April 21, 2017
This is a continuation of our first article, Mixing Live- 10 Steps to Pull Your Mix Together Quickly: Part 1.
Part 2: Perfect is the Enemy of the Good- Just Try to Get a Good Mix!4. Ring out your monitors with everyone on stage, and then test them with the whole band playing.
While the process of ringing out the monitors is beyond the scope of this article, the general idea is to have everyone at their mics and turn up each mic until it is hinting at feedback, compensate by lowering that frequency slightly, and repeating until you reach full power without feedback. Check out our recent series, How to "Ring Out" Your Stage Monitor System Part 1 & 2 for an in-depth tutorial.5. Make sure you aren't picking up anything but the musician through their microphone.
This step is pretty basic, but often over looked or not done as a time saver. Listening to each input can save you the frustration of trying to correct an issue with one of the instruments because you didn't know you were actually hearing it back through another mic! While the band is playing, grab a pair of headphones and use the PFL (Pre Fader Listen) to solo the channels one by one. Verify that they all sound good and aren't amplifying background noise or other instruments. Make sure that you disable extra vocal mics when they aren't in use, because without someone standing there they can pick up instruments from across the stage. Plan ahead and coordinate with your singers, so you know when to switch on their mic as needed during the performance. As the sound guy, don’t get distracted when muting less used microphones. I have seen several sound guys looking at their phones, and completely miss a guest singer using a microphone that was muted.6. Carve out a niche in the system's bandwidth for each musician as you build your mix.
This step is the key to establishing a live band that always sounds great. The goal of your soundcheck should be to end up with a mix which "paints a sonic landscape" that is both balanced and esthetically pleasing. Just like a finished puzzle, each piece of the final mix must fit into its place among the others. But if several of the pieces you are trying to put together don't fit because they're the wrong shape, you won't be able to solve the puzzle. A good approach is to avoid having any two instruments competing for the same sonic territory. So you might want to reserve the 4kHz area to add presence to your vocals (or solo instruments) and keep your accompanying instruments between 250Hz and 1kHz. You don't want the guitars stepping on the lead singer, do you? On the other hand vocals can sound a bit nasal and unpleasant with too much level at 1kHz, and they can overpower your guitars in that range. You might want to give your vocals a little extra low midrange if they sound thin, but you definitely don't want those channels reproducing anything below your singers' ranges. Female vocalists' lowest notes are around 200Hz and male vocalists might get down to about 100Hz, but below that use channel EQ or your 80Hz roll off switch to mute any background rumble that might get into your vocal channels. If two instruments are competing for the same bandwidth, it will be nearly impossible to get both of them into the mix at the same time. Start working out each player's sonic niche in the rehearsal studio. Maybe one guitarist has single-coil pickups and sounds a little brighter and the other has humbuckers. Perhaps you need midrange for your keyboards and piano, but your guitar player can use a "scooped midrange" sound without getting in the way. If you want big crunchy rhythm guitars up loud in the mix, it will be easier to accomplish if the bass player is willing to slip into a "bassier" part of the mix with less high mid emphasis. Use your parametric channel EQs to boost or cut the instruments as needed by sweeping the frequency knob back and forth until you discover where they step out of the way of one another. Then dial back the setting until it sounds natural. Communicate with the musicians when you need them to adjust their amps, so you don't have to over-equalize at the board. Find a spot somewhere in the mix to make a little room for the snare drum to snap. Play with the midrange on your kick and find where the impact of the hit pops out to really add punch to your mix. You can probably give your bass player most of the range below 200Hz if you pay attention to the bass guitar and kick drum and work for a solid cohesive fit between them. As you become more experienced you'll quickly learn to recognize the frequencies where instruments are competing and the only limit to where you put each instrument into the mix is your creativity. If you do your homework and you work all this out in rehearsal. you won't need to invent your sound at the gig, you'll only need to recreate it.
You can find a great little app that teaches you to recognize ten different EQ bands with a series of easy exercises here. With practice you will learn selective-listening so you can isolate different parts of the mix in your ears and distinguish individual instruments with ease.
Stay tuned for our next article where we'll learn how to bring it all together and make it special: Part 3: Putting the Final Polish on Your Mix
You might have discovered some niches of your own that are well-suited to your style. Where in the frequency spectrum do you like to put each of your instruments? Tell us in the comments.
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