I play a lot of festivals where there are many acts, all with different requirements, with pretty quick changeovers between them. I’ve noticed that some people cope easily with this, and others (both venues, engineers, crew and performers) don’t! My top tip to make life easy is keep it simple!
OK, not everyone is like me. Not everyone is a solo act using one microphone (however, I have fallen foul of engineers insisting that my mic isn’t suitable for the stage, or that I should ‘plug in like everyone else), but keeping things simple is definitely the way forward.
Now before anyone leaps on me, let me be clear. If you use particular gear as part of your sound, then yes, you need to use it, and no, you shouldn’t be bullied into not using it, but, I urge you to think carefully about whether you really need it, especially for a very short festival set when you have 5 minutes to get on and start playing.
I like to think of things in terms of ‘my problem’ and ‘someone else’s problem’. Everything the ‘other side’ of the microphone and/ or DI boxes IS NOT MY PROBLEM. That is stuff that belongs to and is operated by the venue. Everything my side of that IS MY PROBLEM. And of course, the more stuff there is, the more difficult it is to find out what’s not working when it goes wrong. The simplest setup can be fraught with problems. I used to have a uke with a pickup, into a preamp, then into the house DI. When the awful moment arrives (no sound, puzzled looking soundman saying “Nah, not getting anything mate”) I don’t know whether it’s my problem or theirs, and if it’s mine, is it the pickup? The cable to the preamp? The preamp? The battery in the preamp? The other cable to the DI? That’s a lot of stuff to check. A lot of unplugging and plugging in, scrabbling around on the stage and shrugging. In front of an audience. With 30 seconds left until it starts encroaching on your stage time.
Now, add a pedal board (and remember 5 pedals is actually 9 more things to go wrong, the 5 pedals plus the four extra leads you need to connect them to each other!), and maybe an amp. Multiply it by one, two, maybe three other performers in your band with similar setups. Now of course, any venue worth it’s salt would have checked the requirements beforehand and arranged to get most of that gear onto the stage, plugged in, checked, and ready to go. Of course, you checked all your cables and batteries at home, too, right? But still Sod’s law applies: if something can go wrong, it will go wrong. The less stuff you have to go wrong, the easier your life will be, the more relaxed you’ll be, you’ll spend less time tweaking things in between songs, and the better your performance will be.
Use a loop pedal? Make sure that if it fails you can still perform, even if it means changing your set on the fly. In fact, if you’re on for 20 minutes, and you only use the looper on a couple of songs in your set, consider leaving the pedal at home and writing a set list that doesn’t include those songs! You might think that all of the gear is what makes you sound like you, but the truth is that it only makes that exact sound on the stage, for you to hear. By the time it’s gone through the desk and out of the front of house speakers, that delicately set EQ and reverb on you pedalboard or amp will be meaningless as far as the audience is concerned.
If the crew at a festival start asking “Do you really need to use that?”, it’s not necessarily because they are lazy, but because they can forsee that it might be an issue. Be honest with yourself, and if you can lose a piece of equipment, do!