It can’t sound like that.
It’s pretty rare you’ll see anything resembling a complaint on this blog. We use it for positive communication, mostly to create awareness about local art. But I had an experience at a concert last night that touched a nerve on something that’s been on my radar for a bit. I also think it has relevance for local musicians. So like Lauryn says, I’m going to try to “develop a negative into a positive”.
Problem# 1 was the lateness. Doors opened at 8pm. Lauryn took stage around 11:15. I would’ve really appreciated a little more heads up on that. It was standing room general admission, so by the time she was seen, we’d been on our feet three hours. I almost skipped writing about that, because it’s not my main point – except that I’ve been seeing it with local acts lately too, especially in local hip hop. If you tell your fans to come see you at 10pm, and you take stage at 1am, you’ve screwed your fans. Really. People got stuff to do y’all. And they balance their energy for when they think they’ll need it.
Okay (see, bitching is contagious- don’t do it).
What was I really writing about? Oh yeah, sound. So, Lauryn tours with a huge band now. 4 back up singers, multiple guitars, brass, keys, percussion. Seems cool, right? Coulda been. If not for the sound.
The entire concert had that muffled sound of listening to loud music through a pillow held over your ears. You know that low hum that sometimes precedes the sharp sound of feedback? That “Charlie Brown teacher waa-waa-waa” sound? That’s pretty much what everything sounded like all night. And Lauryn was mixed lower than everything else.
You could hear her, but if you didn’t know every word to whatever song she was playing there was no way you were gonna figure them out on your own. I don’t think one full line of hers was clearly heard in that show, certainly not in a way you could make out the lyrics. Muffled. That’s the best word I have to describe it. It sounded like a muffled soup of sound.
I should say, this might not be the venue’s fault. Her opening act (a brass band from New Orleans) joked that they’d been in the building ten minutes before taking stage. I’m not sure what the sound crew’s supposed to do with that. But the crew did spend a while on L’s set up, checking mics and such, so who knows. I’m not a sound person, or even a musician, so I can’t articulate specifics. Our music director DebDriscoll thought it was Lauryn’s microphone that was the problem, that they gave her a regular vocal mic instead of a dynamic one. I don’t even know what that means.
What I do know is Lauryn Hill was playing a set list I would’ve flipped out to hear. She started with Everything Is Everything, and went right into You Just Lost One. Classics. She was feeling it. The crowd was not. We couldn’t hear her well enough to feel it. We left the show before it was over. It was far too late and every song was a disappointment because we knew she was performing well but it wasn’t getting to us.
Look… musicians… it’s important. It’s really important. Why did you bother writing lyrics in the first place? What is the point of really working on phrasing, cadence and words if none of that is going to get to the audience? I see it all the time at local shows too. I’ve seen my favorite local musicians sound brilliant and I’ve seen the same people sound like… well, like Lauryn Hill did last night.
Get it right. Sound technicians are a huge part of your show. Especially if you’ve got a lot of music on stage. If it’s anything other than just you and a guitar, the sound needs to be worked, massaged, blessed, adjusted, corrected, and loved until it is right. This is not an afterthought.
Music may be an art, but sound is a science. Get it right. Work with venues who have good sound, and much more importantly good sound people. And show up early enough that you can get a proper sound check. Know your sound back and forth. This is too important to overlook. If it matters that you play the right notes or that you sing the words in the proper order, than this matters just as much. Because if it can’t be heard, none of that other stuff does matter.
If you have a band in this city, and you’re serious about it, let me ask you this… do you know who the best sound people are here in Dallas? The ones who work the local clubs? You should probably know that.
We need to do better.
Sigh. I can’t believe I left a Lauryn Hill show while she was on stage. And at $50+ per ticket, it was a pretty expensive walk out for the three of us as well.
I promise you, it only takes one experience like that for an audience to rethink going to see that act again.