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Mixing Live Sound – Career Survival from the Experts at NAMM


Hani Gadallah, an expert from Expression College had a very interesting lecture about mixing live sound at the NAMM 2011 convention. He had a funny way of talking about the various aspects of live sound and stressed how passionate you must be if you want to survive in the business.

This particular lecture was  about career survival and how you must act in the industry if you want any measure of success. It’s hard work, the hours are long and the pay isn’t great. But if you are passionate about it and can’t think of doing anything else then you just might have a chance.

Read on for a few of the tips he had on mixing live sound.

  • Mixing live sound is 20% technical skills and 80% attitude. It’s a service industry. Serve the artist.
  • If an artist wants something, give it to them. If he needs more vocals in the monitor, give it to them. Don’t hold the signal hostage in the mixer if you have sound to spare.
  • Go from A to Z in order to figure out what’s wrong. When you have a technical problem in the system make sure you troubleshoot every variable.
  • Stay calm when things go wrong. Problems only take a few minutes to solve if you just keep your head straight and think things through.
  • Listen to what others say about your sound. Especially if you are starting out make a note to what others say and how you can improve on that.
  • Persistence is key – Call, call, call. And then call again. Make sure established sound engineers know you and make sure you are the first thing that pops into their head when they need someone to fill in for them.
  • “You are good as your last gig.” If you screwed it up, you are screwed. Make every gig better than the last one.
  • Knowledge is to be shared. Hell, that’s the whole point of this website. If you have a mixing trick or know of a better way to do a particular job, share the wisdom.
  • You will never forget a specific feedback frequency. Looking at a parametric graphic equalizer the first time you might be baffled, but as soon as some of those frequencies start giving you feedback you will never forget what they sound like again.
  • Use what you got. If your venue only has a Shure Sm58, then I guess , bass or snare.
  • Give artists the outstanding service that they deserve. They are up there playing their hearts out, help them out and give them your absolute best.
  • A happy band on stage shines through to the crowd. If you are doing FOH mixing, help your monitor engineer out so that the band is happy.
  • If you are running out of sound-check time just tell the band to play a complete song instead of mixing individual instruments. It will make you work faster and you’ll get more done with the limited time you have.
  • Make your mix sound good to you. If you don’t think it sounds good and if you aren’t passionate about it who else is going to be?

What about you, any tips on mixing live sound you want to share for the budding live engineer or are you maybe having trouble breaking into the industry?

Image by: DefKreationz


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About me

About Björgvin Benediktsson

I’m Björgvin Benediktsson. I’m a musician, audio engineer and best-selling author. I help musicians and producers make a greater impact with their music by teaching them how to produce and engineer themselves. I’ve taught thousands of up and coming home studio producers such as yourself how to make an impact with their music through Audio Issues since 2011.

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  • Anonymous

    Go Hani!

  • Anonymous

    Go Hani!

  • it IS 80% Attitude, and 20% Technical Ability. And after a while the technical stuff becomes second nature, at which point mixing finally becomes entirely creative.

  • it IS 80% Attitude, and 20% Technical Ability. And after a while the technical stuff becomes second nature, at which point mixing finally becomes entirely creative.

  • Saihminga

     what would be the best microphone or set up for nylon string guitar in live situation and recording?

    • Björgvin Benediktsson

      I don’t want to mention any particular brands of mics because there are so many different ones, but I would guess a combination of a small diaphragm condenser and a large condenser could work well together. If you are using it for live sound then some good choices would be either the AKG 451 or the C1000 which are really good stage microphones. Check out this post for more live mics: http://audioissues.dev/live-sound-tips/essential-microphones-for-your-live-sound-setup/

      Recording wise I would test out a combination of small condensers picking up the fingerboard and the strings and a large condenser picking up the body of the instrument.

  • Saihminga

     what would be the best microphone or set up for nylon string guitar in live situation and recording?

    • Björgvin Benediktsson

      I don’t want to mention any particular brands of mics because there are so many different ones, but I would guess a combination of a small diaphragm condenser and a large condenser could work well together. If you are using it for live sound then some good choices would be either the AKG 451 or the C1000 which are really good stage microphones. Check out this post for more live mics: http://audio-issues.com/live-sound-tips/essential-microphones-for-your-live-sound-setup/

      Recording wise I would test out a combination of small condensers picking up the fingerboard and the strings and a large condenser picking up the body of the instrument.

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  • Jordan Cruz

    I’m having trouble “breaking into the industry” as you put it, and would like some suggestions if possible. I’ve emailed a bunch venues around town but don’t seem to be saying the right thing; I’m telling them I’m looking to intern or even volunteer , something just to get more experience. Any tips would be appreciated. Thanks

    • Björgvin Benediktsson

      I would say just keep at it if you can. It’s really not an easy thing to get into, but if you find a venue or befriend an engineer that’s willing to show you some tips, that could get your foot in the door. I started in a youth center that was also a music venue so venues also come in different packages.

  • Jordan Cruz

    I’m having trouble “breaking into the industry” as you put it, and would like some suggestions if possible. I’ve emailed a bunch venues around town but don’t seem to be saying the right thing; I’m telling them I’m looking to intern or even volunteer , something just to get more experience. Any tips would be appreciated. Thanks

    • Björgvin Benediktsson

      I would say just keep at it if you can. It’s really not an easy thing to get into, but if you find a venue or befriend an engineer that’s willing to show you some tips, that could get your foot in the door. I started in a youth center that was also a music venue so venues also come in different packages.

  • Jordan Cruz

    I just got my first call to do a gig, and am very nervous. Any “tips for success” tonight? Or experiences on what not to do? Thanks again

    • Brian

      You’re not a real engineer until there’s nothing coming out of FOH and EVERYBODY is looking at you…and you fix it.

      Stay calm…once it happens, it’s all downhill from there.

  • Jordan Cruz

    I just got my first call to do a gig, and am very nervous. Any “tips for success” tonight? Or experiences on what not to do? Thanks again

    • Brian

      You’re not a real engineer until there’s nothing coming out of FOH and EVERYBODY is looking at you…and you fix it.

      Stay calm…once it happens, it’s all downhill from there.

  • Here’s my quick tips –

    Compression…use it! Only use it WISELY. Generally you will want to adjust the Threshold so that no more than 3 or 4 lights are lighting (-3 to -6db of gain reduction. Think of compression as a necessity and sometimes a band-aid. If you have a band where the drummer uses a lot of side-stick (rim shots) for slow tunes you’ve probably had to CHASE the signal. Compression can help. Set the ratio to between 2:1 to 4:1.

    Drums are where you will use compression most of the time. My favorite ‘trick of the trade’ is to use Parallel Compression. This is done by compressing the drums (kick, snare and toms that is) using the channel inserts. Then you BUSS the drums and insert a compressor there are well. I will almost NEVER use more than 4:1 ratios on ANY drums and generally the bigger the drum the more compression I like. On the BUSS set the compressor to 4:1 and set the threshold as I said above.

    Don’t forget the GAIN setting…this should be called “Make Up Gain” because compression takes away part of the signal and you need to replace that (or make it up) with Gain. Always keep in mind that you want the gain structure optimized as close to 0db as possible throughout the mix.

    Parallel Compression is your best way to make the drums sound like THUNDER, like they always seem to in concert. The last piece of that puzzle of course is proper use of effects (reverb that is).

    • Jeff Pickman

      In regards to the adding make up gain compression in live sound that is not always the best idea. But to understand why, you have to understand every aspect the signal flow starting with the source to your ears. If you think about point A being your mic gain,point b being your threshold of your compressor and point c being the output of your compressor. If you have to use make up gain then your gain structure is probably wrong from the start. The more points where you “increase gain”, the more your signal degrades.

      • Jeff Pickman

        It wouldn’t let me type enough so here is my example of what I mean above! So if let’s say we have our mic gain on a signal and the output is at 2 db. My compressor threshold is 0 and I have a 2:1 ratio, before my output stage the output is at 1db. I make up 2db of gain for a total output of 3db. So lets look at this. I take that same input signal raise my mic gain on the input so that my output is at 6db I then set my threshold to 0 with a 2:1 ratio and then leave my output on the compressor at unity (which is 0). My output for the same input is 3db but because I only have one place of adding gain (voltage) (at the mic pre) my signal is cleaner with the similar output results. Lets remember why it’s called unity. If you look at most good FOH guys out there their faders run straight across the board at unity for a reason!

  • Here’s my quick tips –

    Compression…use it! Only use it WISELY. Generally you will want to adjust the Threshold so that no more than 3 or 4 lights are lighting (-3 to -6db of gain reduction. Think of compression as a necessity and sometimes a band-aid. If you have a band where the drummer uses a lot of side-stick (rim shots) for slow tunes you’ve probably had to CHASE the signal. Compression can help. Set the ratio to between 2:1 to 4:1.

    Drums are where you will use compression most of the time. My favorite ‘trick of the trade’ is to use Parallel Compression. This is done by compressing the drums (kick, snare and toms that is) using the channel inserts. Then you BUSS the drums and insert a compressor there are well. I will almost NEVER use more than 4:1 ratios on ANY drums and generally the bigger the drum the more compression I like. On the BUSS set the compressor to 4:1 and set the threshold as I said above.

    Don’t forget the GAIN setting…this should be called “Make Up Gain” because compression takes away part of the signal and you need to replace that (or make it up) with Gain. Always keep in mind that you want the gain structure optimized as close to 0db as possible throughout the mix.

    Parallel Compression is your best way to make the drums sound like THUNDER, like they always seem to in concert. The last piece of that puzzle of course is proper use of effects (reverb that is).

    • Jeff Pickman

      In regards to the adding make up gain compression in live sound that is not always the best idea. But to understand why, you have to understand every aspect the signal flow starting with the source to your ears. If you think about point A being your mic gain,point b being your threshold of your compressor and point c being the output of your compressor. If you have to use make up gain then your gain structure is probably wrong from the start. The more points where you “increase gain”, the more your signal degrades.

      • Jeff Pickman

        It wouldn’t let me type enough so here is my example of what I mean above! So if let’s say we have our mic gain on a signal and the output is at 2 db. My compressor threshold is 0 and I have a 2:1 ratio, before my output stage the output is at 1db. I make up 2db of gain for a total output of 3db. So lets look at this. I take that same input signal raise my mic gain on the input so that my output is at 6db I then set my threshold to 0 with a 2:1 ratio and then leave my output on the compressor at unity (which is 0). My output for the same input is 3db but because I only have one place of adding gain (voltage) (at the mic pre) my signal is cleaner with the similar output results. Lets remember why it’s called unity. If you look at most good FOH guys out there their faders run straight across the board at unity for a reason!