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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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If I understand correctly, I think you mean something like the technology that Brian worked with, with a "sensor" of sorts was affixed to the pan.  That is something I understand very little about.  But I have some notions to reinforce the use of acoustic microphones.


I have been employing other percussion instruments in my performances, and looking at practices how they are typically mic'd up.  I noticed that a timbale rig is mic'd similar to how I mic my double seconds... from up top, but on the outside of the setup.  With a timbalero, their cowbells and stuff are mounted in between the two timbales, and are loud.  By putting the microphones outboard and at a distance, they get a wider stereo image.  Drumkits have several mocrophones situated around the entire rig, even clipped on to the rims of the drums.  Many are positioned very close to the surfaces, while others are at distance.


My point is that I'm not certain that the technology has advanced to that point... Popular drums don't seem to use contacts for amplification.  The closest they seem to be to rejecting undesireable audio sources is by positioning microphones within the resonant chambers of the drums being mic'd.  We should watch practices and developments employed in other percussive arts to look for opportunities for the evolution of our sound.

Had to jump in here as:

1. Contact mics can be used with mixed success. A critical factor is how the pan they are used on are manufactured. Just like contact mic'd guitars they can be quite harsh. However, some have reported good reproduction using quality contact pickups off the skirt ... you have to find the "sweet spot" by trial an derror.

2. Contact mics can make the rig more susceptible to feedback BECAUSE they make the pan into a gigantic microphone. You can speak into the pan and it will be heard over the system. This is also why contact mics on a perc drum is probably not a good idea - it can work but it will be problematic

3. In the last days of LEctrapan we saw the need to have pans specially made for electronic amplification - that is where we stopped. Bertie had said that he had to "deaden" his pans to get it close to where he wanted it. I don't see most pannists doing that!

4. Spoke to a guy called Alex Case  at Sound Recording Technology/ Univ of Mass. at a recent conference on the type of stuff you are describing, Corey - using double mics to enhance the sound field and make the electronic sound more warm, possibly organic.

5. NOTE -- in keeping with what others are saying electronic amplification does change the sound but also represents another level of creativity between the pannist and the audience. PAnnists need to be involved in that creative experience .


For a recording, sometimes multiple mics of varying qualities and characteristics are used in conjunction with each other.  The mics I use are pretty good at providing a brightness to the recording, where a vocal ribbon condensor tends to capture a warm sound.  That's another way to tailor what is recorded.


In simple terms, two microphones can imitate a listener's two ears.  So interesting things can be done with the spacing of the microphones, as well as the characteristics of the microphones.

Corey do most soundmen route the two mics to separate channels or do they go mono? Interesting to hear your experience in that

If they have two open channels, they route it separate.  Often, I use a small board and mix my own signal, and then run my output through a DI box into a single mono channel on the main board.

This is a very important discussion, as it coincides with my belief that the future of the steel pan lies more in figuring ways of projecting and improving the sound of the traditional steelband and its instruments, than in replacing those instruments with electronic devices.
As we all know, experiments with amplification have been in progress since the 1960s with Bertie Marshall and others.

Unfortunately, such experiments were sporadic and never sustained or fully supported , and usually ended up being shelved.
Based on information gleaned from knowledgeable members of this forum, I've come to appreciate that this process is much more complex than it would appear to the casual observer.

I sincerely hope that the work of technologists like Dr. Copeland and tech savvy panists like Corey Morgan bring us closer to the day when we could present a full, traditional steelband, powerfully amplified as a viable alternative to electronic music sources , e.g. DJs with their powerful amplifiers.

Corey, I don't know  much about Amplification, But I am wondering if the reason why we  get feed back with the Pan when it's amplified is because when you strike  a note on the Pan it continue ringing, that is what Bertie was trying to master using some type of a Damper. Steel Pan is not yet 100% true and correct  till we are able to Strike a not without Resonation. We all like to have a Ring on our Pan but a lot of time the not is not true because of the resonation. To me the closest thing to a true note is Ellie Pan but for me if I have to choose I will choose Burch pan (Gey mey mey ring on mey pan) Right or wrong.

Bede, I don't consider I'm playing an "amplified pan", just running the sound through a microphone.


Feedback would come if you face a microphone at a speaker that is sending the output of the microphone.  Monitors face toward the artist so they can hear what they play.  So preventing feedback involves making sure the mics aren't facing the direction of that output.


Now steelpans are highly reflective.  If you mic from below the skirt, the sound from the pan goes into the mic, which comes out the monitor, which bounces off the underside of the pan, which goes into the mic... that is the problem micing from below.


That is why I mic from above and experimented with a type of mic that could focus on the top of the pan without being in the path of the sound coming from the speakers, whether they are the monitors in front, or the main drivers that go to the audience.

Glenroy, I can envision a way to mic a rack or section of pans... suspending a couple microphones under each canopy... yes!


Thanks for the feedback, doc ...

I had noticed this "deadening" you refer to in Hylanders' tunes, Gypsy Rhonda and Let Evr'y Valley Be Exalted.  At least it sounds like deliberate deadening.


As a follow up on this discussion, see the following:

[]  "Microphone Techniques for Recording", Shure Educational Publication, Shure Incorporated, USA, p.20.

Available at http://cdn.shure.com/publication/upload/837/microphone_techniques_f...

Here Shure provides guidance on mic selection and placement. Interestingly they cover the steelpan on pg 20. 

[] "Microphone Placement for Tenor Pan sound recording: New recommendations based on recent research," The West Indian Journal of Engineering, Vol 35, No 2, Jan 2013, pp95-102.

Available at https://sta.uwi.edu/eng/wije/vol3502_jan2013/documents/MicrophonePl...

This is a more technical discourse. Fasil did his PhD in a related area and applied some of his findings in generating this paper.


Shure uses similar methods, though I did not know the 6" recommendation for lower pans.  Am glad it's on their radar.  They fall short of recommending a type of microphone,

Regarding placement above the rim, prefer placement to the side as close to the stand as possible.  I use the pencil condensors roughly aimed at the centre of the pan.  When I have the luxury of multiple mics, I will use a pair for double second.  But for a large band, I would mic my double seconds with a single mic, positioned a little higher above the rims.  I mention this as a comment to your paper.  It does give me more to contemplate.

I imagine lower register pans could use a mic maybe up to a foot (~30cm) above and between each pair for strong sound reinforcement.


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