New Year, New Skills

It’s 2017, and technology continues to amaze and sometimes confuse us with its wondrous progress. For every new smart phone feature, there is a bug that must be patched. For all the coolness of a new digital console, there is a learning curve that must be met. But, with all our doing, are we moving forward with our skill set, or are we just doing the same thing on a new device? Let’s look at some ways we can improve ourselves this year.

Soundcheck used to mean the repeated striking of one drum at a time followed by plucking and tapping of the other instruments in isolated succession as the FOH engineer dialed in the channels individually. This approach, however, does not reflect how music is played. A live band is an ensemble, and soundcheck should reflect this fact. A better method is to perform a line check before the band arrives to insure each mic, DI, and line is working and routed to its proper locale. Soundcheck, then, can be a time for the band to play together and hone their music as a whole. The acoustic guitar may sound tremendous by itself, but in conjunction with the keys, stems, and electric guitar, it may sound muddy. The solution is to shape the acoustic guitar tone in harmony with the other instruments in real-time, since that will be the end result anyway. Plus, musicians love to play, and restraining them from doing so only creates tension between the stage and the booth. It is better to set the band free and work with what they present.

Even coverage of the sound system across the room is more important than running the system in stereo or in a complex LCR configuration. Learning how to achieve smooth coverage begins by walking the room during soundcheck and listening to how each section sounds in relation to the others. If the balcony response seems dull, look at what high-frequency components are directed toward the balcony. If the horn coverage appears complete, consider rolling off the low-end signal directed toward the balcony before simply turning up the treble. Conversely, if the under-balcony is too bright, bring down the high-end instead of boosting the low-end. If the central cluster sounds distant or “washed-out”, try adding some slight delay (2-5mS) to the side speakers relative to the central speaker. This delay will often clarify the response and eliminate the need to EQ the cluster to any extent. For lobby, cry room, and other ancillary spaces, remember to delay their signal relative to the main system to increase clarity and reduce gain since the sound arrival time will be constructive between the two.

Digital consoles are great, but many engineers have a difficult time getting them routed and set up. For better or worse, audio is now part of IT, and learning how to set up and configure a network is part of the job. There are excellent YouTube tutorials on the subject, and most don’t even require a regimen of Mountain Dew and Doritos to navigate.

Connector termination is a skill any competent audio tech should possess. From soldering an XLR to trimming and crimping a CAT6 cable, the ability to create your own interconnects is essential to success. Try practicing on cables that have been discarded, or take one long 100’ mic cable and make ten 10’ jumpers from it. Repetition creates muscle memory to build an automatic process that repeats over and over without the bane of cold solder joints or misaligned RJ45’s.

For 2017, learning some new tricks will instill newfound confidence and ability in the way we perform our tasks. It will also make us a more valuable member of the team.

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