In part 1 of this three part series on Alan Elliot’s experiences using an Avid S3 system Alan introduced himself and explained why they chose an Avid S3 system for the private 225 seat concert and conference Theatre in Toronto, Canada where he works. We left on at the point where Alan was about to undertake their first live concert using the Avid S3….
The First Live Concert
Our first live concert with the new system was with multi-platinum selling country artists Florida Georgia Line. When the show is initially proposed, I reached out to the bands technical contact to go over the technical rider. This included 7 wireless IEM (In Ear Monitor) systems, bass combo amp, PA system, all microphones and DI boxes and the Front of House audio console. The show, attended by a select group of fans, was to be multitrack recorded in Pro Tools and subsequently mixed for a national radio special to be broadcast across Canada at a later date. In addition, the show was webcast live to a global audience.
Recording Concerts In Small Venues
Multitrack recording of live music can be challenging at the best of times, especially in a small venue. When the band turn in a great performance and you can capture that, as well as the atmosphere of an enthusiastic crowd, it can be a great experience. I am fortunate to have worked as both a live sound engineer and studio recording engineer. Live sound and studio recording are very different, each posing their own challenges, but I can draw from my experience in both worlds when recording a live performance. Audience mics are a must for capturing the room ambience and atmosphere in the live recording.
For this show, we used two AKG C3000s facing the audience in an ORTF pattern. On stage, all microphones and DI boxes are connected to two Radial OX8 8 input mic splitters. The splitters have 3 sets of outputs separated using high performance audio isolation transformers. These 3 outputs feed the FOH console, the Broadcast console and the backup Pro Tools recording system. The Radial splitters require only one console to supply phantom power. As such, we used the Avid S3L to supply phantom power as required. The Audience mics were separate from the FOH system and as they required phantom power, i!t was provided by a separate APEX APP22 Dual 48V Phantom Power Supply.
Limited Time To Setup & Rehearse
On show day, the band had a full schedule with television appearances and interviews. Coupled with one of the worst snowstorms Toronto had seen for a while, the pressure was on to make sure the show started on time and without a hitch.
Typically, for a show this size in our venue, a band would bring in their own FOH and monitor consoles and our S3L system would double as the broadcast mix and the front end for the Pro Tools multitrack recording. Due to time and logistics constraints, the band were unable to bring any of their own equipment to our venue. We were eager to give our new Avid S3L system a real workout and performing FOH mixing, monitor mixing and Pro Tools recording for a live show was certainly a good way to achieve this.
At 11am, the bands Tech team arrive at the venue for a line check. We used two Stage 16 Remote I/O stage boxes, one on stage and other at the mix position. This gave us 16 mic inputs on the stage. At the mix position we took advantage of the extra I/O provided on the S3 surface and E3 Engine to add to the Stage 16 Remote I/O. This gave us 24 analog inputs, 16 analog outputs, 4 AES inputs and 8 AES outputs. This combination of I/O, powerful software and processing meant the challenges of the show were met easily by the S3L system. I worked with the bands tech team to set up the S3L for the show. They were familiar with Venue software which was a huge plus and were able to load an existing Venue session as a starting point. Following a successful line check, the crew departed for an afternoon event to return early evening with the band for a full soundcheck.
Double Recording To Be Safe!
With this being the first large scale outing for our Avid S3L system, we decided to record on two Pro Tools systems for total redundancy. During full soundcheck, we ran test recordings on both the primary and backup Pro Tools systems. One great feature of the S3L system is Virtual Soundcheck. This allowed us to playback the recording made during the soundcheck to further enhance and optimize the sound for the actual performance.!
Setting Up Pro Tools With The Avid S3
Both Pro Tools recording systems were set up in the Control Room, giving isolation to monitor the recordings. Setting up to record via AVB is straightforward. As explained previously, the Macbook Pro laptop is connected via Ethernet cable to network port B on the S3 control surface. On the Macbook Pro, “Audio MIDI Setup” is opened and Ethernet AVB is selected from the available Audio Devices. The Macbook Pro connection to the S3L is easily confirmed as it appears as an external device under the Options > Devices section of the Venue software. Next, Pro Tools is opened and a new session is created from a default multitrack recording template. With our 4 Stage 16 Remote I/O devices, we have the potential to record 64 AVB tracks in Pro Tools, but for this show we recorded just 16 tracks.
- Lead Vocals - Shure Wireless mic with SM58 head
- Lead Vocals - Shure Wireless mic with SM58 head
- Backing vocals 1 - Shure SM58
- Backing vocals 2 - Shure SM58
- Lead Guitar - Radial J48 Active DI
- Acoustic Rhythm Guitar 1 - Radial JDI
- Acoustic Rhythm Guitar 2 - Radial JDI
- Acoustic Rhythm Guitar 3 - Radial J48 Active DI
- Banjo - - Radial JDI
- Djembe Top - Shure SM81
- Djembe Bottom - Shure Beta 52
- Bass - DI output from Mark Bass Mini CMD 121P combo amp
- Host 1 - Shure Wireless with SM58 head
- Host 2 - Shure Wireless with SM58 head
- Audience capture Left - AKG C3000 in ORTF pattern
- Audience capture Right - AKG C3000 in ORTF pattern
For this show and subsequent live shows, we have recorded a backup Pro Tools session using our Digi 003 system. In later shows, we used the S3 surface in the Control Room to perform double duty for broadcast mixes and Pro Tools multitrack, using a Yamaha digital console for FOH and monitor mixing.!
Watch The Preamp Levels
One thing to note is that when recording to Pro Tools with the S3L system, the preamp levels set by the FOH engineer dictate the levels to our primary Pro Tools multitrack. Any clipping in the preamps will of course induce clipping in Pro Tools. With the Avid S3L system in the Theatre and the Pro Tools computer in the Theatre Control room, it is vital that the FOH engineer monitor the preamp levels carefully. It is far easier to keep an eye on preamp levels when the console is in the same room! In a live show, you can get away with a spot of preamp distortion, but that can ruin a live recording. It is possible to fix these in post production, but as we know, “fix it in the mix” is not a good policy!
Let The Show Begin…
With both Pro Tools systems recording, the performance begins. We carefully monitor both Pro Tools sessions and they run without a hitch. I have used Pro Tools since 1997 for hundreds of studio and live recordings and with a few exceptions, it has proven to be reliable and stable. The show was a real success and the Pro Tools multitrack recording worked flawlessly over AVB.
Refinements After Several Months Using The Avid S3 System
In the final part of this series Alan will share the refinements they have made to their S3 setup to help them overcome the small number of issues they wee having and to improve the workflow.