Your Band’s Makeover

Why do some bands get lots of gigs, while others not so much?

Ever wonder why some bands get all the gigs they want, while others sit home most weekends? Talent is, of course, a large part of it. But sound system design and setup is also important. As promised, this article will begin the series on how to “Make-Over” your sound system to get the best possible results. We’ll begin with the basic questions and actually redo a hard rock club system so we can hear the results. Let’s start with the fundamentals of the design process.

  • Question # 1:  Who is my desired audience and what are their sonic expectations? All sound systems are not created equal because all venues and audiences are different. What is needed for a heavy metal club verses a Holiday Inn gig is often ignored. The first rule is to check out what’s successful. Go to the clubs you want to play in and check out what kind of systems the repeat bands are using. How loud is it? (be honest) What is the song style: metal, dance, rap, nostalgia, 60’s? Don’t wonder at your lack of gigs if the only clubs you have access to are all head bangers and you want to play Billy Joel. Conversely, you can’t play Metalica at the Sheraton and expect to come back next month. The reality is you have to define your style and pick a sound system that fits.
  • Question # 2:  What is the available equipment?  Most bands are formed with a real mix of equipment. Someone may have the power amps. The Bass player has a few good mikes. The bass bins are on loan from the singer’s brother at college. See what you’ve got and get the specifications on frequency response, power rating etc.. Most of the music stores around here will be happy to copy literature or give you the phone number for the speaker and amplifier manufacturers. Things like frequency dispersion of the cabinets, proper hookup of the amps, and other relevant information are all available for the asking. JBL and ElectroVoice also publish some excellent plans for cabinet design. Please try to support the stores that help you. They’re in business too. Once you know what you’ve got, take a deep breath and proceed to the next step.
  • Question # 3:  What is my upgrade budget?  And so the mighty “Buck” rears it’s ugly head. Some things can’t be done for nothing. You have to think of money spent on upgrades as an investment in future gigs. Is the amount you make on one gig worth putting back into your sound system? I think so, but that opinion varies. There is a mental block about spending money on something that is not your own personal instrument. I know guitar players with walls of guitars worth many thousands of dollars who balk at spending $200 for a microphone on their “amp”. Get with the program guys and gals, the total picture is what the audience hears. They could care less if you have a pre-CBS Fender amp and an original series Les Paul. Do you want to spend Saturday night gazing at your collection, or do you want to be out making music and money?
  • Question #4:  What can I do now for cheap?  Most bands could be helped with a few extra hours of labor spent in the right place. Does anyone in the band do carpentry work? Then those monitor cabinets you need are cheaper than you thought. Can anyone solder? Then spend an evening going over those bad cables so you won’t have another night where the system “cuts-out” in the second set. Most of these fixes cost only your time and labor. And lets face it, if you’re not out playing, you’ve got the time.
  • Question #5: What’s all this got to do with playing in a band?  Playing out is a business whether we like it or not. Gone are the days when the band turned their back on the audience and played for themselves. The more professional you act, the better gigs you’ll get. Believe it.
  • The Coveted Cheap-Trix Award:   I’ve heard of one area drummer who carries a carpet that’s been marked with all his stand positions. He also marks all the cymbal stands and toms with their own settings. Is he crazy? I don’t think so! For the price of a carpet remnant and a magic marker he cut his setup time from one and a half hours of beating and adjusting to a half hour of setting it up and playing. He just spent a night getting everything perfect and then marked it. A very cheap, very smart trick. He gets the coveted Cheap-Trix Award for that one. (Also try marking all your basic amplifier settings as to volume position, tone controls, etc.. This helps especially with roadies who like to tweak.)

    As Published in Free Spirit Magazine March ’92
    by Mike Sokol – All Rights Reserved

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