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Are you quick-thinking enough to be a live sound engineer?

In the studio, you can work at whatever pace you like. But in live sound, or live broadcast, sometimes you have to think very fast indeed.

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There are a lot of similarities between recording, and live and broadcasting sound engineering. But there is a huge difference between the relaxed world of the studio where you can take as much time as you like, or can afford, and live sound or live broadcast where everything happens literally in real time. Make a mistake here and it will be heard by hundreds, thousands, or perhaps even millions.

Here is an example of what can happen, heard in the Diamond Jubilee concert of June 2012...

Jessie J sings live and gives an excellent performance of her song Domino. But at the end she has a few words to say, and the broadcast sound engineer has pulled the fader down, so she isn't heard. But... quick as a flash the fader is back up again for her final words.

It is always good practice in live sound to pull down unused channels. It provides a safeguard against unwanted profanity for one thing. It prevents the mix being muddied by unwanted background sound for another. Some will say that the faders should be pulled down only part way, and there are reasons why that might be a useful alternative.

So when the sound engineer here pulled the fader down quickly, he or she did exactly the right thing. But Jessie J had an unexpected comment, so the mic was unfortunately silent at the wrong time.

Getting this right demands lighting-fast reactions and on a big show like this it is understandable that the occasional error might be made. But getting that fader back up again so quickly... well I don't think my reactions would have been quite so fast.

I wouldn't like to be thought to be carping about one tiny error when probably a hundred thousand things that could have gone wrong in this show went absolutely right. But it is a useful example of live sound technique, and I think that the entire technical crew on that show should have been given commemorative Jubilee medals by the Queen herself.

By David Mellor Friday June 8, 2012
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