to all Dead bands!!!

to all Dead bands!!!

Postby SarnoMusicSolutions » Mon Sep 25, 2017 11:13 am

I know this isn't specifically about Jerry's guitar tone, but it is entirely about the Dead's "tone" as a band. There are some absolutely critical pointers that Healy has taught all of us who have been paying attention. I learned this back in the 80s, but I see shows and hear videos that inform me that a LOT of bands have not received the memo.

This is about the kick drum. Most sound-persons tend to get it wrong generally, but it's absolutely critical to making Grateful Dead music work in a compelling and dance-inspiring way. It comes down to the proper mic technique and proper use of a hi-pass filter at the mixing board. Listen to the amazing mixes of the Dead thru the 80s into the early 90s. Remember or notice just how intensely people dance and how clearly felt the pitch of the bass notes are. Notice how fast, quick, clear, and impactful the tone of the kick drums are.

The key here is that the very deep, sub-bass frequencies of the kicks are removed with proper use of hi-pass filters. Actually everything in the Dead's mix was hi-pass filtered, but at different frequencies. This removal of unwanted rumble, bumpy-ness, boom was critical to the clarity and dynamics and dance-ability at a Dead show. Down at 50Hz, there was very little kick drum energy in the Dead's mix. This was achieved by 3 critical practices:

1 - hi-pass filter often set at 80Hz and sometimes on up to or above 100Hz. To many soundpeople, this is too thin. But the effect of a lean kick is that it has more impact and defines the downbeat better.

2 - mic placement - NEVER EVER put the mic at the front hole of the head, Healy taught that this is the worst place to capture the kick as all the sound pressure, boom, and shell resonance is extreme there. Stick the mic inside the drum, 1/3 or more of the way inside toward the beater head. Aim the mic a bit to the side of the beater strike point.

3 - gating; properly timed gating can help get even more gain and impact from the kick, but it's not as critical as the previous two

What's amazing about going for the Dead's kick drum sound is that virtually no typical sound-people do this properly and they think you're wrong for wanting it that way. What's also amazing is to instantly witness the crowd dance harder and longer than they would otherwise. I've literally had a few experiences where I was in a club and knew the soundperson and had this conversation as a show was happening. They'd let me show them what I'm talking about. So on break or between songs, I'd go move the mic further inside the drum, and even like on a basic Mackie board, I'd turn ON the low-cut or hi-pass filter typically fixed at 80Hz. Then they'd realize the kick was not audible. It actually never was audible, only felt in the belly. So we'd keep turning it up and up in the mix so that the clarity of the beater was a good match with the snare's clarity, and there was enough fullness but not too much. Then the bass guitar notes became pitch-defined and dynamic, the band turned down, the vocals became more clear, mixing became easier and the overall loudness came down, less fatiguing. The undeniable result to the soundpeople in these cases was that the crowd was suddenly dancing harder, using their entire body and not just head bobbing. It's miraculous.

Actually, this practice of tighter, higher-impact kick drums translates to virtually any style of music, but it's pretty much required for people to enjoy dancing to the Dead's music. The Crest/Gamble mixers that the Dead used all had these Healy-designed 24dB/octave sweepable hi-pass filters. They could remove the boomy part of vocals, remove unwanted lower energy in the hi-hat and snare mic's, tamed the low organ/leslie mic, piano, and even guitars.

I encourage everyone to put a LOT of energy into getting their kick's right. Drummers like kick in their monitors, and if the kick is bassy, subby, it washes across the stage and affects everyone. So when the kick is clear and tight on stage and in the house, seriously magical transformations happen. I keep watching videos of Dead bands and notice that more often than not, the kick drum is a big fat muffled boom and there is no audible beater attack or clarity. Listening thru small speakers at home, there is NO downbeat, only backbeat, and then the groove is gone, imbalanced. But listen to any good 80's Dead sbd or aud recording, and even thru a 1" clock radio speaker, you know what the kick drums are doing because they're clear as day. It takes both downbeats and backbeats to define the drum groove.

Spread the word.

Brad
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Re: to all Dead bands!!!

Postby gratefulredhead » Mon Sep 25, 2017 11:57 am

Great post Brad. Thank you! I'm showing this to my bass player too.
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Re: to all Dead bands!!!

Postby TRG » Mon Sep 25, 2017 1:39 pm

What an excellent post - thanks for the info! Would love to hear any other tips/tricks with vocal mic settings on the board...more of what not to do... :smile:
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Re: to all Dead bands!!!

Postby Jon S. » Mon Sep 25, 2017 3:19 pm

Fantastic advice!
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Re: to all Dead bands!!!

Postby SarnoMusicSolutions » Mon Sep 25, 2017 4:32 pm

Some of the tips Dan has shared with me over the years going as far back as 1988:


--- EQ is your enemy. EQ as little as possible. EQ introduces phase distortion. As soon as you're EQ-ing, you're distorting. Go for the least amount of distortion.

--- Compress nothing, ever. But peak limit everything but drums. This allows the musicians to control the dynamics, but it also puts a ceiling, a limit on the peaks so nothing ever goes over and stresses the PA system or clips the mixer. It glues a vocal mix together. Only the very loudest peaks get limited. Below that threshold, the music is fully dynamic.


I've found these tips to be invaluable. I've coached a lot of sound-people with these Healy concepts and it's changed the quality of their work in big ways. Works for virtually any kind of band. What I gathered from Dan is that it's all about GOOD mic placement and mic choice and minimal EQ. Spend the time at setup and soundcheck to get the best sounds via mic placement without resorting to EQ. I watched him dial in the main house EQ with DSO one time. He removed the previous settings left from another band the night before and made it totally flat, zero EQ. Then in soundcheck he noticed that 105Hz was a bit strong and was triggering the kick gates to open. So he slightly dipped at 105Hz. The rest of the house EQ remained dead flat all night. I like to always flatten channel and house EQs no matter how much the house soundman says he's "rung out" the room. Those wildly tweaked house EQ's simply destroy music. And sometimes if you're mixing a show and notice what you think is an offending frequency, instead of grabbing EQ, try the fader instead. Maybe that channel was just a bit too loud. I'll admit though that we DO have to use EQ's, but just resist the urge and do it sparingly. I almost always have to EQ vocal channels a little on most singers. And rely on hi-pass filters to de-cloud, de-mud things. I know hi-pass filters are technically a form of "eq", but they are required and they introduce a more benign phase distortion. You can literally get a great mix with just using hi-pass filters and good mic placement.

Dan Healy is a national treasure!! He holds the keys to fixing the widespread plague of shitty live sound we tend to hear in most situations. Oh how I wish he'd write THE BOOK!!

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Re: to all Dead bands!!!

Postby mkaufman » Mon Sep 25, 2017 5:57 pm

If I wanted to block higher & lower frequencies on my guitar, would you recommend using a low-pass & hi-pass filter?

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Re: to all Dead bands!!!

Postby gratefulfork » Mon Sep 25, 2017 8:04 pm

Thanks for the info! A note on compressors from someone who does live sound for up and coming groups - Healy was working with the most dynamic band possible in very large acoustic spaces. No other group plays with the dynamics of the dead. Other deadish bands - fine. However I would hesitate to apply the compress nothing rule when it comes to general live sound - especially in club settings and with bands that haven't gotten their live show to the point of the dead (so most people) as compressors can be valuable dynanic and tone shaping tools when applied to drums and vocals. Most musicians are not on the dead's level of dynamics and tone control and therefore could use the help from the FOH. Just my two cents, take it or leave it.
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Re: to all Dead bands!!!

Postby SarnoMusicSolutions » Mon Sep 25, 2017 8:16 pm

mkaufman wrote:If I wanted to block higher & lower frequencies on my guitar, would you recommend using a low-pass & hi-pass filter?

ace


A low-pass filter will dump high frequencies above where you set the filter. But I don't see a need for that at all if you ahve a good guitar tone. And really, these types of filters are only going to be available on a digital mixing console or a high end analog console which would only have a hi-pass filter. And indeed a hi-pass filter is good on guitar amps that are close mic'd. There is a thing with microphones called "proximity effect" that causes a bass buildup when the mic is very near the source. So hi-passing actually tames that effect and gets a more natural sound.

If you feel like you're wanting to block high frequencies, I'd address that at the guitar rig, not the mixer.


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Re: to all Dead bands!!!

Postby SarnoMusicSolutions » Mon Sep 25, 2017 8:22 pm

gratefulfork wrote:Thanks for the info! A note on compressors from someone who does live sound for up and coming groups - Healy was working with the most dynamic band possible in very large acoustic spaces. No other group plays with the dynamics of the dead. Other deadish bands - fine. However I would hesitate to apply the compress nothing rule when it comes to general live sound - especially in club settings and with bands that haven't gotten their live show to the point of the dead (so most people) as compressors can be valuable dynanic and tone shaping tools when applied to drums and vocals. Most musicians are not on the dead's level of dynamics and tone control and therefore could use the help from the FOH. Just my two cents, take it or leave it.


You do make a wonderful point. Healy really did trust the band. They were such masters of dynamics and in a way that far surpasses many professional musicians. For singers and bass players that don't have real good control of their dynamics, you're right, careful use of compression can help tame their wildness. But compression is kinda dangerous in a live setting, can be a real feedback monster if not VERY good at tweaking and understanding how to hear compression at work. It's very easy to over-do it. And drummers too, but compression on drums can get weird. Be cautious there. WIth drummers that aren't in great control, consider approaching compression with more of a limiter approach. Since compressors and limiters are really the same tool but set differently, I like to treat wildly uncontrolled drummers with peak limiting that clamps down on anything they do that crosses into the "too-loud" territory, but below that threshold, the dynamics are natural.

Everyone should really get a good grasp of compression vs limiting because their distinction can be blurry for some people.

Great point you make here!

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Re: to all Dead bands!!!

Postby SarnoMusicSolutions » Mon Sep 25, 2017 8:27 pm

gratefulredhead wrote:Great post Brad. Thank you! I'm showing this to my bass player too.


Bass players are the first to fall in love with the Healy kick drum approach. It clears out everything down there so the bass notes are solid, pitch-defined, audible, belly-felt, and lets the bassist play with less aggression and struggle. Bass is really the only thing that belongs down at the low end of the spectrum, when they're playing notes down there, of course.

That magic synergy of a quick, tight kick and strong bass notes is the way grooves are most compelling. The kick boom doesn't linger and muck it all up.


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Re: to all Dead bands!!!

Postby gratefulfork » Mon Sep 25, 2017 8:55 pm

Brad,
Glad we agree on the compression as limiting approach to live drums. My thresholds are pretty much only set at the "ouch" volume for drums. I'm intrigued to try out the concept of moving the kick higher in the mix live - as I definitely like it to be well above the bass when I'm engineering in the studio (mostly thwack not much thump). I don't know why it didn't occur to me to try the same thing live... guess I'm too conditioned to hearing a really sub heavy kick!

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Re: to all Dead bands!!!

Postby gratefulredhead » Mon Sep 25, 2017 10:34 pm

So Brad, another question if you don't mind (and thank you very much for taking the time to share this information with us!), Would you think that running a sub woofer would tend to be counter productive then? My system is a QSC powered K series PA. I use K-10s with a K Sub. Would I be better off with K-12s as my main and no sub? I'm thinking this is probably a silly question, as I'm writing it. I suppose if I'm running Hi Passes on everything, only the lowest bass notes are going to get routed to the sub by the crossover, so it shouldn't muddy things up, right?
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Re: to all Dead bands!!!

Postby gratefulredhead » Mon Sep 25, 2017 10:36 pm

So Brad, another question if you don't mind (and thank you very much for taking the time to share this information with us!), Would you think that running a sub woofer would tend to be counter productive then? My system is a QSC powered K series PA. I use K-10s with a K Sub. Would I be better off with K-12s as my main and no sub? I'm thinking this is probably a silly question, as I'm writing it. I suppose if I'm running Hi Passes on everything, only the lowest bass notes are going to get routed to the sub by the crossover, so it shouldn't muddy things up, right?
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Re: to all Dead bands!!!

Postby hippieguy1954 » Tue Sep 26, 2017 2:13 am

It is obvious to me. Always has been. You can hear it very distinctly. 8)
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Re: to all Dead bands!!!

Postby MattMan » Tue Sep 26, 2017 5:01 am

Awesome posts Brad! Thanks very much. Will share with the sound engineer at our next gig.
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