Monday, July 11, 2011

Lessons Learned

My show opened. There were a few issues with the sound and I made a few stupid mistakes, but at least I didn't turn the knob:

In some facilities there is a regular post-mortem discussion about what happened, what went wrong, what went right, what can or should be done differently on the next show. The main trouble with these is they tend to come after everyone has put the horrors of Tech Week out of their memory, and are already working on the next production.

So mostly I have a few things I'll take home myself, and try to remember the next time I do a similar production.

Wireless: Nothing really new there. Elements die. I had six failures, of which only one happened in sound check before the show and could be corrected then. The others failed on stage, in front of the audience. I've learned a long time back that this happens, though, and having a smart and fast person backstage, and a clearly marked box of spares, is mandatory.

The worst loss we suffered is losing a mic just before a big solo. The others, I was able to compensate or kill until the replacement was put on the actor, and the worst hurt to the show was the burst of noise when the mic first died.

Also underlined was importance to check RF with the full show in operation. I tested a spare mic and had good signal, but when we put it on stage as a replacement during the show hetrodyne interference made it unusable. That poor actor spent a substantial part of his time between scenes in the dressing room with a technician taping new pieces of electronics to his skin.

My solution to the Countryman E6 "behind the ear" connector seems to be working out. I strip the heat shrink off, spray de-oxit on the connector, put a drop of solder on it to stop it from turning, and stick a single contiguous length of heat shrink over the join.

I've also now tried out toupee tape. It works quite well, although it is a pain to apply (you apply the tape to the actor, put the microphone on top, then put micropore tape over that.) Next up in my experimental substances is Tegaderm -- if I can find a cheaper alternative than a fifty-dollar box of it.

The Band: We had some ongoing keyboard issues...something was hitting something too hard and causing a slight crackle. So far we've been unable to track down where that clipping is happening (if it really is happening). Taking the gain down on the monitor sends helped the musicians a lot, though.

Switched out the basic DI on the bass for an ART one-channel "tube" jobby, and the change in sonic quality was immediately obvious.

My drum overheads didn't make me happy. They had a nice picture of the kit by themselves, but too much snare got in them and smeared the snare. If I had the ability to throw a few milliseconds delay on them maybe I could correct...but instead I re-purposed them, putting one over high-hat and crash, the other over ride and percussion toys. There's a moment in the show where I would love to have a pair of tom mics with a hard pan, but even with the other changes we made in the pit there's just not enough channels left on the board or even in the snake.

Snare is now a beta 57 aimed at the side of the snare. It still isn't tight -- even with a little compander action and some heavy EQ -- but it is better.

SFX: Playback hasn't had any problems other than the Stage Manager getting a couple wrong cue numbers in her book. My main issue has been the lack of an overall volume knob. Especially for ambiance effects, it helps so much to be able to adjust for the band volume, the actor's energy, the noise level in the house, etc. All of that changes too much to be really able to set a single level for a sound cue that will always work.

Although I started the show with sounds thrown mostly into speakers on the set, over the opening weekend I moved most of the ambiance underscore sounds to the house speakers instead -- especially when volume levels are getting extreme (and this is a VERY loud show, musically) -- it is better to move the effects out of where the actors are trying to hear, and push them out of speakers aimed directly at the audience instead.

I did manage to free up a single channel so several pre-recorded vocals (in one case, an actress who is unable to wear her wireless for one scene due to stage action) could be brought up on a fader grouped with the rest of the vocal faders and sent to the same vocal bus.

But what I really want is a single fader right by my master vocal fader and master orchestra fader that allows me to adjust sound playback levels for all cues on the fly. I've had that for other shows. I got talked out of it for this show. I was wrong -- I need it.

Added a quick back-stage monitor by sticking a Beta Green in the flies, running it to a Audio Buddy two-channel pre, and then running that out to a pair of daisy-chained JBL Eons. Dressing room monitor achieved, without costing any more board channels.

The main thing I noticed monitor-wise is that I really, really need a line of communication to the band. I need a system that doesn't hog cable and channels, that can be used in privacy without cast listening in, and that allows two-way communication and paging.

I'm looking around but I don't see anything obvious right now. Most people seem to be using walkie-talkies, cell phones, or setting up a second intercom. I'm thinking I may be able to find or build or re-purpose an intercom with integrated paging lights. And if I am really, really clever, set it up so I can patch it into my own phones and/or the band's monitor system (which is partially headphones also) -- if nothing else that will save fumbling around with multiple headsets.

In the best of all possible worlds this would be my personal kit, small enough to stick in my gig bag, and I'd set it up wherever I was to get through sound check and take it down after the show is up and running.

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