Managing stage Noise
We've all been there. You get to the front of the stage so you can be near to the band but often it's the monitors and guitar amps that are louder. As you get further back the sound is a confusion of noise as the stage sound interferes with the main front of house. The result being a mix that's lacking clarity, muddy, barely audible vocals and guitars and bass swamping the mix. The musicians might be loving the wall of stage noise but the singer is not and in a vain attempt to hear themselves they end up shouting into the mic, straining their voice, and really struggling.
Bands are teams!
Ok so you've spent your life learning your craft whether it be bass, guitar, drums, keys etc but when you join a band it is no longer about just you but the collective sum and creating a song that sounds musically great that everyone wants to hear. Let's be honest even a die hard bass player when they go and see their favourite band leaves the gig singing the melody line….not the bass line.! So with any band if the vocals can't be heard then it's never going to be a great gig!
With large arenas and festival concerts, stage noise is less of an issue, as the distance between the musicians increases so there is less spill and the main PA is normally a lot louder than the monitors. That said I have been to gigs of more than 5000 people where the monitors were so loud that with the main PA blasting above it, the resulting sound was just a car crash of noise!
So for the smaller gigs managing stage noise is essential to avoid too much sound going back into the mics and polluting the mix. Also the louder the sound the louder the vocals monitors need to be and the more likely-hood of feed back.
So what can be done?
In boomy halls the drum themselves can be almost too loud before they’ve been even been mic’d up so using a drum screen to contain the sound and reduce spill onto the stage mics makes a huge difference.
Positioning guitar amps so that they are on a stand nearer the musician’s ear line means they will not need to be turned up so much to sound as loud as they would if they were at floor level. Facing them away from the main vocal mics can also help reduce spill.
Keeping the bass amp to a sensible level and making sure it is running though the PA rather than trying to fill the hall as well will make a big difference.
If you are using multiple mics on stage look at which ones can be muted when they are not being used as all of these are picking up the stage sound and then running it back to the monitors they are routed to.
If you are micing up a drum kit with several mics then using noise gates can stop the spill from one drum onto all of the mics and greatly increase the clarity though the main PA and improve feedback. This in turn will help prevent less noise getting back to stage and onto the mics.
If you have Graphic Equalisers on your monitors you can use them to both ring out the sound and remove the troublesome frequencies and also shape the tone. This will help un-needed tone such as bass being amplified through the vocal monitors and creating further spill and muddiness.
How about in Ear Monitors!
The ultimate way to control stage noise is not have any monitors at all. In ear monitors allow all the performers to set their own mix and level without having to make any stage noise at all other than their own instrument amp and some even play with pre-amps only. For singers especially, in ear monitors can be a revelation as they can hear themselves without having to shout which means as well as not straining their voice they can put more feeling and expression into their performance.
Finally the best way to control stage noise is simply stop forever turning yourselves up!
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Written by Howard Williams owner and trainer for Base Sound, a company specialising in 1,2 and 4 day live sound engineering courses and One to One sound engineering training - www.basesound.co.uk