Ah, Buku – our first music festival as a team, and we are headlining our stage. Buku takes place in beautiful New Orleans, home to a profusion of culture and Cajun food (coincidentally, two of my favorite things) – and of course the hometown of Ooah, where he first picked up the drum sticks that would roll him into the world of music and producing.
Producer’s Corner: Today I learned that, when producing music (and bass-driven music in particular) you need to be mindful of the sort of sound systems you plan on performing through. For example, in the early years of your career, it’s a little tricky to successfully perform songs that focus on “deep bass”, such as 30-40hz.
When translated to the key of a song, this would be somewhere between a (very) low C and E. Part of the reason is because smaller clubs with a capacity of, say, less than 800 people, typically don’t invest in Subwoofers that go much below 40 or 50hz, so they will be missing a large element of your song. Until recently, it didn’t make much sense to do so, for a simple reason – typical instruments used by bands don’t go below 40 hz, which is an open low E string on a bass guitar.
It was long thought – and taught to me in school – that there isn’t musical information below 50hz, which is considered by some as merely “Sub-bass”. This is indicative of the old-school mindset that dominated the industry before electronic dance music came to overshadow traditional bands, clearly illustrated by the many EDM (Electronic Dance Music) festivals that pull hundreds of thousands of fans in a single weekend, something the live industry (though I love it dearly) doesn’t succeed in outperforming.
What I’m getting at is there is musical information all the way down to the lowest note in the human hearing range – although it may be harder for our ears to discern slight frequency deviations at those low notes, and that it’s important to keep mind that every frequency in the entire sound spectrum relates to a musical key, and that if you’re writing a song in C – while you should try to have some presence at 30hz, the fundamental frequency C corresponds with – you will be best off focusing on its next octave, 60hz, when playing on sound systems in smaller rooms. Just something to keep in mind (and I try to take my own advice) when writing your next banger!
Back to Buku, where we start our morning with the shuttle arriving nearly 30 minutes late to pick up the crew from the hotel. By the time we arrive to the scene our Semi truck waits idly, still fat and loaded to the brim with an entire production’s worth of video, lighting, and sound, beckoning us to lighten its load.
It’s easy to imagine that headlining would permit an extended period of time for setup and soundcheck; to the contrary, this has to be our fastest setup yet with a total of 4 hours between load-in and cutoff. With the entire set to bring in and ensure everything is checked and ready to roll, it’s worth noting there really is no “holding doors” for a music festival with thousands of fans foaming at the mouth to hit the multiple stages these grounds have to offer.
Fortunately the crew – seasoned professionals who are all too familiar with the importance of keeping a cool head under pressure – works together in getting the stage set with our entire production, cutting our setup time nearly in half. It is, for me personally, an easier setup than usual – with no option of bringing my PK CX800 subs to the stage, I am mixing on a D&B rig today. I perform a quick phase test to make sure the system is properly aligned, and to my relief I find the production company has done a good job of setting the table.
Though a “flat” sound system – one that produces an even and full frequency response across the entire human hearing range, flat with respect to the output signal matching the input signal – will sound good with virtually any type of well-produced music, tuning a system for The Glitch Mob calls for minor system adjustments that lend to their signature sound.
Theoretically, a perfect sound system will accurately reproduce the material that is sent to it; every dB of every frequency being transmitted and evenly spread throughout the room. However in “the real world”, where artists and techs are typically forced to operate, much like a penguin wanting to fly, we are striving to achieve a goal that is in a sense impossible to fully realize due to the laws of physics/acoustics…though that is actually part of the fun, like assembling a puzzle as close to completion as possible, while understanding that you are – and always will be – a few pieces short. As time passes and techniques improve those pieces become less noticeable, like a blue tile missing from a puzzle of the Pacific Ocean.
Throughout the conversion process, from the sound the instrument produces acoustically, to the microphone that transmits its vibrations into electrical energy into the mixing console to be converted into a Digital signal, then out of the console and converted back into the Analog world, then sent to the sound system processors, which do yet another digital-to-analog conversion before sending the sound to the speakers, which finally convert the electrical energy back into acoustic energy into the real world (head spinning yet?) – there are bound to be minor variances that will “transform” the original signal, intentionally or otherwise, into sounding different than it did at the beginning of its journey.
Furthermore – and here’s the real caveat – any room or outdoor space that the sound system transmits acoustic energy into will “color” the overall sound, as walls and other surfaces (even trees) will reflect certain frequencies back at each other, causing dips and peaks depending on where in the room you are standing.
Try it yourself – next time you are at a concert, walk across the room and pay attention as the tonality of the music changes – even the same Lead instrument can sound completely different 5 feet to the right or left – with bass notes being especially notorious for having a mind of their own! However in moving around, you can find your own “sweet spot” in the room, and enjoy the show like no other. Try moving next time you are unhappy with the sound – while a good sound engineer will strive to achieve a mix that is balanced for the overall crowd, there will inevitably be better sounding areas than others. Happy hunting!
Buku was a massive success, and though the changeover was tight with technical issues rearing their ugly heads – we solved them before the downbeat and were able to kick the show off at the exact moment we were scheduled. It was our biggest show yet, with multiple rows of video panels lining the hall as the sound of TGM filled the world around us. For 90 minutes – 15 minutes longer than we were originally scheduled to play, before the festival decided they wanted the full Glitch Mob Experience – an entire hall of thousands were united as one.
Today’s Challenge: The sound of an empty room, or hall – or whatever listening environment – versus that of a full one, is literally a world of difference. Fledgling engineers, when put in a position of having to tune a system and make an empty room sound good, often overcompensate and feel the need to cut every offending frequency and boost the weak ones. Usually, this has done more harm than good as when the room is full and the downbeat hits, the show takes flight in front of thousands, and an overzealous engineer is left with an unnatural and hollow sound.
I have found you are better off doing only minor adjustments to the system, taking mental (or written) note of frequencies that are seriously offensive, and save any major EQing for the show. In other words, trust the engineers who built the system have done their job – once the room fills up with people (“water-bags”, as my Live Sound instructor fondly refers to them), the sound of the room will even out as the liquid of human insides absorbs most of the major reflections. Yes, you too are contributing to the sound of the show, and sound engineers and artists alike thank you mightily for being there and contributing to the cause!
To summarize, a few well-placed minor tweaks – along with proper alignments techniques – are way more efficient than drastic EQ cuts and boosts!
Today’s Highlight: I must say that mixing TGM in the heart of New Orleans, while experiencing the amazing food and culture the city has to offer, takes the award for Today’s Highlight. I could not be happier or more appreciative to work with such an amazing crew and band, who have the most energetic and supportive fanbase I believe this world has ever seen.