Help understanding your average DJ consoles at DVinfo.net

Go Back   DV Info Net > The Tools of DV and HD Production > All Things Audio

All Things Audio
Everything Audio, from acquisition to postproduction.


Reply
 
Thread Tools Search this Thread
Old April 27th, 2011, 03:13 AM   #1
Major Player
 
Join Date: Aug 2008
Location: Montreal, Canada
Posts: 442
Help understanding your average DJ consoles

I frequently connect a small digital recorder to the mixer board whenever covering events and let it run all night. The purpose is to have audio of a much higher quality than what my camera-mounted shotgun captures, especially when someone addresses the crowd on a microphone or there's a live band.

When this works, the results are amazing and it gives me an edge as a videographer. But the problem is that when the DJ is the brother or the friend of the person organizing the event, in almost every case he'll fuss with the controls during the night and completely ruin the sound. I've lost count of how many times I've gone home to review the sound and found that while it's perfect at the beginning (when I connected the recorder), it soon goes to sh*t.

Is there a protection against this? Is there a crash course I can take on the average DJ console to help me understand the controls so that I can put a piece of tape on the crucial knob as a (gentle) reminder to the DJ not to touch once it's set? I've even considered taping a microphone to one of the speakers, but the quality won't be much better than my shotgun.

Short of having my own recording engineer on site, what are my options?


J.
Jacques E. Bouchard is offline   Reply With Quote
Old April 27th, 2011, 10:01 AM   #2
Inner Circle
 
Join Date: Mar 2005
Location: Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Posts: 5,742
Re: Help understanding your average DJ consoles

You have to remember that the DJ/FOH engineer's job is to mix for the best sound going out to the house audience. He doesn't know what you need for recording, nor does he care (nor should he). The board the venue uses MIGHT have enough busses and flexibility that you'll be able to connect to it and set up the mix you need without anything the FOH guy does to his mix effecting yours, taping over the pots controlling your mix, but that's not going to happen very often. You'll often find that certain elements such as guitar cabinets and drumkits are not even going to be miced at all since they're loud enough in the audience without needing additional amplification. For those elements, the only presence they'll have in your mix will come from bleed into the vocal and other instrument mics. The only way you can be sure of getting an optimal recording is to mic the entire stage yourself with a proper broadcast / recording setup, bring your own board and engineer, and record your tracks more or less independently of the house PA mix.

Rather than video taking a tap from the FOH and recording a mix from there, it would be better if you did a full setup and let the FOH take splits from whatever subset of your mics that they want to use. As I said above, they probably won't need drumkit mics (for example) but you do.
__________________
Good news, Cousins! This week's chocolate ration is 15 grams!
Steve House is offline   Reply With Quote
Old April 27th, 2011, 12:26 PM   #3
Inner Circle
 
Join Date: Jan 2007
Location: Woodinville, WA USA
Posts: 3,464
Re: Help understanding your average DJ consoles

This should be made a sticky and Steve's analysis regarded as the ultimate final word on the topic of connecting to the house sound system for recording live events. My experience is the same as Jacques' -- except he's luckier; I've never had it work out well, for precisely the reasons Steve lists above.

It sounds great in theory, no? There are all these mics and other sound equipment already hooked up, so why not use all that rather than duplicating all that effort and gear and personnel? Because, as Steve very accurately points out, the guy running the board neither knows nor cares about your needs, and sometimes on rare occasion doesn't know what he's doing anyway. Every time I've hooked up to the board it's resulted in much worse results than if I'd just used my Zoom at the front of the house -- and that's saying something.
__________________
"It can only be attributable to human error... This sort of thing has cropped up before, and it has always been due to human error."

Last edited by Adam Gold; April 27th, 2011 at 01:01 PM.
Adam Gold is offline   Reply With Quote
Old April 27th, 2011, 12:30 PM   #4
Major Player
 
Join Date: Aug 2008
Location: Montreal, Canada
Posts: 442
Re: Help understanding your average DJ consoles

Thanks Steve. I understand the complexity of recording a live band, I was only using that as an example. The real problem is that when I set up and do a test with the DJ at the beginning of the evening, the sound is perfect; but it's later during the evening that the sound goes to sh*t when he inadvertently messes with the controls. In some of those cases, it's the location's sound engineer who plugs me in and sets the levels.

I'd like to put a piece of tape over the control for my output, but I don't know mixer boards, and in many cases neither does the DJ. Of the two, apparently I have to become the (moderate) expert, at least enough to protect my recording.


J.
Jacques E. Bouchard is offline   Reply With Quote
Old April 27th, 2011, 12:34 PM   #5
Major Player
 
Join Date: Aug 2008
Location: Montreal, Canada
Posts: 442
Re: Help understanding your average DJ consoles

Quote:
Originally Posted by Adam Gold View Post
Every time I've hooked up to the board it's resulted in much worse results than if I'd just used my Zoom at the front of the house -- and that's saying something.
I agree, and it's one alternative I'm considering. These events never have the budget for me to set up my own audio equipment other than a digital recorder. I'm still struggling to explain to them lighting. Fortunately, i'm doing less and less of those.

Still, I'd like to add audio to my list of skills.


J.
Jacques E. Bouchard is offline   Reply With Quote
Old April 27th, 2011, 12:36 PM   #6
Trustee
 
Join Date: Jan 2011
Location: Pennsylvania
Posts: 1,359
Re: Help understanding your average DJ consoles

My gosh, there are hundreds (if not thousands) of different mixing boards out there. Unlike cars (where all steering wheels do the same thing) there is no such thing as "standard" or "average" that covers them all.

You are basically trying to record sound without a sound man who's responsible for the outcome, and the end result is equal to what you paid... zero.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jacques E. Bouchard
while it's perfect at the beginning (when I connected the recorder), it soon goes to sh*t.
With descriptive technical terminology like that, it's pretty hard to make a specific recommendation.

If you happen to mean "it soon becomes terribly distorted" then the first thing to try is to set your initial record levels 10 or 12dB lower. Quite possibly, as the night goes on, the crowd becomes louder, the band becomes louder, and the DJ raises levels to compensate. If you were initially recording close to 0dB FS, when the level goes up you will be in a state of digital clipping, from which you cannot recover any useful audio.

It's true that some boards might have some way (buss structure, etc.) to connect your recorder so that this will be less of an issue. You'd have to look at the block diagram for each board, to see what options you have with that hardware.

Steve's suggestion is a very good one... that is actually the correct solution. There's no universal solution, and no guarantee, short of having your own sound man there to monitor levels and adjust gain on your recorder accordingly.
Greg Miller is offline   Reply With Quote
Old April 27th, 2011, 12:55 PM   #7
Inner Circle
 
Join Date: Nov 2005
Location: LOWESTOFT - UK
Posts: 2,125
Re: Help understanding your average DJ consoles

I'm amazed that there seems some sort of feeling that the sound people are incompetent, or awkward or just indifferent. Unless you have control over every source going into your equipment, of course it will go wrong.

I'm often the awkward, bitter and even unhelpful sound man who works at venues where visiting crews pop up and record the proceedings.

Some, I know quite well now, and the request for a feed, usually with just a few minutes to go, I already have in hand. One recently was surprised that I'd not even removed the tape on the group fader dedicated for him, since the last time. I'd also left the eq on this group set to what I knew would be useful for him - essentially some gentle LF roll-off because the show has an excess of bass. What really annoys me is when the video lot turn up, demand a feed - yep, demand! As in they checked with the management company/organiser/hirer of the venue and they said yes, but never mentioned it - or actually asked me. It's a service I charge the venue for - in terms of hiring the equipment and the people. Doing a decent mix for video is perfectly possible, but extra work means extra money in my book, and nobody has ever suggested paying me to do this!

In the pre-production we'll have done a sound check, and everything is set for the first song. However during the first one, we find the guitar amp on stage has been turned up, or the monitor levels aren't quite right - so during this first song, I'll probably drop the levels on the guitar to get it back in balance. It's sometimes even common to find the fader on zero because the bloke on stage is doing a spinal tap and set it to 11! With the channel fader on zero, the video feed is guitarless. Same with the drums, as the evening progresses, the drummer gets louder and I have the choice of letting levels go up, or pulling them back - but if I do that the quality suffers - so if the music is suitable for being loud, I may well go with upping the levels - the sad thing is that sometimes, this does mean some sources are getting a bit rough - but for the audience, this distortion may be unheard - but a recording will reveal it. However, in my experience the biggest problem is simply that the level being supplied to the video guy is just too hot - and few seem to notice their meters creeping up. When I do the job, I always set initially a lower level than I'm really after, because I know as the act warms up, the mixer output will gradually get hotter and hotter, so I'm well prepared.

If you really want good audio from a live event, then you need to arrange it in advance, and provide the extra kit required yourself. You will be treated as an annoying nuisance to a good sound op, and virtually ignored by a bad one who actually doesn't care if your recording is good or bad. You need to remember that the success of the audio is down to a fader on somebody else's desk - not yours, and how you behave towards them actually does matter. Offer them 20 quid to keep an eye on the levels and you may get a better result?
Paul R Johnson is offline   Reply With Quote
Old April 27th, 2011, 01:01 PM   #8
Major Player
 
Join Date: Aug 2008
Location: Montreal, Canada
Posts: 442
Re: Help understanding your average DJ consoles

Quote:
Originally Posted by Greg Miller View Post
My gosh, there are hundreds (if not thousands) of different mixing boards out there. Unlike cars (where all steering wheels do the same thing) there is no such thing as "standard" or "average" that covers them all.

You are basically trying to record sound without a sound man who's responsible for the outcome, and the end result is equal to what you paid... zero.
Correction: what the *client* is paying. If they have their little brother spin records, it's a good bet they don't have the budget to hire my sound guy. I don't want to get into the tired argument about dealing with better clients because that's not the advice I was seeking out (some of those are favours, some are charitable events, etc.). But I'd like to learn enough about mixer boards and audio to know more than the guy running it and know what he's doing wrong (or expecting it).

Quote:
With descriptive technical terminology like that, it's pretty hard to make a specific recommendation.
I made it pretty clear that I don't know anything about boards, Greg. That's why I'm here asking for help.

Quote:
If you happen to mean "it soon becomes terribly distorted" then the first thing to try is to set your initial record levels 10 or 12dB lower. Quite possibly, as the night goes on, the crowd becomes louder, the band becomes louder, and the DJ raises levels to compensate. If you were initially recording close to 0dB FS, when the level goes up you will be in a state of digital clipping, from which you cannot recover any useful audio.
I've had several gigs where the location sound engineer set me up. Some of them have a cable dangling reserved precisely for the visiting media. In every case, I was told that I would not have to worry about the output once it was set "so long as no one messed with it". That's where amateur DJs come in

Quote:
It's true that some boards might have some way (buss structure, etc.) to connect your recorder so that this will be less of an issue. You'd have to look at the block diagram for each board, to see what options you have with that hardware.
I'd like to know that all boards use a similar layout, that all the pots doing the same thing are labelled the same thing, likewise for outputs. I want to be able to identify, by looking at the board, where I probably need to plug in, and which knob controls my output. I'd imagine that's possible without looking at diagrams, the way I can operate any camera by looking at the controls.


J.
Jacques E. Bouchard is offline   Reply With Quote
Old April 27th, 2011, 01:04 PM   #9
Inner Circle
 
Join Date: Jan 2007
Location: Woodinville, WA USA
Posts: 3,464
Re: Help understanding your average DJ consoles

Paul, you are obviously a conscientious and responsible professional who goes out of his way to help videographers. I didn't mean to imply that other audio guys are any less conscientious than you as a rule and have revised my post above to make it less snarky.

But the real point remains: the sound guy is not there to help you. He has his own job and often it's very different from yours as a video guy, and for this reason it's hard to make this scenario work out well most of the time.
__________________
"It can only be attributable to human error... This sort of thing has cropped up before, and it has always been due to human error."
Adam Gold is offline   Reply With Quote
Old April 27th, 2011, 01:04 PM   #10
Major Player
 
Join Date: Aug 2008
Location: Montreal, Canada
Posts: 442
Re: Help understanding your average DJ consoles

Quote:
Originally Posted by Paul R Johnson View Post
I'm amazed that there seems some sort of feeling that the sound people are incompetent, or awkward or just indifferent. Unless you have control over every source going into your equipment, of course it will go wrong.
Paul, my post wasn't directed at professional sound people. I've had amazing results on gigs where the sound was handled professionally. My problem is in dealing with amateur DJs.


J.
Jacques E. Bouchard is offline   Reply With Quote
Old April 27th, 2011, 01:17 PM   #11
Inner Circle
 
Join Date: Nov 2005
Location: LOWESTOFT - UK
Posts: 2,125
Re: Help understanding your average DJ consoles

It's fine Adam - actually I know exactly what you mean - so it wasn't you, just the notion that comes up quite often that somehow video people expect others to bend to them - sound man, vicars, the public..... just a recurring theme.
Paul R Johnson is offline   Reply With Quote
Old April 27th, 2011, 01:23 PM   #12
Inner Circle
 
Join Date: Jan 2007
Location: Woodinville, WA USA
Posts: 3,464
Re: Help understanding your average DJ consoles

Wait -- you mean we're not the most important thing going on in the room all the time?
__________________
"It can only be attributable to human error... This sort of thing has cropped up before, and it has always been due to human error."
Adam Gold is offline   Reply With Quote
Old April 27th, 2011, 02:29 PM   #13
Trustee
 
Join Date: Jan 2011
Location: Pennsylvania
Posts: 1,359
Re: Help understanding your average DJ consoles

Quote:
Originally Posted by Greg Miller
With descriptive technical terminology like that, it's pretty hard to make a specific recommendation.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Jacques E. Bouchard View Post
I made it pretty clear that I don't know anything about boards, Greg. That's why I'm here asking for help.
And I'm here offering to help, but as I indicated, I need a little more specific input from you.

You did not make it clear (or even vaguely clear) why you think the sound "goes to sh*t" to use your own words. You must have heard something change before you reached that conclusion. If you described that (e.g. "After a while there were no drums in the mix" or "The sound became so distorted that the speech was unintelligible") then perhaps someone could offer a specific suggestion, or describe what might have happened.

I would like to be able to hand you a simple solution and say "just do this and everything will be fine," but I honestly don't think there is any such solution.

I have worked with a few dozen different boards over the years. Even among that small number, there are enough variables that I could not hand you one solution that would work with every board. I honestly think that you need to understand the signal path within the board, from the mic input jack to the final line output jack. Once you have such an understanding, you will be able to figure out the best solution for that given board. First you need to understand what the different parts of the board do, and then look at a block diagram for the board. This is not necessarily simple or intuitively obvious, but it becomes easier after a lot of experience.

(How did I learn this stuff? Reading Popular Electronics and Radio Electronics, starting around 6th grade, then moving on to Wireless World, dB Magazine, Broadcast Engineering, and countless other publications over the years, combined with working in two repair shops, running sound for an indy filmmaker and for some professional stage shows, broadcast engineering at both local and state network levels, theatre sound installations, and countless other audio-related jobs. As far as I know, there is no "classic comics" quick course that gives you instant insight into every possible mixing board.)

Besides, sound changes during the course of an event. The board op will try to compensate for that, and will change settings accordingly. You can't get around that fact. So be aware that anything you do will be some sort of crap-shoot at best.

I guess we could describe audio problems as being in one or more of the following areas: (1.) level problems, (2.) EQ problems, (3.) mix problems. There will be a different problem-solving approach depending on the source of the problem that you're hearing. And, depending on how a given venue's system might be set up, there may not be a simple way to give you a good feed and to also provide a good PA feed. In other words, sometimes you can't end up with a silk purse.

So, as I've already said, if we had a better description of why you think the sound "goes to sh*t" --- in other words, describe what you hear that sounds bad --- then perhaps we can at least offer a suggestion for you to try first, as a possible remedy.
Greg Miller is offline   Reply With Quote
Old April 27th, 2011, 09:30 PM   #14
Regular Crew
 
Join Date: Jan 2009
Location: Gautier, MS
Posts: 175
Re: Help understanding your average DJ consoles

You can pretty much guarantee that the levels set during sound check before the event are going to be lower than what the DJ uses during the event. When a room fills up he'll start to raise levels to make the music stand out over the crowd noise.

If you're using a 24 bit recorder make sure you record in 24 bit and set your levels lower than what you need. Then you can amplify the parts you need in post. That would be my first thing I'd try.

Even in 16 bit I've always followed this advice if I'm recording video and have a separate audio recording picking up a board feed that I'm not able to watch during the event. It's better to have a lower signal and have to amplify some in post than to set your levels too high and get an overloaded recording.
Stan Harkleroad is offline   Reply With Quote
Old April 27th, 2011, 09:58 PM   #15
Major Player
 
Join Date: Aug 2008
Location: Montreal, Canada
Posts: 442
Re: Help understanding your average DJ consoles

Quote:
Originally Posted by Greg Miller View Post
And I'm here offering to help, but as I indicated, I need a little more specific input from you.

You did not make it clear (or even vaguely clear) why you think the sound "goes to sh*t" to use your own words. You must have heard something change before you reached that conclusion. If you described that (e.g. "After a while there were no drums in the mix" or "The sound became so distorted that the speech was unintelligible") then perhaps someone could offer a specific suggestion, or describe what might have happened.
It clips horribly, as if the output was turned way up. But when I look at the wave form in my editing software, the peaks (all cut evenly like a lawnmower went through them) are well below 0 db, so I suspect that the signal came out clipped to my recorder. Hence my nagging suspicion that the DJ turned the wrong knob.


J.
Jacques E. Bouchard is offline   Reply
Reply

DV Info Net refers all where-to-buy and where-to-rent questions exclusively to these trusted full line dealers and rental houses...

Professional Video
(800) 833-4801
Portland, OR

B&H Photo Video
(866) 521-7381
New York, NY

Z.G.C.
(973) 335-4460
Mountain Lakes, NJ

Abel Cine Tech
(888) 700-4416
N.Y. NY & L.A. CA

Precision Camera
(800) 677-1023
Austin, TX

DV Info Net also encourages you to support local businesses and buy from an authorized dealer in your neighborhood.
  You are here: DV Info Net > The Tools of DV and HD Production > All Things Audio

Thread Tools Search this Thread
Search this Thread:

Advanced Search

 



Google
 

All times are GMT -6. The time now is 03:57 PM.


DV Info Net -- Real Names, Real People, Real Info!
1998-2017 The Digital Video Information Network