Last week we covered Amplifiers, Microphone Technique and Foldback Speakers.
This part of the series is all about: Dealing with Sound Engineers and Dealing with Promoters/Venue Operators and staff
7. Dealing with Sound Engineers
- Do introduce yourself at the right time and only when they’re dealing with your band. Never during another band’s set up or performance time. When your time comes, you would not want the sound engineer’s attention diverted to someone else. Pay the same courtesy to others.
- Do give the engineer a verbal run down of your band line up or better still put it in writing. A basic stage plot showing what equipment you have and where it is placed should be supplied to the sound engineer before the show, not at the show. Particularly if you have any unusual instrumentation. (ie: outside of a standard five piece band. If they are expecting to have rock bands on and you turn up with an orchestra without giving prior notice, don’t be surprised when there isn’t sufficient gear to do the job properly.)
- Do remember that any good engineer will put reverb and/or delay on the vocals. You don’t need to request this. Rookie mistake. (Though personally, I don’t use delay on the vocals if I don’t know the band or the song. Even when you can establish a tempo for the song it can just stick out in the wrong places. I’ve seen some really stupid mistakes made by sound engineers using delay that has ruined the song so I generally only put reverb on the vocal. But I do put reverb on the vocal! And I put what I consider to be the right amount of reverb for the style of the singer, the band and the music. I will do this without needing to be asked.)
- Do talk to the sound engineer before the show if you have an intro CD/ipod that you’d like to use. If it’s on your phone or an iPod, make sure it is cued and ready to go and that you have turned off any self-locking app or whatever to ensure that it will play when it’s supposed to.
- Do check with the engineer first if you plan to use any wireless equipment. Some wireless equipment won’t work properly in all venues. That is just the nature of wireless equipment and can’t be helped. If it doesn’t work, make sure you have a back-up plan that can be quickly implemented. I’ve seen lots of perfectly good wireless gear just decide not to work in some environments and musicians waste far too much of their set up time (and their set!) trying to figure out why. Just have a long lead handy in case it decides not to work.
- Do use your own vocal microphone if you really want to however make sure the quality is equal to or exceeds the one being used by the engineer. Let the engineer know the make and model of the mic and leave it to his discretion as to whether it’s appropriate for the show. And make sure you ask them before unplugging their mic to make sure its channel has been muted. When you have taken their mic out to put in your own, make sure you put it in a safe and easy to find place. I have lost count of the amount of times people have just put it on the ground and it’s been kicked off the stage or have put it somewhere and then it can’t be found after their set and they’ve disappeared.
- Do be clear and concise with your request if you require fold back adjustments either verbally or by using signals and do it nicely. Being rude or demanding through a microphone so that the whole audience can hear that you are not happy with your stage mix is not acceptable. Remember that the engineer is not on stage with you (unless you have an onstage foldback engineer) and they are not a mind reader. Their first priority is to the mix that the audience hears. They rely on you to convey information to them on what you need and there is a right way and a wrong way to do so. One of my pet hates is the drummer who sits down behind his kit and starts hitting his kick drum whilst pointing his finger in the air before you’ve even sound checked anything. He has no idea what the on stage sound will be yet but he’s sure he needs plenty of himself in the foldback. If he does, that’s fine but he might not and he won’t really know until he actually plays the whole kit and sees where the unamplified sound sits.
- Do remember that bad on stage sound is more often the fault of the band’s inexperience than it is the engineer’s. Usually the issue is amplifiers being too loud. When setting up, turn up amplifiers to meet the volume of drums and vocals on stage. There should be little requirement for instruments to be fed to foldback speakers if this is done correctly. (unless the stage is massive.)
- Don’t forget that sound engineers are most likely to be musicians too. (quite often of a very high standard of ability). In some cases they might just know a lot more about music and sound than you do. They are not your “roadie”. They are highly qualified technicians and they deserve to be treated with respect.
- Don’t ask the sound engineer for gaffa tape! If you think you’ll need it, buy your own!
- Do be sure that if you have your own sound engineer that you are bringing along just to mix your band, that they are competent and understand that any damage caused by their negligence will be your band’s responsibility. Make sure you have got the okay from the house engineer for someone else to mix you before the show. Not at the show. Some engineers don’t mind, some hate having to let someone else use their gear. It’s often like having a stranger ask if he can drive your car. If you do have your own engineer, make sure they are aware that they have exactly the same amount of time to set up as the band does. If they want to bring in their own mics, rack gear or whatever, they need to put it in fast. They also need to make sure they return the equipment settings to where they were after they have finished mixing your set.
8. Dealing with Promoters/Venue Operators/Staff
- Do be appreciative of the work they do as it’s not an easy job.
- Don’t hassle them constantly with emails and phone calls about details. Work out what you need to know and try to deal with it all in one piece of correspondence. Remember that this might be a big gig to you but they are doing it every week and dealing with tonnes of bands. They don’t have time to talk to you or return dozens of emails about your one show.
- Do make sure that you deliver if you’re requested to provide something in advance of the gig no matter what it is.
- Don’t EVER cancel a gig or double book your band. The show must go on! Even if the singer is suddenly taken to hospital to have a brain transplant or whatever. Either the guitarist needs to step up to the mic or the band needs to do an instrumental set.
- Don’t complain about venue conditions, restrictions, PA setup or money. There is a correct time and place to voice your concerns and the night of the gig is not the time.
- Do remember that unless you are Lady Gaga, you shouldn’t expect a ‘rider’ and never ask for one. The rider doesn’t really exist anymore. At least not like it used to. Drinks and other courtesies will be offered to you if and when the venue sees fit.
- Do ask before the night of the gig if you can have a merch table. Don’t just expect one to be provided when you have guys turn up with boxes of T-shirts. Also, make sure your merch guys are polite and respectful. It’s your name that will be mud if they act up, are a pain to the staff or get in the way. (and I’ve seen them do all three quite regularly.) Make sure they are packed up as soon as the night is finished. I’ve been in venues where we have had the band and the whole PA packed up before four merch guys have been able to fill six boxes of un-sold T-shirts and load them out to the van. Mostly because they spent too much time chatting to each other and not enough time working in spite of watching everyone else at the venue doing so. Yes, merch is probably your biggest income stream but to the venue operator they are usually a pain. They take up floor space that could just as easily be filled with punters who have paid to be there. The venue makes no money directly from the merch. If anything it takes dollars out of punters pockets that they might have otherwise spent on drinks. So really, you need to consider it a privilege that you can have them there, not a right. (Oh, and no, I don’t have a spare power point on my rack so that your merch guy can plug his iPhone charger in!)
- Do make sure that you aren’t the cause of any complaints being made to the venue. Whether they be noise complaints because you’re too loud or complaints about your audience’s behavior as they walk past the residential area on the way home from the gig. I know that might seem out of your control but a few choice words about respecting the venue’s neighbours over the mic at the end of your set can minimize some of the grief the venue will have to deal with the next day after your show. The venue operator appreciates this kind of thoughtfulness.
- Don’t forget that the music industry is smaller than you think and word gets around about which bands are difficult to work with. Bands with good attitudes and modest musical ability often get more opportunities to play than bands with amazing music and poor manners. More often than you think, venue operators know each other. If you come across as difficult or if something goes missing or gets broken and they suspect you or if you rev up the crowd to do things that they consider contravene their safety rules or anything else they just don’t like you for, be assured they’ll trash you behind your back. Suddenly you just don’t seem to be getting gigs anymore. Now you know why.
- Do remember that you are only “the star” as far as the audience is concerned. To the organizers and staff at the venue, you are a sub-contractor with a job to do. Do it professionally and politely and be aware that everyone else working there is there to do their jobs not because they are fans of your band. They may not have heard of you. They may not even like your music. What they care about is how many heads you bring through the door and how much each of those heads spends when they are there. They are running a business. Contributing to the cultural scene is purely a bi-product for them. They may have started out with that ideal but eventually, like in any business, it comes down to the money vs how much agro is involved in doing what they do. More money and less agro is always going to make for happier venue operators which, in turn, creates more venues and opportunities for bands to play and punters to see live shows. If you’re one of the ones out there complaining that there just don’t seem to be any live music venues anymore, you might now understand why.
Next week, in our last installment of Dos & Don’ts, we will be dealing with: During the Performance and After the Performance