Why Live Music Sucks

Let me start off by saying I’m a musician. I’ve played over 600 shows around the world.

A couple nights ago I went to the legendary Sunset Strip rock club, The Viper Room, for a radio station curated showcase of a few Australian bands. I’ve been to the Viper Room a few times over the years to see friends’ bands play.

Of the maybe four shows I’ve attended at the Viper Room, none of them have sounded very good. The mix is always awful.

I excused these poor mixes to the sound guy just not giving a fuck. Because, there were “shitty local bands” performing. Not to say my friends’ bands are shitty (they aren’t), but I figured that’s what the sound engineer probably assumed when the night began (more on this later).

But this night, these were internationally touring bands playing a showcase put on by a well respected radio station to a packed house. If there was one time to give a fuck it would have been now.

But, once again, same shitty mix.

The lead singer, songwriter and guitar player fronted a band of local hired guns. He frequently took guitar solos. 9 times out of 10 they were drowned deep in the mix. Completely inaudible. Very often throughout the set people looked up at the sound booth to see who was up there and what the fuck he was doing. Did he not see that the lead singer/guitarist was taking a solo? Turn it up! He was busy working the light show, or most of the time, no where to be seen.

But beside the fact that he missed nearly every solo, the vocals were piercing. High mids assaulted the ears of everyone unfortunate enough to forget their earplugs. The snare was buried, but oddly the cymbals were thrashing through. The keys, on a B3 setting meant to fill space, were louder than the lead guitar’s solo. The bass was nice and heavy which revealed the powerful subs in the room.

The band did not suck. I was informed that this singer’s hired guns regularly tour with superstar artists.

The sound guy sucked. Plain and simple.

 +9 Things Every Sound Guy Needs To Know About Musicians

It’s unfortunate that a rock club as legendary as the Viper Room has fallen to such pathetic lows. Because the “standard deal” for any Viper Room show is “pay to play,” the majority of the acts who play the room do suck. There’s no curation or reputation that goes into booking anymore. It’s whoever is willing to take the shitty, lopsided deal to make the Promoters the most amount of money.

 +Should You Pay To Play: Here Are The Worst To Best Club Deals In The World

And because of this, sound guys get burnt out dealing with shitty local bands night after night. They give up on doing a decent job. Or they have lost their hearing after all of these years.

If venues do not take care of the most important element of their club, THE SOUND, then they will lose their audience. Permanently.

Venues wonder why they can’t get return visitors. It’s not that the bands you book don’t bring anyone, it’s because your club isn’t providing an enjoyable experience. Bands shouldn’t have to hire their own sound engineer to come in and mix their set at a 300 cap venue. The house guy or gal should be top notch. Especially for well respected clubs, these engineers should be the best in the biz.

I hear so often from (non-musician) friends, “I don’t like live music.” Well, the reason they don’t like live music is because far too often they attend smaller shows and have horrible experiences. They don’t know why, but most likely it’s because the sound is awful. They wouldn’t be able to pin point why it doesn’t sound good, and most would, unfortunately, blame it on the band.

But I know better.

I’ve experienced this over and over again from rock clubs around the country: sound guys who crank the volume SO LOUD it’s completely deafening. Who is this fun for? I’m no grandpa. I’m 29. Typically the highs are so piercingly harsh that the only explanation is the sound guy has lost all of those frequencies in his hearing from years of cranking it up.

I must contrast this with a show I saw this past Sunday at the Bootleg Theater in Echo Park, mixed by Sir Eric Brown. One of the best live mixes I have heard in a long time. The sound booth is located on the side of the room, up top near the ceiling (like the Viper room). However, unlike the Viper Room, Eric Brown at the Bootleg had a digital mixing board he controlled from his iPad and walked to various parts of the room (discretely) throughout the night, mixing. Because it’s impossible to effectively mix from a booth 10 feet above the crowd. I have to give him a public shoutout because this sound engineer was not only talented, but was actually doing the job he was paid to do. And putting some effort into it. Imagine that.

The Hotel Cafe, another favorite spot of mine, always has great sound. They have talented house sound engineers who rotate nights. Special shoutout to Joel Eckels who mixes some of the best sounding shows I’ve heard in that room. Patrons love The Hotel Cafe because they know they will always get a great sounding show. They book top notch bands (all curated by the owner, Marko), pay them a very competitive rate, and hire excellent engineers.

Venues need to step up. Get some musician ears in there to listen to your house sound engineers’ mixes. Get some honest feedback from your patrons. Most average music fans don’t know why they don’t like the sound, but if the band is great, then it’s either the fault of the sound guy or the house system.

The most frustrating thing as a musician is spending hours and hours rehearsing and getting my set to sound just right, for it to be mangled and trashed coming out of the house speakers because the sound guy just doesn’t give a fuck.

Home page photo by Justin Higuchi and used with the Creative Commons License.

67 Responses

  1. Me

    Well said. I’ve gone to a plethora of shows in L.A., and am constantly frustrated w/ the sound at many of these venues. More often than not all you can hear are drums, with maybe a little bit of guitar under that and if you’re lucky, maybe some vocals. Where do these guys learn their “craft?”

    Way to give Bootleg a shoutout (although technically it’s in Echo Park, not Silver Lake). They definitely have the best and most consistent. sound on the East side of town.

  2. Paul Resnikoff

    Please tell me Viper Room isn’t pay to play. I thought that was only being done by shady rap promoters.

    • Ari Herstand

      I’ve been approached by many “promoters” who pitch pay to play deals at the Viper Room. All my friends who have played there were all pay to play in some form. Maybe some get better deals than this, but the Viper room is allowing these kinds of shady promoters to operate from their venue. It’s giving them a bad name.

      • GGG

        As an east coaster I’m not looking into Viper Room regularly by any means, but for the last 2 or so years, I’m pretty sure I’ve only ever seen pay for play options, and heard of bands paying to play there.

        Which also begs the question, who the hell even thinks Viper Room is cool anymore? Or am I just not LA cool and don’t know?

      • Me

        I’ve lived in L.A. for over 8 years now, and for the whole time I’ve been here the Viper Room has had a reputation for pay to play. It definitely does not have a lot of respect in the live community.

    • P-Nasty

      Viper room is totally pay to play. I know a few bands from my city (which will go nameless to protect the innocent), who have gone out to LA and played the Viper by paying for it. I was not aware it was the case for EVERY band though! Lame. The best live music I’ve seen in LA, which is the only time I’ve seen live music there, is at the Brig on Tuesday nights. Free cover, and some of the funkiest acid-jazz jams you’ll hear.

      • Paul Resnikoff

        Mike Repel discusses this in his just-released book, The Music Industry Self Help Guide. He’s only seen this in rap, but I guess it’s bleeding into other genres.

        • Me

          It’s been like this for years. It was like that when I lived in Denver, too, about 10 years or so ago. A lot of venues there were doing that

      • Larrrs

        Viper Room has some outside bookers which are pay to play or pre sale shows, 80.% of the shows are in-house. Oh did I mention they pay the bands if they draw? Depending on your reputation with the club, you take home a check.

  3. Troy

    very True, but sometimes, the band has no choice in using the “House” engineer. Recently, I went to a Local Opera house to hear a couple of great local bands that are affiliated with a local Music school, they were not allowed to use their own engineer because he was not union. Though the drums sounded great, the guitars and vocals were too bright, and the guy didn’t pay attention to the guitar solos. (One guy soloed, the other went up in volume). This was not a big national act or show, but for the kids, it was HUGE, and the house engineer treated them like he didn’t care. I have been to shows where they used the school’s own Live sound guy, and with half the system, it sounded MUCH better than this guy….

  4. Nina Ulloa

    I feel this!

    I saw Perfect Pussy the other week, a band where proper mixing is critical, and we had to go out on the street and watch through the open door because the sound was better out there. Listening inside felt like I was being tortured.

    75% of the time the sound guy was also outside, smoking a cigarette….. smh.

  5. Anonymous

    Just came back fro over amplified Santana.

    Member of Golden Generation screwed by MEGA STAR!

    I will omit not so funny political comments and repertoire without master pieces of Santana.

  6. Drummer Don

    Here here Ari!

    As a drummer that has been around since the first coming of punk I applaud your observations. I am in a fairly popular blues band now and we refuse to do any pay to play gigs. I do attend a few to try to support friends but between knowing these shows are pay to play and coupling it with bad sound and a real bad attitude by most club owners and people who work for them I have radically curtailed my support. What used to be fun has been trashed by people that do not care about the scene as a whole and just want the $ with out the work.

    I am thankful to have done gigs with promoters that actually did their homework and put together shows that had complementary bands. Working with Bill Graham as well as The Keystones in The Bay Area we got to play with some amazing bands. This added local draw for the bands on tour as well as exposing our bands to their crowd. In most cases a real win – win. I ran a club for over a year and put together some really interesting shows. We never asked for money from the bands AND everyone made money. Having a good sound system and a good mixer was KEY to all of these successful events.

    Thanks for having an opinion and putting it out there Ari!

  7. Joel Eckels

    Ari, thanks for the shoutout. Really appreciate that. I hear you completely. That’s why I do what I do and especially why I give a fuck. I’ve toured all around and have experienced the stereotypical sound-guy over and over again. It’s such a drag and can ruin all of the hard work, money and energy that goes into putting together a show. As a musician, I understand how the sound makes or breaks a performance. As a curator, I understand how important sound is to a venue. As a fan, curator and a musician, I understand how important sound is to the audience’s experience. People who don’t know the finer details of music have no idea why they don’t enjoy certain shows. Like you said, they blame the band or live music as a whole when so many times, it’s just the sound. I’m slowly putting together a network of what I call “anti-soundguys” that go against the steroetype of bitter/jaded engineers that don’t give a fuck. I’d like to see the standard change so that the bad seeds are pushed out and the bar gets raised. Almost any room CAN sound good if the right attention and care is put into it. Maybe if the sound quality of venues gets better, the live music audience will grow. That could be a big win for everyone. Thanks for the article!

  8. Joe L

    Sorry Ari .. this is the one time I have to disagree.

    I was forced to mix a band we both know (after the final mixes on the national release CD that never got released…) in the Viper Room. In all my years and all the places I’ve been, I have __NEVER__ seen a more impossible place to try to do anything.

    After you climb up the ladder in the back room to get into a small cubbyhole, and slide into position in what I could only describe as a cockpit … console in front, small open slit above to “hear” and “see”, other equipment on the sides and over you. Lighting right behind you (and probably the responsibility of the guy mixing). You can not hear a damn thing – so they guy handed me a headset to mix on.

    So .. in a room the size of a postage stamp, with a LOUD band on the stage, where you can’t actually HEAR anything (nor could I see either the bass player or guitar player because of obstructions), there is no way you can mix the PA vs. what is coming off the deck. It didn’t help that I had the label management in the room as well. Getting up and down to the floor to hear is impossible (did I mention the lighting guy behind me, or the ladder to climb up and down?). That was clearly the gig from hell – and you know I don’t give up – especially considering I had been working with that band for 5+ years.

    I can’t imagine how the house guys there must feel. That is an impossible job. I can’t imagine anyone stays there long, unless they are just collecting a check. Personally, I will never go mix another band there – it’s not worth the reputation hit. I seriously don’t know why anyone would play there.

    • Ari Herstand

      WOW! Very much appreciate the comment Joe. I know your talent and work ethic and if you couldn’t make it work in this room no one can. They should get a digital board so they can mix from the ground on an iPad or just shut the place down!

      • Blahblahblah

        Sorry Ari, but shouldn’t your article be called “Why The Viper Room Sucks?” Am I guessing correctly that DMN gave it that headline to get more people to read it?

        • Great title

          “I hear so often from (non-musician) friends, “I don’t like live music.” Well, the reason they don’t like live music is because far too often they attend smaller shows and have horrible experiences. They don’t know why, but most likely it’s because the sound is awful. They wouldn’t be able to pin point why it doesn’t sound good, and most would, unfortunately, blame it on the band.

          But I know better.

          I’ve experienced this over and over again from rock clubs around the country: sound guys who crank the volume SO LOUD it’s completely deafening. Who is this fun for? I’m no grandpa. I’m 29. Typically the highs are so piercingly harsh that the only explanation is the sound guy has lost all of those frequencies in his hearing from years of cranking it up.”

          Pretty sure he’s talking about every venue. As he, uh, says. Maybe read to the end before commenting!

    • CrowfeatheR

      Ok, sound check 101, these supposed issues are why you have sound check. You start sound check with the band’s stage volume, this cures 99% of any issues during the perfromance right there. The clueless idiot soundmen immedietly start with micing the drums, this only works in an arena ok? You’re in a club where the reality is the only thing the PA needs to do is balance the vocals with the live volume of the drums. So you get a raw balanced sound from the stage volume before you even start on the PA and jeez like magic you get a good mix.

      • Chum

        Amen! I don’t live in LA anymore, but my friends and I used to frequent a whole host of venues in the area as both performers and patrons. The number one issue with most performances is that the stage volume is far too loud.

        I play guitar, and I know that plenty of guitar players insist that their Marshall half-stack or vintage tube amp needs to be cranked to get “their tone”, but this just leads to all kinds of other issues. Drummers who are incapable of controlling their dynamics are maybe the biggest culprit.

        But I agree 100% – in a small room the drums don’t need to be mic’d, or maybe just the kick. People don’t want to stand in a concrete box and be blasted by volume. It’s simply not enjoyable – and it was a constant problem in LA clubs when I lived there.

    • hippydog

      Quote “did I mention the lighting guy behind me, or the ladder to climb up and down?”

      OMG! thats insane!
      I’ve seen some bad setups before, but that one seems to take the prize

      • Chadwill Ferrellsmith

        To be fair, 600 shows isn’t that much in the grand scheme of things. If you’ve been in the business for even 10 years, that’s basically one show a week. Most gigging musicians play far more than one show a week, so no, it’s not that impressive. And it doesn’t really need to be stated that Ari’s a musician who’s played over 600 shows around the world, he basically starts every article with a peacock-feather-ruffling statement like that. But none of that really matters, cuz the rest of the article is pretty damn great.

        • P-Nasty

          So you’re saying Ari isn’t a serious musician because he’s had times throughout his career where he takes breaks from playing to, oh I don’t know, write music or record or just take a break and live his life? Is he supposed to be playing 3 different venues around LA or Minneapolis or wherever else he’s lived and flood the market, and then watch the audience decrease, and then witness his booking clout go down (because of the decreased audience).. C’mon man.

    • Chum

      I think 600 shows – whether this was meant to be a brag or not – speaks to a good amount of experience with performing and with different venues. Whether you think this is “a lot” or not is irrelevant. I would say anyone who’s played 600 shows at least has a good basis to speak from with regard to live sound and personal experience with that topic.

  9. KingX

    It gets real tiring listening & reading about musicians whining about other crap. Its not like anyone is ever going to listen to many of the artists replying…be happy to play live & shut up already

  10. Peter James - The Places You'll Go

    I love the hotel cafe. I usually just show up there not knowing who’s playing that night because I know Marko has great taste and the sound is, as you said, mixed beautifully. Looking forward to your show there on July!

  11. The Dude

    I am SO glad someone finally brought this up. This is one of the many reasons I don’t go to shows at particular venues. I used to go to shows at Starland Ballroom in Sayerville, NJ and the mixes have always been terrible. I saw The Cult and it was so loud that you couldn’t understand what the hell was going on. A show a few months later with a bunch of national touring metal bands was equally bad and the vocals were tinny and awful. Since then I’ve veered away from that club. I saw a band at the PC Richards Theater in NYC and that was just awful as was a show at Roseland Ballroom where the vocals sounded like the singer was on helium.

    The only good experience I had was seeing Thirty Seconds to Mars at the Hammerstein Ballroom in December 2011. The mix was absolutely perfect – not too loud to be painful but not too soft to not be able to cut through the crowd. The vocals sounded great and each instrument had its own clear spot in the stereo field and cut through the mix with clarity. I’m not sure if that was a house engineer thing or if the band just has a really good engineer.

    But yeah, I definitely agree a lot of clubs and venues just don’t seem to give a shit – surprisingly even moreso at venues that have a name and a reputation to uphold. Bizarre, huh?!

    • Chum

      I used to live in LA, and the Hollywood Palladium was the worst venue to see touring bands of a certain level. I think Fugazi was the only band I saw there that sounded good. Everyone else was painfully loud, and that place has lousy acoustics, so it makes it impossible to hear anything. Then you put in earplugs, and it just sounds like mush anyway.

  12. Some guy

    Agree 100% with your post, as usual… I always take earplugs to live shows. Ridiculous when you think about it.

  13. Geoff

    I couldn’t agree more. It’s even more frustrating when our fans do notice the horrible sound and there has been minimal or no effort towards fixing this problem. On the other hand shitty bands can leave a sour taste in a sound guy or anyone’s mouth. Their playing ability shouldn’t effect the quality of sound…. Just sayin.

  14. Mike

    The blame can’t be place majorly on the sound engineer. You realize these same “pay to play” venues do not want to pay for a competent engineer, but hire a college ” sound guy ” for $50 and a beer tab. No real qualified engineer is going to take a gig with a bill of 3-5 bands for $50 no matter what night it is. Further more, they are also probably working with 30 year old equipment that hasn’t been maintained and thrashed by the sound guy. Now some of these kids are learning, but are provided no guidance and have no business mixing in a club. You want to place blame…. Most of it goes to the greedy venue looking to make as much money as possible with spending the least amount. That’s why they have shitty bands, shitty sound, and an all around shitty experience.

  15. den

    i love that if a musician isn’t a very good player or has a bad night its fine.. but when a sound guy has a bad night dew to any of the many, many reasons there could be its perfectly fine to turn around, abuse and throw drinks at him. believe it or not most venues could care less about the sound, try squeezing a dollar out of most venues to fix a broken cable.. i once had a punter abuse me for how shit her boyfriends acoustic guitar sounded. i dragged her over to the console, gave her my headphones and let her listen to what was coming in.. the surprise in her eyes was enough, you can polish a turd but can never make it shine.

    so maybe before you judge, politely go up and ask him how its going. if he’s franticly mixing, sit back and wait, gel gladly tell you if he’s happy with the mix or not. if he’s happy and its awful then yes he’s shite. just remember most bands don’t even get a soundcheck!

  16. danwriter

    Completely anecdotal, referencing barely a handful of venues. The reality is the overall quality of live sound has been steadily increasing. Smaller, more affordable line arrays are ubiquitous now, as are columnar arrays, and subs are no longer a luxury but rather a requirement. And the level of technical competency among FOH and monitor mixers is also considerably higher, thanks in part to the shift at many of the pro audio academies to adding live into their curricula (although good luck paying off their student loans). Chances are your local club mixer has had some grounding in theory and wasn’t just tossed in the pool to learn to swim. Clubs have become aware of the need for acoustical treatment, and we’ve seen acousticians migrate from the recording-studio field into club design. The live-music environment has actually never sounded better. (The quality of the bands is another matter.)

    The article is a manifesto, not journalism. Paul, you really need to think about going weekly. The pressure of putting out a daily is not helping quality here.

  17. Small Room FOH

    I’ve mixed small rooms under 300 cap since 2000. Before that I was in working bands for 20 years.

    Most small room operators I’ve worked with begin with small budget sound systems. In my world I don’t get to mix on many line array systems. Much more typically, I’ve run sound with Allen & Heath or Mackie consoles thru make shift boxes, or powered boxes etc. I’ve never mixed a tuned room either, although I’ve experienced what it sounds like.

    Drums are my nemesis, and I’ve often wished for plexiglass shields to buffer the overwhelming highs that come crashing over the top, as well as overly hit snares (god I hate piccolo snares)

    Guitarists who place their amps in back of their calf/knees is another thing I wish I could rectify.

    100+db monitors is another issue. Too many times I’ve had to make FOH too loud in the mids/hi mids to compensate for the muddiness caused by overly loud monitors in a small room.

    That’s my pro rant for the day LOL

  18. Martin C

    So many venues, not even just “rock venues” anymore, have the music far too loud. I used to run a club in an upstairs room in a bar in the early/mid 80’s. We did it for the love of music, not expecting to make a living from a 100-150 cap venue mainly aiming towards poor students and presenting unknown, but entertaining bands who were also into creating a good time rather than being pop stars. We had a 300 watt PA and we had reggae bands, rock bands, weird psychedelic bands. The audience and musicians all went away happy and the sound was always great.
    The pub became so popular as a music venue that it was bought by a chain and they invested loads of money to make it a “serious” music venue. Apart from spending a fortune on destroying the vibe of the place, they also put in a 2 kW PA. At the time it seemed well over the top – how times change!
    It used to be when mixing that you had to get the volume of the rest of the band to match the drumkit (and sometimes the lead guitarist!) In the 80’s with the increasing use in recorded music of drum machines and the invention of the “gated snare sound” (I’ll never forgive Phil Collins!) the first thing the sound engineer did was drown out the drumklit to reproduce the processed sound of drums live, upping the overall volume incredibly.
    Then came the dance music scene and BIG bass sounds.
    For the last 25 years I have mainly played acoustic guitar, but in bands with bass and drums. There are so many occasions when we would be waiting to go on stage and some DJ is pumping the bass to a level that there is absolutely no way for a band with any acoustic instruments to get anywhere near to.
    I’m not against loud music, but when the audience are pinned against the back wall and half the crew and musicians have ear-plugs in, it makes you wonder what its all about.
    There’s a time for loud all-encompassing bass, but its not usually when there are any acoustic instruments about, and usually when the majority of the audience have taken quantities of chemicals.
    Just because some music relies on a heavy bass line doesn’t mean that all music does, or that you can’t dance to music that doesn’t. Sure its good to feel the bass in your stomach, but not if that means you can’t hear the rest of what’s happening.
    Its not about volume, but many venues don’t seem to realise that, so the only music that sounds good is a very small niche of the music out there and the majority of people end up thinking they don’t like live music. Really they don’t like music that is so loud that you can’t hear the music in it. Unfortunately most people don’t get the chance to hear it differently.

    • Chum

      After leaving LA I played for many years in a 6 piece wedding/bar band back east. Our drummer also gigged doing professional sound. For most gigs we had a small, quality PA that sounded great, and generally our stage volume was very reasonable, with the occasional cymbal crash being the loudest thing.

      We always sounded great, we could be mixed so that everything could be heard and I never finished a gig with ear fatigue. It opened my eyes to what is possible. When I see other local bands these days too many of them are just too damn loud on stage, and then you take it from there, and it’s hard to enjoy the performance.

      Whether it’s the ego of individual musicians, or a juvenile “we play LOUD, man!” attitude, it severely hampers the entertainment value – which is ultimately what it’s all about. No one wants to go to a bar or a party or a wedding and leave with ringing ears.

  19. Seth Keller

    As everyone’s stated above, there are many reasons that sound is horrible in venues–particularly in small clubs. At the end of the day, to get what you want, you have to hire your own sound engineer for your gigs–at venues of all sizes. For local bands, you can find really good guys for $100-150 a show in LA. It might be less in smaller markets. I know that sounds like a lot for bands not making money; but unless you’re paying someone, you’re unlikely to get what you want.

    There are a lot of things you can’t control at a live show. Having your own FOH engineer is something you can control. If sound is the most important thing to you, then it’s worth the expense.

  20. Noah Copeland

    90% of all the gigs I’ve played consist of me taking a guitar solo while the sound man makes sure the bass is loud enough.

    • Chum

      I can’t tell you how many times in my old band after the first song we’d say “can we have more XXX in the monitors?” to the sound guy, and he would stand behind the console with his arms crossed, doing nothing.

      Come to think of it – that may have been one particular guy at one venue we played frequently, but I think it happened other places as well.

  21. Noah Copeland

    Honestly, I think we need to completely destroy the way we do live sound and create a new system. Why? Cause the current system sucks. The gap between the stage and studio (in terms of sound quality) has gotten bigger and bigger over the years. Records sound better and better while the stage always sucks.

  22. Willis

    Live music doesn’t suck. It can suck, but it can also be a magical experience.

  23. Shmerk

    Viper has got amazing sound nearly all of the time. This seems to be an inside job from an “east sider”. He mentions the Bootleg and Hotel Cafe (both non Sunset Strip venues) and even the names of the sound guys. I smell a rat. I’ve never heard Viper sound as bad as he’s describing it and I’ve been there 1000 times.

    • Ari Herstand

      You can do your research. My information is well documented around the web. I don’t work at any venue and honestly have never played the Bootleg. I emailed the club and got the name of the engineer. Pretty impressive investigative reporting no?

      I actually live closer to the Sunset strip clubs, but prefer trekking all the way to the east side because the experience is always better.

      I’m gonna have to call you out as the owner of the Viper Room. As you can see from all the other comments – most have not had good experiences at the Viper.

    • Ari Herstand

      You had it right the first time. I know, Ari is a confusing name.

  24. CD

    What a pile of crap — while sound engineers are as you described — both good and bad — it has nothing to do with the tons of categorical statements that are both unsupported and bullshit in the article YES< band sound happens – YES< some sound engineers are either not very good, are jaded, or don't give a shit — but that may or may not have anything to do with what a venue has on it's plate – this is the kind of crap I hear from high school students and does not belong as a feature article at DMN

  25. Kent

    Even experienced this semi poor mix at the Don Felder, Styx, Foreignor show recently – muddy sound in my seats – which were parallel to the sound engineer’s board!!!! It is alot worse in clubs, though. I’m always the sound nazi in the band, trying to get the mix right. Sad and disappointing for sure.

  26. Bruce Burbank

    One of my pet peeves/gripes that I don’t think anybody else has addressed yet-

    Shows that start/finish too damn late, especially on weeknights.

    Went to a show one time (certainly not the only time this has happened), with three or four bands on the bill, and the first band didn’t even start until 11:30. And this was on a Tuesday or Wednesday. Needless to say, we didn’t stay for the headliner. I can’t imagine what time they actually played.

    The rule of thumb should be this- weeknight shows, the headliner has to finish ideally by midnight, but definitely by 12:30. Weekends, by 2.

    I helped organize a show once, with four acts, on a Saturday night. They way I did it was this:

    I said to the opening act, ‘I don’t care what time you start, but finish by 10:15.’
    Next band, finish by 11:15.
    Third act, finish by 12:30.
    And the headliners, finish by 2.

    Fifteen minutes isn’t too much time to switch out bands, especially if they have full drum sets. Luckily, for this show I did, the acts were mostly electronics-based, so there’s less equipment, plus it’s generally an accepted behavior for one act to set up their equipment on one part of the stage while another act is still actually playing, thus cutting down even more time between acts.

    It’s also a good idea that if the entire evening is running late, switch up the schedule and don’t save the headliners until last. First band doesn’t start until 11? Have the headliner (or the band that you think that most people are there to see) play second.

    • Chum

      This is a big part of the problem with getting people out to a gig. When I played regularly in LA a venue would say “bring 20 people” and our slot would be 11pm on a Tuesday or Wednesday. If you brought 20 people they might offer you a Thursday night at midnight, but “bring 40 people”. And so on.

      That’s all well and good, but you run out of people to call on to support you pretty quick. LA is a hard place to make genuine friends, so getting a big chunk of people to come out and see you over and over isn’t an easy thing.

      Another part of this is that the 20 people who came to see the band before you aren’t usually going to hang around until the next band plays. There is very little community support for local bands in LA. But maybe that’s just the bigger Sunset Strip clubs. We always had a much better experience at smaller out of the way places.

  27. Katie Cartter

    I saw a show at the Troubadour back in March, the mix was the best I’ve ever heard at a venue maybe ever. There are still sound heroes out there. Have faith.

  28. Bose Fan

    Two words: Bose L1. Lets the musicians hear exactly what the audience hears.

  29. Elizabeth from kpopmeetsusa.com

    You have to be good at math to comment here!! An intelligence test?? What happened to captiva. LOL

    Ever think that people go to live music to see the musicians, not for the music? I wrote somethinglast night that talks about superfans and meet and greet and selling the personality of the musician, not the music. I’m a K-Pop blogger and I’ll say that the other half of the world– in Korean music scene, selling the musician is far more profitable than the music. I’ll stop short of saying in K-Pop, music is just a byproduct the music industry machine that creates superstar musicians and superfans (That is, I won’t say it… but it is almost true.) -Elizabeth from kpopmeetsusa.com

  30. Versus

    Is it necessary to litter your prose with curses to make a point?

  31. Sean Beavan

    Remember that great mix engineers are as rare as great musicians and both are artists. Clubs don’t pay house engineers enough to live on and great engineers quickly move on to touring bands so they can make a living. A good engineer can make a band sound pretty good within a few minutes if there is nothing technically wrong with the system or where the booth is positioned. Of course the mix will never compare to a studio mix where you have 12 hours to dial in perfection for a single song. Hence the appeal of DJs. They can play music that already sounds great and live engineers can’t compete with that level of perfect.
    Clubs like Hotel Cafe realized that by having great sound and good bands of similar genre you enhance the experience and more people will come more often and stay longer. The terrible thing about pay to play is that promoters are just greedy and are not interested in providing the audience with a great experience from band to band. Hence the clubs who use these promoters reputations suffer. Sunset Strip clubs have used pay to play for a few decades and that is why it has been really hard for them to maintain a “music scene”. When your audience changes completely from band to band you are doing something wrong period. Of course since the raising of the drinking age in the late 80s live music clubs had to do what they could to survive. Face it, we all loved going to see bands everynight from 18 to 22, but when that audience is no longer allowed to go to clubs it gets pretty hard to get an older clientele through the doors.
    In support of the Viper Room and Dayle Gloria, whenever my band 8mm has booked a show in house with the club, we haven’t been asked to pay to play and have been able to work out mutually beneficial deals. We did a pay to play deal for our first gig there with a well known unscrupulous “promoter”. We learned a lot from it (mainly they suck and to never do it again [we did however bring in the crowd so we didn’t actually have to pay]. Recently, years later, we headlined there last Friday the 13th to a packed show and had a great time. The club has always treated us great even when we only brought in 35 people cause they liked the band (how crazy) and the new sound staff they have were friendly, dilligent, and hard working. They even bought new digital consoles so they could do soundchecks with the bands, and the monitor engineer was on stage with us tweaking the monitors. It sounded great onstage at soundcheck and great during the show. We did bring in a great engineer friend Bruce Somers (Kidney Theives) who mixed us to perfection (it’s good to be me) and if you want your band to be exeptional you need to bring in an exceptional mixer. Think of a great engineer as your other lead singer because next to the vocals your audience is going to listen to the overall sound next and then the individual musicians.
    I do wish more clubs paid attention to the sound as much as Hotel Cafe and The Echo but when you look at the loyal audiences those two clubs have it seems to be its own great reward. From what I saw Friday night at the Viper Room Dayle Gloria and crew are working to make the Viper Room your sunset strip oasis. The staff there has always been some of our favorite people: bartenders, barmaids, bar backs, cashier, doormen, and management. Just had to put in my two cents Ari.

    • Ari Herstand

      Thanks for the comments Sean. Great to hear!

  32. Nick

    Sometimes it comes down to the bands to make sure they’re getting a good sound. Every show, our lead singer would ask “how’s the mix?” after a song or two (there was always at least one person in the audience who could pinpoint problem areas), and then if anything needed to be changed we’d pester the sound guy until it happened. And on the rare occasion that the sound guy slacked off the whole show, we’d talk whoever was running the show before the money was passed around; almost every time we could negotiate a smaller cut for the sound guy, both because he didn’t earn what they were paying him and because people hearing us for the first time were more likely to just forget about us, effectively costing us money. But we were able to do this because we built a personal relationship with with the bookers/promoters/etc. It pisses the sound guys off, sure, but they’re much more easily replaceable than a good band.

  33. JJ Robins

    I live in Austin and my experience is very similar to Ari’s – most sound engineers aren’t trained well and aren’t even present during sets.

    BUT –>

    1) just as many rooms sound bad. In Austin, every hot dog stand thinks they’re a music venue. Our (arguably) most famous club, Emo’s, was a just a concrete box with a brick wall behind the stage.

    2) just as many (more!) bands play too loudly or can’t balance their sound. Playing so loudly that your audience has to wear earplugs is like the director of a movie passing out sunglasses before a hollywood premier. “It’s better when it’s blinding.”

    Interestingly, this problem affects huge, seemingly more pro venues, too. The WORST sounding shows are always in stadiums, imo.

  34. Michael Levine

    There are some consistently excellent sounding rooms in LA – Genghis Cohen and Vitellos come to mind – where the house engineers and the room acoustics itself are always top notch. But too often the “hip” rooms are the ones that sound the worst. As long as they are loud enough no one seems to care. Sometimes this is the fault of the room itself – I don’t know how anyone could make The Mint work, for example. But Hotel Cafe is a nightmarish room in shape – bizarrely long and narrow and yet asymmetrical – and yet things usually sound pretty good there. Someone is doing something right.

  35. Carolyn Monroe

    In New york most venues are pay to play. You give the door the first 15 ticket sales and or you pay the promoter the first 10-15 ticket sales. You collect whatevers left.
    Its sad. And many venues dont have working equiptment and or working sound guys.
    The new music industry…….where performing costs you money.