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Cheap Advice On Live Sound
48 Tips To Make Your Band Sound Better
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Use the “Panic Button” To Talk To Your Sound Man

6:00 am Live Sound

In my opinion, the two worst things that can happen to a band sound-wise during a show are (1) feedback, and (2) talking to the sound man over the PA system (”More of me in the monitors, Biff”). These occurrences make the band seem amateurish and not ready for prime time. Check out my article At the Gig: Five Ways To Avoid Feedback for some ideas about avoiding the dreaded feedback. As for communicating with the sound man (or the lighting guy, or someone backstage) without letting the audience listen in, the Panic Button from Pro Co is a handy addition to your gig bag that gives you this capability.

The Panic Button is a stomp-box style A/B switch with a low-impedance (XLR) microphone input and two XLR outputs (called A and B, of all things). It allows one of your singers to switch his or her microphone signal from Output A (the normal connection to the PA system) to Output B (a separate connection that only the sound man can hear) and back again just by stomping the button on the box. Voila! No more private announcements on the public address system.

Panic Attack

Here’s how I use this unit with Rusty Strings, the band I run sound for. I hook it up to rhythm guitar player Rusty Jack’s vocal mike, since he is near the center of the onstage lineup and has a good ear for what kind of monitor sound is needed onstage to keep everyone on pitch and in sync. I run a short XLR cable from the microphone to the Panic Button input, and a second cable from Output A to the usual stage box connector (number 4, in this case) that sends Jack’s vocals down the snake to the PA.

Here’s where it gets interesting. I run a second XLR cable from Output B of the Panic Button to an otherwise unused connector on the stage box (number 5, normally unused because channel 5 of our mixer doesn’t work). Then, at the sound-mixing position, I plug channel 4 from the snake into the PA as usual, but I run channel 5 (the “panic” signal) to a mini-amplifier (we use this one) next to the mixer, which I set just loud enough so I can hear any comments or requests (or lame jokes) made by Jack in “panic” mode. If someone needs more or less signal in the monitors, Jack just stomps the Panic Button between songs and quietly tells me so. The audience is none the wiser. Mission accomplished!

Amping It Up

Here’s some final cheap advice about hooking up the mini-amplifier at the mixing position. The mini-amp has a 1/4″ input for use with a standard guitar patch cord, whereas the “panic” signal comes in on an XLR connector in the snake pigtail. Not only are the connectors different, but the XLR cable is low-impedance and the mini-amp input is high-impedance. My solution is to use an adapter like this one, which includes an impedance-matching transformer, to feed the “panic” signal to the mini-amp.

You can also use an XLR-to-1/4″ cable on Output B of the Panic Button onstage, plugging it into a 1/4″ connector on the stage box (if there is one). The corresponding 1/4″ plug in the snake pigtail can then plug directly into the mini-amp input. The only problem with this approach is that feeding a high-impedance input directly through 100 feet of cable (the length of our snake) results in a lot of hum pickup. It’s OK in a pinch, but the low-impedance-with-adapter method is much better if you can manage it.

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3 Responses
  1. Jenny R. :

    Date: December 9, 2008 @ 12:20 pm

    I found your site in google when I was looking up blogs. I realy like what you have done and just wanted to leave a comment saying so. Cheers

  2. Colombia :

    Date: December 13, 2008 @ 3:22 pm

    I?m a teacher of entrepreneurship in our school, and I think this document of yours can be of help to me and my students to become successful someday. Thanks a lot. god blezzz

  3. Tim P :

    Date: February 25, 2011 @ 5:01 pm

    Hello I am in a church band and have recently bought the Panic Button. I play keys and sing, so I control the box. We bought this to use as a talk back to the band during a set. I use the same set up but am running into trouble. My mic goes into the input, I have an xlr from output A going to channel 7, which is my normal vocal channel. The B xlr goes into another channel that is not being used. When I click the channel A the green light is on and I am on in the house. We all have in ear monitors coming from 3 different sends from the board. When I click onto channel B the red light comes on and the signal is cut off and the house is off just like it’s supposed to be. The problem is the monitor mix goes down on channel B and the team can no longer hear me. When I ask the sound man to turn up my vocal on channel B for the vocalist he does so and they can begin to hear me. When I switch over to channel A the vocal is like twice as loud in the teams ears. I really don’t know what I am doing wrong. I read on the website from Proco sound that if the mic is Phantom powered by the board from channel A, channel B will continue to be Phontom powered also. Not sure what that means also. Please help I have been looking everywhere for an answer and no one seems to know.

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