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?
That makes perfect sense! I would caution that your Rode microphone, or similar wide-body condenser microphones, are designed to be more sensitive, and create sound that is warm (as opposed to harsh or shrill). This superiority also makes them more delicate. As well, if you are positioned close to main or monitor speakers, you may still experience feedback issues. And a mic stand that tips over in the chaos could irreparably damage the mic.
The pencil condensers I use are very durable when subject to abuse. I would bet that you could rent this type of mic to try out and compare, in case you ever play a venue that you would like to keep the Rode safely stowed away, like a picnic where the ground is a little uneven?
What sort of Mike and Amplification system did Mr.Bertie Marshall use for I read that in Hilanders they used only one amplified Tenor and to me they sounded fantastic and if this was so on the road for carnival then we have an excellent example of the effects if more Pans are amplified. With the improved technology I assume an entire amplified SteelBand on the road is not far off.
Carib Tokyo was completely amplified (direct) in July 1987. So too was Joylanders in 1994 and 1995. No microphones were used .. we made our own pickups which we attached to the pan
What are pickups? Could you explain for I always thought that you had to use a device to catch the sound which is then amplified, so are they different from Mics?. Thanks
An electric guitar uses pickup devices. Concept would be similar, though I struggle with the concept of application.
The same pickup concept can be used on pans ... that way you convert it into an "electro-acoustic pan". I know a few pannists who have purchased contact pickups (best, most claim, is Barcus Berry) and use them on the skirt. No mics ... just jack the pickup into a sound system. This may be a little more work than using a good microphone system as
1. You have to find the sweet spot where the pickup works best to your liking ... since most tuners do not tamper with the skirt, you are really at the mercy of mother nature as far as sound quality is concerned. But if/when you find that spot the sound can be really awesome
2. Placing a pickup on your pan can complicate the feedback issue ... in the worst case, the pan actually works like a giant microphone.
BTW ... the above is awesome on the lower ranges.
This is the most interesting post I have seen in a while. It addresses a problem that I have studied a bit. A lot still needs to be done so I am glad to see that someone has written about their experiences with different types of microphones. Here are some of our findings to date:
1. It is generally best to mic the pan from on top .The sound from the top spreads out more evenly, more like how waves spreads out when a pebble drops on a calm pond. However, the sharp angle formed between the skirt and bowl can cause some undesirable acoustic effects, as does the skirt itself - the sound waves radiate from the rear in not as smooth and uniform a pattern. Significantly, sound waves become very concentrated in the "Vee" of the pan and this can cause problems with pickup quality, especially if the microphone is placed in the vicinity of the bottom edge of the skirt. .
2. Furthermore, a mic placed underneath a pan will tend to pick up notes closest to it better than notes further away. As such , one has to move the mic further away from the pan.
3. In a live and loud setting, placement of mics too far away from the pan makes it easy for the mic to pick up sound waves from the speaker system.. (main or monitor) as well as it does for the pan ... this is the recipe for feedback. Notice that most vocalists sing with the mic almost touching their lips?
4. Choice of mics is important .... the ones Cory found are probably super-cardioid types. They will tend to reject the sound coming from the back of the mic (usually from the monitor or the house system) and so reduce feedback. However, tonality may be an issue as well as the fact that each pan note radiates sound in different directions. The pannist will have to experiment with placement.
Furthermore, mics should have as wide a dynamic range (response to loud vs soft sounds) as possible - pan generates a lot of acoustic energy at stick impact and this dies off quickly during the sustain period.
5. The soundman is key .. they need to EQ the mic channels just right . They have to ensure that the EQ rejects the frequencies that are above or below the range of the pan. If the EQ boosts frequencies that are too low, for example, the system becomes more susceptible to feedback at a frequency that the pan is incapable of playing.
6. In the end, nothing beats using the ears as a measure of how good a mic and equipment setup sounds. This is why a sound check is so important. Pannists should have someone play their instrument so that they could assess the quality of sound projection from the audience area. There have been many instances when the sound you hear on stage is far better than what is heard by the audience.
Muddeen, F. and Copeland, B., “Microphone Placement for Tenor Pan Sound Recording: New Recommendations Based on Recent Research”, West Indian Journal of Engineering, Vol.35, No.2, January, pp.95-102, 2013
B. Copeland and F. Muddeen, Observations on Measurements taken of the Sound field of a Clifford Alexis Double Second Pan (Where to (not) put the microphone), Presented at the World Steelpan Music Festival Conference Session, October 2002, Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago.
B. Copeland, A. Morrison and T Rossing, Sound Radiation of Caribbean Steelpans, Presented at the 142nd Meeting of The Acoustical Society of America, Dec3-7 2001, Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
We at Basement Recordings agree with all of your points Dr. Copeland. Point #6 is by far the most important. 90% of the audio engineers would be out of a job if a sound check was routinely executed at steelpan music events.
When ever I play a gig and have to deal with a sound man I walk up behind him and say hello in a normal speaking voice. If he doesn;t turn around I keep saying it louder till he hears me. This way I know how much trouble I am in for :-) I usually tell them to think of the band as a choir not a heavy metal band!
Nice! Excellent post. I wonder if I can come up with a helpful response... My point in sharing my opinion about pencil condenser microphones is to make it easier for the next person to shop confidently. I think that type of mic addresses the majority of concerns for the application of micing pans in a live setting.
My efforts to mic from below the pan always resulted in feedback. I abandoned the habit of trying.
The Apex 185s have two pickup patterns... replaceable cartridges with one set having a wide pickup pattern, used for overhead micing a drum set in a studio. The cartridge I use is super-cardioid pattern, where the mic was almost like a laser pointer if it showed a red light to mimic it's pickup. When I snap my fingers from beside the mic about two inches away, it's not transmitted through the sound system. The same finger snapping from two feet away directly in line with the mic is picked up. Even though the mic is that focused, i don't have problem with only certain notes being heard due to mic placement. I rarely have feedback issues that I can't manage, I have to ensure that the mics are not pointed directly at a driver, and that the pan is not reflecting the same.
When it comes to EQ, we usually filter out the lowest frequencies at the board (the mics have a built-in hi-pass filter too), That is maybe the biggest precaution that we take with the sound (as well as finding a level that matches that of the guitarist or bassist).
Brian (Dr. Copeland, if my recollection is correct?), I am hoping that I may have removed some of the mystery for someone like me... that the type of microphone I have suggested provides an ideal path that is consistent with your research.
For live applications when you are surrounded by noise and chaos, I love what my mics, pencil condensers, have given me, and they were very affordable.
For recording studios, wide-body condensers like the Rode mentioned would be my preference. I'm a low-budget guy, or maybe better described as "bang-for-your-buck". My microphone alternative to the Rode is an Audio Technica AT2035. I think I paid about $200 CAD for it brand new.
Hey, Pan Times / Bassment Recordings, I'm curious about your use of microphones, as I bet you have several scenarios and types of events where you have a few tools and methods you use.
"Brian" is fine Corey... your post shows that you did a lot of experimentation and found what really works for you. I find that to be truly great. I certainly learned something because, although we looked at the sound radiation in the lab, we never tested different types of mics. Great stuff!
Attached is a file that shows the "wavefronts" around a pan at F#3 and its octave (Cliff Alexis Double Second). If you could see sound waves in air as you see waves in water, this is what it would look like at the pitches I mentioned. I circled the "trouble zone" at the bottom edge of the skirt ...
I find it very hard to interpret, except that certain frequencies are really affected by the skirt as sound travels through This may be why (aside from feedback through reflections) micing a pan from below is more problematic? From above, the waves seem more uniform comparing the F#3 and F#4 (looks like F#4 moves twice as fast). The uniform waves focused from the top of the sink fits my success with my mic placement, if I read it correct. Optimum distance for different pans could be determined by the range of the pan... you are probably better equipped to hypothesize the placement of my mic from the surface of a tenor versus a bass. My thought on micing a six-bass was to use a mic like mine with a broader pickup pattern, say positioned close to pans 2 and 5, just to keep the cost for bass down to two microphones. One mic for the left, one for the right. But maybe such a method requires the distance to the surface to be shorter, maybe limiting one mic per pair of drums. My brain hurts now haha!