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Brandon's Words of Wisdom

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Greetings everyone. Brandon Potter has been a member of the high school tech mailing list for a very long time. He has taken much of his own time to contribute several very interesting ideas to to the list. Therefore, I have created the Brandon Potter Words of Wisdom page. Here it is in chorological order.
dib_brandon
  

For those of you with audio, and particularly audio editing, if you're trying to sync a long sound effect or a song to a show where you're trying to get it to end perfectly with the chain of events, here's a quick tip that I came up with tonight that I thought might help you with your shows.

The problem is that I was doing sound for a wedding, with all the music being from a digital playback source. During the processional they wanted to play Canon in D, a 6 minute song, but it only took them 3:30 to get down the aisle and into place. I really wanted to avoid a cheap fadeout, so I edited the song in Cool Edit Pro so that I had one version that was 3:35 and one that was 3:55 . That way I had one that was supposed to go perfectly with the processional ( 3:35 ) and a backup if something went wrong or people were walking slow.

Now, how do I switch between one or the other at the last moment? I created a new stereo WAV file, and put the 3:35 version on the left channel, and the 3:55 version on the right channel, starting at the same time, and then burned it to a CD. Hooked the CD player up to the board so that the Left channel has it's own fader, and the Right channel has it's own fader.

Now the left and right channels of Canon play at the same time, but I mute the right fader and leave the left fader up so the 3:35 version is playing to the audience via the left channel. If I get to 3:30 and people still have a ways to go, I switch channels while the CD is playing, and voila, nobody ever knows.

This was the plan initially, but I was able to expand on it by installing an 8-output sound card and running 8 different versions of Canon at the same time using computer layback.

Anyway, cheap solution to a simple problem (lesson: hire real musicians), but I figured I'd tell you guys just in case you're in this situation sometime!
Brandon

Audio Technica microphones have their place - I've used them for a lot of bands (a couple national) and have been very pleased with their systems for guitars and vocals, and so have the artists.

Since you have enough experience to say that they aren't good, what was your application? When you used their wireless systems, did you check the frequency compatibility in your area with other wireless services? Did you use a properly distributed antenna system? Did you configure the frequency channels properly? Was the venue a suitable area for radio frequencies to be used?

And furthermore, Audio-Technica's products are used on tours everywhere, with very good results. Their condenser microphones are totally awesome, and they have probably recorded a component of 1/2 the music you listen to daily. And if you know anything about audio at all, you know that a fundamental rule is that you pick the right brand and product for your application, and you try different microphones/brands on the same source to see what sounds good. I can't count how many times I've put 3 microphones in the same kick drum and then mixed them together at the console, using each microphone's characteristics to make a beautiful, in-your-face, shake-the-room, clear, crisp sound.

So, with that said, given Audio-Technica's reputation and my personal experience with them, if you think their products suck, it's because you bought the cheapest thing you could and expected more than you knew it could produce, or you just flat out didn't know how to use audio equipment properly. :)

Sorry if that was a little harsh. I'm just kind of the wrong person to fight with over audio... and in this case, I and 300 other professional audio engineers can pretty much say, with confidence, that you're wrong, and I'm sorry that you had a bad experience. ;)
Brandon

And, why would you want them? LOL
By the way, to add to the list... To be the ultimate know-it-all techie, you must be able to do the following: (by the way, I also call this my Brandon's Technical Observations on How To Get Chicks In Theater List)
A) Walk into a completely dark theater, go directly to the wall lighting controls, and press the right button (the faster the better)
B) Also with lighting, you need to be able to give that good, blank stare at the set like you're contemplating something philosophical, and you must have the ability to walk up to the back of the light board, and operate the controls quickly and effectively seeing the controls upside down. (This, also, will get you the chicks, depending on how fast you do it!)
C) Pyrotechnics. If you roll up in your steel toed black boots, walk in and start doing some funky things with flash powder, you WILL have a date that night.
D) You must posess knowledge of both sound and lights. However, this is not enough. To "warm up" the systems in front of everyone, you must have a fully prepared kickin' light show to accompany "Lords of Acid - Drink My Honey". When created and executed properly, you WILL be the cheese.
E) You must be able to climb the ladder to the flies with one hand. No excuses. How you figure it out is up to you. ;)
F) If you have the resources, create a "light board alarm". All you need is a MIDI-capable light board, a computer, and a little programming experience. Here's how I configured this little joke:
1 - I set the light board up to output all level changes / buttons through MIDI .
2 - I set the computer up to recieve MIDI .
3 - Programmed computer to have 2 modes ("Armed", "Unarmed")
4 - Connected computer to sound system, at fairly high volume level.
5 - Create 2 cues... 1st cue is all dimmers at full, 2nd cue is all dimmers at 0.
6 - Get a pretty good nuclear submarine alarm sound effect (add voice over if you wish)
7 - Synchronize 2 cues with nuclear submarine alarm sounds.
Now, the inspiration behind this was that people liked to come by the light board and just start pressing buttons to see what they did.

So, if you can imagine, before I walked away from the board, I "armed" the computer. Sure enough some little freshman came up and pressed a button. The scene that follows is kind of like this...
<button pressed>
FRESHMAN: Haha, this is fun!
<computer recieves MIDI message>
<computer activates sound effects>
<computer sends MIDI message to run cues 1 and 2, looping>
BUZZZZZZ <all dimmers full> BUZZZZZZ <all dimmers 0> BUZZZZZ <all dimmers  full > BUZZZZZ "LIGHTING SYSTEM VIOLATION!" <all dimmers 0> BUZZZZZ "PLEASE STEP AWAY FROM THE CONSOLE WITH YOUR HANDS UP" <all  immers full> BUZZZZ....
(buzzing needs to loop with dimmer effects until you come back and de-arm the system)
By the way, you might want to have an extra set of underwear on hand for that unlucky soul that presses the button...
Night!
Brandon

Hi there!!
Express series - excellent choice... Any reason why your school chose the 48/96 over the 24/48 for an 80 channel system? you guys gonna dive into the world of moving lights?
First of all, a particular acronym comes to my mind - RTFM (read the friggin' manual). That will answer a ton of your questions and spark your creativity into what you can really do with that board. (actually, that board can handle almost anything you can dream of if you can spend the time programming it, the only thing you're limited by is the number of channels... and doing incandescent 80 dimmer setups you'll have no problems at all).

If you're looking for the fastest way to make a chase just so you can look at the stage and go "oooh, pretty!", then here it is (assuming I get it right off the top of my head)...

I would like to call this " Brandon 's Beginner Guide to Make Pretty Flickering Things"
1. Start board
2. Turn every little fader down and turn the master up, and the cue faders (A/B and C/D) up all the way.
3. Press [Cue] [1][0][0] [Enter] (this chase will be on cue 100 for the sake of this example)
4. Press [Type] (and it will display a menu in red) [3] (Effect) [Enter]
5. Slide up a couple faders for the first frame in your chase.
6. Press [Record] [Enter]
(note: this is the quick way, because it automatically fills in the cue number 100 because that's the last cue you were working with - the long way is [Record] [Cue] [1][0][0] [Enter])
7. Now slide some more faders around to get what you want for the second frame of your chase.
8. Press [Record] [Enter]
9. Repeat steps 7 & 8 for as many frames as your heart desires.
10. Now that you're done writing the chase, you'll want to see it, right? (btw - by default, the default fade time for effects is .2 seconds, if you have sensitive lights that don't like this, or you don't want your dimmer system rapidly going FULL, OFF, FULL, OFF for 5 times each second, then edit the effect before you run it, see below) So, press [Cue] [1][0][0] [C/D GO] (C/D Go is the Go button on the right side... A/B is the left one)
11. Now that the teacher and the other members of the class think you are THE mack daddy of lighting, stop the chase by pressing [C/D CLEAR] (it's located to the right of the C/D faders)
12. To edit various aspects of the chase (or see the programmed version of what you have just done) press [Blind] [Cue] [1][0][0] [Enter]

Enjoy! I recommend preheating your instruments at about 10% for 5 minutes prior to executing a chase like this... The higher-wattage bulbs don't like waking up that fast otherwise... (it would be kinda like being in a nice, deep sleep when your bed catapults you 40 ft away to wake you up)

Enjoy! Make some cards for yourself and keep them handy for when the chicks see what you've done and ask for your #. :)
Brandon

Color Scroller

 

Hey guys, just got back online from the week of heck... recordings of 4 orchestra groups, 47 tracks mixed, and 529 CDs sold... worked my lil bootie off and customers are pleased, and nowwww there's enough in the account to get my long-awaited WholeHog II!!!!! So forgive me if I seem a little bit bubbly excited :)
Anyway, on to the homemade color scroller -
First I got a Radio Shack project box about the size of a normal scroller, and with a dremel tool, cut a big gel-sized square hole in the middle of it so the light could pass through.

Next I went to the mall and found these miniature cookie-dough wooden roller things (just a wood cylinder) that was just a little bit longer than the box not including the handles. I got two of them, one for the business end of the gel, and one for the other side. I measured and cut the handles off and part of the big cylinder so that they'd fit into the box with a few mm of clearance.

After that I ordered a bipolar stepper motor and it's control card and got it working with basic functionality with the computer.

Now back to the cookie dough rollers - With the dremel I made a long slice down the side of it so that I could stick a piece of gel into it and have it hold (kind of like those really old movie reels where you stuck the film into the little hole and then started turning it) and did the same for the other roller. Then in each of the rollers at the top created a little groove all the way around for a rubber band to go around. The result was that the rubber
band would be what makes both the rollers turn... please see Exhibit A1 for an overhead view...

Exhibit A1... an ASCII representation of this concept ;)
_________ <- rubber band
O________O <- cookie dough roller

I drilled 2 holes on the left side of the color scroller (where the motor would go), drilled really small holes for the motor's chassis to screw on to, and stuck the little rotating motor shaft thingy (yes, it's a technical term) through the hole on the bottom, secured the chassis of the motor to the project box, and then drilled a small hole on the bottom of the cookie dough roller. As far as securing the motor to the roller, the hole I drilled was slightly smaller than the shaft of the motor and it's little nut at the end, so I just forced the roller onto the shaft of the motor and eventually with enough force it stuck (story of my life)...

Next I positioned the rollers to about where I wanted them and then drilled through the box into the rollers, and after praying that the heat from the light wouldn't melt the glue, used a hot glue gun and inserted a dowel through the hole in the project box and into the roller. Repeated this process until the ends of the rollers (except for the one attached to the motor) had dowels and could rotate relatively smoothly in the box.

Then I realized that since the rollers were already in place there was no way I could get the gel in. So, I ripped the dowels off the ends (glue had already cooled by this time) and started the process over again, this time with a big strip of gel attached ;) In my planning I didn't leave room for the circut board so that got gaff taped onto the side of the box ;)
To attach it to the fixture I just used paperclips on the top (spaced far enough apart so that there was enough tension that it wouldn't fall through the gel slot in the fixture) and the bottom.

To control it I went and got another project box, a female RS232 connection, mounted that on the box, and 3 female XLRs on the other end and split the connection into the 3 XLRs at the box so that I could run it through the snake. (This caused a few problems because RS232 doesn't like to run more than 50 ft, but using 3 individual Whirlwind mics cables solved the problem)... for the color scroller end I just made an adapter and taped it
all together. ;)

And there ya have it. Since then it's been scrapped because of 1) the large amount of WD-40 it took to make those things spin around smoothly and 2) reliability issues with bigger shows.... but it sure was fun when it worked for the time being!!
Brandon

re: Clipping.... I had a couple things I didn't agree with, regarding some of the things I read. The problem was that they blew 2 speakers. It didn't say whether how many of what size drivers the speakers had in them, which drivers blew in which speakers (or maybe if they were old, the cone itself committed suicide)...
 Scott sez:
>>
Which would cause clipping?
a) Speakers rated at 200 watts and an amp rated at 100 watts.
b) Speakers rated at 100 watts and an amp rated at 200 watts.
<<
In situation A, underpowering a speaker does not necessarily mean that the speaker is going to die no matter what. It all depends on what kind of levels you're sending to the amps. In situation B, driving a 100w speaker with a 200w amp is actually a good power ratio, although in theater and concert applications, you're dealing with speakers that are 300w and up, and therefore should power them with amps that are 1.5 - 2x the RMS rating of the speaker. That way, you can exceed the peak rating of the speaker without
clipping the amp.

>>If you turn up the amp to it's max power, it'll start to clip the signal. If the speakers can handle more power, they'll try to produce that rough jagged edge of the cut off wave and that's what causes them to fry. They just can't move that way.<<

Well, hang on. There are two general groups of sound reinforcement people; Those who think the amps should be turned all the way up, all the time, and those who like to match the amp input gain to the system. Both are a fairly accepted practice, although in theater applications, it's best to match the input gain with the rest of the system, because it gives you a lower noise floor to start out with. It all depends on what kind of signal you're   ending to the amp in the first place, and how much headroom you need for the application.

Keep in mind that when you turn up the input on the amp, you're not adjusting how much of the actual amplifier's power is being used. You're just adjusting the level of the signal that's going to that amplifier. Some manufacturers build extensive limiting circuts into their amps for the express purpose of turning them up all the way, giving you the maximum headroom available from that amplifier.
Lets see if I can get this right... here goes...
If you are just sending +24db (a buttload) signal to the amp from the board anyway, what happens is that during the time that a signal is flat-topped, the cones in the loudspeaker are not being moved at all, as it's essentially receiving a DC signal. All this energy goes to heating up the voice coils rather than producing sounds, and therefore is 100% efficient at converting the amplifier power into heat. A tweeter normally converts 75% of it's power to heat. So during clipping, it has to produce 1/4 more of it's power into heat.

A woofer normally converts 97% of it's power to heat, and therefore only has to produce 3% more of the power into heat, so, the more efficient the driver, the worse the problem (the tweeters will heat up faster). In addition, the tweeters have less mass to heat up since they are smaller, so they heat up faster, burning them up faster than woofers.

Someone also said:
>>You guys don't have any limiters?<<

That may or may not solve the problem. It depends where the clipping is occuring in the signal chain. If you have a microphone that is run pretty hot into the preamp of the console, when someone yells, the input clips, and regardless of the fader position, and any other electronic gizmos you have down the line, the signal is clipped, and it will come out sounding like some guy with a great subwoofer inside a loose trunk lid (you've all heard it... the guy that thinks he's going down the road lookin' cool with his loud stereo... but what he doesn't hear is the back of his car about to vibrate violently off it's wheels)...

A limiter CANNOT detect a clipped signal if it occured somewhere along the line before the limiter.

What I do for my system for protection is that I give a generous (7/8) amp input level so that I don't have to send a great deal of signal out of the board and the rest of the DSP chain, and I put a comp/limiter that starts compressing at +4db with a 8:1 ratio, and a VCA-based limiter that engages at +12db, that way I never get too high even in the yellow area, but with the amp input set where it is, the system still has plenty of room. However, I have to make sure that nothing is clipping on the board.

A war story....

I was guest mixing for an opener, and got to talking with the system provider afterwards, so I got to hang around in the FOH area for the rest of the show as an observer. The headline act (with their own band engineer) claimed that they were the loudest band that had ever come to the arena. The system provider said "well, we've put extensive limiters in the amp racks for this show so that they can't blow anything up no matter how hard they try." ha.

haha. There are 2 6x8 arrays flown with 10 subs on the floor.
They get to rockin', and at this point I decide that there's something wrong with mixing a band wearing earplugs while you're wearing earplugs for an audience wearing earplugs... but that's beside the point. About halfway through the show, the board is showing nothing but clip, clip, clip. About 5 min later, something doesn't seem right. The room isn't vibrating as it should. Oh, but wait, there's someone running under the stage with a fire
extinguisher! Ahh! A subwoofer has burst into flames! Followed by.... the high end drivers! And that was the show! The promoter paid for all the blown drivers, as stated in the contract, should it occur. But just goes to show that limiters aren't the end-all solution!
B

Hey -
>>Isn't it usually fairly standard practice to have the mic inputs going into your soundboard, and then turn up the "Gain" on the soundboard until your max vocal level on the mic doesn't cause clipping in the soundboard output? Aren't the amps usually placed down the line from the board outputs before hitting the speakers, such that the input to the amps is gauranteed to be non-clipped as long as the people feeding into the mics
don't perform significantly louder than they do in the sound check?<<

It really depends on your sound console; Most consoles have a SOLO (Mackie) or a PFL (Pre fader listen - most other consoles) button on each channel that will engage a LED meter of some kind that will let you see where you're at as far as gain on that particular channel.

I don't care where you are, or what type of show you're doing, the performers, 99.9% of the time, will perform on average 6-10db louder during the performance than they will during sound check. I think it's a law...

Anyway, back in the old days the general practice was to "turn the input up on the channel until the clip light comes on, then back off a little" – no longer is that the case, since we have these fancy devices called METERS! A good practice is to set the level to a little below 0dB during sound check (0dB should typically be marked on your console at about the center or in the top half of the LED meter), so that your performers won't be clipping your inputs during show time (you have headroom).

>>Brandon- where have you learned all this about sound as only a high school student? Got any good resources I should check out?<<

I just started with sound at school, then proceeded to sound at church, which opened up the gateway to work with a few Christian bands, which in turn opened the door to work with some companies in the area for major shows, same with lighting... and recently the video world has started to open up for me... and I've learned from those mentors everything from connecting power to a panel in the middle of a restaraunt kitchen (which by the way I will never use since anybody who needs this service HIRES AN ELECTRICIAN, RIGHT PEOPLE?), to how to build a rack of useless equipment for the express purpose of making a lot of LEDs light up to attract the chicks (it makes you look
like you're doing something more important)... color, rapid movement, and quantity are the key to this idea....

>>By the way, a tip for anyone doing lighting- double check any fixtures wired by other techies who don't know what they're doing... wiring the ground lead into the hot pin doesn't feel very good when you try to turn on the PAR and all the current goes into the bolt you're holding on to!<<

What you're saying is that you should let whoever wired it hold on to it for the first time it's turned on, right? ;-)
Brandon

Gain Structure Techniques

I'm waiting for a recording to transfer from recorder to computer through network right now, so might as well add to the discussion...

>>1. Old School--more gain, but less consistent sound. Zero the board. Put all the mic faders at full. Go through and turn the gain up on each channel until you ring. Keep going and for ever channel, turn the previous channels down slightly. When all of that is
done, back each channel's gain off a little for some headroom. If more gain is needed, you can EQ the channel enough to usually get a couple more points, but that's not always the case.<<

This is kinda similar to the "turn it up till the clip light comes on, then back it down a little" method from the pre-meter era... However, I think you're missing something here. As this may be a great way to set your levels keeping feedback in mind at all times, there are a lot of variables, and the larger the system, the bigger the problem; In terms of strict gain structure, doing it like this leaves you no idea of where the preamp's level is, only when the mic starts to resonate with the system. What about a guitar going through a direct box? That will take a buttload and a half of amplification to resonate... And take for example a Midas XL3 console, the preamps don't really open up and become "warm" till you start getting above -3db or so..

Anyway, the biggest problem is that this may be great during sound check, but the acoustics of the room are going to change drastically when people get in there. The noise floor is increased because of the audience noise, and your gain before feedback level also increases. And, if you're doing a band, when they are actually playing, you can get some channels that would normally feed back in quiet situations way louder.

If you're having feedback problems, first, the room might be the problem, and acoustical treating is the only solution to that; Then adjust at the source. If you use a large diaphragm condenser studio mic for a distant live choir, you're gonna have problems. Replace it with a shotgun condenser. Problem fixed. Then maybe add an imperceptible amount of delay into the main feed of the system to reduce feedback, and a noise gate.

>>2. New School--provides a cleaner sound with a well balanced EQ, but less gain.
Know the equipment you're working with. Different mics require different gains, have different pick up patterns, and different frequency responses. Turn the gain up just enought so you don't get acoustical noise. <<

What is acoustical noise? I had a guitar player tonight that couldn't get it together... was that acoustical noise? ;) Also one thing I wanted to add is that in addition to knowing your equipment, apply your equipment to the correct application, experiment, and find out what works best. Sometimes an SM58 on the right kick drum is better than the world's greatest kick mic on the wrong kick drum. (and when you get that "thump" kick drum sound in a restaurant, the subs can move enough air to blow out the candles on tables... it's really cool, try it sometime!)

>>I tend to use the New School method, only because that's what our house likes using now. I used to do Old School, but we have since changed management.<<

Why does "management" have anything to do with YOUR mix? If you have something that works for you, why don't they let you just use it?? You'll always have a better show if you're comfortable with the way you set it up rather than "doing it their way"...

>>One of the most valuble things I've ever learned is when going to a new  theatre(providing it's not an old theatre that use sailors as flymen), whistle. You can
get the acoustics of the space by doing that.<<

Erhm... well, you can get the acoustics of the space by whistling... but unfortunately in my opinion that method gives no you help with doing the sound... gives you no indication of how the speakers actually interact with the room, if there are multiple speaker zones (ie underbalcony) if the delay times are correct, if there is additional reverb coming off a delayed zone that's going to affect your mix, etc... sometimes ya just have to plug in a mic and go for it...

Jeremy you have some good points, I like the way you think in having "a feel" for the system and your levels.
Brandon

ps - yesterday, designed lighting for 3 shows, just got in from a concert / live recording... been shocked with various voltages 4 times in last 24 hours, have 2 more recordings with first one starting in 6 hrs... 52 gigabytes worth of audio in one weekend... not enough sleep... starting to hear things that aren't really there... for past 3 nights, been having recurring nightmare about a hard disk recorder failing in the middle of a recording.... therefore, if I seem a little weird, that's what's goin on!

How did you get into tech???


I kinda missed this by about 2-3 days (busy..... if anyone knows how you can
rig up some system for the ethernet connection on an ETC console so you can
check your e-mail on it, let me know!)

Before 3 years ago, I had way too much computer experience and no theater experience. Some guy at lunch one day said "hey, we're building part of a set for Cinderella this afternoon, why don't you come along?"... That was the first time I realized that this stuff was hard work and wasn't magic. Then, I came the next week and saw the light board for the first time.... the gray body, the black faders, the green LEDs... I wasn't even quite sure what it was, but I just kinda knew I was in love... For that play I got to be stage crew and move a doorway. Every spare moment I was looking over the light board operator's shoulder to see if I could figure out exactly "what all them buttons do"...

2 years later, every time I walk in the theater and turn on the board, I sit down and put my hands on those little faders and know that I would rather not be doing anything else in the world ;) In that time my teacher has humored me while I try to combine networks of computers with lighting and sound. I think we've done some pretty cool stuff. I guess I just love entertaining people, and combining new & different technologies together to leave the audience going "How did they do THAT!?" and I think I love it more and more each day!

And that's how I got started in tech. ;)
- Brandon

How many a year??




I'm waiting for a recording to transfer from recorder to computer through network right now, so might as well add to the discussion...

>>1. Old School--more gain, but less consistent sound. Zero the board. Put all the mic faders at full. Go through and turn the gain up on each channel until you ring. Keep going and for ever channel, turn the previous channels down slightly. When all of that is
done, back each channel's gain off a little for some headroom. If more gain is needed, you can EQ the channel enough to usually get a couple more points, but that's not always the case.<<

This is kinda similar to the "turn it up till the clip light comes on, then back it down a little" method from the pre-meter era... However, I think you're missing something here. As this may be a great way to set your levels keeping feedback in mind at all times, there are a lot of variables, and the larger the system, the bigger the problem; In terms of strict gain structure, doing it like this leaves you no idea of where the preamp's level is, only when the mic starts to resonate with the system. What about a guitar going through a direct box? That will take a buttload and a half of amplification to resonate... And take for example a Midas XL3 console, the preamps don't really open up and become "warm" till you start getting above -3db or so..

Anyway, the biggest problem is that this may be great during sound check, but the acoustics of the room are going to change drastically when people get in there. The noise floor is increased because of the audience noise, and your gain before feedback level also increases. And, if you're doing a band, when they are actually playing, you can get some channels that would normally feed back in quiet situations way louder.

If you're having feedback problems, first, the room might be the problem, and acoustical treating is the only solution to that; Then adjust at the source. If you use a large diaphragm condenser studio mic for a distant live choir, you're gonna have problems. Replace it with a shotgun condenser. Problem fixed. Then maybe add an imperceptible amount of delay into the main feed of the system to reduce feedback, and a noise gate.

>>2. New School--provides a cleaner sound with a well balanced EQ, but less gain.
Know the equipment you're working with. Different mics require different gains, have different pick up patterns, and different frequency responses. Turn the gain up just enought so you don't get acoustical noise. <<

What is acoustical noise? I had a guitar player tonight that couldn't get it together... was that acoustical noise? ;) Also one thing I wanted to add is that in addition to knowing your equipment, apply your equipment to the correct application, experiment, and find out what works best. Sometimes an SM58 on the right kick drum is better than the world's greatest kick mic on the wrong kick drum. (and when you get that "thump" kick drum sound in a restaurant, the subs can move enough air to blow out the candles on tables... it's really cool, try it sometime!)

>>I tend to use the New School method, only because that's what our house likes using now. I used to do Old School, but we have since changed management.<<

Why does "management" have anything to do with YOUR mix? If you have something that works for you, why don't they let you just use it?? You'll always have a better show if you're comfortable with the way you set it up rather than "doing it their way"...

>>One of the most valuble things I've ever learned is when going to a new  theatre(providing it's not an old theatre that use sailors as flymen), whistle. You can
get the acoustics of the space by doing that.<<

Erhm... well, you can get the acoustics of the space by whistling... but unfortunately in my opinion that method gives no you help with doing the sound... gives you no indication of how the speakers actually interact with the room, if there are multiple speaker zones (ie underbalcony) if the delay times are correct, if there is additional reverb coming off a delayed zone that's going to affect your mix, etc... sometimes ya just have to plug in a mic and go for it...

Jeremy you have some good points, I like the way you think in having "a feel" for the system and your levels.

Brandon

ps - yesterday, designed lighting for 3 shows, just got in from a concert / live recording... been shocked with various voltages 4 times in last 24 hours, have 2 more recordings with first one starting in 6 hrs... 52 gigabytes worth of audio in one weekend... not enough sleep... starting to hear things that aren't really there... for past 3 nights, been having recurring nightmare about a hard disk recorder failing in the middle of a recording.... therefore, if I seem a little weird, that's what's goin on!

How did you get into tech???


I kinda missed this by about 2-3 days (busy..... if anyone knows how you can rig up some system for the ethernet connection on an ETC console so you can check your e-mail on it, let me know!)

Before 3 years ago, I had way too much computer experience and no theater experience. Some guy at lunch one day said "hey, we're building part of a set for Cinderella this afternoon, why don't you come along?"... That was the first time I realized that this stuff was hard work and wasn't magic. Then, I
came the next week and saw the light board for the first time.... the gray body, the black faders, the green LEDs... I wasn't even quite sure what it was, but I just kinda knew I was in love... For that play I got to be stage crew and move a doorway. Every spare moment I was looking over the light board operator's shoulder to see if I could figure out exactly "what all them buttons do"...

2 years later, every time I walk in the theater and turn on the board, I sit down and put my hands on those little faders and know that I would rather not be doing anything else in the world ;) In that time my teacher has humored me while I try to combine networks of computers with lighting and sound. I think we've done some pretty cool stuff. I guess I just love entertaining people, and combining new & different technologies together to leave the audience going "How did they do THAT!?" and I think I love it more and more each day!
And that's how I got started in tech. ;)
- Brandon

How many a year??


To be considered a "show" in my opinion it would be something done only by the theater group, where a set is built, floor mics are put on stage, and lights are hung and pre- programmed....

If we included concerts and other departmental shows where the tech crew was just backup (no talking props--er, actors) used, that in itself would be right about 30 shows a year.

We keep track of hours worked in our theater... at the end of the year last year I had about 920 hrs of time (not doing specific things, just the hours that I was physically in the auditorium doing something)... dang, I might as well have moved a bed into the flies and slept there..
Brandon

just make it work!! ;)


Sometimes I can seem amazed by how many people you guys say it takes to run a show!! hehe, I like the way things are done at our school (mostly cuz I get to push buttons)... but it works like this... For band/orchestra/choral concerts in the auditorium, a couple people show up maybe 30 min before the musicians start getting there, get out the lighting/sound consoles, fly in some curtains and create a nice look, run the snake, drop the electrics,
remove gels, and aim them while someone on the board is creating a cue :) By 30 min before showtime, we're ready with light cues, sound levels, and a  recording setup. There are a couple people on the tech crew that I love to work with (and have the privilege of doing so) and we have it down to a science :)

Now, for plays, I can use an example from this past year; we designed a fairly long play to be a 3-person crew. Fortunately our lighting console rules (ETC Express) and it's very flexible so it allowed us to do this... We created all the light cues for the show and then I brought in a computer, and during acting rehearsals I made a Visual Basic program (Intelligent Show Server v1.0, had to throw the name in cuz it sounds big and real
professional-like!) to run everything, so in the end it was, let's see...
well, we're still not sure who exactly was running lights and who was running sound, it was kind of a team effort, but my drama teacher and I sat back at the light/sound consoles and there was one person on flies backstage. There were a bunch of sound and light effects that had to be coordinated together (ie lightning & thunder), so using MIDI control, every time someone pressed "GO" on the lighting console, the Visual Basic program ran sound effects accordingly, and using Windows ME's multiple monitor capabilities, displayed instructions for flies and actors, where we were in the show, upcoming cues to be aware of, an estimation of how much time the actors had before they had to be ready to go, a picture window from one of those little Intel digital video cameras sitting on top of the light board, etc on a second monitor, linked to TV's that I put in the flies and in the dressing rooms. That way everyone involved with the show knew what light cue we were on, what was coming up next, what everything looked like from the audience point of view, their fly cues, scene change cues, and special instructions from wherever they were in the theater. I gotta admit it took a good deal of debugging time but once it worked, it was pretty friggin cool. ;)

So, as far as who was doing lights and sound, it was kind of a "whoever can reach the button first, at the right time" kind of thing... if there were wireless microphones to worry about, teacher would take those, I'd control SFX volume, if there were a bunch of sound changes we'd both go for the buttons, etc etc. I think I have a reputation for being the kind of overdone stupid stuff.

Oh yeah, my only stage managing experience was during an orchestra concert...
I was playing cello, but I had designed a light show to go along with some really powerful piece of music... (but of course none of the people on tech crew could read music, go figure, so they couldn't read where my cues were)... BUT never fear, I took a cell phone hands-free headset, ($10 at your local Sprint PCS friendly dealer), busted out the soldering iron, and made an in-ear monitor out of it, put a wireless lavalier on my shirt,  and off went the concert, as I played I called cues to the lighting and sound guys, and they had a microphone to talk back to me on the in-ear monitor. and to think, Clearcom sells the same system for outrageous prices. sheesh. ;)

Just goes to show that some of the best performances can be accomplished with a little planning and a very skimpy tech crew. ;) and now I think it's time for me to shut up since this is about 13 times as long as it was intended to be!
See ya,
Brandon

] just make it work!! ;)


Hi!!

I'd be happy to explain as best I can... It may seem complicated at first but actually it's a simple system. The key is a little knowledge in Visual Basic and MIDI. (I'll just assume you know a little about MIDI cuz that could go on for days if I tried to explain how every byte fits together and how it's adapted for a light board), but the equipment used was:

- 1 Gateway 450mhz Desktop PC (on the 4th night of a musical, the big monitor is a lot easier to look at than a laptop)
- 1 Intel Create & Share Video Camera
- 1 MIDI in/out to serial port cable
- 4 spools of Radio Shack 2-conductor wire ($2.95 for 100 feet baby!!!!)
- 1 Soldering Iron
- 1 First Aid Kit for when you forget the soldering iron is still hot
- 2 packages of RCA solderable plugs from Radio Shack (another $2 special)
- 1 male XLR solderable plug
- 1 female XLR solderable plug
- 1 Express 24/48 Lighting Console by Electronic Theatre Controls
- 1 DMX512 to XLR adapter (you can make this)
- 1 XLR to DMX512 adapter (you can make this too!)
- A couple TVs with RCA plug inputs (if it only has a cable input, an RF
modulator can be purchased from Radio Shack on a $29.95 special)
- 1 Computer Monitor-to-TV converter

Now, the first part is to get the light board up and running; Our school doesn't have the luxury of a light or sound booth, so to put our light & sound boards out in the house we had to run them through the snake. Most snakes have only male and female XLR (3-pin) cable inputs, and our lighting console used the DMX512 protocol which requires a 5-pin cable... However, because of the nature of DMX512, in all but very rare situations, the last 2 pins on the cable are not used (they were meant to be a means of communication so that the dimmer rack could talk back to the light board, but few manufacturers implemented this capability... and especially with ETC equipment that is making it's way into schools all over the place, they put this capability in a totally separate interface, ETCLink, which is not required to be connected).

So, what I did was I bought male and female DMX512 plugs and male and female
XLR plugs, and soldered the first 3 pins of each together, so that the DMX signal would run through the snake. After I figured out that I soldered them backwards and every dimmer in the theater stopped turning on and off at random intensities, all was good. (And what a freakin cool light show it was!)... Right here I will insert a word to the wise... If your snake is unshielded and you are running both DMX512 and audio through it, be careful, the DMX512 protocol uses 10 volts of power through it's line to transfer the
digital data and can create a slight buzz in audio signals that are coming to the sound board through the snake. For us, the buzz/noise was unnoticeable on the house theater system, and I only discovered the noise when we were doing a VERY sensitive  recording... but it can vary depending how your audio system's gain structure is set up. :)

Then, the computer came into the picture. For this particular example I'll use the Sound of Music since that is when this little "system" of mine was pioneered... Before I took the computer out of my house I loaded it up with all the sound effects that the script called for and more (variations in thunder etc); then set off for school extremely nervous about what I was going to try to do.

First off was the problem of getting the computer and light board to talk to each other. When I started building the system I had no idea what MIDI addresses the  ues/submasters would respond to, so I set up an application made by High End Systems (the intelligent lighting people) called "Status Cue" that can be downloaded from their web site; That program let me view the binary data that the light board was sending through MIDI, so I pressed a button, watched the MIDI that came through, and wrote down that MIDI message and what button it corresponded with on the light board. (it wasn't pretty, but I felt like I was trying to re-invent the wheel). Once I had the MIDI
information I could start programming...

My first and most important task was to create a realistic-looking lightning effect. This particular lighting console had the abililty to assign effects to submasters (which can be MIDI controlled, mind you!). So I made a lightning effect on a submaster and made it random so it wasn't the same lightning each time. Then I programmed the Visual Basic software so that when we reached the range of cues that the famous "storm" scene took place in where Maria is singing to the children, when that particular submaster was
pressed and the effect was executed, it would use it's pseudo random number generating capabilities (now that sounded all technical and genius didn't it!) to make a delay for the thunder between .2 sec and 1 sec, and then used the random number generator again to choose between 6 different thunder effects.

Now that we had digital thunder, we had the issue of getting communication to the actors, stage crew, flies, and dressing rooms (our classroom is directly below the stage with the dressing rooms built on the sides of the classroom). So, I put another display card in the computer and ran a 2nd monitor out of it, connected to a monitor-to-TV converter borrowed from the Science Department (after begging they agreed that we could use it if someone had a meeting with the science teachers and showed them how to use it when we were done). So then, naturally, we don't have RCA plug connections going into the
snake (yes, this is where Sir Solder-A-Lot Brandon comes riding in on his royal genie lift again).. Again, I soldered an RCA plug to a male XLR and then another RCA plug to a female XLR so the video signal could run through the snake. At the other end of the snake we needed to connect multiple TVs, so I took my 400 ft of Radio Shack El Cheapo Wire and went to town splitting the signal and running it and taping it everywhere. All I did after that was program instructions for sound/lights/actors/flies/stage crew to appear on the TVs, add a camera window, and a messaging system so those without clearcom could still get instructions from the TVs (ie - "John – Your microphone isn't as loud as it should be, get one of the tech crew to check the -20dB attenuator switch on it please, thanks") etc etc... And plus the camera was auto-brightness sensing, so when blackouts occured, it would compensate and use the orchestra pit light to show the curtain... so I could see on the monitor when the curtain was going up before anyone else and could
time the lighting cue appropriately :)

In conclusion I've uploaded some screen captures of the sound of music version of the program (the one I used for Little Women which I described in the previous email kind of evolved into a different breed of a program, it's function now is to take an input of a kick drum from the sound board and then use MIDI control to sync intelligent lights to the beat of a concert and generate random effects on the fly).... Here's the screen capture:

<http://www.digitalmillenniumsound.com/somscreen.gif>
Oh, and here's one of the pics from the show that was computer-controlled...
I had to throw this in cuz it's my one proud lighting design picture...
<http://www.digitalmillenniumsound.com/scrimshot.jpg>
Happy controlling...
Brandon

Hey guys,
I may have fallen off the traditional theatrical road here but I have just started experimenting with LED (light emitting diode) lighting fixtures and I have been overwhelmed with the results that I've gotten. Now these are just your typical edison screw-in kinda fixtures used for architectural lighting but I replaced them with the kind of LED bulbs that some of you are starting to see in your traffic lights in your cities. Talk about SMOOTH coverage. Anyway, has anyone else played with this type of lighting in a theatrical environment?

Seems like someone could develop a LED PAR bulb for use in your everyday aluminum Parcan, and your lighting rig for a small club concert could go from requiring 30,000 watts to 500. Not to mention NO HEAT. :)
I'm ready to start focusing some Source Four Pars that stay the same temp whether they're on or off! Maybe in the next couple years...
Brandon

Lighting Questions & Opinions


If you're going around renting intelligent lights you probably can come up with the funds to install a few phases of power distribution (read: HAVE A LICENCED ELECTRICIAN install a few phases of power distribution... don't put on a pair of gloves and start patching into your circut panels, otherwise some chinese guy will start coming toward you right when you have live rods exposed and start spraying water all around you... ah, another time, another gig...)... getting things powered properly is what draws the line between "doing it right" and "just making it work"...

Always match your power distribution system with the ratings on the lights with room to spare. If you have 50A of distribution, put 40A worth of lights on it, and use the appropriate gauge cable to do it. If you're just plugging in lights anywhere there's an outlet, and you happen to be pushing the limits of the existing (and maybe old) electrical system, and things are probably heating up somewhere along the line. It's really tough to pay for all those lights and then explain to the judge why you felt the system was adequate after the building has already burned down...

If it came down to it, I'd go with the generator idea when the other alternative is to use outlets that were designed for regular very low-amperage appliances... the power would at least be matched to the ratings of the lights and it would be extremely clean power which keeps the electronics in your lights happy. :)

Not to mention the sound crew will be extremely PO'd if they get all their equipment set up and working perfectly, and then you turn on your dimmers and intelligent lights to find out everything is on the same ground, and that you just turned your 80 ft of triangle truss into a giant radio antenna which is bleeding Radio Disney quite clearly into the sound system (which you can barely hear over the 60Hz hum anyway)... not that I've ever had this happen or anything like that.... O:)

In short, do whatever ya have to do to get the lights on their separate electrical system from the rest of the theater.

Oh, and while any DMX boards can handle moving lights... there becomes a point where you need a board that can handle moving lights WELL... you won't have much of a show if you have to spend your whole time figuring out why that one intelligent light goes into a color and prism spin while everything is fading out...

Rant over.. stepping off the soapbox...

Brandon


Lighting Questions & Opinions


About trying to program moving lights with the Express --

The moving light support on the board (as far as doing things on the fly and frustration levels) pretty much downright sucks. BUT with a little time and preparation you can come up with some really cool things -

I'm doing a show now that uses 6 moving heads @ 13 ch each... but, I planned it out in advance, made a diagram of the stage, and drew areas on the stage and assigned them a number (which would later be the focus point)... Before the console was even rented I had colors programmed in groups, as well as certain gobos, and had all the cues written with focus points... All I had to do when I got there was put the disk in the drive, configure the moving
lights correctly, and sit for about 30 min programming focus points... after that, all the cues were updated, and I ran the show the first night of rehearsal, all I had to do was change the colors and press Record. :)

Off to bed -

Brandon

New fixtures


If it's any indication, I used just 2 moving lights for a couple plays that made me end up not using 12 of the Source Four's.

Also made a light show for an orchestra concert out of them (that was fun too!)

Oh, and if something does come into contact with the mirror, one of three things will happen: either a) the mirror will fly off, but you can glue it back on, b) it will knock the mirror out of position and the mirror will be off calibration until the next reset of the fixture, or c) if the fixture has a sensor to correct the mirror then it will resume to it's intended position!

Be careful if you work with a large bank of moving head fixtures though. I made a mistake of ordering 42 of them for a large show/concert (biggest, baddest, and most fun and nervous show I've ever done) and then put them all on hanging electrics. I created a fast cue where all the heads moved in the same direction at once, and I looked up to see $200,000-some worth of intelligent fixtures swiiiiiiiiiiiiiinging back & forth. Needless to say those got secured with some good ol' aircraft cable. It did make a really cool ocean-looking wave effect when 3 electrics were swinging around though! Lesson: Secure truss is good! Mirrors good too, but not as cool. ;)

Brandon

Putting Microphones on a High School Stage

>>So they placed 6 mics along the stage<<
Sheesh, if it's
not a large room, take it down to 2 or 3 shotguns, move them a little further away from the stage for cosmetics, increase your gain before feedback level without the extra open mics... or try out some of the Crown PCC130's or 160's (whichever one has the tighter pickup pattern, I can't remember, it's been a 26 hr day) as floor mics... Are the mics on stands? If so, can you hang them from the ceiling? Could you replace them with smaller, choir pickup-type mics to be less obtrusive?

I dunno. Tough situation. My best idea is to decrease the number of open mics you have available (I can get you some formulas for gain-before-feedback if you want to try and calculate in advance, although it never works perfectly)... and then move them further from the stage until they are either out of the way, or they're a little more out of the way and you can still get the juice you need out of them.
Brandon

Suggestions for juggling classes and work/theatre


Well, let's see... NyQuil before you go to bed and DayQuil right as you're getting up.. j/k, don't become an addict of some kind...

For me (in high school) my first class starts at 7:25 in the morning and I have classes all the way till 4:00 with a 15 min break in between for lunch. Then I go to after school rehearsal from 4 to 5:45, then from 5:45 to Community Theater rehearsal from 6 to midnight. I get home around 12:10 and finish homework and go to bed around 2:30-3.

I'll be the first to admit that this is not a healthy schedule and I can feel myself suffering from it. The best advice I've tried to live by is to use that lunch break to it's maximum potential, whether that's a nap, homework, etc and make sure you have Saturdays free enough so that you can sleep till 2-3 in the afternoon.

I also invested in a Palm Pilot and MS Outlook XP for my computer, that's the only way I can remember things, by putting my homework in my Palm "Student Assistant" program along with theater schedules, etc and then whenever I get home, link it to the computer, and it's all right there with what I have to do on Outlook XP. I could never remember everything if it wasn't for that.

Plus, if a hot girl comes over to the light board thinking that it is not just a console, but a shrine of modern technology, a beautiful piece of machinery, and that I'm the man for knowing how it works, if she asks "hey baby, what are you doing Saturday night?", it's just a quick flick of the cover as I whip out the palm pilot and happily proclaim to her that my Saturday is free after 3pm (sleep time) ;) (note: the above scenario has yet to be tested... I just don't get why it hasn't happened yet...)
Brandon


Hummmm if it was me... here are some things I'd do, some cheesy, some fun.. Designate one side of the stage as the "sound board" and one side as the "microphone"... First one to connect 2 or 3 XLR microphone cables together with correct ends (male to sound board, female to microphone side) wins... First one who coils them up correctly wins. ;) Get an extension cord for everyone out of the closet.... first one to untangle it wins.. For the slower and perfectionist people... The one who cuts the best-fitting gel wins Ask random questions that everyone has an idea about but not a sure answer... i.e... How many outlets are there on a power strip, how many seats are there in this theatre, stuff like that 

Some fun little tricks to play... some of our "oldies" during tech orientation a few weeks ago were showing people around then one of them pointed something out and said "Oooh, I'll always remember that fire extinguisher... poor little Tommy.." - then all the newbies go "WHAT?" and they all add a little piece to the story, like "We don't know exactly what he was doing, but he was walking around on stage with a lighter and there was this big explosion..... I'll always remember that trip to the hospital..."They left the meeting with wide eyes... it was great...

Brandon

 

sound design


In our school we have evolved to have the following positions:

1 - stage manager (sometimes-depends on whether it's an intense show)
2 - the sound dude
3 - the light dude
(depending on the show, the sound dude and light dude positions may be combined)
4 - any running stage crew (usually don't need any)

Sometimes we use headsets to communicate, most of the time we don't. (think I'm crazy yet?)

I usually enjoy being light dude / sound dude. Usually I read over the script once or twice, make some notes, then a couple days before the show the drama teacher and I stay after school, bring in the electrics, look at it for a minute, go "hmmm....", grab a wrench, divide the scenes in half, I hang what I need to hang to make my scenes look good, he hangs what he needs to do the same, and the whole show is done in about 2 hrs.

Then during a rehearsal we program the show (no stopping, gotta be quick on your fader sliding and button pushing) and make notes of what we need to go back and re-do after rehearsal.

For sound, I take the list of needed effects, go into my little home studio and create or find whatever we need, burn to a CD, bring to school, connect any compressors, gates, processing gear, etc that we need... for complicated effects that involve sound and lighting, we use a hard disk recorder time-synced to the light board. For those more intense-cue shows, I run everything from a computer and program it into a MIDI Show Control system.

When the show starts, I'm behind the sound & light desk, just reading along with the script and pushing buttons, sliding faders, and turning knobs like a madman ;) I never get bored and I absolutely love this approach to doing a production... I'm a firm believer that although it takes a lot of skill as an actor to improvise your way out of problems, it takes just as much effort from the technical end.

hehe, sometimes I can't even believe it works, our record time from having the light and sound board in the closet to a full production is 3 1/2 hrs... Used a crew of 2, someone hung lights while I set up the boards, did rehearsal (programming), used the 30 min dinner break to go put together a sound effects CD, and we were ready to go 15 mins before the show. Come to think of it, that was one of the most fun days I've had!

I guess most people would look at this and say it's impossible, or think our shows are crap, etc etc. But our school is a little different.. sounds a little cheesy, but we're all friends, the actors and the techies all hang out with each other, go out to dinner together, and the people I have the privilege of doing tech with usually know what I'm thinking before I even say it. The actors know what our "usual" preshow light cues are, they're on their own to get to the stage on time, and when the first cue of the show starts, they magically appear where they're supposed to be. If the "crew" has problems (i.e. the telephone doesn't ring when it's supposed to ring), the actors cover for them. If the actors have problems (forgetting lines) then the crew whispers them their line in the monitors.
These are the responsibilities for our school's crew. ;)

Brandon
Sound System - The Gym


Well, looking at the pictures from the gym, that one doesn't appear to be as complicated as the theater installation. The big $$ seems to be in the amps and speakers side of things.

My suggestion, in order in signal path from microphone input to speaker:
Microphone: Shure Beta 58 Wireless Handheld... XLR cables and gyms don'tmix... better to have 1 or 2 great wireless microphones for everything so that 1) don't have to install as many XLR wall plates for inputs and 2) people can't trip over wireless stuff while they're playing basketball ;)

Mixer: Mackie DX8
www.mackieindustrial.com
The DX8 is a digital mixer designed for installed applications such as this... It's an 8 input, 2 output mixer, where most of the processing is set by computer inside, but the basic, basic controls are on the outside (gain, and 2 band EQ). I think anyone who can figure out the self-checkout line at the grocery store can figure this one out. And if for some odd reason you want to add a console later, there are 2 line inputs direct to mix outputs for it.

Processor / DSP: DBX DriveRack 480
www.driverack.com
99.9% of the driverack can be set by the installer and then password protected. The driverack has infinite configurations, but for this one, can take the input from the Mackie DX8 mixer and then split it into different signal chains (for the different speaker systems in the gym) and then apply individual EQ, dynamics processing, etc on each of the outputs. To switch between speaker systems, there are mute buttons located right below the output meters for each output. Just mute the speaker systems you don't want to use.

Amps: Crest Vs1500
www.crestaudio.com
Again, my favorite amp for installations. Self-explanitory. ;) If volume levels don't have to exceed much, then consider a couple Crown CTs 8200 (8 channels in one amp at around ~200w each)

Speakers: For a gym, being a reverberant environment where the echoes come back and hit you from 10 minutes ago, the further away you can get from a central speaker system, the better. Get the speakers as close to the people as possible and distribute as much as possible. But, a center cluster is great for those events that you need it loud and thumpin'.
Sporting event speakers: JBL Control Series
www.jblpro.com
Approx. 3/4 of a buttload of these speakers can be put on the catwalk facing the bleachers around the perimeter of the gym. They can be divided into sections for individual muting purposes on the Driverack. If a center cluster is used in addition to these, then they should be delayed appropriately (no sweat with Driverack on this one)...

Graduation and other ceremonies: Something loud.... up to you! I prefer EAW stuff for vocal reinforcement such as this... but that's me! ;)
Gotta go get ready for the day....
Brandon

Tales of Electricity, Episode I


Just got in from building this... For your entertainment I thought I'd do a write up... for those of you who don't enjoy breaker panel humor, just skip it...

When: This afternoon
Setting: An old warehouse in central NC, full of sound and lighting cables, odds and ends, etc
Scene I: The promoter's office

Earlier this morning, the multipinning of the effects racks and Whirlwind W-series multi snake was pretty uneventful. That's all good to go.

I sit in the comfortable chair, going down the checklist of items for the new lighting and sound systems that are making their maiden run Saturday.

Brandon: OK, as far as power... Where do I get or pick up the PD from?
Promoter: What's a PD?
Brandon: Power Distribution box/panel... you know, where the electricity comes from that powers all of this stuff...
Promoter: Oh, umm... we don't have one?
Brandon: No, someone was supposed to have it built, weren't they?
Promoter: Hmmm... I guess not... Can we make one?
Brandon: (thinking: CRAP)



When: Later that afternoon
Setting: The old, old basement of an old, old warehouse building in central NC
Scene II: The Panel

I wander around in the dark with no flashlight looking for parts to build a PD panel. Fuses, circut breakers, cable, anything. Suddenly my eyes fall (or maybe it was just me falling over something in the dark) upon a grey, 6 breaker panel with a service disconnect. I say:

Brandon: Hello, my new power panel!

Nobody knows what the circuts go to coming out of the panel. They aren't labeled. The service disconnect is off anyway. Good enough for me! After much breaking of screwdrivers, many band-aids, and other such oddities, the panel was no longer attached to the wall and was headed upstairs under my left arm.

The panel is already set up for 2 legs of 110v using the neutral as ground. Perfect.

When: Even later that afternoon
Setting: Home Depot Connectors Department
Scene III: Using the promoter's credit card

I need two range plugs. One male and one female. That's not so complicated now, is it? One that works in most every range plug installed between 1975 and 1995 across the USA.

Does Home Depot have it? Of course not. They have every freaking weird style of range plug other than the one I'm looking for. However, I happen to find 4 wire twistlock connections that are pretty industrial, that happen to fit the many 4-wire twistlock to Edison breakouts that I saw back at the warehouse.

I'd like 6 female and 3 male of these, please! $15 each, no big deal, not my credit card, and "Build a PD" was not in my job description for today either.

On the way to the cash register, I see a sale on Maglites, $15 for the big kind and a belt mini-mag. Yes, I'll take one of those too, thank you! (I'm sure the promoter wouldn't want me walking around in the dark now would he?)

When: Tonight
Setting: Back at the warehouse
Scene IV: Panel Surgery

Brandon: Do you have a pair of heavy wire cutters around here that I could use?
Promoter: Wire cutters?
Brandon: Yeah, okay. Nevermind. Are you going to use that pair of scissors on your desk for the next few hours?
Promoter: Nah, go ahead and take them.

I find 500 feet of 4-conductor 8/4 cable that looks pretty good. I chop three 5 foot pieces off and begin attaching female twistlock to one end, and then punch the holes in the panel for the cable to go through to get to the circut breakers. The pre-punched hole in the breaker panel is not big enough for the cable to go through.

Millions of sparks and 2 dremel bits later, that cable went through in all 3 holes, thankyouverymuch.

I made 100' sections of 4-wire twistlock extensions to go from panel to wherever, using 8/4 cable, WITH A PAIR OF FRIGGIN SCISSORS.

Now the scissors don't cut as well as they used to... and the screw in the middle is kind of falling apart...

When: Late tonight
Setting: The same place
Scene IV: The strain relief

I get everything connected, pick up the panel, and the cable slides in the 3 holes. Of course I didn't have any strain reliefs for them, and even if I did, it wouldn't have fit in the kind of egg/oval-shaped dremel holes in the panel. So my next task is to create a strong strain relief for this stuff.

I start digging around in cases, and I find the solution rather quickly. Three wraps around of Rosco glow tape, followed by a couple wraps of blue gaff tape on the inside of the panel, and that thing is not moving through the hole. Ever again.

------------------------------
And then I go home. Stay tuned tomorrow for EPISODE II: THE LOAD TEST.
Should I take some pics of this stuff throughout my adventures so that you can see the path of this gear, from creation/wiring to concert? And of my new flashlight? ;)
Brandon

Scott,

Is it possible for you to take some pics of the theater and gym for us to see with the drawings?

Also before I throw out any suggestions, do you know what kind of volume/dB level the system has to produce? How many wireless mics you think they would need? How are the acoustics in the rooms right now (very live or dead room?) Are there any problem frequencies right now that you know of that would warrant a parametric EQ as opposed to a graphic EQ?

From what you say it sounds like they need a system (at least in the theater) that can be reset back to it's original, installed settings quickly and easily, but with enough flexibility that will allow the students to get in there and play with the settings and hear the differences, have a minimal noise floor for theater productions, and have a metric buttload of power for the upper-dB concerts.

I await your response, so I can begin writing this book of recommendations...;)

Brandon

The Perfect Sound System?

I started writing all this out and then figured it would be better if you have visuals, so I made it into a web page (I got up to the amps and then I'm not quite Shure what happened, but anyway, that's where I stopped so far):
<http://www.brandonpotter.com/systemrenovation>
Some additions spawning off what Paul said...
For the speakers, Meyer stuff is definitely near the top of the line. I got to chat with John Meyer one evening and I like him, what he stands for, and the way his company works, in addition to having some great sounding cabinets. I'm not sure if being powered would be a plus or minus in this installation. If you want to go the traditional passive speaker route, for vocal reinforcement I'm a big fan of EAW. Also, for theatre reinforcement, if you look at cabinets with a horn, make SURE it is a 1", not a 2". 2" horns are great for rock n' roll at large volume levels but they lack the smoothness and clarity of a 1" as far as locals are concerned.

SM58's are the way to go as far as mics. I'd get a package of (12) SM58's and (24) 25' Whirlwind XLR cables. Also for general purpose (read: choir, acoustic instruments, etc) I'd get a pair of Shure BG4.1's. They have gain-before-feedback like you wouldn't believe, and a great response. If there are applications such as pianos, then an SM81 is the way to go.

If the school (or anyone else on the list, for that matter) will be doing any recording, pick up a pair of Superlux CM-H8A large diaphragm condenser mics. They're $100 a piece with $25 for a shockmount, and sounds as good as a Neumann. I know you've never heard of it. ;) If you want some raw .wav's of my voice coming straight off the hard disk recorder I'll be happy to share (by the way, I love these things) ;)

For stage reinforcement I would get 3 Crown PCC130 floor mics and place them on the lip of the stage at equal distance. That will take care of the downstage area. Then I would fly one Shure Microflex series mic above the center of the stage to capture the upstage area. If you roll a little bass off the Microflex, you can almost match the sound of the Crown PCC's and come up with an awesome coverage area.

My personal preference for SFX is a computer with good ol' Winamp in manual playlist mode. Reliability and simplicity. Plus the computer is great for a game of Midtown Madness or Solitaire during those band concerts (just make sure you mute the computer channel on the sound board or you'll have a nice roaring engine in the middle of the concert)... For CD players, Paul nailed it... I just bought my 3rd Denon dual CD deck.

Wireless microphones... For theater you'll have the best luck with Sennheiser... Sennheiser stuff has a very clean sound and great high end clarity. For rock'n'roll stuff, you'll have a great experience with Shure. Shure just came out with a new series of wireless systems that are multi-channel but don't carry quite the price tag of the pro touring stuff...
I've tried the Beta 58 and Beta 57 handhelds in this system and I was impressed. (I think it's the ULX series?)
 
Also if you have more than 3 wireless mics/receivers, definitely see about getting a central antenna system... makes life a lot easier! Just remember, you can spend $3000 on a ton of wireless mediocre mics and have endless problems, or you can take that same $3000 and buy 3 quality mics that will last a long time and never give you any problems, OR spend it on extra processing gear that will get an incredible amount of gain before feedback. This year I took 2 parametric EQ's, 2 gates/compressors with sidechains, and
turned a hanging Microflex mic into something that kicked the snot out of the Lavalier on the channel next to it.

If you can stay away from reverb and other assorted effects at this level, don't buy them.... 1 at the most. Students that are new to sound will immediately clutch on to the effect processor, use it too much, think it can "fix" everything (just like a newcomer to a 31-band graphic EQ), and they won't learn how to really get the best sound out of a source. If you must, a TC Electronics M-ONE is a wonderful effects processor that's versatile enough to do just about anything.
 
I'm sure I could babble for a few more mins, but, get this, I have an early appointment tomorrow morning building a 300' Whirlwind W4 multipin snake and Elco processing rack multipin lines, to go along with 1200 ft of Socapex, 84 par cans, and 96ch dimmer rack that has to be put together for a concert on Saturday... I should be personally sponsored by Motrin or Advil by the end of this weekend... :)
Nite!

Brandon

VHF trash? lol

>>Go UHF, VHF is trash...<<
Hey hey now, just because it's old technology doesn't mean it's not good ;) Unless you happen to be doing your gig in the middle of a big city or next to an airport, VHF will usually do you justice (along with having the system, and the building grounded properly so you don't wind up with a big sign on your rig that says "WE LOVE RADIO  INTERFERENCE") :)

In my experience, the cost differences being about the same, an upper-end VHF system can kick the snot out of a low-end UHF system (especially the $300 Shure.... UT series, I think it is... if I had a dollar for every time I've swapped out transmitters for these puppies)... so give me a variable-channel VHF, a scanner, and the proper antenna system and I'll be happy....

Brandon

PS - working on the color scroller writeup...

Wireless Mics


Put the 1604 right next to the Yamaha and go on your way.

One thing to remember with going from the 1604 with 1/4" TRS outputs to a Yamaha line or XLR input is that you have the proper cabling to do what you need to do... There are some issues when going from the main outputs of the Mackie to a channel on the Yamaha, I can't remember the exact solution whether it was balanced or unbalanced, etc, but if you get nothing in the Yamaha when your Mackie says it's outputting outrageous levels, either change the cable configuration or use the subgroup outputs to get your signal to the Yamaha.

Just a little tip that might save you a few hours so you don't have to do  what I did an hour before a concert ;)

Brandon