Another dumb singer

June 28, 2012 1:19 AM

I’m a quietish singer, to play (in three days) a long, small room with an ungreat PA system, manipulated by an inexperienced engineer. What, in two sentences, could I tell him that might help me get my voice across?

I’m dipping my toes into live performance after a long time away (from other amateur performances). Please be gentle - I’m tragically uninformed on all things tech. (Always was; ahem, other people used to worry about this stuff. Defense: they genuinely preferred to, what can I say.)

Other than just a guess there'll be a Shure on hand, I have no idea what’s going on. (Plan to remedy this asap. I don’t think I have time to learn about dB and speaker placement *and* remember my songs. Man, not sure there'll even be a monitor. Or that I'd recognize one.)

I mean, should I just say, ‘lots of gain, please’? It'll just be my voice with electric guitar. Would like to boost the bass in the vocals a bit, as well. And, I tend to eat the mic.

Thanks in advance!

(I appreciate that this question may drive the people who could answer it nuts. Also, apols if this question isn't good form for MefiMusic.)
posted by nelljie (7 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

Perfect use of MeFiMusic!

If you are quiet, then I would say you want them to crank it up as much as they can without feeding back, but then it's up to you to back off the mic if you get louder or you will blow everyone's ears. I assume if it's a small room that they won't mic your amp if it's just you playing an electric. So the number one thing you would want would be a stage monitor for your vocals, otherwise it will be your amp coming from behind you and your vocals coming from somewhere out in the crowd, which is a weird sensation. But if it's a really small room then maybe the speakers will be close to you anyway. If it's a small room that sounds really dry, a tiny bit of reverb on your vocals might soften things up a bit, if they can do reverb on the soundboard.
Stage sound almost always sucks, in my experience. If you can get in and rehearse a few times and get the feel of how the room works sonically, it will help a lot with the inevitable feeling that you are sort of blindly belting it out and hoping for the best.
posted by chococat at 8:31 AM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Lovely, chococat, thank you! That’s easy enough for me to remember, too. I’ll try to get in there and play around. And do some more reading before the next one.

(A recent gig with satanically bad sound has kind of messed with my comeback mojo. Yup, disembodied-voice phenom threw me off - sounded nothing like my bathroom, or my absolutely accurate memories of dominating at least two open mics in the mid-90s.)

Hugely appreciate the kind tips :)
posted by nelljie at 9:54 AM on June 28, 2012

If you tend to eat the mic you won't need to boost the bass as you'll get plenty.

The monitoring level is really important. If it's too soft you won't hear yourself and if it's too loud you won't feel like giving it your all.

If you can get a Shure Beta 58 instead of a vanilla SM58 I think that makes a lot of difference to the clarity -- the Beta is a way louder mic and it always seems more flattering to me.

Watch out for your electric guitar amp going into the vocal mic. Sometimes it's tempting to point the amp up at your head, which is fine if you're not doing vocals, but if you are singing it can really screw things up.

You can reduce feedback (and maximise the gain the sound guy will give you) by keeping the rear of the mic pointed at the floor monitor as far as possible, since the mic has a blind spot there.

If you find yourself without a vocal monitor, don't panic. Just turn your guitar amp down enough that you can hear yourself sing and you should be fine.
posted by unSane at 11:46 AM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

I know this is old, but....

In the future, you can sort of "ring out the room". I worked as a live sound engineer for a few years while finishing my audio engineering degree, and a quick eq check coupled with a touch of on-board reverb is almost always a good enough baseline to get things where they should be. If you have high dynamic instrumentation, that changes, but for your purposes it's all good.

The idea is pretty simple; sound check a song, and crank the volume. Bump up the eq, hopefully the board has at leasta 5 band parametric, preferably track-separated and sweepable, and when you find the frequency that's gonna feed back with juice, pull it out a little. Different places will give you different frequencies that are problems, so it's a good rule of thumb if you try to perform at different venues. Once you've got your particular sound EQ'd for the room you are playing in, it makes it a lot easier to control effects and volume. A dash of verb on top and in most cases you will be good to go.

To tack on to what others said, yeah be careful of where your amp is pointing. It's the definition of a feedback loop, and will cause ya problems. Get a stage monitor whenever you can, and just mess with the volume using hand signals during a sound check with the engi. A lot of really small rooms with house PA's might not have monitors. In that case, move around the stage a little during the sound check, and find the spot where you get a nice level. Sound bounces in asymmetrical patterns, so there will be spots that are more dead or alive depending on the room. Hang out there, and point the amp in a few spots and see what sounds good.

When starting out, it's great to try and get there early to do this kind of stuff. If the schedule and the venue allow it, that is. And always remember, if you are opening for someone else, when your set is done, immediately move your gear off the stage, then pack it up, if possible. The next folks probably want to do some part of the same process outlined above.
posted by lazaruslong at 4:43 PM on August 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

I suppose you could distill that into a more succinct format by saying: usually, it's best to crank that shit, then pull it back. Before I studied the stuff, my intuitive understanding was that you start quiet and push things up till you get a good spot. But it's just.....kinda wrong, and inefficient. Crank it! Then pull it back in the spots you need to.

Granted, this philosophy is directly responsible for Cher's usage of melodyne on Life after Love, and all subsequent auto-tune atrocities, but what can you do.
posted by lazaruslong at 4:46 PM on August 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

That's great advice to find out where the room rings.

Another thing I'd add is to know whether the mic you're using is cardioid or super-cardiod.

SM58, which are your standard stage mic, are cardioid, and this means they have a 'null' that points 180 degrees away from the singer. That's where you want your monitor to be, where the mic is least sensitive.

Super-cardioid mics, which often include higher end mics like the Shure Betas, have nulls at +/- 120 degrees, which means you want the monitors to your left or right, basically.

One more thing to watch for is ladling on the reverb, which is a sure recipe for feedback.
posted by unSane at 7:30 PM on August 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

What is clearly terrible form is having left unthanked the generous responses offered after I dashed off to practice for that gig (which went fairly well, with your help and some luck!).

unSane and lazaruslong, thank you. I'm positive other mumblers will have found your advice useful in the interim, and I know I'll come back if/when I have the wherewithal to try again.
posted by nelljie at 11:31 PM on October 20, 2012

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