May 2016 Archives

Hear no evil


I've been running sound at Kiki's House of Righteous Music for over two-years now, and I really enjoy it.

I think I've done sound for over 90 shows there, and have worked with Grammy winning artists, international super stars, local legends, and starving artists. I have met hundreds of people, had dinner with most of them, socialized, and then done my job as the "FOH" (Front of House) sound engineer.

Kiki's is a bit of a local legend (of all of the nights that I wasn't at a show doing sound, it's the night the paper shows up to do a story...I was in Minneapolis for work on the night of that show) and regularly sells out. A sold-out show means there are around 55-60 people in the basement, plus the act and any of their crew.

I've always tried to make things sound as best as possible at Kiki's, which isn't an easy feat, given that Kiki makes exactly zero dollars on every show. She donates 100% of the money collected to the artists. She doesn't sell anything at the shows, and, she provides dinner, drinks, and lodging to the artists, free of charge. She's actually losing money with every show, come to think of it... :-) She pays me in free beer and food, which is fine by me, because: (a) I like beer, and (b) she makes some mean dishes.

Anyway... back to the sound system... the sound system at Kiki's leaves a little to be desired. It was built primarily from scavenged and donated pieces.

The main speakers are a pair of ratty, entry-level JBLs. The exact model are "JRX115," and consist of a fifteen-inch woofer and a very shrill/harsh horn-loaded tweeter.

The mixing board is an ancient Soundcraft 12-channel, with some built-in effects, which leave a ton to be desired. Several controls on the board either don't work, or behave very oddly, due to their age. Even when new, the board was a $300 Guitar Center special...

We only had one stage monitor (that's how the artists hear themselves), and it was an oversized, super-beat-up Yamaha entry-level "club series" speaker that worked when it wanted to. The thing was bigger than the main speakers and sounded horrible.

When one of the speaker amplifiers died (an old "A/B International" tank that weighed at least 70-lbs and put out 200-watts), I ponied-up and bought a new, digital Crown XLS1500 amplifier (it weighed 11-lbs and put out 375-watts per channel). I also took the liberty to purchase a 31-band equalizer, so that I could better eliminate feedback (those annoying "squeals") while smoothing-out the harshness of the main speakers.

Not an ideal configuration, by any means... but... I think it sounded "decent":

Tommy Keene song from a show I ran (YouTube video)

The Bottle Rockets 'Nancy Sinatra' song from a show I ran (YouTube)

Both of those groups were some of the larger, louder groups we've had, and it still sounded pretty good. I received regular compliments from people (audience and artists) about how great the sound was. I guess that's a form of payment as well... :-)

But, you know me... I can't leave well enough alone... so, I started researching equipment, both in person and online.

Whenever I'd go to a larger music festival, I'd buddy-up with the sound guys and ask questions about their gear. I tried to pick their brains without getting in their way or being too obnoxious (or so I hoped). No matter where I went, nor whom I talked with, I noticed a few consistent things:

- The move to digital is here. Digital mixing boards, digital amplifiers, and DSP (Digital Signal Processing). Like it or hate it, Digital isn't going anywhere.

- 3-way speakers are the way to go. The days of the old 2-way speakers are largely gone. Even the worst bands sounded great when they had 3-way speakers. Plain and simple.

After researching, debating, rationalizing, and scouring, I pulled the trigger and made a few significant purchases for myself. I decided that I would purchase some gear that I could use primarily at Kiki's, but also use "on the side" for potential gigs of my own. I have this fantasy of DJ'ing small events (dances, corporate gigs, etc) and running sound at local venues and small festivals... we'll see how that goes.


I purchased the following brand-new pieces:

- A Behringer AIR XR18 digital mixer
- A pair of Yamaha SM12V stage monitors
- A Crown XLS 1502 DSP amp for the monitors
- A Furman PL-8C rackmount power conditioner
- 8 Shure vocal microphones (mostly SM58 Betas, and a few SM58s)
- A few Shure instrument microphones (SM52a Beta, SM57s)
- Tons of XLR and NL4-Speakon cables from Monoprice
- Several Gator instrument mic boom stands
- Several DR vocal mic boom stands
- Cases, cases, and more cases to protect all of this stuff

I then hit Craigslist and after much searching and a few long, long road-trips, purchased:

- A pair of EAW FR153z speakers
- A monster QSC PLX3602 amplifier for the EAWs

I spent several weeks at home learning all about the digital mixer and trying to understand its capabilities. The thing is *insanely* powerful - so many tools at my disposal... almost too many, to be honest.

After getting things racked, configured, tested, and sorted-out, I took the gear over to Kiki's and set-up for my first show. The show featured a group by the name of Califone. Like usual, I had never heard of them and had no idea what to expect.

The show was a Sunday night show, and it was over-sold. To say I was nervous would be an understatement. But, things went really well, and it sounded *incredibly* good.

Here's a very short Instagram video of a portion of the show (click on it to start/stop the sound):

A video posted by @thegeekysteve on

It sounded good not just to me, but to everyone else. Hear how clear the vocals are? I didn't announce any of the changes, and I doubt anyone would recognize the difference in the appearance of a $100 JBL speaker or a $2700 EAW speaker. But, Kiki told me on Monday that she had "half a dozen e-mails" from attendees who said the sound was "just like a CD" and "better than ever."


After work on Monday, I decided to go back to Kiki's to fine-tune the system a bit more, and to play around with various things that I hadn't had a chance to while at home. Kiki wasn't home, but I have a key, and she's super gracious and sympathetic of my needs/desire to tinker with this stuff. :-)

Here's a better rundown of the new rig...


You can see I've got the EAW FR153z speakers on poles, sitting about 4.5-feet to 6-feet high. This places the mid-range and tweeter above the audience, which helps smooth out the sound. The EAWs are such a step up from the old JBLs... they're 3-way speakers, they're hand-made in the USA, and they are truly professional, touring-grade speakers. I so love how they sound that I wish I had them at my house 24/7...


Even though they're 10+ years old, they are in mint condition. The guy I bought them from took *extremely* excellent care of them. He also has a matching set of subwoofers... I may have to buy those, too... ;-) Then I really could run sound at nearly any venue or festival. Or wedding. Or dance. Or event.


Up next is the primary rack of gear. Here it is, as seen from the back:


The top-most thing, that you can't really see, is the Furman power conditioner. It provides clean, stable power to all of the gear inside of the rack. It also has pull-out lights, which helps me see connections to the mixer and amps.

Just below the power conditioner is the Behringer AIR XR18 rackmount mixer. It's the thing with all of the cables coming out of it, and it's the brains of the operation. The amount of technology and capability stuffed inside of that lunchbox-sized thing is ridiculous. I control all of it from an iPad, to boot. That means I can walk/sit anywhere in the venue and control the sound.

I can also send up to 6-monitor feeds, whereas with the old mixer, I had one (1). Why is that a big deal? Because it means that if I had six stage monitors, I could satisfy the sound needs of six performers on stage at the same time. No one would have to share a monitor mix... that's a huge benefit for the performers.

My old mixer had 1 set of effects (delay or reverb), and it was "all or nothing." The new mixer has 60+ effects options, and I can insert them into each channel, or send groups of channels to four master effects feeds. Limiters, compressors, delays, reverbs, chorus, flangers, DeEssers - you name it, this thing has it.

The equalization is *unreal* - 4-band, fully-sweepable with adjustable width and modeling, parametric EQ on each channel, plus, master EQs for mains and monitors (all unique to each output)... built-in RTA (Real Time Analyzer)... oh man.

And while this is super techie and nerdy, it actually has something called "Ultranet" for in ear monitors. In ear monitors are earphones that the super serious artists use instead of (or in conjunction with) stage monitors. Ultranet allows me to send 16 monitor mixes to in ear monitors... it's crazy!!! But, we don't use Ultranet, so that's an unused feature (for now).

Just below the mixer are the amplifiers. You can see the back of the QSC, but not the back of the Crown, as it's a shallow-mount amplifier. You can also see my Apple Airport Express wireless router, which I use to increase the range, security, and stability of the interface for the mixer and my iPad.

The front is a bit less exciting...


Those amplifiers amaze me... so small, so light, and yet so powerful. I remember trying to carry-around the amplifiers of old... back in 1990, when I was doing sound in Eau Claire and/or the Twin Cities, we'd haul around racks of Peavey amps that weighed 70-, 80-, and 90-pounds... and they were noisy/buzzy, power-hungry, and had weak output. Our old Peavey CS-800S weighed about 85-pounds, and put out a total of 800-ish watts... that new QSC on the bottom weighs 21-pounds and is 3600-watts. Thank you, technology!!!


Here's a view from one of the couches as I was working on equalizing the main speakers. During a "real" show, You wouldn't see the amp rack, or that gear on the couch. Since no one was there, I didn't have to route cables and try to hide stuff. You can see a few of my vocal mics on the couch, and some of the posters from acts that have played at Kiki's over the past 15+ years.

The last picture that I'll share is a view that very few people ever get to see. :-) It's the view from the "stage" looking out into the audience. It's hard to imagine 55-60 people down there... but it happens regularly.

For testing purposes, I set-up two monitors on either side of the center microphone. This would be a dream for any performer. Two monitors for themselves... that's big time!


So, there you have it. A sneak peek behind the scenes into my moonlighting-gig as a sound guy, as well as a view "behind the curtain" at Kiki's House of Righteous Music.

You should come see a show! If you're interested, shoot me an e-mail, and I'll get you hooked-up as a guest.

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This page is an archive of entries from May 2016 listed from newest to oldest.

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