Lately I’ve been volunteering on Thursday open mic nights at Kindred studios in Yarraville and even scoring a few paid gigs as well.
If I’ve learned one thing, it’s that if you’re getting paid as a sound engineer, your job is to get everything working and sounding as crystal clear as possible – because really, how are we to appreciate everything that’s happening on stage if the mix isn’t balanced right?
This thinking puts me back into the mindset of being in the studio and that “it can sound better if I just find a better balance between x and y”, which then says to me that what I’m hearing from the stage could always be mixed better.
I find this is doubly true given that the amount of loudness of any given performer can vary to some degree over time. Some might disagree with me but I’ve tended to “ride the gain” on weaker performances to give the audience the sense that the intensity of the performance is being kept constant.
If I were to push up the fader on the main vocal channel, I would be getting further away from unity than I would like and once you start getting closer to the limits of the fader, you not only have dropped your signal to noise ratio, but you’ll need to boost something somewhere else if you need more signal – plus I may have to reduce the threshold or raise the ratio on the compressor as well in case the intensity comes back again and gets too loud. The benefit of “riding the gain” here is that I can keep my signal to noise ratio optimum by catering to the performer in real-time rather than the usual “set and forget” approach to gain structure. This will depend on the kind of music being played, so while this approach may seem reasonable for punk or heavy metal, it wouldn’t make sense to do this for an acoustic duo performing a somber song where drops in intensity are more than likely part of the performance.
New thought – I’ve since considered that maybe leaving the channel gain alone and using the comp gain on a compressor might be more appropriate since increasing the gain on the channel will likely affect the aux send for the monitors – it would indeed be confusing for a performer if suddenly they got louder as they started to put in less energy into the performance.
Next time I do a show I’ll use a compressor on the main vocal as well as on the vocal bus so I can manipulate the comp gain if a weak-performance kind of situation occurs again.