What is the deal with sound at concerts?


Before I commence this rant, let me give you a little personal history as far as my experience with sound. I first ran lights and/or sound when I was a teenager as part of the Hope College summer repertory theatre in 1975 and did some work in the Grand Rapids Civic Theatre as well.
In the early 80's I was the co-owner of a small sound studio where we produced commercial jingles, narration for industrial films and one epic, seven song, 18 minute surround sound mixed production for the now defunct Project Nature in Gladwin Michigan which involved recording tympani, a harp, live drums, etc. etc. I also worked for several years for WITL-FM in Lansing. In addition to my duties selling air time, I was the sound man for the WITL-O-Meters - the station house band and we played indoor and outdoor venues all over Mid-Michigan. We opened for the likes of the great Johnny Cash and Tim McGraw along with a host of others. I would spend several hours setting up our equipment which included a 24 channel Mackie sound board, multiple power amps, sub-woofers, etc. I bore you with this stuff to let you know that I am not talking out my butt regarding sound.
In my opinion, outside of weird circumstances and the occasional malfunction there is no reason at all for anything less than good and in most cases excellent sound in almost any concert setting. The equipment and technology that is available today makes communicating an effective live sound very, very do-able.
Why on earth do we get served up crap for sound so often? Julie and I just saw Huey Lewis at the Meijer Gardens 3 days ago. This venue serves up a healthy array of summer concerts - the sound should be nothing less than top shelf. Tickets for major acts like Huey run about $80 each.
Huey was in fine voice, but he must have been using a VERY directional microphone because when he held it and sang into it straight on - his voice was everything I remembered from the last time I enjoyed his music a couple of decades ago. When he held the mic slightly off center or angled, his voice all but disappeared. (FYI - the concert review in the Grand Rapids Press noted that his voice "went in and out".) Julie mentioned it to the sound guy and was told it was all our imagination.
Last year we saw the Indigo Girls and a small/medium size INDOOR venue. Those ladies harmonize like butter on toast - not that night. The mix was terrible - they were lost in the instruments for the most part. I even walked around the room a little to see if we were in a dead zone. It was poor all over.
We drove to Akron Ohio to see Todd Rundgren perform in a gorgeous small theatre. His vocals was buried most of the time. When I mentioned this to the guy who put on the show (others complained as well) his answer was that he provided all the best gear that the sound people asked for. Well, you can give me the finest guitar made and I will not be able to do a damn thing with it. Do you get my point - if the operator of the best equipment available to mankind either, a: does not care, b: know what he or she is doing, c:imbibes in one too many bong hits before the show or d: some combination of all the above, then having the latest and greatest equipment doesn't mean squat.
A couple of years ago we saw Yes at the Interlochen Music Camp and the mid-range was killing us. We moved from our seats relatively close to a spot in the back to get out of harm's way.
When I did a sound check for the WITL-Os I would walk around the house to make sure that everyone was hearing as good of a mix as possible. I would do the same thing during the first song or two because once the venue gets packed with bodies a lot of times the mid and high frequencies need adjusting. This is the kind of care and concern I expect from any concert where I am spending $50 to $80 or even $100 bucks a ticket.
What the hell is going on?
What does it take to get a decent mix?
Done with my rant....I feel better now.
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