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Robert Scovill on Pro Tools and VENUE TDM Plug-ins for Tom Petty 2010 Tour

Only published comments... May 31 2010, 04:04 PM by Robert Scovill

Virtual Racks 1234 Plug In Racks

Thinking outside the box resulted in mixing inside the box with virtual processing for Tom’s concert tours


Hello friends and followers!

As the weeks of rehearsals for the upcoming Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers tour comes to a close here in Los Angeles and we pack it all up to head off for our first gigs of the summer, I’m struck by three thoughts:


1) This is one great freaking band. Over 30 plus years, these guys have rarely if ever lost sight of who, or what they are and as a result have developed into complete masters of their craft and their domain. They make it look easy my friends. It’s fun to watch it all unfold.


2) Digital consoles are already great for live sound. However, they are still very much in their infancy. And like anything that matures over time, be it child, band, country or (fill in blank) no growth is without defining moments, some of them bloody, some of them glorious. Sometimes, it’s not so fun to watch it all unfold.


3) And finally, as I sit here typing, in my head I notice that I sound just like Carrie from Sex In The City while she is narrating the lead in/out for the show while sitting in front of her computer. This troubles me. If later in this blog, I say something like “When a relationship dies do we ever really give up the ghost or are we forever haunted by the spirits of relationships past.” you’ll know I’ve gone off the deep end and it’s time for Robert to return home for a while. Wow, wait just a second here. That quote from Carrie could be talking about a live sound engineer’s relationship with analog technology! Boy that Carrie is one smart sex columnist. Be that as it may, for the purposes of this blog, let’s just concentrate primarily on thought #2.


As it’s turned out, my tenure in professional audio, particularly live sound, has nearly spanned the entire genesis of digital for professional audio. When I got my start, (at the age of 9 of course if you’re trying to figure out my age) there was little to no digital technology available for live sound or the studio. It was primarily analog mixers, crossovers and eqs, spring reverbs, plates etc. Little did I realize at the time, but I was on the very cusp of “the great transition”.


For my money, nothing currently represents this transition, and all the challenges that come with it for live sound, more than digital consoles and the processing that we as mixers need to have associated with them. One of the pressing questions regarding digital console development is; “should processing continue to be developed by 3rd party manufacturers or should the console manufacturer simply take on the roll of designing, building and providing the console AND all of the processing?” Along that line of thinking, by doing so are we as engineers, and we as manufacturers, simply serving convenience over sound quality? – I for one, do not want to follow a trend that leads to where consumer audio has been heading for some time; i.e. convenience over sound quality.


Let’s begin by taking a trip back to an earlier time and examine the way we were doing things before digital consoles. Consider this; can you picture in your minds eye, one time, that you ever saw a front of house or monitor position that offered the following: an analog mixing console made by [fill in manufacturers name] sitting next to racks of analog (or digital) dynamics, eq, effects and system processing all manufactured by [the filled in blank]? I can’t think of a single instance. Well here’s the rub, that’s exactly what we’re being asked to accept today in live sound with the current offering of digital consoles, short of the ones in the VENUE line. That is; one manufacturer providing all mixing and processing choices for our front of house and monitor positions. Hmmm … is that really what we want now or in the future?


One of the most attractive yet daunting aspects of being able to incorporate third party processing on a digital mixing console is the shear amount of choice in both manufacturers and styles of processing available. These choices provide a means for you to impart your own style and imprint on the audio you are in charge of mixing and presenting. Make no mistake about it, it’s awesome to have this at your finger tips with the VENUE systems.


But as great as it is, in it’s current state, it’s not entirely a bed of roses. The shear quantity of choices and the subsequent challenges of obtaining, installing and maintaining authorizations as well as managing versions of plug-in against your current version of operating system is not for the meek, and certainly not for the engineer that is short on time my friends.


Also, consider this; for us mixers that strive to be true to our craft and really on top of our game, we’ll feel compelled to explore ALL of the processing possibilities available let alone ones for a given job. We’ll then in turn, have to guard against experiencing what I’ve coined as “choice fatigue”. I can remember experiencing this while auditioning things like microphones or guitar amps or sampled sounds when working on recordings that involved samplers and sequencers with artists. At some point the amount of choices becomes so vast, and making a commitment becomes so all consuming that you run the risk of losing track of what you were actually trying to achieve in the first place. Choice fatigue will be a real challenge moving forward in the digital era for live sound engineers because the amount of processing choices has already grown by an order of magnitude and is no longer governed by what you have in your rack or what the sound company has sitting on it’s shelves. So it can indeed be burdensome, but as I mentioned earlier, digital for live sound is here to stay and is in it’s infancy right now. It calls for a balance of patience and diligence by both mixers and manufacturers if the promise of digital is to be truly realized. If we don’t, we’re at risk of falling into the trap of just “doing what is easiest” as opposed to digging in and doing what is best for the work at hand.


Let me give you an example; for my work this year with Tom Petty. I’m working closely with Tom’s recording engineer Ryan Ulyate to port the effects settings he used during the mixing of the record directly into the plug-in processing used in my VENUE system for the tour. (yes, I’m allowed to say “record”, instead of CD because they mastered to vinyl as well. Nice!) The entire record was recorded using VENUE and ICON sharing a single Pro Tools system. Even though the plug-ins that Ryan used on the record such as Sound Toys and Acousticas EMT impulses offer stated compatibility with the Windows XP operating systems, they do not have stated compatibility with VENUE systems nor do they offer VENUE installers. So the process has been a bit cumbersome and tricky and scarey at times in regard to stability and reliability.  Sound Toys and Acousticas, if you’re reading this … please test and optimize your plug-ins for use with VENUE. Please? Pretty please with sugar on top? I and all the other VENUE dudes and dudettes need access to your great sounding plug ins and impulses.


Okay well, the long term outlook for the concept of digital for live sound is certainly a topic that is worthy of volumes of discussion, certainly more than I can address in a single blog entry. But if I look far enough out into the future, say my next 30 years in pro audio, (because I’m only 23 years old right now) the world that I dream of is not one with a vast landscape of digital consoles that offer only a singular, narrow processing model and architecture; one that in the end is constricting and stifles creativity. No, it must be a world of open architecture where there exists a rich community of manufacturers that specialize in building the finest processing and in turn make that processing available to ALL digital consoles on the market. A world where presets can be openly and easily shared between recording and live sound workflows regardless of the console that is used to host them. It’s a big dream I know … but hey let’s get real here … I mean could Carrie live in a world that only offered shoes made by one manufacturer … say Manolo Blahnik? Carrie, my wife and Jimmy Choo certainly think not.


Later –

Robert Scovill out …

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About Robert Scovill

I am a 30 year veteran of live sound and 6 time TEC Award winner for Sound Reinforcement Engineer. I serve as Senior Market Specialist for live sound for Avid and am currently mixing front of house sound for the 2010 Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers North American Tour.

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