You Ears aren’t on Your Knees

This is going to be another quick tip for amp positioning.

Do you keep amplifiers on the floor while performing? If you answered yes, you’re not going to be projecting the sound in the best way, to yourself and the audience.

Think about it for a moment – the amplifiers are way down there, and your ears are way up on your head. Why would you point the amplifier in a direction other than where your (and the audience’s) ears are? Loudspeakers project sound in a very directional way. That means that the more you shift from being directly in front of the speaker, the greater the change in perceived tone. Try this experiment: Have an amplifier at head level, about two feet away from your face. Listen to some music in that position, then shift over by a foot to the left or right and notice the change in sound. Pretty noticeable, right?

The truth is in most situations, it’s near impossible to line up everyone’s ears to be directly in line with your amplifier speaker. You should, however, aim it in the general direction of your ears (and your audience’s) by tilting the amp or by getting it off the floor onto something closer to ear-level. A side benefit to doing this is that an amp will be decoupled from the floor which can help avoid low frequency resonances if you’re on a hollow stage.

This tip isn’t to say that this is the definitively CORRECT way of positioning an amp on stage. In some situations, you may only want the acoustic sound on stage. You would put the amp, therefore, in front of you to avoid hearing it. If a stage floor is elevated to the audience’s ear level, then placing it on the floor might be the best option. The goal is to figure out the optimal amp position for your given situation.

I hope this helps to get a better sound on your next gig!

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Save Your Ears

This article might be more of a PSA than anything helpful, but I hope readers will take the message to heart.

The message is: Protect your hearing!

If you’re a musician, it is the single most valuable of the sense you have. It’s natural for your hearing to degrade as you get older, but there’s no need to accelerate that process by not protecting your ears in loud environments.

One of the worst consequences of damaged hearing is a symptom called tinnitus. As you lose hearing, often in the high frequency range, your ears start to “generate” the missing frequencies to compensate. The result is a constant high pitched ring in your ears that can seriously reduce your quality of life. Apart from that, you’ll have difficulty discerning speech because a lot of the consonant sounds of our voice use high frequencies as well.

The first advice I have to offer is to take frequent breaks from noisy environments. This is especially easy to forget when you’re in a loud but tolerable environment, such as a bar with loud conversations and music just below conversation levels. I’ve had nights where my ears would ring slightly even when there was no loud band playing, simply from being in a noisy environment for long enough.

The second advice is to get protection. The best quality ones will cost over $100 and will be custom fitted to your ears. They will come with replaceable filters that can adjust the amount and type of sound filtering to produce a very natural volume reduction. There are cheaper silicon fitted plugs that also do a decent job. The cheapest would probably be foam plugs that are often used for construction labourers but they don’t provide a very natural sound. If you’re ever in a pinch then you can grab some tissue or napkin and put some pieces in  your ears.

Third advice is to just turn it down! It’s obvious but so many people are attached to the notion that louder = better. While it’s true that louder volumes makes for an energetic experience of music, there is a threshold where the enjoyment is overcome by the discomfort in your ears. I commend venues that make an effort to make hearing protection available at their concerts but it wouldn’t be a problem if the volumes were reasonable in the first place. Same goes for bands – don’t be afraid to tell your bandmates to turn down. It’ll make for a much better performance.

I have a hard time convincing myself to go to a rock show these days for this reason alone. It’s an unfortunate trend that doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon. I even have professional ear plugs but why should I be needing them in the first place? As a musician, I don’t want to risk damaging my hearing just for a night out, I need it so that I can keep doing what I want to do. It always blows my mind when my colleagues don’t take any measures to protect their hearing at a concert!

Anyway, rant over.  Please protect your hearing so you can keep enjoying music for as long as possible!