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Vocals only vs everything through the board

Discussion in 'Live Sound [BG]' started by abarson, Jul 11, 2018.

  1. abarson


    Nov 6, 2003
    Santa Cruz
    We're a small rock covers band, mainly playing local bars. Three of the four of us sing. We have an older powered mixer that sounds great and is reliable, use powered floor monitors for vocals only, and this has served us well. I run the sound because it takes very little time to set up my bass rig, and I'm the gear geek.

    Our last gig was outdoor, a pool party. The drummer complained that he couldn't hear the guitarist so I mic'ed his cab at break. After a little knob juggling things sounded decent and the drummer was happy.

    The drummer also commented that he kept on smelling something burning, but I couldn't track it down. Until the keyboardist's amp let out some magic smoke. Ran the keyboards direct into the PA and we finished the gig.

    This has got me reconsidering our stage setup. I'm starting to think that I should run everything through the PA now, but keeping bass and drums out of the floor monitors. My concern is I don't really want to mic the drums, especially for bar gigs. I don't want to set it all up and tear it down. Doing so would probably also mean having to get a bigger mixer for more channel inputs and better monitoring options. I don't think the band is enthusiastic about buying and hauling more gear and I've got no space for storage.

    I'm open to hearing your thoughts on solutions.
  2. JohnMCA72


    Feb 4, 2009
    Putting everything through the PA doesn't necessarily mean that it all (or even anything) has to be brought up in the mains or anywhere else. However, if it isn't there in the first place, you don't have a choice. Personally, I like having the option.
    SoCal80s, dbsfgyd1, gumtown and 2 others like this.
  3. Wasnex


    Dec 25, 2011

    Running everything through the PA is basically a totally different approach. Optimum results require adjustments to the way everyone runs their amp because the goal is for the PA to provide sound coverage for the audience instead of the amps. A lot of people don't like this approach and would rather just crank their amp.

    If you play in small places and have relatively high stage volume, there is little to no benefit to running instruments through the PA.

    Then there is the expense of buying additional equipment and extended time required to set up and sound check.

    I personally prefer running full PA and keeping stage volume as low as reasonably possible, but it's not unusual for me to setup a mic and not be able to use it because the player is blowing out the room. Sometimes this goes for subwoofers too. Overtime, you will learn what works from venue to venue and only setup what you can use.
  4. derrico1

    derrico1 Supporting Member

    Apr 12, 2005
    Charlottesville, VA
    The easiest path would be to have keyboardist replace his amp, and then set your stages consistently so that you can reliably hear one another. When bands are good at blending their stage volumes to carry small rooms, it sounds great.

    If not that, then full PA is easier than PA for vocals + selective instruments, which is doable but only if your set-up is consistent and everyone has good ears and restraint.

    Among the problems: If you're playing small rooms, the most engaged part of the crowd tends to be on the dance floor, fairly close to your PA speakers. With a vocals-only PA in a small room, most people don't mind the result—vocals sitting a bit more on top of the band's blended stage sound. But add instruments selectively, and the audience in front of the mains now gets vocals + an out-of-balance instrument mix.

    Also, the players who are in the PA can easily underestimate how loud they are in the mix, or else they simply can't hear themselves as well as they're used to against the drum and bass volume on stage. Or they'll want more of themselves in the wedges, often to the point that the singers start to get pitchy.
    HolmeBass likes this.
  5. saabfender


    Jan 10, 2018
    I think an unmiked drum kit in a live rock band context sounds like utter crap. Run everything through the PA. It’s 2018, not 1958.
  6. SteveC

    SteveC Moderator Staff Member Supporting Member

    Nov 12, 2004
    North Dakota
    Here’s the thing. It has more to do with everything coming from a central - or two - points.

    Even if it isn’t loud, having everything in the PA makes for a more even and controlled dispersion of your sound. As was mentioned, everyone has to have control of their amp volume.

    Yeah, it’s more work but I think you sound better in the end. We have taken it all the way - silent stage, v-drums, even the guitar player uses some cool amp that sounds like an amp when you turn the speaker off - and IEM’s. We love it. So do our crowds. The mix is near perfect.
  7. I know some of you guys play bars that hold 400 people with 15 bartenders and as many waiters/glassies. But not many.

    Every time I hear a band in a (regular) bar with everything mic'd it's all drowning out everything else. I venture half your success has been in not going down that road.
  8. saabfender


    Jan 10, 2018
    More microphones on-stage doesn’t translate into a too-loud band. I’m not well-acquainted with Australian mixing desks but the ones we use here have a handy gizmo called a “Master fader.” Damned handy.
    LiquidMidnight and SoCal80s like this.
  9. Wasnex


    Dec 25, 2011
    The audio tech has no real control over the sound unless he/she pushes the SPL above the stage wash and there are no faders to dial back the drummer or turn down the guitar, keyboard, or bass amp. So, if the band is blowing out the venue before the PA is turned on, the audio tech can't fix it in the mix. Under these circumstances, the best solution is often to simply push the channel faders down to -∞. What's the point in setting up a bunch of mics if you wind up running the faders at -∞?

    I am not arguing against the benefits of running a full system, but it's a bit more complicated than throwing up mics and monkeying around with the faders. To achieve a practical benefit, the musicians have to agree to, and get used to using their amps as personal monitors instead of pumping the room with volume like everyone did in 1958. Unfortunately, most people still really enjoy cranking their amps and playing a bit too loud.

    IMHO, there is no point in dropping a bunch of cash on gear if the players in the band are not willing to, or cannot make the necessary adjustments. I am an advocate, but also a realist and a pragmatist.
  10. SteveC

    SteveC Moderator Staff Member Supporting Member

    Nov 12, 2004
    North Dakota
    Happily I play with people who can ditch their amp in favor of the benefits of a silent stage, DI and IEM’s.

    That said, the guitar play, drummer and I are trying a trio where we use acoustic drums and amps. No DI’s or IEM’s.
    Medford Bassman likes this.
  11. saabfender


    Jan 10, 2018
    So which is it, guys? Over-powering stage volume or brutal overall loudness from a ham-fisted FOH guy?
    LiquidMidnight likes this.
  12. Wasnex


    Dec 25, 2011
    Yes ;).
    Last edited: Jul 11, 2018
  13. Wasnex


    Dec 25, 2011
    I built a similar system around 1994...IEMs, E-drums, no personal amps, stereo mains with subs. The only complaint we got was it sounded too much like a CD.

    A normal part of my job was to play jazz combo background music for formal dinners and social gatherings. We started getting requests to play background rock shows instead of the normal jazz standards. I think our gear weight went from about 5,000lbs to under 1,100lbs. Setup and tear down was really fast and we really didn't need much of a sound check.

    I built the system so a five piece band could travel in one of these.
    We were packed in like sardines with about 700lbs of gear. But we fit and got a soda and box lunch. Crazy!
  14. Well, if you don't have enough channels, it's a moot point.

    But if you upgrade and change that, I agree with comments along the lines of running everything through the mains, and only boosting instruments as required by the room or stage.

    I also run sound in my band, and we never put drums or bass through the monitors. We practice volume control, and I like to hear my acoustic drummer and bass player nice and full up there. I play keys and guitars from far stage left, and I have a mirror keys and guitars player on far stage right. We need to hear each other, so I put enough of his keys and guitar in my monitors, and vice versa.

    Vocals are the main thing we all want in our monitors with three singers and lots of tight three-part harmony.

    We had an electronic drum player for awhile, so that made it easy, but recently switched to acoustic drums. She has her own set of mics, and I think every drummer who is serious about performing should own a set, just like a singer, and be responsible for setting them and running XLR's to the board. I let my drummer help me decide what needs to be run through the mains, and we often go with kick, snare, and one overhead on small to medium stages. Having drums in the mains even a little helps them project further and fuller, especially the kick and snare. What sounds great on stage starts to sound like a transistor radio about 10-15' out.

    We always run keys through individual monitors and mains, and we use direct boxes for that. Our keys players do not bring dedicated amps, and it saves stage space and sounds great on stage and out front.

    From the sound of it, the OP tells me you're curious about it and are ready to give it a try. I think it's a natural progression for a performing band to want to go more FOH and learn how it can enhance your sound in certain situations. That doesn't mean you have to do it every time, but it's good to have that knowledge when the time is right. The first thing we sacrifice in certain rooms is mic'ing the guitar cabs. Sometimes we can hear each other fine and they are projecting from stage enough to not bother. But I always like at least a little bass and kick/snare out front. That gets the asses shaking on the dance floor area.
  15. sawzalot

    sawzalot Supporting Member

    Oct 18, 2007
    Get an inexpensive digital mixer. It will have eq, compression, etc on every channel and usually at least 16 channels. It takes up no room bc you run it with your iPad. Get everybody to go direct. The drummer can use electronic drums. You’ll sound amazing and it’ll work in every room. Don’t forget the powered subs and tops.
  16. 40Hz

    40Hz Supporting Member

    Getting a good sounding and balanced house mix with just instrument amps and unmiked drums is pretty much a lost art these days.

    Unfortunately a shift to a FOH system doesn't automatically fix that problem.
  17. keith1r

    keith1r Supporting Member

    Aug 4, 2009
    Vocals plus guitar miked and bass di and bass drum miked and 2 overheads for drums that pick up cymbals, snare and Toms, bigger gigs then mic Toms and snare. Most small gigs just vocals. Stage volume has to be as loud as drummer plays
  18. bumperbass

    bumperbass Supporting Member

    Jun 19, 2012
    Having all those mics to bother with isn't worth it for you, IMO. There's nothing worse than having a bunch of instruments going into a PA with no dedicated sound person. You'll never really get the sound right if you're the only guy running it. Blending the instruments is not the only problem. You have EQ to deal with, too.
    The only thing I might change in your situation is to mic (or trigger )the kick and maybe mix in a bit of snare.
  19. Wasnex


    Dec 25, 2011
    I like to try and get a good acoustic balance on stage with the instruments before we start dialing in the PA. I will run as much as I have to in the monitors, but IMHO, less is often better.
    btmpancake and GrapeBass like this.
  20. Nickweissmusic

    Nickweissmusic Knows all intervals from one Fred, to Juan octave Commercial User

    Jan 26, 2014
    San Diego, CA
    I teach lessons and perform live music in and around San Diego CA. Sometimes I even make money doing it!
    Resist! I wouldn’t mess with what works. It’s nice to have he option as a backup, but going all in on a new mixer and monitors would realistically require another share of money to go to a sound guy, unless you like working and lugging for free.
    lfmn16 likes this.

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