Solo Performance Essentials: Gear For Going Out Alone

Summer is upon us. That means plenty of opportunities to busk on the street or book a patio for a solo gig. Whether you're playing all originals, a set of crowd-pleasing covers or a strategic mix of both, you’re going to need more than just your instrument. Most outdoor spots aren’t prepped for musicians, so self-sufficiency is paramount. Here’s a look at some essentials for creating your own musical oasis when mixing boards and sound techs are nowhere to be found.

AirTurn PED

Are you one of the countless performers who relies on an iPad to display your charts and lyrics? If so, you should definitely check out the offerings from AirTurn, a company out of Colorado that specializes in hands-free control over music apps for musicians. AirTurn products make it possible to flip back and forth in music apps like Onsong by stomping on a pedal right next to your other effects.

Several different offerings from AirTurn accomplish this, but our pick for an entry point is the AirTurn PED.

Your Own PA System

When playing in spaces that aren't regular music venues, you can never be sure just how up-to-standard their PA offerings will be (or if there will be any at all). In these cases, you may be better off providing your own reinforcement. Luckily, the past decade has brought a total sea change of portable PA solutions for guitarists and other acoustic instrumentalists.

Acoustic amps that have an additional input for a microphone are perfect for solo performers. There are many amps out there that fit this bill, with popular options including the Fishman Loudbox series and the Roland AC-60. If you want something a bit more flexible, you could consider the Fender Passport series or even a Bose L1 system if you're willing to spend a bit more.

A Looper Pedal

Spend any time at a singer-songwriter showcase, and chances are the most common pedal you'll see will be a basic loop station. For those who have never played one, a loop station is a device that allows you to lay down one or more audio tracks live, set them to repeat, and then develop new lines on top. In its most basic function, a loop station allows one guitarist, for example, to lay down a chord progression and solo over it, but more advanced applications of this same technology have become modes of artistic expression in and of themselves.

We're living in a golden age of affordable looping technology, with more great options available now than ever before. The TC Electronic Ditto Looper is one of the most simple and affordable options, spurring a few imitators since its release a few years back. For more open-ended functionality, the Boss RC-30 is a common choice as is the DigiTech JamMan series, both of which can easily be found used on Reverb.

A Modern DI Box

When plugging an acoustic instrument directly into a PA system, you absolutely need a DI (Direct In) box to bring your input to the right level. Today, several brands offer DI solutions that go above and beyond this basic utility, coloring and enhancing your tone the way a multi-effects modeler might for an electric guitarist.

Fishman and LR Baggs have been in the acoustic amplification game for a long time, and they both make outstanding, state-of-the-art DI boxes. The Fishman Platinum Pro EQ offers a high-fidelity pre-amp with granular EQ contouring and compression. The LR Baggs Venue DI offers the same, minus the onboard compressor and premium price tag.

A Gear Cart

As a one-person operation, you should envision yourself as a mobile music SWAT team. You want to be able to get in and setup just as quickly as tearing down after your set. Once you have the main gear you need, investing in a hand cart will do wonders to speed up your load-in times and reduce chronic back pain as you transport your amp and guitar all over town.

Why not just bring a friend or two to help you make trips back and forth from your car? A few reasons. 1) You can’t guarantee that an entourage (or even one other partner) will be able to accompany you to every show. 2) Loading in and tearing down are two prime times when gear is stolen, and that usually happens when gear sits unattended (i.e. when making multiple trips). Getting a simple cart cuts it down to one simple trip and lets you put that saved energy into your performance.

Portable Guitar Stands

Sure, some players like to leave their instrument in its case on stage, taking it out to play and putting in right back in when the set is done. But not all spaces have room on stage for a case (especially places that just have solo acts). You’ll also probably want to take a break if you’re playing for an hour or more, and a stand makes it easier to keep your eye on your instrument while away from the stage.

Hercules makes some durable, self-gripping stands that are perfect for the stage or your living room. If you don’t want to lug one more piece of gear around, there are also foldable stands that can fit in your gig bag.

Vocal Processors

Okay. So this isn’t an essential. But going back to the DI box for your guitar, the same issue applies for your voice. You don’t know what the acoustics of the venue might be like, or how close you might be the audience. Having the ability to contour and boost your vocal presence - or even harmonize over yourself - can definitely come in handy, especially if you’re not feeling up to snuff on any given day. If your songs call for vocal delay or reverb, it can also be helpful to adjust these on the fly without touching your amp.

Boss produces a line of vocal processors (led by the comprehensive Boss VE-20) that includes vocal looping, harmonizing, distortion effects and pitch correction. TC Helicon produces a dizzying array of pedals specifically targeted for the solo performer, from one-off vocal effects to all-in-one solo performer multi-effects units. The Mic Mechanic might be a good entry point for someone who just wants a little signal massaging with warmth and pitch correction.

Last But Not Least...

Extension cords. Have at least two with you. None of this gear matters if you can’t power it, so cover your bases and make sure you can reach the outlet, no matter where it is.

Parties, festivals, and street corners await. Gear up and get out there!

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