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Everything Related to the Steelpan Instrument and Music

I wanted to share what works for me... to bring my pan on stage and not be drowned out by the conventional amplified guitars and the sort.  Also, to dispel the myth that you cannot mic a pan without feedback.

I added a picture of my rig, and yes, I am wearing a Bob Marley T-shirt.  I play lots of his songs, but make no mistake I let my audiences know where pan is from.

Why is feedback such an issue when micing a pan? The pan surface is highly reflective, and we are still experimenting with techniques and mic placement. If you mic a pan from below, and you are near a monitor, reflections off the pan come into the mic quite easily.  If you mic from above, you may be pointed directionally in front of a monitor or driver as well.  Also, it seems that a regular mic needs a lot of gain to get a good signal relative to the rest of the stage, but the more you add, the more unwanted sounds from around you are picked up.  And then there is a question of technique to use when you mic a double second... would one mic work?

When micing a steelband, and there is less need for stage monitors, setting up room mics in front of the band is a good way to go... less chance of feedback.  But what about on a loud conventional stage?

The mics I use are inexpensive Apex 185s (Apex is a Canadian company, so may not be available in the States or abroad), a matched set of pencil condensor mics.  They have a very narrow pickup pattern (off-axis rejection) which allows me to angle each mic towards the bowl of my pan from above, and it will pick up those vibrations from a bit of distance (instead of micing from below with the mic a half inch from the bottom of the pan), while it rejects sounds from the sides.  Feedback is negated as the mic's pickup pattern is focussed on the pan, and not in the signal path of any speakers.

I've also used them with my tenor, and am convinced this style of mic is the way to go.  If you are shopping for mics, look for something that will pick up sound from what you point the mic directly at, but will reject sounds beside the mic.  The guy that demonstrated these mics for me snapped his fingers in an orbit around the mic, and the sound was only picked up in a narrow path directly in front.  It was cool.

What do you use?

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The waves all move at the same speed but the distance between peaks (as shown by the lines) is ideally halved in going from F#3 to the octave at F#4. The headache goes away.

 

Scientists and engineers can only give "informed" suggestions. To me only trial and error will give any conclusive results for micing the bass.  You will need the broad pickup pattern for sure. It may be possible to use the two just over the bassist's head to get an even sound from each drum. The overhead placement also reduces the chance of picking up skirt rattle.   

I've always been curious, as the DJs came on the road, as to why more wasn't done with amplification of entire steelbands to make a more powerfull presence on the road.

I've assumed that with trial and error we could have gotten it right by now.

I could only think of two reasons this has not been done, since the technology is there:
Either the costs were prohibitive and it was not cost effective,
Or
Most bands just didn't care that much about their road presentation anymore.

From my experience, the major factor is/was cost. It is also not particularly easy to amplify an entire band. The challenges differ depending on whether the band is on a truck or spread out on the road. It is an entirely different proposition than if the band is on stage. This assumes, of course, that you want quality sound amplification.

Hi Sidd

Absolutely! David and Indigisounds represents the kind of initiative we were hoping to germinate. Talk about a persistent person with a vision .. he is proof that there is a lot of hope for our youth. All is not lost. That being said (and this is where the detractors would come in), you only need as many PHIs as is required to get the correct harmonic balance. Off hand, I would say no more than 10 - I got that number from when Tokyo launched their electric pans in 1987  The actual volume is up to the sound system capability - more amps, powerful speakers etc.

"The electronic digital solution of the sound of pan".

Can you clarify?

What exactly is the problem with the sound of pan that needs to be solved by electronics?

By ones and zeros, waveform samplers, A to D and D to A converters, pre amps and the like?

(That's just to let allyuh know that I have a pretty good idea what allyuh talking about)

I've always thought that the beauty of pan was it's natural acoustic sound.

Am I wrong?

I do not know what it would involve to mic an entire steelband.  Like I say, my personal mics were $150 Canadian for the pair.  Someone would have to describe methods that they have used when recording or presenting a steelband.

I don't think that 40 electronic pans of any flavour will be less expensive than 40 pairs of mics such as I own. If you want to talk about replacing 10 steelpans with one electronic pan, and ten amplifiers, that is a different topic.   I would suggest that the cost of microphone technology may be less prohibitive today.

When I bought my mics a few years back, I reached out to Andy Narell and Robert Greenidge for advice.  My local store helped me with their product knowledge, and I'm now a few years in to be able to share my feedback on the mics I chose.

I think that approach to recording makes sense, and is an improvement on what my personal experience involved.  The largest community steelband I have been in peaked at about 20 pannists.  When we recorded, we recorded the group in it's entirety, with strategically-placed room mics.  Still, it would have been great to run each track through headphones so that individuals could record separate tracks in isolation to reinforce the main one.  Great advice!

My experience for micing steelbands in a live setting is limited to putting microphones for ten players, not 100.  So I concede my limitations... I don't understand the logistics for micing bands in TnT or NYC.

Hello Corey,

For Basement Recordings, there are many things to consider in recording a large steel orchestra, or any size steel orchestra for that matter. Mic type and mic placement are critical to capturing a steel orchestra properly or truthfully. However, knowledge of the performance attitude, environment and idiosyncrasies of the orchestra for example (Desperadoes vs Renegades) and voices in the band (quads vs triple seconds) and (concrete vs dirt floor) signature strum (constant vs syncopated) are paramount.

 

WST, I am fascinated!

I imagine that when you have a special project, you would certainly maximize optimum placement of mics to pick everything up that is desired in a recording.  Maybe some of the info we have come up with about microphone types will benefit future productions you do!  Curious to know what other observations you have made!  Your comments about the environment and signature styles are brilliant!

I wonder if, for a Panorama, an array of shotgun-style mics positioned at a distence away from, but focused on, the bands would give good sound.  One of the barriers to micing a band for Panorama or for the road is just how expensive it would be to mic the pans.  BUT what if shotgun mics spread every ten feet across the front of the stage could "mic the steelband" instead of trying to "mic the pans"...

Can you tell that I'm enjoying this brainstorming?  Thanks for chiming in!

Corey

It depends on your situation and what you want your final product to represent. The following is an example of capturing a large steel orchestra in an uncontrolled environment.  This was done on a Brooklyn, New York city street with cars and people moving all over the place. Eight mics were used and as with all Basement recordings it was done in one take.

Thank you for your insightful comments, Dr. Copeland. You've obviously done a lot of research on this subject.
I've always imagined the possibility of an amplified mobile platform, carrying a complete range of pans, designed specifically for mobility ond flexibility on the road.

This would also use less panists , allowing bands to be more professional, and rotate players throughour the day.
A project such as this would be beyond the scope of any one band, and would probably need the leadership and guidance of the steelbands association, PanTrinbago.
And this would also depend, of course as to whether the steelands see themselves as returning to having a major role on the streets at Carnival in T&T.

"I've always imagined the possibility of an amplified mobile platform, carrying a complete range of pans, designed specifically for mobility ond flexibility on the road. This would also use less panists , allowing bands to be more professional, and rotate players throughour the day." This was exactly what was proposed to panists in the late 1990s. Nobody really bought into the idea ... while the band could be smaller , you now had to pay for a high power sound system. To get good projection, you need to pack some serious power into the amp and speakers.

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