Real Live Sound

by David Chislett

Author of '1,2,1,2: A Step By Step Guide To The SA Music Industry', David Chislett offers music industry tips for aspiring bands and musicians...

By now everyone has realised that live performance has returned to being one of the most important aspects of any musical artist’s life. Failing CD sales, an uncertain digital future and a fickle, constantly moving target for an audience has meant that live performance is very, very important.

As a result, being good on stage has also begun to enjoy more attention from artists than it has for some time. You’ve got to be able to move, to put on a show, not just run through your tunes. You need to look good, move well, perform flawlessly and in general, stand out from the crowd of other wannabes that are also competing for that R 500 from the door takings tonight.

One area that you might want to think very hard about is your actual sound. Its one thing making sure you all look good and can groove like Justin Timberlake on MDMA, but what do you SOUND like?

For most music punters, they are half expecting you to sound exactly like you do on record anyway. And here you are, in a tiny club with a second rate PA and some guy you’ve never seen before pushing the buttons on a desk that looks like it came out of the arc. Not ideal. Not going to showcase how good you really are. In short, you’re going to sound like shit.

Most top artists travel with their own sound guy for this reason and this reason alone. You need to sound your best whenever you step on stage. Working with one guy means they can get a feel for everything you do and know exactly how you are supposed to sound. Even on a bad PA with limited gear, someone who knows you is always going to get better sound for you than just some dude. Also they will give a damn, whereas often house engineers don’t.

When you are in a festival environment and the engineer has been on the desk for 8 hours already, you will WANT some fresh ears to make sure you sound just perfect. That poor guy’s ears need a good rest. You will be doing him a favour!

But your own sound guy is worth more than just that. He can help you adjust your on stage sound to get the best from your amps and monitors, not overworking your gear or your voices as a result. Your resident sound guy is the best pre-production resource you have for recordings. You can record and demo all your new material with ease and generally just make sure that every time you step on stage you KNOW how it is going to sound. If you don’t ever have to worry about what you’re going to sound like, then you can really focus on those splits jumps and high notes and getting your eye make-up just right before each show.

A regular sound guy is the difference between weekend warriors and people being serious about making progress. Your bass player or drummer can only set the sound up one way during sound check, they can’t do much about it once the venue is full and the acoustics have changed. And besides, for good sound, outside ears are always the best idea.

The bassist will always put too much bass and the guitarist will always make the guitars too loud. The vocalist, well, they have never known how to do sound, so don’t worry about that! Take your music seriously enough to employ a regular guy thereby giving them the chance to work hard and seriously on what you should sound like. It’s the best answer to sounding great every time you step on stage.

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