Mixing live audio is a lot different than mastering something in the studio. Events are happening in real-time, which means you must get things right on the first try. Although it can be a stressful experience, the outcome offers plentiful rewards when you’re successful.
There are times when things will be out of your control. Circumstances may require you to make the best out of a lousy situation. When you take a proactive approach to your live audio mixing, the risk of unexpected events can go down dramatically.
These tips and tricks can help you produce a live show that everyone will love.
24 Best Live Mixing Tips and Tricks
Live audio requires skill and knowledge, but it also needs high-quality equipment to support a positive outcome.
Relying on entry-level products raises the risk of a problem happening because the craftsmanship is not where it should be.
So, invest in the best audio mixing equipment you can afford for your gigs and follow these live mixing tips:
1. Build Your Mix from Templates.
When you understand what your musicians plan to perform, it is easier to get your base settings right.
Set a high-pass filter (HPF) for the channels that typically benefit from it. Begin with all faders unified.
It helps to have a plan for the space your vocalists need in the audio spectrum. If you have a more potent mix in one area, tone them down a little while boosting the rest.
2. Stop Riding Your Faders.
Once you get through the soundcheck, the goal should be to leave your faders alone. Have confidence in how you set up the audio!
If you spend less time on the faders, you’ll have more room to work on delays, reverbs, and other creative elements in the show. Your work is a significant influence on how the group sounds during the performance.
3. Compression Provides More Equality.
Groups tend to have wide-ranging volume dynamics across multiple channels.
You may encounter frequency spikes at various times, sometimes unpredictably, if mistakes get made or someone starts playing with passion. Those moments are the perfect time for some compression.
4. Understand Your Microphone Pickups.
Microphones today are incredibly sensitive. They pick up audio from sources you might not even consider. Listen to each one solo, paying attention to the background dynamics you hear.
This information lets you understand the rules of proximity for your stage, reducing the clutter that can create some muddiness during the performance.
It also helps to remember to limit interference issues that could drown out your mix from the back.
5. Reduce the Muddiness in the Tenors and Baritones.
Most men have some muddiness in their vocals in the 300 to 400 Hz range. It often happens in the 325-350 Hz area, although some guys need a little help in the upper or lower regions.
When you can cut them in that region, you’ll reduce the sludge that makes them sound less than professional. The added clarity also helps the instruments to offer pure audio simultaneously.
6. Boost Where It Makes Sense.
Live audio techs like to boost the mic for the lead singer to provide more prominence to those vocals.
Instead of focusing on the mid-range frequencies, think about what other pickups are possible.
Would a boost to the high-end spectrum grab some extra cymbals? You can accentuate many live audio sources when you have a plan in place if you think about the group over the individual.
7. Don’t Go Crazy When Compressing Vocals.
Most vocals benefit from some mild compression. The average person doesn’t sing perfectly with every note, and this live audio trick creates a well-rounded sound for people to enjoy.
If you use this technique too much, the natural quality of the audio starts disappearing. It becomes processed noise to the audience, and that makes the show less fun.
8. Use Reverb for Your Vocal Separation.
Reverb works better in live audio for making someone stand out or become part of the background.
When you use plenty of it with your mix, someone who is over-performing or off-key can get pushed into the background so that their performance doesn’t affect the final result. If someone is killing it, use a little to make them stand out.
9. Let Your Drums Have Some Extra Punch.
If you don’t get the percussion sounds right during your live mix, the rest of the performance typically suffers.
You need it to be punchy, tight, and bright. It should seem like each audience member is standing right next to the equipment when it gets struck.
When you can make this result happen, the band will love the result because the audience will have more chances to jam out to the tunes.
10. Produce Better Low-End Sounds with the Bass and Kick Drum.
Although you could let the bass and kick drum work independently to support the low-end in your mix, the results are better when you get them working together.
The percussion needs to win on the attack with the punch it provides to the spectrum. At the same time, the bass fills the remainder of the audio waves with its dynamic fluidity.
11. Be Kind to Your Equipment.
We all know that equipment malfunctions at times. Giving it a quick smack to help it start working again can work.
Apple included a slap to the back of their iPad 2 as a proper way to correct a restart problem!
The basic rule of audio mixing is this:
- If you hit it once, you’re performing a maintenance function.
- Tapping it twice means you’re frustrated.
- Anything more than that means you’re abusing your assets, and it is time to back away for a moment to calm down.
12. Have a Plan for Feedback.
You should be on your toes for feedback at all times. You don’t want that screeching to come over the system! It makes people think about the days when a teacher would run their nails across the chalkboard.
The trick with this issue is to be proactive about how your microphones and audio system handle high levels.
Turning the gain up to high immediately means you have no room left to make adjustments later in the performance.
13. Check Your Positioning, and Then Do It Again.
When people can’t hear themselves perform, the quality of the show suffers. When you do the soundcheck, monitor the positioning of the stage equipment.
You must make sure that the band can hear what they’re doing. If they are too close, the audio stays at their feet. Being too far away makes this asset get buried by the rest of the sounds on the stage.
14. Positioning Is More Important than Volume for Amps.
Unless you’re working on a live audio mix in a stadium, your venue falls into the small- to medium-sized category.
Having the musicians turn up their amps will compromise the quality of the audio you produce. Focus on the positioning of the amplifiers to ensure the audience gets a well-rounded mix.
If someone likes to play loud, turn the equipment to the side so that it moves away from the crowd instead.
15. Maintain an Appropriate Headphone Volume.
Beginners tend to crank up the volume in their headphones because they think it is the only way to drown out the live music in their feed.
If you set a delay based on one millisecond for every foot you are from a speaker cluster, you’ll stay away from the lag. If you use analog, run your headphones to an external delay unit.
Next, route it to an amp, then back to your equipment to have a better listening experience.
16. Incorporate Your HPF and LPF.
Setting the HPF is a standard action for most live audio mixing templates. It’s the low-pass filter (LPF) that doesn’t receive as much attention.
When you don’t need high Hertz from a specific channel, use the LPF to create more authenticity in the sound.
If you have controllable crossover points, sweep until you notice changes to the mix – then back off a bit to create something pleasing to hear.
17. Take Control of the House EQ.
Control the Q-value of your boosts and cuts. Assuming that you’re using a standard 32-channel setup, this reading is the same unless your cut falls below three decibels.
Try running a digital mixer with your onboard mastering tools for the live mix to alter the house EQ.
Having more control in this area ensures that the outcome meets your expectations.
18. Use Duckers If It’s a One-Person Show.
Duckers on a digital console provide automatic cuts on channels when audio gets detected on another one. It’s useful for live audio mixing when you’re the only one at the board.
Churches use this technique a lot for when they run background music while praying or sharing announcements.
If your band wants to say something while the instruments are still engaged, this trick creates a positive outcome.
19. Understand the Frequency Bands of Each Instrument.
A lot of audio mixes focus on the core frequencies of each instrument or vocal range during a live performance.
The reason for that action involves a lack of variability. You know that consistent sounds happen in tight ranges.
When there is a better understanding of what everything can do, you can add more depth to what the listeners hear.
20. Use Distortion When It Makes Sense.
Distortion isn’t always a bad thing to have in your audio mix. Its purposeful addition can add grit, depth, and personality to an instrument or vocal.
Although it works better for bass sounds than in the mid-range or high-end spectrums, setting specific parameters for each area can help your live music be a fantastic experience.
Don’t just use it because you can! It should benefit the overall performance.
21. Don’t Forget about Gating.
It helps to place your focus around a specific frequency range when gating. Not only does your sound broadcast benefit when the input reaches the correct volume, but it also lets you know when the Hertz you want is available.
If you haven’t tried this trick in your live audio mixing before, focus on the toms or kick drum to experiment with this technique.
22. Use APC Units to Keep the Show Going.
Have you ever had a live audio mix that got destroyed because of a power outage? If you have APC units available for your equipment, you won’t lose the energy of the performance.
You can lose electricity access for several reasons. This tip can keep your system available and services going while you investigate the cause of the issue.
More often than not, someone unplugged something somewhere, and now you’ll have time to find it.
23. Understand That Something Always Goes Wrong.
You can plan for everything to go right and still have something go wrong. You should expect to have at least one issue to manage with every performance.
Asking yourself what could fail and performing a last-second inspection before the show can limit these issues.
It helps to have a plan to follow when something does occur to ensure that the audience never knows what is going on at the board.
24. A Backup Microphone Is Your Best Friend.
The biggest mistake you can make with a live audio mix is to rely on a wireless microphone. Batteries wear out, systems fail, and even your box can decide to stop working.
Set up a wired mic on a stand with a long cable just off the stage. When the audio fails because of any issue, you can revert to this emergency backup.
Even if you have a worst-case scenario, the show can go on with one mic and a single channel.
The best live audio mixing tips and tricks may not apply in every situation. Playing in a school auditorium is different than being in a concert venue.
When you create a plan using this guide for the mix you need to make, the chances of having a positive outcome rise significantly.