How loud to play in medium sized gigs.

DrumDoug

Senior Member
This question might seem to have an obvious answer, which made me not want to ask it. I know I’m going to get some snarky answers. But I think we could all benefit from a real discussion. I’ve been going out and watching more live music lately. One thing I’ve noticed is that a lot of drummers seem to have a hard time knowing how hard to play live. If you’re in a small venue, you just play as loud as the rest of the band. You all play louder or softer together. Really big venues, you play however you want because you have mics and you’re onstage volume doesn’t matter. The issue is the medium sized gigs. The kit might have minimal micking, but you’re stage volume still plays a part. Either the drummer is playing too hard and overplaying the room, or they are playing so softly that you can barely hear anything. I haven’t seen a local drummer that I think has the right balance. This has me second guessing how I play. How do you know if you’re playing hard enough to cut through the PA and guitar amps, but not overplaying the room when your stage volume is only partially responsible for the sound? Maybe your drums are a little loud on stage, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t being overpowered by the mix out front. I’ll save some of you from having to reply. PLAY THE ROOM! Other more thoughtful advise would be appreciated.
 

larryace

"Uncle Larry"
I record myself at gigs with a handheld recorder to see how I sit in the mix. (among other things) I place it like 10 feet in front the stage over people's heads.

Then I listen back on the drive home and make mental adjustments based on cringe factor.

The next time I play, I change what needs changing.

Ongoing process. Fastest way forward I found.
 

MrInsanePolack

Platinum Member
If the guitar players aren't turning up, you are either too quiet or just right. It's a snarky answer with some truth. If they are turning up, you are too loud.

Watch the crowd. If they are enjoying themselves you are fine. If they cringe when you hit the snare, too loud. If you can hear them talking, too quiet.

Also, if a band is too loud, people will avoid the loud, i.e. they won't stand in front of the stage. There may be some activity off to the side, but if front and center is empty, it may be a volume issue.
 

EricT43

Senior Member
This is a great question, and one that I wrestled with for a few years. I had problems during gigs because I was trying to play so loudly, and I would get fatigued and end up with elbow and wrist pain. Ultimately I decided not to play any louder than I can do comfortably with good technique. If it needs to be louder than that, that's what microphones and PA's are for.

The drummer is the only guy in a rock band that can't be louder by turning a knob, but a lot of my band members continually push me to louder and louder sound levels. Eventually I push back and ask the guitarist if instead of turning up his amp, can he just strum a lot harder? Well no, that would hurt his technique and make it harder to play certain things, and make his guitar sound bad. Exactly.
 

larryace

"Uncle Larry"
It helps to develop hearing skill on stage, meaning mixing your volume right from stage by listening to individual volumes, and having the knowledge of where you should be volume-wise on stage. I compare my volume to the vocals and guitars mainly. I don't want to overpower them.

I never want to be the loudest guy on stage, but it depends on the genre you're playing.
 

MrInsanePolack

Platinum Member
I never want to be the loudest guy on stage, but it depends on the genre you're playing.
Hadn't thought about this, and am kinda surprised. Being a metal guy, my volume was just as important. All of it. Meaning, everything was loud. Snare, kicks (especially), toms, and cymbals. Everything was pretty much an equal. The volume was 11 across the board. If I was loud, the crowd got on.
 

Morrisman

Platinum Member
Recently filled in for a band that plays medium sized halls, usually a kick mic and an overhead, but no sound operator. No mics on the amps. The guitarist’s partner would walk around the room during sound check, and also during the first few songs and signal up or down to various players. She seemed to have a prety good ear - certainly everyone in the band trusted her and turned their amps up and down, or moved back/closer to their mic’s as she suggested.
I just played medium volume and tried to roughly balance the volume of the amps. Seemed to work OK.
 

Rock Salad

Junior Member
I have one coming up! Drums all mic'd, no overheads. I super used to playing this one smallish spot and the small practice room. I have not really practiced laying into the cymbals. Plus they hurt my ears when I hit them too hard.
I know I'm gonna have to put my neighbors through some time of hearing protection level practicing. Not looking forward to it. But I want to rock that house!
I may even un muffle my ride cymbal!
 

Andy

Administrator
Staff member
Prior to every gig, irrespective of size or setup, at least one of our band members goes out front to check balance during sound check. Luckily, my bandmates are mature enough to not turn up / instigate volume creep during the set. If it's a "line check then go" situation, of course, we're at the mercy of the event FOH engineer like everyone else, but we'll always have our own engineer riding shotgun.
 
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bermuda

Drummerworld Pro Drummer - Administrator
Staff member
If the guitar players aren't turning up, you are either too quiet or just right. It's a snarky answer with some truth. If they are turning up, you are too loud.
Absolutely! I try to play what I feel is a good mix from where I sit on the stage, and rely on everyone else to help monitor the volume, since they're up front and hear the room better than I can. Fortunately, I mostly work with experienced, aware, and considerate players who tend to underplay rather than rock out where it's not appropriate, and it's rare that we're asked to turn down.

I had a gig last night where I knew I was too quiet, and after just 2 songs I had to grab my heavier sticks for a little more attack and punch. We rocked (Americana'd?) pretty hard, and I actually broke a stick, which I don't think I've done with this singer ever in the 39 years I've played with him! We did acknowledge among ourselves that we were pretty loud and need to come down, but the house didn't say a word. People were dancing and drinking and tipping us and buying CDs, so it was a good night! Except for my poor stick... :(

Bermuda
 

Frank

Gold Member
I read the room before we start. On our last gig last weekend, it was a new room to us, and we could tell the room boomed. We all started at low volume. I also ask my wife to cover me - and she will text me if somebody's level isn't right. :) At the end of the day, people in front of the band can hear the real situation much better than the band.

I haven't heard anyone say I'm too loud in - forever. :) I worked hard for some time on comfortable low volume technique, and I can play at any volume without an issue. A couple of people in my band can get pretty loud, so, it will never be me. :) If I play too low, I really don't worry about that. If it is a dance tune, I Always make sure I am punching the bass drum. Otherwise, for other types of tunes, drums that are low just don't matter much, IMHO. In my area, most venues want bands to err on the side of - quiet.
 

Trickroll

Junior Member
You play in a way that takes in the acoustic properties of the space, that is appropriate to the dynamics of the ensemble (and the song), and where your cymbals and drums are in balance. Always a notch less than what you believe is necessary. And keep in mind that the dynamic range of a drum it is far beyond most of the other instruments, so keep things under the rest of the band.
 

Skyking

Senior Member
When I listen to recorded music (pop hits) the drums are usually in the background and rarely out in front of the singers or the guitars. If I played a medium sized gig I'd want to be mic'd and run through a mixer. Yes more fun things to buy but Drums sound sooo good that way.
 

larryace

"Uncle Larry"
Cutting through doesn't sound as good to me as I imagined it would.

What it really means, in my world, is that I'm playing too loud.

Too much volume...or anything...messes up the recipe. It's like making a cake with way too much salt. It has be in the proper quantity to work harmoniously with the other ingredients. Volume is something that much sensitivity and care needs to be included with it.

Being concerned with the drums cutting through is not a balanced approach....We should be concerned about the overall mix being in balance, not singling out one aspect of the mix and making sure it is dominant. If anything should cut through, it's the vocal or the lead soloist, not the support section. Do we want the bass player cutting through? No, we want the bass where it belongs, not featured as the most important thing. Same with the drums.
 
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PorkPieGuy

Platinum Member
This is an excellent question, and so far, these are really great replies. I really wish I could just play big drums with single-ply heads with tone for days and big brash cymbals like I'm in a stadium every gig, but this is just not the case. Here are some things that I do at just about every gig in addition to some equipment I've invested in so that I can play at a comfortable level for everyone.

1. Whenever I play anywhere, after the first song or so, I look out into the crowd. If I see people struggling to hear each other when they are talking, then we (as a band) are too loud. I'll soften my playing at first to see if it helps. If it doesn't, we all need to quieten down.

2. My wife comes with me to as many gigs as she can, and she's a very good judge of volume out in the house. She doesn't have "girlfriend syndrome" where she wants me louder than anyone else. She's not afraid to hurt feelings by saying things like "Acoustic guitar needs to come up, and the second electric needs to come down. Rack tom is too hot and the snare is too. Needs a little more kick. Bass sounds good." Everyone respects her ears, and it works well for us.

3. If I'm playing and I don't have a wedge monitor beside me, I listen for the lead singer. If I can't hear every word he's singing, I'm too loud.

4. I'm I'm using in-ear monitors, I cut my drums up in my head. Even though I've been playing a long time, I still play a little louder than I should when I'm wearing IEM's if I don't cut myself up.

5. One thing that I've learned over the past year or so about the drummer being too loud is that so much of it has more to do with the pitch of an instrument as opposed to the actual volume. I ditched all of my traditional-type of cymbals (Zildjian A Custom, A-series, Sabian AA, etc.) for much bigger, darker, thinner cymbals. It keeps the pitch down, and the cymbals don't pierce the air as badly as more traditional cymbals do. Their sound is much more pleasant and much less shrill, and it allows me to play at a more "normal" velocity as opposed to just tapping them lightly at smaller venues.

If the guitar players aren't turning up, you are either too quiet or just right. It's a snarky answer with some truth. If they are turning up, you are too loud.
This only works if you don't have guitar players who like to drink. As a guitar player's ears get more and more numb due to alcohol, the more they turn up their amps, no matter how small or large the venue is.
 

BruceW

Senior Member
We've gotten to mic'ing the entire kit at most of our venues lately, so it's been a learning curve for me. Our sound guy is quite good, so I trust him to make it good out front, but stage volume is still a concern. The ouder we get onstage in those venues, the bigger the challenge, for all concerned. So we gotta watch it. While I know he's got all he needs out front, I try and lay back more, but that affects my playing, so it becomes a balancing act. It's been fun, tho...nice to know that where appropriate, our guy will bring it up as loud as necessary. With appropriate boom boom boom
 
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Xstr8edgtnrdrmrX

Well-known member
in my jazz band, we rarely go electric other than the guitar, and the intent is "brushes only", so I play the same volume no matter the venue in that band. If I can't hear the bass, I am too loud.

and in the rockabilly /cow-punk band, the bass player runs the sound, and will walk around out front during our first song, and I only use kick and snare, so I trust his judgement. It is funny b/c in this band, both guitar players will tell me to play more aggressive sometimes, and then our bass player will tell me to "smile and nod", but to keep the feel the same. I think it is the drunk ears thing effecting them...

both bands usually play clubs, VFW Halls etc...so they are mostly medium sized gigs to me. The cow punk band also has played some big stage/ big PA situations, and there, I do what the front of the house guy tells me to.

Also, in that band, I am the youngest at 50, so most of those guys cringe when their amps are over 3. Stage volume is rarely "loud" (compared to my thrash metal band).
 

Rock Salad

Junior Member
I am so used to the acoustic tone and ballance of my kit that it is really wierd playing with pa support and all its compression etc.
Crashing and burning next month again, but I learn a little each time. Hopefully this one will be better than the last.
 
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