Case Study: Sound For A Live Stream Concert
Find Your Light Foundation Benefit Concert Hosted by J.R. Heckman & Presented by John Carroll University
When I was initially contacted to do the sound for the Find Your Light Foundation’s Songs of Hope 2021 live stream concert hosted by J.R. Heckman and presented by John Carroll University, I knew this was an especially was going to be an unique but rewarding project. It had elements of Production Sound & Broadcast TV, and other aspects that were more closely related to Studio Recording & Live Sound; Ultimately it was right in line with the type of work I enjoy most, capturing performances, beit a live stream concert, comedy special, concert recording, or classical performance.
The goal of this project being a very high quality live stream with a full band & 4 vocalist; It’s unique challenges it presented included a high channel count and monitoring for each of the 8 performers, as well as being able to deploy the setup in a short time period.
Check out this clip from the live stream concert:
Challenges & Solutions
Project Scope: Okay It’s A Full Band Live Stream On A Cyc Studio
So first off being a full band live stream with 4 vocalists, drums, keyboard, cello, & violin, that’s a lot of sources and performers that all need to be able to hear themselves and each other. Having so many sources in a relatively live space (on Creative House Studio’s Cyclorama Sound Stage) isolation and clarity were big concerns in pre-production. Fortunately even with being a 3 walled Cyc, because of repositionable curtains and fairly good coverage ratio with acoustic treatment their studio is surprisingly controlled sounding compared to most other cyc studios. Even still the option for headphones over floor monitors meant for keeping the volume in the room down allowing for much cleaner reproduction of the acoustic instruments with no potential for feedback.
Counter intuitive to what I just said, I’m also a big believer in putting the audience into the space, and a pair of ambient microphones helped put each of the instruments a little more into the room creating a more immersive experience for the listening audience.
Bringing A Studio Experience On Location With Fast Setup
A setup like this requires a lot of equipment, but also the ability to deploy it quickly. There are two things that go into quick setup and load out. Firstly an A2 to help get setup and tear down, and secondly a well organized equipment package designed for a quick setup. The flexibility and quick setup of a digital workflow made the use of Dante any easy choice for monitoring, audio in and out of a computer, and additional mic inputs into my Sound Devices Scorpio which was at the core of this live stream concert’s sound.
Due to budget constraints and because I already owned I chose to use the Scorpio as the mixer for this performance. There are several requirements it checked the boxes for such as being a 32 channel mixer in a compact package, 16 high end preamps, had enough buses for 6 independent monitor mixes as well as reverb & delay sends, and can record on top of that, it therefore became a logical choice for this production.
Pre-Production Preparation & Equipment Transport
In addition to packing everything down into multiple well organized cases, being able to configure all your Dante Routing, and set your equipment up as much as possible prior to load in to the studio cut saved several hours off setup on our prep day / tech rehearsal day. This was the absolute maximum amount of equipment to fit inside my Ford Transit Connect, but it did all fortunately fit comfortably.
High Channel Count
This obviously had a lot of sources, so since the Scorpio is limited to 16 analog inputs, additional inputs to the Scorpio came from a Ferrofish Pulse 16 DX getting my Sound Devices 664’s direct outs onto the Dante network. This production only had 1 wireless mic taken into the Scorpio directly from the integrated receiver in the SL-6.
When it comes to music, microphone choice makes a huge impact, as some mics are better suited to one source over another and the pickup pattern can help with isolation between sources.
To help keep the drums out of the vocal mics I opted for mics with supercardioid pickup patterns; For our Host J.R. a Sennheiser e965 handheld multi pattern condenser (Cardioid or Supercardioid), and for the other three vocalists I used 3 Sennheiser e945s handheld supercardioid dynamic mics. The choice to use a condenser mic for J.R. yielded a more natural response with fuller lows and smoother more accurate high frequencies and more detailed sound with faster transient response.
For drums I used a Shure Beta 52a on Kick for its great low frequency reproduction, I chose a beyerdynamic M201 on Snare Top as its response and hypercardioid pattern making it especially well suited for that application. The snare was enhanced with s Shure SM57 as a bottom mic and the toms were captured with Sennheiser MD421s. Finally overheads were a spaced pair of vintage AKG C414 EBs in cardioid pickup mode. The AKG C414s have several revisions but the EBs are especially sweet with a razor flat response. Fortunately the drummer was a very low dynamic player using predominantly brushes and multirods yielding low volume in the room and better separation from the open string and vocal mics
Polar pattern became especially relevant with acoustic drums in such close proximity the strings, so for the Cello I opted for a third AKG C414 EB in bi-directional mode with the drums directly in the null of the pickup pattern. Bi-directional mics have the deepest null of any pickup pattern, and with that and the positioning of the cello and drums it yielded very good isolation between each other. Since the violinist was in a different position compared to the drums a supercardioid was a better option, so I opted for a Schoeps CMC6 with MK41 capsule, a truly stellar microphone choice for violin.
Keys were simply a pair of Radial ProDIs yielding clean reproduction of the keyboard without any bleed. Finally as started before there was an ambient pair; For this pair I opted to use a spaced pair of Oktava MK-012s with cardioid capsules. Octavas are pretty balanced with smooth high frequency response making them great for capturing the sound of the room.
There was an additional spare standby channel in case something stopped functioning as a quick fix.
Keeping The Host Wireless
Since the host needed to move around a bit more than any of the other performers, having him wireless was an obvious option. Wireless makes me nervous in any sort of live production, so to ensure it was problem free I ran frequency scans to find clean channels, coordinated my wireless mic and wireless IFB frequencies, and used directional high gain antennas remoted into the same room as the performers to keep rock solid RF levels. For each of these I opted to use wireless from Lectrosonics for their unmatched reliability; An HMa plug-on transmitter (capable of providing phantom power for his handheld condenser mic), and a Lectrosonic R1a for his headphones paired with an IFB T4 transmitter that provides exceptional range with it’s 250 mw. output.
Monitoring for Performers
Monitoring is one of the biggest factors in how well musicians can perform together. If they cannot hear themselves and each other how do they play in time, or stay in pitch with one another?
In addition to that often different musicians need to hear different balances of each other, so for this we had 6 independent monitor mixes: 1. For J.R., 2. Drums, 3. Keys, 4. Cello, 5. Violin, and 6. Shared Vocal Mix. All the instrumentalists were on Dante based headphone amps that were Studio Technologies Model 362s, J.R. wireless on the Lectrosonic IFB T4 & R1a combo, and 3 vocalist got a sharded mix hardwired off a 6 channel headphone amp via Dante from the Ferrofish’s analog outputs.
Cleaning Up Open Vocal Mics
Having 4 open vocal mics is an easy way to destroy a great sounding mix if not properly managed. One thing I experimented with that worked far better than I would have ever expected was using Dugan Automixing to attenuate open vocal mics when that performer wasn’t singing. Automixing doesn’t eliminate the need to mix those channels, but effectively cleaned up the mix considerably by keeping each mic automatically attenuated when it wasn’t needed. I could obviously mute the unused mics on a per song basis, but with multiple performers this made riding each mic with unpredictable timing (for me) much simpler.
Additionally since J.R. had a condenser mic (and therefore increased sensitivity) I was worried about the additional bleed in his muc but a little bit of Sound Devices Noise Assist did a surprisingly good job at helping out with high frequency bleed in his mic with little to no artifacts.
During sound check on the tech prep day I decided to quickly experiment with both the automixing and Noise Assist (Sound Devices branded Dialog Noise Reduction Algorithm), and it so happened both worked very well in those use cases, so I opted to use them in them mix.
Reverb & Delay
Part of what makes a good music mix is ambience. This can take the form of Room Mics, Reverb & Delay, but since the Scorpio is designed for production sound and not live music, it doesn’t include reverb or delay, which again Dante comame to the rescue for, I put reverb on as a Bus 1 send and delay on Bus 2, which the scorpio outputted via Dante into my computer using Dante Virtual Sound Card. There is a little bit of latency when using Dante Virtual Sound Card, but since it was solely for reverb and delay that was acceptable and compensated for it by using less pre delay in the reverb.
In order to provide a stable platform for the Reverb & Delay I used Apple’s Mainstage 3, which I hadn’t ever used previously, but worked perfectly for this. It allows you to create a custom control interface and tie those to parameters within the software and plugins. For example a tap tempo module or reverb adjustment knob. It also can be used as a playback engine which might come in handy for future jobs.
The reverb and delay returned to additional channels on the Scorpio again via Dante.
Control is everything on something like this, so I used two different control methods to achieve additional control over the Scorpio; 1. Sound Device CL-12 and 2. their app SD-Remote vis USB and an Android Tablet.
The CL-12 provided fader control for channels 1-12, as well as controls over bus levels for L&R (So I could mute the mix between songs during playback of pre-recorded video messages), and Bus 1&2 to adjust levels of ambiences on a per song bases as well as kill ambiences between songs when our host was speaking.
The android provided additional fader and gain control over channels 13-24 for real time mixing. USB Connection is far more stable than SD Remote via bluetooth, so in a live scenario, USB is the only option.
Probably the biggest question on most producer’s minds is “What does this all cost?”. Now that we have established the scope of the project we can start breaking down the individually associated costs. We can divide those into two categories Labor & Equipment Rentals, with 2 total days (A tech prep/rehearsal day, and the day of the performance).
Starting with labor there was both myself, the Production Sound Mixer, and my assistant who helped with load in, setup, teardown, and loadout.
Productions Sound Mixer: 2 Days @ $650/10 Hours = $1300
Audio Assistant: 2 Days @ $400/8 = $800
Labor Total: $2100
A live stream with mics for a full band as well as all the monitoring becomes a lot of equipment really quickly. For this we did a package rate for the all the microphones, stands, snakes, and cables; while each other part of the equipment package as individual line items. Again each of these were a 2 day rental.
Microphone Package: (9 Dynamic Mics, 7 Studio Condenser Mics, 2 DIs, Stands, Cabling, & Accessories): 2 Days @ $500/day = $1000
Sound Devices Scorpio: (w/ Sound Devices 664, & Ferrofish Pulse 16 DX): 2 Days @ $200/day = $400
Dante Based Headphones: 2 Days x 7x Headphones @ $25/day = $350
Wireless Handheld Mic: 2 Days @ $75/Day = $150
Wireless IFB Headset (1 TX & 1 RX): = 2 Days @ $50/day = $100
Total Equipment: $2000
Total Cost – $4100