Plug-Ins Live | The Digital Roadcase

Jan 1, 2011 9:00 AM, By Sarah Benzuly

TOURING ENGINEERS SOUND OFF ON MIXING WITH PLUG-INS

Polls


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What are the advantages or disadvantages of using plug-ins vs. outboard gear for you? Is it an “either/ or” situation?
Keppler:
To me, the analog outboard hardware versions have always sounded better than their digital virtual cousins for a variety of reasons. However, in a situation where you have so many inputs that need processing, it just becomes impractical to try and carry the racks and racks of outboard gear that could accomplish the task. That, coupled with the need for daily patching and resetting of outboard gear, usually make onboard plug-ins the winner for me. The only place I find outboard gear a better choice consistently is at the monitor position with IEMs, and for that, it really requires the use of an analog desk, as well. The latency factor of simple input-to-output patch on a digital console can have a drastic effect on the way an in-ear mix sounds and feels. Particularly for vocalists, the time delay between bone conduction and the sound arriving in their ears can seriously affect the coherency of their mix. And then if an engineer starts adding a few plug-ins that have some latency—you get the picture. I’ve noticed the difference with wedge mixes, too. At FOH, quite often you’re looking for a little system delay to line the P.A. up with the depth of the stage sound, and with the built-in latency of digital desks and their plug-ins, it’s not usually a problem that there’s some built-in delay. I find I may only need to add a few more milliseconds onto the system or sometimes none at all.

Young: I was always a big fan of Summit tube compression. The noise floor on some analog gear interfaced with a quiet show like mine makes it very noticeable when you switch to plug-ins and stay in the digital format. The noise floor becomes nonexistent.

Lonky: Actually, I use a combination of both plug-ins and outboard gear. I still use two Eventide H3500 DFX, a TC Electronic 2290 and an MXR GT-OD pedal.

Chappell: For live, no. It’s got to be immediate; you’ve got to be on it and it has to work right then and there. It’s a different attitude from recording, where you can spend time focusing on things. Live, it just happens fast and you have to be there for the artist. If you’re not, you have to get a different job.

What do you foresee in the future of plug-ins for live? Will there be a time when all an engineer needs is a card full of plug-ins and can pop his/her settings and the card into a console and mix away?
Keppler:
I like your idea! It’s a bit like what I’ve been doing with the Avids: load my plug-ins and licenses into the desk and go. I am hoping to take the DiGiCo SD7 on my next tour, and I think I’ll be using some different plug-ins with that console than what I’ve been used to with the Avid desks. I am excited for that because the DiGiCo has the ability to use multiple screens and put the plug-in at the engineer’s fingertips on touchscreens—very cool!

Young: Plug-ins are a big part of the acceptance of the digital console format. With choices of studio-quality processors at your fingertips, the mixing engineer’s creative palette has limitless possibilities. I am a partner in a regional sound company, ACIR Professional in New Jersey, and can see a time in the near future where the ability to pick up a major sound system for a tour act could be rented locally to eliminate the need of trucking racks/stacks and consoles. If I can recall my sounds on a digital console with a Meyer, L-Acoustic, d&b, NEXO or JBL VerTec P.A. in any major city, the possibilities are limitless.

Lonky: I think we’ll see more and more plug-ins, but I think at some point we will reach a saturation point in the market and the companies will find their niches. It’s true that the plug-in industry has made it possible for small companies to compete with the “big boys” in regards to the market share. I think this will continue.

I use a USB stick that has all my show files; I have files for Zombie and some other of my other artists on it. I can go anywhere in the world, walk up to the console—this is dependent on getting the correct console—stick in the card, load it… bang: my entire last saved show, including all onboard plug-in settings and all other programming, is now at my fingertips in seconds. I have all my shows programmed into Midas, D-Show, Yamaha and a show or two in DiGiCo.

In the late ’80s and early ’90s, I would try all kinds of things to copy my board settings: tape, pictures with a Polaroid (ever tried to read console settings off one of those without a magnifying glass?), tape recorders, hand writing every setting and switch position on note paper. I embraced the whole digital thing as soon as it was a proven stable mixing platform. The ability to save everything has been a huge leap forward in itself. If you know the console mix is solid, then the save/recall ability allows you to do a small club all the way to a 40,000 to 50,000-seat festival without a soundcheck and not worry about the mix, as long as the P.A. is set up and tuned correctly. It has added tremendous consistency. 


Any final thoughts on using plug-ins while mixing?
Keppler:
Try mixing without ’em first. Mic choice, mic placement, proper balancing of keyboard patches and track levels from the stage are always better fixes than reaching for plug-ins. Given the list of plug-ins that I use, I guess that makes me a bit of a hypocrite.

Young: Plug-ins simplify your setup and give you more freedom when mixing with the ability to carry your sounds in your pocket. With presets and the ability to instantly recall your console settings and effects and EQ, the future seems very exciting for live sound mixing.

Lonky: Please don’t forget to mix using your main tools: your ears! Don’t get too carried away with a load of plug-ins on each channel. Less is more.

Chappell: With mixing live, you have to perform. You need to get on it and keep up with that performance coming from Peter and the band. It’s constantly changing, and it’s not just about recalling the presets and standing there. I jump on the faders and bounce around and get a vibe going. I wouldn’t be able to do the same thing years ago that I can now, purely because of the way the plug-ins work. Now give me some analog gear and I’ll certainly get along with it and use it. But I’m also talking about instant recallability of shows and presets that we use for Peter’s voice. It encourages performance and it encourages his reliability on me to make sure that I’ve got my act together to deliver each night.


Sarah Benzuly is the managing editor of Mix.






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