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Tag: post production

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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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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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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The small details makes the difference

Or at least that’s what we all hope. But at the end of the day, it really seem to count, a lot actually. I’ve been harvesting the very broad experiences as I actively doing both live sound and post production. In post, we seem to be obsessed with tiny details, correcting, editing, noise reducing and tweaking audio until it is really a shining diamond. In live sound however, very often you have to be extremely fast and efficient under impossible technical circumstances, which obviously leads to more and more compromise.

Suddenly it seems that those tiny details are not that important, they don’t make such a difference at the end. Well, the bad news is that those seemingly unimportant things really can change the outcome, although I can totally agree with that many times there’s just not enough time, nor sufficient technology available to solve them.

Being fussy vs. being thorough

Being fussy. Although live sound has come a long way, there’s still many who think that it’s a job where you have to paint with broad strokes and shouldn’t mess with those very small things. In my experience though, those minute details are what really separates the usual OK sounding concert from a truly brilliant sounding show.

Obviously you need to prioritise things, it’s absolutely not ok to tweak your bass compressor when you can’t even hear the singer, etc. But when you have a pretty good balance, everything is fine, sounding great and punchy, you might want to investigate those microscopic details that can really elevate the sonic experience.

These are the things we are obsessed with in post production. And these are the things that’s worth your attention. I’m often accused of being fussy on smaller live gigs, but then for example almost always asked how I did some cool sounding stereo or special effect.
Those special things come from my post production life, where dealing with these attributes is a daily habit, not a waste of time.
In post, our sonic microscopes (the calibrated studio monitors in a good room) are generally much more revealing and honest than any PA system in the world. Therefore most of the times we must work harder to create a believable or amazing sonic experience. When you daily “fussing” with these nanoscale elements, you just kind of develop a habit of being very alert to these things, even when you’re out of the comfort zone of the studio.

Please help me, I need a good psychiatrist

I’ve met many incredibly talented engineers over the years who regularly work both in live and post production. It seems that each and every one of us has his/her own obsession when it comes to live sound. Some have a serious eq fetish, filtering out unnecessary things, making everything sound clean or characterful, some has strong effect addiction, tweaking the delays and reverbs until they can create different layers, some have compressor craze, spending time to create and shape transients and gain control over overly dynamic things.

This serious addiction come from the endless hours in the studio testing, adjusting, tweaking every nuance until it satisfy both us and the client. During this long process, our brain learn to detect so tiny details in the compression characteristics that after a while we are able to hear almost the smallest parameter change, we get so intimately familiar with different types of reverbs that each hidden parameter become so obvious, every masking frequency become painfully evident. This doesn’t mean that we’re superheroes. It only means that we would like to mix the best possible show under the circumstances.
To be honest, almost everyone of us have these addiction to a degree, and to be fair, even many live sound only guy have these. In the midst of chaos, tension and other distracting things it is very easy to think that these detail oriented engineers are only try to make themselves seem important. But believe me, it cannot be further from the truth. We just try to do everything in our power to make the sound as good as possible. That’s it. We don’t want to freak out anyone, nor want to embarrass the crew.

Final thought

Developing this kind of analytical habit can only help. If you appreciate the smallest details, you’ll always try to improve, which, obviously very beneficial to sound. These minute things just add up at the end, so they’re worth your attention.
If you’re a bit confused about the vagueness and the lack of clear direction of the whole article, you might be not alone. It is merely a passing thought based on my past and very recent experiences in live sound. I guess the whole thing can be summarised by this very short sentence: details definitely matter.

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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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