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Seeking Advice on Old-School (50's & 60's) Mic'ing Techniques

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Seeking Advice on Old-School (50's & 60's) Mic'ing Techniques

Postby guildguy516 » Thu Nov 05, 2020 5:19 am

I have had little luck finding information on how old performances were mic'ed and mixed in auditoriums and other venues so I started seeking advice here.

I play with a four piece 'old-school' country band: drums, electric guitar, electric bass, acoustic guitar, and occasional autoharp. Often times, I feel that our sound engineers are overdoing it: 3 amplifiers (I believe) power 5 stage monitors (each with its own mix), two subs, and four house speakers in a 100' x 200' tent. Ironically, I am still told to turn my little '64 Fender Deluxe down.

Going into the board are several drum mics, a mic on the guitar amp, a DI from the bass amp, a DI from the acoustic electric guitar, and 4 vocal mics. I'm sorry I don't have more logistics about the sound gear, however, it is besides the point of this post.

Ideally, there would be only one mic out front that both singers share and to capture the stage volume. Our stage volume is very controlled because we practice electrically without microphones. This means the musicians must control their volume to hear to vocalists on verses and then let loose when a solo comes. We are are attempting to amplify that dynamic, not divide and isolate everyone. No sound engineers ever want to attempt to do this, even though we pay them good money.

I come here seeking advice on how performances were mic'ed in the 40's, 50's, and 60's. Commonly, you see Johnny Cash and June Carter sharing a single microphone. Patsy Cline used a single mic while her backup singers stood around a second and the band is mixed next to perfect. Old performance videos of Town Hall Party show limited equipment, yet producing a decent mix. This is what I am trying to accomplish.

If you are a sound engineer in the Chicagoland area and looking for regular work like what is listed above, drop me your contact info. Thank you for your help.
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Re: Seeking Advice on Old-School (50's & 60's) Mic'ing Techniques

Postby Martin Walker » Fri Nov 06, 2020 8:39 pm

Wow - how did I miss these?

(answers on a postcard please ;) )


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Re: Seeking Advice on Old-School (50's & 60's) Mic'ing Techniques

Postby Mike Stranks » Fri Nov 06, 2020 9:17 pm


Good vids, but the O/P is interested in the techniques used for performance audio in the 50s/60s rather than how studios worked...

So O/P... you're on the right track. Oh! and welcome! :thumbup:

Typically an audiotorium would have one mic and that would be connected to a fairly basic valve amp through (typically) 100-volt line column speakers each containing several fairly modestly sized speakers. The reason you see multiple people using one mic is because there was only one mic!

Band PA systems as we know them today didn't really start to arrive until the second half of the '60s and the first ones were pretty crude affairs. I recall reading something about the Beatles at Shea Stadium. The sound was appalling - not that you could hear the sound because of the screams - because it was basically the public-address/safety system with a couple of simple mixers lashed onto the front end.

I've just used a well-know search engine and entered 'History of Live Sound'... loads of articles etc.
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Re: Seeking Advice on Old-School (50's & 60's) Mic'ing Techniques

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Fri Nov 06, 2020 9:28 pm

Unlike the lovely Mr S, it was well before my time, obvs... :tongue: :lol:

But from what I've read, the drums were usually acoustic, the electric instruments were through the back-line only, and the vocals were through simple column speaker's, with relatively low-powered valve amps. Mixers were very simple with only two or three inputs, hence there only being a couple of mics on stage for lead and backing vocals, possibly with the odd miked harmonica or sax solo.

But it was done that way because there was no other option! Or equipment...

However, I'm not sure a modern audience would accept that kind of 'vintage' presentation, especially in a large venue. Nor, indeed, that it would actually cast the band's performance in the best possible light.

After all, the FOH mixer can hear what the audience hears and balance accordingly. No one on stage has that insight, regardless of how well balanced they think they are.

With a receptive FOH engineer, it should be possible to arrive at a solution which looks much like a vintage setup, while retaining the sonic benefits of a more modern approach.
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Re: Seeking Advice on Old-School (50's & 60's) Mic'ing Techniques

Postby John Egan » Fri Nov 06, 2020 10:21 pm

During the mid to late 60s I was in a decent pro band, playing the regular venues around the UK. The vast majority of gigs were one night stands and usually at weekends we would be supporting the top bands of the day (except for the Beatles and Stones, who had already become too expensive for the promoters of these venues).

Our gear was much the same as the top bands were using and consisted of the vocal amp (not a specialised PA), which in our case was a 30w Leak amp and 4x12" speakers in separate cabs; our bass player was using a 50w Vox head with a single 18" speaker cab. My (guitar) setup was initially a Vox AC30, later replaced by a Selmer Treble and Bass - 50 each through a 2x12" cab. The drummer was not miked or amplified in any way, so bigger venues were particularly hard work for him.

The Volume was dictated by how loud the vocal amp could be set without incurring feedback. Everything else was geared to balance this level. There was no mixer. except for the mics (3), which were put through separate mixer inputs before the Leak amp. The balance was handled manually by each of us. This was, to say the least, tricky.

The venues ranged from large pubs, clubs (in which the audience were dancing) - the Cavern, the Marquee, the Dungeon, Big Daddys were typical examples, to dance halls, market halls, town halls, theatre clubs, skating rinks, civic halls, etc. The audiences ranged from 150 up to around 3,000 in the larger halls.

Our volume certainly matched the top bands, whose gear was not substantially different. The main difference was that the top bands had a roadie, who would drive the gear to the venue and set it up while the band travelled in comfort. We, on the other hand travelled with our gear in a very high mileage Ford Thames.

Hard work 6 nights a week and very enjoyable, too.

Regards, John
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Re: Seeking Advice on Old-School (50's & 60's) Mic'ing Techniques

Postby CS70 » Fri Nov 06, 2020 10:48 pm

What John says.

I wasn't around, but I've tried the "single mic" thing and it's fairly tough to get right - distance matters so if really anyone has to be picked up, you have to position the individual instruments and vocalist carefully.. and unseasoned non-professionals tend to move. A lot. :)

Then I tried a no-mixer setup, using my PA speaker as vocal speaker, electric or electro-acousic instruments and my drummer's great electronic kit. But it's not easy either, even with the band being really good at mixing itself, everyone hears different things depending on their positions, so configuring and positioning the speakers is difficult... and there's an audience to serve!

In the end, doing what your engineers do is still the simplest thing - in terms of how much time it takes to setup and sound check vs. the quality of the result. The band still needs to be good at managing stage levels, but you don't need to worry too much about getting everyone crowded together (especially if you use in-ears), with individual monitors everyone can hear well what they need to hear to play well, and the sound guy has always the possibility of getting a good FOH mix, that sounds good to the audience.

Maybe you don't need 10 mics on the drums (but most live engineers I've met when playing tend to use a crossed pair as overheads and a kick mic and that's it) and loads of subs for a country band do seem overkill. A regular two-speakers PA and maybe a single subwoofer would do just fine (that's the setup we use when we rig our own kit), and for a 4 piece band three monitors can be more than enough (I use a PA speaker as a monitor which often does for both me and my fellow guitarist/backing singer).
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Re: Seeking Advice on Old-School (50's & 60's) Mic'ing Techniques

Postby John Egan » Fri Nov 06, 2020 11:39 pm

One of the things I forgot to mention was the fact that a few venues had absolutely horrendous acoustic peculiarities.
One in particular was a small town hall (around 700-800 capacity) where on stage every note played came back at you a fraction of a second later at about the same volume as you were playing. The impact on the band's timing was close to catastrophic. We all had to huddle round the drummer with all the amps set up immediately behind him to have any chance of keeping in time.
Also one venue was a pavillion - octagonal (capacity around 1,500 to 2,000), which was constucted almost entirely of glass, with reflections hitting you from every direction. It wasn't anything like as difficult to keep time, but balance was a nightmare.
Regards, John
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Re: Seeking Advice on Old-School (50's & 60's) Mic'ing Techniques

Postby Arpangel » Sat Nov 07, 2020 7:47 am

The drums do not need amplifying, you balance everything to the acoustic sound of the drums, think of it like you’re practices, instead of balancing to the vocal, balance to the drums, the only thing that needs the PA the vocals.
I’d love to do this, and I’m surprised that no engineers can understand what you’re talking about.

:(
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Re: Seeking Advice on Old-School (50's & 60's) Mic'ing Techniques

Postby ore_terra » Sun Nov 08, 2020 11:09 am

That usually doesnt work very well for the bass drum level in the mix
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Re: Seeking Advice on Old-School (50's & 60's) Mic'ing Techniques

Postby Arpangel » Sun Nov 08, 2020 11:46 am

ore_terra wrote:That usually doesnt work very well for the bass drum level in the mix

Maybe damp the bass drum? or tell the drummer not to hit it so hard...
Sorry, I mustn’t suggest things that may put your life in danger.

:D
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Re: Seeking Advice on Old-School (50's & 60's) Mic'ing Techniques

Postby ore_terra » Sun Nov 08, 2020 12:17 pm

Haha!

No, actually I meant quite the opposite! In gigs with PA only for vocals I find that the 1st thing that gets lost as soon they start playing a bit hard is the kick.
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Re: Seeking Advice on Old-School (50's & 60's) Mic'ing Techniques

Postby blinddrew » Sun Nov 08, 2020 12:49 pm

What Ore said ^^^.
Where i've seen this done well the kick is always mic'd, as is the double bass.
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Re: Seeking Advice on Old-School (50's & 60's) Mic'ing Techniques

Postby ore_terra » Sun Nov 08, 2020 12:55 pm

I guess in those situations we deal one more time with frequency VS perceived loudness.

... what takes us to the next issue: micing the BD so it sounds properly requires a bigger PA :headbang:
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Re: Seeking Advice on Old-School (50's & 60's) Mic'ing Techniques

Postby James Perrett » Sun Nov 08, 2020 3:25 pm

ore_terra wrote:No, actually I meant quite the opposite! In gigs with PA only for vocals I find that the 1st thing that gets lost as soon they start playing a bit hard is the kick.

Are you sure that you aren't thinking about this from a modern point of view? The bass drum was less prevalent in the style of music of the era in question and the PA systems of the time certainly wouldn't have been able to handle amplifying the bass drum. Expectations were totally different in those days and I'm not sure that a modern audience would be happy with the sound of a 50's/60's setup.
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