One of the great things about the pro audio is that one has the ability to change one’s position on a particular topic. This is a fun one for me as I have argued on both sides of the issue at various points in my career.
I suspect that the position I currently take might change again someday. Or not. One never knows.
Full Range Fed
Before we get into the pros and cons of aux fed subs, I should define what we’re talking about. There are primarily two ways to route audio to subs.
The first is to send a full-range mono or stereo signal to some kind of a crossover which splits the signal into appropriate bands. This can happen in a number of different ways. In most modern PA systems, a DSP will split the signal to the subs, full-range mains and possibly fills and delays. Usually, the crossover from low to high frequencies in the full-range mains happens inside the speaker box itself.
There are other ways to do that, but for now, we’ll concern ourselves with two bands—sub range, which is typically 40-100 Hz, give or take a little bit, and everything above 100 Hz. And yes I know, sometimes subs go lower than 40 and above 100. We’re taking concept here.
In this concept, the engineer simply mixes a full-range signal and sends it all to the DSP for splitting up amongst the appropriate drivers. The person who tunes the PA is the one who decides how loud the subs will be relative to the mains, and what the crossover frequency is. Once those parameters are set, the system acts as a cohesive whole and aside from making mixing and board-level EQ adjustments, the system is what it is.
In a non aux-fed system, every channel is set up to send signal to all the speakers—subs and mains. The only things that determines how much of the channel goes to the sub are the high-pass filter and the amount of low frequency content.
The other way to handle the frequency division is to send two (or three in the case of stereo) signals to the DSP. The main would be a mono or stereo signal that will feed the main speakers as in our previous example. The additional signal is typically derived from an aux send and drives the subs.
In this case, for a channel to show up in the subs, the engineer has to dial up the level in the appropriate aux on that channel. The engineer has to make a conscious decision to add something (or subtract it) from the subs. I’m not sure when the idea for this came about, but it’s an interesting concept. By controlling very tightly what goes to the subs, the net result should be cleaner low end. And of course, if the show is really bumping and you want some more, just push that aux master up and get you some more bass! Rock.
The famed economist Thomas Sowell once said, “There are no idea solutions, only trade offs.” That is equally true in live audio. While it might seem that aux fed subs are the bee’s knees because you can very discretely control exactly what goes into them, there are some hidden gotchas.
Before I go too far, it’s occurred to me that there are variations on this theme including a matrix fed sub and group fed subs. I’ll circle back to those later. For now, we’re going to talk about a true aux fed sub situation, where the only way a signal gets into the subs is when you turn up the aux for that channel and send it there.
Here are what I perceive to be the pros of aux fed subs.
Granular Control Over Sub Content. With aux fed subs, the engineer has complete, discreet control over what ends up in the subs. The only way something gets there is to be turned up in the aux.
In a typical worship band situation, that is probably going to mean the kick, floor tom, bass, and synth. And tracks if you have them. That’s pretty much it. And you can control how much of each channel goes there. So if you want a lot of kick but just a touch of synth in your subs, you can do that. It makes for a very clean sub feed.
Separate Sub Processing. Because the subs are on an aux, you can do some additional “group” processing on it. For example, you could put a compressor on the sub aux and add a little dynamic control. This may or may not be a good idea, but it could be done.
You could also add a plug in like Lo Air to synthesize some additional low end content. Again, this may or may not be a good idea. But you could do it.
Variable Sub Level Control. This is the big one everyone seems to go after; the ability to push the subs up or down with a single fader. As we all know modern music is “all about dat bass” and everyone loves their bass. Except for those who don’t. And when it becomes so overwhelming that the audience can’t hear the vocals.
But hey, with aux fed subs, you can turn the subs down just as easily! The fader goes both ways. Aux fed subs make it easy to tweak the level of the subs on a per song, or even per chorus basis.
Those are some of the pros. However, as I’m writing this out, I’m thinking of rebuttals to each. So in the spirit of the most excellent and helpful presidential candidate debates [that was sarcasm], here are the rebuttal answers to each.
Granular Control. You can do this in a full range fed system by using a high pass. If your high pass filter is set above the level of the sub cross over, very little if anything will end up in the subs. And pretty much everything besides the kick, floor tom, bass and synth should have a high pass on it. And tracks if you use them. So there’s that.
Separate Sub Processing. You could just as easily do this on a group that feeds the main output. Though I’m still working on justification…
Variable Sub Level Control. This is really a mix issue. If you want more kick in the mix, turn up the kick. If you want more bass, turn up the bass. If you want more floor tom, well, you get the idea.
So, while it may be alluring at first to have this amazing, discreet control over the subs, it’s not the only way to do it. Moreover, it creates some problems that are hard to overcome down the road. And we’ll tackle those next time. And I’ve probably tipped my hand as to which way I currently lean, huh?
All good pro/con lists have both. And this concept is no exception. I’ve given you the pros, and now it’s time too look at the drawbacks.
Constantly Changing Crossover. This is one of the big issues for me. The crossover point is defined as the frequency at which the two drivers are the same level. In our hypothetical example, let’s say that at 100 Hz, the subs and the mains are the same level. Below that, the mains drop off, as do the subs above that.
When it comes to setting the timing between the subs and mains, we want them to be reproducing the crossover frequency at the same time. That is, if we send a 100 Hz burst out of both the subs and mains, it will happen at the exact same time. This makes for very clean and tight low end.
The best way to set that timing is by aligning the phase for both boxes. Phase is time, and it’s easier to see time in the phase trace than it is in say an impulse response. So we line up our phase with delay and the system is aligned.
However, if we’re constantly messing with the level of the subs using that aux master fader, we’re sliding the crossover frequency up and down. As we do that, the timing is going to start to drift. Not a lot, but it can enough that the low end starts to smear and become less clear. Flabby, loose and muddy are all terms we hear when the bass isn’t aligned to the mains. Aux fed subs make it really hard to lock this down.
Opportunities for Errors. Whenever we add complexity to a system, we increase the opportunity for failure or error. In this case, it’s all too easy to dial way too much of something into the sub aux, thus skewing the mix. Most instruments produce sound over a wider range than just the sub coverage.
The kick for example has plenty of sub-100 Hz content. But it also has a lot of information above that, and to make the kick sound nice and clear and punchy, we need it. If someone dials the sub aux on the kick all the way up to 11, pushing the fader up all the way will make the kick too loud.
So it will get turned down. The low end will still be there, but the top end will trail off. A novice engineer might try to compensate with EQ which only further exacerbates our timing issue. Eventually, the low end is mush. Multiply this by 4-5 more channels and you have a recipe for ugly bass.
Added Complexity. This is similar to the above, but I point it out especially for churches that use volunteer, non-professional help behind the console. Aux fed subs are not necessarily hard, but it is harder to get it sounding right, and there is a bigger opportunity for things to go wrong.
When setting up systems for volunteers, I like to give them as many opportunities to succeed as possible. Honestly, I don’t believe there are enough pros to outweigh the cons in an aux fed sub situation for most churches, so I go for simple when possible.
By now, you probably know where I stand. Though what you may not know is that for years I was a staunch aux fed subs guy. I wanted the control and I felt I could do it better that way. However, as my understanding of PA tuning has expanded, I now believe I can get better sound from a full range fed PA.
Having mixed on both, I know I can make either sound good. Overall though, I think a system where the subs are part of the main feed will generally result in better mixes for more engineers. Hear me on this; I’m not saying aux fed is categorically wrong. I simply think in most cases, for most churches doing a full range feed is going to produce better results.
I can make a case that from a very technical standpoint a timed in sub system is going to sound better than an aux fed system (see the previous post). But again, I know some very good engineers who can make an aux fed system sound really good. However, they really know what they’re doing and they effectively treat it like a full range system.
As you’ve been thinking through the pros and cons of feeding the subs on an aux, you may be wondering how else we could do this. Is there a way to gain the benefits of an aux fed sub without the drawbacks?
I’m glad you asked, because yes, Virginia, there is. Or are. We have a few ways to do it. Which one you choose will depend on your console’s capabilities.
Group Fed Subs. If I were the only person mixing on a system, this is how I would probably set it up. To use this method, you would use two groups, one for the main speakers and one for the subs. Assign all your channels to the mains group and only the channels you want to appear in the subs to the subs group also.
The nice thing about this is that the gain structure is maintained. On most consoles, sending a channel to a group is a unity gain send; that is, there is no change to the gain when you assign it to the group. This keeps the crossover and thus the sub timing in tact. But you still get to choose what goes to the subs.
On the output side of the console, you would just route the groups to outputs and run those to the DSP. Not all consoles will let you send a group directly out, however. This can be a challenge with analog consoles as well. But it doesn’t mean we’re done yet. You can combine this method with the next one to get the two groups out of the console.
Matrix Fed Subs. If you can’t route a group directly out, you can probably route a group to a matrix. In this case, you’d need two matrix mixes, a sub and mains. Doing this adds another level of gain staging, so you do have to be careful how you set everything up. It’s important that the levels are the same at the group level and the matrix level.
On many digital consoles, you can route individual channels to the matrix. Some, such as the Yamaha M7, CL and QL, for example, let you route any or all of the channels to a matrix. The matrix can either act like an aux with variable level for each send or like a group with fixed level. You want to use the fixed level mode for this to work properly. Remember, we don’t want to have level control between the sub feed and the mains feed; we simply want routing control.
What I do on DiGiCo consoles (and perhaps others can do this as well) is build a subs group in addition to my master group. I then gang the faders together so they track at the same level. I often won’t even bother assigning the sub fader to the surface because it’s simply going to track the master. Then it’s a simple matter of assigning the channels I want to go to the subs to the subs group and I have the best of both worlds.
Like I said, how exactly you do it may depend on the capabilities of your console. It may take some experimentation to find the easiest way to do it that doesn’t put an unnecessary burden on the volunteers, but gives them the control. Of course, standardizing your inputs, building a baseline show file and working from that file every weekend goes a long way to making sure everything works as expected. But that’s another post. Or three.
Mike Sessler has been involved with church sound and live production for than 25 years, and is the author of the Church Tech Arts blog. Based in Nashville, he serves as project lead for CCI Solutions, which provides design-build production solutions for churches and other facilities.
Wye-connectors (or “Y”-connectors, if you prefer) should never have been created.
Anything that can be hooked-up wrong, will be. You-know-who said that, and she was right.
A wye-connector used to split a signal into two lines is being used properly; a wye-connector used to mix two signals into one is being abused and may even damage the equipment involved.
Here is the rule: Outputs are low impedance and must only be connected to high impedance inputs—never, never tie two outputs directly together—never. If you do, then each output tries to drive the very low impedance of the other, forcing both outputs into current-limit and possible damage. As a minimum, severe signal loss results.
Monoing Your Low End
One of the most common examples of tying two outputs together is in “monoing” the low end of multiway active crossover systems. This combined signal is then used to drive a sub-woofer system.
Since low frequencies below about 100Hz have such long wavelengths (several feet), it is very difficult to tell where they are coming from (like some of your friends). They are just there—everywhere. Due to this phenomenon, a single sub-woofer system is a popular cost-effective way to add low frequency energy to small systems.
So the question arises as how best to do the monoing, or summing, of the two signals? It is done very easily by tying the two low frequency outputs of your crossovers together using the resistive networks described below. You do not do it with a wye-cord.
Unbalanced Summing Box
Figure 1 shows the required network for sources with unbalanced outputs. Two resistors tie each input together to the junction of a third resistor, which connects to signal common. This is routed to the single output jack. The resistor values can vary about those shown over a wide range and not change things much. As designed, the input impedance is about 1k ohms and the line driving output impedance is around 250 ohms. The output impedance is small enough that long lines may still be driven, even though this is a passive box. The input impedance is really quite low and requires 600 ohm line-driving capability from the crossover, but this should not create problems for modern active crossover units.
The rings are tied to each other, as are the sleeves; however, the rings and sleeves are not tied together. Floating the output in this manner makes the box compatible with either balanced or unbalanced systems. It also makes the box ambidextrous: It is now compatible with either unbalanced (mono, 1-wire) or balanced (stereo, 2-wire) 1/4” cables. Using mono cables shorts the ring to the sleeve and the box acts as a normal unbalanced system; while using stereo cables takes full advantage of the floating benefits.
Stereo-to-Mono Summing Box
Figure 2 shows a network for combining a stereo input to a mono output. The input and output are either a 1/4” TRS, or a mini 1/8” TRS jack. The comments regarding values for Figure 1 apply equally here.
Balanced Summing Boxes
Figures 3 and 4 show wiring and parts for creating a balanced summing box.
The design is a natural extension of that appearing in Figure 1.
Here both the tip (pin 2, positive) and the ring (pin 3, negative) tie together through the resistive networks shown.
Use at least 1% matched resistors. Any mismatch between like-valued resistors degrades the common-mode rejection capability of the system.
Termites in the Woodpile
Life is wonderful and then you stub your toe. The corner of the dresser lurking in the night of this Note has to do with applications where you want to sum two outputs together and you want to continue to use each of these outputs separately. If all you want to do is sum two outputs together and use only the summed results (the usual application), skip this section.
The problem arising from using all three outputs (the two original and the new summed output) is one of channel separation, or crosstalk. If the driving unit truly has zero output impedance, than channel separation is not degraded by using this summing box. However, when dealing with real-world units you deal with finite output impedances (ranging from a low of 47 ohms to a high of 600 ohms). Even a low output impedance of 47 ohms produces a startling channel separation spec of only 27 dB, i.e., the unwanted channel is only 27 dB below the desired signal. (Technical details: the unwanted channel, driving through the summing network, looks like 1011.3 ohms driving the 47 ohms output impedance of the desired channel, producing 27 dB of crosstalk.)
Now 27 dB isn’t as bad as first imagined. To put this into perspective, remember that even the best of the old phono cartridges had channel separation specs of about this same magnitude. Therefore stereo separation is maintained at about the same level as a high-qualifty hi-fi home system of the ‘70s.
For professional systems this may not be enough. If a trade-off is acceptable, things can be improved. If you scale all the resistors up by a factor of 10, then channel separation improves from 27 dB to 46 dB. As always though, this improvement is not free. The price is paid in reduced line driving capability. The box now has high output impedance, which prevents driving long lines. Driving a maximum of 3000 pF capacitance is the realistic limit. This amounts to only 60 feet of 50 pF/foot cable, a reasonable figure. So, if your system can stand a limitation of driving less than 60 feet, scaling the resistors is an option for increased channel separation.
Read and download a PDF of the original article here.
Dennis Bohn is a principal partner and vice president of research & development at Rane Corporation. He holds BSEE and MSEE degrees from the University of California at Berkeley. Prior to Rane, he worked as engineering manager for Phase Linear Corporation and as audio application engineer at National Semiconductor Corporation. Bohn is a Fellow of the AES, holds two U.S. patents, is listed in Who’s Who In America and authored the entry on “Equalizers” for the McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of Science & Technology, 7th edition.
I will now make a statement that will, in a very broad stroke, apply to almost everyone reading this.
“You are not an idiot.”
Now, keep in mind that this isn’t a 100% true statement for everyone. Some folks are just bound and determined to wear a name tag with “Idiot” on it. But, for most of us, I think it’s safe to say we aren’t.
Want to know why? Because we are all completely unique individuals.
Each of us is equipped with a combination of identifiable characteristics that make us different from everyone else. We each have things that fascinate us and things that we find appalling. We each justify making the effort and digging for deeper understanding of some areas, while virtually ignoring others.
We don’t have the right to ridicule someone who doesn’t have our skills any more than we have the right to berate ourselves for some skill that we haven’t needed or had the opportunity to develop.
Being a natural musician doesn’t make you natural technician. Management skills don’t always go hand in hand with social skills. A genius chef may not be able to pour concrete. Even the best baseball player may not be able to sink a free-throw in basketball. Get the idea?
The point I am trying to make is this, nobody is an expert in every area. Nobody knows everything. Nobody is above criticism from some arrogant know-it-all who understands one thing that they don’t.
Within the last church sound crew I worked with, there were several completely different personality types and skill sets.
Church members often raved about my live band mixes, while critiquing the other guys. Not that my mixes were magical or better than theirs, just somehow different. What they didn’t know was that those other guys made my mixes possible. These guys were as dependable as daylight and had the most incredible technical aptitude. Mixing may have been my only legitimate skill, but they had a lot more to offer.
While I was fully capable of mixing and maintaining systems, these guys could tear individual components down to the molecular level and diagnose every failure. While I could identify a microphone, they could explain the scientific principles that made it work.
What those members didn’t understand, was that our system operated at peak performance and defied budget restrictions because of the guys who didn’t mix like me. Thank God for those guys. We may have had different skills, but we each had our place that contributed to the whole.
Is one skill set more or less valuable in a team environment? Do I need all their skills? Do they have to posses mine? Isn’t the very purpose of a team to pool the talents of several people? If we are all the same, are we all necessary? Give yourself a break.
You might be a great organizer or manager, but lack the musical ear for the studio. You might have a knack for mixing magical live shows, but panic if anything ever blows a fuse. You might speak electrical code in your sleep, but get nauseous at the thought of coordinating an event.
There’s a lot of peace in narrowing your focus to the areas where you have passion and some natural skills. Consequently, there’s a lot of stress in trying to fill shoes that aren’t yours. Ease up and stop trying to be something you aren’t.
You can also step back once in a while to just rest and get your focus. Things change over time. Circumstances that put you in a position may not be there anymore. Maybe you are just filling a gap for a season. Maybe the situation requires you to work outside your comfort zone. Maybe it’s a permanent change, maybe not.
Running in panic mode 24-hours a day will keep you from making an honest assessment.
Figure out where you fit in and focus on that. Keep learning. Keep growing. Keep on developing your skills and knowledge. If there’s something you want to master, do it.
We live in a day and age when information and answers are only seconds away for almost everything. there’s no excuse for guessing, assuming or even lying about your knowledge. If it matters, learn it. If it doesn’t just move on.
The guys who are fully able to admit when they don’t know something and confess when they aren’t qualified, earn my respect. The guys with ambition to be the best at something, and actually work towards it always impress me.
Then there’s the guys who run themselves ragged pretending to be something they aren’t and acting like they know things that they don’t…
Well. You know who those guys are. They just don’t always wear the name tag.
There’s an old adage still floating about that claims if you remember the ‘70s, you probably weren’t there.
I was, and while I do have to admit that there are many memories that I just didn’t make during that decade, one that endures is of seeing Cheap Trick at Sammy G’s Circus, a bar in Kenosha, WI. This was well before the seminal live album Cheap Trick at Budokan, light years prior to the announcement last December that they will soon be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
The band was just starting out, these guys from Rockford, IL, and I can still see them performing on a cramped little stage one night in ’74, cutting through the bad vapors and smoky miasma that poisoned the place with potent original material as well as hardcore covers they made their own. My girlfriend threw-up and passed-out on the bar shortly after midnight. Her loss. Cheap Trick continued to rock with abandon till closing.
On another night they were playing, someone stole the cash box containing the take from the door and ran off on foot down Sheridan Road, which stretches parallel to Lake Michigan out front. “I remember that,” guitarist Rick Nielsen told me once backstage at the House of Blues Anaheim while we were reminiscing. “The owner lit out after the guy with a .45-caliber semiautomatic pistol in hand. Came back with the cash box in short order too…”
And that’s sort of what happened to Cheap Trick next, they took off with the cash box, only got away and just kept running. With their popularity reaching rabid, Beatlemania proportions in Japan towards the end of the decade, success followed in the U.S. along with critical acclaim. Today they’re credited with inspiring countless others, ranging from Slash and Pearl Jam to the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
After 5,000 shows, huge vocals, thundering bass, pounding drums, and acres of guitar are still the order of the day for Cheap Trick.
Going And Going
The band has toured almost continuously for over four decades, playing more than 5,000 shows. At this point, it’s probably easier to list the sound companies they haven’t worked with as those they have. Having opened for Aerosmith on the 2012 Global Warming Tour and taken to the road with Peter Frampton last year, the tireless quartet is set to go again this spring after a short break early this year.
“We were with dB Sound out of Chicago for some time,” relates Bill Kozy, who has been at front of house for 13 years with the band. “Then with Sound Image a bit,
Thunder Audio, and lately we’ve been using a company out of Detroit called Burst. Our credo is ‘no gig too big and no hall too small,’ and that’s how a list of our annual dates breaks down.
“Over the years,” he continues, “PAs have gotten more consistent, so we don’t run into problems in these diverse environments like we used to. The varied nature of these gigs still presents its fair share of challenges, however.”
“There isn’t much I don’t like, as long as it’s well maintained,” FOH engineer Bill Kozy says of gear options these days. Avid Profile is his current console choice.
Back when he started with the band, Kozy was on a Midas XL4 console. When they weren’t carrying a full front-of-house package, whoever supplied audio on any given night provided the basic gates, comps, and other electronic staples.
Over the course of the past couple years, he’s been using an Avid VENUE Profile as it’s a board that’s always available and can be easily found virtually anywhere. Additionally backed by a deal with Waves, he notes this combo makes it easier to be consistent than when he was analog and is more relevant within the world we live in today.
While there may be a digital board at front of house, Cheap Trick hasn’t changed its basic stage formula one bit over the years. It’s still a loud, ripping rock band with a real backline. Wedges and guitar cabinets stacked about are the norm, and that’s not going to change.
Known for an extensive collection of vintage, custom, and downright unusual guitars and basses, the band utilizes a considerable number of wireless packs that facilitate the regular switching of instruments.
On the road, guitar tech Larry Melero keeps a close eye on a pair of vaults containing Rick Nielsen’s guitars, which include an infamous five-neck Hamer (foreground), and “Uncle Dick”, the custom, double-neck Hamer at right built in 1983 as a caricature of Nielsen himself.
The need for tech-talent is correspondingly high, with stage manager Mark Messner also pulling double-duty as frontman Robin Zander’s guitar tech and bassist Tom Petersson’s bass tech. Larry Melero serves as Rick Nielsen’s guitar tech, while Todd Trent is the drum tech orchestrating events for drummer Daxx Nielsen, Rick’s son.
Keeping It Simple
Twenty-six inputs arrive at the FOH console from the stage. “Cheap Trick has long been referred to as one of the progenitors of power pop,” Kozy says. “In my estimation, that’s a fairly accurate description of who they are. I’m working with clear vocals, economical arrangements, and prominent guitar riffs.
“Everyone onstage still sounds amazing, it’s straight ahead, and the songs are great. On a base level here, you can’t fail if you simply remember to just not screw that up.”
His mix starts with big, clean drums, generally snare-up. While that isn’t always the way things work with newer bands, with these songs it tends to be just fine. The operative strategy is to keep things clean and separate, with the vocal on top.
“There are a handful of plugins I go to regularly from my Waves bundle and use judiciously here-and-there,” he reveals. “I use a C6 multiband compressor on Robin’s vocals to nail things down that might get a little woofy on the low-end, or too harsh in the mid-highs. It just opens things up and insures that he remains sounding as great as he is.”
Going down Kozy’s list of plug-in favorites, next you’ll find an L2 Ultramaximizer and an SSL G-Master Buss Compressor, both of which are on his mains and used very subtly to “just like in the studio, push everything forward as needed all at once without making a mess.” For parallel compression on drums, there’s a PuigChild, Waves’ modeling of a classic Fairchild.
MaxxVolume is used on Zander’s vocals in a configuration with a pair of thresholds: One for softer passages and another for louder ones that both bring up the sibilant content and make things more personal. An SSL G-Channel Strip with gated compression is on toms.
The 1968 Orange London 50W combo 212 at left was purchased by Nielsen on one of his first trips to the UK. The checkerboard wall of light and sound at right features a pair of 12-inch Celestion Vintage 30s miked with a Shure SM7 (inset).
He doesn’t use any automation at all, preferring instead to rely upon his own experience and grey matter to orchestrate mixing events for the 200 songs the band may pull from on any given night. Effects are spare as well, limited to essentially a bare minimum of reverb, slapback delay on numbers like “California Man,” and a slight delay just underneath to make things sound bigger.
“The set list will always contain the core songs,” he says. “But from there you never can tell what will happen from night to night. There are benefits to my taking a hands on approach. Sometimes it works to pull the guitars down and let the vocal take over, mostly in the verses, on tunes like ‘Top of the World’ and ‘I Can’t Take It.’ ‘Auf Wiedersehen,’ on the other hand, is a good example of a song where everything’s big at the same time.
“Like my friend, longtime monitor mixer for Motorhead Ian ‘Eagle’ Dobbie says: ‘Everything louder than everything else’. When I’m faced with a strict dB cap, ‘Auf
Wiedersehen’ is the song that’s the most challenging. These are all elements that make Cheap Trick what it is. No one can change that, and shouldn’t.”
Monitor engineer Steve Funke at the helm of a Yamaha PM5D. “When it comes to digital,” he says, “this is the one for frontman Robin Zander.”
Happenings On Stage
Kozy’s cohort onstage handling monitors is Steve Funke. Working from behind a Yamaha PM5D, he takes a similar straightforward approach, eschewing automation and avoiding the use of effects and compression entirely.
Inputs arriving at the PM5D number 29, including a guest guitar channel plus FOH talkback; there are 16 outs for a mix of wedges and side fills, a pair of stereo in-ear mixes for the crew, and one guest in-ear mix.
Zander’s vocal microphone is a wireless Shure UR4S unit with a BETA 58A capsule, while the rest of the vocal positions use BETA 57As. Other input items of note include a drum kit miked at overheads with Shure large-diaphragm Shure KSM32s, an SM81 at hi-hat, SM98s on toms and more BETA 57As on snare.
Down on the kick drum, the standard BETA 52/SM91 combo you’d expect has been usurped by an SM57 and KSM137 that are taped together and mounted in front of the head so that both microphones’ diaphragms are aligned.
A homemade dual-element mic made by taping a Shure SM57 and KSM137 together captures the kick drum.
“Our previous monitor guy came up with the idea,” Kozy explains, “after Paul Owen of Metallica fame from Thunder Audio loaned us a dual-element Audio-Technica mic one day. We tried it at kick and it worked, so after we gave the mic back we just figured out a way to Frankenstein a similar version using our existing Shure stuff.
“We found that if you get far enough away from the beater head you’d still have body, but you wouldn’t get the back-pressure from the front head that could potentially cause problems. Once we found the sweet spot, it worked well for everyone.”
The only musician onstage fully on in-ears, Zander is equipped with a Sennheiser EM 2050 beltpack receiver and uses JH5 earbuds from JH Audio. Nielsen prefers to stick with just one JH Audio JH7 in his left ear, fed by a Shure PSM 1000 personal monitoring system. Electro-Voice Xw15s are Funke’s favorite choice for wedges, who adds that he can “get just about anything to work” for stage fills.
Future Looks Bright
Along with the band, the instruments, guitar cabinets, and amp heads seen and heard on the Cheap Trick stage probably deserve to be inducted into the Hall of Fame at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center this April 8.
“We’re too dumb to quit,” Nielsen was overheard saying not long after learning that the foursome will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame later this year.
In late January, the band announced the release of its first album in five years, Bang Zoom Crazy…Hello. Slated for availability on April Fool’s Day, the album contains “No Direction Home,” a single that debuted along with the announcement in January. Live dates will return to the band’s schedule starting in early March in Florida and continue along the East Coast, through the Midwest, and into Canada before winding back down in late September in West Palm Beach, FL.
Gregory A. DeTogne is a writer and editor who has served the pro audio industry for the past 33 years.
Harman Professional Solutions Offers JBL Intellivox Training
Contractors and consultants invited to Zaltbommel, the Netherlands in March for in-depth, hands-on course on digitally controlled beam shaping technology
Underscoring a commitment to training and education in advanced acoustics and digital technologies, Harman Professional Solutions is hosting comprehensive training on its JBL Intellivox Digitally Controlled Beam Steering Technology March 2–3, 2016.
The free training will take place at the Theater De Poorterij and will include a detailed overview of JBL Intellivox, including use in PA/VA systems; physics of loudspeaker arrays; JBL Intellivox directivity concepts; room acoustics; JBLIntellivox design guidelines; introduction to JBL Intellivox software; and practical exercises.
The training will conclude with a factory tour at the JBL innovation hub and factory in Zaltbommel.
“Harman Professional Solutions is committed to equipping consultants and contractors with not only the best technologies, but also the best training programs,” said Nick Screen, sales director, Large Venue, Harman Professional Solutions. “This comprehensive approach aligns with our delivery of complete system solutions and addresses our customers’ and partners’ requirements for extensive details on technologies and applications.”
Church Sound Boot Camp Class Coming To Tallahassee In Late February
Classes also coming to McKinney, TX (March 4-5) and Topeka, KS (April 22-23); registration open for all three classes, early registration discounts available
Curt Taipale (Taipale Media System) is presenting his renowned Church Sound Boot Camp class in Tallahassee, FL on February 26-27.
The class will be held at Evangel Assembly (2300 Old Bainbridge Road) from 5 pm to 10 pm on Friday, February 26, continuing from 9 am to 5 pm on Saturday, February 27. More details about the class and registration is available online here.
Note that additional sessions have also been announced for McKinney, TX (March 4-5) and Topeka, KS (April 22-23). Registration is open for all three classes, and early registration discounts are available.
For well over two decades, Church Sound Boot Camp has helped church sound teams raise the bar of technical excellence—without stress—in equipping them with the knowledge and understanding to make clearly noticeable improvements to the quality of their sound.
Instructor Curt Taipale has more than 30 years of experience in audio as a church tech team leader, recording and live sound engineer, consultant, AVL system designer, design/build contractor, educator, author, and professional musician. He is also the founder of ChurchSoundCheck.com, author of “The Heart of Technical Excellence,” and a contributing author to Yamaha’s “Guide to Sound Systems for Worship.”
Taipale has taught literally thousands of church sound team volunteers, technical staff, worship pastors and musicians. In the classes, he’ll cover all the primary components of every sound system, exactly how they should be connected, how to feel confident in operating that equipment, and how to deliver a pristine, smooth, clear musical mix consistently at every worship service.
Attendees are advised to register as soon as possible, and early registration discounts are offered. Again, for more details and to register for the Tallahassee class, go here. For the McKinney, TX, class visit here and for the Topeka, Kansas class here.
For those with scheduling conflicts or who can’t travel to attend a workshop, a stay at home version of the class is also available offering the opportunity for self-training as well as to bring this training home to an entire tech team.
All In A Day’s Work: Offering Proper Training For Stagehands
This article originally appeared on ProSoundWeb in December of 2005.
Any time a group of audio professionals congregates to chat, the conversation invariable turns to the topic of labor.
That’s when the griping and complaining begins. It seems that less-than-stellar stagehands are an epidemic - at least to hear all of the talk about it.
Our sound company has nothing but excellent experiences with stagehands because we chose to do address this issue head on. We do business with several labor companies in our general region, and developed a training curriculum that was subsequently presented to management at each of these companies.
The crux of our offer was simple: here’s what we want and expect from stagehands, and we’ll provide the training to meet these standards, free of charge. Perhaps not surprisingly, the response has been overwhelmingly positive.
Every labor company has an “A-Team” and then “a bunch of other guys.” The goal of our training program is to bring all of them up to A-Team status, so that no matter who shows up on a call, we can be confident that we won’t have to hold their hands, or lose valuable time and/or risk injury, regardless of what task is assigned.
One key aspect is scheduling compatible times to conduct the training. Several sessions covering each topic have needed to be held in order to allow as many stagehands to attend as possible. To overcome the “recalcitrant” (some might say lazy) individuals who don’t really want to exert the effort, we’ve informed labor company management that we’ll no longer accept stagehands that haven’t chosen to “bother” with our training program.
The program’s selling points to stagehands: —The benefits of our experience, which will help make them more employable. —The training pertains to every customer, not just our company. —This is being provided at absolutely no cost to them.
In addition, we DO NOT share with them what we tell their employers, that without training they won’t be allowed to work our calls. Negativity begets negativity.
Half of the program’s curriculum pertains to attitude, since it’s the most important aspect of any job. We’d much rather work with a stagehand with very little experience but a great attitude than a self-proclaimed “seasoned pro” who knows it all and complains about everything. Positive work habits are also covered in this section.
The other half of the program largely focuses on techniques. Properly rolling cables and stowing microphone stands as well as a host other job-related activities are covered. It’s important to provide actual hands-on demonstrations a centerpiece of this effort.
For example, our company rolls all cables in the circular method - thumb and forefinger style. However, we also teach over-and-under, because stagehands also need to know how to do this for other customers.
Whenever possible, we also share our training classes with our lighting partners so that these various specialized techniques can be addressed, further increasing the overall value of the time spent.
On The Same Page
A very important thing to remember: a program like this can be fun! It can also helps get everyone on the same page from the outset, and fosters better communication and working relationships. Out of an environment like this, productivity thrives.
Also keep in mind that if every sound company would offer training along these lines, we could all collectively improve the labor situation in very short order. The key is understanding that it’s a win-win situation for everyone involved, and it must always be presented that way.
Let’s have a look at an overview of the training curriculum we’ve developed. By the way, this information is always provided in handout form AFTER a training session. Giving it out before or during a session leads participants to be reading ahead rather than paying full attention to the presentation.
Number 1: To be early is to be on time. To be on time is to be late. To be late is to not show up!
Do not impose your own personal dictates. Be observant. Ask questions.
Always approach a job or project with a positive attitude. Always try to think, “I can do that” or “I can get that done.” This goes a long way to how the rest of your day will go.
Conversely, shouting, cursing, complaining and lewd language are not conducive to a good working environment. These things create tension. Note that we have discharged stagehands for actions of this type.
Do not show up for work under the influence of drugs or alcohol. It’s the single best way to be cut and banned from returning.
Unless specifically instructed, never, ever touch the musicians’ instruments. This is a professional show, not “Star Search.”
You do not need to be accessible to every person you know on a “24-7” basis. Unless you have an impending family emergency, when on the job, turn your cell phone off. This is what voice mail is for - check it and return calls during breaks.
Wear sturdy shoes - and no sandals. When working outside in the sun, black is the worst color to wear. On an all-day show, having an entire change of clothing on hand is a good idea. A sweat towel also comes in quite handy. At the very least, your feet will thank you for a clean pair of socks midway through the day.
And, please - don’t make us have the “Stinky Talk” with you. Yes, it’s often a dirty, smelly job, but don’t start the day that way.
Number 1: When in doubt, ask!
There is no one correct way to roll cables - BUT- there is only one correct way for each sound company. Ask. And learn how to roll cables: circular, over and under, etc. Cables never “forget,” and if they’re rolled differently than usual, they can be damaged. This can get expensive!
Roll cables as if you’re going to be the person to use them next.
When rolling cables, be aware that there are many different types, and they usually go in different places. As a general rule, it’s best to keep them separated so that stowing them is both accurate and swift. Note in each trunk what size and type of cables are already rolled and packed. Follow that lead.
Cases and their respective lids are usually identified by matching numbers, words like “FRONT” and “BACK” written across both the lid and case, color codes or the like. Pay attention - putting on the wrong lids, or putting them on upside down, can warp or otherwise damage cases.
Be gentle with things like snake latches and other multi-pin connectors. They are delicate and very costly.
When you see something that is broken or obviously should be repaired before it does break, bring it to the sound company’s attention.
When dealing with mic stands, find out how the company wants its stands to be stored. Usually, fully collapsed is the accepted method. Leaving out a telescoped boom means there’s a good chance it will get bent, and therefore ruined. Again, if look carefully at the cases to figure out what is to be stored where.
When loading trucks, be respectful of the case wheels. DO NOT ram the wheels onto the lift gate. This will bend the casters, which cost at least $25 each.
Never ride a lift gate up to the truck box while holding gear. If a case, loudspeaker stack, etc., begins to roll, it’s almost impossible to stop. And it will likely take you off with it. This is one of the more unsafe aspects of stagehand work (on the ground, that is).
If faced with a falling loudspeaker stack - please, please, please - don’t try to put your body between it and the ground. You’ll lose every time. Yes, loudspeakers are expensive, but they aren’t as important as your safety.
Teri Hogan is a veteran audio professional who co-owned Sound Services, a performance audio company in Texas.
ProSoundWeb presents at least two feature articles every day of the working week, meaning that there are 40-plus long-form articles highlighted each and every month.
That’s a lot. In fact, so much so that we got to thinking that it would be handy to present a round-up of the most-read articles for those who might have missed at least some of them the first time around.
What follows is the top 5 most-read articles on PSW for the month of January 2016. Note that since the articles aren’t all posted at the same time, we apply the same timeframe (length of time) for each when measuring total readership.
Also note that immediately following the top 5, PSW editor Keith Clark offers some additional suggestions of recently published articles worth checking out. These articles also scored quite well in terms of readership but were just outside the head of the list.
Without further adieu, here are the top 5 articles on PSW in January.
1.Time & Phase Alignment
As well as when and where to choose one of the principal techniques for system optimization. By Bob McCarthy
2.Arena Rock In The Round
Muse takes a 360-degree turn on the current Drones World Tour, with the mix engineers providing the details. By Greg DeTogne
3.NAMM Show Central
A compilation of the big news and many new products from the Winter NAMM 2016 Show in Anaheim. By PSW Staff
SynAudCon To Host “Sound System Design” Seminar In Houston (Video)
Presenting a comprehensive approach to sound system design from room acoustics to loudspeaker placement and system optimization.
System designers interested in understanding room acoustics, loud-speaker characteristics and how they act in enclosed spaces are encouraged to attend SynAudCon’s “Sound System Design” in-person seminar scheduled for February 22-24, 2016 in Houston, Texas.
The in-person seminar, presented by SynAudCon owner Pat Brown, presents a logical, intuitive, and comprehensive approach to sound system design that begins with analysis of the room’s acoustics.
From there attendees learn how to select and place loudspeakers to achieve speech intelligibility and music clarity.
In addition, Brown covers electronics – sensitivity, power handling and power amplifier ratings – which helps students learn how to get the most SPL from a loudspeaker as well as what size amplifier to use.
He also includes how computer room modeling can be used to speed up the design process.
Brown uses demonstrations and analogies to present the principles in a practical, visual, and understandable way. After three days, attendees leave with a knowledge of design principles, confident that a system design will work right from the drawing board.
The seminar is approved for 24 InfoComm Renewal Units and 21 BICSI CECs and includes SynAudCon’s “Audio Click-Rule” software program.
NSCA Releases Winter 2015 Electronic Systems Outlook
Updated report provides the newest, most relevant indicators of business opportunities for integrators and forecasts for the industry.
The National Systems Contractors Association (NSCA) has recently updated the Electronic Systems Outlook for Winter 2015, and now includes information based upon actual data from January through November 2015, as well as forecasted information for 2016.
NSCA partners with FMI to provide this report to the industry.
Free for Gold and Platinum NSCA members, and available for purchase starting at $199 for others, this updated report provides the newest, most relevant indicators of business opportunities for integrators.
By tracking new construction starts and renovations across multiple markets in the commercial buildings industry, NSCA pinpoints which verticals should do well in 2016.
In the Winter 2015 edition, the Electronic Systems Outlook provides an updated view of construction data by markets and electronic systems/technology. The economy seems to be growing, and unemployment is low. With this good news, a decent year is predicted for construction in 2016.
At the end of 2014, this report predicted 6% growth in total nonresidential construction for 2015. Although that forecast was adjusted each quarter, the report’s early optimism wasn’t bullish enough; several construction sectors will strongly exceed last year’s expectations, with notable improvements in lodging, office, amusement and recreation, and manufacturing verticals.
“The upcoming year looks to be a good one for our members,” says NSCA executive director Chuck Wilson, “but it also means that the industry will continue to struggle with labor force issues. NSCA is available to help integrators digest this report and create business plans based on the new opportunities revealed here – and to suggest ways to recruit and train technicians and installers.”
NSCA will host a free one-hour webinar on Feb. 16, 2016, for integrators that want to learn more about the data and how it can be used within their organizations.
For example, integrators can use the Electronic Systems Outlook to benchmark sales numbers and prepare business valuations. Growth indicators can be used to determine incentive programs, reveal new market potential, and appropriately distribute resources. This forecast data can also be shared with financial advisors and lenders to prove the stability of systems integrators in the marketplace.
The Electronic Systems Outlook is free for Gold and Platinum NSCA members, and available for purchase at $199 for Bronze and Silver members. It can be purchased by non-members for $399.
Non-members can become NSCA members for $595 and receive this report as part of their membership package, which offers access to discounted education and training opportunities, updates on regional and national government affairs issues, free monthly industry webinars, business tools and resources, and other exclusive industry research.
The class will be held at Evangel Assembly (2300 Old Bainbridge Road) from 5 pm to 10 pm on Friday, February 26, continuing from 9 am to 5 pm on Saturday, February 27. (Go here for more details and for a link to registration.)
Note that additional sessions have also been announced for McKinney, TX (March 4-5, details here) and Topeka, KS (April 22-23, details here). Registration is open for all three classes, and early registration discounts are available.
For well over two decades, Church Sound Boot Camp has helped church sound teams raise the bar of technical excellence—without stress—in equipping them with the knowledge and understanding to make clearly noticeable improvements to the quality of their sound.
Instructor Curt Taipale has more than 30 years of experience in audio as a church tech team leader, recording and live sound engineer, consultant, AVL system designer, design/build contractor, educator, author, and professional musician.
He is also the founder of ChurchSoundcheck.com, author of “The Heart of Technical Excellence,” and a contributing author to Yamaha’s “Guide to Sound Systems for Worship.”
Curt has taught literally thousands of church sound team volunteers, technical staff, worship pastors and musicians. In the classes, he’ll cover all the primary components of every sound system, exactly how they should be connected, how to feel confident in operating that equipment, and how to deliver a pristine, smooth, clear musical mix consistently at every worship service.
Attendees are advised to register as soon as possible, and early registration discounts are offered. Again, for more details and to register for the Tallahassee class, go here. (And here for McKinney, TX, and here for Topeka, KS.)
And, Church Sound Boot Camp is also available in a Stay At Home version, offering the opportunity for self-training as well as to bring this training to the entire tech team. Find out more about it here.
Although he’s only been in the audio industry for 12 years, Dr. Adam J. Hill has packed in a huge amount of work, splitting his time lecturing at the University of Derby in the UK and working “across the pond” with Chicago-area-based Gand Concert Sound (GCS) as an audio engineer.
At Derby, the 31-year-old teaches on the university’s BSc (Hons) Sound Light and Live Event Technology program (considered by many to be the leading program of its ilk in the UK), and also runs the MSc Audio Engineering program, which he created along with colleague Dr. Bruce Wiggins.
While his live sound work in the UK currently consists primarily of supervising the shows his students work on, that may change when he obtains dual citizenship in the next few years.
Each gig feeds the other, Hill explains. “Doing live sound is essential for my academic work. We have students who’ve gigged a lot, and if they get any hint you don’t know what you’re talking about, they’ll tear you apart.” Given the pace of technological change in the industry, he adds, “If I wasn’t hands-on, my teaching would be almost irrelevant. I also love doing sound. GCS is like a second family.”
In The Family
Raised in Highland Park, IL in north suburban Chicago, Hill spent a good part of his childhood on stage with his father’s band, Dr. Mark and The Sutures. “That’s where I started out, but my grandpa taught me to play guitar at an early age. He was a professional jazz player who performed with guys like Les Paul and Wes Montgomery. Guitar was the first thing I noodled around on, but my dad made me learn piano first. Then I taught myself bass, drums and percussion.”
Later, he’d go on to play in various school ensembles and rock bands, but the experiences with his dad and bandmates stand out, including once opening for Lynyrd Skynyrd. Hill was also interested in what the band’s audio engineer was doing, combined with an aptitude for math and science. “But as a teenager, I was going to be a rock star,” he says, laughing. Several family members and friends who’d already gone the professional music route tried to dissuade that direction, with one bluntly advising him, “If you’re good at something else, do that instead.”
Despite those voices of experience, he admits that if it wasn’t for his mother giving him a college application (“and partly filling it out herself,” he adds), he might not have gone the higher education route. Fortunately, given his love of music and STEM aptitude, she suggested considering the study of audio engineering.
He hadn’t. In fact it took some time to settle on a major at Miami University (Oxford, OH), his dad’s alma mater and perhaps the last school on earth he actually wanted to attend. “I looked at it to appease my father, but it became clear that was where I needed to go.”
Thus began the pursuit of a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering, something he still didn’t fully engage in until the influence of his academic advisor, Professor Jade Morton. “She helped me test my limits,” Hill states. “Without her I never would have made it to the UK. She was the one who said, ‘take the opportunity, go abroad’.”
Paying The Dues
Amidst the academic pursuits, Hill reached out to GCS founder/co-owner Gary Gand, seeking hands-on work in pro audio (a.k.a., a job) while at home during the summer.
“It was like an internship. Gary threw me in the deep end with the sharks and I managed to survive,” Hill says. “On one of my first days a whole bunch of gear had just come back from a circus gig and they sent me off to the loading dock to clean a 300-foot analog snake covered in, well, you can imagine. I also repainted lift gates, ‘roach-bombed’ speaker cabinets, mopped the floors; the typical stuff you’re going to do if you’re willing to pay your dues.”
His knowledge of instruments and backline gained during the band days, however, soon led to working at gigs, where he also shadowed monitor and front of house engineers to watch them ply their trade. That first summer he got a shot at mixing monitors, and the next year he continued with monitors as well as front of house.
“I still prefer monitors,” he notes. “A few years back there was a stretch of doing mostly FOH, but with monitors you can have more than 20 different mixes. It’s more challenging, and I also enjoy working with the musicians.”
The scope expanded over the years to working every live sound role, including system tech and design, with hundreds of diverse artists, including Alice Cooper, The Allman Brothers Band, Buddy Guy, Cheap Trick, Ben Folds, Debby Boone and Dierks Bentley.
“That’s what we do at GCS,” he adds. “I’m not going out on tour for months. Every single day it’s a different band or bands at one-offs and festivals.”
A particularly memorable show came along in 2005, where he was working as the monitor system tech for a top funk/pop group. The stage was outfitted with upwards of 30 proprietary monitors that Hill spent most of his time swapping out because the band was convinced they were blown. Only one wedge actually proved defective, but he notes, “It’s a gig that stands out for getting that rush of being in the moment and making it happen.”
The relationship with GCS continues to this day, with Hill returning to Chicago following the conclusion of each academic year to work summers on the company’s busy (and growing) schedule of shows, festivals and events.
Merging Two Worlds
With the encouragement of Professor Morton, he pursued a broad range of study after being awarded his BSE degree from Miami, including a Master’s (MSc) in Acoustics and Music Technology from the University of Edinburgh followed by a PhD in Electronic Systems Engineering from the University of Essex.
During his time at the latter, Hill credits Professor Malcolm Hawksford – a highly respected and accomplished researcher and developer of analog and digital audio systems – with encouraging him to pursue adventurous ideas in research but to always focus on real world applications.
Teaching fledgling audio professionals at the University of Derby.
“That’s what being involved in live sound provides,” Hill explains. “The crazy ideas I dream up – even if they are indeed crazy – can be implemented in practice. So if I’m coming up with a new technique for, say, subwoofer alignment, the question becomes, ‘Is this practical? Would I be able to use this on a gig?’ If the answer is no, I do back to the drawing board and find a way to make it realistic.
“I can be engineering with GCS and an idea will pop into my head,” he continues. “I’ll be struggling with something and think, ‘It would be great if I had this,’ and the beauty is, I can go back to Derby and work on the solution, often in collaboration with Gary (Gand) and Adam Rosenthal at GCS.”
Granted not all solutions call for research, he says in noting that, in his opinion, the most indispensable tool for live audio work is the Shure SM58 microphone. (“Which, in a pinch, I’ve also used as a hammer,” he adds.)
Many of his ideas generate from discussions with undergraduates, postgraduates and colleagues, and the dialogue between he and his students, Hill maintains, is the most important part of his job as an educator.
“Students might not have been working in this field for years and aren’t dug into certain ways of thinking,” he says, “so they’ll come up with really interesting approaches to a problem.” It’s right in line with a quote from Frank Zappa that he counts as one of his favorites: “Without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible.”
It’s also an ethic that has driven his academic work, including the development of modeling programs such as the Virtual Bass Toolbox and FDTD Simulation Toolbox – the latter created while working on his PhD and which has enabled him to do a significant amount of research.
“I specialize in low-frequency sound reproduction and reinforcement, from small rooms to large-scale designs, and needed to simulate low-frequency acoustics accurately in rooms with strange shapes and obstacles,” he explains. “The programs that existed went down to about 63 Hz, but I was working at 20 to 200 Hz. The FDTD Simulation Toolbox addresses these needs, although it’s in serious need of updating right now.”
Additional areas of research include diffuse signal processing (DiSP), low-frequency sound source localization, calibration techniques for cinema subwoofer systems, and chameleon subwoofer arrays (CSA).
Developed as part of his PhD thesis, and covered extensively in an AES paper co-authored with Professor Hawksford, CSA was developed to minimize variations of low-frequency response caused by room-modes in closed spaces. “The idea is that, in its perfect implementation, each subwoofer would have multiple drive units that could be controlled individually, calibrated by measurement at certain points within the room,” he expounds, adding that the technology also works with conventional loudspeakers.
He’s also applied a combination of CSA and DiSP methods to a ground-stacked subwoofer array. “Only in simulations at this point,” he notes, but with an eye to distributing low-frequency energy within the coverage area while dramatically reducing stray energy on stage. “The approach of DiSP is to de-coorelate signal going to each subwoofer by adding a slight amount of phase randomization, not enough to be perceptible but just enough to minimize constructive and destructive interference within the audience. It’s an extension of a similar technique that has been used in the industry for quite a while.”
Receiving the Lecturer of the Year Award from Derby vice chancellor, Professor John Coyne, in June 2015.
Keeping It Interesting
To this point in his young career, Hill has authored and co-authored at least 25 papers for leading audio societies and organizations, including more than 10 for the AES. While many of them focus on low-frequency concepts and research, others carry titles such as “Live event performer tracking for digital console automation using industry-standard wireless microphone systems” and “The effect of background music in higher education learning environments.”
And some of his work strays well beyond those norms. For example, there’s a 2014 paper he co-authored entitled “Habitat quality affects sound production and likely distance of detection of coral reefs,” prepared for the Marine Ecology Progress Series.
Coming at the conclusion of our conversation, Hill began chuckling before I even finished reading the title. “When I was in Essex, a friend of a friend was doing his Ph.D in Marine Biology, studying the health of coral reefs,” he explains. “He was interested in whether there was an audio cue that could be used to judge a reef’s health. I applied one of the algorithms used in the Virtual Bass Toolbox to analyze the recordings my colleague made.
“It’s a random application of something I’d already done, but what amazes me is the number of different places this stuff can be applied. You’ve got to talk to people in different disciplines and collaborate. That’s what keeps things interesting.”
Based in Toronto, Kevin Young is a freelance music and tech writer, professional musician and composer.
There are many different ways of checking PA systems. Some of us play music and walk around the venue, while others use sweeps or pink noise and deploy on a measurement program. Many do a combination of both.
Regardless, at some point in the process, we usually grab a microphone and listen to the PA with our own voice. Witnessing hundreds (thousands?) of these voice checks over the years has led me to compile the following “types.” Which one do you resemble?
The Assistant Principal: “Tap-Tap-Tap, Is this thing on?” Also called the Rotary Club Presenter, and inevitably followed by, “Can you hear me in the back?”
The Singer: “Feelings, nothing more than feelings.” You’re a frustrated karaoke star and can’t help but break into song when a mic is in your hand.
The Rapper: “I like big bass and I can’t deny…” You like to bust out some rhymes whenever you get a chance. Bonus points if you cup the mic.
The Dad: “Microphone test channel one, this is a microphone test.” This is how my dad started every recording on his cassette tape recorder. It only works with gear built in the 1970s.
The Drive-Thru: “Do you want fries with that?” You’re hinting at a previous career in an illustrious field. The only question: why have you fallen so far?
The Not-So-Sophisticated: “Hey, watch this! Ow, oh, arghh…” Didn’t Jeff Foxworthy base an entire comedy routine on your life?
The Willie Mays: “Hey, Hey, Hey.” Unlike the real Say Hey Kid, you have not hit 660 home runs, you do not possess a career batting average of .302, and there is no plaque dedicated to you in the Major League Baseball Hall Of Fame. So please stop saying “Hey.”
The Tom Hanks: “Sibilance, Sibilance, Sibilance.” We all love Tom Hanks in Wayne’s World as Aerosmith’s roadie, but the only time you’re allowed to say “sibilance” more than twice is when you’re tying the scarves onto the lead singer’s mic stand.
The Joker: “A horse walks into a bar. ‘Why the long face?’ asks the bartender.” You crack yourself up telling jokes on the mic. The key word here being yourself.
The Whistler: “Tweet, Tweet.” When I was a young soundman, The Old Soundman told me to never whistle in a mic. Now that I’m an old soundman myself, I’m telling you.
The Checker: “Check, Check, Checking.” Nothing but checks. Hey, I’ll pick up the dinner check if you stop saying “check.” I swear, the check’s already in the mail. Go check.
The Tester: “Test, Test, Test.” Sometimes you might mix it up and really put it out there by swapping in the word “testing.” How about swapping in the word “annoying” instead?
The Fence Sitter: “Test, Check – Test, Check.” You’re perpetually undecided about which word to use, so you go with both. At least it’s better to be sitting on the fence than thrown under the (tour) bus.
The Counter: “One, Two – One, Two.” Come on, everyone, let’s say it together: Never count to three, because on three you lift.
The Professional: “Test, Check – One, Two.” Combining the best of both worlds. You’re thorough but making it look easy, following the mantra of never letting them see you sweat.
The Overachiever: “Tap-Tap, Test, Check, One, Two, Hey, Hey, Huh, Yo, P, B.” You’re a true audio person of the world, multilingual in the art of PA checks and not afraid to use it. Just be careful: mixing physical action, words, numbers and random consonants is not for the faint of heart, but you know it’s the only way to true PA excellence. Bonus points for using an SM58 exclusively! Double bonus points if you play Steely Dan tracks through the system as well!
Senior contributing editor Craig Leerman is the owner of Tech Works, a production company based in Las Vegas.
Career-building and understanding the “biz of the business” is important for everyone working in pro audio, but perhaps even more so for the independent practitioner, a.k.a., Lone Audio Ranger.
So let’s step back a bit from the technical side and address some equally important techniques that can put you in control of the work you want and strategies to help you get more of it.
Hiding In Plain Sight
When it comes to “getting the gig,” being selected from a large pool of qualified people is a privilege that’s earned. And how that opportunity is earned is the foundation of a successful career. I believe it boils down to six things: talent, taste, hard work, professionalism, personality and perspective.
One of my first high-level touring clients initially hired me as the monitor engineer. Weeks before the first leg started, the budget revealed only one spot: a merchandise seller. Although not the situation I was hoping for, and having zero experience hawking t-shirts, I took the job anyway – and took it seriously. I worked hard and sought to learn as much as possible.
A week into the run, a personnel change led to the offer of an additional position as tour manager. Faced once again with a role I had zero experience with, I took the gig, taking on this new opportunity with just as much determination as “t-shirt hawker.” Over the next several months, my responsibilities grew and came to encompass the roles of tour manager, merch seller, stage tech, and yes… monitor engineer.
It turned into many years of wonderful work, learning, great music, and fun. Eventually I even made my way to the stage as a player, which was the cherry on top. The biggest lesson was simple yet profound: trust myself – my potential, my confidence and my work ethic. You can know what’s around the corner if you let yourself take a peek.
Seemingly obvious, but it’s a must to communicate that you exist and are available for work. Never has it been easier to leverage technology to do this. Resources such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and the like offer powerful ways to tell your story, and to cast a wide net while doing so. Being able to communicate to potential clients who you are and what you do helps greatly.
Via an online presence, you can communicate your experience, qualifications, and your personality. It’s important to always leverage social media in a professional manner. Create and maintain an informative website focused on the image you want to project, with qualifications to back it up. Don’t forget to make it as easy as possible for anyone interested to contact you. All social media activity can flow back to this destination.
Further, it’s always good form to pass along through these channels ideas and information you’ve come across that could be helpful to others. (Dave Rat, to point to one example, does this extremely well, and I strongly suspect it’s worked out quite well for him.) Remember, the ones making the hiring decisions think first of who they know, and then next, who’s made an impression. Make every effort to be in those memory banks, and for all of the right reasons.
Like many, I can be an introvert. The sight of the ubiquitous “networking event” usually has me thinking of walking in the other direction. Although helpful to some, particularly extroverts, these staged get-togethers can seem forced. For introverts, it’s a true chore to talk with strangers, exchange the obligatory business cards, and trade rusty gig stories.
Yet networking comes in many guises. (In fact I’m networking with you right now.) We may not know each other personally (yet), but you can find me easily if you want, and I’m willing to provide help in any way possible regarding “things pro audio.”
The social media tools noted previously also offer great (and ever-expanding) networking benefits, and there are also like-minded online groups and industry forums to participate in.
Even simply meeting up with some local fellow “sound nerds” for a drink or a meal can open up new prospects. We work in a business that’s made up of talented, creative, hard-working people who for the most part are very open to sharing knowledge and opportunities.
We can be totally into audio but that doesn’t limit us to just mixing a bar band every week at the local pub, touring year-round, and everything in between. Tech skills are valuable in other environments, so it’s a solid career move to step out of the audio box a bit and apply those skills to related fields. Learn the basics of operating today’s video switchers and lighting consoles, or delve into teaching and writing.
Modern technology offers so many resources to learn new skills to make ourselves even more marketable. Take this challenge and reap the benefits.
Like What You Do?
Although obvious to most, being passionate about work is paramount, because our relationship to that work is what guides attitude, work ethic, the ability to handle stress, and problem solving. We all have days, weeks or even months where we may question our career path, usually stemming from the time and physical commitment it takes and how those both relate to financial reward or even simple satisfaction.
When this happens, my approach is to step back a bit to identify why I’m struggling. Is it truly the overall job, or is it a specific gig? Maybe things have become mundane? Was someone difficult to work with? Answers to these questions provide peace of mind while helping us align ourselves with the types of people and organizations that best fit our particular interests and goals.
Respect & Follow-Up
We should know the essentials of the gigs we’re walking into. Don’t assume that new clients understand our technical world. One of our goals is always to make the ones who hire us look good for hiring us.
And sometimes it’s overlooked, but the relationship with whomever hired us doesn’t end with the paycheck. A simple follow-up email to every client should be standard practice. In some circumstances, asking for a quick overview of their experiences with our work in return can help toward building a powerful portfolio of happy existing clients to show to prospective new clients.
What Are You Worth?
This is a tough one because the amount charged for work can be relative to specific geographic areas, competition, and the overall specifics of a given market. But it’s important to really analyze what our time is worth, and then set a fair rate to charge within those specific circumstances. Try to be consistent with what you charge clients, and never “nickel and dime.”
In addition, don’t fall into the trap of pricing yourself out of opportunities that, although initially low-paying, could turn into a long-term opportunity and revenue stream. Look at the potential of what something might become. (Recall what happened with that young fellow once hired by a tour to sell merch.)
After following these principles for a few years, I realized I was able to do more of the work I liked, and more often, because those who made the hiring decisions were specifically choosing me and what I could bring to the table. And that’s a privilege I don’t take for granted.
Our talent, experience and personality is the name of the game, far more important than the gear we own or have available. I’ve always tried to put into perspective how fortunate I am to spend my time (and get paid for) doing something I love while building and maintaining a solid reputation. I wish the same for all Lone Audio Rangers.
Nicholas Radina is an audio engineer and musician based in Cincinnati. In addition to keeping up with a busy freelance schedule, he smacks cowbells with local Salsa bands and tours as the monitor engineer with the band O.A.R. He invites your input via his website at NicholasRadina.com.
In the grand scheme of things, audio engineering is a pretty mysterious field, at least for most people.
When asked what I do for a living, “I’m an audio engineer” is often met with puzzlement, so I quickly amend, “You know, I’m a sound person. I run sound for concerts and events.”
For many folks, this is when the light comes on – one woman said, “Oh, you’re the guy, like at my church, in the back who turns all of the knobs.” She was pensive for a second, then asked, “So, you know what all those knobs do?”
Sometimes, though, even that explanation proves insufficient. Recently I was the recipient of “Oh, cool man! So, like, what clubs do you DJ at?” Of course, this wasn’t intended to be insulting. It’s just that there’s not that many of us out there doing this.
Then I thought that, maybe, working in relative obscurity is a good thing. When everyone leaving a concert has a comment about the sound, it’s usually “The band sounded so good!”
If they have something to say about the person operating the sound, it’s usually not positive. So we are, at our best, invisible. If our presence is unnoticed, it’s considered a successful gig.
I subscribe to the Dave Natale school of mixing philosophy. To paraphrase: “People don’t come to the show to hear me mix. They come to hear the artist. I just make it louder.” We’re on a constant search for the most pristine preamp or most recent PA system. So we “live people,” as my studio buddy calls us, are a relatively discreet bunch.
People who ask me about life on the road are usually appalled by my description of the long hours, tough conditions, and often less-than-princely pay. I frequently hear, “Why would you want to do that?”
And that’s the question to which I have no rational answer. My answer is from a simpler place: I love it. I live A/D converters, eat FFTs, and breathe chain hoists. I dream of flawless festival changeovers. I actually have a recurring nightmare in which I’m juggling acts on an analog desk and keep running out of channels (scary stuff!).
For me, it’s exhilarating to be able to play a role in a successful production, a memory that audience members will carry with them for life. It’s a way to couple my passion for music with my love of science and technology. I like to think of live sound as “elegant precision.”
And I’ll get involved in any way I can. Watching, learning and studying others for years has contributed greatly to my appreciation for every aspect of production, and broadened the horizons of my knowledge so I can help with whatever needs doing. FOH? Mons? RF tech? System tech? Need me to calculate the force vectors in that rigging bridle, or battle for the optimal placement of the arrays? I’m on it.
On my first “big” show, I was the youngest/smallest and thus the unopposed nominee for the always-glamorous job of pulling 100 feet of feeder through the dirt underneath the SL260. The cables weighed more than me, and by the time the task was complete I was a muddy mess and had hit my head on the screw jacks three times. But I emerged from under the deck with a huge smile. Over a decade later, I still feel the same rush when powering up my console or pinning boxes into an array.
Rational or not, that’s my reason, my response to “Why would you want to do that?” Because I love it. It’s one of the great things about our particular field – no one gets into it to get rich. It’s a labor of love. I love being surrounded by people who are stoked about putting on a killer show.
There’s probably not a mansion in my future, but as long as I can support myself and get up every morning and look forward to what I do, isn’t that more important?
Jonah Altrove is a veteran live audio professional on a constant quest to learn more about the craft.
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