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Band + Venue = Quality of Show

September 18, 2011 1 comment

I went to a show a few weeks ago that I intended to review. I was looking forward to it. The bill had a good local band, and a national headliner that was rumored to have a strong live performance.

Unfortunately, the performance was marred by such terrible sound, that I couldn’t bring you an objective review. Because I work with local venues, I can’t get away with calling them out. I have, however, come up with a different topic to talk about.
Let me start by analyzing this specific example. The opening acts were mixed by the house sound tech. The digital console in front of him is more expensive than your car. The PA system is an industry standard, and is correctly configured for that room. The room is a challenge – aren’t they all – but all of the tools needed to overcome them are readily available. The house sound guy was relatively new to the venue, so I’ll cut him some slack. Really, the only issue I took with him was his inability to locate the guitar faders. There were no guitars, except for what was coming off the stage. This guitarist is one of the best local players, and you could tell by his gear and performance that he has a lot invested in his sound. Oh well…
So then the national act takes the stage, with their own sound guy. One would assume that he had advanced the venue and knew what kind of gear was being used. More than likely, he’d been able to specify what console he used. The first thing he did was to pull up a vocal preset that he probably uses in every room. It was a Phil Collins slap, but with a long, warm reverb, The type that makes it sound like you’re in a wooden baseball stadium. He was able to find the guitar fader, and he dialed in a pretty good tone. Then he took the master fader and goosed it 20%.
The act I was so anticipated took the stage. They dropped the opening note, and turned into a hyper mess of white noise and wailing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I left after they played their single, which thankfully was 5 songs into their set. The bartender even said, “I sent someone to tell them to turn it down, but… ”

So what do you do? Here’s my suggestion:
– If you’re at the mercy of the house sound guy, you’ve gotta have an in-tune friend or roadie who can get word to you on stage. This person is not there to suggest an EQ boost to the lead guitar, but is empowered to let the band know about any serious issues. If the guitar player says, on an open mic, “Yo dude… no one can hear the guitars,” the advice comes with more authority than the amateur mixers in the audience.
– If you’re touring with a sound guy, you’ve got to make sure they’re flexible. Today’s digital consoles make it all too tempting to go with what worked last night. Get a sound check, use it, and dial it in. In my case, the band’s talent and effort were incinerated by a db hungry engineer.
I mix live sound. I mix bands with substandard gear who want to be as loud as possible. In my primary venue, I deliver 120db @ 1m. It’s a deep, wooden structure that can take it. If the back, brick wall is 50ft from the array, pay attention! I like it loud, but I don’t want to feel microwaved.

No artist wants to leave the stage to learn that the reason the crowd didn’t connect is because they weren’t given the opportunity to appreciate the full presentation. Keep this in mind – the FOH engineer is, for about an hour, a fully pledged member of the band. Make sure they’re on board.

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