Norm's "Sound" Advice
July 8, 2000

T his article is intended for those unfortunates who man the PA's during a Karaoke Show. You may be a one-man show trying to balance everything needed to make your show a hit, or be the Sound Person of a multi-person show. In either case the same advice applies, "LISTEN".

We are in a business were the main thrust, whether we like it or not, is to fill the venue and keep it full. People like to hear well presented music, be it a Recording, Band or Karaoke and when they find such a place they return time and time again. This also applies to the singers. They are there to sing, but the majority of their time at the venue, will be sitting and listening to the other singers. If what they hear is not pleasing they will not return, no matter how fast the turn-around may be.

There are three main factors contributing to 'good' music at a Karaoke Show;

  • The Singer,
  • The Equipment, and
  • The Mix

First off its obvious, that the better the singer the more people will want to return and listen to them sing. But alas, we in the Karaoke Show biz have no control over the quality of the singers, which make the next two points so much more important.

Second on the list, is the Equipment. If you want a singer to sound like they are singing a number off their 45th number 1 hit record, then your equipment must be as close to the quality found in the leading recording studios and production houses, as you can possibly afford. Here money is most defiantly an obstacle, as most of us poor KJ's can't even come close. But, we should strive to get the best that we can, because the bottom line is - the closer you get, the better the singer will sound and the more repeat business (singers and listeners) will be obtained.

Now for the Coupe-De-Gras, the Mix. This is the Sound Persons domain and here we have control, where the bottom line is simple. No matter how great your singers and your equipment might be, if the mix is bad, the music will disappoint your customers, and they won't return.

So, now we come to the real crux of the situation, as stated above the key to good sound is "LISTEN". Listen to radios, CDs, records, bands or anything that produces professional quality mixed music. Break the music into components and compare them against the lead vocals. Listen to how much louder the Singer is compared to the drums, the background singers, the guitars, the pianos, etc. Listen to the Singer, how much are their voices modified by effects such as reverb. Analyze every combination of instrument with each other within the song you listen to, until you can FEEL the mix.

Then comes the hard part. You must take all that feeling into the venue and try to duplicate it for each singer. Every Karaoke disk manufacturer does things different and every singer has a different style and ability. So the first thing to realize is that you can't just set your Mix for yourself or your Host(s) and figure you are done for the night. When a song is started, the first thing to "LISTEN" for is your volume. Is it the same intensity for every song? Is it so loud as to hurt (this I have found in many Karaoke's and is one of the biggest failures)? Is it so soft, that the people in the back of the room can't hear it? The best way to address this point is to get out on the floor, definitely during the first few songs and then every once in a while during the show just to make sure things haven't drifted.

One other common failure is the use of effects. Reverb, the most common effect, should be used with care. To little, and the singer will sound cold and hard and the vocal flaws will be quite noticeable. Too much, and the singer will sound like they're singing in the middle of the Grand Canyon. Each song is different, but the general rule is that you want just enough reverb to be noticeable when there is no background music, and just barely noticeable when there is background music.

Another point to consider is that you are immersed in the loudest area in the venue. As the show goes on your ears will become numb, even if you don't notice it. It is a good practice, during long songs, to slip away to a quite area and let your ears rest. This may be stepping outside, or into a different room. "LISTEN" to what you can hear. Barriers muffle the mix but it should still sound good. If the singer or the background music is to loud the difference will be more noticeable through a barrier. When you re-enter the main room "LISTEN" for your volume. If it hit's you in the face, it's to loud and you would be turning away any new arrivals as soon as they entered. It should be loud to cover the audience noise and to get the blood pumping, but not painful.

One thing to also be aware of is that people absorb sound. This means that if you have an empty room at the start of the show, as it fills up with customers you will need to increase your volume. You must get out on the floor to confirm that you have increased it sufficiently but not over much. If the crowd dwindles, pull back on the volume, then again, get out on the floor and "LISTEN".

The next and probably the most important part is to "LISTEN" to the singer, all through their song , not just for the first few bars. This, most times, means splitting your attention between numerous things. You must train yourself to always be aware of your mix, and don't be afraid of interrupting a discussion with a customer or boss to tweak the mix if you notice something amiss.

This is where all your practice at listening comes in. Does your mix "FEEL" and 'sound like' a Recorded Track. Close your eyes and "LISTEN". Does what your hearing sound like something on the Radio, or your CD player at home? If not, try and discern what is different. Not enough reverb, too much reverb, the singer is singing too softly or too loudly, can't hear the music track, whatever, and try to tweak the system to overcome the cause. You have all sorts of knobbies and buttons to play with, use them. Gently, but don't be afraid to use them, that's what they're there for.

In closing, remember that mixing sound is an ART and like "SEEING" is what a great painter requires, "LISTENING" is what a great sound person must develop. The technical details on your equipment and tools you can learn from a book, but the final result is the feeling that you put into it.

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