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Developing A Consistent Sonic Footprint For Every Show

A “best overall practices” guide to apply to all live sound work

By Dave Rat May 2, 2011

Previously, I’ve defined several hard earned (and hard-learned) essentials for stabilizing the audio output of the artist/instrument/console combination to achieve sonic success in the fast paced world of music festivals.

Now let’s continue the discussion, noting that a lot of this information also serves as a “best overall practices” guide to apply to all live sound work.

An absolutely key set of variables to get a handle on are the tendencies of the artists with whom you work.

Does the bass player turn up the amp after sound check? Is the band nervous, causing the guitar player(s) to play harder and louder at the start of the show, while the drummer tends to go faster and lighter? Does the lead vocalist sing softly until confidence builds?

These are all very common issues that cause a perfectly good sounding sound check to come up like a train wreck at show time. Pay close attention and try and spot patterns that are predictable so they can be addressed.

As noted in my last article, with your gain settings well documented, observing your channel metering will indicate any variations in the levels coming from the stage.

You now know that guitar rig three is a few dB hotter than yesterday, and so on.

Next, build a set of theories and test them. Look at your faders after the first song every day. Take a console snapshot digitally, or if you’re working analog, with your phone or camera.

Print and analyze the snapshots. Answering the question “what did I change and why?” should provide valuable insight toward unraveling the causes of the changes.

Confirm Assumptions
With some attention and persistence we’re hopefully at a point where the sound from stage is now tame, or at least somewhat predictable.

Remember, the console EQ adjusts the sound of the microphone/instrument combination to correct. The system EQ adjusts the sound system/venue combination to correct.

Therefore, the only thing that should now change from venue to venue is the system EQ, while the console settings should remain about the same regardless of system type and venue type or size.

The next adventure is to confirm all assumptions are solid and progress is being made. Begin recording your live shows using a pre system EQ send to the stereo recordings.

Compare the tonal balance of the recordings to the artists’ CD releases or a previous live recording that you strive to reach.

If your recordings are dull, then the system EQ is too bright, and vise versa. Make adjustments to the mic setup, channel EQ and system EQ until your recordings reach a level of consistency and desirable tonal balance in line with the sound quality of the live show.

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About David

Dave Rat
Dave Rat

President, Rat Sound Systems
Dave Rat heads up Rat Sound Systems (www.ratsound.com), 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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Krooburg says

System EQ via the “Dave Rat Headphone Transfer Function”. Interesting…

Andrey says

Does this imply usage of GEQ on the system? What is the opinion for only using a 4band parametric on the master bus?

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