Live Mixing Tips For Your Studio Gig

Live MixingIt’s show time. The country, rock or jazz band is in Studio A or B or wherever you could manage to put them for the time being, and you’ve somehow ended up behind the mixer with a “kick me” sign on your backside, or so it seems.

Steve Dove has been there.

Now our “Minister of Algorithms,” Steve performed FOH duties for bands like Yes and Jethro Tull during his early years. He offers the following tips to get you through the next 10 minutes.

First, no fixating. Getting the mix right isn’t about technology, according Steve. It’s about the ability to hear what's going on as a whole. “Human nature is to fixate on just one sound, one instrument or just one aspect and ignore context. Yes, there are times to get fixated, but the hard and necessary part is in pulling yourself back and listening dispassionately to the whole. Take deep breaths, disengage, re-evaluate. Then rebalance!” he said.

Once the band begins, your first task is to get a listenable, not necessarily perfect, balance up quickly for your audience. Or, in the words of Steve Dove: “Drop all the input gain controls and pull the faders up to unity, then bring things up one at a time on the input gain controls into a rough balance, before working on a finer balance on the faders. This rough-and-ready approach is quick and almost automatically forces a decent level architecture with least chance of overdriving an input.”

Only then, troubleshoot problem areas. Once you’ve achieved something listenable, you can remedy problems – change a duff mic, move the snare mic back where it belongs, wonder where the other vocalist came from, and so forth. But careful, said Steve. “It's a huge temptation to reach for the toys (EQ, dynamics, 'verb) too early in the game. Keep hands off for now. Once there's a balance happening, your first recourse should be to use high-pass filters, on everything except kick-drum and bass. On every other channel in turn set it to its lowest frequency, gently crank it higher in frequency until you hear it 'bite,' then back it down a touch.”

Next, add a little reverb, if desired. Steve suggests you start simple. “Something plain-Jane to begin with, a 'plate' emulation or 'small hall' with a quarter or half-note’s pre-delay. Start with vocals, then maybe lead instruments. Don't overdo it. (You will. Everyone does.) Again, the general rule is to bring up enough until you hear it, and then back off a touch. Even when you think there's 'not enough,' muting the reverb return will hopefully give you an ‘Oh...' moment and you’ll realize there’s plenty.”

Try a little gating, if needed. “Probably the best first dynamics processing will be gating/expansion on rarely used mics (in particular toms, if you are unlucky enough to have mics on all of them). Again, with high-passes, suppressing unnecessary stage wash is the aim. Hint: Don't gate off completely, just attenuate down gently, say, 5 or 6dB. That'll be enough to suppress wash without it being startlingly obvious when the mic suddenly leaps back to life!”

Finally, some EQ. Only when things are going swimmingly and you're on the threshold of boredom should you even consider EQ and compression, according to Steve. “OK, there might be some glaring things early on that you know you can easily address (Argh, those horns are so BRIGHT!) and a few seconds with the EQ can fix. If anything needs more than a quick ‘Phew, that's better,’ you are overthinking things. Leave the EQ alone,” said Steve, adding, “The usual EQ-unsolvable issue is coloration from two mics picking up the same source. Observe the 3:1 rule -- any other mic should be at least three times further away from a source as the intended one.”

Overall, he said, “Just let them play, and bring up the mix and sound organically as described above, and you'll get somewhere decent far sooner.”










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