Live Sound.... More thoughts

Discussion in 'Studio & Stage' started by aristotle, May 2, 2016.

  1. aristotle

    aristotle New Member

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    We played a gig that was larger than usual this weekend. Much larger room, and a larger stage.

    I brought more PA equipment (a couple of extra mains), the plan being that I'd mic the amps and mic the entire drum kit. That’s normally what we do for bigger venues. It doesn’t necessarily make things louder, but the tried and true thinking on the subject is that you control stage volume by keeping things the same as usual, but use the PA to do the extra work.

    In practice, I’ve never been happy with that arrangement though. Maybe it’s because of the quality of the PA equipment that we use. We use QSC powered drivers and subs that sound fantastic for vocals, even with a bit of bass, kick drum and snare added to the mix. But mic’d guitar amps just sound tinny and cheap through the mains. And I’ve tried several varieties of mics, and I’m pretty sure that’s not the issue.

    So, before mic’ing up the amps, I went FOH and we did a quick sound check just to see where we were at, and it sounded fantastic. The extra two mains for the vocals just really brought them out front and center. And the guitars sounded great out front with the amps set to exactly the level that we want to hear back in the pocket (which for the other guitar player and me, means that each of us wants our own individual level to be significantly louder where we are standing individually.)

    It was probably the best live mix we had ever achieved. And I don’t think it was the larger room.

    Stage layout is shown in the pic below. The guitar amps are pretty much in the same position as they are for small club gigs, but admittedly spread out a bit more than usual. I don’t know… we definitely were standing farther forward than normal, so maybe that contributed to a different feel than normal.

    I’ve done the homework on what a live sound setup “should” be, but I just can’t make that work for us.

    Anybody else have any thoughts? As a side note, I brought a nice LP R9 for a Poison tune that requires a half-step-down tuning and as a backup to my DGT. The DGT broke a string half-way through the first song of the first set. The R9 sounded good, but boy, it's no DGT.

    [​IMG]
     
  2. Boogie

    Boogie SuperD

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    You know, you mention something that I thought about this last weekend after a small bar gig: I love playing next to our other guitarist but I don't like playing next to our other guitarist. On one hand, it's great to interact and feed off of each other's energy, but I really like my own monitor, aka, my own amp wash. For unusual reasons I wasn't able to setup on the opposite side of our other guitarist and triggered a little bit of volume wars. Despite sounding good out front, for our own sanity and lower stage volumes, we need to keep our distance.

    Bud, I'm jealous as hell of that huge stage. Sorry I couldn't have caught the show. I'm sure it killed. :cool: And I have no idea what the optimal live sound support system should be. Probably the opposite of what we do.
     
  3. LSchefman

    LSchefman Hears Tones

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    Gosh, that setup looks great!

    Here's my thinking:

    Part 1. Specialty, Unfamiliarity and Equipment are Problems.

    Live sound mixing is a thing. A specialty. And it's now sophisticated enough that a big time touring band will take a sound engineer who has worked with the band in rehearsals, knows what to mix, and makes the band happy. And the opening act in most tours doesn't even get this guy because they can't afford him, the headliners own his time. So they get the house's engineer.

    The opening act nearly always suffers at the hands of the house engineer, who is totally unfamiliar with their music, hasn't rehearsed with them, etc. unless the headliners are generous with their time.

    I remember being at a good-sized 6000 seat venue to see my son on tour with 30 Seconds To Mars (this was before he toured Europe the first time with Mars); they'd set him up to play keys and guitar for the opening act that toured with them; the second opening act was on their own. The sound for 30STM was phenomenal. Best I've ever heard in this venue where I've seen a lot of shows. The sound for the band my son was touring with was also quite superb. Why? The 30STM guys knew my son was in his home town, and let the touring sound guy do the audio as kind of a special thing. Of course, he'd seen all the shows a zillion times around the US, and got a great sound.

    The third band's sound was the usual iffy sound I hear from this venue. Unfamiliar with the band, the local sound guy just turned everything up and the mix was poor.

    At one level removed from touring bands, you have local bands. I feel sorry for the sound man at the local venue or bar. Getting good sound for a band's set is something that can't be done well in a ten minute soundcheck. Either the band, or the audience, or both, hate the poor guy. And the quality of the equipment is usually pretty poor, and the size of the room inadequate, to complicate things further.

    Part 2. It Can Make Sense to Leave Only the Vocals in the PA as the Solution.

    If you're doing sound for your own band, there's an advantage, except that you aren't as familiar with the venue, and haven't got all the gear to correct for the location like the pro sound guys do. So whether you have enough monitors, or big enough (or small enough) mains, subs, etc., is largely a matter of chance.

    It actually makes more sense to put the vocals in the PA where they won't compete with a bunch of instruments and drums in the mix, and do the instruments the old fashioned way: how they sound in the room, using things like amp volume controls, and real drumming dynamics, etc.

    This is why it was relatively easy to get a good sound back when I was a college kid (basically, the dawn of time); you got your vocal sound with the PA, there was some bleed of course from drums, bass, guitar and keys, and the amps we still use were designed to sound good with that kind of a setup. Even big time touring bands didn't mic up their cabs unless they were also making a live record until around the late 60s/early 70s.

    You'd play a venue, your vocals were in the PA that you brought and knew how to use, you'd accommodate your sound to the venue by hearing how it sounded in the room, and if the band was good, everything sounded darn good.

    I know most folks here weren't even born back then, but the fact is that live music sounded better in anything less than a movie theater sized hall back then because people weren't trying to squeeze a mix into a few small speakers incapable of handling it at high volume levels. And the spread of the sound from the amps, drums, etc, was more natural and fit in the room in a good way.

    This is no longer the case, sadly.

    Part 3. The Deal-breaker.

    Everyone thinks they're a giant touring band in an Arena, and tries to miniaturize that kind of setup. It doesn't work. At that point you've got the sound guy's mix competing with the natural sounds of the drums and amps in a small room! And of course, the sound guy's mix has to be louder than the actual instruments in order to even be heard! So he raises the volume to ear-splitting levels.

    Something's gotta give, and what happens is, usually that would be the turnout. Fewer people want to go to a small venue and hear live music. Patrons often will sit there with their fingers in their ears due to the concentrated, ear-splitting volume levels when it's not at all necessary. How many of your friends turn out to see all your band's shows? I'd imagine, not that many will go to more than a couple of shows. Is it that they're bored with you, or don't like the music? Well, maybe, but most likely there's the matter of how unpleasant live sound is these days, and how difficult it is to have fun in a venue where sound pressure levels are actually kind of painful!

    People will have all kinds of explanations for less live music, it's always DJs, or cheap bar owners, etc., getting the blame, and that's sometimes true, but I think bad sound is a big reason for that. It's just crazy!

    My wife literally will not go to see a band at a small venue. Not interested. Doesn't want a headache. I will, but I wear earplugs. WTF, do I want to spend a Saturday night in earplugs? Hell, no!

    Trying to mix and squeeze the live sound of a band into the typical small venue PA simply doesn't work, in my humble opinion. You can't put ten gallons of water into a five gallon jug (and don't you dare get all scientific on me, it's just an expression!).
     
    #3 LSchefman, May 3, 2016
    Last edited: May 3, 2016
    Screamingdaisy likes this.
  4. ozboy

    ozboy New Member

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    A very interesting topic. I play with some full time drummers and bass player occasionally and they always wear ear plugs. Even acoustic drums are mostly going to be over 100 db playing rock in say a 5 meter radius before they are amplified. This means as far as I can tell that if you regularly stand within a few meters of a drummer playing rock you may suffer accelerated hearing loss without plugs.

    I recently bought my own mixer a qu-pac which I use with Qsc powered speakers. You can mix from the Ipad app but in the end even in a small rehearsal room you can't be in two places at once, and what you hear is not what foh hears.

    People say that in ear monitors help but I have never used them and they are so expensive.

    Personally I wish electronic drums would be as good as acoustic drums and then volume levels could be better managed. Modern amps don't need to be that loud.

    Miking the amp is not going to make much difference on stage is it? You don't hear the foh mix unless your stage monitor is loud. I don't have enough experience to really appreciate the best way to do things.

    At small venues I guess you just don't want a rock band or even too many people on stage.
     
  5. Boogie

    Boogie SuperD

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    Les' old school stage mix description is almost exactly what my bands have employed for the past 10+ years. The key is keeping the drummer in check. If he's loud, we're all loud. Spreading out the guitars on stage helps, too. If you can hear yourself clearly, you aren't compelled to turn up. The pro groups learn to control play dynamics, and not turn up/down. Need less volume? Pick softer. Louder? Pick harder. There's less of a huge swing in the mix. You just have to listen and stay responsive. Read the crowd: if they're backing away, you're too loud. If they can have a conversation, you're probably good. Just pay attention.

    And I can't agree with this point strongly enough...the sound guy is an important member of the band. If you're lucky enough to have one, use them at every venue, big or small. Accommodating an empty or full room as the night progresses is as important as reasonable volume.

    Now, how do you get the optimal sound at a venue? I have no idea. Like Les, I sent my kid to get his audio engineering degree so other people can pay him during the day and I get a pro at night at a discount. ;)
     
  6. rugerpc

    rugerpc A♥ hoards guitars ♥A
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    I was going to get all science-y on you, but it was just an expression.

    Good stuff, Les.
     
  7. LSchefman

    LSchefman Hears Tones

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    Actually, Jamie got a degree in music, not audio engineering, but the misbegotten plot I hatched for him was cast aside. This is the thanks I get!

    Instead of joining my ad music business and doing all the work so I, Dad, could relax, count the money earned on his cool ad music scores, and enjoy life, as soon as he graduated he went to LA to do the real-deal record making thing.

    I blame the entire universe.

    Good luck with your sound man plans. ;)
     
  8. coyote

    coyote 408/1=

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    It drives me nuts when sound guys try to control the whole shebang. They try to make the band play as quietly as possible, then blast you out of the room with the PA. So often they forget that patrons are there to watch/hear the band, not the guy sitting behind the mixing board.

    I have done some sound in my past. My thinking on this has always been: get the band happy with their instrumental stage mix. Use the stage monitors to 'backfill' that so everyone onstage can hear everyone else. Next, add vox. Get the lead singers comfortable with what they are hearing. Add in backing vox.

    Now, is the band happy with their stage mix? Yes? GOOD. Because a great performance often depends on that.

    From there, the soundman's job consists of rolling that out to the audience. Nothing more, nothing less. Often at smaller venues all that's needed from the PA is to bring the vox out front, and fill in the bass a bit and bring the overall sound to the corners of the room.
     
  9. Otisblove

    Otisblove New Member

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    You bought a guitar to play a Poison tune?
     

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