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How Live Sound Engineering Works

What is Live Sound Engineering?
Live sound engineers often consult with performers regarding the mix like Alanis Morissette and her engineer.
Live sound engineers often consult with performers regarding the mix like Alanis Morissette and her engineer.
© Carlo Allegri/Getty Images

Live sound engineering is like being an audio traffic cop. Typically, a musical group will direct a variety of sounds at the audience, usually through amplifiers. These different sounds must be managed correctly to make sure the audience receives what the group is sending. Managing these sounds is concert sound engineering.

Live concert engineers use electronic amplification equipment, knowledge of acoustics and their well-trained ears to accomplish this feat. They also must be excellent communicators with the ability to translate acoustic ideals into reality for the band while relaying the faithfulness of the band's music to the larger audience. They also often are in charge of a crew of technicians who perform other sound engineering chores, such as setting up microphones and running cables.

Such audio engineering is challenging for many reasons. There are a huge number of variables with which to deal.

First, no venue is alike. Some are large, some are small. Some have hard surfaces that reflect sound crisply while others have carpeting and acoustic ceilings that absorb sound. Audiences may sit at different locations in relation to the band. There may even be challenges with the power available to power sound equipment.

Second, the sound engineer has many masters. He must please the audience, who may have paid for their seats. This can be a challenge because while the sound might be good for one section of seats, another section might present different acoustical challenges.

Also, the live concert engineer must please the musical group, which is paying his salary. Live sound engineers also are responsible for making sure the musicians can hear themselves well, by using a series of speakers called "monitors" that are aimed at the musicians on stage. If a musician can't hear himself well, or he detects something he doesn't like in the overall sound, he may blame the sound engineer.

What kind of equipment do sound engineers use? Turn to the next page to find out.