Join 30,000 Audio Issues Subscribers and Get Your FREE 10-Step Cheatsheet That Make Your Mixes Sound Awesome Next to Your Favorite Albums, Using the Plug-ins You Already Have

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


Get Your FREE 10-Step Cheatsheet and Make Your Home Studio Mixes Sound Great Next to Your Favorite Albums, Using the Gear You Already Have

*Spam sucks and I will not share your email with anyone.

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.

Read more

LEAVE A COMMENT

  • Navarre

    Keep the Fires Burning – Gwen McCrae. Beautiful silky mix. Crackles and shimmers. 

  • Navarre

    Keep the Fires Burning – Gwen McCrae. Beautiful silky mix. Crackles and shimmers. 

  • Xsgerry

    Cynical World by Kyrbgrinder for the punchy dynamic range, Cut To The Chase by Rush for the EQ normalisation.

  • Xsgerry

    Cynical World by Kyrbgrinder for the punchy dynamic range, Cut To The Chase by Rush for the EQ normalisation.

  • Gdh1532

    Glen Hughes – that’s the way it is.
    Micheal Jackson – Thriller
    AlterBridge- Blackbird
    For rock
    Brooks and Dunn for country
    Metallica,disturbed, tool
    For metal
    I have quite a few this is a small sample

    • Gdh1532

      Alan Parson Project.
      Stereotomy is one of my favorites. Several tracks off that disc. Work great for tweaking the rig.

  • Gdh1532

    Glen Hughes – that’s the way it is.
    Micheal Jackson – Thriller
    AlterBridge- Blackbird
    For rock
    Brooks and Dunn for country
    Metallica,disturbed, tool
    For metal
    I have quite a few this is a small sample

    • Gdh1532

      Alan Parson Project.
      Stereotomy is one of my favorites. Several tracks off that disc. Work great for tweaking the rig.

  • Bjoggiben

    Thanks for all the comments. I’ll take a listen to some of the suggestions that I haven’t heard or listened to in a wile 🙂

  • Bjoggiben

    Thanks for all the comments. I’ll take a listen to some of the suggestions that I haven’t heard or listened to in a wile 🙂

  • Thanks for all the comments. I’ll take a listen to some of the suggestions that I haven’t heard or listened to in a wile 🙂

  • Thanks for all the comments. I’ll take a listen to some of the suggestions that I haven’t heard or listened to in a wile 🙂

  • Andrew Bauserman

    I’ll add Toy Matinee’s eponymous/only album. Thriller is always good. And in the spirit of the season, TSO’s The Christmas Trilogy with the instrumental “Christmas Eve (Sarajevo 12/24)” and (with vocals) “Christmas Canon Rock” have a great range of acoustic and electric instrumentation.

  • Andrew Bauserman

    I’ll add Toy Matinee’s eponymous/only album. Thriller is always good. And in the spirit of the season, TSO’s The Christmas Trilogy with the instrumental “Christmas Eve (Sarajevo 12/24)” and (with vocals) “Christmas Canon Rock” have a great range of acoustic and electric instrumentation.

  • BrianV

    Muse – Uprising is a song I use a lot for testing the P.A at live shows.

    • nerdsplease

      Excellent choice!

  • BrianV

    Muse – Uprising is a song I use a lot for testing the P.A at live shows.

    • nerdsplease

      Excellent choice!

  • EddieZerohd

    Definately Spyro Gyra – Down The Wire

  • EddieZerohd

    Definately Spyro Gyra – Down The Wire

  • JB Collinet

    I currently only work with metal bands, so I am limiting my choices here, but those albums are great to mesure the full spectrum if you know them very well. I mean, very, very well!

    Heritage – Opeth ( if this album doesn’t sound great right away, I don’t know what sounds good!)

    Unto the Locust – Machine Head (this album is so diverse that it should get your a$$ covered in any situation)

    Koloss – Meshuggah (The most strange mix I ever heard, yet an amazing tool to check a PA)

    Next time, I hope I’ll help not only the metal crowd… But those 3 albums do it for me. They are making things go really smooth with tweaking.

    Have fun everyone!

  • JB Collinet

    I currently only work with metal bands, so I am limiting my choices here, but those albums are great to mesure the full spectrum if you know them very well. I mean, very, very well!

    Heritage – Opeth ( if this album doesn’t sound great right away, I don’t know what sounds good!)

    Unto the Locust – Machine Head (this album is so diverse that it should get your a$$ covered in any situation)

    Koloss – Meshuggah (The most strange mix I ever heard, yet an amazing tool to check a PA)

    Next time, I hope I’ll help not only the metal crowd… But those 3 albums do it for me. They are making things go really smooth with tweaking.

    Have fun everyone!

  • Ok people….I have a Behringer 12 channel rack mounted mixer, PV2000 power amp 2ohms=1000 watts per channel 4ohms=700 watts per channel. I have 2 Peavy P-15s moulded plastic cases 8ohms 400 watts max continuously.

    I have a Mixer, and Crossover by Berhinger as well but not in the picture yet.

    After powering up the Speakers are very muddy, and lows are overpowering. I also noticed at times not so powerful, and other times very powerful. The other factor is the volume all though set to the peak with slight limiter light flashing is not really producing the volume you would think should be there.

    I am an Ameture looking for some advice\solution.

  • Ok people….I have a Behringer 12 channel rack mounted mixer, PV2000 power amp 2ohms=1000 watts per channel 4ohms=700 watts per channel. I have 2 Peavy P-15s moulded plastic cases 8ohms 400 watts max continuously.

    I have a Mixer, and Crossover by Berhinger as well but not in the picture yet.

    After powering up the Speakers are very muddy, and lows are overpowering. I also noticed at times not so powerful, and other times very powerful. The other factor is the volume all though set to the peak with slight limiter light flashing is not really producing the volume you would think should be there.

    I am an Ameture looking for some advicesolution.

  • Paul Simon’s Graceland, and all the Steely Dan stuf. It’s sounds so open, full with clearity, and hi-fi.
    Jeff Buckley’s Everybody Here Wants You, mainly for drums vs bass.
    Various’ Hater for the subs.

    I also just like to use my own voice with an SM58. It sounds kinda strange at first, especially if you are not a singer, but getting to know the sound of your own voice you can never go wrong. If you got the system tuned on vocals as the main starting point, you already got a great deal of the main aspect of pop music covered.

  • Paul Simon’s Graceland, and all the Steely Dan stuf. It’s sounds so open, full with clearity, and hi-fi.
    Jeff Buckley’s Everybody Here Wants You, mainly for drums vs bass.
    Various’ Hater for the subs.

    I also just like to use my own voice with an SM58. It sounds kinda strange at first, especially if you are not a singer, but getting to know the sound of your own voice you can never go wrong. If you got the system tuned on vocals as the main starting point, you already got a great deal of the main aspect of pop music covered.