Live Music

Playing at the Cabana?  Follow these tips.

Playing at the Cabana? Follow these tips.

The Late Ian Morris (Tex Pistol) had the following tips to help bands play the Cabana!


Ian Morris here, tho’ most folk call me Tex. I’m responsible for the sound at the Cabana. Now that the place is getting busy I’m very fortunate to have the assistance of James Rochester. James has ears of gold, and not only helps out with mixing duties, but he can fix your guitar better than anyone else in the country!

I never in a gazillion years thought I’d be involved with a venue as legendary as the legendary Cabana! It is indeed a great honour – and a challenge.

We Cabana lads have done a heap of stuff to drastically improve the acoustics of the place, but if you’re playing the Cab then we need to work together to get the best sound possible, for you and your audience.

I realise youse fullas who have been playing for years and years and years know all this stuff, but we love giving new bands a chance to perform a real gig on a real stage, so hopefully they’ll find this info useful.

Our stage is a great size, compact without being too small, and it’s easy to hear everyone else in the band. The biggest problem in the Cabana, because of its shape and size, is low frequencies: bass, bottom end, the boomy stuff down low that gets your insides rumbling. To achieve the optimum sound we must tame that bottom end on stage.

It’s all about balancing

It’s no coincidence that back in the old days a sound engineer was called a balancing engineer. The name may have changed but the job hasn’t: the sound engineer has to balance the sound from various sources to make a pleasing whole.

Now, you may think that if I stick a microphone on everyone in the band then I’ll have complete control out front and can adjust the sound very precisely. Unfortunately, in small venues like the Cabana this won’t work, for the simple reason that most of the sound that your audience hears comes directly from you on the stage. So trying to control the gig this way would be as chaotic as playing poker with each player using his own deck of cards.

Yep – those speaker boxes out the front are there just to help the vocals and the quieter instruments be heard above the general noise coming off the stage. In professional circles it’s called sound reinforcement: reinforcing what isn’t already easily heard in the room.

So to be sure you and your band get a good sound, the most important place to start is right there on stage. And the most important thing to do is get balanced.

Let’s pick on the drummer

Most bands are based around a drummer. A drum kit is purely an acoustic instrument. The drummer can’t turn his kit up or down. He may be able to play a little quieter or a little louder, but generally he’s stuck at one volume. What the rest of the people in the band must do is balance their sounds around the drummer.

This is something you can practise at rehearsals. Forget about vocals for a while and just play instrumentally. Make sure there’s nobody drowning out everybody else, and make sure the electric instruments as a whole are not drowning out the drums. Try to be objective: I know we all want to be the star, but you won’t shine if the band doesn’t sound good! A good tip: close your eyes! Yep! Shut your eyes and concentrate on the sound: it really works!

I can’t emphasise enough how important balance is. There’s been many a time when someone in the crowd (often the singer’s mum!) comes over and asks me to turn up the vocals. And very often I can’t!

There comes a point where, if one instrument is too loud, it just is not possible to make something else even louder. There’s only so much room in the suitcase, and if the guitar or bass is taking up too much room there’s nothing to be done to make the suitcase bigger!

Vocals are especially tricky because they soon start feeding back if they get too loud, so there is a very real, defined limit on how loud they can be.

What to do


The Cabana is a giant bass amplifier! As your sound leaves the stage it gets louder! The last thing you need on stage is a big, boomy sound with lots of bottom end. That’s only going to cause a big, boomy problem out the front. On stage go for a tight, controlled sound with punch rather than lots of bottoms. Get rid of all the extra lows – I can add it out the front.

Have a quick play along with the drummer and adjust your volume so that you and him/her are a tight, balanced unit. If you think you need to hear more drums in the monitors you’re too loud!!


Again, what you must do is balance the volume of your sound with the drummer. Your amp may sound great cranked up to 11, but if it’s drowning out everything else on stage there’s nothing I can do out front to give you and your fans a pleasant time.

Try to get your ideal sound at the lowest possible volume. Close your eyes and have a quick strum along with the drums: are you too loud? Turn down! If you can get hold of a lower-powered amp so much the better: a low-power amp turned up is always going to sound better than a high-power amp turned down.

Another great idea is to get your amp off the floor – on a chair maybe. This will enable you to hear it much more easily, and to be able to judge how bright and cutting the sound is. Another way of arranging things is to have the guitar amps off to the side of the stage – still up on chairs – angled in and across the stage. This way pretty much everyone on stage can hear the guitar, and not just the one person in the audience who’s sitting right in front of it.

If you’re playing at one of our regular Musicians’ Nights then you may be playing through a borrowed amp: ask me or James or Richie to help out if you’re not sure how to drive it!

And finally, make sure you’re ready to go when it’s your turn! It’s just bloody slack to turn up at the gig, get your guitar out, and then realise you’ve got no guitar lead or guitar strap. If you can’t be bothered getting your shit together, why should I or the audience be bothered?


In most cases I’ll take a direct feed from the keyboard into the mixing desk. It’s a huge help if you have an amp as well: you’ll be able to hear yourself without having to rely on us to give you the perfect mix through the monitors.

Keyboards can generate a lot of bass too, so make sure – like your bass player – that you don’t have a lot of bottom end coming through your amp.


Swallow that microphone! You are by far the quietest thing on stage, so get in close on the mic, right in front of it, not off to the side. The more “on” the mic you are, the better I can make you sound out front, and the better I can make your monitors sound. Sing out! Don’t drift off mic at the ends of words or phrases.

Even when you’re speaking to the audience between songs speak out! There’s usually so much noise going on in the bar that no-one’s going to hear you say “This next song is called mumble mumble.”


Like vocalists, get in close on the microphone. You’ll probably want to hear a little of yourself in the monitors so let us know. Unfortunately at this time we don’t have a separate monitor feed for everybody, but we can usually strike a good balance.


I know how daunting it can be getting up on stage and hoping that everything’s going to sound great.

On Cabana Musicians’ Nights most bands won’t have the luxury of a sound check. Take a deep breath; keep calm! Take an extra 10 seconds and make sure your amp is set how you want it.Get your drummer to play a few bars of rhythm and set yourself at a good volume.

Don’t be offended if – in the middle of a song – someone dashes up and turns you down (or up!) We’re just trying to make you sound even better!

If you do need to hear more of your vocals in the monitors, or something doesn’t seeem quite right, tell us! No point suffering through the whole set then complaining to us afterwards – we’re not mind-readers!

The Cabana is a fantastic place to play, and a wonderful venue for you to showcase your talent. Let’s work together to make it the best it can possibly be!

.:: TEX ::.

August 30th, 2013