Have you ever wondered why music makes you feel a certain way? Or why millions of people flock to music festivals and concerts every year? Music has the power to bring people together and make a lasting impact. With Coachella around the corner, thousands will soon be joining a community of individuals who are all there for the same reason – to make a connection and feel the music from head to toe.
In this post, we’ll explore Coachella and how sound technicians can fill a vast area with high-quality sound. We’ll also look at why music affects us so profoundly. By the end of this post, you’ll have a better understanding of how music festivals work and why people are willing to travel great distances to be put in a musical trance.
What Is Coachella?
The Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival is an annual music festival held in April. The festival takes place in Indio, Calif., at Empire Polo Club. Coachella 2019 will also be celebrating the festival’s 20th anniversary.
Coachella was founded by Rick Van Santen and Paul Tollett with the goal to showcase hip-hop, indie rock and electronic music for niche audiences. Even though Coachella wasn’t very profitable in the beginning, with tickets initially priced at $50 a piece, Coachella turned into a world-famous event in a short time. Since its start, Coachella has seen names such as Bjork, Beastie Boys, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Paul McCartney, Rage Against the Machine, Prince, Jay-Z, Beyonce and dozens of others.
This year, music lovers from all over the world will be heading to the desert in the Coachella Valley from April 12 to 14, and April 19 to 21. Almost 200,000 have attended the festival in recent years, and tickets sold out the day they were released in January. In addition to music, people also get to enjoy large art installations, a Ferris wheel, world-class eats and more. People can camp out on the grounds as part of the life-changing experience.
The Coachella Lineup 2019 features headliners such as Childish Gambino, Tame Impala and Ariana Grande.
How Thousands of People Can Have a Unique Music Experience
Imagine a festival like Coachella. It takes place at the Empire Polo Club which offers over 250 acres of space. How do music festival bands spread their sound across so much space to so many people? How can people hear the music when they are surrounded by thousands of other attendees, other bands and environmental noises?
Unlike concert hall acoustics, which involves combining soundproofing materials with walls and ceiling space, the acoustics at music festivals are a little more difficult to control. Outdoor festivals do not have walls and ceilings to reflect or absorb sound. At outdoor festivals, sound waves travel up and out with nothing to hit, except sound-absorbing grass and people. In this section, we’ll look at how festivals make it possible to create an unforgettable music experience outdoors.
1. Concert Sound System Setup
When a guitarist strikes a chord, they send a sound wave through the air. A sound wave is made up of vibrating molecules that eventually reach the eardrum. Sound waves grow weaker the farther they travel until they are undetectable by the human ear, and they ultimately dissipate.
Concert sound crews face the challenge of making sure sound waves reach listeners who are hundreds of feet away from speakers. They also have to reduce offsite sounds as much as possible and create an extraordinary music experience for fans. This requires cutting-edge sound design and powerful amplification. Sound crew members must set up microphones, amplifiers and loudspeakers in the right places and control the equipment using a mixing console. A mixing console allows sound technicians to control how far sound travels in a particular area and prevent music from bleeding into other areas. Large festivals like Coachella require a sophisticated sound system designed by audio engineers and months of planning. The Coachella sound crew consisted of around 70 people in 2018.
2. The Coachella Sound System
Coachella is a festival that aims to make audience members not only hear the music but also feel it through their bodies for a memorable experience. This requires serious amplification and careful design using the following sound system equipment.
In 2018, the Coachella main stage had eight high-powered subwoofers. Subwoofers are loudspeakers that are specially designed to reproduce low-frequency sounds, like earth-shaking bass. These loudspeakers help festivalgoers feel the music. This is because sound waves travel through our bodies, and low-pitch sounds travel in long waves that vibrate in your body for a noticeable amount of time. When you listen to the bass, you might say that you truly are part of the music.
Sound systems that must project sound to audiences hundreds of feet from the stage must also include delay loudspeakers. Delay loudspeakers are often arranged in clusters and deliver sound from the main speaker without having to increase volume to unbearable levels. Sound technicians use mixing consoles to ensure sound from the main speakers and the delay stacks reaches the audience at the same time.
At last year’s Coachella festival, the delay system for the main public address (PA) system was made up of multiple towers with subwoofers. Coachella’s sound management team wanted to avoid creating sightline issues for concert goers, so they created delay cluster poles by pouring concrete footing in the ground and dropping the poles into the ground. Each cluster had an underground network so technicians could send signals anywhere they wanted. By using multiple delay stacks placed closely together, technicians were able to run the overall volume lower with less sound bleed.
Sound technicians used advanced digital consoles, like DiGiCo boards, and other boards to control sound with each stage.
At Coachella, you might also find uniquely-designed powerful SuperSub speakers used with conventional subwoofers. SuperSubs use magnetic motor technology and other elements such as aluminum tubes and an enclosed design to create a high-performing speaker. It can put out a lot of bass from a small package. SuperSubs are also tough against environmental factors like wind and dust. By incorporating SuperSubs into the sound system, Coachella technicians can drench the audience in low-frequency sound for an optimal music experience.
3. Environmental Noise Control at Concerts
Sound engineers have to consider concert noise control and festival noise pollution at large musical events like Coachella. Noise pollution is a term used to describe harmful or unwanted noise. The World Health Organization (WHO) says that unsafe levels of sound might be, for example, exposure to 85 decibels (dB) for eight hours or 15 minutes of 100 dB. Decibels are used to measure sound intensity. The higher the dB, the more intense and loud the sound. Some sounds, like a gunshot, which can be between 140 and 150 dB, can cause instant hearing damage. Therefore, sound engineers need a noise management plan for outdoor events to reduce noise pollution for the surrounding residential areas, and to create a safe-as-possible sound experience for the audience.
One way sound engineers control noise pollution is by using cardioid subwoofers. Cardioid subwoofers are designed to be loudest at the front of the speaker, and quietest at the back. At the 2012 Coachella festival, technicians were able to reduce rearward sound pressure levels by 12 dB. Also, the directional control they had allowed them to keep sound inside the desired areas. The difference between the closest residential area and the main stage was at least 25 dB, usually more. The sound rarely exceeded 85 dB offsite, so neighbors had little reason to complain.
4. Best Place to Stand at a Concert
With all this talk about decibel levels, how do you know where to stand at an outdoor concert so that you can enjoy the music but keep your hearing? Here are a few tips for choosing the best spot:
- Line up with the speakers: Choose a place positioned in a clear line between you and multiple speakers. In other words, don’t set your blanket down behind a building.
- Don’t sit too close: Make sure you do not sit too close to speakers. Music festival speakers are designed to send sound to people hundreds of feet away, so it’s not a good idea if you want to protect your hearing.
- Find the sound engineer: Look for the mixing console and the sound engineer and plant your feet there. When you stand next to the mixer, you’ll hear music as the sound engineer thinks it should sound.
- Find balance: If you can’t find the sound engineer, walk around and try to find a spot that balances treble and bass. Stopping to close your eyes can help you focus on your listening skills.
5. How Many Decibels Is an Outdoor Concert?
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), rock concerts typically fall between 110 dB and 120 dB. However, if you stand right in front of a speaker, you might expose yourself to 140 dB. It’s recommended to sit at least 10 feet away from speakers.
6. Legal Noise Limit for Concerts
There are no federal standards regulating concert noise level limits. However, local and state government officials might have their own set of rules. Generally speaking, noise levels under 85 dB would not be considered harmful to residential areas near a music festival. It’s up to residents whether or not they find the noise disturbing and want to file a complaint.
The Psychology of Music
When you press play on your favorite playlist, what does the music make you feel? Do you feel connected to the greater whole? Do you get lost in nostalgia? Listening to music is as natural to human beings as breathing or eating. Our brains listen to soothing rhythms before we’re even born. We grow to our mother’s heartbeat while in the womb, and once we enter the world, lullabies send us to sleep. We stay alive thanks to our hearts beating like a drum. In a way, humans are musical instruments.
Perhaps this is why listening to music is also nothing new. Researchers found that musical activities have been present in every culture on the planet, dating back 250,000 years or more. But, there’s plenty more to know. In this section, we’ll explore the science behind our love to get up and get down.
1. Music and Brain Chemistry
Part of the reason music can lead to an incredibly pleasurable experience is it actually increases feel-good chemicals in the brain. For example, a study from 2011 found a release of dopamine in the brain during emotional arousal while listening to music. Dopamine is considered a reward chemical because it makes you feel happy. Therefore, if you listen to music you enjoy, you’ll likely experience a mood-boosting flood of dopamine.
Do you know that song that you can’t resist tapping your foot to? Listening to music also encourages dancing, which has many brain benefits in itself. Dancing releases pleasurable neurotransmitters like serotonin and norepinephrine. No wonder humans love to leap from their chair and boogie when they hear their favorite tune.
Also, certain types of music, such as classical, meditative or folk music, reduces cortisol levels. Cortisol is known as the stress hormone because it’s released during stressful periods. High cortisol levels increase the heart rate, blood pressure and muscle tension. Listening to relaxing music is good for your brain and your body.
2. How Music Affects Emotion and Mood
Do you know a song that almost always makes you cry? Maybe they are tears of joy or tears of longing. Either way, music can evoke strong emotions, and most of us have experienced this effect at some point in our lives.
Humans have known for a very long time that music has the power to affect emotions and mood. For example, the Greek physician Asklepiades was said to have used music as a remedy for mental illness during ancient times. In the Arabic world, musicians filled the role as therapy assistants to physicians since the 9th century. Johannes Tinctoris, a writer of music from the Middle Ages, listed 20 effects of music, such as banishing unhappiness and curing disease.
Emotions tend to be activated by musical tempo, consonance, timbre and loudness. Part of this has to do with music’s effects on cardiovascular activity. Our hearts get in sync with the rhythms we hear. For example, sad songs make our hearts slow down, and fast upbeat songs give us energy and make us feel excited. Music also affects brain activity in regions of the brain that regulate and process emotions. Scientists have found that brain activity changes while listening to joyful or pleasant sounds. Music also helps humans form social attachments, such as falling in love. In this sense, music helps fulfill basic human needs.
With that said, music affects everyone differently. For example, some people might feel comforted by listening to sad songs, while others might get in a low mood. You can use music to evoke emotions and change your mood in whatever way works for you. Want to boost happiness in the middle of a slump? Throw on upbeat music. Want to unwind after a long day and set a relaxed mood? Smooth jazz should get the job done.
3. How Music Affects Memory
Music has an interesting relationship with memory. Just the act of listening to music is a memory exercise. When you hear a musical sound, it slowly unfolds in comparison to non-musical noises. The auditory system has to take sequential sounds and make sense of them. This is an example of your working memory which temporarily stores auditory units and combines them into a single concept. Musicians, compared to non-musicians, have more gray matter in the part of the brain that’s involved in working memory.
Music also has the power to evoke deep memories of the past. One study examined memories and emotions when someone listens to music from their past. Researchers found that 30 percent of presented songs evoked autobiographical memories in addition to intense emotions – mostly positive feelings of nostalgia.
Another study examined whether or not listening to music every day could promote the recovery of cognitive functions after a stroke. The study found that patients who listened to their favorite type of music every day experienced significant improvement in the recovery of verbal memory and focused attention. Patients who listened to music were also less depressed than those who did not.
Lastly, another study found that emotionally touching music improves memory recall. In the study, participants were asked to study hundreds of anonymous faces while listening to joyful music. The researchers hypothesized that participants connected the music to the faces which resulted in stronger memories.
The Power of Music Festivals
If you weren’t able to buy a Coachella ticket this year, don’t fret. Music festivals, in general, offer a range of benefits for attendees. Unlike traditional concerts, which may last a few hours, music festivals are often day-long, or weekend-long affairs. They bring people together in ways that regular concerts can’t. Here are some reasons to get a lawn chair and head to the next music festival near you:
- Boosts wellbeing: Music festivals engage people and gives them a sense of belonging – essential elements for overall wellbeing.
- Creates a sense of community: When you attend a festival, you join a community of people who are all there for a common purpose. You’ll connect with fellow festivalgoers, as well as the artists, on a deeper level.
- Increases creativity: Music festivals offer unstructured time to let go of worries and get in touch with your creative side. Also, when you attend a music festival, you’ll be exposed to a variety of artists and music styles. Overall, this inspires creativity and a sense of purpose in life.
- Increases appreciation for music: Attending a music festival is a memorable, significant experience that can expand your appreciation for music and the role it plays in your life. Many festivalgoers experience a sense of accomplishment after attending a music festival.
- Singing in groups brings people together: When you’re at a concert singing with those around you, you’re doing amazing things to your brain and body. You’re reducing stress levels and releasing endorphins. You’re also releasing oxytocin which builds feelings of trust and bonding. Next time you’re at a concert, don’t be shy – let your heart sing away.
Learn More About Music and Sound at Soundproofcow.com
The sweet sound of music brings joy to life, work and relationships. If you ever feel down, you’re likely only a song or two away from an instant mood lift. At Soundproofcow.com, we appreciate music and its power to moove you, and we’re all about improving sound quality and spreading the joy. To learn more about sound, music and soundproofing, check out our blog or reach out to one of our sound experts today!