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My So-Called Second Life - Part VI

Yesterday I covered the most complicated part about playing virtual concerts over the Internet, or in essence, webcasting. I talked about the free software known as SHOUTcast, which allows hundreds of thousands of people around the world to setup their own Internet radio stations and stream their music in real time from their choice of sound sources to the world waiting to listen. 

That's the toughest part, really. And that said, its not really so hard. If you get the streaming information from either renting it from a SHOUTcast service provider, or the host of your concert event. Put the info into your streaming software (either WinAmp for Windows users, or Nicecast for Mac users), choosing what you want the sound source to be (you audio card/device), then hit Start and you're sending audio. The person hosting your concert will take care of putting the stream info into the Media tab of the land settings for Second Life. With that, you're show has started. Everything you say, every note you sing or play, is getting sent out to the SHOUTcast server and fed into the Second Life land where you're performing. 

But it doesn't stop there. You need to make sure you're producing a great sound to begin with or people are not going to enjoy the show no matter how talented you may be. For this, you need the right gear, even the right inexpensive minimal gear, and you need a basic understanding of how to use it.

First of all, let's talk microphones. Doing a live concert over Second Life is akin to webcasting a recording session. Nobody with any experience recording would make the suggestion that a singer use a live microphone, that is, a dynamic microphone like the trusty Shure SM-58, for cutting vocal tracks. There are rare exceptions where famous singers use an SM-58 in the studio, like Bono, but you are not Bono and you don't have Joe Chiccarelli engineering your vocal session. 

This means one thing. Condenser microphones. The kind that need 48v phantom power to make them work. You will want a large diaphragm condenser microphone for your vocals, and for my tastes, your acoustic guitar as well. These microphones produce clarity and provide detail in your vocals. They are designed for recording, and they are the kind of microphones you'd find in a radio station control room as well. You can choose from all kinds of wonderful large diaphragm mikes these days, priced even under $100, made in China, that do a remarkable job for their costs. Some good choices are MXL, ADK, CAD, etc. I suggest you visit a music retailer that has a variety to choose from, ask them to plug them into a recording device that's similar to your own recording device, grab a set of headphones, and test them all out until you find the one that makes your voice sound great without any processes or EQ'ing. Don't have them plug it into some expensive microphone pre-amp or tube pre-amp or other device that you don't own. You want to find out what the microphone is going to sound like in your own setting. 

I use a Violet large diaphragm condenser microphone, a model called "The Globe." Its pretty pricey compared to what most might spend, but its not as expensive as high-end Neumann U87 or other top-shelf mikes. It sounds amazing with my voice. I think it street prices out around $1500.00. If I were buying a microphone just for performing in Second Life, it wouldn't be my first choice simply because of the costs. I have them for my recording studio, and have the luxury of using it in Second Life because I already own it.

Let's talk mike placement and pop filters. I strongly suggest you buy a pop-filter to help guard against plosives from the letters P and B when you're singing and talking. It attaches to the mike stand and should be positioned about two inches out from the grill of the mike. You should position the microphone so that you are about six inches or so away from the pop filter. Adjust the input gain on your audio device so that you stay safely in the "green" on your VU meter or LED meter, at your highest signing volume. There is nothing sexy about a digitally distorted signal. If you go into the yellow, its a warning that you're getting close to the red. When you hit the red, it gets ugly. Real ugly. Keep it green, keep it clean, that's my motto. 

Now, for miking the acoustic guitar, you can choose between a small or large diaphragm condenser microphone. I personally prefer large diaphragm mikes on acoustic guitars, depending on the mike setup. I play either my trusty Gibson SJ-200 or my Epiphone Masterbilt EF500RA model in my Von Johin concerts on Second Life. I mike each one in an identical manner.

I place a large diaphragm condenser mike about 5" or so away from the fretboard, and I point the mike at the 5th to 7th fret. I find that, especially with the SJ-200, if I get too close to the sound hole, I will get a boomy, unpleasant sound. So while obvious thinking might be to mike the sound hole, its not the right choice if you want a clean, crisp acoustic sound. Start up on the fret board around the 5th to 7th fret with your large or small diaphragm mike, about 5" or so away from the fret board. Put on your headphones and listen to the sound as you play. Move the mike up and down the fret board until you find its sweet spot, because your guitar might produce a different one than mine. 

For a nice stereo microphone placement on my acoustic, I prefer to use a small diaphragm condenser microphone pointed at the top of the sound board of the guitar, near the butt-end of it, and about 12"-15" or so away from it. I think pan the two mikes apart to create a nice stereo separation of the two microphones, adjusting the panning while I listen in the headphones until I get just the right sound. And as with the advice on the input level for vocals, same rules apply, keep it in the top of the green at the highest volume you will be playing.

The sum of the two or more devices input into your device should come out through the stereo main outputs you send to the stream. However, some audio devices treat their outputs as a hard left and right pan. The Digidesign 002 and others do that. This means that I can't actually control the panning, etc. for the stereo outputs, and when I first started playing in Second Life, my vocal mike was showing up in the left side, my guitar mike in the right. That might work for old Beatles records, but its not a good choice for live shows. Because the Pro Tools hardware doesn't let you control it outside of Pro Tools with a software mixer interface like you might enjoy with other audio interface brands, like Presonus, or MOTU. To get around this, I bought a small eight channel table-top mixer from Yamaha, and I run my mikes into it, pre-mix my sound, then send the stereo outs of it into the channels one and two of my 002, which gives me the ability to control the mix completely before it gets to the audio device I'll be streaming, and also lets me easily introduce other things into the signal path, such as a stereo compressor which has a limiter activated and keeps me from accidently clipping during my performances.

So that's about it, really. You need a recording audio device, which can be PCI, PCIe, USB, Firewire, whatever you have, that can send two channels of sound to the SHOUTcast server, with software to connect the audio device to the SHOUTcast server (WinAmp or Nicecast), 

Posted: 12/4/2008 1:18:13 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink
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