The number one reason people get turned off by live music is that the band is either oblivious, or worse defiantly aware, that the sound is too loud for the room. This is a simple quality control measure that every band needs to address.
The first misconception is to think that the sound guy will “fix” your sound. But anyone that’s been around the block knows that when your amps are too loud you’re going to get fixed alright – as in, shut off. Think about a few things here…
In general, a sound tech isn’t going to be familiar with your music. They won’t know when one guitar is intended to be louder than another or when certain effects come into a song. You, however, should know full well and work your volume and tones effectively to compliment the songs.
Likewise, you should know that sound techs aren’t always paid enough to care whether you sound good. A certain Denver venue that shut down several years ago (rhymed with Wicket), was well known for employing a sound man that consistently walked out to the back dumpster to get stoned…during your performance; same for a couple other deceased venues out in Aurora.
A sound guy might have had a bad day(s) as well. Then factor in if any of your band members are the slightest bit impolite to them. That’s a bad combination. Some simple tips: it’s always a good idea to find out the sound guy or gal’s name, compliment them during the show, and even tip them BEFORE your set.
So hopefully it is obvious that working on dynamics is critical for your live sound. You’ve probably noticed that the best songs on the radio have incredible dynamics. Personnel are not just playing nonstop. The silence between the notes is also just as powerful and necessary as the notes themselves – sometimes more so.
Another thing that will help: you should become an expert at assessing the room you are playing for acoustics. Are the ceilings low? This will affect how sound travels. What is the capacity for the room and what is the current head count at your show? Bodies absorb sound. You could practically run a physics equation to measure the affects here. But keep it simple – under 30 attendees and you’ll certainly want to keep amps down. Don’t even think about heading to 11 until you have reached some critical mass in the room.
Another misconception many novice players hold onto is that they will lose their “tone” if they have to turn down.
But tone comes from the fingers, and from experience and passion, not from a volume knob.
If you’re afraid you’re not getting maximum tube saturation, you’d best be advised to buy a smaller wattage amp that can be cranked. And no need for a full stack when you’re being mic’d. Save that for the outdoor gigs.
The gist of this post is that your band needs to take personal responsibility for your stage volume and be sensitive to your surroundings and the audience. Once you’ve booked a venue, be sure to pre-screen the room to see how other bands fair there. Part of selling the longevity of your band is working hard on the highest quality of live sound.
Please stay tuned for the next segment: having a chat with your band mates.