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Caz

Joined a Big Band on bass.. getting a good sound?

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On 02/09/2020 at 09:38, Caz said:

Bit excited.. After doing some depping on bass with some local big bands, I've finally joined a big band as the main bassist. I figured it's a good way to improve at bass as you get so many different styles thrown at you. So I asked for some charts in advance and learned them, and got quite roasted at reading some new ones.. have brought the pad home to work on.

The main thing I'm having difficulty with is finding a good sound and volume. I'm more used to playing acoustic instruments (drums & percussion) where the sound carries quite far, and the sound seems to travel really differently coming out the bass amp. We're rehearsing in a big wooden town hall and some of the tunes are really loud. It seems really loud to me next to the bass amp but others (even the drummer who was about 2m away) were struggling to hear it so I think the sound trails off quite quickly when it comes out the amp. I cranked up the volume until the drummer was happy.. he's a good and experienced drummer so I definitely trust his judgement. 

So just wondering, when you're right next to a bass amp and the volume is just really loud , and it can sound totally different even 2m away - how have people learned to gauge what it sounds like around the room to set it so it's not too loud or too quiet? And any tips on setting sound in this environment to cut through well?

Thanks,

Caroline

 

Personally, wireless helped me a lot to understand how the sound next to the amp onstage relates to what it's heard out there (when we don't have PA and a sound guy, in which case it's their job), as I was able to move around and go out in front during soundchecks and hear it. 

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5 hours ago, dave_bass5 said:

Ive never played in a big band (although i did play sax in a brass band at school) but i cant help think some people will be sitting down?

If so, and if ive read the posts correctly, raising the cab and having it loud enough that its carrying the sound to front of house might mean blasting out those whose ears will be a lot closer. 

Obviously depends on where the rig is placed of course. 

Just a thought, probably not a good one. 

You’re dead right - and it highlights that a bass amp with one or two speakers that is usually pretty directional isn’t great for onstage sound. 20-30ft away it could be very loud. Ideally a monitor or IEMs and DI to a PA but as has been said, a big band makes a lot of noise and also takes up a lot of room, so pragmatism takes hold and you want to be heard. There’s nothing worse than a fast swing tune where you’re struggling to hear and have to resort to gluing your eyes to the fretboard and “pre-reading”. 
I used to solve this by... sitting down :)

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Checking your sound by walking about the place using wireless can be a bit of an eye/ear opener. I find what works when you're close up frequently doesn't out in the room and vice versa.

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Thanks for all these helpful comments and ideas. That completely makes sense to get away from the amp to get an idea of the sound around the room. I don't have anything wireless just yet but I do have cable linkers so could join a couple of cables and walk around a bit. I can also bring a couple of extension leads to get the bass amp closer to the drummer so that we set the volume together. They usually rehearse and gig in the same town hall so if I can work on getting a good sound there then that will be a good start. The drummer was nice and said the feel was good and driving but the sound wasn't cutting through when the full band was playing. Hopefully some experimenting with getting just the right sound will pay off and set a nice foundation for the band. It's a weekly band and the previous bassist did it for over 20 years I'm told! So I'm working through the tunes in the pad at home and looking forward to playing more.

Oh yeah I should have said, it's a Precision 4 string bass and a Mark Bass medium sized amp, the amp can go really loud if need be. The chairs there were curved and it didn't sit flat on the chair so I put it on the floor, but I can bring a stool or something to raise it off the ground.

Thanks,

Caroline 

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It might be overkill, and somewhat blasphemous, but couldn't you run a Spectrum Analyzer while the band is playing to see where your space actually is? Or where there is so much traffic that you definitely don't want to be there?

I know Basie preferred the Octave RTA whilst Ellington liked Audiotool (but he was famously pro-Android). 

I jest, but it could offer interesting insight. 

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16 hours ago, FDC484950 said:

You’re dead right - and it highlights that a bass amp with one or two speakers that is usually pretty directional isn’t great for onstage sound. 20-30ft away it could be very loud. Ideally a monitor or IEMs and DI to a PA but as has been said, a big band makes a lot of noise and also takes up a lot of room, so pragmatism takes hold and you want to be heard. There’s nothing worse than a fast swing tune where you’re struggling to hear and have to resort to gluing your eyes to the fretboard and “pre-reading”. 
I used to solve this by... sitting down :)

For one room I played in a lot I actually put my cabs in a corner pointing out at the 45 degree angle. The spread was great that way and really everyone in the room, band and audience and me were in front of the cabs and could hear everything.

It worked really well - first time I did it I was playing an active jazz so I could be far from the amp and still control my sound. Then later I got a longer speaker cable and kept the amp head near me.

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I've played in a big band for a number of years and also set up the PA. Here's some thoughts:

1. You're at the back in the corner, right? You won't hear everyone, but I always went near the drummer. If you're positioned for playing a gig, you probably won't hear some saxes, since they'll be pointing forwards. But with you at the back, unless you do something incredibly daft with the amp, everyone will hear you okay.

2. Forget about PA, monitors or a sound engineer. Yes we had one - for the singer. More recently we stuck the keyboard through it too, and a bit of guitar. But not bass, well except as a backup in case the amp blows up (so...don't rely on the DI out the amp....use a DI box before). 

3. The guitarist will have 100x the troubles of 'cutting through' unless they're positioned properly, I'd suggest right at the front for them and/or going thru the PA if you have one.

4. Less is more. Think of bass+amp as a self contained acoustic instrument and all the others as acoustic instruments.

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That’s very good advice. I’ll also add know the songs inside out if possible. That way you dont have to think too hard and don’t rely on hearing everyone clearly all the time. 

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For Big Band playing I generally want try to get a decent level with the rest of the rhythm section first. After all, that's who is going to be driving the tunes, for the most part, so you all need to hear each other. I also prefer to read those kind of gigs while I'm sitting, which also lets me hear my amp a little easier, otherwise tilting your speaker might help.  If you need more or less volume out front the bandleader will usually tell you.

I wouldn't worry about getting a wireless and going out front. It might work for a self contained small group, but not in a big band.  It makes it difficult to read the charts while you're walking around,and you don't want to annoy another 15 people while you're the only one to go wandering off to check your sound.

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Forgot to add.....I've used a wireless but only because I was also soundchecking the vocals. But normally you'll get very little time to do anything like a proper soundcheck so you just get used to more/less knowing the right settings to use in the various environments you'll play in. That's also a thing to get used to.

Personally I tend to use a 120W 15" amp (don't need all that power though) because I prefer it, but I can & have used a 30W 8" (I think? or 10") Fender Rumble and its done the job. But with the PA and singer too, and a lot of others, you eventually just run out of power.

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