Live Audio Operators’ 5 Worst Enemies

Shotgun_microphoneAudio Engineers: the unsung heroes of shows everywhere. If you’re doing your job perfectly, nobody notices you- but once you screw up, you’re the first person everybody blames. Here are some things that you’ll have to watch out for when mixing in a live environment.

5. Talent & Mic issues: Eating the Mic, Popping P’s and Hissing S’s.

This one has an easy fix, just talk to your talent. Tell them that they need to move their microphone away form their mouth a little bit to help clear up their sound. Because sound travels in waves, they can have the mic lower than their mouth to be able to avoid the puff of air causing the plosives- that popping sound from P’s. If they’ve got a lot of sibilance going on, sharp S sounds, have them actively keep their tongue farther back in their mouth when they talk. The next show should sound a lot cleaner.

4. Feedback: Find the Frequency!

Feedback is caused by a signal looping. A frequency of sound is being fed from the source to the monitor back to the source, creating that awful sound. The easiest way to get rid of this is to cut the signal entirely, muting it out for a moment. But this isn’t always a possibility. If the talent doesn’t know that moving away from the monitors will cut the loop, or simply can’t move away, then it’s up to you to find the frequency where the feedback is happening and EQ it out. Audio Feedback is probably the nastiest sound there is, so you’ll want to do this as swiftly and cleanly as possible. You will most likely notice a little bit of feedback before anybody else, make sure that it doesn’t escalate too high. Especially not to a level  when your audience will start plugging their ears, because it only gets worse as the seconds tick by.

3. Booth Differentiation/Audience Size: Sound in the booth isn’t the same as it is elsewhere.

Sound depends on the location of your booth with regards to the audience, speakers, stage, and audience. This will vary at every location. So will your audience size. Make sure you know how your show will sound with both an empty and a full audience. Metal seats can reflect sound to make it louder than you might have anticipated. People are good sound conductors so the more bodies there are in the audience, the more sound they will absorb- which could make your show quieter. You’ll also have to bump it up to make sure that everybody gets to hear over the cheering and other noises that come with the “people factor.”

2. Running out of Music: Downtime is not okay.

Unless you’re running a concert or a live musical performance, make sure there’s always music for your show segments and music in between bits. You probably won’t be the one in charge of providing this, but when segments run longer than the song you have, you’ll have to learn to loop it. Find a spot in your song near the end which you could use as a starting point to cross-fade the beginning of the song into and make it as seamless as possible.  This might be something you’d want to practice a couple times before your show just in case. General tip: downbeats are your friend.

1. Wind: WOOOSH!

You’ve cut the lows, you’ve cut the lowest of the midlows, the high-pass filter button is pressed in, you’ve got as big of a wind guard as you can possibly find on the microphone…. There’s really not much more you can do. Just remember after you cut out all those frequencies, you still have to make your talent sound good- as opposed to being trapped in a tin can.

If you’ve come across these or any other problems, share your experience! Comment below with any other tips you might have to defeat the adversities of the live environment. Best of luck out there!

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