Tag Archives: Monitors

The Power Of The Solo Bus

It’s very handy to be able to pick part of a signal path and route that sound directly to your head.

Please Remember:

The opinions expressed are mine only. These opinions do not necessarily reflect anybody else’s opinions. I do not own, operate, manage, or represent any band, venue, or company that I talk about, unless explicitly noted.

headphonesWant to use this image for something else? Great! Click it for the link to a high-res or resolution-independent version.

The Video

The Summary

Need to figure out which channel is making that weird noise in the midst of the chaos of a show? Wondering whether your drum mics have been switched around? Wish you could directly hear the signal running to the monitor mix that’s giving people fits? Your solo bus is here to save the day!


Case Study: FX When FOH Is Also Monitor World

Two reverbs can help you square certain circles.

Please Remember:

The opinions expressed are mine only. These opinions do not necessarily reflect anybody else’s opinions. I do not own, operate, manage, or represent any band, venue, or company that I talk about, unless explicitly noted.

Want to use this image for something else? Great! Click it for the link to a high-res or resolution-independent version.

The Video

The Script

Let’s say that a band has a new mixing console – one of those “digital rigs in a box” that have come on the scene. The musicians call you in because they need some help getting their monitors dialed up. At some point, the players ask for effects in the monitors: The vocals are too dry, and some reverb would be nice.

So, you crank up an FX send with a reverb inserted on the appropriate bus – and nothing happens.

You then remember that this is meant to be a basic setup, with one console handling both FOH and monitors. Your inputs from the band use pre-fader sends for monitor world, but post-fader sends for FX. Since you weren’t building a mix for FOH, all your faders were all the way down. You don’t know where they would be for a real FOH mix, anyway. If the faders are down, a post-fader send can’t get any signal to an FX bus.

Now, you typically don’t want the monitors to track every level tweak made for FOH, but you DO want the FX sends to be dependent on fader position – otherwise, the “wet-to-dry” ratio would change with every fader adjustment.

So, what do you do?

You can square the circle if you can change the pre/ post send configuration to the FX buses, AND if you can also have two reverbs.

Reverb One becomes the monitor reverb. The sends to that reverb are configured to be pre-fader, so that you don’t have to guess at a fader level. The sends from the reverb return channel should also be pre-fader, so that the monitor reverb doesn’t end up in the main mix.

Reverb Two is then setup to be the FOH reverb. The sends to this reverb from the channels are configured as post-fader. Reverb Two, unlike Reberb One, should have output that’s dependent on the channel fader position. Reverb Two is, of course, kept out of the monitor mixes.

With a setup like this, you don’t need to know the FOH mix in advance in order to dial up FX in the monitors. There is the small downside of having to chew up two FX processors, but that’s not a huge problem if it means getting the players what they need for the best performance.


Monitor World – Is “More” Better?

Often, the answer is “nope.”

Please Remember:

The opinions expressed are mine only. These opinions do not necessarily reflect anybody else’s opinions. I do not own, operate, manage, or represent any band, venue, or company that I talk about, unless explicitly noted.

Want to use this image for something else? Great! Click it for the link to a high-res or resolution-independent version.

Monitor world is a PA system, just like FOH is a PA system. The only difference is that monitor world handles a few very small audiences, and FOH usually deals with one comparatively large audience. All the helpful AND problematic physics considerations are the same.

This being the case, the stage is yet another place where simply piling up more and more boxes (all doing the same thing) to get “more” can be counterproductive. A vocalist wants more vocal, but their monitor is already doing everything it can, so you add another box. Does it look impressive? Yes! Is it louder? Yes! Is it better?

Yea- er…well…wait a second…

What you very well might end up with is a different set of issues. If the singer isn’t precisely situated between the wedges, the wedge outputs arrive at different times. This means that all kinds of destructive phase weirdness might be happening, and that can lead to intelligibility issues. The vocal range is very easy to louse up with time-arrival differences, and a sensation of “garble” can lead to a player wanting even MORE monitor level in compensation. In that instance, you haven’t actually gotten anywhere; Monitor world is louder, but it’s not any easier to hear in the information-processing sense. You also have greater effective loop-gain with that extra volume rocketing around, which destabilizes your system.

Plus, the low-frequency information still does combine well, which can lead to a troublesome buildup of mud. This goes double for everybody who’s off-axis (and that’s probably just about everybody who isn’t the intended audience of those wedges). That makes them want their own mixes to be hotter, which compounds all your problems even more.

And, of course, there’s even more bleed into FOH.

The brutal reality is that, for any single sound that a given player needs to hear, that signal will always sound better coming from a single box that “can get loud enough.” More wedges (all producing the same output) can only combine less and less coherently as you add more of them.

“But, Danny,” you protest, “you’ve done dual wedges for people. You’ve even rolled out some really excessive deployments, like the one in the article picture. Who are you to tell folks not to do that kind of thing?”

Fair point! In response:

1) It’s because I’ve tried some strange monitor solutions that I can say they weren’t necessarily improvements over simpler approaches.

2) Sometimes you do things that look cool, accepting that you’ll have to deal with some sonic downsides as a result.

3) Just because you’ve piled up a bunch of wedges, it doesn’t require you to put the exact same thing through each enclosure. Somebody might have two boxes in front of them, but one might be for vocals only and the other for instruments only.

With some bands, especially those who are naturally well balanced and don’t need a ton of monitor gain, the extra fun-factor and volume bump can trade off favorably with the coherence foibles. As the rest of this article indicates, yes, I am in the camp that says that a single box will always “measure better.” However, there’s more to life than just “measuring better.” If you have some room to compromise, you can be a little weird without hurting anything too badly.

Audio is an exercise in compromise. If you know what the compromise factors are, you can make an informed judgement. If you know that throwing a bunch of boxes at a problem might cause you other problems, then you’ve got more knowledge available to help you make the right decision for a fix.


Monitor-World Is Not A Junior-Level Position

Mixing monitors is a mission-critical task, not an “add-on” to FOH.

Please Remember:

The opinions expressed are mine only. These opinions do not necessarily reflect anybody else’s opinions. I do not own, operate, manage, or represent any band, venue, or company that I talk about, unless explicitly noted.

Want to use this image for something else? Great! Click it for the link to a high-res or resolution-independent version.

Worrying about Front Of House (FOH) doesn’t keep me up at night. Monitor-world, on the other hand…

It’s not just because an issue at FOH is much easier to hear, and thus much easier to correct swiftly and in detail. (Although that’s part of it.) It’s not just because midstream communication regarding monitor needs is difficult – exponentially so as the detail-level of a request rises. (Although that’s part of it, too.)

It’s because getting the monitors right is absolutely crucial to a successful show. If monitor-world isn’t doing its best, the musicians won’t be able to do their best, and if they can’t do their best, the most stupenfuciously awesome-sauce FOH mix will be a mix of musicians WHO ARE STRUGGLING. I don’t want to be forced to choose, but if I am compelled, I will take incredible monitors and mediocre FOH without hesitation.

Every day of the week.

And twice on Sunday.

Yet, for some reason, there has been a tendency to elevate the FOH audio human’s position above that of the monitor engineer. It’s as if there are two species of noise louderizer in the world, Homo Sapiens Mixus Audienceus and Homo Sapiens Musicius Keepem-Happyus, with the latter being an underdeveloped version of the former. Well, that’s a load of droppings from an angry, male cow if ever there was such a thing.

For FOH, you basically mix one show, a show that, as I mentioned, you yourself hear in detail. You generally get to make decisions unilaterally, and your path to those decisions is through your own interpretation of your hearing.

In contrast, monitor-world is the mixing of many shows to multiple audiences of one (sometimes eight or more). Those shows may have wildly different needs, and with wedges, each show bleeds into and heavily influences all the other shows. There may be a subtle detail that’s driving somebody crazy which is difficult for the operator to hear. Every significant choice has to filtered through the interpretation of another person, and nuanced communication is anywhere from challenging to outright impossible. At any given moment, you have to keep some sort of mental map about what’s going where, and also about what was recently changed (in case a problem suddenly crops up). Modifications have to be made swiftly and smoothly, and if you make a mistake, you have to be able to backtrack surgically. Panic is lethal.

To crib from The Barking Road Dog, mixing rock-and-roll monitors in realtime is not a skill possessed by a large number of people involved in the noise louderization profession.

…and then, there’s the gear side. It’s not uncommon to hear of a smaller audio provider upgrading a “point-and-shoot” FOH rig, with the old boxes being “demoted” to monitor duty. This sometimes happens by default or necessity. It’s certainly the reality in my case. But to do that intentionally doesn’t make sense to me. The boxes where being laser-flat across the audible spectrum helps stave off disaster? The boxes that have to stay “hospital clean” at high volume? The boxes that have to be able to produce large, uncompressed peaks, so that performers can “track” their own output? Those boxes are needed in monitor-land! (Seriously, if I ever get my hands on a bunch of disposable income, I’m going to bring my monitor rig UP to parity with my FOH system.)

So, no. Monitor-world is not for the intern or second-banana. The person running it is not a “junior” or “second” engineer. The gear is not the stuff that couldn’t cut the mustard at FOH.

What happens on deck is the bedrock, THE crucial and critical foundation for the show as a whole. It should be treated as such at all times.


A Monitor Layout For A Rock Show

Sometimes you’re thinking about audio, and sometimes not.

Please Remember:

The opinions expressed are mine only. These opinions do not necessarily reflect anybody else’s opinions. I do not own, operate, manage, or represent any band, venue, or company that I talk about, unless explicitly noted.

monitorsWant to use this image for something else? Great! Click it for the link to a high-res or resolution-independent version.

The picture attached to this article is an important reference point for the text. What you’re looking at is a scale drawing of the stage and monitor rig for the Sons Of Nothing: Clarity 10th Anniversary show.

So…why did it all end up like that?

The first thing that drives monitor placement is the stage layout – or, more precisely, where the actual players are going to be. In general, what we want to do with wedges comes down to one, simple rule: We want the loudspeaker output to hit whoever is supposed to be listening to it, while hitting as little of anything else as possible.

Of course, that rule gets bent (or simply taken outside and used for target practice with heavy artillery and wiffle bats) for various reasons, but it’s the starting point.

Down front, the plan was to have up to three people in play at any given moment. A guitarist downstage right, a solo vocal or solo guitar downstage right center, and a bassist parked down center. The down left riser was a dedicated space for a separate “keys and guitar” world. Center right was to be the land of woodwinds.

Upstage was split because of a need to run video. Sons Of Nothing uses projection as a key part of the concert, and in this case, front-projection was the order of the day. That meant that we needed a clear shot for the projector to fire “through” the band and onto the back wall. To get that open space, we put the drum riser off to the stage right side, and the backup-vocal riser went the opposite way.


Now, with the rule that I stated above, the natural inclination would be to always get a loudspeaker delivering a foldback mix as close to the players as could be physically managed. That’s not a bad rule of thumb. In fact, that’s a huge advantage of in-ears; You get to put the monitors so close to the player that they are partially inside their head, and only deliver usable output to that musician.

But an important realization is that live-sound is not actually about the best sound, as divorced from everything else. Rather, what we’re trying to do is create the best show, which is a holistic exercise.

Hence, the three downstage wedges were set on the floor, rather than up on the deck. The difference in distance was negligible, but a couple of very nice advantages were gained. Advantage 1 was that the loudspeakers no longer had as much physical contact with the riser, so they didn’t transfer as much vibration to the stage. Advantage 2 was that rather more of the main riser was available for actual people and the things they need to have to play well – like guitar-effect pedal boards.

A natural tendency is to set a player’s wedge such that it’s centered in front of them. In most circumstances, this is a reasonable idea. With a mono mix, most people like getting the output into both ears equally. There’s a problem, though, when keyboards enter into the equation. Physically, they’re pretty big and solid, and thus are very good at blocking the oh-so-critical “intelligibility frequencies” from a loudspeaker. Plus, keyboards can’t hear. It’s waste of output to fire a wedge into the bottom of a keys setup.

That’s why the keys wedge is off to the side. That placement allowed the sound from the drivers to have a clearer path to an actual human ear. A big help with making that placement work was the use of supercardioid-pattern microphones. Their pickup null points are at an angle to the rear of the mic (rather than straight back) and they have a tighter pattern in general. That helps significantly in being able to get enough output from a box that’s coming in from a diagonal. (With supercardioids and a monitor directly in front of the player, having the mic parallel with the floor helps to get that wedge firing into the least sensitive areas of the pattern.)

I would have liked to have put the keys wedge on the floor, but I was worried that the necessary distance for a good angle would be too much of a tradeoff.


Talking about the upstage folks, it might seem a bit weird that the backup-vocal wedge was set so that the riser partially blocked its output. There is an explanation though. First, I was concerned about chewing up real-estate on that platform, because there wasn’t much to go around. Second, some blockage from the riser was actually helpful. Plenty of sound that needed to get to the vocalists’ ears could still get there, with “splash” from the back wall mostly heading up into the acoustically treated ceiling. If the wedge had been up on the riser with the singers, there would have been a lot more spatter in general, and a lot of those reflections might have headed directly for the vocal mic in keyboard land.

The drumfill was an exercise in compromise. From a purely audio-centric perspective, it would probably have been best to to put things on the stage-left side of the drummer, with the full-range wedge off the sub and pointed upwards. The backup vocalists wouldn’t get blasted with the drummer’s monitor mix, and excess spill would go up into the ceiling. Unfortunately, logistics got in the way of this. Most of the square-footage on the drum riser was needed for…you know…drums, and so the “idealized” drumfill setup was too greedy for space. It also would have made it very hard, or maybe even impossible for the percussionist to enter from stage left as was planned. Stacking the drumfill on the left would have blocked the video.

So, a tall stack on the up-right corner was the solution.


One bit that I haven’t yet discussed is that lonely subwoofer that’s just upstage of center. What the heck is that?

Well, remember that down-center was the bass-player’s territory. As an additional wrinkle, no bass backline was brought in, except for a wireless rig. Such being the case, we needed to ensure that adequate low-end was produced for the folks on stage. Sonically, it would have been better to push the subwoofer downstage a bit (to reduce the time-arrival difference between the low-frequency information and everything else), but it seemed more important overall that it just not be in the way. So, I set the box flush with the drum riser, dialed the internal crossover for about 90 – 100 Hz, pulled the high-pass output to the down-center wedge, and the bassist ended up with a triamped monitor rig that could make some rumble without being run hard.

As far as I could tell, the overall setup was a success. Now, if only the woodwinds monitor hadn’t become unplugged at an unhelpful time…


The Pros And Cons Of Distributed Monitor Mixing

It’s very neat when it works, but it’s not all sunshine, lollipops, and rainbows.

Please Remember:

The opinions expressed are mine only. These opinions do not necessarily reflect anybody else’s opinions. I do not own, operate, manage, or represent any band, venue, or company that I talk about, unless explicitly noted.

powerplayWant to use this image for something else? Great! Click it for the link to a high-res or resolution-independent version.

Along with folks who rock the bars and clubs, I also work with musicians who rock for church. Just a few months ago, as City Presbyterian’s worship group was expanding (and needing more help with monitoring), I decided to put the players on a distributed monitor-mix system. What I mean by a “distributed” system is that the mix handling is decentralized. Each musician gets their own mini-mixer, which they use to “run their own show.”

The experience so far has been basically a success, with some minor caveats. The following is a summary of both my direct observations and theoretical musings regarding this particular monitoring solution.


Pro: In-Ear Monitors Become Much Easier For The Engineer

One downside to in-ears is that the isolation tends to require that everyone get a finely tuned mix of many channels. This is especially true when you’re running a quiet stage, where monitor world is required to hear much of anything. What this mandates is a lot of work on behalf of each individual performer, with the workload falling squarely on the shoulders of the audio human.

Distributed monitor mixing takes almost all of the workload off the sound operator, by placing the bulk of the decision making and execution in the hands of individual players. If the lead guitarist wants more backup vocals, they just select the appropriate channel and twist the knob. If they want the tonality of a channel altered, they can futz with it to their heart’s content. Meanwhile, the person driving the console simply continues to work on whatever they were working on, without giving much thought to monitor world.

Con: Monitors Become Harder For The Player

Much like effort and preparation, complexity for the operation of a given system can neither be created nor destroyed. It can only be transferred around. A very, very important thing to remember about distributed monitor mixing is this: You have just taken a great deal of the management and technical complexity involved in mixing monitors, and handed it to someone who may not be prepared for it. Operating a mix-rig in a high-performance, realtime situation is not a trivial task, and it takes a LOT of practice to get good at it. To be sure, a distributed approach simplifies certain things (especially when in-ears essentially delete feedback from the equation), but an inescapable reality is that it also exposes a lot of complexity that the players may have had hidden from them before. Things like sensible gain staging and checking for sane limiter settings are not necessarily instinctual, and may not be a part of a musician’s technical repertoire on the first day.

Also, as the engineer, you can’t just plug in each player’s mixer and mentally check out. You MUST have some concept of how the mixers work, so that you can effectively support your musicians. Read the manual, plug in one of the units, and turn the knobs. Personal mixers may be operated by individual players, but they really are part of the reinforcement rig – and thus, the crew is responsible for at least having some clue about how to wield them.

Pro: You Don’t Necessarily Have To Use In-Ears

I have yet to encounter a personal-mix system that didn’t include some sort of “plain vanilla” line output. If the musicians want to drive a powered wedge (or an amplifier for a passive wedge) with their mixer, they can.

Con: Not Using In-Ears May Cause Trouble

As I said before, mixing in a high-performance situation isn’t an easy thing that humans are naturally prepared to do. Life gets even more hairy in a “closed-loop” situation – i.e., onstage monitoring with mics and loudspeakers. A musician may dial their piece of monitor world (at a bare minimum) into SCREAMING feedback without realizing their danger. They may not recognize how to get themselves out of the conundrum.

And, depending on how your system works, the audio human may not be able to “right the ship” from the mix position.

Even if they don’t get themselves swallowed by a feedback monster, a player can also run their mix so loud that they’re drowning everybody else, including the Front Of House mix…

Pro: Integrated Ecosystems Are Powerful And Easy

As more digital console “ecosystems” come online, adding distributed mixing is becoming incredibly easy. For instance, Behringer’s digital Powerplay products plug right into Ultranet with almost zero fuss. If your console has Ultranet built-in, you don’t have to worry about tapping inserts or direct outs. You just run a Cat5/ Cat6 cable to a distribution module, the module sends data and power over the other Cat5/6 runs, and everything just tends to work.

Con: Once You’ve Picked Your Ecosystem, You’ll Have To Stay There

Integrated digital audio ecosystems make things easy, but they tend to only play nice within the same extended family of products. You can’t run an Ultranet product on an Aviom monitor-distro network, for instance. More universal options do exist, but the universality tends to come with a large price premium. Whenever you go a certain way with a system of personal mixers, you’re making a big commitment. The jump to a different product family may be difficult to do…or just a flat-out expensive replacement, depending upon the system flexibility.

Pro: Everybody Can Have Their Own Mixer

Distributed mixing can be a way to banish all monitor-mix sharing for good. Everybody in the band can not only have their own mix, but their own channel equalization as well. If the guitar player wants the bass to sound one way, and the bass player wants the bass to sound totally different, that option is now very viable. Each musician can build intricate presets inside their own piece of hardware, without necessarily having to consult with anyone else.

Con: Everybody Having Their Own Mixer Is Expensive

Expensive is a relative term, of course. With a Powerplay system, outfitting a five-piece band is about as expensive as buying a couple-three “pretty dang nice,” powered monitor wedges. Other systems involve a lot more money, however. Also, even with an affordable product-line, adding a new member to the band means the expense of adding another personal mixer and attendant accessories.

Pro: Personal Mixing Is Luxurious

When we deployed our distributed system, one of the comments I got was “This is what we’ve always wanted, but couldn’t have. It should always have worked this way.” Everybody getting their own personal, instantly customizable mix is a “big league” sort of setup that is now firmly within reach for almost any band. Under the right circumstances, moving the on-deck show into the right place can transform from a slog to a joy.

Con: Not Everybody May Buy In To The Idea

The adoption of a distributed monitor mixing system is like all personal monitoring: Personal. The problem is that you have to try it to find out if you want to deal with it or not. Unless someone categorically states at the outset that they want no part of individualized mixing, the money has to be spent to let them give it a whirl.

…and they may decide that it’s just not for them, with only 30 minutes of use on their mixer and the money already spent. You just have to be ready for this, and be prepared to treat it as a natural cost of the system. Forcing someone to use a monitoring solution that they dislike is highly counterproductive.

Distributed monitor mixing, like all live-audio solutions, is neither magic nor a panacea. It may be exactly the right choice for you, or it may be a terrible one. As with everything else, there’s homework to be done, and nobody can do it but you. One size does not fit all.


A Guided Tour Of Feedback

It’s all about the total gain from the microphone’s reference point.

Please Remember:

The opinions expressed are mine only. These opinions do not necessarily reflect anybody else’s opinions. I do not own, operate, manage, or represent any band, venue, or company that I talk about, unless explicitly noted.

smoothed-monitorsWant to use this image for something else? Great! Click it for the link to a high-res or resolution-independent version.

This site is mostly about live audio, and as such, I talk about feedback a lot. I’m used to the idea that everybody here has a pretty good idea of what it is.

But, every so often, I’ll do a consulting gig and be reminded that feedback can be a mysterious and unknown force. So, for those of you who are totally flummoxed by feedback monsters, this article exists for your specific benefit.

All Locations Harbor Dragons

The first thing to say is this: Any PA system with real mics on open channels, and in a real room, is experiencing feedback all the time. Always.

Feedback is not a phenomenon which appears and disappears. It may or may not be a problem at any particular moment in time. You may or may not be able to hear anything like it at a given instant. Even so, any PA system that is doing anything with a microphone is guaranteed to be in a feedback loop.

What matters, then, is the behavior of the signal running through that loop. If the signal is decaying into the noise floor before you can notice it, then you DO have feedback, but you DON’T have a feedback problem. If the signal is dropping slowly enough for you to notice some lingering effects, you are beginning to have a problem. If the signal through the feedback loop isn’t dropping at all, then you are definitely having a problem, and if the looped signal level is growing, you have a big problem that is only getting bigger.

Ouroboros

If every PA system is a dragon consuming its own tail – an ouroboros – then how does that self-consuming action take place?

It works like this:

1) A sound is made in the room.
2) At least one microphone converts that sound into electricity.
3) The electricity is passed through a signal chain.
4) At the end of the chain is the microphone’s counterpart, which is a loudspeaker.
5) The loudspeaker converts the signal into a sound in the room.
6) The sound in the room travels through direct and indirect paths to the same microphone(s) as above.
7) The new sound in the room, which is a reproduction of the original event, is converted into electricity.

The loop continues forever, or until the loop is broken in some way. The PA system continually plays a copy of a copy of a copy (etc) of the original sound.

How Much Is The Dragon Being Fed?

What ultimately determines whether or not your feedback dragon is manageable or not is the apparent gain from the microphone’s reference point.

Notice that I did NOT simply say “the gain applied to the microphone.”

The gain applied to the microphone certainly has a direct and immediate influence on the apparent gain from the mic’s frame of reference. If all other variables are held constant, then greater applied gain will reliably move you closer toward an audible feedback issue. Even so, the applied gain is not the final predictor of ringing, howling, screeching, or any other unkind noise.

What really matters is the apparent gain at the capsule(s).


Gain in “absolute” terms is a signal multiplier. A gain of 1, which may be referred to as “unity,” is when the signal level coming out of a system (or system part) is equal in level to the signal going in. A signal level X 1 is the same signal level. A gain of less than 1 (but more than zero) means that signal level drops across the in/ out junction, and a gain of greater than 1 indicates an increase in signal strength.

A gain multiplier of zero means a broken audio circuit. Gain multipliers of less than zero are inverted polarity, with the absolute value relative to 1 being what determines if the signal is of greater or lesser intensity.

Of course, audio humans are more used to gain expressed in decibels. A gain multiplier of 1 is 0 dB, where the input signal (the reference) is equal to the output. Gain multipliers greater than 1 have positive decibel values, and negative dB values are assigned to multipliers less than 1. “Negative infinity” gain is a multiplier of 0.


The apparent gain as referenced by the pertinent microphone(s) is what can also be referred to as “loop gain.” The more the reproduced sonic event “gets back into” the mic, the higher that loop gain appears to be. The loop gain is applied at every iteration through the loop, which each iteration taking some amount of time to occur. If the time for a sonic event to be reproduced and arrive back at the capsule is short, then feedback will build aggressively when the loop gain is positive, but also drop quickly when the loop gain is negative.

Loop gain, as you might expect, increases with greater electronic gain. It also increases as a mic’s polar pattern becomes wider, because the mic has greater sensitivity at any given arrival angle. Closer proximity to a source of reproduced sound also increases apparent gain, due to the apparent intensity of a sound source being higher at shorter distances. Greater room reflectivity is another source of higher loop gain; More of the reproduced sound is being redirected towards the capsule. Lastly, a frequency in phase with itself through the loop will have greater apparent gain than if it’s out of phase.

This is why it’s much, much harder to run monitor world in a small, “live” space than in a large, nicely damped space – or outside. It’s also why a large, reflective object (like a guitar) can suddenly put a system into feedback when all the angles become just right. The sound coming from the monitor hits the guitar, and then gets bounced directly into the most sensitive part of the mic’s polar pattern.

Dragon Taming

With all that on the table, then, how do you get control over such a wild beast?

Obviously, reducing the system’s drive level will help. Pulling the preamp or send level down until the loop gain becomes negative is very effective – and this is a big reason for bands to work WITH each other. Bands that avoid being “too loud for themselves” have fewer incidences of channels being run “hot.” Increasing the distance from the main PA to the microphones is also a good idea (within reason and practicality), as is an overall setup where the low-sensitivity areas of microphone polar patterns are pointed at any and all loudspeakers. In that same vein, using mics with tighter polar patterns can offer a major advantage, as long as the musicians can use those mics effectively. Adding heavy drape to a reflective room may be an option in some cases.

Of course, when all of that’s been done and you still need more level than your feedback monster will let you have, it’s probably time to break out the EQ.

Equalization can be effective with many feedback situations, due to loop gain commonly being notably NOT equal at all frequencies. In almost any situation that you will encounter in real-life, one frequency will end up having the highest loop gain at any particular moment. That frequency, then, will be the one that “rings.”

The utility of EQ is that you can reduce a system’s electronic gain in a selected bandwidth. Preamp levels, fader levels, and send levels are all full-bandwidth controls – but if only a small part of the audible spectrum is responsible for your troubles, it’s much better to address that problem specifically. Equalizers offering smaller bandwidths allow you to make cuts in problem areas without wrecking everything else. At the same time, very narrow filters can be hard to place effectively, and a change in phase over time can push a feedback frequency out of the filter’s effective area.

EQ as a feedback management device – like everything else – is an exercise in tradeoffs. You might be able to pull off some real “magic” in terms of system stability at high gain, but the mics might sound terrible afterwards. You can easily end up applying so many filters that reducing a full-bandwidth control’s level would do basically the same thing.

In general, doing as much as possible to tame your feedback dragon before the EQ gets involved is a very good idea. You can then use equalization to tamp down a couple of problem spots, and be ready to go.


The Story Of A Road Gig, Part 3

Commentary with pictures – or maybe it’s the other way around.

Please Remember:

The opinions expressed are mine only. These opinions do not necessarily reflect anybody else’s opinions. I do not own, operate, manage, or represent any band, venue, or company that I talk about, unless explicitly noted.

road-gig-3Want to use this image for something else? Great! Click it for the link to a high-res or resolution-independent version.
Rather than try to relate the entire story of this overnighter as a narrative, I’ve decided to take the approach of commenting on the various photos that were taken at the gig (or around the process of it). There are, amazingly, some shots where yours truly makes an appearance. Scotty of Eyes Open got ahold of my camera, and, well, there ya go.


X32 Cores

X32 Cores

While it’s not necessarily for the faint of heart, running surfaceless consoles can potentially save you money, weight, and some space. Consoles like this really hammer home what a digital mixer is: A whole lot of software running on specialized hardware. Delete the control hardware, and all the heavy-lifting for audio still remains.

Going surfaceless requires significant homework. You’ll have to get both your “mix brains” and their associated control devices (laptops, tablets, etc.) onto a network and talking to each other. An inexpensive wireless router is really all you need for this, but DO have a fallback option. Also, anything that doesn’t need to be wireless probably shouldn’t be, so use a wired connection to your control gear whenever you can. Ethernet cable is cheap, available almost everywhere, and pretty much stupid-proof.

And, for heaven’s sake, set up meaningful security on your wireless network. Nothing but your consoles and controllers should be connected to it.

I have two X32 cores for more than one reason. Reason #1 is to be able to have separate FOH and monitor worlds with full “first-class” channel counts – 32 inputs each. Reason #2 is that, if one console were to give up the ghost, I could fall back to its counterpart and keep going.

As much as is practical, build mix templates for your show before you leave. The ability to walk up to the show and “just go for it” without having to think through everything on the fly is a big help. Remember to do some meaningful tests on your setup to ensure that it works, and that you know how it works.

S16 Stageboxes

S16 Stageboxes

Digital stageboxes help you save space and weight by removing the need for a big, heavy, multicore trunk. The irony is that digital stageboxes are rather more expensive than their analog cousins. Your overall cost may be slightly reduced if you get a single unit with all the inputs and outputs you need, but you have to account for the risk of that unit dying on you. Using two boxes to do the job allows you to continue in some way if one of them stops cooperating.

Use the network cabling recommended by the manufacturer. If your digital snake system calls for shielded Cat5e with Ethercon connectors, that’s what you should use. There are plenty of stories out there of people who encountered…interesting results while using connectivity that was not up to spec. (At the same time, I’m not convinced that “super premium” is necessary. GLS Audio makes SSTP ethercon cables that seem pretty darn good, and clock-in at under $1.00/ foot.)

Remember to have spare cables for this high-speed, highly-mission-critical audio network you’re building.

Which One Is Which?

Which One Is Which?

Here we see a common, North-American noise-louderizer with a remote console control, he being somewhat perplexed by how the mix-bus order is now reversed due to his move from FOH to the stage.

Tablets And Monitors

Tablets And Monitors

I am brand new to the whole idea of walking up on deck with a remote, but let me tell you, it’s one of the greatest things since sliced bread. For your initial rough-in of monitor world, it’s downright beautiful to be able to put things together without any guesswork, or running back and forth to a console. Instead, you park yourself in front of a wedge, start dialing things up, and instantly hear the results of your changes. This means that you can actually pick up on the exact point where additional gain on a channel starts to get “weird.”

It’s also beautiful to have the remote when artists are actually on stage. Again, a lot of guesswork and disconnection simply goes away. You can talk to each other naturally, for a start. Even more important, though, is that you can actually hear what the musician is hearing. Problems with a mix don’t have to be described, as you can experience them directly for yourself. Finally, it’s a great bit of “politics;” Musicians who have often dealt with uncaring (or just absent) audio-humans now have one who’s really paying attention – and who’s also very much in the same boat as they are.

As was jokingly mentioned above, you do have to remember that your mix order may be “flipped.” If you numbered your mixes based on how you’re looking at things from FOH, walking up on deck now means that you’re seeing the mirror image.

When putting a system together, don’t be stingy with your monitor mixes. I’ve never regretted having more mixes and wedges available. As I’ve said before, and will probably say again, getting everyone happy on deck means a much better experience at FOH. A recipe for success really is making sure that a big piece of your budget goes to monitor world. Give those drummers “Texas headphones” (a drumfill) if at all possible. They tend to like it.

Scotty And McCrae

Scotty And McCrae

Scotty and McCrae were the guys who brought me out on the trip, and on a practical level, the show would NOT have happened without them. McCrae handled a lot of behind-the-scenes logistical elements in real time, making sure that things like shelter, power, and scheduling were actually working.

Scotty joined with McCrae to form my weekend stage crew. It was a little slice of heaven to work with those guys, because all I had to do was describe what I wanted to happen, and then wait a few minutes. The importance of such a crew, that has a can-do attitude and a real sense of humor, can NOT be overstated. I was able to deliver because (and only because) everybody else did their job.

(Also, a huge “Thank You” goes out to Bayley H. for running the event as a whole, for giving Scotty and me a place to sleep, and for chasing down one of those super-rad Honda generators for us. She was juggling about 80 things all weekend, one of those things being the music, and we were very well taken care of.)

Run!

Run!

Spooked by the sudden noise of a band getting comfortable on deck, a black-footed knob-turner (voluminus maximus) bolts for the safety of FOH.

FOH

FOH
FOH 2

I put FOH control on top of the console case, with monitor world off to the side. The laptops are different colors so that I can tell them apart easily when unpacking them. The trackballs are there because, let’s face it, trackpads are fiddly, imprecise, and (to be both blunt and slightly crass) just tend to suck in general.

Another tip: If your primary monitor-world controller has a case, put the monitor control tablet in that same case. It will make things ever so slightly faster and easier at setup.

Talkback is one of the main reasons to have at least one microphone equipped with a switch. Choose where you want talkback to be routed to, latch the console’s talkback control, and then simply flick the switch on the mic when you want to talk.

Laptops (with good batteries) and a UPS are helpful at FOH, because a power failure means that your audio processing and routing stay up. No, there might not be any audio for them to work on, but they’ll be available immediately when you get the power back.

Troopers

Troopers 1
Troopers 2
Troopers 3
Troopers 4

Katie Ainge and her band were real troopers throughout the show. Over the course of two days, we would have a few technical issues, and we would also get rained on twice. Through it all, they played their best, kept smiling, and kept coming back for more:

Originally, they were only supposed to play on the Friday night. However, a storm ended up rolling in. Katie and company played right up until the rain started falling, only calling a halt because their instruments were getting wet. After a hasty pack up and retreat, after which they could have bailed out with full pay, they elected to stay around and get a full show in on the following morning.

Also, large garbage bags make pretty decent rain protectors for loudspeakers and other gear. They do tend to buzz at certain frequencies, but that’s the least of your worries when water starts falling out of the sky.

We only hung a single overhead. With a well-balanced band, a single mic in the right spot will get everything on the kit without getting swamped by bleed. Also, I mix live audio in mono about 99.9% of the time, and a single mic is always in phase with itself.

Try, Try Again

Try, Try Again

After a frantic night of Scotty and McCrae packing, unpacking, and drying out the gear, the next morning came along with the promise of actually doing the show. Notice that the generator really is NOT in the right place. I should have placed it off to the side of the deck, so that the exhaust would have stayed away from the performers. Oops.

Double Hung

Double Hung

McCrae and Bayley, masters of all they survey.

With the PA deployed as it was, putting the same signal into all four FOH mid-highs probably would not have sounded all that hot. The outer pair was slightly behind the inner pair, which would have resulted in the high end being out of phase alignment. That problem did not come into play, however, because the different pairs were used for different signals. The inner pair was my vocal cluster, and the outer pair was for instruments. This technique borrows both from The Grateful Dead’s “Wall Of Sound,” and Dave Rat’s “double hung” PA deployments – it’s just on a very small scale.

The configuration as pictured and described trades coverage area for power and/ or clarity. We essentially have one, larger PA setup that’s firing in a narrow pattern. (Even so, some walking around proved that you could hear the PA pretty much everywhere in the park proper.) An alternative would be to put the entire mix into all four boxes, but aim the boxes to hit different zones. In that case, we’d be trading power/ clarity for coverage.

For Real This Time

For Real This Time 1
For Real This Time 2
For Real This Time 3
For Real This Time 4

With no rain during the actual show, the retry of the previous night went much more smoothly. We did have a couple of problems with the cables to Katie’s DI, with my suspicion being that the metal on their XLR connectors is inexpensive, soft, and therefore prone to change shape when heated significantly in the sun. (I can’t prove it though – this is just a wild theory.)

In any case, though, it was great to see Katie and her friends bring some really enjoyable tunes to an audience able to stay for the duration.

Afterwards, packing the van, we got another rain shower.

But it was time to go home anyway.


When Do You Want To Sound Good?

Great gigs are the ones that get “picked at.”

Please Remember:

The opinions expressed are mine only. These opinions do not necessarily reflect anybody else’s opinions. I do not own, operate, manage, or represent any band, venue, or company that I talk about, unless explicitly noted.

what-timeWant to use this image for something else? Great! Click it for the link to a high-res or resolution-independent version.

There’s a point where a guys starts repeating himself; I have certainly reached that point here. Nevertheless, repetition of theme without rote regurgitation of content can be useful. So, I’m going to talk some more about time, and gigs, and showing up, and how it impacts success.

And I’m going to do it by borrowing the words of Jason Giron from Floyd Show and Loss of Existence. There was an occasion where a fellow band member asked, “When should we come to soundcheck?”

Jason replied, “When do you want to sound good?”

I tell you, every so often you get to stand next to someone who can perfectly encapsulate a tome of wisdom into a single sentence. This was one of those times for me.


There are plenty of bands, individual musicians, and production humans out there who want to minimize their exposure time when it comes to a gig. This is understandable, because in Western society, time and money sit on either end of an equality symbol. The problem, though, is that minimizing your on-gig time has an alarming tendency to minimize your on-gig success. When it comes to show production, getting the really amazing things to happen requires “picking at it.” Picking at it isn’t time and money efficient, but it’s necessary to create magic.

If you want to really get comfortable with how everybody sounds on a stage with no reinforcement, and truly dial that in so that the future reinforcement will be maximally effective, you have to take the time to pick at it. It doesn’t happen in the space of a minute. You actually have to get up there, play some songs, and figure out how everybody fits around everybody else.

If you want to dial up a truly killer starting point for monitor world and FOH, you have to pick at it. You can’t just throw it all up there, run a few test signals through, and walk off for a bite. You have to actually go up on deck and listen to a real mic through a real wedge. And then listen to a real mic through multiple wedges. At high gain! You also have to listen to real music through the FOH rig. If you want an objective measurement of the system, you have to get out your reference mic and attendant software, and then take a few minutes getting a good trace.

If you want me to create the best monitor mix possible for you in that room, you have to pick at it. We have to go through several iterations of tweak/ listen/ tweak/ listen/ tweak – and we have to be able to do it all with calmness and rationality. Thirty seconds of panicked gesturing from a cold start ain’t gonna get you there, pilgrim.

If you want to build the FOH mix that effectively translates what the band is doing into the house, leveraging and flowing along with the natural sound of the group in the room…You. Have. To. Pick. At. It. Before doors. Or do you want to be futzing around, “finding yourself” for the entirety of the first set? People, please. Bands and audiences deserve better.

As an experienced “Selective Louderization Specialist,” I can tell you that sounding good (and getting everybody truly comfortable) takes at least an hour of work. Bare minimum. (There are plenty of bands that require much more time than that.)

And that hour does NOT start until everybody is in the same room, with all the gear working, and with the entire audio system pre-tuned for the appropriate performance. (A hint for sound people: You have to be really early if you want a fighting chance at this.) It’s not to say that it’s impossible to sound decent in a smaller span of time. It can be done, and sometimes it must be done – but why choose that outcome if it’s optional?

“I’m not required to smack myself in the face with a sharp object, but I’m going to do it! Eugene, hand me that axe!”

Really?

Assuming that it’s going to take no less than 60 minutes of effort to make your show spectacular, I encourage you to ask yourself the “Giron Question.” When do you want to sound good? Figure out when that time is, and then show up a lot earlier than that.


Zen And The Art Of Dialing Things In

Good instruments through neutral signal paths require very little “dialing in,” if any.

Please Remember:

The opinions expressed are mine only. These opinions do not necessarily reflect anybody else’s opinions. I do not own, operate, manage, or represent any band, venue, or company that I talk about, unless explicitly noted.

zenWant to use this image for something else? Great! Click it for the link to a high-res or resolution-independent version.

Not long ago, Lazlo and The Dukes paid me a visit at my regular gig. They were coming off a spectacularly difficult show, and were pleased-as-punch to be in a room with manageable acoustics, a reasonably nice audio rig, and a guy to drive it all. We got settled-in via a piecemeal sort of approach. At one point, we got Steve on deck and ran his dobro through the system. He and I were both pretty happy within the span of about 30 seconds.

Later, Steve gushed about how I “just got it all ‘dialed up’ so fast.” Grateful for the compliment, and also wanting to be accurate about what occurred, I ensured Steve that he was playing a good instrument. I really hadn’t dialed anything in. I pushed up the faders and sends, and by golly, there was a nice-sounding dobro on the end of it all. I did a little experimenting with the channel EQ for FOH, wondering what would happen with a prominent midrange bump, but that was pretty optional.

In terms of “pop-culture Zen,” Steve had gotten dialed in without actually being dialed in.

How?

Step 1: The Instrument Must Be Shaped Like Itself

The finest vocal mics I’ve ever had have been the ones in front of terrific singers. The very best signal chains I’ve ever had for drums have been the ones receiving signals derived from drums that sound killer. I’ve hurriedly hung cheap transducers in front of amazing guitar rigs, and those rigs have always come through nicely.

Whatever the “source” is, it must sound correct in and of itself. If the source uses a pickup system, that system must produce an output which sounds the way the instrument should sound.

That seems reasonable, right? The first rule of Tautology Club is the first rule of Tautology Club.

Especially with modern consoles that have tons of processing available, we can do a lot to patch problems – but that’s all we’re doing. Patching. Covering holes in things that weren’t meant to have holes. Gluing bits down and hoping it all stays together for the duration of the show. Does that sound like a shaky, uncomfortable proposition? It does because it is.

But, if the instrument is making the right noise in the room, by itself, with no extra help, then it can never NOT make the right noise in the room. We can do all kinds of things to overpower and wreck that noise by way of a PA system, but the instrument itself will always be right. In contrast, an instrument which sounds wrong may potentially be beaten into shape with the rest of the rig…but the source still doesn’t sound right. It’s completely dependent on the PA, and if the PA fails to do the job, then you’re just stuck.

An instrument which just plain “sounds good” will require very little (if any) dialing-in, so long as…

Step 2: The Rig Is Shaped Like Everything

Another way to put this is that the instrument must be filled with itself, yet the FOH PA and monitor rig must be emptied of themselves. In technical terms, the transfer function of the PA system’s total acoustical output should ideally be flat “from DC to dog-whistles.”

Let’s say you want to paint a picture. You know that the picture will be very specific, but you don’t know what that picture will be in advance. What color of canvas should you obtain? White, of course. The entire visible spectrum should be reflected by the canvas, with as little emphasis or de-emphasis on any frequency range. This is also the optimal case for a general-purpose audio system. It should impose as little of its own character as is reasonably possible upon the signals passing through.

At a practical level, this means taking the time to tune FOH and monitor world such that they are both “neutral.” Unhyped, that is. Exhibiting as flat a magnitude response as possible. To the extent that this is actually doable, this means that an instrument which is shaped like itself – sonically, I mean – retains that shape when passed through the system. This also means that if there IS a desire to adjust the tonality of the source, the effort necessary to obtain that adjustment is minimized. It is much easier to, say, add midrange to a signal when the basic path for that signal passes the midrange at unity gain. If the midrange is all scooped out (to make the rig sound “crisp, powerful, and aggressive”), then that scoop will have to first be neutralized before anything else can happen. It’s very possible to run out of EQ flexibility before you get your desired result.

Especially when talking about monitor world, this is why I’m a huge advocate for the rig to not sound “good” or “impressive” as much as it sounds “neutral.” If the actual sound of the band in the room is appropriate for the song arrangements, then an uncolored monitor rig will assist in getting everybody what they need without a whole lot of fuss. A monitor rig that’s had a lot of cool-sounding “boom” and “snap” added will, by nature, prioritize sources that emphasize those frequency ranges (and this at the expense of other sources). This can take a good acoustical arrangement and make it poor, or aggravate the heck out of an already not-so-good band configuration. It also tends to lead to feedback problems, because the critical midrange gets lost. Broadband gain is added to compensate, which combines with the effectively positive gain on the low and high-ends, and it all can end with screeching or rumbling as the loop spins out of control.

The ironic thing here is that the “netural” systems end up sounding much more impressive later on, when the show is a success. The rigs that sound impressive with walkup music, on the other hand, sometimes aren’t so nice for the actual show.

So – an audio-human with a rig that is acoustically shaped like nothing is in command of a system that is actually shaped like everything. Under the right circumstances, this means that a signal through the rig will be dialed in without any specific dialing-in being required.