I recently was able to sit down with legendary live sound engineer Lars Brogaard. Lars has been in the business for many years, and has worked as engineer for well-known acts such as ABBA, Lionel Richie, Diana Ross and Rod Stewart. He also served as consultant for a variety of acts, including Ed Sheeran, Prince, Andrea Bocelli, Michael Jackson, Led Zeppelin and the Los Angeles Olympics (just to name a few). Given the variety of leading acts that he has worked with, I spoke with Lars about his process and how he selects the right microphone for each application.
[WR]: I hear you are touring again with Rod Stewart.
[LARS]: Yes! I have worked with that great artist since 1985 and feel very privileged for doing so. Rod Stewart is still one of the best ticket-selling artists worldwide. Rod doesn’t really stop touring, so we are almost always on the move.
[WR]: That is a long time to be working with an artist! When you look back at your early days and reflect on the microphones you use on a major production such as Rod Stewart and his band, what would you consider as the most relevant changes in cabled microphone technologies that have influenced your job?
[LARS]: Well, some changes over the years were more considerable than others. For example, the miniaturized microphone technology in mics—such as the clip on mics from AKG we’re using (C518, C519)—shortened set up time, simplified the proper positioning of the mics on the instrument and of course improved the mobility of the artists during a show and its choreography.
Also, today’s transducer technology for the dynamic vocal and instrument mics we use (AKG D5, D7, D40 and D12VR) allows you to precisely position the singers and instruments in the mix in accordance to the microphone’s sound characteristics and polar patterns.
[WR]: There certainly is a variety of different mics to choose from. When you select a microphone for different applications on stage, what are your key criteria for you for doing so?
[LARS]: The microphone needs to match and support the original sound source as closely as possible. This sometimes requires extensive testing. I use AKG D5 and D7 vocal microphones for the backing vocals. Both microphones are top quality, but I like having both options available as some voices develop their sound characteristics better with some kind of enrichment in the low end.
As for Rod’s voice, I work with AKG’s C5900, since his very distinctive sound characteristic requires the uncolored, wide band capsule quality of a condenser microphone.
[WR] How big an impact does selecting the right microphones on stage have on the overall sound quality you deliver?
[LARS]: Their impact is as big as any other sound relevant component in my entire acoustic chain.
However, it all starts with the instrument or the voice. If an instrument is of mediocre quality or not properly tuned, or a voice is not professionally trained, you can never “repair” that—not with the best sounding microphone in the world, nor with any other acoustic or electronic component.
Other than that, microphone selection is, of course, very deterministic when it comes to the overall quality it delivers, as it is simply the very first component in my acoustic chain. And what comes in, comes out!
[WR] What are your thoughts regarding dynamic vs. condenser mics or tube vs. solid state mics? Do you prefer particular technologies in different applications?
I do prefer working with condenser microphones all the way, simply because they give me the most natural representation of the sound source and therefore make my life easier when preparing the mix. But as I’ve said, it still also depends on the sound characteristics of the voices or instruments. Sometimes that definitely requires the slightly warmer sound characteristics of a dynamic capsule—even with all its peculiarities.
I have even experimented with some tube mics from the recording world in order to create a bit warmer sound of the cymbals.
[WR] Do you have any tips or secrets that you’d like to share with young engineers just starting out?
[LARS]: To be perfectly honest with you, I don’t really have any tricks or secrets for you. My best advice would be that selecting the right microphone for the job is crucial. When you attempt to become a professional sound engineer, you must stay away from the cheap stuff—even when you are a beginner. Cheap, bad mics will ruin your sound (and your career) even before it began.
Microphones are like wine; the more you pay, the better it is.
Thank you to Lars for speaking with us! It’s great to get advice from someone with such experience. Do you have any tips regarding mic selection? Let us know in the comments.