Because of how financially unpredictable the world of live music is, many musicians at some point have had to resort to cutting corners when investing in gear for gigs. While these decisions may be appealing financially, they often have a negative impact on the effectiveness of your live show, both in the quality of your sound and how smoothly you're able to navigate your set. If you've been noticing some room for improvement on stage, here are a few tips and suggestions for possible investments that could take your performances to the next level.
1. Repairs and replacements
As exciting as new goodies can be, making sure that all of the gear you have is in proper working order should take priority. This is the number-one area where musicians tend to cut corners. Oftentimes, our technical difficulties onstage actually stem from issues that we already knew existed, but figured we'd be able to cope with for the time being. It's time to get that scratchy volume pot or difficult pedal fixed and throw out that cable that "sometimes works at a certain angle" and replace it with one you can safely rely on.
The Mogami Gold Series cables, for instance, are a little bit on the expensive side, but they sound much better and are built much sturdier than the cheaper brands out there, plus they come with a lifetime guarantee that is honored in most music retail stores. This means if you're on tour and you've got a broken cable, you can take it to the nearest music shop and immediately get it replaced with a brand new one.
When you buy a piece of gear and you are offered any sort of repair or replacement plan, don't be immediately dismissive; rather, consider the benefits and make an informed decision. If you can't see yourself needing to use the plan in the next few years, or if you know the gear you're buying is particularly sturdy (Boss guitar pedals, for example, are notoriously built like tanks), then maybe you can get away with a pass. However, if you know that what you're buying is something you'll be transporting and using a lot, or if you're buying it to replace something that has already broken, it may be a good idea to invest in the plan.
Eliminating any faulty elements from your setup directly yields a more reliable performance experience, and the resulting peace of mind is much more valuable than satisfying your Gear Acquisition Syndrome with new toys.
2. Extra accessories
These are some smaller pieces of your live setup that are often overlooked, but they have a huge impact on how smoothly you get through your set. The name of the game here is excess. We're talking about extra cables, guitar picks, strings, drum keys, drum heads, sticks, and batteries. Supplement any items specific to your group. If your band includes a saxophone player, he should definitely have a box of extra reeds in his case. If you use multiple guitars for different tunings, be sure to have an extra instrument stand onstage for each guitar, including the one you're currently holding.
A lot of items are much cheaper when ordered in bulk. Make sure you not only have extra mic and instrument cables, but that they're longer than you think you'll need. As you go through extra strings, make sure you keep track of how many of each gage you've got on you and replenish them as needed.
Keep all of your extra sticks, strings, and picks nearby while you perform, onstage if at all possible. This way they can be easily accessed when an emergency happens (because an emergency will happen to you at some point), and the world is watching to see if you handle yourself as professionally as possible when it does!
One of the most important components of your live sound is amplification. Yet, too often, we see bands whose amps don't fit their style or venue.
Size is a very common struggle: you don't want to be that band that lugs three 4x12 cabs on a tiny bar stage. While this may look impressive, chances are you're not going to be able to push the amps nearly as much as you need to in order to utilize their potential (and if you do, you are going to drive the sound guy crazy with excess stage volume). And of course, the size of the amps against the limited space in smaller venues will make loading in and out an absolute nightmare. You want to be able to bring your amp volume up to a point where it can start to breathe (typically the sound doesn't start to open up until you get up to around three or four) without killing your audience. At the same time, you don't want to be struggling to hear yourself with a small amp maxed out in bigger venues. This is both going to fry your amp and have a negative impact on your sound and even your playing. It's all about understanding the typical venue size and volume level of your performances.
Style is also an important factor when it comes to amp choice. There are no steadfast rules here, but do some research and find an amp that works best with the sound you're going for. If you're in a blues trio, you may want to consider trying out a Fender Bassman or a Marshall Bluesbreaker, and leave the Triple Rectifiers and Uberschalls to the metalheads.
Taking steps to correct existing issues within your setup can be time-consuming, expensive, and at times, frustrating. However, neglecting to fix these problems puts you at risk of looking cheap, unprepared, and worst of all, unprofessional. Never assume that the people watching your set won't notice when you take shortcuts, because they absolutely will. The bottom line in any performance situation is that if you put in the effort to look like you really care about what you're doing, you increase the likelihood that your audience will care as well.
As a performing musician, John Tyler Kent has played with a wide variety of artists for all kinds of audiences, from small clubs across the US to international music festivals. In addition to his work as a performer, Tyler has experience in music marketing, production, and composition.