I recently had the chance to do some live mixing in a studio in the context of auditions for « Festival En Chanson de Petite Vallée ». The situation brought about some challenges I shared with you. Last time we looked at a few issues you may run into, this time we’ll look at how to prevent problems.
The auditions are for a songwriter’s contest within the festival and required a daily rotation of 11 artists or bands each playing four songs. I was mixing « FOH » for the judges who were present and for archiving purposes, recording the performances in stereo (CDR and backup portable recorder).
My monitoring consists of various pairs of headphones plugged into the mixer, the main recorder and the backup recorder. With this arrangement I can independently check what my stereo mixes sound like in three places. Actually, I can only sort of check because the direct sound from the bands and the sound from the PA is pretty loud and combines with my headphone sound. My headphones are the closed type but leakage is still an issue. If I turn up the volume in my headphones they start to distort slowly before they cover the outside sound.
Should I use headphones from different manufacturers? Is it not ideal to have three different versions of your mix available? Yes in a way, but not having a single version you can trust is the main issue. If you know how a particular pair of headphones sounds and adjust your mix accordingly, it’s fine, but in this setup I still had the influence of the direct sound and PA sound combined with my headphones.
Because I am recording as well as mixing live, my attention has to be divided up as I keep my eyes on the mixer output levels (feeding the « FOH » speakers and the two stereo recorders) but also on channel input levels (my sources) to prevent clipping. I need to check that both my recorders are recording and that the input levels are alright (do I have enough headroom?). I also need to make sure the musicians are happy (and adjust their monitors if need be) and look at the judges to make sure they are happy with the balance.
In this case what I was doing is called damage control because I know that cannot control everything, I have to check the priorities (good « FOH » sound for the judges versus a good recording no one may ever listen to). The pressure is off slightly because the judges are professionals, judging the performance of the artist not my sound. A great artist will still be great even if the sound is bad, a bad artist will be bad even with good sound. However, a great artist will be greater with good sound.
So this scenario could have been avoided with better planning. Ideally the mix position is well located between the PA loudspeakers (for live sound mixing) or acoustically isolated from the direct sound source (for recording). The first compromise happens here as we are trying to do two tasks from the same position. Ideally the mix position is further from the stage in order to minimize the effect of the sound from the monitor wedges interfering with the sound from the PA loudspeakers. The second compromise is the choice of an ill-suited mix position. Another compromise is made when the mix fed to my stereo recorders is the same as the mix fed to the PA loudspeakers. In an ideal situation a separate mix is made by another person on another board. Even if the FOH mix and recorded mixes are done from the same board, it may be a good option to create the recorded mix from an aux send (like the aux mixes being fed to the musicians) so that different amounts of reverb may be used in the FOH mix and the recorded mix for example. Take another example, the drum kit needs to be fed to the recorded mix but since the direct sound is relatively loud, less of the drum kit needs to be fed to the PA than the recording because the audience (the judges) are in such close proximity to the band.
Hopefully these notes will have gained a little insight from these notes and learn from other people’s mistakes!
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