Letters to Mix

Apr 1, 2004 12:00 PM

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GEAR-SPECTIVE

As the guy who introduced Paul Lehrman to the MadPlayer, I was amused to see him lurch from praising its features to condemning it as the grim reaper of music (February 2004).

I bought my MadPlayer after watching the inventor's wonderful demo at the Project Bar-B-Q interactive music conference. It sounds different under his thumbs than mine, so obviously, “musical literacy” — in the broader sense of aesthetics — does play a part in the results that you get. (Incidentally, BBQ is held on a ranch near San Antonio, not Austin. See www.projectbarbq.com.)

What intrigued me about the MadPlayer was its ability to store and trigger up to 128 megabytes of nameable samples, all in a battery-powered device I can fit in a coat pocket. But the gadget really came alive when I attached the headset microphone. True, you can't squeeze much expression out of the onboard synthesizer with the MadPlayer's controls, but this tiny box is a blast for recording vocal ideas. I wish Paul could have seen our mutual friend, the cynical Grumpmeier (April 2003), almost drive his Jeep off the road with joyful distraction while rapping into a MadPlayer.

For that matter, I wish Paul could have seen the excitement when I demonstrated the MadPlayer and another electronic noisemaker, a Yamaha DJX, to four classes of first- and second-graders. I'm told quite a few of the kids went home that day and asked their parents to buy them musical keyboards.

And that's why I think decrying any sound-making device as a creativity killer is silly. Part of what makes the MadPlayer so appealing is its game-like interface. Traditional controllers like keyboards and mixers come with a mass of intimidating conceptual baggage, and so does the software that emulates them.

Instant-gratification instruments will increase the amount of bad music out there. But they'll also provide a stepping stone to tomorrow's musicians, who will bump up against their limitations soon enough and move on to more expressive instruments. In the meantime, they and I will be sharpening our ears and having fun with our MadPlayers, MusicBoys or whatever other disruptive doodads come along.
David Battino

GRAMMY WHAMMY

During my years of reading Mix magazine, I've always been fascinated with your features regarding the audio business. Your articles and profiles have been exhaustingly researched and informative. I also have found your coverage of the latest gear and technology educational. One aspect of your magazine always focuses on live sound and what it takes to set up and broadcast audio for the latest live road show, from Pavoratti to the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

With all of the talent in the business and all the technology that you talk about and advertise, why can't we get good sound from our audio guys who bring us the Super Bowl and the Grammys?

Even my mother, who doesn't know the first thing about mixing, called me the day of the Super Bowl and asked why she couldn't hear Kid Rock's vocal during the biggest live telecast of the year (though she heard the guitars and drums crystal clear).

I'm sure the sound engineers were thankful to Miss Jackson for her behavior; it distracted everyone from the botched sound job. Too bad the engineers for the Grammys weren't so lucky.

The Grammys started out with a slam dunk with Prince and Beyoncé doing their thing quite well (though there were some mix issues there, too). But to have Celine Dion standing in front of millions without a working microphone, have a stagehand walk out and hand her a new mic with a feed so bad that it brought on feedback, leading her to pull those highly respected ear monitors out and sing like a true pro?! I'm sure that Shure won't be talking about that in their next full-page ad with Mix.

With technology so advanced and productions so well practiced, why do we still experience major flaws in our audio productions at such high-profile shows? Broadway does it every day without a hitch. I understand that mistakes happen, especially on live TV, but are high-end engineers mixing this stuff or what?

With all of the talented engineers out there who are not working, why don't the producers who bring us these spectacles come to their senses and get rid of these people who can't run a mixing board or piece of wireless equipment and hire someone who can?
Chris Arbisi
Chief engineer
Wax Music and Sound Design, New York City

Chris,

There is absolutely no excuse for handing a dead mic to a star performer with 25 million people watching. But the underlying problem goes far beyond miscues and sloppy mixes. Live mega-events like the Super Bowl or Grammy Awards can be pretty chaotic in terms of doing set changes. In the old days, everybody did lip sync and it always sounded okay, but many artists refuse to do that today because it's not “real.” Yet production crunches often squeeze scheduling to the point where an adequate soundcheck is impossible. In such cases, the wise artist will have a lip sync CD ready as a backup. Unfortunately, these days, there are so many “all-important” production elements (lights, effects, sets, pyro, dancers, fog, etc.) going on that there's no time to get the audio right — a pretty sad situation when the whole idea of the program is supposed to be the music. — George Petersen

CONFESSIONS OF A NEW MIX SUBSCRIBER

I recently received a subscription to Mix as a Christmas present from my employer. I have been a reader for about two years now and find it to be the most informative and least-biased publication in the industry.

I just received my first copy (February 2004). I was very happy to see the article “Taking the G5 Live.” I have heard many rumors of what the G5 can do, but I had not seen any proof (only the propaganda from Macintosh).

I have to say the test your magazine did on the G5 was amazing. I would have never even thought to take it to that level. I am glad to see that I can always count on your magazine to do a real-world test and convey the results in terms that I can understand.
Craig Williamson

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