The New Bands Guide to Getting the Best From Their Live Sound
When you are a new band, playing live is nerve wracking enough without having to worry about the front of house sound. Surely it’s enough to be concerned about whether your finely crafted and highly practised material will stand up to public scrutiny, or if you’ll make a tube of yourself by falling off the stage in front of the gathered mass of friends and family. Very important things both, but there are a number of simple things you can do to help yourselves and the sound engineer ensure you have the best possible sound coming through the PA. With that sorted you can worry less about the sound and more about whether you look like a tool in your new skinny jeans and winkle pickers.
First and most importantly arrive on time, en masse and fully equipped for your sound check. The sound check is as important as the live performance as this is the time the sound engineer will tune the PA system to get the best from your performance. He will tweak the system to suit your style of music, vocals and tone as well as familiarise himself with your set-up and any requirements you may have that are slightly out of the ordinary. It’s no good showing to your first gig five minutes before you are due to go on with an unexpected twelve piece choir and full brass section and expect the engineer to accommodate them and get them sounding their best. No doubt he will do his best, but the sound may not be as good as it could be and your performance may suffer as a result. Arriving on time will allow you to have a relaxed and thorough sound check, to solve any little problems that might come up and for you to familiarise yourselves with the venue and stage layout.
Discuss your sound and how you want to come across to the audience with the sound engineer during your soundcheck. More than likely he will have never have heard you before and so will not know what sort of mix you require, so cannot be expected to magically guess what you want to sound like. You may not be able to get the exact sound your after due to limitations in the PA, poor acoustics in the venue or any number of reasons. But if you are on time, polite and constructive when addressing the engineer he will do his best to get you sounding as good as is possible with the equipment available to him and will more than likely look forward to working with you again.
Another tip is to consider your on-stage amplification purely as monitoring for yourselves and only turn them up loud enough for you to comfortably hear them. You may be used to winding your amps up to eleven in the practice studio, but doing that during a live performance can cause a number of problems. Firstly the sound engineer will have mic’ed the amps up and as such will be controlling they’re sound through the PA. The louder you have your amps on stage, the lower he has to have them through the PA and the less control he has over the overall sound mix, so you have a slightly messy and disjointed sound out front. Secondly, you will have on-stage monitoring so you can hear you vocals, as such the louder you have your amps, the louder the monitors have to be for you to hear yourselves. This increases the risk of feedback and can result in a slightly messy and disjointed sound on stage. So overall that’s a slightly messy and disjointed sound out front and on-stage and with everybody struggling to hear what’s going on everywhere. Not good. Trust the engineer to make the most of your sound out front and leave the volume dial on your amps alone. One way of improve your ability to monitor your amps is by sticking them on crates so they are closer to your ears and not pointing directly at your legs.
The tone of your amps can also prove to be problematic. Excessive treble will carry through the PA and result in a nasty jangly sound. This excessive top end is not always noticed by bands as by the time the sound has reached them from the amp it is ok, but bear in mind the position of the instrument mic. If you listen to your amp from the proximity of the mic, you’ll be surprised by how much more treble is evident. Adjust the settings on the amp from the position of the mic to get the best sound through the PA system.
Bad microphone technique is a common issue and can have a derogatory effect on the production of your vocals. Dynamic unidirectional vocal microphones of the type predominantly used for live vocals have a very specific area in which they pick up sound, usually within a couple of inches of the mic head. This design feature is to reduce the likelihood of other noises being picked up from around the stage helping to produce a cleaner sound and reduced chance of feedback. To get the optimum sound from the mic, try and keep within a couple of inches of the head, sing clearly and don’t move your head excessively when singing. This way, a fairly consistent signal will be picked up by the mic and your vocal won’t appear to be fading in and out. Also, try not to cup your hand over the mic head or hold the mic’ upside down as this will more than likely cause feedback.
Positioning yourself correctly on the stage can have a positive impact on your sound. More than likely you’ll have been trapped three feet apart from each other in a sweaty, rehearsal studio for weeks previously, so when faced with a nice, big stage, the temptation to get as far away from each other as possible is understandable. But try and stay compact on stage, particularly if you are only a small band, as this will not only help you hear each others amps better for monitoring purposes but will also prevent you looking and sounding disjointed and appear more of a cohesive unit.
Lastly, there are certain items that you should always remember as although the engineer may be able to help supply you with them, do not expect him to. There may be a time when he cannot and that may leave you in a pickle.
• Drum mat – a vital addition to your drummer’s gear. Without it the kit will make its way slowly across the stage and into the audience. Lack of a mat usually results in the extensive use of the sound guy’s vital and surprisingly expensive gaffer tape to secure the kick drum.
• Electrical adaptors – ensure you have sufficient extension reels and adaptors to support all you gear. The engineer may only have enough to cover the PA equipment so, again if you really have to plug in all fourteen of you effects pedals make sure you have sufficient power supplies to do so.
• Audio cables and adaptors – make sure you have enough guitar leads (including spares in case of breakdown), as again the engineer may not carry spares. Also if you are plugging in keyboards, click tracks or decks have the correct leads or adaptors to plug them into the PA – usually either ¼ inch jacks or XLR.
• To be nice to the engineer – He will have been there four hours before you mucking around with cables and lugging heavy equipment around to make you sound half decent and will be there two hours after you’ve disappeared down the pub to muck around with cables and lug heavy equipment around, so be nice.
Professional PA hire companies such as Audiorent.co.uk have highly experienced, professional and approachable engineers who will be more than happy to discuss any aspect of your set-up or performance. It is the engineer’s job to get the best from your music and ensure that the audience can focus on your performance rather than any anomalies in the sound, so if you follow the simple tips given above the chances of that are greatly increased.
If you need any information about the hire of PA equipment for your bands live performances or any aspect of PA, lighting, backline or AV hire in Nottingham and throughout the UK, contact Audiorent.co.uk on firstname.lastname@example.org or call us on 07951164194.
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Audiorent.co.uk is a professional PA hire company supplying PA, lighting, backline and AV equipment for all conceivable events.
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