Much like the musicians themselves, the job of every FOH engineer is to deliver an unforgettable live gig experience. It never hurts to develop a repertoire of great engineering habits, so here are 5 cardinal rules every FOH engineer should practice and preach.
Control the bass
You’ve got to remember though that very few genres require earth shattering sub-sonic frequencies! It’s a common pitfall for engineers to go overboard and swamp their mixes with bass. Besides the band sounding terrible, you also run the risk of speaker blowouts, and not to mention – ear canal damage (consider that the kids right up at the front might not appreciate a 50Hz belting for 2 hours). Keep it sounding natural, and be sure to filter out any unwanted bleed from other instruments that don’t require sub content (like guitars and vocals). This will free up headroom and reduce the amount of low-frequency clutter getting in the way of your kick and bass.
Even if you’ve set your mics up to perfection, keep an eye on troublesome areas like boomy floor toms, vocal microphones, and cranked-up reverb returns. If you’re desperately struggling to find the source of the feedback and can’t locate the source, check to see that no microphones have been accidentally kicked or moved around by band members or roadies.
Mute the FX returns in between songs
The last thing the band wants is all their delay and reverb effects left on while they’re talking to the audience between songs. Quick fix: have all your FX returns on a VCA so that you can mute and unmute them on the fly.
An empty venue sounds a lot different compared to when it’s at capacity. Stay on your toes as you’ll have to be prepared to sculpt the mix to fit the band’s sound in the space as the venue fills. As a general rule, the more punters in the room, the more high frequencies are going to be absorbed. Adjust accordingly and carefully.
Research, research, research!
As the old adage goes, preparation is the key to success. It’s much easier to mix a band if you know their material, their sound and their style beforehand, as you’ll already have an idea of what to shoot for when you arrive at the desk.
If you haven’t had a chance to listen to the band prior to the gig, don’t stress! Begin with the vocal. Keep it focussed, up-front and well EQ’d. Move onto the drums and bass and get them locking together. If you’ve done this right, the rest of the band should fall into place a lot quicker. Next, move on to guitars and keys, and finally backing vocals.