In a grand hall, a huge coliseum, and even a huge sanctuary, the more likely our mentality is “let’s do this the right way.” Running sound in large venues drives us towards excellence. Now what is your mentality in a very small room? If you’re not careful, you’ll find yourself slipping into five pitfalls. Learn those pitfalls and how you can avoid them.
1. “We don’t need no stinkin’ microphones.”
The biggest pitfall in a small room is the lack of microphones. I’ve fallen into this thinking a few times myself. Each time, it revolved around one instrument; the piano. A small room, a grand piano…maybe a baby grand…lift the lid and let the music waft out…um, no.
The problem with thinking that the piano doesn’t need a microphone is while it might sound pretty good during a practice, when the room fills with people, it can get lost.
Use microphones on instruments no matter how small the room. You’ll be able to bring up the volume when it’s needed…and of course you can’t put an instrument into a monitor if it doesn’t have a mic!
2. “Amp’s rule, boys drool.”
Ok, I’ve been hanging around my 11-year old daughter a lot and her lingo is starting to wear off on me. :)
In a small sanctuary, it’s easy to think that a guitar amp can fill the room with enough sound. While that can be true, there are two critical issues with this thinking; volume and direction.
First off, if you allow an amp total control over the volume of the room, then you lose the ability to control the volume. As soon as the guitarist switches from pedal A to pedal B with 2x the volume, you’ll be suffering.
The other issue is direction. Whoever is sitting in the sanctuary and is inline with the amp, is getting an earful of that instrument.
There are a few things you can do; mic the amp while making sure the amp’s volume is low, use a line-out option on the amp, and point the amp up at the guitarist so that’s not directed at people in the congregation.
The only exception to this is a bass amp. If the room is small, you might not need to mic it as long as you’ve got a good steady volume. But that’s another story.
3. “Priority Navel Communication!”
Notice I said “navel” and not “naval.” I’m not talking about seafaring issues; I’m talking about singers using bad mic techniques. The smaller the sanctuary, the easier it is for singers (and speakers) to think their vocal microphone is less important. Therefore, instead of holding it right up to their mouth, they hold it much farther away – sometimes by their navel. At this point, it’s hard to pick up much of anything in the microphone.
This is a training issue in which you need to explain to singers/speakers that while the room may be small, their voice can easily disappear in the mix and the congregation finds it hard to follow along. This is especially true of new songs. And just like the piano without a microphone, if they aren’t singing into the microphone, you can’t put it in the monitors for other musicians to hear.
4. “Drum roll, please.“
The drums can be one of the biggest pains in the, in the, um…the drums can be a pain to mic in a small room. Do you mic every drum kit piece? Do you mic nothing? This is where you need to spend time testing out different drum mic’ing techniques and determine which gives you the best overall sound and control.
You should at least use a single overhead microphone placed about a foot over the drummer and pointed at the drum kit. You won’t get the thump of the kick drum but you’ll have the ability to work a bit of EQ and volume on the snare and the cymbals.
If you download my free ebook, you can read all about the different drum mic’ing techniques.
5. “Feedback frenzy!”
I’d be remiss not to mention feedback issues in a small room. A small room usually means a small stage. A small stage means vocal microphones are in close proximity to the monitors. This is where it’s crucial you have proper monitor levels and proper vocal mic technique by the singers.
The feedback issue I usually see (hear) is when a singer lowers their microphone by their side and places it inline with the floor monitor.
6. Let’s call this bonus #6. Not long ago, I had the stage set up and wasn’t getting the right sound from the kick drum. As it turned out, the floor monitor for a guitarist was being shared with the drummer and the kick drum mic was inline with the monitor. So, the drum mic was picking up the monitor sounds. Now this was a simple change in monitor location before the gig. Therefore, be careful where your monitors are pointing because those instrument microphones might pick up more than you want.
Question(s): What problem have you experienced in a small room/small sanctuary? How did you overcome it?