Bands: Please Don't Let Bad Equipment Ruin Your Tour... PDF Print E-mail
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Thursday, 27 June 2013 05:19

The following guest post comes from Chris Daniels, Assistant Professor at the College of Arts & Media, University of Colorado Denver.  Daniels has extensive and active experience touring, currently with Chris Daniels & the Kings.

I've managed my own band for years and I teach music business at the University of Colorado Denver.  And despite the revolution in digital technology, success for young artists is still built around some tried and true elements including a great live show.  It takes great music & performance skills, really hard work and timing.  (This last is often mistaken for luck.)

The other key element is being informed… using sites like Digital Music News to stay on top of the market.  Whether it's cyber marketing or going beyond the current tricks of the trade to do something truly groundbreaking, it's a crowded marketplace and young artists HAVE to deliver live — your competition is global, not local or regional.

Some of what I teach is very 'practical' info about the crowded LIVE market place: essential training to get the most out of your gigs.

While it's no secret that big box music stores like Guitar Center thrive on the hopes and dreams of artists with viability — as well as the 'hobbyist' who spends lots of money on equipment that will not make them famous or even a better musician — there are some basic tricks to the trade that can help working musicians free themselves from dumb mistakes young artists make playing live.

In simple terms, if you or your band or your DJ work includes equipment that is difficult or time consuming to set up, finicky or problematic — or that is just too damn big — you are in for a world of hurt when it comes to the work-a-day set-up — play — break-it-down and head to the next gig life.

Don't get me wrong, there is nothing more important then getting the tones and sounds you want or need for the music you perform — but here's the deal, if the equipment that you need to do that becomes a pain in the ass for you or the sound techs you work with — there will be little joy in your life should you be lucky enough to go out on tour or work a lot of gigs.

I can't tell you how many times I've seen artist tech problems kill the show — and I've seen it both as a teacher working with young bands and as a professional playing festivals and gigs all over the world.  Last month at a student run festival on the CU Denver campus I saw a well known 'headliner' band with tons of national experience come in and totally blow the set up and tear down.  Their tech rider and equipment needs were vague and not specified clearly and essential parts of their equipment was not functioning the way it should… and these were pros!!

It hurt their show - and it should have been a great show.  So a few "rules" you should learn… or guidelines as Jack Sparrow might call them.

1) Fix your shit BEFORE you take it on the road.

And I don't mean just fix any 'iffy' cords or problematic power sources, I mean make it simple, fast to set up and take down, and easy to control in any environment.

EXAMPLE: It's summer and that means a lot of playing on outdoor festival-stages of all sizes.  If your equipment has a problem with heat, not easily readable setting windows in direct sunlight, or if you are used to it sounding perfect in your home studio, YOU HAVE A PROBLEM.  You have to deal with it!

Every single stage you play sounds different.  If it sounded great in the rehearsal hall and you can't make it sound just as good on the Warp stages so it pisses you off… you have a flippin' problem… simplify and get so you can get the sounds you need in almost any conditions you can and cannot imagine… because it will happen.

2) Become adaptable in space and the size of your rig.

This is especially true of drummers.  If you can't share a drum kit with another band because you have to have a 2-kick set up and 4 floor toms — you are not a pro — you are a baby.  Snap out of it!

Clyde Stubblefield, James Brown's famous 'funky drummer,' sat in with my band on our drummer’s kit for a set and blew our minds! This is the most 'sampled' drummer in history - who's grooves have been sampled for so many famous hip hop/rap albums it's insane.  If he can sit down and play on a simple 5-piece kit using somebody else's throne and kick-peddle so can you!

This is especially true if you are opening (support act) for a lot of bands and lots of festivals. Learn how to use a very small kit because sometimes you will get very little room and no sound check. 

Deal with it! Become a pro.

3) Get your gear on and off stage FAST!

You want to piss off a festival stage manager or a venue stage manager or the headline act’s road crew?  Play your set and then go talk to your fans right away and leave your crap on the stage.  I guarantee you will either get a serious beat down by the stage manager or worse, you will not get asked back to work with that festival, headliner or venue.

Part of being adaptable is knowing how to structure your gear so that it can get moved on — plugged in — get sounds — and taken off the stage after your set with as little drama as possible.

4) If it's important carry 2 of them.

In my band we tour all over the world and we do not use keys. That means that the two guitar parts that create the bed for horns and vocals really are interdependent — we work on them and develop them like the Beatles did.  And if one drops out — the whole house of cards comes down.

So I carry 2 guitars — my favorite ax and a cheap but very very playable knock-off of the same guitar that also sounds great — just in case (a) something goes wrong in 98 degree heat — I can switch to the back up — or in case I break a string.  And our show does not have a lot of stand around time — we burn.  That means that the songs choreograph into one another via stories and music segues that never stop — whether it's a 45 minute opening slot for the Doobie Brothers or a two-hour headlining slot in Holland.

If I break a string I can't just say — "oops sorry folks I have to change a string" and I cannot wait for a sound tech to bring me a guitar.

I've seen this kind of stuff really wreck a good show.  At that same student-run festival I mentioned earlier a different band with a moog-dependent sound had a plastic key break on the moog.  The bandleader spent then next 20 minutes of a 30 minute opening set complaining about the problem and they lost their audience completely — and the show became about technical crap… not music or art.

This may not be an easy thing for young artists to do.  It does take time, experimentation and persistence to get it down to a science.  But once you get there — once your equipment isn't a distraction but a tool to take your audience along with you for the journey you came to give them — then you are set free to go beyond "my digital delay settings" — to transcend the technical so that it "serves" the performance and not the other way around.

And there is nothing worse for an audience to see you sit there screwing around with your gear and making lame-oh excuses about why your crap doesn't work while they listen to you whine and whine.

That sucks for them… Facebook and Twitter posts will haunt you for the next two weeks and your mother will know about it via email.

So get your poop in a group. It really will set you free.

Chris Daniels
Assistant Professor C/T
University of Colorado Denver

Source: Digital Music News


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