Live Sound: Now We're Mixing!
Updated: Jul 28
For over 7 years, I've been field sound mixing, booming and occasionally working as a sound utility for sound for video in Theatrical Film, TV, web, etc. In addition, for more than the past year, I've had the opportunity of working as an A1, A2, rigger and general A/V technician in live sound and audio/visual work on a regular basis and figured it would be a good experience in perhaps more ways than I could imagine. Sure, I've learned some technical things in live sound and A/V work, but what was more interesting was the difference in workflow, priorities, work venues, expectations of me as a team member and people's respect towards the sound department. It's not good to get too comfortable for too long, so stepping out of my element has humbled myself and got my brain to open to learning new ideas. The challenges as a Sound Engineer in both industries are definitely different and working in the same field in another industry has been an eye and ear opening venture as a Location Sound Mixer.
Live Sound Challenges:
Problem solving during a live show while staying invisible and professional: Working in high end corporate A/V has stressed this a lot. The client may not care as much about sound quality as others but the attitude, and appearance or lack thereof is critical. How did the show go
Having a good mix in a technical AND artistic sense: If it's music, know how the instruments and songs/music should sound: Rock, R&B, Hip Hop, classical, it's not all the same. Certain instruments are bigger players in certain music and certain audiences like a certain mix. Some just gotta feel that bass and kick whereas some prefer the clarity of a guitar or violin. I've learned that if you become an audience member, your instincts will often lead you in the right direction. This has been making me think more about how not every client, audience or platform are the same, especially nowadays, not everyone is watching videos on a big screen or TV; I'm looking at you mobile devices and your varying dynamically narrow speakers!
It's LIVE. There's no "We'll fix it in post": This is it. What you hear is what you get. If something goes wrong, keeping it smooth is part of the job. I have a lot of respect for live sound engineers. Multitasking, tuning people out and making it all seem intentional becomes 2nd nature.
Mixing a lot more tracks: Also having a much larger backend. The Routing can get pretty crazy. Thank you for CAT5 and Duggan automix. But honestly, not sure it competes with mixing 6+ tracks in the field while booming and no line of sight of some talent.
Deal with speakers and feedback: Very unique challenge and frustrates me when I have to compromise sound quality for it. Again, different priorities. This is sound REINFORCEMENT really. Not only does the audience need to hear but so does the band who's holding microphones... right in front of monitor speakers... just feet away pointed right at them...
Equalization / make bad sound sound good: Watch this 1 minute video below, you'll see what I mean, and maybe laugh a bit
Sound for Video Challenges:
Hiding mics and all thought of sound: My head would get chopped off if a hidden lavaliere was bulging from under an actor's shirt. Being able to clip on a mic to a tie or give someone a handheld mic in live sound feels like I'm cheating in life. But miking high end corporates for an everyday speech reminds me we're all humans. I'm still convinced there's a few robots out there though, not letting my guard down yet : |
Getting broadcast quality sound: Mic placement is the most important part of my job. Clean reliable sound is critical and the best equipment is necessary. In live sound, some people love DISTORTED!!! sound, whereas we expect technically perfect sound when watching a TV show or movie. But EQing in live sound has made me understand the quality of sound and voice a lot better from a scientific perspective.
Working around the visuals: "Boom's in the shot!" Boy, do I not miss hearing that. Or, "Can we shut off the loud generator that's powering the lights, fog machine, and noisy camera? My mics are picking it up" "No! Figure it out! Get perfect sound and don't bother me!" Being a sound mixer for video, sound is seen as one of the last pieces of the machine, almost an afterthought, despite being arguably the most important part.
Having a smaller team / no team: Depending on the job, I usually work alone in sound department. I've never worked alone in live sound or A/V and the sound team and visuals team are really all the same team in A/V and are expected to do both jobs. It was a bit of a culture shock at first.
Being mobile with a boom pole: I can't exactly wear a suit and tie or be out of shape. 12 hour days wearing 20+ lbs of gear and carrying 50-70 lbs through mud requires MERRELLS! Buy Merrell boots and let's get outside. Crush your limits ; ) www.merrell.com
Working in a different uncontrollable location every day: Unwanted sounds such as neighbors, traffic, construction, poor acoustics, thin walls, A/C, plumbing, etc. are a major issue along with competing wireless frequencies and I'm not given a tech scout on hardly any jobs. It's not my "house" and here in NYC an FCC license won't actually do anything useful. In sound for video, I am always in different locations every day and have no control over the location or surrounding location's wireless field. Therefore, I must learn and use every possible trick to getting a clean wireless signal, whether it's using the best gear, or using science to my advantage.
A live sound engineer is not exactly comparable to simply the "on-location sound mixer" for video, but also the post sound team combined. I've been learning how to EQ, mix 20 or so tracks at a time (up to about 100 microphones), deal with speakers, avoid feedback, compensate for how slow sound travels in a large venue, set different priorities than I would when recording sound for video, fix problems on the fly in a professional and invisible manner during a live show, understand different clients and different audiences when it comes to live music and high end corporate events with VIPs and how to handle myself differently in these different jobs along with having the "just make it happen" attitude instead of waiting for an AD to tell me what to do "Mike this person! Roll sound! Cut! Moving on!" It's funny, how on a video shoot, my title is "Sound Mixer" but in reality, mixing is just a minor part of my job unlike a live sound engineer; really, microphone placement is the most important task I do but now I can more confidently call myself a "Sound Mixer."