Turn the volume down

I know this has been written about to no end… but I’m going to briefly rant about it again as my right ear felt like it was going a little quieter on me yesterday.  See, when you’re in a rock band and you have a show, the best thing to do is crank all your amps to 10, ask the sound guy to jack the levels and have your drummer hit everything as hard as possible.  The physical energy from the sound waves translates into emotional energy for your audience.  My math may be off, but it’s usually on about a 2:1 scale.  So if your music is hitting the audience at 140db, it’s creating 280J of good times.

There are a few problems with this theory though… first there’s the whole problem of likely hearing loss and also severe pain (which usually happens somewhere north of 125-130db).  Thankfully there are nice ear plugs for that stuff which nobody uses.  The other part, when you crank your music up like this, you’re being a dick and it usually means your band is shit.  Not “the shit.”  “Shit.”  It’s a dead giveaway to seasoned audience members.  When they see a band that keeps cranking the volume up during sound check or the first few songs, it’s usually because the band stinks and they need the cacophony of loud to give the illusion of cohesive musicianship.  If you think your band is good, you’re doing yourself a great disservice as behind 130 or so db our ears cannot distinguish much.  Any of the nuances in your playing get lost in a giant whirlwind of noises.  Imagine a loud Harley, 737, jackhammer and circular saw all running in a small room at the same time.  It just becomes a blur.  You can’t distinguish one noise from the other.  Beyond that, unless you are playing a club that supports a few hundred people, chances are the PA system can’t support your volume.  In the usual 50-100 person venue, you’ll be lucky if the PA can support your vocals over the natural volume of a drumset and 30 Watt tube amp.  Once you mic the snare/kick and guitar amp and crank them all up, you are assuring yourself that the PA will start clipping/distorting and nobody will be able to understand the lyrics or maybe even know anyone is singing.

I’m not saying that your noise rock band needs to be playing at cafe poetry night volumes.  But actually listen to yourself more often.  When you’re doing sound check, rather than just making a really loud stage volume and assuming it’s great, have a band member or trusted friend go out into the audience.  Try playing a song with guitars, drums, vocals.  If you’re in a small venue (around Milwaukee that might be the Cactus Club), have the drummer play with no mics, then run the guitar/vocals through the PA.  Turn the volume up until everything sounds pretty level with the drummer.  Then you can mic some of the drums if a few things are getting lost.  If you don’t believe me, stick a camcorder in the back of a room and record one of your normal shows compared to one where you do sound like that.  Tell me which one sounds better.  If you think the absurdly loud one does, it probably means your band needs more practice.