Sound engineer’s top tips for live

Simon has been a sound engineer for artists such as the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Stereolab, Free Kitten (Kim Gordon), Mercury Rev, Tindersticks, Elastica and Cornershop. He has recently done sound for Veronica Falls, and has loads of festival experience.



Simon has worked at the main stage of key festivals from Glastonbury and Reading, to Lollapalooza, and venues such as Wembley Arena, the Brixton 02 Academy and HMV Forum. He started off as an in house sound engineer at small venues, and developed a reputation for not telling bands to turn down their volume. The most unusual instrument he has had to work with was a Qanun, an intricate instrument with 79 tones, similar to an zither.

1. Don’t always use the same effect, such as vocal reverb, in every venue. Let the sound engineer know what you are trying to achieve, and let them deal with it. Sometimes it’s good to have a dry sound and the room reverb does enough.

2. Monitors – don’t expect them to sound like your record or your rehearsal studio. The sound should be just what you need for a good gig. Karen O didn’t have herself in monitors for years as her own screaming and feedback from throwing the microphone around would put her off!

3. In small venues, less is more in the monitors. On an acoustic night you might not want anything, just what you can hear from the PA out front.

4. A basic Shure SM58 is a good microphone for all vocals.

Shure SM58

5. You can double your vocals with a very short delay to thicken and strengthen them.

6. If you want a desk recording from the soundboard just remember that it won’t sound the same as the room – it will be mainly drums and vocals. In a small venue the guitars sound louder in the room than through the PA. As the gigs get bigger more emphasis will be placed on all the instruments giving you a better mix, but you will still lose the ambience of the performance.

7. Keyboards – they don’t need to be exactly the same as the record to work well live. Sometimes people stress the vintage sound too much for live work.

8. Beware of the bass drum overpowering the music. When I saw Nirvana at the Kilburn National all I could hear was the bass drum, it was far too loud!

9. Amps/Guitars – get as good a make and high quality as you can afford but always consider your own sound requirements.

10. Get your own sound engineer if you can. They will have a better understanding of what you are trying to achieve. Never upset the in house sound engineer with unreasonable demands, it could ruin your gig!