To anyone who attends gigs regularly, the dilemma of a venue’s layout is an obvious issue. In a standing context there’s two options to be weighed against each other; visual aspects versus auditory aspects. In context of the former, the obvious solution is to get as close to the front as possible, though at popular gigs this often entails being prepared to queue for hours during the daytime, to ensure you’re one of the first through the door. Being stood on the barrier allows an unrestricted view of your favourite artists, allowing you to revel in their every move.
The pay off for this however, is often reduced vocal quality. Shepherd’s Bush Empire is an obvious example of where this occurs, with the sound quality at the front of the venue greatly impaired and many other venues have downfalls too, not least of all, the fact your are likely to have your eardrums blasted by the stage speakers. In terms of auditory quality the solution then is to locate yourself as close to the sound desk as possible. This is advantageous, since you know that the sound engineer is hearing the exact same thing as you and whilst the sound may not be as you expect, you can be certain that you are hearing the gig with the levels as intended.
The other solution to this lies at the artists and venues discretion, I refer of course to seating gigs. Seated gigs allow for almost guaranteed perfect visuals, as well as superior sound quality, although again, being seated near the sound desk is advantageous. The pay off however is a reduce atmosphere. Whilst seating gigs boast everything a gig goer wants in terms of vision and sound, it often means the atmosphere of a concert is greatly altered. Audiences at seated gigs tend to be more reserved. It’s rare that audience participation is more than reticent clapping, so whilst you may benefit in some ways, it means the chance of embracing your favourite songs, with some impromptu dancing is highly unlikely. In the eyes of MTTM, whilst we love being granted an acoustically faultless set, our belief that it’s about more than the music, means we rarely look favourably on seated gigs.
It seems then, that there is rarely a perfect gig, or perfect position. Whatever the layout of the venue and regardless of the seating/standing arrangements there is always going to be an element of compromise. Though there are a few venues in which this can be overcome (Shepherd’s Bush for example having the benefit of a raising platform in line with the sound desk) there is always going to be choices involved (in the case of Shepherd’s Bush, the fact that the raised platform is set a long way back from the stage). Which means if you’re off to see a band you really rate, consideration of what it most important to you is vital.
Though many people may suggest that visuals are perhaps least important, given that hearing is a multidimensional occurrence, reliant on some level of lip-reading as well as hearing, this may not be as true as some would have you believe. If the gig you are attending is that of a singer or band you know inside out, this poses as less of a problem, but if you’ve never heard the band before the visuals become as important as acoustics. Meaning that your view of the stage is as important as your relation to speakers and sound desk.
In essence, it seems there is perhaps only one solution, to go and watch your favourite artist at least twice; once favouring auditory qualities and once favouring visuals. This is of course at times a costly affair and equally only attainable if the singer or band is playing multiple dates. Still, if you believe a gig is about more than the music then this might be a solution worth considering. Otherwise we suggest familiarising yourself with a venue’s layout, deciding on the location you wish to attain and using every skill you know to get it. Stuck out elbows, lies about finding a friend who is ‘just over there’ and ‘accidentally’ spilling drinks on people are just a few of the ploys we’ve seen used for such a mission, though we must highlight we don’t condone such behaviour.
All in all, the crux of the matter seems to be that you are unlikely to ever get a gig in which every desire is met. That being said, the beauty of live music is its power to transform people, moving them in a way rarely achieved on recorded material. Wherever you’re stood and whatever the visual/auditory qualities, attending a gig is about letting go and embracing the music. Pre-plan your gig, endeavour to ensure you meet your criteria as closely as possible, but once there, let go. Enjoy the music however it comes and bask in the variations which occur as a result of seeing something live.