Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Makey Makey

East Bay Mini Maker Faire has a lot of amplified sound. The music stage is handled by a local sound company for a sweetheart deal, and I don't envy them -- there's a challenging bunch of groups to set up for. The smaller demonstrations and makers and so forth (like Game of Drones) bring their own PA (the school also has a few old speakers lying around). Between these extremes is me.

I'm covering 2-3 lecture rooms and presentations with whatever I can beg or borrow or cobble up. Year before last was insane; we were spread out all over and weren't given access until the day of the Faire. So I had to hand-carry self-powered speakers and other heavy audio gear across a crowded Maker Faire to one of the distant classrooms where I was setting up. I literally plugs in the mixer, turned on the speakers, popped batteries into a lapel mic and handed it to Chris Anderson as he went on as the first presenter.

Fortunately I'd guessed right in enough of my connections and settings, I had sound.

Helps a lot to know your gear, and know the acoustics. I've dialed in a rough mix on a band without actually turning on the power. I like to think it looks kind of cool to outsiders, when you walk up, select a mic and place it, walk back to the board and get a decent sound. (But then, outsiders really don't understand how incredibly critical having the right mic in the right place is. As I've said before; the right mic in the right place and a mix is all but done. Wrong mic in the wrong place, mix is all but done for.)

I went simpler this year and set up a mono system in the big room, with the mixer nearby instead of trying to set up an FOH-like position for it, and hooked in a pair of handheld wireless with a lav as backup, and a mono connection for people to plug in laptops for movies or slide shows with sound.

The outdoors stage is always problematic because the presenters there don't have outside voices. So we give them a lav and a desk mic and crank up the gain as far as we can. I didn't even bother with two speakers this time (the audience spread was narrower than in previous years and one speaker covered them adequately).

Then an hour into the show, a request came down to help out a children's string quartet. Since I was being simple, all I had was the extras I'd thrown in the box.

Single large-diaphragm condenser on the one tripod boom stand I'd brought. Passed through a Behringer micro-mixer only because of needing the phantom power. Put the mixer on top of the cardboard box it came in and set that in the dirt. Stuck the first speaker they asked for -- JBL Eon on a speaker stand, aimed towards the causeway to entice people over to listen to the quartet.

But since the audience was mostly congregating on the path, I dashed back to where I had the gear stashed, and made one more trip with a Jolly5 miniature (but powerful) powered monitor, and set that up on a chair directly in front of the quartet.

When I set out the condenser, I had it on omni to reach the whole quartet. I was also getting a lot of chatter from passers-by and other extraneous noise (including feedback). So flipped it to figure-eight, and turned it so one lobe was pointed at the talent and the other pointed at the sky.

And it was a decent sound. Pulled in all four strings and not too much environmental noise.

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