By Graham Clarke
I always feel grateful for the opportunity to work with creative people in unconventional live sound applications. Whether it’s a concerto written for 20 pianos performed live in the open air beside Roy Thompson Hall or a full orchestra and a 25-person gospel choir, proper microphone selection, phase orientation, and signal treatment will always be your friends.
When we get over 70 open microphones on one stage, we fi nd ourselves with several precarious situations that need to be handled properly. I love these challenges.
Fancy is not necessarily better. I’ve often ridded the mic kit of expensive condensers in favour of a dynamic that has a larger gain-before-feedback potential, and still maintains a true frequency pattern. This selection is based on experience and experimentation, but when the music writer pairs a volume oriented choir with a subtle orchestra, you already have an interesting combination.
I find that the expensive large diaphragm mics work exceptionally well in intimate atmospheres and studios, but often cause more issues on a big stage that outweigh their benefits.
Pickup pattern selection also becomes a very desirable thing now. Let’s leave the EQ alone and pick another mic rather than EQ out everything that was great about the source to begin with. After all, lest we forget, the job is to support the performance.
Three to one. Always. Three inches, three feet – any multiple of three will do for a distance between each microphone.
Bring a measuring tape. Use your feet, your tongue, the house pet… I don’t care, but please measure out the distance correctly and work with the people to get into position and then spike the positions to maintain the proper placements. Also, do your best to keep all the mics pointing in the same direction. There are not many tools available to correct for partial phase alignment, especially on the fly in a live setting. This may sound fundamental
and tedious, but the difference will be gold in the end.
This will be subjective to the situation and the way the engineer prefers to operate, but if nothing else, pay attention to your compression – in particular
your ratio and attack time. Different soloists will require very different settings, as well as the brass and woodwinds.
Balancing out your various sections with the soloist is tricky and we only have one shot before the cue has past, so spend your pre-production and soundcheck time getting the buss compression and individual sources working together so that you’re not fighting the elements and their transients. These energies from the performers are sure to change with the energy and adrenaline of show time. If you set these tools to do the work for you, you can spend your time concentrating on mixing the show the way the creator intended it to be heard.
Graham Clarke has been in the audio industry for over 17 years and is based in Toronto. He has been tour manager, production manager, and audio engineer for acts such as TOTO, Loverboy, Alannah Myles, Jann Arden, David Wilcox, and others.