Posts Tagged ‘#musicequipment’

For this project, we needed a few volunteers and some inexpensive themes.  We took advantage of the resources available.  Ric worked as an auto mechanic so we started there.  I made a couple cameo appearances but the story is about working hard and no time for creating and performing  (you have heard this theme before !) During the Jeep ride up the hill you do not see the driver (Gorgeous George…) but he is still in the Jeep as Ric appears to be pulling it (and metaphorically his career) up the hill.  George is pulling in and out on the clutch so there is real tension and sometimes Ric is literally being pulled back by the Jeep.  Who needs acting skills!

When we moved to the live Personal Touch segments it is the duo before Phyllis Ann officially joined us.  You can see Ric is kicking bass pedals and controlling an accompaniment system.  On his guitar you can see him tap two silver round pads. The one triggers a drum crash from the accompaniment system he is controlling. The other pad triggers a drum pattern change to a drum roll for as many times as he taps the pad.  He is the lead vocalist for the song and yes, he is also playing guitar…….. I am playing my Arp Odyssey, a Yamaha electric piano and my Yamaha DX7 and doing back-up vocals in this video.

For this I think we went into the club the day of our regular performance and shot the raw video segments for the Walking Man video.  We played other tunes for other projects but there is no real audience and we only had to set up once to do the video shots and perform later that night.  I try to be within budget (usually none….) and also with no wasted effort!

For a duo, we packed a lot of punch.  Not only because it was just two of us in the beginning, but  also in the space we could fit.  We had no live drummer or bass player.  I could play guitar and sing and when I was not playing guitar (and indeed, in some songs I would play guitar and keyboards) I could play keyboards and/or control the drum machine that I programmed.

Ric sang and played the guitar and almost all lead guitar parts as he also controlled the accompaniment system that had preset drum patterns, bass pedals, and a foot pedal and switches that let him add backing instruments like strings or piano sounds and at the same time determine if the backing instrument chords were played Major, Minor, 7th etc.  We fit anywhere, as long as they had tall ceilings LOL!!!

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!

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.

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.

Performing with other musicians requires a deeper channel of communication than normal language. When creating in this environment, every nuance has a meaning.  Every motif can create musical ripples.  Sometimes, two thoughts are better than one.  Co-writing can take a piece further than you would have thought possible on your own.  Try it.  You might like what comes out of it.  Over the years I have worked with a group of songwriters.  Each writer diving in to show off the latest and greatest.  While in one of those small traveling bands from hotel to hotel, I was playing in Corpus Christie TX.  We played a lot of different music for three people, and one of us did not play any instruments.  We wanted to come up with something with a bit more country flavor, and the lead guitarist was working on some soft ballad type chords during practice.  I told him I had written some lyrics that might fit.  I had finally given myself the title of songwriter as you know, so a while back I challenged myself to write a country song.  I had something specific in mind.

I write a lot of songs.  I write a lot of lyrics that never become songs (not yet anyway).  I write a lot of poems that may never become lyrics.  I write a number of songs and I might not even have a recording of it, even though I love to archive and preserve original performances.  Some songs I write for others and do not have a real interest in recording myself.  Maybe because I already have a good idea of what the song is supposed to sound like when a real performer/band records it.  I am not putting myself down here.  I simply do not have the talent or resources of famous stars.  You might laugh, but when I was writing the lyrics below, I wrote them as a duet for some famous country music stars at the time;  Kenny Rodgers and Dolly Parton!

I have only one recording of this song and I will share it with you, Kenny and Dolly you too if you’re listening!  I am singing the male part on this recording.  Not sure if this was ready before we moved on from Corpus Christie to another hotel, but it fell together quickly with the ballad chords at practice, so we performed it live to the more country leaning southern audience.  We were surprised that it went over so well and people in the hotel/audience that were regulars, were singing the words after a few nights in town.  So, I will probably never record this song.  It has always been a distant dream to one day hear others recording this as their own.    I have already heard in my mind what it sounds like with them performing, but this live two-track recording is not too bad for a working representation.

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.