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How to Use Your Favorite Music to Run an Awesome Live Show


Related to last week’s post, How to Use a Reference Track to Improve Your Mixes, here is the flip-side focusing on getting the best sound out of your live sound system.

Depending on your live sound situation, you need to adjust your P.A. system correctly. It’s one of the most crucial things to do when setting up your system, however big the event is.

So how do you go about knowing how every speaker should sound like?

Use Your Favorite Music

The best way to test PA speakers is by playing a CD that you are very familiar with. By listening to a sound system that’s playing a favorite CD of yours you are more likely to hear odd frequency differences that the room or hall is generating.

Different Speakers React Differently

Testing the speakers is important to making sure the PA system reproduces music or sound correctly. The room is a major factor in how the P.A. speakers end up sounding, so you need to take that into account. Every time you move a speaker to a new location the variables change. The room changes, the placement of the stage changes, and so does the sound.

Therefore, make sure you know the reference well. Because if you don’t then you won’t notice, and it’ll be a pointless endeavor.

pa speakers

What music should you choose? It’s entirely up to you, but try to use something that you’re very familiar with and has a balanced frequency response. Use music that’s well mixed and mastered and has clear highs, deep lows and well balanced mids.

Your favorite music is your best bet in accurately testing a speaker system. If you know the music well enough, you will detect the difference between what you KNOW you’re supposed to hear and what you’re ACTUALLY hearing.

Things to Keep in Mind

Are the highs cutting through? Is the system dull and needs a little Air EQ?

  • Maybe you feel the highs are cutting through too much. Try cutting with a master graphic Equalizer.
  • Maybe you are working with less than ideal PA speakers that sound muddy in the lower midrange. By listening to music you know you instinctively hear that you might need to cut out a bit in the 200 Hz range.
  • Is the bass too dominant? Check the subwoofers and see if they are too loud. Check to see if the crossover is set to the correct frequency. Sometimes subwoofers are set to frequencies up to 200Hz. I feel this can create a sound that’s too thick and boomy.

Again I turn to another one of Ian’s post, 7 Crucial EQ Bands to Help Balance Your Mix. Use it as a checklist when you’re checking your system.

Good CDs to Use

I used to carry some of my favorite CDs around when I did live sound. It’s good to have some of your favorites that you can grab instead of relying on someone else’s idea of a good mix. 

This might be obvious, but I’ll say it anyway. Use quality audio. Don’t use mp3s or low quality compressed audio. The typical downloadable mp3 format has a bit rate of 128 – 192 kbps while a CD has the quality of 1411kbps.

That means that the CD sounds ELEVEN times better than a low quality mp3. And if you don’t believe, please use your big P.A. system to check them back to back. I guarantee that your world will never be the same.

A Few Recommendations

The Future – Leonard Cohen

I really like the combination of Leonard’s low pitched voice with his airy female backup singers. This combination in conjunction with the great production and mixing work makes The Future a great sound system tester.

God Shuffled his Feet – Crash Test Dummies

There’s something about the openness of this album that gives a sort of transparency to a sound system. If this album doesn’t sound clean and pristine, the speakers are in need of some modifications.

Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me – U2

A fellow sound engineer uses this song when he is testing out speakers, and swears by how amazing sounding it is. Which is hard to argue with, since it’s engineered by Flood and mixed by Mark Stent, both amazing audio engineers.

10.000 Days – Tool

I like having a varied mix when I test sound systems. I don’t want to bust out Leonard Cohen when I’m doing sound for a metal band. I’d rather put the amazing mix of 10.000 Days through the system, checking any weird differences I might find in my PA speakers while hopefully getting a thumbs up from the rock and roll crowd.

What are Your Recommendations?

Make sure you take a trusted reference mix with you next time you’re setting up a show. It’ll make it easier for you to recognize problems when you hear them through the speakers. Using a bad mix is only going to frustrate and confuse you, making you do modifications to a system that doesn’t need it.

What are your music recommendations? What kind of music do you put through a PA system when you are testing it?

Image by: Kmeron


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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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