In my last post (see below) I mentioned that I actually dread playing with my band in public these days. Last night my soundman woes happened pretty much the way I feared.
Before I had even played a single note, as I was turning on my amp and tuner, the sound man came up behind me. “Turn that slider on the left side of your EQ all the way down. Don’t use that channel at all, ever. And I need you to take some of the low end out…”
I complied. I spend about half an hour or forty-five minutes trying to get a good sound out of my bass without using the “forbidden” channel on my EQ, without having “too much low end,” and without using my second speaker cabinet (also forbidden by the sound man, at least for indoor shows). Needless to say, all I could come up with was a twanky, wooden sound. “Oh well,” I thought to myself. “My volume is turned so low that no one can hear me anyway. The soundman will make sure I have a good tone ‘out front’ through the main speakers…”
The first set went okay. I did turn my volume up a smidge, then right back down again. I’m turned down so low that if you turn the knob a millimeter you double the volume. During our first break I wandered over to a table of familiar-looking faces. It turns out that Miss Amy’s other band was there to see us. “I’m sorry about your bass,” one of them said. “What happened? Do you have a bad cord? Or is your amp broken?” I reassured him that all was as it should be, and that my bass was fine. “Oh,” he said. “We couldn’t hear you at all out here. We assumed something was broken. I can see your fingers move, but no sound is coming out…”
“No,” I explained with a sigh. “My sound man likes me to keep my volume low so he can control it from his sound board.”
A few minutes later a quick deal was struck between the Smokin’ Clams and Miss Amy’s other band, and they agreed to do a song or two. I showed their bass player up to the stage and gave him a quick lesson on how to run my amp. “The volume’s over there, this is the EQ I’m using, the tuner is right below,” I said. “Feel free to change any settings, but don’t touch the left slider on my EQ. My sound man hates that.” He thumped a few strings experimentally. “Geeze,” he said. “Where’s the low end? This doesn’t sound like a bass at all! Where’s the volume? I can’t hear anything! How can you play like this?” I just sighed again and pointed at the sound man.
A few seconds later they started their song. I was hopping up and down on one foot, impatient to hear how my bass sounded to the audience. For the first thirty seconds of the song, there was no bass at all – just kick drum and guitar. I could see the bass player’s fingers moving, though, so I knew he was playing. I made a beeline to the sound board, ready to tell the sound man just exactly what I thought. He saw me coming and hit a button or turned a knob or something, and WHAM – there’s the bass sound.
Satisfied, I sat down and kept my peace. “Vy are you so agitated,” my beloved bride Dagmar asked. “You were so happy all day. You were happy until you got here, where you get to do your favorite thing and play with the band. So vy are you so unhappy all night? What can ve do?” I have to admit, I really was pretty upset. “You know,” I told her, “I’m really sick of this, always bickering about my sound. From here on out I’m going to bring all my speakers, I’m going to set my speakers up where I want, and I’m going to EQ my sound the way I want. The sound guy can just deal with it.”
“What vood you do if the rest of the Clams don’t like it?” asked my vife. “I don’t vant you to quit the Clammies. I really like them. They’re your friends.”
“It has nothing to do with friendship,” I told her. “Of course they’re our friends. If they don’t like the way I play bass or they’re uncomfortable with my attitude about things, they’re welcome to find another bassist. I’ll stay with the band until they find a replacement, if that’s what they want to do, and I’ll help teach him the songs. I’m not mad at any of them or anything – it’s just this constant struggle about my bass tone. It’s killing me.”
Fast forward – the Clams are back on stage again, doing the second set. There’s a song that Clam Dan plays bass on, giving me a chance to hit the loo (something I ALWAYS have to do halfway through the second set). I handed him my bass (which I had turned back up a smidge in response to the audience reaction the first set) and made my way off-stage. They started the song – no bass. Again, I could see his fingers move, but all I could hear was kick drum and guitar. It was evident the sound man turned me down again. I was peeved, to say the least.
When I got up this morning I had a very nice e-mail from a friend and fellow musician. “The sound man works for the band,” he wrote. “Not the other way around.” He encouraged me to play with my “old” sound and be comfortable.
Tonight I have to play again at the same place. I’m gonna turn the volume where I want, and I’m going to tweak my sound the way I want (even the forbidden left slider on my EQ), and the sound guy can deal with it. Next time we play I’m gonna bring in both speakers and set up where it’s convenient for ME, not where it’s convenient for the sound guy, and I’m gonna play my bass the way I want to – the way I always have. And, something I just thought of… I’m gonna try to put a microphone in front of my speakers instead of letting the soundman run a cord straight from my amp. (He runs a cord to his sound board from the back of my amp, before the signal goes through my amp itself. This gives him what he calls a “clean” signal. Unfortunately, I don’t want him to have a clean signal – I want people to hear the same sound that comes out of my speakers, AFTER the signal has run through my tube amp and my equalizer.) In a way, it’s disrespectful for him to do that – everyone else in the band gets full control over their sound except me for some reason.
Wish me luck. I think there’s a fifty-fifty chance that I’ll simply shut my yap and keep going the way things are now, just to keep the peace.
On another note, my neighbors have parked in my driveway again. They’re standing out in their back yard screaming at each other at the top of their lungs. There’s gotta be something I can do about this… Maybe a “No Parking” sign in my driveway (but why should I have to pay to have a sign in my own driveway?) would do the trick on the parking situation, but what can I do about them always yelling and raising a ruckus? Poor Dagmar’s trying to sleep…