Updated: Oct 3, 2020
Steel bands have a very unique sound. And the steel drum instrument itself is designed to be played with a soft touch because the sounds of the notes get distorted when played to loudly. In my previous band, Panama Steel, we all used to yell "meow" when someone hit a pan too loud because it sounded like a yelling cat! Ha! It's something every pan player has to think about every time he/she plays and in my current band Tobago Bay, we spend a great deal of time making sure we have the right sound going out to the audience. For every band, a sound check is important so you get a nice unified, balanced sound. I think everyone would agree with that, but it is particularly important for a band with steel drums in it because of the nature of this unique instrument.
Aside from the type of instruments in the ensemble, another important part of sound checking is the venue. Where are you playing? Is it a concert stage, a conference hall, a pool deck, a restaurant, or a private residence? Or anything in between. Are you playing inside or outside? All of these factors will change how you approach the sound output. Is the band in a corner where the sound reverberates and bounces off the walls? Or is the band in a wide open, and very dry space, in the middle of a park? Covered or not covered? It all matters and has to be considered for the performance. After all, you want to sound good right?
So why don't you just make a spreadsheet with a list of venues and sound levels? ..."When I play at an outdoor restaurant, I'll set the levels here. Inside, I'll set the levels this way." Nope and nope! You can't do that because every place will have different acoustical properties. Every venue will just be different no matter what.
In the end, the most important part of being in a band is the sound at the performance. Simply put, if your band sounds terrible, you won't get hired again. And you can think that your stage presence can replace the lack of a good sound, but you'd be wrong. For some of the gigs Tobago Bay has, we are there to provide a "feeling"...that Island vibe so at gigs like that, the sound is the only thing people are paying attention to. We have to get that part right.
So at your next gig, do your band a favor and make sure to do a sound check, Set up early and get the sound right, and you will be rewarded with a spectacular performance and more gigs to come.