Monday, October 14, 2013

SNR Mini Podcast - Vocal Compression

aaaaaaand we're back... sort of. A fellow Redditor was looking for examples of compression to help train his ear. I had a couple minutes free and whipped up a little sample. Here it is for your edification.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Fast Switching A Backup Mic

I just had a bit of an epiphany. This may already be common practice but I've never seen it or heard mention of it so I guess I'll go ahead and pass it on. 

There are certain situations where you need a hot backup mic. This is particularly true for a wireless mic on a lead actor or lead singer. In a professional setting it's not uncommon for an actor to wear a second mic in case the first one fails during a scene. Likewise on a music gig it would be the height of carelessness not to have a second hand held wireless mic waiting for the lead singer. 
 
The trick is making the switch really fast when a failure happens. Easy enough you say, just mute the one and un-mute the other. But what if you've made any adjustments in the mean time. You could always touch the back up channel every time you touch the primary, but I think there's a better way. 

The trick (on a digital console anyway) is to set the two adjacent channels up as a stereo pair. Then you've got common controls, any EQ or dynamic adjusment you do on the fly automatically applies to both channels. The pan knob in the case of a stereo pair acts like a balance in most cases, so panning all the way to the left will give you all primary signal and nothing from the back up.

Wait, you say. Doesn't that leave you with your lead mic panned all the way to the left in the house? It would. So the last bit of the trick is to route it through a mono bus, panned straight up. If you need to place the mic somewhere other than center you do it on the bus. If and when the mic craps out, just grab the pan knob and swing it hard right. Now you're hearing just the back up (with all the same settings) and it's still right there in the middle of the mix.

I'm not sure if this one is going to change the world but for myself anyway, any little thing that can help with redundancy in a zero fail type of situation is a big deal no matter how small a trick it is.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

How To Nail Voice Overs When Working Solo

Every week I have a couple of voice overs to record to hand over to the video guy at work. Some readers are great, they come in, one-time it and walk out. With others it's dozens of takes and sometimes a little editing on top of that. But what about when you're tracking yourself? 
 
It can be kind of difficult to criticize yourself on the fly. You can always hit the playback and listen to the entire performance again, but there's a simple way to check on your diction. Just open up any speech to text app on your computer or phone, hit record and go to town. When you finish, if what's on the screen matches your script, you're good to go. 

It's not a perfect catch-all, but it can be a help when you're tired or in a hurry and having trouble running your own session and performing up to spec. I tried it with my phone a few minutes ago and it seemed to make getting complicated phrases right a little easier. After all, one of the biggest issues in VO work is rushing. Even if you don't look at the output of the program, just knowing that you have to speak so that Siri or Dragon can understand you will help you nail the take.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Save Early, Save Often

Save early, save often has been the mantra ever since the advent of the computer in modern life. Who hasn't experienced the agony of loosing an hour or two of work for lack of hitting Control-S

I got caught off guard at an outdoor stage this last weekend. At FOH was a Presonus 24 and just as I had finished setting up the routing a GFCI breaker tripped and I was left staring at a blank console. It was only a few minutes work and easily re-done We weren't under too much time pressure so it wasn't really a big deal. Later on in the morning though, with sound check completed and the lawn filling up with patrons it was starting to creep back up on me. As I was walking to my vehicle to grab something I got on the radio and asked if someone would kindly drop by FOH and save to slot eight for me.

In the studio world it's no different. Nobody likes doing drum edits and losing even a few minutes of progress to a power glitch or a system crash is enough to drive one to drink. But there's another level of saving beyond that.

Working over the internet with a client recently we were passing versions of a short clip back and forth to get a feel for what the client wanted. It seemed like a pretty serial progression to me, with each version yielding a new set of notes and the next version turning out closer to what they wanted. After a while though the client started comparing version five to version two and it hit me that I was in a little bit of hot water.

Even though I've been computer savvy for most of three decades and pretty handy with a DAW, I'm still pretty much an analog guy at heart. Let's face it. If the power drops out on you at a show, a good old fashioned analog desk won't let you down. But the saving that would have helped me out in this instance is the kind that sets a way point every time you output a version. 

Session files are pretty small. All they are is a road map for how the DAW is to handle the recorded files and how to steer the plugins. It's barely any strain on the hard drive or the engineer to simply click "Save As" and then go to work on that next version. In my case, I was able to just listen to the previous version and make the needed adjustments. But the more complex the project is and the more time elapses, the more handy it is to be able to exactly recall the way you were doing things several tries ago.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Studio Work In The Age of the Internet

There's a lot of talk bashing places that do "internet mastering". Understandably, you don't want to finely craft your songs and then send them off to someone who supposedly knows about putting the final polish on only to have them squash them all to hell with a couple "mastering" plugins and send them right back, possibly without even listening to them. There's a bright side though.

In the last year I've gotten drawn in to the group of engineers, both live and studio, that hang out on Reddit. In the course of that year we've seen many appeals for help with a project that was more than just a plea for advice. Some people showed up looking for people to collaborate with as an alternative to expensive studio time. Periodically there are guys that offer their services and while that's somewhat frowned upon, there are places to do that and people are finding work that way.

Of course every time this happens people come out of the wood work looking to work on a project just for the experience. That's a good thing really. The days of paying your dues at a real studio are fast slipping away and you've got to seek out experience where you can. More often than not the projects turn out OK. Someone with little or even no budget can get that last little bit of help mastering a project and the budding engineer walks away that much more experienced and with one more credit on their resume.

My own experience with this kind of work has been great. I've got friends who run studios right in the area who would love to keep their mastering work local. But I'm not up to snuff yet. Having some projects with less on the line to work on has been a godsend. The first couple I did for nothing, just to help some guys out and gain that little bit of experience. After a while offers for small paying jobs started coming in. And now after just a few short months I'm getting work pretty regularly. Nothing that's going to let me quit my day job (not that I would, I have the best day job in the world) but an extra couple hundred a few times a month for work I can do with my laptop has been wonderful.

It's been a real adjustment getting used to the pace of things though. The initial negotiations are always a little weird. Two people who will never meet in real life have to get to a point where they trust each other. One to put his or her music into a stranger's hands and the other to feel comfortable that they're going to get paid at the end. Luckily I'm used to putting musicians at ease, and the more my portfolio grows the easier that part gets.

The real stretch though is getting through that period of getting used to each others work and finding out exactly what the expectations are. It's no longer a matter of the client sitting in a session. That client might not even be on the same continent. So what could once be accomplished in half an hour of steady work at the desk is now a matter of sending version after version through DropBox until you finally hit gold. That stretches that first hour or so of work out over the course of multiple weeks sometimes.

It's worth getting used to though. In an age where anyone with a computer and a few dollars can set up shop things are getting ever more competitive. As schools continue to churn out "engineers" into an already saturated market the competition is growing ever more fierce. Learning to work in this new paradigm where the client and the engineer are at opposite ends of a broadband connection is a significant hurdle, but it's the way things are now and it's well worth doing.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Stocking Your Tool Box

If there's one thing my years in construction taught me it's that having the right tools makes the job go a lot better. The crew I worked on had a well stocked box truck with just about everything you could imagine that would come in useful when building a house. That same philosophy served me well when I was doing a ton of live sound work. I took my whole rig with me even if I was going to do an acoustic night at a coffee shop. If some oddball request came up I had what I needed to take care of it right on hand.

At some point though, you have to put a cap on it. While there is something to be said for having everything under the sun at your disposal, most people can't afford to do that. The more I got to thinking about my carpentry days the more I realized that while we had a lot of specialized equipment, most of it served many, many purposes. 

When you're out on a gig you could carry pliers, cutters, a kinfe, and several screwdrivers on you at all times. Or you could just strap a Leatherman to your belt and be done with it. It's not as good as any of those things individually but when something needs fixing in a hurry the tool that's ready to hand is the one that saves the day.

So just like you can have a full height tool chest full of everything Craftsman ever made you can stock your DAW with hundreds if not thousands of plugins. And while you can spend all the time in the world figuring out who's version of the LA-2A is better, wouldn't you be better served to just have one good compressor that you know really, really well?

In my own DAW I've got a couple hundred plugins, sure. But only a couple dozen of them see regular use and only about half of them are my true daily drivers. My EQ might not add all the pizazz of a Pultec, but I know what good saturation sounds like and I can juice it up a little bit. My compressor might be Plain Jane but I know how to run it. I can make it whip crack fast or slow and mushy like the good ol' days. 

So if you're sitting there wishing you could afford the latest and greatest, maybe you should stop day dreaming and just spend some time getting to know the plugs you have right now. Because really, a good engineer can make gold with whatever you put in front of him or her. It's not the logo in the corner of the plugin that makes things great, it's the hand on the mouse.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

If It's Not Breakaway, Don't Wear It

I spent the day out at a local music festival with my house band from work and was given yet another laminate pass to add to my collection. This one, like the vast majority of the other ones hanging up in my shop was on a lanyard that didn't have a breakaway feature.

People who work in healthcare are used to seeing these. When you handle patients for a living you don't want one of them to be able to get a hold of your name tag and strangle you with it. On purpose or by accident it's unpleasant and dangerous. It's just as dangerous to be walking around back stage where there are a million things for a lanyard to catch on. They're not as common or as cheap as a regular solid lanyard but that little piece of plastic could save your life.

It can be a little clip or some other form of release that will just simply give up if about more than five pounds of force is applied to it. That can be the difference between picking up your lanyard and rubbing the rope burn on your neck and gasping for air while you dangle from a railing. Simply put: If it ain't breakaway... don't wear it!
 
If the event you're working for is run by a bunch of cheapskates that don't care about your safety here's a couple ways you can be a little safer without raising a ruckus and looking like a whiny brat. 
  • Wear it on your belt. - Still slightly dangerous but better a wedgie than a noose.
  • Jam it in your pocket. - If anyone needs to see it you can drag it out. Sometimes just the sight of a lanyard dangling is enough to get you past security.
  • Hack your own breakaway. - By far the best solution, your tag is still visible and you look like a total bad ass genius for improving the item all on your own.
Here's two quick ways to accomplish that hack. Whether it's nylon webbing or a round cord, just cut that sucker with your Leatherman and join the two halves up with a piece of gaff tape. Even better, you can show off your expertise in rope craft and tie a fisherman's knot on one side. Pull it tight and leave the other end bare. Pulled tight it will hold on all day but slide off in an emergency. It has the added benefit of shortening the length by a couple inches too which will help keep it out of your way all day. (I'm not going to explain how to tie that here, go look it up if you don't already know.)
 

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Christian Music Festivals

This is as close to talking about religion as we're ever going to get here so don't get nervous. For the purposes of reading this article the only thing you need to understand is that there are Christians in the world. You do not need to believe anything in particular nor will I try to get you to believe anything related to religion. This post is about a music ecosystem.

I just came back from mixing a date at the local Christian music festival which takes place in and around an amusement park. When I got home my Facebook page was full of pictures and comments from folks from church that all had a wonderful time and enjoyed the music and the sights and the general experience. Then there was one from a friend who just happened to be at the park as a regular patron and didn't even realize there was a music festival going on. 

His post went on at length about kids sporting t-shirts from the local Christian college running around with foul mouths, making out in public,trampling small children to get where they were going and whatnot. There was also a video clip posted of a drummer on the main stage who had an elevated, panning, tilting, spinning drum riser a-la Tommy Lee. A couple of the comments on that were that it was money that could be better spent elsewhere.

Which brings me to the point of this post. The only thing I'll say about the poor behavior of the event patrons is that college freshman are idiots no matter what school they go to. As for the behavior of the rest of the patrons it can be hard to tell who's there for the event and who's just there for the water slides so I won't say anythng.

But beyond that, if the Church is supposed to be acting like Jesus would, why are they spending all this money on a big festival? The first reason is that in rich countries church is often just one more thing that people consume and not something you actually participate in. So blame consumer culture and be done with it. But it goes even deeper than that.

There are artists who want to make music that is geared toward church people. That can be anything from music actually written to be used in church services to pop oriented stuff that's more for musical enjoyment. That simple act excludes them from pretty much the entire existing music ecosystem. 

Regular venues don't want to book a Skillet or Thousand Foot Crutch because what church parent is going to let their kid go out to a venue that serves alcohol to see their favorite act? Also, except in rare (very rare) cases, nobody outside the Church cares about going to see those acts. So a venue is looking at a very limited box office night where they're not going to sell any drinks.

Hence the Christian Music Festival Circuit. It's quite simply just a vehicle for people that want to see Christian acts on stage. Apart from a few big churches that bring in acts it's the only vehicle, really. Christian music has to create its own ecosystem. That actually works out pretty well for the regular ecosystem because they don't have to even think about it.  
 
It's a shame that those weekends are often the least favorite for venue staff and locals. Jerks come in all shapes, sizes and colors and there are plenty of them that go to church and don't come out any better for it. It's a shame that in a crowd of tens of thousands of people the ones who are acting poorly are the ones that stand out and leave a bad taste in your mouth when the vast majority of them are just quietly enjoying themselves. But I guess that's true for any group of people.


Sunday, August 4, 2013

SNR Podcast #55 - 8/4/2013 - Family Life, DAWs in Live Sound

This time around Jon and Anth talk a little bit about family life, the separation you deal with when you work in production. Then we get into it about using a DAW as a live sound console. As always there's an MP3 link to stream or save for later and eventually there will be a YouTube link as soon as we can get caught up on processing. 

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

How I Ditched My Console And Loved It

This last weekend was jam packed for me. I work at a good sized church and on a regular weekend that's two rehearsals and three services. I spend a good deal of time behind the desk and a good deal more time running around getting ready. Usually when it's all over I go home and collapse for the rest of the day. This week though I had to stick around for an additional rehearsal for an upcoming event and then stay after that to tech an outdoor baptism service.

Last year I did that service with just four QSC K-10s, a little Allen & Heath console and some outboard. I also brought along a laptop and interface to capture audio to pass along to the video guy. This year I decided to lighten the load even a little more and ditch the console and outboard.

I've got a  MOTU 896mk3 interface with eight analog ins and eight analog outs. That sounds like plenty enough I/O to run an event with so little going on. I tried using the included CueMix software from MOTU which I have used before on small corporate style events but when you start needing monitor mixes things get dicey. Since I was going to have Reaper open anyway I figured I'd give it a go as a live mixing tool.

I was not disappointed.

The input list was keys, acoustic guitar, two singers, a mic for testimony, a shotgun to point at the water and playback from a phone for walk in music. I needed two monitor mixes, a main PA mix and a delay fill because the seating area was narrow and over 300 feet deep. 

I set up tracks for my inputs, labeled them and set up a limiter on the pre-record insert chain just to be safe. That took care of everything on the recording side. Everything else is a separate process so I could throw EQ, compression and effects as well as mix levels without disturbing what was going to tape. (Please forgive my old terminology, it really was tape when I got started in this business and old habits die hard.) I did my EQ and compression right on the tracks while I set up separate buses for delay and reverb effects. Once that was all in place I set up one more bus to catch everything for the delay line and threw the appropriate milliseconds on there.

With everything in place it was just a matter of assigning hardware outputs to the appropriate auxes and buses. I tested it out in the shop the night before and felt pretty confident. Just to be safe though I stuck a little analog mixer in with the rig. There was no need for it though. I did a clean boot up and everything just worked. I got channel EQs and compression dialed in, adjusted the time on the delay fill, and everything worked like a charm.

EDIT: To deal with latency I just cranked up the sample rate. Running at 96 kHz instead of 44.1 cuts the length of each sample in half. Since latency is determined by how many samples are in the buffer at a given time, shorter samples means less latency. I also reduced my buffer size which helped even more. In the end I had a stable DAW with 2.8 milliseconds of latency which is undetectable under most if not all circumstances.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Reflection Filters

In an effort to at least provide you with some interesting reading while we're on a partial Summer hiatus I've got a pretty cool link for you guys today. This one is for studio and live guys alike. It's a reflection filter you can fit around a mic to provide some pretty incredible room sound reduction. 

You can read all about them on the ProSoundWeb article that tipped me off in the first place, then check out the company website. There are budget options for those looking to test the waters starting at just over $100. Prices go up from there, and there's even a pretty good deal on a five piece kit.


Thursday, July 25, 2013

We Have Not Abandoned You

Fear not Brethren of the Knob and Fader. We have not abandoned you. It's just the busy season. As many of you are experiencing first hand, festival stages are raging and many of us are spending far fewer hours in front of our screens. Also... sometimes life happens. Such has been the case for a couple of podcasts lately. We're not a big organization. Sometimes It's eleven o'clock at night and we just look at each other, bag the podcast and go have a cigar.

So while the articles are still going to be a little few and far between, and we may yet miss another podcast or two, we will be getting back on track as the summer draws to a close. July is historically a slow month for blogs. So for those of you not gigging your backsides off just hold tight and we'll be back to full strength in a little.

Thanks for hanging with us.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Link: Dodgy Technicians

July continues to be what it typically is, busy. We're still trying to keep up some semblance of bringing you audio goodness to think about on a regular basis. Which for the next couple weeks at least means you get links when I find something interesting. So for those of you not out fighting heat stroke at festival stages and in fair tents, here's a little something to keep you going.

It's a Facebook page called "Dodgy Technicians" which chronicles any and all stupid rigging, mixing, electrical and any other safety botches that people have documented. At 35,000 members strong there's not shortage of snap shots coming in and it's a good education in what not to do. 
 
The comments under each photo are worth their weight in gold. If a picture is worth a thousand words then the words underneath each picture are worth at least a thousand bucks. Every post is a fountain of information on how each situation should have been done properly.  So check it out Brethren of the Knob and Fader. It's worth a look.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

PSA: How To Speak At A Podium

Here's something else I'm sick of seeing. People crouching to speak into a podium mic. Now unless said mic is some bargain basement dynamic mic and the system is really substandard there's just no reason for this. More often than not you're looking at a pretty decent condenser gooseneck with a nice tight pattern. Even if it's a humble SM57 there's still nothing to worry about. You can put enough gain on in either situation to pic up a speaker from a good distance away.

That's why it drives me nuts on everything from the Grammys to a small high school graduation to see people turn their head sideways and crouch down to kiss a mic that was set up to pick them up from a foot or two away (and stay out of the camera shot). Even if the announcers are properly trained you'll see winner after winner come up to do an acceptance speech and holler right into the wind screen. I can understand rockers not being able to help themselves, it's what they're used to. But actors do it, politicians do it, the music teacher does it at the recital in the church basement.

That's all I got for ya today. End rant.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

SNR Podcast #54 - 7/14/2013 - EAW Anya, Rigging

This week hosts Jon Dayton and Anth Kosobucki go over some details they overheard about the new EAW Anya line array system. Then talk turned to rigging, a little bit about what to do and a whole log about what not to do. Things are still a little busy at SNR headquarters this week so the YouTube version had to take a back seat again. If there's enough clamor we'll get after it. Until such time feel free to use the MP3 link to stream or save for later. Also, take our survey about whether the YouTube version should stick around or not.

SNR Podcast Survey

Hi all. Sorry the podcast is a little late this week. It's done, we've just got our hands a little full. While I was at it though I wanted to ask a question of our listeners. Publishing the podcast twice is a bit of a pain and we've been thinking of loosing the YouTube version and just providing better support for the MP3 version. RSS in particular.

Here's a quick survey via Google Docs. No private information need be shared and your answers will directly help us serve your needs.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

If You're Not A Rigger... DON'T RIG!

I was up in the rigging at work a good bit last week, rigging a new projection screen at the back of the stage. The process was great. The piece came with all the hardware I needed and gave spec for the type and size of chain I was to use. The right size crew was gathered and with a minimum of effort and maximum of safety the new screen was rigged and will now hang securely for years to come.

This post isn't about that though. It's about everything else I found when I was up there. We don't have a fly space, just a hard grid with a few battens hung from it. If lights need to be focused, you get out the lift and take a ride up there. In the past though I've only gone far enough up to get to the back light cans and stopped there. Going up a couple feet more to get to the grid (and not having PAR cans shining in my eyes) revealed a world of rigging horrors.

I found a dozen lighting safetys holding up short chunks of pipe or just dangling with hooks added to them that had apparently been used to support set pieces in years gone by. I was glad to have those back and also glad that nothing happened while they were in service incorrectly. Those safeties are strong little suckers, they're designed to take a pretty good shock load if a light falls. They're probably plenty strong enough to hold up whatever else they were holding but the problem is using them for something other than their intended purpose.
 
I also found long stretches of half inch electrical conduit hanging from tie line, paracord, and in one spot, a shoelace. (shudder) All of that got chopped out with a quickness, never to return... at least not on my watch.

And last but not least I found all kinds of cheap tie down rope and little plastic pulleys that had apparently also been used to fly set pieces in and out. While I can only hope that they were just chunks of cardboard or styrofoam, more than likely they were big beefy flats because that's the way they used to do things around here. Gone. Gone. Gone.

Brethren, it's one thing to use a little chunk of rope from the hardware store to hang something up in the back yard. It's another thing entirely to rig something over the heads of performers and audience members. Every time I see someone doing something that's not specifically in the instructions or laid out in industry standards I get on them. My line is, "OK, so when something happens you can be the one to contact the surviving relatives and ask them what they want to name the venue they just became owners of."

I'm not going to lay out any of those standards and practices because I don't want the liability. When I rig something I follow the instructions to the tee. Or if I'm flying by the seat of my pants I'm looking very carefully at loads, documented strength ratings and doing some serious calculations to make sure everything is over rigged to the nines. If you rig something, whether it's hanging a PAR can or flying an eighty foot wide truss assembly, you better be damn sure it's done properly. If the slightest thing goes wrong the lawyers will be looking for you and you had better have your ducks in a row or you're going to be in a world of hurt.

The take away here Brethren of the Knob and Fader is quite simply the title of the post. If you're not a rigger... DON'T RIG!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Humor: Festivals

Having taken care of a few festival stages in the last couple weeks it makes me realize how lucky I am to work on an permanent system with people that I'm used to. Some of the comments I've heard (and made) in the last few days really bring that to light.

"My band needs five mics across the front" (unsaid: two of which will never be used and the third will only be used by the bass player to tell jokes nobody will get)

"OK, I got the equipment all working for my stage. Now all I have to do is try to care."

 "Huh, I've been on stage for five seconds and nobody has miced up my amp... better CRANK THAT PUPPY UP or no one will hear me."

"Whoa! Turn that monitor down I can hear myself (shudder)."

"I see these girls every year at this stage. Last year I told one of em to get a pickup for her guitar and she showed up with one this year. Then I told her not to be afraid of the mic and get right up on it and whaddaya know... SHE DID! I guess I'm making a difference in the world after all!"

"Whelp... all the GFCIs are tripped so we can't actually do anything on this stage... but at least we're all safe. Dang humidity!"

"I mix my own set with my computer and this little mixer because I don't trust sound guys. I'll just give you a feed." (Constant feedback and vocals drowned out by music.)

"Hey man, the police are here looking for your guitar player"

"I gotta go shower before the gig." (What? Shower? Before you get all sweaty and nasty under the lights?)

Add your best to the comments Brethren of the Knob and Fader.

Monday, July 8, 2013

UPDATED: Traktor for iOS is Free Today Only

A couple of companies are jumping the gun on celebrating the five year anniversary of the iTunes app store. Native Instruments is one of them and you can get Traktor for iOS free today only.

UPDATE: My mistake. Traktor is free for the duration of the promotion. They just got in on it a day or so before some of the other apps. Download away while it lasts!

Speaker Directivity

July is typically a slow month for online endeavors. All the college kids are out doing their summer jobs and us working schlubs are off running festival stages. But for those still tuning in somewhat regularly I've at least got a few links.

ProSoundWeb had a decent article this week about the directivity of speaker arrays. It covers both line arrays and sub woofer arrays and talks about the different effects of physical aiming and aiming with delay have. It's by no means exhaustive but it's a good primer for those who have no idea on the topic and might even clear a few things up for people who already have some understanding.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

SNR Podcast #53 - 7/7/2013 - Festival Season

OK, we're back after a short hiatus. Jon and Anth are pretty cooked from all the outdoor stages and the humidity in general. Sorry for missing last week's podcast. We're back with a vengeance and the topic is festival season. Unfortunately there's no YouTube version at present so for now just check out the MP3 version which you can stream right here or save for later. Thanks for tuning in.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Console Tracking? There's An App For That

I realize things are getting a little sparse here. What can I say. It's the festival season. I did run across one little thing that I thought might interest some people so at least you get a link to check out today.

As you can see from this screen shot this app gives you a pretty accurate representation of a console right on your iOS device. For those of us who are out there working on a different console night after night and often sharing channels with other acts, saving settings has always been kind of a pain. If you're tracking a theatrical run for safety, it's worth printing out cut sheets. If you're running club to club though, it's hard to know what you'll be mixing on and carrying around a book full of blank sheets is a little inconvenient.

Lots of guys just use a sheet of paper and create a quick spreadsheet. Lots of guys just snap some pics with their phones. For many that's fine, but this app is for all those that wish they could really get a lock on their settings and have easy recall with less chance of getting lost. The benefit of the app is that you're not scrolling across a zoomed in picture, you're locked into a channel at a time and you can just scroll down.

Sure setting up a virtual console to match what you just did at sound check will take a minute. But anyone who has hastily scribbled settings on the back of a flyer or snapped a pic knows that it's not too hard to wind up on the wrong channel and dial the overhead settings into the bass channel or some such thing.

So for five bucks you can have an actual representation of the desk you're working on in the palm of your hand (iPod Touch, iPhone, iPad) and have those settings locked in for sure. At the moment there are about fifteen consoles in the app, from Midas, Soundcraft and Yamaha. More are promised (A&H) comes to mind as being a pretty important one to include. It sounds like they're starting to work on outboard gear as well.

Until the whole world is digital something like this is still going to come in pretty handy. When console recall is in your job description for the night, you've got another tool in your arsenal to help things go right. Here's a link to the app so you can check it out yourself.

SNR has received no compensation for writing about this product. We just thought it was cool and might be useful to some of our readers.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Behringer Is Knocking Off Focusrite Now

I was doing a little late night browsing and came across a press release over on PSW:

It looks eerily like a Focusrite Scarlett box with its red face and half rack space form factor. Let me back up a little from calling it a knock off though. It seems like it sits sort of between a couple models. It has six ins and ten outs.

It'll do 24/96, MIDI and works over USB or Firewire. For $200 if it's got any mojo at all it looks like it's probably a decent entry level product. With everybody and their uncle getting into the interface market these days it's actually surprising that Uli hasn't gotten one on the market sooner than this.

It won't be long before they're out and about and you can be sure there'll be some buzz in the forums about them. Behringer is quickly shedding their rep for turning out defective gear. With the X32 getting rave reviews and the one lowest defect percentages in the industry it's getting so the B-word isn't something to be ashamed of having in your rack.

Time will tell.


Sunday, June 30, 2013

Podcast Update

We're sorry to announce that there is no podcast this week. We were just beat. We'll do our best to get back on track next week.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Post Production for Animation

Here's a little something from an ever growing area of our industry. When I was just starting out film and TV work was something that was out there but a lot of us were much more interested in the excitement of touring or big time studio work. Now days, sound for animation and games is absolutely huge. I'm seeing a lot of kids in the forums looking to break into this area of the business. 

Luckily, getting a start is easier than ever. With the price of equipment coming down and the ubiquity of internet video there's a lot of projects out there. Developers making game apps, film students making shorts for YouTube, they all need sound and it's a great place to cut your teeth. All while hoping to break into the big time. 

Here's a little glimpse into one of those big time gigs. Monsters University just came out and Sound Works released a short piece about the sound design where Tom Meyers talks about the thinking that went into the sound design and then walks through all the elements of a scene. It's ten minutes well spent even if you're not that interested in post work.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Mixing When You're Not There

I've been thinking about upgrading a conference room at the church where I work lately. It's been on my mind for quite some time now. This room is busy nearly every day and night of the week. It hosts everything from AA meetings to orientations to bible studies and conferences. It's not huge, in fact it's one of the smaller rooms available in our building, but as much as the big room, the steeple, or the sign out front, it's the face of our church to a lot of people.

Having said that I wish our face didn't look like a pair of rat fur covered boxes from the mid 1980s on shelves and a Carvin (shudder) mixer that almost no one can operate. The built in system is so inadequate that there's a media cart permanently stationed in there so that people coming in have a prayer of being able to do something.

I'd like to make the room as up to date as possible but I also want to make it as user friendly as possible. Having been in a lot of schools and churches with rooms like this, I've seen a lot of media cabinets that even as a twenty year veteran of the industry I had a hard time getting going. Usually a janitor had to come along and tell me which button to press to get it out of presentation mode or some such thing.

So how do I come up with a media cabinet that has lav and hand held mics, a DVD player and inputs for presentation computers and that can also handle all the wildly differing volume levels without being inaudible or degrading into catastrophic feedback? That's been stumping me for quite a while now.

We don't exist to promote products and we don't get paid by any manufacturers so I can pretty much say what I want here. (Full disclosure: we are an Amazon affiliate but that's just so we have an easy way to put pictures of gear on the blog without having to provide citation, we don't make any money from that either.) The box I have in mind is from Ashly. There are others like it on the market but they're a local company for us and I know some of their crew personally so that's why they're currently in the lead.

When our main system processor blew up we went with one of their products, mostly because it would handle all the I/O we needed in a single box, the ne24.24.m. After we got it I fell in love with the features. Those same features can be found in their Pema amps, which are up to eight channels and even the smaller two and four channel versions have an 8x8 matrix on board. That's two lavs, to hand helds, DVD and presentation computer, all in two rack spaces and it'll drive the speakers too.

The thing that really sold me on it is that with all the processing on board it's almost as good at mixing as the interns. Built in compression and limiting can take care of the loud bits, and the leveling section will raise any low inputs to try and hit a target level. By putting a room mic on one of the inputs the system can gauge the level of room noise and adjust the volume accordingly. Internal routing is a snap, as well as EQ, delay compensation, ducking and just about anything else you can think of. 

Sealing the deal is the ability to add wall plates to allow for switching presets and controlling zone volumes. The processor/amp and wireless receivers can be located out of harm's way. The playback devices, inputs and wireless mics can live in a convenient lock box within easy reach and we're done for the day. Tweaking can be done through a laptop. What's nice about that is that I don't have to be in the room or even in the building to trouble shoot or make adjustments.

It's nice to know that there are affordable options that can effectively do away with impenetrable media towers. Gone are the days of line mixers, distribution amps, and other devices that are well intentioned in the planning stages but often turn out to be inadequate, or are easily messed up by inexperienced or unqualified users. A good tech can set up a room and leave it to the users to have successful meeting after successful meeting with ease.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

SNR Podcast #52 - 6/23/2013 - Engineers and Producers

This week hosts Jon Dayton and Anth Kosobucki talk about how the jobs of engineers and producers have evolved over the years, the different things those names can mean and some misunderstandings. Roll that in with all the usual side tracks of course. As always you can check out the YouTube version here or use the MP3 link below to stream or save for later.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Apparent Loudness

I'm going to go a little bit against something I've always stood for. The scooped EQ. I constantly mock both guitar players and kids in zippy cars for cranking the lows and highs. I've been a long time supporter of "listening flat". The truth is though, there's a time and a place for doing that. This is it.

It has to do with apparent loudness. Because of the way our ears function and the way they're wired to our brain, above a certain level we start to perceive increases in volume more in the highs and lows. While our hearing is just about flat at 65 dB SPL, up above 90 our ear's response is pretty scooped. So here's the trick. When you want to listen at a sensible level but want to really feel the impact of the music, scoop the EQ. 

This isn't new information. The Fletcher-Munson curve has been around for years and pretty early on in the manufacture of audio gear for public consumption, the "loudness" button appeared. All it did was boost the lows and the highs so that even at soft levels music seemed louder. Of course it has almost never been used correctly because people don't understand what it's for. So you get all these kids in their zippy cars with the bass and treble cranked and they figure, "Hey! If I hit the loud button it gets even LOUDER!

I tried it out for myself today. I had a rehearsal to mix and didn't want my ears to be trashed by the time I got there. I also wanted to blast some metal on my lunch break. So I set the volume in my car about 10 dB lower than I normally would when I've got it cranked. Then I located the loudness setting in a menu and punched it in. Voila! Megadeth went from easy listening to stadium rocking and my ears weren't ringing when I got back to work.

I don't know how much use this is in the studio, but I can think of a lot of times when the knowledge would have served me well in a live setting. When I'm already close to dangerous levels and people are asking for more, from now on I'll start scooping the FOH EQ instead of just reaching for more gas on the main fader. In smaller rooms I might even try it preemptively, starting out with loads of bass and maybe a touch of tricked out highs. If it feels loud at 100 then maybe I won't have to suffer through bleeding ears at 110 or more in a tiny bar and the patrons will go home feeling like they got a dose of rock.

Give it a try Brethren of the Knob and Fader. Let us know your results, tweaks, or anything else pertinent.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

PSA: How To Hold A Microphone

Here's something that every live engineer runs into and it's a constant struggle to deal with it. Singers cupping the mic. It's the bane of our existence. You get some hot shot on stage that wants to look like some star he saw on TV, cups the mic, creates a feedback nightmare, and then demands more vocal in the monitors.

Pretty much the only way to put a stop to it is to just be that brutal sound guy and say something like, "You can cup the mic, or you can have vocals in the monitors." But that's not the kind of service we want to give is it? My technique has been to try and educate people when time permits. It shows them that I'm not just another jerk sound guy but that I actually care about their show, both on and off stage. So how do you go about educating the masses? I have a little physics lesson that I lay on 'em. It takes less than a minute and more often than not it works.

The reason a mic has a handle on it is to allow the head of the mic to function properly. There's a lot more going on up there than just sound going in the end of the thing. The diaphragm has two sides. The side you sing into hears your voice, plus all the other noise coming in from the stage. The back side hears mostly just the noise. So when the back side noise presses against the diaphragm in the opposite direction of the noise from the front side, they mechanically cancel out and (mostly) just your voice comes through. When you cup the mic, the more you cut off the back side from "breathing", the more omnidirectional the pattern of the mic becomes. More noise, higher likelihood of feedback, and cruddier sounding vocals all around.

After I drop science on em I'll usually give a couple relevant examples of famous people who properly use the handle that the manufacturers have given them. I stress the point once again that I want them to sound good, have good monitors, and a good show in general. Then I'll offer to put a little strip of gaff tape on that sucker to act as a little warning track. That way they don't have to think about it. As long as they can feel that little bit of texture with their thumb and forefinger they're good to go.

Does it work? Yes. Every time? No. Sometimes you have to get the guy right in front of a wedge and show him the difference between cupping and proper holding. Even then some of them can't hear it or just don't care. By and large though educating the masses is possible, and if you're well rehearsed with your spiel you can drop knowledge on a singer while you're doing a changeover without missing a beat.

Here's a little diagram to better show what I'm talking about. The number of dashes indicates the strength of the signal coming from a given source or direction. If the noise is allowed to push equally on both sides of the diaphragm, it cancels out mechanically before it ever gets a chance to generate any signal into your system.

(handle side)     Diaphragm     (grille side)
|
noise ===> | <=== noise
                          | <====== voice
|

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Ashly WR-5 Remote Gain Values Table

This one is going to be for a pretty small audience. Those of you that use Ashly products like the ne24.24M or other Protea products that use the WR-5 remotes will know what I'm talking about here. Everyone else can take the rest of the day off because this is going to be extremely dry. 

When you set the remotes up to run the gain of a channel on your device you don't get gain numbers, you get a scale from 0 to 99. While tuning by ear will often work just fine it's nice to know exactly where you stand sometimes. Ashly provides a formula in the support section of their website but if you're on the ground trying to get something going sometimes a quick look up would be easier than trying to figure this out.

  ne24.24M gain = [(WR5value -1) * 62 / 98] -50

So to make life easy on myself today I plunked out a little spread sheet to print out and tuck somewhere convenient for future reference. Then I thought other users might like to have the same thing handy so I saved it as a PDF and here you go.


I plan on leaving it in the public folder on my Dropbox but if it's of interest to you, better save it somewhere just to be safe.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

SNR Podcast #51 - 6/16/2013 - Things That Sound Bad That Sound Good

This week hosts Jon Dayton and Anth Kosobucki have a little fun talking about things that sound bad on their own but that can sound oh so right when used properly. With, of course, all the usual side tracks and diversions. As always you can check out the YouTube version right here or use the MP3 link below to stream or save for later. Also, there's a link to the Black Flag documentary that was mentioned.


Friday, June 14, 2013

Build a Wah Effect In Your DAW - with Audio Examples

The wah-wah pedal is one of the classics of the guitar world. With a few subtle (or no-so-subtle) moves of the foot a player can add a world of expression that's not possible with any other method. But what's actually going on inside that pedal. If you want the exact particulars this isn't the post. Those posts have been done to death and if you want to know how to track down that certain Dunlop from that certain era with that certain component in it that makes it magic, you can Google that like everyone else.

We're going to very briefly get into what makes a wah pedal tick and then show how you can create that same effect using just the tools you already have in your DAW. Then you can take it to the next level by adding automation.

A wah pedal is quite simply just a sweep mid EQ. The boost is fixed and generally pretty high, like +12 dB or even more. The width of the filter is somewhat less than an octave. The range of sweep runs from about 400 Hz to as high as 2.5 kHz. These vary by manufacturer and even within the same model over manufacturing runs. But the specifics aren't important. If you're trying to exactly recreate the sound of a particular wah then there's ways of going about that. By the time you take all the readings and set it all up you may as well just spring for a decent emulator or just buy the thing outright. What we're going to do here is just take the basic principle and expand on it for what is hopefully a new and unique sound.

To start, I grabbed a guitar track from a live performance I had recorded. Then I picked out a parametric EQ in Reaper. The picture below shows the first filter I set up and the lowest and highest center frequencies of a traditional wah pedal. In the audio example I'm just using one, the second one is only there for illustration but imagine how crazy you could make things by sweeping two filters at once!

Now that we know what we're working with, it's easy to get a little automation involved. You can either play the track back and modulate it in real time, recording your moves, or you can simply draw it in as you see fit. Going a step further, you can easily create an auto wah, or envelope follower effect by driving the frequency with the volume of the track. That is, the louder it gets, the more the frequency shifts. It can be very expressive.
 
The thing I like best about doing it this way in a DAW is that you have absolute control over all the parameters of the filter, not just the frequency. You can use less gain and a wider filter, like number two in the next picture, or have a super tight filter like number three. You can even use negative gain like number four. What's more, is that all those parameters are able to be automated as well. You can create an effect where the filter gets wider as the frequency increases, or the gain decreases as the frequency increases. There's really no limit. If you can figure out the automation, you can do it. You could even side chain input from another channel so that a vocal could control one or all of the parameters. Peter Frampton eat your heart out!
So with no further ado, let's get into the listening portion of this exercise and see what you can actually do with this knowledge. I spent just a very few minutes setting this up and I barely scratched the surface. Now that you're in the know, Brethren of the Knob and Fader, let's see how you can make that baby cry!


 

Thursday, June 13, 2013

New Amps from QSC - PLD & CXD

I've always been a big fan of QSC. When I first made the jump from entry level products it was an easy move. Yeah they were twice the price but with twice the power and half the weight it was an easy move to make. 

Sure, you might not have as much street cred as the guys that roll in with racks of Crown or Crest, but the poor reputation of light weight amps has pretty well dissipated over the years and it's pretty hard to argue against them. Class D is here to stay.

The new boxes from QSC are four channel and offer internal DSP, routing and connectivity.  The most interesting feature to me is the ability to gang up channels beyond simple bridging. That means you could have a single, four channel amp to pump 1000 watts in to each of four monitor mixes at one gig and then reconfigure it to act as a single, powerful sub channel at the next gig.  They run from 4 x 400 watts up to 4 x 1150 watts and the biggest can combine for a masive 5000 watts out.

There's install models too. Guys looking for Euroblock on the back panels or wanting to drive 70 volt systems are taken care of.

Here's a link to an article over at ProSoundWeb with some pictures, a few videos and a link to the QSC website.  PSW Article

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Notes for Theatre

When I'm mixing theatre, especially on an analog console, notes are of the utmost importance. Years ago I developed a super simplified method for tracking a show that lets me keep everything I need on just one or two sheets of paper. I can leave the script on the desk and just get down to business and focus on mixing. 

One big reason for ditching the script is that if I'm constantly scanning pages, I'm not looking at my performers and I could easily miss something important. Many is the time when the show has gotten off track. While the lighting guys scramble frantically, flipping pages like mad men, I just look at my next note and then keep my eyes on the stage to see what happens. 

Another reason for going with super simple notes is that the human brain is very good at memorizing things. After just once viewing of a show I find that while I can't quote it word for word, the next time I see it I'm already very familiar with it and have a good idea of what to expect next. Even without having read a script I can get in tune with a show very quickly. The more I focus on the show instead of the paperwork, the faster this happens.

So to start, I deal with numbers, not names. On a short run school or community theatre show, there's just not time to associate every character on mic with their real name. Also, when looking down at the console, it's much easier to just look for a 17 than it is to find a character name like "Captain Smith". Once I've got a cheat sheet made up, I'm dealing almost entirely with the numbers. Leads are high numbers, close to the center output section of the desk, chorus players are lower numbers.

A typical scene will start with the scene number and often I'll write the location just under it. Then I look at who the first actor or actors will be to step out on stage and I'll write their numbers down. A lead and a few bit players walking on might look something like this:

1 - 18, 1-4, 6

I write them in chronological order if they're all entering as a group. That lets my hand fly across the faders to prep a scene. If there are sequential numbers entering as a group I just write it as a range.  As the scene develops, I'll leave some space and then write in the next entrances. So if another lead comes on shortly the line looks like this

1 - 18, 1-4, 6       17

I'll only add lines if I really need to. Less writing and reading, more watching and mixing. If I've got one hand busy tweaking levels of the people already on stage, my other hand moves over to 17, ready to catch her when she makes her appearance. Moving on, if there's someone making a blind entrance, or that starts with lines off stage, then I'll include a line so I don't get caught out.

1 - 18, 1-4, 6      17    "...around here somewhere"-12

I don't include cues for actors leaving the stage either. When I see them leave I pull their channel down. Again though, if there's one I'm likely to miss I'll stick in a line or indicator so I don't get caught looking. 

If there's a sound effect that I have to play back, I'll assign it a letter label and write that with a big black square around it at the appropriate time and with an indicator for the action or line that cues it. Whenever possible though I try to hand those things off to the orchestra. Quite often they will have already gotten on this for me. A keyboard player who has been doing gun shots or thunder through early rehearsals will just keep doing them. Or I'll load up a sampler or laptop and give it to the percussion section to mind. I realize that in professional theatre I'd have to man up and just do it myself. But a lot of times the kids in the pit are happy to do it and I'm glad to have it off my list so I can just focus on mixing. 

That's really about it. I can fit the notes for a whole two act musical on one sheet of paper. I'll tweak and make additions as we go through tech and dress rehearsals. Then I'll type it up before the show opens and off we go. I couldn't lay my hands on any actual show notes, but I wrote out a quick example of what the first few scenes would look like.
 
 
People who work in professional theatre shudder at the sight of this. They groan when I tell them I set the script aside. They tremble at the thought of cryptic notes that couldn't be handed off to a substitute engineer. But the fact is, on small shows, all that matters is that you hit the cues. There is no time off. There is no under study. It's just me, and if I'm lucky a student or other very green person on hand to help me out. The few people who are up to snuff to take over from me are easily trained in my methods and the couple times we did have to hand off things went swimmingly.

Just keep in mind Brethren of the Knob and Fader. You got hired for your prowess as a mixer, not your skill at note taking. That prize winning script with all the post it flags and penciled notes isn't going to earn you one extra dollar on the gig. Figure out how to take short, effective notes, and get on with the business of mixing your show.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Notes for Live Mixing

I've been wanting to do a post on the hieroglyphics I use when taking notes for a live performance for a little while now. The problem is, I keep changing the note system that I use. I just got around to creating a purpose built tracking sheet for mixing services at work. I figured with a shot of my old way of doing things, the new tracking sheet, and some of my most commonly used glyphs I could do a pretty good job showing you how I track things.

 
Here's a copy of an old set of service notes. Those of you who work in churches will likely recognize the Planning Center Online format. These were a pretty handy starting point because they encompass the whole service and there was a fair amount of room for me to take notes on things I wanted to remember to do during songs.

The problem was, as things got more and more demanding, I was having to write smaller and smaller to fit everything in. Even my custom made glyphs were becoming hard to recognize with a quick glance. With things like lead singer, solo instrument, playback volume, delay tempo and possible quite a few other things changing from song to song, I needed a better way.


Enter Libre Ofice (which is an open source suite of apps that I highly recommend) and with a few tweaks of a spread sheet I fabbed up a custom tracking sheet. I print one out every week right before rehearsal and start to fill things in. I still keep a copy of the Planning Center document handy, but quite often I just write between the lines if there's something particular that I need to remember.

Now when a song is about to start, I've got my eye trained to scan across the top row for that number. In less than a second I can take in the delay times, backing track volume, lead singer, and first instrument. With that set, I'll look over the lower lines to see if there's anything I need to watch, and balances to be careful of. One last glance will tell me who's got the solo and if there are any big changes at the bridge.

At the top there's space for information like projected service length and actual length for each service. That helps us tighten things up if we need to. At the bottom I left a few boxes for random notes or changes I need to make to the lighting.

The one in this example got a little sloppy. I had a young intern in training along for the ride this week. Also, the notes are a little more sparse than I would usually have. This week our youth band was up and they tend to pretty much play a song straight through. One thing you'll see is that I often use three letter abbreviations for names. Less writing, more mixing. You can see in this example that I created a map at the bottom of all the musicians, their positions on stage, and what monitor mix they were on. Often I know them by sight but with a relatively unfamiliar group on stage this was a real life saver.

The last thing I'll share is a clip of a few of the symbols I use most commonly. The symbols for instruments tend to get replaced with names when I'm at work but I do use those when I'm out on a festival stage. The rest tend to be obvious, or at least they're obvious once you catch on to how I use them. I try to use graphical images as much as possible. Less reading, less writing, more mixing. I can't say that enough.
One that I use quite often is the little cloud. Architects use clouds to indicate changes in drawings. They're very good at drawing your eye to something that would normally blend into the background. I use them most often for indicating that a different singer is coming up and I'll need to make changes to the monitoring situation.
 
Another favorite trick is to use little horizontal lines to indicate relative fader positions. I get asked why I don't just use numbers to indicate the gain structure but looking at - _ _ -  to know where four guitar channels need to sit is a lot quicker than reading +2, -3, -3, +2. That, and musicians can be a bit inconsistent from performance to performance. So depending on how enthusiastic those players themselves are, or how enthusiastic the rest of the band is, those values can run up or down a couple dB. Knowing the relative position allows me to form my hand to a close value and then adjust slightly by ear as things get going.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Aaaaaaaaaand We're Back

Just wanted to drop a quick line to let you know that we haven't fallen off the face of the Earth and that posts for the rest of the week are in the process of getting lined up. We've got a few things in mind to help you get organized and time permitting, we'll get into the wizardry of the wah-wah pedal.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

SNR Podcast #50 - 6/9/2013 - Polarity vs Phase

This week hosts Jon Dayton and Anth Kosobucki are joined by returning guest Gordon Wood. Conversation started with some current projects, ranged over the differences between phase and polarity and wound up covering some different ways to think about getting into the business. As always you can check out the YouTube version right here or use the MP3 link below to stream or save for later.


Thursday, June 6, 2013

Unscheduled Sabbatical

Sorry for the lack of posts this last week. Sometimes festival season happens. And sometimes it happens while flu season is still somehow in full swing. Here's to tasty gigs in the summer sun. And down with wretched influenza. We'll be back on the air as soon as humanly possible.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

SNR Podcast #049 - 6/2/2013 - Install Work

This week hosts Jon Dayton and Anth Kosobucki talk about moving drums around on stage can change the sounds you get and then get into an install job they're working on. As always you can check out the YouTube version right here, or use the MP3 link below to stream of save for later.


Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Make Room For The Vocals, After The Fact

If you're in the audio business, eventually some one is going to ask you if you can record them singing or rapping over some pre-produced music. It might be someone with karaoke dreams, a student making an audition track, or more likely a hip-hopper with some talent at beat making but who is lacking know how on getting good recordings of actual sound. Any of the above are usually worth working with. It might take a little work to get things together but it's not too hard to make someone's day, it's a couple extra bucks, and hey... it's only one mic right?

I'll leave out all the bits about getting good takes out of inexperienced vocalists and people that want to rap right over top of Jay-Z. Assuming there's no nonsense involved you may still have a good sized issue to deal with here. Some pre-produced backing tracks are intended to have a voice recorded over them. There's a whole industry based around making karaoke tracks, and some artists release music only versions of their songs (or they can be had dishonestly if you search the internet enough). 

But the situation I'm talking about is the beat builders, I guess they call themselves "producers" these days that have musical talent but aren't so skilled at engineering a song. Putting together a piece of music where the vocals are important means leaving space for them to exist. You can find endless discussions and posts about carving out guitar tracks and whatnot to make room for the vocals. 

So what do you do when presented with a stereo mix that's bangin' loud and doesn't have any room left in it for the kid to rap?

My technique involves a little side chain compression. I'll divide the track up into three bands, much like I do when setting up crossovers for a PA. That means duplicating the track a couple times, high pass one, low pass another, and do both to the last (just the mids are left). The bass can pretty much be left alone unless it's really going to step on things. The highs may or may not need attention, if they're really busy you may need to touch them but to start just leave them alone. The meat and potatoes of the mids is where this trick will be most effective.

Set up a compressor on the mid track and key it with the vocals you recorded. When there's no voice, the track is left alone, when the singer or rapper is on the mic, the mids are being compressed. Make sure there's no make up gain, you're looking for straight reduction. If you're careful with your attack and release settings you can make it pretty transparent. Dial the threshold and ratio in properly and you'll find that you can make the music gently step aside for the lyrics.
 
If the consonants aren't getting through then you repeat the process with the highs. You may find that you need to automate some of the settings. What works in a hard driving chorus might not work in a laid back verse.
 
Give it a try Brethren of the Knob and Fader. The difference between slapping a vocal on top of a produced track and gently placing it inside is huge. People will hear it and once word gets around that you're the guy cutting the hot vocals, you can make a nice buck at it with very little work.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Panning and EQing

The more music I listen to lately the more I'm surprised by how much of it is basically mixed in mono. Sure there might be some little things in the highs whizzing back and forth to generate a little interest but that gets old pretty fast and the real meat and potatoes is still pretty much solidly, unmovingly, up the middle. In the forums you find all kinds of people saying mono doesn't matter any more. Reality would seem to indicate otherwise.

For that reason I'm always looking to find ways to create space and if possible, motion in my mixes. That doesn't mean wild panning automation. There's a lot of little things you can do. Things that you have to do. Because once the ear gets used to something, it disappears. 

One of my favorite tricks, both live and in the studio, is to mic a source twice, hard pan, and EQ each side differently. You can use two of the same mic or two different ones, it's half of one and six dozen of the other. Or something. That's about the most basic step you can take to widen the image of something that's basically parked at center. 

In a DAW,  if I don't have two mics on a source, or I'm stuck with a single, mono track I'll just duplicate it and start in on the EQ. My favorite EQ plugin has a neat option that allows you to flip the curves upside down. I never had a use for it until I spotted it while working through this trick. I put the EQ on the left instance and cut some 400 Hz out of a guitar, then boosted 2.5 kHz. I copied the plugin instance to the other track and checked the reverse box. Boom! Evil twin guitars. They're playing the exact same note at the exact same instant but because of the panning and EQ when the music goes lower it sounds like it's coming a little more from the left and when he goes up the neck it moves to the right. You can accentuate the motion even further by using some subtle compression after the EQ.

Don't just sit there Brethren of the Knob and Fader. What are your favorite tricks for getting space and motion in a mix?

Sunday, May 26, 2013

SNR Podcast #48 - DiGiCo SD-9 Review, Aging Gear

This week Jon got a tour of a DiGiCo SD-9 and gushes about it for a bit. Then he and Anth discuss gear getting old and trying to get a decent buck for it on the used market. As always you can check out the YouTube version right here or use the MP3 link below to stream or save for later.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Give A Man A Fish

Just a quick thought on learning today. If you learn how to do something, that's great. You've got a skill. If you learn it to the point where you understand how it works, then you're in the best shape possible.

I see it all the time when teaching volunteers how to mix. You explain faders and EQ, the difference between a sub and an aux, and they slowly get it. But at first it's usually a case of "if this, then do that". Which is functional but doesn't help a lot when stuff stops working or you need to do something different.

When things start to get really good is when things finally click into place and they begin to understand how gain structure and signal routing work from front to back. That's the point where you go from having a semi-skilled person who's trained for a single application, to having a full fledged operator who is now ready to step up to any mixer anywhere and dig in.

Not that it's always that easy because equipment differs so much but I think you get the point. Understanding the underlying processes puts you at a distinct advantage to someone who only understands how to accomplish tasks.

Keep this in mind any time you're learning something new. If you're getting into recording it's good to know rules of thumb regrading bit depth and sample rate. It's even better to read up a little bit on sampling theory so you know why you're making those choices. Not that you have to be an expert on Reed-Solomon code. But it makes good sense to understand the machinery behind the face plate. Apply it to anything, learning lighting should include some electrics and electronics studies. You get the idea.

Don't just learn tasks. True Brethren of the Knob and Fader understand the inner workings.

Here's a link to a LifeHacker post on how to learn anything in a short amount of time.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Price of Used Gear

Today's topic is a rather depressing one. You buy a new piece of gear and the first day it's already plummeting toward worthlessness. Depreciation, in short, is a bitch. My own woes stem from building up close to $100,000 worth of audio gear and finding myself lucky to sell it off for 20% of what I paid. 

Now it's a rare item that actually gains value over time. The odd classic bit of gear, a particularly good sports car, high end watches. Most of it runs a pretty similar life cycle to a car. Most gear looses 20% to 30% of its value in the first year. After that it tapers off a bit until it's worth about 20% of cost.

Where this is really felt is when there's a paradigm shift in the industry. When the majority of folks adopt new technology and it's only a small old guard that's still interested in doing things the old fashioned way, it really becomes a buyer's market. In my case, I bought a mid sized analog console in 2006, right before digital found its way down to the masses. Now in 2013 even though it's still very clean and functioning perfectly, I'll be lucky if I can get 25% of what I paid for it. Probably less.

That's not to say that some things won't become hot items again in a few decades when they become "vintage". I just don't have time to wait around to recoup my investment. I need to go digital too and I can't count on selling off my old stuff to help me do it. 

Even if you pay very close attention to trends it can still be pretty difficult to tell what's going to sweep the industry and what's just a fad. But no matter what the current state of things it's always a good idea to keep turning over your gear in mind. This isn't so much an issue for the studio guys but for the live guys who's stuff is out there taking a beating it's much better to sell it while it's still got some miles left in it than to hang on to it until you can't get anything for it.