Advice on mixing spoken word to accompany live performance


I’m mostly a composer and musician, my experience in recording and mixing comes from sessions I’ve recorded on or produced… I’m literate regarding audio recording and know enough to mix a living room recording for a demo, to give you an idea of my skill level. I would like advice from actual audio engineers, or more experienced people.

I am doing a dance project where we play the music live (all acoustic quintet, mic’d), and have recordings of spoken word which are played back during the show. I have been fairly unsuccessful in having the voices play back sounding good. One problem is we perform in different spaces, so the mix I get in my home studio which sounds okay no longer sounds good in the venues. I am subject to the work of the sound man at the venue also. We perform in auditoriums mostly with 100 to 400 seats.

Initially I think what is needed is

  • remix/master the recordings with neutral EQ (I had tried increasing 400 hz to 1200 hz for some recordings that play while there is music performed simultaneously, but it was not as effective as I thought it would be.)
  • Do a better sound check with just the recordings, followed by spot checks of where the recordings and live music are played together.

It seems to me that there might be some rules of thumb I’m not aware of, and I’m not really sure what questions to ask specifically. I’m hoping to open a conversation about it here and learn as I go along.

Thanks for looking,


Hi Steve

To give you an idea of my skill level, I was only doing music until about two years ago, i started recording a church choir … regularly. Also, my main use of Cubase this last … heck … few months ahs been SPOKEN WORD … but ‘talking-book’ style … reading stuff like Austen and Bronte. Some time ago, I recorded music and spoken word stuff for theatre, HOWEVER, it remained in one venue, and therefore ‘transferability’ was never tested.

Therefore I feel UN qualified to say much about getting it to sound good in different spaces. I finally decided to pitch in, though, because I did NOT want to see this fall off the front page … It’s a dang important subject, and I’ll give it the best attention I can.

Today I will be doing 2 or 3 chapters of ‘Shirley’ by Charlotte Bronte, will think further, and will get back to you.

Best wishes

Hi Steve

My advice would be to keep the spoken word stuff neutral with a good roll off on the very bottom end so as to give eq options at the venu and have it fairly well compressed. Without knowing more it’s hard to advise beyond that!

Thanks, Split, and Glyn…

Yeah, compression and roll off lows… it might be that simple due to not knowing much in advance about the venues.

Split what other stuff can I add to inform this question better?

I would like to be able to add some more stuff, like audio collages of several of the speakers, with some human sound effects- voices doing drones, voices superimposed on each other. I tried that at our last performance, using a long reverb as part of the effect. It was truly disastrous. :slight_smile: Sounded honky… no resemblance to how it sounded through my Event 20/20 monitors.

I guess it would be better if I was the sound man too, but my arms are not long enough to reach from the stage to the sound booth. Yet. :wink:

I suppose the problem is one of translation, going from budget near fields in a small room to an unknown PA in a 300 to 400 seater.

As always it’s best to keep the bottom end well in control and resist temptation to over inflate!

An interesting experiment would be to put in a small hall impulse on reverence and slap it across the master buss!!! (monitoring only)

A good mix and balance should translate across multiple systems and venues without too much tweaking unless the venues acoustics and/or system are way out of whack


You mean in addition to any other effects use a hall impulse to simulate, well, the hall? (just want to confirm that…)

Yeah, just an idea :bulb: :laughing:

Yup …I’m certainly reading it that way …
… Emulate the hall on the masterbus … so you’ll get an idea of what everything you do before that WOULD sound in a hall, rather than in your studio. THEN turn off that hall reverb when you mix down. That’s my reading of Split’s message.

I suddenly thought … Movie sound tracks. I’ve a memory that, for example, the depth in male voce tones is ‘psychoacousticed’ with the ‘gravel’ frequencies, and avoids the ‘oomph’. Sounds kind of harsh when close up, but in a hall, it is smoother, and yet still entirely distinct.

When I do audio books, I use lots of compression, so the ‘articulacy’ of detail is retained - from the spittle at the back of my throat to the rattles of roaring. So be sure, that would sit in the mix of a room and stay distinct.

Split’s bass cut … that makes sense. I’ve not played with that, since I’m aiming to ‘swamp’ a listener who’s on earphones. When I’m listening to movie sound tracks, then bass seems only to be given to big things that bang and thunder.

OK … that’s my best shot for now. I’ll be back.

Take care
Glyn :slight_smile:

This is great guys. i need to digest and try stuff. I’ll be back too.

You can also record the spoken word using a SM58. Every live mixer knows the sound of that mic and how it sits in their venue.

! … I’ll have to try that too

Hi Tom :slight_smile:

Hi Glyn :slight_smile: How goes it?