Sunday, November 25, 2012

We've Always Done It This Way

Old ways are the best, this is how we always do it, if it’s not broken don’t fix it. All of these are examples of what any new engineer on the scene hears from other more seasoned veterans, and that’s perfectly fine, to a point. When do we reach a point though where it must be accepted that for as fast as today’s technology develops and then becomes outdated, is it not possible that our practices and personal stamps on the industry might need revising as well? As an example, at a show last month, the FOH and monitor mix engineer, was setting up the board for the show, much the same way he has done for over twenty-five years. When I asked him what he planned on doing for each band, he looked at me like I had spoken another language, as if to say, “What do you mean?” That’s when it hit me, this person is still mixing the same way he did when I first worked with him in the early 1990’s, with total disregard to the last few decades of advancements in our industry. In order to keep up with the new types of artists and their constant blending of genres, one must keep up with the newest and best ideas from all available resources and build your own “bag of tricks”.

The days of the walls of PA’s, the massive amounts of power required to push the sound, the huge stacks of guitar amps, all of the large amounts of equipment required to put on a show, especially an outdoor event are long gone. According to some of the pros, one in particular, it is accountants that began the demand for smaller, more portable, and cost-effective replacements for the large amounts of equipment and the cost to transport it. This is the theory of one of the most respected names in the industry, Bruce Jackson. He states in an article he wrote for MixMagazine online, The Live Sound Industry Grows Up (and slims down) that, “It's expensive to cart truckloads of heavy speakers around the world, let alone unload them, put them up for the show and put them back in the truck to go to the next gig. I guess too many acts went out on the road for an extended tour, only to find that production costs ate up profits. The pencil-pushers eventually came into positions of power and demanded more efficiency from sound companies, and they responded.” The sound companies certainly did, slimming them down from big heavy arrays, to “tall, slender and lightweight columns of beautifully engineered loudspeaker technology, known as line arrays”, said Jackson. The line arrays of today are lightweight, coaxing each speaker to work with it’s neighbor, to create an even sound for the entire audience, and delivering unbelievable amounts of control of the coverage pattern. Such as in the case of the Clair Brothers line arrays, world famous for their innovation and technology to meet todays live sound needs. US based JBL also has a huge selection for all audio needs as well, still staying lightweight and powerful.

As another example, while it is not necessary to utilize a fully digital board, the newer advancements have been responsible for making it easier for an engineer to go in and make adjustments with surgical precision. The older mixers as they got more complicated adding more stages of electronics to increase routing, bussing, patching and other functions, the sound quality was degraded. Newer analog and all most digital consoles of today have solved this problem by using better internal connections, and enough “internal mathematical precision to deliver mixes with zero degradation,” Jackson also stated. However, all digital consoles are not created equal, so it is best to give them a listening test before investing. Also with the advent of the digital age, processors have become the real winners. Previously unavailable signal processing options such as digital delay, reverb, AutoTunes, pitch shifters, and new filter shapes for EQ’s, again allowing for that surgical precision previously unheard of. Processors of choice by the pros vary; however, some of my favorites are the dbx Drive Rack220i, Empirical Labs EL8Distressor, the Lexicon MX400XL, and the Solid State Logic XRack Stereo EQ.

Knowing all of this new technology that is available, while not forgetting some gear is classic and always present because it still works just as well now as it did twenty-five years ago, should make for a homerun on every show, but sadly there are those that are still clinging to the old practices and mixing the same way they did then too. In order to take a show from mediocre to unforgettable, it is vital for a production company to stay current and knowledgeable about advancements in the music industry. We must not be threatened or afraid of new ideas and new ways of getting things done; in an economy that doesn’t permit mistakes or an audio foul up. The difference between your band plugging into the house system and playing despite the acoustics and the guy behind the board versus properly setting up and playing with the full accompaniment and the power of the system is what will make or break not just a show, but the artist as well. New technology, new and fresh ideas mixed with old standbys should be what today’s engineer blends for that perfect balance of the best ways to make a show rock.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

AES, The Membership You Can't Live Without!

There are many associations and sites for the music industry that professionals can utilize and refer to, however the best one for engineers is without a doubt the Audio EngineeringSociety (AES). This is vital to any audio engineer, studio, live sound, video game/Foley, you name it, and this society, unlike any other, is devoted entirely to audio technology. For the engineer that needs to be in the know, this is the site for you. Founded in the US in 1948, the now international society “unites audio engineers, creative artists, scientists, and students worldwide by promoting advances in audio and disseminating new knowledge and research.” It is in essence another vital tool in building ones professional network.

With 95 student centers along with multiple branches of the society in place, they hold activities in each area, guest speakers, technical tours and demonstrations, and social functions. Utilizing these various levels of education mixed with social interaction, allows it’s members to mix in different settings and environments, a chance to make connections with different areas of the business that one person on their own may not have otherwise come in contact with. This is in addition to the annual conventions, periodic conferences, and regional summits that include scientific presentations, student activities, workshops, and exhibitions.  

The AES website is a huge plethora of information, and if you are a member, it’s usefulness is un-measureable, and very much worth the membership dues. There are research papers previously presented at conventions, tutorials, technical reviews and documents, and much more contained just in the E-Library. AES also uses the monthly publication, Journal of the Audio Engineering Society, to educate and inform the industry on the latest tech papers and reports, feature articles on the newest and best of audio technology. This publication, it’s findings and reviews have been essential to my learning both as a student and a professional in the industry and it’s highly recommended for anyone in the industry because of it’s constant finger on the pulse of both the people of the industry and the technology that makes us all sound better.   

The other extremely important role that this society plays in the music industry is one so vital yet not always widely known. Given the scientific nature of the society, they are charged with the creation and maintenance of the international standards in the areas of digital and analog audio engineering, communications technology, acoustics, media preservation and creative practice. They have and continue to stay current with all established and emerging audio technologies and techniques. As we move into this new century and new ways of doing things on smaller scales to get the same big effects, this society and it’s constant updates of its findings will benefit all in the industry. The ability to really know ahead of time before buying how a product or design will perform, the best way to go about it and the best way to implement it as vital to the producers as it is the engineers.