Tag Archives: gigging advice

mobile djs

How Do You Compete with the Local Mobile DJs?

A while back I addressed the subject of competing with mobile DJs. They are not going away. We all know that they’re out there. They multiply like wire coat hangers in a closet. Nothing is worse than losing a wedding gig to a mobile DJ. You take music lessons, spend thousands of dollars, and practice for years to become a professional musician, and then someone right out of high school downloads music on a laptop computer, gets some sound equipment, and starts stealing jobs right out from underneath you.

It’s not just weddings, either. It’s corporate events, private parties, school dances, and on and on. Doing a Google search, you’ll find more DJs than you do bands and orchestras. They’re becoming more prevalent than pizza shops. They’re replacing live music with one person playing streaming recorded tunes, on discount store speaker systems, for less money.

At least that’s how it seems. The only trouble is that sometimes perception is not reality. I suggest that you go to a wedding where one of the better mobile DJs is working. You could be in for a jolt. You might find that this one-person streaming music show is charging more than a four-piece group would. And he or she probably has enough equipment to fill a good-size truck. Also, it might not be just one person. It could be a technician and an entertainer-host.

So, before you decide that those DJs are stealing all the good gigs, find out how you can compete. To do that, you need to find out what you’re competing with. There are DJs and karaoke jocks (KJs) who sing along with the soundtracks, entertain, and get the audience involved. Many DJs and KJs provide constant entertainment, cater to the audience, and have sophisticated lighting equipment. They bring along fog machines and confetti guns, and they charge big bucks.

If you’re going to compete in the “big bucks” category, what can you bring to the party? What can you do that’s really exciting, different, and creative? The DJ thing isn’t as easy as you may think. Many DJs bring as much equipment as a band carting around two Hammond B-3s, a couple of drum sets, three big guitar amps, a complete PA system, not to mention lighting. It’s a lot of stuff. And they play nonstop. They get the audience pumped.

What about you? When you take a break, is anything going on? You could easily record your group as you play each set, then have it play through your sound system on the break. What about lights?

It’s not enough just to play well any more. You have to look spectacular. And, how up-to-date are you? If you don’t know what’s hot right now, you’d better learn quickly. Pick up one of the mobile DJ magazines on the newsstands. See what tunes they consider hot right now. Find out how they involve the audience and how they get their work. See what niches they go after. Find out where one of the better-known DJs is working and go see his or her schtick.

What about your promotional materials? Do you have a demo video that knocks people out? Do you have a drop-dead website with a demo video that makes people want to book you? Do you have a particular niche where you can excel as a band, an orchestra, or a single? Also, don’t think business cards have gone away. Have something unique with your contact number that you can hand out.

Most people would rather hear a live musician than a recording. That’s something in your favor right away. Promote yourself and your band in ways that DJs can’t. “Live music is best” is not just a slogan. It’s true. Many people think DJs are cheaper than a band. They’re not—at least not all of them. And even if they are cheaper, your talent and everything else you can bring to the party can run rings around the music streamers. Just make sure you can compete on the entertainment side, as well as the talent aspect. Then, your bookings might increase dramatically.

5 Sound System Mistakes

5 Sound System Mistakes Club Musicians Always Make

By Kent Ashcraft, Local 161-710 (Washington, DC)

5 Sound System MistakesMost engagements musicians play these days require some sort of sound system to amplify vocals, instruments, or both. Some musicians can afford to hire a professional sound company to transport and operate the equipment. If you’re one of them, congratulations; you don’t need to read the rest of this article.

However, if you are someone who runs your own gear, you may need this information. It’s been my experience that most musicians have inadequate knowledge of basic acoustical principles.

After all, sound engineering isn’t what you’re trained for. As someone with a good deal of practical experience and theoretical knowledge in this area, I have described the five most common mistakes musicians make when choosing and operating their sound equipment.

Mistake #1: Inadequate amplifier power. Most speakers come with a “continuous power handling” rating, expressed in watts. It’s natural to think of that as the maximum continuous power an amplifier can have in order to drive the speakers safely, and that using a more powerful amp will risk burning out the drivers.

Actually, the exact opposite is true. For technical reasons I won’t go into here, your speakers are more at risk if your amp isn’t powerful enough. Today’s speakers can handle a remarkable amount of clean power–the key word is “clean.” The higher the power rating of an amp, the more “headroom” it has, and the less distortion. I recommend using a speaker’s power rating as a minimum when choosing an amplifier to drive it.

Mistake #2: Mounting the speakers too high. Ever since the introduction of tripod speaker stands, it seems that many people have an urge to run them up to maximum height, thinking it somehow will prevent the sound from being too loud for the patrons. That’s what your volume control is for, not your speaker stands. Where the speakers are concerned, the basic principle is that you want the audience to hear them directly.

A typical speaker projects sound in a flattened cone pattern, about 90 degrees horizontal by 50 degrees vertical. You should visualize that coverage pattern, and mount the speakers so that the maximum number of ears are within it. Mounting the speakers eight feet in the air will generally result in most of the audience hearing only reflected sound from the room, which is much less clear.

Mistake #3: Trying to fix the room. Ninety eight percent of the rooms you will play in sound horrible. The bad news is that short of calling in contractors to rebuild them, there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it, and if you try, it will only make matters worse.

The good news is that the sound of the room isn’t nearly as important as you may think. Here’s why: Psychoacoustic research has shown that the human ear has the ability to separate direct from reflected sound, and that the brain will focus on the direct sound. It’s related to the phenomenon whereby if you close your eyes at a cocktail party, you can still pick out individual conversations around the room. So assuming that your speakers are mounted correctly, a person in the audience will perceive the direct sound of the speaker independent of the awful reflected sound in the room. If you try to notch out room peaks with an equalizer, you’ll make the room sound better by making the speaker sound worse, yet the sound of the speaker is what’s really important.

Mistake #4: Using EQ because it’s there. Mixing boards almost always include equalizers (EQ), which boost or cut specific frequencies. There are two reasons for this: One, there are rare occasions when you actually can benefit from them (mostly on instruments). Two, and more important, people are used to seeing them and therefore want them. And since they’re there, many believe they should use them.

The fact is that all microphones are designed to be heard with the EQ “flat.” If you buy the right microphones (as you should), they will sound the best with no EQ at all. Buying an expensive vocal mike and then boosting certain frequencies is like covering a prime filet mignon with ketchup. Ask any good recording engineer how he uses mikes in the studio, and he’ll tell you that he gets the sound he wants by mike choice and placement, using EQ only a last resort.

Mistake #5: Getting too fancy. If you’re running the system yourself, simpler operation is always better; after all, you have to play your ax as well. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen leaders do an extensive sound check before the gig, only to constantly fiddle with the controls on stage, making the sound progressively worse amid howling feedback.

If you use the same basic instruments and vocals on most of your jobs, you should only have to do one initial sound check, after which you should make notes of all the settings and leave them right there on future gigs.

The only thing that’s going to change is the room, and you can’t fix the room with the PA. Set all similar vocal microphones the same unless you have reason to do otherwise. If you’re running monitors, resist the temptation to use customized mixes for different people unless you have a compelling reason to do so.

In my experience, the most effective monitor mix is usually what is going into the mains, because it gives people the best sense of overall balance. The times I have heard people complain the most about what they hear from their monitors have invariably been times when multiple mixes are being used. Make it easy on yourself and keep it simple.

Running a sound system or obtaining good sound doesn’t have to be difficult. And certainly these are things you’re best off not having to worry about on the job, when you have clients to please, tunes to call, time to keep track of, and so on. If you avoid these five common mistakes, you will make your gig life easier, and your group will sound a lot better.

How to Lead the Audience

Excerpted from How to Play Madison Square Garden: A Guide to Stage Performance, (Not More Saxophone Music Inc., 2011) by Mindi Abair, member of Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA), Lance Abair, and Ross Cooper.

The first 10 seconds are the most crucial to winning over an audience. How you walk onto the stage is important. It gives the audience an idea of who and what is important. If you walk onto the stage initially looking at the other band members and their equipment, it appears that 1) you think you are more important than the audience or 2) you are ignoring the audience. If you walk onto the stage immediately looking out into the audience to see everyone, you convey the impression that you can’t wait to become friends with everyone. This immediately gives the audience a feeling of importance, and ultimately causes them to like you from the very beginning.

The best way to prepare for walking onto the stage is to have all of your equipment, microphones, guitars, drumsticks, etc. ready so that you can pick them up and/or put them on without even thinking about it. This enables you to be free to check out the audience from the first step you take on stage, and this starts the show off in the most personal and effective way possible. You’re confident, ready to give as a performer, and this is your time. Look them straight in the eyes, and then rock them!

Nothing Succeeds Like Success

Walk on stage as if you own it and you belong there. Exude confidence and success. Don’t confuse the terms confidence and success with cockiness. Cocky people are generally not well liked. On the other hand, people don’t want to follow someone who appears to be unsure of themselves or worse, a loser. They will follow a winner anywhere. A great smile will do wonders. It imparts the feeling that, “I know what I’m doing. I’ve done it a million times before. Come along with me. This is going to be great!”

Be You

One of the difficulties in explaining the best way to meet the audience is that performance styles can be so wildly different. For example, the high energy rock group KISS comes out blasting and uses a lot of intricate lighting and pyrotechnics. On the other end of the spectrum, jazz singer Norah Jones comes out performing a more low-key, sensitive marriage of music and lyrics. These two approaches are completely different, but they are completely correct for each act. The higher-power rock group needs to establish themselves as such. The warm and smooth singer-songwriter needs to likewise establish the environment and level of intimacy that facilitates the best possible presentation of his or her material.

The important thing to consider is how you and your group intend to meet the audience. Do your best to make a statement regarding who you are. Establish your character very early, and you will be able to take the audience on a journey from there.

Many years ago a famous R&B singer-songwriter, who had a number one hit song on the Billboard charts, was performing a live concert. After the house lights were dimmed and the singer took the stage, the audience went wild. They were anxious to hear some of the most brilliantly executed R&B music of the day. Instead of playing R&B, this artist started playing old standard songs, as if he were the piano player in a nightclub lounge. The crowd was forgiving, however, they were a bit disappointed. The expectation that a certain character would emerge from the stage at the outset didn’t happen. Once again, establish your true character early so you can move to take the crowd on a journey. Don’t start off on a tangent. You can journey toward this, but a tangent should never start or end a show.

After you have played your opening musical segment, the audience will applaud. Respond to the audience’s applause by thanking them and by making a statement that will help to establish the tone of the show for the night.

You Control the Show

Control of the show is a simple concept that can either make you or break you. Part of any successful relationship is knowing who’s in charge. You are in charge. There are no exceptions to this hard and fast rule. You should be in control of a number of things, including the overall feel of the show, the content, the amount and quality of interaction with the audience, and even the pacing of the show. You should always go in with these things in mind. Even though it is the audience who is buying the tickets, you should realize that they are paying you to be in charge.

Actors are always taught to never break character and to never allow hecklers or interruptive elements of any type to break their concentration and performance. As musical performers, somehow that’s never taught to us! But the concept works for any type of performer. Is there someone in the audience who is yelling out a request for a song continually? Is it distracting people from what you’re doing on stage? Is it distracting you from what you are doing? Move the show along. Don’t lose sight of what you’re on stage to do.

Apply and maintain pressure on the audience. Audience pressure is created when the performer’s actions on stage compel the audience to become interested and involved. The opposite of pressure, “dead air,” where the audience loses interest with what’s happening on stage, should be avoided at all cost.