Tunnel Vision

'Tunnel' photo (c) 2008, Martin Abegglen - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/


When mixing live sound, it’s easy to get lost. One minute you’re enjoying the hard-won fruits of your labor, the next you’re completely enveloped by the sound of the electric guitar. An entire verse can go by with you zeroing in on that super-fly guitar sound, when suddenly you snap back to reality and realize the vocal is getting buried. And the drums are too loud. That’s tunnel vision. 

In truth, it happens to all of us. I caught myself this past weekend doing that very thing. I was tweaking my lead electric effect just a little bit and found myself thinking, “Wow, that guitar sounds really great. It’s almost like there are two guitars up there and they’re totally shredding. I should go out on tour. I wonder if VanHalen needs an FOH guy…” 

Then suddenly I realized the lead vocal had gotten lost as the band ramped up for the big bridge. The overall balance of the mix had changed and because I was focused on one element of it, the scales tipped. It wasn’t a complete disaster; I fixed it with a few quick fader moves and all was well. 

However, it was a good reminder that we need to stay vigilant against tunnel vision. Of course, during rehearsal, it’s healthy to zoom into a particular instrument or vocal to make it sound really good. But during the service or show, we need to stay zoomed out more than in. 

My mental trick for keeping the right perspective on this is to continually look at the band, and go through the mix to see if I can hear everything. By scanning the stage and the mix, visually and aurally, I’m able to keep from getting lost in a particular instrument. It’s rather like maintaining situational awareness while driving. You need to know what’s happening all around you, not just in front of you.

Don’t get lost in making that kick drum sound huge; it’s easy to do but you’re in danger of loosing everything else in the mix. And by the way, when did the kick drum become the lead vocal anyway? That’s another post, I guess. Yes, make the kick sound good, but make it sound good in relation to everything else in the mix. It should be a cohesive balance. 

This weekend, don’t succumb to tunnel vision. Maintain situational awareness and keep the entire mix sounding great. What is your cure for tunnel vision?

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