I’ve added a review of Sennheisers G3 wireless range, on the review section of the blog.
I’ve added a page about SPL levels in small venues. It’s triggered by a gig I went to a couple of weeks ago, where the band had their sound system so loud, that my ears were compressing the sound, and were physically hurting – it literally made me start to lose my balance.
I got my SPL meter out on my phone, and the system was delivering an average reading of 112dBA from my listening position, 4 metres back. It was an uncomfortable experience, and got me thinking about what “too loud” means.
The article is here: CLICK
Sometimes, when you’re throwing a band together, you have to improvise.
But it’s fair to say I’ve had my fair share of shockers. This is an amusing look back at “bad sound” situations that I’ve found myself in over the years!! (in the days before Black Market I hasten to add!)
The gig I did without a PA system.
Asked to sling a band together for a party, a group of friends got together and thought we could pull it all off. We learnt some songs – and we played together pretty well! Unfortunately, when it came to the gig, we were let down on the PA system – the system which arrived, was both awful, and didn’t work.
So with a re-jig, we, for some reason, concluded that the only way we were going to get a vocal out, was with a Marshall Valvemaster amp. Well as you can imagine, cranking the gain up on a Lo-Z mic, meant that the vocal was hugely distorted – no compression, no nothing – we would almost have been better off if I’d tried to sing without any re-inforcement.
Coupled with having swine flu on the day, and managing to find the only drummer in the world who froze and couldn’t play on the day – the whole thing was an unmitigating disaster – apart from the crowd, who for some reason, thought it was great!?!
The one where the PA system sat on the floor, outside.
Strangely enough, with the same group of guys, we slung something together for a little pub gig – it was a summer fete, and predictably it was raining.
The singer (I took to the drums for this one) had provided a 200W Yamaha PA system – vastly underpowered for what we needed, and coupled with a distinct lack of stands – the PA system sat on the floor.
Driven to within an inch of its life, and unable to actually produce anything like a full range system – we even tried to add a kick drum into the mix!
The gig was fine – nobody turned up anyway – but it was at that point that I took a genuine interest in using proper, decent quality PA kit.
The one where we blew up the subs:
Again, an underspecced system, run to within an inch of its life – the cone on the subwoofer, outdoors, never really stood a chance. This was after some half decent kit had been invested in – but using it outdoors, was always going to end in disaster. £100 to replace the driver in the end, and a sound which was, at the least, disappointing.
Can you blag it?? Of course there are some things which you can get through without – but there’s really no substitute for a full PA system, properly set up!
- Things to be kept in mind while choosing PA Systems (equategroupltd.wordpress.com)
- Three Major Sound Equipments (joshsound.wordpress.com)
- Getting a good sound, before your sound system (livesoundblog.com)
Stage noise. The ultimate enemy in small venues.
What can you do about it? Little, and everything – as always, it depends on your budget, and the amount of effort you want to put in.
I’m not any kind of expert in this area, but I can direct to several key resources which I have found useful for understanding how to reduce stage noise over the years.
Option 1: Get USED to playing quietly.
It might sound stupid – but one of the key things that any band can do, is to learn to play less loudly! This starts in the rehearsal room. Set yourself up quietly, and gently bring up your levels, until all the instruments are balanced – give your drummer a bench mark – you’ll be amazed how quickly the style of a drummer changes when the rest of the band is playing quietly!
Option 2: In-Ear Monitors
I’ve long been an advocate of using in-ear monitors. They have several advantages – not least the opportunity for each musician to be able to hear exactly what they want to hear, regardless of the sound balance that they can hear from the stage.
There are a number of resources available explaining the merits of systems like this, a lot better than I can.
When looking at resources for things like this, I always find the worship sites useful, as they tend to operate in constrained spaces, which are highly awkward sound wise – much like the common pub and functions band.
This page gives some great explanations of the various merits, uses and proper use of IEM systems.
Option 3: Get used to upsetting audience and playing bad gigs!
That’s the reality of it. If you fail to control your levels on stage, you will force the front of house to be pushed, will damage peoples hearing, and will ultimately get a bad reputation for blowing peoples ears out! Controlling everything from guitar amp levels, to monitor levels, is absolutely crucial to achieving the best live sound possible!
You can have the most expensive, most exciting PA system on the local scene, but if your bands sound before it even gets to the desk is bad, then you’re never going to sound any more than average.
Maybe this process starts at the audition/band development stage – but being in a band with a group of people who are as utterly obsessed with creating a great sound, as you are, definitely helps to drive up the quality of the act over a period of time.
Whether that’s investing in the best equipment that they can afford, or tirelessly tweaking in their own time to get guitar sounds right, or drums tuned, or tweaking the vocal sound – the first hurdle to achieving fantastic live sound in small to medium sized venues, is undoubtedly making it sound right in the rehearsal room.
What sounds great in a bedroom, doesn’t always sound great in the mix – so get it right in the rehearsal room:
One of the Black Market guitarists, has relatively recently invested in an Orange TH30 amplifier, boutique pedals, and a Gibson Les Paul Junior. This combination has the potential to absolutely blow the doors off of most venues, and sounds incredible.
However, if you’re buying a piece of kit as serious as this, it’s worth remembering that it is unlikely that you will ever get the chance to use it at its full volume potential – so you HAVE to take the time to work out how to make the amp sound driven, without blowing away the entire band.
the immediate sound which came out of this combination was big, fat and very warm – it sounded incredible on its own – but it wasn’t until the lower end was rolled off (both on the amp, and on the EQ for front of house) that we started to get the required definition in the guitar section.
It’s imperative to check how the sound works in the WHOLE mix, BEFORE you get to a gig.
But surely the biggest issue, is the level of the drums?
Ah ha! you’ve noticed the elephant in the room then! The drummer – the only instrument which doesn’t have a kill switch!
There are several things you can do here.
If, like us, you have a hugely talented drummer, who exudes energy and is an outstanding player, but who has a tendency to allow that energy to manifest itself as a fairly loud sound at full tilt, then you might want to suggest lighter sticks. Rhys moved to maple sticks, and it did make some difference.
Isolate one of the guitar sounds
One of our biggest challenges used to be hearing ourselves on stage. But with a lack of proper monitoring, and a lack of space to put monitors into anyway, we found ourselves in a self perpetuating situation.
Drums play at a level, which guitars and bass then balance to. Drums realise they can’t hear themselves – so hit the drums harder, so guitarists turn up to balance. So drummer plays even louder! And so, it perpetuates into a mushy mess.
We found that the best way of breaking this cycle, was to isolate the sound of at least one of the guitars. Now guitarists, do NOT like using In-Ear Monitors in my experience – but on this occasion it has become necessary. Our first gig using a single In Ear Monitor for the guitarist, was a bit of a revelation – cleaner sound as it was all controlled by the Front of House, and the band even played tighter, because everyone could hear themselves!!
Remember – Stage noise is the enemy!
The reality of playing on stage in small, medium and large scale environments, is that stage noise is the enemy. In an ideal world, from the perspective of the person mixing the band, none of the instruments on the stage would make any noise that didn’t come out of the Front of House, or the monitoring set up. Stage noise creates muddy sound out front – a fact that is all too easy to overlook – especially when all a musician really wants, is to be able to hear what they’re. Making sure your musicians can hear themselves, is one of the key elements of any live band scenario – and I have no problem admitting that this is an area which we’re really still working on as a band.
What have Black Market done?
From an initial starting point of blasting the living daylights out of everything, we’ve moved from micced cabinets, to DI’s (with cab modelling) on James’ guitar, a DI on Bass, and the lead singer using IEM’s. James also uses IEM’s on occasion. This has had the effect of “breaking the cycle” of noise growth – and has very much brought up the clarity levels of the band out front.
So you look at X-Factor, Britains Got Talent, and The Voice, and think “I’m better than this lot”….
….swiftly followed by the follow up thought of “but I’m not what the judges are looking for” or “I’m scared” or “what a load of hassle for likely no return”….
But the urge to perform on a stage is strong. For many, that means joining a band, and doing it your own way.
So how do you do that?
My advice? Don’t….. It’s endless hours of rehearsing, promoting, driving, setting up, tearing down, losing money, barely covering costs, and countless other bad stuff.
But if you MUST (and for many of us – it’s not a choice – we simply feel incomplete without a stage to perform on) then there are some good starting places to allow you to get together with others who have a strong urge to perform.
Join my band:
No, not Black Market – blimey we have enough trouble fitting on the stage as it is! – www.joinmyband.co.uk – an excellent website, which connects musicians and singers, to form awesome bands. This is how Black Market started.
Often you’ll have to audition, and that means there will be some competition – but go along, showcase your skills, and assess whether you want to be in the band. An audition is much like a job interview – it’s a two way process in the real world (it’s NOT like X-Factor – both parties have to be comfortable).
Facebook has so many uses, and it’s hard to imagine a world without it these days – how did we communicate before??
Anyway – there are various groups and pages within Facebook – some are called “Dep musicians” some are called “singers looking for bands” – have a search around – you might just find that killer band to join!
Go along and see a band you’d like to be like:
Surrounding yourself with “the scene” not only allows you to understand what’s involved, but also allows you to pick up contacts which will come in useful. Most local pub and functions bands, come across each other quite regularly, so networking is key to success. For instance, I know of a top quality covers band looking for a bassist right now, who won’t advertise it widely as they want to work on recommendation – I also know of a “start up” looking for a guitarist – but the opportunities are not advertised. So get out there, and get to know some people! You might even enjoy it!
Start from scratch:
Can’t find the band which fulfils your requirements? Then start your own! Take the initiative, and place the ads on the above sites. You get control, and your pride in what you are doing will also grow.
When auditioning musicians, or bands though, remember that if it sounds crappy in the rehearsal room, it will sound even more crumby at a gig – choose your band wisely, because the old saying of “Sh** in, Sh** out” holds very true with live sound. Get the sound of the band right, and the world is your oyster!