Analysing patterns of internet traffic is a good place to start. Mark Robertson has done some interesting analysis of the best times to post to YouTube (from 1pm on a Wednesday or Thursday). He also noted that the most popular video categories are Entertainment, Sports, Music, and Comedy.
Having recently acquired an Allen & Heath Zed 22fx mixer and tried it out both at home and at a few gigs, I though I’d take some time to review it for anyone interested or looking to get their hands on a mixer for themselves.
Going for an RRP of just under £600, this mixer isn’t the cheapest, but certainly not one of the more expensive ones either. But for the money, I’d say the 22fx is well worth the investment. There are 16 mono mic/line input channels at your disposal, and a further 3 stereo channels with 2 balanced jack inputs. It also features a USB connection which can be used as another stereo input channel or as an output which can send the main mix or any of the auxiliary channels. For any outboard gear/effects units there is an additional stereo return, and 2 sets of additional RCA phono sockets are available (e.g. for CD players) which brings the number of input channels up to 30 if you include all of these.
Each mono channel strip features 3-band EQ controls. The amplitude can be cut or boosted at 80Hz and 12kHz, and there is a sweepable control for the mid frequencies between 120Hz – 4kHz, which provides much more flexibility in a live situation to be able to adjust such a large range. The EQ controls, however, are not parametric so the bandwidth cannot be adjusted. A 100Hz low-cut switch is also available for every channel.
The FX units boast a wide range of delays and reverbs, ping-ping delay, flanger and chorus and the parameters for these effects can be easily adjusted – the delay time can be tapped in manually, and the reverb decay time can be adjusted, as can the depth for the chorus. Each channel can be sent to the FX units via aux 4, and the FX return has its own fader which can be muted and panned as well as sent the main output, or to aux 1 and 2 as a summed mono signal or stereo (aux 1 to left and aux 2 to right).
The Zed 22fx uses DuoPre preamps which produce very low noise levels. The two stages of the preamps allow a 69dB gain range for the XLR inputs at the first stage, with line levels sent straight to the second stage. A jack input breaks the signal from the XLR connection and takes priority, to avoid noise from the more sensitive mic preamp.
There are several small features of the mixer that make it so easy to use and practical for small live gigs. Weighing only 10.5 kg, the Zed 22fx is very easy to carry around and it doesn’t take up much space on stage. The recessed buttons for the phantom power and the routing switched for the RCA inputs means they can’t be accidentally pressed between and during gigs which avoids any unnecessary issues. There are both pre- and post-fader auxiliary channels to use for foldback monitoring and effects units, and pre-fader switch illuminates the channel’s peak light to instantly highlight if any tracks are highlighted. Monitoring can be done visually with the stereo LED meter and through the headphone amp (with both 6.3mm and 3.5mm jack outputs).
So far this mixer has performed fantastically – I’ve used it mainly for a small 7-piece function band with vocals, guitar, bass, keyboard, sax, trumpet and drums, and it has given the gigs a great sound and wonderful control. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this mixer to anyone!
A common issue I’ve been faced with when doing live recordings of acoustic ensembles, particularly in more classical concerts for chamber ensembles, is that the performers (and audience) don’t like to have the stage cluttered up with microphones and cables. The challenge here is to keep everyone happy and still get a decent recording out of the performance.
Stereo Pair – Performance Space
Generally speaking, if it is a concert that you’re trying to record, it will be in a good venue like a concert hall or church (somewhere with a nice acoustic anyway) so as much as possible I try to capture the sound of the space, rather than applying plug-ins like reverb later when mixing because it’ll never sound as convincing as the real thing. Generally I try to capture this with a matched pair of condenser microphones in a XY setup a short distance from the ensemble to get a good stereo image as a starting point. If the ensemble is of a professional standard (or close to) the balance between the instruments will already be there in their performance. This leaves less editing on our part, and means we can use the stereo pair as a good reference for instrument balance and stereo imaging.
Once you’ve found a good place for these two microphones, you’re left with deciding which instruments need more of a close-miking technique to bring them forward in the mix. If you’re recording a string quartet (one of the most common classical ensembles), you may find that you don’t even need any close miking; string instruments often sound unnatural when the microphone is placed too close to the instrument as it picks up some unpleasant harmonics and sometimes ‘scratchiness’ from the bow on the string which you wouldn’t hear from a few feet away (and certainly not from the audience). Other situations, however, will require some close miking as well as the stereo pair to get a more intimate feel.
Two ensembles I have recently recorded live in concert are a wind quintet (Flute, Oboe, Clarinet, French Horn and Bassoon) and a Klezmer ensemble (Flute, 3 Clarinets, Violin, Trombone and Bass Guitar). A wind quintet is a far more common ensemble (the wind version of the string quartet), so is a good one to have some knowledge of. For an ensemble like this, you’ll probably find that the French Horn may not need close miking as the sound produced directly from the bell is very different to that heard from the audience. It relies on reflections from the surfaces behind the player so you’re better off recording it with a microphone facing the surface the horn’s bell is also facing. The horn is such a loud instrument, however, that it will probably be picked up perfectly well from the stereo pair and will sound more natural than placing another microphone any closer.
The flute, oboe, clarinet and bassoon may need some individual microphones. In my last recording I found that 2 large-diaphragm condenser microphones (one between the flute and oboe, and one between the clarinet and bassoon) did the job well, placed about 1-2 feet away from the players’ instruments. I did, however, place a small-diaphragm condenser above and facing down on the flute after the first recording, as the lower range of the flute doesn’t project particularly well and started to get lost in the mix.
Dealing with Unconventional Ensembles
The Klezmer ensemble, being an unusual combination of instruments, provided more of a challenge. In the end, a spot microphone on the 3 clarinets worked well and picked the 3 of them up well. Again, as long as your ensemble is sufficiently musical, the musicians balance brilliantly between them so using only one mic for the 3 players didn’t cause any problems with balance. The trombone, much like the french horn, is better captured off-axis and from a distance, and was picked up sufficiently by the ambient stereo pair. The violin, being a relatively quiet instrument in comparison to the trombone and bass guitar, was recorded with a small-diaphragm condenser from about 3 feet above. The bass guitar was captured with a dynamic microphone in front of the amp, but, had I more warning about the instrumentation, a DI box would have been a good solution to this unusual combination of instruments.
When mixing, I’ve found it best to start with the ambient stereo pair and slowly bring up the level of the spot microphones one by one. Listen to the position of the instruments in the stereo field and analyse whether the sound moves left or right, and match the position of the spot microphone to the ambient pair.
You can hear some examples of some live stereo and spot microphone recordings on my soundcloud page.
“Our social connections until now have almost all been constrained by geography and atoms: the real world. These constraints feel natural to us because that’s exactly what they are. They’re so natural that they’re usually invisible: It’s inconspicuously true that we generally have to travel longer to get to places that are farther away; that to be heard at the back of the theatre you have to speak louder; that when a couple moves apart, their relationship changes; that if I give you something I don’t still have it; that our presence in the world is continuous from birth until death. Our every social act implicitly conforms itself to the geographic and material facts of the real world. But the Web is an unnatural world, one we have built for ourselves. The facts of nature drop out of the Web. And so we can see reflected in the Web just how much of our sociality is due not to the nature of the real world but to the nature of ourselves. The Web confronts us with a different sort of brute fact: we are creatures who care about ourselves and the world we share with others; we live within a context of meaning; the world is richer with meaning than we can imagine.”
– Weinberger, 2002
This article by David Weinberger highlights some particularly interesting issues that have arisen since the Internet’s conception in the 1960s, or perhaps more accurately, the proposition of the World Wide Web nearly 25 years ago when the Internet became a public resource. Our social ideals have indeed been drastically altered by the presence of such an extensive resource, which has not only affected how we experience communication but has also made us more complacent through the ever-increasing convenience and accessibility that the Web provides.
Of course, the Internet has had significant and multitudinous positive implications for both individuals and organisations, and it is somewhat ironic that I am using an online blog to almost criticise the way the Web contradicts previous conceptions of the laws of nature, but I think the reality is that it is simply our over-depenedence on the Internet that is causing us to percieve things so differently.
This video more or less sums it up I think:
The Internet is just another piece of technology that we have become complacent with. For instance, take the analogue computer above, albeit a rather obvious example. It contains technology that doesn’t even compare to the fucntionality of a smart phone that is less than a hundredth of the size, and a computer from the mid 20th-century could take days to carry out some functions, yet we get frustrated when a photo takes more than 20 seconds to upload, or when we have to search for whole minutes to find a video. Not to mention the infuriation we experience if the WiFi goes down for even one minute. But with the web migrating onto mobile phones, we tend to multitask more and more (or try to at least) and time is never wasted; in the 5 minutes waiting for a train we can do the week’s grocery shopping, watch a video, book a restauarant, download an album, and it’s no more than we expect to be able to do…