“Should I bring my amp?” the musician asks in the show-planning email thread.
Thanks everybody, see you next mon- okay, I’m kidding.
But the answer is yes. If you have some sort of device that you can use to tweak the sound of your instrument, even if that’s just a bit of extra volume, you should definitely have that handy. Here’s why:
1) What if the PA and/ or monitor system can’t quite get the job done?
Of course, if you’re careful about advancing the show, this is much less of an issue. However, it’s still possible that, for any number of reasons, you won’t be able to get what you need. Maybe there won’t be enough mixes, and you’ll have to share with someone who needs monitor-world to sound very different from what you need. Maybe you won’t be able to get enough volume. Maybe something will be tuned very strangely. Maybe you actually need an active DI, but the engineer doesn’t have one on hand. You want to have a fallback option, even if it never becomes necessary. Speaking of which…
2) What if the live-sound setup is adequate, but suffers a failure?
Sometimes, the last direct-box just dies, and that’s it. Sometimes a monitor wedge quits, and there isn’t a spare. Sometimes your in-ears don’t work the right way, or at all. Sometimes a whole mixing console (even an expensive one) just takes a giant dump.
If you’ve got your amp, you can still make some noise and have some kind of show.
3) What if the live-sound engineer is stupid, uncooperative, malicious, or absent?
I hear the horror stories. The person behind the console doesn’t always get what you need, or they may try to make every band – even a Celtic folk ensemble – sound like 1980’s-era Metallica. They may not understand your directions, or be able to carry them out. They may not have time to recreate (from basically scratch) the sound you’ve been dialing up for months in rehearsal.
(You have dialed up your sound in rehearsal, right? When you can hear whether or not it works well with the rest of the band? Please, answer in the affirmative.)
And some engineers are just plain jerkfaces who think they know better than everybody else, or, when you need something, they’ve gone out to take a 45-minute smoke break. When that happens, you will benefit greatly from having some knobs that you can reach over and turn.
You have to have some level of control over what’s happening to you.
4) What if the engineer likes it when you can make your own choices?
I can only speak for myself, but I’m all for letting you get yourself dialed up. It tends to reduce stress for both of us, and I can get a clue regarding what you want without having to start with a purely abstract conversation. Plus, if you have different tonalities that call up for different songs, you can just make that happen naturally while I translate it out front.
Now – what does this not mean?
Well, it does NOT mean that you have to carry around enough audio firepower to be “loud” in the upper bowl of a stadium. Save your time and back. A smallish rig that’s perfect in rehearsal will do the job. (There’s another lesson: Rehearsal volume and blend should be show volume and blend. If your band is going to the gig, and then suddenly adding 10 dB or drowning somebody out, that’s a whole other issue.)
It does NOT mean that you should be obnoxious. The point of having the amp handy is that you have a tool for ensuring that the band continues to sound like a band under different circumstances. It’s not so that you tear people’s heads off, or dial up enough high-mid that your instrument clangs like a steel bar against concrete.
It does NOT mean that you’re prevented from running direct if you want to. If everything’s as smooth as butter, and you love the sound of the PA, and the amp is completely superfluous, no problem! You don’t have to run any audio through it if you don’t want to.
The point is to not leave your backup at home. It’s easy to not use it, and really hard to go back and get it.