Why does rock concert sound suck?

I have been to two rock concert in the past year : Brit Floyd in Bridgeport CT and Eric Clapton at Madison Square Garden, NYC (last Monday)

For Brit Floyd I was about 40 feet form the stage and treble end was an ear-splitting distorted sound - the soprano solo on Dark Side of the Moon sounded like a chain saw running at 5x speed.

For Eric Clapton I was sitting at floor level about 20 rows behind the mixing desk - i.e., the opposite end from the stage. In this case the high top end was not so distorted, but the voices were still very harsh - seemingly a massive response peak at ~1500hz. Imagine AM radio with the treble turned up 20db.

I knew a lot of the words form the songs ahead of time of course, and just about recognized them, but otherwise the lyrics were unintelligible. The only exceptions were when he sang a quieter song - e.g., “Tears in Heaven” . Clapton moved back from the mic rather than place his mouth right next to it. Then the sound was quite listenable .

Of course managing the acoustics in such a big venue is no doubt a challenge — but does it have to be this bad?


That is one of the biggest reasons I walked away as fast as I could from Rock-n-Roll early on. In the 30s through the 50s we had a lack of high quality electronic equipment to work with then somewhere in the 50s we discovered dedicated sound engineers. They were mostly self-taught and not well versed in sound. They all had their own idea of how things should sound.  Thus we had to get creative with our listening environment by utilizing things like Graphic Equalizers. Though today there are actual schools teaching sound engineering, much of it is left up to the individual. Many artists have their own Special guy that they will used and who travels with them, then there are others who depend on the house sound man or a locally hired sound man hired by the promoter. We have much the same problems with the gear used. Even when I first traveled around with an early garage band doing their sound, though we brought our own gear, we were DICTATED to by the club owners or property management as to what we were allowed do with the sound. Ironically I have to agree with @dpop and don’t want anything in my system to colour or alter the sound but prefer to hear what the engineer heard and try to get into his mind. He was as much responsible for a Band or groups sound or style as the group.

I've always preferred club venues for sound quality.  No, you won't see U2 but back in the day all the cool indie bands played the clubs.

Now? I can't stay up late enough to even see the opening act.  A few years back I had tickets to see Killing Joke.  I figured I could see at least a few songs before sneaking out to head home to bed. Called the venue to see what time they'd be on, and the answer was "some time after 12:30."  OK, not gonna be awake at that time.

I know it's not rock'n'roll, but hey it's the music of the older generations now, not the children, and it would be great if there were more early shows. 

The reason is nothing is analog it's all digitally processed. From the mic feed to the board the amplification many layers of processing are going on stripping the soul out of the music. But there is a bit of a rebellion going on younger guys are buying vintage PA gear and running a less processed setup. 

@jji666 - I got to see U2 play two shows in one night in a club in San Francisco in 1979! They were indeed a cool indie band back then, though 'indie' wasn't used then. 

Where was that Killing Joke gig? Most shows I've been at over the decades have had to be over by 11pm. But I know places like NYC tend to run a lot later....

@larsman - this was the Cabaret Metro in Chicago. There are many venues in Chicago that will go late. Or well at least they used to when I was a regular at shows.  I did get to see Killing Joke in 1989 and so I'm not upset I missed them, but man, I'd go see many concerts if they were over by 8:00.

I saw U2 at the Aragon in 1984.  The Aragon isn't a small club, but nowhere near an arena or stadium either.  They were spectacular and the sound was really good. Seriously tight band.  Then saw them at Soldier Field.  More like holding up a postcard of the band while listening to a CD.