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Change Vs Evolution (Or, Life IS Change)

By Robert Scovill / November 11, 2015

 

If you’re a regular follower of my blogs, then you know I’ve been on hiatus for some time now with regard to my blogging efforts. My apologies … a certain manufacturer of live sound mixing consoles has dominated my focus over the past few months. It’s good to be back though! I hope these words are worth the wait.

It’s funny what inspires me to open up my laptop and start typing. I’m just on my way to Buenos Aires after a lively few days at the AES show where this blog on the concept of “change” finally crystalized after bouncing around in my head for some time now.

With the recent passing of baseball legend, American treasure—and all-time Yankee—Yogi Berra, I was reminded of one of my favorite “Yogi-isms”, those non-sequiturs he was so famous for; “The future ain’t what it used to be”. Word, Yogi! Positively profound and on point. In eight words Yogi summed up what is likely going to take me 10 paragraphs or more to try to explain and get you to think about and buy in to. Alright Yogi, here I go …

“Life is change” or “Change is inevitable” or even “The only certainty is that everything will change” are examples of age-old adages that I’ve heard countless times in my life. I’ve pulled them out numerous times and more often than not used them as an overstatement of the obvious. But I’ve probably just as often used them to rationalize a change that I can’t seem to comprehend or to comfort me when a change that scares me to death is imminent. Or maybe it is a change that I have very little faith in being right or helpful. In fact, many times those very words are uttered as a statement of surrender or resignation to our rapidly and ever-changing world. I wonder how many of us actually see change coming and embrace it —and, dare I say—celebrate it, compared to how many of us loathe the thought of change. My bet is your age has some bearing on your answer.

For many of us, change causes the most fear and anxiety when we don’t see it coming and it sneaks up on us and threatens to eject us and isolate us from the society that we’ve grown up learning to live in, work in and love. I wonder how many of us willingly track the changes that are on the horizon and recognize how close they are to disrupting or threatening our current existence?

I think any of us would admit we are ALL creatures of comfort and with few exceptions would have to also admit that the farther we get along in life, the more we cling to and lean on those things we’ve convinced ourselves will be, or should be, around forever. But rest assured the future marches on second by second, day by day, year by year. Change—and the evolution that wraps it’s arms around it—never takes a day off. By the time I finish this, it will already exist in the past. Life is change. Change is inevitable. The only certainty is that everything will change.

If you’re of an advanced age, say over 40 (yeah, I know, that stung a little didn’t it?) it’s typically very hard to track and keep pace with the changes that are coming let alone embrace them. At best you probably keep imminent changes in your peripheral view, just at arms length, or worse, stick your head deep into that big pile of sand labeled “denial”. On the other hand if you’re young, you know pre-40, (yep, still stinging here) change and the thought of it is not only natural, it’s expected and encouraged. It completely fills your vision and is comforting to you because you feel like you’re riding the crest of a wave that you’re also helping to create. The only threat you recognize is the feeling that you have caved in or conceded to any form of anything that happened before “your time”. The only possible path to personal or professional validation is to abandon all that came before you and make your own mark without showing any sign of influence from the past. Until you get to about 40 years of age that is, and then the entire thing cycles around for yet another generation. Rinse, lather, repeat.

One of my favorite little sayings with regard to this is the one where a young man is talking about his father and says “ When I was 15, I couldn’t believe how dumb my father was. When I turned 25, I couldn’t believe how much he had learned in 10 years”

Take a moment to ask yourself this question; Is there a difference between “change” and “evolution?” My answer is a resounding yes. There is certainly merely change for the sake of change, and then there is change that is grown out of what came before with the promise of improvement. In our world of music production, this applies not only to technology, but to the users and how they use it, which in turn drives the further development of the technology.

This concept is especially poignant for not only our little slice of the world’s technology pie of music production, but it really applies to all life experiences. Our ability to discern when to break with tradition and “create” something that is brand new and previously unrealized vs. when to simply continue the evolutionary cycle of what has already been realized requires knowledge of what has come before. I think that’s why I’m always so enamored with the rare “true artist” because they can present something that is a reflection of the world both present and past, yet leave you with the feeling that their work is completely original.

Want some examples of what I’m talking about? Okay, here ya go. Let’s start with an easy one. Music: which would you be more likely to gravitate toward; music that stands completely on it’s own, clearly void of ANY influence from any piece of music created before it? Or, music that is clearly influenced by what came before it but offers a very fresh take on it? More? Okay. Technology; which would you be more likely to gravitate toward; technology that is born organically that demands that you to do things in a completely new or different way or technology that is simply a minor step forward or an advancing derivative of what was established before it?

My bet is that for the most part, I could guess your age range by your response. (I know, another stinger)

By all accounts, we as an industry loath change and yet embrace it all at the same time. Test yourself to see if you fall into this line of thinking. “I don’t want a new ______ (FITB), I just want a better version of the one I already have now.” Or maybe; “I don’t want to change the way I do things, I just want what I do now to be easier, faster and better.” Do you see the struggle?

This has never been more apparent than what I have witnessed in the past 15 years for users transitioning from analog to digital mixing consoles. The ones who struggle the most intensely are those who simply demand that the new technology be nothing more than a digital version of their previous analog world. They hold on to this belief like it is a life-saving flotation device while swimming with a 100-pound cannon ball shackled to their ankle. Conversely, the ones who are the most successful are the ones who view the new technology with the same reverence as a digital coffee maker or a new toaster and are able to morph and evolve their approach to mixing in new ways completely unshackled and held back by the mechanics of how they have worked in the past. They are working from a solid base in audio and now just build on it using a new tool.

Robert’s theorem of change: “There’s a very fine, but very meaningful line between being stuck in the past and being grounded in it.” … Yes, you can quote me on that one.

I listen to and read a lot of rhetoric that is on display in the public forums about today’s music production and the associated technologies used in the process and I oft times get the feeling that folks believe that at some time in the future, we’re actually going to get to the point where, technically speaking, everything is perfect. They see an ideal world that is just sitting out there on the horizon and we are driving toward it and will arrive someday. This is the future seen as a destination, not a journey.

This utopian, idealistic world is unified. It is a world where everything operates and sounds exactly like we ALL expect it to. Unified operation, unified expectations, unified results. And having achieved this, there would be no need to develop any further technologies. We don’t need any more new mics, no new consoles, no new recorders, the playback devices we would have would all be perfect. In fact, I know there are legions of folks out there who think we’ve already gotten to this point and passed it by. You know who you are.

But here’s the wake-up call. Technology and most especially music and it’s related technologies are ALWAYS—from here to eternity—going to be changing and evolving concurrently. One, in fact, drives the other and vice versa. And ya know what, YOU are evolving too. You can’t stop it, although you might be able to stunt it or slow it in your own world. Change and adaptability is built into us. We couldn’t deny change and growth in ourselves, or the world around us even if we wanted to.

Now here’s where it starts to get a little sticky… Especially so for our industry, which is one of the purest blends art and science.

Let me explain. I come from a relatively balanced background of both science and art, but I oft times have a tendency to not put much faith in science and more specifically scientists. Scientist, true innovators and explorers, operate with little to no situational discipline or boundary. They are only bracketed by what they currently perceive as facts—which tend to change over time by the way—and are completely unwavering in their desire to get beyond those brackets and “improve the world”. What’s that you say??? Yes, think about it. What area of science can you name that has ever had the discipline to say, “we’re not going to move forward and explore this, or develop that, because what we have is perfect, or we think we should not explore it because it could actually end up being bad for; mankind or the planet … or … music … or _________ FIB ”.

I have the answer for you: never, not one time. It’s a completely foreign concept to the scientific mindset of study, explore, discover, master, innovate, improve. It is both science’s curse and its greatest attribute. In its quest for discovery and refinement, a level of hubris exists that may just result in destroying the thing it is trying to improve or refine.

So what’s the context for this thinking in our world of modern music production? And how does it fit in to my discussion of “change” vs. “evolution”?

Well, let me try to answer with a couple of questions to get your gears turning. How many times have you every heard the idea that “the electric guitar destroyed music as we know it” … ? There was a time in fairly recent history when that was regularly said. How many times have you heard “the computer has destroyed music as we know it” … ? That one is common in today’s world. Or how about “even with all this new technology, things don’t sound near as good as they used to?” or “nobody knows how to play an instrument, or actually mix a show any more” … blah de effing blah blah blah.

Okay, I’ll bite. Does ANYONE actually believe we’re going to go back to the way we used to record or do live sound? Does ANYONE think that the genie is going back in to the bottle? Really? REALLY?

Ya know what friends, we all need to be willing to take hard looks at what we do and evaluate our path, but its also important to remember that you’re doing so in the eye of the evolutionary hurricane. You can’t stop it. You can’t even slow it down. In fact, you really have two stark choices. 1) Get on board and embrace it, at least at the cursory level or, 2) Concede that you’re going to live and work in a bubble. You’ve decided to live the remainder of your professional life dwelling on the past, drowning in the frustration and disappointment at the thought of “everything new sucks”.

So, I ask you; are you going to dwell on the past and be stuck in it, or are you going to take all of that invaluable insight and foundation you’ve acquired through years of study and hard work and apply it to the new world and share it with the folks who are going to follow in your footsteps? Are you going to contribute to evolution or try to stunt it?

It’s not about some faux nobility of honoring what has come before by demanding that we not go one step further. It’s about moving forward and applying and sharing what we already know with a world that is moving forward and in turn, making it better for everyone including yourself.

Here’s an interesting quiz to see where you might stand. Which of the following do you believe to be true?

Someday, humans will fly faster than the speed of sound.
Someday, you’ll be able to instantly communicate with anyone on the planet.
Someday, a surgeon will use a 3D printer to create replacement human organs right in the operating room.
Someday, we will create a man-made power source equal to the capabilities and life span of the sun
Someday, the United States will cease to exist.
Someday, the sun will not rise.

Okay, okay, I get it. You want something a bit more grounded in our own livelihoods? Okay then, which of these do you think are true?

Some day gaming will be the most popular spectator sport in the world.
Someday, there’ll be concerts were all audience members AND artists share a virtual reality space.
Someday, there’ll be a virtual reality mixing environment where the mixer will work “inside” the console.
Someday, someone will create a way to capture the human voice that does not require a microphone.
Someday, someone will create a music delivery mechanism that is not based on a transducer or speaker.
Someday someone will create a way to capture, edit and mix music that is not a multi-track DAW.
Someday someone will create a way to mix music automatically.
Someday, people will live their entire life and will not know the names The Beatles, The Rolling Stones or even Mozart.

The answers? They are ALL true, folks. It’s just a matter of time if you travel out far enough into the future. Not to say they will happen in your lifetime, and not to say you have to endorse them, but they are all on the “inevitable” list.

So, my advice? Everyone take a deep breath, but then DON’T relax. Allow yourself to consider, and even embrace change or evolution even when it is slapping you right in the face and do so without the fear that you are abandoning the comfy past. Live in the moment, but respect what has come before you. Learn to hold on dearly to what you know and then apply it to the new world without shunning everything you see racing toward you out on the horizon. Conversely, don’t speed off into the future without a rear-view mirror and a GPS. You might find some creative avenues and inspiration that you didn’t even know you had. Learn to be grounded in the past, not stuck in it. Learn to embrace the future with respect for what came before. In fact, learn to be “comfortable with being uncomfortable”.

Life is change. Change is inevitable. The only certainty is that everything will change.

Side note:
Wanna watch a GREAT show on the future about just how fast our world is changing and evolving? Warning: it’ll make our myopic views of technology advances in music production seem infantile and literally standing still by comparison. You’ve been warned. 🙂 Enjoy.

Fareed Zakaria’s GPS Moonshots (developments that may happen within “ten years”)
Build a Star.

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NAB: Console Wars v 2.0

By Bill Evans / April 22, 2015

It’s the quick version but this is v2. Not only are we putting this on a brand spankin’ new version of the SPL site but we have added our own video for Avid and DiGiCo and stripped out the “official” ones. One second thought, maybe we’ll keep the officials and just add the ones we shot at NAB.

 

When we posted this a few days ago, we said that Console Wars are back in a big way. Interestingly, two console companies who were not originally included sent almost immediate emails asking why not–which leads to the usual discussions of the finite nature of time. So we are adding at least some links for them. So there is a ton here that was not here when we first posted.

 

We’ll do this alphabetically…

 

Avid. A whole new system. We got that 20mins+ of Mr. Scovill walking us through everything edited down to about 15 mins. And it really does take that long to go through. This is the biggest change Avid has made to their Live Sound systems in a decade.

 

 

And, here is their official video in case you missed it.

 

 

DiGiCo. While everyone else was going—or getting ready to go—bigger, they were once again going against the tide with the new S21. Again, we have the full deal with Matt Larson.

 

And here is the movie trailer. Really. It’s the sound guy version of a Star Wars teaser…

 

 

Now the ones not included first time around.

 

Roland unleashed the M-5000. It’s based on a new platform that they call OHRCA. (Open. High Resolution. Configurable Architecture) As is becoming the norm, the keywords here are “not fixed” and “user definable.”  The idea is to allow the operator to essentially “build” a console structure to suit the needs of the application. Instead of input and output channels we have freely assignable  audio paths that can be used for mixing channels, AUXs, Matrices, subgroup buses, MIX-MINUS buses, and other input/output configurations within a range of up to 128 on the M-5000. You can check out their very hip web site on the console here.

 

SSL has updated the L500 and it is now called the L500 Plus. You can read all about it here.

 

(With all of this talk of “user definable” and “open configuration” and “anything can be anything you want it to be” I am brought to mind of a blog that the aforementioned Mr. Scovill wrote for us some time back about something called Choice Fatigue. It’s a real thing. And it is coming to an audio console near you…

 

Finally, Yamaha. Still a lot of talk about the coming Rivage PM10 which will be the long-awaited replacement to the still out there on a bunch of big tours PM1D/. All we know is that they are saying it will be out in this calendar year and if you are a fan of the stuff Yamaha has been partnering on with Rupert Neve, you are gonna LOVE this. If we say anymore someone will show up to have us killed…

 

But there was new console stuff actually at the show. Version 3.0 for the Yamaha CL and QL Digital Audio Consoles is ready for download In addition the fifth major update to the StageMix App for iPad was released simultaneously. With the expanded CL/QL V3.0 feature set and the capabilities provided by StageMix V5.0 a sweeping spectrum of applications, from live sound to broadcast relay and recording at venues from the grandest to the most compact, will benefit from significantly enhanced convenience and flexibility.

 

Additional CL/QL V3.0 Features not previously announced include User Defined Knobs can now be assigned to control reverb, time, delay time, and other effect parameters providing direct, quick access to effect parameters that could previously only be accessed by calling up the effect screen. With V3.0, it is now possible to set up patching and SRC for the RMio64-D Dante/MADI conversion I/O rack unit from the CL/QL V3.0 display Channel Link. Previously only available at the inputs, it is now available at the channel outputs as well.

 

With CL/QL V3.0, the EQ and dynamics settings on multiple buses can be linked to significantly reduce setup time. Two internal oscillators can now be set to different frequencies for the odd and even numbered channels; an advantage for L/R line checks.

 

 

V3.0 features also include the ability to convert signals received at a stereo channel into mono with a single action. L-MONO coverts the odd-numbered channel to mono, R-MONO converts the even-numbered channel to mono, and LR-MONO mixes both channels and converts to mono; all functions can be executed with just one touch. Send levels for all channels are now visible in the METER display when SENDS ON FADERS is engaged. Also, CL and QL consoles can now be set to Preferred Master directly from V3.0 display without the need for Dante Controller. When Preferred Master is engaged, the device becomes the Dante network clock master.

 

New StageMix V5.0 features common to CL, QL, M7CL and LS9, include a 61-band real time analyzer that receives input from the built-in iPad microphone is now included. This function is integrated with the PEQ/GEQ displays, allowing a sound engineer to move around the stage while checking for problem frequencies at various locations, and use PEQ or GEQ to make appropriate adjustments on the spot. With V5.0, it is now possible to adjust the send level from the SENDS ON FADERS button to the MATRIX when the Mix block is selected in the Navigation/Meter Bridge. And with support for dB display in the Mixer window, Fader scales can now be displayed in the Mixer window, allowing easy visual confirmation of fader positions.

 

StageMix V5.0 features for CL and QL include support for multiple iPad connections (previous versions only allowed one device to be connected at a time). V5.0 allows up to five devices to be connected simultaneously enabling musicians to simultaneously use SENDS ON FADERS to set up their personal monitor balances. Control for the new 8-band PEQ feature included in the CL/QL V3.0 update is provided. This includes a notch filter and HPF/LPF as well.

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NAB 2015: Console Wars Are On… Again

By Bill Evans / April 17, 2015

It’s the quick version. We also have video from the NAB show and are expecting some good content from Messe but that stuff still needs to get posted. But suffice to say that Console Wars are back in a big way.

We’ll do this alphabetically…

Avid. A whole new system. We have about 30 mins of Mr. Scovill walking us through everything and we’ll have that for y’all early next week. For now here is their official video in case you missed it.

DiGiCo. While everyone else was going—or getting ready to go—bigger, they were once again going against the tide with the new S21. Again, we have the full deal. Next week. For now, here is the movie trailer. Really. It’s the sound guy version of a Star Wars teaser…

Yamaha. Still a lot of talk about the coming Rivage PM10 which will be the long-awaited replacement to the still out there on a bunch of big tours PM1D/. All we know is that they are saying it will be out in this calendar year and if you are a fan of the stuff Yamaha has been partnering on with Rupert Neve, you are gonna LOVE this. If we say anymore someone will show up to have us killed…

But there was new console stuff actually at the show. Version 3.0 for the Yamaha CL and QL Digital Audio Consoles is ready for download In addition the fifth major update to the StageMix App for iPad was released simultaneously. With the expanded CL/QL V3.0 feature set and the capabilities provided by StageMix V5.0 a sweeping spectrum of applications, from live sound to broadcast relay and recording at venues from the grandest to the most compact, will benefit from significantly enhanced convenience and flexibility.

Additional CL/QL V3.0 Features not previously announced include User Defined Knobs can now be assigned to control reverb, time, delay time, and other effect parameters providing direct, quick access to effect parameters that could previously only be accessed by calling up the effect screen. With V3.0, it is now possible to set up patching and SRC for the RMio64-D Dante/MADI conversion I/O rack unit from the CL/QL V3.0 display Channel Link. Previously only available at the inputs, it is now available at the channel outputs as well. 

With CL/QL V3.0, the EQ and dynamics settings on multiple buses can be linked to significantly reduce setup time. Two internal oscillators can now be set to different frequencies for the odd and even numbered channels; an advantage for L/R line checks. 

V3.0 features also include the ability to convert signals received at a stereo channel into mono with a single action. L-MONO coverts the odd-numbered channel to mono, R-MONO converts the even-numbered channel to mono, and LR-MONO mixes both channels and converts to mono; all functions can be executed with just one touch. Send levels for all channels are now visible in the METER display when SENDS ON FADERS is engaged. Also, CL and QL consoles can now be set to Preferred Master directly from V3.0 display without the need for Dante Controller. When Preferred Master is engaged, the device becomes the Dante network clock master.

New StageMix V5.0 features common to CL, QL, M7CL and LS9, include a 61-band real time analyzer that receives input from the built-in iPad microphone is now included. This function is integrated with the PEQ/GEQ displays, allowing a sound engineer to move around the stage while checking for problem frequencies at various locations, and use PEQ or GEQ to make appropriate adjustments on the spot. With V5.0, it is now possible to adjust the send level from the SENDS ON FADERS button to the MATRIX when the Mix block is selected in the Navigation/Meter Bridge. And with support for dB display in the Mixer window, Fader scales can now be displayed in the Mixer window, allowing easy visual confirmation of fader positions.

StageMix V5.0 features for CL and QL include support for multiple iPad connections (previous versions only allowed one device to be connected at a time). V5.0 allows up to five devices to be connected simultaneously enabling musicians to simultaneously use SENDS ON FADERS to set up their personal monitor balances. Control for the new 8-band PEQ feature included in the CL/QL V3.0 update is provided. This includes a notch filter and HPF/LPF as well. 

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Too Loud? It’s Complicated

By Robert Scovill / April 8, 2015

 Oh boy, “how loud is too loud” is one sticky wicket. What seems like such a simple concept is actually quite complex in nature.

With regard to government agencies regulating concert sound pressure levels; If you think the government won’t take the time to legislate it, consider that today’s Congress and Senate are currently working on legislation mandating the variance in audio when moving from program material to commercials on television. At the heart of the debate is whether the volume at which the commercial is created and presented is a function of creativity or not. i.e. Is volume a form of free speech? Keep that little ditty in mind as you read through the rest of this.

 

With the events of the past year bringing safety concerns to the foreground, it is increasingly likely that regulatory agencies such as OSHA are going to get involved. Many of the OSHA standards on SPL are built with the manufacturing industry in mind and meant to protect workers from, say, the onslaught of a nail stamping machine during an 8 hour work day, every day over the course of an average workers life span at the company. How would they then measure this for the average concert-goer? SPLs vary – predictably – as distance increases from the source. What location would represent the legislated measurement in order to ensure the hearing safety of 18,000 people as opposed to 20 exposed workers in fixed positions?

 

The rigid existing OSHA regulations would seem out of place in the concert sound world where noise levels are varying and timed averages can also vary wildly from show to show. In fact, the more you dig in, the more complex the entire concept gets, especially when you attempt to add some context to the question – not something legislators are very adept at doing. For example, when you simply ask the question “what is too loud” are you asking from a subjective point of view or from a legislated or even physiological/medical point of view? You have to know this, because there can, and will likely be two or three completely different answers for the same situation depending on who you ask.

 

The simplest example is “the big rock show”. Ask any number of fans in the audience if it is too loud and you are likely to get an equal number of responses. Ask the county officer standing next to you staring down at his county provided SPL meter and you’ll generally get a pretty firm and specific response.

 

Want another even more complex example? Ask both a younger and an older parishioner after both have sat through the same church service and you’ll likely get answers at the opposite end of the spectrum. This is because “volume”, especially in the context of music, evokes an emotional response from the listener; however it likely evokes a cold and unwavering response from the officer representing the legislators who may have contrived the SPL measurement as a restrictive law. Now if that’s not enough, throw in the fact that SPL is a logarithmic measurement that can also offer weighted values and you have all kinds of challenges, because most everyone short of engineers who understand it, think of SPL as a linear measurement. They don’t see adjusting from 101db to 98db all that big of a deal. As an engineer, how many times have you heard this; “can you turn it down 2-3db … just a couple please”? Uh … okay.

 

From the listener or mixer’s perspective, volume is a funny thing. I’m of the opinion that there is an optimal volume for every genre of music, but at the end of the day that’s my opinion and in every situation that “correct” volume is subjective at best. The most glaring example of this kind of challenge is the contemporary church.

 

Consider the challenge for today’s church environment in comparison to the typical concert environment. For starters, in the concert environment, everybody is there to see the artist. They all paid money to attend, they’re familiar with the music and generally speaking all are aligned in their expectation of what is about to transpire. Conversely in the church environment, think about the diversity of musical tastes that might be seated in the average church congregation; incredibly diverse. Add to that the seemingly infinite style and arrangement possibilities for today’s Christian music, and you can see how the possibility for conflicting opinions about the presentation can easily exist.

 

In fact, in the church many times what rears it’s head as a volume issue is actually something else. For example, someone complaining that it is “too loud” might simply be a dissatisfied with the tonality or spectral balance of the mix or PA system, or I’ve even been witness to it being someone not buying into a style of music, say with distorted guitar, that is being presented. This is not something that can be measured and certainly not quantified with an SPL meter, although I have read articles in recent years presented by some renowned folks who submit otherwise.

 

If you need a more extreme and specific example of this kind of situation, consider this one; a few years back there was a large outdoor festival held in San Francisco called “The Tibetan Freedom Festival”. It deployed a very large festival-style PA system, lots of rock acts on the bill, etc. County-regulated SPL measurement on site. Within minutes of firing up the PA system, an incredible amount of “volume complaints” were lodged to the authorities by the folks adjacent to the grounds etc. However; upon further investigation by the authorities, it was revealed that the vast majority of people complaining did so because they were not politically aligned with the event. The complaints had nothing to do with SPL. It was the content and more specifically the underlying theme of the event that drove the complaints. So in this instance no volume or legislated SPL would have been acceptable to the surrounding patrons other than “off”.

 

As for the measurement devices, current models generally offer no discernment capabilities of any kind. They just capture a cold hard number that reflects the SPL limit that has been put in place and offers no situational interpretation. For example, you don’t have to be a scientist to figure out, that you could take a simple PA system and tune it say, in an extremely midrange-forward manner, and make every person in the listening zone leave the venue with their ears ringing. However, the result could still be within the legislated SPL limit, especially if the measurement is flat-weighted. Additionally, the SPL measurement has no meaningful way, other than relying on the human operating it, to interpret where the excessive volume is emanating from. i.e., Is it from the speaker system – or from the girl screaming her head off standing right next to the measurement mic? One thing is for sure, the measurement device can’t discern the two and there is no way to subtract the additive effect of the audience member clapping and yelling from the legislated part of the measurement.

 

I’ve been lobbying the FFT manufacturers for some time now to try and develop an SPL measurement that offers a form of coherence in its measurement capabilities based on the time window deployed in conjunction with a locator function. This would allow the measurement to clearly understand where the measurable audio is coming from in the venue. Audio that is not within the time window of the PA system – you know, the thing that is being legislated – would be able to be excluded from the measurement. This would be especially important for LEQ style measurements where periods of measurement are nothing more than the audience cheering and applauding. Oft times the level of the crowd responding can exceed the stated limit and would negatively impact your average, for which the artist would be penalized in the form of CASH penalties. Many of these style devices now offer a kill switch for the mic that is manually engaged between songs, but it’s extremely crude in nature and does not really address the problem at hand in its entirety.

 

Frankly, I’m not at all looking forward to the day that OSHA and the courts get involved in our world of concert sound, but I’m of the opinion that it’s likely to happen at some point. Once it does, you’re sure to see insurance companies lining up to sell liability insurance to EVERYONE and ANYONE involved in concert audio because the lawsuits are sure to follow. The irony of it all in my opinion is, that you’re probably more likely to get hearing damage from the latest and greatest rapper-branded headphones than you would be from 90 minutes of exposure to today’s concerts. I’ll tell ya one thing, if the movie trailers that we are bombarded with at movie theaters before today’s feature films are allowed to continue to operate at the volume at which they’re operating, the concert world should be safe for some time to come.

 

WOW! Scovill out —

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Loud Monitors–Are you Responsible if Your Artist Goes Deaf?

By Robert Caprio / April 6, 2015

After mixing monitors for a well known female artist last night I got to wondering: who is ultimately responsible for an artist’s hearing, if not the artist themself?

From my point of view it seems logical to think that the next person besides the artist themselves bears that burden, and in a typical concert environment that is the monitor engineer. We all know you can talk honestly and convey your concerns to some artists and then there are those artists that you can’t speak directly to. You have to go through management or some other department. The likelihood of getting one of those types to actually pass on your thoughts and concerns accurately, or even at all is about 0%.
The artist almost always claims that they need to “feel” it onstage and I get that, but it’s at the expense of their hearing. Don’t they realize they are jeopardizing their own career? Hasn’t anyone learned from Pete Townsend? Many don’t realize they are also sabotaging their own show by smearing the FOH mix with stage wash. Few, if any artists will take responsibility and they put the whole mess in your hands. In reality we can’t do much about it during the show if the artist is on stage motioning to you frantically to turn everything up. Such was the case last night. The venue is an old theatre with a capacity of about 1,200 seats. The PA is a well tuned Meyer M3D line array with plenty of aux-fed subs. On stage I was using a Meyer CQ on top with an M3D Sub for side fills. I ended up not using the subs since the artist only wanted vox and some tracks in the fills. Downstage wedges were Clair 12AMs with a few Meyer powered wedges upstage for the band. During soundcheck everything was within reason and sounded great. Everything was rung out tightly with not a hint of feedback and I still had plenty of headroom if needed. Band and artist were all thrilled, at least from what they told me. Then comes showtime and all of a sudden the artist wants the fills CRANKED far beyond what we had at soundcheck. I’m pushing up faders and I’m soon seeing lots of red lights, both from the CQs and then also the aux outs of the desk (Avid SC48.) After the artist motioned for me to turn things up further I indicated to her that we had hit the limit of what we had available. She wasn’t happy but soldiered on. After the show I spoke to the MD and he confessed that they have been trying for the last ten years to get her on IEMs. I told him that they should update the rider (from 2006) to indicate a larger side fill rig. I didn’t get the chance to talk directly to the artist who, by the way, is someone I first met at the very beginning of my career, working on her second album as an assistant engineer in the studio. If I had had the chance to talk to her I would have tried to openly discuss the options available that would enable her to continue to perform without damaging her hearing… FOREVER. It’s clear to me that she already must have some hearing loss and at the rate she’s going it’s likely she’ll be nearly deaf in a few years.
As we see more and more artists using IEMs it seems crazy that there are still people that want 115dBA (and more) on stage. It may be a bit easier for some of the musicians in the band because even with IEMs you can at least give the drummer a “thumper” attached to his or her throne, and even bassists can get a “rumble pad” to stand on that gives them a tactile response to the music they’re playing. All these tools are great but they don’t do a damn thing for singers. I’ve been wracking my brain trying to come up with better ways to incorporate IEMs with sidefills and/or wedges that project strongly for singers that are not fully satisfied with just IEMs. So far I’ve had mixed results with my experiements but the bottom line is that the stage volume can still get out of hand. The best scenario to date has been to use subs only as side fills so the artist feels the kick drum and bottom end. At this point in time there are really no other tools or resources besides the standard wedges and fills on stage so its frustrating to try and come up with alternatives, but I’m working on it.
I’m now mixing FOH for Cee Lo Green and he is a fan of frighteningly loud stage volume. I first met and worked with him when I was mixing monitors for a large corporate gig and he was a guest performer. At the time he was using IEMs along with a standard complement of wedges and sidefills. For that show the stage volume was under control and by no means out of hand or potentially damaging. When I got the gig to mix FOH for him I found that he was no longer using IEMs and had gone back to using just wedges and side fills onstage. The band is all on in-ears. So in order for Cee Lo to “feel” it onstage our monitor engineer (Aaron “Double A” Dilks) has to crank everything to clearly damaging levels. We discussed getting Cee Lo back on IEMs to no avail so far. There have been numerous occurences when we’ve soundchecked and people have commented on how loud the rig is and I’ll point to my master fader, which of course is all the way down. They are shocked to find that all that volume is from the stage alone. To say it interferes with my FOH mix is an understatement. It’s at the point now that if I were for some reason asked to mix monitors for Cee Lo I would refuse based on the simple fact that I don’t want to be the one responsible for ruining his hearing. I’m at the point now where I’m comfortable enough with my own ability and ethos that I can approach an artist and discuss with them the damaging effect that loud stage volume can have on them. Unfortunately it seems that for the most part they just don’t listen or don’t care. To this day not one single performer has done anything to change their ways. I almost wish I had started in this industry sooner so I could have been one of the engineers that was able to change a band or solo artist over from wedges to IEMs, just to feel like I had accomplished something.

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Lead Vocal Compression

By Ace Baker / November 14, 2014

Lead Vocal Compression

 

Let’s face it folks, the lead vocal is the most important part of a live performance, at least as far a pop, rock, R&B, hip-hop or any show with a lead vocalist show goes. Granted if you’re mixing Yo Yo Ma then obviously the cello becomes your lead instrument but for now let’s assume you’re in the world of mixing a live concert with a lead vocalist. To paraphrase a popular saying, “No one goes home humming the bassline.” Actually, as a bass player I often do go home humming basslines but that’s another blog! Ok, moving on…

 

Successfully mixing a show with a lead singer means knowing the music, the singer and their habits. Having toured with Cee Lo Green for nearly 4 years, I obviously got to know him and his little quirks quite well. He’s an amazing singer with a powerful voice though in all honesty he’s got pretty bad mic technique. Coming from the hip-hop world he’s an infamous “mic cupper” and would rarely adhere to even the most basic mic handling protocols. Despite our attempts to get him to observe better mic technique he never really did so we (my MON eng and myself) had to adapt… and adapt we did. My typical solution for an artist like that would be to use pretty copious amounts of compression to smooth things out. Well, that didn’t work well with Cee Lo at all. He was so dynamic and soulful that any more than very slight compression just didn’t work. I found that the only real way to get his voice to stay out front and “lead the way” so to speak was to ride his fader manually. It became easy once I knew all the songs by heart but in the beginning it was pretty tough to try and anticipate where he might go with things. Working with him so much I fondly recalled my days in the studio and riding vocals with automation throughout a song. This was back in the day when folks actually welcomed and accentuated dynamics, rather than compressing the snot out of everything. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a HUGE fan of compression and use lots of it. But I do miss hearing mixes (both live and recorded) with some ups and downs. Working my way through the studios of NYC gave me plenty of time to observe and learn from engineers using what we now refer to as “Parallel Compression” or in some cases, “NY Compression.” Compression on the instrument tracks, compression on the groups and finally, compression on all the available buses. It is interesting to have seen the genesis of those techniques (at least from my point of view) and to now see them employed almost everywhere.

 

Now working with Wiz Khalifa I find myself mixing for an artist who also cups the mic but does so in a way that works well for him. He’s remarkably consistent so I find that I can use compression almost as an effect rather than a corrective tool. With Wiz specifically I first use the SMACK compressor set on “warm”, with a 4:1 ratio, slow attack and fast release. In/Out settings are usually 7/3. I then have his channel going into McDSP’s Channel G Compact plug-in which I am a HUGE fan of. I have it set again with a 4:1 ratio, though this time with a relatively fast attack and fast release. I chain the compressors so that anything that slips past the threshold of the SMACK comp will likely get grabbed by the Channel G comp and keep things in check. This allows me to set his fader so he’s nice and loud just in front of the band. I can then concentrate a bit less on riding Wiz’s fader and instead work on all the FX that recreates the recordings.

 

As with anything you need to experiment to find the “sweet spot” that works for a particular artist and/or instrument. The best way to find out what something might need is to listen carefully with nothing on the channel in question… no EQ, no compression… nothing. Only when you encounter something that can’t be fixed by a better mic, better mic placement, a different instrument, etc. should you reach for EQ or dynamics to correct it. KISS is my mantra, Keep It Simple Stupid!

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Sonnet Technologies Echo Express Thunderbolt Chassis

By Pooch / November 3, 2013

Stuff just keeps getting smaller. Not all that long ago, recording a gig meant calling in a totally separate company with their own engineers and a whole truck full of gear. Then it became a rack or two of stuff and maybe one extra guy on the crew. And lately, it is just another hat that many of us wear and the extra gear often fits under the console that is already 1/4 the size it used to be.

But it’s not done yet. And being the sadists we are here at SPLNetwork World HQ, when we found something even smaller and lighter we had to also find a mix engineer to temp with it. Ken Van Druten is best known for his work with Linkin Park (a gig on which he records and mixes every show for online release) but lately, he has been on a run with Alter Bridge doing arenas in Europe. And we told him that instead of a Mac Pro tower and external monitor, we could get him a full on recording system that would fit in a backpack. A smallish backpack.

So armed with the Sonnet Echo Express Pro loaded with an Avid Pro Tools Native card and a pair of 500 GB solid state drives, a Thunderbolt cable and a MacBook Air along with a likely misplaced trust that we would never do anything that might cause him pain or suffering, our brave engineer dove in head first. Videos taken during rehearsals in FLA and on the gig in the UK follow.

A note  on just how fast this stuff changes. We just got this stuff a month or two ago. And the Echo Express Pro can already only be found in the “Legacy Products” area of the Sonnet Technologies Web site. It has been replaced with the Echo Express III. Differences: The Pro that we sent with Pooch will take two full length PCIe cards and use the Apple-centric Thunderbolt protocol as I/O. The new ones weill take THREE cards and will—soon—use the even faster Thunderbolt 2 protocol. We say “soon becasue as of right now there are no Thunderbolt 2 hosts available. The highly anticipated new Mac Pro due sometime in the Fall of 2013 will be the first one and those who buy the III will get a user-installable upgrade to the faster version as soon as hosts are available for it.

For purposes of the review, just figure that the new ones hold an extra card and move data even faster as long as you have a host that can handle it. Size, ease of use and how it works is all the same. 

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