Paul is an engineer, producer, composer and musician who these days spends a large portion of his working life mixing FOH sound either on tour or in-house at London venues – including the legendary 100 Club.
His studio credits include Lucky Soul, The Hope Rebellion and Nick Evans and he tours with Various Cruelties, Eli ‘Paperboy’ Reed & ZZ Ward mixing FOH. He’s also performed on stages around the world and on many recording sessions over the last 20 something years.
This month I’m going to talk about specific products that are in line with the topic of making a band sound good in a small club. I’m going focus on guitarists (perpetrator) and vocalists (victims).
One of the main culprits of being too loud on stage are guitarists. Last month I looked at positioning amplifiers more towards the ears of the player than at the back of their legs and shielding the noise from the stage and audience.
Here a couple of products that I’ve since been made aware of that are specifically designed to help guitarists, band members, punters and sound men a like; which ultimately make the band sound better as a whole without sacrificing that golden guitar tone.
First up is the Tonesonics Tonewedge which is a passive 1×12 ported cabinet tuned especially for guitar amplification. It’s loaded with a Celestion Vintage 30 speaker and the cabinet has been designed to give extended bass response so it can sound like a 4×12 (albeit a sociable one) and it angles up at the player like a typical monitor speaker.
It’s a common complaint from guitarists that the mic’d up sound coming out of a full range stage monitor doesn’t sound like their amp and these guys have tackled that issue head on. Put simply, this product just makes perfect sense. Here’s hoping that lots of guitarists have been good this year and Santa will bring them one for Christmas.
Rivera Silent Sister
These guys make some of my favourite sounding guitar amps and this (oddly named) product tackles the problem of TOO MUCH GUITAR from a different angle. It’s an isolation box, but with a few major improvements.
The Silent Sister comes loaded with a Celestion G12T-75, two goose neck microphone stands, XLR cables and external sockets. Rivera have very cleverly built in a labyrinth which lets the speaker and microphones behave like they’re in a much bigger space. They say traditional isolation boxes create high pressure environments which result in shorter speaker life and degraded tone and the labyrinth improves both these issues.
They’ve also designed the cabinet with internal angles that diminish standing waves which should mean a more even and controlled frequency response i.e. no excessive boom or honk. Also inside the box is ample dampening which will cool down higher frequencies.
These boxes aren’t cheap, retailing for about £900, and claim to reduce volume by a whopping 30dB, but they do have one glaring drawback for live use at least. If you’re using one with a band, even in a small club, you’re going to need to get some of your signal put through the stage monitors; the very ones that guitarists often complain don’t replicate their sound very well because they’re a full range system.
You could open the lid to hear your guitar better, but that kind of defeats the purpose of the box in the first place. So, perhaps the best idea is to hook up something like the previously mentioned Tonewedge as well. Surely that would be the ultimate guitar rig for any live environment, no matter what size.
Supercardioid and Hypercardioid vocal microphones
Last month I mentioned that the main losers when a band is too loud on stage are the vocalist and the audience. I also said how lead vocal mic’s end up functioning as unwanted ambient drum mic’s on small stages when loud drummers are involved. So this month I’m going to suggest a few products that can help alleviate this issue and give vocalists, and sound engineers, a fighting chance against excessive stage volume.Since the mid 60’s the ubiquitous SM58 has been the vocal microphone of choice on stages big and small all over the globe. You’ll be hard pressed to find a venue or festival stage that doesn’t have some. They are, without a doubt, a true industry standard.
These days, though, there are many options for vocal microphones and some are specifically designed to help singers cut through loud stage volumes. The ones I’m going to look at have hypercardioid and supercardioid polar patterns.
What do these words mean; I hear you ask? Good question. Cardioid means heart shaped and our friend the 58 has a cardioid polar patter. In a two dimensional drawing the pick up pattern looks like a heart shape, but in the 3D world think of it as like a perfectly shaped apple and the bottom of the microphone is the top of the stalk. They pick up sound mainly from the top, some from the sides and very little from the bottom of the mic – the bottom being where the XLR socket is.
Hypercardioid and supercardioid microphones, as the names suggest, are variations on the basic cardioid pick up pattern. The noticeable difference is they pick up less indirect sound than cardioid mics because their pick up pattern is smaller, or tighter. The good thing about this for singers, and engineers, is you get more voice and less band coming through the microphone. The not so good thing about this for singers, and definitely engineers, is pulling back from the mic or singing of axis gives a far greater reduction in the volume of your voice compared with cardioid mics.
It’s worth remembering that subtle changes in the volume or tone of your voice from your proximity to a microphone when singing without any other sound to compete with become drastic changes when the whole band is playing. For example; turning your head 45º away from the mic while your singing solo could reduce the volume of your voice by 30% to 50% but when the whole band is playing it can be the same as turning your vocal channel off. The pick up pattern of the microphone and the stage volume around you at the time impact heavily on how much the volume is reduced by. The louder the band and the tighter the pick up pattern = a greater reduction.
The differences between hyper and super cardioid aren’t massive. Hypercardioid pick up less from the front but more from the back compared to supercardioid. They both do a better job of providing a more direct or isolated vocal sound than cardioid mics and they have more gain before feedback – meaning they can be turned up louder before they squeal.
Here’s a summary of some hyper and super cardioids available today that are worth trying out. Which one is best for you depends on your voice and style of performing. Don’t read to much into the marketing hype, try them out for yourself and trust your ears.
Audix OM7 : Hypercardioid with excellent rear rejection and isolation for vocals.
Shure Beta 58a : A supercardioid variation of the trusty SM58. Compared to the SM the Beta gives a noticeably ‘peaky’ sound, especially in the upper vocal range
Shure Beta 57a : Supercardioid version of the SM57 marketed mainly as an instrument mic but also good for vocals.
Beyer Dynamic M88TG : Hypercardioid that was the favoured vocal mic for Phil Collins in the 80’s, these days often seen on bass drums and bass guitar cabinets. Smoother upper register sound than most hypercardioids.
Electrovoice N/D967 : This unique looking mic boasts to have the most gain available before feedback than any other on the market.
To finish with here’s an interesting video about pickup patterns by Dave Rat, FOH engineer for (amongst others) Red Hot Chilli Peppers and Rage Against The Machine.
I hope these articles have been some use to musicians and engineers a like and give some food for thought when trying to get bands to sound as best as they possibly can in small venues.