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Help: Running sound for Contra Dance

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Homeless 04 Aug 00 - 12:16 PM
GUEST,leeneia 04 Aug 00 - 05:26 PM
BeauDangles 04 Aug 00 - 05:57 PM
Bernard 04 Aug 00 - 06:05 PM
GUEST,leeneia 05 Aug 00 - 12:32 AM
Sorcha 05 Aug 00 - 12:41 AM
Homeless 06 Aug 00 - 12:51 AM
Homeless 18 Aug 00 - 12:08 PM
Jacob B 18 Aug 00 - 12:48 PM
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Subject: Running sound for Contra Dance
From: Homeless
Date: 04 Aug 00 - 12:16 PM

I've been asked to run the sound for a contra dance on Sept 2. I've never run sound in any capacity before, but there's no one else available and I've been voted "most likely to pull it off." There is one dance between now and then and I've already arranged with the guy running sound then (this Saturday) to show me the technical stuff - where everything is, how to connect mics to cords to soundboard, which inputs and outputs to use, which sliders, etc. I plan on taking notes to refer back to when the time comes.

What I'm looking for is here the non-hardware knowledge - what mics to use for which instruments, how loud to make the sound, what order the instruments get set, what to do if I get feedback, does sound need tweaked all night or only set up once, etc.

The barn sits empty except for one dance per month. The barn is 30'x80' with a wooden floor. The sound board and speakers never leave their places in the barn. There will be a fiddler, a guitar, one other musician (instrument unknown at this point), and the caller.

Like I said, I'm a rank amateur at this - I've never even used an amp or soundboard before - so any and all tips are appreciated. If you need to know something specific about the situation, just ask and I'll try to get the info to you.


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Subject: RE: Help: Running sound for Contra Dance
From: GUEST,leeneia
Date: 04 Aug 00 - 05:26 PM

I have never run a sound board, but I have suffered a lot of pain (literally) from sound systems, so let me tell you a little.

1. You need to run a "sound check" where you listen to the individual musicians and their mikes before really firing up the boilers.

2. Don't have wires piled in coils. They turn into generators or something and cause painful feedback.

3. If someone tells you the music is too loud, turn it down. Yes, there are half-deaf rock fans there who will tell you to ignore them, but what do they know?

4. Feedback also occurs when a microphone gets too close to some other part of the system, but I forget just how. Anyway, i was at a dance event where the caller kept wandering around and generating feedback with his personal mike. Finally we sat on his head. The pitiful thing was the place was so small he even didn't even need the darn microphone. It was just a status symbol.

5. If the audience is clustered at the opposite end of the room from the speakers, the sound is too loud.

6. Higher-pitched instruments carry more energy than lower, so be especially careful about the loudness of whistles, fiddles, etc.

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Subject: RE: Help: Running sound for Contra Dance
From: BeauDangles
Date: 04 Aug 00 - 05:57 PM

Hey Homeless,

I think what you are doing is great. Helping out at contra dances is a great way to instill a feeling of community & ownership in oneself.

I help out at our local dance and here are a couple of things I have learned about doing sound.

1. If you use monitors, keep them BEHIND the main speakers, i.e. closer to the musicians. If the monitors get in front of the speakers, you can genereate feedback.

2. Feedback is what happens when a sound is fed into a soundboard or amplifier of some sort. Let me back up. A natural sound is made by a voice or instrument. That sound must be sort of squished and converted into a useful signal before it can be amplified. That is what mikes are for. So the sound travels into the microphone and into the amplifier. Sometimes it goes into a pre-amp before being sent to the amplifier. At any rate, the amplifier is what boosts the signal back to what the natural sound is s'posed to sound like. That modified signal is then sent out of the sound board to the speakers. If that modified sound is picked up by the original microphone, it then goes thru the whole process again. This is called feedback, and is to be avoided at all costs.

3. If feedback occurs, the proper thing to do is to drop the level on the offending mike, but that is hard to do quickly. Try to get all feedback problems out of the way during the sound check. Make sure all musicians are seated comfortably and that they each have a good sweetspot on their respective mikes. Each hall has it's own peculiarities, as does each voice and instrument. Sometimes fiddles need to have the treble cut back and the midrange boosted to give them a thicker sound. Lady callers sometimes need to have the same thing done, depending on the range of their calling voice.

4. Understand that you will most likely be doing the sound check in an empty hall. So what sound good during the sound check won't sound quite as good when their are bodies in the hall absorbing sound and generating noises of their own. So there will be some tweeking necessary during the dance proper, usually for the first dance or two.

5. There are mikes that are better for instruments and others better for the human voice. I am not sure which ones are which. Anybody out there know?

6. Communicate with the band and caller. It is helpful for all concerned to get a sense of rapport with them. Introduce yourself to them. Ask what they like in their mix. Don't be too shy about asking for their help. Probably, they have done this a lot. But once they start warming up and preparing, don't be too intrusive. Let them approach you.

7. Check your levels by walking around the hall during the sound check and the first couple of dances. Get a sense of how things sound to the dancers.

8. Posistion the speakers so that they are either pointing straight down the Hall parallel to each other, or slightly angled in so that their sound waves will intersect about 2/3 of the way down the Hall. If popssible elevate them securely. Some speaker stand allow you to angle the speakers slightly downwards. This is good, but only if it can be done safely. That's about all I can think of for now.

Best of luck,


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Subject: RE: Help: Running sound for Contra Dance
From: Bernard
Date: 04 Aug 00 - 06:05 PM

Very important - EQ controls are for reducing feedback, not for 'making it sound better' (EQ is short for equalisation).

If you get low pitched feedback, GENTLY take out the low frequency EQ until it just stops being a problem.

If it's high pitched feedback, ditto for the HF EQ.

It's HIGHLY UNLIKELY that you will need to increase EQ, and you should always start with the controls in the 'flat' position - neither adding nor reducing. This position is usually marked '0'!!

Modern desks have a 'sweep mid' EQ that needs a lot of knowhow to use properly - I've a feeling the desk you'll be using wont have it; if it has, or if you use one that has, there are two controls. One is the 'spot frequency', and the other is the actual 'gain' control.

The trick you can use until you fully understand it is to turn the gain back to around -3dB (the control is usually marked), turn up the channel volume slowly until feedback just starts to ring, then carefully rotate the frequency control until you find the spot frequency causing the feedback.

If you have a graphic EQ - one with more than three faders - avoid the temptation to make a smiley face! It may work (sort of) for disco 'music', put will make a microphone sound terrible, and give you serious feedback problems!

I'm getting too technical, I think - bear in mind that if you need to alter EQ drastically, you are probably doing something else wrong, like pointing a mike straight down a speaker.

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Subject: RE: Help: Running sound for Contra Dance
From: GUEST,leeneia
Date: 05 Aug 00 - 12:32 AM

a tip, from a former sound man. you can get feedback because a mike is too close to a speaker. keep them apart. you get feedback because a sound goes in the mike, out the speaker (louder than before), back to the mike (louder yet) and out the speaker...

another tip: nothing is as important as not hurting people or damaging their hearing with feedback or too music that's too loud. better to have an imbalance in the music that to hurt someone. He calls this the Hippocaratic Oath for sound men.

that was interesting about having the speaker output intersect 2/3 of the way down the hall.

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Subject: RE: Help: Running sound for Contra Dance
From: Sorcha
Date: 05 Aug 00 - 12:41 AM

Looks like you have gotten some very good advice, here Hless. Most of it I know now, but wish I had 15 years ago. Since "sound man" is usually my Mr. I am going to print this for him, in bold if I can. Just as a reminder.............

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Subject: RE: Help: Running sound for Contra Dance
From: Homeless
Date: 06 Aug 00 - 12:51 AM

I just got back from my "lesson" dance. Got there early and helped set up all the hardware. Had about a thousand questions for jeffrey (tonight's sound man). He kept telling me that I was too worried about it. I ended up taking a page full of notes to start with. Then once the band started the sound check we'd go out to the middle of the hall and he'd ask what I thought. I'd tell him that the banjo seemed a bit quiet or something similar and he'd tell me to go fix it.

We were plagued by a bit of feedback that kept trying to sneak in - we thought from the guitar (either the monitor reflecting off the guitar face into the mic, or the mic picking up feedback from the strings). At the break we found out that it was being caused by the ceiling fan over the stage. By the second half of the night, jeffrey was confident that I could handle the sound and he went off to dance. So my first lesson in sound ended with trial by fire.

Next month I'm on my own. Should be interesting. I've been assured that one of the fiddlers next month has been doing this for years and if I have any questions or problems to just ask him.

Thank you to everyone who offered me instruction or advice. It is appreciated. If you think of anything more, by all means please continue to post - I don't think I could learn too much about it.

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Subject: RE: Help: Running sound for Contra Dance
From: Homeless
Date: 18 Aug 00 - 12:08 PM

Well, it's only two weeks until I'm put on the line. Does anyone else have any good suggestions for me?

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Subject: RE: Help: Running sound for Contra Dance
From: Jacob B
Date: 18 Aug 00 - 12:48 PM

Here are eight articles about sound system operation.

One thought that hasn't been mentioned yet: The microphones you will be using are undoubtedly ones that are designed to pick up sound primarily from directly in front of them, so be sure to point them directly at the instruments they are supposed to pick up. The musicians may know this, and adjust the positions of their mikes themselves, but if they leave the mike position up to you, then you will have to point them appropriately.


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