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  • Could I get just a little more monitor?

    imageCould I get just a little more monitor?

    This article is a contribution from Tom Feller. In addition to performing with Feller & Hill, Tom is an experienced studio engineer and live audio reinforcement specialist. He was inspired to write following this past week running sound at Bean Blossom. Touring bands may be wise to heed his advice.

    Read the full story here


    • Excellent points. This article has some of the best content of anything posted on Bluegrass Today. This site could use more in depth material like this article. Maybe more of the bluegrass pros could contribute some of their knowledge in their area of expertise like Tom Feller has.
    • Great article Tom. I sure hope that a lot of bands read it and pass the message on. We were at Bean Blossom on Wednesday & Thursday and saw a couple of the bands that used their own equipment and to tell the truth I didn't notice any difference between their system and the house set up. Seemed like a bit of a waste of time that could have been used playing music. I also agree about having the music too loud. Louder is not better, it only hurts my ears and the music comes through distorted, especially the vocals. Hopefully through experience and fan/promoter feedback, some of these bands will realign their thinking on sound setup.
    • Great article! I'd really love to see more stuff like this. As a bluegrass musician, I've experienced a lot of frustration with micing/amping up for shows. I think there could be a lot more dialog between the sound person and musicians about how best to dial in sound in a manner that satisfies the crowd, musicians, and engineers.
    • Excellent, Tom! You've really hit on all the important points. We've carried in-ear monitors for years now because we knew that when using a single vocal mic, there's no way to use floor monitors. We were, however, experiencing frequent problems getting a good monitor mix when there's only 5 minutes.

      After speaking with several live sound engineers during our 2013 shows, we decided to put our own rig together for 2014. So far so good. We let the engineer know in advance what we're doing and provide an input list. We set up the mics and stands with cables, off stage. We have one rack with six wireless transmitters and a digital rack-mounted mixer for exactly the reason you stated. We don't touch it. We turn it on and get the same mix every time. That frees up the FOH engineer to focus on sound for the audience, not our monitors. The festival we played this last weekend had five-minute turnovers and we made it work!

      I've done a fair amount of live sound in my lifetime and have a great appreciation for guys like you! Thank you.
    • edited June 2014
      Great article Tom, it's like a page from my weekly experience doing festival sound. Another point about extremely loud monitors, with acoustic instruments, when you have a live mic playing an instrument into it at maybe 88-90 DB then have a floor wedge at 110 DB, guess what that microphone is going to be picking up!! The monitor usually has all kinds of frequencies, subtitles, and detail EQ'd out of it to get to that level, so now the instrument mic is picking up, and amplifying, the sound of the floor wedge to the people out front, instead of the sound of your vintage herringbone.
    • Nice article Tom!

      Big Country Bluegrass was at Bean Blossom also. I've always enjoyed having Tom as our soundman! He always does a great job.

      I agree with most of what Tom says here, but here is one situation where BCB has experienced some serious problems with sound: following groups that use the single mic setup. It seems to take quite a bit more time to get the sound adjusted back to the individual mic setup afterwards. Now let me be clear that we didn't have that issue at Bean Blossom, but we've had it on a number of occasions this summer. I don't know what the solution is, but it's bad enough to consider having some clause in our contract about not following bands with a single mic setup.

      On our first set at Bean Blossom, the sound was perfect. We all commented about just how good it sounded! On our second set, it was not as good to my ears. And that could have been the problem.........my ears!

      I've been told by other soundmen besides Tom that, on a digital board, what you have on your second set will be exactly like what you had on the first set. And I'm sure as far as the board goes, that is true. But there are many variables that affect sound, including heat and humidity. So I find it hard to believe that the sound on two sets of music, sometimes several hours apart, will be exactly the same. Using in-ear monitors might be a solution, but I've never had the opportunity to try them.

      All in all, Tom Feller is one of the best soundmen I've ever worked with! Keep up the good work........and write another great article soon Tom!!
    • Thank you all for the kind words.

      Phil: I have spoken with you about your setup and you really seem to have a very well thought out system and making every effort to streamline it sure makes life easier for everyone, especially your group. One thing you reminded me of that I did not address has to do with the single mic. I've noticed that many groups who use a single mic for vocals, along with in-ear monitors, become rather relaxed with getting close enough to the mic. It may sound perfect in the in-ear mix, but working the mic close enough to get the desired blend out front is usually a different story. The baritone or lowest part is usually the one who gets lost. Getting a full sound that is not thin is often very challenging, unless all singers are within just a few inches (not 2 feet) from the mic. I often find myself having to ride the level up and down, depending on whether it's a verse or a chorus. The level almost always drops on the chorus, as gathering 3 people or more around a single mic with enough volume and balance can be a challenge. Karl Shifflet and the Cherryholmes family are some of the best I've ever worked with on the single mic and there's much to be learned by other groups by watching and listening to their techniques.

      Lynwood: You make some good points about outdoor conditions. Even though digital sound boards can save an exact scene of the settings from a groups first set, they cannot replicate weather and humidity conditions. Without making any excuses, it is possible this is what you noticed different about your second set. I know that the humidity at Bean Blossom was extremely high most of the week and would usually get worse as the days went on. The single mic issue you spoke is also a real issue. It generally takes much more tweaking of the gain structure and some strategic EQ'ing of a single mic compared to dynamic mics and on a sound system that does not have the digital recall capabilities, those settings can be lost and not easily put back, unless the sound man has a really good memory and more than a couple minutes for change over. I would love to sit down with promoters when they're making out schedules and point out groups who have similar setups and ones who bring all their own gear and help streamline the schedule to minimize some of the issues you are talking about. However, I'm afraid that in that process, some group would take offense and wonder why they had to be scheduled here instead of there. It's just wishful thinking. I hope that sheds a bit of light on some issues you've had. There are so many things that I could elaborate on, but I wanted to keep the article fun and readable for the masses. I will be happy to take a stab and other issues...just let me know. Thanks again
    • Great explanation Tom!

      One other issue that we seem to have to deal with more now than ever before, is monitor mix. I don't know when or how it started, but it seems we are faced more and more with individual monitor mixes. I suppose this works well in other types of genres, but I don't like it at all in bluegrass. For our band, it is important for us to hear everybody equally in the monitors. But for some reason, we are continually faced with monitor mixes where I can only hear myself, or I hear myself much more than anyone else.

      To you Tom, please explain to me (and the other readers) what the benefit of an  individual monitor mix is. 

    • Lynwood, individual monitor mixes have been around for years and very popular with Rock, Country, and many other genres. It's not that bluegrass bands don't warrant individual or multiple monitor mixes (as I will refer to them from here forward). In my experience, it comes down to time. Bluegrass promotors who allow only a 5 minute change over between acts, are basically limiting the ability to achieve a satisfactory multiple-monitor mix for the acts on their show. This is the main reason that I go with a single monitor mix. This way, I can get an even monitor mix across the front wedges, in the time that we are allotted. Multiple monitor mixes can be great. If the guitar player doesn't necessarily want to hear an ear-splitting banjo level (that the banjo player truly enjoys) in his wedge, that can be achieved easily with a multiple-monitor mix. Unfortunately, when you figure 5 or 6 individual mixes for a 5 or 6 piece band, the time it would take to get everyone satisfied with their mix is not reasonable, considering the average scheduled changeover time at most festivals. Theater concerts and indoor venues with a single headlining act (and possibly an opening act) might be the exception here. It's not unusual for these sound checks to run 45 minutes to an hour, with good reason. So, in a nutshell, individual or multiple mixes are usually just not realistic in situations where not enough time is allowed to get them right.
    • At Pickin' In The Pasture we change bands on the hour.  We allow for a 10 minute change over between bands.  Bands need to be ready to do a sound check as soon as the previous band comes off.  This is not time to be tuning instruments, filling water bottles, using the facilities, revising set lists, etc.  Make sure that the sound man knows your stage plot ahead of time.  Speed up the change over process by adjusting your own mic stands but don't switch mics around etc.  Most promoters are aware of which bands are easy to work with and which aren't.

      One somewhat unrelated pet peeve we have is that after receiving the  "two more" sign some bands will slow down their show and tell a joke or thank the lord for the talent he has given them, or make their last number a 10 minute version of Orange Blossom Special.  This is particularly annoying when it is a regional act with a headliner waiting to come on that needs all the time possible to get their sound right.  We feel that it is important to stay on schedule early in the day but don't mind loosening up a bit later in the evening when a well received headliner runs over.

      I have enjoyed reading the discussion on this article.  Important stuff.

    • Tom, great article. I have worked on the main stage at the Grey Fox BGF for several years and have noticed the changes and additions of digital equipment and personal systems showing up. We have 15mins between sets there, so it may not be as frantic as Bean Blossom. I'm amazed at all the effects stomp boxes showing up these days, too. Some acts have theirs well-organized, others do not. Not sure this is the way old Big Mon would have done it, but granted it's a new day with some of these acts playing for huge multi-genre crowds.

      I play in a bluegrass band with not the same issues, since are audiences are sizably smaller. One question for you that I have is "how do I avoid getting a "boom" effect from my guitar on my breaks and still get enough volume to be clearly heard thru a Shure 58? I've been trying to avoid plugging in, but I need to have a clear lead without boom.
    • @ Tom Thorpe, thanks for the compliment. You make some good points, yourself. I hear people say all the time "why do these groups all carry their own equipment like that?...Bill Monroe would never have done that." I have to say they're right, but I see nothing wrong with taking advantage of todays technology to achieve a more consistent sound.

      The biggest challenge with miking any acoustic guitar is the "roar" or "boom" effect you're describing. Placing the mic directly in the sound hole, which sounds like where you're placing it, will get you more volume, but not without the boom/roar. Some of this problem area can be eq'd out, but you'll never entirely get rid of it, unless you get the mic out of the sound hole. The best place I've found is directly above the sound hole at the end of the fingerboard. You won't have quite the volume, but you'll have a much cleaner sound. If you're doing your own sound, you can always EQ out 125-160 HZ and this will minimize the boominess.

      Another trick to getting more volume is to encourage your bandmates to back off the mics and/or quiet down a bit during your guitar solo. Years ago, this was standard practice. But, I've noticed in the past ten years, or so, that many bands play at full volume...in the mics...all the time, and never consider who's doing what. This includes playing right over top of the singer. A very dynamic band usually has no problem getting the volume they need, even guitar solos. This takes years to perfect, but it's just another thing that makes bands sound better and a sound man's job easier.
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