Sound Reinforcement

Today I want to dig deeper into the subject of Sound Reinforcement – a term that a lot of us have probably taken to generally mean “sound system”. But it’s actually a great concept that can really help your live sound.
I like to say that my sound system is there to Reinforce the Sound of the musicians on the stage, or even to Supplement the sound. In a large venue, this may be a whole lot of supplement, since a vocalist or even a guitar amplifier just may not serve the room at a sufficient loudness. But in a smaller venue, even up to ~2000 seats, you may need a whole lot less Reinforcement than you might think.

In a typical live setting, sound is produced by 3 sources – 1) the instruments (including vocals) themselves, 2) stage monitoring (wedges, fills), and 3) the house speakers (main PA, etc). The concept of Sound Reinforcement is to blend these three together for the best sound in the house.

If you’re not sure what will need reinforcement, it’s perfectly acceptable to mic everything anyway. But what many don’t realize is that you don’t have to use every mic in the mix! Or just use very little. Or just during a solo or feature.
For example, in my church, we set up a Kick, Snare, 2 Tom mics, and 2 Overheads on our drum kit. However, in most cases, I leave the Overheads out of the house mix because the drums were already loud enough naturally, and just needed a bit of help in highlighting the stick/beater hits on the shells (K, SN, Toms).

The concept also works for EQ – in the case of the toms at my church, there’s a lot of low-mid naturally coming off the stage, but I want a brighter sound, so my board EQ looks something like this:


And if you were to listen with headphones to those channels, they’d sound pretty thin – but the sum total in the house sounds pretty good, if I do say so myself.

Then there’s the topic of Monitors – those with in-ear systems need not worry, but anyone with wedges knows that the mix can get a little muddy-sounding with all those monitors going on stage. The reason for this is the way sound travels from a speaker – high frequencies are very directional (think line-of-sight), whereas low frequencies are more non-directional (some of the sound will radiate away from the direction the speaker is pointed).


Sometimes it’s a matter of working with the musicians and getting them to let you turn down the monitor, or a particular instrument in the monitor if that instrument is overpowering the house. Or you can experiment with cutting some of the lower-mid and low-frequencies, which will cut some of that muddy non-directional sound out of the monitors from spilling over into the house.

This is precisely what I have to do with my lead vocal:


I should mention, I don’t use this EQ setting on ALL my vocals. Some of them start sounding too shrill. As with any mix decision, you need to use your ears to judge. If it sounds muddy, roll off some low end. If it’s too loud, turn it down.