Sunday, September 30, 2012

SNR Podcast #22 - 9/30/2012 - On The Road, Literally

This week we're pulling up a recording made on the road a couple weeks ago when host Jon Dayton took a ride to Pittsburgh and brought along John "Chachi" Baiocco to do a pretty unique gig. We'll let the audio do the talking. Just please excuse the wind and tire noise. As always you can check out the YouTube feed right here, or use the MP3 link below to stream or save for later. Enjoy!

  • SNR Podcast #22 - 9/30/2012 - On The Road, Literally - Jon Dayton and John "Chachi" Baiocco run down a one off road gig while driving home.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Dear SNR: Paul Brannen - Learning Recording

We've been studiously ignoring the emails that have been pouring lately. But production schedules have let up a little so we're spending a couple nights on the couch with the laptop getting caught up. Today we get back to Paul who's interested in studio stuff and got in touch via the Facebook page.
Hey guys, I don't have a youtube account so I thought this would be the best way to make contact. I'm a fan of Smart to Noise's Podcast and work in the music industry as a booking agent. I'm starting to get into the audio side of things (with out much experience). I was wondering if you could discuss the importance of learning recording on your own vs. being taught from a school. Also I'm interested in any general or abstract studio concepts that seem to work best. I feel like both approaches would lead to different styles in studio. Keep up the good work!
 Being largely self taught myself I can speak in favor of that method. It may take a little longer but lessons learned the old fashioned way (tweaking the gear night after night) somehow seem to carry more weight than things you learn in class. 

I think the biggest thing is identifying your starting point. With the abundance of material in print and on the web it's easy to get immersed. But if you find yourself scrolling through the forums and still feeling lost, or read all the hot tips and still feel in the dark, you just need to back up a bit and get to the basics. On the net it can be pretty hit or miss. But if you need to get the basics down so you start to know the terms and understand some different scenarios, hit up Amazon and pick a couple books that are top rated in your area of interest.

Beyond that, having a mentor is a pretty good thing. I never had one in particular because of where I grew up. I was figuring all this out in the days when there wasn't much on the net and all I could find at the local library was books on ham radio. (I did eventually become a licensed ham and that was where I really started to understand what's going on inside an amplifier.) I was just out there gigging it, reading the propaganda from the manufacturers and taking my best shot. Any time I could get around other pros and even just listen in on a conversation I would soak up everything I could. Even if I didn't understand it I would file it away for later. That's sort of the idea behind this blog and the podcasts. Just gab about audio and hopefully people take something away that makes them want to dig in more and figure out the stuff we say that they don't understand. There are a couple really killer podcasts and blogs that would make great mentors all by themselves. Just check out the Resources link above to see the always up-to-date list.

So let's say that you know a mic cable from a compressor and you understand that a bus isn't just public transport, now what? Get your hands on some gear and get to work. You don't have to buy stuff. If you can get time on someone else's that's fine. Just make sure you don't work on stuff that's important to you or anyone else when you're getting started out. You have to make a lot of crap and murder a lot of material before you start turning out audio gold. Guys that mix in stadiums started out in dive clubs and guys that mix platinum records started out with cassette four tracks. Just build up your understanding of gain structure, balance, and file away all the tips and tricks you can. Even if all you do is grab a friend who plays acoustic guitar and have them practice in front of a mic you'll learn a ton. Just keep trying stuff.
I've been at this my whole life and been getting paid for it for a good twenty years now. I still spend time every single day trying to learn something new. The simple fact of the matter is that stuff I read online tends to go in and fall right back out again. Things I learn while working on projects stick with me forever. I can still remember the first times that I did things out on gigs. Articles that I read, not so much. So if you are reading a lot. That's good. Take it all in and maybe something will spring to mind when you hit a snag. But what's better is to take what you read about and try to do it as soon as possible afterward and really cement it in place. All you need is a laptop, a cheap USB interface and a couple mics to get started. Heck, you could make a White Stripes album that way (although Jack would prefer you do it analog!).

Probably the most important thing you can do is build up your critical listening skills. Having all the expensive gear in the world won't let you make good stuff if you've got a tin ear. People who are good at this listen to everything under the sun. That's where true innovation happens. It's all the same twelve notes. It's all kick and snare. It's all vocals. What you can do to shake things up a little is to bring a little hip-hop sensibility to a thrash metal session, or some country twang to a jazz session. But to do stuff like that you need to know everything. Well... at least be able to fake it.
As for methods, they're all good. Close mic drums, single mic drums, go track for track or get the band all in one room, every method has its place. I've found that my best work happens when I'm out of options. Sure you can read all about what large diaphragm tube condenser mics sound best on acoustic guitar, but if you lock me in a closet with a guitar and a kick drum mic I'll eventually get you the track and have something to teach you after. Don't worry about the gear you don't have. Figure out what the gear you do have can do and then figure out how to push it farther.

One last thing you can do that will help you get good answers, and this applies to all the Brethren of the Knob and Fader out there. Broad questions are really hard for an expert to answer. Try to narrow it down a bit before you open your mouth. For example, the question you asked was great Paul, but I had to be pretty general to give you an answer. Once you dig in a little and start to make some progress in one direction or another, feel free to come back with another question or two and we'll see what we can tell you.

Thanks as always to all our contributors. Your questions and comments keep us going. We may not always get to them quickly but we will make every attempt to get to all of them. (I'm still working on the one about phase relationships between speakers in a sound system. Stick with me Liam!)

Friday, September 28, 2012

Mixing Front of House

I just read an article over at covering the life and times of an engineer. I read the whole thing but what really struck me was the paragraph describing the time in 1968 when he mixed from the house for the first time. He's regarded as being the first British engineer to do so and discovered this trick while in the States. He liked it so much that he built his own snake while on tour and took it back to England. 
It was a real brain twister to imagine a time when mixing from out where the audience is was the new and crazy thing to do. Myself, when I meet up with a band that thinks they're doing fine with the bass player mixing their set from on stage, or I'm forced to mix a wedding band from side stage because the venue won't let me run cables I just shudder. It seems like the easiest thing to make sense of. The audience is hearing the sound, the sound guy should hear the sound from where they do.
So what do you do if you find yourself forced to mix from some spot that's so far from ideal that it's laughable? There's a few things:

Walk the room.
You should do this even if you're mixing from the best seat in the house. Things sound different in different places. Right in front of the stacks, by the back wall, under the balcony, in the middle, they've all got their peculiarities and it's up to you to hear them and take that knowledge back to the mix. Then you can work on optimizing your mix so that as many seats as possible are hearing the best mix possible. Doing it from beside or behind the stage just means you take more steps to accomplish this.
Get help.
There's nothing like a second set of ears to make things go faster and better in this situation. A two way radio or intercom system doesn't hurt either. Text messages will work in a pinch but are usually too slow. In the past I've worked out hand signals. Two fingers plucking for bass. Flat hand slapping for kick. Hand strumming for acoustic guitar. Fingers "soloing" for electric guitar. Numbers for vocalists. Throw the sign for a little more, throw the sign with a finger pointing down for a little less. 
I like to have a second set of ears on hand even when I'm mixing from a great spot. On a high channel count mix or when you're responsible for other details you can easily miss something. Having a pair of ears that you trust, or even just a helpful suggestion from a stranger can help keep all the details under control.

Fight for your right.
There's always a possibility that you can stick up for yourself and get the mix put somewhere that makes sense sonically. I've been told by a venue that I had to be side stage to then have the band threaten to walk off the gig. That gets results but can also backfire. You get more flies with honey than vinegar so start out by asking what the issue is. If it's cables offer to cover them, or run them overhead. If it's space, see how small you can make your mix position and see if that will appease the powers that be. 
Some people will be willing to deal but don't hold your breath. There's this conception held by many that mixing audio is just like car repair or something like that. That it's complex and technical but if you follow procedures you'll get results. "What?! You just turn the knobs and sound comes out, do it over there where you're not in the way of the dance floor!" You'll never convince those people, especially when you consider that they've likely also been burned by bad sound guys in the past.

Brethren of the Knob and Fader it's a wild world out there. It's amazing what will come against you when you just want to go in and do a good mix. Just keep in mind how things used to be and press on. Here's a link to that article:

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Dear SNR: Nate DeMare - Mic Patterns

Today we hear from friend and young Jedi in training Nate DeMare who has contributed questions before. A big round of applause for being willing to admit his ignorance and seek the wisdom of his elders. Here's a quick primer on mic types and patterns.
Dear SNR,
I was researching pickup patterns and frequency responses on some mics i will be working with in the near future and mics i have worked with. In my travels of the internet I discovered that I don't actually know the difference between condensers and dynamics (much to my shame). I thought the SM57 was a condenser and thus had a cardioid pickup pattern vs. the 58 with a hypercardioid pickup. So mighty brethren of the knob and fader I beg of you to share your great knowledge with this young padawan.
  To start off, the good old Shure 57 and 58 are both the same mic inside. They use the same capsule but the 58 has a windscreen designed to make it perform better for vocalists (helping eliminate popped Ps and other wind noise) and the 57 is intended more for instruments but you can still sing on it. Both of these mics are dynamic cardioids.

Let's start with dynamic versus condenser. A dynamic mic has a diaphragm attached to a coil of wire that moves back and forth in a magnetic field. The tiny amounts of electricity generated are what give you your signal. A condenser mic has two charged plates set a small distance apart with one attached to the diaphragm and able to move a little. The gap between the plates is a capacitor. The old word is condenser and it's still used in this case. The movement of the diaphragm changes the value of the capacitor and on board electronics process that into useable audio. The major difference is that condensers need power to run where dynamics make their own, however tiny. So a condenser will always have a battery, power supply, or need phantom power sent to it from a console to charge the plates in the capacitor and run the associated amplifier. 

A quick side note on phantom power. We have the telephone companies to thank for coming up with this method of sending power down a signal line. In a mic cable you have three conductors, a ground, a "hot" with the signal on it, and the third has that same signal but polarity inverted, sometimes called the "cold". Phantom power travels on both the signal lines and uses the same ground. What that means is that you can connect a dynamic mic to a line with phantom on it and because the two signal lines both have the same voltage on them the mic doesn't "see" any voltage and the coil won't be damaged. If you have a bad cable though it's possible to send 48 volts through some very delicate parts so if at all possible it's a good idea to turn phantom off for dynamic mics.

As for characteristics, dynamic mics in general are able to withstand higher sound pressure levels (SPLs) than condensers but are usually less sensitive to some degree. Condensers are generally known for having wider frequency response and exhibiting less proximity effect. That's when you get a boost in the low if a singer gets right on the mic.

As for patterns,  cardioid, super cardioid, aren't particular to dynamic or condenser mics. The Shures we talked about earlier have a cardioid pattern. That means that their pickup pattern is sort of heart shaped with the main lobe pointing right where you'd put your mouth. The weak side of the mic is directly behind it which is good in a lot of cases because that's where the monitor and or the crowd is and picking up less in that direction is a good thing. Super and hyper cardioid designs make the hot zone even tighter but there's a trade off. Rejection directly off axis isn't good. When using a hyper card mic it's a good idea to look up the pattern so you know how far off to the side to put a wedge.

That's just the tip of the iceberg Brethren of the Knob and Fader. Every paragraph of this post could be developed into a chapter in a book at least. That's the basics though and now if you're still in the dark you've at least got something to steer you in the right direction with your continued research. One last thing. Mics are nearly always labeled as to whether they're dynamic or condenser and often the pattern as well. For the pattern it might be words or a tiny picture. There you go, get micing!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Smart 2 Noise Playlist #1

I wanted to start out and say, that I’m really looking forward to this series. We’re calling it  “Smart2Noise Playlist” Jon has asked me to go through an album at a time, and really dig into the recording, mixing, songwriting, and musicality of it. Hopefully I can do it some justice. I want to start out with a few more sentimental albums to me, and then start spreading out what we’re going to be going through. Because I’m sure I’ll only have a few months worth of ideas that I can think of right now, if any of you guys or girls have ideas of albums you would like another viewpoint on, I would be happy to do that.

The first album I want to get into is an album some close friends of mine recorded a couple years ago. The bands name is: The Reign of Kindo, and the album is Rhythm, Chord and Melody. Granted, I know very few, if any of you have heard of these guys, but, this is the first album in a long time that really rekindled my appreciation for amazing recording and musicianship, and made me want to get back into it, full time.

On this album, the band is comprised of five members, four of which I have known for almost a decade. That’s saying a lot since I’m 24. Drums, bass, two guitars, and a keyboard. There’s some horns and percussion that come in here and there, but it’s primarily a five piece band.

I’m not one hundred percent sure what to classify their style as, other than amazing. Later on in this series, I’ll dig into their other albums, as well, so you can see the progression of recording and musicianship.

What I really love through out this entire album is the consistent song quality. They really understand how important writing and pre production of a song is, to get it to a place where it can really take off, and be interesting to you, without hearing it in succession with the entire album. We’re not talking your standard; intro, verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus, chorus, out. They take full advantage of interludes and instrumentals, and easing from section to section. Most importantly, everything is placed wonderfully. No obnoxious shredding, on any kind of instrument. I feel like while i listen to it, that they’re really painting a masterpiece musically, and set the words to match. 

(Start rant) That’s something that’s applicable to mixing as well. When I’m out mixing for a group, I want to make sure the picture they’re painting sounds gorgeous. It’s not my place to push the kick and they lead guitar so much that it distorts the soundscape that they’re attempting to give me. It’s so important to remember that you’re working for someone else when you’re doing your job, even if you own your own company. (End rant)

I was lucky enough to hear this album being made, and popped into the studio while this song was being recorded. Now, other than the drums, which I believe were recorded at one of the nicer drum rooms around town, most of this album was recorded in essentially a closet, in a gift basket store. Two rooms, about 6‘x10’ if I remember correctly. Not a ton of gear, A blue dragonfly and a Shure SM57 did almost all of the work. That’s right, two mics. An ART MPA gold, a SansAmp bass DI, and some damn good engineering. I’m sure that I have forgotten some things in the few years since this was released. But either way, these are all real instruments, real people, making real music. I’m not against using some MIDI and other digital instruments, but this album is just a really great example of what you can do on a budget. Don’t get discouraged if you’ve only got a small set up, mine is pretty small as well, but with an actual drive to get a product like this out, it’s 100% possible. 

The album starts out with a track titled: The Moments In Between. Starting off very delicately, with piano, kick and a ride cymbal before the vocals come in. The song builds for close to two minutes, before it really kicks in. The drums are ambient, and full, and every instrument is distinguishable.That doesn’t sound like a big deal, but in a group where every instrument is doing something different, melodically and rhythm-wise, its a decent task to accomplish. I love how this song ends, with beautifully layered vocals, singing different lines. 

I could get a little too carried away going through every track, so I would say that the next two of my favorite tracks are : Let it Go, and Hold Out. Let it go is a little bit more bluesy than everything else and Hold Out really ends the album well. These guys tend to usually end their live shows with this track. 

I’m a little attached to these guys, so, I apologize for the sporadic nature of this review. But I really want to urge everyone who has read this far into the blog, to check these guys out. Their website is

They have some songs on the site you can listen to, they’re also on spotify, and there are some really great clips on youtube of some live studio work they've done.

Really overall I would encourage you to buy this, and all their other albums... Mostly so my friends can keep eating and pay for their rent, and also, it’s really good music.

Lastly, if nothing else has peaked your interest in these guys, they remade an entire album in 8-Bit. It sounds like an old Nintendo game. They are nerds. 

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Old Time Rock And Roll

I was driving between gigs yesterday and fiddling with the radio. A lot of radio stations have gone digital and broadcast a second channel with deep cuts and other stuff more off the beaten path. I was listening to the second channel of a classic rock station and had a bit of a flash back.

It was a tune from the late Sixties or very early Seventies. American folk rock, male lead singer. I almost turned it off because it's not an artist I'm fond of but then I let it slide and started picking through it. My first thought was, "We made better stuff on four track cassette machines back in the early Nineties!" Granted it wasn't a big hit but it had to have sold some copies to still be of interest, even on deep cut radio.

There was basically no kick drum. The snare sounded distant. The ride cymbal had some weird phasing going on with another mic in the room. The bass was louder than the guitar solo and there wasn't a stitch of compression anywhere. Twenty years down the line, what a national recording artist had paid big bucks for was easily doable by some kids in a garage with a $200 tape machine.

My thoughts went on to the desire to get that "vintage" sound on new recordings. There's a whole community of people trying (and mostly succeeding) to keep tape alive. But apart from a very small minority of real purists, nobody really goes after that bare bones production. It happened back then because there literally wasn't any gear on hand at some of these studios.

So today, when someone like Jack White or The Foo Fighters go for that vintage feel what they're really doing is picking and choosing certain elements of that sound and packaging their music with them. Don't buy the hype. Jack White's stuff is still manhandled in the mix and master phase. That's what makes it exciting. You get something that's as loud and vibrant as everything else you hear today, but that contains a certain raw energy that's lacking in a lot of material.
When you think of a studio like Muscle Shoals that turned out these towering monoliths of Southern Rock it'll really make your head spin when you find out how little there was on hand. I may be getting this wrong but I think it was sixteen tracks, an analog desk and some mics. There wasn't even that much EQ available in the board! So how did the records turn out so great? The people working on them had an incredible intensity for one, and for two they didn't know what they didn't have and shot for the moon with what they did.

In a rambling sort of way I'm trying to get back to my basic philosophy here. While it's great to have a ton of stuff on hand, you really need to make intelligent decisions about everything you use. Sure, you can have a Massenburg plugin on every channel. But what if you only had one dbx? It was a different arena but the same idea when my lighting professor asked us, "What is that light's motivation? Why did you hang it there". It's not just a question of accounting. You almost need to treat every decision like it's live or die, and learn to do it quickly or you'll get bogged down.

As usual Brethren of the Knob and Fader, I think I've asked more questions than I've answered. But hopefully those of you who are out there pushing the buttons on transports already have an idea of what I'm talking about and you'll dig a little deeper when you're putting your sessions together.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

SNR Podcast #21 - 9/12/2012 - Imaginary Studio

This week Anthony and I got it into our heads to build a studio in our minds. Specifically the task was to take an imaginary space, say, a house and come up with the gear we'd like to put in and see where the price tag wound up. Turns out somewhere around $30k. Sometimes hypothetical thinking is good exercise. We're big believers in using what you have to the best of your ability. But if you day dream a bit you can start to plan out a road map for where you'll go when time and money allow.

  • SNR Podcast #21 - 9/12/2012 - Imaginary Studio - Hosts Jon Dayton and Anth Kosobucki build a hypothetical studio and stock it with goodies.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

aaaaaaaaaand We're Back!

Thanks for sticking with us through the brief hiatus. It was everything I expected and more. The usual adrenaline high of an out-of-state one off, followed by the tired-but-wired experience of multi-day video shoots. Throw in catching a cold and a run in with the police for good measure and it wound up being a pretty wild ride.

Here's what to expect in the next few days as we get back to business on the blog. Frequent contributor and podcast co-host Anthony Kosobucki will be starting a series of posts breaking down some of his favorite albums. He'll be getting into the tech, technique, song writing and much more as he takes you through some of his favorite tracks from the past and present. We've got a couple podcasts backed up on the production line so those will be dropping just as soon as we can make them presentable.  There's also a back log of questions from readers that we'll be getting to in short order and we'll be starting up some product reviews as well.

So, faithful Brethren of the Knob and Fader. Thanks for sticking with us through the down time. I see that many of you have been visiting even in our absence. Let us know if there's anything in the old posts that you'd like more of or something that we missed entirely.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Sorry For The Delay

It was my intention to get a few posts ahead before I got to this point. We've got a lot of great ideas in the in box so it was looking to be a good week.  But, I hit the wall with what I could do in my "extra" time this week. It was a hectic week at work prepping for several different events as well as the usual things. To top it off I've got an out of town gig followed by three days of shooting for a movie project. So the long and short of it is look for posts again about the middle of next week.

Until then I'd suggest going back through the archives to see if there's anything of interest to you there and also check out the podcasts and resources we have on our links page. If there's something you find lacking or are interested in knowing more about, just drop us a line here or on Facebook or Twitter.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Mixing Solo

I've already done a post about mixing on the solo bus. That's worth digging in to but it was more about the gear than a mixing philosophy. Today I want to go over ways that you can use the solo bus to improve your mix and speed up your time to finish. This should apply whether you're mixing live or in the studio.

When mixing live you sort of have to use this technique already. Going through a sound check a channel at a time you have to think about how it's all going to fit together in the mix when you're done and pretty much nail the gain structure and EQ the first time around. Even if you already know the act this can still be a challenge and it's what separates the good live engineers from the run-of-the-mill. 

As you're going along hopefully you're EQing the kick and bass so they can coexist in the mix. You might hear a chunky guitar and take some bottom off so it has its own place to live but remember that it's there in case things sound hollow. You might carve out an acoustic guitar so it sits well against electric guitars and vocals. Backing vocals might get a less clear EQ so they don't overpower the lead. All these things become second nature after a while. 

Once everything is up and running and the band is playing it's a good idea to do a sweep of each channel. Slap the cans on and listen back and forth between what you hear in the room and what you hear on each soloed channel. There might be something missing or you might find that there's something there that you can take out without harming the mix. On the bass channel for example, if it's nice and fat and the material doesn't warrant any popping and slapping, you could easily roll down the highs without hurting the bass and free up a little headroom and clarity for things like guitars and vocals. If you hear a big clappy mid on the kick that isn't contributing to the sound, take it out and make even more room. Just make sure you go back and forth so you don't wind up hurting the mix by getting too surgical.

In the studio it's tempting as well to go channel by channel and tweak each one to the nines before you ever even start to mix. Some of the best cats in the industry don't do a thing until they've listened through a time or two and just mixed what was there. It's a shame to EQ and process the life blood out of something just because that's what you always do. You might be working on something that's unconventional or maybe just has one or two unconventional inputs. That's where the genius of the players can shine through, but only if the mixer has his thinking cap on and isn't afraid to stray from the norm.

So let's say you've put up a mix on your DAW and have levels set. Then start soloing channels and see what you think ought to change. You might find that a mid you would normally cut might leave a hole in the mix and is better left in or treated in some other way. Dynamic processing and effects should be handled this way too. Hear the song as a whole, then hear each instrument group or "stem" as they like to call it and make a few changes, then go in to the individual channels. You'll be surprised at how differently you wind up treating things when you keep comparing your changes to the whole mix.

I did a post pretty early on about an alternate method for getting a mix together in a hurry. It's a good way to get to that point where you can hear the whole thing and start to get comfortable with your view of it. Say loose while you're in the process. It's OK not to commit. Save variations as you go along in case you go down a wrong road or even just to compare and make sure you're still on the right one.

While you don't have this luxury when mixing live a lot of the time, in the studio you can take breaks. A lot of times something that was stumping you just needs a little coffee (but not too much) to jog it loose in your head. At the very least you can come back in and hear things a little fresher. Don't be fooled into thinking that working all night is what it takes either. A lot of times getting it to a pretty good point and then going to see your family or friends will let you relax and get it out of your system. Many times I've heard from people that coming in on the following morning after a good nights sleep they'll hear five things they need to fix and two hours later the mix is done to perfection.

Personally when I'm mixing a recording I do almost nothing until I have it at a point where I'm barely touching the faders. During that time I'll fix things that are obviously not right with some EQ and dynamics. Once it's sitting nicely then I'll go in and start placement with panning and spatial effects. Then the automation finally gets turned on. My moves at that point are able to be so subtle and smooth that it's more like the icing on the cake than heavy lifting to beat things into shape.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Empty Room vs Full of Fans

I got another email from our current leading contributor yesterday and he wanted to know about the effects of "warm bodies" in a venue. Well Michael the punters, as the Brits call them, can have a lot of effect on how things sound in a room. Let's take a look at it.

Let's start with something not so obvious. Every person that comes into a venue will affect the sound by the heat they give off and the CO2 and water vapor they breathe out. Changing the temperature and density of the air in the room can directly influence the sound, especially if the HVAC can't keep up. Does it matter? Maybe, maybe not. If the system is struggling already and then things get hot and steamy, you could be in for a long night. If things are bright and brittle, maybe a change of atmosphere is just what you want. When it's the atmosphere that's changing the highs will be the canary in the coal mine. As the sun sets on an outdoor gig and the air cools off you can find yourself with a very sharp sounding system compared to how it sounded in the hot, humid afternoon.

As to the bodies themselves, they play a part too. Filling an empty space, be it a pub or a stadium, with a capacity crowd will do a lot to dampen reverberation. Beyond that, a poorly designed system can allow people to get their heads right in front of speakers that are meant to be pushing sound right out to the back of the room. That can be dangerous for the poor soul standing right in front of a 12" mid with 1000 watts behind it and can make the engineer miserable as well.

In the end it all comes down to experience and using your ears. You can plan all you want but unless you really know a venue well you have to be ready to make adjustments as things happen. In one room with a bad seating arrangement and poor climate control you could be scrambling all night. In another, with nice raked theatre style seating and good air conditioning you may not notice much change at all once the audience loads in. Once again this pertains to the littlest coffee shop and the biggest stadium. A good engineer will keep his ears open and try to take a fresh look at how things are sounding as the night goes on, making adjustments for temperature, humidity and crowd as needed.

Which reminds me of a gig I did in a high school aud a few years ago. It was for an organization run by a member of a famous band who was to be on site that day. Just after sound check someone from the school came around to show me how the walls of the aud were set up with hinged panels that were wood on one side and cloth on the other. I had rung out the room and sound checked the band with the wood side showing so I mentioned how that was interesting and went back stage to talk to the band. When we came back out to play someone had thoughtfully turned all the panels cloth side out and there was no time to change them back. That, and the addition of four hundred kids made it a drastically different sounding start from what we had just heard at sound check. And there stood my boss, right at my elbow. I adjusted pretty quickly and he said he hadn't noticed anything wrong so it worked out well, but my heart was racing there for a couple minutes until I had everything settled.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Guest Post: Brandon Golwitzer - Capacitance in Cables

Our recent discussions on methods of reducing noise in cables lead us through some talk about quad mic cables. The subject of reduced high end due to capacitance was mentioned in one of the comments and my friend offered to write up a post about it. Here it is and many thanks to Brandon. While I'm on the subject we're open to submissions from any Brethren of the Knob and Fader that would like to contribute. You don't need to be a professor or any kind of big shot, it could be anything that might be educational to the rest of the Brethren. Stories about gigs, tricks and tips, it's all welcome so get in touch!

Serious gearious
A comment to the recent Star Quad Cable post mentioned the possibility of greater high end loss in that type of cable which triggered my thoughts to writing a post about what causes high end frequency degradation in cables. When it comes to audio cables, there are lots of factors affecting sound quality, but capacitance is the culprit that gobbles up high end more than any other. There is a bunch of information out there on it, but let me take a shot at explaining it here.

If you are unfamiliar with capacitance, it is an electrical property that has been harnessed for years to
give us tone controls in our gear. The most basic tone controls in consoles and amplifiers use a simple circuit with a capacitor and resistor to cut frequencies. A simple high pass filter is an example in your console. Guitars have long used a use a simple capacitor attached to the potentiometer on the tone knob to cut high end (low pass filter). The frequency where the cut starts is a function of the component values chosen. These are simple circuits to build and there is a ton of information at the end of your Google search to teach you how to do it. Those are examples where capacitance is used intentionally to a desired end effect, but capacitance exists everywhere. Sometimes it can be our enemy like in the case of audio cables where we want to transmit a signal with the least degradation possible. In short, the cable capacitance creates a low pass filter that begins to roll off high end as cable length increases. You can read all about the math and science aspect of it here if you want to really dig into it:

Understanding the specs of the cables you use will help you to understand what you can expect for high end loss, and if you want to get crafty you could even choose your cable based on the source to give you some built in EQ. I will admit that is not too practical for a live gig, but could be used in a studio setting. The capacitance of your cable is measured in pico Farads per foot (pF/ft) because the total capacitance is affected by the length of the run. Generally speaking, longer the cable (i.e. the farther you transmit the signal), the more high end you will lose. Most quality cables fall into the “low capacitance” category, and the term has become a bit of a marketing buzz word in recent years. Generally, anything under 70 pF/ft is pretty low capacitance with the lowest coming in around 20 pF/ft. The capacitance per foot will vary among manufactures for a given wire gauge based upon the number of copper strands that make up the wire and the diameter of each strand. Each manufacturer has their formula that they like best. For example, Mogami tends to have the highest capacitance, but is used in some of the best studios in the world. Their cables are slightly “darker” sounding, but it is easy to make adjustment to compensate. So don’t get too wrapped up in the capacitance spec. Let your ears decide.

With respect to the quad cables discussed in the recent post, the capacitance is generally a little higher than an equivalent two conductor wire because there is more copper per foot. All told though, the quad cables are still very low capacitance and have the benefit of much better noise rejection. Here are some specs for comparison.

Two Conductor Cables:
  • RapcoHorizon (p/n MIC1): 21 pF/ft
  • Canare (p/n L-2T2S): 22 pF/ft
  • Mogami (p/n W2549): 76 pF/ft
  • Belden 8412 (p/n W8412): 30 pF/ft

Quad Conductor Cables:
  • RapcoHorizon (p/n MIC4): 46 pF/ft
  • Canare Star Quad (p/n L-4E6S): 46 pF/ft
  • Mogami Neglex (p/n W2534): 65 pF/ft
  • Belden 1192A Quad (p/n W1192A-BK): 40 pF/ft

Understanding your gear is key to making informed decisions on the job, but it is all about what pleases the ear at the end of the day. Remember that there are a lot of ways to get to sweet sounds, and cable capacitance is a small factor in the big picture. So know your gear, Brethren of the Knob and Fader, but always let your ears decide.

Brandon is a long time Brother of the Knob and Fader who supports his guitar and home studio habit by masquerading as a mechanical engineer by day.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

SNR Podcast #20 - 9/9/2012 - Cables

This week your humble host Jon Dayton and co-host Anthony Kosobucki gathered once again around the camp fire to talk about a reader question regarding cables and shielding. There was a good deal of other rambling in there as well as a few night sounds and planes flying directly overhead. But hey, that's why you tune in isn't it. We're not the run-of-the-mill podcast. Check it out directly below on YouTube or just below there's an MP3 link you can stream or save for later.

  • SNR Podcast #20 - 9/9/2012 - Jon Dayton and Anthony Kosobucki discuss cables, noise, and shielding, along with a few other tidbits about goings on.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Quote of the Day: Anthony Kosobucki on Wine

You know you're an audio engineer when: you describe wine to some one with the terms "punch", "attack", "presence" and "brick wall".

                             - Anthony Kosobucki

Star Quad Mic Cable

In the comments section of the last post one of our readers mentioned star quad cable for use in areas where RF interference is a particular concern. Sometimes just called "quad" cable it was brought to us by the phone companies, like so many of the things we use in audio today. [Hat tip to Audio Analyzer]

The concept is actually pretty simple. It utilized the twisted pair technique to help cancel out noise in the signal conductors that gets past the shielding. The wires inside a normal mic cable form a twisted pair, so that a spike of noise getting on one conductor is also getting on the other one but that conductor is carrying the same signal in the opposite polarity. When the cable finally gets to the balanced input of a piece of gear, the signals are combined and since their amplitudes match are passed on, but the noise is not. It's a bit of a tough concept so don't feel bad if you don't get it, just go look it up.

With quad cable, each side of the balanced line uses a pair of conductors. It takes advantage of the phenomenon twice over which reduces noise even further. Here's a link to a data sheet that extols the virtues even further.[Hat tip to Brandon] I'd have to do some more research before I could quote an exact number, but it looks like noise reduction on the order of six to nine decibels is to be expected.
This technology is quite effective. Ethernet cable uses this method with great success. In fact the only difference between grades of cable is how tight the twist is. Even speaker and power cables utilize a twist inside the jacket. Although in those cases it has more to do with manufacturing methods than noise reduction. On a speaker line, a millivolt spike of noise is practically nothing, on a mic line it could be as loud as the signal.

So what's the importance? Well, in a mastering studio it might make a slight bit of difference. That's an area where absolutely fanatical measures are taken to provide a pristine listening experience. Beyond that it's not as common to see it in the lower levels of live sound. Where it becomes more important is at larger concert or sporting events. When you have miles of cable and hundreds of channels of wireless gear, including higher powered two-way radios, that's a lot of opportunity for noise to get in. Quad is one answer, going digital is fast becoming another.  But even on the smaller gigs there are places where it could be a big help.

I remember one small music venue that was just a few blocks from a major broadcast tower. There was a not so subtle hiss in everything. One of the effects units was practically unusable due to the amount of RF getting into it. Short of tearing the club apart and installing a Faraday cage (look it up) quad cable would have been a worth while investment and probably would have greatly improved the sound of the system.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Cables and Interference

We got another email from our friend Michael on the subject of cables. We wound up discussing it a bit at the podcast that will air this weekend (9/9/12) and thought a written article might be of use as well. 

While reading your "Cables on stage" post, I remembered a few cable-questions I've had for a while now:

1) I read somewhere that some audio cables (very dim memory says "speaker cables") should not be kept in nice/tight loops/coils with signals running through them because of interference/signal loss.

2) What types of cables (if any) need to be kept apart/kept away from power cords to avoid interference?

3) Do certain types of cables react to things like refrigerators, generators, lighting, etc.?

As you know, there's a lot of mythology about this stuff out there, especially among guitarists ;)

While we're on cables: there's a lot of debate on the web about proper shielding, esp. in instrument cables, but also on XLRs. A word on that from the pros may be interesting imho. May save certain people a lot of money (or maybe not).

Well for starters, a coil of cable can act as a choke which is a device that will frequency limit the signal. Fortunately for audio people the frequencies involved and the size of the coils tend to make this less of an issue. You can actually put this phenomenon to good use sometimes. A noisy channel can sometimes be helped by coiling the cable tightly around a piece of metal like a steel table leg. 
Of course in a well designed system that relies as much as possible on balanced connections, noise getting in is less of a problem. Take a look back on this blog or do a search for balanced audio and it should start to make sense.
Shielding is important for any kind of cable but especially for unbalanced connections like instrument cables. Wires of any kind will act as antennas. Having a good shield, either a braided ground wire or in some cases a layer of metal foil as well will take any noise being captured by that "antenna" and shunt it safely to ground. 
Any cable will be picking up noise from electric motors, vehicles, radio stations, cell phones and anything else you can think of. Balanced cables of any design and expense will do better at keeping this noise out of your system. On that count it really comes down to the quality of the insulation, strain relief and connectors when you're buying cables. There are a few situations where more expensive cables are preferred, but it's just as likely to be for their ability to hold up under heavy use than anything to do with the way they sound. In a case like the pristine realms of mastering studios you might be able to hear a difference between a $30 Whirlwind mic cable and a $100 hand made Mogami.  In the local club or high school theatre it's not likely to be apparent.
With instrument cables the connections tend to be of the unbalanced variety and here's where it's worth shelling out a little more for well shielded ones. Keeping the lengths to the absolute minimum will help too. The shorter the "antenna" the less noise will be picked up.
It's also worth noting that how you plug your system in can have a lot more to do with hum that many people realize. If you amps, instruments and PA are all plugged into outlets on the stage and your mixer is plugged in way out in the house on a different circuit, if those outlets aren't all on the same leg of the electrical service you're going to get some hum. That's why it's common practice to run power out to front of house along with the snake. (An example of audio running side by side with power and generally having no ill effects because the lines are all balanced.)
The last thing I'll cover is speaker cables. These are less likely to have issues because of the magnitude of the signal traveling on them. A mic level signal of a few millivolts is much more easily influenced by some stray RF than the output of an amp feeding subwoofers. If there's hum it's more than likely coming from somewhere earlier in the signal chain.
That's it for now Brethren of the Knob and Fader. This could easily turn into several more posts, each dealing with one small element discussed above. Keep your eyes peeled.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

What's In Your Pocket?

This question gets brought up on the forums now and again and I thought it would be fun to put it to our readers. A good sound guy (or girl) should always be prepared. Kind of like the Boy Scouts but with less emphasis on camping. Some people have a different list for day to day and what they carry on gigs. Mine is the same all the time because I hate to be without my stuff and I'm pretty much always on duty. So here's my list and let us know what yours is in the comment section.

  • Leatherman Tool & Bit Set
  • AAA LED Flashlight
  • Sharpie (I would sooner lend you a console than my Sharpie)
  • iPhone & iPod Touch (One for business and one for pleasure)
  • Keys on a carabiner
  • Wallet (Cards, sewing kit, band-aids, emergency cash)
  • Bud Earphones
  • Flash Drive (or two)
  • Field Notes pocket note book (because sometimes you just need paper)
  • Pen
  • Tiny Swiss Army Knife
  • Lighter (Because even if you don't smoke, fire is a useful tool)
Another time we'll get into what's in your go-box. You know, that tool box, brief case or back pack that has everything in it that MacGuyver would need to build an atom bomb. For now Brethren of the Knob and Fader, let's hear what you're packin' on your person, every day and in the trenches.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Cables On Stage

I'm going to go off on a bit of a rant here. There isn't much that really irritates me in the world of audio but cables are one of those things that can eventually get to me. Specifically, improperly coiled cables and a messy stage.

Let's start with the cable coiling. To the uninitiated it can be a puzzler as to why this is a big deal. Well, if you're "helping" me coil up cables at the end of the night and don't get all the twists out of them, they're not going to go in the box nicely and if they stay that way too long they'll never coil nicely again. (Or lay flat, but we'll get to that.) Then at the next gig, instead of grabbing coil after coil and having them play out nice and neat, I'll have to spend additional minutes untangling the spaghetti that you made. It's not that hard to learn to coil over-under. Look it up on YouTube and practice at home. This is one of the leading things that will have me saying, "Look, this will take me half an hour by myself or an hour if I have 'help'. So just let it be please."

The second thing is having a neat stage. Even if I'm running late there are a few things I will do because they promote safety and save time in the long run. The first thing is to use cable that's long enough to run around the perimeter of the stage so you don't have lines crossing all over where the band will be walking. Sub snakes are a great way to do this so you don't have to invest in a ton of long cables. Also, this is where nicely coiled cables come in, because they come off a coil nice and neat, they will lay flat and not leave loops and humps laying around for people to trip on.

Beyond that there's the way you run the cable. Start at the snake box and leave a loop or two of slack coiled up right there. That's for two reasons. The first, is that if you have to re-patch, you've got some slack on hand. The second is that if there's a "trip loop" right there and somebody snags a cable, there's a better chance they won't go down and/or test the strain relief on your cable. The other end is where you should leave the rest of the slack. If it's all piled up at the box, you'll have spaghetti for sure. If there's a little extra by every mic on stage, moving a guitar cab or vocal mic is easy. Not to mention that on vocal mics in particular you want to have the slack right there ready to go so your singer can wander around.

For additional safety measures, any time cables cross a walkway on stage, like where every band will load in and out, cover those suckers. Throw a door mat over them or tape them down at least. There are also some bridge type devices you can cover them with that are even ADA compliant. You need to be even more careful if you have cables in an audience area. A fire marshal can shut a show down if he doesn't like what he sees. 

One last tip Brethren of the Knob and Fader. When you're taping down a run of cable there's a better way than just strips of gaff or (eeesh) duct tape every foot. And don't let me catch you making a big "tape tunnel" because that won't hold cable down and it's a pain to get off at the end of the night. Take that same six inch piece of tape and rip it in half length wise. Then make an X over the cable. Because the pieces are holding on a diagonal they're much more likely to hold when people scuff on the cables and cause them to try and roll. If a venue requires a tape tunnel then do Xs first, then cover it. Your cable will hold for days at a stretch with no worries.

Monday, September 3, 2012

The 1%

Relax, this isn't a political post. It's about the name we gave to our philosophy at the church were I work. It has to do with being happy with the work that you're doing but not being satisfied that it's the best you can do.

Every week we take a minute at our production meeting to go over the last services and see what we liked and if there were any little loose threads hanging off. We're always after that next little thing we could do to make things better. It's not that we don't feel a sense of pride or accomplishment in what we've done, just that we're not going to allow ourselves to hit a point where it's "good enough" and just relax.

It's a great environment to work in. My progress as an engineer has slowed at different times over the years because I got so I could handle everything that was thrown at me for a typical gig. It would take something that stretched me to get me moving again and thinking about new ways of doing things. Mixing at a church might not sound like the most exciting job, but not everyone can say they mix for a couple thousand people every weekend. It doesn't hurt that my boss likes to try new things and push us in new directions.

This brings me back to my old philosophy. Try to find a way to say yes. I frequently tell people my brow isn't knitted because I don't want to do something, it's because I'm thinking of a way to do it. There's another saying in production that I like to pull out once in a while, "Nothing is impossible, the impossible just takes longer."

I hope you don't find yourself stuck in a rut and that the stuff you're working on is pushing you to keep learning and growing. If it's not, then it's up to you to go after new knowledge and ideas. It can be tough when you're just starting out and it seems like you can't get any experience until you have any, but you have to do the best you can with reading and experimenting on your own time. Knowledge is knowledge whether you learned it on a gig or read it on the web or in a manual. 

So keep moving Brethren of the Knob and Fader. Keep learning. Keep pushing for that last one percent!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

SNR Podcast #19 - 9/2/2012 - Fighting Feedback

This week Hosts Jon Dayton and Anthony Kosobucki get together by the campfire once again to talk about a couple posts from the last week about fighting feedback. They cover some tried and true techniques, some general philosophy, and some out-of-the-box methods of getting things done.

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

  • SNR Podcast #19 - 9/2/2012 - Fighting Feedback - Jon Dayton and Anthony Kosobucki talk methods and philosophy on the subject of squeal.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Dear SNR: Compression and Feedback

It looks like the feedback article from yesterday has sparked some thought in one of our young Jedi-In-Training. Nate DeMare who has contributed here before dropped us these questions via the Facebook page.

So I just read the feedback article and the title reminded me of a conversation I had with the Lighting Professor does sound here at school. During the conversation I discovered we actually have a nice Soundcraft analog board with outboard gear consisting of two channels of compression. When asked about why we're still using the 01v's instead of investing in an EQ and using the Soundcraft, The professor informed me that in the past they've tried it and they need to compress every channel individually to get max volume out. So two questions are  involved, 
1.) Does compressing a mic actually help prevent feedback? 
2.) Can the feedback issues be from the system setup and have nothing to do with the room?
The PA consists of a cluster of 4 speakers hung above the proscenium with monitors put on stage when needed.
Well Nate,  while dynamic processing on each channel allows you to tailor things a bit better, if those channels are going to show back up in a monitor mix then you're more likely to have feedback issues. Compressing adds volume but also raises the noise floor. There's more signal there and also more non-program signal like shoes and such which all come back raised up from the compression.  That's why I hardly ever compress on the channels if I'm also doing the monitor mixing. For rock, a desk with four or eight subgroups, each with a compressor inserted can work wonders. We've discussed it on the blog before so go back and look that up.

If it's a case of getting a bunch of lav mics to be heard, the same bus compression technique can be used, you just have to EQ carefully. Again, there's a theatre post on the topic so go check it out. But in short, inserting a graph across the lav group or groups will let you ruthlessly take out any frequencies that are going to feed back and leave you the channel EQs to shape each mic so the actors sound as natural as possible. Having good lavs and good radios is important too. A cheap element on a radio that compresses the signal a ton on transmit and then expands it on receive (compansion) can do more harm than you can fix sometimes.  But it's important to do that processing just on the lav groups. If you do it on the stereo bus then you're also processing any front mics, instrument inputs and playback with the lav mic settings.

If it came down to it and there was a little money in the budget I'd invest a few hundred in compressors and graphs for each group on the Soundcraft and put those Yamahas to better use as training pieces or door stops. The lack of headroom and sonic degradation you get from those low end digital desks just isn't worth it in my humble opinion. Not that I'm against digital mind you, but like anything you need to listen and decide how your signal is being affected.