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Mixing Harmonica’s & Hip Hop Drum Loops

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If you are interested in learning more about playing harmonica with other people, in a band, at a club jam session, etc., then you will want to get some drum samples amplification equipment sooner or later.  There are a few things you will want to know before you reach for your wallet.

If you are feeling daring and you’re ready to leap onto a stage and take a shot at entertaining the crowd, you have two options.  You can use the house equipment, which would be one of the vocal microphones set up in front of the band at a jam (or your own vocal mic if you’re getting your own band started), or you can use specialised gear, like these free hip hop drum loops.  The first option is simple enough, and a lot of us overlook it.  I’m sure there are a lot of long term players out there who have forgotten all about using their hands to create vibrato and wah effects in front of a stage microphone.  I’ve been going to jam sessions at nightclubs for almost three years, and I have never seen another jammer playing in front of the microphone.  They all cup the microphone in their hands all of the time.  I’ll confess that I’ve only recently started playing in front of the microphone again myself.  It’s a nice change of pace, and it’s a big hit with the audience because they so rarely see it (at jam sessions, anyway).  If you use a stage microphone, just be sure that it isn’t set at mortar-crumbling volume before you start playing directly into it.  There’s nothing worse than a clueless harp player blaring away on a stage microphone that’s turned up way too loud.

Come to think of it, I should address this major point first.  A friend of mine who has been a professional guitar player for 30 years and played with big-name acts in Branson and Memphis told me once about an old-timer who gave him an important bit of advice when he was very young.  The old-timer told him “Jim, just remember that your job as a musician is to MAKE THE SINGER SOUND GOOD.  When it’s your turn, tear it up.  Then get back to making the singer sound good.”   Sounds like a great idea to me.  Once you reach the point that you are ready to put your music through a microphone and bring yourself to the attention of everybody in the room, just remember that you are playing drum samples, and that the song will be good only if everybody works together to make it good.  When in doubt, simplify and back off a bit.  I thought I should mention this point because a microphone in the wrong hands can be dangerous.  Treat it with respect because if you don’t it could make you look like an idiot.  With that in mind, I’ll get back to the point of this article, which is to discuss how to be loud enough to be heard without being obnoxious, and to get the tone you want without worrying too much about feedback.

If you’re playing at a jam, you could always use the equipment already on the stage, and if you’re planning to play in a band you could just use a vocal microphone right into the PA.  It’s the easiest way to do things because all you need is a standard microphone and an XLR cable, which is used for low impedance signals.  Modern PAs all have anti-feedback circuitry, so feedback won’t be a big issue unless you stick the mic right into the monitor or the house speakers.  But the major disadvantage, if you are like me, is that this method creates a very harsh, penetrating tone that I don’t particularly want to listen to for several hours.  You can always shape the tone with the drum samples on the board, and some PAs will allow you to add reverb and other effects.  But some of us think that the sound from the PA is at least a little bit irritating.

Microphones

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You can improve it somewhat by finding a microphone that breaks up slightly when you play into it.  In other words, playing loudly with your harp right on the microphone is more than it can handle, and you end up overdriving the microphone.  There are several stage microphones that are well known for this tendency.  I want to point out right now that this article is not intended to be an equipment recommendation.  That’s more in line with what the Review section of the website is all about.  I’m just trying to let you know that there are stage mics that will overdrive and make your tone a little bit mellower while adding some expression to your playing.  I have a jam session friend who got an old Electrovoice that sounds a lot better than the Shure vocal mic that the jam host band always has available.  It’s also convenient that he can plug it into the same XLR cable and get right to playing.  If you want to know more about this, ask around to find out which microphones sound good when played through the PA.

moz microphone

Another option is to get yourself a vintage microphone or a modern version of the vintage mics, most of which are high impedance microphones equipped with 1/4 inch plugs of the type that plug into guitar amplifiers.  Most modern PA equipment also has high impedance inputs that you can plug these microphones into.  I have always found that my vintage Shure bullet mic plugged into the PA sounds a lot more mellow and expressive than a modern vocal microphone.   I have also found that the PA anti-feedback circuitry helps a lot when using my bullet microphone.

If you want to use your own amplifier you will have to take a few things into consideration.  A vintage bullet-type high impedance microphone will plug right into the amp, but if you want to use a vocal microphone you will need an impedance transformer.  You can get these easily enough from a music store or online vendors such as Musician’s Friend.  Just make sure that it is a low-to-high Z transformer.  Using your own amp gives you a lot of freedom to build your own sound.  But it also requires you to think more about avioding feedack and making sure you are loud enough to be heard.

Using the right size amp is important for two reasons.  If your amp is too small you will be drowned out on a noisy stage.  If you plan to play in your own band you can try to get your band to keep the volume at a level that matches yours.  Or if you prefer, it’s simple enough to play through your amp and put a microphone in front of it to send the sound through the PA and house speakers.  I see professional bands doing that all the time.  But I’ve found that when I try to mic a small amp at a loud jam at a club there is just too much noise all around and it sounds like crap.  I have never gotten this to work.  Obviously I need a bigger amplifier.

September 2017
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