4 live sound mistakes you won’t want to make twiceMark Ellis
We all make mistakes – we’re human, after all.
In live sound, errors often pass by unnoticed by the majority of those in attendance. Sure, as the engineer, you might rue your decision to push up a fader or curse your inability to find the frequency at the heart of the booming, but the chances of such mistakes ruining the night are satisfyingly low.
Then, there’s the big stuff – the mistakes which will put a significant damper on the night and ensure all eyes swivel to you when the result of your error makes itself known.
We think there are four common live sound mistakes most engineers will make at some point during their careers, but whose impacts are enough to warrant a serious effort to ensure they never happen again. You may have made them already, but if not, here’s the lowdown:
1. Believing you need the biggest (and most expensive) equipment
Great live sound should sound like a big home stereo – never forget that. Assuming you need the latest, greatest and most expensive big-brand equipment will likely result in you blowing the budget, needlessly increasing the setup time and providing sound that is simply overbearing.
Ignore the gear snobs and use whatever is the most appropriate rig for the venue.
2. Bad speaker placement
It’s easy to forget that speaker sound quality is governed almost entirely by the room in which the gear is placed.
Think of speakers as torches; if you place them and realise the light will shine above your head or at your feet, there’s a good chance they’re not in a optimal position.
Putting speakers in the wrong place can ruin the night for many, but it’s amazing how many sound engineers appear to ignore this basic rule of their craft. Don’t miss out half the room – test speaker placement judiciously during sound checks.
3. Incorrect gain structure
If you’re running sound in a big venue, chances are the room is giving you plenty of bottom end. Therefore, to ensure you get off to the best possible start with your gain structure, drop the low end.
The reason for this is simple; rather than going mad with EQ, a flat EQ will avoid the need for you to do anything particularly clever with the gain on each channel.
Often, it’s the simple stuff that makes the biggest difference.
4. Mixing up mics
We’ve all done this; you look at the mixer, realising the lead vocalist needs to come down a bit. Only, which mic is theirs? Much fumbling, experimentation and profuse sweating ensues – ruining your carefully crafted mix in the process.
Proper labelling of a mixing desk is absolutely vital if you’re to avoid microphone confusion. And, when it comes to mics, a bit of colour-coding never goes a miss either, for this is one channel that you really don’t want to confuse.
The only way to learn your craft as a sound engineer is to experiment and make mistakes. There’s nothing wrong with slipping up, either – it’ll make you a better engineer – but if you can mark the four errors above as ‘do not repeat’, you’ll stand a great chance of avoiding the glare of the spotlight during a big night.