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Bobby McFerrin
For this tip, I interviewed Dan Vicari, FOH and monitor mixer for artist Bobby McFerrin. In addition to mixing McFerrin shows, Vicari owns and operates LAFX Studios and LAFX equipment rentals in North Hollywood, CA. McFerrin's shows range from amazing, one-man performances all the way to big stage productions with full band and other singers.

Vicari states: "Fifteen years ago, when I first started working with Bobby, a couple of problems were clear to me. One was the difficulty in getting enough clear low-end on his vocal for the simultaneous bass lines he does while singing. Getting that to sound clear and not washy was complicated by all the different venues we worked in where either the low end, centered on 160 Hz, would boom or problems in the lower midrange, around the 300 Hz to 400 Hz region would pop up.

“My other problem was finding a good equalizer setting that worked well when Bobby worked close (lips touching) to his wireless handheld mic and also when he held the mic at chest height. I could EQ for when he was close to the mic but when he backed off, it would thin out. At that time, we didn't have the tools we have now so mixing was always a two-fisted deal: one hand on the fader and the other on the EQ."

And Now The Gear…
Besides his own vocal mics and wireless system, Vicari's two main tools he carries are a BSS DPR 901-II Four-Band Dynamic Equalizer and a dbx 120A Sub Harmonic Synthesizer.

"The DPR 901 isn't a 'new toy' but it has become an essential problem solver for me. At soundcheck, I set up my EQ for good sound at medium mic distance and then I put one of the DPR's bands (there are four) in full expansion mode where, at a selected frequency, the total system gain increases with more level of that frequency band. I will, or I'll have someone talk loud and close into the mic while I sweep frequencies at the narrowest Q to see where the room takes off and explodes," he explains.

When the trouble spots are located, Vicari changes the unit over to full compression mode and adjusts the “Threshold” and “Bandwidth” controls to take care of the problem without sounding too drastic. Normally, those frequencies are reduced as much as 6 to 8dB when McFerrin gets closer to the mic but since it is dynamically changing, it never sounds bad. This takes care of the room problems, as well as buildup with close singing, but the real trick is to split the mic out to two console fader inputs.

Dan Vicari
"Because I mix monitors from FOH, I'll have the DPR processed fader going to the house and the second fader going to his monitors without any processing or effects. Sometimes I'll bring that second fader into the house mix when I need a little more unaffected or direct sound." Both fader channels are compressed usually with a dbx limiter/compressor or tube compressors if the local sound company has them,” he notes.

The dbx 120A comes into play as another dynamic equalizer—it adds sub only when there are low frequencies already present. Vicari explains: "I've tried an H3000 harmonizer to get that lower octave but it effected Bobby's whole vocal range—not good.

“On the other hand, the 120A beefs up the low end only on Bobby's bass lines. Besides, I only use this subtly, like a light EQ and NOT for a big, noticeable effect. I set the 120A in the middle of its range and bring its return up on a fader and blend it in the house mix but not in the monitors. Again the amount of the sub harmonic depends on the particular house we're working in but I find that this lower octave is below the usual problem area so it works out great for a fat sound at all times."

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