Turn it up!

Pretty much anyone who’s been in a band will have watched Spinal Tap, and I know from personal experience of rehearsing and gigging when I was younger, the situations, exploits and “band discussions” in the movie happened with surprising frequency in my bands (although I never had a drummer explode….so far) As Nigel Tufnel (Spinal Tap’s lead guitarist) explains here in this classic scene…all of his amps go to 11…

Now towards the end of last year at EBC we replaced our acoustic drum kit with an electric kit. It’s something we had held off of, partly as being a drummer myself, the sound and feel of an electric kit is nowhere near the same as an acoustic kit unless you spend a lot of money, something we couldn’t justify. But we were able to borrow a really good Roland V Drum kit from one of our members, so we thought we’d give it a go. And on the whole, it has made a huge difference.

  • Firstly, we have so much more space on stage, as it has a footprint at least half of what the acoustic drums had, and there is now no need for the large perspex screens we had around the kit.
  • This has also led to improved sight lines across the stage, as we can get the kit in a better position and again, no screens to peer through or over.
  • And the sound on stage has crucially changed immensely, whereas before we had to turn up the stage monitors to counterbalance the drums, now we can run everything at a much lower level. Which has also meant we on stage can now hear the congregation more clearly…they actually make some noise!

So far so good.

A little is enough?

But, and this is where the title of this post emanates from…everything has now got a little too quiet!

  • Whereas before the acoustic volume of the drums meant the PA had to be run at a certain level…now the level of the drums is dictated 100% by the soundman.
  • Where before if the drums weren’t going through the system (we did mike up our drum kit), you could still hear them over the system, now if the drums aren’t turned up enough by the soundman…they won’t be heard.
  • And similarly on stage, while we are able to have much quieter monitor mixes on stage…if we can’t hear the drums properly ourselves, then as a band we start to fall apart a bit…often the drums are driving the songs and creating the rhythmic glue which holds us together.

I’ve been to plenty of venues…not just churches…where volume is an issue to overcome. Just like the scene in Back To The Future where the teacher (Huey Lewis) stops the audition because “I’m afraid you’re just too darn loud”…limiting volumes is a hurdle to overcome especially when you have an acoustic kit, plenty of exuberant musicians and a large PA. But working out how to persuade the mix needs to be louder…is a different problem altogether, and something we are surprisingly struggling with.

We’ve done plenty of training in the practicalities of sound, so all of our team know how to operate the desk, where to plug things in, how to eliminate feedback, phantom power, DI boxes etc. And we’ve done training in how to mix, practical EQ, balancing the band, lead musicians and instruments. Everyone knows when to turn up, what their responsibilities are as a team, how to get the monitors set during soundcheck and how to problem solve during a service. All bases covered.

Subjectivity

But we’re finding more and more the actual overall level during a service is so subjective it is really difficult to teach. Everyone has their own mixing style and preference, which is fine within certain parameters. But how do you dictate what is deemed too quiet? How do you justify the drums are too quiet, when the sound man thinks they’re great? And when it is too quiet in the front of house, just as if it is too loud, you start to run into problems, as the congregation doesn’t engage, the mix sounds weak and without depth, and (based on the songs we sing), losing the drums often means we lose the drive from the band.

I’ll be honest, it’s not a problem I was ever expecting (having been on the wrong end of many comments as a drummer over the years) and I don’t yet have a definitive solution as it is so subjective…what I deem too quiet, others deem about right, when I think there’s not enough drums or bass…others think it’s nicely balanced for the lead vocals… What I am going to try is to employ a decibel meter, and then aim for a minimum level we have everything at. So I’ll keep you updated, and if you have any other ideas to counteract this interesting phenomenon…drop me a line, always interested in new ideas and discussion.

But in the mean time….Turn It Up!

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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