Gear Talk: Tools of the Trade Part 3

Welcome back to Studio.Stage.Live! Last week we talked about the leatherman/flashlight combo that I wear everyday and the benefits of that. If you missed it, check it out here at this link. For this last week of the series, the tool I want to talk about is the DAW of your choice. Yep, that’s right, I’m not going to recommend one specific one. They all do different things really well, they all have their little quirks that a lot of people don’t like. But what I am going to do is talk about 3 of them that have risen to the top of my attention. In this season of non-live production, what you’re doing and how you’re editing in, can make a big difference to your sound or your workflow. Those three are Logic Pro X, Reaper, and Pro Tools. Now, there a lot of other ones that are good as well such as Cubase or Ableton (and many others), but for what I’m doing right now, the three I’ve listed seem to be what works best for what I’m doing. 

Now I think about software programs in terms of three categories: price, user interface/compatibility, and reliability. Let’s be honest, money always matters. Whether it’s a subscription, a one-time fee, or no fee at all, what things cost makes a difference. If you’re a pro it’s an extra cost to your bottom line that you have to think about (and probably bill for and if you’re not a pro you are like me, you are doing contracting gigs or working for a non-profit where cost matters even more. Pro Tools comes with a yearly subscription whereas Logic and Reaper are one time fees incurred on large version changes (worth noting that Apple hasn’t charged for recent big updates to Logic Pro X). Next thing to consider is the user interface you like the best. All three of these offer a demo in some form and all of them definitely have so many Youtube videos dedicated to people using the software. If you’re going to buy, be sure to watch a few of these and see which one you can identify with the most. Secondarily, all three DAWs are available on OSX but only Reaper and Pro Tools can be used on a PC. If you have a great computer to use already don’t feel like you have to buy a Mac or buy a Windows machine. All three of these DAWs are used in the professional sphere to some extent. Reaper is very new to the space but it has been picked up by Waves as their DAW of choice. Logic Pro and Pro Tools both are basically the industry standard. The last thing to consider is the reliability of the workspace in your environment. This has a lot of caveats to it. Is the manufacturer fixing issues and updating it? Does it work with your plugin provider of choice? Can you use it with an external processing server? When under load does it handle latency well? These three factors are the things that impact my workflow the most. What ways do you use to compare DAWs?

In order to make this comparison a bit more efficient, I decided a table would be best in order to do that. Now, this is not an exhaustive list, these are just the points of comparison I thought would highlight their differences. If you don’t see it here, it’s likely that all three have or don’t have that trait. Here we go:

What the chart isn’t telling you is what’s left. First, Pro Tools is basically the industry standard DAW. Pro Tools is the DAW of choice for educational institutions across the country as well. Logic however is the creators choice. Because of the prevalence of OSX amongst the artistic community and it’s incredibly reasonable price, Logic Pro has positioned itself as the DAW of choice for songwriters and indie artists across the country. Reaper is the dark horse here. Up and coming and acting as the DAW that Pro Tools users flock to when they are fed up with the proprietary ecosystem that is Pro Tools. Reaper being the wide open west of DAWs continues to pick up steam. Just a little while ago Waves.com stopped supporting Tracks Live and chose to use Reaper as their primary host instead. But really, features aside, your opinion and how each works within your workflow is what matters most. Secondarily to that is what the people you’re working with and doing work for use. I would highly encourage you to demo each of these and talk with your colleagues as in the end, they all do the same thing in different ways.

So why write this post at all if the heart of the matter is your opinion. Because you might be looking for someone else’s. Here’s mine, in the atmosphere I’m working in, a subscription model is a tough pill to swallow if it can be avoided. So that eliminates Pro Tools. I actually currently use Reaper to do live tracking simply because of its efficiency and price. But we’ve tried it as a fulltime DAW and well, the UI falls short in a few places. The workflow can be quite a bit different than many others so unless you are ready for that, you’ll struggle a bit. When a mac suitable for running Logic came around, we paired with an external processing server and were off to the races. If you add to that the fact that all (or at least most) of the content creators in my immediate circle also use Logic, which makes it a great fit. Because of everything that’s going on I’ve gotten to really put it through its paces and things have gone quite well. As would be true with any of these options, each have their strengths and weaknesses. If you have any questions I can answer just let me know in the comments below and I’d love to follow up with you. So here is my recommendation, if budget is no issue and you are looking for the best integration with industry professionals, use Pro Tools. If you already have a mac and are looking for a that pro experience without the subscription fees, use Logic Pro X. If money is a bit tight but you need a robust workspace, check out Reaper!

Hopefully you’ve enjoyed the series and that you’ve learned something from the series as a whole. As always my goal here isn’t to tell you that you have to have something but just expose the tools that I use with the hope that maybe one of them will become applicable to you. If you want to be updated when a new post is live, just fill out the form at this link, and you’ll receive an email when one is hot off the presses. As always, hit me up at daniel@studiostagelive.com and I can answer any questions you have or use the comment section either here or on facebook with any questions you have. Next week I’ll be starting a series on the process I’ve developed to create good quality content each week for my day job at Christ Community Church. I’ll be highlighting the gear I use, my process, and how I deliver the mix each week. See you next week!

Gear Talk: Tools of the Trade Part 2

Welcome back to week 2 of my “Tools of the Trade” series. Last week I spent a little time talking about the Dante AVIO device which primarily allows for individual or double analog ins/outs but also has a few other things that it can translate to and from Dante. While having that particular tool in my arsenal has saved a lot of time, this week my featured tool saves me a lot of effort as well. That tool is my leatherman/flashlight combo I carry on my belt. 

Quite awhile ago I decided to start carrying a leatherman. I had received a stock one for being in my sister’s wedding as a gift from my brother-in-law. He gifted it with a leather sheath which allowed me to put on my belt. From that point on I never looked back. It started just as a cool thing to carry around but quickly became a regular throughout my day. From opening boxes, to tightening that random screw, to using the pliers to pry something open, it has more than earned its place at my side. There have been a few times where people around me have even asked to borrow it because they know that I have it (namely my wife). Not so long ago I upgraded to a new black oxide Leatherman Wave and got a sheath for it that had room on the side for a mini flashlight. At first I wasn’t sold but I eventually cracked and got one. Thus the combo was born. I wasn’t sure if carrying the flashlight was worth it personally but as I’ll discuss here in a minute it comes quite in handy to keep the cell phone usage down.  

As a technician for the vast majority of my life, I’ve climbed into tight spots, shimmied into small places, and just needed a tool that I didn’t have. Which forced me to get back out of that spot, go get the tool, and find my way back down in the hidey hole. Then one day, as I mentioned earlier, I committed to carrying my multitool (in my case a leatherman), and it immediately became game changing. Initially I carried it in my pocket but soon I switched to using a sheath so that it can attach to my belt and be a bit more comfortable and protect my phone from getting scratched up. Before too long, on the days when I didn’t wear it, I needed it for something. Just having a screwdriver, knife, and a few other tools at easy access has saved me so much time. Then as the prevalence of small flashlights, powered by AAA batteries, came around it just made sense to pick one up. While it sounds like a lot to carry, I don’t really feel it anymore. But my life, and my cell phone battery, are both better off for adding that. Just carrying a flashlight around, even if it’s all you carry, is awesome in the tech industry. How many times do you get out your phone to turn on a light? How many times can you just not see that little thing in the dark backstage? Doesn’t have to be expensive but I’d recommend getting one powered by a AAA battery as they lost a bit longer and in our world, AAA batteries are easy to get. Here is the link ($20) to the one I carry. It has two modes, a regular mode that isn’t super bright and great for the quick usage and the second mode that is more than powerful enough for most situations. As I mentioned, I carry a Leatherman Wave which has a regular knife, serated knife, and a drywall knife (this one has been really helpful in random places) along with a lot of quite helpful tools like screwdrivers and such which hold more use to me than the knives. Here is a link to the sheath that I use as well. 

Hopefully that provides a helpful rundown of why I carry a leatherman. Since I started carrying it, I know of more than one tech I know that has started doing the same. We all seem to find regular uses for them. Next week I have a software solution to a problem that kept cropping up for me, needing more than one computer but not having room for more than one keyboard and mouse. If you want to be notified when that post goes live, subscribe at this link. See you all on the flipside!

Gear Talk: Tools of the Trade Part 1

Welcome to this first week of this round of “Tools of the Trade.” The aim for this series is to talk about a few tools that I have started to use that have changed how I or my team operates on a significant level. Tools that save time, save money, or just create simple solutions to complex problems. One example from the past is Teamviewer. Having that installed our production machines has drastically changed how we operate and dramatically increased our level of support for production machines at our regional campuses. 

This week I want to highlight Dante AVIO. You can get them either as Dante in analog out or vice versa with only a single analog or two in/outs(links: AVIO Output, AVIO Input). You can also get it outfitted to handle 2 bi-directional pairs of AES (link) or USB to Dante (link). That’s all it is. You can either come from Dante and output 2 XLRs or the reverse. As our level of audio networking continues to grow we have an increasing list of ideas of unique and really helpful things we can do with that. I should say however that we are able to do this stuff because our building network has been dramatically improved over the last few years. Where a lot of churches separate their Dante networks from their building networks, we don’t need to. We have a 10 GIG network with a fiber backbone and some great VLAN setups that allow us to run it all on the same switches without issues. But back to the AVIO. 

Over the holidays we really wanted to step up our game in terms of pre-programming as much as possible for the big Christmas show. The big step for us was using timecode in a much more prolific way. The reason was so we could do a bit of programming within our monitor setup to allow for greater flexibility of that engineer but also to record the songs with timecode during the early rehearsals so that lighting could get ahead of the game as soon as the lighting rig was built. We already had Dante VIA running to bring in the audio but we needed a way to get SMPTE timecode recorded as well. To do that, we used the AVIO. Here’s how. Ableton, being our tracks software of choice was a natural fit to be the timecode master. Each song was a new hour and we could then distribute timecode with our audio infrastructure (i.e. Dante) so it could hit both our audio consoles (useful in monitor world mostly, a few use cases in FOH land) and then be broadcast across our Dante network Dante VIA to record timecode, audio (via Dante VIA), click and guide (already on dante). The AVIO comes into play because we need to timecode back out to analog audio to our GrandMA console which only accepts SMPTE via analog audio. When recording or live we are sending the timecode from ableton to the console but when in playback in lighting, all it takes is a simple re-patch so it’s fed from VIA instead. This option wouldn’t be possible without the AVIO or some much more expensive gear. We have also started using them to feed broadcast sources, external rooms, etc because we feed our video gear from dante. The more we use these, the more use cases we find for them, so keep an eye out for a deal, and just pick one up. I guarantee you’ll find something useful for it to do if you’re already invested in Dante. 

They aren’t without hiccups however. We have found them to need restarts from time to time (meaning that you simply unplug the data side and plug it back in). I’m not sure why but if something has changed with the network as a whole, switch rebooting, power cycle, sometimes they simply stop working and need reset despite showing no errors in Dante manager. Since we know this, it isn’t a big deal to us but just something to be aware of. I am currently looking for other reasons they seem to lock up but haven’t found any so far. 

Well that’s it for next week. Next week I’ll be discussing a personal pair of tools that I carry with me everywhere I go that make my life so much easier. Be sure to subscribe at this link to be notified when a new post has been published. As always if you have any questions about what you’ve read, please don’t hesitate to reach out either here, on facebook, or by dropping me a line at daniel@studiostagelive.com. See you next week!