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.

NAMM 2008 – Anaheim, CA: 2 months late

So this year, thanks to Kevan @ Tremol-No and some help from the Hoshino crew, I got into NAMM for the first time. For those who are unfamiliar, the NAMM show is the music industry’s big trade show. It’s turned into a global event and as the music equipment/supply industry keeps growing, so does the show. It’s a place for everyone from a huge guitar manufacturer like Fender or Gibson to show of their newest and staple products as well as knockoff companies and 2-3 person operations just getting their feet under them. By the way, it’s massive. The show takes place in the Anaheim Convention Center, which has over 800,000 square feet of space. They not only use all of it, they use more. There’s stuff outside, in the lobby, everywhere. I spent maybe 8 hours there on Saturday (pretty much from open to close) and aside from a quick lunch with a friend, it was all walking around, talking to people, looking at stuff. I played a lot of guitars, from fairly inexpensive Ibanez or Carvin models to borderline unaffordable Vigiers or similar high end brands. Best playing guitar there was by far in the Ernie Ball booth (they had a 30’s gangster theme, so all the guys were dressed in pin-striped suits with top hats, cool company, I liked the idea). I am now very eager to buy a John Pettrucci model. No joke. The 6 string version definitely surpassed anything else I touched at the show in terms of playability (there were plenty that were probably built better or looked nicer or sounded better). I’m going to start saving my spare change for one of those.

Like any trade show, there were lots of cool giveaways as well. I didn’t load up like some people (I think 40% of trade show attendants only show up for free stuff). However, my two prized freebies were a wood handled bottle opener from ZVex and some of the Eric Johnson series Jazz III picks from a guy at the Dunlop booth. The only thing I wanted to take home from the show was some of those picks and one of the reps there happened to have some. Thanks!!!

The other cool thing is all the music going on. I didn’t really care about guest appearances (I saw the Playboy PMOY, Paul Stanley, Joe Satriani, Nikki Sixx, etc), but the performances were cool. Caught a bit of the Red Jumpsuit Apparatus in the Taylor room (they were good, I knew the name going in but couldn’t tell you any songs they did). I saw a few artists I had never heard of doing improv and structured songs. Went to the aftershow party at the Hilton (most 80’s people in one place since the 80’s) and saw Kandace Ferrell (really good) and caught a little bit of Rob Balducci (great guy, great guitar player), but I was absolutely beat by then despite pumping my body with ribs and Starbucks. Wanted to stay for Rob’s full show, but I was falling fast by then (it was after 11PM, had been on my feet walking for the better part of 15 hours), luckily I’ve seen Rob perform 2 or 3 times in the past.

Anyway, that’s all I can think of for now. It was a great time and I’d love to go back in the future. I especially want to show up with a boatload of cash next time.

Click here for pics (I’m testing out Photoshop Express)