From the Author: Tools of the Trade

We use so many tools in our every day work.  From actual tool like screwdrivers and soldering irons to software tools like a DAW for recording or waves multi-rack for FX processing but there are four tools that I believe aren’t utilized enough by audio engineers in the studio or live environment.  I personally carry a leatherman wave which has proved itself invaluable but not everyone wants to carry around a multi-tool so I won’t judge you too harshly for that (I can’t count the number of situations that have been saved because I had my multi-tool on my waist). The tools I’m talking about you could be using them already or you may not have even heard of them, the idea here is to expose you to a couple of things you just may not have thought about with these 4 tools.

The first tool I wanted to mention has been invaluable over the last 3 or 4 years I have been using it….Teamviewer.  This is basically a piece of software that you can install on any computer where you can access a desktop (windows, Apple OS, or linux).  Unfortunately that means we can’t use it on our consoles but we can use it on computers like our waves multi-rack computer or on playback machines.  At Christ Community where I work we have installed it on countless machines.  We even got our IT guy on board, not only to help pay for a commercial license package, but also because this tool is just as helpful for him as it is for us.  We can literally remote into any computer at any time.  No need for firewall configuration at all.  This has saved us so many times in the past.  It makes our tech support phone calls faster because the guy on the other end can remote in and see what we are talking about but it also makes the calls we get from our volunteers easier because I can remote into that pesky ProPresenter machine in the chapel and fix their problem without the need for a lengthy or frustrating phone call where you may or may not fix the problem.  Production wise we’ve implemented a few policies to ensure that we don’t interfere with critical machines like our Ableton or Mainstage macs but it’s also helpful to be able to remote in during an event and fix an issue on the fly so we can keep on keeping on. Teamviewer is incredibly helpful in our day to day operations as well with things like access to the waves computer from my desk so I can set the show up from my desk or move licenses to our audio editing machine so plugins can be used elsewhere (don’t have to walk back and forth anymore!).  I know this is a pricey tool but I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised how much time it will save you when you sit down and think about it.  If your church or studio has remote locations this program will save you many many hours driving, guaranteed.

The next tool is Smaart (or your audio monitoring software of choice).  We have a monitor setup at my FOH desk that shows our RTA, a spectrograph of the last minute or so, and the one-minute average of the SPL for our event.  This helps us see feedback frequencies easier, make sure we are getting a great SPL curve with a strong low end and a big falloff around 12k or so, that way we aren’t hurting any ears.  I also have an a 10 second average SPL that I picked up from a tour tech which helps to show trends or building frequencies that might lead to feedback or just something you need to be aware of.  At CCC Smaart has been crucial for our sound level discussions.  This is a piece of equipment that when calibrated shows an unbiased objective point of view for how loud the room is currently.  We have ours setup to log the actual SPL dbA value 6 times per minute so we can look at the data afterwards if anyone is concerned.  So many times the audio loudness discussion leans toward opinion not fact and this tool, when set correctly, can bring some facts back into that discussion.  I also think a tool like this should be used frequently in houses of worship so the sound engineer is always aware of where things are SPL-wise. It is very easy to get carried away with a song and forget that you can physically hurt people.  In the studio world this software can be useful for loudness monitoring and in helping to identify that input that is just to overbearing. It can take a direct input (straight from the computer, not necessarily a microphone) so you can patch it directly from you DAW of choice. Personally, I use it a lot to help track down feedback as well as you can see the curve changing in front of your eyes, no more need for guessing! Having Smaart running just keeps everyone accountable and helps keep us all doing what we do best, mixing great sound!

Next is Google Drive.  If you’ve been reading this blog at all you should have seen that documentation is a big part of what I think people should do and something I’m always hoping to be improving upon. Google Drive is the perfect companion for that.  Now, to be clear, dropbox, owncloud, etc will all work, what makes Google Drive different is the live document editing that you can do in partnership with your syncing program of choice.  The biggest thing we use this tool for is our patch list. From anywhere I can make a patch change in the list and it is updated in real time to everywhere, like for instance the monitor desk. There is also a tab in there that allows our worship leader to list out the tracks that will be in use for the event. We also use Google Drive to keep our showfile backups or system documents in the cloud and safely backed up no matter what happens so we can recover a console or a piece of gear quickly in an emergency.  Several times we have had a soundboard go bad and haven’t been too concerned because we know that we can just reload the board and the config for that board should be saved up in the drive for us to download and load right in. The best thing about this tool is that it is completely free.  Anyone can sign up and get a free gmail account at any time and be able to take advantage of this great tool for free! Set it up today!

This last tool is a bit specific to Shure users.  I have been a Shure guy my whole life.  I’ve used other wireless companies but always seem to find my way back to Shure before too long because of the sheer reliability of the products. You might be able to guess the tool I’m talking about is Shure Wireless Workbench. I love having the ability to monitor battery life, signal strength, audio input, etc from FOH and my monitor desk. I don’t have to setup the wireless receivers/transmitters up in front of me anymore!  Not only can you use it to frequency coordinate all your wireless channels but you can put it into monitor mode and use it keep better track of battery life and signal dropouts.  Now any operator at either of our sound boards can from that position see and better diagnose wireless issues without having to step away to the rack where the gear is mounted. If you have a Shure device with a network jack on it you owe it to yourself to at least get this setup and running. At the very least you will greatly reduce the possibility of running out a battery during a show. Just a few weekends ago when I was on my own mixing sound for a weekend, Wireless Workbench was invaluable in helping me monitor battery life from FOH and it saved from an outage that I caught at the last minute and got changed before the service started.

Hopefully I’ve introduced you to something new here. These four tools have been so very helpful if I’m in house at CCC, on the road doing some side work or sitting in a studio. If there is something that I didn’t mention that is crucial to your operation please comment below and let me know about it!