How To Improve Your Live Shows!
Whether you're looking for some tips and info on what to expect for your first show, or maybe you want to improve how you sound live so you're not mad at the sound guy: i.e. "This sound guy didn't bring the vocals up at all!", this is for you.
For you veterans you can skip this part, it's for the first timers. Some things might seem to be missing, but I cover information that apply to both parties later on so keep reading.
Hopefully you have rehearsed your set, and confident in what you're playing. If you're not sure what to play for your first show, honestly covers are your safest bet. If you have an original go for it, but covers let you get a better feel for how the show went on your end.
Here are some FAQ you might have, and I have answers to.
-Do I need my own mic(s)?
A: No, most venues have their own mics from vocal to instrument mics, including mics for the drums.
-What's "Back line"?
A: Basically they have their own drums and amps for you to use, just bring your instruments. Though if you have your own snare, pedals or ride you JUST have to bring, that's not an issue. Make sure to ask how many guitar amps they have if not specified if you have 2+ guitarist. Sometimes they only have one guitar amp, so bring a small one with you.*
-I have a Synth/Keyboard/Acoustic guitar, with no amp, how do they get the sound out of the PA?
A: As long as you have an output, they can either run it through a DI (Make sure you have your own instrument cables) or for acoustic guitars that don't have an out, will be mic'd up, just make sure you don't move around to much when you play.
-My kick drum doesn't have a front hole, will it still be mic'd/ should I get one put in?
A: Though it will make your kick sound better in the subs to have a port hole, you DON'T NEED one, but is always good to have for better low end punch.
-What do I need to bring in general?
A: Your instruments, drums, sticks, instrument cables, picks, amps, strings, and for godsakes a TUNER! Don't be that band that forgets things and has to ask the sound guy/other bands for equipment. Be prepared.
-How will I hear myself and the rest of the band?
A: Monitor speakers that face you on stage. When you do a sound check before your set, the sound guy will ask who wants to hear more what, so pay attention at that point, or you'll already piss off the guy who holds some of your fate.
Ok, now for general sound tips that will make you stick out beyond the rest! So here's a list of things that bands need to do/not do to make them stick out as professionals.
Knowing how to sound check like real people.
Whether you're metal, indie rock, or even country, you need to know how to have good stage levels.
Drummers: When asked to hit your drums for S.C., hit them as hard as you will be playing/ harder. If you give crappy piss poor hits for sound check, then when it’s time to play you'll blow everyone ears because you were being a f**k. DON'T BE THAT GUY.
Guitarist and bass players (mainly guitarist): Since none of you are playing an arena anytime soon, get a small rig that doesn't need to be turned up. i.e. a tube amps. Keep the level down and let the monitor do its job. The main reason everyone says, "I couldn't hear your singer." is because your amp is so loud it over powers Vocals. No the sound guy won't turn the singer up, because he has no more head room because you decided to think it’s all about you. You don't need a 500+watt amp for a stage no larger than your bed room, it’s just not needed. You need to let that one go. And it's easy to load in a smaller amp opposed to a big ol' rig!
Singers: For the love of god don't cup the mic. Also, don't give b.s. "check, check, check one two…" Get on that thing and sing! This goes back to the drummer thing, if you're quiet for checking and then it’s time to play, and you go to whale on the mic, it'll blow everyone’s ears, and everyone hates you. No not in the cool punk rock way where you want everyone to hate you and you don't care about nothin’.
Everyone else, basically what I mentioned to singers and drummers, give good strong levels that you'll be hitting/playing unless you have an amp. Play hard, but keep your amp down.
When you want more of something in the monitor have that thing play, and with your finger point up for more, or down for less. Sometimes as they play, also play to compare how it will sound. Sometimes when you want more of something, you really just need less of something else. i.e.: Instead of asking for more guitar, ask for less vocal. It's harder to do louder than bands think when it comes to monitors, but sound guys can do less volume for days.
Don't be a male genital.
In general, but especially to the sound guy. Get in cool with them and they'll put a little more time into making you sound better. If you do the things listed above correctly you've already made their job easier, so before you go on stage, introduce yourself when they're not busy and be polite. Sometimes they can be real D bags, but then you make their job easy and you'll notice their mood change after your set.
To other bands too. If you don't like their style of music, you can still be nice to them. If they're nice back, you made a friend! If they're goat dicks then you know who to not play shows with.
Under is better than over.
If you have a 30 minute set and try to play over that, congrats everyone hates you. We got 6 bands we want to keep on schedule and now you fucked it up. If you played 25 minutes and you have one more song, but it's a 10 minute power ballad, tough titties, play a 4 minute song or say good night. Venues will notice little things like that and can affect if they want you back.
Don't kick your drums over
Best way to get you face slapped in by trying to be a rock star and knock things over. Especially when someone else's crap, is on/by your crap.
You be the host
Some venues will notice this, basically the less they have to do to make you "happy" and the more you do to please them, looks really good on your end and might pay off in the future. This industry is a word of mouth world, and if someone hears you don't like to follow rule #2, then other venues might not want you there.
AVOID PAY TO PLAY (Less of a sound thing, but I had to put it in here)
At first they're ok, one or two, here or there starting out, but after that you don't need them. Basically is some company who may promise these "amazing" things if you sell X amount of tickets, but really they don't care about you. Small venues tend to host them, but you can avoid them if you see the signs: Sell x amount of tickets for this much money and you get to advance in some BS competition for some super keen prize, and if you don't sell X amount you can't even play or you owe X amount of cash. Also, oddly high ticket prices that are greater than or equal to larger venue ticket prices. They're after your cash, which is ironic because musicians are always broke.
Did I mention you don't need a huge amp?…
I really can't stress this. You can have the loudest amp and still suck. Just saying… Also, let the PA and sound guy do their thing. Get a small rig, and don't over power everyone. There are monitors and PA speakers for a reason. And if you're thinking, "But tube amps have a better tone." then you need to sit down and remember that, NO ONE CARES ABOUT TONES AND THE ONLY PERSON WHO DOES IS YOU AND OTHER GUITARIST AND WE ALL KNOW THEY DON'T LIKE YOUR TONE BECAUSE ITS NOT THEIRS. Mkay? When you're playing Red Rocks, oh hell yeah you bring a tube amp, but if you're reading this, I'm sure your next venue isn't that, so get something that makes sense, and focus on being able to sound good through a 30 watt amp.
Understand the sound guys.
Their first goal is to not blow speakers and amps. Not guitar amps, but the amps that run the PA and monitors. When bands want more this, and more that, it adds a bigger pull on the amps and can cause them to blow or blow a speaker cone. So if you ask for more X in your monitor and they seem hesitant, then don't be a Diva and live with it. It could be worse you can have no monitors and trust me that sucks.
That is my basic guide to improve your band at your next gig. If you have more live sound questions, I'd love to hear them and I'll address them in the next segment. Look for my next blog post about tips and tricks for being in a studio.