You are here

Compressing keyboard instruments with variable signal level

For performing musicians and engineers: stagecraft, engineering and gear.

Moderator: Moderators

Compressing keyboard instruments with variable signal level

Postby timhowes » Wed Oct 05, 2016 11:36 am

Hi folks, looking for a bit of guidance please...

Here's my situation:
Amateur 6-piece band playing pop covers
2x vox, keyboard (Nord Electro), guitar (via Line 6 Pod HD500x), elec bass, drums, sax/EWI.
All going directly into Behringer XR18. Out via 2 active tops and a sub. In-ear monitoring via Aux from XR18.

I'm still new to engineering live sound but am producing a reasonable mix now. However I continue to have issues with varied signal level from keyboard and guitar - that is, they use a range of voices/patches, changing every number, which have a variable level. Being amateur players, they aren't necessarily in full control of their gear! By which I mean they can't be trusted to adjust their levels - if they have too much/too little level in their ears after a patch change, they often fiddle with the source gain knob to get their mix right.

I'm not using much compression on individual channels but do use a multi-band compressor on L-R. To solve the problem described I'm thinking about some tight compression on keys and the guitar module, and ensure compressed sound is going to their ears. Aim is obviously to produce constant level out front and in ears.

I'm the sax player as well as engineer, and currently our set is arranged such that I mix during the first 2 songs before getting installed in the band for the remainder of the set - as I'm playing a lot I'm not really able to ride the faders live. I do listen to the FOH sound (in-ear) and can adjust a bit, but I find the in-ear FOH sound is often quite different to what's needed when I go out into the room.

I'd be really grateful to hear the experiences of others - I imagine this is a very common problem amongst amateur outfits!

Cheers
Tim
timhowes
Posts: 2
Joined: Wed Oct 05, 2016 11:13 am

Re: Compressing keyboard instruments with variable signal level

Postby Dave B » Wed Oct 05, 2016 12:11 pm

There's two parts to this and both apply equally to the keys and the guitars :

1. Getting a 'patch level' that is consistent so that your organ sound is roughly the same level as your piano sound which is the same level as your rhodes sound ... etc
2. Getting a mix level at the FOH

If you guys are using in ear monitoring - even if it's just cables and ear buds (as we do) - then the issue is complicated slightly further by the lack of 'air' which also helps smooth things out. A mix in the ears can be quite different to what you hear from a wedge.

You _could_ try sticking a compressor on the offending inputs, but that's a whole world of hurt. I wouldn't go that way.

What is needed is to set aside a little time in rehearsals for the players to create patches on their rigs which are slightly more consistent sounding. Typically, as a keyboard player, I will create patches which are all a little quieter than normal, then I can tweak the levels in these patches up and down a bit until there's a consistency. Some patches are louder and rather than try and boost everything else to match them, I take everything down to a common level - if everything is a touch quiet, then you can just gain them up at the mixer.

Once you have a consistent sound coming out of the instrument, then you can tackle the FOH mix. The best way is to have a FOH guy running the levels in the show but that's not always possible. For solos / leads, you can have alternate patches or a 'boost' switch (my preferred option) built into the patch.

So that sorts out the FOH. What about the in-ears?

My attitude to this kind of thing is that they need to set a comfortable level of instruments that they need, and then live with it. No fiddling anywhere - if they need to do it, then why was it not done in the rehearsal room? If you have a single aux feeding the ears, then this is just discipline. If you use one per person (as we do), then if a balance on their instrument is bad, it's either only a small amount due to the in ear nature of the monitoring, or it's something that they should have sorted previously.

You have to remember that the purpose of monitoring is that the musician gets what they need to play the song - not a perfect mix of the final result.

Basically, you need to lay down the law ... ;)

FYI - I used to be a particularly bad offender in the 'variable volume' stakes. But with a bit of work, it got tamed and now I'm pretty consistent. At least to the point where the FOH doesn't complain any more ..
User avatar
Dave B
Jedi Poster
Posts: 5872
Joined: Wed Apr 02, 2003 11:00 pm
Location: Maidenhead
Veni, Vidi, Aesculi (I came, I saw, I conkered)

Re: Compressing keyboard instruments with variable signal level

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Wed Oct 05, 2016 12:24 pm

I think Dave has covered all the points extremely well.

I agree with him that although compressing the instruments into the desk seems like the easy answer, it really isn't and it is likely to make things more difficult rather than better.

You hit the nail on the head when you said it's an amateur band. We all are when we start, of course, but surely the aim has to be to become a little more professional in what we do to deliver the best show we can? I'm sure you don't let bum notes and poor tuning through, so why allow poor dynamic control.

Use the rehearsals to sort out the level discrepancies between patches. That's what rehearsals are for. Sort the problem out at source, rather than trying to hide it in the technology.

H
User avatar
Hugh Robjohns
Moderator
Posts: 31089
Joined: Thu Jul 24, 2003 11:00 pm
Location: Worcestershire, UK
Technical Editor, Sound On Sound
In my world, things get less strange when I read the manual... 

Re: Compressing keyboard instruments with variable signal level

Postby timhowes » Wed Oct 05, 2016 12:32 pm

Brilliant, thanks Dave.

"...a little time in rehearsals" (lack thereof) is probably the reason we haven't sorted it out better thus far! Will make time soon. Makes total sense - get the source sorted properly and the mix will be easier and better. I like the idea of a "boost" button for features.

The enthusiastic and frequent acquisition of new equipment by the players (ahem, to compensate for ability?) hasn't helped my predicament! As you say, time to lay down the law :headbang:
timhowes
Posts: 2
Joined: Wed Oct 05, 2016 11:13 am

Re: Compressing keyboard instruments with variable signal level

Postby damoore » Wed Oct 05, 2016 1:29 pm

Patch level differences on keyboards is a long standing problem. EP's always seem to be louder than pianos for example and often by default organs are set at blastisimo. So if you levelled everything with a compressor some sounds would have no dynamic range, you would be hard up against the compression all the time.

Running EP's through a compressor is actually quite useful as it means you (the player) can alter the tone without changing the level but that implies a compressor set for the individual patch and song, so it has to be under the players control.

I think you mentioned you are using inears, so delivering consistent mixes to the keys and guitar will help them with levels during a song but it doesn"t help when you have just changed patch. With experience you get used to adjusting your volume on a patch by patch basis for your stock patches, but covers usually require a lot of patches so really the players need to adjust the patches for consistency of level.

You can"t really do that with a vu metre, although that might be a start. An EP tends to sound louder than an acoustic piano even though they both read the same on the meter. You need to hear the patches in context. The players can get close by playing along with similar material by themselves and then you can make any final adjustments during rehearsal. You can help that along by being able to estimate needed changes in decibels by ear. That too will come with practice.
damoore
Frequent Poster
Posts: 981
Joined: Sat Jul 04, 2009 11:00 pm
Location: New Hampshire

Re: Compressing keyboard instruments with variable signal level

Postby blinddrew » Wed Oct 05, 2016 9:06 pm

Just iterating what the other guys have said really, set out a dedicated rehearsal (or chunk of your time) to work on levels. Don't practice the songs, just work on getting the patch levels consistent and whatever mechanisms you're using for any boosts sorted.
Then install a volume control on your drummer and you're sorted :bouncy:
User avatar
blinddrew
Jedi Poster
Posts: 14923
Joined: Sat Jul 04, 2015 11:00 pm
Location: York
Ignore the post count, I have no idea what I'm doing...

Re: Compressing keyboard instruments with variable signal level

Postby Dave B » Thu Oct 06, 2016 11:20 pm

timhowes wrote: I like the idea of a "boost" button for features.

All my organ patches have a 'boost button' mapped to the spare button on my Kurzweils. Organ is the kind of instrument that can get lost when you drop from big chords to little riffs, so I can kick it up a couple of db so that it cuts through rather than getting drowned out.

I don't do volume pedals. I'm guessing you twig why - they are just a volume control in another place and the same problem with fiddling with levels happens, so I just avoid it and do the programming. Saying that, my old guitarist had a stereo volume pedal between his pre-amp and his power amp and used it with the level set to a sensible level when the pedal was down that gave him a few db when it went up so it acted as a boost pedal. He used that for sometimes giving the solo a nudge higher if we were particularly busy under him.

And gear lust always settles down after a while. Once everyone tames their rigs, the idea of introducing something new - no matter how shiny - that may make them do the whole process again isn't so appealing ...

;)

Hope you get it sorted. It's an annoyance, but once it all comes together (and people hear how good it sounds), your life should be much simpler - and more fun!
User avatar
Dave B
Jedi Poster
Posts: 5872
Joined: Wed Apr 02, 2003 11:00 pm
Location: Maidenhead
Veni, Vidi, Aesculi (I came, I saw, I conkered)

Re: Compressing keyboard instruments with variable signal level

Postby damoore » Fri Oct 07, 2016 1:10 pm

Except that use of the volume pedal is an integral part of Hammond playing. Watch the right foot of a top class Hammond player and you will probably see that they are working the volume pedal all the time.

When you set levels for organ patches, just make sure the pedal is all the way down. You also want to make sure the pedal is adjusted so that "all the way down" is achievable by the player. Some volume pedals assume you are playing standing up and it is nearly impossible to achieve full-downness seated with the pedal forward of your knee.
damoore
Frequent Poster
Posts: 981
Joined: Sat Jul 04, 2009 11:00 pm
Location: New Hampshire

Re: Compressing keyboard instruments with variable signal level

Postby ben howes » Fri Oct 07, 2016 3:47 pm

Hi Tim,
Make sure you are sending instrument sends to the aux outs before any channel compression (or EQ) is applied - this will allow the musicians to hear the dynamics of the signal they are sending to the desk.
ben howes
Regular
Posts: 131
Joined: Tue Jul 29, 2014 11:00 pm
Location: United Kingdom

Re: Compressing keyboard instruments with variable signal level

Postby shufflebeat » Thu Oct 13, 2016 8:39 am

Record your rehearsals, play back in the car/van with everyone in attendance. Say nothing.
shufflebeat
Jedi Poster
Posts: 6333
Joined: Sun Dec 09, 2007 12:00 am
Location: Manchester, UK
"Dance, dance. wherever you may be, for I am the Lord of the damp settee..."

Do yourself a favour, wear earplugs at gigs.

Re: Compressing keyboard instruments with variable signal level

Postby trunkdog » Fri May 14, 2021 6:15 pm

damoore wrote:… set levels for organ patches, .

Please explain to me what, in the context of the Hammond setup, are "organ patches".

damoore wrote:…just make sure the pedal is all the way down. You also want to make sure the pedal is adjusted so that "all the way down" is achievable by the player. Some volume pedals assume you are playing standing up and it is nearly impossible to achieve full-downness seated with the pedal forward of your knee…

Damn good advice!
User avatar
trunkdog
Regular
Posts: 72
Joined: Sat Dec 29, 2012 12:00 am
Location: Deep in the Heart of Dixie
Thx - td

Re: Compressing keyboard instruments with variable signal level

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Fri May 14, 2021 6:21 pm

trunkdog wrote:Please explain to me what, in the context of the Hammond setup, are "organ patches"

Different drawbar settings.
User avatar
Hugh Robjohns
Moderator
Posts: 31089
Joined: Thu Jul 24, 2003 11:00 pm
Location: Worcestershire, UK
Technical Editor, Sound On Sound
In my world, things get less strange when I read the manual... 

Re: Compressing keyboard instruments with variable signal level

Postby Wonks » Fri May 14, 2021 8:08 pm

Partly, but the context the original statement was made in was with the sounds coming from a Nord, which makes it more to do with the level each organ patch has been saved at, especially in comparison to other keyboard patches. The drawbar settings within the patch obviously have a bearing of the patch volume, 110100010 is going to be a lot quieter than 888888888 will be, given the same volume pedal or patch volume setting. But obviously you could save them so they had similar volumes.
User avatar
Wonks
Jedi Poster
Posts: 11626
Joined: Wed May 28, 2003 11:00 pm
Location: Reading, UK
Correcting mistakes on the internet since 1853