Remote-Controlled Mixing

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By Stephen Fortner

If your band plays weddings and private parties, you seldom get to put the main mixer in the audio sweet spot: in or behind the audience making a nice triangle with the P.A. speakers. Maybe the cake goes there. Maybe the event coordinator doesn’t want a messy gear rack in view of the guests. If you can set up near the crowd, you have to run a snake where guests will least likely trip over it—though the more drunk ones will anyway. More often, your mixer winds up stageside or in a corner, with all the compromises that entails. One of the nation’s most successful cover bands, Colorado-based Funkiphino, couldn’t take it anymore. Keyboardist and musical director Chris Fischer put together a sound system that’s on the cutting edge of both remote control—letting the sound engineer mix from the sweet spot no matter where the board is—and personal monitoring.

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All mic and instrument cables from the stage arrive at the Aviom 6416M input module, which has mic preamps and converts audio at up to 192kHz into data that travels over Ethernet cables to two places. For the main mix, it goes to the 6416Y2 card installed in the Yamaha DM-1000 digital mixer. For stage monitors, Ethernet cable first hits the ASI interface, which converts data to the 24-bit/48kHz used by Aviom’s personal mixers. A stop at the A16-D Pro distributor splits it to eight Ethernet ports. Each of these is routed to a different A-16II personal mixer that lets musicians dial in their own monitor mixes. The entire band uses in-ear monitors.

The killer app is remote control of the main mix. “We have a little HP netbook sitting in the back of the rack, interfaced to the DM-1000,” explains Chris Fischer. “It runs Yamaha’s Studio Manager software, which provides more comprehensive control of the DM-1000 than any iPad app currently does. Our iPad simply controls the netbook over WiFi, using a remote desktop app called GoToMyPC. That way, our sound guy [Richard Bates] can walk around with the iPad, be minimally obtrusive, and make sure we sound great throughout the room.”

It’s only recently that Chris and band trusted WiFi this much. “When we experimented with this before, we’d get dropouts, so pre-iPad, we used a tablet PC that talked to the mixer via MIDIjet Pro wireless MIDI transceivers. You could walk across a football field with that thing and not get any glitches. I still use the MIDIjets onstage with my Lync LM-1000 keytar. To get the iPad solid, we got a powerful WiFi router and set up a VPN [virtual private network] so there’s no interference or chance of the iPad or netbook hopping on some other network in the venue. So far, so good.

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“Another benefit is that since we use sequences on some tunes, we sync their tempo with the DM’s delays and other effects,” explains Chris. If there’s a house P.A., Funkiphino usually sends it the main stereo feed from the DM-1000, but if the house wants more control, then “the Aviom 6416M has passive split outs on DB25 connectors, so in a larger venue we break out all our channels into their board, the channels can still run through that board’s preamps, and our monitor mixing is unaffected.”

Funkiphino’s rig is unabashedly high-end, but Chris says it pays for itself. “I can honestly say that it’s gotten us more and better gigs,” he beams, “because we can take total ownership of our sound while being low-impact on the venue.” Still, lower-cost options can get the job done. Yamaha’s O1V96 mixer can also be controlled by their Studio Manager software. With PreSonus Studio-Live mixers, you still need a Mac or PC as the intermediary between console and iPad, but you’ll be multi-touching a custom control app instead of a remote desktop client. For monitoring, Aviom’s AN-16/i-M offers 16 mic inputs at less than half the price of the 6416M and hooks directly to their personal mixers, so you don’t need the A16-D Pro box. If your board has direct outs for all channels (as the StudioLive 16.4.2 does), you can use its mic preamps and send those outs to the AN-16i, Aviom’s 1/4" line-level-only interface. Finally, Behringer is adding Ethernet-based audio routers and personal monitor mixers to their PowerPlay line.

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