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  • pshafer8

Musicians: K.I.S.S.

That little bugger there is what I use to power our concerts in the wild. Having to carry equipment across a meadow or down a dirt trail to get to the location requires multiple trips of sometimes heavy stuff. I did develop a system, though, and it works well.But one thing I discovered through the years only confirmed my suspicions of running sound at our indoor venue for all those years: the simpler the solution the better sounding, and that's especially true for musicians and their requirement.

On a related yet different front, for many of the musicians that will be playing outdoor events, you've probably noticed that the indoor venues are shrinking as well. It's a phenomenon that's been going on for a while, as the audiences have been getting grayer, but was accelerated by the pandemic. The generational shift in how people enjoy music is profound: very few want to sit in a small auditorium, be it a church series or small performing arts center and just listen to music. It's gotta be an event. Dancing, some alcohol, jumping around, moving around, going with friends, etc., it's all a part of how music is experienced right now by the younger folks. Older folks, who will still go to small performing arts centers, aren't interested enough to try new things; they prefer the nostalgia bit at this time in their lives and will mostly go to tribute bands or fossils of band leftovers where one surviving member tries to keep the flame alive. It's their time and money, so good for them.

But that leaves the young, adventurous, genre-defying bands looking for an audience. The indoor venues that will give them a shot are down to coffeehouse-sized spots: the larger ones can't afford to take a risk and not fill seats (thereby losing money on booze). So outdoor summer spaces are the bet shot to build an audience now. Big festivals are tough to get into (they're kind of all sounding alike these days...) so trying to build a network of smaller outdoor places is a smart move.

This brings us back to my outdoor series, and frankly the smaller indoor ones as well. So, do you want to sound good? Do you want to get invited back? Make money and influence people? Be practiced, professional and simple.

The most successful bands we've had in terms of sound quality, audience appeal, ease of travel, best merch sale rate, use this pictured above: a single microphone. Many even go without monitors. The sound is clean, clear, vocals easily understandable, and visually appealing, as there's less stage clutter. How does this affect merch sales? Simple, which better sound quality and a cleaner performance approach the audience is better engaged and entertained. No one asking for a monitor to be up or down mid set, no fussing with anything, just clean sound and lots of fun.

I do have fond memories of one Irish band years ago that we had indoors in the church. Their lead singer was a tiny woman with a powerhouse voice, a rough temper and a rougher vocabulary. One of the guys asked for some reverb in the mix, "so we can sound like we're in a church." She looks around to him and says, "we are in a church you &%%*0" We got everyone's levels dialed in and then on to the monitors. One player kept asking for micro-adjustments to his monitor, and eventually she got so mad she just yelled out at me' "turn the &$^&* monitors off!!" She looked at him and yelled , "What the (&%# is it with the #*&^$ monitors? You don't need a monitor. We grew up playing in #^&*%$ pubs and we didn't have monitors." That was that, and they sounded absolutely phenomenal in front of 300 people crammed into the church.

The point being, travel light, and practice your act with as little tech as possible. The photo above shows the entire sound system for shows that we've had 3-400 people at. There's a power conditioner (a must with a generator, and have a good generator with good inverter tech, like the Honda we use) a small digital mixer, 6 channels, some cables and one mic. You'll see all inputs filled with cables running to the "stage" but all but one are unused, they're ready in case one fails or they decide to add a mic last minute. Two outputs go to two powered speakers. I use QSC, as they're super-clean. And that's it. That system has powered many a Grammy-winning artist when we're outdoors, and the audience is constantly thrilled with the quality of sound.

The added benefit is the presenters and sound guys will love you. Volunteers will love you. Sound checks take minutes. The sound system set up is half an hour. Take down is half an hour. You'll sell lots of cds. It'll be great. You'll get invited back. All that. But really, the most important part is that the sound quality is simply better. If you need a few channels, fine, but figure out how to get it down to a bare minimum. 4 People in your group? We've had bands in the past that want four vocal mics, three channels per person for instruments, four individual monitor mixes, and the sound quality sucked. No mater how hard everyone tried to dial it in, there was just too much going on. To get the vocals heard, the sound had to be so loud it was painful. To get the monitors loud enough to be heard, the sound bounced back into the microphones, not loud enough for feedback, but enough to create timing problems and muffled vocals.

Take the time to understand the physics: sound is an actual tangible wave form, though as it's essentially various densities of compressed air molecules you won't feel it at all but the highest volumes. But when enough of those waves get mixed together, some frequencies get cancelled out, some get augmented, some just flat out disappear. With one clean signal, there's no competition amongst the waves. As simple as you can make it, do so. This is exactly why the old bluegrass concerts sounded so good: it wasn't;t some esoteric microphone, it was because there was just one microphone, and they knew how to use it, stepping up and stepping back.

As for monitors, you don't practice with them, so get used to performing without them, even if you have to change your stage configuration. At some of the top conservatories in the world, they have their string quartets and quintets practice facing away from each other, really getting them to listen. When you're facing each other, visual cues make it easy, and the sound on the stage is full enough that everyone will be able to sing in tune.

You may not be able to get by with one, but practice hard and see how little you can get away with. You'll sound better and fit into venues of all sizes with no issues.


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