Our video-setup for conferences

Powerpoint and visual content has become an important part of seminars and conferences. With our video-rig we can make sure that the presentations run correctly on the projectors, and that the transitions run smoothly.

In some rare cases I have been to conferences where the customer has achieved this without external help, using just one PC with one large Powerpoint-presentation that contains everything in one file in the correct order. However, this solution requires a lot of planning, it is not very flexible and it can be fragile. For example, it might not even be possible to do it this way, if presenters show up with files of different formats: powerpoint in 16/9 and 3/4, keynotes and videos. When it comes to videos, it is possible to convert them so they run in Powerpoint, but its not recommended to put a lot of large video-files in one PPT-presentations. By having an external solution for video-playback, you both take some burden off the computer running Powerpoint, and you can potentially get a higher quality video.

In our standard setup we can show content from various sources that are sent to our video-mixer:
– two PCs running Powerpoint and PDFs
– mac running Keynote and Qlab
– hardware video-player running video-content
– stills for logos, program etc. We can load 20 pictures in the internal memory of our mixer
– the last input on our mixer can take a camera or an external computer if the presenter wants to control his/her own PC. This is very common if for example the presenter wants to show something on the Internet.

When the presenter has his/her own computer on the stage they automatically get a screen where they can see their own notes. Now that we have removed this computer we need a monitor on the screen which shows the same. We then get what is called the “presenter-view” which shows the current slide, next slide and the speaker-notes. The way we solve this technically, is to have two separate outputs from each computer. On the PCs the first output is a mirror of the internal laptop-screen, the second is extended screen. On the mac we use two separate outputs because Keynote can work with 3 different screens.

All the outputs from the computers go to the same video-mixer, where the picture is distributed to 2 seperate outputs: the “program-output” goes to the projector for the audience, and the “aux-output” goes to the monitor on the stage. What is shown on the monitor depends on what is shown on the main-projector, and it hardly ever changes: if the main-projector shows the main-output from PC 1, then the monitor should show the mirror laptop-output on the monitor. I found out that I could pre-program what is shown on the monitor-output, based on what is shown on the main-output. By doing this I no longer have to spend energy on manually selecting what goes to the aux-monitor. However, I still have the option to override the pre-programming and select the aux-output manually, in those rare cases where the default aux-setting can’t be used.

In the past I have always used Qlab on Mac for external video-playback. In my current setup I have replaced this with a dedicated video-player, and I believe this solution is better. The videoplayer (hyperdeck studio mini) and the video-mixer (ATEM television studio) is controlled through a laptop using ethernet-network. With a program called Justmacros I am able to make these boxes speak to each other and make custom scripts to control their behaviour. A macro is a command that can do many operations with just one button-click. Now when I put the hyperdeck-player on the main output, it will automatically start playing. When the video is finished playing, and it is still projected on the main screen, the picture will automatically cut back to whatever is on the preview-bus, and once the video is off the screen, it will move to the beginning of the next track in the playlist. With this I get “broadcast-style” video playback with no delays or black frames. If I for example I want to show an external video in the middle of a Powerpoint-presentation, I just have to push the cut-button once, and when the video is finished we are automatically back to the PPT-presentation.

In order make the videos ready for the Hyperdeck-player, I need to convert them to the right format. Currently I use Prores 422, 1080p, 60FPS. This process can take some time, but in my opinion it is definitely worth it, and I will still do the same if I use Qlab for video-playback. In fact, the preferred format for Qlab is the same as for Hyperdeck (prores), which means that I have a great backup-solution if something happens to the Hyperdeck. We normally get videos in all kinds of different formats and compression-types, and the only way to secure that the video will playback properly is to convert it to a format that you have tried and tested.
I use my MacBook and Apple Compressor for converting. The finished videos is sent to memory cards that can both be read by Hyperdeck and the MacBook.

My video mixer is Blackmagic Television Studio HD. I have talked to AV-technicians who are sceptical of using this mixer for presentation-work because it doesn’t have scalers on inputs and outputs, instead they prefer to use more expensive models from Roland, Analog Way, and Barco. Although working without scalers has a learning curve, Ive found it easy to overcome this lack of feature. The trick is to stick with one video-format, set up all the computers in advance and buy some external mono-scalers that you can use for external video-input. You also need one for the output in case the projector doesn’t accept your chosen format. (but so far I’ve never run into a projector who doesn’t accept 1080p 59.94 hz) By using these guidelines Ive never run into a situation where I regret not having scalers on every channel in the mixer.

Audio
I dont use the headphone-outputs on the computers, instead I use the embedded audio through HDMI. The blackmagic-switcher has an internal audio-mixer where I can set the levels. Using AFV I can make sure that only the audio thats on the channel which is seen in the main-projector gets through. In this way I can check the levels without muting the audio-output.
Ive found that using embedded HDMI-sound is very reliable, its easy to set up, the analog-output of Blackmagic sounds great, and by using the same DA-converter for all video-sources the audio-quality will always be the same. I dont have to deal with bad sound cards and lousy windows-audio drivers.
The only time I will use the headphone-output of a computer is if the audio-mixerperson wants individual control of one of the sources.

The framerate-discussion
Although I am in Europe where broadcasters use PAL-framerates, I have chosen to use NTSC 59.94 hz as my main frame rate in the Blackmagic-switcher. (when set to 59.94 you can still use 60p sources through the mixer. The two formats can be seen as one for most practical purposes in this setup.)
I have several reasons for choosing NTSC:
– i want as high frame rate as possible to reduce the latency and get as smooth video as possible.
– although we are in PAL-land there is no guarantee that we will get all video-content with PAL framerate, you must be prepared for everything. Most of the videos on Youtube are usually in 30 fps for example. 59.94 FPS is better for 24, 30 and 60 fps, and works fine for 25 and 50. (better to convert up than down)
– 60 FPS is a more common format for computer-screens and projectors. Some screens dont have a refresh-rate of 50 fps.
– The biggest argument against using NTSC is that if i work with camera-companies they will most likely use PAL. But even if I use 50p the chances are high that I still need to use a scaler in-between, if their camera or switcher uses 25P or 50i. So its easier to always use a scaler for external sources and stick to that. (BTW I use a Datavideo Dac70 for these tasks.)

For a list of our video-equipment follow this link

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why we have nothing to hide

In my last blog text I promised to tell you more about my new video-rig. After I wrote that, however, I started to think that my technical solution is so good that I shouldn’t put it on a public site, instead I should keep it secret to get a competitive edge. But this line of thought made me realise something that I have observed in my line of business: its impossible to hide your technical solutions because you rely on too many people knowing and using it.

As a freelance-engineer I work for different companies, and often I do the same job for competing companies. If I work for a company who has found a unique way to produce a concert or event, how can they avoid that I steal their ideas and use it in my next job for a competing company? Im not sure they can, and Im not sure they want to either: its probably better for them to get their ideas spread so that they are more likely to get hold of a freelancer who can get the job done. And if a competitor buys the same equipment it may not be so bad for business: then they have another place to sub-hire when they get a big job which requires more equipment. This leads to a situation where a lot of the same equipment is used everywhere, and the way I work as a freelancer doesn’t really change much depending on which company I work for.

I see therefore no reason to hide my video-setup. In another blogpost I will tell you all about it.

 

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My journey into AV

This blog has been silent for so long, but it doesn’t mean that business has been bad for me, its fair to say that I have been too busy working to maintain this blog. About the same time I wrote my last blog text in 2016, I started doing some freelance-work for a rental-company that has some nice conference-halls among their clients.

From working solely with music, I now divided my time between spoken word in the daytime and concerts in the evening. Sometimes I would go straight from the conference-hall to the rigging of the band. This made it easier for me to fill the calendar, the different jobs didn’t interfere with each other. I enjoyed getting up really early, setting up the wireless microphones and starting the conferences before my colleagues had woken up.
As an audio engineer, I had always looked at this kind of conference-work as b-rated work compared to working with music, the last attempt to stay in the business before you hand yourself over to NAV. But now I realised that working with the spoken word is not something you can take for granted, and even working with a single microphone can take some experience to get it right.

Placement of wireless-microphones for live-speech can be tricky. The perfect position is as close as possible to the side of mouth but not in front of it. Then you maximise the speech-volume without getting popping from breath directly to the capsule. In real life you need some buffer because its impossible to keep the position intact over time, so there is normally some air between the mic and the mouth. But if for some reason the mic ends up more than 10 centimeters away from the mouth, you will easily get a level-drop of 10 DB or more, and you will soon find yourself fighting against feedback through the rest of the speech.

Working with bad microphone-technique on a conference can be quite interesting. It almost requires the same skills as working with a loud drummer and a quiet singer who can’t hear his or her voice: you need to dip all those offending frequencies and hope that there is some sounds left to work with. The graphic EQ should look something like your grandmothers teeth. The biggest challenge is not to remove frequencies, but deciding which to keep: after several rounds of equalisation its easy to have attenuated all the frequencies, which often puts you back to the starting point.

To avoid these problems I always want to be the one responsible for placing the microphone on the speaker, or, if the speaker insists on doing it him/herself, I will just fine-tune the position on the microphone after they have placed it. By controlling this most important variable that can fuck up the sound, I was able to get very consistent sound-quality speech-sound. Another thing that helped me was that the places I worked with had a high-quality PA-system that would spread the sound evenly across the room, usually with line-array and/or delay-systems that would take care of the furthest seats. The mixers usually had an automix-system that would make sure that only one speech-microphone was open at all times. This makes mixing debates much easier as there are never more than one open microphone which can cause feedback.

Although I was doing a great job with the sound, I quickly realised that it was necessary for the technician to help with other parts of the presentation: the visual content on the projectors. I soon found myself connecting HDMI-cables, opening powerpoints and configuring the laptops in ways that the speakers themselves didn’t know of. To bring this service even further, I started to control the projecting laptops myself beside the audio-mixer, and use a video-mixer to make smooth transitions.

Now that I was already working with video, it was easier for me to take the next step: buy a bunch of video-gear and learn how to use it. This is in fact my favourite way to learn something new, and I did the same when I was new in the audio-industry: back then I bought a recording-rig and started to record concerts of the visiting jazz-ensembles. This time it was a video mixer, computers and Audio-Video-presentation-gear that enables me to take charge of all the video-content on the conference. The arranger only needs to give me a usb-stick with the presentations and videos, and I will fix the rest.

Back to the present. I now divide my time between concert-work, location-recording, conference-sound and conference-video. I have a video-presentation rig that is set up exactly the way I want it, and it works great. In fact, I am so happy with this rig that I want to spend my next blog-post telling more about it.

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Studiolån

For 9 år siden gikk jeg ut av Lydskolen og starta mitt eget lydfirma. Samtidig ble jeg kastet ut i boligmarkedet for første gang. Begge deler krever endel investeringer.

Hadde jeg vært tøff, hadde jeg gått til banken og spurt om lån til å investere i firmaet. Og leid bolig fram til firmaet ga nok inntekter til å investere i noe eget. Men jeg valgte selvsagt å investere i egen bolig.

I disse 9 årene har bolig i Oslo gitt nesten like høy avkastning som aksjer. Nå er jeg iferd med å flytte og har nettopp solgt boligen med rentefri gevinst, og plutselig så skjønner jeg hvorfor Norge ikke vinner på innovasjon: det lønner seg ikke. Folk satser på bolig i stedet.

Heldigvis har jeg alltid klart å bruke litt av overskuddet til å investere tilbake i firmaet, men ikke uten å ofre noe. I begynnelsen brukte jeg studielånet til å kjøpe meg min første fostex-opptaker, og når det var brukt opp så måtte jeg spise tørt kneipbrød resten av måneden. Senere fikk jeg kjæreste og fant ut at jeg måtte ha smør på vårt felles brød, men det gikk lang tid før jeg ga opp ideen om at stua måtte ha høyttalerne 40% inn i rommet for å få best mulig lyd. (akkurat der det er perfekt å plassere et spisebord!) Idag er jeg voksen og vant til en viss levestandard, men det sitter fortsatt langt inne å unne seg noe luksus når det er mikrofoner du gjerne skulle ha kjøpt..

Ifjor fant jeg ut at det var lettere å få til de investeringene man ønsker om man samarbeider med noen andre. Jeg slo meg sammen med en dyktig kollega som har bygd seg opp som produsent og studiotekniker, og vi lagde Mikkis Recording Company. Nå er vi iferd med å ferdigstille en opptaksrigg som er så bra at vi kan spise rekesmørbrød med god samvittighet.

Snart flytter jeg inn i den nye leiligheten også.

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Back to business

The first weeks of janurary are usually quiet for me, there are not many concerts and events right after christmas, people want to stay home, work on their new-year resolutions and save money. Last wednesday I started the concert-season with Bjørvika Business Band, an entertaining big-band based on graduates from NHH in Bergen.

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I was there only as a substitute-engineer, but these former buisness-students were (of course) very organised, making my job easy, and (hopefully) business as usual for them. They had a complete set-up with technical equipment including the new notorious Behringer x32 mixer which I used for the first time.
Actually I think this mixer was a good match for this job (we used all 32 channels;) speaking of workflow there was not much I lacked compared to the more expensive alternatives. I really enjoyed the RTA on the EQ, which gives a visual representation of the frequencies that you work with, not only making the job of Equalization easier, its also a great tool for learning more about audio. More mixer-companies should implement the same thing in their products. The x-32 also had some useful effects apart from the usual reverb and delays: the transient-shaper is a “must-have” when the kick-drum has no hole in the skin: remove some sustain and the kick becomes drier. Unfortunately you can’t do the same with a gate because the kick is too dynamic to set the treshold right.. I also enjoyed the “aural-exciter” effect on vocals, its a trick to make the vocals brighter without making the sound as harsh as a normal EQ can do with high-boost.
I only wish that the mixer had more than 8 effect-slots, hopefully in the future the progress in CPU-power will make this an easy task. Another small criticism is that the patching is not so configurable, when using a stage-box I couldn’t use a talkback-mic through one of the 32 channels, meaning that I couldn’t use my own voice to test the effects, routing etc. Instead I had to use the dedicated talkback-input which is directly routed to the outputs.
The Business-Band made a great show for the company that hired them, and if I worked with events I would definelitely consider hiring a big-band like that; a big-band has a lot more impact on the audience than a DJ or a small band can have, especially after a long and boring day of seminars. And because they are so well organised they dont require much extra work from the promoters: just give them a big enough stage and they will take care of everything else.

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Thursday saw the season-opening for Riksscenen, the best place in Oslo to hear traditional Norwegian music. This time they had a dancing-event where the audience was invited to dance to solo-performances on stage. Riksscenen do an important job to keep these old Norwegian traditions alive. On the other hand they are not afraid to expose this old music with the modern world, as I mentioned earlier, just the fact that the music is amplified through a professional PA-system means that evolving is unavoidable. This season they have a mixed program with some really strong headlines, the most anticipated concert is perhaps on 10. may when the popular pop/folk-band Valkyrien Allstars will celebrate their 10-years jubilee at Riksscenen.

IMG_1524On friday I went back to the Music-academy with my colleague Audun Rødsten, to record Grieg Opus 17 on solo grand-piano .
These 25 tunes are highly inspired by Norwegian folk-music. Now I just got an idea: when the recordings are finished edited and made public, perhaps I should send a copy to Riksscenen hoping for a piano-concert of the same piece? The piano is not much used in norwegian folk-music, making this composition highly interesting for the folk-music community.

IMG_1527On saturday I went to Cosmopolite to mix the sound for the second day of the Django-festival.

full concert-hall of 400, 3 bands, dbx 160a on the piano and a soundcraft-analog mixer. I used to work a lot for Cosmopolite, and it was great to be back for this special event.

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La oss bli enige om hva som er god lyd

Tidligere skrev jeg at det burde være flere faste stillinger for oss som jobber med konserter og arrangementer. Men nå som jeg har vært ansatt i 6 måneder i et vikariat ser jeg at dette ikke alltid er like lett: arbeidsmiljøloven gjør det vanskelig å opprette faste stillinger som baserer seg på ubekvem arbeidstid. “We work when other people play”, som et lydfirma sa det. I vår bransje er det vanlig at én person gjennomfører ett prosjekt, foreksempel én lydtekniker på én konsert. Når et arrangement kan ta alt fra 4 til 20 timer, blir det umulig å forholde seg til normale 8-timersdager. Før jul hadde jeg et oppdrag på en festival fra kl 8-24. En fast ansatt hadde neppe fått lov til å jobbe like lenge. Kulturhuset som hyrte meg inn som frilanser trengte bare å sende meg en mail så var problemet løst.

Men hadde det vært mulig å dele denne 16 timers jobben inn i 2 vakter? Da kunne plutselig faste ansatte ha gjort den samme jobben. Slik gjøres det i andre yrker hvor arbeidsdagen fortsetter etter kl. 16: på sykehusene blir pasientene behandla hele døgnet og personalet følger en turnus. Hvorfor kan ikke vår bransje gjøre noe av det samme?

For at flere leger skal jobbe med den samme pasienten, avhenger det av at de har den samme kompetansen, og at det er god informasjonsflyt mellom dem. For ett år siden var jeg pårørende til en pasient, og det var mange leger som delte på ansvaret for behandlingen. I prinsippet skal alt legen trenger å vite om pasienten stå i pasientjournalen. I praksis erfarte jeg allikevel at pasientjournalen ikke ble brukt for det den var verdt, og at legene foretrakk å spørre om det samme på nytt, framfor å lese om det i journalen. En gang ba en sykepleier oss om å minne legen på noen tekniske detaljer (om et eller annet jeg i ikke husker) fordi hun mente at det var sannsynlig at legen ikke ville lese om det i journalen. Dette var et ekstremt tilfelle som lett kunne ha ført til feilbehandling, og det skjedde bare én gang, men det var tydelig for meg at legene var flinkere til å skrive i journalen enn de var til å lese den. Hvorfor ville ikke legene bruke 5 minutter på å lese journalen før pasientbesøket? Er det latskap? Er det fordi legene har en manglende tiltro til hverandre, eller til skriften, at det er visse ting som det er lettere å få fram gjennom samtalen, at legespråket ikke er presist nok til å få fram det som pasienten viser med hele sin tilstedeværelse? Kanskje er det noe som henger igjen fra en tid hvor lengre arbeidsdager gjorde det mulig for pasienten å kun forholde seg til én lege, da pertentlig journalføring ikke var nødvendig fordi informasjonen satt i hodet på legen som hadde ansvaret. Men nå som arbeidsdagene er blitt kortere og det er flere leger per pasient, betyr det at man må sette av en større andel av arbeidsdagen til informasjonsformidling.

Det er litt urettferdig at jeg angriper helsevesenet på denne måten da jeg forøvrig synes de gjør en strålende jobb. Poenget mitt er at det ikke bare er helsevesenet som har godt av bedre informasjonsflyt: i min bransje kunne man helt sikkert fått bort mange av “maratondagene” og dele opp arbeidet i flere vakter, dersom man hadde blitt flinkere til å overta for hverandre. Utfordringen er å bli enige om hva som skal gjøres, å finne et felles språk. Mye av den tekniske og spesielt den kunstneriske kompetanse sitter i hodet og kroppen på hver enkelt, og vi klarer ikke å sette ord på det på en fornuftig måte. Det vanskeligste er å overta en lydprøve etter en annen: hvordan kan man forklare til nestemann hva slags lydbilde bandet skal ha? Kan dette sidestilles med legen som skriver i journalen hvordan operasjonen skal utføres? Skepsisen mot “journalføring” er nok mye større i kreative yrker enn hva den noensinne har vært i helsevesenet. De fleste som overtar for en annen tekniker vil foretrekke å prøve seg fram med egne kunstneriske løsninger, framfor å følge slavisk det som er blitt gjort av den forrige teknikeren. Men i likhet med helsevesenet tror jeg at vi kan bli flinkere til å jobbe videre med det arbeidet som alt er blitt gjort, og at vi ikke alltid trenger å være en gjeng med ensomme ulver som hele tiden må finne opp kruttet på nytt. La oss bli enige om hva som er god lyd, så kan dette kanskje bli en jobb med mer normale arbeidstider.

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Highlights from 2014

Last year I worked 7 months for the Norwegian Music Academy NMH. Apart from lending out equipment to students, looking after projectors and wireless microphones, I also got to work on some interesting concerts with the promising music-students.
In an earlier blog-texts I wrote that musicians shouldn’t concern themselves too much with the audio-engineering because they should concentrate on the music. However, this fall I worked with some female students who implemented sound-engineering as a part of their musical expression, and I was impressed with how smoothly they did it. Perhaps musicians are better at multitasking than what I feared? They also prove that there is no reason that women should be less technical skilled than men, as Im sure their computer-programs are more complicated than the Soundcraft-console I used to mix them..
Both Hilde Marie Holsen and Live Sollid Schullerud had improvised solo-concerts where they sent their instrument through effects, “exploring the interaction between the trumpet and effects”, as Hilde explains on her soundcloud-page. She is a trumpet-player in the tradition of Arve Henriksen and Nils Petter Molvær, but perhaps she takes the electronic manipulation of the instrument further than her predecessors have done: sometimes the sounds she produces doesn’t resemble the trumpet at all. Her music is lyrical and ambient, slowly developing but never boring partly due to the unexpected sounds created by the electronics.
Live Sollid Schullerud does much of the same thing using her voice as source-material, creating music that might resembles that of voice-pioneer Maja Ratkje. The music is more influenced by the non-melodic noise-genre compared to the trumpet-player Hilde, but she is not afraid of using lush “nordic/ecm” musical soundscapes as well.

IMG_0512Speaking of talent, when Angelina Jordan visited Barnivalen in Kongsberg Jazzfestival, I saw that the 10 year old prodigy was no hype. With no time for soundcheck and an audience of 1500, she seemed to have the stage-authority of an old jazz-diva. Her singing-style was unique, she was free in phrasing and timing but she was never off target, like she was improvising the whole way. With the manager by my side at the mixing-desk I held the vocal fader tighter than I normally would do, but with Angelinas high-quality performance my job was easier than with other singers.

 

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In Kongsberg I also got the chance to work with my childhood-heroes Dance with a Stranger. When I was a kid my father used to have a cassette of them in the car, and got accustomed to their smooth pop-rock style. Amazingly they are still going strong, and in Kongsberg they held a great concert in a sold-out venue. My job was to be in charge of the sound on the stage, making sure that the musicians heard themselves and each other.

 

 

For the sixth consecutive year I was documenting new compositions at the Ultima festival. This year I recorded some concerts in the Jacob Church, which proved to be a great hall for acoustic recordings.
I particularly enjoyed Ingrid Breie Nyhus piano-concert where the piano was processed through digital effects (again!) The music reminded me somewhat of free-improvised piano-music that I like, although the music was all composed.

One thing I like about working with contemporary music (compared to classical) is that there are not so much set rules about the sound, after all its hard to know how it should sound when the piece is never played before. In the composition “Shamisen” by Hikara Kiayama, he wanted the string-quartet in Ensemble Ernst to be amplified like a rock-band. He asked the sound-engineer to overdrive the inputs on his mixing-console to distort the sound. When I brought the recording back to the studio, I discovered that distorted sound doesn’t automatically mean dirty. I processed the strings quite hard through the Massey tapehead-effect, and instead of turning it into a guitar-amplifier, the sound became smoother and easier on the ears at louder listening-levels. The reason for this is simple: distortion adds overtones and frequencies which makes the instrument richer in timbre, meaning that there are less frequencies that stand out and hurt the ears. Just as pink noise is easier on the ears than sinus-tones, strings with the right distortion sounds more pleasant than raw strings when the music is amplified and played back louder than the natural acoustic sound. The violin was made to be an acoustic instrument played with the audience at a certain distance, so when you take the instrument out of its natural context, its not so strange that it helps to manipulate it a little bit.

In Riksscenen I work with a lot of folk-music, and as the genre is evolving its getting mixed with modern amplified music. Perhaps its a good idea to try a little distortion to smooth the strings out? I will definitily explore this further in 2015. Hopefully these experiments will be included in next years highlights;)

 

 

 

 

 

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Hvordan gjøre bransjen mer attraktiv for kvinner og innvandrere: opprett flere faste stillinger.

Tidligere i sommer hadde Rhiannon Edwards et innlegg i Dagbladet hvor hun etterspør flere kvinner i de “usynlige” stillingene i musikkbransjen: teknikere, bookingagenter osv. Jeg er glad for at denne debatten kommer, fordi det er åpenbart at det er bra for bransjen om det er bedre kjønnsbalanse. Og det er bra at Edwards og MUO starter med konkrete tiltak for å få inn flere kvinner inn i disse mannsdominerte miljøene.

Jeg har et ønske om at fokuset på kvinnene også kan synliggjøre en enda viktigere problemstilling for oss som allerede har valgt denne bransjen som levevei: arbeidsforholdene vi jobber under. For det hjelper ikke å forsøke å få inn flere kvinner hvis arbeidsforholdene er så dårlige at bransjen uansett taper i konkurransen om de dyktigste ungdommene.

Hvilke karrieremuligheter har f.eks kvinner som velger bort jus-studiet for å istedet studere på NISS og bli lyd eller lys-teknikere? Går det an å leve av dette?

Ja, pleier jeg å svare. Riktignok er det svært vanskelig å få seg fast jobb, så den vanligste måten å livnære seg på er som selvstendig næringsdrivende. Det enkleste er å selge arbeidskaften sin til et større firma som allerede har produksjonsmidler og sluttkunder, og jobbe som såkalt “frilanser”. På papiret er du selvstendig næringsdrivende, men ser du nærmere på arbeidet som utføres så er det somregel lite som minner om næringsvirksomhet: oppdragsgiveren er som en arbeidsgiver som bestemmer når og hvordan arbeidet utføres, og oppdragsgiveren eier alt utstyret som brukes i jobben. Etterhvert når hun har jobbet en stund så merker hun at det er de samme oppdragsgiverne som ringer igjen, og at hun får et slags uformelt fast kundeforhold hos en eller flere av firmaene hun jobber for. Med andre ord, en slags deltidsjobb.

Lyd og lys-firmaene foretrekker å hyre inn selvstendig næringsdrivende fordi de slipper alt styret det er med lønnsmottagere: arbeidsgiveravgift, tariffavtaler osv. De ønsker maksimal fleksibilitet og konkurransen som oppstår når teknikerne aldri er sikret mer enn neste oppdrag. For teknikerne, derimot, er dette en dårlig deal: når de ikke er ansatte så havner de utenfor alt det som arbeidstakerorganisasjonene kjemper for, de kan ikke beskytte seg med arbeidsmiljøloven, og de må akseptere en betydelig risiko i arbeidstilværelsen.

Jeg mener at det er god grunn til å se nærmere på lyd og lysbransjen sin bruk av såkalte “frilansere”, og jeg tror det er fullt mulig å opprette flere faste stillinger som kan erstatte mye av bruken av selvstendige arbeidere. For eksempel, hvis jeg jobber regelmessig for et kulturhus gjennom flere sesonger, hvorfor kan de ikke tilby meg en fast jobb? Den kan godt være 25-50%, skattemessig er det nemlig svært gunstig å kombinere lønns med næringsvirksomhet. På den måten får jeg en tryggere arbeidshverdag, uten at kulturhuset nødvendigvis taper veldig mye penger: det er naturlig at utbetalt lønn er lavere enn et honorar til selvstendige næringsdrivende.

Ved å opprette flere faste stillinger blir bransjen mer attraktiv for ungdom som skal bestemme seg for hva de skal bli. Og hvis flere av teknikerne får muligheten til å melde seg inn i en fagforening så blir det langt lettere å regulere bransjen.  Kanskje er dette det mest effektive integreringstiltaket vi kan gjøre for å flere til å satse på denne karriereveien. Da tenker jeg ikke bare på kvinner, for også innvandrere er totalt underrepresentert blant lyd og lysteknikerne..

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Lydmenn som hjelper kvinnelige musikere

I sommer har det rast en debatt om hvorfor det er så få kvinner i musikkbransjen. En av årsakene som blir gitt av både Monica Heldal og Frida Ånnevik, er at de som kvinnelige frontfigurer i band har blitt stigmatisert av lyd og sceneteknikere som jobber med dem på konsert, de undervurderer deres lyd-tekniske kompetanse når de plugger til Frida Ånneviks egen medbragte mikrofon. Dette er med på å sementere holdningen om at kvinner er ubehjelpelige med alt som har med teknikk å gjøre, og da blir det vanskeligere for kvinner å være selvstendige artister.

For disse artistene er det altså viktig å kunne noe om lydteknikk. Dagens artister må ha mer enn musikalske ferdigheter, de må kunne mye om lyd, lys, og annet som er enda mer perifert fra det de lærer på musikerutdanningene: markedsføring, twitter, regnskap, ja, i det hele tatt må de kunne drifte en liten bedrift. I og med at det kjøpes stadig færre plater så blir det også mindre penger til å outsource disse arbeidsoppgavene.

For eksempel så blir studiobransjen overtatt av musikerne selv. Når Kirkelig kulturverksted melder at de ikke lenger finansierer studioinnspillinger, viser de hvordan den tidligere så mektige platebransjen nå blir nødt til å fraskrive seg ansvar for å overleve. Tilbake står artisten som ikke kan ha selvrespekt med mindre hun viser at hun også har kontroll på det lyd-tekniske.

Det store spørsmålet mitt blir: om dagens fremadstormende musikere fort blir “poteter” som ikke får tid og rom til å utvikle det som tross alt er kjernen i det de holder på med: musikken. Og når kvinner prøver å slå igjennom så kan de lett bli offer for det såkalte “flink-pike syndromet”, dersom de hele tiden føler at de må mestre alle sider ved det å være musikere. Hvorfor skal Monica Heldal føle behov for å overbevise meg om at hun kan jobben min? (jeg jobber som lydtekniker) Og hvorfor kan ikke Frida Ånnevik la meg plugge til mikrofonen hennes slik at hun kan konsentrere seg om viktigere ting? Istedenfor for å henge ut lydteknikeren som et symbol på patriarkiske maktstrukturer, bør hun være takknemlig for at det fortsatt finnes yrker som sørger for at hun slipper å gjøre absolutt alt på egenhånd.

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Drum-buss compressor test

 

bilde I’ve bought some new analog stereo-compressors, so I wanted to carry out some tests to see if they will really make a difference when I work as a concert-sound engineer. The truth is, working in this digital world I don’t really need analog compressors, unless of course my new boxes sound considerably better than the standard compressors that are included in the most common digital mixers. I wanted to test them compressing the drum-submix, as I feel that this is where the quality of the compressors can make the most difference.

The debate goes on whether you should compress the individual drums or all the drums together, but for me the obvious answer is to do a little bit of both. For example, if the drummer can’t keep a consistent level on the snare-drum, try some compression on the snare.. but if you over-compress it the snare may loose its impact, and you bring in a lot of bleed from the other instruments into the snare-mic, particularly from the hi-hat. By letting 2 compressors share the job, you don’t need to push each compressor that hard, meaning you are less likely to get compression-artifacts. And the hi-hat bleed from snare-drum mic will be less of a problem because the bus-compression don’t vary the level between the individual drum-channels.
Besides, drum-buss compression can bring its own unique sound-caracter thats hardly achieved any other way, a certain “glue” to the whole drum set, the feeling that only one drummer is behind it all. And this is perphaps where you really see the “personality” of the compressor..

Ok, lets unveil the mystery, bring in the audio-clips! (to paraphrase the famous football-commentator Ivar Hoff: “nothing in this world is as honest as real audio-examples.”) I use the same guinea-pig as with my channel-strip test; the concert from the up and coming Norwegian indie-rock band.

this is the “dry” drums, i tried to leave it as unprocessed as possible, only a couple of DB compression on the snare-mic.

In the compressed clips I used these settings:
-long attack (60 ms) in order not to kill the transients from the snare
-short release (100 ms or less) to bring out the ambience, give the compression some caracter, and make sure that no hihat-hits are “drowned” when the hi hat is played shortly after a snare-hit
-a ratio of about 3:1
-in order to really hear the compressors working, I compressed harder than I normally would, about 10DB reduction on the loudest parts. (usually 4 db is enough)

Below is the DYN3, the default Pro-tools compressor:

This is perhaps the type of compressor you will get in an average digital mixing console, and the compressor my analog boxes should beat.. First, lets compare it with a more expensive plugin, the Waves version of the Fairchild 670 compressor:

it think you can hear that the fairchild-compressor is smoother and more consistent where the Dyn3 is pumping in a non-musical manner.

Now lets go out of the box and bring in the first analog competitor: the Really Nice Compressor:

perphaps not as smooth and unrestrained as the Fairchild, you can hear the compression, but unlike Dyn3 the “pumping” is tighter and more coherent.. now the Dyn3 sounds out of control. After repeated listening, I notice that the cymbals sounds a little distorted on the Fairchild, whereas the RNC keeps the high-end more natural.

The RNC also has a setting called the “super-nice mode“:

my initial thought is that i left the compressor in bybass-mode, cause i can’t hear it working.. but after comparing it to the dry-sample, the snare-drum hits don’t stick out that much and the dynamics are more under control. The “super-nice mode” does the job unobtrusively but perhaps thats too boring for my taste?

From the left comes the Overstayer FET:

This box has some features that are very useful for drum-buss, which the other compressors on this list lacks:
1. high pass on the side-chain makes it less likely that the compressor will drown the bass-drum
2. dry/wet control makes parallel compression possible.
With these two features enabled, the signal coming out of the box is compressed but still very punchy, and it brings out the nice ambience from the drum set.

From the right we bring the Calrec dl2934:

To get the most out of this compressor I also used its limiter to shave off some peaks on the snare..
I really like how the bottom end and the bass-drum sounds through this compressor, it sounds big and powerful, even when I push the compressor more than I usually would, in fact its almost as the bottom becomes bigger the more I push the box. Its a very pleasing, coherent sound signature, tight and musical.

Conclusions
The analog-boxes are useful, they still beat the default digital compressors. (but if they beat plugin-emulations of analog gear thats another story.. anyway, thats not so important for me cause I don’t have access to them when I work in the field) I can use the RNC if I want some really transparent compression, and the Calrec or the Overstayer is another trick up my sleeve.. however, all things considered, how much does the drum-compressor really matter if I use it more conservatively, as i normally would? Because I already bought these boxes its easy for me to justify it afterwards. We all knew that I would end up defending my opportunistic investments. In fact, why am I even spending time writing this review? .. when I could be out in the sun or be less ambitious and watch Tour De France on television.. todays stage 12 is a chance for Peter Sagan to strike back and win the sprint. Sagan has been very close to winning so far in the Tour, particularly on stage 7 where only the photo-finish could separate him from the winner Matteo Trentin. Afterwords some people calculated that the difference between them was so small that Sagan would have won if he only had worn the new type aerodynamic helmet. For some reason Peter Sagans team was not on the cutting edge of helmet-technology, and this lost them the victory.
The devil is in the details.
I listen to the sound-examples again, and think that the subtle differences between the DYN3 and the Calrec sometimes really do matter, and, some beautiful day, the Calrec compressor will be my aerodynamic helmet in this nerdy field of sound-engineering.

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