Protecting mics in front of dance band

Discussion in 'Location Recording' started by drumrob, Nov 12, 2012.

  1. drumrob

    drumrob Active Member

    Hi all!

    I play in a 21 piece jazz big band and have started laying out ideas for making live recordings. I'm looking at doing something more elaborate than putting a Zoom H2 out in the front of the group. One issue I have run into is that I would like to put a stereo pair out in the front of the ensemble, maybe 3 or 4 feet behind the conductor. At most gigs, that would mean a mic stand and mics sitting in prime territory for dancers to knock into it and destroy the mics. I've thought of putting a chair or two next to the mic stand. That obviously doesn't look that great, though. Short of putting up yellow crime scene tape all across the front of the band, does anyone have suggestions for how to keep people away from mics in front of the band?


  2. bouldersound

    bouldersound Real guitars are for old people. Well-Known Member

    Play badly?

    Sorry, all I can think of is to hang the mics, but that has its own problems.
  3. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

    LOL! Play badly and crime scene tape. conjours an image.

    attack.jpeg how about a couple of these ???

    seriously, is there a way you can hang the mics? Other wise you will need some serious mic stands and sand bags ... place them at the sides of the band instead of in front.

    this is why i never liked to play venues that don't have a stage / bandstand. too many dancers bumping into the mic stands and smashing me in the mouth.
  4. drumrob

    drumrob Active Member

    Thanks, guys, for the suggestions LOL!

    I like the idea of the attack dogs. I don't know why, but I believe a mic on a stand, or a speaker on a stand seem to attract dancers like some sort of homing device. Hanging mics generally will not be an option, but it would be great. I think I'm only going to try to record in venues where my front mics will be away from dive-bombing dancers. Now how do you keep the musicians from kicking, knocking their horns into, or drooling on the mics placed around them? :>)

  5. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Guest

    I lost a very expensive ribbon microphone because of this same exact scenario. Doesn't matter when you have it taped and sandbagged on the floor when a waitress turns around with the platter and smashes into it. And then it falls to its death, yup. The damned microphone costs as much as I was making on the job! And you can't get angry at a waitress for doing her job. Then it wasn't even the dancers that smashed into it. So... look to see if there is anything over the heads of folks on each side of the room that you might be able to tie something off to? You can use nylon rope or even the microphone cables themselves. Otherwise you may be forced to only have an extreme left and right from a pair of directional microphones up against the opposing walls? That will certainly give you a broad ambient feel to your band. And then the direct feeds from your other close up microphones which can still make for a very enjoyable listening experience. Or just stick a couple of boundary microphones on the floor, right in front of the band where people might not be dancing? Or you might be able to stick a single Omni directional microphone right in front of the conductor? Doing that would provide that rather nostalgic single monaural old-time aspect? You'll be generating stereo from your other tight microphones in your mix. But this would give you that solid big-band mono center image. And being in front of the conductor instead of behind the conductor, shouldn't pose a problem. In the end, because of his closer proximity, if utilizing multi-track software, you could actually retard the timing of that microphone ever so slightly so as to approximate a greater distance in time, of the band, with reference to the other microphones. I utilize these kinds of time manipulation ever since we got multi-track software and even before that with standalone multi-track digital audio recorders. And that was 20 years ago. Being able to manipulate timing of your microphones can be one of the most significant mixing techniques yet available. Because the only way to do that before was to physically move the microphone. Changing these timings changes perception of direction and the stereo imaging and can be incredibly effective.

    I'm giving you a timeout to think about this.
    Mx. Remy Ann David
  6. JoeH

    JoeH Well-Known Member

    I'll suggest something simliar to what other have already said; you just have to find a way to hang them if you're going to have dancers. The extra time you spend on a couple of wire ties or ceiling hangers will be a lot less than the cost of damaged mics. Besides, a pair of mics on a stand out in front just looks silly & distracting, unless you're a movie company making a movie or something. ;-)

    That said, I'll bet you'll never be satisfied with just two mics recording the band. These days, that kind of sound is just not going to cut it for anything but archival recordings or for study purposes. You may end up using the ambient mics for applause & a little "air" in the sound, but not much else. You will definitely need to do more mic'ing of the band's instruments, either splits from the PA mixer (direct outs, perhaps) or separate dedicated mics for more "punch" and detail.

    Choose the best gig you want to record, and go crazy, if you can. You can easily pull off a decent 16 channel recording of a big-band/swing band, if you have the gear like Presonus live or Mackie Onyx boards.

    Three mics on the drums: Kick, Snare & Overhead. One on the bass, two for the piano/DI/stereo out. Another for the guitar,(if there is one), two ambient mics out in front. You're up to 8 or 9 at this point. Mic 10 would be the solo mic out in front for singers, solos, etc. That leaves you with five or six more for the saxes, bones & trpts. (I'd go with three on the saxes, split in pairs, and two each for the bones & trpts. SM58's are fine for the brass, try to find something with a little detail for the saxes.)

    Depending on the size of the room and where you ended up with the ambient mics, you may or may NOT need to time-align. Leave that for the final mix.

    Good luck, & let us know how you fared, however you went with it.
  7. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Guest

    As Joe indicated time alignment, time alignment may also pertain to time offsets. When directional microphones are placed too close together, you can experience phase cancellations. This can sometimes be remedied quite nicely by actually adding a couple of extra milliseconds of delay to a microphone that is in to close proximity to another. Or as Joe suggested, you could instead time align those two to each other to prevent phase cancellation/comb filtering. But time offsets can present a broader feel, without the phase cancellation either. Actual time alignment can be slightly trickier to achieve than the offset.

    57's are good on just about everything but if you want that slightly sweeter sound on trumpets, you might want to go with an inexpensive ribbon? Cascades and a slew of others just like them are available for as little as $160 US each. As opposed to the $700-$1500 + top rated ribbon microphones from Royer, Beyer, Coles and others. Plus the phase factor between a ribbon microphone and the dynamics & condensers will be 90° or 270° different as opposed to 180°. So phasing and cancellation issues can be better dealt with. Even a ribbon over a drum kit will make for a more nostalgic sound since that was what was essentially used on big bands, back in the day. If it's too state of the art sounding, how nostalgic can it sound? I really don't think I'd want to hear an old-fashioned big-band with a state-of-the-art sound? To me it just seems to defeat the purpose? I mean when ya get married, you still put on a tuxedo and not just blue jeans and T-shirts, right? And that's the way I'd approach a big-band recording. So I feel that ribbon microphones will play a big part in capturing a big-band. That and maybe some tube condenser microphones? And then you start to get the real flavor. Ideally you'd still want to use transformer coupled microphone preamps using transistor circuitry. But even without that, the proper microphone selections and placements will really make the biggest difference.

    There's nothing like a good big-band.
    Mx. Remy Ann David
  8. drumrob

    drumrob Active Member

    Thanks, Remy and JoeH for your thoughts. I have this on-going debate with myself over how much effort to put into recording, given that I'm playing at the same time! It's tough to monitor and tweak levels, even when you've done a good sound check, when you're also trying to play the music! But I want a good multi-mic sound. I don't necessarily want to be true to the recordings of the 30's and 40's, even if that's mostly the music we play.

    My thoughts for recording the band:

    First of all it's 5 saxes, 4 bones, 4 trumpets, piano, drums, bass, guitar. And just to keep things fun, sometimes 3 female singers out front!

    Recorder is a Yamaha AW4416, 16-track recorder

    Simple recording:

    Cascade X-15 stereo ribbon on the ensemble
    Audix scx-one pair as drum overheads
    AGK D112 on bass amp
    Cascade Fat Head II on guitar amp
    Stereo pair (Audix i5s?, AKG SE391s?, AT4033s?) on piano
    Stereo feed from PA to pick up vox

    More elaborate setup:

    3 mics for saxes - one for altos/clarinet (Mojave MA-200), one for tenors (MXL V69M), one for bari (ADK Hamburg)

    2 for bones/trumpets - pair of Cascade Fat Head II mics placed between t-bone 1&2 and 3&4

    OPTIONAL - spot solo mics. Not sure I really need them in this set up because the main soloists are the lead tenor, lead alto and first trumpet. But I could put up an AT4047 and a BLUE Mouse as solo spots for the saxes, with an ADK S7b for trumpet solos.

    Drums - Audix scx-one (x2) for overheads, Audix D1 on Snare, AKG D112 for kick

    Bass - DI or put Audix D4 or EV RE20 on bass amp

    Guitar - Cascade Fat Head II on amp

    Piano - Same as above, depending on whether he uses an electronic keyboard, which I would take direct, or if there's an upright or grand. For the acoustic pianos, I would have the options mentioned under "piano" above, along with a pair of Studio Projects C-1s that I could use.

    Vocalists - ideal would be to run their mics first into a mixer where I could get a direct out for each channel, then run the output of that mixer to the PA.

    And maybe the most important thing, I'll have somebody to tweak the pre-amp levels while recording so I can concentrate on just playing! Then I'll mix the whole mess later.

    WHEW!!! Maybe one mic and try to make it sound like the 30's ain't so bad after all!


  9. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Guest

    In a multi-track recording scenario like yours, setting levels first, not having to screw with them, should not be a problem. Because even at only 16 bit resolution, you are still talking about a 96 DB window. Even the best analog machines of their day, never had more than 65 DB of usable recording dynamic range, which certainly wasn't a problem for any professional engineer. So I don't think too kindly of your problems with tweaking levels while you are playing. Certainly nothing that anybody should be doing as it should be unnecessary. It's only necessary if you haven't set your levels properly to begin with and you haven't, obviously. This is not rocket science. This is simple set and forget tracking. Better to have a little extra headroom than distortion so you go a little more conservative on the amount of microphone preamp gain. And if you're recording at 24-bit, you can record at even lower levels without worry. Because that will give you a 140 DB window of working digital dynamic range even though your preamps will never deliver more than 110-115 from the best preamps.

    Otherwise all of your microphone selections looked to be quite valid and good. So you just have to learn how to set the damned gain trim controls right. All that needs to be done when you set your microphones up is to just have somebody play the loudest note they can at their respective microphones first. That's your peak level. Set that peak level so it's at least -6 to -12 from 0 DB FS and you'll have no more issues. You'll be able to mix this nicely and you will end up with a lovely recording. So actually it's really simple. When you see the peak lights, a peak light does not mean it is at its best. It means you have already screwed up your recording. So you want to keep everything below that and then no problems.

    As you have observed, this can be stupidly simple or as complex as your IRS taxes to deal with. How much effort you have to put forth? Well other then this is all backbreaking work, there isn't any effort that you need to put in while you're playing. You need to ignore and divorce yourself from your recording rig while playing. So having a good ear and being a musician is not necessarily a prerequisite to becoming a good engineer. A good engineer simply knows proper gain settings and then no worries. Because when you are tracking something live, you do not want to be changing your recording levels to your multi-track recorder/computer/software because that's going to make for mixing nightmares. That's why you need to set the level and walk away. Then you can concentrate on your playing as you should. So it's better to err on the side of caution. Which simply means, don't turn up the gain so high.

    The gain the gain the gain, again and again and again.
    Mx. Remy Ann David
  10. bouldersound

    bouldersound Real guitars are for old people. Well-Known Member

    I think, if I had to play in the band, I'd just tape a PZM to the front of the podium and be done with it.

    But playing in bands isn't something I did a lot of, and it's been a while. On the other hand I've done a fair number of live multitrack recordings, the last one three days ago. I'm often mixing live as well and don't want to get distracted so I make the recording as foolproof as possible by running levels somewhat lower than what Remy suggests. Since I'm doing record splits on the sends of the inserts and there are compressors inserted on all channels I set the outputs of all the compressors a few dB above unity. That lets me run the gains a little low and still have plenty of signal at the mix bus, and that gives me a little extra safety margin. I have to be really out of whack with my gain to clip a track. If you don't adjust input gains it's a lot easier to mix.
  11. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

    i did a live recording once to stereo tracks of a SVHS video recorder for a video shoot. . i used 3 atm 10 omnis on short floor stands across the stage left center right and then took a tap off the pa which had the guitars, kick drum and vocals. took the bass direct. it actually came out quite good.

    i also like the idea of pzms. did a gospel choir a few times and they had 3 pzms on plexiglass mounted to lighting stands. . perhaps 2 on the sides and 2 out front?

    then theres this 1 mic. (a sony condenser)
  12. drumrob

    drumrob Active Member

    Thanks again boulder, Kurt and Remy for your input.

    Remy - of course you're right about setting levels. I didn't go into detail in my first post, not wanting to turn it into a novel, like my last post! But these are live performances we're talking about. And unfortunately, this band never does a sound check, even for the live PA mixer, much less for some poor schmo trying to do a recording. So the first couple of songs become the sound check and the time to set levels. Then yes, once properly set, leave them so I'm not chasing levels while mixing later. Of course I know that's not ideal, but then I'm not getting paid to do this either :>)

    I'm also talking to the band about doing a proper recording session where we don't have to worry about dancers, "disturbing" the crowd with a sound check, ability to play a song three times to get it right, etc. That'll be a different thread some day!


  13. JoeH

    JoeH Well-Known Member

    Too bad you're so far away from me. It would be fun to do a multitrack recording like this. I've done a lot over the years, from stereo to four to sixteen tracks. (you just never have enough! ;-) Good luck however you go.
  14. Thomas W. Bethel

    Thomas W. Bethel Well-Known Member

    Three of these should do the trick. Carolina Traffic Devices, Inc. the only problem will be transporting them to and from the gig and whether you can get a back hoe into the venue.

    Seriously hanging mics or PZMs on the floor of the stage might be the best way. I am still looking for an anti-gravity device for use in these situations but technology has not quite caught up with my needs.

    Best of luck.
  15. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Guest

    It certainly great to make a recording in a controlled environment. In your live recording scenario, having and using your device a few times, surely, you can approximate conservative gain settings. And if it's digital, you have far less to worry about than anybody ever had to worry about, back in the days of analog tape. Now if you're trying to create a stereophonic mix and not a multi-track recording for later mixing, that's certainly unrealistic and unprofessional to do. It's like a family Chinese dinner, you need to pick one from column A or one from column B. You can't have both for that same price. So if you can't just preset levels, you might want to consider asking an enthusiastic youngster to do your job, the way you instruct them to do so? And in that way, you will be mentoring your slave intern. Then you can go out for pizza.

    Cheese or pepperoni?
    Mx. Remy Ann David
  16. rmburrow

    rmburrow Active Member

    Dancers and mic stands: Go to Dick's (or some other sport supply store) and pick yourself up a half dozen or so 25 lb barbell weights. Slip two or three of those over the mic stand pipe and let them rest on top of the base. Secure the mic, and you may want to ty wrap it into the holder and secure the cable to the stand. I have found that 50 lb of barbell weight (in addition to the weight of the mic stand) will stub a toe almost every time. Put yellow fluorescent warning tape on the mic stand bases and maybe near eye level. Tape down mic cable floor runs to the floor to avoid tripping, especially in a venue where alcohol is served.

    You may find that two mics to two track works fine for the instrumental band, especially considering ambient noise levels in typical dance venues. A pair of SM81's in XY should work fine. Don't risk anything too expensive.
  17. paulears

    paulears Well-Known Member

    I'm guessing a bit - but a 21 piece big band style outfit will probably have a conductor/MD who insists on mics for solos? I hope I'm wrong, but chances are you are using a PA of some kind. Even if you are not, a 21 piece is very unlikely to have a proper internal sound balance, so any form of stereo miking is going to record the imbalance. The only way to get a good recording will be to record everything - and for a 21 piece, this is a serious project, fraught with all kinds of problems (and budget is going to be a killer!)

    If you have a big space, and plenty of time, then you can move people to create the ideal balance. This usually means shifting the over loud, but less able players away from the front, and moving the nicer sounding ones forwards - which is often a tricky one if they are reading the same pad!

    Big bands who do the Glenn Miller style strict split between brass and woodwind sound much better - but their recordings are often bass light and ave thin sounding drums. Can you give us a plan - showing where they all stand/sit, and who is who - maybe that will help?

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