Why big bands like Metallica and Rolling Stones might sound bad LIVE


A few years ago I went to see live The Rolling Stones. I was very excited about that show, it was going to be the first time I would see the legendary British band to play live. The venue for the concert was the Olympic Stadium of Lluís Companys.


After expecting to hear the classic songs such as “Start Me Up”, “I Can’t Get No (Satisfaction)”, “Gimme Shelter”, and many others. After expecting the crazy and outstanding performance by Mick Jagger, which was delivered. After expecting the natural, goosebumps guitar sound by Keith Richards. After all that, I was also expecting to perceive a top-class audio experience. Those big bands have tons of money to invest in audio equipment. Right?


Well, I was very impressed that in some songs, like “Gimme Shelter”, the audio went on and of in some parts. I was not very satisfied, to be honest. All in all, I liked the concert a lot, but that few parts where the audio was missing made my experience to not be a 10 out of a 10.


That experience was kept on my head but never thought again, until last month when I went to see Metallica in that same stadium. I’ve seen Metallica 3 times, and I’m a big fan of them, so I’m more informed about what they do in their gigs than what The Rolling do. I know that the Californian band invests tons of cash in stage arrangement, but they also spent an incredible amount of money on audio reproduction. All three times I was mindblowing with the audio quality.


The fourth time was nothing like that. I heard the same audio issue of The Rolling’s gig a few years ago. How is that possible? Those are big, huge bands that are well-known for their live performances. Is it that they are getting old? Maybe they are not playing the same as before? Even though those are possible true theories, I’ve found out that something else.


Sound is waves that travel on a medium. You guess it right, that medium is the air. When there is a lot of wind, the waves traveling might be altered. And if you are in a concert with a lot of wind, the mix between it and the wave sounds might cause a phenomenon called refraction.


If the sound waves travel in the same direction as the wind does, the sound will bend to the ground.


Sound wave will be refracted to the ground when traveling with the wind.
Source: hk-phy.org


If the sound waves travel in the opposite direction of the wind, the sound will rise further away from the ground.


Sound wave will be refracted upwards when traveling against the wind
Source: hk-phy.org

You know what? In both Metallica and The Stones concert, there was a lot of wind. And of course, the wind will come from different places. That made sound waves deviate their final destination on several occasions.


This kept me thinking why such talented and audio enthusiasts artist such as Steven Wilson perform their live acts in closed venues. I understand the excitement of playing in very big stadiums with 40 thousand souls screaming your lyrics. But I’ve personally come to a point that I don’t care about the stage, fireworks, lights, pyro and all that stuff as I appreciate the audio quality.


So if I have to choose one day between a gig in a small hall or in a big stadium, you know what my choice is going to be 🙂 Or… maybe I’m very lucky and there would not be a windy day 😛