This entry is written to assist audio operators primarily in Churches, Houses of Worship, or venues that include live music. It is not to be consider an advanced audio engineering tutorial.
Have you ever had someone tell you, “I was listening online and there was a buzz during the whole time he was speaking” or “There is an echo or reverb on his voice”? Sometimes simple operating setups and habits can help you to improve and create a clean mix in house and online. One of the easy improvements you can make on your mix has nothing to do with really mixing, equalizing or dynamics, but simply developing good clean operation habits. I have personally been asked many time about how to help to correct these issue, and I wanted to pass along the advice to other people who are starting to face problems with their livestream mix.
#1 -Good group master/VCA muting protocols
Fade it out especially if it is off. It sounds basic but it may make all the difference in the world for someone trying to listen to a pastors message or a motivational speech while hearing a bass players pedal rig or open stage microphones humming over it the entire time. The habit of fading out and in your transitions can be executed in a variety of ways depending on your mixing console capabilities. Your console may have the ability to group channels together to make easy in and out fading options between you music and speech performers
So how do we make this ease of operations exist? We set it up first. So as everything mixing console will be different, you are going to look for something called either VCAs, DCA, Sub Groups, Mix Groups, Subs, Groups, or mute groups. Now generally a mute group take away the fading option but it can still be a helpful tool to keeping a clean audio output. So once you find whether your console has a VCA group or something like it, you want to find out how to assign a single channel to it. This usually will be selecting the desire channel and then selecting the assignable group you would like it to mix through. This maybe be in the selected channel page of your digital console or a switch under the mute on an analog console. For example assign Vocal 1 to Group 1. First decide what channels would function best for you if they were all controlled by one fader. Some easy examples are having all singing vocal on one grouped fader and the rest of the band on another, or if you have eight or more assignable groups you may want to have a fader for drums, acoustic guitars, electric guitars, bass and keys (piano, synth, tracks). It is all up to you. You may want to send all channels to one group as well as more individual groups, like having a master fader for just the band.
Now once you’ve completed this setup, start to make your protocol be fading out the full band group and fading in the speaker or what ever the transition goes to. And as the speaking portion wraps up, slowly fade in the band, or even begin to bring them in under the final words. This will depend on how you or your director decide the show flow should be.
#2 -Setting up a post fader livestream mix
In order to give the operator at the console more control over the livestream quality while primarily focusing on the in house service, I recommend a no money solution first. While sending your same output from your mix in the room makes sense and it sounds like the right thing to do, it can be make the listening online a bit of a pain. And as I often find when you start to focus on the online audience while mixing the house, your in house audience will suffer.
So the solution? A post fader mix. In order to do this you need to understand how your console Auxs/Buses/Mixes (all the same thing) work. While every console is different, there is a way to use this strategy on almost any console that mixes more than eight channels, even on an analog mixer.
First dedicate a Mix bus to be your livestream mix, preferably you want to make this stereo if your console will allow linking two bus mixes. Face it everything sounds better in stereo, and you should mix in stereo as often and creatively as you can. Listening in stereo compared to mono is like going from Standard definition television to 4k, except better because width in your mix engages the brain even more. But if mono is all you got then do it well, because you can.
After you have your mix setup, send every channel you would generally want to hear in house to that mix at the same volume. Probably start by setting them all around 0db on the mix send fader. Now the most important part about making a post fader mix is making it post fader. This means that whatever level you are sending out to the livestream mix from this channel is sent out after your fader that you are adjusting on the channel in the live house mix. To make each channel a post fader mix will depend on how your console operates, so if you don’t know know is the time to download a copy of that manual you threw out a while ago, or just use your intuitive nature to figure it out. Some mixing console will only have dedicated post mixes and other mixes dedicated pre mix, while many will have pre/post selectable on each channel. Some mixers have pre/post selectable for the entire mix, and some will only have options for pre mix (which will mean it is a post fader mix by default until otherwise selected).
Control! Now you figure out your system! Be proud because you are now the expert of this mixer and you are likely to be training someone on this setup in the future. But now that have a dedicated post fader mix, what is the advantage? Sending all channels at the same level as my live mix fader is basically how you operated before. Well now you have some options that can help you improve the sound online. The first is getting a better blend of your mix to different speakers. When you are in a room with live acoustic drums for example, depending on the size of the room you most likely will hear the drums even without the microphones while in that same room. But if you are listening from home you won’t hear the drums sound bouncing off the walls and ceiling. You will only hear the drums sound from the microphones. If you have a full band of dynamic instruments in your service, you will often want to be mixed differently when listening outside your the live room.
So you now have the freedom to make changes to your mix while still making changes elsewhere. Keep in mind you need to take time to check the calibration between your house mix and livestream mix. If you don’t bring up your faders much in the house, you may need to add some extra volume on the livestream mix. And if you are pushing something hot in the house is will be hot in the livestream and may need to go down, so make those adjustments gradually and keep listening.
It is important to always remember your mix goes to many different speakers of different sounds and sizes. Some frequencies and input sources will come through much differently out of your laptop than it does coming out of your speakers it the room you are mixing in. It is important to try to isolate your stream mix as best you can when you are monitoring it. Try to get a good setting up over the ear headphones at you mixing station.
Tip: If you don’t need drums in the house mix you can take advantage of a mixer that has a pre/post option per channel and send your drums to your stream pre fader, but remember to mute the channel when needed because it would go to the stream all the time. It also is nice to do this subtly with a room ambient mic.
#3 -Separate the Subwoofers
Ever wonder why is your room mix so muddy sounding? If it is possible you should separate your subwoofer from your main speaker mix. The setup is almost the same as our livestream post fader mix, except it’s even easier. This is often a basic practice when setting up any live audio, but it can get over looked or even can be setup wrong by a professional if the use application is not understood. Basically you will want to make a similar post fader mix like you did before in the livestream, but this time we will only send lower tone instruments and playback to the this mix while leaving a good majority of inputs out of this mix. The first and often only inputs I will mix into my subwoofers are the kick drum, bass, and video playback. You can do more though like sometimes I will use the keyboards, synths, tracks, tom drums.
Using the sub speakers as a separate mix will give you another tool to clean up your mix in the house and online for many reasons. This will keep you from pushing your kick drum or other inputs high in the main mix resulting in an overly low tone driven mix on your other post fader mixes, like stream mix. It will also give you more control of the low end volume on the room whether you need more or less low end punch to your blend. Lastly, this process keeps inputs like vocals out of your subwoofer resulting in a much clearer room.