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Bands Who Do Their Own Sound

by Steve Parton   www.partonmusic.com
Also see Prepare Thyself For Thy Soundtech


Iím a sound engineer and Iím a musician. I love doing sound and I love performing - but not at the same time. Only when I have no choice do I venture into the realm of singing, playing guitar and mixing during the same show. Nevertheless, there do exist many bands out there who are quite content to do their own sound. This is particularly common among retro and country bands, and of course, soloists and duos. Tuck Andress used to have volume pedals on the stage for his guitar and for Pattiís voice - he wanted the control.

The fact is that when youíre on stage, you canít accurately tell how it sounds in the audience, especially if you are using monitors. This chapter is geared towards bands playing smaller venues, as stadiums and concert halls sort of require a sound tech to work that big board out there in the audience.

So who is going to do your sound? In my band, the bass player is the appointed knob twister, not just because heís got a great ear, but because he can fret a note with his left hand and simultaneously make a change on the board, if itís so important that we canít wait until the end of the song. For this reason, we keep the console on stage right, for him. Another popular place for the console is by the drum kit, for discretion reasons. One or more front line musicians hanging over a mixer can be very distracting. Not so with a drummer. That just leaves the question of your drummerís ears...

Some cafes or smaller clubs will have one or more of the main speakers set behind the musicians so that the main mix hits the playersí ears on its way out to the audience. This is a good way to monitor your own instruments and hear whatís going out to the room at the same time. This is also a good way to feed back the microphones into the speakers and blow a diaphragm. Pay attention to where you place the speakers relative to the mics. This can work well if youíre careful.

Some soloists are able to get away without monitors at all, but when a second musician or a sequencer is added, the need for monitoring comes into effect.

Seeing a market for a good mixer geared towards soloists and small groups, Mackie introduced the 1202 and 1604 mixers, and were then followed by Soundcraft and Samson. These boards have a couple of auxiliaries which are pre-fader, post-fader or switchable.The early Mackie 1202ís two auxiliaries were both post-fader, so you could listen to the main mix through your monitors, or actually modify the printed circuit board to have one pre-fader aux.

So now your monitors sound great (because you Ďve read chapters 2.4 and 2.5), but it would be nice if the house sounded good as well. There will almost always be a red-face guy named Murray who has been there at the bar drinking since noon, is able to make his car stereo sound great, and has deemed himself worthy of advising you on your mix. If the club owners have bands often, they, as well as the bartenders, may be able to at least tell you whatís too loud or too quiet. Perhaps throw some technical jargon their way to establish their level of knowledge.

One of the biggest mistakes is to set the EQís and levels for the audience while standing on the stage, behind the speakers. If you boost the high-end to the point where you can hear it well from where you are, the audience will be saturated with it, perhaps to the point of pain. The same goes with reverb; if you donít have any in the monitors, youíll overkill the room with it until you can hear it on stage. If you have a guitar amp or percussion on the stage which you can hear just fine because itís beside you, make sure itís loud enough in the house. A good way to keep levels, EQ-ing and reverb under control is to put perhaps the singer (one who just sings) in the audience to listen as each instrument is brought up in the mix. Then the vocals can be added after they have been set "a capellically". If there is no free-standing singer, then take turns stepping out in front, but get out there and listen, or be subject to the opinions of your new friend Murray. In any case, itís important to allot more time than usual for a soundcheck when there isnít a sound tech present. Feedback during a song isnít good, so make sure it is dealt with before the show.

When the performance starts and youíre wondering how it sounds in the audience, you can start by stepping down and standing in front of the main speakers via a wireless system or a long cable (singers watch your microphones in front of the speakers). At least make it look like you are dancing with the audience on the dance floor or something. Even a "Howís it sound out there, Folks?" will usually elicit a constructive response. Other musicians are fairly easy to spot in the audience, and can be approached after a set. At age 17, I saw Boston perform at Coppís Coliseum in Hamilton. The vocalist, Brad Delp, asked my friends and me, (standing front-row centre) how the house sound was.

For things to run smoothly, it helps if everybody in the band learns a bit about sound, or their own sound, anyway - EQ setting, etc. But be careful, too many engineers can spoil the mix.


Steve Parton is a composer, recording artist and music educator residing in Southern Ontario. Steve was a regular contributor to Canada's national music mag Canadian Musician, where this article first appeared.
Visit Steve's music site at www.partonmusic.com

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