Known as the “jewel of the Canadian Broadcast Centre”, Glenn Gould Studio in Toronto features world-renown acoustics and supports everything from recording sessions to live performances and corporate events. GGS already had an Avid System 5 console installed in its control room, but recently upgraded with dual Avid VENUE | S6L systems to handle the hall’s live performances. I spoke with GGS’s Greg DeClute (Recording Engineer/Technical Supervisor) and Kyle Kutasewich (Senior Broadcast Technologist) about the upgrade and how they are using the systems for their diverse needs.
DH: Tell me at bit about the CBC and the Glenn Gould Studio in particular. What sort of concerts and events do you support?
GD: The CBC itself is like NPR in the States. We’re public broadcasting, except that public broadcasting plays a much bigger role in Canada than it does in the US. We are much more like the BBC. The Glenn Gould Studio, which is located in the Canadian Broadcasting Centre in Toronto, was originally a concert hall and recording studio but has now grown into a multi-use facility. When they designed the facility years ago, the acousticians and architects went to Vienna and studied their concert halls in an effort to replicate them in a down scale version for us, and that’s what they did. It’s an amazing sounding room. It’s a super quiet room. The background noise has been measured as low as 12dB. It’s a really well-tuned, small scale concert hall.
It’s also a full out recording studio—there’s a control room and an equipment room. It was originally built for the CBC Radio Music department. We did a lot of live-to-air concert broadcasts from here, sometimes three or four a week. It’s gone from a place that was just for CBC Radio Music’s use, to a facility that is open to anybody who wants to come and rent it.
Most of the recording sessions we do now are either classical recordings for commercial release or film soundtrack work. In the last few years, music for A Beautiful Planet, Manchester by the Sea and Life of Pi has been recorded here. We also do a lot of concerts—generally classical concerts, although not always. Some will be live recordings and some are just straight up concerts.
If it’s not classical then it’s usually jazz or folk, acoustic music, because it’s a concert hall. A rock band in here is not great because it’s a pretty live room. Another thing that we’ve moved towards now is corporate events. We’ve outfitted the theatre with a lot more AV technology. A year and a half ago we put in a 300-inch screen with a 14K projector. We do a lot of corporate events, which could be awards shows, charity events, or corporate town halls. A fair number of our corporate events are also webcasts, so it’s really a multi-use facility now.
DH: Was the S6L purchase part of a larger upgrade, or were you just specifically upgrading the console?
GD: When I came here almost three years ago, we started upgrading. Our goal was to make GGS a world-class facility with a world-class infrastructure. Over the last two and a half years we have upgraded a lot of our infrastructure, but each upgrade is an individual project. We decide which upgrade we will do next based on which is the most necessary at the time. For instance, this year we’re doing lighting. Last year, when we installed the S6L’s, we were at a point where the audio gear we were using was failing, so it became a priority to do a project to install a new FOH and monitor infrastructure.
DH: Tell me about the process. What were the most important needs that you were trying to address—what was your approach?
GD: Being a crown (public) corporation there are very strict guidelines when we make purchases of that size. We go through a strict purchasing process to make sure the process is fair to all of the manufacturers. We had a number of consoles that we looked at. One of the main things we were looking for was shared resources between front of house and monitors. We often have to do a three-way split. When we do live recordings we use FOH, monitors, and the S5 [Avid System 5 studio console] in the control room to do the multi-tracking. That means we need a three-way split. We were using a stage box on the stage for one split and the second split was in our equipment room.
I wanted a shared resources type system because I wanted get rid of the first split to clean up the stage. I didn’t want the stage box on the stage anymore. Another thing that was important to me was redundancy, audio engine redundancy. Not all of the other manufacturers have that. Some of the systems we looked at had the audio engines in the console themselves. We do a fair number of events where we only have front of house and don’t have monitors. On a corporate gig we wouldn’t have monitors, the monitor console would be packed in a road case backstage. If our first engine was to fail, it would be time consuming to unpack the monitor console, pull out the engine and put it into the FOH console. I like the idea that the S6L has a separate engine that we could put in a rack in our equipment room. We can have access to both engines even though we were only using one console. We built the two engines into the AVB ring so that our front of house console has access to both engines. If one was to go down we can jump to the other one.
DH: Tell me more about how your recording workflow. Are you using S6L’s onboard recording features, or are you splitting everything off to the System 5 and dealing with it separately?
GD: We have two kinds of concert recordings. One is what we call, for lack of a better word, an archival recording, which is when the front of house person will do the recording. That is a live 2mix that will provide the client with a document of what happened on the night. If we’re going to do a multitrack recording that is for commercial release, then we will have a recording engineer in the control room who will multi-track to Pro Tools through our HD system, and it will be mixed later.
We really liked the fact that the S6L was an Avid product and that it was integrated with Pro Tools because everything we do is Pro Tools here. I really wanted to implement the idea of the Virtual Soundcheck. When we do archival recordings, our front of house engineer is being asked to mix front of house and mix a live recording at the same time. I really wanted to give them the ability to do the Virtual Soundcheck so that they can concentrate on one mix at a time during setup and soundcheck.
We have an equipment room where the brain of the System 5 lives. The FOH Stage 64 and the two engines for the S6L’s live there too. The FOH console lives in a balcony in the back of the theater. We have a fiber connection between FOH and the equipment room. The monitor console lives in a road case that’s backstage. When it comes out on stage, it gets connected via Cat6 cables to trunks in wall boxes on either side of the stage, that run back into the equipment room. The monitor console has its own Stage 64 that sits beside the console on the stage.
KK: We actually have 96 analog lines that we can take from anywhere in the studio area, so that we can take it back to the patch bay and then do our analog patching and share signals between the two consoles.
GD: We do an analog split through Radial splitters in the equipment room. One side of the analog split goes to the Stage 64 and the other side of the analog split goes to the front end of the System 5. The reason we did that is that we have 24 channels of high-end mic pres that we can access for the S5. I wanted to do the split in the analog domain, so our recording engineers could use those mic pres and/or the front end of the S5 and be isolated enough that they could completely do their own thing, and it wouldn’t affect anything happening with the S6L.
DH: Were you using a lot of outboard gear before?
GD: Yes, one of the things that caused us to go this way in the first place is that we had an analog patch bay that was failing. We had a lot of outboard gear. This upgrade allowed us to get rid of the patch bay and really pare down our analog outboard gear.
Another of the reasons that we went with this console is that it looks very much like the S5. I can see that the philosophy is very similar. The displays on the S6L look very much like the S5. The engineers that work here already know the S5. I knew that they would have a very shallow learning curve to go to the S6L, because they were already very familiar with it. When we looked at the other consoles, it’s just a completely different paradigm. We would’ve been starting from the beginning, whereas this way we sort of felt like we were already halfway there.
KK: I would add from a maintenance perspective, I really was very much in favor of going with a product that was integrated with the S5 and Pro Tools. I would just add I’ve been really impressed with the support that we’ve received from the various companies during the installation and the shakedown and all that.
DH: You are sharing stage boxes between the two S6L’s over the AVB network. This must be the first time that your engineers are using any kind of I/O sharing between consoles—how has that been?
GD: It’s been great. When some of the engineers or the assistants showed up on the first day, they had to get their minds around the idea that one patch in the stage rack goes to both consoles. That sometimes surprises people who aren’t aware of that technology.
Once they get past the single patch thing, the next thing that comes to them is, “Oh, but, how is that going to work with only one mic pre?” So, people are always astounded at how that technology works for gain tracking.
KK: It’s pretty impressive.
GD: I haven’t had anybody mention to me that it’s noticeable to them in any way.
DH: Do you have a lot of guest engineers coming in mixing on these systems, or do you exclusively use the engineers on staff?
GD: It’s exclusively our engineers, people that we know, people that have worked here for a long time. We don’t get outside engineers coming in with a band that’s on tour and mixing front of house. Sometimes monitors, but not front of house. Sometimes the touring front of house engineer will be up in the balcony with our engineer, but our engineer actually mixes. They know the room, they know the console. It just makes more sense for us to do it that way. The touring mixer sort of produces the mix. They work together.
What I found is that everybody really loves the console. I think for two reasons. Firstly because of the “everything is two touches away” philosophy and secondly, the interface is very intuitive. It is such a great thing to move from an analog console to a digital console and have recall and snapshots. We have many repeat clients who do their annual events with us. After we have done it once with the S6L, we can just recall configs and snapshots and save ourselves and our clients a lot of time. People are really loving the full recall.