Recently I had my first close quarters experience with a band using in-ear foldback, and it was very disconcerting.
The band was playing a corporate event at SCEC’s Bayside Grand Hall, the exhibition and function space under the main convention hall at Sydney’s Darling Harbour.
The FOH sound system in the hall has been “upgraded” from a Meyer UPA system to a line array system. Now this in itself is intriguing because the while the Meyer system provided a very good, even coverage of the room, the line array system is very focussed. While it pushes the sound right to the back centre of the room (where the FOH mixing desk is located) it provides no coverage to most of the dance floor or to the sides of the room. So fill speakers are used for the sides and the dancefloor.
However the band on this occasion was being mixed from the side and the operator was frequently seen walking to the side of the dance floor to assess the mix from directly in front of the line array. However, the front middle section of the dancefloor was getting nothing from either the line array speakers or the infill speakers rigged on the lighting truss.
Normally this isn’t a problem because there is usually plenty of spill from the band’s stage monitors and foldback. However, the drummer was enclosed behind a Perspex screen and the electric instruments were plugged directly into the mix without on-stage amps. This meant that the only sounds that could be heard in front of the stage were acoustic – the brass and a proportion of the drums. Watching the guitarist go into a very dramatic solo and just hearing the scratching of the strings was like listening to a teenager practicing without an amp – very weird.
The lead singer made a number of forays into the crowd – no problem with feedback as he never got in front of a live speaker and his singing could be heard better than when he was on stage.
Seeing so many Gen X and Y kids plugged into their ipods these days one wonders how long it will be before sound systems are done away with all together and the audience listen to the band via a wireless ipod device.