Better than Starting From Last Week--Baseline Show Files

Last time, I told you about my problems with starting this week off with the mixer settings from last week. Aside encouraging lazy mixing, it leads to setting creep and inconsistent sound. As you might expect, I think there is a better way. Now, this process can really only happen with digital consoles. I suppose you could do it with an analog console, but it’s going to be tedious. If you have an analog desk, wait until you upgrade to digital before doing this.

What is the Baseline?

Depending on your console, the amount of time you have and how detailed, the baseline can be anything from a simple starting point to a comprehensive place to start that’s actually good enough to mix on if you had to. But I think there are a few common elements that should exist in any kind of baseline. They are (not necessarily in any order):

  • All patching and routing
  • Output processing
  • Starting gain settings
  • Starting EQ settings
  • Channel names
  • VCA assignments

Now, if you’re going all out, you could also consider the following:

  • Starting compressor & gate settings
  • Starting effects settings
  • Group routing
  • Parallel compression patching
  • Standard snapshots

    As you work your way through that list, you can get it pretty dialed. How you do it depends on your console. 

The Scene Method

Many consoles offer scenes to work with. Yamaha is probably the best known example. While you can load an entire show in every week, I suspect the way most people are going to use those consoles is to have a starting scene. At the beginning of the weekend, you recall that scene, then build everything based on it. As you create—or overwrite—new scenes for this weekend, they are all based on the initial scene with changes that you’ve made. 

This is not a bad way to go. It is simple to understand and easy for volunteers to implement. The one thing you’re going to have to be very aware of is the recall scope and recall safe. You want to be sure you are recalling the things you want to recall, and setting the things you don’t to safe. For the baseline scene to be truly effective, you should probably recall just about everything. Subsequent scenes may want to have a less recall. This is tricky, however.

The recall settings carry forward from scene to scene—so if your starting scene is all recall, the next scenes will be, too. The way around that is to create a baseline with all recall, recall it at the beginning of a weekend, then scroll down to a scene with more limited recall settings and immediately save over it. That puts the console into the state you want for the weekend, and the new scenes will have the limited recall of the second scene. Like I said, it’s a bit tricky, and it’s why I prefer another tack.

The Show File Method

The other way to go is to load a complete show file. Some consoles, Avid & Digico for example, are really geared for simply loading an entire show file on them. In the show file is every parameter of the console and every setting, all the way down to most user set up functions. It’s a great way to go as it completely resets the console every week. No matter what anyone did last week, the console is always back to the correct starting point each week. 

This was my approach at Coast Hills. Each weekend, we loaded the latest baseline version (more on that in a moment) and immediately saved a new, weekend show. 

This method has several advantages. First, it’s a complete reset of the console. So that’s good. Second, you can re-load an earlier weekend to see how you did something, for virtual soundcheck training or practice, or just to copy a cool effect. Third, it’s easy to make subtle changes to the baseline and version it like software. If you find a better setting for a vocal, or a musician buys a new guitar, you can load those settings into a new version of the baseline and start using that. If things start to go awry, you can go back to an earlier version. 

I’ve written about my method for baseline show files before, so if you really want to geek out, check it out here and here. Hopefully this gives you some ideas on this and will improve your process week to week.

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Starting From Last Week

Image courtesy of Mike

Image courtesy of Mike

A while back, I had an opportunity to mix at a church I had not mixed before. As per my custom, I asked a ton of questions and was prepared to do a lot of work to make sure everything was set up and ready. What I found when I got there however, was that they were planning on just picking up from last week’s settings. What I found odd about this was that they had a digital console. In my opinion, there is a better way. But first, here’s what I don’t like about starting from last week:

Lazy Mixing

Some might argue that once the mixer is set up and sounding good that we should leave it alone. This case gets made a lot in churches with less experienced sound guys. While I appreciate this concept, I think there is a better way to do it. First, training needs to happen so that those running the board actually know what they’re doing. Second, and we’ll get to this next time, I would suggest a baseline show file is better than simply “leaving it alone.” 

I’ve seen pictures of mixers with big “DON’T TOUCH KNOBS” signs all over them. Again, I understand the premise, I just think it’s wrong. If you don’t have people who know what they are dong behind the board, train them so they do. The reality is, there is no one perfect EQ that will work all the time. You can get close, but most of the time, in order to really get things sounding good, you’re going to need to tweak. 

Setting Creep

One of the things I see over and over as I go into churches to help out is settings start to creep. And by that I mean that at one point an extra 2 dB of 4kHz was needed, but after starting with last week for a few months, it ends up as 10 dB. Monitor mixes that were once dialed in very well end up with all channels sending +12, with nowhere to go.

One church hired me to help with their system and when I got there every single EQ knob was turned fully counter-clockwise. There’s not much you can do with that—except flatten it all and start over again. When you start with last week, you’re starting with whatever worked then and making changes for this week. Over time, those changes become cumulative and it’s rarely good. 

Inconsistent Sound

Of course, one of the natural consequences of setting creep is inconsistent sound. As the settings start to creep over time, the sound will change. The problem is, no one knows what the starting settings should be anymore, so it’s hard to get back. All those little changes become big changes over time and things start sounding bad. 

And if anyone decides to take it back, there is going to be a big swing the week it all goes back to where it should go. I’m convinced that one of the things that triggers those awkward conversations about the sound is inconsistency. Why did it sound so different this week? It seemed louder. It seemed softer. I couldn’t hear the vocals. 

If that sounds familiar, maybe you need to consider how you’re running your console. Again, some might argue for the “set it and don’t touch it” approach. I think there is a better way. And next time, we’ll talk about baseline show files

Roland

Today’s post is brought to you by Digital Audio Labs, The Livemix monitor system is simple for volunteer performers to use while providing professional tools for great mixes. Featuring outstanding sound quality, color touchscreen with custom naming, 24 channels with effects, remote mixing, intercom, ambient mics, and dedicated ME knob, Livemix provides more and costs much less than competing systems.

CTA Review: Ultimate Ears UE18

There are many times when I feel very blessed that ChurchTechArts has grown the way it has. I’ve made some great friends through this site, and had some great experiences. I also get to play with some very impressive technology from time to time. And while I had an absolute blast mixing Easter weekend on the DiGiCo SD5 a few years back, I had to give that back. By far, my favorite product to test is custom IEMs, mainly because once they make them for me, they don’t need them back. 

This is the fourth IEM I’ve reviewed from UE, and they just keep getting better. I got a set of UE7s about 5 years ago, and thought they sounded quite good. As I’ve explored more of the UE range, I appreciate the UE7s more; not because they sound great for general music listening—they don’t—but because they are purpose-built for vocalists, guitar and keyboard players. Then I tried out a set of the Vocal Reference Monitors. Those sound terrible for general music listening, but are amazing for a vocalist. The clarity in the vocal range is unparalleled, and it’s so easy to pull a vocal mix together with them. Last year, I received a set of Reference Monitors. These were developed in partnership with Capital Records Studios, and are designed to be a flat reference for mixing. I thought they sounded great and used them as my everyday ears for almost a year. A few months back, my UE18s showed up, and the RMs now live in the palatial studio.

More Better

First, let’s look at what the 18 is. It’s a six-driver system with two drivers for lows, two for mids and two for highs. Also packed in that little package is a 4-way passive crossover. The sound exits from three separate ports.  The frequency response is quoted at 5 Hz - 20 kHz. That’s right, 5 Hz. Input sensitivity is 115 dB at 1 kHz, 1 mW. Impedance is 21 Ohms at 1 kHz.

All three of my other UEs are 3-driver models and to be honest, I kind of poo-poo’d the more drivers is better concept. At least until I put them on. 

The sound coming out of these things is simply incredible. I’ve found myself listening to them on a flight, and been completely unwilling to take them off when I land. Twice have I walked through airports continuing to listen to a given album because it just sounds so good! 

Sound Profile

As I’ve spent more time with the guys at UE, I’ve learned that each model has a target sound profile, which makes them useful for different purposes. For example, the UE7 has some low- and high-end rolloff that emphasizes more of the midrange, and cuts down on listener fatigue. This is perfect for musicians whose instruments occupy that middle frequency zone. However, give them to a drummer or bass player and they’re going to be disappointed. The RMs are almost ruler-flat, and perfect for making mixing decisions. They are incredibly detailed and clean, but tend to sound a little sterile.

The UE18s sound a lot like I like to tune my PAs. There is a nice bass haystack at the low end, smooth and flat through the midrange with just a little taken off at the top so they are not harsh or fatiguing to listen to. Thankfully, the low end isn’t over-emphasized, and it remains detailed and clean. There is still detail in the top end, it just doesn’t assault you. 

I don’t hear nearly as much clarity throughout the midrange as I do in the VRMs for example, but I wouldn’t expect to. This is not to say there is no detail there; there is more than enough. It’s just not emphasized as much. 

What you find is that there are different models that suit different tasks. For drummers and bass players, I would heartily recommend the UE18s (and from what I understand the 11s, but we’ll have to wait and hear…). If budget is tight, the UE5 is also well suited to more low end. 

Big Sound

The soundstage of the UE18 is big, wide and detailed. Listening to Zac Brown’s new album is a great test of these IEMs. On that album, we have everything from soft acoustic sections, large groups of vocals panned all over the place, heavily distorted bass lines, and full-on rock tunes. The 18s handle it all with ease, never sounding like they’re even working hard. 

The only thing I’ve heard that accurately gives me the sense of sitting near a stack of subs is my Heil ProSet 3 headphones. Those are rated to go down to 10 Hz, and remember these are rated to 5 Hz. Of course, I suspect that’s a 10 dB down point, but still. The bottom line is they sound amazing. I would not suggest everyone in the band needs these and they are pretty expensive. The cost is not insignificant—$1350 list—but now that my daughter is out of college and I have a little more disposable income, I might be willing to spend it. Especially after I started pricing out new washer and dryer sets. Totally off-topic, but we’re getting ready to move. 

I’ll put it this way; should you spend the money on these, you will not be disappointed. You will have a hard time wanting to take them out, however.

Today's post is brought to you by Elite Core Audio. Elite Core Audio features a premium USA built 16 channel personal monitor mixing system built for the rigors of the road. For Personal Mixing Systems, Snakes, and Cases, visit Elite Core Audio.

Choosing a New Audio Console, Pt. 3

We’re in the home stretch! We’ve already covered my belief that for the most part, most modern audio consoles sound good enough for most churches. We’ve talked about how important expandability and usability is, and considered if it needs to be volunteer friendly or not (that may become another post at some point…). Today we’ll wrap up with some final considerations for purchasing a new audio console.

Ecosystem

As much as we’d like all components from all manufacturers to play nice together, the reality is they don’t. Even with common transport protocols like Dante and MADI, it’s not always possible to take equipment from company A and make it work with company B. To be fair, Dante is making interoperability easier, but that comes with it’s own set of complexities. 

Some manufacturers offer a complete ecosystem; consoles, stage racks, recorders, maybe even in-ear monitors. Going this route makes integration and support much easier. When everything is designed to work together, it usually does and works better than systems that were not so integrated. This isn’t to say you can’t mix and match, but you have to be a lot more careful.

Another way to look at an ecosystem is to consider how the systems scale. You may have a main venue that requires a big console, and two or three other venues that only need smaller desks. Does the company make consoles of various sizes that will work in both settings? Whenever possible, I like to keep consoles similar throughout the venue. This minimizes training time and makes it easy for operators to move among rooms easily. This isn’t always possible, but consider it when you can.

Support

Generally, most manufacturers offer pretty good support for their consoles. But some will offer reps who are in or near your town. Others may have a really great reputation for 24/7 phone support. Some do not. This is a good question to ask when shopping for a console. For those of us who work in the Church, we don’t usually have problems between the hours of 8-4 PM, Eastern time Monday-Friday. Our problems tend to crop up at 7:30 AM on Sunday. What happens when you pick up the phone to call? 

Sometimes, it will be up to the dealer to provide support. Again, this is a question you should ask before purchasing. 

Interoperability

This is similar to ecosystem, but I want to emphasize the console being able to work with existing equipment. For the most part, audio consoles will input and output analog audio, which is pretty much universally compatible. But let’s say you have a PA with a DSP that will take AES audio or analog. AES would be better, but how easy is it to get AES out of your console? Some have AES outputs built in, others require a card. 

You may have a dedicated monitor or broadcast desk. How easy is it to make all that work? It may be as simple as an analog split, which may already be in place, however, it’s not the most elegant. A digital split might be better, but will the new console be able to split with the other ones? It may be that you want to replace all the consoles eventually, but how do you bridge the gap?

Perhaps you have your heart set on a particular personal mixing system and you’re looking for options to translate one digital protocol to another. Sometimes that can work OK, other times, it’s a headache. Be sure everything in the system will talk and play nicely before spending money on the new console. 

There you have it. My non-exhaustive list on things to consider before buying a new audio console. It’s easy to get excited about new equipment announcements and articles about how great a given console sounds. But in my experience, the console is usually not the weakest link in a church sound system. Consider the rest of the system, the operators and even the source material. For the most part, most modern consoles sound good enough. Think through the rest of the system and make sure it meets all of the needs

Roland

Today’s post is brought to you by Digital Audio Labs, The Livemix monitor system is simple for volunteer performers to use while providing professional tools for great mixes. Featuring outstanding sound quality, color touchscreen with custom naming, 24 channels with effects, remote mixing, intercom, ambient mics, and dedicated ME knob, Livemix provides more and costs much less than competing systems.