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

The Glitch Blog #2: Day off in Philadelphia!

Our first day off is in Philadelphia, a few short miles from Independence Hall where the Constitution was signed.  Among other things, I am proud to have learned the proper spelling is Philadelphia, not the Urban Dictionary-esque Philidelphia (I almost found this out the hard way, as WordPress seemingly does not spellcheck blog titles, I would’ve looked a total ass to my East Coast friends – but at least I didn’t try Phillydelphia).

The crew went in their own directions, some in groups and some solo, soaking up the drinks and food and vibe and experiences of the city, others spending their day at rest.  It certainly does serve an admirable view, especially from 19 floors in the air:

Philadelphia, PA

Philadelphia, PA – home of the Cheese Steak

Today’s challenge:  Waking up.  It has been a while since I was so beat!  Sleep is like a good relationship you damn-near forget to appreciate until it’s gone.

Today’s highlight:
  edIT and I went out to lunch, so we could talk about tuning the different sound systems on our tour, and touch base on how things have been going.  I brought my laptop with Ableton into the restaurant so we could go over frequency analyzers, how to best use them in conjunction with our ears and achieve a sound that will translate well through any system.  We crossed a spectrum of production topics, from shaping leads to layers of drums and fuzzy bass distortion, highly informative and relevant stuff I’m already applying to my own music as Anoctave.  If you’re interested in edIT’s production techniques, I recommend checking out his Youtube page where you will find a wealth of information, presented in his own cohesive and comprehensive terms.

Tomorrow we’re back on the bus for a 15 minute drive to the Electric Factory, an actual converted electric factory in Philadelphia, that supports up to 3000 people.  I am especially looking forward to mixing on a VDosc line array with PK Subs, driven by an incredibly dynamic band, one of the best combinations in the world.

TGM_bandshot

Hope to see you there!

Sig5
Ian Hicks – FOH

The Glitch Blog #1 – First two shows

Wow, so much to summarize in one post!  The days are already flying by, and I would like to keep this blog current, so for the sake of efficiency I will try to .zip these two days into one condensed archive.

Our first show was in Portland, Maine, with the band and crew flights touching down a little over 12 hours before load-in.  A brief round of drinks to reunite the team after our 4-day “vacation” between rehearsals and the actual tour, then the majority of us were lights-out before Midnight.

Our bodies are still reeling from the change in time zones, paired with Daylight Savings stealing an hour of our lives just days prior, but everyone manages to make it in time for our Bus call the next morning.  Our first time seeing the bus, and she is beautifully laid out with condo bunks (!) for the crew, a nice area to chill in front and back, and fully stocked with food and drink requests made days earlier.

Me in my natural element - tightly packed living quarters

Me in my natural element – tightly packed living quarters

After a short ride we arrive at the State Theater, reminiscent of The Warfield in San Francisco, and greeted by a pleasant house crew eager to help unload the semi truck with all our gear, packed from end to end with millions of dollars worth of crucial equipment.  The show went surprisingly well for the first day, with over 1600 fans filling the house with energy.  The stage setup, coined The Blade, has finally been unveiled!  I can’t post pictures yet but would imagine that you, the crafty GM fanbase, can find the show on Youtube – while it may not do full justice to the set, you will definitely feel the energy and warm reception the crowd shared through the night.

The following day at House of Blues in Boston proved to be even more successful, as the entire show went off flawlessly to a packed house.  The venue is beautiful with a seasoned and hard-working crew, a giant standing floor of General Admission tickets, and two levels of mezzanine above.  Once the doors open and the floodgates are released, its vibrancy and acoustics transform from cavernous to tight – all in a matter of minutes.

Boston House of Blues

Boston House of Blues

<Tech Talk>
Part of my job is tuning the sound system, and timing the delay between the subwoofers, sidefills, and mains.  Regardless of how you tune the system, the show will be irreparably imbalanced if it isn’t aligned down to the millisecond, due to the physics of different parts of the sound system combining.  I ensure we are perfectly aligned using phase tools found in SMAART, analyzers in Ableton, pink noise generators and oscillators, and most importantly my ears.

SMAART - not for dummies

SMAART – not for dummies

A quick and effective method is to measure the distance between the subs and mains and use that as a starting point for your delay between speakers.  Then play a sine wave with a frequency of the crossover point through the subs and one side of the PA.  Make sure it is the same relative level coming through both sets of speakers.  The sine wave should last about 100ms and loop every second, with a little “snap” on the front and back end (achieved with a -3 sustain envelope and zero release).

Then flip the subs out of phase and adjust the sub delay time until they are at their quietest.  After that point, when you flip the subs back into phase they will be at their most constructive and powerful; this is a good time to tweak the delay by samples (fractions of milliseconds) until they  match up seamlessly, if you used my recommended envelope they will “snap” simultaneously without sounding like the tone is “stretching”.  It’s vital this value is accurate to the millisecond, as one millisecond can make the difference between a terrible sounding show and a great one, the latter being what you are going for!

</Tech Talk>

Today/Yesterday’s Challenge:  The difference between mixing a band through a compact sound system vs. a line array is considerable, and takes some getting used to.  Fortunately by knowing their songs in and out, the band’s energetic performance, paired with analyzation tools such as RTA mics and SMAART, and my ears, the system was hitting in all the right places, pumping between 105dB and 110dB of A-weighted sound pressure levels (in other words, full-bodied and impactful sound without being uncomfortably loud).

Today/Yesterday’s Highlight:  Mixing the band on an Adamson and then Vertec line array with PK Subs were two of the most fun experiences I’ve had behind a console.  The energetic feedback of the audience as they sang along to songs from an album released just weeks ago, and witnessing the full-scale production The Glitch Mob conveyed a sight and sound brimming with good omens.

Looking forward to a relaxing day off tomorrow!

Sig5
Ian Hicks – FOH

The Glitch Blog – Prologue

The Glitch Mob’s  upcoming tour for their new album Love Death Immortality is set to start May 11 2014, bussing from Maine to Miami, performing at world-class venues and Buku Music + Art Project before completing the first leg of the run at Ultra Music Festival.  Soon after is a trip clear across the US, stopping along the way for Coachella in CA, Governer’s Ball in NYC and a highly anticipated string of dates in Europe.

We are in the middle of rehearsals, at the historic Red Studios in Hollywood, home to famous video shoots from Michael Jackson to Seinfeld.  Our practice space is a massive warehouse enclosure, padded walls stretching in every direction blanketed with acoustic dampening material, held up by green-screen printed concrete floors, and a lofty wooden catwalk towering in the rafters above.

Red Studios, Hollywod

Red Studios, Hollywood

I am Glitch Mob’s FOH engineer, tuning and mixing their performance through state-of-the-art sound systems – controlling and balancing the overall mix of the band – translating their music into the analog world, for thousands to feel as a wall of sound vibrates the air and energy around us.

Worth noting is that I have admired and aspired to their work for many, many years.

The band members themselves, edIT, Ooah, and Boreta, are each legends in their own regard, known for pioneering the Beat scene in LA during the early 2000’s, putting Glitch on the map and making it a household name.  Despite massive success they’re humbly down to earth, resonating with good vibes and a strong commitment to memorable performances, conveying all that positivity and more to their fans.

They are icons – possessing an inordinate knack for talent, persistance, and patience – touring with a professional and seasoned crew who bring the combined experience of Visuals, Lighting, Ableton programming, Sound, and Management for Skrillex, Sound Tribe, and Deadmau5 to name just a few.

Their stage/set design, coined “The Blade”, will be revealed in more detail on show night.  Wish I could say more but for now I can say it is a beautiful representative of the performance, supporting an engaging show on multiple levels, and makes my job easier: accenting their massive drums (hint) and lead lines to rumble and resonate an auditorium of fanatic fans.

<Tech Talk>
Their Ableton Live rig is a cause for salivation and salvation – this is the Holy Grail of Ableton setups, charting complex paths that would make a NASA-programmer turned Cartologist’s head spin.  Fronted by Ableton pioneers Matt Davis [namethemachine], Chris Legaspi and Fred Carlton, they are pushing live performances to the next level for Bassnectar, Drake, Linkin Park, 30 Seconds to Mars, and now The Glitch Mob.

Nope!  Not the workstation - just her nametag

Nope! Not the full command station – just her nametag

Partial view of the command station

Partial view of the command station

</Tech Talk>

Today’s challenge:  With rehearsals starting at 6pm, and the band running their set until 6am, our sleeping pattern is a tricky one to shift into; though it  does invoke interesting conversations at 4am, when guards are down and spirits are up.  Topics interpreted through a haze of sleep deprivation draw parallels between producing a song and cooking a feast – instruments treated as ingredients, garnishing and spicing the mix with EQ, blended and balanced to fully access the senses.  Comparing succulents to sound systems – crunchy highs, braised bass, limiting your lettuce – form amorphous definitions that vary between infinite meaning, and none at all.

Today’s highlight:  After listening intently to an advance copy of the album for nearly 2 months, ingraining rhythmic patterns, phrase changes and core elements of the song firmly into my psyche, finally being able to mix the band on a proper sound system.  A more compact representation of the line arrays we will soon be playing through, four PK Sound CX800 subs plus two CX215 tops make for a pretty badass rig, especially when all their drivers are emanating dynamic and well-produced music.

As the tour progresses, I will post updates and pictures here to log an incredible year that is sure to fly by, hopefully making history in the process!

Cast & Crew of The Glitch Mob:
edIT – Band Member
Ooah – Band Member
Boreta – Band Member
Ana Sia – Support Act
Penthouse Penthouse – Support Act
Justin – Tour Manager
Harry – Production Manager/Stage Manager
Martin – Show Designer
Brett – Lighting Director
Chris – Ableton Programmer/Tech
Fred – Ableton Programmer
Matt – Ableton Programmer
Drew – Lighting
Scott – Video
Mike – Audio
Judd – Merch
Randy – Master Semi Driver
Kevin – Management
Ian – FOH

Sig5
Ian Hicks