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Miking Up

Article from One Two Testing, September 1986

Catching the craziest sounds


John Lewis confronts the problems of miking up for live performance and discusses the relationship between artist and soundman.

This is not just for the obscurists with the ethnic instruments, low-tech instruments, junk-yard instruments and other rammel. Everyone, however dully devoted to his Les P, at some stage encounters the problem of miking-up acoustic instruments in a live context. Whether you just want to use a 12-string on the Doors cover or epic tolkienesque ballad (thats before you switch back to the 'v' for the long, face scrunched-up solo) or, and this is probably more likely than you would like to think, the local CND can't afford the whole band and just want you and the bass player to do a couple of angry songs on acoustic guitars between the feminist poetry and the local roots rockers, it might be to your benefit to give the problem some consideration before you get to the bar.

Lack of communication between mixers and performers accounts for a lot of sound problems. They both think or appear to think that they can do the other's job better. On the face of it, the engineer is there to enhance the sound of the band, although there have been sound men of my acquaintance who would dispute this hotly, but the ideal sound will be subject to disagreement not just between mixing desk and stage but amongst the band as everybody wants to be louder. Don't be surprised if you don't get the mix you want if the mixer thinks you sound "really naff" or if you told him what he could do with his boom stand when he wouldn't let you use a spare vocal mike for the climax when you run up the p.a. stack trying to feedback as much as possible.

I have a friend who did the sound for many of the GLC promoted gigs when there were such things. He told me in his sound man's Special Brew slur about an evening of traditional music and dance. He spent a lot of time at the insistance of one of the performers trying to rig-up an ankle height mike for his ankle bells. The singer insisted on having the mike taped to the floor, which facilitated what you might, in jargon, call a high stomp response. It picked up his and everybody else's feet banging on the stage but did little for the bells, particularly as he danced away from the mike whenever he started singing. Our man on the desk of course knew it would not work and just turned the mike right down. This should be an extreme example of the failure to communicate which is the backbone of the artist/engineer relationship but stories of precious artists abound, with A insisting on something that E knows isn't going to work, as do stories of highhanded engineers, with E refusing to do what A wants because he is adamant it won't work. Often when you do theoretically both speak the same language, it seems you may as well not.

SHURE


As well as inconsistencies in soundmen, both in ability and temperament, there are the inconsistencies in mikes you are going to be faced with. If you insist on getting round this by supplying your own mike then Shure SM57s and 58s are good for most things and shouldn't prompt howls of derision from your friendly sound man. But even if he does not have something better he may well want to use his own mikes or steal yours, or the desk will be the wrong impedance or your lead will have the wrong plug for his inputs. This and a desire for mobility on your part whether to dance or just to look like a prat, argue in favour of contact mikes of some description. They are also less likely to pick up everyone else. Whatever your instrument (unless you too use ankle bells in which case a radio mike strapped to your knee is the answer if you refuse to believe it when you are told that they pick up on every other mike anyway), your choice is going to be limited by your purse/pocket/matchbox. But if you were thinking of spending not more than £7 then you may be in luck.

SCHALLER

Schaller sell a contact mike for just under £7 which I have tried on a variety of stringed and percussion instruments and which seems adequate more often than not. It works on anything with a vibrating skin or soundboard, which is most things except tuned percussion and wind instruments, but tends to be a bit trebly for things like acoustic bass, but along with a Menorm bug at around £20, seems generally to be effective for the money. To get something with a substantially better sound will cost £50 to £60 and this would include some of the Shadow range. Unfortunately to fit a Shadow to a guitar often involves drilling a hole through your bridge and soundboard which makes trying it before you buy it tricky and can be annoying if you decide afterwards that the cheaper bugs would have suited your purpose just as well. C-tapes are also around £60 and give a good sound, but if you want to control your own eq. to some degree, you may find that the cheap bug with the addition of a graphic eq. is more useful. Graphic eq.s are not high on everybody's list of effects to buy next, but they make a huge difference to your tone control and in cutting out feedback. They are also invaluable with a portastudio. The best value is probably the Pearl 9-band which along with the Schaller bug would cost slightly less than a C-tape. However, if you have the money, buy the C-tape and the Pearl graphic.

A similar cheapskate approach will work for sax players as Shadow make a sax bug at around £20 which again, with a Pearl graphic, will possibly give as good a sound, certainly with more tone control than the more expensive C-tape (who also do a range of sax effects although using guitar effects will give you a greater choice of quality, price and sound), and Tootell who offer a bell mounted mike and one which is drilled into the mouthpiece.

For other wind instruments and instruments which need a good bass response, Shadow do a range of contact mikes for specific purposes (flute, double bass, piano etc.) most of which are fairly expensive but to which there is often no cheaper alternative; although I half remember being told about a double bass player jamming an old speaker under the tailpiece of his bass and using that as a pick-up. But then that's jazz.

If you are using something more obscure like a Tiple or a Talking Drum then the Schaller bug/Pearl eq. combination is a good starting point although RAMSA have just launched a range of mini-mikes at around £100 for percussion and wind instruments.

To refer back to my colleague of mixing desk and Special Brew reference, he has just returned from doing some work in Australia and yes he did have to mike up a didjeridoo. So, 'worried of Woomera', thank you for your letter and he recommends an SM58 for the job. Keep surfing but mind the Sea Wasps!


More from these topics



Previous Article in this issue

Yamaha MT1X Portastudio

Next article in this issue

Perfect Gentleman


Publisher: One Two Testing - IPC Magazines Ltd, Northern & Shell Ltd.

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One Two Testing - Sep 1986

Feature by John Lewis

Previous article in this issue:

> Yamaha MT1X Portastudio

Next article in this issue:

> Perfect Gentleman


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