5 Top Tips
Mastering the art of live sound engineering is no small undertaking. Every room and every system is unique. There’s a laundry list of terms to memorize and different functions to get familiar with…
That said, there are some basic principles that can go a long way with any mix. You’ll learn as you go, picking up tips and tricks and developing your own workflow. These basic ideas can help you go from a meat and potatoes approach to something a little more nuanced. As you learn and grow, you’ll find more and more uses for effects and the features of your console, but these starting points will help set you on the right path!
Go Easy on The Reverb
Reverb is a great way to add body to vocals and help them stand out – but too much gets problematic (to say the least). If you’re cranking up the reverb, not only will lyrics lose some of their definition, you also run the risk of feedback.
Start small, and gradually increase reverb to add color. Go easy at first and bring it up to a subtle, almost unnoticeable level. A little bit goes a long way!
Boosting frequencies isn’t the only way to EQ your overall mix! Many novice engineers make the mistake of only bringing up frequencies, maxing things out until there’s no more headroom. If everything is boosted – nothing is!
Instead, try a subtractive approach, pulling frequencies away from channels to bring others out. It may take a little while to get the hang of, but this method leaves you more “wiggle room” to adjust as songs change, and stops you from cranking everything to 11!
Gates for Toms
If you’re putting mics on toms (which may only sometimes be necessary), it’s generally a good idea to use gates to set a threshold of sustain. Toms can be boomy to begin with, and when they’re coming through the PA, a long, sustained pitch can muddy up the rest of the mix – and just sound bad to listeners.
Use gates to keep the tom sound relatively short. Let the attack and tone come through, but shut it down after a clear pitch has been pronounced. Again, you’ll find the right threshold for the room you’re working in with some experience, and develop some rules of thumb that work with your workflow. Regardless of where you decide to set your gates, they’re a good idea to use whenever you’re amplifying a drum set’s toms!
Mute Your Channels!
This is live sound 101. When the set is over, MUTE THE CHANNELS. This should be the very first thing you do when a band or artist is finished playing. If you hit those mute buttons right away, there’s no chance for that awful popping sound as a performer unplugs a guitar. You won’t hear chatter through the vocal mics either.
There isn’t much more to it than that. Muting your channels at the end of a set is critical. Do it every time.
Plan for The Worst
Like any other job, things can go wrong. Batteries in wireless mics can die, DI boxes can fail, cables can go bad… So plan for the worst! Have extras on hand if you can, and put a backup plan in place should things go terribly wrong. Particularly for vocalists, it’s not a bad idea to have another mic ready to go at the side of the stage.
If you can anticipate it, plan for it! Know the pieces of the system you’re working with, and have as many contingencies in place as possible. You won’t be able to repair every problem on the fly, but the more prepared you can be, the better.
This is just a small slice of all there is to know. Experience and study will be your best friends as you learn the ropes of live sound. Always start simple and work toward complexity. If you’d like deeper training on mixing live, contact Sound Connections Group today!