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Sound Engineer

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Microphone Types and Uses

July 28, 2010

Hal Leonard Recording Book

Microphones & Mixers Book & DVD

Definition:  Microphone — or mic — converts acoustic energy into electrical energy, resulting in an audio signal.

Rather than going into the scientific details I am going to outline the different types of microphones and what they’re used for:

Dynamic Microphone:   Most commonly used for live sound and known for its durability.  It’s also the best choice for the high volume levels of bass guitar, bass drums and amplifiers.  For optimal performance, this mic should not be placed any more than one foot away from the sound source.  Otherwise, the result could be a thin sound with less color and clarity.  Some popular dynamic microphone choices are:   Shure SM57 and SM58;  Sennheiser 421 and441;  Electro-Voice EV PL80; and the Audio-Technica M4000.

Condenser Microphone:  Most commonly used for recording lead vocal tracks, acoustic guitars, pianos, and live strings, the condenser is known for its ability to capture the smaller nuances of sound.  It has a very quick, accurate response as well as a clarity that cannot be achieved by other types of microphones.  While not as rugged as a dynamic, this mic is capable of capturing a broader range of frequencies from a greater distance than any other type.  Popular condenser microphones include:  Shure KSM27 and KSM32;  Electro-Voice Bk-1;  Sennheiser MKH40 and MKH80;  and the Neumann KMS105.

Ribbon Microphone:   Known as the most fragile of the different microphone types, some sound engineers are hesitant to utilize this mic in any live setting for fear of damaging it.  Despite its lack of ruggedness, the effects and quality of sound from a ribbon microphone are very similar to those of a dynamic in that they tend to enhance the higher frequencies of the sound and perform best when placed within close proximity of the sound source.

As you can probably tell, dynamic and condenser mics are the most common and will likely be what you and/or your engineer are working with.  An excellent resource for learning about microphones and microphone technique is the

Hal Leonard Recording Method Book/DVD Volume 1 – Microphones & Mixers, Pepper #10040995.

Directors' Toolbox

Mixing Live Sound

June 29, 2010

Mixing Live SoundHere are a few handy tips and some basic information on what goes into setting up and mixing live sound:

  1. A “mix” is created by combining the separate audio signals from individual voices or instruments into one.
  2. Usually two mixes, sometimes more, are created for any given performance – one for the performer(s) and front rows and one for the rest of the audience.  What you hear may differ from what they hear.
  3. In larger venues with multiple speakers, the sound must be mixed and synchronized in such a way that prevents the performer’s monitors from overpowering the overall sound and vice-versa.  Ever notice that the sound booth at a concert hall is often located in the middle of the floor of the venue?  That’s because they’re in charge of what the audience hears.  A second engineer will often take care of what the performers hear.
  4. Sound levels during the performance will likely need adjustment throughout the performance.  Communicate with your engineer on any ideas or concerns you may have regarding sound levels.  Perhaps you have far more trumpeters than flautists and want to make sure the flutes aren’t drowned out.  Or, maybe you have a diva in your midst who attempts to turn her favorite song into a personal showcase by drowning out the rest of the group.  Most of the time there are adjustments that can be made by simply moving equipment or adjusting levels.

Keep in mind that some venues are going to be much easier to work with sonically than others.  Mixing is only one aspect of what goes into achieving quality sound.  Microphone choices and placement also play a huge role in what you, the performers and audience hear.

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Directors' Toolbox

The Job of a Sound Engineer

June 1, 2010
The Basics of Live Sound

The Basics of Live Sound

Chapter 1 of The Basics of Live Sound by Jerry Slone defines a sound engineer as “A person who brings together separate sounds to create one sound.”  Simple enough, right?  The reality is that a sound engineer can be responsible for a wide range of things, from setting up and running equipment, to mixing and mastering multi-track recordings. They’ve also been known to break out the occasional soldering iron to save the day when a renegade wire attempts to disrupt a performance.  The talents of a sound engineer are not limited simply to recording a band in the studio or monitoring a live concert.  There are many areas where we encounter their work on a daily basis, including  TV and radio commercials, video game audio design, movie audio post-production, or even PA systems for public speaking.

Here is a short list of the various types of engineers with an overview of their duties:

Recording Engineer – Records sound either in a studio or live setting.

Mixing Engineer – Combines the audio from a multi-track recording into a single mix by adjusting volume and adding effects.

Mastering Engineer – Creates the final mix of a recording in preparation for mass production, using equalization and compression techniques.

Live Sound Engineer – Works with the various aspects of a “Sound Reinforcement” system, including planning and setting up equipment, mixing and monitoring sound, and adding effects.

Moving forward, my blog series will primarily focus on the aspects of live sound, as this is what most of you are, or will be, dealing with as musicians and music directors.  Remember, your sound engineer is your friend and having a better understanding of their world will help you achieve the sound that you want through the art of communication.