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Discussions => General Discussion => Topic started by: Accordion Dave on May 29, 2009, 03:32:01 AM

Title: Public Address Systems from Hell
Post by: Accordion Dave on May 29, 2009, 03:32:01 AM
In the "Playing Goes to Pot in Public" thread, I related an experience about how distracting public address systems can be.

Often the sound system is on the verge of feedback or some brilliant operator has decided that a 1 second digital delay will somehow enhance the performance.

At a recent engagement, I played for about an hour on both piano accordion and a 2-row melodeon with no difficulty.

The problems started when the sound system operator arrived. I find feedback and slapback echo make almost impossible to continue playing well.
Title: Re: Public Address Systems from Hell
Post by: HallelujahAl on May 29, 2009, 08:22:51 AM
**********RANT ALERT**************
How on earth did people cope in the good old days of music-hall etc? Well, actually I think they coped without sound systems (and their so-called engineers) very well indeed.

I'm in agreement with you - have often had a perfectly reasonable occasion marred by poor sound system management. I much prefer to do without. I know that it can make things a bit difficult for folk who are hard of hearing and have come to rely on 'loop' systems - and I suffer sound systems for that reason. But otherwise, unless one's audience is very large indeed, I don't really think PAS is really that necessary. Decent voice projection and a good quality set of acoustic instruments will often be more than sufficient for any number upto a couple of hundred in an audience. Unfortunately we now live in an age when it's expected. And public speakers very often no longer 'know' how to speak publically.

I was playing on one occasion with a 6 piece brass ensemble - and I easily outplayed them for volume (though not in quality) ...on my banjo ukulele...now that is one loud instrument (designed btw specifically for the musichalls I believe).

************Rant over ****************
Title: Re: Public Address Systems from Hell
Post by: Pushpull on May 29, 2009, 09:45:40 AM
**********RANT ALERT**************
How on earth did people cope in the good old days of music-hall etc? Well, actually I think they coped without sound systems (and their so-called engineers) very well indeed.

I'm in agreement with you - have often had a perfectly reasonable occasion marred by poor sound system management. I much prefer to do without. I know that it can make things a bit difficult for folk who are hard of hearing and have come to rely on 'loop' systems - and I suffer sound systems for that reason. But otherwise, unless one's audience is very large indeed, I don't really think PAS is really that necessary. Decent voice projection and a good quality set of acoustic instruments will often be more than sufficient for any number upto a couple of hundred in an audience. Unfortunately we now live in an age when it's expected. And public speakers very often no longer 'know' how to speak publically.

I was playing on one occasion with a 6 piece brass ensemble - and I easily outplayed them for volume (though not in quality) ...on my banjo ukulele...now that is one loud instrument (designed btw specifically for the musichalls I believe).

************Rant over ****************
In most cases of folk bands using PAs (public address or "sound system" if you must, not piano accordion) I have seen in recent years the sound quality has been risible. It seems to me that because a PA can now be obtained fairly cheaply, it has become a must have. Unfortunately as with most things, you get what you pay for. On top of that, most amateur "sound engineers" seem to think they are balancing a heavy metal band and go for sound levels to match.

Two particular exceptions stand out. Kathryn Tickell uses a very high quality and fairly small PA plus has an engineer who has worked with her for years. It shows. Then there is the excellent "Bill Lloyd's Wildwood Band". I've seen them a couple of times at festivals and although they use the festival PA they bring their own mike (yes one of them) which they gather around 50s style, balancing themselves and stepping forward to take solos. A great band and a great sound.
http://www.georgelloyd.com/wildwoodacoustic/index_band.htm

Title: Re: Public Address Systems from Hell
Post by: Bill the Farmer on May 29, 2009, 10:55:53 AM
As morris musicians, we tend to get PA systems pressed upon us at events, etc. There's usually a PFY (Pimply Faced Youth, see BOFH (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bastard_Operator_From_Hell)) sitting behind a vast mixing board with one microphone plugged into it. If you use it, you can't hear what you're playing for feedback, because there's no monitor. So I avoid them if possible.
Title: Re: Public Address Systems from Hell
Post by: Owen Woods on May 29, 2009, 11:03:00 AM
We have a fairly high quality PA system for gigs, the purpose of which is to balance more than anything else. We have monitors as well, which are essential. When you have a large lineup the quieter instruments tend to get drowned, which occasionally is undesirable. We never use stupid effects though, our sound engineers are all musicians! :P
Title: Re: Public Address Systems from Hell
Post by: jb on May 29, 2009, 11:04:46 AM
Come on, guys. As the band member who often (but never painlessly) also brings along the PA gear, I know that there are some occasions/lineups where it is needed, and also that if set up with some care and thought it can enhance things for all concerned. And somewhere on the net there will be a PA.net forum where they are slagging off squeezeboxers, for sure....
Title: Re: Public Address Systems from Hell
Post by: HallelujahAl on May 29, 2009, 11:33:08 AM
Quote
somewhere on the net there will be a PA.net forum where they are slagging off squeezeboxers, for sure....

Oh I do hope so...in the interests of 'balance' >:E
Title: Re: Public Address Systems from Hell
Post by: Lester on May 29, 2009, 05:28:12 PM
The very first time I played for morris on my own was on a tour in Emden, Germany for Grand Union Morris. The big finish was in a sports stadium, The dancers were in the middle of the 100m straight and I was placed in the infield with a microphone. Opposite me on top the stand was one massive speaker, all seemed well until I played the first tune, there was a significant delay between mike and speaker so I kept trying to speed up to compensate - seemed the worst set up possible. Unfortunately this was not true because the sound guy then plugged in all the tannoy speakers around the track so every note came out 6 times just slightly delayed each time  :'(

This is where I learned to play without listening
Title: Re: Public Address Systems from Hell
Post by: Accordion Dave on May 30, 2009, 07:42:02 AM
I play by ear. So how can I play without listening?
Title: Re: Public Address Systems from Hell
Post by: Theo on May 30, 2009, 09:05:22 AM
I play by ear. So how can I play without listening?

Don't you mean you learn by ear?   And probably play from memory?
Title: Re: Public Address Systems from Hell
Post by: Martin J on May 30, 2009, 11:40:02 AM
Sound systems are so good nowadays that a hi fi quality 'can' be obtained.  But at a price.  The addage of garbage in garbage out, gigo., is more true than ever.  The higest quality pick ups are vital.  If you don't have a hi fi signal them you will just amplify electrical noise.  It goes for every piece of equipment in the line.  Kathryn Tickell's sound man is usually Julian, one of the best Piano Accordion players you are likely to meet.  He's been around folk music since he could crawl.  He knows what it is supposed to sound like.

So never use cheap equipment and never use a sound man who isn't a folkie.  How's that for positive advice?

Dogmatic, me?  When it comes to PA you bet I am.

 (:) :||:
Title: Re: Public Address Systems from Hell
Post by: Owen Woods on May 30, 2009, 12:49:57 PM
So never use cheap equipment and never use a sound man who isn't a folkie.

Quite right. Everyone that operates our equipment is a full time member of the band of considerable standing.

Of course sometimes we don't have control over our sound, as in the 10 May Balls that we'll be playing in within a few weeks  :-\
Title: Re: Public Address Systems from Hell
Post by: Falseknight on May 30, 2009, 02:03:46 PM
I've been "doing" sound for myself and other people for over thirty years now - ranging from rock bands to intimate acoustic combinations.  I've found over the years the problems with public systems are musicians who will not advice from the engineer as to how to use the system (stand up row with one pfy bass player who was on the point of refusing to hav his bass rig di'd because it would sound poor - he WAS wrong) and musicians who either do not have adequate pickups/transducers fitted or will not stay where they are put in front of a microphone.

I am riled by traditional singers with inadequate voices who refuse to use PA because it is not "traditional" (neither is learning songs from records!) and end up inaudible because they stand audience side of the microphone.

Fair play, you need decent monitors (dry feed only) and a sympathetic engineer.  Unless you are in a minute room with everyone listening avidly, these days, you are going to get lost in the general hubbub.
Title: Re: Public Address Systems from Hell
Post by: Accordion Dave on May 30, 2009, 03:58:00 PM
I don't know exactly what I mean, but let me try to formulate and explanation of my concept of "playing by ear".

Imagine if I had an electronic "accordion" in a completely soundproof booth with no means of hearing what I was playing. The audience outside the booth would hear the electronic "accordion" through loudspeakers, but I would have no speaker or headphones in the booth.

I don't think that I would be able to play any acceptable sounding music. This is especially true of a piano accordion with 120 bass. I have to do some long distance jumps on the standard Stradella bass button board.

Let's say I have to jump from a D-minor to a F-Major to a G-Major to a Bb-Major back to a D-minor to an F-Major to an A-Major as in the song "Stairway to Heaven".

Not being able to hear what I am playing, if I make one miscalculation in jumping from one set of tiny buttons to another, I have screwed up the bass entirely for the rest of the song, unless I can locate the indentation in the C-Bass button and re-calibrate.

I may be able to keep the song going on the piano keyboard, but the bass will be totally dissonate with the treble.

All of those lttle buttons on the left side FEEL exactly alike except for the well worn indentation on the C-Bass button.

If I can HEAR what I am playing, I immediately know when I am off by a button and correct immediately without anyone noticing.

Without the auditory feedback, the chord jumps must be absolutely perfect for the entire song. No mistakes allowed and no means to correct a minor mistake. One miscalculation and the entire song is destroyed.

Also, back to the subject of public address systems, if the speakers are howling and there is digital delay, it throws off my self correcting mechanism as I am playing.

Often the two Bavarian ladies will sing a couple of bars of a song. We will find a comfortable key and off we go, making some prety good sounding music.

Everything fell apart on Memorial Day until we figured out that there was this ridiculous digital delay from the loudspeakers, one only 3 feet away. The girls gave up by that time.
Title: Re: Public Address Systems from Hell
Post by: Falseknight on May 30, 2009, 04:24:54 PM
Exactly right.  We all need to hear what we are playing so that we can correct and adapt to what is being played with us.

Hence the need for good, clear, dry monitors.
Title: Re: Public Address Systems from Hell
Post by: Owen Woods on May 30, 2009, 05:12:39 PM
Aye. Monitors are a godsend, especially since my useful and incredibly cute little electric uke doesn't make any sound without them...
Title: Re: Public Address Systems from Hell
Post by: HallelujahAl on May 30, 2009, 08:22:10 PM
Quote
Aye. Monitors are a godsend, especially since my useful and incredibly cute little electric uke doesn't make any sound without them...

Electric Ukes - whatever next http://hallelujahal.wordpress.com/leaning-on-a-lampost/ (http://hallelujahal.wordpress.com/leaning-on-a-lampost/)....?
Title: Re: Public Address Systems from Hell
Post by: Owen Woods on May 30, 2009, 10:12:56 PM
Quote
Aye. Monitors are a godsend, especially since my useful and incredibly cute little electric uke doesn't make any sound without them...

Electric Ukes - whatever next http://hallelujahal.wordpress.com/leaning-on-a-lampost/ (http://hallelujahal.wordpress.com/leaning-on-a-lampost/)....?

(http://ukulele.de/shop/images/product_images/popup_images/15_2.jpg)

There she is. I have the red version. Lovely beastie, but so much more difficult to play than my other ukes. Mostly I play Charango, which has 10 nhylon strings (I tune it aa dD f#F# bb ee) and if your stopping is a bit dodgy the string just doesn't sound. With this one if you make a mistake it twangs and buzzes and everything. Challenging. I think I'd get along a little better if it were a sop rather than a tenor, but I can't possibly get rid of it now. Nor do I have the money to buy a sop for that matter.
Title: Re: Public Address Systems from Hell
Post by: Accordion Dave on May 31, 2009, 01:04:35 AM
In the soundproof booth I thought I was playing "Stairway to Heaven" when it was actually "House of the Rising Sun".
Title: Re: Public Address Systems from Hell
Post by: Accordion Dave on May 31, 2009, 01:09:16 AM
I am going to create my own closed-circuit monitor system, a couple of small microphones, a small amplifier and some inconspicuous headphones.
Title: Re: Public Address Systems from Hell
Post by: Theo on May 31, 2009, 09:44:03 AM
For the protection of your hearing please please include some circuitry that will protect your ears in the event of feedback.  In ear monitors without protection can be dangerous.
Title: Re: Public Address Systems from Hell
Post by: Accordion Dave on May 31, 2009, 02:25:22 PM
I find it nearly impossible to play with a full German brass band, because I can't hear what I am playing.

I need to tilt one of my ears down to the bellows in order to play along. The small microphones and headphones would in essense get my ears right inside the accordion.

I am thinking of a good qualty set of pickups inside, connected to a little battery powered amplifier and then to my headphones.

Oh, by the way, Mister Public Address also sticks two microphone booms over the band and turns the volume up until it is on the verge of feedback.

In my opinion that band needs no amplification. The Steirische Harmonika player could use a spot mike. I would love to hear him play.
Title: Re: Public Address Systems from Hell
Post by: Ebor_fiddler on May 31, 2009, 09:10:34 PM
Sorry - thought this was Public Address Systems from Hull.  >:E
Title: Re: Public Address Systems from Hell
Post by: Pete of Ebor on June 05, 2009, 05:15:43 PM
Exactly right.  We all need to hear what we are playing so that we can correct and adapt to what is being played with us.

Hence the need for good, clear, dry monitors.

At the risk of appearing amateurish... what's a "..clear, dry monitor." - surely they won't work if they're wet..
Title: Re: Public Address Systems from Hell
Post by: Québécois on June 05, 2009, 05:23:14 PM
At the risk of appearing amateurish... what's a "..clear, dry monitor." - surely they won't work if they're wet..
I guess it means that the sound the monitor produces doen't go through any electronic alteration or effect, such as reverberation. It's just the clean original sound as captured by the microphone(s).
Title: Re: Public Address Systems from Hell
Post by: Accordion Dave on June 06, 2009, 12:35:42 AM
I want control over my monitor, whether it be speakers or headphones. My problems arise when someone who has no clue how to operate a sound system, sticks a microphone in front of me.
Title: Re: Public Address Systems from Hell
Post by: Falseknight on June 06, 2009, 11:49:48 AM
Trouble is, your monitor also has to give a feed of what everybody else (well everybody else important) is doing as well.

That means you still need something from your PFY expert.
Title: Re: Public Address Systems from Hell
Post by: Accordion Dave on June 07, 2009, 04:39:54 PM
In my case, there were two ladies, one standing on each side of me. I was attempting to accompany their singing. It was impossible because the one second delay from a speaker three feet away was louder than they were. They kept going slower and slower, trying to compensate.

A monitor speaker pointed right at us with the same delay would have been even worse.

I have no problem working with professional sound people. It's the folks that set up the equipment, twist a few knobs, and then head for the beer tent, that make playing difficult.
Title: Re: Public Address Systems from Hell
Post by: Falseknight on June 08, 2009, 07:29:40 AM
Stop playing and tell the engineer to turn the xxxx delay off on the xxxx monitors.  and don't start till he has done it.

You'll only need do it once.
Title: Re: Public Address Systems from Hell
Post by: pete /acorn on June 08, 2009, 10:36:31 AM
Hi,
Everyone blames sound engineer but as previously mentioned its sometimes the fault of performers who do not listen.
I used to do sound for local folk club on guest nights with my own gear,the easiest people to accommodate were the long time pros,Martin Carthy etc,the most awkward I recall was a group of up and coming lads from Lancashire who came in requiring 9 mikes [there was only three of them] and started to dictate how they should be set.
Firstly I didn't have that many so the young melodeon player promptly pulled out a case with at least 6 inside and said use these.
By this time I'd had enough,and turned round to him and said,''Just remember the sound engineer is your best friend whilst your on that stage'',
He soon cooled down.
So don't always blame the engineer and be polite to him or her,they can soon get their own back.

Pete,Jills husband
Title: Re: Public Address Systems from Hell
Post by: Theo on June 08, 2009, 11:00:57 AM
There is indeed sometimes unreasonable behaviour on both sides of the mic.  The worst bit of sound "engineering" I can recall was a couple of years ago at a concert in the Rifle Club at Whitby.  A group of singers, all seasoned pros, had started their spot with nobody at the sound desk. I think the sound person had popped out to answer a call of nature and left the system in a 'best guess' condition. His guess was good because we could hear all three singers quite comfortably and indeed were unaware that the sound desk was on autopilot.  Part way through the sound man returned and started twiddling the knobs, and immediately we suffered howls of feedback and the whole atmosphere was ruined.  What a plonker!

Incidentally Pete I did sound for a Hexham Gathering concert a few years ago where I had a similar experience with a young musician from Lancs.  I wonder if it was the same lad?
Title: Re: Public Address Systems from Hell
Post by: pete /acorn on June 08, 2009, 03:16:11 PM
Hi Theo,
Could be,  Melodeon player,Ginger hair from Fylde area.

Hope he's matured a bit and is a bit less pretentious.

Pete
Title: Re: Public Address Systems from Hell
Post by: Theo on June 08, 2009, 04:37:11 PM
That's the one!
Title: Re: Public Address Systems from Hell
Post by: triskel on June 08, 2009, 10:04:34 PM
Sorry - thought this was Public Address Systems from Hull.  >:E

OMG, don't remind me of that Paddy's Night gig in Hull/from Hell...   ::)

Good Lord deliver me!
Title: Re: Public Address Systems from Hell
Post by: Ebor_fiddler on June 14, 2009, 11:14:22 PM
Oh, are we on to Paddy's Nights from Hell now?  >:E I expect we can all tell of those ....  :(
Title: Re: Public Address Systems from Hell
Post by: Accordion Dave on June 15, 2009, 04:02:03 AM
Each event is a new adventure in sound.
 
I remember one year, one of the local polka disc jockeys hung his heavy vinyl banner in front of one of the speakers. It acted as a sound scoop to direct sound back into the microphones, resulting in horrendous feedback.
Another year a "feedback killer" box was used. There was no howl, but the audio was full of notches in frequency response, rendering it unintelligible.

The digital delay was a new touch this year.

I can only guess what audio adventures await.
Title: Re: Public Address Systems from Hell
Post by: Owen Woods on June 15, 2009, 02:33:32 PM
So far in my gig marathon (7 gigs in the space of 8 days, plus another 4 with the band that I'm not playing in) the PA side of things has gone remarkably well. None of them have so far been informed in advance of what we need, but since we are prepared for that it didn't matter terribly.
Title: Re: Public Address Systems from Hell
Post by: Skipy on June 15, 2009, 04:52:00 PM
Strange, for some unknown reason, today is the first time I've read this thread........... and what a great one it is, as usual! Informative, funny, helpful, etc, etc.

The PA system setup where I play is less than ideal, for some reason the speakers are sited too far back (no-one seems to know why or seems willing to have them moved) so feedback levels are critical and there are no monitors BUT we have two regular bets when setting up, 1. How many screeches will be heard before all the levels are set, it's either the Amateur Soundman (we're all amateurs but we do need some amplification on a Saturday night) adjusting or there's always one of us who plugs in before checking he's turned down) and 2. How many people will walk out when the Banjo Player strikes up  ;D

Seriously though, my solution to not being able to hear myself play amongst the other musicians when amplified, is to use a Preamp, with just one in-ear-bud headphone plugged into the headphone output, which has its own level control. I can always hear myself playing even if I'm not too familiar with a tune/song and playing quietly and there's less risk of amplified feedback.

Skipy
Title: Re: Public Address Systems from Hell
Post by: Accordion Dave on July 28, 2009, 01:52:27 AM
The saga of "Sound System Hell" continues....

I was asked to be ready to play at 2PM. I was told the microphones would be set up and ready to go. I arrived a few minutes before 2, but no sound equipment was set up yet. No problem, I started to play my piano accordion. A fellow with a Steirische Harmonika joined me for a couple of tunes.

Then the equipment started to be assembled. There was a bass speaker about 3 feet from me that was howling like a jet plane taking off. Every time the operator would say "check" the speaker would rumble and head for the stratosphere.

I couldn't hear myself play, so I quickly abandoned the so-called "stage", and continued to play over near the food table and bar.

That seemed to work quite well. I was near the people as they were coming to the event and the cinder block wall seemed to re-inforce the sound of the accordion.

Eventually the sound system operator caught up with me and put a wireless microphone in front of me. That actually seemed to work quite well, because I was perhaps 50 feet away from the loudspeakers.

Later I was back on the "stage". I had to avoid certain notes because they would set the sound system into oscillation.

Title: Re: Public Address Systems from Hell
Post by: Chris Ryall on July 28, 2009, 07:43:15 AM
Don't play bands myself but recall the time Bruno le Trun's Maubuisson, and then la Chavane played in Bath's main assembly rooms.  The main hall is a perfect double cube and the reverberations had to be heard to be believed. The PA man liked it LOUD and you'd be dancing to one phrase of music with the previous coming at you into the other ear. Not an experience I'd want to repeat.