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We don't need to change sêr venues, we need to change the mindsets of sound companies

Standard Bank Maties Kleinsêr 2010 Finals at CTICC on 22 August. While the full name is quite a mouth full, theres quite a lot of talk about people not getting an ear full on the night. Yes, that was a good joke, but not so good is the fact that the same as most previous years, people are complaining. They say that they couldn’t hear the performances of the groups on stage properly. Further, some reckon that some groups sounded much better than others only because of the sound. You know, sometimes people just whine, but sometimes we have reason to complain. So, what went wrong and what can we do about it? Theres a few nasty myths about sêr. Let’s get them out of the way.

Myth 1: The venue is to blame for the horrible sound.

Some say that the CTICC has horrible acoustics or that its just “too large for small vocal groups.” No. The CTICC is a pretty good acoustic environment, perfectly suitable for miking sêr groups, but it needs to be done properly. See myth two.

Myth 2: The sound guys know what they are doing

Just looking at the attempts of sound guys to properly mic sêr groups over the years, one can see how little they know. Or care. I’m not sure which one is worse. See Myth 3.


Above: Screwed up mic technique from the sound company results in screwed up sound. Thanks to Bernard Bravenboer for the photo.

Myth 3: Sêr groups are just small choirs

Sound companies try to use choir mic techniques for miking sêr groups. While this approach is not only completely retarded, it’s also completely retarded. They are not the same. At all. Not in terms of volume, dynamics, material or the way they move on stage.

This is what makes sêr sound so difficult to nail. You have groups constantly moving around singing from different physical heights and locations. Add a few instruments to the mix, combine it with the low volume of the vocals and you have a potential problem. Choirs are easy. They are relatively stationary, predictable and LOUD. Pretty much the opposite of sêr groups. Which brings me to the crowd. See myth 4.


Photo: Yeah. The whole different physical height thing... (Thanks to Bernard Bravenboer for the photo again)

Myth 4: The audience at sêr will shut up.

They won’t. And they are not supposed to. Where the audience at a choir performance are pretty quiet, the guys at sêr are many times louder that the handful of persons on stage. The microphones will pick it up. The audience won’t care. The sound engineer needs to be prepared. He probably won’t be. See myth 5.

Myth 5: The sound guy actually cares.

He probably doesn’t. Sêr is a pretty low budget show compared to the other performances at CTICC. Chances are the guys behind the sound desk aren’t very excited about the show either. He probably has no idea what sêr is about. And he gets paid R50 per hour. (And no, I am not saying that I actually walked up to a sound guy once and he literally said to me: “Hey, I’m not a sound guy, I’m a logistics manager. They said it’s only a few mics for a choir and didn’t have budget for a full production crew.” Really, that’s not what I’m saying. I have never had that conversation. But yeah, he probably doesn’t care if it doesn’t sound amazing.

The solution:

Moving to smaller venues won’t solve the problem. In fact, most venues for national finals is much worse that CTICC in almost every aspect. There are probably other reasons for the nationals being in hangars, but it's not going to solve the sound problem.

We need to get sound engineers who understand sêr and all the challenges mentioned above. More importantly, we need guys who share our passion for sêr. Sure, those kind of guys are not cheap and it’s much easier to simply use the first sound company you find, but you know what? The sêr groups deserve better. So does the audience.

[On a technical point, in all seriousness:]
Did the sound guys know what they were doing? Well, maybe, but it doesn’t look like it to me. Wrong mic technique, or none at all rather. Their technique seems to be a mix between X-Y and ORTF. If you don’t know what you are doing, just mix it up, hey. In summary, I think these guys really just didn’t think things through, or they didn’t know what they were letting themselves in for. Either way, it’s really unacceptable.

Update: I’ve been in contact with Jeanne Odendaal from the SRC regarding possible solutions for upcoming nationals, but this all of course very last minute. It is good to see that someone is listening. Let’s see what happens!

Update 2: I’ve gotten quite a few emails asking what happened. Nothing happened, so yeah. I’m happy to report that despite this things went relatively well at nationals. Thanks and well done to everyone involved, except the sound company.
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