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Salo Loyo – Keyboardist and Pro Tools Programmer for Luis Miguel

Originally from Mexico City, Salo Loyo grew up in a family of musicians. From an early age he showed his love for the piano and decided to turn it into a career at the age of 17. In 1985 he arrived in the United States and began his formal musical studies.

Some of the artists he has collaborated with include Jon Anderson (Yes), Marco Antonio Solis, Charlie Zaa and Luis Miguel for whom he has written several hit songs such as “Sol, Arena y Mar”, “Tell Me a Kiss”, “Eres “Feeling You Far” and more. His songs have earned him prestigious awards from BMI, Grammys and Billboard. Apart from his work with Luis Miguel in the studio, Salo is part of his live ensemble playing keyboards and programming/sequencing. Salo Loyo uses exclusively Avid Pro Tools for all his recordings, arrangements and compositions, as well as for the handling of the sequences and the audio flow of Luis Miguel’s live show.

Salo, thank you very much for sharing your thoughts and experience as a musician/producer, and especially as an expert user of Avid products. Tell us, how was your first contact with Pro Tools?

It was about 23 years ago when I was recording with Jon Anderson (vocalist for “Yes”) and they gave me a demonstration of the software, I was hooked from that very moment.

 

How long have you been using Pro Tools and how did you learn to use it?

Around 1999 he was working on making editions for T.V. And the platform they were using was Pro Tools. I remember downloading the free version of Pro Tools. I began to get familiar with it with the old, but sure method of “just checking it out”. I was already familiar with some other recording platforms; however Pro Tools was the one that made the most sense and made the workflow easier, which is always welcome.

Why did you choose Pro Tools over all the array of options that exist?

As I mentioned, Pro Tools has a user-friendly interface, it is easy to use and you record/edit in conjunction with MIDI and audio from a single screen, which saves you a lot of time and keeps the spark of inspiration alive. Ultimately this is the most valuable aspect of the creation process. Pro Tools is the industry standard and therefore one of the great advantages is being able to collaborate with the entire professional community without any problems. Being able to work at home from my laptop and knowing that I can get to any studio, and that my sessions will be fully compatible, it’s truly priceless. Now with the advances in social networks and so on, Avid once again puts itself at the forefront with collaborations through the cloud opening a new world of possibilities to create, share and live our music.

Do you use any other system?

Look, I used almost every systems available, and I’ll tell you in all honesty, I always ended up coming back to Pro Tools for a very simple reason, it’s the easiest most user friendly music system, and I did not have that learning curve that exists almost everywhere else – I did not have that with Pro Tools. And it’s also a fact that one of the most important features of this software is that as far as collaborations with professional musicians are concerned, with Pro Tools as ‘the standard’, you can almost always be sure that your counterpart will most likely be working on Pro Tools too… so, again almost always, collaborations are much easier and fast.

Let’s talk about your live performances on the stage with Luis Miguel, what is Pro Tools’ role?

Indeed, one of my main responsibilities in my work with Luis Miguel is being in charge of the supporting tracks (sequence) and Pro Tools is definitely my DAW (digital workstation) of preference.
It is totally stable and that is the most important thing in a live situation. The ease of editing and configuring groups, outputs and VCAs makes my life a lot easier. To be able to use the same platform from conception of music, to carry it through the whole creative process of production, and then take it live, is very valuable.

Pro Tools is another member of the band and one of the most important. Here’s where we carry all the supporting tracks for the concert. As you know, the music of Luis Miguel is very complex in terms of arrangements and orchestrations, we are talking about big productions with songs that include up to 50 and 60 tracks. To replay this live in its entirety, as he has wished (to sound just like the record), it has become necessary to program additional supporting tracks in Pro Tools, since it would be very difficult to travel and play the tour with an 50-60-piece orchestra. That is where Pro Tools comes in with the supporting tracks that include the additional string ensembles and horn sections. Also, any song can have up to 5 guitar parts (and we only have one guitarist playing live). Bottom line, these base/support tracks bring out the magic when combined with the live music performed by this band of incredible musicians that we have and, in turn, the support that gives us the environment of the sequences.

And finally, another important feature is that each song is associated with a video short film track running along with the sequence and is sent to the video monitors (teleprompter). We have two systems synchronized by SMPTE. The sequence is precisely what binds us all because we are running the teleprompter with the video track that goes directly and exclusively to Luis Miguel. We have a backup system in case there are any glitches, and the SMPTE code is also used by the lighting engineer to synchronize the lighting effects. Pro Tools is a vital element for the Luis Miguel show. With the video track tied with time code to the musical sequence tracks, Luis Miguel will always feel comfortable knowing that everything is going to play in an orderly fashion ,and in the same way, show after show. And since he really likes the show to be exactly the same every night, then the goal is to make the artist feel good and comfortable.

Tell us more about what’s inside your sequences…

Well, there is a bit of everything. There are guitars, keyboards, horns, strings and percussion sounds like bells, waterfalls, keys and even some kind of dramatic effects like some explosions that we used at the beginning of the show and a couple of song endings to add intensity and drama. None of these production elements are really “playable” by any of the musicians, but they are important for the final mix, so it is best to put them into the sequence within Pro Tools.

 

What is your main role as a keyboard player?

I play the synthesizers. I play supporting beds like pads, bells, some strings. Depending on the song, we always choose most of the tracks that can be played with the live band and the rest gets into the sequence inside of Pro Tools.

 

Tell us more about the playback in Pro Tools…

I am exactly in charge of all this and I have full control of right from the stage. The computers or CPUs are behind the scenes, but I have two screens where I see and coordinate everything. As I am playing, also behind the stage next to the CPU there’s another engineer whose main role is to make sure that everything flows and -in case of interruptions or malfunctions- he is in charge of giving us support while we play. But I have full control of the sequence too.

 

What other type of gear from Avid do you use aside from Pro Tools on stage?

All of our streaming equipment is fully Avid including the hardware. We have the HDIO interfaces (two of each) that are interfaces of 16 inputs and 16 analog outputs, and we use 13 of the 16. No matter how many tracks the song has, we squeeze everything through those 13 channels. The systems are all synchronized via SMPTE (time code) as I mentioned already and is generated by the SYNC IO also from Avid.

Let’s talk about the use of Avid recording equipment. Are the shows recorded?

We normally don’t record the shows, but we do record certain elements and parts during the rehearsals. In Luis Miguel’s show, we play several medleys. In order to be able to make the song transitions work well during the live show we record these elements and other ideas directly to Pro Tools from the rehearsals. One more of the many reasons why we use Pro Tools. it is used throughout the process, from rehearsal to stage. I can take a hard drive and connect it to my system, and that’s all I need to be able to do my job and have everything I need. Before we used Pro Tools, it was a very painful process to coordinate all of this. Especially when working with multiple platforms. Above all, making sure everything was the same, nothing moved or fell out of time – or even worse that there could a conflict of compatibility and sample rates. From my experience, this is what I value most about using Pro Tools from start to finish.

 

Since we’re talking about recording rehearsals, tell us how the tour is built?

First we choose the songs. Since Luis Miguel’s career goes back three decades, usually all the shows include a few other songs from the older ones. From there, I talk to the label and request Pro Tools sessions. When I receive the session(s), I then set up what are called the “Stems” (consolidating multiple tracks to a single track or stereo track). I record keyboard “Stems”, strings and horns and assign them to the outputs already pre-established by the FOH engineers. My job is to deliver the balanced mix of the sequence to the engineers and that all the instruments have a stable audio level between all the songs. Doing this with Pro Tools is very easy. Since AVID added the “Clip Gain” function you are looking at the graph and you see it by intensity and by its size, and with that visual reference it is very easy to adjust levels and to get as close as possible to the results you want. All this without changing screens, everything is done on the same screen which makes the workflow – again – as easy and fluid as possible. Yet another key feature that gives us more freedom working with Pro Tools.Another important feature I should add…

Its output assignment. When you are on stage and you have the artist and the rest of the band waiting for you, I have to assign 50, 60 tracks to outputs, so with Pro Tools I can assign groups easily and assign them to their due outputs and all this with just a couple of simple clicks. A shortcut on the computer keyboard (Shift + Enter). And with this, they are assigned! It’s that easy! Like this feature, Pro Tools has many more that let you do substantial jobs in a matter of seconds. This way you will always be ready quickly and the artist will take it into account. You’re always ready and you do not make him wait, nor the rest of the band either and that’s why they like you even more! And of course, Pro Tools also has an advantage allowing the user to arrange things by means of colors, by which all work becomes always visual. When you’re on stage and in the dark, being able to identify and encode things through well-established colors is another plus, which makes working with Pro Tools simply a requirement in everything we do.

Has Pro Tools ever failed you during any of the concerts?

It has failed a couple of times, but not because of Pro Tools itself, but because we dropped the computer… [laughs]. The truth is that the system itself has never failed us, in fact it has always worked extremely well and it is a rock-solid performer.

All Avid equipment that, although designed for studio, is very resistant and withstands perfectly the most demanding situations of the tour. We have played on the beach where the wind blows and the sand flies all over, we’ve played in the ‘palenques’ (mexican rodeo-type entertainment) where drinks are spilled, etc., and in other types of environments where the gear will always be subject to a good portion of heavy duty use and external elements. Avid’s gear is truly the most resistant and well-crafted rugged construction. You can expect the best quality and performance.

 

What can you tell us about using the HD equipment?

Of course, that’s very important too. On the last tour, we started using HD Native. Remember that in previous years, in order to be able to use HD you had to install the audio card to the computer CPU because laptops don’t take CPI cards. Now all that has changed. Pro Tools HD Native small interface connected to the ‘thunderbolt’ port, it’s plug-n-play! And that now gives us the ability to run the HD system through laptops. We no longer need towers. Back in the day it was necessary to carry a giant system and now it is done with just a laptop or two. It reduces the cost and makes it much easier to transport. Especially, in those places like the ‘palenques’, concerts on the beach, small places that do not have the space or infrastructure to put large systems. Precisely it was in one of those places [as I mentioned] that by not having an access ramp to roll the equipment into the venue, was where we dropped the computer and ruined the system. We had to replace it immediately. Here you can see what a big advantage the HD Native means.

Finally, tell us a little about your studio work when recording Luis Miguel’s albums, and with your own band…

That’s right, in fact the way I use Pro Tools and all Avid equipment is basically the same both on the stage and in the studio. The ability to be able to have all the features that I talked about like high resolution recording, grouping, color differentiation, tracks, outputs and ease of use, make Pro Tools undoubtedly the best system. When we are developing a new album for Luis Miguel, after the song selection process, my brother Francisco [Loyo], the music director, and I started to develop what I call the ‘skeletons’, which are the basic sequences in the Pro Tools session. That includes the chord changes (harmonies), the forms and the first ideas of some very basic arrangements -like horns- and from there we come up with everything else. Since everything is born in Pro Tools, taking it to the recording studios and the world stages is the most practical and easiest job in the world.

These days, I am also collaborating with my own band, No-Pals, recording and producing our second EP which will be released by Q2 2017. No-Pals is formed mainly by members of Luis Miguel’s group such as Lalo Carrillo (Bass) and Jeff Nathanson (Sax).

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Radiohead in Concert — a Much Awaited Visit

This story is by Nizarindani Sopeña Romero, Editor of sound:check magazine. This feature originally ran in Issue 220 (December 2016) of sound:check—you can read the story in Spanish here.

After more than three decades of creating exceptional music, Radiohead’s sound is not only contemporary, but also fresh and new, as demonstrated with their new album “A Moon Shaped Pool” which they recently presented at the Palacio de los Deportes in Mexico City. Followers of the band in Mexico were very anxious to hear the new album live. Radiohead’s typical fan is not content to listen to the material they have performed for the past three decades—they want more, and that is precisely what they got.

Jim Warren mixing front of house at the Palacio de los Deportes in Mexico City on an S6L system provided by Firehouse Productions

Up to date

Not only is the sound of the iconic British band cool, so is their equipment. For their latest tour, including the concerts in Mexico City, the band took out the new Avid VENUE | S6L mixing systems, operated by Jim Warren at FOH and Michael Prowda at monitors. “I’ve been working for Radiohead for 25 years,” says Warren, who has witnessed the evolution of their sound. “Their style has evolved over the years, but it’s impressive how they can keep the old songs fresh.”

Warren and Prowda are right at home with Avid consoles, as they have been mixing on various VENUE systems for approximately eleven years. “This console I really like in general terms, but one of the features I find most useful is the consistency with which I can handle many channels on the same surface with the Layouts function, which allows me immediate access to any Group or VCA without the need to navigate between layers of faders,” Warren continues.

Mike Prowda at monitors with S6L

For Warren, Palacio de los Deportes is an acoustic challenge at around 110 Hz: “It’s a frequency that this place really likes. When we launched a sine wave to see what happened, we noticed that it simply came and went, came and went. And when it came back, it did so with greater intensity. But I think sometimes a challenging place does not necessarily make our job complicated, and I think this was the case.” From monitor engineer’s point of view, the acoustic characteristics of the venue affect the mix to a lesser extent. “I think the first thing to do is not to panic. While it is true that we are using personal [in ear] systems, we also use floor monitors,” Prowda comments.

When approaching how to mix each song, Warren likes the idea of teamwork. For him, the group’s feedback is essential in shaping the final sound that comes through the speakers. “The point is that when they get involved in the mix, it allows you to get their perspective. Otherwise, you have more than a dozen songs that may be sonically similar. This is why I like to ask the band to submit suggestions during rehearsals—that has worked extraordinarily well.”

Less is more

Using plug-ins with the S6L is also greatly simplified, eliminating the need to connect external equipment to the consoles. Warren shares, “Curiously, I’m presently not using too many plug-ins when mixing Radiohead. I find that the S6L system offers me much of what I need to do simply with its equalizers and dynamics. I prefer to use effects that are onboard the console, with the exception of third party saturation effects, which give a very nice tonal character. I have worked with analog systems in the past and I’ve had to connect a lot of equipment in order to achieve a certain effect. Today everything is done inside the console, and although you have access to more tools, I am convinced that less is more.”

Prowda has worked in live audio for about forty years, mixing such renowned artists as the Grateful Dead, Nine Inch Nails, David Bowie, Steve Wonder, Whitney Houston, Eagles and many others. Mixing for Radiohead he comments, “It has been fascinating to work with them. There is a lot of complexity in the music and they are very intelligent in what they do. I think all the time you’re putting your skills to the test when working with this band. Working as a monitor engineer for Radiohead has brought me immense satisfaction. When you’re a monitor engineer you become a part of the band, you’re like the fifth Beatle. There is a special connection that makes the work very special. When everything goes well there is nothing better; however, when things start to go wrong, there is nothing worse! What I want to say is that the link is so close to the artists, that you are both part of the same emotional journey.”

After many years of working in the field of ​​monitors, it is evident that Prowda has experienced momentous changes in technology: the change from analog to digital, from floor monitors to personal monitors, and others. “I simply embraced technology. I tried to evolve with it. A long time ago I realized how monitoring was going to progress and I evolved with the technology. It was about making a good sound and a good mix and giving the band something nice to listen to. I feel that the floor monitors were, and in fact still are, a kind of guessing game, because although sometimes it can go very well and I can do a good mix, there are other times in which I simply have no idea how it might sound for the musicians. It’s true that one can use aids to know the balance of each instrument in general, but when you are not in the middle of the stage, it’s impossible to know exactly how everything sounds.”

Most monitor engineers working at this level emphasize the importance of the relationship they build with musicians, precisely because of the closeness of their work to one another. Prowda comments, “The relationship we have established is really great. Off the stage we rarely talk about work, it’s more about joking and talking about other things, but I’m convinced that helps a lot with what we do concert after concert. If you are not able to establish that kind of relationship, your work will probably be affected.”
For Prowda, Avid is not new. In fact, like Jim, he has been working with Avid since 2005, but he confesses to being impressed by the performance of the S6L system. “The preamplifiers are really advanced, which makes it a pleasure to listen to. On the other hand, I agree with Jim about the plug-ins. In 2005 everything was plug-ins, now I think the trend has shifted more towards what the console itself has to offer. Of course I use them, but to a lesser extent.”

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Music: Café Tacvba Tours the World with VENUE

Music: Café Tacvba Tours the World with VENUE

Since 1989 Café Tacvba has been bringing its stylistic diversity to legions of fans, freely mixing rock and with electronic and more exotic instrumentation. During Café Tacvba’s most recent stop in Miami, we had an in-depth conversation with FOH engineer Luis Román (a.k.a “El Valedor”). Román’s career with Café Tacvba spans more than 20 years, both in the studio and on tour. Apart from his work with his credits also include studio sessions and touring with recording artists, including María José OV7.

“Undoubtedly, Avid systems are the best sounding systems and what makes our workflow easier and more effective.”

Luis Román (a.k.a “El Valedor”) FOH Engineer

Román uses VENUE live systems exclusively for mixing Café Tacvba, and we talked with him shortly after soundcheck about mixing Tacvba’s show and how he uses VENUE systems to help bring their music to fans around the world.

How did you first become familiar with VENUE Live Systems?

LR:  I’ve been doing this job for quite some time and eventually you find the gear you want through equipment rental companies, the theaters, festivals, etc. I can tell you that the gear that I’m always most attracted to is because of its good sound —I would say that I use VENUE systems primarily for their sound.

David Parra Monitors Engineer

What are the advantages of using the VENUE over other systems?

LR: The biggest difference is that for a concert of this magnitude, normally you would need two separate systems, one for the house and one for monitors, like any other system. So you would need an analog split to send the audio to monitors and to FOH. But in this particular case, the stage racks are shared by the two [VENUE | S3L-X] systems and there is no analog split. In other words, the connections from the microphones are made to the three stage racks and both systems, FOH and monitors, see the same inputs with independent levels of gain control. If monitors change levels, it will not affect the house and vice versa. The truth is that their operation is very user friendly and the sound is excellent.

One unique feature of VENUE systems is Virtual Soundcheck, how does that improve your workflow?

LR:  It’s a great advantage and a great feature. For starters, you don’t need the band to be physically present on stage. The [Pro Tools] computer is recording the audio from tonight’s show and tomorrow when we set up in the next city we’ll use the audio on that computer to do the soundcheck. I really like the sound of the consoles and their integration with Pro Tools.

LR: How does the band feel about that?

At first it was very strange for them to try to understand the concept of how you’re going to do a soundcheck without them playing. But the system is designed to do just that. After explaining that more in detail to them and after recording the whole show in Pro Tools, we will play back the recording and keep the same gain levels as if the band was playing live. In fact, I had to ask them to play several parts several times, to have more file sources and parameters to choose from.

What about the theatre? Size and parameters will be different…

LR:  The sound is what matters. The way the band sounds on stage and is captured on the computer remains the same. The gear is the same, the guys are the same, their instruments are the same— that’s the whole purpose of Virtual Soundcheck. To set FOH according to what’s on the computer, which perfectly matches the performance of the musicians.

Do you usually prepare these systems with the band during rehearsals prior to the tour?

LR:  Yes. The keyboardist [“Meme” del Real Díaz] is the one who is most involved in all of the technological issues. They are pretty good as far as delegating responsibilities and sharing the workload between them. Meme is mostly in charge of overseeing the productions, recordings, and the live audio—he is the most technical of them. Later on, together, we decide what’s best for the band and the show, and of course they always take into account my final opinion. And let me repeat this—I’m very persistent! In the end what matters most is the sound.

Can you give us a brief description of the systems being used on tonight’s performance?

LR:  Tonight we are using two VENUE | S3L-X systems with two consoles and two engines sharing three Stage 16 remote boxes. Another cool thing about this system is that after the show is over and we go to the hotel, I can hook up just the S3 control surface—sans engine and remote boxes—to my Pro Tools computer and use it to mix my Pro Tools sessions from the gig. The same mixer serves for live mixing at the venue and for mixing the recordings afterwards in the bus or hotel.

“The best advantage of all is that with this type of format [S3L-X] we can now travel with a complete VENUE system wherever we go…. It is extremely easy to transport as well as to set up. As for reliability, I have no complaints—it has never failed us.”

How easy are the VENUE | S3L-X systems to setup?

LR:  Super easy. They only require a few Cat5e Ethernet cables and you’re ready to go.

Do you plan on releasing any of this material being recorded this evening?

LR:  We don’t know. I’m recording primarily for my Virtual Soundcheck files. I am planning on recording all shows on this tour to be used as data files for my work. And yes, the possibility that any of this material could end up being released commercially is pretty high.

LR: What are the cost advantages to touring with the VENUE | S3L-X system vs. others?

LR:  The best advantage of all is that with this type of format [S3L-X] we can now travel with a complete VENUE system wherever we go. The band has already purchased the monitoring system and the space saved is really significant. It is extremely easy to transport as well as to set up. As for reliability, I have no complaints—it has never failed us. During concerts we have beer spilled all the time. It has also rained on it, you name it…and it has not only survived, but worked perfectly. I assure you we are not going to change it for any other [system]. And as I already mentioned before, what matters most to me is the sound!

How has your experience been with getting from Avid and the system providers when using VENUE systems on the road?

LR:  Avid’s support is truly unparalleled. For me personally, it has always helped me to have direct support from [Avid Solutions Specialist] Ricardo “Rocoto” Mantini. Wherever I am and whatever time it is, I’ve never had a problem communicating with him, in all my emails, texts and calls. He is always there to answer and resolve any issues. So Avid’s technical support is world class. As far as the audio providers that work with this type of system, they are usually current and up to date on everything, which means that their support is usually very good too.

Do you think VENUE Live Systems are perceived in the market as “the standard”?

LR:  I think they absolutely are. What confirms this is that on every tour and traveling all over the world—whether in Latin America, Europe or Asia—we always get VENUE systems in the theaters where we arrive. What better way to prove it!

Are you using VENUE files from other systems with your S3L-X?

LR:  Sure. This whole show started on the VENUE | Profile which I then imported into the S3L-X and everything  opened without any problems.

Finally, if you had to start over and redesign your system, would you choose VENUE systems?

LR:  Absolutely, we are very used to Pro Tools and the ease of switching from studio to live. In preparation for the show, we have everything already prepared with Snapshot—song after song, everything is already EQ’d, mixed etc. As we begin the tour we will be perfecting as we go. Undoubtedly, Avid systems are the best sounding systems and what makes our workflow easier and more effective.