Had to start this week off with that one. No matter how many times I see it, I still laugh.
But on to business…
Last week in our Dos and Don’ts series we covered Your Equipment, Arriving at the Venue and Sound check
This week is: Amplifiers, Microphone Technique and Foldback Speakers
- Do face amplifiers inward to the band not toward the vocal microphones. I know “the backline” tends to look cool but it’s not as practical as it may seem. If your amp faces the audience, the guy on the other side of the stage won’t be able to hear it. It is in fact better to angle amps in towards the band as much as possible so that they evenly distribute the sound to the band.
- Do remember that drums and vocals are the featured sounds in the mix. Guitar, bass & keyboard levels should come up to meet their levels but not override them. In a lot of small to medium sized venues there is no point in miking cymbals. They will be plenty loud enough on their own and will usually represent the loudest sound on stage. An engineer will usually mix with this in mind and will be reinforcing the rest of the band to fit to the cymbals as his upper volume level. If your amp is louder than the cymbals, it is too loud.
- Do separate guitar amplifiers as much as possible and balance their sounds. I don’t just mean their physical position on stage but their actual tone. If you have two guitarists in the band and their amps sound exactly the same (and are playing the same things, which I often see happen.) it makes the overall tone rather flat and boring and no-one knows which guitarist is playing what. Have some individuality in your sound.
- Don’t turn your amplifiers up just because you’re playing at a live venue. Having said that, yes, different venues may mean different settings with volume and equalisation. Most of the time though, if it was loud enough at rehearsal, it’s probably loud enough for the gig.
- Do remember that louder amps on stage mean a harder job for the audio engineer and your vocalist. It doesn’t need to be so loud that the engineer can’t control it. If there’s a mic on the cabinet, it will be going through the front of house speakers so it only needs to be loud enough for you to hear it on stage. Otherwise, the engineer loses control of the balance of the mix and has no option but to turn everything else up. That might sound like a cool idea to you but it isn’t! It will usually make the mix fairly awful, cause lots of feedback and make the audience uncomfortable.
- Do make sure your effects pedal settings don’t vary too greatly. So many times I mix guitarists who have their clean channel set way louder than their distorted channel. Just when they want that crunch to drive the chorus of a song they all but disappear until the engineer realizes what’s going on and then turns them up. Next thing you know they go back to the clean channel and almost blow everyone’s ear drums. The engineer then has to quickly turn it down again and then ride the volume fader for the whole set.
- Do set your lead channel a little bit louder than your rhythm channel. If you’re planning to solo, it shouldn’t be expected that the engineer turns you up. If he doesn’t know the band or the songs, how is he expected to know when a solo is coming? Don’t overdo it but make sure that your solos are going to cut through the mix from the first note you play.
5. Microphone Technique
- Don’t point microphones directly at foldback speakers or in front of front of house speakers. This will cause feedback loops. (feedback loops are when the microphone is trying to amplify its own signal. It’s kind of a paradox. Mic feeds speaker – speaker spills into mic and then gets re-amplified. This happens at great speed and ultimately sends a screaming signal through the speakers that can damage them and the audience’s ears. It’s very unpleasant and should be avoided at all costs.)
- Don’t hold a microphone by putting your hand around the microphone “ball”. This limits the microphone’s capacity to get clear signal and can cause feedback. It may look cool but it will sound horrible as you are singing into your fist, not the microphone. Yes, I know all the “rock stars” are doing it.. sigh.. They’re doing it wrong!
- Do make sure the microphone is close to your mouth and sing directly into it. Correct technique is for your lip to be almost touching the grill. Being too far away will result in you not being heard and/or the microphone gain needing to be turned up which may result in feedback as well.
- Don’t ever swing a microphone around on its lead. This is dangerous and damages equipment.
- Don’t ever throw or drop a microphone. Ever!
- Don’t test a microphone is on by smacking it with your hand. Either speak into it or tap it gently with one finger.
- Do adjust microphone stands using the adjustment screws. Don’t just pull them up or down as this will damage them.
- Don’t wrap microphone leads tightly around your hand. It damages the cable. Once again, it may look rock but leads are expensive and when they break because you’ve put too much strain on them, suddenly the show stops.
6. Foldback Speakers
- Do be aware that monitors (foldback speakers) are for vocals first, other instruments second. A well set up band will not require anything but vocals and keyboard/triggers/acoustic guitar in their foldback on most stages. (unless we’re talking really big stages.)
- Don’t place song lists on top of monitor wedges. This is such a classic mistake that makes me laugh. I’ve seen people tape song lists directly over the horn of a speaker and then complain that they can’t hear themselves. I reach the stage and tear off the piece of A4 they gaffa taped to the speaker and ‘hey presto’… There’s little else that can make you look more like an amateur.
- Don’t place drinks too close to the monitor wedges or anywhere they are likely to be knocked over and cause damage. And they will get knocked over. Don’t think that they won’t.
- Don’t think that there is an unlimited amount of volume you can get out of the monitors. Even with really powerful speakers and well set EQ, there is only so much volume that can be put through them before feedback loops occur. This depends on way too many factors to actually go into here but, suffice it to say, when the engineer says he can’t give you any more, then he can’t. If you still can’t hear yourself it will no doubt be because the rest of the band are too loud or you aren’t close enough to the mic.
- Do remember that a sound check in an empty room will not sound like it will in a full one. The audience will absorb a lot of the sound making it seem quieter on stage when the show starts. The engineer (in most cases) will have taken this into account when he was sound checking you. Don’t panic if your girlfriend is standing out front of the stage and says “it doesn’t sound very good.” It can happen that way.
Next week we’ll cover: Dealing with Sound Engineers and Dealing with Promoters/Venue Operators