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51Anc1ZmXFLI own several books by Bobby Owsinski and since I’ve been putting a live show back together I bought his new book and DVD: How To Make Your Band Sound Great.

I wasn’t sure what to expect. The new live show’s sounding pretty good I think and I’ve got a fair amount of experience on stage now but figured it’d be worth checking out.

Good Stuff

The most useful sections in the book for me were his technical descriptions of dynamics and playing “in the pocket”. Bobby talks a lot about playing “bigger” rather than louder or faster which has been an issue I’ve struggled with. For instance I liked this observation about why a lot of musicians feel like the life’s been sucked out of their performance if they aren’t playing really loud:

The internal dynamics of each individual usually go out the window. Instead of playing crisp yet quiet, with the same attacks and releases the band had at the higher volume level, the attacks and releases get relaxed so the playing becomes less precise. The real trick is learning to actually play with the same intensity at lower levels.

Makes a lot of sense. He suggests plotting out song (and set) dynamics on a 1-10 scale and to make sure the band members agree on what the levels on the scale sound like.

Bad Stuff

But besides a handful of useful tips, the book is geared towards the beginner. Repeated admonitions to tune your instrument, turn off your cell phone, take vocal lessons and be a professional might be useful to some readers but they seemed obvious to me.

The included 60-minute DVD of Bobby coaching a band rehearsing a song is interesting, but could easily have been edited down to around 15 minutes, which would have made it more effective and reduced my exposure to ska considerably. Cuts back and forth between the earlier and later (improved) performances of the song would have been a helpful demonstration.


It’s not a bad book, I’d recommend it for a complete beginner. But it made me more aware of questions I had going in that it didn’t answer. I’d love to see another book that dealt with situations that are more geared towards laptoppy Internet recording artists who are branching out into live performance like:

  • How to deal with a laptop on stage – my first few times out I had issues with only having unbalanced outputs.
  • Backing tracks. How many outputs to give the house, how to treat them, how much backing stuff to include.
  • How to simulate band dynamics with drum backing tracks or a drum machine.
  • Vocal treatment & effects. Especially in small venues I’ve found running my vocals through a compressor/limiter helps my vocals sound more like the records.
  • How to handle crappy sound guys. (Constructing an alibi, body disposal, etc.)

I’m sure it would be a huge, huge money-making hit.

Posted on - February 26, 2010 [at] 3:06 pm by Brad
Tagged in - , ,

6 Comments on this post

David Weinberger on How To Make Your Band Sound Great review
February 26, 2010 at 4:20 pm

So, how’s the book coming? Looking forward to reading it!

Steve Rydz on How To Make Your Band Sound Great review
February 26, 2010 at 5:09 pm

How about you write something about it Brad as you must have learned a fair amount in your time as a performer. Of course you need not write an entire book but a short PDF or something would be cool and I’m sure you’d be able to sell it too.

Andrew Spicer on How To Make Your Band Sound Great review
February 26, 2010 at 7:52 pm

Hello, I am a laptop one man band. I’ve been performing live since early 2008, and been a one man band since 2001.

In my experience as a ‘live’ one man band, a lot of sound guys don’t necessarily know how to handle such a bizarre setup. I’ve had problems with them adjusting the PA system to be be way too bassy sometimes which from what I was told later didn’t sound so great. I’ve been turned way down to radio-on-a-sunday-afternoon, level. And most of the time the audience isn’t quite sure what exactly is going on, especially at an open mic where you are following a bunch of bands.

The best way I’ve found to deal with the sound is to set it up yourself. To introduce yourself to the PA system and find out where your levels are. If you are not in control of your sound, the show may suffer, as you are dealing with something more unique than everybody else there. Usually sound guys tend to look at you like you’ve got two heads when you tell them you have a one man band, until after you’ve played then they usually ‘get it’.

I just run my guitar through a POD into the board, and then my laptop (with a mono WAV file of drums/bass/synth) straight into the board as well.

Also it make for a better show for the audience and for yourself to just pretend you are playing with a full band. You look nuts rocking out with your laptop, but at the same time, it’s novel and people tend to somewhat understand after a few songs.

That’s just my experience.

Bobby Owsinski on How To Make Your Band Sound Great review
February 27, 2010 at 12:27 pm

Thanks for your kind words about the book, Brad. Sorry it didn’t answer all of you questions. You’re right in the it is more for bands than the individual performer, and it speaks to the beginner and intermediate bands who can’t figure out why they’re not sounding as good as they think they can be.

I’ll try to briefly answer your questions (some of the answers are in the book but maybe you just didn’t see them).

1) Most club PA’s used balanced lines these days so either ask for a couple of direct boxes or supply your own. You can get them for as little $30 each from Behringer.

2) Most club PA’s are mono, so make sure that if you give them a stereo output it’s mono compatible so the instruments in the middle don’t disappear. I wouldn’t ever give them more than two outputs unless you know the sound guy can handle it and he’s on your side. Keep the effects to a minimum as they tend to wash out the mix in a live situation, especially in an acoustically challenging venue.

3) You can simulate band dynamics the same way they do on records – by adding and subtracting instruments. The more instruments, the bigger the sound. If it’s only drums, you’ll have to program the volume and groove changes in, which takes a lot of time but makes it sound realistic.

4) Vocal treatment – Keep the reverb to a minimum because it can wash over the entire mix, but delays work pretty well live. You’re right, a compressor with about a 4:1 ratio and 6dB or so of compression will help a lot.

5) The crappy sound guys are the ones that are defensive about their gig so you’ve got to include them in the process. Give them a stage plot and setup sheet that tells where you’ll be standing on stage and the inputs you need, then a cue sheet of all the things that he can do during the set like “add a 350ms delay on vocal on 3rd song.” If it’s a bit of a challenge and it keeps them from getting bored, most guys will be on your side. Then again, there are the ones that have a bad attitude no matter what you do so it helps to include a body bag with your gear.

Hope this helps a bit.

jamie d on How To Make Your Band Sound Great review
March 3, 2010 at 11:19 am

“How to handle crappy sound guys. (Constructing an alibi, body disposal, etc.)”

easy answer: get your own (hint hint hint ;) )

Rob Gainey on How To Make Your Band Sound Great review
January 25, 2011 at 3:31 am

Hi Brad! Bobby does have a great book and it covers alot of territory, but as a working sound engineer, I get a different perspective from behind the console. I’m also a musician myself and probably one of the rare ones that actually performs on the stages I mix.

I have a book out called ROCKIN’ YOUR STAGE SOUND (Hal Leonard) that gives you both the engineer’s perspective of what bands should know and also the Pro musician’s perspective as well. In this book, you’ll find 170 Stage Tips from the engineer and over 100 Pro Tips from players in national acts such as The Scorpions, Kings X, Black Sabbath, Dokken, Quiet Riot, ASIA, Megadeth, Ambrosia, Foghat, George Benson, Frank Zappa, Black N Blue, Lizzy Borden, Malmsteen, Racer X, Michael McDonald, Mothers Finest, Steel Panther, Danger Danger and more….

Bobby covers numerous points that I don’t: he covers the playing aspects of the music in great detail, which is quite helpful to those who need it most.
ROCKIN’ YOUR STAGE SOUND on the other hand, covers what most players are going to want to be aware of when the play on a professional stage. I focus on the stage techniques and live sound aspects of each musician’s equipment in great detail, not so much the musical aspects of your performance.

I hope this may be what you’re looking for to improve your show. Let me know if I can be of any assisitance!

Rob Gainey \m/ \m/

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