Dear SXSW…

We’re revisiting on “oldie but goodie” today. Yes, E-Rock, you are officially old enough to be an oldie but a goodie. You’re welcome. Some thoughts on doing a festival that may have started as being all about music, but these days, that particular art form is only important insomuch as it relates to some new app that will expose even more of your personal data to even more tech companies and continue the decline of Western Civilization. Enjoy. -rev.

_________________________________________

 

By Erik “E-Rock” Rogers

 

What is the appeal to play SXSW?

 

Is it the incredibly rude volunteer staff that treats any artist who isn’t a multi platinum, multi million dollar artist like Snoop Dogg, Soundgarden, or Lady Gaga like they are worthless?  How many of the 20,000 or more attendees are likely to have access to those shows that are for the upper echelon of sponsors and executives?

 

Is it the allure of communing with artists of similar backgrounds?  My German client was thrilled to learn there was a German Haus where the German artists at SXSW could commune, network, and relax amongst their kinsmen.  Imagine their dismay when they were turned away at the door because the list was “exclusive.”

 

Is it the safe / welcoming atmosphere for bands to play their showcases?  I can’t begin to detail the excitement on my bus when we learned that the only way we would be allowed to load-in was to carry the gear 4 blocks from the bus to the venue (about 1200 lbs of gear).  Once the gear was transferred to the venue we were elated to learn that we would be allowed to leave our gear on the street while waiting our turn to play.  The only thing that could make the day better was FINALLY speaking with the house audio person and learning that I had 9 channels to work with.  (all of this could have been worked out in an advance if anyone had bothered responding to me)

 

Is it the hospitality within the venue(s)?  While a smorgasbord of free booze and junk food is always appreciated, 8 bottles of water and 4 moderately clean towels aren’t asking too much.  …unless the event is SXSW.

 

Is it the friendly and knowledgeable parking staff?  While my job title is Tour Manager / FOH Engineer and not Cartographer, I’d like to think that I know how to read a map.  I would also assume that while the parking attendant may not be a skilled map maker, they at least have been instructed by their supervisors which vehicles are permitted to park in their particular area.  But… I would have been wrong.  There is nothing like waking up to a pound on the bus door that results in my teaching the parking attendant how to read a map.

 

What I found especially insulting is the “discounted” wristband that I was invited to purchase for $80.00 for every member of my touring party who isn’t a band member.  As you know only artists are given wristbands and crew are not permitted to attend any events except for their employer’s event.  As music festivals are akin to summer camp for road crew it’s disappointing to discover that in order to visit with old friends and clients the crew are required to pay.  I have now learned that in order to circumvent this that I must lie while advancing credentials and make every tech and merch seller a member of the band.  The next time I have the misfortune of playing SXSW I will make sure that I buy a box of kazoos and have a special encore on my client’s stage so my crew can earn the wristband that I had to stretch the truth in order to obtain.

 

With an estimated economic impact of $200million into the Austin, TX economy you are far and away the largest single revenue source for the city.  3000+ artists, bands, filmmakers, comics, and performers are invited to play this event annually.  With stars in their eyes and without a clue of what they should expect as minimal compensation for their time and talent they pay their own way and endure the exorbitant charges for hotels, food and parking all in the hopes of having a career in the entertainment business.  They do this for the hope of a chance that one of the 20,000 attendees is someone who will sign them to fame and fortune.  As you purport yourself to be the stepping stone for careers perhaps, SXSW, you should consider a modicum of hospitality and a welcoming environment for the artists you exploit.  Please keep pumping money into the economy.  As for me and any future client of mine, we will never play SXSW again.  The ratio of success:obscurity of SXSW artists isn’t worth being treated like vermin and being expected to be thankful for the experience.

 

Unfortunately Yours,

E-Rock

Give A Little Bit: Remembering Russel Pope

BY ROBERT SCOVILL

As my flight out of Phoenix climbs to 10,000 feet on my way back to my cushy hotel room, spacious tour bus and high tech sound system while fulfilling my role as concert sound engineer on the Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers 40th Anniversary tour, I find myself sitting here taking stock of what modern concert touring has become in 2017, how it got to this wonderful lifestyle and who were the real pioneers of the industry. I’m introspective about who I am, why I do what I do, and how the hell I got here in the first place.

 

So, what has sparked this sudden burst of introspective investigation of myself worth you may ask? Well, sadly, as is the case many times in one’s life, it’s after hearing the news of the recent death of someone we revere or hold close in our hearts. In my case it’s upon learning of the passing of renowned engineer and mixer Russel Pope.

So why this event you may ask? Why would it carry so much meaning? Well, it’s a story of moments. Actually, a culmination of seconds really when considering it in the context of the total amount of time we actually participate in Planet Earth. It’s a story of a chance meeting that impacts a life for decades yet to come. I believe that every life has an incident like this, whether it’s recognized and identified or not. A chance meeting, that not only influences and impacts who you are during the span of the meeting, but sets the narrative of your life in motion from that moment forward. And so it was for me and Russel Pope.

 

I’ve recounted this incident and my reverence for it in some form or another in feature articles for trade magazines and most recently in webcast interviews and even recently in a live radio interview. And, I will do so again here and pray that I do so in a way that actually shows it in the proper light with the expressed agenda of honoring Russel, not myself.

For many years, I could not recall the actual date, nor could I recall the actual venue where this all took place and the ticket stub was long gone. Hell, I wasn’t even sure it was Russel that I spoke with until decades later. But these trivialities are simply that, trivialities compared to what actually took place on this day for a wide eyed, impressionable 14-year-old consumed by the music of his youth.

For additional context, at this point in my young life I had been studying music for some time. It was 1975 if memory serves me and of course when I say “studying music”, I don’t mean in the traditional sense at a conservatory of music or anything of that ilk. I was simply an ardent fan of contemporary rock music and it consumed me on a daily basis probably from the time I heard my first Beatles 45 at the ripe old age of about 4 or 5 via the teenage son of my baby sitter. By the time I turned 10 I was a fledgling musician (at best) taking music lessons with dreams of one day contributing my own verse to the great historical record of rock music.

And so it was, that the home stereo and the concert hall were the alters at which I worshiped as a young boy stumbling his way into manhood. The legendary progressive rock music station KSHE-95 FM in St. Louis provided the soundtrack to my daily existence and in so doing introduced me to the record Crime of the Century by Supertramp. Musically, and maybe just as importantly, sonically, that record spoke to me in a way that others had not up to that point. But unbeknown to me at the time, the real sonic revelation was yet to come.

That revelation for me took place upon seeing, and more importantly hearing Supertramp live in concert. For context, keep in mind this is the very early 1970s. Sound reinforcement as an industry had little to no visibility in the music business. It was still a “cottage” industry at most. In terms of visibility, obviously, the Internet did not exist. There were no dedicated trade magazines on the subject. You might see some broad, anything-BUT-detailed, coverage of concert technologies and the people who used them in music magazines of the era like Hit Parader or Circus or maybe Rolling Stone but it was extremely rare.

In my young and uninformed mind, all you needed was some big loud guitar and keyboard amps, big loud drums and a “PA speaker” big enough to allow the singer to keep up and somehow it all just magically kind of “happened” when it was brought into a concert hall and turned on. Right?

Well, that perception collapsed and was quickly discarded on to the scrap heap upon attending my first Supertramp concert. I stood there in the audience, in the same room I had seen and heard a number of concerts in my, to that point, young life as a concert goer. I stood there listening and I firmly remember having this awakening thought of “what the heck is going on here? I’ve never heard a concert sound like this”

I mean, many of us have had that moment at home, with a great stereo, or maybe in a control room when you put on an expertly crafted and recorded piece of music where you simply crank the volume and say in that voice that only some of us actually recognize “YES! Fucking hell! Listen to THAT!” From that point on, you simply know that no stereo was ever going to be big enough or powerful enough for your listening pleasure. And so goes the power and influence of rock music.

As the show wound down I continued to process what I had just experienced. I was walking out of the venue and apparently, as providence would have it on this night, I exited on the aisle right by the mixing console. It stopped me dead in my tracks and I stood there staring at it. People continued to brush by me. The guys I attended with were well past me and on the way out of the building to the car. I didn’t care. I somehow knew, this “thing” that I was looking at had something to do with what I just experienced. And more importantly, I inherently knew that the person standing next to it had something to do with my experience as well. Everything seemed to go into slow motion and get kind of blurry, just like in a movie dream sequence until I was snapped out of it by these words..

“Wanna have a look around?”

I’m sure I shyly nodded, or possibly even mumbled the word “yeah” but inside, every part of me was screaming “Hell yes I do!”

At that point, I had no idea who Russel Pope was, what he did for a living, or the magnitude of his impact on the entire Supertramp experience. But what I did know for certain upon leaving after his brief tour and simplistic explanation of the FOH position was, that I was certain I no longer wanted to be a musician, and I was also certain that I was now “on fire” to find my way in to work as a “sound guy” in some way, shape or form. And so my journey took it’s first step forward.

So here I am, at 30,000 feet now, some 42 years later trying to make sense of it all. All of the “what if’s” are circling in my mind like a squadron of fighter planes trying to find their target.

  • What if my parents had remained in rural Kansas instead of moving to St. Louis when I was about 7 years old?
  • What if I had never been introduced to KSHE-95? At the time, a somewhat underground progressive rock station willing to play Supertramp as opposed to the Top 40 pop drivel of the day?
  • What if my parents were too afraid to let me go to “rock concerts” with my school mates – all of whom were considerably older than me at the time?
  • What if I had not saved my allowance in order to go see Supertramp in concert, and instead my only exposure being their albums?
  • What if I had purchased a seat that would have exited me from a different part of the building?
  • What if Russel Pope would have been too busy, or simply unwilling to share what he so graciously shared for a “kid” from No-Wheres-Ville in the middle of the United States?

All I know for certain is that all of those “what ifs” when realized somehow lead to the final one. In my mind’s eye right now, if any ONE of those things don’t take place, who knows how it all turns out for me? But what I can say with absolute certainty is that this brief engagement with Russel rendered all of the other bullet points universally meaningful.

And certainly, in retrospect, in that moment, that very moment – whether he knew it or not, Russel set the bar for me. Maybe I didn’t even realize this until right now while writing this, but without verbalizing it, what he actually got through to me on that night was “if you’re going to make it doing this kind of work, your results need to be at least this good and frankly in the end had better exceed what you heard here tonight”. “Being professional? This is what it looks like. It means striving to never be a charlatan, but it also means you’re gracious enough and secure enough in who you are and what you know to share it, all of it, and in so doing raise up your person and your profession.”

In the decades that followed, I’ve been recognized and awarded and achieved more visibility as a “sound guy” than I ever remotely dreamed possible. And, of course, with that fame and fortune come the critics, the doubters and the nay-sayers, as is true for many in every walk of life. Many of those doubters have questioned not only my abilities and my agenda but have also accused me of self-aggrandizing through countless behind the scenes videos and magazine features, radio and web interviews etc. But it’s my hope, after sharing this story with you, that I can get you to reconsider that this exposure is not a case of vanity run amuck, it’s nothing more than a case of paying Russel’s graciousness forward. It’s my way of simply saying, to anyone willing to listen, read or watch …

“Wanna have look around?”

So, I feel compelled to share the final evidence of providence concerning this story because it’s beautiful in its closure.

In the course of sharing an abbreviated version of the story in a recent Internet radio station interview for Roadie Free Radio, a dear friend of mine who I toured with in the 80’s named Ted Leonard, who now lives in Finland, was actually tuned in to the broadcast. And as my good fortune would have it, he was actually friends with Russel Pope and was unbelievably gracious enough to connect Russel and I via Facebook some 42 years after the fact. It was like being tossed in to some sort of time travel machine. Russel and I recounted the event and, much to my disbelief, he remembered the venue and actually recalled the chance meeting. I was simply in disbelief, but of course I shouldn’t have been. He was as gracious and giving as that night 40 some-odd years ago.

At the time of our Facebook connection, I had no idea he was terminally ill. So, I’ll be forever grateful for the opportunity to close the loop with him and thank him personally so many years after the fact. I’m deeply indebted to Ted for making that connection. And so here, in print, I say again thank you Russel for being the central figure in the most significant 10 minutes of my career and maybe my life. And thank you for being a true pioneer in concert sound and more importantly, setting the bar for professionalism, expertise and manners for not just me, but anyone you encountered. You will never be forgotten.

Road Test: Digico S21 Digital Mixing Console

By Rick Camp at Master Mix Live Las Vegas, NV. Dec. 20th, 2016

Digico has supplied Master Mix Live with their S21 mixing console for our evaluation. The console is fitted with a 64-channel DMI-Dante card and accompanied by the D-Rack stage rack with 32 input channels and 8 line outputs @ 96K. At first glance the console appears very streamlined with its two large touchscreen displays and six rotary knobs and two LED meters positioned to the right side of the displays above the main surface with 20 channel faders and one master fader. The rear panel of the console is fitted with 24 XLR mic inputs and 12 XLR line output connectors. There are an additional two DMI card slots that can accommodate a variety of option cards such as Dante, MADI, Aviom, AES, and Waves Soundgrid. The D-Rack can accommodate a maximum of 32 input channels and 16 line output channels via either analog XLR or AES on XLR connectors. Or as a card option, use the Aviom interface for artist self-mixing capabilities.

 

(For more on the S21’s I/O and general feature set, check out the review in FOH.)
Console Set-Up

As I’m like most engineers who have been mixing and setting up large-scale sound systems for a long while, I like to see how user-friendly a piece of gear is by trying to figure out the initial set up and then how fast I can get thru my normal sound check and run-of-show workflows without reading the BOOK!! (Let’s be real! Most veteran engineers are not interested in re-learning some complicated mixing console invented by some computer geek who doesn’t have a clue about mixing a live show.)
I found the S21 to be pretty user-friendly after you’ve figured out where the main MENU button is located at the top left-hand corner of the right-hand screen, haha! And then learning to use the up and down arrow keys in combination with the two push buttons next to them to access the different layers of parameters such as input channels 1-20 on the first layer, 21-40 on the second layer, followed by Auxs and Sub Groups, matrixes and Control (VCA’s) groups. The two push-buttons control your user-defined spill group and the global channel re-assignment sections. For more on spill groups check the video.

As mentioned earlier, there are two large touchscreens that show your channel inputs in line with the channel faders. Or depending on which layer you’re on, you might see the matrix output channels, auxes, sub groups or control (DCA) groups. The touch screen layout is pretty intuitive. To access the input section, you tap on the top of the channel strip and all of the associated controls for input come up on the right-hand screen such as, input source, input processing, inserts, channel processing, output routing.

Under the input tab, you can touch other tabs such as EQ, high & low pass filters, aux sends, and panning. Below the touchscreen, there is one rotary knob, which by default is dedicated to access the channels pan position, but can be switched to control other user definable parameters. So I found the touchscreens and the process for accessing the different parameters to be very user-friendly. You just touch a parameter like EQ, and it pops up on the right hand screen and then you have the choice to either use the six rotary knobs to the right of the screen to adjust your settings, or what I’ve found to be much faster, is to use the touchscreen to drag the handle icon on the band you wish to change and change frequency and boost or cut at the same time (WOW!!) You can’t do that with regular EQ. knobs. Then you can take two fingers and pinch the outer areas of the EQ curve to change the width of the “Q” .

In the main menu tab is were you find the console set up parameters such as Sessions & Snapshots, Preferences, Audio sync, Macros, FX rack, Graphic Eq’s, Matrixes, Console shutdown & restart, etc…. Input/ Output Routing Input and output routing is done via the screen matrix. You tap the source button which opens up the input routing screen. You are then given a menu on the left-hand side of the screen that lets you pick ports from which you route, such as local inputs, stage rack inputs or DMI option cards, etc. From there you can individually route each channel or “ripple route” multiple channels. The console outputs are routed in the same manner.
EQ., Dynamics & Effects

The EQ on the S21 is, in typical DiGiCo fashion, very responsive and accurate, and the addition of both high and low pass filters—not expected of a console in this price range—gives this unit some features that are indicative of a console in the 100K price range. As I mentioned earlier, once you try the EQ drag handles and see how fast you can sweep the frequencies while also boosting or cutting them at the same time you’ll be hooked!

The input channel compressor dynamics section #1 features a single band compressor on every channel input or a multiband compressor, in this software release you can only have four multiband compressors at any one time, (I do expect Digico to increase the number in later software revisions.)
The input channel dynamics section #2 is again typical Digico. The noise gate is very responsive, the attack, hold and release functions work just as effortlessly on the S21 as they do on the SD7 or SD10 series, either in normal operating mode or in keyed mode from an external source. It can be switched to three different modes of operation, normal gate, ducker or single band compressor with side chain access.
The effects pallet features the standard reverb halls and plates along with delays and there’s a dedicated “Tap Tempo” button on the console surface located just below the EQ. knobs on the right hand side of the console. The Sound The sound of the S21 was just what I expected from a Digico console, BIG!! There’s plenty of head room on the mic preamps with the classic Digico warmth and the feature I was most impressed with is the ease of use.

I believe DiGiCo brought all of the same performance qualities of the SD series consoles and what they learned about engineer workflow to create a better, faster, leaner machine that’s very intuitive in a price range with other consoles that have far less features and ease of use.
I recommend this console for any small or large-scale touring situation (it will fit under any tour bus), house of worship, corporate meetings, and live performance-driven club.

 

Other Voices

Mark Frink on the S21 via Live Sound International

Stevie Winwood and the DiGiGo S21

Waves FDBK-X Plug-In Review

Ok, yeah, this is a gear review. But we need to start with a bit of philosophy.

It’s pretty well known that I came to the live sound world via being “the guy in the band who owns the PA.” I’ve done more gigs than I care to think about—both as the bandleader and as the sound provider (sometimes at the same time)—with not near enough PA to cover the space or where I was running mains and monitors from a position at the side of the stage. As have many of the people reading this. What not a lot of people know is that I was raised by a mechanic.

That upbringing gave me a pretty pragmatic and non-fetishized view of tools. Does the tool do the job I need it to do? Nothing else matters. Not the age or how it looks or if it has the latest handy-dandy feature. I still have three or four screwdrivers that were my dad’s. The little metal crown that fits over where the shaft attached to the plain, wooden handle is loose but otherwise… It’’s a tool and it does the job.

As I started to make some kind of name (for whatever that’s worth) covering the people and the gear in the live audio world, I pretty quickly learned that there was a class of tools that were widely derided as “crutches” and was led to believe that only dilettantes and wanna-be’s would ever stoop to even discussing, much less using. This class seemed to me to be populated by a couple of pieces of outboard gear—the BBE Sonic Maximizer and any form of feedback killer.

Now, I had used BBE units for years by the time I found out they were a crutch. They had proved really useful in creating a perception on the part of the listener that the PA was way bigger than it actually was. And as a guy who has literally never done a gig where he did not wear multiple hats, I had lusted after one of the earlier feedback killers (a Sabine, I think?) but they were pricey. When dbx made their version which was faster and more accurate (narrower PEQ bands) and that they sent for review and I was able to use for quite a while, I became a convert. For years, I did not go out on a gig without that dbx and a BBE in my rack.

And I was quiet about it, not wanting to be found out as someone using an audio crutch. Until I sat with Big Mick Hughes at a Metallica show for the first time. This was back when Big Mick was still mixing on an analog Midas. You couldn’t miss the outboard rack because there was a crew member sitting in front of it manually opening and closing noise gates on whichever mic James Hettfield decided to sing into at that moment in time. While watching that particular dance, I noticed two old school, black-face BBE Sonic Maximizers in the same rack. I asked The Man about them after the show and he said that they were great for making the toms really pop in the mix.

And I no longer felt the need to be so quiet.

I still own both and the only reason they’re not in the rack now is that between the 4-spaces for the mixer “brain” plus wireless mics for the horns and in-ears for a couple of us and the Mac Mini and a 2-space drawer I had to ditch something or go to a bigger rack.

Which finally gets us to the subject at hand…The FDBK-X plug in from Waves

In terms of operation, anyone who has used an outboard feedback killer will be instantly familiar with the controls and the process. Get the wedges up to the point where they are about to feedback and engage the FDBX-X. Then start pushing the wedges up until the start to feedback and let the plug-in catch the offending frequency and clamp it down. Lather, rinse, repeat.

It’s simple and does not take up a huge amount of CPU resources. I’m running a 2011 Mac Mini with 16 GB of RAM and running three different instances of H-Reverb on a total of 8 channels (vox, horns and snare) and FDBK-X on up to four wedge mixes (more typically it’s two) and have processing headroom to spare. It’s great to have access to a tool like this again. Here is why I think the FDBK-X is better than any hardware version I’ve used.

Adjustability: The hardware units I have used have, at best, the ability to switch between two preset filter widths and two or three—again, preset—sensitivity options. With the FDBK-X you get a nifty interface that includes a visual representation of what each filter is doing and the ability to alter the width of each as well as how (deep) each one is. This means that one can use the tool without being bound to preset limits. The old hardware versions are kind of like a crescent wrench that is rusted and frozen in one position. FDBK-X is like a massive dose of WD-40 to loosen it up and allow one to use the tool to it’s full potential.

Education: Either self or for that new guy on the crew who can’t call frequencies to ring out wedges for his or her life. (Admission: I suck at this, too. Likely a big reason i see its educational potential.) As everything in our tech lives migrates to a screen of some kind, we get more and more visually focused in terms of learning. Being able to SEE what’s happening in the process of applying filters can be the door to a world of knowledge about frequencies. I’ve made the same argument about the engineer presets in H-Reverb. Being able to see how different engineers—all of whom I hold in high regard—approach, say, a vocal reverb gives me additional knowledge that allows me to get better results on those gigs when I don’t have my rack and have to start from scratch.

The only thing that took a bit of getting used to were the controls called Amp and Gain. They work together in much the same way that the amount of compression and the make-up gain control work on a compressor. On a compressor, as the signal is compressed harder and the peaks pushed down, makeup gain allows you to get the overall volume of the source back to where it was pre-squeeze. On FDBK-X, Amp determines how hard a filter is hitting the source and Gain brings the overall volume back up to as close as one can get to the pre-filtered level.

There is one last thing that i really love about FDBK-X and it has nothing at all to do with how it works. Rather, it’s about how it’s presented. It’s rare to see this kind of truth in marketing. The online manual spends probably as much time explaining that FDBK-X is a tool but one that assumes everything prior to it in the signal chain is done right. The text flat out says that if you can’t control the squeals with a few filters, then the issue is likely with something more basic like a lack of understanding—or just poor deployment—of system gain structure.

With FDBK-X on the Mac, I get a better version of that old hardware until and may even learn something about calling frequencies. Win-win.

Las Vegas Sound Guy Lunch (Episode 1?)

OK, this took way too long to get edited and up online. The Rev. sucks. Happy?

A full eight freaking weeks ago, we finally were able to do a video interview thingie that we hope will be the first of a bunch. Las Vegas Sound Guy Lunch. We tried this two years ago and crap audio made it unusable. My fault, I set it up in a noisy restaurant. This year it was the same basic script less the noisy restaurant.

We did this during the day on New Year’s Eve. The idea is that there are so many touring acts in Las Vegas for New Year’s Eve that it’s an amazing opportunity to get a few guys in the same place and just let em shoot the poop about life and touring and audio and… well, whatever. Hopefully we’ll be able to do this again.

The two folks this time hold a special place around these here parts and the Rev. is a big fan of both of them. Jim Ebdon has been incredibly enthusiastic, accommodating and supportive of SoundProLive.com since the beginning in 2011. We’ve done at least a couple of interviews. Links and some video is below.

Chris Rabold… Met him probably a decade ago when he was doing Widespread Panic. Later that year when ballots were being put together for the Parnellis (in another lifetime), I was a total pain in the ass insisting that this kid was gonna be a force in the near future and pushing his nomination. Never told anyone that story… Anyway, I totally owe him cuz he took a bunch of time out of a day back when he was doing Kenny Chesney a couple of years ago and the video of that interview never got edited or posted. Again, I suck.

Anyway, hope you enjoy it. If your gonna be in Vegas on Dec 31, give us a shout and we’ll add you to the Las Vegas Sound Guy Lunch guest list.

 

 

 

 

Chris Rabold Parnelli News 2007

 

Maroon 5's Jim Ebdon

 

Maroon 5’s Jim Ebdon: Outboard and Macros

 

 

Living the Dream

BY ROBERT SCOVILL

You’re standing in total darkness. Suddenly you hear a huge crowd start cheering wildly. A band starts
playing but, oddly, they sound very distant and far away. A spotlight bursts on to you in intense, blinding white light. In an attempt to shelter your eyes you look down only to realize … you’re naked … and … none of your gear is set up. You squint through the light only to realize that everyone, including the band, is staring at you … and … they have their phones out … and … they’re typing. Suddenly, the phone in your pocket starts vibrating incessantly with social media alerts. Startled, you jerk straight up in bed, sweating … panting. “Oh thank God, it was only a dream.”

Yes, it’s the modern day version of the “roadie dream”. Which is of course actually a PTSD-inducing nightmare that seems to inch closer and closer to reality with every passing event for today’s live audio mixers.

If you’re in the world of Pro Audio, regardless of what level you work, then you’re well aware of the recent audio mishaps at some very high visibility shows. These incidents are now a part of the national conversation. The recent snafus on New Year’s Eve with Mariah Carey, the well-documented events of the last two Grammys with very high-profile artists and even a headline-grabbing, click-generating incident involving a confrontation between a volatile Presidential candidate and a podium mic have all captured the attention and imagination of John Q. Public.

Well, you might scoff at this, but if you’re wondering how this is going to go moving forward, look no further than how modern media responds to anything that happens which is deemed significant by those covering it. Let’s say, for example, there is a carjacking and it gets national attention by national news. Did you ever notice that once that happens, news organizations at the local level all of sudden and seemingly coincidentally start reporting stories of local carjackings? It’s easy to spot this news “trend” if you’re touring and in a different city each day.

At the national level, before long you start seeing experts being called in discuss the rise in frequency of carjackings and their impact on society; crime trends, law enforcement, neighborhood safety, illegal immigrant cause and effect, what can car manufacturers do to better protect drivers, “Is the failure of the family responsible for the explosion of carjacking incidents?” And on and on the media grist mill churns. Sound familiar?

Well, the seeds of the “LIVE SOUND: AN INDUSTRY IN CRISIS” narrative have already been planted and are sprouting roots. Within 24 hours of the Grammy broadcast and the Metallica mishap, Metallica’s drummer Lars Ulrich, the band’s appointed spokesperson was already on a late night talk show talking about the incident and attempting some brand triage. On this night the show also, “coincidentally”, included a Broadway star who was asked by the host, “so you guys do Broadway shows live right? So do sound problems happen for you guys too?” To which the performer immediately responded “Oh yes, ALL of the time” and then proceeded to describe in detail a litany of incidents. CRINGE … no, make that DOUBLE CRINGE … “Oh Lord, take me now”. Turn the crank on the media grist mill, here we go.

I was amazed (and shouldn’t be anymore really) at how quickly I saw SCNO (S-o C-alled N-ews O-ganizations) — see what I did right there? — flood my social feeds with click-gobbling headlines. Here’s a sample of some actual headlines.

Metallica Unplugged Right After Line Check

Grammy’s Sound Crew Forget To Turn On James Hetfield’s Mic

2017 Grammy’s Disaster; We Have The Inside Story”

Grammy’s Production Insider Tells All 

Stage Hand to Blame for Ruining Grammys For Metallica Fans

Our Industry Expert Explains The Grammy’s Debacle

Grammy’s Producer Apologizes to Metallica

Ad.Effing.Nauseum.

And of course in the social media era we all have to suffer through mind-numbing, oversimplified rhetoric delivered by people (some in our own industry) who line up to posture and proclaim that they’re certain they know exactly what happened and how they would have prevented it.

  • “Man, you’d think at that level, they would have locking connectors on the cables”
  • “Are you telling me no one thought to tape that cable down?”
  • “Boy, you’d think they would put that input box in a place where NO ONE would even come close to it, let alone a dancer”
  • “You’d think they would have instant redundancy for these things wouldn’t you?”
  • “It’s 2017 can’t they design a mic that never fails?”
  • “They should just go wireless for everything”
  • “They need to just simplify things and go back to the way it used to be”

Ad.Effing.Nauseum.

Cause you know … An audio cable had never gotten accidentally unplugged before February 12th 2017. (That said, you can bet every artist and mixing engineer for the foreseeable future will be double, triple, quadruple checking that lead vocal mic connection before that artist ever steps up to that mic.)

One of the posts actually made me giggle though (uncomfortably) because it rang of some truth. “Does anybody remember the days when a mic didn’t work and the next day everyone had already forgotten about it?”

Well, safe to say that world is LONG gone in 2017.

At this years Winter NAMM show I was given the honor of delivering the keynote address for their inaugural Live Sound Expo. One of the topics I was asked to cover was tour preparation in the modern era of live sound. And while I covered cloud collaboration with my crew and lots of other administrative topics, one of the questions I posed and topics that I covered was a big surprise for many in attendance. So let me take this opportunity to ask the same question here.

“As a concert sound mixer, do you have a social media strategy?”

(There were a LOT of puzzled looks around the room as I’ll bet there are on a big percentage of the folks reading this. But once you let it sink in, it becomes pretty obvious that this has big implications for the future of our industry not to mention what it could actually mean for YOU as an audio mercenary going forward.)

In the run up to the Internet era and now the age of social media I have actually written on this topic a couple of times and have also addressed it at seminars and panel sessions. The crux of the conversation is this; when things go “pare shaped” at a show how will you respond, not in the moment, but after the moment?

Live sound has a long and rich history of planning for the unforeseen during a show. But what I’m asking about is how you will react after the incident, not during. How will you react when confronted with negative public opinion of your work? Why? Because I assure you, no matter what your skill level, there will be someone at EVERY show that has that negative opinion and will want to share it with anyone who will listen. How are you going to respond to that criticism? Do you have a plan? Have you thought this through? What if the artist or manager confronts you with the person’s public criticism in hand? Is your plan to get on the bus, have a few drinks and check Facebook, Twitter or Instagram and then drop a few alcohol inspired posts or responses?

There was a time when “that guy” with the negative view of your work might make their way to the FOH position and let their feelings be known. You would respond in any way you saw fit and then it would be over. Today it’s much more likely they will go to your artist’s fan site and post it there, where they will in turn recruit others to join them in their displeasure and post accordingly. In 2017 and beyond, mainstream media might even use it as a headline.

So once they do just that, that’s when things get very interesting and you have some choices to make.

Do you identify yourself and engage them online? If so, do you do so publicly or privately? If publicly, have you done so with the blessings of the artist you work for? Here’s why I ask, because believe it or not, the moment you post, if you identify yourself and your role and then respond, the fan does not hear YOU responding, they hear the artist. Nope, at that moment you are an agent of the artist and representing their brand not yours. You likely won’t even be recognized by name, you’ll just be known as “insert-star’s-name-here’s sound guy told me so and so and he was a total jerk”

Once that takes place, your bad review has just gone next level. A search of your artist’s name and/or the incident on Google etc. now shows up in the list of found items as “stars name … total jerk”.

Phone rings …

FOH Mixer: “Hello”

Bands Manager: “Hey how’s it going out there”

FOH Mixer: “Good”

Morgan Freeman: “Things were not good”

Here’s another example; what do you do if there’s actual liability involved in a show incident? Maybe a lot of people asking for their ticket price back, a failed show where insurance gets involved with big money on the line, or heaven forbid where there is injury or death?

If you go social … you’re now on the record as a representative of the artist and the event. I know we now live in a world of “alternate facts” where you can simply deny that you said something that you’re actually on record as saying … But I’m just saying …

Phone rings …

FOH Mixer: “Hello”

Bands Manager: “Hey I heard what happened last night. I’m just checking, are you okay? Yes? Great. Do you have a lawyer?”

Morgan Freeman: “He didn’t have a lawyer”

Think I’m being over reactionary? Consider something that actually happened recently. Do all of my sound brethren and sisters out there recall the podium mic incident with Donald Trump where he proclaimed that the sound man should be fired or the sound company shouldn’t get paid? All because of handling noise in a podium mic that the next leader of the free world couldn’t stop futzing with.

This could have been any of us sitting behind the console my friends … I’m deadly serious here. I read a lot of ACSE’s (A-rm C-hair S-ound E-gineers) chiming in on social media after this happened who posted with an awful lot of faux bravado.

Just for a second, TRY and put yourself in the mixer’s shoes and ask yourself some very real and pointed questions given the situation.

  • How tempted would you have been to mute the mic after being called out?
  • If you had muted the mic and a riot ensued, maybe with injuries or death, do you think you could’ve been held accountable?
  • Do you think your employer could have been held accountable?
  • Do you think you would have had a job the next day?
  • Do you think you would have had a job next year?
  • How tempted would you have been to address the issue in social media after the incident?
  • How many times do you think the mixer for this event was approached by main stream media outlets for commentary?
  • How much pressure do you think the mixer endured from the opposition to comment on the candidate’s behavior?
  • Would you be prepared to speak on camera without your emotions influencing your words after being called out like that?
  • Would you be prepared to speak on camera with the same gravitas that you showed on social media?

Still think you got the skill and the stones to handle “a couple of podium mics”?

Yeah, I thought so …

In the spirit of some much needed levity, I’m amazed that Southwest Airlines has yet to leverage a “Wanna Get Away?” commercial out of any of these incidents. If they do, you’ll then know that professional audio has fully arrived in the public consciousness. When that happens, an SNL skit can’t be far behind as sure as there would be a rapidly produced episode of “Roadies” to follow, all in an effort to reflect real life headlines just like producers and writers used to do on the show “Law and Order”.

Whatever happens you can bet that, while humorous, none of it will be flattering to our profession. Yep, we’ll no longer be the cool guys behind the scenes, we’ll be the road crew equivalent of Spinal Tap. Ugggggg … again … “Lord take me now.”

And ya know what? It won’t change at least one irrefutable truth. (do not confuse an “irrefutable truth” with an “alternate fact.”)

Folks, if you’re listening, nothing we do in life is 100% certain. So it logically follows that nothing we do in live entertainment and live concert production is 100% certain either. Nothing. No matter how much talent, experience and money you put behind an effort, nothing is fool proof or failure proof. Nothing. It’s all simply measuring and mitigating degrees of risk. And ya know what? Believe it or not, that’s exactly what you should LOVE about live events. I know I do. Be they drag racing, or live concerts, the fact that it all may go sideways at any moment IS the juice. There’s certainly no excitement in perfectly scripted, predetermined, calculated to nth degree, rinse, lather repeat moments day after day, night after night. None.

That said, what we don’t want to see is our favorite racecar driver die in a fiery crash any more than we want to see our favorite artist suffer public embarrassment because of something we’ve done or not done. But we love it when they’re willing and able to take us along for the ride, right to edge and survive it, especially so when everything is on the line. Exactly like James Hetfield did on Grammy night. When he recognized that his mic was not working, he simply moved in on Lady Gaga and they shared her microphone and simply carried on. And in the process they both showed what touring and performing in front of millions of people for most of their lives had built into them; pure effing professional instincts. Compare James’ actions to Mariah Carey’s New Year’s Eve incident. Yep, I’ll leave it right there.

As has been said many times, “Incidents like these don’t build character, they reveal it.”

Sports is at its best when the outcome of the contest is not predetermined. Music, when it’s at its best, is exactly the same. It’s at its best when it’s live and the execution of the performance is on the shoulders of the artist and in the hands of a professional staff to deliver it, not resting entirely on some unreliable playback technology or even a single mic cable. That’s when real stars are given an opportunity to shine and they often do just that when it’s all on the line. Want an example? Rewind your DVR of the 2016 Grammys, watch it and then fast forward to the 2017 Grammys, and ask yourself “What would Adele do?”

Road Test: Shure KSM8 Dualdyne Dynamic Handheld Vocal Mic

By RevBill

As we all get over yet another round of NAMM madness, let me tell you how the weeks prior to a show work for us in what still passes for the pro audio press. The embargoed press releases start coming in about three weeks before the show. (For those unfamiliar with the term, embargoed means that the info is not to be publicly released before a specific date. In the case of NAMM it’s always the morning of the first day of the show.) Once upon a time, we could look at these embargoed releases and get an idea of who was doing something really new and interesting. But as the Hey-I-have-a-blog-so-now-I’m-media-too culture has sunk its grimy little claws into digital distribution of information, those embargoes have exploded in number and therefore become useless in terms of understanding in advance of the show where the real innovation would be.

A better indicator has become looking to see who was hosting a press event the night before the show to introduce something. It’s like this. Sending a press release that says “Embargoed” at the top costs nothing and so has been abused because, well, it costs nothing. But hosting an event is a different story and audio manufacturers whose budgets for ads and marketing are generally a small fraction of what they were 10 years ago are not gonna spend the money on an event if it is not something that they think is a big deal

Shure has hosted some epic nighttime events at the show (Spinal Tap at the Hilton, anyone?) does not do pre-show events like this often. There was one a few years ago when they released the Axient wireless system and then last year (2015) there was an invite. Given the company’s reputation for avoiding excessive hype and hyperbole, we knew that whatever it was for was gonna be something important. It was the KSM8 Dualdyne Dynamic Handheld Vocal Microphone.

The KSM8 is a first-of-its-kind dual diaphragm dynamic handheld vocal mic. There’s a mouthful for ya. What does it mean? If you really want to geek out on the whole dual-diaphragm thing, Shure published a white paper about it.  And a review that lacks only in not having been used onstage by the excellent across-the-pond audio publication Sound On Sound goes
deep into the technology .  The soundbite version is that the second diaphragm works to control both the proximity effect common on directional microphones and to increase the rejection of more distant sound sources. The whole idea is a dynamic mic that doesn’t pick up much of anything in terms of off-axis sound and that is tonally consistent regardless of if the singer is an inch away from the grille or three inches away.

We received both a wired KSM8 and a wireless capsule. The wired mic featured the black finish and the wireless capsule was in the nickel finish. The wired version felt good right out of the box. An impressive heft and well-balanced. It felt like a professional tool and not a toy.

Because I like to live on the edge (and time is incredibly tight cuz I juggle way to many things on any given day), I packed up both mics and headed out to a gig. This would be a “without a net” review. It’s a gig on which I am both playing/singing and providing six monitor mixes for an eight-piece band on a five night, five-sets-a-night run in a good sized casino lounge. When I got on-site, I let the regular FOH engineer know that I had some new mics and we opted—because, again, time is tight—to set up with the vocal mics I normally carry and switch out to the KSM8 on the second night of the gig. A side-note—none of this is a surprise for the FOH guy on this gig. I bring stuff out for live reviews all the time and we have been on this particular stage just shy of 50 times in the past 30 months and I have been carrying both my own clip-on condenser horn mics as well as vocal mics that are common on a lot of big concert stages but nearly unknown on gigs at this level from our very first gig there.

Anyone who has done this kind of gig knows how they go. First day you get out there and set up and probably a quick sound check before the first set. With this band, the sound check is often VERY quick. When you bring an eight-piece band that is all live in to situations where a four-piece band with extensive tracks is more the norm, time tends to get compressed and if there is 20 mins to line-check and sound check and still enough time for people to get changed and maybe grab a protein bar before hit time, it’s a victory. And on subsequent nights, it’s pretty much hit the stage and start playing. So, when we went to switch out mics and bring the KSM8 into the mix, we were flying totally blind.

I started out by switching out my mic for the wired KSM8. We normally use mics that are noted by many for output that is probably 6 dB hotter than what is normally expected from a standard like a Beta 58. And increased overall output is not a feature of the KSM8. So making the direct switch, I knew I would need to boost the input gain to get the output I was used to. And in a situation like this, making a change like that is always a butt-clenching moment because of the potential for feedback.

I brought up the gain waiting for a squeal to develop and it never came. It turns out that one of the advantages of the KSM8’s dual diaphragm design is very high gain-before-feedback. On its first test, the KSM8 gets an A+.

As a singer, I have a tendency to have my lips right on the grille. I know it’s not great technique but it’s about knowing where I am physically as much as anything else. As I played around with distance and the KSM8, there was a very slight, almost imperceptible boost in the low end when I was right on the grille but between 1/2 inch away and 3 or 4 inches away, the tone was amazingly consistent. Unless I was literally on the grille, the proximity effect was gone.

On the break after that set, I talked with the house engineer. He also had to bring the mic up but noted not only how consistent in tone the KSM8 was but also how clean the vocal signal was. When we’re set up, I have a three-piece horn section three or four feet to my right and a drummer behind me. Leakage of other sources into the vocal mic is something that is just expected and was massively reduced with the KSM8.

This is gonna lead to some differences of opinion between house and monitor engineers—especially if the artist is on in-ears. The best explanation of the practical effects of this that I’ve seen was in David Morgan’s review of the KSM8 in FOH.  In order to give the musicians onstage the ambient sound they were used to getting from other vocal mics, the monitor engineer on that gig placed a condenser mic at the foot of the lead vocal mic stand pointed back at the band and mixed a bit of that back into their ear mixes. I didn’t have that option and ended up pulling one ear bud out. But the house engineer was thrilled with the lack of ambient bleed into that mic.

Final test was to replace the capsule on the lead singer’s wireless mic with the KSM8 capsule. Results were the same. Boost the input gain, no feedback, super clean signal with virtually no ambient bleed and no proximity effect.

Some reviewers have said that the KSM8 responds more like a condenser on the high end. Maybe it’s because of the mics I have been used to using, but I did not notice a big difference in the high-end response. And if you’re looking for a mic with super high output, you’ll probably want to keep looking.

But if you’re like most of us and tonal consistency, rejection of other onstage sound sources and astounding gain-before-feedback are gonna make life easier, then the KSM8 is a mic you will very much want to consider.

Mark Woodcock: Making Every Gig Count

By Rev. Bill

Let this serve as a gentle reminder that every gig counts. In fact, that seemingly insignificant local gig may be the one that’s the mythical “big break.”

Mark Woodcock started the way many a career has. Working—often for free—mixing club bands in his native England. He emigrated to the US and was picking up work for local companies where he could. One night—“Out of the blue,” he says—after mixing a show at a local club, he got a call and was asked to mix some shows for country legend Merle Haggard. He did not know that Merle lived 20 mins away or that anyone from his camp was at that club gig.

Haggard had seen a career resurgence after several of his songs were featured in popular movies. Mark went to work and toured with the writer who has been called both the “poet of the common man” and one of the creators of the Bakersfield Sound for five years. That led to a still ongoing gig—since 2008—with Bush as well as ongoing stints with Rob Zombie and Cindi Lauper. We caught up with him back in October on a gig with Lauper—featuring music from her new trad country record and sell as hits from a career that has spanned three decades. Check the video for more.

Yamaha Pro Audio Celebrates 30 Years of Digital Mixers

@NAMM. At the 2017 NAMM Show, Yamaha is formally kickoff the 30th anniversary celebration of its pioneering work in digital mixers.

In 1987, Yamaha unveiled the DMP7, a digital mixer featuring Channel Parametric EQ, 2 Internal Effect Processors, a Stereo Compressor, advanced scene memory that allowed instant recall of multiple mix setups and unique motorized faders that moved with each recall. The DMP7 also represented a significant company milestone – its first digital mixer, providing a solution not only for professional keyboard players, but also for mixing in both live and studio situations.

In the intervening 30 years, Yamaha has since produced 22 unique series of digital mixers, pushing the technology envelope and paving the way for digital acceptance at the professional level, while heralding the company as a top manufacturer of this cutting-edge technology.

Yamaha got an early start in the field of professional mixing consoles with the introduction of its first PM series analog mixer in 1972, which led to a string of extremely successful launches spanning four decades. Having built an enviable reputation for reliability, Yamaha confidently saw its segue into the digital realm as a natural one, and easily proved that a digital mixer was as reliable as, or even more reliable than an analog mixer. Many commonplace features found on today’s digital mixers were pioneered by Yamaha.

The past thirty years of digital-mixer history at Yamaha is punctuated by several key products. Among them:

1995: The 02R became standard equipment in studios throughout the world upon its release, featuring 44-channel mixing capacity with 4-band parametric EQ, dynamics processing, input delays, and much more.The 02R also triggered the proliferation of professional-quality project and personal studios that change the face of music production forever.

1999: The PM1D was the first of its kind in digital mixing systems, designed specifically for live sound reinforcement. The PM1D sparked a digital revolution in live sound after its debut at Carnegie Hall in New York City; its worldwide popularity resulted in significant sales and the beginning of a new era.

2004: While the PM1D paved the way for acceptance of the digital in high-end sound reinforcement, the PM5D solidified that digital was the right choice for touring and festivals. Because of its ease-of-use and intuitive operation, it was an obvious drop-in replacement for an analog console. At the time, the Yamaha Commercial Audio Training Seminars staff were working overtime to keep up with demand on training on this system. It was claimed by many rental companies to be the most “rider-friendly” digital mixer, and still today, some 13 years later, it remains as an acceptable substitute on many riders.

2005: The M7CL proved to be another disruptive product, designed specifically for simple operation and creating a smooth transition for analog users – primarily targeting Houses of Worship.

All this innovation paid off in 2007, when Yamaha was awarded a Technical Grammy by the Recording Academy, which recognized the company’s long tradition of highly-successful recording products, including the REV series digital reverbs; the legendary NS-10M studio reference monitors and HS monitors, as well the Yamaha DMP7, DMC1000, ProMix01, 02R and DM2000 digital mixing consoles.

Today, the Yamaha legacy continues with:
The Yamaha CL series digital mixing consoles, which deliver naturally superior sound, plus a comprehensive range of “coloring” options that give the craftsmen who use them extraordinary creative freedom.

The QL series consoles, which offer all-in-one mixing, processing, and routing capability for small to medium scale live sound, corporate speech events and installations.

The Yamaha TF series consoles, featuring a unique TouchFlow Operation interface that has made digital mixing a much simpler and more accessible practice, allowing users to respond to the music and artists on stage with unprecedented speed and freedom, and opening sound engineering up to amateurs and volunteers.

The RIVAGE PM10, a thoroughly refined flagship that defines the direction of digital mixers for future generations in terms of sound quality, operation, functionality, reliability, expandability, and more. Building on the heritage of the PM1D and 5D models, the RIVAGE PM10 significantly increases the qualities and capabilities of both models.

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