7 questions to ask yourself about your live mixMark Ellis
Self-critiquing your own mix is inherently tricky, because very few of us want to admit that we’ve got something wrong.
And that’s a shame, because usually, we have got something wrong. That’s life – none of us are perfect.
Live sound demands a significant degree of honesty with oneself if you’re to put together the best possible mix for a gig. With that in mind, we’ve decided to list seven questions you should ask yourself during the soundcheck and the gig itself.
1. Can everyone be heard?
This sounds obvious (if you’ll excuse the pun), but if you’re working with a band (big or small), it’s easy to get lost behind the desk in a sea of EQ and compression tweaks.
Remember to take a moment to back away from the knobs, close your eyes and ask yourself: can everything be heard?
2. Are the vocals clear enough?
Any sound engineer will tell you how difficult it is to ensure vocalists cut through complex mixes, but the clarity often takes second fiddle to the volume.
Once you’ve got the level right, ask yourself whether or not you can hear every word. Is it like crystal audio or a muffled telephone conversation? There may, of course, be something else at play here – see tip 4.
3. Are the lead instruments front and centre?
Be it the vocalist, guitarist, pianist or bongo player, make sure whichever instrument is leading at any one time is clear for all to hear. It should sound distinct in the mix.
4. Do the vocals sound squashed?
If you’ve been hitting that compressor particularly hard, you may be crushing the life out of the mix.
In a live situation, this is often most evident with the vocals, therefore if you suddenly realise that the vocals are squashed rather than breathy and dynamic, you need to back off.
5. Does the mix evolve with the song?
A great mix should be sound interesting as songs develop. The performance will change as the band gets into it and explores the various courses, versus and middle eights – your mix should follow suit.
If everything sounds the same, constantly, with no space to breathe, or if the drums continue to be overly raucous during a gentle bridge, you’ve got something wrong.
6. Have you added an effect ‘just because’?
The reverb you placed on the snare might have sounded awesome during the soundcheck, and the drummer may have given you a nod of approval, but during the performance does it add anything to the gig itself?
Too many sound engineers add effects simply because it’s the done thing or because it sounded great during the soundcheck, but if such treatment adds nothing come gig time, knock it off.
7. Does the mix fit the band?
This is a tough one, but if you’re a gigging sound engineer and work with several different styles of music, you may find that you fall into the habit of applying the same mixing techniques to every artist you work with.
Different bands need different mixes, therefore if you’ve dialled up the settings from the last gig for this one – only the former was a metal outfit and you’re now in front of a three-piece folk band – you need to go back to square one.
Have we missed anything? If you’re an experienced sound engineer and have a few questions that you ask yourself which aren’t listed above, share them below in the comments section!