May 11, 2021
In a previous post, we discussed adjusting your live act to different spaces – from the size and style of room to available sound to the kind of audience you’re playing for. Here, we’ll focus on the bass, because bass forms the foundation of most bands, so it can make or break how your sounds works in a given room.
What you do with the bass obviously depends largely on the style of music – advice for easy listening ensembles wouldn’t work for heavy metal groups. But here are some general things to consider when planning your next gig.
Large venues need big sound. Large spaces and outdoor gigs will accept your biggest, loudest rig with no problems. Small venues, however, can get overwhelmed quickly by too much boom. So, it’s wise to have a smaller cabinet available. Adjust your volume to the size of the room instead of turning up as much as possible, and work with the drummer to create a solid foundation that isn’t too loud for the space before moving on to the rest of the group.
Along with size, the acoustics of the room are the biggest factor affecting the whole band – especially the bass. Use sound check to pay attention to how your bass responds in the room. Just as in mixing in the studio, some rooms will emphasize specific low frequencies in a way that get in the way, make the room boom unpleasantly, or lessen your punch. A good house PA with EQ and compression options may help you reign in, but if that’s not there you may want to adjust your tone or even use an active DI with a bit of EQ available. Especially watch for buildup in the 100-150Hz areas, which can sound boomy.
If you have a house sound engineer, they should be travelling the room while you play, looking for nodes where the bass can’t be heard or places where the bass booms and overwhelms the vocals and other mix elements. In a live room that sounds especially boomy, you may want to switch up your playing style to include fewer sustained notes, and eq your tone to fit the room. Remember to make your adjustments from the audience’s perspective rather than just yours.
If there’s a good PA at the gig, you may be better off using a DI box like the Carvin Audio FDR60 Direct Box and giving the house sound engineer a direct signal or using a combo of your amp and a direct send. You can also insert a DI after your head or pedals if you want your signature sound to come through rather than just pure bass.
If there’s no house sound, though, or if the house PA is weak on the low end, don’t be caught without a big enough cabinet to fill the space.
If your group is considering the audience, you may have significantly altered your setlist or even the way you execute songs. This could change your style significantly, and since what the bass does determines a lot about the vibe, you may have to dial up a mellower tone, bring the heat more than normal, or even switch basses. After all, if you’ve booked an unplugged gig, you won’t need your baddest metal rig. Similarly, you can’t really melt faces with an acoustic upright.
The bass is a definitive instrument in any band, and while you might define a lot of your group’s genre and vibe by the bass’s timbre and style, it also pays to be flexible enough to fit where you’re playing. Even small adjustments can do a world of good, so think about each venue and make adjustments as necessary. A little bit of flexibility can make all the difference.
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