Thursday, October 14, 2010

Make Live Music Sound GREAT

One of the most overlooked techniques in making your band's performance sizzle doesn't include the latest gear, a fancy light show, or even more time at rehearsal.  It has to do with volume, and the "stacking" order of each contributing sound.

While it's true that the overall output of any band's volume is a matter of opinion, it's also true that the listener often doesn't hear what you--the musician--want him to hear.  Oh sure, if the guitar player turns his amp to number 10, the crowd will certainly know he's there (ouch!).  But if you want to leave an emotional, and therefore lasting impression on your audience, you've got to send them home remembering not just your hot guitar screeches and exhaustive drum solos, but the actual songs.  That means they have to hear the lyrics, and/or the melody.  So how do you do that with all the action going on within the band?  Easy . . .

First, you adhere to a couple of rules.  During the sound check, and periodically through the show, have at least one key band member step off the stage, walk out into the crowd, and listen for clarity.  It's a simple question:  Can the singer's words--all of them--be heard clearly riding above the band?  Like they usually do in recordings (assuming the engineer had his chops together).  Recorded music "stacks" sounds according to what is most predominant and crucial at that moment, and live performances must do the same.  The singer, or the soloing instrument must always be on top.  That means they are just slightly louder that everyone else.  Not so much that the listener is even aware of it, but enough to give them presence, and clarity.  Getting the musicians to understand this and turn down is a tough job, but this is where you can tell pros from amateurs.  What's the point of having a front person if you're going to trash all over them?  Everyone's job in a band is of equal importance, so draw the best from everyone.  Lower the overall volume to one unit of sound that cushions the singer or soloist.

Another thing that helps make your band memorable is the use of dynamics.  Again take your cue from recorded music and you'll see how not only the overall volume, but individual volumes vary depending on the emotional level at any given moment.  Use dynamics.  Let them draw your listeners in and keep them engaged.  They'll lose interest quickly if you start at full force, blast away for the length of the song, then end with a crash.  After all, that's been done just a few times before.

Once you've gotten


  1. Great information on sound dynamics in a live setting!

  2. Finally I see how to add on here. Yes, thanks, dynamics are always a sticky point within the band but really important. To allow the singer or soloist to "ride above the band", all supportive instruments need to be integrated into the same kind of mix the recording engineer would create--it's just hard to get players to stay there long enough to get used to it! Everyone tends to hear the overall through the "ears" of their own playing rather than the whole band. Yet that's what's required--learning to put yourself into the mix. Don't worry, you've got plenty of time to shine when you become the focal point (solo, lead licks, etc). If you've got a sound guy working the sound for you this is not a problem because he/she puts it out in front exactly as it should be. To accommodate the fact that you can't hear yourself enough that way, they give you monitors. But since life isn't always perfect, we players have to be flexible and get used to playing with a little less punch than we'd like once in awhile. If the whole band works as a team and listens to the band mate who's checking the sound out in the crowd, this can work wonders.