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.
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.
The other day we listened to John Bonham play a version of Bernard Purdie's "Purdie Shuffle" on Led Zeppelin's "Fool In The Rain." Here's the late, great Toto drummer Jeff Porcaro explaining how he adapted the beat to use on Toto's big hit "Rosanna."
Porcaro was one of the most recorded drummers in history, working on huge albums for every major music star in the business during the 1980's. He died of a heart condition in 1992, but you can experience a little of his greatness here.
Ringo Starr is one of the most underrated drummers in music, but he's always been not only a solid performer but an innovative one as well. As this isolated drum track from Abbey Road's "Come Together" shows, you could always expect something that was uniquely him. Here are a few things to listen for.
1) It's fun to listen to the banter before the song begins. Once again, it shows the boys having fun. All too often the studio is too much like work these days.
2) Listen to how muffled the toms are, which is a result of the use of tea towels draped over them. I think the snare had a towel on it as well, but you can still hear a lot of the snap.
3) While drum sounds were evolving at the time, Ringo's kit was still far from the typical drum sound we're used to today, especially the kick. A smaller drum sound was more the norm back then, although Ringo's sound was still a bit larger than most drummers of the time.
4) Listen to Ringo's fills into and during the solos. No one else plays like him.
This week we'll look at drummers on The Big Picture. First up is Led Zeppelin's John Bonham on the song "Fool In The Rain" from the 1979 In Through The Out Door album, which was the last single that the band released before Bonzo's death.
The first half of the song is based around a beat made popular by the famed funk drummer Bernard Purdie call the "Purdie Shuffle," a beat he used so effectively on Steely Dan's Babylon Sisters.The 2nd half of the tune is a samba feel, which made it impossible for the band to play live since it required bassist/keyboardist John Paul Jones to play multiple instruments at the same time. Here are some things to take note.
1) This clip isn't the final take since the album cut is a minute or so longer.
2) The isolation is great, since you can only hear the rest of the band at the intro of the 2nd half samba part. I'm not sure, but this part may have been cut as an overdub.
3) Like all of Bonzo's drum tracks, there's plenty of room sound thanks to the distant miking technique that he preferred.