Teaching AND Doing

There is an old adage that says, "Those who can, do; those who can't, teach.” Well… maybe not…

Recently I was presented with an opportunity to teach some new, young, audio people some of the skills I use in System Design by company that I am privileged to work with as a freelancer from time to time.  The kids at the shop were less than thrilled that some fat old roadie dude was going to come in and tell them how it is.  But a day rate is a day rate, right?

That's the first lesson: GET PAID.  I've seen too many low-ball or pro-bono gigs recently.  The industry is rapidly changing.  The artists don't make the huge paychecks like they used to.  Someone WAY at the top started to realize that this business hemorrhages money and blank check for production has been torn up.  Unfortunately for them our services have not dropped in value.  Quite the opposite.  In a frugal economy the margin for error is nil.  Everyone is expected to be the best at all times.  Perfection is demanded yet the price tag for perfection has gotten smaller and smaller.  So lesson # 1.  Selling yourself short is selling everyone short.

***stepping off of my high horse now***  I didn't actually set out to write a missive about the economic state of the music industry.  

Fortunately for me, I brought in backup.  A fellow roadie friend of mine was in town for the day and I knew he wanted some bench time with Smaart and system alignment.  He was also a beloved former employee of the company.  When he arrived the kids started taking an interest.  (glossary: "kids" NOUN - 1. a child or young person.  2. a person in the music industry with the arrogance to think they know everything while their experience demonstrates that they know nothing.  3. a young goat.)

Here's the problem:  I'm not a teacher; I'm a doer.  Rather than a seminar/lecture scenario we had a discussion.  I wanted to know exactly what they wanted to learn.  "Teach us how to use Smaart."  Ugh...  I'm sure that studio engineers have the same face-palm reacting when eager kids ask them "Teach us how to use Pro Tools."  

There is an actual art and science to system alignment and tuning.  Mathematics and Physics play integral roles and while the software makes the work easy, the knowledge is what makes it possible.  If one doesn't know what the squiggly lines on the screen are then it's impossible to understand how to manipulate ststem to make the squiggly lines move.  For this lesson, Smaart became the teaching aid, not the focus.  The first task was to align a system.

We had 1 Meyer Mina over 1 Meyer 1100LFC (yes, I see the humor in that as well...) each left and right.  On the left the stack was angled about 20 degrees toward center.  On the right the stack was firing straight forward but 15' farther back from the left.

(Click on the number 1 in the image to the right for a full size version)

The first step was to take a measurement of the Right.  I typically start with the measurement farthest away knowing that the entire system will at least be aligned to that.  After measuring the Right, I measured the Left.

(Click on the number 2 in the image to the right for a full size version)

The first thing the kids noticed was the level difference in magnitude between the two.  The software demonstrated visually what we hear audibly.  The speaker that’s farther from the measurement point is quieter at higher frequencies than the speaker that’s closer.

(Click on the number 3 in the image to the right for a full size version)

After measuring the delay between the two and compensating on the Left we were left with the magnitude issue.  Some gentle EQ between 2.5k and 6.3k using a TruShaping filter on the Right and pulling the Left output down -3db the Left and Right Mina were aligned quite nicely.

(Click on the number 4 in the image to the right… Come on you should be getting the drill by now.)

All that was left were the subs.

Click on the number 5 in the image to the right…

My students finally saw visually the relationship of TIME and LEVEL between components.  It wasn’t enough to delay the subs.  The acoustic crossover was way too high.  Rather than doing it for them I stepped back and let them make the decisions.  The result was this:

Click on the number 6 in the image to the right… And, what the hell, click on number 7, too.

Listening to the PA, is sounded great and my young padawans were inspired.  They learned by DOING.  What happened next was just awesome.  We were going to measure a cardioid array of subs.  Before getting there they started to ask “what happens if…”  Rather than tell them, I merely guided them into finding their answers.

(Click on the number 8…)

A double stack of subs.  One muted.

(Number 9, number 9, number 9, number 9…)

A double stack of subs.  Both on.

(You guessed it, Click on the number 10 in the image to the right…) 

A double stack of subs. Both on.  Bottom polarity reversed.

Which brings us to the Second Lesson: SEEK YOUR OWN ANSWERS.  That doesn’t mean don’t ask questions.  Teachers and mentors are amazing guides.  True learning comes from doing.  Once you do something in your own context you’ll never forget it.

Lesson 3: Pass your knowledge on.