Friday, November 01, 2013

Sound Operators & Musicians, Working In Harmony

Avoiding the "deadly sins" that separate tech and creative sides

Over the past several years, I’ve had the privilege of being a musical performer and worship leader, as well as a church sound engineer and technician.

This has provided unique perspective from both sides of the platform; what I’ve learned on one side has helped me do better on the other side, and vice versa.

Through this process, I’ve noted several problems and solutions that apply to the technical side, the creative side, and both. I’ve refined these observations and practices into what I call the “Seven Deadly Sins.” Let’s get started.

Deadly Sin #1: Messing with the stage mix. Few things are more frustrating for a musician than a bad mix on stage. We’re a picky lot, and further, when an acceptable stage mix is achieved, we don’t want it to change.

Therefore, the first rule for the sound mixer is avoid adjusting input gain once a service has started. Even a slight adjustment can be a HUGE detriment.

Also, please don’t mess with monitor sends during a service. Certainly there have been times when the stage is too loud - often, we musicians tend to play louder when the adrenaline starts flowing. (Of course, others actually get timid and play/sing softer.)

Resist the temptation of making major changes mid-stream; not only will this distract the musicians, but also in all likelihood, changes will serve to make things even worse from a sonic perspective.

Instead, work on preparation that will eliminate these problems before they start. Pay close attention to how things sound during rehearsal, how sound is reacting with the room, and project what will happen when the room is full for services.

And, pay even closer attention during services, making observations and notes about what’s happening at “crunch time,” when true performance characteristics are being exhibited and an audience is on hand.

Of course, this is easiest to do when you’re using the same system in the same room with the same musicians. In most cases, the first two variables don’t change, and with respect to the third, note the techniques and mix approaches that result in the most consistency, regardless of who’s playing or a particular style.

Observe, experiment, formulate and then act - in advance.

Deadly Sin #2: Trusting untrained “critics.” While serving as director of technical ministries at a large church, I had the privilege of working with a talented director of worship. However, he had an annoying trait of trusting an elderly lady of the congregation to provide critiques of my house mix and overall sound quality.

She would wander through the sanctuary during rehearsals, listen and then report back to him. My goodness - this is an individual who had no experience with sound or music and who couldn’t even make the cut during choir tryouts! Talk about demoralizing…

The bottom line is that this person’s opinion mattered just like any other member of the congregation, but in no way was she qualified to serve as a reference. Her suggestions were useless, and actually would have been detrimental had I chosen to follow them

The lesson? Sometimes musicians and worship leaders find it difficult to trust the sound people. But please, let logic prevail. In most cases, leaders of a church technical staff have the necessary experience to do their jobs correctly.

If sound people seem to be lacking in ability and knowledge, they must pursue proper training. If it seems that they lack the “ear” to provide a properly musical mix, then they need to fill another role while others who do have this particular talent should be encouraged to put it to use.

And church sound staff members must always be honest with themselves and constantly seek to improve their skills any way possible.

Deadly Sin #3: The word “no.” Musicians often possess a certain confidence that sometimes can border on arrogance. We get an idea or vision and we’re quite sure it can come to life, and with excellent results. This is simply a part of the creative process.

It’s up to the sound team to foster this creative spirit, not squash it. Therefore, the word “no” should fall toward the bottom of the response list.

For example, if a musician asks for an additional drum microphone, the answer should not automatically be “no.” This suggests that the sound person has no care about the creative vision, no care about striving for improvement.

Instead, how about a response along the lines of, “I’ll see what I can do. And, if you don’t mind my asking, what do we want to achieve with this extra mic?” This is a positive, can-do attitude that’s supportive and can be infectious.

Also, by inquiring further, the sound person may be able to help deliver a solution better suited to achieve the new creative vision. Maybe it’s not an extra drum mic that’s needed but another approach, like additional drum isolation.

The point is to ask, which begets learning, which begets support and collaboration, which begets a better performance.

Deadly Sin #4: Unqualified knob “twiddlers.” Musicians like knobs and blinking lights, so naturally, they want to fiddle with the sound system. The confidence/arrogance mentioned previously plays into this as well - we believe there’s no task we can’t be great at, regardless of lack of training and experience.

But the reality is that musicians usually know just enough to be dangerous when it comes to operating a sound system. The same goes for house and monitor mixing.

The irony is that musicians indeed can be among the best “sound” people in the congregation, perhaps better than many sound technicians, due to their musical ear.

However, too many cooks spoil the broth. The solution is fairly simple and straightforward: someone is either a musician or a sound tech/mixer for a given service.

If you’re a musician, this means hands off the sound gear. If you’re the mixer, do the best job possible, and support the musician. One individual does one thing, the other does the other thing, and you meet in the middle with mutual respect and collaboration, striving together to make everything better.

Deadly Sin #5: Not holding one’s tongue (or, how I offered a suggestion and made things worse…).

When I’m mixing, I want everything to sound as good as possible.

Sometimes, however, things are happening on stage that just seem to get in the way of the sonic nirvana that’s etched in my brain.

Perhaps it’s a guitar that’s too loud, perhaps it’s an off-key singer, or perhaps “everything” just isn’t working. (Mama told me there’d be days like this, and mama was right!)

Should we feel some obligation to offer some advice? Of course. Should we act on this feeling? Well…

Telling a musician he or she isn’t sounding too good is kind of like telling an artist you don’t like his/her painting.

How many times have you looked at a painting and asked, maybe sarcastically, “they want how much for this?”I may not like someone’s “art” but in the minds of many, including the creator of that art, it’s serious, meaningful and perhaps brilliant.

The moral of the story is to hold one’s tongue and consider the big picture. Ask the question: will our ultimate goal be furthered if I suggest a change? (No matter my intentions – how will this input be received?)

The bottom line is that there are facts, and there are opinions, and the truth often lies between. Often you can lose more than could ever be gained by pushing your own agenda, no matter how “right” you may be.

Tossing out opinions can also ruin the team spirit so vital to the mission, and yes, also the joy of praise and worship. And showing distrust and/or lack of respect for others may lead the worship leader to question your own goals, agendas and visions.

Obviously there are exceptions. If a guitar is just so loud that you can’t create a good mix below 110 dB, best to gently encourage a change.

If a singer is off-key to a noticeable degree, maybe mention it to the worship leader, subtly and behind closed doors. If the leader agrees, change becomes his/her responsibility.

I’ve learned a lot from talented production people. They’re always positive, always put full effort into their work, and always have an attitude of appreciation toward everyone else they work with.

This attitude transcends minor problems, leading everyone to follow the example, resulting in a better production. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, one attained through the power of encouragement and positive thinking.

Deadly Sin #6: Being negative during a service. Sometimes things just don’t go right in a given service. But in virtually all cases, it’s not because every single individual isn’t trying their best, applying their heart fully.

The worst thing that can happen on these days is to draw attention to the problems. This is especially important for worship leaders to keep in mind.

Never apologize for bad sound during a service. If it’s that bad, people will notice without anything being said.

Rather, concentrate on making it through that service, and address problems afterward. Often, the vast majority of the audience doesn’t even notice problems until they’re pointed out.

Now, how best to address significant sound problems. The fact: today’s cars often have better sound than most churches. It’s time to change that. Get the sound people training, and get them the equipment needed to make things work.

You can spend days (weeks, months and years!) talking about how to fix sound problems. In fact, as a sound contractor, that’s how I occupy most days.

The best (and only) way of solving serious sound problems is to work with a qualified consultant and contractor. Select these individuals carefully, and bring them in as part of your team.

And don’t criticize others on your team for things that - in all likelihood - aren’t even their fault!

Deadly Sin #7: Assuming the other person is capable of understanding your thought process.

In 99 percent of churches, technical people and music people are like fire and ice. The logical mind and the creative mind. (Thank God for the fact that we are all doing this for a higher purpose or we would have killed each other years ago!)

We all need to learn how to communicate better. This is especially important because the way worship services are being done is changing, in many cases quite radically in terms of employing production. This requires more people be involved both as performers/contributors and in technical/creative support.

If we don’t communicate, we won’t enjoy what we’re doing and therefore we won’t participate. The church has a lot of work to do, and we can ill afford to lose people who desire to help out.

How do we start to understand each other’s thought processes? Drum roll, please…

I know you’re probably looking for a magic approach or series of steps to achieve better understanding, but in my experience, it all comes down to spending time together.

Hang out, fellowship, pray, study, talk, and practice together. Technicians, learn to play an instrument. Musicians, develop an understanding of sound.

One final piece of advice. I worked with a church here in Michigan - eventually my wife and I started attending there - and I became involved as a musician and technical advisor. This church had constantly battled technical difficulties and had learned to accept mediocre (at best) sound.

They moved into a new facility and purchased some pretty nice equipment expecting great things. Indeed there were improvements, but sound still wasn’t where we wanted it to be.

I suggested that the sound staff attend rehearsals, and after three months, the difference was astonishing.

And not only did sound improve dramatically through better understanding and coordination, but we also had great fun!

Rehearsals didn’t consist of just musical practice. It was “practice time” and “small group time,” all in one. Everyone became friends and co-developed a shared, common goal of excellence through cooperation and understanding.

We were all truly part of the worship team, and that sense of unity gets better to this day. The simple act of inviting the sound people to rehearsals turned out to be the biggest improvement the music department has experienced.

Most importantly, more than really altering things significantly on the technical side, it changed attitudes and opened up minds.

Posted by Keith Clark on 11/01 at 05:42 PM
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Live Sound Technology Course From Brit Row Training Now Available As Part-Time Option

Course becomes accessible for those who work full-time or have other commitments

A new part-time option of the Live Sound Technology course will be offered by Britannia Row Productions Training starting in January, 2014.

With classes taking place on one weekday evening plus one weekend day per week, the course becomes accessible for those who work full-time or have other commitments.

While contents and learning outcomes of the course remain essentially unchanged from the full-time version of the training program, the curriculum will be delivered in three sections: Live Sound Fundamentals, System Engineering, and Mix Engineering. This structure allows for holiday breaks between the sections as another feature to make it feasible for people in full-time employment to take this course.

The 13-week sections are delivered over a 47-week period with eight holiday weeks allowing for spring and summer breaks.

This expansion of course options marks the next stage in Britannia Row Productions Training’s progress of offering training designed by and for the live sound industry.

Managing director Matthias Postel: “From conversations we have had with people interested in the Live Sound Technology course it became clear that we would need to provide an opportunity for those who do not wish to give up or suspend their day job during their re-training period. This allows to prepare for a career change towards live sound with over an extended time frame.”

This alternative also accommodates the circumstances of trainees by spreading course fees over three installments that correspond with the three sections that the course will be divided in.

The training program benefits from the expertise, equipment resources and connections of Britannia Row Productions, a leading live sound company noted for touring with artists such as Depeche Mode, Peter Gabriel and Robbie Williams, and sound at events such as the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, BRIT Awards and MOBO Awards. The company is working with many new artists this autumn including Rudimental and James Arthur.

Through its highly practical format and industry-designed curriculum the course equips trainees with the skills that are required for work as sound technicians in the live sound industry. Graduates are supported in finding work, including the unique job guarantee for the best performing graduate who will be offered a position with an initial one-year contract with Britannia Row Productions.

For information go here or contact Postel via e-mail at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

Britannia Row Productions Training

Posted by Keith Clark on 11/01 at 01:47 PM
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Thursday, October 31, 2013

Church Sound: The Value Of Radios For The Tech Team

Saving time while enhancing communications and efficiency
This article is provided by ChurchTechArts.

Whenever I hang out with fellow production guys at concerts, or at many larger churches, the tech guys always have radios. Usually compact Motorola or Kenwood units with those cool clip-on mics over their shoulder.

While I certainly saw the usefulness of those radios, I figured we didn’t need them for our church. We’re not really that big, and the productions we do aren’t that involved. Then came Vacation Bible School (VBS)…

For a variety of reasons, VBS was crazy production-wise. It was made crazier by the fact that I had an incredibly difficult time communicating with my ATD Jon. Though we had Clear-Com intercom stations on stage, I spent an inordinate amount of time hitting the call button waiting for someone to answer. It wasn’t anyone’s fault, but it was frustrating.

FRS Radios Don’t Do It For Me
To try to solve the problem, I pulled out the FRS radios we had bought a few years ago. Those didn’t help. In fact, they actually made the situation worse. Because we didn’t have mics for them, we could hear when one of us called.

In desperation, Wednesday afternoon I started looking for a real solution. I ended up with a pair of RCA BR-250s along with a pair of speaker mics. They arrived Friday afternoon just in time for tear down.

Initially, I was bummed because I didn’t think we would really need them on weekends. But as fate would happen, we had a few issues that needed to be figured out with one person on stage and another in the booth. Radios to the rescue! It was magical. We both agreed by the end of the weekend that a good set of radios is a life saver.

Since summer, the radios have become a regular part of our weekend routine. As soon as we arrive on Saturday or Sunday, we clip them on and go to work. It’s amazing how nice it is to quickly ask a question, clear something up or relay some information by simply tipping our heads and talking into the mic.

Time Will Tell…And It Does!
Having used them for about four months now, I can’t imagine doing production without them. The last few weeks, while Jon was away, getting married, I gave a radio to our teen volunteer lighting and sound techs (I’ve since bought a third).

Again, it was fantastic to be able to answer questions quickly without shouting all over the auditorium. And I think the guys liked wearing them, to be honest.

Most major cities have dealers that sell business class radios; we bought ours from Discount Two-Way Radio. They are located north of LA, so it was a quick ship for me. We bought RCA because I found them quickly, they had a great feature set (though our needs are simple) and they were cheaper than the Motorola units I saw. They also have a 3-year warranty.

When I was in the fire service years ago, all our radios were Motorola, and they were bulletproof. You certainly wouldn’t go wrong with them, either. I would discourage anyone from trying cheap (sub $125) FRS units you can find at the sporting good store. They just aren’t solid enough for production.

The RCAs were about $250 each with the mic and charger. While not cheap, they are well built, and most importantly, sound clear enough to be heard over the band during rehearsal. We can use them anywhere on campus and have no issues communicating.

More On The Way
I’m up to three of them right now, and I plan on adding at least one more this budget year to help out with larger events. Yes, they’re a bit expensive, but I’ve kind of reached the point where I’m done buying cheap stuff hoping it works.

I actually threw the FRS radios in the trash one day because I was so frustrated with them (I later pulled them out and gave them to someone else…). I need stuff that works, and these do. Like I said, I can’t imagine doing a weekend without them now.

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.

Posted by Keith Clark on 10/31 at 08:46 AM
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Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Guide To Professional Audio Practices, Chapter 2: Determining Optimal Loudspeaker Format

Moving into an acoustical mode of thought

Loudspeakers for professional audio run the gamut from inexpensive plastic enclosures to large, complex, and very expensive line arrays – plus plenty of formats in between such as columnar line arrays and high fidelity ceiling loudspeakers.

In chapter 1 of this series, we discussed the importance of comprehensively understanding the needs of the client before planning a system.

Now let’s look at the suitability factor of one type of loudspeaker format versus another. Note that this requires an acoustical mode of thought.

Large reverberant spaces are very difficult to tame. Line arrays can significantly minimize SPL differences from the front to the rear of the audience area because they have the ability to “throw” further than point-source loudspeakers.

The narrow (or adjustable) vertical dispersion pattern of most line arrays minimizes spillage onto ceilings and floors where it’s not needed, instead concentrating the energy towards the rear of the room. This property provides a degree of coherency not available from most point source speakers, and the initial arrival of the wavefront is usually very intelligible. But high coherency also comes with a potential downside.

Left to right: line array, point-source and columnar (column) loudspeakers. (click to enlarge)

A line array is much more likely to produce a powerful, coherent reflection off the rear wall unless the wall was designed to be acoustically absorbent, or is temporarily covered with heavy theatrical draping.

Instead of the reverb-like random reflections generated by a point source rig, the coherency of the reflection from a line array can sound like a digital delay has been added to the system. This can wreak havoc with the performers on stage who will hear the reflections as much as a half second late in a large room, and is especially bad for live recordings and television broadcasts.

The intensity and nature of the reflections will be governed, to a degree, by how high the line array rig is flown and its coverage angle. It’s often better to focus the rig so that it’s not covering the rearmost seating areas, perhaps avoiding as many as ten rows in a large room.

Doing so will minimize the reflections from the rear wall, but then those seats will need to be covered with local delay loudspeakers, which may not be practical for a “one-off” (single) event due to the added workload.

Draping may still be needed even if the line array rig is not focused directly at the rear wall. While a single drape will help, two (or more) layers of drape, spaced about 3 feet apart, will clean up the reflections considerably, budget permitting.

Figure 1: An exploded cluster can be a good solution, particularly if the loudspeakers exhibit excessive interference in a tight-pack array format. (click to enlarge)

Conversely, small, acoustically dry spaces are often better served by point-source loudspeakers that take up less space and cost less than line array rigs. Of course every church, theatre, club, and ballroom seems to demand a line array system these days, but that doesn’t mean it’s the best choice.

Low-ceilinged rooms can be particularly challenging for line arrays because they can’t be suspended high enough to optimize their coverage angle. A cluster of point-source loudspeakers—or an exploded cluster (Figure 1)—are likely to perform better.

Tried And True
For many years, the international theatrical community and many AV presentations relied almost entirely on distributed systems.

By spacing a number of small or medium sized loudspeakers across the front of the room, and perhaps once or twice again towards the rear of the room (depending on how deep the room is), a distributed loudspeaker system can provide even coverage, minimal feedback issues, and the ability to alter the balance of the sub-mixes in relation to the proximity of the listener to the stage.

For example, seats in the front rows by the orchestra pit need little or no orchestra in the system – and perhaps minimal vocal content.

Conversely, seats in the rear of the theatre may need considerable reinforcement of vocals and instrumentals. Of course, the second, third, and any additional distributed lines of loudspeakers will need to be accurately delayed to the front-most sound source (Figure 2). 

Tried, And, Well, Not So True
A common practice in the pre-line array era was to locate large loudspeakers on each side of the stage, augmented with smaller distributed delay speakers (Figure 3).

Tuning and adjusting such systems is problematic because as you move from seat to seat the correct delay time changes. Therefore, this is not a recommended solution unless the large loudspeakers are used only for track playback.

Figure 2: Distributed system in a typical large ballroom or theatre. (click to enlarge)

A solid rule of thumb is that whenever delay loudspeakers are part of a design, it’s always best to keep them in-line with the first source, rather than at a vector angle.

Columnar Arrays
In small- and medium-sized rooms that are quite reverberant, such as houses of worship with high ceilings and many reflective surfaces (wooden pews, glass windows, etc.), the columnar array can provide an excellent solution.

A columnar array (also commonly called a line source and/or a column loudspeaker) is especially relevant if the location of the columns is such that the presenter needs to walk out in front of them from time to time. They are very forgiving in respect to feedback control, especially when lavalier microphones are employed.

Figure 3: Path lengths to every seat are different, therefore delay times cannot be set properly. Not recommended. (click to enlarge)

I’ve heard excellent results from two modest-sized columns in a 200-seat church that’s nearly twice as deep as it is wide. The presence and intelligibility in the rear row is as good as hat of the front row, and musicality is excellent when the columns are augmented by small subwoofers. 

Take It Outside
Outdoor events are altogether different, as there are no reflections to deal with – unless a building is close enough and large enough to cause a reflective return. Small outdoor gatherings can be served very well with good quality point source systems or micro-sized line arrays.

Assuming no nearby buildings, larger gatherings are a perfect fit for larger line array rigs, either ground stacked, suspended from the stage structure, or flown from scaffolding or purpose-designed support towers (Figure 4).

Figure 4: A line array on a purpose-designed tower, with subwoofer below. (click to enlarge)

However, a critical issue for outdoor shows is to look carefully at the mechanical means of suspension. Outdoor events include the possibility of sudden high winds, rain, and earthquakes. If towers are used for suspension, then a fall-zone(an the area in which the rig will land if the suspension towers collapse or fall over) must be cordoned off so that no one will be injured.

Wind storms can occur very rapidly, but usually with some foreknowledge. Earthquakes, on the other hand, come without any warning. Either can topple or destroy a seemingly solid structure in a matter of seconds.

Always keep safety first at the top of your prioririty list.

Happy trails!

Ken DeLoria is senior technical editor of ProSoundWeb and Live Sound International and has had a diverse career in pro audio over more than 30 years. He is the founder and former owner of Apogee Sound, and for more than 30 years designed pro audio products, including the world’s first intelligent power amplifier equipped with an embedded microcontroller (the Apogee DA-800) as well as the TEC Award winning Apogee AE-9 loudspeaker. He has also mixed innumerable shows and tuned a plethora of sound systems with an emphasis on taming difficult acoustical environments, with credits that include theatrical productions, the first two Super Bowls that utilized high-fidelity concert-style sound systems (Super Bowls XVII and XIX), the 1984 and 1996 Summer Olympics, three Democratic National Conventions, six consecutive Grammy and Oscar Awards, and more than 100 permanent systems in domestic and worldwide installations.

Editor’s note: We’ll be posting new chapters in this series on a regular basis so be sure to check back often. Go here to read chapter 1.


Posted by Keith Clark on 10/30 at 09:54 AM
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Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Yamaha Training Sessions Coming Up In Pittsburgh and Beltsville, MD

M7CL, CL Series, and digital network courses offered

Yamaha Commercial Audio Training Seminars (YCATS) will holding training sessions in Pittsburgh on November 5, 6, and 7 and in Beltsville, MD on November 12, 13, and 14.

Both Pittsburgh and Beltsville sessions include M7CL for Beginners, M7CL for Experienced Engineers, CL Series Operational Training, and Digital Audio Networks for Engineers.

Go here for more information, course description, seminar location, and registration.

Yamaha Commercial Audio

Posted by Keith Clark on 10/29 at 12:38 PM
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Friday, October 25, 2013

Church Sound: Rate Your Audio Performance With This Handy Scorecard

A handy game-time checklist to help you rate how you're doing
This article is provided by Behind The Mixer.

Here are 25 simple yes/no questions you can use to score your performance the next time you’re behind the mixer. I could easily come up with another 75, but these cover the basics. 

A scorecard is a great way to establish a baseline for where you are and where you can improve. Are you up for the challenge?

Simply add up which questions you answered “yes” to and see where you fall.

1. Did I perform a line check before the musicians started practicing?

2. Did I perform a proper sound check (gain structure set, volume level’s set, and eq’ing)?

3. Did I get a schedule of events/songs for the service? (Optionally, did I create one if not?)

4. Did I set proper monitor levels so the band can hear themselves but it doesn’t blast the congregation?

5. Did I walk the room during practice to listen for the effects of room dynamics on the mix?

6. Did I review the schedule with the worship leader and pastor?

7. Did I test all recorded media (CD’s, DVD’s, etc)?

8. Did I test/replace all wireless microphone batteries?

9. Did I mix the songs to match the emotion/mood that is intended?

10. Did I tape down cables that could be a safety concern?

During the Service
1. Did I make EQ/volume changes during the first song that might have been required due to the presence of the crowd people in the room?

2. Was the service absent of audio feedback?

3. Did I make monitor changes or watch for indicators of monitor changes by the band?

4. Did I use the correct volume levels? 

5. Did I turn off channels when not in use?

6. Did I take any mix notes? (Can be notes of EQ settings or instrument problems like ‘Bob’s acoustic guitar pickup lacks good low-end sound’)

7. Did I record the sermon?

8. Did I hit all the cues? 


Don’t forget to read on to page two for the rest of the scorecard, including scoring!

Post Service
1. Was media returned to individuals? (Backing CD to soloist, DVD to visiting missionary, etc.)

2. Did I talk with the band to find out if issues existed for them during service?

3. Did I note any broken/faulty equipment and take it out of service if possible?

4. Did I ask 1-2 people how the service sounded AND did they give a positive response?

1. Did I show up on time?

2. Did I behave professionally?

3. Did my actions model Christian behavior?

Questions aren’t weighed - I’m going for simplicity for you and me.

25-23: Great job, you’ve just got a few things to correct.

20-22: Good job, now tackle the areas you answered “no.”

17-19: Try mentoring with another team member to improve. 

16-under:  Attend training, read some audio books, team-up with another person on the audio team to learn more about the aspects of audio production.

No matter how low you scored, don’t feel bad, because everyone started at the bottom. As long as you’re improving each time you run sound, you’re moving in the right direction.

What was your score? (I scored 22.) 

Ready to learn and laugh? Chris Huff writes about the world of church audio at Behind The Mixer. He covers everything from audio fundamentals to dealing with musicians.  He can even tell you the signs the sound guy is having a mental breakdown.

Posted by Keith Clark on 10/25 at 04:41 PM
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RE/P Files: Signal Feed Techniques For Electronic Instruments

The conventional wisdom in 1970 for recording instruments, amplifiers, and effects

From the archives of the late, great Recording Engineer/Producer (RE/P) magazine, this feature is an interesting look back at techniques for recording electronic instruments. This article dates back to April / May of 1970. (Volume 1, Number 1). The text is presented unaltered, along with all original graphics.

There are variations of three basic methods which seem to satisfy most requirements…that is, those requirements which don’t demand instant audio annihilation…for getting a signal out of an electronic musical instrument and its amplifier.

Assuming that the sound to be picked-up is generated by a fundamental electronic instrument, say, an electrified guitar, one without built-in reverberation, wah-wah or the like.

Then, there is no particular problem in coming directly off of the magnetic pick-up on the instrument into a mult-jack, with the dual feeds then going, on the one hand, to the guitar amplifier, while the other line, then, goes to the microphone input of the mixing console through an impedance matching transformer . . . Direct Box. (See figure 1)

The obvious advantages, here, are that the player has complete monitoring capability through his own amplifier in the studio, while the mixing engineer retains complete control of the output volume of the instrument in the control room.

Electronic instruments with built-in special effects; the fuzz tones, wah-wahs, reverbs, etc. are picked up directly in two additional ways.

Figure 1

If the amplifier being used by the musician in the studio has either a line-output or a pre-amp output the mult-jack approach is still where the process starts. 

One line from the jack goes out through the impedance matching transformer (sometimes called a bridging transformer) straight to the microphone input of the control console. The mult feed from the jack goes back into the amplifier.

As in the previous example, the player still has complete liberty to monitor his own performance at any volume level in the studio. The use of any of the special effects originating in the instrument or the amplifier remains the choice of the artist. The engineer, on the other side of the glass, still has absolute control of the volume of the sound being recorded.

Although less desirable from the control-of-volume point of view of the engineer, the third method of direct pick-up is used because of its simplicity. This method looks pretty much the same as the immediately preceding set-up, except that a pair of clip leads are used to clip onto the voice coil of the amplifier speaker before going back into the bridging transformer and then on into the microphone input of the mixing console.

In this situation the player has the opportunity of “playing” with the amplifier volume controls, thus affecting the volume of sound fed to the mixer. To the degree that the performer might want to do this, the absolute control over the volume being fed to the tape machines is no longer vested completely in the engineer doing the mixing.

These techniques can be applied to almost every electronic instrument; electronic piano, electronic harpsichord, etc. In each case the signal must be fed through an isolating or bridging device (impedance matching device) into the mixing console, while at the same time allowing the musical signal to also get to the performer’s amplifier in the studio.

Direct signal pick-up eliminates distortion from both the amplifier and the speakers, which in musical instrument amplifiers are nowhere near the quality or balance of the studio monitoring system. Too, the recording system is not exposed to any extremely high sound power levels. Those remain safely isolated out in the studio.

Conventional Micing
Especially as it applies to ‘rock’, the biggest problem in picking-up an amplified instrument sound through conventional microphones is that the acoustical power coming out of the amp speakers can very easily overload the microphones.

However, in order to record the electronic instrument and its amplifier as faithfully as possible to the sound which the combination is putting out, using conventional micing methods would mean that the microphone must be placed only inches from the amp speakers.

Where this is attempted, the use of dynamic microphones is recommended because of their ability to withstand extreme sound pressures, of between 110 and 140 dB before ‘CO’

Still, there may be times when the producer/mixer might want the best of both the direct and conventionally miced sound.

If there are enough inputs in the console, then both the microphone line and the one coming in from the ‘Direct Box’ (bridging device) can be run into separate ‘pots’ for recording on the common track.

As the engineer seeks the brilliance and clarity of the instrument sound fed direct, or the sound of the instrument plus the ambient of the room (studio) as the sound comes from the conventional micing procedure, he can switch from input to input, or blend both of the signals together.

The Direct Box
The primary impedance of the matching transformer should, of course, be high enough so that it does not disturb the match of the output of the magnetic pick-up from the instrument . . . and, so that it attenuates the high end, or doesn’t drop the level too much ... so that the signal comes out of the ‘Direct Box’ at approximately microphone level.

Direct Box

It should be a nominal impedance of, say, 30,000 ohms to 50,000 ohms. The primary impedance should be high enough so that it doesn’t disturb or load the instrument’s magnetic pick-up and delivers enough signal at the console for control.

The matching transformer should be mounted in a small, well-shielded box. Careful attention should be given to ‘grounds’ or shielding of both input and output cables. Appropriate connectors on each cable should be compatible with the output of the magnetic pickup-on the instrument, and the input connector to the mixing console.

At the time of publication, William Robinson was engineering director at Sunset Sound Recorders in Hollywood, CA.

Take the PSW Photo Gallery Tour of audio equipment ads appearing in RE/P magazine, circa 1970

Editor’s Note: This is a series of articles from Recording Engineer/Producer (RE/P) magazine, which began publishing in 1970 under the direction of Publisher/Editor Martin Gallay. After a great run, RE/P ceased publishing in the early 1990s, yet its content is still much revered in the professional audio community. RE/P also published the first issues of Live Sound International magazine as a quarterly supplement, beginning in the late 1980s, and LSI has grown to a monthly publication that continues to thrive to this day. Our sincere thanks to Mark Gander of JBL Professional for his considerable support on this archive project.

Posted by Keith Clark on 10/25 at 03:34 PM
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Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Clear-Com’s Helixnet Partyline Deployed At 2013 John Deere Event

Epperson gives Clear-Com HelixNet a Rave Review after pushing the system to its limits and beyond

Clear-Com is pleased to announce that its HelixNet Partyline was a proven intercom solution at this summer’s John Deere Annual Event in Columbus, OH.

Even after being pushed beyond its limits, HelixNet rose to the challenge and enabled Kelly Epperson and his production team to deliver a successful and cost-effective show for John Deere.

Epperson, audio system designer and A1 for the event, was hired by the production company, See Our Solutions in St. Louis, MO, to specify the audio and communication equipment for this year’s program.

As part of the design and specification process, Epperson selected Clear-Com’s HelixNet as the wired communication solution for this challenging production.

“The John Deere launch meeting is an event at which the company showcases, launches and demonstrates new products across their entire line from commercial lawn equipment to their largest machinery like tractors, combines and sprayers,” says Epperson. “Because the show floor is essentially the stage, and due to the sheer size of the products, the backstage area is quite large.

“There are long cable runs across the expansive show floor. Scenic entrances and exits utilize extensive show control automation. Safety for crew and drivers is paramount. All these were factors for deciding which system(s) were best for communications.

“At this event, I needed a digital solution that could run a distance of more than 600 feet from Front of House to the operator positions using copper, and I needed to do so without the cross-talk and noise issues that I have experienced with two-wire systems.

“Because I had a positive experience with the Clear-Com HelixNet system at the 2012 Presidential Debate, I had full confidence this was the best system for this application.

“Configuring the system for all 15 beltpacks was easy and didn’t take long. Each channel was labeled as either ‘production,’ ‘video,’ ‘lighting,’ ‘driver’ or ‘audio.’ Once I fired up HelixNet, it immediately displayed strong signals across the system.

“Each of the two channels on the beltpacks showed any one of the four labels. I never had to pick up the manual for reference.”

In addition, Epperson was also impressed that he could operate the four-channel system and all 15 wired beltpacks over one XLR cable.

With other digital partyline systems on the market, he would have had to lay down new wires or special cabling. HelixNet saved him significant shop-prep time and saved his client the cost of having to rewire the show site. 

Furthermore, HelixNet interface modules allowed him to easily link two wireless intercom systems. HelixNet comes with built-in interface module options. Therefore, connecting the system with any external two-wire or four-wire system, as well as linking multiple HelixNet systems over fiber or Ethernet, can be simply achieved with these modules.

“At this event, HelixNet proved to me that it is a solidly developed digital intercom system. It delivers great value—economically and technically—both as a system designer and production member,” says Epperson.


Posted by Julie Clark on 10/23 at 11:38 AM
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Sonic Nirvana? Thinking Outside Of The “Technically-Oriented” Box

Thinking outside of the “technically-oriented” box.

Whenever I’m at the local Guitar Hut, I like to listen to the people who come in and talk with the pro audio sales guy about gear. These conversations are often filled with nebulous audiophilic adjectives like “warm”, “sweet” and “punchy”.

The sales guy has little motivation to be a source of truthful or accurate information. He just wants to make a sale. Meanwhile many of his customers already have their minds made up as to what piece of gear they need, and why. 

It’s fairly easy to pick out those who will make a purchase and install it in their system - and then, in time, become disillusioned enough to again pick up the quest for the next piece of gear that promises sonic nirvana.

After more than 30 years of work with professional live and recorded sound, I find it unfortunate that so many are trapped in this scenario. Collectively, we have yet to reach a uniform level of conceptual awareness about sound systems and ways of attaining excellent results because of a fixation with gear.

For many years, I was bound, seeing just individual trees. Fortunately, Bob Brooks helped me to see the rest of the forest.

Bob came up back in the heyday of 1950s broadcasting, has been extensively involved with both live and studio production, and for 10 years owned one of the most successful studios in western Canada, Little Mountain Sound. 

I met Bob eight years ago, and wish that I’d met him much earlier in my professional development. A true mentor, Bob has pushed me to hear and think outside the “technically-oriented” box that traps so many of us. We easily fool ourselves into believing that because the technical issues are “technically” correct, the sonic issues are “sonically” correct. 

Even when we’re absolutely sure our ears are telling us that something is amiss, we still deny and defend, even to our own demise. 

I like gear, but now recognize that if I release my inner Tim Taylor, I’ll end up sitting on the couch in my underwear surrounded by boxes of Class A this, digital that, and tubes galore, giggling like Beavis & Butthead. 

Sorry, it’s best not to go there.

Since Bob helped enlighten me, my personal “key” to achieving consistent, reliable and (pardon the lack of modesty) excellent results boils down to this: it’s not what you’ve got, but how you use it. 

I’ve learned to be careful in judging the provenance or status of the tools at my disposal., and have discovered that my preconceived ideas have an influence on my own success or failure. That’s not the fault of gear. 

So I’ve adopted the view that I can successfully use any piece of equipment as long as it has a sufficiently low noise floor, appropriate headroom and an absence of sonic “funkiness”.

Anything beyond these factors is lagniappe (lan yap), a Cajun word meaning “something extra”. 

The problem with lagniappe is that it tends to make us fat, or more specifically, bloats our thinking. Lagniappe promotes the welfare mentality.  It leads us to believe that we can’t just make do with the bare necessities, and lagniappe belies the simpler truth: when it comes to producing quality sound, less is usually more, less is usually better. The more we add, the more chance we have of screwing it up.

In early recording and broadcasting, consoles only had one way to control volume on each channel, and that was the gain adjustment. What? Mixing via the gain knob?? Yup. Simple and effective. Either it was right or it wasn’t, and there was only one place to make it so.

Contrast that with modern consoles often providing four or five gain stages that have a direct influence over the level of the output. Sweet. In the right hands. (And conversely scary to the wise.)

The problem is that along the way, yesterday’s techniques for excellence have been lost on so many of us. We don’t come to this field equipped with solid production technique, and then we’re presented with so many choices.

Again: the more we add, the more chance we have of screwing it up.

There’s hope, however. We just need to embrace the dark side. In other words, look at our habits and admit that what we’re doing might not be producing the results we desire. Accepting this fact is the first step to moving on to a much better direction.

The most basic key to building excellence is to learn good technique in simplicity, and then evolve it as things get more complex, and as understanding increases.

I’m betting that at least a few of you are ready to embrace some “revolutionary” thinking and methods. The fun part is that the foundation of this revolution is largely based upon proven and reliable, not new and improved.

Since his start more than 30 years ago on a Shure Vocalmaster system, James Cadwallader remains in love with live sound. Based in the western U.S., he’s held a wide range of professional audio positions, including live mixing, recording, and technician duties.

Posted by Keith Clark on 10/23 at 08:15 AM
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Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Audio Precision Brings AP Performance to Loudspeaker Test

AP builds out electro-acoustic suite for reliable, high performance audio test from raw driver production test to final QA for finished devices.

Audio Precision has announced a new Loudspeaker Production Test suite.

The new suite has features that were requested by Audio Precision customers that would allow them to eliminate use of the sound-card based solutions currently on the market.

In less than one second, the Loudspeaker Production Test measurement returns multiple results: rub and buzz, impedance magnitude and phase, key Thiele-Small parameters, SPL, frequency response, phase, and distortion (either total or specific harmonics).

Polarity can be evaluated with the built in phase measurement, or by a separate half-second measurement. If required, air leak detection is measured in another half-second measurement. All normal APx functionality, such as floating limits based on a golden unit, smoothing, one-click automation and automated reporting are also available.

Selecting APx for production test is a good return on investment: the same hardware and software can measure speakers, power amplifiers and other electronics and APx’s easy automation allows for faster line setup or adjustment as test needs change.

Because the hardware is reliable and ships with an ISO:17025 accredited calibration, test stations have fewer problems and no time is spent questioning the accuracy of results. AP’s three year warranty and free technical support ensures any problems are resolved quickly and painlessly.

In addition to the Loudspeaker Production Test suite, a new R&D suite has also been released. The new Impedance/ Thiele-Small measurement enables complex impedance and full Thiele-Small parameters. Waterfall (CSD) and polar plots have also been added.

With this extended electro-acoustic functionality, APx is ideal for integrated devices: R&D groups working on different sections of a device (such as power amp, Bluetooth, HDMI, DSP and speakers) can share APx projects and results seamlessly, then send a single, lockable test sequence with limits and reports to manufacturing.

The new electro-acoustic measurements are enabled through two new software options available from local AP sales partners. The APx analyzer is required to run the measurements.

All models support the below options.

•  APX-SW-SPK-PT (for production test): Frequency response, relative level, phase, distortion product ratio, distortion product level, rub and buzz, impedance magnitude, impedance phase, select Thiele-Small parameters and modulated noise. Price is $750 in the US.
•  APX-SW-SPK-RD (for R&D): Impedance magnitude, impedance phase, real impedance, imaginary impedance, complete Thiele-Small parameters, energy time curve, impulse response, frequency response, relative level, phase, distortion product ratio, distortion product level, rub and buzz, and modulated noise. Includes all measurements in the loudspeaker production test measurement detailed below and polar plots and waterfall (CSD) graph utilities. Price is $1500 in the US.

The production test package (including analyzer hardware and software) has an MSRP of $7200 (U.S.) with no recurring license fees.

Posted by Julie Clark on 10/22 at 02:46 PM
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Friday, October 18, 2013

In The Studio: How To Visualize Your Mix Before Moving The First Fader

Key questions to ask to help clarify and mold your vision
This article is provided by Bobby Owsinski.

This excerpt from the Audio Mixing Bootcamp offers some tips on how to visualize your mix even before you’ve moved the first fader.

Most mixers can hear some version of the final product in their heads before they get too far into the mix. This is because they’ve heard rough mixes of the song many times before during production, but even if a mixer is brought in just for the mix, they listen to all the elements several times before they really get down to mixing.

If you’re just starting out mixing, you might think, “How can I hear the final product before I’ve even begin?” That’s a fair enough question. Until you have a certain amount of experience, you need a few questions to help mold your vision a bit, and the way to do that is to go back to the six mix elements and ask yourself:

How do I hear the final balance?
How do I hear the instruments EQ’d”
How do I hear everything panned?
How do I hear everything compressed?
How do I hear the ambience in the track?
What do I hear as the most interesting thing in the track?

If you can answer these questions, you may still not have a full picture of your final mix, but you’ll have at least a general idea, which is the first step to a great mix.

Keep in mind that the producer and musicians have a say in the mix as well, and your version of the mix can suddenly take a wide left turn with their input. That’s okay, because after you’ve gotten everything to the point where you hear it in your head (or even beyond), a left turn should be easy.

Visualize Your Mix

1: Either listen to a rough mix of the song you’re working on, or quickly just push up all the faders for a rough balance to the song you’re about to mix. Let’s think about the balance.

A) How loud do you hear the drums in the final mix? The bass?
B) Do you hear the vocals out in front, or back in the track?
C) How loud do you hear the primary musical elements that carry the song?
D) How loud do you hear the secondary elements like percussion and background vocals?

2: Now let’s think about the frequency response of the various instruments.

A) Is there an instrument or two that sounds particularly dull?
B) Is there an instrument or two that sounds overly bright?
C) Is there an instrument that has too much bottom end?
D) Is there an instrument that has no bottom end at all?

3: Now let’s think about the panning.

A) How do you hear the drums panned? Wide or narrow?
B) How do you hear the panning of any instruments that were recorded in stereo?
C) Do you hear any instruments panned extreme wide left and right?
D) What instruments do you hear panned up the middle?

4: Now let’s go to compression.

A) Is there an instrument or vocal that has wild dynamic shifts that needs compression?
B) Is there an instrument or vocal that you’d like to change the sound by using compression?
C) Is there an instrument or vocal that needs to sound a little more punchy?

5: Let’s think about the ambience.

A) What instruments were recorded with room ambience or reverb?
B) Do you hear ambience on the drums or snare?
C) What instruments do you hear rather dry and in your face?
D) What instruments do you hear further away from you?

6: Lastly, it’s time to think about the interest.

A) What’s the most important element in the mix?
B) If there isn’t one yet, how can I create one?
C) What’s the next most important element in the mix?
D) What’s the next most important element in the mix?

These aren’t all the questions that you can ask yourself about a mix, but you get the idea. Remember, there are no right or wrong answers. It’s as you visualize it in your head.

By the way, there’s also a video version of the course that can be found at

Bobby Owsinski is an author, producer, music industry veteran and technical consultant who has written numerous books covering all aspects of audio recording. For more information be sure to check out his website and blogs. Get the Audio Mixing Bootcamp here.

Posted by Keith Clark on 10/18 at 05:58 AM
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Thursday, October 17, 2013

Business Savvy: Managing Risk In The Business Of Pro Audio

What is your tolerance quotient?

Many of you have dealt with the ups and downs of the pro audio industry for many years and understand the constant ebb and flow of risks and opportunities.

Others may be new to the business, working part time, or on someone else’s payroll. Still others may be planning to go on their own or “quit your day job”. In any case, you are managing risk in some way.

What’s at risk in business? How do you feel about risk? Are you ready to pursue live sound full time on your own from a business standpoint?

It’s a fact: any business involves risk. Risk is the possibility of danger, loss, or some other negative consequence. In any business ­ whether you work for yourself or someone else ­ your time, money, reputation, and self-esteem are at risk. Let’s look at each of these briefly.

Time. You may spend a lot of time learning new skills (technical chops, business chops), establishing relationships, and working at the audio business before you achieve your financial or creative goals. How much time do you have? Can you afford to take time away from other things? Are you patient or impatient by nature?
Money. Starting and operating any audio business requires working capital ­ cash. Do you have enough? Are you willing to put your own money at risk? If yes, how much? If no, where are you going to get the money?
Reputation. Your reputation is what others say about you, your character, and your accomplishments. When you operate a business, whatever you do both in your business and in your personal life is subject to public scrutiny. How do you feel about that? Are you open to praise and criticism on a regular basis, or are you more private?
Self esteem. Your confidence is an asset that needs to be protected. I’m not referring to vanity, arrogance, or exaggerated self-importance. I am referring to the need to have a positive feeling about yourself and what you do. In any business ­ especially a subjective and creative field like audio ­ your self-esteem is always at risk. Some people are “thick skinned” or more resilient than others.

Some people are very comfortable taking risks. Others are “risk averse”; that is, they consciously avoid risk and are willing to accept lower returns (like less money or notoriety) as a result. Where do you fall on the risk spectrum? Let’s do a brief exercise to start thinking about the topic more concretely.

In the table below, simply check the boxes in each category that make the most sense to you. Remember that there are no right or wrong answers, and that only you will see them, unless you choose to share the information with anyone else. Also keep in mind that you can change your mind over time as conditions change. Here we go.


What’s your risk quotient? If all of your check marks are in the first column, you are risk averse. That’s OK, but indicates that you should look for work on someone else’s payroll. If your check marks are spread across the three columns, you have more options, including going into business for yourself.

As you analyze risk and develop your business plan, there are additional considerations to address before you quit your day job. Ask yourself these questions:

• Is anyone buying what I’m selling?
• Is the market for what I want to do big enough to support my career in live sound?
• Can I get enough facts about the size of the market to satisfy my risk tolerance?
• Is there anyone else who is doing what I want to do successfully? Can I learn from them?
• Where will the money come from to live on and/or invest in my business until I’m getting paid enough to do sound full time?
• Who will handle the business aspects of my audio career: marketing, sales, accounting, and business management?

Many live sound people try to do it all, on their own. Some are content and successful, others end up getting frustrated.

Does this scenario sound familiar? “I own a sound reinforcement rig that I rent out for local and regional events. I handle my own bookings and promotion. If my client needs an engineer, I go with the system. Then I’m also the roadie and troubleshooter. I maintain my own gear and go to trade shows when I can. I balance my own checkbook, and trouble-shoot my computer when it goes down. In addition, I work a real job to support my habit.”

Think about the live sound or music people that you admire or aspire to be like.

Do they do everything themselves?

Relatively few career engineers, performers, or rental company owners handle all of their own booking (sales), management, and accounting. Excellence requires full time focus on what you do best.

Here’s the point. Someone needs to take care of each of the essential elements of your audio business. That takes time, and if you are working multiple jobs, you are unlikely to have enough time to 1) get good at everything and 2) keep your sanity.

What are you best suited for? What feels right? How can you make the best contribution? How can you have the most fun along the way? Addressing these questions is part of your risk analysis. Now, on to the important question.

If you’re doing something else to make a living and would like to focus on live sound full time, this is the important question.

If you are already doing audio full time, the conditions below are still valuable to review and put in perspective.

Here are three conditions to be met before you can “quit your day job” with confidence.

1) You have a business plan ­ written down and ready to share with others. (Planning is a primary subject in my book listed in the bio at the end of this article.)
2) You have funding to cover both business and personal expenses for at least one year. Once you have drafted your business plan and budget, you’ll know how much money you need. Why one year? Because shorter than a year is not long enough to work your plan in most cases. You are likely to have revenue much sooner than a year, but having the financial support up front provides the confidence to move ahead and the cash in case a problem or opportunity arises.
3) You are comfortable taking the risk. Some people handle risk easily, others don’t. There is no rule on how much risk to take, so don’t feel that one or the other is the best way. Just determine how much risk you are willing to take, and proceed from there.

If one of these three elements is missing, you’re probably not ready to do audio full time. Don’t quit your day job prematurely

It helps greatly to have family and friends who are comfortable with your live sound business idea too. Getting that emotional support is likely to make things go a lot easier, especially on the home front.

Why did you read this article? How did you get to this point? It’s probably because you want to get ahead by some means other than trial and error.

Just like practicing your musical chops, developing your “business chops” helps you deal with the important decisions, and keeps you focused on your path to success in live sound.

John Stiernberg is founder and principal consultant with Stiernberg Consulting, the Sherman Oaks (Los Angeles) CA-based business development firm ( He currently works with audio companies and others on strategic planning and market development.

Posted by Keith Clark on 10/17 at 06:44 AM
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Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Church Sound: How Do Techs Magically Pinpoint A Problem Frequency?

Four ways to better deal with frequency problems
This article is provided by Behind The Mixer.

So there I was, hunkered down in the sound booth with the congregation rioting around me. Two instruments were vying for the same dominant frequencies and I could hear an elder yell, “MAKE THIS NIGHTMARE END!” 

Sweat was pouring down my face. “Think man, think,” I told myself. “You’ve trained for this very type of scenario.”

My hand reached for the channel EQ. I moved the mid-range sweep knob to 1,257 Hz. Suddenly, confident of my next move, I applied a 6 dB cut to that frequency…and the congregation went wild!

This story seems outrageous but in the mind of some audio techs, it reflects a question I occasionally get via email: “How do techs pinpoint a frequency so easily?” 

There are four ways that techs learn to pinpoint frequencies…but “pinpoint” isn’t the best description. Let’s look at the four and you’ll see what I mean.

1. It’s what I do every day.

It takes 10,000 hours to master a skill. Working weekends and maybe a mid-week practice, it would take 24 years of working 8 hours on live mixing each weekend, every weekend. Professional audio engineers are putting in a lot of more time and thus they have trained their ears to identify frequency areas in relationship to vocals, guitars, drums, etc. 

Even with that type of near-every day experience, could they pinpoint a specific frequency? No. They would be able to be very very close in finding the frequency area for their first modification.

2. I trained my ears.

It’s possible to get a jump on mastering frequency area identification if you train your ears. There are a number of products which help with this training. Quiztones is a great one.

Some people have golden ears and it’s easy for them to identify the frequency area they need to change, but for most people, it takes training your ears.

3. I learned the common frequency areas.

Each instrument and vocal has a set of audio frequencies that are known to affect the sound in a certain way.  For example, here are two key vocal frequency ranges and their use:

100 Hz – 300 Hz : Clarity/Thin (Good for cutting)
400 Hz – 1,100 Hz : Honky/Nasal (Good for cutting)

Knowing these frequency ranges, you know the frequency area you should first investigate when you have a problem with your audio channel…or you don’t have a problem but you want to improve the sound, such as add presence to a vocal or an acoustic guitar. My guide, Audio Essentials for Church Sound, covers all of these frequency areas for the different instruments and vocals.

4. I learned to sweep.

Looking at the previous three points, you’ll notice I didn’t mention how one learns to “pinpoint” a frequency such as in the 1,257 Hz in the above story. It’s because you can’t. The best you can do is come close on your first attempt and from there, “dial it in.” Let’s look at how you’d do this.

First, it doesn’t matter if you are on an analog or digital board as the concept is the same. Let’s go with an issue where your vocal is a bit on the nasally side (some vocalists are like that, you work with what you’ve got). Focus on the below range:

400 Hz – 1,100 Hz : Honky/Nasal

Go to your mid-range sweep EQ knob and move it to 400 Hz. Next, set the mid-range cut/boost knob at +6 dB. You have now applied a 6 dB boost at 400 Hz. 

Using the mid-range sweep knob, slowly sweep your frequency center point up until the nasally characteristic jumps out in the mix. You might find it at 800 Hz or 1,011 Hz or 1,100 Hz.

Once you find the right point, cut the frequency area to the amount you need.  +6 dB is used because it’s easier to listen for extremes and adjust once you’ve found the point. 

The next time you’re mixing that vocalist and they sound nasally, you have a good idea of the frequency area you should give that initial cut before sweeping a bit to make sure you’ve dialed it in.

The Take Away

I encourage you to focus on the last three points. Start by learning the key frequency areas for instruments and vocals. Then check out Quiztones and train your ear to recognize those frequency areas. 

Finally, learn to sweep. Even if you don’t use Quiztones or regularly train your ear, if you know the ranges and learn to sweep to find the right spot, you’ll be doing great!


Ready to learn and laugh? Chris Huff writes about the world of church audio at Behind The Mixer. He covers everything from audio fundamentals to dealing with musicians, and can even tell you the signs the sound guy is having a mental breakdown. To view the original article and to make comments, go here.

Posted by Keith Clark on 10/15 at 04:57 PM
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Monday, October 14, 2013

How The Cloud Impacts Systems Integration Firms

It's a path to the recurring revenue game. Are you playing?
This article is provided by Commercial Integrator

It’s official: Cloud fever has struck Integratorville.

With widespread use of commercial cloud applications like iCloud, Dropbox and Google Apps, it was only a matter of time before the “marketing cool” that is cloud became relevant to the integrator channel.

This has left CIs everywhere asking themselves, how do we capitalize on the popularity of cloud?

In the commercial integration market, cloud is still primarily just a “marketecture” used by manufacturers, VARs and distributors all offering cloud-based solutions for collaboration, conferencing, signage and support.

With what appears to be an abundance of cloud solutions reaching the channel, the good news is cloud may finally be providing a platform by which a CI can get into the recurring revenue game. The bad news is, we are seemingly talking a lot more than we are doing.

Talking Cloud Is One Thing

If there is one thing the integration channel has done a lot of, it is talk about change – changing technologies, changing market forces, changing profitability and so on.

Perhaps more discussed than any of those things is the integrators need for a change in their business model, specifically a move from project (capex) revenue to a more sexy recurring revenue (opex) model based on services. Of course this topic immediately leads to further conversation about how CIs can leverage cloud.

While all of this talk is great, what has been the effect? How much cloud is the integration channel selling? Is it relevant? Can it be measured?

Flirting, Dating, Marrying Cloud?

Like all major shifts in business, the movement to cloud is more than just a shift in ideology. 

In reality, it reflects a full change in how integrators go to market. It impacts project size, scope, cash flow and compensation amongst other things. 

This leaves many CI business leaders to find themselves on the outside looking in as the change seems like too much to take on at one time. Those that are getting into the cloud business seem to be more likely to flirt with cloud services than to truly jump into the dark yet perhaps perfect waters that represent “cloud services.”

Business Impact Of Cloud?

The business impact of cloud is still primarily locked in potential.

The speculation is that with the growth of a cloud practice, CIs can finally unlock the potential recurring revenue stream that has been so elusive for the CI. What challenges the integrators is figuring out how to start.

It is more than just talking, and even more than just flirting, that is going to be required for a VAR to succeed in cloud. It will require a commitment to a changing business model, smaller but more consistent cash flows that build in time, and a vast improvement in service delivery, most poignantly the way support issues are responded to. 

But just because the change is hard doesn’t mean it should be ignored. Cloud is without a doubt a popular way to market and solve business problems, and in the end as CIs that is what we are using technology to do.

The popularity of cloud based applications is here to stay, which means it is something CIs need to learn to embrace. With an abundance of options spilling into the channel that integrators can now package and sell, those that take the opportunity and run may be the ones to pull away in the race to sustainable profits.

However, those that catch the fever and don’t cure it with a meaningful shift in their business model may be left out in the cold.

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.

Posted by Keith Clark on 10/14 at 04:32 PM
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In The Studio: Four Ways You Can Benefit From A Mix-Off

As well as some tips to approaching it effectively
This article is provided by the Pro Audio Files.

OK, so what the heck is a mix-off?

It’s kind of like a bake-off, except with mixing records instead of baking cakes. People compete by taking the tracks from a song, mixing them, and then someone judges and declares a winner.

Now, there are inherent flaws in the idea of a mix-off. In real life the client and the engineer work together to produce the best result. This kind of back and forth rarely exists in a mix-off.

However, there are some benefits as well. Being able to listen to what other people did with the same record can foster your own understanding. And, reality dictates that engineering (like most specialized fields) is very competitive.

Pushing yourself to do the best for fear of losing a competition is fair preparation for the real world—where failing to do your best can land you without a career. That was pretty heavy, I know, but it’s kind of true.

Even if you’re an experienced engineer, occasionally slipping in a mix-off can be good for you. It’s surprising and very cool what less experienced people will come up with in attempts to prove they are creative masterminds.

Education is the most powerful investment when it comes to engineering. Mix-offs allow for a unique way to gain perspective, so take a stab at it! Here are some tips on approaching a mix-off:

There are two possible goals in a mix-off. The first is obvious: to win. Approaching a mix-off with the intention of winning requires a certain mindset.

The second goal should also be obvious: personal education. Again, this goal also requires a certain mindset. The two mindsets are not mutually exclusive but they can come in conflict.

1. Mixing for personal education

Here, the intention is to develop and advance your skills as an engineer.

Competing in a mix-off to win should probably be a secondary goal, though I often see it as the primary goal amongst competitors. If you come in with the mindset of personal education then mix to your own aesthetic, regardless of the instructions. You are fostering your own aesthetic and judgement. You can get feedback from other competitors which — taken with a grain of salt — can be very useful.

You can also listen to other people’s mixes, take notes, and inquire about aspects of their mixes. Most people are there to share. Keep a positive mindset — it’s easy to identify what you don’t like in someone else’s mix. Look for what you do feel was effective and dissect that.

2. Mixing to win

Here, the intention is to win the prize/fame/glory.

Be wary that engineering is more about fulfilling a client’s expectation than your own. In the real world we get to have a back and forth dialogue with a client (usually). If you feel strongly about something or your client feels strongly about something you can gauge how to proceed.

In a mix-off you don’t get that luxury (with some exception which I’ll get to). Most of the time the winning mix will be the one that fulfill’s the judge’s expectation. So read the instructions carefully, listen to the music thoroughly, listen to the reference mix if one is provided. Make qualitative notes about the mix.

Doing both

The best of the best mixes will fulfill both the judge’s expectation and incorporate your own aesthetic.

In the real world, being able to make your client happy while at the same time being markedly “you,” is absolutely key to developing a reputation. You want to be known for giving a client what they want in a way that no one else can.

I remember placing second in a mix-off behind an engineer who was not as technically adept. The other engineer had gone way off the instruction and completely reinvented the bass. The judge’s comments were that my mix “fit exactly what they imagined the record to be, perfectly. This is what we set out to hear.” Not bad feedback.

The winning engineer received a comment to the tune of “you showed us something in our record we hadn’t initially imagined and we love. You took the record passed where we thought it could go.” Ultimately, the other engineer’s bold and creative decision beat out my experience and technical prowess. That was an important lesson!

My choice venue for a mix-off is First, there’s a real prize, rather than just personal prize. Second, they do a two-round system where the top mixes are given feedback from the judge and given the opportunity to revise the mix. Currently they’re raising funds for a big re-launch and you can support them here.

For me this creates a more realistic scenario—the competition carries incentive for people to really compete, and the dialogue with the “client” is opened up to a certain degree. If you are developing your skills as an engineer I recommend you compete as much as you can.

If you’re an experienced engineer and get a slower moment in your schedule, I really recommend popping in and giving it a go—it can really help you stay sharp and you might be surprised what you may learn from it.

[Editor’s note: If you find dissecting mixing perspectives helpful, check out Dueling Mixes.]

Matthew Weiss engineers from his private facility in Philadelphia, PA. A list of clients and credits are available at He’s also the author of the Mixing Rap Vocals tutorials, available here.

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

Posted by Keith Clark on 10/14 at 03:56 PM
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