Making Musical Decisions When It Comes To Stage Volume

February 11, 2013, by Brian Belcher


Stage volume, stage volume, stage volume.

I think if I have said it once, I have said it a million times. But about four months ago, while in a rehearsal, I had been preaching in-ears, in-ears, in-ears, and then BANG it hit me.

Sometimes they do play better without the in-ears!

I want to be able to do the best possible mix, but sometimes, as audio engineers we can stifle the creativeness and enthusiasm on stage by the constraints that we try to push upon our artists. Luckily, this particular band is very cool and we have a great relationship.

It is very nice to be reminded that when you can get along with the band, they can get along with you.

We had played numerous shows since I finally came down off my audio high horse and realized that I was inhibiting the creativeness of the band.

After listening to board tapes from the in-ear days and the “post” in-ear days, I can hear a noticeable difference in the playing and the enthusiasm.

I mentioned it to the players and they think I am funny, because I think about such weird things.

However, I have gotten them to admit that in-ears aren’t their favorite thing.

Don’t get me wrong, I totally believe in hearing conservation, and think that in-ears have their place in live audio.

I by no means want anyone to think that I am saying that using ears is the wrong thing to do. I am, however, saying that as audio engineers, we sometimes get caught up in the “technical” and forget about the musical.

Just like the technical side of things, there are many things that go into making music.

To me one of the most important is your level of comfort with your surroundings, defined in this situation as your band mates and crew.

The road is a wonderful place, but the wrong atmosphere presented by any of our surroundings can ruin it. I think as techs we should be aware of the situations that we put our artists in.

Over the years I have found that the limited time that we have to make our artists feel comfortable with us as people and technicians is very important. We have a very short period to make it happen in the live audio field.

Sorry to burst the bubble, but I think as technicians we forget that it is our job to not only be a professional, but make sure that anything that might be going on throughout the day doesn’t affect our work. Yup, there it is, I finally said it!

I had finally figured it out, and my artists have never been happier. Getting mad, not listening and most of all, not allowing the artist to have any creative input is truly a suicide attempt.

Don’t get me wrong, you don’t always have to agree with everyone, but you must at least hear them out for them to respect you enough to try that crazy idea you have about moving their guitar amp off stage.

Artists are an interesting breed, and most of the time don’t care what the technical reason is for an issue, they just want to know that you can handle it.

Most of the creativeness can be drained from an artist if you are unwilling to listen to suggestions and ideas they might have.

I think I have had good and bad relationships with artist because of my lack of listening. Isn’t it funny that we are supposed to use our ears for mixing but somehow we forget to leave them open for suggestion and requests?

Stage volume disagreements seem to be at the root of all evil in a lot of situations. The manner in which we react or don’t react to the stage volume issue could make or break a career.

I think we all could take a course in “professional banter” and learn a thing or two. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen engineers scream at the Guitar player to turn down or used some “cute” way to get their attention and then TOLD them to turn down.

I think one of the things artists and performers respect most is when you go to them to let them know the concerns you have about the problem you are having.

I truly believe that explaining the cause of the problem, and then what the result will be, in a polite yet professional manner, is the quickest way to move down the road so that we all can have a better day.

Any artist or performer worth a grain of salt will at least hear you out.

Don’t get me wrong - that doesn’t mean they are going to always agree with you, but most will have the common courtesy to at least consider the problem.

When faced with the consequences, I think you find that most will choose the best path for all involved.

With all of this said, please don’t forget that you are a large part of the progression of how the music reaches an audience and how it is made on stage. Please don’t let the “I’m the engineer” philosophy get in the way of being an asset to the performers.

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Making Musical Decisions When It Comes To Stage Volume