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R-E-S-P-E-C-T

By Ace Baker / April 19, 2015

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

 

Aretha said it best. You either have it or you don’t and these days I see less and less of it. When I’m not on tour I do a lot of work with local sound companies and as such I do a lot of corporate events. One company I work with has an exclusive contract for all the audio needs in a busy Manhattan event space. This particular space, while beautiful and ideal for events, is an acoustic nightmare. It’s an oval shape comprised of concrete-like walls about 40 feet high with a domed ceiling. The RT60 time in there is about… 60.

 

So we all know what a typical corporate event comprises. Usually it’s a lectern with a couple of mics on it and perhaps a lav and/or wireless hand-held(s). We also know it can sometimes (ok, almost always) be difficult to get the speaker to observe proper mic technique and project when they are speaking. That, in combination with the acoustics of the room make it difficult to get the speaker’s voice heard. So where does respect fit into all this? Well, it wouldn’t be so hard to get the speaker’s voice to be audible if the attendees weren’t so DAMN LOUD. I’m more and more often shocked at how loud the audience can be when there’s a speaker on stage trying to communicate. It’s getting worse too… I look out at the audience and see folks showing off pictures on their phone or in some cases they’re ON their phone holding their own little conversation while there’s some CEO or someone up on stage. What the hell people????!?!?!?

 

Before a year or so ago I can’t recall ever wanting to get on a VOG (voice of God) mic and tell them all to shut up but in recent months I’ve wanted to do that at EVERY event I’ve done, and that’s quite a few. Even after a few shhhhhs, clinking of glasses and maybe a quip over the VOG they still keep talking! In fact, some folks try to talk OVER your efforts to quell the din. How dare we interrupt them so we can focus on the presentation at hand? The truly alarming and ultimately disrespectful aspect of all of this is that at many of these events all the folks in the building work together. So the employees of the company are basically dissing their boss while he’s trying to talk to them about whatever the subject of the evening is.

 

I’m literally writing this as I sit backstage during a break for an event benefiting a well-known Long Island Academy. The rudeness of the attendees is utterly shocking. They had a choir of students perform the National Anthem and a rendition of a Foreigner song and they were fantastic. These poor girls were knocking it out of the park (they were very, very good IMHO) and I doubt half the folks in attendance even acknowledged they were there. Even during the hostess’ speeches there were many, many folks leaning in to speak in each other’s ears, completely ignoring her. She even had to pause more than once to try and get everyone to settle down and she was never completely successful.

 

It’s a sad day indeed when you have to contemplate GBF (gain before feedback) not because of a loud stage or overpowering monitors but because of the audience who are there to see the performance and/or view/hear a presentation.

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R-E-S-P-E-C-T

By Ace Baker / April 19, 2015

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

 

Aretha said it best. You either have it or you don’t and these days I see less and less of it. When I’m not on tour I do a lot of work with local sound companies and as such I do a lot of corporate events. One company I work with has an exclusive contract for all the audio needs in a busy Manhattan event space. This particular space, while beautiful and ideal for events, is an acoustic nightmare. It’s an oval shape comprised of concrete-like walls about 40 feet high with a domed ceiling. The RT60 time in there is about… 60.

 

So we all know what a typical corporate event comprises. Usually it’s a lectern with a couple of mics on it and perhaps a lav and/or wireless hand-held(s). We also know it can sometimes (ok, almost always) be difficult to get the speaker to observe proper mic technique and project when they are speaking. That, in combination with the acoustics of the room make it difficult to get the speaker’s voice heard. So where does respect fit into all this? Well, it wouldn’t be so hard to get the speaker’s voice to be audible if the attendees weren’t so DAMN LOUD. I’m more and more often shocked at how loud the audience can be when there’s a speaker on stage trying to communicate. It’s getting worse too… I look out at the audience and see folks showing off pictures on their phone or in some cases they’re ON their phone holding their own little conversation while there’s some CEO or someone up on stage. What the hell people????!?!?!?

 

Before a year or so ago I can’t recall ever wanting to get on a VOG (voice of God) mic and tell them all to shut up but in recent months I’ve wanted to do that at EVERY event I’ve done, and that’s quite a few. Even after a few shhhhhs, clinking of glasses and maybe a quip over the VOG they still keep talking! In fact, some folks try to talk OVER your efforts to quell the din. How dare we interrupt them so we can focus on the presentation at hand? The truly alarming and ultimately disrespectful aspect of all of this is that at many of these events all the folks in the building work together. So the employees of the company are basically dissing their boss while he’s trying to talk to them about whatever the subject of the evening is.

 

I’m literally writing this as I sit backstage during a break for an event benefiting a well-known Long Island Academy. The rudeness of the attendees is utterly shocking. They had a choir of students perform the National Anthem and a rendition of a Foreigner song and they were fantastic. These poor girls were knocking it out of the park (they were very, very good IMHO) and I doubt half the folks in attendance even acknowledged they were there. Even during the hostess’ speeches there were many, many folks leaning in to speak in each other’s ears, completely ignoring her. She even had to pause more than once to try and get everyone to settle down and she was never completely successful.

 

It’s a sad day indeed when you have to contemplate GBF (gain before feedback) not because of a loud stage or overpowering monitors but because of the audience who are there to see the performance and/or view/hear a presentation.

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Living the Dream…

By Darth Fader / March 5, 2015

It was a Saturday, a day like any other day that we’d get up at 3:00 AM, fly across the country (with a connection of course) and then drive two hours to a gig. Then back home the next AM, a typical fly date/kamikaze mission. Except we didn’t realize that there was bad weather moving through the lower part of the country. When we arrived in Atlanta I had a message from the promoter asking me to call him ASAP. “You guys aren’t flying through Dallas, are you?” We weren’t. “That’s good because (insert name of National Co-Headliner Act here) is stuck in Dallas and is having trouble getting out. Let me know if you encounter any difficulty.” Little did we know what was in store.

We made it to Albuquerque and when I turned on my phone it blew up. 

Phone call from the Lead Singer/Guitar Player — who was traveling from another part of the country via different path, was stuck in Denver and it was not looking good for him to make the show. 

Hey I’m stuck herein Denver and I’m trying to re-book.

Phone call to travel agent:

Get him outta there ASAP.

Phone call to LSGP:

Travel agent is working on it.

We were somewhat short of a dozen because we had a sub for our regular drummer. The other singers were sick. To lose the LSGP would be problematic to say the least. 

Phone call to promoter:

One of our guys may not make it because he is stuck in Denver.

Comment from promoter: which guy?

Me: <Gulp, fingers crossed> the lead guitar player.

Phone call from our management:

NCHA is stuck in Dallas, and the airport is closed because they had a quarter-inch of snow. The promoter is freaking because the show is sold out. We’ll know in a short while if LSGP will make it. BTW: find out the condition of the roads out there. I’m hearing rumors that roads between the airport and venue are closed. 

Me:

OK

Phone call to promoter:

Are the roads closed?

No, our driver is there to pick you up.

Crew at baggage claim:

We have a missing bag. Of course we do. 

Great my day just became an hour longer. Truth be told, the folks in the baggage office filed the paperwork in 15 minutes.

Phone call from management:

Find out if there are any inbound flights from Denver this evening.

I run around the airport to the ticketing desk and find that yes there is an inbound flight from Denver due at 8:00 PM (we’re scheduled to go on at 8:30) and we’re an hour and a half from airport to venue. And that flight is sold out. Guess that won’t work.

Now it’s official: the lead singer is not making the gig.

Secondary singer begins having palpitations. We start the ride to the venue. The roads are slushy but certainly passable. 

Phone call from manager:

If the promoter wants, we’ll have to do the gig without him. 

Phone call to promoter:

LSGP will definitely not make the gig. We can still do this (we’ve done it before) so let us know how you’d like to proceed. 

Promoter:

Let me run it by the venue GM and get back to you.

An hour and a half later we arrive at the venue and it’s tense: the promoter asks us to go ahead with the show but can we start a bit earlier since NCHA is not performing. Of course we can.

My crew is on stage tweaking gear along with one of the guitar players, who will fill the part of LSGP. He’s programming his rig for the sounds he’ll need while I troll the ‘net searching for and printing lyrics to the songs that he’ll sing. Meanwhile it looks like — despite the announcement that NCHA is not appearing — the house will be packed. 

In the dressing room we scrape together a set list and cue the printed lyric sheets. The drummer who is subbing can sing so he’ll help out with backing vocals. The bass player will sing (for the first time ever) one of the group’s hits, and the second guitar player is working on parts he’s never played before. 

We hit at 7:40 PM and after the first song is very well received, the singer makes the announcement regarding the modified lineup. Crowd reaction is mixed but after another song or two they don’t seem to care. They’re going bananas like it’s Elvis returned to Earth or something. 

Meanwhile… 

LSGP has found a flight home from Denver. As I am about to take a deep breath after the show has ended, I learn that all of our flights home the next AM are canceled — which I suppose should not have been a big surprise given the fact that we were supposed to make a connection in Dallas. America Airlines, in their infinite wisdom (read: stupidity), have re-booked me, and not the remainder of the guys, from Dallas to home two days later. But they did not re-book me from Albuquerque to Dallas. Guess they though I’d walk. Buncha’s dumbasses.

Phone call to travel agent at 10:00 PM

Please do anything you can to get us out of here

We wait and wait, but nothing until we hear the words no one wants to hear.

Phone call from Travel Agent:

There’s nothing I can do now so we’ll have to revisit this tomorrow. 

I tell the promoter we will be staying an extra night so at least we can have hotel rooms and it’s no problem.

Email from Travel Agent at 9:00 AM

Nothing

Email to Travel Agent at 9:03 AM

We’ll fly to any airport within a couple of hours from home, rent cars and drive if necessary. 

Email from Travel Agent at 10:00 AM

Nothing

Email from Travel Agent at 2:50 PM

I have four seats on a red eye that leaves at midnight and gets you home at 6:00 AM.

There are six of us. Anyone got an antacid? Or perhaps a bottle of Jack?

Text from me to the band and crew:

Sit tight, we may have a shot.

Phone call from Travel Agent at 3:29 PM

I got another seat.

Thank you God.

Me in person to band and crew:

Mr. X does not have a seat but Travel Agent is working on it.

I arrange ground transportation from hotel to airport, figuring that we should be there early. Meanwhile Mr. X is awaiting delivery of his lost bag from yesterday.

Phone call from Travel Agent at 4:16 PM:

I got the seat for Mr. X

Thank you God

Text from Mr. X at 6:15 PM

My bag arrived.

We all depart from the hotel at 8:15 PM and reach the airport by 9:40 PM — plenty of time. When we check in, we learn that the inbound flight (our plane) was delayed and so our departure will be delayed, until approximately 1:00 AM. Ouch. I’m too old for this.

Right now we’re sitting at the gate waiting, amusing ourselves with sillyness, iPads, videos and snacks. Why oh why is there not establishment in this airport serving adult beverages? We still have 40 minutes before boarding. Stay tuned.

Reprise

We didn’t board the plane until 2:30 AM, probably took off around 3:00 AM, and landed around 7:45 AM. Sitting directly behind me was the proverbial kicking, screaming young child but thanks to Divine Intervention, she fell asleep after take off and made barely a peep until we landed.

Stressful? You bet. And we get to do it again next week.

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How to Mic Cymbals

By Ace Baker / February 23, 2015

Cymbals can be a tricky thing to successfully mic to achieve the desired results. They can often sound harsh or “brassy.” But don’t despair, there are a number of ways to mic up cymbals and get a nice sizzle without them overpowering the other elements of your mix.

First, I’m going to illustrate what I feel is the best way to mic cymbals for their most accurate representation. The way I do this is by putting two matched small diaphragm condenser mics in a Blumlein array* about 2 feet above the drummers head. The idea of placing the mics there is that they should pretty closely portray what the drummers themselves hear so if he/she’s balancing themselves properly then the mics should capture that.

The mics are at about a 45 degree angle aimed right at the center of the line created by the cymbals above the drumkit. I usually get lucky and find that they end up pointing right at the main crash cymbals on the right and left. Obviously the left facing mic will pick up a good bit of the hi-hat which is fine and the right mic will also pick up a good bit of the ride. Obviously other elements of the kit will show up in those mics as well and to me, that’s just fine too. In fact, I get a good bit of my overall kit sound from those mics.

I soundcheck the drumkit by first bringing up these two overheads to get a feel for how the kit really sounds. Due to the modern demands of today’s concert audiences I usually end up putting a pretty serious high-pass filter on these mics as well as a strong cut at around 400-460Hz. I then bring in all the other elements one at a time to fill in the kit. Again, hopefully you end up with a close approximation to what the drummer hears which is ideally a nice balance of all the kit’s elements.

The second most common method I use is one I utilize when a drummer may not feel comfortable with a pair of mics above his head and/or it’s not physically possible for some reason. In a case like this I’ll use “under-heads” which are mics placed under the cymbals facing up. It’s almost impossible to use a Blumlein array in a situation like this so I end up placing the mics in a pretty typical L/R outer array with the mics about 8” away from the lowest cymbal.

The one drawback with “underheads” is that you can sometimes get some phase irregularities but a few inches to one side almost always clears that right up. Another reason I’m a fan of “underheads” is that I really dislike the look of two big, ugly tripod boom stands hovering over both sides of a drum kit. To me it just ruins the look of the kit and takes away from the whole vibe. I find that the single stand directly over the drummer is far less intrusive and that “underheads” are practically invisible which is even better!

No discussion of cymbals would be complete without talking about the ride and hi-hat. I’ve found that even though I get a good overall sound from the over or underheads I will often still need to “spot” mic the ride and hat. For the ride I’ll put an SDC (often a Sennheiser e614) facing directly down about halfway between the bell and the rim, about 8” off the cymbal.

My technique for the hi hat is similar though I find I often need to angle the hat mic a good bit off axis to soften the hat’s sound a bit. Facing straight at the hatusually makes for too harsh and brittle a sound.

The one thing to remember when micing cymbals is to simply not get too close. If they’re sounding too bright or metallic try moving the mics back a bit, a few inches make a huge difference. Likewise where you aim the mics is very important so take care to point ‘em where they sound best! Cymbals rarely need high end EQ added to them but as I said earlier I find they often need a good filter and some subtractive EQ but take care not to overdo it, a little goes a long way with EQ for sure.

Again, as usual, try different placements, EQs and methods and see what works for you. There are no rules!

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blumlein_Pair

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