Tips and Tricks: Corporate Events

After a fun week working a corporate gig I figured it was time that I address this area of audio work within my blog. We have all gotten that call from time to time; a call to do some side work for a business in town or for a corporate event away from home. There are a few things about these types of events that we will never be able to fix or avoid but there are definitely a few things that we as audio engineers can do to be able to maintain our demeanor and professional value.

The first is to remember to be flexible during setup. Often times in rooms you get to pick where the PA is (most times) and then FOH is just way off in the corner. Just be ok with that. Yes you are out of the pattern of your speakers, yes you may have to get up and walk around a bit, and yes you may be mixing from a local monitor, but these aren’t challenges that can’t be overcome. This last gig I was at left FOH on the side wall of the room, well out of the pattern of the Meyer m’elodie system I was driving. This provided the best setup for the customer and made the row of tech tables basically disappear. Not ideal but with the help of a K8 made available for me, it turned out pretty nicely. I had to walk the room quite a bit and send my A2 out to check on things occasionally but things turned out better than I thought. The other thing about corporate gigs is that the gear is often not in your control (this doesn’t mean that it’s bad, it just may not be your first choice). The best thing you can do is make the best of your situation and prove why you are getting paid to do your job. I’ve mixed on CL5s, x32s, mackie analog desks, and even an x-Air 16 at corporate events. The best thing you can do is ask what you’ll be mixing on before you arrive at the venue and be sure to familiarize yourself with that console before you get there. Things are rarely optimal but you are a professional because you can take lemons and more often than not, make lemonade.

My next big tip is to take a lot of time setting up your console. When doing an event, especially those in the corporate world, the show changes on the fly. Sometimes they called for 3 handhelds but ended up needing 4 lapels. Let’s not even get started on video playback requirements. This last event my room was given 8 wireless channels (that’s a lot for one room) and based on what was projected to happen each day it was going to be a bit crazy for my A2 managing it all. To be ready for anything, I double patched each input (one to a channel setup for a handheld, one to a channel setup for a lapel). This way, no matter what they call for, I’m setup and ready for anything in regards to wireless. I don’t need to load presets or recall settings. Everything is ready. Utilizing groups and matrices to your advantage to gain post processing (i.e. setting up an extra GEQ that does narrowband feedback elimination) or getting a dugan automixer setup is well worth whatever time you spend during setup. Additionally, setting up both stereo and split track playback channels in advance can only help you down the road. The key here is to just take your time. Get it done right and get it tested so that when you’re in the heat of the event, you’re not trying to slam something together at the last minute. The last trick I’ll mention in regards to console setup is one I just recently learned. Separate out your speech inputs from everything else. Send them to your PA from a different buss than your master so that you can an extra level of control in regards to these inputs. The benefits here, if you can do it, are extra processing, an extra layer of protection in regards to issues, and some more that are just hard to explain here. Next time you do an event, if you can send a separate stereo pair to your processor, do it and send your speech buss to your processor that way. If you’re more curious about this, drop me a message either here or on facebook and I’ll elaborate a bit more.

Lastly, use every tool and monitoring device you can get your hands on. If you have a laptop that you can travel with, bring it with you. If you have a smaart or trend rig you can utilize, do it. If there is a network jack on any of the gear you use, turn it on, getting working, and use it. At my last show we were using Meyer system processors so I had that pulled up and found myself making more tweaks and muting the inputs more often than I’d expect which allowed me to follow and support needs much easier. We were also able to setup wireless workbench to help with RF coordination and monitoring efforts throughout the event which made tracking which wireless packs/handhelds were out and keeping an eye on battery levels a breeze. Bringing along an outboard audio device always helps ensure you get clean audio from your laptop as well. If you’re on a mac, snag a PC DI from radial (mac, specifically mojave, doesn’t like the radial usb box) and if you’re on a pc snag the radial USB DI. Finally, know which audio playback apps you like using the best and come with those loaded and ready. No matter what OS I’m on, I prefer Foobar for track playback (that is if I’m not using Spotify). With a customizable interface and tons of options, it has been nothing but stable. For a quick setup Soundboard has been great in the past but I recently started using qlab (especially for this last event, the free version does just about everything you need) to build shows that require more complex timings or triggers. This last event I worked, I started in Soundboard, than switched a few of the sessions over to qlab after rehearsals as they got to complex for soundboard. If you have time to figure stuff out and plan, use qlab, if not, Soundboard is a great app to pull it together at the last minute. Both give you the ability to edit and insert fades before and after playback.

Well that’s it for this week. Hopefully you’ve picked up a few tips for your next corporate or more formal church event. Be sure to reach out to my email (daniel@studiostagelive.com), utilize the comments below, or message me on facebook if you have any questions about anything I’ve said here. I’ve finally had a chance to compile and edit videos from our recent Night of Worship so next week will be another episode of From the Booth featuring that event. Be sure to subscribe to my blog at this link so you get an email anytime a new post is released. See you next week!

Tips and Tricks: Automation Part 5

This is week five of our series on automation. In the last few weeks we have covered the pros and cons of automating and last week I walked you through my process of automating. This week, I just want to give you all some pointers to get you started. These are things that I either was told by someone who learned the hard way or learned the hard way myself or just little tips I picked up along the way. I won’t go into too much detail to keep things moving along and squeeze as many ideas in here as possible. I hope these next 6 ideas will help you get started and maybe start a conversation about what we have all been learning as we begin to push our mixes to the next level.

For me, It all starts for me with remember to take your time. So many times in my career I have been up against the clock and I rush into the solution and end up making a mistake or I let myself get all worked up to get things done that I fail to think through the situation. That rushing to the solution usually meant that I would miss something that would cost me twice as much time as if I’d taken a second to think and do what really needs to be done. If there was one thing I could tell a younger version of myself to do it’s to take a moment, breathe, and then dig in full force. Remember the phrase, “measure twice, cut once?” Well it applies to just about every problem solving situation in the tech world and especially to programming scenes into a sound console. 

Next is to check your work. I know, I know, we are rushed sometimes and you just don’t have the time. Well, make the time. Especially when it comes to those big wiring setups, doing a line check before sound check will save so much running and wasted time, under the gun no less, trying to figure out why the cymbals are showing up in the keyboard channels. This also applies to studio work. I’ve found that the higher the variety of speakers you listen to your mix in, the better you can get it sounding. In regards to automation that means taking the time to step through all of your scenes before the show and make sure what you programmed has been saved correctly. The times when I don’t do this I either make a mistake or find myself needing to do so much more just to transition between scenes that automation probably wasn’t worth it. 

The next thing to remember is to save your work often. Whether you are doing a wiring diagram on a computer, working on a sound console getting a complex show setup, or working in your DAW, save your work. Save incrementally. Save often. Much like the voting ideals here in Illinois, you should save early and often. For big shows or recordings, I’ll create multiple chains of saves so that if I need to step back in time, it’s easy to do so. Additionally, saving your work can really save your butt if you try to propagate some changes in your scenes that goes awry. There are even a few consoles out there that automatically save your showfile behind the scenes. If your console doesn’t do that, set a timer on your phone, and just do it on your own. I’d recommend for any bigger show that you automate that you create new showfiles after every rehearsal. You probably won’t need them but there will be a time when something will have happened and you’ll need those showfiles. Trust me. 

Despite all the automation, it is still important to mix. You can make as many scenes as you would find helpful but I try to just stick with one scene per item or song. This encourages me to still mix throughout the song and be alert as to what is going on around me. Remember, automation and scenes are a tool not an auto-mixer. A surefire way to know if you are automating to many things is to notice when you are hitting “go” for instrumental solos instead of just pushing the fader or if you realize your head is stuck looking at your console screen instead of looking up and mixing what you see and hear. Computers don’t know how to read rooms or respond to that solo like we do as mixers. Let the computers do what they are good at, saving a starting point for songs, and keep you doing you, mixing the song with the band. 

One thing I took awhile to learn is getting fade times right between scenes. Too long of a fade time will make your scene changes be very audibly noticeable. Too short and you may as well not even fade the source in/out at all. The best guideline I can give you is experiment with different times during rehearsal or playback and then pick the time that feels the closest to if you were actually going to manually fade inputs in and out. Each console will be a little different based on how the software actually fades but I am usually around 1.2 seconds for fading into a song and 1.8 seconds coming out a song into speech.

The last tip I wanted to give was to make sure you get comfortable with automating before you go big. I wouldn’t recommend your first show with automation be a Christmas program or a big concert. Find smaller, simpler events to experiment with and learn more about how your console works. Beyond that, once you are comfortable, really dig in and be thinking about what would be helpful. A great milestone is to get to a point where don’t need to use mutes very often. This allows for smooth faded transitions through the show which adds a nice layer of invisibility to your work. I always think that if people don’t see or hear any issues, the techs are invisible. This should be the goal. Your mixing should feel natural and transparent. Also consider using that automation to help you do things that you wouldn’t ordinarily be able to do. Before I automated I found myself always making a mute group to kill the FX returns when needed to clean up speech but now, I can just use the scene to lower the return a bit. Having just a touch of reverb helps to keep a sense of consistency to those few seconds of speech between songs. Not talking about lots here but just enough that you can just barely hear it. I discovered that once I started doing that (only with the verbs, delays are always killed) made those transitions sound audibly put together and less jarring.  Automating can also improve your FX game as well. Adjusting verbs can really bring some life to each song you may not have been able to hear up to this point. Give it a try, I promise you’ll love it. Not only will your mixes be active and responding to the band but your FX will as well and you will start to hear a difference in your mixes. 

Well, those are my six tips for mixing while automating. I recognize how basic they are and how they probably can be applied universally to mixing but I feel as though automation doesn’t have to be complicated. It can be really simple. This week I’d love to know from you what you’ve learned. What are the things you have had to learn the hard way or the things that you have found to be essential to your mixing technique in regards to automation or just mixing in general? Just write in the comments below. If you have any questions for me, drop me an email at daniel@studiostagelive.com or drop a comment below. If you’d like to know when new posts are up on the site, go to this link, and subscribe to the blog and you will get an email shortly after any new post goes live. See you next week!

Tips and Tricks: Automation Part 4

Welcome back to week 4 of our series talking about Automation. In the last few weeks we’ve talked about the pros and cons of automation but this week is when we get to the fun part. We are going to be talking about setting up console automation and my process to ensure everything goes well during the show. There are hurdles to every problem when it comes to technical issues, especially when it comes to automation, but when you prepare appropriately, the risks are minimized and you can easily reap the benefits that automation can bring.

But first, it’s important to do a quick overview of the terms involved to make sure we are all on the same page. Depending on your console, you may or may not have some of the options I’m discussing available to you, I’ll try to point out where some of those differences that I’ve noticed are as we go through this post. The first can be found in the scene creation process. The lower end of the spectrum in digital consoles often just asks you what you’d like to be “safed” out of the storing process. That is the first term I’d like to define. When it comes to automation, safe, means to protect from storing or automatic changes when scenes trigger. It basically puts that channel into “manual” mode for the lack of a better word. With more feature rich consoles, you will be able to determine safe items, either globally or per scene, what settings are stored in the scene, and what settings are recalled when the scene is triggered. Separating what is stored and what is recalled can give some pretty advanced options when it comes to creating a show but there are a few things you can do to keep it simple.

You can usually choose to one of two methods when it comes to storing settings. Some say you should only store what you need and recall everything and others say you should store everything and only recall what you’d like to change with each scene. While there are benefits to both sides of the equation, I fall in the second camp. On our console, we store every possible variable with each scene and then turn off those things we don’t want to recall with each scene. For instance, we store input gain settings but don’t recall them for most inputs except the tracks inputs, because those tracks change for each song (almost like a different input) we store and recall gain settings so the operator can maintain good levels in the preamp throughout the show. This also allows us to turn on new variables and already have a setting saved into the scene. On normal band channels we are only recalling sends, compressor/gate settings, and fader levels (and a few other things specific to our setup and console). It doesn’t have to be complicated. Than when we need to do more complex things we go into the settings and turn it on as needed. I think some people see automating as complicated because they believe you need to save everything and are afraid of that messing things up but when you keep things simple, save only what you believe you’ll use, and ease your way into it, this big hurdle becomes much smaller.

The last few terms to discuss beforehand are duplication and propagation. Not all consoles have these options so you may end up coming up with creative ways to do the same thing but these two terms can be very helpful as you begin to make your cues and find yourself needing to make global changes or make a scene really quickly. The first is duplication, which is exactly what it sounds. I use this a lot to create the basis for my shows (I’ll talk about that next) and just means I’m going to make another scene with exactly the same settings saved from my current scene into a new one. Secondly is propagation, which is a little more tricky. Sometimes you make all your scenes and realize that you need to change one setting, by the same amount or set it to a universal value, in each scene. Every board calls it something different and you should always be careful (i.e. save showfile before attempting so you can get back if you mess it up) but this allows you to make that change you wanted.

My process of setting this all up is a little bit challenging when you look at it from the outside but when you’re doing it, it just makes sense. It all starts with a good template. That means having a showfile setup with all the background settings already set. I don’t make any cues or anything special like that just things like basic EQs, compressor settings close (threshold set so nothing happens), automation setup and waiting, etc. The only cue I have in the showfile is an all off cue that has all the faders down, basically the scene we leave recalled on the console when we walk away. From that scene I copy it once and call it “Worship.” With that scene I go through soundcheck and the first run-through. The idea is to create a mix within the worship scene that is a good average for all the songs and just a good mix in general (I typically don’t dig into the FX for this scene, only the standard reverbs are engaged). This is a cue I’ll keep as well for easy reference and access if something happens with my other cues so I always have this basic cue available for use in a bind. Then, during the break between run-throughs I duplicate this cue according to how many songs there are in the set. After they are all labelled I’m ready for the next part of rehearsal. At this point I have an “All Off,” “Worship,” and a cue for each song. During that second run through as I’m mixing each song I’m able to tweak FX, adjust the vocal mix, dial in delay times, etc specific to each song. Occasionally for bigger shows I’ll take notes and remind myself where the solos are if needed. Within Multirack I’m checking during each song to see if I need to make an additional cue within Multirack to be triggered from the console. But, mixing is the easy part, the hardest part of automating a show is the transitions.

They can be made easier however. For instance, if I’m needing to make a welcome cue for the service but the band is playing underneath it, starting the first song, I’ll just duplicate the cue for the first song and place it where the welcome needs to be. In that newly made welcome cue I’ll just drop the vocal verb and voila, I have a ready-made welcome cue. If we are doing a worship focus between songs, I’ll go through the same process to duplicate the cue of the song that is being used as the underscore. For video cues, I just copy the “all off” cue I have set aside and turn up the video inputs to taste. The same goes for any cues necessary for announcements, the message, etc. If I have time I’ll make those extra cues during that run-through so that as we are checking for transitions for the band and talking through the show I can run cue to cue along with them. At first you may not be fast enough on the programming to do this but with time you will learn speed and be able to track along with the producers.

The last step is to adjust transition times. Mutes trigger usually when the button is pressed to advance the scene however some consoles allow you to have them trigger at the end of the transition. I prefer to have them trigger at the beginning so my “go” button also triggers whatever muting or unmuting I’d like to happen. Because the position of the fader is also being stored, if I want my pastors mic on for his cue immediately (instead of fading up with the transition) in the previous cue I’ll save that fader where I want it but muted than when I trigger the scene change, the mute triggers, the fader is already up, and we are good to go. With that process, I can have mics on and full volume at the instant the go button is pushed and the rest of the inputs fade out or in accordingly. As a safety precaution, I’ll often find myself flipping to the fader pages most critical to the transition and watching to make sure everything goes off without a hitch as well. However, I will admit, I do this more out of comfort than necessity. I also make sure to adjust the fade time itself. Some consoles use this time to adjust anything that is not the mute button smoothly over that period of time. My SSL L500 for instance will fade into the EQ curve I’ve assigned or removed. Things like thresholds will gradually move instead of jumping. This is often only a feature of higher end consoles but most consoles will allow for at least the fader to move slowly over that time. This is one of the biggest advantages to automation I believe, at least audibly, is that when you transition the band off, you aren’t muting, you are fading. So even if someone bumps a string or hits a note, it doesn’t slam off, it fades out.

These smooth transitions can allow the FOH technician to have more control over when things happen so he/she can feel out the room and the transition itself and execute the transition when it feels right not when things have quieted down enough so that mutes aren’t heard. For band transition I’m at least 1.2 seconds fading them in so my faders are up by the time they hit their first notes and 1.8 seconds on the way out so things are allowed to linger. Often times however I will slow it down quite a bit to help it feel smoother. These times are arbitrary to the fade curves on my console so you really need to hear how it sounds on your console and go with the times that feel right.  By that I mean, don’t trigger the fades so they are very audible (i.e. instead of letting the band ring out naturally you trigger the transition and they are faded out electronically), trigger the fades when it feels like it should be happening. It’s a subtle difference but will make a big impact. Often times I’m doing the time changes and last minute programming either after rehearsal is over on Thursday or before it starts on Saturday so I get a full run-through with my programming and can check that everything is good. From there it is smooth sailing. Every time we play the song I can improve the mix, feel out the room, make a few changes, see how the crowd is responding, make a few changes, etc. Automation allows me to really be able to refine my mix and end up with a great and consistent product, each and every week.

Lastly, if you find yourself realizing that you need to change that compression setting globally, here is where propagation happens. If your console can do it you usually have a choice to set a universal value to the variable or alter it, say +5, to whatever value is saved. Just make sure that if you try this, save your showfile beforehand. Just do it. You’ll thank me later. If your console cannot do it, just quickly step through each applicable scene and make the change. Issues like this are why I always advocate making the worship cue first and automating second. Yes you can save time if you have pre-made cues but you might end up losing that time later making tiny changes like what I just talked about. Get a good mix first, than automate second.  Resist the urge to duplicate cues until you are sure you like what you have.

With that I wanted to challenge everyone this week, if you aren’t automating, just take a few minutes and think about it again. Look at your console, see what you can do, and really evaluate if not doing it is really better for your situation. Even if all you did was create that worship cue and a couple speech cues, that would really bring so much consistency to your mix and I know your bands are asking for that. Even if step one is really getting a template put together so that you can begin to automate in a little while, just try it. If after doing it for a few weeks, you’re struggling, you’ve had some issues, and you just aren’t comfortable, great, than you know it’s not for you. But I have yet to meet someone that really tried it, stuck with it long enough to know, and realized that they were better mixers without it. Just a few scenes can go a long way, you don’t have to create a scene for everything to start. If you have questions or need help translating this post in particular to your board please leave a comment below or email me at daniel@studiostagelive.com. Next week I’m going to end the series by going through a bit of checklist for automating and mention a few things I’ve learned while automating sound boards myself. If you want to get an email when next week’s post is up, follow this link, and subscribe to my blog. You’ll receive a weekly notification when a new post is up. That’s all for now, happy automating!