Study Hall

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Backstage Class: Team Effort

A musician's guide to getting the most from live sound engineers.

Know The Equipment

This may seem basic and obvious but it’s quite important for musicians to be familiar with their own equipment prior to gigging with it. Make sure everything needed is available, along with carrying spares for items such as power leads, signal cables, batteries, strings, etc.

If the backline is being provided, spend a little time in sound check becoming familiar with it, i.e., getting the desired sound from an unfamiliar guitar amplifier. Don’t expect engineers to do this; their job starts when sound comes out of the amp, and what happens before that is the domain of the musician.

I’ve lost count of the times when guitarists have no signal coming out of their amps, so they turn to me, shrug, and expect me to sort it out. All I’ll do is logically trouble shoot the signal path, which is another thing musicians should be able to easily do for themselves.

Remember Where Your Ears Are

In many years of working in live sound, I’ve never come across any guitarists with ears in the back of their knees, so be aware of this when positioning instrument amps on stage. Elevating or tilting an amp so that it points at players’ heads (and thus their ears) can help a great deal in being able to hear themselves.

Not only does this foster playing to full potential, it also assists in keeping the volume level of the amps lower, giving engineers a fighting chance of getting the vocals on top of the mix. I always ask guitarists to set the level of their amps so they can hear themselves clearly above the drum kit and let me do the rest.

If there’s more than one guitar in the band, take a little time to make sure that they’re sonically working well together – too much bottom end can make a mix muddy and too much top end can unleash the loudness wars that typically ensue when two (or more) guitarists fight to hear themselves (which can quickly escalate and obliterate the mix in one fell swoop of collateral damage).

In my experience, very few musicians think about how the sound of their instrument fits together sonically with the rest of the band; they just generate the noise and hope the engineer can make sense of it. But a little time and thought during rehearsals can help a great deal in getting the balance right at the source and thus make the engineer’s job so much easier – and produce an optimum result, which is the main goal.

Putting on a live show is a team effort, so by treating engineers with respect and courtesy, chances are that they’ll treat you likewise and everyone will have a fun, productive and rewarding show.

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