Archive for June, 2012
These are some observations that I made while running sound at a small venue that will guide you to being a better live performer. The bands that were great already did all of these things. The bands that “needed work” showed it by not doing them.
First of all, you need to be able to play at three volumes: soft, medium, and hard. I realize that drumming is a very tactile endeavor, very much a “feel” instrument, but it’s crucial to be able to do this. It also makes for a more interesting listening experience if you are able to use hard and soft dynamics in various songs.
Second, look and listen to the room you’re going to be playing and determine which level is appropriate for the room. If it’s small and/or has lots of hard surfaces, use your softer volume. Drums carry extremely well, and depending on the shape and materials in the room, may get naturally amplified. When you hit your kit, listen to sound going out into the room and adjust accordingly.
Conversely, if you’re in a small room that has lots of soft surface that will not be amplifying your hits, then it’s ok to play a little harder, but always keep in mind how close your band mates are having to stand to your kit. If you overplay, your guitarist and or bassist will start cranking up to hear themselves over you, and congratulations, you’ve just started an inter-band volume war. No one wins in this war, especially the audience whom you came to impress. It’s simply just going to sound better if you focus on play tighter and blending well rather than any amount of volume you attempt to put out.
If you are on a stage in a couple-hundred capacity club, then your medium volume comes into play, keeping in mind the room reflections. If you are in a warehouse with lots concrete and corrugated metal, and thus lots of echos and amplification, keep it down so that it sounds pleasant, not overbearing. You can work with the room in order to achieve a pleasant balance. Likewise, if it’s a carpeted room with lots of absorbent surfaces, you can kick it up a notch keeping in mind your band mates’ proximity.
And it goes without saying, in a big room, on a stage with plenty of space, feel free to wail away.
Thirdly, tune your kit! This is one of those things that your average music fan won’t be able to put their finger on, but when they listen to a band where the drums are in tune, and the heads are still “live,” they simply describe it as sounding “better.” The tonality and the overtones of of each drum come through and results in a more defined sound. Since the drums are now more sonically defined to the ear, they are easily distinguishable without increasing any volume, and they sound more melodious and complement the overall band sound better.
Having run sound for a small venue for many months, I made a few general observations that bands should try and adhere to if they are serious about creating a career for themselves in the music industry. These have mostly to do with having a professional attitude, and being someone that people look forward to working with.
1. Play to the room. If you’re in a small room, there is no need to play at stadium level. If you’re in a room with a lot of hard surfaces, like concrete and wood, there is no need to crank to stadium level. Let the PA take care of the level of “loud.” Most places have a PA that is in line with what they feel is an appropriate loudness level for the size of their room; it’s not there for you to see if your amp can “beat it.”
I’ve been shocked more than once by musicians who look like they should be serious professionals and play extremely well, but don’t know to turn down in a small room so they don’t drown out the house PA and thus their singer. I’ve also been equally surprised to see rather green-looking bands that understand this concept and thus sounded great in the room with me doing very little. I could write a whole other article on band members listening to each other and not focusing solely on themselves. But, if someone who doesn’t know your music were to see you for the first time, how are they going to get into it if they can’t understand the singer?
2. Be “Scaleable:” There is also no need to bring your full light show and “stage boxes” when the stage isn’t that big. I’ve seen some bands take up a half of the bar floor space in an effort to put on their “show.” They left the audience nowhere to stand, so people just hung out outside and listened (because you could do that in this venue.) When you are in a small place, play with out all the stage props; if you play well, none of that stuff will matter anyway. When you have plenty of room, sure, bring out the extras and wail away!
3. Be easy to work with: Do not abuse equipment, do not swing microphones around (no matter what your favorite artist did in the video) or “grab and yank” mic stands (loosen what you want to adjust first.) Treat the house equipment as you would your own. Entertainment is probably one of the few industries where a positive impression will work in your favor long after you have created it. Everyone remembers the guys/gals that were accommodating, polite and easy to work with. Your reputation will precede you making people excited about booking you and working with you. Likewise, leaving a negative impression will work against you, and frankly, trying to make a living on the road is hard enough without creating more obstacles, isn’t it?
I just had a revelation, which I feel I had better publish before someone else gets the idea and claims all the glory: A follow-up (I hesitate to use the term “sequel”) to Buckaroo Banzai in the 8th dimension.
First though, what was so great about Buckaroo Banzai to begin with? Well, it pretty much takes some very male underlying characteristics and rolls them into one character or caricature depending on your perspective. He gets to be a rock star, a brain surgeon, scientist, team captain, gets the hot babe etc.
But, the first film failed and I guess they dropped any plans of having a franchise.
However, I was just struck with the idea that this is the perfect character for a steampunk-themed movie, where while messing around with high voltage and trying to bend gravity or something, Banzai and his team are accidentally transported to Victorian times (doesn’t matter if it’s an alternate reality or not) where they encounter the “League of Doom” who is using technology to take over the planet. Banzai’s team must use their knowledge of science to construct and “re” construct their own devices (i.e. their vehicle could be a zepplin that draws its propulsion power from lighting strikes) for thwarting the evil take-over, all while being as cool and well-dressed as possible.
With the right writers, I think it has the potential to be the right combination of smart and derring-do that fans look for in sci fi/adventure movies. What do you think?