Why Every Engineer Should Learn Live Sound
Most audio engineers find their way into recording artists one of two ways. They either played music themselves and had an interest in learning the recording side of things, or they started out with a passion for music without any musicianship and wanted a way to get into working with it every day.
If you came from the musician path, there’s a great chance you’ve already been exposed to live sound to a degree. Playing music with others, you need to be able to find a balance between each other during everything from rehearsals to your first shows. You’re instantly surrounded with recording and mixing situations both while practicing and while on stage.
For non-musicians, these opportunities might not immediately present themselves, but they’re an absolute necessity if you want to have a full grasp of what it takes to be an audio professional. Especially starting out, bands want a “sound guy” that can make them sound good in the studio and on stage. If you can do both – you’ve got that much more to offer them.
Working in live sound also offers a few key skills that are easier learned with an audience than in isolation…
One of the first things you’ll notice when working with a live setup is how much the gear can change. For primarily in-the-box engineers and producers, it can seem a bit overwhelming. If you’re someone who enjoys the tactility of hardware though, you’re in for a treat.
Live sound has all kinds of toys and tools for you to learn. Mixers, monitors & PA replace your DAW in a live setting, giving you various mixed to address and sounds to balance. While the faders and knobs closely align with the ones in your computer, they also enable you to do things on the fly to mix as you go. You’re constantly working for the best sound in the moment – there is no fixing it later.
Past that, you’ll really get to learn how your tools react under the strain of the live environment. Things like compressors, EQs & even microphones can behave differently with the high volumes and noise level of a music venue. You get to be the one driving them.
Even if you’re not such a big fan of the hardware – we’re quickly seeing computer-based approaches flooding the market of live sound. With digital mixers and computers, full “studios” can be compressed down to a simple rack unit and your laptop. Bands are seeing this as a way to give their live sound engineer more control and better sound than they’ve ever had as virtual guitar rigs and bass DIs can be routed through the PA. While the on-stage gear might be the eye candy, the real work is being done right inside of a DAW.
The fact that any major shows happen is a miracle. There is so much that goes into the setup and teardown of even the simplest show that the concertgoers never even see. As anybody seasoned in live sound will tell you, it takes a lot of manpower to make that happen.
For major shows, crews will spend all day setting up rigging for lights and sound prior to a show. Everything is meticulously tested and verified before the show and front of house (FOH) and monitor engineers plan for every scenario, sometimes with the techs and other times with the artists themselves. Then, usually within an hour of the show ending, everything is torn down and loaded up to go to the next city.
But even the show itself is a lesson in reacting in real-time. Engineers and crews have to make split second decisions to ensure the show goes off without a hitch. They’re constantly bouncing between instruments, finding balance and moving on to the next thing.
Sound like something you could use in the studio?
The skills that can be learned in live sound can be applied to nearly every other aspect of the music industry. Recording engineers learn to instinctively find the sound they’re after and learn the way their mic placement/signal chain affect the sound. Mix engineers can make mix decisions quickly and efficiently, drastically cutting down the time it takes to finish each mix.
Learning live sound teaches all audio professionals how to work under pressure while trusting their instincts and committing as they go. It’s a wonderful skill set to have that can save you hours in the studio.
How To Find Live Sound Gigs
If you’re looking for work in live sound, start local. Find bands that need help with sound. If you’re in a band, offer to help mix other bands that you book shows with. It’s easy for your network to grow rapidly with just one or two bands that like the way you make them sound and bring you in for multiple shows. More importantly, who do you think they’ll turn to when it’s time to record?
If you’re looking to really make an impression, make sure your studio skills are up-to-par before you start doing anything live. Understanding how dynamics can be controlled, what to look for in guitar and drum sounds & how everything blends together can make all the difference.
For resources, be sure to check out the information we have available on our blog and in the JST VIP section of the site. As a VIP member, I’ll even critique your mixes and provide feedback on what’s working and what needs to change.