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Laying The Foundation: Making The Live Mix Work No Matter What

Merging refined skills with a professional attitude to pull off a great mix, regardless of the circumstances.

By Dave Rat July 13, 2015

Face it, stuff happens. Sooner or later something stops working during a show.

Front of house engineers must know the absolute essential components of the sound mix that are most vital – in other words, the channels that the band must absolutely have to continue playing. Generally, for a four-piece rock band in a large venue, these channels are kick, bass, guitar, and lead vocal. Just four inputs, everything else is pretty much fluff and spares.

A bit extreme? Perhaps, but hopefully it clarifies the point. 

A good house mix engineer is a prepared one. A well-planned input list allows any input from stage to go bad without adversely affecting the show. If the snare top mic goes down, use the bottom one, and maybe bypass a tom gate. Who cares if you go mono on the guitar, lose the bass mic, or anything else for that matter – nothing is that big of an issue if you’re prepared. 

Two hard-earned observations:
1) No matter how much I yell at the crew, it never makes it sound better.
2) If I act like there is a huge problem, people will know there is a huge problem. 

Say you’re doing a festival gig and the shed sounds terrible (stupid tin roofs), the system is nowhere near what you wanted, the promoter oversold the venue,  half the people can’t hear the PA, band management is on the mix riser… and you’re up. What now? Panic, complain, blame everyone and lay on a big pile of excuses before throwing your arms up?

No matter how bad things seem, freaking out only makes it worse. Step back, sum up the situation, and calmly solve the issues. Setting realistic goals definitely helps. Forget about creating the best sound anyone’s ever heard; rather, ask yourself, “what can I do to create the best sounding show possible with the tools available?”

As a house mix engineer, you are all alone. One of the more difficult concepts of front of house mixing is that the people who know what it should sound like best are on stage and can’t hear the mix. I found mixing monitors was challenging, but at least there was a possibility of a definitive “good” or “bad.”

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About David

Dave Rat
Dave Rat

President, Rat Sound Systems
Dave Rat heads up Rat Sound Systems (, a leading sound reinforcement company based in Southern California, and has also been a mix engineer for more than 30 years.


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