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Tag: post audio

Reducing live sound presence

It’s a decision I should’ve made long time ago, but last year’s chaos which still has its impact on my schedule even now at the end of April made me realise that this situation is not sustainable.

I still love live sound, but apparently it eats up my valuable post production time, so much that I cannot really think about work-life balance, I can only talk about live work-post work balance and huge, huge backlog. I started to build a great, reliable system in Omnifocus which clearly showed me that I want to do more than it’s possible. It doesn’t mean that I completely abandon live sound, but I won’t do any more festival jobs that usually require to be available through whole summer. I’ll still take some selected gigs with few bands, but that’s manageable.

Of course it’s not a one-minute decision, and it requires some transition time, but hopefully after this summer I’m not going to have this huge backlog I have now.

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Final mix session – reality

I’m in the middle of a huge final mix session, again. Hence the lack of posts on the blog. I’ve made several emergency plans in the past so that I can write more, but apparently every plan failed. Or, to be honest I failed to keep my plans. Because the reality is, if you’re drowned in a huge job, simply, you don’t have the necessary extra energy. At least this is true about me. I put in as much energy as possible, and at the end of the day the only viable aim is to reach my bed to get some sleep.

Deadlines

Again, as this becomes more and more usual these days, our deadline is crazy, I mean it clearly seems impossible to finish everything properly. For a few days now we’re operating well behind the original schedule, because the scope of the material just gets bigger, while, obviously, our deadline stay the same.

Here’s some quick tips on how to treat situations like this. At least a few tips that seems to work for me, I hope it’ll work for you too.

  • While you’re in, be there. Don’t second-guess yourself, don’t overthink what has to be done, don’t think about the deadline. Just be there and do your job calmly. I know it’s sounds like some Zen teaching, but believe me, you’re going to have many egos on the dub-stage, you have to be the one who constantly make things happen, and don’t engage in personal fights.
  • If you see some opportunities, do more than you’re required. During the mix, you’ll need that extra and everyone will appreciate the fact that you’ve been so thoughtful that you did more than the original idea.
  • Another Zen sounding advise: learn to let things go. During a good mix session in a creative environment ideas come and go, you have to experiment while still mustn’t loose track of the whole mix. Everyone’s going to have good and maybe not so good ideas. Try to treat them equally while keep some perspective. It’s not necessarily you who has the best ideas. Live with it. Do what the mix need.
  • Learn to listen. Not technically. Many times, composers and directors don’t really know how to tell you what they really want to hear. When they talk about ideas, feelings, emotions, pay attention, that is your key to understand what they want to hear. It is simply impossible to have every person in the room talk to you in proper technical terms. Decipher the real meaning from their stories, and more importantly, make it happen sonically.

I know these may sound rather obvious to you, but too many people try to only focus on the technical side of things, while that is not the most important bit in the equation. I don’t say it’s not important, but far from being the most important. Now, back to mixing…

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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 tips #3

Considering all the elements. Recently I’ve mixed a complete score for a feature film in 5.1 and while it is great fun, there are some serious matters that you have to be aware of. During mixing the complete score it is very seldom that you can have a complete session which includes all the other elements, that’s the privilege of the dub stage. With all that said, it is a very good idea to grab even a temp dub from the dialogue for example and mix your score against it.

Treat the centre gently

Of course we all want to fill everything with nice solos and strings and effects, but we have to be modest in this area as other sonic elements must be in there. In my experience it is a very good idea if you not only try to clean out the centre channel a bit blindly, but use some real dialogue to put up against your score mix. I can assure you that it will highly affect your decisions. The dialogue doesn’t have to be from the final mix, that will happen later. Even the raw, edited dx tracks can help you make the right decisions at mix time. Make a temp dialogue track and keep it in the mix as much as you can. You’ll unconsciously mix the score to fit in naturally, which has some additional benefits for the whole production.

  • Your mix will sound much more like a finished usable mix
  • It won’t get dissected so hard because you diligently mixed it around other elements
  • The re-recording mixer will have a much easier time
  • Probably the end result is going to be a cleaner, better sounding final thanks to the right decisions

This may sound overly obvious, but believe me, without anything to mix against, it is almost impossible to judge how something will sound. It may very well be one your best shots, but if it masks the dialogue, they need to clear it out.

Be very thorough with the solos. For this discussion it doesn’t even matter if it’s a cello or guitar or piano solo, the thing is, it should be “harmless” to other things that will eventually surround your precious solo. If it lives happily with the dialogue, you’ll have a good chance that it’ll be good with other things too. If in doubt, send a temp mix to the re-recording mixer to check if you’re on a good route.

mix

Generally it is a good idea to treat the centre channel softly as mostly the dialogue and foley lives there in a film. This does not mean that you have to kill it completely, just use it lightly so you won’t fight other elements. Remember, it is about the end product, your mix is only a part of the big picture. Whenever in doubt, ask the re-recoding mixer for input.

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A little broadcast workflow

Last weekend we had a pretty big concert here, which was not the usual “another average day in the office” type, we needed to record 96 channels to multiple rigs, making backups and mixing stereo live broadcast sound as well as feed what we call “narrow pgm” for the cameramen and for the projectionist.

Why is it a big deal?

Well, it’s not such a big deal, but when your gig is full of stars, you need to record and mix for broadcast and dvd, there are many things that can go wrong so meticulous planning is necessary.

The concert was a big “birthday celebration” of Leslie Mandoki who left Hungary about 37 years ago, and this was the first time he came back to give a huge concert. The night was packed with stars who were guests: Bobby Kimbal (Toto), Jack Bruce, Chris Thompson, Nick Van Eede, Greg Lake, John Helliwell (Supertramp), Al Di Meola, Chaka Khan, Bill Evans, Randy Brecker and Peter Maffay.

The band: drum kit, 2 percussion sets, 4 strings, 4 brass, 6 keyboards, 2 guitars, 1 bass, 4 vocalists. Because of the many in-ear monitors (22 stereo) we planted many ambience mics so the performers could hear what’s going on in the hall, and obviously it was necessary because of the recording too.

The system

When you have TV, recording, live mix, broadcast mix, different additional feeds, the system needs to be failsafe. So, we planned this system for the day.

FOH position, one Avid Venue console connected to a Pro Tools HD system recording 96 tracks at 24 bit 48kHz, split from stage using an analogue snake. In the broadcast studio we receive 2 madi opticals from the monitor position, that two madi were split at the studio so the Studer Vista 8 has all 96 inputs and a Nuendo records 96 tracks, and a Pyramix DAW records the 96 tracks running as a backup.

Fortunately we had a few days rehearsal so we could test parts of the system. We had no chance to test the whole planned rig, but it was sufficient for us. During this test process it came to light that the very expensive Digico SD7 monitor console is completely unable to accept any external clock which is a surprise for me and frankly at this price point this is quite unacceptable, but 2 days before the show we could not “throw out” the console. Instead, we reversed the clock order as the Digico became the clock master. At this point everyone was concerned about the Digico’s ability to keep up with being the clock master so we tested a few clocking device and found that the Studer’s own device is quite stable even if it’s receiving a somewhat wobbly clock.

Be failsafe

The idea was that if everything fails do to some severe clocking issue or because of anything else, the Pro Tools will still record everything as it is fed from analogue lines. Our plan included other redundancy too. As I mentioned earlier we split the madi signal from the monitor, so we had separate madi for our Steadier and separate for our Pyramix. So if the Pyramix fails, everything goes on we only loose one backup. If the Steadier fails (highly unlikely but who knows) we still have the Pyramix running and after a restart the Nuendo and the Steadier can join anytime. If Pro Tools fails, then we have the Nuendo and the Pyramix running. I made a little picture to make this clear:

mandoki broadcast workflow

We even tested different “worst case scenario” situations where we deliberately removed the sync, then reconnected it, removed one madi stream, etc. In most cases we lost a few seconds of audio on one recorder, but because of the independent feeds we always had some perfect lines.

But, you can never have enough, so and additional Pro Tools HD was recording our PGM (mixed stereo programme output) separately just in case.

Results

Fortunately each and every recorder was rock solid during the show, so now we have many hundreds of gigabytes backup, which we are obviously happily store as long as we need to.

I know that we could have a much simpler system to record the show, but the multiple independent backup solution seems to be the most failsafe solution for this kind of bigger events. My dream would be to use multiple Pro Tools rigs so even the session files would be compatible with each other, but as now we have a bunch of broadcast wave files, this is not a serious problem, but only a personal wish.

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