Today’s Monday Blog post is more of an advice column of sorts. We got a very nice message on Tumblr from whostheastronaut (our pal Johnny Henriquez) asking for some advice for beginning bands. Specifically he asked us for some advice on playing live and recording.
Today I thought it would be a good idea to briefly address one of those two concepts with some basic ideas. I could write a ten page essay on both, so for now I’ll try to leave all you beginning bands with some concepts you can apply in your own musical journeys.
This at your basic level is what a band is most expected to be proficient at. By proficient I mean “You need to not suck live”. Whenever I talk to people about a new band, what seems to pop up the most is “are they good live?”. There are many aspects of your live show that you need to not suck at, so the list can go on, and the list has many remedies pertaining to specific or general concepts about a band’s live show. Below is one concept which I think is good places to start with when it comes to new/beginning bands, and it’s an easy problem to address:
A very basic thing that can ultimately ruin the show for fans, and not to mention, can piss off the sound guy, is your volume! Stage Volume (how loud the band is without any extra PA or miking help) is very important, and can drastically affect your overall show for two big reasons.
1. People may leave your set because of excessively loud stage volume (I have seen this happen at least on four occasions). At the very least it will make your fans and the show goers physically uncomfortable and distract from the overall performance.
2. Nothing pisses people off more than not being able to hear the vocalist, and in some cases, not being able to distinguish what the vocalist is saying. If a band is so loud they overpower the PA itself, you have a big problem. I see this happen all the time.
Needless to say, I think it’s important to have a good stage volume. Many venues are essentially a small/medium sized/huge room with a PA for vocals located on whatever is passing for a stage. This means that the level of your amp is basically how people are going to be able to hear your instruments. There won’t be a PA to help you project each instrument evenly. That means it’s up to you!
How To Fix This Issue
Now what I’m suggesting needs to be viewed through a lens that is appropriate to the context you are in. Each show is so drastically different for each band that you have to roll with the punches sometimes. I’ve played shows where there was just very little I could do for my stage volume and I had to work with that in that context. However I think there is a great way to approach this issue in general.
Practice is a time to well..practice. You shouldn’t JUST be practicing your songs when you get together with your other band members. Volume levels are just as important, and it’s a really good idea to make sure everything is coming out evenly. Once you all find a good volume level (not too loud, but not too quiet) you can tweak it from there. Make sure your lead guitarist is a just a touch above the rhythm guitarist, because you’ll want those leads to shine through. Consider that the bass and drums are rhythmically intertwined (or should be at least) and their levels should play into that. Keep in mind that ultimately vocals are one of the most important parts of your live mix that people are going to want to hear, and the other instruments need to respect that. Think how you want things leveled and do your best to get that right blend in practice before having to deal with it at a stressful show environment.
When you ARE at a show though, things are way different! If you can’t get a sound check (which should address the issue of levels), then you need to get a bit guerilla with all of it. The two things that help us when we play, is to ask a friend in the crowd how things sound. Ask them if something is louder than the other instruments and what they think should come down. Bring your stage volume down a bit and work slowly from there. If you don’t have a pal, or someone who’s ear you trust in the crowd, taking a moment to stand out in the crowd while you run through half a song, can be a great way to make sure things sound even. Preferably, I like to do this right before our set as a quick line-check of sorts. This may make you look goofy for a second, but I guarantee that looking goofy for a minute while you adjust your sound will save you the embarrassment of playing a show that is either two loud or lopsided in levels. Remember: you are not a huge rock star. You don’t have a huge tech crew to make you sound great. YOU are ultimately in charge of how good you sound live and you need to be proactive with that!
Next Monday I’ll address another aspect of live playing for bands! In the mean time, I hope this can help any of you out there who are just beginning to play shows, and can even be a reminder for you seasoned bands that volume should always be kept in check!