There is more than one way to skin a cat, to mic a snare drum, and to set levels. Thomas sent me an email which outlines his method for setting gain structure. He started by doing something very simple – he questioned his own methods.
"I almost always lay out my channels in standard order… Drums, Bass, Guitars, Keys, Brass, whatever else and then Vocals. I'd then sound check the band in that order as is common. However, the problem with this is that the vocal mics which often require the most gain, and also sit right at the front of the mix, are mixed in last.
I now sound check in reverse order, starting with the lead vocal and keeping this mic open all throughout the sound check.
I find that the vocal mics tend to pick up a lot of top end and high-mid nastiness from cymbals, snare drum and guitar amps, especially as I often like to EQ an HF boost into vocals. But if I leave the EQ’ed and sound-checked vocal mics open for the duration of the sound check, I can factor its contribution into how I EQ the other channels.
It may mean that by the time I get to the drums I need no overheads, bottom snare, or even hats in the mix, it may also mean I don't need any boost to get 'crunch' out of electric guitar or top-end 'snap' from the snare.
Using the 'old' method I'd hear everything in isolation and try to get it sounding the best and closest to how I wanted it to sound in the mix, but by the time all the mics were live and combined the sound was no longer what I was trying to achieve at all."
Every room is different, every stage is different, and every band setup is different. What works for Thomas might not work for you. But it might. Let his actions be a simple reminder that sometimes it's ok to throw out the old way and experiment with a new one.
Question: Have you ever experimented and found a better way to do something? What was it?