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Tag: yamaha

The rest of the summer

Not much left, but still have many things to do. First, Sziget is approaching. This is one of the biggest festivals in Europe. This year, again, I’m going to be the chief FOH engineer at the main stage. As you might know, this is both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because I have the chance to meet very talented mixers and see/hear many great shows. On the other hand a festival this big requires a lot of preparation and tedious paperwork, huge amount of Excel sheets, emails, meetings, etc. I’m a more simple guy who truly enjoy mixing and helping fellow engineers, but I’m not the big organiser guy who just effortlessly ploughing through hundreds of emails while conducting prep meetings.

This year we’re going to have a few big acts, you might recognise a few:

  • Queens of the Stone Age
  • Blink 182
  • The Prodigy
  • Placebo
  • Outkast
  • Calvin Harris
  • Korn
  • Skrillex
  • Lily Allen
  • Manic Street Preachers
  • Madness
  • The Kooks
  • and a few more…

szigetendshow13

After the usual rider checking, we ended up with almost the same console setup as before: Yamaha PM5D in monitors and Avid Profile in FOH. These are the most requested consoles in riders. Even if someone would prefer something other, these are accepted as well.

My biggest headache is still compatibility, or to be more precise, the lack of it. In my experience the Avid live system is still the only one which is able to effortlessly convert and use session files made on different surface with some other software version.

To be fair, they probably borrowed this knowledge from their Pro Tools experience. We had serious problems with DiGiCos and Midas digital consoles. Many times the FOH guy had to rebuild the show from scratch because his/her file was incompatible with the consoles firmware or software version. While digital offers so much flexibility on paper, it seems to me that in a live environment this is still in its infancy.

A usual day at a festival

Few of you asked about an average day at a festival like this. Well, it can be very gruelling to be honest. Obviously the more problem you have at a given day, the more worn out you’re going to be at the end of the day.

8:00am Load-ins starting
Usually the headliner or the co-headliner start first. All their equipment need to be set up, preferably at the proper place (should be left there all day). The most important needs at this time:

  • power (how much, 32,64, 3phase, etc.)
  • place of their consoles and misc. equipment
  • forklifts (to bring the heavy cases and consoles)
  • set up (check everything working fine, compatibility checks, feeds to system, multicores)

A simple console check procedure:

Check if the incoming power is fine. You don’t want to blow any power supplies! If it’s good, then you need to connect the console to the power source. Our tested and proved preference is to have to lines from the source power. One goes through a UPS so in the case of a power failure we still have time to save and shut down the consoles properly to avoid any data or equipment damage. The other is the direct, without any further protection. These days, every console has redundant power supplies so you can always use this safety system.

After you connected all the necessary cables, switch on the console. At this point I like to do a quick fader/button/led test if possible to make sure that everything is fine. These live consoles are being used in very demanding circumstances, therefore they need to be checked regularly. It’s much better to identify a problem now instead of trying to find it later, during the soundcheck. If the test is ok, then load the session.

Check if the session is fine. Most of the times they are fine, however a quick check wouldn’t hurt, you might spot some errors, and again, if there is some, this is the right time to solve it. If the session is ok, we’re almost ready.

Check and if necessary modify the output patch. Everyone has his own preference, the usual options are:

  • L and R only
  • L-R plus Sub (mono or stereo)
  • L-R plus Sub and separate fills
  • L-R plus Sub and separate fills, separate delays

If possible, we always prefer to have AES, but we’re prepared for analogue feeds as well.

At this point the system tech would ask the guest engineer to send noise (pink noise) to him in order to check the patch. When everything seems fine, the guest console is ready for the sound check.

Before and during the sound check

During the soundcheck you want to solve any upcoming problems. At this point you still have a little time to investigate things. It is mandatory to understand and able to operate, know the whole system to the tiniest bits. Anything, really, anything happens you’ll be the one who has to correct it, within a very short time frame. Even if it’s not your job at the first place, as the FOH guy, you’ll be alone with the guest engineers at the time of the sound checks, and remember, they are guests, you are the guy who must provide the solution to their problems.

Between the sound checks we can have lunch, preferably at table, but as schedules are very tight, usually we just have lunch in the FOH position during a soundcheck. After all the line and sound checks, little time left for a coffee before the first band start its show.

During the shows it’s mandatory to have at least one person at the FOH position. One who can solve problems, can alert the rest of the team, so who can really help the guests. Never, never ever leave the guest alone! This is very important. Anything can happen and you’re the one who should provide help.

End of the day

After all the shows are over, there’s some tasks left before we can go to bed. Main stage usually stops at 11p.m. or 1a.m. here. After the last show we need to cover everything in order to protect the equipment against the weather. One friendly advice: never trust the weather forecast. They might say that there’s absolutely zero chance for rain, but it is your responsibility to protect the equipment. Obviously consoles don’t like water, so don’t forget to securely cover them, unplug the power, switch off the breakers, and re-check everything. One sudden storm can ruin any very expensive equipment.

And that’s it, depending on the running order (whether you finished at 11 or 1) you can go to bed around 1–3 a.m. Have a good night sleep because the next day starts just in a few hours, around 8 a.m. with the load-ins again. Good night.

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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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