How Live Sound Engineering Works

Mixing and Live Sound Engineering

Sound engineers use mixing boards, and performers like Cyndi Lauper may give them a set list.
Sound engineers use mixing boards, and performers like Cyndi Lauper may give them a set list.
© Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images

After setting up all the sound equipment and plugging in the musicians, mixing comes into play. Mixing is done with a large control panel called a mixing board or simply a mixer.

The mixing board allows the audio engineer to mix the various sounds -- guitars, bass, drums, vocal, et cetera -- so that they're in balance. All instruments, vocals and other sounds can be controlled at this central location, which audio engineers usually set up in front and away from the stage. From that vantage point, the live concert engineer can hear what audience members hear.

Mixing boards come in many sizes, based on the number of tracks or "channels" they have. They range anywhere from eight to 124 or more channels in capacity. Each channel can accommodate an instrument or voice. Each channel also has several variables -- again, depending on the board's size and capacity. Such variables can include volume, bass, treble, effects and others.

Live concert engineering requires attention to many details on the mixing board and is affected by many factors such as type of music, venue, audience and artist preferences. A noisy dance venue, for instance, might thrive on a lower range bass dominance while a string quartet might require more finesse and more balance between low-end and high-end sounds.

Another dilemma faced by the person at the mixing board involves house and monitor mixing. The house mix is what the audience hears. Again, this must be achieved in collaboration with the musical performers or their managers. The monitor mix may be the same as the house mix or it may be completely different. In fact there can be several different monitor mixes. A rock band's vocalist, for instance, may want his monitor to accentuate the vocals over the rest of the music. Live audio engineers must work closely with performers to achieve the right mix for everyone.

What kind of skills do sound engineers need? Read on to find out.