“Tune” Up Your Passion With Crosstraining

Erie Philharmonic
Erie Philharmonic
click to enlarge

music & arts: understand what you are working with

When you go to a concert whether it be jazz, acoustic, rock n roll, orchestral, Broadway, or whatever strikes your sonic fancy, what do you hear?

Do you hear the actual voices and instruments being played on stage? Think about it… In the instances of true musicians (no lip-syncers here), of course they are playing actual instruments and singing with natural voices. However it is up to the sound engineer(s) mixing the performance to make the musicians sound as good as possible.


Opinion of what is “good” sound can change from audio engineer to audio engineer. But there is one philosophy taken at Raven Sound, and that is the philosophy of sound reinforcement. In case you are not familiar with the live production industry, “sound reinforcement” refers to the infrastructure, gear, and people that increase the audible level of live music to fit the venue. Notice I didn’t say “enhance”.

Long time sound engineer and more importantly, musician, Phil Papotnik tells every single one of his engineers over and over again, we are sound reinforcers. We don’t color the sound. We simply recreate the natural sound of an instrument or voice in the larger sound system.

To some people, a song sounds the same whether it is on a $10 set of headphones or $500 home sound system. Most of the time these people are NOT musicians. I say this because if they were musicians, they would recognize the tonality difference in the recreation of a guitar, piano or drums in a cheaper set of head phones.

The mix should be “transparent”-the music should be right in front of me when I’m in the audience and not coming from the speakers.


Raven Sound Engineers:
Paul: plays clarinet and cello
Phil: plays saxophone and guitar
Nate”Slim”: plays piano

click to enlarge

Our role is to:

1. Work with the equipment: Understand, be able work with, and troubleshoot all the gear in the sound reinforcement chain from microphones to speakers.

This is the easier challenge. Its like learning how to use a computer, or programming a really complex VCR (for those who remember them).

2. Understand the input: Each of the inputs (the  music, voices, etc.) interacts differently with the pieces of the reinforcement chain. This is reflected in the equalization of a system, microphone placement, gain structure, relative fader levels, channel equalization, and outboard dynamics and effects.

Don’t know what any of this is? Check out ProSoundWeb.com, especially the ProSoundWeb.com Study Hall.

Understanding the input takes more time and a lot of different types of practice. Aside from just hopping on a mixer and playing with knobs, one of the best ways to gain a better ear is to actually pick up an instrument and play it yourself.

Raven owner Phil Papotnik will always say “I listen differently as a musician. I want that sax to sound the same coming out of the speaker as it does sitting in a room listening to it acoustically”.


Just like any other passion or specialty in this world, there are many variable that influence our craft. In order to get better at what we do, we need to crosstrain ourselves in other specialties that affect our field.

A  marketer who is going to work for a client may want to get into their client’s shoes to understand the nuances of the business. As a sound engineer, I need to study music to truly understand the dynamics, energy, and nuances that goes into making the music in order to accurately recreate it in a larger system.

Nick Corsi is receiving a history minor at the University of Pittsburgh and has gone out on a limb with more difficult philosophical, and historical classes over the course of his marketing curriculum. Not only does he find liberal arts enjoyable, but he sees the importance of them in today’s world in order to understand the broader picture. He has also just started taking formal drum lessons. This makes his friends happy that he takes his rythmic energy out on the real instrument instead of coffee tables, car dashboards and kitchen counters.

Work Hard, Take It Easy

Nick Corsi

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3 Responses to ““Tune” Up Your Passion With Crosstraining”

  1. Mike Corsi Says:

    Be the best at what you do and you will be rewarded. I hope the drum lessons will take out some of the rythmic energy you have because the coffee tables, car dashboards and kitchen counters are mine. Dad

  2. Thinking Big Works » Blog Archive » “Lost”? Try Slicing The Big Picture Says:

    [...] “I think that the reason the [audience]  likes these characters is they see themselves in them. The show is about the same things life is about: it’s about love, it’s about forgiveness, it’s about redemption, it’s about pain, it’s about excitement. The idea that they have a chance at redemption, because of where they are on this mysterious island; that allows us to tell, I think, fairly universal stories about the human condition.” – Carlton Cuse, David Lindelof Although my previous posts have solely focused on the music industry, I would also like to incorporate different types of art and entertainment. Analyzing literature, TV shows, movies and theatre is important part of my search for knowledge and reflects the importance of synthesis and cross training as mentioned in one of my earlier posts. [...]

  3. 1reconsider Says:


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