Cover bands…you know the ones. You roll into the bar, there are 5 musicians on stage, and they aren’t half bad. One has a Dime Bag Darrell signature Dean and a half stack, but it’s cool he’s pretty good, the drummer has two bass drums that have the bands goofy logo on the front, the bassist is standing in the corner sprouting apples off their arms, and the person playing keys may have had one lesson at the age of 9. The singer though, she’s beautiful, has the glow of a rock and roll princess from hell, and you’ve heard great things, but right now in this bar that can clearly afford something better judging by their attendance, this band sure as hell isn’t coming back. Why? it seemed like they had it all together, the fun name, the guitarist and singer were great, they played the standards. I’ll tell you why, it sounds terrible. Now don’t get me wrong in reality if you filled the whole bar and covered the tables you’ll probably be asked back, but as you progress as a band there’s much more to consider when putting your production out there, and as much as you don’t want to admit that your garage band that started for fun on the weekends needs the assistance of an audio engineer at front of house, you’re wrong, it does.
The most disappointing thing for me when seeing a really good band is seeing that there is no one to control the front of house. The bassist or singer keeps coming out front to check things and really “nail” the mix, or “set it and forget it” but realistically, your sound is one of the most important things to consider, i mean you bought that $1200 amp and the $1500 Guitar, but why? So you can have them feed back on stage? No, so you could pump them up and rock. The band will never mix it self, no matter how much you tell yourself it sounds fine.
The two most important things to consider in the mix are your vocals and your drums. Vocals seem like they’re an easy thing to nail down and if you know what you’re doing, they are. A common misconception though is more low end in your vocals or more high end, depending on your mixing situation out front, your mix is probably either pushing too much or too little in the wrong frequencies. Your vocals carry great in your low mids or high mids but tackling the variances in these frequencies can get tough when changing from venue to venue, and although the frequency range varies. Another thing to consider with your vocals are dynamics, even the best singers need a little boost and help from the audio engineer at hand. From compression to riding the fader at times, your singer will need help and the same thing can be said for the drums.
Drums are especially hard to mix from onstage, you need to hear everything blend in order to really nail down a solid drum mix. From a punchy low end kick, to a fat snare with a nice crack, you’re not going to gain anything you want without a devoted technician at front of house. A lot of the mix gets washed out from behind the mains and that’s realistically how it should be. If you can hear perfect and it sounds great onstage with out a wedge facing you, it more than likely sounds terrible out front. Being an audio engineer and a musician, please take it from me, you cannot mix from onstage, unless you’re mixing your monitors, and over all your monitors are going to affect your sound out front as well (unless you’re all using in ear monitors which we’ll get to at another point). Yes there are certain things you can feel and a certain commonality you’ll feel when playing all the time, but every venue is different and all factors matter.
Now introducing your A1. One step in the progression of improving your bands sound, professionalism , and eventually the happiness of its performers is hiring an A1 or Front of house engineer, sound guy, audio tech, whatever you may deem them. Let me put this out there, This is no easy task so don’t just hire the first person you find. You want someone who can 1. Help move your system in and out of the venue. 2. Set it up properly and quickly. and 3. Tune your system quickly and properly for optimal audio pleasure from the patrons of your gig. Generally speaking, this is not a one person job in most cases, but can be done in some. In comes the A2 or monitors/grunt/put those damn lights up and get em in a chase. In the professional world of concerts and audio the A2 is generally designated to monitor world but lets face it we’re far from a 50 city stadium tour at the moment. These 2 roles are way more important than you know, applying this to the price you’re charging the client will definitely be significant but it will also improve your image, sound and the respect you’re getting from the clients you’re now gaining. Those random bursts of feedback won’t affect your performance for longer than a second, you’re monitors wont feedback anymore, and those frequencies that cause people to cringe when you hit a certain note will be notched out for clear shimmering bliss out front. Now, even though you know exactly what you’re talking about, they may tell you to turn down your amp, don’t take offense, they’re only there to help you out. After all they wouldn’t be doing what they love if you weren’t doing what you love, and thats playing kick ass music to a bunch of great people. So don’t blow your friends and fans ears or leave them wondering why their ears are ringing three days after they left the bar the night your band played, Hire an A1 and A2 to get the job done right, and make you not sound like total crap.