Welcome back everyone, a few questions I received last month that I would like to address in regards to stage volume and clarity. The fact of the matter is that most of the time, a band that is too loud onstage often sounds distracting compared to one that makes a conscious effort to monitor their stage volume. It may sound counterintuitive, but bringing your stage volume down can improve your live show for a variety of reasons. Let’s jump into it and get an understanding. Lowering our stage volume means higher-quality house mix. All of my experience has made me a firm believer in controlling stage volume as much as possible. However, equipment or gear is only one part of the equation. The other part? People.
We’re all in this together
Any resolution of an audio dilemma requires a commitment from all concerned to adapt their personal preferences to reach a common goal. I can’t stress enough the need for musicians (instrumental and vocal) to take responsibility for their part particularly as it relates to creating the overall sound. But, don’t get stuck focusing on your individual part alone.
It’s very easy for a musician to get used to his or her sound and have little or no concept of how it affects the overall mix. Bass/low frequency can be very tricky for musicians as there is so much feel involved with it.
Musicians and technicians alike need to listen to hear a mix and not just individual parts.
They need to ask why a song in any particular style sounds and feels the way it does and begin to see how their part (vocal or instrumental) fits with all the other parts in the mix.
There are many parts, but one band. The soundman cannot say to the musicians, “I don’t need you!” And the musicians cannot say to the soundman, “I don’t need you!” If one part insists on having only his or her sound, every part suffers with it; if one musician plays or sings his part to fit into the overall mix, every part rejoices with it.
I think you get the idea.
Additional note for bass players and drummers
The transition to reducing stage volume (especially as it relates to bass/low frequencies) requires that you learn to feel with your ears and brain as well as with your body. It can be a bit of a faith walk early on. The low frequencies are still there but you’re not going to sense them at lower volumes the way you would when things are louder.
In-Ear Monitors have purpose and can really help
In-ear monitors (IEMs) are devices used by musicians, audio engineers and audiophiles to listen to music or to hear a personal mix of vocals and stage instrumentation for live performance or recording studio mixing and they are, put simply, an absolute godsend for live performance. As anyone who has battled against feedback squeals, or struggled to hear themselves against the crack of a snare drum, these things will change your life.
Is it really just too loud?
Is it you or is it them? You’ll never know until you really listen.
Occasionally after church, you might hear that dreaded comment: “It was TOO LOUD!” Naturally, your first thought is that the commenter is too old! But the truth is, everyone hears things differently, and to be fair—and address the problem—you need to take several things into consideration.
You have to be honest and objective
Have you been paying attention?
Are you mixing for yourself or for the needs of the service?
Do you have a personal problem with the person who is commenting?
Is it too loud or not?
All things being equal, the laws of physics dictate that it’s impossible for an entire service to be “TOO LOUD” One person speaking (e.g., the pastor) is not going to be overall as loud as the Worship Band.
If this is true, then let’s try to understand why someone might make such a statement.
Consider Impact Intensity
An individual’s evaluation of an entire event may be based on a single moment of impact intensity.
A measurement of what a person experiences can change when their perceived environment changes rapidly.
The experience can be interpreted as positive or negative based on the individual.
When Comments Come, Ask Questions
Comment: The service was pretty loud last week.
Ask: I’m sorry you were uncomfortable—may I ask you a few questions to help me do a better job?
Was it the entire service or a particular section?
Did it ever seem to “get right” at any point?
Where were you sitting?
Was the tone irritating (i.e. too much high end, too much bass)?
Could you understand what was being said clearly?
Lean on your team
It’s very important that you are not by yourself when it comes to discussions about volume. You need to coordinate with your Pastor and Music Leader to make sure everyone is on the same page. This happens even in the general market music world. That’s why, along with the talent, there are producers, production managers, system techs, monitor and front of house engineers, etc. As a team they collectively decide their volume parameters and collectively work to maintain them.
As technicians, our position often requires us to be mediators, educators and artists. It is no small responsibility, and continuing to learn will only make us better at wearing all the hats required to do our work well.
About the Author
Bill Di Paolo has worked in live production for over 30 years, He is the owner and technical director of Entertainment Services, a production company based in upstate New York that handles lighting, audio and video for events of all sizes in the Northeast. If you have questions for Bill you may send them to him at firstname.lastname@example.org