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Roundtable: Productive (And Often Fun) Pursuits Within Current Circumstances

A panel of audio professionals (many of them also PSW contributors) fills us in on how they’ve been channeling their energies in light of the ongoing challenges.
Chris Mitchell with some of the handiwork he details later in the article.

What have you been doing to stay busy and productive during this downtime?

Becky Pell: I consider myself lucky to have a couple of other major avenues of interest beyond mixing monitors, in yoga and writing. I’m a trained Yoga therapist, so I’ve been embracing the new online lifestyle to see clients on Zoom, as well as finishing a book about yoga that I started writing a couple of years ago.

I’ve also taken the opportunity to get much fitter and of course, use all the great online trainings to brush up on my audio tech knowledge ready for when we get back on the road. Even so, I’ve certainly had my dark days and really miss touring and being with my tribe, but allowing myself to feel that and then declining to be distracted by things outside of my control has mostly kept me busy, focused and positive. (Read more from Becky here.)

Andy Coules: I’ve taken advantage of this period to learn new techniques and explore alternative methods for getting the high standard of results demanded by the band I work with on a regular basis. There’s an ample supply of webinars and videos available online, with more being added all the time, partly due to the increased demand but also because the content creators have a lot more time on their hands too. Particular highlights include the Harman learning sessions (in which I also participated), the Sennheiser live sound roundtables as well as a series of videos by sound engineering luminaries such as Ken “Pooch” Van Druten and Dave Rat (all of which can be found on YouTube).

The obvious consequence of all this learning is lots of mixing practice using live multi-tracks running through DAW software. It’s helped me realize that the schedule demands of a regular live show coupled with the need to deliver consistently good results every night mean that I don’t always get the opportunity to experiment with new mix ideas, alternative techniques or spend time really exploring the intricacies of all the available plug-ins. Tools such as multi-band compressors, dynamic EQ and all pass filters can be incredibly powerful yet subtle, as long as you know how to use them correctly (so now is the time to get to grips with them). (Read more from Andy here.)

Aleš Štefančič: Having a reduction of live gigs gave me the opportunity to expand my knowledge on audio, especially on some of the specific tools I’ve been using in my work. I’ve also participated in quite a few talks and interviews in the audio community, added new content to my online courses and developed a new one on in-ear monitor mixing, which is set to launch in August.

Besides upgrading my knowledge, I also took the time to give my body and mind a lot of rest, catch up on some projects that were on the back burner for a while, and made sure I’m still connecting and networking with colleagues in the business. Even when we’re not working (or more so because of that), it’s always great to talk shop with other people who are passionate about the same things you are – it can be calming and create a sense of bonding, which I have seen plenty of in our community (to my great delight). (Read more from Aleš here.)

Chris Grimshaw: There are a few things I’ve been doing to stay productive. Firstly, I fired up all the different PA systems I operate and spent a couple of days with the measurement mic, making graphs and coming up with the best possible processing for the loudspeakers I have. Getting that last bit of performance out of the systems was something that I had intended to do for a while but hadn’t quite gotten around to.

Next up, I’ve been buying, fixing and selling microphones. I’ve put together a nice little workshop with a good stereo and am enjoying taking the time to do the job well. The latest is an Audio-Technica AT4033, which had the capsule literally bouncing around inside the grille.

Apart from that, I’ve been doing things like firmware updates and exploring every corner of any equipment-related software to make sure I really am using the full capabilities of what I have. I’ve also been working on loudspeaker designs for the future – my stage monitor system is due for overhaul, so I’m planning on doing the woodwork now (wood is relatively cheap, but takes time to make into decent cabinets), and buying up loudspeaker components as the industry recovers. I’m aware of the hypocrisy of saying I’m trying to make the most of what I have, but they really do need upgrading. Here’s hoping things pick up soon, and for the right reasons. (Read more from Chris here.)

Michelle’s homemade Catico.

Michelle Sabolchick Pettinato: As someone who has a very hard time doing nothing, I’ve used this downtime to create and release my online course LISTEN!, which is all about EQ and ear training. It’s also given me the opportunity to take a few online courses myself, including finally having the time to learn Smaart during Rational Acoustics online training webinars.

Honestly, I almost feel busier since being home than I do on the road. I’ve done several podcasts, webinars, and guest Zooms for a couple schools and have more to come over the next months. Somewhere during all of that I’ve also managed to build a giant Catico in the backyard for my eight cats. (LOL!) (Find out more about Michelle here.)

Jim Yakabuski: I’ve actually been quite busy since March 12, when my touring season had the bottom drop out. Between webinars, YouTube videos, podcasts and online education, I manage to fill most days with productive projects and learning something new.

As luck would have it, I attended an Allen & Heath d-Live training session in Charlotte right before the quarantine started, and the fine folks at A&H and HWPco (a rep firm) arranged for me to spend some time with the d-Live C1500 console package. It’s a fantastic platform and I’ve been having a great time building mix sessions with all the multi-track recordings I’ve got. With absolutely no pressure or time constraints, I’ve been able to play around with lots of plugins and mixing strategies (like parallel bus compression) that I don’t often use out in the real world. It’s a great way to enjoy stress-free lab experiments and find new and innovative ways to improve things in headphones and near-field monitors to try out later in a big PA system.
I also dove into the world of creating YouTube videos featuring some audio tips and tricks and some cool Matchbox 20 and Peter Frampton multi-track music. My son taught me how to use Adobe Premier Pro and all of a sudden I was a hack video editor. (Not my strong suit, I assure you.) I’ve been a part of a Signal To Noise podcast and a couple of Practical Show Tech webinars, as well as a live Q&A on HWPco’s Tech Talk. Very fun conversations, for sure.

I also received my Level 1 Smaart Operator certification and continue to write for LSI and Church Sound magazines, so I’m way busier than I could ever imagine for a guy with no gig. Oh yeah…and there’s the regular Tuesday evening Zoom Happy Hour with the Frampton crew, and lots of house projects and yard work, so no rest for the wicked. The music business needs to crank back up and get us back on tour so I can get some rest. (Read more from Jim here.)

Carl Stewart: Here in Orlando, there’s a definite summer off season for corporate events, which is my primary focus. So normally, I do a lot of handyman work during the summer and between gigs during the season. That’s keeping me very busy during all this craziness, so I’m very fortunate to have it to fall back on, but I’m jonesing to get back behind a mixing board. (Read more from Carl here.)

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