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NAMM Show Report

Just a few tips for playing out live!

If you’re currently playing clubs or you’re thinking about touring, one question that keeps coming up is “How do I reduce or eliminate the TSSS factor in clubs?” Another question that usually accompanies the first, is, “What is the TSSS factor?” TSSS roughly stands for, “This sound system stinks!” Okay, we made up the thing about the first question coming up, but the issue is one that every band faces and will continue to face as long as there are clubs and bands that want to play in them. Here are some tips to minimize the TSSS factor and make a sound person’s job easier as your band travels from club to club:

  1. Have a snake prepared for the drum kit. You can make one using a number of mic cables and Velcro ties, or buy one ready made. Make sure you label the snake at both ends, (i.e. Kick Snare, Tom 1, Tom2…+, Overhead L, Overhead R, and etc.) This addresses a number of issues up front. First, you know your cables are working, which eliminates trouble shooting the house cables, and of course saves time in setup and breakdown. Everything is set to go, and if there’s an In-house engineer, they will love you for this (Platonically, of course), since it’s less work for him and he gets to go home a little earlier. You always get better sound when people like to work with you.

  2. Carry your own drum and vocal mics if possible. This way, you can count on your vocal and drum sounds to be more like you expect them to be as you go from club to club. For as much as musicians seem enjoy their “winging-it” privileges in life, when it comes to their signature sound, they can be more rigid and unyielding than the law should allow. Another reason for bringing your own vocal mics rather than using the house mic is the gross-out factor. Do you really want to share some strange band’s DNA? If you have to use the house mics, bring an oral antiseptic such as Listerine to clean them before your band takes the stage. Trust me, mics pre-soaked in stale beer is not a courtesy detail.
  3. Rack mount as many direct boxes as you can to keep the stage clean and have mic cables run and labeled for these as well.
  4. Carry percussion claws for your drum kit. This will cut the amount of setup and breakdown time in half; Aside from not having to position mic-stands, you free up a lot of stage clutter. Besides, and most importantly, many clubs you’ll encounter don’t have a lot of stands, or have stands that are in disrepair.
  5. If at all possible, carry your own signal processing rack. Many clubs will not have the right amount of compressors and gates you will need. Also, by carrying your own reverb and delay, you can again, keep the sound more consistent, nor will you have to fiddle around with a strange box to find the right vocal delay and reverb that you worked so meticulously to find with the band’s vocalists. The same applies for your compressors and gates. Once you have them set, all you will require are minor tweaks in most cases, rather than having to start from scratch on strange and possibly abused gear. Keep in mind, one of the biggest secrets of live sound pros is to know how their gear performs, not just how it works. In order to be able to incorporate your rack of gear into what the venue already has – particularly the mixer – you will need to bring an assortment of cables and adaptors. Going in you don’t know whether their mixer has XLR, 1/4, TRS, are balanced or unbalanced, or whether inserts are on dual jacks or TRS send/return jacks.
  6. Preparation and foresight are your greatest assets in touring. For example, if you know that a club you’re playing in has a reputation for bad sound, go in a little early and tweak the system. Identify bad cables, bad channels on the console, and other fiendish thingies. Wire the stage before the band shows up for load-in and get ready for a load of compliments elevating you to “Scotty” status (as in “Beam me up, Scotty) when the band sounds much better than expected.
  7. Create diagrams of your current stage setup and an input chart. Fax these to the venue’s in-house engineer, and if at all possible, get them on the phone and ask them to advise you of any system problems, such as bad channels or non-working monitors. Again, it’s all about foresight and preparation… Scotty.
  8. NEVER complain about the house system. The in-house engineer has heard it all before and probably has little to no control over budget or purchases for sound system upgrades. If you see problems with the system and you have the patience and time, by all means jump in and fix those problems. The in-house engineer will thank you for it, and the next time your band rolls in, he’ll take extra-good care of you. Your job will be easier and your band’s sound will be better for it.

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