Your ears are the most important tool you have as a sound engineer, producer, or musician. And the best thing about them is they are FREE! They don’t require any software, measuring microphones, or computers. They are with you wherever you go.
I’m not saying that computer based tools and other measurement devices are not worthwhile, but they are just tools and should only be used as such. The problem comes when you start relying on those tools to tell you how things sound. After a while you just stop using your ears or simply forget to ‘listen’.
When I was very young I learned how to play piano by ear. I was actually pretty good at it until I started taking piano lessons. Once I learned how to read music somehow my ability to pick things up by ear got lost. It seemed much easier to get the sheet music for whatever song I wanted to learn rather than spend the time plunking away at the keyboard to...
I talk a lot about getting great sounds from the source. This includes balancing keyboard patches and playback tracks.
When you’ve got a keyboard player with a variety of keyboards, synths, and rack full of sounds it’s very important to work to get not only the levels but the tones balanced.
It’s equally important with playback tracks or stems that can come in many different configurations and from many different sources.
I’ll start with keyboards.
There can sometimes be a big difference in what the keyboard player hears coming from their rig in IEMs and wedges, versus how it translates through the PA. For example, they could be compensating with extra high end to cut through their monitor mix while that extra high end is far too much for the FOH mix.
This becomes a problem when you've got for example; a string patch where the high end is screaming and an organ patch that is too muddy and needs more highs.
The ideal thing to...
So you want to get started in live sound and you are wondering where you can get some experience or a job? How and where do you do that?
How much do you know?
If you have only very basic or no knowledge, you’ll want to choose carefully. Equally important as what you learn is who you learn from. Studying under the wing of someone who is well respected and has a professional attitude will get you further than the local sound tech who is known for being miserable and doing shoddy work.
If you have zero knowledge and are looking to get some education in audio and music production there are many options, ranging from basic courses to full-blown university degrees.
No matter which route you choose, it’s important to understand how this business works. The reality is you are not going to graduate from one of the many technical schools and be immediately hired by Taylor Swift to mix her next tour.
Degree or not, you need to gain some real-world...
1. Know the frequencies. In order to eliminate feedback you must be able to identify the frequency feeding back.
2. Use proper speaker placement. Keep the mic line upstage of the PA Speakers.
3. Ring out the vocal microphones in the PA.
4. Start with good sounds at the source.
5. Use the right microphone. Pick the right type of mic and pickup pattern for your needs.
6. Use proper mic placement. Close mic’ing is the preferred method in live sound.
7. Understand and implement proper gain structure of your inputs.
8. Use subtractive EQ rather than additive.
9.Understand signal flow to avoid unwanted mechanical feedback.
For a more in depth explanation on any of these download the FREE ebook ‘7 Things Every Live Sound Engineer Should Know’ .
There is such a huge disparity between digital surfaces and systems from one console to another- it can be overwhelming to know where to start on a board you haven’t used before.
This is why having a thorough knowledge of signal flow is so important. It allows you to walk up to any console, take a moment to get your bearings- here’s my input gain, here’s my channel EQ, etc. and quickly get to work.
When you own the console or are responsible for it, you should dive deep into the manual or online tutorial and learn it so you can work efficiently. If you are just walking in and mixing on a console du-jour, there should be an audio tech who is well versed in the software platform, menus, and filing system of that console.
Now, I said ‘should’. For any of you who’ve worked in live sound for more than a year, you all know that what ‘should’ be and what ‘is’ are two very different things. So with that in mind, I...
Input Lists and Stage Plots
When doing live shows, there are two things that can make setting up and patching the stage go smoothly and efficiently. They are an input list and stage plot.
An input list is essentially a list of inputs and the corresponding channels in the snake or console that they are patched into. The most basic contain the snake channel, input and possibly a microphone or DI preference. More advanced input lists can include sub snake channels, color coding, location of the input on stage, mic stand preference, and any other relevant info.
BASIC INPUT LIST
ADVANCED INPUT LIST
Everything that is patched into the snake and/or console is an input. This includes all microphones, DIs, any devices for playback, as well as other audio source. As the size and the scope of the show increases, so will the information on the input...
Gain structure generally refers to setting proper input gain to achieve the best signal to noise ratio. Optimum gain is not just turning it up until it’s in the red as a lighting guy once told me! Hmmm.
Gain staging occurs at many places in the sound system- between the soundboard, signal processing, amplifiers, inside the soundboard itself, and from the various sources coming from the stage. The level coming into each piece of gear should be the same going out and the next device in the signal path should also be seeing the same level.
This is called ‘Unity Gain’. For example; if the output meter on your soundboard is showing 0dB (nominal) and the next device in the signal path is the system crossover, it should be seeing 0dB at the input and the signal leaving it should initially be 0dB, and so on down the line.
While some devices are used specifically to increase or decrease gain, and you may make adjustments to output levels to suit your needs, if you...
One of the most important things to understand when doing live sound is signal flow. Signal flow is the path of the audio signal from its source to its output. In mixing, it’s how the sound gets from an instrument or input to the audio console and what path the signal takes through the console before finally coming out of the speakers.
Why do you need to understand signal flow?
Well for one, so you can properly connect all the various parts of your sound system.
Sound Systems are comprised of many different pieces of equipment, including but not limited to loudspeakers, crossovers, amplifiers, signal processors, audio consoles, microphones, DI boxes, sub snakes, splitters, etc. There is a specific path the audio signal needs to take through this equipment for it to function properly.
Knowing signal flow allows you to correctly wire all these components together.
You need to patch the inputs on the stage to the snake, the snake to the consoles, the console to the system EQ and...
Want to get some serious time on the console and hone your mixing skills? Doing sound for a church or house of worship is a great place to start. With some mega churches having sound systems as large and complicated as what you would find at an arena level rock concert, mixing church sound can be very fulfilling.
Below, Samantha talks about her experience working in audio and tech for houses of worship.
Tell me about your experience doing church sound. What was your official title? What were your duties?
My experience with church sound has been inadvertent and incredible. I’ve been heavily in the house of worship sector for six years now. I’ve had many titles: A1, producer, trainer, and even something called “IT media supervisor”. I often work in many different churches throughout the year as a consultant. One of my two consistent positions is that of a technical producer, or sorts. I’m in charge of a seminary’s weekly chapel...
Sound companies are an obvious place to start if you want to work in live sound. From small local companies to the big players who provide sound systems for all the major concert tours. Below I talk to Taylor who works as an audio tech for one of the biggest touring sound companies in the U.S.
Tell me about your experience working for the company.
I’ve been working for the company for almost three years now, and I love it! It’s been perfect for me as an up and coming freelancer to get my feet into the industry and start making a name for myself. It’s provided me so many opportunities to meet new people and work some really awesome shows.
What are your typical duties on tour?
For most tours I’m the stage patch tech, meaning that I handle running XLRs and multipoint cables from monitor world out to the stage. I also handle placing microphones on instruments.
How long did you work for the company before doing a live show? How long before going on...