Roy Thomson Hall is home to the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Toronto Mendelssohn Choir, and hosts some of the world’s biggest acts and events throughout the year, including the Toronto International Film Festival. To handle its diverse performance requirements, the 2,630 seat hall recently upgraded it’s front of house and monitor positions with dual Avid VENUE | S6L systems installed by Solotech Toronto that share I/O over an Ethernet AVB network. I spoke with Doug McKendrick, production manager for Roy Thomson Hall and Massey Hall, about the recent upgrade.
DH: What kind of programming do you have throughout the year that the new systems will be supporting?
DM: The Toronto Symphony Orchestra is our primary tenant, and they occupy a large footprint of our year here. There are a number of annual events and series, including high profile speaker events and popular music, such as Aretha Franklin, Diana Ross, Pink Martini and Chris Botti for example. And of course Roy Thomson Hall is home of the Toronto International Film Festival Gala screenings every fall. We host a wide spectrum of public events and then we switch quite quickly between corporate events and Orchestra rehearsals throughout the day. Recently we were dealing with 90-100 channel counts for amplified orchestra events.
DH: What was your setup at the Roy Thomson Hall when you started looking into upgrading your system?
DM: We had a Yamaha PM1D at Roy Thomson Hall for about 14 years that served us very well, but it was time. The PM1D was fixed in the sound booth which is on the balcony level of the auditorium and is sometimes not a desirable mix position for guest engineers coming in with a tour. With a new console project on the horizon, we were looking at options that would provide flexibility. We wanted to have a console that could fit through the booth door and move down to the main floor easily when needed, as well as maintain access to the second floor booth as usual. We had to look at dimensions and weight because to get it to fit through the booth door we had to devise a custom cart that essentially tips the console on its end like it would be in a road case. So one of the big selling points, aside from all of the great functionality, was the dimensions and the weight. We were successfully able to do that and we also added the first ever monitor console here at the Hall as well.
DH: How were you dealing with monitors before?
DM: Before we were always renting consoles. We would typically bring in two consoles. We’d have to run a snake, and you know all that stuff. Those rental costs were a huge factor in looking at the value of adding the monitor board, and with S6L’s whole I/O sharing feature, we were able to do that without having to add additional copper infrastructure and split snakes and the like. It was also really important that we have patchable locations all over the building, so the ability to have three stage racks was really key, in the fact that we could put one in the booth, one stage left and one stage right and be able to utilize all of them and both consoles.
DH: Sounds like the S6L’s are a good fit in delivering what you needed them to do.
DM: Yeah, it’s been great. We’ve got a fully redundant fiber ring and we were able to devise a way with a fiber patch bay in the booth to just move a patch, and we can then either take the monitor console out of the ring or add it in and move the front of house console down to the main stage but leave the associated stage rack and engine in the booth. So the only thing we have to move down to the main floor is the surface.
DH: What console configurations do you have for the respective front of house and monitor positions?
DM: We have the 32 fader for front of house and we have the 24 fader with only one screen for monitors, which I know isn’t the most common one out there, but it’s been great. And you know, looking at other options in a similar budget range, we really weren’t going to have much more than one screen anyway, so it’s been a good fit there.
DH: So aside from the needing to have something that had dimensions that would let you actually move the front of house console down to the main hall, how did you and your team approach the decision in choosing the new consoles?
DM: We looked at a lot of different consoles and it seemed like the S6L was very cutting edge. I know that we were somewhat of an early adopter here, but I’ve been an Avid user throughout my career, not just in management at Massey Hall and Roy Thomson Hall, but as a touring engineer. A huge factor in deciding was that the fact that we are largely a road house and need the flexibility to accommodate a wide array of needs from touring productions. Having the backward file compatibility with the previous VENUE systems will really help our users and guest engineers feel comfortable, in that they can bring a file that they were used to using on to the new system without having to rebuild. That was a big selling point. I don’t think anyone else has really got that to the same degree. I’ve experienced it myself, bringing VENUE [show] files into the new system, and with the exception of effects return changes, it traveled perfectly. It was just like how I left it, except it just sounded way better!
DH: What about some of the newer features—do you use S6L’s custom fader layouts?
DM: You know, that was a really important one for our sound team here, specifically with having over 100 channels distributed throughout the building. You can park the house wireless mikes down at the end, but always have them on top easily.
DH: How are the systems sounding now that you have everything installed and dialed in?
DM: It’s exceptional. We have a Meyer PA with Galileo front end and Optocore transport, but previously we were feeding the system analog from the PM1D. So A, being able to switch to AES from console to speaker; and B, the increased sample rate and just the quality of the pre’s and converters—it’s far more open and clean and pristine. The audio is noticeably different, even just playing a CD.
In 2002 Roy Thomson Hall went under a substantial acoustic enhancement and we’ve been very particular about doing everything we can to enhance and improve both the audience and artist experience on an ongoing basis. Having the right system that supports the diversity of the venues programming is essential.
DH: To what degree are you using sound reinforcement for the orchestra?
DM: There are certain times where we have a smaller PA system that serves as sort of like a public address, but you know, movies have become a major part of the orchestra season as well as Pops. For those events, we’re oftentimes micing the whole orchestra and integrating a band or movie dialogue or something like that into it.
DH: How does S6L’s Pro Tools integration apply to supporting your clients?
DM: There are many events here that are captured or streamed, whether it’s archival, commercial or for web. Having the ability to multi-track or play back from multi-track so easily was a huge selling point for sure, especially with it just being an Ethernet cable, rather than another rack. I think it’s so new to us that we haven’t even really fully realized what the potential is for it, because it’s not something that we’ve had. But there are certainly many recordings done at Roy Thomson Hall, and now we have an option to do it excessively at a higher sample rate than previously without bringing in all sorts of extra gear.
DH: As far as the I/O sharing goes, it sounds like you didn’t have much experience with that before. What has that been like for your team?
DM: We haven’t really found it to be any different than normal if you don’t go in with a preconceived notion that it’s going to be bad. Advancing certain events has been a struggle, because people have had bad experiences with it on other systems before. But if you don’t know that you are I/O sharing, I don’t think that you’d even notice the difference.
We don’t run into situations where the monitor person is trapped because the front of the house person hasn’t gotten to an input yet or vice versa. And because there’s no visual display of knobs moving when someone else touches it, I think it adds a comfort level that’s not really any different than just operating with a split. I think that makes a big difference in the perception of it. I think the [software] update for I/O sharing came out basically right as we were installing the consoles, so we were out of the gate with it, and we didn’t run into any problems at all.