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.