Category Archives: Other Things

Not Everybody, Not All The Time

Care about everything you can, then be okay with everything else.

Please Remember:

The opinions expressed are mine only. These opinions do not necessarily reflect anybody else’s opinions. I do not own, operate, manage, or represent any band, venue, or company that I talk about, unless explicitly noted.

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A letter to myself and others:

You can’t please everybody all the time.

You can try, of course, and you should. Show production is a service industry that’s always been a service industry. It always will be. Getting the maximum number of people to be delighted with the show IS your job.

But 100% satisfaction for everybody is very difficult to get to. Somebody will always manage to sit in the seat where the PA coverage isn’t quite right. Somebody will inevitably wonder why you didn’t make Band A sound like Band B, even though Band A has made arrangement choices such that they CAN’T sound like Band B. You will never have enough subwoofer for “that one guy.” Someone is going to lecture you on how their preferred snare-drum sound is THE key to a rock mix.

There is nothing so good that someone, somewhere will not hate it. So says Pohl’s law, if the Intertubes are to be believed.

You’re going to have to make choices about what to prioritize. That’s part of sitting in any of the chairs involved in show control. By necessity, you will be making choices (many of them, at high speed) that have real – though usually ephemeral and ultimately benign – effects on the lives of a sizable number of people. You must therefore cultivate an assuredness, an appropriate level of confidence that you are doing the right thing. Beyond having a strong appreciation of personal and collective aesthetics, this confidence will be greatly bolstered by understanding the physics involved in this job. If you know what’s possible and what’s not, you will be less rattled when someone accuses you of not having done the right thing…when their right thing wasn’t a feasible thing anyway.

It’s right to take all concerns seriously, but not all concerns can be treated with the same level of seriousness. Start by making as many musicians as happy as you can. That’s your baseline. If you get the baseline done, and somebody else isn’t happy, consider if that person is writing the checks for the event. If so, working out a compromise will probably be in order. An extreme case might require that you just do as you’re told. After you get that squared away, you can start being concerned about other considerations brought to your attention. If you can take care of them without changing the happiness level of the check-writer or the players, go ahead.

If not, be polite, but don’t worry too much. Even big-dollar gigs can’t deploy enough gear to fix everything.

Do your best, have fun, and try to get as many other people to have at least as much fun as you’re having. Do maintain care for the outliers, but don’t agonize. It won’t get you anything, anyway.


It’s Not About The Gear – It’s About Receipts

Sure, it’s a cool toy – but can you make money on it?

Please Remember:

The opinions expressed are mine only. These opinions do not necessarily reflect anybody else’s opinions. I do not own, operate, manage, or represent any band, venue, or company that I talk about, unless explicitly noted.

Want to use this image for something else? Great! Click it for the link to a high-res or resolution-independent version.

If you want to hear great wisdom about the business of sound and music, you should seek out Tim McCulloch over at Pro Sound Web. Just recently he was advising another audio human to “get very real” with a band about demanding a certain console for a tour. Having gotten the strong whiff that the choice of mixing desk was basically one of vanity, Mr. McCulloch dropped the proverbial load of bricks: The gear you take on tour is – and should be categorized as – an expense. The merch and tickets you can sell are profit. (So, decide if you want to make a profit and then act accordingly.)

Of course, the application of this to band tour-o-nomics is self explanatory. With just a bit of imagination, though, you can see how this applies everywhere – especially to audio craftspersons who own equipment.

The gear you own is an expense. It’s always an expense. It’s an expense when you make a full or partial payment for purchase. It’s a debit if you’re making leasing payments. It’s a negative ledger entry every second of every day, because its value depreciates forever in an asymptotic slide towards $0. It’s also a constant drain because you are always paying to store, maintain, and replace it (even if you don’t see a bill directly).

The above is a big reason behind why Tim McCulloch will also tell you that “Excess capacity is infinitely expensive.”

Anyway.

Equipment does not represent profit. It’s a tool that can be used to generate profit, but if you want to imagine the audio business as an airplane, gear is a constant contributor to weight and drag. What you need to keep going is lift and propulsion – profit, that is. Receipts. Money coming in. As such, every purchase and upgrade plan has to answer one question: “How will this increase my receipts?”

The harsh truth is that, past a certain point, just being able to get louder probably won’t increase your receipts.

Past a certain point, being able to rattle peoples’ rib cages with bass probably won’t increase your receipts.

Past a certain point, “super-trick,” spendy mics probably won’t increase your receipts.

A nifty new console probably won’t increase your receipts (not by itself).

What many of us (including myself) have a longstanding struggle with understanding is that what we THINK is cool is not necessarily what gets us phone calls. Meeting the demands of the market is what gets the phone calls. For those of us with maverick-esque tendencies (like Yours “Anti Establishment Is Where It’s At” Truly), we have to take care. We have to balance our curiosity and experimental bent with still being functional where it counts.

We CAN be bold. In fact, I think we MUST be bold. We ought to dare to be different, but we can’t be reckless or vain. If we’re in a situation where our clientele encourages our unorthodoxy, we can let ‘er rip! If not, then we have to accept that going down some particular road might just be for our own enjoyment, and that we can’t bet our entire future on it.

By way of example, I can speak of my own career. I’m currently looking at what the next phase might be like. I have a whole host of notions about what upgrade and expansion paths that might entail. I’ve also gotten on the call list of a local audio provider that I really, really enjoy working with – and the provider in question is far, FAR better than I am at scaring up work. With that being the case, some of my pet-project ideas are going to need a hard look. In devising my upgrade path, it’s far smarter for me to talk to the other provider and find out what would dovetail nicely with their future roadmap, rather than to just do whatever I think might be interesting. Fitting in with them means a chance at more receipts. More receipts means I can do more of what I love. Doing more of what I love means that I might just have enough excess capital to do some weird experiments here and there.

I don’t say any of this to dampen anyone’s enthusiasm. I say this so that we can all be clear about our choices. There are times when we might declare, “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!” It’s just that we sometimes say that without realizing that we’ve said it, in terms of business decisions. If we’re going to buy tools to make money with, it’s a very good idea to figure out what tools will actually serve to make money.


How To Tell If The Band Is Awesome

It involves you doing less.

Please Remember:

The opinions expressed are mine only. These opinions do not necessarily reflect anybody else’s opinions. I do not own, operate, manage, or represent any band, venue, or company that I talk about, unless explicitly noted.

Want to use this image for something else? Great! Click it for the link to a high-res or resolution-independent version.

I was sitting there at the first IAMA LCS concert of the 2017-2018 season, just minding my own business. (Which is to say that I was minding both the audience’s and the band’s business, at least in terms of sound.)

Suddenly, it hit me like a ton of bricks. Tony Holiday and The Velvetones were fully in the groove and having a great night. Now, The Velvetones have always been a very good band. There have been many incarnations and cast members. Eeach iteration has marked some improvement over an older version, but there was never a point where Tony failed to bring a great lineup to the table. This particular ensemble on this particular night, though, had reached a remarkable apex. They had entered a zone that not many bands (even good ones) gain an ingress to.

They had reached the point where they, by the very nature of their rehearsal and experience, required no intervention from me in order to function perfectly as a band. I could have locked out my remote-control laptop, left the building, had a late dinner at a restaurant, and come back just in time for load-out, and the show would have been pretty much fine. I didn’t do that, of course – I needed to make some tweaks because the mix was being built entirely on the fly, and not all of my assumptions were complete or correct.

But that was the key: The only reason I needed to make adjustments was because I needed to change what I was doing to the band, not because a modification was required for what the band was doing to us in the seats.

The mix for a really good group should display characteristics that (I’ve heard) are what can be expected from a well-behaved airplane. The whole thing should have a tendency to settle into a stable, controlled trajectory, where you don’t have to sledgehammer or wrestle the ship into obeying you. This was one of those times, and it was glorious. The band was on point, and I didn’t screw it up. Such things are commonly referred to as “wins,” I believe, and are worth pursuing due to their sheer enjoy-ability alone.


The Pro-Audio Guide For People Who Know Nothing About Pro-Audio, Part 1

A series I’m starting on Schwilly Family Musicians.

Please Remember:

The opinions expressed are mine only. These opinions do not necessarily reflect anybody else’s opinions. I do not own, operate, manage, or represent any band, venue, or company that I talk about, unless explicitly noted.

Want to use this image for something else? Great! Click it for the link to a high-res or resolution-independent version.

From the article:

“The fundamental key to all audio production is that we MUST have sound information in the form of electricity. Certain instruments, like synthesizers and sample players don’t produce any actual sound at all; They go straight to producing electricity.

For actual sound, though, we have to perform a conversion, or “transduction.” Transduction, especially input transduction, is THE most important part of audio production. If the conversion from sound to electricity is poor, nothing happening down the line will be able to fully compensate.”


Read the whole thing here, for free!


Is The Crossover Leaky?

A lot of low-end can still get into your mains.

Please Remember:

The opinions expressed are mine only. These opinions do not necessarily reflect anybody else’s opinions. I do not own, operate, manage, or represent any band, venue, or company that I talk about, unless explicitly noted.

Want to use this image for something else? Great! Click it for the link to a high-res or resolution-independent version.

Every so often, I get to chew on a question that a reader asks me directly. I kinda wish that would happen more often (hint, hint, hint…). Anyway, I was sent a message on The Small Venue Survivalist’s Facebook page, asking if I could render an opinion on why a bass guitar seemed to have a surprising amount of LF information in the main speakers. The mains were being used alongside a subwoofer, with the sub providing a crossover filter at 100 Hz. What could the issue be?

There are a few explanations that would seem reasonable, if one discounts “catastrophic” issues like the crossover filter simply failing to operate as advertised.

1. Crossover filters, especially those implemented in active electronics, have a tendency towards a relatively steep slope. Even so, they usually aren’t brick-wall implementations. Everything below the cutoff doesn’t simply disappear – rather, it’s attenuated at a certain rate. With a filter set to roll off everything “below 100 Hz,” the mid-highs are still being asked to do a fair bit of work at the crossover frequency. The general vicinity of 100 Hz is actually quite bassy (depending on who you ask, of course), so the mains might be perceived as doing more than they should when everything is quite normal.

2. If a sizeable pile of low-frequency energy has been dialed into the bass-guitar channel, or the bass-guitar’s pre-console tone, that big hill-o-bass won’t be tamped down by the crossover. It will be split up proportionately, but following on from the first point, the mid-highs will still be tasked with reproducing their allotted piece of that big LF mound. Consequently, a surprising amount of energy may be present in the tops.

3. I have a suspicion that plenty of modern, two-way boxes receive some degree of “hyping” of their low-end at the factory. This makes them sound more impressive, and the manufacturer can get away with it because of safety limiters placed post-EQ. (The limiter prevents the low-frequency amplifier from supplying more voltage than the woofer can handle, and there may even be a level-dependent high-pass filter in play.) A low-frequency boost that occurs after the crossover reduces the crossover’s apparent effectiveness. Sure, the signal leaving the crossover might be down 12 dB at 75 Hz, but a +6 dB shelving filter put in place by the manufacturer at 100 Hz “undoes” that filtering to only lose 6 dB. Once again, a potential situation develops where the mid-highs are being asked to reproduce more “boom” than you expected.

It is entirely possible that an apparent problem isn’t covered by the three possibilities above, but they should catch quite a few scenarios where everything is hooked up properly and configured correctly.


The Mystical Guarantee

Getting paid a guarantee means you guaranteed something valuable to someone else.

Please Remember:

The opinions expressed are mine only. These opinions do not necessarily reflect anybody else’s opinions. I do not own, operate, manage, or represent any band, venue, or company that I talk about, unless explicitly noted.

Want to use this image for something else? Great! Click it for the link to a high-res or resolution-independent version.

Ah, the perennial discussion: “Should local bands get paid from the door, or a guarantee?”

I’ve touched on this subject before, but I’ve never gotten into this aspect directly. I believe I can give you a definitive answer:

Any band, at any level, can get paid a guarantee – but only if they can guarantee something that’s “business-valuable” to the person writing the checks.

Business-value is different from other values. It’s revenue and profit, pure and simple. There are bands out there that argue in favor of a guarantee everywhere, due to their hours of practice and expensive equipment. I must be blunt. None of that represents any business-value to a venue. Zilch. Zippo. Nothing. You know what does?

People paying money for whatever the venue sells. Some venues sell admission. Others sell things that people can consume. Others sell both.

If booking you appears to be a direct cause of the venue making money, you will also make money. If booking you several times begins to present a statistical pattern, a pattern where bringing you on results in an average amount of revenue and profit for the venue, a guarantee becomes far more possible. Until that pattern becomes established, you aren’t “guarantee” material for that particular establishment.

Of course, some places pay everybody a guarantee. This is a great thing, and it comes from that room having enough overall income to support it. If I were to ever run my own place again, I would hope to be able to do that. However, if it didn’t end up being possible, I wouldn’t be sitting there beating myself up over it. There are plenty of great places that do, in fact, care about music and musicians, but are not economically able to pay a guarantee to everybody. I spent a few years running one such place, and then several more years working for another such outfit.

The music business does not run on some exotic model of risk and reward. It’s just like everything else. If paying every band a set amount (or even just a set “base”) is of manageable risk and significant reward, it will happen. If not, it won’t. If you must have a certain amount to pack in your gear and play, I can respect that, and I would encourage you to find and tailor your show to the places that will pay up, “rain or shine.”

I would also ask you to recognize that proportional payouts are not automatically a sign of greed or other moral failing by a venue operator. If you haven’t looked at the whole picture, please look again.


What Went Wrong At The Big Gig

Sometimes a show will really kick your butt.

Please Remember:

The opinions expressed are mine only. These opinions do not necessarily reflect anybody else’s opinions. I do not own, operate, manage, or represent any band, venue, or company that I talk about, unless explicitly noted.

Want to use this image for something else? Great! Click it for the link to a high-res or resolution-independent version.

Do this type of work long enough, and there will come a certain day. On that day, you will think, “If just about half of this audience goes home being totally pissed at me, I’ll call that a win.”

For me, that day came last weekend.

I was handling a show out at the Gallivan Center, a large, outdoor event space in the heart of Salt Lake. The day started well (I didn’t have to fight for parking, and I had both a volunteer crew and my ultra-smart assistant to help me out), and actually ended on a pretty okay note (dancing and cheering), but I would like to have skipped over the middle part.

It all basically boils down to disappointing a large portion of an audience.

I’ve come to terms with the reality that I’m always going to disappoint someone. There will always be “THAT guy” in the crowd who wants the show to have one kind of sound, a sound that you’ve never prioritized (or a sound that you simply don’t want). That person is just going to have to deal – and interestingly, they are often NOT the person writing the checks, so there’s a certain safety in being unruffled by their kerfuffle. However, when a good number of people are in agreement that things just aren’t right, well, that can turn a gig into “40 miles of bad road.”

Disappointment is a case of mismatched expectations. The thing with a show is that a mismatch can happen very early…and then proceed to snowball.

For instance, someone might say to me: “You didn’t seriously expect to do The Gallivan with your mini-concert rig, did you?”

No, I did not expect that, and therein lies a major contributing factor. “Doing The Gallivan” means covering a spread-out crowd of 1500+ people with rock-n-roll volume. I am under no illusions as to my capability in that space (which is no capability at all). What I thought I was going to do was to hit a couple hundred merry-makers with acoustic folk, Bluegrass, and “Newgrass” tunes. I thought they’d be packed pretty closely together near the stage, with maybe the far end of the crowd being up on the second tier of lawn.

I suppose you can guess that’s not what happened.

For most of the night, the area in front of the stage was barely populated at all. I remembered that particular piece of the venue as being turf (back in the day), but now it’s a dancefloor. That meant that the patrons who wanted to sit – and that was the vast majority – basically started where I was at FOH. Effectively, this created a condition like what you would see at a larger festival, where the barricade might be 40 – 50 feet from the stage.

Now add to this that we had a pretty ample crowd, and that they ended about 150 feet away from the deck.

Also add in that a lot of what we were doing was “traditional,” or in other words, acoustic instruments that were miced. Folk and Bluegrass really are not that loud in the final analysis, which means that making them unnaturally loud in order to get “throw” from a single source is a difficult proposition.

Fifty feet out, there were points where I was lucky to make about 85 dB SPL C-weighted. After that, gain-before-feedback started to become a real conundrum. Now, imagine that you’re three times that distance, at where the lawn ends. That meant that all you got was about 75 dB C, which isn’t much to compete against traffic noise and conversations.

Things got louder later. The closing acts were acoustic-electric “Newgrass,” which meant I could make as much noise as the rig would give me. That would have gotten us music lovers to about 94 – 97 dB C at FOH (by my guess). The folks in the back, then, were just starting to hear home-stereo level noise.

In any case, I was complained at quite a bit (by my standards). I think I spent at least 50% of the show wanting to crawl into a hole and hide. That we had some feedback issues didn’t help…when you’re riding the ragged edge trying to make more volume, you sometimes fall off the surfboard. We also had some connectivity problems with the middle act that put us behind, and further aggravated my sense of not delivering a standout performance.

Like I said, there was some good news by the time we shut the power off. Even before then, too. The people who were getting the volume they wanted appeared to be enjoying themselves. Most of the bands seemed happy with how the sound worked out on the stage itself, and the audience as a whole was joyous enough at the end that I no longer felt the oppressive weight of imagining the crowd as a disgruntled gestalt entity. Still, I wasn’t going to win any awards for how everything turned out. I was smarting pretty badly during the strike and van pack.

But, you know, some of the most effective learning in life happens when you fall over and tear up your knees. I can certainly tell you what I think could be done to make the next go-around a bit more comfortable.

That will have to wait for the next installment, though.


The Great, Quantitative, Live-Mic Shootout

A tool to help figure out what (inexpensive) mic to buy.

Please Remember:

The opinions expressed are mine only. These opinions do not necessarily reflect anybody else’s opinions. I do not own, operate, manage, or represent any band, venue, or company that I talk about, unless explicitly noted.

Want to use this image for something else? Great! Click it for the link to a high-res or resolution-independent version.

See that link up there in the header?

It takes you to The Great, Quantitative, Live-Mic Shootout, just like this link does. (Courtesy of the Department of Redundancy Department.)

And that’s a big deal, because I’ve been thinking and dreaming about doing that very research project for the past four years. Yup! The Small Venue Survivalist is four years old now. Thanks to my Patreon supporters, past and present, for helping to make this idea a reality.

I invite you to go over and take a look.


Up In The Air

A good rigger is an important person.

Please Remember:

The opinions expressed are mine only. These opinions do not necessarily reflect anybody else’s opinions. I do not own, operate, manage, or represent any band, venue, or company that I talk about, unless explicitly noted.

Want to use this image for something else? Great! Click it for the link to a high-res or resolution-independent version.

This is one of those topics that’s a little outside of a small-venue context.

But it’s still good to talk about.

I recently had the opportunity to work on a “big-rig” show. What I mean by that is we had six JBL SRX subwoofers deployed, along with two hangs (four boxes each) of JBL VRX. For some folks, that’s not a huge system, but for me it’s pretty darn large. Going in, I was excited to be on the crew for the event – and also a bit apprehensive. I had never before had any “hands-on” experience with rigging and flying a PA system.

As it turned out, my anxiety was misplaced. When you finally get up close and personal with a box like VRX, you realize that the box-to-box flyware is really easy to understand and operate. Constant-curvature arrays are hard to get wrong in and of themselves. You would basically have to actively attempt to screw up the hang in order to run into a problem. The boxes have a built-in angle, so you don’t have to think about much other than lining a couple of ’em up, flipping the connection flanges into place, and inserting the fly pins.

Another reason my anxiety was misplaced was twofold:

1) We had a good rigger on hand.

2) Everybody implicitly agreed that the rigger was the “lead dog.”

What I mean by point two is that I consider there to be exactly one proper attitude towards an honest-to-goodness, card-carrying rigger. That attitude is that you listen to the rigger, and do EXACTLY as the rigger tells you.

I don’t think I can stress that enough.

An actual rigger is somebody who can safely hang very heavy things above people’s heads, and has the maturity to do it the right way (with no tolerance for shortcuts or other horse-dip). They realize that getting a hang wrong may be a very efficient way to end people’s lives. They distinguish between “reasonably safe” and “truly safe,” and will not allow anyone to settle for the former.

As such, their word is law.

I DO think that safe rigging is within the mental capacity of the average human. However, I also think that there are numerous particulars of equipment and technique which are not immediately intuitive or obvious. I think it’s easy for an un-educated person to hang things the wrong way without realizing it. That’s why, when a rigger shows up in a situation where everybody else is NOT a rigger, the rigger immediately becomes the person in charge. Somebody else may be making executive decisions on what’s wanted for a hang, but the human with the most experience at actually flying things makes the final call on what can be done and how.

(If you ever get into a situation that appears to be the opposite of that, I think you should be concerned.)

Like I said, the case on this show was that everybody was listening to the rigger.

And that meant that everything got up in the air safely, stayed up in the air safely, and came down safely after everything was done.


THD Troubleshooting

I might have discovered something, or I might not.

Please Remember:

The opinions expressed are mine only. These opinions do not necessarily reflect anybody else’s opinions. I do not own, operate, manage, or represent any band, venue, or company that I talk about, unless explicitly noted.

Want to use this image for something else? Great! Click it for the link to a high-res or resolution-independent version.

Over the last little while, I’ve done some shows where I could swear that something strange was going on. Under certain conditions, like with a loud, rich vocal that had nothing else around it, I was sure that I could hear something in FOH distort.

So, I tried soloing up the vocal channel in my phones. Clean as a whistle.

I soloed up the the main mix. That seemed okay.

Well – crap. That meant that the problem was somewhere after the console. Maybe it was the stagebox output, but that seemed unlikely. No…the most likely problem was with a loudspeaker’s drive electronics or transducers. The boxes weren’t being driven into their limiters, though. Maybe a voice coil was just a tiny bit out of true, and rubbing?

Yeesh.

Of course, the very best testing is done “In Situ.” You get exactly the same signal to go through exactly the same gear in exactly the same place. If you’re going to reproduce a problem, that’s your top-shelf bet. Unfortunately, that’s hard to do right in the middle of a show. It’s also hard to do after a show, when Priority One is “get out in a hurry so they can lock the facility behind you.”

Failing that – or, perhaps, in parallel with it – I’m becoming a stronger and stronger believer in objective testing: Experiments where we use sensory equipment other than our ears and brains. Don’t get me wrong! I think ears and brains are powerful tools. They sometimes miss things, however, and don’t natively handle observations in an analytical way. Translating something you hear onto a graph is difficult. Translating a graph into an imagined sonic event tends to be easier. (Sometimes. Maybe. I think.)

This is why I do things like measure the off-axis response of a cupped microphone.

In this case, though, a simple magnitude measurement wasn’t going to do the job. What I really needed was distortion-per-frequency. Room EQ Wizard will do that, so I fired up my software, plugged in my Turbos (one at a time), and ran some trials. I did a set of measurements at a lower volume, which I discarded in favor of traces captured at a higher SPL. If something was going to go wrong, I wanted to give it a fighting chance of going wrong.

Here’s what I got out of the software, which plotted the magnitude curve and the THD curve for each loudspeaker unit:

I expected to see at least one box exhibit a bit of misbehavior which would dramatically affect the graph, but that’s not what I got. What I can say is that the first measurement’s overall distortion curve is different, lacking the THD “dip” at 200 Hz that the other boxes exhibit, significantly more distortion in the “ultra-deep” LF range, and with the “hump” shifted downwards. (The three more similar boxes center that bump in distortion at 1.2 kHz. The odd one out seems to put the center at about 800 Hz.)

So, maybe the box that’s a little different is my culprit. That’s my strong suspicion, anyway.

Or maybe it’s just fine.

Hmmmmm…