With this new release, the first in a series of tutorials on technologies and products for practical use, we want to explore the real needs of those who need to choose a sound mixer for performing live. In this first episode, all eyes are on bands. Ready? To the stage!
The maximum expression of music, at least as far as
pop / rock music is concerned, is certainly the live performance. All of us who
love music know how important it is to approach live performances with care and
attention, even from a technical point of view. Often, choosing the right tools
for the amplification of the band can be the difference between a mediocre and
an impactful performance.
Let's make it clear from the start - it is not
necessary to spend a fortune to achieve more than decent results. Instead, you
need to have clear ideas about what preparation should take place (for example
rehearsal rooms and soundchecks) and then understand what we really need once
we get onto the stage. Furthermore, following the correct discipline during a
soundcheck can help hugely in achieving the desired results.
The mixer: the
"heart" of the system
Let's start off
by looking at a small band that performs in pubs, small clubs and in outdoor
situations - with a hundred people at most. They are going to need a good
amplification system, a standard line-up of microphones, and a device to
receive these signals and mix them together. This is the tool that allows for
each instrument to be distinguished - transforming and combining the single
performances into a coherent and balanced overall sound. We are talking, of
course, about the much loved
Given its importance, choosing the correct mixer is
essential. The very first thing to consider is whether the mixer meets the
needs of your performance. In order to understand which mixer you need and what
the best options are for you, you must first understand how to deal with the
amplification in the correct way. Ready? Let'
Let's assume we are dealing with the classic rock band
formation - composed of
guitar (or guitars), keyboard, main vox and backing vox. If so, we are already working in a fairly "full" situation,
but it is true that starting from this basis and then working backwards makes
things simpler to explain.
The first thing to ask is in relation to the number of
channels we need. Does the band need monitors, and therefore do we need outputs
(auxes) for the monitor speakers? And if we want to draw on the integrated
effects that many mixers now have, does the mixer offer these at a satisfactory
quality? (useful link! thanks to WikiHow).
Taking into consideration our chosen example, we can
already hypothesize that a number of channels between 10 and 12 may be right
for us. And so it begins!
Let's start with the rhythm section, typically drums
and bass. On closer inspection, we don'
t require complete amplification for each section of
the drum kit, at least not in the situation described above.
A on the kick and two condenser microphones for
overheads may be sufficient, thus giving the right boost and incisiveness to
the basic rhythm, and recreating a good overall sound that will include the
snare (which will ordinarily be the loudest element), the drums and the
With these overheads microphones, we find the first
possible constraint from our mixer. If we want to use condenser microphones for
these overheads, then these will need current to feed them. This takes the form
of the famous 48 volts that make up
. No need to worry though, this isn't a rare feature amongst semi professional or
Next we come to the bass, the beating heart of the
band. Nothing could be easier - make the channel live go! If the bass player is
equipped with a compression pedal for dynamic
and a DI (Direct Out) to provide the balanced signal, that's
all that is needed to be connected. With just 4 channels, that
's our rhythm
Electric Guitars can be captured with a single
microphone, though this is usually only necessary in larger environments. This
mic will typically be a dynamic one - one that can withstand (and enhance) the
transients and attacks that are so important to this instrument's
The same approach can be taken for vocals - simply
take your microphone of choice and assign to one channel for the main vox.
Repeat this for backing vocals and you're done.
Now, if you have at least two channels still free for
keyboards, a good idea may be to put them in stereo, to recreate a more
enveloping and dynamic sound. However, if you'
re short of channels, then a mono signal will not
hugely alter the final results.
Once the signals and microphones are wired, you can
move onto the mix phase. This is an art that certainly cannot be described in a
few lines, but we will try to summarise in order to inform our choice of mixer!
It's time to mix!
A suitable mixer for this situation should be equipped
with a good equalizer with at least three bands (low-mid-high), preferably with
an adjustable band. This band is often reserved for medium frequencies. Among
the filters present we can also find an adjustment known as low cut (or
High Pass Filter). This is often fixed at 80 or 100 Hz. It
seems trivial, but starting by removing some low frequencies from instruments
that are not "characteristic" of that instrument cleans the mix
enormously. An example? Guitars and voices are unlikely to have important
components below 100 Hz, so why not leave that range available for kick drum
and bass in the first instance?
Practice the cuts and adjustments that best enhance
the sound of the instrument, remembering that it is always better to
"remove" rather than boost during the eq phase. In this sense, it is
always good to work on the basic "
source" of the sound where possible, which should be defined
and balanced from the beginning, before adjusting.
To play together effectively, each musician must hear
themselves and hear the others. It is errors here that often generate the
greatest misunderstandings and the greatest disasters!
There are two basic rules that it would be good for everyone
to respect, for both the good of the performance and sanity of all members of
the band. Try to keep the monitoring level as low as possible and try to
recreate a good balance on stage. The first thing to tame is the level of the
amplifiers in the monitors, keeping these low where possible.
Are you aware of the situation in which guitarists
compete to raise their amplifier levels? It is not that we have anything
against poor guitarists, but it is useless to increase the level of your guitar
in the monitor when, theoretically, you should already hear clearly and with
sufficient volume from your amplifier. The technique of approaching and moving
away from the amp, when the stage is large enough, always works!
Similar can be said for drums. It is unacceptable to
request to have the snare sound loudly through the monitors - and the reasons
are obvious. The snare drum is the instrument that theoretically should be
taken as a reference for the whole band. No amplifier or cabinet should
dominate the sound of the snare drum which, incidentally, can easily produce
over 110 dB without amplification!
The advice is to keep this acoustic, thus trying to balance the band's sound by adding the voices and
little else through the monitor speakers.
In a situation like this,
there could very well be 4 of these monitors feeds - one for the drummer, one
for the keyboard player, one for the singer and maybe two connected through a
link (ie on the same monitor line) for bass and guitar.
When everything seems to be more or less correctly
balanced, we can also think of applying some effects. This is something that
should never be done first, as it only adds avoidable complications and doesn
attention on the other things, such as those just described, which are decidedly
more important. A little reverberation and an echo with a
â€œslapback delayâ€ effect on the voice always makes for a good
impression, as long as you know how to use the parameters well. In many cases,
the room itself is reverberant, so adding reverb in excess would be very
counterproductive. Keep in mind that your afternoon rehearsal is probably
taking place in an empty room, which often returns "redundant"
frequencies and a reverberation that in the evening, with the large audience
present, can change significantly. So even in this sense,
So the right mixer for a small
band? Ready to choose?
Now that we have a clearer idea in relation to what it
takes to amplify our band and, perhaps, have a better idea of the basic
procedures to best set up our sound and our mix, we can begin to understand
what mixer we really need.
In summary, the right choice for a mix suitable for a
small band should be a good quality mixer:
Of course, with a budget of 2000 or 3000 euros, a
digital mixer with recordable memory could be right for you. However, the
reality of this in the real world can be very different. In a country like
ours, where performing live often means receiving a pizza and a beer in return
for your work (which of course is still warmly received, a mixer of this cost
The SoundSation catalogue
has just seen the introduction of the new 8, 10 and 12 channel
series mixers, with integrated effects and with a
quality that deserves to be tried and tested. And if we told you that you could
have all of this with a price of around 300 euros...?
In conclusion, the objective of this article, like the
others that will soon follow, should be essentially practical. The next time
you have to go on stage with your band, try to "do things well"
during the soundcheck phase and you will find that, even before spending
significant amounts on the equipment, you head home after the gig with
satisfaction, without spending a fortune.
Then if you start to play the guitar intro to
"Sunday Bloody Sunday" whilst the whole band is ready to play
"my way", then that's another problem. But that'
s another story that we'll maybe share with you another day...