Help me put on a junior high rock concert!
March 24, 2007 11:27 PM   Subscribe

MeFi musicians help me! I am in charge of the guitar club at my school, and we need to stage a concert in a few weeks.

I teach in a Japanese junior high school, and have started this year a guitar club for kids who are interested. While I can play guitar enough to teach the kids, I am not really any good and have never done anything close to performing in public. All the kids have passable instruments, enough to cover the range of an average rock band (i.e., electric guitar, acoustic guitar, bass, piano, and a pretty nice Pearl drum set) and they can play them pretty well for 13 year old girls. We've learned one song to the point where we can perform it, which we will have to do in a few weeks, in front of the 240 students in the school gym.

The problem is, I have never done anything like this before, and have no idea how to go about making this work. We don't even really have any equipment besides the instruments themselves and a few ragtag practice amps, so I am looking at going down to "guitartown" next week and buying all the stuff we need. It's hardly a real concert or anything, so we don't need Marshall stacks or anything like that. But eventually, like September or so, we are going to have to do a real show in front of real people. So of course my question to you is, what do I need? How do I go about setting up? What other advice can you give me?
posted by donkeymon to Media & Arts (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
How do you practice with them now? Can everyone be heard? If so, you may just want to do your performance that way - it will make the performers a lot more comfortable.
If not, try to get your practice set-up to be as close to what you will be using live as you can. It's totally reasonable to use the live sound out of the amps, etc., without having to deal with a whole sound system. If there are vocals that will be the biggest issue (along with the acoustic guitar and piano). If you were planning on using the school's mic for vocals try to practice with it as much as possible. You may want to look into getting a little PA, but that can make things a lot more complicated for you, and can change the live sound in a really jarring way - for kids doing a one time performance, I would try to make the show as much like a practice as possible. If you need to change things to perform in front of people, start getting them used to it sooner rather than later.
posted by smartyboots at 12:17 AM on March 25, 2007

If you are getting money, by all means, get good stuff. Don't forget good outfits. If you want you can get a cheap PA system.
posted by Ironmouth at 12:38 AM on March 25, 2007

Also, if you are getting mics, get Shure SM 58's for the vocals. They are indestructible. If you have time, have the kids work on harmonizing on the vocals.
posted by Ironmouth at 12:40 AM on March 25, 2007

Best answer: A lot depends on what you are trying to accomplish, and how many kids are playing. A crowd of 240 people, in room that might seat 300 won't require large amounts of power to be easily heard. If you've got only 5 to 10 kids in the club, standard small 1 to 4 speaker integrated amps would be fine. You might need a 60 watt amp for the bass, and a couple of 30 watt amps for the lead and rythm players. If you want lots of people playing unison parts through the same amps at the same time, you might want to have some active pre-amp/mixers in front of the amplifiers, so you can plug in all the guitars at once.

Amps of this size aren't going to be screamingly loud, in a room that size, but there will be adequate volume, and the amps will be small enough that 13 year old kids can move them around. And it's really hard to make things a lot louder just by buying bigger amplifiers, anyway. A 200 watt bass amp, with an 8 speaker stack is only going to be about 10 db louder, maximum, than a 60 watt single speaker amp. That's significant, sure, but perceptually, due to the non-linear way the human ear handles loudness, it's not even twice as loud, so size, in amps, as you can see, is a matter of quickly diminishing returns. Don't go nuts.

Give everybody a place to plug in, and something to do, and try to have them do it well, together. You'll be a hit.
posted by paulsc at 2:56 AM on March 26, 2007

Response by poster: Further details: Yes I practice with them. There's an acoustic guitar, an electric guitar, a bass, an electric piano, drums, and a vocalist. I'm not getting any money from the school for this. The song we're playing is a pretty standard acoustic rock style. We've been practicing in this lecture room at school that has wireless mics and cheesy little speakers built into the ceiling, which sounds terrible, but we won't even have that available to us for the performance. The room will be the school's tiny gym, which has padded walls and somewhat high ceilings, although low for a school gym. I imagine that paulsc's advice is spot on as far as the guitars and all are concerned, although I am a little concerned about them overcoming the drummer. So I'm now mainly worried about how to amplify the vocals. I don't know anything about mics, and what is required to power them. Can they just run through regular amps? Don't they need preamps?
posted by donkeymon at 3:43 AM on March 26, 2007

I agree with Ironmouth about the ubiquity of Shure SM 58's, but if you're walking into a retail store, and don't want to spend $150/mike, you might look for something a little less pricey, like the SM48S.

You'll get better results with vocals handling them through their own mike mixer, and PA amp/speakers. Most guitar amps are pretty "dirty" terms of effects/distortion, and that can make it tough to understand what singers and speakers are saying. So, you might need 2 microphones, an integrated PA amp (combines a small microphone mixer, preamp, and a small power amp in one box), and one to three speakers. Generally you use one or two speakers facing towards the audience as PA speakers, and one facing back towards the band as a monitor speaker, so they can hear themselves over the amplified instruments. (You can get PA systems in all kinds of packaging options, from integrated setups where the mixer, amp, and speakers are all in the same box, to pro gear, where everything is completely separate, allowing you maximum freedom to mix, match, upgrade, and patch for any size room or situation, but what I've suggested is sort of a starting point for what you've described. You pay more in cost and setup time for increasing flexibility, but you also get more functionality.) Also, accessories like mic cables, speaker cables, mic stands, speaker stands, power strips and extension cords. A lot of music shops put together complete PA packages, and it can be a good deal to go with these, if you have no other gear.

If you are buying a complete PA in one store, insist that it be completely set up, and check all functions, before leaving the store, to verify you have all the right cables, connectors, and that everything works as it is supposed to, and that you know how to set it up. You may want to take along a camera, and a notepad or laptop to make notes, which you can refer to later, when things seem impossibly complicated. A small flashlight in your cable bag is worth a lot in a pinch, too.
posted by paulsc at 3:24 AM on March 26, 2007

Is it just me or does this question sound like the setup for a really good movie?
posted by humblepigeon at 5:42 AM on March 26, 2007 [1 favorite]

You mean like School of Rock?
posted by the cuban at 5:51 AM on March 26, 2007

Hey. I'm also teaching JHS in Japan (minus the guitar club).. I also happened to go to one of my schools' bunkasai (culture festival) last fall and witnessed a preformance that sounds somewhat similar to your band.

The sound was pretty terrible from the little amps on stage echoing around the gymnasium and barely audible over the student body clapping along. However, they managed to get the vocals mic'd into the gymnasium PA and they sounded better and clearer than the rest of the band combined. I'm guessing your gym has a PA too since most schools do their graduations in there.

I would recommend thinking maybe less about the amps, and more about possibly getting everything mic'd and into a 12track portable mixing console, which you could then route to your gym PA. Granted the band I saw had mostly little practice amps, so bigger ones might work out too, but I would still recommend trying to tap into the room's system even if you get bigger amps too.

Oh, and the band at my bunkasai only had like 2 or 3 songs, but the school still made them encore each song a couple times. They cared more about having their friends rock out than about having to hear the same song over again ;)
posted by p3t3 at 7:31 AM on March 26, 2007

edit - after posting, just re-read your follow up post, and sounds like maybe your gym is not fully wired for sound after all.? :(

i'm sure something will work out though with the advice in this thread. just try not to sweat it too much and have fun with it.. from what i've seen at school's here so far, they're used to low budget performances and easily overlook technical difficulties.
posted by p3t3 at 7:37 AM on March 26, 2007

For their first show, don't worry too much about the technical stuff - get something that the vocals can go through and let the rest take care of it itself - there are two advantages to this:

1. The audience will not care/be sophisticated enough to realize that the sound is not perfect.

2. As beginning performers, I think it's important that you put emphasis on performance, and being able to play under "adverse" conditions - this will help them in the future if they persue performing live in any way.

Check around your school to make sure there isn't something kicking around in a storage room that you can use - in my experience almost every school will have something that you can use... If not, try to rent something rather than buy at this point.
posted by davey_darling at 7:58 AM on March 26, 2007

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