Sunday, October 9, 2011

Audio Note

Our group, the Kenwood Players, had an outdoor performance of Dixieland jazz last weekend at the Gordonsville Street Festival, and I took the full set of audio equipment. Over the past several years, learning how to set it up and get a good sound has been something of a challenge, but I'm making progress.

Last year at this event I pointed to two large keyboard amps (fed by the mixer) straight out from the porch we play on, and there was this weird edge to the sound on the recording, especially the trombone. I decided it was the result of something like an infinite regression like old time barber shop mirrors, with the sound bouncing back and forth across the street. This year I placed the amps so they were at a 45 degree angle to the porch, one pointing up the street and one down, and the sound was much better.

As usual, each tuba had a dynamic mic clipped into its bell, there was a condenser placed near the clarinet and one for me to sing into, a dynamic for Dick to announce songs. A new wrinkle has been clipping a small condenser to the banjo, because its sound is so directional. Having it go through the sound system means I can face any direction I want and everyone can hear it.

The other part of the system was a set of small powered speakers used as monitors, and that worked well. My sense is that besides helping us hear each other better, monitors help round out the sound. I'm used to thinking feedback is always a bad thing because of the howls it can create, but a little feedback, i.e. the sound from the monitors blending into the overall sound, can be a good thing.

But I always forget something. This time I had a knowledgeable music friend there evaluate the balance of the various instruments out front, but I didn't ask the players themselves if they could hear everyone else well, and it turned out the trombone player was too far from the monitors for them to help.

When we first began the wind came up, blowing one music stand over, and creating a low rumble in the mics, even though they all had foam covers. I dialed back the bass EQ on them all and the rumble went away.

The balance on the recording is about as good as we're going to get in a live situation, with the exception of the tenor sax not being strong enough because I forgot to put the vocal mic over next to him when I wasn't singing. I forget that even though the balance of the mix can sound good to me in the middle of everything, the recorder is in a different place in front of us and what it's picking up is a different mix altogether.

One thing I did in preparation for the event was to mark the inputs on the mixer with what was going to go where (there are four inputs with phantom power and trim controls and four 1/4 inch inputs). That meant I could set the EQ for each input ahead of time to best suit each mic, so that at the event only minor fine tuning was needed. All the pans were set right down the middle.

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