Viewer question: why so loud?!

A recent highly pertinent question from a viewer in Sweden on my A Brief History of Live Sound Reinforcement video:

Q: One thing I use to react to when listening to small outdoor concerts, is that the aimd sunjective (sic) (me) heard sound is way way madness loud, sometimes we had to step back over 100 meters to stand the sound volume. I do not understand why – so loud – I really liked your video, really informative so don’t get me wrong. I would like to hear more “High Fi” concert, with moderate volume. Thanks for good video. SB. Sweden. (Edited for clarity)

A: Hello SB, I completely agree with you on the volume problem – I have stopped mixing these louder gigs just to look after my hearing 🙄 There are several possible reasons for this – one is the volume of modern acoustic drumkits (can easily be over 100dB SPL in the front row with the PA turned OFF) which means that the PA then needs to be run louder than that in order to balance the band. Another is that modern PA systems have huge amounts of power available, which makes it very tempting for sound engineers to turn things up way too loud! I would suggest a couple of things:

  1. If you have a choice, sit or stand near the mixer position – this is typically where the best sound is, and the most reasonable volume, assuming the sound engineer is responsible.
  2. Buy some musician’s earplugs – I use those from Etymotic (affiliate link) – these provide a moderate amount of protection (rated at 13dB SPL) without attenuating too much of the high frequencies and thus spoiling your appreciation of the music.

Finally, I have found that there are certain types of music that lend themselves to more finesse when it comes to sound reinforcement: musicals, jazz and funk/soul. These genres tend to attract seasoned and professional musicians who are much more concerned with the overall musical experience than blowing the audience out of the back of the venue with sound! All the best, and look after your ears 🙂