Back To School… Again…

By Martin Frey / June 11, 2014

Cursing myself, I flailed hopelessly with the touch screen (this was an entirely new experience for me), quickly digging myself into a deep and dark place from which there was no immediate escape.

By Martin “Shrek” Frey

I’ve been mixing live music on digital consoles consistently now for well over 12 years. This includes both large and small format desks both on and off tour. I can’t say that I’ve mixed on every model and each manufacturers brand just yet, however it’s fair to say I’ve mixed on most live digital mixing models in one form or another.

In the beginning, I decided early on to embrace the technology because I could clearly see how this was most definitely the direction in which our industry’s future was heading.  As it turns out, it was a really a good move.

Funny story:  Years ago (keep in mind this was before the arrival of both widely available training and off-line editors), an Artist I had been mixing for was invited to play at a festival put on by a major country music Artist. Having toured together extensively in the past with both acts, I had a great relationship with the headliner’s FOH engineer who by the way is still a good friend to this day.  In my advance, I discover that he will be using the brand new flagship Digico D5 digital console.

A dry lump forms in my throat as I picked up the phone to call my friend with questions.  Oh, I have questions. This is it. He very graciously invites me to the shop to spend a couple of hours working on the desk, building an input layout and such. Naturally, I take him up on his offer and show up at the pre-arranged time and place and I proceed to take his brief tutorial and he helps me to build my input layout, patch, FX and such. 

This was fantastic! Comps and gates on every channel! A touch screen! I was thrilled to have this opportunity to shine in front of a large audience mixing on state of the art technology!  Lets just say that my head probably grew a size or two and my confidence level with it. 

Two weeks passed and the big day arrived. I was beaming ear to ear as I spent my 30 minutes during the turnover getting the wedges dialed in onstage for the band before I finally made it out to the FOH. The FOH tech had graciously checked lines on my behalf and happily handed over the desk for my show…

Unmute.  Well, let’s just say that once the PA was live and the band kicked in, what I heard was nothing whatsoever I had envisioned.  Cursing myself, I flailed hopelessly with the touch screen (this was an entirely new experience for me), quickly digging myself into a deep and dark place from which there was no immediate escape.

Fortunately, my instincts kicked in I and quickly turned to the systems guy whom I also knew was fairly experienced with the D5.  HELP!!!!  I’ll be forever grateful for his obvious sympathy for my situation.  Not everyone would be so quick in helping a brother out and I knew it. I yelled “Grab the drums while I get these vocals going”.

He saved my ass in a big way that day and although I was thoroughly embarrassed for any number of reasons, the show ended up sounding reasonably decent.

Lesson learned.  I would never ever put myself into that situation again. I did however go on to mix 96 shows (both support acts) on that very desk with my friend on a tour shortly thereafter. I learned an awful lot that tour.

The next year I attended Yamaha PM1D training and became certified. My class included several who’s who engineers and I was somewhat relieved to be surrounded by some heavy hitters who knew little more than I did about the desk. We had the very first PM5D on display at the front of the class too.  Oddly enough, I went on to mix several tours on PM5D’s before ever actually spending much time mixing on the 1D, so go figure.

Soon after, Digidesign made it’s debut here in America. I was at a festival up in Canada and due to our late arrival, was unable to haul my XL3 out to the FOH and instead used the provided Yamaha 4K. No problemo! As it turned out, the headliner’s engineer was a friend and he had out one of the first D-Show Venues on tour that year in Country Music.  I politely asked if he’d mind if I sat behind him and looked over his shoulder while he mixed. He was more than happy to oblidge and went on to virtually give me a full tutorial during his show!  I was impressed with both the layout, seaming ease of operation and the quality of his mix.  

Shortly thereafter, I’d heard that Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers were coming to town, so I bought tickets to both see the show and hear Robert Scovill mix on his new baby, the D-Show Venue.  Well, I was sold.

As it turns out, I convinced our production company to buy into the product and went on to mix Big & Rich (among others) for years thereafter on that desk. I went almost straight from finishing one tour on the XL3 to starting another on the D-Show Venue, V1.1.

Fortunately, my instincts kicked in, so I downloaded the D-Show Venue manual mid-tour and read a couple of chapters every night in my bunk at night. I had one day in the shop to lay-in my patch before rehearsals. Our provider went the “Full Monty” and added both the HDX ProTools interface and ECX add-ons. I added my own wireless router and had remote console control, whoopee! I found the manual to be well written and the console itself very easy to navigate and program.

In 3 days of rehearsal between tours, days 1 and 2 were for pyro and lighting. The band came in only on the last day without the principles. I had installed ProTools 6.9 on my laptop and simply tracked them during the one pass they made of the set.  Show # 1, my sound check was virtual via ProTools only. I tweaked my mix and off we went.  Funny, we rehearsed adjacent to an arena and on the first night, Nine Inch Nails was playing and their FOH engineer had had the very first D-Show Venue on tour. Naturally I peeked in during the afternoon and after introducing myself, prodded him with questions. He was happy to answer. What impressed me most at the time was how he was so happy to have left the vast majority of his former fancy and expensive outboard gear behind. Plug-ins, baby!

Not long after, the Digidesign Profile format was introduced and I was lucky enough to be able to attend a training seminar here in Nashville taught by none other than Robert Scovill himself.  Well I had to get into one of these, I thought to myself:

half of the size and all of the everything I need and want!

Having been hired by a new international act in 2008, I suddenly needed to expand my horizons and so became baptized on several other digital console brands by sheer need. Soundcraft Vi6 (and later Vi4) quickly became a common mixing platform for me too, as well as Yamaha, Digidesign and Digico. The ability to email show files around the world to sound companies was a life-saver!  How wonderful it was to arrive at an international festival or other date and have my show file already loaded and waiting on he desk!

Manufacturers were updating, releasing newer, more powerful desks offering more and more features. The Digital mixing platform as a whole was slowly becoming more and more reliable and better sounding too.

Along came Midas,finally. Once again, a little different from a programming perspective but nonetheless a really, really good sounding product. I attended a Pro2 training seminar several years ago and subsequently happily mixed two tours on that console.

By this time, manufacturer’s off line editors had become both easier to program and training classes had become much more widely accessible to our ranks as a whole.  

However, with the ever-faster advancement of DSP processing capability, interconnection with other devices in the audio world was quickly becoming both possible and even mainstream.  Waves. Direct digital interconnection. Optical interconnection. Networking capabilities were exploding.

Recently, I mixed a show on an AVID platform using Midas head-amps at the stage!

Wow, imagine who thought up that combination and how they arrived at the successful integration of the components to make it work! Profile FOH rack with MADI cards installed. 75ohm cables interfaced down to a KT9650 at the stage, Cat6 output into Midas DL 451’s, all clocked via Lucid. Mind-boggling!

It’s already been said but we are already quickly becoming IT guys and gals too…

Have I mentioned that I’m really looking forward to driving the new SSL?

Earlier this year, I was hired to mix a major new product demo in Singapore and the available house console was a Digico SD7. I’d yet to even have seen one in person, let alone program a show in the offline editor.

Fortunately, my instincts kicked in so I downloaded the offline editor and plugged away at it for a couple of nights. SD7 offline editor on my PC to my left, SD7 manual on my Mac to my right.  Facebook for emergency call-outs.  Yep, I had one or two of those too. It helps to have a Rolodex that runs deep. However, I managed to produce a working live band show file with monitor mixes from FOH and a separate product presentation section complete with talking heads, playback, recording, and complete system interconnection, no problemo.  I emailed the show file directly to the venue. It loaded and worked like a charm!

Keep in mind up to this point, I’d yet to have any Digico SD series training whatsoever.  I know you youngsters are sharp and super digital savvy, but I figure if I can pull off a stunt like that, any of us can!

Incidentally, I just attended a Digico Master Training Class here in Nashville this past week.  Awesome.  Cleared out a few dust particles and learned a few cool tricks too! Thanks to instructor Ryan Shelton and our hosts; The BlackBird Academy for a great class!

Back to the real world; I had the opportunity to help to entertain our troops in Qatar this past Memorial Day weekend, mixing 2 shows; the first on a US Air Force base and the second on a US Army base near Doha, Qatar.

I had thoroughly advanced all aspects of production however, due to an oversight by a local, our advanced audio production was unable to arrive to the Air Force base for our show. We were therefore forced to use whatever gear was available on site, which as it turned out, was entirely usable (with a little help from our crew).  Naturally there was not a separate monitor rig so I was forced to mix the band’s monitors from the FOH.

The console was a Soundcraft Si Performer 3 smaller format digital desk. I’d never laid eyes this console before however, how hard could it possibly be? Well, it was snap to both program and get up and running without a hitch, except for the extreme heat. At first it kept shutting down every 10 minutes (it was 112F in the shade!). I was offered a fan for cooling but quickly requested a big bag of ice instead, which I proceeded to double bag and place over the left hand area of the console reserved for laptops.  That did the trick and the console never once shut down thereafter and we had a great show.  End of story.

 

Well, almost.

My point is this: There is no real end to school and/or learning something new in our business.  In fact, if you want to continue to consistently work and advance with it, you have to keep up with the latest, greatest thing, whatever that may be.

All of you younger cats and all of us older cats each have something valuable to offer.

Nobody said it was easy, but you do have to want it in order to get it.

Heck, that’s half the fun, isn’t it? 

The future is here.

Back to school, again.

Shrek

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