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

Tony

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
6,224
Best sounding (big) shows I’ve attended:

AC/DC - super loud but clean, crisp, clear, powerful.

U2 on the 360 tour at Soldier Field - the louder tunes were a bit noisy but generally a great mix.

James Taylor - flat out perfect, beautiful stuff, amazing mix.
 

spakuloid

Member
Messages
5,214
U2 and Coldplay were are best sounding live acts at large arena venues I have seen. Multiple shows of each band with near perfect amounts of chest hitting thud and clear separation of instruments.
 

marshall2288

Member
Messages
1,129
I’ve said it a million times (and someone will chime in with his name), Stone Temple Pilots continues to have the absolute best live sound of any band I’ve seen (or heard)
YES! I have seen them 3 times in 3 different venues and every time it has been fantastic. You could hear every word, every ghost note on the snare, every small inflection and accent on the ride, and the bass and guitar were crystal clear. They did it right.
 

MikeMcK

Gold Supporting Member
Messages
6,777
It's not just arenas and theaters. Everybody thinks "pro" sound means you need to be punched in the chest by the kick. And if your band doesn't do that, you sound weak compared to bands that do.

I think it's kind of like the "loudness wars" that plagued recordings for years (and which finally may be getting under control... fingers crossed).

And I may never understand why standard sound reinforcement includes subs on two sides of the stage instead of the middle. Assuming a kick fundamental is at 50 Hz, anyone who's 11 ft. closer to one of those subs than the other won't hear that kick fundamental directly... you will get a bunch of it reflected off walls, though, again summing up at different phases. If you're 5 ft. closer to one than the other, it's seriously attenuated, and that includes not only most of the audience but potentially FOH. So the solution is to turn it up until you feel it.
 
Last edited:

charriman

Member
Messages
247
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.
Their sound has always been great everytime i've seen them.
 

imonabuss

Gold Supporting Member
Messages
2,077
I completely concur with the OP. Nothing more frustrating than during set up having the sound man asking the drummer to hit the kick over and over until the f’ng room is shaking, then ask me to turn down a 15W amp that’s on 3.5. Knowing that it’s gonna sound like absolute *****. “Club Mix” is for rap and DJ’s, not for a band doing country and classics rock. People leave the club when it’s like this. As Brooks and Dunn say “ I didn’t come to hear something thumping from the city”.
 

mabinogeon

A really hoopy frood.
Gold Supporting Member
Messages
2,269
I was just pondering this as well.

Caught a show up in Marquette, MI on Saturday. We were in town for something else and had some free time in the evening. Band called "Bumpus" out of Chicago.

We left after three songs.

Venue was a medium-sized indoor bar. The band was playing at outdoor festival volume. We could hear drums and bass and that was it. They had a mic'd horn section: couldn't hear them. Guitar: couldn't hear it. Two singers: couldn't hear them.

Tried listening with earplugs and without and moving around to different places in the bar, same results. Just a wall of garbled low-frequency mush.
 

spaceatl

Member
Messages
6
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.
I'm a longtime touring pro foh/mon live engineer since the late 1980s. I can tell you that the gear today is magnatudes better than it was even 20 years ago. But it still comes down to the ears. There are a lot of talented engineers that have no clue what ear fatigue is. When the good guys get a janky mix, it usually means their ears got blasted and they did not get enough recovery time or they are simply unaware of the temporary band loss in hearing that occurs when one stays on a loud environment too long. A good many are completely unaware of this and have not trained themselves to understand how this occurs (a bit different for everyone and it is situational). It's sorta like guitar players that tweak for 3 hours and swear their tone is changing when it's nothing more than ear fatigue...Happens to everyone...Then again, there are some that just have no clue what they are doing. It's not that hard at all when one understand all of the variables...anyway, that is my 2 cents.
 

dangtr

Member
Messages
115
Most FOH sound guys mix like they've NEVER heard an album!
They hype the drums, and bass, and, IF YOU ARE LUCKY, the singer (sort of).
Most of the time you can't even tell what pitches the bass player is actually playing!
All THUMP and DRONE!

And everything is usually WAY too LOUD!!!
 

daa2202

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
818
This was from the last theatre show I attended - Joe Bonamassa in Savannah GA in December. Loudest concert I've been to in decades, although the overall mix was pretty good. No problem hearing the guitar and vocals, that's for sure (but then again, it's Joe B., so I'd hope so.)
 

Attachments

  • IMG_1549.PNG
    IMG_1549.PNG
    294.4 KB · Views: 46

chinstrap

Member
Messages
1,108
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.
This is a more than fair approximation of the situation. I owned systems and worked as a designer and system tech for many years. I also toured for years as FOH, and just as many times I encountered systems that were installed by folks who didn’t understand even the basics of polarity, subwoofer alignment, voicing, or proper room coverage. I carried a TEF rig for years and if it was a headlining slot and the system tech was not good, tried to fix as many problems as possible given the available time and resources. That scenario, you might incorrectly assume, always gets filtered out at the professional level of arena or shed sound providers, but not always, and sadly even today it’s not uncommon to see poorly designed or deployed systems. I’ve heard some of the biggest providers lay a Cleveland Steamer. That said, there’s lots of great companies who provide killer systems and great staff.

I also recently provided systems at a concert venue in my hometown for five years and produced concerts for B level touring acts, all well known, and out of 450 shows (I counted), I could count the touring engineers who showed up and were qualified to mix on both hands and still have fingers left to go bowling with. Most of these “engineers” didn't even understand basic gain structure or proper use of DCAs, and the resulting mixes were predominantly low end heavy even if the genre didn’t call for it. The record for SPL set in the venue (1800 seats) was 117 C weighting at the mix position, by a pop rock act who sold lots of records. I never go to an event without -26 db ear filters on hand. Of course, when I toured it was a damn good living as FOH in the A list community, and the pay hasn’t kept commensurate with inflation…so many acts end up with an engineer who was the T shirt vendor on the last tour, or as noted here, some band or management pal who they didn’t trust to drive the bus. RANT OVER.
 

LarryR

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
381
Went to see Jeff Beck. Really wanted to see Jeff Beck. Stood in front of the FOH deck. The bass drum was making my heart jump in my chest. Time to go.
 

SoK66

Member
Messages
189
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.
I have the same complaint about movie soundtracks. They mix the background rumble so high I can’t hear the dialogue. I sort of quit going to movies because of it. Seems the subwoofer is the most important element of the entire setup.
 

buddaman71

Student of Life
Gold Supporting Member
Messages
13,044
Most FOH sound guys mix like they've NEVER heard an album!
They hype the drums, and bass, and, IF YOU ARE LUCKY, the singer (sort of).
Most of the time you can't even tell what pitches the bass player is actually playing!
All THUMP and DRONE!

And everything is usually WAY too LOUD!!!
just listen to any typical club sound dood's 1-hr "soundcheck"

they will spend 45 minutes trying to get every drum to sound tight and massive, which leaves zero space for any other instruments, not to mention vocals. they will then try to add all the other instruments and build 3-5 monitor mixes in the remaining 15 minutes.

they then wonder why it sounds terrible on the first 3 songs, until someone can help them get it under control.
 

Lewis Brunton

Member
Messages
34
I saw Dream Theater on Saturday just gone (24 April) and they were supported by Tesseract.

DT's sound was spot on, you called hear all the distinct instruments, however for Tesseract the sound was a muddy bassy mess. It was not a case of the FoH engineer getting used to the venue as their sound was horrible all the way through their set. I can only assume it was somebody's preference.

From what I could make out they seemed to be a good band with good songs, just the mix was terrible!
 

mikebat

Member
Messages
12,115
On the other hand......

One thing I noticed in club level bands is.... many drummers are not live pros, and do not have stamina.

These type of drummers start the show with the snare cracking and the kick punching. By the end of the set, the snare starts to get weak and the kick becomes hollowed out.

I just hate that.

A critical part in being a good musician is understanding how to get the best tone out of your instrument. Not playing too hard and choking it (drum, guitar and other), with drums, hitting the instrument correctly and in the right spot all night and keeping your "all in" sound consistent, when you are on it, your volume is consistent from the first beat to the end.

Some FOH guys try to compensate with lots of compression.
 

Beyer260

Member
Messages
521
s
And I may never understand why standard sound reinforcement includes subs on two sides of the stage instead of the middle.
Many times, that's the only place they can go. Once you've seen it done that way a bunch of times people get used to always doing it that way.
Most FOH sound guys mix like they've NEVER heard an album!
I get your point, but a lot of folks seem to expect artists to sound "just like the album", and that's just not realistic. I remember when the Police toured a few years back, a lot of people thought they sucked because they didn't sound like their records. Nope, they sounded like a 3-piece rock band. Sure, you should probably be able to hear everything in some sort of balance but you can't really expect to replicate a recording done over months in a controlled studio environment, in a live environment.
 
Last edited:

Vixmix

Member
Messages
15
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.
I put it down to the major acts getting a better sound check and Us the support just getting the channels that are left and the guys out front are mixing on the fly
 

Aahzz

Member
Messages
2,442
I walked out on Evanesce recently because of the mix. You could barely hear Amy or the rest of the band, but the kick was like dynamite being set off. It obliterated everything else.

Yeah, I caught them in January with Halestorm, and Lilith Czar. The sound guys did Lilith Czar NO favors, is was a muddy nasty wash of nothing but bass. I could see a guitar player on stage, but couldn't hear them. Listened to some of their stuff after the show and I like it, it's a shame they're getting such bad sound on tour.

Halestorm was a tolerable mix. Still too bossy, but I could hear everything and enjoyed the heck out of them.

Evanescence - yup, could barely hear Amy sing. Not a good mix at all.
 




Trending Topics

Top Bottom