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HOW TO CHOOSE THE RIGHT MIXER FOR A SMALL LIVE BAND?

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 mixer.

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' go...

Let's assume we are dealing with the classic rock band formation - composed of drums, bass, 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 dynamic microphone 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 cymbals.

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 Phantom Power. No need to worry though, this isn't a rare feature amongst semi professional or professional mixers.

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 sound management 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 section "done"!

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 sound.

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.


Stage monitoring:

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 ’t focus attention on the other things, such as those just described, which are decidedly more important. A little reverberation and an echo with a “slapback delay” 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, less is more …


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:

  • preamplifiers with a good signal/noise ratio
  • an effective eq (at least 3 band)
  • about 10-12 channels
  • 4 aux outputs and
  • integrated effects.


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 simply doesn't add up

The SoundSation catalogue has just seen the introduction of the new 8, 10 and 12 channel AlcheMix 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...?


Conclusion:

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...