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Why does the support’s sound suck?

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Ever wondered why the sound for so many support bands is so muddy that the band dies horribly? Especially at big open air shows?

From Hot Rails to Hull, the full story behind Blue Öyster Cult’s poor show at the Castle Donnington Monsters of Rock festival in 1981: The soundman George Geranios tells the story.

It was now the Cult’s turn. There was much consternation during the set change. No one seemed to know exactly what the problem with the system was, but we all knew there was a problem. We started the set and there was very little volume available. The sound check settings produced an anemic squeak from the huge mass of boxes flanking the stage.

At some point during the set I looked up to see Malcolm Hill himself crawling around the stage right stack at a great height, ears into boxes. I was told not to try to turn the system up, but the band is inaudible. I try anyway and as I push the main faders up, the system volume decreases even more! Things are upside down, and I would be upside down if I tried that again, so said my minders at the front of house.

At one point during this farce I got on the talkback mike between songs and told the band to simply leave the stage. Maybe they could come back out when things were sorted. If they continued without acknowledging the problem then our Donington appearance would be shot. They do not do this and our Donington appearance is shot. The Band finishes with a flourish and……. there is nothing. No response from the audience. Sixty thousand metal fans stand sullen and silent. It is, as they say, an oil painting out there.

He then talks of a later Donnington, in 1987

I remember reading a telling article in Kerrang! the day before the show. The essence of the piece was an extremely perceptive winge about the Donington show sound. The author had attended many a show there and wondered why, given the virtual mountain of speakers, all the opening acts sounded weak and puny whilst the headliner sounded massive. What if you didn’t give a toss about the headliner? Your favorite(s) sounded lame! Shouldn’t every band sound good? You paid your hard earned pounds to see and hear all the bands. The author had heard this at all the Donington Park shows and was quite fed-up.

He then goes on to describe in details I don’t fully understand, how the sound for everyone other than the headliners, Bon Jovi, was deliberately sabotaged.

Attitudes like this limit audience enjoyment and essentially rob the audience of what is rightfully theirs: a full and effective show. It’s also a pussy move. It implies the headliner does not have the confidence to carry the show without kneecapping the competition.

Does this always happen? No, but it happens often enough to be a real problem for touring professionals. It is an unfortunate part of the politics of the music business. These decisions are almost always band decisions implemented by management with the complicity of the sound company.

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