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I played with a local band for a couple of years, the usual ear-cleaning feedbacks and bad mix run by the leader/guitar player. Great music ! Hugh talent! ... but the band was always complaining and the crowd was confused. I finally got them to accept a sound man and TRUST his mix for an equal $$ cut in the band. It was a great improvement and the crowd was always saying how we all had improved so much, and the band was quieter on stage so we (even the sax) could hear !! Hard step to take for most but huge reward with the right person on the knobs
 

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I have run into the "louder is better" mindset numerous times. It is amazing how so called "musicians" will not accept simple logic and seem to take it as a personal attack when I bring up the idea of "subtractive mixing" - instead of turning one thing up, turn everything else down.

For my gigs as a leader I choose players that understand the idea that louder is not better. For my gigs as a sideman I use earplugs a lot- I need the money.
 

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I just got back from a gig tonight at a private party. Because we were playing in someone's backyard, the band (a blues band with two electric guitars) made a big effort to play at a reasonable volume and my sax didn't even need to be miked. The drummer played tastefully with just the right dynamics and we could all hear each other perfectly well. We got lots of compliments (including some more gigs) and guess what the major compliment was? "You guys sound great and I especially like the fact you didn't play too loud!!" So WHY do so many bands think they have to play so painfully loud, when the audience doesn't like it, the band members don't like it, and I guarantee you the bartender doesn't like it......What Gives?!
 

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I toured North America and Europe for over a decade with a 6-man group: saxes, clarinet, trumpet, trombone, tuba, drums. We didn't have our own electronic gear, so every night on this string of one-nighters it was house sound. What made this work (most of the time) was long, meticulous sound checks. We'd arrive at the venue hours early, giving us time to adjust mic and monitor levels for players both individually and in combination.

In halls with good acoustics, we could keep front-of-the-house amplification down to a dull roar -- but monitor (or foldback) levels were always essential. Even across a relatively short span of six guys, there'd be a noticeable time delay due to the speed of sound in air, so we relied on monitor sound to keep our ensemble rhythm playing tight.

One thing that helped us was to designate one of the musicians as our official pair of ears. During the sound check, he'd roam the hall, verifying that the mix sounded good at the front, back, sides, balcony, etc. He'd also note whether the hall's natural acoustics favored winds, brass, or percussion -- we'd adjust our playing accordingly. When his time before the mic came, somebody else would go be the ears.

Key to the success of this approach was winning the trust of the house sound engineer -- getting him or her to accept that we had done this before and had a pretty good idea of how to achieve our optimal mix. Basically, we'd set an overall mix level and then not mess with it electronically AT ALL for the duration of the show. The players would adjust the mix when needed by moving closer to or farther away from the mics -- for instance, when alternating between solo routines and backup parts.

The only times this didn't work was when an inexperienced or prideful engineer "rode the pots" -- continually changing mic levels in a vain attempt to follow or anticipate our musical routines. Disaster! Half the band would be inaudible while soloists struggled with feedback. Fortunately this only happened at a few US college venues, and all over Germany.

I played alto and soprano saxes on these gigs, using the same single-mic placement for both horns. To get my straight soprano on target, I'd just rear back a little -- not uncomfortable. Yes, my bell was blasting straight into the mic, and yes, subtle shadings of tone emanating from higher up the horn were probably lost. But what the hell -- no matter what we did, nobody could be heard over the drums anyway!
 

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"nobody could be heard over the drums anyway." LOL, yeah, that's what I'm talkin' about! But don't get me wrong, one of the things I like about the sax is that it is loud and powerful, and I love playing in a rollicking blues/R&B band.....it's just that there is a limit where the sound of an overamplified band becomes painful for almost everyone. I've never understood why the limit is so often exceeded.
 

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I just got home from a gig I walked out on because the amplification was too loud. I was wearing earplugs too. I figured I'd rather save my ears than make the $$. I couldn't even tell if I was in tune. Damn amplifiers... and ignorant musicians. Bet I don't get any more calls from them.
 

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I have lots of ways to deal with being heard and use them in different situations. I always have these lame "sound mirror" things in the case. It clips on the bell and lets me reflect the sound from the bell at my head. Works good in medium loud settings but won't help with really loud gigs.

Being the Boss does help volume issues because you can fire the "instrument of choice" if it is a problem.

I did buy a tape and book set for my guitar player, years ago, named Loud and Soft by Bert and Ernie. That was the first time he heard me on the volume thing and didn't think I was just giving him a hard time. Did not help much but is pretty funny if you think about it.

Bottom line...

If you can not hear and it is all really loud = you will not be playing very good.
If you are sucking, then you are not going to have better gigs coming your way. It can be self defeating. You can't go anywhere from there.

So, steal from all the above great ideas. Try and make it better or work toward a change.

Hot Spot Monitors can be great but high volume needs more. If it was a game, I know I would win because I have 3 amps, 3 sets of good speakers and a pair of awsome monitors - but that is not the point.

I do carry a pair of monitors, small effects/mixer rack and 750 watts a side if I really like the gig.
If it is not worth it, move on. It's OK. Not every gig is for everyone and a Soprano Sax in a Metal band might not be the best idea you ever had.

I won't play with ear plugs because I play too hard and really feel it. If it is that loud I stick a napkin in my ears, stand around a lot and play very soft looking confused. Don't know if it is a very smart thing to do, but I get paid, don't blow myself out and do the dumb blond thing at the end of the night. "I don't know what was wrong but I could not hear anything so..."

SAXBOY
www.gregvail.com/sys-tmpl/ksbrbash2003
 

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It's always a challenge working in heavily amplified settings, esp. when you have a soundman who doesn't know how to mic/eq a sax, or when you're sharing the stand with yo-yo's who's answer for everything is to turn their own volume up. We spend all this time picking the right ax, agonizing over reeds, blowing long tones till we're blue. A guy has one knob turned wrong and all that work is totally wiped out! And soundcats wonder why we get so pissed at them. If you do those kind of gigs a lot it pays to have your own rack with wireless mic(s), and effects on board. If not, as stated earlier, be able to tell the soundguy exactly what you want: type of mic, placement, level, monitor mix and eq settings.
 

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Musicians and soundmen sometimes forget that EQ's and volume knobs work both ways. The answers for balance are not always figuring out what to add but what to subtract to balance a mix.

On stage you play best when you can hear yourself clearly and enough of others to interact and balance. I have done both -played on stage and run front house mix. It amazes me that players expect to hear a clear strong sound from every instrument, and have room for their instrument and voice to be clear- all out of an monitor with a 15 (or 12) inch speaker and horn (which is usually umderpowered). The only way to get that kind of clarity and presence is really loud (needing plenty of amplifier head room and speaker system to handle that).

I have spent a fair amount of time locating instruments on stage to help provide clear sound to the player and locate the sound so that the rest of the band hears clearly but not an over balance of things they don't need to hear.

It may not look look as cool, but amplifiers need to be off the floor and as close to ear level as possible. A guitat amp lointed at the players ear will get the quickest reduction in volume (also works for bass players- except you loose some of the low end rumble-aw ahucks!). But then they will complain that they can't hear other players as well --then turn DOWN a little so you can her.

Two things with amplifiers. With am amp pointed at your knee cap, volume is going to be misjudged and highs and crunch is not going to be heard (players ear is off axis and hears mostly lows unless extremely loud). The other thing is the low E string on guitar is about 80hz, and that length of sound wave will probably take 9 to 12 feet distance to develop a full wave length. Highs are very directional, and can be heard best directly in fornt of the amp. BAlance of tone can be best heard 12 to 15 feet directly in front of the amp. The player has to decide whether he/she is playing for the audience or themselves, and learn to balance things accordingly. The only way to sort of bring this point home is a sound chek in a performance space and a very long cord or wireless.

Clarity in a mix is a matter of perception. In a large mix, each instrument is not going to sound like a mix of several individual acoustic instruments combined. The perception of tonal balance is knowing what frequencies to take out of the mix to get rid of rumble and roar frequencies and amintain balance and clarity.

If drummers are on a platform, then expect all kind of weid things coming through the front line vocal mikes - especially snare and cymbles. Snare drum and kick drum mikes are so close, there is usually a bleed through on both of those mikes, and best you cn do is get a workable generaliztion. If you can afford gates for all the drum mikes, it's a really good investment and helps immensly. Drummers, because of their location need a strong quality monitor PLACED WHERE THEY CAN HEAR IT!

A monitor pointed at the drum mikes is not going to help anyone. Encourage the drummer to consider the monitor as part of his/her drum setup- elevated near ear level is best.

I hardly notice any band player worried about being too loud. Most worry that they won't be heard and act accordingly. You can imagine what is going to happen when you have 5 to 7 musicians worried about not being heard -- probably not the best musical result.

Finally, if you have the band in a performance space, and one by one have the players go out front and set the EQ and balance of the the front PA system, you'll have a radical difference in how the front sounds.

A good sound man who can take the time to work with band menbers to make muscians on stage happy most of the time, and have a good functional mix out front is a good investment.

Good sound mix starts with attitude of players on stage and a willingness to give and take and directing individual egos toward a grouop effort.
 

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I agree. Ideally everyone should should be working together to achieve the common goal. A good soundman can really make the process effortless. They're worth their weight in gold.
 
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