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Solo volume in loud bands


Coker
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When playing with loud bands, primarily 17-piece big bands, my piano doesn"t punch through when playing solos. Are others here adjusting their volume somehow during solos to be heard? How are you doing this? Thanks in advance.
CA93, MODX8, YC88, K8.2
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Usually I keep my volume on my keyboard below half when I'm sound checking. Then I have the rest of the knob as a secret reserve to crank for a solo. The thing is you got to remember to bring it all the way down after your solo or everyone else will bring up their volume to match your higher level. Hopefully they won't. But they always do. By the end of the night they are all the way up and I got no more reserve.
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I have my keyboard volume up high, and control volume when not soloing by playing softly (piano), playing one or two notes instead of a big chord, and playing very staccato. Playing very staccato is important: if you play a big chord and let it sustain, it becomes sonic sludge that makes everyone around you turn up.

 

Playing loud is easy - just turn it up. Playing quietly takes skill and technique. Playing piano and forte, and legato and staccato are two staples of classical keyboard technique that we jazz/rock/popular players often ignore as we focus on learning by ear and improvising over changes. This is to our detriment. I myself spend part of every piano day playing some classical music off the page where I am required to play passages piano and forte, and legato and staccato.

 

For myself, when I have those rare moment when I am playing quietly in a band context and I notice others responding to my quiet playing by modulating their own volume and then the whole band starts experimenting with loud and quiet in different parts of the song, this is thrilling to me. Pure musical magic to my ears. These musical moments are rare for me, but wonderful when I get to experience them. I love it when I can use my knowledge of piano and forte and have the skill to use that to nudge the other players around me. That's about as good as it gets in my musical world.

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For me, the problem is musos who don't know how to manipulate their volume. They step on solos, trash what the vocalists are trying to do, etc. The worst offenders demand that everyone else turn up so they can play full blast. Guitarists and drummers are notorious.

 

So, when this happens, I change gears. "Hey everyone, let's work on dynamics on this next piece. For example, when someone takes a solo, everyone else should back down on volume. When the singer starts singing again, everyone should back way down. We should try for a crescendo at the bridge and the final chorus. Everyone in?"

 

Discussion and eventually agreement. And then it happens again. So now I have permission to stop the train, and say "Hey, that was what I was talking about. When I, or anyone else comes in for a solo, y'all should be playing quietly. I shouldn't have to blast everyone just to be heard. Let's try it again".

 

And I will keep stopping the train until we do what I suggested. After a few rounds of stopping and trying again, they get the message for a while.

 

If they don't *know* how to modulate their volume, we can work on that. If they don't *want* to manipulate their volume, that's a deal killer for me.

 

Part B: infinite volume. I was doing this ten years ago with a particular stubborn pair of guitar players who were otherwise quite good. I brought maybe 4000 watts of PA gear to a dress rehearsal. They got loud, I got louder. Much louder. You couldn't hear anything but blazing keys and a few wussie guitars trying to keep up.

 

I had ear protection, they didn't. Guess who finally made his point? I had to bring the rig to the next few performances before they understood that I was serious. And it lasted a good while before they reverted to form.

Life is too short to be playing bad music.

 

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Usually I keep my volume on my keyboard below half when I'm sound checking. Then I have the rest of the knob as a secret reserve to crank for a solo. The thing is you got to remember to bring it all the way down after your solo or everyone else will bring up their volume to match your higher level. Hopefully they won't. But they always do. By the end of the night they are all the way up and I got no more reserve.

 

That's the problem... everyone else brings out their "reserve". Ugh.

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"Big band" = 5 saxes, 4 trumpets, 4 trombones, rhythm section presumably.

 

If so, I would assume you and the bass player are the only amplified musicians? I would work with the bandleader/MD to establish a sensible volume for comping and for soloing, and retain some headroom as Jr Deluxe mentioned.

 

Cheers, Mike.

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Usually I keep my volume on my keyboard below half when I'm sound checking. Then I have the rest of the knob as a secret reserve to crank for a solo. The thing is you got to remember to bring it all the way down after your solo or everyone else will bring up their volume to match your higher level. Hopefully they won't. But they always do. By the end of the night they are all the way up and I got no more reserve.

 

I soundcheck with master volume at 12 o'clock (i.e., about halfway).

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a particular stubborn pair of guitar players

 

This is why I don't play in bands with two guitar players. If I came to the audition, I would ask them "Which of you is going to be staying in the band after I join?"

Yamaha U1 Upright, Roland Fantom 8, Yamaha YC88, Nord Stage 3C, Nord Wave 2, Viscount Legend Live, Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S61 Mk2, Arturia V Collection 8, Komplete 13 Ultimate

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When playing with loud bands, primarily 17-piece big bands, my piano doesn"t punch through when playing solos. Are others here adjusting their volume somehow during solos to be heard? How are you doing this? Thanks in advance.

 

In addition to volume, EQ can be your friend as well. I prefer my pianos rich and full-bodied, but they don't sit well in a busy mix. As I add more treble content, pianos will stand out better yet sound grating by themselves. Depending on your instrument, you can brute-force EQ, layer in something brighter, or use a "bright" button as found on my Nords. I also call it the "hear me NOW" button because it adds some hefty treble cut for solos, crescendos, etc.

 

But, yes, be prepared to punch in and punch out depending.

Life is too short to be playing bad music.

 

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So much good advice here. My comments are specifically for acoustic piano and are only repeating what others have already said.

 

1. Get your basic sound right. Turn down anything under 100Hz. Way down. On my CP4 the Bass EQ slider is typically down 10dB. This allows the'character" of my lower left hand sounds to be heard without stepping on the Bass and Bass Drum.

 

2. Turn your volume up so that you can be easily heard playing mp. Then when you lean in you can be loud wrt the band. You"ll feel like you"re playing a real instrument again.

 

3. For solos I don"t want it to sound like the piano just got really big. I want to sound like I"m 'speaking up". The CP4 Upper Mid slider goes up 4-6dB to cut through a loud band.

 

4. If you just turn up then you have the ability to swamp out everybody else"s part. So, counterintuitively, the louder you get the less low-mids you want. Don"t add to the mud.

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By the end of the night they are all the way up and I got no more reserve.

Reminds me of every gig I ever played. The only solution I ever came up with to counter this was remote controlled shock collars, but apparently there are ethical issues...

Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.

-Mark Twain

 

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By the end of the night they are all the way up and I got no more reserve.

Reminds me of every gig I ever played. The only solution I ever came up with to counter this was remote controlled shock collars, but apparently there are ethical issues...

I"ll put 10 Quatloos on Threadslayer.

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"Big band" = 5 saxes, 4 trumpets, 4 trombones, rhythm section presumably.

 

If so, I would assume you and the bass player are the only amplified musicians? I would work with the bandleader/MD to establish a sensible volume for comping and for soloing, and retain some headroom as Jr Deluxe mentioned.

 

Cheers, Mike.

 

Yeah, if this were a rock band, I would say just go to eleven, but seeing as we're talking BB, the other musicians should also be working to hear you. Time for a conversation.

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It is funny to me imagining having secret control of overall volume of the band keeping your own separate. Then as the night goes on slowly turn all of them down while you play sanely.

 

When I was a kid the family friend"s husband around the corner who watched us after school worked for the local television station. Sometimes for a laugh very late at night / early in the morning they would gradually lower the broadcast volume. Then once they were sure every viewer had raised their TV volume they would set things back to normal and blast everyone watching.

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I run the sound for the bands I'm in (from stage) and seriously, when I do soundcheck and afterwards for quite a few songs it is all sweet...but somehow by the end of the night the guitars have 0 going through the desk (it becomes all backline for them) are they are still too loud. I think it's in their DNA to simply never have enough volume haha!

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Fighting volume with more volume is a losing battle.

 

Something I learned working in the corporate world from a CEO and that was to go the other direction so quieter. The CEO it would come time for him to talk in a meeting and people are all having their side conversations and talking loud. The CEO would start speaking at just a normal conversation volume, and he knew he was being drown out, but he wouldn't change. People knew they needed to hear what he was say and start quieting down to where the CEO's voice was only one you heard. So don't change you volume and like the MD start queuing people to drop their volume. Let audience straining to hear you tell the others to turn down. Don't fight volume with volume.

 

Then for a too loud soloist or one that keep take chorus after chorus do the same thing. The band start dropping their volume more and more and maybe even drop to barebones backup. Once the soloist realizes every note they're play is screaming to the world and not every note is that good they will start back down. Their safety net of buried in the mix is gone.

 

Playing quiet is a powerful tool.

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I've done gigs with big-"ish" bands using my keys rig. Playing in a big band and playing with loud electric guitars is not the same. Big bands have big dynamics but it's all acoustic; they can "turn up" and be very loud but there's gonna be a ceiling, unlike a guitarist that keeps goosing their amp's volume control and engages a band in the circular volume "wars" that eventually blow out everyone's ears. That's a mark of bad musicianship - my sympathies if anyone is dealing with that.

 

Here's my .02: if you're responsible for your own sound and not going through a PA, or even if you are, you just want to maintain a comfortable balance for yourself, so you can play good! That's the bottom line to me. I'm always adjusting my volume, and I always turn myself up a little for solos, because, well, we all know what a solo is right? It's your time to step up and be showcased, so of course you have to be on top of the mix now. Obviously you're not in the audience at the "mix position" so you can't really judge where you're sitting in the overall band mix - you just have to do the best you can if there's no sound person, or trust that he or she is doing a good job if there is one. I still say that job #1 is to be comfortable in the mix that you hear. I position my two speakers behind me and not too close, so I can get a better feel for that - if the speakers were too close I would probably be turning them down to stay comfortable, and be a little light in the full mix. Of course you also want clean amplification with plenty of headroom â that's not too hard to achieve these days.

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I can tell which guys in the few bands I play in played too loud for too long, as they can"t even tell they are loud anymore. sweet guys, they are happy to turn down when told, they are way past the guitar hero mega blaster phase of life. they really no longer even know.

 

As to OP"s question - i play at ~half-volume and either turn up for a lead or if its a tone I use only just for that lead, I"ll have that lead patch pre-programmed already boosted up. I pre-program every single song for my live sets, so tones splits volumes everything are all set and I almost never touch my volume knob during the set.

The baiting I do is purely for entertainment value. Please feel free to ignore it.
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Playing quiet is a powerful tool.

 

 

+1

 

Most of the cats in the collectives I normally play with are pretty dynamics savvy. On the occasion we have an "extra exuberant" in the mix, I'll start solos really quiet and sparse. If the brother doesn't get it, I can usually count on someone in the band to gently remind the bro to stop "talking" and listen.

 

Was a time I played with more cats who hadn't gotten that email yet. I'm fortunate that that hasn't been the norm for a little while.

 

Presuming you're playing in a non-rock-guitar-dominated big band setting (not sure if that's been established already), I presume you've got a band leader who can be your ally in this. Whoever is the leader needs to make sure everyone else gets the email, IMO.

 

The band will sound exponentially better for taking dynamics seriously.

 

just my 0.02

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Often, it's the tone and not the volume that governs how a solo stands out in the mix.

 

I'd have to hear the band to say much more, some bands very respectfully lower their volume for their soloists, it doesn't need to be everyone, just the players that are in the same frequency range. That's awesome. I saw Ray Charles with a total of 25 pieces onstage twice and it was FLAWLESS. Recently, I saw a band where the horn section kept blasting away while the singer was trying to sing over them. I felt sorry for her and honestly would have been tempted to send them all home with no cookies. That is pure, self-absorbed indulgence.

 

If you are in a band where everybody takes care to make the BAND sound great, stay with them as long as you can - it is a true treasure.

It took a chunk of my life to get here and I am still not sure where "here" is.
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A band where people TURN DOWN for your solo? I have heard stories but I never believed they were true. Next youll tell me of high paying gigs with free food and beer and $50 tips for playing mustang sally.....

 

 

LOL... well the Ray Charles Orchestra (featuring the Raelettes) were exceptional by any standard.

Weddings and The Valley Medical Center Surgeons Award Banquet have had all of the above many times. The Banquet was in Fresno, days long since over. Weddings are few and far between but we do have 2 of them booked this summer. There is always left over food. Sometimes there are crazy drunk women, those can be fun (or terrifying).

 

And, once the coke dealer dropped a Benjamin in the tip jar because he requested a Madonna song and we learned Lucky Star on the spot - AND another time just 4or 5 years back we were playing at a local brew pub in the ritzy part of town (Fairhaven) and I played Carmelita by Warren Zevon. Some guy came up, dropped a Bennie in the jar, said "Zevon" so I hit him with Lawyers, Guns and Money.

 

True stories and as common as flying pigs!!! Still, I'll take it!

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Playing quiet is a powerful tool.

Has this concept worked that consistently in a live band context? To consider playing quiet a powerful tool it would have to work out the way you want it a significant amount of time it has been attempted. Just working out sometimes is not that powerful. Being the CEO of the company speaking quietly in a meeting with subordinates is nothing like waiting for just another person in the band to do their thing when it is not your turn to be the center of attention. I would not be surprised to see someone stepping on your quiet solo believing they are doing everyone a favor making up for the error in sound judgement with you not being heard.

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Can"t say I"ve ever been lucky enough (or probably good enough) to play in a 17-piece band but I let the FOH engineer worry about my volume. As long as I can hear myself in my monitor I"m happy enough to keep chugging along and hope for the best.

 

I also agree with the comments already made about EQ being important for helping AP sounds cut through.

 

I"ve been known to turn up and then back down again pre and post a synth solo but that"s pretty rare. Never done it for a piano solo.

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Thanks for all your great comments. So, I played with a BB last night, tried turning it down for the first set, and realized after nothing changed that the other band members didn"t really hear me anyway. Some audience people commented to me about not being able to hear me. Next time, I am feeding the FOH and asking the sound guy to do something. Starting a new thread about stereo vs mono presence.
CA93, MODX8, YC88, K8.2
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Who"s playing too loud during your solo? On big band gigs I"ve done it usually breaks down to just piano, bass, and drums (and sometimes guitar) during piano solos. If there"s a volume issue with the trio or quartet we talk about it but if this conversation is needed then I"m likely playing with people who aren"t good listeners.

 

When playing acoustic piano through the PA I have the sound person adjust my monitor so that I hear myself properly during my solos. I figure if it can"t be set properly for every moment of the gig then, at least, it needs to be set properly for my solos so I can play them without the distraction of mix issues. Once set like this I usually can"t hear myself at all when all the horns are blaring but I continue to play and hope the sound person creates the proper balance out front. When people in the audience say they can hear me well I understand they"re probably referring to my solo spots. If I"m playing with my electric gear and not through the PA I just turn up my volume when needed.

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Thanks for all your great comments. So, I played with a BB last night, tried turning it down for the first set, and realized after nothing changed that the other band members didn"t really hear me anyway. Some audience people commented to me about not being able to hear me. Next time, I am feeding the FOH and asking the sound guy to do something. Starting a new thread about stereo vs mono presence.

 

Yeah, punishing the band by playing quietly doesnt really work that often. They turned up BECAUSE they hear you. So they are not going to turn down cause they can't.

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