Last night I had the opportunity to attend a virtual soundcheck seminar put on by Avid. That might be a surprise to long-time readers of this blog, as you know I’m pretty committed to my DiGiCo platform. I originally had decided not to go, but two things changed my mind. First, Nick from Avid called me to see if I received the invite and if I wanted to attend (sidebar: Attention companies, the personal touch is always a great way to reach customers), and Robert Scovill was going to be leading it.
So while I knew it was going to be a commercial for Venue/ProTools integration (which is fine, it’s their event…), I figured I would still pick up a few things. When I pulled out of the parking lot at 10 PM, I was glad I invested the time. The event was very well done, the food was great and I got to see some friends I hadn’t seen in a while. Here are some of my takeaways.
Good Process=Good Results
I was very encouraged to see that the process Robert uses to build a mix is similar to the process I’ve developed over the years. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I can mix as well as Parnelli Award-winning Robert Scovill. What I am saying is that the way I approach building a mix is similar to his, with obvious differences due to platform, workflow and the fact that he’s Robert Scovill and I’m not.
It was interesting to me that I heard things that I didn’t like, then he fixed them, pretty much the way I would have fixed them (at least in principle). Again, I’m not putting my self on par with him, but it’s good to get some indication that the craft one has been developing for 20 years is on the right path. And it’s always good to be reminded that gain structure is key.
Engineer vs. Producer
It struck me that Robert sees himself as more of a producer than an engineer when he’s mixing. He talked about many of the choices he made when shaping the tone of the various instruments on the stage to produce a sound complimentary to the style of music. Given his extensive experience in the studio and on the road, this makes total sense.
But I got to thinking that perhaps I don’t often approach it that way when I’m mixing. To be sure, some of those decisions take time to figure out, and it helps to have great tools at your disposal (he employed a pretty impressive array of plug-ins to produce some equally impressive results). But even without a SansAmp plug-in, I can still shape the tone of the bass to complement the song.
As we talked about on CTW (episode 112), listening to a wide variety of music will help you with this. Again, I was encouraged to broaden my palate so that I will have a larger library of sounds to choose from when I put a mix together.
Virtual Soundcheck is a Great Idea
Robert talked about inventing the concept of virtual soundcheck back in the ‘90s. Today, it’s pretty easy for most of us to put together a VS rig (especially for digital mixers; if you’re still analog, check out this post). Last night’s seminar got me thinking of ways I can use VS more effectively. I don’t have a mid-week rehearsal to record and tweak. However, I think it would be beneficial for me to spend an hour or two each week reviewing the past week’s mixes, trying things and honing my skills.
He also talked about having the artist (in our case, the worship leader) come out and listen to and talk about the mix. Exposing ourselves to that kind of scrutiny is scary, but it’s a great way to grow as an engineer. Plus, once they know we are working hard to make them sound great, they will play and sound better (psychology, it’s crazy-cool!).
Overall, it was totally worth the investment of 5 hours of time (including travel). Should you receive an e-mail for an Avid Virtual Soundcheck seminar, I encourage you to go. Also, sign up for the webinars Scovill does. Yes, they can be very Avid-specific. However, I’ve learned many things from them that I can apply to my workflows, so don’t let that turn you off.
I’ve written before (and will again) that as technical artists, we cannot stop learning. When you have the opportunity to learn from someone who knows more than you, by all means, take it. You won’t be sorry!