26

Two questions in one here. Often when rehearsing or at gigs, I'm asked to turn up my volume "'Cos we can't hear you!" when the band is already quite loud. Very rarely will the others turn down to achieve a re-balance, where we'd be able to hear each other better anyway.

First question: Why does this happen?

Second: What can be done about the volume battle, as when I do turn up, it's not long until someone else goes even louder "'Cos I can't hear myself now!" My only solution so far: wear earplugs or go home...

3
  • 1
    Lots of drummer-bashing in the answers. :\ Those people probably don't understand the timbral subtleties of drumming. Sometimes the tone you want requires hitting the drum hard. (That doesn't mean it's ok to play without dynamics though.) In my experience, as a drummer and sound engineer, the culprit is usually the guitarist(s). A guitar with lots of low end sounds great by itself, but will make the band sound like mud, so everyone (including the guitarist!) turns up so they can hear themselves. Clean up the guitar and bass tones - get them out of each other's way - and everyone can turn down.
    – ibonyun
    Oct 8, 2019 at 22:25
  • Such an important topic. Thank you for raising it in a constructive way. +1 Sep 13, 2021 at 11:02
  • @KrisVanBael - absolutely. Been a concern of mine for the last 50-odd years! And now it's too late for my right ear, seriously - I tend to stand on stage left.
    – Tim
    Sep 13, 2021 at 11:06

8 Answers 8

20

This is common for mainly two reasons:

  1. Most musicians are clueless about gain structures, electronics, and acoustics.
  2. It is easier to turn one knob up than every other knob down.

The solution:

Wear ear plugs, use in ears, or just live with it. Chances are you can't change these people. If you feel you can then try to reason when them.

The situation is very difficult though, specially if people share monitors.

About the best you can do is get in ears or at least individual wedges, each with individual mixing controls(See personal monitor mixes).

Personal monitor mixers are the way to go because it allows each person to adjust their own mix.

Most musicians do not have a good enough knowledge to know that X, Y, and Z are too loud and they should play quieter.

Most of the time the bass player wants more bass, the guitarist more guitar, and the vocalists want more of their own vocals. The drummer is just beating the drums as hard as he can, regardless.

What makes a great band is when everyone plays together as one. If they can't hear you, then it means they must all play quieter assuming you actually have a decent level of volume...

It only takes one person to screw up everything. If he is playing too loud, each other person will not be able to hear themselves and play harder or turn up resulting in a cycle until it's just noise.

If your drummer is playing acoustic drums then it is near impossible to practice or even do small gigs if he doesn't realize how much he is hurting the music by playing too hard. Not only does it cause the problem you are having but also you lose dynamics.

If you can't talk to these guys about it and reason with them then best I can say is find a better band... cause it won't get any better and you'll probably just end up deaf(which only contributes to the problem).

If you like playing at a low volume and they don't then you are not compatible with them, find a group of guys that you are compatible with and you'll have more fun. Not only will you be able to enjoy the music better you'll also progress better (you'll hear more of the music and less of the noise (distortion, room reflections, etc...). Since this happens exponentially, everyone will improve. (i.e., not only will you hear better everyone else will too)

Note that having less volume does lose some energy as obviously there is more energy in loud music. This is where having a proper setup comes into play. You can have some of the energy without the noise and deafening levels. (EQ is a big part of this. e.g., EQ the kick and snare so they don't contribute useless noise to the spectrum which will muddy it up making it harder to hear other instruments.

0
8

In most cases the problem is the drummer. If he/she a hard hitter with a massive drum set, there will be little you can do. This problem got aggravated by the fact that most cheap to medium-level drum sets are optimized to be as loud as possible (regardless that they otherwise sound like crxxp). This is based on the myth that "loud sells better". The kid sits down in Guitar Center, bangs on the different sets and the loudest one makes him/her feel most like a rock star so that's what they buy. A few things to try

  1. Talk to the drummer. See if he/she can persuaded into working on technique, using swivel sticks, get a nice sounding but quieter set and just in general acknowledge the problem.
  2. Bring an SPL meter to practice. Agree on a "not to exceed" number and then stop and take a breather when you exceed it.
  3. Check out the guitar players set up: make sure it's not pointed at his/her ankles but his/her ears are the closest to the cone.
  4. Play around with setup. Every player should be closest to his own amp/instrument. During rehearsal circles work quite well since you can see each other and my moving in/out you can adjust a little the volume of the other guys.
  5. More gear is typically not the answer. I you need monitors (except vocals) during rehearsal your doing it wrong. A full fledged 3-piece system (mains PA, multiple monitors, backline amps) is really only required for large gigs (I'd say 500+ people). The added complexity typically does more harm than good.
  6. Try an acoustic rehearsal as a practice exercise. No amps allowed. You just have to figure out how to play together and make it sound good without using knobs.
  7. Have a discussion about ear plugs. Playing with ear plugs is like going to the Louvre in Paris and looking at the Mona Lisa with sun glasses on since some idiot turned up the lights too much. It just doesn't make sense.

It can be done. I'm currently privileged enough to play with a drummer who has a performance degree from Berklee and, yes, he can play VERY quietly and still groove. Being able to control your volume can get you a lot of gigs!!

2
  • What are 'swivel sticks'?
    – Tim
    Oct 9, 2019 at 9:11
  • Possibly a typo of swizzel sticks, which are sticks with a soft felt beater on the back end. Only one manufacturer uses this term though.
    – Edward
    Jun 10, 2021 at 17:47
5

Always ensure you have one of two things:

  • personal monitors (either wedges or in-ear)
  • your own amp (effectively a monitor)

And then make sure the house sound is projected from speakers in front of or to the side of you, so you don't hear them.

This also allows you to be as quiet as you want on stage.

I prefer a volume on stage that allows me to talk to the rest of the band without really having to shout, but as our audience will attest, we are a loud band. We just have very precise mixes in our wedges, eg I have 30% drums and synths, 50% my guitar and 20% vocals from my singer. Our lead singer has just drums, synths and a bit of his own vox. The bass player just has drums and bass.

This allows us to adjust our individual preferences without messing up each other's on-stage presence, while letting the sound engineer sort out our house sound.

2
  • This idea takes things to a new level -DOWN - I think it's a great idea that the stage volume is low, and the whole lot gets sent to the audience via the p.a.It's going to take a lot of persuading to get everyone to play down on backline, and EVERYTHING needs to be DI-d, so actually only the vox needs to be in the foldback mix, unless the band is spread out on a wide stage.I don't think this is a practical solution without a great sound engineer (I used to do this job), as it's impossible to sort it out from behind the p.a.Great answer.
    – Tim
    Apr 12, 2013 at 18:30
  • In some venues it is impossible, yes, but we tend to work with very good sound engineers. We play most gigs almost entirely DI'ed. My new Line6 HD500 is a pretty good amp sim!
    – Doktor Mayhem
    Apr 12, 2013 at 23:37
4

Some of the answers are above. There are two answers. The first is that if it is a professional band in pre-production, you need to have a discussion between the band and the monitor engineer about stage levels, and whether you are using in ears or wedges. In ear monitors allow the stage level to be much lower, and are the answer for professional bands.

For most people, the answer is to reduce the level of the drummer, the snare in particular, and make sure the other instrument players have their amps pointed well.

Drummers may not want to dampen their kits in rehearsal, as it means they don't sound as good, but if you are not playing in public or recording but rehearsing, a snare drum, (or whole kit) should be dampened, but that's not discussed by drum teachers! A good drummer will hit the skin hard in the middle of the skin, and it will be loud. You can play quietly, but it is much harder technically, and it doesn't make the same sound. Our ears are especially sensitive to 3-5kHz frequencies, which the drum produces, the guitars also work around here, as do keyboards and vocals, so the mid-frequencies are too crowded. Toms have lower tuning and dB level, so snares are the main issue. Your drummer can put a T-shirt or Tea Towel over the snare; you can buy some gadgets that will do the job; you can put a wallet on the snare; you can tape wads of tissue onto the skin with gaffer tape. Moon gel might reduce ringing but will not reduce the dB level much. You can buy pads to put onto the snare. Once the snare is quieter, the rest of the band can turn down. Most bands rehearse above a level that will damage hearing, and snare and guitar are the main issue, due to the ear's sensitivities to those frequencies. You can also put pads on the bottom heads of drums to make them quieter.

Then, as someone else said, make sure that guitar amps are pointed correctly. Guitar amps don't work for the first metre of so, very efficiently. So the guitarist has to be standing at least a metre from their amp. Most guitarists wrongly put their amps on the floor, pointing at their ankles, funnily their ankles do not hear the sound very efficiently, and the band member opposite gets the full force of the amp. Lean the amp's speaker back against the wall so it is angled towards the guitarist's ears, or ideally bring some wooden blocks so that you can put the amp in front of the guitarist's pedals angled up towards his head and away from everyone else. Some guitarists will have a loud valve amp, like a Fender Twin, and say the sound won't be right unless turned up to a certain level. The answer is to get an impedance load device or preamp pedal, to change this, or a smaller amp for rehearsing (if pro) or for gigging (if not pro). Or rehearse with a compromised sound.

The low E on a bass guitar is 41Hz, so the wavelength is 8m long, meaning to hear it properly they need to be 4 metres away from the amp. In practice in most small rehearsal rooms that means bass amps should be placed behind the drummer, and bass players should stand at the other end of the room to the amp.

The next thing is to start your rehearsal by mixing the band, so get the drummer to plan, get the bass player to join in, with his guitar on full get another member of the band to turn the amp up, till it sounds right to everyone. Then get the guitarist to do the same. Then keys and everyone else. Get everyone to agree on levels. Then get the drummer to play and mix in vocals. Add in bass. Then add other instruments. Make notes of levels, and use the same levels each week.

Onstage live is a whole other issue.

2
  • 1
    Interesting. I play bass as well, and the 4m distance is often impossible to obtain. Putting the speaker behind the drummer will only encourage him to play louder - as he won't hear himself as well with the added noise of bass just behind, and it's often physically difficult anyway. But interesting, nevertheless. True about onstage - often different every time!
    – Tim
    Sep 13, 2021 at 11:03
  • 1
    Levels for keyboards is virtually impossible. Moving from piano to Rhodes to horns to strings to Hammond means one set volume level doesn't work. Hence my volume pedal is always being used.
    – Tim
    Sep 13, 2021 at 11:09
3

The louder the volume gets, the harder it becomes telling apart your own voice. So you want to turn your amp up.

My Mackie mixer manual states (with regard to stage monitors via AUX outputs):

"This is usually the knob you turn up when the lead singer glares at you, points at his stage monitor, and sticks his thumb up in the air. (It would follow that if the singer stuck his thumb down, you'd turn the knob down, but that never happens.)"

The only thing helping against this is discipline. Of course, you can also use earplugs for realigning the volume. This helps until everyone has them, and the neighbors aren't so lucky.

1
  • I really like the Mackie manuals - they're realistic. Must have been written by musos! I've been known (but only to me) to turn up the voclalist's monitor so that it is too loud for them. At that point, they usually back off and equilibrium is regained at least on the house p.a.
    – Tim
    Apr 23, 2017 at 18:07
2

A nice experiment: in the rehearsal room, you will likely play in a circle with your amp behind you. Try for a change to place your amp in front of you, at the other end of the circle. That way you receive your own noise like normally your bandmates do, and from the good side of your ears: the front (our ears are designed to pick up most of the sound from the front). This experiment works for amplified instruments only of course. I can almost guarantee that most of the players will be in shock of how loud they actually play.

1

I am in a loud band that performs 6 nights a week. I am a singer, drummer, keyboardist and bassist. I support everyone in my band, however, the loudness begins with a heavy hitting drummer. I absolutely hate when people use in-ear monitor systems as a solution! THAT IS NOT A SOLUTION TO UNPROFESSIONAL AND LOUD STAGE VOLUME! If your drummer is too loud then you must sound proof first. Buy a portable drum cage, or other soundproofing. Loud stage volume comes from selfish players. No need to ask the bassist or guitarist to turn down if they can't enjoy themselves from loud drums. AGAIN! IN EARS ARE NOT THE SOLUTION ESPECIALLY IF YOUR ARTIST VOICES ARE NOT STRONG. Being too loud makes your singers work harder. They can't explore and use their voices to its greatest potential because they always have to push it to 10 every time the band plays. Educate yourselves.

1
  • Sounds like this comes from bitter experience! I've left bands for these very reasons. Hmm, drummer in a cage sounds like a good move - hope he isn't given the key...probably couldn't hear himself sing anyway! Never mind IEMs, get your drummer to wear a hearing aid. Or leave.
    – Tim
    May 1, 2017 at 15:58
0

It's always the drummers fault crap. Just like the other musicians rehearsal to hear their own equipment and usually everybody can hear the drums but when these rehearsal places have a drum Riser with the drums up high and everything is down on the floor and there is no monitor how does anybody expect the drummer to hear everything that's going on without hearing nothing but a bunch of white noise. That's why I love the in in-ear monitors cuz I can isolate different sounds the crappy rehearsal mix makes playing a grilling task

2
  • 1
    Not really a realistic answer. After playing with literally hundreds of different bands, the drummer is more often to blame than any other individual. True, it may be because he has to play louder to hear himself, because the rest of the players aren't capable of playing at anything less than flat out, but then it just becomes a viscious circle. If one needs monitors then it's either because it's a huge venue, or the set up is wrong, making everyone feel the need to turn up even more. Apart, I've played with too many drummers who simply cannot play quietly - partly because, as I was told (cont
    – Tim
    Apr 23, 2017 at 17:13
  • by the drummer two gigs ago 'my hearing is really not too good any more'. But also partly because some drum kits are inherently loud. I play drums too, and the Yamaha kit I used (borrowed) last week was VERY difficult to play quietly!
    – Tim
    Apr 23, 2017 at 17:16

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.