5 live audio myths debunkedMark Ellis
As an audio engineer, you never stop learning. Unfortunately, you never stop hearing the same old wives’ tales, assumptions and statements of fact that are anything but, either.
The gig community is a brilliant, funny and inclusive one; camaraderie is abound and it’s possible to make some brilliant friends. There are also some incredibly knowledgable people out there who will provide a better learning experience than any book or training session ever could.
Unfortunately, there are countless others who have dined out on the same myths about the job for many years and rarely need a second invitation to impart their ‘wisdom’.
So, how do you separate the facts from the fictitious? It isn’t easy, but there are some common live audio myths that seriously need debunking. In this post, we’re going to lift the veil from five of the worst.
1. Garbage in, garbage out doesn’t apply
If you’ve toiled over the sound of a guitar and just can’t get it to cut through the mix, only for someone to inform you that you can’t polish the proverbial – they’re wrong. If things aren’t done right at the source, you’re going to have a hard time as the mix engineer putting them right.
A poor lead, dodgy pickup or – <whispers> – bad player are more likely to be the the source of your hassle. And the same goes for every element of the band; if the gear on stage is poorly connected, sub-par in quality or simply not being played well enough, the job of fixing the sound should have started well before you turned on the mixing desk.
2. Just use your ears
In many cases, ignoring the position of a fader on the mixer or threshold knob on a compressor and instead going with your gut instinct based on how something sounds is absolutely the right thing to do. It isn’t the holy grail, though.
Faders, knobs and meters exist for a reason and shouldn’t be ignored in favour of the two things attached to the side of your head. Your ears aren’t perfect, and there are instances where you need to double check your thinking. If a knob looks far too cranked, it probably is.
3. There’s nothing you can do if the room’s crap
As a live audio engineer you’ll get to work in rooms that compliment the band perfectly. Unfortunately, you’ll also have to work in spaces that are designed for anything but live music.
However, the room should never be used as an excuse for a poor sound. You can ensure sonics are relatively tight in even the largest, most echo-filled of chambers. Sometimes, you just need to back off a bit, or forget reverb if you can use what’s there natively.
Don’t blame the room.
4. Just do what the band says – you’ll have an easier night
Perhaps the hardest myth to debunk is the one that assumes the band has to be satisfied, no matter their demand. If you find yourself giving into the vocalist who wants more headroom than it’s technically possible to deliver, you’ve wimped out – sorry.
It’s far better to speak to the band face-to-face and explain the challenges in meeting a particular request – and do so at the sound checking stage. Remind them you’re there to provide the audience with the best listening experience and that, in order to do so, you need to be left to your own devices.
The band isn’t the sound engineer – you are. And you know what you’re doing.
5. Only the best gear will do
This is perhaps the worst of all live audio myths, because it encourages people who don’t know any better to spend money they could otherwise save.
Big-name gear isn’t the only option if you want the best possible sound. Brands like NOVA are ripping the rulebook apart when it comes to value for money in live audio.
Over the course of several years in the industry, people will always develop a love for a particular range of gear, but if that range happens to be from the most expensive, exclusive manufacturer on the planet, be careful heeding their advice. Don’t spend big – spend smart.
Have we missed anything? Share your ‘favourite’ live audio/gigging myths in the comments section!