Put some top-shelf live sound pros together in a room and before you know it, conversation will turn to the latest issues with wireless regulation, some hot new tips for improving a mix, maybe some advice on installing speakers, or perhaps some road stories that will give you goosebumps and a giggle at the same time. Now, give those pros some microphones and an audience, and you have a taste of what’s in store for the live sound events at the 131st AES Convention next month in New York City.
Co-chaired once again by Henry Cohen and Mac Kerr, this year’s line-up of Live Sound Events reads like a list of who’s who telling what’s what. There are events that will explore AC power and grounding for live performances, reveal the intricacies of subwoofer arrays and beam steering, and still others that will examine nuances of DSP algorithms.
The marquee event for many, however, will likely be “Robert Scovill Interviews Dave Natale”—a meeting of the FOH minds, as Scovill (Tom Petty, Rush, Matchbox Twenty, Def Leppard, Prince) takes the stage with Natale (The Rolling Stones, Tina Turner, Lenny Kravitz, Fleetwood Mac, Mötley Crüe) to compare notes, approaches and recollections amassed from life on the road.
Mac Kerr“I think it’ll be particularly interesting because they each represent such a different style of production,” mused Cohen. “Robert is certainly identified with digital consoles, being a product manager for Avid and using Venue desks on his tours. And Dave is pretty strongly identified with oldschool analog.”
Such a radical departure from the offerings of the past is typical of this year’s live sound track; attendees returning to AES will find an itinerary that sports little in the way of repeats from previous live sound line-ups. In fact, one of the few returning topics included is “Production Wireless Systems—Practical Applications and Practices.” Moderated by Super Bowl RF coordinator James Stoffo, the panel will cover proper radio spectrum band planning; antenna specification and techniques; optimizing audio gain staging; and more.
“Wireless is such a moving target right now,” said Kerr, “because of all the changes that happened two years ago that are still being integrated into everybody’s plans. It’s still a very active, happening issue, so it’s important that there still be RF events at every AES. There’s the so-called ‘TV Band Devices’ that don’t even exist yet, which may have tremendous impact on how we all work and we’re trying to figure that out. It’s critically important that it should be included.”
Another reason that wireless has been brought back for another round is simply that attendees demanded it. “It’s a perennial request,” Cohen explained. “Mac and I generally post on a couple of the audio internet forums as soon as we can officially announce that we’re co-chairs. We’ll ask, ‘What topics are you interested in, what have you attended, what have you seen in the past that you’d like to see expanded upon?’ For instance, the DSP algorithms panel completely grew out of interest on the internet.”
Henry CohenOf course, programming the live sound events also requires a bit of crystal ball gazing, divining what pros need to learn about today in order to do their jobs tomorrow. That’s how Kerr came up with the “Data Networks as a Digital Audio Transport Mechanism” panel.
“I think the transport systems that we use for audio are going to change,” he explained. “We’ve traditionally run great big copper multis, and it’s an expensive use of resources. I think that digital transport, and in particular network transport, is going to become bigger and bigger in the future—and yet a lot of people don’t really understand the concept. I know I didn’t until I started using it; then it was, ‘Oh my gosh, why didn’t we do this before?’ It’s amazing stuff and I think it’ll be an interesting panel. Josh Evans from Lab.gruppen is going to be moderating it.”
Much as the co-chairs search for topics attendees would like to see, they likewise look for presenters who bring a lot to the table. A workshop on a great subject is useless if the people on stage leave the audience in a stupor. As a result, Cohen and Kerr always have an eye out for pros who can clearly share complex information succinctly.
“I reached out to Sam Berkow of SIA Acoustics to give a seminar because he’s got a tremendous amount of knowledge and he presents very well—and I left it up to Sam to come up with a topic because he’s always doing work on the cutting edge. ‘Multitrack Recording for the Live Sound Engineer’ is something he’s been getting increasingly involved in, helping engineers deal with it, so he brought the topic to us and it was perfectly appropriate.”
One thing the co-chairs take pains to ensure is that while workshops, seminars and panels need to discuss real-world gear and issues, they can’t become glorified infomercials for manufacturers. “A good moderator will lead a panel, is passionate about the topic and discussing it, and they’ll put together their own panel of people who they’re familiar with,” explained Kerr. “We guide them in the concept of ‘Don’t rely on manufacturers too much’ because we don’t want these things to turn into a sales pitch. We also encourage them to get opposing views—bring on somebody who has valid offerings, valid data, valid practices who you may not agree with for their different view.”
The dozen live sound events, workshops and panels offered this year will take up most of the four days of AES as the convention runs October 20 through 23, but it’s only part of the educational offerings, as Cohen pointed out: “There’s so much going on—roughly 50 technical papers, 20-something broadcast programs…it’s a very broad, tremendous number of presentations overall. You can’t see them all because they run concurrently, but anyone who is interested in anything pro audio can definitely get their money’s worth by going to these workshops.”