Couldn't Hear Myself

Dusty Turtle
12/07/14 02:41:02AM

OK, it was only a small, unpaid gig, but there were a fair number of people there. I was excited but also nervous.

I was asked to play a short 30-minute set at a craft fair today at a local school. In each of the classrooms and here and there on school grounds were craft booths where kids and parents could make and/or buy crafts. But in a large cafeteria was hot chocolate and other goodies, and at one end was a stage. I went on towards the end of the afternoon.

I was plugged into a pre-amp (mine) that went to the mixer (theirs) powering two large speakers on either side of the stage pointing out towards the audience. Obviously, I sat in the middle of the stage behind the speakers.

I had expected the audience to be uninterested in the music, but was surprised how many people were listening and applauding after each song. Still, the folks in the audience were busy eating, talking, and visiting with one another, too, and the room was loud. That's what the main problem was: I couldn't hear myself!

Oh, I was nervous anyway, and value the experience for that alone, since I've already developed some ideas about how to calm myself down and relax. But the real problem was that I could not hear myself. The guy before me played classical guitar and was reading sheet music, so he could follow where he was. I play by ear, which means I need to hear and feel the music to know what to do next. And yet there were at least two moments when I was looking at my fingers but had no feel for what to do next. Without hearing the music, I was lost. This was especially a problem for some of the soft, fingerstyle stuff I mixed in between the faster flatpicking tunes. In fact, I had planned to fingerpick an O'Carolan piece but replaced it with a faster Celtic reel simply because it would be easier for me to hear.

I now understand why people who play large gigs use stage monitors.

Has this happened to anyone else? How do you deal with it? I have a Fishman Loudbox Mini which can function as a monitor; should I have expected this problem and brought my amp? Has anyone ever used headphones during a live performance? Any ideas at all would help. I would like to be able to perform more and need to learn how to do it. Not hearing myself is definitely an obstacle.