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Tag: live sound


The simple act of defining where you get audio from and where you send it. Meaning defining the inputs and outputs. It really simple. However, if you have a small experience in live sound for example, you’ll encounter vastly different systems with unbelievably different routing solutions.

Some has matrix style, some has drop-down menus and others may have some sort of Excel style sheet system for routing. All works, but at some point they become confusing. I’m on tour now so again, I encounter almost every possible console that is used on shows around the country. From Avid through Midas to Soundcraft and you name the rest. And when time is your biggest enemy, you surely need a good, simple and accurate routing scheme. That’s why I personally think live sound desperately need some standard in this regard.

While I can make a show happen on any console, sometimes I need a minute to think it over and really pay attention in order to nail the routing. And to be honest, routing is not a hard thing to do. So if I need to think it over, it’s because the method is not really help. I mean the method a particular manufacturer use. Frankly I love standards. They’re clear, well thought out and trustworthy.

I know many would argue that standards tend to kill innovation but in my opinion this is not true. Standards come from the greatest innovations. But they become standards only if they can prove reliable, flexible and clever enough to be adopted. That’s what the live sound industry miss.

Don’t get me wrong, you can make it happen. But the amount of learning curve for this very simple act is sometimes ridiculous. Of course as usual, in my opinion.

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Hectic posting

You surely noticed that the Anatomy of a score mix series still lacks a few additional blog posts. For the very reason that simply I had no time to finish the articles between the tour dates and the last score mix. Which is sad, but please don’t give up so easily.

Already got one more post almost ready which is about the distortion/saturation plugins that I’ve used during the score mix. And another one planned that will show you how a control surface can make your life much easier when you’re dealing with a vast movie score. And make no mistake, this won’t be a marketing material. These methods are all true, real and tested.

I’ve been using the Avid S6 for more than 2 years now so I really got accustomed to it, and developed my own methods to quickly find everything even midst the hundreds of tracks.

So stay tuned and please have a little patience, as soon as I get back to home, I’ll post the missing episodes.

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First live gig of the year

As some of you know, I still do some live gigs beside the studio work. Although it is less and less year by year because I feel I need less night work and long travelling and night driving. And frankly many times I’m fed up with the constant high SPL too. Call this the natural process of getting older, I’d like to call it getting more focused on tasks that really matters to me on the long term.

Facts of life… live sound

We’re still in the club season here which means most gigs happen in smaller, and technically challenged clubs. Which mean one thing: compromise! Nothing new here, we all know that the whole live sound scene is saturated with compromise, in fact, most of the time it’s built upon it.

I think I’m quite well prepared for anything, but still, after many months in the studio with almost limitless possibilities it’s hard to accept the fact that suddenly many things are just as they are no matter what I do, I can’t control very important things even though these things seriously affect the outcome of the gig. Still, I have to be the one who convince the musicians that this is going to be great. In live sound you must be in a “I solve it all” superhero state in order to really tackle all the issues.

Sometimes even organising the stage so every instrument and musician have enough space to function is a challenge. And at this point I don’t even start to talk about monitoring. In the club season generally I insist on mixing the monitors myself as well as the FOH. I know the musicians pretty well, know their needs, what they like and how they like it. It’s easier. A bit more work but the comfort of knowing that it’s done properly is well worth the extra effort. You know, it’s like the headphone mix in the studio, if it’s bad, the performance will suffer. The same goes here, they must feel comfortable on stage or else the whole show is going to be a fight for their life, which inevitably degrades the performance.

The best would be to go on tour with our own console. That would make sound checks easy, monitor mix a breeze and generally it is the only way to remain sane during a long tour. But with these small club gigs it’s nearly impossible to do this. So, the wisest thing is to get all the information prior to the show and start ferociously read some manuals if you don’t already know the console. The console is going to be a small one, so be prepared to know some tricky workaround to achieve what you want. Never assume that everything will work just fine for the first time.

One advice to keep you calm and sane. It might sound ridiculous, but you have to take care of yourself. Eat and drink! Stay hydrated and grab a coffee if you feel you’re getting dull. It sounds as the most obvious things in life, but if you don’t eat and drink, you’re going to loose focus, might lost your temper and you’re going to make more mistakes. This is natural though, your body just sending you signals that you haven’t had a sip of water for hours for example. That’s not normal, it’s a live concert, nobody’s going to die, relax. And the band needs you in top form prior and during the show so the best thing you can do is to keep yourself sane.

What happened that night

Brought 3 in-ears with me so that who really can’t perform without proper monitoring will have my mixes. The club has a small analogue Midas console with 6 auxes (that’s all for monitors and send effects), two channels of gate and two channels of compression, two effects, one hall and one delay.

I used most auxes for monitors so I decided to have a hall effect that night. One gate was inserted on the kick channel while the other worked on the floor tom. Even before the full soundcheck I realised that gain before feedback was going to be a serious issue here so I patched the compressor into a subgroup. The plan was to use it as an emergency bus for vocals if things gets too loud and I can’t push them through the band. Suffice to say this kind of a parallel compressed emergency bus saved the show.

The channel list:

  1. kick
  2. sn top
  3. sn bottom
  4. hihat
  5. floor tom
  6. oh l
  7. oh r
  8. spds di
  9. bass di
  10. sub phatty
  11. dave smith samp
  12. nord left
  13. nord right
  14. moogV l
  15. moofV r
  16. gtr 1
  17. gtr2
  18. ac gtr
  19. mpc
  20. bvoc
  21. mainvoc

During the setup it came to light that they don’t have enough Direct Boxes so I had to cut some channels. Being a club I decided to get the Moog and the Nord in mono, keep only the snare top mic and loose one overhead. With these I managed to fit on the console.

The other nasty surprise for me was the quasi parametric EQ. Not that I’m a snob who only works with thousand bands in Fabfilter’s ProQ2, but really, on a small stage, in a small club where not only the PA system but the room also has serious issues a full parametric would’ve been a more appropriate tool.

Having so few dynamic processors, no full blown EQ, less channels and a bit shoddy PA the night turned out to be a success and honestly I didn’t felt myself bad during the show. I kept a positive attitude to really make the most out of this situation and I think with the help and attitude of the musicians we managed to do a really great show.

Few tips

At the end of this I’d like to offer a few tips. These are not dogmas, rather small tried and tested things and ideas which might help you one day to overcome some obstacles at a gig.

First: maintain a positive attitude, always search for the solution, everybody knows what is the problem, no one need another smart guy who emphasise that

Second: sacrifice anything for the performance. For example I had some instruments sound as they love it. I didn’t really like it that way and it didn’t sound great on the PA, but they were happy with their monitors and believe me, the audience couldn’t care less about your perfect guitar EQ shape.

Third: communicate. Even if some musician insist on having things in a certain way, if you’re honest and frank, and most importantly involve them in the decision making, they tend to agree with the compromised version. Don’t act like the holy grail of knowledge, ask their opinion and really consider it, they might surprise you with a very good solution.

Fourth: do everything in your power to make their monitor mixes perfect. Obviously as perfect as it is possible under the given circumstances. That really helps the show, your endless PA tweaking might not so much (although that could be important too)

Fifth: Try to enjoy and have perspective. Accept that this time you are not at the Royal Albert Hall. Do whatever you can to make the best out of the situation and enjoy.

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How loud should it be?

Loudness war is present everywhere from current music through film sound to live sound. Lately I had so many bad experiences in almost every area that I thought it worth mention it here.

Louder equal better?

Yes, for the first few seconds at least. If something louder even a tiny bit, our brain can be easily fooled to think that it’s better. This is a fun fact every audio professional should be aware of. If you know this though, you can be alert to these things and really work on making things better, not only louder.

In live sound most engineers connect impact and high sound pressure level. Most think under 100dB SPLA you can’t really achieve THE CONCERT experience.

The problem with this mentality is that it’s not only simply false, but it can be hazardous to your hearing! Of course there’s undeniably a bodily sensation when you not only hear but feel the sound due to high sound pressure, but we must know that this is only true for one or two minutes. After that the impact disappear as the body get used to this feel, but the dangerously high volume might damage your hearing, even permanently. If you a concert goer and after the show often recognise the ear ringing effect, then the show was too loud.

spl meter and calibrator

Actually it is a trap. Live sound guys get accustomed to high SPL environment. Their brain learn it, and like if it was a drug, require even more after a certain period of time. But what is suitable for them might be too loud to a healthy listener. And we must NOT forget the fact that if everything is constantly loud, then nothing really seems loud. We only destroy dynamics and contrast in music. Honestly it is too easy to fall into this be louder trap.

To a certain degree even I appreciate that higher SPL can create a very sensational feel. BUT! And this is a huge BUT! Too often this means engineers use the bass drum and the bass to create this sensation. Which is, of course, results in the loss of intelligibility and clarity, and mask many important instruments and frequency ranges. Essentially you’ll end up featuring some instruments that shouldn’t be solo but forgetting others that support the songs.

I think I’m not alone with this, I rather be on the soft side with proper balances, enjoying how the musicians play than to hear a bass drum/bass guitar show with some other thing on the stage. In my opinion, working soft with great balances is harder. You need to pay attention to detail instead of just going up to red on the meters.

As you can see, I’m completely biased, I don’t like overly loud shows. Some of my colleagues say you need high SPL for certain types of music. I’d say you might be somewhat louder with those, but those still not require ear damaging loudness. One of the most popular example here being Skrillex. They say you need to be loud as hell to enjoy that type of music or a metal band. Well, I’ve got bad news for those colleagues. I was there on the main stage at Sziget festival when Skrillex was the headliner at that night. It was so tastefully mixed, kept proper balances, preserving dynamics in order to have real impact when they wanted that. Yes, believe it or not, they produced a very dynamic show. Sound quality over high SPL.

hearing protection

Avoiding the trap

Here’s some useful tips to avoid being an ear destroyer.

First, probably the most obvious one is to use a calibrated SPL meter during the show. Frankly I really support festivals and venues where there is a sane SPL limit you have to keep, but if there’s no such thing at your show, still, you can be the boss on how loud you go. I think it is better to be on the soft side than being overly loud.

When you check the band before your show, after listening to their performance the PA for a short period, wear ear-plugs to avoid fatigue.

Plan ahead the ballpark you want to be in. It’s a good idea to give yourself your own limit. Even, when you’re familiar with the songs, you can make a plan for big impact parts of the show.

Appreciate proper balance over loud volume. It is always better to aim reaching great balance than being the loudest guy on the planet. Remember, the majority of the audience is going there to listen to their favourite band. Which mean they probably listen to their albums so if you achieve a similar sonic picture, they’ll appreciate it more than just being loud.

Try to aim for a mix that has depth to it. Not every instrument supposed to upfront in your face. If you properly create depth, most of your problems already gone as instruments will be separated, don’t fight for attention constantly.

If you’d like to further explore this subject, here’s a short article in Guardian.

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What real-life can teach you

If it’s not obvious from the title, yes, I’m talking about my recent livesound experiences. But wait, it’s not a rant. Far from it. Although I must admit that the last few days couldn’t be more disastrous technically. Still, I think there’s a few things a sound engineer can do in order to make things (the gig) happen. Take this as a survival guide, but not a technical one.

Solution provider

I know it is a cliche, but really this time if you’re not part of the solution then you’re part of the problem. Yes, it might be one of the worst gig with almost impossible circumstances. But never forget one thing: you’re not hired to reinforce the bad, but to do the best you can. It’s that simple. The moment you focus on how it is not possible, you lost.

It’s not my job… well, this is probably one of the most destructive sentences ever in a bad situation. Yes, technically probably you’re right, it shouldn’t be your job, but the band hired you because they trust you. Go that extra mile to prove they’re right.

Ready for the unexpected

Right now I can’t count how many different digital and old analogue console serve as the built-in local board. Simply put, it’s impossible to know it all. Really. I’d been the executive FOH engineer for the biggest festivals in Hungary for years so I have a pretty good knowledge about the biggest ones, but still I always had my iPad with me filled with users manuals. One thing I really learnt from this is it’s not important to know every menu item. The thing you need to know is what you want to do. If you’re utterly lost in a console, simplify. Think it over calmly. The only thing you need to know is how the signal goes in, and goes out. That’s it. If you know this simple thing, you’ll find everything. In the path you’ll find the EQ and Dynamics section, etc.

Just don’t panic.


Of course there’ll be things that won’t work, or couldn’t be achieved. Be honest. Never ever promise something that you can’t do. It might seem convenient first, but musicians will ask for it, so in the end it’s not a good idea. Be brutally honest, but don’t be a jerk. There’s a big difference between real honesty and saying no to everything and being rude. It is your job to communicate properly. In my experience most of the time people understand and appreciate honesty, even if that means they have to give up something for that particular show.

Be the cleaner

Honestly I don’t know any other place where you can learn a lot about how to EQ effectively and precisely. Removing the junk with EQ is actually an art. A very practical one, once mastered, can make your show sound much better. This is actually also a very good exercise, and the benefit is there when you get back to the studio. After a bit of practice, you’re going to be faster, more precise and more sensitive to EQ changes. This is good no matter what area you’re working in the audio-land.

Decision maker

Whether you like it or not, it’s not your comfy studio with a hundred mastering grade plugins and ample time. You have to do it fast, make proper decisions along the way and stick with them until you find they’re not working. You have to make decisions. Have to make decisions no other guy in the room would like to make. It’s your job. Even if sometimes it’s hard.

In my opinion, you can learn a lot from all of the above mentioned things. Over time it’s much easier, but still, it’s not that easy even after many, many years. But you have to deal with them, properly. The side benefit is that you’ll be more comfortable with many things that also could happen in the studio. So to wrap up, you can learn a lot of things from it. But to really be better, you have to keep trying, no matter how bad that night is.

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