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The worst sound engineering ever

There is a problem that taxes even competent sound engineers and it's called area miking. Amplifying a CD player through a PA system is the easiest thing in the world. Miking a solo singer is easy too, as is giving a few singers their own individual mics. But covering a group of singers with one or two mics requires skill and planning...

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It's nearly Christmas and a nearby village is having a carol concert on the village green, everyone gathered around the tree. All the local primary schools are participating. The teachers hold signs so the children know where to find their school group.

Of course, everyone is partially deaf these days so it all has to be amplified. Funny how people had such better hearing before sound engineering was invented.

To add to the atmosphere, the children sing to karaoke backing tracks played from a CD through a small PA system.

The sound from the PA is very good - very crisp and clear. And just the right level for the crowd to appreciate. Not too loud, not too quiet.

There's even a guest presenter for the evening - Elvis! Cheeseburger Elvis unfortunately but he does a good "u-huh, u-huh".

But there's only one snag - I can't hear the children!

This is a problem that taxes even competent sound engineers and it's called area miking. Amplifying a CD player through a PA system is the easiest thing in the world. Miking a solo singer is easy too, as is giving a few singers their own individual mics. But covering a group of singers with one or two mics requires skill and planning.

Imagine the situation - you have a group of perhaps a dozen singers and a single microphone to mike them up for PA. You could put the mic close to the front row of singers and have them gather round. That would work to an extent, but you would only effectively be amplifying just a few of them and the result would sound like maybe three or four people singing rather than a dozen. This might be acceptable if you put the best singers at the front (and the people who can't sing at all way, way back!).

The other approach is to pull the mic back and raise it, so that as nearly as possible it is equidistant from each singer. Now you will really get the whole of the sound, which would be great for recording. Unfortunately this is PA and you have just broken the golden rule of placing the mic close to the sound source so that the risk of getting feedback is minimized.

There's no easy answer so compromise is necessary.

A further factor in this particular example was that the precise location of each group of children varied. Children are a good deal less easy to handle than professional performers. So getting them to gather round the microphone proved to be impossible.

My solution would have been to use two microphones, probably short shotgun microphones with a fairly tight directivity pattern and hand hold them on 'fishpoles' (a fishpole is called a 'hand held boom' in the UK). This way, the positioning could have been optimized for each group of children, and the people in the crowd might have had half a chance of hearing them.

Next year perhaps...

By David Mellor Thursday January 1, 2004
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