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Top 10 Reasons For Bad Sound (And What You Can Do About It…)

Mostly operator-based issues and how they can be addressed and overcome

By Karl Winkler November 15, 2017

5. Wireless mics not used properly.

Mainly I see this as a combination of planning (or lack thereof) and believing that wireless mics work on voodoo, and thus, “There’s nothing that can be done.” Frankly, there’s almost always something that can be done. Wireless mics work on math and science, and should be treated as such. The laws of physics apply.

Sure, using really crappy wireless is like playing Chinese, er, Russian Roulette, but as soon as you get to the units costing $400 per channel or more, the problems stem mainly from antenna design and frequency choice.

Read the manuals for these systems and get the good information offered by various reputable manufacturers. You can only gain from knowing more about wireless. Get familiar with frequency coordination software.

4. Hearing loss.

I once read a post on a ProSoundWeb Forum describing the same thing I’ve heard many times – a mix that is just too darn bright because the operator has probably lost his or her hearing.

Please, please, please get your hearing tested on an annual basis, and don’t think it’s “not manly” to wear hearing protection when you mow the lawn and use the vacuum cleaner—as well as when your system is being pinked out.

And frankly, if your hearing is significantly degraded, do the right thing and consider changing careers. Run a sound company. Do lights, be the system tech. But consider that if you continue to mix, you’ll continue to damage your hearing further and meanwhile, your mixes will continue to sound worse and worse.

3. Poor wiring, terminations and grounding.

This is another one like gain structure that is far more common than it should be. There are times when a single whisker of shield wire can short out a hot connection or cause a ground loop.

You should have a regular maintenance schedule for all of your mic cables, and a procedure in place for checking and cleaning your multi-pin units as well. And if you’re not clear on grounding and ground loops, get clear on it!

I’ve received a number of calls over the years where by simply diagramming the system, I can point out where the ground loop is being created. You should be able to do this as well. Finally, impedance and level matching are important topics to understand as well.

You should know when a DI will be helpful and when it won’t. You should know why it’s a bad idea to connect a 300 ohm guitar pickup directly into a 1K ohm microphone input.

2. Poor gain structure.

Yeah, you’ve probably heard this a thousand times before. Yet it’s still true. Here at Lectrosonics, we get calls about sound systems not working properly and at least seven out of 10 times it is a gain-structure related issue.

The main problem we see is not enough gain at the front end – think mic preamps – and then the gain made up somewhere else down the chain. The result is simply too much noise and not enough punch.

The second most common error I see is that the buses are being hit too hard because all the channels are hot and then being summed to a bss amp that can’t take +28 dBu. The resulting sound is squashed, small, and often irritating.

Unlike the old days of recording and hitting the analog tape really hard, it is not always such a good idea to be hitting your channels or your buses hard. Hit them hard enough to get the maximum signal to noise ratio, but not so hard that distortion is evident.

There are book chapters, seminars, training sessions, and manufacturers’ information on this subject. And there is also the advice of your peers. But it is up to you to figure out how to set your gain structure properly for the best results, with the gear that you are using.

1. Lack of mixing skills.

This can manifest itself in many different ways, but the most common I’ve encountered include: too loud, too bright, too much distortion, and no definition between elements of the mix.

Folks, there simply isn’t any good excuse for this stuff because when using good, well-set-up gear, these problems can all be avoided. I’ve been at concerts where two different acts played on the same PA.

Artist A sounded like crap, with muddy lows and no extension, mish-mash mids, too much high-mid, distorted highs, and no extension on the top. Instruments blended into each other. The drums were too loud, particularly the kick. The vocals were barely intelligible.

Then artist B took the stage, and it was like a revelation: clean, extended lows, beautiful definition between instruments, no low-mid gunk, beautifully clear vocals, and wonderful, extended highs.

What was the difference? Mainly, it was the operator. Sure, the different artists were part of the story but we’re talking about basically the same sources on stage – drums, bass, guitar, keyboard and vocals.

The real difference happened behind the console and one guy knew what he was doing while the other one did not, period.

What can you do to improve your “Mad Mixing Skilz?” First, lose the ego and realize that you’ve got a lot to learn. Everyone mixes differently, but there are some common threads between great mixers. They know what kind of a sound they want, and they technically know how to get it.

They are self-critical and objective about what they are hearing. They know that hard and fast rules used to mic drums or to EQ guitars don’t often work in the real world. The way they really EQ is to understand how all the instruments and voices fit together, and they come up with a way to make that work by giving each sound its own space in the mix.

Great mix engineers remain open-minded and stay in the present moment so that they can actively listen to what’s happening in front of them. And then they take action.  They also know what the artist wants and what the audience expects.

All of these things are skills that can be learned. What are you waiting for?


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About Karl

Karl Winkler
Karl Winkler

Vice President of Sales at Lectrosonics
 
Karl serves as vice president of sales/service at Lectrosonics and has worked in professional audio for more than 25 years.
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