Preparation is key to success, and the live mixing world is no exception. As it never hurts to have a few tricks up your sleeve, we look at 5 quick but effective live sound mixing tips that separate the rookies from the pros.
Be prepared for dropouts
There’s nothing worse than having a piece of gear fail you at a critical moment, but you have to be prepared for it. Before every gig, assess the equipment at your disposal and make sure you’re aware of the bare minimum needed to keep the system functional. If you notice possible pitfalls or weak points, have a game plan ready for when (or if) equipment goes belly up. Oh and for god’s sake, don’t bash the equipment when things aren’t working!
Use solo cues wisely
Occasionally use the PFL/SOLO button on various instruments so you can get a good grasp over how each instrument is sounding on its own. You’ll also want to listen out for any bleed from other instruments, for instance any snare bleed entering the vocalist’s microphone.
Try and pinpoint what other unwanted bleed is being picked up and do your best to eliminate it, either by repositioning the microphone (or musician) slightly, moving the foldback away from the source, or even choosing a different microphone altogether.
It’s worth mentioning that while it’s good practice to use the solo buttons, an engineer should never rely on it. Over-reliance on the solo buttons can lead to problems down the line as you are unable to hear and thus, compensate for the venue’s acoustics.
Gates are your friend
Never underestimate the power of gating to clean up a busy and troublesome mix. It offers you a level of control that can be critical to keeping your live mix in order. Done right, you’ll eliminate bleed of adjacent instruments into nearby mics, opening up space in your mix. Gating helps you to remove any annoying ringing, buzz and hum that might be emanating from any nearby instruments.
With a little practice and knowing how to dial in the right settings, you can also make your drums punchier. There’s no one-size-fits-all parameter for this technique, but essentially you’ll want to aim for the gates to shut off and on so that the transients of the kick and snare ‘snap’ in time.
Another common technique used by the pros is to begin by gating a specific frequency range such as the sub and bass region, then working their way up, listening closely so as to open up space across the entire spectrum.
Filter, filter, filter.
Filters are fantastic because you can free up room in your mix with little effort. If a sound doesn’t require low-end energy, roll it off. Likewise, not all instruments require much energy above 10khz-15khz. While that top-end energy might not sound too bad when solo’d in your headphones, too much of it in the overall mix could result in a tinny and harsh mix. Try pulling some of that high-end sheen back and you’ll notice your mix tighten up in the midrange and your overall mix will gain clarity. Remember that both filter pots have adjustable frequency points, so give them a sweep back and forth to determine where the sweet spot is.