Creating the Perfect Mix
Bad mixing affects lives. You save your money and buy gear. Your thoughts and time are consumed with song creation and practicing for live performances. Finally, you get a gig and promote it to everybody you know. Then the moment comes and your show starts, and it sounds terrible. Many of us have gone through this experience, so we’ve created this list of live sound tips. First we’ll cover the integrity of signal flow. Next we’ll talk about basic mixing practices. Finally, we’ll end with general housekeeping duties to protect your gear and sound.
- Follow good gain structure practices at each stage that sound passes through. Consequently, read our article on Gain Staging for more insight.
- Turn off unused open channels & unnecessary auxes on your mixer.
- Novices reach for the master fader when audience members complain they can’t hear. This may be the reason they can’t hear in the first place. Rather than raise it, try lowering several channels. “I can’t hear” is more likely “I can’t understand”.
- If you want to increase the effectiveness of a sub-woofer, move it over to where the sidewall meets the floor, or the corner of the room. The boundary effect can be a life-saver if you’re playing in an unexpectedly larger venue than the one your system is designed to fit.
- Make sure all level controls on your power amps and mixers are down before you power up and power down. Amplifiers should always be switched off first and turned on last.
- In a live setting, very few people will be hearing both left and right speakers equally so it’s best not to pan things dead left or right.
- A good sound starts at the source. Engineers say “He who uses EQ and effects the least, uses them the best”. Always try cutting frequencies before boosting.
- Amplifiers don’t produce power; they convert power from AC outlets. Use heavy cabling and don’t use consumer-grade power strips as these will limit the amount of current to the amplifier.
- Make sure your amplifiers have plenty of ventilation to avoid overheating.
- Avoid having signal cables lying alongside AC power cables.
- Drive amps hard but not to the max. Distortion damages your speakers and is hard on the audience as well.
- A low frequency hum is most likely caused by a ground loop. Try to isolate the problem and then use AC ground lifts.
- Lighting can also cause hum. Dimmers introduce a good amount of noise.
Don’t skimp on cabling. Use proper gauge wire to make sure that all power is distributed to the speaker.
- Make sure your cabling isn’t too long. If you have lots of excessive extra cable, you’re wasting that power that could be getting to the loudspeaker.
- Intermittent sound crackles are almost always from bad cables. Being systematic, isolate the problem and replace the offending cable.
- Coil cables properly, don’t add stress or kinks; label and store cables for easy identification.
- Dispersion refers to the way sound travels. It is important to position the cabinets in a way to give as many people in the audience a balanced and blended sound.
- If your speakers’ drivers are exposed to moisture, do not use them at all until they are completely dry or have been checked out.
- For stringed instruments, always use a direct box when possible.
- Never point a microphone directly at your loud speaker.
- If feedback is coming from the vocalist, experiment with mics with different polar patterns.
We hope you enjoyed these live sound tips. As with anything, experience helps. It only takes one nightmare gig to leave a bad taste in your mouth. Instead of hating on the venue, take matters into your own hands. If you have your own live sound tips, please leave them in the comments section.
Click Here to learn why you need to upgrade to a digital mixer
Click Here for our article on Microphone Tips