Eighteen Live Audio Mixing Tips and Tricks

These gold nuggets of mixing / audio production wisdom are insights into doing something small to make a huge impact. My notebook is filled with audio mixing tips and tricks from the Gurus of Tech 2013 conference.  That tells you two things; the conference was great and I still go old school with a paper notebook.  If I wasn’t writing down something I thought was useful, I was writing down something I thought you’d find useful.

Audio mixing tips and tricks

1. Consider building your mix off of a template.  

Consider all of the instruments and singers in the worship band.  Consider a template of presets with the following in mind;

  • Engage the HPF (High Pass Filter) for channels which usually benefit from a HPF.
  • What channels would likely benefit from compression? Set their threshold but don’t engage it yet.
  • Start all faders at unity.
  • Consider where the vocalist sits in the mix – are they more high, mid, or low-range singers? Now you know where to carve out space for them in the other channels.

This template concept is a great way to build a mix from scratch. You could add to the above points if you think about it.

2. Use compression for producing a well-rounded sound.

Having multiple channels with a wide-range of volume dynamics makes it difficult to produce a well-rounded sound.  Use compression to even out many of those volume spikes.

3. Hear what your live microphones hear.

Listen via PFL/SOLO to a vocal microphone and pay attention to all of the other sounds the microphone is picking up.  This gives you an idea of other stuff your microphone is picking up and why microphone proximity to the sound source is so important.

4. Know what you COULD be boosting.

Microphones on the stage can pick up a variety of background sounds.  In particular, boosting the high-end frequencies of a vocal microphone can pick up drum cymbals and unintentionally accentuate them.

5. Pull your male singers out of the mud.

Cut your male vocals in the 325-350 Hz range to clear up your vocals.  Often, the 325-350 Hz range is where the muddiness exists.

6. Use reverb for vocal separation.

Using a lot reverb, you can push a singer into the background.  Using a little, you can make it stand out in the mix.  Use your ears to find out what’s best for your situation.

7. The kick drum and bass can work together on your low end sound.

Try letting the bass give you the tone of the low-end while letting the kick drum win on the attack.

8. If you are ever prone to hitting a piece of equipment to make it work…

…once is maintenance, twice is abuse.

9. Keep your headphone volume down by using delay on your solo busses.

Slow down the solo buss with delay to sync your headphones with the PA so you don’t have to run headphones overly loud.  If you are 75 feet from a speaker cluster, try a 75 millisecond delay.  Using an analog board, run the headphone out to an external delay unit and then into a headphone amp and then back to the headphones.

10. Don’t let a power outage take out your system.

Use APC units for keeping the power going to your vital audio equipment.  Power can go out for a number of reasons and using an APC unit can keep your system powered and your service going.

11. Plan on equipment failure.

Ask yourself questions like, “what could fail,” “how could we get around it,” and “what is the least amount of equipment we need to keep the system going.”  Make a plan for equipment failure so when it does happen, you’ll be prepared.

12. Use a 911-microphone.

Wireless systems go out. Wireless mic batteries die. And even DI boxes can go bad at the worst time.  Set up a wired vocal microphone on a microphone stand, with a long microphone cable.  Place it just off-stage.  grab an extra DI box and 1/4-inch cable and place that at the base of the microphone stand.  The next time a microphone or DI goes out during a service, you (or a musician) can pull out the 911-microphone or your emergency setup – whatever you want to call it.  And in the case where it seems all the equipment comes crashing down, a church audio system only needs one channel and one microphone.

13. Don’t forget about the HPF and LPF

The high pass filter allows high frequencies to pass through while the low pass filter allows low frequencies to pass through.  If you don’t need low frequencies out of a channel, then engage the HPF. If you don’t need high’s from a channel, use the LPF.  In the case of HPF’s and LPF’s that have controllable frequency points, sweep the point until it’s noticeable in the mix, then back off a little.

14. Take control of your house EQ by controlling the Q-value of your cuts and boosts.

On a standard 32-channel rack EQ, the Q value is the same with the exception that it might automatically tighten up if a cut is below 3 dB.  Therefore, if you run a digital mixer, use the on-board master EQ to alter the house EQ.  This gives you the ability to also control the Q-value of your cuts and boosts.

15. Use a ducker for background music and announcements.

A ducker, on a digital console, will automatically cut the volume of a channel when it detects sound on another channel.  Therefore, it’s great for the “one-man operation” when you are running all over and you have background music and the pastor starts talking when you aren’t in the sound booth.  You can set the delay for the period of time in which the music channel comes back up after they stop talking.  This way, if they are taking a breath before talking again, the background music could say low in volume.

16. Don’t discount frequency bands of an instrument.

For example, try adding a lot of high-end on your toms.  Even the bass guitar has usable sounds that aren’t just in the low end.

17. Use meaningful distortion.

Distortion can work on more than a bass or a guitar.  It can even work on a snare drum.  Distortion can sound different depending on how you use it and set the appropriate parameters.  When you do use it, use it because it helps the overall sound of the song.

18. Don’t forget about gating.

Try focusing your gating around a frequency range, if possible.  Not only do you benefit from only broadcasting the sound once the input reaches a certain volume level, you can know it’s when you are getting the frequencies you desire. Imagine what you could do with a kick drum or a tom.