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Mix Blog Live: SDMF?

A few nights ago, I mixed a show at the Emerald Queen Casino in Tacoma, Wash. We’ve played there every year since around 2000, and it’s become one of our favorite venues. It’s one of those rare gigs that’s a no-brainer: The house crew is great, the fans are enthusiastic, the room is always packed, and the band looks forward to it. We’re looked after by Agility AVL and Carlson Audio Systems (both of which do a great job), and though the room is a bit tough to mix because it’s on the live side, they’ve got it dialed in nicely. Entertainment Director Bill Bollie jokes that we’re his house band.

We had a choice of consoles for this show and opted for a Yamaha PM5D at FOH and an Avid Profile at monitors. The PM5D is loooong in the tooth (pushing 15 years) and people laugh at me for it, but I love that desk. I find it very easy to get around, I can see it in the dark, and my brain doesn’t hurt after I’ve mixed a show on it.

A friend of mine stopped at FOH after the show to say hello and noticed the desk. He runs Midas M32s, and we’ve had a few discussions about them. Great bang for the buck, easy learning curve and flexible routing. Not being familiar with a lot of digital desks, he asked if I was able to use scene files created on the M32 for the PM5D. Physical media differences aside—the PM5D uses PCM/CIA cards (yikes) for storage, while the M32 uses the now-standard USB thumb drive for storage—the files are incompatible.

Many engineers who enjoy console du jour (i.e., we don’t tour with our own mixing desks) know how much fun it is to carry a wallet full of USB drives, each with files for an assortment of digital mixers. File transfer between two “identical” desks from the same manufacturer can be dodgy; if the operating systems are different between the stored file and the console you’re loading, they don’t always play nicely. Many of us have experienced glitches when attempting to load files created on a newer OS into a desk that’s running an older OS. I’ve even crashed a system that didn’t like the OS of a saved file.

Luckily, some manufacturers provide translator files (notably DiGiCo and Yamaha) that work very well when moving files from one model to another. But no one has attempted a translator that could convert a file made on, say, a Midas desk into a file that could be used on another manufacturer’s desk.

I imagine there would be quite a few wrinkles to iron out, but the idea of having a “Standard Digital Mixer File” (SDMF™ La Cerra) is attractive. I’m sure that manufacturers of digital consoles think about this and have fits for a variety of reasons: they don’t want their code to be public, they don’t want to be responsible for what happens when a file created on another manufacturer’s desk is imported into their OS (and vice-versa), and tech support could result in a lot of finger-pointing. Those are all legit concerns.

Somehow, I can’t help but recall the reaction from the majority of companies that manufactured keyboards, drum machines and samplers at the time that MIDI was being developed. “Why would we want our keyboard to talk to another company’s drum machine? The sky would certainly fall.” We all know where that led. Electronic music completely exploded with the advent of MIDI and it was good for business all around.

I wonder if there’s someone, somewhere, who’s working on a way for a file created on a Yamaha CL5 to be converted for use on an Avid S6L. Just sayin’…