My weekend adventure at THE Show really started Friday night. Up until then I’d wandered around, helped set up some rooms on Thursday, and worked the LAOCAS hospitality suite on Friday. After visiting some of the demo rooms, I went down to the courtyard to check out the Friday evening jazz concert. The musicians were fantastic and the performances just took me to another place. But the sound through the P.A. system wasn’t very good. I knew the guys who were putting the concert together and I could see a lot of frustration on their part as they tried to get things working properly.
Part of what was going on was that Audience was showcasing arrays of their 4” full range drivers as the main P.A. speakers. This is an unusual approach to sound reinforcement to say the least. And after Friday’s show there were doubts by many involved (including the Audience guys) as to whether the speakers could handle the job.
After the concert my friend Art Alenik asked if I would stick around and help them break down the gear. We talked about what went on and I offered to help out the next day if they wanted me to. Art was all for it, but we needed Jim Merod’s O.K. to move forward. We decided to wait until morning to talk to him as he (like everyone else on the crew) was pretty toasted after the show. In the mean time, I went home, loaded up my sound gear and prepared for a busy day.
When I talked to Jim Saturday morning, I cut a deal with him that I would set the P.A. up my way for the afternoon shows, and if it didn’t work out, we’d put it back the way it was for the jazz shows that night. Time was tight. We had bassist Dean Peer and drummer Bret Mann going on at 1pm, Barry Rillera’s R&B band from 3 to 5, Mike Garson and Lori Bell at 6 and the Gilbert Castellanos sextet at around 7:30. So I met up with Roger, Uly, and Joe from Audience at around 10 a.m. and we got busy.
The first thing I did was move the mixing board from the side of the stage to the back of the seating area so I could directly hear the main loudspeakers. I rolled out my 50 foot snake to connect the mixer to the mics and amps on stage. The next thing I hooked up was a parametric EQ to contour the sound of the Audience speakers. I used Room EQ Wizard to map the frequency response of the speakers throughout the listening area. I measured a big wide bump around 400hz and a narrower spike around 700 hz. Between the unconventional speaker design and the concrete, glass and stucco environment, I have no idea what was causing this. But it was certainly the source of the feedback issues they had the night before. Two parametric cut filters took care of that.
Dean and Bret arrived around 11:30 to set up. Dean’s endorsement with Renkus Heinz pro speakers was responsible for the very nice powered stage monitors we had to work with. Dean doesn’t use a bass amp. He plugs directly into the P.A. System. He took a look at the Audience speakers and was not enamored with the idea of playing his bass guitar through a bunch of 4” drivers. We agreed to point two monitors towards the seating area and position the other two for the musicians. That took care of Dean’s bass, but not the drums. So I fed two drum overhead mics, a kick drum mic as well as a direct line from Dean’s bass rig into the P.A.
The whole crew (Jim, Art, Roger, Uly, Joe and I) worked furiously up to the last minute getting the stage monitors set up and connecting the microphones to the recorder and the P.A. mixer. I think Jim was grateful to get me and the mixer out of his space after the way we wrangled back and forth getting the cabling and connections figured out. At 1 p.m. I ran out to the audience and cajoled Dan Muzquiz of Blackbird Audio, and a friend of Dean Peer, into getting on stage to introduce the band.
Our sound check was the first tune of Dean’s set and I had no idea what I would get. With both bass and drums wailing away, what I got was a very fast, dynamic sound out of the Audience speakers that seemed to defy the laws of physics. I did have to cut nearly all of the bass out of the system below 80hz, but what I heard was pretty impressive given the dynamics and the levels I was pushing through them. The drums came through with a snappy clarity and a surprising level of slam.
Given the minimal setup for Dean and Bret, I didn’t have to worry about mic feedback so I could focus on tone shaping and testing the dynamic limits of the system. I could definitely hear the drivers squawk when I pushed them too hard, but rolling off the bass usually took care of the problem. I was definitely mixing by both sight and sound as I kept an eye on those drivers to prevent over-excursion. As the set progressed we dialed in a nice balance of drum articulation and slam to complement what Dean was doing on the bass. By the end I was just grateful that we got through the set and managed to deliver a clean, clear performance to the audience without any major screw-ups. Whew! Dean and Bret were so cool to work with. I greatly appreciated their patience and professionalism and I really dug their music.
Since you asked, Russ, here are a few of the highlights for me:
1. I LOVED running into folks sporting their monkey tees. Seriously guys. You don't know what it means to me to see you all supporting the site so well. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Along the same lines a big thank you goes out to Richard Beers who was so warm and accommodating to AudioEvo.org. The banners, the billboards, and the ad in the show directory were awesome.
2. The live music was absolutely awesome. I saw three acts while I was there. The first was the jazz sextet on the first night. It turned into a septet once the vocalist come on. They were all GREAT musicians. The second was Deern Pear and Brett Mann. Holy crap are they good or what? It also didn't hurt that Mr. Russ Straton was on the sound board. The third act I saw was Mike Garson on the piano. I really couldn't believe that the show attracted such high quality acts.
3. I thought the Hilton was the perfect place to have the show. At the end of the day the rooms were only hotel rooms, but the convenience to the airport and the quality of the outside venue area was great. This was also the first show in a long time where I got to stay int he same hotel as the show, which made it very easy for me.
4. PFO's room was awesome. The whole story of Dave and Carol's school getting the opportunity from Zu, Bel Canto, HRT, and Cardas (I may be missing some brands... sorry!) to have a nice high-end media cart was just outstanding. Dave and Carol also acted as my proxy and distributed a stack of monkey tees. Thanks PFO.
5. One night after the show a group of us were in the PFO room and got to hear Steve Holt play his tunes for about 10 or 15 minutes. That was fun. It is also fun to have made so many wonderful friends that I can share these experiences with.
I really didn't get to visit too many other rooms because I was busy working ours. I'm told that overall the exhibits at the show sounded nice. But I did get to chat with evoite Alex Sventitsky as the WyWires room was just down the hall. I also chatted up Fritz from Fritz Speakers. He's a nice guy that I like to spend a few minutes with at every show. LA/OC Audio Society had a nice room down the hall, too.
There was one unfortunate scuffle that occurred late one night. I've never seen or heard of anything like it at a show before, but can hardly hold THE Show accountable for it. I think Richard handled the fallout very, very well.
That's my two cents. Can't wait to hear everybody's comments.
2:30 pm, Saturday: I thought I’d be cruisin’ the halls, checkin’ out cool expensive gear about now. Instead we’ve got about 30 minutes to clear the stage and set up for the second band of the day. Jim took a break from recording so this would be P.A. only. But after a pretty simple setup for Dean Peer, we were faced with drums, bass, electric guitar, keyboard, sax, and four vocalists. Barry Rillera and his guys are real pros. The first thing Barry handed me after we met was a stage diagram and mic input list. Yes! They had their own mics and cables so we had to roll back all the Kubala Sosna cables that were laid out for the jazz concert before we could get started.
Setup was rushed (as usual). And this was the first time we used the stage monitors as stage monitors, so we had to connect them to the proper mixer sends and set monitor levels for all the vocalists. Once again, the first tune was our sound check. From the first note an issue popped up that we hadn’t heard before, a big mid bass bump around 160 hz according to my ipod RTA. This caused a bloated, muddy sound on the verge of feedback as I brought up all the levels. Engaging another notch filter on the parametric EQ took care of it.
Once we got rolling, I had about ten open channels going through the mains with half of them folding back to the band through two monitor mixes. I either guessed right on monitor levels or the band was kind enough not to complain about what I gave them. This band really cooked. Blues, R&B, Soul; they did it all. The keyboard player pumped his signal through a huge leslie speaker that sounded like it was going to explode whenever he laid on the lower registers. It was so bitchin’. We settled into a nice tight mix that held the instruments together and floated the vocals over the top. Having a vocal compressor and a reverb unit would have added the final touch, but I was happy with what we had. Then the calls started coming.
It seems the live music was completely drowning out the demo rooms on the first few floors. Marjorie came by to tell me there was a concern. Richard came by to tell me to keep it down. Then the vendors started coming by and chewing me out because the band was killing their demos. While I was sympathetic to their plight, the only way to fix the problem would be to stop the performance and send the musicians packing; and that was not my call to make. Live music isn't like a stereo that you can turn down to a soft level. These guys were bashing, slashing and howling their souls out. If I had turned the mixer all the way down, the volume would have dropped a little, but the music would have lost its balance and articulation. I did what I could, but as long as the band was playing, it was my job to make them sound kick-ass for the audience. At one point Joe Kubala came over and said “the show is about the demo rooms, not the band. Try and keep it down!” Then he turned around, listened for a moment and said “man that sounds good” and walked away.
5 pm, Saturday: It’s jazz time. The R&B band finished and got packed up pretty quickly. Again, great guys to work with and a ton-o-fun to listen to. So the rush was on (again!) to reset the stage for the two evening jazz performances. There were no stage diagrams or mic input lists except in Jim Merod’s head. So he talked and we (Art Alenik and I) listened and executed as best we could. We used custom Kubala Sonsna cables for all the instrument/mic connections and Joe Kubala was there to help us get everything set up and checked.
The first act was relatively simple; Mike Garson on piano and Lori Bell on flute. The big challenge once we got going was the breeze that really kicked up in the afternoon. After the breeze issues the night before, we put windscreens on all the outside mics. For the piano, the lid was kept closed. But the breeze still blew in through the front of the piano, swirled around inside, and caused all sorts of rumble and weird exaggerated bass. We ended up having to EQ a lot of bass out of the piano mics to keep it from feeding back through the mains. Other than that, the set went quite smoothly.
The second act was the Gilbert Castellanos sextet which included piano, acoustic bass, drums, trumpet, trombone, and vocal. We were able to get most of the mics and connection set up before the first act, but could not get the trumpet and trombone mics working properly until moments before the sextet hit the stage. So with no sound check (what else is new) I was setting monitor levels on the fly without being able hear what was happening. Joe Kubala was a great help here because he would listen to the monitors from the side of the stage and signal me if they were feeding back.
Once the music started, the mix fell together pretty quickly, with the Audience speakers delivering a smooth, shimmering sound that just felt right for the performance. The only scary part was when the vocalist, the lovely Lorraine Castellanos, came on for an intimate number with just acoustic guitar and vocal. She was barely touching those nylon strings and I could not get enough volume out of the guitar mic before it would start feeding back. Her voice was intimate but unfortunately, her guitar playing was a little too intimate. Oh well, I tried. But that was a minor issue and the evening concerts wrapped up with everyone wearing smiles. The musicians were fantastic, the sound system delivered the goods, and the audience was treated to a stirring, memorable performance.
If I’ve made it sound like I was doing this all by myself, nothing could be further from the truth. My friend Art Alenik was there to bring me on board (pun intended) and help in any way he could. The guys from Audience; John McDonald, Roger Sheker, Uly Torres, and Joe Iforgothisname were so helpful and supportive of what we were doing. Roger, Uly, Joe and I became combat buddies pretty quickly as we took on one challenge after another. Joe Kubala stepped in and was an immense help for the jazz concerts. And last but not least I have to thank Jim Merod for handing me the keys to a very expensive system and trusting me to pull it off without blowing it up or wrecking any performances.
On Sunday I was back at it again, mixing encore performances by Dean Peer and Barry Rillera. As I look at the show reports surfacing on the internet, I’m kinda bummed to see all the great looking and probably great sounding rooms that I missed. But deep down I’m happy with the choice that I made. It was a lot of work, but for two straight days, I had the best seat in the house for hours upon hours of crazy fantastic live music. For me, that’s what it’s all about.
I really liked the Dean Peer concert and remember later, walking around and wondering what impact the live music had on the event going on in the rooms behind and upstairs from the live music venue.
Look, I'm a child and love my gadgets and all those guitars on display for sale at the show and the care of set up in the listening rooms but the bottom line is live music trumps anything we retailers have to offer IMnotsoHO. EVERYONE tied in with the show were so pleasant and helpful. I had a great time and Russ's efforts were readily appreciated at the concert venue. What a great experience!
I'll have my report in PFO pretty soon. But I did want to thank fellow Evoite Dan Muzquiz for having the best CD to play at the show. Stephen Stills "Just Roll Tape" is likely to be one of my favorite CDs for quite a while!