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!

Editorial: Waves SuperRack Review

After about 3 months of consistent weekly use, 2 large heavy usage shows (you can see recordings of it in action on my youtube channel while I’m mixing a Christmas Show and a Worship Concert) and several iterations of my showfile, I feel like I’m finally ready to review the Waves Multirack replacement, SuperRack (go to this link and search for it!). I’ve been using waves plugins now for the better part of a decade and learning something new just about every time I load one up. Over the last 5 years or so I started using a plugin manager in the form of Waves Multirack as we transitioned to use SSL L500 consoles in our main auditorium. The more I used the it the more I began to feel its’ limitations. From the limitation to how many plugins you can view at a time, patching on the Soundgrid was quite difficult if I wanted to use Soundgrid to run a backup tracking pathway, to just simple stability issues. As soon as I heard that an update was coming I was excited again about Waves products. With SuperRack came tons of new features, a fix for just about every gripe I had with Multirack, and a new touchscreen based workflow (finally). On paper SuperRack had everything that I was looking for. Because of some serious glitches that I’d reported and had yet to be fixed with Multirack I didn’t really have anything to lose from getting SuperRack right away and making the switch so I jumped right in. In fact, here is a link to the promo video showing it off just a bit.

I’ll be honest, my initial impressions were weak at best. The migration from Multirack wasn’t as “seamless” as advertised. In the end, I just built a new showfile from scratch. It ended up being a great opportunity to trim the fat in my showfile and since the presets could be transferred between software I was able to bring across a couple of the key things that I use all the time. There were also some stability issues in the early days but after a few updates things stabilized and I started to really enjoy and further customize my layout. Initially I started with a single dell touchscreen and was really happy with the way the program responds to touchscreens. Every menu and option were easy to access and there were very few settings I found myself reaching for my ball mouse to complete. Unlike Multirack, it was easy for me to live in full-screen mode so there was no wasted space on my monitor. I especially love the “detail fader” as I call it that you can use to make minute adjustments to options. I also really appreciate the extra ways to navigate around the suite. From the extra hot plugins to a fully programmable set of buttons that call up specific racks, save the show, or do just about anything else you could want. As of my writing of this article, I use almost all of the programmable buttons to recall various racks in my show and because the hot plugins can automate, I use them to make specific plugins available if needed during large shows on a per scene basis. I also love the two custom tabs in each overview windows because I can lay out the racks in whatever order I want and allow them to be grouped together more efficiently than I could previously.

But things aren’t all roses. I still have found a few glitches in the new versions of some of the plugins. For example, in the C6 plugin, the buttons that allow you to move all the same variables across the bands at the same time are not visible despite them being there (if you click in the space where they were you can still make the move and button appears when you actually do it). Also, now that I have two touchscreens I’ve use one screen with the overview page and the other just shows me as many plugins as I can get to fit on the screen. However, as the shows I did grew with more scenes and more automation, the saved positions of those plugins began to drift. While most of them always recalled back to positions that were just a bit off. Some of them even had the menu bar for the window (the place you need to grab to move it back) off the screen. Probably the only limitation that is an immovable object right now is that the software was designed to use 1920×1080 screens. Anything bigger or smaller and the scaling will be weird and you’ll experience a few GUI issues. You’ve been warned.

But, in many ways, those frustrations ended up being small in the grand scheme of SuperRack. As if all the new navigation options I talked about above weren’t enough, I’ve noticed a higher efficiency of the servers which has given even more headroom for additional plugs for those big shows that drift through. Even the setup got easier with soundgrid patching right within SuperRack. With each update, the platform becomes more and more stable, and my confidence grows with the platform daily. With that, I’m able to do more and more advanced techniques through automation and programming which allow for a finer control than I ever expected to have in an outboard effects processor. I still wish waves would develop or at least partner with someone to develop a midi or network controlled hardware controller with a big knob on it to complement the fader and a set of rotaries and buttons that could tie to programmed parameters within the plugin you’re viewing. At least my Kensington Expert Mouse gets me pretty far down that road and if you don’t already use one, just try it. You’ll thank me later.

Well in the name of not letting this drag on too far, that’s about it for this review. I am currently not endorsed/sponsored by Waves (that link on the right is an affiliate link but anyone can get those and using it just helps me keep the content coming). I wrote this just to share my experience, so if you have any questions, just reach out either with a comment here, a comment on facebook, or drop me an email at daniel@studiostagelive.com and I’ll do whatever I can to answer your questions. If you want to be sure to catch my future posts, just go to this link, and sign up to be a subscriber. You’ll get an email as soon as anything new is posted! See you all next time!

Editorial – Pre-Show Routines

This week I decided to mix it up a little bit and do a one-off post on my pre-show routines. We all have those things that we do that help us prepare for what’s on our docket for that day of audio work so I thought I’d share mine with the hopes that if you don’t have any routines, you might pick some up, and that if you do that you’d share it back.

I thought I should start with what you should be doing to prepare for a recording or show before you even start. It is incredibly important to know your artist as well as their audience. In order to accomplish this I find myself listening through the tracks either in our planning software or finding equivalent recordings on spotify so that I’m preparing and thinking about what things should be sounding like. Secondarily, and I’ve talked about this in previous posts, before I even have a rehearsal I try and make sure that my template is up to date with all the fixes I’ve discovered recently. I don’t know about you guys but I hate fixing problems more than once. Going into this Christmas season I have really focused on fixing as many issues as I can before the madness begins. I didn’t quite get to all of them but through prioritization and time management I’ve crossed off most of the issues I’ve observed over the last few months and implemented a few updates and changes as well that have been on the horizon (i.e. further dante implementation, production computer cleaning and maintenance as well as performance checks, etc) for quite some time. The last thing I get done before a show is the patch list. Why do I wait you ask? Well as I fix issues or implement some upgrades things naturally change. I don’t like making the patch lists, creating showfiles, etc before I know that our architecture is correct. For instance, I wanted to get our multitrack playback system working to both consoles. This required a bit of digital craziness within my console to implement and also required modifying my monitor consoles channel order list to match. If I’d created a show or done any patching, that may have all been for naught, and we’d be making that show again if I hadn’t gotten that done first. Lastly, before rehearsal for the bigger shows, I’ll try and put together a stage plot so that when the crap hits the fan, I’ll have a physical piece of paper that shows spatially how things are setup. 

During my rehearsal I also have a routine for how I work through getting my console setup and all customized for each week. My first step is always gain staging. My template gets things pretty close but there are always adjustments to be made. When I load my showfile the meters are set to meter the audio right after my trim (FOH in my setup is not the gain master, our monitor desk is so I am trimming). This allows me to gain stage properly. After sound check is over I’ll switch to meter the audio just before the fader. This allows me to monitor how things look coming back out of waves. In theory, because of the 64 bit floating point processing in my console, clipping after the preamp is in theory impossible but I still like to avoid testing that. Also during rehearsal I’m checking wireless transmit packs, checking to make sure we aren’t overloading the receivers for instruments, that rf signal is strong and consistent, and that everything is patched and recording correctly in Reaper (our DAW of choice for multi-track recording). That last one is particularly important because I love to do playback as much as possible/needed so that I can walk around the room, listen for the small things to change, and just make sure my cues are what they need to be.  At some point I try to make it a point to step through my automation cues on my own and just confirm everything as well before show day. 

The day of the show is all about checking my gear. I usually arrive early and do some playback if I am setup to do so. This allows me to do some walking around the room again as the mix is playing so I can get a feel for the room that day. I’ll also be thinking through the show mentally and focus on those areas that require my input or where timing is critical. At some point as well, I insist on a quick input check with the band. Usually just the length of one song is more than enough. This allows for me to get one last glance at the signal path and make sure everything is patched correctly. It also allows for a practical battery level check for any wireless gear in play as well. After that is all over it’s just mixing time. Just a few minutes before things kick off there is a quick trip to the head and then back to the console to have some fun! 

So now that you think I’m crazy for having all these routines let me explain why. Over the years I’ve been through quite a bit of craziness in shows, load-ins, meetings, etc and that experience has taught that probably one of the most important things for an audio technician is consistency. Obviously the mix has to be good and well executed but consistency across multiple weeks/shows is what builds trust with musicians. They need to know that you are working as hard as they are. So yes, all these routines sound like a lot, but until I wrote this series, I’ve been doing all this stuff for so long, I didn’t even know that I do it every time. What things do you do to prepare for your shows/concerts? Have any routines that you think I should add? Let me know in the comments below. If you have any questions about what I’ve said be sure to either comment below or email me at daniel@studiostagelive.com. If you have enjoyed reading these posts go ahead and subscribe at this link and you’ll get a message whenever something new has been posted. See you all on the flipside!