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How to be a bad Sound Man

IceTre

Member
Messages
877
I don't mean to bash all soundmen, because there are some excellent ones. I don't know how it its in other parts of the country, but in Denver, I have been to way too many shows where the soundman's mix was so bad, it ruined the show for me.

The bad soundmen all seem to have learned their trade at the same school. I'm trying to imagine how they're taught. Here's how I imagine it:

How to be a Bad Sound Man

1. Always mic the kick and snare, even in the smallest rooms. Then turn them up to obnoxiously loud levels, so they are the loudest thing in the mix. Not just dance music-- do this for ALL genres. Singer-songwriter, folk-rock-- it doesn't matter. Make sure that the main thing the people hear is BOOM-POP-BOOM-POP.

2. Never use overhead mics on the drums. Those toms and cymbols are just there to look cool, not be heard.

3. Mic the guitar amps, even in a small room. Tell the guitar player(s) to turn down their amps ("stage volume") so low they can't be heard, even on stage. Then don't put the guitars in the mix. Turn them up in the monitors to give the band the illusion that they're being heard by the listeners. Ha-ha, fooled 'em! Guitars are evil, they should never be heard, for any genre, under any circumstances.

4. Put the bass in the PA, even the smallest dive bar with little crappy main speakers, and even though the bass player's amp is more than loud enough for the venue. Then turn it up absurdly loud-- almost as loud as the absurdly loud kick and snare. For all genres. And don't roll off the extreme lows and add any highs for definition-- just the opposite. Make sure it's all muddy and distorted in those crappy main speakers.

5. For folk, country and singer songwriter bands with acoustic guitars, EQ the acoustic guitar by rolling off all the bass and mids, and boosting the highs, so it sounds like a banjo.

6. Turn up the vocals a moderate amount, but not as much as the bass, kick or snare, but louder than the guitars (which aren't heard at all). This way, the people will know somebody is singing, but because of the muddy loud bass is in the PA, they won't be about to understand the lyrics.

If you follow these rules, the people will hear a constant loud muddy bass, and a loud BOOM-POP all night long. You have protected them from the evil sounds of the electric guitar, the devil's instrument. And you have protected them from the singer's lyrics, which are also no doubt diabolical. Well done.
 
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Matt L

Member
Messages
11,558
I run a DI rig in my cover band, and I've caught myself being inaudible out front before. Luckily, it was a fill-in guy who we never used again, because I had a Twin Reverb ready for the next one.
 

Tone_Terrific

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
34,972
We get tons of hate the soundguy threads.
We get some soundguys saying, 'hey, it's not me my, mixes sounds good, or as good as the band can sound,' we never get a response from the offending soundguys to explain what the heck they are hearing and what they have to set it up THAT way i.e. too much bass or drums or shrillness or volume ..just plain bad mixes when we all THINK we could do better.
Why do they not do better? I give them the benefit of the doubt but remain suspicious.
Somebody has to corner them and straight up ASK what is going on with a bad mix.
 

tiktok

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
23,703
Well, the sound person isn't there to make the band happy, ya know?
 

Moxsam

Senior Member
Messages
2,952
I don't mean to bash all soundmen, because there are some excellent ones. I don't know how it its in other parts of the country, but in Denver, I have been to way too many shows where the soundman's mix was so bad, it ruined the show for me.

The bad soundmen all seem to have learned their trade at the same school. I'm trying to imagine how they're taught. Here's how I imagine it:

How to be a Bad Sound Man

1. Always mic the kick and snare, even in the smallest rooms. Then turn them up to obnoxiously loud levels, so they are the loudest thing in the mix. Not just dance music-- do this for ALL genres. Singer-songwriter, folk-rock-- it doesn't matter. Make sure that the main thing the people hear is BOOM-POP-BOOM-POP.

2. Never use overhead mics on the drums. Those toms and cymbols are just there to look cool, not be heard.

3. Mic the guitar amps, even in a small room. Tell the guitar player(s) to turn down their amps ("stage volume") so low they can't be heard, even on stage. Then don't put the guitars in the mix. Turn them up in the monitors to give the band the illusion that they're being heard by the listeners. Ha-ha, fooled 'em! Guitars are evil, they should never be heard, for any genre, under any circumstances.

4. Put the bass in the PA, even the smallest dive bar with little crappy main speakers, and even though the bass player's amp is more than loud enough for the venue. Then turn it up absurdly loud-- almost as loud as the absurdly loud kick and snare. For all genres. And don't roll off the extreme lows and add any highs for definition-- just the opposite. Make sure it's all muddy and distorted in those crappy main speakers.

5. For folk, country and singer songwriter bands with acoustic guitars, EQ the acoustic guitar by rolling off all the bass and mids, and boosting the highs, so it sounds like a banjo.

6. Turn up the vocals a moderate amount, but not as much as the bass, kick or snare, but louder than the guitars (which aren't heard at all). This way, the people will know somebody is singing, but because of the muddy loud bass is in the PA, they won't be about to understand the lyrics.

If you follow these rules, the people will hear a constant loud muddy bass, and a loud BOOM-POP all night long. You have protected them from the evil sounds of the electric guitar, the devil's instrument. And you have protected them from the singer's lyrics, which are also no doubt diabolical. Well done.
I'm a hobbyist sound guy but feel like I have a pretty good grasp of how to get good sound. I've certainly seen bad situations as you've described above. In my experience though it is a team effort if you want to give the audience good sound. The band and sound person have to work together. Unfortunately for every bad sound person there are 10 bands who have no clue and WAY over play the room. All it takes is one guy on stage to get too loud and eventually it all goes to mush as everyone gets louder to match.

Around here it usually goes like this:

1. If the sound guy mics the drums he turns them off in the mains because the drummer is bashing away like a caveman. No dynamics, just full-on smash fest from the 1st beat

2. No need for overhead mics on the drums because the cymbals are bleeding like crazy through the vocal mics to the point of being piercing.

3. Mic the guitar amps to spread the sound around evenly and get a good mix throughout the room. Instead guitarists crank up their amps and completely dominate the mix causing the room to become one big pile of sonic mush. Stand on one side of the room, all you hear is one guitar. Stand on the other side, all you hear is the other guitar. Stand in front of either amp and go deaf. Oh yeah, can you turn up my vocals in the monitors?

4. Bass player is way too loud. People are complaining about it.

5. Vocals usually teetering on the verge of feedback but still unable to cut through the mix due to everything else being too loud despite being completely turned off in the PA. Since the stage volume is so loud the band is asking for more in their monitors. The sound out front becomes this honky mess because you are hearing the bloody monitors over the mains.

6. Acoustic acts usually sound pretty good.


I've seen this situation FAR more times than I've ever experienced the sound guy ruining the mix with too much bass and drums vs guitars. It's almost always the guitars that are way too loud for the room.

When I build a mix I try to start with the kick drum and bass and try to get the two to sound like one instrument. A little boost and cut for each EQ to get them sonically out of each other's way. Once I have that dialled I get the singer to sing and try to get their vocals riding over top so every single word is intelligible. Then I bring in the guitars (or other instruments) to fill in the remaining space. Everything stays lower than the vocals as the primary goal is to have them heard. This is the goal and if the band plays sensibly for the room size it works great. You get a clear, crisp sound that is punchy and full but not boomy. There is separation between the instruments and you can hear each one clearly. There is room for dynamics in the music and the energy can rise and fall and flow. The dance floor naturally has a bit more volume as it is right in front of the band and gets the sound coming off the stage too. The people there don't mind. For the rest of the room the volume is kept in check so you can still hear a nice balanced mix but it's not overwhelming and forcing you to yell to have a conversation.

When the band is great and plays to the room size, being the sound person can be a great experience. You walk out of there feeling good about contributing to a great musical experience. However all it takes is one instrument to get too loud and the sound guy loses control and it's usually pretty miserable. At that point it is mostly just damage control.
 

Tone Meister

Member
Messages
3,266
I have experienced more clueless idiot bands than soundmen.
Agreed. Usually it's the bands with the least actual stage experience who have the most "soundman" issues. In its simplest form, all the PA and sound personnel are for is to amplify what's coming from the stage. Experienced musicians know how to interact with the sound crew to get the best sound on stage and out front. The more inexperienced tend to let the volume and velocity get away from them.

I watched Mike Stern with a Marshall half stack, Dave Wekl with a full kit, and Tom Kennedy with a Markbass stack play to a dinner crowd at Blues Alley in Georgetown with JBL Eons as mains and a couple of small powered subs. No soundman issues with the house sound guy and normal conversation was possible 30 feet from the stage. Band sounded full and clear.
 

mikebat

Member
Messages
11,635
Here are my peeves when attending an event.

Vocals- dry as a bone or way too much reverb. A delay with low mix and cut highs works better.
Bass - no highs, just muddy low end something.
guitars - soundmen always seem to be doing something else but listening to the band and forget to boost the solos until they are almost over (bonus points for leaving it boosted afterwards). This is why guitarists are better off (volume, not gain) boosting themselves.
Drums- snares on everyone of our favorite songs is compressed, as well as having some room sound. Somehow soundmen just get the volume on the snare, but not the tone. Kicks, too much sub low, and over the evening...the soundmen need to start adding more high end cut to the kick, because the audiences ears are starting to get tired and the kick becomes more of a rumble then a snap/thud.
Keys and loops - blasted, they need better balance.

That said, as a performer, a line check and getting a decent stage volume is more than enough for me. I never get a monitor if I am just playing guitar. If I am singing, I love a decent volume with some verb in there, but God knows, I will probably hear myself over the mains mostly.
 

Floyd Eye

Senior Member
Messages
13,838
Well several of the things you mentioned are pretty much textbook how it is supposed to be done.

Everything really should always be miked. It's up to you to mix it properly. Even in the smallest room. It is not always necessary to use overhead mics on drums in small rooms. In fact, if you can't hear the cymbals, especially with them bleeding into other mics, then stage volume is loud enough that you should have everything in the PA anyway.

I think the SEs you are encountering aren't doing the wrong things. They're doing the right things but doing them the wrong way.
 

lhallam

Member
Messages
17,442
Well several of the things you mentioned are pretty much textbook how it is supposed to be done.

Everything really should always be miked. It's up to you to mix it properly. Even in the smallest room. It is not always necessary to use overhead mics on drums in small rooms. In fact, if you can't hear the cymbals, especially with them bleeding into other mics, then stage volume is loud enough that you should have everything in the PA anyway.

I think the SEs you are encountering aren't doing the wrong things. They're doing the right things but doing them the wrong way.
Exactly, mic'ing everything makes for a balanced sound, even in a small room.

IMO, the best sound men are musicians themselves, not the guys that followed the band around in HS. Unfortunately it's typically the "groupies" that become sound men and get paid more than the band. I digress.

What not to do while mixing sound:

DO NOT WEAR EARPLUGS WHILE MIXING!!!!! If it is so loud you need earplugs then guess what?

Do not set and forget. Far, far, far too many local sound guys do not adjust for performance. How many times have you sat in an audience and said to yourself, can't the sound guy tell the flute solo is too low in the mix? WTF is he doing back there?
 
Messages
3,959
with sound men, my only gripe that I ever tend to have is them having stage monitors that function to my liking (or them knowing how to use them). I've played some gigs where I've had to literally beg the sound guy to put more of my guitar in my monitor. and yet, he insists that I don't turn my amp volume past 2. well, if you allow me to actually hear myself in the wedge that is directly in front of me, I won't have to bother raising my stage volume, now would I.
 

27sauce

Senior Member
Messages
37,200
I've seen Dwight Yoakam bunch of times over the years and his acoustic guitar always sounded terrible. He'd do solo songs, and I just couldn't imagine that's how it was supposed to sound. Plus, he was always yelling at the soundguy/monitor guy, so I figured it was just a bad soundguy, although the rest of the band sounded great. I got to ask one of the band members what was up and he said, "Dwight wants it to like a tambourine." Mission accomplished, I guess!
 




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