How to Get The Best Sound From Your Cajon:
Acoustic & Amplified - Live & Recording Studio
On this page you will find:
Download a free PDF summary of the key points from this page using the following link:
How to Get The Best Sound From Your Cajon (Acoustic & Amplified) - Live & In The Studio
They key to achieving a good sound in any situation is to have a good sound source to start with. That is why taking time choosing your cajon is so important.
The beauty of cajons is their flexibility: their ability to be used in almost any setting, from small acoustic gigs in a front room to large stadium gigs; from pubs to concert halls to studios.
On this page we explain how to get the best sound from your cajon, whether you are playing in an acoustic setting, using your cajon with amplification or using your cajon in the recording studio. The information is based on our own experience & the experience of others (most of whom are Professional Musicians, Live Sound & Studio Sound Engineers). We will also present some techniques that have been used with us to gain great results, even though at first they seemed a bit illogical or 'off-the-wall'! :-)
It is not an exhaustive study of microphone makes & types but it DOES address the types of microphone available, their uses, advantages & disadvantages. We will also look at the best place to position the cajon player in order to get a good sound with minimum interference & feedback (& not a Perspex cage or screen in sight!!) :-)
'Met Stu from Waywood Music yesterday to buy my first Cajon;
if you're in the market for one check him out as his knowledge and service is
second to none!'
(Manny Elias; Tears For Fears)
Playing Your Cajon In A Live Music Setting
The cajon is well-suited to most musical genres but it is an acoustic instrument which requires more physical effort from the player in order to make it louder.
If you play in an acoustic setting you are physically limited to how loud you can play by the maximum inherent volume of the cajon & to an extent (& up to that instrument maximum) how hard you hit it. As we have mentioned in our choosing your cajon page, there are limitations & potential health risks to extended hard playing. On this page we will explain the key considerations for getting the best sound, being heard & hearing everyone else when playing in an acoustic (unamplified) situation.
If you use your cajon in an amplified setting/band, you will need to think about a lot more things in order to hear & be heard. This is not only a technical issue but also depends upon the other members of your band & the sound crew. On this page we will highlight the different things you need to think about relating to position, microphones & the thorny issue of your other band members/sound crew.
Your Cajon: The Sound Source
We have already gone to some length on our What is a Cajon page & Choosing The Best Cajon For You page about how to find a great sounding cajon that meets your needs (musically, personally & within budget).
We now think about how your cajon is going to perform at its best when played.
Acoustic (Non-Amplified) Settings
Your cajon is a box with a front, back, two sides, top & bottom. When you hit any of the faces you will produce a sound which travels outwards in all directions. Therefore, anything in the way or near to you which either reflects or absorbs that sound will make a difference (see below for more information on this). The major consideration here is which way is most of the sound travelling? If you play the front tapa face, the majority of the sound will be projected forwards. If you play a bass tone, some will be projected directly forward from the front face BUT most of the deep bass tones will be projected through the sound hole, wherever that is located (usually at the back). if you play the sides of the cajon for click effects, some of the sound will go forward & some will go backwards; some will also be transmitted through the cajon case so will go in many directions.
Also think about the overall sound of your cajon: does it produce more high tones than bass or is it very strong in bass tones. These will influence how you fit in with the other instruments.
Always think about this when you are setting-up to play. Think about whether you are going to be nearer the front so that you can be heard more easily without so much sound being lost or absorbed by the other players. Another important consideration is the other instruments being used & what type of sound they produce. For example, a guitar when plucked produces a very open sound with lots of space for the cajon to fit into. However, when the guitar is strummed it produces a much 'thicker' sound which is more difficult for the sound of the cajon to project through. Instruments like melodeons, accordions, violins, hurdy-gurdies, saxophones, brass, pianos etc produce a very thick sound which forms an acoustic screen which is more difficult for the sound of the cajon to project through.
Our Key Advice: Think about the sounds you make & the sounds made by the other instruments in the band/group. They are important when trying to be heard.
When your cajon is amplified (using a pick-up or microphone) you will need to think about exactly the same considerations & principles as you did for acoustic playing. However, there are extras.
Microphones will pick up any sound that enters their capsule at the correct angle & make it louder. This means that they will not only amplify your cajon, but also every other sound from other instruments, the room, the stage, the walls, wherever that they 'hear'. So as we will discuss below, where you are located on stage & within the group will make a big difference to the quality of your sound & how well you are heard. The direction of the sounds leaving your cajon is also important when deciding how to mic-up (where to place the microphones) in order to get the strongest sound from your cajon relative to the other sounds that are around onstage & in the room.
Our Key Advice: Microphones can add a host of problems when playing your cajon on stage. Always think about the best position for you on-stage so that you can see & hear the other band members (not usually a problem!) & where you can give your cajon & microphone the greatest chance to give you a great, clean sound.
How Your Playing Environment Affects The Sound
Where you play your cajon will influence its sound as much as how you play it.
Types Of Room & Their Effect On Your Sound
Rooms with bare walls, high pointed ceilings & few drapes or curtains are notoriously difficult. There are lots of echoes; the sound freely bounces from wall to wall to ceiling to floor.
Rooms with carpeted floors, lots of curtains or drapes, lower ceilings made of thinner, sound absorbent materials soak up all the frequencies producing a very 'dry', dead or non-lively sound.
Rooms that are wider than they are long will often haves areas where the sound from the stage cannot be heard well or clearly unless the PA has been set-up to compensate for this.
Rooms that are long & narrow often have problems getting the sound to the back without deafening those sat at the front again, unless the PA has taken this into account & has speakers with the appropriate delays along the length of the room.
There are lots of other variants too: square-shaped rooms; rooms with a lot of bare stone; rooms with hollow wooden floors; rooms with hollow wooden stages; rooms with walls clad in timber ... the list is long.
If you are playing on a theatre stage, these have very high stage ceilings where the scenery is stored. This can 'suck' out much of the on-stage sound. So, the musicians may not be able to hear each other so well, but amplified instruments like guitars still project their sound clearly into the auditorium. Excellent monitoring (foldback) is essential for these gigs so that everyone can hear themselves, not just those who can turn-up more. The overall sound is about what the audience hears (or doesn't) rather than the just what the band hears.
If you are playing in a smaller venue such as a pub, the above factors will still apply to how your sound is affected. However, as a cajon player you will also be faced with where to sit. The traditional position is at the back or in a corner. This can lead to you sounding much louder than normal (especially in the bass tones) if the wall is bare or if there is a radiator behind you which will reflect the bass tones leaving the rear of your cajon. If there are curtains behind you, it may result in loss of some bass tones as they are soaked-up by the fabric, resulting in a sound from the front (where people will be listening to you) which is quite harsh or exaggerated in higher tones, but quite thin in bass tones.
If you are playing outside in an open space, the sound will usually be very good as you move away from the band but because there is nothing to reflect the sound back to the band, it can sound as if your sound has vanished almost as soon as you've produced it. Hearing each other in an acoustic setting can be difficult so setting-up close to each other, even facing slightly in so you can see each other will help with being heard. If you are using amplification, it is likely to sound as if nothing is switched on (though you may get a faint echo as your sound bounces back from buildings or an object in the distance.
It is not possible to cover every scenario: every case will be different. However, if you are aware of potential issues you are also equipped to rectify them.
The sound of your cajon & hearing it is a lot more than just hitting it harder or making everything louder.
It is also worth remembering that if you are amplified, your microphones will hear pretty much what your ears do, so understanding a bit about what is happening acoustically can help with troubleshooting poor or non-optimal sound.
Our Key Advice: If you care about how you sound then spending a bit of time understanding how you can make it as good as possible will pay dividends. You will enjoy playing more, feel that you are playing with the band rather than fighting against it & your band may just stand-out from the rest for future bookings. You will also be less likely to damage your hearing through playing unnecessarily loud when you don't need to.
How Your Position On Stage Affects Your Sound
As mentioned above, the physical size & shape of the stage can affect & influence your sound & what you hear.
But what about where you sit relative to other band members & equipment?
As we have discussed so far, the room you are playing in, the stage you are playing on, the instruments in your band & which direction the majority of sounds are travelling from your cajon all influence the sound you produce when you play.
Here are a few Key facts that will influence your best position when playing your cajon in an acoustic (non-amplified) setting:
If you are set up towards the rear, the bodies of other musicians are likely to absorb a lot of your sound. If you are set-up near a back wall, the sound coming from the front of your cajon (high tones) is likely to be absorbed more than the reflected bass tones, so your cajon will sound bass-heavy & many of the high tones played on the front tapa face will be lost.
If you set up towards the front of the musicians you will be heard better but may be too dominant if the band is very small or quiet. You may have difficulty communicating with other musicians whilst playing without turning round.
If you set up in a line, you will probably produce a pretty balanced sound for the audience but may have difficulty hearing all the instruments you need to hear.
If you set up in an arc you will probably get the best overall balance & give each other the best opportunity to communicate whilst playing.
If your cajon is too loud, you may be able to angle it facing more across the other musicians (eg. sit to one side). They will be able to hear you clearly; you will be able to see them & hear them; the audience will hear a more balanced sound.
If your band contains instruments that produce a drone or continuous sound eg. brass, hurdy-gurdy, strings, keyboards/piano, strummed guitars, then setting-up towards the front will enable the cajon to project through the other instruments, rather than getting lost behind them & being inaudible to your audience.
Always get someone with a good musical ear to stand out where the audience will be, listen to the band playing & advise on what needs to be louder or quieter. A few simple moves based on what we have considered so far should solve any issues.
If you are using microphones to amplify your sound then much of the above still applies, but there is the added advantage that your sound engineer can adjust your volume to make you more audible in the overall mix. (NB. This part is explained in greater detail on our sister site, CajonExpert.com).
However, amplification also brings its own additional considerations & potential problems, not least, the overall volume on-stage.
Here are a few Key facts that you might like to consider for where best to position yourself when playing your cajon in an amplified setting:
Avoid being placed next to speakers for other amplified instruments, such as guitars or even bass. Those boys rarely play at volumes less than 11 & the spill in sound from the cabs into your cajon microphones will just obscure you more, 'muddy' your sound & cause problems. This is less of a problem if you enjoy the rare luxury of a quiet guitarist or bassist :-)
Be careful not to be placed too close to the main PA speakers as this is likely to cause feedback at lower volumes, thereby setting a lower limit on how much you can be amplified.
If you are using monitoring (foldback) speakers, try to avoid having your microphones in direct line with the speakers as this again can cause feedback problems (this time on stage).
As a general rule, try to monitor at the minimum level possible. This not only saves your hearing but it also produces a much cleaner & well-defined sound for the audience as there is less reflected onstage monitoring sound, which is ill-defined & mid- to bass-heavy for the audience, cluttering or obscuring the front-of-house PA sound.
If possible, try to get at least one person between you & the nearest instrument amplifier/speaker & main front-of-house PA speakers as this will help to soak up unwanted sound that would otherwise find its way into your microphones.
Always get someone with a good musical ear to stand out where the audience will be, listen to the band playing & advise on what needs to be louder or quieter. A few simple adjustments based on what we have considered so far should solve any issues.
Remind other musicians & members of the band with onstage (backline) amplification that there is always the option to turn-down instruments that are too loud rather than bringing everything else up to their level. It can be useful to remind less experienced members of the PA team of this option too.
Always carry a pair of musician's earplugs & use them when sound-checking when feedback is most likely to appear suddenly. Don't be afraid to use them in performances too; you only have one pair of ears to last for life.
Download a free PDF summary of the key points from this page using the following link:
How to Get The Best Sound From Your Cajon (Acoustic & Amplified) - Live & In The Studio
This section will address the basic types of microphone available for using to mic-up a cajon. It is not a comprehensive review of microphone makes & models but it will point you in the right direction to find the best mic for you & your playing situation.
We are not microphone specialists but we do know what we are talking about from experience (good & bad).
The most common & the rugged microphones for amplifying a cajon are dynamic microphones. Put simply, these create a signal related to how much sound strikes the capsule ('hearing bit') & how hard. The louder the sound, the harder it hits the diaphragm in the mic & the larger the signal that is sent to the amplifier.
advantage of these microphones is that they don't need any
special addition power source. You just plug them in, turn on an amplifier & you
have sound. Dynamic microphones tend to be slightly 'warmer' which means
they sound a bit smoother; there are less high peaks. This is an
ideal response for a cajon as they do not want to sound too harsh.
Dynamic microphones are less sensitive so generally need to be closer to the sound source. This is great for better isolation from other sounds & reduced feedback, but when using as a front, tapa, face microphone it can be very close to your hands when playing & therefore, more likely to be hit. However, this can be solved by how you position the microphone.
Dynamic microphones are available to suit just about every
musical instrument & budget, including the cajon. They are also relatively cheap.
However, don't cut corners when it comes to buying a microphone(s) for your
cajon. Stick with a reliable manufacturer that has a history & a pedigree
amongst professionals. They are not always a lot more expensive, but they are
usually much more reliable & perform better on the road.
If you are considering a single dynamic microphone for your cajon, then the ubiquitous Shure SM57 (shown above) is a great choice with its reliable history of professional use, sturdiness, compact size & great sound. It is relatively cheap to buy.
If you are considering a dynamic microphone for the bass tones of your cajon, then the AKG D110 bass (kick) drum mic (shown right) is a good choice. It produces a very controlled bass note & can be used in close proximity to the cajon for better isolation. Again a very reliable microphone with professional pedigree, sturdy build, compact size & great sound. Other manufacturers such as Shure, Beyer, Sennheiser & AudioTechnica also make their own bass-biased dynamic microphones.
Condenser microphones apply an electrical current across the diaphragm of the mic capsule & a backplate. This creates a static charge in the space between them. When the diaphragm picks up a sound, it vibrates, subtly changing the distance between the diaphragm & backplate, which produces a small signal that can then be amplified. The amount of signal again varies depending on how much the diaphragm vibrates: more sound gives greater vibration which produces a larger (stronger) signal.
Very widely used in studio & home recording by virtue of their sensitivity & clarity of tone, condenser microphones are more fragile than their dynamic counterparts. This means that although they are very useful, they have to be treated more gently.
big advantage of condenser microphones is their
sensitivity (they can pick up sound from further away). However, this can also
be their downfall in a live situation as they are more prone to pick-up
background & other extraneous/external sound on stage (such as other
instruments). They are also more likely to create feedback at lower levels & are
more demanding when it comes to positioning in order to avoid this problem.
The clarity of tone generated by condenser microphones makes them potentially an excellent choice for the tapa head, enabling finger strokes & ghost notes to be picked-out. However, this clarity of sound can sometimes also be their downfall as they can create a very bright sound overall, which lacks warmth.
Definitely worth considering for quieter settings & bands, the condenser microphone requires an external power source, typically a 9-Volt battery or a 48-Volt supply from a mixing desk or amplifier.
An example of a good condenser microphone for cajon is the AKGC1000.
Condenser microphones tend not to be used for close-miking or amplifying bass tones from the cajon.
Plate, PZM or Boundary Microphone
PZM, plate or boundary microphone uses a piezo-crystal to create its signal. It
is commonly used to record full room sound by being mounted on a wall. When used
to record a soloist or small musical ensemble along with the room acoustics, a
boundary microphone produces a natural sound with a flatter frequency response
than can be obtained with a stand-mounted microphone at the same distance.
Boundary microphones which attach to the back of the cajon body, across the sound hole, have been developed. One suggestion is to place a standard boundary microphone inside the cajon resting on a pillow. The wide dynamic response of these microphones along with the almost total isolation for external sounds means a good sound combined with very low feedback potential.
We have no experience with these microphones as we have always found dynamics or a dynamic + condenser combination to produce great results.
Manufacturers are always developing specialised microphones & microphone systems for all types of instruments.
The cajon is no different. Here are a few that we have noted but with which have no personal experience.
AAs we have already mentioned, LP have, in conjunction with
Audix, developed a boundary mic specifically for the cajon.
Some manufacturers have developed microphones that clip onto the edge of the sound hole & project into the cajon which gives additional separation from external sounds & speakers, so produces a cleaner sound less prone to feedback.
A contact strip microphone similar to those used on guitars, applied to the outside or the inside, are convenient & don't require microphone stands etc. They stay in place once you have found the best position & feedback less readily.
Our Key Advice: Don't cut corners when it comes to buying microphones. They are a vital link between you & your audience when playing in an amplified situation. Look for reliability, good sound & peace of mind so that you can focus on your playing. Reliable makes include Shure, AKG, Sennheiser, Beyer, AudioTechnica. Cheap mics are cheap mics. Find the system that works for you & stick with it. If you are in the happy position of working with a professional PA company you will probably have access to more quality microphones than you could dream of.
One Microphone or More?
Cajons vary in their
design: some have a single rear sound hole; some have two rear sound holes; some
have a side-sound hole; some have two side sound holes; some have no sound hole.
These different types of cajon mean that different microphone set-ups may need to be used.
In addition, not everyone has the budget, sound facilities or desire to use more than one microphone.
In this section we will look at a few different ways that you can mic-up your cajon depending on the number of sound holes & their location. Each of these techniques have been tried & proven by us in a range of different sized venues. These recommendations will help you to quickly achieve a good cajon sound.
The recommendations below are not intended to be a 'definitive list' but they will give you a good starting point for achieving a great sound from your cajon quickly. We are aiming to get the best starting-point for your sound (sound source); there is plenty of fine-tuning you can do with the mixing desk or amplifier ... if you have that luxury.
There are other methods used successfully by other cajon players which can be found via the various search engines.
Positioning Your Microphone(s) - Microphone Placement
Using One (Single) Microphone
Single Sound Hole (Located Middle or Near to Top of Rear Cajon Face)
Many cajons have a single sound hole located towards the top of the rear face.
We have found that a really effective way to amplify this type of cajon is to use a single dynamic microphone (we use a Shure SM57) situated about an inch above the top of the sound hole & about an inch away from the rear surface of the cajon.
This may seem illogical for picking up the front face but it is a great starting point as it not only picks-up the nuances played on the front tapa face but also gives you a really nicely controlled bass tone. This positioning also means that if you play tones on any of the other faces of the cajon they are all picked-up & amplified.
We do not use a condenser microphone as in its non-EQ'd state, the high tones are promoted whilst the bass tones seem to be lacking, giving an overall more brittle sound to the cajon.
The advantage of this method is that all microphones are well away from the playing area of the tapa (& other faces).
However, you may also like to try using a single microphone (dynamic or condenser) located about 8- to 10-inches from the front playing face & about 1- to 2-inches below the top level of the cajon. We find this gives more mid-tones (warmer sound) than rear miking but this suits some players. It is certainly a big advantage if you play your cajon with brushes, as you will pick-up the swish sound in addition to the impact of brush on cajon tapa face. Choice of microphone type depends on your personal preference & the playing situation/your location on stage. Remember, condenser microphones are more prone to feeding back if you are near to speakers.
Single Sound Hole (Located Near to Bottom of Rear Cajon Face)
The principles here are as for when the sound hole is situated in the middle or towards the top. However, since the sound hole is now lower down (& therefore, the bass tones are emitted nearer the floor). So, if you are miking from behind, you may try moving the microphone lower down the rear face until it is one or two inches above the sound hole. Exact position is a bit of trial-&-error; it will depend on your particular cajon & also on the influence of stage & room as discussed above.
You may find that by moving the microphone too low down loses some of the subtleties when playing the tapa face eg. ghost or grace notes.
Try different positions; find which suits your sound best; be prepared to experiment.
If you choose a single microphone located at the front of your cajon, position will be as for when the rear sound hole is located at the top (see above).
We have recently started replacing the SM57 microphone with a single AKG D112 at the front. Placement is further down the front (tapa) face of the cajon, towards midway. The D112 has a built-in high frequency boost (used for producing extra click or attack when used on a bass (kick) drum). This is ideal for the cajon as it ensures that the high tones & nuances are picked-up, in addition to producing a lovely, powerful bass tone. Distance from the cajon can also be varied. We have found that as you move the microphone closer to the tapa face of the cajon, the amount of 'boominess' increases. There is no set rule here; the best thing is to experiment & find what works best for your cajon at each venue.
No Rear Sound Hole (Lower Bass Port)
Cajons such as the Leiva Omeya Bass Studio cajon have the option to close the rear sound hole & just use the reflex port located in the false-bottom of the cajon to emit the bass tones. This may give a really nice punchy compressed bass tone with great separation from the high tones but it also poses the problem of where to place the microphone(s).
We have found that the best location is a single microphone (dynamic or condenser) located 8- to 10-inches away from the front tapa face of the cajon. Exact vertical position may have to be experimented with but we usually place the microphone about 6-inches down from the top. This picks-up the high notes & ghost notes & the bass tones (which on this cajon are expelled from the front).
We have worked with in-house & resident sound engineers who have used a single Shure SM57 (or other dynamic microphone equivalent) positioned about 4-inches from the rear face with the sound capsule about 6-inches above the floor, pointing at an approximately 45-degree angle towards the floor. This should not have worked, but it did & very well.
Our Key Advice: Choice of dynamic or condenser microphone is personal & may also be determined by the playing location. We avoid putting any microphone in-line with the sound hole as you tend to get a lot of 'whoof' to the sound as the air escapes when playing the bass tones. It also produces a very bass-biased sound. Experiment & find what suits you best.
Using Two Microphones
Cajons With One Rear Sound Hole
Location of the front microphone is as described above for when using a single microphone from the front.
The rear microphone is usually more bass-biased. We use an AKG D112.
Exact positioning is again personal choice & can depend on what electronics will be used to amplify it. Assuming we are after the best sound source (& have no real EQ etc) we usually place the active (silver) face of the microphone around 6-inces from the rear face, either opposite the sound hole or about 1-inch above or below.
Sometimes the sound is too ill-defined when the microphone is in-line with the sound hole. In certain circumstances, we have even found the positioning the microphone at an angle to the sound hole so that the sound waves are hitting the diaphragm at an angle rather directly end-on produces a cleaner, more defined bass tone.
We do not place the microphone inside the cajon or even in the sound hole as we have found that the sound can be far too warm & also that feedback occurs at much lower volumes.
These principles apply wherever the sound hole is located on the rear face of the cajon.
A less conventional method that we have seen used on our cajon by engineers is that they simply put two dynamic microphones inside the cajon (through the rear sound hole) & lie them on the bottom. Each microphone is then EQ'd differently; one to pick out the high frequencies (tones) & the other to pick-up the bass tones. It is a technique that inherently has many potential flaws but it works & it works very well. This is a great example of where we players sometimes have to defer to the knowledge & experience of resident or in-house engineers that we may work with.
Our Key Advice: Never underestimate the value of experience when you are working with resident or in-house sound engineers. Work with them not against them. They may just have techniques up their sleeves which we can learn from (even if the seem illogical).
Cajons With No Rear Sound Hole
Once again we are dealing with more specialist cajons like the Leiva Omeya Bass Studio cajon which has the option for no rear sound hole.
Placement of the front microphone is as described above.
We have found that an AKG D112 or bass-biased microphone situated about 1-inch from the lowest sound ports & therefore, about half-an-inch above floor level produces a good punchy, yet balanced bass tone. The quality of the sound can be 'tweaked' by moving the microphone further away or adjusting the angle of the 'live' (silver) face relative to the floor (particularly if playing on a carpeted or a hollow wooden floor which influence the bass tones produced by the cajon & 'heard' by the microphone).
Our Key Advice: Know your cajon & the sounds it produces. Discover where they come from. Learn what microphones & positions work best with your cajon. Always be ready to learn from someone with more experience. It's great fun & makes you a more versatile musician.
Non-Cajon Bits - Speakers, Desk, EQ & How They Affect Your Sound
This is a very simple, non-technical overview of how we (or sound engineers) can change the sound of our cajon, for good & for bad. It is not exhaustive & it is not meant to be. The aim is simply to help you understand how your acoustic sound may be changed in the process of amplification. There are plenty of excellent articles on the internet about the finer, more technical details of amplifying your cajon.
Once our sound has passed through the microphone & along the connecting lead it reaches an amplifier so that we can be heard through the various speakers.
In some situations our cajon will be plugged straight into an amplifier which may have adjustments for 'top' (high tones) & 'bottom' (adjustment for lower, bass tone). Adjusting these knobs will usually either add or take away that type of sound from what you hear through the speakers. This allows some adjustment so that your cajon does not sound too 'boomy' or bass-biased, or too shrill & high-tones-biased. Neither of these are good from a listener's perspective.
In larger set-ups, playing situations, venues or when using in-house/resident sound engineers, the sound from your cajon will be much more finely controlled, not only in volume but also in tone, stereo placement within the mix & overall sound. This is a much more complex set-up & is a subject in its own right.
Here are a few of simple paragraphs that may help to de-mystify what the sound engineer does in order to get the best sound from your cajon.
Tone of Cajon: Mixing desks have a lot of different ways in which they can affect the tone of your cajon. They can boost (enhance) certain frequencies to make it stand out more; they can cut (remove) certain frequencies which may be interfering with other instruments or causing things to vibrate within the room (resonant frequencies) or which simply make your cajon sound nasty through that particular PA system in the room.
Punch of Cajon: Sometimes the cajon will sound great but a bit of punch, thump or impact is missing. Sound engineers can use an effect called compression to increase this. They can also increase it using a technique called 'gating' which cuts of some of the decay, but also influences the sound level required before the sound is heard by the PA. Although it can make you cajon sound more distinct, it can also remove all strokes you play below a certain volume. So if you play a lot of ghost notes, make sure that the engineer does not set the gate so severely that it eliminates this important part of your playing & sound.
Overall Sound & Space of Cajon: A wide range of subtle (& not so subtle effects) can be added by the engineer, either to help your cajon 'sit' more comfortably within the overall sound & to be heard more clearly. For some moody songs they may add space to your sound using reverb or delay (echo); for more intimate songs they may eliminate all space & make the sound very dry. It is always a good idea to chat to the engineer (if you have time) to discuss any songs that may require these types of effects, so that they are not taken by surprise & so your songs sound their best. Avoid 'gents toilet reverb' which is so big that everything blends into everything else thereby sounding very indistinct.
Mix of Cajon: By adjusting all of these different factors, plus the volume of your cajon, the sound engineer will blend your instrument into the overall sound of the band.
Our Key Advice: The Sound Engineer is your greatest ally. Fight them at your peril. Understanding how your sound can be affected by electronics situated between your cajon microphone & the amplifiers will help you to make a more helpful contribution to the sound of your cajon in whatever situation you play.
The Sound Engineer/Technician
The sound engineer/technician is your greatest ally. You can practice months for a gig & be note perfect, but if your sound is not good or not heard by the audience, your effort is pretty-much wasted apart from being a visual spectacle.
Always work WITH the sound engineer, not against them. You may have your preferences for how to mic-up but they may work that venue on a regular basis & have their own method. Discussion rather than argument will lead to a positive solution. Spend time talking to them about what you want in the sound. A sound engineer of any value will work with you to get the sound you're after. This does, of course, make the big assumption that you know what you want. "Loud" is not an acceptable answer.
If you make an enemy in your engineer, word WILL travel fast & you may find yourself with a 'reputation' for future gigs.
Never forget, the 'Off' switch is the engineer's ultimate weapon if you annoy them sufficiently.
Our Key Advice: A good sound engineer is as valuable as gold dust. Always work with them; talk to them about what you want; treat them as a member of the band; learn from them. Remember they are human too.
Download a free PDF summary of the key points from this page using the following link:
How to Get The Best Sound From Your Cajon (Acoustic & Amplified) - Live & In The Studio
Using Your Cajon In A The Recording Studio Setting
How The Studio Environment Differs From Live Settings - Introduction
Working within the studio environment is a completely different experience & discipline to playing live. From a sound point of view, the aim is to obtain the most accurate & best sound on tape (disc) so that it can be worked with during the mixing & mastering process.
For this reason, the types & number of
microphones used differs greatly from
live work (see left). You may find yourself surrounded by 8 to 10 microphones which pick up
the different aspects of the sound produced by the cajon & the sound produced by
the room in which you are recording. High quality condenser microphones are the
mainstay although dynamic microphones may also be used to add warmth & for
recording the bass tones.
You will often be playing to a click track & a backing track, for which you will need to wear headphones. Into those headphones you will also need to mix your cajon so that you can hear what you are playing. This can be off-putting, even daunting for the inexperienced. Work with the engineer & they will work with you to get this sorted & you relaxed.
You are likely to feel more pressure in a recording situation because every nuance (& mistake) is committed to tape/disc. Odd mistakes can be corrected. Consistent playing out of time presents more of a challenge so it is always good to have done your homework before you ever get near the studio door.
Our Key Advice: Recordings are a team effort. Make sure that you play your part in a positive way & that you add to the experience rather than detract from it. Learn; enjoy & grow as a musician. You'll also make some great friends through the experience if you do :-)
The Sound Engineer/Technician
Just as with playing in a live setting, the sound engineer is your greatest
ally. Remember that your playing will not just be heard once & lost as it is in
most live situations. The aim of recording is that you will be heard each time a
track is played & therefore, obtaining the best sound is top priority; for you; the
band/artiste; the producer & for the studio &
engineer. Their reputation rests on their customers.
In the studio you will be working with sound engineers who almost live in that environment so you will need to listen to them & take their advice. Playing the cajon without microphones in the recording room will give an experienced engineer the information they need as to what microphones to use & how to set them up.
Again, work with the engineer. Communicate clearly so that they know what you are after (although if you are working with a producer they may have already decided that for you).
Our Key Advice: Sound engineers are your ally. Learn from them. Let them help you. Help them understand your instrument (especially if it is not a conventional design). Play your part in the team.
General Considerations When In The Studio
Here are some basic rules that apply to the studio more than live playing & will enable everyone to get the most out of your time there:
Introduce Yourself to Studio Staff: This takes less than a minute but can save hours over a recording session.
You Are Paying For Your Time: Use it wisely & efficiently. There will always be unexpected events but don't let these arise because you are ill prepared.
Courtesy & Etiquette: Arrive at the agreed time or earlier if possible. Be polite. Treat studio staff as you would like to be treated yourself. You are not their only client & almost certainly not their best. Use it as a learning experience.
Check Your Equipment Before You Go Into The Studio: Rattles, buzzes, rings & any other small noises that may not be audible when playing live will be clearly heard in the studio setting. Eliminate as many as you can. Snare buzz is normal & a part of your sound; make sure you discuss how it will be handled. Avoid Gaffa tape!
Listen To What You Are Asked or Told: Failure to do so will result in lost recording time or higher costs for studio time.
Wherever you play your cajon, you need to be heard & heard at your best. A bit of thought when it comes to placement on stage, within the other musicians & performers, along with a basic understanding of how to get the best sound for amplified music will set you up well to enjoy playing with less hassle.
Technical know-how is good & useful; people skills & the ability to get on & work with others is critical. Sometimes you will have to 'compromise' but you may just learn a lot in the process.
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