One of the most common problems with playing in a live band is dealing with loud stage volume. High stage volumes can hurt you and your band in several different ways. The biggest problem with having a high stage volume is the terrible toll it takes on your hearing. You are literally destroying your hearing when you have things too loud onstage. It also doesn’t help your band at all when the clubs that book you are complaining about volume either. I’ve heard of many bands not being asked to play again because they were too loud. So what can you do to deal with high stage volumes?
Let’s look at the most common causes of high stage volumes. The most obvious cause of high stage volume is the simple fact that everyone is turning up louder and louder trying to hear what they are playing. You have to be able to hear yourself play in order to create music together. That’s a struggle when you have someone who is very loud onstage. The problem with having a very loud player onstage is that everyone will turn up their volume to match the loudest instrument. It becomes a volume war until someone gets reasonable about their volume or you can’t turn up any louder.
The key to setting your stage volume is to match levels with the least controllable instrument. Most of the time that’s the drumset simply because it doesn’t have a volume knob that can turn from silence to 140 decibals like a guitar amplifier. Every drummer has their own drumming style and it can be very difficult for drummers to play their best if they are forced to play too quietly or too loudly. So the best thing to do is to have your drummer play the volume that they play their best at and set everything to that volume level onstage. If you need advice on how to set these levels easily, read my post “Live Mixing Tips For Small Venues And Small Budgets“.
So what should you do when your volume matches the drums but you still can’t hear yourself? First of all you should make sure the mix sounds good out where the audience is. If your mix is good and you still cant’ hear yourself there are some things you can do that will help you with this problem.
The first thing you need to do is make sure your amp is pointing at where you stand onstage most of the time. Guitar amps are very directional and if you’re not in the amps line of fire you may not be hearing yourself well. A lot of guitarists make the mistake of putting their amp on the floor so the sound is down by their feet. It may sound fine in the audience but you’re going to have a hard time hearing yourself onstage. If this is your problem, try tilting your amp back on a stand so that it points up at your ears. You could also put your amp on a chair. You’ll also want to put your amp further away or maybe even closer to you. You should adjust the amps distance away from you so the sound has a chance to focus more where you are standing.
Another thing you can do is put some of your guitar through your monitor mix. If you’re wearing in-ear monitors this will completely solve your problem. If you have floor monitors then having more of your instrument in the monitor closest to you can definitely help. Hopefully you’ll have enough monitors for everyone in the band to get their own monitor mix. If you only have two monitors then you’ll have to boost certain instruments in the monitor closest to each player.
If you have an extremely loud drummer, you can purchase some plexiglass drum shields to put around your drummer. This will go a very long way in controlling the volume level of the drums while still allowing your drummer to hit their drums as hard as they need to for their playing style. Remember, it’s not fair to the drummer to ask him to play soft if it’s killing their chops and a drumshield can really help them.
As always, it comes down to working together as a team to solve loud stage volumes. Everyone has to be willing to compromise on volumes and you may not be able to hear perfectly 100% of the time. Just remember that you’re creating music together and not trying to have a volume competition.