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Show Files: Playing it Safe

Steve LaCerra • May 2021On the Digital Edge • May 7, 2021

Fig. 1: Recall Safe parameters screen from Yamaha CL Editor

A surprising number of engineers use digital consoles almost the same way they use analog consoles: they store a single scene, recall it at sound check or at the start of the show, and mix their entire show within that scene. There’s nothing wrong with that approach to console automation, but it doesn’t take advantage of scene recall — the ability to create a separate scene (or multiple scenes) per song. Creating a scene per song avoids the need to manually change parameters such as mute status, fader levels, EQ, effect sends on/off, effect settings — just about anything you might want to change in your mix when your artist moves from song to song through the set list.

The ability to store and recall every parameter across the entire desk sounds like a good thing — until you run into a situation where it isn’t. One example is when you’re a touring engineer who doesn’t travel with a console (like me). I have show files for any digital console you can shake a stick at, and use them on a regular basis for the obvious reasons: consistency, efficiency at sound check, and they give me a prayer of a chance in those “grab it and growl, you ain’t getting a sound check” situations.

Questions to Ask

As a courtesy to any house engineer, I always ask one or two questions regarding use of my show files, the first of which is, “May I load a show file?” I feel that when I’m in someone else’s house, asking is the right thing to do. It also provides an opportunity to make sure that the mains are muted before recalling a new scene, which otherwise could result in an audio accident such as a monumental “thump” or uncontrolled feedback.

The next question I’ll usually ask is, “Do we need to safe the outputs?” Most of the time I get a straight yes or no, but occasionally it’s a perplexed look, often due to the manner in which a particular manufacturer executes their concept of recall “safe.”

Where has that File Been?

Every digital desk has some way of preventing console parameters (of your choice) from being overwritten when a scene is recalled. Why would you want to “safe” certain parameters? Let’s suppose I’m visiting your venue, I’m using your desk, and I plan to load a file. You have no idea where that file has been, and there’s a good chance that I don’t remember where it was created. It’s possible that the scene contains what I refer to as “leftovers” in the output routing — patches that are specific to the P.A. in a certain venue. Any venue will surely have a main L/R P.A. hang and subs that may — or may not — be fed from a separate console output (an aux send, for example), and may (or may not) be time-aligned to the main P.A. There may be fill clusters such as front- or under-balcony fills, and these zones should have been time-aligned to the main hang. If the venue is a theater, there could be an extra pair of outputs that feed the lobby mix. Or if the venue has a restaurant attached that also needs a P.A. feed. You get the idea.

The point is, a visiting engineer’s show file or console scenes do not have this routing built-in, and we don’t want to make a miserable day of recreating it, because life is too short and there’s a great Thai restaurant down the street. If the output routing is “safed,” then a scene can be recalled without wiping out all of the work the house engineer has done to properly dial in those zones.

Recall Safe

Most digital desks have a page where you can specify what parameters to recall and what not to recall. The trick is understanding whether you are setting parameters to allow their recall or to make sure they are not recalled.

As an example, Recall Safe in the Yamaha CL5 excludes specific parameters from being recalled — in other words, when you “safe” a parameter, it will not be recalled. This is a global setting that applies to all scenes, which is all the more important if you plan to use a show file with a scene (or multiple scenes) per song. As different scenes are recalled, parameters that are “safe” remain unchanged. If outputs are safed, then any show or scene can be loaded without worry that output routings, delay times and EQs will be destroyed. And that’s a good thing.

Fig. 1: Recall Safe parameters screen from Yamaha CL Editor

Fig. 1 is a Yamaha CL Editor screen showing Scene Recall Safe parameters. The left side shows Input Safe Parameters and you can see that the head amp and input patch are safe. When a new scene is recalled, head amp gain and input patches will not change.

The right side of the screen shows the Output Safe Parameters tab, where you can protect parameters such as EQ, Dynamics 1, Fader, etc. In this example, “All” is selected, meaning that all output bus parameters will not change when a new scene is recalled.

Fig. 2: Fade Time between scenes can typically range from 0 to more than 50 seconds.

Fig. 2 shows the Fade Time tab for Scene Recall, set here for 29.6 seconds. Fade Time (outlined in red) is a way of gracefully crossfading channel and DCA faders from one scene to another, so that you don’t snap the audience’s heads back with an abrupt change. Typically, you’ll be able to set this range from “almost instantly” to a few seconds.

Recall Safe typically applies to all scenes and is used in contrast to a function that some manufacturers call Focus or Scope. Focus usually defines specific parameters that will be updated when you recall a scene. It’s useful when you want to recall only the input channel settings of a specific scene, for example when doing a show where a variety of guest singers perform with the same band. During sound check, you create a scene for each vocalist. When showtime rolls around, set Focus for a “Lead Vocal” channel that changes for each singer (recalling gain, EQ, compressor and effect settings) every time you recall a scene. The band channels will remain unchanged.

Global Safe

Most digital desks also feature Global Safe, which means “no matter what scene is recalled, these parameters are always safe.” The compressor settings on a mix bus for an in-ear mix would be a good candidate for Global Safe. Setting a channel to recall safe is useful in a festival situation where you have a talkback or MC mic that won’t be changing for the entire day. No matter what scene or snapshot is recalled, the MC mic is always active. Yay!

The challenge comes in understanding how each manufacturer organizes safe functions, and their terminology used to describe it. For some desks, you select what you want to be included in a recall; for other consoles you select what you want to be exempt from recall. Stay sharp! 

Steve “Woody” La Cerra is the tour manager and front of house engineer for Blue Öyster Cult. He can be reached via email at woody@fohonline.com.

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