Friday, November 20, 2009

Getting Ready to Get Live

I don't have to tell you that since I'm getting ready to release my album, I'll be doing some live shows to help support the album. Not many, mind you... I have no intention of going on tour. The very idea of touring is about as appealing as sticking a fork into my eye.

However, I will do some select live shows, including my album release party on December 11, and to make sure I am heard at the various coffeehouse and bookstore-type places I'll end up playing, I needed a PA system. In all the years I've been in bands and so on, I've really never had a need to have my own PA gear -- it's usually been the singer who had that stuff. So yesterday, Kat and I went up the street to my local Guitar Center store. In my real life (as in, the one where I need to earn a living and such), I do web site development and other marketing work for a division of Guitar Center called GC Pro, and it just so happens that the company recently added a GC Pro representative in my local store (South Bay, CA).

So we went there and met with GC Pro sales guy Chris Brown, who was very helpful and walked us through a couple of options (though I was pretty sure I knew what I wanted anyway). I ended up getting the following stuff...

1. Main PA powered loudspeaker: Mackie SRM450v2.

I had a few choices in loudspeakers. I could have saved some dough with a cheaper system, but this is one case where it's money well spent. Mackie has always made some pretty high-quality gear that has good bang for the buck. The other leading contender for about the same price was the JBL Eon, but I've heard the Mackie SRM450 before and knew it was a surprisingly good PA for the price. There were other brands available, of course, but I really didn't want to end up with something that sounded really crappy, or was likely to break in the middle of a show.

2. PA monitor: Mackie SRM150.

You folks know what a stage monitor is? I shall tell you in case the answer is "no". When you play live, your main loudspeaker has to be slightly in front of you, so the sound from the speaker doesn't start feeding back into the mic. We all know what that sounds like, and it isn't pleasant. But the result is that you can't hear yourself. So, stage monitors come in many types, from large wedges that sit on the floor in front of you through in-ear monitors that work like little headphones. But there's another kind of monitor like this one... basically a little loudspeaker that mounts to a mic stand and faces toward the performer. I went with the Mackie SRM150 because it was the right size, the right price, and hell, I might as well keep it all in the Mackie family (I also use a little Mackie mixer for both live shows and my SL gigs).

3. (2) Electro-Voice N/D767a microphones

Obviously, I own microphones -- I use them at every show I do in SL, since I use only acoustic sound sources (as opposed to keyboards or electric guitars). But the mics I already own are studio condenser mics, which are much too sensitive for live use... plus, I don't want them stolen or broken. For live use, a dynamic mic is a better choice. The classic of all dynamic mics for stage use is the Shure SM-58, but my experience has been that the SM-58 is a little too dull for my voice. There have been innovations in dynamic mics, and one is the use of Neodymium magnets, which are much stronger than the magnets typically used to generate signal in older mics. The EV N/D767a is a relatively new mic from a respected name in audio, and has a good reputation. And there's the fact that I got a killer deal on them. That doesn't hurt. I purchased two... one for my voice, and the other to use for my guitar.

4. Stand and cables

Nothing very exciting here, but very necessary. When you lift a PA loudspeaker off the ground, you are doing two things. First, being higher in the air helps disperse the sound around the room better. Second, you are less likely to get the floor resonating and causing buzz and distortion. So I bought a nice stand that will more than support the 40-pound weight of the big Mackie loudspeaker. Finally (not pictured), I bought a few XLR cables to supplement the ones I already own. These are also called "mic cables"; they connect the mics to the mixer, and the mixer to the speakers.

So that's it! I now own a PA system that I can use for all the types of small venues that would be likely to host a solo singer-songwriter like me. The stuff is certainly good enough for now, and I'm happy to have one more thing crossed off the list of needs for my release party and beyond.

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