AF’s Weblog

June 14, 2012

Top 10 Things That Can Never Be Taught Often Enough In Audio

Filed under: Live Sound — Tags: , , , , — audiofanzine @ 8:48 am

10. Musicians feel most comfortable and play best when they hear what they need to hear on the stage. Of course, the experienced monitor guys and recording guys already know this. But it’s something for those less experienced to think about. No, it’s not about how much power you have or what kind of monitor wedges. It’s about psychology.

And I think it’s true that if you become good at monitors and understand how to please musicians, you are 90 percent there towards becoming a good mix engineer.

Sure, the last 10 percent might be the “magic” but you can’t make magic without the basics.

9.  Sound travels at 1,130 feet per second, at sea level, at 68 degrees F and 4 percent relative humidity. This is important because if you understand how sound propagates, you’ll automatically know more about microphone placement, setting delay towers, and things like delaying the mains to the backline. And you should also know that the speed changes with temperature, humidity, and altitude. (If you don’t, it’s a good idea to look it up.)

8.  The Inverse Square Law. You know, the thing about a doubling of the distance from the source means that the acoustic power is cut by 1/4, right? This applies all over the place, from mic technique to loudspeaker arrays. It relates to how much power you will need from the power amplifiers.

For instance, if you normally cover an audience at 20 to 60 feet from your stacks, but for the next gig, the audience will be 40 to 100 feet away, how much more power will you need to maintain about the same acoustic power? About four times as much! Maybe think about delay stacks (see #9).

Let’s see some more pointers…

2. Grounding. Let’s not mince words here: this is a subject you need to understand. If you have more than one path to ground in your audio system, and the resistance to ground is different between them, you will have problems with hum and buzz.

Related to this is how you terminate your connections, especially if any parts of the system go back and forth from balanced to unbalanced terminations.

It’s also a good idea to learn the sonic signatures of different kinds of hum and buzz to therefore speed up your troubleshooting when the time comes. This is because some types of buzz are not related to grounding problems, but instead may be power supply issues, for instance.

1.  Gain structure, baby. This is the main one, the real deal. The thing that, if you can’t learn, or don’t understand or have forgotten, will get you into more trouble than anything else. There will be more noise and/or more distortion in the system unless you get this right. And there will be less gain before feedback, too.

So here’s the deal: every input and every device has an optimum range of levels it wants to see or wants to work with. If you’re feeding something a signal that is too low, you have to make this up somewhere, and therefore you’ll be bringing up the noise more than it should be. And that noise will be in your signal from then on.

Oh, sure, there are noise reduction devices you can use, but why do that when proper gain structure will take care of it for you? And really, we should use the least processing possible to get the job done because things sound better that way.

Alternatively, if you an input or a mix bus is fed too much signal, headroom will run out, which means you’re adding distortion. And this, also, cannot be removed later. Artistically adding distortion via plug-ins, hot-rodded guitar amps or certain outboard gear can be cool. Adding it by slamming your inputs or your mix bus is not cool.

For instance, if a wireless microphone output can be set at line level, but you set it to mic level and connect it to a mic input on your mixer, you will have more noise than if you connect the line output to the line input. Why? Because essentially you’re padding down the output then boosting it back up again with a high-gain mic preamp.

Sure, sometimes you might want to put the signal through a transformer or other “good” distortion device—just be aware that from a gain structure point of view, this is not ideal.

OK, that’s the list. If you’ve already mastered these things, great! You’re probably doing better mixes, with more gain before feedback, better coverage and happier musicians than those who don’t. But please don’t rest on your laurels – get out there and learn as much as you can.

Those of us going to your shows will know it when we hear it!

To read the full detailed article see:  Top 10 Things That Can Never be Taught Often Enough in Audio

April 11, 2012

Capturing The Energy Of Live Shows

To read the full detailed article see:  Audience Mic Techniques to Enhance Recordings

What makes a live recording sound live? The audience, of course. A live recording is all about the energy of the event, and that energy comes from the crowd, so some real thought has to be given as to how it’s captured.

Just setting up some microphones haphazardly usually produces less-than-desired results.  To avoid that scenario, let’s have a look at some proven mic techniques for live recording.

First, it can be tempting to use approaches that engineers recording classical music deploy, such as spaced pairs, X/Y, ORTF and Blumlien.  What they’re trying to do is capture the ambience of the environment and a “perfect” stereo image, but our primary concern is capturing the audience.  Note that these are two different beasts and have to be handled that way.


Figure 1: Center hall position.

Sure, capturing some of the ambience is essential to a great sounding live recording, but it will come as a byproduct of a well-mic’ed audience, so it’s not important to worry about it until the primary mission is accomplished.

Audience mic’ing is a situation for omnidirectional mics if you have any, but never underestimate the value of a couple of short-scale shotgun mics.


Figure 2: Mono center hall position.

These are especially useful because they help to attenuate the intimate conversations from the crowd that happen around where the mic is placed.

In you don’t have the option of either an omni or short shotgun, make sure that the mics that you do utilize are identical models. Also, don’t forget to engage the low-frequency rolloff switch if the mic has one.

Let’s take a look at some other mic positions…

The Great Outdoors


Figure 8: Mics at multiple positions.

Mic’ing a crowd outdoors poses a different set of circumstances in comparison to the indoor experience. For one thing, placement is usually a lot more difficult, with fewer options for hanging mics.  In addition, the ambience of the venue is lessened, so you usually need to resort to using more mics as a result. And don’t forget the windscreens, because nothing makes a track unusable like wind blasting across the mic capsules.

To read the full detailed article see:  Audience Mic Techniques to Enhance Recordings

April 6, 2012

Setting Up the Lead Vocal Mic for The Red Hot Chili Peppers

To read the full detailed article see:   Setting Up the Lead Vocal Mic  for The Red Hot Chili Peppers

 

The attention to detail that takes place in preparing a rock show can be mind boggling. For example, I listed out the factors we account for in setting up the lead vocal mic for the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Check it out:

1) The mic. Anthony has been using Audix OM7 dynamic mics for over 20 years now. The OM7 exhibits high feedback stability and picks up very little room sound compared to other mics. This allows me to capture an “up close and personal” vocal sound, and if I need more air or space, it’s easy to add with a vocal reverb. Also, these mics are very durable, and the spring steel grills don’t dent when dropped.

Conversely, the OM7 pick-up pattern falls off in volume very quickly if you’re not lips to grill on the mic. Also, it tends to be more susceptible to moisture than other microphones. Since Anthony sings close to the mic and we switch to a fresh mic at mid-show and again before encore, those drawbacks are not an issue in this application.

2) The mic stand is integral to the performance so it must be exact. We use the Atlas MS12 – a straight stand, no boom. The “12” stands for 12 pounds, and that is the weight he’s used to swinging around. These stands have a slightly larger diameter tube than the Euro manufactured metric stands and are less likely to bend. The metal clutch is more durable than the plastic clutches, and the larger diameter cast metal base makes it less likely to tip over as well.

3) The cable must be extremely durable. We use Belden 8412 or equivalent with real rubber jacketing (not plastic), braid shield, multiple fiber wraps and preferably a twine filler. It must have minimal stretch, withstand abuse and be resistant to tangling.

Now let’s take an even closer look…

8) Clip rotation tension. The clip needs to hold the mic firmly at an angle and not loosen easily. Cheaper imitation clips do not have the tension washer stacks inside and will come loose when repeatedly rotated.

9) Cable length. The mic cable is 50 feet long and plugged into a stagebox located center stage.

10) Spare mic. An identical spare taped vocal mic is coiled at center stage. The main mic, spare, and a wireless mic all are plugged into a three-way SoundTools switcher located at the monitor position. This allows Anthony to grab any of the three mics and have it instantly switched in line to both monitors and house.

There you have it – now you know how we prep snake channel 24!

To read the full detailed article see:   Setting Up the Lead Vocal Mic  for The Red Hot Chili Peppers

 

October 14, 2011

Quiz: Rate Your Audio Skills, Knowledge & Personality Type

Filed under: Live Sound, Mixing reviews — Tags: , , , — audiofanzine @ 7:37 am

In order to help understand where you are in this overwhelming audio maze, I have put together a quiz to help rate your knowledge and personality type.

 

 

As technology accelerates at a dizzying rate and increases in processing power are only rivaled by the size of knobs on “retro analog” gear, we find ourselves navigating between magical-designer patch cables and legitimate advances in audio.  We know digital must always be “better” because CDs sound better than cassette tapes.

Everything is processed, as often as possible, and just as the hot dog is the perfect meal of processed meat, sound will be perfect and consistent any day now, as soon as we buy that magic black box with sufficient DSP power.

To properly score, you must answer every question, and be sure to keep score as you go.

 


1) You are mixing FOH at a venue that has a 90 dB A weighted limit, averaged over 10 minute intervals, maximum 20 dB peaks, measured from the FOH mix position. Which of the following would be a valid approach for achieving the best sounding show?

— Make a point of introducing yourself to the sound monitoring person, find out the rules and show interest in their job – 1 point
— Radio to production for a case of beer and a bottle of Jack – 2 points
— Yell obscenities and stomp around like a little kid – 4 points
— Ignore the irritating sound cop and crank it up – 3 points
— Go back to the bus – 6 points

2) Really old sound gear does not actually sound that great…
— Unless it has tubes, which means that it sounds amazing – 4 points
— Unless it looks cool, which means it sounds amazing – 2 points
— Age is not as relevant as the quality of the design – 5 points
— True – 1 point

3) Huge mics are better because they capture more sound…
— Of course – 4 points
— Especially if they have a tube – 3 points
— No, but they definitely fall over easier on a tripod stand – 6 points
— Yikes – 0 points

4) A large-scale digital console is best suited for…
— Replacing a smaller, lighter, less expensive analog console on a tour that ships worldwide and only one engineer uses it – 7 points
— A rental company to put on festivals so all the engineers can share one console and learn to use it at the same time – 4 points
— Award shows with multiple acts and cues and the producers won’t let the band engineers touch the consoles anyway – 1 point
— All of the above because it will make the band sound better – 4 points

5) When mixing a show you
— Lean over the console constantly turning knobs and must not be disturbed – 5 points
— Dial up the mix, hit your cues and make minor adjustments during the show – 1 point
— Drink beer and hang out with your friends – 6 points
— Watch the band intently because you are a monitor engineer – 0 points

6) A friend once told me “when mixing, never face an audience of 10,000 people without a beer and a cigarette”, his advice means…
— You should take up smoking and drinking while you work – 2 points
— Mix with your feet – 4 points
— Never panic, a relaxed and confident engineer will mix a better show – 1 point
— May as well enjoy yourself because the band can’t hear your mix or see you anyway – 6 points

7) Before your show starts you…
— Hang with your friends and drink beer – 6 points
— Do a quick check to make sure all is in order – 1 point
— Change into your “show clothes” – 2 points
— Turn everything up a bit, just in case – 7 points
— All of the above – 0 points

8) Feedback from stage…
— Usually builds quicker and more aggressively than feedback from the mains – 5 points
— Is the only place it comes from – 3 points
— Is the only chance for the monitor engineer to get in a “solo” – 2 points

To complete the quiz please visit:  Audio Horoscope

August 12, 2011

U2 360°: Redefining Stadium Sound

Filed under: Live Sound — Tags: , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 9:30 am

Grand, colossal, gargantuan… Mammoth, immense, monumental… Promethean, towering, or just plain walloping huge – get out the thesaurus for more adjectives to adequately describe the size and scope of U2’s current 360° tour, an outsized extravaganza that continues to demolish records.

Part insect, part spacecraft, part cathedral…

As of June this year, the tour surpassed The Rolling Stones in terms of tickets sold, eclipsing the Voodoo Lounge tour’s 6.3 million landmark with over 7 million sold. By April just past, 360° had grossed more than $700 million, making it the highest-grossing concert tour ever. And so on. Pass the thesaurus…

Launched in 2009 in support of the album No Line on the Horizon, the tour has been years in the making. Incubating various ideas for epic in-the-round staging with the band and other crew members over the course of a career with U2 that began in earnest back in 1982, show designer Willie Williams finally gave life to a unified vision near the end of 2006’s Vertigo tour in a series of sketches.

Paying homage to the Theme Building at LAX, the central structure within these early blueprints is what has come to be known as “The Claw,” a mass of four-legged, 170-foot-tall alien steel appearing ideally suited for a starring role in the next Hollywood remake of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds.

“The Claw” is at the heart of the U2 360° tour
production, supporting huge line arrays as well as
lighting and video. (All photos by Steve Jennings)

Serving as a grid for all of the major production elements, The Claw is used to suspend both the PA and a video screen designed by Mark Fisher in collaboration with Chuck Hoberman and Frederic Opsomer.

 

Fabricated by Opsomer’s Belgium-based company Innovative Designs, the screen was purchased by XL Video and then rented to the tour. Comprising hexagonal segments that allow it to open and spread apart during the show, the expanding screen is 500,000 pixels large, and uses 320,000 fasteners, 150,000 machined pieces, and 30,000 cables to tie everything together.

 

Rated to safely hold 200 tons, The Claw is double the size of the stadium set used by The Stones on their A Bigger Bang tour. And if one of these leviathans isn’t enough for your backyard standing next to the children’s playset, consider that the design was built in triplicate to facilitate leapfrogging, a logistical strategy requiring 120 trucks.

Setting Sonic Goals

Bono (using Beta 58 element on Shure wireless) and his
mates performing, all outfitted with Future Sonics in-ear
monitors working with Sennheiser G2 wireless systems.

U2 360° will also go down in history as a milepost marking a 30-year collaboration between U2, sound reinforcement provider Clair, and Joe O’Herlihy, U2’s sound designer and front of house engineer.

 

“The 360 concept was indeed first considered very seriously by the band at the end of the Vertigo Tour at Honolulu’s Aloha Stadium in 2006,” O’Herlihy relates, his navel-length, graying beard giving him the countenance of a Russian novelist, or maybe a Civil War veteran.

 

“There had, however, been various other in-the-round plans discussed since Joshua Tree days,” he continues. “Once the idea was presented as a goal for the next tour, I was charged with developing, planning, and implementing an audio design that would clearly set new industry standards, all while maintaining what U2 and their fans had come to expect: Sonic quality, high dynamic range, and crystal-clear stadium sound.”

 

Working with show designer Williams, plus Fisher and Jeremy Lloyd from the production architectural firm Stufish, O’Herlihy additionally relied upon the talents of an R&D team and engineers from Clair to establish the criteria and structural elements required of the build in 2008.

 

Veteran rock ‘n’ roll soundman Joe O’Herlihy (left) and system
tech Jo Ravitz at the DiGiCo SD7 heading up the monstrous rig.

Up until this time, U2 had historically relied upon Clair S4 PA to meet the needs of all its outdoor stadium shows.

“But with the goals of the 360° system in mind, the S4 system wouldn’t apply this time around,” O’Herlihy says with a hint of melancholy like that usually reserved for bidding farewell to an old friend.

 

“In-the-round, the application clearly called for a line source array system. The new Clair i-5 technology ultimately stepped-up as the timely and perfect solution that we needed to accommodate the off-center, 360-degree stadium configuration.”

The audio design team received their first real chance to test its plan in early 2009 in Toronto.

 

Setting up the i-5/i-5B-based rig at Rogers Centre (formerly SkyDome), the system was put through its paces over the course of rigorous testing that verified sonic calculations and phase references, established low-end time alignment, and confirmed strategies developed to maintain full 360-degree coverage, all while covering the audience with a blanket of even, uniform sound and high SPL, as well as the dynamic range and quality the band is known for in large outdoor spaces.

Now let’s take a deeper look…

Many Parts


CJ Eiriksson manages monitoring for bassist Adam
Clayton, drummer Larry Mullen Jr., and an offstage
keyboard player with an Avid D-Show.

As within the industry itself, mainstream media have remained upbeat in their coverage of the tour. Rolling Stone magazine maintained that the production was a cross between the Zoo TV and Elevation tours, and added that the design elements, despite their looming presence, remained transparent from the band’s perspective onstage.

 

In describing the staging, The New York Times dubbed it “part insect, part spacecraft, part cathedral,” and noted that the band was more visible than on earlier tours. The Washington Post called the show an “orgy of light and sound.” The latter should be taken as a compliment, especially by O’Herlihy.

 

“A project of this scale would probably not have been attempted 10, or even five years ago,” he concludes. “But thanks to lighter weight, low-profile loudspeaker cabinets and digital mixing consoles, even shows of this magnitude can be set up, run, and loaded-out in a timely manner. Technology has caught up to the concept. Now it’s just all in a day’s work, 48 hours a day, eight days a week…”

To read the full detailed article see:  U2 Redefining Stadium Sound

March 24, 2011

Live Sound: 53rd Annual Grammy Awards

Filed under: Live Sound — Tags: , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 9:18 am

It wasn’t the promise of a performance by Lady Gaga that drew me in to watch the Grammys this year, but rather, some added motivation in having the opportunity to check out the live and broadcast sound systems during a visit to rehearsals at the Staples Center in Los Angeles a couple of days prior to the show.

Lady Antebellum performing with Sennheiser

SKM 2000 transmitters with MMD935-1 capsules

at the show.

 


Did you watch the Grammy Awards show this year? I did for the first time in several years, and it seems many others tuned in as well, with the mid-February live broadcast (including 5.1 surround sound) on CBS garnering about 27 million viewers and the highest average viewership since 2001.

Still, the entertainment bill for this year’s show proved a compelling mix of currently hot (and Grammy-nominated) pop/rock/country stars (Arcade Fire, Katy Perry, Justin Bieber, Lady Antebellum, the aforementioned Ms. Gaga, and so on) with some true legendary performers in what has thankfully become more of a concert than an awards show.  One particular highlight had soon-to-be 68-year-old Mick Jagger in his first-ever Grammy performance, moving like a man less than half his age in stirring the crowd to its feet as front man for “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love,” a tribute to soul legend Solomon Burke.

 

The sound crew working the Grammy Awards is veteran in terms of both overall experience and in service to the event.  Shortly after entering the Staples Center, I was greeted by my friend and all-time great guy Andrew “Fletch” Fletcher, who serves as a live system manager/tech for the show, and he commenced with a first-rate tour of key points and people involved with the audio production for the 53rd annual Grammy Awards, which is presented by the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences (NARAS).

Well Organized

Some of the flown JBL VerTec line arrays serving the

Grammy Awards show at the Staples Center.

The show benefits from a winningly efficient formula for presenting an average of 20 live acts in the course of just three or so hours.

There’s an A and a B performance stage, side-by-side on the front platform, so while an act is appearing on one stage, the other stage is being prepared for the next performance. Every bit of audio equipment, as well as instruments and stage/set/production elements, are meticulously organized on rolling carts backstage in the days leading up to the show. When one act is done, their stage goes dark and everything is rolled off, replaced by the next act’s gear.

The house sound system for the 16,000-plus attending the show at the Staples Center is designed and supplied by ATK Audiotek of Valencia, CA, which has made an art of serving awards shows and special events.  While the system followed the same form of the past several years, the ATK team consistently implements upgrades and also accounts for inevitable set and production changes from year to year.

A look up from the front seating rows at one of the

JBL VerTec line arrays that are capable of providing

coverage almost up to the front edge of the stage.

The overall mantra driving the design is “the broadcast is the thing” – the system must stay out of camera sightlines as much as possible, and what’s happening audio-wise in the house cannot impact the broadcast sound.  Still, the house also has priority, with Jeff Peterson of ATK performing expert tuning and optimization of the main system.  Standing with Fletch at the house mix position, I could just barely make out the silhouettes of the JBL VerTec line arrays flown high above the front platform, and that’s on purpose. Still, they’re there, and do an excellent job in terms of fidelity and overall venue coverage.

ATK deployed 70 VT4889 full-size line array elements in four main arrays, two for the central seating regions flanked by two more splayed outward for expansive areas on each long sides of the multi-level arena. The bottom of each array has curvature so steep that it pretty much handles the front rows.

“We’ve enjoyed tremendous success with VerTech line arrays for the Grammy Awards in the past and this year was no different,” notes Scott Harmala, CTO/VP engineering for ATK. “They provided powerful and accurate sound throughout the arena.”

VerTec subwoofers joined the arrays, flown centrally on a platform, with front fill supplied by VRX932LA compact loudspeakers. Placement of these were largely dictated by the stage/set design, so the sound team worked within the parameter of keeping them largely out-of-camera-sight while insuring coverage right up front. More VRX932LA loudspeakers on delay were distributed around the arena to bolster mid/high coverage to shadowed and other difficult seating areas.

Now let’s take a closer look…

The Bigger Picture

Some of the myriad wireless transmitters

stagedseparately for each artist.

Microphones are the choice of each individual artist, and there’s a wide range of wired and wireless microphones from Shure, Audio-Technica, AKG, Sennheiser, Audix and many others on hand.  Several of these companies have a representative on hand throughout rehearsals and the show to be sure all of their respective artists needs are being served. The wireless microphone situation is managed by Dave Bellamy of Soundtronics of Burbank, CA, assisted by Grant Greene, posted with the system receivers in an area just outside the arena bowl.

 

Bill Kappelman organizing every wireless microphone

being used by performers at the show into trays to

facilitate smooth transitions from act to act, and to

prevent confusion.

Parker points out that one of the biggest aspects of his and Pesa’s gig is fostering a comfort factor and rapport with all of the various engineers on site, working in the interest of their artists.  “Some of them haven’t done TV work, so it’s imperative that we take the time to explain to them how this all works, the setup and layout, to help bring them into the fold,” Parker says.  “We address their issues and concerns as much as possible within the format of the bigger picture so that they can relax, because if they’re relaxed, then their artists are going to relax, and that’s going to help result in the best performances. It’s unseen, but is really one of the most important parts of the gig.”

 

This year, artists such as Barbra Streisand, Arcade Fire, Eminem and several others were his responsibility, and it all went off very well. “There was nothing out of the ordinary, which is good news,” he says.  “The Aretha Franklin medley that kicked off the show really sounded good to me this year – those ladies really brought their A game – and that set the pace.”

Grammy Awards Audio Production Team

A look at two of the JBL VerTec line

arrays providing main coverage.

Michael Abbott, audio coordinator
ATK Audiotek, live sound company
Mike Stahl, president, ATK Audiotek
Scott Harmala, CTO/VP engineering, ATK Audiotek
Ron Reaves & Mikael Stewart, live front of house mix
Michael Parker & Tom Pesa, live house monitor mix
Andrew “Fletch” Fletcher & Jeff Peterson, live system managers/techs
Dave Bellamy (Soundtronics), RF frequency coordination
Bill Kappelman, RF microphones manager
Steve Anderson, “split world” manager
Leslie Ann Jones (The Recording Academy), house audio supervisor
M3 (Music Mix Mobile), broadcast music mix
Joel Singer (M3), engineer in charge, Eclipse mix truck
Mark Linett (M3), engineer in charge, Horizon remix truck
John Harris & Eric Schilling, broadcast music mixers
Tom Holmes, overall broadcast mix
Phil Ramone & Hank Neuberger, broadcast audio supervisors

To read the full detailed article see:  Live Sound @ the 53rd Annual Grammy Awards

February 11, 2011

Capturing Guitar Amps in the Wild: Multi-Channel Micing for Live Sound

There are almost as many ways to capture guitar amplifier sound with a microphone as there are for a piano. And as with piano (and kick and snare drum, for that matter) single-mic approaches can’t always provide the best solution for guitar amps – we must also explore multiple-mic approaches.

A Vox AC30 with a Shure KSM32

(above) and an Orange 4 x 12

with an Audio- Technica AT4050.

 


About four decades ago, at the “dawn” of modern live sound reinforcement, there was the Shure SM58 for vocals and the SM57 for instruments.  This eventually included mic’ing guitar amps, because as the PA got bigger than the backline, there was a danger that the guitars wouldn’t be heard over the vocals (causing the sound guy’s credibility to be doubted by the guitar player’s girlfriend behind his back).  In the golden days of rock, tuning the PA consisted of saying “check, one-two” into an SM58 and manipulating the faders on a Klark Teknik DN30 graphic EQ until the voice sounded as natural as possible.  Because the SM57 and SM58 have nearly identical response, this led to natural sounding instruments as well.

 

Over the years, sound systems have become increasingly full-range and high-fidelity, with modern systems exhibiting smoother, more even response.  At the same time, today’s large-diaphragm condensers have become more rugged and sturdy than their tube-based ancestors, and have made their way out of the studio and onto the stage.  “Big Mick” Hughes, Metallica’s engineer for a quarter century, is credited with putting Audio-Technica AT4050 studio condensers on stage and introducing their use in stereo pairs on guitar rigs.

One popular approach is to deploy a pair of matched studio-quality large diaphragm condensers, each on a separate cabinet of a stereo guitar rig, that also act as a pair of stereo “ears” for in-ear monitors (IEM). They also provide redundancy to the PA, and can be panned or doubled as needed.

Desired Response

Dual Shure SM57s – one for each

speaker cone – on this 65amps

Monterey 2×12 combo.

Most guitar amps don’t achieve their proper “sound” until the onset of clipping, producing that warm, yummy crunch, but yielding high-decibel sound pressure.  Strategies include using a “power soak” to draw some of the power off, going with lower-powered guitar amps, or remotely locating the amp or just its cabinet and isolating it from the performance stage.

 

Dynamic mics produce a contoured response, with warmth in the lows due to proximity effect, and often, a highmid presence.  Besides the Shure SM57, perennial dynamic mic choices for guitar cabinets include the Electro-Voice RE20, Sennheiser MD421 and MD409 (replaced by the 421 II and e609), AKG D 112, joined by a relatively new contender, the Audix i5.

Condenser mics offer extended highs and lows while providing a flatter frequency response.  The Neumann U87 is the gold standard for large diaphragm condenser mics, rarely seen outside of studios. It’s heritage also includes the TL103.  The AKG C 414, in all its variations, has been crossing over to the stage for many years, popular in particular for drum overhead and grand pianos.  Audio-Technica’s AT4050 is the largeformat condenser that first broke into live sound specifically for guitar cabinets, followed closely by the Shure KSM32.

Ribbon mics, with a bi-directional figure-of-eight pattern, have a transparent sound that allows the amplifier’s character to be clearly heard with a natural roll-off in the highs.  They re-entered recording studios several years ago when manufacturers began making them more rugged to withstand normal handling.  The Royer R-121 was the first modern ribbon to find widespread acceptance, and two years ago the company released a ruggedized “live” version with a thicker ribbon.  Recently, the new Shure KSM313 ribbon has earned its place on national tours, as has the new A-T AT4081 ribbon mic.

Now let’s take a closer look at other solutions…

The Direct Route

A Radial JDX DI can capture the

warmthof tube guitar amps while

addingresponse that emulates a

guitar speaker.

In the world of live hard rock or heavy metal, it’s common to find amplifier DIs which take their signal from after the guitar amp and in parallel with a speaker cabinet.  The original is the Hughes & Kettner Redbox, and Radial Engineering makes a modern JDX “amplifier DI” that’s active and employs Class A discrete electronics. These devices capture the warmth of tube guitar amps, while adding response that emulates a guitar speaker.

 

Redbox DIs eliminate inconsistencies from mic selection and placement, accidental misplacement of the mic and speed up changeovers on multi-band concerts by requiring only a re-patch of an XLR – no mic to move.  They employ electronics to emulate the response of a guitar cabinet’s speaker cone, rolling off the highs like a real speaker.  They’re specially equipped to take the higher voltage of a guitar amp’s output, but the big warning is they don’t act as a speaker load and must be used with a cabinet, or the amp will fry them.  When used in combination with a single microphone, the results can provide a wide range of creative options, and their relative distances are only determined by the one mic’s position.

 

This is a personal favorite for in-ear monitor mixes learned from Meredith Brooks, with the DI

The desired mic position can be clearly

marked on the cabinet’s grill using

gaffe tape. (That’s a Royer R-121L

ribbon mic, by the way.)

panned away from the rest of the band and the mic towards the band, but it’s a stereo effect and works best with a stereo IEM mix with both ears in.

The distance from the speaker cabinet is considered important in most studio recording applications, but in live sound, the inverse square law dictates that placing the mic right against the grill cloth reduces bleed from adjacent sound sources.  That said, when guitar amps are placed next to each other, use of gobos can increase their isolation from each other.

 

With modern in-ear monitoring, guitar players no longer need their cabinets on-stage with them, so it’s common for the guitar tech to set them up off stage (hopefully on the opposite side of the stage from the monitor console).  This gives the guitar tech full access to the amps during the show, and keeps them from muddying up the sound in the venue.

Today’s live sound systems provide opportunities to easily make multi-track recordings that allow engineers to compare various approaches to many sound reinforcement applications by swapping different combinations of inputs and auditioning them in the PA, without having to annoy the band to play the song over and over.  It also allows the engineer to demonstrate mic choices to a guitar player while he’s standing at the console and listening instead of playing.  Do this, and it leads to better communication and collaboration, and you may even become friends for life.

To read the full detailed article see:   Capturing Guitar Amps in the Wild

July 30, 2010

On Tour: Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers

Modern technology reveals traditional sounds for Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers 2010 tour.

Technical Evolution


“We’re working with a very organic set of sounds here,” says Robert Scovill, ruminating on the current Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers 2010 concert tour. “Piano, organ, old amps… a traditional drum kit. We don’t want to make things sound real modern. What we want is a transparent presentation of the way things are. That’s where digital comes in.  Using modern technology to reveal traditional and established sounds – I think that’s a great way to go.”

Scovill knows well of what he speaks, and of the technical evolution that has helped bring him to where he is today with the band.  Having pushed faders out front for Tom and the boys since right about the same time e-mail was sounding like a pretty darn good idea, for this tour the Front of House engineer gains the backing of a D-Show VENUE console from Avid and an L-Acoustics K1/KUDO rig supplied by Escondido, California-based Sound Image.

“I don’t want to ever lead people to believe we’re attempting to simply recreate the record live,” Scovill explains, commenting on the audio underpinnings that guide this series of dates running through October supporting Mojo, the band’s first studio offering in eight years.  “That will never be the spirit of what Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers are about at their live performances. They have been together a very long time and have gotten to know each others’ moves implicitly not just onstage, but musically too.  You never get into a routine with them where Tuesday night is the same as Thursday and that’s the same as Saturday. Even with the big production elements surrounding this show, there is still a looseness to it,” he continues.  “Any given song can take a left turn at any moment and go in a completely different direction. This is definitely an ensemble with a collective will, not a group of musicians spoon-fed with material by a frontman.”

tom pettyA DSP advantage was gained, however, in being able to port effects settings built by engineer Ryan Ulyate during the mixing of Mojo directly into the plug-in processing of the VENUE system.  That process was facilitated by the fact that Mojo was mixed entirely “in the box” using a single ICON and Pro Tools system, with plug-ins brought over directly from the recording sessions including Sound Toys, Acousticas EMT impulses and Digidesign Delays.

Many of the vocal treatments for Petty himself – especially on newer songs – were pulled directly from the record for the live stage based upon their ability to manage what Scovill refers to as “extreme aspects” such as exceptionally narrow, cone-shaped vocals and slap delays he wound up using to underscore the “vintage-y” vibe.  Scovill is quick to add that he doesn’t routinely lean on plug-in compression unless the situation warrants it, opting in many cases for the channel strip processing already onboard the console.  For the times he does step out from his own internal circuitry for applications like system EQ or group processing, he gains the benefit of a Serato Rane Series of dynamic EQ plug-ins or their parametric offering.

“If I want to get into multi-band compression, I typically use an MC2000 on Tom’s vocal and bass guitar,” he notes.  “Our vocal chain is essentially the multiband compression along with some dynamic equalization to take care of things down in the low-mids and some of the ‘esses’.  That’s really about it. After that it’s just onboard compression and EQ as needed.”  Crane Song Phoenix tape head emulation plug-ins are applied on specific inputs as well as right across the mix bus.  Eventide reverb is a primary player on the drum kit, which also benefits from Waves API 2500 compression.  As further complement, a Brainworx BX Boom plug-in sees use on the drum kit in a fashion similar to a low frequency harmonics box.

Now let’s take a closer look behind the scenes…

Analogous Experience

Monitor engineer Greg Looper (left) and assistant monitor

engineer Mike Bangs at the other D-Show VENUE on the tour.

A pioneering force in the cause of integrating digital into the world of live sound, Scovill offers some pointed comments on the idea of “choice fatigue”- a possible downside to the digital world that’s offering a myriad of sonic options.  “It’s something live sound engineers have never been faced with before,” he says, scratching his head and trying to recall a time in his 30 years of professional life when such a thing could even be considered a problem.

“In the past, what dictated our choices was whatever the sound company had sitting on the shelf. If you went outside of that, then you were confined by space, budget, and rental agreements.  There were a lot of constraining factors. Now our work flow is very analogous to that experienced in the studio. You can say this is what we need and just load it on your system and get to work.”

As for the logic and creativity used to build his mix out front, Scovill relates on a final note that in many respects, all he has to do is get out of the way.

“The sources are just so good,” he says with reverence for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, masters of their craft.  “These guys are so good at voicing their instruments and orchestrating their parts, that you just have to let them do their work. In terms of mixing the show, I like to say I overemphasize the obvious. If there is a solo, I bring it up. If there is a critical rhythm part under that solo, you have to hear that too.  “Tom and the band have taught me over time that there is just as much skill in revealing something as there is in bringing something up. It’s not always about louder, it might be a matter of pulling something back so something else shines through.”

To read the full Article see: Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers Tour

May 18, 2010

7 Things You Should Never Do While Mixing Live Sound

Filed under: Live Sound, Mixing reviews — Tags: , , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 10:40 am

Top 7 tips to learn and live by when you are behind the mixing console at a live show.

7. Just because you’ve been doing something “this way for 20 years” doesn’t make it the right way or even a good way.

True, maybe no one is complaining, and you’re getting hired plenty, so who’s the real expert here?  Hopefully we can all stand to learn new things and do a better job.  It’s my experience that many of us are still a bit shy on some of the fundamentals. Know your signal flow? How about proper gain structure? The theory of formants and how they affect your mix?

Maybe you can answer “yes” to the first two, but how about that last one? Ever wonder how some shows sound terrific, but you can’t put your finger on why that is? There’s always a “why,” and we can all benefit from learning the “what” behind the “why” more often.


6. Maybe your mix does sound good – I’m big enough to admit it. Or at least, at the console it sounds good.

But do you walk around the venue and listen to the system from various seating areas? If not, you might be fooling yourself. It’s true that measurement tools can help us a great deal in setting up, tweaking and tuning these fabulous systems at our disposal today. Yet no matter how great the tool, it still can’t tell the difference between good and bad sound. Only you can do that.

I’m not suggesting leaving the console mid-show to go out to the highest seating area in the arena. However, before the show starts, you should have a good handle on coverage and how it sounds out in the house. Your audience certainly will.

A couple of summers ago, I took my daughter to see Rush at the Journal Pavilion outside of Albuquerque. It really struck me that even from the lawn, the sound was fantastic. Hats off to whomever was mixing that show.


FOH Beck tour

5. Speaking of tools, we have tons of gadgets that have meters, blinking lights, tri-colored LEDs, plasma displays and all kind of ways to measure, indicate and extrapolate the audio information into visual data.

Do you mix with your eyes? Sure it’s great to have a clip light, since most of us have trouble hearing when our system is getting pushed over 5 percent THD.  But it’s a mistake to think that just because the meters tell us everything is O.K. that the mix sounds good.

Want to know how much compression to add to the vocals? Use the meters to get in the ballpark, but then listen to the result and determine if it might need just a skosh more or less.

It starts with reading spec sheets, doesn’t it? How many times have you decided on a piece of gear based on the technical specifications? I’m not saying that’s bad, necessarily. The specs can help us a great deal. But if we haven’t listened to that piece of gear, in context, there’s no way to know how it will really behave when we need it.

To read the rest of the article please visit Live Sound Mixing

April 14, 2010

The Black Eyed Peas: Live Sound on Tour

Filed under: Live Sound — Tags: , , , — audiofanzine @ 8:11 am

Fergie, Will.i.am, Taboo and Apl.de.ap are Off to See the Wizard.

After a few summer festivals, The Black Eyed Peas’ The Energy Never Dies tour began with September shows in Japan and October shows “down under.”

And the Stage is Set

line arrays
A stagehand’s view of one of the Clair i5
and i5b line arrays being flown.
prosoundweb
This feature article is provided by ProSoundWeb

The Peas are riding high from three recent Grammy Awards and the double-barreled success of Boom Boom Pow and I Gotta Feeling, which close the show with obligatory confetti cannons.  The set starts with smoke, green lasers, pop-up appearances and “Let’s Get It Started.”  Ten songs into the set, Apl.de.ap and Taboo have solos, followed by a pop interlude from Stacy “Fergie” Ferguson, and finally, Will.i.am rocks the house with a DJ set played from a platform that rises from mid-arena at the end of the runway, including a free-style rap based on (tour sponsor) Blackberry text messages sent from the crowd scrolled across the ample video screens.  European dates begin in May, with plans to “follow the yellow brick road” to South America and Asia.

amp racks
Donovan Friedman at the racks of Crown
MA-3600VZ and QSC PowerLight 9.0 amplifiers.

At the third U.S. show, I watched Donovan Friedman and Sean Baca fly the stage-right side of the Clair i5 line arrays at Jacksonville’s Veterans Memorial Arena.  The 14-box Clair i5 arrays are powered by Crown Macro-Tech MA- 3600VZ amplifiers, with the companion 14-box i5b low-frequency extension arrays powered by QSC PowerLight 9.0pfc amps. The arena side sections are covered by 8-box i5 and i5b arrays, while the side sections farthest back are reached by 3-box arrays of three-way Clair R4 enclosures.

An ego ramp extends out into the middle of the arena floor. Across the front of the stage on each side of the ramp are 14 dual-18 Clair “Bow Tie” (BT) subwoofers, powered by Powersoft K10 amps. They support P2 frontfills and Showco SRM wedges, all powered by Lab.gruppen PLM10000Q amps.  Four more BT 218 subs are used on each side of the stage, and 6-box arrays of Showco “Blue” Prism enclosures are flown as sidefills, also powered by Crown MA-3600VA amps. Audio services are supplied by Clair Brothers, which had a similar system in the arena four nights earlier for John Mayer.

Early Adopter

FOH
Front of House Engineer Dave Haines (left) and Monitor
Engineer Ryan Cecil with the Digidesign Venue console.

Front of House Engineer Dave Haines has been with the Peas for a dozen years – the group’s entire career – and was instrumental with the recording that originally got them signed to Interscope Records. As a Pro Tools veteran, he was an early adopter of the Avid Digidesign Venue console, and has probably logged more hours on it than any other engineer.  Haines uses the original D-Show Venue control surface with a single 16-fader sidecar. His quiet confidence belies the energy he will unleash on 15,000 fans. There’s remarkably little outboard equipment.

Under the console, a rack holds a TASCAM CD-01U CD player, TASCAM CD-RW901 recorder, plus a pair of Shure DFR11EQs for two channels of feedback suppression used on Fergie’s vocals, which Haines says helps considerably.  Finally, a Dolby Lake processor is set up for eight channels of Mesa EQ for the main system.

plugins
Waves Audio L2 Ultramaximizer and MaxxBass
bass enhancement plug-ins are applied to the
main left-right mix bus.

Beside Haines, a Motion Computing Tablet runs the Lake Controller

software, while a second computer equipped with an Edirol UA-25 USB interface and an Audix TR40 microphone runs Rational Acoustics Smaart.  Backstage, six more Dolby Lake Processors are used for the mains and three more are in the monitor rig.

Assisting Haines is System Engineer and Crew Chief David Moncrief, a touring veteran who previously worked with the tour’s Production Manager Tim Miller on ‘N Sync, which Miller also mixed.  Haines relies heavily on Waves Audio L2 Ultramaximizer limiter and MaxxBass bass enhancement plug-ins, which are both used on the main left-right mix bus.  The L2 is also inserted on the Juno and Moog keyboards, ddrum electronic kick drum, and Will.i.am’s DJ rig.  They were heavily employed on the record, which he strives to accurately reproduce, recreating the album’s dance club vibe in arenas by “pushing the low end and getting the bass in your chest.”

An Antares Auto-Tune plug-in is used shamelessly as a contemporary dance music effect and is Haines’ “go to” compressor, also applied to the main mix to keep it “in the box.” Other plug-ins include EchoFarm and ReverbOne for effects as well as Focusrite’s ISA 110 and 130 from the Forte Suite for Fergie’s vocal, who Haines also mixes when the Peas aren’t touring.  Her presence in the show forces Haines to walk a tightrope between mixing a pop show and a hip-hop concert, at which he succeeds brilliantly. He paraphrases Spinal Tap with the audio department’s motto: “It’s a fine line between thump and mud.”

To read the full detailed article see:  The Black Eyed Peas on Tour

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