Live shows and overwhelming bottom end

    • February 26, 2023 at 1:12 pm #5004
      Mitch Raboy

        I’ve been to two live music shows recently where the bottom end was out of control.  In one case I had to leave. I first thought it was an acoustic issue or sound mixing error.  I’m now thinking this is a trend and that this would be a good place to get some reactions.

        The two concerts were both major acts. The first was Lake Street Dive in New Haven at a theater similar to the Beacon in NYC. Bass drum and low strings on acoustic bass seemed so enhanced and/or sub woofers pushed way too far. This is the one I left early.

        The second time was at City Winery in NYC. Artist was Sheila E. Bass drum seemed to trigger a low frequency oscillator. Made the bass drum totally undefined. I’m a drummer and was totally annoyed by this.

        Any thoughts?


      • February 27, 2023 at 2:06 pm #5016
        Bob Olhsson

          “Kick in front” live mixes have always frustrated me. The artists love it because it’s what their heroes do but not anybody else.

        • February 28, 2023 at 5:07 am #5026
          Bob Katz

            Part of it, of course, is the room. For part of the concert stand at the mix position and let us know if it sounds boomy over there. If it does, chalk it up to the taste of the live sound engineer and/or the boomy room.

          • February 28, 2023 at 5:38 pm #5029
            Mitch Raboy

              The first time around I thought it must be the room or not a great mixer. The second time made me think this is a trend. If it is, its not a good one. I’m thinking this is borrowed from Hip Hop records use of 808 synth to make that really heavy low low end. Sheila E’s bass drum was definitely triggering a very low and loud tone. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to stand near the mix position in either case. Next time.

              I won’t be going to many live shows if my fears are born out. Thanks for the replies.

            • February 28, 2023 at 9:55 pm #5030
              Phil Koenig

                I too have noticed this.  I attribute it to (lower end) sound companies whose FOH mix engineers do primarily hiphop, EDM, and rap gigs.

                I posted a note about this to an area blues society after noting the kick drum at a blues festival was 20-25 dB louder than everything else in the mix; not something that is appropriate for the Blues genre.  This was measured using a cell phone spectrum analyzer app for Android (from Kewlsoft). This also frequently causes a “one-note bass” issue, where either the room or the sub cabinets ring at a resonant frequency.  Neither the kick nor the bass instruments sounded like actual instruments, but more like a triggered 30 Hz burst.

                To my great surprise and delight, they took my comments to heart, and this years fest was immensely improved in this regard.

                I wish there was a more universal solution…  My personal feeling is there is no reason that each kick drum hit should cause my liver to jump half an inch.

              • March 1, 2023 at 2:16 pm #5064
                Mitch Raboy

                  Thanks Phil for some confirmation.

                  I emailed the venue in New Haven at the time, but never got a reply. I forwarded the email to Lake Street Dive’s management on their website. Didn’t get a reply to that either. I wondered if the artists are aware of  this. Maybe they approve. Maybe they don’t know.

                  At the time I read some reviews of the show on the venue’s website. Mostly glowing reviews. No negatives about the sound.

                  Somewhat related..I remember some years ago being at a symphony concert at Avery Fisher Hall in NYC which didn’t sound great. I felt lucky that I worked in music studios being able to hear great players through great gear.

                • March 1, 2023 at 3:44 pm #5070
                  Bob Olhsson

                    FWIW, it was even happening in the mid ’60s.

                  • March 2, 2023 at 2:38 pm #5073
                    Gregory Pastic

                      I’ve been going to live shows of just about every genre of music (indoor and outdoor) since 1968. In the last decade I have noticed a gradual increase in the number of shows (not classical music) that have a bottom end bigger than Jennifer Lopez.  The last two live indoor shows I attended were intolerable. I had to leave. In both cases, I stood as close to the mixing board as possible and there was not much difference.  At one show, I even took the opportunity to speak with the mix engineer, a young man who was quite obviously high, and my comment about the overwhelming lows was met with “Oh ya?  Says you!”  My theory:  Huge low end helps to mask mediocre musicians.  Or maybe I’m just getting old…LOL.


                    • March 30, 2023 at 2:13 am #5618

                        I’ve been playing live shows since I was 17 in 1987. Every single time this is how the soundcheck goes –

                        Kick drum first – boom, Boom, BOOM until it is as loud as it can be.
                        Snare drum next – crack, Crack, CRACK until it is ear piercing.
                        on and on through the drumset, bass, guitars, etc.

                        then… ok singer step up to the mic…

                        ”can I get a little more monitor? (I can’t hear myself over this thunderous mix you’ve created).”  Monitor feedback ensues, soundperson blames the guitar player who just turned up his amp, blah blah blah.

                        One time, in 2019 I was in charge of a fairly large show in Bergen, Norway. The crew were friends and there was much mutual respect. It was a risk because I had never heard it done before but I sat down with the soundguy (my good friend fortunately) and said I want soundcheck to go like this:

                        Get the lead vocal mic going first (a lovely female vocalist), nice and loud and clear, then have the band begin to get their stage sound going as we start playing some songs. While we are playing slowly begin to bring up whatever mics you want, making sure to never overpower the lead vocal. In short, do it backwards from how every show I’ve ever soundchecked for has done it.

                        It worked so beautifully we were barraged with compliments on the sound, and the sound guy has done every show since then with that same technique.

                        Any live sound engineers here wanna chime in on this?


                        • April 1, 2023 at 12:00 pm #5655
                          Bob Katz

                            Hi, Jason. Starting with the vocal is one method that’s probably guaranteed to work. I will say that a talented, experienced professional who’s musical and has ears — who knows the sound level that their system can produce — knows their mixing board well — could start with the drums and in advance have a good idea of the headroom they need and the proportion that a drumset should be at anticipating the mix. When I mix a rock group in the studio I can start with the rhythm section and eventually add the vocal without an issue and be in the ballpark. Because I have a calibrated monitor gain and I know in advance where I should set it to produce a given SPL in the room for rock mixing. I set the monitor gain in advance and just using my ears (without having to look at the meter I can get the drumset, the bass and percussion “in the ballpark” by how loud they sound. By the time the vocal is in the mix all I need isjust little tweaks, not big ones.

                            What I’m saying is the Katz method of calibrated monitor gain works well in the studio. Unfortunately, with venues having very different characteristics, I don’t think the reinforcement engineer can use the calibrated monitor gain concept.

                            But calibration will help, and I know it: if they set up their gain structure so their digital boards are well below overload to produce a given SPL. For example, -20 dBFS pink noise yields 85 or even 90 dB SPL, and the board and chain will never overload. Then they can start with the drums and using their ears get them to a comfortable, not too loud level, which will leave plenty of gain room in the chain to add other instruments. Once the vocal has come in, they can concentrate on fine tuning the nits of the balance, not doing what Jason described as “oh my god, the vocal is buried.”

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