Friday, February 17, 2017

Theatrical Sound Made Easier with MicPlot and Palladium

If you’ve ever been to a professional theatrical production, it is probably safe to say that you came away from the experience very impressed with what you just saw, and even what you just heard. That is because professional shows usually have a pretty high budget with and highly qualified technicians, not to mention very talented actors and musicians. That’s why it’s called professional! If you have ever had to engineer sound for an amateur production, you may have had a very different experience with the final results. Any number of reasons could contribute to this problem; a low budget prohibits having an appropriate sound system or quality microphones, time restraints don’t allow enough opportunities for proper rehearsal, maybe the actors aren’t cooperating the way they should. Whatever the reasons, it can be frustrating trying to perform your best and get the results that you feel the audience deserves.

While I can’t necessarily help improve budgetary conditions or any of the other issues I mentioned earlier, I can provide some suggestions that could make the job of actually running the show a little bit easier. Let me introduce 2 programs from CH Sound Design called MicPlot and Palladium. These programs were designed by Chris Hubbard and are intended to aid the sound engineer with developing a detailed mic plot and cue list that will ease the entire process of running a show. Let’s first take a look at MicPlot.

MicPlot is a program that will generate a detailed mic plot for the user that outlines how many microphones are needed for the show, who will be using those mics, how many mic swaps are needed, when those mic swaps need to occur and many other beneficial tools that can be used during rehearsals and shows to better manage the microphones.

It will also build the foundation for a cue list that can be used by Palladium to operate the sound board during rehearsals and show. Inputting your show information into the pages of MicPlot will allow the program to evaluate that information and create a well-organized mic plot in a fraction of the time it would take to do manually.

Palladium then takes that information and will create a cue list that will allow the user to control their sound system with the push of a button. For so many of us who have run shows on analog boards by hand; manually muting and unmuting channels or riding faders up and down, this is a welcome change and a tremendous improvement over the old methods. One great feature about Palladium is the simplicity with which you can create, edit and save cues.

Working in real time, Palladium will automatically save any of your work the instant you proceed to the next cue. You no longer need to perform several operations just to save your cues and move on. By placing the program in LEARN mode, any changes you might make on your console in a given cue will translate to Palladium and be saved as soon as you move to the next cue. This allows you to work from the console and edit cues instead of needing to work on a computer, which for most sound guys is much preferred!

If you are in the business of  running sound for theatrical productions and you're looking for a better method than you are currently using, please take a look at these 2 programs. You can check out our instructional videos as well that help to demonstrate how the programs work and how to create your show files. Enjoy!

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Practice what needs to be performed!

There is a reason someone, long ago, created the saying “If something can go wrong, it will”. That reason is because, if something can go wrong, it will! Anyone who has ever had to sit behind a mixing console or get in front of a group of people to do a multimedia presentation or perform on stage in some capacity has most definitely experienced a situation where something didn’t go as expected. Forget about the fact that it was probably embarrassing to say the least, it most certainly would have had a negative effect on the event and quite probably the audience as well.

Let’s face it, we’ve all been there! And the cold reality is that when we are dealing with technology, sometimes things happen that are beyond our control and we just deal with them. But in my many years of experience in the AV industry, one fact has continued to slap me in the face; over and over again. The overwhelming majority of problems that I have experienced or witnessed could have been prevented with a little bit of preparation and attention.

I’ve developed a saying myself over the years and it is, “If it’s worth doing in the show, it’s worth doing in rehearsal”. I think it is pretty self-explanatory, but in a nutshell, if you are going to do something for real, do it for practice first. I’ll give you an example of one such instance that just happened to me very recently.

I was running sound for a high school concert and had spent a good deal of time testing and EQ’ing all of the microphones that were going to be used. One of the microphones was placed on the piano and another one was being used for vocals at the piano. I played and sang with both mics and had one of the performers do the same so I could get the sound that I wanted. I went on to prepare the remaining mics for the show and then hung out in the control room until the concert began. At the last minute, I realized that the curtain was being shut prior to the choir coming on stage. This was not something we had discussed or practiced. It was soon very obvious that the curtain was not going to close without adjusting the position of the piano. I immediately recognized this as a potential problem.

The curtain finally opens with the choir in position. They begin to perform the selections and then one of the solo artists comes to the piano to perform his song. Well, my fear had now become a reality when I realized that the piano mic never made its way back to its proper position. The piano had to be moved to close and open the curtain and no one even thought to make sure that when things were back in place, to replace the microphones. The student performed with a vocal mic and no piano mic. You could barely hear the piano at all in that huge auditorium. It was a shame because he was very talented.

I had no prior knowledge of the curtain closing so I didn’t even think to go over anything like putting the mics back in place. This is a perfect example of a situation where some simple preparation would have prevented this mistake from happening. I have countless examples like this of theatrical productions where the director decides to add sound effects to the show the night of the show. Disastrous isn’t really an accurate enough word to describe the end result of those decisions! How about the number of times someone comes to an event and doesn’t feel the need to set up their computer ahead of time to test the projection they plan to use in their presentation? How many times does that go well?

The point is that in almost every case, these problems could have been avoided by spending a little bit of time testing and practicing everything that is going to happen during the performance. Something so insignificant as closing the curtain can have detrimental effects on the end result if it isn't given proper attention.

Take my advice, leave no stone unturned in your preparation for whatever event you are working. And do whatever is necessary to help others understand your need to rehearse and plan everything that is going to happen under your watch. It is safe to say that everyone will be glad you took this approach when it all goes off without a hitch!