In this day of Pro Tools on stage, quantising guitars to the beat in the studio, and syncing tempos for CDs, it is easy to forget that a good show, and therefore a musical career, starts with a great performance. And that performance, although coming from the heart and soul, will need a little refinement and practice if it is to stand out. The place that refinement will take place is in a rehearsal room;it makes sense therefore to make sure your rehearsal room is up to the job. Important stuff will take place there, so get it right.
Before we get into checking your rehearsal room, its worth remembering that you are rehearsing before playing live, and every time you perform live, you need to:
- Impress the audience. Make them want to pay to see you perform live again. Make them want to buy any merchandise you may have for sale at the event.
- Impress the promoter. You need the guy to book you again, for more money or at a bigger venue.
- Impress the A&R, publishing, artist management or other taste-makers that may be at your show. These are the people who will assist your career. You may elect to do everything yourself and set up your own record label or publishing company in the future and you will still need the approval and industry recognition of the A&R and artist management people.
Maximising the use you get out of any performance time is vital in helping create these good impressions – and that performance time includes rehearsing. It is not just about learning the songs; anybody can practice their instrument to a certain standard. There is a difference between practising your instrument and rehearsing. An analogy would be that actors learn (practice) their lines, but they rehearse the show. They get confident with their individual parts and then are bought together by the director or producer to work up the parts as an ensemble piece. Each actor works together to create the show. Adopting this procedure is key to improving your next performance.
You might need to spend money on renting rehearsal space. You might have a rehearsal room already – is it suitable and cost-effective? Read on to evaluate your potential rehearsal room against these considerations: cost, access, audio facilities, heating and lighting, and storage.
Most rock-type rehearsal studios are small businesses, run by musicians themselves. They sell rehearsal time in blocks, often with discounts for taking concurrent blocks and paying in advance. For instance, a rehearsal facility might offer you every Monday and Wednesday night from 6:00 p.m. to midnight, with 20 percent off the usual rate, if you book for 2 months. Are you going to want to rehearse twice a week, every week, for two months? How much could you be doing towards arranging programming at home, for free?
Do not overbook therefore. Work out how much time you will really need in this environment. Saving money by booking week-long, all-day sessions is also an incentive offered by rehearsal room business; the benefits also including the freedom of sauntering in and out when the muse strikes. And this is a stupid way to spend money. Established signed acts are guilty of this behaviour – I have seen ridiculous bills for time booked in expensive rehearsal rooms and hardly used.
Three hours at a time is the maximum anyone can be effective in a rehearsal situation. I suggest booking sessions of three hours of performing time , with time on either side for arrival and setup/breakdown of equipment. You are therefore looking at a five-hour session, perhaps once a week or before a gig. Bunching your time like this will maximize your time in the room and will save you money.
Access, steps and stairs.
Rehearsal rooms are often in older industrial-type buildings, either on the outskirts or in the city centre. Consider access to the rehearsal rooms from both your home and the major roads into the city. Rehearsal rooms are great if situated right near your house, but if they are miles away from the nearest freeway/motorway, that will add extra time to your journey before and after every show or event. Likewise, rooms that are locked after a certain time or have lots of stairs quickly lose their appeal—imagine lugging your gear into a cold, dark rehearsal studio situated up four flights of stairs at three o’clock in the morning. So visit a prospective practice space and determine what floor the rooms are on, what access there is, and what time constraints there are for picking up or dropping off your equipment.
You are in a band. You rent a rehearsal room with a state-of-the-art sound system. You turn up, plug in, and start to play. Boy, it feels great to practice at full volume with this incredible PA and lights. Did anyone mention it is also expensive?
Rehearsal rooms with state-of-the-art sound systems also have state-of-the-art rental prices. Do not waste your money. Decide what you need from a technical point of view and stick within those parameters. The room you rent should have a small PA (public address system) of 300 watt to 500 watt, comprising a mixer, amplifier (or combination mixer amp), speakers, and microphones. This should be just enough to amplify your vocalists, while the rest of the band plays through their guitar amps, bass amps, and so on.
Rehearsal rooms run with little profit margin (despite what you think when forking out your hire fee). PA equipment in rehearsal rooms is overworked and can be poorly maintained. It may be a good idea to ask to look at and listen to the equipment when auditioning a new space. Most rooms won’t sound great and the equipment is often a budget brand. However, it should all be working with no bare wires, or incorrectly rated fuses.
Lend an ear.
Listen for a full sound from all the PA speakers. You often find that the high-end frequencies are lacking, or missing; misuse and lack of maintenance has destroyed these components. If this is the case, you are in for a miserable rehearsal experience. Without the high end in the speakers, there will be no vocal clarity. This means you cannot hear yourself sing and will end up shouting and straining your voice. This will limit your potential rehearsal time and maybe cause damage to your voice. Lack of high end is common in budget rooms and your should not put up with an inferior sound. At the same time, the PA should be capable of handling low frequencies at high volumes, vital for electronic and DJ-based performance. If you ARE an electronic or DJ act, then the rehearsal room mixer or mixer/amp must have enough line-level inputs (usually 1/4” or TRS sockets) to accommodate your needs. You will need Direct Injection (DI) boxes if the mixer or mixer amp is at a professional level and only accepts XLR connections. Confirm with the rehearsal room they can provide enough DI boxes for all your equipment; you may to hire them at an extra cost.
Finally, make sure that the room has enough working, safe domestic-type power outlets. Inspect each outlet for a burn or scorch marks. Scorch marks will tell you that there has been a problem in the past which may have been caused by the room’s power supply. Checking this may be hassle now, but it will save you grief in case of a grounding problem that could cause you or a fellow band member to receive an electrical shock.
Heating, lighting, and sanitation facilities.
It is reasonable to expect a warm, dry room so have a quick look at the lighting, heating, ventilation, and toilet facilities of your proposed rehearsal venue. You should not be too fussy if paying for a budget, low-cost facility.Be careful about paying for hidden extras you may not use if you have opted for an expensive option. Rehearsal spaces used by major- label artists can supply catering, transportation, and storage, that may seem convenient. It won’t surprise you to learn these extras are expensive. Better costs can be negotiated with the suppliers of these services, or buying outright. I once had to pay $50 to rent a $25 guitar stand for the day!
Equipment storage is a money pit for music artists. You will accrue a substantial amount of equipment as a live, gigging band— equipment that is big and heavy. You may not need this equipment all the time, and you will need somewhere to keep it all. An option is in your house, garage, shed, or whatever. However none of these may be secure or dry enough to store valuable and fragile equipment for a long period. So, what do you do?
A common choice is to store your equipment at your rehearsal space, who will charge you for storage of your equipment on the premises. This option is seen as a great timesaving and convenient arrangement, until the costs mount up. Do the sums first before piling all your gear into one of their cages. If you will rehearse regularly (and by this I mean at least three times a week, every week), then yes, consider en suite storage. The added time and money involved in picking up and dropping off the equipment for every rehearsal will be far greater than the storage costs. However, rehearsal room storage does not work out if you are only using the rehearsal room once a week or less.
Storage of belongings and equipment is big business as our need for personal off-site storage has increased. You should therefore be able to rent a 35- to 50-square-foot space for about $60 per month. (35 to 50 square feet is the equivalent of a full equipment van; 50 to 75 square foot is the equivalent of a room in an apartment.)
Rehearsal rooms sell strings, picks/plectrums, cables, and sticks on site. This is very convenient if you break a string during rehearsal as you can nip to reception and but a new one. It is also expensive. Have spares with you in rehearsal, just as you would for the show. Buy in advance and in bulk if possible; save yourself money.
I know – yawn. So, fix a cup of coffee and dig out the insurance policy of your musical equipment after drinking it. (You are insured, aren’t you?) Some policies may prevent the storage of equipment in areas other than your home or business address. And while you are thinking about insurance, it is always worth checking the rehearsal/storage facility have taken an insurance policy out.