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48 Tips To Make Your Band Sound Better
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Studio and Live Mixing: Are They the Same?

6:00 am Live Sound

I recently came across an article on the Web whose author argued that it is inappropriate to expect to transfer mixing skills and practices developed in a home studio to the world of live mixing with a PA system. His thesis was that live mixing is not really even “mixing” and is strictly a matter of sound reinforcement.

Well yes, in the case where you are running live sound for a rock band with unmiked drums and with none of the instruments running through the PA, you’re not really mixing the whole band, since you can’t “turn down” the drums or any of the instruments, so much of the resulting sound balance (or lack thereof) is beyond your control. But even then, if there are two or more vocals, you will surely find yourself tweaking their levels to keep them in balance. Isn’t that “mixing”?

Ever since I upgraded my home recording studio to a 4-track (cassette) recorder in the early 90s, and particularly since I upgraded to 8 tracks in the late 90s, I have gotten used to the idea of balancing sounds against each other, setting vocal levels with respect to each other and to the instruments, and making various moves during a mix to re-balance an errant vocal level or pump up a lead.

Rust Never Sleeps

When I was asked to handle live sound mixing for Rusty Strings several years ago, I assumed it would be similar to the mixing I had been doing in my basement all these years, except in a bigger room and in mono. Just what the web article I read said not to assume! But in my experience, that’s pretty much exactly what it’s been like, and the results have been well received by all.

Now, I know this may be something of a special case, since the Rusties don’t have a drummer and since we run both guitars and the keyboard through the PA (as well as through onstage amps, set at low-to-medium volume) in addition to the three vocals. With this setup I have almost the level of control over the mix that I do in the studio, unless someone turns their amp up extra-loud or something. Any acoustic group could take the same approach.

Another way in which our live mixing setup is familiar to me concerns effects. The mixer we are using (which would be perfectly suited for a home studio) has four auxiliary effects sends. We use an outboard dual effects box hooked to two of the sends that provides an adjustable delay through one of its channels and reverb through the other. What a coincidence - those are the two effects I use most commonly on my home recordings! And they’re controlled in exactly the same way, how conveeenient.

We use one of the other effects sends to feed the side of the power amplifier driving the monitor speakers. I must admit, making a separate monitor mix is one thing that was new when I entered Live World, although I do have a headphone-based monitoring system in my home studio that performs a similar function.

Night Moves

During a show, I am continuously monitoring and tweaking the levels of the instruments and vocals to keep everything in balance, just the way I make lots of moves when I mix one of my home-recorded songs. The difference is, in the studio I know where the moves are in advance and can actually practice them, whereas in the live situation things change from moment to moment and it becomes a matter of fast response to the unexpected!

During any particular song, I may need to turn up the guitar or keyboard up for the solo (backing off just a bit if it doesn’t go well) and turn it back down afterwards, just like the corresponding studio move. I strive to always keep the two backup vocals in balance with each other and suitably behind the lead vocal, another familiar studio practice.

So in the end, I don’t know about that other author, but for me live mixing is a logical extension of the mixing I do in my home studio - only more exciting!

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