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Live Mixing Know-how from Buford Jones, Part 2

Jul 16, 2014 1:23 PM, With Bennett Liles

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Editor’s note: For your convenience, this transcription of the podcast includes timestamps. If you are listening to the podcast and reading its accompanying transcription, you can use the timestamps to jump to any part of the audio podcast by simply dragging the slider on the podcast to the time indicated in the transcription.

In mixing live sound, there’s no substitute for experience, and we have a guest who’s mixed with all the greats. Buford Jones with Meyer Sound is back to tell us more about how it’s done, digital and analog boards, and working with in-ear and floor monitors from a guy who has done it all. Coming right up on the SVC Podcast.

Buford Jones of Meyer Sound, thanks for being back with us for part two on live mixing at the front-of-house. In working with the big names in music in live performance, you’ve used a lot of different types of hardware and consoles. There’s still a lot of analog gear around. Is there still a place for that? I mean, what are the pluses and minuses of, say, analog versus digital?

I think coming from an old school—I’ve been out there for years—we’re certainly reluctant to go to the digital mixers, mainly for the computing aspects of it. You go, “Oh well, this thing’s fundamentally operating on the computer. It might crash on me,” and I’m a little scared to go there. I’ve had many analog desks crash on me in a different way, but they crash too. Any time we’re relying totally on electronics there could be failure, but at the same time, there are so many advantages to the digital consoles. In fact, just recently talking to several sound company owners, three and four years ago they were already saying they had well surpassed 50 percent inventory of digital consoles, so it’s here to stay. Some of us that cling to the analog consoles I certainly understand. That’s your comfort zone and that’s really good. There’s always a sonic argument of digital versus analog. Well, I think with the bit depth and sample rates—the advancements we’ve had in that—it’s just getting pretty hard to detect the differences, and I think with the mixing style of the engineer, it’s almost undetectable. So it depends on the artist and our approach on the mix, but the flexibility that a digital console gives us is just amazing. I think 30 years ago, to have had some sort of futuristic discussion about what digital consoles offer us today, we’d say, “No way.” We can’t even imagine that. I mean just to have gains and compressors on every input, to be able to record within the console. We have analyzers in the console. To be able to just recall scenes, it just goes on and on; the flexibility that it gives us in the reduced amount of real estate that we’re taking up in front of house. It’s so great to have these big racks eliminated and everything is right in the console itself. Therefore, I think the effectiveness of our efforts to pull the mix together we can do it much faster. I think the layering is the only thing that kind of bothers me a little bit that I’m still getting used to. I think by bouncing up and down the layers, you add that time up during a concert, and it would add up quite a bit. [It’s] not a problem, but all the other aspects, it’s just a tremendous flexibility that we have under our fingertips and therefore, our consistency level that I talked about earlier is dramatically increased. I believe the overall sound we’ve been able to achieve that night to night is a very useful advantage. [Timestamp: 3:39]

I think the last big argument for analog was price and that’s certainly not the case anymore.

That’s right. That’s certainly changed recently too.

I know that when you’re working with these things it depends on the type of music and the personalities of the performers, but do you find that monitor levels tend to creep up during sound checks and live shows?

They certainly do. That’s just an excitability thing or an adrenaline. I hope that we can nail that in. I’ve heard some [artists] say at sound check, “Do you want us to play at sound check volume or show volume?” I almost don’t believe you’re asking me that. Of course we want show volume, the sound engineers do. It has to do with the gain structure of the console and it’s how clean the signals are. But I find that most of the time it’s not so completely out of hand that it’s impossible to deal with. There is going to be some changes in levels and that’s just the spontaneity of it all. I think walking out in front of that audience and then I think sometimes we tend to turn up the PA a little bit. The engineer does the same thing. You might crank it up a little bit because well, you’re just excited now and you want to drive a little bit harder, which is not really the answer. It’s not helping you, but we just tend to want to do that. I think most of us felt if there’s anything we can improve on something in sound it’s turning it up and that’s a myth. That’s not the case. I think there’s some devices and plug ins that we can put on and if our result is a little bit louder than our input, well, then we feel like, “Oh, this sounds good. This is doing something good for us.” I think we’re misled by that many times. We’ve just got to kind of cope with that and work with that the best you can. But I think with the good communication we talked about earlier with the artist, you will be able to keep within some boundaries there and they’ll understand that. [Timestamp: 5:27]

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