What do you do when the guitar player says his tone is not “brown” enough?
I’m pretty lucky as band leaders go because—get this—after almost every gig and rehearsal people stick around and help pack up and they really try (to the best of their knowledge and abilities) to help with setup as well.
(This does not include horn players who almost always are the last to get there and the first to leave and they carry the least amount of stuff except the sax player because I have a three-sax book—alto, tenor and bari—so he gets a pass.)
For the past year we have been rehearsing in a studio (Sound Arena rocks!) in California. Getting back and forth with gear and using an “already there” P.A. has made our normal personal monitor approach tough.
We have had to deal with all of the “I can’t hear myself” and feedback crap that I once hoped to have left behind forever.
The good news is that the two people not tied to an instrument—my two backup singers—have jumped in to make the needed adjustments which allows me to concentrate on running the rehearsal.
If it is just a case of adjusting the main channel fader, we are golden and there is no explanation or instruction necessary.
When the problem is EQ or aux send related I find myself closing my eyes, visualizing the board, and telling them which knob to turn and by how much. There seems to be a fear—or at least hesitance—on the part of many musicians to get their hands dirty on the middle part of a mixer.
No need. It does take some knowledge but it is not rocket science.
RULE #1: LISTEN FIRST
Every system is different and you have to listen to get the most out of it. The most important skill you can develop when it comes to running sound (at any level from a small rehearsal room to a club to an arena) is to learn how to listen.
With all of the new high-tech toys available I find far too many sound guys who spend more time looking at laptops and touch screens and processor menus than they do listening to the band. They are, in effect, trying to mix with their eyes.
This doesn’t work very well.
When it comes to the kind of smaller systems typical of what most Live 2 Play readers will be using, it’s important to not get too tied up in where the knobs are pointing.
Adjusting the EQ based on what you are hearing is far more beneficial than making sure a particular frequency band is knocked down by 6 dB like the guy in some magazine says it should be.
EQ BANDS AND TYPES
A typical MI (Musical Instrument – stuff typical bar bands use as opposed to Pro Audio, which is what stadiums, arenas, and bigger theaters would use) quality mixer will have anywhere from two to four bands of EQ on each input channel. Two is easy—one is high and the other is low—just like the bass and treble controls on your home stereo.
The bass and treble controls on a 2-band EQ.
As we add bands of EQ, we get into the midrange and that is where things can start to get confusing.
Let’s start with EQ types.
First, you need to know if you are looking at a true ‘cut and boost’ filter or a simple roll off.
With a roll off, all of the frequency content of a particular frequency band is present when the control is dialed all the way on. Dialing it back “rolls off” the content of that band.
A true cut and boost is at zero—or “flat”—when the knob is at 12 o’clock. There is often a notch in the knob’s rotation at that point called a “détente.” Dialing the knob up or down either boosts or cuts the content of that frequency band.
Both types of EQs are centered at a specific frequency and have a specific width (how many adjacent frequencies they affect) called the “Q.”
These frequency centers and filter widths are a huge part of what makes one mixer sound different from another.
The other kind of EQ or filter is called a parametric or semi-parametric.
These are also referred to as “sweepable” and are usually found in the midrange.
The white knob selects the frequency that is boosted or cut.
A good mixer—for me, anyway—will have four bands of EQ including two sweepable mids.
A “fully” parametric equalizer consists of three adjustments. First is the center frequency, next is the amount of boost and/or cut applied to the band, and, finally, the Q control that adjusts how wide the band actually is. An EQ that includes all three of these controls is referred to as true or full parametric.
A true fully parametric EQ.
Most of the sweepable controls you will find on MI mixers will leave out the Q control (the width of the filter is fixed) and are properly referred to as “semi-parametric.”
HOW DO I USE ‘EM?
The first thing I do with any board is to “zero it out” by setting all of the channel faders, auxes (auxiliary sends) and EQ controls are at their zero setting…remembering…on a true cut and boost EQ, the “zero” setting is usually at the 12 o’clock position.
As you gain experience and get a feel for your system, your mics and the players, you will find yourself making the same cuts most of the time (like cutting at 120 Hz to take the mud out of a kick drum or cutting 1.25 kHz from a vocal mic).
When you get to that point, it is tempting to just make those adjustments automatically before really listening to the system. In my world, that is just a bad idea. Start flat and listen before you start adjusting.
RULE #2: ‘TIS BETTER TO CUT THAN TO BOOST
When it comes to EQ it is ALWAYS better to cut than it is to boost. We’ll use our plumbing analogy: Assuming your main pipe is pretty full to start with (as it should be if your channel trim is set right), then adding EQ is like adding water to that pipe which could overload it.
In the audio world, that means distortion and maybe feedback.
When in doubt cut, don’t boost.
So, how do you get more bass, for example?
Try cutting everything except the lows and then boosting the overall signal a little bit to get the same effect as just boosting the bass.
There is a sidebar here that you will find invaluable as you continue in the sound world. It discusses the frequency bands of various instruments (which is a little like giving away the secret of the ages for sound guys. Keep this info close to the vest lest it fall into the wrong hands…)
That should be enough to get you started tweaking properly. Till next time…
– Rev. Bill