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Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

USB Or Firewire?!? by Alec Watson

Saturday, August 19th, 2006

I have received some e-mails lately asking whether to go with Firewire or USB interfaces, here are some thoughts: I find that Firewire has more stability on older systems. This may, in part, be due to the fact that you have your printer, cordless mouse, keyboard, hub, external hard drive, camera, USB coffee maker … all plugged into the USB ports while the Firewire port sits empty. If I were to choose one system over another, that would be why. A Firewire port will likely be dedicated to your music interface allowing for uninterrupted bandwidth to and from your processor.

USB microphones will be a big hit this year – I don’t think I would run out and buy 12 of these and then plug them into a couple of USB hubs and then record my band – though conceivably you should be able to do this. But if you just want a simple rig for getting sound into the computer, these little techie gifts from the Computers Gods are awesome. I first reviewed the Samson USB mic last year, and although it isn’t likely to replace any of my studio mics anytime soon, value for money, it was excellent. Apparently I wasn’t the only one who thought this, as there are all sorts of manufacturers who will be peddling USB mics this year. If you just need to get an acoustic instrument or vocal into the computer, you will be hard pressed to beat the ease of use and price of these.

The greatest innovation, possibly of all time, I have saved for last (insert echo-y deep announcer voice) Roland’s V-series MIDI accordion! You think I am joking don’t you? I am, a bit. Seriously however, this thing rules! (www.roland.com/products/en/FR-7/). For all the keyboard players and programmers out there who have to twiddle, for hours, with all sorts of knobs to get their keyboards to play horns or strings, this unassuming little machine could change programming as we know it. The biggest reason a keyboard can’t recreate a realistic horn or sax sound is the fact that the keyboard is a percussion instrument. Much like a drum, the envelope of the sound attacks hard and then decays; an accordion however IS a wind instrument, one with keys. You can play horn arrangements that sound fantastic on this little machine – accordion geeks of the world rejoice! For all those years that you have been picked on and laughed at, the lead guitarist and keyboard player are now going to be secretly envious! You’re still not likely to get any action after the show, but oh yes, the lead guitarist will secretly be plotting against you, while he is getting some action!

Alec Watson is a producer/engineer that works from his destination studio on Vancouver Island. His parents couldn’t afford to get him a piano when he was a child; they got him an accordion; the rest, including his career, is history.

Don’t Shout Before You Speak by Jim Yakabuski

Saturday, August 19th, 2006

The lights go down. The dry ice creeps over the front of the stage. The crowd is frantic as a low rumble builds and builds until the ceiling tiles are falling out of the roof and people are ready to run from the building. Just as you think you can’t take it any more, the rumble builds to a deafening, throbbing crescendo and then is abruptly cut off by blinding light and a band on stage that sounds as if it is playing through a transistor radio.

Sound familiar? Hey, it has happened to me. The darned intro tape can kill you every time. And why is it that bands always want to use something that has 4 Hz in it to open the show? Go figure.

The problem that causes this discrepancy in level is usually SPL reference. During the afternoon when you soundchecked the band in an empty room the volume of the intro tape seemed quite substantial. But after an opening act and the roar of the audience as the house lights go off, you find yourself pushing the level of that intro tape higher and higher, leaving the band to come out sounding less than impressive.

You need to establish the maximum level that the intro “rumble” DAT can go before it upstages your band’s first song power level, and not be freaked out if it doesn’t sound loud enough as it’s rolling. It’s better to start out with the intro sounding a bit low and the band sounding a little loud than the other way around. I refuse to let all the frequency bands through when this type of tape is handed to me. If the bottom end of the band doesn’t usually live in the 30-40 Hz region for most of the show, then I’m going to high-pass my DAT intro tape to at least 40 or 50 Hz. You want the audience to remember the first note the band plays with an overwhelmed feeling, so let it be good and powerful. Don’t let a silly tape that was produced and mixed at Skywalker Ranch give your sub-bass speakers too much of a workout before the real deal comes on stage. Save the best for last and lighten up on intro overload.

This article is taken from Jim Yakabuski’s book entitled Professional Sound Reinforcement Techniques. The book is published by MixBooks, an imprint of artistpro.com.

Stop The Bleeding by Jim Yakabuski

Wednesday, April 19th, 2006

This is one of those things that hopefully only happens to you once in your audio lifetime, and if it does happen, you hope that it does so during a soundcheck and not during the show.

To communicate to the stage throughout the day, and to speak to the artist during soundcheck, we set up a ‘talkback’ mic that is routed through the snake to the monitor board so that the Front of House guy can have his voice magically appear in the monitors on stage. This useful process can considerably extend the life of a Front of House mixer’s vocal cords, as he or she doesn’t have to yell 100 feet to the stage all day long. The danger of having this mic is that if you happen to leave it on while you have the PA roaring away, there will be a ton of bleed back to the monitors and the monitor guy will begin pulling his hair out trying to find the root of the problem. This really is more of a warning to the monitor engineers out there, but the fault lies with the Front of House mixer. We all hate having our talkback mics shut off by the monitor guy because we are then forced to scream loud enough for someone to turn it back on. Therefore, we must be responsible enough to turn our talkback mics off out front so that the monitor guy can safely leave it turned on up there on stage.

The simplest solution is to get a mic with an on/off switch and always have it in the off position when you aren’t speaking to the stage. One simple rule of thumb that ensures that the show will not have this problem is unplugging the talkback completely from the mic cable before the show starts. The monitor guy should always have the talkback channel muted once the show begins, but this is an extra safety measure to ensure the front-of-house mix does not find its way back on stage.

This article is excerpted from Jim Yakabuski’s book entitled Professional Sound Reinforcement Techniques. The book is published by MixBooks, an imprint of artistpro.com. You can also find the book online at www.mixbooks.com and www.musicbooksplus.com.

Digital Recording In A Live Setting by Alec Watson

Wednesday, April 19th, 2006

With a plethora of portable digital recording solutions at our disposal, some that you can tuck under your arm, I thought maybe I would pass along some findings and considerations. Let me also qualify these thoughts by saying that I have a wall full of shiny discs for studio recording; however, my experience with live recording is minimal. So let’s just say that these thoughts are slightly skewed towards the controlled environment. So, before you run out and buy a portable system to put out your live record, you might want to consider the following:

My first thought on hearing the tone coming back of tape: “Holy Crap! Not only do these microphones sound bad, but we have iffy cables and I can’t keep up with the sound guys’ re-patching. All I can hear through the drum mics is bleed from the monitors…” The list goes on and on. You would be amazed at what we accept sonically, in a live show, when the Front of House starts using compression to eek out more power from the billion-watt audio system and the lighting guy diverts power from the eastern seaboard (Ottawa to New York) to dazzle us with visual spectacle. No surprise, the recorded tones were small, there was more bleed than a TLC special on open-heart surgery and as much fidelity as the original mono version of the “Sound Blaster” audio card.

Maybe none of that is news to you. Maybe you are wondering why you have spent two minutes of your life reading this. Maybe you are also wondering: “Alec, where is the technical stuff?” For those that wonder, here you are:

Tech problem: which of the many formats to use? For sheer no-nonsense reliability, you are going to be hard-pressed to beat the old stand-bys: the ADAT and DA-88. I am apparently the only person in the history of DA-88s that has had a tape completely eaten; yet, when the pressure is on, I would still go back to the archaic helical solution. When it comes to computer systems, and I do love them, they do fail. That once-a-week crash on a good solid system is going to be a ticking time bomb at a live venue. There are of course hard-disk solutions these days; I am waiting on time to prove these units worthy of capturing a “one-time only” event.

Important thought: just like a good live sound guy, as the songs start up, watch your meters in the order of importance. The lead instrument, whether vocal, guitar or piano, is the first level you need to assess when you see those dreaded red lights on the meter bridge. Conversely, as things get under control, there is the overwhelming need to “optimize” low levels going to tape. Unless it is absolutely necessary, I would leave the levels low until the end of the song. You are going to have to mix this abomination sometime in the near future and level changes within a song are going to significantly compound the complexity of your task.

Quite simply, getting access to the recording gear and getting it to the venue is now, by far, the easiest part of the live recording. And for all you young bands out there contemplating big returns on a quick and easy recording, I guarantee that what you save on tracking time, you will more than make up for on overdubs and mixing when it comes to making a good live record.

Alec Watson has recently appointed himself the head of the “yodeling licensing bureau for pop musicians”. Find him online at www.alecwatson.com.

Group Rates

Wednesday, April 19th, 2006

Okay. Let’s face it. It’s all about money, right? In this day and age of cutting back on costs, we have all been forced to cut corners and rethink how we approach the necessity of certain equipment. We’ve also been asked to minimize our footprint on the Front of House riser. One way that space can be saved is by cutting back on the amount of compressors you take on the road.

On a recent tour, I put the main instruments and most of the vocals that needed to be compressed into stereo subgroups and then inserted stereo compressors across those groups. One rack space, one stereo compressor, and a whole group of vocals or instruments are processed. End result: a lot of space was saved. With the new consoles on the scene now, loaded with virtual dynamics and onboard software-driven signal processing, the days of racks and racks of gates, compressors, and effects units are soon to be gone. We are also seeing “8-in, 8-out” interface devices, such as BSS Soundweb, that process the signal in a bunch of ways; this further eliminates rack-mounted compressors and EQ units.

I agree with this philosophy of downsizing when it comes to tours that go for a long period of time, where things get set and pretty much left alone. When I do a one-off and have very little time to get set up, however, sitting down with a mouse and new software is a scary thought, and definitely not the fastest way to go. That being said, the onboard stuff is really close (at the time of this writing) to being just as great sounding, and user-friendly to operate, as the rack-mounted stuff. We are already seeing rack mounted consoles that operate with a mouse and screen, or small mainframes with a few VCAs and channel strips to replace the monoliths we now mix on. The learning curve may be a bit steep, but when the first big tour goes out there with a front-of-house riser that is 8′ x 8′, we are all going to have to follow suit. Because I’ve seen this coming, I have tried to consolidate my rack space and get used to the “downsizing mindset.”
One great way to accomplish this is to gang those compressors up into subgroups. It works well. You may lose a little control over individual vocals or instruments, but on average you will be just as pleased and keep costs and real estate requirements down. Let’s get with the new way of thinking and keep ourselves employed. And if you’re still not convinced, think of all the P-touch labels that you’ll save not having to mark all those compressors at the start of the tour.

This article is taken from Jim Yakabuski’s book entitled Professional Sound Reinforcement Techniques. The book is published by MixBooks, an imprint of artistpro.com.

Guitarists, Lend Me Your Ears by Jim Yakabuski

Sunday, February 19th, 2006

It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that the sound coming out of a guitar player’s speakers at the microphone is exactly the tone he is trying to achieve. It may be closer to the truth to say that most of us don’t know what the guitar sound is like right at the point where the speaker meets the microphone because we usually don’t stick our heads that close to a screaming speaker. All we have as a reference is the sound that reaches our console through the mic.
What the guitar player usually perceives as his sound is the tone that meets his ears at the place where he stands, or the pocket he moves around in for most of the show. He generally will make tonal changes and level adjustments to the amp controls to please his ears, which are at a much greater distance from the speakers than where the mics are placed. For this reason it is not enough to simply turn up the guitar mics in the PA, and upon discovering the sound is not quite right say, “this is how he wants his rig to sound or he wouldn’t have EQed his guitar speakers this way.”
What you should do, especially the first few times you are soundchecking a new band, is walk up on stage and have a listen to how the rig actually sounds from where he is hearing it. It is usually considerably darker and warmer than what is going into those guitar mics. If you only have to move the position of the guitar mics in relation to the speakers, then your life is easy and you’re done. More likely you will have to also go back to the mixing board and EQ a little bit until things sound more like they did on stage. The point is that the guitar player has spent countless hours getting the sounds he wants from his rig, and if you were to ask him how he wants his guitar to sound, he would most likely ask you to come on up and have a listen. So it’s a good idea to beat him to the punch and get an earful of what he is hearing, so you have the reference to make his guitar sound the same through the PA as it does on stage.

This article was excerpted from Jim Yakabuski’s book entitled Professional Sound Reinforcement Techniques, reprinted with permission of the publisher.


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