For those of you who gig, I’d like to know how you all handle live sound. It’s sort of mentioned in passing relative to things like amp settings, “fitting into the mix”, etc., but I haven’t seen a discussion about it, and I think it’d be informative (for me at least….) Sooo…maybe start off saying what sorts of places you play, if you typically use house PA’s or a rig that you bring, if you usually have a dedicated sound guy, or anything else that you think relevant as background. Then go ahead and describe what you do for live sound, and any justification for the decisions you’ve made.
I’ll start it off. For the background part, we’re a 4 piece with 2 guitars, bass and drums. The rhythm guitars is the lead vocalist on all but a handful of songs, but the drummer and I do a couple and over half of the songs we do involves harmonies.
We gig once or twice a month doing strictly covers, and three quarters of the clubs are roadhouse sorts of bars with a mid-40s crowd who are there to dance and drink…and eating is not the main attraction at these sorts of places. Loud is generally accepted, but quieter usually is appreciated. We’ll play maybe 3 or 4 gigs at A-list clubs that have a younger crowd and Loud is usually not only OK, but expected. We’ll also play 2 or three private gigs at larger halls that feature eating in the beginning and dancing later on. Quiet is essential for these particularly during the eating part. Music is a mix of geezer rock to 90s pop to modern country to oldies dance stuff depending on the crowd. We only use house PAs and a sound guy if it’s forced on us.
Now for the configuration. We use the following:
22 channel Mackie ProFX mixer
A small 4U rack that sits under the mixer that has a Lexicon effects unit, a 2 channel compressor and a 2 channel graphic EQ
Active QSC153 active mains and QSC 18” active subs
QSC K10s as monitors, one each for me, the lead singer and the drummer
Shure SM58s for me and the other guitarist and some sort of head mounted mic for the drummer
Although the Mackie has built-in effects, I don’t use those, but rather use the Lexicon to add delay and a touch of chorus to the vocal mics. Effects are dialed back in the mix though and aren’t over the top for the main mix. They are even less on the monitor mix because it tends to cause monitor feedback issues. The two available monitor channels on the Mackie are sent through the 2 channel EQ to tame that as well.
The Mackie only has 2 monitor channels, which we live with by giving me and the drummer the same monitor mix. We actually could configure it so that we assign a subgroup as a monitor mix for the third monitor, but it works well as-is.
For small venues we mic the kick and snare only and the bass is put into the main mix as well from a direct out from the bassist’s amp. The only difference for large venues is that we mic the entire drum kit.
We never mic the guitar amps. I know that conventional wisdom says that you should, and FOH sound should be determined by the main mix, and the amps should be used as monitors. For me though…and we do occasionally play larger clubs, the FOH sound is just muddied doing this….either through our own gear or through club gear. Maybe if we were playing the enormo-dome with line array speakers and mega power amps it’d work well. I haven’t seen the club setup yet (either ours or other bands I see) where the main mix isn’t all mushy when guitars are added in. And it really tends to screw with the presence of the vocals.
So, we’ve had to determine how to place our amps relative to where we stand so that when we’re getting acceptable levels of ourselves relative to the rest of the band the FOH sound is good also. After a while, you can look at the configuration of the room and see how to set up and get it pretty close. A factor that helps is that our drummer is really good at sizing up the situation and playing appropriately.
The rhythm guitarist tends to want to hear a ton of his guitar, so we put his amp pretty much right up his butt tilted up at him. I can live with much less of my guitar even though I do leads so my amp is pushed back behind the drums so I’m getting pretty much what the FOH gets minus the rhythm since he’s forward and to the side of me. The bassist uses his amp only as a monitor and is standing pretty close to it.
Lastly, we run our own sound. It just works better in my experience. I usually have the mixer set up within reach, and it’s up to me to tweak things on the fly if necessary. Since we’re not relying on the PA to bring up the guitar for example on a solo, not a lot of this is required.
This was all developed through trial and error on our part for the types of places we play. I’m interested in finding out what others do…
Anyway, some pics of how we're set up at practice, which is pretty much how we layout for most gigs (ignore the crappy drum set...the drummer doesn't like to haul or leave his good kit for practices...)
Mixer and Effects
A main and sub
One of the floor monitors
Typical guitar amp placement (rhythm on right of pic, my rig on the left)
View from the drummer's perspective