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Comment on bass through the PA

Discussion in 'Amps and Cabs [BG]' started by Larry Kaye, Mar 4, 2004.

  1. Larry Kaye

    Larry Kaye Retailer: Schroeder Cabinets

    Mar 23, 2000
    Cleveland, OH
    I went to hear Coco Montoya last night here in Cleveland. The bassist Steve Evans, was nice enough to invite me down to hear them he had answered a gear for sale ad I put up. Very nice guy and a solid player for sure.

    Although each of the players in Coco's band had their own backline amplification, all were put through the PA too. Steve had a tremendous stage setup with a couple of preamps, power amp, and 3 Bergantino cabinets (2 112's and a 322 I believe).

    I initially stood off to the side of the stage behind the PA speakers. The band was balanced, Steve's tone was full and powerful, I could hear all the drummer's drums, the key's, the vocals, and Coco's vintage "stratish" sound. They really sounded good, tight, together....everything was extremely cool.

    BUT......then I go out into the room and like usual?, you hear the lead vocals plain as day (which is good), you hear the guitar, you hear the bass drum like it's never been heard before, but you don't hear the rest of his set, the bass guitar is totally burried in the mix...you can't hear any single note..., the key's are burried also, (he was a damn good player too!) except his solo's were almost on top, but not quite.

    What I'm wondering is why the freakin' hell do soundmen put the bass drum up so loud? I thought that the rule of thumb was that the bass drum should be even slightly less volumewise than the bass guitar in a live, concert mix? Their drummer also was really good/solid but the only thing you could hear was the bass drum. The band wasn't playing hip hop, rap, or some other style that the overbearing bass drum may be the default mix nowadays. They were playing blues. Although they were quite loud overall, the sound of the high end of the PA was clean. Again, the guitar sounded fantastic if not also a little too loud, even on solo's.

    There seems to be a nagging problem with almost every live performance I've heard in the last 10 years (except my band of course!!! ;) where, whether mic'ed up, direct, or just using the backline amp and speakers, the bass just gets burried. This includes concerts featuring Victor Wooten, Ray Brown, Jamie Haslip, Nathan East, Scott Ambush and other really good players I can't remember their names.

    It's reminescent of when I've done recordings, the studio tech would take literally hours trying to make that darn ole bass drum sound "great" but would only take 2 minutes getting the bass guitar working.

    My Suggestion to all touring bassists that have the luxury of doing their own soundcheck with the band: Spend the $300 for a wireless unit and sit by the board when they set up your sound and the band's mix, and make sure every note that you play can be heard along with felt. Make sure that the mix off stage sounds like the mix on stage. Make sure that you are as loud if not louder than the bass drum. Make sure that all the drummer's set can be heard...those are his/her notes. Make sure that once more of an eveness is struck between you and the bass drum that the both of you aren't burying the rest of the instruments in the band.

    Maybe if more of us start demanding more from your soundmen and we educate them as to how WE want us to sound, at some point more of our bass playing will be heard, not just be a rumbly mess.

  2. Subculture13

    Subculture13 Jamming Econo

    Apr 9, 2003
    Toronto, Ont. Canada
    Great advice, especially about the wireless. If you cant afford a wireless, than at least buy one REALLY long cable so you can walk out front anyway. You don't have to use it live, but at least you can hear things out front.

    I play live and bring my own mic for my bass cabinet. The only way to get my tone the way I want it is to mic myself up with a mic that I selected to help capture my tone. I have a small piece of tape marking the sweet spot on one of the speakers, that way I always know where it goes too.
  3. Munjibunga

    Munjibunga Retired Member

    May 6, 2000
    San Diego (when not at Groom Lake)
    Independent Contractor to Bass San Diego
    I saw the same thing at a local outdoor concert. I went down and looked at the board (Midas Venice 240), and the fader jock had the bass guitar and the kick drum EQ'd the same. This is just stupid. You've got to give them each their own sonic space, or the kick drum will gobble up the bass.
  4. Phat Ham

    Phat Ham

    Feb 13, 2000
    It's called "lead kick drum syndrome". Lots of sound engineers, if they deserve to be called that, try to cover up their lack of an ear by turning the kick way up in the mix. They think it "sounds cool".
  5. I second that motion!
  6. Big String

    Big String Supporting Member

    Apr 22, 2000
    Northwest Indiana
    I'm with you Brothers...
    I've heard it to many times myself.
    A friend of mine who comes to see our band and is also a MONSTER drummer ALWAYS says the same thing to me. "You guys sound great, BUT, I can never distinguish the bass notes. The Bass is there, but just disappears in the KICK drum, which is usually too on top." He further commented, "you've got the greatest sounding bass gear I've ever heard, it's a shame no one can appreciate the beautiful tones in the audience." This really angers me to no end. I've spent thousands on great gear and I'm the only one that enjoys it on stage most of the time. :meh:

    It reminds me of a post a while back where one of our TB Bros said all of this great gear is just an expensive stage monitor.... That is why it is so important to him to have a great sounding bass, at least that part might ge into the mix.

    OK, done whining here.
    Have a good weekend ALL.
  7. Larry Kaye

    Larry Kaye Retailer: Schroeder Cabinets

    Mar 23, 2000
    Cleveland, OH
    I would of thunk this topic might have generated more "interest". I don't know all of you, but there's a couple of ya' that are veteran players like I am.

    Let's open things up to those who aren't amplified through the PA. You guys (including me) have the same issue in many cases although it's not always the bass drum that's causing the problem. Are we just too timid a group or something? I mean, I don't play or like hearing someone playing a Bootsy Collins in your face, the only instrument that's important is bass style. It gets boring very quickly. So does a mile a minute slapping style. I feel the more solid a player you are, the more important it is to be heard.

    In order for me to do that and to make it affordable, I've had to reduce my investment in basses (now use G&L L2500 Korean version for less than $500 instead of an F bass that cost me well over $2700), a used Epifani cabinet or 2 Low Down Sound cabs (instead of two EA cabinets that cost me $1350), both of which were in the $600-700 range total including delivery. My head a Sunn 1200s I got for in the mid-high 800's at Samash in a closeout 4 years ago.

    So what I'm saying is that for less than the price of one used Sadowsky, I have a really nice sounding (not the greatest finish or fret dressing but it'll work) traditional looking 5 string, a very powerful head with some really nice features (no it's not all tube or boutique/hifi sounding), and an absolutely tremendous sounding speaker cab or two cabs that put out a nasty amount of booty.

    I go to clubs where the bassists are using their "cheaper" basses, just like me, but are using old Peavey 115's and trying to get them to sound good through a PA or not, pitted up against Marshall 412's or Mesa amps? These guys are not 18 year old's struggling financially kids. These guys are 45+ years old.

    Guess what? I have no idea what they're playing...it's just burried in the mix, but not just by the bass drum being over mic'd.

    Yeah, everyone's got money issues, including me. I've sold off some REALLY nice stuff to just get by financially. Whether you like my style or not, you can at least hear me and make a judgement.

    I think it's not just soundmen that need some education on mixing bands, especially those doing 70's and 80's classic rock and general Motown, Disco, and R&B, but the drummers too. Every drum and cymbal needs to be heard, not just the bass drum. The drummer shouldn't be louder than the bass player, especially in the above types of music. The bass guitar drives those styles, not the bass drum. Listen to the mix on the recordings. Add some more moderness and technology to your tone to sound "crisper" or "cleaner", but use the mix/volume from the recording you're copying as the default. If you're gonna change something, try changing the tone slightly, not the volume...especially on bass...work with the tone.

  8. Mark Reccord

    Mark Reccord Supporting Member

    Am I the only soundman that can strike a balance between the kick and the bass so that both can be heard properly? Sometimes it seems like I am, though there are more out there. Lead kickdrum syndrome is really pervasive though....
    I see guys spending 15 minutes on the kick, and pulling all the midrange out on the graphics so that it 'sounds right.' Then they wonder why they can't get clear vocals. :rolleyes:
    I've got more comments on this but I'm at work so i have to keep it short....
  9. mr e

    mr e

    Nov 17, 2003
    Bass through the PA is a great idea. Be certain that the PA being used is capable of reproducing your frequencies. Using a large diaphragm microphone to capture the tone of a player’s cabinet, although warm, and rich, is not as affordable, or easy as ‘going direct.’ If your amp head/preamp does not have a balanced direct line out, there are a number of affordable DI boxes on the market that can withstand the hardship of the road.

    Moving on…

    During the day I work with a Soundcraft K2 40/8
    At night I work with my Fender P Special

    I can’t believe all the trash talk about sound engineers…

    Larry Kaye -
    1. These players you mentioned have professional engineers that tour with them,
    but not necessarily an audio package.
    Perhaps your local venues need to upgrade their systems.
    2. If a studio tech takes hours focused on the kick drum and a moment on the bass,
    perhaps you have the wrong tech.
    Speak up, it’s your money, and more importantly, it’s your recording.
    3. The mix on stage will never sound like the FOH, nor should it.
    The onstage mix is for the musician, the FOH is for the patron.
    4. Educate your engineer is where we find agreement.
    I’ll suggest: hire your own!

    Renfield -
    Thank you for bringing responsibility to this forum.
    We can all take a lesson from you.

    Munji –
    1. You are right;
    the point of engineering sound is to allow each instrument life within its frequency range, relative to the entire mix.
    2. ‘fader jock?’ Don’t you know?
    …old bass players never die; they just become sound guys…

    P-Ham & P-sycho -
    Do you fellas even know what a symbiotic relationship is? Here are two examples: Bass and Kick,
    plus Sound engineer and performing musician.
    Help your engineer help you.
    Tell them what would be best for your band.

    Big String -
    Give your engineer this link.
    Soon your notes and the kick drum will live in harmony.
  10. If we're going to get all huffy and start posting qualificatons, my last PA gig was on a Allen Heath ML5000 72/12 (and the rest of the system I built, BTW) and I currently mix for a over a hundred thousand people EVERY DAY on a Wheatstone TV600 32/8, so I'd venture that I know what I'm talking about.

    ...unless your amp's sound is big part of your tone. Then even a Countryman is going to be nothing but buzzing and clicking by the time the Korn addicted soundguy gets it through the monitors.

    At my last PA gig, the monitor board was a Soundcraft 48/16 and FOH and montiors were both run by the same engineer.

    Maybe it's because most of them are unqulaified egomaniacs who won't even consider anything other than "their" mixes! I worked with Travis Tritt's former monitor engineer for awhile. He was deaf as a cob, hated bass in the PA and LOVED to put a 6 dB spike at 4 kHz in everything because he'd blown out his ears from toking out on one too many wedges, also always set the high pass filter for bass at 50 Hz. Said it made it sound better because bass was at 100 Hz. Now tell me that idiot deserves respect.

    That comment alone proves you've never done any touring relying on house systems. Venue owners are cheap, and they could care less about the quality of the PA. Upgrade? That costs money, and they're in the business to make money, not spend it.

    Chances are, the mic engineer is also the mix engineer. Pissing him off is not a good idea. The engineering decision for personell should be made well in advance of the session, preferably, it should be a studio qualification.

    I wouldn't say it always shouldn't. Not every performer is a bluegrass volume junky who wants 5000 watts per wedge so they can blow their hair with thei mandolin tone. If there is a good onstage mix, then reproducing it in the house should be MUCH easier, and it doesn't hurt anyone (except maybe the soundguy's ego about how to "mix" a room.)

    'Cause the patrons couldn't possibly appreciate the same mix, right?

    It's not an option unless you're a major headliner or financing your own tour.

    It is NOT the bass player's resposibility to present a good house mix! The bass player is supposed to play the bass, not babysit an incompetent Soundguy.

    Most of the sound guys I know couldn't play a radio and swear that "music" and "sound" have nothing to do with each other. :rolleyes:

    If you're like most FOH people I've heard, you need to revisit your definintion of "symbiotic." Maxxing out your subs for the sake of 'boom' is childish. Symbitotic means mutually beneficial, not the kick is second only to the lead guitar and vocal and the bass is some wispy afterthought.

    If he or she can't present a studio quality balanced mix or a close approximation thereof, they have no business pushing faders. There will always be disagreements on taste, but the crap I hear live at most concerts is unnacceptable. It's funny, the RHCP sounded terrible through a huge PA the last time I saw them, but Nashville Pussy sounded awesome through an underpowered piece of crap local club PA. Guess who I go see and who I don't?
  11. gfab333


    Mar 22, 2000
    Honolulu, Hawaii
    I've made similar observations, both when sitting in the audience as well as when performing with my band.

    Most recently, I went to a Tower of Power concert. Their performance and musicianship was outstanding, but the sound of the bass and kick drum was terrible. Kick drum had a big loud boomy tone and you could barely make out Rocco. Up close to the stage, they sounded great.

    Many of the previous posts have good suggestions on resolving this problem. Maybe another one is that more bassplayers need to become sound engineers.
  12. mr e

    mr e

    Nov 17, 2003
    you got me P-sycho,
    you sure are a master debater

    but, i truly am sorry that you hurt inside
  13. Don't come on here with a know-it-all attitude, call me out, and then whine about how I respond. You whipped yours out first; don't cry cause mine's bigger. :rolleyes:
  14. Petebass


    Dec 22, 2002
    QLD Australia
    It's this simple..........

    I think it's pretty safe to say that most of us on this board have spent countless hours refining our bass tone. How many hours do you think a typical sound engineer has spent listening to basses? It's not much, that's for sure. It amazes me how one engineer after the other can make my stingray sound like a P bass. It really amazes me - because I tried it at it still sounded like a stingray. I must really suck as a soundguy :)

    I've found the situation is worse at with recording engineers. In a lot of ways I blame them for the sound pulled by their live counterparts. The poor buggers are just reproducing what they hear in mainstream recordings.

    Soundguys are like basses, or amps. Test drive a few different ones until you find one that you really like. Then latch on and never let go. Build a relationship, pick each other's brains, work with each other rather than against each other.
  15. Blues Bass 2

    Blues Bass 2 Supporting Member

    Oct 3, 2001
    Davenport Iowa
    Coco Montoya is one of my favorites and his bass player does have a great solid tone,at least on recordings.Too bad about the house mix but at least you got to hear what he really sounded like.I have to say that I also haven't been to too many concerts in the last ten years or so that the drums didn't drown out the bass guitar.The times that I've heard really good bass tone have been at clubs where the bass player has a nice rig and a good ear.

    In my band I'm lucky because we have our own guy to run sound and he has a pretty good ear for the mix.I almost always play without PA support but the drums always go through the FOH so the sound guy and me talk during breaks to make sure I'm heard.When I do go through the FOH I give them the output from the post EQ on my RBI preamp to make sure I'm getting close to what I'm hearing on stage,at least at the board.On stage I use an Eden 210 and one or two 112 cabinets with about 900 watts and boost the mids and highs some to cut.I never have to turn up very loud so I guess I'm pretty lucky.
  16. What do you call a drummer without a gig? A SOUND MAN! To many guys who call themselves sound engineers, Kick drum and bass guitar sound the same. There ears don't differentiate between the two. Another big problem that a sound engineer can't controll, however, is sound cancellation between the back-line and the fronts. This is most noticiable when you are dead infront of the cabs. The time alignment between the back-line and the fronts is so far off that the bass disappears.
  17. Let me add to the pile-on. I can think of only one concert I have ever seen that stands out in my memory for the quality (i.e. good) of the sound. I saw the Eagles (Joe Walsh era) in a 15,000 seat coliseum style venue circa 1978. All of the mains were flown (first time I had seen that - usually the mains were in 2 huge monolithic pillars at the front of the stage - which blocked the vision for 1/3 of the audience).

    I've talked to people since then who complained about the sound - not the quality, but the volume. I guess they were right - it was unbelievably loud - but I didn't notice. Why, you may ask? BECAUSE THE SOUND GUY KNEW WHAT HE WAS DOING, THAT'S WHY!!!! Everything was perfectly balanced - it was like listening with headphones.

    When a band sounds too loud to me, invariably it's not because of the level, but because of the shi**y mix. I agree with someone else that too many sound guys work to the mix THEY want to hear - so if they love Death Metal, that's what you're gonna sound like. That's just what I want us to sound like - Elmore James plays Metallica (I know - they're probably not considered Death Metal - but who cares).

    I went to see a local show horn band - 3 female vocalists up front. Motown/Supremes etc. The sound guy had two huge 2x18 woofs cranked up to sphincter release level. All you could hear was bass guitar with some tinny vocals on top. I should say, all you could FEEL was bass guitar. You could neither hear nor distinguish a damned thing. Oh yeah - you could also hear the tenor sax loud and clear - it's his band.

    My serious playing days were when the PA was strictly for vocals - nothing else. Most of the time you didn't even have the luxury of monitors - so you had to have the tone and level from the stage. Your stage mix WAS the FOH mix.

    But our band has always been lucky. Our drummer studied electronics in high school and college, and has been running his own repair shop for 25 years. He is the local "go-to" guy for serious musicians and stores. (Aside - he did an emergency repair on Coco Montoya's Twin a few years back when CM was touring with John Mayall). He also worked as a recording engineer for a few years, is a frustrated bass player, and he has the best set of ears in the band. So, he is the one to ride herd on the sound guy when we need that done.

    P.S. How do you tell when the stage is perfectly level?

    The drummer is drooling out of both sides of his mouth. (Yeah, yeah, it's an old one - but we were talking about drummers ...)
  18. I've experienced my share of bad sound, both as a listener and as a player. This is not a slag of sound engineers as a group: a good one (and they do exist) is a sheer delight to work with. It's just that IMO the prevailing standard is not what it should be. One of my favorite sound memories was looking over at the monitor engineer at a fairly sizable festival--and seeing the guy asleep, dead to the world, over the monitor board. Not that he'd been much good while awake. Apparently he was the brother-in-law of the sound company's owner. That's far from the only thing I've seen like that.

    You don't have to be a touring fulltime pro to have your own sound person. You just have to decide to do it. When I was doing more touring around on a part-time basis a few years ago, my band made the decision that we were going to carry our own guy and treat him like the 6th member of the band. It was the smartest thing we ever did. Especially because a lot of the work we did was at festivals, where you typically don't get to soundcheck and then leave everything just the way it is. More often, you get a soundcheck, but then there are more soundchecks and performances before you actually hit the stage, and all the settings change, so whatever you set up at the check has to be rebuilt. In that setting, it really helps to have a guy who knows, without asking, what you like in your monitors and how you like it, what you want to sound like, what happens at what points in the songs, etc.
  19. Munjibunga

    Munjibunga Retired Member

    May 6, 2000
    San Diego (when not at Groom Lake)
    Independent Contractor to Bass San Diego
    Guilty. I mix both of my bands from on stage, usually. I have the bassist from another band mix us from out front at larger gigs and outdoors. I've been beefing up my system lately to enable me to do the PA for other groups/situations.

    It's really fun to get the mix so you can hear every single instrument and every single vocalist. At my last PA job, I got a real crisp kick drum with the right thump, but had to push the mids on the bass because he had his stage amp in an extreme smiley-face. The DI on his SWR amp was switchable from pre- to post-EQ, so I just took it pre and sat him right in the middle of the mix. Their manager said he couldn't hear the kick at sound check (which was silly ... it just wasn't booming), so I boosted the lows long enough to satisfy him, the re-EQ'd after he left. We got a lot of positive feedback from the players and the audience after the show.

    I know a fair amount about audio mixing, but I hang out over at ProSoundWeb now, and have learned how much I don't know, which is a lot. We'll get there.
  20. It's quite simple, mr e.

    We (as bass players, who also attend live shows for enjoyment) cannot believe all the trashy FOH bass tone we hear, from top-grade acts using top grade soundsystems (presumably operated by top grade engineers).

    mr e, apparently the only shows you hear are the ones you are mixing, because it's not difficult to find a live act with pathetic FOH representation of the bass player.

    I must thank you for the rest of your post, the opinions and tips you offered are great advice and I for one appreciate the info.

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