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Tamas Dragon Posts

Pro Tools 12.5.2 update

After gathering some information online, it seems that the general consensus is that this release happens to be one of the best lately. So I thought I give it a try to see if that’s true. By the way I always love to be on the latest stable version for many reasons.

One being that the latest versions have the most goodies. The second is that these versions contains improvements and bug fixes, well, at least hopefully.

But I have to be cautious because it’s all fine if I only screw up my own system, but I must be much more diligent when it comes to our studio systems. They must be working 24/7 so no premature update there. My method became that my own MacBook Pro is the first test. If everything is fine there, than I update one of our main rigs, where mainly I work the most. If that’s still a success, only then I update all the other rigs in the house.

Even if everyone on Earth would swear that we received a perfect update I’d keep this order just in case. I love to be on the latest-greatest release but also I want to work without major hiccups.

At the weekend I downloaded the installers from my Avid account and installed it onto my laptop. Deliberately first I don’t clean the prefs and databases, simply I just install it on top of the other. Worth mentioning that you can find the Codec and HD-driver installers inside the package. I also updated those.

ProTool12install

Then played a few hours with it and to my surprise I didn’t have any crash. Tried with easy sessions and with more complicated ones, it was stable. The next test was to work from the internal SSD instead of an external one. It is still NOT recommended and honestly I really suggest to always use an external drive for your work. This was only to see how stable the new release is. Still, no hiccups, no strange issues.

Main rig 1

The first main rig is a Apple MacPro with a 6-core Xeon and 64GB of RAM, HDX2, Yosemite 10.10.5, one S6 control surface. I’ll cover the S6 update in another post.

The update went well, as expected. I thought as the laptop install didn’t have any issues, I just do the same thing. No clean install, no prefs and database clean, nothing. Since I installed it (that was at the morning) I deliberately try to break the system, but it’s just works! Feels snappy and stable.

This week I do even more tests as I continue to mix on this rig so only if the whole period goes well I will upgrade the other rigs.

Stay tuned for the Avid S6 upgrade post, as that update bring some new goodies to the S6.

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How loud should it be?

Loudness war is present everywhere from current music through film sound to live sound. Lately I had so many bad experiences in almost every area that I thought it worth mention it here.

Louder equal better?

Yes, for the first few seconds at least. If something louder even a tiny bit, our brain can be easily fooled to think that it’s better. This is a fun fact every audio professional should be aware of. If you know this though, you can be alert to these things and really work on making things better, not only louder.

In live sound most engineers connect impact and high sound pressure level. Most think under 100dB SPLA you can’t really achieve THE CONCERT experience.

The problem with this mentality is that it’s not only simply false, but it can be hazardous to your hearing! Of course there’s undeniably a bodily sensation when you not only hear but feel the sound due to high sound pressure, but we must know that this is only true for one or two minutes. After that the impact disappear as the body get used to this feel, but the dangerously high volume might damage your hearing, even permanently. If you a concert goer and after the show often recognise the ear ringing effect, then the show was too loud.

spl meter and calibrator

Actually it is a trap. Live sound guys get accustomed to high SPL environment. Their brain learn it, and like if it was a drug, require even more after a certain period of time. But what is suitable for them might be too loud to a healthy listener. And we must NOT forget the fact that if everything is constantly loud, then nothing really seems loud. We only destroy dynamics and contrast in music. Honestly it is too easy to fall into this be louder trap.

To a certain degree even I appreciate that higher SPL can create a very sensational feel. BUT! And this is a huge BUT! Too often this means engineers use the bass drum and the bass to create this sensation. Which is, of course, results in the loss of intelligibility and clarity, and mask many important instruments and frequency ranges. Essentially you’ll end up featuring some instruments that shouldn’t be solo but forgetting others that support the songs.

I think I’m not alone with this, I rather be on the soft side with proper balances, enjoying how the musicians play than to hear a bass drum/bass guitar show with some other thing on the stage. In my opinion, working soft with great balances is harder. You need to pay attention to detail instead of just going up to red on the meters.

As you can see, I’m completely biased, I don’t like overly loud shows. Some of my colleagues say you need high SPL for certain types of music. I’d say you might be somewhat louder with those, but those still not require ear damaging loudness. One of the most popular example here being Skrillex. They say you need to be loud as hell to enjoy that type of music or a metal band. Well, I’ve got bad news for those colleagues. I was there on the main stage at Sziget festival when Skrillex was the headliner at that night. It was so tastefully mixed, kept proper balances, preserving dynamics in order to have real impact when they wanted that. Yes, believe it or not, they produced a very dynamic show. Sound quality over high SPL.

hearing protection

Avoiding the trap

Here’s some useful tips to avoid being an ear destroyer.

First, probably the most obvious one is to use a calibrated SPL meter during the show. Frankly I really support festivals and venues where there is a sane SPL limit you have to keep, but if there’s no such thing at your show, still, you can be the boss on how loud you go. I think it is better to be on the soft side than being overly loud.

When you check the band before your show, after listening to their performance the PA for a short period, wear ear-plugs to avoid fatigue.

Plan ahead the ballpark you want to be in. It’s a good idea to give yourself your own limit. Even, when you’re familiar with the songs, you can make a plan for big impact parts of the show.

Appreciate proper balance over loud volume. It is always better to aim reaching great balance than being the loudest guy on the planet. Remember, the majority of the audience is going there to listen to their favourite band. Which mean they probably listen to their albums so if you achieve a similar sonic picture, they’ll appreciate it more than just being loud.

Try to aim for a mix that has depth to it. Not every instrument supposed to upfront in your face. If you properly create depth, most of your problems already gone as instruments will be separated, don’t fight for attention constantly.

If you’d like to further explore this subject, here’s a short article in Guardian.

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Gala for the Olympics

Today we have a big gala, which is a live broadcast event for us. As we’re getting closer to the Rio Olympic Games, these big events start to pop up everywhere. This one is going to be the official oath taking ceremony.

The show

The easiest and most obvious thing is that we’re going to have two speakers on stage whose job is to announce the ceremony, ask the celebrities to come to stage to speak, and announce the band who will perform a few songs. From this perspective it seems quite simple.

We’re going to have 5 band during the show with different needs.

Probably the flow will be something like this:

  • speeches
  • first band
  • introduction of the celebrities
  • second band
  • speeches
  • third band
  • politicians speeches
  • fourth band
  • short film about the upcoming olympics
  • fifth band
  • end

Let’s see this whole thing from a technical perspective. The live sound part of the show is given, I won’t go into detail with that. For us, the interesting thing is the broadcast part.

Technical background

The whole show will be mixed in Pro Tools HDX2 live with an S6. The basic template comprise of 128 inputs, all mixed down to final stereo which must be compliant to EBU R128 loudness standard. The OB truck receives our stereo mix and sync it with picture.

Sounds simple enough. I’ve got a well worked out template, so in reality it won’t be so complicated. Every band will have its own audio group and VCA master. So I have the ability to process them differently through their own audio group, but at the end I can easily have control over them the VCA masters. This is important because with this method I only have 8-10 faders at the end, which is much more easy to operate than to have 24 or more different types.

So my final MasterMix Layout looks like this:

  • Band 1
  • Band 2
  • Band 3
  • Band 4
  • Band 5
  • Speeches
  • Atmo
  • FX
  • Sum
  • Master

The combination of VCA spill and Layouts will give me the flexibility to reach anything in a second if I need to. For safety I have one Layout for each band, one for the Atmospheres and speeches and one MasterMix which shows me all the VCAs and other necessary groups and the individual mics for the announcers. The Sum group is there for various reasons. One is being a great place for overall level adjustment, the second is to have an easy control point during the live broadcast. Because all the band groups will go through the Sum, but none of the audience mics or announce mics. With this, I can easily level or remove all the performers from the broadcast while still have the announcers and the audience.

Of course, under the hood there’s many more things going on, but here’s a very simplified pic of the routing:

Signal flow

How it all goes

We have one full day for doing all the technical preparations, soundchecks and at the end of the day we have a full rehearsal. The next morning we have a short rehearsal, a final check and then we go live with the show.

While I record everything into Pro Tools, along with the audio the automation will be recorded too, so after the show I’ll have a complete mix with all my moves in the session. So if I need to correct something, it only takes a few seconds to make some adjustment. While our rigs are very stable, we still use multiple backups. One full backup is a Nuendo 5, the other is JoeCo Madi recorder. All running parallel to Pro Tools.

S6 during the rehearsal

Plugins used in the session:

  • Avid HEAT
  • Brainworx BX console
  • McDSP AE400
  • Maag EQ4
  • Softube TLA 100A
  • Brainworx Millenia TCL-2
  • Brainworx bx digital V3
  • Avid ProLimiter
  • Exponential Audio Phoenixverb
  • Exponential Audio R2

At the end of the first day, I can tell you that all the rehearsals went fine, I’ve got everything as it should be. Double-checked all my routings to make sure I won’t fall into my own trap. The fun starts tomorrow.

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New skin

So, as I promised, here it is, the new skin. It is definitely minimalist, but looks gorgeous on mobile devices while still looks great on a desktop machine. I hope you like it too. I tested it, and it seems that everything is working fine, there’s no missing content or broken links, except my Instagram widget refused to work, I’ll try to fix that later. Of course, as usual, you can suggest any changes you’d like to see I’ll try to include the best ones.

If you find any bug or something that doesn’t work, please let me know. Thank you.

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Next steps…

Every year a few times I wrote a little note about what will happen on this site. But looking back I always thought it’s something merely interesting for me only. Now it turns out some of you are interested in these, so here’s the next episode of this “what will happen in the next few weeks/months on this site”.

1

As I continue to do some live sound shows (a bit more in the summer) the first big thing here will be a brand new look. Brand new, because it’s going to look gorgeous even on a mobile phone or tablet. As usual though, it won’t be filled with spectacular graphics and animations, I strongly prefer to keep it in the minimalist form as in my opinion in our profession content should prevail fancy outlook. Not that I’m against anything beautiful looking thing, but this is a personal site and I don’t have the talent and the time to do such high standard graphics.

2

Will continue the Plugin purchase series with some really great candidates that I think you should check out if you haven’t already. I’ll try to introduce them succinctly but meaningfully so you’ll get a clear picture what you can expect if you download those plugins for a test.

3

This has been a long term dream for me, I want to start an Avid S6 mini series which would give the current users great little tips, and a bit more insight to those whose interested or plan to try one or buy one. I already have many notes for this, only need a bit more time to make it reality.

4

Great tips are very useful, but I’d like to write more in-depth articles about mixing related things, like template building and refining, the process of score mixing which is a vast topic if you consider that there are many different types of score and method exist.

5

Share experiences. Many times I fall into the trap of writing and writing then forgetting and deleting things. Instead, I’ll try to share them in smaller posts. For example a month ago I did a short score mix for major television show which was very interesting, but as I tried to depict the whole process very elaborately somehow the meaning lost between the sentences, then weeks went by without cleaning out the unnecessary parts and then the whole thing became obsolete.

One thing at the end. I discovered that my email system deleted some mail that was detected as junk but turned out those emails sent to me by real people. Now I tried to fix this thing, hopefully from now on I really receive every email so I can answer them.

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