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Author Topic: Ambient mic tips for IEMs  (Read 6845 times)

Mark McFarlane

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Ambient mic tips for IEMs
« on: March 31, 2014, 05:12:16 am »

Im starting to work with more artists who are bringing IEMs, or complete IEM monitor rigs to gigs.


I had one band ask me today if I could automatically mute the ambient mics when the band is playing, open them up between songs,...


Any tips for setting up and processing ambient mics?
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Chris Johnson [UK]

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Re: Ambient mic tips for IEMs
« Reply #1 on: March 31, 2014, 06:57:04 am »

This is becoming a big part of monitor engineering these days. Great ambience in the IEM mix can really give it a whole new dimension. I think its a big part of helping musicians transition to IEMs too, since it brings back some of the connection thats lost when you have 25dB of attenuation with your IEMs

Its a very personal thing, but I have a couple of approaches:

First, I normally use 2 pairs of ambience mics. A SDC (Neumann 184) and a pair of short-shotguns (Rode NTG-3, MKH416, etc...). I normally tape them together so they are pretty phase aligned (and easy to mount).

This gives me 2 distinct stereo ambience feeds:
The SDCs pickup a fair bit of stage, PA, etc... and are heavily biased towards the front few rows of crowd.
The shotguns really focus on the audience response.

I then normally put a bit of the SDC pair into everyones mix (depending on how much ambience they like). I might duck these using a mix of the band, but not by much - maybe just 6dB.

The shotguns I usually manually ride in between songs, or when there is a lot of audience response. I do this using a VCA so it comes up simultaneously for everyone. I use the post-fade level to each individual mix to vary the level of ambience between each performer.
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JohnGarlick

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Re: Ambient mic tips for IEMs
« Reply #2 on: March 31, 2014, 11:13:50 am »

Slow, soft-knee compression has always worked for me. When the band is rocking the mics are in 6-10db of reduction and open back up between songs. 2:1 ratio should be all you need so you can set your threshold deep.
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Mark McFarlane

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Re: Ambient mic tips for IEMs
« Reply #3 on: March 31, 2014, 11:59:18 am »

Thanks Chris for the helpful tips. 

Any reason why you don't also just duck the shotguns rather than ride them with a VCA? Or even just group the SDC and shotguns for one ambient feed?


Do the musicians really want/need independent mixes of near- versus far- ambient? 

Also, where are you placing the ambient mics, front center in X-Y?  Under or beside the stacks?


Unfortunately my GLD doesn't support sidechains but I have some analog compressors I can throw in the rack and some unused I/O at FOH...  except I just shrunk the FOH rack.

Since the ambient mics are picking up bleed from the mains, would a normal channel compressor work OK without a side chain at all, just use the Ambient mic level as the trigger to cap its output with a low threshold.  Maybe that is what John was suggesting.
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Adam Robinson

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Re: Ambient mic tips for IEMs
« Reply #4 on: March 31, 2014, 11:51:46 pm »

Thanks Chris for the helpful tips. 

Any reason why you don't also just duck the shotguns rather than ride them with a VCA? Or even just group the SDC and shotguns for one ambient feed?


Do the musicians really want/need independent mixes of near- versus far- ambient? 

This is all so personal based on the musician.  I've done tours where the musicians want to be bathed in the ambient sound constantly and other tours where they want to be in their own little cocoon.  Sometimes different people on the same tour want both. 

My MO is typically to assign whatever kind of ambient / audience mic'ing I'm doing to a VCA and ride the level so the musicians can hear feedback (applause, singing along, etc) when it's appropriate, but don't get bombarded with a mess of sound when it's not.  If these shows are one-offs for you (it sounds like you're a house guy and people are bringing stuff in and asking you to mix IEMs for them?), you will never fully be "on the ball" when it comes to these level changes... without knowing the artist's show inside and out, it's impossible to know when to bring them up and down.

Like Chris, I also use combinations of audience mics.  In tour mode, I might use 3 pairs.  In one-off mode it depends -- my main gig is usually a lot of channels, so for one offs I'm only given 2 inputs to keep our total patch to 48.  Again, which mics you use and how you use them is based on what the artist wants to hear.  A shotgun to pick up the roar of the audience... A SDC to pick up some stuff happening right in front of the stage and to get some detail for sing-alongs...

YMMV.
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Mark McFarlane

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Re: Ambient mic tips for IEMs
« Reply #5 on: April 01, 2014, 04:38:27 am »

Thanks Adam. 

FWIW, I do freelance work in a half dozen venues plus a handful of festivals every year.  Some bands are on tour (I never see them again), some local bands I might do 2-3 concerts per year.  In most cases I am running mons from FOH (single GLD), unless the band brings their own IEM rig, or when I hire an A2 for festivals who 'iPad's monitors' from the stage, with mons still run through the FOH GLD.

Sounds like dropping an ambient DCA on the top layer of the GLD is a good way for me to go, for all cases.  If necessary I can feed a bands IEM rig the ambient group from the stage box, the downside being every band will get the same mix of near/far ambient mics, but they can control the level individually.
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Mark McFarlane
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Mark McFarlane

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Re: Ambient mic tips for IEMs
« Reply #6 on: April 05, 2014, 03:22:29 pm »

Where are you placing your ambient mics?

I've settled on 3 mics, 2 ADX-51 sdcs and 1 Rode NTG-1 SDC shotgun (I only have one shotgun)  Ambient mics on a DCA, sent to stereo IEMS as a single mono feed (could only get one channel on the band's monitor rig) and multi-tracked individually.  There will be L+R stacks plus a center fill on the stage lip for my gig this week.
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Chris Johnson [UK]

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Re: Ambient mic tips for IEMs
« Reply #7 on: April 05, 2014, 03:40:09 pm »

Hi Mark,

Apologies for not replying to your questions sooner. I let this thread slip by...

So I should clarify that I am approaching this from the perspective of being a dedicated Monitor Engineer. So I can get into more in-depth IEM ambience because thats basically a big part of my job.

In terms of the near-far thing. The performers aren't generally aware of that aspect of it, but I find that what they want from me, and the ambience, is 2 things:
1) To feel slightly less 'shut-in'. So a bit of general 'gig ambience'
2) To feel the energy of the crowd when they respond.
It has been my personal experience that it is difficult to deliver this without the 2 pairs. Thats just because the 2 types of mics are good at different tasks.

My ambience mics are always SL and SR, somewhere near the front edge. This is mostly a practical consideration though, since thats where I can get them high enough above the audience to get what I want without messing up sightlines.

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Mark McFarlane

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Re: Ambient mic tips for IEMs
« Reply #8 on: April 05, 2014, 03:44:00 pm »

Thanks Chris.
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Mark McFarlane
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Jim McKeveny

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Re: Ambient mic tips for IEMs
« Reply #9 on: April 07, 2014, 08:14:04 am »

Simply put, there are two distinct needs: Ambience and Audience.

How one manages available time and gear budgets affects outcomes. If either of those budgets is bust (or near-bust), the signal chain remains simple - whatever best practice. If those budgets are open, there is much to be explored.
« Last Edit: April 07, 2014, 08:35:27 am by Jim McKeveny »
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Jay Barracato

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Re: Ambient mic tips for IEMs
« Reply #10 on: April 07, 2014, 09:59:40 am »

With no front monitors, lav type mics or I use pro35 mounted on front line mic stands work well and are low profile.

In my world of bluegrass (and cover bands) it seems 3-4 open vocal mics handle the ambient aspect fine. But the players also tend to stand closer to each other than in a large stage rock show.

Sent from my DROID RAZR HD using Tapatalk

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Jim McKeveny

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Re: Ambient mic tips for IEMs
« Reply #11 on: April 07, 2014, 10:34:50 am »

With no front monitors, lav type mics or I use pro35 mounted on front line mic stands work well and are low profile.

You are correct! There is no reason to over-spec mics here. I've seen Neumann TL's and Senni shotguns used (on same show) for IEM capture in a 500 seater. For a signal that is going to be filtered and merely returned to IEMs at a low level it is absurd. Put the cost difference between theoretical top-flight performance and reality-flight performance in the MON mixer's pocket, which is always reality-light.
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Christian Tepfer

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Re: Ambient mic tips for IEMs
« Reply #12 on: April 07, 2014, 11:29:40 am »

I would like to add one aspect of ambience: it's relative.
In big setups I have a pair of ambience mics for the drummer, the keyboarder etc. Plus the audience mics.

Having dedicated ambience mics helps getting a consistent mix of the band with the ambience at the given spot on stage.
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Jay Barracato

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Re: Ambient mic tips for IEMs
« Reply #13 on: April 07, 2014, 01:30:51 pm »

I would like to add one aspect of ambience: it's relative.
In big setups I have a pair of ambience mics for the drummer, the keyboarder etc. Plus the audience mics.

Having dedicated ambience mics helps getting a consistent mix of the band with the ambience at the given spot on stage.

Yep, that was behind my original idra of stashing a mic on their mic stand rather than the more tradition l/r.

Sent from my DROID RAZR HD using Tapatalk

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Mark McFarlane

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Re: Ambient mic tips for IEMs
« Reply #14 on: April 09, 2014, 05:04:58 am »

Do any IEM receivers (body packs) provide for an optional hardwired input e.g. an omni lav worn on the musician's clothing?  If so, anyone tried this setup?
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Mark McFarlane
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Jamie Chappa

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Re: Ambient mic tips for IEMs
« Reply #15 on: April 09, 2014, 05:29:59 am »

Do any IEM receivers (body packs) provide for an optional hardwired input e.g. an omni lav worn on the musician's clothing?  If so, anyone tried this setup?

http://www.guitarcenter.com/Audio-Technica-M2-In-Ear-Wireless-Monitor-System-105004774-i1391363.gc

I use these. Never tried the mic input yet.
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Chris Johnson [UK]

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Re: Ambient mic tips for IEMs
« Reply #16 on: April 09, 2014, 09:24:35 am »

Sensaphonics and ACS IEM drivers can have electronic ambient options via beltpacks.

I have to say though, speaking from professional experience mixing monitors for large concert tours and TV shows, these kinds of things tend not to be used.

I think this is mainly because a good IEM mix shouldn't need additional stage ambience to capture the performance element. You have mics in front of all the instruments right? If the guitar sounds dry because its close miced, add 'verb. If the drums sound too dry, add some overheads. etc...

Ambience, IMO, should really be there to capture the bits that aren't miced. Like the crowd. Most artists switch to IEMs to gain more control over what the hear and reduce stage volume. Adding back lots of local ambience mics would undo that pretty quick...
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Mark McFarlane

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Re: Ambient mic tips for IEMs
« Reply #17 on: April 09, 2014, 03:26:37 pm »

Sensaphonics and ACS IEM drivers can have electronic ambient options via beltpacks.

I have to say though, speaking from professional experience mixing monitors for large concert tours and TV shows, these kinds of things tend not to be used.

I think this is mainly because a good IEM mix shouldn't need additional stage ambience to capture the performance element. You have mics in front of all the instruments right? If the guitar sounds dry because its close miced, add 'verb. If the drums sound too dry, add some overheads. etc...

Ambience, IMO, should really be there to capture the bits that aren't miced. Like the crowd. Most artists switch to IEMs to gain more control over what the hear and reduce stage volume. Adding back lots of local ambience mics would undo that pretty quick...
 

Chris, I readily acknowledge your experience and truly appreciate your guidance.

FWIW, my concept of a lav mic on the musician was to reintroduce some of the normal stimulus they would get if their ears weren't plugged, thereby hopefully removing some occsaional early-adoption objections to 'it just doesn't feel right' (I am working with a guy this weekend whose entire band is on IEMS,except him).  The musicians would still have the benefits of isolation, stage volume control, and detailed mix control of IEMS, but they would also be able to dial in some of the 'pre-IEM' sound.

I didn't mean to propose this as the only ambience mic, just one possible ambience feed combined with near and far audience feeds. 

Perhaps the lav-on-musician approach would work like training wheels for artists who don't immediately take to IEMS, and over the course of several gigs they would slowly dial down the local lav mic.

Just thinking out loud,... I frequently have ideas that don't pan out.
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Mark McFarlane
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Samuel Rees

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Re: Ambient mic tips for IEMs
« Reply #18 on: April 09, 2014, 04:38:51 pm »

The IEMs with simple ambient ports (non-electronic) might accomplish a similar goal (warming someone up to IEMs) but won't require additional RF gear.
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Josh Hana

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Re: Ambient mic tips for IEMs
« Reply #19 on: April 09, 2014, 05:00:58 pm »

I've seen a few acts using lav mics on their lapel, but in setups I've seen, they have only been used as talkback/banter to the rest of the band/crew between songs - not for ambiance. The AT M2 is the only system I know of that has an additional input for an ambiance mic, but it's at the transmitter, not the beltpack.

I have used the Sensaphonics 3D active ambient and they are pretty incredible. Even dialing in just a tiny amount of ambiance can really "open up" the mix. I would imagine it's the same for mics placed individually for each performer. I was never a fan of the shotgun mic approach when I was playing on stage with IEMs, I definitely prefer more LDC from the stage (capturing the first few rows of audience), maybe with a small amount of shotguns picking up the "roar" of the crowd in the distance. But I play bass, so a mix that is a bit heavy on ambiance isn't going to intrude on my mix (which is mostly bass, kick and some mid range keys or guitar)
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Chris Johnson [UK]

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Re: Ambient mic tips for IEMs
« Reply #20 on: April 10, 2014, 04:14:33 am »

FWIW, my concept of a lav mic on the musician was to reintroduce some of the normal stimulus they would get if their ears weren't plugged, thereby hopefully removing some occsaional early-adoption objections to 'it just doesn't feel right' (I am working with a guy this weekend whose entire band is on IEMS,except him).  The musicians would still have the benefits of isolation, stage volume control, and detailed mix control of IEMS, but they would also be able to dial in some of the 'pre-IEM' sound.

Yes, I completely see your point, and I think its a good one.

I didn't mean to suggest that a front of stage pair was the only way, just that a simple approach is normally best and that there is no substitute for starting with a great IEM mix before ambience that captures all the elements of the performance that the artist wants to hear.

But your point about transitioning is a good one.

If you are a musician, and play in a band very regularly or full-time, you are almost certainly doing yourself permanent hearing damage without using in-ears (you may still be with them, but at least the dosage is in your control a bit more). This isn't because everyone has >100dBA stages, but that the risk of hearing damage in our industry is almost entirely caused by long dosages of moderately loud noise (>85dBA, <100dBA), rather than short-term exposure to really loud (>115dBA) sounds.

So getting people onto IEMs is a good idea all round.

I think IEMs with an ambient vent are great, although you want to be able to plug this at a later date if you'd like. The active-ambience systems like the Sensaphonics and ACS systems are ideal, but come at a cost.

That being said, I also think that its near-impossible to expect a full band to have a great IEM experience without either a personal mixing system of some kind, or a monitor engineer. Wedges are quite forgiving, whereas IEMs aren't
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