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Mixing Indian Classical Music

A Front of House mix varies substantially depending on various factors including genre of music. Since, India is a land rich in the tradition of classical music, PT urged FOH engineer Ajay Vijendra who has been mixing FOH for Indian Classical acts since several years to give our readers a brief insight into classical music live mixing. In this article, Vijendra discusses the Workflow for mixing Indian Classical Concerts.

Ajay Vijendra

Ajay Vijendra is an engineering graduate with a certification from Berklee College of Music as ‘General Music Studies - Specialist’. He works as an AV Consultant for M/s M M G Acoustical Consultants and M/s Deim Consultants. He also works as a mix engineer for classical music for M/s Prabhath Sound System and a technical consultant for Abhinava Dance Company.

The greatest feeling for an FOH mixing engineer is when the musicians trust the ability and knowledge of the engineer. One such incident I can recall is when the world famous flautist Sri. Rakesh Chaurasia had come to perform at the Sree Ramaseva Mandali 2017 season held in Bengaluru, a 80 year old music festival where legends like M S Subbulakshmi, Pt. Bhimsen Joshi, Ustad Amjad Ali Khan have performed over the years. The catch in a concert like this is that the artists do not have a chance for a pre-show sound check. The sound check happens in front of the capacity crowd of 3000. We usually keep all the mics line checked and there are times the minimum equalisation for the instruments are also done (I am aware this is generally frowned upon but a minute wasted is 50 man hours wasted!). I was mixing FOH and monitors and Sri. Rakesh Chaurasia was Mic’d with the reliable Shure SM58. I requested him to play for a couple of minutes for me to check the parameters and was waiting for him to give his inputs on the tone but to my surprise he asked me if I was happy with the way his flute sounded. I said yes, to which he said “I am happy if you are happy”. Unless we have a liking towards the genre of music we are mixing, the mix will always miss out on something. In my personal experience, I have seen my mix improve over the years since I have started listening to classical music whenever I commute or am working.

Workflow for mixing a Indian Classical Concert:

The one important rule I follow while mixing Indian Classical Music is that none of the instruments and vocals are technology dependent and the main goal would be to make it sound as natural as possible.

  1. Before the artists arrive, I make sure the monitors are rung out and use my RTA microphone to equalise the venue for a flat response. The important point here is that the system is absolutely noise free as the concerts start off at a very slow pace with just the lead artist doing an ‘alap’. Any noise in the system will definitely kill the mood.
  2. I start off by setting the levels of Tanpura in the monitors and FOH. Since they are relatively loud on all the monitors, bleed into the microphones and are heard on FOH with sending them intentionally. It is usually played through a phone or a tab which is connected to a DI box or by a physical Tanpura which is Mic’d.
  3. Gain Adjustment: I take the lead microphone (it could be the vocals or the instrument which would be the highlight of the show). As this will act as a reference for the follow instruments and the percussions, I make sure the gain structure is set properly and first send it to the monitors. At this point the FOH is shut off and only the monitors are turned on. Once the artists are satisfied with the levels, I open the FOH for tone adjustment. Once the lead microphone is completed, I move on to the lead instruments, then back up vocals and then to the percussions. Most of the concerts are usually with monitor wedges and fills. Classical musicians seldom ask for In Ear Monitors unless it is a fusion concert and involves a lot of western instruments.
  4. Equalisation: Indian classical music does not require too much EQ as the nature of the music and instruments is such that it has a very full tone. EQ would be to compensate for the loss of certain important frequencies which are lost due to the amplification and acoustics and to set the High Pass Filter to avoid unwanted noise from the stage. For example, I have found that 1k is an important frequency for a Sarangi with an AKG C411 L and by boosting it by 2-3 dB makes a lot of difference. Of course, this is completely system and venue dependent. But there is a problem when it comes to an instrument like flute. A flautist usually carries flutes which are of different scales and octaves. Due to which the EQ for one flute might not suit the other. In such cases, we have to be alert and make sure the EQ is altered accordingly.
  5. Compression: Indian Classical Music is very dynamic due to which there are times when certain notes get boosted beyond control. Also, the mic technique displayed by the artist adds whether the channel has to be compressed. I avoid compressing vocals unless it is absolutely necessary. If it is an instrument which is the lead in the concert such as a violin with a transformer pickup, I would compress it at 3:1, with a slow release time and a soft knee.
  6. FX: As we know, classical music does not rely too much on the electronics of the sound amplification system, I always use some FX on the leads and instruments to compensate the flatness of the tone, unless requested by the artist otherwise. There are musicians who have embraced FX as part of their ensemble to make them sound more vibrant. Understanding the acoustics of the room will always help in setting the parameter of an FX. By knowing which frequency is reverberating more in the hall, we can cut those in our effects processors to make it sound even. The wet to dry ratio is usually between 80:20 and 70:30.
    My goal in a show is to complement the hours and hours effort put in by the performers by making sure they are heard right and for a true tech crew, being felt in the production gives more joy than being seen in one. There are times when we are in disagreement with the artists for many aspects before the show, and those disagreements facilitate the betterment of the art of mixing.


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