Live shows are what a lot of our careers center around. Whether we’re in a band, manage a band, or run sound for a band, one thing is for sure, the better the band sounds, the better the show. After reading this post you’ll be able to implement some changes that will help you gain more fans, sell more merch, and have people leave with happier ears.
For the Band
“What could we do better?” is the number one question I am asked by bands after a show. Without fail, this is the answer I give them:
“Improve your tones”
Here’s what I mean: Say you are a singer songwriter. You play by yourself, your vocals and your guitar is 100% of your sound. First of all, record yourself playing, and listen back to that recording. What is the tone of your voice? Deep? Boomy? Nasally? Harsh? Thin? Full? Listen with an open mind, and see if there are things you can improve on. Next your guitar. How does the pickup sound in comparison to how the guitar sounds when you play it unplugged? Does the pickup add low end or sound too harsh in the highs? Spend some time listening to how your instruments sound, and make them sound as best as they can.
If You Play In A Band It’s Even More Important To Get The Tones Right
With a full rock band you could have upwards of 20 different instruments on stage! TWENTY? You say? Yes. Twenty. Each cymbal, each tom, each guitar, each vocal counts as an individual instrument. So here’s a few tips on getting your tones right and improving your sound:
First - Focus on each individual instrument. Are the drum heads so old that they ring through the whole song? Would a tighter sound benefit your overall drum sound? How do the cymbals sound? Are they too loud, do they have too much sustain? Are they harsh? Listen to recordings of the bands you are trying to emulate and compare your tones. Find ways to tighten up the drums, if necessary.
- Guitar players, you’ve usually got controls both on your guitar and on your amp. The main thing to be aware of with guitar tones is that they are not too harsh that they are unpleasant to listen to, and secondly that they are not so dark that it gets drowned out when the whole band plays. Obviously you’ll have a preference, but just be sure not to go too extreme one way or another.
Second - How are your tones interacting with others in your band? Often times, a simple change in the keyboard tone to something with a little more attack and a little less sustain can tighten up a band and make the music feel more together. Also, it’s important to make sure that each instrument has room in the mix. If you’ve got two guitar players, 1 or more vocalists, and a keyboard, you have got a lot of instruments playing in the same frequency range, and things can start to get muddy and hard to hear.
Sometimes you may need to change the tone of your instrument to give the lead singer’s voice more room to be heard in the mix. Experiment with different tones, whether that means changing to a different amp, or changing the settings on the amp you have, to not only give your instrument the best tone, but to make the whole band sound better.
Why Your Tones Are So Important
Have you ever listened to the band for the first time and within the first couple of bars you know they’re not that great yet? Or maybe the opposite - a band comes on stage and within the intro of the first song you think “Man this band is great!” That first impression is equal parts the music you’re playing, and the tones you’re putting out with your instruments. You could have the coolest riff ever, but if it’s too harsh, people will be too focused on the tone to appreciate what you’re playing.
To bring it all back into perspective, the better you sound, the more people will like you. Even if they aren’t really fans of your genre of music, if you sound great, then there’s a better chance of them recommending you to their fans, “liking” you on Facebook or following you on Twitter, buying your album, and coming to your next show. If your tones are still lacking, those same people are going to wait a little longer to invest in you, probably until the point that you decide to start investing in yourselves.
If you’re a manager,
you can easily take the band up to whatever the “next level” is for your band by just spending a few practices focusing on the tones of each instrument and the tones of the band as a whole.
Lastly, engineers -
whether or not the band is giving you the best tones, it’s your job, and I’d even say your responsibility to make sure that the tones coming through the system are pleasant to the crowd that has paid money to listen. If you’re playing the music so loud that it is overpowering the system, it’s going to sound harsh and will hurt people’s ears. If the tones are too harsh, you’re going to hurt people’s ears. If the tones are too muddy and low end heavy, you’ll lose intelligibility and people will leave wondering what those songs were about because they couldn’t hear the lyrics. The key frequencies to look out for for harshness are in the 1k to 3k range, and for muddiness the 160 to 350 hz range. Experiment with these frequencies when you EQ and see how it goes.
Here’s to a better sounding next gig!
Daren Smith is the founder of The Music Lounge, a website created to help musicians move their careers forward and make music.