Essential FOH Mixing Tips
Mix to the Room
Every room or venue is different, and they all sound different when filled with people. Make sure you always adapt what you do to fit the space you are mixing in. This is one of the biggest mistakes beginners make. Always remember that the acoustical environment plays a big part in the way you tweak your mix; therefore, you cannot expect that recalling a setting that was perfect at another venue to be perfect every time.
Keep Your Head Up
Try not to bury your head into the console; look around the room and gauge the response and adjust accordingly. It is easy to get caught up in riding the faders and changing FX but make sure to keep your head on a swivel.
Walk Around the Room
It would be great if every venue had ideal acoustic properties and every audience member could sit in the "sweet spot", but unfortunately, this is not the case. Because of this, it is essential to understand how your mix sounds at your position at FOH is not necessarily how it seems for every seat in the house. Make sure to occasionally step away from the board during the show to take a stroll around the room and listen for any abnormalities. This is easy if you are mixing on a digital console with an iPad app. Zigzag your way around the venue floor as much as possible and make minor adjustments on the iPad.
Make Space for Every Element
As engineers, it is our job to mix music in a way that every instrument, singer, and effect to have its own space in the mix. Accomplish this using subtle pan adjustments, EQ boosts and cuts, reverb, and volume. Focus on the frequencies of the inputs you are mixing and listen to how they interact with each other as well as the overall balance.
Keep Your Focus on the Big Picture
Because it is so easy to fixate on making that one pesky microphone sound better, sometimes you can miss making the other forty microphones work together. Try always to be attentive to the overall balance. You would not want to be tweaking a compression threshold when a guitar solo breaks out and gets drowned out by the rest of the band. As a FOH engineer, you will need to master multitasking and prioritizing.
Connect Your Audience to the Mix
Mix in a way that engages and not just entertains. Every song builds and has peaks and valleys. Don’t just set your levels and leave all the faders in the same spot. The mix should move as the song does. Follow the pace of the show and reflect it in your mix. Ride faders and keep things interesting. Furthermore, keep in mind the significance of your compression attack & release times and how they affect the 'feel' of each song. Adjusting those times can remarkably improve the flow of the show, especially on the lead vocal channel.
Use Your Ears, Not Your Eyes
Always remember to mix with your ears, not your eyes. Do whatever sounds the best. There is no formula, just listen critically. If a drastic EQ boost or cut is needed, do it. It does not matter what your EQ curves look like, as long as it sounds good. If the bassist is stealing the show with how dynamic he or she is playing, go ahead and slam the compressor down on their channel. At the end of the night, your only job is to make the performers sound the very best to the audience as you possibly can, there are no rules to how you can accomplish this.
Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance
Many engineers chase their tails because they have not taken enough time to set up their console, label their inputs & outputs, route VCAs or create scenes. Often, they end up taking all the time just trying to make it all work rather than engaging in the creative process of mixing. It is crucial to take the time to prepare as much as you can before sound check so you can concentrate on the critical elements during sound check and more importantly, during the show.
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