Stage noise. The ultimate enemy in small venues.
What can you do about it? Little, and everything – as always, it depends on your budget, and the amount of effort you want to put in.
I’m not any kind of expert in this area, but I can direct to several key resources which I have found useful for understanding how to reduce stage noise over the years.
I’m also going to try and document some of the things which Black Market have tried, as much as a record of what works for us, as anything else – we’ve played some gigs where we have got this seriously wrong – so I’m keen to have this as an evolving document!
Option 1: Get USED to playing quietly.
It might sound stupid – but one of the key things that any band can do, is to learn to play less loudly! This starts in the rehearsal room. Set yourself up quietly, and gently bring up your levels, until all the instruments are balanced – give your drummer a bench mark – you’ll be amazed how quickly the style of a drummer changes when the rest of the band is playing quietly!
Option 2: In-Ear Monitors
I’ve long been an advocate of using in-ear monitors. They have several advantages – not least the opportunity for each musician to be able to hear exactly what they want to hear, regardless of the sound balance that they can hear from the stage.
There are a number of resources available explaining the merits of systems like this, a lot better than I can.
When looking at resources for things like this, I always find the worship sites useful, as they tend to operate in constrained spaces, which are highly awkward sound wise – much like the common pub and functions band.
This page gives some great explanations of the various merits, uses and proper use of IEM systems.
Option 3: Angled cabs.
So James, one of Black Market’s guitarists, uses an Orange TH30 Valve Amplifier. It has 30 Watts of power, and it can outrun our Nexo front of house system, at a canter. James has to hear it, but if he cranked it until he can hear it, with the cab facing the audience, they’d all have tinnitus in their left ear. So he, and Alex (who uses a Vox amplifier, which also packs a punch) both angle their cabs upwards. This directs the sound to their ears (which is where we need it) and gives less bleed towards front of house. It’s not perfect – but it’s good practice, and we get a lot of compliments from those who really know, about how sensible a move that is.
Option 4: Get used to upsetting audience and playing bad gigs!
That’s the reality of it. If you fail to control your levels on stage, you will force the front of house to be pushed, will damage peoples hearing, and will ultimately get a bad reputation for blowing peoples ears out! Controlling everything from guitar amp levels, to monitor levels, is absolutely crucial to achieving the best live sound possible. It took a gig where we got some poor feedback for us to really realise how important this is – so I’d advise anyone, to take a step back, appreciate what the audience is hearing, and tweak so that it’s less offensive. Don’t be scared of making noise – just make sure it doesn’t tip the balance into mush when out front!
- Westone Announces Launch Of Newest Elite Series, The Ultimate Custom-Fit In-Ear Monitor For The Music Professional And Audiophile (sacbee.com)
- Limiting Stage Volume (justanothersoundguy.wordpress.com)
- What Do Musicians Have in Their Ears? (westoneaudioblog.wordpress.com)