Many live sound engineers and technicians have been trying to figure out ways to keep up their mixing skills during the pandemic with the lack of live shows and events.
While it may have been a long time since you’ve had your hands on the faders and it may still be some time before you get back to mixing, there is a simple way that you can improve your skills in the downtime- by focusing on listening.
It’s easy to forget just how important critical listening is. When we are in in the midst of a tour or constant work, we tend to operate on auto pilot. For anyone who has been mixing for an ample amount of time, listening becomes kind of like breathing… until we don’t need to do it for a while.
I’m not talking about every day listening, of course we’re always hearing sounds and noises around us, music or television in the background. What I am talking about is active listening in the form of critical listening.
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...
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...
Theme parks are a great place to build your live sound skills. Christian Rosado who is currently Entertainment Production Planner for a major theme park talks about what working in audio at a theme park involves.
Tell me about your job working as an audio tech for a theme park.
When working at a theme park you have two options, you are either a stage technician or an event technician. Stage techs are only scheduled at stages in which they know tracks or roles and or they can learn other stages. When you get trained at a stage you can let the managers and crew chiefs know that your skill sets are on a specific discipline for instance mine is audio, then they can go ahead and train you in the audio positions at the stage.
As an event tech or what we call a flex tech, you are capable of doing stages and events. At events you can be A2’s or audio assists or you can be the A1 (Audio Engineer), we are always in need of good A2’s but we only have a...
Working on a cruise ship is one way to get a lot of live sound and mixing experience but the job comes with many challenges!
Below, Victoria talks about her experience in working for one of the major cruise lines.
Tell me about your job doing audio for cruise ships. What was your official title? What were your duties?
I worked as a Lounge Technician. I was in charge of all the smaller entertainment spaces such as the Piano bar, Karaoke bar, Pool Deck, and any pop-up events. The number of venues varied by the size of the ship. I was responsible for the audio and lighting for all the shows that happened every night. Some of the larger ships have two Lounge Technicians, but most of them just have one in charge of it all.
What are the other audio positions on a cruise ship and what do those jobs include?
The only other audio position on the ship is a sound technician. They are assigned a space such as the main theater, the ice skating rink, or aqua theater. They...