Learn How to Mix Front of House for Live Bands
Learn form the audio engineers working with Prodigy and the Libertines! This in-depth master class is aimed at Live Sound Engineers and takes us through each step of putting together a front of house mix for live music – from the moment you arrive at a venue as a touring engineer to getting the final mix up and running. Jon Burton (Prodigy) & Justin Grealy (Libertines) take a comprehensive look at the input and output channels, outboard rack and interconnections, each individual sound source and working the mix until it’s right; is filled with tips, tricks and some excellent advice.
The course consists of 19 videos that cover each step of the process, from arriving at the venue and getting to grips with your environment, testing the sound system, deciding on a mix position, discusses the mixing console in detail, getting connected and then Jon Burton goes through the band channel by channel, develops a mix and discusses his personal methods and recipes for success.
Jon and Justin, as visiting engineers at The Plug in Sheffield, explore their territory and assess the tools at their disposal.
In this, the introductory video in the series filmed in The Plug in Sheffield, John Burton and Justin Grealy introduce themselves. In the series, Jon and Justin will be going through the PA system from the viewpoint of a visiting sound engineer, from walking in to the venue for the first time to being show ready. In this first episode, the boys discuss the PA system, stage and venue. They meet Adam the “house guy” and investigate his audio cupboard and have a little chat about amplifiers.
Jon and Justin set up the front of house console in The Plug. There are many things that need to be considered when choosing a mix position.
In this video Jon and Justin get the mixing desk out and have a little chat about where best to position it. There are many things that need to be considered when choosing a mix position. Bass traps, reflective surfaces, risers, DJ booths and festival mix towers are all discussed as the likely lads get to work setting the desk up.
Jon & Justin investigate the house system in the Plug, Sheffield.
Jon and Justin discuss the procedure for testing a house PA system. Firstly, listening tests are carried out using a mono pink noise source and testing one speaker system at a time. Having found some differences in sound between the left and right, Jon and Justin start the logical process of detection, diagnosis and correction, describing the processes they use as they go. After adjusting several components in the system, further listening is required followed by further adjustment until the boys are reasonably happy.
Jon gives us a comprehensive tour of the Soundcraft series 5.
Jon introduces the Series 5, Soundcraft’s flagship analogue console and the console we will be using for this demonstration. He explains in some detail “what all the knobs do”. Yes, we do know what they are all for, every last one of ‘em. Jon explains the functions and the labelling on the Series 5 as well as giving us an introduction to the board overall.
Jon gives a comprehensive tour of the Soundcraft Series 5’s master section.
He describes the different functions of the console’s many outputs and defines auxiliary sends, sub groups, VCAs, matrix outputs, master inserts and the main L/R buss.
Jon gives us a unit by unit breakdown of the various pieces of outboard in the effects rack.
There are several different devices here but generally they will fulfil one of three different roles. The inserts or signal processors such as graphic equalisers, noise gates and compressors, the effects like reverbs and delays and media or playback devices like CD players.
Jon explains how to patch the back of the console. Being a versatile large format console, the patching facilities are comprehensive. You’ve really got to know what you are doing here. Jon describes how to plug up balanced XLR inputs, how the insert send and returns work, and how to send to and return from effects.
Jon talks us through his approach to the Kick drum, his choice of microphone, how to approach gain, how to set the parameters of an external noise gate, and how to equalise the channel.
Jon describes how to use two microphones on the snare drum, one on the top, or batter, head and one on the bottom, or resonant, head to enable the engineer to mix in the direct sound of the snares, which are metal wires stretched across the resonant head with varying degrees of tension. There are phase issues to address here as well as the usual gain, eq, insert and routing decisions to be made.
Jon describes how he uses condenser microphones over the drum kit and starts to build a full drum mix. He demonstrates phase and frequency relationships between the microphones on different elements of the kit interacting with each other and advocates a “listen first” approach to these relationships.
Other instruments & Mixing at Zero
Jon describes how he deals with the bass. The two sources he uses are firstly a DI placed between the guitar and the amplifier and a microphone on the cabinet. These sound very different from each other and Jon describes how he gets the best out of each. As the bass and drums constitute the foundations of the mix it is important to get them working together.
Jon discusses his treatment of an acoustic guitar. The object here is to try to preserve the guitar’s natural sound while getting rid of unwanted body noise and any other extraneous noises. He also describes his use of a good quality compressor can improve the sound without losing the dynamic attack of the instrument.
Why it's best to work at the zero point of the faders.
Jon shares some great advice about keeping your faders at zero when mixing live. Around the zero mark is the area where you have most control on the fader, and keeping them all at the same level (adjusting the gain to be able to do this) also means you know where the faders ought to be in the event of something being knocked accidentally. He also describes micing on VCAs and subgroups.
Jon deals with the electric guitar and keyboards. Of the two guitar inputs, one being direct from the amplifier output via a Red Box transformer, the other being a microphone, Jon describes why he eqs them differently and combines the good qualities of both. In dealing with the keyboards, Jon explains why it is not a good idea to use heavy eq on a stereo keyboard.
Jon demonstrates how to treat vocals. Firstly he discusses how to eq a vocal and set the appropriate compressor level. Having listened to the vocals in context, Jon then discusses the problem of spill, before demonstrating his use of reverb.
Getting The Mix Together
Jon puts the whole mix together. The most important thing here is vocal clarity. Jon talks about how to make the vocals clear and how to assign VCA controls to make it as easy as possible to mix the show and why he starts the mixing process with the vocals Also discussed here is the difference between sound check and show and how to compensate for the change in acoustics caused by the arrival of the audience and the change in performance from the band.
Jon gets out from behind the desk to hear what it sounds like in the rest of the room. Because of his mix position, it sounds slightly different from where he stands to what everyone else is hearing, so it’s important to walk the room and get a feel for any differences that you need to accommodate in your mix.
In this video Jon discusses the qualities of his mix. There are many things to consider when mixing a show, many of them variable, in fact there are few constants in the process. Usually, your show situation will be better both acoustically and in terms of performance than sound check. Jon discusses some of the things that will change and the importance of being proactive in listening and reacting to the performance accordingly.
See the mixer from Jon’s view as he rustles up a mix of the Gomez track, “Options”, demonstrating the speed with which live engineers have to work.