A live performance situation where gear is backlined or shared among performing bands is quite common. Inevitably you will run into a situation where you need to share an amplifier with another band on the bill, most likely the headliner, or the venue provides a rented setup for you to use. This may be arranged in order to reduce tear down time between bands, simplify the load in process, or accommodate a touring band.
For some guitarists and bassists, this is not a big deal. But if you love your setup and get separation anxiety thinking about having to play a gig without your trusted rig, there are a few things you can do to prepare for a backline situation.
- Get familiar with the amp you’ll be using. If possible, call the venue or get in contact with the band ahead of time and ask them what amp you will be using. If you’re lucky, it might be the same as yours! But if it's not, take the time to get familiar with its specs and features online before the gig. Doing some research ahead of time and figuring out which knobs to turn can go a long way.
- Bring a preamp unit or even your amp head. If you don’t want to depend so heavily on an amp to give you the sound you’re looking for, it may be worthwhile to invest in a preamp. A preamp can provide additional control over the EQ and character of your instrument and often are compact in size, making them easy to put in your gig bag or even on pedalboard at your feet. Sometimes the sound guy will let you use your head through the backline cabinet. The cabinet may not have the sound of yours, but this does get you much closer to your sound. Don’t push it if they don’t let you use your head, as this may lead your band to not be invited back.
- Take time to adjust the EQ. Take a few minutes during soundcheck to turn knobs and check your signal. Many amp manufacturers set their amps to have distinct “baked in” voicing, so begin by setting all EQ knobs at noon and use that as a starting point. Keep in mind though, that all knobs at noon may not translate directly to flat response, so be sure to use your ears and not just your eyes when setting your EQ sound. The final EQ product on the backline amp may be way different than how you set your own, and that’s okay.
- Accept that you may sound different than you’re used to. It’s perfectly understandable to be hesitant about using backline gear. You use the gear you use because you like it! However, part of being a professional is being adaptable. Focus on performing your best, and realize that most audience members, even diehard fans, won’t notice anything different about your tone.
- Be respectful of the backline equipment. Just because it’s not your own equipment doesn’t mean you can go nuts with a new experimental EQ setting or set gain staging incorrectly. This is especially true if you’re using gear that belongs to a member of the headlining band, and you’re an opening band. That musician will likely be watching and listening to you the whole time, and won’t like if you’re not being considerate. And remember, if you break the amp, you may be asked to pay for it, and it will ruin the show for the rest of the other bands, possibly making you a few enemies!
If you meet the owner of the gear, be sure to thank them for providing their equipment and also ask them if there are any extra precautions you should take with the amplifier or if they have any tips about using it. Even if they don’t have any recommendations or requests, they will still appreciate the fact that you asked.
Don’t be afraid of a backlined gig- keep these tips in mind and you should be ready to rock!