Tuesday, October 1, 2013

ARTICLE: Loudly Killing Live Music

[This one is just for the Wirebender Audio readers.  But I really mean it.]

All Rights Reserved © 1991 Thomas W. Day

It seems like everything I read about the live music scene around the country is that clubs are going broke and bands can't make any money. There's sure a lot of money changing hands in the music industry, $40 billion dollars in music videos alone. You have to wonder why clubs and bands aren't getting much of that.

It's not like the musical world is falling apart. Bands are no worse and the number and styles of performers is more varied than ever. There ought to be something playing, somewhere, for everyone who likes music. Clubs are better; less smoke, better food and beer, way better sound systems, and better attitudes. The industry still sells hundreds of millions of CD's and videos. But live music is always hurting for an audience.

If you ever wondered why, just look at the Quaalude-soaked goof behind the sound board. What has changed in the last few decades is that none of us listen to AM. None of us have stereo systems that sound as bad as a PA in a live club, after one of these deaf clowns gets behind the board. None of us, except those zombies in the blaring and thumping pickup trucks and rusted Buicks, ever hear music so distorted that is all but unrecognizable. If the stereo strapped to my computer system was as awful as the typical live club's output, I'd be writing this with a quill pen. We hear pretty reasonably reproduced music from almost every source we own.

Then, we got to a club, pay a bunch of money to hear a blasting, distorted mess and think, "I'm not gonna do that again for a while." And that amounts to about one trip to a live music venue every few years for most of us, tapering down to a visit every decade or two for older music fans.

Who's fault is that? Again, it's easy; the moron behind the sound board. A friend of the lead singer's girlfriend. The guitar player's best dope smoking buddy. A homeless drunk who will work for two bottles a night. Who knows where these idiots come from, but they are wreaking ears and music all over the country.

The solution is simple. When you think the sound clown is wreaking your favorite national or local band, he probably is. Walk up behind him and broom his line of coke into the crowd. Smack him in the back of the head with a mid-sized brick. Kick his chair over and spill him, head first, into the mosh pit. Unplug his effects rack. Narc him to the cops. Do whatever you have to do to make his life miserable. Scare him into going back to his boombox pickup truck and out of the wonderful world of music. No punishment is too severe. If no one steps into his place, no big loss. These jerks don't move a fader after the sound check anyway, unless they notice a channel that isn't pegging the VU's or feeding back. These guys are like corporate execs, it won't get worse without them and it might get a lot better.

While you're at it, bitch to the club. Bitch to the band. Bitch to the record company. If you have a lot of time to waste, bitch to TicketMaster. Let them know you don't have to spend any money if the people who control the shows don't feel like controlling the shows. Trust me on this, the older you get the less inclined you are to suffer for someone else's art. If you want to enjoy live music ten, twenty years from now, don't put up with miserable experiences today. Strike while you are young and able to serve the jail time.

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2 comments:

Joey Olsen said...

I'm with you on this topic. What happened to the idea of sound reinforcement? Could it be possible that not every instrument needs reinforcement? I hate when I see a sound guy mic'ing up everything and turning knobs everything is blaring through the speakers.

However, I might consider that this is a little bit on the musician too. A decent musician should know how loud their instrument should sound in the room and play accordingly. As a drummer, I'm constantly thinking about this. If I walk into a smallish room and blast, then the sound guy will simply bring everything up to my level.

Anonymous said...

"Reinforcement" appears to be a historic term. I recently experienced an example of how far from the ideal live sound has become. An acoustic college performance for an audience of less than 50 "required" amplification on every instrument, the voices, and even the stage floor. When I demonstrated how much more clear the sound was by turning down the master volume, the engineer's response was to crank it back up and ask me not to "help" while he tried to do his job. So, I pulled out a book and tried to ignore the mess coming from the stage.

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Over the dozen years I taught audio engineering at Musictech College and McNally Smith College of Music, I accumulated a lot of material that might be useful to all sorts of budding audio techs and musicians. This site will include comments and questions about professional audio standards, practices, and equipment. I will add occasional product reviews with as many objective and irrational opinions as possible.