I’m always amazed at how many guys don’t take the time to really place the loudspeakers properly. Aim them at the players’ faces, and away from troublesome acoustic instruments. (Like a grand piano) Try to keep from firing into open microphones, thank you.
Drum fills are particularly troublesome. I like to get them as far down-stage as possible alongside the riser, and aim them just up-stage of the drummer. Orient the box so that the narrowest horn dispersion is in the horizontal plane. (Usually on its side) This will help to keep the foldback out of the tom and overhead microphones.
Be careful when you are using more than one enclosure on a mix. Play with the placement of your wedges and find out what works. You’ll be amazed at what a difference a few inches can make when it comes to hot spots and nulls.
Usually I try to find a place where they are close enough together and down-stage to still be in front of the musician, but far enough apart to aim the high frequency axis past the microphone at his ears. When they’re too far apart, you lose that “in your face” feel. Avoid crossing the HF axis from both boxes at the microphone itself, and also be prepared for reflections from hats or costumes.
For fill loudspeaker positions, if you have multiple enclosures try to stack them, as opposed to a side-by-side configuration.
Horns that are not splayed properly will have several well-defined nulls and peaks in their response when acoustically added together. This is a classic case of non-coincident arrivals at the listener’s position and cannot be fixed with an equalizer!
You would have to splay the boxes for a very wide coverage pattern in order to add the horns together properly. (Depending on the horns of course) There are many more enclosures with 60-degree horns than with 30-degree horns.
Low Frequency Reality Check
Look around you. A reality check will tell you that if you have a relatively large house system with low frequency and sub-bass enclosures that your monitors will not be able to compete with the LF information on stage when everything is up to show speed.
Unless, of course, you want to turn everything up to “warp nine,” or add lots of sub-bass enclosures to you monitor rig, but this generally results in escalating levels with the backline amps and then the house system to overpower all of the information coming off of the stage. I think we all know what this leads to!
If you have to overpower the band with your stage rig, the house mixer will hate you and the show will suffer for it! (Just as it does if the band plays too loud.) Use the low frequency information from the house system to fill out the bottom end in your “stage sound.”
If you’re carrying a smaller house system or playing on well-damped theater stages, this effect is not so prevalent and you can maintain a full bandwidth from your monitor system.
Pulling It Together
The best approach is to try to meld the backline amps, wedges and house loudspeakers into a system that all works together to attain the overall stage sound you are looking for.
To develop this environment, the spectral response of the mixes should be tailored to fill in what is not heard on stage from the backline amps and the house system. This usually involves a lack of nearby instruments and VLF frequencies coming from the wedges. (A bonus for you!)
This is where the receptive players come in. You may have to point out the low frequency phenomena during a sound check, but it will be obvious to them if they listen. Also point out the nearby instruments and how they may be heard without being very loud in their mix. Maybe even re-aim a stage amplifier to be more effective.
How many times have you seen guitar players wailing away with their speakers aimed at their rear-ends? Tilt them back and aim them at their heads. I promise they have no idea what kind of havoc they cause the house mixer about 75 to 100 feet away.
Of course this doesn’t work in every situation. It depends on the music, the venue and the players among other things. But if you can make these principles work you can achieve the most clarity with the least volume in your wedges.
Use localization to help keep things clear on stage. It is easier to hear different instruments if they are coming from different directions. The fewer sources in any mix, the easier it is to hear them a noisy environment.
Also consider the individual instruments and a mix containing all of them. You have a certain bandwidth in which to fit them.
It’s pretty easy if it’s just a violin and a tuba, but not so straightforward with several guitars and keyboards and drums. Work at making all of the instruments sound different and fill the available spectrum with more distinct differences between them.
If a player insists on a particular tone in his monitor, but it doesn’t work for the rest of your mixes’ split the input into multiple channels on your desk so that you can tailor the sound for everyone.
Dan Laveglia is a long-time system engineer who has worked with Showco and Clair Brothers, serving top concert artists.