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5 Tips to Improve Your Live Sound

  • 17 October 2014, Friday
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microphone on stage with purple lighting

As you probably know, gigs come in many different shapes and sizes. As a musician who is working towards professionalisation, it’s important to be able to grasp the nuances of the whole live experience quickly. There are several simple tricks you can use to make sure that things go smoothly. It’s important to perform with a good sound and a professional attitude on stage. This will not only impress the contacts you have made at a venue, but also interest any members of the audience who can help push your career further.

Here are 5 tips to make your life easier:

  1. Stay in tune. You can buy tuners in various shapes and sizes, but I recommend getting a high quality pedal tuner, which you can simply tap to tune in between songs, while you’re telling hilarious jokes of course! Tuners may just seem like another annoying investment, but they are seriously worth it for any band or artist that wants to play a professional show.
  2. Bring spares. Most instruments have parts that can break or go wrong. Strings and batteries are usually the most important things to remember. It’s a nightmare if you’re playing a show and something breaks that you can’t replace. A good and professional performance should have a smooth flow, and interrupting it by having to ask the sound guy or the audience if you can borrow a crucial piece of kit is not going to make anyone feel very relaxed.
  3. Get used to the idea of monitors. Monitors are the speakers that give you sound on stage, so that you can hear what’s going on. They are different to the front of house speakers, and can often be a troublesome part of any sound check or show. Try to remember that you should be able to ask the sound technician to give you different instruments in different monitors. Don’t feel bad if this takes a while, it’s important to try and get the on stage sound as good or at least as clear as possible, so that you can perform confidently. If you can’t hear your voice or if the drummer can’t hear the rest of the band, there are going to be problems!
  4. Use the best equipment you can. Aside from effects, you can also make your live sound better by choosing good amps that fit your instruments. For example, acoustic instruments can sound great through the right amps or preamps. Guitarists and bass guitarists also need an amp they can trust, and that they understand. Having amps also makes it easier for you to manage your sound on stage, especially if you are playing at a venue with bad/no monitors. You should also use good quality cables, and remember that if there are strange crackling or buzzing noises it could be due to fault in one of them, and not necessarily the sound system you are using.
  5. Experiment with Effects. There are almost as many effects pedals as there are guitars. Since amplification became common, musicians have looked for ways to boost the power of their guitars. Effects like distortion, overdrive and fuzz are classic ways of pushing your guitar sound, making it more edgy. You can also make your guitar (or any other instrument connected to a pedal) sound weird, by using effects like a phaser, flange, vibrato, tremolo, pitch modulation, etc. Then there’s the world of echo, delay, and looping too! This is a huge and important area for musicians to explore. It helps you feel much more in control of your sound, and able to recreate the exact sound of your recordings. The point is, it’s for you to discover and get comfortable with. If you already use a lot of pedals, consider getting a pedal board to attach them to, so that you can keep the pedals connected and ready to go. This will save you a lot of time and hassle! Of course this doesn’t apply to all genres – but even an acoustic singer songwriter can sometimes benefit from subtle effects that improve their guitar’s tone.
There are of course some venues and sound technicians that don’t make life easy. However, if you at least know what you’re doing from your side of the stage, your chances of playing a successful and fun show will be greatly improved. Always be polite to the sound technician, promoter, and venue staff. You don’t want to burn any bridges! The more live shows you play, the more you will naturally develop an understanding for the business, and start to feel comfortable with technical vocabulary and equipment.  You don’t have to be an expert, but having a grasp of the basics will definitely help you out.

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