7/99 - Jens Moller -
Playing outside is nothing like playing in an enclosed building. Once you've
done it, you'll probably wonder what you sounded like since there are no room
reflections that gave you any reasonable clues. Here are some things to think about that
may make it a better experience for you and your audience.
The number one problem with performing outdoors is usually electricity - You
need it, but there are rarely any outlets anywhere near where you are going to set up
and play. My experience has been that the outlets are usually 100 feet (approx
30 meters) away from where ever you want to set up - I don't know why this
is, it just seems to be what happens to me every time I play outdoors.
To deal with this, you need to carry at least 100 feet (30 meters) of 15 Amp
extension cords - this could be multiple cords, strung together. In the US,
the Extension cords you want to use will have 14 or 12 gauge wire. Avoid using
gasoline powered generators for your Power Source - your equipment is too
valuable to take a risk of damaging it because of the poor power
(voltage/current) regulation that these provide. If possible,
Define Your Electrical Power Needs in your Contract.
Protection from the elements
The second major problem is the Sun. If you play a keyboard and its bright
and sunny out, the outside temperature of your black keyboard can get hot
enough to cook an egg on - this is not good for the electronics, nor your
hands should you lay them down on the metal parts after they have been warmed
up for you. Other things, like amplifiers, mixers and effects units also tend
to have problems if left in direct sunlight. Sometimes the sun hides behind
some clouds, and then it starts raining - also not particularly good for
electronic gear, musical instruments or speaker cabinets. Rain is even
worse for singers as they hold their microphones - there is a good chance
that they will get electrocuted (it may be a spectacular show, but you can
only do it once) - 120 Volts AC in the United States and Canada, 240 Volts AC
in most other parts of the world - You could be killed. You need a tent, or to
be in a sheltered area. If possible, Define Your Shelter Needs in your
Contract, or buy a portable (fabric and poles) shelter/tent.
We once played in a large tent where they were also barbecuing hamburgers on
the other side of the tent. 3 hours later, my gear was covered in a
light coating of smoky grease. It was not good for the
synthesizers or the rack mount gear (I ended up taking things apart to clean
the panel switches). The indoor/outdoor carpeting on my speaker cabinets
smelled like hamburgers for around 2 weeks
afterwards - it was really noticeable when we played indoors the next day.
Have someone you trust go out and listen to what you sound like at various
places (where the audience would normally be). You won't have a clue as to
what you sound like as you perform - you will have to depend on someone else
to help balance the sound for you. Odds are good that you will need to be
able to have more Bass response to play outdoors. If you are not too loud
(like a single guitar player), this is easy to control, however if there are
3 or more of you (and you have a live Drummer), expect that you will
need a PA system that can scale to the area. Prepare for it and make sure that
you have equipment that can handle the power needs (and make sure that you
have a power source that can drive the PA) or Define Your PA System Needs in
You would be amazed at the altered sound qualities that occur as a matter of
things getting warmer, getting cloudy, or getting windy. Even the size of the
crowd will affect the tonality and PA adjustments. If you've never done sound
for an outdoor event, you may not appreciate the constant tweeking of things
that you will go thru.
Set up exactly like you do indoors
Get there early and don't change from your normal
operating modes - there will be so many things
that you have lost control over that you don't need another thing that can
cause you problems. Run microphones in front of your on stage musical
instrument amplifiers and set them like you would for an indoor show -
let the Sound Crew deal with the PA system settings.
Carry spares of all cables
If you are going to have a problem, its likely to occur here (I don't know
why, these things just seem to happen). Extra Guitar Strings, Guitar Picks,
and any other consumables can make the difference between a fantastic
experience and total misery.
Don't let random people help you
They may be well meaning, they may be clumsy, they may want to steal
something - anyway you look at it, there are many opportunities for major
problems to occur. Bring along people who know you and your stuff. They can
be trained to help you.
Don't get mad
Stay under control at all times. There are so many things that can go wrong
that anger will only make them worse. Stay away from alcohol during this
time - it could cause you many more major problems in the long run.
Have Plenty of Business Cards and PR Packages on hand
There will be people that might hire you for Club Work, Weddings, Parties
or other events listening to you. Be ready for any opportunity that presents
itself. If a Radio Station that plays music compatible to your style has set
up a booth in the area, Invite them over to have a listen - you never know
what the long term benefits may be.
John Williams sent me an Email that included the following:
We always took a bag of garbage bags
with us if we played outdoors. You never know when they might come in handy
if it starts to rain. Even if
you have to make a mad dash to get your gear out of the weather. Naturally,
expensive electronics go first
while the rest waits its turn. They take up little room, are relatively
cheap, and can save you a lot of bucks.
Just make sure they will fit what you want to cover(ahead of time) and it
probably would be good to run through
who does what and what goes where ahead of time too. And if they're brown
and you have black pants and
white tennis shoes and gloves you can slit the bottom for your head and go
as the "California Raisins".
Pictures of people performing Outdoors
Sometimes its nice to see some examples of what other people are doing.
Some of these were taken in early June 1999 at a street fair in Old Colorado City
(just outside Colorado Springs, Colorado, U.S.A.) or in Manitou Springs,
Colorado. Many people were selling their CDs, others were performing for
tips. The people in the Bandstand were sponsored to play for the event (look
at all the Power Amplifiers they used to get good bass response). It
rained for at least an hour on all 3 days of these events. There were 2
all acoustic acts that I saw - both shown here. The Bagpipe player seemed to
have the biggest crowd around him.
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