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Indianrock2020

Why things sound so bad from the stage

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I know that checking your tone from the stage, trying to listen to the main speakers (FOH) is a mistake. Even walking the empty room on a wireless unit, playing and listening, may be a mistake unless you take into account that the band and dozens/hundreds of singing bodies will make a huge difference.
But what is it exactly that makes this sort of testing unsatisfying or even discouraging? From the stage is it simply that you're just hearing reflections since you're not in line with any speaker? Out in the room, is it just that your reverbs and delays sound odd when your guitar is the only sound?
I get good feedback from our other guitarists when they're sitting in the crowd and everything is running full tilt.

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I check our sound every time we play and generally it sounds as I expect it to.  Honestly I don't really check my guitar by itself in the audience all that often, just normally with the band.  But I do know there are a couple of things that can affect how it sounds.

The first thing is you have to be far enough away from the stage to isolate yourself from the stage bleed in order to hear what the audience hears accurately.  A lot depends on how you have your stage monitor placed and how you have your speaker configured.  I place my speaker behind me in the backline as I would if it were a physical amp, but raised on a half height pole with my DSP contouring turned off (on a Yamaha DXR12).  This pretty much gives me a very accurate representation of what comes out of the FOH since that's how the FOH speakers are placed and configured.  If you're using a FRFR type speaker and have it placed in a floor monitor position and haven't corrected for floor monitor contouring you could very well have a difference with the FOH in that your stage speaker will be darker due to bass coupling with the floor.  This could potentially be made worse if the floor monitor is reflecting off of a wall behind you adding a bit of mud to the sound.  If you're using a cabinet based FRFR like a Powercab, there's likely to be some differences depending on where you stand on stage relative to the cabinet since it isn't like a FRFR speaker that is designed to have consistency across a very wide horizontal axis (with the speaker in an upright position).  So what you hear on stage will likely be flavored by how off-axis you are from the cabinet.

Another BIG factor can be if you've cut off too much of the high end when dialing in a FRFR system due to standing too close to the speaker when dialing in presets.  High frequencies dissipate quickly in space, the opposite of low frequencies which don't.  When I dial in my patches I make sure I listen to my patches from at least 6 feet away and often listen with my back turned to the FRFR and/or stand off-axis from the speaker.  That gives me a MUCH more accurate feel for what the audience will hear from the FOH.

When I'm checking the full band mix I can't say I'm surprised by any differences in my sound, but I've been with this band for 10 years now and I pretty much know where my tone needs to be to blend correctly with the other instruments and voices.  Even with all of that I sometimes have to make some corrections for my sound in the mix because it's too dark and not mixing right.  It doesn't happen often, but once in a while on a specific preset (particularly higher gain tones) I may have to make some corrections at the gig.

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1 hour ago, Indianrock2020 said:

I know that checking your tone from the stage, trying to listen to the main speakers (FOH) is a mistake. Even walking the empty room on a wireless unit, playing and listening, may be a mistake unless you take into account that the band and dozens/hundreds of singing bodies will make a huge difference.

 

Trying to adjust your tone from BEHIND the FOH (eg: on the stage) would be a mistake... but that's where calling it a mistake ends. 

 

IMO, until you hear your guitar from the FOH you don't know how your guitar is translating to the audience. Guitar players get hung up with how it sounds "to them, on stage" and hope for the best when it comes to getting the tone to the crowd. I take the opposite approach... get that tone to the crowd, then compensate for myself. IME... I don't suffer on stage by doing it this way... not one little bit. 

 

On big shows/tours I use the stage monitors (or IEM's).. they are always high quality and give me a great representation of what the FOH is doing. On smaller shows I'll use an FRFR to fill the stage, and sometimes even the room itself when the PA (FOH) is vocal only.

 

When I have to fill the room (ie: no guitar in the FOH)... I make sure it sounds good "in the room" then live with that tone on the stage... NOT the other way around. 

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1 hour ago, DunedinDragon said:

High frequencies dissipate quickly in space, the opposite of low frequencies which don't.  When I dial in my patches I make sure I listen to my patches from at least 6 feet away and often listen with my back turned to the FRFR and/or stand off-axis from the speaker.  That gives me a MUCH more accurate feel for what the audience will hear from the FOH.

Did not realize this, awesome pro tip!

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Thanks for the feedback.  We run Helix direct to PA and use IEMs for monitoring -- no amps allowed.   I know that checking FOH from the stage is a bad idea -- I guess more than anything because you're not hearing (directly) what those speakers are sending to the crowd --- you're getting mostly reflections.  Our  six FOH speakers are up in a high ceiling, angled out and back, in a room that is roughly  68 deep ( stage front to back wall) and  90 feet wide.
I don't think this is an "acoustically smart" room at all, so even walking the empty room on wireless and listening to FOH I guess I'm not surprised that what is acceptable with a room full of people and band, and is also good checked every which way at home, sounds a little unusual empty.

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1 hour ago, DunedinDragon said:

High frequencies dissipate quickly in space, the opposite of low frequencies which don't.  When I dial in my patches I make sure I listen to my patches from at least 6 feet away and often listen with my back turned to the FRFR and/or stand off-axis from the speaker.  That gives me a MUCH more accurate feel for what the audience will hear from the FOH.

 

One must be careful with this approach... unless they know exactly what they are dealing with. All PA's are not created equal, a high quality PA is made to project.... they sound every bit as clear at 200' - 300' ft as they do at 20'. This approach may force the tech to attenuate the high end substantially at the FOH.

 

IMO... I think your approach is very solid advice when you have to fill the room with your guitar.... I'm just not sure I agree when there is a "quality PA" in use. 

 

Of course... you know your situations, I know mine - they are not necessarily the same :) 

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I build my tones through the PA that I end up playing through and check them, at least temporarily, at close to gig volume so I can make necessary adjustments (I have the advantage of being the guy that owns the PA).  So my tone sounds exactly like I expect it to at the gig.  Of course different rooms sound different but not enough to throw off my guitar tone to the point that it concerns me in any way.

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18 minutes ago, litesnsirens said:

I build my tones through the PA that I end up playing through and check them, at least temporarily, at close to gig volume so I can make necessary adjustments (I have the advantage of being the guy that owns the PA).  So my tone sounds exactly like I expect it to at the gig.  Of course different rooms sound different but not enough to throw off my guitar tone to the point that it concerns me in any way.

Good idea but still there is the problem of checking it in an empty room without your band playing.   Then possibly add to that an acoustically poor room and/or mediocre PA setup.  I always play in the same venue but I've found that playing out in the room on a wireless when nobody is there just doesn't represent what the patch really sounds like in a mix.   My mates give me good feedback when they're not playing ( sitting out in the crowd) which leads me to think the patches are fine.

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I think there is often a disconnect with guitarists especially as to what is a good tone to play with by yourself and what is a good tone in a band context. A great example is the "groove metal" guitar tone. Alone, that scooped, slightly woofy/flabby tone sounds HUGE because its more or less a "loudness" setting for distorted guitar, but its useless in a band context because the bass takes away all the bottom end and the cymbals eat up the high frequency, leaving a shell of whats left of the midrange. It works the same way for clean/edge of breakup tones, too. A "thick, full, articulate" solo'd guitar tone will be sculpted down to its core midrange by any decent FOH engineer, unless its a very sparse mix, with the rest of the band playing. Everyone should be working to compliment or reinforce each other's sounds in a band context. There's not much useful in a guitar tone below 100Hz in a rock context, just like there's not much useful in the upper midrange of a bass tone when the band is in, but too often both guys will be fighting for both spaces because "muh toanz" or whatever. If it sounds good in the context of the music being performed, its good!

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Gunpointmetal -- exactly.    Our  volunteer sound techs ( 300-seat church ) don't really do any EQ, but I did set up high-pass filter on everything for them, mainly to get everything except bass guitar and kick out of the sub-125 hz range.
Somebody said this on another forum I think he's on target:

"Imagine that all the people are beanbag chairs. Beanbag chairs in a room, soaking up all the slap and brightness from your sound. They're basically room treatment that paid money to be there. Tune your sound to be too bright for the empty room, but good when it's full of meatbags."

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3 hours ago, codamedia said:

 

One must be careful with this approach... unless they know exactly what they are dealing with. All PA's are not created equal, a high quality PA is made to project.... they sound every bit as clear at 200' - 300' ft as they do at 20'. This approach may force the tech to attenuate the high end substantially at the FOH.

 

IMO... I think your approach is very solid advice when you have to fill the room with your guitar.... I'm just not sure I agree when there is a "quality PA" in use. 

 

Of course... you know your situations, I know mine - they are not necessarily the same :) 

 

I don't know how much better "quality PA" you can have than a QSC KLA12 line array with KW181 subs which is the band's normal system.  But even when we play at outside venues, 9 times out of 10 we'll be using that venues line array of one form or another.  There certainly are some systems still out there that are deficient, particularly the old style big passive horn and speaker boxes being driven by simple amps and crossovers.  But those will most likely have problems with lack of clarity in mid-frequencies at the crossover point, not so much in the high frequency range.
 

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