Hey, is this thing on? I can’t hear myself! Can you turn it up? Whatdaya mean my stage volume is too loud?!?
I was at a rock show the other night and ended up meeting some people and hanging out afterwards. One of the people I was with was a flutist and we ended up having a conversation about musicians tuning their instruments before they played, which then spiraled into a discussion of sound on stage and how we hear ourselves up there, among other things… the answer; normally, we just cant.
God bless those sound people who do their jobs.
Just to be noted, my band was not playing this show. At this particular club, the sound man actually did his job. I actually caught him going from the back of the room to the middle of the floor a couple of times during bands sets to make sure he got it right in the front of the house. A sound person who stands at the board, on the floor, tweaks knobs while the band is playing and doesn’t just walk out and have a beer, that’s a sound person doing their job. Sadly not something indie bands get all that often. I’ve played that same stage and he’s even good enough to turn on the monitors, give me a sub mix, all the good stuff he’s supposed to do – and he’s personable, go figure!
Tuna what? Tuna Pedal!
So I introduced this new friend of mine to the Boss TU-2 tuner pedal and explained for most of us geetar players, this or something like it is a necessity of choice within our business. We tune before we play, we use instruments of good enough quality that will hold a tune under normal circumstances for at least a few songs and we even tune during the breaks. She countered with, to paraphrase, “Well, we try and tune live before each song” and as she plays chamber and band music, I said “Well, we can’t really do that with multiple 100 watt amps pointed at our faces!”… so she replied with my favorite question, “Wow, how do you guys hear yourselves at all?”. My answer? Mostly, we can’t!
When all else fails, stuff your ears with toilet paper…
I wear in-ear monitors, these things are a godsend for when the floor wedges don’t work and you can hear a plethora of other stuff. For better, for worse, they help me hear my vocals live and I totally live in fear of playing shows without them. For me, I used to describe singing in a rock club much like screaming full on into a pillow for 45 minutes while having your fingers in your ears and up your nose. I also play guitar, if you walk in front of your guitar amp, life is good, you can find the sweet spot where you can hear everything, but we can’t always be where we wanna be and if you walk off center of that spot, BANG, the guitar is gone and you can’t hear it even a little bit. Same with bass guitar, though you can feel the subs of that and the same can be said about the kick drum. Sometimes I can barley make out the snare drum, even though you think that would be loud as hell up on stage. What you guys hear in the audience is more often than not, unrepresented on the stage.
So wait, where the heck are we?
“So how do you stay on time or even know where you are in the song?”, she asks. My answer, we rehearse, day, night, and all the time in between, till we know the songs so well we can play them blindfolded with our ears plugged up. Just ’cause I can’t hear my guitar, doesn’t mean you can’t, and we know that. So in general, we do the best we can till we get some real sound reinforcement, like the pro’s or even semi pro’s get… or till we get a sound guy who knows his room, which happens I’ll say 1 out of every 6 shows.
Will the man with the purple derby come on down!
It is with this that I invite you guys, come get on the stage and take a listen. Come up and sing a song! Its not like karaoke when you have real amps behind you, I can guarantee that! Come on up, I’ll let you sing along to your favorite Finespun song and you can hear what WE hear – or you can stay home and scream into a pillow, your choice!