My Ears Are Bleeding…!! Redux


…A continuation of my “concert audio” rant in 

My Ears Are Bleeding…!!

The day after our concert ”disaster” at the Wells Fargo Center, my wife and I were still “steaming” about the experience.  We had dropped a hundred dollars for tickets plus dinner to attend a concert we had every expectation (based on experience) we would enjoy.

But, as with most things in life, S..t finally happened. 

This time we decided to register a complaint—no more walking away without saying something to someone. 

My wife called the Wells Fargo Center and asked to speak with someone in administration.  She was told that they never had a complaint (ours was the first) about the sound level or the audio mix at any performance. In addition, she was advised that the performers are in control of the audio.

The Wells Fargo representative said she would check with “others” and get back to us. My wife suggested that she also check with some of the ushers.

The following day we received a call from the Well Fargo Center representative. She advised that she checked with six other people (no mention of the ushers) and “…no one had an issue with the sound level.”

Now there is no way to argue with this response–except it is extremely difficult to reconcile it with these facts:

  • Ushers were willing  to make earplugs available.
  • We were not the only ones who walked out at various stages of the first half of the concert.

So, What Most Likely Happened?

Given our past good experiences at Wells Fargo, the acoustics of the hall were not the problem. That leaves only one culprit–the person in charge of the sound. This person may have been the performer, a member of the band, or a support  member.

Possible reasons for loud and/or poorly mixed concert audio…

  1. In a conversation with a well-known singer a few years ago, I learned that many performers and musicians are “pretty hard of  hearing” from too many years of being on stage. Consequently, they “tune” the audio so they can hear it. I suppose that one could assess the degree of deafness of the “soundman” or the performer by the sound level of the concert.
  2. Others in the “music business” have suggested that some performers are on an ”ego trip”– louder is better.
  3. Another explanation is that performers who use sound monitors (monitor speakers or earpieces) do not “hear” what the audience hears. The monitor mix may sound good to them and they think the audience is getting the same sound.

So, What’s A Music Fan To Do?

There seems to be a conspiracy of silence (perhaps even ”deafness”) on this subject. Frank Hayhurst comments on this in his recent post, Secret Agent Man :

“Rather than open and frank dialogue, which is what Frank Simpson , and I prefer and want to encourage, I’ve been getting private emails from sound guys, roadies, artists and even one club owner, all asking NOT to be identified, or to have their comments attributed to them. What?”

I’m afraid the options are few for those who want to enjoy a sanely mixed live performance…

  • One could take the risk and yell “Turn it down!” or “I can’t hear the singer!” However, such outbursts run the risk of assault or arrest for disturbing the peace.  If you think about it, there is more than a little irony in that prospect.
  • The second option–Simply leave.

We have decided upon a third option, which is– and will forever be–avoidance.

  • We will not attend any more concerts, regardless of the performer or the location.
  • We will be content with recordings or videos.

Granted, in taking this approach, we will miss the excitement and potential surprises of a live performance–e.g., when David Grisman walked on stage as an unannounced guest performer at a Mark O’Connor concert. On the other hand, we will avoid the risk of having to walk out of a performance we paid good money to attend.


As a postscript:  People who regularly attend loud concerts are subject to serious hearing loss. Run a Google Search– ”loud concert ringing in ears”  or “loud concerts”

This article was also published on Petaluma 360 as Part II–TURN IT DOWN!!


My Ears Are Bleeding…!!


With this series, I venture, briefly, into the role of music critic–or to be more accurate– audio critic.  It will run loosely in tandem with Frank Hayhurst’s blog, Face The Music on Petaluma 360.

Because of a recent concert experience at the Santa Rosa Wells Fargo Center, I posed some questions to Frank Hayhurst.  Frank placed them in the context of his experience and wrote a blog squarely presenting the case and the questions. Please go to Lookin’ LOUD!

For the record, this article was also posted on Petaluma 360 as TURN IT DOWN!! PART I


First, to establish my “Music Creds” —I am a buff of all kinds of music…from opera, jazz, roots gospel, to swamp rock. I even read music and mess around on a keyboard when no one can hear me. At present, I have close to 3000 recordings (mostly organized) stashed in a room.

  • At home, I have two Carver amps (with cooling fans) and two sets of  floor speakers (B&W’S for the serious audio buffs out there) connected for wall-to-wall and ceiling to floor sound. I tend to run the system a tad on the loud side (After all, I got the power) and my wife eventually asks me to turn it down or to put on the headphones. 
  • We’ve been to lots of concerts and venues for performances. In addition, we go to all Cirque du Soleil performances and they are certainly not what you would call “quiet.” At the end of a Cirque show, we always have a slight buzz in our heads afterwards and consider it part of the experience. Incidentally, the “buzz” is called “threshold shift” by audiologists–it is usually temporary, but over time it can lead to permanent hearing loss depending upon the intensity, length, and frequency of the exposure.

Live Performances & Bleeding Ears

The first concert disaster (from our perspective), was about 5 yrs ago when we went to see Marcia Ball (I’m a big fan) at the Mystic Theater in Petaluma. As it turned out, it was our first and last visit to the Mystic.
The sound level was so painful it literally drove us (and many other members of  the audience) outside the building after two songs–A Mystic employee was yelling something at us (we had difficulty understanding him) about earplugs. Ball is an incredible singer and piano player but you would not have known it from that night. We found ourselves standing on the sidewalk with a crowd (having the same reaction we did) heading for our cars to go home. We had the added embarrassment of apologizing to the people we brought with us to the event. 
Overall, we quickly learned to avoid the club/bar scene due to the painfully loud music–painful to me as well as my wife. Frankly, we never understood the concept of paying to see a performance where earplugs are offered as part of the package. In short, we were content to attend events in the North Bay at Wells Fargo in Santa Rosa or the Marin Civic Center.

That tactic worked well until the Emmylou Harris Concert at Wells Fargo on October 6th.  As an aside, we were driving up 101 one day in September, listening to an Emmylou CD and saw her concert advertised on the Wells Fargo sign. Wow! Good Karma! Fate! Serendipity, whatever.  We pulled off 101 and bought tickets–$100. We had seen her there before and were looking forward to a good time.

October 6, 2009

This time we had seats in the balcony. The concert began with a “featured” singer who performed for what turned out to be the first half of the concert. The sound level was so high (as in painful) that we quickly retreated to the walkway outside the auditorium. We were soon joined by another couple. Our game plan was to wait until Emmylou came on stage expecting that the audio levels would be reset for her performance.  Frankly, we were having bad feelings about what was happening as an usher offered us earplugs–not a good sign based on our experience. Looking down at the main foyer we noticed more ushers and twenty five to thirty other patrons who apparently were doing the same thing we were–avoiding the sound levels.
Finally, after the intermission she came on stage. Unfortunately, the sound level remained the same and the mix was terrible–her voice was consistently overridden by the sound from the band. After two songs (with our fingers in our ears) I told my wife we were leaving. She was grateful. On the way out, one usher (outside the auditorium) asked: “Too loud?” Another usher came out of the auditorium proclaiming that Emmylou sounded terrible.

I don’t know how many others, if any, walked out that evening but ours was not the only car pulling out of the lot. I do remember the faces of some of the audience as we left our seats–reminiscent of expressions I last saw at Candlestick Park during the ’89 Loma Prieta earthquake…blank, empty stares of shock.

In Part II of this series, I will report on what we did the next day… For Part II Click Here