Jazz at Lincoln Center is part of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York City. It is comprised of three performance venues: the 1,233 seat Rose Theater, the 427 seat Appel Room, and the intimate 140 seat Dizzy’s Club. Since 2005 Sirius XM Radio has operated the broadcast and recording studios @Jazz. Grammy and Emmy Award-winner Rob Macomber is the Chief Engineer of the Music Studios and has recorded and mixed thousands of live-to-internet broadcasts enjoyed by millions of jazz fans all over the world. Built around a pair of studios initially outfitted with Pro Tools TDM systems and ICON control surfaces, Macomber has developed a unique mixing and recording workflow when he came on board to support the demanding requirements of this world-class facility. Avid recently caught up with Macomber after he upgraded the studios with Pro Tools HDX systems, Pro Tools | MTRX I/O’s, and Avid S6 control surfaces—all tied in seamlessly with the facility’s networked audio and video infrastructure—to see how his workflows have changed from his first conception.
Jazz at Lincoln Center
Can you give me an overview of your responsibilities at Jazz and what the workflow looks like?
I am employed by SiriusXM as chief engineer of the music studios owned by Jazz at Lincoln Center, yet SiriusXM operates them. I record, mix, and produce live content out of the three venues for live broadcasts. Those broadcasts could be television, radio or streaming on internet—most of it is webcasts on Jazz’s Livestream channel and Facebook page. The schedule is determined by Jazz at Lincoln Center, and all of the recordings and productions are the property of Jazz at Lincoln Center. SiriusXM gets broadcast rights to this very unique content for our jazz channels.
We have two broadcast studios at Jazz. Sometimes we are doing simultaneous broadcasts in two of the three halls here at Jazz at Lincoln Center. For a performance in The Appel Room and/or Rose Theater, there's a front of house engineer, there's a monitor engineer, and then I'm the broadcast engineer doing a live broadcast mix completely from within Pro Tools HDX using the S6 as my control surface along with an Avid MTRX for monitoring.
Rob Macomber - photo: Kal Dolgin/Eyesounds
What is your setup in the performance venues?
We run 3-way, 56-channel Radial splits. Our workflow is completely digital from the stage forward. I take the main leg off of the Radial split so I'm providing phantom power, another leg goes to front of house and the third leg to monitors. This way we all have control over our own set of mic preamps and anything any one of us does doesn't affect the other.
I have a choice of 96 channels of Millennia Media preamps and 96 channels of Grace Designs preamps all controllable from Pro Tools—some of the best mic preamps on the market. And we have just added 40 channels of Avid MTRX pre’s in Dizzy’s Coca Cola Club.
A-to-D conversion on the front end, is mostly still Apogee AD-16x’s. The Apogee’s digital output is then converted to MADI via an RME converter and the whole system is clocked off of an Antelope 10M master clock feeding a Trinity. We're doing everything at 96 kHz, 24- or 32-bit. Jazz was wired with fiber to all three venues. We choose the preamps for the event and roll in one or two 48 channel preamp and converter racks. Then over that fiber connection, the MADI signal from each hall hits an RME router and they're then routed to our Pro Tools recorders and also split to the S6 Pro Tools HDX3 mixer systems.
How does Pro Tools | MTRX fit into your current workflow?
We have just installed in Dizzy’s a 40-channel Avid MTRX box, which we're using for conversion with the MTRX preamps. My experience so far with the converters and the preamps on the MTRX is stunning on the front end. On the back end, converting back to analog for monitoring is much wider and deeper with the MTRX. When I put together the first demo, I immediately heard the difference as I was A/B-ing between my Graces with the Apogees versus the MTRX preamps and converters. And even with the change in clock for that matter. We have done a number of tests, and it's just pristine and sounds fantastic. We also function with a large live room here and do standard recording sessions. I would still want to have access to my Millennias and Graces, but for the ease of use and build out and the level of the facility, we could very easily rackmount two MTRX’s in each of the two big rooms that have 96 I/O with A-to-D conversion and mic pres. That would be wonderful, so I imagine we'll be getting there. We really go for a non-colored, pristine, clean sound here. It’s so nice to have choices!
Are you using Avid S6’s EUCON capabilities to remotely control the MTRX?
The MTRX along with 40-channel mic inputs has an 8-channel output card. I can pass back up to four stereo returns to provide mixes to camera or a press feed. Using DADman, MTRX’s control software to route all signals and mixes is a pretty powerful feature. On a recent film project here, we had four different Pro Tools systems networked to one S6. Utilizing four machines on one layer of the desk is pretty darn cool.
Studio A with 9-knob Avid S6—photo: Kal Dolgin/Eyesounds
Take me through the two studios—what is your setup?
We have two Avid S6 consoles: a 48-channel in Studio B that’s 5-knobs deep and in Studio A we have a 64 channel, 9-knob deep. In both rooms we're monitoring through the MTRX and using its Dante card option as well—we’ve just begun to implement that feature for headphone mixes now.
We have two studios, each with duplicate Pro Tools rigs—a master and a safety for each room. I'm looking at it as if I have four recorders, and of the four, two of them are the mix machines and two of them are the simple multitrack machines. So, on the mix machine, we're always recording. We're automating. We're multitracking and mixing all in the box with the S6, which replaced the D-Control as the control surface.
In each room we also have just a straight, as you would call it, tape machine. Pro Tools backup session running up to 128 in, 128 out—one-for-one—backing up the stereo mix and running in the background at all times, so that in case something happens to one of the machines, we've always got the recording covered.
The entire facility is locked up with house tri-level sync and all of the machines are always receiving time of day timecode because we broadcast. Unless we have an outside client, we're always running 29.97 df timecode. Templates are all set up that way. I put them online, they go into record, they're in sync. If I have a dropout for some reason on one machine, I just import and spot the information back to the other machine. That's why I say the safety machines are simple recorders—those sessions are set up with absolutely no plugins, no delay compensation, all faders in unity, input 1 through 128 going to output 1 through 128. I just have to switch the MADI router, boom, my tape machine is now feeding my mixer. I can confidence monitor through the safety or off of the feed directly to the master.
Studio B with 4-knob Avid S6—photo: Kal Dolgin/Eyesounds
You mentioned working off of templates that you’ve created—tell me more about those?
When you're in input, delay compensation doesn't play along, so I use the same EQs and dynamics on every channel to keep everything time aligned. When I do remixes, I completely change things up, but for live shows, I use the Sonnox EQ with a GML curve, the Softube Summit TLA-100, and also the Oxford Dynamics.
On my master channel, I've developed a thing over the years where I like a little bit of the Crane Song Phoenix. And on the end for protection I use the McDSP ML4000 mastering limiter. I use ReVibe heavily, I love ReVibe! I use the Sonnox Oxford reverb and Altiverb as well. That's for live shows. Now, typically, on remixes I use a lot of UAD stuff. I've also begun to really enjoy the Avid Pro Limiter, and a lot of the new plugins that I've gotten with the Ultimate Package that I’ve just never used before now. When I’m looking for down and dirty, I still have a nice crunchy reverb that I like with D-Verb! But, that's basically my setup. I usually just automate mutes, volumes, and send mutes when I do a live show. Often artists may come back and want to release the live recordings and that way we can have a day of updating the mix that was automated and a good place to start. Or we’ll just start from scratch.
When you talk about remixing, is the typical scenario that an artist comes back and wants to release their performance beyond the live broadcast?
Yes, typically. Jazz at Lincoln Center has been around for 30 plus years and recording for many, many years prior to this facility being built 15 years ago. They formed a record label two years ago, Blue Engine Records, and are currently on a campaign of releasing 100 records over the next five years. The recordings I've been working on recently, have been from the past eight years or so.
Do you deliver surround mixes as well, or are you pretty much exclusively working in stereo?
Everything we broadcast here from JALC is in stereo. This facility hasn’t been a remix room for a lot of 5.1 broadcasts and DVD releases recently because our programming is so ramped up that we don't necessarily have the time to do a lot of outside work. I monitor and do a lot of analyzing for 5.1, and we have done broadcast testing for our purposes in 5.1, but it's been a number of years since we were regularly doing surround. With the S6 consoles being installed, we're getting a lot of noise about doing 5.1 and expanding into Dolby Atmos.
Photo: Kal Dolgin/Eyesounds
Do you ever use the facility for studio recordings?
Yes. We're in New York. Many of the studios that were able to track an orchestra have closed over the years. Real estate developers coming in and giving them more money than they could ever refuse, so those studios were being run out of business. We're going all the time here, and people realize this, and they come, and they see our live room. It's not huge, but it is 40 by 60 with 25-foot ceilings. And their response is, "Oh, is this a public place we can rent?" We're like, "Yeah.” But, it's difficult to align schedules because of everything we do here as a facility at JALC. We are indeed trying to accommodate for the changes, as we have an incredible facility and equipment that is the most cutting edge. Challenging indeed.
It's not your typical studio from a technical standpoint. When you walk into the live room, the panel on the wall with eight XLR for comm/etc, and a couple of ethernet, a couple of BNC and then fiber… it’s deceiving. So, we roll in our rack, plug in fiber, and now we have 64 plus channels, bi-directional, to and from the studio all clean and independent of any noise. The signal design is based off of the model that was built from Effanel remote trucks where we'd, for example, pull up a truck to Central Park and run 3,000 feet of fiber out to the center of the park and place the mic pre racks, and then run comms, mic pre control, and signal all up and down fiber to and from the trucks.
What is the transition like moving from the ICONs to the new S6’s?
The biggest change doing live shows, is the more information I can see in front of me, the better. And the S6 offers 20 times more information on its displays and on the console than I could ever see on ICON without interfacing with a computer screen and seeing the software GUI. Right off the bat, the displays show an incredible amount of information. The metering details, the routing, EQs, compressors, and the waveform displays. The ability to create custom layouts, lock channels in place, setting metering to different types on certain channels and have them remain like that as I move around the surface… very helpful!
I was concerned because the metering seemed a little sluggish and at times pulling up layouts was a little bit slower than the way it worked on ICON, but ever since last year, with the software updates, all of that has gotten much tighter, much faster and even more functional. It was functional before, but I work off of templates with EQs, compressors on every channel with at least four effects returns set up, fed from every channel ready to go—because I’m in a live environment. And my templates are built so that all of it is timed out correctly with delay compensation with my plugins and also all of my sends to my multiple machines, to my video recorders, to stage, to press, everywhere around the facility.
To guarantee the audio is in sync with the video and various other destinations, I have all kinds of different delays on master fader outputs. To have to build a session from scratch and change that setting every time is a lot of work, so, I simply have templates for each room where I spent the time doing that math. I can just move that template forward to this console, and now I can see even more information and be confident that all is well. The S6 is able to do everything the ICON can do and more. For me it was just a matter of learning how to operate the S6 in the way that I was used to working on the ICON. It's only enhanced my workflow. I was just commenting to my client this morning that I'm really digging this console!