Almost a decade ago, I was encouraged to start a blog about my work in audio. It didn’t seem useful to me at the time, but I wish now that I had jumped in. I’ve had so many varied experiences; trials and errors, epiphanies and philosophies, and exciting new projects and pursuits; that would have been interesting and informative for me to now recount upon years later. As the saying goes, however, “It’s never too late to start.” So here we go…
But I’m not starting this to be [entirely] self-serving. I have always been uanble to stop myself from trying to get others around me to be inspired by communicating audio-musically with an audience. I hope to speak to those who are in some way affected by the role a sound artist-engineer plays: whether it be as a fellow engineer, musician/vocalist, or even as an intrigued listener who wants to learn more about what brings them that emotional connection with their favorite music.
A recent interaction, related below, caused me to revisit the idea of keeping a blog on my adventures in audio. So it’s only proper that my first post should relate this experience.
As a freelance live engineer, I have more recently realized how much I enjoy providing sound for collegiate a cappella. (You’ve seen Pitch Perfect, right?) I’ve had the pleasure of engineering for many excellent groups, a few of which that have placed at the ICCA’s.
At a concert a few weeks ago, the beatboxer, who is also a friend of mine, excitedly remarked that, “you always make me sound so good!” Now, I do have a few tricks to getting a great beatboxing sound, but I don’t ‘make’ anyone sound good… that’s not my role. He’s a great beatboxer, and when I ask him to angle his breath directly into the microphone capsule and without obstructing its sound-pressure zones, he makes it happen through the whole concert. That allows me to do what I need to do to let the audience hear the sound that they expect from a beatboxer (actual beatboxing skill not withstanding). I don’t “create” anything; I merely bridge the gap between performer and audience. I’m a translator, if anything.
That’s not to say that creativity isn’t involved in sound engineering; quite the opposite. But to me, engineering is about deriving my purpose through serving the audience, rather than knob-twisting.
I replied to him with something of that effect, and he refuted it with the evidence that without my amplification, he himself doesn’t sound like the a cappella recordings we love (see: any recording with beatboxing by the Pentatonix). For anyone out there who beatboxes or is aspiring to beatbox: what you will hear on recordings is not quite the same thing that comes out of your favorite artist’s mouth. There are many potential enhancements being made: compression, EQ, doubling, time-correction, splicing, harmonics generation, ambience, blah blah blah. It’s difficult to gauge what sound you’re producing against the sound on a fully-produced recording. That doesn’t mean you need technology to sound good, nor that you shouldn’t emulate and learn to produce the sound you love to hear. Just keep in mind that if you were in the same room as a recorded beatboxing artist, that he or she may not actually be producing sounds that are all that much “better” than what you can do. Don’t be discouraged by recordings.
Here’s what I use at concerts to get a beatboxing sound I love:
The Audix D6 microphone was designed for kick drums. The Audix guys I talked to at NAMM said that they designed the voice coil to respond to the frequencies that recording engineers most often emphasized in kick drum recordings (75Hz and 3kHz if I’m not mistaken). Of the 3 standard kick drum microphones that were available when I needed one (Shure Beta 52 and AKG D112), the Audix is also the smallest and easiest for a vocalist to wield.
I also run it through an original DBX 286 channel strip. I love the way that its compression circuit sounds, albeit with simple controls. I make judicious use of its low and high enhancers too; the mic sounds rather dead (for beatboxing) without them. Maybe a mid-frequency scoop on the EQ would get similar results… but I’ve been working from a very limited mixer EQ section.