Tag Archives: Flexibility

If It Doesn’t Work, I Don’t Want To Do It

Not doing things that are pointless seems like an obvious idea, but…

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 is going to sound off-topic, but be assured that you haven’t wandered onto the wrong site.

I promise.

Just hear me out. It’s going to take a bit, but I think you’ll get it by the end.


I used to have a day-job at an SEO (Search Engine Optimization) company. If you don’t know what SEO is, then the name might lead you to believe that it’s all about making search engines work better. It isn’t. SEO should really be called “Optimizing Website FOR Search Engines,” but I guess OWFSE wasn’t as catchy as SEO. It’s the business of figuring out what helps websites to turn up earlier in search results, and then doing those things.

It’s probably one of the most bull[censored] businesses on the entire planet, as far as I can tell.


Things started out well, but after just a few months I realized that our product was crap. (Not to put too fine a point on it.) It wasn’t that anyone in the company wanted to produce crap and sell it. Pretty much everybody that I worked with was a “stand up” sort of person. You know – decent folks who wanted to do right by other folks.

The product was crap because the company’s business model was constrained such that we couldn’t do things for our customers that would actually matter. Our customers needed websites and marketing campaigns that set them apart from the crowd and made spending money with them as easy as possible. Those things are spendy, and require lots of time to implement well. The business model we were constrained to was “cheap and quick” – which we could have gotten away with if it was the time before the dotcom bubble popped. Unfortunately, the bubble had exploded into a slimy mess about 12 years earlier.

So, our product was crap. I spent most of my time at the company participating in the making of crap. When I truly realized just how much crap was involved, things got relatively awful and I planned my escape. (It was even worse because a number of us had ideas for fixes, ideas that were supported by our own management. However, our parent company had no real interest in letting us “pivot,” and that was that.)

But I learned a lot, and there were bright spots. One of the brightest spots was working with a product manager who was impervious to industry stupidity, had an analytical and reasonable mind, and who once uttered a sentence which has become a catchphrase for me:

“If it doesn’t work, I don’t want to do it.”

Is that not one of the most refreshing things you’ve ever heard? Seriously, it’s beautiful. Even with all the crap that was produced at that company, that phrase saved me from wading through some of the worst of it.

…and for any industry that suffers from an abundance of dung excreted from male cows, horses, or other work animals, it’s probably the thing that most needs to be said.

…and when it comes to dung, muck, crap, turds, manure, or just plain ca-ca, the music business is at least chest-deep. Heck, we might even be submerged, with the marketing and promo end of the industry about ten feet down. We need a flotation device, and being able to say “If it doesn’t work, I don’t want to do it,” is at least as good as a pair of water-wings.

The thing is, we’re reluctant to say (and embrace) something so honest, so brutally gentle and edifice-detonatingly kind.

We’ve Got To Do Stuff! Even If It’s Stupid!

I think this problem is probably at its worst in the US, although my guess is that it’s somehow rooted in the European cultures that form most of America’s behavioral bedrock. There’s this unspoken notion (that nobody would openly admit to embracing, even though we constantly embrace it by reflex) that the raw time and effort expended on something is what matters.

I’ll say that again.

We unconsciously believe that the raw time and effort expended on an endeavor is what matters.

We say that we love results, and we kinda do, but what we WORSHIP is effort – or the illusion thereof. The doing of stuff. The act of “being at work.”

In comparison, it barely matters if the end results are good for us, or anyone else. We tolerate the wasting of life, and the erosion of souls, and all manner of Sisyphean rock-pushing and sand-shoveling, because WE PUNCHED THE CLOCK TODAY, DANGIT!

If you need proof of this, look at what has become a defining factor in the ideological rock-throwing that is currently occurring in our culture. Notice a pattern? It’s all about work, and who’s doing enough of it. It’s figuring out how some people are better than other people, because of how much effort they supposedly expend. The guy who sits at the office for 12 hours a day is superior to you, you who only spend 8 hours a day in that cube. If you want to be the most important person in this culture, you need to be an active-duty Marine with two full-time jobs, who is going to college and raising three children by themselves. Your entire existence should be a grind of “doing stuff.” If you’re unhappy with your existence, or it doesn’t measure up to someone else’s, you obviously didn’t do enough stuff. Your expenditure of effort must be lacking.

I mean, do you remember school? People would do poorly on a test, and lament that they had spent [x] hours studying. Hours of their lives had been wasted on studying in a way that had just been empirically proven to be ineffective in some major aspect…yet, they would very likely do exactly the same thing again in a week or so. The issue goes deeper than this, but at just one level: Instead of spending [x] hours on an ineffective grind, why not spend, say, [.25x] hours on what actually works, and just be done?

Because, for all our love of results, we are CULTURALLY DESPERATE to justify ourselves in terms of effort.

I could go on and on and on, but I think you get it at this point.

What in blue blazes does this (and its antithesis) have to do with the music business?


Not Doing Worthless Crap Is The Most Practical Idea Ever

For the sake of an example, let’s take one tiny little aspect of promo: Flyering.

Markets differ, but I’m convinced that flyers (in the way bands are used to them) are generally a waste of time and trees. Even so, bands continue to arm themselves with stacks of cheap posters and tape/ staples/ whatever, and spend WAY too much time on putting up a bunch of promo that is going to be ignored.

The cure is to say, “If it doesn’t work, I don’t want to do it,” and to be granular about the whole thing.

What I mean by “granular” is that you figure out what bit of flyering does work in some way, and do that while gleefully forgetting about the rest. Getting flyers to the actual venue usually has some value. Even if none of the actual show-goers give two hoots about your night, getting that promo to the room sends a critical message to the venue operators – the message that you care about your show. In that way, those three or four posters that would go to the theater/ bar/ hall/ etc. do, in fact, work. As such, they’re worth doing for “political” reasons. The 100 or so other flyers that would go up in various places and may as well be invisible? They obviously don’t work, so why trouble yourself? Hang the four posters that actually matter, and then go rehearse (or just relax).

Also, you can take the time and money that would have been spent on 100+ cheap flyers, and pour some of that into making better the handful of posters that actually matter. Or buying some spare guitar picks, if that’s more important.

I’ll also point out that if traditional flyering does work in your locale, you should definitely do it – because it’s working.

In a larger sense, all promo obeys the rule of not doing it if it doesn’t work. Once a band or venue figures out what marketing the general public responds to (if any), it doesn’t make sense to spend money on doing more. If a few Facebook and Twitter posts have all the effect, and a bunch of spendy ads in traditional media don’t seem to do anything, why spend the money? Do the free stuff, and don’t feel like you have to justify wearing yourself (or your bank account) down to a nub. You may have to be prepared to defend yourself in some rational way, but that’s better than being broke, tired, and frustrated for no necessary reason.

It works for gear, too. People love to buy big, expensive amplification rigs, but they haven’t been truly necessary for years. If you’re not playing to large, packed theaters and arenas with vocals-only PA systems – which is unlikely – then a huge and heavy amp isn’t getting you anything. It’s a bunch of potential that never gets used. Paying for it and lugging it around isn’t working, so you shouldn’t want to do it. Spend the money on a compact rig that sounds fantastic in context, and is cased up so it lasts forever. (And if you would need a huge rig to keep up with some other player who’s insanely loud, then at least consider doing the sensible, cheap, and effective thing…which is to fire the idiot who can’t play with the rest of the team.)

To reiterate what I mentioned about flyering, there’s always a caveat somewhere. Some things work for some people and not for others. The point is to figure out what works for YOU, and then do as much of that as is effective. Doing stuff that works for someone else (but not you) so you can get not-actually-existent “effort expenditure points” is just a waste of life.

There are examples to be had in every area of show production. To try and identify them all isn’t necessary. The point is that this is a generally applicable philosophy.

If it works, you should want to do it.

If you don’t yet know if it works, you should want to give it a try.


If it doesn’t work, I don’t want to do it, and neither do you (even if you don’t realize it yet).

Speed Fishing

“Festival Style” reinforcement means you have to go fast and trust the 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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Last Sunday was the final day of the final iteration of a local music festival called “The Acoustic All-Stars.” It’s a celebration of music made with traditional or neo-traditional instruments – acoustic-electric guitars, fiddles, drums, mandolins, and all that sort of thing. My perception is that the musicians involved have a lot of anticipation wrapped up in playing the festival, because it’s a great opportunity to hear friends, play for friends, and make friends.

Of course, this anticipation can create some pressure. Each act’s set has a lot riding on it, but there isn’t time to take great care with any one setup. The longer it takes to dial up the band, the less time they have to play…and there are no “do overs.” There’s one shot, and it has to be the right shot for both the listeners and the players.

The prime illustrator for all this on Sunday was Jim Fish. Jim wanted to use his slot to the fullest, and so assembled a special team of musicians to accompany his songs. The show was clearly a big deal for him, and he wanted to do it justice. Trying to, in turn, do justice to his desires required that a number of things take place. It turns out that what had to happen for Jim can (I think) be generalized into guidelines for other festival-style situations.

Pre-Identify The Trouble Spots, Then Make The Compromises

The previous night, Jim had handed me a stage plot. The plot showed six musicians, all singing, wielding a variety of acoustic or acoustic-electric instruments. A lineup like that can easily have its show wrecked by feedback problems, because of the number of open mics and highly-resonant instruments on the deck. Further, the mics and instruments are often run at (relatively) high-gain. The PA and monitor rig need to help with getting some more SPL (Sound Pressure Level) for both the players and the audience, because acoustic music isn’t nearly as loud as a rock band…and we’re in a bar.

Also, there would be a banjo on stage right. Getting a banjo to “concert level” can be a tough test for an audio human, depending on the situation.

Now, there’s no way you’re going to get “rock” volume out of a show like this – and frankly, you don’t want to get that kind of volume out of it. Acoustic music isn’t about that. Even so, the priorities were clear:

I needed a setup that was based on being able to run with a total system gain that was high, and that could do so with as little trouble as possible. As such, I ended up deploying my “rock show” mics on the deck, because they’re good for getting the rig barking when in a pinch. The thing with the “rock” mics is that they aren’t really sweet-sounding transducers, which is unfortunate in an acoustic-country situation. A guy would love to have the smoothest possible sound for it all, but pulling that off in a potentially high-gain environment takes time.

And I would not have that time. Sweetness would have to take a back seat to survival.

Be Ready To Abandon Bits Of The Plan

On the day of the show, the lineup ended up not including two people: The bassist and the mandolin player. It was easy to embrace this, because it meant lower “loop gain” for the show.

I also found out that the fiddle player didn’t want to use her acoustic-electric fiddle. She wanted to hang one particular mic over her instrument, and then sing into that as well. We had gone with a similar setup at a previous show, and it had definitely worked. In this case, though, I was concerned about how it would all shake out. In the potentially high-gain environment we were facing, pointing this mic’s not-as-tight polar pattern partially into the monitor wash held the possibility for creating a touchy situation.

Now, there are times to discuss the options, and times to just go for it. This was a time to go for it. I was working with a seasoned player who knew what she wanted and why. Also, I would lose one more vocal mic, which would lower the total loop-gain in the system and maybe help us to get away with a different setup. I knew basically what I was getting into with the mic we chose for the task.

And, let’s be honest, there were only minutes to go before the band’s set-time. Discussing the pros and cons of a sound-reinforcement approach is something you do when you have hours or days of buffer. When a performer wants a simple change in order to feel more comfortable, then you should try to make that change.

That isn’t to say that I didn’t have a bit of a backup plan in mind in case things went sideways. When you’ve got to make things happen in a hurry, you need to be ready to declare a failing option as being unworkable and then execute your alternate. In essence, festival-style audio requires an initial plan, some kind of backup plan, the willingness to partially or completely drop the original plan, and an ability to formulate a backup plan to the new plan.

The fiddle player’s approach ended up working quite nicely, by the way.

Build Monitor World With FOH Open

If there was anything that helped us pull-off Jim’s set, it was this. In a detail-oriented situation, it can be good to start with your FOH (Front Of House) channels/ sends/ etc. muted (or pulled back) while you build mixes for the deck. After the monitors are sorted out, then you can carefully fill in just what you need to with FOH. There are times, though, that such an approach is too costly in terms of the minutes that go by while you execute. This was one such situation.

In this kind of environment, you have to start by thinking not in terms of volume, but in terms of proportions. That is, you have to begin with proportions as an abstract sort of thing, and then arrive at a workable volume with all those proportions fully in effect. This works in an acoustic music situation because the PA being heavily involved is unlikely to tear anyone’s head off. As such, you can use the PA as a tool to tell you when the monitor mixes are basically balanced amongst the instruments.

It works like this:

You get all your instrument channels set up so that they have equal send levels in all the monitors, plus a bit of a boost in the wedge that corresponds to that instrument’s player. You also set their FOH channel faders to equal levels – probably around “unity” gain. At this point, the preamp gains should be as far down as possible. (I’m spoiled. I can put my instruments on channels with a two-stage preamp that lets me have a single-knob global volume adjustment from silence to “preamp gain +10 dB.” It’s pretty sweet.)

Now, you start with the instrument that’s likely to have the lowest gain before feedback. You begin the adventure there because everything else is going to have to be built around the maximum appropriate level for that source. If you start with something that can get louder, then you may end up discovering that you can’t get a matching level from the more finicky channel without things starting to ring. Rather than being forced to go back and drop everything else, it’s just better to begin with the instrument that will be your “limiting factor.”

You roll that first channel’s gain up until you’ve got a healthy overall volume for the instrument without feedback. Remember, both FOH and monitor world should both be up. If you feel like your initial guess on FOH volume is blowing past the monitors too much (or getting swamped in the wash), make the adjustment now. Set the rest of the instruments’ FOH faders to that new level, if you’ve made a change.

Now, move on to the subsequent instruments. In your mind, remember what the overall volume in the room was for the first instrument. Roll the instruments’ gains up until you get to about that level on each one. Keep in mind that what I’m talking about here is the SPL, not the travel on the gain knob. One instrument might be halfway through the knob sweep, and one might be a lot lower than that. You’re trying to match acoustical volume, not preamp gain.

When you’ve gone through all the instruments this way, you should be pretty close to having a balanced instrument mix in both the house and on deck. Presetting your monitor and FOH sends, and using FOH as an immediate test of when you’re getting the correct proportionality is what lets you do this.

And it lets you do it in a big hurry.

Yes, there might be some adjustments necessary, but this approach can get you very close without having to scratch-build everything. Obviously, you need to have a handle on where the sends for the vocals have to sit, and your channels need to be ready to sound decent through both FOH and monitor-world without a lot of fuss…but that’s homework you should have done beforehand.

Trust The Musicians

This is probably the nail that holds the whole thing together. Festival-style (especially in an acoustic context) does not work if you aren’t willing to let the players do their job, and my “get FOH and monitor world right at the same time” trick does NOT work if you can’t trust the musicians to know their own music. I generally discourage audio humans from trying to reinvent a band’s sound anyway, but in this kind of situation it’s even more of something to avoid. Experienced acoustic music players know what their songs and instruments are supposed to sound like. When you have only a couple of minutes to “throw ‘n go,” you have to be able to put your faith in the music being a thing that happens on stage. The most important work of live-sound does NOT occur behind a console. It happens on deck, and your job is to translate the deck to the audience in the best way possible.

In festival-style acoustic music, you simply can’t “fix” everything. There isn’t time.

And you don’t need to fix it, anyway.

Point a decent mic at whatever needs micing, put a working, active DI on the stuff that plugs in, and then get out of the musicians’ way.

They’ll be happier, you’ll be happier, you’ll be much more likely to stay on schedule…it’s just better to trust the musicians as much as you possibly can.

The Party-Band Setup To Rule Lots Of Them

A guest post 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.

“Party-bands” can make a fair bit of money playing at upmarket events. A setup that lets you pick just about any arbitrary volume to play at can help you secure a wider variety of bookings. For a full article on all this, pay a visit to Schwilly Family Musicians.

The Pros and Cons of Decoupling

Separating gear into its components gives you more control, but it also creates more work.

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.

Question: If I gave you a mic pre, a parametric equalizer, a couple of splitter cables, an output selector box, and three volume pots, what could you make?

Answer: A basic channel strip.

Think about it – for all intents and purposes, the items listed above are the basic components necessary to construct an audio chain that behaves like a channel found on a simple console. What made them seem different is that they were packaged as single items, instead of all being attached to a circuit board.

They were decoupled from one another. Unbundled. Unboxed.

Decoupling pro-audio components can give you a lot of powerful choices, but it isn’t appropriate for everyone or every situation.

What The Heck Am I Talking About?

When I talk about “coupled” or “bundled” audio products, I’m referring to a device that houses multiple functions in one enclosure. Each function could theoretically be performed by a separate device in its own enclosure, but for various reasons the devices have been combined. For example:

  • “Powered” speakers, which stick an amplifier (and often, a lot of very carefully tweaked processing) into the loudspeaker enclosure. This is in contrast to “passive” speakers, which require amplification and processing from external products.
  • “Multiway” loudspeakers are even an example of bundling. Some people are happy to run entirely separate enclosures (and amps, and processing) for subs, low-mids, high-mids, and high-end. Lots of other folks are happy to combine everything above the subwoofers into one cabinet.
  • “Monolithic” mixing consoles, which put audio circuitry and/ or processing in the same case as the controls. I’m unaware of any analog console which ISN’T essentially monolithic out of sheer necessity. Some digital consoles, on the other hand, have DSP brains that are at least physically independent of the control surface.
  • System controllers, AKA loudspeaker management systems, are devices which combine equalizers, crossovers, and dynamics processors (amongst other things) into a single unit.

Each of these products presents you, as the buyer, with a choice. Accept the bundle offered, or decline it and construct your own solution. So – why pick one route over the other?

Conservation Of Responsibility

I don’t know if this is the biggest factor to consider when you’re thinking about whether to use a coupled or decoupled setup, but it’s the most generalized description that I could easily think of:

In a coupled solution, the manufacturer bears most of the responsibility for an effective configuration. In a decoupled solution, the responsibility shifts to the operator.

One of the best examples of this is the powered or “active” speaker, especially when the unit is biamped or triamped. The manufacturer of the speaker is the one who has to pick an appropriate amplifier for each driver. Not only that, but they have to include appropriate crossover processing at a minimum. Often, advanced driver-protection, driver-to-driver time alignment, and corrective EQ are “baked in” to the total solution.

If, on the other hand, you choose to go with passive speakers, you have to choose which of these functions are worth implementing, which products you’ll use to fulfill them, how to connect those products, and how to configure each unit.

The upshot is that there’s “conservation of responsibility,” in that the obligation of deciding how to put everything together is always present. Who actually gets most of that obligation depends on how much is packaged in one box. This is also true for the audio knowledge required when using the product(s). Audio gear that’s been bundled can reduce the knowledge demands for whoever is actually doing a show with that gear. Unbundled gear usually requires a more knowledgeable operator for maximum success.

Weight and Volume

Whenever you choose a bundled or decoupled solution to an audio-gear need, it’s helpful to have an awareness of the weight/ volume tradeoff that can occur (it doesn’t always happen):

All things being equal, “coupled” gear reduces the space required for deployment and transport, at the cost of each unit becoming heavier. Decoupled gear makes for lighter individual units, at the cost of more space being required for the entire system.

It’s important to notice that the above starts with “all things being equal.” In many cases, all things are not equal. For instance, if you replace a whole stack of PA management gear with a single Driverack processor, the weight AND volume of PA management equipment goes down. This is because all things aren’t equal – all the physical components of each piece aren’t included, because the functions are replicated in software.

In the same way, a powered speaker may not actually be as heavy as the passive version plus an amplifier, because the manufacturer will probably choose an amplification unit that allows for less weight (not to mention one that doesn’t require a hefty rackmount chassis).

Cost And Risk

Choosing coupled versus decoupled solutions in pro-audio influences both how much money you pay for things, and how many eggs you have in one basket:

Because of various “economies,” coupled products can sometimes be less expensive than their decoupled counterparts.

Powered speakers are another excellent example of this phenomenon. By the time you add up the cost of amplifiers, processing, speaker cable, and racks, creating equivalent functionality with a passive speaker enclosure can be more expensive than just buying a decent, pre-packaged, active box. If cost is a big factor for a production, coupled products can be a big help.

Because of tight, inter-component integration and dependence, the failure of one part of a coupled product can deprive you of the functionality of ALL parts of the product.

An example of this can be found with a loudspeaker management unit. All of the functionality of the unit (EQ, crossover, dynamics, etc) is tied to one power supply and one front-panel control setup. If either one of those is damaged or fails, everything “in the box” becomes unusable. In a decoupled system, the death of the crossover doesn’t deprive you of the use of the EQ. Bundled gear allows for each individual product to do more, but if there’s a problem you may lose ALL of that “doing more” in an instant. It’s just a risk that you have to be aware of.

Control Issues

The final point I want to make is in regards to the overall command that you have over coupled vs. decoupled audio systems:

Using decoupled products provides you with greater system flexibility and control than using bundled units.

I do want to be careful to point out that the above is NOT a value judgement. Greater control and flexibility are not an advantage unless you actually want them and will benefit from them. For instance, I’ve chosen to use a “decoupled” console, where the I/O, processing, and control all have some amount of separation. As a result, I have a ton of control over how the console behaves. If I don’t like some part of it, I can swap that part without losing my investment in the other parts. On the flipside, though, my console is not industry standard, it’s difficult to just “pick up and use,” and I have to be personally invested in making the whole thing work.

In the end, I definitely encourage audio enthusiasts to go for decoupled systems where it makes sense for them. For folks who just want things to work without much hassle, bundled gear is a great choice. I happen to use both kinds of pro-audio equipment, because I have to pick my battles. It all seems to be working out, so far.

The Elephant vs. The Garden Hose

If you make your production fit a small venue, it will fit anywhere.

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.

A while ago, I was a participant on Harmony Central’s live-sound forums. On those forums, a few people emerged as authoritative, experienced professionals who could be counted on as voices of reason. One of those people was W. M. Hellinger. Besides being the proprietor of audiopile.net (one of my favorite places to shop for audio cable), he was a regular dispenser of plain-old, hard-won, good sense. In my recollection, Mr. Hellinger could almost always be counted on to provide some gem of “in-the-trenches” wisdom, often related as an anecdote or amusing metaphor. One of his most memorable was offered in a thread regarding methods for working with a loud drummer:

“…if you’re having problems trying to stuff an elephant down a gardenhose, then either the elephant is too large or the garden hose is too small or maybe elephants were never meant to be stuffed down garden hoses, and it’s time to re-think the project.” Full context available here.

Poetry. Audio-cowboy poetry, but poetry just the same.

…and, like many other great metaphors, there’s a lot of meaning packed into it.

Elephants Are Hard To Compact

On several occasions, I’ve encountered acts with what I’ve come to call “Warped Tour-itis.” I don’t have anything against Warped Tour, or the bands that play on it, but I swear that the groups I’ve had the most struggles with would fit into the event perfectly. These are the bands that are trying to fit an auditorium or shed show into an enclosed place that seats 200 people or fewer.

Their show was built to be the size of an elephant (in one way or another), and when faced with a “garden hose” of a venue, there’s no way to downscale. They just try to get through by force of will.

Now, sure, their physical setup might fit, but what usually doesn’t fit is the volume.

  • The drummer hits as hard as he possibly can. Especially the cymbals. All the time. His snare sounds like a firearm. (I’m not joking. One of these guys once smacked his snare while standing behind me, and I swear that it sounded like he had discharged a pistol.) It’s all about “being intense” and having “great energy” – which would be super fun if it didn’t hurt to be in the room with the guy.
  • The guitar players have all-tube heads, which sport big wattage. Those heads are connected to either a half or full-stack of cabs, and the rigs “just don’t sound right” if dialed back to anything less than “crushing.” Of course, if they could dial their amps back, they’d just get run over by the drummer. Even so, they want a lot of their rig in the their monitor wedge. And a lot of the other guitar player. And a lot of kick and snare, because they can’t hear the drums anymore. Plus some bass.
  • The bass player has at least one 8×10, powered by a massive head. It’s Ampeg, of course. The head is vintage, vintage being a synonym for “runs hot and weighs as much as the trailer it rides in.” The amount of energy produced by the bass stack is formidable. The bottom octave is felt as much as heard. Whatever subs are available to the PA, they’re overmatched by 6-10 dB.
  • The vocalist has to do the “scream” thing. There is literally no other option, except for when the guitarists have switched to their clean channel. At any other time, vocal-chord threatening volume is required.

Anyway, you get the point.

The band would sound great if they were in an open-air venue, and the average listener was a minimum of 50 feet from the barricade. In a small space, though, the results are uncomfortable. Or downright deafening.

…and the thing is, the “elephant” can’t be compacted.

The drummer’s kit is built specifically to be a certain volume. He can’t switch for a quieter snare, for instance, because he only has the “holy grail” snare that he poured all his money into. His muscle-memory is built around playing at full tilt, with sticks of a certain weight. It’s almost impossible for him to “turn down.”

The guitar rigs, in the same way, are built to get a certain tone at a certain level. In all likelihood, the guitarists invested all their setup money into those stacks. They have no alternative but to use them, and even with master volume controls onboard, they have to keep up with the (essentially fixed volume) drummer.

It’s the same for the bass player, because he has to keep up with the guitars, and it’s not as though the vocalist can scream at a “front-parlor appropriate” volume.

The elephant simply can not be scaled down to fit the garden hose – not at a moment’s notice, anyway.

The faulty logic in play is “if we create a show that works at large scale, then we’re ready for anything.” This seems reasonable, but it’s actually incorrect. It’s a forgivable mistake, because I’m fairly sure that all of us in live-music have made it. We assume that the band is the vehicle that carries the show, and a huge vehicle can carry any size of show. The truth is that the show (or, more correctly, the show’s context) is the vehicle for the band, and a band that’s too “large” will overwhelm the vehicle.

So – what to do?

Elephants Are Remarkably Easy To Expand

If the situation really is that you have to fit into a variety of garden hoses, then the solution is simple:

Make the elephant small enough to fit through the smallest hose you’re going to encounter.

If your show can run comfortably in a small club, then a competent crew can scale that show up to auditorium or shed-gig size when it comes time. When you get invited to that big show, the show itself will have the resources necessary to make the act big enough to fll a much larger garden hose.

If you’ve invested your time and money into a drumkit and play style that works nicely in a small club, you can be mic’ed up and reinforced for pretty much any number of people. When it’s time to play in a tiny room again, all you have to do is what you’ve always done.

If you’ve invested in a guitar or bass rig that sounds great at small-venue volume, then you’ll sound just as great when the amp gets sent through a PA sized appropriately for the show. (I’m not kidding. One of the biggest, most raging-awesome “PanterrrrRRRRAAAAAA!” guitar tones I’ve ever heard was the result of micing a Roland cube. I’ve had lunch boxes bigger than that thing.)

If your show is exciting, and yet manageable in a space the size of a postage stamp, then there won’t be any insurmountable issues to be found in making it happen on a huge stage. Sure, you might not take advantage of the whole area all at once, but that’s not what actually makes shows great.

The bottom line is that show production – audio, lighting, staging, logistics, whatever – is primarily an additive activity. Making things larger than life is pretty much what all the technology is built around, because that’s how the laws of physics work. Subtractive techniques are few in number and difficult to implement.

Small elephants fit down small garden hoses, and when you’re just starting out, the small hoses are what you’ll need to fit your show into. Small doesn’t mean “dinky” or “boring.” It just means compact.

So, build the most amazing, travel-sized elephant that you possibly can.

Why I Left SAC

I switched to Reaper from SAC because I wanted more flexibility to define my own workflow.

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.

If you know me, you know that I’m a HUGE fan of my custom-built digital console. It has routing flexibility like nothing else I’ve ever worked with, is far less subject to the whims of manufacturers, and generally lets me do things that are difficult or even impossible with other setups.

What you may not know is that I didn’t always use Reaper as the main software package. I started off with SAC. I was actually very happy with SAC for a while, but the “bloom came off the rose” after a few frustrations popped up.

Don’t Get Me Wrong! SAC Is Rad

I won’t lie. I’m going to be pretty tough on SAC in this article.

The point isn’t to bash the program though.

Software Audio Console is a really neat, purpose-built labor of love. If nothing else, it shows that a reliable, live-sound-capable console can be run on a general-purpose computing platform. It has some great features and concepts, not the least of which is the “separate monitor console for each performer” workflow. That feature, coupled with integrated remote-control support, can potentially be VERY killer for the tech that works for professional bands who carry their own production. (Set everybody up with a remote, let ’em mix their own monitors, you run FOH, and life is dandy. Well, until one of the players causes a massive feedback spike. Anyway…)

SAC is efficient. SAC’s overall control scheme is great for live-audio, most of the time. SAC is stable and trouble free. SAC has very usable snapshot management. Using ASIO4All as a separate driver, I was able to use SAC for live mixing and Reaper for recording, with Reaper effectively running in the background.

SAC is a good piece of software.

If there’s any problem with SAC, it’s that the program is overly influenced by its developer’s (Bob Lentini) personal preferences and workflow. If you want something markedly different, you’re out of luck.

It Started With An EQ

I’m a massive fan of Reaper’s native EQ plug. The only thing it’s missing is variable slope for the high and low pass filters. I honestly don’t know why anyone would want to buy an expensive, annoyingly copy-protected EQ plugin when Reaper’s EQ is so powerful.

Yup. I’m a bit of a fanboy. Not everyone may share my opinion.


Wanting to use Reaper’s EQ with SAC is what quickly revealed a “blind spot” with SAC’s workflow. I found out that adding FX to a channel was a bit clumsy. I also found out that manipulating FX on a channel was almost horrific.

To instantiate FX on a SAC channel, you have to find the FX control, click on it to get the channel FX chain to pop up, then use an un-filterable list of all available FX to find the one you want, click “Add,” and hope that you’ve gotten the chain order right.

If you didn’t get the order of the chain right, you have to de-instantiate one of the plugs and try again.

In Reaper, plugin instantiation can happen by clicking the insert stack, picking a plug from a filterable and customizable list, and…that’s it. If you got the plugin in the wrong spot, you can just drag it into the right one.

That may not seem like a huge difference, but the annoyance factor of SAC’s clumsiness accumulates greatly over time.

On the live-manipulation side, Reaper is leaps and bounds ahead. If I need to tweak an EQ on the fly (which happens every show, many times), all I have to do is click on the EQ plug in the stack. Immediately, the EQ pops its UI into view, and I can get to work.

In SAC, on the other hand, I have to (again) find the FX control, click to open the channel FX list, find the EQ, then double-click on it in the list to get the GUI to display. A few extra clicks might not seem like much, but this truly becomes a very awkward slog in a big hurry. In fairness, SAC does have a channel EQ that is VERY much more immediate, but what that ended up forcing me to do was to run my beloved plug as a “basic” EQ, and use the channel EQ for everything else. I’m not bothered by complexity, but unnecessary complexity IS something that I dislike.

There’s also SAC’s stubborn refusal to recognize that drag-and-drop is totally “a thing” now. In Reaper, I can drag plugins and sends between channels. In SAC, you can’t drag anything to any other channel. You can drag channels into a different order, but it’s not simple to do. (Some more unnecessary complexity). In general, dragging things around and multiselecting in Reaper works exactly as you would expect, whereas SAC tends to be VERY finicky about where your mouse cursor is and what modifier key you’re using.

Artificial Scarcity and Workflow Lock-In

In a number of ways, SAC aims to provide a “crossover experience” to techs who are used to physical consoles. This is absolutely fine if it’s what you want, but going this route has a tendency to reduce flexibility. This loss of flexibility mostly comes from arbitrary limitations.

Most of these limitations have enough cushion to not be a problem. SAC’s channel count is limited to 72, which should be WAY more than enough for most of us in small-venue situations. With a SAC-specific workflow, six aux sends and returns are a lot more than I usually need, as are 16 groups and eight outputs.

The problem, though, is that you’re forced to adopt the workflow. Want to use a workflow that would require more than six sends? Tough. Want to use more than eight physical outputs on a single console? Too bad.

Again, there’s no issue if you’re fine with being married to the intended use-strategy. However, if you’re like me, you may discover that having a whole bunch of limited-output-count subconsoles is unwieldy when compared to a single, essentially unlimited console. You might discover that much more immediate channel processing access trumps other considerations. It’s a matter of personal preference, and the thing with SAC is that your personal preference really isn’t a priority. The developer has chosen pretty much everything for you, and if that’s mostly (but not exactly) what you want, you just have to be willing to go along.

Another “sort-of” artificial scarcity issue with SAC is that it’s built on the idea that multi-core audio processing is either unnecessary or a bad idea. The developer has (at least in the past) been adamant that multi-thread scheduling and management adds too much overhead for it all to be worth it. I’m sure that this position is backed up with factual and practical considerations, but here’s my problem: Multi-core computers are here to stay, and they offer a ton of available horsepower. Simply choosing to ignore all that power strikes me as unhelpful. I have no doubt that some systems become unreliable when trying to multiprocess audio in a pseudo-realtime fashion – but I’d prefer to at least have the option to try. Reaper let’s me enable multiprocessing for audio, and then make my own decision. SAC does no such thing. (My guess is that the sheer force of multi-core systems can muscle past the scheduling issues, but that’s only a guess.)

Where artificial scarcity REALLY reared its head was when I decided to try migrating from my favorite EQ to the “outboard” EQ plug included with SAC. I was happily getting it instantiated in all the places I wanted it when, suddenly, a dialog box opened and informed me that no more instances were available.

The host machine wasn’t even close to being overloaded.

I may just be one of those “danged entitled young people,” but it doesn’t compute for me that I should have to buy a “pro” version of a plugin just to use more than an arbitrary number of instances. It’s included with the software! I’ve already paid for the right to use it, so what’s the problem with me using 32 instances instead of 24?

I’m sorry, but I don’t get it.

There’s also the whole issue that SAC doesn’t offer native functionality for recording. Sure, I understand that the focus of the program is live mixing. Like the EQ plugin, though, I get really put-off by the idea that I HAVE to use a special link that only works with SAW Studio (which is spendy, and has to be purchased separately) in order to get “native” recording functionality.

Push Comes To Shove

In the end, that last point above was what got me to go over to Reaper. I though, “If I’m going to run this whole program in the background anyway, why not try just using it for everything?”

The results have been wonderful. I’m able to access critical functionality – especially for plugins – much faster than I ever could in SAC. I can pretty much lay out my Reaper console in any way that makes sense to me. I can have as many sends as I please, and those sends can be returned into any channel I please. I can chain plugins with all kinds of unconventional signal flows. I can have as many physical outputs on one console as the rig can handle.

In Reaper, I have much more freedom to do things my own way, and I like that.

As I’ve said before, SAC gets a lot of things right. In fact, I’ve customized certain parts of Reaper to have a SAC-esque feel.

It’s just that Reaper has the edge in doing what I want to do, instead of just doing what a single developer thinks it should do.

In Praise Of The Small Venue

Small venues are great because of their intimacy, their flexibility, the freedoms they offer, and the new music you can find there.

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.

The funny thing about this article is that I was going to write it as the lead-off piece for this site – and then I got sidetracked.


I think small venues are killer. Killer places to work, killer places to play, and killer places to check out music. Of course, that just my opinion.

I think I can justify that opinion, though. As I see it, small venues have innate strengths to be found in their smallness. Sure, large halls, “shed” gigs, sizable festivals, arenas, and stadium shows have strengths. Lots of strengths.

And strength.

As in, “brute force.”

In the end, though, your local bar, all-ages room, or mini-theater can do things in a way that only they can really do…because they’re small. Also, my suspicion is that most of us are going to spend a lot of time working in small venues. There are only a few Dave Rats and Evan Kirkendalls in the world, who work on big rigs almost all the time.

Please don’t get me wrong! The guys and gals running the big shows have a lot of wisdom for us, but at the same time, I think we should try to identify and appreciate the advantages that we “little giggers” enjoy on a daily basis. This isn’t sour grapes! I think big shows are amazing creations, and that they would be very rewarding to work on.

The point is to appreciate the great things about the context that you’re currently in. Like…


Intimacy has become an overused word in the music business. However, it has become a cliched buzzword precisely because it’s actually important. Intimacy is probably THE main trait of the small venue, and it works for pretty much everybody involved – musicians, techs, and concert-goers alike.

For the musician:

Intimacy means that your audience is just a few feet away. Audience members can actually be interacted with as individuals, instead of as a giant mass. You can take a break, step off stage, and make friends with people in the crowd, all with ease. (That’s how you build an audience, by the way: You make personal connections with people.)

An intimate show seems more personal, because it is – every word and note becomes potent, because there’s so much less inertia. Huge crowds are certainly fun, but if a big chunk of them aren’t on your side, you will probably only notice the hostility – the few people who love every second are invisible, swallowed up in the monster. At a small venue, the people who like you are much easier to hear, see, and connect with. They don’t get lost in the crowd, and because the crowd is small, it’s easier to “turn” a visible portion of the audience towards your favor (assuming you have the skill to do so.)

For the tech:

Small shows are great because communication with the folks on stage is (usually) much easier. You don’t have to have runners and comms. All you need is a talkback, and sometimes you don’t even need that. If something needs fixing on stage, you don’t have to discuss what it is with monitor world, and then get someone to do what’s needed. You just walk up there and deal with it.

When you work in close proximity to the artist, it’s easier to figure out what they need. It’s also much easier to get to know the artists as people, and become friends with them. This also makes it much easier to work with the artists, because knowing people helps you understand their needs and how you can fulfill them properly. If the artist is your friend, or at least known to you as an actual person, it’s a much shorter path to being on the same team.

Successful shows are all about teamwork, by the way.

The other great thing about an intimate show is that you can actually get to know the audience – you know, the OTHER people you’re there to serve throughout the night. In the same way as the talent, you can get to know the audience as actual people. You can make eye contact, and even talk to them. You can even become friends with them!

It’s not impossible to connect with audience members at a big gig, but I don’t think it’s as easy.

For the concertgoer:

For the folks in the crowd, intimate shows are great because all the seats are “expensive,” without actually costing an arm and a leg. Think about it: People pay insanely large sums to sit in the first few rows at big gigs, because that’s where you can actually see what the artist is doing in a direct way. I’m not saying that huge video walls aren’t cool, but they just aren’t the same as being able to see what the band is doing with your own two eyes. (Again, if it was the same, then there wouldn’t be a market for the first few rows.)

Then, there’s the whole “meet and greet” thing. At small shows, the chances are much higher that you can actually say hello to the players and shake hands. The chances are astronomically higher that you might even be able to have a real conversation, because fewer people are competing for the artist’s attention. Often, you can just walk up to the musicians with ease, because there’s no need for a bunch of security humans (and a barrier) 20 feet away from the downstage edge.

This also works for the folks who want to see how the production is done. Especially at bar gigs, people curious about how the lighting is rigged, or the PA is stacked, or how the console is set up, can usually go right up to the appropriate person and ask. They can walk over to the rig and take a gander. Again, the bigger show, the harder it gets to find out how it all comes together. It’s not impossible, of course, just more challenging.


Another great thing about small venues is that changes and problems don’t necessarily wreck a show, because there’s a greater ability to “flow” around the issues. If something needs to change in a hurry, it’s often easier for that to happen at a small show.

For the musician:

Flexibility means that if you want to change the order of a multi-act show, you can do it without a massive disruption. You can also change your set around, bring up guest musicians who will just take care of themselves (because they don’t necessarily have to get put into the PA), and generally make changes on the fly. The reason is because there’s so much less in the way of logistical choreography that has to happen. Sure, every change has an effect, but the number of people who have to coordinate for the change to happen is small.

For the tech:

Small-venue flexibility is great if you have limited resources. Not enough mic-lines? Chances are that extra amp on stage can carry things without your help (if the musicians are good). Need to change the lighting a bit? Well, since there are only a few instruments, you can just “grab and go.” Heck, you might even be able to reprogram most of the show in a few minutes. Need to change something about the PA? A small sound system is easy to reconfigure, if you have the tools, because the number of pieces involved is quite manageable. Again – the choreography required to make a change is minimal.

For the concertgoer:

Flexibility is great for concertgoers, because the show can go on even when problems crop up. Lose the whole PA for some reason? You’re pretty much screwed in a giant space. In a small venue, the opportunity for an amazing, all-acoustic rescue is still there. Did an act drop out suddenly? Putting in a replacement band isn’t a huge process.

(Very cool, spontaneous things can happen at big shows, too. It’s just not usually as easy. There are a lot more people involved, a lot more gear involved, a lot more logistical issues to work out…you get the picture.)


Another wonderful something about small-venue shows, where the logistics are far more contained and the stakes aren’t astronomically high?

There’s so much more freedom to experiment.

For the musician:

If you want to try out your new songs, the ones you’re unsure about, you can. There’s less at stake than at a huge gig. Also, if you want to try out some totally weird amp configuration or exotic instrument, you don’t have to do a bunch of tech rehearsals. You can just try it, and if it doesn’t work, so what? You only lost, what, ten minutes? (Of course, you have to know when to abandon an experiment for the time being. Not everybody does.)

For the tech:

Because a lot of small-venue shows tend to be free of highly-specific tech-riders, the house crews can often experiment as far as their budgets will allow. If you don’t have a lot of BEs (band engineers) asking for specific console and processing setups, you can try your favorite configurations – or even opt for a “homebrew” digital mixer that would never be accepted on a normal rider. Want to use your favorite mics, the ones that don’t normally get asked for? No problem – very few acts will be requiring a certain transducer for any particular instrument or vocal. (Just make sure your favorite mic is actually a good choice for that application.) Want to try a new lighting fixture or two, maybe do something unconventional? Give it a shot! It’s unlikely that the acts will be bringing in an LD (lighting designer) who’s absolutely got to have all industry standard gear of a certain “grade.”

I should definitely mention that I think there’s an “uncanny valley” for experimental freedom. In the small-venue world, you can experiment because there are fewer people to please, and they are usually easier to please. The limitation is resources.

Then, there’s a vast middle-ground where people aren’t interested in pushing the boundaries, and just want what’s worked for them for however long. In the middle ground, you’re subject to the whims of bands, management, and tour crews who aren’t interested in your crazy notions, and who tend to be notably risk-averse.

After that, though, there’s the point where you “leave the valley.” That’s where you have the stature, trustworthiness, and resources of, say, Dave Rat, and can freely try all kinds of neat things again.

New Music

I’ve been known to say that “every huge, international act is a local band somewhere.” I say that because there’s sometimes a stigma attached to the term “local band,” as though bands that are just starting out and have a limited fanbase are somehow inferior.

It’s just not true. There are tons of acts that could eat [insert huge artist’s name here] for breakfast, and who just aren’t widely known for whatever reason. Besides, every huge act (that isn’t a “manufactured” group) started out playing in the bars and clubs. They had to grow into their big shoes. They had to start somewhere.

To me, the implications are clear: If you want to create new music, have a chance at hearing new music, work with people making new music, and just generally “be present for the creation,” small venue shows are the ones to look for. The sound isn’t always great, the number of lasers in the light show is small or zero, and the roar of the crowd isn’t as loud.

But the small venue is where a ton of really worthwhile things get their start.

You Should Try A Custom-Built Digital Console. Or Not.

Custom-made digital consoles have incredible power, but they aren’t for everybody.

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.

I’ve been a huge fan of digital consoles since about 2001. Back when I was studying at The Conservatory of Recording Arts and Sciences, it took one day in the digital studio to convince me that digital was the way to go. At the time, that room had two TMD-4000 consoles cascaded together. The functionality of those two consoles rivaled that of the much, much, much, much, much, much, (am I going to say, “much,” again? YES!), much more expensive SSL 4056 in the “A” room next door.

Now, I’m not here to argue about sonics. Having heard audio in both the digital room and Studio A, I can tell you that things sounded “just fine” in both places. Some folks might want to make a huge deal out of which consoles seem to sound better than other consoles. That’s not what I’m here to do. What I’m talking about here is functionality – the kinds of nifty tricks that different consoles can pull off.

Anyway, my first digital console was a DM-24. I now have two of them, actually.

I dropped the first one on concrete during an event load-in.

That DM-24 still works pretty well, surprisingly.

The Next Step

Fast-forward to 2011. I’m working at Fats Grill, and I’m tired of lugging my original, slightly-dinged-by-concrete DM-24 in and out of the place every week. (This was before I got my hands on the other DM, because it hadn’t been decommissioned yet. That’s another story.) It was time to get another console, but I couldn’t find anything I really liked at a price that I could justify.

Mostly, it was The Floyd Show’s fault.

This isn’t actually a tangent. Stick with me, folks.

See, we had featured the band, and the show had gone really well, but I had to submix a good chunk of their inputs. My DM was configured to act as both FOH and a virtual monitor console (more on that in another post), so I only had 15 channels that I could work with “natively” – with full, individual routing, and all that.

I wanted to be able to do the entire Floyd Show natively, on one console. I also wanted to keep full, virtual monitor console functionality. If I could do that, I figured that I could do the same for any other band that came through.

There were consoles in my price range with all the necessary analog inputs, but not enough actual channels or routing wizardry to do the virtual monitor thing. I also wasn’t fond of their overall implementation.

The single or cascaded console solutions that would do what I wanted were more than I could justify spending.

What’s a guy to do?

As it turns out, the next step in the “more bang for the buck” digital progression is to build your own console, using off-the-shelf audio interfaces and preamps. General computing platforms (like Windows) run on hardware that’s now powerful enough to stay responsive while handling lots of audio processing. That same hardware and software can also be made plenty reliable enough to function in a mission-critical environment like sound reinforcement.

The Magic

I ended up building a 24-input, 24-output rig, which originally ran Software Audio Console. I’ve since switched to Reaper, with some custom setup work to make the software more friendly to live work. (The “why” of that switch will be yet another post). On this kind of rig, the functionality available to an audio tech is extensive:

  • You can have independent FOH and monitor consoles in one box. The monitor console can be completely independent of FOH – aside from your preamp gains – or you can make it dependent on FOH processing by making some routing changes. You could even make the monitor console dependent on only part of the FOH processing stack, if you’re willing to do some fancier routing.
  • You could conceivably have multiple monitor consoles, configured independently. You could have multiple FOH consoles if you so desired. The only limit is how much processing the computer platform can do at an acceptable latency.
  • You can have as many monitor sends, mix feeds, and cue buses as you have physical outputs available.
  • Any regular channel on the console can have sends or be configured as a bus receive. Any channel. If you need full matrix output functionality, all you have to do is add the appropriate sends to the appropriate channels that are receiving other channels and feeding an output. If you need another bus, you just add one.
  • Since all your console outputs and buses can be regular channels, you can insert any processing on those channels that you please. None of this, “you can’t have that kind of EQ in that context because the engineering team didn’t think it was really important” stuff.
  • Drag and drop is available for all kinds of things. If you want to copy an EQ configuration to another channel, you just grab the EQ plug that’s setup properly, plop it into the target channel’s stack, delete the old EQ, and drag the new EQ to the proper spot. You can do the same for sends.
  • The channel processing stack is incredibly configurable. If you want an EQ to come before a compressor, you can make that happen. If you change your mind, you can reorder the channel processing stack by drag and drop. If you want to have a special EQ that wasn’t part of the main audio chain, but instead does something wild with a parametric filter and then passes its output to a gate key or compressor sidechain, you can do that. You can have two extreme EQ setups that process in parallel. You can have a delay and reverb on a single channel that process in parallel, so that You don’t have to use two buses to address them.
  • For channel processing, you can use any plugin you want – as long as you don’t add noticeable latency to the system of course. The “native” plugs that come with Reaper are killer, by the way:
    • The gate has a key input, hysteresis, and can be made into an expander with a simple adjustment to a “dry signal” control.
    • The compressor has a sidechain input, and also has a “dry signal” control, which means you can do parallel compression right in a single channel.
    • The EQ has as many bands of EQ as you want. It includes peaking, shelving, notch, bandpass, and hi/ low pass filters.
  • You can have permanent groups for channel faders and mutes, or you can get a temporary group by just multi-selecting what you want. (In fact, I use the temporary grouping a lot more than the assigned group functions.)
  • You can save as many mixes and projects as the host computer can hold, with any system-legal filename that you want, in any hierarchy that you want.
  • You can set up a VNC-based remote control system, as long as doing so doesn’t overload the system’s ability to process.
  • Since the whole thing is driven by an audio interface, you can always swap for another one if the current unit has an issue, or you want to try something different.
  • If you want more I/O, all you have to do is get an interface with more I/O, or cascade the current unit if that’s supported. You’re not tied to a manufacturer’s choice as to how much connectivity to include.
  • If you want a control surface, you can add one. You have all kinds of choices, from cheap to extravagant.
  • If the basic controls break, mice, trackballs and keyboards are only slightly more expensive than dirt. In the same vein, as long as you have a pointing device and keyboard attached, you effectively have a fallback control surface if the fancy one has a problem.
  • If you want a better screen, you can get one. Or two. Or as many as your video card can support.
  • You can multitrack record any show at any time, at a moment’s notice. You can even record to max-quality OGG files, and save a lot of disk space without a huge loss in audio quality.
  • You could do an automated mix if you wanted, with a bit of planning and setup.

I’m sure that, somewhere, you can get a prebuilt digital console with all of this functionality. I just can’t think of anywhere that you can get it for less than $20,000 or so. If I remember correctly, the complete build price for the rig that I’ve just described is about $3000.

What To Be Careful Of

With everything I’ve laid out in the list above, you can probably tell that I’m pretty sold on this whole concept. Having all the functionality that my rig provides means that I can do all kinds of things that aren’t really expected in a small venue context – the most notable thing probably being that I have an independent monitor console, and lots of mixes to work with.

Even with all the positives, it’s important that I tell you about the risks and, shall we say, contraindications for putting together a rig like this:

  • This probably should not be your first mixing console. All the options and flexibility can be overwhelming for people who are just starting to learn the craft of live audio.
  • If big chunks of the terminology I’ve used above seem foreign to you, you should definitely do some homework before you try one of these rigs. Otherwise, you may be bewildered, or start doing things without knowing why you’re doing them.
  • If you don’t have a great grasp of how signal flows in a mix rig, this kind of setup isn’t the right choice. A lot of the system’s magic comes from being able to throw audio around in all kinds of ways, and you need to know exactly what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. (I would rate myself as having professional-level competence in terms of understanding signal flow, and I can still back myself into a corner when I forget to think things through.)
  • If your mix rig needs to be used by lots of different audio techs, especially BEs (Band Engineers), this kind of mix system is a bad choice. Very few people use them at the moment, and they’re not what most BEs expect when they roll up to a venue.
  • Rigs like this aren’t likely to be acceptable on riders anytime soon.
  • If you aren’t comfortable with digging around in computer hardware and software, you should think twice about diving into a rig like this.
  • If you don’t have any experience with installing DAW hardware and software, and what can go wrong with DAW setups, you should allow a lot of time for getting your rig running. Or, just get a traditional console.
  • If you aren’t keen on doing your own testing, this kind of system probably isn’t for you.
  • If you can’t get comfortable with the idea that there’s no support except for yourself and what you can find online, this idea is probably something to skip.
  • If you’re absolutely sold on working a lot of controls at the same time, you either need to attach and configure a really good control surface, or just get a regular console.
  • These rigs tend to be a bit slower to operate than traditional consoles, in terms of user interface. If you’re not okay with that, you either need to put in a good control surface, or just stick with what you’re fast on.
  • Even though you can save money overall on these systems, you need to spend dough on the important bits. USB interfaces are cheap, but getting decent latency out of them can be hard or even impossible. Firewire or PCI is the way to go.

With all that said, I just can’t help but be a bit giddy about how unconventional and powerful systems like these can be.

I’ll even help you build one, if you’re willing to throw some money my way. 🙂