Tag Archives: COVID-19

60 Seconds with Dudley McLaughlin of Renkus-Heinz

Dudley McLaughlin of Renkus-Heinz
Dudley McLaughlin OANA FOTO

What is your new position, and what does it entail?

I am the national sales manager at Renkus-Heinz. The role oversees the North American and Canadian markets, and the position’s day-to-day duties include all things sales: rolling out sales initiatives, developing demo and event opportunities, and ensuring we see growth across the region. That said, the Renkus-Heinz sales team aims to be collaborative in the success of our customers. Thus, this role also includes a lot of outreach to our representatives, work with end users who rely on our solutions, and product development input to ensure we bring the right solutions to market. We want to do everything we can to ensure that our customers are happy.

How has your background prepared you for your new role?

I’ve been with Renkus-Heinz for three years, overseeing the western territory of the United States and Canada, and I have come to feel very much at home here. Renkus-Heinz is a family-run company, and that approach fosters commitment to the work we do. In my time here, I have worked directly on projects with our various partners—our reps, consultants, dealers, integrators and end users. That has included working on system design, custom product manufacturing, commissioning and support.

The asset that I leverage most often is my 40 years of experience providing a professional audio solution to someone else. I’ve worked in sales management, as a rep, as a salesperson in a music store and, of course, as a musician. Also, I have worked with some extraordinarily talented and prolific people through my journey in this industry, and I use what I’ve learned from others all the time to be successful today.

What new initiatives are we likely to see from the company?

Renkus-Heinz has continued to engineer new products over the past year. We recently announced the latest products in our C Series line and our S Series line, and we expanded the range of the new Iconyx Compact Series. We were very strategic with our supply chain last year, which meant chip and component shortages did not impact our ability to develop, manufacture or ship new solutions.

That same momentum can be expected for the year ahead. We will continue to bring new solutions to market as planned. We still have the ability to custom-fabricate solutions with custom paint and weatherization at our manufacturing facility in California. My moving into the national sales manager role is a strategic change that will allow us to work more closely with those who use our solutions. We recently hired Karan Kathuria to the position of director operating across Asia, Oceania and SAARC, giving us an increased presence in the region. We plan to continue to innovate, ship product and hire for positions that will support our partners.

[ Innovations: Renkus-Heinz ICLive X Series, by Ralph Heinz

What are your short- and long-term goals?

There are two key objectives in play here. The first is to maintain the current sales as we bob and weave through a not-so-normal time. The second is to be prepared and ready for a return to normal. Renkus-Heinz expects 2021 will see a normalization as vaccine rollouts continue, and we will be prepared to transition into a faster growth mentality.

What is the greatest challenge you face?

I know many will expect me to talk about the pandemic, but I have always said that the most significant challenge today is tomorrow. How do we predict it? How do we prepare for it? How do we march into it? A company must be agile. What we do today is plan, but we always must recognize that tomorrow may change.

[ Harro Heinz, Renkus-Heinz Co-Founder, Looks Ahead at 90

I believe Renkus-Heinz is incredibly agile. We’ve been strategic, we’re poised for growth, and we are responsive. We are focused on delivering the right product and solution, and we do it by ensuring we work collaboratively with our partners for their long-term success.

Renkus-Heinz • www.renkus-heinz.com

Original Resource is ProSoundNetwork.com

Sweetwater Revenues Roll Past $1 Billion

Chuck Surack, founder and CEO of Sweetwater.
Chuck Surack, founder and CEO of Sweetwater.

Fort Wayne, IN (February 17, 2021)—The past year was one for the record books in the U.S., and not in a good way, thanks to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. Yet there was a silver lining for some, including pro audio equipment and music instrument retailer Sweetwater, which set its own record in 2020.

With professionals gearing up to work from home during lockdown, individuals and organizations implementing new video streaming and podcasting solutions, and a good chunk of the population looking to further its musical ambitions, Sweetwater served more than 1.5 million customers last year. That proved to be a significant increase from 2019, and 2020 ultimately drove the company’s annual revenues past the $1 billion milestone in for the first time in Sweetwater’s 42-year history.

Caring customer engagement has been key, according to CEO Chuck Surack, who famously started Sweetwater Sound as a mobile recording studio in the back of his VW microbus in 1979. Initially working from home, the company’s sales engineers struggled with how to best contact and communicate with customers, he reports. “I advised them to follow suit with our company’s mission, which is to simply ‘do the right thing’ and call just to ask them how they’re doing. No hidden agendas or sneaky ways to try and push or sell products.”

Noting that 82% of calls with customers are outgoing, Surack adds, “We’re continuing with this frequency and form of communication as it’s been preferred by our customers.” Most of Sweetwater’s 500-plus sales engineers have returned to the company’s campus during the pandemic, where they are following CDC and local government guidelines.

Sweetwater's new 480,000-square-foot distribution center
Sweetwater’s new 480,000-square-foot distribution center

That campus is ever-growing, too. Just prior to the pandemic, Sweetwater opened a new 480,000-square-foot distribution center—four times the size of the previous building—that added 50,000 more square feet for inventory. The company also added 400 new jobs last year, a 30% bump in the total workforce, which now numbers around 2,000.

“We built a brand-new sales floor in November that can house around 1,100 sales engineers,” says Surack, who plans to hire up to 130 new sales engineers. “We also have some expansion plans in the works for our on-campus music store. It will be double the size of the current store and should open late this spring.”

Sweetwater’s annual summer GearFest attracted more than 18,000 people to the campus in 2019. In 2020, in response to the pandemic, the company took the event online. More than 125,000 people participated worldwide, tuning in for 16-plus hours of livestreamed panel sessions and interviews, educational content and, of course, deals and giveaways, during the two-day event.

“We’ll plan to continue offering a virtual component so that we can meet our customers and fans of music where they are,” says Surack. “While there’s nothing like having nearly 20,000 people in-person at our campus in Fort Wayne from all around the world, we still want to allow the opportunity for people to experience GearFest from the comfort of their home if they can’t make it to us. With Covid-19 still a concern, we’re working out the plans and logistics for GearFest 2021; however, we look forward to the future where we can offer both experiences.”

Surack founded Sweetwater Sound in the back of his VW microbus in 1979.
Surack founded Sweetwater Sound in the back of his Volkswagon microbus in 1979.

There has been one constant during the pandemic, says Surack, a former touring sax and keyboard player. “Despite how much of the way we live, work and gather has changed over the last year, especially for the audio community, one thing has remained consistent—music. While many stadiums and concert venues have been empty and will likely stay that way for some time, people will continue to play and make music virtually or from a distance. In 2020, we experienced skyrocketing sales for gear like audio interfaces, microphones, preamps and other devices that allow you to pre-record and put things on YouTube or use for Zoom and live broadcasts. We anticipate that this will remain consistent as more people take up an interest in making music remotely, perhaps for the long haul.”

Hopefully, that love of music will see us through to whatever comes next. “While the industry has definitely not remained unscathed by the pandemic,” he says, “I am confident that music will continue to prevail until the community is able to return to a sense of normalcy.”

Original Resource is ProSoundNetwork.com

Nu Deco Ensemble’s New Shows

Miami’s Nu Deco Ensemble returned to playing live shows in October, with precautions ranging from masks to Plexiglas to social distancing all in place.
Miami’s Nu Deco Ensemble returned to playing live shows in October, with precautions ranging from masks to Plexiglas to social distancing all in place.

Miami, FL (January 27, 2021)—The Nu Deco Ensemble demonstrated its flexibility when the coronavirus pandemic brought the genre-bending orchestra’s sixth season to a premature end in March 2020. Six months later, after several months of engaging their audience over digital platforms, it was back to live outdoor performances.

Founders and creative directors Sam Hyken and Jacomo Bairos formed Nu Deco in 2015 with the aim of reimagining the chamber orchestra for the modern age. The hybrid ensemble, which combines traditional and modern instruments, has carved a niche for itself with new arrangements of music by the likes of Daft Punk and Queen, and special commissions of orchestral works by contemporary artists, including Kishi Bashi, Robert Glasper and Pascal La Boeuf.

Nu Deco has retained the same independent audio team since its inception, says Hyken. “Amplification is a crucial part, as we’re deliberately trying to create a futuristic sound, a new version of what an orchestra should sound like in a concert hall and beyond. We consider the audio team almost as members of the orchestra, because what they do for live sound and the recording component is so critical. We recently have come to an agreement with a video team on the same level.”

UK Music Report Aims to Revive Live Music Industry

Every performance is captured to the highest quality audio and video formats, but Nu Deco’s concerts, which are now being streamed, are live, not pre-recorded. “One of the things that made us who we were in the beginning was playing in intimate venues,” says Bairos. “We asked ourselves how we could capture that intimacy in all the music we do but also have some pizazz. We decided to have a live shoot; it’s a live show.”

The first concert since the pandemic hit, with guest artist José James at Miami’s North Beach Bandshell in late October, had all the hallmarks of a Nu Deco show—just no audience, and with masks and Plexiglas screens visible on stage. Since the repertoire is all custom, says Hyken, they can easily scale the size of the ensemble to meet social distancing requirements.

“We’ve been working with Baptist Medical, one of the best hospitals here, to check all our protocols,” he says. “Anyone coming from out of town, like Jose James, is rapid-tested every day. We follow the CDC and local recommendations to the letter.”

The ensemble also benefits from Florida being a right-to-work state and with no union agreements restricting live performances, says Bairos. “So we’re one of the few orchestras still playing.”

Original Resource is ProSoundNetwork.com

Phil Spector, Producer/Murderer, Dead at 81

Phil Spector
Inmate Phil Spector poses for his mugshot photo on June 5, 2009 at North Kern State Prison in Delano, California. Getty Images

Los Angeles, CA (January 20, 2021)—Producer and convicted murderer Phil Spector died in a prison hospital January 16, 2021. In his music-making prime during the early to mid-1960s, Spector created hit after hit with a rotating series of singers and session musicians, developing the Wall of Sound production method that became his trademark. While his obsessive nature aided his quest to turn simple pop songs into aural epics that exploded out of the mono transistor radios of the era, that same quality also led to severe mental illness, wrathful control issues and erratic, violent behavior that that came to a head with his 2003 murder of actress Lana Clarkson. Sentenced in 2009 to 19 years-to-life in prison, Spector contracted COVID-19 in December, 2020 and died due to complications from the virus. He was 81.

Phil Spector was born in the Bronx borough of New York City the day after Christmas in 1939; his family moved to Los Angeles when he was 14, following the suicide of his father. Forming a group, The Teddy Bears, with high school friends, Spector had his first success penning and co-performing the group’s sole hit, “To Know Him is to Love Him,” in 1958. After they broke up the following year, Spector headed back to New York City, where he became a musical jack-of-all-trades, co-writing Ben E. King’s hit, “Spanish Harlem,” and playing guitar on The Drifters’ “On Broadway.” Returning to L.A., Spector moved into record production and soon began cranking out a seemingly endless stream of hits with acts like The Crystals (“He’s A Rebel”), Darlene Love, The Ronettes (“Be My Baby”), The Righteous Brothers (“You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin'”), Ike & Tina Turner (“River Deep – Mountain High”) and more.

During this era, Spector developed his trademark “Wall of Sound” production method, often working at Gold Star Studios in Hollywood with engineer Larry Levine, arranger Jack Nitzsche and a loose-knit group of first-call session musicians nicknamed The Wrecking Crew. The dense, bombastic sound was based around a near orchestral approach—rather than use the typically sparse instrumentation of the day, a Phil Spector production would have dozens of musicians crammed into one room, with multiple instruments playing the same parts in unison to create larger, thicker tones, whether that was the same instrument—say, three guitars—or different, though related ones, such as a piano, organ and harpsichord. The thick, sometimes gummy sound was further expanded through use of echo, reverb and distortion; this, along with the fact that they were recorded live in the studio rather than multitracked piecemeal like they would be today, gave the performances an immediacy and often overpowering drive that set them apart from anything else on the charts at that time.

Spector went into semi-retirement in 1966, and married Veronica Bennett, better known as Ronnie Spector of The Ronettes in 1968, adopting a son and later surprising her by adopting twins as a Christmas present. It was, by all accounts, a cruel, abusive marriage that found Bennett and the children kept captive in Spector’s mansion, though Bennett ultimately made a late-night escape from their mansion—and marriage—in 1972. In their 1974 divorce settlement, she gave up all claim to future royalties on the Ronettes’ work and likewise gave up custody of their children—a decision she said was made because Spector threatened to have her assassinated. In the decades since, two of the children have alleged they endured sexual abuse due to Spector in the years after Bennett left.

UK Producer Steve Brown, Dead at 65

Pro Audio In Memoriam 2020

By this time, Spector had revived his production career, as he was hired in 1970 to assemble rough takes recorded by the Beatles into the band’s final album, 1970’s Let It Be. While it was a massive hit, Paul McCartney took issue with Spector’s heavy-handed embellishments, eventually going so far as to have the album remixed without them and released as 2003’s Let It Be…Naked. Nonetheless, Spector made inroads with the other Beatles as a result of the collection and went on to record multi-platinum albums for John Lennon (Imagine; Some Time in New York City) and George Harrison (All Things Must Pass; The Concert for Bangladesh). With Spector’s increasing unpredictability, however, both artists eventually stopped working with him. Lennon initially hired the producer for what would become 1975’s Rock ‘n’ Roll, but Spector’s heavy alcohol abuse and wild behavior like showing up to record in surgical scrubs, firing a gun into the studio ceiling, spilling whiskey into A&M Studio’s console, and ultimately kidnapping the session tapes for months at a time, led the project to be shelved for a number of years.

Spector closed out the 1970s recording poorly received albums with the Ramones and Leonard Cohen, and remained largely inactive throughout the next 20 years, sporadically working with on tracks with Yoko Ono, Starsailor and a failed collaboration with Celine Dion (Dion allegedly walked, fed up with Spector’s dithering). Spector spent much of those years in reclusion, fading from public memory, but that ended abruptly on February 3, 2003, when he shot actress Lana Clarkson in the mouth at his mansion. Barely acquaintances, Spector had invited her to his home after they met at L.A.’s House of Blues, and later claimed the death was an “accidental suicide.” Spector’s driver called 911 and quoted him in the call as saying “I think I’ve killed somebody.” After a 2007 trial ended in a hung jury, a second trial resulted in Spector’s March, 2009 conviction.

While Spector’s musical ingenuity is still admired in many quarters, his volatile actions throughout his career have long since overshadowed whatever accomplishments he achieved. He will not be missed.

Original Resource is ProSoundNetwork.com

Grammy Awards Postponed to March 14

2021 Grammy AwardsLos Angeles, CA (January 6, 2021)—With the COVID-19 pandemic spiking throughout California and particularly in Los Angeles, the Recording Academy has pushed its 63rd Annual Grammy Awards broadcast back 42 days, moving it to Sunday, March 14, 2020.

Originally scheduled to take place at Los Angeles’ Staples Center on Sunday, January 31, the event is traditionally the highpoint of the music industry’s year, honoring successes of the previous 12 months while often being used by artists and labels as a highly visible platform for laying the groundwork on upcoming releases and summer tours.

2021 Grammy Production Nominations Announced

However, with the pandemic raging throughout California—74,000 more cases were reported on January 4, the day prior to the announcement, setting another single-day record for the state—the Recording Academy opted to err on the side of caution. Before the announcement was made, the event was already planned to be drastically different from the often bombastic shows of years past, which have been typically high on production numbers and low on actual award presentations. While still being held at the Staples Center, the ceremony reportedly will still feature performances and award presentations on site—but without the presence of nominees or a live audience.

Most winners of the 83 Grammy Awards categories—including the production categories honoring achievements in production, engineering, mixing, remixing and mastering—are announced and awarded at an entirely separate event: the Pre-Telecast ceremony. In recent years, that occasion has been held midday across the street from the Staples Center at the Microsoft Theater, and livestreamed online. Currently there is no word as to the status of the Pre-Telecast.

A joint statement regarding the main telecast’s changed date was released from Harvey Mason Jr., chair & interim president/CEO of the Recording Academy; Jack Sussman, executive vice president, Specials, Music, Live Events and Alternative Programming, CBS; and Ben Winston, Grammy Awards executive producer, Fulwell 73 Productions, stating, “After thoughtful conversations with health experts, our host and artists scheduled to appear, we are rescheduling the 63rd Annual Grammy Awards to be broadcast Sunday, March 14, 2021. The deteriorating COVID situation in Los Angeles, with hospital services being overwhelmed, ICUs having reached capacity, and new guidance from state and local governments have all led us to conclude that postponing our show was the right thing to do. Nothing is more important than the health and safety of those in our music community and the hundreds of people who work tirelessly on producing the show. We want to thank all of the talented artists, the staff, our vendors and especially this year’s nominees for their understanding, patience and willingness to work with us as we navigate these unprecedented times.”

The Recording Academy is not alone in punting its ceremony further down the calendar; most of the winter awards season has been shifted to the spring at this point, with the Oscars now set for April 25, and other awards such as the BAFTAs and Golden Globes likewise pushed back.

Recording Academy • www.grammy.com

Original Resource is ProSoundNetwork.com

COVID-19 Relief Package Will Help Pro Audio Industry

Congress / Capitol Hill / covid relief packageNew York, NY (December 21, 2020)—Late Sunday evening, Congressional leaders finally came to agreement on a long-awaited and long-negotiated $900-billion COVID-19 Relief Package; while the bill has yet to be voted on at press time, it is expected to be passed this week. The relief package would enact additional unemployment benefits, including extended assistance for the self-employed and gig workers, and would additionally reopen the Paycheck Protection Program, allotting relief funds that could aid live production pros, as well as nonprofits, radio and TV broadcasters, and more.

Crucially for the live event/touring production sector, the new bill includes the Save Our Stages (SOS) Act, under which $15 billion in PPP relief would be specifically earmarked for live venues, cultural institutions, independent cinemas and more. This marks a notable step up from the original amount that the SOS Act requested when first proposed in mid-2020.

The SOS Act, co-authored by Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) and Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), originally asked for $10 billion to provide six months of economic relief to independent venues. Issued in the form of grants, money would be disbursed to qualifying smaller venues, promoters, producers and talent representatives, and could be used, according to Klobuchar’s office, towards “rent, utilities, mortgage payments, PPE, contractor payments, maintenance, administrative costs, taxes, operating leases, and capital expenditures related to meeting state, local, or federal social distancing guidelines.”

While not aiding audio professionals directly, if passed, the Save Our Stages Act could help keep venues going until they can reopen in a meaningful fashion, ensuring sound professionals have an industry to work in on the other side of the pandemic. When first introduced, the bill quickly gained the co-sponsorship of Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and 28 bipartisan co-sponsors in the Senate.

Under the overall $900 billion COVID-19 Relief Package, the revived PPP program from which the SOS Act funds would be derived, would include more than $284 billion for first and second PPP loans to small businesses, both of which can be forgiven. The new program would also expand eligibility for the program in order to be more inclusive of nonprofits and smaller, independent media outlets such as local newspapers, and TV/radio broadcasters.

News of the SOS Act’s inclusion was met with excitement in the industry. Dayna Frank, board president of the 2,600-member National Independent Venue Association and owner/CEO of First Avenue Productions, said, “We’re thrilled that Congress has heard the call of shuttered independent venues across the country and provided us a crucial lifeline by including the Save Our Stages Act in the COVID-19 Relief Bill. We’re also incredibly grateful that this bill provides Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, which will help the millions of people who lost their jobs through no fault of their own during this economic crisis. We urge swift passage of this legislation, which will assist those in the greatest need and ensure the music lives on for generations to come.”

Original Resource is ProSoundNetwork.com

Shure Aids Andrea Bocelli Foundation

Andrea Bocelli Foundation
Shure has donated a substantial amount of hardware to the the new Camerino Music Academy in Italy, built by the Andrea Bocelli Foundation.

Camerino, Italy (December 7, 2020)—Since it was founded in 2011, The Andrea Bocelli Foundation (ABF) has raised more than 30 million Euros and constructed eight schools, including the new Camerino Music Academy in Italy, replacing the former Academy’s previous building, which was destroyed by an earthquake in 2016. Aiding the effort, Shure provided microphones and headphones for the new facility.

The new Camerino Music Academy was constructed in less than 150 days thanks to the funds and oversight of the ABF. The new facility will host the lessons of more than 160 enrolled students. Architect Renzo Piano, the Municipality of Camerino, the Associations of the territory, the University, the music high schools, and the Conservatory of Fermo were also involved in the project, built with modern and anti-seismic construction techniques.

Andrea Bocelli’s Engineer Talks Coronavirus

The Andrea Bocelli Foundation, like other nonprofits, has experienced a significant reduction in fundraising due to COVID-19. Additional income for the project was also impacted as the result of a break in live performance concerts by Bocelli. The Camerino project and its need for donated audio equipment was brought to the attention of Shure by Andrea Taglia, sound engineer for Andrea Bocelli.

“Shure has worked with Mr. Bocelli and Mr. Taglia for years, providing invaluable feedback to our product development process,” said John Born, Senior Product Manager at Shure. “Their recognition in the industry and ability to bring a world-class audio experience to the largest performance venues are second to none. While we continue to be their first choice on tour, we are especially honored that Shure equipment was selected by their installation team on such an ambitious and complex project.”

Shure provided an assortment of audio gear including KSM studio recording microphones, Microflex gooseneck mics, SLX-D digital wireless microphone systems, and professional studio-quality SRH headphones.

“We are pleased to lend our support to the Andrea Bocelli Foundation for this important and worthy project,” added Christine Schyvinck, president and CEO at Shure. “The Camerino Music Academy aligns with the objectives of Shure’s Corporate Social Responsibility program, supporting the development of future generations of musical artists, particularly under challenging conditions. It is a privilege for Shure to be associated with Mr. Bocelli and Ms. Berti and their exceptional organization.”

Shure • www.shure.com

Original Resource is ProSoundNetwork.com

Restart-19 COVID Concert Experiment Shares Results

Dr. Stefan Moritz, head of Halle University’s clinical infectious diseases department, presents one of the trackers used to record where concertgoers went during their time at the test concerts.
Dr. Stefan Moritz, head of Halle University’s clinical infectious diseases department, presents one of the trackers used
to record where concertgoers went during their time at the Restart-19 test concerts. Halle University

Leipzig, Germany (December 3, 2020)—According to the results of Restart-19, an experiment in Germany, indoor sports and cultural events including music concerts could return soon—under the right conditions. The test was conducted by a team from Leipzig’s Halle University, who report that “seated indoor events, when conducted under hygiene precautions and with adequate ventilation, have small effects on the spread of COVID-19.”

The study was held in August at an 8,000-seat arena in Leipzig, where popular German singer Tim Bendzko and his band played to about 1,200 people. The 10-hour event was designed to test the potential spread of the novel coronavirus through contact and exposure to aerosol droplets. The results, published in November, have not been peer reviewed.

The team, led by Dr. Stefan Moritz, head of the university’s clinical infectious diseases department, designed the event to study three different scenarios: a pre-pandemic concert with no safety measures, an event with some social distancing and a hygiene regimen, and a reduced crowd with concertgoers positioned about six feet apart. The experiment included various entrance and exit scenarios, bathroom breaks and simulated food and drink purchasing.

Attendees, who were required to have tested negative for COVID-19 no more than 48 hours prior to the event, had their temperatures taken on arrival, were given N95 face masks and were provided with tracking devices to measure their social distancing. Fluorescent disinfectants were applied to their hands so that the team could study which surfaces concertgoers touched the most. The results suggest that good ventilation, strict hygiene protocols, limited capacities and social distancing can minimize the potential for spreading the virus. Computer modeling of larger audiences—the organizers had hoped for 4,000 volunteers—showed similar results.

Scientists Hold Concerts to Determine How to Bring Shows Back

Adequate ventilation appears to be key to safely hosting mass gatherings of people in indoor venues. Researchers found that the density of viruses in aerosols was decreased through regular air circulation. “We knew that ventilation was important, but we didn’t expect it to be that important,” the team’s Dr. Michael Gekle told The New York Times.

The report stresses the importance of good ventilation: “[I]n scenarios with physical distancing, the resulting contact numbers are rather low and the effective risk depends primarily on the adequacy of the ventilation. Thus, under hygiene protocols and good ventilation, even a substantial number of indoor MGEs [mass gathering events] has only minimal effects on the overall number of infections in the population. However, poor ventilation systems can lead to a considerably higher rate of aerosol expositions and can thereby result in a high number of infections.”

In the experiment, contact was generally less than 15 minutes between participants. Prolonged contact of several minutes was observed during the breaks between performances and during entry to the venue. In the pre-pandemic scenario, contacts tended to accumulate over the duration of the event.

Commenting to The New York Times, Emily Eavis, co-organizer of the Glastonbury Festival, said, “Obviously if masks are going to work for larger gigs, then that’s big progress.” The Leipzig experiment focused on seated events, where social distancing can be managed. Outdoor festivals, though well ventilated, are likely to remain riskier ventures until vaccine use is sufficiently widespread.

The organizers of Spain’s Primavera Sound festival are reportedly helping to conduct research into the efficacy of rapid COVID-19 testing as a method for screening music fans. In the United States, Ticketmaster has floated a plan to vet concertgoers once they have purchased tickets. The scheme would involve third-party testing and vaccine distribution providers and health information reporting companies. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not yet approved any such digital screening services.

Original Resource is ProSoundNetwork.com

Flexible Engineering Helps ‘Story Pirates’ Sail to 20M Downloads

In non-COVID times, Story Pirates is recorded 'cartoon style,' with the cast in a circle using Warm Audio WA87 and WA14 microphones in front of each actor.
In non-COVID times, Story Pirates is recorded ‘cartoon style,’ with the cast in a circle using Warm Audio WA87 and WA14 microphones in front of each actor.

New York, NY (November 19, 2020)—There are complex podcast productions, and then there’s Story Pirates. For technical director Sam Bair, editing the acclaimed Gimlet podcast isn’t about simply picking the best content and shaping a narrative—it’s about finding the best takes from a half-dozen actors reading their lines from a script, and then filling the audio spectrum with sounds that advance the story and appeal to kids.

Story Pirates is known for having guest actors, including David Schwimmer (center, left) and SNL's Bowen Yang (center, right).
Story Pirates is known for its guest stars, including David Schwimmer (center, left) and SNL‘s Bowen Yang (center, right).

“It really is a true post-production compilation of recordings,” says Bair, whose role includes sound design, producing, and recording and mix engineer. “We’re recording all the takes and pulling specific lines from different takes. We’re also taking whole sections from different takes.”

Sam Bair
Sam Bair, technical director for Story Pirates

The Story Pirates podcast—named the 2020 Best Kids and Family Podcast by iHeartRadio and with more than 20 million downloads to its credit—is brought to life by a collective of comedians, musicians, writers and teachers who interpret original stories written by kids into sketches with original songs in each episode. Two cast members, Lee Overtree and Peter McNerney, pull double duty as executive producer and co-producer, respectively.

“Peter is the main producer during recordings of stories,” Bair explains. “He and I work together to pick the best takes of each scene and then fine tune the pacing. Then, over the course of mixing and sound designing, we are still, by the millisecond, really pacing it out to get what we think is the best comedic effect.”

Under conventional circumstances, Bair records the cast live in a studio, with the actors standing in a circle “cartoon-style” around a Neumann U67 with Warm Audio WA87 and WA14 microphones in front of each actor. Since COVID-19 hit, however, they have recorded the podcast over Zoom with live reads as before, and each cast member records locally through a WA87 or WA14 into a Zoom H6 recorder.

For the show’s frequent guest actors—they’ve had 40 since the pandemic hit—Bair gets in touch in advance of the recording session to help them prepare. Some have nice home studios, while others have a simple USB microphone.

Inside Recording Robert Plant’s ‘Digging Deep’ Podcast
How Sound Effects Make REI’s ‘Camp Monsters’ Podcast Spooky
Podcast Audio Compression—How and Why with ‘Eric Krasno Plus One’

“I have a little document for all the actors, [saying], ‘Hey, here is the recommended mic setup for you. Here’s the recommended room setup for you,’” Bair says. “A lot of these actors have no technical experience whatsoever, so we have them send some sample recordings. I critique that and we work together over email to get the best possible quality out of their home systems.”

Despite their efforts to get clean audio, occasionally an anomaly or two will sneak through the iron-clad system Bair and McNerney have established. In a recent episode, the actor playing the lead character, who had 80 percent of the dialogue in the story, “sounded like she was in a tin can” with a distracting buzz through the entire recording, Bair says. “We were kind of up against the wall. What we’ve found works really fast, considering the circumstances, is [to give the actor] an assembled take of the entire story with sound design and everything in it. They put that into, say, GarageBand and give us two or three takes, and we’ll massage those new takes in.”

Story PiratesStory Pirates also employs a live band with guitar, bass, drums and keys to perform a new original song for each episode, which Bair tracks in the 800-square-foot live room at his Chelsea (NYC) studio, The Relic Room. Bair builds out the fictional world of each episode with audio from sound libraries as well as a live piano underscore.

“When we’re tracking in the studio with the cast, there’s a live piano player,” he says. “Now that we’re not in the studio, I send [the pianist] an assembled version of each section of the episode and he’ll underscore the whole thing. It really helps with the actors at home [because] that piano underscore helps mask various room tone differences.”

Original Resource is ProSoundNetwork.com

How One College is Holding Real-Time Remote Rehearsals

Moody Bible Institute’s vocal and instrumental programs faced having to rehearse with players remotely separated. Professor David Gauger found a solutio, centered around Jamulus software and TASACAM recorders.
Vocal and instrumental programs at Moody Bible Institute faced having to rehearse with players remotely separated. Professor David Gauger found a solution, centered around Jamulus software and TASCAM recorders.

Chicago, IL (November 9, 2020)—Chicago’s Moody Bible Institute, a Christian institution of higher education with its main campus in Chicago, Illinois, faced the same issues with its music programs this fall that thousands of other educational facilities have—how to safely hold real-time rehearsals in the time of COVID-19. Dr. David Gauger, D.M.A., an Artist/Professor of Music at Moody Bible Institute, found a solution that worked for his groups, centered around Jamulus software and TASCAM recorders.

“Our plan is to have all of our live rehearsal groups use TASCAM DR-05X recorders as a front end for the Jamulus low-latency software,” Gauger explained. “We purchased 30 recorders in August 2020 [so that our] Collectives each rehearse twice a week for 90 minutes, the Jazz Band rehearses once a week for an hour, and the Worship Leading course has had several online rehearsals.”

As an example of the process, Gauger described the situation with his vocal ensembles, “The solution to safe, ‘social distancing’ in a rehearsal environment caused us to seek another solution, which was to put every singer in their own room. College dorms function well for this, as each room provides isolation and does not raise the risk of infection, assuming that precautions are adhered to, such as opening the window for ventilation.”

“Allowing the singers to hear each other and be heard can be accomplished using the Internet,” Gauger continued, “but typical video conferencing software works very poorly for this due to long and somewhat random latency differences between singers. Singing together requires much tighter tolerances than typical video conferencing solutions provide. In the last few years, several developers having been writing low-latency software to solve this problem. We chose Jamulus because of its data requirements, the ability to set up and run your own server to keep your data ‘in-house’, and the fact that it’s open source software.”

Driving Podcast Sound Design: ‘The Alarmist’ Makes Noise

According to Gauger, the signal chain starts at the TASCAM DR-05X and goes to USB input on a computer running Jamulus. Next, it heads via Ethernet connection to the Jamulus server on campus. Students hold the DR-05X like a handheld stage mic and are instructed to sing over the top of the unit as opposed to directly into it.

Gauger described a typical rehearsal, “In worship teams, there are singers plus a rhythm section (piano, bass, drums, guitars, synth). While the six singers are in their dorms singing, the rhythm section is assembled in a recording studio that has mics, a mixing board, and a headphone monitoring system. They are all socially distanced and are wearing masks. There is a screen with a projector showing the Zoom meeting with all the singers in their dorm rooms. There is a camera in the studio feeding the Zoom session. This enables the singers to see and hear the studio musicians while the studio musicians can see and hear the dorm-based singers. At the same time that Jamulus is handling the audio, we run a simultaneous Zoom video conference, enabling everyone to see each other—but the Zoom audio is muted, and the only sound heard is from Jamulus.”

“The DR-05X’s ability to serve as a stereo microphone, low latency USB audio interface, and standalone recorder is huge,” he added. “I also found the DR-05X’s sound to be impressive and its omni mics mean it is much less susceptible to the proximity effect typical of cardioid mics. The fact that the DR-05X not only functions as a mic, but also as a recorder and interface to other audio software is huge. The unit is truly multifaceted.”

Moody Bible Institute • www.moody.edu

TASCAM • www.tascam.com

Original Resource is ProSoundNetwork.com