Good Bass Sound at Medium-Sized Venues

bassplayderNot all venues are created equal. While you might have already conquered the ins and outs of the coffee house gig, bigger clubs and venues require a different approach. Before you take the next step up to medium-sized gigs, let our friends at Fender give you a few pointers on how to make sure your bass sounds great when you're ready to take the stage:

You’re a bass player with a gig coming up at a medium-size club. Maybe you haven’t done many club gigs yet, so perhaps you’re wondering what you can do to make sure you get a good, solid bass sound. You know your gear, but you don’t know the room yet, and you’d like your performance to be as free of sonic problems and distractions as possible.

For our purposes here, a medium-size club gig is one that takes place indoors, before an audience of 250-500 (this applies to many churches and special events, also). For the sake of somewhat arbitrary comparison, a small gig would be something like a coffeehouse and an audience of 25-100, and a large gig is anything that involves an audience of more than 500.

Let’s start with how much power you need and your onstage volume. 100 watts ought to do nicely. You can certainly bring more power, because, well, better too much than not enough, but 100 watts ought to suffice. Provided there’s a decent PA system and a soundman who knows how to run it, you only need to be able to hear yourself and your bandmates onstage, so the bazillion-watt dual 8×10” concert rig can stay at home. It’s a nightclub, not the O2 Arena. Loud is fine in a club. Too loud is not.

Cabinets with 10” speakers will give you a tighter, punchier and more focused sound, so you can’t really go wrong at a medium-size club gig with, say, one 4×10” cabinet. Otherwise, 15” speakers will give an accordingly boomier sound, but these usually come in considerably bulkier 2×15” cabinets, which might be a bit much for the gig and more difficult to transport. A combination of two 10” speakers and a single 15” speaker would work well, though.

At the venue, your cab will probably not be at your ear level, although it might be near the audience’s ear level depending on the height of the stage. If there is a stage. Your cabinet will likely be at your kneecap level (unless you raise it, which isn’t a bad idea), although this isn’t really an issue if you’re standing several feet in front of it. If stage conditions are cramped, however, and your cab is at kneecap level only a foot or two behind you, understand that while you won’t be able to fully hear yourself quite as well—because most of your volume is hitting your calves rather than your eardrums—you should probably resist the urge to turn up. Monitors, if there are any, can help with this.

Another good reason for raising your amp is that you want to avoid an unpleasant condition called floor coupling. If your cab sits directly on the floor or the stage with no space in between, the vibrations from the cab will be transferred to and through the floor. This is floor coupling, and you don’t want it to happen, because it can increase boominess to a maddening extent, robbing your sound of clarity and definition, and it’s almost impossible to control. You want your cabinet up off the floor, even if it’s only an inch or two. Most larger bass cabs (4×10” and bigger) have casters that provide a couple inches of lift, making for convenient transport and avoidance of floor coupling. But if you’re using, say, two smaller stacked cabinets without casters on the lower one, you should find a stable way of raising the lower cabinet off the floor or stage, even if only slightly.

The audience will hear your bass sound mostly from the PA system rather than from your amp. In case your amp doesn’t have its own XLR output that can send the signal straight into a PA system, have a direct box. You don’t need a super-expensive one with eight switches, three forward gears and satellite connectivity. A simple passive direct box will do in most cases; decent ones are available new in the $25-$50 range.

You don’t need in-ear monitors in a medium-size club. In-ear monitors at that level are really unnecessary. Besides, you don’t want foreign objects stuck in your ear, and using a club’s in-ear monitors is like using somebody else’s toothbrush. Gross. Besides, your feelers need to be out during a club gig; your attention belongs out in the room, and with telepathy and interplay with your bandmates. Save the in-ears for Wembley, where they’re legitimately useful.

And by the way, be as genial as possible to the soundman, who may or may not know what he’s doing. With luck, you’ll have a competent soundman who knows how loud you should be and how to make the most of your tone out in the room, which you very likely won’t be able to hear. Without luck, you might have a soundman who isn’t too knowledgeable, but if you behave at least politely toward him, he might be more receptive to your suggestions and instructions. You ought to be generally amiable anyway just on general principal, but pissing off the sound guy—competent or not—never bodes well for your treatment at the mixing board.

And now a parting word about bass strings. You don’t need new bass strings as a prerequisite for good onstage bass sound, unless you just happen to prefer the bright sound of new strings. Old strings can be just fine as long as they’re not caked with dirt and oil and gunk and just about to snap. Legend holds that James Jamerson never changed strings, so draw your own conclusions there.

And stay in tune. Small and inexpensive clip-on tuners are a godsend for that.


Your Turn to Sound Off!

Do you have some personal tips for playing at a medium sized gig?

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