? for soundmen

john gerrard

Senior Member
Why would anybody do this? Please read the story.

I was at a rather large outdoor festival a couple days ago with 5 bands. First of all there is only one large scale sound company in the area and they have all of the major festivals and concerts tied up. Now here is the problem, and this is not the first time I've seen this happen with this sound company and others. (These are all local bands) The first band came on and the mix was horrible for their whole time. They had even done a sound check. Now the second band comes on and a total different mix. It sounded great. The third band comes on and total crap again.

The question. Why would anybody do this delibertly? I've talked to a few other musician friends who have seen the same thing with other sound companies. It seems to me that when you are hired to do a job you do it to the best of your ability for everyone concerned. These bands work their tails off and these festivals and concerts are a big deal to them.

I've also seen this happen when a local band opens for a big name act. If the big name act is so darn good, what are they afraid of? They shouldn't have to screw with the local act just to make themselves sound better.

Andy I'm hoping to hear from you on this. From what I know of you from DW I can tell that you are a very honest and upright man. I can never see you doing this but maybe at times soundmen are told to do this. My question to you is why?

O.K. I'm done venting now. I would like to hear some other thoughts on this. John
 

bermuda

Drummerworld Pro Drummer - Administrator
Staff member
The question. Why would anybody do this delibertly? I've talked to a few other musician friends who have seen the same thing with other sound companies. It seems to me that when you are hired to do a job you do it to the best of your ability for everyone concerned.

I've also seen this happen when a local band opens for a big name act. If the big name act is so darn good, what are they afraid of? They shouldn't have to screw with the local act just to make themselves sound better.
I don't think the sound people deliberately do poor mixes, it doesn't benefit anyone and they're the ones who take the blame anyway. Headliners aren't concerned with how well the opener sounds, so it's not them calling the shots.

But there are reasons that one act sounds good, and another doesn't. It depends on who gets a sound check, if the board is automated and can save each band's mix and EQ, the volume and sound of each band's gear, any cabling changes between acts, whether the same FOH person is doing all of the mixes, etc.

I haven't known any act to be deliberately sabotaged, but I'll admit it does seem that way at times.

Bermuda
 

Derek Roddy

DRUMMERWORLD PRO DRUMMER
Being a closet "sound guy" myself....it's not up to the sound guy to make a band sound good.
If the band doesn't have it's sound together first....the sound guy can do nothing.
If the guitar tone is horrible, or the bass rig is too loud, all a sound guy can do is offer a suggestion based on his experience.
In mine, I've found that sometimes a band must want to sound bad given some of the replies I've gotten.

Bands forget that their mix on stage is the most important mix of the gig.

D
 

Arky

Platinum Member
It does happen deliberately it seems, at least sometimes. There was an interview with a high-energy guitarist in the German Gitarre&Bass magazine. That guitarist said their band - opening for a bigger act - got a bad PA sound on purpose. He said they didn't want him/his band to sound better/stand out more than the guitarist from the main act. (The main act was Dream Theater.) Can't say whether this is true though, just passing what I've read.
 

Andy

Administrator
Staff member
John, first up, let me clarify my credentials here. I'm not a sound engineer, not even close. I've done quite a bit of FOH, mainly in my earlier years. Very infrequently, I've driven the desk on some bigger gigs (5,000 +), but only a handful of times. Most of the work was clubs & small - medium outdoor events to supplement my meagre earnings as a drummer, & I only got the work because I knew the right people (& wasn't persistently drunk/powdered/stoned). These days, I do sound for my band (but we are training one of the crew up), & the occasional small festival/medium - large rally. I do know a fair few FOH engineers of note. I'm a basic drummer with more sound experience than many, but nothing more than that.

Ok, the big question. Do some engineers dumb down certain acts? I think the answer has to be yes, but before we all shout out "foul" - read on. In some rare cases, the engineer is instructed to "simplify" the support band mix. In other cases, he/she's asked to dial back the mains by 5db or so, but both these situations are very rare indeed. I do know that very occasionally a pro engineer will put less effort into a band that has pissed him off. All this said, in general, the pro guys are most resistant to delivering a less than ideal sound, because when all is said & done, it's their name on the product. Just imagine you being asked to turn in a poor performance as a stand in live drummer. Would you? Most engineers have no less pride in their work than any other performing pro. About the only aspect of "dumbing down" that is a regular part of multiple live shows, & well known about, is with respect to lighting, but there's very good show artistic progression/highlight reasons for that, & it's understood + accepted practice. You ain't going to blow the pyro's on the opening act! ;)

Let's now consider another far more frequently encountered scenario. Some bands just don't deliver a good sound, or at the very least, have no concept of just how different it is to play through a big PA system. Often, this means less than appropriate guitar tones, poor drum tuning, poor dynamic control, players who turn up because of poor monitor balance, etc. Put these elements together with an engineer who either lacks the skills, or can't be bothered to fix stuff, & you have a mess. It really doesn't take much to derail a good mix, especially when driving a big system. These issues are often compounded by lack of sound check. Mixing that first song on the fly isn't easy, especially if the stage tones being delivered are difficult to fix to a point were you have enough headroom to pull stuff out of the soup without driving up overall volume.

In short, there are many factors that can feed into the adverse affect you're sometimes hearing. Finally, frankly, some engineers have no right to call themselves as such. The number of guys I meet who are being paid to drive a desk, yet have no grasp of basics such as mixing in stereo, is alarmingly high.

On a small to medium scale, I'll be starting another thread soon, partially brought to focus by my experiences over the last few days. It will focus on providing tips on how to better assure a good FOH sound as a drummer.
 
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bermuda

Drummerworld Pro Drummer - Administrator
Staff member
While it's intriguing to imagine that the headliner is concerned about the opener's sound (or performance,) it's just not true. The headliner knows that 99% of the audience is there to see them, and that whatever the opener does has no adverse effect on their fans. In fact, if the entire show sounds and looks good, all the better for the headliner. I suppose there are some extreme egos that might consider such sabotage, but it's more likely they would simply eliminate the opener altogether than to risk a show that didn't sound great for all concerned... such as the the audience.

Bermuda
 

eclipseownzu

Gold Member
Bands forget that their mix on stage is the most important mix of the gig.

D
This is the key. One band can sound great and the other terrible just due to their on stage sound. I have been in a band where the guitarist turns up his volume in small increments throughout the entire show. This in turn requires the bass to turn up. That effects how much of the monitors the singer can hear. By the end of the night the guitars are way above the mix, the singer is screaming to hear himself and I have unplugged my monitor to maintain what little hearing I have left.

I have also found that the gear the bands are using make a huge difference. Cheap speakers dont project or muddy up the mix. Bad guitar or bass pickups are noisey and add noise to the mix. Cheap microphones dont cut through clearly. Poorly tuned drums add overtones that put more noise into the mix. Add that together and you get an overall bad FOH sound.
 

Milt Hathaway

Senior Member
(Disclaimer: 30+ year soundman and system provider)

Openers can sound poorly compared to the headliner for many reasons. The primary reason is this: It takes talent to mix a band, both at FOH and monitors. (Generally speaking) that headliner has guys with them who have rehearsed with the band and mixed them for months or even years. The headliner's sound techs are typically well rested and fed, and haven't been out in the sun for hours and hours.

That opener probably doesn't have sound techs with them, and is simply relying on the guys that brought the PA to take care of it. Then you've got guys who have probably never heard that opener and who seldom get the chance to mix taking care of a band they really don't care about. Those guys have also been on location working since before sunup, probably haven't eaten well, and they'll be there long after everyone else is gone. Stress also plays a huge part in a sound tech's ability to do the job.

Quite frankly, opening acts are a pain in the ass for these guys because of the stage changes and settings changes involved. Digital consoles help quite a bit, but everything still gets rearranged on stage.

Certainly there are other factors: Lack of performer talent, lack of proper band equipment, lack of proper soundcheck time, etc., but they pale compared to the problems of not having knowledgeable sound techs.

Moral: If a band wants to guarantee that they'll sound their best they will bring good audio techs with them. I'm not saying there aren't very good guys out there in the trenches doing their best for every performer who comes along, but those guys are few and far between, and even they can't be as good as a sound tech who knows that band personally.

Regarding headliners 'sabotaging' opening acts: It does happen, but not often. Openers get limits to their soundcheck time, limits to the changes they can make in the stage setup, and sometimes even limits to the levels they are allowed to run the PA at. That's not sabotage, that's just the way it works.
 

DrumEatDrum

Platinum Member
While it's intriguing to imagine that the headliner is concerned about the opener's sound (or performance,) it's just not true. The headliner knows that 99% of the audience is there to see them, and that whatever the opener does has no adverse effect on their fans.
Disagree. I've seen many times where the headliner reserves a certain number of channels on the board and won't let opening acts use them, effectively giving the opening acts less room to work with. Much like headliners don't always let the opening acts have access to all the available lights.

Ego is part of it. Bands have heard the stories about Van Halen opening for Black sabbath way back when and Van Halen blowing Sabbath off the stage. Billy Squier admits his career tanked after appearing in MTV dancing in pink pants and then letting Def Leppard open for him. Headlining Lead Singer Disease becomes a factor.

The other thing I've observed a lot is sound men expecting tips. The band that tip sound great, those that don't, don't. Maybe not at the festival level, but on the club level, I've seen this time and time again. Really unfair, but common.

But I also agree with everyone else, some bands sound better because they are a better sounding band. They have better gear, and/or they just know how to work their gear to sound best in that particular setting. I've seen this a lot on the local level where band A features a drums set with old dented heads and the singer is using a cheap mic, and band B has a nicely tuned set of drums and the singer is using a high end dual channel wireless mic with build in feed back suppression. Huge difference!
 

john gerrard

Senior Member
Very good points you guys. I understand what you are saying. But go back to my original post. This sound company has everything in the area sewed up. The talent and musicianship on both bands was on a very even plane. Meaning that both bands have enough experience to know how to play through a mix and both bands have enough experience with their own equipment. Another thing I would like to point out is that both bands used the same drums. Now being a drummer what do you think is the first thing that caught my attention ? Bingo! You're right----- the drums. Now I know enough about drums to tell the difference between a good mix and a bad mix. The first drummer didn't have a chance. The toms were so gated and compressed that they sounded like plastic buckets. The sound guy had the kick drum and the bass guitar so muddied it was like a 50 gallon barrel of mud. Picture a 17 year old kid in a Toyota with a 2000 watt amp driving four subs in the trunk as he drives bye. Nothing but subsonic rumble.

I understand alot about the trials and tribulations of running sound and even giving them the consideration of a doubt,they purposely screwed the sound on some other bands. Like I said I've seen them do it before and I have seen others do it for big acts.

I guess you just had to be there. Wish I had a recording to play for you but I don't. Remember this was the same guy running sound for all the bands.

Derek Roddy. I understand that a sound man can't make a bad band sound good but he can make a good band sound terrible.

But any way I do appreciate the comments from all of you. Hope you all have a good day. John
 
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larryace

"Uncle Larry"
The moral of this story, before you go on, give the sound man a tip. Also, be really nice to them. They have your sound in their hands.
 

mmulcahy1

Platinum Member
I've been casually following this thread and I have a question.

What is "FOH?"

I hope I'm not being stupid or anything, but I just can't figure it out.
 

Smoke

Silver Member
FOH - "Front of House" - the vantage point of the audience (or the sound board if placed downrange), rather than on-stage or through your monitor.
 

Andy

Administrator
Staff member
I've been casually following this thread and I have a question.

What is "FOH?"

I hope I'm not being stupid or anything, but I just can't figure it out.
Front of house - as distinct from the monitor/stage sound :)
 

Dr_Watso

Platinum Member
The moral of this story, before you go on, give the sound man a tip. Also, be really nice to them. They have your sound in their hands.
I can't believe I never thought to do that. I feel ashamed. Especially if we get tipped by the audience at a gig, the sound guy should take a cut.

Thanks.
 

larryace

"Uncle Larry"
T.I.P.S. in case you don't know the origin.... means "To Insure Proper Service". It is actually an acronym. Hey I never tipped a sound person either, but after reading this thread, I think I will from now on.

I know anytime I have somebody doing work in or around my house, I always tip them, clean out the area where they will be working, provide light for them, and provide a pitcher of water and a cup. It's ALWAYS money well spent, people will go out of their way to do a good job for you when they are appreciated. He feels good and thinks highly of you, you feel good for doing the right thing, it's good karma, and he does a good job. Worth every bit of 20 bones.

I think the reason I never tipped the sound guy is because in a lot of cases, he's making more than me for the day. But still, it's a worthwhile grease. The musician, on the level I'm at, money-wise, gets screwed the worst, for sure.
 

Derek Roddy

DRUMMERWORLD PRO DRUMMER
Derek Roddy. I understand that a sound man can't make a bad band sound good but he can make a good band sound terrible.
Depends on what your definition of "good" is. As players...they may be monsters but, maybe they haven't found their tone yet. (this goes for drummers too. I've watched a lot of guys shared drums while I was at the desk and playing is 80% of your sound because with each drummer, the sound changed. Enough so, that I would have thought they switched kits on me if I didn't have eyes. Nothing changed but the drummer)

I ran sound at HOBs in Myrtle Beach for a couple years and what each persons idea of good varied a lot.
For instance, a guitar player is convinced that he has "the best possible tone" on stage. Put a mic in front of it and put it through the PA and it's complete garbage.
I've even brought guys out to FOH to let them hear it and, they blame me for it sounding like crap. Haha. Can't polish that.

So, the moral is...What sounds good to each person on stage....might not be that great through a PA rig. What your ears hear is not what the mic hears.

So yes, very possible for a good band to sound bad.

D
 
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larryace

"Uncle Larry"
Good stuff Derek. Plus one on everything you said.

Sound engineering is an extremely complex job IMO. Plus you have musicians and their precious egos to deal with. Plus everybody has a different idea of what sounds good, and everyone has a different perspective of what THEY are hearing....Ay yi yi...there's 900 variables. Then you got your microphone placements, your phase cancellations, feedback, standing waves, reverberations...there's the monitor mix that's different for everyone....

Being a sound engineer...a really good one who understands the science and knows what to do with all the gear...those guys have my respect. Acoustics are highly complex.
 

mmulcahy1

Platinum Member
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