or: Why I canceled the gigs this week
The concert on Tuesday was an absolute disaster for me. Instead of being able to focus on the performance I was battling serious feedback issues. And why? Because the one (!) speaker was behind me on stage pointing directly to my mic. It was not to be moved so their solution was to turn the mic almost all the way down. I asked the guy if the mix was alright and he nodded vaguely and vanished with the words ‘If it needs any more adjusting you can do that yourself.’
I introduced myself and beckoned the audience to get closer as they had spread out during change over. They ignored me because the mic was so low in volume they couldn’t hear me. I didn’t realise that and was slightly irritated by it. So I got started with my first song ‘A Little’ which is all looping. After I finished I asked the few who had come back to the front if the mix was alright. The vocals were barely audible, was their reply.
I use in ear monitoring to hear everything well while looping. This means I wear headphones and don’t hear much of the outside. On top of that when there’s feedback it goes straight into my ears. I bought this last year because a lot of venues don’t have a monitor and looping vocal harmonies is very difficult when you can’t hear yourself properly.
Off stage upping the volume, back up, instant feedback, back down, turning it low again. In the end, turning the speaker away helped somewhat, but the vocals were still too low in the mix. Also, each time I turned towards my MIDI controller – which was positioned too low – it produced new feedback. I tried to be professional and just grin and bear it, but the whole thing left me rattled and shaken which translated directly into my performance.
I had sent the booker my tech rider and enquired about the setup of the speakers and the availability of one bigger or two small tables. I was assured everything would be as requested. Yet, it wasn’t. Putting the speakers behind you usually results in feedback because the microphones used on stage are facing them. Especially when you’re looping with a mic. This is Audio Engineering 101. It’s the speakers that feed back, by the way, not the mic. I had perfected my setup as best as I could, spent money on in ear monitoring and other gear, but the one thing I still need is the speakers in front of the stage. Otherwise looping is impossible and I don’t want to stop doing it as it’s an integral part of my live show and I enjoy doing it.
Already last year I had come to this conclusion and so rather booked select shows ahead of time. Because there are decent venues out there, but you have to be early when booking. This mini tour through Berlin was in tandem with Vibeke Falden and it was pretty short-run. I had voiced my concerns about booking so late and my gut feeling told me no. Yet, I went along because I promised. I shouldn’t have. That was my mistake.
I walked home with all my gear. Devastated. Back home I talked to my friend who booked the concerts for me in Sicily. She reminded me, I had played a show while still recovering from a bronchitis and unable to sing. I did an improvised set instead and people enjoyed it a lot. I don’t cancel that quickly. If I think I can deliver a decent performance. Yet, this last show was awful. The conditions were awful which rendered the performance subpar. The audience went home with the memory of me as the woman with all that feedback. The rest of the tour would have had similar conditions.
I don’t cancel lightly, but the last show was good for no one. Not the audience, not me. Well, the venue made a quick buck by selling liquor.
The cautionary tale: Don’t sell yourself short. If you need certain conditions to perform well, only agree to gigs that meet your minimum requirements.
And speakers in front and keyboard stands or tables at the same height is not too much to ask, now is it? I don’t even ask for a monitor or a sound guy. This can’t be too much to ask.