The Penseive

                                                                                 A look into the past, or a peek at the future.

The Arsenio Hall Show


All good things come to an end.

We made some really great television, but yes, the new Arsenio Hall Show is now a just a memory.  We went on the air in September of 2013 and had the privilege of working with some of the greatest musicians on the planet.  

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Posse 2.0: Robin, Alex, the Boss, Sean, Victoria, and Rob

We also had one of the greatest house bands ever, the Posse 2.0 with MD Robin DiMaggio.  

Mix Magazine did a very nice piece on us for their January 2014 issue, check it out here.

There's so much I want to remember about this whole experience.  Thanks to the DVR at home I have videos of many of these performances, but since I don't have rights to any of them you'll just have to search them out yourselves (or come over to the house).

Gloria Estefan

Why oh why did I not take any pictures???!!!  My apologies.  The lady did two tunes on the show (we don't do that often) from her new album The Standards.  I gotta list the players:

Piano--Shelly Berg

Bass--Chuck Berghofer

Guitar--Dean Parks

Drums--Gregg Field

Percussion--Edward Bonilla

She did The Way You Look Tonight and You Made Me Love You.  Both arrangements were terrific.  Used a KSM9 on her vocal and a pair of DPAs in the piano, Greg Keslake (monitor mixer) brought in his Royer to use on Dean's guitar amp.  I really love the sound of Ish Garcia's (our department head and Production Mixer) Earthworks mics on the overheads and the hat.

I always look forward to seeing Emilio whenever Gloria is on a show I'm doing.  He is absolutely the most gracious, nicest man in the music business, even to the point of pretending he remembers who I am each time.  Just love that guy.  He only came to the truck once this time to hear a playback, though--during the show he sat in on congas with the Posse!

Hiatus Kiayote

Hiatus Kiayote is an Australian band that makes arresting music.  Vocalist/Lyricist Nai (pronounced "nay") Palm has such a unique voice and style.  She and the band don't play at deafening volumes, so the individual quirks and nuances of each player come out.  Really good stuff.  The band played Nakamarra, a dreamy kind of love letter that references the red earth of "Oz".  It's a deceptively simple track--very little reverb or effects of any kind, just a sort of dance between the Rhodes doing splashy chords and Nai delivering a very directed stream-of-consciousness lyric.

I loved the style of the track, and used it as the basis for the balance I did on the show.  The only slight change I made was to let the drums get a little more forward, especially toward the end of the tune in the vampy section.  Meter freaks take note--the bridge of the tune is in a very groovy and unexpected three/four after several verses of common time.

I really liked the sound of Nai's vocal on the Shure KSM9.


In the truck with Paul and Perrin.  Nice guys.  I look like I have no teeth.

Esperanza Spalding with the Wayne Shorter Quartet

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Musical legend Wayne Shorter and the Posse's Alex Al

Okay, as a bass player I'm just star-struck about this one.  On October 29, 2013, Stage 6 had Esperanza Spalding, John Patitucci, and Alex Al in the building at the same time (John is playing bass for Esperanza, Esperanza is singing, and Alex is of course the amazing bassist for the Posse 2.0).  These are three of the best bess players on the planet.  Oh yeah, and this guy Wayne Shorter will be playing tenor.  Yeah, THAT Wayne Shorter--Jazz Messengers, Weather Report, Miles Davis, the sax solo in Steely Dan's Aja--if you love music, in some way Wayne has touched you.


And here they all are on Stage 6.  That's John Patitucci, Alex Al, and Esperanza Spalding.  I've gone to Bass Heaven.

We had the piano lid full open for the sound check, and pianist Danilo Perez graciously asked if we would prefer short stick for the performance.  It's a very energetic piece, and absolutely no one wants drummer Teri Lyne Carrington to dial back even a tiny bit, so the short stick should help the piano definition.  I'm using a pair of old C12 cap 414's on the harp with gaff tape plus a Schoeps with a knuckle aimed into the second-lowest hole.  There's a Beyer M 160 on Wayne's soprano--a really nice match, and how great is it to have pattern control on a ribbon?  John has a very nice DI on his bass, and I'm using a DPA 4023 and a U47 (yes, a U47!) to fill in the real bass sound.  Drums are the usual mashup of Shures plus Earthworks on the overheads and hat.  Teri also has a cymbal of her own that looks like a shield or a the wing of a giant beetle.  Look for it camera left and listen for the strangely pretty ring-out if there's space in the mix.  KSM9 for Esperanza, and we spent a very pleasant ten minutes in the truck working on her vocal sound.  Really nice lady.


Alex Al and Danilo Perez

Well, it's done, and it's…amazing.  Form, arc, and meaning out of chaos.  Wayne and Esperanza dancing around each other like a couple of deliriously happy songbirds. 

Raheem DeVaughn

Raheem had the Posse behind him to sing his song Ridiculous.  The first instant I heard Raheem's voice it reminded me of someone--I couldn't remember who--until Arsenio mentioned Donny Hathaway.  (Raheem's definitely his own guy, but isn't that a great voice to be compared to?) His camp really had their act together--they sent us background tracks that slotted in exactly to a Pro Tools session, all we had to do was add a count off for the Posse.  Once again, my vocal mic of choice, KSM9 (set to hypercardiod in this case).


This is really worth a look.  Bernhoft is a terrific singer, but the thing that will amaze you is how he uses loops of his voice and guitar to build up a really amazing sonic mashup.  We're using his Sennheiser 935s on vocals (one goes to the loop generator, one comes to me) and they sound very pleasant on his voice.  The song is a new one for him called Wind You Up and he manages to generate a lot more energy than one would think possible with just voice and tenor guitar.

Janelle Monae


Nate "Rocket" Wonder in the truck after Janelle's performance.  Nate's bio has the following info:   "According to Metropolis authorities, Nate Wonder invented the Internet and barbecue sauce. Speculation that he invented the flying car remains inconclusive ."  What is certain is that he produces great music.

She is a force of nature.  And a very gracious person.

She performed Electric Lady on Arsenio 11/4/2013 and just killed it.  I love the fact that she has real brass players on the tour--I made sure I could hear them in the mix!

Atlas Genius

If So is an extremely well-constructed song, a little pop gem.  We're using all their gear except for Ish's Earthworks mics on the overheads and hat.  Pay special attention to Keith's guitar sound--they tour with a pair of the Shure KSM313s on his two Fender guitar amps, and the ribbon mics really sound great.  They have a lot of fun mixing live mics and samples on the kit--there were two mics plus a trigger on the snare, in addition to an E snare for effects.


With my new friends Keith and Darren from Atlas Genius.  The "I Voted" sticker means it's November 5.

I think this may be in my top 20 all time favorite live mixes.  Not that they need my endorsement, but these guys write really good pop music that hearkens back to some classic 80s bands--Men At Work, Duran Duran, and you can definitely hear some U2 in there--but the sensibility is all their own.  Expect great things from them.

Keith says they've been away from home for over a year and are heading to Great Britain next.  They're looking forward to getting home to Australia maybe around Christmas.  Aussie assie aussie!  Oi oi oi!

Childish Gambino


Ray, Chris, Donald (Childish Gambino himself), me, and Thundercat with a fan

He does a new song tonight, Shadows.  It has quite an arc to it--it goes from controlled/introspective with Thundercat playing amazing fingerstyle on his six-string bass to a breakdown where-am-I vibe to full on echo/crashing drums/thundering bass.  I asked CG what the emotions were.  "Think of it this way.  We're in the park, and it's nice, and then it starts raining.  Hard."  I've really never seen anything like this performance on television before.  He and Thundercat start over on the couch with Arsenio, and then you hear the band, and then they move to the stage…I guess you have to see it to fully dig it.  Really nice people, no surprise there.


It was a true bucket list kind of day.  On March 4, 2014, Prince brought 3rdeyegirl, New Power Generation, and other assorted talents to the Arsenio Hall Show and took over.  Which was awesome. 

Old News


Which is what they called the 2012 edition of the Video Game Awards on Spike.  The nice folks at MTV Technical asked LRT to handle the music acts for the show, and I had the privilege of doing the music mixes.  The live performances were from Linkin Park, Tenacious D, and Gustavo Santaolalla.  The show went live on December 7, 2012, and as you might expect it was a blast.

I was cleaning out my computer bag, found these sheets, and was just about to trash them when I thought "some scholar writing a dissertation about live broadcast may find these interesting in 80 years or so."  Probably not, but here they are anyways.  These are the cue sheets I prepare for myself when doing a live mix--Castle Of Glass is Linkin Park, and Rize Of The Fenix is Tenacious D.  The show script will have all of the lyrics printed out, but a long song can reach 20 pages or more.  I need something I can glance at, get my fingers in the right place and make the move just before the word or lick happens.  So I end up making my own cue sheets and then making notes on those after listening to the rehearsal a few times.  These are the ones I used at the VGAs.  Note that Tenacious D takes 2 pages--they really like the long-form rock anthem.

Click on the image to see it full screen.  The links below will take you to the Spike TV video portal where you get to see a quick ad and then the video.  Have patience.


Well, it's all over for Season 2.  We had an incredible time, and I will miss Rove and the staff greatly until the next cycle.  Rove McManus had the most popular live "chat" show in Australia for something like 10 years, and after he moved to LA, Foxtel in Australia asked him to do a weekly show to beam back to Oz, taking advantage of the availability of big-name guests in LA.  It was a big hit, so they asked him to do a Season 2.  And what a guest list--John Travolta, Olivia Newton-John, Michael Buble, Zach Braff, Eddie Izzard, Sarah Silverman, Rob Schneider, Wayne Brady, Aisha Tyler, Rainn Wilson, Russell Brand, four baby pigs and a full-grown rhinoceros (no joke--a real rhinoceros, running through the Warners lot).  This season the TV Guide Channel picked up the show for the USA, so you can actually see it here.  It's freaking hysterical.  For my money Rove is the best talk show host since Johnny.

Rove (r) with Joel McHale, Wendi McClendon-Covey and Wayne Brady

Photo by Craig T. Mathew/Mathew Imaging

Doing Rove is also very special for me because it gives me a chance to follow a show all the way through from production to post (see The Gypsy System).  I have a chance to fix any goofs I might have made during taping and really get the thing polished.  Typically we would shoot Wednesday nights and edit/sweeten on Thursday (really talented editor named Gerrad Holtz) with a Thursday night delivery back to Oz.  Sure hope we come back for Season 3!


My old friend Trace Goodman (Goodman Audio, really terrific audio production company) has a client called SMTV.  They do an annual celebration in LA, and the last two years they have capped it with a Broadway-level original musical.  Trace, bless his heart, recommended LRT and myself to do the broadcast mix for the musical portion back in 2011.  For 2012, the celebration was at the Shrine, and the musical was entitled "Loving The Silent Tears."  It is essentially a spiritual/musical tour of the countries of the world set to poetry with a strong environmental and humanitarian influence.  It features music from (among others) Al Kasha, Don Pippin, and David Shire, and performances from Jon Secada, the wonderful Debbie Gravitte, and an absolute knockout punch from persian superstar Siavash Shams.  As you might assume, the music and performances were top-notch with a large pit orchestra directed by the talented (and feisty!) Doug Katsaros.  LRT was brought in to do the mix for the musical for the live broadcast, and I am now putting the finishing touches on the DVD mix in LRT.


LRT next to Denali's new flagship, California, behind the Shrine


Got a call from a nice guy, Garrett Davis, who works with the band Shinedown.  He needed to record the band's live performance in Phoenix at the end of September, but just as impiortant to Garrett was having a room he could trust to monitor the tracks in as the show went down.  So the truck and I headed to Phoenix to help out.  Great band, great tracks, hoping to hear something from Garrett about a release…


Garrett at the D-Control.  He's quite a power user, and fluent in all things Pro Tools.

Garrett's crew got the black t-shirt memo

LRT behind the pavilion 


Darius hard at work at the D-Control

Back in 2008 I got a call from a young LA mixer named Darius Fong.   Darius has one continuing project very near to his heart--a praise band called Enfield.  One Enfield’s major projects is an annual conference called Resolved.  Darius and the band had decided they wanted to produce a live album of the band at the conference, so they hired LRT to come out and do the original 2008 recording and provide Darius with a space to accurately monitor the tracks he would be using to produce the album.  Everything went very well, and the album they produced was very successful.


Enfield stops long enough for a group portrait

Well, now here I sit (June, 2012) once again in the loading dock of the Palm Springs Convention Center helping Darius record another Enfield album.

So what’s changed in four years?  Well, Enfield, already a great band, has progressed to the point where they can read each other’s minds on stage.  LRT has a great big Digidesign console in place of the Yamahas, and Resolved has announced this is their final conference.  Also, in the mean time, I lost my best friend and coworker, Gary Van Pelt.  For all of us, it’s a little bittersweet.

One of my favorite things is watching Darius discover functions on the ICON and integrate them into his workflow.  Already a Pro Tools power user, everything is familiar to Darius, but it’s great to listen to him instantly remix a performance and then put it up on the Enfield website as a promo.  Now THAT’S a power user.

Darius is a true “golden ears” mixer and really nice guy.  He trained with Bill Schnee, and if you’re an audio geek you know that’s about as good as you get.  Rock of Ages: Enfield Live at Resolve 2012 is scheduled for release 8/14/12, go to  The arrangements and playing are really top-notch, and hearing several thousand conference goers sing along is quite emotional.


Cee-Lo and friends announce Vegas show at the TR Launch

This is a difficult one even to describe.  If you heard about this, or were at one of the venues, you know it was amazing.

In a nutshell, Ceasar’s Palace has re-branded its preferred guest program, the one they call Total Rewards.  They decided that what they really needed to introduce the revamped rewards program to the world was a big free concert. Great idea.  But in true Vegas style they took it several steps beyond--not just a free concert in one city, but a coordinated free concert in FOUR cities simultaneously--Los Angeles, New Orleans, Chicago, and New York.  The idea was that each city would have several artists perform live over three hours, and that highlights from each city would be beamed to the other three cities to put up on their big screens during the act changeover.  Los Angeles was chosen as the hub.

The big day was March 1, and the LA venue was the Hollywood and Highland Center, home of the former Kodak Theater, next door to Grauman’s Chinese and across the street from the Egyptian and the Jimmy Kimmel Live theater.  They built a giant stage in the plaza and hired Lil’ Wayne and Cee-Lo Green to perform, each with a full backup band.

LRT was brought in to handle the music mix for the two acts and push it over to the AMV EPIC 3D truck for distribution to the web and the other cities.

One of the coolest things about this was that each act got to do a short set, not just a song or two.  Cee-Lo took the opportunity to announce to the world that he had just made a deal to do a long-term major show at Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas. 

The show was nerve-wracking, but very exciting.

LRT at Hollywood and Highland before the show


LRT next to the Blue Whale

As I sit here we’re just a few hours away from the West Coast feed of NPR’s annual Toast of the Nation New Year’s Eve broadcast.  LRT is the mix facility for the broadcast from the relatively new LA jazz club the Blue Whale.  Bay area vet Phil Edwards is mixing (the hands you see on the home page are Phil’s), and the band is the Billy Childs Quartet.  Very technical, demanding stuff, but Billy’s natural gifts constructing lines makes it very accessible as well. 


I can’t get over the change the D-Control has made in the capabilities of the truck.  And it must be admitted, driving this desk is FUN.


Rove McManus is a very funny Aussie who had one of the most successful late night shows down under for 10 years.  He’s now doing a weekly show that airs in Australia and Great Britain, but he’s doing it from CBS in Hollywood.  The guest list has been phenomenal, and as I mentioned, Rove is hysterical.  We shoot the show on Thursday and I do all the audio post on Friday--I moved my Pro Tools HD|Native system into the office next to the editor, added two Avid Artist Mix panels and my lava lamp and away we go. 

Pro Tools and Other Musings

Big Booty

From the very first conversations we had about the sound of the show, Arsenio Hall Musical Director Robin DiMaggio emphasized the desire of everyone involved for the show to have lots of good low end in the music.  “Big booty,” he said.  

I’ve been in broadcast audio for quite awhile.  Back before transmission was all digital, we tended to treat bass the way mastering engineers did vinyl--never let the low end get too big, but try to maintain the illusion that something big was down there.  Partially this was due to how easy it was to overload any part of the broadcast chain--a satellite transponder,  a microwave link, the preamp stage of the transmitter--and since every part of the chain had limitations and quirks, it was best just to keep the bass under control.  Bass overloads usually happened in an average-level rather than peak-level fashion, and the net effect was to crowd out everything else in the mix but the bass, especially since there were limiters protecting the signal at nearly every point in the chain.  The other reason to keep the low end under a tight rein was that the prevailing sense from producers was that nobody had a full range system on their home television anyways, which was largely true.  I do remember in 1978 hooking up the parent’s big stereo for the first broadcast of Battlestar Galactica, however, thinking it would be a Star Wars-type experience. Alas not.

Digital broadcast has changed a lot of things, and the old attitude toward bass isn’t valid any more.  Now, as long as you stay within whatever framework a particular network decrees about loudness (not the same as volume), you can do whatever you like with the mix.  And with the penetration of home theater in the general market, there are a surprising number of homes with subwoofers.

So, how to make the Arsenio Hall Show stand out when the Posse or any of the myriad guest artists are pumping?  Of course we go to the internet first and see how everyone else does it.  Dave Pensado, blessings be upon him, shows a method of thickening up synth bass tracks by duplicating the track with a 330Hz high pass on one track and a 300Hz low pass on the other.  The important part of this is that it allows the bass portion of the source to be treated on its own.  Dave uses the Waves Air plug and then a compressor set 6:1 with loose attack and release times to really focus the bass.

This approach works extremely well for synths, and with some tweaks can be used with other low-end sources.  For the purposes of television, however, I need the focus to be slightly different.  First, I want sub-bass information coming from instruments that may not actually have any.  Second, I want to optimize the signal to what the home viewer may be listening on.  The first item can be accomplished with any bass enhancement plug that uses some kind of synthesis or octave division.  The second, however, is a little more subjective.

Since I can’t control how a viewer sets up his subwoofer, I don’t worry too much about it.  I set mine with using the Blue Sky test files and a Radio Shack SPL meter, and I set the whole system to -20dbfs=78db at mix position and leave it there.  That’s loud enough to make me happy without making me deaf in the process.  So far so good, but what about the sub-less rest of the universe?  My mini speakers are an ancient pair of NS-10M Studios that have had the drivers replaced many times.  Truth be told, I’m not an NS-10 fan.  Don’t really love them, never have.  But they do have the virtue of telling one what something sounds like on a decent home speaker, albeit one with next to no bass response.

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Big Bottom set for High Booty

Now if I want to be able to make the subwoofer crank, I need to push subwoofer frequencies, right?  But what about the NS-10s?  Practically zero of that extra energy will make it to them.  So I have two aux sends available to every channel, called Low Booty and High Booty.  I twist Low Booty to make the subs thump, and I twist High Booty to wake up the NS-10s.

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High Booty bandpass filter

Both sends end in aux inputs that feed the mix bus. Both inputs have the following chain: Aphex Big Bottom, Avid Pro Lim, and Avid 7 Band EQ.  If this sounds Avid heavy remember I set it all up in September of 2013 before the majority of third party 64-bit AAX plugs began to appear.  The difference between the two inputs is in the Big Bottom and the EQs.  Low Booty has Big Bottom tuned to 69Hz and the EQ HP at 48Hz and LP at 120Hz.  High Booty has Big Bottom tuned to 151Hz and the EQ HP at 67Hz and LP at 160Hz.  I set those frequencies by listening to the two different monitor systems with pink noise and then fine tuning them with music.  

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Avid Pro Limiter High Booty Squish

The ProLim is set for Auto Release with the threshold set right down to -15.  I then selectively dial in various amounts of each send from the drum buss (both the clean and the parallel return), bass, percussion pads, and anything else that might add to the fun.  With the drums at first I experimented with just kick and floor tom going to the Booty busses, but putting the entire kit in there makes really wonderful things happen to the snare, which I did not expect.

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How it looks on the ICON.  The small "p" means the send is for the Posse,  Arsenio's house band.  There are a separate set of Booty sends for the Guest Artists.

The result is two inputs that add bass “feel” to the mix without overpowering it, while at the same time adding insane amounts of sub bass for anyone who likes that stuff.

Using Pro Tools and ICON for Live Mixing with Snapshots

For many years now live event mixers, FOH, Monitors, and Broadcast/Record, have relied on snapshot and scene recall automation to make shows go smoother and have performances as consistent as possible.  I've used lots of snapshot/scene systems, but the better ones all rely on some kind of combination of storing the present state of the console and then recalling that state on the fly.

Pro Tools, on the other hand, was not designed as a live mixing platform.  It is a powerful recording and mixing system meant for the recording studio and not the stage, and Digidesign recognized this when they rolled out the Venue series.  If you do happen to own an ICON, however, you already have a powerful live mixing system that you can set up to emulate a Yamaha or Venue.  Here's how:

1.  Gather all of the tracks that will be involved in a recall into a group--let's name it Guest for now.  Open Modify Groups (Control-Command-G in Mac) and uncheck Follow Globals.  In Attributes uncheck all the Main boxes (Volume, Mute, Pan, LFE). In the Mix Attributes sub window on the bottom check Record Enable, Input Monitoring, and Automation Mode.

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What you have done here is make a group that when enabled the faders and mute buttons are all independent, but changing automation modes, input switching, or record enable on one track will change all the tracks.

2.  If you haven't already, open Preferences/Mixing and enable Allow Latch Prime in Stop and Plug-In Controls Default to Auto-Enabled.  Make sure automation is enabled.  My personal preference here is to enable all the boxes in the Automation window except Mute since I frequently use mutes to audition different balances, and I don't want those moves stored.

3.  Make sure Guest is enabled (highlighted) in the GROUPS window, then toggle one member track into Latch mode.  All members of Guest should change to match.

4.  Set up your initial balances, inserts, send levels, etc. as usual.  Any touched fader will drop into active Write mode and the Latch light will flash.  It's not a bad idea here to occasionally hit Write To All, which will switch all the Latch lights from flashing back to steady.  As you adjust things, a quick glance at the flashing lights will tell you which tracks have been modified and which haven't.

4  In the GROUPS window click to the left of Guest   All members of Guest should now show that they are selected.

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Click on the black dot to the left of the group to Select all members of the group.

5.  Press Snap on the ICON soft key pad to open the Snapshot buttons.

6.  When you have a starting balance, hold Shift/Option on the keyboard and press the CAPTRE soft key.  What you have just done is to write all selected channels into the snapshot buffer--note that only the channels that are selected go into the buffer--any tracks that aren't members of Guest will not go into the buffer, and hence, will not be subject to a future recall.  Pick one of the soft keys below, and press and hold the key until the window says Stored.  (If you're in Select mode and not Focus you can now double-press the soft key you just stored to open a naming dialogue for that snapshot.)

7.  As you modify your balances and settings, keep overwriting that soft key by loading the buffer with the Shift/Option/CAPTRE combination and press-hold on the target soft key.

8.  When you need to store a different snap, choose a new soft key.  There are four available on the first page and another 44 available on succeeding pages.

9.  When you're ready to recall a snap, press the soft key of the scene you want (which pops it into the buffer) and PUNCH CAPTRE to execute the recall.  You will note that all tracks that are members of Guest will go into active Write mode instantly, and tracks that aren't members of Guest aren't affected at all.  This behavior will not be affected by whatever channels you happen to have selected when you recall the snapshot.  The concept to get here is that the channels that are selected when you store are the channels that will be affected when you recall.

You now have a system that can reliably store and recall 48 snapshots on the fly.  I know it seems like a lot of keystrokes, but really, once you have things set up the important moves are the left-click to select all members of the group and the key combinations to store the selected tracks into the buffer and subsequently the soft key.  Note that you can have more than one SCENE group--I use this to have separate recalls for the house band and guest artists on Arsenio.

I would avoid using VCA Masters when doing this.  The Coalesce options can make the behavior of slave channels somewhat unpredictable on recalls.  The exception is VCA groups where you never change the internal balances (FX returns, for example).  You can emulate VCA spill by making Custom Fader layouts for any logical groupings (drums, strings, horns, etc.) with only the members of the group in the layout.  Then assign the members of the group to a bus and re-enter the bus on an Aux Input on the main layout (also a great way to pop a limiter across a bunch of like instruments).

Keep in mind that this is an automation-only recall, and as such has no effect on bus assigns and plug-in selection/ordering.  If you need a different snaps to use different bus paths, all needed paths must exist throughout the whole session.  If you need different plug-ins at different times they all need to be enabled throughout the entire session and brought in and out with mutes or fader moves.

One last tip--get into the habit of hitting Write to All until you actually roll the transport for the first time.  From that point on, use Write to End to save all your previous moves.  Once you're finished, you now have all your original live moves intact and you can use them as the basis for quick touch-ups to the mix.

Good luck,


A Qualified Panegyric

As the process of innovation gets ever faster, I’ve noticed that combinations of workflow and gear now resemble snapshots more than portraits.  When I was at Post Logic years ago we had rooms that didn’t substantially change for some time-- a big analog desk with fader automation, and an Adams-Smith AV system controlling various 24 tracks, DATS, video machines, and the odd 2 track.  Certainly we tried to innovate as far as the technology would allow--it was a big deal when we put all the sound effects CDs in a central jukebox with a Mac in each room to search and audition, for example--but a picture of the room taken in the late 80s would have been substantially the same five years later.

What a difference a few decades makes.

These days, a workflow/gear combination may go roaring past me with only a fleeting glimpse before being swallowed forever by progress.  So I want to take a moment and talk about the present workflow “snapshot”.  Some things that have been around for a while have been joined by some newer things, and some older things have seen some dramatic improvements.  Since this is largely a love letter to the D-Control, I’m putting it here, but it involves a variety of other gear not necessarily limited to the Avid marque.

Here are some highlights from the present snapshot:

Blueface 32 fader D-Control

Pro Tools 11HD

Pro Tools HDX|3 talking to Focusrite Rednet 5’s and HD I/Os

Aphex Aural Exciter and Big Bottom

Avid Pro-Lim, Reverb One, Revibe

Sources from the stage on Yamaha Rio 3224Ds via the Dante network

And here’s my workflow:

In the morning, set up and sound check a guest artist of some type.  Could be hip-hop, could be rock, could be blues, could be pop, could be latin, could be anything.  Anywhere between 10 and 60 inputs.  After that, rehearse with the house band (48-58 inputs depending) setting the show order and possibly recording some new cues.  Then camera blocking, and if time is available I may get to play back the last camera pass of the guest artist to get it as dialed in as I can.  Then and at some point we do the show.  Depending on time available before the network feed, maybe some quick touch-ups to the musical performances, but mostly it airs as it went down.

Here are the things that make coming to work fun.

First, as I said before, the D-Control.  Being able to have a dozen different Custom Fader setups a single button away is really what makes this whole thing possible.  I set all 32 faders for Custom, with drums on one setup and the rest of the band on another (the drum submaster lands on the band setup).  It keeps things calm on the active layer while making a quick look at the kit for a touchup simple.  Multiply that by two bands, and you get an idea of why it’s important to me.  And when last minute things get thrown my way, after a quick layer edit I’m ready to go.  I keep another layer with just masters on it for switching stems in and out of record and selecting which busses feed the external meters.  The surface is also very good at letting you know what the automation is doing: the status lights on the channels really yell out what state they are in, and since my workflow involves hitting Write To All during rehearsals and Write To End when recording, having those buttons dedicated on the surface is really useful.

I also find D-Control amazingly responsive.  I know it’s just a big mouse, but it reacts instantly and doesn’t fight me.  Some other digital desks I know seem to love to fight.

Up top I mentioned this observation was “qualified”.  Of course, the biggest irritation for me is Avid abandoning the platform just as I'm starting to fall in love with it.  I understand corporations have to chart their own courses--I just wish they had done a redesign/relaunch of ICON instead of abandoning it for the S6 project.

And of course I share the usual gripes about the surface that have been with us since it came out.  The meters are strange, no way around it.  It’s always a shock to go from the meters on the desk to the ones on the Mix screen, especially now that we have such a great selection of meter ballistics in 11.  My personal grump is the control spacing--the console could have been probably a third smaller without sacrificing utility (which would also have made the top row of encoders a little more reachable by standard-sized arms).  I’m not as unhappy with the scribble strips as some others seem to be--they’re a reminder of what the state of the art was ten years ago, but still an enormous source of critical information while working.

Now that I’ve mentioned Pro Tools 11 I can list a few things about it that make my present workflow possible.  First of all, in the configuration I have, it’s much more stable than any other Pro Tools version I’ve ever used.  There was release a few years back that would drop record during concerts, which was not good for my blood pressure.  11 feels completely different in this regard from its predecessors: the spikes are gone from the system status bars, and while this may just be the effect of re-writing the graphics software it certainly doesn’t feel that way.  Taken together this means a reduction in much of the pucker factor when mixing in the box.

Second is the Offline Bounce capability.  Since most of my work involves song-sized chunks I guess I could use the regular Bounce to Disk function and not give up too much, but I always seem to be in situations where minutes count.  The fastest I’ve seen Offline render a selection that involves quite a few plugs, re-entry paths and a bit of automation is around 4-5 times real time, and mostly it’s slower.  But it works, except for one strange bug (11.0.2).  If your session start time is anything other than 00:00:00;00 (I work in television and therefore drop frame) the original time stamp on any bounce you make will be offset by exactly the difference between your session start and 00:00:00;00.  Annoying, but the workaround is fairly simple: keep your session start time all zeros.  Although for me this means the Session Start time is now 15 hours away from the first recorded material, it also means that any bounces I send over to editorial will fall in to their timeline frame-accurate to the camera master time (which saves them a lot of grief spotting).  I hope Avid fixes this soon.

Third is the ability to automate while recording.  This may not sound terribly important, but it’s a huge timesaver.  Now we all know that the automation in Pro Tools is some of the simplest and at the same time deepest ever written for mixing.  Everyone who was big into SSL or Flying Faders automation, raise your hands: automation used to be really scary, and only those who have seen 60 faders suddenly fly to the wrong position after an hour of careful balancing because you missed one button push know what I mean.  Not anymore--I never even bother to turn automation off these days.  The PT automation suite is really the only one that an operator can start using right away and still be confident the automation isn’t out to ambush him or her.

Those advantages really come together when doing music for television.  When a show has a daily delivery, the feed to the network very often starts an hour or less after production finishes.  In our case, it’s always less,  sometimes 30 minutes or less.  Let’s consider the case where something needs to be tweaked in that time.  If you weren’t able to automate while recording you would either have to rebuild the entire mix very quickly or just punch in spots that really need fixing.  If you wanted to make a minor change for one instrument or vocal across the whole song you would very quickly run out of time, losing whatever good moves you made during the live performance.  With the ability to automate while recording your moves are all safe and you can pick and choose which elements require touching up.  When you have the remix finished, you can quickly select that area, do an offline bounce, and 11 will deliver it to editorial in a third the time it takes to play it out (all the while miraculously saving all the reverb tails, compression ballistics, etc).  My favorite application of this is when we do hip-hop and the artist uses language that Standards and Practices is unhappy with.  When this happens I just select the entire performance (with sufficient handles for the editors), mute the channels that may contain questionable language, label the bounce “Song no vocal” and send it on.  Editorial can then quickly drop it on the timeline in sync, and wherever the lawyers object just swap from the line mix to the remix for a few frames.  It means the show isn’t forced into silence, tone, or some other substitute sound and the song doesn’t get interrupted.

Lastly, let’s talk about sonics.  I don’t consider myself a “golden ears” type, but even I can hear the difference between HDX and TDM.  The amount of detail in the audio now is startling.  Overhead mics now actually reproduce cymbal sounds and not the ripping paper sound we’ve all put up with for so long.  For better or worse, things actually sound more like their sources now than they used to.  I don’t know how they did it, but the sonics are dramatically better. 

Once again I’ve taken way too many column inches to say something simple.  I’m grateful for the combination of tools and toys available now that make mixing easier and more fun.  Which is what it’s always supposed to be, isn’t it?


A Little Love for the BeyerDynamic M 160

I guess I've always harbored a deep and unreasonable suspicion of Beyer ribbons because a place I worked at long ago had an M500 (maybe two?) that always seemed to be broken.  After multiple repairs it never seemed to last more than a month before something fell off or the ribbon gave up.  Looking back I'm sure this has more to do with us not treating the thing with some respect, but it was a long time ago.  Maybe we stuck it in front of the kick too much.

Flash forward 25 years or so, and while mixing music for the new Arsenio Hall Show I'm getting requests from three separate acts in the last few weeks for an M 160 on something--guitar, kick, whatever.  Then I get the advance info for the Wayne Shorter Quartet with Esperanza Spalding, and Wayne lists two mics he likes to see these days.  The first is a Soundelux U99, the second, you guessed it, was an M 160.  (The U99 is a little huge for TV and besides I don't know anyone who owns one, much less rents one.)  This is now a trend, I think, and place a call to Ron Cheney over at RSPE to get an M 160.  It arrives the morning of the day Wayne and Esperanza are scheduled, and we literally took it brand new out of the box and put it on Wayne's stand.

Kind of revelatory. Soprano sax is a tricky instrument to reproduce--it can get honky or screechy pretty easily--and when Wayne, who is a master, living legend, sax god of the highest order, started playing it was creamy and warm and still had enough character to stand up in a dense mix with almost no EQ.  They're not cheap by any stretch--street price around $600+, but it's probably the only ribbon I know of that sounds great and has enough pattern control to make it useable on a noisy stage.

So I hereby admit my prejudice was unfounded and give an unqualified endorsement of the M 160.  At some point I'm going to bring the sucker home and try playing some trombone into it.  Not that I'm any good, but I am curious how well that character--slightly forward for a ribbon--will translate for brass.

The performance was amazing--very outside and something of a challenge for mainstream television.  I loved it.  And I got to meet Esperanza!  Let me know what you think of Wayne's sound, if you feel like it.  Thanks again to Ron and RSPE for the hustle.