Tuesday Tip: Get your own mic!

This video from AT shows what can happen to venue (or hire!) mics from one night to another. Metal singers love to use their hands and arms in the show – and that means storing the mic somewhere: in their mouth, armpits, between their sweaty legs, wherever is easiest at the time!

That’s all well and good until the quiet jazz singer on the next show wants to get up close and personal with the mic grille. Quiet singers obviously need to be closer to the mic, and the last thing you want when you do that, is to pick up sweat from last night’s metal band, lipstick from the last diva act, and dried up spittle from last week’s grime MC, all congealed together on the venue mic’s grille.

The last thing I’ll say on hygiene is that a singer’s voice and throat is their instrument, and their talent. A cough, a sore throat, or a chest infection can mean the difference between earning a solid living or having a hungry week or two!

Quite apart from any hygiene issues, every type of mic has its own sound – and so does every voice. There will be a perfect match for you, somewhere, and it pays dividends to spend the time to find it. Your voice may really suit an SM58, a beta57, e945, m88, a D5, or something else entirely. Every engineer has their preferred “go to” mic; but a pro singer will walk into a venue, announce that they have their own mic, and ask if it’s OK with the engineer if they use it. Most engineers (as long as it’s a recognised, quality brand) will thank you for saving them time EQing your voice – and you’ll know that you’re getting the best possible sound.

Live Sound 101: Wireless In-Ear Monitors

I’ve just completed an email response to one of our clients, who had asked me for recommendations and information about In-Ear Monitor (IEM) systems. Just as I was hitting send I thought I would share my response on the blog – as we must have been asked this question a dozen times.
I owe thanks to Kim at Let’s Make You Rock for her depth of knowledge on this subject!

Live Sound 101: Wireless In-Ear Monitors

Wireless IEMs can be a dark, murky world, so here are our top picks:
Gear4Music have a basic, own-brand IEM set. It’s good value for money, but they’re unlicensed frequencies so you can only run 4 mics/IEMs legally. (Remember that includes any RF the venue or other bands in the vicinity might be using!) With cheaper RF kit it’s a good idea to place the transmitters at the stage end, close to the relevant receivers.
You may also get frequency interference and there’s very little you can do about it. However, on the plus side – they’re really very cheap!

The next step up is the LD Systems MEI1000G2*. They’re still on the unlicensed frequencies – and you’ll still only fit 4 wireless items in the available bandwidth – but you have control of which frequency to use, which is better for solving interference issues.
It’s a step up in price, but for that increased spend you get higher sound quality, and the product doesn’t look like it’s just been manufactured on your Uncle’s 3D printer.

After this step you’re into professional territory, the big players being Shure and Sennheiser.

Most of the function bands we work with are using the Shure PSM200 units. These are channel 38 (so you need a license) which means you can plot them wherever you want to, and you can use as many transmitters/receivers as you can physically fit on the RF spectrum.
You get much better quality earphones, the transmitter/receivers are really built to last, and you can use these sets at any pro event or tour throughout the UK.

Finally, the “mutt’s nutts” are Sennheiser G3, as used by Beyonce, Jamiroquai, Rihanna, and many more.
Again they’re on the professional, licensed channel 38, they have really good quality earpieces, they’re incredibly robust (both in terms of wireless connectivity and build quality), and you’ll never need to upgrade.
They are, of course, the most expensive set – but they’re practically bullet-proof.

Shure 215 IEM

Other important considerations:

Firstly, you have to think whether everybody actually needs wireless IEM.
Vocalists and horn players need to hear themselves well to pitch correctly, so it’s no-brainer for them – and if their mics are wireless too, they can be almost anywhere in the venue.

However, drummers and keys players are likely to be rooted in one spot all night, and a cleaner solution for them is a small desk or headphone amp* and a decent set of wired-in headphones. This can be fed from a aux so they still have their own mix setup, but without all the RF issues.

Secondly – and many people think this makes the biggest difference of all – think hard about the earpieces. You’re better off with custom molded earpieces and the LD Systems RF, than with the top-of-the-range Sennheiser G3 and the cheap “one size fits none” earpieces that come with that set.

In terms of earpieces, I’ve had a perfectly good time using VT600 series for vocals, however their frequency range is limited, and when you step up the ladder I can recommend the Shure 215s* and, at the real high-end, ACS custom molds.

Live Sound 101 is a new series of posts from Clear and Loud, based on simple issues we’ve been asked to solve in the past. If there are any topics you’d like to cover, please let us know!

(*) From time to time our articles will contain Amazon affiliate links to products that we recommend.
These links are marked, and help us to continue sharing our knowledge on this blog.
Every product we recommend has been used, tested, and – most importantly – loved by our engineers.

Tuesday Tip: Get Out Of The Way!

During the setup of a gig, and especially on changeover between soundchecks, there’s a lot of equipment and a lot of people onstage. It’s really easy for this to get stressful and slow everybody down, tripping over each other.

Live Sound Tip: Get Out Of The Way

In my experience running stages for events large and small – the easiest thing is for everyone to get out of each others’ way.
Smart drummers will get to the gig early and set up their kit (on the “drum mat… you have one of those right?(*)) first, then they’re done – and can chill out while 3 guitarists fight over whose 1960a 4×10 is getting shared throughout the night.
Anybody with pedals will obviously need more time to set up, as will laptop setups, etc. etc. – and singers tend to stand front & centre until the exact moment they’re asked to do a linecheck, at which point they’ll go for a cigarette.
However, jokes aside – let the band get themselves set up onstage (with reminders that you’re on a schedule if necessary), give them the space to do it, and then ask to have the stage for 5 minutes while you whizz round and mic/cable everything together.
Usually the band will thank you, as they can go to the bar or talk to girls while you do all the techy stuff in a swift, efficient manner.

(*) From time to time our articles will contain Amazon affiliate links to products that we recommend.
These links are marked, and help us to continue sharing our knowledge on this blog.
Every product we recommend has been used, tested, and – most importantly – loved by our engineers.

Live Sound 101: Running a Soundcheck

One of the first indicators of an engineer’s skill level is their approach to running a soundcheck. As with everything, a pro engineer will have a system. A soundcheck usually happen in reverse order – that is, the headline band goes first and takes the most time so that they’re happy, then everybody else comes and sets their equipment up in front of the headliner, tweaking anything that they need to be different from the headline’s settings.
That way, the last band to soundcheck is the first band to play – and their settings are ready to use. Each band takes their backline offstage with them, eventually leaving the headliner’s equipment where they left it.

Live Sound 101: Running A Soundcheck

Setup

To recap our article on getting started, let’s assume you’ve already done a number of things:
1) Set the PA correctly for the room
2) Powered up your equipment in the correct order (desk first, then outboard equipment, racks, and finally speakers)
3) Checked the sound through the FOH system and monitors
4) Set up your mics as necessary onstage

Linecheck

Go through channel by channel, raise the gain and check each source in headphones. Once you have a signal in headphones, slowly bring up the fader until you hear enough of each channel in the main PA. Each sound source may need a little help with EQ, to cut away the cluttered, “fighting” frequencies, and bring out the best characteristics on each instrument. EQ is both a science and an art, and this is definitely an area that takes some knowledge, and a lot of practice.

Setting Levels

All being well with the equipment, you’re now ready for the band to run through a song, so that you can set the instrument levels relevant to one another.
Remember that what you’re doing is sound reinforcement – try not to deafen everyone in the room! I find a good rule of thumb is to set your vocal slightly louder than the loudest acoustic sound (usually the snare drum), and bring everything else in around that. This often means asking/telling/forcing the guitar player to turn down.

Monitors

Once everything’s at the right level in FOH, ask the band if there’s anything they can’t hear onstage. They’ll usually want vocals, and some musicians will also want to hear more of themselves. When you and the band are both happy, write down or photograph your settings (on an analogue desk) or save your scene (on a digital board).

This “mix” is then to be treated as a starting point – everything changes in live sound, and a good mix engineer is constantly adjusting their levels to compensate for what’s happening onstage, to smooth out level changes, react to differing sound levels reaching the mics, and bring focus to the most important instruments at any given time.

Support Bands

If you have the luxury of a digital mixer, you can save a “scene” for each band, whose settings will then be recalled exactly as you left them, meaning that the support bands can ask for whatever changes they like. However in many situations you may be limited by the channels available, the equipment you’re using, and – almost always – time.
The easiest thing to do is to start with the headliner’s mix and simply change anything that jumps out – usually vocal EQ, and sometimes levels of backline/guitars – but the basic drum mix, effects, and initial levels can often be left in place throughout the night.
The idea of a soundcheck is to discover and solve any issues you may have, to avoid issues during the show. Make sure the bands are happy with their sound onstage, as musicians often won’t ask for changes during the show and then you’ll hear negative comments long after they’ve left the stage!

Live Sound 101 is a new series of posts from Clear and Loud, based on simple issues we’ve been asked to solve in the past. If there are any topics you’d like to cover, please let us know!

Tuesday Tip: Turn the Guitar Amp Down

It’s a running joke in the live sound world, but lead guitarists often suffer from “LG syndrome”, which involves turning the amp up throughout the soundcheck or gig, resulting in the singer not being heard. You will get mum, dad, managers, and punters all shouting “turn the singer up!” at you – when the issue is often too much guitar.

Live Sound Tip: Turn the Guitar Amp Down

Somewhat obviously, all the mics onstage will pick up whatever’s in front of them, so if you’ve got a quiet singer, a loud drummer, and a guitarist who turns themselves up to match, you’re in trouble. The more you turn the vocal mic up, the more guitar and cymbals you get through the PA.
The solution: Turn the backline down! Often, the guitarist can’t hear themselves because their amp is on the floor and – news flash! – their ears are not in the back of their knees. Raising the amp on an amp stand, or (more rock ‘n’ roll) a flightcase will help. If that’s not possible, rocking the amp back so the speaker points to the guitarists’ ears may do the trick (amps like the Fender Twin have built-in supports for this reason).
Turning the amps so they’re angled towards the player and away from the audience/FOH, moving the lead singer so they’re further from the amp, or snare drum, or other offending stage noise, can all help keep onstage noise away from the mics – so when you raise the singer’s mic, you’re only raising the vocal.

Tuesday Tip: Tuning the PA

Live Sound Tip: Tuning the PA

The previous Live Sound Tips have been very basic, and that’s an important place to start. However I’d like to share more of an “intermediate” tip today, inspired by this post on Izotope – 5 Songs That Are Brilliantly Mixed and Mastered. Today’s trick is – tuning the system (sometimes referred to as ‘tuning the room’).

Most systems other than very basic “speakers on poles” will have a Graphic EQ for Front-of-House. Once you’ve eliminated problem frequencies, you can use a Graphic EQ to make the system sound the way you’d like it to. But what are you aiming for? And how is that achieved? The best answer is to take songs that you know really, really well – and play them through the PA. Walk around the room, see if there’s anything jumping out that usually doesn’t sound that way, or anything missing in the track.

The song choice is up to – as long as it’s high quality, well produced and preferably low distortion.(The Beatles, for example, won’t work – the vocal only comes out of one speaker and the bass is covered in tape saturation!)
A very popular choice is anything by Steely Dan – or their singer Donald Fagen. So make yourself a playlist (not with mp3s!), listen to it on every set of headphones or speakers you own, and learn how it sounds on all of them. Your ears will thank you, and hopefully – so will the clients you’re mixing for!

Tuesday Tip: Follow the signal flow

Every engineer has been there – the PA is set up and checked, the band or client are ready to speak, you get a thumbs up, the lights go up, you raise the faders and… Nothing happens. Not a sound. Obviously this is your fault, either you are an idiot or the microphone is rubbish, or broken, or any number of other alternatives.
More likely is that something very simple has gone wrong. So while most people would frantically unplug things or start pressing random buttons on the desk, mics, or speakers, it pays to take a more measured approach.

Live Sound Tip: Follow the signal flow

The simplest thing to do is to follow the signal flow, check everything in order, and you’ll quickly find your issue. You can think of signal flow through a desk like the flow of water in a plumbing system. You have the source (inlet), in our case usually a microphone, and the signal then flows through various valves or taps, before reaching its destination (the speakers). On an analogue desk this is laid out top-to-bottom. On a digital desks, the layout may be different – but the process is identical.
First check the microphone – PFL(pre-fade listen) in headphones – is your signal coming into the desk? If your mic has a switch, make sure it’s on. If you’re using wireless you can see the input on the receiver, which will tell you whether the mic is sending an output. Does your mic need +48v phantom power? Once you have signal into the desk, check the routing. Is the channel sent to the correct output? Is the fader up? Is the mute switch on? Are your master faders turned up? Is the system turned on? Has somebody unplugged your speakers since you checked them (not unheard of!). Follow the signal from source to output, and you’ll soon find your problem.

Live Sound 101: Getting Started

A couple of weeks ago, we were asked to provide training at one of the venues we consult with. They have an Allen Heath QU-24 (*) – with specific quirks (if in doubt RTFM), but we’d like to share the basics of the training session below, in the first of our Live Sound 101 articles.

Live Sound 101: Getting Started

Start with the basics

You might be working on a very small system (two powered speakers and a small mixer, perhaps), or something bigger and more complicated – in either case, start with the basics. Make sure your stage is set with enough space for the performers – that usually means 2m x 2m for the drum kit (if you have a drum mat from Protection Racket or similar, this is easy to check), and space in front for a singer or two to move around. In a lot of small venues you’ll be limited by space, so the drums don’t necessarily have to go in the middle – but give the drummer some space!
Next make sure your speakers are in the right place. Your main (front of house or FOH) speakers need to be in front of the microphones, otherwise you’ll get feedback (we’ll deal with that in more depth in a later article). If you’re on a very small stage, and you need to put the speaker stands offstage, then do it. Monitor speakers (the wedge ones that go onstage), can go anywhere that the artist can hear them – although it’s a good idea to shield them from the mics as much as possible.
Lastly – make sure that all the relevant equipment has power going to it. I’m always surprised how many engineers I see running about during the soundcheck trying to find another extension cable.
We always put the power cables in each speaker as soon as they’re set up, then you can easily see how many sockets are needed in each location. Run the neccessary extensions (and spread the load between as many outlets as you have available), and provide an extra couple of 4-gang extensions for the band’s amps and pedals.

Follow a simple process

Your process will vary according to the band, the venue, the PA rig, and personal preference – but it’s always best to have a simple system. Here is ours:
First make sure the speakers are working and that everything is routed correctly. The best way to do this is with an iPod or similar music source, so you’re not hunting down any issues with the band breathing down your neck!
Firstly, bring the music into the desk and check it in headphones, then bring up the two master faders and check the volume is at the level you’d expect it to be. It’s also worth panning left & right to make sure you haven’t cabled in backwards (again, a small mistake and it’s easily done!).
Next check the monitors; if you’re using more than one mix, check they’re coming out of the correct speakers. 9 times out of 10 everything will be fine – but if it’s not then you want to find out well before the band soundcheck.
Finally, once the FOH and monitor speakers are sounding good (for slightly more advanced readers this is where you set up your graphic EQ!), set up your mics and cable in. We suggest plugging in the desk (or stagebox) first, then running to the mic. That way your excess cable is distributed around the stage and you can easily move the mics if needed – run the other way and all the excess creates a mess at the desk end and the singer is stuck with whatever length of cable you’ve chosen to give them. We also avoid doing more than one wrap of cable around the stand. It’s nightmare when somebody wants to take their mic off the stand – and if they pull on it you can easily break cables.

One thing at a time

Go through channel by channel, raise the gain and check each source in headphones. I think of gain like shining a torch from the mic – not enough gain and you won’t hear anything but as you increase the gain, the mic “sees” a much wider view of what’s in front of it. You want a healthy sound level, but you don’t want to hear cymbals in your vocal mic, or bass in your guitar mic! You may need phantom power (+48v) on some DI boxes and condenser mics. Most desks have +48v on each channel, but some older/cheaper analogue boards have one switch that sends +48v to all mic (XLR) inputs(“global phantom power). Be careful as phantom power can damage some sensitive mics such as ribbon types (but you probably won’t be using those live anyway!) – and it’s not good for your iPhone either.

Preparation for the next gig

The packdown from one gig is the preparation for the next gig. Done right, it will make the next gig much easier! All your equipment should have a home (in the venue or in road cases), analogue desks will need to be zero’d (returned to “flat settings”) for the next person, and all cables should be neatly wrapped (and not around your elbow!). Anything that has broken during the show should be clearly marked and handed to whoever does your maintenance.

Live Sound 101 is a new series of posts from Clear and Loud, based on simple issues we’ve been asked to solve in the past. If there are any topics you’d like to cover, please let us know!
(*) From time to time our articles will contain Amazon affiliate links to products that we recommend.
These links are marked, and help us to continue sharing our knowledge on this blog.
Every product we recommend has been used, tested, and – most importantly – loved by our engineers.

Tuesday Tip: Keep It Simple Stupid

Live Sound Tip: Keep It Simple Stupid

Disasters happen. Electrical failure cuts your setup time in half. The event runs late and you’re still expected to get your portion onstage on time. The desk you requested isn’t available, or breaks last minute.

You don’t know the room, you don’t know the band, you’re not using your system. Whenever you’re thrown a curveball, remember: Keep It Simple Stupid!

With a short lead-in time to the show and very little soundcheck, you can always go back to basics.

In those situations, I forget everything I like to do with VCA groups, parallel compression, delay effects, and multiple reverbs. My aim is to set the levels, bring out the lyrics in the vocal, and have all the instruments sit together.

No matter how complex your mix could be, it’s worth remembering the basics. And if that’s what it takes to make a gig happen, that’s all you need to do.

New Tombola TV Advert

We recently provided PA and lighting for our friends in top function band Groove Allstars, when they were asked to perform as part of a shoot for Tombola’s new TV ad, to be shown across the UK.