by Eric Chancey, @BigDaddyDecibel
In the last installment, we talked about how the use of proper microphone (mic) technique yields better results at no additional cost. The combination of mic in the right place will help you achieve great sound.
In today’s “No Budget” tips, we’ll talk about some tricks to help you make things sound better.
Nothing destroys a great sounding mix faster than leaving microphones on when they're not in use, or using a microphone with a pick up pattern that's too wide - consequently picking up all kinds of unwanted material along with the source. Ambient noise is an enemy of great live sound.
Don’t get me wrong; when recording, ambience and spill help create a sense of space and dimension that wouldn’t otherwise exist. In live work, however, ambience and space already exist in your auditorium. So what is the best place to start to assure better sound?
It all starts with the microphone. I can’t emphasize enough how proper mic technique helps your mix. When selecting a microphone for a certain source - let’s say a choir - the pickup characteristics of the mic are as important as how the mic sounds.
You can have a microphone that sounds glorious on choir in an isolated environment like a studio, but put that same microphone on the same choir in a live setting and you pick up not only the choir, but the drums, the guitars, the bass, the first three rows of the congregation, and the monitor reflection off the back wall – you get the picture. Use the wrong type of microphone and you’ll struggle to get something that sounds good.
So what exactly are microphone pick-up patterns? A pick-up pattern on a microphone determines how wide, how narrow and/or how much the sound gets picked up around the microphone itself.
For example, an Omnidirectional mic picks up sound 360 degrees around the microphone. A Figure-8 (also called Bi-directional) pattern picks up from the front and back. A Cardioid pattern picks up mainly from the front and a little from the sides.
Make sure that you choose the best pick-up patterns for your sources. For example, you wouldn’t want to use an Omnidirectional mic to pick up a choir because it will pick up everything else (monitors, instrument amplifiers, drums, piano, organ, etc.) as well. Depending on how many people you have, use a Cardioid microphone on your choir. If you have percussion such as congas, try a Figure 8 or Bi-directional mic that picks up from both sides. Use it sideways, in between the drums.
As I wrote at the beginning of this article, nothing hurts a great mix faster than leaving unused microphones turned on when they're not in use. That unwanted noise masks the sound that you do want, and causes phase shifts when two or more microphones pick up the same sound source at different points in time.
After you make sure that your microphones are the best that they can be for the job, Step #2 happens at the mixer - using mute groups and/or subgroups. From here on, I’ll just refer to both simply as groups. Many mixing consoles feature groups as a way to adjust the volume of more than one channel simultaneously.
Using groups makes broad changes much easier. There’s no need to try to adjust 5-6 faders at a time when you can use just one group fader.
Set up your groups according to the type of source. For example, all choir mics can be grouped together. Same for guitars, instruments in general, drums, backing vocals, etc. Make your groups work for your specific set-up; there’s no right or wrong way to set up your groups.
When the choir isn’t singing, why have the choir mics on? Use a group to take the choir out of the mix. You’ll get a tighter sound with much less potential for feedback. If there is an organ solo, make sure to reduce the level of all of the vocals.
In short, if you have an instrument or voice that’s not being used at all in a particular song, there is no reason to have the group or channel turned on in the mix, so mute it!
Having great equipment is just a starting point. You still need to prepare, pay attention and mix well.
Step #3 – Know the music!
We sound techs tend to chide the worship team members for not knowing the music well enough to get their noses out of the music stand. To be fair, you can’t mix a song that you don’t know. You might be able to balance it, but not mix – and there's a difference.
You need to know when the choir sings; you need to know when and if solos occur; and you need to know every part of the song so that you can make sure that all parts have a place in your mix.
Taking an active role in mixing by setting up the proper tools for the job, knowing the song and turning down (or off) unused will pay huge dividends at no additional cost - another no budget improvement!