If you're a singer-songwriter, duo, or band and...
...you've played a gig and it didn't sound great. Or, if you couldn't hear yourself, you're in the right place.
There's some kind of strange phenomenon that happens at live gigs. When you're at home, you're playing your guitar and singing and it sounds awesome. You can hear yourself perfectly.
Then, you go to play the gig and what happens?
Your Acoustic Guitar Transforms Into An Icepick Of Doom That Jams Into All Available Eardrums.
And your voice sounds like the teacher from Charlie Brown.
You can't hear anything.
Oh, and your well-rehearsed performance?
It goes down the tubes because you're frustrated, angry, and distracted. Your audience probably doesn't notice when you make a minor mistake but...
...you're going to have a hard time connecting with an audience when you're in your head and thinking about cruddy sound.
I know how you feel.
In fact, I've felt like this many times before as an acoustic bassist in several acoustic groups. We'd sound great in the living room or the rehearsal studio, but on stage it was just awful.
Have no fear, I've found tips for you to take your live sound out of this audio desert and into the promise-land so you can:
Relax and have fun
Connect with your audience
You may be thinking:
"Yeah, but I don't know anything about audio engineering and I'm allergic to knobs."
That's okay because I'm going to hold your hand through every step of this process.
In Fact, The Less Knobs You're Touching, The Better.
In audio, it is very tempting to try to fix problems with fancy gizmos, boxes, knobs and things like that. But generally speaking, it's best to fix problems at the source.
To talk about source, the example we're going to look at today is a common scenario. Someone singing while playing acoustic guitar.
In this case, the sources are the vocal and the acoustic guitar.
This week we'll deal with the the acoustic guitar. Most people tend to plug their acoustic guitar into a direct box (D.I.)
It's a little box on the floor that you plug the cable from your acoustic guitar into. From there it sends to the sound system.
Most acoustic guitarists use D.I.'s despite them being the number one contributor to "icepick of doom" tone. They do this because they're the "industry standard" and they see a lot of professional people doing it. Oh yeah, and they're marketed as a fix-all for acoustic guitar woes.
But let me tell you, there are quite a few scenarios where this isn't the best option.
If you have a drummer behind you, you need to use a d.i.
If you have an electric guitar or anybody else with some giant amp behind you, you need a D.I.
If you are playing a loud venue such as a bar. A venue full of people talking and clinking beer bottles. In that case, you might as well use a D.I. because no one's is listening anyway. While you're at it, find a better gig...
Last but not least, if you walk around the stage while playing, you need a D.I.
Like I said, we're talking about an acoustic guitarist who's singing and playing guitar. Most likely they are staying in front of the microphone because they're singing.
If that's the case here are your options:
One microphone for everything.
Two microphones. One for guitar and one for vocal.
The first option I would try is what musicians did back in the day before sound systems got so complicated. They would...
Stick A Single Microphone Up, Circle Around It and Play.
It sounds really great.
It's important that you balance yourself. But this, again, is not rocket science. Whoever is singing the melody should be closest to the microphone. If you're taking a solo, step up to the microphone. Easy peasy.
In the case of you singing and playing guitar, put the mic halfway between your mouth and your guitar. This might not work if you are a heavy strummer and a soft singer.
Simple fix though: Move the mic towards the voice. Done and done. Best singer-songwriter sound ever.
If you find you want a little more control, try two microphones. Put one on your voice and one on your guitar.
One of my favorite duos ever, Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, do this all the time. They have four Shure SM57s and they place one on each guitar and one on each vocal, and that's it. Sounds incredible.
Wait - If You Rush Out and Try This Today You Might Feedback!
Here's a perfect example of what would guarantee feedback to occur. Jamming a microphone in front of a speaker and turning it up.
You see, the speaker is feeding sound into the microphone. Then microphone's feeding it right back into the speaker. It's created an infinite loop of deafening pain.
Repeat after me:
I promise to never set my microphones up in front of the speakers. I promise to never set my microphones up in front of the speakers. I promise to never set my microphones up in front of the speakers.
The few times I've seen bands struggle with the one mic setup in an otherwise perfect venue. This is why. They setup the mic in front of the speakers. Take a few steps back or move the speakers forward, but whatever you do, be behind the speakers.
If you're going to put these microphones in front of you and then use a monitor, you're going to feedback. Because isn't that the same scenario I just described?
Now you know two awesome ways to save your acoustic guitar from sounding like a quacking duck and from feeding back.
In next week's blog, I'll teach you how to get rid of that muddy, unclear voice-of-God that's ruining your voice.