Category Archives: Uncategorized

Volkswagen Cycling Preview

Here are two spots that I recently completed for Volkswagen here in Chattanooga:

Capturing Audio in a Race Car

I’ve just wrapped on a commercial for Volkswagen that went outside the usual scope of work. The client needed to capture dialog inside a drift racer operating at speed. The driver was Tanner Faust, formerly of Top Gear America, and his “co-pilot” was cyclist Tim Johnson. This rather lousy iPhone video shows an example of the kinds of speeds we’re talking about:

TannerFaust4

Getting a Decent Signal

Most race cars these days are equipped with radio comms so the drivers can communicate with the pit crew, but I don’t like to rely on other systems as you never know if they’ll work or what sort of quality you can end up with. Conventional lavs wouldn’t work either because of the noise inside the car. I decided to go with an earwire-type lav, since the only chance of overcoming the background noise would be to get the mic as close as possible to the source. And as this would be such a lousy ambient environment, I decided that an expensive mic like a Countryman B6 would probably be pointless. I found a fairly inexpensive pair of earwires that had a 4-pin connection that would need to be changed over to a 5-pin. This turned out to be a bit trickier than I thought, as the mics came with a microscopic surface-mount circuit board inside the connector which needed to be retained. I managed to cut the old connector out and resolder in the new connector by applying large doses of profanity to the solder job. It worked in the end.

Of course, this style of mic is visible, which is rarely acceptable in a commercial. But in this case, it was either that or nothing… as in recording MOS (without sound) and then looping in some dialogue over car noises. This wasn’t really an issue, though, since all the interior shots would be from GoPros (eight in total) and all these were set to fairly wide angles. Tanner’s mic was hidden by his helmet… only Tim’s was visible, and being flesh colored on a wide lens, it was barely noticeable.

My bag in position inside Tanner Faust's Jetta.

My bag in position inside Tanner Faust’s Jetta.

The next issue was dealing with the distance. I didn’t have time to build a pair of custom antennas for my transmitters… putting the antennas outside of the metal shell of a car will increase transmitter range, but the distances would be too great in this case, and there wouldn’t be a chase car. The only solution was to “drop the bag,” in other words, securing the bag somewhere inside the car, placing it in record, and letting them take off.

The obvious disadvantage is that you can’t properly monitor what is being recorded. I did have a Comtek PR216 monitor transmitter hooked up, and it worked pretty well given the difficulty of the job, but there were lots of dropouts and hits to the signal. But listening to the file after the fact gave a reasonably good result. Tanner’s mic sounds a bit worse than Tim’s… that’s a result of the style of helmet, as Tanner was wearing a closed type, wraparound helmet that pressed the mic close to his mouth, and Tim’s helmet was an open type that allowed the mic to stay in the correct orientation.

I’ll post a link to the finished spot once it gets posted online.

Let Sleeping Dogs Lie for NFL Films

While searching for past projects, I finally found a link to a video that I worked on last year… it turned out rather well, I thought!

http://www.nfl.com/videos/washington-redskins/0ap3000000442876/NFL-Films-Presents-Let-sleeping-dogs-lie

Fat Hair Commercial

I was asked to do the location sound for a commercial in Atlanta last week for a company called “Fat Hair.” We shot two spots over two days. The camera was a Red Epic Dragon, which is capable of shooting at 6K resolution, but thankfully for the data transfer, we shot the spot at 4K. (If we’d shot at 6k, we’d STILL be waiting on the files to transfer…)

Day one on the Fat Hair set. We had a larger crew than I normally work with, around 30 people. Cold, but thankfully sunny.

Day one on the Fat Hair set. We had a larger crew than I normally work with, around 30 people. Cold, but thankfully sunny.

My big concern was the timecode. A common response when I offer my timecode gear “that would be nice, but we can’t afford it,” so I don’t get to use this stuff on every shoot. But this time they wanted the full monty. Once I got everything set up properly, it all worked without a hitch. The camera department REALLY appreciated the pack-of-gum-sized Q28 lockbox, since the real estate on Red cameras is very tight. We velcroed the lockbox to the batteries, and other than removing it to re-jam after lunch, we pretty much forgot about it.

Inside shooting on Day 2

Inside shooting on Day 2

The basic workflow is fairly simple, actually. My 664 was  the master clock, set to time of day. The Q28 is connected to the 664 then powered on in order to jam. Same thing with the timecode slate. Both the slate and the lockbox were left switched on throughout the day. Six AA batteries (rechargeable) powered the slate for the entire 10-hour day, while a pair of standard AAAs ran the lockbox. At the end of about four hours, I noticed a drift of about a frame or two on the first day, but less than that on the second day. It might have been due to temperature differences, since we were outside on the first day… the slate would have been colder than the lockbox, as the Red’s camera battery would have kept it slightly warmer as it discharged. Other than that, it was a fairly straightforward shoot. There were only a handful of short lines- a few wild tracks (non-sync). I rolled audio during the high-speed takes just so the camera files and audio files would match up, and maybe there would be some quick sounds that post could use.

New Gear- Sync Department

I’m pleased to announce that I’ve finally taken delivery on a Denecke TS-3 timecode slate and a Mozegear Q28 timecode lockbox.

For the very highest quality audio, it’s necessary to use the recorded files that are provided by your soundperson… the quality of the digital converters in my Sound Devices 664 just sound better than camera audio files. Yes, it requires more work to sync the audio with the video, but the differences are apparent… especially when you listen to the two files side-by-side

My Denecke TS-3 timecode slate

My Denecke TS-3 timecode slate

There have been a number of workflows proposed for getting timecode on DSLR video, with varying degrees of success. But a timecode slate is still considered an industry standard sync aid, since it gives a visual confirmation of the timecode numbers that can be checked at a glance.

I’ve needed a timecode slate for a long time, especially on DSLR shoots, where dual-system audio recording is a must. The inputs on DSLR cameras rely on a single, unbalanced, non-locking 3.5mm connector, and I refuse to rely on the camera as a recording device. I did a 5d shoot once where the producers assured me that “… it’ll be fine, we always do it this way…” and the audio mysteriously disappeared. Had I not been recording a duplicate signal to my Sony recorder, two days and many, many thousands of dollars would have been wasted on a silent movie.

The only problem with timecode slates is the cost. They aren’t often available used, and the few that I have seen were pretty badly beaten up. New slates are expensive. But I finally bit the bullet this year and purchased a Denecke TS-3EL from Trew Audio in Nashville, my preferred supplier. And yes, it’s the backlit version so you can see it in low light situations.

The Mozegear Tig Q28 lockbox. The camera department loves the small size and light weight, especially with Red cameras where space to mount things is at a premium.

The Mozegear Tig Q28 lockbox. The camera department loves the small size and light weight, especially with Red cameras where space to mount things is at a premium.

To go along with it, I also purchased a Mozegear Q28 sync generator. While most cameras can generate a reasonably reliable timecode signal, a few are notorious for wild drifts, errors, resetting to zero when you change a battery, or other shenanigans. An external sync generator solves these problems, and gives a steady source that is nearly always dependable… with good batteries, of course. The Mozegear Q28 is a Camera Department favorite because it is very small and light… about the size of a thin stack of credit cards. I had to sew up a makeshift case for it so it can be attached with velcro. The only trouble I’ve had so far is the cables. I’ve got the BNC output and 5-pin Lemo… fine for Arri Alexa and Red One, but Red Epic, Scarlet and Dragon uses a 4-pin Lemo. And of course, we were shooting on a Scarlet… some days you just can’t win.

One of the things that I wish Mozegear would include is some sort of protective case or wallet, to keep the gear from getting beat up. I suppose there might be some kind of mini cell phone case that might work, but I couldn't find one so I stitched this one up. Unfortunately that's about the only option... it's so small that there's no profit for a company like PortaBrace to make one.

One of the things that I wish Mozegear would include is some sort of protective case or wallet, to keep the gear from getting beat up. I suppose there might be some kind of mini cell phone case that might work, but I couldn’t find one so I stitched this one up. Unfortunately that’s about the only option… it’s so small that there’s no profit for a company like PortaBrace to make one.

Best Film at the Cannes Short Film Festival

I’ve just been told that a short film that I worked on won the Best Film award at the Cannes Short Film Festival… link is here.

One setup at the house where we shot. I don't have too many images because I was too busy working to shoot stills.

One setup at the house where we shot. I don’t have too many images because I was too busy working to shoot stills.

The Day After Stonewall Died is a short film I worked on back in 2013. I was location A1 for four of the five days that we shot, my good friend John Billings filled in for me for one day while I had to dash off to Nashville to do another job. John Dower was the director, who flew over from the UK to do the shoot. The script was written by Chattanooga’s Anthony Sims.

We shot mostly at a house owned by Jan Bramlett down in Georgia… it turned out to be a great location. The bar scenes were shot in East Ridge. Special thanks go to my boom op Will Taylor, who worked long and hard on this film. We had lots of really great talent on this set, with many people working for a very low rate. It’s great that their hard work and sacrifice is validated by winning at Cannes… not an easy trick to pull. Thanks again to John and Anthony for asking me to do this, and congratulations to them as well as everyone else who worked on this film.

Bar scene in East Ridge

Bar scene in East Ridge

Mike Wolfe’s “Kid Pickers”

I was in Nashville last week shooting for Mike Wolfe of “American Pickers,” a popular reality show on History Channel about finding antiques. Early on, he noticed that American Pickers was popular with kids, so he wrote a book directed to younger readers about discovering local history through artifacts and repurposing old, interesting items. Out of that grew a contest called “Kid Pickers” where kids could show off their finds and submit an essay about it. Three winners were chosen… first place received a $10,000 scholarship.

At Antique Archaeology in Nashville TN (Before the doors were opened!)

At Antique Archaeology in Nashville TN (Before the doors were opened!)

We shot at Antique Archaeology in Nashville, TN. Mike is a TN native and sells his finds at his store there. Most of them, anyway- the ribbon mics that he has weren’t for sale. The store was insanely crowded with people once it opened to the public… it’s apparently quite the tourist destination. It’s located in the old Marathon car factory, a very cool brick and timber building in West Nashville that was purchased for a song in 1981 and is now worth millions. (the owner won’t sell… Mike says he’s tried)

Mike Wolfe deliverse a standup at the N State Fair, September 2014

Mike Wolfe delivers a standup at the N State Fair, September 2014

It was a fun shoot overall… the winning finds were a beaver skin top hat from the late 1800’s, a tramp art bottle vase that was decorated with old cigar bands, and a precursor to the Xerox machine that was found in an alley. The kids, all about 12, were a bit overwhelmed with all the attention, but they had a good time. I enjoyed meeting Mike, he was very personable and fun to work with.

A selfie with Mike Wolfe

A selfie with Mike Wolfe

With Kari Byron from Mythbusters

I had a chance to work with Kari Byron from Mythbusters a few months ago. She was here shooting a special for Discovery in the Smokey Mountains National Park, which is about 3 1/2 hrs away from Chattanooga. It was just a one-day, one-time gig, but it was fun to work with someone who was famous… at least at our house. We started watching Mythbusters not long after it started in 2003, since Kyle would have been 13 at the time- the perfect thing to get a young boy interested in science, or at least in blowing stuff up.

Kari Byron with park ranger Becky Nichols

Kari Byron with park ranger Becky Nichols

The show is about the sychronous fireflies in the area. It only happens in a few places during a short period of the year. They aren’t sure exactly why they do it, but all the fireflies in a given area will light up in waves. VERY cool to see.

The downside was the weather, and right about dusk the sky opened up. I have raingear which protected the gear pretty well, but it was sweaty, wet-footed, unpleasant work. But Kari was a real pro, without the slightest bit of complaint or cross word when she HAD to be feeling about as miserable as the rest of the crew. It was a real pleasure to work with her.

Brian Gilbert with Kari Byron, before all the rain started.

Brian Gilbert with Kari Byron, before all the rain started.

 

Working In The Production Truck

Way back in the days before the internet (most kids think this was shortly after we tamed fire and invented the wheel), I did a fair amount of audio work in production trucks. It wasn’t a regular thing, just a few times a year… enough to be interesting. But not much since I’ve been a freelancer. That changed, though, when I got a call from Encompass Media (Formerly Crawford Productions in Atlanta) about a shoot in Chattanooga at the new Volkswagen plant. They wanted an audio operator with satellite truck experience. Perfect, that’s me… or so I thought.

Encompass 5 at 4:30 AM

Encompass Five at 4:30 AM

I showed up at the call time of 12:00 for setup- the sat window was for the next day at 8. After talking to the truck producer and getting an idea of the scope of the project, it was clear that this wasn’t your normal broadcast uplink… or a quick day. It was uplink and downlink, with video playback, a mirrored mix in the truck with mic sources split from house audio, plus two different audio feeds from the downlink (English translation and German). Oh, yeah, and we need three different IFB lines… one for the cameras, one German language for communication with the sat operators in Wolfsburg (Germany), and a third “God mic” for the inside producer. The inside two IFB feeds will connect to a wireless system provided by the house sound guys, but it’s a Telex 4-wire that doesn’t work with the RTS system that the truck has. And we need to record the feed in the truck on their recorder and the director’s laptop. Can you make it work it?

I didn’t quite know what to say. I was trying to come up with a response that sounded good but still had a slight basis in truth, while trying hard to fight body language that included cold sweats and crying like a baby. Mercifully, the truck’s engineers Alan Rogers and Shaun Flowers jumped in and said yeah, we could probably make that work. I wasn’t nearly so sure.

By about 11PM that night, we had most everything working the way the client wanted. Getting the signals into and out of the truck involved lots of cryptic patching, imbedding, and interfaces which were very unfamiliar, so I owe both these guys a huge debt of thanks for walking me through the process. I’ve set up production trucks before, but it was awhile back… the trucks were analog and the setups were nothing near this complex. They were able to put it all together while simultaneously putting out several video fires (like weird CCU problems- one just didn’t like the line it was being used on, and mysteriously came to life once moved to a different camera.)

In Encompass Five sat production truck. We're smiling because we're done. Left to right,  engineer Shaun Flowers, Brian Gilbert, and  engineer Alan Rogers.

In Encompass Five sat production truck. We’re smiling because we’re done. Left to right, engineer Shaun Flowers, Brian Gilbert, and engineer Alan Rogers.

Call time for the next day was 4:30AM. The show itself went pretty much as planned. There were some problems on the Wolfsburg end, but our side went fairly smoothly. The director said very little- he didn’t “call” the show the way I’m used to, i.e., “standby one,” “take one,” standby video,” “roll video,” etc. But it was fun to punch a show on a board the way we used to do it, even though it was just a little Mackie 1604.

Producer, Director and Audio positions. TD Susanne Grote

Producer, Director and Audio positions. TD Susanne Grote

More Rechargeable 9v choices

I wrote awhile back about rechargeable 9v batteries, and why they’re an important part of my workflow, There’s a new 9v rechargeable power solution available now, the Beachtek 9v batteries. They are a hair more expensive than iPower, ($24 each in pairs for the BeachTek, $22.95 each for iPower) but they have significantly greater capacity… the iPowers are 520 mAh, but the Beacheks are 700 mAh. I recently bought eight of these batteries for my kit, since my iPowers are two years old now.

First the bad news… the new BeachTeks are just the tiniest bit thicker than iPower batteries or traditional alkalines. As a result, they WILL NOT FIT my Lectrosonics 201 receivers. They do fit in the Lectro 200-series transmitters that I have, as well as the LMA transmitters and the Lectro 211 receivers.

In the bag, this isn’t a problem… I power all my receivers with a NP1 battery using a BDS system. But if I want to use the 201 as a camera link, then I’ll need to use iPower batteries. This isn’t a deal-breaker for me, but it is something to be aware of. The BeachTek batteries will power a lectro transmitter for a full production day. so they’re great to have in my kit. But they won’t completely replace my iPower batteries.

Jim Hurst at Chattanooga’s Barking Legs Theater

I’ve just learned that I’ve gotten the go-ahead to record guitarist Jim Hurst at Chattanooga’s Barking Legs Theater on Friday night. Jim is a spectacular player… I heard him several years ago, when he was playing here with the Claire Lynch band. His playing style is uncommon. His technical skill is off the charts, but he also brings a highly refined rhythmic sense and depth of feeling to his playing. Far too often I hear players that seem to be all technique… or conversely, plenty of rhythm with poor technique.

Jim plays with a sense of balance that has to be heard to be believed. If it works out, perhaps we’ll have some samples available on his website soon. In the meantime, have a look at some of his other performances at  www.jimhurst.com. Or if you’re near Chattanooga, join us at Barking Legs theater tomorrow night and listen for yourself.

We haven’t worked out all the tech details yet, but hopefully I’ll be able to break out some of my custom condenser mics and my Neumann KM184. I’ll record on my Sound Devices 664, which is an excellent capture device. With six channels available, it’s great for for small ensembles, bluegrass, jazz… pretty much anything without a full drum kit. I’m especially excited since I so rarely get to do music projects anymore… this one will be great fun.

The Lakehouse video

Here’s a voiceover project that I completed in my studio a few months back:

Lectrosonics SRB

As a part of my continual audio equipment upgrade program, I’ve recently purchased a Lectrosonics SRB wireless microphone system to go with my Sound Devices 664. This is one of Lectro’s flagship products, a dual-channel digital receiver in a smaller package than their other units. They’re often used as a camera link, where the small size and light weight are a big advantage. But one of the reasons they’re so small is they have no provision for battery power… they use a powered camera slot.

My bag with the Lectro SRb installed

My bag with the Lectro SRb installed

But their small size and light weight make them perfect for use in the bag where space is an issue, and that’s really an issue with me… see my previous posts (rants) about finding a good bag. I like to keep my wireless units protected in the bag interior, and there is simply not enough room in Petrol’s 664 bag for more than three wireless receivers and my BDS power distribution. And with these, I have to stuff a piece of foam padding to keep the 664 and receivers from rubbing together and developing a serious case of bag rash. I like to take the best possible care of my gear so that it not only operates well, but also because I’ll want to resell it at some point when it’s time to upgrade.

Compared with the 211, the SRB is quite a bit smaller and lighter even if it were only a single-channel unit.

Compared with the 211, the SRB is quite a bit smaller and lighter even if it were only a single-channel unit.

That’s exactly how I bought my new SRB… by selling two Lectrosonics 201s through Trew’s used audio program.(Thanks, Trew Audio!) This covered a large portion of the cost of the SRB… but that’s the receiver only, not transmitters. So last week I ordered a pair of Lectrosonics LMA transmitters to go with the SRB. These are especially handy transmitters, since they can be set up to work with the older Analog 200 series receivers, or the new digital 400 and SR units. Plus they work with 9-volt batteries, and I really depend on my rechargeable 9-volts. Rechargeable li-ion batteries in AA sizes, like those required by the Lectro SMV series, are much harder to find… though I hear they’re available from a company called Eneloop.

So when my transmitters arrive on Monday, this will bring me up to six channels of Lectro wireless. Plus two fixed-freq wireless for a camera hop. That’s enough for most reality shows that want iso channels for each actor. I’ll probably trade up for another SRB when I gather the dollars together for transmitters. But for now, I have a quite a capable bag… enough to cover most situations.

More About The Daily Show Shoot

The Daily Show segment that I worked on finally aired this week, so I can post a few more details about it. Here’s the completed bit:

Like most shoots, this one was hard work, but a lot of fun. Al Madrigal was the correspondent, producer was Ian Berger, DP was Jim Wells, and B camera was Brett Johnson. Unusually we had two location sound people for this shoot, myself and Steve LaPard of Nashville. A soundperson for each camera is nice to have, as opposed to the usual situation of me having to feed two cameras simultaneously. There were some times where this was overkill, but it gives the producer the flexibility to split up the crew when necessary.

Shooting at Sugar's Barbecue in Chattanooga

Shooting at Sugar’s Barbecue in Chattanooga

The subject of the story was the Tennessee-Georgia “water war.” According to the state of Georgia, a surveying error took place nearly two hundred years ago which resulted in the border being shifted to the south. It was no big deal until someone in Atlanta figured out that if the border went north, then  Georgia could tap the Tennessee river to supply water for Atlanta, where water is scarce. (but according to some, water use in Atlanta is double that of Tennessee per capita.) I can’t say for sure, but it sounds like Atlanta didn’t plan well for all the growth it’s enjoyed in recent years… that’s why diving around that place is such a nightmare. Georgia has offered to accept a few square miles leading to the river, or else they’re going to the Supreme Court to settle the case. If Tennessee looses and the border gets redrawn, it could loose hundreds of square miles. It may not technically be blackmail, but that’s what we called it back in the hood.

We shot for three days… two in Chattanooga, and one day in Nashville with State Representative Jason Powell, who was a very good sport for agreeing to do the interview. Al is very funny, and an interview like this would be tough to do without saying something that could come back to bite you later… and Rep. Powell did a fine job.

Al Madrigal interviews State Rep Jason Powell for The Daily Show.

Al Madrigal interviews State Rep Jason Powell for The Daily Show.

In fact, the hardest thing about the whole shoot was keeping quiet while the camera was rolling. For example:

  • AL-So when did the rockets start landing here?
  • SUBJECT- Um, no rockets have ever landed here.
  • AL- Really? ‘Cause this place looks like shit. You sure somebody didn’t set off a meth bomb or something?

Cue the snorts and guffaws from the crew. We were somewhat typecast as hicks, but that was pretty much expected. Sometimes that characterization is well deserved, just watch an episode of Smalltown Security and you’ll see what I mean.

It was a great shoot overall, and I hope to see them again someday.

Blake Shelton at CMA

Here’s a look at a project I completed a few months ago for Suite Spot productions.

Picture 4

The job itself was rather difficult… it really required different gear than I had, and as A1, I was responsible for both the recorded tracks AND the live sound. I did have two A2s with me, Will Taylor and Bob Toves. Will is my boom operator and assistant here in Chattanooga… you can just make him out in the top still image, probably checking out a wireless.(Just above Blake’s right shoulder, next to the cameraman.) Bob is a sound mixer in Nashville, he was operating the house PA. I was tucked away in a corner… probably tearing what little hair  have left out of my skull as I tried to solve the eternal mystery of why wireless mics that work flawlessly during multiple pre-show checks suddenly drop a signal seconds before going live. In the old days, for a job like this, I’d be in the remote truck, where I’d have multiple backups for everything. But thanks to the Brave New World of broadcast production, you get the same challenges as before, but with a fraction of the budget. The resources that I used to take for granted just aren’t there anymore… or put more correctly, I have to BUY whatever resources I’m going to use… so I don’t have nearly the amount of hardware that I’d like, especially for a job like this, which combines live sound and audio for video. Both are critical, and while it looks easy on paper, there are a pile of details that have to fall into place for the show to come off successfully.

Even though it added several more grey bits to the little patch of stubble that what was formerly known as my hair, I think the finished production turned out OK. The crowd could hear what was going on, we captured Blake’s audio, and the web production looks good. It reminded me of my live TV days, but without the TV station (or their assets).

The Mic Van

I came across the COOLEST vintage VW van while shooting for ZDF at the Volkswagen factory in Chattanooga. For you non-audio geeks, Telefunken was a German company that made some very nice tube studio microphones (in addition to their much more common radio and television stuff). Telefunken mics are highly sought after today, and are still used in studios where price is no object.

I was trying to figure out how far I could get if I tried to drive it out of VW’s conference center, since they left the key in the ignition.

The coolest van ever, a 1951 VW Type 2 Commercial, with Telefunken markings.

The coolest van ever, a 1951 VW Type 2 Commercial, with Telefunken “Delivery and Service” markings.

The Daily Show

Here’s a look at a recent Times Free Press story about a shoot that I was on for the Daily Show, which was in Chattanooga recently to do a segment on the GA border dispute/water takeover. Comedian Al Madrigal and Producer Ian Berger were both very funny… a common question was, “Do you see yourselves as the Palestinians or the Israelis in this conflict,” and, “So when did the rockets start landing?” When told that Georgia hasn’t launched any rockets toward Tennessee, he said, “Really? “Cause it looks like a bomb went off around here… this place looks like shit… I think it might have been a meth bomb…”

I also got to meet Nashville sound mixer Steve LePard, which was a rare thing… he was on one camera and I on the other. Having a sound person on each camera was a luxury that few productions can afford. It was a little bit of overkill on a few occasions, but good insurance on others.DailyShowTimesFreePress

FCC Radio Station License

A few days ago I received my FCC radio station authorization from the FCC. It was a long process… I tried to fill out the application myself, but in the end I had to hire a consultant (Bill Ruck) to make sure that I’d done it correctly. He said I’d gotten it almost right… just a little bit was missing at the very end.

Unfortunately, it came in with a very short life… the expiration date is listed as 08-01-2013, giving it a total lifespan of two months. Thanks, FCC. (I understand I’m not the only person this has happened to, but I’m pretty sure that there’s not much I can do about it… all licenses in a given area expire at the same time, so I just happened to have bad timing.)

Fortunately, renewal isn’t nearly as difficult or expensive as the original application… and of course, a renewal notice came in today’s mail. Ten minutes and sixty dollars later, and my renewal is submitted. Once this gets processed, I should be legal for a long time. UPDATE- My new station license came in about a week after sending in the renewal form… expiration date 8/01/2021. It may last longer than I do.

The main reason that I wanted my FCC license was simply to be counted as a legal user of the wireless spectrum. This is even more important now that the FCC has announced their intention to take away the 600 MHz  band like they did with the 700 and above. This is going to take A LOT of letters to congress, so if you’re a wireless mic user, start your drafts now.

A DIY Equipment Rack

When I designed the table to hold my mixer, I added a pair of sloped racks on either side for rackmount gear. My thinking was that I’d put the gear that I’d use for tracking on the left, and the mixdown gear on the right, so that’s pretty much what I did.

But after a time, it became obvious that this wasn’t the best solution for several reasons. For one, having the equipment relatively low down means a lot of bending over to make adjustments and monitor what the gear is doing… not so ergonomically friendly. I also discovered that I need to have patch points near the interfaces, so I can change the signal routing into and out of the mixer and interfaces. Keeping the interfaces and preamps on the left seems to be ok, but for mixing, I needed a better solution… something at eye level and close to the patchbays, so that cable runs could be kept short.

I decided that I needed another rack. But this one should have casters so I could move it around… and roll it out of the way when I don’t need it. It’ll be taller so I can have some of my gear at eye level.

It will have a similar look to my existing racks, though, so it won’t look out of place. The lower section is slightly angled, while the top section is straight. I did some scribbling on the back of an envelope and came up with a design, and then ran to Home Depot. Here’s a rough cost breakdown:

  • 1 sheet of 3/4″ birch plywood- $48
  • 1 8′ length of 4″ white pine for the rails- $6
  • a box of 1 5/8″ drywall screws- $6
  • Lag screws for casters- $2.50

A set of 5″ casters, 2 swivel and 2 straight, $8 from a local discount industrial supply.

To start, I had the nice folks at the Depot make a couple cuts with their panel saw. This is a huge time saver, and the cuts are always accurate and square. The sides are 20″ wide by 48″ long, and I had them just split the remainder in two pieces so I could get it home easier.

The panels were laid out  back-to-back to increase accuracy.

The panels were laid out back-to-back to increase accuracy.

Once at home, the sides were cut with a circular saw. I clamped the two panels together so the sides would be identical, and made some cuts to make the angled bottom half of the rack and the little notch at the bottom. I cleaned up these cuts with a saber saw and a sander, and then laid the two pieces out side by side on the sawhorses, opened up like a book. This way I would be sure to mark and screw in pieces to the inside face of the rack.

One of the sides with the blocks screwed into place

One of the sides with the blocks screwed into place

Since this rack was going to have casters, I decided it would be easier to have a flat bottom that the casters could screw to. But this flat bottom would be holding a lot of weight, so I added two blocks of plywood to the insides to help take the weight of the rack. They were screwed and glued into place. The wooden “rails” that the equipment screws in to were mounted on the sides, but these were mounted with screws only, since I could envision a time when these pieces would get replaced if/when the mounting holes get chewed up.

Using L-shaped top and bottom panels means that it's easier to screw them to the sides.

Using L-shaped top and bottom panels means that it’s easier to screw them to the sides.

After the side panels were ready, the top and bottom panels were built up. The inside space of the rack is 19 1/8″ wide, so I needed a piece for the bottom (20 x 19 1/8″), a piece for the top (16 x 19 1/8) and two small pieces to reinforce the back (4″ x 19 1/8″) I screwed and glued the small reinforcing pieces to the to and bottom panels. If they’re cut accurately, the rack will be square when you add these pieces. But if you’re not careful and these pieces are misaligned, the whole thing will be crooked. Since the top and bottom panels were now “L” shaped, the panels are a lot easier to screw into the sides without falling over.

Once this was done, it’s a fairly small matter to add on the other side. You’ll want to use screws and glue for these joints, since the rack will be supporting a lot of weight and the gear inside is rather expensive. A weak or wobbly rack just won’t do here. I wouldn’t use cheap plywood, either… use the good stuff. I had some 2″ screws left over from another project, and that’s what I used to secure the top and bottom.

Cutting a square hole with radiused corners is easy... just drill four holes with a spade drill and cut along the edges with a saber saw.

Cutting a square hole with radiused corners is easy… just drill four holes with a spade drill and cut along the edges with a saber saw.

With the other side mounted in place, all that’s left is detail work. I made a cutout in the back for a power switch by drilling four holes with a spade drill, and sawing out the waste with a saber saw.

I didn’t mount the bottom panel on the very bottom of the rack, though. The bottom panel is raised about four inches from the bottom edge of the rack so the large, rather ugly casters are partially hidden. They are exposed in the front, though, so it isn’t a perfect solution.

My completed rack with some of the equipment installed. The two blank panels below the 900 rack are for a pair of Universal Audio 1176 compressors that I'm building.

My completed rack with some of the equipment installed. The two blank panels below the 900 rack are for a pair of Universal Audio 1176 compressors that I’m building.

I had the rack assembled by lunchtime. In the afternoon, I filled the screw holes with drywall compound, sanded the sharp edges, and slapped on a coat of latex paint. The casters were screwed to the bottom, and that’s it… one new equipment rack.

Well, almost. I still need to mount a power switch to the back and screw a surge protector to the side of the rack. Yet another improvement that I’ve yet to finish is a small light to go on the inside of the rack. It’s extremely irritating to try to trace wiring in the back of a rack while you hold a flashlight in your teeth because you need both hands to hold the wiring. I’m still looking for a simple, small, low-wattage lighting solution for the back of my rack that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg.

Back To The Drawing Board

Awhile back, I wrote a post about building a ribbon mic. I completed the first one, with a completely custom fabricated shell and everything. It sounded pretty good, if I do say so myself, and I was quite pleased.

But I use the past tense for a reason. When I went to place the mic in its case, I noticed that my design is fatally flawed. The glue holding the magnets to the plexiglas frame has failed, bringing the two magnets together and obliterating the carefully placed ribbon. (it took three tries before I finally got it right… what a pain in the butt!)

So it’s pretty clear that the whole thing should be redesigned. I’ve learned a few things that should improve the performance anyway. The first and most obvious it my method for holding the magnets. I’d actually considered this before, but I need to include a small spacer to set the magnet gap. This way it’s physically impossible for the magnets to come together. An added benefit is that controlling the gap dimensions can be more precise, since the spacer determines the gap width rather than the frame.

Another design change for this version will be a metal frame rather than a plastic one. Metal (ferrous) provides a magnetic return path that can increase the output a few dB, and I need all I can get. It’s a little more difficult to machine, but I have the tools to do it, so why not?

It’ll be awhile before I can get to this, though. Every time I think of the hours put into the current mic, it really drains my energy and I hesitate. But I’ll start doing doodles on the backs of junk mail shortly, and I’ll get going on another design soon.