Tag Archives: Innovation

Offline Measurement

Accessible recording gear means you don’t have to measure “live” if you don’t want 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.

I’m not an audio ninja. If you make a subtle change to a system EQ while the system is having pink noise run through it, I may or may not be able to tell that you’ve made a change, or I may not be able to tell you how wide or deep a filter you used. At the same time, I highly recognize the value of pink noise as an input to analysis systems.

“Wait! WAIT!,” I can hear you shouting, “What the heck are you talking about?”

I’m talking about measuring things. Objectivity. Using tools to figure out – to whatever extent is possible – exactly what is going on with an audio system. Audio humans use function and noise generators for measurement because of their predictability. For instance, unlike a recording of a song, I know that pink noise has equal power per octave and all audible frequencies present at any given moment. (White noise has equal power PER FREQUENCY, which means that each octave has twice as much power as the previous octave.)

If that paragraph sounded a little foreign to you, then don’t panic. Audio analysis is a GINORMOUS topic, with lots of pitfalls and blind corners. At the same time, I have a special place in my heart for objective measurement of audio devices. I get the “warm-n-fuzzies” for measurement traces because they are, in my mind, a tool for directly opposing a lot of the false mythology and bogus claims encountered in the business of sound.


Measurement is a great tool for dialing in live-sound rigs of all sorts. Because of its objectivity (assuming you actually use your measurement system correctly), it helps to calibrate your ears. You can look at a trace, listen to what something generating that trace sounds like, and have a reference point to work from. If you have a tendency to carve giant holes in a PA system’s frequency response when tuning by ear, measurement can help tame your overzealousness. If you’re not quite sure where that annoying, harsh, grating, high-mid peak is, measurement can help you find it and fix it.

…and one of the coolest things that I’ve discovered in recent years is that you don’t necessarily have to measure a system “live.” Offline measurement and tuning is much more possible than it ever has been before – mostly because digital tech has made recording so accessible.

How It Used To Be And Often Still Is

Back in the day, it was relatively expensive (as well as rather space-intensive and weight-intensive) to bring recording capabilities along with a PA system. Compact recording devices had limited capabilities, especially in terms of editing. Splicing tape while wrangling a PA wasn’t something that was going to happen.

As a result, if you wanted to tune a PA with the help of some kind of analyzer, you had to actually run a signal through the PA, into a measurement mic, and into the analysis device.

The sound you were measuring had to be audible. Very audible, actually, because test signals have to drown out the ambient noise in the room to be really usable. Sounds other than the test signal being audible to the measurement mic mean that your measurement’s accuracy is corrupted.

So, if you were using noise, the upshot was that you and everybody else in the room had to listen to a rather unpleasant blast of sound for as long as it took to get a reference tuning in place. It’s not much fun (unless you’re the person doing the work), and you can’t do it everywhere. Even when using a system that can take inputs other than noise, you still had to measure and make your adjustments “live,” with an audible signal in the room.

Taking A Different Route

The beautiful thing about today’s technology is that we have alternatives. In some cases, you might prefer to do a “fully live” tuning of a PA system or monitor rig – but if you’d prefer a different approach, it’s entirely possible.

It’s all because of how easy recording is, really.

The thing is, any audio-analysis system doesn’t really care where its input comes from. An analyzer really isn’t bothered about if its information is coming from a live measurement mic, or if the information is a recording of what came out of that measurement mic. All the analyzer knows is that some signal is being presented to it.

If you’re working with a single-input analyzer, offline measurement and tuning is basically about getting the “housekeeping” right:

  1. Run your measurement signal to the analyzer, without any intervening EQ or other processing. If that signal is supposed to give you a “flat” measurement trace, then make sure it does. You need a reference point that you can trust.
  2. Now, disconnect the signal from the analyzer and route that same measurement signal through the audio device(s) that you want to test. This includes the measurement mic if you’re working on something that produces acoustical output – like monitor wedges or an FOH (Front Of House) PA. The actual thing that delivers the signal to be captured and analyzed is the “device-under-test.” For the rest of this article, I’m effectively assuming that the device-under-test is a measurement mic.
  3. Connect the output of the device-under-test to something that can record the signal.
  4. Record at least several seconds of your test signal passing through what you want to analyze. I recommend getting at least 30 seconds of recorded audio. Remember that the measurement-signal to ambient-noise ratio needs to be pretty high – ideally, you shouldn’t be able to hear ambient noise when your test signal is running.
  5. If at all possible, find a way to loop the playback of your measurement recording. This will let you work without having to restart the playback all the time.
  6. Run the measurement recording through the signal chain that you will use to process the audio in a live setting.
  7. Send the output of that signal chain to the analyzer, but do NOT actually send the output to the PA or monitor rig.

Because the recorded measurement isn’t being sent to the “acoustical endpoints” (the loudspeakers) of your FOH PA or monitor rig, you don’t have to listen to loud noise while you adjust. As you make changes to, say, your system EQ, you’ll see the analyzer react. Get a curve that you’re comfortable with, and then you can reconnect your amps and speakers for a reality check. (Getting a reality check of what you just did in silence is VERY important – doubly so if you made drastic changes somewhere.)


So, all of that up there is fine and good, but…what if you’re not working with a simple, single input analyzer? What if you’re using a dual-FFT system like SMAART, EASERA, or Visual Analyzer?

Well, you can still do offline measurement, but things get a touch more complicated.

A dual-FFT (or “transfer function”) analysis system works by comparing a reference signal to a measurement signal. For offline measurement to work with comparative analysis, you have to be able to play back a copy of the EXACT signal that you’ll be using for measurement. You also have to be able to play that signal in sync with your measurement recording, but on a separate channel.

For me, the easiest way to accomplish this is to have a pre-recorded (as opposed to “live generated”) test signal. I set things up so that I can record the device-under-test while playing back the test signal through that device. For example, I could have the pre-recorded test signal on channel one, connect my measurement device so that it’s set to record on channel two, hit “record,” and be off to the races.

There is an additional wrinkle, though – time-alignment. Dual-FFT analyzers give skewed results if the measurement signal is early or late when compared to the reference signal, because, as far as the analyzer is concerned, the measurement signal is diverging from the reference. Of course, any measured signal is going to diverge from the reference, but you don’t want unnecessary divergence to corrupt the analysis. The problem, though, is that your test signal takes time to travel from the loudspeaker to the measurement microphone. The measurement recording, when compared to the reference recording, is inherently “late” because of this propagation delay.

Systems like SMAART and EASERA have a way of doing automatic delay compensation in a quick and painless way, but Visual Analyzer doesn’t. If your software doesn’t have an internal method for delay compensation, you’ll need to do it manually. This means:

  1. Preparing a test signal that includes an audible click, pop, or other transient that tells you where the signal starts.
  2. After recording the measurement signal, you’ll need to use that click or pop to line up the measurement recording with the test-signal, in terms of time. The more accurate the “sync,” the more stable your measurement trace will be.

If you’d rather not make your own test signal, you’re welcome to download and use this one. The “click” at the beginning is several cycles of a 2 kHz tone.

The bottom line is that you can certainly do “live” measurements if you want to, but you also have the option of capturing your measurement for “silent” tweaking. It’s ultimately about doing what’s best for your particular application…and remembering to do that “reality check” listen of your modifications, of course.

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.

Little Dogs and Subjective Risk

For some reason, large, well established audio companies (of all stripes) seem to fear risk and innovation.

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 got the pictures of those dogs at openclipart.org, by the way.

I used to have a contract gig where I wrote articles for Systems Contractor News and/ or AV Network. Every once in a while, I would end up writing a piece that didn’t quite fit the site. I decided to resurrect one of these articles to help jumpstart The Small Venue Survivalist.


I have a confession to make: Established industry leaders tend to bore me. It’s not that they don’t make nifty things, or work on enviable projects. To be sure, I look at an ad for a well-engineered, newfangled thingamabob and start to desire it. I’m especially susceptible to whaddya-call-whos in the transducer category:

“Huh – I would love to get a bunch of those mics on stage to find out if they really do kill feedback problems.”

“Hmm – How cool would it be to put a couple of those super-loud powered boxes in the room and hear what it’s like to mix the whole show at just above their idling point?”

Yes, I do love toys, and a really cool toy is cool without regard to who made it. Here’s the thing, though…

I’m not excited when the “big dogs” do something moderately spiffy, because I expect them to do moderately spiffy things.

Or, at least incrementally spiffy things.

They have lots of money to spend on continual R&D, plus a sizable staff to do that R&D. As such, they’re always improving their offerings.

“Our new design features the super-expo-constant-conical-hybrid waveguide, for higher highs with less distortion and mind-blowingly constant directivity. Directivity so constant, it’s almost a law of nature! See us at booth…”

You can practically bank on them doing this. As much as I recognize that it’s a bit unfair to say it, these advances by the big players just seem unremarkable. It’s not that they’re standing on the shoulders of giants, because everybody is, but rather because they’re giants anyway. Climbing a mountain isn’t an earth shattering achievement when you’re half as tall as the mountain to start with.

Perhaps a more fair way of putting it is that achievements have a semi-objective, if hard to define, “remarkability.” An achievement isn’t diminished by the relative power and resources of the achiever, but the risk of that achievement certainly can be. My heart, therefore, belongs to the “little dogs” that do things that are risky for them.

You know what’s really ironic, though? It seems like a moderately risky endeavor for a little dog can be an unbearable risk for the leaders of the pack.

One possible way for this to work is between two loudspeaker builders. “Little Mutt” is a manufacturer of unconventional but high-performing boxes. For whatever reason, they’re designing and building loudspeakers that are very different from what most other people are building. It’s a risky proposition, especially when those unconventional designs can’t possibly be made at an “entry-level” price point. They’re not the most premium of all premium products, but they are quite a ways out of the league of a casual buyer. On the other side of the equation is “Big Woofers.” Everybody know them, and they have a ton of product lines. They can boast that their offerings are used in giant installs and gargantuan touring shows. They have products that range from downright affordable to “if you have to ask the price, you can’t possibly pay for it.” The R&D department at Big Woofers could probably achieve everything that Little Mutt has done in the space of a month. They might even do it a bit better.

Yet they don’t…why?

I have a theory. (Everybody who works with me has just started rolling their eyes. Whenever any “situation” occurs, or a conundrum crops up, it’s almost a sure bet that I will say, “I have a theory…”)

I could be completely wrong, but I think my notion is plausible. My theory is that a big dog, a pack leader, experiences a subjective level of risk that rises abruptly as they get farther out in front of the herd. What happens is that large, “crazy” leaps farther out in front of the rest of the leaders become harder and harder to justify. All kinds of things play into this, not the least of which is that Big Woofers might actually be owned by an even bigger dog, a dog that measures value not just by profit, but by profits this quarter.

This focus on short-term performance can get to the point that anything likely to lower that metric (at all, even for a short while) is seen as a “very bad idea.” With lots of new orders for already developed products, plus a very healthy installed base, trying something really different couldn’t realistically sink the company. The potential stifler, though, is that unless the new venture does enormously well, there’s a good chance (maybe even a certainty) that the short-term profits will go down. This represents a very high subjective risk, and so Big Woofers just keeps on making incremental improvements to what they’re already doing.

Okay – so what about Little Mutt, then?

Little Mutt, on the other hand, doesn’t need to lose a lot of sleep over short term profits. Since nobody’s looking over their shoulder, they only have to answer to their own needs. As long as they have enough cash on hand, they can keep doing wild and wacky things. If Little Mutt tries something, and isn’t quite as profitable as they might have wanted to be, it’s not nearly as big a deal.

Within reason, of course.

This, ultimately, is one of the reasons why I have a disproportionate love of the smaller players. The upstarts. The little company from the midwest that’s selling a new brand of microphones on Ebay. The guys from down south who build loudspeakers and have a small e-commerce site. It’s downright fun to see what they can come up with, even if it really isn’t any different from the industry standard. It’s satisfying to see them move up in the pack, because there’s a novelty to it. The ultimate exhilaration, though, comes when one of the little dogs does something off-the-wall, because you know they’re taking a big risk, shooting for the moon, and potentially changing how we look at the possible solutions to problems. The big dogs are in front, I know they’re in front, and they’re probably going to be just about as in front next year as this year. The little dog, though? He or she might just be ready to pass a bunch of other dogs. That’s unpredictable, and when it happens, it sure does charge you up.

Do the big dogs deserve their place?



Still, going off into a corner and finding a little dog doing something that’s neat on their scale (or even objectively nifty by any measurement) is something I find more personally rewarding.