Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA): A Great New Weather Tool For Show Crews

It's spring, and that means the start of severe weather season, and also the time when many of us in show business start working on outdoor shows. I've done a lot of outdoor sound systems and I'm also a storm chaser and weather geek, so when I'm on an outdoor show site, I'm often running real-time radar on my laptop in addition to my sound system alignment software. While I'm monitoring approaching storms out of curiosity, I'm not a meteorologist, and I strongly believe that event producers need to hire professionals to make decisions related to audience and crew safety. But--as show crews--the decision to hire a meteorologist is often out of our control, and while safety is our employer's legal responsibility, it's obviously strongly in our interest to make sure we do everything we can to ensure a safe workplace, especially in light of the spate of recent weather-related show disasters (about which I've written extensively).

In this spirit, in early 2012 I wrote an article (download a copy here) called Weather Resources for Show Crews for PLASA's Protocol magazine, which outlines the process I use to monitor the weather when working outdoors. In April 2012, after the publication of that article, a new form of emergency alert based on the position of your cell phone started becoming available; the system is called the Commercial Mobile Alert System (CMAS), or, more commonly, Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA). Distribution of these alerts is handled by cell carriers and has been rolling out across the country; last year, many friends were surprised with an alert like this on their phone when there was a severe weather event in their area:

Courtesy Ready.gov

Courtesy Ready.gov

The alerts are accompanied by a sound like the one in the Youtube video below.

There are three types of alerts: Presidential, Imminent Threat, and Amber.  Imminent threats include weather warnings issued by the National Weather Service (NWS), all of which most certainly could be an imminent threat to a show site:

  • Tornado Warnings
  • Flash Flood Warnings
  • Hurricane and Typhoon Warnings
  • Extreme Wind Warnings
  • Dust Storm Warnings

The alerts are special messages that are broadcast from cell towers to nearby phones, and they go through even when there is heavy voice or text network usage (like at a large event). Since the messages are broadcast, the issuer of the alert does not know your cell phone number--the alerts are just issued to every cell phone on a certain carrier in a specific area.  All of this is a great thing for those of us who work (or play) outdoors, because it now means that--wherever you are in the country--you can be warned of imminent weather hazards automatically and immediately. This is a functionality formerly only offered by paid apps that could increase your data bill or drain your battery.  

Carriers are required to issue the alerts in affected counties, but it's also possible (preferable) that they will target an alert to a tighter geographic area This is great news, since (as I discuss in the article), the NWS issues many warnings onto geographic polygons. For example, here's a tornado-warned storm I was chasing last year in Iowa:

BVxjY1iCQAEG5XY.png large.png

The red box is the extent of the tornado warning; if you are outside the red box then the NWS does not consider that storm to be a threat to you at that point.

My carrier is Verizon, and it seems like they do issue on the warning polygons rather than on a county basis: "Authorized Senders determine which locations will receive a specific alert based on the area defined by the geographical latitude and longitude of the emergency. As circumstances dictate, Authorized Senders will identify  targeted areas for each specific alert. Devices compatible with Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEAs) that are operating within the area targeted will receive the WEA. Those devices operating in areas not targeted by Authorized Senders will not receive the alert."  This is a good thing, especially if you happen to be on tour somewhere where the counties are enormous, and you might get a severe thunderstorm warning alert while you are many miles away under sunny skies.

The service is "opt out", meaning if your phone has the feature, it will be enabled by default.  You can turn off all but the Presidential Alerts; I would recommend keeping your imminent threat alerts turned on.  On my Android phone on Verizon, there's an app called "Emergency Alerts", and you can configure your alert reception and notification there:

And of course, as I detailed in the article, the time to make an emergency plan is long before one of these alerts is issued for your show site.  Let's keep safe out there!

Tribeca Film Festival "Drive In" 2014

It's April, and that means it's time for my 11th (!) time designing the sound system for the Tribeca Film Festival (car-free) "Drive In".  This year, we start with Mary Poppins:

And then Splash:

And then we close with the premiere of Next Goal Wins:

More details on the Tribeca site here.  I'll be there every night, stop by the mix position to say hello!

Early Spring Storm Chase in Texas

I was in Dallas last week for the USITT Conference (where I gave a talk on networking, of course).  On Wednesday, on the way back from lunch to my session, I saw asperatus clouds for the first time.  By the time I got to a clearing they were starting to move away but it was still pretty cool to see:


My session went great:


The next day, a slight risk was issued for severe storms, so after a morning meeting (I had to do some work!) I hit the road with my former student and now colleague Erin G. The setup was marginal, but initiation was forecast along a dryline, which I had not been able to chase before. So we went out with the objective only of finding and seeing the dryline, and we accomplished that.  We also stumbled across the very cool Running N Ranch:


These poles apparently line up to make a single shadow on each equinox.


Saw a very low Lake Texoma, partial subject of one my favorite James McMurtry songs, Choctaw Bingo:


We watched on the radar as severe storms exploded and formed tornadoes up in Arkansas, and then eventually decided to call it a day and head back to Fort Worth.  But coming back to Gainesville, the storm I had been literally watching in the rear view mirror really ramped up and made an anvil.  So, we turned around to see what it was, and stumbled across giant figures by Glenn Goode, the fiberglass man:


In the distance you can see the storms firing, and we found a spot and watched them just develop beautifully in the sunset:


We had already started setting up to meet people back in Fort Worth, but then Erin noticed how much lightning the storm was making, and then we figured we had to go for it, and ended up moving south west and staying for a couple hours as this storm just pumped out lightning and hail east of McKinney, Texas.  We ended up in an areay with a lot of trees so we had to climb over a barbed wire fence into a cow pasture to find an open sky:


I made a little pseudo time lapse of the 300 or so shots I took of this one storm:

Here's our track (ending at an In n' Out Burger--I didn't know they had those in Texas!

More photos here.

On Friday, Fort Worth was under a severe thunderstorm watch, and after my morning sessions there were supercells down south reportedly pouring out 3" hail, so John M and I blasted south to see what we could see.  We ended up a bit late for the fast moving storms, and got beat with marble size hail for a few minutes.  Afterwards, we punched through the rest of the storm and there were some pretty cool mammatus clouds persisting for a long time along the dryline:


"Classic" Live Mic List Survey Results!

Yana Chupenko at Cathyland's Love Bites 2014

Yana Chupenko at Cathyland's Love Bites 2014

There are as many opinions about microphones as there are sound engineers. Experimentation with mics is a great thing to do, but what if you’re just starting out, or you need to mic something you haven’t worked with before?  

For my students (and anyone else interested), I thought it would be fun to develop a list of “classic” live mics for live sound.  Rather than just make a list based on my own opinions, I figured I’d crowd source it by creating a survey and sending it out to as many people as possible (and writing this, with the analysis complete, I just realized I forgot to vote in my own survey!).  I ran a beta test of it with a few people on the always excellent Theatre Sound Mailing List, and then tweaked up the survey and posted it both there and on the ProSoundWeb Live Audio Board forum.  36 people completed the survey, which ended up being a bit tedious (it turns out we mic a LOT of different things!). 

I asked respondents for two variations on “Classic”.  The first would be “Money Is No Object”, and the second is “Most Commonly Used”.  Here’s the list of the most popular in each categories (I've also got a better formatted PDF available here).  Ties are indicated by multiple mics separated by “/”, such as SM58/AKG 414. 

Money Is No Object Most Commonly Used
General Speech Handheld Shure SM58 Shure SM58
Rock Vocal Handheld Audix OM7 Shure SM58
Pop Vocal Handheld Neumann KMS 105 Shure SM58
Rap Vocal Handheld Shure SM58 Shure SM58
Jazz Vocal Handheld Neumann KMS 105 Shure SM58
Classical Vocal Handheld Neumann KMS 105 Shure SM58
Headworn Boom Cardioid DPA 4088 Countryman E6
Headworn Boom Omni DPA 4066 Countryman E6
Lavalier Cardioid DPA 4080 Shure WL185
Lavalier Omni DPA 4061 Countryman B3
Choir or Chorus AKG C414 Sennheiser e 935
Acoustic Guitar Mic Neumann KM 84 Shure SM57/Shure SM81
Guitar Amp Mic Shure SM57 Shure SM57
Acoustic Bass Mic DPA 4099 Shure SM57
Bass Amp Mic Beyerdynamic M-88 Shure SM57/ Sennheiser MD 421
Grand Piano: Lid Closed Earthworks PM40 PianoMic AKG C414
Grand Piano: Lid Opened AKG C414 AKG C414
Upright Piano: Lid Closed AKG C414 AKG C414
Upright Piano: Lid Opened AKG C414 AKG C414
Electronic Keyboard Amp Shure SM57 Shure SM57
Electric Organ Shure SM57 Shure SM57
Leslie Cabinet Sennheiser MD 421/Sennheiser MD 441 Shure SM57
Kick Drum Inside Shure BETA 91 Shure BETA 91
Kick Drum Outside Electro Voice RE20 Shure BETA 52A
Snare Top Beyerdynamic M-201 Shure SM57
Snare Bottom Shure SM57 Shure SM57
Floor Tom Sennheiser e 904/Sennheiser MD 421 Sennheiser e 604
Tom Sennheiser MD 421 Sennheiser e 604
Cymbals AKG C414/Neumann KM 84/Neumann KM 184 Shure SM81
Overhead AKG C414 Shure SM81
Hi Hat AKG C451B Shure SM81
Misc Percussion Neumann KM 184 Shure SM57/Shure SM 81
Guitar Amp Radial JDI Countryman 85
Pedal Steel Radial JDI Countryman 85/BSS AR-133
Bass Amp Radial JDI Countryman 85
Keyboard Radial JDI Countryman 85
Computer Whirlwind pcDI Whirlwind pcDI
DJ Mixer Radial JDI BSS AR-133
MP3 Player Radial JDI/Radio ProDI/Whirlwind pcDI Radial ProDI/Whirlwind IMP 2/Whirlwind pcDI
General Input Radial JDI Countryman 85
Banjo Individual DPA 4099 Shure SM57
Ukulele Individual DPA 4099 Shure SM57
Dobro Individual DPA 4099 Shure SM57
Violin Individual DPA 4099 Shure SM81
Viola Individual DPA 4099 Shure SM81
Cello Individual DPA 4099 AKG C414/Shure KSM137/Shure SM81
Bass Individual DPA 4099 Neumann KM 184
Harp Individual DPA 4061/Schoeps CMC6/MK 4 Shure SM81
Mandolin Individual DPA 4099/Sennheiser MKH 40 Shure SM57
Violin Section DPA 4011/Neumann KM 84/Schoeps CMC6/MK 2/Schoeps CMC6/MK 4 Neumann KM 184
Viola Section Schoeps CMC6/MK 4 Neumann KM 184
Cello Section DPA 4011/Neumann KM 84/Schoeps CMC6/MK 2/Schoeps CMC6/MK 4 Neumann KM 184
Bass Section DPA 4011/Neumann KM 84 Neumann KM 184/Shure SM81
Harp Section Schoeps CMC6/MK 2/Sennheiser MKH 40 Shure SM81
Harmonica Sennheiser MD 441 Shure SM58
Piccolo Individual Neumann KM 84 AKG C451B/Neumann KM 184
Flute Individual Schoeps CMC6/MK 4 AKG C451B
Oboe Individual Neumann KM 184/Schoeps CMC6/MK 4 AKG C451B
Clarinet Individual DPA 4099/Schoeps CMC6/MK 4/Neumann KM 184 AKG C451B/Neumann KM 184/Shure KSM32
Bassoon Individual Schoeps CMC6/MK 4 Neumann KM 184
Saxophone Individual Sennheiser MD 421 Sennheiser MD 421/Shure SM57
Piccolo Section Neumann KM 84 AKG C451B/Neumann KM 184
Flute Section Neumann KM 84 Neumann KM 184
Oboe Section Neumann KM 84/Schoeps CMC6/MK 4/Schoeps CMC6/MK 21/Sennheiser MKH 40 Neumann KM 184
Clarinet Section Schoeps CMC6/MK 4 Neumann KM 184
Bassoon Section Neumann KM 84 AKG C414
Saxophone Section Sennheiser MKH 40/Neumann KM 84/u87 AKG C414
Trumpet Individual Sennheiser MD 421/Electro Voice RE20 Shure SM57
French Horn Individual Sennheiser MD 421 Sennheiser MD 421
Trombone Individual Electro Voice RE20 Sennheiser MD 421
Tuba Individual Electro Voice RE20 Sennheiser MD 421
Trumpet Section Neumann u87/Neumann TLM 170 AKG C414
French Horn Section Neumann u87 AKG C414
Trombone Section Neumann u87 AKG C414
Tuba Section Neumann u87/Schoeps CMC6/MK 4 Not enough responses
Xylophone Individual AKG C414/Sennheiser MKH 40 Shure SM81
Timpani Individual AKG C414 Shure SM57
Bass Drum Individual Earthworks SR25 AKG D112/Shure BETA 52A
Cymbals Individual AKG C414 Shure SM81
Conga Individual Beyerdynamic M-201 Shure SM57
Timbales Individual Beyerdynamic M-201 Shure SM57
Triangle Individual DPA 4021 Shure SM81
Tambourine Individual Shure SM57 AKG C451B/Neumann KM 184/Shure SM57/Shure SM81
Misc Percussion Individual AKG C451B Shure SM57/Shure SM81
Xylophone Section AKG C414 Shure SM81/AKG C414
Timpani Section AKG C414 Shure SM81/AKG C414
Bass Drum Section AKG C414 Not enough responses

Respondents were encouraged to skip mics they didn't use, so a few of the entries are blank (I guess not many people mic tuba sections).  A few also had pretty small sample sizes and ended up being less relevant--you can download my summary sheet of the top three results in Excel format here.  I also have all the raw data available here (scrubbed of any personal information).

In general, the “Money Is No Object” section drew a lot of diverse responses, while the “most commonly used” tended to hone in on a few favorites, some overwhelmingly (again, see the percentages on my summary sheet linked above).  Despite my efforts, I still missed some mics in my list, most notably the Shure BETA 91 for inside a kick drum (the eventual winner), and the write in box worked to correct that. The only other write in that I saw with more than a few entries was a couple Heil mics, but the respondents weren't always clear about where they should go, and the quantities would have only added up to compete for third place or so, so they didn't affect the categories where they were written in (some people also wrote in mics that were on the list).

This is of course not a scientifically accurate survey, since I have no idea how many sound engineers there are in the world, and therefore also have no idea how well this small sample represents the market.  But I do think the list has some value, since it’s as if I had asked 36 of my closest sound engineer friends their opinion.  And it’s an experienced group, with 82.4% of respondents indicating that they had worked in the live sound business more than 10 years.  90% said they worked at least partly in concert sound, and 50% do this kind of work primarily (I forgot worship sound in my poll so several people wrote that in).  24 (67%) of the respondents were from the US, but I also got seven from the UK, three from Canada, one from Germany, and one from the Netherlands.   You can see the rest of the demographic result details in the excel sheet linked above. Thanks to all the participants! And, congratulations to Tim Perry of Utica, NY, who won the copy of my book.  

 It turns out that Survey Monkey offers a very limited set of options for data analysis for the “Matrix of Questions” type that I used, so I ended up having to do an unbelievable amount of spreadsheet magic to get the results.  For that reason, I’m sure there’s mistakes in the list; if you find any please let me know and I’ll correct it.  

"Classic" Live Mic List Survey--Need Your Help!

I believe that microphones are something everyone should experiment with to get the best sound for the application, but my students and others new to the business lack experience and are often looking for good starting points for professional technique.

So, for fun, I'm looking to develop two crowd-sourced "classic" mic lists, using two definitions of classic:
1. of the first or highest quality, class, or rank: "a classic piece of work."
2. serving as a standard, model, or guide: "the classic method of teaching arithmetic."

List 1 will be what your mic choice would be for a particular application if money were no object; list 2 will be what you use (or see used) most commonly.

I will publish the results here in conjunction with the upcoming 2014 USITT convention. All data from the survey (except for optionally given email addresses and names) will be available to anyone interested for download.  And, I will randomly select one survey responder and give them a copy of my book, Show Networks and Control Systems

If you use microphones for live shows, please take a few minutes to fill out my survey here.  

The survey will close at noon NYC time on Saturday, March 22, 2014.


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