RECORDING & BROADCAST
IN THE STUDIO WITH
MATT SORUM OF GUNS ‘N ROSES & THE CULT
CONTENTS 20 06 | FOREWORD
12 | INSTRUMENTAL AT THE TOP
24 | ACADEMY REWARD
A word from Airtime’s Managing Editor, Katy Templeman-Holmes.
Andy Trott shows how rock and roll, technology, gaming, and science, will take you far in business.
Acclaimed UK-based producer, Steve Levine, is creating a new musical buzz in Liverpool.
08 | SONIC BOOM
16 | MINISTRY AND SOUND
26 | WE SHOULD KOKO
Elton John’s long-time engineer, Stuart Epps, tells us why his 40-yearold microphone is still standing.
Daystar is the fastest growing Christian network in the world, and we find out exactly why.
Universal Audio’s Bill Putnam shows how live and studio converge on classic effects.
10 | PARADISE ISLAND
18 | OLYMPIC GOLD
28 | IN THE ZONE
If it’s sand, sun, seafood, and subharmonics you’re after, look no further than Sonic Vista Studios.
The Sochi Winter Games proved to be a real team effort for three of Norway’s leading broadacsters.
Chicago’s Big Ten Network turns to Studer to ensure workflow is just a walk in the park.
20 MATT SORUM The world-renowned rock legend recalls some real career-changing moments on stage and in the studio.
30 LEAGUE OF LEGENDS Will Nealie gives a technical insight into the mindblowing world of Riot Games.
32 TO BE FRANK Grammy-decorated Frank Filipetti entertains us with some war stories from his time behind the console.
34 LIVE IS LIFE Thomas Riedel offers a practical perspective on high-tech live audio broadcast solutions.
SWIVEL ON SUCCESS Jordan Young reveals why Lexicon is the only go-to reverb, and shares a tale or two about working with Mrs, Carter.
38 THE ANATOMY OF AN INSTALL We look at the ins and outs of the JBL installation in Dolbyâ€™s flagship Atmos facility in London.
RECORDING & BROADCAST
FOREWORD R E C O R D I N G & B R O A D C A S T is a wicked pairing of two worlds that are hugely passionate, highly competitive, and sometimes insanely complex and overwhelming. The technologies involved are as fascinating as the people that design them, as they are as interesting to understand how an artist or an engineer uses them; it’s those stories that drive us. At Harman, we work as a team of pro-audio experts, all with a history in recording, engineering, designing, and turning our spare rooms into chaotic audio pleasure domes! With this edition of Airtime, we indulge the inner geek and share some of the great stories, friends, partners, and amazing installations that we get to revel in every day. Passion is a wild energy, almost impossible not to share; enjoy this as much as we do, and you’ll get a proper fix of pure indulgence.
Katy Templeman-Holmes Managing Editor C O N T A C T email@example.com
Printed by DesignPrint Ltd • www.designprint.co.uk • Design by Eimear O’Connor Published by Outlay Media Ltd • Registered in England & Wales No. 08781494
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3/18/14 9:18 AM
A quick jaunt up the M1 motorway to a bizarre microphone auction some 20 years ago was undoubtedly one of the most important journeys Stuart Epps would ever make. A shrewd investment of £100 secured him “the most unique sounding AKG 414 on the planet”, and it’s still his go-to mic today... As long as he’s got a roll of gaffer tape handy... Epps began his career as tea boy at London-based Dick James Publishing, which is where he first met Reginald Dwight, aka Elton John. He remembers listening to Sgt. Peppers [Lonely Hearts Club Band] with him, and the two of them being “totally inspired”. It was around that time that Epps began working with Elton and the late Gus Dudgeon, Elton’s genius producer, and started to learn the art of vocal production. “That time was such a great platform for my later career, as a producer in my own right; it also taught me that in production, it all starts with the microphone,” Epps explains, from his home studio in Cookham, England. “I bought my AKG C414 for 100 quid from The Rolling Stones’ mobile [studio], which went to auction in the mid-’90s. I’d always found 414s a little sharp and toppy, but when I used this one for the first time, it blew me away; it sounded smoother than a Neumann U87. There’s a photo knocking about somewhere of David Bowie singing into it, and everyone that has ever used it sounds incredible.” That list is way too long to print, but to give you an idea: Noel Gallagher, Paul Weller, Robert Plant, Robbie Williams, Kiki Dee, Georgie Fame, Albert Lee, and Bill Wyman – and that’s just to name a few. What’s unique about Epps’ 414 is that it has an external
power supply, and “almost certainly a valve”, which he believes are the magic ingredients. “The power supply and its age definitely gives it its sound. I haven’t had the nerve to open it up, but I’m sure there has to be a valve hiding in there somewhere! We used it at The Mill and Wheeler End with all sorts of stars, but the mad thing with it is that everyone sounds good through it, male and female, because it suits everyone’s voice – that’s very unusual,” he smiles, adding that it also more than held its own against a vintage £15,000 Neumann in a shootout he did “for a bit of fun” when working with a Sinatra tribute a few years back. “That Sinatra experiment was crazy – I mean, you’re talking a near priceless antique mic, against my little 414, complete with gaffer tape to boot, and literally there was nigh on no difference. It’s just an amazing microphone. I also remember Kiki Dee singing through my 414 and absolutely loving it – her guitarist, Carmella, made her buy one off the back of that session, in fact, along with an AKG C12. “You know, with some artists, it goes further still. For example, I was using it with Marillion’s lead singer, Steve Hogarth, on a solo project, and he loved it so much, every time he has done another album with the band since, he’s borrowed it! It’s incredible really, isn’t it?” Now that Epps has downsized from the big studios in which he was once part of the furniture, he relies on a compact, yet trusted recording setup: Cool Edit, a Lexicon reverb, a dbx 160 (his all-time favourite compressor), and, of course, his 414. “I use the 414 on everything, basically, from acoustic and electric guitars to everyone’s vocals; it’s the ultimate rock and roll microphone, and has a great bluesy tone; somehow, it just has that sound of the ‘70s inside it,” Epps reflects. “We all know that
old guitars and pianos have ‘a sound’ – it’s an instrument thing, isn’t it? But you never think of a mic that has a classic sound just because it’s old, yet that certainly seems to be the case here. “I’m not a particularly techie guy, but Christ, I can rabbit on about the 414 for hours, as to me, they’re just like old guitars, with their little quirks and nuances. My relationship with my 414 is a bit like a marriage, really, except it never talks back to me...”
www.akg.com www.lexicon.com www.dbxpro.com
I REMEMBER WHEN... “We were recording what would become Elton’s Song For Guy – we were doing a long session, and he was sat at the piano and started playing the main riff. The tape was running, but I clocked that we were running low – very low - so started panicking... He was nailing the take, and it was a moment of inspiration, but I kept thinking, ‘finish it now, finish it now!’ Incredibly, as he hit the final chord, the tape ran out... That was a real ‘heart in your mouth’ moment, I can tell you...”
“Elton discovered electronic backgammon... He’d play against himself at The Mill while we were rewinding the tapes to keep his focus before a vocal take, then he’d turn the switch on and deliver an amazing performance, just like that – admittedly it takes experience, but it was always incredible to watch...”
“Kiki [Dee] was doing I Got The Music In Me at Electric Lady Land Studios, and she just wasn’t in the mood. We had to get it done as all the BV girls were waiting – one of which was Whitney Houston, funnily enough. Anyway, Elton decided to take all his kit off as she came in to do the vocal and streaked across the room to try and make her laugh. It must have worked, as we got the take...”
Stu, Elton, & Kiki
a real tape-op
PARADISE ISLAND IT WAS DURING THE DOT COM BOOM
in San Francisco some 10 years ago that producer, Henry Sarmiento, decided to up sticks to Ibiza, to set up what has now become the recording facility on the Spanish island. If it’s sand, sun, seafood, and subharmonics you’re after, look no further than the quite delectable Sonic Vista Studios... “I was running Herbie Herbert’s Syklopps Studios in San Francisco at the time, and a lot of the artistry was starting to move out of the scene; rents were rising, and technology took over the city with what I called a digital gold rush,” Sarmiento reveals, comparing it tongue-in-cheek to the famous Californian gold rush of 1849. “VCs were pouring money into start-ups everywhere, and I knew it was time to create a new chapter in my life. I’d been to Ibiza before, loved it, and knew there were no pro facilities here, and three weeks later, I was making it happen! I wanted space, and Sonic Vista is now a great purpose facility for everything from songwriting camps to full recording, mixing, and mastering sessions.” The focus is in the name: sonic is the sound; vista is the view – and what a view the Mediterranean Sea provides. An inspiring location, Sarmiento insists, leads to inspirational recordings. “The setting is so idyllic, artists can really let their juices flow,” he says, with a smile. “We’re minutes from the airport, the town, and the beaches, but still on the top of a secluded hilltop with a lovely pool. Also, it’s historic: the villa is 400 years old, which you don’t get back in America!” Over the years, Sarmiento has built a large international network of clients: artists from America, the UK, South America, Japan,
and Europe, are coming through his doors all the time. “I’ve had Lady Gaga in here, 50 Cent, Akon, Taio Cruz, David Guetta – lots of multi-cultural, multi-genre acts – and most of them are on holiday when they visit, so we might only have hours to play with, yet we "I USE THE [DBX] 120A TO CREATE THAT COOL, CINEMATIC BOTTOM END"
retain that relaxed vibe,” he explains. “I mix the best of analog with the best of digital, but I have no classic console here, as if that thing fails, it’s session over – we’re on an island, remember – no-one out here’s gonna be able to replace that if it goes down!” Sarmiento does his mixing and mastering in Studio A, which has a small live room to record vocals and overdubs; Studio B is a production room for recording drums and guitars, and for artists to jam.
On one of his main console busses, he always has a dbx 120A Subharmonic Synthesizer inserted; it’s his go-to for anything that “needs to rumble”: “I use the 120A in many of my mixes to create that cool cinematic bottom end; it exercises the subsonic frequencies to give more presence in the mix. It’s typically used in post rooms and movie houses to get that rumble, and you can fine tune on the exact frequency and add more subharmonics and low boost as you wish. You can hit anywhere from 24Hz to 36Hz, and there’s another knob that goes from 36Hz to 56Hz, so you can achieve an extremely accurate bottom end. “I have it hard-wired into my I/O, and it always returns back to my Pro Tools. I use it for my music mixes, because it gives great detail and control on certain bottom end pieces. I believe in two kinds of music: good or bad! For me, I always ask: ‘what does this mix need?’, and if I feel the artist has a real subsonic energy, then I’ll pull out the dbx, as that’s what their original motif was.” It can’t be a bad life, can it, running a studio in Ibiza? But when you’ve got the likes of 50 Cent calling you up at 2am asking if you’re free to record, isn’t that a lot to deal with? “If you don’t have pressure, you’re not leading a responsible life,” laughs Sarmiento. “My whole life is about making things happen in a minute or an hour, and I strive for the best results in the smoothest, most comfortable vibe, so there’s no tension or stress. It’s good exercise for all humans to get stuff done, remember... Be in control of yourself, and make those projects happen!” WWW.SONICVISTASTUDIOS.COM WWW.DBXPRO.COM
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3/17/14 5:06 PM
“TO DIGITISE AUDIO IS ONE THING, BUT TO PROCESS IT DIGITALLY IS SOMETHING DIFFERENT.”
INSTRUMENTAL AT THE TOP WORDS PAUL WATSON
After purchasing his first Beatles album from a London record store at just 12-years-old, Andy Trott knew he needed to work in the music industry. Today, the Soundcraft, Studer, AKG VP and GM is somewhat of a musical entity: part rock and roller, part gear-head, part inventor - and when it comes to business, there’s no ‘part’ about it...
Did that not tempt you down the manufacturing route? It’s funny, my Dad was trying to get me into business, but I just wanted to make cool things. I really didn’t have the killer instinct in my early 20s; I just wanted to be a design engineer. I was doing well in games; one of mine, STIX, sold tens of thousands of copies, but around the mid-80s, just after Microvox, the games industry collapsed, and my income went from good to awful. At that point, I had to get a job...
You were interested in music technology from the word go... Yes, I got heavily into The Beatles and The Everly Brothers, but was really into electronics at the time, too. I built amps, a Fuzz Box, then learned all about recording; multi-track tape recorders were so expensive, so I used to do tape-to-tape; I’d also take tape machines apart and manipulate them into doing what they’re not supposed to do...
Which was at Studiomaster, right? Yes, which was a small company in those days, and a competitor to Soundcraft, actually. In fact, [dashes to desk and brings back silver box], I actually sent this, which I designed, to Graham Blyth around this time [opens box]. It’s a total recall system; it could do 256 channels into an old memory card, and would store all the settings. I patented the LED recall system, as it got brighter the further away from the setting you were. But Graham didn’t want it, so it went nowhere...
Did this lead to the invention of Microvox? Yeah, I was writing computer games at college, and the Fairlight was launched two years before - this when computer music was really taking off. I realised that it was all about sampling, so I built a sampler: an 8-bit breadboard with A-D converters. I had companding in it using a dbx chip, believe it or not - and I wrote the front-end software, modeling the whole thing on the Fairlight – I finished it in about 1985. That was your first audio peak of sorts, then... [laughs] I guess so! My first hardware/software project, certainly. At the time, I’d been working with a company called Supersoft, who’d been distributing my games, and I showed them Microvox. We presented it at a trade show and coincidentally, Fergal Sharkey came in, and I showed him. He was still in the early days of being a pop star, couldn’t afford a Fairlight, but he wanted Microvox. He bought it, and used it on A Good Heart, and some of his other songs from that era!
Is this when you got disillusioned with the audio industry? It was very unprofessional in those days, and I wanted more than just engineering at that point – I wanted to manage people, and to run a business. If I stayed with Studiomaster, that wouldn’t happen, and at this point, satellite TV was really taking off, so I wanted to get into the communications industry. I worked for DCE, a small company that were making satellite systems for Sky; I was there for three years, but that was my stepping stone for working with Pace, who were growing hugely in the Set Top Box market, and they were looking for talent in R&D and satellite TV... I happened to be in the right place at the right time. Then the tech crash hit in 2001 and everything collapsed; all share prices crashed monumentally, so I needed out. I heard about the job at Soundcraft in late 2002 and applied for the MD job, and thankfully I got it.
looking over your shoulder at what competitors are doing, whilst coming up with new and competitive ideas; that’s a challenge in its own right. The macro trends for broadcast are massive channel counts - that’s down to Moore’s Law and the ability to process more audio in the same number of chips. Now we’re on the back of PC technology, every two years we will see a dramatic increase in channel count. But with massive processing capability comes the next problem of how best to connect to it and route to it, so rather than developing our own router, I chose to work with an industry leading communications company who specialise in fiber-optic technology and routing.
Total Recall You’d already come full circle, then? Yes – it’s ironic, isn’t it? [laughs] But I knew about Harman, how they were looking to acquire businesses and turn them professional, so I realised the whole audio industry was becoming far more professional. I’d gained years of experience in the communications industry, worked with companies like Time Warner, Motorola, Cisco and Microsoft, so I was in good shape to take on the role. Did you have any idea how the broadcast industry might evolve? We had a pretty good idea of what was going to happen, but when I came to Soundcraft, the product portfolio was poor, and there was no product strategy, so I brought in Keith [Watson, marketing director, Soundcraft, Studer, AKG], who became a core part of the team early on; we sat down and mapped out a strategy, then went to corporate, laid out a plan to them, and they bought it. The plan consisted of merging Soundcraft and Studer together, to take the Studer technology, which was great technology, and roll it out to Soundcraft basically. But when we first started merging, we didn’t get everything right. When you’ve got two businesses so different in culture, you have a big challenge; and being one business unit, we had to make it one manufacturing plant, so we had to take the difficult decision of bringing it all to the UK. There was some unrest, but the fog lifted, and our Swiss team are now brilliant, right in line with what we want to do. What trends in the broadcast market forced the change to digital? To digitise audio is one thing, but to process it digitally is something different. With this wonderful thing called Moore’s Law, we have seen incredible advancements in computing power, and the ability to process and store the audio. Today, storage capacity is almost infinite, which means more channels, better sampling rates, and processing you’d never have been able to do in the analog domain; to call it a revolution is an understatement. DSPs are chips that were developed to design and process audio, but by today’s standards, they’re actually holding it back, which is one of the reasons we’ve made the transition to PC architecture. DSPs have followed almost a linear curve, getting 20% more powerful each year, but plot that against what the PCs have been doing - almost doubling every two years – and it’s an incredible difference. The capacity that these Intel chips have got to process audio is mind-blowing, and that’s one of the reasons we started working on this technology. What specific trends are you addressing... aside from Beatlemania? [laughs] You saw the zebra crossing outside my office, then? There are a few macro trends in the market that are pretty astounding: the rate that technology is evolving today is insane, which means we can’t compete in the way we used to be able to compete, so we have to do things differently. Because things move so quickly, competitors are more of a threat these days, so the workflows are changing. You have to keep
We’re talking about Riedel, here... Absolutely. MediorNet is Riedel’s fiber-optic backbone system, capable of handling tens of thousands of signals: video, audio, intercom, you name it. We were developing Infinity Core at the time, and needed a solution to connect all of those channels to a networking infrastructure, so I chose to work with Thomas [Riedel]; it’s given us a routing capability that is massive and industry-leading. What else does Infinity bring to the table? We were constantly being beaten up by our competitors, partly because of the speed technology is evolving: we were weak on channel count, redundancy of surface, and connectivity and routing. The Infinity series was a strategy to solve all of those problems. Working with Riedel solved the connectivity; developing the Infinity Core based on PC technology solved the processing and
channel count; and developing the new surface solved the redundancy issue. We launched it in January in New York and in my opinion, it was a big bang; it’s been very well received in the market, too. We then needed a high capacity audio link to connect to MediorNet, so we developed A-Link, which is MADI on steroids, basically. It uses the 3G data format, and we’ve split it down into 1,536 audio channels running at 48kHz, 24-bit. We can add two channels to get a 96kHz sample rate. The A-Link interface is very interesting, as nobody else has that many channels running over a single fiber-optic. By running two of them, we get complete redundancy. You’ve been at the helm for 10 years now... What happens next? [smiles] Everything’s got to get quicker because of these mega trends; it’s driving all industries, not just audio, and we have GOT to embrace these trends; if we try to fight them, we’re going to be dead. A few years ago, we thought developing digital audio systems would be difficult for years to come, but actually, it’s pretty damn easy now. The differentiator in digital audio is less than it was: it’s all about the user interface, the workflow, and the cost. There is a lot of convergence going on in the broadcast market, and we have to offer solutions to make it cheaper to broadcast a live show.
MINISTRY AND SOUND IN 1985, ONLY ONE YEAR AFTER
its launch, Marcus and Joni Lamb had the first full-power Christian TV station in Montgomery, Alabama, WMCF-TV 45. By the early 1990s, the Lambs had moved on to Texas, and founded KMPX-TV 29; and in 1997, the ministry launched the Daystar Television Network, which has since become the fastest growing Christian network in the world... Daystar is a Christian, family-friendly network, with both specifically religious programming, and other content, such as family-oriented films, music programming, and so on. Marcus and Joni Lamb not only own the network, but also host the flagship program, Marcus & Joni - a variety/chat show that focuses on guest interviews and music, with an in-house band, and a number of guests bands in each show. It’s a heck of an operation, too; Daystar now operates 70 TV stations across the US, and transmits internationally via the Hotbird 6 Satellite (79 countries), Thaicom 3 (59 countries), and on AMC-4, NSS 806, PAS-10, BSkyB, VIASAT, and OPTUS B-3. It also has significant online and mobile broadcast operations. In charge of everything audio for these productions is David Ribb, Daystar’s director of audio, whose facility uses a Riedel MediorNet system as the hub and router for its three Studer Vista consoles. “We have two Vista 9s and a Vista 5, “ Ribb explains. “One of the Vista 9s is for our broadcast mix, the other is for the studio and band mixes; and the Vista 5 is used on a secondary studio/sound stage but is also ‘road-ready’, so it’s also great for location productions, such as house band events.” Choosing a second Vista 9 for what is essentially the live performance work rather than, say, a more ‘classic’ live console, was a carefully considered move. “Because of our large I/O count requirement, and more specifically the output side - auxes and mixes, the combination of interview talent, IFB, house band and singers, guest bands, satellite feeds,
and so on - the Vista 9 fitted perfectly,” says Ribb. “Also, the all-Studer solution means that if personnel have to change-out between the broadcast side and the studio side, they’re already familiar with the console.” Core wireless requirements in the system total 42 channels, including 28 channels of wireless microphones and belt packs attached to the system, and 14 wireless in-ear belt packs for the band mixes and IFB. There are many more wired mixes allocated to band members. In addition, the studio Vista 9 provides another 10 foldback mixes for each of the sets around the sound-stage, through speakers mounted in the lighting grid. “These are for talent who can’t wear in-ears, or because of timing, need to get quickly on and off set,” Ribb reveals. “We have sets all the way round the 360 degrees. There are about eight different on-camera ‘looks’, and each is treated as a zone. There’s probably 13 sets in our main sound stage; of those, one is a dedicated house band set, and any one of the other sets can be changed out to be an interview area, a band area, or an audience area.” The Daystar team don’t rely much on cue lists or snapshots during the show; they set the consoles up for the day’s work by reallocating I/O as necessary, and operating all sets from a single setup. The consoles also provide multitracking facilities to attached Pro Tools systems. “It’s another thing that we’ve integrated into the Studer system,” Ribb continues. “We multi-track each program in Pro Tools on both the broadcast side and the studio side, depending on what the need is. It means we can go back in and fix anything in post or index, or whatever needs to happen. “Also, the music that the in-house band has played in the shows is often released to albums during the year, and we do some music specials directly from the music that’s captured during the show, using those Pro Tools sessions to mix them; we try to go in and give them extra attention.”
‘Marcus & Joni Lamb
Daystar Production Team
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OLYMPIC GOLD 18
Sochi is located on the southern point of Russia, on the stunning Black Sea coastline. The city played host to the XXII Olympic Winter Games from February 7-23 this year, which boasted 98 events over 15 winter sports disciplines. For several major events, including the Biathlon, a trio of Norwegian broadcasters joined forces to ensure everything audio was right on the money...
The Sochi project was a real team effort between three major players in the Norwegian broadcast sector: TV 2, the country’s largest commercial television station; OB-Team AS, Norway’s largest and most experienced private provider of OB productions; and Norweigan public broadcaster, NRK Production. “TV2 had bought the viewing rights in Norway for the Olympics, and was approached by Olympic Broadcasting Services (OBS) with a request to produce the Biathlon host-feed,” explains Espen Helgor, one of OB-Team’s project managers. “As OB-Team is owned by TV2, the request was passed on to us. We quickly turned to NRK and asked them to join forces with us for this project, since they had produced Biathlon on an international level several times before.” OB-Team and NRK split the equipment and crew duties pretty much 50-50, though NRK’s experience was key to the project. Two large OB units were deployed along with personnel, and around 45 HD cameras. The teams arrived in Russia a week before the first production day. “NRK sent its HD1 truck, which was built back in 2005; it contains a Studer Vista 8, one of many in use by NRK,” says Helgor. “OB-Team HD3, built in 2011, has a Studer Vista 5. We found the Vista 5 one of the most interesting consoles on the market at that time, and also had two other Studer consoles in use in our trucks, so there were advantages in having the same type of consoles from a user point of view. Today, TV2 also has several consoles in their studios, so Studer has pretty much become the standard in Norway.”
The Vistas were in charge of producing the international sound feed in both stereo and 5.1 from a large number of microphones placed on the cameras throughout the slopes, and in the audience areas. “As the production of the Biathlon was an international host-production, the intention was to produce a generic mix that contained all the atmosphere from the audience as well as the sound of the athletes in the shooting range, and out on the slopes,” Helgor explains. “The mix doesn’t contain any audio from commentators or reporters, as all the national right-holders had to add that in their own respective languages at a later stage. “The main mix was done on the Vista 8 in HD1, and the Vista 5 in HD3 was used mainly for sub-mixing, and also by the sample operator, who sampled and played back effect sounds.” In addition to the Biathlon, OB-Team had additional TV 2 needs to cater for; they put in place a lot of smaller stations (consisting typically of a few cameras and a small amount of sound kit) in almost all the different arenas. These included interview positions, small studio settings, and an on-location set for popular Norwegian evening talk
show, Senkveld i Sotsji, which translates as ‘Late Night Sochi’. “Senkveld has been very popular in Norway for many years, and during Sochi, production was moved into a downtown hotel, so we sent our HD1 truck over to produce that,” Helgor reveals. “Each evening, they brought in athletes to chat with the hosts on the sofa; there’s a Vista 5 console installed in this truck, which is a perfect fit, because of the limited space inside the control room.” OB-Team also worked on a third, even more compact application in Sochi: “Another Vista 5 went to the Games, not in an OB truck, but in a flight pack; the console and all the DSP and I/O units are installed in racks on wheels, and it was used at the IBC Center in Sochi. “It served more or less as an audio-router for the different audio signals and minusmixes between TV2’s equipment in all the different arenas, and back and forth to their main control rooms in Bergen, Norway. This was a vital piece of equipment for TV2’s operation in Sochi.”
www.obteam.no www.tv2.no www.nrk.no www.studer.ch
Infinity & Beyond KATY TEMPLEMAN-HOLMES
ASKED TO WRITE A COLUMN ABOUT
our industry, there were a thousand places I could go - what isn’t ever changing or fascinating about it?! What am I not interested in?! It took a chat with one of my colleagues, and actually early mentors, to see through it all for the most obvious wave to focus on: the remarkable lifespan of the audio console, and more-so, its Hollywood starlet track towards staying youthful. Within the last 10 years, we remember well visiting a studio (of almost any discipline), and consulting with the owner on what would be the best solution to swap out their 30-yearold analogue console for. The solutions were an exciting exploration and prospect for the owner –what fab new tool would they get to work on every day? Today, however, we’re working with almost resentful owners to find the best solution to replace a 10-, seven-, or even five-year-old digital console. How was it that just a few years ago they ‘invested’ in a large console, and here they are a few years
“This is exactly where we get our drive, and this is who we have always designed our consoles for; it’s our legacy.” later unable to keep up with the industry’s fast-paced technology advances? This is exactly where we get our drive, and this is who we have always designed our consoles for; it’s our legacy. DSP is the core of the digital audio console, and its design can potentially protect an investment made in it, both monetarily and artistically. Looking at the main DSP technologies, the SHARC chip, in use for
"Perhaps we have inadvertently discovered the Hollywood youth miracle?"
about 15 years now, is a great audio DSP chip, being easy to program, and allowing custom configurations and algorithms. It’s a nifty little guy, but additional new hardware typically accompanies any major advances you make to the config. The FPGA chip is also a powerful option, great for summing, and a very large signal throughput; the Debbie downer in the FPGA is, it’s a bear to program for audio DSP, making it hard to upgrade over long periods of time. The last player on the DSP team is the CPU, typically not used solely for audio DSP, as although powerful, they’re usually doing lots of other jobs that make them hard to manage, which eventually leads to audio latency, which is audio blasphemy. The Swiss are endearingly pernickety when it comes to engineering, and that trait energized Studer to continuously re-evaluate these common DSP options, and revolutionize a unique DSP solution for its users. Within the new Infinity Series, Studer has found a proprietary way of isolating some of the cores in current multi-core CPUs, and utilizing them exclusively for audio processing.
By isolating cores, they become deterministic, removing the need for buffers (hurrah, no latency!). Throw into the mix Moore’s Law, and these CPU chips will double in efficiency and capacity approximately every two years. Now, you have an extremely powerful, flexible, and extended audio DSP lifespan. The Swiss engineers didn’t stop there though... Extending the solution further, they developed A-Link, an ultra-high bandwidth digital audio interface, capable of transmitting 1536 32-bit audio channels on a single fiber cable; high channel capacity and highspeed data transport, with all summing and transport managed by dedicated FPGA chips. That’s pretty much all it took: a twopart DSP design, with FPGA and CPUs having exclusive management of their respective strengths, with maximum flexibility to progress their abilities, as technology inevitably advances once again. Perhaps we have inadvertently discovered the Hollywood youth miracle? The Infinity Series keeps you young and protects your investment… Actually, that’s probably more appropriately the Swiss miracle – rich and youthful. WWW.STUDER.CH
M ATT SORUM WORDS PAUL WATSON
Matt Sorum is one of the world’s most recognisable drummers. When the former Cult and Guns ‘N Roses man isn’t on the road with one of his self-formed supergroups, you’ll find him busy at the console in his own LA recording studio, where he has carved out a career as a platinum-selling record producer. Fresh from recording his new album, Stratosphere, he offers an insight into how he got to where he is today: a mix of hard graft, belief, and careful microphone selection... Was drums always your musical passion? Yeah, my mom was a classical pianist, and I took some piano lessons as a kid, then some drum lessons when I saw The Beatles. I played all the way through High School, then when I graduated in 1978, I headed to Hollywood, 100 miles from my home town, and started touring when I was 19. I went out on the road and did the whole band thing across the USA.
You became a fan of music technology... Yeah, I started getting into gear, and I was doing a lot of sessions by the time I was in my early 20s. When I was in the studio, I wanted to know how the sounds were made, and was always asking about the mics, the boards, the EQs, all kinds of stuff. I was always aware of the mic selection, as I wanted to be able to ask the next engineer for specific stuff on my overheads and kick drum. Is this when you developed a love of microphones? Exactly. I remember we used AKG C414s on overheads, and I also met the [AKG] 451 hi-hat mic; sometimes guys would use both of these on acoustic guitars, too. The 414 is fantastic on everything; it was my first introduction to AKG, and later on, the C12 tube mic became my go-to for vocals, and I’ve also seen them used on drums for overheads. Your first break was with The Cult, but you’d been a session guy for a while... Yeah, I’d worked with Belinda Carlisle, Gladys Knight, Tori Amos – all kinds of
people; but I got a little tired of being in the studio all the time, so I started auditioning for bands. I heard about this gig for a band called The Cult, and when I got the gig, I moved to London. Although I’d always been a working musician, I never had a lot of money, as I struggled earlier in my career. I never had to have a real job, thank God [smiles], as I always made enough to pay the rent, but when I got into The Cult, we had a tour bus, got paid a good salary, and I’d always dreamed of going on big arena tours; this was my first experience of doing that. Slash spotted you on that tour, which is how you found yourself in Guns ‘N Roses... That’s right. I remember our sound man had the drums sounding huge at the show Slash came to – it was a seriously drum-friendly mix out front! They dug what I was doing, so I then got a call from Slash, and I was soon in the studio with the guys. I remember recording those [Guns ‘N Roses] albums [Use Your Illusion I and II, and The Spaghetti Incident]. Mike Clink was the producer, and I had all this studio experience, so he was pretty
“we started talking about the D12 VR - that’s where things got really interesting.”
and that was the hardest I’d worked since I was a kid. Slash is a workhorse, I gotta give it to him; he really pushed us to come and write songs and come to rehearsals every day, for about a year-and-a-half, before we even had a frontman! By the time we found Scott [Weiland, Stone Temple Pilots] as our singer, we thought we’d found the band, and we had a very successful record. Our first album got more nominations than any Guns ‘N Roses album – we were nominated three times, and won one. That was the album Contraband, and it sold three million copies, which was a lot for 2004. You gotta remember that the record business was starting to decline – sales were taking a hit, so this was a big record. Camp Freddy was another one of your projects that ran for over a decade. Hooking up with a bunch of rock stars and covering your favourite songs does sound fun, I have to say... [laughs] I’ve always looked at that as my lunch money band! Getting to play with my heroes was like going back to being a kid: studying the songs, making sure I was playing them right. We played everything from Zeppelin to Bauhaus, so very diverse! I had everyone from Ozzie [Osbourne], Alice Cooper, Robbie Williams, Lisa Marie Presley, Lemmy, Steven Tyler, Billy from Green Day, Chester from Linkin Park. Great guests, but this year, we shut down Camp Freddy...
impressed with me; when we set up the drum sound for all of those albums, I started calling out microphone names to him: ‘let’s try this, and this, and this’, and he was like, ‘how do you know all of this?’ We formed a great working relationship together, and he was very instrumental in the sound... It was so musical. Next, you made what you refer to as ‘one of the coolest records of your career’... Yes! That was with a band called Moronic Outsiders - I made a record with Jerry Harrison from Talking Heads. It didn’t sell a lot, but it was me and Steve Johnson from The Sex Pistols’ band. An early punk, pop, rock album, really. We signed to Maverick, which was Madonna’s label, and although officially I was still in Guns ‘N Roses, this band was really kick ass. I got to play guitar in that band, and we had a great drum sound on the record. You then started to take a keen interest in film scores - how did that come about? Yeah, after I left Guns ‘N Roses, I did about five movies, and I got into my studio mode
again, doing a bunch of independent films. At this time I was also working with an artist called Poe, who I had a platinum album with, and I produced three singles on that record that were Top 10 songs. This was mid- to late’90s. I produced Cypress Hill also, as well as a band called Candlebox. Did you see yourself going down the production route full-time at this stage? Yeah, I wasn’t really excited about going back into a band situation at that point, as it was a bit of a rough ending with the band [laughs], so after that I was kind of like, ‘maybe I’ll just take some time and do some cool projects’, but obviously it was another tough business to be involved in, so... ...You went back on the road? Yep! [laughs] I rejoined The Cult in 1999. We did a really great tour, then made an album for Atlantic Records with ‘Bob’ Rock producing. After The Cult, which lasted about two or three years, I went out on my own again, and formed Velvet Revolver with Slash and Duff [McKagan, Guns ‘N Roses],
To make way for your latest supergroup, Kings of Chaos? Yeah, I wanted to get back on the road, so I put together the ultimate celebration of rock and roll. It’s the same basic idea as Camp Freddy, but more muscular. I’ve got Duff McKagan playing bass with me, I’ve got Gilby Clarke (Guns ‘N Roses); and Steve Stevens is one of my favourite rock guitarists - he’s my main guy. As far as the singers, it will revolve from tour to tour. We just did South America and we had Corey Taylor (Slipknot) and Myles Kennedy (Alter Bridge), Joe Elliott (Def Leppard), Glen Hughes (Deep Purple), and Slash came on that as well, but the next tour will be completely different. We do several catalogues: Guns ‘N Roses, Def Leppard, Deep Purple... It’s a pretty exciting show, as you get to see a different interpretation of our peer group guys. It was through Steve Stevens that you developed a friendship with AKG’s product manager, Joe Wagoner... Yeah, me and Joe first started talking about AKG for the live situation. I wanted to go
back and play a really big kit with five or six tom toms and two double bass drums for Kings of Chaos, and I really liked the look of what was going on with these mics. There’s no flimsiness to the AKG clip-ons, which you do see in other brands, and then we started talking about the D12 VR - that’s where things got really interesting. I mounted them inside my kick drum with the Kelly Shu [shock mount] mic system, and I brought it to the first gig. My sound man, who’s worked with everyone from Lady GaGa to Tears For Fears, was absolutely blown away by the kick drum - and remember, front-of-house guys can be a bit weird at times... [smiles] As a result, he’s toured it with other guys, just on the back of this huge kick drum sound we had. What other mics do you use on the road? I use the AKG 412, which has a similar look to the 414, but it’s more durable for touring.
“a lot of people think overheads are just cymbal mics, but that’s not true at all.” They are very cool for overheads – I used four on the last tour. I then had the 421 on the hats which has a killer sound. Because of the AKG mics, everything is super-clean, and every time I go and play, my rig is always complete. I don’t want guys coming around with boom stands trying to stick random microphones in my tom toms, you know? I’m like, ‘get out of here!’ [laughs] Because the AKG clip-ons have this thin wire connection, they don’t look cumbersome coming off the tom tom. That’s a real ‘clean’ statement, which I really like, so when I show up, I feel I’m a really complete drummer; there is no question about what mics go where - it’s all done. You’ve just finished your new album, Stratosphere, for which you cultivated an AKG-led studio setup... How does it differ to the live rig? In the studio, it’s all about my pair of 414s with the C12 capsule. I do a lot of different miking techniques on the drums; sometimes I go old school, but a lot of my sound comes from a great set of overheads. The 414s give me that sound that I’ve always wanted, and always looked for. I remember the first time I ever heard a pair of them over cymbals, the way the cymbals sort of compressed... They just warmed up the drum kit. I mean, a lot
of people think overheads are just cymbal mics, but that’s not true at all. A good set of overheads really bring in the warmth and the depth of the drums, and the resonance of the drums that are speaking to the room. I think a lot of drummers need to think about that; it’s about the entire kit. Is that where you start, sound-wise, when miking the kit for a recording session? It really is – once I get a great kick and snare, I’ll add the overheads before any of the tom toms, and it’s the 414s all the way. Then, I’ll take the D12 VR for the kick, as it’s got that mid punch and that super-sub low – that thumpy low, not a resonant one. A lot of guys like low end ring, but what you really want is that solid, low end punch, and that mic does it all, in all the variations. It gives you a snap at the top, a mid punch, and a thumpy, solid low. The 414 with the C12 capsule is an exquisite microphone, which I used on so much of my album: acoustic guitars, live strings, vocals – it’s extremely versatile. I sometimes double-mic it with the 421 condenser mic on the acoustic guitar too, which gives it that slightly out of phase sound – that’s another killer microphone. What’s the key to making a great record? If you ask any great producer, they’ll say their job is to pick the guy who’s going to sound great. That’s the first job. Then I had all these ideas in my head about what instruments I was going to use for the record: old Gretsch guitars, some Rickenbackers, B3 keyboards; so when I got ready to record, I went with old style techniques. I used older amplifiers, older drum kits, because I wanted the whole record to have a vibe on it. I have an old 56-channel British Trident console from the 70s, so all my front-end is analog: six Neve 1073s; the original dbx 160s, which are so cool; and all the drums go through APIs. Classic kit always gives everything width; and then I have a Pro Tools 10 rig, which really I use as a tape machine! I don’t get into a lot of plugins, I just mess around mainly with compressors and reverbs. It’s an old school studio experience: it’s more about the music, who’s in the room, and the vibe. As far as Pro Tools goes, for me, people have overused it. If you use it as a tool that you can massage the music a little bit with, great, but don’t take the human aspect out of it. So much pop music that you hear on the radio is generically compromised by the computer: every vocal note is tuned, everything is manipulated, and the drums are quantised, which is why there’s no human feeling on most of them. But there are still artists out there that are doing these more
“The 414 with the C12 capsule is an exquisite microphone, which I used on so much of my album” human records. I dabble in the tech stuff, so if I have a plugin that works, I use it. If I want to lo-fi, I’ll run an Ant Farm or a compressor, and as far as comping vocals, Pro Tools is incredible. I bet you don’t comp your drums! [laughs] As far as drum takes, I can’t even imagine in the old days what would happen if I had Pro Tools. It’s made some musicians lazy; a lot of kids don’t think they need to be as good as they should be, and that they can go into the studio and fix everything, which I think is a bad thing. It’s basically starting off in the wrong direction, which is never good. What are you going to do when you play live? And believe me, that’s the problem I have with a lot of bands - and that kind of sucks! I’ve worked with the likes of Elton John, who used to record albums in days, so I want to mix that old school ethos and new technology together, and just respect the music; and the microphone is the first thing that will make that possible. I studied with the greats, like ‘Bob’ Rock and Rick Rubin, and I believe mic placement is a lost art form in many ways. I get young guys come in saying ‘we’ll get some samples on the drums, that will be fine’, and I’m like: ‘no, no, no, no, no!’ You just can’t go in saying you’re going to record an album and replace the sounds with samples. My album is a very warm, organic, live album... And you’re right, I didn’t edit one single drum take! [laughs] What about some advice for any budding Matt Sorums out there? Be open minded, be willing to try anybody’s ideas, be on time, and put your heart and soul into it. The music business is hard work; you won’t be handed a golden egg! It’s as hard as digging ditches... [pauses] OK, maybe not that hard, but it’s gonna feel like it some days!
A CA DEM Y REWAR D T
The Steve Levine Recording Academy opens its arms to students from 16-24 with varied levels of recording experience – from none to some – and strives to provide a comprehensive studio education over a week-long course, fusing practical, theory, studio protocol, and, of course, tea-making! “I tend to do them in blocks, to ensure maximum enjoyment and knowledge – we work with two to five students over a week, any more is too many,” Levine explains, adding that he stylises individual courses. “Some are young and have zero experience, and some have more of an idea; I started out as a tape-op – a role which doesn’t exist anymore – and I’d do everything from assisting with the engineering, setting up the mics, and making the tea... The latter is very important for studio etiquette!” Levine likens his sessions to a head doctor working with junior doctors on a kind of ‘audio ward’: “I’m often stopping to demonstrate how things are done whilst explaining certain methods, which means the process takes a little longer, but it’s vital to make sure all bases are covered. For example, let’s look at the AKG D12 VR mic, which we use at the Academy on the bass drum; that in itself takes a while to explain, because one of the issues with that mic is that many engineers are not aware that by applying the phantom power to it, you then get access to the three EQ curves, so when the students listen to the bass drum, we can go through those various options. “It isn’t just the position of the mic, it’s all those other aspects, and the built in EQ can have quite an interesting effect. We used it on one band with the EQ on, and left it totally flat on another - but that’s an educated deci-
sion. It’s worth mentioning that phantom can be applied if you wish to use it, because one of my students had been to another studio where they also had a D12 VR, and he didn’t even know you could do that. It’s depressing on the one hand, but at least he gained the knowledge in the end.” Levine’s Academy is all about “dealing with real world situations in real world sessions”. On the first day, students learn how to set up the drums, then he’ll move through all of the instruments, following the process of a real recording session, all the way to mixing and even mastering. That’s a lot to take in over one week, isn’t it? “Oh, they really do learn a huge amount; and they tend to ask a lot of questions too, which is great, so I make sure we spend a little longer on certain things, as they need to have the full knowledge,” Levine replies, enthusiastically. “I have a dbx 165a which is in great condition, so consequently we set up the room showing how compression affects it, and then do a direct comparison with, say, the UA card which I have in my mac. Some have only seen the plugins, so when they see the real thing, it’s very interesting to them. “It’s a great way of not only seeing how the hardware works, but at the same time, it gives them a new meaning to the plugin, and they understand them better as a result. They’re so much easier for them to use, and when I use my Lexicon plugins, I genuinely don’t believe there is any sonic difference between them and the hardware. They’re excellent.” Levine works with an analogue-heavy signal chain, then processes a digital one. From his desk, he comes out of the aux outs and discusses further processing with his students,
“I AM A REAL FAN OF HAVING THE AMPLIFIER IN THE BOX; I FEEL IF IT’S BUILT-IN, IT WILL BE PROPERLY MATCHED FOR THE SPEAKER, AND IT ALSO MAKES SETTING UP SO MUCH EASIER”
cases; they just don’t get the same chances in life,” Levine reflects. “I am trying to re-address the balance; maybe we can fast-track them to one of the new government apprenticeship schemes? I’m offering a sort of finishing school, really, giving them an insight to the tips and tricks of the recording business, and trying to encourage them to apply for some of the paid internships that are available around the country and get onboard.” According to Levine, some of his students want to be sound engineers, some want to be producers, some want to work in live sound, and some prefer the idea of audio for broad-
“T H E P LAST IC D IS P E R S ION OF T HE H F IS ALSO P HE NOME NA L IN T HE 3 08 S , AS IT H AS T HAT B UILT- IN P LAST I C such as re-amping the guitars; he then takes it back into the analogue domain to look at different mic techniques, amp configurations, room miking, compression, and re-recording. For monitoring, he is JBL all the way. “I am a big fan of the [ JBL] 308s. They do the job beautifully, and it was the biggest box they had in a smaller size – if that makes sense! I am a real fan of having the amplifier in the box; I feel if it’s built-in, it will be properly matched for the speaker, and it also makes setting up so much easier,” he explains. “Also, if you listen to really big speakers all day, you end up with terrible fatigue; with these JBLs, I don’t get any. I would like to fit some M2s in here some day, which I used at Air Studios [for Harman’s Journey of Sound project] and loved, but the jury’s still out as to whether they’ll fit into my new room... We’ll see! “The plastic dispersion of the HF is also phenomenal in the 308s, as it has that built-in plastic horn; and they go to full volume without breaking up and distorting. It’s always hard using adjectives to describe speakers, but the bass end is very tight and very focused, and the stereo imaging with that dispersion is excellent. This is something that a lot of manufacturers are adopting now, making sure the top end is well focused and yet well dispersed; a good stereo image is often
HOR N; AND T HE Y G O achieved due to the high end being both focused and dispersed evenly, as opposed to some of the old ‘70s speakers which really sounded like two individual mono speakers. “Stereo imagery has been really aided by modern technology, as the speaker designers can do acoustic modelling, work out the cabinet shape, and work out which frequencies will be dispersed in which particular way. Also, they know the speakers are not being used in a laboratory. A major mistake is that historically, speakers were tested in anabolic chambers, which sounded amazing when you stuck your head in there, but in the real world, not so much. The 308s will work in any environment, which enables the user to get very good results.” The Academy has the solid support of the local council, which Levine cites as a real bonus, especially considering many youngsters in the Liverpool region have ‘fallen between the cracks’ somewhat. Using the universal language of music, Levine is deter-
mined to fix all that. “Some students come from disenfranchised, poor backgrounds, and will never be able to afford to apply for colleges like LIPA [Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts], yet they are equally talented or more-so in some
TO F UL L VOLUME W IT HOUT B R E AK ING U P AND D ISTORT ING .” cast. The one constant (aside from them all being shattered, come the end of each working day!) is the skill set they come out with. “The knowledge you learn in the studio is a completely transferrable skill, which is why I think this is such a good course for so many different students,” says Levine. “I’m really trying to stimulate their talent – and there’s a lot of it. It’s interesting how tired they get, but I guess school’s out around 3.30pm, and we all know what a producer’s hours are like in comparison! “The main thing is, they learn an amazing amount. I’ve had a couple of them back in for real sessions too – that gives you an idea how good these kids are; and from my point of view, I feel a great sense of achievement and pride when working with them. Historically, Liverpool is world-famous for musical heritage, of course, and believe me, there’s plenty more talent to come.”
www.jblpro.com www.akg.com www.dbx.com
WE SHOULD KOKO
Super-cool KOKO, London live music venue and club, has given top billing to Soundcraft’s new Realtime Rack. Universal Audio’s plugged-in Bill Putnam, tells how live can imitate art... Universal Audio was founded in 1958 by recording engineer and innovator, Bill Putnam Snr. He also founded Universal Studios (1946), Studio Electronics, and UREI (Universal Recording Electronics Industries), and boasts among the early products the LA-2A and 1176 compressors, and the 610 tube recording console. Putnam Snr. has also been credited as the inventor of the modern recording console, the multi-band audio equaliser, and the vocal booth; and as the first engineer to use artificial reverberation in commercial recording. Bill Snr passed away in 1989, but it took until 1999 for the ‘new’ Universal Audio to be founded in 1999 by Bill Snr’s sons Bill Jr. and Jim, partly inspired by the discovery of extensive design notes left behind by their father. Since then, UA has become a formidable force in audio tech, both analog and digital, with a wide range of hand-built analog processors, and its ever-growing plugin range - many of which are modelled versions of classic hardware. Most recently, UA has released the Apollo range of combined DSP and interface units and, in collaboration with Soundcraft, the Realtime Rack - a UA plugin host and touch-screen interface integrated with Soundcraft’s Vi range of live digital consoles. As the Realtime Rack comes to market, we caught up with Bill Putnam Junior for a few words about the UA’s USP, and the Soundcraft collaboration...
Universal Audio probably been thought of mainly as a studio company. Is Realtime Rack a big departure for you? BPJ: It’s a nice extension of what we do... I think first of all what UA is about is quality. I think any place, whether it’s live, or a high-end recording studio, or someone’s bedroom, if they care about audio quality, then Universal Audio plugins have a place. Another point is that our plugins are used on just about every Grammy that was won this last year; we’re used all though the studios on the majority of commercial recordings. So, for those folks who develop that sound in the studio, and want to achieve that sound on on the road, they need to use the same plugins they use in the studio. Also, you would never take a Fairchild compressor on the road - those things are $30,000 for a single channel, and are very fragile. Taking that on the road would be a big issue. With the UA Realtime Rack you can put those on as many channels as you’d like. How much technical collaboration has gone into Realtime Rack. It’s not just an Apollo with a new name? We’d heard that people were using Apollo live as a realtime effects processor but it really wasn’t designed as that so we
really wanted to design the software from the ground up, specifically for the needs of the live sound engineer. There has been a lot of collaboration. The type of workflow that you want for recording in a studio is different to the workflow for someone who is mixing front-of-house in a live environment. There were several layers of integration. First of all, we needed our Realtime Rack to be recallable from the console, so we did work to create a network protocol to allow the console to speak to Realtime Rack and recall snapshots, and that sort of thing. Soundcraft did work to implement that on the console, and we worked on the Rack. But there was a broader, longer-term collaboration where we worked on the overall workflow - the user experience. Our product management and engineers worked hard to create a very convenient user interface that would work well on a touch screen. Again, the innovations here were on the user experience - the touch interface - the type of interface you want for live. Are specific plugins more suitable to live? We lean more towards the quality of the compression, the nature of the equalisation, the reverbs, and those things, rather than specific functions or plug-ins that are appropriate for live. What we’re about is bringing a wide variety of flavours of compression, for example - everything from LA-2A and the Fairchild, to the dbx 160, the 1176, Neve compression... There’s something for everybody. You really want something that works well with whatever you’re compressing, so we have a very wide range of high-quality compressors that are great for just about anything a live engineer is going to face. With equalisers it’s the same thing - we’re very accurate in our equalisation models. We recently even introduced a plugin that models a Universal Audio 610 console. It models the mic pre-amps in that, so you can get a very warm tube mic pre sound on a large number of channels - something you would not be able to get in a live sound environment.
Realtime KOKO KOKO is a 1,500-capacity London music club located in the city’s trendy Camden borough. It oozes cool, and senior sound engineer, Tim Hamper, has made it even cooler, by adopting Soundcraft’s Realtime Rack as part of his key weaponry at front-ofhouse. This bit of kit is a super-slick plugin platform powered by Universal Audio, which integrates seamlessly into the Soundcraft snapshot and cue system, complete with touch-screen interface; and it’s already been put through its paces... “I’ve used it a lot already,” says Hamper. “The [Soundcraft Vi6] console’s onboard stuff is really good, and very clean; and the thing with the plugins is that a lot of the dirty sounding stuff from the old days still sounds amazing. The Manley Massive Passive is just incredible.” The club recently hosted the Giles Peterson Worldwide Winners Awards - an annual music awards fronted by UK DJ, Giles Peterson (BBC Radio 6 Music). The event featured a live stream provision, fed from
the club’s Vi6 console, and Hamper used the Realtime Rack to provide some post processing for the feed, including the LA2A emulation, Stereo Widener, the Massive Passive, and the Precision Maximizer dynamic impact processor. “It was a proper finishing/mastering chain, just so the feed would go out sounding great; it worked brilliantly - totally took me back when I listened to it,” Hamper reflects. “I’ve also used the Neve plugins quite a bit. When you plug in the 1083, without even using the EQ, it gives that quality - the quality that you’d get if you were running a mix on an old Neve console, coming back through the line in. It’s a silky, coloured, pinched sound that you can recognise. If you put it across a snare drum you think ‘ah... that sound’.”
“THE GRAPHICAL DISPLAYS HELP OUT A LOT ON THE CONSOLE WHEN IT COMES TO TRAINING PEOPLE, PLUS THE USER INTERFACE IS GREAT TOO.” Ohio State Football
IN THE ZONE
BIG TEN NETWORK (BTN) COVERS
around 1,000 sporting events each year, and is the official network for The Big Ten Conference, which is jointly operated by US broadcast giant, FOX. Over the last two years, BTN has expanded twice, and tripled its Studer Vista inventory; as a result, workflow has become a walk in the park...
BTN is one super-busy facility. This slick sports network is the first international TV network dedicated to covering one of America’s premier collegiate conferences, and is choc-a-bloc pretty much all year round. This is primarily thanks to the football season, though basketball is also high on the list, then it’s baseball and softball. Furthermore, BTN also covers many second-string US sports, including soccer, wrestling, and volleyball. Most of the Universities for sports in the US are broken down into a conference to maximise their negotiating leverage, and some of the schools that belong to BTN include Northwestern, University of Illinois, Iowa, Ohio State, Penn State, Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, and Minnesota. BTN’s first Studer investment was a Vista 8, which it acquired around five years ago; and when the company brought in Sean Spencer in April 2012 as its new assistant chief engineer, expansion was soon underway. “When I arrived at BTN, I saw that a Vista 8 was already in place, which was cool, but we really needed to add a control room; we had this Yamaha console that really wasn’t cutting it, which is why we turned to Studer to see what the options were to invest in a smaller version of the [Vista] 8,” Spencer explains. “The criteria was that it had to mesh with what we currently had, both for training purposes, and eventually redundancy and system backups, which is why we knew the best choice was going to be the Vista 5M2. Once we had that, we expanded again to a third control room. We wanted to duplicate
what we had done, as the previous one had worked out very well, and that’s when we bought the Vista 5M3.” THE FACILITY HAS THREE CONTROL
rooms. Control room A houses the Vista 8, and is where all of the in-house studio work is done – essentially, it’s the studio production hub. For a typical four-person studio show (including bringing in feeds), around 52 channels are in use; and for the smaller ‘micro shows’, the channel count is between 28 and 32 channels, depending on how many effects mics are coming back in. “Primarily, Vista 8 does all our half-time shows, wrap-around shows, and highlights shows,” Spencer continues. “So on a Saturday during football season, for example, we’ll do a show at 11am CT; they’ll start the games, and when they hit half-time, we’ll do wrap-arounds, then a post-game, and then we’ll do the evening game too; any given Saturday, it’s used all day long for that kind of stuff.” The two newer control rooms, which have been built almost identically, are home to the Vista 5M2 and Vista 5M3 respectively, both of which are connected to an in-house network. “For the new rooms, we have a system that’s similar to what The Olympics do: for the smaller US sports like soccer, volleyball, wrestling, lacrosse, field hockey – those where it’s too expensive to send a
truck to - we have the ability to go through an inter-campus network,” Spencer explains. “It allows us to aggregate the cameras onsite and send them back to us over a closed network - it’s basically a 10Gb pipe where we can send all the stuff back. So what we end up doing is producing the shows here in our studio in Chicago, and all the excess stuff is sent back over this network line. “We built our two new studios to do those shows; they’re basically portable production control rooms, and we actually do the show switching here in house; the only things that are out on the field are the cameras and the support staff. The M2 and M3 basically bring in these cameras, usually with announcer audio and effects audio; it’s all brought in-house and imbedded within the camera signals, then we de-embed it, and then route it into the boards. Then our engineers can
forward too; I’m not some crazy high-end audio guy, yet I was able to get to grips with the fundamentals very quickly, and all the freelance guys that come through seem to pick it up pretty well too. I think the graphical displays help out a lot on the console when it comes to training people, plus the user interface is great too.” All three Vistas have always been completely trouble-free for BTN, and its Vista 8 has just been updated with
Studer’s new mother boards, which have made a real difference: “The Vista 8 is now good to be updated for years to come, which is great from our point of view. So now we can keep updating the software on all three of the consoles, keeping them moving together as we move forwards, which is a really huge benefit for us, as we can keep our money in our pockets for another couple of years!”
“NOW WE CAN KEEP UPDATING THE SOFTWARE ON ALL THREE OF THE CONSOLES, KEEPING THEM MOVING TOGETHER AS WE MOVE FORWARDS” mix as if they were on site from the two consoles.” Most of the truck work doesn’t come back through BTN, because all of its transmission is done out of the FOX transmission center, which is located in Woodlands, Texas. Having the two new consoles at hand has allowed BTN to make a number of improvements to studio workflow; one particularly cool thing is the Studer RELINK functionality: “I really like RELINK, I have to say. We have our Vista 8 and M2 relinked to each other, so if there’s a problem with one of the control rooms, in theory, it’s backed up into the other control room; that’s what I was looking for when I came to BTN, as there was no redundancy in place when I got here, so that was one of the big plus points in investing in more Studer kit. “Learning the board was pretty straight-
Studer Vista 5
The Horseshoe, Ohio
LEAGUE OF LEGENDS Is Riot Games’ League Of Legends just a video game? Yes and no... It is a video game, but it’s also an eSports and online broadcast phenomenon with viewing figures that will definitely surprise you. Paul Mac meets Will Nealie in the game world... League Of Legends is a MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) game where teams fight for control of enemy bases along the ‘lanes’ of themed arenas. Teams of players (in this case known as ‘Summoners’) control in-game characters (Champions) with a wide variety of specialist attributes and abilities. To do well in League Of Legends requires teamwork, strategy, and practice - not unlike more usual sporting activities, except there is a lot more sitting down. However, it gets really interesting when you add an audience... This game has become a major platform in the growing eSports (electronic sports) movement, with its various championships and league series’ becoming massive broadcast events in their own rights, largely via online streaming services such as Twitch.tv (a specialist online gaming broadcaster). Champions, Summoners, and teams are treated to the same critique, adulation, and speculation afforded to stars of the football field, spectators follow their favourite teams, and there are big financial rewards for the victors.
Massively Multiviewer To put some kind of scale to this, last year, the League Of Legends World Championship finals - a battle between South Korea’s SK Telecom T1 and China’s Royal Club teams - were held at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. The 12,000-seat venue was sold out
League Of Legends World Championships, 2013 (Staples Center, Los Angeles)
within 58 minutes of tickets being available, and total viewers for the event have been confirmed at 32 million. It’s serious stuff - those kind of numbers out-perform big US sporting and TV events, largely thanks to a truly international audience - especially in China and South Korea. Last year, the four-day-a-week schedule of championship series events that took place in Cologne, Germany, and Manhattan Beach, California, reached a peak audience of 8.5 million; and this year’s series is looking even better. Twitch.tv, by the way, has become the fourth largest source of internet traffic during peak times in the United States, only trailing Netflix, Google, and Apple... Not so niche, then? During the ‘LCS’ (League Of Legends Championship Series) there are four main weekly broadcasts: on Thursdays and Fridays, the LCS European games are held at a broadcast studio in Cologne; and on the weekends, it’s the turn of the North American league, broadcast from the Manhattan Beach facility. There are also dedicated Chinese, Southeast Asian, and Korean leagues, and the Challenger Series. The operations for the European and US events are linked so that both are mixed for broadcast in Manhattan Beach with only studio/audience feeds being taken care of locally in Cologne.
“a console suited only to doing a news-style TV broadcast is a different beast to a Studer.”
Summoner’s Sound In charge of the audio infrastructure for this is Will Nealie, who took time out of a busy prep for the week’s gaming to describe the set-up: “Manhattan Beach is connected to Cologne by dark fiber; We move about 125 channels of I/O - the equivalent of two MADI streams - and about 20 camera feeds.” Nealie works for Production Associates, a company that provides engineering and show production services for clients, including production/interview teams, and editorial in this case, for Riot Games’ eSports content. He started out by looking for a systems integration company to help with the specification and installation of the broadcast systems for the LCS. He interviewed a number of US-based TV broadcast integrators, and eventually settled on CBT Systems. Nealie and Colin Cradock (who is also a technical director for UK TV network, ITV), worked on the installation together. “Colin had already worked up a framework for the video side - the routers and transport technology, the switchers, and the cameras,” explains Nealie. “The dark fiber lines plug into the ATP [Advanced Optical Transport Platform], which mixes it all together, and deals with switching between and load-balancing those fibers. “In that I have five MADI paths
- four of which I am using for audio transport from Cologne. There is a Nexus Router that feeds the Vista 9 console for the broadcast mix to the web. On the Cologne side, there’s another ATP system, video router, and Nexus audio router which provides audio signals for the PA mix.” In effect, the Studer Visa 9 at the Manhattan Beach facility sees what would normally be the broadcast splits for every source as normal - except that on Thursdays and Fridays those splits are coming from the other side of the Atlantic. “We get all playback sources,” Nealie expands. “All of the production microphones for the shoutcasters (eSports commentators), then there’s another set of commentary sources for a different stage used in between games where they commentate on the action that just happened. There’s audio off of studer vista 9 the games machines, audience mics, and the usual TV complement of sources. We also have each of the gamers’ microphones, but we rarely use them.” “The talent are wearing headset microphones for most of the time, then there are handheld mics that they use as back-ups - the ones that have the microphone flags on with the League Of Legends ID. Some segments, for example, where we have the main male and female hosts, they have prime and backup handheld mics; it all equates to about two MADI streams of signals. “All of the back-up mics we put on the ‘B’ inputs on the Studer, and use the understudy setting - so the backup mic is set up on the same input as the primary, with a different input setting. We have two main set-ups for the console, one for the EU, one for North America. There are a few additional inputs on the EU setup. The broadcast mixer loads them up as he needs to.” Currently, all transmissions are in stereo: “We think about where it’s actually being delivered to, which is mostly somebody’s computer or mobile device. We don’t want to use a lot a of bandwidth - shoving a whole
bunch of data down a line just for somebody who’s going to watch it on a computer. It does look pretty slick, though.”
Control Center Nealie specified the Studer Vista 9 console (soon to be upgraded to the new Vista X with Infinity Core engine and expanded I/O) for the show based on previous experience with Studer Vista 1 and Vista 5 consoles, and Soundcraft Vi6 and Vi1 consoles. He also did comparisons with other consoles and consulted colleagues in New York that had experience with a range of products. “It all kept coming back to ‘I like my Studer’: I like the workflow, and everything is in the right place, right there on the surface,” he insists. “Hands-down, I always liked the sound of the Studer; the other guys have some cool technology, but a console suited only to doing a news-style TV broadcast is a different beast to a Studer. You could do music on it if you needed to and it would feel native... Or you could mix a news show, and because of the way things are laid out, and the flexibility, it still feels native. It’s not just designed for one thing.”
Nealie acknowledges that as far as broadcast gigs go, the challenge of the Riot Games League Of Legends Championship Series is unique: “This thing fell in my lap... I thought ‘this is completely off the beaten path, with a lot of technology sprinkled all over it - so, yeah, I’ll sign up!’”
www.leagueoflegends.com www.riotgames.com www.studer.ch
TO BE FRANK Seven-time Grammy Award-winner, Frank Filipetti, recalls some of the most comical, stressful, and downright unluckiest moments in an otherwise glittering career...
I WAS A SINGER-SONGWRITER that had
been trying to make it as an artist for nine or 10 years, and just as I approached my 31st birthday, I had got myself a record deal, I had recorded an album, and the label went bust just before I released it! It was also during that couple of weeks that my songwriter took a publishing agreement - they didn’t pick up my option... And to top it off, in that same week, my girlfriend threw me out of our apartment (because it was her apartment). I thought, ‘I can’t do this anymore’, so I went down to talk to the owner of the studio, and said ‘look, I know I have good ears, I can’t be an assistant for two years, but I think I can be a good engineer.’ The owner said: ‘yeah, alright, I’ll give you a shot’, so I spent two to three weeks learning about the studio, and after my first month there, I got my first recording session using four-track tape, and it went beautifully; it sounded great, and everybody loved it. Then I graduated to a 16-track tape, and that was a disaster! Because I wasn’t experienced enough, I had some real problems bussing the console to the right tracks. I tried for a couple of hours, and being that this was a low-budget studio at the time, we didn’t have assistants, so I was there by myself. I couldn’t for the life of me get it happening. I went in the next day, and the owner said: ‘I can’t have this kind of thing going on, but the good news is, the guy whose session it was said he really likes you and would like to try again’. What a break! So, in we went the next night, and this time I got it right. It’s funny, from that point on, everything has been wonderful for me, but that first session, I almost never made it...!
HAILSTONES ARE NOT MY FRIEND...
At least, not Italian ones! I remember I was in Italy recording Luciano Pavarotti – it was the Pavarotti and Friends live concert, and the day before the concert we had these insane hailstones that not only totally destroyed part of the stage, but terrorised the entire splitter section, which of course shorted out all of the preamps, and left us with just 24 hours to put it all back together. No pressure, of course... I mean, it’s only Pavarotti... Oh, and did I mention Stevie Wonder, The Spice Girls, Celine Dion, Bon Jovi... And Spike Lee was even there making a movie!
I NEARLY CRIED when I was recording
an Elton John concert at London’s Royal Festival Hall with a University orchestra of some kind. Elton was playing a one-nightonly benefit concert, and we went into the studio to listen to the tracks to make sure we had everything. It was then that I realised that the multitrack recorder that I’d been working on, which was a Euphonix R1 at the time, had corrupted some of the tracks. My backup was some DA88 tapes, and because a couple of songs were totally unusable on the R1, I went to the DA88 machine and we started playing them... And, of course, the DA88 machine at the studio started eating the tape! I walked out of there and pretty much just broke down, head in hands, saying to myself, ‘I don’t wanna do this anymore!’ over and over! The salvaging process was equally stressful.... We had to do something, so we got the DA88 tape out of the machine (which meant taking the machine apart, as it was stuck on the heads!), and then we managed
WHEN YOUR BACKUP GETS EATEN UP, YOU KNOW YOU'RE HAVING A BAD DAY AT THE OFFICE...!
to kind of iron the tape out a little bit and get it to a point where it was playable again. Somehow – I’m not sure how - we managed to make it work. It wasn’t easy, I can tell you. I mean, when your backup gets eaten up, you know you’re having a bad day at the office...!
I BECAME VERY FRUSTRATED while
mixing the second Korn album in 2003. I had my trusted monitors of some 10 or more years, but it just wasn’t happening, basically because Korn’s music contains such an incredible amount of low end: not only does the bass player have a five-string bass, but they’re using seven-string guitars, all tuned down a fourth, so there is a LOT of low frequency information in their music. I talked to [ JBL’s] Peter Chaikin about it at one point, and he told me JBL had just developed a new speaker, the 6300, which
had a tuneable low end along with a sub, so we tried out some prototypes while I was mixing Korn. Because the mix room was so much wider than it was deep, I couldn’t get any perspective on the low end whatsoever. Using the 6300s totally transformed the session; suddenly I was able to get the mix absolutely spot on. After mixing that album, the 6300s became my main monitors, until JBL released the new M2s and the 3 Series. When I heard the M2, I was blown away again! You can stand halfway between two M2s and hear all the top end you’d hear when you’re sitting right in line with the drivers, and the center image is outstanding. I’ve never heard that from any speaker before.
“USING THE 6300S TOTALLY TRANSFORMED THE SESSION; SUDDENLY I WAS ABLE TO GET THE MIX ABSOLUTELY SPOT ON”
LIVE IS LIFE
When it come to moving content, high technology is king. Thomas Riedel offers a practical perspective on live audio broadcast infrastructure, and what it means for all of us.
THOMAS RIEDEL WENT STRAIGHT FROM
school to business, skipping the usual higher education route for German engineers, and going straight into the light and sound business with a small rental company he started in 1987. It’s reasonable to wonder, then, how he got from there to building the high-tech broadcast and live event communications manufacturer and solutions specialist Riedel Communications. As with many success stories, all you really need is a seed... “One day, I had a need for a communications solution - some radios!” Riedel recounts. “I bought a bunch of walkie-talkies; they were on the road all the time, while my other equipment was in use only occasionally.” Based on that observation, Riedel realised that there was a ‘niche’ need for communications technology in the live entertainment industries... And the rest is the history of Riedel Communications itself, now one of the biggest international players in live media routing, processing, and communications. The company employs about 400 people spread across locations in Europe, North and South America, Russia, Australia, and Asia. Structurally, it has two main divisions: one for manufacturing, responsible for products such as MediorNet, RockNet, and the Artist Intercom system; and the other for rental and services. The latter, while it does have echoes of Riedel’s origins, is a far-cry from the light & sound days. It provides essential communications and routing services for some of the biggest broadcast events around the world.
“Large-scale events like the World Cup, Formula One, and the Olympics,” says Riedel. “The backbone for the opening and closing ceremonies of the London Olympics - video surveillance, intercom, audio... All of this ran on our MediorNet network. In Formula One, most signals - whether that is communications between the car and the pit, or signals between race control and the
“THERE IS A HUGE NEED FOR IT KNOWLEDGE IN OUR INDUSTRY. THIS DOES NOT COME ABOUT OVERNIGHT. IT WILL TAKE A GENERATION TO CHANGE.” garages, or even the broadcast content - most of it runs through MediorNet.” Supplying the backbone of an event that might have billions of viewers comes with serious responsibilities. This is one of the things that ties Riedel Communications’ events and manufacturing divisions together: “If the system fails then you really have a problem; that’s why redundancy and reliability is one of the big topics when we start designing our products.” THE IT DEPARTMENT
Riedel has a unique perspective on the live broadcast industries, from both design and
integration standpoints. “There is a general move towards IT-type infrastructures,” he explains. “That’s not a surprise, I guess. Everything is moving towards technology that comes from the IT industry because that’s basically where billions and billions are going into development. Our industry - the broadcast and entertainment industry - wants to make use of these developments, which makes sense. “At the same time, when it comes to live applications, especially in audio, there are a number of requirements around system latency, switching times, and so on, that the classical IT systems do not currently support - though they will in the future.” However, the great technology migration is not necessarily a straight road... “There is another challenge,” says Riedel. “With the classical infrastructure, it was easy to find a problem - you put a signal in a device and you have a chain of equipment, and maybe the signal does not come out at other end. What do you do? Basically, you can measure before and after every device whether your signal goes in and comes out. You can track the signal, and track the point of failure. “In the modern IT-style environment where everything is based on switches, I always ask the question: ‘if the signal doesn’t come out, who do I call? Who can help me?’ It’s a cloud of technology, and I can no longer measure between devices. “This means that there is a huge need for IT knowledge in our industry. This does
M E D I O R N E T WA S A B I G P L AY E R I N T H E L O N D O N O LY M P I C S & S O C H I O P E N I N G AND CLOSING CEREMONIES
RED BULL AIR RACES
not come about overnight. It will take a generation to change; most people now will not be able, within their professional career, to change their knowledge and mindset. If you go to college and you learn broadcast technology, and come to the industry to be told you should have studied more IT, you can’t go back to university. This is one of the big challenges in our industry; it’s clearly going that way, but it will take a certain amount of time. “So, people want the architecture and the advantages of IT, but they also want to have all the legacy interfaces they have known for
“AT NAB WE WILL SHOW A NEW DEVICE WHICH IS BIGGER THAN A 100,000 X 100,000 AUDIO ROUTER, WHICH IS TEN TIMES BIGGER THAN ANY AUDIO ROUTER CURRENTLY AVAILABLE.” years and years. They want to have methods of operating and maintaining these systems that suit their knowledge. This is where a product like MediorNet really comes in... It is a hybrid solution. It has an IT infrastructure - not typical for broadcast - but all the interfaces, the way you set it up, the way it is maintained and operated - those things are more traditional.”
MediorNet is Riedel’s flagship communications platform for live content; and it’s more than just a fiber solution... “It is actually three things,” he explains. “On one hand it’s a fiber-optic platform - a synchronised network for video and audio communications signals. You put all of these signals into the fiber network with whatever topology you like - ring, star, daisy-chain, or any combination of those. “The second function is signal processing. We not only move the signals, but we can also convert them. We can do delay, audio embedding and de-embedding, format conversion; we have frame synchronizers, timecode inserters, graphics inserters, and so on. Signal processing is a huge part of what the system does. “On top of that, it’s also a router for audio and video signals. This is why we work with companies like Studer; Studer can use MediorNet as a backbone for connecting consoles.” Recently, Studer took a massive leap in connectivity and processing capability with the launch of its Visa X console. The new Infinity Processing Engine can handle more than 800 DSP channels and more than 5,000 inputs and outputs via 12 A-Link high-capacity fiber interfaces that can be used either by Studer’s own D23m I/O platform, or via a direct A-Link connection to MediorNet, allowing many Infinity systems to be connected together with router capacities of 10,000 square or more.
“At NAB, we will show a new device which is bigger than a 100,000 x 100,000 audio router - ten times bigger than any audio router currently available,” Riedel explains. “The core of MediorNet, we already had, but on top of that, we developed, together with Studer, a card for our MediorNet Modular frame called the A-Link card. If you want to create a system with lots of consoles and lots of Infinity Cores - a flexible system for multiple production control rooms, connected dynamically with your systems and studios, then MediorNet is your backbone. “These days, it’s all about dynamic allocation. You might have 10 studios, but only five control rooms, with five projects going on at the same time. It requires a dynamic network to manage this.”
Riedel Communications doesn't just do MediorNet, it also manufactures the RockNet Digital Audio Network, CODE ONE mobile transmission technology, the Artist matrix intercom, Performer Partyline intercom, Acrobat digital wireless intercom, and maintains the RLINK global fibre service - and a few more things besides. Big ideas, and high technology....
SWIVEL ON SUCCESS Born in Toronto, Canada, Jordan Young, known professionally as DJ Swivel, is now based out of New York City, and has made quite a name for himself as a top-end producer, mixer, audio engineer, and DJ. As well as working as Beyoncé’s personal recording engineer, he’s also been riding the faders for the likes of Jay-Z, Kanye West, Fabolous, and Jay Sean, among others. Last year, he secured his first Grammy Award for his work on Beyoncé’s hit song, Love On Top, which won ‘Best Traditional R&B Performance’. I’ve been using Lexicon products for a long time. I was first introduced to the 480 and 960 at school about 10 years ago, and when I finally got my first gig in a real studio, working for Ken ‘Duro’ Ifill (Google him), then of course we had a 960, which would handle all of our reverb needs. Four machines usually covered all of our bases for most songs. Usually, I’d have a hall, a plate, a verb, and my favorite preset from the 960, Silica Beads. It was the last piece of hardware in the mixing process for us; everything else was in the box (for Duro as well). So a few years later, when Lexicon announced the PCM native bundle, it was the perfect transition to remove the hardware completely, and mix solely in the box. That last piece proved to be a major asset to the way I work. I didn’t need to find a 960 anymore. I could suddenly pull up my mixes anywhere and make changes. In fact, I even finished a mix on an airplane a few years ago!
The reason I had never dropped the 960 in favor of plugins before was that they just didn’t sound right, but Lexicon understands reverb better than anyone, so to keep the sound I was accustomed to and comfortable with, it required a Lexicon verb. The PCM plugins are the only plugin verbs that match the transparent sounding tails from a more expensive piece of hardware. It keeps your mixes sounding clear and open. As a result, I’ve been using them on all my mixes or production since 2011 or so, and I’ve never looked back. Also, because of the speed of computers at this point, I’m no longer limited to just four stereo channels of FX like I was with a 960. On complex productions, I’m now able to use the verbs on many different FX returns and even directly on audio tracks for a huge amount of versatility. This has made my life easier and given me a huge amount of creative options with the records I’m working on.
I remember when... We were recording vocals for Beyoncé’s Love On Top at Jungle City Studios in New York, and she absolutely came into her own during this session. Love On Top was such a cool song to record, and was particularly interesting to capture. It was Dream who wrote the song, and at the end, he did one pitch modulation, so there was a double chorus with a regular chorus, and then we went up a semitone for the second one.
“I could suddenly pull up my mixes anywhere and make changes. In fact, I even finished a mix on an airplane a few years ago!”
Beyoncé then had this great idea to do another chorus with another pitch modulation, and the experience stemmed from there. We just kept going! So, I duplicated the chorus, pitched it up again, and of course she re-sang her vocal in the next pitch, and it was just amazing. The pre-roll is not in the higher key, it’s in the lower key; then, on the next beat, it goes up a semitone, and she’s right in key perfectly again! What was just incredible was, it didn’t throw her off one bit, which I can honestly say I have never seen before – nothing of the sort, ever. I mean, that’s got to be disorienting, listening in one pitch, then on the downbeat in a new key, and to adjust instantly there and then... Well, absolutely unbelievable! But it didn’t stop there... She ended up asking to do another, and another... You get the picture. I think there were five pitch modulations in total at the end of that song, which really showed off her range. When we were preparing for this session, I set up six great microphones for her, and had her sing through all of them, then she helped me decide what to use. Beyoncé understands her voice better than anybody, and she ended up going for the AKG C24, which is what we went with for the record. At times, especially when she was singing very high or very loud, some of the other mics did get a little brittle, so we went for the rich warmth of the C24.
“Beyoncé understands her voice better than anybody, and she ended up going for the AKG C24, which is what we went with for the record.” It was a truly memorable moment, and a very cool, interesting experience. I can’t take a lot of credit for it though, because she’s just so amazing. I pressed record and let her be her, basically!
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THE AN AT O M Y O F AN I N S TA LL The Ray Dolby Theatre is a showpiece preview theatre in Dolby’s London HQ, in the heart of the capital’s Soho post production scene. Designed to deliver the best Dolby cinema experience with full Dolby Atmos and 3D capability, the venue is used for everything from Dolby technology demonstrations to mix-checking from both print master and Pro Tools sessions. My first feature-length experience in the room was watching the superb Life Of Pi and then the incredible Gravity - a film that dominated the 2014 BAFTA and Academy sound categories. Special mention must be made of sound supervisor Glenn Freemantle and his team at Sound 24 in Pinewood for pioneering work in the sound design and mixing for that film in the Atmos format proving that for dialogue, panning no longer has to be a dirty word. Dolby Atmos is a new audio mix format for cinema that, rather than using a few fixed ‘bed’ channels (as 5.1 or 7.1, for example), uses discrete panning of audio objects around a playback system of up to 64 channels (addressable discretely or in arrays), including full-range surrounds and two overhead arrays. This means that panning for the (maximum) 128 objects or channels exists as metadata, and those objects are actually panned at playback - rendered via the Dolby CP850 Atmos Cinema Processor. There are many advantages to this approach, not least in the high resolution panning and discrete positional strategies a mixer can employ. Atmos does maintain a wide ‘bed’ in its specification of 9.1, which includes two overhead channels, possibly originally intended for music, but several Atmos-mixed films have made fantastic use of object-based music mixing as well as for dialogue and effects. The full range surrounds and high speaker count of Dolby Atmos systems has been welcomed by the post production community, even for traditional 7.1 playback. Theatrical Fit-Out The acoustic design for the Ray Dolby Theatre was undertaken by Munro Acoustics, a UK-based firm already responsible for a number of Atmos installs. The technical fitout was specified by Dolby, in conjunction
with JBL Pro for the monitors, Crown Audio for the amplifiers, and BSS Audio for the audio networking and management. Munro’s Phil Pyatt and Dolby’s Nick Watson helped me out with a virtual tour of the technology... The Dolby CP850 processor, as well as 16 analog outputs, uses the Dolby Connect protocol for audio transmission over Gigabit Ethernet. This protocol is compatible with the BSS Audio BluLink network, so by fitting Crown amplifiers with BluLink option cards, Atmos can be distributed around a venue without high-cost cabling infrastructure. In the case of the Ray Dolby Theatre, Dolby actually uses a BLU800 signal processor and BLU120 I/O expanders to enable a number of different sources and system configurations to be switched easily. As well as the CP850, Dolby has the RMU (Rendering and Mastering Unit) - the unit used in the mix process - and a Pro Tools system available, as well as other sources and playback options. The BluLink network supplies 13 Crown CTs3000 two-channel amps for the screen speakers and subs, plus another 14 for the surrounds. Dolby Lake processors are used to set crossovers for the screen speakers, and these are connected to the BluLink network via CobraNet. All of the speakers in the system are by JBL Pro. The front five full-range speakers are JBL 5732 three-way ScreenArray® systems, controlled by the Dolby Lake processors; and the three front subs are 4642A models with dual 18-inch drivers. For the side surrounds, Dolby uses a custom version of the JBL AM 7212/26, that has rotatable 120° x 60° dispersion horns. JBL made custom cabinets with a shallower box and 20° rear face angle. Interestingly,
this design has evolved to become the new 9320 large-format cinema surround loudspeaker, still with the rotatable Progressive Transition Waveguide. The six rear surrounds are mounted sideways so the horns were rotated to maintain a wide horizontal and narrow vertical dispersion, while the 10 overheads (two five-cabinet arrays) use 100° x 100° horns for even, wide dispersion. Two rear 4665 sub-woofers complete the speaker count. So, that’s a total of 54 amplifier channels, and 36 speakers (including five sub-woofers). The Dolby CP850 maps the 64 possible Atmos channels to this total array, creating virtual discrete points where necessary. The result is impressive. I left the Gravity screening feeling like I’d just spent two hours on a roller-coaster (in a good way). Dolby Atmos brings a true ‘experience’ to the cinema in a way that I think even 3D cannot.
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