This week Mike tells you why it’s more important to develop skills than buy gear. If you take the time to build you skills, the gear won’t matter. But if you think buying better gear will make you better, you should listen to this show.
Hey y’all. As we wind down summer, a little tidbit came across the desk of one of our engineers, Steve Lund. He was pursuing some info put out by James Stoffo of Radio Active Designs. James does a lot of work coordinating wireless gear for things like the Super Bowl, the CMAs, and pretty much every major award show. I actually met him at the CMAs a few years back. Great dude.
Anyway, shared this map that came from Professional Wireless Systems. This shows the counties that T-Mobile is planning on lighting up starting November 1. Of this year. 2017. So if you happen to live in one of the little green squares, and you have a wireless mic or IEM running above 617 MHz, you’re going to need to shut it down after Nov. 1.
Remember, it’s not a matter of interference. By law, once the new owners of the spectrum start testing, every other operator needs to cease using it. Could you get away with it? Maybe. Should you? No.
There’s a little early Christmas gift for you. Time to order up those new wireless units, or better yet, wire everything you can. This isn’t going to get easier going forward…
UPDATE: I’ve been asked about a larger map. Can’t find a larger map, but I did find this spreadsheet of counties that presumably generated the map in question. So, there you go.
Somewhere out there you may not have noticed that the FCC has once again sold off a bunch of spectrum. They had such fun during the last sale, they just couldn’t help themselves. We’ve done a few podcasts on this already, but there is a little new information I thought would be helpful to get out there.
Being dealers, we just received this notice from Shure. This notice comes down from on high–which means it came from the FCC. This little ditty is supposed to be put at any point of sale of wireless equipment. It’s instructive, strangely enough.
The key takeaways are this: If you have any wireless equipment operating pretty much anywhere above 617 MHz, you need to begin making plans to replace it. At the very latest, you’ll have to shut it down permanently on July 13, 2020. However, I’ve heard from multiple sources that the new owners are so excited to try out their new spectrum that they will be firing stuff up as early as this fall.
In the past, we’ve had a little more time to transition, but this time, if a wireless carrier fires up something at, say, 625, and you start causing them interference, you will have to shut down. More likely, they will be causing you interference and you’ll need to move or shut down anyway.
Given that the wireless manufacturers are once again offering some decent rebates to trade in your 5-year old wireless gear that you bought when the 700 Mhz band was sold off, I wouldn’t wait too long (most rebates go through year’s end).
This is likely to happen again in a few years, so I would recommend you cut down your wireless channels to the absolute bare minimum and go as low as you can go frequency-wise. Those in urban areas will probably feel this before those in the country do, but know that this is coming, and you’re going to have to come up with a plan. Hopefully you’ve been listening to CTW over the last year as we’ve given you fair warning.
So, there you go. Your friendly wireless spectrum update for August 3, 2017. Enjoy an interference-free weekend (while it lasts!).
Taking a break from my sabbatical–which is sort of odd since a sabbatical is taking a break–to post this video we shot of the DiGiCo SD12. DiGiCo was kind enough to loan me one so I could re-shoot the audio training class for SALT University.
No doubt you know, if you’ve followed me for any length of time, that I’m a huge DiGiCo fan. I was into them before they were cool, having bought an SD8 in 2010 for Coast Hills when I was there. I have to say, the SD12 may be my new favorite desk. It’s small, powerful and very cost effective.
The dual screen configuration is super-cool, and I’m just a huge fan of the workflow. But who cares about all this typing, let’s get to the video!
Learn more at: http://www.digico.biz/docs/products/SD12.shtml
UPDATE 7-28-17: In the video I state that all channels and busses can be mono or stereo. That is not technically correct. While any of the channels and busses can be mono or stereo, there are processing limits that prevent them from all being stereo at the same time. The SD12 currently has 72 processing channels and 36 processing busses. How you arrange them (mono or stereo) is up to you. Sorry for the confusion, the video is updated with corrected title states.
It’s been a while since I’ve done a real equipment review, and I figured it was about time. I’ve been holding off on reviewing these speakers until I’ve had experience with them in multiple venues. In the past, I’ve found that speakers can sound OK (or terrible) in a demo space, or maybe even sound good in one application. But before I can give an entire system a thumbs up, I wanted to hear it in multiple venues of varying shapes and sizes.
I’m a huge fan of these boxes. There, I said it. I have now designed and commissioned four ARCS systems in three different styles of rooms and they have excelled in all of them. In every case, I’ve been able to achieve incredibly even coverage throughout the venue while maintaining a high level of sound quality. It’s hard to ask for more than that.
Let’s talk about the system components. There are three models in the ARCS series; the Wide, the Focus and the ARCS II. The design of the boxes is somewhat unique in that they can be arrayed in both horizontal and vertical arrays. They don’t become a true line array when you hang them together, instead they cover the audience areas in sections.
The ARCS series marketed as a medium throw system, up to around 35 meters. In practice, I have found this to be pretty accurate. My last system was in a room about 80’ deep and while we covered it very well, I was gaining the top box up about as high as I could to get the SPL we desired back there. They tend to work perfectly in the 50-80’ wide by 50-70’ deep 400-600 seat venues currently popular with modern churches.
The Wide box is a 90°x30° coverage pattern rated from 55 Hz-20 KHz with a max SPL of 135 dB. The Focus box is the same except it is based around a 15° vertical coverage pattern. The ARCS II is 60°x22.5° and will reach down to 50 Hz while delivering 140 dB SPL. While the Wide and Focus boxes are built around a 12” LF and 3” HF driver, the ARCS II has a 15” LF and 3” HF driver compliment.
Like all L-Acoustics systems, the ARCS have to be driven by an L-Acoustics amplifier. We typically use the LA4x, though depending on the design, the LA8 or LA12x will work equally well. The LA4x is a 4x1000W amplifier, and each channel drives one ARCS box. Each L-Acoustic speaker series has a pre-built amp preset that works some pretty great magic on the speakers, and they require very little EQ to make them sound great. In fact, the first time I commissioned a system, the construction project was so far behind that we didn’t get time to do any tuning of the PA prior to the first service. Even with nothing but the stock presets, the mix sounded great and everyone was happy.
I’ve found the bulk of my time in commissioning an ARCS system is spent getting the delay times set correctly and doing gain shading to get the levels consistent front to back. I usually do 1-3 small EQ filters to correct a few minor things in the boxes, then apply a global EQ for tonal shaping of the PA and that’s about it.
For me, a huge design goal of any PA is evenness of coverage. Internally, we have a design standard that shoots for ±3 dB or less of variance across the seating area in the 1-4 KHz range. Personally, I shoot for ±2 or less. With the ARCs systems, I’ve always been able to hit that mark. Here are a few traces from the last system I worked on. The pink trace is the center of the house right section in the front row. The blue trace is in the same spot, but in the back row. As you can see, overall, it’s pretty darn close. Overall SPL was within .5 dB and aside from a few acoustical anomalies (the room really needs some treatment), frequency response is very similar.
More than evenness, the ARCS are musical. In fact, they are some of the most musical speakers I’ve heard. Because they act more like a point source box than a line array, the phase response of the system is very coherent. L-Acoustics has spent a ton of time and money refining the porting and waveguides of all their speakers to deliver very phase coherent sound, and it shows. Even the smallest details of the music some out clearly, and the low end never overwhelms the clarity. When combined with the SB18i subs (which will likely be the subject of another post), the overall system is one that I just want to keep listening to. In fact, in every case, when I’ve been commissioning a system, I’m usually done in about an hour to hour and a half, but I keep playing tracks and walking the room for another few hours because it just sounds so darn good! I keep throwing more tracks at them and they rock it each time.
I always had in my mind that L-Acoustics was the premium-priced brand. And to be sure, the higher end line array products can get pretty pricey. But the ARCS—and in particular the wide and focus boxes we are using in most cases—are very affordable. We’ve found them to compare very favorably to systems that don’t sound nearly as good out of the box, even when the somewhat expensive amps are taken into account.
And that brings me to the two things I assign to the negative column of the ARCS. First, you have to use the L-Acoustics amplifiers; or as they call them, amplified controllers. I once asked our rep about using another manufacturer’s amp for some front fills and he said, “Yeah, don’t even suggest that.” Now, on the positive side, the amps with the factory presets are fantastic. I wouldn’t not want to use them, I just wish they were less expensive.
Second, when going from a focus box (typically on the top of the array) to a wide box (typically on the bottom), there is a slight gap in coverage. It’s very minimal—on the order of 2 dB or so—and would only be noticed by people listening critically while walking forward in the coverage pattern. But it is there. It’s a zone that lasts about 1-2 rows depending on chair spacing. As I said, most people sitting in those chairs aren’t going to notice. But if you play a track with a lot of HF detail, you’ll hear a little dip as you move through that zone. Otherwise, they just work.
Like all speaker systems, the ARCs aren’t right for every application, or even every budget. However, if they are a fit for the space and you have the funds, they are an excellent choice.
We’re taking wireless spectrum today! With the coming sale of part or all of the 600 MHz band, we have our two wireless experts back to let us know what is going on with the sale and what we need to know.
Well, I bet you thought I forgot all about our final mixing axiom. I have not in fact forgotten, but have been really busy. In the past few weeks, I was part of a launch of a new church campus in Indiana, we kicked off a design process for another church in Indiana, and I took a week off to spend time with my daughter and her boyfriend who were visiting from California. In the midst of all that, writing this post took a back seat. Sorry about that! But here we are, at the final axiom. And perhaps it’s appropriate that the title is Timing is Everything.
I’m going to look at this from two completely different perspectives, both of which will make your services better.
Time your Effects to the Song Tempo
This tip has made one of the biggest, subtle improvements to my mixes of anything I do. It’s a huge improvement because you can get really creative and layer in a bunch of great reverbs and delays which create a super-rich sonic landscape while not muddling up the mix—if it’s all in time! So often, I hear mixes that have a ton of delay and reverb in them, but because it’s not in time, it just “blurs” the sound. All those extra reflections and delays out of time make it hard to understand lyrics and can obscure instruments. However, when it’s in time, it just sounds good!
I’ve written about this quite a lot, so I’m not going to go into great detail here. However, it’s one of those things that makes such a difference—and is so easy to do—that it’s worth mentioning again in a post about timing.
Nail the Transitions
The other issue of timing has to do with transitions. In my view, transitions can make or break a service. Picture this; you’re in the congregation, the worship team is finishing up the last song, everyone is in a posture of worship. It’s time for the pastor to come up and pray. Except his mic is off. Suddenly the mic snaps on mid-sentence while the band abruptly cuts off. You’re immediately jolted out of worship posture to, “what just happened” posture. Bad transitions strike again.
It’s super-important that we not screw up the service by screwing up transitions. Set you console up so you can easily transition from worship to prayer without breaking anything. Maybe it’s just setting up a few VCAs to make it easy. It could be using snapshots or scenes. But whatever you have to do to make those transitions seamless, do it.
Getting these transitions right means you need to be thinking ahead and be aware of what is going on in the service. You shouldn’t be surprised when the pastor comes up to pray. You need to be ready to make that transition, even if it happens differently than it says in Planning Center. As you approach the end of the last song in the music set, start thinking about how you’re going to go from band to whatever is next. As the video bumper is winding down, figure out the movements you need to make to get to the next thing. Think ahead, don’t wait until one element ends to begin contemplating what is next.
This was an area that I spent considerable time training my volunteers on. Virtual soundcheck is a godsend here. I would cue up a transition point and let them run it again and again until they became comfortable. You may need to practice this as well. Spend some time during the week considering how to smooth out the transitions and the service will be better for it.
So there you go; Mike’s Mixing Axioms. Hopefully this has been a good series. I’ve got lots of ideas brewing for new posts as well as some big changes around here for 2017. Stay tuned!
Today we’ll be continuing our series on Mike’s Mixing Axioms. These are things that I’ve been working on and working through for the past 20 or so years of mixing. As I said earlier, this is not Gospel, and there are very likely other ways to do things. But this is what I’ve been doing and it seems to deliver consistently good results.
We’ve already considered the first three: Keep it Simple; Basics First; Less is more. Today, we’re going to talk about choices.
Axiom #4: Make Good Choices
When my girls were younger, when they would head out with friends, I would often call out as they left the house, “Make good choices!” I was reminding them to make choices based on who we raised them to be. Sometimes those are hard choices, but we all have to make choices.
When it comes to mixing, we also have to make choices. Sometimes they are hard choices. I’ve had to mix musicians that were—how to say this—less than good. Let’s say they had great hearts. There are times when we have to make choices as to what is heard in our PA. In fact, every time we get behind the console we have to make choices about what is in the PA. It’s up to us to make good choices.
When you’re mixing a “good hearts” band, you are effectively damage control. You are going to have to do your best to present them in the best light possible, and at times that will mean turning some people down or off. The tone deaf background singer probably shouldn’t be highlighted during the service. The guitar player who refuses to tune should probably not be leading the song. Sometimes, your choices become the lesser of two evils and you have to do what you can. It’s not ideal, but as I said in It Might Not Be Your Fault, you work with what you are given.
The game changes when you have a good band. In that case, you still have to make choices, but they become much more creative and you have a lot more to choose from. A lot of people get tripped up when they’re mixing feeling like if it’s on stage, it needs to be heard in the mix just as loud as everything else. In those instances, you’ll hear the acoustic guitar pushed way up too loud during a big rocking song because, well, it’s on stage.
Now, I can’t tell you when to turn things up and when to turn them down. There are simply too many factors to consider. However, let me give you a simple example. Take a song that starts out somewhat mellow, builds, and then breaks down at the end. And let’s assume you have a few electric guitars and an acoustic in addition to the rest of the band. What I might do is feature the acoustic in the beginning and ending sections and the electrics in the big middle. During the big middle, you might not hear the acoustic at all unless you really listen closely. Trying to push the acoustic into the big section of the mix might well just muddy it up or make it harder to hear the vocal.
Again, I’m not trying to give you a prescription, but rather permission. I want you to have permission to not feel like you have to hear everything all the time. Sometimes things like keys and pads are just there, filling in gaps, and you’d really only notice them if you turned them off. That’s OK!
How do you decide what to feature? Listen to the band, they will let you know. In a well-arranged song, something will lead each section. It may be the same instrument, or it may change. Follow along with the band and mirror their choices.
Now sometimes, you get a good band, with really good players who all want to be soloists. I’ve mixed those bands as well. In those cases, you get to choose who is leading and who is background. You’ll have to pick the instrument that makes the most sense for the song and tuck the rest behind.
This is one of the hardest things to teach, honestly. Some people just know what choices to make. Others have to learn, and some will never get it. The best thing I can tell you is to spend a lot of time listening to music critically. Take a song you like and listen to it over and over. Map it out; figure out what you hear in each section of the song. What is prominent and what is in the background? What is the lead and what disappears? Music is a language and like any language, we can learn it—it just takes time and practice.
This axiom is probably the most vague and I apologize for that. Like I said, it’s hard to illustrate with words. Next time, we’ll get into the last one which is much more concrete. Until then, make good choices!
Well, we’re back talking about mixing again. In this series, I’m sharing with you some of the guiding principles by which I build my mixes. Like all things, these are not hard and fast rules, but more often than not, I’m doing these things each time I mix. It doesn’t matter what or where I’m mixing, this is where I start. We’ve already talked about keeping it simple, and getting the basics dialed in first. Today, we’re on to the next topic:
Axiom #3: Less is More
You’ve heard this expression many times in the past, I’m sure. It may be hard to figure out how it applies to mixing, however. Here’s what I mean: I tend to do less to the mix, and it turns out sounding a lot better. By less I mean less EQ, less compression and less in the way obvious effects.
If you follow any of the church sound groups on Facebook, you’ve seen the popular posts, “Guess this EQ.” Usually it’s a picture showing pretty much every band cut to -18 dB. You will probably never see that on any board I’m mixing on. In fact, if I’m boosting or cutting by more than 4 dB, it’s an odd day. And it usually means there was a problem I couldn’t solve with mic choice or placement (I don’t always get to choose the mic locker).
You’ll also almost never see narrow cuts or boosts. I tend to use 2 octave or wider filters because I find them to be more musical—mainly because they do less damage to phase. My EQ is subtle and minimal. Less is more.
The same goes for compression. While I might use compression on most of my channels, I don’t use much of it most of the time. This is especially true for drums. My drum compression technique is to use just enough compression to smooth out minor variations in how hard the drummer hits each time. I don’t try to make every hit in the whole set the same—I want the player to be able to deliver dynamics. However, I try to smooth it out just a little so the occasional hard hit doesn’t stand out.
Similarly, I use parallel compression on vocals so I don’t have to crush them so they stand out in the mix. If you look at my compressors, you’ll see they’re taking 2-3 dB off at most. I’m smoothing, not smashing. One of the biggest offenses I hear in mixing today is a lifeless mix that is neither hot nor cold, loud nor quiet, just blah. This is typically the result of too much compression. Just because you have compressors on each channel doesn’t mean you should turn them all on to max.
Finally, I keep the sound of my effects minimal by timing them to the song. I did an entire post on this a while back. With this technique, I can add in a lot more reverb without it sounding like the mix is swimming in it. This keeps the anti-reverb people happy, while still adding a nice sense of lush to the mix.
How do you start with this? As I said in a previous post, start by flattening out the EQ, turn off the compressors and just mix. As you find you need to, do a little EQ here and there. Do the least amount of compression you can. Start with simple effects and work up. Let the music speak for itself, and it will almost alway sound better.
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Last time, we started our series of Mike’s Mixing Axioms. We talked about my concept of keeping it simple. Today’s axiom is similar, but different. As I said last time, these are things that I do—it doesn’t mean it’s the only way to do it. However, I’ve found that over 30 years, these seems to make a lot of sense and work pretty well. Were my situation different, I might have some different axioms. But since I mix in churches, this is what I do.
Axiom 2: Basics First
You might think that this is the same thing as keep it simple, but it’s really not. What I mean by this is that when I come into a new mixing environment—new for me, that is—I work on the basics first before I start getting complicated. What are the basics? Making sure the inputs all work and are noise free. Getting my board is laid out how I’m used to it, or as close as possible, so I don’t have to keep hunting around for channels. Dialing up the gain structure properly so all my faders fall right around unity for a good mix, while still giving me solid levels. Working with the band to get them good monitor mixes as needed, and making sure they’re happy.
It’s a little bit like cooking; salt and pepper are basic spices. But they’re not flashy, so some people go after all sorts of special spices without getting the simple salt and pepper right. Start there, and work up.
These are all basic elements, but too often, I see them overlooked in favor of the fancy stuff. I can tell you that if you jump past the basics and try to go straight to advanced techniques, you will not end up with a good mix. For my SALT mixing class, I started off mixing a track with nothing but high pass filters and EQ on only the kick and lead vocal. And you know what? It sounded pretty good! My gain structure was good, we made good choices on our mic’s, and the band played well. I had a little extra work to do as my “compressors” were my fingers. However, after the song was done, I asked the class if they could live with that, and most said they could. Now, by the time we got done, it sounded a whole lot better. But all those extras were just that, extras.
Have you ever had a cupcake that had fantastic icing but the cake itself was rather dry and flavorless? That is missing the basics. I once heard a story of a FOH guy who was mixing his band at a festival. They had a few minutes to sound check between sets and he spent the entire 20 minute sound check working on the toms. The show producer told them it was time to go and he had to set up everything else during the set. That went well.
My sound check is kind of like that. I have about 20 minutes to dial the whole band in and then we start rehearsal. Now granted, I get to start from a decent place each week, not a completely new board. And I do have a rehearsal to work up the mix. But still, I don’t have a lot of time to get fancy. So I make sure I crush the basics.
Doing the basics well means moving quickly and continuously. But that’s easy when I’m not having to adjust 14 plug-ins on my rack toms. Over time, I’m refining my show file so that I can start adding in some of the fancy extras that make it sound just a little bit better.
Getting the basics right means you’ll get the mix to 80-85% very quickly. And to be honest, that’s good enough for most folks. Sure, we can hear the difference between 80 and 100%. But most people can’t. Get to 80% and nail it. Then tweak your way up to 90-95%. But don’t shoot for that last 10-15% before locking down the first 80.