Old Production Takes From an Old Guy

Month: November 2011(Page 1 of 4)

The topic for this post comes from a reader who wants to know what he should do when faced with the requirement to mix no louder than 85 dB SPL peaks. That’s right, 85 dB peaks.

Why I Hate Volume Limits

I used to own a video production company. We were often hired to do video based on length. I always tried to talk the client out of imposing a length limit on a project saying, “The video needs to be as long as it needs to be, then it’s done.” I feel the same way about volume.

Ideally, the worship leader, FOH engineer and church leadership are all on the same page when it comes to volume. In that ideal world, the music will be mixed as loud as it needs to be to convey the power and energy (or lack thereof) required. The band, the song and the crowd will tell you how loud it needs to be. Go over that and it’s too loud; go under and it’s too soft.

Imposing a arbitrary limit on volume to me seems a bit like telling the pastor his sermon needs to be 3,000 words, no more, no less. But we live in a less than ideal world, and we have to live within arbitrarily defined volume limits. So what’s a sound guy to do?

Investigate

The first thing I would do when faced with a limit like that is find out where the number is coming from. Is it based in an inaccurate reading of OSHA hearing protection guidelines? If so, educate yourself and have a rational conversation with your pastor. Help him to understand that 8 hours of exposure to 85 dBA SPL in a machine shop 5 days a week is a whole different animal than 85 dBA SPL peaks for 15 minutes of worship music.

If that’s not the case, dig a little deeper and see where the number came from. Did someone wander by the booth one day and see 85 on the meter and think, “That sounds about right?” Are people complaining that it’s “too loud?” Is it really too loud or are there spectral balance issues? Or perhaps the setter of the number doesn’t like electric guitar. Or drums.

Acoustic drums will generate 85 dB peaks with the PA turned off, so you need to figure out where this is coming from.

System tuning and spectral balance are huge issues that can be addressed and give you a to more leeway in mixing at an appropriate level. 85 dBA mixes can still be excruciating, while 100 dBA can be enjoyable if done well.

Live Within Your Means

Or in this case, your leadership. In my current church, I have a different definition of “too loud” than my Sr. Pastor does. Since his is lower, I have to adapt my mixing style to suit him—he’s the boss after all. The challenge for me is that his definition changes week to week.

I’ve been told it’s “awesome” one week at 92-94 while it could be “too loud” at 90-91 next week. So I’ve spent a lot of time working on getting my mixes right, the balance correct and the system tuned to his liking.

I’ve also adapted a different way of metering my loudness. I use a software program called LAMA, which can display both a standard SPL readout (I use A, Slow) and an average (I have chosen 10-seconds). LAMA allows me to set colors at various levels so I have my average number turn yellow at 85 dBA SPL, and red at 91, which gives me a “corner of the eye” indication as to where I am.

I keep an eye on the standard readout as well, and occasionally my peaks run into the low to mid 90s, but for the last month and a half, if I keep my 10-second average below 90, my pastor is happy. Personally, I’d be happier if it was louder. But I’m not paid to be happy; I’m paid to make him happy. I often say, “If you can’t abide by the limitations your leadership puts on you, then you need to leave.” Same applies here.

Again, I would talk to my pastor and find out where this is coming from. As him if it would be OK to try mixing to a 85 dB 10-second average and see how that feels. Address the spectral and mix balance issues; you might be surprised.

Beware Compression

The reader asked if he should compress the inputs, and bus compress the mix to give him the power he wants, while staying under the “legal limit.” To me, that’s a little like putting your phone on speaker and holding it in front of you while you drive.

Yes, you could compress the inputs a few dB, then bus  compress a few more, then compress the master another a little further, and compress it again in the DSP. That would certainly raise your average SPL while keeping your peak below 85.

However, it’s very likely that this technique will result in the perception that it’s even louder, which may cause your limit to be lowered further. You could also hard-limit your DSP so you can’t exceed 85; but again, if you suck all the dynamics out of the music, all the life goes with it, and it will also sound louder. This would be self-defeating on two fronts.

At the end of the day, I think you’re better off dealing with the root cause of the problem rather than trying to figure out how to stay below an arbitrary number.

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This week the panel talks a lot about lighting design, color correction, color rendering index and how to improve your lighting technique. Lots of great picks as well.

More…

A few weeks ago, the UPS man dropped of a couple of boxes. Most of you know that I have a bit of a mic fetish, so I was excited to see the boxes contained the Miktek C7 Large Diaphragm FET Condenser mic and the C5MP Small Diaphragm Condensers (the MP standing for Matched Pair).

The C7 is really a studio mic, so I won’t spend a lot of time on it in this review. I did record some vocals with it, and I used it as my mic for a few episodes of Church Tech Weekly. The C7 sounds really, really good. It’s very smooth, with plenty of detail, and when switched to cardioid mode, the proximity effect has a pleasant warming effect without being muddy.

The shockmount is indeed impressive, if not a bit hard to use.

The C7 has three cool sliding switches, one that selects omni, cardioid or figure-8 patterns; a -10 dB pad; and a high-pass filter. The overall construction is very solid (it weighs several pounds) and comes in a cool, aluminum attaché case that holds the fine wooden presentation box for the mic and the very sturdy shock mount. Speaking of the shock mount, I found it to be less isolating than I like; if I tapped the mic stand, I could clearly hear it transmitted through the audio chain. And because the mic threads into the bottom of the spider-mount, it’s a bit of a pain to put in and take out.

At a retail price of \$850 or so, it’s not cheap, but it’s less than an AKG C414, and sounds every bit as good, if not better. I’m not sure how much I would use it on a live stage, at least in my setting, but it is a great-sounding mic.

While the C7 may not have as much application for us live sound guys, the C5MP really does. I tried it out on several instruments and found it’s a pretty versatile set. The first weekend I had them in, I put them up as overheads for my drums. I did this primarily because I’ve been wanting to try my PR-30s on the B3, but needed something for OH. The C5’s sounded pretty dang good overall, though I’ve gotten pretty used to the tighter pattern of the PR-30s.

My OH mic’ing style has gravitated more toward using the overhead mics as cymbal mics and less as kit mics, something the PR-30s are great at. The C5s however, have a more open pickup pattern, and did a great job of capturing the entire kit. I initially found them a bit bright, but I think that’s because I’m used to the PR-30s. In my room, with my PA and my drum kit, I prefer the PR-30s; however the C5s would not be a bad choice—not at all.

I expected this to sound better than it did. But try, try again…

I also tried them on the piano. I’ve used a set of Rode NT-5s (which the C5s resemble quite a lot) on piano successfully in the past and thought the C5s would work well. It took a lot of fiddling, but eventually, I found a location on our piano that sounded pretty good. A while back, I tried out various piano mics when I had the DPA SMK-4081 on hand, and I called up the tracks I recorded with those mics.

In this position, the piano sounded pretty natural and had a nice stereo image.

I was impressed by two things immediately: First, the SMK-4081s sounded amazing, and took no time at all to make them sound that way. I put them where Bruce told me to, and they worked. Done. The C5s sounded good eventually, but it was a lot more work. I tried various combinations and positions, even giving the stereo bar a go. Eventually, I settled on a high mic up near the hammers and a low mic at the far end of the sound board.

The following week, somewhat on a lark, I decided to give them a shot on our percussion player. He normally brings three congas, but we typically mic them with two mics—Sennheiser e904s—which I don’t like, but at the moment don’t have anything better.

This was my favorite application of the C5s, by far.

I mounted up the C5s on the included stereo bar and set them up in an X-Y pattern in the middle of his conga set up. It didn’t take long to discover that this was a great-sounding solution. He even received several compliments on the sound of the congas from people in the congregation that week. I panned them just a little left and right which lent great spread to the image, while the mics captured both the initial smack and the lower resonance of the congas.

We were quite impressed. The stereo bar, once we got it set up was cool. Getting there however, was a pain. First of all, the included shock mounts are stupid-hard to use. You have to shove the mic through two rubber sleeves to get it into the mount, which was difficult enough. Once in the shock mounts, I discovered that the base of the mounts interfered with the stereo bar, making it impossible to rotate the mounts far enough for a proper X-Y positioning. I had to switch to the standard clips, which worked OK, but it sure would have been nice to have better shock mounts.

One of my least favorite shock mounts ever.

Like the shock mount for the C7, the ones for the C5 are a bit over-engineered, overly complex (and thus costly) and could be greatly improved by making them simpler. The ones for the C5 are so hard to use that I would probably either A: never use them or B: leave the mics in and figure out some way to store them safely that way.

And that is the rub with the C5s; they’re great sounding mics, but at \$1,300 a pair, a bit spendy—especially when compared to a matched set of NT-5s that come in at around \$425. Yes, the C5s sounded really, really good. But 3 times as good as the NT-5s? It’s hard to say given that I didn’t have a pair of NT-5s on hand, but on a live stage, I’d be hard pressed to say it’s worth it.

Ultimately, I think I see the Miktek C7 and C5MP for what they are; studio mics that sound really, really good. I wouldn’t hesitate to use them for many tasks, but I would have a hard time spending the money to buy them as a primarily live sound guy in a church. Are they top-notch mics? Yes. Are there better values out there for what we do? I think so. But at the end of the day, it’s your (or your church’s money), so you decide.

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In this special video, entitled, “Don’t Quit Your Day Job,” Mike and Van come to a terrible realization: We are not on-air personalities. Enjoy…

It’s been a great time showing you all these videos; it’s now time to wrap it up and say goodbye.

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Today is Thanksgiving. As far as I know, we are one of the very few nations on earth that set aside an entire day for giving thanks. While the last few years have been hard on many, the fact remains we have a lot to be thankful for. I haven’t always done a Thanksgiving post, but this year I decided to, if for no other reason than to remind me to be thankful for the many things God is doing in my life. While we all face the trials and tribulations of daily life, it’s good to remember to be thankful.

So without further adieu, here is my Thanksgiving 2011 list.

My Wife and Daughters

In a few weeks, my wife and I will celebrate 21 years of marriage. It hasn’t all been bliss, but I’m thankful that we’re still together and we are still working on our relationship. She has put up with a lot of craziness being married to me, and I am very thankful for that. My two girls are amazing women of God, and it’s been fantastic watching their faith grow and develop. I’m truly blessed to have all three of these women in my life.

My Friends

God has given me a lot of people to call friends; and that’s amazing. Some are really close friends who mean the world to me. I dare not list them, but they know who they are. Technology has made it possible to develop and maintain close relationships with people across the country, and I really appreciate that. I’ve gotten to know so many great people that way, and it’s an honor to count them as friends.

I was telling my wife the other night that I sometimes wonder why anyone reads this blog. Who am I to have anything to say? But, amazingly, you do, and I am grateful for you. I am encouraged not only by the stats showing me the number of readers, but the many comments, e-mails, tweets and words at conferences. You have made my life richer.

If I am amazed that people read this, I am blown away that anyone would advertise here. But again, they do, and I am very grateful. Not only for the endorsement, but also for helping put my daughter through college. My sponsors make it possible for me to continue to do what I love to do (writing this blog), and keep me from having to work a second job to help get her through school. That’s a big deal.

Everything Else

The Apostle Paul reminds us to give thanks for all things, and indeed we live in remarkable times. The technology we have at our disposal is incredible; we are experiencing wealth and prosperity that was unimagineable a few hundred years ago (even in the midst of the current downturn); and we can travel just about anywhere quickly and affordably.

I have a great job at a great church, God has provided for us more than what we need, and I have a steady supply of dark chocoalte in the drawer of my desk. I admit to forgetting these many blessings on a regular basis when I get frustrated at things that don’t go the way I might like. But the reality is, things are going pretty well, and I need to be thankful for that.

Finally, I am thankful for bacon, the aroma of which is wafting throughout the house now—which means it’s time to move on to the next phase of cooking. Happy Thanksgiving!

Elemental Technology has developed an “encode once, stream anywhere” solution that will deliver real-time streams for the desktop, tablet, and smartphone, all at variable bit rates that adjust to bandwidth conditions.

Eiki is about to release a new projector, the LC-HDT700. It’s a 7,000 lumen projector with a RGB+Y LCD color engine, and a load of special features that make it a great value. From what we’re told, it’s slated to be available sometime in December.

The guys who developed the Apple XSan (before it was discontinued) are back with a product that looks and functions with remarkable similarity. They make RAIDs, SANs and other high capacity, high availability, high performance storage solutions that are actually easy to deploy and manage.