Saturday, October 3, 2015

Pure Acoustic Bullshit

40 years ago, my partner and I did a summer’s worth of acoustic music festivals, mostly bluegrass shows. After the 90th time hearing some toothless bullshit artist jabber about how “pure” his “acoustic music” was, compared to rock or R&B, while he thumped on his mic saying, “Can you hear this, I cain’t hear nothin’,” I pretty much had all I could stand of bluegrass, hillbillies, and anything “country.” After that season, Dan quietly packed up his stuff and left the business and we folded the studio, equipment rental business, sound system design and consulting, and repair/maintenance services not too many months later. Today, it was “déjà vu all over again.” I helped setup the stage and do the sound check for an oversized group of young people pretending to be acoustic musicians at the local theater. The sound check reminded me of why I am a volunteer for this work, not a paid professional. In fact, the only way I would have money in this game would be if it were mine and I could hire and fire “musicians” at will.

Let me make this perfectly clear, in case you are not only deaf but incredibly stupid: if you need amplification to present your music in a 250 person theater, you are not an acoustic musician. If you have a pickup installed in your guitar and that is how your instrument conducts signal to the FOH board, you are not an acoustic musician. If your stage volume (monitors and POS personally owned equipment included) are adjusted to be too loud for the acoustics in the room, before the front of house (FOH) system is even engaged, you are a pitiful combination of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and Spinal Tap.

In this particular group, the only person on stage who seemed to have the slightest notion that the sound system bullshit was grossly out of control was the fuckin’ clogger. When a tapdancer who brings his own sound stage thinks you are “too loud,” you are way past too loud.

There is a concept in music, at least in the studio, called “serving the music.” It is apparently a non-issue in live music and it’s 99.999..% of the reason why rational people rarely attend live music performances. Serving the music means that musicians do anything necessary to ensure the music is delivered to the audience in the best possible manner. It means that the FOH system gets setup first, then whatever minimal reinforcement the musicians need to hear themselves well enough to perform well is added. Since most of the great performances I’ve seen were sans-monitor system, it’s pretty obvious that great musicians don’t need their own mini-concert system at all. Bluegrass musicians ought to be able to hear the damn instruments on stage without anything resembling a monitor system. If they can’t, they have wreaked hearing and should give it up and go back to their Spinal Tap cover band career.

So, the next time you find yourself fucking with the monitor gain-before-feedback when you haven’t even fired up the FOH system, remember this: I fucking hate the way you sound and so does everyone who has ever bought a record and listened to it carefully. As long as your own ego is the main focus on your stage, you are not a musician but you are definitely a spoiled child who didn’t get enough attention from mommy when you were nursing or being potty trained. Or maybe the last one never happened?

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Wirebender Audio Rants

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.