Old Production Takes From an Old Guy

Month: August 2010 (Page 2 of 2)

Real World Snapshots

Continuing the previous post on snapshots, today I’ll discuss some things that I’m doing with them every week.

Real World Examples

Here is my snapshot list for this past weekend. As you can see, there is a snapshot for every major event of the service. I’ll walk you through the snapshots for an example of what’s happening (and changing).

1.0: Walk In—iTunes music is playing, the band and all speaking mics are off

2.0: Mark Welcome—iTunes fades down over 8 seconds, the band comes up, along with our worship leader. Vocal FX and delay are still off, along with background vocals

3.0: Because of Your Love—Same as 2.0 with BGVs, and FX brought up to the proper levels

4.0: Mark Reads—Mark reads Scripture, so I pull down vocal FX and drop the Guitar and Keys VCAs down as they play under him

5:0: The Heart of Worship—Guitar, Keys VCAs and FX back up. The delay time on the vocal delay has been changed with this snapshot, and my fader positions have changed slightly to reflect the mix this song needs

6:0: Prayer—Pastor Ryan comes up, so his mic gets turned on; BGVs and FX go down, along with all the band VCAs except for Guitar & Keys; those get lowered to underscore level

6.7: Interview—Pastor Ryan interviews two new staff members, so this snapshot brings up their mics and brings the Guitar and Keys VCAs down

7.0: Greeting—The congregation greets one another, all mics off

8:0: Verbals/Offering Prayer—Let by our Jr. High Pastor Adam, this snap turns his mic on

9.0: Song For My Family—The offering song is just Mark and his acoustic, so those inputs get brought up, along with vocal FX; Adam’s mic is turned off

10.0: Post Song Prayer—Mark prays, this snap turns off the FX

12.0: Message—All band is turned off, Pastor Ryan turned on

13.0: Thank You—The communion worship set starts, so Pastor Ryan’s mic is off, band is up (with a new set of vocal FX and delay times)

14.0: Amazing Grace—Slight fader tweaks and delay times

15.0: My Chains are Gone—This song flows right out of Amazing Grace but the tempo changes. I used this snap to adjust the vocal delay time

16.0: Benediction—BGVs off, Pastor Ryan’s mic up, Guitar and Keys VCAs down to underscore level

16.5: Live Walk Out—Ryan’s mic off, Mark’s mic off, band VCAs back up

17.0: Walk Out—Band is turned off, iTunes fades up over 4 seconds

You’ll notice that the numbering of the snapshots is a bit inconsistent. That’s because between the Saturday night and Sunday morning services, we moved a few things around. All I had to do was move the snapshots. There is a Renumber function, but I forgot to do that. We also changed who was doing the prayer after the worship set, so I did have to update that on the fly for the 9 AM. One feature I really like about the DIGiCo snapshot system is that if you grab a fader in the middle of a snapshot playback, it instantly pulls it out of the snapshot so you can control it manually. My original snapshot had Adam doing the prayer, but Sunday it was Ryan. When I fired the snapshot, I held Adam’s fader down just long enough to pull it out of the snapshot, then moved Ryan’s up. Once I had it reconfigured, I re-saved the snapshot for the 11 AM.

Last time, I mentioned the recall scope. Most recall scope systems give you great control of exactly what is recalled. Here is the scope for one of my snapshots:

As you can tell by all the red X’s, I’m not recalling that much. I’ve expanded the Group Outputs section so you can see that while I’m not recalling most of the groups, I am recalling the fader position of my Vocal Smash group. This is basically a bus with a comp on it that I use to thicken up our worship leader’s vocals. Some songs need more smash, others need less, so I recall it in the snapshots. The green check mark on the fader column for the Input Channels indicates that I’m recalling fader position for all the input channels. This page gives you an idea of how granular the control is for each snapshot. If I had to change this for every snapshot, it would be a huge pain; thankfully, I set this up on the first snapshot and it carries through every subsequent snapshot that I create, unless I tell it otherwise.

Another cool function is the cross fade time page. For every snapshot, it’s possible to control how long a change takes for every parameter change. Maybe a visual would help.

I’ve expanded the Input Channels section so you can see that while I have most channels set to change over 1 second, my iTunes fade is 4 seconds. This is the walk out, so I want the music to fade up a little more slowly. My second snapshot of a service will have an 8 second fade on the iTunes channel to fade it down smoothly at the beginning of the service. Again, each parameter of each channel, group, bus, or EQ can be set to change rates at different times for each snapshot!

Again, that’s a lot to edit, and thankfully, there is a quick way to do it. The SD-series has an Edit Range button which enables me to edit multiple snapshots at once. On a normal week, I create all my snapshots to do what I want them to do. When I’m all done, I hit Edit Range, select all my snapshots and set the fader times to 1.00 seconds. After confirming the change, I go back and edit the iTunes fade times for walk in and walk out. All told, it takes less than a minute to set it up.

Before the service, I’ll take a minute or two and punch through my snapshot list. I want to make sure things like speaking mics come up when they should, and that nothing is going rouge. I’ve learned the hard way this is a vital step to a solid snapshot workflow, especially when you go back after a rehearsal and insert snaps for prayers and announcements. Sometimes you make the change and it doesn’t save the way you think it did. Taking a minute to check makes for a smooth service.

Once that’s done, mixing gets really fun. The boring stuff is taken care of and you can focus on the fun stuff—making the music sound great.

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.

Using the Matrix for Consistent Record Levels

One of the challenges we face as church sound engineers is to get consistent levels on our recordings. Almost every church I know of records it’s services, either on Hard Disk, CD, Video, Cassettes (the horror!) or a combination of those. Unless you have a dedicated recording mixing position, getting the levels consistent on those recordings is tough.

The challenge is simple; the dynamic range of a typical service can be a good 20-30 dB. In our case, we typically mix our music in the low 90’s; say, 92-93 dBA SPL. Announcements, and teaching however, falls in the high 60’s; figure 65-68 dBA SPL. Some quick math means that we have a good 25 dB difference between the levels of our speakers and our band. Our ears are fine with that, because it makes sense in context. For a recorder, however, 25 dB is a big difference. If I set my input level on my CD-Recorder for good levels during the music set, my sermon will be way too low. On the other hand, if we try to maximize the level for the sermon, the music set will not be pretty.

One way to handle that is to manually adjust the input levels (or change the output level from the board, depending on how you are set up). But that can be tough, especially when going right from a song to a message, which we often do. I could run the signal through a compressor, but applying that much compression to music will suck all the life out of it. There are auto-level devices that do a decent job, but they are expensive and add another piece of equipment to the signal chain.

Having just installed our new DIGiCo SD-8, I think I’ve hit on a good solution using Groups and the Matrix mixes to control and equalize output levels. Here’s what I’ve done:

The first step is to identify my “groups” of levels. In other words, how can I place all the sources on my stage into buckets based on their level. I broke it up this way:

  • Mono Group 1—All Speaking Mics (I call it Spkrs to Mtx)
  • Stereo Group 2—All Vocal Mics (Vox to Mtx)
  • Stereo Group 3—All Instruments (Band to Mtx)
  • Stereo Group 4—All Playback (PB to Mtx)

On the SD-8, it’s easy to send channels to groups; just select the channel and turn on the group send(s). All my channels go to the Master group (which feeds my house PA). Each channel also goes to the appropriate group based on what it is. Unlike a mix bus, a group has no dedicated send control for each channel. It is simply assigned there by a switch. The level a given channel hits a group is based on the input gain and fader position.

Those four groups are routed into four channels of my matrix (actually, it’s 6, I do the same thing with Lobby & Cry Room); Video Rec L&R, CD Rec L&R. Very soon I’ll be using an external 4×8 system processor to split those up, but for now I’m splitting them on the board.

Routing signals into the matrix is easy on the SD-8On the SD-8, I have several places where I can adjust the level of those groups feeding the matrix. I originally set the relative levels on the matrix page, but then decided that was going to be too cumbersome to change on the fly. I decided to bring each group into the matrix at the same level, then adjust the outputs of the groups to equalize the levels.

In practice it looks like this.

Left to right the groups are Speakers, Band, Vocals & PlaybackAs you can see, the speaking mics are the highest, music and vocal mics are lower and playback is in the middle. When the output of the matrix channels hits the recorder, my levels are consistent throughout the entire service. The best thing about this is that the dynamic range of each section is in tact. I do apply some high-threshold, high-ratio compression to the outputs of the matrix sends to make sure we don’t clip the record levels, but it’s set to engage only rarely.

This process has been a great boon to my workflow. I don’t have to remember to adjust my record output any longer, and my levels are spot on all the time. Our video recordings are more useful now (now that the ALC isn’t clamping down on the music all the time), and board mixes translate much better. I’ve also safe’d the group sends and the matrix outputs so they don’t inadvertently get changed in a snapshot.

This set up is easy on the SD-8 as it has a flexible and customizable bus structure. You may have to play around with your console to come up with a similar routing system, but hopefully it gives you some ideas to get started with.

Using The Trim Control

A few years ago I was logging a lot of hours in flight simulators. I had the idea that I would one day get my pilots license. That has been on hold for a while, but I learned one lesson that is useful in audio. Small aircraft (an likely large ones, too) have a trim control. The trim control allows the aircraft to fly level (or climb or descend at a fixed rate) while the stick is in a neutral position. It essentially adjusts what “neutral” is so the plane will do what you want without your constant intervention. The goal of the trim control is to reduce the pilot’s workload so he can focus on other tasks. I’m greatly simplifying here for the sake of illustration, so go easy on the comments, pilots…

When it comes to mixing audio, we have a pretty high workload. We might have 20, 30, 40 or more channels to keep an eye and ear on. Inside each channel are dozens of parameters; input gain, EQ, comps, gates, aux sends, panning, level. There is a lot to do. Thankfully, as we are now almost fully in the world of digital consoles, controls exist to help lower our workload so we can focus on other things. One of them is the trim control.

Different console manufacturers treat this word differently so let me define a few terms. Gain, at least in this post, refers to the mic (or line) pre-amp stage; the initial gain of the channel. Trim is a digital control after gain that will add or subtract level. Some companies call “gain” ” trim,” and that’s confusing

Using Trim

I like to mix with my faders at or near unity. I also like to hit my preamps pretty hard so as to maximize signal to noise ratios and A/D conversion. Sometimes those two goals are at odds. For example, if I turn my hi hat channel’s gain up enough to really light up the preamp, it will take your head off in the PA. I could turn the fader way down, but then I’m not at unity, and I don’t know where it’s supposed to go back to if it gets moved inadvertently. Enter trim.

When I do sound check, I’ll crank up the gain on each channel until I’m getting a good level on my preamp. I set each fader at unity, and take a listen. If there needs to be more level for that channel in the house, I’ll add some gain with trim. If I need less, I’ll dial back the trim. By the time I’m done with sound check, I have a decent starting mix with all my faders at unity. From there, it’s slight adjustments to suit the mood of the song.

With my faders at unity, I have the greatest resolution for making subtle changes in the mix, and I know where to reset them after a song change (well, now I actually use snapshots, but that’s another post). If you’ve not used the trim control before, give it a shot and let me know if it helps.

DIGiCo SD-8 Tips and Tricks Pt. 1

Most of you know we installed an SD-8 a few weeks ago. I’ve now had the opportunity to mix on it for several weeks, and really like it. The surface is very fast to get around, and the software has been optimized to help you get a lot done in a short amount of time. There are some cool features that can make quick work of repetitive tasks, and I will demonstrate them here. Drawing on inspiration from Dave Rat who regularly does video posts to better illustrate what he’s talking about, I have here a screen capture that shows a few of my favorite features.

Specifically I’ll address accessing your FX settings quickly, demonstrate the incredible power (and ease of use) of the macro language and quickly show how gain tracking works. Enjoy!

Digico SD-8 Tips & Tricks pt. 1 from Mike Sessler on Vimeo.

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