Over the past couple years, we’ve noticed a trend of more studio engineers going out with the band, taking on a front-of-house mixing role for the tour once the group hits the road. With that in mind, we spoke to Avid senior market specialist (and award-winning live sound mixer) Robert Scovill, who shared some advice for Pro Tools–savvy studio engineers taking this leap into live sound and using Avid’s VENUE Series consoles.
FIRST THINGS FIRST
“It might seem obvious, but the first step for a studio engineer moving into working with VENUE is realizing that with live sound, the performance is outside the box,” Scovill says. “You have to change your mindset somewhat—you can’t treat your audio ‘tracks’ as a constant every day, but what can be a constant is everything you’ve built up inside the console.
“When beginning to use VENUE, some Pro Tools users stumble a bit because it runs on snapshot automation rather than run-time automation. When mixing live, there usually is no time base, unless the band is slaved to a clock or click track, so the source inputs vary from day to day. Live mixing is more hands-on, but using snapshots can be set up to be very repeatable. There’s an element of live sound automation that has to be very nimble, especially if the artist takes a left turn during the set list or somebody messes up and puts in an extra chorus. You have to be able to adapt to any changes that might happen.”
According to Scovill, it’s also important to be aware of the differences between two inherently similar topologies. “The Pro Tools mix engines and the VENUE mix engines are built on the same technology but purpose-built for different applications. The VENUE engines are more robust, with more redundancy features such as the ability to continue mixing with all plug-ins working, even if the host computer fails.
“VENUE is not a tactile interface for Pro Tools. It might look like an ICON and operate in some ways like an ICON, but it’s a stand-alone control surface with a mix engine that does not control any aspect of the Pro Tools mix engines. Pro Tools operates as an attached recorder/playback device. Now with inter-op, we’ve established meaningful communications between Pro Tools and VENUE via Ethernet. We also have some marker transfer, so when you recall a snapshot in VENUE, it can place a marker of that name in a Session, and once you’re done recording, that makes it very easy to navigate [through] a Session from the VENUE surface. When you’re in Virtual Soundcheck mode, it will push Pro Tools to that location and go into play. This also makes it easy to do editing after a show. For example, creating post-show MP3s can be a 20-minute process instead of hours.”
As with many digital products, there are always a few tricks that aren’t so obvious to the casual user. “VENUE is a digital console, but we scale meters in an analog fashion so you’ll see a range on an input meter that’s scaled from -30 to +15 dB, and zero translates to -20 dBFS on your Pro Tools recorder,” says Scovill. “You have to be very aware of where you’re setting input levels to make sure you’re getting as high a resolution of conversion as possible. We have a feature called Gain Guess that helps to use this effectively. Once you’re in Input Attenuator mode, you can hold down on the encoder and let it sample the input signal, analyze it and set it to the proper value so it’s optimized for both the console and Pro Tools. Setting input gain becomes a no-brainer.”
Another simple but useful tip involves using the Fine settings on the console vs. the Coarse settings. “When the console boots up, it’s in Coarse mode, meaning about two turns can move through an entire range of a pan or EQ boost. If you double-click on the Fine mode, it takes about 10 or more turns to go through the entire range. I always suggest doing setup in Coarse mode, then switch to Fine mode from the time the house lights fade to the end of the show. This is particularly useful for monitor engineers, especially those mixing for in-ears, where you really need a higher resolution of control. You just have to push the button twice and it stays in that mode.
“I also encourage live sound engineers to get away from using the trackball/mouse unless you’re in a setup mode,” Scovill continues. “You shouldn’t need to have your hand on the mouse the entire night. With all the encoders and control built into the console, the encoders will operate every aspect of the mixer—including plug-ins. It’s a console so operate it as a console. Trackballs can be scary in a live environment, where you might be trying to adjust something and your hand slips or your arm gets bumped, and what was to be a 2dB adjustment becomes a 20dB increase. So get off the trackball, get on the encoders in Fine mode and let’s go to work.”