Guide to getting and playing better gigs


   

Band On A Budget

     
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So much equipment, so little money. Sound like your problem? Well, you're not alone. Many musicians face the same problem everyday. You have the talent, you have the desire, you have the look, but you don't have the money to compete with those well-armed bands at the clubs. You know the bands, big mixing board, light show, amps taller than the musicians. How does a young band compete with that? With careful planning, budgeting, fund raising, and some creative uses of cheap items, you can make your band gig ready.

The most important thing to remember is commitment to the goal. In order to do a good show, you have to really want to. If going off to the coast for a quick blast with your mates is more important than that new amp you need, you have a problem. The one thing that good acts have in common is that they want it really bad. If you can't compete with money, at least compete with attitude. In the words of Jim Henson, "Life is a movie, write your own ending." Work those extra hours. Don't buy that extra drink. Save where you can and spend your funds wisely. If you really want it, you'll find a way.

The first thing that any musician needs to think about is his own personal equipment. If you play guitar or bass, you'll need a serviceable guitar and an amp. This is where most musicians make their first mistake. Many guitar/bass players spend the majority of their budget on the best guitar they can afford and buy an amp with what's left. A Gibson Les Paul played through a small 15 watt combo practice amp still sounds bad. You're much better off to buy a better amp and scrimp on the guitar if you have to. A good amp will make even a bad guitar sound passable. Another method of saving money for a better amp is to buy a cheap guitar and put better pickups in it. Good pickups mounted on a stick will sound fairly good with a decent amp.

Select your amp carefully. Always buy more power (watts/speaker inches) than you think you need. Having to sell an amp in order to buy a bigger, more powerful one two days before the gig can cost you a lot of money. Not only will you lose money selling the amp on such short notice, but buying your new amp without time to shop around is also costly. Check out as many amps as possible before you buy. Talk to friends or even strangers that have played the type of gigs you're looking to perform. If you think 25 watts will do it, try to afford 40 watts. Having just enough power to play the gig will make your amp sound poor. Pushing an amp to 10 (full volume) will cause the amp of display its greatest amount of distortion. Running an amp at 5 (half volume) will make it sound clearer.

Carefully consider what features your amp will need. If your band doesn't have a PA system and can't afford to rent one, you'll want an extra input on the amp for a microphone. Don't laugh, it won't sound great, but it works. Remember, the mic will draw power from the amp and lower its volume. Also, if you can't afford separate effects, you may want an amp with reverb or overdrive built into it. Singing through your amp has many built in pit falls. If you're a guitarist and use a lot of overdrive, your vocals will be distorted. If you're a bass player with only a 15" speaker, your vocals will be hard to understand since they will lack clarity. Keyboard amps generally make fairly good vocal amps.


Now the PA system. This is normally the hardest part of band equipment to afford, but one of the most important parts of the sound. PA's are hard to afford because no one in the band considers it to be part of his personal equipment. Even singers usually only own one mic (and usually not a good one at that). This is why planning your PA purchase is the most important thing a band can do. When you're on a budget, don't think flashy, think serviceable for the lowest price you can get away with. The most important part of the PA is the power amp. PA systems take a lot of power. A guitarist can use 50 watts and sound very loud. A 50 watt PA is way under powered for most applications. Your singers' shouldn't have to shout. A power amp of at least 300 to 400 watts is required in most cases. Be careful when buying a PA amp, you can't just look at the wattage in order to find out how loud or clean it will perform. All power amps will have a power rating (watts) that will change depending on the ohm level. An ohm is a measurement of electrical resistance. All speakers have an ohm rating. Some power amp companies will rate their power amps at 2 ohms, meaning that the amp will perform to this level if you have speakers with a 2 ohm rating plugged into the amp. However, very few speakers are rated at 2 ohms. Most speakers are rated at 8 ohms. If this doesn't sound important, note that a 600 watt power amp may only perform at 125 watts when two 8 ohm speakers are plugged into it. Also don't be fooled by amp makers that list the "BRIDGED" rating. What bridged means is that you take the two stereo signals and join them together so that the power will only support one speaker. You'll need two power amps to support two stereo speakers if you bridge the power amp.

The next important part of the PA system is the speakers. Speakers are more important than a mixing board. Remember, you can also plug two mics directly into the back of the power amp and not have a mixing board at all. A 12" speaker and a radial horn will give you the best results on a budget. Look for speakers that have lower ohm ratings. Remember, the lower the ohms the more power/volume you'll get from your power amp. Be careful to check the power wattage of the speakers. If your speakers aren't rated at the same or more wattage than your power amp, you can blow them. Placing the PA speaker on a stand during a performance will also make them sound louder. An elevated speaker will sound louder because the floor will not absorb the sound as much. Speaker stands can be expensive however. You can eliminate the need for speaker stands by putting the speakers on low cost milk crates draped with black fabric.


When buying mics on a budget, stay away from mics that need a preamp or phantom power. Preamp or phantom power systems cost money you can't afford to waste. Phantom power mics usually sound better, but in a live gig situation most audience members will never be able to tell the difference. Make sure you buy a mic that can take a beating. Cheap mics may sound all right, but if they break quickly, they aren't that cheap. A number of companies make mics with a steel shell and ball to protect the mic from the abuse that gigging will surely put on it. Also, be sure you buy the right type of mic. If you need a drum mic, don't use a vocal mic. Using a vocal mic on a snare drum is the quickest way to destroy the mic.

Lastly, you may want a mixing board. Mixing board technology has come a long way in the past five years so try and buy a newer mixer if you can. Many companies have mixers that'll work in a large number of situations. Here too, you should over-buy if you can. If you have four mics, don't buy a mixer that only has four inputs. You will at some time, get another mic and then be stuck having to buy a new mixer.

So now your band's sounding pretty good, but there's more. For many bands, the sound is only the beginning. A good stage set up, lights, costumes, etc. can make a band look much better and be more marketable to many audiences. Here is where creativity and a little hard work can really pay off. A little trick that can add to the stage is to build a drum riser. By raising your drummer even a foot or two off the floor you've greatly improved the professional look of your band and enhanced the sound.

You may next want to think about costumes if your band plans to wear them. Retro is in right now. This gives your band a lot of cheap alternatives to expensive clothes. Check out garage sales and look for older garments that can be used in combination. Old hats, gloves, scarves, etc., can be had for a song. You may also want to check out local clothing resale shops for used jackets, even suits. If you're looking for fancy stuff, check out formal wear rental shops that may be selling out of date clothes cheaply. In order to get this type of stuff cheap, you need to be persistent.

It's important for the band to work as a team. Pool your resources and plan together to make sure that one members equipment will work well with everyone else's stuff. Take a large portion of the money the band makes and re-invest it into the band. By slowly building up your equipment you may soon be one of those armed to the teeth bands.

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