How to Mix Live Sound

Simple steps to be simply balanced.
Yamaha M7CL at Church of the Palms in Sarasota, FL.

Sound can make or break the experience for your audience. As the sound engineer at Church of the Palms, I operate a 48 channel board but rarely use more than 4 channels at a time. We often have 6 male and female speakers, a grand piano, a small choir, and sound from video presentations.

Here are a few steps I take to ensure a good foundation for live sound mixing.

1. Adjust the gain. Check the audio input levels with all speakers, vocalists, or instrumentalists. Have them speak or play the loudest part. Set the gain so input levels average around -6dB.

2. Edit the EQ. If the audio source does not demand bass frequencies, apply a HPF, or high pass filter. This will take out unnecessary frequencies where hum and noise may exist. Male voices may sound clear with a slight parametric boost around 2k. Female voices may sound warmer with a slight dip around the same frequency. This is not universal, so use your ear as a guide.

3. Adjust faders. Keep all down to negative infinity until needed. Raise the faders so the master meter averages -12 dB. Each fader may range between -15 and 0 dB, but avoid going above 0. Listen carefully so the main subject is louder than the rest.

4. Add light compression. Set the threshold between -12 and -16 dB, depending on how dynamic the source is. Set a low ratio around 2.5:1. In order to retain dynamics, do not compress too much. Add more compression if you have several simultaneous signals—6 or more.

Mixing sound is an art, so let it be flexible. Adjust slightly and listen intently.

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