New to live audio mixing? Member of a band who wants to improve the quality of your bands sound? Need to brush up on mixing techniques? This article gives a basic overview of techniques I use when I mix.
How get the best live mix possible.
Number one Rule:
Can I hear everyone? This is a question every single audio engineer should be asking themselves constantly when mixing. There's nothing more detrimental to creating an immersive environment for your audience than not having an instrument or background vocal not being heard. You can have the perfect EQ, compression, tone, and effects for your mix but if the audience can't hear everyone, you have a problem.
Don't over use effects:
While effects are a great way to enhance your mix, overusing effects is very tempting. Especially if that new digital board just came in. Only use effects to enhance the specific channel in mind and don't use effects just because you can. Having too many effects can mud up your mix. Less is more with effects. That being said I do like to add some delay during solos and I am careful that I don't overuse it.
Learning how to listen to a mix and know what trouble frequencies to take out is not something that comes easily. Just like any other skill, practice makes perfect! Practice finding trouble frequencies by sweeping the frequency spectrum until you hear the problem frequency get louder. Once the problem frequency is found, take the frequency out of the mix by about 5 decibels. Doing this regularly trains your ears so eventually you can listen to a channel and know the general place where the problem frequency should be.
Less is more. It's tempting to want to equalize all your channels with crazy frequency curves. If a channel sounds good with no equalization on it, don't equalize it! However don't be afraid to equalize when there is an obvious trouble frequency. If there's a frequency that sounds really good, don't be tempted to increase it up by an insane amount but give it a slight boost of around 3-5 decibels.
Compressing every channel an insane amount is very tempting when you first get that digital console. Having compression on every channel is a great tool for shaping your mix, but never overuse it. My general rule with compression is I should never be compressing anything more than about 5-6 decibels. Compressing more than that really does make the selected channel feel farther back in the mix, even if the fader on that channel is brought up to compensate. Only compressing 4-5 decibels allows the channel to stand out in the mix. There are exceptions to this rule of course. For example, I like to compress the kick drum a large amount.
I generally don't use gates on anything except the drums and occasionally an electric guitar amp that's mic'd into the system. For gating the drums, I usually like to gate the kick as much as I possibly can to reduce pickup from other instruments. I always set the gate to only open when the kick drum is hit with long release time. Gating the snare and toms is very similar to gating the kick, the only difference is adjusting for the different levels of each mic.
Gating mic'd guitar amps is a great way to get rid of amp buzz. If you have ever mic'd an electric guitar amp and gotten that awful buzzing coming through the PA, you will want to use this trick! When I am gating to get rid of a buzzing sound, I usually set the range on the gate to about 10-12 decibels, just enough to silence the buzzing. Then I put in a long release time, usually around 1000 ms. This makes it less obvious when the gate closes. Then I set my threshold so when the guitar player isn't playing, the gate is closed. I use this trick almost whenever I have a mic'd guitar amp and it really helps clean up the mix!
Making sure your audience members don't feel uncomfortable due to high volume is important. Always be aware of how loud your house is running. Use a decibel meter regularly to check your volume. Once you use a decibel reader regularly, your ears hopefully will learn when the mix is getting too loud and you can take it down a couple of decibels. Another very important thing to consider when mixing at front of house is where in the audience you are mixing. If you are mixing at the back of the room, the volume you hear is less than what the person in the front row hears. Learning to mix slightly quieter than what you like is a good skill to use. If your mix is always slightly quieter than what you like, you can be assured the person in the front row isn't going to feel uncomfortable.
Learning to mix good audio is a very complicated task. Hopefully these tips can help make your mix the best it can be. Remember that these tips are just guidelines, and since mixing audio has some subjective parts to it, research techniques other engineers use and even find your own! Practice mixing whenever you can, after all "practice makes perfect!"