Monday, July 30, 2012

SNR Podcast #14

This week we met again in the great outdoors. You can hear the crickets, the campfire and three nerds talking about live sound far into the night. Host Jon Dayton and panel members Anthony Kosobucki and Karl Maciag go over a phase issue that popped up last week, then get into all different areas of live mixing, and Anthony eventually gets his cigar lit.  As usual you can check it out on YouTube right here and also stream or download the MP3 with the link just below. Enjoy!

Friday, July 27, 2012


I'm writing on this topic today because I've been dealing with it more this month than recently. It's not actually a sound phenomenon but closely related to our work. 

Even at a gig where I don't have to load any gear I find myself completely exhausted. But no matter what time of day or night I wrap up, and no matter how long the drive home, I'm completely useless for at least an hour after I finally shut the truck off in the driveway.  

I've always thought that this hour of "decompression" time was sort of a weird phenomenon and wondered if anyone else experiences it. Hit the comments section and let us know what your post-gig let down is like.

OK, OK, I promised not to get too philosophical and do more technical stuff so here's a little tidbit of tech.

The aux fed sub is a superior method of bass management for any size venue or sound system... talk amongst yourselves.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Tip of the Day: Wireless Mixing

I finished up a gig at the local county fair last week and walked from my venue to one near by where a friend was setting up for a band. Right before sound check he handed me his iPhone and asked me if I would mix his monitors for him. The trick is that he was using a Presonus digital desk and had his laptop and wireless router with him.

I took the phone right up on stage and quick as a whistle dialed up four monitor mixes while the band ran through a song. They were mighty impressed and so was I as I walked back to the mix. As we tweaked the mix during the first set my mind got to working.

I had handed off a gig to this friend who was going to have to mix it from the side of the stage. It's just a quick in and out set at a ball park and management doesn't want cables strung across a walk way. I was thinking how it would have been nice to have an iPad handy to run the whole mix from out in the crowd and I got an idea. 

If he plugs in his four monitor mixes and then runs his mains on Aux 5 and subs on Aux 6, he can do it from his phone! He won't have access to the whole channel strip so he'll have to walk back and forth a few times during sound check. But for a short and sweet type of gig it will let him get right out in the listening area to mix.

We'll let you know how it works out.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Dear SNR: Phase Issues

I went to grab a bite of lunch today with blog and podcast contributor Anthony Kosobucki. We were talking about tracking drums and he said he was having a problem fattening up a snare on a current project. I asked about mics, top and bottom. Then I asked about phase. He said he had flipped polarity every which way but couldn't get any meat in the sound. He said he put a parametric EQ on it and poured 200 Hz on and it just wouldn't come up.  That was the tip off. It was definitely a phase issue.

We talked about some different ways to address it and then decided to just go to the box and take a look at it.  Sure enough. Everything else in the project sounded pretty good but the snare was really anemic.  We tried quite a few different things but the point of all of them was to take the sounds around 200 Hz that were out of phase between the two tracks and shift one or both of them until they stopped canceling and started adding together favorably.

We had the option of turning on a phase plugin but there's an easier way. The wavelength of sound from 200 to 250 Hz runs from about four and a half feet to five and a half feet. (I actually guessed six off the top of my head) So if they're lined right up and they're canceling, sliding one of them half a wavelength away should have some positive effect. We went with three seconds and when we started playing around with levels there started to be a little improvement. (Sound travels a tick faster than a foot per millisecond.)

I left at that point with Anthony starting to apply panning and gating to the rest of the drum tracks to make sure there weren't any additional phase issues floating around. A little later in the day I got a text that nine milliseconds did the trick. So that means that frequencies around 225 Hz have actually shifted all the way around to being in phase again and then about three quarters of the way around a second time. 

So why did it take an adjustment like that to get the desired result. If the signal was a sine wave it would have made sense to only adjust it to being three quarters of the way around. But being a complex wave form with a decay, things get more complex. In this case it took a shift that long to get everything working right. To really figure it out you'd have to take things into account like the distance between the top and bottom mics and do a whole bunch of math. Just knowing how to approach the problem and listening while tweaking was good enough in this case.

The only remaining thought I have is that nine milliseconds is starting to be a pretty long time. I suggested that maybe he should shift one track back four and a half and the other forward four and a half to achieve the same relative delay while keeping the hit centered on the beat.  But it's also a pretty jazzy track and not played to a click or quantized so maybe a tiny bit of slop in the snare is a tiny price to pay for a little meat in the sound.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

An Insight Into Mastering

I've got about an hour commute to work and back and I fill the time with different listening. Terrestrial radio, streaming music from my phone, my iPod. My favorite thing to listen to though is podcasts. I can't get enough audio nerdspeak and the Audio Nowcast and Pensado's Place deliver. I've been building my post production and mix/master chops for the last year or so with a lot of things I've learned.

One of the more recent epiphanies was that I'm well suited for the task of mastering. I wrote a post about it. Then I started working on my chops. At work I record the services every week and pick the best one to clean up a little and post for the band to listen back to. I had gotten in the habit of using a multi-band compressor on the two bus as a quick way to spruce up those board recordings.

The thing is, while it fattened them up a little, it was really hard to get a mix to come out sounding as exciting as it did in the church. Then I heard Dave Pensado interview Bruce Swedien who said he didn't use a stitch of compression when he mastered except in a few specific instances. I'm already sick of over compressed music so I decided to take a crack at it.

Last week I had a band that was smaller than usual and had found myself working to fill up the space. The services came out great but the multiband did its usual thing and the recordings were sort of blah. They still got rave reviews but I felt like they weren't being all they could be. So when I sat down with the tracks from a normal sized band I was all set up for another trip to the land of the Fat and Flat (the mix, not the musicians).

I will say that because these were live mixes I did allow myself to cheat a little because there's so much dynamic range that portions of the performance would be lost if I didn't squeeze just a little. There is some compression in the live mix but it's basically a rock show. It's got real mountains and valleys in it. I decided to trust the mix that I had done in the space and just sit down to spend a little time with the two mix.  I put up a parametric EQ and a compressor, no fancy plugins, just the ones that come with Reaper
I set a super low ratio and started playback at a high point in the service. I rolled the threshold with the mouse wheel while my eyes were shut and stopped when it started to sound flat. I opened my eyes and saw I was hitting about 9dB of reduction and opened up the threshold until I was getting about 6dB at the highest point and listened back. I could tell it was starting to squeeze just a little but it was nothing like the sausage factory I had been running before.

I clicked back to a quieter part of the service and started slowly raising the level until it felt like it wasn't getting lost. I could hear little details like the drummer tickling the high hat. I went back and forth between the hot spots and the lower sections for a few minutes until the master meters were just a tick below full scale at the highest points.

I went back and listened to some longer passages and started tweaking the EQ a little. Fattening up the kick drum a little, reducing some shrillness in the guitars and vocals, bringing out the high transients. After a few minutes of that I went back and touched the level and compression one last time and printed the mix.

It's not Grammy worthy material by any stretch, but it's a fair representation of what our band sounded like. I make every effort to make sure every person and instrument is heard on stage. It only makes sense to do that mix some justice by making sure that when my players listen back in their cars or on their iPods that they're not constantly jogging the volume up and down to catch everything. 
The EQ and subtle compression fattened up the mix while leaving in most of the exciting transients that make listening a pleasure. The human ear can handle dynamic range. You can hear a bee buzzing and also stand with your ears uncovered at a fireworks show. It makes no sense to me that commercial music is squeezed to within an inch of its life for the sake of being louder than the next track on the radio. When all was said and done I looked at the printed mix and the waveforms look a lot more like what music looked like in the 70s and 80s than the two by fours you hear on the radio today.

The whole process took about twenty minutes for eight songs. Far from what a real mastering engineer would do for a similar package but for what basically amounts to a glorified rehearsal tape it makes all the difference. I spend a lot of time encouraging my musicians, congratulating them on their good work and hopefully pushing them to do even better. This is just one more way I can do that without having to use any words.

Now if I could just get the whole thing out of mono so I could create an actual sound stage in the mix.


Sunday, July 22, 2012


OK, it's been a lot of philosophy lately and I promise we'll get back to some more technical stuff soon.  But there's one more thing I want to cover before I pass on the fruits of the summer festival season and all the tricks we picked up this year.

A lot of people come up to you when you're a sound guy and ask how they can get into the business. My usual reply is, "Help me load the truck". Very few take me up on it and very few of them ever come back. The simple fact is, it's a huge task to learn everything you need to know and to acquire the experience you need. It's sort of a catch 22 that you can't get work till you have experience. So that means you have to do a lot of stuff for nothing.

The people in this business who have made it big will tell you just how much they did for free (or very little) just to get the experience. Just hitting the twenty year mark myself, I still go out and help people just for the experience. And that's something that we all have in common. I don't think you'll find a single person in this industry who's really good that wouldn't keep doing what they're doing for nothing if they suddenly hit the lottery. 

Someone once said that if you're passionate about what you're doing, you're going to be a busy person. That's one reason I don't set out to try and teach too much to people who come up asking questions. If they're really interested they'll get it out of me, just like I did when I was getting started out. I've been thirsty for knowledge and a chance to sharpen my skills since I played with my first tape recorder and it's only gotten more intense the longer I live. 
I dream about gigs and sometimes even solve problems while I'm asleep. I'll work three events in a day. One to keep a regular client happy, one to help out a friend and one just to see something new and different. That's the kind of enthusiasm it takes. I don't say any of this to make myself sound cool. Ask my friends. They'll be the guys recording something while they're thinking about recording something else and wishing they were recording something else all together. They're the guys practicing while they're planning while they're writing while they're dreaming about practicing.

They're hungry.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Size Matters

My production group just did a week of events at the local county fair. Five of the members each came in and took care of different events. It was kind of a break for us because every single one was so much smaller than the stuff we're used to working on. It was actually kind of comical to see how much stuff we had to bring out to take care of a couple of the very smallest ones. The square dance was just a caller and his laptop.

But in that, there's a lesson on the value of an event. We got the contract because we're all home town sons who grew up and want to give back to the community. So it's pretty important for us to do a good job on this stuff. It was a challenge though at a couple points to deliver not just the gear but the customer service as well.

My part in it was to mix the Fair Queen pageant.  I'm pretty lucky to work in a situation where the gigs are advanced pretty well (information exchanged before hand), the players can call for changes to their monitor mixes with hand or even eye movements, and I can just push loud, clear sound right to the back of the room. This was not the case with this event. If ever there was a tiny event in a one horse town this was it. Then throw in a bunch of high school age girls who may or may not know how to use a microphone and won't complain about their monitor mixes until afterward when it's too late.
I got told the wrong start time but fortunately was there early enough to hit the down beat anyway.  The lady in charge dictated my speaker placement based on her flower arrangements. I had no idea at all what the contestants would be doing for the talent portion. And last but not least, last year at the same event, nearby exhibitors in the hall threatened to leave over the volume. I had to limit my coverage to just the seats in our half of the barn and everybody farther back was out of luck.

I was a little cross at the beginning but once the event started the organizer and I had a chance to offer a quick apology to one another and then I just settled in to do the best I could. After the interviews and the talent portion were over there was a presentation of an award from the parents of a girl who was the fair queen about ten years ago who had been killed in a crash. That was enough to wake me up a little. 

I've built my business on customer service. Give 'em what they need, not what they deserve. And I'm really glad I've gotten so I do it on auto pilot. Despite being a tiny pageant with only six contestants in a barn in a one horse town, this event meant a lot to the people in that room. Watching a father tear up as he handed over a plaque made the minor irritations seem microscopic. 
When it was all over I got one more lesson in decorum. While I was loading out the family of the winner was in front of the stage, loudly complaining that they couldn't hear the music very well when she was singing. I just grinned and choked down the urge to fill them in on how hard it is to mix in a barn and at least you could hear her voice and by the way you do realize she won right? Whatever, my britches aren't so big that I need everyone to love me. In fact, I don't care if they all hate me as long as I know I did the best I could and the check doesn't bounce.

So to get back to the title, the size I'm talking about that matters is the size of the ego of the sound guy. Keep it in a road case till you get back to the shop or you're having a cold one with your sound guy buddies. Nobody cares how much gear you have or how nice it is. They don't care what famous people you've worked for or how many thousands of screaming fans there were. The event that you're on for a few hours is the result of a lot of work on the part of the organizers. Even if they're not very organized it's still the biggest thing in their lives at that moment and they don't need your ego on the list of things they have to deal with.

Give 'em what they need Brethren of the Knob and Fader... not what they deserve.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Dear SNR: Unfamiliar Gear

Recently on Facebook:
  • Nate DeMare
    • Had a thought while listening to the last podcast. I've experienced this recently, having been Gordon's light guy and basically designing his setup, I walked into a gig where Steve's lights were setup and he was the one running everything. Steve asked me to sub in for him and the whole time I was sitting at his board I was wishing I was sitting at "my" board, because it took me a few minutes to learn in a general sense where everything was and I still couldn't run it to par with Steve or me at "my" setup. I was wondering if you've ever run into this with sound setups?

  • Jon Dayton
    • There's always some lag while you get used to a new piece of gear or some one else's setup. And some guys do stuff that just doesn't make sense so you try to work with it or around it. The mark of a good tech/op/engineer/anything is being able to walk up to anything and start makin' it rain.

      Good thought Nate. Even if you can't get out and get your hands on other gear, you can get a lot out of studying up on manuals. Once in a while you can even walk up to some one else's rig and show them a thing or two if you're studied up.
Now here's someone else's thoughts on the matter:
"I don't like reading manuals. Because I'm a pro and if I have to read the manual it's designed wrong."
                                                              -Dave Pensado
I kind of agree with that too. Dealing with well built, well thought out equipment, you should be able to just look at it and figure out how to use it. Maybe you have a peek at the info sheet on the web site to find out about a couple of features and then you go back to the box and figure out how to use them by poking around.  If features you need to use aren't close to hand and you have to dig through menus it's a bad piece of gear.

But the key phrase in that quote is the bit about being a pro. Those of us that can walk in and start rockin' and rollin' have put in the years and decades of learning. That's on the gig at the elbow of someone who knows, on your own gigs, on the net, and in manuals and manufacturers' propaganda.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012


I'm a "belt and suspenders" kind of guy. I have backups on my backups and a spare even for those whenever possible. I hate to let a client down when something fails and it's so easy to come prepared. Extra cables, adapters and even amps are common to find in someone's go box. But here's a little item that few think of.


I got in the habit of getting out the manual every time I get a new vehicle and hunting down the page with the lamp specifications. I hit the auto parts store and get a two pack of each, staple them to a piece of cardboard and toss it in the glove box. It's a cheap and easy way to avoid getting a ticket for a non working tail light or flasher. It's just as easy for fuses.

The suggestion is to take an afternoon and go over every piece of gear you own and write down the specs for the correct fuses and then invest. Sometimes a blown fuse is indicative of a larger problem, but sometimes it's just a blown fuse and it's really frustrating to have to go dig through your glove box or drive to gas stations to try and find a replacement so you can have all your gear up and running. 

It's cheap, it's easy, and it makes you look like a hero and a model of preparedness. Get after it!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Taming The Octopus

I heard it said someone recently that if you're mixing like an octopus you're doing it wrong. I wish I could remember who that was so I could give them credit for it.  Sure it happens once in a while that you really have to scramble to get a mix together but really... if you're a pro shouldn't you have your stuff together and be able to just chill and mix your show?

It's easy to picture, the difference between some junior high kid struggling to keep three mics in check and a guy mixing forty-eight or more channels in an arena. The only difference is the prep work. Obviously the guy out on tour has been prepping for gigs for a while longer than the kid but you get the point.

I feel like if every time you step up to mix you're scrambling here, there and everywhere then you're either woefully unprepared or you're showing off and you should correct for that whichever the case. There's not really any specific tips or lesson in this one. Just this one simple thing.

Be ready.

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Summer Season

This is just a quick apology for letting the time table get off. We had gotten in the habit of having a new post up every morning. Now it's the heart of the summer season, with special events, festival stages, fairs, carnivals, parades and a host of other events that we're taking care of. In another week things should settle down a little bit and the posts will get back on their regular schedule.
It made us wonder though. Did anyone even notice? Or are all our readers pounding the same schedule of balancing work and gigs with the occasional brief visit with your families? Hit the comment section and let us know what you Summer is like this year.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

SNR Podcast #13 - Compressors, Mics, Techniques

This week we got part of the panel together, Jon Dayton, Anthony Kosobucki and Karl Maciag talked a few things over out by the fire. We apologize in advance for the neighbors singing karaoke. Karl got a change to weigh in on his favorite compressors. Then we get into some micing techniques and a hodge podge of other topics. As usual you can catch the podcast here, and stream or download the MP3 from the link just below.


  • SNR Podcast #13 - 7/15/12 - Jon Dayton, Anthony Kosobucki and Karl Maciag talk compressors, mics, and revisit some of their experiences from the club days.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Small Stages

I've been mixing some small outdoor stages lately and I've been having a really great time of it with some of the new powered gear I've purchased. The first moment I really knew I had made the right choice was at the second stage at an outdoor blues/rock/folk festival. I had the acoustic acts and was handling it with nothing but a pair of powered 10s for mains and another two for wedges. I think the highest input count was eight. 
There was a moment early in the day where I had three singers each playing acoustic guitar and one had switched to mandolin. There was also an upright bass player, I looked down at the faders once I was happy with the mix and found they were all within a millimeter of being at unity. I threw on the cans and found the experience to be even tastier. I passed them to my assistant and his eyes just about rolled back into his head.  The whole afternoon until I left I felt almost like I was mixing on studio monitors.

I don't have it handy but I've got some video of a gazebo stage at a historical society event. Check back tomorrow and I'll see if I can get it added on to the post by then. Six inputs: kick, over, sax, trombone, key, vox. They did a Louis Armstrong tune to make the angels weep. And you can barely see the sound system that was just two little boxes providing coverage for four hundred people in a 150 foot deep seating area.

Said all that to say this.  If you hadn't already heard, small powered speakers are the wave of the future and you should go get some.

Advancing...Horror stories

Jon's recent post about advancing made me cringe and think of some incidents that I found myself stuck in years ago while working at a local club. 

The promoter of the club also owned the audio system installed in it, so i was hired by the promoter to run production on their equipment, but they were responsible for maintaining it, which meant it wasn't. I would get called and scheduled for shows with no real knowledge of what I was walking into. 

I used to advance the shows with the TM or soundguy of the band coming in, and let the promoter know what if anything needed to be supplemented. After a while, the promoter said they would take care of the advancing for me. This was the worst decision ever. 

Hell #1. Pretty well known metal band. Sold out show weeks in advance. Band shows up. "What's that Mackie doing at FOH?" "Well, that's the house console" "Our show has 34 inputs, I need all of them. Didn't you get the rider?" "No I didn't, did _____ advance the show with you?" "No, who's that?" "oh boy."  phone calls are made, and I put the TM on the phone with the promoter. Hearing just the TM's side of the conversation was pretty comical. "I need 34 inputs.....No I won't cut any.....Didn't you get the rider?......You thought you could just use last year's rider? This is a completely different show.....I don't care, get me another console" click. Thanks promoter guy for delaying that show while the headliner waited for the rental house console.

Hell #2 "Promoter guy, there's 2 blown wedges, I only have 1.5 downstage mixes now." "Oh don't worry about it, this show is all on in-ears." "really?" "yeah I advanced it with them" "All of the bands on the tour are on ears?" "Yes I advanced it with them." LIAR! he really only advanced with the headliner that had all ears. The other 3 openers had no ears, and were pissed at me that only one complete mix was working.  I left a scathing voicemail at 2am about how i was sick of promoter dude lying about what was coming in, and leaving me to be the fool. That was my last show there working for him.  Sometimes you just gotta move on. 

Lesson to be learned? Insist on advancing yourself, unless you really trust the guy on the other end of the phone, which should not be a promoter! Remember to keep a smile on your face, and don't fight with the touring guys about it, do your best with the info at hand, and get the show running! Have fun, good night.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Guest Post - Anthony Kosobucki: Save Often

Smart to Noise: From the studio, Sweet Jesus don’t forget to save, often, and more than one place.

Anthony Kosobucki is the audio and lighting director at a church in the Buffalo, NY area. He's also a former touring musician and one heck of a live and studio engineer. This is his sad story. Apparently one in a long line of guest contributions on the topic of preparedness. Got your Plan B ready?

I seem to always be the guy who ends up with some pretty dumb stuff happening to him. I haven’t figured out if that’s dues to my own fault, or being surrounded with an astounding amount of people that are just really, really good at wrecking things. It makes me consider changing my business cards from reading “Audio and Lighting Director” to “Incident Containment Specialist”. This is a serious thought. Vista print cards are cheap enough...

This post is my vent from coming in to work this morning.

There is a worship leader at my church who is currently recording some original material at the church. Usually Tuesdays are a pretty set day in the studio for me. Sessions typically from 9:00 A.M. to 8:00 P.M. I understand that an amount of sessions like that could be done by Brian Moore or Kevin Bruschert whilst number 2ing. However, I also have to maintain 4 sound and lighting systems, and help with some landscaping. So it gets a little hairy. Yesterday was a rare occurrence of me having to leave work sick. I had thrown up a handful of times in about 30 minutes, and was getting a fever. I went home to find out that the previously mentioned artist, still wanted to do a little bit of work in the studio. Now, because I work in a church, I am not the only individual with keys to my office/studio area. He let himself in and sent me a handful of texts about some drum and MIDI programming. In between launching some more at home, I answered his questions and thought that everything would be ok. I WAS WRONG. I came in this morning to find my monitors set at about -40dB and the project he was working on still open. Scrolling through what was two days ago, a mix about 75% done. We haven’t laid down all the BGV’s yet, so that’s what I’m waiting on. As I looked through the mixer screen, I noticed an astonishing amount of plugins and preset EQ’s thrown on almost all of the drum channels, preset verbs on certain drums (even though they had already been grouped out) and the master output set at +6dB.

Everything was clipping and a little later I realized that my overheads had been muted, and the cymbal sounds were only coming from the ride (which was under mic’d) and the hi hat. It really helped the toms pop, let me tell you. Snare compression set to limit was pretty great too.

I spent about 15 minutes assessing what the frick happened, and started to attempt to salvage what was once a good working mix.

Now, back to the post title, I always save all my projects in a few places. The problem was that he went through and saved to all the same locations I always back my work up in. All of my mixes were trashed. Then I remembered, after checking all those places, that there was a possibility that I had copied it onto a network drive as well.

Thank God.

I usually don’t worry about dumping on that drive, because no one usually comes up here and screws with things. Usually.

This time they did, and had I not saved to that drive, I would probably be set back at least 4 or 5 hours of work. It can only take 20 minutes to totally trash a mix and make it sound as bad as it did. Thankfully, I had a back up and was able to get back to where I was the last time I had left the mix.

I’m sure there are a lot if worse stories and examples of how awful things can get if you don’t save all the time, but it’s early, and that’s all I’ve got.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012


I've got a little trick to share today that will help you if you're fishing for settings. It doesn't matter if you're an old hand with something or just figuring out a setting for the first time, you need to know where you're at. If you're the former, you've got a lot of experience and you're using that to home in on that right setting. If you're the latter, you're just fishing around for what sounds right. In either case, there's a simple method that can improve your accuracy and save time.

The title of the post is "Octaves" but I'm not referring to musical notes in this case. An octave is just a doubling or halving of something so don't get all nervous about learning scales and such. Let's say you're dialing up a reverb for the first time on a new box. Pick a point on the return fader, say unity, and have a listen. Too much? Cut it in half. So now you've got the fader down somewhere around -40 and it's definitely too little. So now go back up but half as much and you're at -20 but you're still not quite feeling it. Half as much puts you at -10 and now you're pretty close and can fine tune it. With a little practice that whole exercise can take place in about four seconds.
The technique works great in either direction. Either stat out with a huge overshoot and cut it down or start out with a pinch and keep doubling it. I had an instance where a friend and I were trying to figure out an optimal gain setting for a transistor in a simulator. He kept blowing it up so I grabbed the mouse and started at 1, then 2, 4, 8, 16, and within a few seconds had found an ideal number.
The only thing I would add is that it helps to have an understanding of what a decibel is. In the simplest terms it's the smallest adjustment that's detectable by the human ear. It's a logarithmic scale though which makes it a little harder to grasp and that's not what this article is about. But if you can remember that an increase of 3db is twice as much energy and 6dB is perceived as twice as loud you've got a start. Have a look on Wikipedia, it's a bit of a brain twister.  With that in mind, making moves of 1db, then 3, 6 and 12 can be a good habit to develop.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Guest Post - Nate DeMare - Always Have A Backup Plan

Temere Freshman Hedum
Nate DeMare is a junior member of our production group. He came up through the ranks of high school lighting and is currently pursuing a degree in theatrical lighting design and also earning his wings doing sound in the local bar and festival scene. Here's his account of a recent festival.

So this past weekend one of the annual festivals in Batavia called the Ramble happened. To start off we unload the trailer. Same old same old. We start micing the stage and all of a sudden the clouds roll over and torrential rain ensues. First lesson here, always bring tarps. FOH, speakers, mics and all the important stuff got covered, but we forgot/didn’t have time get to take up the stage power. The event planners did have a backup plan to move inside a local bar, but thankfully we didn’t wind up needing it. The rain stopped and we had the stage up and running with dry power snakes but had to explain to all the bands why they couldn’t use the other ones. In the end it was a long and tiresome day, but what if there was no backup and the rain didn’t stop? The show would have been canceled and there would have been a lot of unhappy people. Therefore lesson number two and three, always have a backup plan and always bring spares.


Oh, he also signs everything "Random Freshman Kid" which is what RFK stands for.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Left Hand / Right Hand

I've been thinking through a way to get better sounds out of our piano. We use a keyboard, so I'm looking forward to having a shiny red Nord in a few months. But even with better sounds on hand there's an issue with the playing that needs addressing.

When things get a little too thick sonically the worship director or myself will ask the pianist to shift their playing a little. Usually it's something simple like, "Don't play the left hand the first time through and move the right hand part up an octave." But on some weeks things are dense from start to finish and it can be kind of a blow to a volunteer musician to hear, "We don't need your left hand this week." So in short of firing half of each player I got to thinking. It's not so much that we flat out don't need the left hand parts at a given time. Often it would be nice to have them there but it's no easy task to play softly with one hand and normal with the other. But here's where the tech can save us.  
Most keyboards have a split function. That lets you play strings with the left hand and piano with the right for instance. But if you split it and put the same piano sound on each half, and pan them hard left and right internally, you've now got left hand and right hand outputs on your instrument! Add another DI and there they are at the console. Mix wise, a lot of the time they'll be equal, just straight up piano sound coming out. But at times when things get dense you can pull the left hand down a little or a lot as needed. Or you can feature a melodic line without pumping up the low end information. 
The tricky thing about a piano is that it's really a percussion instrument and a lot of the time it can be considered part of the back section (rhythm section). But it's also fully capable as a melodic instrument and fits perfectly in a lead role. It's the Jekyll and Hyde of instruments in that it can do both at the same time. But if you've just got one feed you have to mix it as one thing. With the hands split you can round off the rhythm and make the melody sparkle. The abilities extend way past just the channel EQs into compression and even effects.

The only reason I haven't implemented it yet is because it's not a purely audio trick I can employ without disturbing the players, like double micing a guitar cab for instance. Running the piano keyboard in split is going to make some work for my musicians, even if it's as simple as punching different user presets. Granted it's probably easier than shifting when and where they play their parts, but I don't want to go charging in to find out that there are ramifications that I hadn't thought through. 

So Brethren of the Knob and Fader, I'm sure there's other instances where a technique like this could come in handy. Let us know what you think and what you do. Stay tuned for another post when I finally get this idea up and running.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

SNR Podcast #12 - Crazy Gigs

This week it's just your humble host Jon Dayton catching a few minutes in between gigs to talk about... gigs. It's only about half a podcast but there's a couple cool stories in there so we hope you'll take a listen. As always you can stream it on You Tube right here, or if you like, stream or download the MP3 with the link just below.

Saturday, July 7, 2012


I filed this one under bad gigs, although it really wasn't that bad. What was astonishing though was how quiet the acts were that came across my stage.  The event was Picnic in the Park, a fest held every Fourth of July in a town near me. They take over a park and put a stage at one end. The rest of the space is full of vendors and happy sweaty people seeking shade and enjoying the music.

The rig was 6000 watts front of house and four monitor mixes at 500 watts a piece. The stage was two flatbed trucks under a tent. It could have been a feedback nightmare but for once it wasn't too hard to get things under control. A digital desk out on the lawn made that an easy job.

The first act was a local concert band. Sixty members shoe horned on to the stage (no strings, thankfully). I threw some condensers up as high as I could get them and it didn't seem that loud for sixty people honking away, but it was working all right.

The second act was a forty piece chorale. They were basically inaudible. The piano was getting picked up on the overheads through the wedges and I had it off in the house. The wind noise was louder than the singers. Unfortunate, but it was a short set and people could hear enough that they didn't complain.

Next up was a four piece bluegrass band. Upright, guitar alternating with banjo, fiddle and mandolin. Three of them sang and the fiddler just fiddled into his vocal mic. For some reason I could barely get any level out off them. Despite having great mics on their instruments and a couple of them through really nice direct boxes, they were barely tripping the meters. At least they didn't ask for too much in the wedges. I figured they were just plucking for sound check and they'd belt it when they started in. It did get somewhat louder, but surprisingly, not that much. I eventually got them dialed in and they had a good set.

Following that was a seven piece a capella act. They had said when the arrived that one of them had a vocal processor. No problem. When I got up to mic them the kid handed me a DI. A really nice one. A Radial. I said that wasn't it and he should go get what else he had. He ran to his car and handed me another DI. Whirlwind this time. OK, no processing for you and fire your regular sound guy. They did all right level wise but all of them cupped the mic like rap stars. It was right on the edge of feedback armageddon the whole time. I gave them a lesson on why mics come with handles and not just grilles with wires coming out the back. They asked for my card. Smart kids.

And the headliner at least was a real class act. A group with the words "Old Timers" in the name. Five guys, eight inputs. Put the channels up, dialed the wedges in, magic happened. It was angelic. These guys cranked out big band numbers, swing tunes and square dances for not nearly long enough while a thousand happy people dozed in every available square inch of shade. Only a few nutters braved the desert wasteland down front to alamand and promenade.

And that was it. Nothing too wacky or difficult. Just not what I mix on a regular basis and in a somewhat screwy environment. I was on my toes for six hours and it felt great. Sort of the way hitting yourself repeatedly in the forehead with a hammer feels great... when you stop. I had been getting wistful about the old days and summer festival stages gone by.

But I don't really miss festivals that much.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Branching Out

I recently got invited via Twitter to join the fray over at They have a blog section and rather than try and come up with unique content and try to sync everything I'll just be posting the best of the best over there. But that's not why you're getting a bonus post today. They've also got a really great site that's worth checking out. I've linked to them on our Resources page.

Breakin' The Law

In a previous post I mentioned ground lifters as a solution for noise issues. I also mentioned that using them can be dangerous and in fact illegal but that it was a topic for another post. This is that post.

Everyone is familiar with the lowly ground lifter. Cheap molded plastic with a place for a three prong electrical plug on one side, and just two slim blades on the other. They're cheap, easy to carry in your go box, and they  can sometimes eliminate buzz in an audio system.  But if used incorrectly they can do anything from give a guitar player a nasty jolt of phantom power to the lips if they get too close to a mic, right on up to electrocution.

The intended purpose of those little buggers is to allow you to plug a new appliance into an old outlet WHILE STILL GROUNDING IT PROPERLY! There's no lifting intended here. All of those "lifters" actually have a little tab or a short piece of wire with a spade lug on the end to allow you to connect it to the screw on the front of an outlet.  If the building is wired correctly, even if it predates three prong outlets, connecting the "lifter" to this screw provides a connection to earth ground for the third pin on your device.

Using said devices to lift the ground is illegal. There's just no question about that. The ground is there to provide a low impedance path to earth for stray current. If there is no path for stray current it could easily find its way into your guitar player and kill them. The first person they'll be looking for to pin liability on will be the ignorant fool the plugged in a ground lift. Yes, if you use ground lifters I'm calling you ignorant and a fool. I will also physically fight you if you meet me in person and try to take issue with me on this. I was an electrician in a hospital and I'm way more up on the dangers of bad grounding than you are. And also I like smacking fools.

That said Brethren of the Knob and Fader, if you've got Buzz Lightyear for a guest soloist on your system, try direct boxes. The ground lifts on those are legal and often have a positive effect. If the problem persists, learn how to trouble shoot and dig deeper. If time doesn't allow, fix your gain structure to make the best of it and get on with things. DO NOT be responsible for harm to another human being because you chose to misuse electrical devices.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

What's All The Noise?

At work the last few weeks there have been numerous complaints coming from a couple of the smaller rooms around the church, that there was a ton of noise on the playback channels. I had the intern at my disposal one day last week and we went on a grand tour of the remote venues.

The first was the room where they do kids' church. I ran into the youth pastor who said that he had found something patched wrong in the video tower, but even with the DVD player behaving itself there was still a lot of buzz on the channel. 
To start out I flipped on the power to the system and pushed the playback fader up to unity. Sure enough, Buzz Lightyear... in the house. Something stopped me right there though. The intern pointed out that the faders never got that high. So I said for him to set it where they usually ran things. He set the fader at -40. (!) A quick twist to chop 40 dB of gain out of the trim knob, shove the fader back up to unity and things were clean and quiet. Playback came out at the level they wanted with 10 dB to go before the fader topped out.

Room One... done. On to the chapel.

I had a similar complaint in that room but this time the operators were blaming the combination of the laptop used for projections and the projector itself. They had tried everything at their disposal, from using direct boxes with ground lifts to using ground lifts on the power to the equipment. (BTW don't do that, it's not safe or indeed legal. But that's another post.) The situation turned out to be similar though. With the faders at unity I reduced the gain on the trim pots until the levels were about what were expected. Then we found a few other things that needed attention.

Monitor one had been having some quality issues which we traced to the graphic EQ stashed in the amp closet back stage. Every fader at -12 was probably not what the manufacturer intended. We shoved them all up to zero and I sat on stage with a mic and a radio until the intern had knocked the few offending frequencies down.

Moving on, we had also been asked to try and move the choir mics so they picked up better. We crawled up into the attic to see if there was any slack in the wires and there wasn't. But I spied the interface boxes and wondered when the last time the batteries were replaced. (Some hanging mics have a box where the tiny connector plugs in and you get a regular sized XLR to run cable back to your console. Many of them have a battery slot so you can use them with consoles that don't have phantom power.) There were no batteries in them but they turned out to be getting phantom just fine so we didn't worry about it.

Checking the console to make sure that phantom was on though, revealed yet another knob problem. Ever see a channel EQ with all the knobs twisted to eight o'clock? We did. Straightening them out and removing a couple offending frequencies had the choir mics picking up a lot better without physically adjusting them.

So there you have it Brethren of the Knob and Fader. When a problem crops up, especially in an installed environment where consoles aren't zeroed out every day, it always pays to take a look at the board before you set off on a long and fruitless quest in the wiring.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Bonus Post - Compression

I was just browsing the articles over on while tossing down some ramen and came across this article by Bobby Owsinski. It's worth a read.

The Aux Fed Sub

I just wanted to touch briefly on the subject of the aux fed sub. I go back and forth about it with my business partner. I tried it once and will never go back. He tried it a couple times and was all "meh" about it and says high pass filters are enough. The difference may be just that his digital loudspeaker management box has two ins and mine has three so it's a lot easier for me to implement. But here are the reasons I like it.

First, it's much more effective at removing un-needed lows from the program. Sure a low pass filter on every channel will do it, but you have to set every one. It's a lot easier if you're only sending half a dozen channels to the subs instead of trying to keep the other eighteen out of them.

Second, it gives you better control over the lows. If you have the kick drum and a bass guitar in a standard stereo mix, you can control how much lows you get from each one with the EQ and that's it. Feeding them to the subs with an aux send lets you account for that fridge cabinet the bass player brought. It also allows you to be a little more subtle with inputs like synths or playback, you've got a knob right there for low end content.

It's a pretty short subject but one that's open for debate. Hit the comments section and let us know what your thoughts are.

Monday, July 2, 2012

System Delay

If you're not working in larger venues you may not have heard of system delay and if you have you may have thought, "Why do I need it?" Well, even in a small venue it can do a lot to make your life easier. What I'm talking about here is adding delay to the main outs, or to feeds to remote speakers.

Remote speakers, often called "delays" need the delay so that sound coming out of them arrives at the same time as the sound from the main PA. Setting it up is just a simple matter of determining the distance from the mains to the delays and punching in the right number of milliseconds. Even in a small venue adding some delays can be a big help. In a boomy, reflective room, adding a pair of pole speakers about two thirds of the way back can let you mix with the main PA at a lower volume and still have good coverage all the way to the back.

But the real reason I brought this up was to talk about putting delay on the main system. In a small venue the main reason is getting the drums and amps in synch with the PA. If the audience can hear the original sounds coming off the stage, those sounds can actually arrive after the sound from the PA. Hitting the listener at a different time can cause phase issues like comb filtering. The way to solve it is to figure out how many feet the mains are in front of the back line and add just that much delay. That way all the original drum and amp sounds arrive at the listening area at the same time as the sound from the PA. Nice and clean.

Even in larger venues, the drums themselves might not be an issue, but the sounds from the drummers humongous monitors can be. If you're looking at a drummer sitting in a pair of Texas Headphones (dual 18s and tops on either side of him) that's a fair amount of sound coming at you from up center. Adding the appropriate delay into the main system can put all that sound back in synch. 

So whether you're in a large venue or small, outdoors or in, taking a look at arrival times can help you adjust things for the cleanest, punchiest sound possible with just a few milliseconds of delay. Give it a try!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

SNR Podcast #11 - Gigs, Compression

This week it was just your humble host Jon Dayton and Anthony Kosobucki enjoying some fresh night air (and traffic noise) and running back over an awesome gig. Then the topic turned to compression, since the last podcast was all about compressors and we didn't do any explaining about what they actually do. We also spent a few minutes on the new MXL mic Jon got for work.

As always you can do the YouTube right here, or hit the MP3 link below to stream or save for later listening.

  • SNR Podcast #11 - 6/30/12 - Jon Dayton & Anthony Kosobucki talk about a great gig they had and then go over the basics of compressors and touch briefly on cheap mics.
  • Guitar Test with MXL Mic - You'll hear the MXL 4000 and an AKG 430 first in AB setup, panned straight up, then on the second repeat you'll hear them hard panned. Then it's the MXL in MS configuration, first straight up and finally hard panned. The hiss is due to the cheap USB mic pre, the air conditioning, and me not being careful during editing. Enjoy.