When mixing any live act, it’s imperative that you first get the PA right. You may have had the production supplier bring an XL4 and racks full of tube comps or an Avid desk loaded with plug-ins, but if the PA and crossover aren’t properly configured, you’re not doing your client justice.
In this world of line arrays and digital crossovers, we have lots of new tablet apps and tools that allow us to remotely make adjustments and walk the 300 level of the arenas or the balconies of the theatres while making zone level adjustments and matching complimentary EQ to the various components of the system. We need to give the people in the balconies and side seats the same quality experience and imaging as the person sitting in the twelfth row.
Many loudspeaker manufacturers have prediction software that offers a great start, but listen to the system and always make adjustments to hit those seats correctly. Use the matrixing to separate your sends to the different zones and time align them perfectly to maintain cohesiveness and imaging in your mix.
Crossovers allow you to time align the subs with the mains, front fill, and delays. More than anything else, spending the necessary attention on time alignment is paramount. When this isn’t done correctly, you add to the smearing and cancelation inherent in these imperfect venues. We then tend to turn up the volume, attempting to compensate and causing a louder version of the improperly set up system. If we set up the system correctly to begin with, we can keep the volume down and maintain the impact of the live performance.
If you don’t have a smart system or alignment software, use your ears. Play a song that is simple, something with a straight beat to it (Tom Petty has always worked well for me). As you get close to having the front fill in time with the mains, the fill will sound like it almost gets quieter or disappears from the FOH position. It shouldn’t be noticeable that you are walking into the front fill soundfield; rather, you should just be getting the presence of the vocal and upper-mids the PA isn’t producing for those front seats. When the guitar player gets going and the drummer starts pounding, those front row fans will still be hearing those great vocals they came for and want to sing along to.
Graham Clarke has been in the audio industry for over 17 years and is based in Toronto. He has been the tour manager, production manager, and audio engineer for acts such as TOTO, Loverboy, Alannah Myles, Jann Arden, David Wilcox, and others.