Personal Mixing 2.0

Look Ma. no wedges! OK, there are two for vocals, but that's it!This past weekend marked our third with Roland’s M-48’s on stage, and our first with the entire band using them. Monitor world has been decommissioned and the only two wedges for vocals were mixed from FOH. I was pretty confident in my decision to go this route, but I’m excited to report that the response from the musicians has been better than expected, and the improvement to the mix in the house is also welcome.

To be sure, we had a few glitches as we rolled the system out. It took us a little bit to get used to the new workflow, and get all our settings correct. However, we had those worked out in two weekends--which isn’t bad. This past weekend (week three, remember) went very smoothly, despite the fact we had three musicians using them for the first time. We had sound check done in under 10 minutes, and the band had plenty of time to get their sounds right. The only request I had come up from stage was from our worship leader. He thought the kick drum sounded a bit too dull in their ears. I thought for a second, and responded with, “Well, you have EQ on your mixers...” He immediately said,“Right. Never mind.”

And that is one of the best features of the M-48 (and why I call it Personal Mixing 2.0). When Aviom came out, it was revolutionary. But that was 10 years ago, and the world moves on. It’s 2010 and to me, perfectly reasonable to expect we can send 40 channels of digital audio into a personal mixer, and have it custom mixed for that artist without affecting the others on stage. They should have control over EQ, reverb and panning. And we even have control over the relative balance of individual channels of group mixes if they need that. As I said, no change made for one mixer affects any other. But I haven’t even gotten to the best part yet.

The best part is a feature I requested while at InfoComm (actually, it was me and another guy who brainstormed it together during the demo...never did get his name). Since we’re using the S-MADI Bridge to get audio from our DIGiCo system into the M-48 network, we have a REAC port at FOH. We set an M-48 up there for the engineer to listen to. In the latest version of the software, it’s now possible to drag that mixer into the “Engineer’s Monitor” slot. From that point on, when you select a mixer from the list, the Engineer’s monitor is a mirror of that artist’s mixer. That means I can plug my ears into my M-48 and instantly and exactly hear what my worship leader is hearing and tweak his mix for him if he needs it! Any change I make is made on his surface as well.

Now granted, this feature has been available on the Avid PQ system for some time. However, PQ is pretty limited when it comes to what you can send it; and it’s proprietary. With the S-MADI Bridge, the M-48 is open to just about everyone.

The entire system has been thought out very well, including a great library system that makes set up go very quickly each week. My ATD, Isaiah, has developed a standard set of presets for the various band positions each week. He spent several hours setting that up, but last Thursday, it took him 10 minutes to load the appropriate presets and get the system ready for the weekend. I like that.

Finally, musician acceptance has been great, even among those who were pretty opposed to personal mixing systems in general and Avioms in particular (we were originally slated to go Aviom until I saw the S-MADI in June). The doubters have come around, and while they still may prefer a monitor engineer, they’re perfectly happy with the new system. The guys who were neutral to enthusiastic about the change are really jazzed about it. This weekend they were sharing mixing tips with each other, and one even said, “It’s like Christmas with new toys!”

If you can’t guess by now, I strongly endorse the system. It sounds great, has been rock-solid reliable (even with a pre-production S-MADI Bridge and beta software), and it’s easy to use. It also makes for a cleaner stage (and the M-48 is a lot lighter than an SM-12!).

Next time, I’ll address some of the frequently asked questions I get about how we’re using everything.