Posts Tagged ‘# mixer’

I’ve admitted in earlier posts that I observe people a lot, and that I get a number of ideas for songs from watching other people;  friends, family, co-workers, I steal from them all!  I can empathize with people as they face challenges and triumphs in life.  I try to understand what it feels like to be in those situations even though I myself might not be directly affected by them.

I also have some rather obvious political points of view.  I can understand why there are those that do not always agree with my positions but in many cases I can still understand theirs.  In this song I basically insult every group I can think of!  As you are more than likely in at least one of these groups I apologize in advance.  In a lot of ways, this song summarizes the items on my Love – Hate list.  I hate things that should work but do not, and I really hate personal and corporate greed.  The song uses a lot of references to things we would hear on the news, although it was written a long time ago.  Unfortunately most of the issues are the same today!

Recording this song took a LONG time.  We did rough mixes here and there changing this or that, but it did not feel right from beginning to end.  Eventually, I think we rearranged some of the chorus/verse structure and it just fell into place.  For some songs this is the agonizing part;  all the components are there and sound good, but the piece as a whole just does not grab you.  I might have even tried changing tempo on this one to get it right.

If this is not the first song I did using my new Alesis ADAT recorder it was one of the first.  I was also transitioning from the Atari computer to a Windows machine, so not everything went smoothly!  I played electric guitar on this one (I have a few guitars and do not know which one was used for each song but my guess this is either my Ibanez or a Yamaha 6 string) and did all the sequencing and drum tracks as described earlier.  My wife does the vocal main lines.  Using the limiter/compressor chain I described from other songs the vocals are recorded so they stay soft and spooky and a little eerie as the lyrics become more and more cynical.  A bunch of family and friends came in and did the voice add-ons.  You can hear both our daughters, my co-writing brother and a few neighbors help out with the spoken parts.  I ‘sing’ the chorus.

The bass line in this one is particularly cool because it is my Oberheim Matrix 6 synth and it has this patch or sound that continues to play an arpeggio (sequence of predetermined notes) as long as you hold a key down.  So the bass lines are done by holding one note for a while but hearing many notes played.  We even got to play with one of the audio samplers from the music store and used it to trigger the ‘broken word’ parts.   Once we got the arrangement right it was just fun to ‘decorate’ the basic tracks and add a little movement to the mix.   Have fun with this one.

 

 

In most situations when you want to record a performance, you might not have a lot of time to set up.  The environment might not be perfect, and there are other needs than getting a great recording.   I have tried and been quite successful with a number of techniques.  I will offer a few here for your consideration.

Getting a good mix from the sound board Mono Out or Main Left and Right Outs in a small or medium size venue is very easy to set up, but most likely to be disappointing. The needs of the audience in a live situation can be the exact opposite from the recording engineer’s.  As mentioned in the beginning of this series, LSR is reinforcement.  The sound person will amplify the weaker signals in the House or Mains; vocals – along with a LOT of effects, acoustic guitars, flutes, and even the drums.  They might not need to reinforce the lead or bass guitar as much. So the board mix is heavier on vocals, effects, and keyboard in some cases.  Not a great listen for most people.                                                                                                                                       You can set up a sub-mix if the sound guru gives you access.  If they run Left (Mono) like most venues, you can create your own mix using the Right Mono out.  Using the pan for each channel, keep full signal going to the Left out, and pan toward Center position to send desired amount of signal to the Right out.  You might want to isolate the guitar or bass, add a little toms if they are mike’d, but not heavy in the mix.  You can mix the two outs if you record in stereo and get a great live sound.  This will not give you a perfect stereo field, but most audiences do not remember concerts in stereo.  The sound seems to come from the stage, not left and right cabinets in front of the stage. 

I have also had luck with those portable stereo digital recorders available now for what I think is really cheap for what they do.  You need to set them up correctly and take care of them but they are so easy to set up and you get great sound in various environments.  If you have a SAFE place where you will hear more of the band than the audience (sounds easier than it really is) this is worth a try.

Through the beginning to the end of the last chapter, we have concentrated on the hub or the central nervous system of a Live Sound Reinforcement assignment.  I have been focusing a bit on live performance in a typical band or musical event.  We now understand how most equipment for the House PA, the stage monitors, effects, and even lighting systems use the mixing board as the central hub.  The mixing board’s usefulness does not end there!  Once equipment is set up, connected, turned on and confirmed functional, most of the adjustments made for the rest of the evening will happen because of changes to the mixing board.  It also becomes the Master Device, and all other connected devices are ultimately controlled by the mixer.  The sound engineer is the ONLY person that should touch the mixing board.

The next logical step would be to describe the components of the House PA system and how much power (or how much money do I need to spend….).  After all, this is what most people hear, right?

Obviously, I set up as a trap question.  The answer seems obvious.

If I said, “I sound like a broken record”, most young readers will not know what that means! But I will repeat myself on certain themes and I feel one a’ comin’!  The next important thing is not the House PA and the number of speakers and amplifiers you need.  Most small venue mixing engineers go straight for the house and main systems, completely ignoring the most important ingredient guaranteeing a great performance.  We will avoid that trap now and focus on the stage and more importantly – the musicians on the stage.

When bands practice, they ultimately find a good use of space and volume so each member can achieve the two primary goals;

1) Hear myself (usually louder than any one else.  This is not ego and we will get into that later)

2) Hear the other performers (usually not as loud as the performer wants to hear him/her self!!)

Once they settle in and can accomplish the above – practice is comfortable and productive.  Each member can hear themselves and can also hear enough of the other members to blend with them.  If you saw a live symphony orchestra and all you could hear were the trombones, it would seem like an awful performance.  If you were a musician in the orchestra and all you could hear were the trombones……………

Now we can go back to the band members standing on a stage or venue they have never seen or played in……   and now understand that this is a very real challenge, and the smaller the venue… the smaller the budget.  Lack of Resources can be difficult challenge to overcome.

In larger venues it was quite normal to have a smaller mixing board off to the one side of the stage.  All the instruments and monitors would connect to this mixer, and it would ‘split’ all channels and send them equally to the House mixing board out in the audience area.  (it can also be used to send signals to a recording van parked outside).  The sound engineer on stage makes the band members happy by concentrating on the performers but does not affect the signal going to the House board.  That way the House Engineer has full control of the unaffected incoming channels from the stage board.

Good enough for now and in the next few sections I will focus on the stage sound and mix.

I guess I never really came up with a name for this tune.  Sometimes I will write lyrics and give it a working title.  I do the same thing with musical pieces I am working on before there are dedicated lyrics assigned to the tune.  As I continue to work on a piece, the name often changes when chords are matched with a set of lyrics.  On rare occasion it happens at the same time, and that process is a little different – and easier!  This is one of those weird situations where I never got to either, and this has always been referred to by the date…..  March of 1990.

March in this case also has a double meaning.  It is the pull away from the Winter season where I live.  The steady movement of new life.  The pace of growth that cannot be stopped. The instrumental tries to match that drive and frantic pace of the season.   Driving rhythms, collage of melodies, bouncing themes – and then to dynamics and a reflection of what is now past.  Then back to driving growth.  That is what I think about as I listen to this tune.  Even now, heading to Winter, I feel that March pushing forward.

Back to the Atari 1040 ST, I am sequencing all parts for this tune.  I believe I added a new tone module from EMU called the Proteus 1.  This was an amazing machine and I have not found anything as good and simple to use as the Proteus series.  It was really cool for two major reasons in my opinion.  1) the sounds were just awesome for the time and there were lots of sounds on board.  2) the operating software used was just made for MIDI geeks like me.  It was very simple and allowed the Proteus 1 to create splits, layers and zones, but it easily allowed you to access all 16 MIDI channels at the same time.  I could write a few articles on this alone, but for now it meant you could assign a different sound to any or all of the 16 channels independently.  As described in the MIDI series, this was great because you could use channel 1 for piano, channel 2 for organ sounds, channel 3 for strings, channel 4 for brass or orchestra sounds, 5 for flutes, 6 for sound effects, 7 for guitar sounds, 8 for solo instruments, 9 for the bass guitar sound, 10 for the standard drum channel and still have channels left over.  Playing out in bands and in the studio with this was just a dream.

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

Live_Stage_New2

Think of the stage as a speaker sitting in front of the audience….. sometimes the club or venue actually looks like a box where the performers are positioned. You have the low-end Bass Guitar, Kick Drum and Floor Tom and maybe keyboard sounds or textures. You have the Guitar and Vocals in a mid-rangy area and at the upper end you have symbols and higher range Guitar and Keyboard sounds. All inside the same box just a blasting away at different levels and pointed in all directions.

Now you have a better understanding of the challenge of making these various chunks into a tasty audio stew!

For the best way to present music to the savvy listeners of today, we do what has been done for decades. In the stereo image, you want to create a “room” or “place” for the listener. We have become comfortable with the very low end sounds coming from both speakers at about the same volume. This places the sound to the center of the listener’s field.

We like the vocals or in most cases the melody line to be in both sides equally, again placing the singer in the middle of the left-right field. We are fine if other instruments or singers are more to the left or right as long as the main sounds are where we expect them. We usually place big speakers on either side of the stage facing the audience…… usually in front of the stage and performers…. But as mentioned above this is not a finely tuned speaker cabinet by any means. The components are not necessarily proportionally balanced in volume or location. Setting up the Stage and PA system with this in mind can help reinforce the natural stereo image out in the audience.

Now that I have made a connection that is awkward if not confusing, even though the PA system in all likely hood is a Mono mix coming from both sides or columns of speakers, the listener still hears this as a stereo field. They want the low-end sounds or tones from the center of the stage. Typically the drum – the Kick Drum to be specific for this example – is the most used and most amplified instrument in band situations or where you have audio media. The Bass Guitar player is usually next to the drummer. This helps them keep tighter timing and solid beat, but also supports the stereo image of the listener.

Guitar and other amplified instruments on stage can be heard more from their side of the stage than from the other as an easy example, even if the volume through each side of the Main is sent the same level signal. If keyboards are on the opposite side of the stage from the guitar and also uses a monitor or amp, standing closer to them in front row can make it seem like the keyboards are too loud and those on the other side of the stage think the guitars are somewhat overbearing. It won’t stop them from standing there though! As you get further away from the front of the stage or if the venue is very large, this stereo effect has less and less meaning to the listener. Still, as a rule, most sound systems do not place low-end PA cabinets (or dumps) on one side of the stage and the mid or hi-end cabinets on the other side. It can be however, advantageous to place the low-end dumps in the center of the stage or along the front-center stage area. To make this more inclusive, it is also more comfortable to hear low-end tones coming from an elevation point lower (on the floor, for example) and the higher tones or frequencies coming from higher points (mounted above the stage or on tall poles).

If the volume on stage becomes to strong a level it will negatively affect all the above and more. To reinforce another post of mine, musicians just need to worry about performing great – we sound geeks will make them sound good and loud! I keep dreaming.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/retrograde/id962542260

It may take a few times through listening to this one.  A number of my songs might seem quite alien at first.  I hope you let them grow on you.  (OK, that sounded kinda creepy LOL!) This is a textured song where I did all the sequencing and drum programming.  There are no guitars on this song.  Most of this is Atari days using the Proteus 1 tone generator an the RX 15 drum machine.  I also use sounds straight from the keyboard(s) I use as controllers.   In this case it is the Korg Trinity V3.  Other than the vocals, everything is recorded via MIDI and plays back live sounds from the keyboards and tone generators (along with effects and other goodies).   From start to finish this is a dark piece.  Sparse percussion with a rolling sequenced bass line.  You have heard my wife before on “All Night Long” and “What I do at Night” and this is another one of her gems.  The intro and break vocals are from Phyllis Ann, who toured with The Personal Touch and sang on “The Touch” and “Our Bodies Move.”   As the song begins I try to use multiple melody lines in various instrument voicings to lay the chordal structure.  Plucky guitar sounds come from the Korg.  Slow trance – lulling you closer.   Then the message; “Who’s Following You?”.  But the subject quickly settles on the main issue; death.  Too many of us are waiting for that dream.

“It’s Easy to Die” (@) MSK 1990

I wonder, I wonder who

Who, is following you.

It’s easy to die

You just close your eyes.

And then once the dream begins

It will never end. My friend.

Don’t put up a fight

Just follow the light.

It’s not too hard

And once the dream begins

It will never end.

Chorus:

It’s easy to turn

Your life into lies. My friend

And once the dream begins

It will never end.

I spent a lot of time in smaller clubs with crowded stages and audience sizes varying from handfuls to standing room only capacity. The challenges come from each of them and have different resolutions. In some ways, I think the large clubs and outdoor events are the easiest to set up and run sound for. If it is a big stage or large arena, you turn everything up so it is in the main mix or no one will hear it. The smaller clubs you don’t necessarily put a microphone on every instrument. You cannot out-power a guitar player with a stack of cabinets. You might not be able to set up independent or multiple Monitor Mixes (stage mix for performers) and many times you have to share monitors (the cabinets or speakers themselves in this case…) between performers with various needs. Add keyboard player(s) or a horn section and it quickly over burdens the PA or sound system.

Setting up the stage with a few solutions in mind can help in each of these situations. In smaller clubs you might not have many options for the arrangement of musicians on stage. Some restraints may be obvious at first. Some will catch you off guard. Knowing what you are up against though can trigger steps to prevent problems.

These are basic but can avoid a lot of small-headache issues:

Place snake closest to center of stage if that is closest to where instruments/vocalists are positioned. Shorter cables are better if they allow performers needed mobility.

Make sure you know where the AC power outlets are. It is a drag to set everything up and not be able to plug in your power amps. (I also recommend bringing long heavy-duty extension cords for versatility)

Try to plug all stage instruments and PA gear along with the mixing board and external sound gear to the same AC breaker box.

Try to plug all lighting or other powered systems to a separate AC breaker box. (If it does not connect to the mixing board to make noise; plug it into another breaker box)

Use balanced (three wire cables) whenever possible. (I have been caught by 1/4″ audio jacks without locks getting knocked out in the middle of a gig more than once and hate anything that does not lock into position. rant now over)

Keep stage volume as low as possible (this is a couple posts all by itself!)

Consider cross-firing stage instrument amps like guitars and bass – rather than pointing at audience.

Make sure sound board is in the best sounding location and also close enough to the stage to connect snake and all gear – especially if you have to route the snake around the outside of the event area for safety or other reasons.

Cables are the first thing to go wrong even when properly handled and maintained. Bring a lot of SPARES.

Turn all power amps (including ones that are built into the speakers OFF or all the way DOWN when connecting or disconnecting gear. (there are shortcuts and general exception practices we will detail later).

Turn all recording gear OFF or down all the way until all devices and channels are connected and tested.

Make sure speaker cables (Mains and Monitors) are long enough to reach the power amps. I bring two long length sets of speaker cables and two short length sets (no matter how many total speakers I have, I will have two full sets….). If one side of the stage is where the power amps are, I use the short cable and the other one might require the longer cable. Sometimes you need both long cables. If I need a spare, I have two!

Drum risers could need low end cuts and even gates to reduce unwanted tones and resonances.

Color Code anything you can. Cables, Mic stands, Monitors, In-Put Channel labels or External gear/boxes. Make it easy to identify in low light. Green microphone goes with green cable goes to green snake plugs into green channel….. I also add a number to make larger sessions manageable. Vocal green 1, 2, 3…. Drum blue 1, 2, 3….. Brass white 1, 2, 3……

Not rocket science, just some thoughts. But if you get in the habit of considering these and other tips each time before you start hauling in equipment into a new venue, your set-ups will become quick and routine, even if the environment is new. If you keep all your gear in one place there are short cut power-up and power-down sequences I will detail soon.

Most of the connectors used for outputs will be 1/4″ male jacks.  These can be for ‘grounded’ (three-wire) or two-wire cables.  To make this part confusing, the cables can be made or changed with adapters to almost any connector type.  For long distances we prefer grounded or three conductor-wire cables as the third wire is used to take common signals from the other two wires, and ‘dump them to ground’.  Common signals would be interference and noise as the plus and negative wires are carrying the signal from the board.  The result is good signal with low noise introduced.  Guitar and keyboard cables typically go shorter distances and typically have a higher or stronger output signal than a microphone for example.  The cables in the snake will use three wire grounded shielded cables even if they are 1/4″ male connectors.

So we might expect to have an XLR connector for the Main Outs to the Main House power amps, but this is not a guarantee.  If 1/4″ jacks are provided it is recommended to use grounded three wire cables.

Most cables will provide a male connector on one end and a similar but female connector on the other end.  Male connectors are often used to connect to In-Puts and Female connectors are often used to connect to the Out-Put.  The male connector of the microphone cable connects to the mixing board In-Put and on the other end the female connector will connect to the microphone out.  Generally speaking there is little advantage plugging an in to an in or an out to another out.   I like to state the obvious LOL!

The mixing board will give us a Main Left and Right out, and probably a Mono Main Out.  These will be connected to the Main or House power amps.  During an event, the amps are usually turned all the way up and the House volume is ultimately controlled by the Main L-R faders on the mixing board.  This is why it is important to turn the Master Volume Faders on the mixing board all the way down whenever connecting or disconnecting equipment or making dramatic changes.

Depending on the board size and configuration you may also have a 1/4″ Direct-Out for many if not all input channels. (this is REALLY cool for recording and a lot of other creative uses…)   These can be really handy for independent channel recording, triggers, audio effects and alternate mixes to name a few.  Basically connect these to external recorder, processor or triggering gear as needed.  I will give some examples as the series expands to other main topics.  You will also have a number of Sends that are used for a variety of tasks and have different names, but with a few configuration details are for the most part the same thing.  Effect Sends, Monitor Sends, Auxiliary Sends, Sub Sends are splitters; they split the signal – keeping the one going to the House or recorder – and allowing you to send a lot or a little of that signal to the Send of your choice using the Send knob. As in the Monitor amps and House amps, the volume knob will ultimately be used to send the proper signal level to the external (and internal) devices or effects.  If you ‘send’ this to a digital delay, it may also have its own input and out put level knobs.

You may also have a two-track input and/or out put.  This is for playing stereo audio devices and for a straight stereo record out option.  Handy to listen to practice tapes, intermission music, PA system tests and other performance related media.

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

I want to give you an idea of perspective on some of the articles I have posted and will continue to post going forward.  This is the first video I have posted and while it is rather BORING, it is so informative at the same time.  I guess I have recorded original tunes since the very late 1960’s.  I recorded everything.  I deleted a lot!  But I recorded everything I could.  I experimented and adjusted and re-did and failed a few more times than I succeeded in the early days to be sure!  I also got into photography and then into video recording.  I practiced the mundane over and over until I got the exposure right, then with video until I could zoom and focus manually.  I joined the photography club in high school and learned to develop and enlarge my own pictures – something I thought was close to magic back in the day!

I shared earlier that I used (and still own!!!) what I think was the first personal computer to come out with built in MIDI ports – The Atari ST!  I used a software program back then to record the MIDI tracks and I could generate SMPTE time code and send a signal from the Atari to sync it up with recording machines (I had the Yamaha 4 track CASSETTE recorder during most of this).  When I talk about old technologies and how we used to record songs (or develop pictures…) It is hard for some to understand the challenges we had and the lo-fi quality of the final mix or product.

I want to use this video as an example of many things I refer to in this blog.  In this video, you will see what I saw when looking at the Atari computer monitor when I was playing or recording tracks.  Keep in mind this is all MIDI equipment available years ago.  The song I posted earlier will now be stripped of all guitars, vocals, effects and additional live sounds you heard on the full mix.  As you watch the video you will hear the sequences being played back live into the VCR input.  I took the monitor video out and connected to video in of the video recorder so this is a straight feed for both.  In the recording software, each “instrument” has a separate track.  Drums are all on one track with additional percussion sounds on different tracks, and as a reminder, each note (as triggered from my DX7 keyboard) represented a different drum/percussion sound coming from a drum machine.  You can hear the metronome from the Atari ticking away in the back ground as it is set to record.  As each track plays you can see the musical notes light up depending on the intensity of the track information.  You can also see the tempo of the song, the names of the tracks and the measures and beats as they click by.

The main piano sound is probably familiar to many of you even if you are quite young. It is the classic Piano Tine sound from the Yamaha DX7 synthesizers.  This video should also give you a sense of quality and resolution available at the time.  It might be difficult to hear the difference in song recording quality today, but we are all familiar with video resolution and HD cameras and large screen TV and computer standards available now.  Just think how this applied to the audio quality back then and then play some really old songs you grew up listening to.   It gives a better appreciation and perspective for some of the classic songs that seem to live forever.