Friday, March 02, 2007

No Brown M&Ms

Last month I had the opportunity to play a Valentine's banquet with a four piece band. I was asked what we needed for the performance and I gave the short list: Two microphones and two electrical outlets. The list was verified by the powers that book and I patted myself on the back for being so professional.

A week later we showed up on time ready to set-up and play. I was handed two microphones and they showed me where we could plug our two amps into the two electrical outlets. They didn't show me where to plug the microphones in and there was no sound engineer. The hall was equipped with two massive JBL speakers hanging from the ceiling that were blasting out every love song you never wanted to hear again. There was a cordless microphone & stand on the other side of the stage. I asked the MC if he could plug in the microphones for us but he didn't have a clue. He said we could plug them into our amps. He also offered the use of a wireless lapel mic that we could use. I told him that we were going to be singing not giving speeches at a Kiwanis club.

Ken's bass amp didn't have a low impedence input but my Ibanez acoustic amp did (although I had never used it before). I plugged one mic into my amp and we borrowed the cordless mic (not the lapel) for Lori to sing. I discovered that the mic input on my amp used the same effects that I put on my guitar. If I wanted chorus on the guitar I got chorus on my vocals. I haven't heard that effect on a vocal since the Doobie Brothers used it on "Listen to the Music". I decided to stick with reverb so we wouldn't sound too dated. I ended up sounding like Buddy Holly instead.

They had us set up back in the corner of a sunken stage because there were rows of chairs set up for a "Newlywed Game" that was the main event for the evening. Apparently someone had spent 5 minutes getting them just right and they couldn't be moved. Since we were stage right half of the people couldn't see us and half of them saw us huddled back in the corner of the cavern. The acoustics were less than desireable but it was par for the course we were playing.

We ran through our short set while the lovers dined on pasta. I forgot how much I dislike playing while people eat. I'd much rather have them dancing because it inspires me to entertain, not just perform. I found myself thinking of songs that would help them digest. The only thing I could think of was a scene from Lady & the Tramp when they're eating spaghetti and accidently kiss. "Oh what a night. It's a beautiful night, and they call it Bella Noche." I didn't see any Disney recreations but I did see some folks that could use a primer on table manners and chewing with your mouth closed.

Lori's disembodied voice was projected about twenty feet in front of us. There were no monitors so the only thing we could hear was her voice bouncing off the back wall coming towards us with a pronounced delay. My voice pushed loudly in my back mixed with my guitar in a lush reverb. It would have been perfect for Duane Eddy surf music but we hadn't rehearsed any of his classic tunes. I thought about turning it down but if I did they might not hear me at all and we had worked out some nice harmonies. Matt kept a good beat in spite of the mix and Ken hung back with him in the corner keeping the bass beat going. I was wishing that I was playing bass back in the corner instead of watching the masticators. Despite all the hardship our brave little combo thought it could and we chugged and chugged up and over the mountain. The MC came up after three songs and cut one song from our set list. Apparently the folks were done eating and were ready for the Newlywed Mayhem. It was over almost as soon as it began which was just about right for me although he did cut one of our best songs.

I didn't actually mean to make this a rant on a gig. It wasn't the worst I've been on and certainly wasn't the best. I believe that I should learn from my mistakes. I've made lots of mistakes so I'm getting smarter everyday. The lesson for today is about a contract rider. The contract rider includes specifications on stage design, sound systems, lighting rigs, as well as an artist's wish list. The list can include everything from transportation and billing to dressing room accommodations and meals. In some cases a promoter will refuse a demand but most stars usually get what they want: No Brown M&Ms (Van Halen); Two packs of rice cakes and a container of hummus (Beck); Four "soft head" toothbrushes, a bottle of Listerine, two small tubes of mint-flavored toothpaste (Sensodyne or Tom's of Maine), two packages of Altoids breath mints, four organic lip balms, and some Gold Bond powder (John Mayer); The audience shall not be more than six feet from the stage, food & beverage service shall cease five minutes before the performance and shall not resume until after the concluding numbers (Tony Bennett).

You don't have to be unreasonable (Gold Bond Powder?) but it is important to be specific, i.e., two microphones plugged into a PA system run by a sound engineer. It's also important to learn from those who have been doing it a long time like Mr. Bennett, "food...service shall cease five minutes before the performance and shall not resume until after the concluding numbers". I'll let them slide on the drinks Tony. I might sound better after they've had a couple but I don't want to watch them eat while I'm singing.

Be good...

1 comment:

Tony said...

you're preaching to the choir!! i once played in a disco for the mexican government here in philadelphia. the only rented half the disco out. so they left the music on in the other half, mind you it was one big room.
the refused to pay me unless i played. so i played for four hours with disco music LOUDER than we were. i was so depressed.

tony miceli