Being in charge of running live sound at an event can certainly be stressful – it seems like there’s always an opportunity for something to go wrong.
Just watching Mariah Carey’s 2017, nearly silent, New Year’s Eve performance is enough to make anyone’s palms sweat.
Bob Breen, owner of Audio Pro Visual Inc., can certainly attest that while it’s possible for audio blunders to crop up as flukes of nature, there are others that can be easily avoided with proper planning and patience.
Bob Shares his Top 4 Live Sound Mistakes – and How to Fix Them
1. Microphone Confusion
Being unsure as to who has which microphone is one way to add stress to your job as an audio technician.
Luckily, this problem is easily avoided with proper labeling.
“One easy solution is to label each mic with tape,” Bob explains. “You can color code or number the mics so they match with the receivers and channels. That way everyone who has to handle them understands the number or color code system, and can quickly understand where things are.”
2. Improper Gain Structure
“Gain structure is big,” Bob says. “But setting it up properly is easier than people realize.”
Bob explains that while many people are tempted to ‘do crazy gymnastics’ with equalizers and boosters, the simplest way to correct poor gain structure is to simply flatten out the EQs.
“If you’re in a big room, turn down the low end a bit because the room is probably giving you plenty,” he says, adding, “and it’s probably going to sound better than before.”
3. Poor Speaker Placement
“Speakers all lie,” Bob says with a laugh. “But truly, 80% of what you hear out of any speaker is actually the room. You may think you hate the way they sound but it could just be that they’re not in a good spot.”
In order to figure out the right placement for your speakers, Bob suggests thinking of your speaker ‘like a flashlight.’ If they’re placed in a way that would make a flashlight in that same spot shine over your head and to the back wall, or if it’s pointing at your knees – it’s probably in a poor location.
“I’ve been shocked by how many people put speakers out and miss half the room,” he says. “You want to make sure that they’re going to be sending sound in the direction of people’s ears, not their knees!”
4. Believing You Need the Newest (and Biggest) Equipment
“Shockingly, the worst concert I’d ever attended was in the famous Kodak Theater in L.A.,” Bob says. “And it was all because they had put a line array that was beaming treble right at my head.”
“People often pick the wrong system for the job,” he specifies. “Arrays are a hot thing to add right now, but they’re the wrong thing for many applications, especially if you don’t have to throw sound a long distance.”
If you’re running a show in an intimate theater or a community hall, it’s sometimes worth it to remember that less can be more.
“Great sound in your venue should sound like a big home stereo,” Bob says. “You have to match the vibe and function of the room.”
Love live sound?
Listen in as Bob Breen and Stephanie Ciccarelli talk about life as an audio technician on the Sound Stories podcast.
About Bob Breen
Bob Breen is the Owner and Production Manager of Armor Pro Audio Inc., as well as an instructor, career counselor, and curriculum consultant at the Ontario Institute of Audio Recording Technology (OIART). He has also served as both the Vice President (Eastern US & Canada) of the Audio Engineering Society.