Below is a list of things I have come across at live venues in China, through my experiences doing sound. It is a simple list of things that venues need to consider in making their venue work on a technical basis. Some are more significant than others, but I know that what most venues think and worry about most is money. Fair enough, they are a business too. They need money to survive like the rest of us. So what I have done is put this list in order of cost, going from cheapest, to most expensive.
Clean your stage and clean your equipment
I have seen some shocking stages in my time. I mean, there must have been grime and dust that has built up over years — it’s awful. All you need to do is once every one or two weeks, go on the stage and clear all those old glasses, old cables, old flyers, etc., and just sort the stage out. Give it a sweep or even a mop. It costs nothing and it is so much nicer to work on when clean.
Clean your control area, where your mixing desk, etc., are. Same as above, I have seen some messy control spaces that are just filthy.
CLEAN YOUR AMPS. And basically all your gear. Amps will work better and last longer if they can stay cool — an efficient amp is a more powerful amp. Clean the filters in front of the amps, and let them breathe. Dust build-up will just kill them. Same goes for all electrical equipment. CLEAN CLEAN CLEAN. It costs nothing.
I went to a venue in Beijing recently and the drum kit was so dusty that it was beyond belief, and the first thing I thought was that these guys just didn’t care.
Set up your equipment correctly
Amps as main speakers sitting on top of each other is a big no-no. They need to breathe, so stack them right — put space between them. That will stop them shutting off.
Have all your cables labelled correctly. If something goes wrong, labels are your friend.
If you don’t know how something should be set up, get an opinion, and not just from some guy who works as local labour for some AV company, but from someone who knows what they are doing. I have seen the most bizarre wiring set-ups it’s not even funny, and it took double the soundcheck time just to figure out what does what.
Lighting systems that are just so badly programmed are un-useable.
Main FOH (front of house) speakers pointing in the wrong place? Before any tuning, in fact, before anything — speaker placement is so, so, so important.
This list could go on and on… Nothing will work correctly if it is not set up right.
Make sure people know what they are doing
Have a sound guy who knows what he is doing and actually cares about his job. Pushing the faders up and then sitting on your smart phone is not mixing a band!
I was in the above-mentioned venue in Beijing with a touring artist, and the venue brought in a sound guy who did not know chalk from cheese — he was just plain shit. You must realize now that this artist will continue to travel the world touring, and he will talk about how bad this venue is to anyone willing to listen before talking about the great cocktail they have on the menu. That venue is now tarnished, and all because of a simple lack of care.
Bands make a huge effort to get to a level of being able to play in front of people, and they do not need to be let down by a bad sound guy.
Put the sound desk in the right place
I am sorry but you should not own a venue that programs live bands if you think putting the sound desk on the side of stage is okay. WHAT THE FUCK?! It’s for the sound guy, they need to hear what’s going on. For a few extra dollars, buy some longer cables and put the desk at the back of the room. Not under a set of stairs, or on a level above the stage, or under a balcony, or any other stupid place. The person doing sound needs to hear the room clearly.
A sound guy can’t mix drums, vocals and bass if they are placed in front of a guitar amp. And to simply say, “Well, he can walk out into the room and listen,” — it does not work that way. You need to hear the changes, and you need to hear and compare what changes you are actually making.
And by the way, you don’t want to have your venue so crowded that the sound guy will have too much trouble walking around the venue. Yes, this is the biggest problem.
Do a weekly check of your equipment
Have your technical staff turn everything on once a week and make sure it is all working. Put some music on, turn on the monitors, play all your lighting programs. It will take only an hour or two. That way, you know everything is working or not.
It is a good idea to have your sound guy turn up an hour before the bands. Get him to turn everything on, make sure it all works. Are the drums okay? Are the monitors working? Are all the amps on? Bands should not have to waste their soundcheck time whilst a sound guy fixes some issue he should have worked on before the band walked in.
Have a few spares of everything lying around — a few more mic cables, audio adaptors, DIs, mic clips, PVC and gaffa tape, drum skins, etc. You will always need them and it will always be at the worst possible time, when you find yourself hurriedly searching for them.
Most costly: HAVE NICE GEAR!
Don’t say that you are Shanghai’s premier live venue and then have an LED wall only partly working. Take pride in the gear you own.
A nice microphone does not cost much but makes a significant difference, and that can be said for all pieces of equipment. Invest in your gear, look after it, use it right, and it will make all the difference.
If you have trashed gear and you say it’s because drunken punters get on after the bands and have a bash, empower and train your staff to tell them to get off, and to respect the venue.
I think many owners of venues, not just in China but everywhere, don’t understand the importance of how good a “good sound” is. It can make a or break a night.
To see or hear that your favourite band is coming to town, you wait and wait, you tell all your friends, you get excited all day, you listen to it on your iPod getting ready, you turn up to the gig, the band comes on and bang, they start… but all you hear is a big muddy wash of noise.
Punters realize this. They walk away going, “Blah, blah, venue is no good,” just because of its simple set-up mistakes, maintenance issues, and simply not taking the time to get to know their gear or asking someone who does know.
In Shanghai, I have offered to come help four separate venues totally free of charge. I wouldn’t say I am an expert, but I have been building venues technically for fifteen years and I am happy to share my knowledge and give these venues a helping hand — not simply for me, but for all my friends here in Shanghai who are in bands, all my mates who love to see bands play, and all my friends who have taken a chance and opened a venue here in Shanghai and let all these great bands come and play.
But, not one venue has said “yes”. And this comes to the nasty part: THEY DONT CARE. Start caring venues, please!
By Nathan Sidoti
via Slink Rat