So, you’ve found some friends to jam with on the weekend and you’ve invited them over to your house with their instruments, practice amps, and other equipment.
We know you’re a good neighbor, and you’ve promised the folks next door that you won’t make a ruckus. Plus, you know that a clean sound is best if you and your buddies want to stay friends and preserve your hearing!
Follow these tips on setting up equipment, courtesy of Gregg Raybin, director of The Jam NYC, so you can achieve a good, clean sound without resorting to a mixer/PA system.
10 Tips on How to Properly Set Up for a Jam Session
1) A classic band setup is to have the bassist stand to the left of the drummer. This lets the drummer see what the bassist is doing without the big cymbals (ride or China) blocking the view. Switch if the drummer is a lefty, of course.
2) In a tight space, feedback might be a problem. Feedback most often occurs at high volumes, or when a microphone is aimed at a speaker, which then amplifies and loops the sound. Pointing mikes 120 degrees away from a speaker should do the trick.
3) Avoid getting into a “volume battle” with your bandmates. Everyone cranking it up can ruin your sound, fray tempers, and damage hearing. If you think you’re getting drowned out (especially if you are playing an acoustic instrument among electrics) politely request that the group spend a little time to adjust the volume and mix before launching into the next tune.
4) Position speakers carefully to get the cleanest sound. Audiophiles talk about the “golden triangle rule,” whereby speakers should be eight feet apart and eight feet back from the listener. Try to position speaker cabinets so that each musician is in the center of their own “golden triangle.”
5) Believe it or not, the more clutter you have in your practice space, the better. Don’t move the beanbag and couch out of the room—they make good substitutes for the wedges, baffles, and sound absorbers used in professional recording studios.
6) You’re playing for each other, not for an audience, so it’s best if the singer, keyboardist, and guitarists turn to face the rest of the band. If you’re playing songs that are new to each other or having fun improvising, other musicians will want to see the guitarists’ chord changes. This set up also means the singer’s mike is less likely to feedback into the amplifiers
8) A loud drummer can force everyone to turn up the volume. Don’t accept it if the drummer says, “I have to hit hard.” Drummers have quiet stick options (such as rutes or brushes), muting systems, or the old trick that Ringo Starr used: dust cloths over the skins. Playing together means adjusting your volume and playing style for the common good.
9) “Sixty cycle hum” is another inconvenience often associated with playing at home and in a confined space. This phenomenon is sometimes called “mains hum” because it’s caused by mains electricity’s 60-cycle alternating current being picked up by guitars and amplifiers. Try moving guitarists around. If it’s a big issue, visit your local music store technician, who might be able to add shielding to your instrument to reduce the problem.
10) Another idea to save your hearing in a confined space is for everyone to wear ear protection. Many kinds of earplugs are on the market these days, but you should look for plugs designed especially for musicians. Instead of blocking specifically high and low frequencies, music ear plugs block equally across the frequency spectrum for a more natural, less muffled sound.