|Clifford Brown III|
I am very excited to interview my best friend and guru of sound, Clifford Brown III, to give us some sound advice for the professionally performing belly dancer. Clifford is an amazing jazz trumpeter, audio engineer, and grandson to Clifford Brown Sr., one of the inventors of bebop. With his father, Clifford runs Brown Audio Solutions and Services as a sound engineer, and producer. He is an award winning musician, and leader of The Brewing Co. Band Based in San Francisco, CA (http://www.thebrewingco.net)
Q: Thank you so much Cliff for all of the great sound information you are about to give to the belly dance community. Before we start, please tell me a little of what you do at Brown Audio Solutions and Services (BASS).
A: I facilitate musicians, artists, dancers, entrepreneurs, basically anyone who wants to get a message to masses whether it be by music or voice. They want to tell a story and we get it out to the public and we do it in an efficient and cost effective way that retains whatever artistic vision the client has in mind.
Q: You have quite a bit of experience setting up sound for live music. Can you tell us a little about that?
A:. My band ended up having a lot of sound problems at shows.Sound engineers would call an hour before the performance and not show up. So I ended up having to take on that task myself most of the time and I figured there was a better way to do it. I took on a few engineers as interns and taught them the trade and we came up with a holistic approach with band image in mind to try and get sound set up. Same thing can occur with dancers. Sound engineers and dancers can pair up. It doesn’t have to be someone there with you dancing, but can be someone in a store that you partner with and they look at new gear that comes out on a yearly basis and determine the best set up for your performing needs. Its very important that this person has the ability to let you try the gear before you buy it. Whether you try it out in store or often they are willing and able to bring it to your show.
|The Brewing Co. at Velma’s in San Francisco|
Q: From your experience setting up sound for shows, what sort of sound system would you suggest to a belly dancer entertaining a birthday party in a house with 25-50 guests? What things should be taken into consideration when deciding what sound system to bring to a gig?
A: With that number of guests in an informal setting, seating themes are important to your sound design. A lot of times guests will either be seated at tables or mingling. If you can determine beforehand how the guests will be watching the show it will help you differentiate how you will set up your sound system. You are going to need at least a 150 watt system and mounted on poles if the guests will be standing. If the guests are standing, you need to diversify the sound throughout the venue and get the sound up high so its not absorbed by peoples bodies, cloths or furnishings. Other things to take into consideration are guest density (a tightly packed room will absorb more sound than a sparsely packed room) and the performance room shape.
Q: How does your suggestion change for a belly dance performance in a banquet room with 50-200 people?
A: For banquet rooms, you can either put your speakers on a stage or mount them on poles. Banquet rooms in general your guests are going to be seated so you don’t have to worry so much about guests moving in front of the speakers, but having speakers in the front and the back of the room would help because banquet rooms are usually lager. Banquet Rooms also have higher ceilings than most common homes and more reflective floors. these things can make a single sound source echo or reverberate all over the place.
Q. What would be an ideal setup for good sound in a banquet room?
A: Ideally, you would want 2 400 watt speakers in the front and at least 200-250 watt speakers in the rear. For your basic PA setup that you would buy at Guitar Center or Sweetwater or any of those online stores, you want to look for 300-400 watts per speaker.
|Live music by Kardash at Enrico’s in San Francisco|
Q. For a house party, what are the differences between using a boom box and a powered speaker cabinet (PA)?
A: Boomboxes are notoriously prone to fail. They are really not meant to be used like they were in the 80’s anymore. People don’t walk around with boomboxes on their shoulders. When you start moving a boombox around from place to place, you either lose parts or connections become frazzled or cords become disconnected from where they are supposed to be. Things just stop working. Having a PA system that is built to be portable and built to be setup and taken down repeatedly will give you more reliability.
Q: Something I had trouble with when selecting my stereo system was whether to go with one or two speakers. Two are definitely more difficult to carry around, but what are the advantages to having two speakers with regard to sound quality?
A: Most of the stuff that you are dancing to is going to be stereo sound so hopefully it will do what is called summing to mono correctly. If the person who made the music took the time to make sure that the music will work well with one speaker, then you don’t have a problem. However, if the person who wrote the music and recorded it didn’t take that into consideration, then you could end up with a situation with one speaker where no one can hear your music because it doesn’t sum to mono correctly. You may end up with just lead vocals or just tambourine instead of tabla and tambourine. So that is a big one and if you are playing from an iPod to one speaker that can happen a lot and that is called a phase issue or panning problem. Professionally produced music doesn’t normally have that issue, but we are in the age where so many things are taken from the internet and YouTube that you just can’t be sure. Having two speakers will also allow you to strategically place them in the room so in case you have audience members that decide to stand in front of one of them the other people can still hear from the unblocked speaker. The best reason in my mind is that if you have 2 you can always leave one at home. But sometimes its very difficult to find a matching speaker when that last minute gig comes up.
Q: Any tips or tricks to setting up two speakers? Should they be straight on or angled?
A: Speakers should be at a 30 degree spread from where you want people to hear the music. So if you picture a triangle with a 30 degree angle and the other edges would be the end of your dance floor, you want to set your speakers so they get maximum coverage with that 30 degree angle throughout your audience. For example, if your speakers are spread too far apart, the people in the middle of your performing area won’t hear anything because the 30 degree angles won’t intersect till say 10-15 feet out from the speakers. To prevent feedback if you have a microphone make sure that you aren’t able to directly hear the speaker. If the mic doesn’t either you wont get squeals.
|Good speaker placement for belly dance show
Image modified from: MagicRoadie.com
|Bad speaker placement for belly dance show
Image modified from: MagicRoadie.com
Q: The speakers I bought have two placement options, either straight up and down or on their side angled up. What positioning should I use?
A: Those speakers are versatile in use. When they are placed on the floor angled up, it is usually what is called a wedge form. Most people use that as a stage monitor for performing. So if you need to hear yourself, it is a good way to position the speaker so it won’t interfere with the microphone and cause feedback. If you are using the speaker for an audience you normally want to have them up as high as you can get them which means the tweeter is going to be above the woofer and the speaker is going to be standing up tall.
Q: When buying a stereo, what should be considered when looking at all the options? What brands should we look at, what brands do we watch out for?
A: You know, it is funny because most of the brands are made in the same factory in China and Singapore just like computers. What you are looking for with your brand selection is warranty, support, service and responsiveness. When you go buys speakers you want to make sure that when they do break, because they will, that you can take them somewhere and have them repaired and serviced. I’ll give you a little secret used in the industry. There is a company called Seismik Audio that has contracted with a lot of manufacturers overseas that make Yamaha, Aiwa, and Sony speakers, They sell the same speakers for quite a bit less with a different badge on them online. So you can get Seismik audio speakers that are comparable to just about any of those other brands if you want to compare apples to apples as far as what is exactly in the box. I don’t work for or have any agreement with seismic, i just think there a good off brand company.
Q: Some of my clients want to use their iPod alarm clock docks because they are concerned that moving speakers into a room would ruin the surprise? Now that I have a nice sound system that will make my performance even higher in quality, what can I do to keep the surprise?
A: If your system is of a decent level, you can probably hide it in a closet and it will be heard just fine as soon as you open the door. So there is no reason to ruin the surprise by having speakers in the middle of a room. If your system is adequately designed, you should have plenty of options as far as where you are going to place that system. If you have some time at the party when the guest of honor isn’t around, you can sneak the speakers in and position them without much notice because the party itself will be distracting. You really
want to have quality sound and again, so many things can go wrong with boomboxes and iPod docks.
Q: Any final thoughts?
A: It may be worth paying someone $20 or $30 to watch your gear while you dance. You never know when a drunk guest is going to want to play DJ. This also give you someone to help carry all your gear. Gruvgear makes great carts for performers, check them out. Interns and assistants are a great asset and they get to learn everything without being the one in the hot seat. Use all the resources available to you as a performer to make your life easier. If it seems like your doing things the hard way. You probably are. Trust yourself.
Thank you Cliff for this great information on performance sound set up! If you have any questions for Cliff, please post them in the comment box. If you would like to hire Cliff for sound engineering consultation, help with sound set-up (if you are located in the San Francisco Bay Area), or even to make a professional re-mix of your gig music, please visit his website at http://www.brownaudio.com for contact information.
Check out The Brewing Co.’s new album on iTunes!
Please stay tuned for the final installment of the Sound Advice for the Professionally Performing Belly Dancer series; my review of the Yamaha Stagepas portable PA system
Missed Part I? Read it here: Sound Advice for the Professional Performing Belly Dancer Part I