Saturday, 31 August 2013

Tips for the soundy

Here's a few tips for budding sound engineers working that I've learned from being on both sides of the desk over the last 13 years. It's directed at people working small clubs, but plenty of the concepts still hold for other contexts.

I'd be keen to hear your thoughts. I think I'll write a similar type list for performers too.

Soundchecks 

1). Turn up on time. When a band thinks sound check is at 2:30pm, turn up at least 30 minutes (preferably an hour) before. Use this time to make sure the system is running properly, EQ monitors, FOH etc. Get out your stands, mics, leads etc, and take stock of what gear you've got to play with.

2). Communicate with the band. Get an idea of what kind of sound they're going for. If in doubt, leave the large multi-tap delays off ALL instruments unless specifically requested.

3). Try and be as fast as you can. If everything is set up beforehand, soundchecking shouldn't take too long. Bands HATE sitting around waiting.

4). Make sure the band is happy with their stage sound. Write down the settings for their monitors so you can recall them later. I don't really see the point in getting a band's monitor mix organised in soundcheck, then forgetting to apply it when they play. Digital desks have made this much easier.

Mixing

1). The key word here is "sound reinforcement". When setting up a mix, listen to what's coming off stage before throwing up faders. Try and get everything balanced by using as little through the PA as possible. Pretty much your number one priority is getting the vocals and DI'd instruments clearly out the front. Support the mix with low end from the drum kit. This should be your base. Front here you can start increasing the overall level of the mix, adding guitars to taste etc. A classic mistake I often hear is bleedingly loud drums & bass, some vocals, and no guitars. It sucks to listen to.

2). Keep your eyes on stage, watch the performers. It's highly likely they're going to be communicating with you with requests for changes in their monitors.

3). Unless you know the band's music inside out, don't start changing levels when it appears band members aren't singing/playing certain instruments. If you find yourself having to back faders off when people aren't singing, you haven't done enough preparation getting the system EQ'd properly.

4). As a rule in small venues, don't gate anything. You don't know how dynamic the drummer is going to play. If you're having trouble with the kick drum feeding back, go back to your system EQ and fix the problem. Sometimes the drum might need re-tuning, but it's unlikely. I find myself telling young engineers to turn the gates off all the time. Gates and expanders are for big kids who know what they're doing.

5). Try not to have it screamingly loud. If you notice several people in the audience with their fingers in their ears, it's probably too loud.

6). If musicians are complaining about feedback in their monitors, it's your #1 priority to fix it. Use your headphones, work out where it's coming from, fix the problem. Same with dodgy leads. Sometimes this means getting out from behind the desk, and solving the problem onstage.

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Paquin 'II'

So Paquin are releasing our 2nd EP, 'II'. Tom spent the most amount of time on it producing that I've ever seen anyone spend on music. Though that probably says more about my low standards and laziness than Tom's' fastidiousness.

Listen for yourself at paquin.bandcamp.com

I hope you guys like it, we're off on tour as of today, it would be wicked to see y'all.

Jenna did the cover art, it's all shiny!

Ian Craig Young Brown also did a video for us, paid for by you, the taxpayer.  He patiently listened to us, didn't get pissed off when we warped his ideas, and went off and made the thing. He managed to deliver it on time too, which is particularly important for someone like me.



"Quiet Heart"


Here's the tour poster which Lucinda McConnon did for us. The photo was taken by Jenna "The Jizzler" Todd at the theatre I work at.

 Lucinda's tour poster

Friday, 10 May 2013

Bass drum hoops


The last thing to get together for the drum kit are the bass drum hoops. These were supplied unpainted. I wanted them black, with a silver sparkle inlay.   The Precision Drum Company sold me the inlay, and I got paint from a local model shop. I have to admit I felt extremely nostalgic hanging out in the shop, amongst the funny middle aged dudes checking out WWII models and fancy balsa wood planes. See before I discovered punk music and skateboarding, I was a total wargames and D&D nerd. I may have even been guilty of enjoying these guys back then.

After a quick bit of research I decided that "semi-gloss" Tamiya black spray paint was the one to go for. Sand, spray primer, sand, paint, sand, paint, boom! Bob's your uncle.

Charlotte (BFA) was invaluable during this phase of drum construction.

After that I applied what seemed like a million coats of polyurethane. Granted I first tried a "matt" varnish, but I felt this dulled the hoops too much. Hey look - it's my kit, and I can be as fussy as I want!
 
Varnish.

After that I applied contact cement to hoops and sparkle wrap, laid the two together and boom, bobs you're uncle, bass drum hoops. Here they are on the kit.
 
The finished kit, pretty cool aye?

One thing I wish I'd done earlier was order the recommended contact cement from Precision Drum. You can't actually get it in New Zealand (3M 30-NF Fast Bond Contact Cement), and the stuff I used isn't really holding the wrap to the wood that well. The problem is it's got to be a water-based glue instead of a solvent one to prevent the wrap melting.

So yeah, anyway I've finished the kit, it's going on it's first official outing tonight, and it'll be interesting to see if I attract any pretty ladies with it.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Measure & drill

With the arrival of my fittings and hardware from the Precision Drum Company, it was time to measure and drill my drum shells.

To make things way easier, I downloaded a drum layout mat from Drummaker.com, and got it printed at a local print shop. These things rule, you just put you drum on the mat, and it's got all the markings for the tube lugs marked out. No goofing around with protractors!

  
The drum mats
 
I used a set square to mark out how deep the holes were going to be drilled. Let there be no misunderstanding, I was extremely paranoid of making a mistake, and probably re-measured the shells about 4 times before I was happy. The last thing I wanted to do was end up with extra random holes all over my lovely new kit. I'm glad I did too, because I discovered some pretty silly errors along the way.

 
Marking out the shells.

Once it was all measured out I went down to my old work where they very kindly let me use their drill press. The mechanical engineers looked at what I wanted to do, shook their heads, and told me it was going to be a really nasty job. Acrylic is a very brittle material, and is prone to chips and cracks. Plus I didn't really have a proper jig to back the shells, let alone a vice hold them steady. Of course being the idiot I am, I thought nothing of it and started going for it.

Yeeeeesh! They weren't joking! I quickly realised that I was going to have to step up the drill bit size really gradually otherwise I was going ruin the shells. After three hours drilling the bass drum, I tried using my unibit which I used for drilling some of my home-brewing vessels. Voila! It went through the shells like a hot knife through butter, with no cracking whatsoever. I think I managed to drill the remaining three drums in less than the time it took to do the bass drum with traditional high speed drill bits.

 
 Drilling the floor tom, note the unibit.

Of course in classic Stu style I still managed to make mistakes. Because I had laid out the lugs "offset" I ended up placing one of the bass drum spurs too close. After a bunch of swearing and self-flagelation I took a deep breath, and picked up the Dremel.

 Classic Stu mistake: Spurs too close to the tube lug.

For those of you that didn't get the memo, the Dremel is the coolest multi-tool you can buy. It can do a heap of different things, but I mostly use it for cutting and grinding. I ground back the offending edge of the spur in 2 minutes flat, and my blood pressure returned to normal.

About to get my grind on.

Fixed! You can hardly tell right?

So with that all done I could assemble the snare and floor tom. I'm still working on the bass drum hoops, that'll be another post. I gave the snare a test run last night with Anthonie Tonnon and it was sounding bangin'. Check it out!

Pretty blingin' huh?

Monday, 4 March 2013

Simmon refurb part 2

 Quick update on the Simmons refurbishment. I was struggling to find a replacement potentiometer with the correct footprint, so I decided to put a random one that was lying around as a temporary fix, and to see how many issues it resolved.



This involved a small amount of ninja soldering work. The legs of the pot were not the "through hole" type, so I had to add extra small wires to bridge the connection. I then put the unit back together (thankfully I had taken heaps of photos of taking it apart), and turned it on. Huzza, I now have a clean, working mix output!

 
Check out the sweet big knob I found at work.

After further experimentation, and uh, *cough* reading of the manual I've worked out that the unit is pretty much working 100% properly. I initially thought there was something wrong with the "Sequencer In" input, but it turns out it is not MIDI, but some weird proprietary system Simmons used in 1980-something. No wonder the unit goes berserk when I connect MIDI devices to that socket.

In the end I bought a proper replacement potentiometer from Small Bear Electronics... It's apparently in the post.

In other news I've ordered a bunch of drum hardware for my novelty clear drumkit... Updates coming soon.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Simmons SDS 9 refurbishment

So instead of saving up my pennies for the fittings for my novelty clear arcrylic drum kit, I've gone and bought an electric drum kit that was produced the same year Jenna was born (1985). Introducing the Simmons SDS9.

I've really got to get rid of those stickers.

This kit came in pretty unloved condition, and much of the hardware was poked. Still, the brain works fine, though the "mix" knob was broken off, and the headphone and mix output sound like arse. I figured it was time to put my electronic engineering training, and ready access to tools at my work to use, and refurbish this beast during my lunch breaks.

 A very dirty, dinged up SDS 9 brain.

First up, I had to take it apart. I took lots of photos while I did this to make sure I could remember how to put it back together.


I then vacuumed out as much dust as I could.


Below left is the broken mix output knob. Notice how it doesn't have a "shaft" like the one on the right.


I took it off by snipping the legs with wire cutters, and then de-soldering the legs from the board one by one. I identified it as a 100K linear potentiometer. Then it was off to www.digikey.com to find a replacement.



This was about all the time left in my lunch hour, though still had enough time to carefully give the faceplate a scrub with some good ol' detergent and water. Next up, soldering in a replacement potentiometer and testing.