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Singing over loud instruments

crscrs Enrolled Posts: 46
I'm rehearsing for a show at my college for next week, and so I am doing rehearsals in a little practice room with the band that's backing up a rapper and.  There's a small studio microphone in there, with two amps, and apparently I have to 'kiss' the microphone, but after seeing the others literally almost spit into the microphone, I'm paranoid about the germs, so I don't get too close, and it turns out the microphone seems to have trouble picking up my voice unless I'm really close.  However, as it turns out to be, I'm finding myself having to over-compensate for volume, while also finding it hard to hear the piano clearly over the heavy percussion and guitars.  I told the bassist that I can't hear myself, and he's just, "don't worry, just feel the music and your voice will open up automatically," which kind of irritates me because these sort of lines (especially coming from non-singers,) are just so dismissive and ignore the issue at hand by proposing something false.  Eventually, we got the band to tone it down and make good music, but I have a feeling this is not going to be the last time where I have to fight for my voice to be heard.

How do you guys deal with bands that just play too loud?  In addition, have you ever tried singing over amplified instruments and a drum set without a microphone?  Does Mr. Ken Tamplin recommend this at any stage?


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    highmtnhighmtn Administrator, Moderator, Enrolled, Pro, 3.0 Streaming Posts: 15,359
    edited December 2012


    This is a common problem.  Unfortunately it's not one that is easily solvable without a lot more cooperation than most musicians have the maturity and/or skills to handle.

    It is not unusual in any musical balancing situation for each person to want to hear "more ME".  Amplified instrumentalists tend to bolster their own volume by simply rotating their volume knobs on instruments and amplifiers and as long as they can hear themselves better, they are satisfied.  Drums are naturally loud and hard to play softly unless the drummer is very skillful and WANTS to bring it down.

    Vocals are difficult to amplify, especially in a small room with loud instruments.  Feedback also sets a limit on how much you can boost a mic.  The distance you are keeping the mic from your mouth reduces the ability to get more vocal volume before feedback causes havoc.

    The worst part of this is that if you have to go through a struggle each time the group gets together, you are likely to blow your voice out, as well as become very frustrated with the situation.  You normally do have to "eat" the microphone in order for it to pick your voice up without shouting.  So if you don't have your own mic to use that you feel comfortable using in close proximity, perhaps you could get a foam "pop filter" for the mic that you wouldn't feel too bad about having really close to your lips.  That would only set you back about ten or fifteen bucks and help you to be able to use the mic up close.

    That said, you need the instruments to turn down.  End of story.  If they don't want to cooperate, then you're kind of out of luck.  Ken has told a story about having to warm up his voice in hotel rooms where the other guests would complain if they heard his voice, so he learned to sing into a pillow.  This taught him to hear his voice from within his head, and now he is able to listen to his voice internally, which helps him when the monitors are bad, or the band is too loud.  I don't know if a week is anywhere near long enough to learn this skill.

    Singing with a very bright sound is helpful to enable you to hear your own voice inside your head, but you need about an eighty decibel boost over these instruments, and that is physically impossible without some compromise from the musicians. 

    I've played in a lot of bands, and it is uncommon for musicians to be willing to turn down like you need these people to do.  The band I'm in now is an exception to that.  Often, for first set, we play so low that you can hear people's feet shuffling on the dance floor while we are playing.  At that level, the vocals tower over the instruments, and we sound like a CD or a record, because the vocals are so dominant.  We tend to undersing when the band plays at that level, because our voices in the P.A. system would blow people over backwards relative to the band's sound.  That's what you need in your situation.  That only comes through cooperatively playing at the proper level. 

    Most musicians are too wrapped up in their own playing to be willing to turn down for a vocalist.  They will try to make you feel inadequate as a "prima donna" singer before they will cooperate and give up their own volume. 

    When the band does play at these low levels, including the drums, this will help immensely to preserve your voice.  The opposite is true when you have to strain and shout to be heard.  It would be better to not be heard than to shout your voice into smithereens prior to the show. 

    Your voice is somewhat delicate to begin with, and won't stand up to that kind of abuse.  You don't do Screamo.  Protect your voice.  The poor piano, if it's an acoustic piano, will be impossible to hear as well.  You are right about the bass player's "your voice will open up automatically" nonsense. 

    One possible way for you to survive this in stride would be if there is some way that you can plug in a pair of headphones, the kind that seal all the way around your ears, that would monitor the P.A. system, that would at least allow you to hear yourself at a comfortable level.  You would sound good to yourself inside the phones and hear yourself at the level you want to be able to hear yourself.  If there were also a mic set right against the piano, also plugged into the same system you are monitoring through, then the piano would also be in your phones.  Who cares if the band can even hear you, then? They don't care enough to turn down.  If they do turn down, then they'll hear you, and if they don't, well they can't hear you now anyway, right?   The best part of this as a solution would be that you would not blow your voice out from the rehearsals, you might actually enjoy the rehearsals, and your voice would be in good condition on show day.  A lot of mic mixers these days do have a headphone output on them with its own volume knob.  If you're lucky, maybe the one in this studio has one.  Otherwise you are at the mercy of the monitors (if there are any) or the mercy of the musicians. 

    May they have mercy on you, chrisrs.


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    ragnarragnar Pro Posts: 410
    edited December 2012
    Awesome post Bob and very good topic to begin with Chris.

    I've never been a singer until recently so I haven't been in any official bands, but I know a lot of musicians and have heard many of them play live. Every single one of those concerts - seriously without any exceptions at all - I have thought to myself:
    "They would sound better if every instruments - drums especially - volume was turned down 30-40%" because the vocalist simply can't be heard clearly at all over the slamming background noise (in my opinion the guitars/bass/drums just disappear into undistinguishable noise from the volume). And yeah like Bob says; good luck to the piano player lol.

    For that reason I have promised myself that I simply won't start a serious band until/unless my voice is sufficiently impressive that I can assume a natural authority in the group (good singers, especially male, are seriously hard to come by so know your worth!).
     And additionally get into Bob's position where he actually has intelligent musicians with him who get it. Fortunately I already have a good friend of my lined up, who gets it, as lead guitar. But even he needs repeated reminders - usually in the form of a discrete hand gesture (no, not the finger lol!) - to play more softly.

    With all this in mind, your particular situation is clearly tricky since those small practice rooms really are the death of subtlety (and your inner ear hair cells).
    I would go with Bob's idea of getting the headset so you can hear yourself properly at least. That way you will get the experience you are after from a rehearsal without oversinging. In my opinion it's better to just stay home than go in repeatedly and oversing. If they are the same way on stage and refuse to listen to reason; I would find a new band.
     Lastly, can you not bring your own personal mic and plug it in at rehearsal? If you don't have one, buy one! :p A basic one shouldn't be that expensive.

    PS: Sorry if I sounded too grumpy and negative haha. This phenomenon really pushes my buttons.
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    crscrs Enrolled Posts: 46
    Thank you so much for the advice everyone! 

    @highmtn, wow Bob, that's a mouthful, but I love it!  I will definitely try it, hoping that my college has the resources for this.  Thankfully, I don't end up over-singing or hoarse in these rehearsals, as I hold back on purpose so they don't get used to abusing my abilities and justifying their little volume wars.  It's also worth noting that I don't know how the official stage set-up is going to work either until the day of the show, as I was sharing a microphone with the rapper, but I have a feeling it's going to be much better than this set-up, as I felt that that was more of a problem as well.

    @ragnarYes, this is definitely what I find myself having to do in the future if I'm ever officially in a band, because no matter how loud I sing, they just want it to reach to the point of over-singing.  This doesn't count, considering this is just a part of my college's music club, and these are the instrumentalists that will accompany most of the acts performing at our showcase.  And yes, you are correct about the rarity of good male singers, especially here, as they're pretty limited in what they do, but they work with what they've got, so I respect that :)

    :P - And no, you did not sound negative or anything of the sort.
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    johnjohn johnjohn Pro Posts: 99
    The story of my life!  Since I flatly refuse to give up on singing, my solution in such circumstances, 
    is to plug one of my ears with a silicone rubber ear plug, so I'm at least able to hear my voice in my head, kind of similar to Ken's singing into a pillow, thing.  That, or in-ear monitoring, as per Bob's suggestion.


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    Jewel142Jewel142 Member Posts: 13
    That's the story of my life. It's hard to complete with instruments that plug in with a volume button that goes to 10 when you're playing an acoustic (voice) instrument. I've done this: The next time they tell you to sing louder - hand them the mic and tell them to sing as loud as they can and in key as you turn up their amp. They get a deer caught in the headlights look on their face and then turn down.

    I also refuse to share a mic. Invest in a good one and bring it with you!
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    jamespleasestopjamespleasestop Member, STREAMING PRO Posts: 29
    Definitely bring your own mic. I don't let anyone sing into my 'good" ones but me - I bring a couple of cheap spares for the karaoke crowd.

    I have the same issue with singing over a drum kit in a small space. I started messing around with In Ear Monitors so I could hear myself enough to sing roughly in tune, but it's hard.
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    Furious_PhilFurious_Phil Moderator, Pro, 2.0 PRO, 3.0 Streaming Posts: 1,421
    I don't have in-ear monitors (yet), but I am fortunate that my drummer has a very nice electronic kit, so we can really control the volume moreso than with any acoustic one
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    bentkbentk Moderator, Pro, 2.0 PRO, 3.0 Streaming Posts: 1,650
    I guess you just need to get the best monitoring you can for yourself as a singer. You need to hear yourself loud and clear. So after the mix is right for the band, try and optimise your monitoring system, be it in-ears or on-stage.

    All the best,

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