20 Dec

What to buy…

As the end of the year is nearly here, there’s so much advent calendar price drop and other discounts going on, that the first reaction for an in-the-box guy would be buy most of the stuff so I can have it all just in case. But to be honest, and it might sound stupid to you, I’d rather pay full price for a plugin, but I must test it before the purchase. I know these deals are spectacular, but frankly, we don’t need 300 different EQs and 600 slightly different dynamic processors. So,instead of spending my money, first I made a wish list, which comprise all the plugins I would like to try.

Manipulating the sound field

From mono to 5.1 and everything in between. This means stereo enhancers (which I tend to hate), various M/S processors, and surround up-mixer plugins. While obviously the sound is the most important thing, price is also important. Price can be an issue when we try to choose up-mixer plugins. Those are probably the most expensive plugins on Earth! Of course there’s a reason for that, it’s serious science and aesthetics carefully coded together by highly talented experts.

So, let’s see what I plan to test in a few weeks:

Why these? Because I’have already tested the competitors and these are the ones I’ve read good things about but never had the chance to test them. Early in 2015 it seems that I would need them for some serious sonic voodoo.

If you have any suggestion, please share it with me. Note that the plugin must be AAX Native and/or HDX compatible.

14 Dec

Preparing a live broadcast and record day 3

And here we are, this is probably the most important day as this concert will serve as the master version of the concert. In case we need to change or correct something, we have all the previous rehearsals recorded. In Pro Tools we not only record the multi-track but also the processed stereo mix. This comes handy if we need to change some small thing later.

Final session

As I mixed both rehearsals I made some notes on how to refine this mix session in order to really fit my needs. In some parts it become more complicated, but if we look at the whole big session, it become somewhat more simple.
For example I considerably reduced the number of layouts I use. I made twelve when I set up the session and I felt that I need all of it to reach everything easily, but later on I felt that this time it’s too much. The layouts combined with the VCA spill is powerful enough so I don’t need that many in this session. After two days I ended up using only four layouts, one being an “escape” that brings all the VCAs right in front of me. I’ve got two ways to do this, this is one way. The other way is to bank to the right-most part of the session. I always order my tracks so I have all the VCAs at the right side of my tracks. It doesn’t really matter if they’re at the left or ride side of the session, the point is they need to be all left or right, so you can reach them with one button push. With this, anytime I want instant total control, I recall my VCA layout, or bank there from the surface.

Only one major thing has changed, I removed the chamber fx and made another hall but this time I chose a more natural, real life like hall from Phoenix verb. So now I use a combination of three verbs:

  • early reverb (Phoenix verb)
  • real hall (Phoenix verb)
  • big hall (R2)

The right combination of these can add real depth, without sacrificing detail. Although now I mix this in stereo, it still need to sound good in mono. Don’t overthink this, sometimes push the mono button and listen to the detail and balance, if it’s right, then it’s good, that’s it.

The other very useful thing I use is to lock parameter to certain buttons next to the touchscreen. Right now, on the left side I have the ProLimiter parameters locked, on the right side I have the Sonnox Dynamics controls locked. Call me a control freak, but I love to have these important parameters almost always within reach.
One more thing which comes very handy during a live mix like this is to check VCA assignments. It’s very handy that with only one button (bus) you can see all the contributing channels above the VCA. In short, you see the channel name and the fader position in dB, if you like it is possible to make minor adjustments from there with the pots.

mastersection

So this is the final broadcast/record session which will become the mix session eventually.
The whole show went really well, in my opinion this all in-the-box method is definitely the future. If not now, then in a few years. Do something big live, and when you start to mix, you already have a very good starting point, your session, with a good mix, automated VCAs or tracks, routing, markers.

13 Dec

Preparing a live broadcast and record day 2

Yesterday’s rehearsal went really well. It couldn’t be better than this, as what I call a rehearsal was an actual live concert, it was a rehearsal only for us, the record/broadcast team. As the piece is quite complicated, it’s nice to have the opportunity to test things, find the problem spots and correct them before the real broadcast happens.

Although it’s not a requirement, I record every rehearsal, so now I have a full live concert fine-tune my processing chain and to correct some problem spots. As I quickly go through the multitrack, I already found some minor issues which can be solved with minor microphone adjustment.

Using the controller

To be honest the more I use the S6 the more I love. There are some functions I’m aware of but haven’t used yet, but there are some features that makes my life very, very much easier.
I know it’s a simple one, but believe me, VCA spill is huge. But here on the S6 you’re not only able to spill the controlled tracks, but with a push of a button you can decide to spill it to the left of the fader or to the right. Why is it matter? Because if I spill for example my solo VCA to the left of the fader, I still see all my other VCAs. And if I spill my mains VCA to the right, then I’ll have all the main mics in front of me, while still have access to the solo, strings and woods VCAs. While it might seems like a very small thing, it is immensely useful, probably even a bit more in a live broadcast situation.

vca spill
Plugin manipulation from the surface is quite good, although I don’t agree with some mapping, for example the EQ should be reversed in my opinion so that the highs should be on the right side and lows on the left. All in all there’s some minor issue with this, but I’m sure they’re going to solve these small things with an update soon.
All in all the surface has plenty of information during mixing which is very helpful, and now I’m quite familiar with the little buttons and LEDs so without thinking and searching for information I see what I need to see, which proves that it’s a good design.
Since we use Pro Tools 11 HD, I always record some automation, this time, all the VCAs are in latch mode. With this I can still freely adjust any particular channel, but still have the ability to have all the VCA automation recorded, and that can be coalesced after the recording to the channels.

Geeky note

The whole live mix/record runs mixed on Pro Tools HD 11.2.2 with running on a 6 core new (trashcan) MacPro, this time with HD native, controlled with an S6 surface. All the recordings goes to a multiple RAID backup system for safety. Monitoring is JBL LSR6328P, this time in stereo. The record drive is a 6TB dual bay Lacie big disk.

Plan for the day

As the camera team’s going to be here soon, we’ll have to check through every camera position and adjust some microphone position if necessary. It’s always this type of collaboration, it has to sound good but also has to look good on camera.
After that we’re going to have another very short rehearsal with the orchestra, this time with the whole picture team present, and at the evening we do another rehearsal pass which is also our main rehearsal for tomorrow.

12 Dec

Preparing a live broadcast and record day 1

I thought it might be useful or interesting to see how we prepare for a live broadcast and record session here. This is the first day, which goes like this:

  • Make a Pro Tools session
  • check the session
  • save as a template for possible future use or refinement
  • mic up the stage (80 piece symphonic orchestra, 4 soloist)
  • soundcheck
  • refine the session and mix during the rehearsal

Pro Tools session

As I’m writing this, I’m already finished the Pro Tools session which comprise 60 mono tracks, 4 stereo tracks, 6 stereo aux sends, 4 stereo buses, 10 VCAs.
We have produce a live mix that adheres to the r128 standard basically. The refined specs for us for this even is to hit –23LUFS (+/- 1) with a TruePeak no higher than –3dBTP. Our studio not only produce the complete mix, but we record the multitrack and all the rehearsals, might come handy later if we need to fix some mistakes. Our mix goes to a HD OB van, supervised by LGM television as the finished product will be aired at Mezzo TV.

Let’s see the plugins I plan to use:
All input channels has a Trim and a Avid ChannelStrip inserted on it, later if I really need to go deep with something I might insert a few Fabfilter ProQ2 and/or some Sonnox Dynamics on a few. Usually the ChannelStrip is enough for the most part. The audio buses right now has the very same simple chain: 1 ProQ2 and 1 Sonnox Dynamics per bus. All bus plugins are set up, ready to process, but bypassed until I need them. The master section has the most complicated chain in this session. Note that although I have many plugins inserted, they all do small things, they are not there to solve all the issues. The first plugin is a ProQ2 followed by a Sonnox Dynamics, then a Avid ProMultiband, after that a Avid ProLimiter. On the master output I use an Izotope Insight to proper metering. For starter I use 3 stereo reverbs: 1 Exponential audio Phoenix reverb and 2 Exponential audio R2, one for chamber and one for hall.

Few words on plugin usage. The Trim and Channelstrip basically works as a conventional console, serving as board gain, eq, dynamics, nothing complicated. I like to use the ProQ2 and the Sonnox Dyn where more detailed process might be the solution. On the master bus all the plugins serve as a kind of final polish, no hard processing goes on there. If any of the master processors start to work hard, meaning I need huge cuts or boosts on the eq, or the comps start to attenuate too much, that means something wrong with the basic mix. The master bus is not the right place to solve these bigger issues. The hall and the chamber reverb is quite obvious. Although we have a fabulous hall here, sometimes we need to lengthen or reinforce the natural decay of the hall. The R2 seems to be a perfect candidate for this. It is interesting to note that I’ve tried to achieve a more natural result with the Phoenix verb, but the R2’s character seems to fit better for this. Probably the most interesting is the early reflection verb. Because of the picture we often need to go very close to the instruments, which is not the best thing to do in a classical concert. Apart from different mic techniques I generally use this early reflection reverb to add some depth, a touch of realness to the close miced signal. In the final mix no one’s going to notice it, but it really adds that depth what we need. Without it, every solo or close miced instrument tend to sound too sterile, too in-the-face which is very unnatural. I can’t praise highly enough Michael Carnes’ reverbs for the very sophisticated early reflection part, which by the way sounds phenomenal.

As I’m finishing this first piece, I’m ready with the session, saved a backup and a usable template session. I double-checked everything and the Avid S6 is ready to fly with the rehearsal. The surface for the whole broadcast-record is an Avid S6 M10 with 24 faders.

05 Dec

3rd workflow

Last time as I introduced the second workflow, you might have thought that life is all sunshine and if you’re good enough, you’ll have a hard time spend the enormous amount of free time you have. Well, this is not the case.

Today, I introduce you one of the most used workflow which involves much more work than the previous one.

3rd workflow – real post production

In this case we still have our trusty big Studer Vista system for two reasons. One is to have enough preamps for all the things we need to record, and the second is to mix a well balanced usable audio guide master so the picture department will be able to start editing after the event. It doesn’t matter what type of act/show/concert, it is your job to make solid mix. Not only the picture guys need this, but all the parties involved in the production are going to use your mix to evaluate and make decisions. Decisions about additional recordings, possible retakes, if it’s a music project then the band is going to use this mix to decide if they need some corrections. While this might seem like a too big thing to ask, honestly I love this part for several reasons.

First, you’ll become familiar with the material, when you’re going to start the post process, you’ll already know the possible weak spots.

Second, after the event, because you spent long hours with the production, you’ll have the knowledge to make a really efficient master session.
Third, if you made notes during the event (or you have such a good memory that you can remember every tiny detail) you know what things you need to correct. For example who are the actors or interviewees who needs special treatment, etc.
Four, because you’ve been involved from the start, your mix sessions going to be really enjoyable as you know every detail, you’ve already went through the material multiple times so you have more time to experiment and be creative.

So, you’re ready with the recording part, have your raw tracks and your stellar guide mix.

Post production

The guide track is good for everyone involved in the production, and it can also serve you if something seems to be missing or in question. So for safety and reference you should keep that muted in your session, maybe hidden in the track list. The next thing is editing. To clean out the junk from the tracks, make the fades, etc. As you can see, from now on, it’s the usual post process:

  • editing
  • temp mix
  • final mix
  • approval

screenfull

So you literally recreate the show from scratch. The workflow can be modified if enough stem had been recorded, but most of the time, because of the complexity of the show that won’t help.

One tip. Always compare your finished final mix to your guide mix. You may be surprised! Believe it or not, it’s absolutely possible that your guide mix will blow the finished one out of the water. If that happen, you might want to work harder. The spontaneity and creativity of a live mix can be spectacular sometimes.

This is one of the most used workflow here, although we’re working on some change to make the whole thing more efficient.