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The most important skill you can have as a live sound engineer is a solid understanding of signal flow. You need to know where the signal is coming from, where it needs to go and how to get it there at all times. In order to do that, you need to know how all the pieces of the PA system work together. The mixer is your home base. Every console is different, but they all serve the same function. Generally, analog consoles are outfitted with semi-parametric EQs on every channel, and outboard processors are used for dynamics and effects processing gates, comps, reverbs, delays, etc.

After signal processing, all channels are eventually routed to the stereo main outputs and sent to the PA system for the crowd to enjoy, but first, you need to connect the console to the speakers. Crossovers are devices that split your signal in two — low frequencies go to the subs and everything else goes to the mains.

Plug the main outputs of your console into the GEQ, then into the inputs of the crossover. Some crossovers include 3-way splitting for low, mid and high speakers, but these are for more advanced systems typically only found in venues where they were professionally installed. Power amps have one job: they supply power to passive speakers. Many engineers choose to run their power amps at full blast, although if not properly gain staged it could lead to a low signal to noise ratio. Power amps are vitally important to your PA system. Using the wrong power amp could cause your speakers to blow, the amp to catch fire or both.

Ohms are a measurement of resistance and they tell us how resistant the power amps and speakers are to electricity. The most important thing is that the speakers and the power amps have the same ohm rating. Power is measured in watts and sometimes referred to as program, continuous or RMS power rating. After connecting your crossover outputs to the power amps, finish the chain by connecting the power amps to the speakers.

How to get started making music

The speakers are the very end of your signal chain — the last stop before all this electricity turns back into music. Active speakers are powered. These are more common in smaller, portable systems.


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To connect active speakers to your console, simply run an XLR or TRS cable from the main outputs on the console to the inputs on the speakers. Passive speakers are unpowered.

The Essential Guide to the Basics of Live Sound

They require you to buy and connect an external power amp to turn them on. These are more common in larger permanent installations. To connect passive speakers to your console, run an XLR from their main outputs of the console to the inputs on your power amps, then connect the outputs of the power amps to the inputs of the speakers using TS or Speakon cables. If only two active subwoofers are used, you can simply route the main outputs of your console to the inputs of the subwoofers.

These usually include lots of DSP digital signal processors like EQ, compression, limiting and stereo imaging: but most importantly, they allow you to split a stereo signal to eight or more outputs, which gives you the freedom to include multiple subs. Stage monitors are connected essentially the same way the mains are connected, only using the aux outputs instead of the main outputs. Always start at the beginning of the signal chain — the console. Then, simply follow the chain down the line.

Boot up the GEQs next, followed by the crossover and any additional processing. Analog consoles can be really intimidating. Some of them have 32 channels, dozens of knobs and more LED lights than your average Christmas tree. It all starts with the input of the preamp. If you want to increase the volume of a signal, you should reach for the channel fader, not the gain knob.

Gain can be thought of as mic sensitivity. A processor is usually a square chip and sits on the motherboard of your laptop like the one in the picture above.


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  8. When there was just a single core, only a limited amount of tasks could be carried out at one time. When we are running a complex digital audio workstation with multiple tracks all at once this is likely to overwhelm a single core. Luckily that is why we now have laptops with dual or even quad-core processors. A dual-core is effectively two CPUs on a single chip rather than just one. As you may expect adding more gives you more. With more processing power your laptop will be able to perform more tasks simultaneously which is essential when recording music.

    So more cores are usually better. Another important factor to look for in a processor is the frequency. This is the speed of the processor and is measured in gigahertz or GHz for short. The frequency used to be the most important factor to look at when all computers had just a single core. And it does still make a difference, the higher the frequency the better. In some cases, a very high-frequency dual-core could actually outperform a lower frequency quad core. I would recommend a frequency no lower than 2.

    The numbers i3, i5 and i7 refer to different models of processor produced by the company Intel. And quite simply they improve in capability as you go up the numbers. With the i7 being the top processor Intel produce.

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    Repetitive tasks are stored in the background and then when required can be carried out almost instantly. There are other makes of processors such as AMD as with intel just pay attention to the frequency and number of cores and they will work just as well. You can never have too much RAM! It is much quicker for the laptop to use the RAM to quickly access data it needs rather than accessing it from the hard drive every time. RAM is a like a wallet full of money, whenever you need to pay for something you can quickly dip into your RAM wallet to grab some money. The hard-drive is more like the bank, it stores stuff away that is not needed quite so quickly.

    You have to imagine that you live in a dodgy neighborhood though as every time you put your RAM wallet down i. Whereas the bank is nice and secure hopefully and even when shut down. So although these are both forms of memory they should not be used interchangeably. As I mentioned, music production requires a lot of this quickly accessible memory.

    It is capable of storing more data and is like comparing a car to a bike in terms of speed. If you want to have more than 4GB of RAM which is highly recommended you will need a bit operating system.

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    Chances are with modern laptops you will be running a bit operating system. With Windows, if you are running anything later than Windows 7 chances are it is 64 bit. With Macbooks anything more recent than a Macbook Pro will be bit. One thing that may shock you when you start producing music is the crazy amounts of storage space just a single track can consume!

    If you are used to just storing a few images or documents on your laptop then prepare for a shock! We are talking in the gigabytes here not the megabytes. So as you will probably guess as with processors and RAM, the higher the number the better. But what is the minimum?

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    What is recommended? I would recommend going for at least GB of internal storage but GB may be enough for the following reason:.


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    5. This will allow you to just use the internal hard drive for running the operating system, DAW and plugins. Whilst any audio tracks and samples can be kept separate on the external drive. I have this one from Samsung. The more storage the better of course but even GB will last you ages! I actually have a second external hard drive just for backing up and archiving old tracks. No, it is not necessary. As with all these things, it is a great luxury to have if you can afford it but an HDD will do most people fine.

      A solid-state drive works in a similar way to a USB drive, but built into the computer and much bigger. Information is stored on a series of microchips. A hard disk drive, on the other hand, may be familiar to you as the whirring sound you get in many computers and laptops.