Study Hall

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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.
ProSoundWeb
Chris Mitchell with some of the handiwork he details later in the article.

Ken “Pooch” Van Druten: Over the last 12 weeks, I’ve been busy indeed! I’ve teamed up with monitor engineer Kevin “Tater” McCarthy to host a webinar series called Wrong End Of The Snake that explores the relationship between FOH and monitors. I’ve also been posting a series of videos to my YouTube channel of my conversations with FOH engineer Chris Rabold in which we discuss all sorts of aspects of the art, tech, and business of mixing. I wrote a blog post for Waves about “What Live Sound Engineers Can Do At Home,” and also made a video for them demonstrating my setup for Iron Maiden live. I was on the MixMasters podcast, Gary Ford’s podcast, Eggs! The Podcast, and an Adamson webinar as well! (Listen to Ken on the Signal To Noise podcast here.)

Karrie Keyes: Well, it took a bit to come out of “I’m leaving on tour mode” – we postponed 24 hours before I was supposed to get on a plane. I was in a void for a few weeks, and then SoundGirls, the non-profit that I’m the executive director of, went into “What can we do, what should we be providing?” mode – “Oh, this is the time we should do all those things we should do during the slow season.”

We took it slow as webinars and training started to explode, which was exciting at first but we soon found that this added more trauma to our members as they started to feel that they were not being productive enough. In addition, we started a fund to provide small grants to people out of work and provided information to navigate through unemployment as well as mental health resources. Now we’re working on in-depth webinars on a wide range of audio topics. You can check them out on our YouTube Channel and two of our members (Susan Williams and Beckie Campbell) started The SoundGirls Podcast, which has been fun.

It then started to become clear that 2020 was going to be a wash and along with that came a deep mourning period for all the things that will be lost in our industry, companies, friends, venues, etc. This was and is particularly hard to deal with. I love this industry and consider most of the people my friends and family. I’m still processing this deep trauma.

So, as I believe many of us do, I’ve worked on projects and hobbies – something that we could control. I spent a lot of time in my garden and now am enjoying the bursting colors of my flowers and eating fresh veggies. I will be getting chickens this week.

I’ve finally reduced my footprint on this earth – my world pretty much consists of 10 to 12 blocks from my house. I shop at the two corner stores for staples (one is an Asian market so I can still get many ingredients I need), the farmers market, in addition to visiting my coffee shop and the post office, and also walking along the beach. (I do not plan on going back to how I lived before). I’ve only bought three tanks of gas since March. The farthest I have driven is to Los Angeles (about 60 miles) a few times and to Lompoc (about 60 miles) to protest the conditions at Lompoc Federal Penitentiary and the total disregard that our country has for incarcerated people. (Find out more about Karrie and SoundGirls here.)

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Kelly Epperson: Like mostly everyone in our industry, I’ve been adapting to this place called my home. Adapting to not only to being home for an uninterrupted period of time, I’ve also found it to be a different challenge adapting to a more traditional work week. Spending most of my work time on the road and never really “shutting down” (and that could be a longer discussion), it’s been interesting adjusting to the “groundhog day” effect.
Early in March, my friend Pete Erskine and I decided to launch a webinar series (Practical Show Tech) focused on the technology and techniques used in the production of events. Our group grew by a couple more folks (Mac Kerr and Bruce Kraemer) as we launched the series. Initially, we took on topics related to live sound and comms since that’s our primary role on shows, and this then grew to broader discussions in market segments including broadcast and even show calling.

Early in the process I would find my days filled with phone call after phone call before and after episodes, connecting with folks I hadn’t spoken with in years or complete strangers reaching out to me with ideas for future episode topics. In some cases, I found something of interest to me and simply reached out on LinkedIn and started a discussion. The webinar project quickly became a full-time job – I was reprimanded more than once to turn off my phone at the dinner table. I can imagine this is how a radio or TV show producer feels booking guests day after day.

We’ve now completed more than 70 episodes on topics that include programming comms products, RF coordination, basics of computer networking, immersive audio, using Vectorworks, working on site with the challenges of COVID, and more. One week it feels like we’re running training programs and the next week a virtual trade show, all with the perspective of the end user in mind. The support from manufacturers, vendors and independent professionals has been inspiring. Each webinar has confirmed what I suspected all along: the production industry we’ve all chosen to make our profession is unlike any in the world. We are incredibly collaborative, great problemsolvers with a genuine desire to learn and value our relationship with co-workers like no other industry.

I’d like to say I’ve accomplished a number of house projects or spent time on hobbies during the past three to four months. Unfortunately, those projects will have to wait until I get back out full time on shows – I’ll have a little more time on my hands. Meanwhile, I’m looking for new opportunities that every challenge in life presents. (Check out the great work that Kelly and his partners have been doing with Practical Show Tech here.)

Ryan O John: With such a massive change in the industry, I needed to get a moment away from it, so I spent a week doing woodworking. It’s something I’ve never done before, but it seemed like a good idea to work on something tangible that I can physically feel and touch so that once a project was completed I would feel an actual accomplishment. I found some outdoor furniture in a catalog that looked fantastic, so rather than spend $2,000 per chair, I ordered some wood, designed plans, and built it. It was certainly nice to be able to physically touch something I built.

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After that, I spent a week doing a pretty in-depth analysis of plugins, phase, and latency. Running a Smaart rig through a console, I got some time to take a look at the massive difference in phase shifts that each of the various versions of a particular channel strip caused. It’s quite insightful to see the measurements of these tools and align that information with what you hear, the process certainly helped me understand why I like some plugins better than others.

The process also allowed me to run transfer functions through my usual show file to look at an overview of processing that I was doing on individual elements. I learned that I had a few things in my file that were doing some extreme changes when it all summed together, but seemed small in each of the serial and parallel processes. In the end, I rebuilt a lot of my show files with this info, and hopefully, everything sounds better when we get to hit a show again.

The following week was all about room acoustics, and loudspeakers. I learned as much as I could about speakers, propagation, FIR, IIR filters, and how to linearize both the phase and frequency response of a loudspeaker system. That, of course, turned into me building 18 acoustic panels and eight tube traps, and picking up a DSP box that can process audio in real-time and taking a lot of before and after measurements of my studio space.
I almost forgot about the podcast I started with a few friends, Live Sound Bootcamp, which covers the curriculum of a class on live sound from plugging in cables to advanced mix techniques, all laid out in episodes that cover a pretty broad education. Hopefully some people find that interesting or insightful, or just funny. Regardless of how it’s received, it’s been nice to geek out with friends on audio.

Lastly, I’m fortunate that touring isn’t my only job, so during this road-downtime I’ve dug as deep as possible into my design work. While all these consoles are back in the shop, it’s the best time to provide customers with an (Avid) S6L software update that can address as many needs and desires as possible. Every year I reach out pretty publicly to ask engineers what they need from their consoles, and I get a pretty hefty list, but this year with most engineers home, my request list was epic. So it’s my goal to try and get as much of that into the console as possible before everyone’s back out on the road. (Read more from Ryan here and listen to him on the Signal To Noise podcast here.)

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Celebrating over 50 years of audio excellence worldwide, Audio-Technica is a leading innovator in transducer technology, renowned for the design and manufacture of microphones, wireless microphones, headphones, mixers, and electronics for the audio industry.