What Difference Does a Sound Engineer Make?

What does a sound engineer do for a band anyway?

Allen & Heath – Cornwall-based makers of fine sound desks – ran a challenge for some live sound engineers. They provided an input list (nothing else) and told the engineers to prep their desks. Then, a matching multi-track recording of a life performance was provided. Previously unheard, everyone had to mix it in 15 minutes, as best they could.

Time lapse: 15 mins of mixing!

Since the events industry has been shut down, for a year I’ve had no live music to mix. I needed a way to keep my skills up, so I tried the challenge myself. Can you hear the difference between no mix, my quick mix and a longer mix?

Video and audio: comparison of stages of a mix.

Examples of Mixing Activity

Beyond having decent gear, connecting everything, getting the PA properly set up, getting the mic placement right, and so on – what might happen ‘in the mix’ ?

Answer: lots. Balancing the relative levels of everything is just the start. Here are some common examples.

  • Each source will have EQ so it sounds ‘right’, whether that be smooth, bright, sharp…
  • Dynamic range compression is common to even out volume changes, make things easier to hear and to help blend multiple sound sources more evenly.
  • Sometimes gating will clean up a sound source by effectively turning the source off, except when it’s playing.
  • Sources can be grouped in different ways (e.g. ‘all drums’ or ‘all horns’) to vary the levels and processing on that section all together.
  • Effects can be applied creatively, for example:
    • Reverb and/or delay on vocals, which will add a feeling of space and liveliness
    • Chorus or ‘doubling’ to thicken vocals
    • Reverb on some percussion and instruments, such as snare and horns
    • Distortion effects, which can add harmonics to (perhaps) vocals or guitars to make them sound more ‘vintage’

Even with a good sound check, most bands need re-balancing once they hit the stage with the adrenalin flowing. I expect to keep changing levels as the song styles change, solos come and go, the crowd get fired up, and so on.

Studio vs Live Band Mixing

I’m a live sound engineer, so I mix for a PA system in a room with a live audience. Studio engineers mix for listening at home, on headphones or maybe on the radio.

Live sound engineers often work out a mix fast and under pressure. Studio engineers can usually work on their mix before anyone hears it!

Compare My Mix

Here are some links that jump to roughly the same place in the song, so you can compare my mixes with others.

Note 1: Volume will affect your perception of each mix, and unfortunately they’re not the same. Get them all to a decent loudness on some good headphones or speakers.

Note 2: I have mixed mostly in mono, whereas the Telefunken mix is album-style stereo. Stereo techniques are different for live event mixes, as a minority of people will be in a suitable listening position for album-style stereo.

  1. How Telefunken mixed it (in the studio)(loud!)
  2. How I mixed it (final version, in c. 45 mins)(turn it up to match!)
  3. How Drew Thornton mixed it (after just 15 mins)

My Live Event Work

I’m based near Exeter, Devon. I provide sound and light services across the South West.

Self-Learning for Engineers


Ref. the multi-track recordings used:

All audio files have been engineered and recorded by TELEFUNKEN Elektroakustik and are presented for educational and demonstrational purposes only.