I’m not a musician; however I do listen to a lot of it and this year I’ve managed to see a lot of live music. I’ll admit that I don’t tend to do the huge stadium events – the costs (to me) are quite steep and in many cases I’ve seen the band play at much smaller venues (I remember seeing AC/DC more than once at the smaller Wembley Arena, years before the release of Black Ice and their worldwide popularity pushed them to stadium tours, packing out Wembley Stadium next door). But there is one thing that seems to be a constant – how the music SOUNDS depending on where you are on the lineup.
When the band makes a song for their album, it will typically be note perfect, and probably the best version that you will hear. If it’s a popular band, when they play their song live, as the headliner, it will sound (usually) pretty close to the original, perhaps with a few twiddles. If they are headlining at a stadium, then the song may have a few more twiddly extras and possibly links to other popular songs. And there may well be cool lighting too.
But if the band is a support band, typically the sound (to the audience) will be overblown and just sounding so very rough compared to their album version. Carefully written, clever lyrics drowned by the imbalanced rhythm guitar. If it aint’t loud enough, whack it up a little more – then they’ll stop talking to each other and listen to what we’re playing.
Whilst I’ll admit that I’m not a young man anymore (Well, physically anyway) I’m not for one minute suggesting that they just turn the volume down a bit – I’m just a little confused by it all.
I’ll accept that the support band is there to warm up the audience, and possibly get a few more pounds behind the bar in drinks, or reduce the push at the merchandise table, but if you know that the support band is going to sound rough whoever they are, why would you go in?
I’ll also accept that no headliner really wants their support band to be better than them – but actually, it’s going to happen (one reason why I enjoy listening to all the bands of the evening) and that says more about the headliners and their security about what they can do than anything else.
But if it’s not the volume coming out, it must be the volumes going in to the speakers – which begs the question – what happens at a soundcheck? Do they get Deaf Bob at the decks (“nope can’t hear it, let’s turn that up”) or does someone then mess around with the switches, faders etc when the soundcheck is over? And if that happens everytime, doesn’t anyone make any notes? And surely, with an empty hall it’s got to be more echoey than when there are people in it?
I could accept that the band themselves, with in-ear monitors, have no idea what the sound is like at the front of the stage – knowing only what is going into their ears – but isn’t that the job of the sound desk?
As I said at the start, I’m not a musician, and in truth whilst it frustrates me I’ll stand their with ear plugs and listen to each band – I have bought loads of albums from support bands because they have sounded good (through ear plugs). But if our creative talents are measured by our outputs, shouldn’t we all strive to show our fine art work using small brushes, rather than just trying to reproduce it with a 6-inch wide brush and one colour of paint?