Getting the Sound Done Right Live

Preparing a venue for a gig is a large process with many humble demands. A technician must take into consideration the genre of music being played, room size, acoustic dynamics, and other environmental drawbacks. There are even higher considerations at hand: theater lighting rental, catering services, etc. Every venue has a different list of preparatory obligations and functions that make setting up a completely unique procedure. Despite all of this, there are a few general guidelines that can be applied to every venue.

An adequate PA system must be in check. Depending on the versatility of which ever in-house system a venue relies on, typically handled by a sound guy, a PA system can serve as the final stage in the chain of equipment. There will be a mixer beforehand, powering all input instruments and microphones. It’s the PA’s job to deliver the signal to the speakers. Having a PA system as the main operator in the soundscape makes diagnosing any volume mishaps a breeze. The PA monitors the total volume going out and into the speakers. Now we’ll discuss how everything else is monitored.

A mixer is a must. As I’ve previously mentioned, a mixer controls the volume and effect of each instrument and microphone individually. It’s the mixers job to flush everything up and make sure nothing is too loud or quiet. If a singer boasts a bellowing tone, with the kindest regards to rock and roll, the engineer simply slides the volume fader of that particular channel down. It’s a tedious but crucial duty.

Equalization, EQ, is a key component. The engineer knows what they’re doing here. Often the performer uses EQ as a way to shape their sound. I was inside a bar listening to an open mic. The one singer checked the microphone with a variety of noises and vowels. He looked towards the engineer and said “cut back on the high frequency. I sound like a girl.” There are environmental factors that play into how the EQ is adjusted as well. For a high-density venue, meaning too many people and not enough room for sound to travel, the sound will likely become muddy. The engineer will know how to allocate certain frequencies in their rightful places at any time. Using EQ shaping helps take control of the environment in any given situation.

The stage, jam space, magic carpet, whatever moniker suites the demographic, is the most important factor in creating a good live experience for the musicians. A live space must accommodate the members of the band comfortably and efficiently. Stepping over a network of wires and plugs is a burden on behalf of every musician, but the venues layout can often do its part in reducing the annoyance of this drawback. Taping cables into one string on the ground is just one primitive yet effective solution. This keeps all the wires out of the knee zone where a show is liable to be hastily interrupted.

These principles hold true for any topical function. There is a master control, individual controls, and speakers. The stylistic innards of live music are not confined to any one law. Much of music performing and engineering is left open for experimentation and continues to do so.