Music Stands on Stage….YUK!

I hate to see music stands on stage!  OK yes, that’s a blunt statement, but I’m continuously amazed at the amount of musicians and bands I see who use music stands.  As a sound engineer and a performing musician, I see so many problems with this and wonder why these performers insist on using them.  I can list a bunch of reasons why I hate to see them and the problems associated with their on-stage placement.  But I always have questions as to why.  Is it just laziness on the musician’s part to not learn the music or lyrics of a given song or set?  Is it a safety net for players who have fried their brains through many years of partying and can’t remember anything?  If a stage actor with a leading role can memorize all of their dialog, cues and stage blocking, etc., why is it so hard for a musician to memorize a song?  It’s one thing for a guitarist/singer to use them, as there is sometimes much to remember.  But a singer who only has one true responsibility, singing the lyrics, should be able to put a little effort into some memorization.  I mean, it’s not like most of us are even truly reading music when we perform.  I get it for the Orchestra member or Symphony musician who is reading many lines of complex notation, dynamics and tempo variations while also watching a conductor.   But how “cool” would it be to see KISS perform at a large concert venue and they’re all using music stands?  I’m sure U2 would be cool with waiting for Bono to turn to the next song chart in his notebook and clip the pages to the stand.  It probably would look really stupid.  So, let me provide a short list of problems I’ve encountered with these things and the performers who use them.

  • They fall over in the wind if playing outdoors.
  • The classy look of chip clips clamping down the music pages.
  • They block the audience’s view from seeing the musician play his/her instrument.
  • They force the performer to look away from their audience and only to what’s on the stand.
  • They cause the singer to sing to the side of the mic which results in a struggle for amplified vocal quality or optimum microphone levels.
  • They block the projection of stage monitors which results in the classic “Can I get more vocals in my monitor”? (No!  Move the stand from in front of your monitor).
  • They are often overloaded and a minimal breeze will send all kinds of papers flying around.
  • I’ve seen performers stop playing in mid-song to turn a page, re-position a fluttering page, or have to stop playing because the music has fallen off the stand.
  • They give the appearance of a lack of preparation or effort on the part of the performer.

So now that I’ve slammed everyone I know who uses these things, I have to confess that I am somewhat challenged when it comes to memorizing the lyrics to my cover tunes.  Beyond the first verse and maybe the chorus, I just can’t seem to remember much of the song’s words.  I can remember the chords, song structure, dynamics, etc.  But the lyrics seem to challenge me.  Maybe some of you home-brew, web md driven psychoanalysts can offer a diagnosis, but it is what it is.  So I completely understand the need and the comfort of having notes on stage as a safety net.

My answer is to use an iPad.  Sure, you could say that I’m still not memorizing my lyrics.  And I will agree.  But there are several advantages to going the iPad (Teleprompter) route.  I’ve even seen performers use a small iPhone for this purpose.  Now don’t get me wrong.  It’s just as bad seeing an iPad attached to a mic stand that already has apimped out music stand bunch of pics taped to the shaft along with a wire drink holder hanging on the side, a reading light, a capo, the cat box scooper, etc.  Sadly, I’ve seen these overloaded mic stands fall over because there’s just too much on it.  With the iPad’s smaller footprint when compared to a big black music stand, many of my gripes listed above are eliminated.  Sure, a music stand costs considerably less than even the cheapest touchscreen device, and bright sunlight can sometimes be problematic for an led display screen, but for me the advantages it provides are a no brain’r.  Along with the ability to install apps that are designed for musicians as a type of teleprompter, they also can be connected via MIDI, Bluetooth, wi-fi or hardwire connection to outboard gear like a processor pedal or keyboard.  With some products, this interfacing can allow an iPad to make processor program or patch changes during specified portions of the song.  

little johnny music stand
Proper use of a music stand

However, some programming is necessary to achieve this and it can be time consuming until you get the hang of it.  So, I guess having an iPad blocking the audience’s view of you is way cooler than a big ugly music stand.  And, when you get a request for a tune you don’t know, you have the advantage of quickly linking to a site that has the cheat sheet for most any song you can think of.

Therefore, if you’re at all like me, hate the look of clunky music stands and maybe have the means to spend a few bucks to get a pad of some type, ditch the music stand.  You, your sound man and, more importantly, the audience will be happier.