Take Your Mixes To The Next Level

Thursday, November 25, 2010

5 Reasons Why Concerts Sound So Bad

Happy Thanksgiving for those of you celebrating the holiday in the U.S. I thought I'd repost something from a couple of years ago for the holiday. This is a pet peeve of mine regarding the bad live sound that we're forced to endure way too much these days.
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The majority of concerts really sound bad these days and not because of the venue acoustics. It's the mix.

I believe that an entire generation of soundmen grew up learning the wrong way - that the kick drum and snare are the most important part of a mix. While that may be true in some small way when mixing a record (it's really important but not the most important), it's an entirely different thing mixing live sound, where the vocal should be king.

Common sense says that the softest thing on the stage (the vocals) should get the most amplification and attention. After all, that's really what people pay to hear (and who they come to see), not the kick drum. And the overuse of subwoofers just makes a boomy venue all the more boomy.

So here are five reasons why concerts don't sound as good as they could:

1. The vocal isn't featured. The vocalist is usually the main reason why we're there. Mix it so we can hear and understand it.

2. Over-reliance on subwoofers. In real life the only time you hear 20-30Hz is during a thunderstorm, earthquake or other huge natural phenomena. Yes you want to make the music sound bigger than life by adding in all that bottom end, but it shouldn't be at the expense of intelligibility.

3. Too much kick. A function of the above two items, many soundmen seem to have a myopic vision of the kick drum, spending way more time trying to make it sound "big" at the expense of everything else on the stage. Believe me, most drummers at the concert level are using drums that sound great already. It doesn't take that much effort to make them sound good.

4. Low intelligibility. Again a function of the above items, many concert soundmen seem happy if you can just hear the vocal. We want to understand every word. Let's spend some time on that instead of the kick.

5. Bad mixing habits. It seems like many soundmen never listened to the CD of the band they're mixing. Sure it's different mixing live. Sure you have some wacky venues to contend with. But 1, 2, 3, and 4 on this list leads to #5. Now's the time to break the cycle.

I'm sure this list won't change the mind of a current concert soundman. But if just one kid starting out decides that it might not be the best thing to emulate that guy, we'll all be the better for it.

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8 comments:

Anonymous said...

So, so true.

Anonymous said...

If you want to hear what good concert mixing should sound like check out the Roger Waters "The Wall" tour. Trip Khalaf is the FOH engineer. Trip mixes the show on Midas two analog consoles and a Yamaha PM5d for surround and FX. It was the best sounding show I have heard in a long long time.
I am a remote recording engineer (Record Plant Remote) and hear live shows in the controlled acoustics of my mobile. Most live shows I sit in the audience for leave me cold. The exceptions are few and far between.
Another great FOH engineer is Steve Law who is currently out with Keith Urban. That show also sounded amazing.
Kooster McAllister

Anonymous said...

If you want to hear what good concert mixing should sound like check out the Roger Waters "The Wall" tour. Trip Khalaf is the FOH engineer. Trip mixes the show on two Midas analog consoles and a Yamaha PM5d for surround and FX. It was the best sounding show I have heard in a long long time.
I am a remote recording engineer (Record Plant Remote) and hear live shows in the controlled acoustics of my mobile. Most live shows I sit in the audience for leave me cold. The exceptions are few and far between.
Another great FOH engineer is Steve Law who is currently out with Keith Urban. That show also sounded amazing.
Kooster McAllister

Anonymous said...

i just went to see roger waters "the wall" in dallas at AA Center....great sound...great show.
having said that...too many bands are at the mercy of whoever is assigned to said show at whatever stage you're performing on...
if it's at all possible..hire a sound man just like a player in the band & pay him as a member so he does every gig with you & knows exactly what you sound like & what every player on stage wants to hear in his monitor & what you want to sound like out front...
it does not matter how good you are if you turn youself & your instrument over to someone at the mixing console who can't adjust the picture on a black & white 12" TV....

Brad said...

Low end is a HUGE problem in live shos today. I went to the Experience Hendrix Tour earlier this year in Atlanta at the Fox Theatre and the mains sounded like they had thick blankets thrown over them. The low end was so loud, compressed and splattered it was a mess. The mids were barely audible and the highs were non existent. The guy was mixing with what looked to be a digital board in tandem with a computer. I've heard shows in the Fox before and believe me, the room is not bad. I can't believe anyone got paid for mixing that show. I heard many people people complaining.

Brian Hazard said...

I don't even bother going to shows anymore, for the reasons you described, but also because it's just so damn loud. It forces me to wear my ER-25s, which cuts even more of the highs and overbalances the kick and sub bass mud. And still my ears ring. Not worth it.

Dusty Wakeman said...

When my outlaw country band, the Sin City All Stars, play shows, I have often asked the sound guy to turn the subs off. It's about the vocals and guitars, not the toms and kick!

Anonymous said...

As an avid concert goer, I love hearing as well as feeling the kick, especially at hard rock shows. As far as vocals needing to be out front, for the most part this is true but for some guitar oriented bands, the vocals are secondary. I hate going to a hard rock show where the guitars (which are supposed to carry the melody and be powerful) are buried and the only thing I can hear are vocals.

I have also experienced the occasional sound man who (self admittedly) has lost certain frequencies in his hearing after years on the road with metal bands such as Exodus and therefore is mixing live shows with certain frequencies boosted or cut, making the mix painful or muddy.

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