Letters to Mix

NUMBER CRUNCH As a musician working on getting a laptop rig together for live gigs, I was very interested in the article The Outer Limits of Portability

As a musician working on getting a laptop rig together for live gigs, I was very interested in the article “The Outer Limits of Portability” (October 2006). While I certainly appreciate the work involved in creating the elaborate setup used in the test, I wish the participants had approached the issue from the other direction. In my opinion, latency is the Number One consideration for a musician using a computer rig for live playing. It doesn't matter to me how many plug-ins can be run or how many inputs or outputs are addressed if a musician can't be comfortable playing his or her “instrument.”

From the article, there was no time where a setting less than 256 samples was used successfully. I currently use this setting on my PowerBook G4 (1.67 GHz) and find it acceptable, but not ideal — and this is only for soft synths. Processing live audio would, as the article said, double the latency.

What I mean by the “other direction” is fixing the buffer setting at 64 or 128 samples, and then adding soft synths and plug-ins until the CPU is maxed out. In my opinion, this would better help me determine whether investing a few thousand dollars in the latest MacBook Pro and the associated software (like Ivory, B4II, SampleTank, etc.) would pay off or not. Still, it was impressive to see what could be done with a 256-sample buffer setting. Thanks for the enjoyable read!
Rob Aries

Glad you enjoyed our attempt to take the little laptop to the edge. For this feature, we wanted to try to load the computer as much as possible and see if it was still something the players could live with, as far as latency was concerned. While there was discernible delay, our seasoned pros felt it was workable, so we didn't try to go lower and lose other capabilities. As it was, we took it right to the limit, which was our aim. The MacBook Pro is a great little box and I would say that if you weren't asking it to perform such power-hungry tasks as we were, it would certainly do the job you are asking at 64 or 128 samples.
— Kevin Becka

I read the article about Trina Shoemaker (September 2006) and thought it was great. However, Trina misinformed your writer about the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. As a New Orleans native and wife of a producer/engineer who lost his studio in the storm, I must correct her: FEMA did not give everyone affected by Katrina $2,300. Rather, through a random algorithm, they determined who received funding and who did not. Unfortunately, my husband and I, and so many others who evacuated and lost jobs and homes, did not receive a penny from the government. The real helpers were other organizations such as MusiCares, who stepped up to help artists along the Gulf Coast.
Jodi Dieck

In the August 2006 article on hard drives (“Issues and Answers for Recording's New Media”), George Petersen states in the “Counting Tracks” section that “When working on a session on an IDE/ATA drive, you can't record or play Pro Tools files to/from a SCSI disk.” This is incorrect. You can use any mix of drives you want, as long as they are set up properly for playback and recording in the Workspace window.
Arthur Alexander
grtek productions

Thanks for the correction. While I don't recommend splitting audio files within a session across multiple drives, you can use any mix of drives as you suggest.
— George Petersen

I read Paul Lehrman's [“Insider Audio”] column in Mix every month and find it to always be a very compelling read. Thanks for that. And that's why I'm writing. I just wanted to drop a personal line of thanks for the past two columns regarding mixing for live sports (September and October 2006 issues). I'm still relatively young in my career (about seven years in) and long ago abandoned my dreams of working in a music studio once I realized how much more work there was in the world of sports television, especially in a healthy sports market like ours in Denver.

I think too many people seeking careers in audio sometimes overlook areas of great opportunity and instead put on those music blinders, thinking that it's recording studio or bust. Sure, I'd love to be doing music, but I stay busy year round and keep the mortgage current instead of worrying about getting my next booking.

There are some very unique challenges in the world of sports mixing that are taken for granted by the casual viewer watching the game at home, many of which you wrote about. I'd be willing to bet that most music mixers would be lost if asked to set up even a small broadcast in a TV truck, what with mic inputs, tape inputs, PL and IFB assignments, router assignments, heavy (yet judicial and appropriate) DA usage — the list goes on and on.

In no way do I mean to boast on behalf of us TV mixers, but I do think that complex signal paths and routing are our biggest challenges and areas of expertise, where music demands EQ, dynamics, imaging and FX expertise. While we all have our challenges, I think ours is easier to take for granted for its complexity. Add to that the component that you mentioned of having to do it on the fly in a different environment with a different crew and gear selection every time, and things get really crazy, really fast.

Don't forget all the in-game mixers (like me, for the Denver Broncos) and crews out there. Many people cut their teeth for TV in those roles. And while many stadium gigs are low-key, at the upper end of that (the NFL specifically), the show is just as demanding as any TV broadcast or large venue concert.
Jamie Smith
Audio engineer
Altitude Sports & Entertainment

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