Mic Placement and EQ
Caller | Piano | Fiddle | Guitar
Flute/Whistle | Mandolin | Bass | Accordion/Concertina
Hammered Dulcimer | Bodhran | Banjo
We're going to consider these two topics together, since they strongly interact, and there would otherwise be two sections for each instrument. We'll also add monitor level hints for specific instruments.
Sound from voices and instruments is composed of the fundamental frequency (the perceived note) and overtones. The chart below shows the fundamental frequency ranges popular dance band instruments. It is crucial to realize, however, that most of what makes us hear a fiddle as being different from a flute (for example) is contained in the overtones. So this chart is a nice starting point, but don't assume that nothing important is going on outside these ranges!
Throughout this section we'll refer to dB settings for EQ. dB stands for decibel, a term used to measure relative size of signal levels. If your EQ knobs aren't marked in dB (many aren't), a good approximation is that straight up is 0 dB, 9 o'clock is -9 dB, and 3 o'clock is +9 dB. Leave the EQ flat unless otherwise stated. The best EQ is no EQ!
My general rule to figure out how to mic an instrument is based on an idea from Paul Prestopino, sound guru extraordinaire of the Princeton area. Paul's Rule is 'if you want to find the best place for a mic, act like a mic'. That is, use your ear as a mic, to explore the area around the instrument and see what quality and volume of sound is coming from each place. Get close and put your finger in your other ear to ensure you're hearing the direct sound.Caller
Use a mic made for vocals, such as an SM-58. Beginning callers may need to be coached that the mic is directional and needs to be held within 6 inches and pointed at their mouth. Don't try to address this by boosting the gain.
I generally cut the bass 6-9 dB and boost the treble about 3 dB for callers, although voices differ. It's counter-intuitive, but often women need the bass cut more than men. The caller is almost never in the monitor. You should establish a standard channel to always use for the caller; I use channel 1.
Watch out for callers who also play an instrument, and ask you for a second mic. If the mics aren't placed exactly right, you can run into trouble from phase cancellation, making their voice or instrument sound thin. This is a general problem for anyone who requests a second mic, in addition to running more general stage noise through the 2nd mic all the time they're not using it.
Even some good callers treat mics and cables as if they were indestructible and expendible. They will often pace back and forth in time with the calls on top of the cable as if it weren't even there! Sometimes this can be your fault, if you haven't dressed all the cables properly to make enough room - make sure you do. If they still 'tread on you', diplomatically try to help them break the habit.Piano
It's much easier to make a piano sound bad with two mics than to make it sound any better than it does with one, due to phase cancellation, the added background noise, and potential feedback problems with extra mics.
Some dance pianos are truly horrid, and may require eq; but listen carefully first to give it a fair shake and make sure it doesn't just need to be louder. A good electronic piano will sound better to the dancers than a real piano, as well as being portable and cheaper to keep in tune. But most players dislike them.
If you put any piano in the monitor, keep it low. And you may want to make a standard for yourself, such as the piano is always channel 2, or alternatively, the last channel on the right, since it's an instrument you'll almost always have, and want to access frequently without stopping to figure out which channel it is on.
Despite the variety in fiddles and fiddlers, the best place 90% of the time is directly over the bridge. If you could put the mic in the fiddler's nostril pointing at the back of the bridge, 2" away, it would be ideal. For this reason, as well as physical comfort and convenience, I've been encouraging fiddlers to use small condenser clip-on mics instead. The Audio Technica Pro 7a, about $120 with a miniature gooseneck clip (AT 8418 Unimount) is a good choice.
Close to the opening of an f-hole is the second-most common spot. Never aim the mic at the tailpiece - it sounds harsh. And don't put the mic way up high. This cuts down on volume and tone more than it reduces scratchiness.
Don't cut back too much of the highs. These are what gives a good dance fiddler the exciting articulation and ornamentation that propels the dancers. People are always scared of fiddles being screechy, so they tend to overdo this.
Flute and Whistle
Don't ever put bass in the monitor. Its low tones spread very well on stage without it, and the typical monitor setup can't handle its low notes.
Scourge Instrument Section:
The best spot to mic virtually all banjos is at about 5:00 on the head (using the neck as 12:00, looking from the front), about 1" in from the rim, as close to the head as the player can comfortably keep it. This works well for 5-string (oldtime or bluegrass), tenor, and even banjo mandolin. Runnerup is pointed edge-on to the rim at 7:00.