By far this is the biggest problem I face when given stems for mixing. These cymbals fill the overheads with hiss, the tails are far too long and create an almost unsurmountable problem which has no good solution or "fix".
Usually it forces me to turn down the overheads and room tracks which makes the kit sound one dimensional and in order to compensate I have to add more drum room reverb which is not ideal.
There are several ways to solve this when recording and tracking the kit. These solutions range from changing to cymbals made for tracking, adding larger felts and not smacking them quite so hard.
If you are recording a kit keep this in mind and using the "less is best" concept will go a long way.
Remember that in mixing you can always add more but with these cymbals you simply cannot take away.
Reverb is probably the single most important tool in a Mixing Engineer's arsenal. It can be used as an effect or to place the mix in a "space". For this post I will focus on the latter.
If all else is equal Reverb adds the depth and thickness to the mix which is the difference between a mix that excites the listener and a mix that doesn't.
This is the first decision for the mix as it affects all other decisions. Small intimate room, clean studio, small club, concert hall etc. I personally enjoy the "live" sound, however this decision should be a collaboration between the artist and the producer.
There are several types of Reverb, each with it's own "sound". The selection of what type is based on which "space" is chosen.
Once the types are chosen there are three parameters that determine how effective the chosen type are:
The length is usually determined by the tempo of the song. This can get complicated as what "space" is chosen is a factor also. A general rule is the reverb should be audible for one measure and end on the downbeat of the next measure.
This setting creates the depth in the mix. Longer settings will bring things forward while shorter settings push things back in the mix.
I saved this for last as it is the key to have the mix sound great in the actual listening environment. All "spaces" contribute reflections to the overall "sound" that the listener "hears". This gets real complicated as there is no way to calculate this contribution as words like "depth", "width", "center" etc. exist in each listeners head which means that every listener "hears" this differently.
What to do? There is no definitive answer. But there is a concept to apply. Let's say that the density parameter adjusts the "thickness" of the reverb from 0 to 100%. What is needed is a density setting that allows the reflections of the environment to "blend" with the artificial environment of the Reverb used. Think of density as thick peanut butter at 100% and a fishing net at settings less than 100%. 25% density has bigger holes than 75%. I usually start at about 50% here and check the mix in different environments and adjust if needed.
Hope this helps.
Onward Thru The Fog.
Mono basically means that exactly the same signal is sent to every speaker. This means that no matter where you are in any given space you will hear the same sound- not considering room reflections and frequency build up which is the subject for a different blog- as everyone else in that space.
Most systems in bars, restaurants, conferences and live sound use this system as it is simple and effective.
The down side to Mono is the actual Sonic space available to mix and balance the separate instruments into a good sounding rendering of the performance.
While true that most people will not perceive anything is missing it does have an impact to the rendering- taking the separate instruments and mixing them into a well balanced pie.
The reason I used the word Pie allows me to make the following example:
There is a pie on the counter. You are the only one in the room so you get the whole pie. All of a sudden 10 people walk into the room and want a piece. Now you just went from a whole pie to a slice equal to 1/11 of the pie.
The same applies to a performance. Say you have 1 lead vocalist, 1 backing vocalist, a guitar player, a bass player and a drummer with a modest drum kit.
Remember that there is still only one pie-Mono.
So let's start dividing up the pie. The lead vocalist gets a bigger slice than everyone else- let's say 1/4 of the pie.
That leaves 3/4 of the pie divided into 8 slices for everyone else. Why 8 slices? Because the drummer gets 5 to handle all his different instruments.
Here comes the tricky part. Everyone is competing for room in the frequency spectrum available and there is a finite amount of total frequency available. So who gets what? (I'll deliver into this more in another blog)
In order to help everyone get along we can use depth (the illusion of how close or how far away we perceive them to be ( more in another blog). This gives everyone a little more elbow room in the mix.
Upside: every customer hears mostly the same thing.
Downside: Cramped space in the mix for each instrument - vocals are an instrument too.
Now let's take a look at Stereo.
Somewhere along the line- some think it's when vinyl records became popular as vinyl needs two signals- things changed.
Instead of ending up with one signal to be sent to a speaker two signals of the main mix were needed. Still just two signals of the same thing.
Some really smart sound engineer came up with the idea of sending the guitar to one of those signals while sending the piano to the other signal and Stereo was born!!
As usual, us sound guys being very clever folks, we realized that we now had 3 pies instead of one!! That's right 3 pies. How can that be? The simple answer is how we hear and use our hearing to determine where a sound is coming from- that's why we have two ears. ( more on how we hear in another blog).
Now we have a Left pie, a Right pie and a Center pie.
The signals or sounds that are unique to the Left speaker we perceive as coming from the left. The signals or sounds that are unique to the Right speaker we perceive as coming from the Right. The signals or sounds that equally come from the Left and Right speaker we perceive as coming from the center. In reality this is not perfect so a Good Stereo signal shows up on a gionmeter- the tool that visualizes the stereo signal- as a writhing, pulsating ball of goodness.
So now we have 3 pies for the band to share!! Remember we mentioned depth in Mono? This adds Width( yes another blog) to the equation.
Upside: Three pies and a writhing ball of goodness!!
Downside: the only customers who get to hear this goodness are those located at the top of an equal lateral triangle with the distance between the speakers themselves establishing the length of the sides. Everyone else hears something different- if the guitar is panned- the tool that controls where a signal is sent to- to the left and you are standing on the left you hear more guitar.
In mixing: we take advantage of the benefits of Stereo but always check to be sure it sounds good when collapsed to Mono.
In Live Sound: every good sound engineer had developed a hybrid system that grabs as much of those two extra pies available in Stereo while allowing most customers to hear a very similar sound.
That's part of what we do in our live sound enhancement offering.
That's it for this blog- thank you God.
As they used to say in Austin:
ONWARD THRU THE FOG!!
(an old saying from the Armadillo World Headquarters!!)
There are a lot of real tecno definitions but basically there are two basic categories that are the most common in our business:
Category 1: input transducers
The first type takes a sound pressure wave and converts it into a variable voltage electric signal. Microphones and some acoustic guitar pickups.
The second type takes a vibrating steel string and by magnetic induction converts it into a variable voltage electric signal. Electric guitar pickups.
Category 2: output transducers:
In this category there are several types but they all take a variable voltage electric signal and convert it into sound pressure waves. Speakers, headphones, in ears etc.
If you think about it the input transducer sends this variable voltage to the mixing console and is amplified by the preamp:
In Analog consoles these signals stay Analog thruout their journey thru the console and are sent out the multiple outputs.
In Digital the signal is converted to a digital representation of the soundwave (more on this in another blog), manipulated by any digital processes your mixer has and is then converted back to a variable voltage signal at the multiple outputs of the mixer- (some larger consoles send this digital signal out where it is converted at the output transducer. This digital signal can travel up to 500 feet without any degradation where an analog signal has to be boosted back to it's original voltage after 50 to 100 feet. There are digital networks made specifically to carry this digital signal and most larger venues are using these.)
The most important part of the signal chain is the transducer. So the rule of thumb is get the best ones you can afford. Depending on how old( those guys lugging around a pair of 15 year old Behringers) and how good your current transducers are you can greatly improve your sound quality so take a serious look at this. Remember YOU ARE ONLY AS GOOD AS YOU SOUND!!
As a side note most newer small format mixers (anything over $800.00) have pretty decent preamps(low THD- total harmonic distortion) and a decent signal to noise ratio.
Let's start at the beginning with a definition of Back line or Stage noise.
This the total combined SPL- sound pressure level measured in decibels- of all speakers, instruments and monitors located on the stage that are not part of the FOH- front of house- System.
Why do us sound guys call it noise? Because we have absolutely no control of it. Our job is to manage the pie and how much of that pie each instrument gets to make a balanced rendering of the performance ( see my Mono vs Stereo blog for more detail about the pie). If the stage noise has already eaten 3/4 of the pie you are on the way to China in a row boat.
Let's take the following example ( this is pretty typical for rock band).
Let's assume the overall SPL for this venue or space has been established at 95 db. Let's also assume that the overall stage noise is at 80 db. This leaves only 15db of sound pressure available for the FOH which makes the FOH worthless. In other words your sound becomes an uncontrollable monster in level ( for sure one of you will turn up your volume and let the volume war begin), balance, depth and width.
What perception of you and your performance does your audience perceive? Are you providing the best balanced rendering to your fans that is possible given the space you are performing in? Remember you are only as good as how you sound.
A proviso: I have heard a few bands who manage to produce a decent sound with the monster. Let's face it, decent is not good enough for me and it shouldn't be for you either.
Some symptoms that this monster is loose:
You just can't get or keep your vocals up front with great clarity.
Your can't quite get your guitar to sound right and are spending your energy constantly fiddling with things.
The bass and kick are knocking the fillings out of your teeth.
Your ears ring for a while after the gig.
You find yourself saying "huh?" Alot. ( Back line noise will kill your hearing forever if it is not managed)
Your bass player is your sound guy and all everyone hears is the bass.
Don't just believe me. Do some research. Watch any of the big names in concert. What you will find 98% of the time is:
The drum kit in an enclosure.
Either small guitar amp, big amps in an enclosure ( a la Joe Bonamasa) or a digital emulation like a fractal or a pod.
Decent size bass amp.
Now take a look at the size of the space or venue these people are playing in. Pretty huge, no?
Ask yourself, If these people think that minimizing stage noise is important even in these huge spaces and we are playing in spaces way smaller maybe there is something to this.
I can't tell you how many times I have done a show with a band that simply refused to understand this simple fact.
Those are the folks I only do 1show with.
There are ways to start to get your stage noise under control which cost little or nothing but from my experience if all of the members of the band are not committed it doesn't work. Biggest example I have run across:
I walk into a gig with a 4 piece rock band. Each guitarist has at least a single stack, the bass player has a huge ampeg and the drummer's drum heads look like he has been playing them with a sledge hammer. I look around and the space is no bigger than my garage. We do sound check and the glass is blowing out the windows before I even turn on the Mains. I ask nicely " heh guys can you turn down some so I can manage my FOH better?" They all respond in unison "NO FREAKING WAY!!!" Makes for a long, frustrating, bad sound night for sure.