Having recently retired, I thought I would get all of this free time back into my life.

In a way, that much is true.

Only I have been filling it up.

Big time.

This weekend I will be recording and doing front of house for a concert event on the Saturday evening and then an audio training session on the the Sunday afternoon.

Fortunately, the console I am using for the Saturday evening event is the same console that I will be working on for Sunday’s training session.

The problem with all of the new digital consoles these days is that they are really software platforms with physical controls.

And learning the ins and outs of digital boards is more and more like learning the ins and outs of software applications.

Back in the analog days, most consoles had somewhat familiar control structures. A bit like going from one car to another. It didn’t take much time to get a handle on the basics.

With digital boards, well that all has changed.

I find that the software platforms, although very powerful, can also be somewhat cryptic in terms of the user interface. Inconsistent terms, menu trees, and proprietary user interfaces can make for a bit of a tense experience when using some of these boards on a more casual basis.

I’ve spent most of my years working on analog Neve and SSL desks and I am very familiar with how they operate. With live sound, anything from analog Midas to Soundcraft boards. Oh, and a lot of time on smaller analog desks from Allen & Heath, Mackie and others over the years.

But now, the digital desks from Yamaha, Midas, Digico, Avid and others all have very different approaches to the workflow of audio engineering whether live or studio.

It’s almost like once you have learned one platform, you really don’t want to learn another. It can be like starting over.

At least this weekend will be on desks that I can work around pretty well.

But I spent most of the day today programming the console for Saturday’s event.

Yup. Programming a sound board without the soundboard in front of me.

Just like running a software application. In fact, it was a software application. Offline configuration.


And complex.

Audio Work

In a few weeks time I will be doing some work on a live recording project.

I think part of this work includes me doing the actual recording on site. Which I am fine to do. Except that I have no remote recording equipment.

I had sent a note out earlier to clarify whether I was expected to bring a remote recording rig — which I would rent for the event — and I have not yet heard back from the event itself. I guess I’d better get busy on that one. Enough of being retired and sleeping all the time.

I’m doing an audio training session the next day in the same city. Fortunately, for that session, I don’t require a recording rig.

I will require a bit of help though. A lot of material to cover in a couple of hours and trying to teach audio engineering without doing any audio engineering is very challenging. The best approach is hands on with a live band. But it will just be me. I might try doing a few things with my laptop as a proxy.

Getting ready for the upcoming work gave me a chance to look back on some of my material, doing before and after passes and the difference that a mix can bring to recorded tracks.


Laptop Mixer

When I retire in July and I start traveling more extensively, I won’t be leaving my mixing work behind. Here is as quick walkthrough of my new portable mixing rig. I am pleasantly surprised with how well this rig performs. Amazing technology.

Bounce Stems In Pro Tools

“Hey Richard, could you get me stems for that project we did in 2006?”

Back then I was running Pro Tools 7. Bouncing tracks to create stems was really time consuming and I used to avoid producing them. I would create mix minus tracks which consisted of one single stereo bounce, the mix print, minus selected instruments or vocals. Those would be run in real time.

First, a bit of context. Some artists will request stems if they are intending to use studio tracks as backing tracks in a live performance. In the session pictured above, we might choose to create the following stems:

  • Bass Guitar Stem
  • Drums Stem
  • Percussion Stem
  • Keyboards Stem
  • Guitars Stem
  • Lead Violin Stem
  • Backing Violins Stem
  • Click Track Stem

By cutting them separately and ensuring that they all start at the same time, the artist can use a laptop running Ableton Live, Logic or some other DAW, and create a live mix based on whatever instruments might be needed.

Back 10 or 15 years ago, making stems was a real pain and there were few requests for stems in music production. Pro Tools was real-time bounce only which meant that at a bare minimum, 8 stem tracks would take about an hour or so to record as multiple passes were required to create the stem tracks. And setting up the session so that stems could be created was a real pain.

With Pro Tools 12, life is so much easier.

My workflow looks like this. The first thing I do is put the session into grid mode so that my markers will be precise. I mark the entry and exit points for the stems by going to my master output fader (or whatever output bus prints the overall mix). I ensure that there is a two-bar count-in for the click. And I select the area to be printed for the stem tracks on the output bus like so:

Let’s say I want to create stems for the Drums. I start by selecting all of the tracks that I do not want to include in the stem.

I make all of those tracks inactive.

All of the selected tracks are now inactive leaving just the drums and any of the processing tracks (e.g. reverbs) open.

I have to select just the master track now making sure that I still have the in and out section highlighted.

Time to bounce the stems for the drums.

A dialog will come up prompting me for the filetype, name and location for the bounced track.

And that is it. Pro Tools will bounce the active tracks to a stem in faster than real-time. All I need to do is repeat the process for the balance of the stems. So, if Bass was the next stem, I would make it active, ensure the unneeded tracks were made inactive, select my Master track and do another bounce. I would repeat the process for all of the stems.

With Pro Tools 7, I would have had to spend 20 hours or so creating stems for the session from 2006. Including retrieval from the archives and session setup, it took me less than 5 hours to bounce all the stems in Pro Tools 12.

The Day MP3 Died

On April 23, 2017, Technicolor’s mp3 licensing program for certain mp3 related patents and software of Technicolor and Fraunhofer IIS terminated. News release here.

Although I cut most of my CD library in AAC — somewhat redundant now that I rarely even see a CD anymore — I still cut mp3s when working on studio projects. I suspect the format will live on for many, many years.

Ears to Hear

But in actuality, the difference is very difficult to discern. Couple that with a range in the quality of soundcards and speakers, and it”™s almost impossible for the average listener to pick which is which. Can you tell the difference?

Spotify has a test for you to tell the difference between lossy and lossless audio. Verge has the test here.

I gave it my best shot. I wish I could say I got them all first try. I listened to them on my tablet. Almost impossible to discern any meaningful differences. Same for my laptop speakers.

What was annoying? It was even hard to tell the differences on my studio monitors.

Perhaps that is why most people are not at all concerned about listening to compressed music. The differences are not all that great particularly when played back on lower quality sound cards and speakers.

Poor Man’s Acoustic Bass Pickup


I am only a few weeks away from our big concert of the year, Celebrate Christmas. This will be our eighth year presenting this concert to our community in Kingston. Our team gets together this weekend for our first of three rehearsals.

We will be doing a jazz set as part of the program this year. Out of the roughly 20 songs, 4 will be in this genre. I have a jazz box that I will be using for the event. I rented an upright acoustic bass for my son to use. However, the instrument was not equipped with a pickup.

What to do?

I came across several suggestions that are a variation of the picture above: suspend a microphone underneath the back of the bridge and point the capsule towards the neck. Some people even use rubber bands to hold the microphone in place.

Several gigging bassists told me to use a very basic stage mic, the Shure SM-57. The proximity effect of these mics adds a great colour to how the sound of the instrument is captured.

I will be trying this technique out later this week.

Hopefully it will do the job.

Renovation Work


In what passes for spare time these days, I have been busily engaged helping our church renovate the main auditorium. I had worked on the main front of house system several years back. The above shot shows the progress that we have been making on the stage.

This time, the list of audio/visual improvements for the auditorium was pretty extensive:

  • New stage lighting with three rows of lights, 12 LED Par fixtures and 4 LED Ellipsoidal fixtures
  • New DMX controllable LED house lights
  • New lighting controller
  • New stage curtains (not up when the above photo was taken)
  • New projection system for the front of house, 2 16×9 screens and 2 high performance projectors
  • Projection system for the back of house, 1 4×3 screen and 1 projector
  • Complete rewiring of the electrical system for the entire auditorium
  • New audio/visual booth
  • New digital audio console

And lots of wiring, programming and software updates for the various digital controllers and computers that support the programs we hold at our church.

This has been a big project and there is still a lot to do before we reopen the auditorium next week. Looks like my labour day weekend holds a lot of labour.