Live Music Engineering

The Big Christmas Gig at Upper Brown Street

This was the second event that I was, in part, doing the sound engineering for. With this event, there were ten people from my course who were doing the sound engineering, as well as setting up of equipment and organising what was going on behind stage.

For this event, my colleagues and I had to set up a gig for performing musicians from Leicester College at Upper Brown Street in Leicester. There were going to be a total of ten bands playing in the space of two and a half hours, so each of my colleagues including I were assigned a band to do the live sound engineering for.

Band List 1

The running order of bands on the night.

(The running order of bands on the night.)

The stage had been set up the day before for all the different instruments and musicians. This included a drum kit, electric guitars, bass guitars, a drum machine, a keyboard and a violin as well as vocals.

(The channel list and microphone list of what was used for the gig.)

(The channel list and microphone list of what was used for the gig.)

The Drums

The miking of the drums was set up the same way that we had practiced in the weeks before (See the blog: ‘Setting up the Drum Kit at Upper Brown Street’). The drum kit was placed on top of small stage at the back of the main stage in the centre. This was done to so that cables could be placed underneath to prevent any tripping over of cables on stage as well as neatness. (see channel list for what drum microphones were used).

Drum Kit Set Up

The drum kit set up with microphones

(The drum kit set up with microphones and monitor)

The Guitars

There were two guitar amps set up on either side of the stage. They were placed on stands as to direct the sound of the amplifiers to the audience as a whole (not just to the front row of the audience, if the amplifier was placed directly on the floor). The microphones used for the guitar amplifiers were Shure SM57’s. This is because Shure SM57’s are industry standard and are very versatile and sturdy, which is also why it was used for miking up the snare drum and toms for the drum kit. The Shure SM57’s were placed facing the speaker of the amp, with it aiming near the point between the cone and the speaker paper to give an even sound of the soft lower frequencies (from the paper) and the sharp higher frequencies (from the cone).

“…the SM57 is perfect for the task; its frequency response, originally tailored for speaking, matches the mid-range “voice” qualities of the guitar. It also has a compression effect on loud sounds – it squashes nicely…”

(http://www.prosoundweb.com/article/print/studio_microphone_techniques_to_get_a_great_electric_guitar_sound)

The guitar set up with amplifier and microphone

(The guitar set up with amplifier and microphone)

The Bass Guitar

The bass guitar amplifier was placed on the front left of the drum kit stage. The reason for this was to also prevent tripping hazards as well as tidiness on stage. The bass amp is different to guitar amps because the frequencies that are produced are low, which means they travel in every direction rather than primarily the way the speaker is facing, which is what happens with guitar amplifiers. It was with this reason that the bass amp was placed on the side of the drum stage, as to take up less room on the main stage. The bass guitar was plugged into a D.I. box before being plugged into the amplifier, which meant the bass amplifier didn’t need to be miked up.

Vocals

There was three vocal microphone placed at the front on the left, the centre and the right of the stage. Although the microphones were placed more forward than to other instruments and microphones, the vocal microphones weren’t placed to the edge of the front of the stage. This was because they needed to be behind the front of house speakers as to reduce feedback.

“Positioning the main speakers well in front of the vocal mics and aimed so as to minimise the amount of sound bouncing back into the microphones will help…” (http://www.soundonsound.com/sos/aug10/articles/qa-0810-5.htm)

The microphones used for the vocals were Shure SM58’s. Just as the Shure SM57 is industry standard, the Shure SM58 is even more so, and is considered the most popular used microphone in the world. The SM58’s have a bass roll off and brightened mid range to cut through the live sound mix. The microphone’s also have a cardioid polar pattern, which mean that it isolates the main sound source, minimising background noise and reducing the possibility of feedback.

Other instruments

As it states on the mic list, the rest of the instruments; keyboard, acoustic guitars and drum machine, were all D.I.’d. This meant there were no speakers needed as the instruments went to a Direct Inject box and then to the snake box. The exception was the violin which wasn’t DI’d as the instrument didn’t have a DI built into it, so instead an SM57 was used (which was placed in front of the drum kit until it was needed for the violinist).

The stage set up with all instruments and microphones in place before the gig began

(The stage set up with all instruments and microphones in place before the gig began)

Speakers and monitors

The monitors used were JBL monitors. The monitors were placed in front of each microphone stand so that each singer/musician could hear themselves or each other. Another reason for placing them there was so that each musician could have their own monitor to listen from, which creates more space on stage rather than just having a centre monitor and the whole band in the middle of the stage. As well as the front monitors there was also a drum monitor for the drummer, positioned to the left of the drummer so he/she could listen to specific instruments or vocals because the drums would be to loud to hear the monitors that were at the front of the stage.

One of the three vocal microphones set up with the monitor placed in front

(One of the three vocal microphones set up with the monitor placed in front)

The front of house speakers were made up of a three-way speaker system (low, mid and high loud speakers) on the left and right of the stage.

The loudspeaker system was adequate for the venue but not as good as, they should have been. As the venue is a theatre, half of the time the sound used is for acting and sound effects for theatre plays. For that use the loudspeaker system is passable, but for a live gig it wasn’t sufficient, which was partly to do with the types of speakers used and partly because of the positioning of them.

The front of house speakers were placed on the stacked on the floor on each side of the stage and facing slightly central to the audience. The tallest speaker (the smallest high end speakers) was directed at around the middle row of the audience, which meant the mid and high frequencies were directed to only half the audience. This created a sound that sounded better at the front of the theatre compared to the back of the theatre, which didn’t get as much detail and clarity from the mix. This intern created a mix, which was louder in the highs and mids than the low’s because from the position of the mixing desk (at the back of the theatre) these frequencies were attenuated due to the positioning of the front of house speakers.

What could have been done was use the headphones for monitoring the sound that was coming from the speakers, but at the time it sounded good.

In the recording from the sound recorder, the bass guitar was very low in the mix but compared to the sound from the video recording the bass wasn’t too quiet and was fairly audible (which admittedly wasn’t the best quality sound wise, but still did a good enough job for you to hear the bass guitar).

Mixing Desk Set Up 1Mixing Desk Set Up 2Mixing Desk Set Up 3

Analysis and Evaluation

When watching the video there are changes in the mix that I make. These are points in the live engineering where the biggest changes are made;

At 2:15 I turn down the guitar to make the vocals stand out as the guitar was to loud in the mix and was dominating the rest of the band.

At 4:35 I turn up the bass guitar, as that part of the song only has the bass guitar and drums playing behind the vocal, so the bass guitar needs to be made evident in the mix.

At 7:35 I turn up the left overhead, to make the cymbals more present in the mix to make ending louder as it’s the final part if the song.

At 9:00 I turn down the guitar as it is overpowering the vocals at the start of the song.

Below is the Video Recording

Below is the Audio Recording from the Mixing Desk

Upon Evaluation of the live engineering of the band, there are obvious factors that can be improved on for next time I do the engineering for a band. The main point that I noticed was that was using the gain knobs as faders. This is something that I was doing correctly at the beginning of each song, in terms of setting the gain as close to unity gain without it peaking. However using the gain is something that is done when doing a sound check to make sure there’s a good line level, but not something that should be done in the middle of a song. The line level is usually close to unity gain, so the gain is not the problem but instead the volume of sound coming out the speakers, which is controlled from the fader. From watching the video you can see that use the gain knob when I should use the fader, which is apparent with the vocals a lot of the time. The gain knob is also more sensitive than the fader so turning the vocals up or down is heard very obviously rather than a slight difference in the mix from using the fader.

Another criticism that can be made was not using the monitoring headphones to hear what the sound was like from the mixing desk and making differences based on that. The differences might be little, but it would make be able to hear parts that weren’t audible because of the room acoustics or crowd absorbing certain frequencies, which attenuate certain sounds.

Conclusion

On a whole, there wasn’t the need to change settings for the effects, such as the gates, equalisers or compressors. This was in part due to the band being last so the effects were all set to parameters that suited the instruments.

It helped that the band was the most experienced and best sounding of the night, not just in terms of sound but the way they played their instruments. An example of this was the singer using the vocal microphone close to his mouth to get the most out of the sound and correctly held it from the grip too. Other examples were that the guitars were tuned before the band went on as well as the drummer playing the drums hard and in the centre of the drums, where the microphones were aiming at, as to get a full sound from the kit.

Risk Assessment: https://www.dropbox.com/s/hqypnelyt0s7fgi/UBS%20Christmas%20Risk%20Assessment.docx?dl=0

The Empire Graduation Ceremony

This was the first event that I was doing the sound engineering for in 2014. I was working with a colleague, Duane, from my course.

Duane and I were asked to be the sound engineers for the Leicester College graduation ceremony for Foundation Degree students. The venue was an old church that had been turned into a banqueting and conference hall. This meant that the architecture inside was still the same as a church but the difference was the pews had been removed for chairs and the apse (semi-circular end of the church, where the alter is) had been refurbished. For the event, the seating was placed similar to where there are usually pews as well as extra seating on one side (Picture 1). The attendance was expecting to be around 350 people.

The two main factors in terms of sound for the graduation ceremony were: having a microphone for the host of the ceremony and having background music play for the ceremony.

The Empire Equipment Placing

The equipment that we used were:

  • 2 – Bose L1 Model 1 Loudspeakers
  • 2 – Bose L1 Model 1 Bass Modules
  • 2 – ¼ Inch Jack to XLR cables
  • 2 – SpeakON cables
  • ¼ Inch Jack extension cable (male to female)
  • Four way socket extension lead
  • Masterplug 4 socket reel cable
  • Mic stand
  • 2 – XLR cables
  • 2 – SM58’s
  • Technics SL-PG380A CD player
  • Behringer Eurorack UB802 mixer
  • 5mm Twin Phono to Stereo Jack Cable

The speakers used were a pair of Bose L1 Model 1 Loudspeakers and a pair of Bose L1 Model 1 Bass Modules. The speakers delivered good, clear sound for the event with a maximum SPL of 115dB at 1 metre. The speakers could cope with an audience size of up to 500 people so there was headroom on the mixer.

The venue of event proved to have some issues. The first one was that the placement of the speakers were behind pillars, which meant that the noise level would be quieter for people sitting behind the pillars. Another issue was that of the acoustics of the venue. This had an effect on the noise level projected to the back of the church. As the speakers were placed on the floor the audience at the front could hear clearly but the people at the back could as well. In the event of turning the speakers up to make the sound audible at the back of the church the noise level would be too loud for the audience at the front.

As seen in most churches the sound system had speakers placed in front of each pillar above the audience to provide an equal sound around the whole church.

The set up of the equipment was relatively simple. Duane and I planned where the equipment was going to go, to make it as efficient and safe as possible. We set the speakers up to the side of the audience at the front of the seating.

(When describing placement of equipment and people, it is from the point of view as if facing the audience.)

As there was an area of the audience to the left side, we put the left speaker in-between the centre seated and left side seated audience and faced it to the back wall with no angle. To facilitate what the audience on the right heard we put the right speaker at angle facing the audience from the right front corner of the seating. (Picture 1)

(Right Speaker Placement and behind the right white curtain, where the mixing was done.)

(Right Speaker Placement and behind the right white curtain, where the mixing was done.)

Although it wasn’t the best location to be mixing from, sound checks were done before the event with the music and speech to make sure it was clear and loud enough for the audience at the back. A reason why the mixer had to be positioned to the side of the stage was that the cables could only reach a certain length, so it was the best place to mix from and not be seen as a distraction for the audience.

The Empire Sound System Diagram

Conclusion

To conclude, the sound levels were clear enough for the audience to hear. However, because of the placement of the speakers (being on the floor) the audience at the front had to deal with louder sound coming from the speakers in order for the audience at the back. It didn’t help that the columns of the church were attenuating the sound for those sat behind them. In this situation, it was best, what we did but if the speakers from the church were working it would have provided a better and clearer sound, with an even sound level across the venue.

Setting Up the live drum kit at Upper Brown Street

In the latest live music engineering lesson, the focus was on setting up and miking up a drum kit. Miking up and sound checking a drum kit is one of the most time consuming parts to engineering a live band.

A key part that was learnt from the lesson was organisation of time; with miking up the drum kit efficiently and safely.

Here are some points that I learnt about miking the drum kit. Some of them I already new, but were made a lot more obvious in a live sound situation.

  • The Bass drum mic should be close to the bass drum, as to get a better sound and for the stand to take up as less a room a room as possible.

IMG_20141203_152934371

  • The hi-hat microphone should be a condenser rather than a dynamic microphone and should face the opposite end to where the drum is sitting of the hi-hat as to capture a more crisp sound, when the hi-hat opens and closes.

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  • The overhead microphones should be aiming at the cymbals rather than capturing the whole drum kit.

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  • The microphone cables should not be strained at any point, as it is a safety hazard. They instead should be wrapped around the mic stands, looped neatly near the mic stands, and slack from the mic stand to the power source as to create a safer and more efficient way of using the microphones.

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