Friday, August 31, 2012

Dear SNR: Fighting Feedback

We just got another email from our friend Michael. You may remember him from our podcast about acoustic guitars in tight places. It seems he's having some feedback troubles and would like us to weigh in on it. We'll likely tackle this in an upcoming podcast as well but I wanted to put a few ideas out there in print and see what our readers will put up in the comment section.

Michael mentioned feedback fighting devices at the end of his email and that he had disastrous results the one time he tried one out. Personally I hate them. Never trust a machine to do the thinking when art is the question at hand. When feedback fighters do work correctly they can then go on to take out things you'd rather have left in like flutes or guitar solos. Auto EQ can be a useful tool but more for learning than actually doing.

I'm going to start down on the stage because while you're micing up can be the best time to sort out potential monitor issues.  If you're using multiple wedges it's best to use one for music and one for a "me" wedge.  That lets you put more level through each one while the sound remains clear. If it's multiple wedges with the same signal are to be used then it's best to push them as close together as you can and treat them as a single "wedge array".

The reason for monitor positioning is that if they're producing the same signal and you splay them out (as people see done in concert videos) then you create comb filtering that can leave a singer in a hollow spot or with terrible feedback (or both). If the two boxes are as close as you can get them then they start to act more like a single enclosure.

As far as positioning wedges, a "band" wedge can go just about anywhere it's convenient to place it. A wedge for a vocal needs more careful placement. With a garden variety cardioid mic the best place for a wedge is right behind it. That's because directly off axis is where the best rejection is, the mic picks up the least. With that knowledge you at least have a starting point for where that wedge is most likely to end up working well.
Now that super and hypercardioid condensers are becoming more affordable though there's a trick to them that some people don't know and it comes around to bite them, making them feel that it's not possible to use them on smaller stages. It's not that they pick up too well in front, but that there is a spot directly behind them where rejection is only somewhat reduced, a second lobe visible on the polar patterns in the spec sheets.  Moving a wedge off to the side, somewhere between 160 and 120 degrees off center axis will put it at the point of best rejection.

Moving on, I expect you're waiting to hear about EQ. There's a lot that can be said so I'll try to keep it brief. An RTA can be a help, but that fact that you need four times the resolution of the EQ that you're going to use to really have it be effective is a bit of a sticking point. You need a 1/12 octave analyzer if you have a 1/3 octave EQ. That's so you can tell if feedback is occurring right on the center of a filter or slightly off to one side, maybe even split right in between two filters. Don't give up if you can't afford SMAART or don't want to bring a laptop to a gig at all. The RTAs available for smart phones these days can still help you out in a pinch. 
It's also very helpful to know the EQ you're using. With a traditional graph, say that 1/3 octave, the filter is only that wide when you're at full cut (or boost, but don't boost). Anywhere in between the filter is much wider. If you have a "constant Q" graph then then filters are much more consistent. One is better suited for shaping and the other for surgically removing feedback.

That said I like to get down on stage and take a listen. I'll try to hear if there's any sort of resonance from the room that's building up on stage and then turn on the wedges and start to EQ. There can be a lot of low end floating around at knee level on a stage so I'll usually high pass pretty severely when I start. Then I go after offending frequencies on vocal and guitar mics. The last thing I'll do after I get to the maximum volume I can obtain is go back and "warm things up a bit" in the lows and low mids so things don't sound cold and unnatural to the performers. 

There's so much more to be said and so many more ideas to try that I'll probably revisit this topic after next week's podcast. A couple things that come to mind are trying different sized and positioned monitors. Would a little hot spot on a stand do a better job than a 15" floor wedge? Could a performer sitting on a bar stool playing guitar get away with a headphone amp clamped to the mic stand? A lot of performers carry their own small splits and take care of their own monitors via in ear monitors (IEMs). The possibilities are nearly endless and we'll keep tackling the issue as long as the Brethren of the Knob and Fader keep asking.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Gear Review: Audio Technica AE5400 & AE6100

Last week I got the chance to demo a couple Audio Technica mics. The artist I was working for had a package to test out.  I should state that I am in no way compensated for this review (although theoretically if you click on a link I may eventually receive several hundredths of a cent for it.)

The act was a rock band with two brothers out in front. Drums, bass, two electric guitars, one acoustic and keys doing piano and Rhodes was the line up. Both singers are widely known for their ability to overwhelm a system with the lows in their voices. In fact, in our neck of the woods you can tell an engineer to take out some "last name of artist withneld" and they'll immediately reach for 180 Hz.

That said, these mics did a great job minimizing the proximity effect and had a smooth, clean response right up through the vocal range. Taking a look at the response curves on the data sheet I feel like they're telling the honest truth. Both mics lived on stands for this show so I can't tell you about handling noise.

The 5400 is a condenser and it's definitely on the list of "stuff you want to save up for". The difference between this mic and the $100 mics so frequently seen around is clear. It's got the same large diaphragm as the old AT4050 and the cardioid pattern is nice and tight. I could ramble on but it's shorter to say that a vocal I usually have to work on went out with the EQ flat and we moved on.

The 6100 is a dynamic mic and honestly it was hard to tell the difference between the two. If you're on a budget but need a better mic you might want to consider this one. In front of a singer who can peel the paint of a mic it behaved beautifully and brought out nuances that I hadn't ever heard before. The only warning I'll give is that the hypercardioid pattern means you can't park a wedge right behind it. In this case I was using two wedges, one for music and one for voice. It took a minute to place the voice wedge in a spot that would settle it down but once I did we could go right to the limits of sanity as far as volume was concerned.


I have to admit that I don't often think of A-T mics as I go about my daily business, despite owing a handful myself.  Having a couple added to the input list at the last minute proved to be a pleasant experience and I'd encourage anyone looking into a Sennheiser 845 or 865 to take a look at these while they're at it.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

SNR Podcast #18 - 8/26/2012 - From Church Sound to Other Gigs

This week we had a larger panel as your humble host Jon Dayton was joined by Anthony Kosobucki and his wife Amanda got together to answer some questions for our friend Blake Emkhe. He was wanting to know about moving on to other types of gigs if your background is in church sound.

As always you can stream it right here, find us on YouTube, or use the MP3 link below to stream or save it for later.  Thanks for being patient as we work our way through the busy season. There's more podcast goodness lined up for the weeks coming up.


  • SNR Podcast #18 - 8/26/2012 - Jon Dayton, Anthony & Amanda Kosobucki, talk with guest Blake Emkhe about moving from church sound out into the wider world of audio.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Dear SNR - Choir Mics

I got a letter from one of our friends in Germany (in the middle of the night, we never close!) asking about an upcoming gig.

Hey Jon,

I have a gig coming up that involves a kids choir up on the same stage with a rock band.The first rehearsal turned out not so great.

With you doing church sound and so on, I figure you're a lot more experienced with that type of stuff. Can I hit you up with some specific questions? I think you might have some great recommendations concerning mics, stage layout and so on?
Thanks,
Eike

Of course you can Eike! And so can anyone else. The truth is, we don't get a ton of mail here so if you write in with a question, unless it get's lost in the junk filter we'll get right on it. As always I'll encourage you to get on ProSoundWeb.com and other great sites that have loads of articles about every subject you could ever imagine. A lot of what I know today started out as a kernel of knowledge gleaned from the web.

But in this case I'm going to tell you to save that for another time and I'll just tell you the way that I like to mic a choir.

Hanging choir mics are great. Installers love to sell them to venues. The truth is though, they're great for making a nice recording of the school Christmas concert and not much else. I've complained in the past that omnis are not the sort of thing you want to turn on when you're trying to catch actors in a musical or a choir or anything else you want to put through the PA. Then someone will respond and say, "Oh, no. You've got it all wrong, they're directional all right." Well, they're not directional enough. Unless you're in a perfect environment, putting garden variety hanging mics in the PA is a recipe for disaster.

My technique is as follows. Throw a pencil condenser mic like an SM81 or AKG 430 up as high as you can get it on a boom stand and do that about every eight to ten feet along the front of the chorus. The reason for putting them high is that you're able to get them more equidistant from each singer when they're way up there. The spacing can vary a little. The idea is to use the three to one mic rule somewhat. That makes sure that each mic isn't picking up too much of what the mics next to it are picking up and making phase issues.

The height and aiming are even more important if there are wedges in front of the singers. Stage bleed from other instruments on stage is nothing compared to the hell of the monitor mix folding back into the choir mics. I haven't had to do it recently but in the past I've resorted to blocking them up to be near vertical or using pole speakers with the poles as short as they'll go so that the horns aren't blasting right up into the mics.

Once you've got your mics selected get them into the console and do some serious EQing on them. You could write a whole article about how low frequencies sum in the most incredible ways when using multiple mics and you should look that up if you care to know the particulars. If not, just low pass them where you think it's reasonable and then use the low shelf EQ as well. Just trust me on this, you'll save yourself loads of heartache with low end feeding back and you'll get more gain out of them.

Then bus them down to a group or pair of groups if you need things in stereo and slap some compression across them. I mix a choir on stage with a rock band about twenty weeks out of the year and I've messed around with different settings. I feel like I've had the best luck with higher ratios (6:1 or so) and dialing down the threshold until I'm not seeing more than six to ten dB of reduction. Your results will vary. The goal is to be able to turn them up loud enough to capture quiet passages even when the band is still churning away, without having the big peaks take over the mix.

I've messed around with gates and while I'll use them for insurance I'll usually have the threshold extremely low. That's just to prevent feedback from happening during a speaking part when everything else is quiet. Expanders might work better since they just dim things a bit when below the threshold and sound a lot more natural than a gate slamming open and shut.

That's my two cents Brethren of the Knob and Fader. Some of you will be amazed at my audio prowess, some of you will think me a fool. Let's hear about it in the comments section, as well as any ideas you might have on how Eike can nail his upcoming gig.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Thank You (200th Post)

Today marks the 200th post on SNR. We've been able to keep up the pace and get a post out nearly every single day since we started back in February (2/18/2012 to be precise). We'd just like to say thank you to everyone who has left comments and an even bigger thank you to some of our new friends in Germany who are enthusiastic followers. We've had some great email exchanges, some of which have turned into posts and others have been covered extensively in our podcasts.

The biggest thank you goes out to our direct contributors. These are the folks who have sat down and written full articles for us. You can see who I'm talking about and read their stuff by clicking on the link in the bar above (check out the podcasts too!). 

I said all that to say this: it's the interaction that makes this fun and worthwhile for us. Talking and writing about audio is something many of us do on a daily basis and to do it a little more on the off hours may seem crazy... unless you know a sound guy and then it sounds completely normal. The feedback from the reading and listening community is our motivation to keep going though. We're not an endless fountain of knowledge so having questions to answer is a huge help.

So here's one last encouragement. If you're scared of the comments section, hit us up on Facebook or Twitter. You can even find out email addresses if you dig around a little on the blog pages. There's no need to be afraid to post. Those of us running this shop spend a good part of our lives teaching our craft to people of different skill levels and we won't hold any one's ignorance against them. Trolls and flames will be quickly deleted. This place is going to stay friendly.

So muster up your courage and get in touch. We love, nay, thrive on your questions and comments. Keep em coming Brethren of the Knob and Fader!

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Soundcraft Releases Digital Desk With DMX

 
I've got to say that the idea has run through my head more than once. I've spent many a long night mixing a band with a little DJ light console or the remote focus unit (RFU) from a larger console balanced on my mixer. Sure there are ways to get a larger console to output MIDI notes to control a lighting console, or vice versa, having the lights trigger a scene change on a desk. That's not really what this is about though.  Here's the press release and the product page.

Before you go off to read those though, think about what this means for small venue productions. If you're the one guy in charge of sound and lights, you can stay in the same spot and page back and forth between the two. It looks like you can even have access to both on the same page in the master section if you take the time to set it up that way.  I'm still trying to wrap my head around just how much lighting control you get though.

Sound wise it looks pretty sweet. It comes with 24 or 32 mic pres and can handle up to 80 with expansion cards and digital snakes. There are also a boat load of outputs that you can configure eight ways from Sunday. I won't bore you with the details, you can go look it up if the idea of doing a bar gig with a true LCRS rig, delay lines and multiple stereo monitor mixes with matrix outs to your Pro Tools rig gets you excited. Eight VCAs, dual Lexicon processors and a nice fat channel round out the mix.

On the lighting side you only get one DMX universe so it's really out of the question for larger productions. It looks like it's set up with four scenes that you get on the channel fader pages and the masters live in the master section.  I'm not sure what you can do in terms of chases so it may be better suited to theatrical work than club shows. You can take snapshots of the lighting section independently or along with the audio section. (Sounds perfect for scene changes on that musical production.)

It's a brave new world out there Brethren of the Knob and Fader. An exciting time. It's not a time to cling to old values and methods. Although depth of experience will never be an unwanted trait in a sound guy, it's going to be important to stay up on what's new. Skill, talent and taste are the only thing that separates the Jedi-level sound guy from the paperboy with a fancy pole speaker rig that he can run from his cell phone.

NOW GET OFF MY LAWN YOU DAMN KIDS!!!

Friday, August 24, 2012

Field Recording

I'm tucking this in with the Project Movie stuff because it was finishing up a little bit of prep work. As we've been gearing up to make this year's Christmas film I've been purchasing a few things, like a fancy USB audio interface that will eventually get its own post, down to little things like mic clips and such.

The need arose this week to shoot a short clip of a couple guys getting on motorcycles and taking off for a promo video. There would be music covering the whole thing but we wanted motorcycle sounds at the appropriate places. I put together this small rig to make things quick and easy.

It looks a little ungainly but I was able to run around the parking lot and get what I needed while we were shooting and didn't have to extend the shoot any longer than it already was. It's a little difficult to see but I've got a stereo mount with two clips screwed on to a drum claw with the part that would usually clamp on to the drum holding on to our Zoom recorder. (They come with a screw in handle.) With a couple short mic cables, my cheap headphones and the appropriate wind screens I was off and running, literally.

For the setup I ran the Zoom in four channel mode. The two stereo mics on the recorder itself do a great job of picking up reflections and ambient sounds that a close mic will miss. Then out on the boom I had an SM57 to get close up sounds without overloading and Azden shotgun mic to pick up the far away stuff when the Shure left off. With one of the bikes idling I got a base level, then had the rider rev up a couple times and reduced my gain a little more to prevent overload. When all was said and done I had three good takes on my SD card and I headed back to the office to start editing.

I threw the tracks in Reaper which is my favorite DAW. I got things lined up and started to take a listen, one track at a time. Because I had been careful about setting the gain I had no clips. The shotgun mic, being a condenser came close, but the built in limiter on the Zoom kept it in check and it sounded clean from start to finish. The level on the 57 was very low, especially as the bike pulled away. That was expected though and being in the digital realm I was able to raise it up quite a bit before any noise started to creep in. The built in mics were somewhere in the middle, but having a wider pattern than the shotgun they did just what I thought they would and got a nice ambient sound of the motor coming back off some nearby brick buildings. 

Once everything was adjusted gain wise, I took the internal mics and panned them to the outside. Then I put up the 57 right at unity because I felt like it had gave the best representation of the bike close up. As it pulled away I started to fade in the shotgun and it picked up where the 57 left off like a champ. I was able to keep it pointed right at the bike until it was out of range. When I had that balanced nicely I added in a touch of the internal mics so things weren't so sterile and that was that. Here's a low bit rate example (no freebies, sorry). 

                                                     Jon's Motorcycle Sample

When all was said and done I had a nice piece to add to the sound of the promo video and three more ques to stick in my private library of self made sound effects. As I've written before, you can go out on the net and find just about anything you may want. But in a lot of cases you're either going to get a really awful MP3 or have to shell out some bucks for a good recording. It can also be murder trying to find something that really fits your production, be it video or theatre. If you have the time and a little bit of equipment on hand you can go out and get just what you need. 

More and more it's becoming common practice on big movies to try and capture better audio during the filming for the exact reasons I mentioned above. There's no need to license sounds you make yourself, and trying to get canned stuff to match up to your action can take a lot of time. I walked out the door with less than $1000 worth of stuff and got great results. If you're starting from zero but have a laptop, grabbing a $50 USB interface and a 57 on eBay you can get pretty far. So keep it in mind next time you need a sound cue. Plan ahead and you can save yourself some serious time and wind up with a better product.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Vocal Effects

For a long time I resisted putting reverb on vocals when mixing live. It was a philosophy created out of mixing on an adequate system in sub par rooms (or terrible systems in terrible rooms).  Every time I dialed up reverb things would just get muddy and indistinct. Some nights I had to turn it up so far just to hear it that it started to sound like the singer was in a bank vault. So I skipped it and saved the reverb to put a little edge on the drums.

Instead I'd reach for a tap delay, usually with enough feedback to give me about two repeats. While feedback is usually a dirty word, for those not familiar with the inner workings of a delay unit, it's the parameter that feeds a percentage of the effect back to the input and gives you second, lighter echo. 30% or so will give you a second tap, 60% makes it about three.

My technique varied by the song and the group. A band playing oldies might get a real short (120 milliseconds) tap with no feedback for that "Buddy Holly" slap back sound. Push it up and it sounds very affected or just float it in there a little to thicken things up a bit. More often than not it was cover bands playing more modern rock. Sometimes I would think back to listening to the radio and manage the delay to match a particular song. Other times I would just match the tap tempo to the song.

The real key when using longer delays was one, getting the timing right and two, not laying it on with too heavy a hand. Ideally you would only hear the effect at the end of a line. It makes a vocal sound more powerful, like it's echoing off the majestic hills. (It's also been the butt of many a joke, even in song. "Don't forget the delay-ay-ay, on the very last word-ord-ord".) As for the timing, I found that if I matched the tempo of the song exactly then the repeats would get in the way of the next words. I would usually tap in a time for a song during the intro, then roll it up a few dozen milliseconds. More modern boxes than what I had back then will let you do things with dotted notes and that's sort of what I was trying to achieve. 

One additional trick that I like to keep on tap (pun intended) is to absolutely slam the return channel on a long, held out note.  You have to time it right, when you push it up and when you take it back out. In this instance you don't want a ton of echo after the note but some build up during it will make it sound huge (as long as the singer is in tune). This works great on genres that have a lot of screaming. Push it up as the scream starts and take it back off just as they finish and the band will have that little extra something that puts them head and shoulders above the rest of the angst ridden masses. 

Now days, even on a good system in a good room, while I do use a touch of vocal reverb (plate, because it doesn't get in the way too much) I'm still reaching for the delay on every song. I tweak and manage it to create some space. I back it off when the vocals get thick and lay it back on strong at critical moments. Sometimes my finger never leaves the return fader.

That's my two cents on vocal effects Brethren of the Knob and Fader. What tricks are you up to?

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

RF Issues

Wireless mic issues have come up on the job and in questions from other people a bunch this week so it seems like it's high time for another post on the subject.

Last week in the theatre, my esteemed assistant Chachi was having a ton of trouble that he initially attributed to bad elements. While there were in fact a couple of those, you can tell the difference by the sound. A bad element will snap and crackle. When it's RF you get fuzz, fluctuating volume levels and the dreaded drop out.

Let's start with the fuzz. That's usually an issue with another mic being on a frequency that's too close. The radio circuitry in wireless mics is pretty good these days and the rejection of unwanted signal is better than it ever has been. But depending on the environment and a few other things like digital television, you can sometimes still have frequency issues. The easy fix is to use the coordination software provided by the manufacturers on their websites. Even if you're not able to get on the net, just by putting all your mics in the same group and each one on a different channel you can usually get pretty close.  Coordinating different makes and models is slightly more difficult but if you do your homework you can get the job done.

The problem on this show was that the homework had already been done and we were still getting drop outs. The more time went on the worse things got. We finally decided to pin it on a phenomenon called front end overload. That's when there is enough off frequency (not on your channel) RF enegry floating around to saturate the receiver and cause it to loose sync with the transmitter. As smart phones become more prevalent, all that broadband and wifi are clogging up the airwaves in the venue. Even though it's not in the same band as our mics, it can still cause problems. It doesn't help that when you request people to turn off their devices the simply silence them and put them back in their pockets.

So what's the solution? Well, operators like to have the receivers close at hand so they can check on information like transmitter power, battery life and whatnot. But the greater the distance from the performers the more problems can arise. Using an antenna combiner and paddle or helical antenna can greatly improve performance but at a cost, usually several thousand dollars for eight mics. The poor man's solution is to park the receivers near the stage and send all the inputs to the mix over a snake. We considered using a web cam to allow the operator to still get some of the information from them while he's mixing.

Two way radios can affect performance as well and for the same reasons. Because of their higher transmitting power they can even affect more robust equipment. I had a walkie talkie put an amp rack into protect when someone keyed down too close at a festival once.

One last thing that you'll hear sometimes is a mic that fades away and then comes back in super loud. That's not always because the operator is slamming the faders and then remembering the mute button or something like that. Some models will automatically raise the gain, trying to compensate for a weak signal. If the weak signal suddenly comes back, the automatic gain circuit (AGC) takes some time to react. It's not uncommon to get a huge burst of audio, causing feedback and other show marring issues. If you have mics that do this they need to always be parked on the stage.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Batteries To Go

There are probably thousands of people doing this but we just stumbled on the practice last week. On a theatre run you always need to have extra batteries around. One of the hallmarks of a good tech is to be able to grab a pack from a panicked actor, dump a bad set of batteries, and get the new ones in (the right way) with one hand in the dark. 

Things just got slightly easier. Some manufacturers have made it so you don't have to figure out which battery goes which way by having them both inserted in the same orientation. But whatever the setup, taping two AA batteries together will let you lock and load quicker than a Marine drill sargent. It also keeps them from rolling off the prop table and getting lost.

Many thanks to our own John Baiocco, otherwise known by his stage name "Chachi" for this one.

Monday, August 20, 2012

SNR Podcast #17 - 8/18/2012 - Ribbon Mics & New Gear Q&A

This week we took a couple questions from our henchman Nate DeMare and ran with them. He wanted to know about ribbon mics and learning new gear. Hear about all that and a whole lot more. As usual you can stream the experience right here, or use the MP3 link below to stream or save for later listening. Enjoy!

 
 

Dear SNR: Last Minute Re-patch

Sorry for the lack of posts lately. August can be a particularly brutal month for bookings. That said, everything went well and some terrific material came out of it for more posts and podcasts. Speaking of which, before I get to posting this week's podcast a little late (sorry) I got this message on the Facebook page from a long time reader and listener. Take a read and then get busy in the comments section.
Hey, I have been enjoying SNR since about the third post. I had a really rough gig last night, and I wanted to share my experience to see if anyone else has had this happen to them. I'll try to make it brief.

I work with a christian artist, we have a non-profit org that is ministry based. We set up in this church last night for a concert that started at 7pm. Well, as it happens sometimes, we didn't have a chance to sound check before the show. Not preferred, but not a huge deal. The church was using their system for the first two acts, and we were to use ours when we went on stage.

Their system consisted of two Bose 802 sharing about 250W. Our system was four dual 18" cabs with four 15" three way cabs.


When we are supposed to go on stage, there was a problem with the system. For some reason, I was getting majorly overdriven sound from the monitor rack (A PreSonus StudioLive and a bunch of in-ear transmitters). So, instead of giving me a second to troubleshoot, the artist grabs the stage snake, rips it out of my FOH snake, and proceeds to hook it into the church's stage box.

I really wanted to just leave, but I did the best I could to just go along with it, even though I am sure it would have only taken me 5 minutes to figure it out. So, there I am suffering through the entire concert with our beautiful rig standing right in front of me, and we are using a set of massively underpowered 802s. Not only that, there was a nasty compressor somewhere that was squashing everything, and I could't find it.

Not a good night. I just needed to share that with some fellow brethren of the knob and fader as you so eloquently say.

Thanks,
Mitch

I've been thinking about this myself for a few days so let me weigh in with my thoughts.
I'm not one to provoke conflict but I have to say that if an artist ever did that to my rig I probably would have stopped everything and gotten in his eye about it. It seems like the rig may belong to the artist though so there may not have been much to say about it. In that case, it might not have come to, "Let's take this outside" but I probably would have been entertaining murderous thoughts for the duration of the performance.
What's done is done though and the only possibility now is to sit down with the artist and talk about weighing the cost of delaying the show for five minutes against having the entire thing sound like crap. I'm afraid you're up against the classic battle where someone hires you to take care of the sound and then won't let you.  

There are many classes of sound guy out there, probably enough to do a post about. The problem here though may be that a "will bend over backwards to serve the performance" sound guy is getting misunderstood as being a "pushover sound guy". It's a tricky balance but the need to assert yourself is pretty important.

And now I hand it off to the Brethren of the Knob and Fader. Don't disappoint Brother Mitch. Let the wisdom flow!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Sound Effects Editing - Repetitions

I'm in the theatre this week, or rather my young and talented assistant is. I got a text from him late last night that one of the sound effects I had cooked up wasn't working out. The show needed a long series of bells. I had located a bell sample in my library and loaded it into the playback software. (MultiPlay is a terrific utility for triggering sound effects on shows by the way.) I told him if four wasn't enough to just loop the sample.

The problem was two fold. First, we weren't told how much of a bell cue to build. Without knowing exactly what to do I just slapped a cue in there. The second problem was that unlike a lot of percussive sounds, you can't just loop a bell sample. As the note rings out it carries right into the next hit. So when he looped the sample, every fourth hit started out clean.

This next part reveals why sound guys get nicknames like Batman and Gandalf. People don't want to know how you do it, they just want you to work the magic. So here's how the answer to the problem came to me in a dream this morning. (Yes, I solve audio issues in my sleep.)

The solution was to take the second group of hits and slide it back so it overlapped the first group. The DAW is set up to do a cross fade on overlapping regions so the cue turned out smooth with very little work.


You can see where just under the name of the first sample is where it originally ended, and would have started up a new set of four with a clean hit. By sliding the first hit back so it lined up with the start of the fourth hit on the first region the cross fade takes care of that for us. That clean hit is faded all the way down as it starts to play. By the end of the cross fade the new region is playing at full volume. Rinse and repeat for endless samples. (It looks different on the right because that's the sample that's selected and it shows the waveform as its affected by the cross fade. If you look closely you can see the wave form of the sample that's being faded out.)

This isn't just for sound effects though. If you're building songs and use a lot of loops it can be tricky to keep things smooth if your samples have long tones in them. If the material allows you can work a cross fade like this and keep your ethereal loops flowing endlessly.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Guest Post - John Baiocco: Customer Service

This week we have a post from our roving intern John Baiocco, or as we know him "Chachi". John has actually earned his wings lately and as a Jr Jedi can be trusted to be left alone with a musical for long stretches at a time. While he was taking care of one such theatre production this week he came up with these wise words to share with all of you. What's remarkable about them isn't the content, it's that the content resides in the brain of a nineteen year old. He's already on to something that most of us learn the hard way over a couple decades.

Customer Service is important in any job you do. No matter if you work in a store, own your own business, work for someone else in an office, or if you’re working in the field. Great customer service can go a long way and increases your chances of repeat business.
I have been working in a retail environment for a couple years now and i have picked up a lot of customer services skills along the way. These skills can be used in almost any work environment when you’re dealing with clients.
For the past six years I have been working for a few small companies as an audio engineer and a lighting designer. I have noticed that being “ Customer Friendly” in this profession is harder than in the office. Unfortunately, I have seen good engineers lose clients simply because their customer service skills weren’t there. [Don't take it too hard Chach, it's happened to all of us. Ed] I have even caught myself being unpleasant is certain situations. This job is full of stress and one thing I learned ( THE HARD WAY!) was “ Don’t let your customers see you stress”  Customers don’t like to see the people they hired stressed. It's seen as a sign of weakness and sometimes lack of knowledge and skill.  Take an audio engineer freaking out over microphones not working... (I'm guilty of this) or a lighting guy stressing over a blown bulb. When the customer sees you stressing, it automatically makes them stressed. Making them angry and irritable, but now the chances of you getting yelled at for something increase.
One technique I’m perfecting is "Freaking out Mentally”. It makes everything a lot easier. Yes you’re still dealing with whatever issues you’re dealing with. But now the customer isn’t worrying about whether you can perform the task’s they are paying you to perform. They are worrying about sets, or costumes, or how loud their bass amp should be. Leaving you to solve those issues in a calm manner.
But enough about stress....
Thinking back to first and second grade when we were learning manners.... those are key to keeping clients. If you walk on the site and just say everything in a rude or condescending tone the chances of them calling you for future work are slim to none. Treat everyone with respect.. ESPECIALLY THE ONES SIGNING THE PAY CHECK! Please and Thank you, and have a nice day, and just being polite in general can a long way. We all have to deal with people we don’t like, or people we don’t know, or people who are just plain rude. Showing that you have the ability to put up with the most obnoxious people will help you and your business.
Having great customer service can make you money. Just apply good people skills and be friendly. Next time whether it be at the office, or in the theater, stop and think... if I was the customer, how would i want to be treated? Making their experience as easy and stress free as possible will show you can handle the workload, and who knows. Maybe it will make your phone ring in the future.

Wise words for one so young. On the very day he submitted this article he had a digital console reset itself in the middle of a rehearsal. He didn't panic. He said something funny and started plugging the settings back in. When he got stumped he called in an expert and half an hour later all was forgotten.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

It's The Little Things

I was changing batteries in the wireless mics at work the other day and took just a minute to be thankful for something that Sennheiser has been doing for a while now. (I don't know if other manufacturers do this too and also we receive no compensation from anyone for mentioning brand names) 

Since wireless mic designs that use AA batteries have hit the market doing a quick change has gotten a lot easier. Back in the 9v days you had to memorize which way the battery went and if you had different models you had to remember which was which. Otherwise swapping one out at thirty seconds to curtain in the dark back stage became a real panic situation. At least with double As you can usually feel for the spring on each side and get them in there the right way.

With the addition of one tiny strip of metal Sennheiser has done away with this completely. Both batteries go the same direction and the positive side is always down. I can swap a pair out with one hand in the dark and hand a mic back to a performer in a flash. So my thanks go out to product engineers who notice little things like that and take the time to come up with a better way. Even the littlest things can make your day go better on a gig.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Reverb and Distance

In a post a few days ago (Mixing Mono) I talked about getting all the inputs lined up in the mix like actors along the front of a stage. In the studio or when mixing down recordings of live events though, mono isn't ever a consideration (read the other post to see why it should be though). Here's how you can do so much more than just pan your inputs left to right on the sound stage.

Reverb has many uses. With just a touch you can create a little sparkle or air on a vocal or drum. But what it really does is create the impression of space. Reverb is the result of multiple reflections of sound in a room, so many reflections that the human ear can't tell them apart and blends them all together. Your ear can tell a lot of things about the size, shape and materials of the room by the way it hears those reflections.  There are plenty of good articles about early reflection, diffusion and damping and you should go look those up. This isn't an article about styling your reverb, but how to put it to use.

It might help if we take the visual metaphor of a stage that we've been using and exchange it for a fully three dimensional one. Think of volume moving an input up or down, pan moving it left or right, and reverb moving it toward or away from you. A vocal with no reverb at all on it, be it a shout or a whisper will seem like it's right in your face. That can actually be a pretty difficult trick to pull off. Usually there's some amount of room sound on a track. The more reverb you add, the farther off it seems. 

There's quite a few things you can do with this. Just adding reverb to a signal will start to put it more and more into the artificial space. You can go a step further and lower the volume of the original while you continue to add reverb. That actually starts to push the track back quite significantly. Quite useful when doing a call and response that's actually just a single track. You can literally make the vocal jump all around in space.

It's a common technique for backing vocals as well. In addition to taking off a little high end so they don't step on the lead vocal, a little reverb will help soften things up a little further. With a very intimate (meaning close up) lead vocal you can have sort of a boring stage going on. Placing the backing vocals with panning and reverb can create a lush landscape without loosing the intimacy of the lead vocal.

So you can start to see how reverb should be thought of as much more than just an effect that you smear on a mix like mayo on a sandwich. It's really a powerful spatial control that even in small amounts can create a huge difference in perception over a dry track. Which leads me to one last thing.

There is one particular type of reverb that stands out in my mind as doing just what I just mentioned  and it comes in handy sometimes. Again you can find a million articles on the different types of reverb and you should go read them. This is just a trick from my arsenal that I'd like to share. Plate reverb is often overlooked for not sounding natural or nice. But it's the one I always reach for when I have a potentially muddy mix and still want to put some space in it.  For some reason plate reverb sits in the mix almost like another discrete input. To put it simply, instead of having four background singers floating in some verb, it's almost like you have a fifth input that you can sneak in there without muddying up the mix.

That's my bit on reverb. I'm interested to hear what the rest of the Brethren of the Knob and Fader have to say on the subject. Leave some comments or hit us up on Facebook or Twitter.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

SNR Podcast #16 - 8/11/12 - Mixing Musically

This week it was just Anthony Kosobucki and your humble host Jon Dayton who reclined in the back yard again and were just about to address a reader question about bus compression when a podcast about musicality in mixing jumped out of the bushes and took over. We eventually did get to the question but our secondary topic got to be so interesting that we just couldn't leave it alone.

As always you can stream the podcast right here, or use the MP3 link below to stream or save it for later. Enjoy!



Saturday, August 11, 2012

Tape Anyone?

I picked up a cool trick on a forum this week. It's a simple way to keep some tape on hand in case of emergencies. Just take an old gift card and wrap four or five feet of gaff tape around it. Even using two inch gaff there should be room for a few wraps of electrical tape. You can vary the thickness by how much you put on there. If you just put a couple feet of each on there you could keep it thin enough to fit in your wallet.

Going a step further than that I'll tack on an idea I had a while ago. I was in a wedding party and popped a button off my tux. Now a sound guy should always be prepared but this was the one time that I was miles from my MacGuyver box. We were able to stop at a store and pick up a kit but it got me to thinking. What if I could fit a sewing kit in my wallet?

I printed out a pattern on card stock that allows for the carrying of five colors of thread, two needles, two safety pins and a couple of buttons. All with a cover that keeps the thread clean and the needles out of your credit cards. Here's a link to instructables.com where you can see a pic and download the template.

Got any cool tricks you'd like to share with the Brethren of the Knob and Fader? Hit us up in the comments section, on Facebook or Twitter, or track us down on email. We're all ears.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Wedding Sound

If there's one thing you commonly hear about weddings besides the bride being beautiful and it being a nice service it's that the sound was terrible. Many quaint little churches have inadequate sound systems and there's not much the average couple is going to be able to do about that. The reception however is another story entirely.

By and large live sound guys are not DJs but I'm pretty sure we've all done a wedding or two for a friend or a family member. When ever I do this I'm on a mission to make all the mobile DJs in the area look like fools. Most of them do a pretty good job of this on their own but I like to set up an example for comparison. I should stop here and say that a good friend of mine is one of the best DJs in my area. He uses good equipment, is conscious of volume levels, and knows when to be Mr Personality and when to just play some music and stay out of the way. I don't know how many wedding receptions I've been to where the DJ thinks he's rockin the club scene. It's too loud, he won't shut up, he hasn't EQ'd his mic or the system, and doesn't gauge the crowd to see if they want to dance or if they're trying to talk.

That said, here's the simple process for getting it right when you take care of that special day for a friend or relative. Start by getting there early and EQing for the room. Then EQ your mic so people will be able to understand you. Also, shoot for max gain before feedback and throw a compressor on there. You might know how to use a mic but the drunk maid of honor is going to hold the mic by her belly button while trying not to cry and talk about high school memories. Be prepared for that.

If it's a big room and you've got the technology, set up delay speakers instead of trying to cover the whole room from one spot. And no excuses for this, I've done it with nothing more than a powered mixer with built in effects. It can be done. 

Then all that's left is to figure out the music and be prepared to watch the crowd. Typically you'll be working off the bride's iPod so ask her to set up several play lists. One for pre dinner that's up beat but not over the top. One for dinner that's quiet, like light jass or classical piano. Even if it's a heavy metal wedding you should keep it light during dinner so people can talk. Then have some dance stuff that the older crowd will be in to. Think of it as a walk down the pop music hall of fame and take care of each decade. That way Aunt Edna can shake her bon bon for a minute and then leave before bed time. If you brought subs you can turn them on now but hold back the volume. Once the older generation starts to head for their cars, then you can turn the subs up and play the stuff that the bride and groom really love. Keep the subs aimed at the dance floor though because while the oldest people will leave, many more will stay and they're not necessarily up for line dancing or a dub step marathon. You can keep both groups happy with some careful placement.
 
Now for the mic. Just stay off it. Even if you've won awards for your public speaking it's not your day and nobody wants to hear you. It's your duty to do a good job announcing what needs to be announced and then stay out of the way. Before it's time to introduce the wedding party, grab a card and meet them all face to face if you can and learn how their names are pronounced. Then write them down phonetically in the order of appearance. You won't get applause for getting it right but you'll look like a schmuck if you get the mother of the bride's name wrong.
 
Apart from that and announcing the first dances you should pretty much just keep that wireless mic shut off and in your pocket. Be ready for the toasts and to make announcements about lost children or the bar closing and that's it. It's not your day, you don't need to say anything.
 
So take it from there Brethren of the Knob and Fader. When you offer your services for a friend's weddinig (or are drafted) just do like I know you always do. Be invisible and provide the cleanest, clearest, most tasteful sound you can. Just make sure you practice hiding your distaste for Lady Gaga songs in advance so you always look smooth at the reception.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Mixing Mono

It would seem like mono wouldn't be much of a topic in the times we're living in. It hasn't been the de facto standard for record releases for ages, most TVs are stereo, people everywhere have surround systems. So why is mono still vitally important to mixing.

Well for one, sound systems at concerts sometimes are in mono, as well as ones in churches and auditoriums. If you're worried about the music you're recording you should also take into account piped in audio in stores and phone hold systems. Even if none of this applies to you, you should still take a listen to stuff you record in mono because it can easily reveal phase issues. If something disappears when you hit that mono check button, you need to look deeper into your mix.

Let's take a look at live first. You may find yourself in between two stacks of speakers that are each receiving the same signal. Now you're in a tight spot. It's not just obvious tricks like panning drums that go out the window. You've got zero options to place things in your mix. The only thing you can do is try to line everything up so you can hear everything on stage. I liken it to getting all the actors on the down stage edge like in A Chorus Line. There, now you can see everybody.

It's an incredibly difficult situation to mix in and not many people realize it. Sure there are trade offs. You can't run away with the panning and cheat one side out of something that the other side is getting. But you also can't clear out the middle to make room for vocals and lead instruments and that's where the real heartache begins. 

It takes a huge amount of skill to get all the players lined up because more often than not, there's exactly one place for each fader to go in order for everything to be heard. Then you've likely got a hectic night of mixing ahead of you because as things change, those spots move around on you.  And as for clearing out the middle, the best you can do is judiciously apply a little reverb so you can at lease tell some of the "actors" to take a step or two toward the back.

How does this affect you in the studio? Well, it doesn't. But you can build this as a skill for getting mixes dialed in. I'm guilty myself of going into a session and starting to pan before I even get anything up. I just assumed that I was going to want my drums panned all around and a few other things as well.  But now that I've really gotten a handle on mixing mono panning has become about the last thing I do.

When I put up a mix, I work toward that point where I've got all my "actors" lined up. The song should just about work before I do any panning or turn any automation on. When everything is able to be heard, then I can make decisions about where to put them. I'll do a few quick bullet points to show you what I mean.

Drums
Maybe I've got a huge set of chromatic toms that are just begging to be massively panned and dripping with reverb. On the other hand I might have just one rack tom and one floor. If they're hard panned and the drummer does a quick fill, they don't make that trip around the block quite so nicely. It's more of a ping-pong effect. So maybe they'll be panned just a little instead.

Guitars
I like to double mic guitars when I'm working gigs. It lets me pan them out without cheating one side or the other. When recording I don't always use multiple mics although if I do it makes the panning a little easier. You can take guitar panning to crazy places, like early Van Halen recordings where the clean guitar is all the way to one side and just the reverb is on the other. Again, I might go with a more subtle effect for most of a song and maybe automate some heavier panning in for an effect. Those guitars do need to be panned though, to make room in the critical mid range for the vocals.
Backing Vocals
Secondary vocals are just begging to be panned. That's one of the things I always listen for when I have headphones on or I'm sitting in front of a nice stereo setup. It can really add that extra dimension of sound that totally makes a song. It can also be manipulated to take a song from being a mile wide to up close and intimate.

Synths
Keyboards with stereo outs are also just begging to be hard panned. Even something like a solo piano that's meant to be right up front can do that with the inputs hard panned.  If you're only taking a mono input from some lush string pad or crazy analog patch, you're missing out on a world of space and beauty. Once again, you can twist it back and forth for effect or even push the panning further with subtle delays and make those synth sounds come from somewhere beyond where the speakers are placed.
Those are just a few examples and the techniques for using panning are many and varied. It's a topic well worth discussing further and hopefully we'll get to it soon on our weekly podcast. So till next time Brethren of the Knob and Fader. Keep a close eye on those pan knobs.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Stupid Adapters

Every once in a while you run across something stupid in an audio system. Like the time I was redoing a church system and found six feet of cable between a CD player and the console that was comprised entirely of Radio Shack adapters. Or when I ran across this little gem in a cabinet at work.
XLR-M to Stereo RCA-M

Now that's a male XLR so it's looking for an output. Console mono out (+4) to tape deck in (-10) anyone? Yeuch! I threw that one out without even a second thought, pausing only to document the find on Facebook. The big deal here kids is that a console out is 14dB hotter than what a record deck (unless it's a pro level one) is expecting to see from a unity level input. A lot of desks will have a separate level control for a summed mono out but there are better ways people, there are better ways.



1/4" TRS to RCA-F
The next stop on our trip through the Museum of Misfit Adapters is one that is actually sold over the counter, most notably at the aforementioned Cell Phone, erm Radio Shack. You can be the proud owner of a pair of these beauties for just a hair over six bucks. The question is this: what the hell are you going to do with these suckers!?

If you put one of these on the end of what is commonly called an iPod cable these days (1/8" TRS to Stereo RCA Male) you're not going to get a peep out of it on the console. The reason being is that most inputs on consoles are balanced in, which means that there's a "hot" signal on the tip and a "cold" signal on the ring with a common ground on the sleeve. That cold signal is the same as the hot signal but with reversed polarity with respect to ground. A balanced input will use those two signals to reject noise and admit only the intended signal. In this configuration though, the "hot" from the RCA shows up equally on the tip and the ring and is effectively cancelled by the differential input. Same goes for an output by the way. Use one of these babies to feed a recorder from a balanced out and you won't get much if anything.

The only possible use I can think of for one of these is to take a stereo headphone out and sum the two channels to a single input on a tape deck. Yeah...  Now this beastie's more common sibling, the 1/4" TS to RCA-F is exactly what you want for connecting that iPod to the console. So check your MacGuyver box and make sure if you have any of these that you toss them. While it's true that you can get them to pass audio on a balanced input by only pushing them part way in, save yourself the hassle and for six bucks just get it right.

Well Brethren of the Knob and Fader, what misfit adapters have you got lurking in your box, or have you spotted out in the wild. Let us know in the comment section or on Facebook.

Monday, August 6, 2012

SNR 101 - The Decibel

We talk a lot in this industry about decibels (dB) but they can be one of the most difficult concepts to grasp. The short answer is that a decibel is one tenth of a Bel. Since that gets us exactly nowhere let's get into what it really is. It's a way to compare values that might differ widely by using ratios along a logarithmic scale.  For instance you can say the difference between one watt and 10,000 watts is 40dB. That's because a logarithmic scale is labeled 1, 10, 100, 1000 instead of 1, 2, 3, 4.

As usual the purpose of this blog isn't to write the last word on the subject, just to help people get a handle on the concept. If you really want to get deep into it there are a ton of resources and calculators out there on the web. Bring your reading glasses and number two pencils it gets deep fast. 

So what's useful about decibels besides not having to write out five digit labels on tiny knobs on sound equipment. It turns out that the human ear and brain interpret sound on a logarithmic scale. That's why you can hear a bee buzz and not collapse in pain at a thunder clap. The amount of acoustic energy is vastly different but they're not that far apart on a decibel scale.

So here's the first useful tidbit. If you raise a signal 3dB you've doubled the amount of energy. Stop there though because you haven't doubled the volume. Because sound propagating through space behaves according to the inverse square law (put the pencils away I'll try and make it simple) it takes an increase of 6dB before you hear something as twice as loud. 

OK, I tried to make it simple and it wound up running to four paragraphs and I may have plagiarized Wikipedia extensively so let's just forget it and get to how all these numbers work for you on stage and in the studio.

Let's start with the stage. If you're running a 10,000 watt system and you're going flat out and tripping breakers, dropping your level at the main output by one dB will shave over 2000 watts off your energy budget. There's a lot more to it than that but average levels, compression and efficiency aside, you can save quite a bit of power with a small adjustment. Drop your main outs by three dB and you turned your 10,000 watt system into a 5000 watt one, but you haven't cut the volume in half. So if you cut your mains down to save some electricity you can then use a touch more compression to sneak the average level back up and have things appear nearly as loud.

In the studio it's much the same but the enemy is the hard limit of the digital clip. At a gig you're looking at dBu, that's decibels relative to unity gain, in the studio you're usually looking at dBfs which is decibels relative to full scale, or when you run out of bits and it clips. In trying to make things louder on CDs, MP3s and the radio studios use more and more compression to get that apparent loudness up there.

There's no bigger sound system in the world of recorded audio. Zero dBfs levels the playing field. So the difference between two records that both peak just a hair below that is how much they compress the signal. A record that uses almost none could have a dynamic range of a couple dozen decibels, between a quiet piano line and a full band blasting through a bridge. That's pretty interesting to listen to but can seem a lot less exciting when compared to a pop record that's compressed so there's only 6dB total dynamic range. A whisper is literally half as loud as the full band blasting away.  It sounds like the loudness wars are starting to come to an end, and people are willing to listen to stuff that's more interesting instead of just loud, but it's still really important to look at how many decibels of range your material covers. You don't want that touching piano riff that's all by itself to get drowned out by wind noise if someone is listening in a car.

Well Brethren of the Knob and Fader, that wound up being pretty long for a brief explanation of the decibel but I think it gives you an idea of what a complex thing it is. This is where you go off and dig a little deeper so you can show up to your next gig a little better informed. Get going!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

SNR Podcast #15 - Mic Picks

This time around the campfire your host Jon Dayton gets together with Anthony Kosobucki and Gordon Wood to talk about favorite mics for live sound. The idea was to start at channel one and work down a list of inputs, saying what mic or mics would be our favorites. As usual there are quite a few twists and turns but we got quite a few in before the end of the show.

As usual you can stream the podcast right here, or use the MP3 link below to stream or download for later. Enjoy!


  • SNR Podcast #15 - 8/5/2012 - Mic Pics - Jon Dayton, Anthony Kosobucki and Gordon Wood pick out their go to mics for a whole input list and then some.

Friday, August 3, 2012

SNR 101 - EQ, The Very Basics

I was on the phone recently, helping out a friend of a friend get something going at the last minute. This person confessed to being a complete neophyte on a console, especially with respect to EQ.  So I took a look at what I had already posted on the subject and realized it was some pretty intense material. This post is all about what to do when you're stepping up to your first console and facing an EQ section that's not really like anything you've seen before.

Most small consoles have knobs in the EQ section that are roughly equivalent to the bass and treble knobs that you're used to seeing on a stereo.  These will almost always be shelf type which means that instead of having a bell shaped curve that's centered on a given frequency, they start at the frequency they're labeled at and carry out right to the edge of the sound spectrum.

Let's start with that low knob. It's probably working on frequencies from 80Hz or 120 Hz on down. On most channels you want to take that and turn it down a little or a lot. This gets rid of a lot of meaningless extra bass that will clog up the system. If the channel you're working on starts to sound too thin then put a little back in.

On the high side you can be looking at anywhere from 2.5kHz (kilohertz or thousands of cycles) right on up out of hearing range. Often it's labeled as to what the frequency is but sometimes you'll have to look it up in the manual. Think of this as being the "Ts" and "Ss" on a vocal channel, the pick sounds on an acoustic guitar. Call it "air" or "sparkle" or whatever you want. Be extremely careful about turning it up though, you can get into real trouble. Raising the highs can make feedback more likely and will definitely make ear fatigue more likely.  Keep in mind that most people will like a sound with boosted highs better, but it's a temporary thing, you keep needing more and more until people are bleeding from the ears.  You can either leave these right alone or pick and choose which channels really need the highs. Backing down the highs on some of the instrument channels, especially electric guitar and synth can make some room for vocal clarity.

Now the mids. Very small consoles will be lacking this knob entirely. Some will have just a single knob that works on a single frequency, and some will have a second knob that lets you change that center frequency.  Whatever the case, the mid EQ will be a notch type which means it's working on a specific frequency and as you move up or down from that center frequency it's affecting things less and less. It's helpful to think of it as being at one house on a street but affecting a small neighborhood.

If it's fixed it's Murphy's law that it will be at a frequency that won't help you. It will be at 2.5kHz when you have issues at 800Hz and vice versa. If you've got a sweep knob you're in luck. It can be intimidating. You're saying, "I don't know what frequency I need to adjust, I just know it sounds bad!"  But take heart, you've got a pair of ears on the sides of your head and that's all you need to solve this puzzle.

If you've got a channel and it just doesn't sound right you can just hunt around for the right frequency. If it's boomy you can guess that you should start low or if it's nasally you should start higher. Turn the gain knob for the mid all the way down and run the sweep knob back and forth until you notice the stuff you don't like disappearing. Then turn the gain back up until it sounds right. If that's too tricky, turn the gain knob all the way up and sweep back and forth until it sounds the worst, then cut.

It's that simple. Once you've done it a bit you'll start to have a bit of arcane knowledge at your finger tips. You'll know that a muddy male vocal needs to be cut around 200, and a shrill female vocal needs cut between 800 and 1.5k. You'll build up a small library in your head that will give you a starting point but always use your ears.

That's it Brethren of the Knob and Fader. If you're just starting out on EQ you've got the primer. If you're already mixing at Jedi level, you've got a link to an easy lesson on EQ that you can point people to if you're teaching. Good luck!

The track artist

The track artist. It used to be this person would show up to an event, with a worn out cassette, or a stack of CD's, and expect you to follow their cryptic set list of CD numbers, and track numbers, and try to do it quickly and seamlessly. Hopefully their CD could be read by the player you had on the rack, or the discman you had kicking around. Soundchecks were usually pretty laborious, because the person was not used to hearing their voice anywhere except their living room or bathroom...

There's always been the track artist that dances more than they sing, but lately I've been noticing more and more artists that rely heavily on tracks for more than a drum loop, or backing strings or sounds.

I was at a show a few weeks ago, and I knew going in that the band would be playing live to tracks. A singer, two guitar players, but everything else was tracks. I got a peek at the console, and this show was no joke. I was expecting a few mic inputs, and a MP3 player.  I was wrong. The band travels with a full blown  Pro Tools rig,  and breaks everything out and sends it to FOH and monitors. Drums and loops, bass tracks, several keys and synth tracks, and several live and I think some boxed guitar inputs.  3 people on stage, but I think 22 inputs when you factored in the Pro Tools rig.  What a great set up, and ability to really nail a mix that's mostly tracks.  

I think the key with nailing any track mix, whether it's the solo artist with the MP3 player, or a larger situation, with multiple track inputs,  is making the vocals sound like they are part of the track.  This of course means the vocalist needs to be on pitch and time,  but for the engineer, it means that the vocal needs to be treated as close to studio like as possible. All the EQ and tones and effects of the track are going to be perfect, so the EQ, tone, and effects of the vocal need to be perfect also.  Make the audience think that the whole thing is a track. That would be the ultimate compliment, if someone asks you if the live track artist is lip syncing. 

Pay attention to the dynamics of the track. You won't be fighting to get the vocal over the track like you would a live band, but the track is going to have more dynamic range, so if it gets quiet, it gets really quiet.  Keep your finger on that vocal fader, to ride the level to match the dynamic of the track. There's nothing worse than a vocal sitting on a mix 16dB hotter than everything else. 

I know the track artist isn't as fun as a 30 input prog rock band to mix, but don't forget the little details that can take a stock performance and mix to the next level, and get you recognized for a job well done.  Who knows, maybe when that track artist gets a real band, you'll get the call to mix them too. Have fun, stay safe.


Thursday, August 2, 2012

Drum Mic Tricks

At the last podcast we started going through an input list and picking our favorite mics. Not surprisingly we we spent nearly half the show on just the kick and snare and had to cram the rest in.  It made me think it was high time for another post on drum mics and specifically the overheads.

The technique is really pretty simple. Most commonly you'll see a pair of pencil condenser mics in some sort of stereo configuration. You can put them close together in an X-Y setup or space them out, roughly over the high hat and ride cymbals. In either case those are usually hard panned left and right.  You can also get away with just one if you're short on inputs, the system is in mono, or maybe you just don't need that much overhead sound to get where you need to go.

Here's the thing about drum overheads. They're often misunderstood as cymbal mics but they're really so much more than that. Sure, on huge setups things can get pretty ridiculous. Big Mic Huges uses six overheads as well as sometimes under micing each cymbal.  That puts his drum inputs at a higher count than a lot of peoples' whole shows.  Once in a while you might see hat and ride mics in addition to an overhead pair. But like I started out to say, they hear so much of the kit that it's worth really spending some time with them to get the most out of them.

On toms I like to use small gooseneck condensers. They're easy to get on there and they stay out of the way. They also sound bigger than you would think. They capture a wider range of frequencies than a lot of dynamic mics and they even do a pretty good job picking up the cymbals. So I'll tune those up first and then pull the faders back down and go to work on the overheads.

You might need to move them around because there are usually a couple pockets of weirdness that make the cymbals sound odd. What you're compensating for there is comb filtering and it can't be done with EQ, you have to move the mics. So have the drummer do a couple big cymbal crashes to make sure you're not going to overload, then have them get on the toms and see what you can do to sculpt that sound. 

You should be able to get a pretty nice, natural sound but one that tends toward the snappy side, with a lot of crack off the top heads. Then you can bring up those close mics to fill things in and you've got a nicely dialed in drum sound and plenty of headroom left. You'll probably need to trim the top snare mic a little because there will be a lot of that in the overheads too. 

And that's it. Think of those overheads as a whole kit sound and get them sounding the best you can, then fill in with the close mics. It takes a few minutes to learn and a lifetime to perfect. So get after it Brethren of the Knob and Fader!

An Appology

I woke up today and remembered I run a blog. Between the day job, a month full of gigs, camping with the family and a touch of sickness I've just been busy trying to deal with it all. I hope to spend the next couple days planted in a chair outside, scribbling down posts.

In the mean time, if you've got anything you'd like a post written on, please drop a line. Find us on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or hunt down our email addresses right here on this page. (Hint, upper right.)