It’s important to keep in mind that as a musician, you are also an entertainer. While it’s certainly nice to impress the crowd at your gig with a mind-blowing guitar solo or killer tone, it’s also part of your job to ensure that your audience is entertained by your performance and have a good time at the club, bar, outdoor festival stage, or whatever venue you are playing, even if involves compromising on your tone. Not to mention, keeping a crowd happy will also keep the club owner, sound guy, and promoter, and all other crew members happy as well!
There are times when sacrifices must be made in order to solidify your band’s reputation as a true crowd pleaser. Sure, you may think you need to have your full stack cranked to 11 to get the big meaty guitar tone you love, but it may be overkill for a small club and will cause people to leave the venue. You may want to dime the bass knob on your amp to get the floor shaking, but that tone might be interfering with the kick drum and making the whole band sound muddy from an audience perspective. Being adaptable to different venues and audiences and having the flexibility to adjust and compromise on aspects of your sound will help ensure that your band gets booked again and gets potential fans the best possible first impression.
There are some essential steps you can take to make sure your band plays nice with most audiences.
Avoid excesses. Icepick highs and booming lows can be extremely uncomfortable from a listener’s perspective and detract from the listening experience, no matter how well your band plays. This isn’t to say you should dial in your tone to be squeaky clean, but rather, that you should avoid excessive amounts of certain frequencies or excessive volume. Do you really want to be that band that people talk the next day as being “pretty good, but way too loud”?
Set your sound to the room. Even though you may think you’ve dialed in the perfect sound in your living room or practice space, you’ll inevitably have to make adjustments to your EQ at the gig since each venue will be acoustically and structurally different. Do your due diligence and learn how use your amp’s equalization controls, so that adapting and changing them on the fly is second nature. It’s common for musicians to feel like they have a “signature sound” that needs to be universally conveyed on every stage and there is nothing wrong with that. But remember, you are playing for an audience and not simply for yourself and your bandmates. Your sound may need to be a little different for your band to sound its best in a particular venue.
Work with the sound engineer. It’s his or her job to help your band sound good, so be friendly, professional, and willing to compromise. If they tell you to turn your amp down or make other adjustments, it’s not coming from a bad place; they’re simply trying to make both of your jobs easier. Work as a team and your audience will be dancing all night.
Use the monitors to your advantage. In a similar vein, avoid reaching for the volume knob if you can’t hear yourself, as you may be much louder in the front of house than you are on stage, and most of the time it’s better for the overall band mix to have a lower stage volume. When you get a chance, simply ask the sound engineer (who you’ve been friendly and professional with, right?) to give you more or less of whatever you need in your monitor. If you don’t want to have to rely on whichever monitoring system the club has in place, you can invest in a good in-ear monitor system. In addition, a tried and true trick is to use a long cord and walk out into the audience while your band plays, to see how the mix sounds to the crowd (while also getting bonus points for showmanship and crowd interaction). It’s even easier if you are using a wireless system.
5. Have fun! People talk about seeing a band play, not hearing a band play. Focus on your tone and playing, of course, but do your best to put on a good show. Music is widely known as an escape from daily life, and live music is no exception.
There are no artists who don’t suffer from writer’s block occasionally. It may seem that some don’t, because they consistently generate great work, but they’re human too. In reality, professional songwriters simply have tools they can use to get out of a slump, and to prevent writer’s block in the first place.
If there’s one thing that the majority of guitarists can agree upon it’s this: tubes are awesome! The vacuum tube, or “valve” to our European friends, has been at the center of guitar tone since the advent of the electric guitar. And even as technology evolves and seeks to replace the tube, guitarists have fought back and have continued to give the tube relevance to this day. Of course, new and exciting tube amps are being made every year but one other usage tubes have found is tube-powered effects pedals.
COVID-19 has forced us all to adjust. Luckily, musicians are already good at that. If you’ve found yourself having to make do with smaller gigs, having to stay away from your bandmates, or if you just want to expand your options, then you may want to explore alternative ways to play your songs. Rearrangement can give you an opportunity to play quieter venues, utilize different personnel, and even record various versions.