Sunday, May 20, 2012

the hard way

there is a life lesson that, after playing professionally for 6 years, i continue to learn the hard way. over and over again i have the same thing happen to me. i think i've learned from my mistakes and have put procedures in place and yet it still seems to happen and it's all my fault. it's like their are little gremlins or gear gnomes always one step ahead of me. what i talking about is gear problems on stage

here's the thing - at any given show there are a million things that can go wrong. cables can short out, wireless frequencies conflict, guitars get banged up, strings break, fuses blow, etc... and even though that is just a part of life, as a player, it's always YOUR FAULT...or i guess i should say my fault.

when the spotlight comes on and the curtain goes up, i am the one who looks stupid if there's no sound coming from my guitar or even worse - the WRONG sound coming from my guitar. it's really not fair, but it's just how it is. i can have every excuse about how someone else or something else caused this, but at the end of the day it's my fault.

i'll give you a few examples. we fly to shows a lot, and when i check my pedalboard, TSA has a habit of opening it up - which is understandable because on the x-ray all the cords and wires looks suspicious. however, many times they feel the need to unplug cables, twist knobs and even unscrew my George L connectors. so we show up at the venue for sound check and when i plug in i just get a horrible buzzing sound and have to waste 15 minutes of our 20 minute sound check trouble shooting which cable or pedal TSA messed with. and then there's guitar intonation. when you fly with guitars, they inevitably get banged around no matter how good your road case is. and there's nothing more frustrating than knowing your guitar is perfectly in tune, but you still hit a chord and something is out of tune because of the intonation.

sometimes the production company doesn't hook up the power correctly and the power your amp is running through is connected to the lighting system and again, i spend 15 minutes searching for ground lifts and extension cords. and don't get me started on wireless frequencies. every show will have different wireless mics and wireless in-ear packs that conflict with the frequency of my guitar. so i'll spend the time to switch the frequency in sound check, and then when showtime comes, i'll still have problems because another band has their own wireless packs that weren't turned on when i was scanning for an open frequency.

i'm not trying to complain here. this isn't a whining blog. the lesson is that it's up to YOU to put in failsafe systems to deal with this stuff. i always carry a spare cable so that if i have a wireless problem, i can instantly just plug right in and work around it. i carry one or two spare George L cables just in case TSA decides to mess with my pedalboard. i carry mini-screwdrivers with me and adjust intonation all the time to deal with my guitars getting banged around. i always have extra picks and sets of strings.

another issue is monitors and guitar tones. when i fly to shows i only bring guitars and pedal board. the promoter provides the amps, also known as backline. and while our contract rider dictates what types of amps to provide, frequently i get something less than satisfactory. but the fact remains that if my guitar tone sounds bad, it's my fault. i can't blame anyone else. so sometimes (not very often) i have to be a diva and tell them they need to find another amp. this has only happened twice, but there was no other way. and in the last two years i've adjusted my pedalboard with 3 gain stages of distortion so that i can deal with almost any amp in those few situations where the provided amp is no good and there's no way to get something else. i'm not a jerk about it. i try to be very respectful and it's been fine. one time the promoter went to guitar center, bought an amp for me to use and then returned it for a full refund after the show.

the same is true with your monitors. when i first started playing gigs i didn't care too much about what my monitors sounded like. i just didn't want to be a pain. but again, i learned the hard way that if my mix isn't right and it affects my performances, it's nobody's fault but mine. if the guy running monitors isn't very good, it's up to me to keep working with him until it's right. back with TFK we played to tracks and it was important to hear the click track clearly or else i could get off time with the tracks and the rest of the band. the same can also be true for singers - if you can't hear your voice clear enough, it's your responsibility to make sure everything sounds and feels right because in the end, you're the one who looks stupid if you go flat or sharp - regardless of whether or not you can hear yourself. you can't apologize on stage. well, i guess you can, but nobody cares. you look stupid.

there's no way to get around having technical mishaps on stage every now and then. stuff happens. but here's the thing - they don't have to happen twice. my strategy is this: if some sort of technical glitch happens, i figure out a way to install a safeguard so that the problem will never happen a second time. it's reasonable to make mistakes, but only once. after the first time it's up to you to figure out a way to make sure it doesn't happen again. yesterday i played a show and was having trouble with my wireless and couldn't figure out what it was. but i made a mistake and switched the channel and assumed it would be better. when the show started, it wasn't. luckily i used my spare cable and worked around it, but the first couple songs i had serious problems and looked stupid. i broke my own rule - and that is that if it's not sounding right during soundcheck, don't leave soundcheck until is it right. cause nothing magical is going to happen in between check and showtime that will repair your gear.

just remember, no matter how many and how good your excuses are, in the end it's still your responsibility to make sure your gear is working correctly and your responsibility to make sure that you are ready to play.

1 comment:

James said...

Really enjoyed this post. As a church musician, there is less to go wrong, but it still happens. Glad to hear a professional take, plus you've given me some ideas.

About Me

"What came first, the music or the misery? People worry about kids playing with guns, or watching violent videos; that some sort of culture of violence will take them over. Nobody worries about kids listening to thousands, literally thousands of songs about heartbreak, rejection, pain, misery and loss. Did I listen to pop music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to pop music?" --Hi Fidelity


Hey guys, my name is Nick Baumhardt. I help write and record music. I also play guitar for Thousand Foot Krutch and FM Static.

These are my thoughts on music, art, politics, food, recording and whatever else I feel like writing about.

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