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Tag: daw

The perfect balance

Last Sunday I’ve recorded a live gig at our smaller, theatre like room. The whole things was not a big deal technically, here’s the channel list:

  1. Kick
  2. Snare
  3. Hihat
  4. Tom rack
  5. Tom floor
  6. Overhead
  7. Bass
  8. Eguitar
  9. Grand piano low
  10. Grand piano high
  11. Grand piano misc
  12. Hammond high left
  13. Hammond high right
  14. Hammond low
  15. Roland key bass
  16. Saxophone

Besides those I had two shotguns on the sides of the stage looking at the audience and two Schoeps cardioids above the audience. With all the stuff, it was 20 channels.

Right at the beginning what really unusual was the the band told the monitor guy that he has a free night as they don’t need any monitors on stage. Honestly at first everybody thought it’s just a nice joke, but it turned out to be true.

Instead of making the stage more loud, they organised the whole layout so everyone could clearly heard the other. Now don’t get me wrong we all saw gigs like this. There’s two ways this can end. First, it can be fantastic if they can keep the balance and pay attention to each other. Or… it can be catastrophic if one or more members loose perspective and start to act like a “superstar” playing as loudly as they can.

This time the first happened. They had been playing in perfect harmony so I was only a balance guard who immensely enjoyed the whole concert. Suddenly all the effects were spot on without much tweaking, any processing happened had a purpose. And the purpose was not to somehow save the production but to enhance the already fantastic delicate balance.

It was a exceptional night where all the technology just got out of the way and let the magic happen. In short, a mixer’s real dream.

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Consider it done… a positive experience

It’s only fair to vent if you mention the positive things when it comes to customer support. And honestly I like to spread these great experiences so everyone can vote with their money and support the companies who really care about their customers.

The other day I was setting up a score mix and decided to use Exponential Audio’s Nimbus as one of the quasi surround reverbs. I know it’s not available as a multi-channel plugin (not yet), but I thought in multi-mono it can still be a nice solution. However, I’ve found that it’s not available as a multi-mono plugin.

I didn’t know the reason so I wrote to Exponential Audio’s support to ask if this is intentional. They responded within 24 hours, actually read my mail because they already checked that it is really not there as a multi-mono and told me they look into it, it is a bug and they’re going to solve it.

Without too much praise, in my opinion, this is how a professional treat their customers and take care of his/her products. Again, Exponential Audio proved that they not only make some of the best reverbs in the plugin world, but they take their work and support seriously. If you don’t know much about them, go grab the demo, I’m sure you’ll end up spending some money there.

Wonder why do I have so many customer support stories? Because in my opinion simply venting and moaning on different user forums is not enough. We all should send bug reports, crash logs and experiences to developers so they can make the products we use better. Most of them welcome these. Those are the worthy ones.

And voila! This happened almost a week ago, and Exponential Audio already released the updates that cures the problem. What else a mixer could wish for? You can download the new releases here.

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Experiences with the Bx_console

Last week was the first time that I’ve thoroughly tested the Brainworx bx_console. As you probably all know, it’s a Neve VXS console emulation with one very interesting twist that is called Tolerance Modelling Technology. As Brainworx states that basically means they’ve modelled all the channels instead of only one, so they built in the analog components’ variations you’d find in a real console. Although of course all manufacturers try to keep everything as perfect as possible, there are certain tolerances between analogue components as nothing is completely perfect and this is even more true when it comes to older gear. This plugin includes these differences.

Make it even more clever

But “simply” modelling the console was not enough for the team, they made the original thing more clever than ever. There’s some inherent noise in the original which can be easily switched off in the plugin. Also parallel compression is easy within the plugin with the small mix knob. They improved the HP/LP filter section, we can swap the order of EQ and Dynamics. These little and not so little things can make our mix life so much better.

I truly love this new era of plugin emulations where a company not only capture the original hardware and code it into a plugin, but adds certain features that are really useful in real life. This is why we need real audio guys around the geeky coders because this is where engineering meets art and practicality.

Build a console

To really hear and feel the possibilities of this channel strip I decided to virtually build my Pro Tools session as a Neve console so every channel has one instance of the plugin with different channel inside to truly test the new TMT thing.

Only the audio subgroups and the final mix master had different processing. I made my own default preset that has no gate, the compressor is active but works only from -14dBFS if needed, eq flat, noise off.

Just a quick note. I applaud Brainworx for supporting the AAX DSP platform so it doesn’t matter if you use and HDX or a Native system, you can freely and interchangeably use this channel strip. The other huge plus is that their Eucon implementation is great! It’s very convenient to use it with the Avid S6. All the controls are mapped properly so even though it has a nice GUI you don’t see that most of the time because adjusting the parameters from the S6 feels natural.

The sound

Well, this is the hard part. To convey the whole experience, what I experienced, heard and felt during the test period. I only had very little time to test the TMT technology alone, but I feel it adds some intangible thing to the sound, you’ll perceive it’s there in depth rather than tone. It’s very, very subtle so anyone expect to hear those huge night and day differences will be disappointed. This is why I intentionally used the word feel. It’s definitely there but I don’t think there’s a proper term for it to describe what it does sonically. Truly the best way to appreciate it is to use it during a mix and then play the mixed material with and then without it. I liked it so much I saved a template with a full Neve console where every channel has a different number inside the channel stip.

Many times there’s an argument that you can recreate these EQ characteristics with a basic built-in EQ so these vintage emulations are rather useless pieces. Well, I’m here to disagree with this. I mean yes, there’s this possibility. If it’s very easy to recreate your vintage emulation with a built-in EQ, then you know you shouldn’t buy that emulation. This time I really tried to match the Neve curves with a few clean processors and I failed miserably. Sometimes I felt that I got so close but as soon as I tried to A/B the two it was obvious that I’m still far away from it. The key is that this is a real Neve console emulation and it reacts differently, it’s not a clean stock EQ. You can experience this if you really mix with the bx_console. I deliberately ignored the parameters during the mix, just did what I felt sound good and enjoyed the process. It turned out that I used bigger cuts and boosts than I thought. For example with a surgical, clean digital EQ I might cut 1-2dB at 2.3kHz, but with this channel strip it was 4-6dB at the same frequency. The same goes for boosting things. Most of the time I wasn’t shy to boost 4-6 or even 8-10dB and trust me it sounded spectacular. For me this is one of the main differences. You can be brave and nothing bad will happen, trust your ears here.

All in all you might get close to recreate these curves with some other processors but in my opinion it is a useless exercise. Why would anyone spend considerably more time to get in the near ballpark when you can reach THE SOUND in a second with this?

I’d been testing this on very delicate symphonic material where many different processors tend to show their weaknesses but bx_console really shined there. It’s very interesting that this EQ is almost never get nasty. The cuts are not surgical but effective, the boosts are gently shaping the overall sound without the obvious feel of EQ usage.

The second thing I fell in love with is its dynamics section. It’s a very versatile piece but this time you have to be cautious because it’s very easy to overdo things. My advice is to first use a signal generator to understand the threshold values. It works a bit differently than the usual ones. Once you get accustomed to it you can delve into it. This is the section where I feel the guys at Brainworx really did a great job adding more features. Without these, it’s a nice compressor but many times a bit too aggressive for my taste. But, additionally we have the high-pass section and the wet/dry knob. With the help of these it can be a real trusty weapon that does not change the characteristics of your source.

My favourite default setting is to have the dynamics high-pass section at 100Hz and use the wet/dry at 80% wet. Other favourite wet/dry ratios are 70% wet to dry and the 50/50. With these you are able to carefully choose how drastically you want to control the dynamics.

I’d like to emphasise something because if you simply want a vintage Neve emulation for the sake of having the “Neve hype” plugin then be prepared for a terrible disappointment. The original console is considered as a quite natural sounding clean device. It’s not a 1073!

What you get is a very subtle real analogue sound that actually behaves exactly like if you were using a desk for mixing. Except the hurdle of maintaining a real monster and paying the electricity bill. Not to mention the fact that this includes total recall capabilities and improved functions.

I highly recommend to use this channel strip in many cases to get used to its idiosyncrasies. As I already mentioned above, the threshold might feel a bit odd at first, the high and lo-pass filters are not what you might expect from a general digital EQ, as well as you need to get used to the fact that you may boost or cut bigger amounts than you think you should. But once you really start to feel how it really works, you’ll start to feel how fun is to just twist the knob and achieve great sonics without overthinking the whole process. I honestly highly recommend you to check out the bx_console if you haven’t done that already.

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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.

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4 workflows

I thought it would be interesting to you to know that we still have four different workflows here in the Palace of Arts. Some based on more old-school methods, some feels more future-proof. The thing is, we still need to use all, so while we’re constantly try to develop all our systems, we must integrate the new technology in a way that no workflow is being hurt.

1st workflow

This is the old-school type, which still works very well in the right circumstances, so after some discussion we decided to keep it alive. The whole thing originates from the good old analogue world, although now it features a huge Studer Vista digital desk with 52 motorised faders.

StuderVista

The first step is to record everything. Usually everything is patched through the Studer, a separate Madi output feeds the DAW. The DAW feed is a split from the input, so no channel processing being recorded on a channel basis. However, at the end of the input list, we’ll make a few stereo ins to record the Studer mix and if the mixer feels the need for it, he/she can record stems too.

When it comes to post production, the editing or rather cleaning part takes place in the DAW. That means you edit out the junk, remove or RX the noisy parts, so prepare the material for mixing. After the editing process, we switch back to inline mode, which only means that now the DAW feeds the Studer input, and the Studer’s main out is being re-recorded to the DAW.

So the mixing process might seem rudimentary compared to today’s automated in-the-box world, but with a good mixer, it can work. Although the Studer has it’s own automation system, it’s not that convenient compared to any DAW today, but still, if you need it, you can use it.

I think you already guessed the mix part of it, go through the show, and mix as you go while you’re recording it realtime into the DAW.

This method only works if you managed to do a very stellar live mix which needs only minor updates or corrections. As soon as you have to go down the rabbit hole and have to use every audio wizardry to make it happen, you won’t be able to use this old-school workflow.

The main candidates for this mixing method are classical concerts and very small acoustic shows. With bigger acts, tv shows and more complicated events you must consider the more up-to-date workflows.
With all that said, it’s a very good practice to anyone. If you hone your on-air live mixing chops, you’ll become a better “offline” post mixer too. This is the real get your act together method in my opinion. As you can only do so much with 10 fingers, you have to be very diligent and clever when it comes to VCA and grouping. A stellar school in this DAW world as it makes you think and work harder. Sometimes constraints makes you more creative.

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