Volume Wars | “Lower stage volumes equal better shows for everyone.”

There’s a lot of truth to the statement; “Lower stage volumes equal better shows for everyone.” Especially for you in the long-run.

Volume Wars:

In our previous post about the advantages of IEMs over Wedges, we looked at the idea of “Volume Wars.” That is when you are trying to hear your instrument over the other people in the band on stage. Here’s the thing, everyone else on stage is probably having the same issue and so they are trying to turn up to be heard, so you turn up your volume. Next thing you know no one can hear themselves.

Your job as a musician is to deliver the best performance possible — to really give it your all. But there is no way you can do this if you can’t hear what everyone else is playing. Stage monitors have to compete with everything else onstage (drums, amps, brass, etc). If one musician in your band keeps asking to crank it up, inevitably you all need to follow. It’s a never-ending escalation of volume. That’s why we call this “Volume Wars”. There are no winners, and the biggest loser of all is your audience.

Let’s look at how we got here:

Before amps, the loudest thing on stage was the drummer. It was a relatively calm time. The Jazz age was a tame affair with its shuffling beats and drummers with brushes.

Then came rock and roll. It was a scene, man. Most everything was coming out of 30-watt amps, so while there was more volume, there was still not that much. And then along came the dawn of LOUD ROCK (like The Who)… 100 watts became standard, PA’s got bigger, and now, nobody could hear nothing. Enter the floor monitor or “wedges”.

Wedges made it easier to hear things on stage, it reduced strain on vocalists because they could finally really hear themselves. We entered a period of general “volume wars” stability. As technology kept advancing more powerful amplification was available to the common band, not just Pink Floyd or The Dead. One unexpected side effect of this democratization of sound was as the equipment became more and more powerful, the small rooms bands were playing in became an issue. Most venues are not built to acoustically handle this amount of sound.

More bands than you can count have broken up, not just because it’s a tough business, but because they can’t hear each other. Ask Ginger Baker about his time in Cream. I dare you.

And it’s not just the players that struggle with this. Talk to vocalists about how tough it can be to deliver a great performance when they can’t hear.

IEMs make singing live more manageable. Using in-ear monitoring, allows you to hear the voice clearly inside your head rather than down on the floor in front of you! As a bonus, the IEMs act as plugs, reducing the amount of level coming from the stage.

Consequently, you need a lower monitoring volume, which helps you focus. Focus makes intonation (staying in tune) easier, which has to be job number one, if you want to make your audience happy.

Let’s see what some other folks have had to say about it.

Mike Williams of Camera 2.

[Before] IEMs - with earbuds in playing backing tracks, a click blasting in one ear, tracks in the other, then a stage monitor speaker behind me, the sheer volume needed to hear me sing in pitch over the kit [was enormous]. Not to mention the feed back issues. As you can imagine, there were some nights were I could barely hear anything.

Now we are considerably tighter as a group.

Always remember Live music rule #1: If you are getting involved in “Volume Wars” there is no winner. Don’t fall for it. It’s only making the situation worse. It’s also probably making it really hard for the sound person to do their job. There are no winners here. 

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