In the world of live sound reinforcement, it seems that a multitude of small bands, worship teams, and musical groups are forever striving for that coveted, “crappy” sound that’s become the norm today. As a service to these striving masses, I offer this guide. If you follow my advice, particularly with respect to dealing with audio professionals, we’ll have you sounding like crap in no time.
1. Eschew microphone technique.
It may sound like a simple, obvious move, but one of the easiest ways to increase the crappiness of your sound is to give up all pretense of microphone technique. Vocalists should hold their microphones at waist level, preferably pointed anywhere other than at their mouths. This will ensure that the tortured soul at the mixing console will be able to hear nothing from your microphone until the gain approaches the threshold of feedback, resulting in a joyously crappy howl that will set your audience or congregation’s teeth on edge. For extra credit, during times when you’re not singing, point the microphone directly at the nearest monitor speaker.
2. Go without a sound check.
Sound checks are the enemies of crappiness. During a sound check, your engineer will have an opportunity to see what’s about to happen, destroying the element of surprise when the backing vocalist standing in the back starts his solo. Sound checks also allow equalization and levels to be set, which will greatly detract from the crappiness of the performance. A sound check is also an opportunity for things like loose connections and bad cables, which are key to a lousy sound, to be found and corrected.
3. Twiddle your instrument volume constantly.
Sure, you’ve spent years perfecting your technique of playing really, really softly during sound checks (see above), then cranking it up to 11 during the actual performance. This is a splendid way to blow your engineer’s carefully set level out of the water, and perhaps overload the console input as well. Signals that are clipped to squarewave really capture the audience’s attention, but this falls short of the mark when it comes to true crappiness. To truly excel in this field, it’s necessary to constantly fiddle with the volume of your instrument. Turn it up until it distorts! Wait until the engineer adjusts as best he can, then turn it down to a whisper. Wait until you hear the telltale hiss that indicates he’s maxed out the channel trim trying to hear you, then repeat until either the speakers blow or the engineer takes up binge drinking.
4. Obsess over monitor mixes.
True rock gods know that the audience (if any) is a mere detail; they’re along for the ride. What’s really important is that every monitor mix on the stage be absolutely, high-fidelity, straight-up perfect. Especially yours. You and all of the other musicians must insist at all times that your instrument, and only your instrument, be the loudest thing on stage. Monitors must be set to ear-splitting volume, because if this isn’t done, there is a small but definitely nonzero chance that your audience might hear some of the sound coming from the house speakers. You can also help ensure that monitor mixes are never stable, balanced, or correct by practicing step 3 above. The more you twiddle your volume, the more the engineer will have to twiddle the monitor levels, until eventually he either throws up his hands or flips out and fells you with a deftly swung mic stand.
Follow these simple tips, and I can promise you that at your next gig, people will run from the house screaming, unprepared to handle the majestic crappiness of your sound. As Walt Disney used to say, “If you can dream it, you can do it.”