By: Michelle Sabolchick Pettinato
Tuning the system and ringing out wedges. There are many different techniques and everyone has their favorite- from simply speaking into the lead vocal microphone to utilizing tools like Smaart. SoundGirls.Org spoke to several engineers to find out what techniques they employ.
Lets talk about monitor wedges and side fills for a moment.
The standard way to ring out monitor wedges has always seemed to be by using your voice. However, many women lack the low frequency range needed to really clean up the bottom end. But before we get into that, a good practice to get into is to start by noising all components to make sure they are all functioning. Send the pink noise generator from your console to each mix, with all the amps turned down. Dial up the amp channel for each component one at a time to make sure everything is working and wired correctly.
Next listen to the wedges and side fills to make sure they are properly balanced between lows and highs, and lows, mids, and highs for side fills. Adjust your crossovers if needed and check for phasing problems.
If you find that your voice lacks the frequency range needed to really ring out the system, use a couple CD tracks that you are very familiar with. Sound Engineer, Kim Watson uses this approach. “Wedge Eq is a funny one for me. I don’t have those low frequencies in my voice. My general approach is as if I was doing a FOH mix. Chuck some tunes in there and pull the obvious frequencies. Is it too harsh, too muddy etc. Then stick a mic on it, see how it sounds with my voice and catch any ringing frequencies. Cupping the mic, pointing it at the wedge, doing the parabolic dish thing with my hand to see where it rings. Pull a few of those and I am usually set.”
Suzy Mucciarone employs a combination of her ears, tools like Smaart, and then someone else’s voice. “ I’ll always enlist a couple of people to talk into a wedge, room or podium just to compare. After delaying, I’ll run pink through a wedge or room to listen to it. Highs v’s mids v’s lows. Look at it on Smaart or the like, and sometimes I’ll start by turning the lows down a couple of db at the amps, if I feel it’s necessary. More than a couple of rooms and wedge settings have needed amp adjustments.” “I know what I need to cut from my voice, so I’ll take that out of the strip, and then HP the mic at 112hz and start to dial into a wedge from there. I’ll use the graphic to sweep the frequencies and cut the ones that exaggerate. Start with the low freq first and work up while still listing to the overall tone and response. Cup and crowd the mic, do the “vegas wave” -Repeat.” Suzy adds, “Wedges will only get so loud while remaining true (natural) sounding and stable. It’s a balancing act between gain, EQ and stability. The crossover frequencies will always be sensitive. When I thinks it fairly decent, I’ll ask another to grab the mic so I can hear a “real” voice through a wedge (they generally sound far better and louder when the mic is in someone else’s hand) and adjust from there if necessary. “
“Know where you’re roof is. Know when to quit.”
“An analogy once told to me was that, a wedge mix is like a bucket, there’s only so much you can put into it before it overflows. If you want to add more to it, you have to take something out. But eventually you will hit diminishing returns. As a general rule, I think that if you are pulling more than 6db from a graph or strip, the real problem is further back, try and fix that. I was also introduced to an app late last year called “SignalScope“, I find it to be a very useful tool, and great time saver.”
Karrie Keyes recommends cutting the low frequencies (63hz and 80hz) completely, especially in vocal mixes as they tend to just muddy things up. “If you are trying to narrow it down to one or two problem frequencies, I boost it on the graphic so I can really hear it. If it’s a problem it is going to either feedback or jump out at you.”
Knowing frequencies is a must for a monitor engineer. You are in the hot seat and in direct line of fire if things start feeding back on stage. You need to be able to quickly resolve the problem without destroying the mix. Christina Moon recommends using any of the websites or apps for ear training to memorize frequencies rather than relying on an RTA. RTA’s can be a helpful tool, but it’s part of your job to know the frequencies so don’t be lazy.
One of the most important lessons to learn in doing monitors is that it’s not about what YOU think sounds good, it’s about what the artist wants or needs to hear.
“When I was a house monitor engineer it was about gain before feedback. How loud can I get it”, says Christina Moon. “Now that I’m a touring engineer I have the time to figure out what frequencies that person needs for them. It’s not about what sounds good to me anymore. Does that person need 3.15 left in because they may be lacking there? Some people hate high end and want a super muddy mix. It’s about them now. Still knowing what frequencies you need to accomplish that job is crucial.
Things will be different for different situations. Mixing monitors for a variety of bands in a festival situation will require slightly different techniques than mixing monitors for the same artist every night, or for a theatrical performance.
In a festival situation you need to accommodate many different acts quickly with little time in between each. So your priority is more likely to be as much gain before feedback as possible rather than knowing the subtleties like- the singer hates compression and likes to hear the distortion of the mic capsule overloading when he’s screaming into it. You won’t have time to concentrate on a CD quality mix. You need to focus on what the band needs to hear in order to play the show.
FOH System tuning
Again start with a component check using pink noise to make sure everything is working.
Suzy Mucciarone- “The correct hang/placement of PA is the first step. Delay, then shade if necessary. Combine a vocal response with a pinked Smaart response (averaging or just a single well placed mic), sweeping both. Then, play a “tuning” song or two that you know well. Listen to how it sounds in the room, verses my (very good) headphones. The goal is that you want what is leaving the console to sound that way in the room. Then walk the room. If necessary, tweak the amp settings if you can, to fix a problem spot. eg – boost the high’s of the top circuit of the mains to hit the back of the room better etc.. Again, it’s another balancing act. The room environment plays a large roll in what and how you do things long before you get to the EQ. “
Michelle Sabolchick Pettinato– “My method of choice has always been playing a few songs through the system. I have a selection of songs I have used over the years, which varies a bit from time to time, and depending on the style of music I am mixing. The first track I use is instrumental with a nice fat low end, solid mid range and some crisp highs. I take a long walk around the room while it’s playing to get a feel for how the system is reacting in the venue. Are the lows building up in the middle? Is it too loud and too harsh down in front? Am I losing the highs up in the top rows? I make whatever necessary adjustments and then continue. I have one song that is heavy in the mid range, one with a big, fat, bottom end that helps clean up the muddiness, one with a lot of high mids to help smooth out any harshness. Those are my go to songs and depending on if I need to do more work, I’ve got a few others that I throw on.”
“After I am happy with the system, I grab the lead vocal microphone and bring it to FOH for minor tweaks. Sometimes, I only need to do this for the first couple shows after which I have it dialed in. However if the singer leaves the stage or spends a lot of time in front of the PA, I will bring the microphone out to FOH every day and ring it out. I will also have the monitor engineer walk the stage with the lead vocal mic for two reasons- my voice lacks a lot of the low, problem frequencies, and I want to check for any hot spots near the downstage edge or in front of the PA.” “There are a lot of useful tools out there like Smaart and others but I have never been a fan of relying on a computer to tell me how the room or system sounds. Use your ears, they will be with you everywhere you go and best of all- they don’t cost a thing!”
Kim Watson warns that if you tend to EQ your system with the mic first, sometimes you pull out too much of the mic frequencies that should be done on the channel and then you end up lacking in the power regions where your guitar and bass might sit. This applies to wedges as well.
Feel free to add your tips and techniques to the comments below or email SoundGirls.Org@gmail.com with any questions.