Translating an FOH mix to a live stream or broadcast mix may seem like a simple conversion task. However, many problems can arise including loudness, dynamic range, overall tonality and consistency. Learn how Waves Playlist Rider can remedy these issues.
By David Stagl
Those of us working in houses of worship today know that more and more church services are being live streamed these days. The primary source for the stream mix is typically the FOH mix. The problem is that the dynamic range of a Sunday service is often far greater in the room than what is acceptable for a live stream or broadcast.
Let me explain.
In my own experiences mixing at FOH, I may see a range of up to 30 dB on an SPL meter over the course of a service. Programming levels peak with live music around 90-plus dB, and dip to conversational spoken word in the 60s and low 70s.
This feels completely natural to me in a big, live space. But a listener at home, on a laptop, television, or smartphone, would be chasing volume trying to listen to my raw FOH mix. A compressor and/or limiter can help to an extent, but the service's dynamic range is too large for a compressor to work without creating unpleasant artifacts.
Traditionally, I've approached this dilemma by splitting my program types—live music, playback, spoken word, audience/room mics—into busses, and adjusting those busses in a console matrix to balance the relative levels of each bus. This still isn't a perfect fix, though, because in some churches, the speech mics alone wield a wide dynamic range, as hosts or pastors enter the platform shouting over the band's trashcan ending. It feels natural in the room, as they eventually bring their speech down to conversational levels, but it's too much dynamic range outside of the room. Once again, a compressor on the input may help me maintain control, but I'm still using a lot of dynamic range mixing in the PA as I move through the transitioning level.
Mix Tonality and Loudness
Another issue in translating the FOH mix to the live stream is the tonality of the mix. Our ears perceive tonality differently as listening levels change, which means the tonal/EQ decisions we make are affected by how loud we're mixing in the room. What works for a band at 93 dBA is different from what works for speech sound-checked at 70 dBA. Again, these different choices naturally work themselves out in the room, but they don't always translate to a streaming broadcast.
Enter Playlist Rider
I'm always looking for a better way to approach these issues, so when I first heard about Waves’ Playlist Rider I got very excited. Playlist Rider is a set-and-forget automatic volume management plugin that can balance multiple sources in real time. Its feature set addresses both of the challenges I’ve just described, and I couldn't wait to try it out on some old board mixes I had lying around.
I set my Playlist Rider Target for -24 LUFS to reflect many current broadcast standards, and the leveling function of the plugin worked great to even out the differences in perceived loudness between my music and speech segments. Turning on the "Tonal Character" then gave the overall mix a more consistent tonal balance between the band and speech. With the level and overall color in place, I tried taking things up a notch: I followed Playlist Rider with a J37 Tape for some subtle tape saturation; the Abbey Road TG Mastering Chain for some gentle EQ and a bit of spread; and the L3-LL Limiter for final tonal shaping, limiting, and getting the full mix up to a modern streaming level around -14 LUFS. I thought the results worked better than my original "streaming mix," and I quickly saved a preset of this new chain to be my go-to streaming mastering chain.
Auto-Leveling at FOH
I'd be happy if this was all Playlist Rider was useful for, but it's also a powerful tool for mixing live sound. I often deal with a variety of video and playback sources in the houses of worship where I mix. Some videos come from experienced media departments, but it's not unusual for sources to come from less experienced content creators. These varying sources typically arrive on the same inputs of my console, and trying to manage the changing levels and tonalities can be a challenge.
Matters are made more complicated as elements are added last minute with no time to soundcheck. While I wish I could dismiss this as purely a house of worship issue, I've run into similar situations on a variety of other jobs such as corporate gigs and festivals.
This is where my new friend, Playlist Rider, once again comes in.
Playlist Rider quickly adjusts the big changes in level arriving at my console, and goes a step further to hold that level fairly consistent. It works much better than a traditional compressor, because it's not just reacting to the input level. Playlist Rider uses loudness metering and weighting to analyze what's coming in and adjusts the level up or down as needed, instead of just performing attenuation.
If all this sounds similar to plugins like Vocal Rider and Bass Rider, you're not far off, but Playlist Rider is unique in its application. Vocal Rider and Bass Rider were created to deal with changes on an often note-by-note basis. But my playback needs are not quite that extreme. Videos and playback sources may differ in overall levels, but they stay relatively consistent over the course of their runtime. These sources are largely “set-and-forget” at FOH once I get past the initial hit of the source.
Playlist Rider understands this and responds with a light touch during playback to gently ride things. The Attack setting within the plugin allows me to further control how Playlist Rider reacts to incoming sources to my own taste.
The other ace up Playlist Rider's sleeve is, again, the "Tonal Character" button. Engaging this gives each new source I receive a consistent tonality. This allows me to make a global EQ setting on my console for taste in the specific environment I'm working in without the need to chase settings every time the content changes. Using Playlist Rider is like having a great A2 who's on top of all the changes, so I can stay focused on the bigger picture of what I'm delivering at FOH.
It’s important to know that Playlist Rider isn’t just a live sound tool. Its application will prove useful in any live stream, podcast and broadcast situation, as many of the issues arising in these platforms are similar if not identical to what we discussed. If you’re a content creator, it’s worth looking into how this tool can streamline your work and get you to a professional result more efficiently.
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