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Tag: mcdsp

The anatomy of a score mix #3

By popular demand, let’s take a look at the plugins in the session. As you can imagine there’s plenty of different brands and types represented in this mix. I admit that sometimes I suffer from plugin fetish in a way that I fall in love with some and maybe use them many times, but try to actively control myself in this regard.

During the mix I have the luxury to use both AAX DSP and AAX Native plugins as I don’t need to overdub right into the supersession. If we need some additional recording then I prepare another rec session instead of dealing with this huge monster. It would not only be extremely hard to do everything in the supersession during recording but would put immense burden on the recording machine too.

Let’s see the plugins divided into different categories.

EQ

Probably the first one will raise some eyebrows, but I still use it and actually like it. It is very reliable even when you automate the hell out of it.

EQIII

Yes, the old built-in EQ in Pro Tools, available to anyone. It’s versatile, trusty and requires virtually no DSP or CPU power so if you can have zillions of instances.

Avid Channel Strip

This is also a very good choice, a huge plus is it maps on the control surface almost perfectly. Honestly I could mix a whole score only with this. Don’t get me wrong I still love some other EQs, but I’m happy to use this anytime.

BX console

It’s a beautiful Neve emulation and a very good one in fact. Even if I only use the equaliser part of it, I often have it at certain places just for the sound. This EQ always make me smile, it’s smooth and for the lack of a better term, it’s always musical sounding no matter what you do with it. I don’t use it for surgical stuff but for general ‘console’ EQ. Also maps great on the Avid S6.

Maag EQ 4

I really rarely say this, but this thing is magical. Although by today’s standard this is not a flexible tool as it doesn’t offer variable frequencies. But frankly, it is still one of my all time favourite tone shaping instrument. Even half a dB can make huge difference and the Air band is amazing.

Waves API 550

The 550 B and A also falls into the emulations category, and I confess I’m in love with them. For me, these pieces just works. It doesn’t matter what the application is, you can be sure about that if you insert an API on it, it’s going to sound awesome. It has fixed frequency bands, but the bands are overlapping so it is possible to achieve anything you want.

EMI TG 12345

Yes, I know, another vintage emulation… But believe me, they offer vastly different vibes and sound. These oldies are somewhat limited when it comes to features, especially when you compare them to the newcomers, but they still has some very special magic you can’t really achieve with the modern tools.

SSL EQ

I know this is a big fetish in some circles, and for a very good reason. This is for me a very liberating tool. Just insert it, twist the knob and enjoy the result. Not saying that I’m thinking too much when using any other EQ, but this one always makes me smile.

McDSP AE600 Active EQ

This is a very special one. As this masterpiece can be a spectacular EQ and a Dynamic EQ at the same time. I use it for cleaning up things and for general tone shaping. It also sits on all the stems. As much as I love vintage emulations, this EQ offers all the flexibility you’ll ever need. It has 6 fully overlapping fixed and active bands and you can choose from many different curves depending on your needs.

Well, believe it or not, that’s it, I’ve used these EQs during the score mix. I know many think that using these vintage emulations are useless because you can achieve the very same thing with a flexible and modern tool as are able to have many different curves. I won’t say that sometimes it’s impossible to almost or completely match the curve of a vintage EQ. But! And this BUT is bigger than you’d think. The main point here is to achieve what you want rapidly without overthinking and without loosing perspective. If you start to be an engineer with a white lab coat analysing and reproducing different special curves, you surely won’t have a great mix. This is the reason why we still love and use these emulations.

In my opinion during a mix the bottom line is to use any tool that helps you achieve the result you’re after. Different EQs leads to different results and mixing is definitely more than the sum of its parts. Use whatever you like, use it wisely and trust your ears.

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Marathon

This weekend we’re going to have a Brahms marathon. From about 10 at the morning till 10 at night we’ll have 11 concerts. From piano pieces through clarinet quintet to the great symphonies. This definitely sounds interesting, but not only because we love Brahms, but it is also exciting technically.

Preproduction

We have to consider all the various needs of the different crews. We have the three separate crews from the National Radio, three video crews and our main crew. Why so many? Because the whole act will be broadcasted live through the Radio and online. All the concerts. Besides that we record everything (obviously).

The National Radio uses a Studer Vista 8 console and another very old vintage Studer for the interviews. All the video crews will receive sound from us as we mix live from two studios. As we already did it like this last year, the two main rigs will be a Pro Tools HD 12.6.1 and a Steinberg Nuendo 7. Control surface will be the Avid S6.

As you can guess at this scale we need serious backups. Two Joeco MADI recorders and one Pro Tools and one Nuendo will serve as safety backups so both stages has its own main rig and double-backup just in case.

All the complicated routing is going through the DoTec MADI router which has its own backup. I think we don’t use any equipment without a proper backup that day.

Templates

As we receive all the technical details a few days before the live broadcast we make master templates in every workstation. This way no matter who’s going to mix a particular concert, everyone knows where to find things. At this scale you simply cannot let chaos prevail.

This year I thought we might have the chance to do a very interesting experiment. In Pro Tools all the channel strips will be the Brainworx bx console which is a fantastic Neve emulation. Basically I built a “Neve console” inside Pro Tools. First I modified the default preset. No gate, compressor is active but start to work from -10 dBFS with a 2:1 ratio, eq is engaged but flat, lo-pass off, high-pass engaged at its lowest setting, noise off.

I took the time and set up the whole session like if it was a real console, all channels have different channel numbers in the Neve emulation. If you are even remotely familiar with this old console, it’s a pretty clean console with gorgeous filters. I already tried it on a few different sources, but now I think the time has come to really experience what this channel strip emulation can offer when we really use it as it is intended to be used. Let’s hear if the new Tolerance Modelling Technology has that intangible plus sonically.

All the input channels goes through at least one audio subgroup, then from that particular group all the audio groups routed to a sum bus. All instrument mics goes through at least one audio subgroup and the sum group except the audience and announcer mics, those directly goes to the final mix group. With this I can separately adjust the balance between the orchestra, the audience and the announcer. Although everything is planned properly usually life always entertain us with some unexpected surprises. That’s why I planned separate groups for everything.

The audio subgroups has the very same processing:

After those there is a final master processing chain:

The Active-fixed EQ is our housekeeper, removing any nasty frequency build-up or resonance, maybe subtly adding a tiny amount where needed. The TLA is really there for very soft massage, just kissing the needle or as we say “slowly nodding a bit” and even that is with 50-50 dry-wet ratio. The Brainworx is doing some M/S magic and a little mono-maker helps too. The Vertigo is optional, sometimes it’s the real magic dust, sometimes it just stays there in bypass. The Maag EQ is one of our favourite tone shaper while the API 2500 is my first choice for 2bus compression. The ProLimiter is there as a true peak limiter and has a fantastic metering so no other 3rd party meter is needed during the mix.

It might seem too much but keep in mind that these plugins are are doing very little things. But I decided I rather put them into the template than try to improvise during the rehearsals or the live broadcast. With this there’s no situation you cannot solve easily.

The effect chain has been selected to serve every possible need. Those are tried and tested. The room is the Eventide 2016 Stereo room, the plate, the chamber and one hall is made from Exponential Audio’s Nimbus, and the last hall is Exponential Audio’s R2 reverb.

Here’s the simplified structure of the session:

session structure

This is the first time I try to mix with a console emulation live so now I check and practice the Eucon mapping daily to get accustomed to it. The beauty of a proper control surface is that you become much faster because of muscle memory. There are still some black spots but it seems that the Bx console is nicely mapped. One tricky spot is its dynamics section as you have to learn and feel the threshold, but once you get familiar with it, it’s great.

Of course, all the mixes must adhere to the latest EBU standard with a target loudness of -23LUFS, while the online broadcast is going to be at -18LUFS.

I hope everything is going to be flawless with this much preparation. Wish me luck.

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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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We need to know who are the good examples

In this industry probably everyone has one or two horror stories about different customer services, but many of us have very positive experiences with some companies. In my opinion the good ones deserve the praise and it is important from time to time to broadcast our positive events to let everyone know who are these good guys in the business.

Plugin Alliance

plugin alliance

This is not the first time I contacted them. I use a lot of their products so sometimes I discover small bugs or have a question or feature request. Each and every time they react rapidly and the answer is never some marketing speech, they always focus on answering, solving my problem.

Apart from their excellent customer service they make great plugins.

Exponential Audio

exponential audio

Michael is always very responsive and he is a guy who really, I mean really cares about his products and the customers. I really hope one day we’ll meet and have a nice chat. I can’t praise him enough. It really doesn’t matter if you are only interested in something, have a problem or would like to pick his brain regarding reverbs for example, he’s there, helping, sharing his knowledge and serve his customers.

In my opinion he makes probably the best reverbs available today.

Avid

avid logo

I know, I know. But believe me, any time we needed something we got fast and expert help. Additionally the S6 developers are such great guys, they’re always open to new ideas and workflows. If you have some problem with your control surface most of the time you don’t even have to file a ticket, just write into the S6 forum and they’ll answer and help you out.

We might hate how Avid behaves as a company, we might not like what the business people at the top are doing, but believe me the talent in there is enormous and very helpful.

McDSP

mcdsp

What can I say? Fast, correct and helpful. Doesn’t matter what your problem is, they can and will help as soon as possible. I only mailed them maybe twice since I use their plugins, and within 24 hours I had the answer which was really a solution. With all the AAX DSP quality plugins they make, I can’t recommend them enough.

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Plugin purchase #3

The third choice is a real swiss army knife. It’s an EQ and a dynamic EQ with a very clever UI. I’m talking about the McDSP AE400 Active EQ.

Active EQ

If you need a great EQ on steroids, I recommend to take a serious look at this beast. It’s low-latency, Native and AAX DSP and has some really helpful features which I love.

It has a permanent place on my buses and on my masters, even on certain instruments. The fact that it’s an active EQ if you want is more than helpful. Basically it means it only affects the predetermined band if the signal passes the threshold (going above or falling below… more on this later). This is the best thing we can ask for. Only affect the for example the low-end, when needed, but don’t touch it until the signal rise above the threshold.

One of my favourite thing is to clear up things on master buses. With today’s film scores we usually have a huge orchestra with very dense orchestration plus additional midi stuff and electronic things to make things even more interesting. In the huge forte events, the low-mids can terribly build-up and we might have another problem in the mid-high area where things can get that too piercing, hurting sound. In this example, if you start to EQ the individual tracks, you might loose your basic sonic picture. If you start to EQ the buses, you loose frequencies that you actually need, but they are too much only at the loudest parts. This is a situation where the ActiveEQ is here to help. Only attenuate the problem areas when the huge forte passes happening, but leaving the whole spectrum alone in any other case. Meaning you still have your fat low-mids all the time except when it’s too much.

Let’s see a few gems:

key listen

ae400 key listen

You can use the built-in keys or key the Active EQ from an external source. While you use the built-in band per band key, you can listen to them in isolation makes it extremely easy to spot problem areas or recognise weak spots that need some more care. As the bands are fully overlapping, you can sweep through the spectrum in order to find the territory you want to treat.

peak indicator

ae400 peak indicator

Each band has its own peak indicator which makes the threshold setting process incredibly fast. No guessing, just keep the transport playing and you’ll see exactly where each band is peaking. I’ve found this to be very helpful to find the ballpark in seconds, then tweak from there.

band linking

ae400 band linking

There are times when I have the right settings, but want to make some further adjustments on more than one band at once. No problem here as I can quickly link the necessary bands together and from that point on, I’ll have linked interaction.

ratio control 

ae400 ratio

It’s a pretty unique feature, most dynamic EQ doesn’t have this feature. At first I thought maybe it’s not that of a big deal, but after a short test it showed its value. Cleverly using the ratio control allows you to do quite big adjustments with incredible transparency. I tried some other Dynamic EQs and believe me, this ratio feature is really helpful

Active plot

ae400 active plot

Once everything is set up, you can see what’s happening on the active plot, it’s a very nice representation of what’s going on. If I would ask one thing, that would be resizable plugin window to see the action in big.

So, this is the third one, McDSP’s dedication to the AAX DSP platform and the quality of their plugins bought a permanent place here on most of the master buses and solo instruments.

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