Love the adrenaline of watching an electrifying live performance of your favourite band? Ever wondered who is behind the awesome sound coming from those big speakers? Look no further, today I will provide you with the live sound engineer’s job description and also look into the various aspects of live sound!
Often times, audio engineers will find themselves involved in the production aspect of a live concert or performance. Keep in mind that a “Live” show can mean anything from a three-piece acoustic band playing at a wedding gig, all the way to a hugely successful musical act performing in a stadium-sized arena.
If you are an aspiring sound engineer hoping to score some big live shows in the very near future, look no further. In this article, we’ll be taking a brief glimpse into the different aspects of live sound.
Live Sound Engineer (Job Description)
A live sound engineer is involved in a process called “Live sound mixing”. This basically means that the engineer is constantly blending together multiple sound sources throughout a live event, with the help of a mixing console. These sound sources are mainly coming from instruments or voices from stage and pre-recorded material.
You’ll find that in some cases (usually in bigger shows), additional professional signal processing equipment will be used to further enhance the raw audio signals coming into the mixing console. Ultimately, these signals will be amplified and reproduced by loudspeakers.
Types Of Live Sound Engineering
You might imagine that only one sound engineer is handling all the audio aspects of a live show, well, that is true to some extent. In smaller scale shows (weddings, pub gigs etc.), it is not uncommon to see only one engineer standing behind the mixing console. However, if you let one engineer handle everything in an arena-sized concert, he’ll probably hit his head hard on the console and cause himself to have a concussion by the end of the show!
Live sound engineering is divided into two types:
- Front of House Mixing (FOH)
- Foldback Mixing (monitors)
Front of House Mixing
The engineer that is taking up this role focuses on ensuring the best sound reproduction quality for the audience. You will probably notice that these engineers would normally be positioned in the middle of the audience (for huge stadium-sized shows) or at the very back of the room (for smaller scale concerts). This is the ideal position for an FOH engineer to be in, as hearing the mix from the audience’s point of view is crucial.
If you ever had the chance to be in the FOH engineer’s position (it’s awesome, trust me), you will realize that other equipment such as lighting and video switching consoles, together with their respective operators will also be there. This is because they too, need to be able to observe the performance from the audience perspective.
While the FOH engineer worries about the audience, the monitor engineer would be trying to keep the performers happy. This is done by mixing the sound that the performers hear on stage via a “stage monitor system” (also known as “foldback system”). Performers will be able to hear their own personalized audio feeds through the “monitors” (speakers placed on the floor near to them) or via “in-ear monitors” (allows for better isolation through using earphones).
Unlike the FOH engineer, the monitor engineer will usually be positioned in the wings, just off stage, to allow better communication with the performers. Monitor engineers could possibly be a safety hazard to themselves too, especially if he has to work with stuck up and picky performers (believe me, it’s annoying as hell!).
You will hear the term “signal chain” being used a lot by audio professionals in live shows. A “signal chain” actually refers to a string of audio equipment connected in a sequence. In a live sound situation, this usually includes input transducers like microphones, instrument pickups and DI boxes. Audio signals coming from these devices are then connected to individual channels on the mixing console via a multicore cable (which allows for the carrying of multiple audio signals over long distances).
The engineer will then be able to use a variety of external audio processing equipment at his disposable to get the perfect mix. These external equipment are sometimes referred to as “outboard gears” or “outboard processors”. However, it is good to take note that the practice of using “outboard processors” are quickly dying out nowadays, as more event production companies are turning to digital mixing consoles for convenience.
Sound Check – What is that all about?
Every live sound engineer must conduct a sacred ritual before every show, and that ritual is called “sound checking”. Unless you want to experience awkward stares from the audience due to an awesome air-guitar performance happening on stage (equipment malfunction! GET IT?), you would definitely want to sound check!
Doing a sound check ensures that every equipment is functioning properly and allows for the sound in the venue to be fine-tuned before the actual show. With the advent of digital consoles, most production companies or organizations are turning away from their analog counterparts. Settings of previous shows can now be saved and recalled with digital consoles and bands can start playing with minimal to no sound check at all!
Sound check normally happens around two to three hours before a show (for smaller- scale venues and performances) but at times can take up to days, or even weeks (for larger scale events) before the actual live performance. This allows every party involved in the technical aspect of the production to fine-tune or troubleshoot any possible problems with their equipment (such as lighting, sound and video).
That’s it for now! Hope this gives you people a basic idea on what goes on in the working world of a live sound engineer. There are many things that can be discussed about the technical aspects of live sound, but I’ll leave that for another article. Thanks for reading and feel free to leave comments or questions!