Rant about isolation for live sound

Discussion in 'Live Sound [BG]' started by JimmyM, Oct 24, 2021.

  1. JimmyM


    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Yamaha, Ampeg, Line 6, EMG
    I’m sorry but I just don’t like it.

    For one thing, I don’t want to have to listen to the other instruments in my monitor (or IEM on the 3 gigs I’ve done using them). I want to hear my vocal and a little bit of everyone else’s vocals and I want to hear them play thru their own amplification, especially me. I dislike hearing bass in my monitor intensely.

    Second, I have heard some amazing bands have amazing sound back in the 70s and 80s right up till today with very loud stage volume. It can totally be done, although There is a potential for ear damage and I don’t recommend it without hearing protection, as well as the potential for getting fired from any gig I’ve done in a very long time. But don’t tell me it can’t be done. Seen it happen way too much. Did it my own self at times. Tried not to be painful about it onstage or blow the room out, but we weren’t quiet. I have also heard many dull sounding mixes on silent stages. And PAs for larger venues back in the 70s and 80s sucked compared to the more modern line arrays with subs arranged for maximum and even projection of low lows. Ampless stages, to me, sound too clinical to me. Not into it personally.

    Third, I have heard some amazing sounding mixes from bands who used their amps and unmiced drums to fill the room and a vocals only PA, including several I’ve worked with. To me it’s the live equivalent of stereo panning, but not as difficult to hear the stereo effect thru the whole room, as opposed to the PA, where stereo panning doesn’t work unless you’re in the middle or close to it.

    Fourth, those of you who say nobody in the audience hears your amp like there’s some sort of invisible force field at the lip of the stage are fooling yourselves. I have done gigs where I have used my little 25w 108 combo due to size and sight line limitations as a monitor while DIing to quite substantial PAs and you could hear it plain as day thru the live mics. Don’t believe me? Try it yourself. Go out front and listen to it without other mics on, then listen to it with mics on and tell me you can’t hear it.

    Firth, there is no fifth, but four is not a funny number so you must proceed to five if you can’t do three, which we all know is funniest of all.

    Wait…I just thought of a real fifth…Sound techs who like ampless stages seem to think that my job is to make things super easy on them while I make things more difficult for myself and the rest of the band. I don’t get that. I’ve had techs tell me to turn down my amp so low I might as well have shut it off. And I never play too loud for a room. That’s just plain being bad at your job if you ask me.

    Don’t get me wrong…I’ll do it rather than miss out on a payday. And If you enjoy IEMs and ampless stages, I’m happy for you. I’ve not had positive experiences doing them, and see no reason any sound tech worth their salt requires a quiet stage to be able to mix a band.
  2. SteveCS


    Nov 19, 2014
    Hampshire, UK
    I wonder how they cope with a full brass or horn section, most of which don't need much reinforcement to fill a room?
  3. JimmyM


    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Yamaha, Ampeg, Line 6, EMG
    Some want to screen them off. Did a gig with Frankie Valli once and he screened them off along with the drummer. Must be a blast being kept in a cage.
  4. el murdoque

    el murdoque

    Mar 10, 2013
    If you have capable FOH people worth their salt, it really does not matter what you use on stage because they will make FOH sound good.

    If you have mediocre FOH people, making things easy for them will result in a better sound.

    If you have FOH people that are, well, sub par, you'll sound bad no matter what.
    walterw, BLDavis, shoot-r and 22 others like this.
  5. SteveCS


    Nov 19, 2014
    Hampshire, UK
    True. One band I was fortunate enough to be in for a couple of years had our own FOH guy who was treated as a member of the band. He came to rehearsals and knew the material inside out. He made us sound good in even the most unpromising of venues.
    tvbop, Ampslut, Chickenwheels and 9 others like this.
  6. Geri O

    Geri O Endorsing Artist, Mike Lull Guitars and Basses Gold Supporting Member

    Sep 6, 2013
    Florence, MS
    As is with all things in life, a good balance between stage volume and the house mix can be had with everything from loud stages to ampless stages. We as musicians and sound engineers just don’t seem to be very good at achieving that balance. Still, we manage…:D

    (I hate drum and horn section shields. More sound guys should actually go through the exercise of listening carefully to the differences in tone of a drum kit with and without a shield. I have. The drums sound hollow and washed out from all reflections from the shield getting into the drum mics)
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  7. NordicBard


    Nov 11, 2019
    Totally agree. As from the perspective of an audience member...

    I was with the missus at a small'ish concert two weeks ago.

    First band was all digital, no cabinets at all - Just FOH and PA. Music was bland, like standing inside a pair of cheap chinese earphones. Drums sounded AMAZING though (Not shielded).

    Roadies come out and prepare for the second band. Suddenly the stage is full of Ampeg 8x10, Marshall amps and cabs and they just roar. The face on my wife was like seeing a child having icecream for the first time. Bass hit you in the chest, guitar was moving through the air like a samurai sword... God it was awestrucking how much of a difference it made. Heck, people started dancing....
  8. mike o

    mike o Supporting Member

    Jan 3, 2009
    Monroe, GA
    Agree to disagree. From the audience side at concerts, I truly believe the sound experience is much more enjoyable. When it comes to club bands it will depend on how skilled the band/sound person is. I’ve seen some pretty good club bands that do it well to. Totally amp-less all IEM.
  9. bucephylus

    bucephylus Supporting Member

    Aug 18, 2002
    Central Ohio
    FWIW, Frankie Valli was the last big show I heard right before COVID. He had the horn section; but, they were NOT isolated. The sound stage was 100% old school. One of the best live sound performances I’ve heard in at least a decade. The backline was projected into the crowd; and the PA was used for…wait…REINFORCEMENT.

    IMHO, we have more frequently allowed the equipment to take over a live sound stage in recent times. New technology does allow a nearly studio experience on a live stage. But, no one ever stopped to ask whether or not that was a good thing. Ensemble play produces an interactive dynamic, which can easily get lost when players are isolated. I get why that is important on commercial recordings. Live performance is a whole different situation.

    Left to their own, experienced players will adjust their levels and dynamics such that the whole mix is served. Sound Engineers should back off in those situations and focus on reinforcing what is happening rather than trying to control it.

    Comment re: IEM’s: the technology is amazing. But, it also produces more of a studio experience, because of the isolation. Ultimately, it’s just a tool, which can be either used or abused. The part about each player having their “own” mix, however, is nearly 100% contrary to what I described as ensemble play above. If someone doesn’t get that, then they just haven’t done much performance.

    It’s kind of like rowing in a competitive crew shell. You could have separate rowing machines for 8 rowers linked together by some kind of computer system, and evaluate the group performance. But, that fails to capture the feel that actually happens in the shell. Similar thing with IEM’s vs an open performance stage.
    Last edited: Oct 24, 2021
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  10. Outbush


    Nov 6, 2016
    Years ago there were bands who played live all in the same studio, everything micced, through a desk and onto a two track tape machine. I think lots of early Motown was done that way. Quite a few underground bands in my youth did EP’s that way as there was some really good gear 1 - 2 generations out of date that was every bit as good as it ever was that was owned by enthusiasts who wanted to make a little money from it. A bit of spill gave the recordings depth. IMHO that can be equally true of live performances if the stage volumes aren’t totally over the top and people have thought about stage placements. Good bands should be able to be punchy but not totally deafening too though.
    Last edited: Oct 24, 2021
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  11. Damn, I thought isolation was having enough space on stage that I don’t hit the guitar player in the mouth with my headstock unless I really want to.
  12. DirtDog


    Jun 7, 2002
    The Deep North
    So is it the technology or some people’s ability to use the technology effectively that’s the problem?

    SPLs are just another parameter for a band and its sound reinforcement “specialist” to manage.
  13. Couldn't agree more. I always have my little stage rig. Most of my gigs these days are on outdoor stages with robust FOH support. I refuse a monitor and rely on my little 1x12 and 250 watt head. Most of the sound guys are cool with it and keep me out of the monitors.

    My little rig does okay UNTIL the stage sound, mostly acoustic instruments in the monitors, get so loud my amp can't keep up. Rumbling acoustic guitars with too much low end can kill the stage sound. The FOH guys are just giving the guitarists what they ask for even if it is wrecking the stage sound. I boost my bass at 1K Hz and hope for the best. But I would rather deal with that than listen to my bass in a monitor speaker or In Ear.
  14. So this is really a set of complaints about sound techs, right? ;-)
    Playing through a large line-array system, with an amazing IEM monitoring system was nearly life-changing for me. Listening to the sound-check playback from the audience was awesome.
  15. Smallmouth_Bass


    Dec 29, 2005
    I also think it depends. I play in some small venues that high volumes actually keeps some patrons away. Some people like to feel the power and energy, but it can also equally keep people away that would otherwise enjoy live music.
  16. Plain Old Barry

    Plain Old Barry Supporting Member

    Mar 1, 2018

    As a "retired" mixer of many FOH and monitor sets I completely agree with you.

    My only guess is they've done most or all of their training or experience gathering in recording studios or with the band extremely isolated (worship, etc...) vs. typical real world live situations in clubs, auditoriums, local festivals, etc... Other that that, I got nuttin'!
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  17. two fingers

    two fingers Opinionated blowhard. But not mad about it. Gold Supporting Member

    Feb 7, 2005
    Eastern NC USA
    I fought IEMs for a long time. But I'm 50 years old and sing VERY high vocals (as well as bass vocals). I simply can't shove my voice out all night like I used to. I had to back down some. The best way to do that is IEMs.

    Two things that have worked for me.

    1) CRANK your whole mix so you can turn down each channel a lot. This helps with bleed. If a little guitar is coming through another singers vocal mic, it's still going to he nearly as loud as his/her voice. So by having your whole mix up, amd turning down that mic channel, you can game the system and lose a lot of that bleed over.

    2) Get your band to run am ambient mic. I try to have ours out by the sound guy. By dialing in a little bit of "the room' it still sounds "live" to me while still being controllable.

    All that said, you've been doing this a long time, Jimmy. Do it however it works for you.
  18. I’ve played in band with horns for quite a while as well as horns with 5 singers. Yep, they create a lot of energy on stage, but there can be a happy medium with the over all mix.
    SteveCS likes this.
  19. Smallmouth_Bass


    Dec 29, 2005
    That is one of the main reasons why I want to go to in-ear monitors; I am not a true vocalist, but I can contribute some decent backups if I can hear myself. The problem is that I often can't hear myself, which results either in me sounding bad (out of tune) or not singings as much as I could.

    I am also very used to playing in headphones as that is the only way I practice, so I don't think it would be a difficult transition.
  20. Plain Old Barry

    Plain Old Barry Supporting Member

    Mar 1, 2018
    There's a middle ground. A reasonable stage volume can still allow the FOH to do the job at a reasonable volume without being ampless and IEM only. It's a team effort, but the FOH person absolutely has to do the job differently when dealing with stage spillage, and communication is required.
    Last edited: Oct 24, 2021
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