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Tag: midas

Preparing for the festivals

It happens again. Summer is here, as well as the big festival season with lot’s of concerts. For the causal listener it means: fun! For us though it means: work, lot’s of work. But before the Mega Cube trucks arrive with the equipment, there’s plenty to do.

Besides the obvious personal stuff, there’s a long list of to do’s before the journey begin.

Data, data, data

The first and probably one of the most important thing is to read and re-read all the riders so we know everything, every possible need or possible variation. That compiled list gives the basis of the final equipment list. So if you ever wondered how on earth these things get organised, this is how. At least two or three of us plough through all riders, notoriously making note of everything which can be of any importance. This includes microphones, digital snakes, consoles, plugins, custom configs, etc.

When everyone is ready, we have a big meeting and go through the riders once again together, only to see if we know everything. If we’re absolutely sure about that, the next step is to compile an equipment list which must comprise everything from incoming power boxes through microphones to FOH and monitor consoles.

This year the festival consoles going to be a Yamaha PM5D for monitors and a Avid Venue for FOH. Why? Because it turns out that the vast majority of the riders still require the good old PM5D for monitors and at least 96% of the riders require or accept the Venue as the FOH console.

For the last few years we had an analogue multicore next to the digital ones, but as no one used it for years now, this year we’ll only have a small analogue return cable from the FOH to stage. The multicores are all digital now. Double redundant Coax for the Venue (can be used for other Madi based consoles) and double redundant armoured Cat5 cables for Midas consoles and for direct ethernet communication. This is an area where digital is really a win win. Analogue multicores are heavy, pricey and more prone to gather noise, and to be honest, fails more. On the other side, digital snakes are cheap, rarely fail, and even if you have a bad connection many times it can be solved with a BNC or an Ethernet crimper.

Hearing protection

I know it’s all so obvious, but still, this is vital for many reasons. You MUST USE ear protection if you happen to work in a festival environment. If we really add up the time of sound checks and the shows you’ll spend way too much time in very high SPL. Your hearing can be damaged by this, and as it turned out a few years ago, it scientifically proven that your nervous system also have a very hard time if you don’t mitigate the continuous SPL. So basically, you’ll get extremely exhausted from the continuous high SPL music.

earprotection

These can be simple earplugs, musicians earplugs (with more smooth frequency resp.) and earmuffs. I use a combination of these, and to be honest in extreme cases I use earplugs plus earmuffs if it’s getting so unbearably loud (happens often with DJ acts).

earplugs

Hydration

Dehydration can be a very serious problem. You’ll spend 10–16 hours working in very hot environment (sometimes as high as 36–40 degrees Celsius/104 Farenheit) so you must drink plenty. For your own sake forget anything alcoholic drink. Also don’t forget that your body need salt and sugar too. It is a very good idea to keep track of your drinking habits during these working days.

So in short this is it. I know most of this is obvious, yet still, so many forget these basic things. Other than this, enjoy the festivals.

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RTFM means…

I think we all know this. Whether from personal experience (someone told to do this) or we just read at some online forums, or, we told this to someone.

No matter which version is true from the above ones, the real meaning is still a useful advice. With a probably overly positive attitude I would say it means: Read The Fantastic Manual (as it is definitely answers your question).

I’m in the process of preparing to the summer festivals, where I’ll be the executive FOH engineer (at the 3 biggest festivals in Hungary). This means I have to have a very deep knowledge just about any console that might show up. So basically I have to be able to operate any:

  • Avid
  • Midas
  • Digico
  • Yamaha
  • Soundcraft

regardless of the version and/or configuration. At first, of course, this is somewhat daunting, but it is a great opportunity to learn the different concepts and approaches that the various manufacturers have. Neither is right or wrong, but they are very different at certain things. Why must I know it all?

Well, because in general, every guy/girl who come with a production has some knowledge about these consoles. Some of them are real experts of a certain console, the other may have a shallow acquaintance with it. So my job is to help them do their job, remove the technical obstacle if you like. Or mix the show if no engineer present.

How is it possible to know everything? Well, it is impossible, but there are some tricks (albeit well known ones) that can help. First is, experience. If you do something for a long time, you’ve already met a number of scenarios/consoles, so you probably have a very good idea how things work. The second, which is not a trick, but wise planning, is to read manuals. I know it’s sounds boring. Actually it is not that boring.

At first it may seem like this is one of the most tedious things, but in my experience it is very interesting and even rewarding. Read every manual from cover to cover. You’ll forget many things, this is inevitable, but what you gain is an overall knowledge. What that mean is you’ll understand the building blocks, the workflows, the concept better, so even if you don’t know a specific function, you’ll have a pretty good idea where to look, what to search. So instead of standing there saying “I don’t know”, you’ll find the right thing in a minute.

This is why I really love to read manuals. Even before I meet a certain console (or any other equipment) I ferociously read every possible material about it. With this, even the first “date” goes much smoother. The same apply with any other thing, your DAW, plugins, etc.

The other thing is, often you’ll find hidden gems in some manuals. Some manufacturer goes way beyond basic functions and very eloquently describes even quite complicated audio related things, so you’ll end up with even more knowledge.

My advice is to read the manuals! Many spend countless hours to write it, and for a good reason: to help you! To teach you and guide you so after examining the manual you’ll be more prepared. So, RTFM!

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Compatibility is mandatory

Before I start, let me make one thing clear. Compatibility may not be the first thing for someone, but it is definitely a must in the professional world no matter what side of the industry you are operating in.

In the studio you may need to open even 2 or 3 years old sessions and if your software cannot cope with this task then you cannot do your job. In the post production world we need session compatibility because during the collaboration process you exchange huge number of sessions not to mention the need to open up old sessions. In live sound you need file compatibility, or else you can easily loose your show files with a console upgrade.

Historically Pro Tools is the king when you need to be compatible with many fellow engineers and studios, or if you often need to access older sessions. I should’ve said Avid is pretty good at this, because their live consoles just leave the competition in the dust when it comes to show file exchange and compatibility. During for example a festival season I receive many show files for different consoles. I have to check them and if for some reason the file contain any error I have two options: correct the error or inform the sender that his/her show file is not usable with the latest software updates.

Reminder!

Before getting into it, one thing to note: I only share my experiences about different consoles/softwares and manufacturers. This is not to bash any of them, but to inform you about these issues. I really don’t want a flame war, but in my opinion it is good if we all know about the possible issues that we may encounter.

Recently I had to go through some quite old Pro Tools and Nuendo sessions and to be honest I was surprised that I had so few problems. Out of 40 Pro Tools session only one had some minor problem but it was easy to sort it out making all 40 old sessions absolutely usable. With Steinberg it was only a bit different. From 28 sessions twenty was absolutely perfect, 6 had some minor issues and sadly two turned out to be corrupted for some reason rendered them unusable. The minor issues could be solved with a few minutes of work so at the end of the day I had 26 perfect sessions. As you can see the ratio is very very good in the post production side of the industry.

Let’s take a look at the live sound side. Well, frankly it is just infuriating. Most manufacturer just don’t pay enough attention to the software side of their products. Here’s a little list of my recent experiences all based on the last few months of work on the biggest Hungarian festivals’ main stages.

Yamaha

Very little compatibility between different consoles, their offline session converter is rather a hit and miss than a professional solution. On the other hand, console software upgrades rarely screw with your show files, which is good. File management is still very rudimentary which is quite surprising if you know the history of the company.

Midas

It seems that the company is working hard to maintain compatibility between various consoles, but sadly these efforts mostly seems to fail miserably. Lots of issues with show file compatibility. Actually at this point I would say that exchanging show files is very dangerous with these consoles. We had some minor issues with software upgrades but mostly we could handle these small hiccups.

Soundcraft

Almost all session exchange went smoothly, the only issue I’ve found is that if you make a session on a smaller console (vi4 for example) and then open that session on the bigger brother (vi6) you might end up with swapped channels as the bigger one misdetects the positions of the fader banks. This is pretty easily solvable though so it not caused real trouble for us. Have no direct experience with console software upgrade here.

Avid

Frankly, almost complete full compatibility everywhere. Between consoles their software effortlessly convert any hardware or software specific difference. Console software upgrades never interfered with the show files. After more than a hundred show files I can really tell you that we haven’t experienced a single issue here. I guess Avid just very cleverly used their post production knowledge.

DigiCo

Sadly there is virtually no compatibility here. I’ve heard they now have sort of session convert, but in real life, if you have a sd10 file for example, don’t even try to open it on any other DigiCo console and frankly you have a good chance that it won’t even work on another sd10 unless that console have the very same firmware installed on it. In our experience each and every console software update completely breaks compatibility with previously made show files.

Why do we need compatibility?

For a couple of reasons. With most of the manufacturers being so lousy in this department I’ve spent many days sleepless sorting out less and more serious issues. Remade countless show files from scratch thanks to their incompatibility. Just imagine this in the post world, actually even a tv show’s post would fail if we had these serious issues what live sound has. The whole big issue is really a pain causing lots of trouble, even that big some show can only go on with serious compromises which is unacceptable in my book.

This might seem like a rant and actually it is for a degree, because the improvement through the years is not enough. Compatibility still seems like luxury for live sound, though it should be default. I know that there is room for improvement in the post world too, but still, it is light years ahead and for me it is very embarrassing. Although year by year I do less and less live work, I still do selected jobs there and I hate the fact that I encounter the very same problems year by year. Now digital live sound consoles are quite ubiquitous so manufacturers should do something to maintain compatibility. As you can see it, what is a very basic requirement in the post production world is almost ignored in the live sound world although the need for it is obvious.

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