Saturday, December 5, 2015

Killing Music Loudly

I’ve owned a couple of recording studios, worked in a dozen studios owned by far richer people than me, designed a few studios, owned a sound company, designed and manufactured pro audio gear for six different companies (including my own, Wirebender Audio Systems). For 50-some years, amplification, microphones, and loudspeakers have been my life's major fascination and research subject. I taught recording studio design and acoustics, microphone theory and application, recording technology theory, and another half-dozen subjects at McNally Smith College of Music in St. Paul, MN.
With all of that behind me, I’m rarely encouraged by the sight of microphones and a sound system in a live performance venue. Almost all of my favorite live performances have been as close to sans-PA as possible. I used to play, and spectate, at a folk club in Dallas called “the Rubaiyat.” It was a 50-80 person club that served booze and bar food and hosted some of the best known folk acts of the 1960’s: Tom Rush, Tim Buckley, Pete Seeger, Peter, Paul, and Mary, Tom Paxton, Jim Croce, Arlo Guthrie, and lots of lesser-known talents including a spontaneous 2-15 member group we called “the Volunteer Jug Band.” There was no sound system of any sort in that club and the audience heard the performers just fine. I’ve seen a couple of shows at the Ted Mann Concert Hall in Minneapolis and those acts either didn’t use the house system at all or used it so carefully it was unnoticeable. In fact, that might be the key to running a great sound system.
The best known and most widely used live microphones in the world are a pair of coarse objects known as the Shure SM57 and SM58. The most critical quality these two blunt instruments bring to a stage is indestructability. The 58, for example, is known for its ability to be dropped from a 20’ stage to a concrete floor and not sound any worse than before the fall. Maybe the beginning to reinforcing sound rather than just making shit louder would be to get rid of the crappy tools and try doing the job well for a change?

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Wirebender Audio Rants

Over the dozen years I taught audio engineering at Musictech College and McNally Smith College of Music, I accumulated a lot of material that might be useful to all sorts of budding audio techs and musicians. This site will include comments and questions about professional audio standards, practices, and equipment. I will add occasional product reviews with as many objective and irrational opinions as possible.