Concert FOH mixing and sound ... what are they thinking?

HesNot

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
2,662
This has popped up a bit in a few threads - Stapleton review for example recently - but it's a subject that continues to puzzle me.

Why oh why do so many FOH guys - doesn't matter the size of the band or venue - insist that the kick drum, bass and toms be mixed to constitute about 75% of what the audience hears? So many shows where it's just a big muddy mess out front because of the low frequency emphasis. I'd write it up to guys with hearing loss but you'd expect them to emphasize the high mids and highs if that was the case.

By contrast - and I understand it's a different kind of music - I've seen Lyle Lovett and his Large Band a bunch of times, and Harry Connick Jr and his full band a bunch of times, and they've got a bunch of people on stage and the FOH mix is just spectacular. Lyle for example has acoustic instruments, electric instruments, 4 background vocalists, horns, and it sounds like a well engineered recording out front. Every instrument is clear, balanced, the voices are clear and balanced. And that has to be a lot harder to do than a 3-5 piece rock band. Same for HCJr.

I saw Iron Maiden on the Legacy of the Beast tour in an outdoor shed and it also sounded great - balanced - every instrument clear and Dickinson's voice clear as a bell. So it's possible even in a hard rock setting. Ironically the opening band (which featured Harris's son) sounded dreadful through the same PA and desk.

Why is it so doggone hard to get a decent mix at a rock show? Drives me crazy.
 

makeitstop

Old dude with guitars
Platinum Supporting Member
Messages
3,012
I saw a show with Ministry, The Melvins and Corrosion of Conformity a couple of months back. The show started loud (CoC was cranked) and got louder. The Melvins were loud, but since they were only a 3 piece the mix was pretty clear.

When Ministry came on, the mix was really loud, but it was pristine - Al had a 5 piece band and he even played guitar on a couple of songs, but you could pick out every single thing that was going on on stage.

I think you have to chalk a lot of it up to the individual sound guy and the condition of his ears. I know some sound guys whose ears are shot but they won't admit it because it would cost them gigs.
 

Buddhist#6

Courtney DIDN’T Kill Kurt!
Silver Supporting Member
Messages
11,160
Cuz it’s all complete and utter nonsense, they want it to sound like a club! Hate it! Can’t stand all Of that low end, makes my fillings come loose and I lose control of my bowels! All about that bass? I don’t think so! I want to be all about that midrange!
 
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c_mac

Gold Supporting Member
Messages
4,596
I saw Dwight Yoakam a few years back. The kick drum was by far the most prominent part of the mix. The drummer played the kick drum great, but when you’re there to hear one of the all-time great country singers, you’d rather he not be drowned out by the kick drum.
 

Ed DeGenaro

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
26,072
I've been moaning about this for about 7 years about this.
Initially I thought it was a thing in Asia only til I came back. The same everywhere...actually more specifically the Asian and Euro version...
Is kick, sub bass and snare stupid loud, lead vocal usually same level anything that resembles an instrument supplying harmony (or Solis) drowned to the point where it's in audible.

I chucked it up that tastes change and I dinosaur just don't relate.
 

Bob Womack

Member
Messages
2,897
I'm beginning to think that some FOH mixers are like audiophiles. You know what Alan Parsons said about audiophiles: "Audiophiles don't use their equipment to listen to music. Audiophiles use your music to listen to their equipment." The upshot being that I think some FOH guys feel like they've got to demonstrate the capabilities of the system or the audience won't feel like they are getting their money's worth.

I went to a particular concert recently where the band opened up at about 85db and I thought to myself, "Wow! This is the first time I've been able to enjoy a concert without the ear plugs in." The mix was excellent. By the fourth song they were up around 100db and I was under the plugs and miserable.

Bob
 

Loudguitar

Member
Messages
505
This has popped up a bit in a few threads - Stapleton review for example recently - but it's a subject that continues to puzzle me.

Why oh why do so many FOH guys - doesn't matter the size of the band or venue - insist that the kick drum, bass and toms be mixed to constitute about 75% of what the audience hears? So many shows where it's just a big muddy mess out front because of the low frequency emphasis. I'd write it up to guys with hearing loss but you'd expect them to emphasize the high mids and highs if that was the case.

By contrast - and I understand it's a different kind of music - I've seen Lyle Lovett and his Large Band a bunch of times, and Harry Connick Jr and his full band a bunch of times, and they've got a bunch of people on stage and the FOH mix is just spectacular. Lyle for example has acoustic instruments, electric instruments, 4 background vocalists, horns, and it sounds like a well engineered recording out front. Every instrument is clear, balanced, the voices are clear and balanced. And that has to be a lot harder to do than a 3-5 piece rock band. Same for HCJr.

I saw Iron Maiden on the Legacy of the Beast tour in an outdoor shed and it also sounded great - balanced - every instrument clear and Dickinson's voice clear as a bell. So it's possible even in a hard rock setting. Ironically the opening band (which featured Harris's son) sounded dreadful through the same PA and desk.

Why is it so doggone hard to get a decent mix at a rock show? Drives me crazy.
A friend of mine who is an accomplished studio and touring musician, as well as a trained studio engineer coined a term for this a few years ago. He calls it "The college thump".
 

BBSuggs

Member
Messages
1,178
So, it's not only me. The thing is, at the recent Journey/Toto show, my daughter and wife didn't pick up on it.

They could hear the singer, and that was the key - I think.
 

Beyer260

Member
Messages
533
Rant mode: ON

Here's a little insight as to how the live sound business works:

Touring acts above the local level hire PA systems, you don't own your own because at that level it really needs to be its own business. For large club/theater gigs you generally use the in-house PA, for sheds you hire in. Most bands contract each gig separately, major acts hire a PA for the entire tour.

Regardless, the PA comes with a system tech. This person is in charge of getting the system set up and calibrated. They're usually pretty sharp and have a good working knowledge of the gear and how to make it sound its best. These guys have generally risen through the ranks by learning as they go, and consequently have a lot of experience. They do not mix the band, however.

The band is mixed by the "band engineer", AKA "Fader Jockey". This person is on the payroll of the artist, not the company that owns the PA. While the system tech was at the venue unloading trucks at 6am, the fader jock rolls off the buss at noon, gets a Red Bull, and wanders bleary eyed to the FOH position where the system tech is putting the finishing touches on the setup. If he's smart, the fader jock won't touch much except the faders to bring levels up and down. Many fader jocks are not this smart. How does one rise to the vaunted level of Fader Jockey? Simple- you have to be a friend of the band. There are no qualifications whatsoever to become a band engineer, you just have to convince the band to hire you. Some guys are friends of the band, some were the club soundman in the band's hometown and are literally the only soundman they know, some are the guy that recorded the demo that got them signed, some were the band engineer for another band the artist likes, there's really no set career path that leads to Fader Jockey.

Some of course are very good at their jobs, but many are not. Taking somebody who doesn't have the relevant experience to operate a large PA and putting them at the helm is kinda like taking a 16 year old kid who just got their driver's license and putting them in a Formula 1 car. Have you ever been to a show where the opening band sounded good, but the headliner sounded like hot garbage? Odds are, the system tech mixed the opener.
 

sws1

Member
Messages
12,903
I think it's simply a "trend". Each guy does what they are used to and hear what other people do.
It's annoying.
I can sorta understand it at an indoor show where bass is alot harder to manage. But when you're at an outdoor show, there is no reason for it.
 

guitarlix

Member
Messages
2,827
If it's a trend, it's been a trend for at least 20 years which is too long. I'm with OP and can't stand how the kick and snare are mixed in normal concerts - they sound artificial and heavily boosted.

I've stopped attending concerts because NO ONE seems to know how to mix anymore. Much better sound at home with my home theater. That said, ear plugs do seem to do a good job of making live sound bearable...both amplitude and frequency response. Let's in some of that important midrange.
 

Tony

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
6,230
I went to a particular concert recently where the band opened up at about 85db and I thought to myself, "Wow! This is the first time I've been able to enjoy a concert without the ear plugs in." The mix was excellent. By the fourth song they were up around 100db and I was under the plugs and miserable.

Bob

I took a db meter to the Toto/Journey show and was pleasantly surprised to find it riding about 85 with peaks of 88-89. It was refreshing to enjoy a rock show with the earplugs out.
 

AceBSpankin

Prince of Ales
Gold Supporting Member
Messages
4,831
Not all db meters are created equal!
I have one in my 30'x30' garage where the band rehearses. It's at 104+ all night. My ears are not ringing or anything like that.
We set up in half and the meter is directly across from us on the wall at 5' from the floor!!
 

TelePlayr

Member
Messages
401
Rant mode: ON

Here's a little insight as to how the live sound business works:

Touring acts above the local level hire PA systems, you don't own your own because at that level it really needs to be its own business. For large club/theater gigs you generally use the in-house PA, for sheds you hire in. Most bands contract each gig separately, major acts hire a PA for the entire tour.

Regardless, the PA comes with a system tech. This person is in charge of getting the system set up and calibrated. They're usually pretty sharp and have a good working knowledge of the gear and how to make it sound its best. These guys have generally risen through the ranks by learning as they go, and consequently have a lot of experience. They do not mix the band, however.

The band is mixed by the "band engineer", AKA "Fader Jockey". This person is on the payroll of the artist, not the company that owns the PA. While the system tech was at the venue unloading trucks at 6am, the fader jock rolls off the buss at noon, gets a Red Bull, and wanders bleary eyed to the FOH position where the system tech is putting the finishing touches on the setup. If he's smart, the fader jock won't touch much except the faders to bring levels up and down. Many fader jocks are not this smart. How does one rise to the vaunted level of Fader Jockey? Simple- you have to be a friend of the band. There are no qualifications whatsoever to become a band engineer, you just have to convince the band to hire you. Some guys are friends of the band, some were the club soundman in the band's hometown and are literally the only soundman they know, some are the guy that recorded the demo that got them signed, some were the band engineer for another band the artist likes, there's really no set career path that leads to Fader Jockey.

Some of course are very good at their jobs, but many are not. Taking somebody who doesn't have the relevant experience to operate a large PA and putting them at the helm is kinda like taking a 16 year old kid who just got their driver's license and putting them in a Formula 1 car. Have you ever been to a show where the opening band sounded good, but the headliner sounded like hot garbage? Odds are, the system tech mixed the opener.
Very interesting insights...I feel smarter already. Thanks for this!
 




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