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Noise – How Sound Effects Us

The Psychology of sound has always fascinated me, and the science behind how as humans we react to sound and noise. Julian Treasure is the chair of the Sound Agency a company that specializes in Sound Branding for corporations. He shared at a TED conference in 2009 about how sound effects us. Now while Julian deals with corporations finding their “sound” his thoughts can easily be applied to live sound engineers. He starts this talk saying, “much of the sound around us is accidental and unpleasant” – it’s noise. If you’re like me there never seems to be enough time to rehearse and dial in that perfect sound. Often times we’re going into the second song by the time I feel the mix coming into a cohesive form. In doing this that poor first song didn’t get to shine.

When you are building your live mix, are you listening for noise that is unpleasant? Maybe a Hi-Hat with a harsh resounding ring in it, or a bass guitar that is distorting? That may seem elementary but when you have 32+ channels going full tilt, it’s easy for noise to creep in. Tweak your mix, get the “noise” out of it. I usually run two mics on each guitar cab. Some weeks I can tell that I’m getting something worth while. Other weeks its garbage, it’s not distinctive enough to warrant being put into the mix, so I cut it.

A few things I do when I mix, they may seem elementary but it’s worth saying.

  • Walk the room – Listen for things that aren’t presenting themselves at the mix position.
  • Use Headphones – Solo channels or groups to hear how they are blending up close.
  • Temporarily boost or cut a channel’s volume to see where it sits in the mix.
  • Do everything you can to become familiar with the music you’re mixing. This way you’ll be helping the musicians create the sound they are looking for.

It’s the small things to always be looking for. Those things are what keep a good mix from being a GREAT mix. We’re always trying to get better right?

Happy Mixing!

On a side note, I was really glad to hear him talk about chirping birds as well. I wouldn’t say I am afraid of silence, but I think I am addicted to noise. I use the White Noise app almost everyday which gets me my chirping birds fix.

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