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“Great gig but I couldn’t really hear the singer”

Have you heard this too many times? If you play in any kind of band, I bet you have..so read on and find out how you could get your singer heard live.

Even in small venues the way the sound arrives at your ears from when it leaves the singer’s mouth is pretty complex. The sound goes through many paths and you need to go wrong in just one of these paths for your singer to be completely undecipherable when playing a live gig. Let’s look at the parts one by one.

The singer

Live singing in a rock band is an art form in itself, it takes some years to get good projection. Projection comes naturally with experience but the key here is to enunciate every word crystal clear.  You can generally assume that the PA/mic system etc will “eat” many of your words up, so you really have to over-enunciate to compensate for this.

There are loads of books and internet resources available on this, so you can look this up. Look up what the word means and how you can improve your singing technique in general.

You rehearse/play just too loud

Rock is all about the loudness, lets face it! If it is too quiet it just lacks the power and the grit. To me what makes a gig loud are the guitars, once the guitars are pumped up in volume, it gives a rich spectrum of bass and treble sounds which pound the heart. Once the guitars are up everyone else then turns up as a result to match that and the net effect being that the vocalist ends up sounding too quiet which is bad, bad, bad. You have to be able to nail this in the practice room.

If you can’t hear the singer, keep turning down the guitar volumes until he/she is clear. And then turn the rest of the band down. The drum and bass should be crisp, clear and definitive. If your drummer or/and bassist happen to be the ones starting the loudness wars then in the absence of guitar loudness they will have to become quieter, or force them to be quieter. Eventually the vocalist should be clear and should not be struggling over the volume wars.

Learn to practice quieter generally.

Same goes for onstage sound at gigs. Get a good clear mix first within yourselves and then let the sound engineer do the rest for you.

If you are not giving your sound engineer a good starting point you are doomed from the outset.

Muting the guitar

Whenever I am singing in my band, both guitarists (me and the lead guitarist) play the guitar palm muted so that once a riff has done it’s job in the intro/bridge etc., the guitars back down a bit in volume and dynamics and let the singer stand out. When the chorus or hook riff comes back again, both guitars go full whack and let the audience feel the power, the power of rock 🙂

I have noticed that a lot of bands just don’t think of this really subtle internal dynamic to control the band sound mix when the vocalist is performing.

Songwriting

There are so many bands out there who just have no dynamics in their songs; it is loud, loud, loud *all* the time. This is boring, after a while your ears become immune to the loudness anyway. Loud is only loud relative to a quiet sound. Try experimenting with breakdowns in your songs. Most of the successful bands have songs that are rich with dynamics. Try sections where you only have drums, bass and vocals i.e no guitar for a bit 🙂 Or just a sprinkling of guitars. Then when the loud bits come in, go full on with your guitar.

In summary try cutting instruments out completely and bringing them back in, try playing louder and quieter and experiment with dynamics.

EQ

The guitar frequencies are so wide that they definitely interfere with vocal frequencies, which is why if you are an EQ or tone junkie, you can tweak the guitar and vocal EQ so that there is as little overlap as possible. You can also discuss this with your sound engineer if you are lucky enough to have your own or just even get some proper advice on this. I would say that use the tweaking EQ fix as a last resort exercise, concentrate first on all the other points I have mentioned.

Well, in my experience as singer and guitarist I think these are the reasons why the singer often sounds drowned out in small London venues. It is not as much to do with the power of the PA and sound engineering as you might think. In fact it is possible to turn the singer up, but then he/she sounds out of place in the mix. Plus if he turns you up, there is the possibility of really high pitch squeal feedback, ouch ouch ouch.

Finally, there may be other reasons why you can’t hear the singer in small venues. So if you are a musician or sound engineer I’d really love to hear your explanations too!

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