The sound reinforcement market was a key focus at LDI2017, with a triple threat of offerings including the LDI: Live Outside festival showcase, Audio Amplify indoor exhibitor pavilion, and Sound Tracks series of educational sessions geared toward audio pros.
For the second year in a row, the LDI: Live Outside pavilion transformed the Las Vegas Convention Center parking lot into a mini festival that included stage sets by Las Vegas’s hottest musical acts, immersive tech demonstrations, and hands-on live-production seminars; evening events included Live Outside dance parties, DJ sets, and the LDI Awards Ceremony.
2017 marked the debut of the Audio Amplify indoor audio pavilion, which complemented LDI: Live Outside’s outdoor festival market offerings with the latest audio technology for permanent installations such as theatres, houses of worship, clubs, cruise ships, and theme parks. The pavilion featured dozens of pro audio exhibitors, ranging from major players QSC, Renkus Heinz, and SSL to newcomer in-ear monitor manufacturer Stealth Sonics, as well as the Western Region of the Audio Engineering Society (AES). Show attendees took full advantage of the pavilion’s free gear demos, microphone shootouts, console training sessions, and opportunities to talk tech with their colleagues.
LDI attendees had plenty of options for sharpening their business, technical, and creative skills. The LDInstitute included a full day of hands-on QLab 4 training, while the LDInnovation Conference featured a three-day Sound Tracks panel series targeted at live sound engineers, kicked off with “Live Sound: An Era of Disruption,” a keynote by award-winning engineer Robert Scovill, who has spent almost four decades at front of house, including nearly 25 years with Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers.
Opening with the slogan “Make Live Sound Great Again,” Scovill addressed the rift between proponents of digital and analog, likening it to America’s deep political divide.
He pointed out ways technology has ushered in the convergence of multitrack recording and live sound, and allowed multitrack archiving and virtual sound track workflows. Scovill, who also works at Avid developing digital console technologies for live sound, noted a common disconnect between the manufacturing community and the users of their products: Often, what users think they want isn’t necessarily what they need; and what manufacturers think users need isn’t necessarily what they want. He called on manufacturers to objectively examine where we are headed, and adopt values that focus on reliability and dependability—in products, and as companies.
Scovill asked manufacturers to embrace the “on-air” mindset of their customers, and reflect that mindset in customer service. “As a culture, we’re so accustomed to a crash that we’re normalizing failure,” he pointed out. “Should we expect anything different from live sound technology?”
Ultimately, Scovill said, overcoming obstacles in the industry means better collaboration between users, manufacturers, and competitors. He closed with a call to users to hold manufacturers’ feet to the fire and keep them accountable for technology. And he called for manufacturers to strive to become citizens of the industry. After all, as Scovill pointed out: A rising tide floats all boats!
The Sound Tracks panels were hosted by some of the greatest minds in live sound, including Jonathan Deans, Abe Jacob, Bernie Broderick, Kelly Fair, David Frangioni, Deanne Franklin, Jamie Anderson, Jon Graves, and Jay Easley. Presented in an informal, conversational style, these sessions gave attendees a rare chance to connect with road veterans and innovators at the top of their fields.
Panels spanned an array of topics, ranging from creative mixing techniques to managing wireless issues to sharing stories from life on the road with Tom Petty, but there were common takeaways.
You have to work with what you’ve got: Live sound engineers are often thrust into situations that are out of their control; equipment might be broken, messages might not be communicated. Ultimately, it’s your job to make the sound better. As “Digital Consoles” moderator Jay Easley advised: First, just make sound. Then, make it sound better.
Always grasp what’s going on with your audio signal. As engineer Deanne Franklin pointed out in her “Club Sound Dos and Don’ts” panel: “Digital consoles are all different. So above all, be sure you know signal flow. The main thing is to know how you want it to sound, and how to facilitate that.” (Her advice: Head to YouTube before a gig, and familiarize yourself with the ins and outs of the board you’ll be working on.) “Understand that the console has ‘personality’—you’ll never get anything outside that personality,” explained “Creative Mixing Techniques” moderator David Frangioni. “Work within the sound and functionality of the channel strip.”
Speakers agreed that the quality of professional sound reinforcement gear is so good these days, if you can’t get a useful sound, it’s probably not the equipment’s fault. (The gear might not always be in the best shape, but that’s another matter.) “The tools are so vast and powerful, they get better every week,” said Frangioni. “At the end of the day, it’s what you do with them, how you apply them.”
Practice situational awareness, and don’t obsess over each minute detail, even when you are performing analysis, said Rational Acoustics’ Jamie Anderson, in his “System Tuning” panel: “You’re not in a lab. Understand variances in venues, and from seat to seat. Be a forester, not an arborist.”
Don’t be afraid to re-think the obvious. Legendary theatre sound designer Jonathan Deans shared a story about working on a production of Pippin, and a child actor was having difficulties landing the right pitch on an a cappella song opener. Sitting in his hotel room, Deans had a light-bulb moment: He recorded the low-level room noise, pitched it to the right note, and played it onstage as a guide for the actor. Problem solved!
Always keep things in perspective: “It’s not all about sound; everyone is on the same deadline,” as Anderson reminded everyone. Stay “down with OPP: Other People’s Perspective,” said Easley. In other words, be aware of the way your work appears to others because there are always people paying attention. As for your own view on things, “workflow and superstition go hand in hand,” he added. In other words, people tend to do the same thing, day after day. So break out of your routine once in a while.
And finally, a few favorite parting words of wisdom: Mix with your ears, not your eyes; never update consoles on the day of the show; and like Anderson said, “One bad cable can turn a million-dollar sound system into an AM radio.”
Overall, the response to LDI’s new emphasis on audio has been positive across the board. “It was exciting to see stages in front of the LVCC with big PAs again; they were absent for far too long,” said Diana Ross’s FOH engineer Michael Beyer, who spoke on the “Creative Mixing Techniques” panel. “It’s so awesome to see old friends, our audio brethren, talk old times and new gear. So nice to be back at LDI!”
“I had not been to an LDI in at least ten years, and Lectrosonics had not been a part of LDI in about the same number of years,” added “Bulletproof Wireless” moderator Kelly Fair. “What a great experience it was to be involved again this year. Great participation in the ‘Bullet Proof Wireless for Theatre’ panel, great support from the LDI team, and most importantly, great discussions with current and potential customers. Sign me up for 2018!”
Sarah Jones is a writer, editor, and content producer with more than 20 years’ experience in pro audio, including as editor-in-chief of three leading audio magazines: Mix, EQ, and Electronic Musician. She is a lifelong musician and committed to arts advocacy and learning, including acting as education chair of the San Francisco chapter of the Recording Academy, where she helps develop event programming that cultivates the careers of Bay Area music makers.