Archive for April, 2010

Removing The Brain

This is the second in a series of articles from studio/live engineer Erik Zobler in his own words:

I am touring with the George Duke Band (seven pieces) for six weeks in dukedrmrvideoparis-poster.jpgEurope.  We are playing small clubs, medium venues and concert halls.  We carry very little gear with us and therefore need to “backlineâ€? every venue.  For example, we request a 40 input mixer for Front of House (FOH).  So far, we have done eight shows in seven cities in eleven days — traveling from Oslo, Norway to Monte Carlo, Paris and Dortmund, Germany.  In eight shows I have worked on seven different consoles – four digital and three analog desks. I work the same way on both boards, because I am doing the same job.  My approach is the same.  But one big difference is that my brain is much more involved when working on digital boards.  When I am on an analog board, I work a little with my eyes and primarily with my ears. I grab the knobs and twist them until I see what I want on the meters, and hear what I want to hear in the speakers. On digital mixers, if you are not on the correct layer, you have to push a button to get there. Then you have to push a button to access the channel you want to work on, and then push another button to tell the channel which parameter you want to adjust.  That’s a minimum of three button pushes before you can start to dial in a sound.  In contrast, on an analog mixer, you find the channel you want to adjust, reach for the dedicated knob and start twisting.  It’s faster and requires less brainpower.

Equalizing is different too.  On an analog board, I reach for the knob and adjust it until I am happy with the sound.  Occasionally I may look at the knobs to see where I am making changes, but basically “the ear bone is connected to the hand bone� and hopefully good sounds are the result.  On a digital board, once an EQ is selected, and a screen pops up showing the EQ parameters, I find it difficult to ignore the graphic display of the EQ.  Instead of just using my ears, I stare at the eq settings and adjust them while looking at the screen.  My “brain bone� gets inserted into the chain and I am not equalizing as efficiently or accurately as I was on the analog desk.

A certain amount of this process is the same for adjusting compressors and gates, although the difference doesn’t seem as much.

On our next show on a digital board I am going to do my best to NOT LOOK AT THE SCREEN while making adjustments.  Maybe that will make my digital live mixing experience on step closer to my analog experience.

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Mixing George Duke Live : How Loud is Loud Enough?

This is a series of articles from studio/live engineer Erik Zobler in his own words:

I am touring with the George Duke Band (seven pieces) for six weeks in dukebataclan.jpgEurope.  We are playing small clubs, medium venues and concert halls. This installment deals with mixing to the point of studio quality.  (Or — How loud is loud enough?)
When I mix live sound I like to make the sonic footprint of the show as close to what I hear in the studio as possible.  This is, of course, from the FOH mixing position. If the band is loud and monitors are loud, then I have to turn up the P.A. to get above them so I can actually mix.  In a big venue, this is not necessarily a problem.  The speakers tend to be placed farther from the audience, allowing wider dispersion of sound before the nuke factor kicks in.  The Nuke Factor kicks in when the PA is so loud, you see people’s faces being pushed back like they were in a centrifugal trainer for astronauts. Fingers in ears or scrunched up faces are also other indicators.

How loud to mix at the mix position must be based on how far the position is in relation to the speakers.  If the band (and by that I mean band plus monitors) is loud and if the position is at the back of the venue, then the people in front of the speakers will no doubt be getting nuked if you make the PA much louder than the stage volume.  The problem is that if you spare the minions in front, you can’t hear squat in the mix position.

Last night I experienced a solution, which by the end of a show that I was expecting to be a nightmare, put a smile on my face and garnered compliments from the audience.  I mixed a show at club Moods in Monaco. moodsdoor.jpg They have great equipment, Digico D1 and Yamaha M7 boards and L-Acoustics speakers.  However, the mix position is not only at the back of the club, it is up some stairs in the corner where the ceiling meets the back wall.  Anyone familiar with the acoustics of bass propagation knows that this is where low frequencies accumulate.  Mixing in this bubble of bass, while not impossible, could not have been more difficult.  In the mix position, I was straining for clarity, so I cut lows and mids and boosted some highs, only to go down stairs to find out that I had razors coming out of the speakers.  I had to run up and down the stairs multiple times and try to translate what I heard down stairs to what I was zobbiemoods1.jpghearing at the FOH position.

The Solution was a pair of small monitors placed on each side of the console.  In the beginning of the show, I only turned them up to check a sound or a blend, and then turned them back off.  This is similar to using a pair of headphones to check sound quality coming out of the desk, but mixing live sound with headphones is not a good idea because you are totally cut off from the sound in the venue (except for the visceral 60 Hz intestinal rattling effect you are getting from the bass drum.)  The speakers allowed me to hear the room while at the same time giving me the clarity I needed to be able to actually mix.  It was a facsimile of what people were hearing down stairs, but it was much closer that just trying to translate from the direct speaker sound downstairs to the bubble upstairs.
Eventually I left them on all the time, turning them up a little when I need a bit more clarity to check, say, a four part vocal blend.

I am not advocating the use of speakers at the FOH position, but in certain situations, it can be a life (or show) saver.

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Meet Babyface

One of the coolest things I saw at NAB 2010 was the new desktop USB 2.0 IO rmebabyface.jpgbox from RME. Babyface features 192 kHz AD/DA converters with RME’s SteadyClock, 10 in/12 outs, 2 balanced mic preamps, Hi-Z input, ADAT or S/PDIF IO, headphone out, 32-channel MIDI IO plus an FPGA powered PC/Mac mixer with effects.

The TotalMix interface was highly evolved with lots of viewing options depending on your screen size. The meters were configurable and very responsive and because of the FPGA, the 3-band EQ, reverb and echo effects are near zero latency. All this for $750 is quite the bargain. Click here for more info

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SPL DrumXchanger Review

SPL’s DrumXchanger is one of the cooler things to come out of Musik Messe drumxchangerspl.jpgin Frankfurt last month. Engineer Phil Nichols reviews it here providing a great set of before/after samples of this product now in free public beta release.

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Avid buys Euphonix

Here I am in Las Vegas settling in for the big NAB show starting tomorrow and what do I hear? Avid is buying Euphonix! This has been grist for the rumor mill for ten years but now may be positive news for Pro Tools users who’ve felt that Digidesign has fallen short in hardware development. What does it mean for Pro Tools, EuCon, ICON and MC Control/Mix? Only time will tell but for now it is business as usual with a nod to the future.

Gary Greenfield, chairman and CEO of Avid states:  “Avid plans to further develop an open standard protocol that greatly expands the ecosystem of compatibility between the Euphonix control surfaces and a wide range of Avid and third-party audio and video applications, including Media Composer and Pro Tools. For existing Euphonix customers, Avid will continue to support EuCon– the Euphonix high-speed Ethernet protocol that enables its control surfaces to interface with third-party software.”

This is one to keep your eye on as it has great potential for some interesting IO and control products. I’ll have more news from the floor tomorrow as the show develops. In the meantime, you can read the full Avid press release for more details.

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Avid buys Euphonix

Here I am in Las Vegas, settling in for the big NAB show starting tomorrow and what do I hear? Avid is buying Euphonix! This has been swirling around the rumor mill for ten years but now it has come to pass and it is huge news for Pro Tools users who’ve felt that Digidesign has fallen short in the hardware department. What does it mean for current EuCon system users, MC Control/Mix platform, ICON and Pro Tools? Time will tell but I think it will be business as usual plus we will soon see some interesting hardware control and IO options coming to market from the merger.

Avid chairman and CEO, Gary Greenfield states: “Avid plans to further develop an open standard protocol that greatly expands the ecosystem of compatibility between the Euphonix control surfaces and a wide range of Avid and third-party audio and video applications, including Media Composer and Pro Tools. For existing Euphonix customers, Avid will continue to support EuCon– the Euphonix high-speed Ethernet protocol that enables its control surfaces to interface with third-party software.”

I’ll have more news from the floor tomorrow on this and more as NAB develops. In the meantime, you can read the full press release for more details.

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The Future Is Analog

I spent two days this week with CLASP cutting tracks with live musicians in the SSL room at the Conservatory of Recording Arts. The system allows you to endless_clasp.gifrecord through analog tape, coming off the repro head and immediately into your DAW. It was a mind-blower and more fun I’ve had in the studio in a long time. It made me realize how one-dimensional digital recording has become and how I’ve gotten into the habit of settling for poor results.

In my career, I’ve seen the pendulum of our business swing from analog to digital, and now back to an analog/digital hybrid that marries the best of both worlds. I record on a regular basis using a lot of great mics, preamps, plug-ins and monitors. And while excellent audio gear can shape a track in many positive ways, the weakest link is digital conversion and what the digital mix engine does inside the box. Using tape again brought that ear-friendly component back, even after conversion, making the tracks mix easier and offering a palette of sonic color that is lost in conversion straight from the mic.

CLASP turns your conception of analog workflow upside down. There’s no rewind time and tape cost is cut dramatically because you’re not using it as a format but instead, as a medium. You can monitor off the repro head at different tape speeds on the same take so you can make judgements on how hard to hit the tape, what speed is best and then mix and match speeds and saturation over a series of overdubs, on the same song. The end result is dramatic and discernible, even to the untrained ear.

During two days of sessions, I invited enginers whose ears I respect, students, even non-audio folks and to the last person, they “got it”. They could hear the difference in the bottom end, the musicality of tape and how it effected their perception of the music. The musicians also loved it, urging on the experimentation. It became a shared peak musical experience: the best part of music production.

To read more about how CLASP can be integrated into a studio’s workflow, check out my interview with Lenny Kravitz and his audio team. He owns two systems and uses it across a range of tape machines. Since October, inventor Chris Estes has sold 21 systems, about one a week, and sales are strong. With all the bad news in our industry including studio closings, plunging budgets not to mention crappy music, CLASP is a bit of good news for audio pros who got into this business because of the sound of music.

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