To mic or not to mic, that is the question

Discussions relating to the classical guitar which don't fit elsewhere.
edwardsguitar
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To mic or not to mic, that is the question

Post by edwardsguitar » Tue Jul 12, 2016 7:04 pm

As far as I know, Segovia never used a microphone in performance. The first guitarist I heard use one in concert was Christopher Parkening (in 1973); it was at floor level and very discreet. It seems to me perhaps we have lost the ability to listen intently? I'm curious about how people feel regarding this ubiquitous feature of modern performance. If anyone should have used a microphone, it was Segovia; I attended a concert where the hall held 2,500 people, and it was full. Needless to say I didn't hear much. However, I think it's fair to say the majority of modern guitar concerts are held in much smaller halls, and yet we often hear the guitar with sound "enhancement". I find it irritating when it occurs, because to my ears no matter how good the system, (and it usually is not good) the sound of the guitar is changed; and not for the better. I played some concerts this year with a string quartet, and used no amplification; people seemed to appreciate it. I submit that both players and audiences have become lazy. I also submit that perhaps I am just an old curmudgeon. At any rate, I wonder how others feel about this.

Andrew Pohlman
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Re: To mic or not to mic, that is the question

Post by Andrew Pohlman » Tue Jul 12, 2016 7:54 pm

Mic'ing and/or amplification is just realistic in our modern times. The audience has an expectation that they will actually hear the performer. Furthermore, one of guitar's issues is limited volume, especially noticeable in group settings. Using your Segovia example, if he was a new star today, and he tried to perform without some kind of system, nobody would pay to "see" him, because they couldn't hear him.

There is no problem being a purist and only playing the guitar without any form of sound reinforcement. But if you do, you will be limited to "intimate" and living room sized venues. I've played parties just like that. The music is only background as the conversation is louder. My last performance was in a large room with lots of stuffed chairs and couches. I used a mic. Another performer chose not to. Nobody could hear him, even the ones up front. I can't believe the performer's goal is NOT to be heard.

My personal preference is mics over amps, as you can get mics to preserve the sound much better than pickups and amps, which is an endless argument in and of itself...
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edwardsguitar
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Re: To mic or not to mic, that is the question

Post by edwardsguitar » Tue Jul 12, 2016 8:38 pm

Thank you Andrew, I should have made the question more specific; I'm referring to concerts. I agree that for gigs and background music it is most often necessary to amplify.

stevel
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Re: To mic or not to mic, that is the question

Post by stevel » Tue Jul 12, 2016 9:09 pm

edwardsguitar wrote: It seems to me perhaps we have lost the ability to listen intently?
That has nothing to do with using a microphone or not.
I submit that both players and audiences have become lazy. I also submit that perhaps I am just an old curmudgeon.
The latter :-)

or, rather, you're placing blame where blame does not belong.

This is a multi-layered and complex problem.

Actually, I take that back. It's about money.

The reason you couldn't hear Segovia is because the concert promoters were savvy enough to know that the "classical guitar craze" even of that small a magnitude would be short-lived and needed to be taken advantage of - they needed to strike while the iron was hot. So they put someone like Segovia in a hall that was too big for one reason and one reason only - to sell more tickets.

The reason why someone like Parkening would be mic'd is, once promoters exploited this gold mine, they were also savvy enough to know that the grumbles of audiences who "couldn't hear" in such large venues would soon turn into lower ticket sales, so rather than do something "musical" or "artistic" like use an appropriately designed venue, they would amplify the performer instead. That way, they could use even larger venues - and even improperly designed venues, and sell more tickets.

Promoters are also savvy enough to know that most people know nothing about music, and go to SEE an artist, not HEAR them. While this is less true in "artistically-based" genres like classical music (as opposed to pop for example) it it still true.

"mr. edwardsguitar", you can play in this acoustically perfect venue for 20 people, and we'll pay you $100, or you can play in the horrible sounding hall and use a microphone for 20,000 people and we'll pay you $7,200".

Which gig would you take? The "artist" might want to take the first gig - but what if you can share your art with a much larger audience - an audience that would also buy your recordings (more money) and as a noble cause, that would help to educate even more people about this style of music?

Many people might be able to put aside their artistic standards for those other benefits. And, your artistic standard of performance could still be at the same level. So it's not that bad of an all around deal.

We can teach them about sound quality once we get them into the fold - but we have to get them into the fold first - and we do that by giving them access to something they might not otherwise have access to or be aware of.

We might draw an analogy with Television. Every single person is not going to be listening on some super high quality sound system - many would just simply listen on the TV's simple, mono speaker. But wouldn't you rather see a classical guitarist on TV every night of the week than most of the junk that's on TV?

I'm sorry, but the HD quality of "naked alaskan swamp truckers" doesn't make the content any more culturally relevant.

I'd rather see a mediocre image and sound of a truly great artist every night on TV. That might get people to at least investigate culture rather then thinking Honey Boo Boo is something to aspire to.

If we can spread great art to more people, I say do it. MIc it.

With modern technology, we can actually do it very well. There, it's not an issue to me - it's a logistical need - and a cultural imperative.

Steve

MessyTendon
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Re: To mic or not to mic, that is the question

Post by MessyTendon » Tue Jul 12, 2016 9:36 pm

I have thought about this extensively and I think guitar amplification often does more harm than good. However a microphone plugged into a PA is going to be a necessary evil and a requirement if the room is large enough to fit over a few hundred people.


The sound enhancing of the idiot operators at the mixing board are really annoying. I suppose sometimes it depends on the gear and the hall. I heard a concert where very old Altec horns were the primary PA speakers...just to large cabinets and big horns, the sound was great.

I do believe we need better quality classical guitar amplifiers. I think it's better to play under amplified to an audience that listens, than to overpower the entire range of sound just so that everyone can hear it.

No matter how you slice it the classical guitar is an instrument with wimpy projection.

edwardsguitar
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Re: To mic or not to mic, that is the question

Post by edwardsguitar » Wed Jul 13, 2016 3:14 pm

"No matter how you slice it the classical guitar is an instrument with wimpy projection."

I don't think that true when it's in the right hands. Segovia, Barrios, and many others in the days before amplification would never have had careers if that was so. However, that was certainly Miguel Llobet's perspective.

Philosopherguy
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Re: To mic or not to mic, that is the question

Post by Philosopherguy » Wed Jul 13, 2016 4:52 pm

The problem is that if we follow the same logic of not using a mic in a performance, you might as well just say that we never want to colour the sound of the guitar and therefore, all guitar recordings should find their way swiftly in the trash as well. If you think about it that way, I don't think many would really support the latter idea. If you don't support that recordings should go in the trash because the sound has been "coloured", then why not "colour" the sound with a mic at a venue to bring out more nuances of the playing?

The reality is that you can actually have pretty good sound if you are willing to pay someone good to work the sound reinforcement equipment and have reasonable level stuff. It's only when you start to add too much compression and overly saturated signal processing that things start to get a little muddled and sound "unnatural".

I think having a good mic and some sound reinforcement is only going to help bring out your musicianship if its done right. Depending on the size of the hall, you might just want to "supplement" the sound a little and not fully replace the guitar sound with overpowering levels and you get a mix of both worlds. Plenty of good ideas out there for good sound. You just have to pay a little money for decent people/equipment.
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mmapag
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Re: To mic or not to mic, that is the question

Post by mmapag » Wed Jul 13, 2016 11:59 pm

I have heard several concert performances by name players that were mic'd. It was done subtly and tastefully. It in no way detracted from the performance. It was not even noticed, except possibly by those in the back rows who could actually hear the performance. I had conversations with the techs who set up the room in a couple of instances. The artist had others play their instrument during sound check at times to insure they could hear what the room was hearing. I think the result was summed up rather nicely in the last paragraph of Philosopherguy's post. I am kind of ironically amused by those that beat their breast and somehow think this volume enhancement is somehow "unpure". We accept the advance of technology in other ways. Why not in classical guitar concerts?
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R.V.S.
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Re: To mic or not to mic, that is the question

Post by R.V.S. » Thu Jul 14, 2016 1:07 am

Audiences have become louder. In a decent sized concert hall, they expect the sound output of a concert to be loud enough that they can speak softly with their friends. This significantly ups the noise floor.

It's also courteous to those with hearing impairment to provide a decent sound level.

As a few others have pointed out, the problem isn't with amplification, it's with poor amplification. Most PAs are terrible, most venues have cheap mics, and even many otherwise good mics don't work well on a classical guitar (most audio techs aren't savvy to the unique requirements of the instrument).

The appropriate mic that's properly set up and is going through a quality PA system with well set-up speakers can be remarkably neutral, or it can enhance the best qualities of a guitar, if that's desired. Personally, I like the added sustain and subdued attack that amplification can provide (through subtle compression).

AndreiKrylov

Re: To mic or not to mic, that is the question

Post by AndreiKrylov » Thu Jul 14, 2016 1:55 pm

edwardsguitar wrote:As far as I know, Segovia never used a microphone in performance. The first guitarist I heard use one in concert was Christopher Parkening (in 1973); it was at floor level and very discreet. It seems to me perhaps we have lost the ability to listen intently? I'm curious about how people feel regarding this ubiquitous feature of modern performance. If anyone should have used a microphone, it was Segovia; I attended a concert where the hall held 2,500 people, and it was full. Needless to say I didn't hear much. However, I think it's fair to say the majority of modern guitar concerts are held in much smaller halls, and yet we often hear the guitar with sound "enhancement". I find it irritating when it occurs, because to my ears no matter how good the system, (and it usually is not good) the sound of the guitar is changed; and not for the better. I played some concerts this year with a string quartet, and used no amplification; people seemed to appreciate it. I submit that both players and audiences have become lazy. I also submit that perhaps I am just an old curmudgeon. At any rate, I wonder how others feel about this.
Is it still a question? Seems like You answered it yourself... :) describing one particular performance.
It is 21st century now... there are lot more options and possibilities to make it sound nice than in 1973. Myself i played in 1970-s and 1980--s not amplified but nowadays? No. I prefer to use mics etc.

John Ross

Re: To mic or not to mic, that is the question

Post by John Ross » Thu Jul 14, 2016 4:30 pm

edwardsguitar wrote:no matter how good the system... the sound of the guitar is changed;
The sound of the guitar is changed, and considerably, by:
- the acoustics of the venue (see I Am Sitting in a Room)
- your ears, which are far less keen than they were, particularly but not only in the top frequencies, and could really do with some help from a bit of amplification and equalisation and that clever young man who knows how to use all those sliders and knobs and things on the sound desk.
- your mind and frame of mind. Hopefully, the latter will be improved as you listen to the music, of course, especially if you've had a good stiff drink before the show. Better yet, have two, then you won't mind about the amplification.
and not for the better.
Seriously, are we quite sure it isn't? Frankly, I'm inclined to think sound engineering is on that long list of things that everyone thinks they could do better than the man who is actually doing it.

edwardsguitar
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Re: To mic or not to mic, that is the question

Post by edwardsguitar » Thu Jul 14, 2016 5:04 pm

Thanks for the responses; interesting viewpoints all. I see my Segovia anecdote clouded the issue. I just found it ironic that a man filling 2,500 seat halls didn't mic, and many playing in good acoustic venues to audiences of well under 500, do. And of course microphones are part of the recording process, and it's a wonderful thing; but I'm interested in live performance of solo guitar here. So the Segovia illustration wasn't helpful, because I rather doubt playing to audiences of that size happens much anymore. It's a personal decision for me not to use a mic; I'm not trying to tell anyone else what to do. I'm just interested in other perspectives, and I hope more people weigh in on the subject. There was a particular example of this that struck me, from a few years ago. At a guitar festival, featuring top international performers; concerts were being held in a 400 seat hall with good, but not great acoustics. The sound engineers put microphones in front of all the performers, and oddly the speakers were suspended from the ceiling; so we saw the player but the sound was coming from about 30 feet above; with plenty of reverb. In between shows I overheard a couple of the performers talking about how yes, in this type of hall (theater) you must use a microphone. So they all went along with it. The featured and final artist was Pepe Romero, who refused the mic. His was the best concert of the festival for me, not because of his playing (which was wonderful), but because of the intimacy and magic he created by playing without the amplification. His connection with the audience was palpable. And everyone heard him very well, with all the nuances; it was a special moment. For me at least; it's something to think about.

ben etow
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Re: To mic or not to mic, that is the question

Post by ben etow » Fri Jul 15, 2016 3:08 pm

MessyTendon wrote:I do believe we need better quality classical guitar amplifiers. I think it's better to play under amplified to an audience that listens, than to overpower the entire range of sound just so that everyone can hear it.

No matter how you slice it the classical guitar is an instrument with wimpy projection.
I completely agree, but I tried Jean-Luc Joie's amp system... A comprehensive approach to the problem which results in excellent tone colour (as beautiful as the guitar without amp), and enhanced dynamics and sustain.
I know it is unbelievable, I couldn't believe myself, but I heard it - playing and hearing someone else playing.

BreamFan

Re: To mic or not to mic, that is the question

Post by BreamFan » Sat Jul 16, 2016 12:28 pm

For what its worth ....

I saw Yo-Yo Ma at the PROMS last year ....he played the complete Cello Suites in the Albert Hall with a single Cello and NO MICROPHONES were used.

I was being recorded for broadcast naturally but for us in the hall there was no amplification.

It was quiet - but it sounded lovely.

khayes
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Re: To mic or not to mic, that is the question

Post by khayes » Sat Jul 16, 2016 3:54 pm

BreamFan wrote:For what its worth ....

I saw Yo-Yo Ma at the PROMS last year ....he played the complete Cello Suites in the Albert Hall with a single Cello and NO MICROPHONES were used.

I was being recorded for broadcast naturally but for us in the hall there was no amplification.

It was quiet - but it sounded lovely.
I'm not sure I understand your point - you're comparing a cello to a guitar. Quite a difference in volume capability and sustain, even at quiet levels.
Ken

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