Scrutinizing Your Mix

Coming up in the audio world first as a "studio" guy always had me scrutinizing every note of every performance. In the studio, you can do that due to the fact that you're able to keep working on a part until it's right. A lot of that mentality has crossed over into my recent live work. With modern PAs being able to reproduce music much better than previous generations they have allowed me to be more critical of my mixes and the music being portrayed. But I'm wondering if I'm being too particular about things and not letting things flow and just "happen."

As we all know live concert sound reinforcement is always a compromise and you can never make everyone happy. No matter how awesome things may sound at FOH there will always be an audience member (probably more than one) that will have a less than satisfactory experience. Of course we try to minimize that and it's gotten much, much better in recent years. But it's still pretty much impossible to bring the exact same sound to every seat in the house. People directly in front of the PA will complain that it's too loud (don't sit there!) and people way in the back will say it's too soft. Don't you love it when an audience member that is sitting right in front of a sub complains about the bottom end being too heavy? Again, always a compromise.

I tend to think of it like this: if I was a video guy I'd be pretty bummed if my huge, hi-res video wall had a dead pixel or two. I look at my mix with the same concern, I'm hoping to deliver the audio to the crowd with pixel perfect resolution. That's pretty much impossible but I try and that's what's got me thinking that it can never really happen. So maybe I'm trying too hard? Always pushing the boundaries towards excellence is never a bad thing but it is possible to reach diminishing returns and simply just frustrate the heck out of yourself?

Currently being with Cee Lo for the first time on a bus tour (supporting Lionel Richie) has given me the chance to dig into my mixes and work out all the little kinks that you can't ever tweak on a one-off. For more than three years now with Cee Lo it's been nothing but fly dates, so I've never had the opportunity to get any degree of repeatability. But now we're carrying everything so the PA (Clair i5) is largely the same every night, so is the desk (Digico SD7, I LOVE it!) and I use the same mics (a mix of Heil, Sennheiser, Audio-Technica, Audix and Lewitt.) As the new band is settling into their routine and tightening the set that gives me further opportunity to delve into each channel and get it as good as it can be.

Again referring back to my studio days we always made a point to walk away from a mix to give our ears a break and come back with some new perspective. Sometimes that would even be overnight and we'd attack things again in the morning. It was always remarkable to me how much differently I'd look at things the next day after a good night's sleep. Of course I can't walk away from a live mix but what I can do is record the show (using a Zoom H4N which allows for ambient as well as direct recording) and use that as a reference. I've found that by listening to those mixes when I've had time to walk away lets me focus less on each instrument and more so on the overall mix.

 

In the end, I've found that what I perceived as inconsistency from certain sources is likely only noticable to me and not necessarily the audience. So in the end I've decided to relax a bit and let things happen as they will and focus more on the big picture and the big guy himself.