5 tips for running sound at an outdoor gigPRECISEMUSIC
With the festival season fast approaching, the thoughts of sound engineers the world over will be occupied by the often tricky prospect of mixing sound outdoors. Open air gigs are wonderful things to attend, but continue to present some very real challenges for the team behind the mixing board.
Without the comfort of walls and ceilings and with the added complication of changeable weather conditions, mixing live sound in the elements is tricky to master and logistically difficult. Ask the best in the business and they’ll confirm that such gigs rank amongst their most challenging.
Fear not, though, for in this post, we’ve got 5 killer tips for running sound at an outdoor gig. Before you pack the van and head to that field, grab a pen and paper and make some notes…
1. Prepare yourself for the weather
There’s no getting away from it (particularly if you’re working in the UK) – the weather is going to affect your gig in one way or another. Wind, rain and even bright sunlight can have an effect on the sound and gear, so always turn up prepared.
Leave enough space in your racks to enable kit to breathe properly if it is particularly hot outside and, always, always travel with plenty of tarpaulin and towels so that you’re ready if Mother Nature decides to do her worst.
2. Don’t sweat the small stuff
When gigging outdoors, the elements rarely guarantee you a perfect sound, so you can take your foot off the perfection gas a little when running sound at open air gigs. This is particularly true if you’re working with a number of bands. Remember – the key thing is to ensure that every band member can be heard and that you’re providing a pleasing overall experience for the audience. Don’t get too hung up on perfect EQ or trying to find the perfect mix.
3. Protect your area
Given their nature, outdoor gigs mean you’ll probably have a lot of foot traffic crossing your territory and coming at you from all angles, so it is vital you work to protect your area. Set up physical barriers around your gear and hide all power sources (do you really want someone to kill the gig stone dead because they decided to unplug the main amp in order to charge their phone?).
Become the king of your audio castle, and don’t feel bad about telling people to maintain a safe distance.
4. Go as big as you can
Without the reflective benefits offered by indoor venues, the perceived sound levels when mixing outdoors can be lower. That’s why it pays to have plenty of grunt to play with. Bass, in particular (and as you know), doesn’t travel particular far, so take your biggest subs and combine them if you can with a competent line array system. If that means hiring, it’ll be worth the added cost.
5. Arrive early
Yep, you’ll have heard this a few times as a sound engineer, but never has the ‘turn up early’ mantra been more important than when it comes to mixing at an outdoor gig. In doing so, you’ll have plenty of time to assess the prevailing weather and begin creating and protecting your mixing area.
Event organisers may also throw in the odd curve ball at the last minute, so getting there early is your opportunity to have a chat with them in order to try and pre-empt any changes to the schedule that may impact your job.
Get it right, and running live sound at an outdoor gig can be an incredibly exciting and rewarding experience. Follow the tips above and you’ll wonder what on earth you used to worry about.