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Learn Your Scales

It’s no secret I’m a big fan of using measurement software. It’s one of the many tools I love to employ for all things audio whether it’s optimizing PA’s or mixing. I even use it in the studio these days. I’ve just found it to be a great tool to confirm what I’m hearing when things are out of whack. But I’m still always ears first, eyes second.

So today I want to address something I think folks who are newer to using measurements sometimes trip up on regardless of the measurement platform they use. Take a look at the following two screenshots of a couple transfer functions from Smaart. These both have a resolution of 1/24 of an octave and were screen captured in a double-pane view.

Tf1 noscale

Tf2 noscale

So what’s the difference between these two measurements? Which one looks better?

Take a look again.

Tf1 scale

Tf2 scale

Did you figure it out? Maybe you figured it out the first time I displayed them.

If you aren’t seeing it, yet, you should know that they’re the exact same measurement. The only difference is the vertical scale which you can see on the left of the captures in the second set.

You can make just about anything measure well if you zoom out far enough. In this case, the vertical dB scale in the first capture is compressed relative to the second capture. The scale in the first is what my version of Smaart defaults to. The second scale is set to approximate what I usually see Meyer Sound’s SIM 3 default to.

So what’s my point?

If you’re going to use measurement software, you have to understand the resolution of the measurements you’re making. You have to understand the scale. Things can “look” very different to you if the scale isn’t what you’re used to, and this can influence your ability or inability to make decisions using the information. For example, as I mentioned I often use measurements to confirm things I’m hearing so if I were to just glance at a measurement and see something I’m not expecting, it could potentially send me down a rabbit trail of troubleshooting.

So what scale do I use? It depends. There are times I like it compressed, and then there are times I like to zoom in on things. It depends what I’m doing, although, I will say that I think sometimes when the scale is zoomed in too far I see guys start nickel and diming things.

If you’re looking at the second measurement with the scale zoomed in, it can be very easy to get carried away chasing all of those peaks and nulls. But those peaks aren’t really as bad as they seem especially if you could see the coherency of the measurement because these were taken with the entire system on, and the mic not in the optimal spot I would use if I were optimizing the system. Yet, I’ve seen system techs go after things like that with a ton of little narrow filters, but if I move the mic a few feet one way or the other that stuff will likely all shift.

This is why using a more zoomed out scale like in the first measurement can be helpful at times. With things zoomed out it can be easier, in my opinion, to spot the trends that could be issues and then attack them with a couple of broader filters instead of many narrow ones.

The RTA I use is another example of a scale that is zoomed out. You can see an example of this below.

TargetHouse curve

This is where my version of Smaart defaults in a double-pane display, and I like it. With the scale zoomed out, I can more easily see the average response of sound in the room. I’m not going to be cheating to find frequencies that feedback with this view or doing surgical EQ with data from this, but it has proven useful to me in achieving a more consistent sonic signature from week to week which is what I’m really using it for in the first place.

And this leads to my last point.

If you’re going to use measurement software or hardware, you need to know why you’re using it in the first place. I believe this can be said for any audio tool whether it’s gain, EQ, a certain mic, dynamics, processing, etc. etc. etc.

I configure my measurement software a specific way to give me the measurement feedback I find most useful, but that doesn’t mean the way I use it would be useful for you. You have to figure out what you are trying to get out of your tools, and then use them appropriately. This might take time to experiment, dig through different options, and maybe just maybe even pull out a manual. Remember, you have to learn your scales if you want to play your instruments.


My Mixing Studio Is Open For Business


You can file this under shameless self-promotion. I’ve been meaning to do this for a while now, and 2015 seems like the perfect opportunity to get started.

I get requests throughout the year to do consulting, system tuning, training, etc., and as much as I would love to do these and help other churches and engineers out, the reality is the current season I’m in doesn’t allow for extensive traveling. My number one priority is my family followed by my commitment to North Point, and between the two it’s challenging for me to go too far from home without compromising one of those things. Since traveling is difficult, I’ve been exploring ways I can be of service.

I’ve spent all of my audio life working in facilities. In the beginning there were theatres and then I moved into studios and eventually added live venues to the list. Looking back, it’s amazing to me how far technology has come since I first dipped my beak in the audio waters 25 years ago, but it’s only recently where I’ve finally felt I could achieve the same results that in the past required a traditional facility of some sort.

For the last couple of years I’ve been working on my personal studio towards the point where I could put out work I’ll stand behind. I’m now at a point now where I can finally open my remote mixing doors for business.

So what exactly does this mean?

Well, I love what I’m doing in church production right now so I have no intention of stopping, however, one of the things I’ve missed in the last few years is the studio side. I spent the early years of my career doing post and music projects, and I’m at a point now where I’d like to scratch that itch again. Thankfully, I work with people who see the value in me stepping outside of my full-time “box” to do this sort of thing so this becomes a win-win for everybody.

I have a passion for mixing, and thanks to today’s technology that passion is easier than ever before for me to share. No longer do you have to actually go somewhere to get your project mixed. These days remote mixing allows artists to work with the engineers of their choice without the limits of geography. So this year I am opening my studio’s virtual doors for projects.

Now, before you tune out thinking you have no need for this, please bear with me as I have two primary opportunities initially available through this:

1.) Recording Projects

First, I’m looking for recording projects to mix. These could be live recordings, singles, albums, EP’s, and even post-production mixing. In fact, thanks to the implementation of virtual soundcheck, many of you are sitting on a bounty of unmixed music just waiting to be released. There’s still no better way to get new music into the hands and hearts of your congregation than by releasing recorded music, and I’d love to help make that happen for you.

Depending on location and schedule, I would even be open to producing a couple of live projects from start to finish if possible this year. While live recordings definitely hold a place in my heart, I also love working on traditional recording projects and post as well.

Whatever your specific project might be, I’d love to take your tracks to the next level. You simply upload your tracks, and I mix them down.

2.) A Mix Perspective

One of the more frequent requests I get is to come in for a weekend, evaluate what’s happening, and mix the service to provide an example of what can be done with what you have. There’s no reason, though, why I can’t still provide a bit of this perspective for a fraction of the cost.

Again, you send me your multi-track recordings from a recent service. I will evaluate the source material, and put together a mix for review and future reference using the same approach I’ve used to mix countless services. I can even taylor my process to resemble as closely as possible the equipment you have on hand and use on a weekly basis.

Then we’ll talk about how I achieved my results from overall approach to the nitty-gritty while offering suggestions on how you can move things forward and deal with some of the room-related challenges you might currently be facing.

If either of these opportunities sounds interesting to you, please click right HERE or on the Mixing Services link above to request more information. I’m looking forward to helping a lot of you out this year.


Direct Inject

I’ve been getting requests for this so let’s talk about our little bass DI shootout from this week.

One of the things I want to do this year is get some better DI’s specifically for bass guitars. A lot of our players bring their own, but for the guys who don’t I want to try something else. Some of our campuses are using the UA LA-610 which they swear by, but I’m just not a fan of sticking a full channel strip on stage. If someone brought it in, I’d be happy to let them use it, but it’s just not what I’m looking for.

Swedien’s Legendary Bass DI

If there’s really one thing I’m looking for, it’s the bass DI Bruce Swedien has. I don’t want the same model, though. I want his actual DI that he used on Thriller. It’s just a metal box with a UTC transformer in it, but according to Mr. Swedien he’s never been able to duplicate it.

When I put Thriller on my turntable, the bass is glorious in my home theatre. It’s rich and deep and….and…I want to go to there.

Yes, I obviously realize there’s a whole lot more to the tone on that record than just this little box–I mean, a lot of that record is SYNTH bass to begin with–BUT, I love it’s simplicity and knowing it was still a part of the package is enough for me to want it.

Since Bruce probably isn’t going to graciously give or sell me his DI, I want to find a simple DI that I can trust. I want a box with a transformer and no frills that sounds like the instrument plugged into it or at least a great version of that instrument. I don’t want tone knobs and gain knobs and all kinds of silly switches and buttons; I have crayons on the desk for coloring. Plus, EVERYTHING instrument related on our stage moves in every service so adding more stuff that can get bumped and messed up to an already large amount of stuff that can get bumped and messed up doesn’t get me excited.

The main DI we’ve resorted to for bass has been an Avalon U5 for the last 9+ years. It’s a great DI, and I know some guys love it. However, I’ve just never been blown away by it. My favorite weeks have typically been when guys have brought in a REDDI and the occasional Evil Twin. However, I can’t say any of these experiences have been revelatory. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever had a revelatory DI experience. I’ve had revelatory PA experiences and revelatory compressor experiences, but not DI’s. They just don’t get me fired up like I know some guys get. DI’s aren’t a mountain I’m going to die on.

I was planning on picking up a REDDI this year because, as I mentioned, I’ve had good experiences from the guys who use them regularly. However, some of our guys have remarked they don’t like tubes with their basses so I wanted to get something solid state to use as well.

When the new Neve RNDI was announced shortly before NAMM, I immediately contacted one of my vendors to get a price. When I found out it was selling for under $300 I jumped on it because I figured even if I don’t love it on bass it’ll probably be great on something. It arrived last week, and this week we finally got to give it a try.

While we could have just hooked up the RNDI and used it, I wanted to do a little comparison to see how much of a difference there really is in the DI’s we have on hand. You see, sometimes we audio engineers and musicians have a manufacturer bias that clouds our judgement. So, I wanted to make sure we don’t all ooh and ahhh over it just because it says Neve.


The DI’s used for the testing were our trusty Avalon U5, a Radial J48 which we have a lot of, and, of course, the new Neve RNDI. The bass used for the test was a Music Man Stingray 5. We left everything flat and plugged straight into the DI’s. Here are some clips from the test. These are embedded .WAV files so it might take a little longer to load than usual.

Avalon U5

Radial J48


Of the three, everyone listening preferred the RNDI with the J48 very close behind. Listening through our PA, the Avalon sounded muddy with less definition in comparison to the other two, but the RNDI just had the more clarity. Rick Meeder who played bass for the test also preferred the RNDI in his in-ears. One of the things I struggle with the most in mixing is getting bass guitars to cut, and using the RNDI the bass had much more of an edge to it than the other two DI’s. One should note, though, that the U5 has different tone settings we bypassed for the test and playing with those a bit might have given us a result closer to what we liked about the other two DI’s.

So what should you takeaway from this?

First off, this doesn’t mean the RNDI is the best DI. It’s just the one we liked this ONE time so don’t all go running out to buy one just because we liked it. Some of you may prefer the U5, and some of you may like the J48. You’re not wrong just because you disagreed with myself and the other musicians who were listening when we tested this thing. Preferring something else just means you’re a actual person.

I think the real takeaway here is a DI can play just as much of a role as a microphone can when it comes to the sound you’re capturing. DI’s and microphones affect the tone so, like microphones, it probably doesn’t hurt to have a couple options on hand to try on different things. We liked the RNDI this week, but next week with a different model bass and player maybe the J48 will win. Maybe the U5 would come out way on top. We’ll only know for sure if we try them all out. That said, I have a feeling I’m going to parting ways with our U5’s pretty soon. Soooooo, if you’re interested in getting a U5, maybe you should go hit the Contact button above….

On Mixing...