A BASIC INTRODUCTION TO CONCERT SOUND ENGINEERING – Part Three

The House Mix

First, pay attention to what the artists instruments sound like acoustically, if they’re acoustic, or what is coming out of any on-stage amps, if they’re electric.

Generally, you want to make the instrument sound like that in the hall. Secondly, if the artist has recordings available, listen to them prior to the performance to get some idea as to how they might prefer a mix.

At the same time remember that artists may not at all want a live performance to sound just the same as a recording.

It is typical that an artist will give you very little guidance as to how to make the house sound. If possible, after a basic mix is down, I suggest that you request a band member, manager, or other person who is travelling with the artist give you some feedback on how the mix sounds.

There are three basic components to the house mix:

i. the overall level,

ii. the relative levels of various instruments and vocals and their channel EQs and

iii. the graphic EQ and any other effects in the mix (e.g. reverb units).

The overall level is mostly determined by the size of the hall, the type of music, and how rowdy the audience is. It can also be affected in part by how loud a monitor mix there is.

In general, the level set during a sound check will be changed when the audience is in the hall – people in the hall tend to dampen out alot of the sound you will hear during the sound check.

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If you have experience in the hall you will probably automatically accentuate certain components of the mix during the check because you are taking this into account.

It is important to walk around the hall during the sound check to listen for any hot spots, as well as to hear how the mix sounds in different parts of the hall.

This is particularly important if you are doing a stereo mix in the hall. If possible, I suggest you walk around the hall a bit during the performance as well – don’t just stay at the board and assume the sound everywhere in the hall will be the same as it is there.

In general, in the house mix you ought to be able to pick out each instrument clearly, and all vocals should be distinct.

If the mix sounds “muddy”, a basic start to getting it fixed is to turn down the overall level in the house, and adjust the EQ and level on each channel so that each instrument becomes clearly defined.

This is easier to do if the overall level is reduced, but is also made easier if you can “solo” each channel and hear it in the headset as you adjust the EQ.

Keep in mind that the headset sound will be quite different from how the hall sounds for that instrument, and the channel EQ should be adjusted for the hall.

You can also solo an instrument to the house, but I have found that most artists do not particularly like you to spend any extensive time running just a single instrument through the house while a whole group is playing.

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Therefore, before the entire band does a piece, I request a run through of each channel for just a brief time to get a basic level (e.g. adjust the gain pot on each channel), and a very rough channel EQ.

A house graphic EQ is used to accentuate certain response frequencies in the hall that might be absorbed due to the hall acoustics as well as to reduce particular frequencies that arise due to the hall harmonics or due to feedback.

Generally you tend to reduce rather than boost particular frequencies, but it is not at all atypical to start out with a W-looking setup – boosting the lows, reducing slightly the mid lows, raising the mids, lowering the hi mids, and boosting the hi’s.

This is only a starting point however, and you will have to adjust any graphic to suit the particular room. During a mix, the graphic can be used to remove “harshness” in particular frequency ranges, as well as boost the clarity of some.

However, since the graphic is typically used to affect the entire house mix, if the problem is with a particular channel it is preferable to first try to fix the problem by adjusting the EQ on that channel.

Having a graphic EQ on a particular channel allows a great deal of flexibility as to how that channel sounds, but this is rare in my experience except when an artist has a small number of instruments and wants alot of control over these.

Of course, many artists have small graphic EQs with a few frequency bands on stage with their instruments, particularly if they are using pickups. You can ask them to change these if you feel it appropriate.

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