Live Sound Quality (Lack Of)

It never ceases to amaze me that so many live gigs suffer from a mediocre, or even downright awful sound quality! In all of the years I have been involved with live sound I have never managed to achieve the sonic mess that so often seems to pass as sound engineering - even difficult venues and dodgy PA systems haven't given me the excuse to deliver the sort of crap that so often prevails! I often wonder what these so-called sound engineers listen to music on at home, because it often sounds like a really loud version of a nasty cheap, badly set-up stereo.

There is a new trend in awfulness appearing these days as well, I suspect it comes from badly set up computer and home cinema speakers (and also car stereos with subwoofers).

Characteristics of this sound are enormous amounts of deep bass, with the rest of the sound somewhat quieter and often rather tinny sounding. The bass tends to be a one note thing, or so much in the sub bass region that it is difficult to pick out individual bass notes. The rest of the spectrum tends to sound detached from the bass, often the upper bass as such being almost non-existent (hence no definition to the actual notes being played).

This is quite similar to the way a lot of these subwoofer based home audio systems sound, many people turn up the subwoofer too much (especially dance music fans) and most of the low to medium priced systems do suffer from a lack of integration between the sub and satellites, leaving a hole on the lower mid/upper bass. I've heard plenty of in car stereos sound like this also. in-fact it would be impossible on many of these to match the mid/tops with the bass levels without going deaf very quickly!

My most recent experience of this was at the otherwise excellent Sofest festival in Cumbria on the August bank holiday. I was there for the live sound in the Dogs In Space venue. This being a mixed line-up of DJs and live acts, I did get to the main stage a few times, even if only for a short while. Apart from the fact that a couple of walls of stacked-up full range speakers is never going to sound that good anyway (the sort of arrangement that gives line arrays a good name), everything was dominated by huge amounts of bass, now don't get me wrong, I love bass as much as the next person, but not at the expense of everything else.

I stopped to watch 'The Beat' for a while, even made my way to the front of the sound mixing booth hoping it would be better. I have mixed these guys live before, I've heard all of their records (who hasn't), on a wide range of audio devices ranging from transistor radios to studio monitors. The poor guys were trying their hardest to get a vibe going, but it was nigh on impossible with the wretched sound quality.

The only reason I didn't muscle my way into the sound booth and fix it was the fact I had another band to attend to before they finished. My heart went out to the lads and also to all the other performers. As far as I am concerned this sort of abberation is an insult to both perfomers and to the paying public.

Regular visitors will remember similar comments concerning the PA at The Roundhouse earlier this year, which was even worse! I could understand if these were amateurs we were talking about, but no, these are commercial companies who are in the PA business!!! (Brittania Row were the culprits at the Roundhouse, not sure who it was at Solfest). These aren't the only cuprits by any means, but as they were supplying presumably hi-end equipment and engineering to a prestigous event for not inconsiderable cost, they should at least be expected to do a proper job.

What really blows me away is that modern sound equipment is so good now that there really is no excuse anymore...

I can only hope that some of these people come to this site and start learning to provide a decent sound quality before they kill of the industry for goodness sake!

As I keep telling people, If you want to be a sound engineer, you MUST learn what a good sound is. You MUST listen to a range of music on a DECENT, PROPERLY SET-UP STEREO SYSTEM. If you can't get this right then get out of the industry and do something else...