Friday, November 28, 2008

Man, It's So Loud In Here

Before I got in to impro, I played in a bunch of bands. In a decent-sized band, for a decent-sized venue, you'll have a dedicated sound tech to mix you, get the relative levels right, make sure the vocal isn't peaking, stop that damn guitarist from turning himself up all the time... As a solo musician for impro, sometimes you'll have a sound tech. If you're lucky, they'll be good and have a good idea of what impro is. (Hi Kelli!) Sometimes they won't have seen impro before. How can you coach them? How do you handle mixing yourself?

Impro is by nature unpredictable. You can probably bet on playing at a decent level to start or end a show, or to end scenes. But within scenes, you might be playing at a whisper, and you might be really blasting out there.

When I'm working with a sound tech, I'll let them know that I prefer to mix myself; before the show we'll set my overall level at the desk, and leave it. I'll use the keyboard volume control to get myself down to that whisper level or up to that pump-the-audience level as appropriate.

The sound tech obviously can still mix you around; if the audience's ears are bleeding because you're too loud, a good sound tech will probably take care of that.

On occasion I'll forget to tell a new sound tech that I mix myself, and they'll leave me as is for a while... Then decide "Ah, they're about to start something called Opera, that sounds musical, better turn the music up" and then I'll hit some dramatic note to start the scene, and my turn-it-up plus the tech's turn-it-up scares the poop out of the audience.

Worse in a way, once you're set that loud at the desk, it can be awfully hard to mix yourself down to just above a whisper. On my keyboard anyway, there's a distinct point where it goes from zero-volume to more-than-zero.

If you have a way of communicating with the sound tech, that will help to protect you from these sorts of shenanigans. The tried and true "wave arms and point upwards/downwards" method only works if they can see you.

It's really easy to get the levels wrong before a show starts. Sometimes in an unusual venue we tend to be conservative when doing a mic and music test in an empty room, but then when it fills up and the audience is going right off at the start of the show, and you discover that both the mic and the music are pitifully quiet...


Peter C. Hayward said...

How have I not noticed all the TMBG references until now!? :P

Kris said...

I was wondering when someone would say something ;)

Girl Clumsy said...

That's like one of my favourite TMBG songs.

I must go get that to add to my music collection.

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