Tag Archives: Effort

A Proven Methodology For Winning At Thermonuclear War

You may know the answer already, but you might prefer not to admit it to yourself.

Please Remember:

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.

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The cultural apex that was the 1980s taught us the answer to this one. The only winning move in Global Thermonuclear War is not to play. Sadly, in the world of audio and music, people play Global Thermonuclear War all the time.

What I mean by this is quite simple: People will throw vast amounts of money and time at all manner of problems and conflicts, hoping to solve them through technological means. This is, of course, encouraged by the equipment manufacturing and vending industry, which makes quite a bit of scratch on the premise that “there is something you can buy to fix this.”

And, you know, they are actually right. They are right in the sense that pretty much any sonic issue you can imagine is fixable if you have unlimited resources. I’ve said this to people on multiple occasions myself. “We can absolutely fix this.” Of course, I then follow up with: “How much time and money do ya got?” I can absolutely, positively, make your giant echo-chamber of a gym sound like a control room in Abbey Road studios. That is totally possible. I’ll need a starting budget of $100,000 for acoustical treatment and install labor, plus six weeks to get the task accomplished.

Oh, you were thinking of going down to that place that’s a “center” of guitars and plonking $200 down on some doodads? Yeah, that’s not really going to do it for you…

Recently, I was discussing a particularly difficult situation with a fellow, local-music human. A venue is constantly in trouble with its in-building neighbors for being too loud. The stage has been torn open and deadened. The absolute minimum necessary signal is run through the PA. Drumkits are not miced at all. Are the neighbors still pissed? Yup. What’s pissing them off? The drums of course. So, the inevitable question was asked – does the place need to get a drumshield, or a ton of acoustical foam for the walls?

Well, neither of those things is likely to work. I have a very strong hunch that the drumshield would help a little, by reducing some of the sound traveling through the air to the walls and ceiling. Even so, the shield won’t do anything at all to stop mechanical transmission from the stage to the building structure (which is what I think is the real killer), nor will it provide what I imagine the disgruntled co-tenants actually want: A 20 – 30 dB drop in level. By the same token, a big spend on in-room treatment will make the venue’s space dead, but won’t do squat when it comes to stopping the walls from moving due to low-frequency material and physical impact.

Isn’t there a technological fix? Of course there is! The establishment can close for a couple of months while everything is ripped out, and a soundproof chamber is built inside the existing shell. The ceiling and walls could be completely decoupled, and the floor could be floated. The whole shebang would be built of cinderblock filled with concrete. At last, the other folks would have peace and quiet, even if someone threw a death-metal show into the mix.

Possible? Yes. Plausible for any reasonable investment? Not a snowball’s chance.

As such, my answer to the query was, “Don’t book rock bands in there anymore.” The fight isn’t worth fighting, because more and more time and money is being thrown at a conundrum that isn’t getting solved. Irritated neighbors don’t award points for effort. The goings-on is a slugging match, a contest of wills between groups that want fundamentally different and incompatible things. To give the other guys what they want while getting the music side what it wants just isn’t practical in real life. Live-music can still happen in that space, but it needs to start out quiet instead of being turned into quiet “ex post facto.”

As such, the way to win the game is to stop playing. Gordian knots aren’t untied – they are cut.

It’s Gonna Take A Minute

The secret to better shows is practice. Practice requires time.

Please Remember:

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.

Want to use this image for something else? Great! Click it for the link to a high-res or resolution-independent version.

The Video

The Summary

We should strive to do our best work. The best work possible on the first try is usually not as good as the best work possible on subsequent tries – and we need to be okay with that.

Trimming The Sails

Change the variables you control. It’s more effective.

Please Remember:

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.

Want to use this image for something else? Great! Click it for the link to a high-res or resolution-independent version.

The music industry has a bad habit because every industry has a bad habit.

Because humans have a bad habit.

The wind changes, and we groan on and on about the wind:

“People need to go to this or that kind of gig more.” “Streaming is unfair.” “People need to buy vinyl.” “People need to assign value to music in the way I assign value to it.” “People need to stop listening to Pop.” “Bars need to stop hiring DJs.” “Promoters need to do this thing that I want.” “Musicians need to do what the engineer tells them.” “Guitar players need to dial up the sound I want.”

Now, I’m all for changing the world. I’m in favor of discovering what works and what doesn’t, and passing that information along – the allure of mythology and innuendo be hanged! I’m also an admirer of being able to sit patiently, waiting for things to start moving in the way you like. All of that has its place.

But the thing is, changing the direction of the world is difficult and time-consuming. Training a large number of people to think and act as you would have them do is a gargantuan and frustrating project. Waiting for the stars to align sometimes requires years that you don’t have.

On the other hand, trying to “turn to catch the wind” is relatively quick and easy. You go, “How do I leverage this situation with what I have available?” Then you do. Sometimes this means getting propelled by the force of the flow, and sometimes this means carving your own channel.

For instance, let’s talk about streaming. If I had a nickel for every artist moaning about how streaming doesn’t pay musicians enough, I’d have a lot of money compared to the complainers. Recorded music is data. Data is in incredibly high supply. High supply means low monetary value. Streaming is how more and more people consume music. That’s just the way it is. Selling expensive, physical media isn’t “the only way” anymore, and that’s that. The wind of streaming is blowing stronger and stronger, so you may as well catch it.

Then, there’s the problem of “promoters don’t book my genre in this town.” Well, you can sit and mope, or you can rent a space, get your favorite bands together, and do things on your terms. Pick yourself, as Seth Godin would say. If you don’t want to sail with the breeze, you’re going to have to row. Paddling across the water is tougher than getting pushed along, but it’s still a choice that you can make and control.

I support your right to shake your fist at the circumstances that won’t play by your preferred rule-set. Life in music can truly “vacuum” on certain days, and there’s nothing wrong with being irritated. At the same time, I strongly urge you to have an attitude of “Meet ’em where they are.” Going to where the action is, whether physically or metaphorically, is almost always easier than getting the action to come to you.

Load Out Begins Immediately Upon Load In

Everything is prep for something else.

Please Remember:

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.

cycleWant to use this image for something else? Great! Click it for the link to a high-res or resolution-independent version.

You may not have known this, but loading in and loading out aren’t different processes. They are the same thing. Setup and teardown also share this behavior.

Basically, every part of doing a show is the preparatory step for what comes after it. If you’re lazy about the prep (and we all get lazy from time to time), you are making the next bit harder.

For example, let’s say that you load in a show with gear going absolutely everywhere. It’s spread out all over creation. There’s no plan, at all, for how things should be grouped. It all looks like a giant two-year old was given a set of blocks that look like flightcases, amplifiers, and storage tubs, and that two-year old suddenly decided the world was unfair and threw a major fit.

Nobody knows where anything is, exactly. Not even you.

How do you think setup is going to treat you, starting from a place of chaos?

If setup treats you poorly, how will the show go?

If the show goes poorly, as most amalgams of entropy and stress tend to do, how will teardown go?

If teardown is a ball of stress, sullenness, “I don’t care, just throw it in,” and general capitulation, will loadout be easy on you?

What will the next show be like, probably?

Problems cascade. It’s just like breaking a microphone’s cable: For that microphone, every other connection is effectively broken. If any part of the show is afflicted with disorganization, every other part of the show will suffer from the effects.

On multiple occasions, I’ve been told that I run a very tight stage. That is, I try to start with things in a neat and orderly configuration. I’ll tell you right now that such habits, for me, are not just about aesthetics. Yes, I do appreciate the look of a clean and organized show. I’m aware of the “political” implications of presenting that kind of setup to musicians, and I think those implications are worth the effort all by themselves. However, it’s also about survival, plain and simple.

There are people in this business who I term “sound ninjas.” They can take any mess and make it functional in the space of a few seconds. I’m not so skilled as to pull that off. I have to be able to understand what’s going on with the rig, and have some “homework” done if I’m going to do a decent job at selective noise-louderization. If the system looks like some giant violently vomited black spaghetti and steel poles all over the place, I’m going to have a bad time.

So, I try for the opposite, because I want to have a good time.

…and, of course, any show will involve the setup racing towards the maximum possible entropy. If the system’s entropy – the chaos and disorder involved – starts as low as you can get it, then its end value will be as low as the circumstances allow. If the entropy starts high, it’s only going to get higher by the time you’re ready to pack and leave.

Pack the boxes neatly, and it will be easy to find things at the next setup. It will also be much easier to setup in an organized way.

The show will be pulled off much more easily.

The end level of disorganization will be lower, making it easier to pack neatly.

Pack the boxes neatly, and it will be easy to – (You get the idea.)

The time and effort required to make a show happen can not be created or destroyed. It can only be transferred around. Spread it evenly, and the process stays manageable. Pack it all into one huge lump, and you may not be able to handle it all.

Another Schwilly Guest Post

Zen and the art of audience capture.

Please Remember:

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.


If your audience wants your shows to start earlier, the trick is to, you know, start earlier. (The link will send you to the article.)

If It Doesn’t Work, I Don’t Want To Do It

Not doing things that are pointless seems like an obvious idea, but…

Please Remember:

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.

Want to use this image for something else? Great! Click it for the link to a high-res or resolution-independent version.

This is going to sound off-topic, but be assured that you haven’t wandered onto the wrong site.

I promise.

Just hear me out. It’s going to take a bit, but I think you’ll get it by the end.


I used to have a day-job at an SEO (Search Engine Optimization) company. If you don’t know what SEO is, then the name might lead you to believe that it’s all about making search engines work better. It isn’t. SEO should really be called “Optimizing Website FOR Search Engines,” but I guess OWFSE wasn’t as catchy as SEO. It’s the business of figuring out what helps websites to turn up earlier in search results, and then doing those things.

It’s probably one of the most bull[censored] businesses on the entire planet, as far as I can tell.


Things started out well, but after just a few months I realized that our product was crap. (Not to put too fine a point on it.) It wasn’t that anyone in the company wanted to produce crap and sell it. Pretty much everybody that I worked with was a “stand up” sort of person. You know – decent folks who wanted to do right by other folks.

The product was crap because the company’s business model was constrained such that we couldn’t do things for our customers that would actually matter. Our customers needed websites and marketing campaigns that set them apart from the crowd and made spending money with them as easy as possible. Those things are spendy, and require lots of time to implement well. The business model we were constrained to was “cheap and quick” – which we could have gotten away with if it was the time before the dotcom bubble popped. Unfortunately, the bubble had exploded into a slimy mess about 12 years earlier.

So, our product was crap. I spent most of my time at the company participating in the making of crap. When I truly realized just how much crap was involved, things got relatively awful and I planned my escape. (It was even worse because a number of us had ideas for fixes, ideas that were supported by our own management. However, our parent company had no real interest in letting us “pivot,” and that was that.)

But I learned a lot, and there were bright spots. One of the brightest spots was working with a product manager who was impervious to industry stupidity, had an analytical and reasonable mind, and who once uttered a sentence which has become a catchphrase for me:

“If it doesn’t work, I don’t want to do it.”

Is that not one of the most refreshing things you’ve ever heard? Seriously, it’s beautiful. Even with all the crap that was produced at that company, that phrase saved me from wading through some of the worst of it.

…and for any industry that suffers from an abundance of dung excreted from male cows, horses, or other work animals, it’s probably the thing that most needs to be said.

…and when it comes to dung, muck, crap, turds, manure, or just plain ca-ca, the music business is at least chest-deep. Heck, we might even be submerged, with the marketing and promo end of the industry about ten feet down. We need a flotation device, and being able to say “If it doesn’t work, I don’t want to do it,” is at least as good as a pair of water-wings.

The thing is, we’re reluctant to say (and embrace) something so honest, so brutally gentle and edifice-detonatingly kind.

We’ve Got To Do Stuff! Even If It’s Stupid!

I think this problem is probably at its worst in the US, although my guess is that it’s somehow rooted in the European cultures that form most of America’s behavioral bedrock. There’s this unspoken notion (that nobody would openly admit to embracing, even though we constantly embrace it by reflex) that the raw time and effort expended on something is what matters.

I’ll say that again.

We unconsciously believe that the raw time and effort expended on an endeavor is what matters.

We say that we love results, and we kinda do, but what we WORSHIP is effort – or the illusion thereof. The doing of stuff. The act of “being at work.”

In comparison, it barely matters if the end results are good for us, or anyone else. We tolerate the wasting of life, and the erosion of souls, and all manner of Sisyphean rock-pushing and sand-shoveling, because WE PUNCHED THE CLOCK TODAY, DANGIT!

If you need proof of this, look at what has become a defining factor in the ideological rock-throwing that is currently occurring in our culture. Notice a pattern? It’s all about work, and who’s doing enough of it. It’s figuring out how some people are better than other people, because of how much effort they supposedly expend. The guy who sits at the office for 12 hours a day is superior to you, you who only spend 8 hours a day in that cube. If you want to be the most important person in this culture, you need to be an active-duty Marine with two full-time jobs, who is going to college and raising three children by themselves. Your entire existence should be a grind of “doing stuff.” If you’re unhappy with your existence, or it doesn’t measure up to someone else’s, you obviously didn’t do enough stuff. Your expenditure of effort must be lacking.

I mean, do you remember school? People would do poorly on a test, and lament that they had spent [x] hours studying. Hours of their lives had been wasted on studying in a way that had just been empirically proven to be ineffective in some major aspect…yet, they would very likely do exactly the same thing again in a week or so. The issue goes deeper than this, but at just one level: Instead of spending [x] hours on an ineffective grind, why not spend, say, [.25x] hours on what actually works, and just be done?

Because, for all our love of results, we are CULTURALLY DESPERATE to justify ourselves in terms of effort.

I could go on and on and on, but I think you get it at this point.

What in blue blazes does this (and its antithesis) have to do with the music business?


Not Doing Worthless Crap Is The Most Practical Idea Ever

For the sake of an example, let’s take one tiny little aspect of promo: Flyering.

Markets differ, but I’m convinced that flyers (in the way bands are used to them) are generally a waste of time and trees. Even so, bands continue to arm themselves with stacks of cheap posters and tape/ staples/ whatever, and spend WAY too much time on putting up a bunch of promo that is going to be ignored.

The cure is to say, “If it doesn’t work, I don’t want to do it,” and to be granular about the whole thing.

What I mean by “granular” is that you figure out what bit of flyering does work in some way, and do that while gleefully forgetting about the rest. Getting flyers to the actual venue usually has some value. Even if none of the actual show-goers give two hoots about your night, getting that promo to the room sends a critical message to the venue operators – the message that you care about your show. In that way, those three or four posters that would go to the theater/ bar/ hall/ etc. do, in fact, work. As such, they’re worth doing for “political” reasons. The 100 or so other flyers that would go up in various places and may as well be invisible? They obviously don’t work, so why trouble yourself? Hang the four posters that actually matter, and then go rehearse (or just relax).

Also, you can take the time and money that would have been spent on 100+ cheap flyers, and pour some of that into making better the handful of posters that actually matter. Or buying some spare guitar picks, if that’s more important.

I’ll also point out that if traditional flyering does work in your locale, you should definitely do it – because it’s working.

In a larger sense, all promo obeys the rule of not doing it if it doesn’t work. Once a band or venue figures out what marketing the general public responds to (if any), it doesn’t make sense to spend money on doing more. If a few Facebook and Twitter posts have all the effect, and a bunch of spendy ads in traditional media don’t seem to do anything, why spend the money? Do the free stuff, and don’t feel like you have to justify wearing yourself (or your bank account) down to a nub. You may have to be prepared to defend yourself in some rational way, but that’s better than being broke, tired, and frustrated for no necessary reason.

It works for gear, too. People love to buy big, expensive amplification rigs, but they haven’t been truly necessary for years. If you’re not playing to large, packed theaters and arenas with vocals-only PA systems – which is unlikely – then a huge and heavy amp isn’t getting you anything. It’s a bunch of potential that never gets used. Paying for it and lugging it around isn’t working, so you shouldn’t want to do it. Spend the money on a compact rig that sounds fantastic in context, and is cased up so it lasts forever. (And if you would need a huge rig to keep up with some other player who’s insanely loud, then at least consider doing the sensible, cheap, and effective thing…which is to fire the idiot who can’t play with the rest of the team.)

To reiterate what I mentioned about flyering, there’s always a caveat somewhere. Some things work for some people and not for others. The point is to figure out what works for YOU, and then do as much of that as is effective. Doing stuff that works for someone else (but not you) so you can get not-actually-existent “effort expenditure points” is just a waste of life.

There are examples to be had in every area of show production. To try and identify them all isn’t necessary. The point is that this is a generally applicable philosophy.

If it works, you should want to do it.

If you don’t yet know if it works, you should want to give it a try.


If it doesn’t work, I don’t want to do it, and neither do you (even if you don’t realize it yet).

Small Venue Shows Are Worth It

In my opinion, the real backbone (or maybe the launchpad) of the live-music industry is the small venue.

Please Remember:

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.

Want to use this image for something else? Great! Click it for the link to a high-res or resolution-independent version.

On a day-to-day basis, small venues probably provide more opportunities for live-music experiences than any other kind of performance space.

It would stand to reason, then, that making the small-venue show the best it can be is worth thinking about, talking about, and putting resources into.

On Powered Speakers (And Other “Black Boxes”)

The commoditization of live-sound is enabled by manufacturers removing unknowns from their equations.

Please Remember:

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.

Want to use this image for something else? Great! Click it for the link to a high-res or resolution-independent version.

When I talk about a “black box,” I’m not thinking of an aircraft’s flight recorder. I’m not even thinking of a device enclosure that’s black.

And seriously, as much as we say that there are a lot of ugly, black-colored boxes in live-sound, let’s be real. Most of them are really just a very deep gray. If they were actually black, they would absorb all light and completely disappear when they were in shadow. Like ninjas. Ninjas that amplify bands. (That would be a great movie.)

Okay, where was I?

When I say, “black box,” what I’m getting at is a concept. It’s the idea that the user of a device doesn’t know how the device works – or, they might now, but they aren’t required to know. Whether or not people are conscious of it, this is a central factor in the commoditization of technological devices. That is, for people to regard technological thingamabobs as “common, everyday” sorts of tools, those folks have to be in a world where understanding the internal functioning of the tool is not required.

A fine example of this is the personal computer. As the years have gone by, hardware and software manufacturers have progressively “black boxed” their offerings. In the computer’s infancy, operating a computer meant you had to have a lot of detailed knowledge about what the computer was doing. Nowadays – not so much. Almost everything is handled invisibly (which is great, until something breaks). Whether or not you think this is good or bad, this reality of “it just works” has allowed the personal computer to become a thoroughly mundane item. Having and using a computer isn’t a special thing anymore…in fact, it’s rather more surprising if someone DOESN’T have a computer that they use regularly.

In the same way, live-sound is also far more commoditized than it used to be. For instance, I’m betting that most readers of this site have never constructed a power amplifier. I know that I haven’t. Most of you probably haven’t built your own mixer. I know I haven’t.

But, in the early days, building your own gear from the ground up was often required. You couldn’t just head on over to the store and browse a vast selection of poweramps, loudspeakers, mixers, and whatever else. Before pro-audio (as we know it) really took hold as a market segment, the people pushing the boundaries were working by building things that either didn’t exist, or didn’t exist in enough quantity that they could be easily gotten “off the shelf.”

Now, pretty much every audio device you can think of is already in existence. You can go online and positively drown in a million iterations and manufacturer-specific takes on all manner of gear. Even if you’re thinking of something rather narrowly defined, like a 2-way active crossover, you won’t have any trouble finding a bunch of options to pick through.

It’s funny that I just mentioned active-crossovers, because it’s possible that you may never have to buy one. That’s because of one particular class of “black box” product: The powered loudspeaker.


The powered or “active” loudspeaker is hardly a monolithic sort of entity. They exist in all shapes and sizes, with some being vastly more capable than others. There are plenty of active loudspeakers that put on a facade of advanced engineering, but really aren’t much more complicated than you or I connecting a rackmounted power amp to a “full-range” loudspeaker. Even so, every powered loudspeaker on the planet shares a common trait:

They all encapsulate devices with diverse operations into a single, functional unit.

In other words, powered loudspeakers stick components with very different purposes into one box. In the most basic case, you have a power amplifier bundled up with a loudspeaker. The power amp takes a relatively small input voltage and delivers a corresponding, high-voltage, high-current signal to a load. The loudspeaker takes a high-voltage, high-current signal and transduces it into sound-pressure waves. Obviously, these two actions are complementary, but they’re also very different. Encapsulating the two actions reduces complexity for the user. Where they once had to manage and connect the amplifier and loudspeaker as separate units, they now only have to look after one unit and one signal connection.

What can be missed, though, is that this simplification by encapsulation involves a very profound “exchange.” This exchange puts tremendous capability in the hands of people who would not be able to access it otherwise.

Many Unknowns For The User, Almost No Unknowns For The Manufacturer

A non-encapsulated system is a pretty complex thing to build and deploy. Let’s take the case of a fully-processed, biamplified loudspeaker. (Biamplification is the use of independent amplifiers for low and high-frequency signals.) To construct and operate an un-encapsulated, fully-processed, biamped audio rig, the following has to happen:

  1. You have to pick out, purchase, rackmount, and connect some sort of equalizer.
  2. You have to do the same for an active, two-way crossover.
  3. You might also want some dynamic filters – or even full-fledged dynamic EQ – for each crossover output.
  4. For both crossover outputs, you will need to have a limiter. If you want to get fancy, you’ll need two limiters – one that can determine and limit the RMS level of a signal, and one that “brickwalls” peak levels.
  5. You’ll need an alignment delay for one channel or the other. (Alignment delay is fraction-of-a-millisecond control over when a signal arrives. Effect delay has much coarser control over the time involved, and it’s also mixed with the unmodified signal to create the sound of an echo.)
  6. You will need two channels of amplification. The power available from each channel will need to be more than what the drivers can handle. I’ll explain why in just a bit.
  7. Now you can add a cabinet with an LF and HF driver.

If you’ve got all that done, now you get to do a bit of science. First, you pre-configure the crossover based on recommendations from the loudspeaker manufacturer.

You next have to figure out what input voltages to the amplifiers correspond with output voltages that – just barely – won’t destroy your drivers. You set the peak-stop limiter accordingly, with the RMS-sensing limiter in place as a backup. The reason that you got a “too powerful” amp is that even VERY heavily limited signals usually end up having a continuous power that’s one quarter of the peaks. As such, getting the maximum, “sane,” real-world performance possible means using amps that can deliver more continuous power than the drivers are rated for…and then limiting the continuous power to something safe while letting some of the peaks through. (If you want to be really dangerous, you could set RMS limiter only. It will probably be a while before something gets destroyed. Maybe.)

By the way – if you end up trying any of this, and you blow something up, I am NOT liable. It’s your funeral, okay?

Now you have to find an environment that’s as anechoic as possible (or go outside), and set up a measurement rig. The first thing to do is figure out which driver’s sound arrives “late” when compared to the other. You then apply the alignment delay to the “early” driver, so that signals from both the HF and LF elements hit the listener at the same time. Next, you measure the whole thing and apply EQ to make the response as flat as possible. If you’re ambitious enough, you run up the system to full-throttle and note how the response changes. You can then set dynamic EQs to keep the response flat (or filter out damaging LF energy) at high levels.

Oh, and you can always try some different crossover slopes to see what has the best phase and amplitude response.

So, yeah. You could buy all that for hundreds or thousands of dollars, and spend all that time dialing it in (assuming that you know what you’re doing), or…

…you could live with all of the above being unknown to you, but known to the manufacturer. If you’re willing to do that, then for a few hundred bucks you can purchase a powered box. That powered box will have had that whole mess up there done for it already. You just plug it into the wall, put some signal into it, and off you go.

See, when all of those components are encapsulated by an equipment builder, there’s an exchange that’s basically inevitable. The inner workings of the system become an unknown for you, the user. In trade, the configuration of all those components is now intimately understood and highly optimized by the manufacturer. This creates an integrated, powerful, black-box system that you can just use, with minimal effort. This especially gets around some of the problems I discuss in Dirty Secrets About Power: Manufacturers don’t have to deal with as many unknowns regarding how their equipment will be used, and you don’t have to deal with semi-knowns about what amp to mate with what loudspeaker cabinet.

In closing, let me be clear. I advocate being curious. I’m in favor of knowing what’s happening inside your gear, at least to whatever extent is practicable. I’m all for building things, and doing experiments. I’ve got access to some gear that I want to rebuild, to see just how effectively I can do a “biamped, externally powered and processed” loudspeaker rig. At the same time, the reality is that black-box products have created a world where you can just plug something in and get decent (if not stellar) results.

Two Sides Of The Same Coin

A Small Venue Survivalist Saturday Suggestion

Please Remember:

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.

Everything that happens at load-in is the foundation for how load-out will go. The reverse is also true.

Consider the implications of this carefully.

In A No-Soundcheck World, The Reckless Spirit Is King

“Throw and go” is 100% possible – if you’re ready to do it well.

Please Remember:

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).