Lessons from the Greene

It’s John Orr, Lynn Perdzock, Bob Farley, Pat Carine Sr. (special guest), and Don Winegar Jr.

Raggedy Edge and Littlest Big Band Revue had another decent show at the Greene, and once again I have learned a thing or two about big venue sound and weather.

Let’s start with the weather. Usually it’s too hot, too cold, too windy, too wet, too bright, or too dark. This one was only a bit on the chilly side after the sun went down and the wind kept blowing, but it started out very good temperature-wise. The wind may have been the biggest problem, causing a bit of feedback in acoustic guitars, kind of like blowing into your cupped hand to make a conch shell sort of sound.

Working the PA turned out to the be the biggest hassle, one that didn’t get totally solved, but was almost under control by the last set. Nice that a few people were left in the square by then.

So what happened?

Bass. Too much of it in the system. Where was it coming from? Not totally sure, as we had all the channels nearly devoid of it. Had to have some, of course, or it sounded so bright and sharp it would slice through your skull.

We had rented some powered speakers to use for the mains, and we had them set around 15 feet in front of us, so we couldn’t hear them well. We used our Fishman 220 for a monitor that sat behind us, like it does normally for our shows. When we checked it by itself during set-up, it had enough volume to do the show by itself.  I think that two of them could have done the job if set out to the sides of us, like we do when a duo and playing a noisy venue. (We only use the one during those times, of course, since that’s all we have. A powered speaker on the other side, though, could save us the cost of another stick. Something for future thought.)

I think our biggest mistake (okay, my biggest mistake) was not setting the mains first by themselves. Again, it was hard to do, being one person, and I should have/could have set my guitar to loop, then run out front, analyzed, run back and reset, run back out front, and repeat till it was right. (Some kind of bluetooth mixer and tablet sounds desirable about now.)

More time should have been spent making sure the crowd received a good all-around sound, then and only then should I have started with the monitor sound.

At that point, something our drummer Don Winegar said should have been thought through and enacted: Can we set up like we do for practice? You see, when we practice, we don’t mike anything. Only the bass is amplified enough to hear. The bass and drums are facing each other on opposite sides of the room, and Lynn and I are in the middle, usually facing each other, too. For the show, one of us would only have to turn around. The thing that would happen then would/should be that the monitor sound would simulate the practice environment, just a little bit louder, thus providing a comfort zone of familiarity.

But instead, at first, we played with the sound of the mains mixed with the monitor behind us, and it seemed okay around 20 feet or so, but we found out later that farther out front it was too bassy and the vocals were lost. The bass was also mostly in front of us, so we could barely hear it on stage. I suppose it was loud enough out front.

Overall, it’s hard to mix mains from the stage. But what is the solution?

One: Play big gigs where there are house systems. Usually works, but then your sound is homogenized into whatever the house wants and you have to trust their sound person will give you a good sound. You can tell from your Facebook involvement the next day if that was pleasing to the people.

Two: If no sound provided, then renting a system and an engineer might cost a couple hundred dollars easy, but the sound is set right for you, you hope.

Three: Or we (a) continue to rent powered speakers or (b) buy our own set of big speakers–or maybe one will do–to use for those rare big outdoor events that come our way and practice with them till we get it right.

We’ve learned to give ourselves plenty of highs for larger spaces we play with our Fishman as a duo, so we should be able to accomplish the same with bigger sound. Must remember it for the next time it becomes an issue.