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Be Controlling (Managing Stage Volume, part 5)

Excellence in the Arts - by - September 18, 2009 - 10:55 Etc/GMT+5 - 1 Comment

“Turn it down!” is an easy concept to grasp, but the reality of lowering the volume is not always that easy.  To take steps to control the “sound makers” on the platform requires thinking through the larger picture. Ask  some questions: what is making sound? Where does that sound need to be? From what does that sound need to be kept away?  The answers to these questions can then help the team make adjustments that will help lower the stage volume level and help everyone hear what they need to hear.

The loudest sound generators (i.e., drums, bass guitar) on the platform are easy to identify, some other sound sources may take a little more investigation.  Each component adds a little to the overall noise level, which when picked up in the microphones can add muddiness to the sound and lower intelligibility.  Low frequency mechanical noise, ventilation air noise, buzz from electrical equipment and lights are all noise sources that are often overlooked, but these can significantly contribute to lowering the quality of sound in the room.

Once the sound generators have been identified, they need to be isolated. Sounds that do not contribute to the mix, for example, fan noise on the projector, should be eliminated (replace the projector with a quiet one or move it / isolate it). Sounds that do contribute (vocalist, instruments, playback) are controlled when the monitor system is evaluated and designed to get the correct mix to the right team members at the right time. This includes establishing enough channels of monitor mixes so that each person or group can hear their instruments or voices and enough of the rest of the team to play well together, but allowing them to turn down those instruments they don’t need to hear. Creating the appropriate mix allows each team member to hear what they need with less effort, without driving up the overall stage volume. Design the system with sufficient monitor speakers to place them close enough to the team members to lower the level of each monitor speaker. Four monitor speakers close to the vocalists can each be at a much lower level than one speaker further way trying to push sound to four spread out people, and the overall level will be less than the single speaker.

Controlling sound becomes a lot easier with the technology available today. In Ear Monitors (IEM) allow delivery of sound directly to the vocalist or musician’s ears without adding any volume level to the platform. Throne Shakers / Butt Kickers allow musicians to feel the low frequencies in the music without overloading the platform with Bass. Amp simulators, quality DI boxes, amp isolation cases and digital instruments allow the team to control the sounds easier in one contained audio system rather than deal with blending individual instrument amplifiers. Musician monitor mixers, headphone amplifiers and “more of me” personal monitor mixers are all tools that allow the musicians and vocalists to control their own mix, which is important if they are using IEM or headphones and there is not a dedicated monitor engineer.

The most import part of the process is to work together to create a plan that takes all of these areas into consideration with input from all the team members (including a designer or consultant), then implement the plan carefully. Ensure that everyone on the team is educated about why these changes are being made and why their help is vital to the success of Managing Stage Volume.

Part 4: Turn it Down
Part 3: Personalities and their Preferences
Part 2: What should the stage dB be?
Part 1: Managing Stage Volume Levels


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