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playing "quiet"


Richard W

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My band is rehearsing for a gig in December, but in the meantime we have a brief set scheduled for an open mic at a local coffee house. The venue is designed for smaller combos or solo acts--not the ear-ringing volume of your typical bar--and we have picked a handful of songs to play quietly. Not "unplugged" per se, but just with gentler arrangements and the volume down.

 

Anyway, it's been something of a revelation to rehearse these tunes at a quieter volume. All the band members (two guitar, keys, drums, and bass) have remarked that we can hear each other so much better and feel more connected. The vocals are better in the mix. It makes the songs sound new, as well--even ones we've played a thousand times before. And I think it gives us a bunch of more options for how we want to play stuff and even the gigs we could take on.

 

I'm wondering if anyone else has had a similar experience playing this way.

"Everyone wants to change the world, but no one thinks of changing themselves." Leo Tolstoy
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Isn't it amazing what happens when you turn down and can actually hear what's going on and really listen to how it all goes together?

 

Our best gigs - rock/funk/jazz/whatever - are always the ones where the volume is down and were are set up close together...always.

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I know it is a cliché, but I really wish our guitarist would tone it down a bit sometimes. Lately the drummer has started playing with ear plugs so he hits even harder. This makes the guitarist turn it up which makes the singer turn it up. I stand close enough to my amp to rely on (1) knowing what I play is correct and (2) hearing something that resembles knowing what I play is correct. As for backing vocals, I just whale away and hope I get it right every now and then. It's not as if I can hear myself or anything :freak:

"I'm a work in progress." Micky Barnes

 

The Ross Brown Shirt World Tour

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The jazz band was intrinsically quiet. Mostly the coffee house and winery gigs, the occasional dinner gig (where we were background music).

 

Sometimes its nice to just play smooth jazz in a quiet setting and let the sound of the double just ring out.

 

Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn

 

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There is a difference between playing quietly and playing at low volume. There's also a big difference between stage volume and house volume, and in small venues, they become one and the same.

 

It's probably something to do with the musical quality of dynamics. IF everything is at 100% volume, 100% of time there are no real dynamics.

 

IF I'm playing a rock/blues/dance thing, obviously the volume needs to be up, but even so there are countless examples of players in each of these genres NOT playing loud, and man it improves the song as a whole. I hate it when band members think loud equals "rawkin'" and loud is the default setting.

 

That's why in-ear monitors were invented, so Animal could get a concussion from pounding the skins, and Johnny Wanna-B Goode can have his face melting tone, but the rest of the band and the house can have a balanced mix. (As long as I can stand in front of my 750 W Trace-Elliott and feel air move, at least ;) )

 

 

 

 

"Call me what instrument you will, though you can fret me, yet you cannot play upon me.'-Hamlet

 

Guitar solos last 30 seconds, the bass line lasts for the whole song.

 

 

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There's also a big difference between stage volume and house volume, and in small venues, they become one and the same.

 

I hate it when band members think loud equals "rawkin'" and loud is the default setting.

 

These are great points that get lost on many people. My previous comments were about stage volume. When we can be close and hear on stage the shows are always better - that goes for "coffee house" gigs and "outdoor" gigs. Fortunately I play with drummers who have a clue. That makes it easy to control stage volume. Actually, I wish the drummer for the cover band would play harder.

 

And the loud = rawkin thing drives me nuts. You hear it all the time in "rig" discussions. If my pants legs aren't moving and my chest isn't getting thumped I can't play with the same feeling. That is complete BS. Yeah, some visceral feedback is OK, and on a big outdoor gig with 100 subs who doesn't like to feel the stage vibrate, but to say you can't play without it is BS.

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I'm wondering if anyone else has had a similar experience playing this way.

 

Yes. Dynamics are wonderful. But don't get used to it, or you will be saddled with disappointment the rest of your musical career.

 

(oh, man...I have issues. Please forgive me...)

Things are just the way they are, and they're only going to get worse.

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There's a joke about heavy metal music, that a chain saw has more dynamic range.

 

Loud? Well, a full symphony orchestra full blast is loud, too. They're just not all playing fortissimo all the time!

 

Re: stage volume vs. house volume - yes, I don't care how loud they crank it up through the outside speakers if I can hear my bandmates clearly on stage. But if you can't hear the singers and your fellow musicians, how can you possibly make good music?

 

Low volume gigs - I don't mind playing at a lower volume, especially in a small venue. But I'm not sure how much fun it would be to have my amp on 2 and be asked to turn down! LOL

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Low volume gigs - I don't mind playing at a lower volume, especially in a small venue. But I'm not sure how much fun it would be to have my amp on 2 and be asked to turn down! LOL
We did a gig in a small room where we were asked to turn down several times. We complied. Then we started The Ramones' "Blitzkrieg Bop". I could barely hear my bass. The drummer was barely hitting his kit with rods. I could hear conversations in the room louder than the band. :freak:

 

If you've never heard this song it is supposed to be loud and in your face. Well, there was no way I was going to be able to shout "Hey! Ho! Let's go!" at ppp, even off-mic, so at the last minute I gave it the NPR treatment. You know, that quiet, even tone they use on National Public Radio? People who knew us were cracking up. It was fun for maybe 10 seconds but overall the gig sucked.

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we have a brief set scheduled for an open mic at a local coffee house. The venue is designed for smaller combos or solo acts--not the ear-ringing volume of your typical bar--and we have picked a handful of songs to play quietly. Not "unplugged" per se, but just with gentler arrangements and the volume down.
When we played a very small coffee house for a special engagement we left our drummer at home and played as an acoustic trio. Everything still went through the PA, but like I like to tell people, the volume knob goes down just as easily as it goes up.

 

I don't have an ABG, and I was going to play 6 string on some songs anyway, so I just thumped out bass lines on my acoustic guitar as best I could. On other songs I played mandolin. It actually worked, and probably helped keep the volume down by omitting the low frequencies.

 

We changed the vocal stylings so we could sing softly instead of full on like the original recordings we cover.

 

Bigger coffee shops could have handled more volume but not this one. The venue greatly appreciated our low volume performance.

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The vocals are better in the mix.
This depends on what you're playing, but in general the vocals should always be on top of the mix, right? If you can't hear the vocals then your monitoring system is inadequate and/or the guitar/bass amps are trying to carry the house (and are therefore too loud on stage). What kind of PA setup are you guys running?
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Yes, the vocals should always be clearly heard, so that you can hear the actual WORDS, too.... LOL The guitarists can turn down for the singing, and turn up again for solos, can't they?

Doesn't seem to work that way in certain settings.

I used to play at this one church where the sound was so bad that you couldn't hear the words being sung (by very good singers) and the pastors had NO CLUE as to why people were skipping the worship part and just coming for the preaching. I find it amazing, but then, what do I know about music? I'm not a pastor....

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IMHO playing at moderate, to low volumes sounds so much more professional. You can hear one another, and the dynamics are more pronounced, you can hear when the band comes down when the singer starts to sing. Again IMO playing loud has always seemed to be a way to hide what you really cant do.
If you smell something stinking, it's juz me, I'm funky like that
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I used to play at this one church where the sound was so bad that you couldn't hear the words being sung (by very good singers) and the pastors had NO CLUE as to why people were skipping the worship part and just coming for the preaching.

 

This is one of my biggest fears - that we are so loud that people come in late on purpose. It's incredibly frustrating, since I feel like we work so hard otherwise to facilitate the worship and not draw attention to ourselves. But I suppose that's veering into another topic, so....

"Of all the world's bassists, I'm one of them!" - Lug
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In general, loud stage volume is bad... period. Quieter you are on stage, the more flexibility and control the engineer has over the FOH mix.

 

Now, that's easy for me to say because we generally run everything direct, including bass through a sansamp, and elecric drums, but even considering acoustic drums and amps, the lower stage volume the better.

 

Point your amp so YOU hear it most AND it's not pointing at vocal mics. Seriously - simple but effective.

Dan

 

Acoustic/Electric stringed instruments ranging from 4 to 230 strings, hammered, picked, fingered, slapped, and plucked. Analog and Digital Electronic instruments, reeds, and throat/mouth.

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Point your amp so YOU hear it most AND it's not pointing at vocal mics. Seriously - simple but effective.

 

That's how I set up every time we have full PA support. And when I can get the guitars to do the same thing, it's like night and day. And the recordings I get off the front end board onto my Tascam digital thing is tremendous.

 

That is, when I can get the guitars to do the same thing. While I'm suggesting it to them, I know the little comic "thought cloud" in their head is saying, "No F'n Way!"

Things are just the way they are, and they're only going to get worse.

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Our jazz quartet regularly plays in a noisy restaurant with slate tiles but recently we played for a function at a wine shop with wooden floors and lots of sound-absorbent surfaces. We loved playing quietly, hearing each other, and making real musical connections. It was one of our best nights. I recently observed a master class given by Ron Carter at the Eastman School of Music and one of Ron's basic messages was that one should only play loud enough to fill the space. Playing quietly is an art that takes time to develop but the payoffs are huge. Play on, softly.
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one of Ron's basic messages was that one should only play loud enough to fill the space.

 

When the collective volume is excessive the music becomes noise.

 

I strive to be "phat" without being overly loud. I supposed to provide the low end, not drown out the other instruments or compete with the rest of the band to be heard.

 

I do a lot of "pickup" work, sometimes showing up to play with a group I've never played with before. I really like it when I show up and see that the drums are NOT miked. This automatically restricts the potential volume.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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