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First Gig With a Sound Guy


Joe P

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Folks,

We'll be playing our first gig with a sound guy Saturday. My guitar player sent me this email:

 

"His company is supplying a full sound system and Mics for Saturday. Crown amplifiers, 32 channel mixer etc. All instruments will be miked as well. In addition we can get a recording of the show by piggybacking off the board. Only a 2 channel, left-right mix but should be good so MT, bring your board. All other gear will remain at Joe's. We may get a 3rd monitor for Mark also."

 

This is all fine. During our first incarnation back in the late '80's we did several gigs with sound guys, but I don't remember those days too well... :freak:

 

We've never worked with this guy before, so I'm wondering, what do you do? Do a sound check, set your levels and leave 'em, or can you notch it up for solos? If so, how far do you notch it if your amp is only a monitor? A lot of our stuff is improvised, at least the order of solos and such. We probably won't even use a set list. Guitarist Jim calls 'em out and we play 'em.

 

Any advice would be appreciated. Outdoor gig. Classic rock covers. I have 3 boards going through one amp.

 

Regards,

Joe

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1) Do whatever the sound guy says, and agree with everything he says. He has the power to make you guys sound horrible (as in SUCK) if he wants to, so treat him like he's doing you all a big favor.

 

2) Keep the stage volume very low. The sound guy will bring it up for the house. You won't be able to hear what it sounds like because you'll be on stage, but just have faith in him -- you really have no other choice.

 

3) Mostly after the sound check, you keep your levels where they are (knowing that for some sounds you might have to adjust); you can boost your volume a bit with solos, and you should (as well as other members toning it down when you're soloing, or you toning it down during a guitar solo), but a good sound guy will also bring up the sound for the house when a solo comes.

 

4) have to go with the assumption that this guy knows what he's doing. Talk to audience members during the break and ask how the sound was. If you have friends there, ask if they could hear the solos well. This information is really only good for any future gigs with this sound guy. For this first one, let him do his thing. If he doesn't do anything on the solos, then next time turn up a little more.

 

5) Gotta say this again -- don't make the sound guy mad in any way. Often they deal with musicians who don't treat them well, so he may have a chip on his shoulder about musicians. Let him know right away that he's the master of the sound and that you'll do anything he says to make it sound the best.

 

If he's any good, he'll tell you low stage volume.

Steve (Stevie Ray)

"Do the chickens have large talons?"

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Originally posted by stepay:

Keep the stage volume very low.

If you're making a recording off the board, you'll definitely want to run all the instruments through the board. You'll also want to keep the stage volume low and let the sound guy bring up your volume in the mains.

 

If one of you - let's say the bass player - is louder than necessary, chances are that the sound guy won't turn him up in the mains (because he doesn't need to in order to get a balanced sound).

 

You'll end up with a recording that has no bass.

 

Many/most... OK, all of the recordings I've done lately come from live gigs. The best ones are from gigs where we had a competent sound guy out front and we kept the stage volume low.

 

Oh - and you don't need to suck up to the sound guy. Treat him professionally and you'll be fine.

 

Tom

"Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot remain silent." - Victor Hugo
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More often than not, besides being one of musicians, I prefer to handle the audio engineering--even for live sets. It's not difficult to do, but it does take some planning.

 

Also, I agree with most of Stepay's recommendations, and I'll add a few of my own to the mix.

 

1) I believe you should ALWAYS do a sound check--whether you're going to practice or gig.

 

2) I believe it's critically important for you to have your sound guy there during at least a few of your practices. This is an area where many musicians and people doing sound fall out; treat your sound guy like he's a member of the band--because like it or not he is. Audio engineering is just as much of an art as playing the music, and a great sound guy can make a great band even greater. There's a reason why everybody wants Sparky--and he usually earns more than most of the other musicians (he's also a keyboardist). The more you practice/gig with your sound guy, then the more you two will get used to each other. Then you can get to the point where the sound guy can do stuff like triggering effects--and coordinate with the lights people to sync the lights to the music.

 

3) Check out the following URL, and ask if your sound guy can set up something like this for you. If so, then whether you're practicing, gigging, or setting up to record in a studio, then you'll always be able to hear "more of you", and your sound guy can independently work his magic on the FOH mix.

 

http://www.heartechnologies.com/hookup/Html_Hookup_DAW.htm

 

4) When you do your sound checks, do them on several songs--not necessarily the whole song. The point is this will give your sound guy some ideas of what levels to expect, so that he can make some adjustments on-the-fly if necessary.

 

5) Additionally, when you do your sound checks, have your sound guy record them. Then listen to the recordings together, before practicing/performing. This way you'll get to hear what he and everyone else will hear--exactly how they'll hear it.

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By the way, Stepay was right about the sound guy having the ability to make you sound horrible. I have a little story to tell from personal experience.

 

One time, back in the late 1980s I was doubling as musician (keys, sticks, and horn) and sound guy for a group. After having practiced for a hour or two, we were preparing to record a demo (as a prereq for entering a particular talent competition). It took a while for me to get "decent" levels on the singers, because some of them were clowning around.

 

During the sound check, they weren't singing the way they would while performing. They kept doing annoying things like placing their mics on stands (about 2-3' away) for the sound check, and holding them almost like lollipops while singing for the pre-recording--because everyone wanted "more me". After about 30-45 minutes of that nonsense, I became increasingly frustrated with their lack of cooperation. I could tell they weren't taking the sound checks seriously, and then the worst singer of the group decided to do his "more me" tactics.

 

That was the last straw for me. I thought to myself, "screw it!" They didn't appear to care, so I wouldn't either. I recorded them at those levels, and then I let them hear their demo. Finally, they realized what it was that I had been trying to do (for over an hour by then). Yet, it was too late. I was fed up, and I told them for better or for worse that was their demo.

 

From that point onward, they took my audio engineering work more seriously.

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At least talk to the sound guy and tell him what you expect - I have X number of boards, I need X number of lines to the PA, I solo quite a bit, and oh by the way, what are you drinking?

 

Then buy him a drink.

 

I always kick the volume up a bit for a solo. You can't depend on a mixer who does not intimately know your material to catch everything.

Moe

---

 

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Also keep in mind that you ARE plugging your board(s) into someone else's gear. Just a fiercely as you'll protect your stuff, he's going to take measures to protect his stuff.

 

All it would take is for one or two, inconsiderate idiots--left unchecked--to crank up their volumes to the max on lines on which your sound guy has already increased the gain: they could end up frying that piece of gear. I'm speaking from personal experience. After someone almost fried one of my father's mixers, I became more proactive about protecting the gear. Once or twice, I literally pulled the plug on someone who continued to ignore me when I asked him politely several times to leave the levels alone. I got his attention immediately, and he never ignored me again.

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I agree with Stepay and Mate-stubb -- you shouldn't expect a sound guy that doesn't practice with you to be on the spot for solos. If he's good, and if you miss hitting the volume at the start of a solo, he can bring you up and save it, but better not to rely on it.

 

If he's any good, he'll leave you some headroom. During sound check, play the way you play and make it sound good and don't double-think the sound guy.

 

The big options for you are whether you're sending him a submix or independent feeds for each instrument. That could go either way and it's up to the two of you to decide what you want to do. Many sound guys are happy to get a submix -- less for them to fuss about. Others want individual sends so there are no excuses. As a player, I'll give 'em whatever they want in that respect, since my mixer can do it if they have enough direct boxes.

 

The other think you need to know is whether he's running mono or stereo in the house. Stereo is way the best, but in many cases it's not really practical -- too much of the house is too close to one side or the other. Even in that situation, though, stereo is still good for keyboards: most keyboards sound fine if you're too close to one side, but if you're in the middle and can hear both, even better -- there's a stereo image! So, if he has the capability but says there's no point in that venue, you might try pointing this out.

 

However, in many cases, stereo just isn't practical. For example, an L-shaped bar with stage at the corner: one side hears one column, the other side hears the other, and pretty much nobody hears both. In that case, you're running mono, and you'll want to know whether your sounds work best summed to mono or just feeding left or right side.

 

I like the idea of buying the guy a drink. If he's hired by the venue, there might be a rule against drinking while working. But it can't hurt to offer!

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Actually learjeff, I was the one who recommended practicing with the sound guy. ;)

 

I believe it goes beyond just knowing where the solos are. The sound guy, if he's really good, can also help you to shape your sound. That's part of what makes a band sound unique. After all, most of us musicians have our favorite gear. Looking at posting after posting, I see lots of Yamaha, Roland, Kurzweil, Korg, and other boards out there.

 

Yet, even two people, who play the same piano patch on the same brand and model of keyboard, can be made to sound drastically different. For example, picture the sound of Bob James playing his Rhodes on Anne (the theme from Taxi), the sound of Donald Fagan playing Rhodes on Aja, and the sound of Chick Corea playing Rhodes on 500 Miles High. All three sound very different, and I bet your Rhodes patch on your board doesn't sound like any of theirs (at least by default)--nor does mine.

 

There was a sidebar in the May issue of Keyboard that described how I could get a Rhode patch on my Oasys to sound like Donald Fagan's phased-out Rhodes on Aja. You know I'm going to shamefully steal that and add it to my arsenal. :D My point is that I needed a few pointers from another sound guy to get Donald's sound for that tune, and that's partly what sound shaping is all about. In that case, there wasn't much to it. In other cases, I might need to process my sound a lot more to make it sound like someone else's geeked out rig.

 

Back in the day, it took me several hours to figure out what the Beastie Boys did to get that sound in Paul Revere.

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Some great advice posted here. I was lucky enough to spend a few years touring with one (large) band that employed a soundguy as a member of the band. The difference it made, with him knowing the arrangements and the individual musicians' sounds, was phenomenal. I used minimal onstage volume in those days as I knew everyone else in the band would and the monitors would provide a decent sound.

 

Everyone on every instrument varies dynamics when they play . So keep the basic levels the same but tweak them a little depending on the arrangements.

 

You have the right attitude towards sound checks, every moment at these is precious.

 

Just avoid working with sound guys that drink too much! ;) -from personal experience

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The only advice I would add is don't be timid when it comes to your monitor mix. The sound guy isn't a mind reader. If you need to hear more or less of something, don't be afraid to speak up and let the guy know. For the most part, you can take care of this during soundcheck, but even if it's in the middle of a song during your set, let the sound guy know what you want. Give him a little wave or something to get his attention, point at the instrument you want turned up or down, then give him a sign (like a thumb pointing up or down) to indicate the direction you want him to turn the volume. After all, that's what he's there for.
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Thanks to all for the great advice and insight. One thing that occurred to me is that the monitor mix should be a lower volume mix of the main mix, correct? And also (in our case), since the entire mix will come from mic'd amps, then the stage sound will also represent the main mix, correct? So if I feel I have to turn up to be heard over the stage mix for a solo, or turn down for a soft part, I should be confident that this will be reflected in the main mix (with no intervention from the sound guy). Am I in the ballpark? :confused::)

 

Regards,

Joe

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In theory, that should be the case, but in reality what you're hearing on stage isn't an accurate reflection of what the audience is hearing. There are many variables that go into mixing sound, and those variables are different for the stage than they are for the house. For instance, you might not be able to hear yourself onstage while the audience is hearing you loud and clear. If everyone's adjusting their volume onstage, suddenly the house mix goes out of whack, and the sound guy's life becomes a living hell. I would refrain from manually adjusting your volume for this very reason. If there's something you need to hear more or less of onstage, let the the sound guy take care of it in your monitor mix as per my previous post.
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Play like you normally play. Same volume, same setup, everything. YOU need to feel comfortable on stage. It's the soundman's job to make you sound good. Make sure they know the requirements of your band- how many mics you need for vocals, what your instrumentation is so theny know how many channels you need, now many direct lines, etc. Some companies will ask you for a stage plot too. If the soundman is the type who will be an a-hole and make you sound bad because he doesn't like something you said, then he won't be in business long. Word gets around with stuff like that. There are plenty of good companies and good soundmen out there, you don't need to deal with egotism from the sound guy.

 

Most professional soundmen are not going to come to practice unless you pay them. They are busy working. If you have one guy who you use all the time maybe you can do that. If you are going on a tour with a single sound company and are doing dress rehearsals, then you can get them to come to the sound stage and work with you I'm sure. We used to work with one single guy but never rehearsed with him. By the 2nd gig he knew the solos spots and hit them all. When doing a gig with some unknown sound company, you have to expect that they are professional enough to know their gear and have enough experience with mixing to get levels right. Yes, they might miss the beginning of a solo. That stuff happens. If they aren't professional enough to get the mix right, then you simply don't use them again.

 

As far as monitor mixes go- it should be comfortable for you. If you are so loud on stage that the monitors have to be turned up so loud that it affects the front of the house mix, then you need to adjust your volume. Likewise- when you turn up for a solo, it should go into the PA accordingly. He may even have to turn you down if you turn up too much on stage. If you turn down too much for a soft part, then he may need to bring you up in the mix a bit. Remember what you are hearing from your corner of the stage will be completely different than what the mix will be out front.

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Depending the number of monitors and the equipment available; each musician's monitors can guive them whatever sound balance/mix they require. If I get this priviledge I usally need more lead vocals and more of myself (I play fretless bass so I need to hear myself to play in tune). Sometimes the monitor mix might reflect the main mix but sometimes not.
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When we run a sound guy, I have to set up the outputs from my board a little differently. I normally run from the main outs to my rack for on stage. When we run with a sound guy, I'll run my on stage from the control room outs, and send the main outs to the board. This gives me full control over the on stage, while giving seperate control to the sound guy. Then. I'll show him which fader controls the feed to him, so if he needs to adjust how much signal he gets, he can.

 

There's been a lot a good advice so far. One thing to keep in mind, also. When you first test your instrument/voice individually, do so at normal levels like you would be in performance. Many times the first thing that is done is the pad is set to prevent clipping. If you play too soft during sound check, he'll set this accordingly, then when the performance starts, he'll have to scramble to reset the pads, taking time away from dialing you in. Plus, that'll serve to piss him off, and as was stated, a pissed off sound guy can make you sound like hell.

 

We've been playing together for so long, that once we get the mix together, the sound guy really doesn't need to do much. We'll control our levels so the mix stays right.

 

The advice about stage level is a good one. I remember this club where the bands would play so loud, that the sound guy turned the mains down to the point of inaudible, and the band was still too loud. You don't want that. Plus, turning down is a good thing and can help protect your ears.

"In the beginning, Adam had the blues, 'cause he was lonesome.

So God helped him and created woman.

 

Now everybody's got the blues."

 

Willie Dixon

 

 

 

 

 

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Mr. Nightime,

You bring up a good point: allowing the sound guy to have an isolated signal. This, I believe, can be done from my amp (KC350) which has a 1/4" line out. So when I turn up my boards, I would only effect the stage mix, BUT, he would have to know when to adjust for solos etc. Maybe that's why he wants to use mics instead, since he don't know us or our material from Adam, and to a certain extent we can control the mix (for solos etc.) based on what we hear on stage. Make sense? (Apologies for belaboring what is probably fundamental for a lot of Forum members...)

Regards,

Joe

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When I make a change to my onstage level in performance, it's done from the keyboard's volume control. The signal I send to the mains is the mix of my boards. The seperate control just gives him a place to change the mix signal, not an individual board's level. That way if I find I have to turn up or (what a concept :D ) turn down, I can without affecting his signal.

 

Coming from the line out on your amp sends him the mix in much the same way. When you boost for a solo, it'll boost to the FOH as well, so he doesn't have to be all that well versed on where you need the extra oomph. That's your job, as it should be.

 

Coming off the 1/4" jack has one big advantage. Signal Isolation. Coming from the jack gives the sound guy a clean signal from the keys, without the bleedover from the other instruments that you'd get with a mike. The more isolated each channel, and the less bleedover, the easier it will be to get the mix. You won't have to worry about the guitar coming up in the mix when you boost the keys like you might when miked. The only instument mike I ever use is the one built into my Pro3TM.

"In the beginning, Adam had the blues, 'cause he was lonesome.

So God helped him and created woman.

 

Now everybody's got the blues."

 

Willie Dixon

 

 

 

 

 

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Originally posted by Joe P:

(Apologies for belaboring what is probably fundamental for a lot of Forum members...)

Regards,

Joe

No worries. All of us were there at one time, and we don't mind helping out one of our own.

:wave:

"In the beginning, Adam had the blues, 'cause he was lonesome.

So God helped him and created woman.

 

Now everybody's got the blues."

 

Willie Dixon

 

 

 

 

 

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I think you'll find that the term "Miked" in this context is a generality, stating that everyone will be running into the mains. Any good sound guy will want to run as many instruments direct as possible.

"In the beginning, Adam had the blues, 'cause he was lonesome.

So God helped him and created woman.

 

Now everybody's got the blues."

 

Willie Dixon

 

 

 

 

 

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Stepay, pretty easy to agree with you since you posted first! :)

 

Seriously, your advice was dead-on, especially about trying to establish an instant rapport with the sound guy. Absolutely essential. I've often found sound guys feel under-appreciated and taken for granted. And keyboard players often need more "help" from the sound guy than those bastard guitarists who drown us out! :rolleyes:

 

As for solos, since we're talking about a first-time gig with the sound guy, I'd definitely turn up for solos. While there's no doubt a truly good sound guy will make it a point to know the music and anticipate solos, changes, etc., that's often not the case -- even for guys who've mixed you for a while.

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Originally posted by Phil W:

Depending the number of monitors and the equipment available; each musician's monitors can guive them whatever sound balance/mix they require. If I get this priviledge I usally need more lead vocals and more of myself (I play fretless bass so I need to hear myself to play in tune). Sometimes the monitor mix might reflect the main mix but sometimes not.

The monitor mix is hardly ever the same as the FOH mix.

 

I've got a powered Hot Spot monitor, and I'll run off the board for my monitor mix. Since I run an onstage amp, and can hear the onstage instrument balance, all I run through my monitor is vocals. For the most part, that's all we run through the other monitor mix as well.

 

If you've got a seperate monitor mix for yourself, great. But don't expect too much control. It can be very difficult to get the monitors right, even when there's some running just the monitors.

"In the beginning, Adam had the blues, 'cause he was lonesome.

So God helped him and created woman.

 

Now everybody's got the blues."

 

Willie Dixon

 

 

 

 

 

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When I show up for sound check, I always go around and introduce myself to the monitor mixer and FOH mixer and ask them if they have experience doing sound for keyboards, if they're in mono or stereo and can they give me my own monitor mix.

 

If I know them or I make a judgement call that they know what they're doing, I run all of my keyboards direct into the PA and rely on my monitor mix.

 

If they're hesitant, unsure or rock 'n roll guitar guys, I set-up all of my gear, mix myself down to one mono or two stereo DIs and send that to the board. If things go badly (and they can) at least then I'll have my own on-stage amplification.

 

I treat sound guys as well as they treat me. I always learn their names and call them by name as a sign of respect. Most take a lot of pride in their craft and you should acknowledge them - by name - at the end of the show if they do a good job for you. They will remember you and treat you like a king the next time you gig together.

Everybody's got to believe in something. I believe I'll have another beer. W. C. Fields
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On Monday I'll post and let y'all know how the gig went.

One of the best gigs we ever played. The guy took a direct line out from my amp. We set the instrument levels individually, then did two songs as sound check. Never touched my levels again. I found it relieving to not have to worry about volume. The stage mix was perfect, and at a lower volume than most of our rehearsals. There must have been 8 to 10 monitors on stage. The sound system was enormous. Each front corner of the stage had two gigantic speakers mounted on top of 12 foot stanchions. The speakers were raised and lowered with winches. We were outdoors and my wife said she could hear us at home - about 5 miles away. :eek: Couple thousand people there, but all spread out. We got raves on how we sounded. Raves! That gig was 1 - 4, then breakdown and back to my house to rest for our night gig at the bar. Place was packed and the crowd was going nuts. They loved us. Then after that gig, me and Guitarist went back to my house, him for some single malt, me Bud Lights. Pumped up on adrenaline and coffee, we watched Allman Bros. DVDS until about 4:30. Then up at 9 to watch the boy while my wife went to her dress rehearsal. Felt like Tom after his frat gig!

 

Two great gigs in one great day. Thanks to all for the sound man advice, it was a great help and the gig could not have gone better.

 

:thu:

 

Regards,

Joe

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