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Sound Advice

Live Sound – What You Need To Know by Rob Howick

How do you select the gear you take on the road?
Sometimes it has to do with, depending on the artist your working with, and depending on the style of music they have, and of course it depends again on what size of venues you’re going to be playing, and how much trucking is available and so you, a lot of times I just take that into consideration. There’s one or two types of speakers I like to use overall but 9 times out of 10 it comes down to the artist and the type of situation you’re in.

What problems do you listen for during soundcheck?
Definitely you’re listening for more so the room. If you are on a tour, the band is pretty much set in the way they’re going to play a performance or a song. So you need to see how the speakers work within the room and listen for different reflections off hard surfaces and see how much is being soaked up by soft surfaces.

What tips can you offer for recording bands live? What problems must be overcome?
Try to isolate your sounds as much as possible and use really high quality microphones because it makes a huge difference. Problems to overcome: a lot of it would be the bleed into the vocalist’s microphone or into any other microphones on the stage from other instruments … that is a huge problem.

How do you mix a band that insists on having a loud stage volume?
I’ve a lot of times I’ve just made up my little own baffles or as it were, a comb for a microphone and something you can attach either to the bass or the mic or the mic stand itself. You might want to make another box shape or a fan shape that surrounds the microphone but it also lets the tone of what you’re listening to come through. Especially for amplifiers, it will work great. That and a Plexiglas booth around the drum kit will work. Try to make it look hip and cool and the kids will love it. If they insist on a loud stage volume, then as long as you get the vocals up out front, then you just have to fill in the sounds that are coming from the stage. Each room is different of course, so some nights you may have to pan a guitar only to one side of the PA because it is so loud coming of the stage from stage left and so you have to pan it to stage right.

How accurately do you mix to an artist’s CD? Do you listen closely and try to mimic the album or do you try to find ways to make a live experience different?
That depends on the artist themselves, depends on how much free rain they give you. Some artists insist that they sound just like they do on the radio, while other artists are open to if you have ideas on special effects or different instruments being prominent in a mix for a certain song. Some artists are very willing to let you do that to a point and other artists are very stern and want it to sound just like the record they slaved on for 18 months or whatever so you have to respect that. They’re the ones paying the bills.

Rob Howick is a Concert Engineer who works with the Cowboy Junkies, Jewel among many other acts.

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