| Getting Started
for Mixing Engineers
Engineering or Art?
Well, both really. Sound mixing, although in one sense a
form of engineering, is also something of an art form, and can only be
properly learned by a combination of technical understanding
and working experience. It is not a simple subject, and
any book covering the subject to a reasonable depth would be
quite thick. These things said, one has to start somewhere and it
is hoped that the information on this page will provide a useful
starting point for
sound engineers responsible
for mixing, without getting too theoretical.
There are basically two aspects to sound mixing, which to some
degree 'run in parallel'. The first aspect relates to the overall
objectives − what you are aiming to achieve. The second aspect
is the 'mechanics' of the operation − the practical tasks
to be completed
to get the system working so as to give the best quality of
sound. It is very easy to go through the motions of a mixing
technique whilst losing sight of the underlying objectives,
so we will look at those first.
Then we consider a possible mixing methodology.
For information about the facilities typically found on a mixer,
see the Mixing Facilities page.
Each heading below states one of the fundamental objectives
(not in any particular order) that you should be aiming to
achieve, as far as is practicably possible in each situation.
For each of these objectives, some notes are
provided (bulleted) related to that objective.
In practice, you will find that these objectives are not
independent of each other − indeed they all overlap
to some extent. A little compromise on one is sometimes
necessary in order to adequately satisfy another.
Each working situation will be different, as will be the
constraints (budget, set-up time, room acoustics, etc.)
that you must contend with.
These notes assume a relatively simple system,
but the same basic principles can be
extended to much larger systems.
Meet the Expectations of the Audience
- Remember − your job is not to create the kind of sound
that you would most like to hear! As with any art form,
tastes differ. Everyone in the audience will have their
own idea of the perfect mix
and appropriate sound
level. Therefore, it
is impossible to totally please everybody all of the time − but
you can at least try to mostly please most of the people most of
the time, based on an appreciation of the nature of the
- Don't forget the performers. There may be some tension between
the interests of the performers and those of the audience
(especially in smaller-sized venues), which the sound engineer
must try to keep in balance.
Provide Appropriate Monitor Mixes at Appropriate Sound Levels
- Ensure that only the channels
that the band really need to hear are fed to each
monitor mix. Each of the
channels should be no louder in each mix than what the
respective band member (or members) really needs,
otherwise it will mask the sounds that they and other
performers are trying to hear and will tend to muddy
the overall sound heard by the audience.
- Check the monitor mix initially with headphones, and
later (during sound-check or rehearsal) by listening to
the monitor speakers.
Maintain an Appropriate Overall Sound Level
- The overall sound level needs to be appropriate to the
location, occasion, and style of music.
The appropriate level may vary throughout the course
of the event. The overall sound
heard by the audience is made up of the sound from the
stage, plus the main
PA sound, plus sound from the
audience themselves. The sound from the stage is itself
made up of direct vocal sound, plus direct instrument
sound (including on-stage amplifiers, when used), plus
the monitor sound. You have full control of the front-of-house
sound level and some limited control of the sound level
from the stage. Of course, you have no control of the
audience-generated sound level but, in general, an
audience will have no complaints about their own
- During the sound-check
or rehearsal, take a walk around
the room to check the sound level at different points,
as it will be different at different points in the room.
In general it will be louder nearer (and in line with) the
speakers and nearer to the band, and quieter at the back
where the mixer usually is, so if you feel it is too loud
at the back then it is fairly certain that those at the front
will find it more so.
- During sound-check and rehearsal, remember that,
depending on the size and
acoustics of the space,
it is probable that the sound level will be reduced
somewhat by the presence of a large audience (due to
however there may be
additional sound from audience participation and the band
may play more enthusiastically once the audience has
- If the overall sound level is too low, you can generally
increase the front-of-house level, subject to the
limits of feedback (see below) and the maximum power
ratings of your equipment. Be aware, though, that in
smaller venues where the sound from the stage
(direct sound e.g. from drums, backline sound and
monitor sound) is significant in the mix heard by the
audience, front-of-house level changes may affect the
balance between the sound sources in the mix.
- If the overall sound level is too high, you need to consider
why − in smaller venues the stage sound level may be making a
significant contribution. In the sound-check or rehearsal,
try simply shutting off the front-of-house speakers −
if the sound level doesn't reduce quite significantly then
either the monitors are
too loud or the band itself
(i.e. backline plus
acoustic instrument sound)
is too loud. It can sometimes be difficult for a loud band
to understand that less on-stage sound can result in
a better quality of overall front-of-house sound and
a more appreciative audience.
Balance the Sound Sources
- Listen carefully. Can you hear each sound source making its
proper contribution? (This does not mean that each sound
should be at the same sound level.) Does anything stand out as
being disproportionately loud? The balance may well be
different at different points in the room, so check this
during the sound-check or rehearsal. And of course the
balance between the various sounds will often intentionally
be varied by a band during a song, for the sake of variety.
So keep listening carefully.
- Possible causes of poor sound clarity are inappropriate
EQ settings, over-loud
monitors, distortion (e.g. due to incorrectly set mixer
and inadequate, poor quality, or faulty equipment.
- Feedback (of the acoustic variety) occurs when the total
amplification between one or more mics and the speakers
(monitors, main, or both) exceeds a critical amount,
causing the sound level to keep on increasing by itself.
To avoid it the amplification between the
must be kept below that amount.
- If reducing the amplification to avoid feedback results
in too low a sound level, then ideally more output is required
from the mic. This means that the mic needs to be nearer
to the sound source (e.g. vocalist's mouth) or that the
sound source itself (e.g. voice) needs to be louder.
If neither of these solutions is
practicable, then the amount of amplification that is achievable
without feedback occurring can usually be increased a little by
adjusting the EQ of the
channel(s) involved in the
feedback (not by adjusting
the main graphic equaliser, which would affect all
channels − though a separate monitor mix
graphic equaliser can often be useful to have).
The EQ will need to be changed to increase the cut (or
reduce any existing boost) at the particular frequency where
feedback would first occur, but take care to avoid any
unacceptable reduction in clarity.
- For more detailed guidance on this subject, see
How can I avoid feedback?
on the FAQ page.
For those who are new to mixing, one of the main
problems can be knowing where to start.
The key is to adopt a methodical approach.
No two PA systems are identical − there always
will be differences in aspects such as:
- The complexity of the PA equipment
- The size and acoustics of the venue
- The number of signal sources (microphones,
- The requirements of the performers
- Time constraints for set-up and sound-checks
- The expectations of the audience
- In-house or mobile system
Nevertheless, it is possible to generalise
to a large degree as to how the task should
be approached. The following is a tried and
tested method which should be useful in the
vast majority of situations. However, it is by no means
the only approach, and others may work just as well.
For convenience it is arranged into six major stages,
each consisting of a number of steps.
For example, in the case of a permanently installed
in-house system with the speakers properly equalised,
you can ignore stages 2 and 3.
- Stage 1 − Starting Point:
We are assuming the following
starting point − this is very important:
- The system has already been fully assembled (see the
Assembling a System page).
- The signal sources have been assigned to the mixer channels
and the mixer marked-up accordingly.
- All channel EQ
- Channel aux sends at 50% of travel, for the specific
channels that are required in each monitor mix. All
other channel aux sends at minimum.
- All channel faders at minimum.
- All pan controls centered.
- All group and main faders at their '0 dB' setting,
if marked − otherwise at approx 65% of travel.
- All master aux sends at minimum.
- All graphic equaliser controls set flat ('0 dB' setting).
- All power amplifier
level controls at minimum.
- All equipment switched on, in the correct sequence:
- Performers' equipment
- then effects units, tape and CD players
- then the mixer
- then graphic equalisers
- and finally, the power amplifiers.
- Stage 2a − Power Amplifier Levels
For a single-amped system (i.e. one in which
there are not separate amplifiers for each frequency range),
set the level control of each amplifier, one at a time, as follows:
- Play a suitable tape or CD into a spare channel. (The more
similar the recorded programme material to the live programme
material, the better.)
- Set the gain
control of that channel using the mixer's
facilities. For best results, do this using the method detailed
in the mixer manufacturer's instructions.
- Route that channel to the required amplifer, using the
appropriate pan control and/or group assign switches.
- Set the channel fader to its '0 dB' setting, if marked −
otherwise to 65% of travel.
- Gradually advance the appropriate amplifier level control until
the desired sound level from the associated speakers is obtained.
(Of course, this assumes that the amplifiers and speakers are
rated appropriately for the job.)
Remember that any other speakers in the system (plus
backline, plus audience sound)
will eventually be making their own contribution to the final
overall sound level in the venue.
- Stage 2b − Crossover Levels
For a multi-amped system (one having separate
amplifiers for each frequency range), first set the
to suit the speakers, then proceed as for a single-amped
system above, but for each group of amplifiers set the level for each
frequency range as follows:
- Play an audio test CD, having a separate track for each frequency
range used, into the spare channel. (N.B. Be sure that the
channel EQ is set flat!)
- Using a sound level meter with
weighting switched off (or, if
that's not possible, set to C-weighting), set the level for
each frequency range such that similar meter readings are obtained
for each range. (Do not adjust the mixer settings during
- Finally set the overall level for that group of amplifiers
by playing a normal programme CD, as for a single-amped system.
- Stage 3 − FOH Graphic:
Ideally, set the FOH
graphic equaliser as per the steps below. However,
if you don't have an audio test CD or a sound level meter, or the proper
method would take too long, then you must set it by ear using a programme CD
(as used in Stage 2a) − but this relies on you knowing exactly what the CD
should sound like.
- Play an audio test CD, having a separate track for each frequency
band of the graphic, into the spare channel. (N.B. Be sure that the
channel EQ is set flat!) Use a test CD with tracks of
pink noise, not
- Initially re-adjust the gain control of that channel if necessary,
but do not adjust it from track to track!
- Using a sound level meter with weighting switched off (or, if
that's not possible, set to C-weighting), set the graphic
equaliser slider for each frequency band such that similar
meter readings are obtained for each band. For each band,
take the average of readings made at several
locations throughout the venue. (Do not adjust the mixer
settings during this process!)
- Remember that the speaker system may not have a frequency
range wide enough to handle the frequencies affected by the
controls at the extreme upper and/or lower ends of the
graphic equaliser frequency range. Do not attempt to
equalise frequencies outside the range of the speaker system
(or of the sound level meter); leave the controls for
those bands set at the central (0 dB) position.
- Stage 4 − Channel Set-up:
For each channel in turn:
- Arrange for the actual signal source for the channel to be
continuously present (e.g. by getting the performer
to perform continuously).
- Set the gain control using the mixer's metering
facilities. For best results, do this using the method
detailed in the manufacturer's instructions.
- Listen to the channel on the headphones using the PFL
facility, and make preliminary adjustments to the channel
EQ. Some simple guidance on using the EQ:
Don't make unnecessary adjustments − if no EQ is
needed then leave it set flat.
Only adjust one control at a time (or one pair,
if it's a sweep EQ
control). Then listen for a while, and re-adjust that
control if necessary.
Start by making any necessary adjustments to the
bass (control(s) marked
'Low' or 'Lo') and treble
(control(s) marked 'High' or 'Hi'). Then move to the
When the sound is close to what you require, only make
small adjustments. Then listen for a while and
make further small adjustments if necessary.
- If the mixer requires it, re-adjust the gain control (to
compensate for any large changes in EQ).
- Assign the channel to the required group.
- Temporarily fade up the channel to listen to it on
the FOH speakers, and fine-tune the channel EQ.
(For this step, it is usually helpful to fade up the channel
to a higher level than would be required for it in the
final mix.) Then fade it fully down again.
- Stage 5 − Monitor Mixes:
When all the channels are set up as above,
arrange for the actual signal sources to be "continuously"
(as far as practicable) present on all channels simultaneously.
A full rehearsal is ideal for this (but the performers need to
understand that they will not be hearing any sound from the
FOH speakers yet). Then set the monitor mixes as follows:
- First roughly set the overall monitor levels by advancing each
master aux send control until the required sound
level is reached on each monitor.
(The aux send controls of the specific channels that are required
in each monitor mix were set to 50% in 'Starting Point'.)
- Then create the monitor mixes by varying the aux send controls
from their 50% positions, to suit the requirements of the
- If necessary, re-adjust the overall monitor levels.
(Take care to avoid unnecessarily high sound levels
- Stage 6 − FOH Mix:
Finally, set the FOH mix as follows:
- First set the overall FOH level by fading fully down the
main fader, setting every channel fader to its
'−5dB' setting, if marked − otherwise
at approx 60% of travel, and then advancing the main fader
until the required level to the power amplifiers (or
speakers) is reached. (Note that the group faders
are still at '0 dB', or approx 65% of travel.)
- Then create the required FOH mix by varying the channel
faders from their '−5 dB' positions. To
clearly hear the added effect of each source, it can
be useful as a first step to briefly move the
particular fader being adjusted to an excessively high
setting. However, you should aim to be ending up with
most of the final fader settings at less than their
initial '−5 dB' setting.
During this process, re-adjust the overall FOH level
as necessary using the main fader.
- If any channel fader positions now exeeed
'+3 dB', or more than half of them now
exceed '−5 dB', then increase the main fader
setting and back off all the channel faders by a
corresponding amount. (This avoids
of the desk.)
- If all channel fader positions are now below
'−15 dB' then
decrease the main fader setting and increase all the
channel faders by a corresponding amount. (This maintains
ratio from the summing amplifier of the desk.)
- If necessary, re-adjust the overall FOH level using the main
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This page last updated 03-Feb-2016.