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One of the most popular social scenes not listed within the pages of the freshman brochure at Rutgers University is it’s thriving underground music scene. Since at least the 80’s, there has been shows thrown by students in their basements almost every weekend of every semester. It is a vibrant and thriving community that continues to exist on the fringes of the university. While these shows are a great way for local and touring bands to take their first steps and to build a fan base, all too often the songs are impaired by mediocre sound systems and bad acoustics, and until Rutgers starts throwing some proper sound proofing our way, the disgusting mattresses lining the walls are our best bet. But, I believe that a basic understanding of the equipment and science of sound are something that every musician or show host needs to know.
First things first, you need the gear. Your gonna need (at least) a two channel mixer, two PA’s (stands optional but suggested), two microphones with stands, four XLR cables, at least three outlets for the sound setup. In regards to microphones, never use a condenser mic because it will pick up far more background noise than necessary. And never, NEVER buy one of those ridiculous “vintage style” microphones off of amazon or guitar center. No matter how slick you think it’s gonna make you look, it will never be as loud as the other mics, and a bad set will ensue. The Shure SM58 is your best friend as far as universally tested and accepted mics go. You will also want plenty of extension cords and surge protectors, these are key in the placement of your equipment. A good ear doesn’t hurt either. Once you have acquired all of this, you’re in business.
Most PA systems nowadays are active, which means they have their own set of controls. Passive PA systems have no controls of their own, only an input to be plugged into the mixing board and controlled from there. Note that you can combine both types of PA’s but feedback and volume adjustment will torment you deeply, so it suggested that you use active boards with active PA’s and passive boards with passive PA’s.
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Now it’s time to set your gear up. You want to make sure your power chords to the PA systems and boards are long enough to be plugged in, so utilize the the surge protectors and extension cords to get those PA’s the juice they need to bump some vocals. You want to set your PA’s as far apart as possible, and have them face the crowd in the most direct way. If it is a larger room, feel free to face them straight ahead, but in a smaller space with a more condensed audience, facing them slightly inward to create a sort of triangle is a good idea. Never underestimate the directional capabilities of sound.
When placing microphones, make sure they are set behind the PA’s. If the mics are in front of the PA systems, feedback is inevitable. Also, the farther back you set them, the louder you can increase the volume in each of the mics. When setting mic volume on the mixing board, set the gain as low as possible. This makes the mics less sensitive to room noise and makes them less likely to feedback. Once the gain is down, bump the master volume on the mixing board, and set the volume on your PA’s to around eighty percent. This finds a happy medium that reduces white noise on the PA unit, and still makes them loud enough to be audible to the audience and band.
When placing your mixing board, you want to put it somewhere off to the side but still easily accessible to whoever is running sound. where no one will spill beer on it or bump into it, messing up the levels.
Now let’s talk about instrument placement and volume. Starting with the drums, they should always be placed behind all the other instruments unless the geometry of the room demands otherwise. Acoustically speaking, drums are gonna be the loudest instrument in the room but there are things to be done about this if necessary. Placing a wallet or an old T- Shirt over the snare drum can eliminate some brightness of the tone, and cut out any “pingyness” that might be caused by the room itself. You could even go so far as to get pads for all your drum heads to dampen the volume dramatically. When placing a bass amp, set it back while it’s still in front of the drum kit, and have it face the audience in the most direct way possible. Be careful when adjusting the volume though, the frequency of the bass can actually drown out the vocals and muddy up the overall mix a lot more than you would expect.
Guitar amps are also pretty straight forward. Place them in front of the drums but behind the mics. Even if you have a massive pedalboard, you really just need to worry about the volume of your amp, and to make sure your not overpowering the vocalist. One trick to make the sound carry better would be to elevate your amp by setting it on a table or chair. Finally, before starting, it’s a good idea to do a soundcheck if you have time. If your in the band, walk out into the audience before starting while checking sound to get an idea of how the audience is receiving the sound. After this, adjust levels if necessary, and get ready to melt some faces.
On a side note, I will say that if you want to add some production value to the performance, it’s always cool to have someone introduce the band, and play some music as they walk on stage. You know, like a real band does. Below are some of my top picks to walk out on stage to. After reading this guide, your ready to roll like the immaculate RAWK GAWD that you are, and the world will be able to hear how good (or bad) you really are.
“The Time Is Now (John Cena’s Theme Song)”- WWE
“Captain Jack” – Billy Joel
“One More Time” Daft Punk
“Excursions”- A Tribe Called Quest
Literally any song by “The Garden”
Ray Young once drank a melted car tire, and has never heard music in his life. He is an American Studies major and plays in 2 bands