Hot for Teacher – By Robert Scovill


Editors Note: We are beyond pleased that, industry guru and all around nice guy, Robert Scovill has taken time to write Heil Sound’s first guest blog. Robert is currently touring as FOH mixer for Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers.

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In my travels around the globe, both on behalf of Avid Technologies as well as for my touring clients, I have met countless men and women who desire to get into the field of music production. In nearly every one of those encounters there is one undeniable thread that runs through them; the quest for more knowledge on the subject and more “training”.

And it’s here where the questions really start. “What kind of training do I need? Where can I learn to operate one of those? Can you recommend any books on live sound? Are there any schools that teach this? And on and on it goes.

Well, okay, here we go … For starters, many of today’s name recording studios offer training as component of their revenue model and some are even incorporating a live sound component. Of course, many technology manufacturers offer operational training as a component of their business or marketing models. Even sound companies are now starting to offer in house “on campus” formalized training for their employees. And there has certainly never been more “audio schools” in play both in the post secondary education market as well as in the formalized university setting.

Heck, I’ve even joined in the fray over the past couple of decades now. I’ve lead many AES chapter classes and seminars, I’ve consulted on curriculum for audio schools, helped develop courseware for manufacturers and as of late have worked with numerous churches helping to “train” and orient their staff members with classes and seminars. In the not too distant past I’ve even held my own series of five day workshops for budding live sound professionals called “The Complete FOH Engineer”.

So, with all these training avenues in play it begs the question; what is missing? Why is there still such a thirst for training? And maybe more importantly, if there’s all this training available, why does the industry as a whole feel that live sound in particular has not gotten all that much better over time or is not really evolving comparative to the pace in which the technology is evolving?

Well … I have my theories and I’d like to share them with you. So, if you’re interested, then please read on.

For starters, as the industry has grown and evolved it’s not done a great job of identifying the different disciplines and then correctly positioning both the types of training needed for a given discipline in conjunction with developing consistent content and approaches for the given field of expertise. By this I mean, we have a tendency to equate all training as “audio training” or “live sound training” when in fact it really needs some well defined silos in order to make the teaching and the subject matter more targeted, and in turn, more effective for the student and the industry they will serve.

As an industry we’ve also done a relatively poor job of establishing a base line of any sort with regard to concert sound that can be consistently taught. I mean consider that everyone of the classroom settings that I mentioned above – including my own seminars – would be wildly different in terms of content. Ask 10 of the biggest sound companies what new hires coming in to their companies need to know and you’ll likely get 12 different answers. Take a cross section of what is being taught with regard to live sound among the “audio schools” and you would be hard pressed to believe they are all even teaching the same subject. In essence there is a LOT of confusion in the industry by both parties; teacher and student.

It makes me think of this great exchange from a movie called The American President where a young staffer is calling out the president on his lack of leadership from a recent speech compared to the man running against him in an upcoming election. For me this quote kind of signifies the challenge before us where Lewis’s mindset represents the men and women trying to enter the field and the Shepard mindset represents the industry as a whole.

Lewis Rothschild: … “They want leadership. They’re so thirsty for it they’ll crawl through the desert toward a mirage, and when they discover there’s no water, they’ll drink the sand.”

President Andrew Shepherd: … “People don’t drink the sand because they’re thirsty. They drink the sand because they don’t know the difference.”

Now, while I could likely make these words fit nearly any of the situations I mentioned above, it seems most analogous to how folks are responding to today’s operational training for digital consoles or DAWs where many folks consume or “drink” these courses in believing they are going to be taught “how to mix” or “how to record” when in fact what the course/training is really focused on is little more than how to “operate” the technology.

Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s not that you need to be skilled in one or the other. Operational fluency, in and of itself is great for the manufacturer and is certainly required for you the user as well because, let’s face it, being able to actually operate the thing sitting in front of you is a big asset. The alternative is certainly not so rosy. Especially in light of how complex the machines are now and how different they operate from manufacturer to manufacturer.

But the missing piece from the skill puzzle with regard to people who desire to mix, is the “why”. The thought of “why” I would want to do something on a given piece of technology and that speaks directly to context and taste with regard to the what you are actually mixing, not simply how to get a signal from point A to point B and add it to another signal. What is not taught, and frankly is much tougher to teach and learn, is how to “respond”. This is never been more necessary than while mixing music, especially live music.

The answer to the question “now what?” when given the seemingly infinite choices of what to do after hearing and examining a given input. It’s just simply not cut and dried with regard to what to do every time for a given style of music – and frankly, I hope it never gets to be that way. If it does, it essentially becomes a paint by numbers profession where subjectivity and taste are not in play. I mean, how much skill and influence is actually required to paint by numbers. Right?

I’ve oft said in front of anyone who will listen “I can teach a monkey how to operate the technology, what I can’t teach him is why to choose a particular tone shape on a given instrument in order to get it to work and fit into a particular blend or style of mix.” Although, I’ll tell ya what, after taking my ten year old to see “Dawn Of The Planet of The Apes” last night, maybe I’ll need to rethink that statement. 

I find the skill of mixing to be somewhat analogous to photography or even painting. Have two or more people paint or photograph the same image and see how varied the results end up being. Meaning; just because I know the operational ins and outs of the camera, or the paintbrush and the canvas for that matter, having that ability does not make me a competent photographer or painter. I have to have both and eye, and THEN skill to operate whatever it is I’m going to use to put my vision on display. In the case of audio, not an eye, but an ear and not a camera but a mixer or DAW.

And this is the missing ingredient that I see all around the world with folks that want to be “trained” to be a mixer. They equate it to console operation. By most accounts many have little insight into what actually makes music tick. Why does this sound or that sound actually work? What drove the artist or producer to choose that sound for that part? I mean, at the end of the day, it’s really music production appreciation and studies isn’t it? And, honestly, from the lens I’ve been looking through, it’s doesn’t appear to be being taught in but a very few places on planet earth and rarely if ever in live sound.

So, for all of you mixer wanna-bes out there, here’s my advice to you. Eat live and breathe music. And stretch out to as many types of music, recorded in as many ways as you can find and take it all in. Break it down, study it, live it. Once you do that, your challenges will be less about learning to operate all the cool-guy toys and more about simply making great sonic choices in order to make great sounding music regardless of what technology you’re sat in front of.

Believe it or not, the sounds are actually inside of you waiting to get out, not inside the console or the workstation. Now, if the sounds are not currently inside you, then you now know what kind of “training” you actually need. Good luck, now get busy!

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Theatre Organ Favorites-You Call This A Hobby?

Welcome to Bob Heil’s first blog. Read it and enjoy.

I’ve always been fascinated by the theatre organ, and I’ve had a love affair with the Mighty Bob_HeilWurlitzer since I was a teenager. The theatre organ was developed to replace the large orchestra that accompanied the silent films of the 1920’s. Now one person could do the accompaniment, with the organ controlling thousands of pipes with sounds of brass, woodwinds, percussion and stringed instruments. All of these were real instruments that were controlled with air operated hammers and beaters. Together it became, as the inventor Hope Jones called it, a “Unit Orchestra.”

At fifteen I was blessed to become the assistant organist under the direction of Stan Kann at the Fox Theatre in St. Louis, Mo. It was an incredible experience, aspects of which have stayed with me to this day.

We had to tune and voice the thousands of pipes in this monster, which taught me how to listen – mentally dissect the various harmonics of these five rooms of pipes from 32’ to 1”. This is where I learned how to listen. I spent years playing six nights a week, four hours per night, which strengthened my listening ability as well as the musical assembly of notes and tones. I recorded two record albums in those days too. Exciting times!

Our Home In The Ozarks

Sarah and I recently moved into our dream home in the Ozarks. It’s a beautiful place on several acres of land; enough for me to lay out my very large antennas for ham radio, my other passion. Also on the property is an outbuilding and I’ve turned the upstairs into a studio forloading_bobs_organ my Wurlitzer. Once we got the organ into my studio in the Ozarks ¬– not an easy task (see photo) – I set about recording an album of my favorite theater organ songs from the 1920’s, 30’s, and ‘40’s. Oh, and a couple by a “guy named Heil” from 2014.

About My Wurlitzer

It’s a three manual (keyboard) digitally sampled theatre organ built by the Allen Organ Company. Lyn Larsen, one of the top concert theatre organist’ designed the stop list and picked out specific theatre organs around the USA to be digitally sampled and built into a console of his design. This was the second Lyn Larsen model that Allen had built and Lyn wanted to make sure that after all of the sampling and construction of the instrument, it was what he had originally designed. To check this, Lyn came to my studio and spent hours doing the final voicing and tuning to his exact requirements. The organ is stunning.

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Meeting Dr. Brushard And Loving Sarah Heil

I originally recorded twelve tracks for the album but one afternoon as I climbed the stairs to the studio loft a melody hit me. It was an interesting melody, one that I couldn’t get out of my mind. So I hit the record button and this great fun song came roaring forward. I do not know a Dr. Brushard and I have no idea where that title came from but ‘The Theme from Dr. Brushard’ was born and named on that day. A day or so later during a practice session I was thinking how fortunate I have been and what a blessing to be supported by my wonderful wife Sarah. Thinking of how much I loved her, this melody came to me and again, I turned on the recording equipment and “I Love You Always” became a reality.

I love to share this great music and I get such a joy from playing each day. My hope is that many will enjoy this new CD.

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Below is a selection from “Theatre Organ Favorites” called “It’s Today”. If you would like to order one of Bob’s CDs please click here to send us an email.

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It’s My Job

It’s no secret that Heil Sound has been on a roll lately. The whiteboard in my office that I use to keep track of demo requests, loaners, and the like is covered with a “who’s who” of bands, solo performers, sound mixers, and tour managers all wanting know about the Heil Sound mics. It’s crazy, really, when I look at it. There are serious players here. Honestly, not all of them will work out-some will try a mic and end up going back to their old stuff and others will slip through the cracks for various reasons, etc. For me, it is a kick just getting the call knowing that these guys have heard about Heil Sound and are interested.

Neil Young book coverHere’s an example. I received a call from Dave Lohr who, along with Tim Mulligan, mixes Neil Young’s live sound. Ironically, I had been reading the Neil Young biography, “Shakey” at the exact time that the phone call from Dave came. Needless to say, I was thrilled, but more than that, I came off as a Neil Young expert while on the phone. Anyhow, they wanted to try something different for Neil’s vocal so I sent them a PR35 and a PR22. Dave had told me that Neil buys his own mics, owns hundreds of mics, and when he buys mics it is by the dozen. This was sounding very good. Three weeks later I got a phone call from Dave saying that everyone loved the sound of the Heil mics but, because their tour was leaving soon, they were going to stick with what they had. Of course I was…not devastated, but certainly disappointed. But I had made a couple of new friends and The Friends Of Heil (FOH) gained new members and that’s good.

Greg McVeigh

Guesthouse Projects, Inc

Artist Relations for Heil Sound

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Tommy Can You Hear Me?

Tommy Emmanuel Image“Guitar virtuoso Tommy Emmanuel has spent most of 2011 touring the world, performing concerts in Europe, Asia, and even Russia. Best known for his complex finger picking style, energetic performances, and the use of percussive effects on the guitar, he now brings his high-energy show to the US for a series of summer dates. Along for the entire voyage has been a full package of Heil Sound microphones…” So begins a press release that I just completed over the holiday weekend.

From my point of view, the ideal situation is to have every mic on a stage be a Heil microphone. Some production people have a problem using only one brand throughout a stage. I’ve never understood that, but I’m fortunate in that nine times out of ten a Heil mic will be a better fit than a competing brand. Sound mixers are a feisty and independent bunch though and there are times when they will insist on using something that perhaps could have been covered with a Heil mic. But in my perfect world…

Back to Tommy…

Steve Law, Tommy’s FOH mixer, formerly with Keith Urban among others, sent Bob an email earlier this year inquiring about providing some Heil mics for Tommy Emmanuel’s upcoming tour. It consisted of a lot of dates and the opportunity for some great promo. Bob asked me to intervene, which is my job, and figure this out. I’ve known Steve for a long time and flat out asked him if he could get every mic to be Heil. I wasn’t sure about this as Steve has done ads for another small boutique mic company and I didn’t want to put him in a bad spot. Steve said he personally had no problems with it but would check with the powers-that-be at Tommy’s management company and get back to me.

Here is how the conversation went as reported back by Steve.
Steve to management, “Think we could use Heil Sound mics for the whole stage?”
Management to Steve, “If Tommy is cool with it, sure.”
Tommy to Steve, “I’m cool with it.”
Done.

Heil shipped a box of mics to rehearsals and now every input that needs a mic gets a Heil. Tommy has commented several times to Steve at the great sound he is getting. Steve, Tommy, and the band have been a fantastic addition to the Friends of Heil. Tommy does interviews, Steve invites interested parties to sound check, and even the merchandise table has cards inviting people to join the Heil Sound Facebook page. I couldn’t ask for more and I thank the entire organization for being so cool.

Greg McVeigh
Guesthouse Projects, Inc
Artist Relations for Heil Sound

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Listen Up, Rock & Rollers

Leo LaportePut down your drumsticks, guitars, bagpipes (I’m talking to you, Dropkicks), and other high decibel devices for an hour of Bob Heil and tech guru, Leo Laporte. Bob will join Leo on a live broadcast Wednesday, March 23, 7:00 PM Eastern. Tom Merritt and Leo LaPorte host a show called “Triangulation,” where, according to the twit.tv Web Site, they talk to the smartest people in the world about the most important topics in technology. They graciously invited Bob to the Twit.tv studio in Petaluma, CA to participate in this Wednesday’s show. And as far as Bob and I are concerned, microphones are very, very important topics of musical technology. Leo is a blast-I saw a live broadcast last week in Austin that he did. The show is brought to you by TWiT Netcast Network – streamed live Wednesday at 7:00 PM Eastern/4:00 PM Pacific at http://live.twit.tv/.

Greg McVeigh
Guesthouse Projects, Inc
PR/Artist Relations for Heil Sound

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There’s Music in the Madness

There is music in the madness tonight in Austin. Thousands of people are in the streets partying and, mostly, behaving. This being St. Patrick’s Day has added its own layer of crazy into the mix. I swear I heard a reggae band playing “Danny Boy” at a very high SPL. The venues that are using Heil Sound mics have settled into a nice groove and all is going well there. FOH (Friend of Heil) Ryan John has been all over the place mixing the band Twin Atlantic. So much of this festival involves “run and gun” performing, which can mean multiple performances in different venues in a single day.Heil Sound Mic image

So, my question is, and has been for some time here, “why do the bands do this?” They drive hundreds of miles to get here, usually in a cramped van, to set up their own gear, and play just a few songs. Which brings me to my pet peeve and rant.

In my perfect world, every band would carry a mic package and there would be time for those mics to be properly set up for each show. Well, that ain’t gonna happen here, but singers need to carry their own vocal mics and insist that it gets used. Take a PR 22 or PR 35 and don’t perform unless the sound crew agrees to plug it in and use it. Sonically, it will make a huge difference. Also, the Heil mics’ rejection characteristics make them perfect for cramped stages. Last, and not least, is the hygiene factor. Without getting too graphic, germs are building mini-condominiums on microphone grill screens all over Austin this week. Come on, it’s cold and flu season and you are going to put your mouth on that grungy mic??? Do your band a favor and pack a vocal mic with your gear. I also recommend a product called “Microphome.” Our buddy, Tommy McCoy, invented this mic cleaning solvent and it works.

Anyhow, back to my question of why bands do this gig. They do it for the love of playing music. Period. And I salute them for that.

I’m off to pick out an urn to ship my ashes back home in. More later!

Greg McVeigh

Guesthouse Projects, Inc

PR/Artist Relations for Heil Sound

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The Calm Before the Heil Storm

JasperToday is sort of quiet downtown, at least for the venues that Heil is involved with. The PureVolume House on Trinity has Moby performing at a private event. Man, I hope this DJ thing never catches on with performers – not to many microphones on these shows. It does seem to me, and I say this with respect, that these high end DJs have figured out how to make a ton of money for not a lot of work. They don’t have road crews, they have assistants. No trucks either. But they do put in the hours – some of these things will go until morning.

On a personal note, today is my son Jasper’s 13th birthday. I’m away (again) on his big day but will make it up to him when I get home. Jasper went to his first show with me when he was four months old, in Montreux, Switzerland. He even had a miniaturized laminate that the promoter provided for the run of the festival. Through the years he has become my runnin’ pardner at countless shows. His great attitude, politeness, and smile have often made the difference backstage when things are getting tense. His greatest reward is free gatorade from the production office or dressing rooms. I love you, man.

This evening I am off to a birthday party for Ray Benson from Asleep At The Wheel. Should be fun.

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To Austin And Beyond With Leo Laporte

Heil contest cardsLanding at Austin’s Bergstrom Airport, one is immediately reminded that the FESTIVAL is in town. Young people, lots of young people, are all over the place. Most are fiddling with smart phones, iPads, laptops and the like. The baggage claim area is hilarious-sort of like one of those old Buster Keaton movies where things are falling, flying, and crashing. Road cases, and I use that term loosely, in various degrees of wear and tear, are moving down the conveyer belts. The occasional cymbal and cowbell that managed to escape go rolling to the floor. Guitar cases do their best to avoid being wedged and broken into bits. Amazingly, though, it all works.

My first stop is at Momo’s Club where Leo Laporte is doing a live Twit TV broadcast. Leo is probably best knows as “The Tech Guy” and through the years become his own cottage industry/empire. His followers are called, not surprisingly, “Geeks.” Bob Heil and Leo have a mutual admiration for each other’s work and Leo uses Heil mics a lot. Tonight was no exception as his guest panelists used PR 22s. Actually, one gentleman from The Onion, used a PR 40, which seemed to bring out a small amount of geek envy from the others.

Honestly, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Twit TV? I mean, I’m a rock guy – technology oriented talk radio is not my area of expertise. But I have to say, Leo is a rock star! He had the standing-room-only fans cheering and he even considered crowd surfing, which apparently he has done before. He’s a big guy and I quickly moved to the back of the room. Just in case. I also learned a lot, including some of the iPad 2’s dirty little secrets. It was fascinating stuff and I am really glad I attended.

The evening show ended and I met Lisa Kentzell, who is CEO of Twit. Which by the way stands for “This Week In Tech.” Lisa told me about the new facility that they are building near their current headquarters in Petaluma, CA. It’s going to be wired for all sorts of production uses. I heard Leo say that they will have up to forty cameras working. You can bet there will be a pile of Heil mics too.

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Old School+New School=Free Mic

This is a big year for South by Southwest. On March 11, the festival, which is now described as a music and media festival and trade show, celebrates its 25th anniversary. Roland Swenson founded it in 1987 and, in addition to launching the careers of promising young musicians and filmmakers, it also was the site for several business launches. Names you might know such as Twitter, which really caught fire during the 2007 South by Southwest festival. Also, Foursquare publicly launched at the 2009 festival kicking off the geolocation craze. That might explain the thousands of people walking down 6thStreet, bumping into each other as they stare down at their smart phones trying to tell their friends where they currently are.

I know this bit of history  because I read an article about digital and social media in a publication that was made of paper. You know, a magazine. Me, being the old school guy that I am, tore the page out of the magazine and put in my pocket to be used later in this blog.

Here’s something fun:

Heil Facebook Contest ImageEnter to win a Heil Sound PR 22 UT low noise dynamic microphone.  Simply click the “Like” button on the Heil Sound Facebook page and use the contest entry form.  The contest runs from March 14 through April 13, 2011.  A random winner will be selected on April 14, 2011 and will be announced on our Facebook page.  Good luck and don’t forget to click the “Like” button to be eligible. See the rules for questions on eligibility or entry procedures.

By Greg McVeigh

Guesthouse Projects, Inc

PR & Artist Relations for Heil Sound

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