Mixing Live for Multiple Acts On-The-Fly

Having had years of experience mixing live music acts in night club and threatre settings and doing sound for sometimes up to eight acts a night can get tricky especially on-the-fly on an all analog desk. Mind you, I am talking about front-of-house mixing, not monitors(that is an entirely different task all in itself). When I was doing that there were no such things as digitally automated recall desks in clubs and theatres, they were only fully realized in top name recording studios.

The first breed of partially automated live desks back in the early 90’s initiated a “snapshot” system which enabled the user to view positions connected through a port in the back of the desk via separate computer brain and monitor. In order to recall these knob and fader settings one would have to go back and look at each channel strip on-screen from mic pre to fader and manually recall everything. On top of that, since there were no internal f.x. except on-board “virtual dynamics”(comps and gates), you had to readjust all the outboard gear(reverbs, delays, etc.) for each act. But it was easier than writing down every setting on paper. Today, a live digital desk will do everything except mix itself, make dinner and wash dishes. Unfortunately, most clubs and theatres cannot or will not buy a digital desk. The house engineer would necessarily have to teach a visiting engineer how to efficiently run an entire desk for just one act which wastes too much time though clubs can now afford them, being more cost efficient. Until manufacturers come up with one general footprint or layout, desks are all set up differently and are confusing to figure out. Only the most seasoned, up-to-spec engineers can run those desks with professional dexerity. Many engineers complain that they cannot “feel” the mix with a digital desk. That is all going to change as the designs will soon look and feel analog.

Mixing front-of-house for multiple bands a night will enable you to anticipate adjustments that will go unnoticed by the average listener. You will develop an indescribable intuitive sense with practice , thus becoming part of the mix by “feeling” the music through the desk, an exhilarating feeling indeed.

When you’re mixing four to eight bands a night, usually you’ll only get to soundcheck the headlining act or one other band that afternoon. The gain, e.q., processing, and signal flow you get at that time will determine the base of your mixes that night. Inevitably, you will learn everything there is to know about gain structure and signal flow. You will come to know what you and the gear can and cannot do. AND make sure all egomaniacal guitarists stay at a nominal 100dB SPL, any louder than that and the “feeling” of the mix will be irretrievably lost. When running an on-the-fly mix, always handle the lead vocal channel first and apply a comp and a short delay on it(usually between 175-333 m-secs. with minimal regeneration, depending on the size of the room) to make it stand out because that is what the audience will be listening for . Then, bring up the bass and kick drum channels and be sure to e.q. out all the muddy frequencies(usually between 250-450 Hz) and apply a comp and comp/gate respectively. After that, work on the rest of the mix. If you’re dealing with multiple inputs,let’s say 24 or more, it will take the length of a song or two to even out the mix There’s no feeling like being glared at by a packed house giving you hand signals and screaming,”hey man, where’s the vocal?!”

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