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Tag: concert

Planning is important

I’ve been snowed under, still trying to find my way out of the turmoil. During these periods, planning is even more important, it can be the ticket for success or the lack of it can be the recipe for disaster.

Symphonic live

Recently I was asked to mix a huge live show which had a pop band, a symphonic orchestra, a huge choir and 22 lead singers. I was responsible for the symphonic orchestra and the choir. With a show like this, it is mandatory to plan everything ahead, improvisation here can easily be disastrous.

The whole things starts with rehearsals and a pen and a clean sheet of paper. Yes, even in this modern computerised age, the early stage of planning is still easier and faster on paper. Sketching up the proper sitting positions in the orchestra, the number of players, the different instruments and their corresponding microphones, preliminary channel lists all done on paper. Later on obviously this whole thing will end up in Excel, but for the start when you sit there at the rehearsal, good old paper is much more convenient.

This is also the best time to make some notes on the different arrangements. Later on I’ll have the score, but it is a good idea to make general notes on the different songs. It can personalise the information and in my experience these early notes can trigger your memory later on so you’ll remember much more minute detail while you’ll mix the show. These notes don’t have to be really detailed professional remarks about the song or the arrangement but they must have meaning to the note taker. Write down anything comes to mind, even different moods or feelings. Later it can really help you to remember.

After numerous rehearsals I could make a final channel list:
(V=violin, VA=viola)

  1. V1
  2. V2
  3. V3
  4. V4
  5. V5
  6. V6
  7. V7
  8. V8
  9. V9
  10. V10
  11. V11
  12. V12
  13. V13
  14. V14
  15. V2/1
  16. V2/2
  17. V2/3
  18. V2/4
  19. V2/5
  20. V2/6
  21. V2/7
  22. V2/8
  23. V2/9
  24. V2/10
  25. V2/11
  26. V2/12
  27. V2/13
  28. V2/14
  29. VA1
  30. VA2
  31. VA3
  32. VA4
  33. VA5
  34. VA6
  35. VA7
  36. VA8
  37. VA9
  38. VA10
  39. CELLO1
  40. CELLO2
  41. CELLO3
  42. CELLO4
  43. DBASS1
  44. DBASS2
  45. FLUTE1
  46. FLUTE2
  47. OBOE1
  48. OBOE2
  49. CLARINET1
  50. CLARINET2
  51. BASSOON1
  52. BASSOON2
  53. TRUMPET1
  54. TRUMPET2
  55. TROMBONE1
  56. TROMBONE2
  57. HORN1
  58. HORN2
  59. TUBA
  60. TIMPANI1
  61. TIMPANI2
  62. MARIMBA L
  63. MARIMBA R
  64. XYLOPHONE L
  65. XYLOPHONE R
  66. VIBRAPHONE L
  67. VIBRAPHONE R
  68. PERCUSSION 1
  69. PERCUSSION 2
  70. PERCUSSION 3

Microphones

In a live situation like this, gain before feedback is the priority. Of course we want good sound quality too, but as we need to produce concert volume with a pop band and singers in front of the orchestra, somehow we must have pop SPL from a symphonic orchestra. I know it may sound strange but believe me that without this “rock volume” type preparation the live sound would fail miserably.

So, all strings miced with DPA4099, woodwinds were Rode NT5s, brass had Sennheiser md421s, and all the timpanis and other percussions had Rode NT5s. That’s it. No big secrets, no special magic. We had very short time to do everything and in a situation like this, in my experience, the simpler is the better. I agree that with more time maybe I could select different mics for certain positions, but as with any live production I had to make some compromises as not all kind and type of microphone is available everytime.

We had two consoles at FOH, an analogue Soundcraft and a digital DiGiCo. The DiGiCo handled the symphonic orchestra and the choir, the analogue side had the pop part and the lead singers. Although I generally don’t have any problem with digital consoles, frankly I hate the built-in effects in DiGiCo. Because of this I used external reverbs on the orchestra, two R2 (Exponential audio) provided the beautiful, lush effect connected through Pro Tools.

The outcome

Considering that we didn’t have enough rehearsal, the show was very successful both technically and artistically. The short time frame urged everyone in the production to really pay attention, focus and do as good job as he/she can.

On the monitoring side we had an interesting solution which worked remarkably well. We didn’t have enough budget and engineer for a completely separate monitor mix, so the whole symphonic orchestra received the monitor mix from my FOH console through matrix. At first I thought it is more than optimistic to think that it will work, but it was perfect. The musicians heard themselves well, and they loved the full mix with reverbs on it. Because I was skeptical at first, I sent a few submixes to the monitor mixer in case he need to add more from a certain group, but this time he only used the main mix.

The experience

The process was a brilliant learning experience too. I constantly compared the methods, sounds and necessary mix tricks needed to make full but loud mix, which is not the original nature of a symphonic orchestra. The final mix was an interesting blend of some well known pop/rock method with a good amount of classical treatment. It is a real challenge to make everything sound like a big classical orchestra while still providing enough volume and power. Compensate the extremely close micing but only for a degree because in the next minute I needed a more modern sound. All in all it was great fun.

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Survival kit for live sound work

As you may know, I still have multiple jobs for a number of reasons. My “second” job is being a live sound engineer both in FOH and monitor positions. As now the festival season has been started, I prepared myself to not only survive, but to enjoy it, and more importantly, protect my ears as I’m planning to use them in this post industry for very long years.

So what would one need to have in order to really be safe out in the high-SPL festivals?

Safety measures

First let’s see the necessary things, which won’t directly help you to do your job, but will help you retain you hearing, and protect you from exhaust.

Ear plugs. They come in every shape and form and price. A custom made is a very good choice as it is very accurately attenuates the outside noise/sound i.e. you can mix a loud show with it, because the frequency curve remains almost the same. A good solution, although not cheap and you have to be very careful not to loose them. Also clean them regularly as they go into your ears!

Cheap earplugs. These are the ones you can buy in every industrial safety shops. There are many brands, and it is safe to say that either will do a great job. Look at the attenuation curve and decide. I always have a pair with me, even when I’m not working. I go for a model that attenuates about 28–32dB. It is much, but needed. It won’t allow you to mix a show, but can give you nice isolation in a concert environment, so when you need a rest, or just waiting for your turn, it does a very good job.

I even have a rather strange habit to put them in during the show for a minute or two. This time is not enough to really rest your ears, but enough for them to “recover” from short term fatigue, so when you pull them out, you’ll have fresh ears in the middle of the show for example. On a long day, this can be a life saver.

I recommend to have at least a few pairs with you at any venue. Use them, and of course, clean them regularly. A quick cleaning tip: if you don’t have a chance to properly clean them before you have to use them again, use some antibacterial hand cleaning gel to clean them. Every pharmacy sells these little bottles and they are so small you can carry them in you pocket.

If you happen to forget to bring earplugs with you, even some tissues will do the job, although they attenuate far less than an earplug.

Hearing protectors

My ultimate choice. Just as the earplugs, they come in many shapes and colours, but the main point is how much they can attenuate. Even some cheaper one will do a wonderful job. I use a model which attenuates an average of 36dB. Average, because these are industrial tools and almost always have some frequency-attenuation scale. Obviously at low frequencies these protectors are able to attenuate less, and as frequency goes higher, you’ll find more and more attenuation there.

What are the advantages compared to the earplugs? Many. First, they are more comfortable to wear as they are like headphones, don’t go into you ears. Second, many times you have higher attenuation. Third, you can combine them with some earplugs to achieve extreme attenuation. Although that would diminish the first advantage, but you get the point.

Headphones and earphones

This is really not a viable option when you mix Front Of House, but in the monitor world, it can work. Actually it is working.

I use headphones to mix monitor whenever I can. You have to get used to it, you must know your headphones intimately to achieve a good mix. So don’t just grab them and start using it. Be prepared for it first with using a combination of wedge and the headphones, then as you become more and more comfortable with your headphones, you can stop using the wedge.

This way you choose the volume level you mix at, have more minute detail, can catch feedback frequencies faster as you don’t have the extraneous noise around.

Always check yourself

Loud sound not only damage your hearing, but can completely wear you out in very short amount of time. I encourage you to wear, use some kind of protection whenever is possible, even if it is an option only for a few minutes. Your mix and healthy hearing will thank you later.

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