Originally I was going to save the ‘Red Pen’ designation for posts that had something to do with the craft of editing. I’m still finding my way in that endeavor, and I’m not really ready to delve into commentary on it yet, so I’m changing things up. I’ll now be using the ‘Red Pen’ heading as a heads-up that something is irritating me and I’m going to get good and bent out of shape about it for a) your entertainment and b) my own catharsis. With that in mind, I give you…
An Introduction to Event Planning and Management By Way of Counter-Example
I must beg my readers’ pardon as I diverge from my normal linear style of reporting for a bit. It is my earnest hope that the details of last Saturday night shall be revealed in the process of the perusal of this guide, itself intended to edify and illuminate.
Part I: In which we discuss the duties and responsibilities of the venue…
Dear Sir or Madam, I see you have entered the field of event management! Congratulations! Yes, I know you merely sought to purchase a bar and capitalize on our nation’s eerie fascination with communal viewing of sporting contests, but in making the decision to also feature live music, you have, in effect, become an Event Planner. Concerned? Fear not, for I have over a decade of experience in this very thing. Let us dissect your most recent efforts and see what might be learned.
- You decided to reserve tables for a party to watch the LSU game? Spot on! Recognizing an event that is likely to be a draw and planning for significant attendance is a shrewd business decision.
- You booked a band for the same night…and the two large TVs upon which the LSU game will be broadcast are, in fact, on stage? Excellent! I can think of no conflict resulting from this. Surely the spectators of said football contest will tire of the droll sportscaster commentary and will appreciate a musical accompaniment to their viewing.
- You specified a load-in time close enough to kickoff to guarantee that all the reserved tables (in front of the stage) would be filled to capacity with both fans and their children? Well done again! What better way to foster friendly banter between sports fans and band members maneuvering cartloads of equipment from trailer to stage?
- You want both the opening band and headliner to wait until the game is over before playing? Capital idea, sir! Zero overlap between entertainments means the party can, as the kids, say, go all night long. I’m sure the bands won’t mind starting a few hours late and/or cutting down their set lists as necessary. Nor will their fans, who arrived prior to the originally designated start time, mind cooling their heels.
- You scheduled precisely one-half of the number of servers needed to effectively maintain prompt order and distribution of drinks and foodstuffs? Superb! Customers and staff alike will appreciate the air of frantic excitement and anticipation.
Top marks all around! But the success of any event is determined by all the participants, so let us turn our attention to those other necessary, but no less important, components.
Part II: In which I clarify some shit for everyone else…
For parents, sports fans, and other customers:
- Know that I am making every effort to create as little interruption to the enjoyment of your evening as possible. I have no problem setting up the stage during commercials and stoppages of play and/or crawling across the stage while running cable so as to maintain a clear sightline for you. In turn, I might ask that you make even the slightest effort to get the fuck out of the way when I and my bandmates are loading in a bunch of heavy, unwieldy shit. This speaker cabinet is getting to the stage whether it goes past you or through you. Your choice.
- About those speakers: they’re heavy! And instruments are expensive. Yes, I know the stage also doubles as a putting green and there’s even an assortment of golf balls for your children to play with, but seriously parents, now is not the time for your rambunctious spawn to occupy the stage. Let us set all this stuff up and get these potentially hazardous cables taped down and then your children will be more than welcome to not come anywhere near it.
- And to the dear lady who beckoned me over during the second song of our opening band’s set, placed a hand on either side of my head, and patiently explained that it was necessary to turn the instruments down and the vocals up to facilitate proper comprehension of the lyrics, I thank you for pointing out such an obvious solution. Do call on your vast reserve of live sound reinforcement experience again and point out where one may find the volume knob on a drum set.
Which brings me to…
For gigging musicians:
- If you’re the opening band and you arrive before the headliner, please hold off on setting up until the headliner gets there unless you’ve made other arrangements beforehand. This can save a lot of extra effort if stuff has to be shuffled around. If there’s room to bring your stuff in and store it offstage until everyone arrives, by all means, go for it, but otherwise, please leave it in the car for now.
- If you’re a guitarist and you want people to hear all the lovely things you’re playing, do not cut all the midrange from your sound with your equalizer. I know that sounds awesome when you’re three feet in front of your amp, but here’s what happens in the intervening distance between your amp and the audience: The low end gets swallowed by the kick drum and bass guitar and the high end is eaten up by the cymbals. I can put some midrange back in with the EQ on the PA, but it’s always preferable to start with a more balanced signal.
- Drummers: In a small it may not be practical or even possible (depending on time and equipment constraints) to mic up your whole kit. What this means is that I, as the sound man, have no way to adjust your volume. If you overpower the rest of the band I can turn everyone else up, but only so much the acoustics of a smaller room start raising feedback concerns. If I ask you to dial it back a bit and you tell me ‘sorry, I can’t help it’ what I hear is ‘I don’t care enough about being part of a group to work on my own dynamics.’ Not to worry, I’m sure there are plenty of gigging opportunities for solo drummers who play too loud.
And Finally…For the Sound Person:
- Gain and Pan are two different things. Do not confuse these knobs.
- Be cognizant of your own familiarity with the music you’re mixing. If I’ve heard a song enough times I have a tendency to treat the vocals like a melody and mix them accordingly, which doesn’t necessarily translate into intelligibility. Not every person in the audience will have heard these songs before. In fact, if everyone has done their job and the stars have aligned, hopefully there will be a lot of new people in attendance. Make sure the vocals are forward enough in the mix to be intelligible.
By and large, restaurant owners are not event planners. That’s not a slight, it’s just a simple fact. Event planning is a whole field unto itself. I know because I was part of that industry for almost a decade. It’s left me with higher expectations, but also the understanding that not everyone has the wherewithal or the inclination to become an expert. In the end, you just roll with it and do what you can to make things better the next time around. Saturday night was a first-rate cock-up, but nobody died, and we got to play our music. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
See you next time.