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Tag: mix

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.

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2nd workflow

Last time I wrote about the multiple workflows we must maintain in our studios. Today I introduce you the second workflow which require an even better mixer than the first one.

Second workflow – have to be lucky and nail the mix

This method still includes the big Studer Vista. The first part is the same as with the 1st workflow, the DAW gets each input unprocessed, additional groups and the main mix being recorded simultaneously with the channels.

StuderVista

Here comes the part which involves luck and a very good day so you really, I mean really nail the mix. This means:

  • You’ve got a stellar sounding mix from the first frame to the last
  • Haven’t missed anything, no accidentally left out instruments
  • The mix is almost completely r128 ready
  • No one needs serious tuning, replay, etc.

If all these things are true, and only then, you can choose this workflow. If this is the case, you’ll already have your mix in the DAW, so now the only thing left is some mastering.

I know in a perfect World a professional mastering engineer would treat your mix, but here we don’t have the luxury and time. So, the mixer is going to be the mastering guy as well. To be honest, the thing is, if you really have a almost perfect mix, the only thing you need to do is polish the already stellar stereo or surround mix and make it completely r128 compliant.

For this, it’s your choice if you would like to use some high-end analogue hardware or stay completely in-the-box. It’s completely your decision, but watch your back, the deadline is approaching.

This second workflow (obviously) only works with some classical concerts, small acoustic shows and easier galas and talk shows.

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Mix tip #6

This is a really short one, but even after the invention of one button magic plugins and sophisticated metering, it’s still one of the fastest method for correcting some mix problems.

Reverse the polarity

This is the fastest way to detect and solve problems with your ears and cost no nothing, and as a real bonus, can be done in a few seconds easily. It is a general advice because it works great both in post and music production. I know we have many fancy plugins that can detect, show, correct, suggest solutions, but some of them really just a nice GUI with no real value, some cost too much, some eat huge amount of CPU power.

In my opinion, don’t waste your money and time. Use what you already have, your ears and some free plugins.

Just a few examples, you can find these plugins in all Pro Tools versions (Native, HD, etc.) for free:

  • trim plugin
  • any stock Avid EQ
  • Avid channel strip

 

avid trim

 

Post production example

During dialogue editing, reversing the polarity on one track can help you filter out duplicate tracks (contain the very same thing), and detect issues in multi-miked situation.

During the sound design stage, we often layer many sounds on top of each other, sometimes this can be problematic. If suddenly you hear that your layered effect starts to sound too thin, you might have some problem with the phase. Just quickly flip the polarity switch on a plugin which is on the last track (last sound you just added) and listen if it solve your problem. Many times it does.

During the mix stage, when everything comes together and you constantly mixing in tracks, sometimes you might detect strange issues such as the well-known “head twisting” effect, or suddenly your bass and low region is suspiciously and strangely empty, you might simply have to flip the polarity on one or on a few tracks.

 

Avid eq

 

Music production

There’s more occasion than I can mention. Multi-miked situation almost always has some problems. Even a drum kit miked up properly can have some issues. Or if you have two bass drum mics, testing the sound with the polarity switch is a good idea. It pays off very soon as your mix will sound much tighter, the stereo or surround landscape will be more defined and stable.

It can even help between different instruments as this might help separation. If you record something live (studio or stage) there’s the inevitable leakage from other sources. This is generally not a big deal if it is under control, and more importantly if it don’t screw the instruments phase relationship too much. Sometimes, again, a polarity switch can solve these issues too.

 

Avid channelstrip

 

What to listen for

It’s very easy really. You can even test it yourself with an old session where your deliberately force instruments to be out of phase.

The first thing to listen for is the low and bass regions. Every time you hear more healthy low and/or bass, you’ve found the right setting. Probably one of the most obvious example would be a snare drum miked both from the top and bottom. Set both faders to unity and flip the polarity switch on the bottom track. Many times what you’re going to hear is that the snare will be much more punchy and healthy at the lower registers.

The second thing sometimes a bit tricky, but with a very short ear training it’s quite easy to detect without any serious device. This is the “head twisting” effect. I bet once you hear it you’ll know what I’m talking about. It really feels like your head automatically want to turn into different directions. With just one button (you guessed right: the polarity switch) you can solve the issue.

This is a very easy and old thing, but often forgotten. It is so basic that we often forget the whole thing, while it can easily ruin a mix. Don’t afraid to test this, it takes only a second and you might solve many issues with it.

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Mix tip #5

Automate, I mean automate a lot actually. Even more than you’d think is necessary. First it might seem a bit counterintuitive, but after a bit of practice, you’ll be surprised how your mix flow improves. Without any specifics this advice may seem too obvious but useless, so I’ll just quickly mention a few possibilities that can make your life easier during the mix.
In this short mix tip I’ll try to be concise, so let’s say intermediate knowledge in automation is required here, but I promise it won’t be rocket science.

Effect automation

Many times I see and receive sessions that has so many different reverbs it take considerable amount of time to decipher the original intention. And in 99,9% many instantiated reverbs are just doing one very tiny thing or a specific spot effect at one place, hence you don’t really need them (well, most of the time). I mean of course you need the thing they do, but you don’t need to insert one more reverb for every minute thing. Instead of this, grab your mouse or controller and start automate the existing ones.

For example if you need a special fx at a spot, take a look at your existing reverbs. Is there any of them which doesn’t do a thing at that particular moment? If by any chance there is, then don’t insert just another plugin, grab the one which isn’t on duty and make your special effect from that one. At first it might seem easier to insert just another one, but with that kind of thinking you’ll end up with a highly complicated bloated session, not to mention that every time you do this you put more stress on your machine.

In Pro Tools, with Preview Automation you can change every parameter only for that tiny spot. After the magic happened, you’ll have your original state back.
So what is Preview Automation ?
Well, simply put: at its root it let’s you experiment without ruining your existing settings, and once you’re satisfied with what you hear, you can commit the changes to the selected area.

automation window

The fastest and easiest way to achieve this is to use preview automation:

  1. You have your basic settings
  2. Select the area where you want your special effect
  3. Make sure that your track is automation enabled (latch, touch or latch/touch/trim mode) and also that your plugin parameters are enabled for automation too
  4. Switch on preview automation in the automation panel
  5. Tweak the settings until you end up with the desired effect
  6. Hit Punch automation preview and write the changes to the selection
  7. bonus step: if you need the very same effect somewhere else in the session, just highlight the area where you need it, hit punch automation preview again and write to selection again, you’ll end up with the very same thing you’ve just created at the original place.

Congratulations, you’ve just saved an additional bus and a reverb.

EQ automation

Let’s say we have a concert show recording ( I mix many these days) where the main vocalist sings (pretty obvious) but also tell stories and announce things between the songs. The problem is, the singing and the speech has quite different qualities. You might easily find that the speech is much lower in volume, the voice’s timbre can be drastically different and because singing is a hard job, he/she might speak with overly presented “p” “b” sounds as he/she try to catch her breath for example. The result is, you need one EQ setting during the songs and another one for the speech. One method is to chop up the lead track and split it to VOX and ANNOUNCE channel, but this can be time consuming. The easier solution is to use the power of automation again. You need to perform the very same steps outlined above, the only difference is now you do it on your EQ plugin.
Highlight one speech area, adjust your EQ in preview mode, then apply the new settings to all the speech areas and you’re done. After one or two occasions you become so efficient at this that going through the whole show like this would only take 10 or 20 minutes and all your announcements will be just fine.

And the beauty of preview automation is that it only separates the parameters that you touch, so all other thing remains intact. This also means if you need to have different setting on the compressor or on any other plugin, just perform the same steps and you’ll be ready much faster than before.
The most important thing to remember is: preview automation only changes the parameters you tweak, leaves every other thing in their original state. I know I told this before, but this why it is so useful. You don’t have to worry about your existing things.

Endless possibilities

Once you figure out how to deal with preview mode, it is definitely addictive. In no time you’ll find yourself automating the hell out of your mixes which is a very good thing.

kcautomate

Some of the healthy benefits will be:
* You’ll use less plugins, which means that your DAW will have more power for special things instead of wasting your CPU power to mundane tasks
* Your sessions will be much more organised as you won’t have a thousand plugins, each doing one small thing
* Soon you’ll be an automation ninja, which means your mixes will flow faster with less effort, which ultimately leads to the most important thing: you’ll spend more time with the SOUND instead of searching, organising, etc.

If you’re not sure about this, or afraid to test it with your current payed session, set up a test session and practice. Once you comfortably execute the steps in your tests, you can start use your automation knowledge in the real sessions. If you happen to be a brave guy who don’t want to practise but want to use it at once, for your own sake, make a SAVE AS, or SAVE COPY IN so you’ll have a safety backup.

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3 days in a row

I’ve been in live sound for about 20 years now. This weekend is going to be another challenge as I’ll be mixing 3 gigs in 3 different places on 3 different equipment. Luckily on 3 separate days though…

The real challenge is to quickly adopt to every situation. Which is easier said than done. The first day you might have a really good PA system with ample headroom, the other day you might get some utterly hideous so-called system which is really only wood with some speakers randomly screwed in.

Sadly the second scenario is more likely, though I admit that the last few years have been somewhat more positive. But if you happen to have the worst case scenario, you’ve got two options:

  • Panic
  • Remain calm, solve problems

Obviously the first option wouldn’t help. You’ll just trapped into your own anger, loosing control over things, even screwing up things by yourself. This leads to nowhere, or the end result is disaster.

Remain calm

In my experience that is the key. Your job is to figure out the best possible way to solve problems, to save the production. This is why you are there. It does not mean that I like these things, but let’s be honest, there are many things you simply cannot change. Instead of that, focus on the things you can change.

For example if the stage crew is not really cooperative, you can simply mic up the band yourself, put their monitors into the right positions, etc. I know many of you say that it’s not my job… Which might be true that it wouldn’t be your job, but right now, the whole scenario is very different from the one you’ve imagined before. This is the time when suddenly everything become your job!

The best thing you can do is to very quickly prioritise what need to be done, and start doing it as soon as you can. This is the only way to save the day.

Develop your professional calmness

It’s not easy. The very first and obvious reaction would be anger, but believe me, as soon as you let your feelings rule the situation, you lost the game. But you can train yourself. Without sounding like a Zen monk, you can create these imaginary scenarios before they happen, and with this you can think ahead. Plan the things you would do in a situation like this.

After this mind game and with some practice, you’ll be more prepared to fight these things. The first few occasions might not go that well as you’ve planned, but with each solved situation you become better and better at this.

Learn from the fellow industries

This is a great opportunity to learn a few things from the post production guys. In post, damage control is a “daily habit”. Solving problems that one might think of unsolvable is the part of the job. The calm, analytical thinking can help a lot. Breath and think it over. Never forget your aims and do whatever it takes to turn a bad thing into a good one. It’s hard, sometimes unbelievably hard. But if you focus on the things that really matters, you’ll prevail and solve the problems.

Scenario 1

From the 3 different places the first one I met a very nice crew, but they were not full time professionals, so needed more guidance. There were a few mislabelled monitor lines, a few mics that was at the wrong place, etc. But with a little patience and a bit more active collaboration everything has been solved. We were short of wedges so we just positioned the musicians so they could heard the other better even without additional wedges. It took a bit more time, but it was a good solution, everybody had a good time.

Scenario 2

This was an easy lucky day. When I arrived, all the things were already in place, working fine, sounding good. Nice, well tuned PA system, short soundcheck, good show. These are the rare days to be frank. Still hope the third day will be just like this, because that band is a bit complicated so I really need some good company who has seen things like this.

To remember

There are very, frankly, extremely few situations where you cannot radically improve things if you remain calm and professional. Those few occasions are the ones where you simply need the management to take care of things. All other occasions are solvable by you and you only. Most of the time if you keep a professional stance, others will help or at least try to help.

Know your stuff, be calm and nice, and don’t forget to solve the problems, do not create them.

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