When deciding what soundboard to choose for live audio mixing, there are several different factors that need to be addressed. To get started, we will go over the some basic things to address and progress into some more technical issues and aspects of live audio mixing.
First, when deciding which entry level soundboard is right for your application, you need to consider your band. How many instruments and vocalists you have needs to be determined, as well as whether or not you will add more in the future, or if your band will ever have other musicians stand in to play instruments you normally wouldn’t feature.
Each amplifier will usually be mic'ed with one microphone going into the soundboard and keyboards will generally have outputs on the back that will route right into the back of your selected mixer. Drum micing is where you’re generally going to use the most inputs on your mixer. The best, most efficient way to mic your drum kit for a great sound is with one overhead left mic, one overhead right mic, kick drum mic, a mic for the bottom of the snare, and one for the top.
If you really want to get fancy you can mic each individual drum, but this is going to take up a lot of inputs on your board. If your venue is small enough but you still want to amplify your drum kit, left and right overhead mics will be sufficient enough to optimize your sound.
For most applications, a 12 or 16-track soundboard will most likely fit the bill. Mackie has a beautiful entry level soundboard around the $300 dollar mark that will get you up and running in no time. The Mackie ProFX12 is compact, yet versatile, with 16 built in sound effects to really make your mix stand out. With the Mackie ProFX12, you can run eight inputs simultaneously, six of which are mic inputs and two of which are line inputs.
For simplicity’s sake, lets say you’re going to mic your drum kit with just an overhead left, an overhead right, and a kick mic. This still leaves inputs for your guitar and bass cabinets, and your vocal mic. Hook your mixer outputs up to the house sound system and you’re ready to do your sound check. The best way to run your soundboard is to work from the top down. You’re going to start with everything on your mixer in its neutral position. Starting from the top of the mixer, all your gain knobs should be set at their lowest position, which is usually -20dB. Moving down, all your EQ knobs should be set on their “Unity” setting, your aux knobs should be set completely off, all your pan knobs should be centered, and all your faders should be completely down.
Since mixing drums down can be the most tedious part of the sound check process, I usually start off with that. For this application, have your drummer start with the kick. It is best to have him or her hit the kick drum as hard as they would realistically play. As they are hitting the kick, you’re going to start back up at the top of your board and slowly turn your gain knob up to the point where your level indicator for that channel fully lights up, but not into the red. That is when your channel is peaking and your sound will become distorted. If you’re recording out of your mixer, peaking channels can become a huge hassle to deal with in the post mix.
Once you’ve set your gain for the kick, just move on to your overheads and repeat the same process with your drummer playing around the kit. After you have optimum levels for your drum mics, start experimenting with your EQ’s. Also, I like to pan my left and right overheads to the left and right side to take the strain off the house sound system and keep everything in its place. Use your judgment when deciding how far to pan each channel. After you’ve got your drum mix sounding tight, move on to your guitar, bass, and vocals. The point of a sound check isn’t to get everything sounding perfect, but to get all your channels to be amplified at their optimum level without peaking or clipping.
After your sound check is done and you’ve EQ’ed all your channels, you can turn your faders up to their Unity position and start the show. As the band plays their opening song or practice song, adjust your faders to get the mix sounding tight! Don’t be afraid to experiment with your EQ’s during the performance. Adding a little boost in the high frequency range can really make a guitar stand out during a solo, or boosting the low frequency range on a kick can really make a difference.