Dynamic Effects in a Live Setting

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Music Loving Hack
Member Since: Jul 13, 2009

Hey guys. I'm trying to work on our live sound and have been trying to study up on the use of dynamic effects in the sound mix. However, most of the information out there relates to the recording environment. From what I have been able to determine, it appears that consideration should be given primarily to the drums, bass and vocals.

From what I can tell, it seems like the following are tools that are often used:

BASS - compression
VOCALS - Compression + another set of FX (e.g, reverb etc)
KICK - Compression
SNARE - Compression / Gate or Gated reverb
TOMS - Variable views but compression and gating used
OVERHEADS - Some discussion of compression and gating

My basic questions are as follows:

1) Is my understanding above correct?
2) If I want to chain multiple effects (e.g., compression and reverb on vocals), how do I do that? Are two rack units typically required? Is the best way to use the vocal channel on the mixer to send and return through the two chained units?
3) Since Snare/Kick/Toms/Vocals and Bass each would have different compression settings, do I need a separate compressor (or one side of a dual comprssor) for each (I assume the toms would be sub-grouped through an aux send/return). So in this case, would need 5 compressors.
4) What are key differences between these tools in a recording environment and the live sound environment.

I know all of this needs to be accompanied by attention to detail around proper EQ and management of the musical arrangements and frequencies.

Thanks for all your help.

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MASSIVE Mastering, LLC
Since: Aug 05, 2008

Dec 14, 2009 10:09 pm

1) Yeah, if that's what you're going for.

2) No, no, no, no... You can chain inserted effects, you can chain additive effects. You don't chain inserted and additive effects together. If you want to compress a drum (for example) you need a comp inserted on that channel. If you want verb on 20 different drums, you assign the verb to an auxiliary mix and send (however much of) the channel to the aux mix. You're subjecting the entire signal by inserting (generally, dynamics or equalization) or adding a portion of the signal by sending to an auxiliary mix (additives such as echo/delay, reverb, modulation effects, etc., etc., etc.).

3) At least. Yes. Plus more if you compress groups (I tend to often).

4) That would make for interesting debate to be sure.

The Czar of BS
Since: Dec 31, 2007

Dec 14, 2009 10:19 pm

Well, you seem to have a basic understanding of what is going on..... I'll just see if I can clarify the rest for you.

As far as which instruments get comps, or gates. Is really up to your own ear. For myself. I usually don't put any comps on any of the drums, or overheads.

Normally, I only run gates on the drums. And I tend not to use sub groups with any comp or gates. Reason being, that the loudest sound will trigger the comp or gate. And you can lose some subtleties.

Granted, this has a lot to do with budget. No need on breaking the bank all at once to get what someone else is doing.

But, the norm is one channel of a comp or gate, for one channel on your board.

The one thing that I would not suggest from the questions in you post, is inserting a reverb. You lose control of the input to your reverb at that point. It's tied to the input gain. And may not be enough in some situations, and too much in other.

The best way to control a reverb unit, is to use an Aux send to take it out to the unit. And an additional channel to return the effect to your left and right mains.

This gives you the most control over the sound of the effect unit. By turning up the Aux send on the instrument or vocal, You get the input level that you want. And then by pushing up the fader that the effect unit is coming back to, your can now get as little or as much as you can stand in the mix.

In a nutshell, it's a dry and wet signal that you are mixing.

As far as reaction of the comps and gates between live and recording...... There is non. They both act the same way in either case. The more you increase the attack time of the compressor, the more bass you allowing to pass unaffected. The shorter the release time, the more highs are unaffected.

Ratio is telling the comp how to let the signal through the unit. So, a ratio of 1:1, is doing nothing. As the signal raises 1 dB, the output goes up by 1 dB. A ratio of 2:1 means the the input goes up by 2 dB, and the output goes up by 1 dB. And so forth...

The Threshold tells the comp when to start everything. Such as a threshold of 0 dB, means the the signal must reach the 0 dB level of your board before it even starts to attack, release, or even look at the ratio. The norm once again is around -10 dB.

As far as side chaining goes. It's mostly for when you have a comp and gate that you want to put on one channel. Not really for reverbs.

Music Loving Hack
Since: Jul 13, 2009

Dec 14, 2009 10:24 pm

Thanks for the info.

Just to make sure that I understand. If I tried the use the reverb thru the insert, I would just be getting back the "wet" effect and not the original "hit" from the snare, for example. By going through the aux send/return, I get the combination of the dry and wet signal. Is that right? So additive effects should not be run through the inserts.

The Czar of BS
Since: Dec 31, 2007

Dec 14, 2009 10:26 pm

Opps! I said correct at first.... Aux "SEND" correct. But not returing into the same Aux. Returning to a channel of your board.

The Czar of BS
Since: Dec 31, 2007

Dec 14, 2009 10:36 pm

And one more correction. To the "LINE" input of one of your board channels.

A reverb unit will be +4 dB. Unless it has a -20 dB pad switch on the back of the reverb. +4 dB is line level.

Music Loving Hack
Since: Jul 13, 2009

Dec 15, 2009 08:24 am

Thanks for the help. It is amazing how understanding "most" of what you are trying to do can get you into more trouble than not knowing anything. I guess that is where the prhase "I know enough to be dangerous" comes from. I guess I need to start saving for all those boxes and patch cables. Any recommendations on places to start? I normally try to avoid entry level gear but also don't need the high-end gear.

Thanks again!

The Czar of BS
Since: Dec 31, 2007

Dec 15, 2009 12:40 pm

For me, the first place that I usually look, is Ebay.

As for name brands, Drawmer is good. Focusrite, DBX, all of these will make you happy.

The one brand that I am not very happy with for comps and gates is Alesis. They tend to be very noisy.

Sound as good as you play
Since: Dec 23, 2008

Dec 17, 2009 09:08 pm

It might help with your practical application of compression if you didn't think of it as an "effect" per se.

For example, in a live situation I find compression most beneficial when I apply it to an individual vocal. The big complaint you often get with an uncompressed vocal in a live rock performance is that it is unintellible or even inaudible. Hence you get the audience or venue manager telling you to turn up the vocal. Meanwhile, you worry (correctly) about the piercing dynamic peaks that are inherent in vocal performances. Turn it up so that 80% of a vocal is intelligible and 5% of the vocal may induce pain.

Run the vocal through a compressor and you can bend its dynamic peak downward, so that the loudest part is much closer to the rest of the performance. Without the peak, you can raise the level of the vocal so that it can be heard, while reducing the risk of discomfort. Adding a limiter can put a hard ceiling on a signal when warranted.

I've worked with a number of guys who had never paid for sound before and are suspicious of any processing at all. I find that they are less resistant to compression when I emphasize that it doesn't change their sound/tone/etc. It just lets it be heard better in the mix.

my .02

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