Theatrical/Musical Audio Mastering

Hi all,

Just looking for your guys’s thoughts on something. I know there are a lot of different opinions on loudness, mastering, etc, but I find myself questioning my own workflow sometimes.

First of all, I actually went to school for recording and sound reinforcement, and currently work full time in the industry. I’ve had this job/position for almost 9 years. My time is equally split between commercial installations, live sound and video production, and post production. In college, I was actually Pro Tools Certified (v5.5 - 6) but like many of you, found that I REALLY like Cubase much more than the so called “industry standard”.

We do a few live event recordings where we do a 3-4 camera video shoot all ISO’d and multitrack record the performances using a Soundcraft Vi4 → Cubase with an RME HDSPe MADI card. It’s a dream come true to have 64 ins/outs all show up with ONE fiber cable.

The nature of one of these performances is a bunch of sketches mixed with parody covers of pop songs. It’s essentially a musical of all original and parodied material. I fill up about 50 tracks… half wireless mics and half band inputs. The video is edited in Adobe Premiere Pro. I handle the audio in Cubase (currently 6.5).

My workflow is that I cut out each of the music numbers each to their own project so I can mix them all independently. Songs are often different styles of music so they get mixed in different ways. It keeps me from being lazy and using the same settings for every song. It also prevents me from having to automate everything. I bounce these masters (with mastering processing) back to the “Master Session” using “insert at origin” and everything is perfectly in time. I mix and master these like I would for CD. They’re normalized/limited to 0.2 dB, but not squashed so much it sounds like radio.

For the dialog, I go through the tedious process of cutting out all audio where someone isn’t speaking. Breathing, mic bleed, noise… it makes a difference. I master all of this so speech levels are approximately the same loudness throughout the 2-hour show. These get routed through a mastering group, where those song masters do not. Then I have to blend them together so the volume levels between dialog and songs sounds natural.

My question to you all is… how do you manage loudness? I have Waves plug-ins and do use PAZ and WLM, but those never result in readings as accurate as my ear. I think the differences between dialog and music is so great that if I followed WLM, I would be turning up and down the volume constantly if watching the Blu-ray or DVD.

My to do list is to extract the audio from some musical Blu-rays just to see how those studio mastered discs come out in comparison. Obviously, those aren’t recorded live so there is likely going to be major differences.

I should also point out that I usually handle the audio side of this project ins about or less than a full week, where I know this is the type of project I could EASILY spend more than a month on. In short, I aim for good results, but need them quickly.

I’m open to thoughts/suggestions/comments on the topic!

I’m quite interested in the responses you’ll get from a purely curiosity standpoint. My guess is that you won’t get many, though, since most of the regulars here use Cubase to produce music. As you know well, music differs greatly from theatrical productions in terms of sonic content and the emphasis is different, i.e. the music tends to be more “fabric” and in the background rather than being an integral part of the finished product.

That sounds like a dream job :smiley:
As far as I know there aren’t any Cubase users on here that work in theatre production, but I too am interested in any replies you get.
You might have more luck in the Nuendo forum, but I don’t think they’ll let you post there with a Cubase license.

Interesting topic.
I don’t work in this genre either, but one question came to mind.
You mention "the tedious process of cutting out all audio where someone isn’t speaking. Breathing, mic bleed, noise… "
Would it not be possible to automate or simplify a percentage of this work by applying a compressor set up as a gate with an appropriate threshold and then using the ‘detect - remove silence’ function? (Perhaps the compressor wouldn’t even be necessary)

A gate won’t work. We take a split out of the main FOH/Monitor desk. It’s a 3-way split. I get all microphones open all the time. Everyone isn’t on stage at all times. They go backstage, bathroom, etc. I hear conversations side stage, people in dressing rooms practicing their parts, etc. I literally have to read the script and cut everything out that shouldn’t be there.

One would think I could take this as direct outs from the FOH board, but they often miss cues. I also don’t want anything they do reflected in my tracks. My company does not provide the live sound for this event.

Perhaps the levels are not conducive to this, but so there’s no confusion, I mean’t applying the ‘detect - remove silence’ function (which has a threshold detection setting) to the recorded tracks and not to the live session.

Yeah it’s worth a try one time, but if I were looking at a waveform, there’s tons of activity that LOOK like speech but sometimes its breathing and coughing. Other times it IS speech, just not on stage and supposed to be in the mix. There’s a lot of bleed in these mics unfortunately.

I’ve been burned before with tools that are supposed to simplify things but I spend even more time correcting the corrector.