Livestreaming Is The New Taping – Here Are Some Helpful Hints For The Audio

An article for 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.

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“The thing with taping or livestreaming is that the physics and logistics have not really changed. Sure, the delivery endpoints are different, especially with livestreaming being a whole bunch of intangible data being fired over the Internet, but how you get usable material is still the same. As such, here are some hints from the production-staff side for maximum effectiveness, at least as far as the sound is concerned…”


The rest is here. You can read it for free!


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.


Hitting The Far Seats

A few solutions to the “even coverage” problem, as it relates to distance.

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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This article, like the one before it, isn’t really “small venue” in nature. However, I think it’s good to spend time on audio concepts which small-venue folk might still run across. I’m certainly not “big-time,” but I still do the occasional show that involves more people and space. I (like you) really don’t need to get engaged with a detailed discussion regarding an enormous system that I probably won’t ever get my hands on, but the fundamentals of covering the people sitting in the back are still valuable tools.

This article is also very much a follow up to the piece linked above. Via that lens, you can view it as a discussion of what the viable options are for solving the difficulties I ran into.

So…

The way that you get “throw” to the farthest audience members is dependent upon the overall PA deployment strategy you’re using. Deployment strategies are dependent upon the gear in question being appropriate for that strategy, of course; You can’t choose to deploy a bunch of point-source boxes as a line-array and have it work out very well. (Some have tried. Some have thought it was okay. I don’t feel comfortable recommending it.)

Option 1: Single Arrival, “Point Source” Flavor

You can build a tall stack or hang an array with built-in, non-changeable angles, but both cases use the same idea: Any given audience member should really only hear one box (per side) at a time. Getting the kind of directivity necessary for that to be strictly true is quite a challenge at lower frequencies, so the ideal tends to not be reached. Nevertheless, this method remains viable.

I’ve termed this deployment flavor as “single arrival” because all sound essentially originates at the same distance from any given audience member. In other words, all the PA loudspeakers for each “side” are clustered as closely as is practical. The boxes meant to be heard up close are run at a significantly lower level than the boxes meant to cover the far-field. A person standing 50 feet from the stage might be hearing a loudspeaker making 120 dB SPL at 3 feet, whereas the patrons sitting 150 feet away would be hearing a different box – possibly stacked atop the first speaker – making 130 dB SPL at 3 feet. As such, the close-range listener is getting about 96 dB SPL, and the far-field audience member also hears a show at roughly 96 dB SPL.

This solution is relatively simple in some respects, though it requires the capability of “zone” tuning, as well as loudspeakers capable of high-output and high directivity. (You don’t want the up-close audience to get cooked by the loudspeaker that’s making a ton of noise for the long-distance people.)

Option 2: Single Arrival, Line-Array Flavor

As in the point source flavor, you have one array deployed “per side,” with each individual box as close to the other boxes as is achievable. The difference is that an honest-to-goodness line-array is meant to work by the audible combination of multiple loudspeakers. At very close distances, it may be possible to only truly hear a small part of the line, and this does help in keeping the nearby listeners from having their faces ripped off. However, the overall idea is to create a radiation pattern that resembles a section of a cylinder. (Perfect achievement of such a pattern isn’t really feasible.) This is in contrast to point-source systems, where the pattern tends towards a section of a sphere.

As is the case in many areas of life, everything comes down to surface area. A sphere’s surface area is 4*pi*radius^2, whereas the lateral surface area of a cylinder is 2*pi*radius*height. The perceived intensity of sound is the audible radiation spread across the surface area of the radiation geometry. More surface area means less intensity.

To keep the calculations manageable, I’ll have to simplify from sections of shapes to entire shapes. Even so, some comparisons can be made: At a distance of 150 feet, the sound power radiating in a spherical pattern is spread over a surface area of 282,743 square feet. For a 10-foot high cylinder, the surface area is 9424 square feet.

For the sphere, 4 watts of sound power (NOT electrical power!) means that a listener at the 150 foot radius gets a show that’s about 71 dB. For the cylinder, the listener at 100 feet should be getting about 86 dB. At the close-range distance of 50 feet, the cylindrical radiation pattern results in a sound level of 91 dB, whereas a spherical pattern gets 81 dB.

Putting aside for the moment that I’m assuming ideal and mathematically easy conditions, the line-array has a clear advantage in terms of consistency (level difference in the near and far fields) without a lot of work at tuning individual boxes. At the same time, it might not be quite as easily customizable as some point-source configurations, and a real line-source capable of rock-n-roll volume involves a good number of relatively expensive elements. Plus, a real line has to be flown, and with generous trim height as well.

Option 3: Multiple Arrival, Any Flavor

This is otherwise known as “delays.” At some convenient point away from the main PA system, a supplementary PA is set. The signal to that supplementary PA is made to be late, such that the far system aligns pleasingly with the sound from the main system. The hope is that most people will overwhelmingly hear one system over the other.

The point with this solution is to run everything more quietly and more evenly by making sure that no audience member is truly in the deep distance. If each PA only has to cover a distance of 75 feet, then an SPL of 90 dB at that distance requires 118 dB at 3 feet.

The upside to this approach is that the systems don’t have to individually be as powerful, nor do they strictly need to have high-directivity (although it’s quite helpful in keeping the two PA systems separate for the listeners behind the delays). The downside is that it requires more space and more rigging – whether actual rigging or just loudspeakers raised on poles, stacks, or platforms. Additionally, you have to deal with more signal and/ or power runs, possibly in difficult or high-traffic areas. It also requires careful tuning of the delay time to work properly, and even then, being behind or to the side of the delays causes the solution to be invalid. In such a condition where both systems are quite audible, the coherence of the reproduced audio suffers tremendously.


If I end up trying the Gallivan show again, I think I’ll go with delays. I don’t have the logistical resources to handle big, high-output point-source boxes or a real array. I can, on the other hand, find a way to boxes up on sticks with delay applied. I can’t say that I’m happy about the potential coherence issues, but everything in audio is a compromise in some way.


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.


A Proven Methodology For Winning At Thermonuclear War

You may know the answer already, but you might prefer not to admit it to yourself.

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.

The cultural apex that was the 1980s taught us the answer to this one. The only winning move in Global Thermonuclear War is not to play. Sadly, in the world of audio and music, people play Global Thermonuclear War all the time.

What I mean by this is quite simple: People will throw vast amounts of money and time at all manner of problems and conflicts, hoping to solve them through technological means. This is, of course, encouraged by the equipment manufacturing and vending industry, which makes quite a bit of scratch on the premise that “there is something you can buy to fix this.”

And, you know, they are actually right. They are right in the sense that pretty much any sonic issue you can imagine is fixable if you have unlimited resources. I’ve said this to people on multiple occasions myself. “We can absolutely fix this.” Of course, I then follow up with: “How much time and money do ya got?” I can absolutely, positively, make your giant echo-chamber of a gym sound like a control room in Abbey Road studios. That is totally possible. I’ll need a starting budget of $100,000 for acoustical treatment and install labor, plus six weeks to get the task accomplished.

Oh, you were thinking of going down to that place that’s a “center” of guitars and plonking $200 down on some doodads? Yeah, that’s not really going to do it for you…

Recently, I was discussing a particularly difficult situation with a fellow, local-music human. A venue is constantly in trouble with its in-building neighbors for being too loud. The stage has been torn open and deadened. The absolute minimum necessary signal is run through the PA. Drumkits are not miced at all. Are the neighbors still pissed? Yup. What’s pissing them off? The drums of course. So, the inevitable question was asked – does the place need to get a drumshield, or a ton of acoustical foam for the walls?

Well, neither of those things is likely to work. I have a very strong hunch that the drumshield would help a little, by reducing some of the sound traveling through the air to the walls and ceiling. Even so, the shield won’t do anything at all to stop mechanical transmission from the stage to the building structure (which is what I think is the real killer), nor will it provide what I imagine the disgruntled co-tenants actually want: A 20 – 30 dB drop in level. By the same token, a big spend on in-room treatment will make the venue’s space dead, but won’t do squat when it comes to stopping the walls from moving due to low-frequency material and physical impact.

Isn’t there a technological fix? Of course there is! The establishment can close for a couple of months while everything is ripped out, and a soundproof chamber is built inside the existing shell. The ceiling and walls could be completely decoupled, and the floor could be floated. The whole shebang would be built of cinderblock filled with concrete. At last, the other folks would have peace and quiet, even if someone threw a death-metal show into the mix.

Possible? Yes. Plausible for any reasonable investment? Not a snowball’s chance.

As such, my answer to the query was, “Don’t book rock bands in there anymore.” The fight isn’t worth fighting, because more and more time and money is being thrown at a conundrum that isn’t getting solved. Irritated neighbors don’t award points for effort. The goings-on is a slugging match, a contest of wills between groups that want fundamentally different and incompatible things. To give the other guys what they want while getting the music side what it wants just isn’t practical in real life. Live-music can still happen in that space, but it needs to start out quiet instead of being turned into quiet “ex post facto.”

As such, the way to win the game is to stop playing. Gordian knots aren’t untied – they are cut.


How Could 10 Watts Be Too Loud?

We think audiences want volume, but I’m not sure that’s really true.

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’m not just hammering on players here. The context for this is very much “pro-sound.”

I used to have this regular gig that I loved dearly. Fats Grill is now a hole in the ground, but just a couple of years ago we had live-music every weekend. The PA in the downstairs venue was anything but huge, and yet it was very, very adequate for the space. The mid-highs were mated to an amplifier capable of putting 1000-watt peaks into each box. That works out to a theoretical 127 dB SPL peak for each enclosure – if only at close range (1 meter).

If you were in the middle of the room, you were about 4 meters (or 13-ish feet) away. We’ll say that makes for a practical peak of 115 dB SPL per mid-high, although the room being tightly enclosed would make the real number around 118. Put the two boxes together, and you had a system that could deliver a 121 dB peak in the midrange, plus whatever the subs could do.

Now then.

In pro-audio terms, a 121 dB peak isn’t considered “really loud.” It’s especially not considered loud when you realize that the continuous level, or what humans hear readily, was about 10 dB below that.

But here’s the thing: My experience suggests to me strongly that most folks don’t really want their live-music as loud as “music people” might think. Even for those that love their Rock and/ or Roll, 111 dB continuous can be considered bombardment. This is especially true for the 100 Hz – 15 kHz range. (Subwoofer material is far more easily tolerated, generally speaking.)

At Fats, I very regularly had the system limited so that the top boxes hit a brick wall at their amplifier’s -10 dB point. That’s a peak output of 111 dB in the middle of the audience area, with only about 101 dB of continuous level. That still felt loud for some people. It felt loud for me at times. I wore my earplugs religiously.

To be fair, the PA wasn’t the only thing making noise in the room. The monitor rig and the band’s instrumentation could easily give the total acoustical output a shove that got you into the upper reaches of the 100 dB decade. But even so, you have to realize that 101 dB of continuous system output at room-center resulted from only about 10 watts of continuous input. Remember that I said the limiter for FOH stopped the peaks at 10 dB down. So, that 1000-peak-watt amp was now really only 100 watts maximum, with the continuous power available being 10 dB down from that.

What I’m NOT saying here is that we should all downsize our audio rigs to run on hamster wheels. Headroom (holistic headroom, that is) continues to be a very good idea. There are situations where very large peak-to-continuous ratios have to be handled. What I am saying on balance, though, is that dumping a ton of resources into system capacity that’s actually excess isn’t something I can advise. I just can’t escape this ever-building perception that what a good number of live-music audiences really want are balanced mixes which stay well under an A-weighted level of 100 dB SPL continuous. Add the subwoofer information and you might get to 100 dB or more on another weighting, but that’s a different story.

(And, of course, we have to do what we have to do. Keeping up with a band that’s running hot is a necessity. There were plenty of Fats gigs where I started opening the limiters a little. There was one night where I had to adjust my threshold up to the point where the main amp would show clipping – and then drive hard into that limiting point.)

But there are plenty of gigs that aren’t a slugging match. In those cases, 10 watts of continuous input power might be all that’s actually used. Maybe even less than that. Ten watts can be “too loud” sometimes. I’ve gotten complained at during acoustic shows that people could easily talk over, for goodness sake. I did a few nights at a place with a very nice install that you could barely use in any meaningful way; You would just start pushing some clarity past the monitor wash, and somebody would comment that the music was too loud.

A lot of us aspire to “the big rig,” and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that on the surface. I simply urge caution. A huge system can be hard to get people to pay for, requires a lot of logistical work, and may be a tremendous amount of excess capacity that never gets leveraged.


The Number The Knob’s Pointing Toward Doesn’t Matter

A “Schwilly” article on how too loud is too loud, no matter what number the amp is set to.

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 the amplifier doesn’t sound good until most people think it’s too loud to sound good, then the amplifier doesn’t actually sound good.”


Read the whole thing here!


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.


Communicating With The Sound Engineer (Another Letter)

An article for “The Schwillies” about how to pass messages to audio humans.

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:

“When it comes to a complex topic, especially in a pressure situation, the ability of spoken language to convey nuance and relay information unambiguously is a huge bit of leverage.”


You can read the whole thing here.


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.