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I am no music expert, but I am a huge sucker for fade out songs (songs which end in a fade out) and I love a lot of them!

I just want to ask: why don't bands try this in live performances?

I am sure with advances in computers and sound engineering, the technical people handling the concerts and live shows can emulate something to preserve the originality of the song by fading out.

So why don't bands try this? They rehearse a ton, so it should not be a problem for them, right?

I am curious why bands don't try this at all.

P.S.: I hope there will be no arguments as such, I acknowledge that everyone has their taste and I have my taste, which is a genuine love for fadeout songs. I have a tendency for perfection in kind, hence the need to ask this very particularly specific question.

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    See also this question: music.stackexchange.com/q/47854/9426 Jul 1 at 11:44
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    Fadeouts once meant something, just as freeze-frame meant something when it appeared in "The 400 Blows," but now it's just an indicator of composers/bands being too lazy to write endings. Jul 1 at 18:08
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    I am curious why bands don't try this at all. Some do. I have experienced many concerts where some of the pieces ended with a fade-out. Jul 2 at 1:41
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    As this is seems to be an opinion based question (why...) I very nearly migrated to Music Fans, however there are some excellent answers that show it is definitely on topic here as well. As an aside, when I used to have a covers band, if we were playing a song that had a fade out in the original version, we would create an ending, because fade-outs almost never work in a live gig, either from the performer or audience perspective.
    – Doktor Mayhem
    Jul 2 at 7:58
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    For a rock band, a proper ending is the signal for the audience to stop what they were doing and start applauding. If the ending is not totally obvious (long note, hold hold hold, DUM), then the audience will not realise the song has finished and will keep talking loudly. In the studio, bands will continue to play (and be recorded) for perhaps minutes after the version you hear on a recording as faded out. In this case, the version you hear is not really the complete song, it's just the edited version.
    – Neil
    Jul 2 at 17:41
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There might be many different reasons for different bands. So I will be able to point just some possibilities.

Studio recording and live performance are different ways to present the songs. Recordings are being listened to in a different way than live songs. Different techniques might be appropriate for each of them.

In particular, at the end of the song the audience wants to clap or otherwise cheer the band. A smooth fade out doesn't really encourage such response.

so why don't bands try this ? they rehearse a ton so it should not be a problem to them , right ?

Note that fade out is normally not done by the band, by playing more and more quiet, but by gradually reducing the volume of the recorded music. It might be quite infeasible to do for a band, especially if they use non-electronic instruments, such as drums.

Moreover, the fade out might not even be directed by the band, but rather by the producer or the sound engineer.

the technical people handling the concerts

...are frequently not members of the band, at least not for smaller bands playing at smaller venues. The sound engineer in a club should know how amplify the band properly at their location, but they typically won't contribute to artistic elements of the performance.

emulate something to preserve the originality of the song

Bands often don't aim to preserve the originality of the song. They rather focus on delivering a live experience, something the audience cannot get from listening to a studio recording. A fade out, especially if directed by someone off the stage would not contribute well for that.

Consider this counterexample to what I wrote:

In this performance musicians leave the stage one by one during the course of the piece. It is very engaging for the audience due to the theatrical aspect, while the musicians remaining on the stage maintain full connection with the audience. This is also very different from a typical "fade out" effect used in studio recordings.

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    An actual acoustic fade out in orchestral music is the end of Holst's Neptune, the Mystic. It's implemented by having the choir that sings the final notes in a separate room, and slowly closing the doors! Jun 30 at 21:05
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    @leftaroundabout that's cool! Thanks for this example! But also should be noted that this is a masterpiece that requires extraordinary preparations from the performers and from the venue. Jun 30 at 21:24
  • I agree that a fade out is not a very dynamic interaction with the audience in a live performance. An equivalent is to slow down the tempo at the end of a song: most of the time I've seen it done, it was used as a transition to another song without pause/cheers
    – Kaddath
    Jul 1 at 9:47
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    I remember the brass band when I was in school standing up from their chairs and turning their backs to the audience, revealing signs spelling out F-A-D-E-O-U-T, and then walking off stage while still playing. Jul 1 at 14:02
  • @TurePålsson Excellent idea! And again, very different from a typical fade out in a studio recording. Jul 1 at 14:14
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There are two different ways this can be done:

a) The band plays at a quieter and quieter dynamic level, until none of the players can be heard anymore (over the crowd etc. noise).

There are a couple of problems with this:

  • Playing quieter almost inevitably also changes other aspects of one's playing.
    What and how exactly depends on the instrument and the music being played. Many classical instruments are quite good at playing at a huge dynamic range, as indeed this happens in orchestral repertoire, but even violins (which are, I think, the most capable in this regard, with bow pressure- and speed being continuously variable from almost nothing to quite marked fortissimo) will have more trouble playing fast rhythmic material at low level without it dissolving into a mushy mumble, because the movements need to be much smaller and more precise.
    Now, that's not too bad if it's in an ambient accompaniment part and the orchestra is anyway held together by the conductor, but you can't affort to have the drummer in a band lose the rhythm. Even if it happens at already quiet level, it will be obvious and embarrassing.

  • For most instruments there are also specific technical hurdles. Wind instruments will have trouble getting the tones to speak at the correct register, voices may break to a hush. Guitars and drums are in principle able to play very quietly, but it may require switching to a completely different technique (e.g. pick to fingerstyle, sticks to hands), which is hard to do in a continuous manner and always changes the sound a lot as well as the loudness.
    The sound thing is an issue even for normal dynamic variations. It's most notable on distorted electric guitar: playing quieter means it will eventually become a clean sound! But other sound issues apply to basically all band instruments.
    In some cases, the diminiendo can be implemented with the instrument's electronic controls like volume pots on a guitar, swell pedals on an organ etc., but those usually aren't great for very fine, smooth transitions. You may end up taking away too much at some point and thus suddenly completely vanishing from the mix.

  • As the actual musical signal gets weaker, all noise components will get much more obvious. This includes noise that the audience would probably never have noticed. Again, electric guitar is particularly problematic: the pickups tend to catch a lot of hum-interference. Normally, when not playing, the guitarist will mute the amp or at least switch channels and/or pedal settings, but that's not an option in a played fade-out.

  • In a live setting, each instrument's signal goes through different processing. Amongst the things often done is dynamic compression, which is specifically designed so even quieter stuff doesn't get lost but still stays audible. That means you need to play even more quiet before the sound is actually gone for the audience. Meanwhile, the noise will get turned up even louder!

Still, a good band can pull this off, but it's difficult, risky, and still won't sound as smooth and uniform as a studio fadeout.

It can be really cool to do this once, but I definitely wouldn't make it more than once during a concert.

b) The sound engineer pulls down the faders whilst the band continues playing at normal (or only slightly reduced) levels.

That's the analogue to how fadeouts were done on old studio recordings (before automatisation became the norm). But again, there are problems doing it live:

  • Though most of the sound comes from the PA speakers, it's not like the band on stage is completely quiet. In fact, in smaller venues there's always quite a lot of bleed from the stage itself. (The engineer will take that into account during soundcheck, so the mix of stage sound and PA sound is satisfying.) But if you then turn down the PA, you'll be left with only the stage sound, and that will sound very poor in comparison. Not just quieter, but also either thinner or muddier in different parts, uneven, unbalanced. Maybe only cymbals, snare drum and electric guitar in an unpleasant mix. That's not an impression you want to leave at the end of a song.

  • Even if you manage to get the sound exactly as you want... it'll still come over as just pretty weird when the sound vanishes although the band members evidently still continue to play. The audience might even perceive it as evidence that the band hadn't actually been playing live at all the whole time, but only mimed to playback!

  • As user1079505 already wrote, the FOH engineer will often not actually part of the band. Even if she's hired specifically by the band, she'll often not have been at the rehearsals, not have a detailed plan for every song but rather just sets up the levels and keeps controlling. And she may be the only engineer, meaning that it could happen something breaks, she needs to run to fix it, the band continues playing thinking they'll be faded out... cluelessness ensues.

Applying to both techniques, the crowd may react funny anyway upon a fade-out. They won't know whether to also get real quiet, when to clap... You may well end up in a situation where most of the room is silent, but a few people didn't notice anything and just continue talking very loudly.

Summary

However you do a live fadeout, it's quite likely to end up being awkward in multiple different ways.

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    @Tim why not “she”? — I do use they when I don't know the gender of somebody, but it always leads somewhat ambiguous grammar, especially when there's a “they” in scope for the audience already. — Since the sound engineer is completely fictitious, it surely shouldn't matter what gender I choose? For all you know, I could have flipped a coin to decide between “he” and “she”. Jun 30 at 22:05
  • With electric instruments (guitar, bass, keyboards, etc) the artist is primarily dependent upon stage monitoring to hear what they're playing. Yes, an artist can play for a short amount of time without this, but it's uncomfortable. In-ear monitors might be an acceptable solution, but many people don't like them. Jul 3 at 14:42
  • @GalacticCowboy guitar and bass normally don't rely on monitoring, but use onstage amps that the engineer can't control. Many keyboardist also have some kind of amp, though that may be used only for some of their sounds (e.g. Leslie cab for organ but floor monitor for piano). Jul 3 at 17:03
  • That's sometimes true, but not always - we've been playing through DI for a couple years, which sends everything to the board and then back to monitors that are balanced by the sound engineer. Jul 4 at 17:26
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I have seen bands do fade-outs live, and I have played in bands that did fade-outs live. So it does happen.

Exhibit A:

Why does it not happen more often? It's hard to do convincingly, for one thing. The musicians will need to play softer and softer until they are essentially playing silently. Most electric instruments have some sort of volume control that makes this possible. It's trickier for acoustic instruments. Creating a convincing impression of a fade-out requires good control over dynamics. Playing very softly on inherently loud instruments (eg drums) is difficult. So there are technical hurdles to successfully executing a live fade-out.

Additionally, I think it's a bit of a gimmick. Doing it once in a set is cool. Each subsequent time will have less and less impact.

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  • Could you add something about why live fade-outs are difficult?
    – Aaron
    Jun 30 at 20:15
  • can you link some videos ? Jun 30 at 20:17
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    We do this in the big band. It's a gimmick, it makes the audience laugh. It's also hard for the guitars and keyboard, because they have to adjust their volume manually while playing. And of course the trumpets do not like playing anything but high and loud.
    – RedSonja
    Jul 1 at 6:00
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    @RedSonja - introduce your guitarist, bassist and keyboardist to what's called the volume pedal... Which I feel should be part of all those players' armoury anyway. I use one most of the time - specially for keys.
    – Tim
    Jul 1 at 8:23
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    @RedSonja - yeah, but the good thing about volume pedals is they're also accessible to someone else's foot...Really give them something to whinge about.
    – Tim
    Jul 1 at 8:27
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They don't fade out in the studio. They keep playing in the studio.

The engineer just slides the fader. Thus "fade out".

A sound man can do that to a band, if the band has no acoustic drums and go thru D/I instead of amplifiers. Most bands hate playing like that, but sometimes that's what you can do.

But no band wants to be controlled by the engineer like that. They'd rather keep the control for themselves.

Also, that drains momentum, and the performance isn't the song, it's the set, increasing and decreasing momentum and tension.

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It's trivially easy to play a fade-out 'live', particularly if everything is going through a mixing desk. We don't do it, because the audience need an ending so they know when to applaud. Audiences LIKE to applaud a song. They feel cheated if they're not given an opportunity.

When a well-known song ends on a fade, backing tracks made for cabaret singers will often concoct an ending and proudly advertise 'no fade outs!'

A fade CAN be useful to a DJ, allowing them to mix from one track to another. But it's death to a live performance.

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I don't think I have heard/read from musicians explaining why live fade outs aren't common, but I think you can come to a sensible answer by first asking why bands often play so loud? Of course they play loudly to be heard over the crowd noise.

If the crowd is so noisy that the band plays loudly to begin with, then how will that effect a live fade out? When you are listening to a recorded fade-out at home there are usually no noisy distractions and you can linger on the infinite feeling implied by a fade-out. Recorded fade-outs are really an anti-ending; the song seems to never end.

Now imagine the same thing, but at a live show, and mid-way through a fade-out, the group next to you spills their drink, the person on the other side starts talking on their cell phone, and the guy over at the bar is flexing his beer muscles, etc. etc. The whole effect would be ruined!

That kind of show and distracting audience is very common. But, if the audience is more attentive or participating (usually dancing), then it could work. Although the example that comes to mind isn't a fade out ending, but the "little bit softer now" part of the song Shout. I've seen bands do that song and lead the audience in some participation thing. Because they are involved, there's less distracting noise, the band can fade down low, and there will be actual quiet.

Too often there will be distracting noise and interruptions, so why would bands bother to try live fade outs? I think this is the reason it's not done often.

One other thing to consider: I think the fade out in recordings is less popular now than in times past. I think it was especially popular in the 1970s. I can't quantify that; it's just my sense over about four decades of listening. If I'm right about that, then a lack of interest in live fade-outs in recent times would make sense.

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For a fade out to really work as an ending to a song, one of two things must happen:

  1. It must be sufficiently complete that there is no identifiable moment when the song ends. This could be accomplished in a live show with accoustically-silent instruments if the audio fade were combined with a fade-out of the lights that was sufficiently complete that the audience couldn't see when/whether the performers stopped playing (any delay pedals or other equipment with lights that blink the beat would need to be shielded from audience view). So long as the fade out wasn't extended too much beyond the point where the audience couldn't hear anything, lighting could be used to provide a cue for when the audience should applaud (when the lights come back on and the audience can see that the band isn't playing anymore).

  2. It must be interrupted by the start of something else, an approach that would generally work better in musical theater works where the songs/actions are related, than in a performance of a "stand-alone" song. Here, the dramatic implication would be that the song and any associated action would have continued for longer than shown, but without anything interesting happening until the action that interrupts it.

In an audio-only recording or a video, the first requirement can be met easily. In a live concert, however, it might be difficult or impossible to satisfy depending upon the instruments and the venue. The second form of fade can work well in dramatic works even if instruments cannot play silently or safety lighting would prevent darkness from completely obscuring the stage, but wouldn't be as useful for most concert songs.

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As an audio engineer (self-taught, but the same skill-set), I can say from experience that the live environment is much different from the studio. Audience interaction is a big part of that, but one of the greatest technical differences is "stage-bleed".

Lots of instruments have their own acoustic volume that escapes directly into the audience and can't be turned down: uncaged drums with a "cymbal basher" playing them, screaming guitar amps that the musicians refuse to turn down or off, etc. There are ways to get the same sound into the PA with a silent stage or nearly so, but they're not always accepted.

Thus, the Front-of-House Audio Engineer has an absolute minimum volume coming directly from the stage, that (s)he has to mix around or in some cases drown out. (like the "pad-slap" from an electric drum kit) Fading out the PA allows the "stage bleed" to perceptibly take over, and that usually doesn't include enough parts to sound good when the entire band is meant to be amplified.


As a side-note, this stage volume is also a problem for getting good vocals and other things that must use a mic. Mics don't know what you want; they always pick up everything that happens to be in their designed geometric pickup patterns. So the choice of mic is not entirely about the tonal quality, but also about the pickup pattern.

There are a few tricks to minimize interference, like putting monitor wedges (speakers on the floor, aimed at the performers and controlled independently from the main PA and usually each other) in the null-point of the most critical mics' pickup patterns; but they're not perfect, like the same monitor reflecting off of something and coming in from a non-null direction for the same mic.
And then we have performers that insist on waving their mics around and/or holding them in a way that covers some of their ports and thus destroys the designed pickup pattern...

So we engineers have another motivation to keep the stage quiet: it makes our jobs SO much easier! And it allows us to not criticize the talent as much for eating up all of our barely-existent technical wiggle-room with their artistic shenanigans.

In-ear monitors (IEM's) are WONDERFUL! Essentially a set of earbuds, usually custom-fit, that are controlled in a similar way that the wedges used to be. However, I have also heard, quite often, a click track (metronome) getting into a vocal mic from a too-loud IEM, so they're not perfect either.

If the stage really is that loud and can't be helped, then the screaming vocals that metal is known for, become necessary from a technical standpoint as well as artistic.

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    I wholeheartedly agree with most in this answer... but unfortunately, not much of it is actually on-topic here, and those points have been said before. Jul 1 at 22:18
  • @leftaroundabout I'm providing a different perspective on the same situation (from the technical engineers who actually run the show), with lots of context to really understand it with. Is that not allowed here???
    – AaronD
    Jul 2 at 4:00

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