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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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Hot Products from Musik Messe

The Euro-equivalent of the NAMM show released an impressive array of new products this week including hardware, software and plugins. Check out some of the latest offerings:

1. Presonus Studio One V1.5 – This up-and-coming DAW now offers video and many other new pro-quality features. Watch for the upcoming review in Mix.

2.  SPL’s Fab Five – Sound Performance Lab released five new products including M/S Master: an M/S management processor; Transpressor: dynamic processor; RackPack 4: desktop frame for four SPL modules; Dual-Band De-Esser: RackPack sibilance module and DrumXchanger: an Analog Code Plug-in for drum replacement.

3. Metric Halo LIO-8 – This new high-end IO from Metric Halo ($3,995) features eight channels of 192k A/D-D/A, two channel DI, 8-in/8-out 192k AES interface (single wire), full-featured front panel tactile control surface for standalone and connected operation and more.

4. Roland CD-2i SD/CD recorder – This new portable recorder from Roland records to a CD or SD card at 16-bit/44.1 kHz and features a stereo ¼-inch input, RCA Phono in, and phantom-powered XLR microphone input. A stereo microphone and speaker are also built in for instant recording and playback. A wireless remote allows for convenient off-unit control of playback and recording.

5. Cakewalk V-Studio 20 -  Aimed at desktop producers, this new addition to the V-Studio line is a stereo USB Audio Interface (Mac/Win) with onboard effects, an effects editor and a universal DAW control surface.

6. Lexicon LXP Bundle – The LXP Native Reverb Plug-In Bundle is a collection of Lexicon’s four most popular reverbs now available as multi-platform native software plug-ins. The plug-ins are compatible with VST, Audio Unit, or RTAS compatible hosts.

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Top Ten Pro Tools Shortcuts

The old adage Time Is Money is no more true than in the studio: If you’re slow, you’re not optimizing your moneymaking potential. DAW quick keys are a great way to tighten up your workflow, timemoney.jpgputting often repeated tasks right at your fingertips. I’ve picked ten, often forgotten Pro Tools quick keys that will make you an audio production Ninja and put more $$ in your pocket.

1.  Shift + Cmd + K. This shortcut is great for exporting audio from your regions list for use outside of Pro Tools. This could be  helpful for game audio or isolating sounds for sample sets. First Isolate the region with Cmd + E, or select it in the regions list. Shift + Cmd + K will bring up the Export Options window allowing you to resample, rename and store the file wherever you’d like.

2. Ctl + Opt + Cmd + W. Got clutter? You can use this quick key to clear any floating windows and bring them back when needed.

3. Cmd + Opt + Spacebar. Great for post applications or synchronized transfers, this shortcut puts you in online/record ready. Hot Tip: Be sure to choose “Record Online at Timecode Lock” from the Preference/Operations menu to make Pro Tools automatically drop into record when it sees time code and synch lock is reached

4. Ctl + E. Zooming couldn’t be easier than this. Engage/disengage Zoom Toggle by making a selection in the timeline then pressing Ctl + E, or if you’re in Command Key focus (a-z button in the edit window), you can just press the letter E. Your selection will zoom in to the full width and uppermost position in the edit window for better editing, fading or whatever else you have in mind

5. Opt + C. This shortcut clears peaks across your session, including your controller’s meters.

6. Shift + Cmd + O. If you’re experiencing system problems that require a Pro Tools reboot, getting back to your last-opened session is easy with this shortcut

7. Ctl + (or Shift or Cmd) + MouseClick a region w/Hand Tool. Try these three shortcuts for moving a region to a specific point on the timeline . This is great for replacing sounds at a transient point like gunshots for film FX, drum hits for song production and even for placing reverse reverb effects. Place your  cursor in the timeline wherever you’d like the region to snap to.  Ctl + MouseClick the region you’re moving w/Hand Tool and it will snap to the front of the insertion point. Ctl + Cmd + MouseClick the region you’re moving w/Hand Tool and it will snap to the end of the insertion point. Or you can snap to any point in a region (such as a transient), by first making a sync point by choosing your spot and clicking on Cmd + comma. Then Ctl + Shift your region with the Hand Tools to snap it to that sync point.

8. Shift + Opt + Rtn / Shift + Opt + 3. This series of two shortcuts will quickly select all the audio on a track, then consolidate it. First drop your cursor to the left of your first region, then Shift + Opt + Rtn to select all audio to the right. Continue to hold Shift + Opt and add the number 3 above to consolidate your selection.

9. Shift + Cmd + W. This shortcut closes your session, asking you to save or not, without closing Pro Tools.

10. Asterisk / Forward Slash. These keys on the 10-keypad will drop you into the main counter or the Start/End/Length fields allowing you to quickly enter numbers in those fields

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UA Bows Massive Passive Plug-in

UA has just released their Massive Passive Modeled plug-in. Price is $299. More details here

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Plugin Bugs You Should Know About

Recently during some sessions, I came across a couple of consistent Waves plugin misfires when using a Pro Tools HD TDM system.

 1. TDM vs. RTAS Performance

A Waves C1 Gate’s performance varies greatly between TDM and RTAS versions. In the following examples, the session, source file, track and plug-in’s settings were exactly the same, only the type changed. Listen how the C1 RTAS gate randomly changes amplitube and function making it unusable and drastically different from the outcome when using the TDM version of the same plugin. This was repeated and verified across more than one Mac 2 x 2.66 GHz Dual-Core system with 8 GB of RAM running OS 10.6.2 running Pro Tools 8.0.3 cs1.

2. Broken Relink Function

On any multi-mono plugin, the relink function allows you to reset your other instances to the settings of the channel waves-relink.jpgchosen in the “Channel to retain” pulldown. While this worked as expected on any multi-mono plugin I tried, it did not operate as it should on a Waves C1 Gate and C1 Compressor, leaving all settings as is.



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