The Horror of doing a live set without monitors

I’m no multi million dollar pop star. there is no army of legal goons my label sends out who makes sure that all the tech is covered before i even get there. No army of interns to scramble and fix things during a show, or massive budgets to overnight equipment if a particular venue cannot provide it. I have a tech rider , and the basics are covered, but that by no means, guarantees that the sound crew ( if there is one) or promoters, know what the hell to do with it. You’d be surprised how many promoters don’t even READ it. Now a soundcheck will sound great, but it changes when the room fills up, people are screaming, the sound is bouncing off of bodies and the levels are blasting louder then anybody soundchecked at. Things can change very fast, and often does.

Most of the time, we are left to our own devices, and since a live vocalist is such a rare thing in a DJ / Rave event these days, its a rare pleasure when i even get a stage monitor. Its why i bring my own mackie profx mixer — Rob not only has to DJ my set, but play sound engineer to me vocally as well, because nobody else knew how to provide a mixer for a vocalist to plug into. So i bought one and bring it with me everywhere. Sometimes, theres not even room left for us on the table/booth because i come with my own equipment, since all the other acts just bring a cd case or thumbdrive.

So with an hour live concert set, earbleed occurs. Its why Rob takes a few songs and i get a break. Vocally, i could keep going but its my ears i need to rest before my vocal chords ever do. I get torn to shreds online when vids surface and i happen to be off sometimes on a tune. it happens, the fact my ratio is close to zero on off tracks over a live hour/hour and a half set, over a years worth of steady monthly shows is miraculous considering i’m dealing with a completely different sound scenario every show i do.

When pop stars and radio bands tour, they get the same crew the same nights, same stage, same sound, same multi million dollar budget, same customized toys, its a giant family. Its designed and paid for to sound precise and perfect run by the same professionals every time.

We don’t have that. We’re flown in, put our livelihood in the hands of strangers and gotta make do with what we got — and sometimes, i can’t hear shit and i literally, have to go off of muscle memory. Its why i rehearse daily, not to only keep my vocal strength up but to literally, make a song physically, imprinted in my throat. When you’re in front of a few hundred people who just paid to see you and then suddenly, you can’t hear anything beyond the distortion of the bass on stage — thats some scary shit! you just plain, got no choice and keep going!

Sometimes, theres not even a stage. Once i had to sing standing on top of speakers — because a small dedicated crowd did show and i didn’t want to let them down by walking out early, even though this promoter swore up right left and down the stage would be fine for a vocalist set before we drove 500 miles. It was a table, a set of speakers, and a rickety pair of decks. The feedback was terrible if i moved too much, and i ended up holding onto the roof rafters to steady myself on top of the speakers to get through songs without feedback. To the crowd it looked ‘so hardcore, underground and cool as hell!’. They all loved it. To me, it was the scariest and most uncomfortable set i’ve ever done. Heat rises in a warehouse venue, and between the physical exhaustion of holding myself up, the heat up in my face, and mental strain, once my crowd cleared the room i fell off the speakers delerious and rob carried me to the back room. Only time i’ve ever been carried off after a show and was unable to meet people afterwards and it killed me. But i got through the set and it sounded amazing. i did my job!

In ear monitors are a pretty penny. im still saving up for them. Again, i don’t have a big mainstream label willing to loan me a pair, or just give me one i can pay back in royalties later. Doesn’t work that way in happy hardcore, so im slowly, meticulously, saving up. But good god the day i do have them — will be the day i stop self loathing myself after a video clip goes up and i notice im off a hair. Nobody but live performers who has had a monitor go out on them will understand that terror. Try that for a full concert set. And not being able to explain why that happens to the online masses, while standing there with a bunch of troll fingers pointing at you questioning your talents.

And then to be willing, because you love your crazy happy ridiculous crowd so much who keep bringing you to their cities- to do it all over again and face that terror looming over you ready to fuck up all your hard work, and ruin what could be a fan’s best night ever.


Originally published at zoevanwest.kinja.com.

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