Editorial: Transitioning Back to Live

Hey there folks! A few weeks ago my church transitioned back to live services. After over six months of not mixing a live service I knew I wanted to find a way to transition myself back into mixing. As much as post-production mixing kept my ears tuned in, live sound is just so much different. So I planned out a set of steps to walk through in order to help make sure that my first service picks up right where I had left off. That is the topic for this week. 

The first thing I knew I needed to do was to get re-adjusted. When we switched off of live sound to post-production I could feel my ears transitioning. They were getting tired faster and recovering differently because of the different way we hear mastered audio vs. raw live audio. So it was important to move back the other way a bit. To help with this, I decided to start a pattern of using multi-track playback at least weekly to start working out my ears a bit. It helped that I had a new PA to dial in and get used to. This got me walking around the room which is probably one of the best things you can do as a live sound engineer. You should know how any seat in your room will sound in relation to your mix position and to be honest, with the new PA, I’m still building that up in my mind. So schedule some time to get into your room ahead of time. Use this time as well to be checking wireless mics, confirming PA operational status and coverage area, and going through everything carefully to make sure that it all is working as it should.  

Next, after not using my console but for monitoring mic pres for six months, there was definitely some muscle memory I needed to rebuild. So much of our job is to listen and respond quickly to needed changes in the mix. The faster we can make that change the better things will be. Previously, after mixing for so long on the same console with the same template, for some things, I don’t even have to look at the buttons I was just flowing. But after so many months, I felt myself having to stop and think about where things are on my console, which for me, is a problem. So to fight this problem I decided I’d spend some significant time going through my template cleaning out old stuff and adding new features to accommodate how these new types of services are different than normal. If you couple that with the time spent in playback solving the previous issue, things were getting back to normal. 

Lastly, because live sound isn’t anything close to watching on your TV or listening to music in your car, in my opinion, it’s important to ease people back into things. The first few weeks of mixing found me being a little more conservative with the bottom end and really focusing on keeping things really clear rather than going nuts on processing. For me, going from an additive situation to a subtractive situation (DAW to Live) has been a change in how I solve problems that I needed to backpedal a little bit on. Plus, spending a few weeks focusing on the essentials of your mix can really help to reshape your habits regarding to live sound, which in my case, serves as a reset on the way I use dynamics and effects in my mix. Times like this are the best times to confirm that what you are doing and how you are doing it are still the best way for you to “engineer” a mix. Either way, don’t be afraid to ease people back into things as we all fall back into live events.

Ideally those 3 steps are possible in your world but even if they aren’t, stepping through a service, even with a 2-track recording, could be really helpful for you and your team. Pair that with a complete gear operational check and you can find yourself in a ready state for your environment. If you have any questions as you get ready to re-start live events in your space, just reach out in the comments below, on Facebook, or email me at daniel@studiostagelive.com. Secondly, if you’ve enjoyed reading this post, consider subscribing to this blog so you can get an email whenever new content is posted. No matter what your situation is, I hope you’re getting back into the swing of things and getting back behind a console or DAW. See you on the flipside!

Gear Talk: Reasonably Priced Alternatives Part 4

Welcome to the last week of my series on reasonably priced alternatives. Over the last three weeks I hope I’ve introduced you to something you haven’t looked into or given you the courage to look at more than just the name brand stuff (Week 1 – Direct Boxes, Week 2 – Podcast Mics, Week 3 – Touchscreens). This week I’m going to finish up the series talking about the Waves Axis One. At first I was nearly 100% against people buying the Axis One based on it’s MSRP but I’ve learned a few things about it and because of a deal, got one myself. Here is what I’ve learned. 

First, let’s talk about what the Waves Axis One actually is. Waves has quite a few applications it uses as plugin hosts for any audio environment you find yourself in. SuperRack, eMotion LV1, and SoundGrid Studio, are all run from a computer and not on their trademark processing servers. For the longest time they just gave a set of specs and we’d do the best we could to meet or exceed those specs. But a few years ago Waves came out with a compact machine that is purpose built to run one of those three pieces of software. Windows has even been slimmed down and setup to be better suited to audio production. The computer is also easy to rack mount with the use of a shelf you can even buy from Waves itself. If you want a pre-built and setup option that is incredibly reliable and ready for you then the Waves Axis One is for you. It is running Windows Enterprise which ends up being beneficial because it only gets the critical updates required for security and performance fixes (causing far fewer problems) and comes shipped with software pre-loaded for your convenience. You can also plug 3 monitors into it in order to maximize screen usage in LV1 applications. My only real problem with it was the price. At $1499 MSRP it’s a bit expensive for a small form factor machine.

Enter the fully equipped Intel NUC (this is only one option of the many available). If the form factor is a consideration to you than look no further. At $724.95 you have yourself a definite competitor to the Axis One. The included i7-10710U stacks up very competitively to the i5-8500 in the Axis One (link to comparison on Passmark). In fact it beats it in many categories being only bested in single core rating (which likely won’t come into play in our scenario). Add that to the fact that this thing is just under half the MSRP you will find yourself a contender. The biggest downside is a lack of display outputs. However, with the onboard usb C port, this could be overcome (at a price). So if you’re in sticker shock about the price of entry to the wide world of plugins, this might be a healthy choice. The only thing to note is that it is a laptop CPU verses the Axis One’s full desktop CPU the difference will likely not be felt too much however.

The only question to answer here is why did I end up getting an Axis One myself. Well there are two simple reasons. The first is the killer deal I got from my vendor, Amplio Systems. For right around ~$2100 I could get an Axis one and a 64 channel license of LV1 (I was setting up a broadcast studio rig) along with a few accessories. The Axis One portion of that price I estimate was around $850. I was originally not even going to dedicate a machine to Axis One because I already had a big multi-tracking and utility machine I could run it on, but in the end, having a dedicated machine meant a bit more stability and reliability. Then it came down to monitors. If you know me, you know I love having as many monitors available as possible so I can spread things out and have access to as much info as possible. The Axis machine with three built-in monitor outs meant I’d have what I needed right out of the box and a computer that I can just let Waves service when I have an issue. If you’re in the same boat as me, be sure to get actual prices from your vendors. If you don’t have a vendor, message me and I’ll hook you up with Amplio (not sponsored, yet, I just love the guys over there). But if you’re just getting a smaller or portable setup and one monitor is enough, you could save the hundred or so bucks and use that money for more plugins!

Well that about does it for this week and this series. Hopefully my perspectives and ideas have helped you either save some money or meet some new gear. The biggest thing to remember when you are looking for reasonably priced alternatives is compare ALL the options. If specs are the same but prices are different, give it a try and share around if you find something that works but is a lot cheaper. As always, please, if you never want to miss a new blog post, check out this link, fill out the form, and subscribe! Don’t forget to also comment below or on Facebook if anything you’ve read leaves you with a question or an opinion you’d like to share. I don’t pretend to know everything so lets hear it! In the immortal words of the Red Green Show, “remember, we are all in this together!” See you next time! 

Gear Talk: Reasonably Priced Alternatives Part 3

Welcome back to Studio.Stage.Live! Hopefully this week finds you busy with new work. It’s been a strange season for all of us that’s for sure. Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been talking about reasonably priced alternatives. For the first week we talked about direct boxes and compared the Radial Lineup to one of my personal gotos in a pinch, the IMP. Last week, because so many of us are doing studio work or podcasts, I compared the SM7b to the SM58 and things were a lot tighter than even I expected when I started writing it. This week I have another hopefully useful alternative for you to consider. A lot of us use touchscreens, whether for a Waves program or remote control app for a mixer. The one every company suggests that you get is the Dell P2418HT, which is a great option but I think there is a product that we can find (I’ve personally bought several of) that has similar specs and maybe a few extra features. 

But first the Dell. With a native resolution of 1920×1080 it checks basically all the boxes for most applications (there are quite a few touchscreens with a much lower native resolution). This monitor is an IPS panel with an hdmi port and a full displayport for connection options. The display also supports a full 10 finger multi-touch which is the other feature to make sure your screens have before you buy them. There is even a built-in usb hub built into the screen itself so that when you plug in the usb cable for the touch support, you get a few extra ports near the monitor itself. All of this with no extra driver necessary for operation. Probably the one thing you get with this monitor that most others don’t have is that if you keep it on its stand, you can lower it down to the desktop or raise it up quite a bit. But the biggest feature is the ability to rotate and have it sit vertically. Add all that to an anti-glare screen surface and a basically miniscule bezel, you are left with a product that is well worth the money. We have several of these in service and have had nothing but predictable and extremely reliable service. Sometimes the anti-glare service is a bit uncomfortable to use but in the environments we are working in, anti-glare is incredibly helpful. There are also VESA mounting options which is always important for me and can be handy down the road. The only real problem here is that MSRP is over $300. Even used, if you can find them, isn’t that much cheaper. I also have not seen any additional sizing options if circumstances warrant a smaller option.

But the good news is that there is a great alternative that at the very least is cheaper so that if you want a touchscreen, the cost of entry is more reasonable. That alternative is the Planar Helium PCT2435. This display checks all the boxes, at least for me. It has that native resolution of 1920×1080, it supports 10 finger multi-touch, built-in USB hub, and an HDMI and VGA connector set for use with your computer’s video card. Much like the Dell option, this monitor also has built-in Windows 10 support. While the stand doesn’t get as tall as the Dell does, it does support turning the display 90 degrees (not natively, you’ll need to take off the mount and manually remount it). There are also VESA mounting holes. A side benefit is that the monitor does come in three sizes: the 24” we’ve been talking about as well as a 22” model and a 27” model, priced accordingly. There are some different stand options as well. The only catch to this is that the price of this display fluctuates wildly. I’ve bought one for ~$225 before which is a great deal but as of right now, they are sitting just below the Dell monitor. Something to keep an eye on. But, remember the screen size options. If 24” isn’t a needed thing, check out the smaller models. The 22” with just a regular stand ( also includes VESA) is ~$100 cheaper. This was the first screen we bought from Planar as a test subject and it’s currently in use at my FOH position for Waves SuperRack. It doesn’t have an anti-glare coating but because of where the monitor is located that isn’t an issue. The timing of this post isn’t too great from a price standpoint but I still wanted to write it knowing the price will go down. The Planar displays have been really great and I feel like they might even be a better value. I love the presence of the VGA port instead of the displayport and when a pandemic isn’t on, they are usually $75-$100 dollars cheaper. Would I buy the Dell if they are about the same price? The answer to that question is maybe. But right now there is still about $20 difference and for me, working where I work (at a church), every dollar counts. The good news is that even now, on Amazon, they have a used option that is quite a bit cheaper than the Dell. Because we have Amazon Prime and can return if there are issues so easily, it’s a no-brainer for me.

Hopefully this week, as well as the others, have introduced you to some alternatives to the mainstream gear. There is a lot of great stuff out there that if you’re willing to try, you might save some big bucks with and be able to pick up a few extra toys. If you have any questions about my experiences with Planar displays, just drop me a message either here in the comments section or on Facebook. I have a few more posts talking about some other reasonably priced alternatives so if you don’t want to miss anything, click this link, and subscribe to this blog. Have a great week!