If you’re the lucky guy or girl whose job it is to mix the band as well as play your instrument or sing, you’ll know how tricky it is to wear both these hats. There’s a lot of pressure. I’ve been in this role myself for the last several years in my band, so I thought I’d share some tips on how to make things go smoothly.
- Make sure the vocals are legible and clear – the number one sin of live sound is burying the vocals in the mix so no-one can hear the singer. Whether you start with the vocals or finish with them, make sure they sit on top of the mix so they’re coherent. If you do vocals last and find yourself running out of headroom, you may have to lower the level of everything to be able to boost the vocals, so my tip would be to start with the vocals – get a good level for them and leave yourself a bit of headroom, then mix the rhythm section and then the other instruments.
- If you can get your hands on a mixer that gives individual control over monitor mixes, DO IT! Having everyone mix their own monitors will save you a lot of time.
- Roll off bass frequencies on instruments that don’t need it – they’ll just muddy up your mix. High-pass vocals below 100Hz (more or less depending on the singer/gender etc), and guitars too – simply turn the high-pass filter up until you discern a difference in tone, then roll it back a touch.
- Don’t use too much reverb – if you can’t disable it between songs, it will sound weird when the vocalist talks. Also, I prefer not to let reverbs get too bright on vocals – they can be sibilant and create feedback problems.
- Do stick some reverb in the monitors – makes the vocalists happier.
- Do use compressors / limiters to keep vocals peaks under control. also on bass to smooth it out. Electric guitars often have built in compression naturally. Make sure anything going out to headphones or in-ears is limited to avoid hearing damage.
- Do use gates on mics where possible. Don’t set them too aggressively on vocals.
- If you’re using lots of monitor wedges rather than in-ears, it’s a good idea to ring out the room before sound check – this simply means raising the level of each mic until it just starts to feedback, then identifying the feedback frequency and notching it out a bit. This is easier if you have a graphic EQ as you can just turn the individual bands up.
- Using mics that reject sound well from the rear are good for controlling feedback. This usually includes most dynamic cardioid mics.
- Don’t put too much sub into your mix – when bass gets really loud, it can start drawing everything else out and is not very musical to listen to. Mix your kick drum and bass guitar in the lows and keep it clear of everything else.
- If you’re using wireless mics or guitars or IEMs – have spare batteries for all. Also have spare leads in case you have to go back to basics.
- Mute the desk before and after sets. I have an iPad set up on a stereo channel that I can just solo at the end of a set which mutes everything else.
- The Presonus Studiolive mixer we use can easily record multi-channel outs to companion software on a laptop, and this can then be played back through the desk allowing you to soundcheck the band when they’ve left the stage. This means you don’t have to be playing and you can hear it all from front of house – mix your refinements on an iPad from there. Awesome! There are a growing number of mixers that can do this, the Line6 Stagescape and Mackie DL1608 are 2 other popular choices.
If you’ve got any killer live sound tips, share them in the comments!