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.