Live Mixing a Show Choir Band

There has been much debate lately about the ability to mix show choir bands live with an iPad or other devices. The subject really depends upon how much control you want over the sound of your band at any given venue.

The quality of sound the audience hears from the vocals and the band depends dramatically on the type of performance venue and the sound equipment being used. We can’t talk about band sound without first talking about choir miking. 

Now there have been many articles written on how to mic a choir, but most don’t consider the presence of a live band used in conjunction with those mics.


Over the past 21 years, I’ve seen just about every mic setup possible for show choir, but every year I’m surprised with something new. Most contests are set up with a row of front mics and hanging overheads.

The consideration is: how do those affect your band sound? Well, to put it simply, if you point your instrument in the direction of those mics, it will pick them up! If you don’t, it won’t. You want those mics to devote their full attention to the vocals, so don’t count on them for band sound.

If you were in a recording studio, the mic placement for instruments would be much closer than they are at any given show choir competition. Relying on them for any type of band amplification will produce an uncharacteristic tone with random sounds being pushed into the house. Long story short, if you want control, stay away from the house mics as best you can!

Now, back to live mixing…

21 years ago, I started with an all acoustic band, minus the guitar and bass amps. Then we added synthesizers and a keyboard amp. Then our band grew to include an analog mixer with the synths plugged in. About 8 years ago I made the switch to a digital mixer and iPad so I could control my synths, guitars, bass, sampler, etc. This drastically improved the quality of sound. I could mix the sound in the audience during rehearsal and save the settings for future use. By the time competition season rolled around, the settings were set and not much had to be done during a performance. But there was the occasional time I had to move an instrument up and down or change EQ based upon the venue.

For example, anytime you play a gym, the EQ must be changed drastically to compensate for the reflection of sound. So, I saved a setting for gyms and a setting for auditoriums.

What have I learned through digital mixing? Well, my sound has become drastically more transparent. Meaning, you can hear each individual much clearer, therefore exposing their musical errors more clearly to myself and the audience. You can’t fix it if you can’t hear it. I also have the capability to record each instrument separately and play it back for each student so they can hear their individual part isolated. I’ve been able to add electronic samplers and use computerized virtual instruments versus analog synthesizers. I’ve been able to use EQ, compression, gate, reverb, and other effects on the band.

Is it right for me?

Do you have synthesizers, an electronic piano, guitars, bass guitars, or an electronic sampler? If you checked yes, then live mixing may be right for you.

In order to control the instrument in the live mix, it must be plugged into a digital mixer or miked. This typically refers to the instruments I mentioned above, but can also include an electronic drum kit, wind instruments and acoustic pianos. If you’re interested in miking techniques, there are plenty of articles and resources online discussing the specifics of all the different types of microphones.

Choosing a mixer

So, let’s say you’ve decided to take the plunge into digital mixing, the first step is to choose a mixer. First thing to consider is how many channels of input you need.

  1. How many instruments to you need to control?  You can buy a 12 channel mixer for as little as $249 with the Behringer XR 12.

  2. Do you need a full sized device with 40 movable faders like the Soundcraft Impact. A more comprehensive list of mixer options can be found HERE. 

Choosing an output

How many outputs do you need. How is the audience going to hear the sound; two stereo speakers or a full PA with monitors and subwoofers? Typically a mixer includes outputs for two stereo left and right speakers and various auxiliary outputs for monitors, etc. Sounds can be routed in the monitors at a different level than the main mix. For instance, if you want headphones for the drummer to hear the director’s piano only and no synth. The possibilities are endless depending upon the mixer you purchase. 

Controlling the players

Now that you’ve purchased the mixer, what you need to consider is how to control the setup. Some mixers come with built in wifi, but in my experience the reception is unreliable. My advice is to purchase a wireless router and plug it up via Ethernet to boost the signal. You don’t need an internet signal to use a wireless router. The only devices on the network will be your mixer and the device you use to control it (iPad, etc.)

Now, load the software on your iOS device, choose the router you purchased and load it up. You can move the faders up and down based on how loud you want each instrument! 

More options

Want to add in-ear monitors, wireless guitar receivers, virtual effects racks with plug-ins? The sky is the limit, just make sure you get it set up in time to start the show!!

Still confused? Want someone to help design your system? Need more information? 

Contact me and I’ll be glad to clear things up! 

Incorporating Electronic Samples

Native Instruments: Battery 4

“What is an electronic sample?”

In music, sampling is the act of taking a portion, or sample, of one sound recording and reusing it as an instrument or a sound recording in a different song or piece.  In short, it can be any sound, pitched or non-pitched, taken from an existing recording and used in a new recording or live performance.

For example, the most common use of sampling occurs in electronic or hip-hop music where an artist may use a specific bass drum sound from one record in their own song, therefore negating the need to rerecord their own bass drum. Sampling can also be as simple as Vanilla Ice using the bass line from “Under Pressure,” in his version of “Ice Ice, Baby.” Sampling can be as complex as the Beatles using a rearranged Sousa March in the brass band portion of their recording of “Yellow Submarine.”


Sampling in Show Choir or Marching Band

Now, let’s get to the use of samples in live performance. Since we aren’t creating recorded music in the marching band or show choir world, all samples must be performed by a live person. How do we accomplish this and why would I want to use a sample?

Why would I want to use a sample? 
  1. You need a sound effect at some point in the song. Maybe it’s an intro to the song with birds tweeting and the wind blowing. Perhaps a loud impact at the end of the song to emphasize the last pose or hit. Sound effects are a great way to enhance the acoustic performance and add sonic dimension to your piece.
  2. Maybe you are performing a certain style of music that calls for a specific sound. Ex. a techno dance style piece with electronic bass drum and snare combined with a clap sound. It is very difficult to mimic this sound with acoustic instruments, so you incorporate an electronic sample to help sound more authentic.
Where do I get a sample?
  1. Depending upon what type of sound effect you need there are many free resources online such as FreeSound, ZapSplat, or AudioBlocks.
  2. If you want some truly realistic Hollywood style sound effects, I recommend Sony Pictures Sound Effects Series
  3. Have someone build them for you OR make them yourself!!

Disclaimer: Make sure that any sample you are using is royalty free or in the public domain. You cannot use a sample from an existing recording without permission from the sound recording copyright holder! 

How do I perform my samples live?

There are many ways to perform electronic samples these days depending on your resources and tech “savvy-ness.” After you have the sound effect or sample that you want to play, make sure it is in the proper audio format. Not all players will accept all formats.

  • For beginners I recommend using an iPad or iPhone loaded with Soundboard Studio or LaunchPad  One is more complex than the other, so gauge your level of comfort after playing around. They can accept multiple file formats, such as .mp3, .wav, .or .aiff. Load the samples into the program via DropBox or your iOS music library, trigger the pad and boom, sound effects!!
  • For more tech savvy users, I recommend incorporating a hardware sampler, such as the Roland SPD-SX or the OctaPad, both have built-in, high quality, sound samples as well as the capability to load external sounds via USB flash drive. I stopped buying triangles, shakers, tambourines, congas, etc. because the sounds are that good!! These samplers also have the capability to add external triggers that can be added to your existing drums.
  • For computer users who don’t need a hardware sampler, the best bang for your buck (in my opinion), is Battery 4, made by Native Instruments. Combine this software with a small midi controller like the MAudio Keystation Mini and you’ve got a very powerful sound effects library with complete editing and effects capability. You can access as many samples as you want!!

Still confused? Want someone to help design your samples? Need more information? 

Contact me and I’ll be glad to clear things up!