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Who SHOULD decide how your bass sounds live?

Discussion in 'Live Sound [BG]' started by bucephylus, Sep 22, 2020.

  1. The sound engineer should decide how the instrument sounds in all cases

    42 vote(s)
  2. The musician should have some input, but live with the reality that often won’t happen.

    231 vote(s)
  3. We need better technology to facilitate the musician’s tonal preferences

    35 vote(s)
  4. Bass players are just visual props

    24 vote(s)
  5. Carrots

    32 vote(s)
Multiple votes are allowed.
  1. bucephylus

    bucephylus Supporting Member Commercial User

    Aug 18, 2002
    General Manager TecPadz LLC
    First, before the sound engineering folks jump in and tell me that the sound engineer has to deal with the whole mix and room acoustics etc etc, I already get all that. I’ve been gigging for 50 years now in all types of ensembles and venues; and believe me, I get it that the sound engineer has a lot of important concerns going on. This post / thread is NOT denigrating either that job or the folks who do it.

    OTOH, as a practical matter, there is often insufficient time in various gigs to have the one on one time required for a mutual tonal product between the sound engineer and the individual musicians. So, irrespective of whatever bass signal is being sent to the board, what comes out of FOH is often the product of what the sound engineer thinks the bass should sound like. It just happens.

    And while it is certainly true that there are venue / mix issues that factor in, it is equally true that there are individual tonal aspects that become convoluted. The worst kinds of cases for me as a bass player happen when the sound engineer thinks the bass should be completely sent to the subs. And believe me, it has happened to me. There are other aspects like compression etc, which may or may not be imposed based on any actual listening.

    So, is it just me, or is there something missing from where the technology is going? Should the sound engineer have total decision in how the bass instrument should sound? I mean, if so, I guess all we really need is any old bass and a DI, and hope for the best. Or is there a middle ground, where we are just missing something that would simplify the communication of the instrument prefs to the sound engineer? I’d like to think that is a possibility. Because literally a lot of my ampless gigs are in the chuck it and chance it category.
    Thorny1 and Clemouze like this.
  2. And I

    And I Supporting Member

    Feb 19, 2009
    Witchtown, MA
    If you're playing in a room large enough that the PA defines the entire sound of your bass, then yeah, the engineer hopefully will be open to speaking to you about your tone, and certainly they should know to put the bass through the mains as well as the subs. If your band is only playing outdors or in large rooms where the PA delivers 100% of the sound to the audience, you might consider getting your own soundperson...
    Meaculpa, Avigdor, HolmeBass and 2 others like this.
  3. bucephylus

    bucephylus Supporting Member Commercial User

    Aug 18, 2002
    General Manager TecPadz LLC
    Thanks! But, seems your suggestion mainly applies to single specific gigs. I tend to freelance in and out of a variety of gigs. So, don’t often have control over how things are set at downbeat. But, that’s just me.
    ELG60 and HolmeBass like this.
  4. musicman7722

    musicman7722 Supporting Member

    Feb 12, 2007
    Boothbay Maine
    As a bass player and a semi pro sound person, meaning I usually mix 30 or so shows a year for bands as large as 11 peices I find the bass IS THESE MOST DIFFICULT instrument on that stage. While as FOH guy I can get a pretty decent sound from the bass alone during line check it just changes and even dissapears when the band kicks in. I do try tosound check it with the drums first to even things out. This is mainly because most everything else on stage clouds over the bass frequency. All i can suggest is give the FOH the best, cleens and full range signal you can and pray.

    Also andy FOH person that only puts you through the subs should retie :)
  5. And I

    And I Supporting Member

    Feb 19, 2009
    Witchtown, MA
    Gotchya. Always best to seek the sound person out as early as possible, introduce yourself, and ask that when they have a moment to speak to you about your bass tone, you'd appreciate it. You may not have control but at least you'll know what you're in for...
  6. Zbysek


    Mar 23, 2017
    Czech Republic
    A sound tech has a control over how bass (and other instruments) sound in FOH.

    There is no question whether he/she should or should not have it. He/she simply has it. Period.
  7. Agreed, bass can be really difficult. I typically high pass most everything except kick and toms to keep the bass from being sonically buried, but if the room is small enough there can be enough “junk” coming from monitors and backline to blow out all my hard work.

    Even at that, I’ve had gigs where there were multiple bands in the same night, and with some bands I couldn’t get anything but mush out of the bass, and the next band the bass would be clear as a bell.

    That is a tough situation for sure. I hope someone here will have a flash of brilliance for you.

    Wayne A. Pflughaupt

    Ecclesia: Unique Arrangements of Hymns, P&W Standards, and Original Tunes
    Administrator, Pedulla Club #45
    Administrator, Tobias Club #133
    Fretless Club #943
    Big Cabs Club #23
    My Rig: Stage and FOH Friendly
    My Basses
    HolmeBass likes this.
  8. mambo4


    Jun 9, 2006
    The engineer doesn't decide how your instruments sound,
    they decide how the room sounds.
    a healthy respect for that distinction can carry a lot of influence.

    Okay I read the OP again and I see this is already in play
    The examples seem to be of inept sound guys

    My response was to stop pursuing and obsessing about my ideal tone
    and instead pursue a tone that was resilient in a variety of challenging circumstances,
    something even a noob can dial in successfully
    form me this takes the form of a passive P or J with TI Jazz flats, with a bump between 300-500 hz.
    does it sound like My bass heroes' awesome tones? no.
    but good luck eliminating me from the mix...
    Last edited: Sep 22, 2020
  9. When I'm going direct the sound guy gets the post FX from my Helix. This includes tone shaping EQ, compression, OD, Fuzz, MuTron, delay , and a couple pitch shifters. There is also a modeled amp (Fender Twin) and cab IR (Sunn 2x15 with JBL D140s) The most important thing in my chain is an HPF set at 60Hz. We talk about all of this before hand and I work the volume almost constantly whether with the volume pot on the bass or a volume pedal depending on what effects are on.

    I can make changes on the fly, but I've worked out a signal flow that can be fine tuned to the needs of the room or engineer. As a band, we've worked out how to get the sound right and a mix that doesn't need much tweaking. If we can use IEMs I prefer that to wedges and want the FOH mix in them. If it's wedges then I monitor my bass through an amp and cab.

    As an engineer, I will discuss what the player wants and get it as close as I can to that while still sounding good in the mix. I'm allergic to too much sub bass and have used an HPF as high as 100Hz on a bass player who sends too much low end. I think it all comes down to communication though. If you want the bass to sound a certain way in the mix and are just running direct through a DI then I will get you there. That is, as long as you don't roll off the tone knob to 0 and expect a crisp hi fi sound...
    bassrique, Clemouze, Wasnex and 2 others like this.
  10. dcbassist5

    dcbassist5 Supporting Member

    May 11, 2011
    Baltimore, MD
    Endorsing Artist: Ashdown, Lakland
    My band plays venues where we know the sound engineer or we bring our own. Those sound engineers know my bass tone and do a great job translating it to FOH
    SemiDriven likes this.
  11. inthevelvet

    inthevelvet Supporting Member

    Jul 2, 2012
    Washington DC
    I likely have nowhere near the gigging experience as most of the people on this thread, but my roadworn P with TI's is my main gigging bass for this exact reason. People have to really work to make it sound bad:bassist:
    Fun Size Nick and Rock Salad like this.
  12. 9Thumbs


    Jul 3, 2013
    Near Boston
    Small venues. Fender through a wireless, I'll walk out front then adjust my amp. If I'm on upright, there's usually someone I trust to give me a volume thumb up or down. I use a lot of mids either way, and as long as I'm heard, I don't really care about "tone".

    Limited experience in large venues. There a direct box to sound guy and amp only loud enough to hear the notes. Never even seen IEMs.
    Zbysek likes this.
  13. I've almost always played bass at venues where the PA is for vocals only, so I'm used to being responsible for the entirety of my own sound. The guys I'm currently playing with are a three piece plus vocals, and I do need a pretty specific sound for what we're trying to do. Fitting it into the mix is fine but significantly changing it isn't. If I was playing somewhere with full PA support, I think I'd have to ask the sound engineer to mic me up, pretend I was playing a big guitar, and maybe take a DI for low end reinforcement only. If I wound up doing that a lot I'd probably save up for a Helix and do the best I could to replicate the sound I need in a PA-friendly way. Having someone run me through subs only would be a nightmare.
    kjp360 likes this.
  14. PWRL


    Sep 15, 2006
    There has to be a partnership or some kind of dialog between the musician and the sound guy, if things are going to work out right. I've been on stages where "my sound" simply wasn't going to work because the stage boomed so much that the rather large PA system about lifted me a half inch off the floor, or so it felt. I wasn't about to tell that guy what to do, but he was enough of a professional to be able to translate very well what he heard us do at sound check into something that sounded right.
    Other times the "stage" was just the corner of a bar and the sound guy was just moonlighting from his DJ job. In a case like that, I just have had to talk to the guy a little, try to make friends and get my point across. Him telling me "it's going to be this way" and me telling him "you're a doofus" aren't going to work out. Most often if I talk to a sound guy, they make really good points and are more than willing to tweak my amp settings to something they know works with that space. I'm also more than happy to let them. I don't pretend to be an expert.
    I'm not some kind of big rock veteran or something, but I played out consistently for years, and I only had a couple times where the room, equipment, aptitude and alcohol content or lack thereof, of those involved, all mixed together for perfect conditions. Everything else has had to be modified or coped with. As long as I can hear myself and the vocals, I'm good. Guitars are usually no problem, and usually there's enough of a snare to keep me cued into the beat.
    Generally, what I've thought were catastrophes were more me overreacting than a real crisis. I've met some guys who are easier to talk to than others, but talking to them is usually what works best, so we both understand each other's needs. Sorry if that sounds wishy-washy, but it works.
    Zbysek likes this.
  15. Jeff Hughes

    Jeff Hughes

    May 3, 2020
    I think sometimes the actor thinks he or she knows better what his or her costume should be, but in reality it is up to the costume director.
  16. Whoever is PAYING the sound company. If you hired them, you decide because, they work for you. If someone else is paying them, they decide. If are not paying them, & you don’t want to turn up/down use effects or EQ like the FOH says, then either pay them yourself, or don’t take the job.
    BadJazz, SemiDriven and legalbass like this.
  17. bucephylus

    bucephylus Supporting Member Commercial User

    Aug 18, 2002
    General Manager TecPadz LLC
    I appreciate everyone’s comments.

    Again, I wasn’t intending to demean sound engineers. The vast majority of them are good folks trying to get a very complex job done.

    What I was hinting around at in terms of technology gaps is that I think we need an extension of the modeling technology, which not only emulates cabs and amps; but which also can be set for various FOH arrangements to provide starting points for the engineer on the board. That way you could quickly and efficiently give the sound engineer a solid starting point on the board and with the FOH that they are working with. I realize there are a number of combinations; but they aren’t infinite.

    I’m struck by the majority response that the musician should have input; but, if it doesn’t work out, then just defer to the sound engineer. Sure, that’s what we are doing. But, look at all the technology that we are paying for with instruments, rigs, and signal chains. I’m pretty sure we can improve the situation for both the bass player and the sound engineer in a win-win situation for actual projection of the bass instrument tone from the FOH. But, here’s the deal: we have to ask for it, rather than just acquiescing and putting up with whatever happens. Someone has to understand that there is a need, which has a technology gap to fill. Otherwise, nothing ever happens.
    Clemouze and Guild B301 like this.
  18. DWBass

    DWBass The Funkfather

    I use zero effects and in most cases, FOH facilitates my sound properly. I've had instances where I was barely in the mix. If I had a 'sound' FOH surely better do their best to make it happen out front. No FOH should ever dictate a band's sound out front.
  19. two fingers

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

    Feb 7, 2005
    Eastern NC USA
    It's not that simple. "It's him/her or me" doesn't cover it.

    Optimally, it would be a partnership. This usually happens when a band has the same person running FOH every show.

    This usually turns into a pissing contest here at TB. That's a terrible (and immature) way to go about it. "I've spent thousands of dollars and years coming up with MY SOUND and he better damn well put MY SOUND in the PA!!!" Never mind that the sound guy will ultimately win that battle every time. Why? Because you have to go back to the stage and go to work at some point. The sound guy is left there at the board to do whatever he/she wants with your sound. You simply can't win if you choose to lock horns.

    Having run sound some as well as being a bass player, I can't tell you how much easier it is to really make you shine if you send me everything. What I mean by this is if you send me the entire frequency spectrum, I can mold it into whatever.

    Over simplified explanation alert!

    If your sound is too bright, with too little lows, I can boost the lows and beef up your tone.

    HOWEVER, if you send me too much lows, and not enough mids and/or highs, I can't do a thing to clean you up and help you cut.

    What generally happens is that bass players find their favorite BEDROOM tone after years of experimentation. They get to the gig and assume that "Any good sound guy will make MY SOUND work. Screw that guy if he doesn't like it."

    I usually.... kindly and patiently.... try ONCE to ask for a little more mids and highs. If the bass player shoves that down my throat, I simply amplify their awful sound. You see, Jamerson's tone almost never works in a practical live situation. Sure, if you're playing in a Motown band, with stellar musicians who know how to create space for everyone like the Funk Brothers could, you'll be fine. But if you try modern country, rock, funk, stacked soul (wall of sound), etc. with a Jamerson tone, I can't do a thing for you. You're getting buried unless I knock down everything else in the mix with YOUR SOUND.

    Short version: Your bedroom tone might SUCK in a live mix. If you want it to suck LOUD, be stubborn with the sound guy. If you want your playing to shine through, send as flat of a signal as you can live with to the board so the sound guy can do whatever is needed with it.
    Thorny1, pit lenz, BadJazz and 18 others like this.
  20. Killing Floor

    Killing Floor Supporting Member

    Feb 7, 2020
    Austin, TX
    Singer should decide. Or Drummer!

    Seriously the bassist buys/selects a bass. That's the first tonal input. If said bassist is a Ray player or a fretless J player there's a valley between these points. If the bassist is a soft touch thumb player or a slap player there are tonal differences. And if the space is sufficiently small that the on stage rig is audible in the mix the bassist has a lot of input for better or worse.
    In a club scenario the sound tech is responsible for the PA (let's say) and is essentially an actor on behalf of the owner of the FoH gear. I think that tips appropriate balance of power to the house.
    If the space is sufficiently large then maybe the sound tech is essentially working for the act. In that case they probably should know how each player wants to sound and consider that in the mix and would know how the band wants to sound through FoH.
    As a bassist who has also worked in live sound I would be comfortable having a player (any) tell me what they think and I would honestly consider it because I don't outwardly think I know everything. "I like my trumpet really brass balls bass-mids" or "lead guitar up 60/40 over rhythm" or whatever.
    But I'd also assume that the sound person might know what they are doing and sometimes the ideal mix to a bass player on stage is not the ideal mix to the floor. So I'd 100% be smart enough to play the "monitor mix game" with the band if it means keeping them on schedule and putting on a show that sells more drinks.
    If the bassist has a control chain of effects or preamp, etc., then they can feed the FoH a more unique sound if that is what they want, there's less a tech can do to change it.
    Zbysek and JRA like this.

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