Or at least that’s what we all hope. But at the end of the day, it really seem to count, a lot actually. I’ve been harvesting the very broad experiences as I actively doing both live sound and post production. In post, we seem to be obsessed with tiny details, correcting, editing, noise reducing and tweaking audio until it is really a shining diamond. In live sound however, very often you have to be extremely fast and efficient under impossible technical circumstances, which obviously leads to more and more compromise.
Suddenly it seems that those tiny details are not that important, they don’t make such a difference at the end. Well, the bad news is that those seemingly unimportant things really can change the outcome, although I can totally agree with that many times there’s just not enough time, nor sufficient technology available to solve them.
Being fussy vs. being thorough
Being fussy. Although live sound has come a long way, there’s still many who think that it’s a job where you have to paint with broad strokes and shouldn’t mess with those very small things. In my experience though, those minute details are what really separates the usual OK sounding concert from a truly brilliant sounding show.
Obviously you need to prioritise things, it’s absolutely not ok to tweak your bass compressor when you can’t even hear the singer, etc. But when you have a pretty good balance, everything is fine, sounding great and punchy, you might want to investigate those microscopic details that can really elevate the sonic experience.
These are the things we are obsessed with in post production. And these are the things that’s worth your attention. I’m often accused of being fussy on smaller live gigs, but then for example almost always asked how I did some cool sounding stereo or special effect.
Those special things come from my post production life, where dealing with these attributes is a daily habit, not a waste of time.
In post, our sonic microscopes (the calibrated studio monitors in a good room) are generally much more revealing and honest than any PA system in the world. Therefore most of the times we must work harder to create a believable or amazing sonic experience. When you daily “fussing” with these nanoscale elements, you just kind of develop a habit of being very alert to these things, even when you’re out of the comfort zone of the studio.
Please help me, I need a good psychiatrist
I’ve met many incredibly talented engineers over the years who regularly work both in live and post production. It seems that each and every one of us has his/her own obsession when it comes to live sound. Some have a serious eq fetish, filtering out unnecessary things, making everything sound clean or characterful, some has strong effect addiction, tweaking the delays and reverbs until they can create different layers, some have compressor craze, spending time to create and shape transients and gain control over overly dynamic things.
This serious addiction come from the endless hours in the studio testing, adjusting, tweaking every nuance until it satisfy both us and the client. During this long process, our brain learn to detect so tiny details in the compression characteristics that after a while we are able to hear almost the smallest parameter change, we get so intimately familiar with different types of reverbs that each hidden parameter become so obvious, every masking frequency become painfully evident. This doesn’t mean that we’re superheroes. It only means that we would like to mix the best possible show under the circumstances.
To be honest, almost everyone of us have these addiction to a degree, and to be fair, even many live sound only guy have these. In the midst of chaos, tension and other distracting things it is very easy to think that these detail oriented engineers are only try to make themselves seem important. But believe me, it cannot be further from the truth. We just try to do everything in our power to make the sound as good as possible. That’s it. We don’t want to freak out anyone, nor want to embarrass the crew.
Developing this kind of analytical habit can only help. If you appreciate the smallest details, you’ll always try to improve, which, obviously very beneficial to sound. These minute things just add up at the end, so they’re worth your attention.
If you’re a bit confused about the vagueness and the lack of clear direction of the whole article, you might be not alone. It is merely a passing thought based on my past and very recent experiences in live sound. I guess the whole thing can be summarised by this very short sentence: details definitely matter.