The largest recording facility in Quebec, Studios Piccolo has installed a Solid State Logic System T networked broadcast audio platform in one of its mobile production trucks. The truck’s System T comprises a 48-fader S500m modular control surface, twin redundant Tempest T80 engines supporting up to 800 signal paths, and a 16-fader remote Tile.

Studios Piccolo Mobile's Solid State Logic System TThere were a number of reasons why Piccolo chose System T, says company co-founder Denis Savage, not least that the studio was the first Duality-equipped commercial facility in North America. Savage, who has been Céline Dion’s tour manager and FOH engineer for several decades, also installed an Axiom MT+ digital music production console at the Colosseum at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas when the singer began her residency in 2003, switching to SSL’s Live series desks for Dion’s shows in 2014.

But for Piccolo Mobile’s clientele, the company needed a more specialized console.. ‘The number of inputs [up to 800, with EQ] and how we can quickly build mix-minuses, make it a great console for us,’ says Savage. ‘Plus, it’s very quick to set up. If you have a basic layout on your console, you arrive in the morning, just add inputs and it puts everything in the right order. In no time you’re ready to rock.’

Piccolo Mobile’s team integrated the new System T into the larger of the company’s two trucks, PM2, between Christmas 2020 and New Year. ‘We also upgraded Pro Tools in there to record 192 tracks,’ says Savage. ‘We have four Pro Tools systems in each truck, two to record and two to mix, so they are redundant.’

The truck’s first gig with the System T was with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra. It was then positioned at MELS studios in Saint-Hubert, a Montreal suburb, for the months-long production of Star Académie, one of the francophone province’s top-rated TV shows. The latest season of the singing competition airs live on Sunday nights on a two-hour-plus show, following two days of rehearsal then a final run-through.

‘It’s a massive show with a bunch of singers and a bunch of guests,’ says Piccolo engineer Charles-Émile Beaudin, who works in the truck with show mixer Simon Bélanger. The show generates about 140 inputs, including more than 20 vocal microphones, and typically features over 30 songs per episode. The lines from the stage, which is in-the-round in the absence of a studio audience during the Covid-19 pandemic, split to three FOH and monitor consoles in the house and are transported over Madi to the System T in the truck outside.

‘Having the Layer Manager is a great factor to help us go fast when it’s medleys. I put all the vocals in a row, and I can just travel down the faders,’ says Bélanger, who is able to quickly raise and lower each singer’s level in quick succession.

Studios Piccolo MobileDuring the mash-up part of the show, one singer will take the lead before switching to background vocal while another singer takes over. ‘That’s where the System T also comes in handy, switching the stems, reverbs and panning. It’s really fast,’ says Bélanger.

System T’s processing and effects rack is regularly put through its paces as the young contestants find their voices, says Beaudin. ‘They’re being coached each day and trying different things. The timbre of their voices changes dramatically from song to song and day to day. So we use a lot of dynamic EQ and different reverbs and effects.’

With many hours on the Duality at Studios Piccolo, Beaudin is well placed to compare its sound and performance to the System T: ‘From week-to-week you start to get a sense of what it sounds like, what it does, how it feels,’ he says. ‘System T is very clean and huge sounding. It doesn’t change the sound drastically; it just sounds good. Over time you realise that the headroom is great, and it sounds wide and deep.’

Up to three surfaces can control any System T at the same time, but so far the truck’s Fader Tile has stayed in its box: ‘We were planning that maybe I would mix some things in the background, but we haven’t had to use it yet because Simon is doing a wonderful job and he doesn’t need me to help him.’

But in the future, he says, ‘There will be a lot of shows where, let’s say, I’m mixing the music on the console and there will be a guy behind me mixing the traffic stuff – same engine, different surfaces.’

The Star Académie production is complex, what with many live microphones and the pace of the production leading up to each live broadcast: ‘It’s really not simple and we’ve got to do it quickly. But the great thing about System T is that it manages this easily. There’s a ton of ways to get in and out of the console. We send record tracks to the stage and they send us stuff that doesn’t go on-air. We both have talkback in the truck and use matrixes to route that. But it has way more range than the way we use it. And I don’t think we have ever said no to a request.’


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