Automatic Talkback Studio Trick


D Mail A Link To This Page To A Friend!
  DGo Back To Home Page

DGo Back To The Whatever Directory

The talkback mic is the usual way to communicate, one-way, from the control room to musicians in the studio. But say you’re recording a closely-miked (loud) rock band in one room. How do you hear them talking back to you? And how do they even talk to each other without taking off their headphones? Sometimes the room mics can't be loud enough in the mix to hear conversations clearly. Sure, you can put out separate mics (with or without on/off switches) for each band member, and have these on faders so you can mute/unmute as needed. But that requires a lot of extra inputs, mics and attention span. And invariably, these mics will usually be off when a band member says something important, and then you'll have to ask them to repeat. Tedious! But leaving the mic on all the time, of course, is sonically unacceptable and dangerous to hearing and speakers.

As a result I’ve developed a trick to make it all automatic, a way to leave the room mic on all the time without concern of affecting the recording while dramatically improving two-way communication ability. Put an omnidirectional microphone in the middle of the musicians’ playing area. Condenser mics of a more sensitive nature work best for this application. I'll use a lot of gain so that I can clearly hear any band member talk at normal conversation levels. Fine… until someone starts playing guitar or hitting a drum! So, the way to make it automatic (and safe) is to use a limiter/compressor - a BIG limiter/compressor, one capable of at least 20dB (or more) of gain reduction. I also may apply an EQ/filter, and/or, the mic's roll-off, to lose subsonic rumble (but this is not mandatory).

The key is the setting on the limiter/compressor. I like to use an UREI 1176LN, but any fast compressor with variable attack and release controls will work. The 1176LN is not the cleanest piece of gear on the planet, but it is one of the more “vibey” ones.

I come from a time when, except Fairchild and LA-2, there were more 1176’s than anything else, so we used them first for “utilitarian” projects of this nature.

I set the fastest attack possible - at least 1 millisecond or faster. On the 1176LN, that would be fully clockwise. I then use the slowest release time possible - 3 to 4 seconds. On the UREI, this is fully counter-clockwise. (And note that even set at their slowest release settings, I find that some 1176LNs are not very slow.) I'll use at least an 8:1 ratio or higher, and fully turn up the input knob on the 1176LN. When any sounds louder than normal conversation are made in the room, the 1176LN, when seeing that much level, will IMMEDIATELY be "nailed" to complete gain reduction, and thus contribute little output. That “hot” omni mic won’t be heard much.

On the 1176LN, the VU meter is fully depressed. On other compressors, the gain-reduction LED’s light up like a Christmas tree. The fastest attack insures nobody's ears and speakers get popped, and the slow release time means the compressor stays down, in “clamp” mode, until well after loud sound stops. Adjust the output knob for whatever level you need to record this mic to a separate track. It is very important to only mix a small amount of this talkback/talkback track to the phones and your monitor - just enough to make out conversations.

If you and the band hear this mic too well, it will affect the overall sound and mix too much, especially if the song has wide dynamics, breakdowns or stops. If you want to "ride" the release time knob along with the changes in the music, you can create some useful moments for later mixdown. Finally, when using this trick, musicians seldom take off their phones to speak to each other, and thus tracking sessions go better creatively, along with fewer headphone mix/sound complaints.

Back To Home! Back To Home Page
Up Button Top

Copyright © 1995-- By Barry Rudolph All Rights Are Reserved.