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wearing Peex headphones at the Elton John concert

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It's apparently perfectly normal for musicians to each receive a personal mix in their headphones during studio recordings. Why not extend this to concert audiences?

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Considering how excruciatingly bad most pop/rock concert sound is (and after decades of dutifully attending many with my wife I can say it’s not getting better), I would be very happy to don a pair of headphones at a concert if they would:

a) protect my hearing (I ALWAYS bring earplugs to concerts);

b) cut down on the massive distortion from the PA systems;

c) allow me to dial in for some vocal intelligibility (most of the time I can’t make out the words).

 

Some recent examples of big concerts I attended with my wife (we miss most acts I would like to see because the nearest big city for us is Fresno—not on the circuit for most—and San Francisco is a 3+ hour drive each way):

  • Elton John (on my wife’s bucket list and we got seats 30 feet from his piano). Sound was dreadful.
  • Paul McCartney — again, great seats, dreadful sound.
  • Avett Brothers — Wonderful show, in a quality auditorium (as opposed to @#$&*! sports arenas for the above two).  They easily could have gotten away with no PA at all—their acoustic and electric instruments through guitar amps would have been plenty in this venue.  Or at least they could have kept the PA at a modest level.  But no, they mostly blasted it as if they were at an outdoor music festival!  I really wanted to strangle the sound guys.
  • Peter Gabriel and Sting— Tremendous performances together and playing each other’s songs, plus highly talented female side musicians and singers (even bought one the women’s CDs), and 3 percussionists.  40 feet from the stage, right in the center.  This was an outdoor venue (Lake Tahoe), and of all the shows I’m mentioning here, this one had by far the best sound—though still very loud. I chalk that up to not being in an enclosed space where the all the sound bounces back and forth from every surface.

BTW, other than the Avett Brothers (whose tickets we bought from an early bird notice), all the others were obtained through the legal scalping site known as StubHub.  Seems that these days there is organized thievery whereby all the good seats are instantly pre-sold and then jacked up on StubHub.  I’m embarrassed to admit that for the 3 big shows above we paid between $700-$1,400 for the pairs of tickets (that is $350-$700 per seat!). So both my wallet and my ears bled. :mad:

 

Anyway, while I would never want to wear headphones at an acoustic concert—and I resent that the idea even appeals for the reasons above—if a good system could be made, I’d be open to it.  But I would think it ought not to be sourced from a mic at the listening position.  Perhaps some sort in of WiFi system sourced by two carefully placed mics in the air mid-hall.  Or better yet, some mix from the sound board.  I’d say I’d like to have the feed of the guy at the board, but those are the same near-deaf dudes cranking it up into jet-engine territory, so maybe that’s not the mix to listen to. x-D

 

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Okay, I actually just read the above linked article. (Guess I should have done so before posting.) The system looks like it has some promise but is clearly not yet ready for broad deployment.

BTW, those first close-range photos of the Elton John show in the article?  That’s the exact distance and angle of our seats at the shoe we went to.  Needless to say, my wife was VERY happy! And in the end that’s all that matters to me. :)

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On 4/12/2019 at 1:05 PM, mansr said:

It's apparently perfectly normal for musicians to each receive a personal mix in their headphones during studio recordings. Why not extend this to concert audiences?

It's normal in the studio for many reasons, e.g. because many recordings are not made with the entire performing ensemble at the same time. Without an audible feed of the tune's bare bones at a minimum, there's no way to integrate your part into the group - you could play it alone with a click track or other time keeping aid, but that yields the flat, sterile blend of individual parts about which we all complain in many commercial recordings over the last 40+ years.

 

Many (if not most) vocalists need aural feedback to help keep them on pitch, and hearing the music behind them facilitates phrasing and timing.  Classical vocalists and some top pop / jazz singers like Nancy Wilson have inherently great pitch control.  But hearing many singers a cappella can be a little disconcerting, as they hunt for elusive notes and straddle the correct pitch before settling on it. So 'phones that let the singer hear himself or herself well and clearly can really improve a recorded performance.

 

It's also normal for musicians in live performance because we need to be able to hear ourselves for many of the above reasons plus a few more that make it difficult on stage.  We try to make every aspect of performance, e.g. timing, intonation and loudness relative to other performers, as close to perfect for the piece being played as a human can make it. Some prefer a boost in the kick drum and bass line, some need a volume boost for their own instrument or voice, some need the vocalist brought up, others need the stage volume reduced for all, etc. The drummer in my blues band needs a boost for the bass player.  The sax player in my jazz band needs to boost himself in the mix.  I don't like to sing, since I'm not the greatest vocalist and I don't play my instruments as well when I'm trying to sing.  But when the gig doesn't call for or won't pay for one of our vocalists and I have to do it, I need to hear myself clearly to keep my intonation as good as possible - and it ain't so great at its best.  Lastly,  good IEMs provide acoustic isolation to protect our hearing.

 

There are those who might want to sonically highlight their favorite instrument at a concert or other live performance, which is fine with me if it helps them enjoy live music more.  And the opportunity for those with hearing loss to boost frequencies at which they have a sensitivity loss is promising.  But I'm not keen on an audience of 'phone wearers fiddling with their mobile devices to "improve" a live performance.  Like Little Walter said: it just ain't right!

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4 hours ago, Superdad said:

BTW, other than the Avett Brothers (whose tickets we bought from an early bird notice), all the others were obtained through the legal scalping site known as StubHub.  Seems that these days there is organized thievery whereby all the good seats are instantly pre-sold and then jacked up on StubHub.  I’m embarrassed to admit that for the 3 big shows above we paid between $700-$1,400 for the pairs of tickets (that is $350-$700 per seat!). So both my wallet and my ears bled. :mad:

 

 

This is standard practice for big concerts at arenas/stadiums, as well as sports. This is why I stick to either club or theater sized shows --- almost never issues with those. Other than the fact I enjoy the more intimate nature of those shows and you get a lot more bang for your buck.

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I'm not that much for loud music (nowadays :)) but reception of bass from headphones and from speakers are two very different things. You feel low frequencies with your whole body and I'd never agree to give it up while going to a gig. Well, headphones for the audience plus real subwoofers could be some sort of solution..


The man that hath no music in himself, nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds, is fit for treasons, stratagems, and spoils. The motions of his spirit are dull as night, and his affections dark as Erebus. Let no such man be trusted. Mark the music.

                                                                          ―  William Shakespeare.

 

 

 

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