It was Saturday night! Off to the night’s sound gig with my friends’ band. I was pretty excited, as I had some new toys with me – most notably a Behringer X18 Air mixing console.
I had a bunch of personal and professional goals for the evening, but getting around the new iPad mixer interface and making a great mix were paramount. Outside of pressing mutes inadvertently, I did fine with the mixer. Now creating that great mix…
From the first verse of song one, I had my work cut out for me. It was already too loud. I spent the rest of the evening struggling to create a comfortable mix that was clear and precise. And, quieter than it started out as. Most people left me alone as I tried righting the mix. Later in the first set, I was met with a pleasant “can you turn it down, please?”
I believe my response was, “No, I can’t”, but proceeded to show that pulling the master fader all the way out didn’t really affect the overall volume. It just threw the small amount of clarity I worked so hard to get out of the window. She understood right away, as she said, “oh, so it’s them”, as she pointed to the band. We both politely gestured to the band to crank it back a bit, and the evening continued. She understood on the most basic level what I refer to as “The Mix Equation”.
Stage sound level + audio system sound level + room/ambient sound level = overall sound level
The biggest thing I realize every time I mix a rock band in a small to midsize club is that you are closed in. This club had a fairly quick but dense reverberation. Almost every surface was reflective instead of absorptive, which pumped up the band’s volume. So, without adding the house speakers, the band was quite a bit louder than it would actually be just coming out of their instruments, and it was not very clear at all. Their stage sound was time-smeared by reverberation.
The fix? Acoustical treatment. Probability of that happening during the gig. Zero. Probability that the room will be treated before my next gig there. Slim to none. Could I compensate with cutting-edge, expensive equipment? Nope.
Since the mix equation shows that sound is generally additive, in order to turn down the overall sound, one of the three individual sound levels must be turned down. In my case, the stage sound and room sound were my targets. My band wasn’t really playing that loud, but the room’s response was directly tied to their stage level. To turn room response down, the band had to play quieter.
As you normally would not have control over acoustical treatment in the venues you play in, I have some ideas for portable solutions to control the unwanted reflections:
- If your band is loud, talk to them about how their stage volume affects their overall mix. My band was fairly quiet that night, so-
- Use In-Ear Monitors (IEMs) for as many band members that will take them. This eliminates wedges and brings the stage volume down. Then-
- Bring a drum shield, have the drummer play with Hot Rods, and make his or her IEMs sound huge with lighter playing. Add the snap and reverb they normally would hear if they hit their drums hard in a small to medium size room. And-
- Setup pipe and drape for side and rear sound attenuation. Make sure the drape is made of heavy velour (think auditorium stage curtains). This will not take care of everything, but will absorb midrange and high frequencies from the stage sound.
Pipe and drape is a pain to bring with and setup. And it would look silly at a gig. But, it will work. If you need reflection control, do it as close to the stage as you can. You will need less material to accomplish the same result. And, the pipe and drape is portable. Put your banners and t-shirts on them to spruce up the look. Or, you can bring more of the best sound absorbers you can get – your audience!
Bodies absorb sound fairly efficiently. The bigger your audience, the more absorption, the tighter the room responds, and the better your mix will sound. Less room reverb = clearer mix. Even if your room is too reverberant, your audience will hear direct sound from the main speakers more than the room’s reverb if they are closer to the speakers. Pack them in, keep them dancing all night, and tell them to call their friends to come boogie down with them!
What are your favorite ways of mixing in tough sounding rooms? Leave your message below.