Guide to getting and playing better gigs


   

Performance Tips

     
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Don't ask for more guitar in the monitors
There are plenty of exceptions to this rule if we're talking about acoustic guitar or direct feeds, but not a full stack in a club. A friend was running sound at a big local club. The band was a full-shred death metal local band with pretentions of getting a contract. They hadn't played out much but wanted to sound cool and professional at what might've been their first big break. Lots of props, lots of amps. As I recall there were at least two or three guitarist with at least full Marshall stacks each, maybe two stacks for the lead. This alone was almost a match for the output of the entire house PA.

Being a nice guy, my friend agreed to mic the guitar amps, not because he thought it would be needed but because the band really thought it was necessary. After all, he could just leave the faders down on those channels… or not plug in the cables at the board… They get onstage as the second or third act of the night so there's no sound check except a few "Check, check" by the lead vocalist. The volume they need is clearly going to be a full "10" from the monitors. As they start up their set with all sorts of feedback issues to contend with, not only does the vocalist need more in the monitors, but the guitarists start saying they can't hear their guitars. "More guitar in the monitors," was the call over and over again.

Call me narrow minded, but if you're standing in front of a hot full stack on "11" in a club and you can't hear it, there's something seriously wrong with you, not the PA. There's was so much coming out of the stage that front of house was almost completely off. There's no way to rescue the sound at that point. Remember, it's the audience that matters. Trust the sound guy or take your own.


Don't touch other people's equipment without asking
Most musicians have spent more time touching the instrument they play than wearing underwear. It's a day in, day out commitment. Grabbing someone's guitar without asking is a violation of personal space. If you don't like that reasoning, here's some GOOD reasons: A guy picks up the electric guitar just dropped on the stage only to find out it was dropped because there's AC going through it. Or how about you make a tweak on the board when the engineer's not watching to make something "sound better", when feedback ensues the engineer can't find the source immediately. Just don't do it. It's rude.


Listen to the sound man
If you're lucky, he's got at least a vague clue how to get a decent sound in the venue. Chances are he's on your side, the better you sound, the better he sounds. Until you piss him off, then all bets are off. He's likely to have some suggestions that will help get the best sound to the audience. Frequently this may include turning down an instrument. Guitarists often won't believe in turning down, thinking their sound will be compromised. But most small and medium venues weren't designed with acoustics in mind. The frequencies that travel well are the low mids and below; the louder you get, the muddier the sound away from the speakers. By paying attention to the sound man, you might be able to avoid the "wall of mud" syndrome. Maybe the stage responds sympathetically if the bass amp is in a certain spot. Maybe the kick drum slaps against the rear wall if pointed in the wrong direction. There's lots of things you can't possibly know if you're onstage. The sound man may be your best friend. Maybe your only friend.


Don't choke the mic unless you really want that sound.
Wrapping your hand around the windshield of the mic is generally a bad thing. Many amateurs do it because they think it looks cool. I've heard some say they do it to hear themselves better. If choking up helps you sound better, you need to get a better monitoring system. What's really happening is mostly bad. You're defeating most of the feedback rejection properties of the microphone, making it hard or impossible for the soundman to maintain the volume - usually he'll have to turn down to avoid ringing or feedback if you're running at more than half volume.


Don't ask the audience if they think the sound is too loud
"Can you hear me there in the back?" Dumb question. Of course we can't hear you, that's why we're standing as far away as possible. Usually this sort of problem pops up from the prima-donna in a band. Or the vocalist… Yes, you should be concerned with your sound, but deal with it professionally. Asking the audience if the lead guitar is too loud just makes you sound whining and petulant. Deal with onstage ego (volume) problems before the gig. Deal with audio problems during the gig by talking with someone who has their hand on a fader. Send a friend into the audience to check the sound if you're worried. The sound guy is doing his best to make you sound good until you piss him off. Turning the audience against him won't do you much good.

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