A great mix is going to sound amazing regardless of if you’re in a multi-million dollar studio, at home with some headphones, or playing back through a loudspeaker system at a concert. There are many key concepts that audio engineers can carry over from the studio to a live sound environment, but the similarities don’t just stop there.
Nearly every member of a band can take aspects of their studio experience on the road with them and apply those concepts on stage. There are key elements of the recording session that might have started in the studio, but soon enough they’ll be common across every live show too.
Many audio engineers that wear both hats (the ones that record bands and mix them live) have already seen a lot of this change. Digital mixers have become more and more common in live venues, where the mixer itself acts closely, if not identically, to the DAWs. They can jump through full channel strips of EQs, compressors & on-board effects right on a screen on the board.
Couple this ease-of-use and accessibility with the live recordings that are constantly being captured and it’s easy for a traditionally studio-focused engineer to find themselves at home mixing a live show within minutes. Let’s take a look at some of the ways musicians are beginning to carry studio concepts over to their live shows.
Since hardware has been more accessible and stable than software in the past, it makes sense we start here. Outboard gates and compressors are even more common for live shows than they are in the studios these days. It makes sense – nobody wants a ton of mic bleed to kill his or her performance, especially on stage.
For those that are running their instrument right to the board, outboard compressors and EQs give them dynamic control over their sound and provide more consistency on the road as their DI signal is pumped into a different mixer each and every night.
Rack effects can also include things like vocal processors, delays & reverbs. While many mixers are going to have access to these in their own setups, having your own “preset” sound to work from can be a huge help. It takes the heavy lifting off of the audio engineer and helps you take control of your sound.
The Digital Age of Stage Audio
You may have noticed I said hardware “has been” more stable than software in the last section – but this is often no longer the case. With more durable computers being taken on the road, we’re seeing a huge shift toward the use of in-the-box solutions on the stage. Bands are no longer lugging around hundreds of pounds of amplifiers when they can get the sound they need straight from their computer into the board.
Guitarists and bassists have some of the best options when it comes to in-the-box guitar tone today. Using plugins like Toneforge Ben Bruce, guitarists are able to accurately create a guitar sound that’s been painstakingly captured to sound like Ben’s album tone. Perhaps best of all – there’s no bleed, interference, or tubes that might fail mid-show.
Bass players options are following trend. While they’ve been some of the biggest users of DI boxes in the studio and on stage, there’s often a sense that something’s missing from hard rock and metal tone. Bassists try to add preamps and effects to their chain to make up the grit of a live amp, but often these solutions still don’t match their expectations of a live rig tone.
I’m guessing that as more virtual bass rigs hit the market, we’ll see a huge number of bassists ditching their bulky live rigs for a plugin solution. Tools like Bassforge Hellraiser have already proven that there’s a better, more consistent approach to bass tone.
Stage Mic Technique
It used to be that every show I’d show up early to, some stagehand would throw an SM57 on something quickly and run away. As artists start to realize the importance of microphone placement and technique to their sound, an approach with more care and attention to detail is swiftly replacing this practice.
Go to any big festival today, and you’ll see front of house (FOH) mixers working with a walkie-talkie or headset as their stagehands set up the mics. Sound checks are now just as much about ringing out the mics to get rid of feedback as they are finding the right placement for the tone the FOH mixer is after.
By paying attention to mic placement, live sound professionals are able to achieve similar levels of separation between instruments as a studio engineer might without making drastic gate or EQ decisions. This results in a fuller, more natural sound when done correctly.
Studio Techniques to Know
Whether you’re working in the studio or on a stage, there are many techniques that a great audio engineer should know. Having the ability to capture a great drum sound that’s balanced with the rest of the mix and demanding control over your dynamics are just the start.
If you’re ready for an in-depth look at how the pros are doing everything from dialing in the perfect guitar tone to getting studio-quality vocals, come check out the JST VIP section of our site. We’ve got everything from guides, to tutorials & resources that can help any engineer grow their skill set.