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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Bad Gig Experience

Every band has bad gigs, from the most neophyte garage band to superstar acts like Coldplay. Recently I was asked to comment on some conditions that can cause a bad gig and offer some solutions. While Coldplay won't run into any of the following anytime soon, chances are that they and every other band came across these challenges at some time in their careers.

Here we go:

1) The band is constantly told, "You're too loud!", something anyone who's ever gigged has experienced.
SOLUTION: Play more dynamically. Chances are that if your audience is complaining about the volume level then you're probably playing at one level throughout every song. If you start playing dynamically then you'll never be perceived as being too loud since your music will breathe volume-wise. It's the constant din that the audience hates. To put dynamics in it's simplest terms, play as loud as you can during the loudest sections of the song, play as soft as you can during the most quiet sections of the song, and back-off on the volume during most sections with vocals (like verses).

2) Getting to a venue and finding out that you're playing in the dark because the lighting is poor or non-existent.
SOLUTION: The best thing is to buy a small lighting rig since they can be had for the price of a small amplifier these days. Lights should be considered an integral part of your show and you should always assume that the lighting will be inadequate to make you look good. Even if the lighting rig at the venue is sufficient, your lights can always be used for additional impact. At the very least, carry some colored gels with you since most lighting gels at venues are usually washed out from constant use. It's amazing how good you can look with a fresh gel.

3) The stage is too big.
SOLUTION: This doesn't sound like a problem on the surface, but I've seen too many bands try to take advantage of a large stage when they're not used to it by setting up too far away from one another and completely loosing their timing and balance. A large stage requires some getting used to and sometimes even some different gear if the monitor system is inadequate. Stay set up as close to one another as you're normally comfortable with if it's your first time on a large stage, and gradually spread out in subsequent gigs (if there are any) as you become familiar with the situation.

4) Stage is too small.
SOLUTION: So you have a 5 piece band but the stage is only big enough for the drummer and maybe the bass player? Not to worry, use the stage as a drum riser and take as much space as you need out onto the dance floor. You'll need it to put on any kind of decent show and being scrunched together on a tiny stage doesn't do anyone any good, if you can help it. This is where having your own lighting rig really helps because it can act as sort of a demarcation line of your "new stage." This only works if you're already pretty good and can get the audience quickly on your side and doesn't work if you're just starting out.

There are some other situations that can ruin a gig, like a soundman's tendency to favor kick and snare over the vocals, or slamming the audience in the eardrum with level, that I will elaborate on down the line.

By the way, there's more about this topic in "How To Make Your Band Sound Great".


Sir Funkytown said...

I play in a large Abba tribute band. We tour all over the continent. The most common complaint we get is that we are too loud. The thing is...we are not too loud. Everyone in the band is a total pro. We got the volume issues sorted out years ago. If we are too loud to the audiance it's the FOH guys fault. They see that we are a rockin' band (I know, Abba? Rockin' ? Trust me!)and they just want to turn us up. As we are usually playing a festival or a resort without an in house system , these hired guys have no accountability when people get pissed about the volume. They usualy just blame it on us. The buyer in almost every case belives them because we are on stage and unable to give them a quick "live sound101" lesson.
All I am saying is , if you are hiring a band , inform yourself about the basics of PA....or have someone there that knows the differance between stage volume and FOH.

Bobby Owsinski said...

Yeah, soundmen can be a real problem sometimes. Perhaps it's time to get a permanent band mixer to eliminate the problem?

Another thing I hate is when the mix is all kick and snare and you can't hear the vocals or distinguish the dialog between songs.


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