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How loud is too loud?

Discussion in 'Live Sound [BG]' started by Lex Slade, Jan 7, 2014.

  1. Lex Slade

    Lex Slade

    Jul 16, 2013
    I started out my musical journey as a guitarist, but I recently joined a glam metal/hard rock band as a bassist. I've always loved the bass and had wanted to play it in a band, so of course I leapt at the chance. Because I've always wanted to play bass I've been taking a lot of care to work on my sound, my technique, etc. and just do a lot of experimentation.

    We haven't played any gigs yet, but we've had a bunch of practices in our guitarist's basement. The room has carpeting and a low drop-ceiling, and as such the guitarists really don't need to turn their amps up loud because it comes through very clearly. However at almost every practice I'm told I need to turn down. I stand in front of my amp (A small 50 watt 1x12 combo) and I turn it up enough so that I can hear it through the guitarists' wall of sound. But to the singer who stands further away it's too loud, and to a friend who was in the next room over he said he could hear the bass clear as a bell - In fact, this friend said that during one song where I use a heavily distorted Big Muff pedal he could hear every note I played, when to me it just blended in with the distortion from the guitars and I couldn't hear a thing from it. I'm assuming that bass frequencies travel better across distances and through walls than guitar frequencies, so it might be perceived as louder to someone further away than myself.

    I've heard it said that bass should be felt and not heard, and if you can actually hear it then it's too loud. Remember how I said I always wanted to play bass? None of the bassists I played with had my "dream" sound that I thought was a great bass tone for hard rock/punk/metal, like a mix of Mike Dirnt and Duff McKagan, really punchy and midrange-y. So I finally got a sound like that and it works with the heavy distortion the guitarists use, but it also cuts through a lot in the mix and every practice I'm asked a few times to turn down. We usually practice each song 2-3 times in a row to get them right, and each time I tried a different sound - Lowering the high mids, upping the lows, or just boosting the signal with the Big Muff with the tone set high to get a nastier tone. Laying off the highs and the mids immediately made the bass blend in to the sound more, even though I didn't touch the volume at all. The only problem was I couldn't hear myself and I know I was playing sloppily due to that.

    I think there's also a notion that bass SHOULDN'T be heard or be loud. For years I'd listen to albums and only focus on the drums and guitars, completely ignoring the impact of the bass. My singer is the ringleader of the band, and since he doesn't know any musical instruments I think he just assumes a bass player is mandatory but not necessary to the sound. In fact, this band's first album before I joined had really inaudible bass throughout the entire thing. I've done some recording with them since joining, and on one song I recorded with them there's a small bass-and-drum solo in the middle and they pushed my levels so far down you can barely hear it.

    So, for you guys who play hard rock and metal, how do you approach your sound and levels? Do you make yourself heard? Do you pull back and add to the atmosphere?
  2. If your ears ring or bleed, its way pass stupid loud. ;)
  3. lokikallas

    lokikallas Supporting Member

    Aug 15, 2010
    los angeles
    Tilt your cabinet back, or set it on a pedestal.
    old spice likes this.
  4. This. Tip it WAY back, so it points up at you. This way you'll be able to hear it as well as those who are further away from it.
  5. Yes ^
  6. BassCliff


    May 17, 2012
    So. Cal.

    Bass frequencies are longer and take more real distance to develop. That's why you still hear the bass booming even when you are farther away from the music source. Plus, when you're using a small amp sitting on the floor behind you, only your ankles can hear your sound. Unfortunately, most people don't have ears on their ankles. If the others are standing in front and farther away, of course they will be able to hear your amp better than you.

    When we rehearse in a circle I like for everyone to place their amp opposite themselves in the circle. Then your amp is firing back toward you and you can hear it better. Or tilt it up at your head.

    Our guitar player always has his amp on the floor right behind him. When he turns up loud enough so that he can hear himself sometimes it really pins my ears back and physically hurts.

    Protect your ears. You only have one pair. Anything over 98db is starting to do damage if exposure is prolonged.

    Thank you for your indulgence,

  7. spaz21387


    Feb 25, 2008
    Portland oregon
    Turn the bass down fake like you are playing and see if they notice?
  8. tonybassman


    Jul 27, 2011
    This sums it up for me.
    LiquidMidnight likes this.
  9. Rune Bivrin

    Rune Bivrin Supporting Member

    Oct 2, 2006
    Huddinge, Sweden
    And this is exactly why there is no bass from your head phones:rollno:

    This is yet another silly audio myth promulgated ad nauseam.

    If the bass is louder farther away it's because of interaction with walls resulting in cancelling and reinforcement of specific frequencies.
  10. Nashrakh


    Aug 16, 2008
    Hamburg, Germany
    Welcome to the wonderful world of redundant bassists. There is no cure, only despair.
    Gospel Bass Player likes this.
  11. soulman969


    Oct 6, 2011
    To answer your question OP the volume should be in balance with the rest of the band. I have a hard time visualizing a 50w 1x12 bass amp as being too loud in ensemble with guitars and drums unless your driving the living hell out of it with an overdrive pedal and THAT's what's making is as much annoying as it is loud.

    Any 1x12 bass amp that only puts out 50w is certainly gonna be "heard" before it's ever "felt". In a club or concert setting that's what the subs are for and they'll have far more than just 50w pushing them. Most 50w 1x12 combos should be adequate for rehearsals but barely adequate on stage as a personal monitor unless you get it up off the floor where you can hear it better.

    I'd suggest you all rearrange your positioning in rehearsal and get your overly sensitive singer out of it's direct path. Bass is non directional so if you have to point it at a wall. Sounds to me like someone is being a bit of a diva here. I've been a lead and backup vocalist in every band I've ever been in and some cases I've been singing standing directly in front of big 300w 8x10 SVT rigs and others powerful enough to make my pants legs flap from the air they move. A 50w bass combo is a small amp and it shouldn't be all that hard to control it's volume enough for you all to work around it.

    That's my honest opinion.
    Gospel Bass Player likes this.
  12. I was having a similar conversation with our guitarist recently, and yes it's a shame to try and have conversations like that steeped in misunderstandings. It ended up being that he more needed me to re-eq my sound rather than just turn down. 'Turn down!' can be the natural reflex when there's a problem with the sound in the mix of any given instrument, and while it may fix the problem, it will do so at a far greater cost than is necessary.

    I think the idea of the bass should be felt and not heard is ridiculous. I work hard, and I'm not going to play if I'm not going to be an audible, noticeable part of the sound. Maybe this sounds egotistical or self-centred, but I really don't think it is, as long as you do it right. There is most certainly a wrong was to do it, and I'm not saying overpower the mix and make everything sound bad, just that there's a way to have a good mix with nice present bass.

    The issue in my situation ended up being that I was using cabs that really emphasised the true bass frequencies, and that was really muddying up front of house. Cutting the bass more (I was already cutting, but not enough apparently), and really emphasising the low mids helped me get a sound that was present and articulate without compromising the mix. I ended up using a different cab as well, but both by amp eq and the natural eq of the cab, that's what I was doing.

    In a specifically metal context, there is NO reason (to me) why guitarists should get to eq selfishly, cutting all the mids and boosting the bass, and making you turn down to compensate. Again, my opinion, but I don't think there's ever a good reason why a bassist, or anyone else for that matter, should be buried in the mix for the sake of the band, it just shouldn't be necessary.

    EDIT: Didn't even see the part where you described your amp. All I can say is get a bigger one. A middy, overdriven-ish sound (which I gather you may be getting trying to get good stage volume at that wattage/cone area) isn't usually most people's idea of a good hard rock/metal tone, so what might be happening is that the singer is getting you to push your amp back down to it's cleaner, fuller territory without realising it. I mean, if it's all you've got and you can't upgrade, I don't know that there's that much you can do beyond do what the other members ask. Do you have any friends you could borrow a rig off to see if sometime bigger would help?
    LiquidMidnight likes this.
  13. Josh Thatguy

    Josh Thatguy Registered abUser

    Literally speaking, 122 bass-guitar-only db was too loud at an outdoor venue stage in Shreveport in 1997. The stage was in between two tall buidlings on either side, and looked out towards a bridge over a lake or river or I don't quite remember what body of water it was (but wish I could). Crrrrazy gating reverb effect from the buildings on either side, but it was a great sound to me.
    Anyway, what I DO remember is the look on the city codes&compliance guy's face, who was there with a db meter for the soundcheck at 4pm.
    It was Peter Steele's bass rig, and when the distorted open-E chord rang out, the codes guy looked as if he were about to
    1.Cry 2.Vomit 3.Poop 4.Get really pissed off 5.Lose his thumb because he was shaking it so hard giving the "down down down" symbol

    We all thought he was just being too picky.
  14. lundborg


    Apr 8, 2008
    I think your problem might be that you are competing with the guitarists in the higher midrange, that's why they ask you to turn down (i.e. more or less what Wolfgang is saying).

    This comes from having a bass that is strong in the midrange, and further emphasized if you use distortion (or have it for free with a weak amp). It is good to have midrange, but it needs to be used properly.

    If you listen to Duff McKagans tone on Appetite, it is carefully scooped in the midrange to allow room for the guitars. That allows it to be mixed high without messing up the blend.

    You might want to discuss with the guitarists if they should back off their bass knobs as well.

    As for reducing the low end, it might also be a good idea since it only adds boominess in a small room. Also as was mentioned, if you're on stage, better let the PA handle the lows (I've noticed occasionally in raw sound board recordings that my bass has been more or less missing in the mix due to too much bass in the backline).
  15. OMG I have totally done that.
    Guitarist was like 160 dB "yeah man turn it up" :rolleyes: yeah NO :scowl: what a douche
  16. ggunn


    Aug 30, 2006
    Austin, TX
    You are a converted guitarist, right? I feel your pain. Your problem may be (and probably is) a combination of things. What I can say is that in going through that process myself for a long time I constantly heard the same thing from bandmates in two bands. What was enlightening to me was that in listening to live recordings we made I discovered that I agreed with them even though it didn't sound that way to me while we were playing.

    To begin with, bass notes do not "develop" over distance. Discounting room reverberation effects the loudest any sound source of any frequency is is at the source.

    EQ may indeed be part of it, as could be that your amp is too small for the job. Both of those factors can restrict your contribution to the low end and when you turn up loud enough for you to hear yourself you are competing with the midrange instruments.

    But as a recently converted guitarist, a contributing factor may be that you just don't yet know how to listen for yourself in the mix, and when it sounds right to you while you are playing it is too loud for everyone else. It certainly was that way for me, and it took time and experience for me to get it right.

    Switching from guitar to bass isn't as easy as just getting a different instrument into your hands. It takes time and perseverance to become a bass player instead of a guitarist playing bass notes.

    EDIT: I just wanted to add that you must be very careful about using distortion on bass. Doing so widens your acoustic footprint and when combined with what I have already said it can make you very obnoxious in the mix and sounding "too loud" to everyone else. What sounds great to you when you are playing alone quite often just serves to muddy things up when you are playing with others. This can be especially true if you are playing with guitarists who are using a lot of distortion. Sometimes it is best to leave the dirt to them and put a clean tone underneath them.

    EDIT2: The same is true for guitarists; what sounds cool and thunderous to them when playing alone, especially if they are using a lot of distortion (and especially if they are also using octave boxes to fatten up their low end) may not work in a band setting. They may be crowding the bass out of the mix. It is a nontrivial task for a band to arrange themselves such that everyone can be heard and there are no volume battles for space in certain bands of the sound spectrum. It may not all be you that is the problem.
    LiquidMidnight likes this.
  17. Cliff, this simply isn't true.
  18. Bass freq's travel at the same speed as all sound does, and you're confusing sound travel with bass buildup.


    +1. Yep
  19. Can you point to some good sources to quote next time this comes up in my band? Our guitarist says things like this and buys into a lot of different myths I've heard, and I like busting them both for practical reasons and just to stop the spread of ignorance. Being able to point at some science or a good article would be useful.
  20. ggunn


    Aug 30, 2006
    Austin, TX
    Put the shoe on the other foot. Challenge him to come up with a credible source that supports this myth. I have an upper division acoustical engineering textbook (I made an A in the class, BTW) that has the equations that show it, but they are kind of hard to understand by non engineering types. Suffice to say that sound pressure level falls off as the point of measurement moves away from a source of acoustical energy in predictable, mathematically describable ways. Frequency is not a term in the equations that describe them and SPL is never higher anywhere in the sound field than it is at the point of the source.

    Room effects can indeed cause nodes to appear in some locations which sound louder at some frequencies than in others, but that's another issue.