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Balancing backing tracks for club gigs
Old 1 week ago
  #1
Balancing backing tracks for club gigs

I’ve started gigging (yay!). I sing, play solo guitar, some keys and have the rest of my pop songs on backing tracks in Ableton.

I’m pretty happy with my mixes in general, they work on most systems from iPhone speakers to the Gens in my decently treated mix room (examples here). But they barely work live.

I can think of several factors that differ widely in live/club situations.
  • Engineers tend to use quite a smiley curve on the PA. Partly because people like it, partly because they’re used to having a lot of bleed from live. instruments that tends to be midrangey.
  • Fletcher Munson has interesting effects when you’re reaching 100 db.
  • Lead vocals tend to be mixed louder than on albums, which tends to mask backing vocals and instruments in that range.

So my question is:
how to make backing tracks that work in live situations?

I can’t (and won’t) mix at 100 db. Are there other ways to mimic the sound environment in clubs? Should I dial in a whooping loudness curve on my studio monitor EQ and do new mixes? Or should I eq the existing backing tracks in Ableton with “reverse smiley” to compensate for the “club effect”. Or is it enough to make sure to do a good enough sound check and walk through eq choices with the mixing guy? Or should I supply the house mixer with more stems, with separate ryhtm, bass, key, guitar and back vocals?

Questions, questions…. What are your experiences?
Old 1 week ago
  #2
Bump

Any experiences in creating backing tracks for club volumes?
Old 1 week ago
  #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by thedberg View Post
I’ve started gigging (yay!). I sing, play solo guitar, some keys and have the rest of my pop songs on backing tracks in Ableton.

I’m pretty happy with my mixes in general, they work on most systems from iPhone speakers to the Gens in my decently treated mix room (examples here). But they barely work live.

I can think of several factors that differ widely in live/club situations.
  • Engineers tend to use quite a smiley curve on the PA. Partly because people like it, partly because they’re used to having a lot of bleed from live. instruments that tends to be midrangey.
  • Fletcher Munson has interesting effects when you’re reaching 100 db.
  • Lead vocals tend to be mixed louder than on albums, which tends to mask backing vocals and instruments in that range.

So my question is:
how to make backing tracks that work in live situations?

I can’t (and won’t) mix at 100 db. Are there other ways to mimic the sound environment in clubs? Should I dial in a whooping loudness curve on my studio monitor EQ and do new mixes? Or should I eq the existing backing tracks in Ableton with “reverse smiley” to compensate for the “club effect”. Or is it enough to make sure to do a good enough sound check and walk through eq choices with the mixing guy? Or should I supply the house mixer with more stems, with separate ryhtm, bass, key, guitar and back vocals?

Questions, questions…. What are your experiences?
i often feel that backing tracks are kind of too heavily polished, meaning there's too much limiting, too much panning, too much reverb/efx.

for a singer/songwriter in a live situation, i prefer having the option of balancing things the same way as with a full band, so yes, stems are much preferred!

cannot think of live engineers applying 'smiley curves' though: mostly systems get tweaked to have pretty much flat response which will lead to overall drop of 3db per octave starting from about 1khz with live music. i wouldn't mix less dense music at 100dbA lufs either, max. low nineties, possibly lower (so: not so not far from solid studio levels).

one way to mimic the effect of a pa is...- well, to use a pa or at least a horn loaded system and a sub! :-) to compensate for distance and room sound gets a bit trickier, especially in smaller rooms: maybe record some ambient sound at one of your gigs and play back in your studio as a 'reference'/to compare?
Old 1 week ago
  #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by thedberg View Post
I’m pretty happy with my mixes in general, they work on most systems from iPhone speakers to the Gens in my decently treated mix room (examples here). But they barely work live.
If this is the case it should sound good in a bar or club without much tweaking...how do you know it doesn't sound good in the room when you're on stage?

As deedeeyeah suggested, one way to know how your mix sounds on a PA is to listen to it through a PA. I'm going to suggest that you arrive at your gigs early (when possible) and tweak you mix in Ableton so it sounds (reasonably) good without any processing and/or EQ, you should also discuss how you want your show mixed with the house guy. This is not about remixing the songs for every show, this is just tweaking the mix to make it sound as close to your ideal as possible.

I also agree with deedeeyeah that backing tracks tend to be too processed, so you might want to lighten up on any heavy dynamic processing you may have on the stereo master and allow the mix to breathe.

The next best solution is to carry your own sound person when you gig, if possible...even DJs are doing that these days. This person will know how loud you want to be and the type of balance you want and can take care of the other technical aspects of you performance. If this is not possible you will have to get more hands-on and manage things yourself.
Old 1 week ago
  #5
Thank a lot , guys. Your replies showed that you even actually read my long question, not always the case here....

Maybe you are right that PA:s typically are adjusted to be neutral. I base my smiley-curve-claim on the facts that
1. My keybords and other midrange instrument tend to disappear
2. My electric guitar solos tend to get ear-piercing treble
And all this while my kicks and basses thump really well.

Maybe this is just individual anomalies, and maybe other places and PA:s will work better. Or could it be that our ears tend to hear things differently at the listening volumes we use at venues like clubs? Any experiences/comments on that?

Also: I will surely heed your advice and try testing with more PA-like systems. And above all: try to spend more time with the house engineers.
And also try to listen if I limit/compress/fx things too much.
Old 1 week ago
  #6
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there's a bit too much guess work involved how the pa's were aligned, whether they were suitable for the venues, how the room and audience were, how your backing tracks sound on their own, what the engineers did etc.

take sam's advice and let an experienced live engineer mix you and/or ask for recommendations how your stems/backing tracks can be adjusted in a way that even unattended situations can yield reasonable results.



p.s. backing tracks don't necessarily need to be stereo! pan, width, eq, dynamics, efx etc. have a large effect on how things are getting perceived.
Old 1 week ago
  #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by thedberg View Post
Maybe this is just individual anomalies, and maybe other places and PA:s will work better. Or could it be that our ears tend to hear things differently at the listening volumes we use at venues like clubs? Any experiences/comments on that?
You shouldn't be making judgements from behind the loudspeakers, this is not what the sound mixer or the fans are hearing...

Quote:
Originally Posted by deedeeyeah View Post
there's a bit too much guess work involved how the pa's were aligned, whether they were suitable for the venues, how the room and audience were, how your backing tracks sound on their own, what the engineers did etc.
Exactly.
Old 1 week ago
  #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Samc View Post
You shouldn't be making judgements from behind the loudspeakers, this is not what the sound mixer or the fans are hearing...

Exactly. Here's an easy way to illustrate why:

Set up a speaker on a tripod stand, play a recording through it and walk around the speaker. You'll hear the effects of the shifting balance of frequencies due to the polar patterns in different frequency ranges.

The longer LF waves tend toward omnidirectional while the shorter HF waves are more easily pattern controlled/directional using horns. This should help explain why your "keyboards and mid range tend to disappear" and your "kicks and basses keep thumping".

Attempting to compensate for this in a mix means by the time it sounds more acceptable to you from behind the PA it will sound like ****e out front.
Old 1 week ago
  #9
Really appreciate the input, guys

I want to note that the disappearing-keyboard-and-guitars-syndrome was based on input from several people listening in several places, including an experienced live sound guy. And I do know that directivity differs greatly between frequencies.

But the idea that the problems partly depend on the fact that our perception differs widely depending on volume is mine. None of you seem to agree. That’s quite interesting for me, maybe I should let that one go....
Old 1 week ago
  #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by thedberg View Post
But the idea that the problems partly depend on the fact that our perception differs widely depending on volume is mine. None of you seem to agree. That’s quite interesting for me, maybe I should let that one go....
it's not that i/we disagree with that, on the contrary: it's a well-known phenomenon described many years ago by fletcher-munson and hence mostly low on priority when discussing technical details.
Old 1 week ago
  #11
Quote:
Originally Posted by deedeeyeah View Post
it's not that i/we disagree with that, on the contrary: it's a well-known phenomenon described many years ago by fletcher-munson and hence mostly low on priority when discussing technical details.
Yep.

So if Fletcher-Munson is an factor in the disapearing-midrange-keyboard-phenomenon then important musical info is lost. And if so, might it not be relevant to mix in other ways when playing live, making that information more prominent?

An alternative is to send this as separate stems to FOH. Downside is that there is more chance for FOH to make mistakes... (And that I need to buy a new interface )

Choices, choices...
Old 1 week ago
  #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by thedberg View Post
Yep.

So if Fletcher-Munson is an factor in the disapearing-midrange-keyboard-phenomenon then important musical info is lost. And if so, might it not be relevant to mix in other ways when playing live, making that information more prominent?

An alternative is to send this as separate stems to FOH. Downside is that there is more chance for FOH to make mistakes... (And that I need to buy a new interface )
It's not so complicated at all, if you do as was suggested above you will figure out everything in short order...thing is, it makes no sense for us and you to try and guess what should and/or can happen.
Old 1 week ago
  #13
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To the OP:

You're basing everything on unmeasurable subjective OPINIONS, and attempting to "solve" a loosely defined "problem" is akin to attempting to leap out of a bath tub while standing on two bars of soap.
Old 1 week ago
  #14
Quote:
Originally Posted by Wyllys View Post
To the OP:

You're basing everything on unmeasurable subjective OPINIONS, and attempting to "solve" a loosely defined "problem" is akin to attempting to leap out of a bath tub while standing on two bars of soap.
Well, I’ve done a gazillion gigs from living rooms to stadiums since the mid 70s, and also done quite a bit of mixing (though almost only studio based). My issues are of course unmeasurable but my “subjective OPINIONS” are not totally without merit...

What’s new for me the solo setting, using backing tracks. And the output seems to behave in ways I hadn’t anticipated.

But I will again say thanks to the rest of the repliers, those who avoided a condescending tone
Old 1 week ago
  #15
Gear Maniac
 

Have you tried something like putting a camcorder or little audio recorder in a representative place in the audience and recording it there to see what the actual balance is (at least approximately)?

By the way, I don't think that Wyllys was suggesting that your own opinion of what sound you want was irrelevant, but rather that general opinions from random other people (who heard the house mix) and your opinion based on something else (as in not hearing the house mix) are both, at best, rather unreliable and not a great basis for fixing whatever problems there may be with the backing tracks.

I might add, though it's probably not at all new news, that it's particularly difficult to hear how your own voice is mixing with external sounds since you hear your own voice to a fair degree through bone conduction of sound, etc. rather than purely acoustically.
Old 1 week ago
  #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by thedberg View Post
Well, I’ve done a gazillion gigs from living rooms to stadiums since the mid 70s, and also done quite a bit of mixing (though almost only studio based). My issues are of course unmeasurable but my “subjective OPINIONS” are not totally without merit...
I didn't say they were without merit, I simply identified them as subjective rather than objective and stated that subjective opinions are less valuable than objective, measureable information.

Try the "walk around the speaker" thing I recommended and I think you'll get a better idea of how things happen outside the studio and why I think your subjective experience came out differently than you expected. And...

I've worked with sound equipment since 1960, performed as a solo, in small ensembles, large ensembles and orchestras as well as working in studios and as a live broadcast engineer and I've learnd that subjective opinions tend to focus on what's wrong rather than what's right. I've listend to recordings, both live and studio, and the longer the time between the performance and the review, the more acceptable I found the performance.

I've come off stage feeling absolutely horrible about the on-stage experience, yet found the live recording completely acceptable for circulation after it had "ripened up" in the can for several years. My standards had not changed, the performance had not changed, but the objectivity gained over the course of time was invaluable in understanding the complex relationships between ability, expectations, performance anxiety and the hundred other things in play when dealing with the physics and psychology involved.

Good luck.
Old 1 week ago
  #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by thedberg View Post
But I will again say thanks to the rest of the repliers, those who avoided a condescending tone
He was being helpful you know...
Old 1 week ago
  #18
Quote:
Originally Posted by Wyllys View Post
I didn't say they were without merit, I simply identified them as subjective rather than objective and stated that subjective opinions are less valuable than objective, measureable information.

Try the "walk around the speaker" thing I recommended and I think you'll get a better idea of how things happen outside the studio and why I think your subjective experience came out differently than you expected. And...

I've worked with sound equipment since 1960, performed as a solo, in small ensembles, large ensembles and orchestras as well as working in studios and as a live broadcast engineer and I've learnd that subjective opinions tend to focus on what's wrong rather than what's right. I've listend to recordings, both live and studio, and the longer the time between the performance and the review, the more acceptable I found the performance.

I've come off stage feeling absolutely horrible about the on-stage experience, yet found the live recording completely acceptable for circulation after it had "ripened up" in the can for several years. My standards had not changed, the performance had not changed, but the objectivity gained over the course of time was invaluable in understandin the complex relationships between ability, expectations, performance anxiety and the hundred other things in play when dealing with the physics and psychology involved.

Good luck.
Sorry Wyllys, I misinterpreted you. And I will certainly do the walk-around next time.

I have the same experience about old recordings, they tend not to feel as bad as I sometimes remember. (But I put that down partly to nostalgia.)

And I agree wholeheartedly with the description of the psychology involved. Gigging can be heaven or it can be hell. Rarely anything in between. So many factors involved.

So what we can do is make any effort we can in preparation. And keep on dreaming that the next gig or next song will be amazing!
Old 1 week ago
  #19
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I have been following the honest and sincere efforts of several of our most respected voices pursuant to most all things involved in SR to find answers for the OP's question.

1. The OP needs to be aware of the well known fact that the very best live concert circumstances will not be close to the monitoring accuracy of even a marginal studio setting.
2. A solo acoustic live gig will magnify the offset bloom behind most all FOH mains and the ability to replace only the lost HZ range in a personal wedge can be very helpful in restoring some sonic balance.
3. Working with stems rather than a two mix is a good idea if the performer/mixer has the gear and chops to know precisely what he is projecting to FOH.

I am often a very happy solo acoustic guitar/vocal performer and have resisted the temptation to embellish my performances with ancillary instrumentation and or harmony vocals for several reasons. Concert work is one on one with your audience and the flexibility to massage my arrangements to fit the audience is not possible when the tracks are in charge: also the addition of recorded tracks dilute the authenticity of the solo performance. Bar and saloon gigs are a totally different matter: When a performer is competing with the din of a crowd that may or may not have an interest in the performance, all bets are off.
Hugh
Old 6 days ago
  #20
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Check this:


Last year one band I was on tour with played a festival In Belgium where we were the only band that did not use recorded/sequenced tracks. We were the only band with a drum kit, we had the most people on stage...7, and we had one of the smallest patch of the entire festival.

There were DJs and solo artists who had over 40 inputs and had digico and Midas pro consoles on their riders.

Last edited by Samc; 6 days ago at 02:21 PM..
Old 6 days ago
  #21
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Quote:
Originally Posted by hughshouse View Post
I am often a very happy solo acoustic guitar/vocal performer and have resisted the temptation to embellish my performances with ancillary instrumentation and or harmony vocals for several reasons. Concert work is one on one with your audience and the flexibility to massage my arrangements to fit the audience is not possible when the tracks are in charge: also the addition of recorded tracks dilute the authenticity of the solo performance. Bar and saloon gigs are a totally different matter: When a performer is competing with the din of a crowd that may or may not have an interest in the performance, all bets are off.
Hugh
Agree. I've done everything from solo instrumentalist, accompanying my singing with a single instrument all the way to a one-man band with multiple instruments and midi controlled enhancements/backing. IME, the more stuff you have, the more critical the arrangements. It's easy to end up with too much going on, redundant/unnecessary sound and backing masking the voice or solo parts.

Every time you add a part you have to go back and evaluate the preceding parts.
I'd advocate the "less is more" approach...at least in the beginning...and add things over time as needed rather than taking a more complex concept on stage and trying to tweak it. That's working backwards.
Old 6 days ago
  #22
Yes. One on one with an audience can be magical. I do that a lot - perform my songs with a guitar or a piano, typically in church.

But now I wanted to challenge myself. Tell sincere stories and at the same time make people dance. Get a Friday night party going in a basement club. Couldn’t find anyone to join me so I thought “heck, I’ll do it myself”.

It’s been a major undertaking. Getting appropriate gear, learning Ableton, memorizing lyrics, training my vocals, practice solo guitar, checking out moves, coming up with raps between songs. Always remembering that all of the above is pointless if communication with the audience fails. Or if I don’t have fun. Or if I loose myself and stop playing Sunday service as well.

Minimalist/maximalist is not an either/or. We can do both. Different means toward different ends.

I sure have some work cut out for me. Maybe someday I’ll get close.

Thanks for a good conversation

Last edited by thedberg; 6 days ago at 08:44 PM..
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