From time to time, I get out of the Takoma Park studio and do some live mixing. I’ve mixed front of house for the audience and mixed monitors for the band onstage. I like it; I view the live mix as a part of the artist’s performance. My job is to make the artist sound fantastic – much like mastering recordings.
Often, I’m working at a festival, with multiple acts, no sound checks, and short changeover times. I’m a fan of digital mixers for festivals; the flexibility in routing, compressors/EQ available on each channel, and recall capability really help keep things running quickly and smoothly.
I had my first opportunity to mix a band using an iPad at the Golden Festival in Brooklyn, NY, in January [from their website: “New York’s only music and dance festival of its kind celebrates 29 years of live Balkan, Roma (‘Gypsy’) music and beyond]. The Festival is hosted by Zlatne Uste Brass Band and features 70+ bands performing on four stages over two nights. The Golden Festival showcases the amazing diversity and beauty of the music and dance of the Balkan Peninsula. In the main ballroom, where I was mixing this year, the bands alternate playing on stage and in the center of the hall. It can be challenging: Zlatne Uste, a 12-person band playing in the center of a big room surrounded by thousands of dancing fans.
My mixing partner Alison Goessling and I took advantage of the capability of the digital console to be operated remotely from an Apple iPad to mix next to the bands in the center of the hall.
Up Close and Personal With the Band
The FOH board was a Behringer X32. Behringer provides two apps for the X32: one for an iPad (X32-Mix) that replicates the entire control surface of the mixer, and a second one for the iPhone (X32-Q) that allows an artist to control the monitor feed.
One of the great features of the X32 is that it allows an engineer at the desk to mix while another engineer can work independently from the iPad. We used this capability extensively. While I was mixing a band with wireless mics in the center, Alison could set up the next band onstage. We were able to transition from one band to another with very short breaks in the program.
I used the X32-Mix on an iPad 4. The software has different panes for the functions of the mixing desk. The engineer can view a single channel with all of its associated controls or a single function in banks of eight channels. In the photo below (I’m mixing Slavic Soul Party), I’m displaying the faders of eight channel strips. The way we allocated input channels, I had a bank of eight dedicated to the center plus effects, and the others were allocated to the stage.
Mixing in the center near the band was a great advantage. I could interact with the musicians, for example, seeing when a solo was coming–up, and dealing with changes quickly.
In this next photo, I’m with Zlatne Uste. The bands loved having their engineer right there with them, and I felt like I was an integral part of the performance.
Freedom of Movement
I’ve also used an iPad with a monitor desk. The big advantage is that the monitor engineer can go stand onstage with the band members and hear exactly what they are hearing. Depending on the console the band might be able to tweak their mix using an iPhone linked to the console. Both the X32 as well as the StudioLive by PreSonus (using their free app QMix™) offer this capability.
Other engineers with whom I’ve spoken use the iPad to move around a venue, listening at different locations to ensure all have good coverage. This is valuable in those venues where the mix console is situated under a balcony or in a room behind glass. For a large venue (outdoors with delayed speakers, for example) it’s important to be able to check across the whole audience area.
One Easy Package
The complete system is a digital console, an iPad and wireless router. Apps to run a digital mixer from an iPad are available from nearly all major manufacturers. Most apps also run on the iPad mini. The iPad does not need cellular capability or a lot of storage; a previous generation iPad running the current IOS is suitable.
The technology is not expensive. The Behringer mixer, as an example, is available for under $3000. In a rack mount package with no hardware controls (controlled only from an iPad) it costs around $1200.
In addition to the Behringer, here is a list of other mixers to use in this configuration (all apps listed are available free of charge from the Apple App Store):
PreSonus StudioLive (with StudioLive Remote for iPad and QMix™ apps
Mackie DL 1608 (with Mackie Master Fader app)
Soundcraft SI Expression and Performer Series (with Soundcraft ViSi Remote V2.0.24 app)
Allen & Heath iLive T112/32 (with Qu-Pad app)
MIDAS M32 (with M32 MIX app)
MIDAS PRO Series and XL8 (with MIDAS Mixtender app)
Yamaha LS9 (with LS9 StageMix app)
Yamaha M7CL (with M7CL StageMix app)
Yamaha CL (with CL StageMix app)