There are a lot of things you can do to get great sound (and save your sanity) when mixing a live gig.
And there are several things you shouldn’t do unless you really like the sound of garbage in your loudspeakers and feeling stressed out.
I don’t know about you, but I prefer the “keep calm and carry on” approach to live sound.
Here are 3 mistakes you’ll want to be sure to avoid if you want to have a good time mixing live sound.
Mistake #1: Showing up late
I don’t care who you are. If you’re the sound tech and you show up late to a gig, you’re asking for trouble.
Showing up late and feeling rushed to set up your gear or get ready for soundcheck is the perfect start to a rough show. You’ll feel stressed out, trip over cables, forget what channel is patched where, and be a jerk to the talent on stage.
It’s not fun for anyone.
Showing up late also means you won’t be able to dedicate time for a thorough soundcheck. A good soundcheck sets your mix up for success. A hasty soundcheck will make your mix suffer.
Anyway, you get the point. Plan ahead and show up on time, or even early, to your live sound gigs.
You’ll be happier, and your mix will sound better.
Mistake #2: Troubleshooting all the wrong problems
The last thing you want to do in a live sound situation is spend precious minutes chasing a problem around the stage and looking in all the wrong places. It’s a waste of time, stresses you out, and makes the client anxious!
Avoiding this mistake often comes down to showing up on time and being prepared (see Mistake #1).
However, you are bound to experience a problem or two that is sure to derail the entire show at any moment. That’s when you need to know where to look for the solution – fast.
The solution: understanding your sound system’s signal flow.
The best thing you can do to prepare for an audio disaster is to know exactly how your gear is connected together, how each piece operates, and how the audio signal travels through each device. This will help you know exactly where to start looking the moment a problem comes up.
Microphone not working?
- Check the solo meters.
- Check the mute switch (aka the “stupid button”).
- Check the input jack.
- Check the cable.
- Check the snake.
- Check the mic.
Speakers not working?
- Monitor your master outputs in the headphones.
- Check your digital signal processor.
- Check your amps.
- Check your cables.
- Check each loudspeaker driver.
There might be a million different combinations of things you can check, but you won’t know where to start unless you have a good understanding of your gear.
Spend some time working with each component. Draw a diagram if you need to. Reading the manual for that fancy mixing console isn’t a bad idea either…
Mistake #3: Not listening
One mistake a lot of inexperienced sound techs make is not really listening to the room.
Let’s face it, the mixing console is not always placed in the best spot for listening to a show. Sometimes you get lucky, but even then you need to walk around the room and listen.
Speaker placement and acoustics in a room can make a big difference in how certain areas of a sound. Your job as a live sound tech is to get the best sound possible for the greatest number of listeners.
Even if you’ve mixed the same venue a hundred times, it can be helpful to walk around the room while the music (or whatever) is playing and make sure it sounds great in every seat.
Sometimes you can hear subtle EQ adjustments that need to be made for certain vocals/instruments. Or maybe there’s a problem with the bass and you need to flip the phase/polarity on a channel to fix it.
Walking a room and critically listening will help you become a better audio engineer. And it’s a great way to look cool in front of your client!
How to Master the Basics of Live Sound
If you’re tired of causing unnecessary and painful feedback that causes the band and the people you work with to roll their eyes at you in disgust then it’s time to level up your live sound chops and get more comfortable and confident with mixing live sound.
I recently teamed up with James Wasem to produce a new training resource called Live Sound Basics.
We’ve covered some great live sound (and studio) tips in the last few days, but James goes into a lot more detail in the training course.
In fact, there are two full-length video presentations where he walks you step by step through the most important elements of a live sound system and how to start building a great mix.
In addition to the two-part training course, you’ll also receive these free bonuses:
- Instant Feedback Killer Battle Plan
- The Sound Tech’s Guide to Soldering
- The Soundcheck Checklist
Plus: My Live Sound Survival – Big Sounds Out of Small Systems is also included, adding, even more value to your training.
- If you learn these basic live sound principles you can do any gig, from the smallest bar to the largest arenas.
- The invaluable checklist for your gig. Don’t leave home without these things.
- 5 quick-start steps for setting up a successful live show.
- How to make a business out of your live sound skills.
- You’ll never need to buy all the equipment you need for a live show. Use this little technique to save money while still sounding good.
- The unusual way you can work your way into the live sound industry.
- The awesome benefits of having a small sound system.
- Exactly what to pack when a rock band rolls into town.
- The one thing you’ll always need, but never remember to bring enough of.
- How to set up for the 3 most common live sound scenarios.
- The vintage way of running an open mic performance.
- The only time you should ever use just one mic on stage.
- Sneaky psychological tactics to making the band sound good.
- Why you live and die by your cables.
- A special way to mic up your bluegrass band.
- The biggest – and maybe most common – sound-tech mistake you DON’T want to make.
- The big difference between mixing a techno group and a rock band.
Find out -exactly- how to get better sound from your existing sound system without the complicated technical jargon.