Thoughts on Stage Sound

As per my last post here re. tone and gear- we’re all at the mercy of our ability to hear and hear well.

Here are just a handful of considerations as of course many books and indeed many wiser, more experienced peeps than I can teach a lot more…

First a little background info. as to an element of how and why I’ve learned a bit about this.

So having shot multiple loud or high “cracking” firearms at ranges and hunting for years along with blasting music 24 x 7 via radio, vinyl re. sound systems, amplifiers, massive p.a. systems, close to 40 full length records and more singles, countless demos, many hundreds if not thousands of rehearsals and live shows, as a live music fan and performing musician myself -the high end (treble frequencies) in my ears, particularly right ear took a beating. Ya think?!!

My kind friends at Grrr Records did two things my wife, people at shows and anyone else who wants to communicate with me got blessed with. Ed came up with two solutions that have helped me MASSIVELY especially as I age (yep- I’m truly bald, fat and old :). Nearly deaf? Read on…

My prediction is many younger folks due to any/all of the above plus constant earbud music and phone listening will make the hearing aid business truly -boom- (pun there…) in the next 20 or so years!

So Grrr found Sensaphonics, a full service pro-audio-sound-for-musicians biz in Chicago who fit me with hearing aids that put frequencies back into my brain that had long gone south. I’ve now two diff. sets (digital) from them and it’s a night and day difference for basic hearing and a super help upon working with their pro audiologists who test hearing, help program, tweak and in their case cater to pro musicians. They offer amazing in-ear monitors and so much more as well.

Now I’m not even close to ashamed to let folks know how central this is to my basic communication and certainly music making both in studio and live sound.

There are also often options for many if you search, ask around and work to find government programs that can help re. your income. I’ve several veteran friends who have experienced severe hearing loss and hearing aids have changed their lives for the far better!

Ok, some thoughts on (mainly) live sound: I frankly strongly dislike drummers -ok, their kits… placed behind plexiglass, etc., in shows regardless of room but of course understand several good reasons for it. I have the very same view about running all instruments direct into the p.a. mixing desk- and again can argue the “why” it’s done -but ugh. Tone is the deal and if the musicians on stage aren’t inspired there’s a loss even if the crowd doesn’t know it.

Now the more control the sound tech has re. the room (church or otherwise) may be and in some ways is great and that -can- help the musicians maintain sane sound levels for themselves. Placement of p.a. speakers (the “mains”) and various kinds and placement of quality (?) monitors, small “hot spot” monitors, and setting stage volume of amps and all the the other adjustments are part of the equation as well. Yet as I just said… for most applications I think there is a better approach then super-quiet or all via d.i., sans speakers.

Even our GKB blues/rock trio sets my amp to my left facing me sideways as it’s always mic’ed through the p.a. anyway, this gives techs power and control they’d not have if typically set up with amps facing the audience. Of course that’s true. And some techs are more gifted and efficient than others same as we musicians… so that’s a big variable of course. Hats off to them all, without them it could/would be even greater mayhem!

More on what we do and what I like and why in a moment.

So electric bass players may well have their amp both (or only) run to house via a direct in, and often also with mic placed on speaker (live, my personal fave for bass tone is both).

Ok- what about in-ear monitors?

The truth is, like hearing aids, often the more expensive the better quality, more adjustments available, etc., but again Grrr Records has helped me hear better and likely saved hearing wear and tear by finding me some that have basic adjustments right at my vocal mic stand. So out come the “aids” and in go the earbuds, and in our case with a wire rather than wireless. Cheaper and they work fine for what we do.

So no typical speaker-monitor is needed for me when GKB plays live or rehearses because I get a specific mix from the main mixing console via the sound tech person.

I hear a little “bleed” from my amp but mostly get exactly what I want/need via the in-ears and thus can keep the overall volume quite a bit lower than if we did not use ’em. This also means my stage volume (my amp) is about tone rather than sheer volume, and the tech has huge control over my amp volume to the house, meaning at least a better chance of great tone as well as sane volume level of the band overall.

My approach live for SOLO shows: I can tell during sound check if I even need a monitor speaker and if so normally only use one. I typically have a bit of my vocal and either zero or just a little of my mic’ed amp (yes, even when I do acoustic sets for the most part) in a floor monitor. In some venues I don’t need monitoring as I hear so much from the mains and my stage amp I just don’t need any.

For some years now I’ve either brought a quality amp to shows or require one from the local or tour promoter. What I bring or use are amps small enough to place up on a chair or angled amp stand, and have the tech mic it unless it’s a super tiny venue which is rare. So again, the tech has control except that I literally plug cigarbox and even acoustic guitars (sometimes just use a d.i. to the house on six string acoustics) in and out of the amp through the set. Eventually I’ll use a simple 4 channel mixer w. an individual cable for ea. instrument, then it’s a matter of small adjustments as I use different gits throughout a set. The tech and I go over all this in sound check so they already have a sense of what’s up w. each guitar and/or harmonica.

I normally don’t blow harp though a mic and amp but sometimes want that growl, so that changes depending on the gig, the crowd and my mood.

So, my amp is up and only about 4 feet from me on my left side (the better of my ears) on a slight angle towards me. Often I stand the entire show, sometimes I sit, all depends on the vibe. Yes, you lose low end when an amp isn’t on the floor but I adjust tone for that to compensate.

This way I have control over volume levels, tones, and on occasion use a stomp box (guitar effect box) to adjust git tones and volume throughout in solo sets.

Doing what I/we’ve learned to do may not work for you, but for me these considerations have proven productive and workable in varied circumstances.

We continue to grow as we continue to learn. Hopefully some of this is worth your consideration.

As always, thanks for stopping by! -Glenn

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