Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Not Playing Here Redux: Uh, Can I Get More of Me in the Monitors?

Posted by on Wed, Apr 23, 2008 at 11:35 AM

click to enlarge SoundGuy.jpg

I got a lot of great feedback on the "Not Playing Here" story I wrote about why bands skip Nashville, but there were a few points I could have explored more had I been able to write longer.

One is the importance of radio support for acts thinking about touring here, and though we have WRVU and Lightning 100, our big commercial rock stations (102.9) are actually active rock, which could mean anything from AC/DC to Puddle of Mudd.

From Lynne in Pittsburgh:

One point that also deserves mention is radio support; if radio isn't there, it's a lot harder to sell certain shows. And as you well know, in an era when religious stations can co-opt public radio signals, it's harder than ever to find great music—and promotional avenues—on terrestrial airwaves.

But a bigger point I didn't go into, because honestly, I'm not sure I should have, is about the sound quality in Nashville. I'm not qualified to gauge precisely how bad sound is in this town—having mostly lived here, Murfreesboro and Los Angeles, I can say with total expert certainty that I've been to shows that sound "good" and shows that sound "bad" in all three cities. But the particular subtleties and nuances of how this stacks up on a national scale, I cannot say. I know I've heard shows at City Hall and the Cannery—places notorious for bad sound—that sounded terrific. And I've heard shows at The Ryman—famous for gorgeous acoustics—whose sound didn't do the band justice.

Still, a few people emailed to say the sound here has more or less reached a ground zero of terrible:

Thank you for your informative article “Not Playing Here” (April 10). I understand the venue owners' concerns, as I have been a partner in many music venues myself over the years. But your article failed to discuss what I feel is the main reason few artist want to play here more than once and why more people do not attend shows. It is very simple: Nashville has the worst-sounding venues in the country. When I moved to Nashville in the early ’80s, I could not understand why there were no great nightclubs in Nashville, as I grew up in south Louisiana, where every small hole-in-the-wall was a great music venue. Over time, several venues appeared on the scene, and I thought things would get better. But for some reason, the venues here have no vibe at all, no warm or cozy feelings; acoustics and sound are, at best, a second thought or, more often than not, no thought at all. The first priority of a performance venue must be the acoustics and the sound system.

I have never heard live sound so butchered as it is in this town. Even the Ryman, which has the most-beautiful-sounding natural room in the world, has the most-unnatural-sounding sound system. If the performance space at the Ryman naturally sounds like a fine acoustic guitar, the sound system sounds like an out-of-tune banjo. With the exception of a couple of venues, the operators are arrogant technicians who have no concept of what live sound should be and spend most of their time looking at a computer screen instead of listening to the performance. I am not alone in this opinion. Not too long ago, there was an article in a national music trade magazine in which a group of bigwig music people was in Nashville for a convention and they were asked what they thought of the music scene here. Nine out of 10 said the same thing: the worst-sounding venues they had ever been to. Very few enjoy a group of amplified people screaming at them. It is the dynamics and subtleties that make a live performance exciting. My hope is that if we bring this forward, someone may begin to take the desires of the performers and audiences into account when opening a live performance venue. Until then, I never venture out without hearing protectors and a couple of cocktails.

Steven Durr

stevendurrdesigns at msn.com (Nashville)

Is it true? Somebody put that RIM degree to use. And even if it is, I'm not entirely sold on the idea that this would keep your average music fan at home.

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