Friday, May 4, 2012

Can You Hear That?

This was going to be a post about setting up for a theatre gig but I got a better idea as I was starting out. Originally I was thinking about walking the room and listening for reflections and overlap interactions but my mind strayed to mixing monitors for guitar players. Hit me up if the first one sounded interesting and I'll get after it next week.

I don't know how many times it has happened that I've been sound checking a band, and some kid with a blazing guitar amp does his thing. In a small venue it's often a fight to make the rest of the mix heard over big guitar amps so I'll wind up just pulling the faders all the way down. Then I'll hold him up and ask if he can hear it all right? (smirk) Ninety-nine times out of a hundred the kid will strike another chord and lean in toward the wedge and then shake his head.

It's been years now that I've been on this educational crusade with guitar players. Lower stage volume helps the FOH mixer build a better mix, and keeps bleed to a minimum, ensuring a cleaner, tighter sound. It also reduces what's called beaming in the house, where the people directly in the path of the amp will get an extra dose and those further off to the sides will be lacking that sound. 
But what really amazes me is that time after time the aforementioned guitar player will insist on having his wedge cranked up until his pant legs are flapping. Part of the problem can be that the player's head is just in the wrong spot to hear it. Guys playing combo amps on small stages have this issue, where the sound is literally hitting them in the pant legs and they just can't hear it. But really it's more often a case of not understanding the question. I asked if he could hear his instrument all right, not if it was coming out of the wedge.

One particularly effective way to fix this problem is to ask the guitar players to set their amps up on the sides of the stage pointing in. This doesn't look like rock n' roll though so you have to be able to get through to them that you do in fact care about their tone, and make the explanation from two paragraphs ago. If you can get them to do it, it's amazing to see the look on their faces. THWAAAAAAANG!!! And all the band members get big eyes and say, "Holy CRAP that's LOUD!"  And usually they turn down immediately, you mic them up and the show sounds great, with a good clean mix out front and the vocals clear and crisp in the monitors because they're not straining to put more guitar on stage.

Guitar players are a difficult breed to deal with. I can say this because I play myself.  Few musicians spend as much time and money developing their tone and many are loath to hand it over to a sound guy. Many have been burnt and have become gun shy. It all comes back to the basic philosophy I state over and over again on these pages.  Start out to have a good relationship with bands you meet. Let them know you're working for them and not just putting your time in. If you can get them to trust you then everyone can have a good show. Dealing with guitar players just takes an extra level of sensitivity. Politics, psychology, bad experiences and misinformation are all stacked against you so it's often a real up hill climb, but one that's worth making.

1 comment:

  1. Right on. If a guy on stage can't hear something in the monitor, you don't have to turn it up to make him hear better. Sometimes just going up to the stage and repositioning the monitor a little bit can make it so that you either don't have to turn it up, or you can turn it up and avoid the same potential for feedback as before you moved the monitor. But then again... It's all psychology. Sometimes (read: frequently) pretending to turn the monitors up does the trick just nicely. I used to feel bad about doing this, but then I realized that my job when mixing monitors isn't to turn volume knobs. It's to make it so the musicians on stage hear a good mix. Don't forget that what they hear has every bit as much to do with what's going on in their brains as what's coming out of the wedges.

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