February 05, 2016
There are a million things that can go wrong when you are on stage. A piece of equipment can falter, the singer hits a bum note (a la Simon Le Bon at Live Aid), or your co-performer exposes more of you than acceptable (Super bowl halftime, you know what we’re talking about). Regardless of how well you prepare, some things are beyond your control and there is little you can do to prevent the problems which occur as a result of them. The best you can do is to be aware of the top 5 live gig problems so that you don’t panic if any of these happen:
1. A String Breaks
It’s been known to happen to the best of them. Brian May broke a string during the tribute show for Freddie Mercury. While May had Mr. Iommi to cover for him, you might not. In case a string breaks on stage, the guitarist should have a backup guitar tuned and ready to go. The other musicians might have to improvise for a few seconds while the change is made. If the band has two guitarists, the rhythm player can take over. As a precaution, make sure your strings are fresh. Old strings will break with less stress than new strings, especially if you have rough edges on your bridge saddles and the nut. If you play often, the rule of thumb for guitar players is new strings at least every 2 weeks. You may find a schedule that works for you, but be sure to stick to it. It only takes one time of saying “these strings are fine” and then you break a string at the gig.
2. The Drummer Breaks a Stick
Again, this is similar to the above scenario. If the drummer breaks a stick, he can still hold a beat and play with one hand while replacing the sticks. The key to making this work is the other musicians should keep playing. Chances are that if the singer doesn’t turn and stare at the drummer, hardly any of the crowd will notice, and you can keep going as if nothing happened.
3. An Amp Goes Bad
An amp shouldn’t go bad when you are playing live. This is where you need good technicians on board who can help you set up your gear when you start playing. The key to keeping an amp from going bad is maintenance and good handling in transport. With tube amps you need to keep a schedule for tube replacement. Pre-amp tubes like 12AX7s will last a long time. It is usually not these tubes that fail, but they fade and the amp starts sounding dull. The output tubes like 6L6, 6V6, EL84, and especially EL34s can fail. These tubes are working hard depending on your volume and if they were properly biased. Always be sure your impedance switch is correct for the cabinet impedance because if it is set incorrectly it can shorten the life of your output tubes. Output tubes should be replaced about once a year if you are playing 2-3 times a week. Again you can set your own schedule, just make sure to stick to it. A backup amp is always a good idea, but often not convenient. A pedal and a DI box combination is easy to have in the gig bag as a back up
4. You Haven’t Decided the Next Song
This is emblematic of new bands that haven’t played together much. You need to have your set list ready before you even start practicing for a show. Each member should know the next song and you shouldn’t have to discuss this on stage in front of the audience. This looks very unprofessional and lowers the excitement of the show. This should only be seen at free jam nights and open mic nights.
5. The Audience Can’t Hear You
This can be a nightmare for any band playing live. If the audience can’t hear you, your gig is up, literally and figuratively. However, this doesn’t mean you start asking the crowd if they can hear you or not. This is why a sound check is crucial before you go on stage so that there aren’t any such problems during the show. Have a sound guy or friend in the audience be your ears, and let you know of any big issues. If the sound guy is a member in the band, use a wireless mic or instrument system so you can walk out front and judge the sound properly.
These are 5 common live gig problems. Knowing what they are and how to deal with them will help you have a great show.
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