Does a pre-produced on-stage mix still need FOH engineering?

Discussion in 'Location Recording' started by hardshell, Jan 23, 2007.

  1. hardshell

    hardshell Guest

    I am in the on-stage engineer for my band and all our live instruments go through an fully automated submixer linked into Abelton Live where they have been optimally mixed for each song. This is then sent as a stereo signal to the FOH desk, and all the FOH engineer needs to worry about is mixing the vox with the stereo mix (technically identical to mixing a vocalist over a backing track, except in this case this the backing track is played live).

    Because the instrument track level settings are instantly recalled in Ableton Live for each song, we should in theory be able to set up anywhere, plug into the FOH system and play each song perfectly without really having to sound check other than getting a decent balance between the live vox and the instrumentation. However, we are getting conflicting comments about our live sound. The punters love it - no one has ever complained about the levels, although some FOH sound engineers have voiced concerns over the mix and complained that they needed to cut or boost certain instrument levels, but obviously couldn't because all they have control of is a stereo mix.

    What I am struggling to understand is, if the FOH desk and PA have been EQ's correctly to attenuate any undesirable frequency responses in the venue, then how can our overall sound be problematic when we have sub-mixed it perfectly? Surely the only potential issues would be vocal mic frequency placement and feedback which the FOH engineer has full control over?
  2. moonbaby

    moonbaby Mmmmmm Well-Known Member

    You are naive, mon frer ! If your mix is so "perfect", you wouldn't have the live sound mixers complaining about it.
    Your mixes sounded "perfect" through what playback system when you did the mix? A pair of JBL 4412's , a pair of Yamaha NS10M's, a pair of bookshelf speakers, a pair of Peavey PA cabs, Mommy's boombox, WHAT?
    One of the most misunderstood aspects of mixing recorded sound is that you need to create a mix that "translates well" when played back on other systems. What sounds good in the control room can sound like CRAP through other systems. It's not unusual for a recording engineer or producer to take a mixed CD he/she just completed and play it back in their car or living room system just to see how it sounds through "real world" systems. You have to learn the idiosynchrasies of your playback system as well as the ones you'll be performing "live" through. You can't walk up to every system you'll be blasting through and "assume" the system is perfectly EQ'd and fine-tuned to your liking, anyway. Issues like phase anomalies, feedback, soundfield environment, etc., are going to predicate the system be adjusted in ways that are TOTALLY opposite to what your mix may require.
    Now, I have a naive question for YOU: If this performance is "technically identical to mixing a vocalist over a backing track except that the track is played live" (via Ableton on a computer), why go through all of the hassles you've described here and in other posts? Why not get a professional studio in your area to cut you a CD of your production mix and use THAT? I guess that I'm missing something here....
  3. hardshell

    hardshell Guest

    That's my point - it's only some of the engineers with a gripe, never the audience, and if the crowd are always happy it makes me think it's the engineers with a problem, not the music itself. My band isn't playing out for grumpy old sound engineers (which are always biased towards a particular 'sound' or instrument), it's playing for the music buying masses who thus far don't have a problem with the sound we make.

    A pair of Spirit Absolute Twos, a full 3K Opus PA system and two sets of pro headphones (Beyer DT 100's and Sony MDR-EX81SL)

    I would disagree as DJ's never have a problem playing pe-produced CDs or Vinyl through a PA, and if a PA rig is not EQ'd for the venue then surely it's the FOH engineers job to get the rig attenuated for the environment it's set up in, otherwise everything that plays through it will sound $*^t.

    Maybe I wasn't clear on how Ableton fits into the equation - it runs a very minimal backing track with spot FX and samples, and also delivers a click track to sends attached to the bands in-ear monitoring. All other instrumentation plugs straight into a Projectmix desk which is also a control surface for Ableton. All the rest of the music (2 x guitars, bass, drums and 3 x vox) are totally live and the signals are processed within Ableton before going FOH (for realtime automation on volume levels, EQ sweeps, FX, etc)

    The instruments don't change - and they have all been mixed well. It is my guess that the FOH engineers are complaining that the music doesn't sound as THEY would like it mixed rather than it being a generally poor sound.
  4. moonbaby

    moonbaby Mmmmmm Well-Known Member

    OK. For starters, DJ's are playing what is more than likely professionally mixed and mastered CD's. You aren't. Period. And if it's just the "grumpy old soundmen" that are bitching, why even worry about it? Maybe they do have a sour attitude, God knows I've seen that. So who cares. Play the music and enjoy. Screw 'em. So what if you are mixing through crappy gear-the audience is always right...right?
  5. MilesAway

    MilesAway Guest

    Q: Is there any stage-volume present? ie: amps, live drums, wedges, etc...?

    Comment: an FOH guy is generally experienced and sober. Audiances are neither. If your FOH guys are saying that they can make your mix sound better, they probably can. I'm sure you have a fantastic setup for an ideal situation but live-sound is anything but...

  6. moonbaby

    moonbaby Mmmmmm Well-Known Member

    When you have live musicans playing, you have too many variables in the fray. The bass player inadvertently hits the Volume control on his ax and knocks it from "10" to "7". Then the guitarist sets the 5-way selector on his Strat to the #3 position instead of #4. The drummer is hung over and it's all he can do to hit the snare much less smack it like he did on he previous gig. The keyboardist knocks the Volume slider to "10" when he pushes the pitch bender next to it. These are ALL human errors that occur all the time onstage. Everybody's excited with all that adrenalin rushing around onstage, resulting in this credo:
    $*^t HAPPENS!!!!
    This whole attitude that the mix is always perfect because it's "in the box" is bunk. A real live sound engineer will recognize these nuances and make the necessary adjustments. Mistakes contribute to a live musical performance's success and feel. I mean, if that was not the case, and you'd have a flawless performance every time, where would the fun be in THAT? All you'd have to do is pop in a CD and....
  7. Scoobie

    Scoobie Active Member

    I played professionally for 12 years and never really understood how hectic the FOH engineer's job can get. The guy's on stage can make his job Hell. The best thing to do is, do your job and let them do theirs. Thats what everybody getting paid to do.

    For the last 6 years or so I have been doing live sound engineering and live recording. One thing that I learn real quick is. What sounds great at sound check might not sound so great when the venue fills up with people.............................
    What I'm saying is, Your sound engineer is probably right on needing to EQ.

    If my mix at sound check(empty venue) has the bass kick'in real hard. There will be way to much bass when the venue fill's up with people.

    I guess it's just me, but it take's me a couple of song's to get the sound dialed in good.

  8. pr0gr4m

    pr0gr4m Well-Known Member

    It's all been said here....


    I can't say how many shows I've seen where it sounded like ass but the fans neither noticed or cared. Find one fan who has seen a few of your shows. Ask them which sounded the best. Ask them why the others didn't sound as good. Then you'll have a better idea of what might be changing from club to club.

    No two venues are alike, in design or in sound system. A perfect sine wave can sound different through different speakers and in different rooms and requires a good FOH guy to make it ROCK!

    Since you are using effect from LIVE to process the other instruments, it may not be east to split things up. But my recommendation would be to get some sort of audio interface that would allow you to split each instrument out to it's own channel. Then feed each to the FOH guy. See if they can make it sound different - maybe better. If nothing else, they'll be able to balance levels and keep things from overpowering other things...and by things I mean sounds. :)
  9. hardshell

    hardshell Guest

    Yeah, that's exactly what I've thought about doing, but unfortunately cannot achieve it because we do not have enough outputs available - hence my question as to whether a pre-produced submixed sound would suffice.

    All the instruments on stage have their output levels set the same every time, and the drummer is playing a kit fitted with MIDI pickups. The submixed drum sound is what comes out of the drum module - the main kit is mic'd with overheads which go straight to FOH anyway so I can't really see how the sound would be affected by musical nuances in playing the kit (plus all the musicians are extremely tight and consistent players - they simply do not ^#$% up when playing)

    The reason I say it is a pre-produced sound is because all the instrument levels are constant for each song and have been optimised to sit well in the mix - which in theory should be audibly similar to someone playing a pre-produced CD through the PA. There are no audio spikes, pops or clicks, and feedback is not an issue because nothing that is mic'd goes through the submixer anyway. This is why I'm comparing the sound output from the submixer to the sound output provided by a DJ playing CDs through the PA. Our songs do not have musical nuances and instrument levels are not subject to change AT ALL. All the guitar sounds come from Line-6 Pods, not on stage amps. Basically, everything running through the submixer is consistent every time we play - volume levels, EQ, panning, etc - no different in theory to a CD.

    I can understand that sound checking in an empty venue will be majorly different to when the venue fills up, but if the 'in-studio' mix of the live set is optimised to sound perfectly balanced (in fact as close to CD production quality as we can achieve with the gear we are using), then surely the sound issues with any subsequent venue is one of EQing the overall output of the PA to take into account the environmental surroundings? Why would the FOH engineer need individual control over each instrument?
  10. moonbaby

    moonbaby Mmmmmm Well-Known Member

    Because your adjustments on the mix are being hampered by what you hear onstage, not out in the audience. You have a live drummer onstage? Chances are 1 in a 1,000,000 that you'll get it right because of the dynamics of the beast and you're right next to him (compared to the audience). THEN you factor in that MOST performers are pretty "off the mark" when they turn up for a solo. They're either too loud or forget to do so. And like I already said, there is that "human factor" of energy from the band that is NEVER the same from gig-to-gig. SOMEBODY has to reign this in at times. Being onstage with the performers makes you a poor judge, objectively speaking, of this issue.
  11. hardshell

    hardshell Guest

    Thanks guys, what you've said makes sense. Looks like I'll have to get myself off the stage and out front as well.
  12. moonbaby

    moonbaby Mmmmmm Well-Known Member

    You'll never look back! :cool:

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