Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Mic Week - Part 2: The Versatile SM57

Click for all Mic Week Posts
It's Mic Week and don't worry Brethren of the Knob and Fader, it's not going to be all Shure products. But we are kicking things off with a couple of the most widely used mics in the industry. Yesterday it was the humble SM58 vocal mic and today it's the close cousin, the SM57.

The two mics utilize the same capsule but have different grilles. The 57 was intended for use on instruments. It's smaller cap makes it better suited for getting up close and personal with drums and guitar cabinets. Some find that because there's less in the way a 57 is still useful as a vocal microphone. (You can see Marylin Manson singing into one in some NIN videos.)

The SM57 is just an absolute work horse in the live sound industry. They're still the first choice for many on snare dums and guitar cabinets. You'll also see them on toms, brass and just about anything else you can think of. For a small company with a limited mic box these are usually what's left when a last minute addition shows up. Your humble host has even used them for drum overheads in a pinch. It's a favorite trick on a small stage where bleed is an issue.

They're also the mic of choice for the President of the United States. Any time you see one speaking there will be a pair of 57s on the podium, one hot, one for back up. Put enough gain to them and they'll give you clean crisp vocals even from a distance and their bomb proof construction will see them through years of duty.

In the studio they're used less and that's an obvious move. When you've got multi-thousand dollar condenser mics on hand it doesn't make sense to reach for a $100 dynamic mic. But there's always a few in the mic locker and they're a known quantity. If you're going for a vintage or lo-fi sound they're an obvious choice.

Don't let them fool you though. A major engineer when posed with the question, "What would you buy if your studio burned down and you only had a couple thousand bucks to get going again?" The answer was, "After Pro-Tools and a computer to run it on I'd probably pick up a handful of SM57s." (If anybody can remember what episode of Pensado's Place that was on I'd love to attribute it correctly.) I feel the same way. Whether live or in the studio, if you give me a source and a 57 I'll get you useable signal.

So in conclusion, it's not the best mic for anything, but it's a pretty good mic for just about anything. And with that, now it's your turn. I'm calling on all the salty old dogs out there to hit the comments section and fill in anything I left out so that the younger Brethren aren't wanting for knowledge. Tune in tomorrow for another dose of Mic Week!

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Mic Week - Part 1: The Humble SM58

Click for all Mic Week Posts
It's high time we got down to business and covered some microphone basics. You salty old dogs aren't off the hook though. It's up to you to read these posts over and fill in the gaps in the comments so any aspiring young engineers aren't missing out on anything. We're not covering mechanics here, but specific models and their uses.

We start with what may be the most common microphone on the entire planet. So common even your mother would recognize it. Type the word microphone into an image search and the results will be split between something that looks like the humble Shure 58 and the "Elvis Mic". (The Shure 55 that we'll get to later.)

Though many express their distaste for this mic it's not for nothing that it's been an industry standard for decades. This simple highball contains an utterly rugged capsule that does a fair job with just about any vocal you can throw at it. I've seen one mashed flat at a metal show and it still passed signal at the end of the night. Jump on YouTube and you can find a multitude of heavy hitters singing on one. Freddy Mercury sang on one at Live Aid, one with a switch even!

The SM in the name actually stands for "Studio Microphone" although with better sounding mics becoming ever more available at low prices it's not all that common to see one in studio work these days unless you're going for a lo-fi effect.

On modern stages where performers wear in-ear monitors it's possible to use condenser mics and not worry about feedback. On a tight stage though a good old 58 isn't a bad choice to pull out of your mic box. It's got decent rejection of off axis noise so you can park it right in front of a wedge and be all right. Likewise with the quality of main PAs getting better all the time the deficiencies of a 58 will stand out.

There's just something about the look of an SM58. Some feel so strongly about it that they'll have them modified with capsules from much more expensive mics. Billy Joe from Green Day has one with a Telefunken capsule because nothing looks more punk rock than a ratty old 58.

If you know a thing or two about mics you may be wondering why I didn't include the 58's sister mic, the SM57, in this post. It's got the identical capsule in it but it's design and uses are different as well. So check back tomorrow Brethren of the Knob and Fader when we'll get into it more in depth. Meanwhile get busy in the comment section and add in anything we forgot.

SNR Podcast #44 - 4/28/2013 - Mastering, Vocal Techniques

It's been a while since we talked about mastering and we've both learned a bunch since then. Once we get through that it's on to techniques for tracking and mixing vocals. As always you can check out the YouTube version right here or use the MP3 link below to stream or save for later.

Also, here's a link to the post that includes a sample of the choir recording we were talking about editing final consonants on.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Some Links

Normally we try not to rely on other sites to fill up our pages. If we get busy we just hold off on posting. If there's something really juicy we'll toss in the occasional Bobby O link of course. Because we've been too tied up to really give you a full lineup of posts I thought I'd take a minute and give you a little bonus Saturday post this week with a couple links we like.

If you listen to the podcast you'll know that we're big fans of Reddit. If you're going to waste time it's a pretty good place to do it. Buried in there among the cat pictures and silly memes are a couple of really great audio forums.

www.reddit.com/r/audioengineering and www.reddit.com/r/livesound are two of our favorites. Nothing against Gearslutz or ProSoundWeb but if you're looking for a really great place to get or share audio information without worrying about trolls and flame wars these are it. In addition to those there are a host of other audio themed subs (which is what they call their forums) that cater to specific interests such as DAWs, instruments, types of music, music production, post production and on and on. Your mileage may vary with some but I'll swear to the authenticity of the two I linked to.

The next one I'd like to mention is r/audiomemes. Most audio subs frown on the posting of funnies so a couple thoughtful guys started a forum just for that purpose. There's already a few dozen good ones in there and they're just waiting for your contribution. Just please, don't post them anywhere else or you'll get yelled at.

And last but not least there's what could possibly be the most useful if it manages to take off. In r/postaudio (not to be confused with r/audiopost) you can throw up a post offering your services. It doesn't matter if your a mixer, mastering engineer, arranger, composer or whatever. It's open to musicians as well so if you're available to contribute to projects you can put yourself out there. Most importantly, if you've got a project going and you're stuck, you can put it up and people will fall all over themselves to give you back the best tracks, mixes and masters. You can pick the best one. It's set up to operate on a barter basis, like trading web design for mastering for example, but PayPal deals are also kosher. Again, this is the spot to do this. Other subs frown on soliciting work so do it there or don't do it. If this sub hits critical mass it's going to be a super resource to have for both the cash strapped musician and the young engineer looking for work. Tell your friends.

That's all the linky goodness we have to share for now Brethren of the Knob and Fader. If you've got some good ones, hit us up by email or on Facebook and we'll start compiling a list.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Small Theatre Install

I did an install for a tiny local theatre the other day and brought some pictures back to share. As you can see it's a pretty tiny place. The stage is no more than sixteen feet square and there are seating areas smaller than that on three sides. So everything is really tight, but it's easy for an actor to be facing the wrong way and have one or two of the seating areas totally miss out on their performance. 

You can see across the stage to the opposite seating area here.
I know, how could you possibly not hear someone on a stage the size of a kitchen table. A lot of what this company does is musical theatre. So when they're doing Shakespeare they don't need any help, but for a lot of shows they need playback of sound effects and music and once in a while they even feature live musicians. That's a little more to compete with.

Because they wanted stereo playback to each seating area the solution was to go with powered speakers. This solves a lot of problems. No bulky amps with loud fans, no figuring out impedances or overloading amp channels and overall a pretty economical price point. Here's the spec list that I was originally given.

  • Mixer capable of 12 mic and 2 stereo inputs
  • Stereo speakers to each of three seating units
  • CD player
  • Hand held wireless mic
  • Whatever else you tell us we need (a 2x31 graphic EQ)
The budget for this had to be kept under two grand so right off the bat this was going to be a tough figure. Then it hit me to take a look at what budget active studio monitors were available. As it turns out, half a dozen Presonus E5 would do nicely. Small, light package with eighty watts of power. Six of those came in at about $900 which left plenty of room for the rest of the package. For the mix I got a little Soundcraft which unlike many other so-called twelve channel mixers actually has twelve mic pres in it. Here's a shot of the package after unboxing.

A sweet little Soundcraft and half a dozen cheap-o monitors
For mounting I picked up some really affordable mounts from On-Stage. The speakers only weigh about eight pounds so I had no worries about the weight. The seating areas have walls on each side that aren't full height so I was able to screw those down tight to the top plate and have a secure anchor to pan and tilt the boxes just where I needed them.

The cheapest speaker mounts I've ever seen but they worked great!

I wound up mounting them about even with the first row of seats. I had to be careful because an actor wearing a mic can get really close to the knees of the people in the front. By tilting the boxes in and down slightly, even in the center seat in the front row you can clearly hear both of them and there's very little direct bleed on stage.

A shot of one blending into the surroundings. Ultra-hip blue power LED in full effect.

With all the speakers mounted it was just a matter of running power out to them which was accomplished with some black extension cords from our local home center. For signal I had ordered a spool of mic cable that's intended for installs. The jacket is plastic instead of rubber so it's a lower profile. It's not as durable but it's cheaper and when the cables are running through the ceiling it's no big deal. With a box of connectors and my trusty soldering iron I had sound coming out in about two hours.

All three left speakers and all three rights are fed from the back of the EQ which is located in an elevated tech area behind one of the seating areas. Sometimes the console will live up there and sometimes down in the back row of seats.
Looking down at the top of the wall where the cables run. Speaker just above the light glow.

When fired up there was a surprising amount of volume available and it was surprisingly clear. The speakers sounded fine up close but I was a little worried about reflections with so many going in such a small space. The result was that you could tell there was some sound bouncing around the room but the image from the two speakers in the area where you were standing was in firm command. It took very little EQ to get things sounding natural and only just a bit more to make sure mics won't feed back.

The project came in on time and on budget so the clients were pretty happy to begin with. Hearing some playback in the space made them even happier. The first performance is this weekend so I imagine I could get a call at the last minute or possibly afterward to make a few more adjustments

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Sound Level Limits in Live Mixing

It's been a while since I've had to go toe-to-toe with someone over the loudness of a show but SPL levels are still on my mind. At the church where I work I'm in a 1400 seat aud with SPL limits of 92 for evening services and 94 for Sunday mornings. That's C-weighted, slow response, at the mix position. As long as I hold to that, nobody squawks. Almost...

A lot of the problem with volume levels is perception. A well balanced mix that's a little heavier on the bottom can go to 96 on the peaks in that room and nobody will bat an eyelash. But throw a harsh vocalist or guitar in the mix and I'll get complaints from a service where the meter read 90. Dynamics have a lot to do with it as well. A song that builds slowly and peaks at 96 for eight bars at the end is a completely different story from one that starts and stays at 94 before it does that same ending.

It doesn't help that a lot of people in our industry, let alone the general public understand how decibels work and how the different weightings affect the readings. Many a time have I been approached at an outdoor event by some municipal official waving the same Radio Shack SPL meter that I have with it set to A/fast. Well of course they're pissed that I'm at 115! Click, click. "Oh, you're at 103. Well the neighbors are complaining so how about you make it half as loud. Yeah. Shoot for 50."

Don't even get me started about cell phone apps. What a nightmare. It's becoming more and more common to be approached by people who have some slight knowledge of OSHA regulations from their place of employment. They'll come up and demand that I turn down a service because their phone was reading above 85 at some points. I'll grab my meter with the proper settings dialed in, show them the number, tell them it's well within established limits and that there's no way that the mic on their phone will ever take an accurate reading. 

One more thing about OSHA regulations. The actionable limit for noise in the workplace (from Standard No. 1910.95) is 85 dBA, slow. That means that you have to be exposed to that level of continuous noise for the full length of a working day before it's considered dangerous enough for your employer to have to offer you earplugs. The exposure limit for 95 dBA, slow is four hours. Which in my case means that if we were paying our congregation to sit through services they could sit through three and a half of them and we wouldn't be required to offer protection.

Now that's exposure for continuous noise like engines or fans. Things that are more dynamic can be more dangerous. The long term average on a rifle range isn't that high because there's a lot of silence in between shots, but a single gunshot close to your ear can ruin you for life. So while averages are good to look at the peaks need to be taken into account as well. In my 70 minute services the music is about 45 to 48 minutes. Add in a bunch of speaking and the average level is pretty low. For someone sitting close to the drums though that big fill at the end of a song can be pretty loud. Setting the meter to take max readings and taking a look now and then isn't a bad idea.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

SNR Podcast #43 - 4/21/2013 - What We Learned This Week

We learned that hitting a deer in the middle of the night will wreck your day and make your podcast late. Beyond that we covered a multitude of topics ranging from mastering to live mixing to building your own gear. It's a smorgasbord of tasty tidbits of knowledge that we picked up at our most recent gigs. As always you can check out the YouTube version right here or use the MP3 link below to stream or save for later.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Rough Mixes

I've been starting to get into mastering work lately and it's lead me to some pretty interesting thoughts about the process of getting a mix ready artistically. A couple songs came in last week and on my first listen I was hearing all this big, fat hip hop kick and percussion. Then I was hearing some really lush Rhodes, jazzy guitar, acoustic guitar and Hammond organ but they were buried under the beat. 
My first thought was to get back in touch with the guy and ask him what the hell he was thinking burying all that gold under the drums. But after a couple more listens I started to get what he was after. The project was definitely aimed at the hip hop crowd but it's a more sophisticated feel. The imagery I was getting was of upscale cocktail parties, not tuners sittin' on dubs with eighteens in the trunk. Maybe the crowd at the party used to be that crowd though so the hip hop drums needed to hit that mark a little bit and then make you look deeper down for the upscale feeling underneath.

Thank God I was only mastering the project and not mixing it. Starting out with a batch of tracks I would have gone in a completely different direction. I would have pushed the swanky elements to the front and balanced the drums with them. That would have pushed the imaginary cocktail party all the way into the tuxedo crowd when it was intended for people who might be wearing a Method Man shirt under their sport coat.

Now days a lot of projects if not most are already in the process of being mixed as they're being tracked. It's not a matter of doing all the capture and then sending it off to a mix engineer. Whether it's a band in the live room with a producer in the control room or a kid on a laptop in his bedroom the process of mixing starts almost immediately. Some projects are completed by the people that started them, but many still get sent off to another engineer to finish. 
It's vitally important for that engineer to get a really firm grasp on what the rough mixes are saying emotionally. Even if the tracks get mixed down in an entirely different fashion than the rough mix, that rough is what the makers fell in love with and bobbed their heads to. The emotion and the feel that comes out of that rough must be carried through to the final mix. In my example, I heard a cocktail party and tried to make it sound like the night was a little warmer, the drinks just a little more expensive. The client was happy and I feel like he would have been less happy if I had not picked up on that and just went straight to picking out what EQ and limiter I wanted to put on it. (This was a pretty good example, I just happened to hit on the exact imagery he was thinking of.)

One last thing and it's about that bedroom producer crowd. With just a one or maybe two person team making a song it can be easy to miss some things. For example on this project there was an additional song I was asked to do that I just couldn't get to feel like it should sit with the others I had done. That got some dialogue started with the producer about the compressors and samples he was using. It put the life into a process that could have been entirely mechanical. Versions were tried, opinions exchanged and in the end all was well.

So if you're out there making stuff on your own Brethren of the Knob and Fader, consider hiring someone to master your tracks. It's not just a matter of getting things louder. It's a matter of getting another pair of ears on your project that will more than likely hear some things you missed and give you a chance to get things exactly as you want them. 
These days you don't have to send off to a pricey mastering studio either. Just drop a casual post in a forum that you're looking for mastering and guys will come out of the wood work to have a crack at your project. Start by sending off one song to anybody that wants a try and pick the best one. You can be talking pricing as you go along. Many are willing to work just for the experience, many more have got some experience under their belts but still won't charge very much. You'll be surprised what you can get.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Acoustic Electric

People who want to play acoustic and electric guitars have always had to trade off. Either put one down and pick the other one up, or use something like the Parker Fly which didn't really do either thing well. I finally heard a solution that was literally the best of both worlds last weekend.

A guest musician at church brought in a Telecaster that he had modified with a Fishman pickup in the bridge. Amazingly that slab of an electric guitar sounded as good as any of the pricey acoustic guitars we have week to week, and we have some good ones. 
The really great thing about it was that he had set it up with a separate output jack so he didn't have to choose. With a tuner bypass for either signal he could switch back and forth or even run both together which he did a fair amount. That weekend we didn't have as many musicians as we usually do so it was great to have this acoustic sound that was perfectly in time and in tune with the rhythm electric. 

In the sample below you can hear it on the right side. It's a little lower because it's the rhythm part. I assure you though that there are only two guitar players on stage. The one on the right is the Fishman through a Radial DI and the Tele through a Blackstar combo amp miced with a 609.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Custom Cables - Life Savers

I just stumbled on a post linking back to a product that looks like something I want in my box. It's a four way XLR cable that serves multiple functions. Every connector is linked and there are two male and two female so you can use it for quite a few different things. It can be a male-to-male turn around, a female-to-female turn around and two different flavors of Y cable.
There's a more in depth post at the link below and you can pick one up from Revolution Recording Custom Shop for $40 with a lifetime guarantee. For those handy with a soldering iron it'll be pretty easy to make up a couple for yourself.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Tape Based Digital Audio

I don't have a whole post about this but it's kind of an interesting tidbit. I've been re-reading the text book from a digital audio class I took in college. This is my third time reading it and despite being almost twenty years old it's still breaking my skull.  One of the most interesting things is to read about formats that were going great guns when the book came out that are now obsolete or at least on their way there.

Tape based digital audio. Haven't said that in a while. It's kind of cool to think about just how much data would fit on some of those things. Under certain conditions a little DAT tape that cost less than ten bucks could hold over two gigs of information. This was a format devised in the early Eighties! And people laugh about tape backup. (By way of comparison, in the mid-Nineties a CD burner cost well over a grand, blank media was five bucks a pop and not guaranteed to work the first or even second time you tried to burn and wouldn't work in all players.) I've got hard drives not five years old that are deader than the proverbial doornail and yet the DAT and ADAT tapes I was working on two decades ago will still spit out flawless audio if I can find a machine that still works.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

SNR Podcast #42 - 4/14/2013 - Gain Structure (1st Anniversary)

This marks the one year anniversary of the podcast, lagging just slightly behind the start of the blog we've been "on the air" nearly every week for a year. No small feat considering how busy our lives are. This time around we discuss gain structure. If you're looking for a clear, scientific explanation of theories and proper techniques, look somewhere else. Jon and Anth talk real world experience, a host of ways not to do things, and get lost a couple times along the way. But you know how it is if you've been with us long. We're just a couple guys on a couch who talk about audio. Here's to another year!

As always you can check out the YouTube version right here or use the MP3 link below to stream or save for later.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Tax Time

It's that magical time of the year again. Tax Time. Being self employed in part or in whole for many years I'm possibly more familiar than most with tax forms. Yes, I do them myself. I'm generally too poor to hire some one else to do my taxes for me. Really? You can't cough up $40 or $50 to go get it done? No. And here's why.

When you're an employee you get a W-2 form at the end of the year. You slap a few numbers on a 1040-EZ form and you're pretty much done. If you have some investments or kids it's a few more minutes of work but that's it. If you're self employed you have to keep track of all your earnings yourself, make quarterly payments because there's no check for withholding to come out of, and also keep minute track of everything you spend on the business. In my case that runs to eighteen pages for the Federal (plus a couple dozen pages of worksheets that I'm not required to file but have to do) and nine pages for the State of New York.

Specifically that's a Schedule C to state my profit or loss from my business, a Depreciation form to keep track of large purchases and take the benefits over a period of years, and Schedule SE to compute my self employment tax. Double all of that because my wife runs a tiny hand crafting business as well.

Sometimes it works out great. You tally it all up and if you're working a job type job as well, you've probably had some withholding and you might even get a refund. This year I worked my full-time-plus job week in and week out, and still managed to squeeze in a couple dozen gigs on the side. After all that paperwork I owe my uncle a couple hundred bucks and the state owes me a couple hundred. Meh. It could be way worse. I could have spent the difference on someone to do the paperwork for me.

The point is this Brethren of the Knob and Fader: at some point you're going to make the jump from doing the occasional spot of mixing or recording for a few bucks cash and you're going to start doing actual business. In the eyes of the IRS you should really be declaring and paying taxes even on those bar gigs you mixed for twenty bucks. Do the right thing here. It's not hard to keep a ledger in a note book, stuff all your receipts in the glove box and get it all straightened out in April. You can get software to help if you've got clients that want an invoice before they cut you a check. Heck, you can even do most of it from your phone these days.

I'd also advise you not to go it alone. During the year most of the tax prep places are kind of just sitting around treading water. You can walk in the door and a lot of times get a bushel of advice for nothing in the hopes that when the time comes you'll bring your return to them. There's actually pretty good reason to do so as well. If you use a third party preparer and there's ever a question or (gasp) an audit, you've got solid backup.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Multiple Pattern Microphones

Even if you're familiar with some of the mics out there with switchable patterns it may never have occurred to you what exactly is going on inside when you flip that little selector switch. Personally I find it fascinating that one mic can have multiple pickup patterns at the flick of a switch. I finally got around to digging in to how it's done.

Your typical multi-pattern is a condenser. I'm not aware of any dynamic mics that do this trick but hey, it's the internet, someone is bound to come up with an example almost instantly if I'm wrong on that. Actually now that I think of it I remember reading about an old mic that had screws you could put in or take out of the bottom to make it a cardioid or an omni. So there you go, beat you to the punch.

In a condenser mic you've got a very thin membrane for a diaphragm that's covered in an ultra thin coating of metal. That metal forms one half of a capacitor, the other half is a metal plate that holds still and when a charge is applied across the two, the movement of the diaphragm causes the value of that capacitor to change. As part of a little preamplifier circuit that capacitor gives you useful audio at the output. Multi-pattern mics have a pair of capsules in close proximity, usually sharing the same back side. The way that these two capsules are connected to the circuit determines what pattern the mic will have. 
Here's a little chart. 
O-In Polarity
Ø-Out of Polarity 
(-dB) Reduced Level
The front of the mic is facing to the left <--

Omnidirectional - Both capsules are combined in polarity   
<--  ||  ||
      O O
Each capsule picks up half of the space and they hear pretty well all around.

Figure Eight - Capsules combined with one having reversed polarity  
<-- ||  ||
     O Ø
The phase differences cause very high rejection in between two cardioid pickup patterns.

Cardioid - A single capsule is used  
<-- ||  ||
     O X
A hot side and a side that rejects fairly well.

Super/Hyper Cardioid - One capsule normal and the other reversed polarity and blended in 
<-- ||  || 
     O Ø(-dB)
 The tightness of the pattern can be adjusted by how much of the out of polarity capsule is blended in.

There you have it Brethren of the Knob and Fader. One more tidbit of the rocket science we call audio. What you choose to do with it is your business. Use it well.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

SNR Mini Podcast - The Smash Channel

Here's the latest of our mini-podcasts where we take up five or ten minutes of your time to go over a technique and give some examples. This time it's the "smash channel" which is the common name for parallel compression.

In short, you double up a channel, either by bringing it into a console twice with a Y cable or by double routing in a digital desk or DAW. The first channel is left alone (or processed only gently) and the other one is mashed to oblivion with a compressor. This lets you keep all the lovely dynamics, those little spikes that are so interesting, in your signal. Meanwhile you start to sneak the smash channel up underneath it and you can add as much fatness and resonance as you like.

The example given is just a simple vocal track pulled from a live performance. No other samples are given this time because it's just so easy for you to practice on your own. Get your hands on some files or just make your own. Then double down and get busy with a compressor. There's a whole new world of excitement here because you don't have to choose between the sparkle and excitement of dynamic content and the fatness of compressed tracks.

Monday, April 8, 2013

The Poor Man Pays Twice

The old saying goes, "The poor man pays twice". Or maybe more fitting for the modern sound man, "Save up and buy your second one first."

Now that the adages are out there let's get down to what that means. People coming up in the business ask those more seasoned about gear all the time. Let's set aside people that show up in the forums looking for a 10 kw system with a digital front end but they only have a budget that won't even buy a decent pair of pole speakers. This isn't for the clueless, it's for the people who have it together and are really trying to make a good investment in their gear.

Don't fall in to the trap of buying something "just to get things going". Those purchases tend to become permanent fixtures and then you're left operating with an inferior piece of gear on a long term basis. Unless you need something right this minute to get through a gig, hold off on the impulse buying. Do your research, save your money and make a good purchase.

Here's an example. You need a DI for your rig. You can go out and get something from ProCo or Whirlwind for under $80 and that will probably serve you well. But sound systems are getting better all the time and a fully featured DI with great specs will not only serve you well but probably generate some good will with the clients when they see you setting out the good stuff. So is it worth it shelling out $200 for a Radial? Probably. Especially if that's what you really want and/or need in the first place. Why pay twice?

OK, maybe the DI example isn't great because who hasn't reached into the bottom of the box to pull out that old Whirlwind Imp in a pinch. Let's up the ante and talk about consoles. Do you really need to get a twenty-four channel console if all you mix is bar bands? Probably not. But if you have hopes of ever doing anything larger it's a real good idea to weigh the benefits. 

Divide it up by cost per channel if you need to. If sixteen is going to cost you say $800 bucks, that's $50 per channel. To go to twenty-four you're looking at $1200 so that's still $50 per channel. Worth saving up the money from a couple more gigs before you invest? Probably. Otherwise you're looking at selling off a used console that's now worth a lot less, or having an $800 investment that sits around. Again, not that having a spare around is a bad idea.
Think these things through before you buy. It's simple math to add up the cost of a place holder plus the thing you really want. If that piece of place holder gear isn't going to serve any purpose once you have the "good one", then don't buy it. Buy your second one first Brethren of the Knob and Fader.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

SNR Podcast #41 - 4/7/2013 - Compression... Again

It's been a while since we've dedicated a whole show to the topic of compression, almost a year in fact. So we brought the old horse out for a few more... er... laps. There's really no end to this topic. There's always something more to learn and to hear. As always you can check out the YouTube version right here or use the MP3 link below to stream or save for later.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Double Patching - Part Three

Mixicus germanicus
A couple days ago I got started with some ideas about using the routing in a digital desk to make it behave as a complete FOH and separate monitor mixer in one package. Then we got into how to double up channels to fatten things up with very little effort in Part Two. Our friend Eike had some nice ideas in the comments as well has having emailed me some concepts along a similar line a while back.

The idea builds on top of using an unprocessed channel and a heavily processed one to blend. I'll let him explain it in his own words.

I started out with a single wet snare hit, lots of room on TRACK 1.

Duplicated the track.

Applied severe compression to TRACK 2.

Wanted to try out different parallel compression flavors.

When I set the attack time to ZERO and the release really short (~50ms), and HIT THE PHASE BUTTON - the reverb died.

You can even adjust the "sustain" by playing with the release time. (which made me wonder if this is what actually happens in a transient shaper's "sustain" circuit..)

I tried this with a couple of other sounds, and it works great. I wanted to try this out at a concert tonight, see if this works live as well, show got canceled however.

The way I see it, it works like this: during the initial attack, track 2 gets pushed way down, so there's really only track 1 happening. The snare hit.

When the compressor lets up, the phase reversed "room" comes up, canceling out the verb perfectly.

Eike was even nice enough to include a couple examples he cooked up in Reaper for us. In the first one you can hear the snare unprocessed for two hits and then the third hit is with the secondary channel blended in, eliminating the room sound. The second sample is just the raw snare for comparison.

There you have it Brethren of the Knob and Fader. Three ingenious ways to get more use out of your gear with very little effort. Go forth and prosper.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Double Patching - Part Two

Yesterday I got started with an idea for how to create a fully functional and totally separate monitor console inside a front of house desk (digital). Today's trick is a little simpler and something you can implement on stage or in the studio even with an analog desk.

Compression is a powerful tool. While it controls level it has the possibilities to effect the tone of a signal as well. Just slapping a comp on an insert is only one way to do the job. Having a completely separate signal chain that you compress the bejeebers out of and then blend in with the uncompressed signal gives you much more control and keeps that control on the console where it's an easy reach instead of in a rack of outboard gear.

Let's break it down simply. In a DAW you just double the track and process the second one separately. On a digital console you go into the routing matrix or menu and send one input to two channels. On an analog desk you have a couple options. Either use a Y cable to split the mic coming in, or go from a direct out to the line in of another channel.

Once you've got your two signals it's time to get crazy. The first channel might need some compression on it just to keep it in line. So go ahead and apply some as needed but don't get too nuts with it. With the second channel you can really go crazy. Compress with a high ratio and low threshold, just be careful to adjust the attack and release so it doesn't sound completely flabby.

Once your settings are dialed in you can turn up the original channel to add more volume, or turn up the "smash channel" to add more fatness. You can even go a step further by putting a ducker on the smash channel and side chaining it to the unprocessed channel.  When the vocal is loud, the smash channel goes away, when it quiets down it starts to come in, making everything nice and fat.

Our friend Eike in Germany goes so far as to have his first layer of faders completely doubled in the second layer on his digital console. Page two is all smash channels and at the press of a button he can fatten up any channel he likes with a subtle fader move.  We'll have a little more from Brother Eike tomorrow where he takes the concept even further.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Double Patching

I'm pretty lucky at work. I'm responsible for the front of house mix in a 1400 cap venue, getting a decent recording of the music and the speaking during services, and sending out fourteen monitor mixes. I'm in pretty good shape because the house console is a Midas Legend 3000. It's pretty unique in that it's a true dual purpose console. Because it's got a second mini fader on every channel that's a monitor send master it's like having a complete monitor desk right inside my FOH desk. Somewhat different from just having monitor sends. There's even a separate mute button for the monitor sends.

That's the sort of functionality that makes a guy think twice before he jumps into the digital realm. It makes it super easy for me to quickly push a backup singer into everyone's ears for one song and then take it back out. It also lets me leave the IEMs open even while everything is muted out in the house. But alas, fourteen monitor mixes is four more than the old girl can do so I've got 38 inputs boiled down to 16 and slammed into a small side car mixer to do mixes for the back up vocalists. We really need the additional capacity (not to mention the processing power) that a digi desk can provide.

So how do I maintain that sort of functionality without going nuts with scene snapshots? We try to have everything pretty buttoned down by Sunday morning but sometimes things fall off the rails or we decide to shoot from the hip. I want to be able to go with the flow and not have to worry if I can jump to a scene that has everything I need.

The simple answer is to make a digi behave just like my Midas L3K. With the internal patch bay I can have all the channels I need show up on the first two layers of faders and then double them all up exactly on the second two layers. That maintains another key element of functionality, keeping FOH EQ out of the monitors and being able to do separate dynamic processing. All the muting and level setting can be separate too of course.

I'll feel a lot more comfortable knowing I can program all the scenes I want for FOH and they won't do a thing to monitor world and vice versa. I'll also be able to custom tailor the IEM mixes a lot better if I don't have to worry about compromising between what sounds good out in the house and what sounds good injected directly into the ear canal of a musician.

It's not a super deep concept Brethren of the Knob and fader but one that I thought worth writing about. Got any ideas about methods for effectively using the seemingly endless capacity of digital mixers? Hit us up in the comments section or find us on Facebook or Twitter.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Sewing Kit

A good sound guy is a jack of all trades. On smaller gigs he (or she) may be the only real tech on site and as such be looked to for a lot more than just sound. That could be big things like keeping the event running on time, managing power distribution, or even helping out back stage getting actors ready. 

Being MacGuyver is part of the job description. At the very least you're expected to have extra cables and adapters on hand. Gaff tape, batteries, Sharpies, Band-aids, the list goes on and on. We're the Boy Scouts of the entertainment industry and it's up to us to always be prepared.
I've always carried a little sewing kit with me. There's nothing like an ill timed rip in one's trousers to make you have a bad night. Often some gaff tape or a safety pin will do the trick so it's not often that I've had to fish the kit out of my glove box or jump bag, but it's good to know that it's there. Except when it wasn't.

The one time I really and truly needed a sewing kit I was miles from either of the ones I usually have close to hand. I was in a rented tux, in a limo, on the way to a wedding ceremony. When you're the best man it's pretty important to show up game ready. It meant a quick stop at a convenience store and it allowed the entire wedding party to stock up on Gatorade and breath mints. But the incident stuck with me and I decided to come up with a sewing kit I could keep in my wallet.

The kits you get at a gas station will do the trick but they're a little bulky. For some reason there's always a completely useless pair of microscopic scissors, a thimble and a measuring tape in there. I figured at its most basic you could just buy a small pack of needles and wrap some thread around it. But I dove a little deeper and finally came up with a solution that will let you keep a few needles, as much thread as you care to wind and even a few buttons right in your wallet without getting snagged on anythng. Here's a link to the page on instructables.com.

There are PDF templates that you just print out on card stock, cut out, load up with the items you need and off you go. Be prepared Brethren of the Knob and Fader. You never know when a needle and thread might make you the hero of the day.

While we're at it. MacGuyver always seemed to have a mashed flat roll of duct tape in his bomber jacket. Here's a little bit smoother way to make sure you've always got a few feet of gaff and electrical tape on hand. It fits in your wallet too if you're careful.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Cleaning Audio Equipment

You really have to hand it to the manufacturers of audio equipment. People who don't know tend to think it's delicate. But in reality, if it's worth its salt, a piece of gear is built to be moved twice a day every day. Slap it in a case, grab it with a fork lift, shove it on a truck and get it to the next gig. Temperature swings, dust, moisture, pollution, it has to survive the worst and still function to spec every single time it's switched on.

Once in a while though it's good to take some time and actually maintain your gear. Just like a car, if you do nothing but put gas in it it's going to cough and die a lot sooner than if you change the oil regularly and see to all the other little things that need seeing to. Doing this for your audio gear is actually usually pretty simple. It's also pretty boring so it's good to be able to slip into sort of a zen mind state while you're working. You need to be aware enough to spot any issues but zoned out enough to keep from going insane from the sheer repetitive dullness of the task.

Take for example a relatively small cleaning that I undertook this week. I had a Presonus ACP-88 compressor that had been on duty in a rack for close to a dozen years. It's a pretty cherry spot as far as audio equipment goes. The room is temperature controlled, low humidity and the filters in the HVAC system keep everything near spotless. (It's clean enough that I don't bother to cover the console.) But in all that time the components started to suffer and the unit had become unreliable. It finally came to a head when I found out quite by surprise that it had a case fan. That distinctive sound of a tiny bearing starting to complain made it clear that it was time to get it up on the bench and do some cleaning.

Getting set up is relatively easy. You need a can of compressed air. It's better to use a bottled product than to go with a compressor unless you have a really good line dryer in place. Forcing moisture into all the little cracks and crevices isn't a good idea. A can of contact cleaner, I like to use D-5 because it's made for the task. WD-40 is good at flushing moisture and gunk out of places but it can leave a residue behind that allows more gunk to accumulate. It's better left to emergencies when you have no other options. Other than those two items all you need are some swabs, some toothpicks, some rags, and a good deal of patience.

I started out by opening up YouTube and finding a nice, lengthy concert to watch and threw on a pair of cans. With some AC/DC circa 1992 keeping me from falling asleep I pulled the top off the unit and got started. The ACP-88 is an eight channel compressor. Rather than have eight little cards in there for each channel the whole thing is comprised of two boards, front and back with a power supply in the middle. The two boards are joined by ribbon cables.

I started with the case fan. A blast of canned air got all the fuzz off the blades and got it spinning freely. Next I pulled off the two nuts that held it in place so I could get access to the bearing. A sticker covers the hole in the center of the blades. You carefully peel that back, put a single drop of 3-in-1 oil in there and smooth the sticker back down. Bolted back in place it was good as new and quiet as ever.

Next I blasted air into every place that the tiny red straw on the can would reach. A surprising number of dust bunnies came shooting out the jacks on the rear of the unit, and another unhealthy batch retreated from under all the chips on the front board. Fortunately that was all I had to do on this unit. There weren't any unreachable places and I felt like I had things pretty clean after a few minutes.

Next I grabbed the can of D-5 and sat back to start working on the jacks on the back panel. A short blast of solvent followed by plugging in a jack about ten times got things started. Then I swabbed the jack out and followed up with another short blast of D-5 to clear the contacts of any scum residue. Follow that up with a blast of canned air just to make sure all the solvent evaporated completely. Four jacks per channel, eight channels, and three songs deeper into the set list that was finished.

The front panel has five buttons on each channel. A quick spritz of D-5 into those and I cycled them each about twenty times. A blast of canned air cleared them out and then I went after the row of buttons on the back panel. That didn't take too long.

The front panel has eight knobs per channel, times eight panels. Fortunately the pots were sealed so there was really no point in trying to spray any D-5 in there. Instead I simply sat back in my chair and with the unit in my lap started to cycle each knob (two at a time) fully back and forth across their full range of movement. There's not a lot that can go wrong with a sealed pot, but sometimes a little of the resistive element will flake off and stick. Running the pots back and forth will push any crud to the ends of the path and usually leave the wiper free and clear. Some of the pots clearly hadn't been moved much in the last decade and were a little creaky to get going. I wound up doing twenty or thirty cycles on those. The more frequently used ones I did about ten cycles. When I was finished they were all moving like they were factory fresh.

One final trip around the innards with the canned air just to make sure all the solvent was gone and to try and catch any persistent dust bunnies and I was ready to put the cover back on and give the unit a test. Last thing I made sure all the ribbon cables were firmly seated and I closed the lid. I had a small mixer on hand so I plugged the laptop into that, got the signal out to the compressor and would listen to the results on the headphones.

Again it was a bit tedious as I really had to pay attention now. It wasn't a matter of just watching where the dust bunnies flew to, now it was time to make sure that all the controls were really doing what they're supposed to do. That meant testing each gate, the button that controlled the depth, and the attack and release knobs. Then on to the compressor threshold, ratio, attack and release knobs as well as the knee, auto and link buttons. Last but not least were the bypass button on the front and the +4/-10 button on the back. Those were the ones that had been giving me grief when the unit was still in service.

All told that took me over three hours and I wound up hearing not only a full AC/DC concert but also a fair amount of an A7X show too. (If I had been cleaning a console I would have had to block out two to three days.) But the payoff was worth it. When I slapped the unit back in the rack and connected it to the system every channel was back in full working order. It was like having a brand new unit. One that I can hopefully have full confidence in again. Having a compressor that's responsible for an important signal choke on you with a packed house is no fun. The sound guy is the only one scowling at the rack, everyone else is scowling at the sound guy.

So there you go. Dirt and dust are the two major enemies of equipment. They cause overheating and early demise if not dealt with. If it gets really bad the crud can actually create new electrical connections that were never intended, sometimes with pyrotechnic results. So Brethren of the Knob and Fader, it's pretty important even though it's not very glamorous to clean your gear. Perfect work for the young novice in training.