We’ve worked with a lot of different artists and there is a huge range of knowledge or lack there of about what hand the band or often solo artist has in ensuring that the end user (the audience) gets a quality product (good mix for the show) that the actual customer (show promotor or venue owner) has paid for.
As a sound engineer I have to satisfy 3 customers: the band; by getting you a good comfortable stage mix so you can be relaxed and perform at your top level, the audience, who just wants to hear the band sound good at a good volume, and the venue owner/promotor who has random set of priorities depending on the situation. Sometimes, he just wants a good show so the ticket buyers are happy, but more often than not, the venue owner’s goal is to sell alcohol and/or food.
Often times the act of satisfying one of my customers, the band, ends up disappointing the other two. Here’s how: venue owner needs to sell drinks and take food orders. In order to do so his staff has to be able to hear what the customers are saying. Often times, I am told to turn the volume down. Sometimes this results in me almost turning the mains completely off because the actual volume coming off the stage is so loud that putting anything thru it just makes the over all sound too loud.
Sometimes I have to take the drums, bass and guitars completely out of the mix and the audience is left with only the sound coming off the stage. Problem is that the sound coming off the stage is very directional and only a few choice seats in the house will actually get a good mix. When the stage volume is low and I can put everything through the PA, everyone in the room gets a good mix.
Bands often times set their stage volumes so they can “feel” the music or so they personally have an awesome listening experience. Here’s the thing: when the band operates in a bubble, with no regard to what the venue and audience needs from them and plays so loud on stage that I can not give them a good mix out front you are only hurting your own careers. You leave thinking you had great performance, the audience got a bad mix and the venue owner will not be bringing you back.
When I come up and ask you to turn your amps down, I am not doing it because I don’t want the audience to hear you, I’m doing it so I can put MORE of you in the FOH speakers so that everyone can hear you, not just the people sitting in front of your amp. Professional musicians can walk into a venue and instantly know if they need to play quiet on stage or if it’s OK to let ‘er rip. Really professional musicians, the kind you pay big money to hear, almost always play quiet on stage.
The amp behind you only needs to be loud enough for you to hear it. If the guy on the other side of the stage needs to hear it, I can put it in his monitor. When the drummer plays so loud on stage that I can not even put the drums in the PA, the drums will not sound good to the audience. Period. If you truly believe you need to hit hard to get the proper tone out of your drums, or to have the right feel; you need a few lessons on drum tuning and a little something called stick control.
We have done multi band all day events where we have provided a properly tuned drum kit to use. We have everything from local amateur bands to touring pros alternating through out the day on the stage. One thing I consistently see is that the amateurs hit the drums hard and the pros hit them much lighter. Same drum kit all day and it sounds sloppy whenever the hard hitters are on it, and it sound nice and tight when the pros are using it.
I’m picking on drummers but these same principles apply to guitar players and vocalists. A vocal monitor needs to be loud enough so that you can hear yourself clearly enough to sing on key and to not strain your voice. If the singer insists on having the monitor louder than is need, what will end up happening is the sound coming off your monitor will bounce off the back wall and the ceiling and bleed into the main mix.
Now your vocals are too loud for the audience and the sound guy’s only choice is to either risk turning your monitor down, and ruining your performance if we go too far, or turning your vocal down in the main. Turning it down in the mains is my safest bet so as to not upset the stage mix, but now the audience is getting a mix of lower volume clean vocals from the mains and the washed out, slightly muffled vocals that are bouncing off the back walls.And the mix for your band suffers.
How the band handles their stage volume is just as important to the house mix as anything the sound guy does. Here’s a novel idea. When you can not hear well on stage, try turning the things down that are too loud instead of turning up the things that are too quiet. Insist the guitar player turns his amp down. Insist that the drummer either controls his sticks or plays with toothpicks. The band can be just as much responsible for insuring a good mix out front as the sound engineer is.
- KEYBOARD PLAYERS – Please don’t “sand bag” during your line level check. If I have to turn the mixer pre-amp down on your channel during your set to get the mix right for the audience because you deliberately held back during sound check and now it’s distorting; you’re going to lose your monitors when I do.
- GUITAR PLAYERS – The sound coming off of your amp is VERY directional. If it’s too loud on stage for me to put it into the house mix, only the people directly in front of it will hear you. Also, if it’s pointing at your knees instead of your ears that’s probably why you can’t hear it. Either angle it towards your ears, put it on an amp stand or have us put it in your monitor.
- The lower the stage volume is the more of you I can put through the house system and the better you will sound. Only turn up as loud as you need to be comfortable.
- If you can’t hear something in your monitor because something else is too loud in your monitor ask us to turn the loud thing down before you ask us to turn the thing you can’t hear up. Even 1000 watt monitors have limitations.
- Singers and acoustic guitar players. When we are doing sound checks you need to sing and play at the volume that you’re going to be playing at during the show. Really. Strum hard like you normally do, talk loud like you sing or better yet, actually sing into the mic when we are doing line checks.
- Never, ever, ever, ever under any circumstances cup your hand around the wind screen of the microphone. It completely ruins the tone of the microphone, lowers the volume of your voice, not raises it, and yes, that idiotic move is exactly what’s causing that feedback you’re hearing when you do it. I do not care what that cool rapper does on TV, no microphone is designed to be held that way. If you feel the need to take your strum hand off the guitar and grab the microphone during an emotional part of the song, do it on the body. That’s where a mic is supposed to be held.
- If you can be louder on stage I WILL tell you. I actually do have to ask musicians to turn up their amps up so I can get a stronger signal. Sometimes after an intial sound checks players will ask me if it’s OK to turn up a little. I rarely ask them not to, and usually just ask if I can put some into their monitor. That will work 99% of the time.
Anyway, hopefully you’ve learned some things here. I encourage to comment. If you disagree with me I respect your right to be wrong.
Now for some fun reading I recommend these 3 rants from another sound guy, Tim Padrick: