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Creating The Best Live Sound: The Ultimate Guide to Live Mixing

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Attending a live music concert is an experience unlike any other. The energy in the room is palpable as fans come together to enjoy their favourite artists and share a mutual appreciation for music. As a member of the audience, you feel like you’re a part of something special, and there’s a sense of community that’s hard to replicate.

But have you ever wondered what happens behind the scenes? Have you ever thought about the work that needs to be done before musicians can even step on the stage? If you’re in the audience, you might be asking yourself how sound travels in a massive stadium—reaching every person in the venue regardless of where they stand. 

This is where live mixing comes into play. Live sound engineers make concerts—whether big or small—possible, combining strategic and technological elements to reinforce sound. 

If you’re reading this article, then you’re considering putting on a live show and helping bands achieve the performance of a lifetime. Let’s learn about the fundamentals of live mixing, helpful tips and the gear you need for a smooth-sailing live concert!

The Basics of Live Mixing: What Is It About?

Live mixing or live sound mixing refers to the fusing of several sound sources through a mixing console. It mainly aims to optimise the sound sent to front-of-house sound systems for the audience, stage monitors and broadcasts for media or live streams. broadcast (live radio coverage of concerts), monitors and the front of the house. 

Here are some examples of equipment needed for live mixing:

  • Microphones
  • Microphone stands
  • Stage & In-Ear monitors
  • Cables for sound equipment
  • Amplifiers or amps
  • Speaker systems
  • Mixing Consoles
  • Multi-track recorder

Live sound engineers are the ones who make the magic happen. They balance pre-recorded and live audio, vocals and instruments in a way that creates a well-balanced, immersive sound that complements the performance and engages the crowd.

In live mixing, audio equipment is connected in a chain of connections known as the signal chain or the audio signal flow. This uses input transducers like pickups, DI boxes and microphones. Using a multicore cable, these devices are connected to the channels of a mixing console. 

live mixing equipment

Moreover, other aspects like rigging, cabling and power systems are required to give these devices full support. 

Types of Live Mixing

Front of House Mixing

live mixing in a concert

Image Source: ProSoundWeb

The front of house (FOH) mixing refers to the blending of audio for the audience, led by a sound engineer who’s either operating from the middle of the audience or at the last few rows. 

Non-audio crew members, such as lighting console operators, may also be required to stand within the FOH position to allow them to see the show from the audience’s perspective. 

Mixing for Stage and In-Ear Monitors

perform stage

Image Source: Quest Engineering

Monitor engineers mix the sound that the performers hear on stage—also known as the foldback system. 

Monitor engineers work closely with the artists and their crew to set up and adjust the in-ear monitors or wedge speakers on stage, which are used to provide individualised sound to each performer. The monitor engineer must have a deep understanding of the artists’ needs and preferences and be able to make quick adjustments during the performance to ensure they can hear themselves and the other musicians properly. A skilled monitor engineer can help the performers give their best possible performance by providing the audio support they need to feel confident and connected to the music.

To facilitate easier communication between the performers and the monitor engineer, the monitor console is typically placed in the wings slightly off-stage. 

Broadcast Mixing

broadcast mixing

Image Source: Willow Production

The audio that is delivered for radio,television or internet transmission is what broadcast mixing is for. Usually, broadcast mixing is done in an OB van that is stationed outside the venue.

Live Mixing and The Importance of Sound Checks

One of the unsung heroes of live concerts and small gigs are sound checks and technical rehearsals. It’s almost impossible to deliver the perfect live sound, frequencies and stage work without this pre-performance run-through. 

Depending on the size of the production, the performers and audio engineers work closely together for an hour or so to blend the best sound possible. It is the performers’ one-time chance of making adjustments to what they hear on stage.

This is how it works. If a band is performing, each member will play the different instruments they’re assigned to. The sound engineers will then adjust the volume of every instrument so they match each other and no one is getting drowned out by the noise.

Sound checks make sure that everything is balanced. The bassist should clearly hear the keyboardist, the drummer should hear the guitarist and the lead singer should hear themselves on stage. Moreover, this technical rehearsal will also ensure attendees can have the same sound experience regardless of where they stand or sit. 

Live Mixing vs Studio Mixing: What’s The Difference?

Now that you’re familiar with the basics of live mixing, let’s discuss what makes it different from studio mixing. Although both of them are important in music production, they mostly differ in terms of chain of command, approach, thought process and equipment, to name a few.

Let’s get started!

Required Equipment and Workstation

One of the biggest differences between live mixing and studio mixing is the required equipment and workstation. Remember that what you use in studio setups may not always translate well in a live setting, especially since live mixing is more simplified.

During live performances, your main priority is to help bands and artists sound great. It means that you will use less processing power and fewer faders per channel. You can’t afford to make even the smallest mistakes, so make sure your setup is straightforward and foolproof.

Time Frame and Pressure

Time is by far the most obvious difference between the two. In studio mixing, you face no real pressure to test amplifiers, check frequencies, set up several gears and inspect whether cables are properly plugged. You can freely do them without the fear of a clock ticking. 

Your pacing, however, is determined by deadlines and budget. 

Meanwhile, mixing for a live performance has a strict and linear time frame. You might only have less than 30 minutes to soundcheck the entire band and make sure everyone is audible. 

That goes to say that you should never spend much of your time overthinking microphone positions because you’re trying to find the perfect angle. 

And most importantly, don’t ever rush the basic set up process just so you can spend more time experimenting with the sound. Prioritise stage safety!

Skill Set

What are the key differences between working in a live sound environment and in a recording studio? While both roles require a passion for music and a commitment to delivering high-quality sound there are some key differences which may be more appealing to different personalities.

Live sound engineers work in a dynamic, real-time environment, where they must make quick decisions and adjustments to ensure the best possible sound for a live performance. They must have excellent communication and interpersonal skills to work with performers, other crew members, and venue staff effectively. Live sound engineers also need to be able to handle high-pressure situations and think on their feet, as they may encounter unexpected technical issues during a performance.

In contrast, studio engineers work in a controlled environment where there is arguably more time to perfect the recording process. They focus on capturing the best possible sound during recording, editing, mixing, and mastering sessions. Studio engineers must have excellent attention to detail, technical knowledge, and the ability to work independently for long hours. That’s not to say that studio engineers will not face the pressures to complete recordings and mixes according to the demands of the clients.

At the end of the day, they both follow the same principle: make the music sound great, no matter what. That’s why lots of skills and tips you’ve heard from studio mixing can be applied to live sound fundamentals. 

And even if you have little to no experience in whatever type of sound mixing, you’re in the right place! 

Dos and Don’ts: Live Mixing Tips for Beginners

Think of live mixing like you’re painting a portrait, writing a poem or free-building a LEGO set from scratch. There are a plethora of ways to make it fun and perfect, but unfortunately, the chances of ruining it can be just as plenty. 

Everything is unfolding right before your eyes. You don’t have unlimited chances for another take. The audience and performers are expecting you to get things right on the first try, making the experience stressful and rewarding at the same time. 

Although mistakes are bound to happen, you can take a proactive approach to reduce errors in live mixing. Check out these dos and don’ts:

Dos

Do Adjust for the Venue

Live sound engineers often use delay to time-align speaker clusters in order to achieve better audio coherence and clarity. The exact amount of delay needed depends on various factors, such as the distance between the speaker clusters, the type of venue, and the specific audio system being used.

One rule of thumb that is sometimes used is to set a delay of one millisecond for every foot distance from a speaker cluster. However, this is just a general guideline and may not always be appropriate or necessary.

In reality, the best approach is to use a combination of measurement tools and subjective listening tests to determine the optimal amount of delay for a specific system and venue. 

Beginners often increase the volume in their headphones assuming it is the only way to overpower the live music playing in their feed.

To avoid any delays, it’s recommended to set a delay of one millisecond for every foot of distance from a speaker cluster. For analogue users, connecting headphones to an external delay unit can be helpful. 

Routing the unit to an amplifier and then back to the equipment can enhance the quality of the sound you’re listening to.

Do Take Soundchecks Very Seriously

Soundchecks are crucial to achieving a good live mix. Take the time to carefully set up each microphone, check the levels, and adjust the EQ and other effects as needed. This will help ensure that the mix sounds balanced and clear during the actual performance.

You will need good communication and people management skills to coordinate with your team and the performers to test and fine-tune your mix.

Do Pay Attention to the Mix Balance

The mix balance is the relative levels of each instrument and vocal in the overall mix. It’s important to pay attention to this balance and make adjustments as needed throughout the performance to ensure that all elements are audible and balanced in the mix.

To achieve a good mix balance, you’ll need to have a good understanding of each instrument and vocal in the mix, and how they interact with each other. You’ll also need to be aware of how the acoustics of the venue may impact the sound, and make adjustments as needed to compensate.

Do Use EQ and Effects Judiciously

EQ and effects can be powerful tools for shaping the sound of individual instruments and vocals, but it’s important to use them judiciously. Avoid overuse of effects such as reverb or delay, and be careful not to over-EQ instruments or vocals, as this can lead to a muddy or unnatural sound.

When you avoid producing a muddy mix, you can make them sound more professional. The overall mix will also sound clearer.

Do Understand Your Microphone Pickup (Polar) Patterns

The microphone that you have in your setup might be sensitive, picking up audio from sources you’re unaware of. Check your audio sources carefully. This will help you evaluate the background dynamics you hear and how it affects your live mix.

It will allow you to make sense of the rules of proximity for your stage set up, helping you reduce the clutter that can interfere with the performance. 

Do Minimise Muddiness In The Baritones and Tenors

If there are male vocalists in the performance, make sure that you pull them out of the mud. Some of them may have some muddiness in their vocals in the 300 to 400 Hz range. 

When you avoid producing a muddy mix, you can make them sound more professional. The overall mix will also sound clearer since the instruments can generate pure audio.

Do Have a Backup Microphone

When live mixing, always remind yourself that you can’t forever rely on wireless systems. With a large number of wireless equipment, wireless interference is likely to surface. Equipment may fail due to different reasons and there may not be time to troubleshoot and solve it during a performance.

This is why you should prepare a wired mic on a stand with a long cable and place it near the stage. Pack up an extra DI box along with a ¼ inch cable and set it up at the base of the microphone stand. 

If a microphone malfunctions mid-performance, you can immediately use the emergency set up. The show must go on!

Do Accept That Something Can Go Wrong

You can spend endless months planning the perfect live show and something may still go wrong. This is why you need to expect at least one issue to happen in every performance you handle.

Ask yourself questions like, ‘what could go wrong?’, ‘what can we do to fix it?’ or ‘what pieces of equipment can we use to keep the show going?’ You can also perform a quick inspection before the show begins to reduce the chances of technical problems. 

Think ahead. Make a plan for equipment failure so you’ll be ready when it actually happens. 

Do Use a Ducker For One-Man Operations

A ducker on a digital console can temporarily lower the volume level of a particular audio signal whenever a second specified audio signal is detected. 

It is useful if you’re the only person operating the show. You can try this technique if the show wants to play background music while sharing announcements.

Do Seek a Mentor

It’s understandable if you feel a bit intimidated and overwhelmed when trying live mixing for the first time. Simply thinking about the pressure and criticism you might face is already enough to stop you in your tracks.

Fortunately, seeking experienced mentors can help you advance in your training. One way to find them is by enrolling in an art and music school where audio engineering programs or short courses are offered. 

This includes:

These programs are handled by professional audio engineers who have years of live mixing experience on their end. You’d be surprised to know that most of them are more than happy to share their knowledge in the field!

Don’ts

Don’t Mix With Your Eyes

Many studio engineers who also handle live sound develop the poor habit of focusing more on the equipment than the sound while live mixing.

Even the most seasoned live sound engineers fall into this trap. You have to watch so many EQ displays, output metres and gain reductions, so how are you supposed to focus solely on the sound?

Here’s a trick: Before you touch the knobs, faders or buttons, ask yourself what you’re trying to accomplish. What exactly are you trying to do?

Once you figure it out, focus on the things that can help you achieve your objective. You might have to slightly move a channel fader in the correct direction or sweep the mid-EQ band to find frequency problems. 

Give yourself a minute to close your eyes and listen closely. This might take a while to get used to, but once you get the hang of it, better live mixes are within reach. 

Don’t Get Stuck In One Place

It’s easy to stay in one place for hours on end, especially behind the mixing console. However, you should remind yourself that it represents just one point in the venue and may not reflect how the mix sounds in other areas. 

Make sure that you take enough time to walk around the venue, pay attention to potential issues and make adjustments using the mixing board. To make this easier, use digital mixers that can be controlled using a remote control app. 

Also, walk the venue again at least once after the show has begun to ensure that the mix still sounds good for the changing acoustics of the space.

Don’t Do Everything On Your Own 

There’s a common misconception that if you just do your thing, sit alone behind the mixer and focus on your faders, everything would go well. You believe that minding your own business while running a live show will likely make you successful.

This kind of attitude is counterproductive in live mixing, unfortunately. Setting up the stage to soundcheck up until the mid-show will require clear communications. If you fail to do so, it can cause serious issues down the line.

You have to establish a good relationship with the performers. And most of the time, they are bands. You might lose your temper along the way, especially when they act entitled, selfish or irresponsible. 

When this happens, just remind yourself that you work for the band as their sound engineer. That way, you can take a service-first approach and become a part of the band. 

Take the time to talk to the band seriously, whether it’s about feedback or emergency microphones in case batteries die. If everyone learns to put their ego aside, things can go smoothly without fail. 

Don’t Hurt Your Hearing

The live sound gets incredibly loud, ranging from a relatively quiet 93-96dB to a deafening 120dB or more. If you expose yourself to 100dB sound pressure levels (SPLs) for 15 minutes, you run the risk of permanently damaging your hearing. 

And at 120dB, it only takes about 30 seconds.

To protect your hearing in live settings, invest in custom-moulded earplugs. It can accommodate the natural EQ curve of your hearing while reducing volume at the same time. Moreover, a great pair of earplugs can help you make better mixing decisions since it lets you hear the details you’d likely miss. 

Final Thoughts

Handling the rigours of live sound is not a walk in the park. Up-and-coming live sound engineers may assume that it’s just about setting gains, riding faders and getting the microphone angle right; it’s a lot more than that.

As the audio engineer, you have to have that ‘can-do’ attitude. You need performers to have faith in you. Because at the end of the day, learning to anticipate a performer’s problems before they can even speak up can avoid issues in the long run.

And with the help of this article, you can finally learn about the live sound fundamentals and how to get good at live mixing

If you feel like you’ve barely scratched the surface, don’t be afraid to dig into more concepts of sound design and be the best live sound engineer in town!

FAQs

What are the types of live mixing?

The types of live mixing are:
– Front-of-House (FOH) mixing
– Mixing for Stage and In-Ear Monitors
– Broadcast Mixing

How do you mix live sound?

To successfully mix live sound, here are the tips you should consider:
– Understand the equipment and the venue
– Set up a good soundcheck
– Pay attention to the mix balance
– Use EQ and effects judiciously
– Stay focused and flexible

What is the required equipment for live mixing?

The equipment you need to use in live mixing includes microphones, microphone stands, stage monitors, cables for sound equipment, amplifiers or amps, portable PA systems and mixing boards, among many others. 

Kickstart Your Live Mixing Career With Orita Sinclair

If you’re interested to pursue a career in audio engineering, music production and sound design, Orita Sinclair has you covered. A leading school of design and music in Singapore, we can help you master the ins and outs of live mixing as well as build a solid portfolio of your best work.

You will learn from the best professionals with a proven track record in the live events industry. Whether you’re a Singaporean or an international student, you have the chance to discover the world of live sound mixing through hands-on experience.Ready to take the next step? Take the Specialist Diploma in Live Sound today and fill in the application form to get started!

About Orita Sinclair

Founded in 2002, Orita Sinclair is one of the oldest music and design schools in Singapore. We are committed to fostering a love of design and music in our students by encouraging them to be bold and imaginative in their endeavours.

Here at Orita Sinclair, we believe that theoretical and practical foundations are equally important with the music and graphic design courses that we offer. For that reason, we have put in place a forward-looking curriculum that grounds students in key principles before being guided by field practitioners in applying theory and technical craft in authentic, industry-oriented projects. One of our best programme is Diploma in Interaction Design.

Our supportive learning environment prepares students for the demands and challenges of the music and design industries. At the end of their graphic design courses or music courses, our students are ready to step out into successful careers or pursue degrees at renowned universities.

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