Touring: It Really Does Take Planning

by David Morgan
in On the Digital Edge
The DiGiCo SD5 console with Waves Soundgrid integration.
The DiGiCo SD5 console with Waves Soundgrid integration.

Although our touring schedule does not resume until later this spring, there are always off-the-road research tasks to be accomplished and proposed modifications to be discussed in preparation for the next run of shows. This year’s itinerary will include several gear transitions outside the U.S. Reproducing our extensive gear spec overseas will require detailed advance planning. That process begins with publishing a precise description of the sound system elements that will be provided by Clair Global for the spring and summer U.S. shows.

What our monitor engineer and I write down in this departmental dialog becomes the outline for discussions with production and management. Our monitor engineer will produce a similar summary document detailing what she hopes to accomplish by load-in at the rehearsal venue. This type of updatable list of topics helps to ensure that discussions move forward and that individual talking points are not forgotten in the mist of memory. Here is a glimpse at the dialog I initially presented to our production staff this winter.

‡‡         Working at Home

The audio department needs to update and clean up the input list. Show elements that have come and gone over the recent tours have left holes and created a random quality to the present list. When the proposed modifications are agreeable to monitors and FOH, the entire comprehensive audio document will also need to be updated to reflect the equipment changes over the past 12 months, as well as the revised input list. That document will become the new reference for our gear requests when outside the U.S.

Once the input list is revised, I will then need to build a new Pro Tools recording template for the multi-track rig.

With the exception of exploring some new acoustic guitar technology, I have no plan to change out any of our nicely evolved collection of microphones, preamps and DI boxes.

I have been researching the new microphone preamp/analog-to-digital converter cards released by DiGiCo, the manufacturer of the SD5 console at FOH. I spent a full day at Clair Global auditioning the new units and comparing the previous models to the new design. I believe these to be among the finest sounding digital console preamps I have ever heard — certainly the best found in a live sound console. My opinion is supported by results from extensive bench testing performed by the design engineers at Clair. I have asked Clair to upgrade us to these newer units in both the DiGiCo SD stage racks we will be carrying.

I have re-thought some elements of the current FOH setup and I will be implementing changes that will increase my creative flexibility and enhance overall reliability within the FOH digital environment. I will not be increasing the size of my current 12 x 10 foot (WxD) footprint. Fortunately, we will be able to reallocate the usage of available space in the dual 10-space rack on which my console sits. We can easily house the added outboard digital reverbs and the new piece of DiGiCo I/O gear for connecting these outboard units. I plan to carry a T.C. Electronic System 6000 reverb and a Bricasti M7 reverb. The TC 6000 platform can actually support four separate stereo devices. The Bricasti is a single stereo device. Carrying these units will allow me to disable five software reverb units that I am currently running in the console’s onboard Waves rack. Removing these DSP-hungry devices will make both the Waves servers and the console processors run more efficiently with the greater available DSP. The required interface is a DiGiCo SD Nano rack. This compact, rack-mountable unit will live in the same FOH rack as the reverbs and will connect to the console via the existing Optocore (fiber optic) network. Clair is on board with these changes.

‡‡         System Prep in Lititz

We need to keep in mind the probability of welcoming three brand new members to the Clair Global audio crew this year. Clair has already informed me that I will need to find a replacement systems engineer/crew chief this year. When that person is confirmed, I will introduce this new member to production via email. We will all need to communicate with him/her often and provide the necessary information to make this particular personnel transition as seamless as possible. I have submitted a short list of names to Clair Global for consideration.

We would like to know if the visual departments will be using the same LED screens that were employed last year. Any physical changes may affect both the choice of manufacturer and the selection of frequency ranges for the RF systems we will deploy. Please inform us if changes to screen sizes, screen locations, manufacturers or materials have been specified for this year’s production. The RF field generated by the screens is appreciable, and successfully planning for the formidable transmission obstacle posed by the largest of the screens becomes a significant part of our pre-tour preparation.

Because our crew will be new to our particular way of doing things, I would like to be present when all the mics are pulled and the mic box is stuffed. I would like to participate in quality testing them. I should also verify that we have all that we need including spares, mounting hardware and windscreens for the outdoor shows.

I need to observe/supervise/learn the changeover from the older model, 24-bit audio input cards to the new 32-bit audio input cards in each of my DiGiCo SD stage racks. These are brand new products and will require operational verification/quality assurance and then be integrated into the console software system.

Along with the in-house techs, I will need to build up the new FOH electronics rack. Gear will need to be pulled, tested and installed in the familiar 210 Rack that always supports my console. All necessary wiring harnesses and connector panels will have to be selected, installed and patched to the various pieces of gear.

I will need to meet with our systems engineer to discuss our previous rigging plot and our preferred scheme of cabling the various elements of the flying system. The SE and I will also need to discuss the manner in which the tablet computers at FOH are configured so that I am working in a familiar Windows environment. The former SE has agreed to consult with us via text and email so that we have a roadmap for any necessary modifications.

The assembly work described above will take one full day at the shop. I will then need the next day for modifying my own worlds, both real and virtual. The first task will be to go through the console I/O networks to verify successful communication with the new cards in the SD Racks.

I will then need to modify the previous fiber optic network system to incorporate the new DiGiCo SD Nano Rack into the console via the Optocore loop.

I will need to reprogram the multiple inputs and outputs on the console to interface the outboard devices I will be adding. Next I will need to configure and test those added outboard reverb units. I will then be able to program the initial reverb algorithms on each of the reverb processors. Completing that task will allow me to delete the now-redundant reverb algorithms that exist within the virtual Waves Rack on the console. Deleting these devices will enhance both the speed and reliability of the Waves system and benefit the console operating system as a whole.

Finally, I will need to load the new Pro Tools template onto the Clair 96-channel recording rig. I will then reprogram the MADI patch and verify all the inputs and outputs on the session file. I will complete the day by making a test recording to verify correct operation of the new Pro Tools template session.

On the morning of the third day, we will conduct a full line check with all stage boxes and console systems attached. Following successful completion of line check at monitors and FOH, gear will be broken down and the truck(s) packed for Jacksonville.

To accomplish these tasks efficiently and correctly, I am requesting that I travel to Lititz on April 25. That will give me April 26 and 27 in the shop with the new crew guys to assemble and/or modify the system. While I have many FOH-specific tasks to achieve, I will be available to answer any questions that may arise. April 28 is a Saturday, but Clair would definitely stay open long enough for us to complete any remaining task and run a full line check before we load the trucks.

Clair will be closed on Sunday April 29. We would then travel down to production rehearsals on the 30th.

Safe Travels!