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molan

Is volume killing smaller gigs?

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Ted Nugent seems to be generally quoted with the famous quote of "if it's too loud, you're too old".

However, following a recent conversation with a pub landlord and customer it seems then the modern day version in smaller gig locations should be "if it's too loud, you really are too loud". . .

Some background - we played a gig at a new venue for us that's had regular live music for a long time. After sound check the landlady came over and told us we sounded really good and were the best band they'd had in for a long time. Obviously we're all smiling and happy but a bit confused as all we'd played was a few sections of three songs to set the sound up for each instrument. I asked her what it was she liked - she replied without hesitation that we weren't stupidly loud and she could hear herself think when we were playing and also her customers when they ordered.

We got a decent crowd and seemed to go down well and spoke to her about possible future gigs. She said she really liked us but that she was almost certainly going to stop having live bands completely. Her reasons were really interesting:

Too many of them are too loud - deafening the staff and punters and increasingly annoying neighbours

Poor quality sound - guitars drowning out the vocals, bass making things shake around the room and everything sounding a bit disconnected

One of her regulars joined the conversation and backed her up. He obviously knew a bit about live sound and he reiterated that bands were getting louder and louder (he mentioned they seemed to be able to do this even with small combos - which is true of course with so much modern gear). The thing that annoyed him the most was the imbalance of sound, only vocals in the PA, PA sounding 'thin' and lacking clarity and the dreaded guitarist and bassist continually turning up to drown each other out whilst the drummer thrashed away regardless.

Neither of them thought the musicianship was poor - although they said they often couldn't tell because of poor vocal quality. They both also said that vocals were the single most important thing for most everyday pub gig goers and they couldn't understand why bands seemed to pay so little attention.

Soon after we played another gig where the landlord said something along the same lines. He felt he was losing customers because his local bands were simply too loud week after week. He was always telling them to turn down but they always said they had to be that loud because they couldn't hear what they were playing. He said he was not booking any more bands this year :(

This morning I saw a thread (not here) where someone was saying he was in a new band playing weddings and corporate functions but probably wouldn't be in the front of house mix. Another player then said he needed a really powerful amp that went really loud. I see this 'it's great, goes really loud' quote all the time from people playing small gigs and also so many players saying that the PA is just for vocals.

I can understand that 'volume' is all part of the dynamics of playing live but surely it should be 'controlled' rather than the mayhem unleashed by so many pub bands?

It amazes me that people still think, in an age where quality PA is easily available for not too much money,  that being insanely loud is something to aspire to and that they don't seem to really care about setting a band up for the audience rather than themselves. Putting everything into the FoH mix allows you to balance the sound across all instruments so that the audience can hear everything clearly - especially those all important lead vocals. It also allows everyone on stage to pull back on volume so they aren't deafening each other and can hear what everyone else is playing (adding stage monitors or in-ears is a bonus but I realise that's often too much additional expense or is taking up too much floor space). The lead guitarist in my band sets his Mesa Boogie combo to 5w and never needs any more volume.

So, apologies for the long post but it genuinely worries me that more & more gigs will disappear if bands don't get their sound in order. . .

 

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Something that I have complained about for years....bands seem to balance the instruments and then try to get the vocals to cut through...never works! 

I have been in bands where I have complained about this and eventually got my way....Vocals first then bring everything else up to just under their level....the other members then enjoy the gig more because everyone can hear what is happening.

 

I hate pub gigs where everything is too loud drowning out the vocals.

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This is a real bug-bear of mine. Whatever the band, the vocals need to be understood, not just heard. The amount of bands I see where the vocals are barely audible, as the sound-people seem to spend all their time on the bass drum, is pretty amazing. Now I get with the gigs that I do, which are all FOH, that we have little control over the overall mix, but it seems to be the norm over most gigs that the instruments are too loud for the vocals. I read in Chas (of Chas & Dave) Hodges book that they approach sound-checks by doing the vocals first, stating that no-one ever left a C&D gig because they couldn`t hear the bass drum/keyboards etc, but people have left their gigs when the sound-desk didn`t have the vocals loud enough. Something that many bands should take on imo.

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28 minutes ago, molan said:

I can understand that 'volume' is all part of the dynamics of playing live but surely it should be 'controlled'

Exactly this.

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‘Loudness’ is also completely subjective, which should be considered. 

Si

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This is particular bug of mine... but I'm hoping that what I write here can scratch the surface to help people with their live mixing...

 

First of all, lets look at the volume thing and a thing called the Fletcher Munson curve. In a nutshell, the FM curve does this -

At low volumes, our ears are more sensitive to the mids... at higher volumes, our ears become more sensitive to the highs and the lows... so all the detail in the mids (e.g. where the vocals lie), tend to get lost. So in a gig situation, at sound check, things can sound great. As the evening progresses, and as the band volume goes up, there goes your vocals . Also, as the performers ears tire, their ability to hear details in the mids from their amps decreases... so what happens then? They turn up... further compounding the problem.

So actually mixing at low volume and simply turning the volume as the punters begin to fill out the room, won't help your mix and how you sound as a band.

 

So there's the first issue. Second issue...

Cast your mind back to physics at schools... and wave theory. If you have say, a 150hz sine wave with an amplitude of say x, then if you add a second identical sine wave in phase with the original wave, you'll end up with a single wave, with amplitude of 2x. So what's important about this? In short, the addition of similar frequencies together can cause some very unwanted effects and volume boosts.

For example, a lot of bands will start mixing with their kick drum and set that to the volume that they think will suit the band. If you consider say, the fundamental of that drum to be say 35hz and harmonics at 70 and 140... when you lay over a bass guitar that is  combining with the frequencies of the kick, you are going to get an increase in volume in the lows due to like waves summing together. An increase in volume in the lows will obviously begin to raise the overall volume of the band and add to the low end mud. This fascination with low end reproduction in cabs has always bothered me - because unless you know what you are doing, all the bass player is going to do is spread a layer of muds in the lows. Now consider two guitarists... sound check 1 guitarist. Sounds great. Soundcheck the other. Sounds great. Now put the two together, and the wave forms of those two guitarist begin to sum - so you aren't just getting the sound of those two guitarists playing together - you are getting some frequencies that are multiplying together to form peaks in the overall mix. So the more instruments you add, the problem starts to compound itself. Then when get frequencies bouncing into open mics and causing feedback loops.

Also consider something when micing drums with overheads... that top end air all sounds great in isolation... but when the cymbals are also spilling into other open mics, those high frequencies all start summing... to the point where everything starts to sound really harsh. And what happens when the volume gets turned up, well, the mics start picking up more spill, more summing, more treble... and the more obliterated the mix becomes.

I'm amazed at home many people don't understand this - and of course, the average band will then finish with the vocal and then attempt to push the gain, volume, EQ in order for the vocal to cut through the rest of the noise that is coming from the stage. In reality, get the vocal sounding natural (after all, that's what people are MOST interested in) and EQ everything around it, even if the instruments would otherwise sound a bit weird in isolation.

Of course, given that the average person doesn't know how to notch frequencies to account for the room, most pub bands end up falling into the above traps.

 

But above all of that, the thing that I can't stand is players that play for themselves, not the band. You turning up after soundcheck screws the mix and makes everybody's sound worse. Cue people turning around and trying to fix what they hear on stage... and there starts the volume wars. You'd never find a sound engineer give a player access to a wedge mix... and this is why. You touching your backline is going to do nothing but screw the mix for the whole band. It makes you a selfish ****. If you cant hear, get yourself an IEM setup so what you chose to listen to doesn't screw with everybody else. IEMs aren't just for stadiums... they can work in pretty much any environment you care to play in. Let the PA do the work - it's more balanced, you have a better control of the frequencies each instrument is producing if it all goes through the desk and is amplified using the PA. Even better, cut the amps completely and the problem of bleed virtually vanishes (obviously things like venue slapback and acoustic drums can still be a problem - but the problem is vastly reduced).

Anyway, I'm bored of writing now... but you get the idea.

Edited by EBS_freak
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30 minutes ago, [email protected] said:

This was one of the reasons our drummer has started using a TD50! We don't do pubs, but if we need to go louder we just turn the PA up and the mix remains. 

Wrong. See my post above.

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We played with a band in Bristol recently and they were so loud, people were leaving the venue.

Suspicions and worries initially arose when I watched the drummer screwing one of his drum pedals into the stage floor - and then he started smashing the bass drum during their sound check.

It was just so horrifically loud - it really ruined the night.

Edited by thebassist
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1 hour ago, Sibob said:

‘Loudness’ is also completely subjective, which should be considered. 

Si

When is a decibel not a decibel? 😛

Tolerance to loud volumes, well, that’s where the subjective element comes in.

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Recently our guitarist went and got himself a Marshall stack,and since then, the volume has definitely gone up.

Last weekend we played a bar, we have often played in the past, but this time were asked to turn down by the barstaff. 

Despite our guitarist's grumpy reaction to the request, we duly reduced our volume

Surprisingly, we got a really good reaction from the crowd, who up until then had been a bit cold.

Goes to show the band are sometimes the last to know what the sound is like out front and if they are playing too loud.

 

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I completely agree. We can get a great sound without being deafening. It is possible. 

Recently we nipped out during a break to watch a mate's band playing a pub round the corner. We lasted half a song before heading outside, followed by half the audience. You can guess the topic of discussion 

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I hate loud volume on anything, particularly music.

I have done a few gigs where the sound guy has totally ruined things by having me too loud.

It's maybe a genre and venue specific thing? Punk, rock and metal maybe need to be a little loud, but they should take into account the venue. If you're a pub covers band or function band then you really need to allow for the fact that not everyone is there to see or hear you, some are just there for an evening out and a chat.

Another part of the problem is the increase in output and efficiency of amplification; but just because you're using a 1000 watt amp through a highly efficient speaker cab, doesn't mean you need to demonstrate that fact to everyone.

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And this also plays to the strengths of in-ears: if you can control the mix, and more importantly volume of what you're hearing as a player, then ear fatigue doesn't set in and lead to the 'I can't hear myself clearly, I'll juuuust turn up' volume wars.

Since we dumped the backline, our control over our volume as a band has been much tighter.

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23 minutes ago, EBS_freak said:

When is a decibel not a decibel? 😛

Tolerance to loud volumes, well, that’s where the subjective element comes in.

That’s why I said Loudness and not Volume :)

Of course, a decibel is a decibel, but what each of us is capable of hearing, and what we consider appropriate, is different .

Si

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Part of the problem is drummers who simply cannot control their volume. I am lucky enough to play with a few drummers who can play quietly, but also one who can't. I am seriously considering leaving that band (after more than five years) simply because the drums are always too loud, so everything else gets turned up to compensate.

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I did a lot of gigs with a particular jazz band a few years ago. I kept telling them they were too loud, but they ignored me. One particular gig they weren't able to use their own PA, just the house one that they had no control over. The guy kept the volume down to a nice and suitable level, it sounded brilliant. The guy who's band it was remarked afterwards how nice it had sounded, I just smiled at him :)

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1 minute ago, FinnDave said:

Part of the problem is drummers who simply cannot control their volume. I am lucky enough to play with a few drummers who can play quietly, but also one who can't. I am seriously considering leaving that band (after more than five years) simply because the drums are always too loud, so everything else gets turned up to compensate.

This, in spades: we've had deps before (not recently, and seldom twice) who were one-level shed-builders, and you're doomed from the start.

I've always found it fascinating that when there's an issue with a mix, most people's immediate reaction is to turn up, not down...even if it means turning five things up instead of one thing down...

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1 hour ago, [email protected] said:

This was one of the reasons our drummer has started using a TD50! We don't do pubs, but if we need to go louder we just turn the PA up and the mix remains. 

TD50? Kerchinnnnnng

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46 minutes ago, FinnDave said:

...the drums are always too loud, so everything else gets turned up to compensate.

And therein lies the error. It's tempting, but it may work better if everyone else turns down. OK, the mix is wrong, bot only because the 'drummer' is at the wrong gig. It highlights their incompetence, and, if that doesn't bother them, it's a sign that it's time for a change. Let him thump away, but on his own. In extreme cases, putting down one's instruments and leaving the beggar to enjoy his evening-long drum solo may get the message across. Worth a try..? B|

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A drummer I know will only play with rim-shots. It`s actually painful at times. He insists that`s just how he plays, and for everything else he`s faultless, the most accurate timing drummer I`ve ever played with. But due to said rim-shots he has to mic his own bass drum up and have an amp by his side as otherwise he can`t hear it. Essentially for most pub sized venues he would make any band he was in not bookable - at least not for a second booking.

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Always mystifies me why players bang on about how lightweight and compact and loud their latest bit of kit is. If you were genuinely bothered about saving your back you'd use a decent modern PA and in ears. No amps. I absolutely love being amp free. I hear so many people say that they'd miss the feel of the bass but if you have a decent PA you can still feel it's presence and the in ears will let you comfortably hear whatever you want. Getting decent FOH sound is so much more achievable if there's no volume wars to compete with. As long as drummer is able to adjust volume accordingly then you can get lovely fat balanced sound which has more weight to it and less noise.

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1 minute ago, Lozz196 said:

A drummer I know will only play with rim-shots. It`s actually painful at times. He insists that`s just how he plays, and for everything else he`s faultless, the most accurate timing drummer I`ve ever played with. But due to said rim-shots he has to mic his own bass drum up and have an amp by his side as otherwise he can`t hear it. Essentially for most pub sized venues he would make any band he was in not bookable - at least not for a second booking.

He's not from High Wycombe is he?

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While we're at it can I have a moan about sound 'engineers' who *still* base everything around a kick drum that sounds like cannon, leaving a slither of sonic space in which to fit everything else. I'm looking at you O2 Academy Newcastle last Wednesday.

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Just now, Ba55me15ter said:

While we're at it can I have a moan about sound 'engineers' who *still* base everything around a kick drum that sounds like cannon, leaving a slither of sonic space in which to fit everything else. I'm looking at you O2 Academy Newcastle last Wednesday.

Yes agree. This thread could have been named "is poor sound killing all gigs" to be fair. Saw Robert Plant at Symphony Hall birmingham last year which should have been incredible sound. It was awful. Kick drum was wallowy mush that killed the wallowy mush bass and audience were calling out for vocals to be louder all night. Even RP had to ask the engineers to sort it out mid gig.

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