Basic information for beginners on balancing the sound for live
performance. This does not cover all the technical factors of doing
sound which can be found in some of the many articles that are provided
in the Electric Blues Club Sound Engineering Articles
Many live music venues are fitted with in-house P.A. systems
which are operated by a dedicated engineer, discussing your
requirements with them prior to the sound check is advisable. If you
are using your own system without the benefit of an engineer or friend
who can oversee the sound for you it is important to set and monitor
the sound throughout your performance.
There are several short courses in sound engineering
available throughout the industry, if you can afford the fee it's worth the
money to learn and if not, ask a hire company or local in-house
engineer if they will give you some basic training in return for you
carrying equipment and running errands (that means getting the beers
Presuming you have set up the P.A. system
and taken the time to learn about your systems capabilities
, the next step is learning how to mix the sound.
A solo performer will find it easier to achieve a balanced
sound mix than a band. Once the solo mix is set up it can usually be
left alone with only occassional adjustments of volume or E.Q. to allow
the performer to cut through audience and bar noise as the venue fills
up. Bands have a harder job as each instrument and voice has to be
mixed so that they can be heard without losing clarity.
It is rarely necessary to mic up the drum kit for small or
medium sized venues and certainly should not be attempted by a
beginner, the drums natural pitch and volume are capable of cutting
through all other sounds and should not be miked up without an expert
who is capable of positioning the mics effectively and balancing the
Drummers who sing will require a 'boom mic stand' angled in a
way that does not hinder playing but is easy for them to sing into.
Place the stand to one side of the kit and angle the mid section of the
stand downwards until the microphone is level with the drummers chin,
then angle the microphone so that it picks up the vocals clearly. (Use
a directional mic or if possible a headset radio mic - allows more
freedom of movement and picks up less spillover from the drums).
The majority of bands will only need to use their P.A. system
to control the vocals. Bass, Rhythm, Lead Guitars and Keyboards can use
their own amplification. All players should raise their amps so that
they can also act as monitors for the band. Each will find it easier to
hear themselves without resorting to constantly 'turning up' the volume
and ruining the balance.
The quickest and most efficient way of doing a sound check
without the aid of an engineer, roadie or mate, is to nominate the
member of the group who has the best 'ear' for a good overall sound, to
listen to the rest of the band and advise them of required adjustments.
So long as this isn't the drummer or keyboard player who need to be
static! The singer or one of the guitarists should have a longer lead
than normally required (or use a radio mic). This will allow the
designated 'sound guy/gal' to monitor the band from the audiences
perspective. All volume levels should be balanced, no instrument should
overpower the rest (leave that for when your playing a solo or lead
break!). The aim is to achieve a nicely seperated sound where all the
instruments and vocals can be heard. Although this is likely to change
several times during the course of the set, it helps if you start with
a good overall sound and try and maintain the balance of dynamics
throughout, i.e., solo instruments should turn the volume back to its
original position after a lead break!
A 'muddy' or 'bassy' sound can be eliminated by turning the
bass control down and adjusting the mid and treble so that they cut
through the bar and audience noise. The opposite applies if the sound
is too 'tinny' or high pitched, i.e., treble control down, adjust mid
range, bring up the bass control. Wether your tweaking the EQ or Gain
always make a tiny adjustment then listen to the overall effect before
making another adjustment. Once you have the correct settings for an
instrument, use a piece of chalk to mark it's place beside the
dial/slider. This process will become easier (and quicker) as you gain
Where the band members and their amplifiers are placed also
makes a difference to the overall sound. One of the most common line
ups is for the bass guitar to be at one side of the drum kit with the
guitarist placed on the opposite side. The singer would stand in front
and/or slightly to one side of the drums. The line up would need to be
adjusted for each extra instrument but if possible aim for a U shape
with the backline angled slightly inwards to allow the band members to
hear each other. The average venue may not have the facilities for you
to spread out or situate yourselves in a manner that allows for optimum
sound clarity. This is a bugbear you'll just have to put up with, but
at least a decent soundcheck gives you the opportunity to get the
levels sounding halfway decent.
Placing all the instruments through a mixing desk does allow
greater control over the sound, but is difficult to achieve without
some training or a dedicated sound engineer. Employing a 'Roadie/Sound
Engineer' will save you tons of hassle, although it is important that
each band member is capable of operating the p.a. in the case of
illness, holidays, emergencies etc,.
Online Equipment Retailers who sell, hire and/or install P.A. Systems, Lighting Systems etc. available in the P.A. & Equiment Hire Companies
listings. Visit the Musician Store
to browse microphones, cables, instruments, tuners, effects and other
equipment accessories online. P.A. & Speaker manufacturing
companies listings are available at Electric Blues Club
Equipment Pro-Audio section.