Conversation With Audio Engineer Scott Fahy

As always, spelling, punctuation, formatting, etc. of the original message is left intact.

>To: ronpell@microweb.com
>From: Scott Fahy <omnipro@uswest.net>
>Subject: General Observations
>Date: Sat, 10 Jul 1999 02:08:48 -0500

>Dear Dr. Pellegrino,

>I have been reading many of the articles on your web site regarding poor audio engineers destroying good music.Ê I agree with many of your observations.Ê (I don´t agree with how you present them, condescending and arrogant, but that is my personal opinion.)Ê I have been doing live sound for 25 years.Ê Yes, I have suffered some hearing loss in the upper frequencies, but I have my ears checked by an Audiologist every year.Ê I know where my hearing is deficient and don´t try to compensate for it with undo frequency boosting.ÊÊ In fact, on many of the events I do, my daughter works with me to ensure the sound is enjoyable for everyone. (She is a member of her school´s classical chamber singing group, and strongly dislikes loud music).Ê I am adamant on having the performers take an active part in "tuning" the sound system.Ê I am not a musician and have always relied on the performer to direct me on how they want their music to be presented.Ê I feel it is my job to be as "transparent" as possible.ÊÊÊÊÊ I recently completed an eventÊ for a local school which combinesÊ a 90 voice choir performing contemporary music with very active choreography and a full backup band (Drums, Guitar, Keyboards, Piano, Brass.)ÊÊ I tuned the system using Smaart Pro,Ê andÊ time aligned the main speakers so the reinforced sound was in line with the acoustic sources.Ê This creates a more natural sound for the audience.ÊÊ DuringÊ the performances the musical director (Dr. David Henderson, Ph.D. in choral music) sat with me and gave me direction on what he wanted to hear and in what balance.ÊÊ His musical expertise combined with my technical skills provided the audience with a very enjoyable experience.Ê The best comment was from an individual who has been to this event for the past 8 years, "I could hear everything but neverÊ noticed the sound system ".Ê These words are the best compliment I can receive.ÊÊ Looking forward to more "Pearls of Wisdom"

>Scott Fahy
>OMNI Productions

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To: Scott Fahy <omnipro@uswest.net>
From: ronpell@microweb.com
Subject: Re: General Observations
Date: 7/13/99

Dear Mr. Fahy:

Thanks for your response to the Quest for Audio Excellence section of my website. I´m always pleased that audio engineers are giving some thought to those essays and email exchanges and I´m even more pleased when they agree with at least some of the positions I take on fundamental audio issues. I´m also thankful for the opportunity to converse with them on issues that separate us.

Generally speaking, those who begin their communications with insults and name calling "(I don´t agree with how you present them [RP´s observations and positions], condescending and arrogant, but that is my personal opinion.)" are impeding their own learning progress and the progress of the communication by immediately setting up hurdles. Also insults and name calling and other such defensive ploys ("holier-than-thou," etc.) often signal an unwillingness to confront fundamental issues and to recognize and accept a direct challenge to the status quo to which they're committed. Better to resist the temptation to insult and name call even when you´re angry.

Any audio engineer who´s been doing live sound for the past 25 years has been subject to all the liabilities of the audio dark ages especially those that come from the lack of appropriate education and excessive sound levels. In the context of my professional work, especially in the first couple of decades of a 32 year electronic arts performance career beginning in 1968 that included many hundreds of events in the university world, I dealt with audio engineers without the most basic education in music styles, performance, and values. Often they had attitudes that were more suitable for the work of custodians and media center staff, basically uncreative and protective. Slowly in the past decade that educational and attitudinal situation has been improving but even recent education with rare exceptions tends to be more based on formulas rather than experience; and that tends to create a mechanical noncreative attitude towards problem solving in the performance audio arts. And that leads to a functional audio engineering level that is weak at best and destructive at worst.

In your message you admit to "some hearing loss in the upper frequencies." In other words, you have a hearing disability as do the majority of today´s audio engineers; that´s one of the main points of my piece on Why are audio engineers the enemies of our ears?. The fact is that most audio engineers would not admit to a hearing disability because they believe, and justifiably so, they would soon be out of work. The upshot is that the music loving audience is subjected to sound that threatens their hearing systems with the same "loss in the upper frequencies" that the audio engineers suffer. It´s not much of a stretch to consider the problem a social disease spread by sick audio engineers. Unless the music and audio worlds begin to police themselves, in the not too distant future we can expect government controls on the spread of the hearing loss disease.

You also say you´re not a musician; in today´s field of audio engineering that´s another disability. Nevertheless your efforts to compensate for those disabilities are admirable but you should immediately add the study of music and psychoacoustics to those efforts. Based on what you say in your message it seems you´re applying good principles (transparency) and making good decisions (consulting musicians) based on a good attitude (willingness to compensate for your disabilities); that´s a strong combination but there´s no question that you´d be a far better audio engineer if your hearing were fully functional and you had a good understanding of music and psychoacoustics. That combination of physical and conceptual skills would give you the tools to do your job on the fly when your assistants (your daughter, the other performers, and the musical director) were occupied with their performance activities. Audio engineering is a performance art; if you don´t have all the tools to do the job in real time you´re functionally disabled and basically flying your audio system deaf and dumb.

You´re absolutely correct when you refer to fundamental principles as "Pearls of Wisdom" which is what I prefer to believe you intended in your closing expression.

From the overall tone of your message it seems you truly enjoy your work and try to do it as well as you can. That combination is enough to move you up in the ranks of any field (including audio engineering) and deserves congratulations.

Ron Pellegrino


Continuation of a Conversation With Audio Engineer Scott Fahy

To: Ron Pellegrino <ronpell@microweb.com>
From: Scott Fahy <omnipro@uswest.net>
Subject: Re: General Observations
Date: Wed, 14 Jul 1999 17:03:59 -0500

>Ron Pellegrino wrote:

>Dear Mr. Fahy:

[Excerpts]
Pellegrino - Generally speaking, those who begin their communications with insults and name calling "(I don´t agree with how you present them [my observations and positions], condescending and arrogant, but that is my personal opinion.)" are impeding their own learning progress and the progress of the communication by immediately setting up hurdles.Ê Also insults and name calling and other such defensive ploys ("holier-than-thou", etc.) often signal an unwillingness to confront fundamental issues and to recognize and accept a direct challenge to the status quo to which they´re committed. Better to resist the temptation to insult and name call even when you´re angry.

Fahy - Point well taken, however I do feel your message would be more readily accepted by audio professionals if you were to offer more constructive advice and less derisive comments about them.Ê As I said before, you do have some very valuable insights and we as audio pros can benefit from them.

Pellegrino - In your message you admit to "some hearing loss in the upper frequencies."

Fahy - My hearing starts to roll off at 13K , I have a 4 Db drop at 4k in my right ear, my left ear is ok at 4k but has a 5 Db drop atÊ 10K. This is why I go to the audiologist so I can track any changes.Ê Out of curiosity have you ever done any studies on hearing losses to the average person in their 40s, 50sÊ or 60s ? How often do you have your hearing evaluated.?Ê (Not meant negatively)

Pellegrino - In other words, you have a hearing disability as do the majority of today´s audio engineers; that´s one of the main points of my piece on Why are audio engineers the enemies of our ears?.Ê The fact is that most audio engineers would not admit to a hearing disability because they believe, and justifiably so, they would soon be out of work.Ê The upshot is that the music loving audience is subjected to sound that threatens their hearing systems with the same "loss in the upper frequencies" that the audio engineers suffer.

Fahy - I believe the area of loss is more in the 2K to 5k range that causes the problems, many of the concerts I have attended have had an excessive amount of boosting in this area.

Pellegrino - It´s not much of a stretch to consider the problem a social disease spread by sick audio engineers.Ê Unless the music and audio worlds begin to police themselves, in the not too distant future we can expect government controls on the spread of the hearing loss disease.

Fahy - Precisely why I have invested a substantial sum of money into the SIASOFT Smaart Pro.Ê It allows me to monitor the frequency content and SPL of the events I am doing.Ê If you are not familiar with Smaart Pro a visit to their web site would be educational.

Pellegrino - You also say you´re not a musician; in today´s field of audio engineering that's another disability. Nevertheless your efforts to compensate for those disabilities are admirable but you should immediately add the study of music and psychoacoustics to those efforts.

Fahy - I should clarify that statement, I am not a working musician.Ê I do have a good basic understanding of music and how instruments work and interrelate to each other.ÊÊ I have also studied pyschoacoustics and even today am still continuing my education.

Pellegrino - Based on what you say iny our message it seems you´re applying good principles (transparency) and making good decisions (consulting musicians) based on a good attitude(willingness to compensate for your disabilities); that´s a strong combination but there's no question that you´d be a far better audio engineer if your hearing were fully functionalÊand you had a good understanding of music and psychoacoustics.

Fahy - Agreed, another clarification, the hearing loss is more genetic and age related than exposure to loud sound.Ê I have attempted to protect my hearingÊ as much as possible.Ê I will not mix events that are excessive in volume, I wear special ear plugs when I am working (not mixing) around loud music.Ê I will not wear earplugs while mixing, if I can´t handle the volume why should the audience.Ê (Event planners, promoters, some musicians don'´t understand this though).

Pellegrino - That combination of physical and conceptual skills would give you the tools to do your job on the fly when your assistants (your daughter, the other performers, and the musical director) were occupied with their performance activities. Audio engineering is a performance art; if you don't have all the tools to do the job in real time you're functionally disabled and basically flying your audio system deaf and dumb.

Fahy- Agreed, but with some clarification,Ê I use them as sounding boards to ensure what I am doing is pleasing and musical.Ê Typically ,I will listen to the music without the sound system on, stand onstage and evaluate whatÊ they are doing, ie; how does the music blend acoustically.ÊÊ I will then walkÊ the room and listen to how the room acoustics affect the sound.ÊÊ After I do this I dial my mix , then walk the room again.ÊÊ It amazes me how applying just a small amount of reinforecement can enhance the performance.ÊÊ When this procedure is done, I askÊfor their input and factor that into the mix.Ê Basically I set things up to what sounds good to me then make sure it is what they want to hear.Ê This allows me to have a good frame of reference for the performance in case they are not available.

Pellegrino - You´re absolutely correct when you refer to fundamental principles as "Pearls of Wisdom" which is what I prefer to believe you intended in your closing expression.

Fahy - Yes, it was meant in a positive vein.

Pellegrino - From the overall tone of your message it seems you truly enjoy your work and try to do it as well as you can.Ê That combination is enough to move you up in the ranks of any field (including audio engineering) and deserves congratulations.

Fahy - Thank you, I take that as a compliment.Ê I hope we can continue this dialog.

Scott Fahy

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To: Scott Fahy <omnipro@uswest.net>
From: Ron Pellegrino <ronpell@microweb.com>
Subject: Re: General Observations
Date: 7/27/99

Mr. Fahy:

Attitude is everything and you definitely have a good one. The part of the music world that uses electronic sound reinforcement would be a far better place if all the audio engineers in the business had your attitude for starters; excellence requires a good attitude as a foundation. That said, there are a number of items in your response that I´d like to address.

1. You say "I do feel your message would be more readily accepted by audio professionals if you were to offer more constructive advice and less derisive comments about them."" In a nutshell, I´ve designed this section of my site to target those who would benefit from grappling with overlooked yet crucial issues in the sphere of music and audio; and that target group includes musicians, music presenters, music audiences, and students of audio engineering (including professional audio engineers committed to lifelong learning). As far as I can tell, the issues I raise are not being addressed anywhere else in a coherent form. From my periodic web searches to see how my site is being used, I´ve noticed that this section of my site is often included as part of the study materials for classes in audio engineering and I take that as a good sign of value to the field. If you consider my reviews and essays carefully, you will notice that whenever I point out an audio performance flaw (derisive comments?), I suggest a remedy (constructive advice) based on fundamental principles in psychoacoustics or music. Furthermore, to get anyone's attention (especially those tending towards physical and attitudinal deafness) one needs to take a strong position and articulate it clearly; in others words, no waffling or coddling. I figure I´m dealing with adults and they should be able to take the heat.

2. You say you "have invested a substantial sum of money into the SIASOFT Smaart Pro.Ê It allows me to monitor the frequency content and SPL of the events I am doing." You offered that information in response to my remark that "Unless the music and audio worlds begin to police themselves, in the not too distant future we can expect government controls on the spread of the hearing loss disease." I maintain that there are no hardware or software solutions for audio problems in music that actually require a musically talented and well educated ear for their solutions. Manufacturers targeting sales and poorly informed educators wanting to appear current are seducing aspiring and professional audio engineers into believing technology and related formulas can compensate for audio engineering inadequacies. It´s an outright ruse. Now it´s true that you can use software and hardware tools to help in the process of educating the ear, but you can´t use them to solve musical audio problems that lie in the realm of the art of audio engineering.

In my own performance work, my worst experiences with audio engineers occurred with people who were using hardware or software arguments to support their position on an audio issue. In effect their hardware or software solutions were getting in the way of how my music was supposed to sound. I´m the composer, the musician, the multimedia performance artist, so my music should sound how I want it to sound; and if I know how to get that sound my position should be honored without question. My best experiences with audio engineers have been with people who were comfortable with idea of collaborating in a musical way.

I realize that the vast majority of musicians are clueless about audio technology, but if they´re good musicians they should know and care about how their music sounds. Many musicians mistakenly believe audio engineers are like members of their musical group who are expected to know how to play their instruments in a musically appropriate way. It would be wonderful if that were true but it´s not true. So, as you say you do, good audio engineers need to enlist the collaboration of the musicians (not software, hardware, or formulas) to achieve the sound that´s appropriate to the music. In the coming years those who do collaborate with the musicians will rise to the top of the audio engineering business and those who don´t will disappear into the audio abyss.

Ron Pellegrino



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