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Stage mix vs. FOH mix meanderings…

Discussion in 'Band Management [BG]' started by Chad Michael, Mar 17, 2003.

  1. (a bit long, sorry)

    I was just contemplating some experiences and thoughts about what I hear onstage vs. what I hear thru the FOH / in the room during a performance. This applies to a band that is using full PA support, every single sound source is going thru the PA (this is the typical arrangement in local bands and local clubs).

    I wonder how many musicians and vocalists realize that “The quieter you are onstage, the better you will sound (through FOH) to the audience?” I also wonder why so many guitarists and vocalists need their stage amps and monitors to be so unbelievably loud “So they can hear themselves onstage?” Seems that almost without fail, if I’m onstage with any band and get into the coverage pattern of the guitar amp, or the lead vocalist’s monitor, the volume is hideously and painfully loud. I personally cannot stand that kind of SPL.

    When performing onstage, it seems to me that each bandmember (in an ideal situation) should run their amp/monitor just loud enough to hear themselves with their respective source slightly dominant in their perceived overall stage mix. It would be difficult to manage your dynamics and focus on your part if there wasn’t a slight dominance (from your listening position onstage) in your volume.

    Conversely, if you were to go out into the room with a wireless mic or wireless guitar, while playing, then hearing the overall mix is sometimes strange, because a good mix DOESN’T have the dominance of whatever YOU are playing. Out in the room it’s about the band sounding good, NOT about your instrument or voice burying everything else. Seems that musicians often miss this point as well.

    Also, I find too many bands that push their PA too loud in the room and “over-saturate” the room with volume. I see nothing but disadvantage in doing so….. For one, people in the club don’t really like a LOUD band as much as they like a good sounding one, in which you can have a conversation without screaming into someone’s ear. I know this from experience, because I mix our band often and talk to people in the club during break, musicians and non-musicians alike, and I pay attention to their opinions. Second, it (over-saturating) tends to wash back and wash out the stage mix, so the bandmembers are hearing shiite just like the audience is. Even so, the band keeps the gear screaming for reasons I’ll never understand.

    Any thoughts? Especially how to communicate these concepts to friends who perform and ask me to help “dial in their PA because it doesn’t sound right”???

    Thanks for reading. Good gigs and good mixes to you all.:)
  2. I totally agree with your comments about oversaturating the room with volume. But I have a question for as my band ain't ready to gig yet:

    Would a soundman be offended if I asked him to set out FOH mix at a low volume?

    I was listening to Smash's band (Stoke) last Friday and I could hear best with my Sonic II earplugs in AND I was covering the sound holes.
  3. Hmmm... RabidGranny, there are lots of soundmen that seem to think they have to push the system to it's max. in order to justify it.... or because there's some sort of challenge in peaking out the system's capability. I think I'll start calling this "Soundman's disease" (similar to "lead singer's disease). It's wrong and unnecessary.

    Would he be offended? Maybe so, but having good people skills and good communication skills can go a long way toward having a soundman run YOUR show the way YOU WANT. Be personable and try and relate to the dude:

    "Hey, how long have you been running sound?... Tell me a little about the system. .... Could you please run our mains at moderate levels, we like to play here and can't risk offending the clubowner or the crowd."
  4. Oh no, I wasn't faulting you. Remember, I asked you about the volume level before and you said that it was the soundman's call. You know, when we ordered drinks from the waitress, I had no idea what it cost. I just slipped her a $20 and prayed that she would give me a reasonable amount back, LOL.

    But you know about the horror stories where the soundman thinks he's God and will mess up your sound at will. I haven't actually gigged yet so I'm a bit worried about this. I would have cut the volume level in half because it doesn't make sense. Why do I need earplugs to enjoy the music?
  5. My sentiments exactly. ;) Smash and Granny, I hope that the gig was still fun even though the soundguy had the mains maxed out. :rolleyes:

    Funny thing, as musicians and people who appreciate music, our hearing is our most precious commodity. Why do soundmen insist on abusing it when there is nothing to gain and everything to lose (respect of clubowners, respect of audience, everyone's hearing being affected):confused:

    I for one will not keep my opinion to myself when I go to a club as a performer or as a spectator... If something sounds like shiite, or it's too loud, I will talk to the soundman.
  6. As a performer, go for it, especially if you're paying the guy. As a spectator, tread very, very carefully. As you know, soundguys are often faced with very difficult situations at gigs, it's a thankless job at the best of times and everyone's a critic to boot. There could be many factors that are out of his control affecting the mix.... Also, I find that anyone talking to me about anything when I'm mixing is irritating, especially if I've got my hands full, and I think other guys are like that too.
  7. bill h

    bill h

    Aug 31, 2002
    small town MN
    I work as a bartender and when a band or dj:bawl: has the volume to loud you can see the people go out the door as fast as they came in. If it is at a good level they will stay all night. So the owner of the bar will have them back, not for the goodness or badness of the band, but for the bucks it made the bar :D
  8. Mark, let me start by saying that I started this thread by hoping to share some experiences and learn something from others.... I have learned tons from you on this forum, and I appreciate your opinion.

    I know how it's a thankless job to be the soundguy.... most of the time**. I have provided the services to my own band many many times, setting up the PA, monitor system, soundchecking, and touch ups to the mix "on the fly" while being the bass player and singing backup. 'Tis a handful to say the least...

    **Now back to my 'most of the time' comment... There have been times, during our gig, where I have been the only member of our band to go into the room and listen to what the room sounds like (thanks to wireless technology). After a few songs and a few adjustments, the set is over and it's break time. I have had numerous encounters with audience members and musician friends who comment:

    "Your system sounds so goddamn GOOD!!! Possibly better than anyone in town. Without being loud!!! How refreshing. We can actually have a conversation in this place!!"

    I never get tired of that comment. I just don't understand why I can do this while playing bass and running the mix from the stage, while most local soundmen cannot ... with the snaked board in the center of the room (and the freedom to move about and talk to people about what they hear.)

    Edit -
    My goal in mixing a band is: (on a scale of 1 to 10)
    Sound, mix quality - 9 to 10
    Volume - 6 or 7
    I usually come pretty close. Then I hear a band or national act that is being mixed by an experienced vet:
    Sound, mix quality - 7
    Volume - 10 always

    Not trying to slam soundmen at all, and I apologize if I sound self-righteous as a soundguy. I have soooo much to learn, it's not funny. I'm just trying to understand why my results are so different from the other acts in town.

  9. wulf


    Apr 11, 2002
    Oxford, UK
    This week I got a MD made of a concert we did about a month ago by one of our managers, who'd been sitting FOH - it was very interesting comparing it with the MD I recorded pinned to the backdrop next to where I stood. Mine had a lot of bass and drums but the vocals were a bit submerged at times - his had the vocals in a much more prominent position, although it would have been good to have the bass a little bit higher.

    However, overall I was pleased with what the recording told me about the FOH mix, and it illustrates very clearly how different that is from the stage sound. I was quite relieved as some of the earlier acts had been a bit on the loud side - even the guitar / cello / violin trio was more pleasant to listen to with covered ears! Maybe the MD disguised the overall volume?

    I certainly agree with the comments about not wanting it too loud though. Maybe it's just my bias as a musician, but if I see a band, I'm there because I want to hear their music, not damage my ears!

  10. thrash_jazz


    Jan 11, 2002
    Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
    Artist: JAF Basses, Circle K Strings
    I have done sound for a friend's show once - having gotten some experience doing it for own bands and at open stages - and I'll never do it again, ever. It was nice to see the other side of the coin - it's a stressful and thankless job and to Mark and everyone else, I dunno how you do it and enjoy it! :D

    I found getting a good FOH balance to be one of the easier parts of the job, because I could use my own ears... however, there was always one band member or another saying they couldn't hear themselves, even though their stage volume levels would have broken an arms treaty or two.

    What instrument the sound person plays is a factor too - they may tend to give that instrument more volume than it should get. I am guilty of that when it comes to bass... ;)

    That said, the soundperson should be there to help you as well. He/she does not know what kind of sound your band is going for or what sound is best for you. You should tell him/her, and then their job is to make it happen.

    BTW, a question... when you guys are MD recording a show, do you tend to record the FOH sound or the stage sound? Does it depend largely on the PA equipment, or is one of the two always a better bet?
  11. secretdonkey


    Oct 9, 2002
    Austin, TX
    I'd like to get some input on the notion that stage volume requirements can be greatly influenced by the style/equipment of the drummer.

    A band I'm playing with has a wonderful but heavy-hitting drummer, and a percussionist that has worked alongside him for years, who prides himself on the fact that he draws blood from himself on a fairly regular basis. The drummer doesn't believe in any kind of snare damping or other moderating techniques - and he's good enough for me to respect that position.

    Anyway, I have to crank up just to keep up with these two - never mind two guitars, sometimes a sax and vocals, of course. I don't have to turn up nearly as loud to match other drummers (sans percussionist, too).

    Also, I was at a show recently and was hanging out by the soundboard with the club manager, who happens to be a drummer. We were talking about the mix and he says, "check this." We go over to the board and he points to a channel with the fader turned all the way down - "that's the drummer's snare" he said. Everything else had to be brought up to its rifle-crack level for the mix to be right. So, I guess my drummer's not completely alone there.

  12. T.B. Player

    T.B. Player

    Aug 10, 2002
    Orange, Texas
    Well Donkey,I had the same exact problem but with an organ player and two different drummers. Our problem was that the organ player was always loud on stage and our drummer was quiet, very volume friendly. The guy that subs for that drummer plays like he is slamming sledge hammers. The FOH guy basicly took the organ and drums out of the mix in that occasion and thus doing so eliminated all presence and punce in the mix except for the bass.

    Our solution was for the whole band to go to using in-ears. No stage volume except for the drummer and the FOH guy can put some punch back in the mix. A lot of the members complained but after very positive feedback we've all decided its worth the hassle. However this was a very lengthy and expensive solution.
  13. secretdonkey


    Oct 9, 2002
    Austin, TX
    Hey, I remember you - I PMed you awhile back since you live right down the road from me. :)

    Was this a church band?

    FWIW, I was referencing the Chee-zee little classic rock gig I do, with Marcus Breaux (guitar teacher at A&S music) and Tom Janice (known for hosting Open Mic nights around the area). We're called 'Rockin' Horse.' If ya know either of these guys, don't let 'em know I called the band cheesy. :D

    Just mention that for reference, since it's such a small scene we have in these parts... :)
  14. crossXbones


    Sep 17, 2002
    very interesting thoughts everybody. i having been doing sound for only a short period of time(3 years) and i have learned that the job is very hard and nobody ever notices that you exist unless something is wrong. i have been running sound at a prominent venue for the last year doing about 3 shows a week and thank you's from people are hard to come by. i love touring cause that is where i get a ton of recognition lol.

    yes most sound guys like it loud(i think some sound guys are just deaf though and can't hear unless its loud lol)..but if you are cool about it and work with the sound guy he will work with you....would you be offended if the sound guy asked you to turn down your amp?

    and one thing about mixing.....any instrument in a band can be too loud to be put into the mix....though drummers are usually the biggest headaches......most other instruments have amps which can be adjusted accordingly. anyways just my little blurb on the topic. peace
  15. Someone will notice sooner or later, hang in there cXb.:)

  16. I wouldn't because ultimately you want to achieve the best sound for the audience.

    But in your opinion, who should be calling the shots on the sound? The way I see it, the band should dictate what sound they want and the sound person should make it happen.

    What do you think about my situation? I want lower FOH volumes because I have yet to hear a single concert with proper volume levels (ie. enjoyable without earplugs in a small room). I think that if the sound is stupidly loud then I should have the right to veto the sound person's decision. It's not like I'm asking him to ruin his equipment, in fact, my decision would extend the life of his equipment!
  18. wulf


    Apr 11, 2002
    Oxford, UK
    My band did a gig last week and I'm SOOO glad I had my earplugs with me - otherwise I'd have lost my hearing from the FOH levels of the two bands on before us! I actually took on of the plugs out when I got on stage (to hear the nuances of our sound)!

    I've never been much of a club goer and this is probably why - I can't conceive how listening to music at painfully loud levels can be fun. It actually sounded pretty good in there through the plugs but I wish they could just turn it down so I didn't have to walk round with things sticking out of my ears ;)

  19. crossXbones


    Sep 17, 2002
    idealy, the sound guy should be knowledgeable and skillful enough to call the shots.

    i think it greatly depends on the situation and the quality of the sound guy. for instance i know my pa system very well, know that advantages/drawbacks of the room, and know what a good mix should sound like. a band would not know all those things.

    also, if one instrument amp is to loud for example.....the rest of the mix can be raised to match the high sound level of that one instrument amp, or the amp volume can be adjusted to fit in with the rest of the mix to maintain a good quality sound that is not too loud. i run into this problem a lot.

    ultimately i think you should trust the sound guy. i have done sound for a ton of bands and the bands rarely question my abilities and usually trust me that i will make them sound as good as possible. i don't think there are sound guys out there to make you sound bad....but maybe they lack the skill or knowledge to do it in certain situations.
  20. Oh, I guess I should have been more clear. I'm not concerned about the mix but overall volume levels. I recently went to a CD release party for a local pop band (www.salteens.com) and I was so disappointed with the sound. When it's too loud, no amount of EQing can save it.

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