Start At the Source | Miking Vocals Onstage

Jul 1, 2011 9:00 AM, By Eddie Mapp

GETTING THE BEST VOCALS ONSTAGE, THROUGH THE BOARD

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Reproducing the human voice in a concert situation can range from extremely easy (throw up the fader and go) to quite complex, depending on a number of situations surrounding the vocal. Are you mixing a soft-spoken singer, an aggressive rock group with multiple lead vocalists, or a pop artist whose crowd comprises 20,000 young teenage girls screaming at SPL levels higher than anything you’d ever want to compete with mixing-wise? In all of these environments, getting the vocal out there and on top is key to your mix.

THE VOCALIST
Choosing the right microphone is critical to your signal path. There are a number of quality mics from which to choose, with the defaults being either cardioid or hypercardioid, of the dynamic or condenser ilk. You’ll want to isolate the signal of the vocalist from any other background noise as much as possible so that you have a greater ability to control and shape the vocals as much as needed, without affecting the surrounding instrumentation.

Standard cardioid mics have a maximum cancellation of 180 degrees from the front of the mic’s diaphragm, which helps with bleed from stage monitors placed directly in front of the singer, as well as the crowd. Hypercardioid mics have a tighter polar pattern and focus on picking up what’s directly in front of it; as a result, their cancellation is around 135 degrees from the front of the mic, and a small lobe appears directly behind the mic, allowing for some ambient sound to arrive at the back of the mic. With a hypercardiod, make sure that you have a pair of monitors positioned to either side of the vocalist while leaving a small gap in between to help with feedback issues that can occur from having a speaker pointed directly at the rear lobe of the mic.

Handheld condensers can be wonderful-sounding due to their ability to capture much finer nuances and quick transients, but they can sometimes create an issue with extremely loud stage volumes. Cardioid vocal mics generally take a higher SPL level and can be a bit more isolated in noisier environments. However, many manufacturers have developed incredible-sounding handheld cardioid/hypercardioid condenser mics that not only sound great, but can take a beating, too!

WALK ON DOWN THE SIGNAL PATH
In addition to bleed between other onstage instruments, fighting feedback can be a challenge depending on your singer and his/her position onstage. During the 2008 Stone Temple Pilots reunion tour, lead singer Scott Weiland was very energetic—many times climbing up the P.A. or stage trussing, as well as standing in front of the main P.A. for entire songs. This made it extremely difficult to keep his vocal on top of the mix while battling feedback from the main system, and I took many different directions before finding a solution. Using a combination of channel EQ, dynamic EQ, graphic EQ and even a Sabine feedback suppressor, I was able to maintain a reasonably consistent vocal with minimal feedback.

Next up is the preamp. In most cases, you’ll work with the one onboard the desk. To keep your signal intact, make sure you’ve got a very healthy signal at your input without clipping the preamp. Too little gain will also get you into trouble because adding EQ and compression/limiting brings up the noise floor as each piece is inserted. Generally, before I EQ or insert anything, I’ll start by highpassing the vocal channel at 100 Hz (a good starting point) to eliminate unwanted stage rumble or bleed from low-frequency instruments, which just get in the way sonically. If your vocalist sings in a predominantly higher register, you can move your highpass upward from 100 Hz, possibly even to 250 Hz or above. Remember, what you’re trying to do is clear up what the mic is hearing so that you end up with a much clearer picture of the vocalist.






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