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Keyboardist volume advice

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Keyboardist volume advice

Postby Craigslee » Fri Jul 26, 2019 10:32 am

Hey all, I have a keyboard player in the band that has no idea how to attenuate his presets uniformly, so he spends the entire gig riding his volume control. Consequently this is a FOH engineers nightmare gain control wise, especially if you dont want to spend the entire gig focussing on the keyboard levels. What advice can I give the keyboard player (techophobe, or just plain lazy... I dunno), or advice for the poor FOh guy trying not to kill his system?
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Re: Keyboardist volume advice

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Fri Jul 26, 2019 10:46 am

He's obviously aware of the problem of volume variations, else he wouldn't be manually riding the levels. So he just needs some encouragement to learn how to save his presets with a more appropriate starting level setting... It's not rocket science...
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Re: Keyboardist volume advice

Postby Wonks » Fri Jul 26, 2019 10:59 am

Does sound like you need to use one rehearsal just to allow the keyboard player to set their levels in a band context.
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Re: Keyboardist volume advice

Postby Arpangel » Fri Jul 26, 2019 11:31 am

What keyboard is it? I'm sure I, or someone else can work it out.
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Re: Keyboardist volume advice

Postby Craigslee » Fri Jul 26, 2019 11:37 am

Arpangel wrote:What keyboard is it? I'm sure I, or someone else can work it out.

I can do it, I was just looking for any FOH engineer tricks. Looks like my weekend is sorted!
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Re: Keyboardist volume advice

Postby Arpangel » Fri Jul 26, 2019 12:19 pm

Craigslee wrote:
Arpangel wrote:What keyboard is it? I'm sure I, or someone else can work it out.

I can do it, I was just looking for any FOH engineer tricks. Looks like my weekend is sorted!

I guess if it was me I'd leave lots of headroom, put a compressor on it, what else can you do?
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Re: Keyboardist volume advice

Postby blinddrew » Fri Jul 26, 2019 1:08 pm

Avoiding the rude answer that's normally reserved for banjo players... ;)

I was in a band years ago where the keyboard player would soundcheck with his volume on 1/2 and then push it up to full when we got on stage because 'everything was louder'. He was unpersuadable on this so we just ended up having a quiet word with the soundguy each time to let him know that he'd have to drop the keyboard volume... :headbang:

Anyway, point being it's worth having a friendly word with the FoH person beforehand. Explain that your keys player is still sorting out a few of their sounds and there may be some volume jumps. That way they'll be aware and have a finger hovering near the fader just in case, and it allows them to consider things like slapping a compressor on if they think it's needed.
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Re: Keyboardist volume advice

Postby Arpangel » Fri Jul 26, 2019 1:35 pm

blinddrew wrote:Avoiding the rude answer that's normally reserved for banjo players... ;)

I was in a band years ago where the keyboard player would soundcheck with his volume on 1/2 and then push it up to full when we got on stage because 'everything was louder'. He was unpersuadable on this so we just ended up having a quiet word with the soundguy each time to let him know that he'd have to drop the keyboard volume... :headbang:

Anyway, point being it's worth having a friendly word with the FoH person beforehand. Explain that your keys player is still sorting out a few of their sounds and there may be some volume jumps. That way they'll be aware and have a finger hovering near the fader just in case, and it allows them to consider things like slapping a compressor on if they think it's needed.

Blimey, and I thought drummers were difficult, this is a keyboard with a controllable line output! Sometimes it's an unfriendly word word that has to be used, did I learn that very quickly when I had my band? Yes.
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Re: Keyboardist volume advice

Postby Dave B » Fri Jul 26, 2019 9:09 pm

It's a tough one and it's not one single thing unfortunately. As a gigging keyboard player, it's a constant struggle to get it right. Modern keyboards are quite complex and the sheer variety of sounds they offer is amazing, but, sadly, very few presets are uniformly loud and it can be even harder to tell if they are too loud or too quiet!

I tend to work in the Combi / Multi / etc mode even if I have a single sound in it. What's more I try to give myself a lot of headroom, so that my average volume level is approx 105ish out of 127. If I use that as a starting line, then, as I add more sounds in, I can adjust the relative levels to get the whole patch sounding consistent. And, hopefully, that means that the FOH needs to just gently ride the fader here and there.

Where this system often comes a cropper is monitoring. Most of us program with headphones on which really skews the levels. So the last batch of programming I did on a Kronos (re-creating a bunch of patches so I could use that the keyboard for one band I play in) I made sure I checked it on my small on-stage monitor. That helped (live I tend to use in-ears so I have to get used to the idea of the sounds being different from FOH) but I then rehearsed using a decent 12" powered cab and realised that they needed some serious level tweaking again. I'm almost there now.

Even then, at best I'll give the FOH a relatively even set of sounds that he will still have to ride a bit.

The in-ears can be a bit of a struggle - in fact the whole on-stage monitoring can be. Whilst a big chunk of this can be laid at your keyboard players' feet, I'd also question the on-stage monitoring. How is that working? Because if he's fiddling, it could well be that he's not got a sufficiently balanced sound and is not feeling confident in sending to the FOH. He does know that he can turn his monitor up / down and not the keys level - yes? You'ld be amazed how many of us still haven't twigged that part...

Patience is your friend. Point him in the direction of the Keyboard forum here and we can help and support him in getting things a little more balanced so that he's happier. For detailed help, we'd need to know about gear / stage set up / etc..

:)
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Re: Keyboardist volume advice

Postby IAA » Fri Jul 26, 2019 10:20 pm

Dave has pretty much said it. I know it’s a real pain, but when I played live we rehearsed our volumes quite tightly. In part this was because some of my keyboard sounds were relatively quiet choral parts and some of my synths were non preset and getting that balance required all of us to have a clue on each other’s volumes. I ran through a mixer to FOH and learnt to never mess. The only other point I’d make is that good monitoring makes the above more straightforward, i once had practically no stage monitoring and relied on the sound from FOH, needless to say on that occasion I ended up pushing everything to the point where the engineer was gesticulating wildly to me to turn down. I thought he was wanting me to play more quickly so took the rest of the band on a much quicker version of our opener....
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Re: Keyboardist volume advice

Postby Craigslee » Sat Jul 27, 2019 12:10 am

Wow guys, thanks for all the great advice!

I now have some good options to move forward with.

Cheers!
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Re: Keyboardist volume advice

Postby Eddy Deegan » Sat Jul 27, 2019 2:00 am

Dave B wrote:Where this system often comes a cropper is monitoring.

The in-ears can be a bit of a struggle - in fact the whole on-stage monitoring can be. Whilst a big chunk of this can be laid at your keyboard players' feet, I'd also question the on-stage monitoring.

Having read the OP I was going to respond with exactly this. Dave has hit the nail on the head IMHO. When I played keys for a living, the biggest challenge was always on-stage monitoring.

Psychologically, if the FOH is a good mix the keys player will often feel inferior to the guitar and bass (if it has one) backline, not to mention the live kit (if one is used) and it's a natural instinct to hit the volume slider as a result. Doing so often gives little improvement to their ears due to the compressed nature of many keyboard sounds and they'll nudge it more. Meanwhile the FOH is all keyboard, the vocalist is drowned out and the overall balance suffers (possibly apart from the bass, they just seem to work regardless!).

Apart from anything else, synths need a full-range monitor which can struggle to compete with the mass of frequencies coming from cymbals and guitar amps.

It doesn't mean your synth person is trying to be difficult (not saying always, but it's unlikely). More probably they are subjectively trying to match the solidity of the bass and the cutting frequencies from guitar and drums but doing so in terms of volume, not realising it's a frequency thing.

Improving the on-stage monitoring such that they can clearly hear themselves is very likely to solve the problem completely. If anything, it can reverse it and you'll find yourself asking them to bump up a little.

My solution to this was to buy a small stereo JBL EON PA just for monitoring. I gave FOH a feed from the powered mixer that it came with and stuck the speakers on stands behind me. I was always under the impression that I was blasting the room as a result and because it sounded great to my ears I was always happy to hear that the FOH mix was good.

In terms of live gear it was the second best few hundred quid I ever spent (second only to a synth I won't mention because Dave's sick of hearing it :D). Also, now that I'm retired from the live game, it's still a great system for providing decent quality music at parties and other gatherings. Win win!

PS: If budget is a problem, you might consider installing a small guitar practice amp (20 - 40 watts) behind the keyboardist at as high a position as you can get (up to their head anyway) and sending a copy of their audio to that. They'll hate the sound (which will admittedly be awful) with a vengeance but the toppy nature of the little beasties should help counter the psychological effect I mentioned before and it shouldn't affect the FOH mix in any meaningful sense.
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Re: Keyboardist volume advice

Postby The Elf » Sat Jul 27, 2019 8:10 am

Sounds like a combination of monitoring problems and knowing your tools.

If all of the keyboard patches are saved with their relative volumes then all you should need is an initial reference level and you're set for the whole gig. Saving a patch with a tweaked level is pretty much as basic as you can get.

Then there's the monitoring. After decades of horrendous monitoring I went in-ears - and finally monitoring is a non-issue for me. Wedges really don't cut it for keyboards, IME.

Finally you need to look at what everyone else is doing. It's not unusual to find a spiral of everyone turning up and up, usually instigated by one determined and sneaky repeat offender! The answer is discipline and, perhaps, personal monitor mixers.
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Re: Keyboardist volume advice

Postby Craigslee » Sat Jul 27, 2019 8:41 am

Thank you all. Good advice. Sounds like a diplomatic chat is in order....
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Re: Keyboardist volume advice

Postby ReedySteadyGo » Sat Jul 27, 2019 9:06 am

Wonks wrote:Does sound like you need to use one rehearsal just to allow the keyboard player to set their levels in a band context.

And record the session so he can hear how the volume of the keys is changing.
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Re: Keyboardist volume advice

Postby Peter H » Sat Jul 27, 2019 9:33 am

Excellent thread! In particular, Dave and Eddy have made really great points. I agree completely about the difficulty of live keyboard self-monitoring on gigs with heavy guitars - organ-like sounds so completely different from the transients produced by guitar strings! I try always to use my own monitor even if big PA system provided, then heavily tweak my eq so I can hear myself properly even if my monitor sound is unrealistic, or get to know the engineer for similar (i.e. it’s not just about volume). I would be wary of any solution not fully involving the keyboard player (volume 105 will soon become 127 again:)
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Re: Keyboardist volume advice

Postby Dave B » Sat Jul 27, 2019 10:46 am

ReedySteadyGo wrote:And record the session so he can hear how the volume of the keys is changing.

Good suggestion with one qualification : record the sound in the room, don't take a split to a separate recorder from a desk. You need to understand how all the various sounds fit together in an overall mix and anything taken direct from the desk will confuse things more. Put a couple of mics / small recorder at one end of your rehearsal space, ideally as far back as practical. It will capture the sound that the audience hears - and that's what we are aiming to get right.
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Re: Keyboardist volume advice

Postby Mike Stranks » Sat Jul 27, 2019 11:18 am

Dave B wrote:
ReedySteadyGo wrote:And record the session so he can hear how the volume of the keys is changing.

Good suggestion with one qualification : record the sound in the room, don't take a split to a separate recorder from a desk. You need to understand how all the various sounds fit together in an overall mix and anything taken direct from the desk will confuse things more. Put a couple of mics / small recorder at one end of your rehearsal space, ideally as far back as practical. It will capture the sound that the audience hears - and that's what we are aiming to get right.

:thumbup:
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Re: Keyboardist volume advice

Postby Janneman » Sat Jul 27, 2019 1:08 pm

Set the keyboard on a 1/2 the output, put some gaffa tape over the slider, split the output signal to FoH and a smallmixer. So the keyboard can use the mixer to control his own volume and without upsetting the FOH guy,
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Re: Keyboardist volume advice

Postby Wonks » Sat Jul 27, 2019 1:24 pm

On the few occasions when i was mixing, Dave B's keyboard levels were always there or thereabouts, really only needing pushing up slightly for solos. The only time I did anything major was in Van Halens' 'Jump', where I really upped the bass-end and the overall keyboard level considerably.
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