Thursday, 3 November 2011

VOLUME! Is BIG better or is it true that LESS is MORE?

The age old problem for musicians of all genres is VOLUME.
Can I be heard, is the volume of the parts equal so the blend is right, is too loud, is it too soft, and most importantly… will it make me go deaf?

What made me think of this was the traditional Yacht Club gig we played on Cup Day. We set up on the back deck over looking the bay, which is open and people are pretty close to us. Because it is in the afternoon and a bit more intimate, we play at a volume level to suit. We don’t need to make sure the punters at the back can hear us or can FEEL the SUB kick, because if they’re at the back.. they want to talk.

Every now and then a gig just CLICKS and all the planets align perfectly and everything just sits in the pocket and feels really good. These are the gigs you hang out for and was the case with this gig. So I started thinking about what it was that made this work.

Aside from the hopefully rare occasions that your bio-rhythms are stuffed and you just can’t get your head to co-ordinate with your fingers and you play like a total dick, not to mention a musicians pre-occupation with ‘the sound and tone’ of their instrument or equipment (another blog’s worth there) on any given night, most gigs are good. But there are the great ones where everything just sits right and is magical.

An audience, venue, management etc. can make or break a gig sometimes, but the volume can be the difference between a good gig and a great gig. Here… LESS is MORE.

Yes it IS frustrating when the granny at the table 2 metres in front of the PA complains because the acoustic set is too loud and you barely have any level on the vocals and instruments and the foldback is way louder than the Front of House. But when everything is so loud that it’s even hard to hear the foldback which is cranked at full tilt before feeding back uncontrollably, that is bordering on Weapons of Mass Destruction territory. Or at the very least, hearing damage… because you just know that at the end of the gig your ears are going to ring like crazy and all you’ll be able to handle on the drive home is ABC Classic FM as long as it is soft smooth music… forget Triple J or anything with drums!

So when the volume is wound back to the perfect level, the foldback is just right and you can hear ALL the vocal parts which means you can pitch perfectly.. bliss. Your guitar blends perfectly with the other instruments and you can wind up the volume a touch for your solo, then wind it back to sit with the rest of the guys as the song continues.. more bliss. Even light and shade starts to work when everyone isn’t competing for space. You can ease back in the song and it will change the colour of the music which changes again when you come back in at an essential point in the song. It all works beautifully when the competition for volume is removed from the mix… total bliss!

I am not saying that playing at a good volume is to become “Merv and the Magictones” orange shag pile carpeted instruments cabaret band. Just that there is the finest line between a good volume that still kicks arse and a level that turns good music into a hard to listen to wall of crappy mush.

… and it may prolong your hearing for a few more years too, which has got to be a good thing.

Rock on, and if you are aware of the Merv reference above from the Blues Brothers… “don’t you go changing”