Mixing Live- 10 Steps to Pull Your Mix Together Quickly

Mixing Live- 10 Steps to Pull Your Mix Together Quickly: Part 3 of 3

May 02, 2017 5 Comments

 

Part 3: Putting the Final Polish on Your Mix

This is a continuation of our first two articles, Mixing Live- 10 Steps to Pull Your Mix Together Quickly: Part 1 and 2

8. EQ your vocals in the main mix.
Once you've placed your instruments into the sonic puzzle, you should have a simple, high quality mix where you can hear everyone clearly. Now step back and listen carefully to your vocals. Ask yourself if there is anything unflattering about the vocals. Maybe the mix sounds great and you can hear everyone but you want your vocals to stand out just a little bit over the music. Try adding some presence by boosting the parametric channel EQ a few dB and sweeping the frequency between 2kHz-8kHz. Someplace in between (usually close to 4kHz) you will find a sweet spot where the vocals really shine. Go back to the level and dial it into perfection. If your vocals are too nasal-sounding (like a cheap radio or megaphone) try cutting them slightly around 1kHz. This will help the electric guitars to stand out by keeping them distinguished from the singers. Acoustic guitars that sound harsh also seem to behave better with a slight cut between 1kHz-2kHz. Always keep in mind that when instruments compete they get buried. Cutting these frequencies in the vocals will make the guitars seem to step forward in the mix, so try mixing by subtraction some of the time. Evaluate the lower range of your voices. If they sound thin you can add some warmth by boosting slightly at 250Hz. If they sound muddy or boomy a little cut at the same frequency can clean things up. Your final mix should be coming together nicely. Don't obsess too much. Remind yourself: "Perfect is the enemy of the good. Just try to get a good mix!" If you are struggling to decide about something, the choice probably isn't making that much difference anyway. Go with whichever approach is simpler. As a final test, try putting the channels through your PFL once again and listen in the headphones. By now you ought to be able to hear the range of each instrument and imagine how they will fit together. Don't worry if they sound a little strange when you solo them; tones that work well together don't always sound very exciting on their own, plus your headphones will sound different then your main speakers in the room. Let the sound of the instrument in the overall mix be the final factor in these evaluations.

 

9. Consider where compressors and gates can make your mix punchier and tighter and apply them judiciously.

If you have some compressors or gates available in the rack, consider gating your drum channels to reduce background noise and tighten up the drum mix. Be careful when setting the threshold however, so you don't end up with strange, choppy-sounding toms that have no sustain. You'll also want to pay attention to how they are affecting the decay of the cymbals leaking into those channels. If you can hear the gate shutting down on the cymbal leakage, you might be able to eliminate the effect by rolling some high frequencies off on the toms. To make the kick drum punchier in the mix, try using it to sidechain the bass compressor to lock the bass and kick together. You can also sidechain any background vocals to the lead vocal as long as they only chime in when the lead vocalist is singing. This can really tighten up the vocal mix because anyone sustaining a little too long gets ducked by the compressor. You can use your compressors to beef up instruments that aren't behaving in the mix because they have too much dynamic range. The classic problem of dead notes on a bass can often be remedied with judicious compression. Acoustic guitars might sound more finished in the main mix with a little compression too. Remember that excessive compression has a similar effect to rolling off the high frequencies and can make the instrument you're compressing sound dull or lifeless. Go slowly and bypass the compressor here and there as you go, comparing it with the uncompressed signal for reference. If it sounds better, it is better. If anything is sounding muffled, check to see if you have a compressor adjusted too aggressively on that channel. If any channel doesn't sound quite a bit better than it did with the compressor bypassed, then just leave the compression off.  You can also set the threshold very high, so it only compresses the high peaks that distort the mix. 

10. If needed you can now add appropriate ambience to make your instruments come to life, but don't push them back in the mix by overdoing it.

    By now the band should sound clean, punchy and powerful. Ambient effects like reverb and delay are the 'secret sauce' that can make your instruments and vocals sound polished, but they also reduce how present that instrument is in the mix. If you use too much ambiance you might end up burying that channel in the mix instead of making it sound better. Find where it sounds amazing, then back it off ever so slightly and it will probably sound just about right, because it is really easy to overdo ambient effects. Chances are rhythm instruments will sound best with little or no added ambiance, but your vocals and solos might benefit and a nice clean drum mix might also come to life with some reverb as well. Negotiate ahead of time with the players who add effects to their stage sound, so you can either control that ambiance at the soundboard or work together with them to adjust any ambient effects they are adding at the amp on stage.

    Take a quick tour around the venue to make sure the band is coming across in every area where your audience will be during the show. Make mental notes and go back to the board to make small, incremental changes as needed. It's perfectly okay to leave the board at times to check the room sound, just don't forget your cue to turn those backing vocal mics back on! These techniques might seem like a lot to do on a real gig, especially when time is limited. But once you're experienced they can be accomplished very quickly. Then you can concentrate on performance adjustments instead of tweaking the sound. When you've truly mastered these skills, you'll probably be able to pull together a mix in less time than it took to read these articles.

    We'd love to hear from you. Do you have any favorite techniques that you use to get a great mix on the fly? Tell us below in the comments.



    5 Responses

    Amanda
    Amanda

    May 08, 2017

    As a novice, I appreciate the tips on which frequencies to cut or boost. Having a basic recipe sure helps. Still learning all the details of this Carvin board. Thanks!

    Brian Henderlong
    Brian Henderlong

    May 04, 2017

    As a guitar player I was mad for many years because I could never get a sound man to turn up the solo. I used to pay a stranger every gig 5 dollars to tell the sound man to turn up the guitar solo.I didn’t work as hard as I did for as long as I did to not be heard! Thanks to the Carvin Legacy 3 I can boost the solo volume myself. The trick is to put the amp on a two twelve cab on a X stand in front of me at a 45 degree angle to myself on the side of the stage end. In front but not on the side of the center stage. I can then step over one step to get a good harmony vocal monitor mix which takes me out of the way of the guitar speakers. By giving the sound Man my honest level of rhythm and lead I can be up in the mix on solo’s with out P.A. distortion just like the radio and behind the vocals on rhythm just like the radio. Until Carvin did this I had to bi-amp my output with a volume pedal in between.

    Thank you Carvin, Brian

    Kevin
    Kevin

    May 04, 2017

    Can you explain “sidechain” of a compressor in a future article?

    Kenneth Young
    Kenneth Young

    May 03, 2017

    I have a C1648P mixer and I love it. It is truly the best mixer on the market for the money. There aren’t that many mixers out there that offer 6 independent monitor sends plus it has the option for having on board wireless mikes or guitars. Love the product and I highly recommend it. 5 Stars.

    Marcelo Teles
    Marcelo Teles

    May 03, 2017

    Great infos!!! These Steps help me worderfully!!! Tks

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