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Why is the bass so quiet at rock/metal shows?

Discussion in 'Band Management [BG]' started by parrott, Apr 9, 2003.

  1. There's a couple of sound engineers in here, AFAIK, so they might be able to help with explaining this.

    I've been to a lot of gigs recently, local bands and top level professional acts.

    Out of those shows (all 20 or so of them since Christmas, I think), the bass was only really audible at two of them (Cave In and Pitchshifter).

    I saw Opeth, despite the bass being a big part of ther sound, I just couldn't hear it most of the time.
    I saw Low, when the bassist sang, away from the microphone (admittedly, the other two were doing the same thing, there was no amplified sound) he was louder than going through the PA (and I was standing right in front of one of the PA speakers.)

    Last night was a good example (I saw Clutch, supported by Spiritual Beggars, Dozers and a band I didn't catch the name of).

    The only time the bass was really audible in whole night was when the bassist of that un-named first band used a some mad filtering effect.

    What's with that? Why is the bass so quiet at shows? Even though it's all going through the PA....?

    :mad: :confused:
  2. thrash_jazz


    Jan 11, 2002
    Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
    Artist: JAF Basses, Circle K Strings
    I have noticed the same thing at almost every metal show I've been to and played at. IME if this happens, you can bet it's because the sound guy is a guitarist.

    At every show I played where the sound guy was a bassist, I could hear me just fine...
  3. secretdonkey


    Oct 9, 2002
    Austin, TX
    Can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em. Grrrr.
  4. brianrost

    brianrost Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 26, 2000
    Boston, Taxachusetts
    A lot of bassists like that "smiley face" EQ with no mods so they get buried in the mix underneath the drums and guitars.
  5. cassanova


    Sep 4, 2000
    This is true, but if you're playing a gig running through a p/a with a soundman, you're personal amp settings dont make much of a difference since you're being mixed at the board. At least thats always been IME. Now if you're not running through a p/a its a different story. Again just IME
  6. I think the main reason the bass doesn't cut through is because the guitar players are hogging all the sonic space with their low end 'crunch'. The bass is there, it's just covered by the 'wall of guitar' sound.
  7. When I saw Clutch, I was expecting a clear bass, audible, somewhere between the drums and the guitar.

    Admittedly, it did fail completely a couple of times (they were having major technical difficulties) but still....

    Opeth, it just wasn't there..... the kick drum was quite clear, and it was the only thing in that kind of area, the guitars weren't there, but neither was the bass!

    As for your first point, Smash, SYL, Clutch & support, local bands, most of them have a smiley face EQ - no mids, all bass & treble - and still they weren't heard.

    Last time I played out, I *apparently* was heard okay, but I use a totally flat EQ and the sound guy was a fellow fretless bass player.....
  8. Phat Ham

    Phat Ham

    Feb 13, 2000
    The soundguy was probably suffering from lead kick drum syndrome.
  9. Sad but true. It's soooo common. I went to see RUSH and I couldn't hear Geddy's bass for God's sake! Lots of kick, though....Actually the sound was so bad that I wanted to leave. I was standing about 20 feet ahead of the console, dead center, where the sound should have been the best in the house...
    Unfortunately, there are a lot of incompetent people operating PA systems, even in the big leagues (maybe especially in the big leagues). It makes me sick. I expend way too much effort convincing people that sound people aren't all bad. Metal provides some challenges with high stage volumes and thick guitar sounds but a compentent sound engineer (assuming a decent player of course;)) should be able to find a way to get everything in the mix, regardless. I think a lot of guys just don't feel that bass guitar is that important and have never learned techniques to get it to sit in the mix right......
    Every once in a while you hear a mix done right, though it's less common than the wall of crap mix...
    I saw Peter Gabriel in the same venue I saw RUSH in last fall, and the sound was immaculate. You could hear every note Tony Levin played, as well as every note everyone else played. It had lots of impact but it wasn't too loud or fatiguing.
  10. Ding! We have a winner.

    As I've mentioned in other threads, there are a lot of people who spent their formative years listening to hard rock (as opposed to, say, Motown or the Beatles) on boom boxes that cut off below 200Hz. Their brains automatically filter out the bass, and when they're mixing they think that bass should only be audible as a "boom."

    King Crimson albums and live shows invariably have excellent bass sound, owing in no small part to Robert Fripp's belief that "The bass isn't the foundation, it's part of the architecture."
  11. Amethska


    Jan 27, 2003
    NJ, USA
    I've only been to ska and punk rock shows, and the bass is always audible. Very audible. It was awesome, I could feel it so well, and it drowned out the guitar in most cases. :D It was about time that happened...
  12. Many years ago I went to see Steve Morse (guitar great, for you youngsters). This was in a nightclub that sat maybe 150 people tops. They had the PA cranked up to "full-stadium" levels. It was so loud, it even hurt my ears. I was with a couple of other couples and eventually we all got up and left...we couldn't take the sound levels. (And we weren't old farts, at least not then...)

    Was the sound man deaf?? In all the concerts I've seen that show was the loudest of any...I'm beginning to think many sound guys must be deaf.

    And speaking of deaf, Def Leppard was another band that had the mids and highs cranked so loud the sound was horrific. I got lucky there though, eventually I managed to work my way directly in front of the stage--away from the PA speakers. My ears still rang all night though.:(
  13. wulf


    Apr 11, 2002
    Oxford, UK
    A good pair of earplugs isn't just for when you are performing ;)

    On the other hand, I certainly can't see the fun in paying to people prancing around on stage - if I go to a concert, I want to hear the music. Earplugs can stop it hurting, but they can't fix a hopeless mix.

  14. brianrost

    brianrost Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 26, 2000
    Boston, Taxachusetts
    Well, that's only if the bassist doesn't INSIST on running a post-EQ DI or miking the rig to get "HIS TONE"...see all the threads in this forum about that! :p Not to mention the bass might have active EQ with the lows and highs dimed and mids wiped out.

    Hey, at shows of ANY kind I often find the bass to be poorly mixed but I'm a bassist, right? Drummers probably think the drum sound sucks :D

    Acoustics of the venue can also be a problem. I've been to shows where the sound near the sound board was killer (as you'd expect) but somewhere else in the room it would be muddy, tinny, whatever.
  15. secretdonkey


    Oct 9, 2002
    Austin, TX
    Bingo - and also what Peter said.

    It's been said many times before, but worth pointing out again, the way that sound engineers tend to spend only a few seconds checking the bass, compared to the attention they lavish on other instruments. I think they see bass as simple "mix thickener" and "kick drum complement."

    I too have been to rock concerts where the bassist was someone special, yet got dissed in the mix like some nameless Joe. That is seriously one of the reasons (not the only) that I've avoided going to see touring acts at large venues for years now.

    What a dilemma - take one for the team and surrender your sound to someone who has no appreciation for it, or fight the soundman and pump lots of volume off the stage, at least at venues of such size that you can tip the balance. I suppose the former is the better choice, but the latter one is tempting and can sure be satisfying. ;)
  16. Jazz Ad

    Jazz Ad Mi la ré sol Supporting Member

    Get the hell away from those PA speakers.
    Not only will you clearly hear the bass, but you will also save your ears for later.
  17. thrash_jazz


    Jan 11, 2002
    Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
    Artist: JAF Basses, Circle K Strings
    One way to deal with this, if you are playing a gig with this kind of sound guy, is to cut your volume while doing soundcheck and turn it up later. :D

    A dirty trick, yes, but sometimes it is the only way.
  18. cassanova


    Sep 4, 2000
    Even with a di box or post eq abilities, you are at the soundmans whim. Youll get some of your sound, but if the sound man wants to take out some of the lows and add more highs he can and will. Again just IME.

    As for the bass having lows and highs dimmed and mids wiped out, the soundman should still be able to get the bass into the mix.
    A good example is Fieldy, uses no mids, and still is heard quite well in the mix. Well more like felt than heard.
  19. Agreed, although bass shouldn't take as long as say the drum kit, simply because there are more inputs involved. A lot of guys do kinda gloss over bass though. Now, I don't spend gobs of time soundchecking anything. In fact, most of my soundchecks are done in less than 20 minutes, given a decent rig and room. Basically, if something isn't sounding good from the source, there's not really that much the sound guy can do about it. the SISOBL rule is in effect. The G-rated version: Poop in poop out, but louder. You'll notice this at multiband shows with the same soundguy. The bands who are together and have a handle on their sounds/playing will invariably sound better than the loose smash and beat bands. A great band makes my job very easy. Sorry if I've offended anyone, but that's the way it is;). I've grown adept at tweaking things quickly and knowing when it's not going to sound any better than it does now. Plus, rooms change drastically with temperature and when people get in them, so I try not to hack things up too much during soundcheck. My main concern in soundcheck is getting the band happy with monitors and getting a rough mix in the house.

    SMASH, yeah the mix at RUSH was pretty dismal. I'm usually not very critical in big arenas, because they can be a pain to mix in, but this just plain terrible. I've done shows in the Molson Center (Montreal) and it always struck me as a very good sounding arena. This was later confirmed by the beautiful mix at Peter Gabriel....
  20. Nancy-Boy


    Sep 16, 2001
    I work at a live music venue as assitant technition and i know what you guys are all talkin about, from experience a lot of bass player will not alter any settings on their amps apart from their volume knob, so0o the EQ they have for one room that work doesnt work in another..so0o usually the bass is lost.. Bass frequencies also as we all know get louder as the travel so0o stood at the front of a crowd watching ur fav band the bass dont cut through, if u stand where nearer the back u will only tend to be able to pick up the Kick, Bass and snare and PM on gtr with any clarity.. this is a common problem.. Bass frequencies also refract more that trelbe frequencies to0 if a room has pillars or a dodgy layout the bass freq bounce around the room like no bodys business... with a metal gig there is usually a lot goin on and trying to find space for every instruemnt can be a task where in a funk band situation there is often space between the freq's think chili peppers,, open sound with a non boomy bass but flea fill his space perfectly...sometimes is just luck if u get a perfect sound.. as a general rule of thumb i also DI the bass into the desk and Mic it up using a D112 or somethign similar have the two levels comin into the desk and put lotsa bass on the miced up signal and lotsa treble on the DI-ed with a good helping on MID...lotsa ppl when they cant hear the bass wack the bass up... this is a no no its usually the the mid that needs altering...adding more bass detracts from the clarity...my opinion stand nearer the back, dun get crushed and enjoy the music...:D