Study Hall

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Old Soundman: Do Not Carry A Gorilla On A Skateboard

The Old Soundman tries to reason with a youngster about understanding limitations.

I don’t think this note is from the original LL Cool J. This other LL we have here needs to learn that you can’t put 100 prisoners in a correctional system bus made for 40.

Watch as I reason gently with him …

Dear Old Soundman—

Welcome, LL!

Please help. I currently run sound for an eight-piece group that includes a three-piece horn section. My problem is not getting a good clear sound; either I get the rhythm section to sound good, and the vocals and horns sound lousy, or vice-versa. Whenever any one group sounds good, the others don’t.

I have sermonized about this before. Were you playing hooky that day, LL, or what?

What you’re facing is a need to ruthlessly prioritize.

What is the most important thing in the band to amplify? OK, put that up.

What is the next most important thing? Now put that up.

Continue in that mode until – and this is very important – things start sounding cluttered and unclear. Then back up, back to the point when it was still clear, and stop right there,.

I don’t care if you’re quivering with frustration. I don’t care if your fists are clenched and you are hyperventilating! Bite the bullet, LL!

This is reality. This is where you are right now in your life as a soundman.

You have “X” amount of speakers, you have “Y” amount of amps, and X plus Y is only ever going to equal X plus Y!

Yeah, I know you wish you had some big arena rig, but LL, you don’t! Every guy down at the lake in his bass boat wishes he had an 80-foot yacht like an international arms dealer—but he doesn’t! He has his little putt-putt, and LL, that’s OK!

I use a (brand name/model deleted) mixing board, a (brand name/model deleted) 31-band EQ, a (brand name/model deleted) unit for effects, (popular low-priced amp brand deleted) for mids and highs, (mid-priced amp brand deleted) for lows, (brand name/model deleted) crossover (lows set at 200 Hz, mid/hi set to 2 kHz), and (brand name/model deleted) loudspeakers.

When in the world are you sound children going to listen to the old man here? No brand names! No brand names!

I cannot comment on brands! I’m your only recourse in a world full of hype and co-opted cretins who are constantly getting kickbacks from sound companies and manufacturers!

Everybody wants to sell you something, except me!

Now, look at LL’s next sentence – this is something I can respond to!

The lows don’t come thru very well, and I tend to get loud, but because the sound is not all that great, the louder it gets, the worse it sounds.

Trim it back the way I described. A well-proportioned mix sounds good loud or soft.

Unfortunately, I don’t think you have an adjustable high-pass filter on your console. All you can do is reduce the LF response on channels that do not need a lot of low end.

Bass management, LL! Bass management!

One of the things I’ve thought of doing is to not EQ the mains in series with the main out, but to patch it in thru a main insert. Will this help?

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(Now some ham radio enthusiast from the Live Audio Board who disagrees with me is going to fly his radio-controlled helicopter over my house, with the midget pilot hollering at me through a tiny megaphone! Damn you dilettantes! Do you think I go to Vegas and practice shooting machine guns just for fun? You guys better watch your step!)

I have the effects returns patched back thru a channel. Should I change this?

No. Having them in a channel is actually the superior and preferable method.

You should listen to the effects returns channels – run a CD and turn them up louder than you normally would – and EQ them to take out any metallic-sounding artifacts or muddled low end.

Do/should I be using a Sonic Maximizer, compressor/limiter?

Yer killin’ me!

Sure! Buy ten of ‘em!

Do I need more power?

Of course you do! Everybody needs more power! But you can’t afford it, can you, or else you would have it already!

Should I run my lows in bridged mode to utilize more power?

Talk to the rocket scientist you bought the amp from.

By the way, we usually do small clubs, seating approximately 75-150 people.

Quit trying to be like the studio guys. Admit the limitations of the system.

I’m in desperate need of help.


LL, I’ve honestly done everything I can think of to help you (except for that crack about Sonic Maximizers, I guess).

I do not know the size of the township you live in, but if there is any way you can work for a sound company, or a bigger venue, and learn some more methodologies, would be an ideal way for you to go.

But my advice still stands. Do not try to carry a gorilla on a skateboard. Do not throw spears at a dart board. And don’t play soccer with a weather balloon!

The Old Soundman

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