud and they’ll say no. But they refuse to stand where it will do them the most good.

Those vocalists I used to work with were also careful not to hold their mic to their sides facing down between songs. They simply held it about at their waist, still pointed up.

Think about it. If your vocalists drop the mic to their sides between songs, the zero degrees on-axis point of the mic is going to be aimed at the monitor, which is likely going to make it feedback. There’s nothing worse than 2,000 pairs of eyes from the congregation looking at you when you did nothing to cause the problem.

• Tighten up the fittings on boom stands. One day in college, I was helping set up for a jazz concert. I had been given the responsibility of setting the mic stand with a boom arm and a rather heavy mic on the end of it for a guest saxophone soloist.

At one point during the performance (of course, during a saxophone solo) that boom arm started to slowly drop lower and lower. Guess who was sent out to fix the problem! That’s another mistake I’ve not made since it happened. I’d encourage you to learn from my mistake. (Hey, get your own instead!)

Don’t stop mixing between songs. Remember the technique of bringing the worship leader’s fader up between songs so the congregation can hear what’s being said?

Well, if your pianist or keyboardist continues playing between songs, go ahead and pull their faders or submaster down about -20 dB or so. They don’t know how loud they are in the house mix. Even if they’re playing softer, it may not be soft enough. It’s your job to maintain a great musical mix, even between the songs.

• Don’t forget to practice. It’s just amazing to me that musicians and vocalists - people who are used to practicing on their own - have to be reminded of the need to practice as a group. I’ve seen the same scenario repeated countless times around the world.

• Don’t create a visual distraction during a worship service. Investing your time and God given talents in the tech support ministry is great. But remember that it’s an unseen activity that helps ministry.

Do your best to keep it that way. If you need to walk out into the auditorium during a worship service, plan your route to offer the least possible distraction to the congregation. If you need to talk on the intercom, do so quietly so that others around you won’t be distracted.

If you need to get a message to one of the musicians or singers on stage during a worship service, see if there’s a way to talk to them quietly over the monitors rather than sending someone on stage with a note. That’s another perfect reason for headphones instead of monitors.

• Leave the sudden light changes to drama. Unless it’s for dramatic effect, the light changes both on stage and in the house should be slow. If possible, they should be so slow that the audience really isn’t aware that a change is being made.

• Dim the house and stage lights for video presentations. If your church sometimes uses videotaped segments to underscore part of the pastor’s message, or for other things, you can really help the congregation see the screens better if you’ll dim the house lights a bit during that presentation, then bring them back up afterwards.

• Stay plugged in! This is a given, but I’ve seen this happen to too many tech support volunteers - myself included, This constant commitment to pursue excellence requires vigilance on our part, but it cannot replace our relationship with God.

If we get lost in the fun of twiddling knobs and playing with the gear, and in so doing forget why we’re doing this in the first place, then God won’t honor our’ service. So, don’t work every service. You and your family need time to immerse yourselves in the worship services as well.

While this list is far from comprehensive, hopefully you have found it illustrative. What other things can you think of which shouldn’t happen during a worship service? Be sure to let me know in the comments below!

Curt Taipale heads up Church Soundcheck, a thriving community dedicated to helping technical worship personnel, and he also provides expert systems design and consulting services with Taipale Media Systems.

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Posted by Keith Clark on 03/03 at 01:50 PM
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Friday, February 28, 2014

Church Sound: The Intentional Tech

This article is provided by ChurchTechArts.

 
One of the most challenging aspects of doing production in a church setting is that church happens every week. During the week we have meetings, stuff to fix and install, TPS reports to file and a host of other things to get done.

It’s pretty easy to drop into mechanical way of doing things. Sometimes, we do things because we’ve always done them that way. Other times, we do whatever we inherited from the guy before us.

Lately, we’ve been having a lot of conversations about intentionality. That is, exploring the why behind the what we do. It can be a bit of a rabbit hole to go down sometimes, but I think we do need to figure out why we do what we do.

Intentionality Brings Life

I read a story one time about some of the experiments the Nazis did on people in concentration camps. One was to have the prisoners move a pile of rocks from one end of the compound to the other. After they finished, the soldiers ordered the prisoners move the rocks back. Once finished, you guessed it, they had to move the rocks back. Moving rocks back and forth with no clear purpose drove more than a few prisoners mad.

Doing the same thing over and over again without any idea of why can feel a little like moving rocks back and forth. When we know why we are doing something, we are more engaged, more connected and energized by it. When we see a clear connection between production technology and the mission of the church, we don’t mind coming in early or staying late.

Intentionality Encourages Our Teams

Everyone on our teams needs to know how their service connects to the big picture. Even things that seem mundane can be energizing when we know the why. Why do we lay out cables the way we do? Why do we set lights and program them the way we do? Why do we choose the backgrounds we do for the songs? These tasks can either be empowering or demotivating depending on the why.

Do we make sure our teams know why we do what we do? It’s easy to train someone how to do a job, but harder—and more important—to train them why. But here’s the good part; once they get the why, they will do a better job, and they will see how their work connects with everything else.

Intentionality Builds Trust

When you have a solid rationale for what you’re doing, and can explain how it connects with the big picture, leadership knows you’re not just doing stuff because it’s cool. And if someone complains, it’s easy to diffuse because you know why you’re doing it and you can explain it.

For example, we had someone call to complain about the volume of our services (which aren’t that loud…) a while back. We called her and explained why we run the services at the volume we do. We believe in keeping energy up and our style of music works better at higher volumes. We told her we track levels each week and are in no danger of causing hearing damage. We even suggested a few spots she could sit where it was less loud.

What began as an adversarial conversation turned around as she began to understand the why. She came over to our side once she new we weren’t just rock ‘n roll junkies who liked things crankin’ loud.

The conversation would have gone quite different if all we could say was, “Well, uh, we just like it loud. Sorry…”

Think It Through

I had a professor in college who said that to us often, “Think it through.” I think in many ways that phrase has informed the way I approach production. As much as possible, I like to know why I’m doing what I’m doing, and I like to do it with intentionality.

Now, let’s look at applying this…

Based on some of the consoles I’ve seen, console layout is something that doesn’t seem get a lot of thought. Proper console layout makes mixing more fun, and can keep us from making big mistakes during a service.

In the early days of mixing, engineers noticed on larger consoles that channels farther from the master had more noise in them. So it made sense to put the money channels—usually the vocals—nearest to the master. As the master was on the right, that meant the left-most channels became home of the drums. After all, who would notice noise in the drum channels?

Somewhere along the line, a somewhat common layout emerged: drums, bass, guitars, keys, vocals. As consoles and input count continued to grow, the master section began land in the middle of the console instead of on the right. In that case, usually the band fell to the left while vocals and effects fell to the right.

Back then, you plugged a mic into a channel and that’s the fader it was on. Today, with digital consoles, it’s easy put any channel on any fader. But before we do any patching—digital or analog—spend some time thinking about why channels go where they do.

Why You Do Is More Important Than What You Do

I’ve seen all sorts of, um, interesting channel layouts on consoles. Drums spread all over the place, the lead guitar next to the pastor’s mic, vocal effects in the middle of the keyboards. It’s as if someone just patched inputs into the first open channel or floor pocket without any thought at all.

And while there are all sorts of ways you can lay out your console, the first consideration is to make sure you do it on purpose. Don’t just shove inputs into any old channel. Take some time to think about it and patch it in a way that makes sense.

Keep all the drum channels together, and then keep the band together. Having all the vocals next to each other makes it a lot easier to find them. Put the channels you adjust all the time closest to you, so you’re not reaching all the way to the end every time. Think about how you mix, then organize the channels in a way that supports what you do.

For Example…

There is no “right” way to organize a console. But here are some ideas of how to do it. I like to start with drums (kick, snare, hat, toms, overheads), then bass, guitars, keys, vocals and finally effects. Other channels—speaking mics, music playback, video and other utility channels—are either to the right or left of effects.

I have my current console set up with my VCAs on the right, which puts my vocals right in the middle in front of me. My preference is to mix more on channel faders than VCAs, but I know others who prefer the opposite.

I also know guys who put the bass right next to the kick because they like to work those two together. I keep my bass in my guitars VCA; others put in with the drums or dedicate a VCA to just kick and bass.

I base my layout on my band, my preferences and my equipment. Change one of those elements and the layout is likely to change. But the intentionality that goes along with developing the layout won’t change. It’s all very much on purpose.

Stay Consistent

When I mix on analog consoles, I still follow the same basic layout. The advantage of a consistent layout is that I can mix almost any band on any console and without looking know where the faders are. In contrast, I’ve watched other guys mix and spend half their time searching the board for the guitar fader, only to miss the solo.

Regardless of how you choose to layout the console, once you come up with a plan, stick with it. Adapt and change as needed, but maintain as much consistency as you can.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about our board layout. Our current layout is the result of hundreds of hours of mixing, and careful consideration of what is going to be easiest for my other engineers. Think about your layout and adjust it until it makes sense and works for you.

Mike Sessler is the Technical Director at Coast Hills Community Church in Aliso Viejo, CA. He has been involved in live production for over 20 years and is the author of the blog, Church Tech Arts . He also hosts a weekly podcast called Church Tech Weekly on the TechArtsNetwork.

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Posted by Keith Clark on 02/28 at 03:45 PM
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Friday, February 21, 2014

Church Sound: Audio Techs As Musicians?

"Do you realize that the sound board is an instrument?"
This article is provided by Gowing Associates.

 
When I’m training technical teams at the churches I work with, one of the first questions I ask is, “Do any of you play a musical instrument?”

I usually get one or two people who say that they play some type of instrument.

But it’s a trick question, because the next question I ask usually results in silence while they take it in: “Do you realize that the sound board is every bit an instrument as any of the ones on the stage?”

No one ever thinks it does. And that’s a shame.

Every tech who runs the sound board is a musician, whether they realize it or not. Which is also why they are every bit a part of the worship team as any of the other musicians.

The difference between the musicians on stage and the tech folks are unique. Most of the musicians on stage will have played their instrument for a substantial number of years. They also have at least one of their preferred instruments at home.

Sound techs probably got recruited and have never worked on a mixer until they got to church. They also probably don’t have a mixer at home.

The other main difference is that while a musician on stage could probably flub a note or miss a cue and no one, unless it was really horrendous or there’s a musician in the audience, won’t really notice.

If the sound tech flubs something or misses a cue EVERYONE notices and invariably will do the mongoose thing and look directly at you from their seats.

So while the sound techs are every bit as important as the musicians on stage, their role, because they affect everything sound-related, is more critical to get it right.

So now that the sound techs have it in their noggin that they are actually musicians, they need to understand what that means. Musicians practice on their instrument until it becomes a part of them. Muscle memory builds with practice and after a while their instrument becomes an extension of themselves.

Sound techs need to do the same thing. The biggest problem for most techs is that their instrument is only at church. So how do you practice? If you can get into church you can always plug music into the system through a computer.

Yes, you’re only playing around with one or two channels, but you can still see how adjustments in EQ or FX make a difference in the way the songs sounds, and more importantly, in how it feels.

You can also download software such as Reaper, which is shareware that will allow you to bring in a multitrack recording and play back the different instruments one at a time or all at once so you can see how different instruments and vocals sound.

If you don’t have access to a multitrack recording see if a big church in your area will give you a copy of one of theirs. If they’ve got a digital board they’ll be able to do it.

The other things that the sound tech as a musician needs to do is to rehearse the music. If you don’t know the music, and know how the worship leader wants the dynamics of the song to go, you can’t do the song justice.

While you can leave the fader levels all at the same setting for every song and let the worship team handle the dynamics, part of your job is to enhance what the team on stage is doing with the song.

For every song that has quiet and loud parts, the sound-tech-as-musician can drastically enhance and fortify the dynamics, making the song that much more powerful for the congregation. Quieting the song during the quiet passages allows the intimacy of the song to come out and envelope the congregation. It also allows the congregation to hear themselves sing and draws them into the song.

Bringing the dynamics up during louder passages allows the celebration of the song to ring out and also gets the congregation to sing louder and feel less self-conscious.

Don’t believe me? Try it with Mercy Me’s Emmanuel (God With Us). Practice it with the recorded version. Leave the faders alone, close your eyes and listen to how the song makes you feel. Then do it again but this time bringing the faders down in the soft passages and bring them up in the louder passages. Now compare how that version made you feel.

Once you and the worship leaders build up the trust needed so that you become integral to the success of the worship team, you’ll be amazed and how well worship will sound.

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.

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Posted by Keith Clark on 02/21 at 09:29 AM
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Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Church Sound: Hire An Integrator Or DIY Install?

This article is provided by ChurchTechArts.

 
“Should we do this A/V/L install ourselves or hire a contractor?” is a question I’m asked all the time.

Too often, the question is decided based on dollars. On paper, it looks like hiring a contractor is a more expensive option, but this is rarely the case when all factors are considered.

The illusion of cost-savings comes from the fact that most churches (and many companies) don’t factor in the cost of labor for their staff. But there is always a cost, and a wise manager will take that into account.

This isn’t to say that doing a job in-house is always a bad idea; it’s simply a matter of weighing the options and determining the best approach for a particular project. Here are some guidelines that I use when trying to decide how to proceed.

Do The Job In-House When…

You have the skills in-house. Some churches have highly skilled tech staffs, and it makes total sense to use that skill set to do the work of an install. The team will be working with the equipment day in and day out anyway, so installing it makes sense. Having people on staff who can lay out cable runs, pull said cable, solder, interconnect and commission systems is a blessing to many larger churches. If you have the skills, by all means, proceed.

You have the manpower in-house. Sometimes a church has one or two highly skilled people on staff who could do the install, but is that enough? Depending on the size of the project, more hands may be required. Often, larger churches will have larger tech staffs who can put in significant time on an install, so again, this makes sense.

You have the time. Larger churches with sizable tech staffs have those large staffs because the church is very busy doing ministry. If the project is not extremely time-sensitive, it’s entirely possible that this team can get the job done. Deciding two weeks before Easter that you’d like a new video system may not allow the in-house team enough time to get the job done, however.

The budget is tight. Sometimes we have to do installs within a tight budget, and the easiest way to save money is to self-install. Even factoring in the costs that really do exists with self-install, it’s often easier to stomach that bill than paying a contractor. Sometimes it can even mean the difference between getting the job approved or not.

Note that the order of those criteria is intentional; budget is last in my decision-making process.

We ended up doing a self-install last year in our kids and students wing. We have the skills; since it was summer, many of my younger volunteers were out of school and could help pull cable; time was a little tight, but we made it work; and the budget was definitely tight. It took a few long days to get it all in, but everyone is very happy with the result.

Hire A Contractor When…

You’re hanging things overhead. Very few church tech staff are truly qualified to hang hundreds (or thousands) of pounds of speakers or other stuff over people’s heads. And even if you are, why would you want the liability?

Even for our kids remodel, I hired a contractor to fly the loudspeakers and hang the TVs. I could have done it, but I don’t want to take the risk that anything could go wrong.

Time is tight. Some projects have very tight timelines and the in-house staff doesn’t have the bandwidth to get it done. This is a perfect contractor job. They can bring in additional installers who do this every day, and will probably do better work in less time. This year for our remodel, I’m having an integrator do some of the work because we’ll be short-staffed, and I won’t have the time.

Manpower is limited. A solo technical director will probably have a tough time installing a complete A/V/L system by himself. Even if he can pull in some volunteers, it’s going to be a long, hard install. Churches that don’t have professionals on staff will almost always come out ahead when they hire a reputable contractor.

The church wants to protect it’s staff. Some churches are wise enough to know that pushing the staff to the limit all the time will not result in long-term employees who are committed to the organization. Sometimes it’s a smart call to let your highly-qualified, fully-capable tech staff leave at 5 while someone else does the install.

As a church leader, would you rather have energized, fully-engaged and excited or tired, disengaged and aggravated staff? You make the call.

Sometimes a hybrid approach is best; install what you can and bring in a contractor for the rest. I generally recommend hiring the rigging, because it’s just safer.

But pulling cables, installing amp racks, consoles, patch bays and the like can easily be handled in-house, especially if the install company has helped with the design, making sure things are well thought out.

This decision-making process is not hard, but it should not be taken lightly. It’s almost never as easy as “We’ll save so much money…” so be sure to think it through. You may find that at the end of the project, everyone will be better off if the install was handled by professionals. Or maybe not.

Mike Sessler is the Technical Director at Coast Hills Community Church in Aliso Viejo, CA. He has been involved in live production for over 20 years and is the author of the blog, Church Tech Arts . He also hosts a weekly podcast called Church Tech Weekly on the TechArtsNetwork.

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Posted by Keith Clark on 02/18 at 12:01 PM
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Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Unique Situations: Console Applications For Monitors

Monitors for touring and at festivals present a unique set of conditions and challenges, with digital console technology helping engineers rise to the occasion. It’s also interesting to see the ways that networking is serving to more closely ally house and monitors.

Here’s a look at some recent applications.

Fitz and the Tantrums On Tour
Monitor engineer Aaron Glas has been mixing on a Soundcraft Vi1 during a recent U.S. concert tour by indie pop band Fitz and the Tantrums (pictured below).

“A few years ago, I was looking for a small-format digital console that could handle 24 outputs and there aren’t many,” he says. “The Vi1 looked perfect. I’ve toured with it for several years now and I’m thrilled to continue mixing on the Vi1.”

Yet while he has plenty of experience working with the Vi1 (and other Vi Series models), his work with Fitz and the Tantrums marks the first instance where he’s used the cue/snapshot feature, something he has found to be an advantage.

“Using the snapshots with the Vi1 has been a great learning experience,” Glas notes. “We’ll always have the full band at sound check and it’s nice that I can recall what we’ve done the previous night and tweak the mixes based on the band’s requests. With the snapshot feature, I’m able to fine-tune the sound more specifically with each successive performance.”

(click to enlarge)


In addition, the snapshot feature enables Glas to quickly and easily adjust to any changes the band makes from show to show.

“My cues can change with the set list and all the levels can be recalled nightly so it makes for a pretty consistent performance each time,” he says. “The band has a great comfort level knowing they can achieve the same quality audio night in and night out.”

CMA Music Festival
Morris Light & Sound (Nashville) handled audio production for the Chevrolet Riverfront Stage at this year’s CMA Music Festival in Nashville, including providing Yamaha CL5 digital consoles and Rio3224 input/output boxes all connected via Audinate Dante networking. The site was the event’s largest outdoor free stage, with numerous engineers on hand to supply mixes to more than 50 top artists.

For example, freelance engineer Russell Fischer, who among others has mixed Taylor Swift, The Mavericks and Toby Keith, handled monitors for several different bands. He enjoyed working with the CL5 in the large festival situation: “I like the flexibility and ease of use of the Custom Fader Banks; it made for very quick navigation of critical inputs during the festival at the monitor mix position. Also, I found the Premium Rack devices very useful.”

(click to enlarge)

Meanwhile, Eric Elwell (pictured here), who mixed front of house for Joe Nichols, also used the Rupert Neve Designs Portico 5043 compressor across the stereo bus just to add some final “glue” to the mix. Elwell adds that he used a CL5 console once before, subbing for a friend on a tour last fall.

“I was impressed then by the purity and clarity,” he states. “The mic pres are fantastic, and the plug-ins give you everything you need to add ‘a little something extra.’ The sounds of the plug-ins are just like the real hardware I’ve used in the studio…glorious.” 

Frankie Beverly & Maze On Tour
Gemini Light Sound & Video (Dallas) recently added its first DiGiCo console, an SD8 accompanied by an SDRack.

Both were immediately pressed into service by monitor engineer Dustin Rains for R&B legend Frankie Beverly & Maze on a 6-week U.S. tour.

“We were in the middle of prepping the Frankie tour, and I was already committed to using another desk,” Rains says. “The first thing I liked about the SD8 was that the level of customization available was incredible. I could have anything where I wanted it and that was exactly what I was looking for.

“Some fader banks have input faders, output faders, and control groups—all on one fader bank—which has cut down on how many times I have to bump between layers and pages,” he continues. “I have a few fader banks set up for cue-intensive songs, which allow me to execute multiple cues quickly without leaving the fader bank, going to another layer, or switching screens.

“Also, I use most of the DiGiTuBe and dynamic EQs for added control of overly dynamic channels. In fact I use most everything onboard, and it’s a fairly straightforward approach.”

An all-d&b audiotechnik stage monitor set is deployed for Beverley’s 7-piece band, including 20 M4 wedges, three Q-subs in a cardioid pattern topped with two Q-7s for side fills, and two Q-Subs for drum fill. “In my opinion, DiGiCo and d&b make the job really easy,” Rains adds.

(click to enlarge)

Pictured left to right in the photo are audio crew members Trae Sales, Dustin Rains, Jason Delatorre, and Jimmy Butera.

Stanford Jazz Festival/Workshop
The Stanford Jazz Workshop has been nurturing talent for over 40 years, bringing in some of the world’s greatest artists to mingle with students of the Jazz Camp by day, followed by performances at the Stanford Jazz Festival by night.

Most of this year’s performances were held in Stanford’s Dinkelspiel Auditorium, with Bay Area live sound veteran Lee Brenkman, who’s been associated with the festival for more than a decade, again taking on sound reinforcement responsibilities.

Brenkman chose the new Avid S3L for this year’s festival, with the modular, networked system enabling a simplified setup while insuring sound quality. He strategically used the layers of the S3L’s compact surface to handle a variety of mixing tasks.

“I mix the for the house, I mix the monitors, and I’m doing a completely separate mix for the recording, because at Dinkelspiel [Auditorium], for example, the amount of trap drums I need on the recording is much more than what I need in the auditorium,” Brenkman explains. “So what I did is assign all the head amps to two layers. The top layer of 16 [channels] was for the PA, and then I could switch to [channels] 17–32, and those were my recording mix. On average, I was doing four monitor mixes, and in some cases, six. I did not feel at any time that the console was too complicated to grab at something fast.

(click to enlarge)

“All of the festival techs were really fascinated with the system, really liking the size, the Cat-5 snake—the things that make setting up and tearing down a system a drag,” he says. “We ran a couple of runs of Cat-5 and were able to keep the snake in place, just striking the stage boxes at the end of the night to get them out of the way of the classroom kids.

“Just changing out our usual console for this was an enormous improvement in sound quality—it was really audible. Everybody agreed that it just sounded noticeably better.”

Saxon On Tour
Mix engineer Ben Hammond is traveling with Allen & Heath GLD and iLive digital consoles for both monitors and front of house on the U.S./Canada tour by iconic English heavy metal band Saxon, with American band Fozzy also on the bill.

The iLive system at monitors includes an iLive-T112 surface and iDR-48 MixRack that routes its direct outs, via Audinate Dante networking, to the GLD channel inputs. Hammond is then sending talkback and a split of the iPod channels for the intro back down Dante to the iLive surface, which gets piped into the bands’ IEMs. Dante controller software is also routing the audio into Reaper for multitrack recording via the Dante virtual sound card.

“I’m currently running a 39-input ‘festival patch’ type channel list to fit both Saxon and Fozzy, and GLD has coped fantastically,” explains Hammond. “I’m using all eight on board FX engines, which sound stunning—the EMT250 and ADT presets are personal favorites of mine.

(click to enlarge)

“As well as the FX, so many great iLive features have been included in GLD, one of which that I find incredibly useful is the filter on the compressor section,” he adds.  “I’m using it for Saxon’s frontman, Biff Byford, to hit his vocal pretty hard from 800 Hz to 4 kHz, which keeps his voice sounding thick and full right into the higher registers. I’m putting the vocals into a subgroup where I apply full band compression with the Manual Peak setting.

“The GLD Editor has been great on this tour especially for programming shows for the various press and TV appearances where we have taken the GLD, and run a much more cut down channel list, with me doing the IEMs also, and mixing L+R for the TV feed,” he concludes.

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Posted by Keith Clark on 02/12 at 03:58 PM
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Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Bob Coffeen Receives NSCA Lifetime Achievement Award

Adds the Per Haugen Lifetime Achievement Award to a growing list of industry accomplishments

The National Systems Contractors Association (NSCA) has announced Bob Coffeen as the association’s annual Per Haugen Lifetime Achievement Award winner. Coffeen will be recognized on Saturday, March 1, 2014, during NSCA’s 16th annual Business & Leadership Conference in Dallas.

“We’re honored to pay tribute to someone who continues to move the industry forward,” says NSCA executive director Chuck Wilson. “Bob has committed his professional life to combining architecture and audio technology. He serves as a great example to many new leaders within our industry. I had the great fortune of learning most of what I know about audio systems from him.”

Coffeen currently serves as a lecturer and adjunct associate professor of architecture at the University of Kansas School of Architecture, Design, and Planning.

Previously, he served as an engineering officer for the U.S. Army before going to work for Burns & McDonnell in Kansas City. From there, he founded an acoustics consulting firm in Kansas. He began teaching in 1992 after owning and operating the firm for more than 35 years.

Coffeen adds the Per Haugen Lifetime Achievement Award to a growing list of industry accomplishments. He has also received NSCA’s University Educator of the Year three times and the 2011 Acoustical Society of America’s Rossing Prize for Education in Acoustics.

His research has included significant topics such as the effect of fabric roofs on stadium acoustical systems as well as using small amounts of audio delay to reduce comb filtering between loudspeakers within the same room.

While serving as a mentor to several University of Kansas School of Architecture, Design, and Planning scholars, Coffeen has encouraged several students to pursue work in the acoustics and AV fields.

The Per Haugen Lifetime Achievement Award is based on an individual who exhibits:

• Dedication to philanthropy and social responsibility
• Business practices with high ethics, values, integrity, and honesty
• Active leadership in the financial well-being of his/her company and NSCA
• Strong values in every aspect of his/her life

NSCA

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Posted by Keith Clark on 02/11 at 03:10 PM
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Friday, February 07, 2014

How Deep Is Your AV Company’s Farm System?

This article is provided by Commercial Integrator

 
In the world of sports, great teams win championships.

Sure there can be the debate that teams like the New York Yankees or Miami Heat capture titles because they “buy” talent, but even those teams don’t win every time. That is because the team that best uses its talents from top to bottom is ultimately the one that wins.

The analogy doesn’t change much in business. Companies with great talent that works as a team tend to see drastically better results than organizations with lesser talent, shaky cultures, or a combination of the two.

While this seems obvious, I see so many organizations that miss it. They don’t make personnel a high enough portion of the strategy, and outcomes end up suffering.

One of the biggest areas I see minimized in an organization’s human resource plan is talent development—moreover the plan to develop talent from within rather than just hiring outside whenever a need arises. This is a mistake I’ve made and have seen happen time and time again.

As a sports fan, I call this a weak farm system. (For those who aren’t sports fans, every organization in major league baseball has a system of minor league teams focused on developing ball players.)

Likened to business, this is hiring an entry level person with the intention of them growing into an associate, management or even executive level position over time with the right nurturing, training and development. It’s an ideal approach, but one that most companies do not do well.

In most cases it’s because of time and money. (What else is new!) Developing talent through multiple ranks is time-consuming, and in some instances, is something the business leaders don’t know much about. Further, time is money. Finding someone with the resume intact is a shortcut to achieving great things.

However, consider this…

Those outside candidates will always be there, but wouldn’t it be ideal for your business if the talent waiting to be “called up?” Perhaps a strong sales person with good organization and leadership skills that can become a sales manager? Or a project manager with a track record for bringing in work on time and within budget to put into an operations management role?

Two ideal situations, but what about filling the roles of the newly escalated? That’s exactly the purpose of having a solid farm system in your organization. The only way to escalate talent is to have talent to back fill.

This type of internal development is great for building strong companies with high morale since employees have a chance to grow within the organization both in their skill set and their professional position/financial reward.

I’ll be the first to acknowledge building this type of system is difficult. It takes careful hiring and a commitment to developing your teams. However, for any organization that has had to hire in short order or consistently has run into a talent shortage, there is a cost to that as well.

Build your farm system strong so you can feature your stars and selectively hire talent from the outside. That is where champions are made, in sports and in business.

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.

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Posted by Keith Clark on 02/07 at 12:40 PM
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Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Stopping Hums, Buzzes and Shocks on Stage—Meters

Provided by the No Shock Zone.

 
In part 1, we covered what voltage is and a bit on how it’s measured. Here let’s look at how to use a basic digital voltmeter to measure any power outlet or extension cord for proper voltage.

The reason this procedure is so important is that sometimes venues do crazy things with power outlets. For instance. I was teaching a seminar last year in a “gymnatorium” and plugged in my little demo rack along with my RF headset receiver.

As I was getting ready to flip the switch on the Furman rack distro, I noticed the built-in voltmeter was pegged to the right of the 120 volt scale. Luckily, I didn’t go further and did not flip on the switch that powered the full rack.

But unluckily for my RF receiver, it was ahead of the Furman power switch so it was already “on” and burning quite brightly for a few seconds. A quick meter test on the power outlet confirmed it had been rigged for 240 volts, even though it was a standard NEMA-5 “Edison” outlet, which should always be wired for 120 volts.

The janitor told me that was his “special outlet” they had rewired for his 240-volt [floor] buffer. But it should have had a 240-volt plug and outlet, not an Edison outlet modified for 240 volts. My bad for not checking.

My RF receiver was toast. Live and learn….

Shake & Bake
Remember when you were a child and first started to help with cooking, and there were all sorts of measuring devices and abbreviations to take into consideration?

There was a tablespoon (Tbsp), teaspoon (tsp), ounce (oz.), with 8 oz. in a cup, and so on. And you better not get your tsp and Tbsp mixed up or bad things would happen to your cake.

The same types of rules apply when you’re measuring any electrical values. You just need to know how to use a few electrical measuring tools and then you’re ready to test your stage power.

The Meter
At right we see a pretty typical voltmeter that can be purchased at Lowes, Home Depot or Amazon. You’ll notice a bunch of strange markings on the selection knob, only a few of which will work to measure AC voltage. 

Voltmeter

Don’t be tempted to just plug the meter leads into a wall outlet and spin the knob. That will guarantee a burned out meter (at the least). Note the markings on the control knob are divided up into four major groups.

• AC V (AC voltage)
• DC A (DC amperage)
• OHM (electrical resistance)
• DC V (DC voltage)

The only two groups you’ll be interested in for measuring voltage are AC V (for measuring the AC voltage in power outlets) and DC V (for measuring the DC voltage in your batteries).

For this article we’ll focus on the AC V group since we’re measuring the 120 or 240 volts AC in a wall outlet or stage power distro. 

Also take a look at where the meter leads are plugged into the lower right-hand connections. The Black COM (common) input is always connected to your black meter lead, and the red V Ohm mA (milliamperes) input is always connected to your red meter lead.

Never put either meter lead into the 10A socket, which is designed specifically to check current flow. Doing so will blow the internal fuse in the meter, and possibly damage the meter itself.

All meters read the difference between the two lead connections, so if the black lead is touching 0 volts and the red lead is touching 120 volts, the meter will read 120 volts.

However, if both the red and black leads are touching 120 volts, the meter will indicate 0 volts, which is because 120 minus 120 equals 0.

See how it works?

That’s the key to using a meter. It must be connected between the two voltages you want to measure.

Now, let’s move back to the meter settings. In the AC V area you’ll see a 200 and a 750 setting. When set to 200 the meter will read up to 200 volts, when set to 750 the meter will read up to 750 volts.

Since we could be reading as much as 250 volts in a standard electrical outlet, we’ll always just set this to 750 and leave it alone during all testing. If you set it to 200 and connect it to a 240 outlet, the display will probably stick on 200 Volts and start blinking.

That doesn’t hurt anything in the meter, but it doesn’t tell you the actual voltage. Many meters of this type have a 400- or 600-volt setting, so setting for 400 or 600 volts is fine as well, just as long as it’s set for something more than 250 volts.

And if you have an auto-ranging meter, just set it to read AC volts and it will figure out the proper scale for you.

The Outlet
Let’s start on a common 120-volt, 20-amp outlet like you might find in your living room or on any American stage. At right is what one looks like, and the connections as standardized by the National Electrical Code (NEC).

Outlet diagram.

You’ll see a little U-shaped hole: that is the ground; a taller slot on the left, which is the neutral; and a shorter slot on the right, which is the hot connection.

Don’t be confused if the receptacle is mounted upside down with the ground connection to the top. The taller slot is always the neutral, and the shorter slot is always the hot.

This is a GFCI (Ground Fault Circuit Interrupt) receptacle so there are test and reset buttons. More on this later, but pushing the “test” button should cause the “reset” button to pop out and kill the power from the outlet. Pushing the “reset” button in until you feel a click will restore power to the outlet.

The job of the GFCI is to kill the power to the plug before it kills you, say from a hot chassis condition on your guitar amp.

Generator & Distro Power
If you’re working on a large stage with dedicated power or an outside venue fed by a generator, you’ll often bring along your own electrical distribution system know as the “power distro.”

And many times that power distro system will be fed by large twist-lock connectors generically know as cam locks. These are big brass connectors the size of a banana with rubberized insulating covers that keep you from getting shocked while touching the exterior.

Cam locks.

They come in colors corresponding to their connection type, so a green cam lock is ground, white is neutral, and black, red, or blue are hot (at least in America). Sometimes the cam lock covers will all be black with a wrap of white, green, blue or red electrical-tape in the middle to define their usage and that’s legal as well.

Here (below right) is what a portable distro panel looks like with the green, white, black and red cam lock inputs across the bottom.

Cam locks are typically fed by a single, double or triple 100- to 200-amp circuit breaker at the generator or house panel, so you’ll need to provide your own 20-amp breakers downstream to feed your portable backline power outlets in order to prevent the wires from melting in the event of an overload.

Power distro.

You can see the circuit breakers across the top of the panel at the left. Also, you’ll occasionally find a 3-phase house system with green, white, red, black and blue cam locks which will meter as 120/208 volts, but we’ll discuss that topic towards the end of this series.

Also note the difference between the 20-amp and 15-amp versions of the stage outlets as shown a few illustrations back. A 20-amp outlet will have another sideways slot for the neutral connection, while a 15-amp outlet will only have a single vertical slot. 

The Measurements
Since we’re going to be measuring live voltage, observe the safety rules from part I of this series:

• Use only one hand to hold the plastic handles of the meter leads, put your other hand in your back pocket so you don’t lean it on anything conductive

• Be sure you don’t touch the metal tip portion of either meter lead

• Don’t stand or kneel on wet ground while testing voltages. For most situations, dry sneakers will insulate you from the earth sufficiently, and if you’re doing this test on a dry stage then the wooden floor or carpet will protect you if something goes wrong.

But if you’re going to measure voltage at a waterlogged festival generator I suggest standing on a dry rubber shower mat or dry plywood so your feet are insulated from the ground. It’s cheap insurance.

Hot to Neutral
With nothing plugged in to the wall outlet, switch on the 20-amp circuit breaker at the power panel, set your meter to the 200 or 750 V AC setting and using one hand insert your meter leads into the left and right neutral and hot slots.

Remember not to rest your opposite hand on the metal box, as that can cause a shock through your heart if something goes wrong. That’s why electricians traditionally stick their unused hand in a back pocket.

It really doesn’t matter which side of the outlet gets the red or black meter lead since it’s alternating current (AC).

Measuring hot to neutral.

Since the neutral connection is at 0 volts and the hot connection should be around 120 volts, you should read somewhere between 115 and 125 volts on the meter display. If not, then something’s wrong with the power hookup.

If you measure 0 volts, then maybe you need to reset the circuit breaker, or if you have an outlet with a GFCI, remember to push the little reset button on the outlet itself. If it still doesn’t measure 110 to 125 volts, immediately contact the stage manager.

If you measure 220-250 volts, then that power outlet has been rigged inside the circuit breaker box to produce higher voltage. This is illegal and highly dangerous as you’ll surely blow up every piece of electrical gear you plug into the outlet. So, if you read 240 volts on the 120-volt outlet do not plug in your amp, and, again, immediately contact the stage manager.

Hot to Ground
If hot-to-neutral checks out around 120 volts (110 to 125 volts), then it’s time to test the ground, so plug one meter lead into the hot (shorter slot) and the other into the ground (U-shaped hole) connections.

Measuring hot to ground.

Since you’re reading from the ground connection, which should be 0 volts (less than 2 volts), and the hot connection, which should be around 120 volts (110 to 125 volts), your meter should show about 120 volts.

If you read 0 or something strange such as 60 volts, then the ground wire might be floating, which could cause a hot-chassis condition that will shock you when touching the strings of your guitar and microphone.

Neutral to Ground
Next, check from neutral to ground. That should read very close to 0 volts, but up to 2 volts is acceptable according to the electrical code.

If, however, you read around 120 volts from neutral to ground, then the polarity of the power outlet is reversed. Don’t plug in. Again, this can cause a dangerous hot-chassis condition depending on how your guitar or PA system is wired.

Final Exam
As a final check, a run-of-the-mill outlet tester from your local home center will confirm that the polarity of the outlet is correct.

Plug it into the power outlet on stage and you should see only the two yellow/amber lights light up. If you see any other combination, do not plug in your guitar amp. Once you’re familiar with the procedures, all this can be done in a minute or two.

It’s a very small inconvenience that will help ensure the safety of you and your band.

Stay safe!

Measuring Neutral to Ground.

Quick Tips

—Always set your meter to read AC volts using the 400-, 600- or 750-volt scale
—Hot (short slot) to neutral (tall slot) should read approx 120 volts (between 110 and 125 volts AC)
—Hot (short slot) to ground (U-shape) should read approx 120 volts (between 110 and 125 volts AC)
—Ground (U-shape) to neutral (tall slot) should read approx 0 volts (less than 2 volts AC) 

Mike Sokol is the chief instructor for the HOW-TO Sound Workshops and the HOW-TO Church Sound Workshops. He is also an electrical and audio expert with 40 years in the industry. Visit the No Shock Zone Website for more electrical safety tips.

This article is provided as a helpful educational assist with sound system setup and musical performance, and is not intended to have you circumvent an electrician or qualified audio technician. The author and the HOW-TO Sound Workshops will not be held liable or responsible for any injury resulting from reader error or misuse of the information contained in these articles. If you feel you have a dangerous electrical condition in your PA system or instruments, contact a qualified, licensed electrician or audio installer.

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Posted by Keith Clark on 02/05 at 03:12 PM
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