Posts Tagged 'monitoring'

Going Live- PA and performance sound for the DJ

Now, given that this site is predominantly about house music, I don’t want to head into ‘mobile disco’ territory here. If you’re playing music out, then chances are that you are plugging into an existing system in your venue. If you’re playing big clubs, there will already be an installation waiting to go, and all you need to do is get set up with your tunes in the booth.

What I want to talk about here, are some of the situations in which the deep house dj might find themselves, where you are playing in small bars, really providing a background soundtrack for the night, rather than taking over the entire room. And it is these situations that can often require a bit more thought and preparation.

First of all, make sure what is expected of you and be clear on what your role is for the night. Talk to the manager and try and get a feel for what sort of atmosphere they want for the venue. If it is a bar, with people sitting talking, think about your volume carefully. I have heard a lot more people complain that the music is too loud than complain about it being too quiet.

Find out (ideally several days in advance) what the venue’s music setup is and work through a checklist of questions:

Do they have a built-in set up with an amp you can plug into direct from your mixer?

What type of connections?

How far from the amp will your setup be?

How long do your cables need to be?

How is the in-house system set up? Is it summed to mono or does one part of the bar get the left while another gets the right? (This actually seems to happen quite a lot…)

In some venues that are basically bars, there may be a small space suitable as a dancefloor, but without additional sound reinforcement there. One solution I have used in the past is to use a single powered PA speaker on its side, much like a monitor wedge for a foldback mix on stage. Many modern PA speakers are designed so that they can be turned on their sides like this and angled up.

In the case of deep house music, you can’t really skimp on your low frequency extension, so look for speakers that extend down to 50 Hz or below. In a lot of cases, this means looking at 15″ woofers supplemented with a high-frequency horn. Normally, this would cause problems as, once woofers get to above 10″ or 12″, the cross0ver frequency ends up in the middle of the vocal range, reducing intelligibility. However, for most styles of EDM, this shouldn’t cause too many problems, as the rest of the venue system should cover this range well, and the point of this speaker is purely to supplement the bass frequencies in one specific area.

You will also need to consider how to add this additional speaker to your setup. If your mixer has an additional set of outputs, you can sum the L+R pair using appropriate cables to your powered speaker. If not, using splitter cables is perhaps not the best option. If you use one pair of outputs to feed multiple destinations, you will change the impedance load seen be that output, this will attenuate the output, with the amount of attenuation varying by frequency. If your situation requires splitting the signal, consider using an inexpensive small-format mixer, most of which will offer multiple outputs in the form of main, control room, tape outputs and auxilliary sends. An additional useful purchase is a stereo graphic equalizer, allowing you to tailor the sound to the characteristics of the room. Remember that if you soundcheck early, the sound of the room will change as it fills up with people.

Perhaps the most useful tips are the basics: do your homework and find out about the venue system; take many more cables than you need, as well as a box full of adapters; ‘Greal’ your setup, using different colours of electrical tape to label your cables so you can quickly find your way around what can quickly become a complicated nest of wires; buy the best cables you can, the quality of the wire isn’t as important as the connectors and good ones will survive a lot more plugging and unplugging; always carry duct tape and a good few electrical extension cords and multiways.

Hopefully, in most situations when you dj out you won’t have to worry too much about the setup, and any additional equipment you add won’t be nearly as complicated as if you were engineering a live band performance and having to worry about monitor mixes, stage boxes, phase issues etc. However, reading about large concert live sound engineering is never a bad way to spend your time, and it’s always better to know a little too much than not quite enough!

Of Monitors and of Monitoring…

So, you’ve been producing on your headphones or some old hi-fi speakers, and you’re ready to go out and get yourself a new pair of studio monitors. This is going to be the addition to your studio that really changes your productions: you’ll be able to hear all those little details you couldn’t hear before; you’ll eq better, compress better and pan better. You’ve got a budget of, lets be mathematical about this and say £x, so you go out and buy a new pair of monitors that cost exactly £x, the best pair of monitors you can afford. Is that the right thing to do? In most situations, probably not.

It might be easier if you think of your budget not as how you have to spend on your monitors, but how much to spend on your monitoring. Being able to hear what is going on in your mixes is perhaps the most important thing to get right when trying to make informed decisions about your productions and making mixes that translate well to other systems. What you hear isn’t just a function of your monitors, but of a whole chain, from the DA conversion in your soundcard, through any monitor controllers, the monitors themselves, how the monitors are placed and what the rest of the room is like. You may well find that you get the best monitoring environment if you apportion a, sometimes not insignificant, part of your budget to some of these other variables, rather than blowing the whole lot on the monitors themselves.

As you might guess, this is a pretty big topic, and so there will probably be a few posts on more specific aspects of the subject. I’ll try and give a bit of an overview here of some of the things that have worked for me, which don’t cost a huge amount of money and, hopefully, don’t require that you rearrange all your furniture to get yourself a decent monitoring environment.

The first thing, that has probably made the biggest difference for me, is to try and get rid of any hiss and hum that might be emanating from your speakers. Ground loops can be a big problem here. If you can, get hold of a power filter/surge protector (the latter is a good idea anyway) with multiple outlets. These don’t have to cost an arm and a leg and can help get rid of some ground loops. Different power outlets can often be at different potentials, leading to current flow when different bits of gear are plugged into different outlets. By plugging computer, soundcard and monitors into the same outlet, you can sometimes get rid of some problems, just make sure and count up how many amps you’re drawing! If you’re using a laptop, sometimes disconnecting the power and running on the battery can make a huge difference. For critical mixing tasks, this can sometimes be a big help.

Try and mount your monitors on proper stands with as much mass as possible, some can be filled with sand for this purpose. If your monitors are just sitting on your desk, you can get problems as the sound from the speakers bounces of the desk and mixes back in with the sound coming at you directly, this can cause comb filtering. Additionally, placing some foam ‘wedgies’ –the type with the pyramid patterns are good for this, and not too expensive- at the acoustic ‘mirror points’ on the side walls to try and break up as many reflections as you can is often a good first step on the road to more thorough acoustic treatment.

Additionally, if you’re using stands, it can sometimes be easier to achieve a good monitor placement. You’ll want to try to get the monitors forming an equilateral –or sometimes isosceles!- triangle with your head, pointing in slightly (if you can’t really see the sides of the monitor cabinets, that’s usually pretty good) with the tweeters at ear level or the monitors tilted slightly so a line coming straight out of the tweeters is aimed at your ear height.

If you can, try not to have your setup with speakers tightly in the corners of rooms or against a wall, although sometimes this is unavoidable. If your speakers have ‘placement correction’ controls –they often high pass filter the bass or allow cut or boost of the low and/or high frequencies- experiment with those to try and find the best settings. To do this, you’ll want some reference material. One easy way to test things is to draw an ascending chromatic scale in your DAW playing back a sine wave in a soft synth. Sit in your monitoring position and hit play, the notes should sound at equal volumes. If you hear louder or quieter notes –due to interference creating room nulls and resonances- you can adjust the settings, or at least be aware of which notes are problematic and make informed mix decisions. The excellent Sound on Sound has a bass staircase mp3 here. Additionally, playing back some tracks you know well can be a big help and never underestimate the power of listening to your mixes on as many systems as possible!

That probably covers it for the quick and easy fixes for now, but chances are good that we’ll revisit a lot of these things in future posts. If anyone has some more easy solutions and suggestions to improving your monitoring, I look forward to hearing them!