SF Music Conservatory Uses Network Audio To Overcome Pandemic Challenges


The San Francisco Conservatory of Music (SFCM) faced a unique challenge that kept them from coming together during the pandemic. While school violinists could play together while wearing masks, wind and brass instruments and singers could not.

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To virtually unite musicians, the school set up a Dante network that works throughout the facility, in classrooms, offices, rehearsal rooms and studios, with Focusrite RedNet X2P 2×2 Dante audio interfaces serving as system endpoints. The network was designed and installed by integration company Advanced Systems Group (ASG) of Emeryville, California.

The project took shape last August, and RedNet X2P audio interfaces (32 in total) were key components of the system. “The advantage of the RedNet X2P is that it is an audio interface and a headphone amp, so musicians don’t need to have monitors in rooms,” said Michael Groh. , sales engineer at ASG. “They could communicate with each other, with the conductor who is on stage and with the audio mixer. The Focusrite RedNet X2P is just a perfect solution for this.

Groh worked closely with Jason O’Connell, Director of Recording Services at SFCM, who helped guide the school deeper into pro audio over the 13 years he worked there. These efforts have included the implementation of the Applied Technology and Composition program, which emphasizes the use of technology to compose for video games and for mixed media, a program that has attracted more students to the courses. school programs. Last March, as the pandemic-triggered shutdown gripped the country, he quickly realized its implications for music education. “Basically anything about a singer, woodwind player, brass player, they can’t play in a room together during this pandemic,” said O’Connell, who studied audio at the University. McGill under the direction of a renowned producer / engineer / educator. Georges Massenbourg.

As the school administration looked for ways to reopen teaching, O’Connell looked for solutions. At first they tried to use standard video conferencing to connect everyone, but sound quality and latency were a big issue from the start. “We struggled for a few months with this,” he said. Analog patch lines were another option, but installing enough copper wire to connect even a fraction of the school’s more than 400 students scattered across more than a dozen performance spaces was intimidating. Then O’Connell realized that a Dante network would solve the connectivity challenge, and a call to Groh brought Focusrite RedNet X2P audio interfaces onto the scene. Two RedNet X2P units arrived and were installed on the school VLAN as a proof of concept.

Saxophone artist working in a classroom at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, with Focusrite RedNet X2P 2x2 Dante audio interface

Saxophone artist working in a classroom at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, with Focusrite RedNet X2P 2×2 Dante audio interface (Image credit: Focusrite)

“We brought in some musicians and had them play together, and they were amazed at how smoothly they went from getting the microphone and headphone levels, and then all of a sudden they had a lesson. , speaking of phrasing and tone, “he said. “You just can’t hear these nuances in a standard video conference. When they were done, they ended up asking to stay a full hour to do their entire lesson. They were so happy that they got to play together, and they were so excited. At that point, I was like, ‘Okay, this is how we have to move forward.’ ”

And they did, in time for the fall semester. With Dante as the backbone of the project and using RME TotalMix FX software for routing and mixing, the school installed 32 RedNet X2P units (acquired through Focusrite’s educational program) in various classrooms and other spaces, creating a 64-channel stereo network, with a network latency of less than 5 milliseconds. The system is complemented by Audio-Technica ATH-M50x and ATH-M40x headphones and an assortment of studio-quality microphones.

“Basically we took care of every set rehearsal, but also the lessons, including individual lessons between students and instructors,” said O’Connell, who added that RedNet features such as remote control of Preamps and microphone levels make it a perfect fit for networked applications like school. “Being able to remotely control all these boxes is very useful to us and allows us to be much more efficient in our handling of lessons and rehearsals,” he said. Without the system, “Probably a third of our student body probably wouldn’t be able to be here and take classes as effectively.” ”

“Over the past year, by playing Dante with Focusrite RedNet, all of our students have become familiar with and familiarized with essential recording studio technologies such as audio interfaces, microphones, and monitors,” said said Taurin Barrera, Executive Director, Technology and Applied Composition. at the SFCM. “Our students were able to experience the fantastic possibilities offered by cutting-edge music technology and professional-grade recording equipment. Now that our entire campus can function as one giant modular recording studio, I can’t wait to see what new types of music projects, collaborations and networked performances we can develop in the future. ”


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