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Ask Jonah: Words To Live By When Approaching That First Show

Preparing for the pre-show chaos by developing a logical game plan and workflow.

By Jonah Altrove February 5, 2019

Image courtesy of StockSnap

Hey Jonah:

I’ve been helping out with shows at my college, but soon I’m going to be running sound on my own for a friend’s band for the first time. Any advice?
– Anonymous

Running your first show is sort of like the difference between a fire drill and an actual fire. You can practice for it all you want, but there’s no way to prepare for the pre-show chaos other than having done it over and over. You’re going to feel a bit of anxiety, and that’s expected, so don’t let it throw you off.

It’s easier to keep focus if you have a game plan – “First I’m going to do ‘x’, then I’m going to do ‘y’,” and stick to it. I recommend using the following workflow to prevent overlooking things: Place, then power and patch all outputs (mains, monitors, etc.), check them with music or pink noise, and then start to place and patch inputs (microphones, DIs, etc). This prevents you from burning time fixing the second tom channel if there are serious issues with mains or monitors.

It also helps a lot to check out the venue ahead of time to get a better understanding of what you’re walking into. Having a mental image of the layout, plus basic information like what type of console will be on hand, how much AC power is available, and even where you can park your car can all go a long way towards feeling mentally prepared for a gig.

Since show day is always going to be busy, try to do as much ahead of time as possible. Print up the stage plot and input list even if you know it by heart, and bring two copies with you. Further, if you can walk in the door with a set list and/or a console show file, all the better.

Buy a roll of spike tape for a couple of dollars as well as a pack of Sharpies and get in the habit of labeling everything – console faders, stage boxes, DIs, both ends of every cable (Figure 1). This seems like a real drag until something unexpected happens during a show and you need to trace a cable.

Precision during setup helps guarantee speed and accuracy during the show. It can be a bit pricey but having a roll of gaff tape on hand is encouraged in order to tape down any cables on stage that can (and thus likely will) be a hazard. And remember that stages tend to be dark, especially if you’re trying to trace cables, so have a flashlight handy.

In small rooms, stage sound and monitor bleed can be another tough challenge, so I recommend starting with just vocals in the mains and adding the other instruments as needed to fill out the mix. Don’t feel bad about having a snare or bass fader at -35 dB if you don’t need any more than that!

Make sure you’re communicating with the band – find out how they’re feeling, if they’re hearing everything OK – and be engaged with them via eye contact during the performance.

Try not to be staring at your smartphone or digging around in the console’s menus searching for the perfect vintage reverb emulation.

Mistakes happen – it’s part of the process – so just accept them, learn from them, and don’t let them throw you off your game. Have fun!

Send Jonah your questions at [email protected].

About Jonah

Jonah Altrove
Jonah Altrove

Veteran Live Audio Professional
Jonah Altrove is a veteran live audio professional on a constant quest to discover more about the craft. Send him your "Ask Jonah" questions at [email protected]
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