VENUE | S6L-16C Makes its Unofficial Debut at the Sundance Film Festival

I woke up in Park City, UT on January 25th, and it was 14° F! Having lived in Phoenix, AZ for the past 30 years, that’s a bit of a shock. I was at the Sundance Film Festival which is held each year at numerous venues across the town of about 8,300 residences. During the festival, the town’s population increases by roughly 100,000 over the two week-long event, and it generates upwards of 200 million dollars for the state. It is a big deal.

What is Sundance? It’s the largest festival for debuting new feature films and short films in the US. So, why was I, as Avid’s live sound market development manager, at a film festival? Well, let’s just say there is a lot going on at Sundance. The festival kicked off on January 24th and ran through February 3rd. During this time, not only is there a lot of film viewing, but there’s also entertainment that goes into the wee hours of the night—everything from panels discussing topics related to the industry to live music performances—and therefore the need for a live sound mixer. Actually, multiple mixers.

Sundance ASCAP Café

I was there with the guys from Performance Audio based in Salt Lake City. They are one of several production companies that are providing equipment for the events. Rental manager John Anderson and I met up late last year and got to talking about the possibility of using our newly conceived, but as of then unreleased, S6L-16C at the Sundance ASCAP Café during the festival. The space is extremely tight at the ASCAP, but it’s a high profile venue and the only one that is actually officially sanctioned by the Sundance Institute.

Although the new S6L-16C would not be shipping by the festival, I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to use this new ultra-compact surface for the gig. After speaking with our product team, we agreed that the system and software were close enough to release to do the event. Perfect! I called John to tell him that we were good to go, and he then asked if we could do a shared I/O setup due to the space limitations of the space. Oh… okay… well, that adds another level of complexity doesn’t it? Again, I go back to our product managers and they sign off on this… phew…

“Let me start by saying that I have been an Avid fan since the debut of the VENUE series, but when I saw pictures of the S6L-16C, I was skeptical. It looked like it was too small to be practical for mixing on a large scale. I was completely wrong. When it arrived at our shop and we set it up, I was amazed at the versatility and power packed into this small fame. It has everything you need to mix in a front of house or monitor position.

The software update is extremely well thought out. It has made it so that everything you need can, quite literally, be in front of you. We routinely do audio for concerts and events where space is at a premium or the client wants to reduce the impact of the mixing positions. I cannot think of another compact console with the sheer mixing power of the S6L-16C. It may not be as flashy as its big brothers in the S6L line, but it holds its own in virtually every way.”

Brett Morgan – production manager, engineer, Performance Audio

Avid VENUE | S6L-16C

Rob McWhorter

So there I was on Day One, and made the trek to the ASCAP Café to meet with Rob McWhorter, who among other duties mixes FOH for Lindsey Stirling. Rob has overseen production at this venue during the festival for the past 17 years, along with Greg Downs, owner of Pale Horse Sound Studios. Rob is handling FOH on an S6L-32D and Greg is going to mix monitors on the S6L-16C. To my knowledge, this was the first use of S6L-16C for real world events in the US. Today, there would be five performances, including The Dumes, Patrick Martin, Judith Owen, Beulahbelle, and Everlast.

Tony Cooper mixing Everlast

“This desk sounds amazing—it brought an entirely fresh nuance to the stage mixes. The flexibility is mind blowing as I was able to configure mix setups individually to each artist. Being new to the S6L I found it a complete joy to customize every bit to exactly how I wanted the desk laid out, while user layouts made sound checks and sets for five acts a day super easy. I loved how easy it was to share a stage rack. Setup was a breeze and tear down was so quick and easy I kept thinking I must have forgot something!”

Greg Downs – engineer, producer, owner of Pale Horse Sound Studios

Greg Downs

Once Everlast wraps up their set, I head over to see Eric Stoddard and Jeremy Cornwall from Performance Audio at the Acura Festival Village; a massive tent purpose built for the festival. There are tents setup in multiple locations to house speaking engagements and performances. Eric and Jeremy are working with a Profile at FOH and an SC48 at monitors. Avid products made an excellent showing this year with John Anderson texting me on load-in day exclaiming, “Holy Avid. Just occurred to me how many (Avid) systems (being used) tomorrow!” After the Acura tent I was going to head over to the Park City Live venue where they had a Profile at FOH and SC48 at monitors, but as the temperature dropped and crowds increased, I decided it was time to pack it in for the night. I’ve seen those consoles a few times 🙂

Acura Festival Village

On Saturday the 26th, I checked in with Rob and Greg to see how things were going, and now I’m heading further up the mountain to the Empire Canyon Lodge, where Salt Lake City-based Poll Sound is providing a VENUE | S6L-24D system sub-rented from Performance Audio for the Counting Crows monitor position. I arrive an hour after load-in is scheduled, hoping to miss some of the fun, but weather and traffic was anything but forgiving. Setup is about an hour behind schedule, but they pull it together and get everything ready in time for soundcheck. The band rehearses for a bit and the show goes great.

S6L-24D used to mix the Counting Crows at the Empire Canyon Lodge

It was nice to see our older desks still being used and the adoption of our new S6L platform doing so well. The only S6L console not on display this weekend was Performance Audio’s S6L-24C, but I learned from John that they used the Stage 64 from that system to accommodate the inputs required for the Counting Crows gig—a perfect example of why the whole S6L Unified Platform of 100% hardware, software, and show file compatibility is so compelling to rental companies like Performance! And the 32D/16C setup remained at the ASCAP Café for the next seven days, and were used to mix over forty acts by the end of the festival!

Jeremy Cornwall from Performance Audio

My words of wisdom to anyone attending the festival for the first time, expect to wait in lines for absolutely everything! As you can imagine, a town of this size is not well equipped to handle the influx of people. However, amazingly, they do it year-after-year with great success.

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Music: My 11th Hour Call to Mix at the Paradise Music Festival

Music: The Story Behind My 11th Hour Call to Mix the Paradise Music Festival

How many times have you been asked, last minute, to mix a band you’ve never heard of, on a PA you’ve never listened too, by someone who has never met you? If you’ve been mixing for any amount of time this has probably happened a lot. As “exciting” as it is, it can also be detrimental to your career—most 11th hour calls are. If you blow it, whether it was your fault, a terrible band, or a bad PA, you will most likely not get a call to come back.

It’s crazy. Bands will spend months in the studio working hand-in-hand with the recording engineer on the minutia of their record in an attempt to make it to sound “perfect.”  However, when it comes to a live gig with thousands of people maybe listening for the first time, it’s like, “Hey, let’s get some guy we’ve never met or heard mix to run sound for our show tonight.” What?!?!?!?! While the recording engineer has had the privilege to mix the band’s songs as many times as they’d like before committing to a final version, the mixer du jour might not have even heard of the band. At best you may get to hear a song or two during a brief line/sound check, but you’ll still be expected to make the whole set sound like the recorded product.

Music: The Story Behind My 11th Hour Call to Mix the Paradise Music Festival

Another thing often overlooked by the band is the tremendous amount of prep work that is required just to get them up and running: patching inputs, labeling inputs/outputs, setting gain, routing to busses and VCAs, inserting processing, etc., etc.—this takes time. For an opening band on one-offs, this work is typically happening during soundcheck and is a terrible distraction for the engineer who is trying get a good mix.  Also, it doesn’t leave much time for making inputs actually sound good. And, of course, this typically happens while the spouses, partners, family members, managers, etc. are looking over your shoulder and providing their “helpful” input. A few minutes later the band is gone and doors will be opening soon. Good luck! So, what can we do to have a good sounding successful show under these circumstances?  Answer: Work like the recording engineer and mix until you are satisfied! This is where VENUE’s Virtual Soundcheck comes into play in a very big way.

“The [VENUE] board is one of the most intuitive digital boards in the market today, not to mention that it sounds amazing. Getting around on it is effortless, letting me focus more on the mix rather than trying to remember what layer or page I’m on.”

—Joel Jiménez FOH engineer

I recently had the pleasure of helping out at the Paradise Music Festival held at the Atlantis Resort on Paradise Island in the Bahamas where I mixed a couple of the opening bands. Zamar Audio Visual and Productions provided a mix of VENUE | D-Show and Profile systems to support the various acts, including Dierks Bentley, Jewel, and Rascal Flatts. I did not plan on this because I was there for audio support, but when I was asked asked to mix two of the opening bands, Casey James and Striking Matches, I said, “Sure!”

I was unfamiliar with both acts, so I quickly ran to a quiet spot, got online and listened to a couple of their songs. This way I could at least familiarize myself with their sound. Knowing that I was only going to be able to hear a few minutes of the band during soundcheck, I grabbed my  Pro Tools HD | Native rig, MacBook Pro and connected them to the VENUE HDx card. I was ready. I recorded just enough to get through all of the instruments and some dynamic variation of the material, but that was sufficient to use post soundcheck to listen to (headphones only) and cleanup my inputs.

If you’ve never tried this, you would be absolutely astonished by how much work you can do and how much of an impact this can have on your overall mix. Within 15 minutes I was able to set better gain structure, set filters (which cleared up a tremendous amount of low and high frequency noise), listen to compression, check gates, and listen to my delays and reverbs, as well as setup some automation for the show. With limited time and being under pressure it’s easy to make excuses like, “There isn’t time for Virtual Soundcheck,” or “It just won’t make that big of a difference.” Whether you are a mixing novice or a veteran, I suggest you try it—I’m certain you will be surprised. I believe there is no better way to improve your skillset as an engineer. We now have the tools to improve our mixes immediately and become better engineers overall. I have yet to meet an audio engineer that can say, “Yep, I’m done, I simply cannot learn more or get any better.”

This was a great show and I was able to meet some fantastic engineers for the other bands.  I want to sincerely thank Chris Meyer, audio manager from Zamar Productions, the console and PA provider for the indoor events. I had a chance to catch up with an old acquaintance, Joel Jiménez, who is FOH engineer and production manager for Jewel. I was sharing what a great tool Virtual Soundcheck was for the bands I was mixing, and he shared similar experiences. “I love the ability to have most of my heavy lifting done via the offline editor even before I walk into rehearsals. Plus, the ability to seamlessly hook up a laptop with no fuss at all and multi-track the show.” He explained that this gig was special since Jewel hadn’t had a band out since 2008, so having the ability to archive the performance was very important. I asked Joel why he was still mixing on VENUE systems after all these years, and I guess his answer didn’t surprise me. He said, “The board is one of the most intuitive digital boards in the market today, not to mention that it sounds amazing. Getting around on it is effortless, letting me focus more on the mix rather than trying to remember what layer or page I’m on.”

“The physical controls and racks are straightforward and user friendly—a joy to sculpt a mix with.”

—Chris Meyer, Audio Manager Zamar Productions

When I spoke with Chris Meyer after the festival, he shared similar thoughts about why VENUE systems cover 90% of the riders that Zamar receives for events across the Bahamas. “VENUE consoles are the industry standard. We cater to most of the acts coming here as fly-ins: we’re providing back line, mics and DIs, PA, monitors, in ears, wireless, etc., and while all these items can vary from band to band, VENUE consoles, as choice, do not.”  Chris credits the same intuitive workflows as Joel for VENUE’s industry adoption. “I love the layout—it’s all there to touch and find my way to whatever I need. The physical controls and racks are straightforward and user friendly—a joy to sculpt a mix with.”