Posts Tagged ‘#equipment’

I don’t mind acknowledging that I am different than a lot of the people I know and hear about.

I am PERFECTLY OK with this.  I know my music and lyrics are not the typical main-stream songs blasted everywhere.  I will not appear on any searches.  Growing up and watching all the Westerns and TV shows, I never – not even once – wanted to be the cowboy or the soldier.  I identified with the ‘good guys’ as most kids do, but to me the cowboys and soldiers were not the only good guys.  I identified more with the American Indians living with nature rather than conquering.

I am not sure what exactly inspired this song when I started it.  I often think about music videos and how that could help explain through images some of the themes in this musical piece.  Possibly the new toys that could make sounds that added less traditional Western culture ideas and more ethnic and international instruments.  I also like contrapuntal rhythms and themes, so you will hear a lot in these pieces.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/touch-down/id962542289

 https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/touch-down/id962542289

For me, sequencing is fun and very versatile.  I am not the kind of keyboard player that can jump in on any song and just start jamming.  I do better if I can take my time and learn, practice, and improve before practicing with a full band.  A lot of this might be from the lack of confidence in the early days, but in reality I find myself a jack of all trades and master of none.  If I had spent more time on any one instrument, I might have gotten pretty good.  Fortunately – or unfortunately, I have always been interested in so many different things that my chops were not the best.  As a percussionist, I was able to hear what I wanted, but did not play drum kits so my feet and hands were always locked in perfect step!  Sequencing gave me the ability to lay down rough performances on the keyboard (and remember I use the keyboard keys to ‘trigger’ the drum sounds, so I am still playing keys).  Once recorded using MIDI – again I am not recording the sounds but the physical action and movements, I could enter the Edit Mode on the sequencer and make corrections to timing, notes, durations etc. until the piece felt good to me. For the drums, the standard practice is to use the Quantizing feature (I can go into this later as well for future posts) to make sure all beats were perfectly ‘on the grid’.  I have used drum machines and sequencers since they first came out.  The sounds are great but too often the result of overusing the quantize feature makes the drum tracks sound mechanical – unmoving – and even impossible for a real drummer.  I preferred to leave a little slop here and there.  I want emotion in my songs, not perfection.

In “Bassics”, I just enjoyed the new sounds I had and played with this Bass Guitar patch and came up with the basic groove.   I like adding textures and unusual percussion/FX sounds to keep the songs flowing and changing.  Available sounds are so much better now, but I still enjoy bringing out these old tunes.

The sound board or audio mixer represents the hub in most audio mixing and mastering functions.  everything connects to the board.  Even the lighting system will use channels in the snake to connect from stage to console.  Things get plugged into and things get plugged out of the mixer as needed.  Today’s mixers are blue tooth USB WiFi fire-wired and light-piped together and will connect to an amazing array of devices.  So far we have focused on what gets plugged to the Inputs of the sound board.  There are a number of connection possibilities for the Outputs as well. We have already discussed some of them earlier, so this can be brief as you already know a lot of this in general.

On most sound boards you have a number of analog-out options.  In earlier discussions we talked about XLR and 1/4″ cables and connectors.  These will continue to be the main ones used for outputs.  On the front or face of most mixing boards you will see a stereo headphone out.  It will usually have its own volume knob and probably a selector to pick the options to Monitor including Stereo Out, Solo, Effects Sends, Effects Returns, Sub or Groups, Auxiliary Returns, and other options.  On the back or the top of the mixing board you will see the panel for Out-put connections in different sections.  There are some rules to determine what type of Audio Cable is used and whether it is a male end or female end and whether it has two connectors or three (or more).

In the early days of mixing boards, microphones and keyboards, it was important which brand you purchased.  If you wanted to get ‘that sound’ you had to have this mixing board channel strip or that particular keyboard.  Later on the computer industry similarly shot through their early days and you had the Macintosh or the Windows PC.  If you were brought up with one you could not be talked into the other.  Most modern equipment from PC’s to Automobiles can do everything.  They all have similar platforms and emulators.  There is style and quality as there always will be, but you can get software mixing programs and microphone/guitar emulator plugins that will make your audio tracks sound like anything you want —-THEY CAN EVEN MAKE YOU SOUND LIKE YOU ARE SINGING IN TUNE!!

So if you like Pepsi, no problem.  Want Coke?  Press this button……  More comfortable using a Mac?  Go for it.

All it takes is cash, a thorough understanding of what all the terms mean and a good idea where all the buttons are?!!?

Enjoy!

Now that we are back to audio channels, see the examples below.  Remember, that the channels run down from the TOP.  In some mixing boards, there is a ‘pad‘ switch – it could be above or below the 1st gain knob – that can determine which input type will be monitored by that channel and it can also change the input level or signal strength.  To reinforce the general definition below, if the audio source uses a battery or gets plugged into AC, it will need to be ‘padded‘ using this switch, where MOST microphone applications will not be strong enough if the channel is padded.

Whatever is plugged into the input jack on the mixer for that channel will send a signal to the 1st ‘gain stage‘.

This acts more like a flood gate than an amplifier in that it allows you to reduce the strength of the signal coming into that channel.  But it feels like an amplifier as when you turn it clock wise – it gets louder and if you turn it counter-clockwise – it gets softer or lower in volume……  This is the great balancer.  This knob determines how much of the signal gets distributed or sent to other out puts, effects, processors and recording devices, etc.  This is the foundation of the mix you are creating.   We start here and do not continue with the other knobs and gizmos in the ‘channel strip‘ until this is set correctly.

The biggest trick in setting this up for most band performances is – well – band members.  A lot of them do not trust the sound guys they have worked with for a lot of reasons.  Some performers will set their level (amp, energy, settings) really low during sound check, knowing once the sound is going they can turn themselves up so they can hear themselves.  Most often, it is just difficult to play really hard and loud like you will during a full band live performance when no one else is making noise.  Knowing all that, you need to start with a good level here so you can set the gain stage properly.  Generally, open microphones will need more gain than instruments like keyboards or mp3 players.  Things that get plugged into AC or use a battery will probably have a stronger signal strength than those that go directly to the snake/mixing board.

As a caution again, make sure the amplifiers are turned all the way down before you plug anything into the mixer once the full system is connected.  We tested the House PA and Stage monitors before the band got here, so before you start plugging in instruments and performers, turn the House PA amplifiers down.  I also turn the Monitor Sends down all the way so you do not hit the monitors with some pretty ugly sounds.  If you use fantom power for your microphones or other devices, I have heard people suggest you do the same whenever turning this function ON or OFF.

Now we are ready to move through the rest of the channel.  I am old school, and I like to start with the mixing board ‘clean’.  With all knobs and gizmos set to center or neutral.  Some guys like to start off where they left or pre-mix, but I have seen many situations where that theory gets yanked.

Above board design has the +48 fantom power switch.  When pressed in it will send appropriate voltage to the microphone or device.  Best to have Master faders turned down during this part as well.  Underneath is the pad/Line switch.  This you can safely determine a good guess in advance depending on what type of instrument is plugged into that channel.  You can always start with pad pressed in and gain stage at minimum to be on the cautious side and then release pad and turn gain knob as you watch the signal LED’s.  Get good performing signal as opposed to good practice level and see where the gain stage knob is pointing.  Try to get signal meters and LED’s close to the red or overload stage, and then back off the gain stage knob just a little.  We may need the extra head room when we add EQ, use ‘inserts‘ etc.

This board and many others offer a HPF (‘High Pass Filter‘).  When depressed it will allow mid and high frequencies to go through the channel and process normally.   So, it really cuts or turns down the really low end signals.  This is where the frequencies and ranges of instruments in an earlier LSR series come into play.  Instruments like, flutes, acoustic guitars, vocalists, cymbals, snares cannot make sounds in the low end.  The over-all mix will benefit if you use the HPF and cut the very low frequencies on those instruments.   Microphone stand rumble, bleed over from the kick drum into the snare along with a number of other unwanted sounds can be eliminated before they even get into the mix.

Next series we will continue down the signal path.

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!

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.