Archive for the ‘music technology’ Category

When you start off with well-balanced levels on all inputs, you can make changes in confidence.  During sound check; which is AFTER Gain Staging and setting up the board for the current event, you added each band member and their related instruments to the process and you have good levels on all tracks/channels.  I try to grab a few minutes once all drum inputs (including drummer vocal pic or other percussion and tone generators) are set properly to have the drummer play for a few minutes without other musicians.  This helps get the feel of the entire drum kit and this is when you would balance all the levels.  The hi-hat for example, might not be hitting the meters in the upper range but it sounds really loud if its fader is up to the nominal level.  It is helpful to know once the board is set you can turn the volume on any track DOWN any time you want.  You just do not want to turn anything up beyond the sweet spot except for the occasional solo or special piece that might need additional reinforcement or boost out in the audience.  And as always, try to return to the sweet spot area once the section is over.

Some mixing consoles allow you to assign tracks to separate signal paths or additional outs.  These can be grouped to a single sub fader when running system in mono.  You can then take the individual drum tracks out of the house mix and send them only to the bus for your drum kit.  Assign this bus 1 for example to the Mains and the fader now for bus 1 will allow you to adjust the volume level of the entire drum kit (not the drummer’s mic if he or she also sings) with one fader!  If you need to change the volume of the kit as the event goes on, you can keep the blend and balance of all levels by using the bus 1 fader.  This might come in handy more than you might think, and it is easy to set up.

Then I do the same thing with the vocals if you have more than two vocalists on stage.  They can also be grouped to bus 2 for example and you can adjust vocals with one fader and not worry about changing the balance of the singers/vocalists on stage.  Brass and string sections and even a number of guests sitting at a table can also be grouped the same way.  You can still change the EQ setting for each channel in a group or bus and you can still change effects levels anytime you want without affecting the balance. 

Now if you think about it, we have grouped similar instruments together, set them up to control group volume with a single fader and we have the tracks and effects returns that might need minor adjustments during the event isolated and easy to see or adjust.  Your job now consists of only a few faders out of all the channels plugged into the mixer.  You are now in auto-pilot. Do not change anything major unless the performance or venue dictates a change.  From here you coast and make things better with ever smaller adjustments.  Time to add the glitter.

For most situations the process above will set you up in a comfortable area where things can all be heard at balanced levels, not too loud and instruments do not compete for the same frequency space.  For this step it is better to think  of sound from low frequencies on the left and higher frequencies on the right.  In many ways like a piano;  lower notes are on the left and increasingly higher notes as we go to the right keys.  Have your drummer hit one of the cymbals really hard with no other noise and see if it produces tones or frequencies like the lowest key on a piano.  It cannot.  It is in a much higher range.  Have the drummer punch the kick drum a few times and see if it makes frequencies as hi as the cymbals just did.  This is a simple explanation that gets applied to all instruments and vocals being blended into a smooth mix.   When using EQ, you can shift the range of frequencies for each sound so it does not compete or collide with other sounds in similar frequency ranges.  Often vocals and guitars are in neighboring groups.  Try using EQ to edge one signal a litter higher in the frequency group and the other a little lower.  So they still sound good and accurate like they are on stage, but just enough so the listener can more easily hear the two sources as individual elements in a wider landscape.  Similar situation with kick drums and the bass guitar.  Both occupy the very low end of our hearing spectrum.  If they are both deep in the low end, they might not be discernable as two performances.  You can try lowering the low end EQ a little on the bass guitar for example, but add some hi-mids and or a little hi end frequencies so the strings pop in the mix a little when struck.  It will still support the low end for that punch, but you will be able to hear the individual bass notes better without a lot of added low-end volume that can cloud or muddy up the low end.

 If you have basic entry level gear or the most up-to-date digital automated features, the basic components are the same. By now you have already gathered that most mixers will have some way to plug in a bunch of cables going to and from the snake as mentioned earlier.  (in small clubs you might not need the snake at all, but you still plug cables into the inputs on the mixing console).

So, once everything is connected to your two independent sound systems, what do you first?  Take a good look at the mixing board. Take your time.  If this is the first time you get to see the board you will be using (maybe it was rented or is the house system, etc….), get a good feel for the section layout.  If you are still getting used to running sound the mixing console can be daunting.  Buttons, knobs, sliders and flashy things everywhere.  It’s connected to a bunch of other electronic boxes and there are big faders that look important.!??%#!**?!   We have done this before so let’s take a look at the basic components of the mixer and make this a lot less confusing. 

Layout.  There are a lot of knobs and a ton of buttons you don’t even see at first.  Each manufacturer will do things a little differently than the others, but if you look for the patterns you will see how each model will outline or border the different sections.  Color coding is also the biggest help if you have enough light to make out the difference in color schemes.  Yes, this is another one of those reasons you bring your own flashlight to every gig.  We know where the input section is as we have already connected the snake and sends during the initial set-up and sound check.  In the same logical order (1, then 2, then 3, then 4……..) as the cables are connected, you will see what we call ‘input channels’ on the face or front of the mixing console for each input connector.  Some boards can handle 8, 12, 16, 24 and more inputs.  In the input channel section you will see strips for each input.  The knobs and faders and buttons that affect that input channel will all be inside the border for that track or channel.  Many mixers use a vertical configuration, so tracks run up and down, not left and right.  But to make sure you do not get the wrong idea now, the BEST way to think of the input channels is TOP to BOTTOM.  We ALWAYS start mixing from the TOP of the channel.  Think of the ‘signal path’ for a moment.  The signal created by the keyboard or the microphone in front of the vocalist is sent through the audio cable to the snake.  From there it is sent directly to the mixing console.  Once connected to the mixing console, the signal will go to the TOP and FIRST knob of the input channel.  Yes, the 1st Gain Stage.  The mixing board’s major task is to balance all the different input signals, each with a different signal strength.  This is done at the TOP of each input channel.  It is the first and perhaps most important step in setting up the mixing console.  This is the gate keeper.  Think of it and a number of other knobs in the signal path to follow as amplifiers.  They can turn the volume on things up and they can turn them down.  The flute or the vocals may need more ‘gain’ than the trumpet or keyboards.  You want to get a good strong input level, but you do not want to overload the input channel here as it will affect everything going forward.  Watch the solo or input monitor levels and set it up so all inputs are within the same range.  The end result after we set the other knobs and buttons is to have all inputs so that the gain is averaged enough among all input channels that the faders on each channel are close to the prime area or level set for your console.  You do not want some instrument faders at “2 or 3”, and others at “10 or 11”!!

If the volume fader for the keyboard input channel is sitting around 2, and the 1st Gain Stage knob is turned clockwise to 8 or 9, (OR if you are getting up into the red or over load area on the level meters!!) turn the 1st gain stage knob counter-clockwise as needed including down all the way if you have to.  Then check the range of the volume fader and see if you can get good house levels keeping the fader fairly close to that sweet spot.  Do that for each input channel.  The input channel is also referred to as the ‘track‘ when recording.  With tracks or channels clustered or grouped as discussed earlier and with all tracks/channels properly gain staged, we can begin to look at which tracks need effects, EQ, processing, sent to monitor groups etc.  Keep in mind that changing a track’s EQ and other effects can also increase or decrease the track’s over all signal strength.  When we are setting up the board and doing gain staging, it is best to leave a little ‘head room‘, or back the 1st Gain Stage knob back a little so we do not overload the input during EQ and other signal processing.  EQ is a series on its own, but the basic premise is to make the source signal sound good or accurate.  It is better to take out frequencies that are harsh or distracting rather than turn up the pleasant ones.  Certain sounds ‘fit’ better in the mix if they have the distinct qualities of their source.  By that I mean you do not want a kick drum to sound hi-end and tinny with no low frequencies and in most situations you do not want the flute to sound like a bass guitar.  It is better to take out the low end on the flute track/channel than to leave it at center or turn it louder.  Less is more, but add EQ where needed to enhance the desired tones and make it sound pleasant and it will then fill the slot for it in the overall house mix.

Obviously when you are live and there are a number of performers and hopefully a lot of listeners depending on you for a great performance, any change in the house mix can be immediate and usually have unintended consequences that you cannot predict accurately.   Any change to the stage mix once the main speakers are pumping will not be known by the sound engineer.   If you accidently send a lot of delay to the monitor for example, it will confuse timing of players and can lead to feedback and other audio beasts raising their ugly heads over and over.  From the house board you will not be able to pinpoint where the beasts are coming from and what starts them – or calms them down for that matter. 

A lot of those buttons look alike and in the dark it is easy to move something unnoticed.  A number of times I have sneaked up on stage and listened from a few different positions to see what the band was hearing on stage.  Then I could usually identify how to deal with that beast. 

In the studio I can study some of the situations and find a solution when I can rewind and stop and try something and if that doesn’t work I can try this toy we just got in at the music store that is supposed to be wonderful and will solve all my mixing needs.   With the audience primed and ready for a show, it is better to make smaller adjustments and see how it affects everything and then adjust a little more.  If the location of the sound board is good representation of the venue and sounds pretty good, enjoy the view and mix as the band and performers deserve.  I try to reinforce guitar solos in the mains, and I mean really inforce the solo.  I make it so everyone will hear it, while keeping the other performers at a good foundation level.  I make sure I turn it back down as soon as the solo is over.   If there is a second vocalist, sometimes they do not have the power of the lead vocalist and might have a limited range.  It can be hard to boost them to the level of the lead vocalist even if they are using the same equipment.  Getting them loud enough in the monitor is usually the biggest challenge.  You don’t want to leave a microphone turned up a lot in the monitors that is not used very often.  It will pick up other instruments and sounds on stage and then push them back into the monitors…. It will probably not be loud enough to trigger feedback in the stage monitors, but it could create a boomy or foggy sound environment on stage and will make it harder for all performers to keep tight performances. 

I also like to add effects to a live performance. If the band is playing cover tunes for example, I try to match the effects on the vocals and percussion sounds with those on the original recording.  I usually keep the effects out of the monitors but have had situations where it went over well.  More often than not, it makes it more confusing on stage.  In either case, I make sure that when the song or section is over, I turn the effects level off.  If the band members talk into the microphones during a musical break, they will be clear and understandable in the audience during the address.  Then right back up when the next song or section begins.

When setting up the channels on the mixing console, I try to group instruments to make balancing all tracks easier.  I keep vocals together, and try to represent placement on stage. If there is a lead singer center stage and a back-up vocalist left right and the drummer also sings, I have the channels on the snake match their positions when looking at the stage left to right, for example.  If there is only one singer and I have open channels I do not need, I try to separate the vocalist from other channels in use so it is easy to find and easy to adjust.  You will probably change the lead vocalist channel more than any other.  The typical band might have a soloist – guitar or keyboards for example, and you will change the volume faders during the night.  But you will probably not change the delay patch or change reverb on instruments.  The vocals can benefit from minor changes throughout the night. 

Think about it… the guitar player and keyboard player change their sounds literally from song to song.  The vocalist does not have that luxury.  Change the effects to enhance the vocalist.  Too often sound gurus find one effect and use it all night.  If you are not comfortable with creating or even changing effects with the available or on-board FX, that is understandable.  Maybe we will cover that in later sessions if members find it helpful.  If effects are new to you or you have not mixed a whole lot of events try the following simple strategy; add effects to the instruments that need it and not to any other instrument, and keep the volume of the effects subdued in the house mix.  It should not overpower the stage sound or ‘dry‘ signal.   Use short reverbs and delays for most applications.  I bring in the effects into an open channel if available, rather than using the FX return knobs.  This way I can easily see the level of the effect, I can route to the vocal group or bus if I choose and I can EQ effect independently.  This to me also makes it easier to turn down the effects during music breaks or announcements.

This is a good time to walk around a little if you can. If you have a helper that can baby sit the board for a while, slowly walk around the venue.  Listen to the various instruments as you walk to different sections and notice how each area sounds as you pass in and out of range of the main speaker clusters. Listen again for areas that ‘drop out’, especially in the main audience areas.  Talk to the host.  Make adjustments and respond to their suggestions.  Interact with the audience if you are good at that sort of thing.

Bring all that listening back to the sound board.

What adjustments can you make to improve the house mix?  Is a player sounding great when you are right in front of the stage but fades quickly if you are back further or at the bar?  Does the kick drum or one of the vocalists sound muddy and hard to hear clearly.  Listen to each instrument again.  Use the headphones and solo tracks do they sound muddy in the headphones too?  If so, you might need to change the EQ settings or other audio processors, change microphone location, REPLACE the microphone cable!, put rings on the drum heads to stop heads from long ugly tones, hey, there is a lot of stuff that goes into making the band or performance sound good.

It can go wrong.  I have gone up to drummers during sound check to ask them if they have any objections if I tune the drum heads for them before the gig.  Far too many drummers don’t know how to do this and far too many more don’t know that you even can.  If the kit is out of tune and generates all sorts of random harmonics and overtones, there is no way to get it to sound ‘awesome’.  It can sound loud and it can sound full, but it will never sound good.

I have probably upset a few performers as well by asking that they tune their instruments before we start playing.  One of the benefits of also being a musician in a number of bands is I can tell when something is out of tune.  I don’t think I can get drunk enough that playing out of tune is a good thing, but there obviously are a few out there.  If they cannot tell the difference that is worse than being too drunk, but we all sound and play better when everyone is in tune.  Some bass players can’t tell any more so you have to politely step in once in a while.

In a large club in front of a packed audience, the lead vocalist roared into the microphone, ” I ain’t got shit in the monitors, sound guy,  I got nuthin’ up hear at all…”.

I responded with a simple but effective test that I could do from way out in the audience.  I reached up to the main faders and yanked them down completely before he got to the “…… sound guy,  I got nuthin’ up hear at all…” part.

So he ended up with the band now reduced to stage volume.  As he was saying …’sound guy …’  He was booming through the on stage monitors at an amazing decibel level.  He apologized to me and the audience when I turned the mains back on and we rocked out the rest of the night.  The house was loud enough that he could hear them more than the mains and he was not used to that feeling.  That the sound guy would not have the vocals loud enough in the main mix and he would need to hear the monitors really loud on stage.  He ended up really happy with the mix and did not have to scream all night over the band stage volume.  Keeping things solid can include a number of unexpected challenges that are better met head-on, but these business relationships should also be kept friendly and cooperative.

Have spare cables for everything, even if the sound system does not use it.  Power cables for devices and amps.  Adapters for audio cables.  Tape, markers and paper.  I bring guitar cables and a few spare mic cables everywhere.  Batteries.  Small hand tools.  Power outlet tester.  Flashlights.   Drum head tuning keys.  Zip ties, the list could go on but session after session, someone will need those things for the show to go on and you will be the champion pro.  You gain cooperation and trust for the next gig.  Win win.

We all know the saying about weak links.  When you have so many components – each connected with cables and software and processors, it can take a while to troubleshoot the system when you have a failure.  Yes failure.  If you are the sound guy or gal and things don’t work or it sounds bad, YOU are the failure!  There are basic steps you can take and I can describe them in a generic way, but that type of advice will not apply to every system out there.  No two clubs or sound companies have the same sound equipment.  The best advice is to keep the number of links in any chain as low as possible.  The more links, the more of them that could be or eventually become weak.  It is not always practical to have a spare of every component, but finding local music and sound stores open in your area is getting tougher.  If taken care of properly though, most professional PA equipment available today will last a long time.  More on “Maintenance and Tips” in a future SLR series.

This is another term that is often misunderstood and the results can be unpleasant for the audience and performers as well.  This does not prevent the error from happening over and over.  It doesn’t have to happen to you.  At first glance the term is quite simple.  In its simplest form it probably means “turn things louder”.  And that may be the most widely used interpretation.  But the phrase is not, ‘Sound Forcement‘…… it is reinforcement.  If something is loud enough on stage, ……… wait for it ………. It DOES NOT need sound reinforcement.  In a small room, the trumpet probably doesn’t need much – if any – volume reinforcement.  (certainly not in the stage monitors and little if any in the house mix)  The guitar player with 10 Marshall stacks in a thirty seat room probably does not need sound reinforcement.   Well then, what does?

Simply enough, anything that is not run directly through an instrument amplifier on stage.  This could be the sounds from the keyboards or tone devices, vocalists, special effects FX (usually effects are used in the house mix but can also be sent to the monitor sends) and back ground or other media tracks including the ‘tape’ input for your stereo music player used in our earlier post. 

We will do better if we use this definition for both sound systems we have pulled together for this event.  On stage, do not add anything to the monitor mix that is already loud on stage.  Again there are exceptions and many performers will argue this point, but I try to keep the monitor sends clear of anything I do not need to reinforce.  If it is a big stage and members are far apart – absolutely add a little of an instrument to the other monitor mix.  Everyone needs to hear the other performers.  Just do not add to all monitor mixes if you use multi-monitor sends.  Smaller stages there is little advantage in sending amplified instruments or drum set channels to the monitor mix.

Now, look at the balance from the house point of view. Can you hear the reverb on the snare drum and mounted toms clearly?  Is one vocalist drowning out the others?  Is that trumpet (or cymbal crash or tambourine or Kick drum) not in the mix during the solo?  Can the keyboard player hear the monitors or instrument amp really good but no one in the audience can hear them?  Can solo performances be heard clearly above the mix?

Set and forget.  There are a number of input sources you will be able to set once and leave alone.  The drums should be set up properly during sound check and should not need fader, pan, EQ or volume adjustments during the typical event performance.  So the easy ones are drum and percussion kits along with some keyboards and other tone generators.  Brass, string or choir sections can also be set.  Most of these groups can be balanced during sound check and you will never have to mess with them for the rest of the performance.  That allows you to focus on the variations of vocal performers, solo instruments and ‘guest’ players.  Make sure if you turn the instrument louder during a solo or energy section that you turn it back down when the section is over. Otherwise it is a race to the top and others will need to turn up to hear themselves comfortably.  Then the rest of the group has to do the same to keep up with the neighbors on stage.  It can get ugly at the top.

In small clubs or rooms, there is very little need for large PA systems and huge speakers.  In many situations you will do fine to let the stage volume fill most of the room.  Sometimes all I have to add is the keyboards and vocals, with the effects thrown in on top.  I might bring up a guitar or other solo instrument in the mix, when the rest of the time that instrument fader is off completely in the house and monitor mix.  It simply does not need sound reinforcement there.

In some gigs, a player can be loud enough on stage that you cannot increase over-all volume using the house system.  They are so loud that the PA for a small club will have little effect.  I have been known to take players completely out of the house mix.

I use simple guidelines and want to ensure that any and all performers will be heard in the house.  This includes each percussion instrument to various keyboard textures and sounds.  I keep all levels in balance so one instrument or group of instruments does not dominate the performance or mix.  I make sure band members know they do not have to play loud on stage.  All they have to do is play good and I will make it sound great in the house. You play; let me crank it up!

You have seen a million and one videos of live bands or performers.  The stage set-up is fairly common for most band configurations.  We usually do it like they do because it almost always works.  If you have a typical band or act, use the standard stage set up to start with and correct if you need to make adjustments.  Some band or act members will play instruments, some will sing or do both, some will jump off stage and some will be too drunk to walk on their own.  Keep your eyes open and stay close to the volume fader!

I usually turn the volume down on the main amp and the monitor amps before the band starts arriving on stage.  Always make sure to turn the main and monitor volume faders down completely before connecting OR disconnecting  any cables to the mixer or snake.  The snake should already be connected in numerical order before the band is there as it is needed to set up the monitor signals we tested in the last LSR series. 

I know a lot of sound guys that do not do the following suggestion or piece of advice I will give you.  But if you are just starting to do LSR or have been doing for a while and sound checks are not fun and people get angry (with you sound gal and band/act), fire up the sound system this way.

Connect all cables to the snake in an orderly system.  You can use your own rules as needed by the performers or the event to number them, but try to use a system that is easy to remember and easy to repeat,  I will have some suggestions and tips coming in future posts.

Usually, performers will show up at different times.  I try to take advantage of that and direct them to the proper position on stage.  Connect their instruments and microphones to the snake.   Connections can be made simple too as you will see in other topics.  Test their signals from the sound board and make sure to get good working levels (NOT practice levels!)  (More on ‘Gain Staging’ in future posts)  Listen through headphones if necessary to get a good tone and strong signal.  Add player to monitor send(s) as needed.  Now you can talk to performers and have them help you get their levels set.  As each player arrives, the other players will encourage same process;  get into position, plug in instruments, check levels, if applicable add signal to the monitor mix(s) as needed. 

I do all this without turning the Mains volume faders up at all.  For the most part, the audience (and the host that represents the people that paid you and your group for the event!) will not hear much at all, especially as the venue or room for the vent gets larger.  The sound check stage volume should not be enough to bother most people in a club or hall unless they are very close to the front of stage.  After testing each performer’s input signals and getting a good monitor mix, it is time to have the performers do a song or section of the performance that has all members if possible playing.  Do a song or two without the mains turned on to get the feeling of the sound on stage.  Do not rely on the house speakers for this part.  Check with your headphones.  Solo ‘channels‘.  Adjust the monitor mix for each player as needed……..  This is an art of its own and has a bit of science and magic thrown in.

At that point I am ready.  I have good signals, I have tested the Mains and they work as designed and sound good.  The monitor levels are right and during the sound check the performers and players settled in and all players could hear themselves and other performers in proper balance.  If you are lucky, it is time for you and the band to take a break and get ready for the performance and the energetic crowds.  If desired or requested, you can play audio or sound tracks during break through the house system (never the monitors unless specific need) at a moderate level to set the mood.

Now that you have the gear you need (or more likely what you could get your hands on), we can assemble it as we carry the gear in.  Do not carry this heavy and bulky stuff anymore than you have to – bring it in and put it where it goes.  So, as mentioned in earlier in this series, scope out the venue so you have a plan of attack.  Even if it is 15 minutes after you arrive, take a quick look around…. Where is the best place for the sound board?  How is the best way to run the long snake cable?  Where are the electrical outlets… can they handle our system power requirements?  Are there any doors or emergency exits you need to be aware of?  Where will the audience be?  Where should you set up the drums, keyboards and monitors?  Sometimes you will not have any choice at all and the host of the event will have their own layout.  Roll with it.

I try to get the main system and all cables run before the band gets there.  I have monitors in-place on stage based on my understanding of the performance/band/event.  I connect the mixer and all house cables. 

Then I test entire system;

Turn on mixer and plug in talk-back mic or any mic into a channel on the mixing board.  Make sure levels work.

Send Talk-Back signal to each of the affect inputs to make sure signal is going to proper effect box or internal effect, and make sure it returns to the input or ‘bus group‘ you will use for that effect.  Make sure headphones and ‘solo’ function works properly.  Yes………..   Bring your own headphones and (ear plugs too!) make sure they are good quality closed type.

Turn on stage monitor amplifiers.  Turn up each monitor send (can be one to four monitor sends from the board) and use Talk-Back mic to send signal to each monitor.  Turn all others off and listen to one at a time to make sure you are controlling the right monitor.  Do not overlook this step.  The on-stage mix is critical, and the mixer – sound engineer is not able to hear the speakers on stage once the mains or house speakers are kicking in.

Make sure all mixer sends to the main amps are turned off all the way before turning on the main amplifiers.  This can save you and the event host a lot of headaches.  Plug in an audio player to the mixing board ‘tape’ or other stereo input and set the levels.  (**)  Slowly turn up the mains with the audio source playing and the signal strength can be seen on the input indicator.  Give it some gas but no need to rattle the windows now.  Keep at a good level and make sure each speaker (or cluster/group) cabinet is connected properly and working.  Walk around the club/venue and listen to your test music.  Hopefully something you know very well.  Try to find areas where the sound collects in corners (sometimes the bass can build up in an area and become very boomy while the rest of the area you cannot hear the bass at all….) or where the sound ‘drops out’ and gets softer or thin sounding.  (this can be from improper phasing due to room acoustics or other audio timing issues.  Try slowly turning main speakers at different angles toward the audience to correct).  Make sure it sounds good everywhere, or at least know that particular areas will sound different and in a number of venues it will sound totally different as you walk around. 

It is not unusual for the sound board to be placed in the worst acoustic piece of real-estate in the club!  Make sure it sounds good standing in the audience, even if it does not sound so great where you are mixing the board.

Now, we are ready to bring in the band or performers.

20150215_173005Not only do we have 16 channels of MIDI available (per cable…. Other cables can carry 16 more channels as you expand) but we also have 128 steps or individual notes that can be assigned to each channel or voice.  (again, if your device counts zero as a number, you will have 0 – 127)  This is particularly important for triggers and non-sound system controllers.  For example, if you are playing a MIDI keyboard, sax or reed controller as Master, you are not normally trying to redirect a C# to an F, though there are reasons for doing this in some special circumstances.  You just want to perform your song on the Master Controller and have your performance represented as you played it – for better or worse!

However, for drum kits and other triggers it is crucial to set up in advance the sounds that will be played when a specific trigger is hit.  Usually you can change this in the Master Controller itself.  Pick the channel and the specific pad/key you are editing and go to the Menu Options page.   Select MIDI Note Number options.  There are too many ways today’s gear will get you there or what they call it so it is hard to make this specific to all, but that is what the owner manuals are for!  As your Master Controller is connected properly to the receiving tone generator or receiving device, hit the pad or key or button you are trying to edit.  You should be able to see the note number the current pad is assigned to.  Continue to raise or lower this number one digit at a time or enter the KNOWN MIDI Note Number and then Enter.  Once you are triggering the correct sound, sampler or other gear, go to the next pad in a similar mode until all assigned pads correctly trigger the intended receiver.  Save everything and pat yourself on the back!  Keep in mind you can do this over and over depending on project, recording or performance needs.  Most devices will allow you to store and recall a large number of performance templates or basic ‘kits’.  Take advantage of this tool!   Once you set them up, you can use them forever and make your set up time amazingly quick. 

As a keyboard player in a progressive rock band, I used specific keys or notes on my keyboard(s) that were outside the range of the cover or original tune we were playing and assigned them to trigger internal drum sounds like claps or cowbells, effects like record scratching and anything from applause to choir back-up notes.  I never used a sampler that would ‘play’ parts, I just added to the layers by using on-board sounds as a split keyboard arrangement or as real-time triggers to other devices. 

I used to play in the days when you had to have a different keyboard for each sound group you wanted.  If you wanted an electric piano, you played the Rhodes piano.


 20150215_172119 If you wanted an organ sound you carried around a Hammond or other organ.  If you wanted to use synthesizer sounds, you brought in a Moog or Arp and played two sounds at a time ……. and it felt glorious! 

Now you should have a comfortable of understanding – MIDI is a communication system between equipped devices.  This information allows us real-time control of receiving devices.  While there are a lot of basic on-off commends (actions) like note, sustain, start, stop, there are other commands that offer a range of control, typically 1 – 128 (or zero – 127).  Basic computer stuff, so we are stuck with a lot of groups dealing with 8, 16, 128.  You get used to it.  These continuous controller commands can be used to change how the receiving device or sound responds to the movement of the continuous controller. 

Here, I am not talking about the keyboard or sample trigger.  These are basically in-put hardware.  A few examples commonly found are modulation wheels, pitch bend wheels, joysticks, ribbons, foot controllers, and faders.  As mentioned earlier, you can send channel information to a number of receiving devices.  You can use the keyboard as you Master controller and assign one continuous controller to signal the light board to fade in or out and anywhere in-between.  In some set-ups you can use a sustain pedal connected to the Master Controller and when depressed, the light board receives the command (MIDI message) and the fog machine will be triggered.  Key pad triggers can be set up to do the same thing, but as you know, not every device is compatible with every other device, and sometimes features are left out from model to model.  But with most available manufacturer’s, you can easily accomplish versions of the above.

Performing in a duo band, my partner and I played guitars, I played keys, we both sang, he controlled a drum machine with bass pedals and I controlled a programmable drum machine.  As we did more popular dance style music, I would use the drum machine (sometimes when it was idle during a song and sometimes as another layer…) to sequence the synth-bass line of a cover tune.  Then I could play more keyboard parts live for a fuller sound.  As a songwriter, I have used this a bunch to create new audio landscapes and textures I probably would not have found on my own.  So try this if you have the necessary toys;

Take a drum machine or a MIDI drum pattern and play it over and over.  Now, change the sound of the MIDI receiving device or direct to another tone generator (yes!, for visual effects you can also do this to run lights if the sequence is done with the light board in mind).  But don’t just change to another drum or percussion patch.  Change it to a synth bass sound or orchestral strings – and keep changing.  Some sound settings you will not hear anything at all (probably because the drum notes are typically short in duration (and should be as we will get to later) and the sound has a slow attack and is not responding quickly enough to make the programmed tones audible.  (for this you can try holding down a sustain pedal if available and see how the sound responds to longer duration) I plan to go into the properties of ADSR in future series, so we will cover that in detail later.  Some sounds you will not hear every note from the drum pattern but as you listen to a wide variety of sounds, you will find this is OK. 

If needed, change the MIDI Note Number (oh, man, another topic!) from a crash or cowbell in the drum pattern and you can make it trigger another note that might be closer to the key or scale you are working in.  As you know, MIDI also provides real time control, so you can trigger other devices using this function during live performances and still keep it live.

Sound reinforcement can be broken up into simple segments and based on need of reinforcement project, we can narrow down the staggering options that can distract us.  Let’s dig in.

If you will only use pre-recorded music or audio tracks, this is relatively easy and you will get there quickly.  I will concentrate on the live performance for this series.  We will look at the needs of the band members, the requirements of the audio gear, understanding the environmental effects and the basic strategy to make it all work together.

Once you know the number of performers and the location of the event, you can begin planning on getting the gear you need and an idea of the requirements for great sounding – crowd pleasing live events.  The first step is to get an idea of the show/act/performance.  Live drums?  Keyboards or brass section?  Speech or information, you get the idea. 

Get an accurate count of the number of inputs you will need.  The total is important.  This can determine the size and capability of the mixer and the requirements of cabling, ‘monitors’, stands and microphones needed to cover the performance.  Then break them down into basic groups. 

Keep in mind that for making a live performance work, you need to have two totally independent sound systems available and in control so if we think about it, there is a sound system on the stage with the performers so they can hear themselves – and other performers – and any media they need to be aware of or perform with.  The audience requires the second system and this makes the party get started when the ‘house sound‘ gets cranked up and sounds great.

Most band /performer gear and audio cables will be connected to a long cable with a box at the end called a ‘snake‘.  Most inputs will be ‘mic‘ cables with three connectors for low ‘impedance‘ sources.  The microphone of your choice connects to a mic cable then gets plugged into this box on stage.  The snake connects that input to a very long cable leading up to the ‘mixing or sound board‘.  The sound board can listen separately to each input from the snake and can send that signal to a variety of ‘audio outs‘.  We will focus on the basic ones needed the vast majority of the time now and add more later on in this series.

The mixer – sound engineer will be able to send some of each performer’s input signal back through the snake to the amplifiers and their related on-stage speakers or in-ear monitors, etc.  (in this process it is really handy for the sound engineer to bring his/her own microphone….!!!!  That way once you turn on the stage monitors (on-stage speakers for performers) you can talk directly to anyone on stage and the main speakers going to the audience can be turned off so the audience will not hear you).  This allows you to quickly communicate to band members to help you sound check quickly.

The mixer – sound engineer will also send measured amounts of all performers’ inputs – all blended into a clear representation of the performance – to the main or house amplifiers and their related speakers/cabinets.  Effects like reverb and delay can be added to enhance the overall sound and ‘feel’ of the music/performance. 

That is the first goal.  Create two sound systems with the mixing board as the hub.  Operate them independently and you will be miles ahead of the rest of the ‘sound gurus’ I have heard out there.