How many times have you seen that comment as part of an argument online and kinda rolled your eyes at it? Well, if you are anything like me, you stopped counting when you ran out of fingers and toes. 

So, to counter that, here is a bold statement. “Who cares if the audience can hear the difference?”

OK, so let me expand on that a little. When I play live (and I’m pretty certain that this applies to everyone I play with and coming to think about it, everyone I’ve spoken too about it), a great guitar tone (or bass tone – or drum tone or whatever) is about one thing and one thing only, giving the person who is behind the instrument the opportunity to feel as comfortable as possible in order to play at their very best. The audience, generally, only cares about two things. “Is the band any good?” and “Do I like the music?”. We can do nothing about the second statement, but the first we have total control over - I doubt very much if the audience is thinking about the composite parts that result in that what they are hearing.

An integral part of any live performance is whether or not the band is any good. It’s extremely rare that a band will sound good to the audience as a whole if they sound simply awful (unless of course, their whole existence is that rough around the edges feel). I’ve seen some amazing bands in the past that have given me a terrible night because they sounded awful – and that could be the FOH mix, the individual instrument tones or anything else. I remember one night were an entire pub emptied within 3 songs because the band sounded awful. And this was the same band that went on to sell out endless world tours and go on to become one of the biggest and influential bands currently performing.

In order for the band to sound great, each person has to be at the top of their game and a lot of the time you can peel that back to ensuring that every person on the stage is comfortable and loving what they are doing and hearing. Have you ever been on stage when for some reason your gear doesn’t react the way you expect it to and it go on to ruin your night? I have, many times. That’s the ‘beauty’ of playing in bars and clubs, some rooms naturally sound amazing and some kill the sound. The key to this, for me anyway, is that in order to feel comfortable I have to be in the right ‘zone’. And that zone is all about my mental state and the relation between me and my gear. If I’m not comfortable, then I don’t play as well. My wife can spot it by the time the first song is halfway through if I’m not comfortable.

Quite often, either during a break or after the gig, people wander over to the stage area and say “You don’t need all that… etc etc” and then go on to say how good it sounds and how much they enjoy/ed my playing. This always strikes me as a little odd, surely the only thing they care about is if it sounds good. It shouldn’t matter if I have one pedal and a £50 guitar into a crappy amp, or if I have boutique level stuff from start to finish… as long as it sounds good as part of the end product. In order for it to sound good, then I have to be stood there and feel 100% comfortable and ready to melt some faces. I think this is key to this debate and a word I've used several times already in this piece – 'comfortable'. Is the player comfortable? and is the gear making them comfortable? I am fully aware that my epic board is somewhat of a comfy blanket for me, I rely on it and most of the effects on it are used once, which is a lot of money to spend on something that is only used in that way – but consider this. I am there for two reasons. Firstly, to satisfy my desire to play live and make music with my buddies, and to see the audience enjoy themselves. The one song that flies into my head at this point is “Runaway” by Del Shannon, latterly covered by Gary Allen – and the version we go is somewhere in the middle of the two. The intro to that is quite a specific tone, and it uses a one time only patch from the Mobius and Timeline (although the TimeLine is used constantly throughout the gig the Mobius only features in 4-5 other songs, 1 for vibe, 1 for tremolo and 3 or so with chorus) -  does it make having a £450 pedal worthwhile? My answer is a resounding YES! On that song, as when I hit that big Am riff to start it, people jump up and start dancing. That makes me comfortable, that makes me happy and so I play better.

The main question I have to ask myself is this. Would it sound any worse to the audience if I didn’t use those patches and just got myself a crappy cheap trem pedal. Or not use those sounds at all and just use a normal tone. Well, it may well do… but the fact it’s all midi controlled so the tempo is right makes me a happy boy. There is no tap dancing, there is no tweaking of speed, it’s just there and I know that it’s going to sound killer every night (not taking into consideration if the room is awful). This means I can relax, concentrate on one of the most finger bending solos I have to do later in the song and not worry about anything not sounding the way I expect it to. 

There are a lot of players out there who survive beautifully going straight in, or using cheaper pedals and everything else, but as a player I need to know what to expect when I hit that button. When I know what to expect, I relax, when I am relaxed I play better. And the only thing the audience does care about, I’ve found, is that I play to the best of my abilities every time I get up on that stage. It’s not about sounding the best because the £2K Klon has more mojo than the £150 Tumnus, it’s about only having to concentrate on the playing. For me, the Klon is excessive as I feel I don’t need it as the Tumnus does the trick for me every night, but I know many players that only feel comfortable when they have a real vintage Klon in their chain. Now, I can barely tell the difference when I play them side by side, so incorporated into a band mix I’m 100% confident I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference, and I would go as far as saying that they can’t either… the audience wouldn’t have a chance – but if the player is happy, and therefore playing their best because they are so happy, then for me – it’s worth every penny spent.

For reference, here is my rig and I’ve taken the liberty of adding up the total cost of it all new. 

Guitars
PRS Brent Mason signature.
’94 Fender MIM Strat with hand wired Seymour Duncan Antiquities
Epiphone Mandolin 

Outboard
Line6 G30, TC Electronic Polytune 2 into One Control OC-10 looper that contains…. Wampler Mini Ego Compressor, Wampler Mini Tumnus, Wampler Paisley Drive Deluxe, TC Quintessence, Strymon Mobius (split into pre and post), Strymon TimeLine, TC Electronic MiniHOF, Wampler dB+… All wired up with Evidence Audio SIS/Monorail.

Amps and Speakers
Fender BDri
Custom made 2x12” speaker cab loaded with WGS Reaper HP and WGS ET65.
Spare amp – Quilter 101 MR 

Yep. That’s £7k of gear to play covers in pubs once or twice a week. But, let's face it – I could double that figure EASILY! Yes, I know, that original figure is insane. I really know it is, but it makes me happy and this is my only hobby and I know whenever I go out to make a noise I sound as good as I personally can - so in that regard, it’s worth it. All of it!

 

 

 

Gigging - Part 2

on August 31, 2017
Following up on my last blog regarding the shining example of where things can go very wrong at a gig (you can read that here: http://www.wamplerpedals.com/news/blog/general-chat/gigging-what-not-to-do-part-1) , I’ve compiled this quick list with the help of some friends from the industry regarding things that will help prepare anyone for a successful gig.
 
1.    Know the material – Practicing learning and knowing the songs back and forth is a major thing. If you’re not comfortable with a part, discuss it with the band and see what options there are. In the end though, there’s nothing that can replace good practice. Practicing the full set will help get the bugs out of the performance. Your singer can even practice the banter with the crowd during each set. Locking down that show to where it’s second nature will make your performance and the audience’s experience much more enjoyable for everyone. In the end that’s the main goal, right? We all love playing music and the audience is there because they love the music. It’s far more fun when you don’t have to worry about whether you recall the chord changes in the verse or what key the solo is in!
 
2.    Be Prepared – I’m sure you’ve heard the old saying of “It’s better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it.” This doesn’t necessarily mean you need to pack an extra amp and 15 guitars, but you can if you want! We do our best to maintain our gear, but often it’s at the least opportune timing that something is prone to failure. Having a few backup items can really help when the time comes and you’re in a pinch. An extra set of strings, extra picks, extra patch cables and long cables, a headstock tuner, super glue, a multi-tool, and even in some cases a fallback for when an amp goes down. If your amp goes down mid-gig, it’s not a bad idea to have some backup setup, maybe a cheap cab sim that you can run directly into the mixer from your board. The hopes are that you’ll never need it, but again it’s better to have it. Having trusted and reliable gear will cut out a lot of worries. Make sure you’ve got solid patch cables that can handle a bit of contorting and movement. If you notice a short at any point then troubleshoot or swap it out. If a guitar has a problem, it’s good to bring a spare just in case as well.
 
3.    Tuning – This seems like a no-brainer, but there are still some that jump in head first without tuning, and that’s completely preventable. Take the time to ensure each band member with applicable instruments are in tune (also part of #2). There’s nothing worse than an out of tune instrument. Pedal tuners and headstock tuners are cheaper and more reliable now than ever. They’re also great because you can tune silently so you’re not bothering the audience while you’re getting setup. If you’re having problems with your guitar staying in tune, throw on a new set of strings and stretch them properly before the gig. If there’s still a problem it may be worth taking it to a tech to see if it needs a setup. Also, if you have songs in different tunings, be prepared to either tune quickly and quietly, or have a backup guitar that’s already in the alternate tuning (see #1).
 
4.    See #1
 
5.    Stage Prep and Presence – Before getting to the gig, practice setting up and tearing down your rig. Getting it down to a science will make it quick and efficient (especially if playing with another band at the gig). It’s a good idea to get a feel for the stage if possible. When plugging in your guitar, be sure to loop it through your strap to ensure that when it’s stepped on, that it won’t rip the cable out of the input jack. Make sure cables going into and out of your pedalboard are away from high traffic areas if possible. You don’t want your drummer or singer stomping on the output cable and breaking the jack on your pedal. Aesthetics are a big part because the audience will be looking at the band as their source of visual entertainment. That may seem contrived or like selling out, but people judge with their eyes first (it’s just the way the world is now). Trying to keep a cohesive attire that’s appropriate for the gig is great. Stage presence, lights, all of it adds up to the combined experience for the audience, so plan accordingly to give the best visual representation of where you want the band to be. Again, it’s leaving a lasting impression on the audience as to what they will remember. 
 
6.    In the Mix – After setting up, it’s good to test the mix with a soundcheck. Be sure to take the time to setup each instrument so the level sits right in the mix. Nobody wants to hear only one instrument drowning out the others. If you can find a way to do so, step back from the stage to where the audience will be to see how it sounds. Having the levels right can really make a dramatic difference, especially when it comes to guitar tone. Depending on the height of the stage, you don’t want to blow the ear drums of the people in the front row, so the position of the amp makes a difference too. An important thing to remember is that your tone at home is going to be very different than in a live situation. Each room has its own contours and obstructions that absorb or reflect the sound, and the natural compression of the speakers and the added character of a louder amp will make your drives sound different. All of those goes back to #1 (can you see a pattern yet) where practice makes perfect and eliminating variables can make for a smoother gig. Usually, more often than not, the venue that you’re playing in won’t need a 100w half stack. Finding a nice combo amp (1x12 or 2x12, etc) makes for easier portability and less overkill on volume. 
 
7.    Identify Yourself – It’s good practice to make sure that your band’s name is very easy to see, so that way it leaves an impression and something memorable. If you can have it advertised by the venue, perfect! The goal is to create brand/band awareness to create an image for the band and subsequently what kind of a show people will expect when they see or hear the name. It’s not a bad thing at all to promote your social media pages, so long as it’s tastefully mentioned. Having a defined name that’s memorable and easily searchable will make it easier for users to find your page and your music going forward.
 
8.    See #1
 
9.    Promote the Venue – Venues have bands come play because it offers a show for their patrons. The end goal is that everyone likes getting paid, so the more the venue makes, the higher chances there are of being asked to come back and subsequently fostering that relationship with venues. While we’re on venues, it’s not a bad idea to have a contract signed by the band and the venue owner, just to be covered. You never know sometimes…
 
10.    Promote Yourself – The goal is always to spread the word and help people identify your band. Taking the time to make sure your band’s name and social media usernames are present makes a significant difference in our age of technology. You want to be easily searchable, so a banner or something that has the username of your pages is great to have posted somewhere for people to easily see. Have the singer promote the pages and repeat the band name periodically through the gig to leave that impression on people’s minds.
 
11.    Make People Move – People come out to have a good time, and they’re choosing to spend their money and time to see a show. Playing covers establishes a connection for a feeling of familiarity, and depending on the song it can make people dance (fast or slow songs), sing along, etc. Original songs are fine sporadically mixed in, but when just starting out it’s good do have a set of songs that will keep your audience entertained and wanting more. As much as it may not be fun to do, top 40 songs and songs that are currently relevant go a long way. Not saying that originals are terrible in the least bit, but gradual introduction will go a lot further to building your audience. If you can get people moving and involved, you’ve done your job! 
 
12.    Be good to your audience – I recently saw a video of Nickelback in Portugal that was having rocks thrown at them. Despite the hate they receive, they were there to play their music and the people paid to see them. After the second song, the band gave them the middle finger and walked off the stage. I know I’m beating a dead horse here, but keeping the audience happy is an integral part of any gig. Reading the crowd and gauging their responses as you go along is key. If things aren’t going so well (maybe a low-key crowd, etc), have a few songs that are a bit different than ones you played before. 
 
13.    See #1
 
14.    Play for the Song – We all want to include massive solos in songs, mainly because they’re insanely fun to play. That being said, knowing when to play is just as important as knowing WHAT to play (see #1). Just like Miles Davis said: “Don’t worry about playing a lot of notes. Just find one pretty one.” It’s okay to embellish some, but it’s also good to let the song “breathe” so to speak. 
 
15.    Have Fun – The main thing is to have fun! Yes, it may be a gig that will put food on the table, but most of us picked up the instrument because we love it and love playing. Most of the things listed above are all precautionary and once you do a once-over on your rig they’re done for good. Play the music you love, soak in the moment and enjoy yourself. You put in the work to get there, you deserve a bit of fun!
 
These are definitely not all of the things that can help create a successful gig, but it at least gets you started!