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5 Ways Bad Sound Ruins a Concert and When Acoustic Panels Can (or Cannot) Help
Everyone knows that bad sound can turn an otherwise perfectly pleasant concert into a disaster, but few people know why. The average concert-goer won’t forgive bad live sound because unlike musicians and professional sound engineers, their concept of how the sound at venues works hasn’t been informed with years of experience and familiarity. This means that getting the sound right night after night is a life or death issue for music venues. Below are five common ways bad sound can ruin a concert, and whether acoustic panels can help with the sound problem.
The Stage Mix Is Off
When audiences listen to live music, they typically think of the sound in the room as something that’s only for them and not the performing musicians they’re watching. However, little do they know that the stage sound mix is an absolutely crucial part of the show. When venues get it right, musicians are able to hear themselves clearly to help them play their best. When they get it wrong, big problems abound.
When the stage mix gets neglected, it sets off a chain of events impacting everyone from the musicians to the audience and ultimately the venue itself. When musicians can’t hear their instruments or are constantly battling with monitors feeding back, it can be detrimental for their performance. And it’s important to note here that plenty of venues have decent stage sound, but few really nail it. This seemingly small difference not only determines how well a band performs but also informs the overall impression of your venue. In this case, the only solution is to get that audio mixer in line. Acoustic wall panels or acoustic ceiling panels are not going to make a bad mix sound good.
The Venue Is Acoustically Treated
If every band played ear-crushingly loud punk music, then there wouldn’t be any need for venues to be acoustically treated. Luckily, that’s not the case. Acoustic treatment isn’t necessarily essential for music venues, but it does offer massive benefits. Your venue could have an amazing sound engineer on staff working with state-of-the-art sound equipment and could still miss the mark on sound without things like acoustical panels. This is because most rooms in venues are echo-y, noisy, and naturally sound bad.
Acoustic panels are designed to absorb harsh, unwanted noises to help audiences focus on the music being performed in the room. If you can picture the small recording studios musicians record in, that approach to sound is the same idea here only put into the context of large listening rooms. Acoustic treatments will help listeners catch every nuance in the sound of your venue’s shows. And while not going this route certainly won’t ruin the live shows you put on, investing in acoustic treatment is something that will leave a subtle but important impression on audiences. It’s the difference between OK and incredible when it comes to live sound.
Not Hiring a Professional Sound Engineer
If we could magically look at list of live music’s worst sound disasters, many of them would probably be caused by venues not hiring professional sound engineers. The best case scenario for when this happens is a muddy stage mix, echo, noise, and overall mediocre sound for the audience. But at its worst, leaving an untrained person behind the soundboard and no acoustic treatment in the room can lead to major unrecoverable disasters for venues like ruined performances for musicians and entire rooms clearing out because of undiagnosable screeching feedback and other unpleasant sounds.
You get what you pay for in life, and this rule plays out in a big way when it comes to live sound. Professional sound engineers aren’t cheap, but they aren’t optional for music venues intent on staying in business. In the same way you’d never ask a random non-musically trained person to perform on stage, leaving your sound in the hands of anyone but a seasoned professional can ruin a concert. A good, professional sound engineer is likely going to look at how sound waves are bouncing around the room. In this case, it’s highly likely some sound conditioning is needed and that’s where acoustic panels on walls and ceilings are going to come into play.
When Venues Rely on Cheap or Used Sound Equipment and Acoustic Panels
Venues can squeak by with bad sound equipment for a short time, but doing so usually causes big problems down the line. Cheap foam acoustic panels or tiles aren’t going to cut it. In the same way someone might save money buying a used car with lots of miles in the short term before having to fork over cash to fix problems later, cheap or used sound equipment often translates to bad live sound in the long run.
Things like cheap cables that intermittently cut out or broken speakers that can’t produce low tones can erode the confidence of the musicians playing on stage and leave listeners with a negative impression of your venue. Sound equipment and acoustic treatments are something people don’t pay much attention to until things become a problem. The advice here isn’t new or revelatory. Investing in good sound ensures that venues will be stocked with reliable equipment, but the costs are significant. The question to ask here is how much you’re willing to spend and how much unreliable sound costs the reputation of your venue over the long-term. It’s worth it to spend the money on quality acoustical panels to ensure a great audio experience for the concert goers.
Not Doing a Sound Check
Things like too many bands playing in one night or a sound engineer showing up late for work might not seem like things that can ruin the sound of a concert, but they absolutely can. A ton of work goes into setting up the sound for just one band at a concert, so trying to run sound for a night featuring six different ones can exhaust an engineer and lead to a rushed, uninspired approach to sound. Similarly, when a band shows up late for a sound-check, things get overlooked and problems are more likely to occur.
This is a situation where the planning a venue puts into their shows has an impact on not only the type of concerts they put on, but also in how they sound. Skipping sound-checks and trying to get bands on and off the stage as quickly as possible leads to sloppy sound and bad performances because there’s not enough time or resources to give every act the sound they need to play they need to play their best. Rather than cramming in a night of tons of artists or accommodating musicians with tight schedules, venues are better off approaching things conservatively and only working in a way that gives musicians and audiences solid, unrushed sound. In this case, acoustic panels aren’t going to save the day. You really need to check the sound before the show. And if it’s clear the sound is terrible no matter what you or the band do, it might be time to look into acoustical panels or other acoustic treatments. Or better musicians.