Playing live on a big system: Worried about my mixes

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Dhak
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Playing live on a big system: Worried about my mixes

Post by Dhak » Thu Nov 28, 2013 4:16 am

I posted something similar to this in the gearslutz forum but did not get the responses I was hoping for. I've also tried searching but, again, did not find anything that went into great detail.

Basically I am at a point in my music career where I feel that I am finally ready to start playing out. I have built up a good base of solid tracks, and more importantly I have finally gotten over the seemingly never-ending hurdle of figuring out the best way to play my own material using ableton.

Now I face a new question: How will my un-mastered tracks translate to a club-like sound system? What can I do both in the studio beforehand and on the fly during a live performance to remedy any problems I might face?

I don't have access to anything even close to a large PA or full on club sound system to test my mixes to see how they might sound. I'm working with really nice headphones, computer speakers (that came with a small sub), and occasionally have access to a pair of mid-range monitors. I am really happy with my mixes when I listen on my playback systems, but wonder about other larger sound systems.

Here are some specific questions:

1. What are the biggest problem frequencies that I will be dealing with? (I feel like i'm most concerned with the low-end and sub frequencies.)
2. What are the most common newbie mistakes (ie: What did you learn about your mixes after playing out for the first time?)
3. What can I do to remedy this situation in the studio? (specific mixing practices, etc)
4. And what can I do to remedy this situation live? (Like using an EQ 8 with specific notches set at specific frequencies that I can quickly adjust in case something sounds off.)


Please keep in mind that I am not a complete newb when it comes to mixing. I've been slowly learning over the past few years and feel pretty competent overall. On my headphones, computer speakers, and friends monitors my stuff sounds really nice and tight. I just can't help but worry about playing live. Am I overblowing this whole thing or do I face some very real challenges ahead?

muthafunka
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Re: Playing live on a big system: Worried about my mixes

Post by muthafunka » Thu Nov 28, 2013 4:46 am

Reference your mixes against commercial tracks and also check for wayward frequencies using Spectrum plug. Hi-pass at the bottom end to tame any sub-bass and put some gentle comp/limit on the master. Tbh I find that people have diff. expectations when listening to a live set unless you're Underworld etc. Just don't break the pa with sub or kill folks' ears with top and you'll be fine.

Da hand
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Re: Playing live on a big system: Worried about my mixes

Post by Da hand » Thu Nov 28, 2013 1:02 pm

Just to add to the above good advice...

When referencing your mixes against commercial tracks, focus on the tonal/frequency balance, but don't worry too much about matching the overall volume levels. You don't need to compress + limit on the master channel (unless it's some special colour you are going for) as a club PA will give you more than enough headroom to boost your volumes if needed.

Also, try to get some time in the club before the night starts to do a proper soundcheck. Give yourself a few reference points in your set that you want to check on the club speakers... think about it before you get there... sections that will enable you to check the bass, highs, mids, some parts that you may have concerns over, etc... then set a way to loop those reference points so that they can play by themselves while you walk around the club and listen to the sound. Then you can make some adjustments if need be.

And remember to be nice to the club's sound tech (if they have one). They can help you quite a bit as well ;)

TomViolenz
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Re: Playing live on a big system: Worried about my mixes

Post by TomViolenz » Thu Nov 28, 2013 2:06 pm

Can I ask you how you plan to get into those big venues? Just asking in case I ever plan to do it. :)
(A method that doesn't require already knowing people in the music bizz, would be very much prefered though)

Z3NO
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Re: Playing live on a big system: Worried about my mixes

Post by Z3NO » Thu Nov 28, 2013 3:37 pm

Club sound is indeed a tricky one to predict and you may very well be entirely at the mercy of their setup and their under-the-influence-soundman... no matter how hard you prep.
For any decent club with a good PA worth its salt, everything starts with:
1) a tech spec from the venue.
2) a tech rider from you.

A good tech spec should include every last bit of kit they provide at the club and how it's all connected. This means input and output channels, processing, EQs, amps, speaker coverage etc. In some (good) cases you might also get a full data-sheet with acoustic measurements, impulse responses etc. but if you're just starting out, you might get laughed at if you ask for these...

In your tech rider you describe your exact setup and outline any preference you might have as to the setting of their gear. At the very least you should make a point of having a (preferably stereo) high quality monitoring system with independent gain control, and once you've reached 'big shot' status, you can include things like fresh organic fruit and flowers for your VIP guests.

Unfortunately, in regards to working with large PA's, good sound comes with experience, and the best results are usually achieved with multi-track mixing done off stage and the help of a good sound engineer, but some rookie mistakes are easy to spot:

a) Mastered your tracks (pointless).
b) Gains in the red.
c) Use a parametric EQ 'on the fly'
d) Compression/limiting on every channel. (A good PA will have limiting applied, so you don't need to worry (see point b).
e) Missing bits from your setup (cables, converters, chargers etc.)
f) Set gets progressively louder (tug-o-war with the sound guy).
g) Volume in the headphones/monitors too loud.
h) Trying to do too much (too many FX).

Good sound should be powerful, not painful.
If you need to shout in the ear of the person standing next to you to be heard, it's too loud and/or sounds shit.

Your first big sound gig will be so exciting you probably wouldn't notice if the PA was on fire.

Dhak
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Re: Playing live on a big system: Worried about my mixes

Post by Dhak » Thu Nov 28, 2013 8:07 pm

Thank for for the responses! What specific frequencies do you think will be the biggest problems? The low-end? The super low end?

Also for those advocating cutting off the very bottom frequencies: Where should the cutoff point be? 30hz? 40hz? And Is one EQ 8 good enough to cut these frequencies or should I duplicate it a few times?

I understand that a large sound system will allow me to turn my mix up plenty without added plugins on my set, but is it worthwhile to have a high quality limiter plugin on the master channel? I definitely don't mix hot at all and most of my tracks are only peaking around -8 or so. Will a gentle limiter hurt?
TomViolenz wrote:Can I ask you how you plan to get into those big venues? Just asking in case I ever plan to do it. :)
(A method that doesn't require already knowing people in the music bizz, would be very much prefered though)
Good question! I don't know anyone in the business but I'm still confident that I can land some gigs. I'm lucky to live just outside of NYC, and with Brooklyn popping off right now there are a ton of parties/venues that are very active. Basically i've just been researching which parties are happening where and looking up contact info for the DJ/promoters that throw these events. From there it's pretty much a shot in the dark but i'm confident that if someone actually reads my email and listens to my tracks that I can land a gig. If not then I can always attend these events and network in person.

All you have to do is get that first show and if your music and live performance are up to par I guarantee other opportunities will come about from it.

In a nut shell you just have to be very confident with yourself and your music without being cocky or having a big ego. I am very excited about sharing my music with others, and I feel like if I put out positive energy then only good things will come about. Kind of like what that stupid book/movie "The Secret" talks about (but in a less cheesy/materialistic way).

TomViolenz
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Re: Playing live on a big system: Worried about my mixes

Post by TomViolenz » Thu Nov 28, 2013 8:30 pm

Dhak wrote:Thank for for the responses! What specific frequencies do you think will be the biggest problems? The low-end? The super low end?

Also for those advocating cutting off the very bottom frequencies: Where should the cutoff point be? 30hz? 40hz? And Is one EQ 8 good enough to cut these frequencies or should I duplicate it a few times?

I understand that a large sound system will allow me to turn my mix up plenty without added plugins on my set, but is it worthwhile to have a high quality limiter plugin on the master channel? I definitely don't mix hot at all and most of my tracks are only peaking around -8 or so. Will a gentle limiter hurt?
TomViolenz wrote:Can I ask you how you plan to get into those big venues? Just asking in case I ever plan to do it. :)
(A method that doesn't require already knowing people in the music bizz, would be very much prefered though)
Good question! I don't know anyone in the business but I'm still confident that I can land some gigs. I'm lucky to live just outside of NYC, and with Brooklyn popping off right now there are a ton of parties/venues that are very active. Basically i've just been researching which parties are happening where and looking up contact info for the DJ/promoters that throw these events. From there it's pretty much a shot in the dark but i'm confident that if someone actually reads my email and listens to my tracks that I can land a gig. If not then I can always attend these events and network in person.

All you have to do is get that first show and if your music and live performance are up to par I guarantee other opportunities will come about from it.

In a nut shell you just have to be very confident with yourself and your music without being cocky or having a big ego. I am very excited about sharing my music with others, and I feel like if I put out positive energy then only good things will come about. Kind of like what that stupid book/movie "The Secret" talks about (but in a less cheesy/materialistic way).
Sounds good :)
Good luck!

One has to be pretty outgoing though!
(And the scene, here in Berlin at least, is a pretty "insider" kind of thing it seems to me.)

Tarekith
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Re: Playing live on a big system: Worried about my mixes

Post by Tarekith » Thu Nov 28, 2013 8:58 pm

1. What are the biggest problem frequencies that I will be dealing with? (I feel like i'm most concerned with the low-end and sub frequencies.)

Everything to be honest. Not only are you playing a lot louder, but on a completely different kind of system than you're used to. And likely with monitors which may or may not sound anything like the main pa. So really, anything is possible. Extreme highs and lows are the usual culprits though, just like in the studio.

2. What are the most common newbie mistakes (ie: What did you learn about your mixes after playing out for the first time?)

Hi hats too damn loud, takes people's ears off at high volumes. Sub bass overpowering the PA and everything in your tracks.

3. What can I do to remedy this situation in the studio? (specific mixing practices, etc)

Good recommendations here already, although sometimes it's hard to compared unmastered tracks in progress, with finished mastered tracks. So much can change if they've been hit pretty hard in the mastering.

4. And what can I do to remedy this situation live? (Like using an EQ 8 with specific notches set at specific frequencies that I can quickly adjust in case something sounds off.)

It can't hurt to have an EQ8 in high quality mode on your master, along with maybe a limiter just to catch any peaks. The EQ8 I'd set up with a high pass at 20Hz, and maybe a gentle high shelf that could be used to boost or tame the highs smoothly if needed. Sometimes you just need to adjust things on the fly if you don't get a sound check.

Maybe take a quick step onto the dance floor if that's feasible and see what it sounds like real quick. Easier to do when you're an opener too.

Best advice I can give is just accept up front it's going to sound different, and don't try too hard to take your studio sound to a live set. It's cool to sound a bit different than your releases do, gives your fans another reason to see you. Versus that feeling like the concert sounds just like the CD, boring!

And remember, no one there knows what you think the songs are "supposed" to sound like. A lot of people have a pretty wide tolerance for bad sound without realizing it :)

Dhak
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Re: Playing live on a big system: Worried about my mixes

Post by Dhak » Fri Nov 29, 2013 6:50 pm

Thank you Tarekith! Excellent response!

Kent_in_CO
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Re: Playing live on a big system: Worried about my mixes

Post by Kent_in_CO » Mon Dec 02, 2013 5:21 pm

This article I wrote might be of some help:
https://sessionville.com/articles/dial- ... in-4-steps

Kent // SEVEN7HWAVE
Hong Kong: 2050 A.D. You're about to inject a dose of mind-altering nanobots. This is the soundtrack to your trip. https://seven7hwave.bandcamp.com/album/cyberia

Tagor
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Re: Playing live on a big system: Worried about my mixes

Post by Tagor » Mon Dec 02, 2013 6:31 pm

The first Live Gigs we played on Parties in the beginning between 23:00 - 1:00 so we had just time
to prelisten the PA while people was decorating the location. Often we played every single track just
for a minute and settled down aching Hihats or adjusting the deep basses. You need just a second
to listen the main differences
to your used soundexpierenceand can profit so much from an half hour time with the PA
before gigging.Be sure it will sound different, the louder you go more sensible will be the loudness diffrence
between you elements. So on a small PA with basswoover you may need more power on the vocals, because in small clubs the overdriven subbass often muddy out angelic pads or deep voices, while woman voice can be more present.

A quick way to keep control:
be sure you can access the volumes
to the main elements
just deactivate or lower it if something goes wrong.

AND have FUN! if it sound good in car, on headphones, at monitors, then you can keep cool for the PA.

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