Q- I’m in a modern rock band and I can’t hear myself during band practice. I often have this problem when we play live as well. What can I do about this? – Robert T. Hoboken NJ
A- This is a very common problem with rock bands. The voice is an acoustic instrument and cannot compete with amplified guitars, basses and loud banging drums. Even the most screaming, loud, projecting vocals will get buried by these elements when they are not in a good relationship with the singer.
The bands that are successful at highlighting vocals are the bands that understand the dynamics of “working” with the vocalist. For example, a lot of touring bands will put the guitar amps in special boxes called “dog-boxes” on or off stage and listen back to them at a usable level through the monitors on stage.
The drummer will often be put behind a big piece of plexiglass to help solve the problem of over-powering the vocals. Sometimes, you’ll see guitar players using a feature on their guitar amps called a power soaker or attenuator. This will let them get a pretty aggressive and driven sound from their amp without so much volume.
Drummers will often re-configure their kit and play with lighter sticks to get the tone they want without being so loud. Bass is usually less of an issue as its frequencies aren’t in competition with the singer as much as the guitar. However, a loud bass can still swallow a lot of the vocal and inspire the other players to play louder to balance the mix. So the bass still needs to be part of the dynamic plan.
Singers aside, sound engineers will always tell you that great sound on stage starts with learning how to control your stage volume. So this comes full circle to working on the issue during rehearsal. Yes, it’s hard to control sound in a stuffy little rehearsal room where everyone is crammed together. It is, however, a good place to experiment If you pay attention to bands where you can understand the vocalist, you will notice changes in volume and texture while the vocalist is singing.
You will find guitarists working very hard to get the precious tone they’re after without playing at their highest volume. You will hear drummers actually backing off and not pounding their absolute hardest during the vocals. You will hear everyone playing more open/less dense parts to make space for the singer.
This doesn’t mean the energy has to diminish. Volume is not the only element of high energy. The playing can still be very dramatic; it just needs to respect the space the vocals. This will yield results that go well beyond just being able to hear the singer. It will make the band dynamic.
And remember, when you are playing louder you should always protect your ears. A lot of singers get used to and even sing better with ear plugs in. Others hate them. Ultimately the best solution is using in-ear monitors. They act as protection against high sound levels and offer the absolute highest level of monitoring of your vocals and the rest of the band. Regardless of your solution, remember to work together. Bands that solve problems together always sound the best.
Originally posted 2012-08-30 14:29:57.