Using Snapshots for Fun and Profit

I posted this on Twitter a few days ago; “Hi. My name is Mike and I’m a snapshot addict.” Now that I have a FOH console that has a fantastic snapshot function, I’ve started using them with greater frequency and effect. Someone asked if I could explain the use of snapshots on Twitter and I was pretty sure I couldn’t do it in 140 characters. So here we are. First, a couple of disclaimers: I’ve really only been using snapshots for a month now (albeit a very busy month...), so I’m not yet an expert. Second, I will be referencing the snapshot systems I’m most familiar with, the DIGiCo and Avid Venue. You can do a lot of what I will talk about on Yamaha’s systems, but I found the scene functions of the PM-5D so cumbersome I rarely used them. I’m sure others have mastered scenes, but after a year of mixing on the 5D, I found them more hassle than they were worth. After a week of mixing on the SD-8 and using snapshots, I’ll never go back to mixing without them. That says something about the usability of the system. Finally, I’ve kept my snapshots simple for now while I get used to them and build confidence with the desk. I have big plans for doing all kinds of automation with snapshots (firing my multi-track recorder or starting iTunes for walk out, for example), but I’ve not worked that out yet. With all that said, let’s look at what a snapshot is.



A Picture of Snapshots

Think of a snapshot like you would the picture after which it’s named. Imagine you’re visiting the beach. It’s a beautiful summer day; sunny, about 76 degrees, a slight breeze. You grab your point and shoot and take a snapshot of your kids playing on the beach. Afterward, what do you see? Everything that was in the field of view of that camera is frozen in time and recorded for later playback. Your kids jumping in the air, the sand flying off their feet, the four people in the background, the waves crashing on the shore. Even small details such as the sea shell in the sand are recorded.

A digital mixing console snapshot is like that picture; it’s a recording of every single parameter setting of the console the moment you save the snapshot. The snapshot records everything from fader positions to gain settings, to reverb pre-delay times. If you change an input channel patch between saving snapshots, that too will be recorded.

The power of snapshots is that they record everything. However, that can really come back to bite you if you’re not careful. Sometimes you don’t want to recall everything, and that’s where recall scope comes in to play.

Grab the Scope

Just like a “scope of work” in a contract defines what a contractor will do, the recall scope defines what will be recalled from a snapshot. The scope control allows you to define, on a snapshot by snapshot basis, what will be recalled. The snapshot saves everything, but recall determines what will be brought back.

For example, in my weekly workflow, I will save snapshots for every song we do, plus any other element that requires a fader change (announcements, interviews, videos, message, etc.). As the band works through the song set, I set snapshots based on the mix I’m setting up. However, I am usually tweaking EQs, comps and other settings throughout the rehearsal. The snapshots are busy saving the variations of those settings during the afternoon, but I really want to keep my final settings all the way through the service. In other words, I want the EQ that I ended the rehearsal with, not the one at the beginning. To make that happen, I simply turn off EQ in my scope. In fact, my recall scope is quite small at the moment; all I recall are fader positions for input channels and control groups, plus FX settings. As I’m getting my baseline settings more dialed in, I’ve been starting to recall pan settings for different songs, and maybe EQ. However, since we only get one, maybe two times through each song before the first service, I don’t have a lot of time to tweak. Thus, I stick mainly with single settings that work well for everything.

Picking Snapshot Points

Depending on how crazy you want to get with snapshots, you could snapshot everything. Guitar solo in the middle of a song? Snapshot. Need a bump in a vocal at one point? Snapshot. For me, that’s more than I need. I will typically build a mix during the first run-through of a song and get things dialed in pretty close. On the second run through, I’ll save the snapshot at the end of the first verse. This puts my mix about where I want it at the beginning of each song. I then mix the song like I would normally, making any changes I feel are needed during the song. At the beginning of the next song, all faders return right where they need to to start that song.

There’s tremendous freedom in mixing this way; no longer to I worry about forgetting to bring the B3 mics back up, or swap guitar channels for a given song. The snapshots get me close and I mix from there.

Next time, I’ll show you an example of how I’m using snapshots and walk through a typical weekend service.