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Leader: Seize The Moment

Sam Inglis By Sam Inglis
Published August 2023

Seize the Moment

Our perspective on studio gear is often a romantic one. We operate in the conviction that, somewhere, there exists a microphone that will perfectly complement our singing voice, or a synth that fits precisely with our musical vision. The quest to find these touchstones is a constant backdrop to our musical endeavours, and lends an air of permanent compromise to the setups we use along the way.

The same affliction plagues guitarists, with their ever‑changing pedalboards. It sees modular enthusiasts coming a mile off. I’d suggest it’s almost a universal feature of music‑making today — except that the world of live sound seems largely immune. We all care about sounding good and get frustrated when we sound bad, or can’t hear ourselves properly. Many of us no doubt have a favourite stage vocal mic, or a general preference for in‑ears versus wedges. But there’s rarely the same perfectionism or willingness to dive into technical rabbit holes that you find in the studio world.

There are obvious reasons for this. In live sound, we’re often dependent on unknown sound engineers, venue equipment, room acoustics and so on. There’s not much point in chasing the last five percent when so much of the first 95 percent is out of our hands. And in a live context we’re more inclined to stick to the tried and the tested, since the penalties for getting it wrong can be disastrous.

But things are changing. I recently recorded a live session for a band who had ditched physical guitar and bass amps, bought their own vocal and drum mics, and invested in a rackmount digital mixer and IEMs for everyone. The idea is that they can turn up at any venue and give the sound engineer exactly the sounds they choose — even just a stereo mix, if needs be. I confess I went into the session thinking ‘Isn’t this all going to sound a bit sterile? Where will the energy come from?’

You can’t completely guard against the damage that an inept house engineer or poor PA installation can do to your live sound.

I came out of the session thinking ‘Why isn’t everyone doing this?’ From a recording perspective, what the band had done was take control over probably the single most important factor in delivering a good performance: their cue mix. You can’t completely guard against the damage that an inept house engineer or poor PA installation can do to your live sound. But if you go a little way down the rabbit hole, you can take control over a huge swathe of that 95 percent. Stageboxes and IEMs might not be as glamorous as vintage synths or mics, but they can take you into every gig confident that you’ll be able to deliver your best possible performance. And that, surely, is where the real romance lies.

Sam Inglis Editor In Chief