AUS220 - Blog 6 - Live Sound

This AUS220 series belong to an assessment from college.

  • What appear to be the biggest challenges working in live sound? 

I've attended a lot of live concerts; most of them have been orchestral performances, however, every now and then I find myself appreciating a rock concert. Ironically, two of my worst live experiences were at rock concerts--Guns N' Roses and Aerosmith. The Guns N' Roses concert was a few months ago in Vancouver and the Aerosmith one in my hometown a few years ago. What both of them had in common was the location: football arenas. Conversely, one of the best sounding shows I've been to so far what that of Hans Zimmer at Rod Laver arena last May.

So what changed? The room acoustics, for sure, but most importantly, the place where I sat. The Hans Zimmer show sounded fantastic because I sat right in the middle of the stage, almost making an equilateral triangle from the left and right tapered speakers. The kick drum's attack and bass were incredible, the choir stood out when it had to and the guitar was phenomenal, for example. In both the Guns N' Roses and Aerosmith concerts I sat at the the back of the arena and at the sides. What I was listening to was mostly reverberation and reflections instead of the actual sources. I couldn't distinguish the guitars from the voices, nor the kick drum from the bass. Those experiences were ruined by a concert of noise. I wish they had routed the audio to come out of the arenas' speakers as well instead of just the stages'. Since then, no matter how incredible the band is, if I can't manage to find tickets in the middle, I skip it. 

It appears to me that the biggest challenge of sound reinforcement is to EQ the performance to work well with the venue's acoustics. Audiences don't usually bother if the lighting is poor. Rather, they blame the sound department if the gig's not sounding like they were expecting it to. There's also the case of making sure that the musicians are able to hear themselves loud and clear. I think that following the process, as advised in class, is key to the success of the project. After setting up the PA and everything else, the challenge lies in the creative side of things.

As for the best sounding concert I've ever heard, it was that of The Lord of the Rings trilogy live to picture at Lincoln Center, NY, in April 2015. The event was presented by the 21st Century Orchestra, which was comprised of 250 musicians. I was lucky to find a set in the very middle of the theatre, similar to how the camera is positioned in the following video. The sound of the camera is actually quite nice, and this is the rehearsal at David Koch Theatre, the one I've attended. What was the most impressive part of the event was how the engineers would mix it--one had 250 musicians to mix against the dialogue and effects, while making sure it was delivered to the public in high quality.