How best to explain to the banjo player...

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BenjaminWells
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How best to explain to the banjo player...

Post by BenjaminWells » Fri Apr 01, 2011 8:14 am

So the banjo player gets a new toy; a stomp box that allows him to raise and lower his own volume on stage. At our last gig, this resulted in the most hideous, chill down the spine inducing, calamity I've ever encountered. Every time he pressed it, the only thing being amplified was the sound of his metal finger picks scraping up and down the strings.

Anyhoo, I sent this message to the band, trying to be as diplomatic as possible:
When we are on stage being mixed by an engineer, we as a band relinquish the responsibility for the overall mix and the sound to the engineer. This is great because we can focus our attention on playing our instruments, which is what we are there for. The engineer is always in a better position to judge what sounds good and set levels than we are on stage. Under this scenario it is absolutely imperative that once we as players have a level through our equipment, that we do not under any circumstances change the level going to the board. If we have preamps, we should set them and forget them. If we are playing into an instrument mic, we should strive to always be the same distance and position in relation to the mic when the level was set. Otherwise, the sound engineer is dealing with a shifting, unpredictable situation in which good sound is impossible to attain.
We are preparing for a rather important gig, opening up for Cornmeal. He sent this reply:
The stomp box is not that complicated to adjust and once it's set it should be good for just about any gig. The mike that is matched with it (didn't use at Copper) is fixed on the banjo and is basically a minitaure 58 on a goose neck. By using it I have control over two volume levels (back up and lead) with my foot. It's much better sound than the piezo pick up and gives me a small amount of control. I just have to figure out how much boost to use, probably 20%. Once that is calibrated, I shouldn't have to change any of the adjustments and it then makes things easier for the sound guy. I hope this makes sense. It doesn't have to be done before this gig but whenever we have the time.
To which I replied:
I realize how attractive it appears to have some assemblage of control over your own volume on stage. But, raising and lowering your volume is the engineer's job. He'll be in a much better position to judge where it should be. Let him do it, and free your mind to light up the audience with your awesome banjo playing.

It is actually very important that you do not raise and lower your volume on stage, because as I've said before, it messes up the over-all mix and makes it impossible for the sound engineer to fine tune our sound. This guy is good... very good, and he'll give you a bump on solos, but in proportions that make sense to the over-all mix. You can't possibly "calibrate" your pre-amp properly to do this. It takes a set of human ears. Your pre-amp is not worthless if you don't use that function of it. It is integral to your sound. And, that function would certainly be useful if we did not have an engineer mixing us.

If the reason you want to do this is because you are afraid of not being able to hear yourself well enough, simply ask for more banjo (or over-all volume) through your monitor.
So, I have two questions. 1. do you agree with what I've said here and why or why not? 2. how should I handle this if he insists on hitting that thing on stage?

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Post by A.David.MacKinnon » Fri Apr 01, 2011 8:25 am

Record the next rehearsal or show so he can hear what it really sounds like.

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Reasoning with the banjo player...

Post by BenjaminWells » Fri Apr 01, 2011 8:37 am

Good idea.

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Post by JGriffin » Fri Apr 01, 2011 10:12 am

Does the live sound engineer know your material enough to know when to turn up the banjo player? Most of the time house sound guys don't turn up guitar solos, so lead guitarists have all manner of boost pedals. Don't know why it would be different for a banjo. Maybe a volume pedal would be a better option. I agree with the idea of recording so he can hear it from an objective point of view, but maybe the solution is to figure out how to make the volume boost work without being screechy.
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Post by MoreSpaceEcho » Fri Apr 01, 2011 11:17 am

i'm sure the reality is it sounds terrible or you wouldn't be complaining, but it's perfectly reasonable for a player to have two different volume levels on stage. when my singer hits her distortion pedal her guitar gets a lot louder and that is the whole idea. the loud parts are supposed to be louder. i'm not hitting my drums at one volume the whole show.

you can't expect a soundman to know when the solos are coming. and just because the banjo sounds screechy where you are onstage doesn't necessarily mean that's what it sounds like out in the house.

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thank yous

Post by BenjaminWells » Fri Apr 01, 2011 11:22 am

Thanks for this. Yes, I see. Maybe we just need to set up the preamp properly, so that the louder volume isn't screechy. I'll have a look at it tonight I think.

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Post by E-money » Fri Apr 01, 2011 12:37 pm

Unless his name is Bela Fleck, there shouldn't be a banjo player.


Sorry, couldn't resist. Sounds to me like he needs to find the proper setting. 20% boost sounds high to me for a banjo, I would start at 5-10%. If he has an issue with this, remind him that most people associate the sound of banjo with Deliverance, inbreeding, and man-rape.
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Post by Snarl 12/8 » Fri Apr 01, 2011 1:48 pm

I agree that guitarists do this all the time and as an ex-FOH guy I wouldn't want the responsibility of boosting his channel every time it needed it. I might be mixing 4-5 bands that night.

That said, you really, really shouldn't be handling something this sensitive via email. He should be seeing the concern in your eyes, and vice versa. And yes, this is sensitive you're criticizing this guy's performance at your last show.
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Post by Gentleman Jim » Fri Apr 01, 2011 1:56 pm

As someone who mixes bands he's never heard before on a regular basis, I could kiss the OP.

Yes, a 20% volume boost is too high if the banjo is then running through a DI. Guitarists can get away with pretty profound volume boosts because they're then usually going into a saturated tube amp, which will lessen the effect of that boost.

I would welcome a subtle boost, like the 5-10% mentioned above, if the banjo was being used in the context of a loud rock band. (Because we all begged the universe for another 27 Dropkick Murphys ripoffs, right?)

But if you're playing with Cornmeal, who are described on Wikipedia as a roots/bluegrass band, then I'm assuming you're closer to that vein. In that case, I'd probably say leave the stompbox at home. Your arrangements should allow for each others' solos to come through. Yes, I'm actually suggesting that you all back off a bit and play less when someone else is playing more. Revolutionary, I know.

The other thing I would recommend is that whoever is taking a solo takes a step or two downstage and makes themselves the visual focus of the band for that length of time. It will make people focus on listening for that instrument, which they should be able to do reasonably easily if your arrangements are solid.

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e-mail

Post by BenjaminWells » Fri Apr 01, 2011 1:56 pm

Snarl 12/8 wrote:you really, really shouldn't be handling something this sensitive via email. He should be seeing the concern in your eyes, and vice versa.
Another good point. I'll call him to get together.

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Post by dgrieser » Fri Apr 01, 2011 5:31 pm

Gentleman Jim wrote: In that case, I'd probably say leave the stompbox at home. Your arrangements should allow for each others' solos to come through. Yes, I'm actually suggesting that you all back off a bit and play less when someone else is playing more. Revolutionary, I know.

The other thing I would recommend is that whoever is taking a solo takes a step or two downstage and makes themselves the visual focus of the band for that length of time. It will make people focus on listening for that instrument, which they should be able to do reasonably easily if your arrangements are solid.
Listen to Gentleman Jim on this one. Great advice for more than just bluegrass bands. Another thing you can do is have all the other band members look at the person soloing--gives the audience a clue.

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Re: e-mail

Post by Nick Sevilla » Fri Apr 01, 2011 5:41 pm

BenjaminWells wrote:
Snarl 12/8 wrote:you really, really shouldn't be handling something this sensitive via email. He should be seeing the concern in your eyes, and vice versa.
Another good point. I'll call him to get together.
Hi,

Tell him that I said he does not need the pedal. but if he really "needs it" to use it properly.
Since this is a new toy, it should be used in rehearsal only first a few times, to get the hang of how it affects his sound, and also to get the band used to it, and when it will be used.

From your original post, it seems to me they guy does not yet know how to properly implement the pedal into the live set, due to the screeching sound heard by all. Banjoes generally do not screech. Unless played wrong.

That said, I have yet to see a banjo player use anything other than his fingers to play softer or louder.

Cheers
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Post by JGriffin » Fri Apr 01, 2011 11:04 pm

dgrieser wrote:
Gentleman Jim wrote: In that case, I'd probably say leave the stompbox at home. Your arrangements should allow for each others' solos to come through. Yes, I'm actually suggesting that you all back off a bit and play less when someone else is playing more. Revolutionary, I know.

The other thing I would recommend is that whoever is taking a solo takes a step or two downstage and makes themselves the visual focus of the band for that length of time. It will make people focus on listening for that instrument, which they should be able to do reasonably easily if your arrangements are solid.
Listen to Gentleman Jim on this one. Great advice for more than just bluegrass bands. Another thing you can do is have all the other band members look at the person soloing--gives the audience a clue.
+1 on this.
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Post by roscoenyc » Sat Apr 02, 2011 2:52 pm

I usually try to explain to the person who's changing their level that getting a sound from a level that isn't fairly constant could be compared to trying to take a picture while someone was turning the lights on and off.

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Re: e-mail

Post by roygbiv » Sat Apr 02, 2011 3:29 pm

there's a lot of good points above. Varying volume can be a huge distraction. having said that, as guitar player, I certainly like to stomp on things to make my manly leads wail unto the heavens and make the angles cringe.

On a side note - the following point is very good, IMNSHO:
Nick Sevilla wrote:...Since this is a new toy, it should be used in rehearsal only first a few times, to get the hang of how it affects his sound, and also to get the band used to it, and when it will be used.
Maybe I'm just old, but I have a policy of never using anything brand new on stage that I haven't at least tried once with the whole band during rehearsal.

Too many bad experiences with new toys sounding great in my stoned solo basement jamming, only to have them turn into that scene from Spinal Tap with the wireless remote when I actually try them out with a whole band. If that happens to be live, on stage, in front of a bunch of people, not such a good thing. Unless public humiliation masochism rock is your thing, if so, then rock on !
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