Viewer question: why so loud?!

A recent highly pertinent question from a viewer in Sweden on my A Brief History of Live Sound Reinforcement video:

Q: One thing I use to react to when listening to small outdoor concerts, is that the aimd sunjective (sic) (me) heard sound is way way madness loud, sometimes we had to step back over 100 meters to stand the sound volume. I do not understand why – so loud – I really liked your video, really informative so don’t get me wrong. I would like to hear more “High Fi” concert, with moderate volume. Thanks for good video. SB. Sweden. (Edited for clarity)

A: Hello SB, I completely agree with you on the volume problem – I have stopped mixing these louder gigs just to look after my hearing 🙄 There are several possible reasons for this – one is the volume of modern acoustic drumkits (can easily be over 100dB SPL in the front row with the PA turned OFF) which means that the PA then needs to be run louder than that in order to balance the band. Another is that modern PA systems have huge amounts of power available, which makes it very tempting for sound engineers to turn things up way too loud! I would suggest a couple of things:

  1. If you have a choice, sit or stand near the mixer position – this is typically where the best sound is, and the most reasonable volume, assuming the sound engineer is responsible.
  2. Buy some musician’s earplugs – I use those from Etymotic (affiliate link) – these provide a moderate amount of protection (rated at 13dB SPL) without attenuating too much of the high frequencies and thus spoiling your appreciation of the music.

Finally, I have found that there are certain types of music that lend themselves to more finesse when it comes to sound reinforcement: musicals, jazz and funk/soul. These genres tend to attract seasoned and professional musicians who are much more concerned with the overall musical experience than blowing the audience out of the back of the venue with sound! All the best, and look after your ears 🙂

Last Friday Nite @ SMU

I recently covered a student music event at Singapore Management University entitled Last Friday Nite. There were eight student bands playing over the course of the evening, and all of them brought their A-game. Everyone had a great time, although it was incredibly hot. This is one of the definitive images from the night.

The Lead Singer of the band “Cauliflowers” giving it her all.

It has always struck me that images like this one exist for only a split second as captured by the camera, and that nobody actually sees them until after the event when they are lovingly extracted from amongst the hundreds of images shot on the night. I guess that is why video will never replace photography – they are both essential storytelling tools, one emphasizing the viewer’s passage through time, the other focusing on that one moment, forever frozen in immortality.

So well done Alyssa, you picked up the planet and slammed it into the crowd!

More images from #LastFridaynight2023 can be seen on my Instagram page.

TC Electronic BodyRez Pedal Review

Released in 2015, the TC Electronic (TC-E) BodyRez Acoustic Pickup Enhancer is, according to the manufacturer: “Designed to restore the natural acoustic resonance of your instrument when using under-saddle pickups.” The name is clearly an amalgamation of the words body and resonance and pretty much sums up the mission of this pedal: to restore these qualities to the sound of an undersaddle pickup on an acoustic instrument. Continuing in the marketing copy, it apparently does this through “…a vast amount of pre-configured filters combined with subtle quick compression in order to bring your amplified tone back to life.” More on that later. At time of writing the full user manual (as opposed to the quick start guide) is not available on the TC Electronic website; however, I managed to track down a copy on manualslib.

Let’s start with the basics: the pedal measures (as in, I actually measured it) 44mm/1.74″ in width, 94mm/3.70″ in length and 45mm/1.77″ in height, from the base of the pedal to the top of the single control knob. It is thus quite a small pedal and readily disappears into the string pocket of a gigbag or guitar case. Here it is alongside my MXR bass preamp and one of the newish Fishman pedals:

Size Comparison: MXR Bass Preamp, TC-E BodyRez, Fishman Acoustiverb

As expected, a pedal of this size cannot accommodate an internal battery: there is a power input on the right side for any standard pedal power supply, i.e. 9-volts, center-negative, 100 milliamps minimum. A simple power supply is included with the pedal. Above the DC input is located a mini (not micro) USB connector for firmware updates. As of September 2023, TC-E have not released any for this pedal. And no, you cannot power the pedal using a USB power supply connected to the USB port; I’ve tried. The input and output sockets are on the right and left sides of the pedal respectively and are not labelled at all – this could be confusing for pedal newbies. On the plus side, the sockets are offset to allow for closer pedal spacing with other TC-E mini pedals such as the polytune mini or hypergravity. Thoughtful!

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One hundred thousand

This weekend my YouTube channel hit one hundred thousand subscribers. It has taken me almost 12 years to achieve this, my first video having been uploaded on the 7th of Sept 2011. Back then, 100k was an aspirational number for YouTubers. Today, it seems almost routine, with some big channels adding a hundred thousand subscribers a month or even more. But for this one-man operation, I’m glad to finally be here. To me it is an acknowledgement of God’s love and faithfulness that despite only having posted ten videos in the last three years, people have continued to watch my content and engage with me in the comments.

Thank you to everyone who has supported the channel over the last 12 years. It’s been a great ride. I’m not going anywhere – here’s to the next twelve years 😄

Figure, receding.

Photo © 2023 Bruno Goh Luse.

I love liminal spaces. Those in-between, transitional spaces that exist and yet do not exist. The places in between places, that people move through to get to where they are going. The places where people do not tarry, because they believe that the temporary should not become the permanent, that the destination is more important than the journey. Nothing to see here, move along. This isn’t the space you’ve been looking for.

But these spaces very often hold magic for my mind. They are otherness in our world of being and ordering. Negative in positive, things that exist yet are unreal, unrecognizable to most people. I love to linger in these spaces, let them speak to me, absorb their thoughts and energy.

Artistically this particular space abounds with juxtaposition: light and dark, horizontals and verticals, completion and incompletion, vanishing points laid one upon another upon another. All there for the seeing, for the taking in. How fortunate we are to have eyes to see these things and minds that can comprehend them.

MXR M81 Bass Preamp part deux, or Further adventures in going direct!

In October of last year I wrote a post about my experiences with the MXR M81 bass preamp pedal, in which I said that it had given me the confidence to leave my bass amp at home for the first time since I started playing bass in 2000. Since then, I’ve had a few more experiences with this amp-less setup and have more specific things to share, both as a bass player and as a sound engineer. Let’s start with a picture:

My amp-less setup with the MXR M81 Bass Preamp, Fender American Standard Precision bass, Android tablet with the SQ MixPad app and Community MX10 floor monitor.

Specific things that I like about this setup after five months of use:

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Blackstar Sonnet 60 review

As a live sound engineer I’ve encountered and used all sorts of amplification systems for acoustic instruments, from powered PA speakers to Roland keyboard amps to various dedicated ‘acoustic’ amplifiers. When I first started out in the early 2000s these usually resembled electric guitar amplifiers, but with fullrange drivers, perhaps a tweeter or two and a control panel that included a microphone input. Typical of these was the Marshall AS50D, which was good and loud but definitely on the heavy side at 16 kilos/35 pounds. As time has gone by, live sound equipment and instrument amplifiers have both become more compact and lighter in weight, and in May 2022 I decided to purchase a Blackstar Sonnet 60 to see what the state of the art was.

Blackstar Sonnet 60 (blackstaramps.com)

Coming from old-school acoustic amps, a couple of things that impressed me from the outset were the size (345mm wide x 310mm high x 250mm deep, or roughly a 1-foot cube) and the weight of 7.7 kilos/16.9 lbs. This was significantly less than the 10.5 kilos/23.1 lbs of the Boss Acoustic Singer pro, another amp I was considering. When you are carrying guitar, microphone stand, cables, power extension etc every kilo makes a difference, especially in Singapore, where load-ins often involve stairs and narrow doorways.

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New video! DI Boxes Part 7: Amplifier Emulation DIs

In March of 2015 I published a video entitled “Stompbox/Pedal DIs” featuring the Sansamp Bass Driver DI, a relatively early solid state emulation of a classic tube bass amplifier. Since then, amp emulation technology has come a long way! In this video I discuss how to deal with this type of DI as a live sound engineer, and cover specific features of the Origin Effects Bassrig ’64 Black Panel, one of the best current examples of the type.

As mentioned in my previous post about the MXR M81, the idea of having a DI box with EQ convinced me to leave me bass amp at home for the first time in 20 years. This unit takes things to the next level, and gives you an entire vintage Fender Bassman amplifier in a DI. The only variable remaining is having a sufficiently power and well-adjusted stage monitor system to take the signal back to the bass player.

MXR M81 Bass Preamp: First Impressions and an adventure in going direct.

Since taking up bass guitar in 2000, I can trace a gradual evolution in my attitude towards the bass amp. In the beginning, I saw it as an integral part of my tone, and was reluctant to even connect to the PA system, believing that bass and drums should come directly from the stage. During this period I had some fairly massive bass rigs, including a Gallien Kreuger 700RB-II 2×10 combo which was 700 watts and about 30 kilos/66 lbs, and a truly spectacular preamp/power amp/cabinet combination consisting of an Acme Low B4, an SWR Grand Prix and a Crown CE1000 running in bridge mode for 1,100 watts. In hindsight, this was a time when I didn’t know what I didn’t know.

As time passed and I grew as both an amateur musician and a professional sound engineer, I learned the hard truth that the best way for musicians to serve their engineer and audience is to keep the stage levels reasonable, especially in small venues. I can’t remember who it was who wrote that the hardest assignments for sound guys are the loud gigs in small clubs, not the ones in stadiums! This, combined with the advances in PA systems over the past 20 years have led me to seek out smaller and smaller bass amplifiers, culminating in my recent purchase of a Hartke HD25 – just 25 watts into an 8″ speaker!

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