Why You Should Set Your Tone for Your Audience, Not Yourself

Why You Should Set Your Tone for Your Audience, Not Yourself

May 09, 2019 12 Comments

It’s important to keep in mind that as a musician, you are also an entertainer. While it’s certainly nice to impress the crowd at your gig with a mind-blowing guitar solo or killer tone, it’s also part of your job to ensure that your audience is entertained by your performance and have a good time at the club, bar, outdoor festival stage, or whatever venue you are playing, even if involves compromising on your tone. Not to mention, keeping a crowd happy will also keep the club owner, sound guy, and promoter, and all other crew members happy as well!

There are times when sacrifices must be made in order to solidify your band’s reputation as a true crowd pleaser. Sure, you may think you need to have your full stack cranked to 11 to get the big meaty guitar tone you love, but it may be overkill for a small club and will cause people to leave the venue. You may want to dime the bass knob on your amp to get the floor shaking, but that tone might be interfering with the kick drum and making the whole band sound muddy from an audience perspective. Being adaptable to different venues and audiences and having the flexibility to adjust and compromise on aspects of your sound will help ensure that your band gets booked again and gets potential fans the best possible first impression. 

There are some essential steps you can take to make sure your band plays nice with most audiences. 

  1. Avoid excesses. Icepick highs and booming lows can be extremely uncomfortable from a listener’s perspective and detract from the listening experience, no matter how well your band plays. This isn’t to say you should dial in your tone to be squeaky clean, but rather, that you should avoid excessive amounts of certain frequencies or excessive volume. Do you really want to be that band that people talk the next day as being “pretty good, but way too loud”?
  2. Set your sound to the room. Even though you may think you’ve dialed in the perfect sound in your living room or practice space, you’ll inevitably have to make adjustments to your EQ at the gig since each venue will be acoustically and structurally different. Do your due diligence and learn how use your amp’s equalization controls, so that adapting and changing them on the fly is second nature. It’s common for musicians to feel like they have a “signature sound” that needs to be universally conveyed on every stage and there is nothing wrong with that. But remember, you are playing for an audience and not simply for yourself and your bandmates. Your sound may need to be a little different for your band to sound its best in a particular venue.
  3. Work with the sound engineer. It’s his or her job to help your band sound good, so be friendly, professional, and willing to compromise. If they tell you to turn your amp down or make other adjustments, it’s not coming from a bad place; they’re simply trying to make both of your jobs easier. Work as a team and your audience will be dancing all night.
  4. Use the monitors to your advantage. In a similar vein, avoid reaching for the volume knob if you can’t hear yourself, as you may be much louder in the front of house than you are on stage, and most of the time it’s better for the overall band mix to have a lower stage volume. When you get a chance, simply ask the sound engineer (who you’ve been friendly and professional with, right?) to give you more or less of whatever you need in your monitor. If you don’t want to have to rely on whichever monitoring system the club has in place, you can invest in a good in-ear monitor system. In addition, a tried and true trick is to use a long cord and walk out into the audience while your band plays, to see how the mix sounds to the crowd (while also getting bonus points for showmanship and crowd interaction). It’s even easier if you are using a wireless system
WG5 Wireless Guitar/ Bass System
5. Have fun! People talk about seeing a band play, not hearing a band play. Focus on your tone and playing, of course, but do your best to put on a good show. Music is widely known as an escape from daily life, and live music is no exception.


12 Responses

Mark Gucci
Mark Gucci

June 19, 2020

Got a kick out of the guy that said his tone is too important top him to listen to the differing opinions of the audience in different parts of the venue.

JD BRADSHAW
JD BRADSHAW

June 19, 2020

Play to and for our audience…The club owner or venue will thank you afterwards

Louie Bond
Louie Bond

June 19, 2020

Great article. I’ve been a guitarist and a sound man for over 50 yrs. One of the hardest parts of being a sound man is the psychology of dealing with sensitive egos. It gets tiring to give a seminar on physics of sound, acoustics (especially of the room you know so well), physiological aspects of hearing, and the brains processing of sound and it’s perception. I advised one loud guitarist to turn down a bit, or take the ice-pick treble down, and after using Leo Fender’s brilliant idea of the tilt back legs on his amp, and hearing his sound directly, he admitted it sucked. Treble is more linear, bass blooms more broadly, a physics and wavelength thing. If your amp is blowing past your lower legs, two feet behind you, you won’t hear the treble your killing the audience and sound man with. Another problem is generational, age bias. I was helping a band load in because they were late, and following the first musician out the door to help, and upon him meeting other musicians coming in, he remarked that the sound guy was an effing gray beard. Not helpful. Bottom line, trust and work with your sound engineer, he’s usually there for a good reason. He knows the venue’s acoustics, the management, and the patronage.

EBHB
EBHB

June 19, 2020

Best to aim your amp at your own ears first. With combo’s on the ground, only your calves know what tragedy you are inflicting on the audience. Aim that thing at your head so you’ll finally know how you actually sound.

Marc Lutz
Marc Lutz

June 19, 2020

Vocals should be first and foremost in a Live gig, Too many times hearing impaired soundmen turn up the Kick and Bass so as to drown out articulation of the vocals, all you hear are overbearing subs with way too much lows, thus the soundman turns everything else up to compensate thus messing up the whole mix, happens too often.

Gary Nichols
Gary Nichols

May 17, 2019

I had my orange and Fender amps way too loud. About 2 songs into the set, our lead guitar player came over and said, “Man your amp is too hot”. I did not get upset. Rather I turned down. It made a HUGE DIFFERENCE! After the set I told him, anytime you can make US sound better Please do. We got invited back to that venue. Always play to the people who are PAYING YOU TO PLAY.

matthew fierro
matthew fierro

May 17, 2019

Try to always also “see” a situation from the others perspective – this goes for individuals, as well as an audience: inside jokes, long winded stories, self aggrandizement, name dropping, vulgarity or discriminatory type statements have no place on stage as part of the performance. Be aware of your obligations as to breaks versus on stage “sets” time keeping, ask permission of " owner/ management" before doing encores [ running over time ] – even if you are the only band on the bill, if it is a multi band line up – respect other groups stage time! Be family friendly with your performance at all age events and professional, as you are reflecting not only on yourself – but also on your client [ who booked/ hired you ]. Just a few more !

Jesus Sanchez
Jesus Sanchez

May 17, 2019

Great read! Very insightful and easy remember. Yeah, loud isn’t necessarily better sounding.

Jeff Ross
Jeff Ross

May 17, 2019

Setting your tone for the audience is entirely too subjective for me! If you asked ten different people in ten different areas of the room… You’re gonna get ten different opinions! Thanks but no thanks! My tone is way too important to me! It almost effects my playing if the tone isn’t to my liking! Btw… I’m known for my tone!

Larry Brandt
Larry Brandt

May 17, 2019

I have been (intimately) involved with over 1500 gigs, shows, rallys, events, etc, over the past 40 years and the words expressed in the “why you should…” article are so true. I have on many occasions said to younger bands to turn down so they could hear and been met with scorn.

Walter Tomaszewski
Walter Tomaszewski

May 17, 2019

This is sound advice (pun intended).

Just to throw this in, I have seen a vid of a (now-defunct) Japanese Rock band (VK band, actually) arriving at a given venue on the day of a show, but in the morning, to scope out everything and prepare for the evening’s performance. The lead singer walked throughout the house to get a feel for the place, and sat in various sections, loges, and levels to get an idea of the audience’s POV. Very astute thing to do, too.

(Please correct the bullet-point numbering, though.)

Zal Schreiber
Zal Schreiber

May 17, 2019

I’ve been to the biggest named artists…some for the last 5 decades (is it that long?) and I was appalled by the level of sound comping from the PA system.
Yeah, you couldn’t help but FEEL the band. This is one of the only concerts I attended where I was happy that the rows in front of me stood up so that I would be shielded (albeit minimally) from the ABRASIVE level of sound coming from before me. Previous to the main band coming up, I went down to the sound booth and said that the levels were way over the top and that they should be adjusted. They said, sure, yeah; this is only a warm-up band…we’ll do it….Yea, sure.
I didn’t pull out my credentials as a Mastering Engineer for one of the big four companies, WEA, at Atlantic Studios, NYC, or that I had my name on thousands of projects ranging from the top artists of the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s….and hadcompiled the LED ZEPPELIN 10-CD Studio Box set….
No, I went back to my seat…and ENDURED the rest of the concert..of the WHO at Jones Beach.
Yeah.
I was into the who from their first release…my favorite band…but, if I could, I would have left the concert…
As a note…each thwap of the bass drums and toms, and the bass guitar itself…felt like thugs banging on my chest…THAT’S how loud it was.
How many people lost some of their hearing at that concert?
I would say…EVERYONE.
The band kicked…that’s what you expect from the WHO, but the sound system not only trashed the concert, it trashed the ears of every single concert goer there.
I’m sure, on the stage, it sounded good, but in the audience, it sounded death

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