Christmas 2010 Audio Glory
Given that we were trying a bit of a different approach for this year’s Celebrate With Family service—here’s a closer look at the audio and sound design that was implemented.
Having maintained my love/hate relationship for quite some time regarding the use of Pro Tools for backing tracks—I will admit that they do have a place and can bring a lot to the table, but it’s sometimes a challenge to keep the live music and tracks proportionate to one another without letting the obvious perfection of the tracks takeover the mix. For this year we tried to keep things as live as possible—utilizing as many instruments and microphones as possible to pull it together. This line of thinking was carried further by how a few of the more esoteric numbers were musically built from the get-go. With me being an audio engineer that still loves to mix over just about anything else—this was a good place to start.
The band had gone to the studio and recorded most of the songs onto Pro Tools several weeks ahead of time giving them the opportunity to hone down the arrangements and get specific roadmaps built for each tune. Having things fleshed out ahead of time made it much easier for them to rehearse and as they started adding live parts, they just took out whatever Pro Tools track was being covered live. We actually ended up with most of the tracks going away but it served as an invaluable resource to help them get everything sorted out in advance. Although quite unnerving to me as the audio engineer (and due to our extremely tight production schedule), I didn’t have any kind of soundcheck or band rehearsal until a couple of days before the first dress rehearsal—but the band showed up ready to bring it. This serves as a testament to the awesome prep work these guys brought to the table and will be a process we duplicate in the future.
Having these remaining Pro Tools tracks in place not only helped me beef up some parts here and there but allowed us to tie together the flow of most of the major segments. Since I’m not just handling the house mix but managing the overall production at the same time—it’s a help to have the control of the Pro Tools cue-points in my lair so I can make sure we are a go with all of the other production elements before a track rolls. Occasionally, that extra second or two before cueing a track is all it takes to add a much needed breath to a stage move or a little more weight to a blackout.
The stage audio incorporated a fairly large and diverse package (read complicated) making it gratifying that everything worked according to plan. Here’s a copy of this year’s master audio input (download the full-quality PDF here) list for our analog consoles—HOLD it, did I say analog?? Can it be??!! Allow me to insert a brief yet shameless MIDAS plug: It may be a shock to some that we’ve stuck with analog but yes they are incredible to use, sound unbelievable and above all, they just LOVE to be mixed on... We do have to get a bit creative from time to time to get everything laid out sensibly but the sonic advantage is well worth the effort. Mixing without a mouse or trackball—say it isn’t so!!
As far as the audio onstage goes—there was quite a bit going on at once so getting organized on who and what went where was of key importance. The stage and audio crew did an outstanding job keeping the dense layout as clean and simple as possible—here’s a copy of the master band layout and a couple of pics that show the “controlled chaos” we had going on:
From an audio point of view, this was extremely gratifying to work on—check out the videos to hear how it came together. If interested, I go a little more in-depth into how we capture the audio for video in this blog post.