Effect? Affect? The Affects of Effects? Oh the joys of the English language... But I digress.
Space is a wonderful thing. It is how we measure an area. Is it big? Perhaps its small? It could be lively, or dull. Maybe for lack of a better word, it’s bombastic! Everywhere we go, and everything we hear is affected by space. Which means everything we have ever heard is influenced by space. That last concert you went to, whether it sounded good or bad, was being altered by the space it was in. Yes, even if it was outside. Any and every surface available, sound will bounce off or be absorbed by. Even the temperature can play its part on how sound is perceived. “Ok we get it. The space has an affect on everything. Why should I care?”
The average listener might not care. But for every gigging musician and audio engineer, space is everything. Even DJ’s should be concerned about space. If a DJ makes a bomb track that sounds lit, (did I use that slang right?) but it sounds terrible in the club, was it a bad track? Not necessarily. A guitar player in a gigging band gets their tone so sweet before a gig, shows up and starts playing. Once they are in the club, the tone doesn’t even come close. The live engineer sets up a PA and plays music through it, but the track just doesn’t sound like it should. It’s the fault of the space! Well, kind of the fault of the space. Part of the job of the live engineer is to adjust the PA for the room. This can be difficult if the venue is empty. Bodies make a huge difference, soaking up sound that may be problematic. But, the same goes for setting your tone on an amplifier. It may sound good in the rehearsal space, but that doesn’t mean it will sound good that room you’re playing in now.
Space can take away clarity, make drums boomy or mushy, muffle vocals, add unwanted reverb, or cause feedback issues to a rung out PA. “So, I should adjust my amp for each venue?” YES!!! Absolutely! Some of the best players tweak amps and pedals for each new venue. Sometimes it doesn’t take much, a small dial move here or there can bring your tone back to where it was at rehearsal. Small cuts or boosts in a PA system can tune it to a room, allowing vocals to be present and forward, making it easier for the crowd to understand what you are saying. Drums can be a harder to wrangle in. Tuning up for each venue can be time consuming and frustrating. But if you have the time, use it. Take pride in your craft and spend some time getting your instrument to sound its best. You may gain some new fans just because you made a few adjustments before the show!
”So, I sound good during my live shows, but I just cant seem to get the same sound recording. Help!” Oh recording... How fun you can be.... There is nothing like harnessing in your tone, working tirelessly, tweaking, adjusting, fine tuning. Only to have microphones put in front and it sound dull or lifeless. Yes the tone is good, even the performance. But something is missing... For whatever reason, it doesn’t sound like that killer night and the club. You know, the one where you melted faces with your 3 minute long solo? But why? Why doesn’t it sound the same? The settings are right, the amp tone is there, your even feeling inspired to shred it up.... Well, its the space! You were in a specific space, that worked well for your sound. “But I have reverb and delay on my amp, doesn’t that count?” Well, yes and no. You probably had those on anyway right? But that reverb, delay, and air throwing speaker tone still needs a space to be in. If you put the microphones directly on the grill cloth, you are capturing the essence of the guitar signal. But, we don’t listen to guitar cabinets with our ears to the grill. We hear a guitar cabinet in the room. With your reverb and delay working harmoniously in the space.
In other words, re-space your amp. If the microphones are on the grill cloth, they are picking up the raw tone of the amp. Without coloration of a room of space. You get to decide what kind of space it will be in. Big rooms, small rooms, rooms that are made of rocks. Remember everything we hear in a space of some kind. Even if it is small and tight, or large and boisterous. When in a recording environment, we tend to capture a more sterile and accurate picture of tones. That allows an engineer to place the instruments in any space they so choose. In so doing, creating a feel or vibe, adding character to the track. Space is a wonderful thing. Too much space however, can muddy and remove definition. It’s a fine line of adding just enough to create realism or vibe, or too much and drowning things out unrealistically. Use your ears when adding space to instruments, you’ve done it at every show you’ve ever been to. You listen and make a judgment on whether its good or bad, muddy or clear, dead or lively. You ears are king, so let them rule.