Conversation with Chip Self, audio engineer and President of Logic Systems Sound and Lighting, inc. - part A

All conversations are unedited which means that spelling and grammar appear in their original states.

To: "chip@logicsound.com" <chip@logicsound.com>
From: Ron Pellegrino <ronpell@microweb.com>
Subject: Re: your essay
Date: 8/14/98

Hi Chip:

>Ron,

Self - I just read your essay "Audio Engineers are Enemies to our ears". I must
>say that I´m taken by several aspects. I am an audio engineer and the
>President of a fairly large concert sound and lighting company in St.
>Louis, MO. I have been completely involved in sound reinforcement full time
>for over twelve years. Throughout those twelve years I have had annual
>hearing tests and have consistently had MUCH better than average hearing.
>Statistically speaking, I have better hearing that roughly 9 out of every
>10 concert attendees. [Pellegrino - How could Chip possibly know this? And if his statement were true, what might have caused the poor hearing of the concert attendees? Some enemies of their ears perhaps?]
>I have also spent a good portion of my time learning
>how to best supply an even ( frequency response and volume) coverage of
>every venue I´ve encountered. As such, I take great offense to your blanket
>observation that WE are all deaf, inconsiderate, worthless, burdens to the
>health of the concert going world. This is PURE FICTION and simply proves
>the lack of real research on your part as a writer.

Pellegrino - Glad you found my essay "Why are audio engineers the enemies of our ears?" (the correct title) so stimulating. Please forward copies of your hearing tests [not received as of 8/28/98] and I´ll post them on my site along with this message. It´s not inconceivable that either you're the one human in six billion who´s unaffected by abusive sound or you're one of those rare audio engineers who deserves an excellent rating and/or wears good prophylatics in his ears.

Self - In your defense, there are allot of below average audio engineers in the
>world. To be exact, 1/2 are below average. This is simply statistical fact.
>1/2 of the doctors of the world were in the bottom half of their graduating
>class. As were 1/2 of the lawyers, 1/2 of the police, and 1/2 of the
>writers. In the case of writers the odds change drastically because any
>idiot with a computer and an attitude can espouse him/herself as an expert
>in anything they wish without ANY requirements. Oh the wonders of desktop
>publishing ! This is the same, to a degree, with audio engineers. The
>difference is in the height of the financial "bar". Anyone with a
>typewriter can be a writer ( owned or borrowed ) while the beginning audio
>engineer requires thousands and thousands of dollars worth of equipment to
>even begin learning. Business´ version of natural selection weeds out the
>first cut of the "un-worthy". Unfortunately, that´s where the cutting
>stops. You see, the sound business is like any other business in that is
>entirely market driven. When YOU the customer consistently demand higher
>and higher production values for lower and lower ticket prices while the
>cost of our equipment skyrockets, the cost of insurance skyrockets, the
>cost of labor constantly increases, and our day to day operating expenses
>increase at least at the rate of inflation the entire mechanism of Business
>Natural Selection goes out the door and the work goes to the lowest bidder.
>The way it´s supposed to work is that people insist on higher quality and
>are prepared to pay for it thus eliminating the "un-worthy" from the
>market. This rarely happens in the concert market. Now you immediate
>response is that I´m wrong, and that this does not happen. FALSE ! This
>happens every day in corporate and convention work. The fact that the
>concert market WILL NOT SUPPORT high quality production leads all but a few
>of the best into corporate work. Simple business facts deem that MOST of
>the better 1/2 of the audio engineers work in corporate and convention
>markets. Which incidentally, you failed to investigate.

Pellegrino - You´ll find responses to most of the issues you raise if you revisit my site and read the exchanges with other audio engineers who concur and/or disagree with my research observations based on over three decades of direct involvement in all things audio including acoustic, psychoacoustic, and electronically reinforced. You'll also find reviews of excellent audio engineering work. Incidentally my audio research is intense and ongoing on a daily professional level as a music creator, producer, presenter, and concert attendee.

One of the points I emphasize in my essays and reviews is that the sensitivity and sophistication of the "average audio engineer" is abysmally low and, as such, constitutes a direct threat to the audio health of the people they´re paid to serve. I´ve heard a great number of rationalizations (including all you offer in your message) for the currently less-than-mediocre level of audio engineering that has afflicted the music scene in the 1990s, but it really boils down to the need for audio engineers to chuck hubris and raise standards.

Self - I certainly agree that things CAN be much better. Unfortunately, YOU the
>consumer are the only one that can change things. Meanwhile you´re too busy
>bitching about the problem instead of researching the REAL problem before
>randomly slandering a great number of seasoned professionals. I would
>highly suggest that you check the facts before you type another word. You
>have spouted specific accusations toward a large number of professionals
>without doing ANY of the proper research. I have forwarded a copy of this
>letter and your "essay" to the Audio Engineering Society's legal department
>to review under slander law. I´m not certain that your slander is illegal,
>but I know it should be !

>Sincerely,

>Chip Self

>President
>Logic Systems Sound and Lighting, inc.
>St. Louis, MO
>314-968-4050

Pellegrino - And thanks for bringing the essay once more to the attention of the Audio Engineering Society. The purpose of the essay is consciousness raising and the AES is a great button to push.

Looking forward to copies of your hearing tests. [Not received as of 8/28/94]

Ron Pellegrino


To: "chip@logicsound.com" <chip@logicsound.com>
From: Ron Pellegrino <ronpell@microweb.com>
Subject: RE: your essay
Date: 8/17/98

Hi Chip:

>Ron,

Self - I´m not enough of a computer genius to know how to post the little scrolls
>of paper the test results print out on. If you have any suggestions, let me
>know. I can tell you that my most recent test, 4 months ago shows dramatic
>recovery in my left ear from an inner ear infection I caught from my son
>(day care disease ). This most recent test shows within 2 dB flat frequency
>response in both ears throughout the testing range ( WAY too narrow of a
>band IMO ). My previous test, immediately post ear drum rupture, showed a
>substantial ( 4-5db ) dip at roughly 4khz. All previous tests are flat as
>they are now. I have had, since a child, a slight 1-2 dB variance in
>overall level between my left and right ( left is lower ). At any rate, we
>conduct rudimentary hearing tests as a game around the shop using a TAD VHF
>driver, a Meyer MS-1000 amp, and a Tektronix function generator. EVERY one
>of my engineers can easily hear up to, if not beyond 16kHZ. This is not a
>freak case, this is a prime example of a company of professional engineers
>that realize the vulnerability of their "tool".

Pellegrino - No need to be a computer genius. Just do a good scan of your test results into any standard graphics program (Photoshop, etc.), attach the file to an email message, and I´ll do the rest.

Sensitivity variance from ear to ear is normal.

Self - I should apologize for my rude tone. I posted immediately after reading
>your article and have now had a day / show to calm down and think it
>through. While I certainly comment the fact that you care enough to go to
>these lengths, I can not condone the broad strokes you have used to label
>an industry based on it´s worst examples. There are a great many
>professionals in the audio reinforcement business that DO understand the
>complexities, liabilities, and safety issues of their job. I find it
>gravely offensive that you would so liberally consolidate myself and my
>employees, Great engineers such as Robert Scovill, Dave Natale, Rob Colby,
>and Clive Franks into a package with "the guy who used to drive the bus and
>thinks he can mix". Obviously there is bad audio out there, no one is more
>offended than those of us that strive for the highest quality possible. My
>point is simple Sound reinforcement is market driven just like everything
>else. If customers never complain about bad sound to the people that make
>the decisions, and as long as concert goers continue to accept "what they
>get" for their money the situation can not change. Here´s an example. Most
>of the worst audio is in clubs, not least of the reasons is that it´s a
>training ground for new engineers. In all of my years of experience, I have
>yet to see / hear a customer leave because of bad sound and explain that in
>a rational manner to the management. I´ve likewise never seen / heard a
>customer say to management "you know I would gladly pay an extra $1 cover
>charge to have better sound". What I have heard a thousand times is "it's
>too loud" from the 60 year old woman that sits directly in front of the
>speakers. There are three problems with this scenario, all market driven.
>1) She shouldn´t have sit there in the first place if she is sensitive to
>the volume. 2) IMO no one should be sitting there. Market economics dictate
>that if it´s an open space, either management will sell it, or someone will
>insist on standing there and complaining that it´s too loud while never
>even considering moving or leaving. 3) IMO speaker should ALWAYS be flown
>(subs not included ). Again, market economics dictate that the venue might
>not have facilities for flying and will not pay to install them, or the
>additional labor involved is prohibitive. All of these are market base
>excuses from management. None are things that a hired contractor can force
>change in. It´s much easier for the promoter to hire another company than
>to do the right thing. In this industry there is an exceptionally thick
>layer of low end service providers that will do whatever is required to get
>the gig. Competition drives every decision that´s made. Idealists go broke
>daily. The only refuge for the sensibly minded professional continues to be
>corporate work. In this market, hiring decisions are made based on quality
>as opposed to price. Herein lies the entire difference. I hate to repeat my
>self, but I can not stress this enough.

Pellegrino - Where did I say "the guy who used to drive the bus and thinks he can mix"? Please don´t misquote me.

>On Friday, August 14, 1998 6:46 AM, Ron Pellegrino [SMTP:ronpell@microweb.com] wrote:

>>Hi Chip:

Pellegrino - Glad you found my essay "Why are audio engineers the enemies of our ears?"
>>(the correct title) so stimulating. Please forward copies of your hearing
>>tests and I´ll post them on my site along with this message. It´s not
>>inconceivable that either you´re the one human in six billion who´s
>>unaffected by abusive sound or you're one of those rare audio engineers who
>>deserves an excellent rating and/or wears good prophylactics in his ears.

Self - I think your statistics are a wee bit exaggerated. Lets be real. You know
>that there are a great many factors at work in regards to exposure. Time,
>frequency, dynamic range, and most importantly distortion are critical and
>IMO it is impossible to make any judgement based on exposure with out
>reference to ALL determinant factors, particularly distortion. 1 hour of
>95db at 1% THD is obviously less fatiguing / damaging than 1 hour ( or even
>20 min. ) of exposure to 95db at 10% THD. given this simple fact, it is
>undeniable that there can be no valid determination of exposure without
>reference to distortion content. It is equally important to factor in a
>reference to dynamic range. 1 hour exposure to 95db with a 2 dB dynamic
>range is very different that 1 hour exposure to 95db with a 20db dynamic
>range. Perfect example one test with a nominal tone, and one with pink
>noise containing 10db peaks. As well, frequency is critical. 1 hour of 95db
>of 2khz will be much different that 1 hour of 95 dB of 20 Hz. Now when you
>factor all of these unaccounted for variables, it is painfully obvious that
>1 hour of 95db of tone is entirely different than 1 hour of music with a
>50db average dynamic range. It is entirely reasonable, given these
>exemptions, that things such as SPL limits and OSHA exposure limits are
>meaningless when measured by excluding all but the most rudimentary factors
>at play.

Pellegrino - You´ll find responses to most of the issues you raise if you revisit my
>>site and read the exchanges with other audio engineers who either concur or
>>disagree with my research observations based on over three decades of
>>direct involvement in all things audio including acoustic, psychoacoustic,
>>and electronically reinforced. You´ll also find reviews of excellent audio
>>engineering work. Incidentally my audio research is intense and ongoing on
>>a daily professional level as a music creator, producer, presenter, and
>>concert attendee.

Self - I think you have inadvertently made my point for me. You site examples of
>excellent audio. As such, You have directly contradicted your blanket
>statements about audio engineers. You know, the "they're all deaf" thing.

Pellegrino - One of the points I emphasize in my essays and reviews is that the
>>sensitivity and sophistication of the "average audio engineer" is abysmally
>>low and, as such, constitutes a direct threat to the audio health of the
>>people they´re paid to serve. I´ve heard a great number of
>>rationalizations (including all you offer in your message) for the
>>currently less-than-mediocre level of audio engineering that has afflicted
>>the music scene in the 1990s but it really boils down to audio engineers
>>chucking hubris and raising standards.

Self - I couldn´t disagree more. Perhaps the average engineer that YOU have been
>exposed to. My point is simply that you haven´t scratched the surface. It´s
>also often the case that the best engineer in the building isn´t the one
>mixing. Artists rarely actually consider the qualifications of an engineer,
>and even more rarely go hear them work before hiring them. If they get the
>job it´s for a variety of reasons that have NOTHING to do with their
>ability to do the job. It´s politics and the buddy system at its deepest.
>Sensibility and responsibility are certainly assets acquired over time and
>experience. Those are not the qualities that get you the gig with the "New
>Hot Band" in fact, they probably eliminate you as "that old guy" that
>"can´t possibly understand our art". These are the qualities that get you
>the job as systems tech having to hold the hands of the "younger" and
>"cooler" engineers that aren´t the least bit interested in your opinion or
>experience. Perfect example = how many times have you been to a show where
>the opening band sounded far superior to the headline act. Look at who
>mixed who and you do the math. As far as the "chucking hubris" thing, refer
>back to my prior rant on market economics. [Pellegrino - Market economics and arrogance are like apples and oranges]

Pellegrino - And thanks for bringing the essay once more to the attention of the Audio
>>Engineering Society. The purpose of the essay is consciousness raising and
>>the AES is a great button to push.

Self - It´s worth understanding that the level of engineers you´re concerned about
>are certainly not involved in ( heard of ) AES. In your blanket assault you
>have directly offended some of the finest professionals you could ever hope
>to meet. Certainly that can´t help.

>Chip Self

>One of "those old guys in the business" at the ripe old age of 30

Pellegrino - In addition to three decades of internationally producing and presenting performance-multimedia events with the latest affordable emerging technology, I attend annually on average over 100 music events in every imaginable venue. I always get the best seats that money can buy so I figure what I´m hearing and seeing is the best the entire production team can offer. I agree that the performance arts are a complex business but that´s no reason to settle for mediocrity or even less as is often the case.

Every day it seems more obvious that it´s a very serious problem that there´s virtually no oversight or licensing of the audio engineering profession. In communications to me from audio engineers about their problems, the house engineers fault the road engineers and both groups of engineers fault the musicians and the presenters. The musicians and presenters abdicate responsibility for the audio because, out of ignorance and an inability to communicate effectively with the engineers, they maintain that the responsibility for the audio lies with the audio engineers. The audio engineers and the savvy folks in the audience come prepared with hearing protection which is another way of saying they deafen themselves down. Often the threat to the unprotected audience´s health borders on criminal. I expect it won´t be long before there will be audience and class action lawsuits against the audio engineers, musicians, and presenters and, in the end, we´ll all have to suffer with government audio regulators swarming around public music events.

Think about it. The field of audio engineering as we know it today is a relatively new entry on the professional scene and it´s literally exploding onto the public arena in a less than responsible manner with virtually no oversight. The anti-noise movement is quickly getting the attention of all the broadcast media plus the government because ongoing research is demonstrating that excessive sound is a serious health hazard. Personally I would prefer to keep the government regulators out of the music scene but the intractability of audio engineers and their reluctance to accept responsibility for the deleterious impact their performances are having on the health of music and the music-going public will probably result in government regulation in the near future. Not a pleasant thought.

Ron Pellegrino

Link to the continuation of the conversation with Chip Self.



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