Essential gear and accessories for live shows
BY JAIME BABBITT
I’M GOING to share some must-haves for any professional live singer. You may not need to bring all these things to every single gig, as your band or the venue may provide them, but you need to have them in your arsenal. The following is excerpted from my book, Working With Your Voice: The Career Guide to Becoming a Professional Singer (Alfred).
The Big Bag Designate one bag that’s large enough to be used for all things gig-like: energy bars, throat drops, snacks, water bottle, makeup, music books, guitar picks, nail clippers (guitarists and keyboardists: never thought about that one, eh?), lyrics notebook, clothes, and more. It’s a bad idea to keep some items in your knapsack and some in your guitar case and some in your handbag. That’s how we forget things.
Your Own Mic I always bring my own microphone to a live gig. Put some light-colored masking tape around the base of yours and print your name and phone number on it with a black Sharpie. Print that information on the mic case, too. Throw it in your gig bag and you are good to go. Don’t forget to have your own 25-foot mic cable as well. You might never need it, but you never know.
Carry a mic stand. Many bands and clubs supply them, but it should still be part of your rig. Most portable stands cost less than $80. Because I’m a guitarist and percussion player, I use a boom stand. Many singers might like a little more play, so I recommend getting a gooseneck attachment if you get a straight stand; I promise your hands will thank you. I’ve smashed mine on straight mic stands during dramatic singing moments roughly 8,000 times in my life.
Some bands require singers to use wireless handheld microphones; wireless mics cost hundreds of dollars more than their wired counterparts, so shop carefully if one is in your professional future. Look for reputable brands and watch out for mics costing well below 100 dollars.
Another microphone option is the wireless headset. Headset mics cost hundreds of dollars more than wired mics, and the same quality-control advice applies here as for the wireless handheld: You’ll be much more satisfi ed if you stick with headsets made by reputable audio companies.
You might consider buying stock in the Duracell battery company. Just kidding! Still, replace batteries after every gig without fail.
Read It and Sing: Your Music Stand Find out what the protocol is for your particular gig situation and act accordingly. I do not have any love for those portable metal stands. They are very flimsy and way too easy to knock over; I’d steer clear of them. Some clip onto your mic stand. They’re smaller than the big, black Manhasset music stands we’ve all seen, but they can work very well.
Here’s my two cents about music stands: I’ve used them many times in my career—they’re a must for studio work and are useful for certain corporate or party band gigs, so I won’t mess up the lyrics or song order—but I personally cannot stand the way they look onstage. As a singer, they make me feel self-conscious, and as an audience member, I get the sense that folks onstage using them don’t really know their material. Granted, there are many times when music stands are par for the course: If it’s a complicated jazz or classical “reading” gig, or if there are just too many brand-new songs thrown at you all at once, or if everyone in the band has one, that’s fine. But, if it’s just you up onstage flipping pages, well . . . not so much. Do your best to memorize your repertoire for any given gig; your internal code of ethics and your bandleader will thank you for it.
Earplugs Your ears should be as much of a professional concern to you as your voice, and you need to do everything in your power to be good to them. If you’re playing in a loud band on any kind of regular basis, and you’re not on in-ear monitors, consider using earplugs to preserve your hearing. You’ll use earplugs at rehearsals, on your gigs, and at loud gigs that you attend as an audience member. Skip the foam plugs from the drug store. They do provide physical protection from high SPLs; however, they heavily attenuate high end, which provides a lot of detail, and singers who use these often find that they simply can’t hear their voices or their range of vocal nuances well enough. I recommend buying musician’s earplugs that are fitted by a trained hearing professional. These earplugs are molded just for you, attenuate frequencies more evenly across the spectrum, and come with filters that offer varying amounts of protection. They’ll probably run you around $150, but they’re worth it. It takes a little time and effort to get used to singing with earplugs. Nevertheless, I’m here to tell you that I’ve used them for years, have acclimated to them and wouldn’t be caught dead on a live gig without them.