How Do Music Festivals Get Great Sound for 60,000 People?

With festival season in full swing, here’s a rundown of how engineers tune their systems with proper measurement microphones to achieve the best possible sound at music festivals.

Photo by: Isabelle Smith

“earthworksaudio at @bostoncalling helping to make sure the system is calibrated just right.” – Systems Engineer for Keith Urban, Chris Demonbreun @demonbreun_audio

Proper design and acoustic tuning of music festivals can significantly impact attendees’ experience. Regardless of the location or initial condition of the space, the primary objective for sound engineers is to ensure that the acoustics of the venue enhance the overall festival atmosphere.

Similar to the importance of acoustical accuracy in a recording studio, a well-tuned acoustic environment at a music festival directly affects the time spent on sound production and the quality of the final results. Without appropriate acoustic treatment, sound mixes may not translate accurately to different systems. In the case of large festival venues, such as outdoor stages or performance halls, if the acoustic characteristics of the space are not properly controlled, speech intelligibility can be compromised, and the music may sound harsh or unclear to the audience.

Furthermore, achieving optimal acoustic tuning of the festival’s PA system offers an additional advantage—ensuring that all equipment and gear perform at their highest potential. Even the finest pair of speakers in the world will struggle to overcome the challenges posed by a room with excessive bass or reverberation. Consequently, investing in a high-end PA system without addressing the room acoustics would be a wasted effort.

When it comes to measuring acoustic properties in different festival settings, the approach varies depending on the venue. In a recording studio’s control room, for example, the focus is primarily on the listening position—the specific spot where the mix engineer sits to make critical decisions regarding EQ adjustments, panning, and other aspects. In contrast, for a music festival held in a larger venue like an outdoor arena or stadium, the objective is to gather data from multiple seats dispersed throughout the area. This broader data collection provides a comprehensive overview of the overall acoustic performance and the effectiveness of the speaker system in covering the entire space.

Additionally, the metrics used to assess the acoustic characteristics differ between these two applications. In recording studios, the main metrics of interest include frequency response, impulse response, waterfall plots, and phase. However, in larger festival venues, alongside these metrics, factors like reverberation time (the time it takes for sound to decay by 60 decibels) and the Speech Transmission Index (STI), which measures speech intelligibility, become crucial for evaluating acoustic performance.

The Earthworks Audio brand is widely recognized and trusted in the live music industry, ensuring highly accurate measurements. Earthworks measurement mics represent quality and reliability, which instills confidence in engineers. Vocal mics such as the SR314 and SR3117 guarantee stellar vocal performance. Drum mics like the DM20 and SR25mp bring live drums to life like never before. From front of house to center stage, you’d be hard pressed to find a place that doesn’t have Earthworks mics somewhere.

Photo by: Isabelle Smith

Photo by FOH Engineer for Haim, Chad Byrd (@chadwbyrd)

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