“Just bring your heads and breakables”…….
This post is a different one, it is not focused around pedal building, it is focused around the differences in the sound you get in a rehearsal room and the sound you get at a live venue, and is aimed at bands who are (relatively) new to doing live shows but may also help any band that doesn’t have their own sound technician, road crew and tour bus…
It’s a collection of points, gathered from live sound experience, both my own and others and it will hopefully solve some of your problems you have been having getting that awesome tone you’ve been working on for years to really come across live, because there is a BIG difference between rehearsal and LIVE.
(Pedals may be mentioned at some point).
“All the gear and no idea”
Are you using your own gear? We spend many hours getting the tone of our amps and pedals just right, tweaking the settings by a fraction of a degree to get that perfect crunch/bass/high end mix just right… which isn’t much use if you’re using somebody else’s speaker cabinet and/or amplifier. For many bands it just isn’t practical to take all of your own backline, whether it’s time,cost or a dodgy spinal column. Sharing a drum kit,bass amp and sometimes guitar cabinets with other bands on the bill makes a lot less hassle for all bands concerned and is common practice.
“Check you know how to quickly modify your bass/mids and treble on your amp and your pedals, different cabinet speakers have different frequency responses, as do different venues”
Where are you playing? A small pub/bar? a grungy little venue or a nice big stage? Some of the best venues are the size of a postage stamp, can you get your signature tone at different volumes?
Different frequencies are more prominent at different volumes (it’s a human hearing thing), depending on the venue, you may have to be quieter or louder than you are in practice, quite simply so that the sound technician can get a decent mix and all the instruments can be heard properly. This is a point in which pedals can help, with them you can get thick fuzz and crunch without having to drive your amp to volumes that drown everything else out and ruin your gig.
” It’s a common misunderstanding that an amp has to be at high volumes to produce distortion/overdrive, it doesn’t, the distortion is produced by driving the valves/transistors, most of this occurs in the pre-amp section of the amplifier. A guitar overdrive/fuzz pedal is essentially a pre-amp section in it’s own right, thats why you can control fuzz/distortion/drive separately from the volume, you do need a certain level of volume to produce that nice thick sound, but the two are not totally dependent on each other, amplifiers work on a similar principle,the higher the gain,the less guitar signal it takes to create distortion and drive”
” I heard she was a sound guy”
The sound technician is your friend,remember that.
He or she is not,however, a mind reader. It’s unlikely the sound technician has heard your band before so they don’t actually know exactly what you are supposed to sound like. If you have quite a specific sound (vocals low in the mix, a very prominent guitar or bass) and need that to be taken into account then let the technician know. When it comes to guitar pedals, they can produce very different volume levels, these dynamics are often essential when it comes to your music but if you don’t tell the sound tech that you go from quiet to heavy, it could throw everything out of alignment.
“Most technical sound issues can be discussed and resolved during sound checking, however, sometimes a sound-check is a luxury and you may only get a line-check, if this is the case then make sure you say hello to the sound technician before your set (in fact do it anyway, it will help you stand out in their mind and it really doesn’t hurt to be nice) and let them know (briefly) what you’re after, this person is here to make you sound as good as they can make you sound and it is in their interest as well as yours to know what mix to go for.”
“FYI the PA is 3KW”
When you arrive at a venue, one of the first things you should check out is the PA system, chances are most if not all of your band are going to be going through that PA system via microphones. Now that sounds pretty obvious but there are a few points bands misunderstand when it comes to the PA.
- On-stage sound and front of house sound are DIFFERENT , your guitar may seem quiet coming through the monitors but you could be blasting out the front of the PA system, so don’t go cranking up your volume mid-set, if you’re worried that it’s too quiet, ask the sound tech to turn you up in the monitors or if they can’t do that for whatever reason (monitors are a luxury for some) then just ask them if you should turn up. Failing that, trying moving around the stage a little, you’ll find the overall sound levels change depending where you are on stage.
- Don’t stand 2″ in front of your amplifier, remember that the speaker cabinet is probably sitting around knee/waist level, and you don’t have ears in those parts of your body. The sound is projected outwards in a cone shape,so to hear yourself best, stand at least a few feet in front of the cabinet.
- Ideally the sound technician will have mic’d up all the guitar cabinets so that they can get greater control over the mix and be able to run everything back to you through the monitors. Remember that what comes out of the microphone (and then PA system) is sonically different to what went in, as microphones don’t produce a perfect copy of the sound they are recording so if you are very concerned about the fine details of your guitar sound, invest in a long guitar cable and during sound-check stand in front of the stage where the audience will be (let the technician know this first, again they are here to help but show some courtesy) and adjust your settings (or ask the technician to adjust their settings) accordingly.
- If you are a bass player, chances are you are going to be put through a D.I box, for most this isn’t a problem but if you are using pedals remember that PA systems and mixing desks respond differently than bass amplifiers.It may be a good idea to use a cabinet simulator pedal, or simply ask the technician if they can also mic’ up your bass cabinet.
“The line between disorder and order lies in logistics…” – Sun Tzu
The term ‘logistics’ sounds incredibly boring, but it is essential if you want your audience to really hear how you’re supposed to sound, and you can’t do that if you haven’t first sorted out all the logistical problems that occur when playing at a live venue, here are a few pointers….
- Get a pedal board, make sure every pedal is securely fastened into it so that when you set up all you have to do is take the lid off it and plug it in, because spending five minutes during sound-check time plugging in patch cables and power adapters is an extra five minutes you could have had sound-checking.
- Don’t spend ages tweaking each setting on each your pedals once you are set up, just make only the most necessary changes and only if it is really necessary, don’t go re-arranging your whole guitar tone during the sound-check.
- Bring spare everything, this includes batteries, guitar picks,patch cables, speaker cables,instrument cables and strings. You should have fresh batteries in everything that needs them and if your guitar needs re-stringing, don’t leave it to just before the gig to do so.
- Bring a power extension cable, preferably at least a four-gang one,also consider getting a black one as it is less visible to the audience and does seem to look better (in my opinion). Assuming the venue has power outlets at just the right point on stage is somewhat foolish and having your own extension will let you be anywhere on stage (within reason).
- Make sure you have your own tuner, one in pedal form as these not only let you tune silently but can also act as a kill switch to cut your amp sound quickly,also try to avoid clip-on tuners as even the vibration settings can be interfered with if other instruments are playing loudly at the same time.
- If you can, send a basic tech-spec (a simple document that states the instruments in the band,how many members, what gear you have and what you will need), not all venues ask for these but if they will accept one then send one, it lets the technicians prepare better and may also give you an insight into what your set-up actually is in practical terms.
- Make sure you know what ohm and wattage rating your amp head has and make sure if you are using other people’s cabinets that they are compatible, otherwise you risk damaging your equipment and/or theirs.