One of the most difficult things we have to deal with as live music performers is determining how we sound out where the crowd is. It can be a real nightmare to try to determine if you’re really sounding good out in the room. We’ve tried asking wives, girlfriends, fans, bouncers, managers and they all have a different opinion of how we sound. It’s a very subjective question and the feedback you get seems to depend on who you ask. If you ask the singers wife how the band sounds, of course the vocals are too quiet. The guitarists wife wants more guitar… You know the drill. Then you get the “Pro Sound Technician” that comes up to you at a gig and gives you all sorts of advice and then pesters you until you change things that almost invariably ruin your sound.
So how can you deal with this problem? The best way that I’ve found to avoid this problem is to have a soundman that you trust with your sound. It’s really difficult to give up control of your mix to somebody but if you find someone that you believe in, it makes all the difference in the world. It is such a relief to have somebody that you trust running the mixing controls.
How can you find a good soundman? Look at people close to the band such as friends and family. You may have somebody talented close at hand that you can trust to run your bands sound. I have a friend that I record with in my music studio and he’s fantastic with mixes. He knows how to find a good balance between all the instruments and vocals. He’d make a great live soundman. I’ve found that if someone can put down a good mix in the studio they can usually translate it to live sound mixing. It’s always good to have a soundman that you like and get along with too. They really do become a member of the band. So look at people close to you to see if any of them will work. If not, there are plenty of other places to find a soundman.
Another thing you can do is get out to venues and talk to the sound people. They sometimes can work sound for more than one band and if not they may be able to refer you to somebody that can mix for your band. You can also check your local music stores and music magazines for ads from sound people looking for work.
You may be able to train the right person to become your soundman. I give live mixing lessons to students by loading a bunch of tracks into my recording studio and then having them mix them on the fly while discussing the mix with them. It’s a great way to practice mixing.
All in all it’s going to just make your band even better if you have somebody at the controls that you trust doing the sound.