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Cheap Advice On Live Sound
48 Tips To Make Your Band Sound Better
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Send Out A “Sound Scout” To Check Your Mix

6:00 am Live Sound

The best place for a band’s sound man (or woman) to sit is right in the middle of the audience. (That’s where you see them at Rolling Stones concerts and the like.) If the sound man hears exactly what the audience is hearing, he can adjust the sound until it sounds good to him, confident that it will sound good to the audience as well. But how often does the sound man sit with the audience?

From my experience as the sound man for Rusty Strings, the answer is “hardly never.” I have been way off to the side. I have been right up front, right next to one of the main speakers. I have even been onstage with the band! None of these are optimal positions for creating the best sound for the people who are actually listening to the music.

Balancing Act

There are two main factors to worry about: (1) the overall volume level, and (2) the balance between the vocals and the instruments. On those rare occasions when I get complaints about the Rusties’ sound, it tends to be either “It’s too loud/soft” or “We can’t hear the vocals.”

Both of these factors, especially the overall volume, are hard to judge from a non-audience position. Getting the vocal balance right is made more complicated if the instruments are heard through both the PA and onstage instruments, since the latter may sound louder to the sound man than they do to the audience.

(See my article Using Onstage Amps vs. Playing Through the PA for more thoughts about running instruments through the PA.)

So what’s the solution? Well, you can get everything set up the way you think it should be during the first song or two, then get up and take a stroll around the venue to see how things sound from various directions and distances, then come back and make any necessary tweaks. It’s rather risky to leave the sound system unattended during a show, though. What if someone onstage moves a microphone and kicks off a feedback squeal while you’re back by the pool tables checking the volume level? Nuff said.

Scout’s Honor

Why take a chance? Instead of you going out to check the sound, send a sound scout! Needless to say, this should not be a random girlfriend, buddy, or drunken fan. It should be someone who definitely knows how bands in general, and specifically this band, are supposed to sound. He or she is probably a musician and is preferably someone who has done live sound work themselves (or at least recording). Do you know anyone like this?

If you do, and you can get them to come to your gig, you’ve got it made! During the first set, just ask this person to roam the venue checking for the overall level and clarity of the vocals in various areas. Have them make sure people aren’t yelling at each other to make themselves heard, nor straining to figure out what song the band is playing beneath the din of a busy bar, for example.

When the scout reports back to you, figure out what (if anything) you need to do to improve the audience’s listening experience before they seek you out to complain. It’s easier on everyone that way, and the band is more likely to get asked back too.

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3 Responses
  1. Daniel :

    Date: June 6, 2010 @ 5:13 pm

    Nice idea but um not sure it would work for most people.
    Firstly trying to get someone trustworthy to turn up to a majority of your gigs is slim.
    Secondly mixing the band is a personal prefrence so when they say ‘the guitar is too quiet’ I wouldn’t be confident turning it up!

    As I say it would be great but I would rather get things roughly right n get out there.

    Thanks, dan

  2. John :

    Date: July 30, 2010 @ 3:15 pm

    Or, if you run the sound yourself, make sure a couple people have wireless rigs so whomever may not be singing in that song can go out in front and where the audience is and do a sound/sanity check that way. We are all wireless so that’s what we do. Works great.

  3. steve sam :

    Date: May 16, 2011 @ 10:57 pm

    hi how we conected full ring if i have more than two amp??

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