All that “noise” masks what’s really going on in the mix, making it tough to pull together a good one.
Removing one’s self from the acoustical environment enables us to hear clearly and put together a really good mix. In our room in particular, we have all kinds off issues with those gremlins.
Our FOH position is in a different zip code than where everyone else sits. In theory at least, if I get a great mix to the speakers, the result will sound better for the audience.
Third, I realized I suffered less ear fatigue and temporary threshold shift even after mixing 4 shows over two days than I normally do. Temporary threshold shift is a phenomenon that occurs when we are exposed to high SPL for extended periods of time.
Our ears compensate by “turning down the gain,” which makes us turn up the volume to achieve the same felt level. By mixing with IEMs, I actually kept my exposure level lower than the room.
It’s hard to measure, but I’ve been doing this long enough to have a good idea; whereas the room may have been in the mid to high 90’s during the big musical numbers, I was below 90 in my ears. That 5-10 dB over a few hours makes a difference.
This technique does not come without caveats, however. First, you have to pull the ears out once in a while to make sure what you’re doing is actually working. I did this a lot during the first two shows, and less as we went on.
Because it was the same show, I became more confident that what I was doing was working. Still, I checked often, and kept an eye on the real-time SPL meter and log at FOH to make sure I was over-driving the system. Using snapshots helps a lot, because it sets up a baseline mix and keeps levels consistent.
Second, because of the equal loudness contours, you have to adjust for different SPL levels. If the house is running at say, 95 dB SPL A, and you’re mixing with IEMS at roughly 85 dB SPL, that 10 dB difference will alter how we adjust tonality.
I’m currently exploring ways to compensate for this on the board (perhaps by setting up a dedicated “solo” bus that I can listen to that includes some EQ to compensate for the difference in volume. I’ll let you know what I discover.
Third, if you are using a ton of EQ on the outputs of the board to correct room anomalies, you have to adjust for that. We’ve been able to back off of the EQ on the desk, but we still have too much.
I need to clean some of that up in the processing next year. Also, it’s important to compensate for loud acoustical instruments like cymbals. If I turned the cymbals up in my ears to where I really wanted them, they would be tearing people’s heads off in the house because the live cymbals were already almost loud enough. Again, it’s important to pull out the ears and double check once in a while.
Finally, it’s good to have someone else there to listen to the mix and make sure it doesn’t get out of control. My ATD Isaiah was right next to me the entire night and I knew if I started getting too loud or running off the rails, he would nudge me and I could fix it.
I don’t yet know if I can categorically recommend this technique as something you have to try just yet; however, I do know I’ve been pleased with the results in my room, with my PA and my desk with my band.
Your mileage may vary. But it may be worth a shot.
Do you mix with ears in? Let me know in the comments below and happy mixing!
Mike Sessler is the Technical Director at Coast Hills Community Church in Aliso Viejo, CA. He has been involved in live production for over 20 years and is the author of the blog, Church Tech Arts . He also hosts a weekly podcast called Church Tech Weekly on the TechArtsNetwork.