Live Sound! For better or for worse.

Discussions on sound production outside the synthesizer such as mixing, processing, recording, editing and mastering.
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octopede
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Live Sound! For better or for worse.

Post by octopede » Thu Aug 14, 2008 5:16 pm

So I looking for some thoughts, opinions, etc. about improving my live sound quality.

Right now, when I play live, It's just me. I typically sing while switching between guitar, omnichord, kaoss pad, and synth, with a laptop or ipod providing some backing tracks. I don't play especially dancy or 'electro' music, it's more like Brian Eno in his older, poppier days (yes, I just compared myself to Eno, this is relevant, let's move on...).

For the past year, I've used a little Alesis Multimix as a stage mixer and fed L/R into the house sound system (using the house's DIs). I don't use my own amps/speakers/cabinets/etc. Sometimes I just use a firewire audio interface and do all mixing through the computer, again feeding L/R to the house. Of course, sometimes this sounds ok, other times it sounds like a 1984 boom box being mic'd and amplified thru a Radio Shack PA system. Almost always, though, it sounds a lot thinner and flatter than I would like.

Anyway, bearing in mind the instrument setup I'm currently using, the type of music it is and that I'm only 1 dude on stage with only 2 arms and 2 feet, here's what I'm thinking as options improve live sound quality:

1) Amps - anyone amp a laptop, ever? Recommendations? Successes? Horrors? The laptop carries most rhythmic elements, so it would probably have to be an signal sent to both amp and house? Dunno if this would work. And then I'd want a separate amp for synth and guitar? I don't really want to lug around 3 amps.

2) What if I used my own DI? How much of an impact can this have? The 'crappiness' I hear in some venues seems to be due to the fact that it's just a cheap sound system, dunno if a nice, well-cared-for DI would make a difference. But maybe it would?

3) Other...?

Any thoughts are welcomed. Thanks!
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Re: Live Sound! For better or for worse.

Post by octopede » Thu Aug 14, 2008 5:21 pm

PS: the synth I use live is usually the ubiquitous MicroKorg, although sometimes I'll lug my MG1 out for kicks. The laptop, in addition to carrying rhythmic elements, also carries other musical parts and synth lines, bass, etc. Everything, really.
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Re: Live Sound! For better or for worse.

Post by memedesigner » Thu Aug 14, 2008 7:15 pm

How is the monitoring in your studio or room where you make your stuff?

Next thing that comes to mind is that Alesis mixer. If you have the dough, something like the Speck or Rane line mixer (they come in 1U rack versions) could bring some improvement.

I wouldn't mix in the box, live. But it's just me, and my relationship with computers.

And of course, if the PA is not great, there's not much you can do about that.

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Re: Live Sound! For better or for worse.

Post by Windreaper » Thu Aug 14, 2008 10:35 pm

Getting a better mixer or DI won't significantly improve the sound quality. Most 2$ transformers are perfectly linear. If the house PA is bad, you're pretty much out of luck. If you mix from the stage, try using a mastering processor (or EQ+comp) to give the mix a little more thickness and punch. As an added benefit you can dial in your sound beforehand and only need to adjust for the room (and equipment) at the venue. I'd also use an amp modeler for the guitar - you get your sound every night and they actually sound better than cheap solid state amps. Ideally you'd want everything going through the mains only for maximum control over the sound.

How large venues do you play, btw? If it's just coffee shop gigs, and you don't need tons of bass or volume, just get a pair of quality active speakers and forget about the s**tty house PA (I use a pair of RCF ART 310A - they're very clean and loud for the size and fit in your car. The price isn't bad, either).

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Re: Live Sound! For better or for worse.

Post by octopede » Thu Aug 14, 2008 11:50 pm

@windreaper: Usually I'm in small-to-medium capacity places, no stadiums (stadii?), sometimes the sound in these places is ok—not great, just ok, ie, acceptable. Kind of glad to hear your opinion about the DI, though - I've had people try to talk me into buying a $300 stereo DI "oh-dude-it'll-change-everything" but I never bought it. Good advice about the EQ, maybe that's worth more investigation.

@memedesigner: yeah, I totally monitor thru headphones, go ahead and yell at me. My studio walls are paper thin, and until my lease runs out it's headphone time. Oddly enough, some of my best sound comes from house parties and whatnot, where I monitor the PA and am free to tweak in between songs. Maybe I'll try that at the next gig and see if the sound dude punches me.

I had another thought for the laptop backing (which seems to be a lot of the problem): separating the mix within the computer: routing the beats n' bass to one output, and backing synths/whatnot to another output. Drums/bass feed to house, synths/whatnot feed to some nice, warm, crackly old amp, then mic it. Hmm......
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Re: Live Sound! For better or for worse.

Post by Windreaper » Fri Aug 15, 2008 1:10 am

octopede wrote:@windreaper: Usually I'm in small-to-medium capacity places, no stadiums (stadii?), sometimes the sound in these places is ok—not great, just ok, ie, acceptable. Kind of glad to hear your opinion about the DI, though - I've had people try to talk me into buying a $300 stereo DI "oh-dude-it'll-change-everything" but I never bought it. Good advice about the EQ, maybe that's worth more investigation.
Yup, most clubs can be pretty difficult acoustically (low roofs, brick/concrete walls, the works). Combine this with a house PA from the 80s (with piezo tweeters, providing they still work :) and it's fun, fun, fun. A dual 31-band graphic EQ (with sweepable HP and LP filters, if possible) makes your life a lot easier. A used DBX DriveRack PA (EQ, compression, limiting, feedback detection, crossover etc.) plus a Behringer ECM8000 measurement condenser is also terrific value, imo (totally saved one sports hall gig when the client couldn't afford to rent a decent PA system, can't properly describe the horror of opening the truck and seeing a pile of 120lbs+ monsters from the 80s :).

I've used a range of DI boxes from Behringer (their BSS clone is pretty decent, imo) to BSS/Radial and any difference in sound quality hasn't bothered me in live use (don't have golden ears, though, mixed too much rock/metal, lol). The better boxes are more rugged, but I believe even the cheap equipment is reasonably decent nowadays. Studio is an entirely different can of worms, of course (you might actually want to spend more for a quality DI box).

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Re: Live Sound! For better or for worse.

Post by spookyman » Fri Aug 15, 2008 3:28 pm

Of course you will hear a difference between a cheap chinese DI-Box for 35$ and a Countryman Typ 85 for allmost 390 $. But don't forget that the cables, the instrument, the amp, the main mix-console, the PA, and last but not least the musicin himself should be high-end too... :D If you really want to hear a difference. Your wallet will see a big difference at the end of the month, for sure.

I prefer (for live use) to put the focus on solid gear, good cables (Neutrik for example), and working on my playing.

s**t in --> s**t out. It doesn't depend on what's in between...Behringer DI's are absolutely OK, passive and active models.

For the P.A, with our band, we don't have any PA. It's allways the PA that is installed in the club, locality. But at this day, we only had once a bad PA. The rest was allways really really good. From dB Technology Line Arrays, Meyer Sound, Dynaudio Cobra, etc.

For your size and kind of music, i would take a HK Audio Lucas System. With a subwoofer and 2 sats. Really great sound, very solid, made in Germany.
It is much easier to be a good equipment purchaser than to be a great musician.

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Re: Live Sound! For better or for worse.

Post by octopede » Fri Aug 15, 2008 5:06 pm

Thanks for the replies...I've got some shows coming up at some friendly venues, I might take that opportunity to try some new stuff. Actually, sometimes that's half the fun of playing live, it seems, trying new stuff, bringing new gear, seeing what happens.
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Re: Live Sound! For better or for worse.

Post by th0mas » Fri Aug 15, 2008 6:30 pm

I feel your pain. I play in a band where I provide beats (mpc), 2 synths, and a kaoss pad. A guitarist/singer and bassist fill in the rest. I usually submix and then just send a single mono or stereo signal to the sound guy. This works at any place that has had a decent PA. If the PA was supposed to be a dedicated vocal PA, then, well, our setup falls apart pretty quickly with the kick drum going through it.

One time we played after a band we were friends with. They brought their practice PA which would have been fine as a purely vocal PA, but someone stupidly decided that in the tiny bar they needed to mic the drums as well.. so they blew their own PA in an hour's set. We get on and have to rig up the mpc and synth through a guitar amp an everything else through a guitar amp and had to cancel our set short when the paint on the amp's heatsink started to melt. not like it mattered, we sounded like total s**t.

I wouldn't suggest amping and micing your drums through a single amp. You don't really want to add colourization to your drums the way an amp colours a guitar, for example. I recommend you amp your guitar though, since that amp colourization is something you might desire. The synth would be hit or miss depending on tone you have and want.

You could maybe get the sound guy to record to a laptop or minidisk recorder the house mix? It might give you some insight into what you're playing that isn't getting to the house PA the way you want.

I cross my fingers every time we go to an event, I also try to ask in advance what they will have for us now after that smoking amp episode. But really it's the tradeoff of not having my own PA and dedicated roadies, I have to deal with whatever they've got and try to do my best.

I wouldn't suggest you add more gear to your mix, instead try to make sure each component is doing a decent job. The more gear you have, the more things that can go wrong on stage, and the more things you need to think about when you're up there and debug where a c**p sound is coming from.

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Re: Live Sound! For better or for worse.

Post by octopede » Fri Aug 15, 2008 8:34 pm

th0mas wrote: I wouldn't suggest you add more gear to your mix, instead try to make sure each component is doing a decent job. The more gear you have, the more things that can go wrong on stage, and the more things you need to think about when you're up there and debug where a c**p sound is coming from.
-Wise council, and something I do need to consider seriously. I saw Black Moth Super Rainbow play live recently with a Yamaha CS-50 and CS-15 (among about a metric ton of wires and other synths) and just marveled at their ability to hold a live set together with a shload of ancient, finicky equipment (I also learned there that a good drummer can hold any set together). It does make me think about typical live concerns, like showmanship, presence, and just decent material. I guess if you're an electronic musician who needs every subtle nuance reproduced in a live setting, maybe you should just be one of those Boards of Canada-type electronic acts who just never play live. Or Kraftwerk, who only play live at venues with bajillion gigawatt sound systems ;)
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Re: Live Sound! For better or for worse.

Post by octopede » Fri Aug 15, 2008 8:49 pm

th0mas wrote: One time we played after a band we were friends with. They brought their practice PA which would have been fine as a purely vocal PA, but someone stupidly decided that in the tiny bar they needed to mic the drums as well.. so they blew their own PA in an hour's set. We get on and have to rig up the mpc and synth through a guitar amp an everything else through a guitar amp and had to cancel our set short when the paint on the amp's heatsink started to melt. not like it mattered, we sounded like total s**t.
PS: that's an awesome story. I played at a venue here once that actually had box fans leaning against the rack in the sound booth...talk about bad omens.
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Re: Live Sound! For better or for worse.

Post by th0mas » Sat Aug 16, 2008 5:21 am

octopede wrote: PS: that's an awesome story. I played at a venue here once that actually had box fans leaning against the rack in the sound booth...talk about bad omens.
HAHA awesome, and thanks :)

The scary part is waiting to play while watching a situation like that and trying to figure out a backup plan that'll still sound decent.

If you are mixing on headphones and then moving material to a PA I would also think maybe try some steps in between (stereo, friends stereo)? Those two settings are about as far apart as it gets in terms of sound and it makes sense you'd be surprised at your gig

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