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Hi, my name is Kern Ramsdell, and I am an all around audio nut.
I live and breathe all things audio. I own a humble home recording studio, live sound system, and at any one time I am a live sound engineer for local bands and venues. Too be completely honest about live sound, I just cant get enough of it.
That said, the world of live sound is far from perfect.
I have learned the right way to do a million things but only after making a million mistakes. I just finished a live sound product titled, “Breaking into live sound production“, aimed at helping newbie live sound engineers, but if you would like more information about it simply click on the box below.
I believe that in order to be a better live sound engineer we should think in reverse whenever possible. Here is an example for you.
Stage volume is a constant battle with most bands. When a musician asks me to turn up (lets say) the vocals in their monitors, I don’t do it. Instead I think in reverse. I turn everything else that might be in their monitors down, making sure to not touch the vocals at all. Then, if need be, I turn up the volume level of the monitor.
So why go through all of this? The thing that usually happens is that you get sucked into a never ending cycle of turning things up, louder and louder. We should work hard to stay clear of these never ending volume cycles.
As we turn up one thing in a monitor everything else then seems quieter as a result. Next, you will be asked to bring up another instrument, followed by yet another. Once you turn one thing up everything else just seems too quiet. The volume knobs go up and down, so why not try turning everything else down. This way, they can hear what they want to, better than before. If it is too quiet after you turn down the loud channels, turn up the monitor slightly. They will not know that you did anything except what they asked for.
Believe it or not we apply thinking in reverse to things all the time. Ever apply “subtractive EQ”? I also use reverse thinking when something is too quiet in the mains. If the sound level is too low after my adjustment, I raise the whole mix ever so slightly. This helps keep a sonic-ally cleaner show with a much more constant volume level.
There is probably a much better way to do some of the things you are currently doing, weather it be routing certain effects, applying compressors, or running your live sound rig. Whatever it is that we could be doing better, we just have gotten used to doing things the way we are doing them.
Hey, why change if it works, right?
I have encountered systems that flat out had things hooked up in crazy ways. As these systems grow, the things that are done in order to accommodate for improper connections or techniques grow and grow. At some point these systems become impossible to operate. It just becomes too hard to work that hard.
There is a saying I like to quote that states “As the twig bends, so grows the tree”. This speaks to me. I take it to apply that if you make exceptions to common sense and hook things up wrong, or use gear in ways that the manufacturer never intended, while the system is small, imagine how crazy things will be when you grow into a massive rig.
Read manuals and get to understand the gear you come in contact with. Learn alternate ways of accomplishing like tasks. Learn how to do less with more.
We all get them and we get them all the time. Some nights I get more than one. People cant resist telling the sound person what they should do better. I used to think to myself, “Who are you to tell me what I should be doing?”. But not anymore.
I believe everyone has something to say. Hearing is dynamic. We all hear differently and we all have unique experiences and opinions. Ever walk around a venue as a band plays? Things will sound drastically different depending on where you stand. So what does this all mean?
I try to listen to what people tell me. I also look for common threads while listening to critiques. If we truly want to improve and get better at live sound production then we need to be open to critiques and learn from them.
Not only do I listen to critiques, I also try to help people express what they are trying to share with me. Not every person is into sound. They most often don’t know how to express what it is that they wish to say.
You just don’t work with the same level of interest that you used too. You feel as if the spark has gone. This is not the same thing as becoming lazy, but they are related to one another.
Let me give you a few examples of this if I may.
Maybe you don’t listen to different microphone placements anymore. Instead you just take what you get when placing microphones in front of amps, and “just go with that” straight into the mixing console. That really stinks for everyone because if you try a few placements you will probably find the best spot for the mic, providing a much better production.
Another example might be never taking a second look at your stereo compressor (in line with your mains) as you work show after show. Before you know it things sound flat. When you finally do look at your compressor settings you notice the ratio is set to “full on limiting”, or at about a 20:1 ratio. This is a reach, I know, but it happens. Knobs will get turned and settings will get moved.
Lastly, maybe you have grown tired of listening to new ideas. Bands mention new things to you, like their ideas, expecting your excitement, but instead you just roll your eyes. I see it all the time. Everyone feels it too. Its tough to remain excited about work, and believe it or not, this applies to live sound too.
You have sworn off new technologies and new live sound products. You maybe say things like this, “Hey, if the Beatles didn’t need it back then why do we need it now?”. Bye the way, that is the biggest load of garbage I have ever heard. The troubling thing is that I hear it, and things just like that all the time.
The truth is that the Beatles would have loved to have access to the gear of today. Back then people paid little attention to creating new products or technologies for music. Massive track count, multi track recording studios were decades away. Concerts, in the era of bands like that, were way under powered and problematic at best. The same goes for all aspects of the audio world, like studio work, songwriting, instrument manufacturing and design, and the list just goes on and on.
We live in an incredible moment in time. There are massive corporations staffed with thousands of people, all creating new products and technologies for the music industry! There are a lot of new gadgets out there, and I cant defend all of them, but I beg you to remain open to new ideas, new concepts, and new technologies.
Believe it or not, people once swore off computers as over complicated calculators. Can you imagine a world without them now?
If you are thinking about getting into live sound production either as a freelance live sound engineer or as the “dedicated sound person” for your own band or venue, and you are curious as to what you will need to know, please know you are not alone. I just finished a brand new product aimed at answering the most common questions that most new engineers have. I also teach the principals that you will need to know and understand, like impedance and how to combat feedback before it happens. Its called “Breaking into live sound production“, and its ready to help your next production be your best!