Tips and Tricks: Pace Yourself

Welcome back to our Tips and Tricks holiday series. Last week we talked about fixing as many known issues going into the busy season as you possibly can. I usually set a date that the craziness starts and get as much done as I can before that time. I also talked about clearing out hard drives, getting new gear installed, etc. If you missed it you can find it at this link. This week I wanted to take a bit of time to talk about pacing yourself. Specifically your exposure times as you try to get a lot of mixing done in a small amount of time. 

I know a fair amount of mixers that don’t think about this as they mix even on a regular basis throughout the year. Let me put some context on what we are talking about. To give an example, my weekly schedule puts my main rehearsal with my band each week on a Thursday night starting at 7 PM and going sometimes up to 9:30 or 10 PM. Now, I come to work that day around 9 AM. This makes for a really long day. When I first started on this schedule I was really experiencing some ear fatigue by the time the day was done. I quickly realized that I needed to really protect my hearing throughout the day in order to be fresh for my rehearsal. That meant if I wanted to try out some new plugins or do some mixing I needed to do it before lunch on Thursday and really restrict my volume exposure all afternoon or simply take care of that stuff on the previous day. You see our ears are a muscle. When they work, they get tired and that affects what we hear or how we perceive what’s around us. However, over exposure can lead to hearing loss. I’m sure you all know this. But have you thought about what you listen to and how loud it is in your car? Have you thought about driving with your windows down (wind buffeting or blowing past us is the same as loud music)? What about when you mow or use your snowblower…are you using hearing protection? Anything we can hear exposes our ear drums to sound and makes them work. 

So how can we last? Well the first and most obvious is to just give your ears a break every now and again. If you have a long rehearsal coming up, just turn the music down or better yet off. If you have a lot of music to mix, when you aren’t finalizing the track, don’t have your speakers at full volume. Use a variety of listening devices as well. From in-ears to headphones all the way up to studio speakers, each expose us differently. Do whatever you can do to not have things at full volume. If you need to do some EQ, instead of turning up your studio speakers to hear the intricacies, put on some headphones you trust and turn it down. Don’t worry, you’ll be able to check your work later on the big boy speakers. If you’re doing all kinds of playback for a big Christmas show, do your best to just do a few songs at a time and then take a break. Better yet, set an allotment amount of time you’ll mix everyday and stick to it so your ears can fully rest between sessions. If you’re doing a lot of IEM mixing over the holidays, be sure to create an extra mix buss for yourself and set it to a lower volume (or simply turn your output volume down) so that when you don’t need to be mixing you are giving your ears a rest. To my knowledge there is no way to magically extend this “perfect” hearing time so guard it carefully. 

Practically you can do that using the above methods. Schedule your full volume and restrict it as much as possible. When you don’t need to be listening to something loud (like while you’re driving, etc) turn it down. But how does knowing this affect your mix? Well it means that you should be listening to folks telling you to EQ your stuff first. When we first start mixing our ears are at their best so use that time to dial in EQ not dynamics. Push the levels a bit and see where you can start to hear EQ. Do all the things that you really need to focus to be able to do. Think in the minutia. I always throw a really rough and tumble mix together right out of the gate and then start listening for what I need to change in my toms, or does the bass guitar tone seem right, or even is the verb that I have dialed in still working for me. All of those things will be hard to hear the longer I go. I start in the micro and move towards the macro. It can be hard to overlook a weird attack sound on a kick drum but I’ve found that if I can focus on tone first, the dynamics come easier because my foundation is solid. 

So this week, as you mix, think about your exposure times. I know this next weekend I’ll be mixing 7 services spanning 3 days along with the two nights before that weekend full up with rehearsals. I know I’ll probably be really keeping an eye on how things feel and really leaning on my instruments (meters, Smaart, etc) as my checks to make sure things are operating well. That combined with lots of playback spread out as much as possible will ensure that I’m as fresh as possible for this weekend. I hope you can find a balance between work and rest over the coming weeks. Please reach out to me at daniel@studiostagelive.com with any questions or if you’d like some advice in this area. Just doing this simple stuff has resulted in nearly 18 years of mixing concerts, plays, etc and no measurable hearing loss (I get checked every year, age will soon be a factor but not yet thankfully). It is possible folks. Tune in next week to hear about the tools I use to mix effectively and efficiently. Be sure to subscribe at this link to be notified when that post goes live. Happy mixing!

Tips and Tricks: Check Your Stuff

Welcome to a new tips and tricks series. This one is less about a specific thing to do and a general philosophy to help you through the craziness that is the holidays. I’ll be sharing a few things that I do to speed up mixing in week 3 but this week it’s all about cleaning up, clearing out, and preparing yourself for 4-5 weeks of crazy mixing and lots of work. As we get into the holiday season, I often feel the pressure. Around where I work after Thanksgiving it’s a two week sprint for me until my Christmas vacation. I have little time to catch up. While I know this series maybe is a few weeks late, the idea here is that this week, you can do a few things, next week you do a few more, and so on, until your through it. 

This week is about getting you and your gear ready. Over the next few weeks, if you’re touring, if you’re in the studio, if you’re at FOH (and maybe if you’re at monitors), there is a lot to prepare for. I love to sit down for a little bit before I get started and think through every event for the whole season and see what I will need to have ready for it all to work well. How many stage inputs will I need? How many wireless channels will I need? How many tracks will I need in my DAW? How many monitor mixes or self-mixer will I need to have setup so our bands can hear themselves? Are there any extra mics that I need to rent/buy in order to take care of everything? What changes do I need to make in my consoles to accomodate all of those things? 

For me it all starts with that last one. Leading into the season, the first thing I did was clear out and fix any issues to my template that need to be addressed as well as making sure that my template will cover whatever I’ll need for the season. When that’s done it’s time for some rf coordination. This usually takes a bit because we usually run our typical frequency set as robust so wireless workbench (which is free by the way) will space all the channels out so they are basically unable to interfere with each other. But, around the holidays I am usually adding some extra wireless IEMs and several wireless mics. This year, I’ll have about 47 wireless channels in play when you include backup frequencies, and all the mics we’ll be using for various parts of the show. It took me quite a bit of arranging and adjustment to get it all to fit but when you’re not in a hurry you can prepare for it early. I always try to get the frequencies adjusted early so I’ll have a few weeks to test operation of my core channels (Axient Digital) before we turn them all on. 

From there it’s time to go to all the recording machines that I operate or support and clear out hard drives and handle any maintenance issues. This seems like a small thing but as we get busy it’s the little things that aren’t an everyday concern that slip our minds first. Usually when I get in to work in the morning I’ll just stop by one of them, start a transfer, then at the end of the day come back and verify that it completed successfully. This is an easy way to get this large hurry up and wait job completed as you work on other things. I don’t know about you guys but about 30% of the media that my team creates throughout the year is generated over the next few weeks so making sure we are ready to record is crucial. While we are talking about clearing out drives, I always try and make it a point to clear out my patch bay of any unnecessary patches and look through my patch list for anything that doesn’t look right. The whole idea is to try and get back to a clean slate so that when we are in the thick of things, we don’t have to deal with problems that are either hard to find or take a long time to solve. Lastly, I did mention maintenance of production machines. Make a couple of days where you can run a round of windows updates to catch up to what’s recent and still have time to test software. I know this sounds hard but just take the time and get it done. There have been several key virus protection over the last few months that prevent lots of critical issues. I’m no advocate of allowing updates to run automatically but every few months, your IT manager will tell you to just catch up to help keep your computer and his/her network running smoothly. 

Well that’s it for this week. I’m going to make an honest attempt to keep these holiday posts a bit shorter if I can. Next week we will be talking about pacing yourself. Not only your ears but your mind as well. Mixing for long periods of time, whether at full volume or not, is taxing and inserting proper breaks into your routine can be really helpful. Feel free to reach out with any questions to daniel@studiostagelive.com or leave a comment below. If you want to be sure to be notified when a new article is up, feel free to subscribe at this link and you’ll get an email. See you all next week and remember to relax a bit with family this holiday season, I promise it’s worth it.

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!