Shinyribs played a really great gig the other day at Brentwood Elementary School. It was great because before us kids from the School of Rock played. You should have seen these kids! They were playing 70’s and 80’s rock and metal and simply killing it. One of the songs that they did was a version of Metallica’s Seek and Destroy that was note for note perfect, and I mean with the shredding solos and everything. These kids were better than most of the bands I see around Austin!
One of the things that was also great about their show was seeing aggressive hard rock and metal played with a really clear sound out front sound. They were loud, but never too loud. This had to do with the players and their stage volume, the sound guy, and the fact that the show was outside. But it is very rare to hear that type of music where the mix is clear. So many bands mistake volume for aggression or attitude. Yes, there are certain bands like My Bloody Valentine whose sound is derived from playing at extreme volumes, but bands like that are actually rare. Many bands that are inexperienced, or have experience and are ignorant, destroy their sound with too much volume. You end up hearing overtones and a giant wash of sound instead of the things that people are actually playing. Whenever I walk into a bar and the music is too loud I usually leave. Every once in awhile you will see a really loud band that is also happens to be really great. However, most of the time if the band is too loud they are over compensating for something. You know that feeling, when you walk into a club and it just sounds like someone is putting a microphone on a vacuum cleaner.
I grew up on heavy metal music. There are so many neat intricate technical things that go into that form of music. I just broke out Anthrax’s Sound of White Noise the other day and I enjoy that album every time I hear it. The guitar playing is so aggressive and the sound is so clear and crisp on that record. But if a band were to play something like that in a small club at concert volume, all those intricate riffs would just be lost in a wash of noise.
I’m talking about heavy metal because that music is associated with aggression and volume, but really any form of music would do that has a drum kit and an electric guitar. If you spend all those hours practicing and perfecting what you do, I would imagine you actually want people to hear what you have come up with. It’s a crying shame is something good were to go unnoticed because it got lost in a haze of noise.
The other thing that you realize you lose when you play too loudly is dynamics. When one person on stage is playing to loudly every else seems to match their volume. People are trying to hear themselves above the din. Those subtle dynamics that make music really exciting get tossed out the window!
Except for a couple large outdoor shows where backline has been provided, I never use anything live but a single 15 inch Ampeg combo cabinet with my bass. The instances where I felt I needed more have been few and far between. Guess what, at all of those larger venues, there is a direct out on my amp that can pump it straight through the PA. A 15 generally gives me all the stage volume that I need. Anything larger would just be for show and would just be added gear that I would need to hump in and out of clubs all the time. Anyone tells you that you need more than that, who isn’t playing to at least a thousand people on a regular basis, is either lying, clueless, or deaf.