Being the editoral director of DRUMmagazine.com is more than a full-time job, but I still manage to play 14 or 15 gigs a month with various bands based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Sometimes I play in little dive bars without proper drum miking, and other times I play on big stages with great sound systems.
I look forward to those occasions when I get to really dial-in my monitor mix, and whenever I get the chance, always remind myself of a tough lesson I first learned many years ago – there are a zillion types of sound engineers out there. Some know what they’re doing. Others don’t. Some are easy to get along with. Others aren’t. Some care about whether or not you can hear yourself in your monitors. Others couldn’t care less.
Might as well face it. You are completely at their mercy. But there are a few things you can do to hedge your bets. First of all, you can invest in your own set of microphones and mounts to carry with you. That way you can rest assured that you have enough mikes to amplify your entire rig (rather than just a bass drum mike and an overhead). You can even get a submixer, and send the sound engineer a stereo feed of your kit.
Truth is, most of us don’t want to go to the trouble or expense. So the next best thing is to get to know the engineer. Be friendly. Let him or her know you’re excited about the gig. Set up your drums as quickly as possible, then get out of the way and let the engineer set up your mikes. Be ready to do a line check and follow instructions. Don’t argue, but don’t be afraid to ask the engineer to make any necessary adjustments to the microphone positioning or your monitor mix.
Most of all – don’t expect absolute perfection. As long as the speakers don’t feed back or deafen you, it’s a good idea to be as flexible as possible. A real pro can deal with a monitor mix that is less than impeccable. And chances are good that you will one day find yourself back on the same stage, working with the same sound engineer, so don’t burn any bridges behind you.
And when you hit the downbeat of the first song, just relax, close your eyes, and let the music flow.