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Cheap Advice On Live Sound
48 Tips To Make Your Band Sound Better
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Mini-Tip: Can You Understand the Words?

7:06 am Live Sound

I started going out to see bands when I was about 16. The very first rock band I ever saw play right up close was an outfit called Kicks, Inc. They never made it big, but they’ll always be special to me! One thing that disappointed me was that I could barely hear the singing, even though I was near the front of the crowd. The instruments were good and loud but no vocals. I figured it was a fluke.

Imagine my further disappointment as I went to see other bands and came to realize the simple fact that when you watch a live band, you can’t make out the words. It was always that way! It was as sure as the show starting late. What shocks me is how often this still happens today, even after all these years of playing rock music live. What gives?

Maybe the gear is set up wrong and there would be feedback if they turned the vocals up to the right level. Maybe they don’t have a sound man and they just don’t realize how they sound. But if you are the sound man, do the audience a favor and follow a simple rule when setting the vocal levels: make sure you can understand the words. If you can’t, turn up the vocals a bit, or give them more “presence” EQ, turn down an instrument, move the speakers - do something until you (and the audience) can make out the lyrics! And keep checking this during the show.

[An expanded version of this Mini-Tip appears in my eBook, Cheap Advice On Live Sound.]

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2 Responses
  1. David :

    Date: May 24, 2010 @ 1:11 am

    Often cheap PA equipment will not only contribute to the feedback problem but the main will not be high enough quality to accurately reproduce the sounds of instruments and vocals. Too many instruments ran through these cheap PAs will make vocals unintelligible.

  2. DavidII :

    Date: June 21, 2010 @ 3:37 pm

    I’ve always used cheap PA equipment, and often stuff that by the numbers quoted would be underpowered, yet I always get compliments on the sound I get - my present 900w mixer amp is a far cry from the tranplanted 5w record player innards I started with 45 years ago and the 100w mixer amp I’ve used for most of my career.

    I think the reason even seasoned pros have told me I’ve had the best sound they’ve experienced is because I started in a vocal group rather than a rock band and vocal intelligibility and natural tone are my first priorities - I use Ladysmith Black Mambazo to test the setup of the PA and and I’m quite happy to sacrifice everything else for a good vocal sound.

    A lot of sound guys seem to judge PA by full range sound and too many sound checks start with loud drums and hen crank up everything else to match. Sure I’m happy to have a good loud hard rock sound, but balance and tone are the whole point of PA I think.

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