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LAB Best Threads: Audio Veterans Share Their “First Gig” Stories

"I just started learning how to run sound from a tech I originally met through a local band called Sweaty Bob..."

Editor’s Note: Here’s a fun and interesting thread from the PSW Live Audio Board (LAB) forums. Enjoy.

Posted by Mike
Just wondered if anyone wanted to divulge their first sound gig stories? How it went, how they got the gig,where it was, etc. Everyone started somewhere!

Cheers
Mike

Reply by Tim
My first gig (without being paid) was for a track and field event. Because I played in a band and was a member of the organizing team, they asked me to find a band to play, hire a PA, and work with it. They gave me a budget of 750 dollars for everything (band, PA, organizing,…). At that moment I knew almost nothing about PAs as I just came out of recording school (what a different world that is). I had to bargain over the the band and the rented PA and reduced the renting price by half (there still are understanding sound companies out there!).

Than came the date of the gig. The band had to perform at 6 pm but couldn’t make it before 5 pm. I was at the gig at 8 am to unload the PA and to erect the stage (actually, they only got me some army tents, but what the …, the band was covered from the elements). At 2 pm I was still trying to put the tents with only the help of a friend. Finally at 4 pm everything was set up and ready to go, except that they didn’t have any decent power circuits.

Every time I switched everything on, the main fuses refused to let me do my thing. Five minutes before showtime, I finally get some decent juice delivered and the band starts to sound check (done in 15 min.) They sped through their songs (hey, they got another gig at 10 pm that evening) but in the end both the public, the band and the organizing committee was happy! I on the other hand lost five years of my life just running on the edge of my nerves but I was hooked.

I’m now doing front of house for a cover band and I’m still encountering lousy gigs more often than I would like to. But if you can earn some pocket money by doing something you really like, then it doesn’t matter what problems you have to overcome. I still enjoy every minute.

Reply by Rob

Well, I had been into recording through most of high school, and gradually ended up with a pretty decent gear collection. My brother’s band had been borrowing PAs from other bands just to use something for vocals other than a guitar amp. They ended up getting a gig to play a party with a few other bands for New Years Eve. The party was being held at a dog training facility, which was essentially a warehouse that was run by the mother of a friend of theirs.

About a couple hours before the show I get a call from the band. They decided that since the room is too live, and the gig is too big, they wanted to mic everything, which is where I came in, since they were used to powered mixers with only a few channels. After some convincing, I finally accepted the gig and packed up all my gear.

The band still borrowed a PA (a Mackie powered mixer and a couple of Peavey cabs, 12-in plus horn I believe) for this show, since I didn’t have anything of the sort. Because I didn’t have a snake, the mix position was just off stage (if you could call it a stage) right behind the PA speaker. I mixed their band for sound check, and walked around the room to make sure it sounded good.

Come showtime, I get bands I’ve never heard before, and the finely tuned mix I had was being changed on the fly. Of course, my only reference was the echo that shot off the back wall, and headphones. People constantly came over to tell me to turn up the vocals, but I was pretty limited since they set up the speakers too close to the vocal mics.

Aside from my Mackie SR24, my gear was pretty cheap. I had mics that were on sale for $10, and cables of equal cheapness. I didn’t even have enough, so the rest of the bands chipped in with more gear. I taped a mic to a stool in front of the base drum, since there were no stands left. All in all I think the gig went pretty well, all things considered. People tell me the mix was fine, as long as you stood close enough to the speakers.

Eventually I got picked up as the permanent sound person for my brother’s band. I wired up a pair of Fender cabs with two 12-inch guitar speakers in them to a receiver for a home stereo application I was using as a power amp (a long standing tradition of mine). The band was playing another party, and the room was so small they only needed vocals. The speakers weren’t nearly powerful enough, and I soon realized I had the amp putting out 2 ohms, which explains why it shut down every time the singer would hit a peak.

And once again, I mixed from behind the speakers. Eventually I got a snake and a pair of Mackie 1530 power speakers, and I’m still waiting for a chance to show off my new gear, since the last two shows got canceled (and I had to work anyway).

Reply by Emily
I just started learning how to run sound from a tech I originally met through a local band called Sweaty Bob. I’ve been working with him for about three months and was given the opportunity to mix a show by myself a couple weekends ago. I spent the first set shaking so badly I could hardly twist any knobs or turn the band up at all. I wanted to throw up — I was so nervous I was going to mess something up.

Here’s me, all by myself, behind this mixing board trying to talk myself into giving the vocals a little gain without passing out from being so darn nervous. Not only that but I’ve got about 10 people sneering at me because they had never seen a chick run sound before. It was like they were waiting for me to screw up so they could point and laugh and come and tell me what I was doing wrong.

All in all the show turned out really well and I got a lot of compliments on how good the band sounded (besides the fact that the band rocks anyway). And I calmed down after the first set and really had a blast doing what I love — running sound. I’ve got a lot to learn yet but I’m thankful for having been given the chance to prove that women can run sound too!!

Reply by Mike
I had met this guy who owned (and still does) PA and lighting. He seemed cool, I was a guitar player in a local metal band Ubiquitus (metal band names were awesome in the 80’s).

We booked our first show and of course I knew this guy with a PA so we called him. He said I could get a decent discount if we (the band) helped him load in and out his gear.

I was thinking “How hard could that be? Sure” — little did I know then. But I still thought what he did was the coolest, so I called him the next day and got booked to help him out the next weekend. I did off topics for him for a few shows and learned audio when I could, I was hooked.

My first test with audio was with another band (nightmare’s end, I think they may still be around, anyone in Madison, WI tell them I say hi), I was playing guitar and our drummer brought in his PA, a collection of MI gear and mismatched JBL and EV cabinets. I was the only one with any kind of experience with it.

It sounded pretty horrible at first, many phone calls to my original mentor and reading of a couple books, it started sounding halfway decent. I taught myself a distorted understanding of gain structure and EQ settings. Went to a recording school to further inform myself and one of my instructors worked for the company I am the production manager of now.

P.S, Once I found out what a monitor desk was and what it did, it was hard for anyone to get me away from it, I thought it was soooo cool. Still do.

Reply by Neale
My first gig was doing sound in-house at a club venue. Can’t remember what their front of house and monitor rig consisted of, however, I remember the gig was for Phyllis Diller — yeah….the comedian.

I went around the system with their (retiring) house guy the week before and he’s telling me where this and that plugs in etc…at the time I don’t think I had a clue what he was talking about — I mean how hard can it be, plug in a couple of mics and turn it up. At the time I had been a DJ for several years.

The gig…what a disaster. She holds the mic somewhere around her navel and wants her voice roaring out of the FOH. I bailed out of the second night (got a friend to do it).

It must have had some impact on me, ‘cause now I own a production company.

Reply by Tom
I used to work as a guitar tech until a couple years ago when our crew chief, told me guitar techs are sissies, real men do sound, and pretty much dared me to learn.

So I started working with him at his house gig, Barrymore’s Music Hall in Ottawa, Canada. It was pretty intimidating because it’s the largest venue in the city and we get lots of major label bands.

The first few months were volunteer, just moving mics around, learning about the consoles (separate FOH and monitors) etc… He left a short while later and the new house tech asked me to stick around and help him for a while. Sure, works for me, I still wanted to learn a bit more.

Then came the first night I really got to do something. A band came in and asked me to babysit their monitors for them during the show. I figure it can’t be too hard, I kind of know the monitor rig at this point, if there’s feedback I turn them down, no problem.

But when we did the line check at show time, I noticed there were no wedges on stage. They had these things called “In Ear Monitors.” I was completely terrified, never having heard of these, let alone seen or used them. I couldn’t believe what I had got myself into. Somehow I figured it all out, the gig was fine and the band was happy.

A week later, I got, and still have, my first house gig: house monitor engineer at Barrymore’s Music Hall. IEMs have since become my good friends.

Reply by John
I can’t resist. 1976. Kendall Art School Of Design Halloween party. A band of weekenders called Dead Eddy Codiene and the Time Release Capsules. I had just purchased my first PA from an ad in the paper. A pair of Peavey SP-1s, a pre-DDT Peavey CS-800, and a monstrosity of a Peavey 12-channel “stereo” mixer with these big honking VU meters on it. Hot Damn! Very memorable gig.

The art students took their costumes so seriously that the place looked like a Hollywood extras back lot, the beautiful and busty lead singer had a lot of difficulty keeping herself stuffed into the lounge dress she had picked out, and the sax player (who later Sid Barrett-ed out) tried to turn the gig into an all-night jam of “Tarantula.” As I recall it sounded pretty good in a raw simple way. I think I have it all on a reel somewhere. Maybe I should dig it out and see.

Nah!

Reply by Joel
My first professional (i.e. paying) gig, was at a local bar, and I had built my first sound system. I was just going to take a year off from playing drums for a living, and the band was one I had auditioned for, but didn’t take that gig.

They called me, and I just thought it sounded like an easy way to make money, and I could stop working at the local department store.

I charged them $125/night, and after Friday night’s gig, with the most horrible distortion and feedback coming out of the mains/monitors (too much gain on all vocal inputs), they said, “If this isn’t right tomorrow, we will have no choice but to not pay you. We cannot afford to not be hired back here.”

Needless to say, I worked on the system all day Saturday, getting the CD player to sound good, so then I started working with the gains and learning structure and gain staging right then.

Saturday night was pretty good, and I got hired for more shows, and I felt good.

Reply by Don

Well, I’m a relative newbie compared to some of the veterans who post here, but here goes:

My first gig was helping a friend (my current employer) set up and mix his daughter’s band along with two other local underground acts. This was about 4 years ago. He had an Alesis (I think) 16-channel mixer, an ART reverb unit that I think was designed for guitar use, a 100-foot 16-channel snake, a Carvin 1500-watt amp for front of house and my Mackie 1400i for monitors (both still in use today)

For house speakers, we were running a mismatched pair of 15-in 3-way cabs on each side (passive x-over, of course, and a pair of Fender 12-in plus blown piezo horn for monitors. We ran vocals only, so we only used a maximum of five channels all night (three mics and two channels for CD player) We ran the reverb right inline with the main output and bypassed it for the CD player between sets.

These bands were LOUD!!! If a guitar player didn’t have a 4 x 12 half stack, they couldn’t hear themselves well enough over the drummer (whose snare invariably sounded like a high powered rifle) Bass amps were of the same caliber, and always WAY too loud. We did quite a few of these shows for free, because it was Dave’s daughter’s band (along with various others) and we were still learning.

Our mission became “make the vocals able to be heard over the guitars” and if we only blew one 15-in woofer a night we were happy. These bands thought we were the greatest thing to come along since frozen pizza because none of their other shows ever had more than a 200-watt powered mixer and 12-in plus horn cabs, and no monitors. We eventually achieved our goal of making the vocals audible, but by that point it was so loud (lots of guitar and drums bleeding through vocal mikes too) that nobody could stand it. We learned a lot during those shows (also a lot about what not to do. )

We have of course progressed a lot over the past four years, and we now do two-three shows a week with much better bands and much better equipment for much better pay.

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