The Who’s recent performance at the “Really Big Game Halftime Show” (please don’t sue me…) pointed out more than a few absurdities. I don’t know about the rest of you folks, but I am nearly always appalled at how crappy the sound at the “SB” is. I have a similar problem with American Idol. (Don’t sue me either… please.)
Somehow, with all the money in the world and access to more extremely expensive equipment then you could fit in my back yard, the sound is routinely awful. A constant A.I. problem is feedback, microphones being left off for some or most of people’s conversations, bad monitor feeds or no monitors feeds. I am constantly amazed at how roughshod it is.
For this “SB,” Queen Latifah, Carrie Underwood and The Who all had very obvious monitor problems. Queen Latifah actually removed hers early in the performance. What’s up with that? There is a particular irony in The Who having such difficulties with monitors, especially at such a major event.
Here’s The Who. Pay attention to the song transitions and the vocals at times.
“Why is that, Pete?” I hear you all asking.
Well, they can’t hear themselves. Now that certainly is a problem The Who have faced more than a few times over the years.
Let’s go back to the sixties, when rock and roll was first being played to large audiences at sports stadiums. The first band to do that would be the Beatles, of course. When they played their last stadium show, they were using custom made Vox “Super Beatle” amps, putting out a whopping 120 watts of power. That’s right, 120 watts. Practically any car or truck stereo you can buy these days would blow these things away. Can you imagine lining up four brand new Volkswagen Beetles near home plate at Candlestick Park, opening the doors and windows and cranking the stereos to play music for 40,000 of your closest friends?
The Who came up with one solution. Amplifier stacks. In other words, take as many amps as you can buy, rent or steal and stack them all up into a wall of sounds.
Here’s a cool picture site: Whiskey Man
You can see from the Whiskey Man pictures how they would just throw more and more stuff up, making bigger and bigger stacks of amps to fill the venue. A few years after this, it reached a point where the performers would be dwarfed by these walls of amplifiers blazing away and the only people that could actually hear anything clearly were those in the audience, so the shows suffered from this performance disconnect. It’s hard to play well when you can’t hear yourself, or the drummer…
What to do about it? Well a young engineer who had been with The Who for a few years came up with a novel solution that is still the most common way performers hear themselves while on stage. The floor monitor. Usually referred to as a “wedge” because originally the sound engineer would take a standard speaker cabinet and cut the bottom at an angle to have the speaker point at the performer.
That engineer is named Bob Pridden. He has worked for The Who for over forty years and has been one of the most influential and talented engineers in music history. His idea of floor monitors was the first and most important step in the art of modern live sound reproduction. For the first time you could take most of the speakers and place them to the side of the stage and up on the towers we all know and love while keeping an amp or two on stage for the performer to use and, most importantly, keep the on stage sound level at a much more friendly and manageable level. This improves the quality of the performance and helps protect the musicians’ and audience’s hearing by keeping better control of the overall sound level.
Over the last twenty years or so, the venerable floor monitor has begun to give way to the “in-ear” monitors used by all the “SB” performers. They do work very well in most cases, but it has introduced a new problem in that the monitor engineer has a very difficult time hearing what the performer is hearing. The only way I have been able to solve that one is to have an “in-ear” setup for me to use while mixing the band. But that’s iyet another problem, as you need to be able to receive all the radio channels the performers are using. If there are four mixes, it’s not really that big of a deal. If there are ten or fifteen? That’s a lot of extra stuff to carry around.
All of you Who fans and anyone who enjoys live concert performances, give a thanks to Bob Pridden. The father of modern sound reproduction.