“YAKETY-YAK! dont talk back…..okay, now talk back….”
By Gabe Herman
I’ve grown really fond of the DIY mentality and am always on the lookout for new projects that are simple and money saving to pass along to my students and friends. The latest of these projects has been to design and manufacture a simple momentary interrupt switch for a talkback microphone using a keyboard damper pedal.
Why is this useful? The most important element in a successful recording session is line-of-sight and communication between musicians. Isolation rooms in studios can be very helpful for engineers as they allow maximum
isolation between instruments and microphones, but it can be easy to forget that musicians aren’t used to playing together without physically being together. For musicians, isolation rooms are an artificial environment and can be an obstacle to getting a great performance. This is why I go to great lengths in my sessions to set up mirrors, re-arrange furniture, balance headphone mixes and more before the musicians show up to play. It’s always amazed me how much quicker a band settles in and find each other musically after communication between musicians has been optimized.
It’s typical in a session for the engineer to provide individual microphones in front of each artist (except the vocalists) and dedicate them to an open channel of the headphone mix so that in-between takes the band can talk freely to each other. I generally run each of these talkback mics to their own channels in my console and then sum them all to a single bus that feeds one channel of each musician’s headphone cue mixer. (another cool DIY
project for another time…) One problem I’ve encountered with this method is that I have to be diligent in muting and un-muting these channels when the band is doing a take, or else the bleed of their instruments through their talkback mic will muddy-up their headphone mix. If I dont mute these before the take, the instruments will have so much room tone in them that there’s a really large reduction in overall clarity.
By utilizing a keyboard damper pedal and a standard XLR cable, you can avoid this problem by building a simple interrupt switch that will eliminate mic signal when it is in its standard “up” position and allows the signal to
pass when it is depressed. The result is a talkback mute switch that allows each musician to control the On/Off status of their talkback mic: Step on the pedal to talk. This is exactly like the master mute I use in the control room, only now, instead of me having to be “Johnny-on-the Spot” with a mute before each take, every musician can now controltheir own talkback. This has tremendous value for the artist psychologically as it gives control of communication back to the artist and enables artists to more easily transcend the boundaries of their own isolation room and initiate musical contact with their band-mates. This leads to better overall communication, which then leads to more productive ensemble playing in the studio and ultimately, better tracks. (Not to mention less headaches for me!)