Tracks and vocals

I know we’ve discussed this numerous times tangentially to larger conversations about concerts and live performance, but RC’s remarks about the imbalanced house mix at the LordSong concert she attended reminds me that I’ve been wanting to address this question full on. Over and over again, concert reviews or reactions (not least of all, but certainly not only, mine) include complaints about badly mixed house sound, specifically that the tracks overpower the vocals. What really gives here?

Are overamped band tracks an illusion of the inexpert ear (the current way of voicing the perenial sg gripe: “it’s too loud!” or simply proof of the old maxim you can’t please all the people all the time), a genuinely widespread symptom of sloppy or tin-eared sound techs, fallout from the acoustically dodgy venues so many sg acts perform in, a mixture of all this, and/or something else altogether? I’m really asking. To the average listener, I think it seems reasonable to assume that digital band tracks ought to make it easier to mix live sound than in the days when stages regularly included four to six seperately miked instruments. Maybe not? At any rate, I’m especially interested in hearing from sound technicians or other professionals who can offer any insights into why so many of us in the pews, benches, seats, and folding chairs get frustrated with bad house mixes. Discuss.

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Comments

  1. David Bruce Murray wrote:

    The general complaint of “too loud” is because most sound techs are younger, and like to run the bass a little too heavy for the tastes of an older generation that has lost their ability to hear higher frequencies. It’s an impossible scenario to please everyone when you have a mixed audience with varying degrees of hearing loss.

    In SG, the truly bad mixes are usually due to there being NO sound man. The artist operates the mixing board from the stage, but also wears in-ear monitors, isolating them and making them oblivious to what the audience is hearing.

    When groups take the time to run a snake and have a fifth or sixth person in the back of the room operating the house mix, I’ve had very few legitimate complaints. Of course, there’s always complaints regardless. Some old coot will show up with his Radio Shack decibel meter and run to the promoters every time it breaks 75.

    Most of sound techs like it hot, but in a large concert setting, you have to run it hot enough to drown out the people who insist on talking to each other. As long as the mix is clean, the vocals aren’t drowned by the tracks, and it really ISN’T “too loud,” it’s fine.

    Once in a while, you do have a tin eared sound man…or one who’s in over his head with more equipment than he knows how to operate…or in rare cases, a “contract” sound tech who was unfamiliar with the group or Southern Gospel in general. 90% of the bad mixes I’ve heard have been from artists that were trying to save $$$ by not having anyone operate sound from the house. That’s your biggest culprit.

  2. Aaron Swain wrote:

    BFA’s concert yesterday was outdoors and the sound was absolutely incredible. Usually, outdoor venues have horrible sound, but this one was great! As far as who ran the sound, it looked like Brian Free was running it, only taking a few moments during songs in which he didn’t sing to step back and fiddle with the controls…

  3. ST wrote:

    Sometimes the best sound is in the ears of the beholder. I’ve run sound for some major groups and events as well as engineered/produced some projects.

    Here’s some of the problem. Overall track volume and how the track is mastered is different from one project to the next. Different producers / record companies and musicians do things a little different. The results is in the program, one track is low and the next track is blasting. Most groups are aware of which tracks to pull back a little, but when running sound from stage, they really don’t know how much to pull it back. The bass and drums in tracks are the instruments that vary the most in volume. One real problem is when tracks go from electric bass to the next track with upright bass or the next track goes to a fretless bass. On one project, a bass player may use two or three different bass guitars depending on the songs, and the drummer may change from song to song which snare or electronic drum kit sounds he puts in. This makes volume differences from track to track. Most artist master the overall project, but they never master the tracks themselves (Mastering keeps the overall volumes and EQ the same throughout the recording).

    Here’s another problem with groups running sound from stage. They have one mix for the audience (House Speakers), but they have another mix for their ear monitors or floor monitors. Most of the time each individual has their own mix in their ear monitor - more of themselves than anybody else. The groups set the house mix before the concert. Where ever it was set - usually a good mix for a couple of songs they checked - that’s where it stays. Once they are on stage, they have no idea if that mix is staying at a balance - they only check the hottest tracks most of the time.

    Personally, I like my monitor mix to be the same as the house mix. I also like a couple of good floor monitors. This is the only way to know if the audience is hearing the same thing the artist is hearing and to keep a handle on the mix and the vocal blend.

    Another problem is some groups have very technical smart young engineers running sound in the house - some do not. Some of the super smart technical guys that know sound do not know the tastes of the SG audience. Others know musical instruments and where the instruments sound the best, but they do not know vocals or harmony and they do not pay attention to the vocals as much.

    Still the smart guys sit there and mix the sound as if they were sitting in the studio mixing a live project. They know the songs, harmonies, solos, blends of their group. They keep the balance throughout the concert. In addition, they know the audience is usually middle age to older, and they adjust it for the audience - not themselves. When Daniel Riley ran sound in the house for Gold City, he was the perfect example at what I just described. He mixed each song every night. Raised levels on solo parts, eased back when the group sang harmony and made sure each track stayed at a reasonable level.

    The final problem is when the promoters hire professional sound. Most of those guys are rock n rollers or country music engineers. Sometimes these guys come with the building that is rented. Very technical and very knowledgable about sound and equipment. They do not have a clue concerning the SG audience. They will turn it up too loud, but the artist gets the blame. The artist has no clue that it’s too loud in the house because the house engineer is controlling that part of it.

    Usually the mix between vocals and tracks is the artists fault because they send their mix to one channel into the house speakers. Therefore, their tracks and vocals are their baby to mix from stage. Some artists get the house engineer to run their tracks and vocals. It does not matter how technical or smart these hired house engineers are -they do not know the artist’s songs, tracks, nor the audience’s tastes.

    Another problem is switching from group to group. When the Sound is hired and every group is using the same mics, then EQs change, vocal volumes change, track volumes change, etc. And each group has their own opinion as to what they want for their sound. It is never the same as it was in the sound check. This is why groups like having their own mixing board with their own mics. But here is another problem: the 1st group has their sound a little low in volume. The second group has their sound a little hotter in volume, but not really too loud - suddenly, according to the audience, they are two loud. Not always, your ears just got used to the volume of the group before them.

    Sometimes the group’s volume is hot, but the next group runs their’s a little lower - suddenly “turn it up - we can’t here you.” If the situation was reverse, the second group would be two loud.

    There are some groups who will blast your ears, but others are victims of circumstances.

    THE SOLUTION: It’s gonna cost money. 1. Master the tracks - still it will vary from project to project. 2. Put the monitor mix the same as the House mix so you can tell if the balance is there. 3. If you really want to dig and spend money - research an automated mixing board where you program your mix for each song. It would keep the mix the same everytime - the possible problem is changing song line-up from night to night. I’m not sure how that would work with an automated board if at all.

    Bottom Line - there are a lot of variables that can cause an uneven mix between tracks and vocals. Volume can also vary from building to building depending on who is running the House sound.

  4. KB wrote:

    I have seen some groups do their own sound from the stage and absolutely bomb, and others who have it down to an art. I would say, however, that part of the problem is not so much with the user as it is with some of the equipment being used today.

    I have seen MANY professional groups using sub-standard sound equipment (some at the equivalent of a component stereo system) and expecting to get optimum sound quality out of it. Just because you have a subwoofer on the floor doesn’t mean that you can get away with tweeters on a stand, especially in larger venues.

    Whenever I perform somewhere, I ALWAYS bring at least two dual 15″ JBL stacks, and more often than not, a subwoofer as well. I’d rather be over-equipped and turn it down than be under-equipped and have to crank it to the point of distortion.

    Yes, there are other factors, but I am getting sick of seeing these large, full-time groups cutting corners with sound equipment. You make your living as a travelling performer; at least give it everything you’ve got….

  5. CVH wrote:

    Good and valid points all. The only thought I can add is that there seems to be a marked difference between the level of professionalism in sound reinforcement with southern gospel groups vs. other Christian music groups and certainly secular artists. And I’d guess the reason behind it is simple - cost vs. return.

    Most southern gospel groups travel as self-contained entities. The group is often the driver, the sound crew, the roadies and the product table salespeople. Not only is it highly unlikely that a singer or player is going to be skilled as a real sound person but the constraints of space and time on the road require a minimal sound system - one that takes up little space on the bus and is quick and easy to set up/tear down and operate. That immediately puts them a notch down from many CCM artists who travel with a separate sound crew or contract for one at their venues.

    The same is true of most secular performers. Whether in an indoor auditorium or an outdoor venue, they always have their own contracted sound crew or spec it out to professional sound companies that work in the venues or travel with the group on tour. The difference is, in part, reflected in the ticket price.

    The other dimension to the problem lies in the southern gospel performers and the audience. Despite advances in technology that make live sound reinforcement potentially better than ever before, many groups can only afford to do enough to get by. The ease with which vocal stacks are mixed into ‘live’ tracks and the novelty of digital technology, combined with groups who know just enough about it to be dangerous, makes good sound an iffy proposition. On the flip side, there still seems to be an attitude among many southern gospel fans that it’s “good enough” and the group is “doing it for the Lord”, which seems to be a disclaimer for allowing substandard work in the performance or the sound. With a few exceptions, how many times have fans gone to management or the group and demanded a refund because the sound was lousy? It’s just not the “Christian” thing to do.

    The best live sound I’ve heard in a southern gospel concert in the last few years was Greater Vision which they ran from onstage. When I saw EHSSQ six months ago, despite being run from the house by an engineer who seemed to know his stuff, the sound was not as well mixed and almost overbearing in intensity (EQ and volume).

    Again, I think a lot of it comes down to cost. If I pay $80 a ticket to see Diana Krall one of the things I expect is near-flawless sound. I’m not sure how many southern gospel fans would pay even half that for their favorite group, even if better quality sound was almost guaranteed.

  6. JL wrote:

    My full time profession is mixing front of house audio live. I don’t typically do southern gospel concerts as they typically do not employ freelance engineers but I grew up in sg and the church and still have a foot in both worlds. So I think I have a little insight into this topic.
    The biggest problem like others have said is knowledge. The second is technology.
    I always laugh when I met a BIG sg group and I look at the graphic eq’s in their system (a device with 31 bands that seperate out the audio spectrum from 20Hz to 20kHz) and they have it “set” permanently. They had some “knowledgeable” friend set it for them one time and “it sounded real good!”. They have totally missed the point. A graphic eq is used to correct the frequency response of the speakers, but more importantly the individual room. Every room sounds different.
    Secondly, most groups travel with a couple speakers on a stick and some subs. These systems are big enough to cover a 200 seat room barely but not a 400 seat or 1000 seat room. Turning these speakers up to a level loud enough to cover a room of that size cause them to sound horrible. In this case, more speakers at a lower volume is the solution.
    But I do think the main thing that has degraded Southern Gospel audio in the past few years is the advent of the in-ear monitor systems. IEM’s are great but they are meant to be used when you have a front of house and a monitor engineer. These groups in the past monitored their house mix through their monitors and mixed accordingly. If they weren’t loud enough in the monitor, they weren’t loud enough in the house.
    Then they discovered IEM’s and decided to get a pair. Now they listen to their own pre-fader mix that is not affected by the house mix and the people in the audience get what is left over. That is a very dumb thing to do. You have your ears completely isolated hearing something different than the audience and noone who can hear the audience mix is adjusting it. IEM’s with seperate mixes have killed the sound of many SG groups and also degraded their ability to blend.
    Don’t get me wrong IEM’s are great, but they should be used like they are in the real world; 1 person mixing your in-ear mix as he listens to it and the other band members, another person mixing the house mix only.
    If southern gospel groups can not afford to have a sound guy, they have to have at least 1 band member who listens to the house mix for his monitor mix and attempts to at least mix that for the congregation.
    Stepping down off soap box now…
    JL

  7. PastorJohn wrote:

    I’m not a sound man, and maybe I’m just being too kind — but is it possible that at least some of the problem may be the venues at which concerts are held — especially when then are in gyms and arenas which are also used for ice hockey, basketball, trade shows, etc. etc.? Sometimes the sites are chosen due to size and seating capacity, but the buildings were not designed acoustically to be concert halls.
    For example, several months ago I had the opportunity to attend a Gaither Homecoming, which was held in an arena in Albany, NY. They used a 4-sided stage, in the center of the room. We had good seats as far as visual was concerned — right about stage level in height. Unfortunately, the sound was disappointing. There was way too much low end, and too little high end, and a very poor balance. I doubt that budget is an issue with Gaither. I have no idea who “ran” the sound (probably several people were involved). But I am also aware of the fact that a couple of months later, the same venue became the local arena for a professional hockey team. I’ve been in the same arena for hockey games, and it is just that — a hockey rink, not a concert hall.
    Just my two cents worth. Anyone is free to agree or disagree.

  8. Mary wrote:

    Far too often, the group sends you the “master volume” from their stage rack(they mix for their IEM’s or floor wedges.) And the mix is horriable.
    ((ST- the singer never hears what the audience does, even when the monitor mix is the same as the main, because of differences in monitor and main speaker specs/ capaillities, ect. Also, the audience hears the room resonances which the performer has no clue about. Then, you have volume and SPL differences. The singer right next to the monitor can’t guess what the person on the left side in the back row hears. So, having the same mix in mains and monitors is generally a bad idea.))
    Then you have this situation when a group uses your system, then complains to you about how bad the monitor mix was. But they don’t tell you what they want before hand. You, the soundman assumes that they are ok with the mix unless something is said.
    —————————————
    So, what is the solution??
    1) set up a FOH system
    2) set up an on-stage monitor system
    3) use the monitor board’s direct out/ insert and split the signal there.
    If someone bought a cheap mixer without these capabillities, then buy some XLR-Y splitter cables, which cost about $15 each.
    Once you are set up to split each mic/line input, then run the signal
    1)into the stage snake, and
    2)into your monitor mixer.
    This way both the singer and the audience can have the best of both worlds( if you have a great FOH soundman.)

    Most of all, DON’T BUY JUNK AND EXPECT GREAT SOUND!
    As an example, one cannot equallize a room with a 2-band EQ on each input and have a 5-band graphic when you run a 600 watt sub. As silly as this sounds, this is just one of the countless real world examples of the bad systems that Southern Gospel singers use.
    And again, if you’re set up in a room that has seated 800 people, don’t dare to expect good sound out of 2 ten or twelve-inch two ways with a power rating of 200-300 watts each. Just because the speaker is light and very easy to carry dosen’t gaurentee a thing about it’s sound.

    When we set up, the mains are 400 watt three-way speakers, with 15-inch wofers. If this is not enough, then we hook more speakers to the main amp. Thus, we perserve mixer headroom and keep the speakers/amps from distorting .These are heavier than what most groups use, around 70lbs, but the sound is WELL worth it. (for you tech guys who may be wondering, the mains (Carvin 1584’s and 1562’s) are 8-ohm, and the amp (Carvin DCM 1500) handles effortlessly 2-ohm loads per channel, so no impedance worries. If we ever get to the point where that is not enough, then we’d link another main amp up to run more spekers).
    Bottom line is this: Your doing this for the LORD, do it right.

  9. Trent wrote:

    You sound people scare me. Here is how your sound man jargon buzzes in my ear: “Take the kanooter valve and plug it into the wofer and distort the distorter from the main and then if you have a sub with mustard and then take your IEM out of your ear and mix the house.” HUH?

  10. BGC wrote:

    Bottom line, a group mixing their sound on stage will never hear what the audience hears, no matter how long they roam around the venue adjusting before the concert, sound changes when the room fills. If the groups are going to use tracks with vocals stacked to the roof, get a guy to mix for you off stage.

  11. ST wrote:

    Mary, if you do not have a soundman running the house sound, then what should the mix be in the monitors? I understand that the dynamics of space and speaker size is different between house and monitor, but having the same mix is a lot closer to hearing what the audience hears as opposed to two completely different mixes.

    As a singer without a soundman in the house, I have to blend and mix my own vocal by pulling in and out of the mic. The rest of the group has to do the same thing. So if my monitor mix isn’t like the house, how do I tell if I’m blending and controlling my own personal volume? You do not want any harmony vocal louder than the lead singer. Having the monitor mix the same as the house personally helps me to get the right blend with the rest of the group. Otherwise, if I have a mix that is mostly me with everybody else in the background, I do not have a clue if I’m blending my volume properly.

  12. Ben Harris wrote:

    Just a word here…there is no such thing as the house mix and the monitor mix being the same. Trust me, if you believe that, you are severely kidding yourself.

  13. KB wrote:

    I really don’t think it’s a matter of BUDGET as much as it is a matter of CONVENIENCE. It’s a LOT easier to setup and tear down a system with two small speakers on a stand and one sub than it is to carry stacks (they’re also easier to store and transport via a bus!). However, a GOOD sound system designed to handle indoor/outdoor, large or small rooms, could easily be obtained, even on a smaller budget.

    Granted, some technology has gotten better (and smaller) over the years, and a lot of it can be used VERY well. If you watch some major CCM (as well as main-stream country) acts, they travel in the same bus that Southern Gospel Group travels in, but with a trailer hitched to the back. Their entire stage set is in that trailer (not just sound, but lights as well). Unless you either can’t drive with a trailer hitched to the back of the bus or can’t afford an extra storage box on wheels, why couldn’t a group get a GOOD sound system, stuff it in the trailer, and hit the road??

    I have been seeing a lot of compliments on Greater Vision’s sound. I saw their setup once at Stamps-Baxter a few years back. They have their own stage rack designed for the DAT machine and stage monitors, and their bus driver doubles as their sound man. That’s it. 4 people, and they’re CONSISTENTLY sounding good on stage, regardless of the venue (and your payroll is STILL less than if you have a quartet + piano player!!).

    My solution: fork out the extra bucks, put some sheets on one of the extra bunks, and hire A SOUND MAN!!! You might get lucky and they’ll also be able to drive the bus….

  14. thom wrote:

    JL hit on the point that I made a few months ago - the rise of the in ear monitor has killed the house mix. Especially when you have one guy in the group controlling the sound from the platform.

    I know some of the vocalists out there today have damaged their hearing to the point they just about have to use the in ear monitors in order to hear at all. One very popular singer told me she only has 20% hearing left in both ears, so she must use the in ear system.

    In cases like this the best solution seems to be using both in ear and floor monitors - and have at least part of the group listening to the floor monitors and not using the in ear system.

    The other issue that i have observed is the problem of some groups that do not solicit/accept/desire anyone elses opinion of how it sounds in the house mix. If half your audience is bleeding from the ears - Turn It Down for goodness sake! Find someone you trust enough to tell you when it sounds right in the house.

    It’s usually not solely an issue of volume, but it’s the EQ or the mix that is not right. If you can’t hear one of the vocalists, or the track is too loud, or you can’t hear the piano, etc., wouldn’t you want someone to tell you so you could adjust it and make it right? If everything is set properly it does not have to be loud in order to be effective.

    I went to a concert a year or so ago with 2 of the so called “big” CCM groups, whose names escape me now, but they are very popular with the contemporary crowd and have had some cross-over hits (maybe “I can Only Imagine” among them, and “If We Are the Body” or something like that). The venue was the Grand Ole Opry house in Nashville, not the old Ryman, but the newer one at Opryland. You would be hard pressed to find better acoustics than in that room. When the concert started I was SHOCKED at how LOUD and distorted the sound was. They evidently weren’t using the house system, but had some kid, (sorry guys), that was obviously near deaf, running a huge board from the middle of the main floor. I am talking about SO loud that the lyrics were totally undiscernable and my ears were literally hurting. I had to walk out into the lobby.

    Just so you know, I was not the ONLY one who felt this way. Their were other people coming out of there too. But, they never turned it down. If I had not been the “date” of someone else I would have left and/or asked for a refund.

    But, the kids, and many old people trying to act like kids, were jumping up and down on their invisible pogo sticks almost the entire painful concert. Maybe this is their idea of “suffering for Jesus”.

    But, in retrospect, if they could hear anything for the 72 hours after the concert I suppose it was a miracle of God healing the deaf. My ears were ringing a week later. Never again, my friend, never again.

  15. Lisa wrote:

    Wow! Lots of great comments on running sound. I run sound for my husband’s sg group and have been running sound for him (solo) for the past 16 years. He has taught me alot and now the guy that sings with us IS a professional sound engineer. He works for a company that sets up sound & lighting all over the country. He has also taught me alot. There are many factors in running sound. It’s NOT just about knowing what every knob on the sound board does. You truly have to have an ear for sg music. I run sound from the middle of the room if it all possible. The closer I can be to what the audience is hearing, the better I can adjust the sound. If the audience can’t understand the words or even hear the words because the music is too loud, what good are you doing? We sing in ALOT of churches with ALOT of the ‘older’ crowd. I try to be very considerate of their tastes and I want the music to be pleasing to the ear - not distorted. I get complimented alot because I don’t have the music too loud. I know when to turn it up and when to turn it down. Groups that run sound from the stage have difficulty judging when to do this and it is also very distracting to see one of the lead guys turn around to adjust the sound board. My husband gives me little clues/hand signals as to what he needs in the floor monitors. I agree that most groups need a sound tech out in the audience, but I also know that money is an issue when trying to hire someone. If you can find someone with a good ear, just train them on how the sound board works and what each knob does. Your sound tech doesn’t have to be a “Professional Sound Engineer” to make your group sound professional.

  16. BGC wrote:

    Great comments here! My wife sings about 100 concerts a year and I learned quite a bit over the years. Sure when we first started out I wanted thousands of dollars of equipment to haul up and down the road for her to sing to groups of 50 or so people. Over the years the groups have increased tenfold and our equipment is simply a 6 channel board, laptop, wireless mic, and monitor. We use the house system and I mix mid-center. 5 years and no problems what so ever. We have run into a situation twic where the church didn’t have a system at all so we had them rent one and move it outside and both turned out great.

  17. Mary wrote:

    Ben- how true that is. What I was trying to convey to ST, you made much simpler. I forget that everyone is not a “techie”.
    ST- I didn’t know your group situation and how you set up, so I was generallizing the most perferrable, better option of a FOH and Monitor soundman.
    But, in your situation, if an off-stage FOH soundman cannot be found, theroretically your idea could work. But, I don’t recommend it.

  18. judi wrote:

    This sound discussion is very enlightening, and I can’t add anything techical to it, since I’m simply a person who loves to listen to good music, sg and otherwise. Although I am on Social Security I still have good high frequency hearing, and I regret to say I just don’t go to concerts any more. Once I enjoyed both indoor and outdoor venues, but not in the last 20 years or so. Over 90 percent of the time the sound is too loud and I cannot discern the lyrics. My eardrums actually hurt. I wish I could still enjoy my favorite artists in concert in addition to at home on a CD. It’s not a matter of being an old fogey, or even a matter of taste. It’s a matter of pain, as someone else has already said.

  19. Howland Sharpe wrote:

    I wonder if some of what folks are hearing is that the tracks groups are using are compressed to death. Most recordings are being done on ProTools and often engineers will use compressor/limiter plug-ins on individual tracks. Then it’s put through another compressor when it’s mixed down…then more when it’s mastered. Even if a group doesn’t master their tracks, there simply is no “air” or space left in the tracks.

    Don’t believe me? Try listening at concert level (loud enough that you could not carry on a conversation without yelling) to almost any southern gospel recording done in the last 5 years. I dare you stay at it for 30 minutes. Now try it with an old Oak Ridge Boys or Gold City recording from years ago. The latter is far less fatiguing.

  20. Josh Hoevelmann wrote:

    I’m not sure the point of this discussion, as it’s a carbon copy of several other discussions online. Not to mention the topic of articles I wrote published online. It seems to me that pointing out the obvious has not changed things and probably never will. After my time with Gold City I had 2 very good groups offer me a position, but wanted me to also do a fair share if not all of the driving duties. Just like any other part of your body, your ears need rest. Driving all night, most likely listening to the radio, is not rest. Not to mention just being alert while mixing. So in a nut shell, groups need to spend money on outstanding equipment, and an engineer. Excluding Daniel Riley, who does just about everything great, my experience with studio guys trying to mix live has not been favorable. Groups aren’t too interested though. Being seasoned in southern gospel, I’ve offered myself for hire to groups for their “bigger” dates with the same response…..money. A reader above had good advice though that only a couple of groups I know actually do……..I know the Hoppers do it for sure……Completely remaster your your tracks apart from the studio mix…..if every project is done, then they’ll all match up pretty well……EQ, level….everything will be very consistant. If you have really old tracks….remaster them too!

  21. Rhonda Berry wrote:

    Lisa,
    Thanks for your comments. I, too, run the sound for our group’s events. I have been doing it for four years. I do the same things you do. I try to run it from the center of the room, and be sure that I know what the audience is hearing. I also totally agree that you have to know sg music to know how to run the sound. And it is better if you know the group or soloist and their habits. Example: Our group is three brothers. Two of them want very little of themselves in the monitors, the third wants more of himself. None of them want the music blaring at them from the monitors and they always work on the monitor mix first, then we work on the house mix separately. None use ear monitors, they tried them and feel it is too distracting and cut off from the audience.
    When we have to set me up to the side because of the configuration of the room, it is not unusual to see me walk to the middle of the room to listen to what the audience is getting. With brothers who harmonize well it is easier to do because I am not constantly having to adjust individual volumes and such to get the blends they want.
    The simple fact is you will not get the best if you bring someone different in each time and we have found that the whole thing goes smoother if the guys can concentrate on the music and the message and not have to worry about the details of stopping and starting music and the house sound while they are singing.

  22. Matthew Moore wrote:

    I just saw BFA last week. Brian Free was mixing the sound from the stage with the speakers IN FRONT OF HIM. How can he hear what the audience hears when the speakers are in front of him. Also, I think the artist needs to take into account the venue. BFA was at an Igloo church. You know, the big dome shaped room. They set the huge sub right in the middle of the front. The low end was so loud that it was all you could hear. It mudded up the rest of the sound. I would have rather not had the sub, and enjoyed the true sound of the group. Side note: Brian Free made a big deal about all of the bass sound coming from Jeremy, not the system. Um, with a $500 condenser mic, 1000 watt amp, and a enormous sub box my 2 year old could make the floor rattle.

  23. Stephen A. Thompson wrote:

    Hey guys,

    It looks like we all have varying opinions of what makes for a good live sound. I am a professional recording engineer as well as a vocalist/musican in a sg group. We usually run our sound from the stage, with no complaints. Occasionally, when we sing at venues with a quality house system, I will give the house engineer a line. I have only had one occasion where the FOH engineer ask that the lines be split or given to him seperately. If they know to ask, them more than likely they know what they are doing. Otherwise, it may be the only guy who hasn’t broke the newest tech gidget.

    The big thing is to remember that there are two groups of people you need to satisfy as the soundman. The performers on stage need to be happy with what they are hearing in order to effectively communicate THE MESSAGE to the audience. Then the audience should be able to hear the lyrics AND music.

    I think that the reason most people complain is that the overall volume is too loud. Whether it’s the bass that’s too loud or the track or the overall volume. The lyrics need to be heard. I have been blessed by groups with a good spirit/message with a sub-par sound. Not saying that I didn’t think about wanting to adjust their sound.

    I have “set” the inital sound for groups buying a quality PA system and “taught” them how to run it. The biggest thing is that most people with poor sound simply don’t know what they are doing. They get too much equipment (I’ve done this too). So and so says that a compressor would help level out your vocals/mix. If you don’t know what it does and how to use it, then it’s worthless. Actually, it’s a detriment to your sound.

    I bet no one ever complained about Hovie and his boys sound. It was simple. That is the best advice I can give. If you don’t know exacly what you are doing running your sound just remember KISS…Keep It Simple Singers.

    -Stephen

  24. thom wrote:

    Brian Free normally does a good job of mixing their sound. Except that I like to hear more piano. - and I have told him. lol

    For my taste, most groups over use the sub-woofer. Maybe it’s just my aging ear, but in many cases it is just an unpleasant vibration.

    The Perry’s are another group that do a good job with sound - they have their sound man setting out in the audience mixing the house sound and it does make a difference.

    tmr

  25. Matthew Moore wrote:

    I am sure Brian is very competent when it comes to sound. My point was that the room they were in required a very delicate balance of frequencies. I have seen many groups there and the sound is very difficult to get right. Also, I happen to love bass sound. I have a set of 12″subs in my car. However, the way the acoustics affected the bass sound made it overpowering. No disrespect to Lile or Free. It was a difficult situation.

  26. Derek wrote:

    The old floor wedges also have another advantage when it comes to house sound. I went to a concert featuring two SG quartets. Each used their own system…one had floor monitors, the other IEM’s. I’m a front-and-center kinda guy…I want to see their tonsils when they sing so naturally I was just that, front and center. Quartet #1 with floor monitors sounded great! Quartet #2 with IEM’s didn’t. Why? Because I was smack dab in front of the sub and the mains were way over on each side of the stage. I could hardly understand anything they said or sang. I finally figured out it was because I was hearing the floor monitors from group #1 that was filling the void there in the center. Needles to say, I enjoyed group #1 much better, even though group #2 was who I really was there to see!

  27. burt wrote:

    Bottom line…you need quality and QUANTITY in sound equipment to achieve optimal performance. How many SG groups use line array systems now? Probably only Gaither. You can’t go in a 1500 seat auditorium with two powered Mackies and expect to sound your best.

  28. Josh Hoevelmann wrote:

    Actually Gaither’s tour is not using line arrays, at least not as of last November. He’s using a combination of powered Meyer trap boxes including the Ultra Series and the C series(UPA’s, CQ’s, and others)
    However, you’re right….they make line arrays very compact now and even small versions are pole mountable and/or stage stackable. I think line arrays would be very advantageous for many of the venues SG artists have to play…..deep and wide.

  29. Faith wrote:

    My two cents…
    The Talley Trio have a soundman, Greg Shockley, and they always sound great. While they would sound even better with a live band, it is nice to have a group whose tracks/stacks are clear and don’t overpower the singers.

  30. bgc wrote:

    Faith-You are exactly right, I always see The Talley’s when they are near and the sound never changes, no matter the venue. Yes they stack the vocals a bit but at least it is done in a way to enhance and not over power. What a let down to see a “top name” group out there stacking and mixing from the stage. They never seem satisfied, always changing things while singing, it really takes away from the message that is when you can actually understand the lyrics. Take a lesson from the Talley’s, hire a sound man and let him drive the bus and work the product table. If you can’t afford that you might as well let the house control the sound.

  31. Alan wrote:

    This has been a fascinating thread. Lots of great and helpful comments have been shared. May I add my two cents? I spent some years as a studio engineer, and will be the first to admit that studio and live sound are two different disciplines, which both use some similar equipment. I guess over the years, I’ve invested even more than I needed to in good sound equipment for my live solo concerts. When I carry most of what I can, for venues up to 1000 seats, what I have with me represents many thousands of dollars of equipment. If my own sound guy hasn’t come with me, I try to spend at the least a full hour with the folk(s) who have been provided for me. One major point that’s been made has been on mastering your tracks. If your tracks have come from numerous projects, there’s bound to be some real discrepancy in volume, bass, and highs. Whatever monies you’ll invest in mastering tracks is absolutely more than worth it. I do have to weigh in on IEM’s. I think they don’t need to be factor in the overall sound. Some of you feel that the advent of them has harmed house sound. Maybe they do for some groups that run sound from the stage; but when run properly, they do save our ears, and they really shouldn’t be a factor in the house blend. Apples and oranges. Bottom line to me is master your tracks, and spend as long as humanly possible doing sound checks. And if you can afford a sound person, by all means have them out in the audience! On a final practical note, physiologically, the bones in our ears harden over time, and the older one is, the worse music that’s too loud hurts. The art of this is in finding a median level that’s loud enough, but not too loud. If tracks are mastered, all that’s really left is the subtle nuancing of the vocalist(s) mikes, and that makes everything a lot easier.

  32. 2miles wrote:

    Interesting that someone complimented the Perry’s on their sound. I was never able to hear Loren Harris when he led out. I told them this on a few occasions. All I could hear was Libby. Brian Free same way. I can’t understand what they are saying…I don’t think it is my hearing because other groups on the same night using the same sound system I could hear fine…

  33. Howland Sharpe wrote:

    I agree with Alan about the importance of a group having their tracks mastered, but as I mentioned before, if compression/limiting has been used when the individual tracks were originally cut in the studio, and then additional compression used at the point of the 2-mix, there is almost nothing left to master at the mastering lab. It becomes simply a “wall of sound,” or put another way: a solid block waveform on a computer monitor. The more “produced” the track, (more instrumentation, drum loops, percussion, multiple guitar passes, horns, pads, etc., etc….) the more difficult it will be to get a live vocal to “cut through” when performed live.

    On the other hand, maybe I’m just getting old…

  34. Bee Flat wrote:

    This fruitless arguement has existed since the creation of the microphone, yet it doesn’t go without merit. Now, more than ever, sound systmems have become more advanced & more complicated. So now it’s more critical than ever to have competent sound technicians.

    Here is my two cents worth . . . . as far as a live performance goes:
    1. “Never” use stacked vocals.
    2. Never mix left & right channels distinctively dissimilar - Yes, even the untrained ear can tell the difference & it produces a lopsided sound.
    3. “Always” mix vocal gain above the track . . . . All SG listeners come to hear the voices . . . blended into harmony. If they can’t hear the vocal distinction you won’t be invited back !
    4. Never attempt to administer the sound from the stage. A proficient sound technician is a necessary must & they must direct the sound from the audience perspective.

    5. Have all your tracks mastered from a noteworthy source. You should never skimp in this area, and the cost will be worth it.

    Sincerely,
    B-flat

  35. Rick Sherry wrote:

    I run into this problem doing karaoke. It is common problem that I ahve found varies due to the recording quality of the backing music used. Regardlesss of the source the song track I use is determined by the company that records and prodiuces the tracks. I personally am a big fan of karaoke CDS made by Soundchoice they seem to have the best quality instumental recordings avaailable.
    While this may not be the same problem that you are encountering it may be a suggestion to find better quality recordings of the music used in your venues. They also have combonation mixers and amps that adjust everything automatically for you.
    Therae are many pieces of equipment in the electronics industry to solve any problem you maybe encountering.

  36. Lee Berry wrote:

    Go all the way back to Dallas and the Festival of American Gospel Music - horrible, horrible, horrible! The worst sound I have EVER heard from any group or groups, and one of my favorite groups were singing that night. Quality sound DOES make all the difference.

    Thank you Rhonda for helping us make a difference!

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