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

Aceman893

Member
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2,131
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.
Thanks for making me afraid to ever go to another live show!!!!!
 

Tone_Terrific

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
37,172
There are no qualifications whatsoever to become a band engineer,
And who approves or hates his mix?
Does the band not care about how they sound out front?
I have seen TSO in a hockey arena, a BIG production, and they sound very good. Such venues are notoriously bad for mixing.
Modern tech allows detailed control.
Failure to use it properly should be criticized heavily.

What we do not get around here (TGP) is a sound tech who has come out and explained what is going on when the mix is bad.
It could well be that the problem is with the band, the gear, the acoustics, power, etc., etc.
I could accept a reasonable excuse, but when I hear something and wish I were running the board (not my job) there's something going on.
 

Miroslav L

Member
Messages
2,742
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 think much of it has to do with what you hear from cars...very big low end.
A lot of people think that's a cool way to listen to music...the big THUMP, THUMP, THUMP.

At concerts...the audience expects it now...they want to "feel" the low end, so that's how it gets mixed.
It might also have something to do with what the singer is hearing/feeling.

 

Beyer260

Member
Messages
531
And who approves or hates his mix?
Does the band not care about how they sound out front?
I have seen TSO in a hockey arena, a BIG production, and they sound very good. Such venues are notoriously bad for mixing.
Modern tech allows detailed control.
Failure to use it properly should be criticized heavily.

What we do not get around here (TGP) is a sound tech who has come out and explained what is going on when the mix is bad.
It could well be that the problem is with the band, the gear, the acoustics, power, etc., etc.
I could accept a reasonable excuse, but when I hear something and wish I were running the board (not my job) there's something going on.

Bands have no clue what they sound like out front. They're much more dialed in to the monitor engineer, who mixes the speakers and/or in-ears the band actually hears. Typically (but not always), the monitor guy will be the better engineer of the two since the band (who are ultimately the ones writing the checks) are immediately aware if they're doing a a bad job.

Theoretically, the band and/or their management can fire the band FOH engineer if they're screwing up. I've never heard of that happening, though.

There are a billion reasons the mix could be bad. I did a gig in the '90s for a one-hit wonder band, and the singer had blown his voice out. He couldn't produce any sound above a whisper. There was no chance at all of getting the vocal loud enough, since you can't just keep turning a microphone up- eventually it'll start feeding back. Instead of cancelling the show the band elected to carry on, and their fader jock kept the instrument levels quiet in a vain attempt to get any sort of vocal out over it. So, you had a rock band playing at such a low volume that you couldn't hear anything in the room at all. It was like a Formula 1 car in 1st gear limping around the track at 5mph. The crowd was PISSED. We even got dogged in the local newspaper's review of the show (not by name, fortunately). The system itself had enough headroom to blow the roof off the place, it was just hampered by the decisions of the band and their staff. So, the reasons for a bad mix aren't always obvious.

As to the "lead kick drum" thing, I got nothin' except for the fact that it's much easier to make the whole building shake to your kick drum sound than it is to get the vocal out intelligibly, especially if you have a vocalist who doesn't project well or use good mic technique. Still, assuming your ears work to some degree, it should be obvious that drowning out the vocal with your kick just doesn't sound that good, so maybe you should do something about it?
 

guitfiddle

Member
Messages
2,933
I saw Sleep in Denver the other night, and it took the engineer until the fourth song to get the kick under control. Just a muddy mess of booming, and I expect Sleep to boom somewhat. After that it was much more enjoyable.

I think some guys feel that if they have the power, they're somehow cheating the audience if they aren't using it all. It's like getting a supercar, then only ever driving it with the gas pedal to the floor all the time.
 

Beyer260

Member
Messages
531
? Nobody from the crew, management, friends, recording company, ever tell them how it sounds out there?
The crew generally doesn't interact much with the artist, and it's not their job to tell them anyway. All management cares about is if the tickets sell. I've never seen a situation where a band's live sound is so bad that word gets around to the point of impacting ticket sales. Hell, George Jones was famous for not even showing up and people still bought tickets. Again, the artist is WAY more focused on how their monitoring sounds because without that, they can't do a good show period.

One artifact of the dim past was the "board tape"- some artists wanted their sound guy to make a cassette recording off the mixing board, for various reasons. These days everything's digital and you can do a multitrack recording every night if you want, but in the old days it was live to 2-track. Then, the sound guy would be concentrating on getting a good mix on the board tape, to the exclusion of actually mixing the show in the room. Having a good mix in the room was pointless if the tape you handed the band sounded like crap. THAT could get you fired.

Something to realize about touring is that actually playing is the smallest part of the whole endeavor. There's an old military adage that "amateurs talk strategy, professionals talk logistics"- that's true in the touring world as well. The whole thing is an exercise in logistics, if the FOH guy delivers a subpar mix every night that's a fairly small part of the overall picture.
 

RicOkc

Member
Messages
3,555
Years ago I saw Boston (the original band) and the sound-man was horrible!

It wasn't just me. Later on I read a review in "Rolling Stone Magazine" of a show they did in Colorado (the same tour) and the writer said the exact same thing.

I don't think that their sound-man had even listened to their album. The back-up vocals weren't properly balanced, not to mention the guitar balance.
 
Messages
1,096
I saw Killswitch Engage and Black Label Society in the same venue. Both are guitar-driven melodic bands. In both cases, I had to strain to hear the guitars. Mostly I just watched their hands and imagined what it sounded like. All I could hear was kick drums and bass. I'm never going to that venue again.

Joe Bonamassa had a perfect mix. Dream theater was very close to perfect, but the snare was too loud. Tremonti has had an excellent mix both times I've seen him.
 

Buddhist#6

Courtney DIDN’T Kill Kurt!
Silver Supporting Member
Messages
11,159
I saw Killswitch Engage and Black Label Society in the same venue. Both are guitar-driven melodic bands. In both cases, I had to strain to hear the guitars. Mostly I just watched their hands and imagined what it sounded like. All I could hear was kick drums and bass. I'm never going to that venue again.
What do you suspect was the cause? Same FOH person? Just the way the venue is? Or something else?
 
Messages
1,096
What do you suspect was the cause? Same FOH person? Just the way the venue is? Or something else?
I'm guessing FOH person, but I don't know if they hire their own or if it's venue-provided. I don't know enough about how these things work. Either way, not worth my money to try that venue again.

I also saw Killswitch Engage when they opened for Slipknot and that time their mix was excellent. I'd never heard of them before that show. But I loved their set so much that I got really into their music and had to go see them again. The crappy mix the second time was pretty disappointing...
 

pale fire

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
1,915
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.
Thank you beyer for this - I am confident that you have accurately summed this up. A couple years ago I saw joe Jackson I was in the second row so I heard the band and vocals pretty well but I had friends in other parts of the theater who couldn't hear vocals. And the mix in general was not great. This is a four piece band. Nothing that hasn't been figured out 50 years ago. Real head scratcher why they have this guy running sound

And by the way- beyer mics rule !
 

Albion9

Member
Messages
1,024
Subwoofer overemphasis. Dreadful. It's like everything has to sound like a dance club. Also, since the advent of earbuds and their inability to reproduce low frequencies very well everybody is adding too much bass and sub-bass to compensate...this includes the drum mix. In my opinion, subwoofers belong in movie theatres for special effects and dance clubs for dancing...not at rock/country concerts unless it is a hip hop, dance band thing. Just my opinion and I'm a dinosaur. Last concert I attended was the Tedeschi Trucks Band and the sound was great.
 

Tone_Terrific

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
37,172
Just my opinion and I'm a dinosaur.
I'm, at least somewhat, convinced that there has been a gradual move away from realistic rock band sound i.e. what you might hear in a good rehearsal room where the musicians are in control of the mix, towards a surreal, 'enhanced' sound that modern gear allows, but moves the subjective judgment of what is good into the fingers of someone who might honestly be trying to make it good, but their judgment has been twisted by a 'more is better' approach and the gear allows one to warp the stage presentation into a caricature of the actual band sound. The end result is a HUGE YMMV.
I can totally believe that the venue acoustics do not support the target that soundguy is aiming for but he should never pursue an unrealistic vision beyond the realistic bounds.
Fix it or make it work with what you have.
If only the subs sound good, tough luck, pull them back anyway to serve the weakest link.
 
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541
Hyped subs are the easiest way to make a band sound impressively huge.

There's a side thread where arenas and stadiums (and honestly most big venues... And small ones...) are just terrible mixing experiences. Particularly in the really big stadiums you're at the mercy of so many factors you may as well try to maintain a mix in the venue over the street - if you're lucky the crowd within fifty feet of the mixing island will get a good sound and everybody else can cross their fingers and hope.
 

9fingers

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
8,429
Way too many of the shows I have been to have been ruined by the kick drum.
It is comic/tragic to see a lead guitar player doing the guitar moves and faces, and not hearing a note he is playing because of the kick drum. (Like a guitar mime).

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit had great sound, unusual these days.
 




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