10. Musicians feel most comfortable and play best when they hear what they need to hear on the stage. Of course, the experienced monitor guys and recording guys already know this.
But it’s something for those less experienced to think about. No, it’s not about how much power you have or what kind of monitor wedges. It’s about psychology.
And I think it’s true that if you become good at monitors and understand how to please musicians, you are 90 percent there towards becoming a good mix engineer.
Sure, the last 10 percent might be the “magic” but you can’t make magic without the basics.
9. Sound travels at 1,130 feet per second, at sea level, at 68 degrees F and 4 percent relative humidity. This is important because if you understand how sound propagates, you’ll automatically know more about microphone placement, setting delay towers, and things like delaying the mains to the backline. And you should also know that the speed changes with temperature, humidity, and altitude. (If you don’t, it’s a good idea to look it up.)
8. The Inverse Square Law. You know, the thing about a doubling of the distance from the source means that the acoustic power is cut by 1/4, right? This applies all over the place, from mic technique to loudspeaker arrays. It relates to how much power you will need from the power amplifiers.
The Inverse Square Law, illustrated. (click to enlarge)
For instance, if you normally cover an audience at 20 to 60 feet from your stacks, but for the next gig, the audience will be 40 to 100 feet away, how much more power will you need to maintain about the same acoustic power? About four times as much! Maybe think about delay stacks (see #9).
7. The equal loudness contours of the human hearing system. Back in the 1930s, Harvey Fletcher and his team at Bell Labs did some tests resulting in this graph. “What it means is that the human ear is most sensitive in the upper mid-range frequencies, and least at very low and very high frequencies.
In other words, to hear a tone at 100 Hz equally as “loud” as one at 3.5 kHz, it must be 15 dB louder! (This is assuming the 3.5 kHz tone was at 85 dB SPL),
Fletcher and Munson were preHy cool for being complete audio geeks. (click to enlarge)
The implications are that to provide a really good, full mix, you need a combination of lots of power, a carefully designed subwoofer system, and a brain capable of realizing that it’s easy to overpower peoples’ ears in the mid range. Not to mention that distortion, especially in the mids, is really obnoxious. Which brings me to…
6. Distortion really sucks, unless part of the “sound”. I’m often amazed how seemingly intelligent people who otherwise know what they’re doing don’t seem to notice fairly high levels of unintentional distortion.
The first step in eliminating it is to learn about the causes, from gain structure to faulty connections to cold solder joints to aging tubes. Second, and perhaps even more important, is to learn how to hear and identify distortion. Is it harmonic distortion? Gross overload of one of the channels? Intermittent?
And then third, please do something about it!