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For mixing in a small church, with cheap equipment, we have the following problem.

When we set up all equipment and do a sound-check, all levels are good and the sound is just very good. When the concert starts, and the audience comes in, levels have to be cranked a bit to compensate and vocalists hear themselves way less at stage. Also sometimes feedback occurs when the levels are put up.

How can I simulate the audience already being there? Is there anyway I can anticipate it very well?

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4 Answers 4

How can I simulate the audience already being there? Is there anyway I can anticipate it very well?

Simulate, you can't. Anticipate, you can.

Rule number one: use your ears. Always. During the soundcheck as well as during the concert. This is a general rule that is not specifically related to your question, but you can't solve the problem as soon as you stop listening, so I just mention it.

Two major things happen when the audience comes in:

  • The acoustics change. Especially when there is no carpet on the floor, the effect could be phenomenal. Expect a decrease in reverberation time, so - while soundchecking - accept a bit too much reverb, then you might get clean when the audience comes in. Especially on instruments that have a omnidirectional pattern (i.e. little directionality) such as a piano or a timapni. These instruments are more liable to change in these acoustics than for instance a trumpet, that has a very directional pattern.

  • The noise level increses dramatically. People breathe. People move, and people... well, are living objects with all kinds of processes that produce sounds. We are never aware of this, but especially when putting many people together, this is a major change in the situation. What happens?

    • There is much more noise, so there will be more masking. Masking kills high frequencies first, so make sure that there are lots of those present during the sound check.
    • Human ears adapt to the amount of 'activity' where they are. This might mean that you perceive the sound weaker / less loud than you do in an empty hall, and you can hear more dynamics in a silent church. Just leave some headroom so you can actually pump up the volume a bit more, and keep a compressor on standby so you can squeeze the dynamic range a bit if things are getting to loud.

With these facts in mind and a bit of trial and error (it really depends on the location, every church is different), you should eventually find a good way to do this.

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Nice answer. If the events are regular, and always at the same place, you could even record a songv or two with and without an audience, and compare the tracks. Then you'd know what to expect next time. –  naught101 Sep 25 '12 at 8:53
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Remember that one of the biggest variables you have, is the performers on stage. They are not likely to sing or play at the same volume levels in practice as they are when performing.

I personally don’t put much value in a sound check beyond verifying that all the equipment is working properly and the audio levels are at least somewhere in the ball park of appropriate for the particular venue.

You will always have to make adjustments during the actual performance. Just make sure you are alert and ready to do so.

Things to keep in mind…

Make sure all your channels are labeled so that you know exactly who and what is on each.

Read the Manuals!!! (all of them, at least once)

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Unfortunately this is just part of the job (in my experience.) There's no real way I've found to compensate for a mass of bodies in an otherwise empty hall, you just have to do it "on the fly."

If there is feedback, check your mic positions relative to the PA, also cut out some of the higher frequencies in your rack.

Unless someone else knows a way to simulate an audience in the room when you do a soundcheck, I can't really offer much other advice.

Hope it helps though :)

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Also sometimes feedback occurs when the levels are put up.

During your soundcheck you should turn your volume up to the point that you get feedback, identify what source is causing it and use a Graphic Equaliser to turn down the frequency that is feeding back. You may find that you will need a Graphic EQ on more than one channel.

vocalists hear themselves way less at stage

Do you use stage monitors? If so, you should be using a separate monitor mix that you could adjust accordingly. If not, maybe it's something you should consider!

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