The Glitch Blog #8 – The Warfield and Nokia Live (aka West Coast Rocks)!

These last two shows mark the finale of our second US run, in the two cities The Glitch Mob attributes as their starting points:  LA and my hometown of San Francisco.  Needless to say, the anticipation around these two shows has been brewing for quite some time…and in retrospect, far exceeded everything we’d hoped!

Welcome to The Warfield - please pardon my tweaked neck

Welcome to The Warfield – please pardon my tweaked neck but I think this guy understands

The Warfield, a beautiful and eclectic venue with eccentric history dating back to the Roarin’ 20’s.  It opened as the Loews Warfield in 1922, mainly for Vaudeville shows (they saw legends such as Charlie Chaplin and Louis Armstrong).  Later renamed Fox Warfield, during prohibition an underground tunnel ran across Market St. to an underground Speakeasy (later discovered while building passageways for the BART train).  Supposedly most of the alcohol distributed through the city during the dry spell passed through these walls and under these floors around that time.

Back in the day

Circa 1930 — just kidding (Sabbath fans can breathe again)

Despite heavy restrictions on the sale of alcohol (if you weren’t a San Franciscan apparently), SF remained one of the wettest cities in the country.  A network of tunnels are still accessible from the backstage area, though most of it has been walled-off, sealing off all underground access across Market street forever.

The Warfield - Today (?)

The Warfield – Today (?)

Today, it remains an icon of San Francisco, with incredible acoustics and a welcoming host to a constant cycle of legendary artists.  Many of its production crew also work at The Fox Oakland, what you may consider a “sister club”, and The Regency nearby (all venues Skrillex played recently for the SF Takeover Tour, rocking massive subs provided by PK Sound, the same we’re touring with today!)

The Blade - up close and ?

The Blade – up close and shiny

Martin, the set designer and Brett, our LD

Brett, our LD and Martin, our Set/Lighting/Video director, (presumably) deep in their own conversation of Tech Talk

To me, The Warfield tops them all, winning with a great vibe and good sounding room.  Some of my best friends, also music-collaboration buddies, and my girlfriend all made it out to the show, doubling the level of fun in contributing to The Glitch Mob rocking a sold-out show at one of my favorite venues in the middle of one of my favorite cities!

IMG_20140509_123020358

LA

The following night’s show was equally inspiring, as LA is the current hometown of the Mob and the Mob brought a mob of great minds!  Everyone from their management team at Deckstar, the lead designer of their custom Ableton software, their set/lighting/video designer, and even the ever-inspiring Steve Nalepa, who has touched this tour in more ways than he will probably ever know.

We played a sold-out show to Club Nokia, similar to The Warfield only in that it’s very unique, although in completely different ways.  For one, it had a much newer and modern feel, though Nokia clearly has an extensive history of its own, with artist posters stretching wall-to-wall throughout the backstage area.  One challenge I found interesting is the width of the room versus the depth – it’s really quite wide, as you can probably see:

Club Nokia - LA

Club Nokia – LA

<Tech Talk>

Immediately upon starting sound check, and even earlier while tuning the system before the band even hit the stage (more on that some day), I was walking the room and felt a distinct lack of bass in certain areas of the room.  You may recall on this tour we’re traveling with the CX800 subs, which are massively beefy and possess more than enough punch to hit the back of the room.  Though to obtain an even spread of low end through a room, you will need to use a few tricks regardless of what subs you have, especially for challenging rooms.

Bass is omni-directional, meaning it propagates in all different directions regardless of where the “front” is aiming; whereas your tweeters or “high end” (or Treble as your granny maybe calls it) shoot in the specific direction of where they’re aiming.  However, despite the tendency for bass to be omni, when you have enough of them clustered together they form what is known as a “power lane”, which is basically a massive wall of bass that shoots straight ahead, jello-izing organs of bass-hungry fans.

This is great when you have enough subs to form a literal wall from end-to-end, but what about when you only have enough subs to cover the area directly in front of the stage?

This is where having a digital console or nice processor comes in real handy.  By splitting up your sub wall into multiple “zones”, and setting a small delay (very short and precise – think Milliseconds or fractions thereof) on the outer subs, your “wall” becomes an “arc” that will spread more to the outside edges of the room and break free from the confines of a straight line or lane.

Note that you will be sacrificing some of the power in your center lane, but making a system or room sound good is all about sacrficing tactfully, as according to the laws of physics you will never work under the conditions of a perfect sounding system and room – not on this planet and in our lifetime, in any case; best to embrace it and have a little fun!

Okay, so if you want to try it for yourself, let’s say that you have a wall of 16 subs, which will probably look something like this:

Wall of Sound

Whoops sorry, wrong pic!  Let’s try again:

IMG_7863

(16) PK CX800’s – dual-18 direct radiators

Great, so you have your sub wall.  It’s 16 subs total (each loaded with two 18″ drivers), stacked double tall.  Each sub is 4 feet long so your wall is about 32 feet wide.  However, the venue you’re playing tonight is 50 feet wide.  You’re tuning the system and everything sounds fine in the center of the room, but once you’re well outside the 32 foot radius, toward the outer edges of the room you’re missing a lot of low end.

The next step is to split your subs into 2 zones, from your processor or digital console.  The center subs (8 total) will be one zone.  The subs to the outside (4 per side) will be the second zone, connected to each other but independent of the center cluster.

It’s actually pretty easy from here.  Start with about a half-millisecond of delay on the second zone.  Typically between .5 and 1.5 milliseconds of delay will “arc” the throw of your subs and still maintain a cohesive sound before the center starts to collapse.  For a greater degree of control, you can split your subs into more Zones, and gradually increase the delay times as you move farther from the center…try moving in .5 millisecond increments, the best bet is to walk the room a bunch or use a sub-calculator to really lock it in.  You could also create the technique without a digital delay by physically staggering your sub placements, with the outside subs placed behind the inner subs in a “stepping” pattern.

</Tech Talk>

Once the subs were filling the room nicely, the PA felt right throughout the room and we were show ready.  I had a great dinner with Zach from SubPac (really kickass “Bass Vest” that is exactly what it sounds like, it’s responsive down to 5hz and great for producers!) and got back in time to see the Penthouse Penthouse guys have a great set, and the amazing Ana Sia who has another set coming up at Lightning in a Bottle!

The show was incredible.  It’s hard for me to go into more detail as during shows all I’m basically focusing on is dialing in that extra couple percent to really set things over the top.  As Zach put it that night I was pretty deep “in the Matrix” so hopefully some vibe of the excitement that night is translating!  The Mob killed it in front of thousands of their fans and friends, I can’t think of a better way to end our second leg of an increasingly incredible tour.

The following day I had the honor of going to my friend Alluxe‘s birthday party on the beach near Malibu, a breathtaking lookout with a medley of Ableton-heads to match.  I made some new friends including a talented DJ who goes by Codiac (check out his radio show called SUBduction, spinning vinyl every Monday night 6-9p on Sub.fm) and Jordan from DoLab (anyone going to Lightning in a Bottle this year?)!

Here’s a few shots of the view we shared while nerding out for hours on end:

El Matador Beach - LA for A

El Matador Beach – LA

Alluxe's birthday party at El Matador Beach

Alluxe’s birthday party at El Matador Beach

Over the course of this weekend, and the past few shows in particular, I’ve had the opportunity of meeting with some great minds.  They got me thinking…

<Producer’s Corner>

I’ve been seeing a pattern unfold that I wanted to share with producers, in particular those who are in a period of growth.  On your path to success, on a weekly or even daily basis, you will be meeting people who possess the knowledge and ability to further your career.  They may be in management, promoting, booking, labels, or even producers themselves.

If I may offer a suggestion, before trying to push or “sell” your music to them/get booked/get signed etc., simply ask questions and listen closely to what they have to say.   They are going to be much more forthcoming with advice and information to someone who is inquiring and honestly trying to grow and learn, than someone who is looking to get signed and blow up overnight.

It is infinitely more important to the longevity of your career to build genuine relationships with people in higher, equal or lower places than you, than it is to make something happen immediately.

Of course, don’t be afraid to let them know who you are, what you do, and where you’re trying to go.  Convey all these things with confidence and a gleam in your eye and it will speak worlds about your goals and ambition, as well as an encouraging indicator that you are worthy of advice and help.

However, don’t ask for hand-outs.  If you truly have something to offer, at that particular point in time, they will know intuitively.  The urge to be on-par with those in high places is natural for those with any skillset, including music production.  Sometimes when you meet those elevated individuals it’s tempting to “push” for help, and that will be the first thing to scare them off.  If you really want to get ahead in your career, focus on being genuine and engaging, you will quickly start to see the world unfold!

</Producer’s Corner>

That’s about it for this entry, I wanted to part with a picture I shot in my hotel room, that encapsulates pretty well what life on tour is all about…

Life on the road

Life on the road

If this were an “I Spy” game, I would probably try and get you to spot:  A radio for communication during shows, an Audio interface, a bluetooth speaker, two Keith McMillan MIDI controllers, discarded wallet, discarded hat, cloth bag for a 2TB Hard Drive, razor, and package containing a CD with a show recording.  Put them all together, and you get a busy yet happy Producer/Sound Engineer…

Our next leg takes us through Europe!  I will be posting about our Euradventures very soon so keep an eye out, feel free to sign up for my email list at the bottom of the page (“Follow”) if you’d like to stay posted!

Sig5
Ian Hicks – FOH

The Glitch Blog #3 – Buku Festival

Ah, Buku – our first music festival as a team, and we are headlining our stage.  Buku takes place in beautiful New Orleans, home to a profusion of culture and Cajun food (coincidentally, two of my favorite things) – and of course the hometown of Ooah, where he first picked up the drum sticks that would roll him into the world of music and producing.

NOLA

Producer’s Corner:  Today I learned that, when producing music (and bass-driven music in particular) you need to be mindful of the sort of sound systems you plan on performing through.  For example, in the early years of your career, it’s a little tricky to successfully perform songs that focus on “deep bass”, such as 30-40hz.

When translated to the key of a song, this would be somewhere between a (very) low C and E.  Part of the reason is because smaller clubs with a capacity of, say, less than 800 people, typically don’t invest in Subwoofers that go much below 40 or 50hz, so they will be missing a large element of your song.  Until recently, it didn’t make much sense to do so, for a simple reason – typical instruments used by bands don’t go below 40 hz, which is an open low E string on a bass guitar.

It was long thought – and taught to me in school – that there isn’t musical information below 50hz, which is considered by some as merely “Sub-bass”.  This is indicative of the old-school mindset that dominated the industry before electronic dance music came to overshadow traditional bands, clearly illustrated by the many EDM (Electronic Dance Music) festivals that pull hundreds of thousands of fans in a single weekend, something the live industry (though I love it dearly) doesn’t succeed in outperforming.

What I’m getting at is there is musical information all the way down to the lowest note in the human hearing range – although it may be harder for our ears to discern slight frequency deviations at those low notes, and that it’s important to keep mind that every frequency in the entire sound spectrum relates to a musical key, and that if you’re writing a song in C – while you should try to have some presence at 30hz, the fundamental frequency C corresponds with – you will be best off focusing on its next octave, 60hz, when playing on sound systems in smaller rooms.  Just something to keep in mind (and I try to take my own advice) when writing your next banger!

PK CX800's we tour with - ultra-low frequency response!

PK CX800’s we tour with – ultra-low frequency response!

</Producer’s Corner>

Back to Buku, where we start our morning with the shuttle arriving nearly 30 minutes late to pick up the crew from the hotel.  By the time we arrive to the scene our Semi truck waits idly, still fat and loaded to the brim with an entire production’s worth of video, lighting, and sound, beckoning us to lighten its load.

It’s easy to imagine that headlining would permit an extended period of time for setup and soundcheck; to the contrary, this has to be our fastest setup yet with a total of 4 hours between load-in and cutoff.  With the entire set to bring in and ensure everything is checked and ready to roll, it’s worth noting there really is no “holding doors” for a music festival with thousands of fans foaming at the mouth to hit the multiple stages these grounds have to offer.

Fortunately the crew – seasoned professionals who are all too familiar with the importance of keeping a cool head under pressure – works together in getting the stage set with our entire production, cutting our setup time nearly in half.  It is, for me personally, an easier setup than usual – with no option of bringing my PK CX800 subs to the stage, I am mixing on a D&B rig today.  I perform a quick phase test to make sure the system is properly aligned, and to my relief I find the production company has done a good job of setting the table.

Though a “flat” sound system – one that produces an even and full frequency response across the entire human hearing range, flat with respect to the output signal matching the input signal – will sound good with virtually any type of well-produced music, tuning a system for The Glitch Mob calls for minor system adjustments that lend to their signature sound.

<Tech Talk>

Theoretically, a perfect sound system will accurately reproduce the material that is sent to it; every dB of every frequency being transmitted and evenly spread throughout the room.  However in “the real world”, where artists and techs are typically forced to operate, much like a penguin wanting to fly, we are striving to achieve a goal that is in a sense impossible to fully realize due to the laws of physics/acoustics…though that is actually part of the fun, like assembling a puzzle as close to completion as possible, while understanding that you are – and always will be – a few pieces short.  As time passes and techniques improve those pieces become less noticeable, like a blue tile missing from a puzzle of the Pacific Ocean.

Puzzle - Fingering Zen

Puzzle – Fingering Zen

Throughout the conversion process, from the sound the instrument produces acoustically, to the microphone that transmits its vibrations into electrical energy into the mixing console to be converted into a Digital signal, then out of the console and converted back into the Analog world, then sent to the sound system processors, which do yet another digital-to-analog conversion before sending the sound to the speakers, which finally convert the electrical energy back into acoustic energy into the real world (head spinning yet?) – there are bound to be minor variances that will “transform” the original signal, intentionally or otherwise, into sounding different than it did at the beginning of its journey.

Furthermore – and here’s the real caveat – any room or outdoor space that the sound system transmits acoustic energy into will “color” the overall sound, as walls and other surfaces (even trees) will reflect certain frequencies back at each other, causing dips and peaks depending on where in the room you are standing.

Try it yourself – next time you are at a concert, walk across the room and pay attention as the tonality of the music changes – even the same Lead instrument can sound completely different 5 feet to the right or left – with bass notes being especially notorious for having a mind of their own!  However in moving around, you can find your own “sweet spot” in the room, and enjoy the show like no other.  Try moving next time you are unhappy with the sound – while a good sound engineer will strive to achieve a mix that is balanced for the overall crowd, there will inevitably be better sounding areas than others.  Happy hunting!

</Tech Talk>

Buku was a massive success, and though the changeover was tight with technical issues rearing their ugly heads – we solved them before the downbeat and were able to kick the show off at the exact moment we were scheduled.  It was our biggest show yet, with multiple rows of video panels lining the hall as the sound of TGM filled the world around us.  For 90 minutes – 15 minutes longer than we were originally scheduled to play, before the festival decided they wanted the full Glitch Mob Experience – an entire hall of thousands were united as one.

Today’s Challenge:  The sound of an empty room, or hall – or whatever listening environment – versus that of a full one, is literally a world of difference.  Fledgling engineers, when put in a position of having to tune a system and make an empty room sound good, often overcompensate and feel the need to cut every offending frequency and boost the weak ones.  Usually, this has done more harm than good as when the room is full and the downbeat hits, the show takes flight in front of thousands, and an overzealous engineer is left with an unnatural and hollow sound.

I have found you are better off doing only minor adjustments to the system, taking mental (or written) note of frequencies that are seriously offensive, and save any major EQing for the show.  In other words, trust the engineers who built the system have done their job – once the room fills up with people (“water-bags”, as my Live Sound instructor fondly refers to them), the sound of the room will even out as the liquid of human insides absorbs most of the major reflections.  Yes, you too are contributing to the sound of the show, and sound engineers and artists alike thank you mightily for being there and contributing to the cause!

To summarize, a few well-placed minor tweaks – along with proper alignments techniques – are way more efficient than drastic EQ cuts and boosts!

Today’s Highlight:  I must say that mixing TGM in the heart of New Orleans, while experiencing the amazing food and culture the city has to offer, takes the award for Today’s Highlight.  I could not be happier or more appreciative to work with such an amazing crew and band, who have the most energetic and supportive fanbase I believe this world has ever seen.

TGM_BandshotBuku
Sig5
Ian Hicks – FOH