Thursday, November 14, 2013
In The Studio: The Angry Birds Approach To Mixing (Video)
Can the guidelines of simple video game improve your approach and mindset?
Can a children’s video game really teach anything valid—let alone valuable—about studio mixing? (And let’s be honest, adults love to play the game too.)
Anyway, in Angry Birds, players use a slingshot to launch wingless birds at a variety of structures housing pigs. The goal is to destroy all of the pigs.
Really, this has exactly “what” to do with mixing?
In the following video, Joe Gilder makes the connection, explaining how various facets of the game can be directly related to improving the approach and mindset of a mix. It comes down to knowing your tools, developing and sticking to a plan of attack, and knowing when you’re finished.
Simple enough, right? Enjoy as Joe fills in the details and offers salient commentary.
Joe Gilder is a Nashville-based engineer, musician, and producer who also provides training and advice at the Home Studio Corner. Note that Joe also offers highly effective training courses, including Understanding Compression and Understanding EQ.
Global Country: Hard Rock Production Values For Keith Urban On Tour
Audio guided by a pair of industry veterans noted for their work in the trenches of hard rock
As the eighth headlining foray from Keith Urban, this year’s ongoing Light the Fuse tour is a heady and eclectic mix featuring new music, A-list openers Little Big Town and Dustin Lynch, and all-new production based around audio guided by a pair of industry veterans most known for battling from within the smoke-filled trenches of hard rock and metal.
Admittedly not your average kind of “Nashville guy,” Light the Fuse front of house engineer Tom Abraham is calling the Music City home these days nonetheless, bringing with him decades of experience with the likes of Alice In Chains, Marilyn Manson, Velvet Revolver, Garbage, Rage Against the Machine, and Metallica, a gig where he served with mixing legend Big Mick Hughes.
Given his divergent background, it may be hard for some to imagine any similarities between his hardcore work and what he’s doing now. But, “there’s really little difference in how I mix,” Abraham is quick to point out. “I was specifically hired for this gig because of who I was and what I do. That’s what management wanted. The only thing worth noting in comparison between this and what I’m widely known for is that when you’re playing to a hard rock or metal crowd, you’re playing to a very specific demographic.
“When you’re mixing for Keith Urban, it’s a really wide demographic from young to old,” he continues. “Accordingly, I try to ride the line here a little bit more conservatively. But that doesn’t mean I won’t get as loud as a rock show, just that I’m concerned at certain levels that I don’t fly so far over the top that I leave 50 percent of the crowd behind.”
Front of house engineer Tom Abraham at his Avid Profile console.
Seemingly omnipresent these days in so many applications, an Avid Profile desk serves as Abraham’s direct interface to the house system.
“I use this console because it keeps me prepared for playing anywhere in the world,” he explains. “I have to be honest though, and say I’m not a huge fan of the way the console sounds intrinsically. But because of its plug-in capabilities I can essentially morph it into any kind of desk I want to a fair degree. I guess you could say I basically use it as a giant controller on many levels.”
Under Abraham’s direction, the Profile has been fitted with a sizable contingent of SSL E-Channel input strips from Waves, as well as Phoenix tape emulation plug-ins. “There are a multitude of plug-in slots on this console, and I’m using a good number for my own personal customization,” he notes. “It’s not that I’ve turned it into an SSL E-desk with that incomparable SSL 4000 Series sound, but I certainly am trying to.
A perspective of Urban and bandmates across the stage.
“Other inputs are indispensible to me as well. I keep a good number of C6 dynamic EQs from Waves at hand. They are my absolute lifesavers on vocals and guitars. Eight are on Keith alone on every one of his RF mics. I drop backing vocals into a group. The Phoenix tape emulation is also used mostly in a group, mainly as part of my space-saving efforts.”
PA for Light the Fuse takes off on an incendiary note courtesy of Clair Global and an i-5D-based rig in which 16 of the enclosures are found hanging per side. With side hangs comprising 16 i-3s apiece, terrestrial space below is occupied by 11 double-18 Clair subwoofers, an odd number Abraham admits, but one that fits in perfectly with the stage configuration.
As a final complement, eight of Clair’s new micro-boxes serve as front fill devices. Audio power for the entire affair is supplied by Lab.gruppen.
The Right Combo
Input from the stage starts at the drum kit with a Shure Beta 91A in the kick drum, a device kept company by an AKG D12.
Shure SM7s stand-in at high-hat and ride cymbal, while toms rely on supercardioid Shure Beta 181s and overheads get Royer SF-24s.
“There aren’t a lot of mics onstage given the size of this production,” Abraham notes. “We’ve deployed a lot of DI boxes. Guitars, bass guitar, they use Palmer DIs. In terms of mics for these instruments, there are only four ribbons—sE Electronics X1Rs—and they’re on Keith’s rig.”
For backing vocals, venerable SM58s and Beta 87s are utilized in hardwired form. Out front for Urban, the choice was Shure UHF-R wireless transmitters using Heil Sound RC 22 screw-on capsules mounted on top.
“We tried a whole bunch of mics on Keith and they all just sounded bad until we got to this combination,” Abraham says. “We tried everything you’d normally try and it all failed to work. There is no real rhyme or reason to what we settled upon, other than it just sounds right.
“This mic perfectly represents our entire stage plot—it’s a hybrid design chosen for what works the best and never fails,” he continues. “It’s remarkable how many shows we’ve done with zero percent failure, and that’s really important. When the guys look over at me and Phil (Phil Wilkey, the band’s monitor engineer), they always are fully confident. We’ve all seen and heard shows that are absolutely Spinal Tap. I’m very pleased to report that this is not one of them.”
Clair i Series arrays with double-18 subs on the deck.
Right From The Start
Light the Fuse breaks the traditional Nashville-based tour mold in terms of size, complexity, and personnel. Drawing upon production talent from all walks of life in the industry, its approach is global in scope, more like that of a large-scale pop rock show.
Along with Abraham, monitor engineer Wilkey made a crossover journey from the world of hard rock to this show. An Englishman who lays claim to the original “SidePhil” nickname, he’s called the U.S. home for years and first dipped his toe into country-fied audio waters with Brooks and Dunn a few years back.
Monitor engineer Phil Wilkey at home with a Midas H3000 analog desk.
“I kind of liked it right from the start,” he notes. “Most everyone is really nice. It’s very unusual to get along with 100 percent of the people you work with on any tour let alone one this size. Even though this is a huge production, we still have that family feeling.”
While Wilkey has done many tours from behind a digital desk and claims it’s all good as far as technology goes, he unabashedly admits that he has been a Midas fan forever, and that when it comes down to vocals and drums he prefers old-fashioned warmth and fullness of the classic medium.
Simpatico in many ways with Wilkey’s thinking, Urban is fine with the choice of a pair of Midas H3000s for monitor mixes feeding his four Clair CM Series single-12 wedges on stage. A fifth CM wedge is deployed for the bass player.
A pair of single-18 Clair subs located next to the bass rig complement the collection of loudspeakers present, all of which are joined by a solid in-ear presence across the band built around 10 Shure PSM 1000 personal monitoring systems. Ironically, there are no side fills onstage for this tour, a fact that has prompted a joke or two at Wilkey’s expense that shouldn’t be repeated here.
“Keith does the majority of the show with one ear in and one out,” Wilkey relates. “He listens to a full mix, and what’s in the wedges pretty much mirrors what he hears in his ears. For a few of the quieter songs onstage he’ll put both ears in, a practice he repeats most of the time when he travels out into the crowd or to our B stage.”
Wilkey’s outboard gear consists of Drawmer 401 gates, XTA compression he uses on Urban’s vocals, and dbx 160s he uses on everyone else.
As one might imagine, SPX 990 reverb is kept at hand as well, while Klark Teknik graphic EQs divide the frequencies in set-it-and-forget-it modes for arenas, sheds, or whatever other type of venues the band may find itself in.
Shure P10R bodypack receivers for personal monitoring readied for fresh batteries.
With an abundant number of ear mixes falling under his purview, he has a natural aversion to the use of gates, especially for the drummer.
“Drummers especially do not want to listen to gates in their ears because they are just so obvious,” he states. “Fortunately I have the luxury on this tour of having an excellent drum tech—Harry McCarthy—who tunes the drums so well we simply don’t have a need for gates.”
Working this time out within an analog outpost surrounded by a digital world, does Wilkey see a day on the horizon where no one will even remember the technology?
Urban on the piano, singing into a Heil RC 22 capsule on a Shure transmitter.
“I don’t know if I have anything to do with it,” he replies, “but I’m noticing interest growing in it. A couple of people have been out with us studying how it all works. What goes around may well come around again, so no, I don’t think that analog is ready to disappear off the face of the earth just yet.”
Things that are steeped in tradition traditionally last. While a new take on the concept of a country show in no small way when it comes to the backgrounds of the personnel, their skills, and the sheer size and proportions of things, perhaps Keith Urban is on his way to setting a different standard that will live on.
Gregory A. DeTogne is lead feature writer for PSW/LSI and has served the pro audio industry for the past 30 years.
Wednesday, November 13, 2013
In The Studio: An Interview With Legendary Engineer Shelly Yakus
Recorded John Lennon, Blue Oyster Cult, Alice Cooper, and many more
Shelly Yakus is one of the true legends of the engineering trade, and his storied career demonstrates the value of an early start.
You might even say he was born to record. His father and uncle were co-owners of Ace Recording in Boston, and young Shelly was a studio “rugrat” as far back as he can remember.
As a young man, dazzled by the excitement of the New York studio scene, in 1967 Yakus applied for a job as an assistant at Phil Ramone’s fabled A&R Recording.
After cutting his teeth on sessions by The Band (Music from Big Pink) and Van Morrison (Moondance), Yakus moved on to another staff position at The Record Plant.
There he recorded and/or mixed records for everybody from John Lennon (Walls and Bridges) to Patti Smith (“Because the Night”), Blue Oyster Cult (Agents of Fortune), Alice Cooper (School’s Out), and the Raspberries (“All the Way”) among many others.
While still holding his staff job at Record Plant, he started freelancing with producer Jimmy Lovine; one of their first efforts was Tom Petty’s breakthrough album, Damn the Torpedoes.
After that, as a freelancer and later as chief engineer at A&M, Yakus logged credits on hits by Don Henley, U2, Lone Justice, and Bob Seger.
In this interview, Yakus touches on sessions by the Band, Van Morrison and John Lennon while reflecting on the essential elements—both immutable and ephemeral—of the music recording art.
The interview took place in August at Yakus’ new recording home, Tongue and Groove Studios in downtown Philadelphia.
Owned by vintage instrument and gear collector Michael Block and his partner Dave Johnson, Tongue and Groove is a place with the 1950’s analog gear intertwines with the 21st century digital reality—the starting point of our conversation.
Bruce Borgerson: This is amazing. I’ve been in dozens of studios, many that have lots of vintage gear, but I’ve never seen anything like this. Like those Presto tape recorder electronics out there.
Shelly Yakus: Yeah, isn’t that amazing. You know, my dad had a studio in Boston, and we had those tape recorders.
I remember when we bought them new, and those tape recorders could make a 71/2 copy that was so good that you would have to stop the machine to know whether you were listening to the master or the copy.
BB: I’ve heard of them vaguely, but they must have gone out, what, by the late fifties?
SY: I would say they went out in the sixties, but I’m just guessing.
They didn’t make machines for very many years, they just couldn’t keep up with Ampex. But they were great machines, believe me. We used to use them every day at the studio.
BB: Was this at Ace?
SY: Yes, that was my dad’s studio.
BB: I checked that out on the internet, and I found out that Freddy Cannon did his first hits there.
SY: Right. A little trivia thing, here, do you know what his last name was?
BB: It was in that story, but I can’t recall.
SY: Freddy Picarello. He was a go-fer in the studio, when I was a kid. I used to go there on weekends and in the summer, and he would go for coffee. A lot of talent came out of Boston.
BB: So you were a studio kid?
SY: Yes. I remember being ten years old and asking my dad, “Can I learn how to cut a record?”
We had these Presto lathes, they were fixed pitch cutting lathes for lacquers, and we used to do a lot of that work, cutting lacquers for a 78 or a 45, for a local band project.
They would use those for demos and something to take home. So I remember he said to me, “Shelly, when you can see over the top of the tables, you can start cutting records.”
And that happened when I was about fourteen, when I started working there regularly on summers and weekends.
But the most important thing I learned there was how to listen. That’s what my dad gave me, that’s what that place gave me.
I remember the moment when I finally got it, and that was my foundation for everything I did after that. And I got a feel for the business.
But that business belonged to my dad and his brother. He wanted me to stay there and take it over from him, but the demand for quality in Boston wasn’t like it was in New York.
We used to get four track tapes in from New York, and I would hear them and they would sound just remarkable to me. It had a lot to do with the producers in New York saying to the engineer, “No, I’m not happy with that drum sound, let’s keep working on it.”
In Boston, they were happy with whatever you gave them. I didn’t see the chance for a whole lot of growth. So I left and went to New York and got a job there, at A&R.
BB: When was that?
SY: That was August of 1967 when I started there, a kid fresh out of Boston.
BB: How did you get the job?
SY: That was interesting. A year before, my dad had a client that wanted to get some records pressed, and they used to use Decca Records to do their pressings.
So if a client wanted a thousand 45s, they would do the recording and mixing there and then send me down to New York to bring it to Decca for mastering.
I remember going there, and while I was there—I had never been to a New York studio before and it was incredibly interesting to me. And so I remember saying to one of the mastering engineers, “I would love to see some more studios in New York.”
The mastering engineer told me that the guy who had just walked in the room five minutes before, that guy said I should go over to Mirror Sound where Brooks Arthur was working.
Brooks Arthur was a guy that had top twenty records all the time, did a lot of those Red Bird records…so anyway, I got into see him. As matter of fact, they introduced me to this guy name Max Rupfel(?), and I didn’t quite understand who this guy was.
He was going around to all these studios. He said, “Come with me, kid, and I’ll take you around, I’m going to visit a bunch of studios.” And he would walk in like he owned these places.
I couldn’t understand how he could get into all these places I finally found out that he was the musician’s union representative. In those days, it was against the rules to overdub.
If you got caught overdubbing, you had to pay these tremendous fines, you had to pay the whole orchestra again. So he got me in all these amazing studios.
So one studio he took me two was A&R, and I saw Phil Ramone doing a session on 48th Street, which was their original studio, and Donny Hahn was his assistant engineer, and he went on to become a great engineer.
He also took me over to Mirror Sound, this really unusual studio where Brooks Arthur worked, he was engineering this really unusual song, I think it was “Give Us Your Blessings” on Red Bird Records.
He had a whole bunch of songs as an engineer and mixer on the charts every week, a remarkable career.
What was most amazing to me there was, when I came in the room, there was this tape machine against the wall, and then this tape coming off it in a loop that went across the room and around the mic stand, and it had thunder and lightning on it.
It was part of this record they were mixing. They would bring up a fader and you’d hear thunder, but it was a long loop so you wouldn’t hear the same thunder twice. I was watching them do this and I was thinking, “Holy shit, listen to how creative this is, look what they’re doing here.”
BB: So did you start looking around for a job at that point?
SY: No, not right away. It was approximately a year later I came back to do another mastering job, and I went back to Mirror Sound again to see Brooks Arthur, because I had made the contact.
They told me he didn’t work there anymore, he was working up at A&R Recording. So I went over there, and he was off that day, but I met Roy Cicala.
Roy took me around and showed me the place. Every great group was recording in that studio. It was remarkable. I asked if I could apply for a job there.
He said, well, yes you can, but it takes some time to get an appointment. I told him I was going back to Boston that day, so he got me an appointment with Don Fry, one of the owners.
He interviewed me, I left and went back to Boston, and for a while in between I worked at WMUR TV in Manchester, New Hampshire. I was a cameraman for the Uncle Gus kids show and the New Hampshire Bandstand, which they would do in the parking lot.
While I was up there, I got this call from A&R, and they asked if I was still interested in a job there. I said yeah, and they asked how soon I could be there. I gave my two weeks notice and headed down, and stayed in the YMCA.
BB: So you started, obviously, as a second?
SY: Actually, on my first session at A&R, I was the second to the second engineer. I was assisting a guy name Major Little, who was a professional second engineer.
He had no desire to be a mixer or producer, just a great assistant. They put me with him, and the first session we worked on was Dionne Warwick produced by Bert Bachrach and Hal David, with probably a forty-piece orchestra.
I’m helping him set this thing up. Phil Ramone was the engineer. I don’t remember all three songs, but I think two of them were “Valley of the Dolls” and “Alfie.”
That was my first day on the job, to see this incredible piece of music being done. This stuff sounded amazing. After that I worked on Leontyne Price and the Vienna Boys Choir, with sixty musicians and forty kids, something like that. She was in the booth, but it was all live.
And then we used to do stuff like Oscar Peterson and Count Basie. A&R was an amazing training ground. Bob Ludwig and Elliot Scheiner and I probably started within three weeks of each other.
They start by teaching you to set up sessions, then they put you in the mastering room for a while, they wanted you to be well rounded. I avoided the mastering room, but Bob loved it.
They used to do three sessions a day in each room. One of the rooms, the large room, they would book ten to one o’clock, usually a large band doing a commercial or a piece of music, two or three songs.
You had an hour to break that down for another session, which was two to five, plus one, which means you had the option of taking another hour if you needed it.
Then at seven o’clock at night, the rock’n’ roll started, and that’s what I was interested in, because Roy Cicala would do most of that. He would stay there until all hours of the night.
BB: What were some of the pop acts you did in those years, as an assistant?
SY: I did Peter, Paul and Mary, the Hair original cast album, Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels, but also a number of unknown things.
BB: How did they do the tracking back then? Was it eight track, or still four?
SY: They had an eight track when I got there, and then they had some Ampex four tracks, two tracks and monos.
And you would have one of each in the studio, though not always the eight track, at least not when I started. If you were the assistant, you were responsible for all those machines.
And if you worked with a guy like Phil Ramone, he’s trying to mix this live, and it’s going crazy in control room. They had this thing called the jukebox, which was about the size of a jukebox without the glass top, and it would split the signal up.
It would go the eight track if they had it, and pass through to the jukebox, and there you would decide which of the eight tracks you would mix to send to the four track by throwing switches.
That’s why if they listened in mono, the balance was always right, because if the bass and drums were on the same track, sometimes bass, drums, acoustic guitar and electric guitar and percussion all went to the same track.
So the only way you could get the balance was to listen in mono, so you knew that as they were going on to the four track you had that balance right.
Then it was also split to go to mono, and sometimes they would try to do a stereo mix at the same time. Then they also had a four track in there for echo and delay.
So Phil would be there mixing it live, and they would go in and use the eight track for a remix only if they missed something in the live mix. In that day, it was viewed more as a safety, and everything else was viewed as a master.
In the mix room, as I recall, they had an Altec board, a 3M 8-track and the rest were Ampex 440s. I remember when Eddie Kramer first came in there, and he said, “Mate, if you could please just show me how to use the room.
You don’t have to hang around.” I showed him around, then he puts on a tape and pulls up the faders and “A Whole Lotta Love” comes out of the speakers, straight from the eight track.
It was amazing. In that day, the stuff that went to tape was huge sounding. For one thing, the boards all had transformers, which the modern boards don’t have.
People equate the modern boards with clarity and top end, but really many of them only have that at the expense of no real low end, or should I say a lacking in low end.
Transformers, in my opinion, are the only way that you can capture what’s going on out in the studio. You notice that a lot of people with modern boards are brining in racks with Neve or API modules with transformers in them.
BB: Now that we’re waxing philosophical, I wonder if you could back up and talk some more about how you learned to listen at your dad’s studio.
Learning to listen for what? How?
SY: Everyone hears, but not everyone listens. By that I mean, one day I’m doing some tape copies for a client of my dad’s, some 50 copies that are going to a radio station.
They wanted fifty of them. I bring out the fifty, and my dad spot checked them. He had this little Wollensak machine, and I was sitting there—this was when I was about sixteen—and he takes tapes out to spot check them, plays a few, then on one he says, “Did you hear that?”
I said, no. He rewinds it, plays it again. Still didn’t hear it. This went on for about ten minutes, but then finally he points his finger when it happens. Still didn’t hear it. All of a sudden I hear this dropout, very subtle and minute, but it was there.
It didn’t go away, but just for a moment it dropped in volume. At that moment, it all changed for me. After that, I listened to everything. In that ten minutes, I went from a person who couldn’t hear a dropout to one who did. It was the foundation of everything to come. Before that, I was hearing but I was not listening.
BB: So, when you started listening, what did you hear?
SY: Everything. It was amazing. For example, when we were doing four and eight track, I could listen to records done in New York and tell you which studio it was done at.
When we went to sixteen track, it was tougher, and when we went to twenty-four I couldn’t tell anymore. The studios in New York all had distinctive sounds, a combination of the rooms and the equipment, the main engineers who were doing them.
I learned the sound of Bell, of A&R, of Media Sound, or Mirror Sound. You could hear it on the radio. But it all went out the window with 24-track. Sixteen tracks on two-inch tape was as far as you could go and still maintain the personality of a room.
The twenty-four track machines started to eat up the clarity of the instruments.
BB: Let’s talk some about one of the landmark albums of the late sixties, the Band’s Music from Big Pink.
SY: That was recorded between A&R, four track, and a studio in LA, where they did it eight track. When it was mixed, they had a lot of difficulty getting the eight track to come together the same way as the four track.
For example, on the four track songs, if Levon sang while playing the drums, then the vocal and drums went on the same track, with some echo. Whatever he sang as lead vocal, that was on the drum track. Also, the bass and piano were on a track, but the organ was separate.
So you have to get that combination right, and the only way to do it is to listen in mono. You need the masking of the instruments to get the EQ right.
Remember, if you put them together on a track, you had to get a great bass drum sound right off, you had to work on that until it would stick out enough to work with the bass, but still the snare and the hi-hat had to be there.
When it went to 24-track, that’s one reason it didn’t’ sound as good. When you had to EQ something live off the floor…EQ’ing something twice, a little twice, is better than EQ’ing it a lot once, and much better than EQ’ing it a lot twice.
Those equalizers, if you touch them just a little, get a gentle slope, it works. But if you crank it up, it gets harsh sounding. With 24-track, those decisions were left to later, so they didn’t get THE bass drum sound or THE snare sound. Then they’d EQ to try to fix it.
One of the things they stopped doing with 16 and 24 was they stopped adding echo to the snare.
But back then you had to put it on the track, because you were combining it with acoustic guitar and bass. So you had to get it right, a complete and finished drum sound.
Well, when we went to 16-track, I continued to do that, to put echo on the snare, be it chamber or EMT. Nothing excessive, just a halo around the snare, something that would make the snare sound special.
So when you got to the mix, you would have the snare separate but it would have a little chamber on it. So when you put another effect on that snare, you were putting it on an entire, complete sound.
So when you add your EQ and effects to that sound, it’s totally different than taking it off a tape that is dry as a bone, maybe a little EQ. You won’t get the same sound, and it’s not as good a record.
BB: And they would let you do it?
SY: The problem is, producers were scared of this. I would tell them that I’m putting this echo on the track and they would say “Oh no, don’t, you can’t do that!”
And we would talk about it. I would express why I thought it was better, and some would allow me to do it. But most wouldn’t. They would say, “Well, what if I want it dry in the mix?” I’d say, “When’s the last time you’ve had a dry snare?” “Well, never, but what if I do?”
I used to put tape delay right on the electric guitar. The producer would say, “What are you doing?” “Don’t you like the sound of the guitar?” “Yeah, it’s great, but don’t put it on the tape.”
But I’d tell them that if you try to do it later, it won’t be the same, it won’t sound as good.
BB: Back to Big Pink. What was your role in that project?
SY: I was both first engineer and assistant. Donny Hahn did most of the recording at A&R. He wasn’t a rock ‘n roll engineer, he did mostly big band stuff and commercials.
He knew that I was working on all the rock’n’ roll stuff. He asked me to be his assistant. He had a fabulous sense of balance. I started as the assistant, but during the recording I worked up to his equal, which is why they gave me credit.
It was not an easy album to record. It took a lot of fooling around, putting cardboard partitions between the drums, figuring out how to record them to sound like they sounded to us in the room.
The mixed that album twice, both times at A&R. I think Tony May did the mixing. On the first one they had horns, and they didn’t like that one.
They were doing it on an Altec board with limited EQ and not a whole lot of outboard gear. It had to be on the tracks or you couldn’t take it very far in the mix.
So I think Donny Hahn and I really captured the essence of that group.
And the way we laid it out in the room was unique. I remember Robbie Robertson had a speaker, shaped like a cube—I had never seen this before.
I had it sitting on two wooden chairs, stretched between the two, and he would throw the switch and it would start rocking back and forth. He said it was a speaker in there, spinning around.
BB: But it wasn’t a Leslie?
SY: No, I’d never seen it before. I saw things going on in that room I had never heard of. I think they had a lot of stuff made for them.
The most remarkable sound was, on one song where Garth played what I remember was a Lowery organ , on a lot of the songs he had the signal from the organ, before it went to the Leslie, go through telegraph key, and on the telegraph key you have a tension spring so that you could adjust.
He loosened the spring, and whacked this key, and it started bouncing up and down so it was making and breaking contact, and then started playing the into to one of those songs.
Can you imagine me standing in the studio, watching this key go up and down, hearing this sound coming out of his organ…well, I’d been in the studio since I was a kid and I was seeing shit go down that I’d never seen before.
Remember, there were no racks of digital boxes back then, so people had to be very clever to come up with new sounds.
BB: Did they do many overdubs?
SY: They did some horn overdubs, but those weren’t used on the final mix.
BB: Do you remember how the drums were miked?
SY: It’s hard to remember for sure, but I would suspect we used a Telfunken 251 as the overhead, and an Altec ‘salt shaker” on the snare.
The bass drum was probably an E-V 666. We had mics on the toms as well, but I’m not sure what those were.
I do remember we worked a lot on getting the drums to not ring in sympathy the other drums, because we didn’t have gates back then.
I can see the session like it was yesterday. I remember how they were set up in the room, around this seven foot Steinway grand.
All the players were really close to each other, in a large room—the same one we used for Dionne Warwick with the orchestra—but only a small part of it was used.
It had a beautiful hardwood floor, high ceilings, and the room itself just had a great sound. There was a drum riser, it kind of like a half wall of three sides of the drums.
BB: Why the drum riser?
SY: Drum risers change the sound of drums a lot. It’s very hard to find a good sounding drum riser but when you get one, the perspective of drums in the mix is totally different.
It changes the way the drums sit in the mix. When they are not connected to the floor, it becomes a whole different animal. It’s the same if you have a guitar amp on the floor.
It couples with the floor, and the floor becomes and extension of the speaker, so you get all this low stuff that you have to roll off or filter out. The same thing happens with drums. They become part of the floor.
You get more clarity with the riser, usually with even more bottom. In the final mix, the drums are in a place that is a better place than being on the floor. I’ve tried building risers at various times, using the heaviest lumber, but sometimes it just doesn’t work well. They are hard to do.
BB: Let’s move along to another album that endures as a classic, Van Morrison’s Moondance.
SY: We recorded a lot of Moondance on eight track, I’m pretty sure. I don’t remember the studio being sixteen at the time. The band played great. It went very fast. Van didn’t talk much at all.
He’s a very introverted guy. The only thing I remember him saying during all those sessions, was, “Can you put more bottom on my voice, “ because he has a very thin sounding voice.
BB: And those sessions were all done at A&R?
SY: Yes, but in two different rooms.
BB: How did you get assigned to those sessions?
SY: It was all up to the girls who did the book at the studio, who assigned the engineers for the sessions. Producers would call and book the studio, and they would ask who’s available. Those girls could make or break your career.
BB: On Moondance, what else different, compared to Big Pink.
SY: Van recorded the vocals live, in a booth, and I had a Pultec on him. It was simply a matter of capturing the sound of him and his band, but in my way.
You see, if you listen to the records I’ve done, you’ll hear that they all sound different, because I’m recording different bands or the same band at different times in their career. Each one has their own personality and sound.
But I suppose you can hear me, maybe you can hear my drum sound, and my overall thing—whatever it is I do, just trying to capture the band but in the process developing my own sound.
But all of those bands were totally different, not like today where a lot of what you hear all sound like they were done by the same producer on the same board in the same studio. There’s a sameness to the sound.
I was on a committee to pick the nominees for the best engineered record for the Grammy awards, and we had over 170 CDs to listen to, and out of the I only found five that really sounded different.
But that didn’t happen back then. I have to be careful about talking about, “back in the day,” because people say, “Well, that’s old.”
Well, just because it’s old doesn’t it’s wrong, and just because it was the original way or recording doesn’t mean it doesn’t have value today.
BB: So what’s the reason? It is technology, or MTV or just a different aesthetic in music today?
SY: I’m not sure. But I know one thing that doesn’t change. Guys who do what we do for a living, we are emotional salesmen.
At the end of the day, all we are doing is selling emotion. You can slice it or dice it and hold these pieces up to the light all you want, but it’s all the same thing.
It’s about the song, it’s about the performance, and it’s about getting that across to the listening public.
If as the recording engineer and mixer, if I can get that across to the listener, even being squeezed through MP3, even in a department store with the speakers twenty feet up, then my client wins.
That’s the theory I talk about to my clients. In a car, at sixty miles an hour, with the windows down and maybe the top down in a convertible, and you can’t really hear the bass and you can barely hear the words, but you still get the effect, you still get the feeling of that song.
Or the woman who is vacuuming in the bedroom and the radio is in the kitchen, over this noise you can get a little beat of the melody. So if you can get it across to them, then you can move them to go out and buy it.
So I think the only way that you can get records in people’s collection that they will listen to over and over is to get that feeling, that emotion, across the distance between the speakers and their ears.
BB: The next landmark of you career was working with John Lennon. Did you find that intimidating?
SY: Are you kidding? I had skid marks in my underwear, I had fudgey drawers! You know, here’s a guy who had been around the block several thousand times by then, and I could tell he know, he just simply knows.
So I’m hoping that I can give him what he needs. He’s used to working with George Martin, for God’s sake!
BB: He was producing, right?
SY: He was. So I wanted it to go smoothly. It was a very professional session, so you do your best to make everybody happy and come up with a sound that works. It turned out to be really terrific sessions.
BB: And that was at Record Plant?
SY: Yes, I was a staff engineer there at the time. I was there for ten years, from 1970 to 1980, though I did start some freelancing by 1978.
BB: Was that where you hooked up with Jimmy Lovine, there at Record Plant?
SY: Yes, he started out as my assistant. But he was sharp. It didn’t take him long to figure out there was no money in engineering, so he wanted to be a producer.
The first thing we did together was Patti Smith’s “Because the Night.” I mixed that with him. It turned out to be a big hit, so we figured we could have some success together.
“Why don’t we do more stuff?” he said, and he was seven years younger than me, just a kid 23 years old. He’s talking to me about going out and doing stuff, but I was thinking, “Hey, I get a paycheck here every week.”
I’m supposed to leave here and take a chance with this kid? So I did! (Laughs.) So we got this opportunity to do Tom Petty, and many more opportunities followed after that.
Tuesday, November 12, 2013
Perspective: Skeptics & Believers
The validity of both sides of the debate
Let me clarify perspectives. On one side we have the perspective of believers, the “anything is possible crowd,” where the sky is not the limit, and whether a concept is repeatable or provable is not nearly as important as the fact that it was written, thought, or spoken.
On the other side we have the perspective of skeptics, the self-proclaimed “investigators of verifiable proof ” residing in a world of science, which is based upon identifying dependable and repeatable ideas from which real-world functioning successes can be built.
Both sides inspire massive rivers of money flowing to support their respective causes. Both construct items of perceived value and usefulness.
Both sell or pass freely their thoughts and revelations to attract others to follow and swallow. Whether it is a crystal necklace that heals, an automobile that transports, or a process of thought that helps one navigate life, both trains of thought have long and twisted histories peppered with successes and misconceptions.
However, due to the dramatic differences in perspective, neither side is able to truly resolve the expertise of the other.
The “true skeptic” can no more prove a certain type of music is beautiful than a “true believer” can construct a cell phone that actually functions. It’s easy to understand why science is useful, and easy to feel why adding the complexities of beauty and art improves our lives beyond the monotony of what is purely utilitarian.
So what’s the problem? Well, from my point of view, it is the middle ground, that gray area between facts and recreation, the things we purely feel or think that science has yet to be able to adequately explain to a level that fits what we feel to be occurring.
In working with sound, the credibility of science comes into question when we’re told that something can’t be heard - yet we do hear something. In our confusion, we believe we have taken every variable into account, only to find the most remarkable surprises still remain.
These false assumptions are a feeding ground for a tangled garden of ideas.
The skeptics are doing all they can to excavate and form clean rows of well-organized thoughts, while the believers are immersed in weaving fact and fiction into complex and intoxicating stories and patterns.
Meanwhile a third perspective also exists, wherein both viewpoints are viewed as desirable, sellable, marketable, and therefore useful.
Regardless of the propagation of education over time and eons into the future, I will personally make a jump to the conclusion that our world will always contain some balance of believers and skeptics. It’s impossible to live our lives without the rules of science, just as it’s impossible to live without the influences of art, pleasure and those magical stories that are so deeply woven into our lives.
It is when one side denies the relevance, importance, and/or necessity of the other that voids are created, allowing pseudo-science and other forms of blurred perspective to gain traction.
When art attacks science and vice versa, each undermines its own integrity while attempting to discredit the other. To tell an amazing story is one thing, to claim it is a factual account is entirely another. To measure the various nuances in sound is one thing, to claim the nuances definitively can or cannot be heard is another.
So just as I laugh at the absurdity of people who actually buy colored stones to tape to their audio cables and their ignorance of the astronomical improbability that there will be any form of realizable alteration of the sound, I also believe that it is a failure of the science world to embrace the unknown that allows this ignorance to fester.
Yes, science does try to quantify the importance and realities of art, just as the world of art tries to harness science as well. Science teaches us that there are things that are known and things that are not yet known.
Art teaches us there are things we “know” and “feel” that defy definition and measure.
Science is by nature methodical and cold, while the attraction to the warmth and mystery of art inspires our desire to escape being characterized and labeled as another predictable reproducing food eater called “a human.” We know in our minds that we see, feel and hear so much more than even the most complex analysis system seems to account for.
Jumping To Conclusions
This train of thought was inspired by a video I recently watched of an “Audio Myths” workshop held at the AES show in New York City in 2009.
The presentation featured several audio industry luminaries shedding light on various myths found in both the consumer and professional audio fields.
I enjoyed the clarifications on human perceptions, yet as the video progressed to a discussion of “what we can and cannot hear,” I found myself feeling swindled a bit, and also was tempted to jump to conclusions.
For example, if the power of suggestion can inspire us to hear things that are not there, would not the opposite also be true? As the various sounds are played, are we convincing ourselves we can’t hear them?
What about the cumulative effects of several independently inaudible aspects combining?
Just as it is important not to jump to the assumption that I can hear something, it is equally important not to write off something as inaudible (or irrelevant) without doing due diligence. In the end though, and in defense of the presentation, a clear point was repetitively made: “this is just to help keep things in perspective.” With that, I concur.
Now let’s take a big step back and ask ourselves: what would accurate audio reproduction sound like if perfected? How can we determine what is - or is not - important for audio accuracy, if we have yet to create audio accuracy?
Whether we use $10,000 audio cables or 192K converters or razor-flat microphones, the real question remains: has anyone truly ever heard a recording played back where they were compelled to search around the room to find where the live band was hiding?
In other words, how come we can know there is a garage band rehearsing a block away yet when we sit dead center in front of the finest sound system money can buy, the best we can come up with is a descriptive range of similarities to live?
What if one side or the other was truly able to prove their position? What if we could tape colored rocks to cables with the result that when we heard a system, we would all swear up and down that there were actual musicians in the room? Would that not be a game changer?
Then we could actually prove things, such as vinyl albums sound more realistic, or that ever-faster D to A converters sound more realistic, and so on.
The room would not matter, just as the room does not matter with the garage band. (“Oh, you were playing live in a lousy room so I thought you were a recording.” Yeah, right.)
The old Memorex advertising claims aside, has anyone ever actually heard sound reproduction so clear that they were unable to tell it was not in real time?
I haven’t, but when and if I ever do, it will probably be a good place to start testing whether some of the other more “scientifically dubious” products and concepts actually function and make any sort of difference.
Dave Rat heads up Rat Sound Systems Inc., based in Southern California, and has also been a mix engineer for more than 25 years.
Church Sound: Two Must-Haves For Every New Audio Tech
If you’re a sound tech that’s never had formal training, get these
There are two learning tools that should be required for every new church audio tech, and they should be kept in every sound booth. One is a book, and the other is an app.
Both will help newcomers in the world of church sound to become better, more educated sound techs.
First, the book. Audio Essentials For Church Sound is written by my good friend and fellow blogger Chris Huff. He’s a sound tech passionate about teaching live audio production through blogging and in-person training, and his teaching style is known for making complex concepts easy to understand while showing how these concepts can be immediately applied for improving sound quality.
Chris got his start as a sound tech in 1990, and went from working as a one-man operation to heading up a church tech team and operating BehindTheMixer.com with more than 20,000 visitors per month. His articles from are featured on ProSoundWeb and in Religious Product News.
Chris started his site in 2007 as a way of helping church sound techs learn the fundamentals of live audio production for creating the best worship experience possible. His unique insight into live audio production comes from his experience both as a sound tech and as a former praise band musician.
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Audio Essentials For Church Sound is e-book in PDF format that’s available only from his website. Find out more about the book and purchase it here.
The cost of the book is $29.97 and is worth every penny. It’s not currently available as a printed book, but if you prefer that format, you can print it out yourself. The cost would be substantially more if it there was a printed version.
I can hear some of you saying, “Gee Brian, that’s kind of pricey for an e-book isn’t it?” No it isn’t, and I’ll tell you why. What Chris presents in these 335 pages (along with a ton of equally useful free extras like mp3 files and reference charts) is pretty much a solid week’s worth of audio training that would cost at least $500 (and probably more) to get in person.
The book begins by presenting every part of the church audio process and breaks it down into easily understandable segments, starting with the purpose of the ministry and proceeding through each logical step of the process, leaving nothing out. Things are written in easy to understand language that anyone with any background (especially volunteers who have no audio experience or training) will be able to handle.
Chris understands the typical church audio volunteer has a servant heart but was drafted into that role without any prior experience. Nothing is left to chance as he takes each subject and breaks it down into the process sections that make up that chapter. It goes from theory to practical application.
For example, here are the components for the chapter entitled Setting Up The Stage:
—Direct Input Boxes
—Amplifiers and Isolation Cabinets
—Optimal Channel Strategy
See what I mean? Because this book is written for the church audience there’s a lot of stuff specific for the church that you won’t find in general audio books. The book I previously recommended, The Yamaha Guide to Sound Reinforcement, is great, but for novices in particular, it’is a tough read.
The first half of the book is all about sound theory and the last half gets to sound reinforcement strategies. It’s great if you’re planning on sound reinforcement being your career but it won’t be your best buddy if you’re the only one trying to set up the mixer.
On the other hand, Audio Essentials For Church Sound can serve as a constant companion and reference guide at the sound booth. You literally can use this book as a audio novice and walk through each chapter to set up church sound equipment with little experience, and still get a solid sound the first time.
Each chapter is laid out in the same fashion. Another very useful aspect is that Chris provides a page of assignments (think of it as homework) that reinforces the learning of the given topic. And he adds a quiz page to test knowledge of the topic. What a great concept! And because this book is for the church audience, Chris interjects a church-oriented approach to sound reinforcement, along with helpful chapters on how to deal with the various people in the church.
As previously mentioned, along with the purchase of the e-book you get scads of extra reference content like mp3 file samples for EQ’ing and compression, along with probably another 30 pages of reference charts such as frequency charts and a drum mixing e-book.
The way I’d recommend a beginning sound tech use the book is this way: First, set aside a weekend to read through the entire book. Then go chapter by chapter and go through the assignments and quizzes. Next, print out the book and bring it into the sound booth and use it as a reference guide to learn each process.
After that, I’d leave it in the sound booth, handy any time there are questions or issues. Because of the way it”s broken down you can go to a specific section and find the answers quickly.
Audio Essentials For Church Audio gets a 5-star rating from me. I’m recommending this book every time I train church audio teams.
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Next, the app. Quiztones is an app written by another friend of mine, Dan Comerchero, that’s available at the App Store (here) as well as at the Mac App Store (here) and at Google Play (here).
What this app does is to train your ears to recognize audio characteristics. The Android version costs $1.99, the iPhone/iPad version is $4.99, and the Mac version costs $9.99.
Why the difference? Here’s why:
As you can see, the Mac app includes a few more quizzes, while the iPhone/iPad version has the expert-level and gain level comparison quizzes as in-app purchase options. I recommend getting them as you’ll end up wanting them to round out your training. There is a demo available from the www.quiztones.net website.
Here’s the way I recommend you using the app. Hook up your Mac or iPhone/iPad to your church sound system. Might as well use the system that you’re going to use on Sunday to train with!
Then start with the quizzes. Do it as a group if you want to have fun with some friendly competition. This way you can also tell whose ears are better! It’s also an easy way to do a quick hearing test too.
The quizzes are broken into sections:
EQ Quizzes Include Four Trainers
Easy Frequency Boost (+10 dB)
Hard Frequency Boost (+5 dB)
Hard Frequency Cut (-10 dB)
Expert Frequency Boost (+5 dB) – 1/3 Octave*
Gain Quizzes Include Two Trainers
* Included for Mac/In-App Purchase for iOS
My Music Library (choose your own source audio)
Tones (sine waves)
A killer feature of this app is the ability to use your own music library to do some of the quizzes. This means you can run through music you’re familiar with to test your knowledge. Along with your own music, there’s also a selection of instruments and tones that are available to use.
You get scored on the results of each answer with a correct answer giving you 100 points. Each successive guess lowers your points by 25. At the end of each quiz the points are totaled. It’s a great way to track your progress.
The tone quiz will get your ears tuned to pick out specific frequencies, while the EQ quizzes test your knowledge of boosting or cutting specific frequencies. The gain quizzes test your knowledge of boosting or cutting gain to get a balanced sound.
The beauty of this app is that you can use it initially to build up your critical listening skills and then use it to touch up your listening abilities and train new people. By the end of the quizzes you’ll know the difference between a 700 Hz and a 800 Hz signal, along with a host of required skills. Quiztones also gets my 5-star rating.
Do yourself a favor. If you’re a pastor reading this, buy a copy for your tech team. If you’re a sound tech that’s never had formal training, get these for yourself. They’ll make you a better church sound tech. And iIf you’re a new audio volunteer, most definitely purchase them. You can’t make a better investment in dramatically upgrading your skillset.
Brian Gowing has helped dozens of churches meet their technology requirements. He works towards shepherding the church, analyzing their technical requirements, sourcing the equipment, installing the equipment and training the volunteer personnel. As he likes to say, “equipping the saints with technology to help spread the Good News.” Contact Brian here.
“Masterpiece School of Mastering” Video Series Debuts
Seasoned mastering engineer Billy Stull shares his secrets in new video series
Since 2006, Masterpiece Mastering owner Billy Stull—referred to by the legendary Rupert Neve as a man with “golden ears”—has taught audio engineers from around the world the craft of commercial CD mastering at one of his intensive three-day training sessions on Texas’ beautiful South Padre Island.
In response to persistent customer demand, the veteran mastering professional is now officially releasing the first installment of an in-depth four-part video series showcasing the key points from his “Masterpiece School of Mastering” sessions.
Part one, titled “21 Steps to Master a CD”, is 86 minutes in length and covers a broad range of mastering procedures and topics, including how and what to listen for, how to determine the sonic artistic image, client relations, avoiding problems, and how to approach mastering as a business or additional income stream.
This segment serves as the essential foundation, or as Stull puts it, “The important stuff you need to know before you start turning knobs.” By first defining the goals, techniques, and procedures vital in mastering a recording, part one will give engineers and other music industry professionals the knowledge base and confidence to ensure a successful start.
Three additional segments are currently in the works. Part two, “Where the Rubber Meets the Road”, will be a tutorial on the use of both digital and analog equipment, how it is most effectively chained in sequence, and how to use the actual tools of the trade, in detail, to adjust, remix, and improve sonics, volume, and consistency, among other things.
Part three, “Billy’s Proprietary Techniques, Audio Gymnastics, De-bugging, and Emergency Room Mastering”, will cover the veteran mastering engineer’s own advanced procedures and solutions to seemingly impossible audio problems, while part four, “Session of the Day”, will feature actual projects mastered by Stull.
In this final segment, the engineer will explain the characteristics and challenges of each session and describe how he overcame them by using the techniques detailed in the first three video segments.
“Just like my Mastering School, which I’ve taught for the past seven years, this new video course is loaded with valuable information not found anywhere else,” Stull describes. “It is a culmination of a lifetime spent in the music and mastering business and includes everything from beginning instruction to very advanced and proprietary ‘magic tricks’ that I’ve personally developed over the years.
“This series will be beneficial for everyone from amateur engineers interested in mastering as a career choice to studios wanting to offer in-house mastering services to established mastering engineers looking to focus, enhance, and improve their business.”
Already available for instant download as 900MB MP4 file, the first session, “21 Steps to Master a CD”, is priced at $99.00 (USD). The three remaining segments will be comparably priced and available soon.
When compared to the $900.00 cost of tuition to attend Stull’s Masterpiece School of Mastering—not including travel, hotel and meals—the new video series is considerably more economical and an invaluable addition to any engineer or studio library as a permanent resource.
Posted by Julie Clark on 11/12 at 11:02 AM
Monday, November 11, 2013
In The Studio: How The Sync Head (And The Overdub) Changed Recording Forever
A significant impact on how the music was made
Once upon a time there was no recorded music, and you could only listen to live music. Brilliant musical performances occurred and vanished into the air except for whatever musical memories or emotions were remembered by the listeners.
Early recordings were made with a single microphone cutting direct to vinyl. Then came tape, then stereo tape and so on to 8, 16 and even 24 tracks. As track numbers increased, engineers were able to separate more instruments for finer sound control.
Of all the developments in audio technology, I believe the most profound was the sync head. Sure, the stacking of tracks was important and lead to mixing, but the sync head changed the most about how music was made.
Prior to the advent of the sync head (a record head on a tape recorder that also has playback capabilities), the only way to build upon previously recorded material was to play the material on one tape deck and record a combination of it and new sounds to a second tape deck.
For the most part, recording was a matter of capturing a complete performance. Then along came the sync head and the overdub became possible. Musicians could listen to previously recorded tracks while recording new ones, and the new tracks would be perfectly in sync.
In fact, if you put the machine into record somewhere in the middle of the song and then took it out of record shortly after, you could replace sections of performances.
This led to many changes.
1. Musicians Stopped Playing Together. Now that parts could be added at any time, it was no longer necessary to have an entire band playing a full song along with a singer for every take of the song. The band could perform the song one time and the singer could perform over and over until the take was perfect, each time recording a new track over that one performance by the band.
Granted, that meant that the band could not change how they were playing in response to something the singer was doing since the band was already recorded, but overall it was a major improvement in music production. All you needed to do was get one good take from the band, then you could send them home and not worry about paying them while the singer was getting it right.
Unfortunately as the number of instruments playing together reduced to the point of recording each instrument individually starting with drums, then on another day bass, then piano (etc), the musical communication and variation that would normally occur as musicians responded to each other’s live playing became less a part of the music.
Yes, you could now examine every part under a microscope and make sure each performance was perfect and exactly what was intended…but you no longer have the communal musical interpretation of a particular song. Each part would only be able to interact with what was already recorded, often leaving the drummer nothing to interact with but a click track.
2. Musicians Had Less Pressure To Perform With Consistent Quality. Since you could always go back and re-sing a vocal, there was less pressure to get it right as there was when an expensive band was backing you for every take.
Eventually as it became possible to go in and out of record for very tight periods it became possible to replace individual words or even syllables. Vocal performances became collages from many performances rather than a single vocal interpretation.
3. Producers And Artists Could Get The Performance They Wanted Instead Of Compromising. Although it was always possible for a producer to elicit a performance out of a singer in the same way a director elicits a particular performance out of an actor, now it was possible to save different versions to move and combine as desired for a final, perfect vocal.
4. Volume Dynamics Became Less A Function Of Performance And More A Function Of Mixing. Since the musicians were no longer performing together, they were no longer changing their dynamics according to what each other were playing.
The dynamic interaction that is an important part of communal music had to be created afterwards by the mixing engineer.
5. Individual Musicians Could Play More Of The Parts. This meant artists with a strict understanding of how they wanted their music performed and the ability to play the necessary instruments (such as Stevie Wonder) could really do it all themselves.
I know that some of these points are direct contradictions. But the sync head and the overdub changed recording forever.
For more, look up these names: Tom Edison, Emile Berliner, Les Paul, and Tom Dowd.
Bruce A. Miller is an acclaimed recording engineer who operates an independent recording studio and the BAM Audio School website.
Church Sound: Do Digital Mixers Lead To Laziness?
The potential downsides of automation through technology
The automobile wasn’t invented because someone wanted a new means of travel. It was because someone was tired of walking. The recording device wasn’t invented because someone wanted a technology that could capture sound. It was because someone was tired of taking notes in class.
Are these statements true? Oh, I’d guess there is a shred of truth in them somewhere. But what is true is that automation-through-technology can lead to laziness and when the church service is in full swing, you shouldn’t look like our friend the sleeping cat pictured at left.
Most of us would quickly deny being lazy behind the mixer. But, looking at this age of technology and what the future holds, audio production technology has reached a point where it does allow you the ability to be lazy, specifically through the use of recall-able mix scenes.
There are three scenarios in which your digital mixer can lead to laziness.
This one is tempting when you have the same people in the band every week. You create one scene and label it “music” and use it for every song, every week, every month; no EQ adjustments, no effects changes, maybe a volume tweak here or there.
You’re mixing just as lazy as when you had an analog mixer and rarely touched the EQ knobs. Congratulations, all of your songs have the same generic sound. You might say I’m hyper-sensitive to this form of live mixing. You’d be right.
You create a good baseline mix for the first service with the mindset you will improve your mixes (saving the scenes) through your multiple services so the last service will sound the best. After all, you get the most people at the last service.
You’re doing a huge disservice to the congregation and missing the point of your job. You should have the first service sounding the best it can sound. The people attending this service are no less important than those attending the last service. Subsequently, if you’re doing this, you’ll start hearing comments like “the first service never sounds as good as the last service.” Is that what you want to hear?
During the worship practice / sound check, you spend your time creating great song mixes. You save each song as a digital scene so come service time you only have to recall the scene for the song.
Your service-time mix suffers because the acoustic properties of the room have changed because now the room is full of people. What sounded great in the empty sanctuary now only sounds so-so.
It’s better than being in scenario 1 or 2, but it’s still not where you should be.
The good news is you know the importance of distinct song mixes but you’ve allowed yourself to be lazy and miss out on sculpting those mixes into even better mixes for each service.
Not only do the room’s acoustic properties change when it’s full of people, but as I mentioned in another article, mixing for the moment and you can’t completely pre-mix for that moment.
Your mixing needs to be somewhat re-active to the congregation as the mood fits. But, I digress.
Fight The Lazy!
Let’s break this down into steps:
1. Create different song mixes.
Does your worship music on your iphone all sound the same? No. Don’t use the same scene for all of the songs. It’s OK to have a baseline mix but consider it a starting point.
If your musicians change from week to week, then the baseline might not be possible. It depends on how the bands are grouped and the functionality of your mixer. Some mixers can save channel settings separately while others save all the channels together as one scene.
Bottom line, songs are mixed differently and you need to work with the same mindset.
2. Plan out how you will use scenes.
You can use them per song, per element, or per a group of elements. I use around five scenes per service. Each scene is for one song plus any elements before or after where a logical break occurs.
For example, if the last song of the worship set is concluding with the last notes ringing out, it’s OK if the person speaking starts talking so the music sound stays as needed.
There are all sorts of ways of arranging scenes. Take your schedule and break it out into logical groups.
3. Plan your first service like it would be your last.
Even if you only have one service each weekend, put your energy into creating the best song scene mixes possible during your worship practice and your sound check.
By the time the first service rolls around, you should know you have done your best. You should expect to make some minor changes to your mixes but those are simply part of live mixing.
Consider the first service (each service) as if it was the last service you were ever mixing. You want it to be the absolute best.
The Take Away
The ability to recall scenes takes a large burden off your shoulders. You can get better individual song mixes and, in the case of multiple services, you can create a consistent sound from one service to the next. This is all good but it doesn’t mean that you can stop mixing.
The mix that worked during practice might need tweaking when you hear it with a room full of worshippers. In the case of multiple services, after reflecting on the first service, you might discover you could improve your mix for the next service by modifying a vocal mix.
And let’s not forget mixing for the moment. Recalling scenes is great but don’t let those saved settings define your mix.
P.S. Remember to save your scene changes!
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.
Win-Win: Handling The Business Part Of The Biz
There's more to the job than audio...
While working with gear, hanging out with artists, and getting paid to mix music seems like an easy gig, I’ve noticed the tendency of some audio folks to forget that this is indeed a business. There’s a reason it’s called show business, not show play.
Recently I was reminded of this fact when speaking with a new client. It seems that her long-time audio supplier didn’t return her calls or emails, and so she went shopping for a new vendor. Basically, she was happy with the audio part of the transaction, but not so much with the level of service, particularly as a long-time customer.
We set up a meeting to do a walk-though of the venue as well as to discuss the specifics of her event. When we met, she told me that her former supplier had finally called her back, and she informed them she had a replacement. “We do your event every year, so what’s the problem?” was the gist of their excuse for ignoring her.
Unfortunately, the people running that company forgot rule number one when it comes to business. Simply, be professional. Customers expect a level of professionalism from every business, including ours. The basic components include:
Basic service and relations. Sweat the “small” stuff, or in other words, return calls and emails in a timely manner. (This is also called common courtesy.) The actual, real bottom line is that without customers, we have no business. Keeping them happy every step of the process is key. While the old saying “the customer is always right” may not always be exactly true, consider it to be so with only this caveat: “the customer is always right unless it compromises safety.”
Appearances matter. Anything related to our businesses should always be presented appropriately. And first impressions are indeed very important. Customers make judgments based on appearance—facilities, equipment, vehicles, tools, employee attire, etc.
Years ago I was doing backline for a 50s vocal band at a country club. My truck was clean and in good repair, my crew was dressed in company shirts and black pants, and my gear looked good and performed as it should. Meanwhile, the main audio provider showed up in a dilapidated truck, his crew was wearing dirty jeans and rock band T-shirts, and his gear appeared that it was on its last legs.
Guess who the promoter hired to provide all of the audio services at his next show? (Hint: it wasn’t the other guy.)
Writing and communication. When I visit a company website or read its literature and other communications, I (and most folks) can forgive spelling or grammatical mistakes here and there.
These types of mistakes are going to happen, and we’ve all our share. But it should not be due to lack of trying to get it right. When a website or email is filled with multiple errors, the company is announcing to the world that details just don’t matter. And with so many customers, details are everything.
Integrity. Customers want to do business with companies that they can trust. Therefore it’s imperative to do exactly what we promise, and then to do a little more for good measure.
If a problem arises, we must take ownership, admit our mistake, and correct the situation without blaming others. Everyone understands that things happen, but resolving problems in an honest and straightforward manner is the perfect way to demonstrate professionalism (and to keep the customer).
The bottom line is that many of us train very hard to get a handle on the audio portion of our jobs, but sometimes we don’t really focus on the conduct of the business side of show. And sometimes, that’s just not enough.
Craig Leerman is senior contributing editor for ProSoundWeb and Live Sound International, and is the owner of Tech Works, a production company based in Las Vegas.
Thursday, November 07, 2013
Working On The Stage Sound—Moving From Mixing House To Monitors
A voice of experience provides a run-through on success at the monitor position
A recent assignment placed me behind a monitor console once again. It had been a while since I stage-mixed on a regular basis, so I enjoyed the change of scenery.
But this end of the snake presents a very different challenge from a front of house mix or a system engineering position.
Here, the fruits of my labors were not intended for the masses, but rather, were tailored to specific individuals and each of his or her needs, wants, desires… and idiosyncrasies. And yes, IEM has fully come of age, but not everyone will go there.
Here are some of my rules for setting up successful stage mixes.
To me, the first and most important stage-mixing rule is to understand exactly what you are trying to accomplish. (As with most things in life!)
The objective is for the player or artist to hear what they need or want to hear, in a way that makes sense to them. Do not confuse this with the idea that you are there to make it sound good to you! The two do not necessarily coincide. Wedge mixes do not generally sound like front of house mixes.
Face it; on a one-off with an unfamiliar band all you can do is give it your best shot. If it’s a couple of folks with acoustic guitars, you’re probably “in there”. If it’s Godzilla meets Metalhead, well… set up accordingly.
If you’re going on tour with a band, try to find out as much as possible about them. Perhaps the guy who was sitting in the seat before you got there would be a good place to start.
Make a plan, but don’t try to reinvent the wheel on the first day. Many musicians get used to their mixes sounding a certain way, and right or wrong be prepared to leave it that way.
But if you’re lucky enough to tour with some receptive players, you’ll have plenty of time to try different things and fine-tune your “stage sound” as you go!
First Things First
Assuming this is a tour, you’ll probably receive information about what goes in to the mixes, but it’s best to speak directly to the band members if possible. This is your starting point.
Following that initial information, you set up for your first sound check. When they begin playing and I am comfortable with my initial mixes, the next thing I like to do is walk around to the various positions and listen.
I mean really LISTEN carefully to what everyone is hearing. It will change as you move around depending on your proximity to various instruments, amplifiers and wedges.
It may change from song to song depending on the volume of the instruments. Make mental notes of what you hear. This will be the foundation for building a successful “stage sound” later.
You must also play psychiatrist a bit and try to get inside the player’s heads.
It’s important to understand the difference between a guy who will ask for his guitar in the wedge in front of him while standing in front of a Marshall stack turned up to eleven, and the guy who wants a taste of the keyboards because they are on the opposite side of the stage. If it’s all about volume and ego… (fill in the blank).
I’m always amazed at how many guys don’t take the time to really place the loudspeakers properly.
Aim them at the players’ faces, and away from troublesome acoustic instruments. (Like a grand piano) Try to keep from firing into open microphones, thank you.
Drum fills are particularly troublesome. I like to get them as far down-stage as possible alongside the riser, and aim them just up-stage of the drummer.
Orient the box so that the narrowest horn dispersion is in the horizontal plane. (Usually on its side) This will help to keep the foldback out of the tom and overhead microphones.
Be careful when you are using more than one enclosure on a mix. Play with the placement of your wedges and find out what works. You’ll be amazed at what a difference a few inches can make when it comes to hot spots and nulls.
Usually I try to find a place where they are close enough together and down-stage to still be in front of the musician, but far enough apart to aim the high frequency axis past the microphone at his ears.
When they’re too far apart, you lose that “in your face” feel. Avoid crossing the HF axis from both boxes at the microphone itself, and also be prepared for reflections from hats or costumes.
For fill loudspeaker positions, if you have multiple enclosures try to stack them, as opposed to a side-by-side configuration.
Horns that are not splayed properly will have several well-defined nulls and peaks in their response when acoustically added together. This is a classic case of non-coincident arrivals at the listener’s position and cannot be fixed with an equalizer!
You would have to splay the boxes for a very wide coverage pattern in order to add the horns together properly. (Depending on the horns of course) There are many more enclosures with 60-degree horns than with 30-degree horns.
Low Frequency Reality Check
Look around you. A reality check will tell you that if you have a relatively large house system with low frequency and sub-bass enclosures that your monitors will not be able to compete with the LF information on stage when everything is up to show speed.
Unless, of course, you want to turn everything up to “warp nine,” or add lots of sub-bass enclosures to you monitor rig, but this generally results in escalating levels with the backline amps and then the house system to overpower all of the information coming off of the stage. I think we all know what this leads to!
If you have to overpower the band with your stage rig, the house mixer will hate you and the show will suffer for it! (Just as it does if the band plays too loud.)
Use the low frequency information from the house system to fill out the bottom end in your “stage sound.”
If you’re carrying a smaller house system or playing on well-damped theater stages, this effect is not so prevalent and you can maintain a full bandwidth from your monitor system.
Pulling It Together
The best approach is to try to meld the backline amps, wedges and house loudspeakers into a system that all works together to attain the overall stage sound you are looking for.
To develop this environment, the spectral response of the mixes should be tailored to fill in what is not heard on stage from the backline amps and the house system.
This usually involves a lack of nearby instruments and VLF frequencies coming from the wedges. (A bonus for you!)
This is where the receptive players come in. You may have to point out the low frequency phenomena during a sound check, but it will be obvious to them if they listen.
Also point out the nearby instruments and how they may be heard without being very loud in their mix. Maybe even re-aim a stage amplifier to be more effective.
How many times have you seen guitar players wailing away with their speakers aimed at their rear-ends? Tilt them back and aim them at their heads. I promise they have no idea what kind of havoc they cause the house mixer about 75 to 100 feet away.
Of course this doesn’t work in every situation. It depends on the music, the venue and the players among other things.
But if you can make these principles work you can achieve the most clarity with the least volume in your wedges.
Use localization to help keep things clear on stage. It is easier to hear different instruments if they are coming from different directions. The fewer sources in any mix, the easier it is to hear them a noisy environment.
Also consider the individual instruments and a mix containing all of them. You have a certain bandwidth in which to fit them.
It’s pretty easy if it’s just a violin and a tuba, but not so straightforward with several guitars and keyboards and drums. Work at making all of the instruments sound different and fill the available spectrum with more distinct differences between them.
If a player insists on a particular tone in his monitor, but it doesn’t work for the rest of your mixes’ split the input into multiple channels on your desk so that you can tailor the sound for everyone.
Dan Laveglia is a long-time system engineer who has worked with Showco and Clair Brothers, serving top concert artists.
NSCA Launches Updated Website Offering Additional Resources And Information
Attention to legislative, business and mentorship/counsel aspects, and much more
NSCA has unveiled a new website (at www.nsca.org) to provide members and industry professionals with even more information they need to run their systems integration businesses.
Feedback from members about the most valuable NSCA data and resources provided direction for NSCA’s branding project over the last year, leading to a focus on providing business resources and solutions to the electronic systems industry.
On the updated website, members and non-members will find policy updates and regulatory news, the latest research data and industry trends, and training resources for business management and leadership. The site also makes it easy for other industry professionals to locate leading low-voltage systems integrators for upcoming projects.
“As part of NSCA’s promise to systems integrators to serve as ‘Your Voice, Your Business Resource, Your Trusted Advisor,’ this theme guided the entire website redesign project,” explains NSCA executive director Chuck Wilson.
As “Your Voice,” NSCA’s website features interactive state legislative maps with summaries of legislation across the country, a guide to state licensing laws for low-voltage systems, and a list of NAICS/SOC codes. It also features a way for members to share their own news and projects through the Systems Showcase on the homepage.
As “Your Business Resource,” NSCA’s upgrade makes it easy to download hundreds of business documents, forms, and templates in the Essentials Online Library. It also features forecasts and reports, an updated job board for commercial electronic systems professionals to list job openings, and a list of member discounts.
As “Your Trusted Advisor,” NSCA also uses its new website to provide information about upcoming regional and national events, networking opportunities, member meetings, industry forums, and free webinars.
The new website will also showcase NSCA’s blogs, which cover business insights and government affairs.
Finally, it offers a more interactive, user-friendly interface, and an online chat system that puts site visitors directly in touch with NSCA staff members.
Wednesday, November 06, 2013
Fun With A Purpose: The System For A Fast-Rising Band’s Latest Tour
Success has made a big difference in the band's concert sound approach
New York City-based indie pop band Fun (stylized as fun.) has enjoyed a remarkable couple of years, particularly since the release in 2012 of Some Nights, which saw the single “We Are Young” topping the Billboard charts in 2012 and winning Song Of The Year honors at the 2013 Grammy Awards.
That success has made a big difference in the band’s concert touring approach, with larger venues demanding a much-expanded sound reinforcement effort.
“When I came onboard in 2011, the rocket had ignited, but the band was still touring with one bus and a trailer,” front of house engineer Gord Reddy told me when we spoke a few weeks ago while he was on a break from the extensive Some Nights tour of North American sheds and arenas.
Initially after “We Are Young” hit, the band was still appearing in 1,200- to 2,000-seat venues, but soon, the tour was carrying everything but stacks and racks, and now, the production has grown to require five trucks and three buses, with a production crew of 24 to manage it all at each stop.
Audio is pretty much the only job the northwest Washington-based engineer’s ever done. “I was on tour at the age of 16, though I don’t know if I should be bragging about it,” Reddy says, laughing. He’s been mixing FOH almost exclusively since the late 1990s following a stint as a system tech for Jason Sound, and has also done tech and FOH mix work with artists such as Barenaked Ladies, Sarah McLachlan and numerous others.
A perspective of the scene for Fun performing live at the Greek Theater in Berkeley, CA. (click to enlarge)
Canada-based Solotech is the sound company for the tour, providing a Meyer Sound-led rig that includes LEO linear large-scale arrays, MICA array modules, 1100-LFC low-frequency units, and UPQ loudspeakers under Constellation and Galileo digital control.
“In the 90s, I wouldn’t leave home without (Meyer) MSL-4s,” he states. “I got on to LEO in spring 2011, and it has a frightening amount of headroom and linearity through that gain so you can push it up without restructuring the mix or EQ-ing.”
A look at the Meyer loudspeaker set, including LEO and MICA arrays, 1100-LFC low-frequency boxes and UPQ fills. (click to enlarge)
Typically at each stop, the sound team deploys 28 LEO and four MICA modules in main arrays comprised of 16 boxes each – 14 LEO with two MICA (100-degree horizontal dispersion) underneath for near field reinforcement. Coverage to each side is extended with MICA arrays, usually 10 deep, splayed outward, while low end is supplied by up to 12 1100-LFCs per side ground stacked (typically three boxes per stack).
“Twelve subs per side is just a scad more than I need, but gives me a lot more control and it’s fun to have that headroom,” he says. “Everybody’s crazy about bass steering right now – using propagation delay and cardioid arrays – but you need a lot of subs to execute effective pattern control. The best way to steer bass comes down to the dimensions of the baffle you build.”
He adds that it can get thunderous with all of that low-frequency energy up front, so the stage lip is “coated” with UPQ-2P and UPQ-1P compact loudspeakers to make sure the audience in the extreme near field is getting something to go with that big serving of sub bass.
While the size of the rig varies venue to venue, Reddy prefers to use as many loudspeakers as possible every gig.
“Not because I want to melt everybody, it’s just more consistent – more direct and less reflected energy,” he explains. “The more hanging there in terms of width and length allows you to be really specific about how you deliver that power, to make it pleasant up close while being convincing farther back. More like climbing into a set of headphones rather than listening to it off the barn wall.”
The drive system for the loudspeakers, which are all self-powered, incorporates dual Meyer Sound Galileo 616 loudspeaker management processors for alignment of multiple zones, feeding (via AES outpus) three Meyer Sound Callisto 616 array processors that provide delay integration for aligning the arrays, shaping filters, and simultaneous low- and high-pass filters for subwoofer control.
Front of house engineer Gord Reddy during setup at the Greek. (click to enlarge)
Accompanying Compass control software provides comprehensive control of all parameters from a Mac or Windows-based computer. “I use Galileo to make ‘broad strokes’ for the whole system, and then for zone-specific treatment, which I keep to an absolute minimum, I go to Callisto,” Reddy explains.
“With this loudspeaker rig – or without it – Galileo is my drive device for system EQ,” he continues. “If we’re playing a festival and they’ve got subs on an auxiliary – which is very common – when they hand me the separate wire, I drive it through my Galileo and stitch the subwoofers back into the rest of that 10-octave composite of musical information the way it should be. Galileo allows me to do that outside the mix environment.”
Good Is Good
I followed up by asking Reddy if he applies any specific treatment for Fun and received a spirited response. “You’re opening up a big can of worms for me,” he states. “Sound systems aren’t super-conceptual. I don’t care what style of music you’re spraying out of them – good power tuning is good power tuning, good directivity is good directivity, good direct-to-reflected ratios are good direct-to-reflected ratios. These do not and should not have anything to do with the artist.
Monitor engineer Dave Rupsch at his DiGiCo SD8 console. (click to enlarge)
“We owe it to ourselves, the industry, and the audience to understand how the manufacturers intended this stuff to be used. The popularized mythology says that editing crossover settings is good, but it’s the equivalent of taking the front wheels of your car out of alignment and saying, ‘When I drive on this kind of surface I like my camber angle to be out a bit.’ It never made sense and I’ll go to my grave fighting anybody who says otherwise. I’ve got two pages in my rider covering no ‘home-proved’ drive settings, please. Keep your settings away from me. Give me the ones the manufacturer developed.”
The stage is relatively quiet, devoid of monitor wedges and side fills. Band principals Nate Ruess (lead vocals), Andrew Dost (piano) and Jack Antonoff (lead guitar)—along with their touring mates Nate Harold (bass), Emily Moore (keyboards) and Will Noon (drums) – wear either Ultimate Ears or JH Audio custom in-ear monitors, fed by Shure PSM 1000 personal monitoring systems, notes Phoenix-based monitor engineer Dave Rupsch, who joined the Fun crew in January of this year.
Vocals are captured with Shure SM58 capsules on UHF-R wireless systems, although lead singer Ruess occasionally switches to a KSM9 capsule for his vocal, primarily to add a bit of variety.
“I haven’t been looking for more than what I get with the 58,” Reddy says, “but you get ‘sound drunk’ listening to the same stuff all the time, so we’ll go to the KSM9, then go back the other way.”
Bass, keys, sampler and acoustic guitars are taken direct with Radial DI boxes, while guitarist Antonoff’s VOX electric guitar cabinets are handled with a combination of Shure KSM32 side-address cardioid condensers and Beta 56A dynamics.
“One of the cabinets is in an ISO box to maximize the distinct and very lovely tone a VOX produces when spun-up all the way, while minimizing the issues it would create with five open vocal mics,” Rupsch explains.
The drum kit is captured with Shure Beta 91 and 52 on kick, Beta 181s for cymbal underheads, an SM57 on snare bottom, and KSM137s on snare top, toms and hi-hat. “For the kick I get some information from the 91 to provide the noise gate for the 52,” Reddy notes, “but it’s mostly the 52 for me.” Two more KSM137s placed stage left and right collect stage ambience.
Pleasing & Lush
Rupsch and Reddy both do their mixing on DiGiCo SD8 consoles. “The SD8 was a happy accident,” says Rupsch. “I’d never used DiGiCo before, and in fact was just finishing up training on the Midas PRO Series when I was approached for this job. Rather than push for a PRO Series console, I decided to give the SD8 a shot. The snapshot editing is great.”
The monitor workspace outfitted with a DiGiCo SD8, Shure wireless and more. (click to enlarge)
It’s a challenging show to mix from a monitoring standpoint, he adds. “With six people on stage – five of them singing constantly – framing the overall mix changes drastically between songs, but they do a fine job of mixing themselves in many respects.”
The twin SD8s cut down on infrastructure needs in general, Reddy notes. “Previously, monitors and FOH shared the data stream out of one stage rack, so we were down to a splitter, a stage rack and two local racks. Now, the budget and truck space are there and we’re splitting copper to two stage racks so we can have independent control, and because we have a diverging input list now – a couple of click lines, audience and shout mics that I don’t use and some he (Rupsch) doesn’t use.”
Given the band’s very busy press schedule, time for sound check with them can be hard to come by, but it’s not a huge concern given the familiarity that’s developed due to the length of the tour.
Plenty of boxes on stage deliver a “coating” of mid/high energy to the extreme near field. (click to enlarge)
Whenever possible, Reddy defaults to a virtual sound check using his PC and Reaper recording software. Prior to each show, he evaluates the system in the Meyer MAPP Online Pro predictive application, with Rational Acoustics Smaart deployed to assist with tuning.
“I keep the PA quite flat, probably brighter and with less low end than many people might prefer. Then I force the composition of the mix to give that bass back,” he concludes. “The mix coming out of the console is pleasing, thick, and lush down low, but being delivered to a pretty flat system, which gives me a predictable and structured target to shoot for every day, just like the guys in the studio making the record.”
Based in Toronto, Kevin Young is a freelance music and tech writer, professional musician and composer.
Monday, November 04, 2013
In The Studio: “Music 101” For Recording Engineers
Arriving in the musical moment along with the musicians
If you’re a doctor, you can’t operate if you do not know what you should and should not cut. If you’re a mechanic, you can’t repair a car unless you know how the engine parts work together to move the car.
As an engineer, you are a technician, but one that works with creative material. Yes, you can approach it purely like a technician, but you won’t be able to perform as well as if you know a bit about music. Notice that I used the word “perform” rather than work.
We work with sound. We work with music. We work with feelings. If you don’t know anything about any of these things, you have no business calling yourself an engineer.
If you only know about sound and not music (and more importantly the feelings that music can express) then you may be able to spit out work that looks good on a meter, covers all the requirements, but has no musicality and feeling. In addition, you need someone to translate what the musicians say so you understand what’s happening.
The best engineers are IN THE MUSICAL MOMENT ALONG WITH THE MUSICIANS and can discuss not only things like sound volume but also things like sound dynamics, harmonic or rhythmic support, musical timing, and instrument functions. The best engineers recognize, encourage, and capture musical creativity.
“The main job of the recording engineer is to capture as much musical dynamics as possible. The mixing engineer should utilize those dynamics to enhance the expression of the song.”
Dynamics refers to the interplay and “give and take” between different instruments based on their changes in volume or other characteristics.
Dynamics means change, which can occur on many different levels. Even a single instrument can have dynamics that change over time.
There is emotion in dynamics. When someone speaks loudly, it impacts you one way, but if they speak softly, you find yourself listening harder and perhaps even leaning in to hear better…this greatly changes how you will perceive what you are listening to. This is an example of dynamics as applied to volume.
Dynamics not only applies to volume but also to any other kind of change or movement such as tonal change, intensity (how hard one plays), rhythmic feel, etc. Sounds can have different dynamics at different frequencies.
Dynamics can be felt in single instruments, relationships between instruments and even the combined sound of a finished mix. Although these days everyone seems to want their music as loud as possible with no break, music often has important dynamics between instruments that help to convey the emotions of the song that can be lost when mixes are squashed and pumped for the sake of volume.
You do not have to know how to play an instrument or read music in order to push a fader, but it really does help to know what the musicians on the other side of the glass are going through.
A song is based on a melody (and often lyrics) and occurs through time. Songs have musical chords that support the melody (but may not necessarily be played in full).
Songs also have other parts that can support the melody and chords (such as drums for rhythm, bass to both support the low end and also to provide a low counter melody, guitars to play chords in rhythmic ways, etc).
It’s possible for a single musical element to take the role of others; for example, a song can be sung in a way that gives a strong rhythmic feeling without having drums. Arrangements are maps that indicate not only the song’s sections and their order but also which instruments will play particular parts. Although many people use the term to only mean the sections of the song, it also relates to how the different musical parts interact with each other as they support the main melody.
Typical arrangement sections include:
Intro: Song beginning
Verse: The “story”
Chorus: The repeating part of the “story”
Bridge: The part when everything changes for a short while before returning to the “story”
Tag (Outro): Song ending
In order for recording and mixing engineers to be able to effectively capture, edit and then mix music they must have a basic understanding of music, arrangements and instruments.
Instrumentation refers to the actual instruments that are used in a song. Musical elements / instruments are both rhythmic and harmonic, as even drums have musical pitch and a violin note has rhythm.
Commonly used instruments include:
Drums (Kick, Snare, Hat, Toms, Cymbals, and also Room Tracks)
Percussion (Conga, Bongo, Timbale, Clave, Maraca, Shaker, Clap, Go-Go, Cowbell, etc)
Bass (Upright, Electric, Synthesizer)
Guitar (Acoustic, 12-String, Electric, Distorted, Wah-Wah, etc)
Strings (Ensembles/Orchestras, Violin, Viola, Cello, Bass)
Horns (Trumpet, Trombone, French Horn, Tuba)
Woodwinds (Flute, Clarinet, Oboe, Bassoon, Saxaphone)
Synthesizers & Drum Machines
Lead Instruments (any of the above)
Certain instruments have particular sounds that make them optimal for specific song functions, such as a percussion instrument to make a beat. However, most instruments can perform the functions of others.
Rhythmic Elements are accentuated points along a repeating pulse. The pulse itself is a rhythmic element called the BEAT.
A BEAT is a repeated heavy point in time that you can feel with your body. A song’s TEMPO is how fast the beat is going. Tempo is measured in BPM (beats per minute).
When the rhythm repeats, it is called a MEASURE or BAR. The DOWNBEAT is the first beat when the rhythm repeats (i.e., the “ one” of “one – two – three – four – one – two – three – four”).
Much music is made of repeating groups of four beats. When a note lasts for a whole measure it is called a WHOLE NOTE. Notes that last for half a measure (two beats of a four-beat measure) are called HALF NOTES. Notes that last only a quarter of a measure (a single beat of a four-beat measure) are called QUARTER NOTES. The “one – two – three – four“ are all each quarter note beats.
An EIGHTH NOTE is half of a quarter-note beat, while a SIXTEENTH NOTE is a quarter of a quarter-note beat (there are 16 sixteenth notes in a measure). And so on…
A TRIPLET is a measure of four beats that have been divided into tjhree beats (actually that is a half-note triplet).
TIME SIGNATURES show how the beats repeat and how fast the beats are. If they feel as if they repeat after every fourth beat, the song is most likely has a time signature of 4/4 (four quarter notes per measure). Waltzes are written with a time signature of 3/4. Some songs are 5/4, 6/8, etc.
Remember that DYNAMICS can occur in rhythms. People will naturally “lay back” or “push” at certain places in a song or a repeating rhythmic groove. Most rhythmic dynamics happen naturally (without notice rather than intentional) and often occurs because a drummer is “leaning” a certain way (or even because they are not yet experienced enough to play with consistency).
For example, a punk rock drummer will tend to play with more energy than calculated thought, and as a result some of the drum hits may be ahead of the exact place they are intended for. This explains why punk rock snare drums are pushing the beat more often than big rock ballad snare drums.
If a certain rhythmic note is important in a style of music, a drummer may unconsciously emphasize that beat by playing it harder, and unless they begin to play the note earlier than they play other notes the extra effort required to play harder may actually cause the note to be hit slightly later, giving it a laid back feeling that can actually make a beat feel heavier. Remember, the drummer may rush to hit that all-important note.
The end result is that naturally performed drum parts WILL contain certain internal dynamics rather than be precise and exact.
Further, there is important emotion expressed in rhythmic dynamics, which is why music made with drum machines that play each element exactly on the beat is often considered mechanical and “unnatural.” To compensate, composers often will add repeating loops of live drumming to their machine drums in order to add the missing rhythmic dynamics.
Drum loops can be tricky. A drum loop is a repeated drum phrase (usually one or two bars in length). Many drum loops contain rhythmic dynamics, and certain drum hits will be slightly off time.
When using several drum loops, it is possible to create moments when drum parts are slightly off time in different directions. This can go beyond a rhythmic “smudge” and sound (or feel) like a mistake.
People who use multiple drum loops often shift their relative positions to minimize blatant problems. Then again, many people just don’t care, and simply throw things together until it kind of sounds cool as their compositional process.
Harmonic Elements are tonal and have pitch.
Sound waves create PITCH (TONE). The faster the sound wave, the higher the pitch. When a sound’s pitch increases until it is a perfect multiple of the starting pitch, the note has a similar but higher sound. This is called an OCTAVE. The pitch differences between octave points are mapped out into different SCALES.
Most cultures around the world use scales that have been made up from specific subdivisions of an octave. Some scales have developed along with regional musical instruments. There are “primitive” tribes that do not use a standard scale system at all (each tribe member tunes their instrument so it plays a note that sounds good compared to the chief’s note even if it clashes with another tribe member).
Western music is based on scales and chords made up from notes along those scales. There is a great amount of musical emotion in different combinations and sequences of musical notes, and in the way instruments approach and trail away from notes. Consider the emotions expressed in a human voice, saxophone, blues harp, violin, guitar or other instruments that play between notes or approach notes from above/below.
Instruments such as piano get additional expression from dynamics, because the sound changes along with the volume as you play harder.
In Bulgaria there is a choral group that specializes in singing MICROTONES (tones between standard notes). The chords made with microtonal notes have more varied expressiveness than chords made with only western scaled notes.
You will encounter various instruments that you will need to record, and record well. Some will be very easy, such as plugging in a bass or a synth. Some will be difficult, such as recording a quiet singer standing between a loud drummer and a Marshall Stack.
It helps to have an idea what the instrument should sound like in the end (which you learn by listening to “model” songs with specific sounds you want to emulate), but also to have an idea of how the instrument actually makes noise. You need to know that a flute projects important sound from the top, and that shoving a mic into an instrument’s hole or flared end is not necessarily the right thing to do.
Reseach any instrument before recording it for the first time. Where does the sound come out? What part of the overall sound will it be expected to fill? Is the instrument a solo sound or part of an ensemble?
These things will influence any decisions you make. Remember to use any pictures or descriptions of mic techniques you see as something to try, not something to automatically do (even whatever you read here).
Talk to the musicians and ask what they usually do to capture “their” sound. Many engineers do not do this, but rather just grunt at the musician while setting up the mic in the same old way. You might be surprised at what you hear, and just the act of asking makes the musician trust you a little bit more.
Take what they say into consideration, and even set up what they usually do as an alternative to compare to if you have the extra mic and fader. Do not forget you’re capturing their sound, which they sometimes know well. Of course, expect the occasional person who sounds one way in their head and another way out their horn.
Walk around and move your head up and down around the instrument until you find a “sweet spot” (please use caution with drums and Marshall stacks).
Choose a microphone that will optimally capture the tonal characteristics you noticed are important when in the sweet spot, such as a bright sounding mic for cymbals rather than something boomy.
Place the mic where you thought sounded good, and move it if needed or if just curious. You can always go back to where you were, especially considering how easy it is to document with cell phone pics these days.
If you’re dealing with a direct plug such as with a bass, synth, computer (etc), you’ll need to make sure you are getting into your system the right way (often through a direct box). That’s it.
Once you have the instrument (from either mic or direct) in your input channel, you can now process with compression and EQ (if needed), and record the sound.
Bruce A. Miller is an acclaimed recording engineer who operates an independent recording studio and the BAM Audio School website.
Church Sound: How To Create A Song Mix Blueprint in Five Steps
Your mixes will come together a lot faster and ultimately sound better
Have you looked at the set list for next weekend? Do you have any idea what songs you’ll be mixing? The standards, right?
A worship team worth its weight in salt (that’s a lot of salt) will be rotating in new songs now and then. The musicians will practice their respective parts, the worship leader will have an arrangement selected, and as a team they will practice the song until it’s good enough for playing for the congregation.
You are the final musician on that team, mixing all of their sounds together into a song lifted up in worship. What have you done to learn that song?
Following are the steps I take whenever I see a new song on the set list. I’ve mentioned before about the importance of getting a copy of the song which the band will be using as their blueprint.
This list goes way beyond that. It’s a way of creating your own mix blueprint. It’s a way of ensuring you are just as prepared as the musicians when you mix the song for the first time.
1. Listen To The Song
Get a copy of the song which band is modeling the style and arrangement. The worship leader will likely tell you something like “we’re doing the 10,000 Reasons song By Matt Redman in the same way he has it on the 10k Reasons album.” You can jump onto Spotify or YouTube and look up the same version, if you don’t already happen to have it in your personal music collection.
Listen a few times to get the general overall song feel. Is it slow or fast? Simple or complex? Does it have a big sound or a “small set” feel? Get the big picture.
2. Create A Song Breakout Order
From the musical side of things, a song is arranged into several common areas. You might think of this as the verses and the chorus. For your blueprint, start with the following six areas. This list can be expanded as I’ll soon discuss, but for now this is the best place to start.
Intro: Song intros can start in many different ways. It can be full on instruments, a slow drum beat, a rhythm guitar, or even a scripture reading over the instruments.
Verse: The verses of a song tend to have the same arrangement but can have a different number of instruments as a means of providing song movement.
Chorus: Choruses, like verses, can have slightly altered arrangements. A common arrangement change is the last chorus being sung without any instruments.
Bridge: Not all songs have a bridge. The bridge is often used to contrast with the verse/chorus and prepare for the return of the verse/chorus. It can have a time change and even a key change.
Instrumental: Instrumental sections of a song can be a few measures or it can be a long passage, depending on the arrangement.
Outro: The outro can have the same variety as the intro or you might have a lack of an outro. For example, the song immediately ends after the last chorus.
3. Listen And Fill Out The Breakout Basics
You know the general feel and flow of the song, now you need to sketch out the basic outline. You will need to adjust your breakout order if you have verse and chorus differences.
For example, the second verse might have a different arrangement than the first verse. If this is the case, modify your notes such as:
Verse 1: Drums come in with only the snare and hi-hat
Verse 2: Full on instruments
Consider this example of breakout notes:
Intro: solo piano with singer reading a passage of scripture
Verse 1: Drums and bass added
Verse 2+: All instruments with only lead singer
Chorus: Backing vocalists used only in the chorus
Instrumental: Piano over other instruments
Outro: Ends with acoustic guitar and piano
4. Listen For The Mix Details
It’s time to focus in on the mix details. Consider this sample of a breakout:
Intro: Piano leads/sits on top of rhythm acoustic guitar w/very heavy overall acoustic feel.
Verse: Drums and bass used in a gentle supportive way. Both instruments sitting far back in the mix. No backing singers. Snare distant in mix.
Chorus: Backing vocalists singing at same volume with lead singer (singing in harmony)
Instrumental: Piano dominates the instrumental, push volume. Piano sounds bright.
Outro: Piano and acoustic guitar with piano ending first and then acoustic guitar finishes the last few bars of the song.
Note: Studio engineer/producer Bobby Owsinski has a short article here on the questions he asks himself on how he wants to create a song arrangement. While he’s focusing on creating the new song for the FIRST time, they are good questions that can be applied to listening to a song as part of your mix prep.
In this step, you are noting where the instruments and vocals sit in the mix. You should have also noted any mix points, like “piano sounds bright.”
You don’t need to write down, “expect a 560 Hz cut on the electric guitar” but you should write enough that describes what you’d expect to mix, if it’s a bit out of the ordinary or worth noting.
For example, in the song 10,000 Reasons, there is a distinct tom hit three times in a row. I heard the tom sound described as having a “tribal drum” sound. That tells me I need it upfront in the mix and how to mix it.
5. Pick Out The Effects
This is the last step in creating your mix blueprint. Listen to the song and look for the ways in which effects are used. Then make a list of the instruments/vocals which have those effects used and describe how they sounded.
For many worship bands, the effects will stay the same throughout the song but if you want to copy an arrangement with effects changes, then go for it.
The Take Away
The musicians put in a lot of time preparing for the church service…and if they don’t, they should. You need to put in time preparing your mixing plans when a new song comes along.
Listen to a copy of the song for the general feel. Create your breakout list with your song basics. Then go back and add in your mix notes.
It’s really nice to stand behind the mixer during practice and look down at my mix notes for a new song. Your mixes will come together a lot faster and ultimately sound better because of your extra planning.
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.
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.