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Q: "How do you achieve good equalization on a live concert that pleases everyone?"

A Record-Producer.com visitor wonders whether you can indeed please all of the people, all of the time...

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Question from a Audio Masterclass visitor...

"How do you achieve good equalization on a live concert that pleases everyone?"

Well, can you indeed please all of the people all of the time? And does that include the band? And the tour manager? And the bar staff?

There is a lot more to live sound than equalization. A LOT more. If this were the only thing people were commenting on then you would already be a brilliant live sound engineer!

But let's assume that it is in fact only the EQ that is the problem...

There are are many similarities between live sound EQ and EQ during the mixing process of recording. The four basic functions of EQ are these...

  • To correct problems.
  • To optimize the sound of individual instruments.
  • To help instruments blend together.
  • To optimize the sound of the entire mix.

All four points apply equally to recording and to live sound. But there are differences...

Firstly, the live sound engineer has a tremendous advantage - he hears what the audience hears. In recording, you don't know what speakers, or in what acoustic, the mix will be heard. So the engineer effectively has to guess.

But there is a disadvantage in live sound too - the engineer is constantly battling against the occurrence of feedback. And unfortunately EQ can make the risk of feedback greater. EQ is often used as a measure to protect against feedback, but sometimes that can work against the quality of the sound as a whole.

So, a few guidelines on how to equalize a live concert...

  • Identify and correct any problems, such as an excessively boomy bass, or an overly aggressive keyboard sound.
  • Use EQ cut to reduce the unimportant frequencies of the main instruments. For example, cut the bass on any instrument that is not specifically a bass instrument.
  • Use EQ to help the instruments blend. For example if the rhythm guitar is obscuring the horn section, cut the frequencies in the rhythm guitar where the horn section is strong.
  • Use a graphic EQ on the output to lower the level at feedback frequencies, but not so much that it affects the sound of the band significantly. Also use the graphic to shape the sound as a whole to suit the PA system and the acoustics of the auditorium.

You know, even when everything is perfect, you won't please everybody. But with sensible use of EQ, the audience will go home happy.

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By David Mellor Thursday November 30, 2006
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