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PO Box 72522
Eugene, OR 97401

Tel: (503) 884-3116

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Tracks and Southern Gospel - The Technical Side

When using EmceePro, one of the main aspects is to have either a very good PC soundcard, or use a third party device like the Turtle Beach Amigo USB device, or the Transit USB device. There are others too, but these mentioned are the most affordable. The quality of your sound card is vital to how well your tracks will sound to your audience. Many laptop sound cards are not true 16 bit cards, but instead are more like 10 or 12 bit. This can cause clicks and pops in the digital stream as it is being converted to analog and output to your mixer. Having a third party USB sound card almost always gets rid of this problem. A misconception I see people make with digital time and time again is in operating level. Many assume that if you reduce the recorded level the quality will be better. Nothing could be further from the truth. In digital the higher the recorded level the better the fidelity. The gotcha here is if you try to record a track one ounce above the digital clip point it will sound totally horrible. Analog tape would compress over a certain level and distort in a calm predictably manner. Digital will be the most pristine right up to the clip point, but if you go over that point it will produce some very nasty distortion.

Setting up a PC to play audio is a bit confusing to some, but it is really not that difficult. There is a site on the web called www.musicxp.net which, will lead you, step by step on how to setup a PC to play audio correctly. Windows is famous for having many available “hooks” for third party software programs. You can re-claim the processing power these hooks use by simply turning them off and it will only enhance the performance of your PC, not degrade it. The listed website is a great resource for making these changes to Windows based machines. It is easy to follow and takes only a very few minutes to tweak the entire PC.

One of the common mistakes I see done with not only EmceePro, but Mini-Disc and CD players alike, is to use a “Y” connector and tie the two output channels together, then using one channel of the mixer for both combined channels. This is really a very bad idea, for it in effect, shorts the outputs of each channel and reduces the overall available headroom and fidelity. You would be far better off to use two channels on your mixer, one for left and one for right. If you must combine them, they are then combined electronically inside the mixer and not passively. This maintains headroom in the source (CD, MD or Laptop Soundcard) and keeps the fidelity as pristine as possible. If you must only use one channel in your mixer, then use only one channel coming from your source. In no circumstance should you use a “Y” connector to parallel the left and right output into one channel.

Another common mistake I see is groups bringing in a MD, CD, or laptop into a sound check with the intent of connecting it direct into a microphone input. Sometimes it will work and others times it will not. Many such devices will hum or even burn themselves up if there is phantom power on the mic inputs. This +48 volts DC, although very low in amperage, is sufficiently high enough to cause severe hum and possibly the destruction of the player. Mixer line inputs for such devices are always preferred over mic inputs. But if you must run long leads from your source, such as from the stage down a snake to a mic input on the house console, a means of isolating the phantom power and balancing the long line is a must. Many people use common direct boxes for this task and they will work, but not as well as line to line isolation boxes. A direct box is meant to convert the impedance of an instrument such as a bass guitar, from a very high unbalanced impedance, typically 100k ohms or greater, to the impedance of a microphone which is more like 200 ohms balanced. The “turns ratio” in the direct box transformer will indeed make the line balanced, and change the impedance to a very low source (too low in fact), but in doing so it will lose 20 db or so of gain. A line-to-line isolation box will simply take the input from the unbalanced source, convert it to balanced via its inherent 1:1 transformer, and send the level onto the house console unchanged. The fidelity will remain far closer to the original, and in the process, phantom power is totally blocked. These type isolation boxes are available from Horizon and Whirlwind to name but a few.

Many performing groups are now using tracks with the piano deleted from the performance tracks, so that their own piano player can play along with the tracks and provide the piano part live. This is how we of Southern Sound Quartet do our tracks too. It gives a sense of realism that tracks alone, in my opinion, cannot duplicate. Studio players tend to play a bit more reserved than do live players, as they should. On a studio performance you are striving to make the tracks tight and complimentary to the singers. With a live musician, in this example a piano player, he is part of the live group and needs to shine a bit more than what would be preferred by a studio session player. But to accomplish this your tracks need to be mixed with the final task in mind.

When I have finished mixing each studio version for CD, I use most of the settings, eq and effects for the sound track as well, but I approach the mix in a totally different way. First off, I never combine a stereo sound track to mono. The result is sometimes a swishy, phased sounding track, especially if I am using effects such as chorus or flanging on the guitars. Instead I mix the track(s) we intend to use live, as strictly mono tracks. If guitars or keyboards have a stereo chorus, or some other phase changing device, I turn those off and use just a mono track of the guitar or keyboards. In fact, everything that is in stereo from drums to orchestration is panned dead center and converted to mono, including turning one side of every stereo reverb return off and using the other side as mono only.

Next I bring up the original click track and pan it hard left. (Remember I am mixing identical mono down to both the left and right channels). I leave two to four clicks audible before the down-beat of the music, which is only audible on the left channel of our finished tracks. I feed this left channel to our live keyboard player only so that he has a click count-off to each song that appears in his on-stage monitor and never in the house mix. In addition, the right side of our mono tracks (remember the left and right are the same mono track, with the exception of the click being on the left side too) is fed to the house mixer and also to the vocalist’s monitors. If any song has a piano only section, or a section where the timing goes to a perceived free time, I make a click track for our piano player for these sections too. This allows us to do piano only sections where the entire bands joins in later in the song, and it does this in a perceived seamless fashion. We have performance tracks that have nothing at all on them but the left panned click all the way to the second verse, when magically, the entire band and orchestrations appear. This makes for a presentation to the audience without any appearance of a track being started midway through the performance. For the audience this method does not distract from the song and the message therein.

Many groups like to have a mono mix on one side as in the above example and the other side be stacked vocals only. I make these type tracks for groups in much the same way as the above example, the only difference is the left side is stack vocals only with no music bed whatsoever. I have also recorded stereo tracks with the piano intact and stacked vocals mixed in, usually at a somewhat lower level than on the original recording. If a client wants stacks on their performance tracks I typically will use their main vocals to make those stacks. I mute the solo lines and usually the person singing the melody. If it is a quartet group with a bass singer, I never include the bass in any stack vocal, unless he is singing a part other than bass for a particular selection. Stacked bass rarely works from a technical point of view, and is best left off performance tracks.

When I have all my tracks mixed down as I wish, I transfer them either to DVD or CDR as true data .wav files. I copy the disc onto our laptop, which we play EmceePro from and load each song into a play list as needed. Within EmceePro, our piano player selects the play list we are going to use, and may or may not re-arrange the songs via the drag and drop function of EmceePro. Within our live program, Barry (Southern Sound’s piano man) selects the first song and somewhere while that song is being performed, he pre-selects the next song to be presented. The computer screen will high-light this new selection in red as being ready to play even while the first track continues to play. When the first track is concluded and the next song is introduced he presses the space bar on the laptop and the pre-selected song turns from “red” to “green” and begins to play. Again while this song is playing, Barry pre-selects the next and so on until the program has ended. We have had many people ask us how and where does our music tracks originate from, for from an audience point of view, it is very hard to determine whether Barry is running them or our sound person at the house console is.

Of course we could accomplish some of these features with any playback device of our choosing. But EmceePro makes so much available and is so user friendly that there is just no way we would consider anything else. If you have not given EmceePro a try, I would suggest you do so. Tell Ted or Kathleen I told you to call. I promise you won’t be sorry.

See ya next time...
Ben Harris       
6340 Spera Pointe Crossing              
Nashville, TN 37076




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