Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Backstage Class: Developing The Sound Of A Rock Show

My sonic vision should be well in line with the way the artist wishes to be presented

Beauty in art revolves around the realization that there is no “correct” way for something to look, sound or feel. I believe this to be also true about the way audio is presented at a rock show. In fact, there’s a fairly wide range of possible sonic footprints which a sound engineer can offer the music to the audience while still maintaining an impressive auditory presentation.

An even bigger challenge is to find a “sound and mix” that optimally compliments the artist’s vision and management’s expectations while fueling audience immersion. So let’s take a look at some of the various factors in play.

First we have the way the artist wants to sound. Awkwardly, the humans that create and play the music rarely get to hear the way their own show actually sounds, so they must rely upon the opinions and reactions of other people. I smile when chatting with a band after the show and they ask me “how did the show sound?” when ultimately it is them who should be telling me whether my mixing skills and choices rocked or not.

The driving force behind the confidence that stage performers gain in their sound engineer’s skills tends to be based heavily on the opinions of band management, spouses and close friends. Concert reviewers, fan club message boards and real-time audience reactions are also very important aspects of the equation. To reach a level of harmonious success as an engineer, it’s important to also be aware of your own personal preferences, biases and opinions.

I’ve developed a bit of a strategy to balance out the sometimes conflicting pressures in order to end up with a mix that is a solid fit. Though I often do not have the luxury of following the complete process, I’ll share the steps here.

Defining Roles
Meeting the band for the first time is like any personal or business relationship: first impressions are crucial. If possible, I’ve already listened to some of their recordings and asked whoever hired me some basic questions. Early on I really want to determine their expectations. Am I helping a young band get their sound dialed in? Am I temporarily filling in for another engineer? What were the issues and assets of my predecessor? Did he/she leave, get fired, or is it just a logistical choice to use an engineer in this geographic region?

It’s pretty much a fact that every band wants to sound as good as they can - but - are they willing to spend some money to hire in high-quality gear to help achieve this? Or perhaps they want me to squeeze better sound out of whatever gear I happen to encounter?

Persuading artists and management to approve an adequate sound budget can be extremely frustrating. One of the methods I use in order to surround myself with the gear I desire is to say, “if you give me the tools I need to do my job, I will make every show sound great.” This is a very powerful statement because it establishes a self confidence in skill.

Further, it institutes a level of accountability and value in that the expenditure will achieve results. If they do provide the gear you ask for, then you must perform, and they get what they truly desire: a great sounding show. Additionally, the more money they spend on the gear you request, the higher their expectations in results will be.

Focus On Playing
Returning now to meeting the band: “Ooh, that’s cool, how long have you played through that amp?” “What did you play through on the most recent album?” “Is there new gear in your setup?”

By asking them questions along these lines, I want to determine how set they are in their stage sounds. Are they happy and comfortable, or flexible and searching for some new solutions?

I don’t like to change the sound of a band on stage, what I want to do is stabilize it. I want to help them create an acoustic environment that works well for them so they can focus on playing the show instead of messing with the gear.

The next adventure is hanging out at some rehearsals. For me, this is the most important interaction. My mode is watching, listening, and wandering. I will stand near each of the players and hear what they hear when playing. For example, I’m more interested in the tone of the guitar amp where the guitar player stands than what is coming from the amp.

And, how similar are the instrument sounds to the recorded material? I make mental notes of any discrepancies and address them later with the artist. Do you prefer the sound on the album or the rehearsal sound? What about the vocal effects? Some album effects are nearly impossible to do live. How much focus should I put on emulating the backwards guitar solo?

Minimize The Changes
Also in evaluating rehearsals, I start building a mental picture of how I think the show should sound. Factors that are taken into account include: Is there a single person that is the driving force behind the band, or is it balanced between two or more members? Which instrument will reproduce the lowest frequencies? Will the kick sit tonally below or above the bass? Will vocal sibilance create breathy high frequencies above the cymbals?

In addition, there are many ways to overlay two guitars. There is the “wrap around” with one mid-range guitar and the other guitar with lower and higher totality and the mids scooped out a bit. There is the “high low” with a heavy chunky guitar and an edgy bright guitar that sort of combine to form a whole guitar sound. And then there is the “overlap’” with both sounding similar and relying on stereo panning and width to offer spatial differentiation. These also can be combined and altered based on the song or part of a song.

A big goal is trying to minimize the changes I actively need to make during a show so that the primary focus is on distilling several “sonic scenes” that suit particular songs or song tempos. Slow songs work well with extended low frequencies, crisper highs, and longer reverb times. Fast songs light up with a tighter kick and bass, as well as more snare bottom.

About Those Levels
I also pay very close attention to volume levels. Experience has taught me that when a band has a well-balanced stage volume, it makes everything else easy.

By well-balanced. I mean that when I stand center-stage and all of the stage monitors are off, I should hear a well-balanced mix of all amplified instruments meshing well with the acoustic drum sounds.

If things are amiss, I open a discussion about refining stage sound, ideally with each player individually. Since there may be past resentments between band members over volume levels, the last thing I want is to be seen as taking sides.

I stay away from suggesting changes in the volume levels of the amps; instead I discuss physical placement distances and tilting upward, inward or outward of the speaker cabinets. Another thing I avoid is directly broaching the subject of turning down amp volume unless I know the artists well and a strong trust has been developed, and further, that there is no doubt that a distinct improvement will be realized.

Quite often, I’ve found that once the artists realize there is a truly functional and logical stage volume to strive for, they will adjust amp volumes on their own. I also try and get each band member and backline tech to stand stage center at some point and listen.

Speaking of backline techs, I can’t count the number of times that a musician would gladly play at a lower volume, yet the tech, in an effort to please, finds turning the rig up as loud as possible to be irresistible. It’s not uncommon for the amp sounds at rehearsal to be quite good and then at the actual show, everything gets turned up and the sound falls apart.

If all goes as planned, working with the musicians and techs will result in dialing up a desirable stage volume. Whether it’s during rehearsals, sound check or maybe directly after a particularly good show, as soon we reach that happy balance, I take photos of all the rigs and the drum set. They provide a great starting point or somewhere to return to.

Second Nature
If permitted, I will also grab a recording of some rehearsals as well. From this point forward it’s all about complete immersion into the band’s music. in my car, at home, and in my headphones while traveling.

My goal is to commit the music to sub-conscience memory. I want it to be second nature, where my hand automatically moves to push a guitar solo. I also start figuring out which songs have backing vocals, and/or unique effects, and whether I hear any other instruments beyond what I’m aware of on stage.

Notes are jotted in my phone, ready to be asked the next time I see the band. Hopefully, whether this process is a day or two months in duration, by show day, I have a strong mental image of exactly where I want to go with the sound.

My sonic vision should be well in line with the way the artist wishes to be presented. The amount of time I’ve spent with them, in addition to demonstrating a high degree of attention to detail, will ideally establish a confidence in my skills so they can focus on purely playing the show, while I can focus on connecting the music created with the audience that desires to experience it.

Dave Rat ( heads up Rat Sound Systems Inc., based in Southern California, and has also been a mix engineer for more than 25 years.

Posted by Keith Clark on 05/13 at 05:06 AM
Live SoundFeatureBlogStudy HallConcertEngineerMixerSound ReinforcementTechnicianPermalink

Friday, May 09, 2014

RE/P Files: An Interview With George Martin At A.I.R. Studio In London

A true legend talks about the creative process, technology, the Beatles and more...

From the archives of the late, great Recording Engineer/Producer (RE/P) magazine, enjoy this in-depth discussion with legendary producer George Martin at A.I.R. Studio London, conducted by William Wolf. This article dates back to the January/February 1971 issue.

William Wolf: What do the letters “A. I. R.” stand for?

George Martin: Associated Independent Recordings.

WW: Has A.I.R. done any independent production locating the talent, etc. as yet?

GM: Yes, but not much. We left our respective companies just over five years ago—three of us left EMI and one left Decca—and we had to do a deal with EMI which lasted five years; in fact, it ended about a month ago.

This was basically an independent deal but it also covered the servicing of artists that were contracted to the company anyway. Obviously the Beatles came under that, and other artists that we handled—there were quite a few. So we had to maintain those artists and so our time for finding other artists was obviously limited.

But at the same time, as the years went by it became more and more difficult to get new artists not because they weren’t there but because the deal that we had with EMI was limited to an overall royalty which gradually became—well, in fact, very quickly became out of date. So that by the time the contract ended we couldn’t possibly hope to secure any artists because we couldn’t offer them any money. We were bound by that and we couldn’t do anything about it.

Now that we’re free we can really look around—sniff the air—which is what we intend to do. But we decided, in fact, before we did that, to build a studio.

WW: Several of the studios I’ve visited in England are equipped, as is A.I.R., to handle visual material as well as audio. Do you feel that there is a potential in integrating the pop music field with visual technology ?

GM: Actually there aren’t all that many studios here that also do visuals. There are far more—fewer sound ones. But the tendency is, of course, to open up the visual side—mainly because, I think, this is inevitably the future. You’re bound to have video recordings; they’re on our doorstep.

WW: What are your feelings about four-channel sound?

GM: We haven’t built it into our boards mainly because it’s a very new development and most people in this country don’t know anything about it. We know about it because we go to your country. I honestly don’t believe it’s a very important development. It’s quite nice, it’s pleasant, it’s a very nice gimmick, but I can not imagine the average person going to the elaboration of fixing up four speakers in their room so that they can hear the ambiance of the concert hall behind them…

You could have circular sound, of course, but when I was introduced to quadrasonic sound, my comment was that if you’re using four speakers the ideal is not one in each corner of the room, but it is three in an equilateral triangle below you and one above you so that you’re in the center of a tetrahedron. Then you’ve really got all-around sound, in all manners—you’ve got up and down as well.

But this is being idealistic and I really don’t think it’s for the average man. It’s very nice, but I can’t imagine Mrs. Jones of Wiggum or in your case Mrs. Bloomfield of Connecticut taking the trouble of fixing up her drawing room or ... whatever you call it ... the lounge with four speakers.

WW: Is there stereo radio transmission in England?

GM: Yes, there is, but it’s very limited. It’s third program stuff; that is, you get classical concerts occasionally broadcast in stereo and occasionally you get stereo record broadcasts. I should think the number of people in England who listen to it is about .001 percent. And also, people don’t listen to radio much anyway. The average man in this country is glued to the television set.

WW: Would you describe what you feel the responsibilities of the producer are on a “rock” date?

GM: Yes. I’m glad you defined that because a producer’s responsibilities do vary an awful lot. For a rock date I think he’s got to get to know the group musically and obviously psychologically he’s got to know the people. He’s got to get into their minds and he’s got to try to find out what they’re trying to express and if he can find out, it’s then his job to realize it in terms of sound. So, his function is not to impose his will upon the group and produce his sound using the group as his puppet, but more to draw out from the group the best sound he can possibly get, and get them to play the best possible music.

WW: Then you feel that sound, as well as music, is a major responsibility of the producer?

GM: Yes. That’s the way I see it. It’s also psychological. I think you’ve got to learn how to get the best out of people find out when they’re going past it and so on.

WW: How would these responsibilities vary for a classical music session?

GM: Well yes, they vary enormously. To begin with, in the classical session, unless it’s chamber music, you’ve only really got one person’s ideas to deal with, and that’s the conductor; and then, from the amount of classical recordings that seem to take place today, it’s more a question of the diplomatic handling of that conductor and trying to get the best out of him rather than the technical details of a good sound.

The classical producers of today, and I’m not calling myself a classical producer, seem to leave everything to the engineer and just act like a kind of ... what shall I say ... host to the conductor. I don’t think they interfere too much musically, which I think is a pity. I think that classical music could be in fact improved by adapting certain pop techniques to it. I wouldn’t mind having a go at recording something classical in a different way.

WW: Would you, for example, use close miking?

GM: Yes. Most classical records are made like photographs of concerts, if you know what I mean—aurally speaking. The ultimate aim is to reproduce as naturally as possible the sounds of the orchestra as created in the concert hall.

Now I think this is terribly limiting. I mean it’s been done, and it continues to be done better and better because engineers and acoustics and recording techniques have advanced enormously. But I think we’re missing out on something. I think that if Beethoven or Bach were alive today, they would call that a very timid approach, and I think they would go back to first base and say, “You’ve got tremendous tools here; let’s use them.” And I think if you go back to the actual music and adopt, really, very modern recording techniques and produce a work of art which is different from what you hear in the concert hall, and not necessarily inferior which most people might think.

WW: Then the rock producer presently has more room for creativity?

GM: Unquestionably. That’s what appeals to me.

WW: (Before A.I.R. Studios were built) Your responsibilities also include selection of the studio and engineer?

GM: Yes.

WW: In recording a rock group, will you attempt to capture a “live” studio performance, or will you construct a recording using, for example, overdubbing.

GM: I’m afraid the latter is true. One doesn’t go for a performance as such in the studio because you know darn well that if you do that there are going to be shortcomings in various other departments. You might get a great vocal performance, and the bass line may not be so great. So, there are various things that you can do-you can go and overdub the bass line if you’ve got good enough separation.

You’ve seen us working recently ... what I was trying to do yesterday, in fact, with Peter, with the whole group, was to try to concentrate on Peter’s performance tying to get something out of him, and then worrying about the rest of it.

But in fact we’ve reversed the process today because we’ve decided that Peter will probably do as good a performance by overdubbing anyway. So we’re going back to first base and concentrating on the actual sound. It doesn’t seem to impair the total result. Most rock recording is done that way today. You obviously get a much better sound on everything; you are able to pay much more attention to detail.

WW: You mentioned before the importance of psychologically understanding the group. Could you be more specific?

GM: It’s just instinct really a kind of sixth sense you build up. You’ve got to get to know people and sense what’s happening.

WW: Would you say that a sense of humor is important?

GM: Oh yes, a sense of humor is terribly important. Absolutely. If you didn’t have a sense of humor on rock dates, then everybody would go sour. I can’t bear people who take themselves loo seriously, including rock musicians.

WW: Do you find that you do a lot of producing during the mix down stage as well as during the recording stage?

GM: It depends on the artist and the record you’re making, and what techniques you’re using. If you’re making a record like Sgt. Pepper, for example, the mixdown is just as complicated, in fact more so, than the original recording because you’re painting a picture in sound and you’re using extra things: you’re bringing in sound effects, you’re distorting sounds, you’re playing with them, you’re soil of shaping them-sculpting them, if you like—and mixing them down at the same time.

So that kind of production is probably more complicated and more important in the mixing stage than at any other time. But if you did that all your life, you’d be spending all your time mixing and none of it recording.

WW: Then it varies greatly from group to group?

GM: Very greatly, yes.

WW: When mixing down, do you physically operate the console, or do you direct an engineer?

GM: Like most producers I like to get my hands on the controls, and it’s wrong. Sometimes I do—sometimes you have to—because sometimes the mixes are so complicated that one pair of hands won’t work. In fact, on many Beatles mixes, we would have the engineer sitting in the middle, me sitting on the right, and one of the guys on the left.

It depends whose song it was—it might be Paul or John or George. And we would all be playing with the faders, the three of us; we would actually be playing a sort of triple concerto. But the snag with that is that you still need someone else to listen because when I’m controlling the controls on a mix, I’m listening for certain things that I’m controlling and I don’t have that essential requirement of being able to listen to the whole thing with absolute impartiality.

So nowadays I tend to get out of that scene and say, “This is wrong. You shouldn’t be handling the controls. You should be standing back and telling people what to do, and listening to the whole thing.” It’s only by being free that you can really see the whole picture.

George Martin and engineer Bill Price

WW: What qualities do you look for when selecting an engineer?

GM: Oh, that’s a big question. First of all, he’s got to be an enthusiastic engineer. I’m very fortunate with Bill (Price); he really is a dedicated engineer. He must be keen on his job, keen on sound, and preferably—and there will be many people who will quarrel with this—preferably without the ambition to be a record producer, because I think that gets in the way of good engineering.

WW: Why is that?

GM: Well, there are an awful lot of engineers who become record producers, which is fine; I’ve got no gripes against that. But I don’t think you can do two jobs at the same time. And there’s always the transition period when the engineer tries to do a bit of production, or goes back to doing a bit of engineering after he’s been a producer. And I think that they lose out because of that. They are two separate jobs and they need detached minds.

WW: Anything else?

GM: He’s got to be good at his job; he’s got to know a lot about recording—that goes without saying. He’s got to know the board, and he’s got to have a good ear. He’s got to have a personality where, without being servile, he makes it plain that he is there, in fact, to serve the group.

He doesn’t have to be a humble person. On the contrary, he must be a person of some authority and some spirit; but he must always give that impression, that he is there to get the best sounds out of people, just as the producer should give that effect.

WW: So you don’t care if the engineer has a musical background?

GM: No, not really; not personally because that should be the job of the producer.

WW: What kind of language do you use to communicate with your engineer? You mentioned to me before that you were non-technical, therefore / assume that you do not communicate in technical terms.

GM: Well, in fact, I do. I’m non-technical, but I still say to him, “I think we need a bit of top at 4,000 (Hz) on that, or try it a little lower down.” When I say I’m not technical, I mean I haven’t any technical training. But you can’t grow up in the recording industry, and go from mono recording through stereo and multi-track, working all the time on boards, without picking up a little knowledge.

WW: Then you feel that the producer should be able to operate the console himself—at least in his head?

GM: I think it helps—anything that gives a greater understanding between people. I think that if my engineer knows that I know what’s going on, then he will respect me more and he’ll work more closely with me. If I don’t know what I’m talking about and I ask him for something that is patently impossible, I’ll lose his respect, and he won’t work so well with me.

WW: Do you prefer to work straight through with one engineer?

GM: I prefer to work with one engineer for a particular job, but I don’t want to work with that engineer all my life.

WW: Many Beatles recordings employ techniques or tricks such as phasing very tastefully. Did the ideas for these techniques come from engineers? Or, to put it another way, do you encourage your engineers to make suggestions?

GM: I certainly would encourage engineers to make suggestions. But in fact, all the techniques we used that you’ve described have come about not because the engineers made suggestions, but because we actually asked for particular sounds.

Phasing came about as a result of experimenting with the automatic double tracking, ADT, which was, in fact, suggested by an engineer, who strangely enough wasn’t a balancing engineer. He was a backroom boy who came forward with this idea. He was an EMI bloke; he’s now in fact running EMI studios, which is nice. And so phasing came about as a result of that—playing with ADT. In most other cases they’ve been a result of personal experimentation in the studio. My experience with spoken word recordings—building up sound pictures without music was invaluable in that respect.

WW: Are there any special considerations that you keep in mind when producing a 45 RPM single release?

GM: Obviously it’s got to be a little more concise than an album track. There are a lot of things which you put on an album, which stand up on an album because they are part of a long scene, which obviously wouldn’t mean anything on a single. In any case, you are making records to a certain extent for a particular market. One is well aware of the nature of the music that is played on the top 100 in the “states”, so you’re obviously thinking of that when you select your single.

WW: Is there any instrument, or instruments, that you consider particularly important, especially with regard to singles?

GM: No, I don’t honestly consider any one thing to be particularly important—I think they’re all important. When I’m doing a recording of a rock group, I do actually, mentally, go through every sound that I’m hearing, saying, “Is that the right sound?” I apply the same devotion to each one. If you miss out on one, you’re not doing your job.

WW: Is it true that the early Beatles records were remixed by Capitol for release in the states?

GM: They weren’t remixed by Capitol; they might have been re-equalized by Capitol. Yes, in fact, I’m sure they were. The story was in those days that American record players were different from English record players, and therefore they had to cut their own masters to suit their own tastes. And they did that; and I didn’t like the results, but I couldn’t do anything about it.

WW: Could you describe the differences in sound between the American and British releases?

GM: I didn’t think they (U.S. releases) were as good. It’s difficult to get a good answer to that one because I was hearing their records on my machine and I don’t know what they would have sounded like if I had heard them on their machines. They may have been alright, but they generally sounded much thinner and harsher than our sound, and less bass certainly.

WW: Early Beatles records were characterized by a particular vocal sound which has been very influential on pop music in general. How did this come about?

GM: Because we had particular kinds of vocalists, really.

WW: You mentioned ADT.

GM: That was a particular sound we put on. You know, once we got over the first hurdle of being a success, they were always looking for something new. They were continually coming to me and saying, “Do something different.”

They were always prodding and trying to push some things out a bit further. John hated the sound of his own voice, which I personally thought was a great voice, and quite often he would come to me and say, “Can’t you do something with my voice; it sounds terrible.” He’d say “I know it is terrible, but let’s do something about it. Don’t make it sound like me,” which was worrying in a way because he expected magic.

I don’t know quite what he was expecting to hear, but it wasn’t what he was producing and consequently we did play about with the voices quite a bit. Sometimes, I think the results weren’t very good, but in a lot of cases they were.

WW: Is it true that Sgt. Pepper was recorded on four-track machines?

GM: Yes, absolutely true. It was done four to four.

WW: Who did the engineering on Sgt. Pepper?

GM: Geoff Emerick, I think he did all of it.

WW: What other Beatles records has he worked on?

GM: I couldn’t give you a catalog—there are quite a few. When we started out, the engineer we had was a guy by the name of Norman Smith. I can’t give you which record he stopped on, but we could find that out easily the facts arc there.

But he came to me one day and said he wanted to be a producer… he was an EMI engineer. . . and did I mind. And I said, “No, fine. Off you go.” He said, “The only thing is, I want to go on engineering the Beatles.” And I said, “Well, now, I don’t think you can do that.” I was very firm, but quite polite, and I said, “If you want to be a producer, that’s one thing and that’s fine. Go and make some good records. I’m sure you can, but I don’t think you can go on engineering at the same time,” which comes back to your previous question.

So he made the plunge and he left and became a producer, and he’s done some extremely good stuff. He made all of the Pink Floyd’s early records. He’s now a staff producer for EMI. But then I had to find another engineer.

Now there were lots of engineers senior to him at EMI, but I decided at that time that I wanted someone very new and young. I’d been looking around—looking for talent, so to speak, and I decided to give the chance to Geoff Emerick, who in fact had done very little recording before. He’d been balancing for six or nine months before I gave him the job with the Beatles. He jumped at that and it was really tossing him over the deep end; but he was marvelous—he came out with colors flying. And after Geoff we used other people as well, but in fact, we brought Geoff back for Abbey Road.

WW: He didn’t, then, work on the Beatles white album?

GM: No, he didn’t.

WW: Would you describe some of the techniques used on Sgt. Pepper, for example on “For The Benefit of Mister Kite”?

GM: That’s really quite simple when you know about it. John wanted a calliope kind of sound. He wanted to get the impression of a fair ground and he played me this song that he’d written, and asked what I could think up to give it that kind of fair ground atmosphere.

And I thought a lot about it, and I decided the best way to do it was to use some of the techniques I’d done with spoken word records. I decided that to get the kind of swooping, steam organ noise he wanted, I got him on one Hammond organ and me on another; actually I think he was on a Lowry and I was on a Hammond.

And we recorded some half speed organ, and I did some chromatic runs with the tremelo on fairly fast over two octaves and then sped them up to double speed. That was one of the things—the swooping noises. But for the background mush, I got lots of steam organ tapes, genuine fair ground organ recordings of all sorts of pieces of music—“Stars and Stripes Forever” and those kinds of things—and cut them into short lengths (of tape) and threw them up in the air, literally, and just told the engineer to pick them up again and join them all together. He thought I was mad.

We played it and of course the result was very cacaphonic. We used that as just a general background, mingling mush, which gave the required effect ... all kinds of funny jumping—some of it was backwards—but it worked.

WW: Beatles records are also characterized by constructive use of echo effects. Do you pay particular attention to echo on your recordings?

GM: The right kind of echo, yes. There’s a tendency these days to use plates an awful lot, in fact exclusively. We have plates here but we also have an echo chamber, which I must confess I haven’t used a great deal yet. But I believe that a good chamber can beat a plate any day. I used chamber mainly on Beatles records.

Actually, we used a combination of chamber and tape, which we called “steed”—I don’t know why we called it “steed”—but it was basically sending the delayed signal by means of tape into the chamber.

WW: Why weren’t any of the engineering teams credited until Abbey Road?

GM: EMI policy, and they didn’t like it even then. (Abbey Road)

WW: Beatles records, especially since Sgt. Pepper, have caused a rekindling of interest in the electric bass. Was bass a particular problem in recording the Beatles?

GM: Paul was always worrying me to get more bass on the records, certainly, and it was my job to try and get that bass on, true. Probably it was the single most worrying factor, of any sound that we produced, because Paul is a perfectionist and even when we got a great bass sound he didn’t think it was very good. Now, you say that we got some great bass sounds, which is nice to know. I’d like you to relay that information to Paul.

WW: I’d be glad to.

WW: Could you describe a technique you used on the bass on Abbey Road, say, for example, “Come Together”?

GM: I think on that particular one we used a combination of direct injection and live sound.

WW: And limiting/compression?

GM: Yes, of course, and also a little bit of echo too. But each sound is treated on its own merits. That’s why we, in fact, got lots of varied sounds, some of which were not so good as others.

WW: The instruments and voices on Abbey Road have a particular clarity and presence that seem to be derived from close-miking or similar techniques. Was directed it in the studio. Everything else was mine. this your aim?

GM: I was aiming for clarity, but oddly enough, it isn’t very necessarily close-mike techniques that provide this. This essence of that clarity that you talk about is the ability to differentiate one sound that is interfering with your bass, for example, then you do something about it. You change it. And I think the clarity comes from having distinguishable sounds anyway.

WW: Then from a production standpoint, if you’re going to have two sounds in the same frequency range, they should be playing approximately the same part, or else they will muddle each other?

GM: That’s right.

WW: Did you do all the horn and string arrangements for the Beatles?

WW: Yes, with one exception. Oh, I certainly didn’t do the “Let It Be” one, which Phil Specter did. I was quick to disown that. There was one exception; it was one of the string ones, which an English arrange did. He gave us the score because I wasn’t around at the time and Paul wanted it done very quickly. Mike Leander it was on one title. He gave us the score and I directed it in the studio. Everything else was mine.

WW: Do you think that you’ll work with the Beatles again, or any of he Beatles?

GM: In the answer to the first question, I think it’s possible if the Beatles ever work together again. As to the individual Beatles, I don’t know. Each one of them is very talented, two of them in particular, in fact George, John, and Paul are obviously more talented than Ringo.

All four of them are very talented anyway, but none of them is as strong as the four of them together. The four individual parts were not as great as the entire whole. The Beatles, four people together, did something that nobody else had ever done before, and the fact that they’re not together I think is a very sad thing.

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

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

Our sincere thanks to Mark Gander of JBL Professional for his considerable support on this archive project.

Posted by Keith Clark on 05/09 at 05:14 PM
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In The Studio: A Small Change To Cut Mixing Time In Half

Article provided by Home Studio Corner.

Do you struggle with mixing? Does it take you forever to be happy with a mix? If so, you may be falling prey to a very common and very preventable problem.

I recently picked up a new mixing gig for a client. The songs are full band arrangements, and they are very well produced. There are a few tracks here and there that aren’t recorded as well as I would like them to be. Even so, I’m finding myself mixing these songs much faster than I expected.

Why? Because I am not trying to be a magician. The key to mixing quickly (and this is so important) is to understand what you can and can’t do as a mix engineer.

I’m not talking about what you personally can or can’t do. I’m talking about what is actually possible in the mixing phase. So many people wrestle with mixes in vain, not realizing that they are really having a problem with the recording, not the mix.

You can’t make a recording sound wildly different from what’s actually recorded. You can’t take a country arrangement and turn it into death metal with a bunch of fancy mixing tricks. It just doesn’t work that way. The song will sound like the song sounds, regardless of how you mix it.

Your job as a mix engineer is to enhance the recorded material. That’s it.

Your job isn’t to change it. Your job isn’t to fix it. Your job is simply to enhance it.

If you find yourself spending hours on end trying to alter what was recorded to suit your needs, give up now. It will never work. Listen to the tracks, pick a direction, and go. Don’t wrestle with the mix.

The sooner you develop a deep understanding of what is possible during mixing and what is not, the faster you will be at mixing.

If the mix isn’t the best-sounding mix you’ve ever heard, there’s a good chance it could never be the best-sounding mix you’ve ever heard, because you’re not working with the best-sounding tracks you’ve ever heard.

My best mixes are of songs where the recorded tracks themselves were very good. My worst mixes are the ones where the recordings are very bad.

It really is that simple.
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.

Posted by Keith Clark on 05/09 at 10:42 AM
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Wednesday, May 07, 2014

NEXO Hosts First STM Series Owners Conference

An international crowd from 16 countries made the trip to Paris, representing 22 of the first rental companies to adopt company's new flagship PA technology

Two years after NEXO first unveiled the STM Series modular line array system, the company hosted its first-ever Owners Conference.

An international crowd from 16 countries made the trip to Paris, representing 22 of the first rental companies to adopt NEXO’s new flagship PA technology. The group included five new system owners, yet to be announced, from Germany, U.S., Canada, India and China.

NEXO’s concert sound team encouraged the STM owners to share their experiences with the system in a wide range of musical applications, from simple acoustic jazz concerts to one of the top-grossing concert tours (Kenny Chesney) in the U.S. With owners reporting on several events attracting upwards of 120,000, STM is justifying NEXO’s claim that it will perform as a large-format system as well as scale down for smaller, more intimate shows.

Following a presentation on the latest developments of the system by NEXO technical director Francois Deffarges, the owners were invited to an exclusive listening session in the “NEXO meadow.” And, the company notes that further additions to the STM suite of products are in development, designed to add further versatility.

Yamaha Commercial Audio

Posted by Keith Clark on 05/07 at 09:05 AM
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Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Church Sound: The Nature Of Soundcheck And Building A Mix

Who is soundcheck for, anyway? Sounds like a silly question, at least until you start talking with the worship teams and tech crews at a lot of churches. Then the realization begins that in fact there are some different perspectives floating around out there. 

From my perspective as an audio engineer, soundcheck is not the process of setting up the microphones or making sure that everything is working properly, and it’s not a time for the worship team to rehearse its music for the day.

Rather, soundcheck is what happens in between those two processes, a time of mutual benefit to the tech crew, musicians and singers. You can actually divide it into three parts – the technical phase, the vocalist/player phase, and the worship team phase. 

In the first part, the sound team refines the gain structure and the sound character of each individual instrument and vocal. This process allows the mixer to work out any last moment problems that might occur with the gear, like a mic cable that starts to fail, or a dirty connection in a patchbay that finally shows up. (And you thought it only happened to you!) 

Once the console settings are at a good starting point from which to build the front-of-house mix, the musicians can begin to ask for refinements in their monitor mixes. With the players content with their monitor mixes, the vocalists can start to refine what they’re hearing as well. 

What I call the worship team phase involves everyone. It may help to understand that I consider the tech crew, the musicians and the vocalists all to be equal members of the worship team. Each member is offering up their gifts to God, and it only comes together when everyone in the team gives it their all for Him. This final part of soundcheck allows the musicians and vocalists to start rehearsing their songs while the tech crew begins to rehearse their mix.

In every rehearsal, the vocalists make subtle adjustments to how they’re going to sing their parts, even changing who takes which harmony part. The keyboard player locks in on which chord inversions he/she plans to use, the guitarist works out chords and begins to add stylistic nuances to the sound, and so on. The musicians have a right to know that all of the work they’re doing so carefully will be heard in a balanced musical mix for the congregation.

Getting The Whole
What many musicians and vocalists don’t understand is that there are a great many subtle adjustments that the tech crew can do as well with the mix that will accent and enhance what the musicians and vocalists are doing on stage.

That cool guitar line should be heard in proper perspective in the mix. That one bass guitar riff that only happens once, coming out of the bridge, needs to be heard. Adding a slight flanging effect to the backing vocals only during the chorus can really make the parts jump out.

Fitting a single-repeat echo on the worship leader’s part in just a couple parts of the song, or even just a couple of words in the song, works incredibly well if it’s placed right in the same tempo as the song.

The only way that the sound mixer is going to know that those parts exist, understand how those refinements can and should fit in his mix, and be prepared to pull off whatever is necessary to make it work each time the song is played, is through careful listening and time – lots of it.

There have been many times when the players and singers decide they’re confident that they know the song and move on to the next, or decide to take a break, and I’m left there hanging, only partly done creating the sound that I was going for. Understand that this is a two way street.

I can’t expect someone playing an electronic keyboard, for example, to play for me so I can work with the front of house sound, without them being able to hear some of that keyboard sound in the monitors. Yet I can’t properly set the gain structure for that instrument without having them play the instrument.

A question I often get asked is which do I set first – the front of house mix or the monitor mix? And the answer, of course, is both. The problem is when the player expects the sound of the keyboard to be perfect in level and sound character from the first note. Perhaps shock therapy would work in these cases! 

Building The Mix
If the worship music style includes a rhythm section or a number of instruments, then the soundcheck allows the mixer to start building the mix. Each sound tech may use a different approach to building the mix. Personally, I like to build in blocks, working with one input at a time.

In other words, I’ll start with the kick drum, then the snare, check to see how they work together, then add the rack toms and floor tom, then finally include the hi-hat and cymbals. Then I’ll work with the bass guitar sound, check it with the kick and snare, and then check how the bass guitar and the full drum kit fit together. 

Once I’m confident that I have a solid foundation upon which to build the mix, then I’ll move to the keys, guitars, other instruments, then backing vocals and finally the worship leader. My process can frustrate a worship team that wants to hear something consistent on stage during the soundcheck because I’m frequently pulling things up and down in the front of house mix as I work my way through it.

While this doesn’t affect their monitor mix, they can certainly hear the front of house changes from their location on stage, and those changes can be disconcerting.

Necessary Components
But from my perspective, the soundcheck is mine. It’s my time to use as needed. It’s the period when my needs to get the FOH mix together have to come first, and I have to be in control of how we use that time.

That may sound selfish, but it’s a necessary component if we’re going to achieve technical excellence together. 

Once we enter the rehearsal time then the playing field levels out and the needs of the tech crew and the players/vocalists are equal and should be worked out together. 

Another approach voiced by several seasoned sound mixers is philosophically the opposite of my approach. They prefer to keep all of the instruments and vocals up in the mix at all times so that any EQ choices or level changes can constantly be evaluated as a whole rather than individually. That’s a tremendously valid point, and I would simply say go with what works for you. 

I can easily see the players and singers jumping to the defense of this second approach since it supports their desire for more consistency during the soundcheck. However, the reality is that neither approach will necessarily deliver a better end result than the other.

On top of that, those on stage aren’t the ones mixing, and they aren’t the ones who will catch the heat if things don’t sound great, so each individual sound mixer has to use the approach of building a mix that works best for them. 

I will say that I’ve found myself in recent days virtually forced by exceedingly short soundcheck times to keep the full mix up and learn how to achieve the results I’m looking for quickly and accurately without having the luxury of isolating individual parts, at least not to the degree that I’m used to doing.

Enjoy The Process
The soundcheck is a handshake, if you will, between the tech crew and the worship team. The end result should be one of joyful abandon during a worship service.

Yes, it’s O.K. for the tech crew to enjoy the worship service as much as the worship team. I can’t exactly throw my head back, close my eyes and worship God like the vocalists might be able to do. If I do, I’ll likely miss a cue or create a problem. But that doesn’t mean that I can’t have fun and enjoy the process. 

The bottom line is to help you engage in a conversation between the worship team and tech team that will help all come to an understanding and agreement about the objectives of a soundcheck.

I’ve witnessed worship teams say things to tech crew volunteers and production staff that, shall we say, they wouldn’t have said if Jesus were standing there. I’ve also been around worship teams and tech teams alike saying stuff about the other “side” that they shouldn’t have been saying. 

When you get down to the bottom of all that strife, it generally turns out to be a lack of understanding. Some music pastors and many musicians and vocalists think of the tech crew as subservient to them.  Unfortunately some tech crew leaders think more highly of their efforts than they should as well.

The reality is that every one of them needs to come to the understanding that they’re all in this together, that each musician, singer, worship leader, sound tech, lighting tech, video graphics tech, and so on are all equal members of the same team, striving together toward a common goal. 

Why am I so hot on this topic? Because through our ChurchSoundcheck discussion group ( and through my work as a consultant to churches, we hear about this kind of strife happening every week.

We often find ourselves counseling or at least consoling some embattled tech guy, music pastor or player. We even hear from musicians who are tired of tech guys beating up on the players and singers.  It doesn’t have to be that way. Our time on this planet may be short. Jesus may be back sooner than we think.

I would suggest that it’s way past time that we lay down our petty personal goals - let’s learn to enjoy our time of worshipping together. It’s an honor to serve the needs of technical excellence for great players, singers and music pastors. It’s no fun when those individuals are full of themselves and acting like idiots. I’ve worked with both. 

I’ve looked, and can’t find anywhere in the Word where it says that we’re supposed to be at odds with one another during a worship service. So let’s choose to worship God together and get on with the task at hand. 

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

Posted by Keith Clark on 05/06 at 02:12 PM
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Monday, May 05, 2014

Church Sound: Why Doesn’t My Mix Sound Right?

Be organized and structured when building a mix -- random mixing leads to random results...
This article is provided by Behind The Mixer.

“I’ve done this before, I’m not an idiot,” I thought while making the third pot of coffee in three minutes. 

The first time, I put in the coffee grounds but forgot the filter. The second time, I’d rather not publicly discuss. Let’s just say hot water sans coffee. I’ve made hundreds of pots of coffee, usually while barely awake. Why was time different?

Similar to making coffee, mixing can become second nature; set the gain, blend the volumes, blend vocals, clean up an instrument’s signal, etc. 

But then it happens. Mixing the same song for the 10th time, with the same band, with the same arrangement, wearing the same lucky socks, and the mix doesn’t come together. I’ve been there, without the lucky socks.

There are two paths to resolving mix conundrums. But first, before attempting either, walk out of the sanctuary for five minutes so your ears can re-boot.

1. Isolate, Isolate, Isolate

—Check the channels. The mix may not sound right because of a single channel or multiple channels. Mute a channel, listen for impact, and then un-mute and move to the next channel. If the problem is related to a single channel, this method will identify it.

—Kill group and board-wide effects. Gates, compressors and other effects can be applied to groups or a board-wide mix. Turn off these features one at a time. Listen to the mix difference.

—Look for cross-channel conflict.  A mixing rule of thumb is each instrument/vocal should own their defining frequencies. Two channels should not be competing for the same defining frequencies. I’ve inadvertently boosted the same frequency area in two different instruments. It wasn’t until reviewing the changes that I realized my bone-headed mistake.

2. Rebuild From Scratch

Turn off effects; reverbs, compressors, gates, etc. Re-set channel EQs. Push faders to unity and check all channel gains. Think clean slate. Balance the channels so instruments and vocals sit in the right spaces. Clean up channels; notch out those offending frequencies.

From here, use YOUR standard mixing process.  For example, add in gating before setting channel EQ’s.  Or, set the channel EQ’s and then use gating. Use your standard process.

I work slower when rebuilding a mix and believe that contributes to fixing my original problem. As math teachers the world over say, “Go slowly and check your work.” And if they didn’t say that, well, they should have said it.

The Take Away

Sometimes a mix doesn’t come together. The problem can be a single mis-mixed channel, conflicting channels, group or board-wide problems, or a foundational mixing mistake. 

Isolate the potential problem area and listen for a dramatic difference. Once the area is identified, work on a solution. If that doesn’t work, rebuild the mix.

Just make sure to first reset your ears by spending five minutes outside the sanctuary—this cannot be emphasized enough.

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

Posted by Keith Clark on 05/05 at 12:47 PM
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Setting The Pace: Thoughts On The Power Of Leadership

Whether you’re a mix engineer, system tech, technical ministry leader or a member of a sound crew, some universal concepts apply to success in leadership. Attitude probably matters more than anything else, along with what we can bring to the table regardless of our job titles.

Here’s my list of eight things we can do to improve the results of any project through good leadership.

1) Personally accept responsibility when something goes wrong, even if someone else caused it. You don’t have to flat-out say “It was my fault,” but rather, “Let me get to the bottom of that” works well. Then make it right, without a fuss. We’ve all been burned when something was done incorrectly by someone else, but it’s how we recover that matters.

2) Assign praise for a job well done to the team. You may have just mixed the best show of your life, but when the compliments come, be sure to explain how the system tech is the best in the business, how the monitor mixer helps the talent perform their best, and how the house crew went above and beyond. (It doesn’t hurt to add how great the band is.)

3) Don’t punish the entire team for an individual’s issues. It’s a fairly common practice for managers to mass email or conference call about a problem. But if someone makes a critical mistake, shows bad judgment or is performing poorly, take it up with them privately. Belaboring an individual issue with everyone wastes their time and can be demoralizing.

4) Motivate by setting goals – some possible, some perhaps impossible. Having purpose and direction is important, whether the goal is large or small. And we often find out what we thought was impossible actually wasn’t. One of my favorite quotes of all time is from General George S. Patton: “Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.”

5) If you’re a manager, review the performance of team members regularly, either formally or informally. Discuss prior goals and whether (or not) they were reached, and set new goals. Be honest about the person’s progress and what areas need improvement. Even if you’re not in a management role, keep in mind that being a mentor to someone less experienced is an invaluable service requiring only two willing parties and the correct attitude in both.

6) Don’t interfere with someone’s work if it’s just a matter of opinion. This is where ego can get in the way. On one hand, we usually want things done a certain way, and for some of them, it’s important. There are time-tested methods for coiling cables, for instance. But other things can be done differently and it’s OK as long as the work gets done to the proper standard of quality. Team members allowed to make their own decisions gain confidence and take ownership.

7) Do something special for your team on occasion, and unexpectedly. Buy everyone breakfast burritos or pick up the tab for a round of beers after work. No need to be corny, but saying something like “I just wanted to say thanks for all of the things everyone does. This is a great team and I’m proud to be part of it” can really boost morale. Again, it doesn’t matter if we’re the lowly tech repairing XLR cables all day or the person who owns the company; it’s an act of beneficial leadership.

8) Lead by example. Ever met anyone who appreciates arm-chair quarterbacking? Me neither. Inspiration is drawn from people who are first in the fight and last off the battlefield. Over time and as our roles change, our actions change too. There comes a time when we might not be physically able to push cases up a ramp or lift monitor wedges. Yet there are still ways to lead from the front lines to show that we aren’t phoning it in.

Showing respect to everyone on the team is a good start, and keeping up on our technical skills and systems practices is a great way to dazzle the young whippersnappers. They may have grown up with iPads and DSP-based sound systems, but us old folks can still show them a thing or two, while having fun doing it!

And the next time you’re in Albuquerque, the breakfast burrito is on me.

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

Posted by Keith Clark on 05/05 at 11:21 AM
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Friday, May 02, 2014

Church Sound: Putting Together A Broadcast Mix

Effective approaches for mixes that leaves the building, whether via actual broadcast or internet delivery...
This article is provided by ChurchTechArts.

As more churches put their entire services online, the need for a quality broadcast audio mix becomes more critical.

By “broadcast,” I’m referring to a mix that leaves the building, whether by actual broadcast or internet delivery. It could also be the same mix sent to the lobby, overflow rooms and other areas.

Why not use the main mix? While it’s technically possible to just take the L/R mix from the console and send it to video, the result usually isn’t ideal. This is true for several reasons.

The first – and biggest – issue is dynamic range. In a typical modern service, you’re likely to have 30-plus dB of dynamic range in the room. That sounds great – in the room. But on a laptop or in a cry room, people will be reaching for the volume control. A lot.

The second issue is the contribution of ambient sounds. There may not be a lot of drums in the main mix because they’re are already pretty loud in the room. (I hate seeing a video shot of the drummer when I don’t hear any drums.) The same may be true for guitars. Smaller rooms are more prone to this problem, but it’s an issue for everyone at some level.

Finally, the main L/R mix doesn’t have much, if any, ambience in it. Without some sense of what is going on in the room, the mix will feel dead. We’re not capturing sound in a studio; we’re in a live worship setting. Thus we need to hear people worshiping.

There are several ways to arrive at a good broadcast mix.

Use The House
This is the easiest approach, but for the reasons mentioned above, it’s also the least effective way to do it. Some house microphones could be fed to a matrix to add some ambience, but that means a lot of the aforementioned dynamic range. Subsequently running it through a compressor will likely make the music feel squashed. There are leveling products available and they work “OK,” but there really are better ways to go about it.

Dedicated Console
Some would argue this is the best way to get it done. A separate console is set up in another room with access to all the inputs from stage. A split – either analog or digital – provides all of the inputs the house console sees. An operator mixes these together with complete freedom with processing, mixing and effects.

Stems are an alternative when a full split and large broadcast console aren’t in the budget. The broadcast position might get a set of mono or stereo mixes: drums, guitars, keyboards, vocals, speaking mics, playback channels, etc. The broadcast engineer mixes and level-balances these stems while adding in some house mics. It’s a good way to go, though it does eat up groups or auxes on the house console.

The downside is that another console is still needed, as well as a room and an operator. For some churches, staffing another mix position is tough to do. But there is another approach.

Hybrid Mix
This method is like a board mix, but it does differ. Basically, it involves taking the inputs and splitting them up into groups. These groups don’t go to the main L/R bus, but rather, feed into the matrix mix of the console.

Inside the matrix, they’re combined at the proper level so that when they come out, it feels right. We’ll talk more about that in a bit.

How the inputs are arranged into groups will depend on the band and your equipment. Currently, I’m using two mono and three stereo groups, and I also add several direct channels for walk-in music and audience mics. The beauty of this approach is that each element of the service is level-balanced to the correct perceived volume.

Different processing is also available at each stage of the mix. This provides more control and keeps the processing more transparent.

Design Goals
I had several goals in seeking to create a high-quality broadcast mix. First, I wanted it to sound good, even when I’m not mixing FOH. Second, the process has to be pretty seamless, and must work regardless of who is at the console.

Third, I wanted to create an accurate representation of what’s happening in the room – capturing the live energy is important to me. Finally, I wanted to do as little post production on the mix as possible, and doing the hard work up front helps in achieving this goal.

These groups (on a DiGiCo SD8 console) form the basis of the author’s broadcast mix.

In The Grouping
What follows is my approach, which I offer here to get you thinking. This is descriptive, not prescriptive. The worship team splits into two groups, stereo band and stereo vocals. I typically add an extra 1-2 dB on vocals, which helps them stand out on video. I also do a little compression on each group.

A mono speaking mic group includes the pastor, plus any interview or announcement mics. Another stereo group handles playback of videos and the occasional Skype interview. A recent addition is what I call “Worship Leader Speaking.” When the leader talks during the worship set, it’s usually a lot quieter. This works in the room but feels (sounds) weird on video, so this mono group gives a little boost when they talk. Snapshots or macros are used to get those inputs in and out of the group.

Finally, a stereo pair of mics in the house picks up the audience and some ambience. The walk-in music playback channel is also routed straight to the matrix at the appropriate level. Because it’s post-fade, our opening transition is now cleaner.

On The Level
As noted earlier, it’s not uncommon to see a dynamic range of 30 or more dB (SPL) in a typical service. Speaking mics might run in the mid to high 60s, while music may be anywhere between the mid 80s to the low 100s (all dB SPL). The matrix mixing approach is designed to narrow that gap.

The initial temptation will be to balance out all of the various groups so they meter the same. So let’s say you want to hit the recorder at -12 dB FS (full scale). You’ll be tempted to set the levels for the music first, then dial up the speaking mic group until it hits -12 dB FS. But if you do that, the pastor will likely feel too loud.

That’s because in the real world, we don’t experience music and talking at the same volume. So don’t make them the same on video. Close is OK, but speaking will have to be less. I usually shoot for the speaking to be somewhere between 6 and 12 dB lower than the music, but that’s just a starting point. You have to listen to it and make adjustments accordingly. It has to feel right, not just meter right.

So that’s a little glimpse into my process. Next time I’ll share some of the “secret sauce” that has taken the mix from good to even better.

Mike Sessler is the technical director at Coast Hills Community Church in Aliso Viejo, CA. He has been involved in live production for over 25 years and is the author of the blog Church Tech Arts.

Posted by Keith Clark on 05/02 at 12:01 PM
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Barbarians At The Industry’s Gate?

This article is provided by Commercial Integrator

Unless you have been on a hermit retreat over the last few weeks, the stories of Microsoft coming to InfoComm (as a platinum exhibitor, no less) and Google buying Nest have caused quite a stir. There has been a significant amount of press and commentary raft with innumerable theories and pronouncements on how these companies will play out in the industry.

Barbarians at the gate?
There is a bigger change lurking underneath it all, a change which is already altering the fundamentals of the consumer electronics industry and now may be coming to the integration market.

In the short term we should not expect a “barbarians at the gates” scenario. Any feared/desired shift in the paradigm is a few years off yet and depends wholly on whether or not these two behemoths can actually get their act together. Let’s be honest, neither has had a very good track record in building hardware.

But do they need to be?
Making hardware is, well, hard. Ask any manufacturer and you will learn in fairly quick order the margins on a product are slim. Unless the production numbers are in the millions, the return on investment can be a long time coming. This need to squeeze every last profit pushes companies to extend the life of a line of products even when the architecture around it has completely changed.

The demand is for nimble and turnkey units which can respond to emerging technologies and the fickle finger of consumer desire. Traditional hardware development cannot compete and, in the eyes of many, should not be the goal.

Where is the innovation and profit? Inside sir, inside.
Many in the venture capital sector who specialize in fostering technology startups eschew companies who focus on developing hardware, often requesting they drop the box and focus on the delivery of services and interface. The integration community will soon see a host of offerings where established industry manufacturer’s OS are the engine of a device they did not make.

Hardware is becoming disposable with a lifespan that can often be measured in fiscal quarters. What will the system of the, near, future run on? The rise of soft tools have begun to create a universality and with it an expected, interoperability and accessibility to the internal workings.

One only has to look to the remarkable rise in popularity and project complexity of single board computers and microcontrollers. The movement is not just among hardcore techies, it has achieved a broad base interest across a demographic swath from student to seniors. The hardware is simple, connectable and inexpensive because it is not the point; it is an end to a means.

Make it your own, not DIY
Whether offered as a turnkey package or assemble as you go, the era of click, click, connect the bricks systems are here.

It has been argued that today, everyone must know a little code to succeed, if at minimum how to copy and paste components together to enable a function. While this, as a truism, is not yet ubiquitous we are well on our way to the new literacy.

Resistance to this notion is, as they like to say on Wall Street, working its way out of the system as the suites become simpler and those who do not do age out. This is not DIY versus custom integration. Rather, we are witnessing the rise of make it your own. We are growing from comfort with the interface to confidence in customizing and the expectation of deep control over a device operation.

Brand loyalty is dead, long live loyalty
If all roads lead to the demanded interoperability, then it stands to reason brands and customer loyalty to them will diminish. What Microsoft and Google would hope to gain is the hearts and minds of the mass midmarket client. While initially this could generate interest, they are setting themselves up for the great undoing.

While Apple may have fostered a cult-like following, it has been faltering as of late. Microsoft may attempt to follow with a proprietary network of devices, but this will be against the demand of the public. Loyalty will belong to those who can provide the services.

Many in the custom integration world will see this as a prime example of convenience or death culture catering to the lowest common denominator. There is some truth to this criticism, but it is unclear if decrying weak interface design and lauding the benefits of a properly constructed infrastructure will sway the rivers course.

Loyalty will be had by those who can integrate the work-home-in between into one flexible and secure offering. Will this latest invasion of consumer electronics into integration change us completely or provide a few lessons to grow on as it finally retreats from empire building?

George Tucker, CTS, is engineering coordinator for Worldstage and co-founder, producer and personality for

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

Posted by Keith Clark on 05/02 at 10:09 AM

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Making The Leap: Becoming An Independent Mix Engineer

Almost every aspect of evaluating, selecting, operating, and maintaining sound reinforcement gear has been thoughtfully proposed and dissected in these pages over the years. So in this series, we’re instead going to explore topics having to do with the human element in sound reinforcement, and are fortunate to have journeyman mixer Dave Natale to offer some guidance.

Our first topic, viewed through Dave’s personal experience, is transitioning from sound company staff to an independent mix engineer.

After working 20-plus years at Clair Global, Dave worked with a considerable stable of popular entertainers at front of house, including Tina Turner, Joe Cocker, Lionel Ritchie, Stevie Nicks, and Yes. He’d successfully climbed the ladder at Clair, determined the type of artists he preferred, and no longer wished to accept tours without sufficient notice.

Further, his two daughters were growing up quickly; he preferred to be at home more with his kids. He was at a crossroads of his personal and professional lives, and taking the leap to independence would offer him the opportunity for more control over his work as well as a more fulfilling family existence.

Handling The Transition
“At one point as an employee I was asked to go out and mix a band with absolutely no advanced warning, and I was home and planning to stay home for a few weeks,” he recalls. “It would be awkward for Clair to tell an account they couldn’t provide the services of one of their employees, and they’d always been very good to me, so I didn’t care want to put them in a bad position.

“Yet I’d been thinking about working for myself for a while and decided to make the leap, respectfully resigned from the company, passed on the tour, and stayed home with my girls. I wanted to have autonomy to control my own schedule, and from that point forward I worked for myself, relying on the good graces of my clients.”

“Transitioning from staff mixer to independent engineer depends primarily on your success working for a sound company,” Dave adds. “You must have a certain amount of accounts before you go independent, and hopefully you keep most or all of them once you go on your own. If you’ve done a good job there’s no reason they shouldn’t use you, and it goes from there. The rest usually comes from word of mouth.

“It’s critical to understands the risks when considering leaving steady employment. There ‘s a very real chance you may not get work when you need it. And when you’re successful in getting work, there’s a higher tax bill, as you’ll be self-employed. Finally, if you’ve relied on health insurance from your employer, you’ll need to make certain that you and your family are covered.”

Dave’s first independent account was Tina Turner, who he’d already mixed for many years. Her management company called him to go out, like any other tour, and he proposed to work for them directly. “As far as they were concerned, since the cost was about the same, there was no issue,” he notes. “Honestly, there didn’t seem to be much of a difference to me except where the check came from.”

Transitioning from staff to independent offers freedom, but it comes with uncertainty. “Switching from the comfort of a regular salary and the familiar surroundings of a sound company to an independent who has to find his own work and interact with personnel and equipment from a variety of sound providers can be very stressful,” he says.

“For example, when I signed on to work with Lenny Kravitz, it was something altogether new for me. They were using Sound Image, already had a monitor engineer who I didn’t know, and I was unfamiliar with the equipment package. Sure, I knew the console, and mics are mics, but the speakers and system processing took a little getting used to.

“Also, I hadn’t worked with the system engineer, so we had to get to know one another. I really learned to trust the system engineers; they know their gear better than anyone.”

Getting The Gig
As many of you know, Dave now enjoys enviable success as an independent, including mixing for all of the previously mentioned artists in addition to Van Halen, Bad Company, Richard Marx, Boz Scaggs, Liza Minelli, Fleetwood Mac, the Rolling Stones since 2005, and numerous awards shows. He shares an anecdote that provides additional insight into the process of dealing with potential clients.

“When an act that I was really interested in mixing was preparing to go out a number of years ago, they solicited suggestions for independent and staff mixers from the sound companies that were bidding on the tour,” he says. “By that point I’d been independent long enough to have established a working relationship with most of those companies.

“Apparently, my name was on almost everyone’s list. Band management personally knew a bunch of the acts I’d mixed, and I guess they called their counterparts to get some references. Eventually they requested a copy of my resume.

“Normally in these circumstances,” he continues, “you would talk to the tour manager or production manager. In this case, however, I was asked to interview with the band principals on a specific day convenient for them. This is an organization that does their homework, so I assumed they already knew everything about me. I guess they just wanted to vibe me out to make sure I wasn’t some kind of Martian.

“Honestly, I thought I was never going to get to interview because of a prior engagement. I had a direct conflict – I had committed to mix a few shows for a longstanding client, and I was not going to walk out on an account for any reason. But and management were adamant the interview had to be on that day; they kept leaving me messages saying ‘see you Tuesday.’ I kept telling them I had a commitment and would be unable to make it. Finally, I withdrew my name from consideration.

“To my surprise, they finally called to suggest another date. I later learned that management respected my obligation to fulfill a previous commitment, no doubt something they’d appreciate if I was working for them.

A formal interview process with the artist was not something he was used to. “Talking to a tour manager is pretty easy, but when you’re in a room alone with very successful musicians, it can be unnerving. Primarily you’re there to listen, and you must choose your words carefully. When it was my turn to talk I simply played the name association game, mentioning the performers and managers I’d worked with in the past. For many acts, this is very important, and this artist was no exception.

“Honestly, I wasn’t that confident I’d get the job, as I knew that other qualified engineers were also being considered. A few days later management called to give me the good news, which was great, and in retrospect I’m also very glad that I didn’t skip out on my prior commitment.”

This brings us to a word of caution to independent mixers when approached by a new client – if you’ve committed to an existing client, never leave when approached by another act.

“It’s a very small world, and people talk,” Dave observes. “I’m always careful to complete the commitments I make before taking on another assignment, unless previous arrangements have been made and agreed to. Not walking out on a commitment, for any act regardless of stature, is a value to live by in this business.”

Next time: Preparing for – and surviving – the preproduction process.

Danny Abelson has worked in professional audio for more than 30 years, and enjoys writing about the subjective nature of reinforced sound and the human factors that are so critical to a successful event. He is fascinated by where emerging technologies will take our industry and how they’ll impact the guest experience.


Posted by Keith Clark on 05/01 at 05:07 PM
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Bill Whitlock Presenting “Effective Audio Grounding Design” In Chicagoland Next Week

Tutotial to focus on proper audio grounding techniques to keep systems quiet and problem-free

Jensen Transformers president Bill Whitlock is presenting “Effective Audio Grounding Design,” a tutorial focusing on proper audio grounding techniques to keep systems quiet and problem-free, at the upcoming Sound Marketing Tech Expo on Tuesday, May 6, 2014 at Moraine Valley Community College in Palos Hills, IL, just outside of Chicago.

Specifically, Whitlock will present effective audio grounding and signal interface design to keep systems free from hum and buzz. “I firmly believe that the technical concepts in this class are best taught using analogies and intuition rather than complex mathematics,” he explains. “In my opinion, the audio business, especially the audiophile portion, is simply awash in misinformation and bad advice. Therefore, the remedial part of my task is to debunk myths perpetuated as ‘tradition’ among practitioners and as unintentional—but often self-serving—misinformation from manufacturers.”

Whitlock has served as president of Jensen Transformers for almost 25 years, and has also authored numerous technical papers and magazine articles as well as chapters in several books. He lectures at universities and industry trade shows and was named Technical Instructor of the Year by NSCA students in 2009 and 2010. And, he holds five patents and is a Life Fellow of the Audio Engineering Society and a Life Senior of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers.

The expertise Whitlock shares has received accolades from those who have attended his previous presentations. Steve Roth of Michigan-based Roth Electric Sound states, “Even though I’ve been before and drove five hours to hear Bill, I may drive five more hours and go to Chicago to hear him again. I cannot recommend this heartily enough to everyone anywhere near Chicago. This is the absolute shiznit if you wish to understand this subject.”

The session is free of change. Find out more and RSVP here.

The Sound Marketing Tech Expo is also presenting several other technical sessions, including a focus on using digitally steered arrays for maximum speech intelligibility in acoustically challenging spaces, a discussion of differences between the various audio protocols (AVB, Dante, etc.) and design scenarios for each, and more.

Jensen Transformers
Sound Marketing

Posted by Keith Clark on 05/01 at 11:00 AM
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Church Sound: Mixing Like A Pro, Part 8—Listening

In order to mix music well, you must become a fan of all types of music...
This article is provided by CCI Solutions.

Over the past few months we’ve discussed much of the mechanics needed to become a better front of house(FOH) operator and what your mix should sound like. Mechanics and process is necessary, but won’t quite get the mix you’re looking to achieve. One of the most outstanding traits that great pro audio people have is a passion for listening.

We all use our ears everyday to listen, whether to our surroundings, to speech to music. The difference between the average listener and pro audio folks though is the intentionality of their listening. Great audio people listen more carefully and intently. They listen to the nuances of natural acoustical sound, especially sounds that need to be reproduced in a sound system.

To achieve a musical mix, it’s simply not enough to make louder sounds.

Being A Fan
When it comes to music, I find the best FOH people are also some of the biggest fans of music, period. It’s not about knowing one style of music or even one generation of music, but becoming such a fan of music that your musical base includes a wide variety of styles, artists and even decades of release.

Some of the most creative, expressive and artistic music can be found from decades ago. My friend Mike Sessler, a technical director in southern California hosts the podcast Church Tech Weekly that I’m often a guest on, and once we ended up devoting an entire episode with an all-star audio panel to discussing how important it is to become a great fan of music in order to become better at mixing FOH.

I highly recommend listening to the episode, which you can find here.

More Than Listening
While it’s a great thing to crank up the tunes and listen to the artistry of another’s musical creation, great audio people will often dig deeper into the music. Critical listening is a great skill to learn. I can’t tell you how often I’ve had a new instrument to mix into a band setting with little clear instruction as to exactly how to mix them in.

In order to be prepared for every occasion, I often listen to music that incorporates a wide range of instruments, carefully listening to the different ways they sound and can be used in a mix. I apply the same level of thinking when I know I’m going to be mixing a band I’ve never worked with before.

If available, I spend a decent amount of time listening to their own music (or something similar if they don’t have anything recorded) so when I get behind the console I have a good idea of what I want the instruments to sound like and how I want them to interact with each other.

My friend Dave Stagl, audio director at North Point Church in Atlanta, discussed some of the strategies he likes to use when listening to music critically. His list, found here, looks at many different angles of what you are hearing when you listen to produced music.

The difference is instead of listening at the surface of the finished product, spend some time listening with a focus on each instrument. Critically listen to music that is similar to the style of music you mix and listen to the nuances of how the lead instruments blend with the rhythm of the bass and drums, and how the spacing of the music was crafted.

If you’re like me, you’ll find exercising critical listening will help shape your view of how you EQ, compress and mix every instrument.

The Main Idea
Great audio people love great music. By great, I’m not talking simply about high fidelity recordings, but music that moves them and elicits emotion.

After all, we want art to move and inspire us. If we’re going to create mixes that are moving and inspiring, we must be moved and inspired yourself. It doesn’t have to match our personal preference of style, but great musicians and audio folks love getting lost in the artistry of all kinds of music.

If you looked at my iTunes list of music, you’d see every kind of rock there is in addition to pop, folk, gospel, southern gospel, movie sound tracks and yes, even a little bit of country. Many of the artists are well-known, while some are most decidedly not. Some are moving scores from blockbuster movie hits and others simply are independent artists that I felt made great art. And I go through seasons listening to different music.

In order to move, you must be moved. In order to inspire, you must be inspired. In order to elicit emotion, you must experience emotion yourself. In order to mix music well, you must become a fan of great music.

Become a lover of all kinds of music and a frequent critical listener, and I promise you’ll see your mixes improve dramatically.


Duke DeJong has more than 12 years of experience as a technical artist, trainer and collaborator for ministries. CCI Solutions is a leading source for AV and lighting equipment, also providing system design and contracting as well as acoustic consulting. Find out more here.


Posted by Keith Clark on 05/01 at 09:57 AM
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Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Sound In The 70s: Memories Of Mayhem, Mischief & Mishaps

"The reverberation of the hall became the dominant signal as the PA system died..."

Touring around Britain and Europe during the early 1970s was quite a challenge; most bands carried their own public address (PA) system and used it for every gig, as “house PA systems” simply didn’t exist.

Local work crews didn’t exist either so this meant that you and your fellow roadie carried the rig in and out of the venue one piece at a time; the wheel hadn’t been exported to the UK at this time, or they cost too much, and the upside was that you were incredibly fit and agile.

The most popular PA equipment used for touring was made by Watkins Electric Music (WEM) and was used by all the major players, from Pink Floyd to Gary Glitter. As shocking as it sounds today, most national touring acts carried PA systems that were only around 1 kW and used a 5-channel mixer, also some bands were known to carry two of these mixers for a whopping 10-channel mix(!).

The usual circuit in the UK involved clubs, pubs, town halls and universities. The UK has many venues, but they are typically quite small—even the very famous Hammersmith Odeon only has a sitting capacity of around 3,700—and so it can get depressing doing these labor intensive, up the stairs, down the stairs, challenging load-ins for small (but keen) audiences.

About six months after I gave up my budding telecommunications career to join the crew of an up-and-coming band, we got word that we would be on the bill of a 24-hour non-stop rock n’ roll festival at a 10,000-12,000 seat indoor arena in Essen, Germany.

Manfred Mann & Uriah Heep crew, Central Park July 1974. (click to enlarge)

In those days I couldn’t imagine a facility being that big for an indoor concert. Forget about advance production; it simply didn’t happen. Somehow we’d get it sorted on the day.

On the other hand, one of the easier aspects of touring at that time was that there was no portable lighting to get in the way of things, which was just as well because none of the facilities carried the power required for any additional loads. It was challenging enough trying to plug in 10 amplifiers plus the hack line.

The other thing that hadn’t been invented was monitor systems: no monitors, no monitor engineer, no feedback, no grief (I still have the utmost respect for you Davy). Some facilities had rudimentary lighting supported with follow spots.

There were some exceptions to this rule, one of them being a group named Principal Edwards Magic Theatre, a 14-person collective of poets, singers, musicians, dancers, sound and lighting technicians. As I left my dependable telecommunications position behind me, one of the members from another local band from Coventry, Asgaard, said to me, “If ever you are on the same bill as Principal Edwards be sure to give my best regards to the lighting designer.” Sure enough, Principal Edwards was scheduled on the bill for Essen.

Left to right, Mick Whelan, Mick Tucker (Sweet-drummer), Terry Price (Taseo), Hong Kong 1973. (click to enlarge)

How do you do sound for 12,000 when you’re only carrying enough for 3,000? You cooperate, that’s how.

A quick study of the schedule showed that I knew a few of the sound guys from bands playing both before and a little after my band’s slot.

As each of us used WEM systems, linking up was simple. It was common practice on a regular three-act show for each band to use a different system: all three rigs would be set up in position, and as each band finished, their PA was torn down and moved off stage.

In combining our three WEM systems, we would have enough PA for the gig and be able to rent the system to any band that needed it.

One of the headliners was Atomic Rooster, with Carl Palmer on drums. As this was one of my favorite bands, I decided to watch them from the FOH position instead of the side of the stage.

About one minute into the band’s set, the reverberation of the hall became the dominant signal as the PA system died. The soundman jumped up and started checking connections real quick. The audience was getting very impatient, and an uneasy air filled the room (I’d never seen a riot at this stage of my career).

As this was my first overseas gig, I was very nervous about assisting the troubleshooting team; after all, I’d only been in the business for 10 minutes.

The crowd was now getting ugly and the system was the same make as mine so I offered my services. “Go ahead,” said the engineer. Thirty seconds later the rig fired up, the crowd settled down and I saw one of the best bands of the ‘70s play a great set: back to the dressing room to celebrate.

One of the great things about Germany is that great beer is in abundance; it was also free to the crew. Unfortunately food was not free, and if I remember correctly, unavailable. Free beer and no food is not a good combination for a 24-hour festival.

Back in the dressing room, shared between my band and others from the same agency, enterprising musical discussions were taking place. The door opened and a slender male walked into the room.

“Hey,” I said. “Who are you? Are you with Principal Edwards?” “Yes,” the visitor replied, and then he left, only to return a minute later with two cases. I asked him if he was the lighting guy for Principal Edwards, which he affirmed. I asked a series of technical queries but received no response.

“Can you tune a guitar?” he finally asked, handing me a Stratocaster. “Of course,” I responded, when in fact I could not. So I held the guitar, strummed the strings, listened to the notes and pronounced, “this one’s good.”

While I was doing this, he was putting on a black silk shirt with a laced-up neck. I noticed the room had gone quiet—too quiet when a dozen musicians are present. He handed me a second guitar, and I repeated the effort—strum, listen, and pronounce it in tune.

He pushed open the door, held it with his foot, picked up both guitars, and left. The bass player from my band, Pete Becket (more recently with Player) asked, “Mick, do you know who that was?”

“Well, it wasn’t the flippin’ lighting guy from Principal Edwards,” I responded.

Ritchie Blackmore, circa 1977. (click to enlarge)

“Mick,” he replied, “That was Ritchie Blackmore.”

In the span of two milliseconds I went from feeling as good as you can possibly feel (like when you’re mixing a top talent, they do something outstanding, and chills go down your spine) to as bad as you can possibly feel (like leaving the channel muted after a clothing change).  I had messed with the headline act, and in Europe, at that time, no one was bigger than Deep Purple.

Ritchie Blackmore, Ritchie Blackmore—how could I have taunted one of the guitar gods and not known it? This wasn’t fair; there should be a warning label about the dangers of being burned.

But before I actually crashed at the absolute bottom of my world, the door opened slightly, and a black-silk covered arm snaked through the opening, extending an open hand of friendship.

We shook hands and he said something like “Hey, nobody’s given me that much grief in years, thanks.” I exhaled, breathed a huge sigh of relief, and went out front to watch the show. And yes, they were incredible.

Mick Whelan designed and commissioned touring and installed sound systems for more than 30 years, with credits including Rod Stewart, Stevie Wonder, Bob Marley, the Beach Boys, Carole King, and many others. He now serves as the director of U.S. operations for Adamson Systems.


Posted by Keith Clark on 04/29 at 04:10 PM
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Thursday, April 24, 2014

Adamson Systems Promotes David Dohrmann to Technical Director, Asia Pacific

Adamson Systems has announced the promotion of David Dohrmann to technical director, Asia Pacific

Adamson Systems has announced the promotion of David Dohrmann to technical director, Asia Pacific. Previously, Dohrmann had been a senior applications engineer based out of Adamson’s European headquarters.

“David has been an asset to the company since he started here more than three years ago,” explains Brock Adamson, president and CEO of Adamson Systems. “He is an extremely skilled engineer and a great resource for the company.”

In his new role, Dohrmann will help develop sales and provide touring and applications support throughout the Asia Pacific region. Dohrmann graduated with a sound engineering degree from Robert Schumann Academy in Düsseldorf and is in the chair of the live sound section at Germany’s Tonmeister association VDT. He worked freelance in the international touring and event scene before he joined Adamson.

“David’s drive for developing a stronger network in Asia Pacific seems limitless. I am confident that Adamson Systems will continue to expand our visibility in this growing market,” states James Oliver, Adamson Systems’ director of marketing and sales.

“I am very pleased to take this new position. The Asian markets have many highly qualified professionals that are seeking superior loudspeaker systems. Most that I have spoken with hold Adamson’s technology in high regard. I am very excited to work with them and others that are looking for quality sound reinforcement solutions,” comments Dohrmann.

The new position will take effect immediately.

Adamson Systems

Posted by Julie Clark on 04/24 at 12:36 PM
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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Heartbeat Of Home Chooses Shure

Acclaimed New Dance Production Uses UHF-R, PSM1000 for Head-to-Foot Wireless Coverage

Featuring an on-stage cast of 39 outstanding dancers and musicians, Heartbeat of Home fuses Irish, Latin, and Afro-Cuban dance to create an exhilarating theater experience.

Created by a production team led by producer Moya Doherty and director John McColgan of Riverdance, Heartbeat of Home combines exciting, original live music and exuberant dance with state-of-the-art projection and video effects in a celebration of global multi-culturalism.

Production RF Engineer Amir Carmel is charged with the task of managing the show’s considerable wireless needs, and also handles power distribution for the production.

“My background is being a system engineer, which has always included RF and power distribution,” Carmel says. “In the past few years, especially with the loss of bandwidth, having a dedicated RF engineer has become much more important on major productions.

“For Heartbeat of Home, we chose an all-Shure infrastructure for both wireless mics and in-ear monitors. We’ve got 49 channels of UHF-R bodypacks and 16 channels of PSM1000 in-ears.”

The wireless microphone and in-ear systems co-exist with 18 channels of intercom. To help handle the task of coordinating more than 80 RF audio channels, Carmel uses Shure Wireless Workbench 6 and IAS software from Professional Wireless Systems with two scanners. The system, including Shure antenna combiners, splitters, and PWS combiners and helical antennas, is supplied by Cleveland-based Eighth Day Sound.

“I’ve been using the beta version of Workbench 6 for a couple years now,” says Carmel. “It’s very reliable, very sturdy. That’s especially important in America, where we have a lot less spectrum to work with for frequency coordination than in Europe, where we can go up to 790 MHz, which gives us a lot more options.”

The show features several unique wireless applications, the most obvious of which is the miking of the dancers’ feet. A miniature microphone is attached to each foot, with the signals being combined before entering the UR1 bodypack transmitter.

“It’s a proprietary system that we developed for Riverdance,” notes Carmel. “The mics are custom wired and positioned on each dancer’s shoes to minimize cancellation and capture the sound the producer is looking for.”

The production also uses wireless to facilitate stage movement among instruments that are notoriously difficult to mic, or that are not normally mobile. Within the band’s substantial percussion section, for example, one percussion set sports a UR1 bodypack transmitter secured to its stand for quick movement from the band riser to a downstage position.

Similarly, the Irish bodhrán hand drums have UR1 transmitters with miniature microphones secured beneath its frame. There is also a Shure UR5 portable receiver incorporated into the guitarist’s pedal board, receiving the guitar signal from the UR1 bodypack to feed the guitar effects and, in turn, the system’s DI box.

“It cuts the amount of wiring, and so we don’t need to have a rack unit on stage. I have that UR5 receiver frequency copied in my rack backstage for monitoring,” Carmely adds.

The entire wireless installation is networked through Shure Wireless Workbench 6 software, enabling the monitoring of every RF input channel and any IEM mix.

“I have different groups set up for dancers, vocals, instruments, and in-ears, etc., so I can be sure that all the RF inputs are reaching the stage box,” he says. “We monitor battery, RF, and audio for all inputs and outputs, so the monitor engineer doesn’t have to worry about anything but the mix. During the show, we check every system before it goes on stage, including all the dancer and singer mics after costume changes. It’s a very active approach.”

Heartbeat of Home is using 16 Shure PSM 1000 in-ear systems, which are used primarily for the musicians, audio, and backline crew.

“This is the first tour we’ve used the PSM 1000, and, I must say, we are very happy with the RF platform,” says Carmel. “Myself and Steve (Branson, Monitor Engineer), as well as other crew members, use our PSM 1000 receivers in Cue Mode.

“That lets me scroll through all the mixes to monitor. My own in-ear mix is fed from the Cue Out of the Midas DL431 stage boxes for listening to any input channel.”

To optimize reception of the in-ear and microphone systems, Carmel has taken the extra step of customizing the position of each bodypack on each performer.

“All of the musicians on wireless have two packs, one receiver and one transmitter, and both the distance between the packs and their positions in comparison to the antennas can affect reception,” he explains. “So, each performer has a personal belt with the packs positioned for where that individual will be on stage relative to the antennas.”

The production team is constantly looking for other ways to fine-tune the show.

“We experiment, trying new ideas to help the flow of everything on stage,” says Carmel. “We are looking into adding more Shure UR1M micro bodypacks for both instruments and performers, and we were recently testing a Shure Axient system for a possible future upgrade. I’m also looking at moving the comms to higher or lower spectrum in order to free that frequency range for the RF mics and IEMs.”

With the critical success that Heartbeat of Home has garnered in Ireland, China, Canada, and the U.S., the production appears to be headed for a long life.


Posted by Julie Clark on 04/23 at 12:47 PM
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