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Live sound improvement compared to mastered tracks
Old 4 weeks ago
  #1
Here for the gear
 

Live sound improvement compared to mastered tracks

Dear all,

I am a long-time reader of these boards but I want to have some advice of the many experts here. I used to dj but over the last years I am playing around with some synths, sequencers and drumcomputers just for fun.
Lately I had the occasion of putting together a set at a local venue and everything went smooth. I was running a Digitakt as sequencer with a Vermona drm, digitone, AS-1, Soma Lyra-8 going through some filter boxes and effects into an A&H QU16 for live multitrack recording.
The problem for me was that I was slotted inbetween two dj acts and the difference in sound “impact” was noticeable. I was using some compression on the Vermona and of course in the QU but overall I did not get the oomph I was going for.
How do you live performers cope with this and what equipment could be used in this setting without going towards expensive studio gear in a wild live setting?

Thanks for your input!
Old 4 weeks ago
  #2
Hey, I also perform live and get slotted between djs sometimes so i get this. Strangely enough i also use a A&H QU (the qu-pac for me).

I used to feel my set was lacking oomph I do use compressors on the qu, but i found a much bigger difference came from recording my practice sets over and over into separate stems and comparing them to mastered tracks in my room and tweeking the channel eq and compressor accordingly. Like mix referencing for a mix down. If your baselines jump from instrument to instrument during your set (for example), just have a separate scene on the QU for that track.

I added more sub bass stuff to my live tracks - something i use sparingly on my recordings, but felt was taking energy away live when performing at electronic parties. Another important step for me was taking all my kicks and sub bass out of my synths and loading them in my sampler (Octatrack) so that there level and impact remains consistent between different rooms, different (or no) sound person, etc etc. Im comfortable adjusting my mid - high levels in the moment if I feel like it, but knowing the bottom end us consistent removed a lot of stress from me and noticeably had more people come up after my sets and compliment my sound. I played a festival last summer that the engineer who mastered my first album attented and he came over after and was blown away by my live sound and how tight it was, so i figured I've got it pretty dialed now. I have a few of my live songs now that i use as references for when i bring new ones in so that everything stays consistent.

Hope that helps!
Old 4 weeks ago
  #3
Here for the gear
 

Hi Trevor,

Thank you very much for your time and efforts to post this answer. Your tips and advice are really what I needed!

Truly appreciated!
Old 4 weeks ago
  #4
Gear Head
 
DJSpaceP's Avatar
 

I generally agree with Trevor, it isn't so much the gear as it is the time you put into dialing in your sound.

My live rig currently consists of a Digitakt, a Digitone and a Circuit Mono Station with a Keystep for more easily playing parts live. The boxes are running into a small Mackie mixer so that I can easily hand a pair of balanced 1/4" outputs to whoever is running sound.

I am often performing before or after people who use DJ gear, or sometimes an MPC Live or even occasionally someone doing some hip-hop with an SP-404.

My sound is consistently more lively and fat than most other performers because of all the work I do in getting a beefy, yet clear sound. Plus, I don't kill all the dynamics with too much compression or other processing. Much of it is basic mixing (particularly EQ) techniques applied to live performance.

I did a show at an upscale "EDM" club where, through a chain of circumstances, I was booked as the headliner, performing after more "traditional" club EDM DJs who were using Pioneer decks and such. During soundcheck, the venue manager and the sound guy saw my non-standard electronica rig and immediately started acting weird, like, "Oh crap, did we just book horribly mixed fart-noises as our Friday headliner?"

However, once we started soundcheck, everyone relaxed because of the fat, dance-able techno and house type music coming through the PA from my rig. The sound guy didn't have to touch a thing on his board except house and monitor levels, and commented about how good it sounded.

During the show itself, the DJs who were using more typical rigs sounded fine, but once I started, there was a noticeable "heft" and liveliness to my set in comparison, and the other performers were VERY surprised to find out that I was generating/synthesizing everything live. After the show, one of the other performers asked me where I got my "dope loops and samples". At that point, I hadn't yet integrated the Digitakt, so imagine his surprise when I demonstrated that my entire rig didn't even have a sampler or sample playback. I showed him a bit of the Digitone's synth engine along with the Circuit Mono, and that even the drums were done with FM and/or analog synthesis, and he said, "WTF is this wizardry?!!!"

Sorry, my long-winded point is that if you spend some time honing your sound, you can ABSOLUTELY "compete" with and potentially surpass the sound of people using more traditional DJ gear.
Old 4 weeks ago
  #5
Here for the gear
 

Hi DJSpaceP,

Thanks for your comments. It is great to hear and learn from your experiences.

I understand now that I need to spend more time dialling in the sound that I want to achieve. I just need to find a way to properly A/B compare and adjust my sounds to some good reference tracks.

Cheers.
Old 4 weeks ago
  #6
Quote:
Originally Posted by Djdaflex View Post
Hi Trevor,

Thank you very much for your time and efforts to post this answer. Your tips and advice are really what I needed!

Truly appreciated!
My pleasure!

@ DJSpaceP cool rig and enjoyed reading about your set up too. My live rig is a Tempest, Pro 2, and Octatrack. I use the Tempest mostly as synth in this set up and have most drums in the OT (even though they were created on my Tempest). I'm envious of your small footprint - I've been toying with the idea of building a 'fly rig' for a couple years now so I can tour further places - basically I'd swap the pro2 with a keystep and lean even heavier on the Tempest...

As for the original question, just for more convo: I've heard of people strapping an analog heat at the end of their live rig for some subtle saturation. I own one and do plan on trying this one day, though i actually have no space on my custom built live rack so i keep putting it off. Im actually more excited to be able to do a rig-wide filter sweep or distortion mangle
Old 4 weeks ago
  #7
Gear Nut
Quote:
Originally Posted by DJSpaceP View Post
I generally agree with Trevor, it isn't so much the gear as it is the time you put into dialing in your sound.

My live rig currently consists of a Digitakt, a Digitone and a Circuit Mono Station with a Keystep for more easily playing parts live. The boxes are running into a small Mackie mixer so that I can easily hand a pair of balanced 1/4" outputs to whoever is running sound.

I am often performing before or after people who use DJ gear, or sometimes an MPC Live or even occasionally someone doing some hip-hop with an SP-404.

My sound is consistently more lively and fat than most other performers because of all the work I do in getting a beefy, yet clear sound. Plus, I don't kill all the dynamics with too much compression or other processing. Much of it is basic mixing (particularly EQ) techniques applied to live performance.

I did a show at an upscale "EDM" club where, through a chain of circumstances, I was booked as the headliner, performing after more "traditional" club EDM DJs who were using Pioneer decks and such. During soundcheck, the venue manager and the sound guy saw my non-standard electronica rig and immediately started acting weird, like, "Oh crap, did we just book horribly mixed fart-noises as our Friday headliner?"

However, once we started soundcheck, everyone relaxed because of the fat, dance-able techno and house type music coming through the PA from my rig. The sound guy didn't have to touch a thing on his board except house and monitor levels, and commented about how good it sounded.

During the show itself, the DJs who were using more typical rigs sounded fine, but once I started, there was a noticeable "heft" and liveliness to my set in comparison, and the other performers were VERY surprised to find out that I was generating/synthesizing everything live. After the show, one of the other performers asked me where I got my "dope loops and samples". At that point, I hadn't yet integrated the Digitakt, so imagine his surprise when I demonstrated that my entire rig didn't even have a sampler or sample playback. I showed him a bit of the Digitone's synth engine along with the Circuit Mono, and that even the drums were done with FM and/or analog synthesis, and he said, "WTF is this wizardry?!!!"

Sorry, my long-winded point is that if you spend some time honing your sound, you can ABSOLUTELY "compete" with and potentially surpass the sound of people using more traditional DJ gear.
Really interesting! Would you put it down more to dialing in the sounds or the lack of compression? Can you talk about any dynamics processing you ARE doing?
Old 4 weeks ago
  #8
Gear Head
 
DJSpaceP's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by mjudge View Post
Really interesting! Would you put it down more to dialing in the sounds or the lack of compression? Can you talk about any dynamics processing you ARE doing?
I occasionally use the Digitakt onboard compressor, but not so someone would listen and say, "oh, that's compressed". More as a VERY mild "glue" for the drums or even as a mild side-chain once in a while.

Other than that, no global dynamics processing. I tried a couple of different external stereo compressors and ended up not liking them in the long run.

So there may be something to the idea that little to no compression is helping me stand out with a more dynamic sound, but I think it goes hand-in-hand with really paying attention to individual sound levels and where their dominant frequencies lie in relationship to one another.

Regarding EQ, neither Digitakt nor Digitone have a specific EQ section. The Digitakt has only one filter per track, and that filter is of limited types, so it pays to either pre-EQ your samples, or if you're assembling a kit from preexisting samples, to really pay attention to how the sounds sit with one another in the mix.

The Digitone has two filters per track, so the frequency sculpting is a little more flexible.

That said, I'm hoping for an update in the near future for one or both boxes that features some basic EQ.
Old 4 weeks ago
  #9
Gear Head
 
DJSpaceP's Avatar
 

One thing I neglected to mention: I will sometimes take new material I’m working on and run it through my PA (with subs) to get a sense of how it’s going to sound out in the wild. If it sounds good on my studio monitors AND my PA, I’m probably in good shape for the club.
Old 4 weeks ago
  #10
Gear Nut
Quote:
Originally Posted by DJSpaceP View Post
One thing I neglected to mention: I will sometimes take new material I’m working on and run it through my PA (with subs) to get a sense of how it’s going to sound out in the wild. If it sounds good on my studio monitors AND my PA, I’m probably in good shape for the club.
Thanks for the insight
Old 4 weeks ago
  #11
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chaocrator's Avatar
mixer is the essential part of my live/jamming rig.
i mix my boxes in the same manner as i would do in DAW, and save settings. then i have just to recall them (very convenient).
i use Zoom LiveTrak L-12.
actually, using your own mixer of this kind drastically simplifies and speeds up commutation (just one master out stereo pair) and sound check (you have stored settings that can be recalled by a single press of a button, then some corrections can be done if needed).

the built-in per-channel compressors of L-12 are rather on the subtler side, but in general they help.
Old 4 weeks ago
  #12
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Sapro's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by DJSpaceP View Post
One thing I neglected to mention: I will sometimes take new material I’m working on and run it through my PA (with subs) to get a sense of how it’s going to sound out in the wild. If it sounds good on my studio monitors AND my PA, I’m probably in good shape for the club.
Exactly what I do. I run it through my PA which handily lives in my studio when not in use. I also only use side chain compression. Apart from all you have mentioned above, I find the most important thing is to pay close attention to your levels (especially important with no compression). It is worth having a decent mixer with a decent VU display to achieve this.

As I run a soundsystem myself, I know the importance of good source material. If a DJ puts on a poor MP3 I can spot it a mile off. When I point it out to them their response is usually 'It sounded alright at home'. No **** Sherlock. A big PA has far more dynamics and will really show up a lack of dynamics
Old 4 weeks ago
  #13
Gear Nut
Quote:
Originally Posted by Sapro View Post
Exactly what I do. I run it through my PA which handily lives in my studio when not in use. I also only use side chain compression. Apart from all you have mentioned above, I find the most important thing is to pay close attention to your levels (especially important with no compression). It is worth having a decent mixer with a decent VU display to achieve this.

As I run a soundsystem myself, I know the importance of good source material. If a DJ puts on a poor MP3 I can spot it a mile off. When I point it out to them their response is usually 'It sounded alright at home'. No **** Sherlock. A big PA has far more dynamics and will really show up a lack of dynamics
Can you please talk more about paying attention to levels? Is it on each channel? The master buss? What levels are you aiming for and why? Thanks in advance.
Old 4 weeks ago
  #14
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Sapro's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by mjudge View Post
Can you please talk more about paying attention to levels? Is it on each channel? The master buss? What levels are you aiming for and why? Thanks in advance.
Most importantly the master bus. Once the receiving sound engineers inputs have been set up you don't want to be increasing your level because it will either be crunching his input or entering his compression or limiter. I tend to set up so that his reference level is just below my red. It should NEVER go into the red. Watch this level like a hawk, obviously in breaks and quiet sections it will be much lower but you can always tell if you are pushing it from this level.

Get good mix levels: ideally set up and get your basic levels by listening to the front of house PA. This might mean turning up hours before you play so that you can do this. This is often not possible so make sure you at least have a decent set of headphones with you. Monitor speakers are often set up to deliberately not provide a huge amount of bass (provided so that the DJ can mix not provide a perfect representation) so they can sometimes be off kilter with the mix the audience hears WRT electronic dance music.

I do not have individual VU displays on each channel on my analogue desk but I like to run my kick channel with the peak light gently flashing (it gives nice low level acceptable distortion at that point). This can be a good indicator of the consistency of my levels. The only other channel that will ever flash the peak light on occasion will be my main bassline channel, this will and should only happen as a rarity and will usually inform me to back off.

Other thoughts:
o Label your desk - you need to know at an instant what kit is on what channel
o Use your ears. Number 1 tip really. If it sounds good it is good.


My best gig from my perspective recently was a friends birthday party in a field. I set up my kit just infront (to the side) of the main PA and it was a pleasure to perform on as what I heard was what everyone else heard. Things are never usually that ideal.

Last edited by Sapro; 4 weeks ago at 10:51 AM.. Reason: edit text
Old 4 weeks ago
  #15
A digital mixer really comes on handy for this type of set up - pretty much indispensable in my eyes. When i started put I used 3 mackies chained together aka "THE WALL OF MACKIE" with crib sheets and masking tape everywhere. Talk about added stress. I also used to parse out channels to give the FOH separately, now all they get is a stereo pair which made us both happier i think.

As i mentioned before, i record all my practise sets and most of my live sets so I can listen back and tweak my mix and save it. I have a profile saved for playing with no sub for example because sometimes im playing at some art party thing or whatever and their definition of "full PA" is only tops. My mixer has a GEQ as well in case I'm playing in some echo chamber - again through just a basic PA and need to tune to the room.

As for overall level - I just tell the FOH that the only sound check i need is overall level (i line check through headphones and use in ears so no need for monitors) and warn them im line level so i generally start with my master fader at -20 or something and slowly raise it until i get the thumbs up. I give no more thought to overall level after this as the fader is theirs to ride now, i know what i send won't change.

This is a great thread
Old 4 weeks ago
  #16
Been between a few DJs through the years myself, and always assumed either the mixing guy will give just a little more room on the master/overall volume to add cushion for stuff that may jump out unexpectedly, or just didn't know how to use pres or EQ for line levels stepped down to what usually are mic level ins. I think it's common for people to take awhile to dial in to get the overall feel on a stereo mix if they aren't familar with you/your sound.
I never used a comp live on a mix, a PA will reveal everything.
And, material that goes down well in controlled studio conditions sometimes will take on a different character live.
People's ears have become overly tumed to the mastered sound/mp3 files and I think a lot of people don't realize live is going to sound different. It's going to sound "live". I prefer to keep the punch and depth.
So I wouldn't be too hard on yourself, live mixing and performance is a great way to sharpen skills, esp. if you are mixing in precarious positions. Usually on live electro it's getting the overall bass right without getting boomy or getting bunched up in the low mids.
Old 4 weeks ago
  #17
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chaocrator's Avatar
everyone knows that the function of mixing guys in the clubs is preventing mixer and other equipment from getting stolen
if some of them know how to use it — then you're lucky, just don't expect it by default.
Old 4 weeks ago
  #18
Here for the gear
 

This indeed is turning out to be a great thread! Thanks for all the good information in here.

I keep reading about setups where there is a sound guy running the PA. In my case however, my live setup was running through channel 4 of the dj mixer that was used by the dj’s before and after me. The mixer had a direct line to the PA system. The only set parameter for me was to start at -20 on my mixer, checking the input channel on the Pioneer DJM and then slowly going up on my master fader until I saw the first orange light flashing on the DJM.

It sounded more than decent with plenty of boom and oomph when I was doing the set but when the DJ took over (on channel 2&3) to my ears it was obvious that his “mastered” music sounded deeper and wider. This was the reason for the initial question.

It really is great to read all these great comments and I already have plenty of tips to improve my sound so thanks again and please keep ‘em coming.
Old 4 weeks ago
  #19
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chaocrator's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by Djdaflex View Post
It sounded more than decent with plenty of boom and oomph when I was doing the set but when the DJ took over (on channel 2&3) to my ears it was obvious that his “mastered” music sounded deeper and wider.
of course it sounded deeper and wider, because live rig's possibilities of sculpting the space in the mix are at best very limited (unless you're a superstar with a few tons of equipment and a dozen of staff).

but never mind, live rig should sound different, it's just another (more raw) character of sound.
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