I’ve been playing in bands for 27 years now and have been to lots of band practices and rehearsals. Today I’m going to talk a bit about how your band sets up for practice and gigs. I want you to think about how your band sets up during a standard band practice. I’ll bet you that you stand in some kind of circle or oval facing each other with all the amplifiers and speakers pointing at you. That’s really the standard setup for a regular band practice.
Now think of your setup at your gigs and live shows. I’ll bet your backs are to the drummer and all your speakers and amplifiers are pointing forward. Have you ever gotten to a gig and had a hard time hearing what you were doing? One of the reasons why you’re having a hard time hearing things is that you are set up so differently from how you practice.
So why do we set up facing each other at practice when we set up with our back to the drummer and all the speakers and amplifiers facing forward at the live shows? There are three main reasons that I’ve found for setting up facing each other at practice. The first reason is space limitations. Most practice spaces are not big enough to set up comfortably like you would on a big stage. That doesn’t mean you couldn’t set up in a small space the same way you do onstage and there are times that you will want to. Which brings us to the second reason why we set up facing each other. It makes it much easier to communicate with each other when we can see each others faces. This speeds the learning process along. The third reason is it’s easier to hear each others instruments when the speakers are pointed right at your head.
Setting up in a circle facing each other has those definite advantages for rehearsal but it can also lead to some bad habits that can cause you problems at the live show. Has your drummer ever said “Watch me for the ending” at a band practice? It’s pretty easy to do that in the circle configuration but it makes you look bad onstage when you have to turn around and look at the drummer for the ending of a song when you’re playing a live show. It’s the same story with watching any individual for the ending of the song. It’s not easy to do that when you’re interacting with your audience.
Which brings me to the dress rehearsal. The dress rehearsal isn’t so much a “let’s wear stage clothes” rehearsal as it is a recreation of your live show setup. Ideally a dress rehearsal would happen in the venue that your band is going to be playing in. That doesn’t happen very often. If you’re lucky and you have a huge rehearsal space then you can set up in your practice area like you would at a gig with monitors and main P.A. and get used to playing like this. If your rehearsal area is really small I would still suggest lining up like you would at a show and do a dress rehearsal like that. In all dress rehearsal cases you could set up without the P.A. and use only monitors since monitors are what you will hear the most of at a live show. Although, I like to a do a dress rehearsal with the main P.A. whenever I can because you will still get a lot of echoes and hear a lot of bass from the main P.A. and it’s good to get used to that.
So you can see how important it is to replicate what you will be doing live at a rehearsal. It will cut down on a lot of the “I can’t hear myself” problems at your live shows. Remember, there’s nothing wrong with practicing and especially writing music in the classic practice circle. If you’re going to play live though, you need to practice in stage configuration as well.