Line Out Music & Nightlife


News & Arts

« Today in Music News | A Note From the Blood Brothers »

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Mixing for the Radio

posted by on November 8 at 11:14 AM

Let it Bleed.

onair.jpgKevin Suggs is one of KEXP’s main audio engineers. He’s on Lineout today to talk about running sound for a band that’s playing live on the radio. Over the years, KEXP has amassed a mammoth and impressive archive of live in-studio performances. Suggs has engineered many of those sessions. He permeates a guru like calm that puts musicians at ease when the red light comes on.

When bands show up to play live on KEXP, they have one hour to set up and dial in their sound. Nerves get jumpy and heated. It’s live radio and the stakes are high. You’re live in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1… You’re glad Kevin is on the other side of the glass.

Our room at KEXP is small enough that everything pretty much bleeds into everything else. There is no isolation for amps. This really affects the way I need to mix. The first thing I do when starting to get sounds is push up the vocal mics and leave them up. It makes little sense to work on the drum sounds without the vocal mics up because they will drastically change everything. I basically start with the vocals and build the mix around them. Also, any crazy vocal effects you use are going to be on just about everything else in the mix as well. Small reverbs and short delays work the best. It may seem like I have little control but I find this environment very pleasant to work in. For one, I don’t have to worry about feedback which can be a problem when wedges are used. Plus, bleed isn’t really a bad thing as long as it is pleasant bleed. I’m not fighting with the room sound like is the case at most larger venues. The fast pace also keeps people focused and the energy level high.

I always try to contact the bands ahead of time to get an idea of what the set up will look like. The band shows up an hour before airtime. I know this doesn’t seem like much time but I have found it to be plenty. We have one headphone mix available for the band. We can get up to two mixes but this is where the “keep it simple” idea really comes in handy. I find if I tell the group there is only one mix they are more apt to be happy with the mix much quicker. Most bands end up saying it’s the best they’ve ever heard themselves. I put vocals and any instrument that is going direct (i.e., keyboards, or bass without an amp) into the mix for them. Other things such as drums and guitar amps are going to bleed into the vocal mics enough that they rarely need to be in the cans.

Doing live mixes for radio broadcast combines the thrill of a live show with the control that a studio setting allows. My mantra for doing these sessions is always “keep it simple”. With an audience of several thousand for any given performance I do all I can to avoid technical difficulties.

Usually the most challenging part of the on air performance is the interview section, where the DJ has a chat with the band. You might have a lead singer who belts out his vocals so loud that you need to pot your mic pres way down to keep them from clipping. Then of course when he is asked a question he mumbles softly or even worse stands nowhere near the mic. At that point I’m pushing faders all the way up and cracking open mic pres to make them audible. Once the band goes into the next song I have to get all that stuff back to where it needs to be in a hurry.

RSS icon Comments


He might not be fighting the room, but he's definitely fighting the medium...

Massive amounts of bleed coupled with FM-radio compression? I can't believe every show doesn't sound like a muddy mess.

That's some g'damn skill right there.

Posted by Brandon | November 8, 2007 11:37 AM

I agree. Suggs is a guru. He has that Jim Anderson like guru quality.

He makes the musicians feel at ease, possibly the most important part of his job.

Posted by Bobber | November 8, 2007 11:44 AM

Hooray for K. Suggs, but also a shout-out to my man James Nixon, the master of Audioasis in-studios!

Posted by Levislade | November 8, 2007 12:00 PM

Thanks for writing about one of the coolest people at KEXP.

Posted by lurker2 | November 8, 2007 12:05 PM


I know sound is squashed for the radio (compressed, right?) How do you go about making sound un-squashed?

Also I have always wanted to know how you all figure out how many people are listening to KEXP at any given time? Is there a way to do that?

You tha man.

Posted by Player | November 8, 2007 12:38 PM

"pot your mic pres way down" -

Please explain. I'm beginner.

Posted by Player | November 8, 2007 12:46 PM

Ahh shucks. Thanks.

Yes, James Nixon, Tom Hall and Julian Martlew are the three other KEXP engineers. All incredible mixers.

I always hear about the broadcast compressors that are squashing everything on the back end but I don't really think about that too much. I just mix for what I'm hearing. I sometimes hit the stereo compressor on the output of my board pretty hard. That I have control over, the other I don't.

I think there are companies that track radio listeners. Don't know how they do it but I have seen the figures they come up with. Probably a lot like the Nelson rating system for TV.

A mic pre is a potentiometer. Meaning it controls electronic voltage or something like that. It's like a volume knob on the output of the mic signal. Pot it down is just a snazy engineer speak way of saying to turn down the output of the microphone. Us engineers like to try and sound smart.

Posted by Kevin Suggs | November 8, 2007 1:18 PM

Thank you, Mr. Suggs.

That KEXP archive really is impressive. A zillion bands on there. Not found elsewhere, all that. But easy to navigate and listen to as well.

Posted by Player | November 8, 2007 1:52 PM

kevin is all kinds of awesome!

Posted by janice | November 8, 2007 4:29 PM

Kevin is the man =) Cool article!

Posted by shani | November 8, 2007 7:27 PM

He permeates a guru like calm that puts musicians at ease when the red light comes on.

I think you meant radiates or emanates instead of permeates. At least I hope you did...

Posted by ye olde editoreador | November 8, 2007 8:09 PM

Ye Olde Editorador,

I see your point. I like radiates and emanates as you use them, and they work.

But I did mean permeates. Maybe not as technically correct as radiates and emanates but, I was more after this type of thing:

Permeate - to enter something and spread throughout it, so that every part or aspect of it is affected.

From Ibn al-'Arabi - the Sufi mystic: He permeates through all beings created and originated.

From a Shiva-consciousness: He permeates the entire universe. (Kevin permeates the entire studio.)

From NY Tmes: A strong odor permeated parts of New York City and nearby areas of New Jersey.

From NY Times Sports Section: Poise is what permeates Pennington's performances.

From a Review of Jan Burke’s book, 'Bloodlines': He permeates the story with a sinister presence.

Posted by trent moorman | November 9, 2007 9:13 AM

I am not a musician but work with Kevin and KEXP as a in studio photographer, and i can not tell you how many times I've heard the words "Kevin your the man ... we have never sounded so good live" and of course "thanks Kevin you made us sound amazing at 7 am"

Posted by doron gild | November 9, 2007 9:24 AM

It's amazing to watch Kevin at work. Not only is he incredibly skilled, he's a really nice guy. You hit the nail on the head when you said "guru zen".

Posted by Tilly | November 9, 2007 10:28 AM

I help with the FM side of the house at KEXP and I can tell you that we don't use a lot of compression. A lot of compression leads to listening fatigue. KEXP has a really long average listen time (I don't know what the ratings people call that stat), but it's one of the longest in the Seattle market, and it's because the dynamic range is there. It means that we sound quieter on the FM dial next to KUBE or whatever, but listeners don't seem to jump from station to station much once they tune in.

Posted by Jamie Alls | November 9, 2007 10:59 AM

Insiders tidbit; Kevin Suggs tends to permeate guru goo around the house too, and I don't think it's compressed. ;-)

But on a serious note; I've watched him work with bands and have always been impressed with his style, grace, knowledge and sound. I am blessed by the music that happens in our home, coming from his studio - the Imperial Room. And bless to have such a great guy in my life!

Yay Kevin!

Posted by Lora Suggs | November 9, 2007 11:10 AM

...and Kevin is really good, not to mention the mixing at the remote locations (most recently at CMJ in NY).

Posted by Jamie Alls | November 9, 2007 11:27 AM

Great post.

Posted by Shawn | November 9, 2007 1:50 PM

Fair enough, Mr. Trent.

Posted by ye olde editoreador | November 9, 2007 8:25 PM

Kevin is Da Man! he also plays a mean pedal steel, too. always nice knowing my day is going to be easier when Kevin is in the house!

Posted by Jim Anderson | November 10, 2007 2:01 AM

a really great post
thanks all!

Posted by robert | November 10, 2007 8:15 AM

Comments Closed

In order to combat spam, we are no longer accepting comments on this post (or any post more than 14 days old).