Help, learning to hear on big stage

CherryClassic

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My normal background in gigging is un-mic'ed low volume venues, even in larger dance halls. So the feel of playing is dictated by style and volume of the players surrounding me on a small to medium stage. But NOW our band is beginning to play a what looks like to be a monthly gig in a large dance hall/bar, totally mic'ed, drums, guitars, etc. and vocals, and I'm on a riser in the middle of a large stage. I'm learning something totally new to me real fast.

On my first gig I'm not hearing my drums as well as I should and to be honest I was a little bummed out. I enjoyed the gig and thinking it's just a one time deal. This month we did it again. I got to meet the sound man this time because he got there earlier. My only instructions was, I like to have nice tone in the final result and not sound like a card board box, I want to be heard but don't want to over ride the band in any way. He understood and remarked on how nice the drums sound. In my monitor we made sure I could hear the bass player, then the other instruments and vocals. During the second song I realize I'm not hearing my drums and I'm the one hitting them. LOL I got his attentions and while we were playing I was giving him signals and stopped just as I began to hear the drums and left it at that.

My problem now is how to regain my sense of feel and blending with the band, so I can relax and enjoy the gig to the fullest if you know what I mean? I'm thinking maybe I have the instruments too loud in my monitor. I may need to get a better blend of the amps in the monitor in relationship to what I hear live, because I'm not hearing much of the live?

I would like to hear your thoughts and some tricks of the trade that you've learned.

Thanks in advance,
sherm
 

michaelg

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Great topic. Monitors are tricky to get right.

I've found that I usually put as little as possible thru a monitor. Vocals and maybe a little acoustic guitar and try to live with that.
If it's too loud you can point them more away from you to lower the volume or even drape a coat over them to adjust to taste.
Mixing drums can be tricky, again less is more and having good confidence in your tempos and bass drum control really helps.
 

mtarrani

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I have not been in your situation - I have played small venues, mostly in a duo or trio. However, I have a related problem in larger ensembles. I am accustomed to playing total attention to other musicians and collaborating/participating accordingly. I am good at it with in a duo or trio, but when in larger ensembles I have not been able to manage the attention that is required.

My solution in my situation is to stick to environments where I am comfortable. If I were younger that would be detrimental because I would not grow as a musician. At my point in life I prefer the easy way out. I am guessing that you will be OK after you acclimatize to the new settings. Change can be disorienting, but when we are forced to deal with it, we all manage, right?
 

Heartbeat

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On a large stage, the drummer is usually behind the amps or far away from them, so you don't hear the guitars like you would in a smaller setup. So your monitor mix is key. You want only what you need in your mix, and at comfortable levels.

I'm assuming you're using a floor wedge (and hopefully earplugs) and not in-ears? And what type of music are you playing? If it's rock, play rimshots on your snare to avoid putting it in your monitor. Add the kick drum in your monitor. Sometimes on a large stage I'll also add the toms to my mix, but not very often. I rarely add the snare since I'm hitting rimshots, but maybe you need just a touch until you've done it a few times and adjusted. I like to have an even, COMFORTABLE mix of guitars, keys (if there is any), and lead vocal, as well as kick drum. Usually I can hear the bass fine without it being in my monitor (bassist near the drums).

Obviously we listen to all of the musicians on stage, but especially on a large stage where you can feel isolated or far away from the rest of the band, the person I listen to the most is myself. I lock in with my groove and tempo (and it's up to me to know the correct tempo for each song). That way everybody else locks in with me.

There is a learning curve going from low volume gigs to large stages, but I much prefer large stages. You can hit harder. :) Have fun and good luck.
 

KevinD

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Been there, I think more time should be given to getting the monitor mix right... honestly sometimes I would prefer that the sound man focus more on getting me the right mix rather than dialing in my drum sound. As stated above, sometimes less is more.. when you are on those larger stages there can some other extraneous noise up there too, and if you have too much in a wedge, it muddies things up.

My first large outdoor venue was playing a huge beach festival about 20 years ago...(about 7000 people there... and all of about 35 of them were actually watching the band :) It was a mess, I had everything in an old wedge... it was windy and noisy on stage, it sounded like mud, the monitor mix was too loud, I was competing against that....I was hitting way too hard, and missed things on songs I had been playing for 2 years... BUT it was a great learning experience.

Have not played a larger gig since before Covid, but if I were, I would request some bass, just a little guitar and vox so I can hear cues, and then and kick and snare.

I know that some sound companies and venues have gone a long way to improve the monmix in the past few years, and there are some really good monitor systems to choose from, but there are still a lot of plain old wedges out there.

I think one approach that helps is to dial in your feel behind the drums so that you know how hard to hit no matter where you are... (of course it is easier to do this if you are playing your own drums..using backline introduces a bit of a challenge there) Even if you can't hear yourself you have to have confidence that you are hitting loud enough.

I really think the best solution these days is to use in-ears, prior to Covid I had some dates lined up in some decent sized places so I started working with in-ears... they make a great difference, there is a bit of a learning curve in terms of how to set them up with the house, but in general I think people are happier with them once you get comfortable with them.
 

MitchLyons

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I usually just take a little bit of everything, I listen for vocal cues, guitar lead-ins and I like to lock in with the bass. For drums, I usually just take kick and snare since I can usually hear everything else right on top of the kit. It's important that your wedge isn't as loud as it can go so you don't drown out your kit.

If you really are picky about your mix, it may not be a bad idea to build your own in-ear rig so that you can dial in your mix to your exact desires. I can honestly say that of all the shows I've played over the years, only a handful of times the sound guy actually knew what he was doing and having an in-ear rig takes the guess work and inconsistency out of the equation.

It's not a viable option for me because in the hardcore/metal world, there are usually short changeovers for bands and our sets are usually about 30 minutes at the absolute most. It would be a pain in the ass to run and dial in an in-ear rig for me personally, but if you're playing longer sets with minimal changeovers, I wouldn't expect it to be an issue.
 

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Ideally, you'll have enough of a soundcheck to let you get an ideal monitor mix. But if that doesn't happen, I would concern myself less with being able to hear me than with being able to hear the band. The sound person will hopefully ensure what I do is audible out front.

It would help to record the gig through the board from out front, so you can hear how it sounded and maybe adjust for future gigs.
 

poco rit.

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This is one of those drummer struggles that no one else will ever fully understand.

I cant really add anything other than whats already been said. Honestly sometimes its just a hope-for-the-best type situation.
 

6topher

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I went through the exact same thing. And I'm still learning.

It's a really different ballgame on a big stage when you're depending on monitors & not controlling your own dynamics. All you can do is absorb it & adjust & learn everytime it happens.

The 1st thing to realize is that you are not in control of your volume, so don't play too hard
& wear yourself out for no reason Relax.

My real pet peeve is the treatment of the bass drum on a big stage. Generally they pump it up louder than it would sit naturally in a drum kit. I tell my guitar player that it's as if a soundman decided to just go ahead & crank his g string louder than the other 5 strings. Then, they compress it & gate it so you only get one sound regardless of how hard you hit it. No feathering allowed. ....and if the soundman is balding with a ponytail & fingerless gloves, he's gonna make your bass click.

I tend to play simpler & more bombastically on a fully mic'd big stage as opposed to a more nuanced small room performance. Maybe that'll change as I get more experienced at it.

But, it's a good problem to have!
 

DamnSingerAlsoDrums

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The trouble with the drums monitor mix is you are generaly getting a lot of bottom end from the back of the amplifiers. A good monitors engineer could and should technically feed you some slightly "leaned-out tones" from the bass, guitars and keys (High passed a bit) or else you run the chance of having an over muddy/loud mix, and/or lower frequencies phase issues. This may not be possible if you don't have a dedicated monitors engineer and the FOH guy feeds your mixes. Even then, during the performance, a monitors guy will mostly listen to your mix via a wedge that is at HIS position, not YOURS so what he hears isn't the same as what you hear. Of course, a good engineer should be able get your wedge's EQ compensated and balanced by standing next to your position during soundcheck. Some sub-par guys don't bother doing it.

Remember that, with monitors, almost every time you ask the sound guy to crank your mix, at least one of your bandmates will adjust their amp and/or mix to compensate and that can start an escalation in the volume wars. And the overall stage volume can go from okay to "permanent tinitus" in no time.

If you have always played in un-miced or minimally miced situations, the concept of playing with in-ears is probably very foreign and off-putting to you, but I couldn't recommend them enough. It might represent a substantial investment both in time and money, but having a consistent mix night after night is priceless in the long run. Plus you get the advantage of sound isolation, meaning you can hear your mix over a loud stage with a lot less volume than with wedges.

There is also the added advantage of being able to customize your mix yourself on the fly via a tablet, cell phone or other intelligent devices. Guitar player forgot to turn off his 5db boost after his solo? Singer was singing in "voice preservation mode" during the soundcheck but now is belting at full power? Just a swipe of the finger and...done..
 

langmick

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Get a spreadsheet together with all the mixes of the band, or just yours. Treat it as part of the rider. Get specific with relative volume for the things you want into your monitor.

Sometimes the soundguy does't care, but it's a starting point that he can work from. I like to have some kick in the monitor to get some feeling. The BD can feel like hitting nothing without it.

One larger stages, especially outside, you definitely have to have your S together, and hear the music in your head.
 

Rock Salad

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In my three piece band I ask for only vocals in my wedge. The vocals define the tempo, and I know the songs. I can hear well enough if some instrument goes off script since nothing is blasting out my monitor.
On my sound check the first note I play on each drum is a tuning check and I will adjust them (quickly) there and then. When checking each drum for the engineer, I alternate loud and soft notes. Also drums sustain and even feedback if tuned for a too gradual decay, you'll wind up gated and compressed.
Be friendly, try stuff and be ok when they say, "don't do that please." I haven't done it a whole lot, but it is getting easier and more better results by just keeping on trying stuff
 

repete

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The last couple years I’ve found most sound men and even the rig we were running used a wireless system with front of house being mixed on a tablet. There are apps out there to tap into the PA WiFi and mix your own wedge or IEM on your own tablet. You don’t have to bother getting anyone’s attention. You get your mix the way you like it.
 

mebeatee

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Over time one will adapt and create their own ways/of hearing methods, but one thing that’s there right from the get go is the ability to “listen” with your eyes. This never changes unless ya get poked.....
In my case being right handed and setting up as such....the bass player is to my left so they can see my bd foot for example, and lock in that way. Ya have to be prepared to “hear” differently if things aren’t right. If I can’t (or don’t want to...;) ) hear a guitar player way far away and vice versey then my plomps and their strums can be matched visually......etc etc....
bt
 

CherryClassic

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On a large stage, the drummer is usually behind the amps or far away from them, so you don't hear the guitars like you would in a smaller setup. So your monitor mix is key. You want only what you need in your mix, and at comfortable levels.

I'm assuming you're using a floor wedge (and hopefully earplugs) and not in-ears? And what type of music are you playing? If it's rock, play rimshots on your snare to avoid putting it in your monitor. Add the kick drum in your monitor. Sometimes on a large stage I'll also add the toms to my mix, but not very often. I rarely add the snare since I'm hitting rimshots, but maybe you need just a touch until you've done it a few times and adjusted. I like to have an even, COMFORTABLE mix of guitars, keys (if there is any), and lead vocal, as well as kick drum. Usually I can hear the bass fine without it being in my monitor (bassist near the drums).

Obviously we listen to all of the musicians on stage, but especially on a large stage where you can feel isolated or far away from the rest of the band, the person I listen to the most is myself. I lock in with my groove and tempo (and it's up to me to know the correct tempo for each song). That way everybody else locks in with me.

There is a learning curve going from low volume gigs to large stages, but I much prefer large stages. You can hit harder. :) Have fun and good luck.
The music I'm playing is traditional country covers but some of it can get loud and probably louder than it should be on stage. My monitor is a floor wedge and I'm realizing that the overall volume needs to be turned down. What we did last time was to increase the sound of the drums when in reality what I should have done is lower to overall volume of the monitor.

It's a learning experience and yes I'm having fun,
sherm
 

CherryClassic

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A big thank you to all. Everyone had some good ideas and I'm taking all of this to heart. In-Ear monitors and controlling your own sound, sounds great but that's not going to happen now; maybe in the future if this type of playing keeps up.

You have opened my eyes and that gets my brain turning. For now, my monitor is too loud and that needs to come down. Then the mix of vocals and instruments. The bass man stands just to my left (one of the better bass players in town) and he's using a nice amp system which has a rear woofer and the tone is amazing and it makes it much easier to lock in with him for gigs like this. He likes to stand to left side so he can hear the bass drum and the chick of the hi-hat.

I know out front the mix is good. I have friends that are in the know they said my drums sound great and not too loud. I'm happy about that. Someone mentioned having the sound man listen to my monitor. I think that's a great idea. He's using a wireless pad and I'll ask him to stand next to me for the first couple of songs. He's a nice guy and I think he'll do that for me. He's also a good guitar player, he set in for a few songs with us.

When I can't hear my snare or hi-hat I start to worry. I tend to do more hi-hat playing than most I believe and being able to hear that is a must for me.

Thank you all again,
sherm
 

halldorl

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As stated above, In-ears are best by far. Since that’s not going to happen I’d recommend high quality ear protection, like molded ear plugs with various db filters. When I started using them 10 years back the biggest surprise was all of a sudden I could hear everything happening on stage, including myself. Amazing really.
 

Whitten

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I wear -25db moulded protection.

I have played a lot of big stages. They key IMO is less is more. If you can't hear your drums the other instruments are too loud. If the other instruments are too loud then they are to loud in your monitors, or they are just generally too loud onstage.
I think another mistake is to think your monitors are going to sound like a CD mix. I view monitors as a guide, pure and simple.
In my wedge monitor I have bass drum - that's it for drums!
I have the lead aspects of the band, so I know where I am in the songs - so lead vocal, lead guitar and saxophone. Nothing else is in my monitor mix.
By having my monitor stripped back and as quiet as possible I can hear the louder parts of my kit (snare, hat and cymbals) and I can hear enough bass, rhythm guitar and keyboards from their own amps and their own monitors.
Monitors are like an arms race. The more you put in them, the louder you need to be and in the end the less you can hear clearly.
There are also no rules in playing live. You don't need to have the band spread out across the stage, even in a large venue. In our band, the bass amp and cabinet is about level with my hi-hat, and a foot from me. I can hear bass perfectly without needing it in my monitor.
 


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