Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Bad Mix

Lake Harriet Bandshell, Minneapolis

Almost every time I go see a band play, I begin to think about the audio mix. In my youth too many nights were spent in that curious occupation. I'm beginning to think it may be a lost art. Modern PA systems usually have a limiter or compression on a least one element of the audio chain, sometimes on several. High power drivers and speakers are expensive to repair, and the newer amps can be as much as 10 times more powerful than the gear from the 70's and early 80's. It's a no-brainer. It seems like the people who run these systems are on auto-pilot as well. This puzzles me. There are actually schools that teach this discipline now: one would think that in this era every concert would have stunning, dynamic, exciting sound.

Instead, there is a studied indifference to arrangements, balance and even the timbre of the instruments. Missed solos are the rule, not the exception. Heaven help us if there is a horn section. And when did the high-hat (one of the essential three elements in percussion along with the snare and the kick drum) stop being miked? At least the sound man isn't allowed to smoke anymore. Perhaps if he wasn't sitting in a different county he could be more responsive.
Perhaps if he wasn't sitting he would be.

Years ago, when I was doing a particularly active mix for a R&B band, a guy watched me the whole set. During the break he came up to me and told me I was "cheating" and I that should set the controls "right" and leave them. Maybe he's now teaching at an audio engineering school.

Something has changed.

By Professor Batty


Anonymous Dave said...

My love of music and good "sound" makes me want to take up audio mixing. Are your comments on audio schools meant as a warning not to learn from them? Is hands on from a seasoned master the way to go?

Blogger Professor Batty said...

Dave- I think any of the schools would give you a good foundation in the tech side, what I was trying to get at is the "musicality" of the live performance, studio recording is a little different animal- much more oriented toward "product" rather than "experience." It is a modern dilemma; a triumph of technology over passion, perhaps?

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