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Baseline Show Files

I received a question via e-mail the other day that got me thinking that I should do a post about my baseline show file system. One thing I’m big on is getting technology—usually computers—to do menial tasks for me. Since all of our A/V/L technology is computer-driven these days, it makes sense to have it do as much work for me as possible. Enter, the baseline show file.

I also try to note if there any significant changes in the baseline using the Description field.

Most of this post will be directed toward our audio console show file as it is the most extensive. But we also have baseline shows for ProPresenter, the Hog PC, and coming soon to FinalCut Pro for editing the video podcast (I don’t do one today because the edit is so simple).

We started baselining our show file on the SD8 even before we bought it. I was told by several people that if you use the same show file week after week, it can become corrupt, and you’re then screwed. So we decided to build a baseline, and while we’d start there every week, we save it as a new show file for every single weekend. This has several advantages. First, we avoid the corruption issue because we aren’t re-saving over the show all the time (more on that later). Second, we have a consistent starting point that is highly refined and very close to what we end up with each week. Third, we have multiple backups in case something goes horribly wrong. 

When we started, the baseline was really just the patch and basic channel layout. It’s now evolved into having our initial gain settings to within 3-6 dB of where they end up for most inputs (vocals vary the most), our consistent channels (drums, bass, guitar, keys, etc.) all have starting EQ curves which, again, are really close to where we end up each week, and we have our starting effects chains all pre-patched and set up. We are now going so far as to have some of our snapshots already populated, complete with the MIDI controls for starting and stopping Reaper. Basically, anything that I set up the same way every week gets added to the baseline so I don’t have to do it every week.

Baselines as Software

I consider my baseline a piece of software, and as such, we version it just like we would any software package. We’re currently at version 8.3, though this week we’re going to upgrade it to 8.4. I keep a list of things that need to be tweaked, and “bugs” that need to be fixed in Evernote. As I’m mixing, when I find something that needs to be adjusted (ie. my drum click input gain needs to be boosted by about 8 dB), I make a note. Once I have enough “bugs” to fix, I’ll update the baseline and rename it as the new version. 

My team is trained to call up the most recent version of the baseline, regardless of the number. Since we update every month or so, it’s never too far down the show file list. They are also trained to immediately save a new version of the show named for the Sunday of the weekend (or the date of a special event). 

Once the baseline is called up, we arrange the faders/channels as needed for the weekend and go on our merry way. Because everything is so close, soundcheck goes really quickly. I can count on the fact that my worship leader’s guitar and vocal are almost always spot-on, as is our pastor’s mic, the piano and the bass. The drums take the most tweaking as our drummers all have different playing styles. But even then, we’re really close.

Keep Safe from Corruption

Since we’re really talking about software here, it’s important to keep the show file safe from corruption. I don’t know how many times we can version our baseline before it goes bad, but we’ve decided to rebuild it from scratch about once a year. So far, this has worked out fine. It takes about an hour for two people to rebuild the show from a blank “factory fresh” show file. We basically re-dial all the settings in from the most recent version manually, and save it up.

We also learned the hard way it’s important to keep a backup of the show file. Since we run a remote computer synched to the SD8, we have the file on that hard drive, and each show file gets backed up to DropBox. However, if someone opens the baseline, uses it for the weekend and simply overwrites the baseline, it gets saved to the remote and updated to DropBox. In theory, we could go back a version in DropBox, but when it happened to us, we couldn’t get it back. So, we back up our backup.

Every time I update my show file on the console to a new version, I copy it to the remote. I then copy the new baseline to our SD8 Show Files folder in DropBox, and to the SD8 Baselines folder in DropBox. It’s not part of the normal workflow to ever touch the baselines folder, and it would be really tough to accidentally overwrite that one. 

Help for Non-Show File-Based Systems

I know many of you are working on consoles that don’t do show files, but instead work with scenes. When we had our Yamaha PM-5D, we did a variation on this theme. We had a starting scene that we worked from each week, and saved each weekend to a new scene. We could fairly easily update our baseline scene as needed. The downside was that the more scenes we had, the longer it took to sync the 5D with the DSP-5D. If I had it to do over, I would probably use Studio Manager to maintain a baseline scene, and copy it to the desk each week, writing over the “current weekend” scene each week. 

You may have to get creative with your desk to find a process that works, but once you start using a baseline show or scene, you’ll wonder why it took so long to get there. 

What is your baseline show file or scene process?

Today's post is brought to you by Heil Sound. Established in 1966, Heil Sound Ltd. has developed many professional audio innovations over the years, and is currently a world leader in the design and manufacture of large diaphragm dynamic, professional grade microphones for live sound, broadcast and recording.