I went to two gigs last week; Lau in Hailsham and Ahab in Crawley. Both gigs were seated and similar in terms of audience and size of venue, but miles apart in sound quality.
The sound at Lau was simply excellent. I was sitting in the second row, not apparently the best place for a top listening experience, but thanks to the sound man- the very wonderful Tim Mathews- each note was crystal clear, all instruments balanced beautifully with each other. I’ve only ever been to one gig like that before. That was several years ago at the Liverpool Academy to see another band; the sound man there was Cammy Young, although unfortunately there were only about twenty people in the audience to benefit from his expertise.
The sound for Ahab, by comparison, was very poor, the vocals drowned by the heavy drums and little differentiation between the guitars, mandolin and bass. Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad for an angry rock band but Ahab are all about four part harmonies and catchy melodies.
And that’s the trouble. People who go to see live music infrequently will have no idea whether the band they are seeing is being accurately represented; whether the reason they sound ‘different’ live to the cd/mp3 is down to the band or to the skill of the sound man/woman.
I don’t profess to know anything about the technical aspects of sound engineering- like how the front of house sound failed so spectacularly for Peatbog Faeries at the Cambridge Folk Festival this year, but I do know that people like Tim Matthew and Cammy Young are worth their weight in gold; the unsung super heroes of aural pleasure.
So if you enjoy the gig you’ve been to then by all means hang around afterwards to thank the band, but don’t forget to thank the sound man on your way out too!