Live sound mixing (in fact, any mixing for that matter!) is all about putting each instrument in its own space. That means using a variety of tools including EQ, panning, compression, gating, and volume levels to ‘carve out’ the important parts of each sound source, leaving just the most important elements.
In last week’s tip we covered blending sounds “in the room” (acoustic drums and guitar amps) with reinforced sounds from the PA. This post is about the larger gigs.
If you have complete control of the mix, everything can be treated separately and placed *exactly* in the right spot. That means a mic or DI on every source onstage. In a large room, with a full PA, you will want everything onstage to be run through in the system – at least a little!
It’s a matter of personal taste whether the end goal is a) faithful reproduction of the sounds onstage or b) a complete ground-up mix to “bring the band to life”. When you’re dealing with the folk or classical world, the end goal may be for the audience not to realise the PA is there at all – however for a rock gig sometimes “it’s not music unless you can feel it!”
Whichever approach you take, the first step will be giving yourself as much control as possible, meaning a mic on every drum (and maybe every cymbal), a DI/mic on bass, mics on guitar amps, DIs on keys and mics on leslie cabinets, in addition to each singer obviously having their own mic.
Physical space onstage can be important; with drums and guitars easily bleeding into vocal mics, the further you can get the mic away from other sources the better.
With that as a starting point, it becomes easier to tuck the snare drum in behind the vocal; bring the guitar volume up for solos; keep the bass controlled in volume while still having plenty of depth and power; bring out the twinkle of a piano without the block chords stamping on the lyrics…
And that’s when the job of being a sound engineer really becomes fun!