“Do YOU Have A P.A? And can you bring some cool stage lighting?”

There Is Work to Be Had—If You Can Answer “Yes!”

There is a lot of work to be found outside the usual club circuit, and often times it can be quite lucrative. The key to getting some of this gravy is to understand what the customer wants and be able to provide it. Obviously, you’re going to need to invest in some gear.

Allow me to explain where this is coming from. On a personal level, I have done some songwriting and even performed few gigs featuring my original material. But to tell the truth, as a songwriter, I am a pretty good magazine editor—songwriting is not my strength so I leave that for others who have “the gift.” I would much rather do what I enjoy, and what I feel I do best is play in cover and show bands. In my musical world, providing a sound system and lights is just part of the deal. I could tell you some pretty whacked out stories about homemade lighting systems and extremely illegal pyrotechnics at church dances, but the lighting discussion will be saved for the online world(Go to www.iLivetoPlay.com and click into SAM’s Lounge for the companion piece on lighting).

What Was The Best is Now The Bottom
Without getting nostalgic about the systems of my youth, let’s just say that the BEST system I ever had coming up is now considered entry level. There are so many options that you really have to do some serious research before you dive in, so consider this an your intro to the world of production.

Let’s start with a definition of “production” in the live show world. Think of it as everything that’s needed to present an act—that is not actually a part of the act. This includes all things from the actual stage to the sound system to the lights. Here, we are concentrating on the audio. In most cases, whether or not you need to provide your own production really depends on where you are on the food chain. It has little to do with whether you are a show band covering hits or an original act doing your own stuff—although the equation does a 180 depending on the cover or original thing. Most of the original bands I see, especially those just starting out playing clubs, walk in with their own instruments and expect the venue to provide everything from mics and stands to a full P.A. system and someone to run it. As they move up the ladder, they generally hire a sound company—although some carry their own gear and someone to run it.

In contrast, new cover acts tend to carry their own stuff because the clients they are working for are hiring a complete “package”— they don’t have any sound system or lights. As my own band has moved from private events to festivals and shows at concert-style venues, we have gone from carrying our own sound and lighting to having it all provided which often includes having backline gear (amps and drums) setup and ready when we arrive. See what I mean about that 180?

What Do You Need?
A good friend of mine recently went through the process of expanding a basic P.A. into something good enough for mid-sized (approx. 500 people) gigs. He did the cover thing for many years and was the original publisher of GIG magazine. His original act, Joshua Creek, has had some significant success in the Christian country market and recently released their second CD. Let’s go through the same process that he and I did putting his system together.

Know The Tools
Your basic components (following the signal chain) are: mics and DIs, a mixer, FX and dynamics processing, EQ, power and loudspeakers. Make sure you have a basic understanding of what each piece does and how they work together. If you are not confident with this, then work with someone who is.

Look At What You Have
If you have been doing this music deal for any significant period of time, you almost surely have some sound system parts and pieces. Start by looking at what you have and decide if it is something you can use in a more pro system. The most likely item for most artists will be mics (seriously—if you are a vocalist and do not own a mic, it is time to re-evaluate your commitment to do this music thing). Bottom line: make a list of all the sound gear you already have. Include models, I/O (input/output) format including balanced or not and the type of connectors used.

Look At How You Will Use It
It really peeves me that most sales people fail to ask the most important question when trying get a customer something they really need. For example, when you go into a music store and ask about, say, digital reverbs, if the salesperson does not ask “What are you gonna use it for?” or some variation thereon, then go somewhere else. The chances of finding someone to really help you here are slim, so you had best know it yourself. Look at the kinds of gigs you are doing now and—more importantly—the kind of gigs you want to be doing in a year. Better to buy a little more than you need now and have it last—than to spend a bunch of dough and end up with a system that is too small in just a few months.

The first gig with the new rig was a full-band show for about 300 people and it went well enough that the band is looking at expanding again—this time with a mixer upgrade.

The Missing Link
One thing that is crucial in this kind of decision is how much tech work you are willing and able to do in addition to performing. Joshua Creek knew they did not want to become sound guys. They also knew that owning a decent system meant they could take bigger gigs and hire a soundman. Without the added expense of renting gear, those gigs began to make financial sense. This is a very important thing to keep in mind. It’s a mistake I made for a lot of years— mixing the band myself from the stage instead of hiring a sound guy. It is something I never do anymore. We can go into all of the tech reasons why it is a bad idea at another time, for now, suffice it to say that mixing is as much a job as playing and singing and you can only effectively split your attention so many ways.

Count ‘Em Up
Inputs that is. Take what you think you need and double it. If that makes a mixer too pricey, then at least increase your current needs by 50%. Ditto power. Get as much as you can afford. This is not about volume. It is about something called “headroom” or the difference between the available power and the power needed to drive the speakers at a specific volume. If you push an amp hard enough to make it distort or “clip,” you stand a good chance of damaging your speakers as well as your amps. Plus it sounds like crap.

Ask Around
Talk to other bands at your level, and even more importantly, some sound guys. Look at what you see on the kind of gigs you do and take notes. Go online and read reviews and do research. This is a big and complicated decision. Arm yourself with as much knowledge as you can.

A Case Study
Let’s go back to Joshua Creek. They had a small P.A. that they used for acoustic duo gigs and wanted something bigger so they could take smaller full band gigs without renting gear or hiring a sound company. So they did step three right. They had a very good idea of what they wanted the system for and what kinds of gigs it would be used for. They had also taken inventory of what they already had. For Joshua Creek, flexibility was just as important as was keeping the initial investment low. With a powered mixer, a couple of speakers-on-sticks and a decent selection of mics, what they really needed was more output and the ability to reinforce drums and bass and keys. The system they had did a decent job with acoustic guitars and vocals for very small gigs, but upping the output and increasing the number of gigs they could take as a self-contained act meant adding subs and more power. Because cost was a factor, they found a way around needing a crossover, opting for a pair of bandpass subs (for definitions and more examples, go to the SAM’s Lounge area of www. iLivetoPlay.net) and a used power amp with a high-pass filter. This allowed them to use the amps in their powered mixer to run the subs and the new amp to run the mid-high boxes they already had. The investment was minimal—less than a grand.

Originally posted 2009-07-21 05:52:35.