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Lockdown Lessons: A Guide For Sound Engineers & Techs

A wide range of resources for learning more about audio, mix practicing and improvement, discovering new consoles, ear training and more.
Pro Audio Eduction

Live events were one of the first industries to be hit hard by the global COVID-19 pandemic as large gatherings and international travel were first discouraged and then banned. Virtually overnight many of us went from having a full calendar to being unemployed, which has created a range of unprecedented challenges not least of which is what to do with all of the unexpected free time.

Therefore I would like to present a range of activities to not only give us something to do but also to develop and hone key skills so that we can stay sharp and thus more easily return to work — whenever that time comes. Bearing in mind that many of us are feeling the financial pinch of these unusual times, everything I list here is available absolutely free of charge.

Learning Resources

First, this is a great opportunity to consolidate and expand our knowledge of all aspects of live sound such as acoustics, physics, microphones, electronics, mixing desks, amplification, equalization, digital audio, cabling, stagecraft, live recording, software and hardware. And what better place to start than our very own ProSoundWeb Study Hall, which offers a wealth of easily digestible articles on an impressively wide range of subjects. Maybe set aside an hour a day for reading articles and get into the habit of doing it as part of your structured routine.

Speaking of good reads, one of my favorite live sound books is the Sound Reinforcement Handbook written for Yamaha by Gary Davis and Ralph Jones. When I was learning the intricate details of live sound it really was my “Bible,” and my much thumbed copy is never far away. You don’t even need to buy a copy — thanks to the Internet Archive you can read it online for free.

Another excellent resource is the Electro-Voice PA Bible, a series of publications which started out in 1979 as a 16-page document detailing sound system design and building to which there have been 20 additions since (the last of which came out in 2007) covering a wide range of topics related to live sound and PA systems. The whole thing can be downloaded from the White Paper section of the Electro-Voice site.

For those who prefer watching to reading, there are a wealth of video tutorials and webinars online to keep you going, a quick search of YouTube for “Live Sound Tutorials” turns up a wealth of material and if you’re interested in specific topics or equipment just modify your search accordingly. A lot of companies also offer a variety of webinars detailing their own equipment as well as live sound techniques and masterclasses. Here are just some of the many:

Avid
d&b audiotechnik

Harman Professional
Lectrosonics
Martin Audio
Prism Sound
Shure
Smaart
Waves
Yamaha

By the way, the author will be participating in an upcoming 2-part webinar with Harman Pro regarding the history of live sound. (Register here.)

Go here on PSW to find out about so many more of there opportunities.

And don’t miss Practical Show Tech (PST), a partnership between audio veterans and leading manufacturers who together are using this unprecedented time to produce a webcast series designed to help others grow and succeed in the audio industry.

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Mixing Practice

After all that learning you’ll probably be itching to get mixing so you can put some of your newly acquired knowledge into practice. However, few of us have a live sound console at home, but that need not be a barrier because all that’s required is a computer, DAW software and some multi-track recordings to practice on.

If you don’t already own DAW software you can download REAPER for free — during the pandemic, they are generously offering temporary licences to everyone (valid until July 1). Now all you need is some music to practice with, so pop along to the Mixing Secrets Multi-Track Download Library where you’ll find a large selection of material — I suggest seeking out tracks that were recorded live to get an authentic feel.

So once you’ve got all that just fire up your DAW, import the multi-tracks (the files will all be the same length so they easily align in sync), and start practicing setting gain structure, EQ, dynamics processing, FX processing and mixing. One thing to try is to put a time limit on your mix building in order to simulate the demands of a strict sound check, and follow it with a single play through to mimic a show, then evaluate your mix afterwards. (If you want total authenticity insert a 10-minute break into the sound check to represent the time it takes to find the bass player.)