Have you ever been in a situation that required you to mix from the stage? Maybe you’re a musician and are the only one who knows how to run the sound board. Or maybe the sound guy (or gal) didn’t show up and now the responsibility falls on you. Either way, it can be a difficult place to be.
How do you mix live sound from the stage? When mixing sound from the stage you should:
- Get Familiar with the room
- Understand the band and their tendencies
- Practice with and train the band
- Listen to the mix off stage during sound check
- Make small adjustments
- Watch the audience for cues
Doing these things and understanding how they will help you can greatly affect the results you get. Continue reading to learn more about it!
Mixing Sound From the Stage
Mixing sound from stage is never an ideal situation. Unfortunately though, it’s a situation that many people find themselves in.
If you’re a musician, then you know how much responsibility you have in your job already. But then, taking on the task of doing sound can add a great amount of unnecessary stress.
That’s why I’ve written this article with 6 tips that will help you make the most out of a not so great situation!
Get Familiar With the Room
Getting familiar with the room you’re in is a great start to getting a decent sound while mixing from the stage.
What do I mean “get familiar with the room?”
I mean every room sounds a certain way. Every room has certain characteristics unique to it. And you should make mental notes, or even physical notes, about those characteristics so you can use them to your advantage while on stage.
Things to listen for:
Volume from front to back
Tonality of the room
Are there any dead spots in the room? (Sides)
Are there any strong spots in the room?
A simple way to check these things is by playing music. Set your music at a level in which you feel is comfortable and walk around the room. Make notes of all the things I’ve listed and how they change in different parts of the room.
Then, listen on the stage where you will be mixing from. Make notes of how it sounds to you while you’re on the stage. It might not sound “good” to you, but that’s not the point. The point is knowing what “good” sounds like in the audience from where you will be mixing on stage. Knowing this will give you a good reference and huge advantage when the time comes.
Understand the Band and Their Tendencies
Understanding the band and their tendencies can also be very beneficial to you when mixing from the stage. Knowing these things can help you anticipate your next move, rather than always being one step behind the band.
For example – I worked full time with a band for three-and-a-half years. I got to know all the songs and all the members really well during that time. Because of this, I knew exactly when each vocal part was coming up, each guitar solo, keyboard solo, drum solo, loud part of the song, soft part of the song, etc… and was able to prepare ahead of time for the next part coming up.
This can be hugely beneficial to every sound engineer, but especially those who find themselves mixing from the stage.
Practice With and Train the Band
Chances are if you find yourself missing from the stage you are probably part of the band. This responsibility commonly falls upon the drummer.
In this case, this step comes pretty naturally since you will be practicing anyway (hopefully).
It’s important for you to not only to practice the songs themselves but also when and how you will be making adjustments to the sound. This can be a lot harder than it sounds.
On top of this is very important to communicate with the band what you were doing and how it affects them and how what they’re doing affects you. Do your best to coach them in a way that makes it easier for you to run the sound.
For example – if the guitar player normally cranks up his guitar all the way for his guitar solo, but it’s a bit overbearing and causes you to have to reach for the soundboard to turn it down, it may be a good idea to ask him/her to not do that in order that you can also continue playing undistracted by sound issues. (assuming you’re part of the band)
Training all your members in this way can help alleviate some stress on you you when having the mix from the stage.
Listen to the Mix Offstage During Soundcheck
Developing the ability to to mix on stage is only half the battle. The other half is knowing what it sounds like to the audience, because this is in fact who we’re mixing for, anyway.
How can we do that?
Well, there is no better way to do this then mixing from front of house, but as you know that’s not what this article is about.
So, something that can help you do this is simply by listening out in front during your soundcheck.
During your soundcheck get a mix dialled in that you think is working period then go out in front to listen period make notes on what is working well and what isn’t period then, go back on stage make those adjustments in come back out in listen again. Continue to do this as time permits and until you have a mix you’re happy with.
Then simply listen from the stage. Now that you have a mix that you’re happy with, simply listen to it from the stage. This wall give you a reference of what “good” sounds like to the audience, but from the stage where you are mixing. And when you start to deviate from that sound, you know it’s time to start making some adjustments.
Which leads me to my next point.
Make Small Adjustments
No matter how much you practice and how much you prepare, you will simply never know no what it sounds like exactly to the audience because you’re not there.
For this reason it is important to make small adjustments. You don’t want to deviate too far from what you originally started with because you lose what you knew to sound “good”.
Now, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t make any adjustments ever. I’m simply saying that when you do need to make a change, make sure it is actually needed in make sure it’s not too big.
It’s really easy 5o make one big adjustment. And then one turns into two, and two into three, etc… and before you know it you’re in a place where you can’t recover what you had and left with a big mess that you can’t clean up.
So, adjust where needed, but keep it to a minimum when mixing from the stage.
Watch the Audience for Cues
Keeping an eye on the audience and how they react to certain things can be one of your biggest and most helpful tools when mixing from the stage.
I was taught in a speech class I took that body language can play a role of over half in terms of perceived intent of a conversation. Use this to your advantage!
You may not be able to ask the audience what they think of the mix during the performance, but you can certainly look at their perception of it.
Do they look happy? Are they smiling and dancing as if they are enjoying it? Well then, they probably are! Which means you’re probably doing a pretty good job.
Or do they look annoyed? Are they squinty-eyed as if they’re trying too hard to pay attention to what the vocalist is saying because maybe they can’t hear them? Well, that’s probably a pretty good cue to you that they can’t, so maybe you need to turn the vocalist up a bit.
Or even better, do many of them have their fingers in their ears? Well, you probably know what that means… it’s probably too loud!
There many ways you can read the audience, but I think you get my point. My point is that the audience themselves can be a tremendous tool for you to gauge how your mix is sounding to them.
As I said in the beginning, mixing from the stage is never an ideal situation. But unfortunately, it’s a situation that people oftentimes find themselves in. But despite the unfortunate circumstances, there are some things we can do to help make the most out of it.
I hope I’ve helped you in recognizing some things we can do to get the best mix we can and they not so great situation!