Spiff... As Alan Sees It.
I suppose it is up to me to tell you how (from a technical standpoint) we produce that ear-splitting noise that we loosely refer to as music. First of all, I don't control everything you hear. Some of the instruments are just so F-ing loud that they don't need any amplification or need only partial amplification. Perhaps I should start by telling you what is miked and what is not and what gets a direct line feed into the mixing board. First, and obviously, the vocals are miked, we use the standard Shure SM 58, Although Tim has a SM 48 or something because he loves the special something that a cheap microphone gives to his voice. I'd like to switch to newer microphones with a hypercartioid pattern but with the gigantic bar tabs we ring up we are lucky be able to afford guitar picks. Steve's drums are miked with Byerdynamic clip on mikes. One on the snare, one on the floor tom and one covers the two high toms. An AT pro 25 is on the kick drum. His vocal mic picks up an awful lot of drum sound, particularly the cymbals, so you may some times hear them come up or down as I adjust his vocal mic or you may hear them affected by the effects. The cymbals easily produce 110 dB on their own (despite the thick layer of tarnish, crud and nicotine on them) so need no amplification in the comparatively small rooms we play. Albert's guitar amplifier has a Shure SM 57 on it. His Marshall amp has a direct out, but this it is generally too bright and noisy to use. The only other microphone used is the vintage Peavy "H" that I use for announcements. Tim's guitar gets a direct feed from his Peavey 50/50 power amp (The 50/50 drives the speakers in his Marshall stage amp and an EV wedge monitor. He has bypassed the amplifier in the Marshall - shhh! I'm not supposed to tell you that) and Debbie's Bass gets a direct feed from her monster Carvin amp. A good deal of the guitar sound that you hear at any given gig comes directly from the guitar amplifiers and not from the P.A., particularly if you are standing close to the band. All the microphones and direct sends get plugged into the snake on the stage end. The snake is a multi conductor wire about ¾" in diameter. I built this from Belden wire and Neutrik connectors. The other end plugs into the mixing board and the sends for the monitors and the mains on the EQ and the feedback destroyers. We are currently using a Peavy Unity 2002 mixer. This belongs to Steve. (I asked Santa for a Macky 1604 VLZ mixer but everyone said that I would shoot my eye out so I didn't get it.) The signal then goes to a dBx 166A compressor / limiter / expander then to a Behrenger feedback destroyer then to an Aphex type C Aural Exciter and lastly to a DOD R830 EQ. From there it goes back into the snake and into the amps. The effects loop consists of a Digitec Time Machine RDS1000 and a Digitec (I cant remember the model number) chorus / flanger. There are two monitor sends. The vocal monitors for Albert, Tim and Debbie go through a second Behrenger feedback destroyer then into an amp and into wedge monitors. The second monitor send goes straight into Steve's powered Galaxy Hot Spot monitor that points directly at his right ear. So if you want to talk to Steve, stand on his left. He's almost deaf in his right ear. The P.A. amplifiers are one Crown 2000 and two Peavy CS800's. This gives us about 3600 watts of amplification. This is more than we need for most venues (of course it's not how big your amp is it's how you use it that counts). One CS800 powers the monitors (way overkill). The mains are bi-amplified with a DOD two-way stereo active crossover splitting up the racket, the Crown on the lows and the Peavy on the highs. These Amps are housed in a plywood cabinet that I built from plywood that Albert had leftover from some home-improvement project. With the amps in it, it weighs a ton. I put heavy-duty casters on the bottom and handles on the sides and bottom. This made it possible for one person (who knows what he's doing) to easily move it around. The amps drive the following speakers: Main high: Peavy SPX somethingorother Albert repainted them to say Spiff. They have a 15" and a horn. Main Low: Community CSX and some number I can't remember. They are basically two 15" woofers (each) engineered to fit in the smallest possible box. They seem adequate for small rooms. Monitors: two Roadie (Vintage (real old)) and one Peavy (not quite so vintage). We sometimes beg borrow steal other speakers from people like Tim's brother Chris (thanks Chris) when we play larger venues. We have a variety of other equipment that we keep in reserve in case something blows up. This is mostly stuff from Steve's previous bands including a mixing board so old that it has Alzheimer’s disease and a built in reverb can. I also use several pieces that don't actually enter into the signal chain, at least not when the band is playing. We have a real time analyzer and a sound level meter/analyzer. The analyzers tell us why we suck and the sound level meter tells us how much we suck. The real time analyzer has a pink noise generator that I use to blast an obnoxious broadband hiss at people when I get pissed off at them. I also have a Whirlwind cable checker that I usually pretend is a tricorder. It has pretty flashing red and green lights. We also have a nice Tascam dual-well cassette deck that I will sometimes use to play music recorded by real musicians over the PA or to (God help us) Record Spiff… Setting all this crap up isn't easy. Somehow I always seem to remember where it all goes. Everyone pitches in. We never get enough time to set it up and something always fights us (it always loses). When we have time, I like to do a sound check (I think the last time was about three years ago). This involves not only setting all the levels but also intentionally making feedback in order to find out where it lives so I can seek it out and kill it. Usually we just set it all up, turn it on and wing it. Once we get going I'm pretty much absorbed by the task at hand. Trying to get a loud rock band to sound like something without causing stentorian howls of feedback or roasting an amplifier requires all of the limited concentration that I have. There are about a jillion knobs and buttons and if I adjust them wrong I could alter the space / time continuum. If you attempt to talk to me while the band is playing you may have better luck talking to a shot glass. I'm not being rude, I'm just stupid. Just ask my wife. Sometimes people (or bar owners) ask me to turn the band down. (What? What? Turn them up?) As I said previously, quite a bit of the overall sound is not amplified by the PA so I can't turn it down. Also, people (or drunks) will give me helpful hints on how to improve the sound. I must say that these comments are usually not appreciated. Unless this is a person (possibly from another band) that I trust implicitly I won't trust their tin ears. When it comes to sound I can only trust my own tin ears.
My Disclaimer: As I mentioned above I use a sound level meter. SPIFF…usually plays at a level between 90 and 100 dB with 110 dB peaks. This is about average for a live rock band. It's loud. If you subject yourself to this on a prolonged basis you will sustain hearing damage. Don't sit right in front of the speakers all night and then sue us when you get serious hearing loss. Use common sense. If it hurts your ears move back. If you regularly go to bars with bands or to a lot of rock concerts get yourself some earplugs. You can get cheap foam plugs in the grocery store or the pharmacy or you can get real good ones at a music store that will not make everything sound muffled, just softer. I have been using them for years and have excellent hearing, even at my advanced age. That's it. I'm done. Come see us soon.