Brass Advantage with Wayne Downey
Issue 16

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Welcome back to the land of “All Things Brass.” This installment of Brass Advantage is titled “The Art and Science of Miking Brass”.

With the recent passage of the new D.C.I. rule concerning amplification of brass instruments which allows the miking of soloists and small ensembles up to 12 members (implementation 2009), I thought it important to bring hard facts to the table concerning this hotly debated topic.

As with anything I’ve done in my life, I thought it best to enlist an expert in the field of miking and amplification to help us all move into the 21st century.

With that thought in mind I called my dear friend and colleague Mr. Frank Dorritie. Frank’s understanding of the topic is amazing and he’s got the “Grammys” to prove it. Here are some thoughts from the audio master himself…

Full disclosure at the outset: Microphones have been my weapon of choice for over 30 years. I know what they can do, and what they can’t, and that presents a bit of a contradiction. Here it is in a nutshell: horns were never made to be miked and amplified. They were endowed by their creator (whoever she was) with certain inalienable rights, among these the right to be heard across great distance without any artificial enhancement, thank you very much.

When Joshua’s hornline surrounded Jericho in biblical times, the very walls crumbled. (Later, Jim Ott would replicate this with Spirit of Atlanta, without a microphone incidentally.) Pickett’s men were urged by the thousands to charge up that hill (and be properly decimated) by a single bugler. Mahler parted concert goers’ hair by simply beefing up the brass and adding a few well-placed ledger lines to the trumpet parts. (“Louder and higher”, I always say. The “faster” would have to wait for Hoffman and Zingali, at least on the field.)

That said, it is clear that audio technology has pushed the boundaries of expectation in this world to ever greater decibel levels and the microphone is now part of the bag of tricks. That being so, it’s time it was used correctly.

The most important thing about a mic is not its quality but its placement. A great mic in the wrong position won’t sound nearly as good as a Radio Shack Special oriented correctly. Bearing in mind that a little knowledge can be dangerous (“Put your hands up and step away from the microphone!”), it helps to realize that both the distance from the capsule and the angle of approach are equally crucial.

The former concept is self-evident and intuitive. The closer the sound source to the mic, the hotter the level and the less the unwanted leakage. There will always be leakage in a live performance by the way, and that actually adds realism. Unlike humans who can ignore unimportant sounds around us and concentrate on a particular aural cue, the mic hears everything in its environment, assigning emphasis based entirely on the acoustic level presented to it. So getting really close is good, right? Not so fast, cowboy.

The closer you get with your trumpet (indoors or out) the hotter the level and lower the leakage, but Mother Nature introduces some of her immutable laws of Physics to the equation. First off the line there is the Proximity Effect, which boosts the bass components quite unnaturally the closer your bell gets to the mic. The timbre of the instrument has now been sacrificed on the altar of the Volume God. This is known commonly as a “trade off”. There are some (somewhat) effective mitigating strategies, but you’ll need a mixer with EQ and/or a mic with a high-pass filter, as well as some knowledge of how these are effectively used.

Consider also that the mic can only reproduce what it hears, and even that will be done with varying accuracy. What it hears is a trombone at a distance of 6 inches. How would that sound to your ear? That’s how it sounds to the mic.

Then there’s a little number called “Off-Axis Coloration”. Without moving into the realm of rocket science, suffice it to say that for sound to be produced with any degree of accuracy, it must be presented to the microphone diaphragm at an angle of close to 90 degrees. It is necessary to know the orientation of the diaphragm within the mic. Here’s a hint: orienting the mic like an ice cream cone is usually a bad idea. Usually.

So what’s to be done? Seek information from reliable sources. Trial and error are no substitutes for this. There are books, seminars, websites, and courses. Remember Rule 1: The most important thing about the microphone is placement. That’s a start. There’s a lot more where that came from.

As I mentioned before this month’s guest contributor is Frank Dorritie. Frank is a performer, producer, arranger, educator and author. He is known for his work with Dave Brubeck, Wynton Marsalis, the National Cast of Phantom of the Opera and Tito Puente, among others. Nine of his recordings have received Grammy nominations and two of these, "New York Scene" (Art Blakey) and "La Onda Va Bien" (Cal Tjader), won Grammy Awards in Jazz and Latin categories, respectively.

Frank has authored three books on related audio topics: "Spectacular Sound Mixing for Stadium & Arena", “Essentials of Music for Audio Professionals” and “The Handbook of Field recording.”

Here are some reviews of his work.

"Spectacular Sound Mixing for Stadium & Arena" will jump start your sound design!! Marching Bands, Drum Corps and Competitive Indoor Percussion Ensembles alike will all benefit. Learn the "How To" in making your musical ensemble sound like a professional recording.

Frank Dorritie has produced spectacular sound for everyone from the Blue Devils to Brian Boitano. Tap into 4 decades of Audio and Pageantry expertise with this extraordinary handbook.

"A Unique Guide to Superior Performance Sound" Ralph Hardimon, Percussion Arranger, Composer.

"The Bible for Indoor and Outdoor Pageantry Audio" Dave Glyde, Blue Devils D&B Corps, Arranger & Composer.

“Essentials of Music for Audio Professionals”

An exciting and comprehensive self-paced tutorial in general music and theory for anyone interested in:

Sound Engineering
Stage Musical Production and Direction
Audio Production
Recording and Live Audio

"The most concise training course ever written on music fundamentals…" – Mike Lawson, President, Mixbooks…

"Demystifies the process of working with musical notation, arrangements and scores." – ArtistPro

Both these books are available at http://www.xtremebrass.com/

Well that’s about it for this month, don’t forget to check out all the new brass and percussion technique books, marching band warm ups, drum cadences, drumsticks, CDs and DVDs on my website at www.XtremeBrass.com & www.XtremePercussion.com, send your questions or topics to: AskWayneDowney [at] drumcorpsplanet [dot] com?subject=Question%20from%20Drum%20Corps%20Planet.

“Don’t Let The Chance Pass You By”. See Ya Soon…

Wayne

Publisher’s Note:
Wayne Downey is the first of Drum Corps Planet’s panel of subject-matter expert columnists – providing our readers with expert information and insight from the best teachers and leaders in the drum and bugle corps activity. In addition to his long-term role as Music Director of the 12-time DCI World Champion Blue Devils drum and bugle corps – where he’s won 20 Jim Ott awards for "Excellence in Brass Performance", Wayne is distinguished as one of the finest brass teachers/clinicians and arrangers in the world. His work has been featured by some of the world’s most-respected drum corps, high school and collegiate bands – as well as the Tony and Emmy award winning show "Blast" and in feature films. In 1991 Wayne was inducted into the Drum Corps International Hall of Fame for his contributions to the Drum & Bugle Corps activity as the musical director for the
Blue Devils. Wayne’s latest venture – XtremeBrass.com provides brass players of all ages and skill-levels, as well as educators, personalized lessons and access to his championship-winning techniques and methods. We’re honored to have him as one of our contributing columnists. -jmd

About the Author:
Wayne Downey was the first of Drum Corps Planet’s panel of subject-matter expert columnists – providing our readers with expert information and insight from the best teachers and leaders in the drum and bugle corps activity. In addition to his long-term role as Music Director of the 14-time DCI World Champion Blue Devils drum and bugle corps – where he’s won 21 Jim Ott awards for “Excellence in Brass Performance”, Wayne is distinguished as one of the finest brass teachers/clinicians and arrangers in the world. His work has been featured by some of the world’s most-respected drum corps, high school and collegiate bands – as well as the Tony and Emmy award winning show “Blast” and in feature films. In 1991 Wayne was inducted into the Drum Corps International Hall of Fame for his contributions to the Drum & Bugle Corps activity as the musical director for the Blue Devils. Wayne’s latest venture – XtremeBrass.com provides brass players of all ages and skill-levels, as well as educators, personalized lessons and access to his championship-winning techniques and methods.

Posted by on Tuesday, May 20th, 2008. Filed under Brass Advantage.