“Throw and go” is 100% possible – if you’re ready to do it well.
The opinions expressed are mine only. These opinions do not necessarily reflect anybody else’s opinions. I do not own, operate, manage, or represent any band, venue, or company that I talk about, unless explicitly noted.
I have a tendency to forget how good bands are. If I don’t work with a certain group regularly, my mental recall of their musicianship gets hazy and vague. Such is the case with Reckless Spirit, a really killer local band whose killer-ness I forgot.
Don’t get me wrong – I remembered that they were good. It’s just that I didn’t have a real grip on just how good.
Reckless Spirit was closing a two-band bill. It took a bit to get the bands changed over, and all we really had time for was a quick “line check.” Everything had a solid connection to the console, and the vocals were audible in monitor world, so –
Off we went.
And the show sounded fantastic.
With no proper soundcheck at all.
Their sound came together in about 30 seconds, and the result was one of the most enjoyable rock-band mixes I’ve heard in a while. I’m not joking. It was effortless.
Working It All Out Ahead Of Time
I’m convinced that Reckless Spirit’s “secret” is a pretty simple one: Make sure that the music actually works as music, before you ever get to the venue. When you get right down to it, the band has become expert at dealing with The Law Of Conservation of Effort, especially in terms of having their “ensemble proportionalities” dead on.
Seriously – I don’t know if rock n’ roll has its arrangements described as “exquisite” very often, but that’s the word I would use to describe the way Reckless Spirit’s show came together. At every moment, everything had a proper (and very exact) place. When it was time for a run on the keys, the timbre and volume of the keys rig was EXACTLY correct for the part to stand out without crushing everything else. The same was very much true for the guitar, and the bass-and-drum rhythm section was always audible and distinct…yet never overbearing.
Everybody had their spot in terms of volume – and not just overall level, but the levels for the specific frequency ranges that they were meant to cover. The guitar parts and keyboard bits weren’t trying to be in the same tonal range at the same time. The bass wasn’t stomping on the guitar, and the drums fit neatly into the musical “negative space” that remained. Sure, a really good PA operator (with a sufficiently powerful PA) can do a lot to create that situation, but it takes a very long time – and a busload of volume – if the band isn’t even close to doing it themselves.
The point here is that the band didn’t need the PA system to be a band. There was no requirement for me to take them completely apart, and then stick them back together again. Before even a single channel was unmuted, they were 100% prepared to be cohesive…and that meant that when the live-sound rig DID get involved, the PA was really only needed for a bit of room-specific sweetening. Sure, FOH (Front of House) was needed as a “vocal amp,” but that pretty much goes for everyone who plays amplified music. Aside from getting clarity into the lyrical portion of the show, the PA didn’t need to “fix” anything.
…and getting clarity was easy, because the band was playing at a volume that fit the vocals in neatly. We actually REDUCED the monitor volume on deck, because my “standard rock show” preset made the vocals too loud. Even with that, Brock (the guitarist and main vocalist) informed me that he was really backing off from the mic, because it seemed very, very hot.
Great ensemble prep + reduced stage wash = nice sound out front.
I’m convinced that just about anyone can be in possession of that equation up there. The key is to do your homework, Reckless Spirit style. Use as much rehearsal time as you can to figure out EXACTLY where everybody’s sound is supposed to be, and EXACTLY when those sounds are supposed to be there. Figure out how to do all that at small-venue volume, and how to get the vocals spot-on without powerful monitors, and your chances of a sonically great show will jump in a massive way. You’ll be 90% down the road to a successful partnership with any given night’s audio-human, because by doing your job you’ll enable them to do theirs more effectively.
Be Reckless (proper noun).