The following is the second in a five part series from guest contributor Steve Lagudi. Steve has been a touring live sound and studio recording engineer for over 15 years. He has worked with Testament, Exodus, Ill Nino, God Forbid, Napalm Death, Cannibal Corpse, Sepultura, Shadows Fall, and many many more.
Welcome back. In last week’s blog I discussed the initial set up of an Avid Mix Rack system complete with an HDx options card for recording to Pro Tools HD 10 using a Thunderbolt interface with a laptop computer. This is the system that I am currently using to mix Machine Head on this year’s 2013 Rockstar Mayhem Festival tour across the United States and Canada. In this week’s blog I will be discussing plug-ins and snapshots.
One of the awesome and powerful features of the Avid live consoles is the ability to use plug-ins, and there are countless plug-ins available to use on the Mix Rack system. It’s a great way to recreate what was created in the studio in a live environment, or the ability to harness and create exciting new sounds by having hands on access to a slew of virtual gear. This is way better than having racks and racks of outboard gear; however, you do have the option to insert outboard gear if you so desire.
For a lot of the bands that I tour with, and like a lot of you out there, I do not have the ability to always carry my own console. And because of this, when using the Avid console, I always build my show files without any additional plug-ins—I only use the standard onboard plug-ins that come with the console. The reason I do this is simple: not every venue or festival event that has a VENUE console will have every plug-in available. There is nothing more frustrating when you load your show file that has all sorts of plug-ins built into your mix and you come to find out the plug-in is not available. In some cases you can install the plug-ins on the console, but in a festival situation, chances are you won’t have the time to install them. Nor would you want to install plug-ins right in the middle of a show, because if something goes wrong and the console goes down, you run the risk of not being able to do the show.
On my show file for Machine Head, here are the plug-ins I’m using:
4 – ReVibe Reverb: Drums, acoustic guitar, vocals
1 – Digirack Pitch: Vocals
2 – Digirack Extra long Delay II: Vocals
5 – EQ III 7-Band EQ: Tom-tom channels
1 – Focusrite D3 Compressor + Limiter: Snare group
1 – Smack compressor: Main L&R master fader
Drum Reverbs: Any use of FX is to help create space and depth to a mix. Especially reverb. On drums I like to use two reverbs. The “room” reverb really gives me that natural sound of drums in nice size wood room. I add every channel of the drums to this reverb, it gives the drums a nice natural sound. The second reverb, the “plate” is to help add a little more depth and decay tails to snare and toms. For metal, drums are all about that in-your-face sound. Since I use all condenser mics, (except for the snare top), I place every single microphone very close to the source to minimize bleed; however, there is always going to be bleed, especially when my drummer, Dave McClain, hits very hard. The only way I am able to get that over-the-top, crushing drum sound is by utilizing the gates. With very tight gates, the “plate” reverb helps me add that natural decay despite the gate being closed.
Acoustic Guitar Reverb: As the title says, this is used on my acoustic guitars. Yes, even metal bands use acoustic guitars from time to time. My use is pretty straight forward—a plate type reverb with a 1.2 second decay to create a nice bit of depth.
Vocal Reverb: Once again, very straightforward—all the vocals feed this reverb. The type is a plate reverb. The backing vocals have a higher level than my main vocal. By doing so, it helps place the backing vocals to sit a little further back in the mix. For Robb’s main vocal, I have a little less since the majority of his vocal is a very heavy and aggressive, so I tuck the reverb in almost to the point where you can’t even hear it. Machine Head performs a few songs that have more singing style pre-choruses and choruses, so there are times that I really emphasize the reverb.
All the reverbs are configured 1 in/2 out, which means that I use a single mono auxiliary send, but return in stereo. I also have them returning to actual channels on the console instead of the “FX returns”. I do that to have better control, by placing them where I need them on the console. All the reverbs are EQ’d and compressed with the channel processing.
Pitch: All my vocal channels are going to the pitch. I am using it in the 1 in/2 out configuration. Because it is a stereo return, I can treat the left and right channels independently. The left side I pitch down -12 cents, and the right side I pitch up +12 cents to give a nice “thickening” sound to the vocals. The return is EQ’d and compressed.
Delay: Both delays are quarter note delays. The first one is set to zero feedback so it gives me a single repeat. All the vocals are fed to this, and depending on the song, I will just leave it on through the entire song, or on in certain parts, or have it off. The second quarter note delay has a longer feedback percentage, set between 30-50 percent. The feedback levels fluctuate on songs through the use of snapshots. This too is a 1 in/2out configuration. These returns are also coming back in on channels that are EQ’d and compressed. One really cool trick I like to do is to send the delays to the reverbs to give more of a 3D image as the delays decay off into the background. Another trick that I do on the second delay is to slightly send the delay back into itself. By doing this and having the high end rolled off on the EQ, every time the delay repeats, each one gets darker and darker sounding giving the effect of the delay fading away into the background.
EQ III 7-Band: I use all of the channel processing EQ, compression and gates, and as I mentioned above having very tight gates on the toms, I use these EQ’s to further enhance the toms. Using the low pass filter, I can roll back all the cymbal bleed, while adding 3-5Khz to get more stick attack on the toms without them sounding all “washy” from the cymbals. These are being used as “channel inserts” directly on the tom channels.
Focusrite D3 Compressor + Limiter: I LOVE this compressor. I use it all the time, even in the studio. This is used as a group channel insert. My snare channels are assigned to the L&R Bus and to a single group. The snare top and bottom channels have a little bit of channel compression to control the dynamics, but I use the plug-in on the group for parallel compression and set the group fader around -20dB. I have the compressor set to 3:1, fast attack, and medium release. I am not really “crushing” it, but there is around 8-10dB of downward compression. This enables to me to get the snare to sit really nicely in the mix. With the kick, snare, and vocals in the middle, I like to have these three elements working nicely together. In my opinion, that’s when you have a great mix. Having a thick, tight kick drum, a big fat snare, all the while having the vocal right in there. Once you get these working nicely, I find it everything else just falls into place.
Smack Compressor: This is inserted on the Main L&R fader. As with studio mixes, a compressor on the master fader helps “glue” together the mix. That is exactly what I am getting out of this compressor. It also helps smooth out any unforeseen aggressive vocal parts if Robb decides to get up on the mic and scream out to the crowd in between his singing. This prevents me from hitting the limiters on the PA system. Smack sounds really, really good with no coloration to the mix. The benefit of this is for situations when I like to remove the compressor, I don’t have to worry about my mix falling apart, or any level changes. I always set my compressors so when I take them in and out, there is no level change, allowing me to hear exactly what the compressor is doing to the mix, not just “Oh this sounds better” because its louder. My input and output is set to the default 5dB. I have a fast-to-medium attack and release and have it set to the “norm” setting with a 2:1 ratio. The distortion is set to “O&E” for odd and even harmonics.
Snapshots are another great way you can harness the power of this console. For those of you who are not familiar with snapshots, the best way to explain it is that they’re a form of automation. Avid however takes it to a whole other level, giving you total control over the console to do an infinite amount of possibilities. I won’t go into the details on how to create snapshots, instead I will explain how I utilize them.
To be honest, at first I was a bit hesitant to jump into using snapshots—it seemed a bit overwhelming and involved to do, but once I looked into it, it could not be any easier. Like my use of the plug-ins, I keep things simple and easy with my Machine Head snapshots. As you can see from the screenshot, I have a few pre-show snapshots, two special ones, and the rest are snapshots for the songs in the set.
Snapshots 1-4 are my initial start up scenes. “MH Initial – Mute All” is as it states, loading the console up with all the channels, VCA’s, groups, and Mains Fader muted. Snapshots 2 and 3 unmute various channels and get the desk ready for the show. Snapshot 4 unmutes everything and the iPod fader has a “X-Fade” time of 5 seconds. This brings the house music down slowly till it turns off over a period of five seconds, making a nice smooth fade out.
Snapshots 6 and 7 are special. This is a really cool trick that I learned from Robert Scovill when he did his Avid Webinar about snapshots. All these two snapshots do is switch the “Main Vocal” and “Spare Vocal” in the Patchbay. As the show goes on, I spend time adjusting parameters on Robb’s vocal, so in the event this microphone or channel goes down and I need to switch to the spare microphone, with the press of a Function button on the console surface that I programmed into the snapshot, I can instantly switch over and be back up and running with a seamless transition. Snapshot 7 flips it back.
The remaining snapshots apply to each specific song in the set list. No two snapshots are the same. Parameters that change include fader levels, backing vocal mutes, reverb decay times, and delay tempos. As I stated, very basic elements, but yet so very powerful and time-saving. Each snapshot was created during the set, none of these were set up ahead of time. Snapshots are very easy to set up and it’s easy to make adjustments on the fly.
I plan on using all the recorded tracks in the future to sit in rehearsals and make even more in-depth snapshots. That is another beautiful benefit of multitrack recordings, which I will be discussing in the next blog. Until then, take care everyone.