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Silent stages - a soul-less gigging experience? (And...why don't musos provide their own kit?!)


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Putting everything through FoH and using IEMs (or some using IEMs and one using a small stage monitor for guitar) = great for a balanced, articulate audience sound. Minimises feedback and doesn't overwhelm the IEM with stage sound.

 

But I'm finding bandmates commenting that they're not "feeling it" at gigs. In particular the guitarist (and the rest of us tbh) missing the richness of sound that comes from hearing a quality guitar amp. Not missing the mushy wall of sound that comes from just relying on the guitar amp at full audience gig volume though! 

 

Is there a best of both worlds where we use backline at moderate stage volumes, but DI / mic up the kit to go through FoH and let the PA do the heavy lifting?

 

Have any of you gone back to using a combination of backline and PA support after trying the silent stage approach and found that it improved your gigging experience?

Edited by Al Krow
Seems we've,rightly, touched a nerve with the kit chat on P4......
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Our guitarist doesn't use IEMs for that reason, but for me, IEMs are a revelation. The band are too loud to not wear hearing protection anyway, which means you already have to jam something in your ears and with the IEMs it gives me the confidence to sing properly, can't do it without them, it sounds terrible (not that it is great with them!)

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14 minutes ago, Woodinblack said:

Our guitarist doesn't use IEMs for that reason, but for me, IEMs are a revelation. The band are too loud to not wear hearing protection anyway, which means you already have to jam something in your ears and with the IEMs it gives me the confidence to sing properly, can't do it without them, it sounds terrible (not that it is great with them!)

 

Interesting you mention your guitarist also...seems to be a particular issue for them in being disconnected from their sound.

IEMs vs Guitar Player. Anyone else experience this? : r/livesound (reddit.com)

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IME not being able to "feel it" when playing live, normally means that either the songs aren't very good or that they are simply not to the musicians' tastes.

 

Everything is a lot more exciting when played loud. I found in the past that I have been a lot more forgiving about the material I have been playing in rehearsal and at gigs simply because of the volume it's being played.

 

With the band I played with in the 90s and with one of the bands I play with currently we rehearse at what I would term "slightly louder than normal hifi volume". This way the songs have to feel good/exciting at a bit louder than our audience would listen to them from the CD or record at home. My thinking was always if we can enjoy playing the songs at reduced volume then they are going to sound awesome at a gig.

 

I don't know if that helps or not, but from my experiences of playing covers, I found a lot of the material tedious and the excitement that comes with the band being loud was the only way to keep me interested. Of course once I had realised that, it was became another reason to stop playing covers. 

 

 

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Never really 'got' IEMs despite years of trying and silly amounts of money spent. Just too much bloody technology, too much wireless, too many things to go wrong, too much time spent 'tweaking', too many blank faces at sound check ... "it's not working, what's happened?".

 

A low-volume backline on stage with all the serious volume out front through the PA works fine, and is more-or-less infinitely scaleable from a tiny backstreet boozer up to a big festival stage so the band hears a consistent sound at every gig. It's also completely obvious how to set it up quickly at any gig, all the components are easily swopped in & out when a failure occurs, and even the densest and most arrogant guitarist will eventually see/hear the benefits of not pointing their combo at the backs of their knees.

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I've never cared for IEM or going amp less. I've always put everything through the PA, including the monitors. We've always played at comfortable stage levels, where we don't have to raise our voices to speak to each other. And what's key to that is never having a guitar player who uses more than a 1x12 combo.

What people lose sight of is the original intent of IEM: being able to hear yourself over too high stage levels. IME when your stage levels are reasonable you don't need them.

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Bands like ZZ Top have been ampless on stage for years. IMO the lack of "soul" and not "feeling it" etc comes from the players being out of their comfort zone and letting that affect them.

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Posted (edited)
2 hours ago, BigRedX said:

IME not being able to "feel it" when playing live, normally means that either the songs aren't very good or that they are simply not to the musicians' tastes.

 

Everything is a lot more exciting when played loud. I found in the past that I have been a lot more forgiving about the material I have been playing in rehearsal and at gigs simply because of the volume it's being played.

 

With the band I played with in the 90s and with one of the bands I play with currently we rehearse at what I would term "slightly louder than normal hifi volume". This way the songs have to feel good/exciting at a bit louder than our audience would listen to them from the CD or record at home. My thinking was always if we can enjoy playing the songs at reduced volume then they are going to sound awesome at a gig.

 

I don't know if that helps or not, but from my experiences of playing covers, I found a lot of the material tedious and the excitement that comes with the band being loud was the only way to keep me interested. Of course once I had realised that, it was became another reason to stop playing covers. 

 

 

42 minutes ago, chris_b said:

Bands like ZZ Top have been ampless on stage for years. IMO the lack of "soul" and not "feeling it" etc comes from the players being out of their comfort zone and letting that affect them.

 

I'm not so sure that I can dismiss it when my bandmates comment on "not feeling it" as being simply not liking the songs, or them being out of their comfort zone - particularly when we've had many gigs with exactly the same material played really well and tightly that have not elicited the same reaction. 

It's been a more common sentiment since we abandoned back line entirely at the start of this year.

 

I think there's maybe a deeper emotional connection to what sound we are hearing and feeling as musicians, which feeds into our stage performance and enjoyment of playing live?

 

Edited by Al Krow
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3 hours ago, chris_b said:

Bands like ZZ Top have been ampless on stage for years. IMO the lack of "soul" and not "feeling it" etc comes from the players being out of their comfort zone and letting that affect them.

The last time I saw ZZ Top they had twenty or so 1x12 combos. But that was to impress the kiddies. Billy and Dusty were actually using only two each. Then there's the matter of stage monitors. Touring acts have considerably more monitor power than club bands have for the main PA, so the stage levels are still substantial, even without backline speakers. Journey, for instance, had amps and backline speakers but they were out of sight back stage. They heard what the amps were doing through the monitors.

Edited by Bill Fitzmaurice
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As a punter, I hate it. I saw several tribute acts recently at a medium sized venue, who all played direct into the PA. I was stage front, and it was strange and lacking in Energy. 

 

As a musician, I like to feel my clothes flapping in the air coming off the cabs. It's ROCK AND ROLL! 

I'm a recent returnee to playing though and haven't arrived at the point where I need to decide on this approach. I might feel different. 

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Posted (edited)
33 minutes ago, ProjeKtWEREWOLF said:

As a punter, I hate it. I saw several tribute acts recently at a medium sized venue, who all played direct into the PA. I was stage front, and it was strange and lacking in Energy. 

 

As a musician, I like to feel my clothes flapping in the air coming off the cabs. It's ROCK AND ROLL! 

I'm a recent returnee to playing though and haven't arrived at the point where I need to decide on this approach. I might feel different. 

 

That's an eye opening perspective. I'd assumed that 'cos we're providing the audience with a well-balanced and tight FoH sound, rather than the sometimes mush/wall of sound that you can get from an unbalanced back-line set up, the punters would generally be enjoying the gig more rather than less? Certainly we've had many good gigs in terms of audience response - so that's not been a particular issue for us so far.

 

Do you think the lack of energy you felt in the audience was due to the PA set up? I.e. if you were stage front you might have been in a "sound well" (dunno if that's even a proper term!) and those further back were getting the full benefit of the FoH sound? I'm guessing the bands themselves were giving out the expected level of performance energy themselves?

Edited by Al Krow
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5 minutes ago, Al Krow said:


 

Do you think the lack of energy you felt in the audience was due to the PA set up? I.e. if you were stage front you might have been in a "sound well" (dunno if that's even a proper term!) and those further back were getting the full benefit of the FoH sound? I'm guessing the bands themselves were giving out the expected level of performance energy themselves?

The bands were all Metal/Nu Metal acts. They performed as I'd have expected them to. They were proficient and knew their material.

 

It *might* have been the PA? I was at the front, with a barrier between me and the stage. 

I just felt deflated after the night ended. I had not seen an obviously ampless gig before. There was no on stage backline, and the bands shared members/equipment (practical re pay, setup etc)

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Irrespective of method - if the band don't look like they are enjoying it then the punters won't either. I don't think that comes down to the PA.

 

Mind you - for some genres, like rock, a live gig can sound too perfect. I want to hear the pick scratches on the strings and that sort of thing that makes it different to just staying at home and listening to the CD at a louder volume.

 

IME bands live or die on 2 factors (ignoring basic musical capability)

 

1: Band enjoyment / entertainment level. Bored band = bored audience.

 

2: The FOH engineer. Always either a genius or a cretin. Unfortunately most seem to be the latter. Excessive kick drums and muddy bass, very little anywhere in the mids, and eye gouging top end where only the cymbals live.

 

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Couple of things here -

 

Quality of IEMs and the mix in them. Some people freak out at the clarity - you thought your playing was better than it really is. Different ball game when you can hear every fk up in crystal clear clarity - and you blame the tech when it unravels the reality.

 

Movement of air - if you can feel that amount of air, your backline is too loud to give a decent mix in most situations anyway... but most of the time, it's a myth. Stand next to an amp and put your fingers in your ears... and you feel through your jeans.... nothing. (And that cos you aren't playing any strings because your fingers are in your ears)

 

If you want then energy, go get a KT board or something.

 

But again, each to their own. Some people like old school. Some people like the tech. Some people like their hearing intact too.

 

I actually like playing without IEM too... but theres always somebody in the band looking to ruin the party. Guitarists and drummers I'm looking at you.

 

I've got to the point where I say try IEMs. Some people love it. Some people dont. Lifes too short to try and get people to come around to your preference.

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Where we’re at is backline levels equal to acoustic drums. Drummer, singer/guitarist, fiddle player all use IEM to help them hear their instrument/voice clearer. Second guitarist/bv uses a floor wedge. I vary between backline only, hearing protection (ACS custom moulds) or IEM (Sennheiser 100’s and Xvive U4) depending on the gig. If the room means drums and particularly the cymbals are painfully loud then I’ll go either ACS or IEM. But as I mix the live sound from the side of the stage, I’m always nervous about going IEM and potentially missing something with the FOH mix. If we have the luxury of provided PA and engineer, then I’ll go IEM every time.

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I am the drummer wear IEMs. The others can do whatever they want, and now we have a new keyboard player join, he has a monitor, so the guitarist is really happy about that, he has been complaining for a while he couldn't hear well, and I kept pointing out we had many monitor out sockets left if he wanted to do anything about it.

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Yes, i miss the connection of the more 'organic' on stage sound with amps and real drums. 

But using IEM's and electric kit, I dont miss too loud cymbals in my ears, feedback from the monitors, not hearing/too loud guitar, hearing out of tune b/v's. 

The live experience is different, but it's swings and roundabouts. 

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Probably in a tiny minority here judging by some of the stuff I've read, but I've played a couple of gigs with IEMs and absolutely hated it. Just feels like you're in some sort of cocoon where you're shielded from everything apart from the band. No connection with anything else and also I found them uncomfortable and irritating. Give me an amp and a cabinet any day. 

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When you start a thread with "not feeling it" with IEM's then all those people who don't like them will jump in, and that's what happened.

 

A lot of the comments here I would attribute to poorly fitting IEM's or ones where the sound in their ears hasn't been sorted properly. @Al Krow asked if there is a 'halfway house' the answer is no, if your in ears fit properly they should cut the outside sound to almost inaudible. The whole point is to cut out all the distorted unbalanced sound mess you get on stage and only hear a studio quality mix in you ears. If you can't get isolation or a good mix you aren't doing it properly and you won't like it. People can and do use in-ears half in and half out so they can hear the on-stage sound but that just increases the sound level and the in-ear sound from the buds is nasty and tinny because they aren't sealed. We've even had people who only put them in one ear.

 

Honestly can you remember seeing a major touring band who don't use in-ears. Do you think every single band are just going through the motions or are 'just not feeling it' when they are closing the main stage at Glastonbury (other large events are available) All the excitement coming from the crowd is still there, all the excitement of playing your music and seeing the response still happens, you are still doing the thing that makes all those people have a great time.

 

I'm not pretending there are no down sides to in ears, it takes time to get used to them. Longer for some than others. It takes as much effort to set up properly as any new skill, you have to put in the miles. If you go wired then you are tethered. It starts feeling very different and 'wrong' but ends up being a new normal.

 

On the plus side you won't lose your hearing, your band will sound better, you will play better, your audiences will have a better time. I don't want to invalidate anyone's personal experience, we all like loud sounds, plugging our first bass amp in and turning it up to maximum is a great experience and it is exciting and adrenaline pumping but going out night after night without hearing protection is going to damage your hearing, limit your experience of music and in the end give you a sense of isolation from friends and family and ultimately life as you hearing fades and the tinnitus rises. Choose wisely.

 

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2 hours ago, Phil Starr said:

... going out night after night without hearing protection is going to damage your hearing, limit your experience of music and in the end give you a sense of isolation from friends and family and ultimately life as you hearing fades and the tinnitus rises. 

 

Very Biblical. :D

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I think the key is to make sure you have an audience mic set up to help with the sense of isolation. When I first got my ACS hearing protection, I had that same feeling, remote from everything in the breaks between songs. I loved the fact that I could hear myself much better because of the reduced levels, but couldn’t get over the feeling of being uninvolved between songs. 
I’m dabbling more in the world of IEM and started like many of us with the KZ’s but I could never achieve total isolation with those, no matter what tips I used. I’m now using Sennheiser IE100’s on @warwickhunt’s recommendation, and the lower profile certainly suits my ears better, but the isolation still isn’t as good as a custom mould. So as a result, I generally only have my bass and a touch of vocals in my mix, and let the rest come through the lack of isolation. The upside is lower overall volume, and no ear fatigue. I’m sure my next step will be custom moulded in-ears but losing backline all together will need a serious FOH upgrade. 

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15 minutes ago, JPJ said:

I’m sure my next step will be custom moulded in-ears

I'm trying to find if Snugs will make something moulded that will work with Sennheiser IE100's, still waiting for them to get back to me but I'll let you know if they will.

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I am totally loving the IEM experiance and will not play without them from now on.

I recently did a gig using my Hofner CT500/1 violin bass and it sounded wonderful in my ears.

Using KZ and sonic foam tips is working perfectly too, maybe I'm lucky.

The bands that I work with are all IEM too except one, which does one big outdoor gig a year, all into the PA so I just set my own IEM up and they use floor monitors and again it works for me.

As a guitarist I understand that loud is great, it helps with getting your guitar to feedback and resonate better but in my duo (80s) I have to put up with the fact I can't get that experience, so I just play round that problem.

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1 hour ago, police squad said:

As a guitarist I understand that loud is great, it helps with getting your guitar to feedback and resonate better but in my duo (80s) I have to put up with the fact I can't get that experience, so I just play round that problem.

Digitech FreqOut

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I can't help but wonder whether there will come a time when audiences too are supplied with headsets at large gigs. How surreal would that be? Huge crowd, band silence in the arena as they jump about and sing out of tune. I wonder what the reaction would be if you told potential punters that this is how a gig would work. I'd hazard a guess that many of them would be horrified and would much rather prefer the rawness of soaking up a conventional gig at normal volume.

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