Why do musicians get killed by sound?
It's kind of a strange title, really: "killed by sound". But in my experience going through music and watching other people, the sound system, the PA system, microphone, stuff like that, really gets in the way of our playing. And let's face it, you put in a lot of time practising. You learn the notes, you learn the chords, you learn the rhythm, you learn what you're gonna say, all that kind of thing. And then, it's just time to go and deliver. And when it's time to deliver, what lets you down is a PA system.
Well, my experience —oh gosh, going back a few years— I sort of started playing, um, certainly for my sax, I was in my late teens, early twenties when I started. And that's sort of back in the eighties. And what I did then was just to rock up with my saxophone. I wasn't interested in microphones. It was just a case of standing there and playing. That's what it was. And you, let's face it, tech wasn't that what it is today, but that was fine, you know, it was just absolutely fine. There were other settings where there were microphones, like at church and I would just stand there... I think if you go to my YouTube channel, you might see a really old one video of me with a hat on, playing. And I'm just stood in one place, angled at this mic, not moving for dear life. But the, the mix was okay. It was fine.
But then, there were times when I went to events and they would say: "Oh, you're playing the sax. You don't need a microphone. No, no, no. You don't need one". And I'd go up there with the band, I would go and play. And I am blowing, blowing for my life, because the drums are going, the bass is going, keyboard's going, guitar's going, and there's me, puffing and panting, and I'm thinking: "This isn't right, yeah, this isn't right. I shouldn't be listening to them". 'Cause I'm in big auditoriums, playing. Now, I have met players and singers who say: "Well, actually, you know, if you sing and project from your diaphragm, you know, you could aim to fill an auditorium" and so on, but I mean, I'm sure even Pavarotti has a microphone from time to time. I'm sure he does.
Um, so that's kind of part of my early experience. I also met sound guys who probably gave me a mic and then switched it off, because they just didn't think I needed it or maybe they didn't like the way I played. But they switched me off, and I knew they switched me off because, you know, you're standing there, you talk through it, and then, you play your first note. You can hear yourself through the speakers. They start to play; you don't hear yourself from those speakers. You're just hearing you, just you around you, you know? And I thought: "This is not good".
I've been at other gigs where I've had a sound guy who's great, who said: "Yeah, yeah, sure". Give you a mic, get you there. And we do a sound check and I'm happy with what they do. The performance happens, and the next thing I'm hearing is something completely different. I'm hearing my sound too high, too low. I'm hearing feedback. I'm hearing all sorts of [things] because they're doing what they're doing. They don't know what they're doing, but they're just doing what they're doing. A nightmare, a nightmare!
I've been to some places where I said: "I'm coming. Can I go through your PA system?" And they say: "Yeah, sure", just to find it's a DJ system, which is a completely different setup to a PA system mixing desk. And I can't plug by mic in, or when I put my track in, they change the key on it because it's a pitch shifting thing they've got on the DJ system. Ah, it was so embarrassing. I was doing this gig, got my song playing, I'm in one key, the track's in another key, and I'm like: "What's going on?" I didn't get booked back for that gig for a few years actually, then they took a risk and got me back. I'd it sorted by then, and I've been playing with them ever since.
There is just so many painful, excruciating experiences with PA systems and sound guys I've had, and I'm wondering if you've had the same, because, if you have, please put a comment and tell me your story in the comments box or in the chat. I'd love to hear it, because it was just terrible.
You know what? One of the things about the sound is that I just felt that was their role. You know, their job is to amplify my sound, my job is to play. But when all these different things were happening over the years, I decided: "You know what? Roll up the sleeves! It's time to learn about the PA system and not get killed by it", because literally it was killing my sound. Like I said, it killed one of my gigs and I didn't get booked back, and that was important, 'cause it was a paid gig.
I need to keep a roof over my head, so I decided I needed to find someone. I needed to find someone! Who can I turn to? And it so happened I started to think through all the sound guys I've worked with, and there was one person. He's allowed me to tell you his name and even give you his number: Vince Hyatt.
Vince is fantastic. Oh my life. He saved my day. He said to me: "Look, you can learn about the PA system. It's very easy and I'll help you". Oh, oh, savior, not Jesus, but savior. I had some sessions with Vince. He even helped me to buy my mic, buy my first PA system —in fact, I still got it, over there, that box there— I still take it out. I've got my own separate amplifier. I have my mics. I've just recently got some mics and new stands from him, and I'm going to put his numbers, actually his number's already in the description so you can call him If you're stuck, you know, call him. He will give you some tips. He will really, really help you.
I think it's just super, super important for musicians. So really think about having your own PA system, and I'm gonna give you some other reasons why, but just before I give you those reasons, I'm gonna go to my own personal advert to say: if you are new here, or returning, and you are looking for some free stuff that will really help you, on my website, www.successbeyondthescore.com you'll find a tab that says free gifts. The link is already in the description, and if you click on there, there are two free gifts that are really, really great for helping you on your music journey. The first one is called "25 Secrets of the Successful Gigging Musician, Singer, Rapper, and Spoken Word Artiste". And the second one is called "10 Reasons Why They Will Pay You Before Gig Day". I get paid before gig day all the time. It's very rare that I get paid the day after. Very rare. Only on some occasions. But that's really good, some tips there to help you. And of course, 25 tips. Choose one you like and, by doing that, you'll get onto my mailing list and it'll be great for me to keep in contact with you, and you can still ask me questions about PA systems.
And of course I've got some courses I'm doing. I recently did one about YouTube. I've done one about PA systems for my "Time For My Music" women. Shout out to my women in my membership group. If you're a female musician, you might wanna go check that out. There's a link on the Success Beyond The Score website about that. And yeah, a course it's coming that men and women can go on, so keep an eye out there.
So let me get back to my story. Reasons why I think every musician should have their PA system. Firstly, number one, I mentioned it earlier on, your performance rises or falls on your sound, and if it is not happening...
I can see some messages coming through. Okay, that's lovely. If you, if... I've just read a question and I've started to process that question. I'm coming to that question. I've seen it!
Um, so your performance rises and falls on your sound. The sound guy's job is to make you sound good. And if you get a great sound guy and they do the job well, go over and tell them thanks. Go over and shake their hand because you know what you've been through. So you got a good sound guy? Get their number! You might wanna book them for a gig you are putting out, always good to do.
The next thing why I think you should have your own PA system is this: you are really at the mercy of an inexperienced or ignorant DJ. Not only about your performance, but you're really at their mercy. Like I said, I've had guys, I've started playing... and I say guys, and let's get gender specific here: men, because I think, in the experience I've had in music —and it's been about 40, 45 years— I've only come across three women in sound engineering. There's not many women in sound and I love to promote women and what women are doing. But I say guys here (those girls were good, they were really good, by the way), but I say guys here, they're ignorant. Some of them are just moving levels while they are playing. You know, I went to one gig recently and I said to the person: "I'm coming. When I have a sound check..." I'm gonna do an episode soon, in this series, about sound check, in a couple of days time. But I'm just gonna say now, I said to this person: "I'm coming. I want a sound check". You know what they said? "We don't do sound checks". I'm like: "What? I just want" a line check", which is a bit different to sound check. "No, we just do it as we're going". I'm thinking: "Oh my gosh". Anyway, I'll tell you about how that story went in a few episodes time. But you are at their mercy, so it's really important to have your own PA system.
And number three, which maybe should be number one, it's backup. If you get there and you find that they're great and it's working, good. But if you get there and it's going to pot, ah, ah, no. If you are getting the signs during the sound check, it's not working. Mm, mm, no. And if you see that they're too laid back and you're getting a bad vibe, follow your gut. Put your system on!
Now, of course, if it's a massive auditorium and you've only got a system that can cope with say, 250 people, you're out there, it might be too little. That said, I did a funeral recently where I had to... it was a street procession in front of the horse and carriage, and I came into the church and my amplifier, that I have, was sufficient, even though it was a big place, but because they were only listening to me. And then I put the microphone from the main PA system to my amplifier so it could be picked up, so everything goes through my amplifier. Put the mic on a bit like guitarists do, have that microphone in front. And that worked! It saved my bacon and it saved my day because, in that situation, I did not have time to get to a sound check. I had to be on the street, a few roads down, waiting for the horse and carriage and the family to come into the hall and to soundcheck. It was just gonna be really difficult to do it any earlier.
So, for backup. Really, really useful. I have done that in the past. I just take my stuff out the car and go: "You know what? I'm setting up. This ain't feeling right, this ain't happening". And some sound guys don't mind that you set up your own, you know? It's fine. You gotta do it at the end of the day.
Number four, it makes you more bookable. If you can have your own PA system, which is adequate for the space you're in, and your sound is good? You're bookable. People are gonna wanna book you back because you rise and fall on your sound.
Also, it means that you can take on agency gigs. I'm on a couple of agencies and you're expected to go out with your PA system, because the gigs we do expect that. And that's good. In fact, here is a finance tip: if you're bringing your own PA system, you can put something on your price for bringing out your own PA system, because, you know, you've got to upkeep it, haven't you? And then, number five: maybe you could hire your equipment to other musicians. Now you're talking, aren't you? Of course, you got to think about how they're going to look after it. You might have to put some sort of deposit down —not you, them with you— and you've got to make sure you give it back if they've paid you.
But there are five benefits there for having your own PA system, as I said, I have mine. Now, let me go to questions. Okay. So the first one I've got here says: How do you know which mics and PA system is best for you? Ah, really good question, Sun Rei, thank you very much for that question.
It's a bit of... I wouldn't say trial and error, because I wouldn't advise that you buy a mic and find you don't like it and send it back. Because of lockdown, nowadays, a lot of companies are allowing that, but what I tend to do is I go to the PA shop and I will try them out and, well, you need to have a little bit of knowledge. So this is where someone like Vince comes in handy, where he can advise you on mics. The other thing you can do is to speak to other musicians who play similar instruments. I'm a sax player, so I've spoken to lots of saxophone players and say: "Which microphone do you use? Do you like it? What's the pros and cons?". And I collect that information and then I do a bit of research, and then I go to the shop armed with that, 'cause I know so and so use this one by Shure or JTS or Bose or whoever. I'm not saying you must go with those brands, by the way, I'm just saying for argument's sake. You can go and try those out and see if you like it.
So, word of mouth is usually the best one. Getting professional advice from somebody you trust, like I've mentioned, Vince, or maybe you know of a PA person, someone who has a sound system, and you could check what mics they use and see if it works for you.
You generally want to get a nice, nice sound. I mean, now we're going to the PA desk and thinking about your high, mids and low. I'll try not to get too technical about it. But you want to get a nice sound. So if you go to a shop, and they're looking after you well, they will allow you to test the microphone out in a speaker, amplifier, and see if you're happy with that.
Another thing you can do is, if you go to a rehearsal studio, they've got microphones there. The people there help to set you up, so you could ask their advice about what they use there for microphones and what [to] use for your instruments. So that's another way.
Getting advice is the best thing. Reading up about it on the internet or in magazines, you know, to do sound systems. Going onto platforms like Vimeo and YouTube and looking at people's video recordings about the mics they've used, and the effects they have, and the inputs, and the pros and cons, is another good way of doing it. So lots of ways around there. Hope that really helps.
I have another question here from Michael, which says: "How do I make sure my equipment is safe? As I've had venues request a safety check on my stuff". Well, you know, that's a really, really good question. What you need to do with that is to get it what we call in the UK "PAT tested" (Portable Appliance Test). Where do you get that? Well, there are electricians who do it or people who are qualified to do that. Some of the music shops have that service, and if you're a member of the Musicians Union in the UK, they offer that service for free as part of your membership (plug for MU there, being a MU member and all). What they will do is: they check your plugs with their equipment to make sure it's safe, and they'll give you a little sticker. Well, they don't give you a sticker, they put the sticker on your equipment to say it's safe. And they'll give you a document with the details of your equipment on, when it was checked. And then you've got that document to give to the venue, or the promoter, or the person who's booking you.
Now, especially if you are going to be performing at hotels and places like that, they're going to want some safety check. They're also going to want your public liability insurance. I know I'm not talking about insurance today, but that public liability insurance is there that if anyone trips over your leads —coming back to PA system: make sure you set your leads up properly. [When] you take them down, make sure you don't trip over them. Shouldn't have them all the way across that people are walking on them. There's little safety things you need to do, but the public liability insurance is the other thing that you need to have to cover yourself just in case something goes wrong. Again, if you're a member of the Musicians Union, you get that for free. Brilliant. If not, contact insurance companies and say you're a musician and you need public liability. You can get that for your equipment.
Okay, good. Now I think that may be all of my questions. If you can think of any other questions, you can put them in. If by the time you've written in your question, I'm not live, I will be checking the comments in the video today and I will message you back with a reply. Okay, Fantastic.
There's another little story I can tell you, another little story: I have, as you know, my own PA system, and recently I went to an event and I decided to use their PA system because they said they were bringing in a PA system. I thought: "Well, yeah, they sound, like, reasonable. They sound like they know what they're doing". But I still packed my PA system and my battery powered amplifiers in my booth in my car. Went to the event and they're setting up, and I looked at the way they were setting up and I thought: "Mm, don't like the way they're running the leads. I don't like how many things are coming off them. Extension cables. I don't know. I don't know. I don't know".
Anyway, I had brought in my usual stuff, but I didn't bring in my full PA system. Then, as they were setting up, no word of a lie, the electricity went. Absolutely went in that room, and it was like: "Oh my gosh!" There was some fault on the system, I don't know, maybe everything was overloading, Who knows? It went. And I was having kittens, and I'm thinking: "Well, if they all decide I go acapella, I've got my backing track. Yeah, I suppose I could play without the backing track. I could do that. Not my preferred style, but I could do that. But wait a minute, I've got my battery powered amplifier in my booth. I've got my stand, I have a microphone I can plug into that amplifier that doesn't need electricity. Ooh! And I've got my fixed pedal that can run off battery all my days. I'm going to get that out my car!". And fortunately, the venue size was correct for that amplifier. Obviously, it was a massive stadium, it just would not work. But for where I was, it worked. So I got that out the car. I set it up and they were scurrying around trying to get their system work. Now, even when they got their system working, I left mine exactly as it was, on battery, because I thought: "I don't have time" [and] that "we not playing". The electricity goes down and we are all looking like: "Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. What?" I just need to go do me. So that's another story of saving my own day with my equipment and just doing a really good job.
Now, you know what? That doesn't happen all the time. You know, these stories I tell you do not happen all the time. They happen. I wouldn't say once in a blue moon, 'cause we don't have blue moon, but they happen every so often. But it's good to have that backup. So, hopefully that's helped. Hopefully you can consider getting your PA system and thinking about your mic.
It's not just buying just a mic. Sun Rei, to come back to your question. It's not just about buying a microphone on its own and you're good to go, 'cause that mic has to plug into an amplifier, it's got to plug into a PA desk, and then that's got to plug into electricity, and then someone just got to operate it. As I said, Vince Hyatt's number is down there. He is a sound engineer. He is fantastic. He's so experienced, he's done large shows and small shows and everything, and he loves giving advice and support to musicians who need that help. And I'll tell you what: he breaks it down so well. It's so easy. Easy to understand. So that's where you can go for advice. I will be running some PA courses, which I've done already for my "Time For My Music" women. And I'll be putting those out through my, you know, through my Success Beyond The Score website, so if you're interested in that, go ahead and grab one of my free products that will help you, called: "25 Secrets of the Successful Gigging Musician, Singer, Rapper and Spoken Word Artiste", or "10 Reasons Why They'll Pay You Before Gig Day" from www.successbeyondthescore.com/freegifts. I hope that helps you very, very much.
Tomorrow, I'm going to be talking about: "I'm a musician, why do I need a business plan?" Please, turn up for it. You might think: "Business plan? I'm out of here!" No, it's not that bad, but there's some real reasons why you should have one. I had one and it just sent me to where I am and I really want to share that information with you because people don't talk about it. Musicians don't talk about it. Most, most musicians aren't doing it. But I'm here in Success Beyond The Score to tell you things, real things that happen to me, that I've seen happen to other musicians, that will help you make it in the music industry.
I am just going to check if there's any more questions. Just one second as I do this. Okay. Let's have a quick look. "How do I know I can plug my stuff in when I get to the venues?", says Michael. Really good question. Michael, you have to call in advance. Generally speaking, I do talk to the person who's booked me, and I say to them: "I'm bringing in my own PA system, so I need the phone number or the email of the person you're making arrangements with in the venue". If you're doing, say, a wedding, and they're booked at a wedding venue, then you'd contact the venue and speak to them to let them know you're bringing in a PA system. Generally speaking, they're fine. They're like: "Oh, you musicians do this anyway. That's fine, but we need your PAT certificate and your public liability". Some venues don't ask for that. It's always good to have it just in case they do. Similarly, if you're doing a church event, you just ring the person who's running the event there. I would tell you one thing about churches and religious venues: just make sure you know where to set up, because sometimes I've got places where they don't want you to put a microphone or put a speaker. They're quite precious about where things are and rightly so, it's religion, so you just need to check that as well.
Let's see who else do you need to check. Yeah, if they've got a sound engineer, you know, if the person's booking a DJ or sound engineer —the person who's booking you— you can say: "Are you doing that?", and they say: "Yes". have a chat with them and see what they're bringing in and then let them know you're bringing yours. They're usually cool with that. They usually fine. And then just make sure you have a table. If you need to book a table to put your mixing desk on, make sure you have that or whatever you need, your other supporting equipment. I hope that helps, Michael. Um, "always be prepared", says Sun Rei. Yeah, that's true. Always be prepared. Definitely.
Thank you very much! I’d only planned to be here for fifteen minutes but it has gone to about thirty minutes, which is fine. Hope you’ve learnt a lot. I’m just gonna play my outro music in a second and I’ll see you soon. In fact, I’ll see you tomorrow at one o’clock BST from here in the UK. I look forward to hearing from you and of course, if you’re watching this after I’m off the live, please put your questions on the comments or in the chat, and I’ll respond.
Thank you so much for coming! Bye.