Weve seen the portable-studio developing from the simple cassette into the digital audio workstation or DAW and there seems to be nothing you cannot do with them.
I thought I might try a little pioneer work using an Apple MacBook Pro, LogicPro and RME interfaces to modernize my bands´ live sound. I wanted to improve the P.A. and floor monitor performance at gigs and rehearsals and record everything unobtrusively to produce content for sale.
Advance computer processing power and reliability: nowadays even a MacMini has a mighty powerful processor and, speaking from experience as an Apple promoter, I can definitely say that I have never had to re-boot an Apple computer in front of an audience using Mac OS X.
Then theres the DAW software: to me, it seemed obvious to replace a primitive analog console with LogicPro which offers a total recall digital mixing desk, with recording in the background for later appraisal and mixing, full dynamics, EQs, reverbs and effects in multiple instances anywhere in the virtual signal chain. Analogue desks these days seldom offer more that a three band E.Q!
Finally, the latest audio hardware developments: bringing 24 inputs over FireWire into a laptop simply wasnt possible to do so cheaply until a short time ago. Now with an RME Fireface 800 and two RME Octamic-D (8-Channel) mic preamps, you can have a system consisting of twenty XLR mic inputs plus eight balanced jack inputs and eight inch jack balanced outputs, and all that over one FireWire cable - ready to go! And think of the weight; compare a MacBook Pro and a 3HE rack bag to the analogue equivalent in outboard racks and flight cases, signal splitting etc., let alone the power consumption.
Using the LogicPro Environment its possible to create a combination of Input, Audio, Aux and Bus objects that give all the functions of a total recall FOH and monitor mixer plus multitracking and the best bit: with an additional stereo room mic, you can record an authentic sounding live mix and sell it 20 minutes after the gig - instant merchandising and the punters love the authenticity of it!
With the computer and software controlling the live or rehearsal sound, we record around 20 tracks of audio simultaneously to a 250 gigabyte LaCie external drive attached to the USB 2.0 port. In the not too distant future Im sure there will be other mobile Express Card alternatives and latency is sure to be next to nothing. O.K., computers and software are not infallible and there are the occasional stoppages but I still prefer to have a great sound and run the risk of the occasional hiccup than go back to the uninspiring sound of a cheap desk. You can stay an audio purist if you like but lets face it: everything we hear today is processed.
At gigs, the mix position can be squeezed into the tightest of places, even on your lap and takes up less seating. Tuning the P.A. and monitors to the room is easy with the LogicPro Channel EQ, which possesses a useful analyzer function allowing you to accurately zone in on those problematic feedback spikes. The RME interfaces deliver clean, clear, business like audio; the noise floor is extremely low. As you would expect, some LogicPro compression here and there, just about everywhere to be honest, makes a huge difference.
Generally, we find it quite easy to get a good balance between the room sound and the live instruments with LogicPro, even using a mouse and virtual faders. I expect the addition of a DAW controller of your choice or just a simple block of midi faders could ease things there and I do miss being able to access the master fader at all times. One pleasant side effect is that punters regularly come up to compliment on the sound, so we must be doing something right.
We can record for hours very cheaply and having all the material centrally in LogicPro gives us tremendous production flexibility. Its easy to re-work ideas from jam sessions into songs as well as make full scale recordings in the rehearsal room, do overdubs at home, edit and mix on the train etc.
So using DAW software EQs, it is possible get a good sound out of just about any P.A. and the routing and dynamics are superior to the large majority of analogue desks out there. Not to mention all the effects and reverb at your disposal plus the recording functions. The overview is extremely limited compared to a big desk but just imagine what a DAW application designed for live work and a road worthy controller could achieve.
It is a cheap way to produce-while-you-play and opens the way to capturing relaxed and natural live performances; a recording holy grail to some. Making and selling an authentic live recording may not be every ones cup of tea but it certainly is possible; its a good promo gimmick and a potentially lucrative one.
Out of 5 live engineers Ive spoken to about this concept, only one of them could grasp the idea fully. The others, having little or no computer and software experience, could not grasp it.
So if bands and artist are now gearing their future investments towards the live event and producing their own content for sale there, then studios and DAW operators need to take themselves and their know how out to meet them, watch them and understand their workflow better.
There could even be a new type of audio job, Id call it Performance Engineering; someone using all the soft and hardware tools as their disposal together with their know-how to re-fine the live sound during rehearsals, mix it creatively live, and record it all at the same time. And by the way, the audience would very much appreciate it too!
Paul Goodyear on MySpace: www.myspace.com/thepaulgoodyearband
Paul Goodyear´s Website: www.thepaulgoodyearband.com
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