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Readers' Letters: Feedback nightmare - a clarinet player needs help!, and more...

A post by David Mellor
Thursday November 30, 2006
"Feedback in live sound is a problem that doesn't seem ever to go away. And for clarinetists who want to play at rock levels, the problem is worse."
Readers' Letters: Feedback nightmare - a clarinet player needs help!, and more...

In response to Feedback nightmare - a clarinet player needs help!, Leroy Appleton writes...

I'm going to assume that your audio engineer knows what they are doing and has EQed the monitors properly.

I know you are looking for a technical solution but perhaps before this you should work with your band to see if you can find comfortable level where you can all play and hear yourself.

Try standing out of the way of the amps. this will allow you to better hear your fold back, and have less sound from the other amps causing problem frequencies in your foldback (coming through your mic and back into your monitors, thus compounding the problem).

Make sure that the null side of the microphones is pointed towards the Monitors. don't rely on the standard position for the monitors or microphones. Experiment.

Get a HyperCardiod patterned mic.

A combination of all these things should work.

If you can't hear yourself then you have to get the band to turn down. And yes it is possible for a good drummer to turn down. If they don't respect you and your role in the band enough to do this then this isn't the band for a clarinet.

In response to How can you improve a weak bass guitar?, Charles Gordon Jr writes...

dear sir; I like your article you cover alot of ground in it i would like to add my opinon and that the style of playing changes with the song or notes. It takes years to develope a good finger style with the first two fingers of your right hand, then on some songs you use your thumb.too develope smoothness and a harmonic effect. remeber the bass is to accompany another instument like keyboards or piano. I have on rare occasions seen and worked with gifted people like stanley Clark who can play bass solo"s I have had to do at a church before it is not a pleasent tack. I am always looking for other musicians who want to play music.To form harmony. get my drift?

In response to How does MP3 reduce an audio file's size to one-eleventh?, D.M.P writes...

Getting to hear only the audio removed should be a simple enough operation. What you do is load up a copy of the mp3 and the original .wav (or whatever) in some DAW, and reverse the phase of the .mp3.

If you've matched up the positions and levels precisely, it should remove all the sound they have in common, leaving only the differences. Try it with different bitrates of mp3 to get strange results in the high end, and combine it with a third copy of the song to enhance all those subtleties in a manner analogous to a harmonic exciter. Enjoy.

RP response: That would be nice if it worked, but the MP3 encoding process messes up the phase, so there ends up being very little cancelation. We've tried it. It's still interesting to try though and offers additional insight into the sound quality defects of MP3.

In response to Finally - conclusive proof that American audio is overrated!, Steve K. writes...

I would just like to comment on the hilarity of this article.....As I do conclusively agree to the weakened state of the USD, I would just like to take a moment to comment on the genius comment about 20 watts being equal to 40 U.S. watts. Seeing as the U.K. uses 240v outlets, and the U.S. uses 120v outlets, I would believe someone as pretentious and simple minded as the author (let alone audiophile) of this article would have put two and two together. Although I do pick up on the over used, over rated, nonsensical dry British "wit", he still may be a wanker.

RP response: Finally - conclusive proof that one American doesn't have a sense of humor! P.S. Don't connect your loudspeakers to the mains. It's not going to end happily.

In response to Feedback nightmare - a clarinet player needs help!, Josh writes...

The obvious solution would be to go to in-ear monitoring. Or another thing to try is to switch the polarity of your wedges, sometimes this will give you a little more gain.

In response to Can you use studio mics for live sound?, Márcio Silva writes...

I've never used Neumanns live, and I don't know what you call "studio microphones", but I've used yes, a lot of large diaphragm, like AT 4040, 4050, Shure KSM 32 and 44, AKG 414 and never had big problems even in rock concerts.

I used these kind of mics, all the time on overheads, and electic guitars. Again, the big problem using these kind of mics live, #1 they are too expensive to be on the road, and need too much care...and just with a very good system you would notice a big diference between a Shure SM81 and a Neumann U84.

Then, I don't know what engineer skills he has, but there are some small tricks to put this used of mic, and the first is to put it on cardioid (better in hypercardioid), second roll off everything that you don't need. P.A. systems, generaly aren´t flat. They have a litle bass bost, and they are far from perfect, because, specially on small systems, the spill a lot of low frequency.

Thats usually problematic for these kind of mics. In small venues try using small diaphragm mics.

In response to Why some people will simply never make it into the music recording industry, KRM writes...

This is a rather unfortunate reflection of the direction society has been going, in general, for many years now. Lack of respect for others is the key issue here. Manners, politeness and humility are very difficult to find anywhere these days.

In response to Do you have a natural ear for sound?, Sean Leurini writes...

English charm I love it, Dave great reply! Sean Leurini Boston, Ma

RP response: Who is Dave? :-)

In response to Can you use studio mics for live sound?, Glenn Drinkwater writes...

There is no magic to live sound, nor is there any real dichotomy between "studio" mics and "live" mics, per se. Having said that, there are some mics that would be very problematic in some live sound environments.

It's essentially all a matter knowing the mics and paying attention to the geometry.

Mics need to placed close enough to the source to maximize gain before feedback, stage volume is the main variable here, although the room design is also a factor. Mics need to be oriented so as to capture as much sound as posssible from the source, while keeping 'null' of the mic pointed at the stage monitors. Large diaphragm condensers tend to have more irregular off-axis response than good small diaphragm condensers, making them potentially more problematic in a live sound environment. In addition, people tend to make the mistake of sticking a really sensitive mic directly in front of the soundhole on an acoustic guitar. This is inviting feedback, and it's a common mistake amongst people used sticking a 57 there. (I won't go into my rather intense hatred of the sound of both 57s and 58s on most things)

My best guess is that the large diaphragm Neumann's have some peaks & valleys in their off-axis response. The guitar mics were almost certainly physically closer to the stage monitors, may not have had optimal orientation, and the combination of those factors combined with uneven off-axis response led to the feedback. A good small diaphragm condenser for the guitars (the Shure SM81 for example), placed appropriately, should have yielded good results. I like to use a guitar's built-in pickups for monitor feed, and to blend in a bit with the mic signal for FOH.


In response to Should you record voiceovers for a living? Could you?, Andreas Papachristou writes...

Your article got things to the point in a very precise, easy to understand and short way. Congratulations! I was thinking that a focusing on the technical part (mic positions, pop filters, equalization which is a totally different issue for spoken word, compression and of course editing) could be very interesting as well. Perhaps there already is such information, I would be thank full for a few good links...

In response to Which loudspeakers are best for accurate monitoring?, Jay Stern writes...

Hi there,

I do believe that I have a short, pithy sentence for "the harder the decision is to make, the less it matters because the options are more nearly equal."

"At that price, just chose the color."

I think that is the point you were going for. If not, please let me know.

Happy Holidays,


RP response: Hey, not bad for starters! Thanks. More...?

In response to Can you use studio mics for live sound?, Michael writes...

Bluegrass musicians use condenser mics all the time, but, for only three musicians, they typically use one central mic. When an instrument level needs to rise, they get closer to the mic. It appears to me that the questioner used too many, and they were too close.

Further, you really can't use monitors when using these mics as the directional sound back into the other side of the mics can cause feedback.

In response to Which loudspeakers are best for accurate monitoring?, Steve McCabe writes...

Monitors are arguably the weakest link in the recording chain. Obviously you want a speaker that doesn't hype the mix - making it overly punchy or bright. Or generally unrealistic and exciting.

At best you should have a few sets of speakers that you trust and bounce between them. I mix on Yamaha NS10's powered by a Conrad Johnson power amp. I'll also take my mixes and play them on my hi-fi - ProAc 2.5 powered by a Pass Labs amp. It's another system that I know and trust. I also listen to mixes over my internal mac speakers in my iMac G5. Between the three systems I can do reasonably well - at least my my ears. I still have much to learn but I've learned that fancy speakers don't always help.

I was working at Power Station Studios in NY once in the early 90's when the Quested Folks set up a fabulously complex system for demonstration. It looked like they may have been experiencing technical problems but for whatever reason, the speakers sounded horrible. Everyone sort of laughed, went back to their NS10s and made hit records.

I wouldn't spend you six grand on fancy speakers. Audition a few sets of modest "real" speakers (NS10, ProAc, Adam)

RP response: Thanks Steve, excellent advice.

In response to How can you improve a weak bass guitar?, Mr Blazey writes...

Thumb? The thumb is only going to be stronger than the fingers if you are playing slap bass. Also, there is no way you can be as dextrous with one clumsy thumb as you can with two strong agile fingers. This will mean you will be hugely limited rhythmically.

One final complaint is that as soon as you start playing with a plectrum you have a completely different sound quality. I agree that weak bass recordings are often caused by weak bass playing, but I think your solutions show a lack of knowledge of the instrument. If it's that a big problem perhaps you should just find a bass player with the 'years of development' necessary in his fingers.

RP response: If you ever find yourself in the studio with a struggling fingerstyle bass player then you'll appreciate very quickly the merits of the plectrum. Oh, and bass is often played here at Audio Masterclass HQ. That's because we haven't got the hang of the guitar yet...

In response to How can you get a home-made CD to look like the genuine article?, German H writes...

Hi, GREAT site, have you tried the LightScribe technology? it's only one color, but doest peel off nor adds weight unbalancing the CD

In response to Which loudspeakers are best for accurate monitoring?, German H writes...

1) A tough choice carries the same result

2) The harder to choose, the less to lose choosing

3) A coin with two tails is a win-win situation

4) Don't lose your head to a coin with two tails

5) Rolling Stones or Queen?: hey, it's only Rock N Roll

In response to Production Review - 'Whole Lotta Love' from 'Led Zeppelin II' by Led Zeppelin - what can it tell us about production techniques?, Christian A. Kuest writes...

I actually know the daughter of the sound engineer for L.Z. 2. I'll ask her if she can get "dad" to explain it!!!

RP response: Should be interesting. We look forward to hearing more.

In response to Which loudspeakers are best for accurate monitoring?, Scott Bertram writes...

"The harder it is, the less it matters" - hopefully the essence of your phrase.

Keep up the good work David.

In response to Which loudspeakers are best for accurate monitoring?, Ben, OmniCLassic Recording, USA writes...

It is obviously not completely true that "Transmission Line" speakers have to be large as, British company, PMC have proved. PMC have managed to produce a line of TL speakers from tiny to large and all are used by some of the finest mastering houses on both sides of the pond.

I use PMCs(TB2s) in my studio for mixing and editing due to the exceptional tonal balance, and bass linearity, they provide. I also carry a set of DB1S-As out on location with me when recording, and for surrounds in studio. They are small but provide a much bigger sound picture than their size would suggest.

I can only say that PMC found a way to make transmission line bass loading work in modest enclosures. DigiDesign(Pro Tools) has even collaborated with PMC to build models for them. I prefer the original PMC models. Highly recommended!

In response to Which loudspeakers are best for accurate monitoring?, Charlie Evans writes...

I read your answer to Erik's question about loudspeakers with some amusement. He was asking about mixing. You do not mix with speakers, you mix with headphones. No matter how money you throw at a loudspeaker, the ambient noise inside the control room simply will not let you get your best mix. I like active speakers because that's one less amplifier to take up space. Control room speakers are not mission critical so if you pop one, like I did last week, it's no biggy. The Mackie 824's are almost overkill for most home studios. The high end studio boys use M & K (Miller & Kreisel). I prefer to use the same manufacturer in the control room as in the studio. That gives you the best chance to hear what the musicians are talking about on playbacks. Most people use the Sony MDR headphones because their impedance is a good match at 24 ohms. I prefer the Sennheiser HD 280 because of it's even better 65 ohm impedance. A good headphone amp with a tube gain stage is a must. I am partial to the 12ax7 because I've been listening to the damn things for 30 yrs. Anyway, good luck Erik.

RP response: An interesting comment. If mixing on headphones works for you and your clients, then fine. It is unusual though.

In response to Can you use studio mics for live sound?, Carter Ruff writes...

I have two ideas why the fancy Neumann screwed the pooch on your gig:

1. Using hypercardioid instead of cardioid. Hypercardioid pattern mics have a small lobe directly behind them (they're actually more like very asymmetrical figure-8s) that can pick up the signal from a monitor unless you aim that back lobe a little off the monitor. I ran into this very problem with a hypercardioid stage mic myself once. Cardioid does not have this back lobe, so it is easier (or at least more intuitive) to point the null at the monitor.

2. This one's a bit more of a stretch: the greater response in the higher range that makes studio mics better sounding in the studio also catches the frequencies that bounce off walls better. Bats' sonar pings are above our hearing range because of this quality of high frequencies.

Bluegrass bands use studio mics all the time in performance (albeit with the whole band sharing one, individuals moving in and out as needed) -- so it can be done.

In response to Why does a wireless microphone receiver have more than one antenna?, Conor writes...

Fine article but please at least mention production film sound.

RP response: Production film sound!

In response to Which loudspeakers are best for accurate monitoring?, Dav Byrne, Melbourne. writes...

Before you blow 6k on your monitors, make sure your ROOM is sussed out. "Flat" is good, for room and speakers. Buy monitors cheaper than 6k, but spend at least a grand on an acoustician's advice and some treatment. Anything less is a waste of cash. Personally, Dynaudio's actives are great, as are anything EMES makes.

In response to Can you use studio mics for live sound?, Dav Byrne, Melbourne writes...

Oh oh! The problem is that studio condensors are just too sensitive. You're basically asking for (massive) feedback. Anyone that uses an acoustic guitar without pickup for live gigs is a goose.

In response to Why does sound engineering have to be so LOUD?, Dav Byrne, Melbourne. writes...

Dynamics are king. EXCEPT when it comes to death metal. Then there are only two volumes. Headsplitting and off!

In response to Feedback nightmare - a clarinet player needs help!, Dav Byrne, Melbourne writes...

As a sometime clarinetist, and someone who encounters the noble woodwind live regularly, the only way to REALLY do it he context of a live mix is to set up a "vocal" mic at a nice bell-height, pointing diagonally up (58s work) and gate the hell out of it. Make sure no-one uses it as a vocal mic though!

In response to How can you improve a weak bass guitar?, Glenn Topping writes...

I am a bass player, and I play with my fingers! I am also a sound engineer.

A very important thing to remeber when recording bass is the age of the strings. If the strings are too old, the bass can sound very muddy and lack those upper frequencies (the frequencies that help the bass cut through the mix).

Another thing that many bass players do is compress their own signal, either on their amp or through a module/pedal. This can often be fatal! Compression can make or break a recording. Ask the artist if you can check their compression settings and possibly make some changes.

RP response: We have heard of bass players boiling their strings to rejuvenate them. Has anyone tried that?

In response to The shocking truth about working in pro recording studios, P.Rostudio writes...

Real pros are easy to recognize: They are willing to share their insights, they're always well-mannered and they will make you to the monkey jobs voluntarily. That's how I was introduced in a pro studio. I got to recommend gear, fumble knobs at the console, play bass for a reknown country singer a.s.o. but when the house was full, I started the catering job and shut my mouth by myself.

I suspect that you can't learn anything useful from someone who looks condescendingly down at you right from the start anyway.

In response to Can you use studio mics for live sound?, Jorge Diaz writes...

Im not a profesional engineer but I do Live sound and have been learning sound topics for six years, doing selfpruduce music and getting to consider myself as an amateur producer. I can only guees that every fact of desing is shaped to avoid feedback in pa mics as the sm 58 or 57´s. Their patterns at least. If you think in a hypercardiod pattern that would get rear sound and almots atmospherical sound you can see that it is going to get sound from monitors facing the performer. 58´s and 57´s are designed to get really close sounds right up front the mic, so any sound coming from the rear is intended no to reach the mic. More acuracy of a studio mic would mean more acuracy in the reproduction of ambient sound...that includes sound from monitors filling the air. 58 and more the 57 are designed to be close to de source so sounds farther than the source don't reach the mic...In the case of monitored sources that would be the difference between having a loop of sound or not.

In response to Can you use studio mics for live sound?, Aaron writes...

I have had some success using a Neumann TLM 127 on a 3/4 size upright acoustic bass in a live situation. We were able to get a decent amount of level with the aid of some EQ. It was in a very large Blackbox theatre. The bass itself sounded great, and had plenty of level to mix in with an amplified drum kit and electric guitar.

In response to Can you use studio mics for live sound?, Brian McNamara writes...

As a PA microphone, condenser mics will produce feedback when even very little gain is applied because they are so sensitive. With headphones on, breathe into an SM58 and then breathe into a quality condenser mic and you'll hear the amazing difference right away.

In response to Which loudspeakers are best for accurate monitoring?, John Cummins writes...

"There's an old saying, well actually I just made it up but it's going to be old eventually - the harder the decision is to make, the less it matters because the options are more nearly equal.

"Could someone rephrase that for me in a short, pithy sentence, suitable for use in a book of quotations?"

Here you go,

--A hard decision matters less when the options are nearly the same.--

RP response: Hey, not bad!

In response to "How many songs should I put on my CD?", Gleiber Pinho writes...

In the vinyl era the industry sell discs with two songs, now bands struggle to put more than 12, the exatly two songs and the rest can be some noise only to complete what the record cia ask. the bands will be luck if the radio play at least one. who listen usually stop the player before ending. no one has 30 minutes to waist listening at this days. they don't sell million anymore and blame the net/mp3. my english is bad but america-rec-cia became stupid.

In response to Recording tap dancing - better shape up!, WV_SonicSculptor writes...

Though, I've never tried it, I have contemplated this scenario and my first thought was a set of PZM (pressure zone mic). Though mic distance will still pose a problem, I suspect a few PZM's laid out on the dance surface might minimalize the 'distance' factor as PZM do tend to pick up sound from the surface they are 'mounted' to. At least give a 'base' source for blending into another mic technique. Or 'mix' the pzm's as the talents moves about to achieve the perceived motion. Might work?

In response to Q: "Is it better to wear headphones when mixing a live band?", WV_SonicSculptor writes...

You cite excellent examples of headphone uses for live mixing. As a FOH engineer, other constant needs for headphones arise. For small club gigs, you are likely to have times with less than optimal listening position for FOH setup, or worse case, delegated to mix from stage! On many gigs with minimal setup time, or last minute sound(line/signal) check for the late musician requires silence as dinner or other activities would not allow noise.

I routinely do an entire soundcheck w/phones in a casino setting(stage monitors on, no mains). Also, to do any 2 track live recording (a dead art I know) Most times my PA is mono and I record in stereo to CD. And finally, to listen to individual sends, returns, monitor mixes, sub-groups --it's important to me to listen in everywhere in the signal chain that is possible. Not sure I could take seriously a live FOH engineer showing up to work without them.

In response to Can you use studio mics for live sound?, Alan Legere writes...

I'm also not a professional sound engineer, but do the sound for a local biweekly open mic show.

The shows are mostly acoustic so I use the industry standard of SM57s for Instruments and SM58s for vocal. It's just the safe way to go! For the most part the musicians are not familiar with the live reinforcement system and dynamic unidirectional mics are the only way to go.

However I have used condenser bidirectional mics with bands that actually want to use these mics. They know the mics and like the sound they can achieve with them. Now the biggest thing is you have to lose the monitor volume (unless you have a whole lot of disposable cash and can afford a in ear monitor system) condenser mics pick up everything and that means a very good chance of feedback.

To alleviate the problem of little or no monitors the band forms a semi circle(like a jam session) facing the mic allowing them to hear each and allowing the mic to pick up each of the instruments and vocals.

With solos the soloist moves in a little closer to produce and upfront sound.

I've mostly seen Bluegrass bands perform with these mics and It's really amazing how they move in and out and change positions depending on the song and solos.

I think the biggest thing is musicians knowing the mic. (most bands carry there own because they know there familiar with the properties and what they can do with them)

So don't be afraid to use it but be aware of the ability of your band. A little practice can make a really awesome sound!

Hope all your feedbacks are good ones!!!!


Alan W. Legere

In response to What are the best ways in getting a good gain structure in a live concert mix?, Erick Catalan writes...

Thank you for the information privided, it confirmed what I was doing and assured me of the direction I am going in!

In response to Can you use studio mics for live sound?, John writes...

In response to the reader that experienced difficulty when using his Neumann U89 for live sound: The cardioid pattern would probably have been preferrable to a hyper-cardiod pickup, or he might have tried rearranging the placement of his wedges, if there were any.

For example, an SM58 dynamic mic has a cardiod pattern, so a wedge may be placed directly in front of it. A Beta 58A, however, has a hyper-cardiod pattern, requiring wedge placement to be slightly skewed, or diagonal, to the performer. Personally, if I owned a U89, it would never leave its home. Everything in live sound gets the crap kicked out of it.

RP response: There are few sadder sights in audio than a Neumann with a dent...

In response to Becoming a record producer, Whitney Little writes...

I love your article it really helped me out and everything that you said is me all I do is listen to music and dream about bein a music producer and I 'm gonna keep lookin into it and see what I can do to go to school and really do my thing. I'm going to be a music producer I know I got what it takes by this artical cause im listen to the music and I try to see what it is ta make it better like he shoulda speeded up at that mart or he shoulda did that or she shoulda did this.

Theres never a day I don't listen to music and most days thats all I do is this to music I listen to it when I pist when im happy or chillin or when im jus tryin to think basically the olny time I don't listen to music is when im watchin my newphues and my niece but I still turn the tv on to BET or MTV or music choice enless they watchin a movie or somethin well your artical is great and it really encouraged me. THANKS

RP response: The amazing thing is that every successful producer started out in the same place as you. The very best of luck to you!

A post by David Mellor
Thursday November 30, 2006 ARCHIVE
David Mellor has been creating music and recording in professional and home studios for more than 30 years. This website is all about learning how to improve and have more fun with music and recording. If you enjoy creating music and recording it, then you're definitely in the right place :-)