How to Improve Your Live Shows By Reducing Your Stage Volume

How to Improve Your Live Shows By Reducing Your Stage Volume

July 28, 2017 10 Comments

Let’s face it- a certain degree of loudness is par for the course at a rock and roll show. But louder is not always better. While nothing compares to standing in front of a cranked half stack and letting it rip, the fact of the matter is that most of the time, a band that is too loud onstage often sounds worse than one that makes a conscientious effort to monitor their stage volume! It sounds counterintuitive, but bringing your stage volume down can improve your live show for a variety of reasons.

Why Bands Play Too Loud

Let’s say you’re playing guitar and can’t hear yourself onstage. Your natural reaction would be to turn your amp up, and understandably so! However, that also sets off a chain reaction. Your bassist will have to turn up as well to match your louder volume, your drummer will have to hit harder, and your singer will have to really belt it out. This is what we call a volume war. All the band members are competing to be loud and present in the mix and hear themselves clearly.

To play in tune and in time, and to feel the music, musicians need to be able to hear themselves. If they can’t, despite a dialed-in amp and fully functioning stage monitors, it can seem like a hopeless situation that can only be solved by turning up stage volume, when doing so actually just exacerbates the situation. 

In end you may be taken out of the PA in order to keep show levels inside of the venues maximum volume or the PA’s maximum volume.  When competing stage and house volumes start happening neither one gets a good mix.

To keep your stage volume down, here are some things you can try:

  1. Elevate your amp or tilt it up. Your amp is no good when all the sound is blowing past your legs (and at the poor audience members in the front row).  If your amp is too low, raising it closer to ear level can work wonders and will reduce the overall volume you need to hear yourself. Your amp is your personal onstage monitor!
  2. Practice getting your tone at a lower volume. Many guitarists love the sound of a tube amp cranked wide open, which doesn’t always vibe well in a small venue. Instead of forcing it and playing too loud, try to experiment with ways to get your tone, just at a lower level, such as using a preamp pedal like the Carvin Audio VLD1 or a lower wattage amp. A guitar amplifier with switchable wattage also comes in very handy.
  3. Practice stage volume at rehearsal. It goes without saying, but if your band practices loudly, you’re probably going to play loudly live as well. Try to rehearse at a lower volume so when the gig night comes around, you’re acclimated to the band sounding a little quieter.
  4. Stand as close to the monitors as possible.  Each band member will not always have his or her own monitor at every venue ( in which case raising your amp is even more important!) But as a rule of thumb, you want to stand in a position where you can hear the monitor mix, even if it brings you uncomfortably close to your bandmates (hey, you’re all friends, right?)
  5. Be on the same axis as the monitor. Simply standing near the monitors is not enough. Speakers disperse sound to an area directly in front of them, so if you’re standing to the side, you won’t hear everything optimally. Stand directly in front of a monitor if possible, and avoid obstructing monitors with amps and other equipment.
  6. Don’t be afraid to ask the sound guy for more. If you’re following the above tips and still are struggling to hear yourself or your bandmates in the stage mix, tell the sound guy that you need a little more in your monitor. They’ll certainly like it more than just turning your amp up on stage!
  7. Invest in in-ear monitors. In-ears are a wonderful solution to any monitoring woes, as each musician does not have to be near a monitor, and can hear their desired mix in their own personal ear monitor. While pricey, the investment is worth it and the result is often a reduced need to turn up onstage, since each band member can hear the mix clearly.

EM900 Wireless In-Ear Personal Monitor System

Carvin Audio EM900 Wireless In-Ear Personal Monitor System

Turning down onstage will let the PA do the work and make it easier for the sound guy to do his job, since there will not be excessive volume bleeding from the stage into the house mix. Try it out at your next gig and let us know how it works out!



10 Responses

Bernie Hynson Jr.
Bernie Hynson Jr.

July 30, 2017

Come ON BAND MATES!!!!! Lead guitar amps through a vocal monitor?
Wedge “VOCAL” monitors ARE FOR THE LEAD VOCALS WITH HARMONIZING BACK UP VOCALS." Guitar and bass players….DO NOT BURY YOUR AMP/AMPS IN THE REAR OF THE STAGE EXPECTING TO HEAR YOURSELF THROUGH A 12" wedge monitor. Evaluate the SIZE OF YOUR PERFORMANCE AREA!!!! Keep your guitar/bass rigs closer to the front along WITH YOUR DRUMMERS KIT!!!! Sound will project from a open back speaker cabinet…..Keys, guitars, bass…..angle SLIGHTLY to the center…keep the band TIGHTER…stage left and stage right. The wider the stage THE MORE TEMPTATION THERE IS TO SPREAD OUT THE BAND. Keep yourselves closer together, “like rehearsal time”, and NOT TOO SPREAD OUT!!!!
LET YOU PROFESSIONAL “Out Front Sound Techs” DO THEIR JOB THE WAY THEY ARE CAPABLE of doing it. Stay tighter on stage….stay forward to the stage……USUALLY YOU PRO SOUND FOLKS WILL have their monitors somewhat positioned on the stage for you. USUALLY THEY WILL ASK: How many vocal mics do you need, Any KEYS?…Bass…how many GUITAR PLAYERS??? (That includes your keyboard player strumming chords on a guitar for 1 or 2 SONGS!!!!!!) A mic’ed Leslie Tone Cabinet for a side fill is WONDERFUL!!!
If those folks could DO IT IN THE RAIN for three days……in the 60’s……I think today"s sound engineers “Got a Handle on it” using their/our Professional Carvin Sound products!!!!
(Bernie)

George Brian Ferrell
George Brian Ferrell

July 29, 2017

One point that Step #1 is missing is if you are a lead singer who also plays guitar. I’ve found that if the guitar speaker is angled toward me while I’m playing/singing, it makes it harder to monitor my vocals and can be a distraction. Pointing the guitar speaker at my feet allows me to play at a needed higher volume without preventing me from monitoring my vocals. Even with that arrangement, people often complain they can’t hear my guitar and that evidence is backed up with recordings that show the guitar is still too low. FYI, we usually don’t mic our instruments. Obviously, that would help- IF we could afford to pay a sound man.

Steve
Steve

July 29, 2017

Hard to believe this article didn’t mention stranding too close to your amp, especially with a closed-back cab. The sound is blasting your knees, and eveyrone on stage but you think you’re not loud enough. You can’t always tilt your amp rig. So put it as far back as possible.

Miles In Trail Music LLC
Miles In Trail Music LLC

July 29, 2017

I always enjoy the articles you guys do to enhance / improve performances. I find them to be insightful, and I appreciate them. Same with the other articles you’ve posted that pertain to the business end of performances, bookings etc.

Good Stuff!

Gospel Music and more
Gospel Music and more

July 29, 2017

Agree with the above. Too many times, not because I believe I am an expert because I am not, I’ve asked others to lower the volume in practices and jams. Just yesterday evening at a jam, I brought this up indicating that when one turns up another follows. I’ve suggested placing amps on tables or tilting them. Some have and have since lowered their volumes which has helped clean up the sound. It is a work in progress, but a clean sound at a comfortable volume level adds so much to the music.

Buster Daniels
Buster Daniels

July 28, 2017

Besides tilting & elevating the guitar amps, I have the musicians either turn them around backwards but in front of them (useless if it’s an open back amp) or turn them sideways – away from the audience. This will also help the lead guitar get a little feedback when he wants it.
.
On-axis and close to the mic is as important as on-axis and close to the monitors. This is a problem with newer singers.
.
In small venues (where I usually mix) I generally (but not always) find the drums to be the loudest thing on stage, which I then have to mix up to. I try to work with the drummer first to limit his/her volume.
.
At church (one of my sound-guy jobs) we have a digital mixer and have just gone to IEM’s – what a difference. However, the drummer cannot hear how loud he is hitting (remember we’re new at this). The drums are now the WAY BIGGEST THING on the stage, by far. BTW we put the guitar amps with mics in a room just off stage.
.
Thanks for this article – good stuff.
Buster
.

howie miller
howie miller

July 28, 2017

we have 3 guitars in our band , 2 electrics and one acoustic , ..our goal is to allow the acoustic to be heard ( most ) of the time , ..we do that by backing off the electrics , but when solo time comes , we wail , ..then back off for the acoustic to breath again…makes a difference .

Louie Bond
Louie Bond

July 28, 2017

Great article. I would add that there are physiological, psychological, acoustic, and just mathematical aspects of the physics of sound. The highs from guitar amps are more directional than the lows, and, as you said, that part, the treble, just blows past the guitarist if the amp isn’t tilted to his ear. A bassist may not hear the longer low freq waves right in front of his amp, as much as a bandmate on the other side of the stage. The resonant freq of the average human ear canal makes 2.5k to 3k kill, and that’s where most musicians first lose their hearing. And you can find the perfect tone on your amp while alone in a bedroom, but that same EQ won’t work in a mix, either recording or live, as the instrument’s tone is blending with others and creating overtones. So some will try to turn up to hear “their” tone with disregard to how they’re blending with other tones. And then there’s the psychological perception, how the brain hears. So much to consider, but you’ve brought out the discussion and raised some great points. Thanks.

Doobie Wilson
Doobie Wilson

July 28, 2017

I think it often starts with the drums since it is hard to adjust their volume. On a small stage it can force everyone to turn up. Having one of those plexiglass sound barriers can help but it seems very isolating for the drummer. Ideas?

Bundy
Bundy

July 28, 2017

I’ve actually smoked the house PA with a Legacy halfstack; had females dancing onstage who said that amp was “moving” their clothes. Temporarily damaged my hearing with the same amp. I’m using a V3 halfstack these days but you get the idea. Halfstacks aren’t much good when on smaller stages and that sound is hitting you behind the knees. Best to use another 4×12 for an amp stand (whether it’s plugged in or not). These days I’m much more merciful on crowds but I manage to get the job done anyway. Great article!

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