In a previous column, I covered three “styles” of live mixing—reinforcement, reproduction and production—and how they apply to your goals as a mixer and the requirements of the gig.
Now I’d like to delve further into some techniques behind achieving the best results for the first two styles, in order for your mix to be as transparent as possible. Generally, this would be most useful for acoustic music, and even perhaps for reinforcing a single speaking voice such as in a lecture or sermon.
First, a quick story: Several years ago, I was in Houston on a business trip, and had been in contact with Scott Fraser, the engineer with the Kronos Quartet. Scott invited me to come to a concert since they were performing while I was in town.
While there, I was really enjoying the music, which, by the way, was all over the map in terms of style. But I kept thinking that they must not be using the PA.
I noticed that there were microphones on the stage, and that Scott was there “mixing,” but for the life of me I was unable to pick up on the fact that the music was amplified.
During one of the numbers, however, I could hear some radical-sounding effects coming through the system, so at that point I thought I knew what was going on.
After the concert, I asked Scott how much of the sound was in the PA. His answer surprised me: “Everything. At least a little bit.” So I asked him how he accomplished such a transparent mix.
He began by noting that he uses good microphones, in this case, Neumann KM 150 small-diaphragm condensers, “for their natural sound and nearly perfect polar pattern.” He also mentioned that Countryman Isomax lavalier mics mounted on the instruments picked up sound for effects sends.
But probably the most important factors, he added, were keeping the PA volume in line with the acoustic sound, and delaying the signal to the PA so it would follow the original acoustic wave into the hall. I was quite impressed with his detailed knowledge of all these issues, but perhaps most importantly, that he had a goal regarding the effect on the audience, anel carefully used the available tools to achieve that goal.
SO WHERE DO WE START?
I think it’s fairly easy to lose the forest for the trees in our business. First, there is the love, er, lust of the gear. Who doesn’t drool over the latest digital console with the built-in espresso maker?
And what about the 1,000-watts per channel amplifiers in a single rack space? Or the carbon-fiber loudspeakers which weigh 12 pounds but are 105 dB at 1W/lm sensitive with perfect coverage and directionality down to 40 Hz?
Sure, these things are all cool and necessary for the advancement of our industry and craft. But I think it becomes very easy to think mostly about gear, about technical issues and getting things loud rather than the real main purpose: the music.