I’ve been engineering live sound for many years now. It’s been a long and arduous education, much of it was self-taught and much more was acquired through practical experience and mentorship. At this point in time, it no longer feels hubristic to say that I’ve developed that illusive third-eye; a sixth-sense, if you will, for identifying and resolving the countless issues that can clutter up a live mix.
Imperfect designs and inconvenient physics.
Microphones, loudspeakers and the human ear all work by a similar mechanism. Understanding the mechanics of these devices is an important part of sculpting a great live mix. This article outlines these concepts, and explains how to exploit the opportunities that these sound/electrical interfaces offer, and also how to avoid the problems that can arise because of their many limitations.
I called home yesterday morning after I had finished my practice for the day. After some chatting, my mom’s reactions reminded me just how bizarre a serious practice routine can seem to the uninitiated. Given that most of my close friends are about as absorbed in music as I am, I don’t often have a reason to question my obsession with practice; in circles of musicians, this lifestyle is not remarkable. Even so, I’m still on the eyebrow-raising end of the spectrum. I’d like to take this opportunity to philosophize: how does one develop such an insane devotion to such strictly regimented tasks, and what goes into that, exactly? Continue reading
When I began my first run at music school, it didn’t take me long to realize that I was woefully underprepared. In the months before my audition, I sat down at the piano daily and diligently practiced technical exercises, but six-years-stale childhood lessons were definitely inadequate for what lay ahead. In fact, my enthusiasm for this misguided practice routine induced a three month bout with tendonitis almost immediately after my audition, which (thankfully) cleared up before the start of classes. Once classes began at Mount Royal University, I was quick to realize that I had a long way to go, and after suffering through an epic emotional breakdown, I buckled down and learned how to Practice. Continue reading
How sound travels and interacts in a room.
Have you ever wondered why you can’t understand what a singer is saying even though they’re loud as hell in the PA system? Why your guitar player was asked to turn down below his “rehearsal” volume? Why most PA systems are set up with two speaker stacks and a row of subwoofers in front of the stage? Look no further. This article explains the role of a PA system, and how to minimize the acoustic challenges that your live sound technician will face during your set.
I’ve taken counterpoint and harmony (twice) at the post-secondary level, and there is one essential concept which was never adequately explained in any of these courses. My second run at music school (after I took a few years off) benefited from a genuine interest in classical composition, and a substantial amount of experience with the jazz theory that I acquired in the first go-round. In this article, I will explain how I finally came to understand both the value and limitations of these fields of study. Continue reading
Don’t forget to take your ritalin. Please.
A sound check is a logical process. It’s important to understand the various stages and objectives within that process in order to reap the benefits of a thorough sound check. The focus of a sound check can change substantially depending on the amount of time available. This article will explain how to get the most out of your check, whatever the circumstances.
Signal flow and the public address system.
This section discusses the components of a typical sound system and the related terminology. The function of these components is discussed as it relates to the signal flow through the system, illustrating the part that each component plays in a mix. An understanding of these concepts is an enormous asset when communicating your needs to a live sound technician.
So what’s the job description, exactly?
One of the most frustrating aspects of live sound engineering is that most people (bands, promoters, and the audience) don’t have a very good understanding of what the technician is actually supposed to be doing. With a basic understanding of where a sound guy’s responsibilities start and end, you’ll be able to efficiently address and solve logistical problems before and during the event.
Professionalism starts before the doors open.
I hate surprises. I especially hate being surprised in ways that make my job unexpectedly harder. I’m surprised that I need to write this section.
There are many requests that frequently pop up at the last minute that can turn a whole set into a living nightmare when you’re the poor sod standing behind the mixer.