Finally... An Invisibility Cloak For Sound Engineers!
By Richard Morales
Ode to the IPad Mix
For audio technicians at Boom Audio Services, invisibility is an important part of the service we provide. The goal is always to set up the event and move out of the way, so the audience could enjoy the show. Regardless of the event type or size, the show cannot go on without the sound crew’s effort and expertise. However, the sound crew has no place in the show’s visual presentation and need to be invisible to the audience. This is especially challenging for sound engineers to achieve at event types and locations where the best mixer locations are reserved for the audience, either due to a lack of space or running power and signal cables to a mixer that is set up in front of the sound system, is deemed an eye sore or a safety hazard by the event organizers. The side of stage mix therefore, becomes the only available option.
Traditionally, the dreaded side of stage mix is a real work out. It means that the mixer is set up behind the PA system making it difficult for the sound engineer to really hear the final mix. The only option is to walk out to the front of the sound system to hear the mix and then walk back to the mixer to adjust the levels, again and again. In so doing the sound engineer easily becomes part of the show and invisibility is lost. Enter the digital mixer, a Wifi router and a tablet, to create a much needed invisibility cloak.
An invisibility cloak is a magical garment that renders whomever or whatever it covers un-seeable. I first heard the term while watching the movie Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows in 2007. I thought it was cool. Of course, such a garment is purely fictional. Thankfully, we now have technology that can turn fiction into reality. Practically all the major Pro-audio manufacturers (Allen & Heath, Soundcraft, Behringer, Mackie, QSC and others) now offer this technology as an essential feature in all their digital mixers. The system allows digital mixers to integrate with an iPad or Android tablet (Via Wifi), allowing remote control over the mixer's functions from the tablet anywhere in the room. The sound engineer is no longer limited to the fixed side of stage mix location and can operate outside of the audience’s viewpoint. Invisibility achieved.
Using an IPad remote, sound engineers can focus on their mix by moving around the venue to experience what the audience is hearing. The system can be used to both tweak the sound system for the audience and adjust monitor levels for the performers. Live mixing the way it was meant to be, without disrupting the show or distracting the audience. The result is better sounding shows.
As an old school sound engineer, I've used analog mixers to awkwardly mix hundreds of shows at the side of stage position. The IPad remote mix function on digital mixers is certainly a welcome tool. I would highly recommend that event planners and organizers of event types, that need a side of stage mix, inquire about the availability and use of these systems from potential audio service providers before making the final decision to hire them. If its not available, you're probably not going to have invisibility from the sound engineer or get the best sound at your event.