Guide to getting and playing better gigs


   

The Soundman

     
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Your band needs a soundman because everything sounds different in front of the speakers. If you have a newly formed band, you'll need to focus your efforts on stage to making the music, not worrying about how it sounds out front. It's true that many experienced bands play without a soundman, but it's often found that they've succeeded in sounding over-produced, flat, and boring. If you're going to play a gig where you're the centre of attention, you need to sound energetic, and dynamic, and different from one song to the next. Your soundman can make that happen.

The soundman is responsible for making the band sound as good as possible to the audience. He uses microphones, a mixer, signal processing electronics, amplifiers, speakers, and many yards of cables, to balance and reinforce the music created on stage so that it sounds like great music to the paying punters. There are several basic skills that involve connecting up all of the equipment and in addition, each piece has it's own set of knobs and controls which need to be learned. The last, but most important, is being able to match the various pieces of the system to the music that you hear. The trick is to know which knob to turn to make it sound better. This is a classic combination of art and technology.

Your soundman can be anyone who you can convince to do the job. Often it's a mate or roadie. The soundman should be considered a member of the band and consequently should attend rehearsals and get paid a share of the money. Just like other musicians, there are good sound guys, bad ones, and style issues. The main requirements are having a good ear, a logical mind (at least mostly), and an ability to explain to musicians with large egos why they have to make a minor adjustment so that they don't sound like crap. The rest is just learning the cause-and-effect of all the knobs and sliders, most of which are either ignored, or set-and-forget.

If you want the job done right, and if you're lucky enough to be playing a place big enough to have a house PA, be sure to bring your own soundman. Let the place know that your sound guy is expected to be at the mix board, and to either run or direct it's operation. The house guy may be cautious, because even an experienced engineer can mess up a system he's not familiar with, but they tend to understand about wanting it to sound good. In fact, most house guys will be impressed that the band has hired their own engineer.


These days, a modest PA should be enough, because if you ever need a bigger system, it will either be a house PA, or you can rent it. Your own PA need only be big enough to run your rehearsals. You'll need mics, cables, a mixer, a stereo graphic EQ, a reverb unit, a 200 watt per channel amplifier, and two medium size full range speakers, and enough cables to hook it all up. Oh yes, and get a snake (a bundled set of mic and line cables). This single item will save you more time and trouble than you'll ever know. For the smallest gigs, use only one speaker for the audience, and use the other as your side-fill monitor. For slightly bigger gigs, use both speakers for the audience, and obtain (buy, borrow, rent) two smaller monitor speakers. Always run your system in a bi-mono arrangement, never stereo, one channel of the amp should be for the audience, and the other is for the monitor. For bigger gigs, use your system for the monitors, and rent a bigger amp and speakers (remember to add that fee to your gig price) for the audience.

Get a mini-speaker and set it on a stand behind the drummer. If it has it's own volume control, great. Otherwise, he can control the level by turning the speaker away as needed. If the drummer sings, place the speaker lower (on a chair) and behind, opposite from the vocal mic.

When setting up the PA first of all, make sure that all the vocal and guitar channels on the mix board have the low EQ turned down as much as possible. If you have a particularly sultry singer, remove as much of the low end as you can without ruining the voice. Be sure that the low-cut option is enabled (if available) on the mix board. If you run the bass, piano, or kick drum, through the PA, leave their low settings close to flat, but remove the lows from any other drum mics. The reason for all of this is that all low sounds are omni-directional, that means that they travel in all directions, including to the rear, equally. The higher the frequency, the more directional it becomes.

Thus the sound from the bass guitar signal gets into every mic on stage, no matter where you put his amp! If the place you're playing has a house PA which normally plays background or dance music, then you may be a victim of the "smiling equalizer". Many times you can look at a graphic equalizer and see that the knobs are arranged like a smile, the lows and highs are turned up, and the midsection is turned down. On an EQ with lots of bands, the top-and bottom-most band may also be down. This is done so that the music can be turned up louder, but not interfere with conversation.

The funky bass may be rattling the windows, but the bartender can still hear your beer order. However, this is YOUR music, and you want it to be heard and listened too, so try and convince the house sound guy to change it to where it's mostly flat (at 0db change) until you get to the far end, where it drops off. In most medium-size places, having a flat EQ from 200-8KHz is plenty. If you're running the bass guitar through the board, then go down to 100Hz on the low end. Be careful, because everything will be louder now.

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