Archive for March, 2015

 If you have basic entry level gear or the most up-to-date digital automated features, the basic components are the same. By now you have already gathered that most mixers will have some way to plug in a bunch of cables going to and from the snake as mentioned earlier.  (in small clubs you might not need the snake at all, but you still plug cables into the inputs on the mixing console).

So, once everything is connected to your two independent sound systems, what do you first?  Take a good look at the mixing board. Take your time.  If this is the first time you get to see the board you will be using (maybe it was rented or is the house system, etc….), get a good feel for the section layout.  If you are still getting used to running sound the mixing console can be daunting.  Buttons, knobs, sliders and flashy things everywhere.  It’s connected to a bunch of other electronic boxes and there are big faders that look important.!??%#!**?!   We have done this before so let’s take a look at the basic components of the mixer and make this a lot less confusing. 

Layout.  There are a lot of knobs and a ton of buttons you don’t even see at first.  Each manufacturer will do things a little differently than the others, but if you look for the patterns you will see how each model will outline or border the different sections.  Color coding is also the biggest help if you have enough light to make out the difference in color schemes.  Yes, this is another one of those reasons you bring your own flashlight to every gig.  We know where the input section is as we have already connected the snake and sends during the initial set-up and sound check.  In the same logical order (1, then 2, then 3, then 4……..) as the cables are connected, you will see what we call ‘input channels’ on the face or front of the mixing console for each input connector.  Some boards can handle 8, 12, 16, 24 and more inputs.  In the input channel section you will see strips for each input.  The knobs and faders and buttons that affect that input channel will all be inside the border for that track or channel.  Many mixers use a vertical configuration, so tracks run up and down, not left and right.  But to make sure you do not get the wrong idea now, the BEST way to think of the input channels is TOP to BOTTOM.  We ALWAYS start mixing from the TOP of the channel.  Think of the ‘signal path’ for a moment.  The signal created by the keyboard or the microphone in front of the vocalist is sent through the audio cable to the snake.  From there it is sent directly to the mixing console.  Once connected to the mixing console, the signal will go to the TOP and FIRST knob of the input channel.  Yes, the 1st Gain Stage.  The mixing board’s major task is to balance all the different input signals, each with a different signal strength.  This is done at the TOP of each input channel.  It is the first and perhaps most important step in setting up the mixing console.  This is the gate keeper.  Think of it and a number of other knobs in the signal path to follow as amplifiers.  They can turn the volume on things up and they can turn them down.  The flute or the vocals may need more ‘gain’ than the trumpet or keyboards.  You want to get a good strong input level, but you do not want to overload the input channel here as it will affect everything going forward.  Watch the solo or input monitor levels and set it up so all inputs are within the same range.  The end result after we set the other knobs and buttons is to have all inputs so that the gain is averaged enough among all input channels that the faders on each channel are close to the prime area or level set for your console.  You do not want some instrument faders at “2 or 3”, and others at “10 or 11”!!

If the volume fader for the keyboard input channel is sitting around 2, and the 1st Gain Stage knob is turned clockwise to 8 or 9, (OR if you are getting up into the red or over load area on the level meters!!) turn the 1st gain stage knob counter-clockwise as needed including down all the way if you have to.  Then check the range of the volume fader and see if you can get good house levels keeping the fader fairly close to that sweet spot.  Do that for each input channel.  The input channel is also referred to as the ‘track‘ when recording.  With tracks or channels clustered or grouped as discussed earlier and with all tracks/channels properly gain staged, we can begin to look at which tracks need effects, EQ, processing, sent to monitor groups etc.  Keep in mind that changing a track’s EQ and other effects can also increase or decrease the track’s over all signal strength.  When we are setting up the board and doing gain staging, it is best to leave a little ‘head room‘, or back the 1st Gain Stage knob back a little so we do not overload the input during EQ and other signal processing.  EQ is a series on its own, but the basic premise is to make the source signal sound good or accurate.  It is better to take out frequencies that are harsh or distracting rather than turn up the pleasant ones.  Certain sounds ‘fit’ better in the mix if they have the distinct qualities of their source.  By that I mean you do not want a kick drum to sound hi-end and tinny with no low frequencies and in most situations you do not want the flute to sound like a bass guitar.  It is better to take out the low end on the flute track/channel than to leave it at center or turn it louder.  Less is more, but add EQ where needed to enhance the desired tones and make it sound pleasant and it will then fill the slot for it in the overall house mix.


Well, I tripped,

I didn’t fall.

I looked up,

And I slipped down.

You look up and still don’t find the sky.

The last time.

Who’s there to damn them if they don’t try.

Their worst crime.

Well, they slipped up.

God one more time.

They got their money,

So they don’t mind.

You look around and wonder why,

Your friends die.

No one can blame you, I saw you try.

Ain’t your crime, ain’t your crime.

You wake up in the morning,

With red on your blue suede shoes.

They don’t give you no warning,

When it’s your time to lose.

You look up and wonder why.

Your friends die.

Who’s there to blame you cause you don’t try

Your worse crime.

You wake up in the morning,

With red on your blue suede shoes.

They don’t give you no warning,

When it’s your time to lose.


So many tragedies have happened and each gets buried under the other.

I was walking downtown recently and took a picture of graffiti on the bridge going from Covington to Cincinnati and used this opportunity to look at the past and hope for the future.  I know this is an old subject and many people have forgotten all about this and therefore some may think it unimportant.  Red on Your Blue Suede Shoes is an up-tempo catchy rhythm but the lyrics are in stark contrast.  The song is in honor of the innocent victims of bad decisions and prejudice.  During earlier years, concert promoters tried to cash in on what they called ‘festival seating’ where they could remove chairs and pack in as many people into an area as they can – as long as they are all paying customers, that is.  This by itself is not necessarily a bad thing, but it was combined with bad decision making, planning and execution.  As the crowds in Cincinnati Ohio anxiously anticipated a great performance by The Who, the doors remained locked.  The crowd now gaining mass and enthusiasm, wanted to make sure they got a good spot for the concert, and people started pushing toward the many closed doors before anyone was allowed to enter.  Unbelievably, the venue only opened a few doors in each area and kept the others shut.  Once this happened, everyone tried to rush into the few open doors so they could get to their spot.

Thousands of people squeezed and pushed those in front to try to get in.  Not everyone was able to handle this crush.  Some people fell down and literally got trampled to death by other fans.  The Red on their Blue Suede Shoes came from walking over fellow human beings that are unable to maintain their balance.  I am not sure if the song is mostly anger toward those who could do something like this or mostly hope that many did try to stop the dangerous mob to assist fallen fans.  This song is dedicated to the Cincinnati 11, and the Who.  I will never forget.

Obviously when you are live and there are a number of performers and hopefully a lot of listeners depending on you for a great performance, any change in the house mix can be immediate and usually have unintended consequences that you cannot predict accurately.   Any change to the stage mix once the main speakers are pumping will not be known by the sound engineer.   If you accidently send a lot of delay to the monitor for example, it will confuse timing of players and can lead to feedback and other audio beasts raising their ugly heads over and over.  From the house board you will not be able to pinpoint where the beasts are coming from and what starts them – or calms them down for that matter. 

A lot of those buttons look alike and in the dark it is easy to move something unnoticed.  A number of times I have sneaked up on stage and listened from a few different positions to see what the band was hearing on stage.  Then I could usually identify how to deal with that beast. 

In the studio I can study some of the situations and find a solution when I can rewind and stop and try something and if that doesn’t work I can try this toy we just got in at the music store that is supposed to be wonderful and will solve all my mixing needs.   With the audience primed and ready for a show, it is better to make smaller adjustments and see how it affects everything and then adjust a little more.  If the location of the sound board is good representation of the venue and sounds pretty good, enjoy the view and mix as the band and performers deserve.  I try to reinforce guitar solos in the mains, and I mean really inforce the solo.  I make it so everyone will hear it, while keeping the other performers at a good foundation level.  I make sure I turn it back down as soon as the solo is over.   If there is a second vocalist, sometimes they do not have the power of the lead vocalist and might have a limited range.  It can be hard to boost them to the level of the lead vocalist even if they are using the same equipment.  Getting them loud enough in the monitor is usually the biggest challenge.  You don’t want to leave a microphone turned up a lot in the monitors that is not used very often.  It will pick up other instruments and sounds on stage and then push them back into the monitors…. It will probably not be loud enough to trigger feedback in the stage monitors, but it could create a boomy or foggy sound environment on stage and will make it harder for all performers to keep tight performances. 

I also like to add effects to a live performance. If the band is playing cover tunes for example, I try to match the effects on the vocals and percussion sounds with those on the original recording.  I usually keep the effects out of the monitors but have had situations where it went over well.  More often than not, it makes it more confusing on stage.  In either case, I make sure that when the song or section is over, I turn the effects level off.  If the band members talk into the microphones during a musical break, they will be clear and understandable in the audience during the address.  Then right back up when the next song or section begins.

When setting up the channels on the mixing console, I try to group instruments to make balancing all tracks easier.  I keep vocals together, and try to represent placement on stage. If there is a lead singer center stage and a back-up vocalist left right and the drummer also sings, I have the channels on the snake match their positions when looking at the stage left to right, for example.  If there is only one singer and I have open channels I do not need, I try to separate the vocalist from other channels in use so it is easy to find and easy to adjust.  You will probably change the lead vocalist channel more than any other.  The typical band might have a soloist – guitar or keyboards for example, and you will change the volume faders during the night.  But you will probably not change the delay patch or change reverb on instruments.  The vocals can benefit from minor changes throughout the night. 

Think about it… the guitar player and keyboard player change their sounds literally from song to song.  The vocalist does not have that luxury.  Change the effects to enhance the vocalist.  Too often sound gurus find one effect and use it all night.  If you are not comfortable with creating or even changing effects with the available or on-board FX, that is understandable.  Maybe we will cover that in later sessions if members find it helpful.  If effects are new to you or you have not mixed a whole lot of events try the following simple strategy; add effects to the instruments that need it and not to any other instrument, and keep the volume of the effects subdued in the house mix.  It should not overpower the stage sound or ‘dry‘ signal.   Use short reverbs and delays for most applications.  I bring in the effects into an open channel if available, rather than using the FX return knobs.  This way I can easily see the level of the effect, I can route to the vocal group or bus if I choose and I can EQ effect independently.  This to me also makes it easier to turn down the effects during music breaks or announcements.

Each key on the keyboard represents what we call a half step. if you play the adjacent key (above or below the key you just played) you have moved another half step.  I am not very good at math, but fortunately the math is simple and two halves equal one whole.  So if you start with any note twelve consecutive notes you will have reached the octave.  (The first note we will call the Root.  12 half steps above that root note is the same note but an octave higher when adding notes to the right and lower when adding notes on the left) Here we have all 12 notes as referenced earlier.  After this they will repeat again and again.

There is a lot of music theory out there and it seems to scare most people into thinking this is going to be work and not play.  There is always some learning or practice involved, but it can still be fun.

Out of the 12 half steps in each octave, most scales will include only 7 notes (8 including the octave).  When using the keyboard as an example it is visually easier to use the white keys and this happens to be the Key of C for the piano.  If you play the C note, and then play each consecutive white note and ignoring the black keys, you are playing the C Major scale.  This is not very mysterious once you know the pattern.  A simple count of each note played and the notes ignored gives us the pattern that can be applied to every scale.  When finished, all we will have to remember to figure out other scales is the pattern;

Two/Half, Three/Half

In slightly more detail, two Whole notes, then one Half note, followed by three Whole notes then one Half.

In the Key of C, the Root note is the lower C.  Move two half steps up (or one whole note) and you have D.  Two more half steps up and you have E.  ( —– no black key here, so we move up a half step to F.  (That is the first part represented by two Whole notes then one Half note—-).  now move up two half notes and you have G, two more and you have A, two more and you have B.  (—– no black key here, so we move a half step to C or the Octave.  (That represents the Whole – Whole  -Whole – Half portion)

C D E F G A B C                                                                                                                                                                                      1  2  3 4 5 6 7 1     These notes are The Safe Seven in the Key of C Major

So to find any major scale, start with the Root note, go up a whole step, up a whole step and up a half, then up a Whole, up a Whole up a Whole and up a Half step and you have arrived at the octave.  This is the Major scale and there are others, but they all start here.  For those of us that had music lessons in school or “The Sound of Music” fans, this will be familiar as the Do Re Me song we learned.  You can reverse the process when moving toward the lower octave.

Remember the saying practice makes perfect?

WRONG!  Only PERFECT practice makes perfect.  Focus on position and form at first and work on speed later.

Play with this for a while and I will be back with more!

When I first went to a music store near my town to see if I could get a job, I naturally went to a store I shopped in a bunch of times.   I was one of the first customers to purchase a new keyboard that was starting to break all the sales records at the time.  It used FM (Frequency Modulation) to essentially create or ‘synthesize’ new sounds not possible before, ……… and …… you could play up to 16 notes AT ONE TIME!!!  You take that for granted now but that was a thrill for electronic keyboards (other than organs and all that).

So I went over and talked to the owner.  He walked us over to the keyboard I had purchased and said, “can you program this thing?”.  I told him absolutely and I can show him now how to create cool new sounds.  He said, that was OK and I was hired.  That started the sales portion of my journey.  This song got the name and the main groove from the keyboard sound in that Yamaha DX7 synthesizer.

If you played individual notes in the right tempo, the thumping sound would build just right and you got this effect like a helicopter at a distance.  I did write lyrics for this song, but I always hear it as an instrumental. For the early instrumentals, I was recording on the first computer for consumer electronics that had a built in MIDI port, the Atari and I had the 1040 ST.  Again, that means nothing today, but this was space-age technology and had a lot of musical applications.  I still have it (two, actually and two monitors) and it still works to this day.  I can fire up the Atari and still play all these MIDI pieces as I did when they were written.

The drums are all programmed.  In fact, everything is.  All the sounds are triggered from the Yamaha DX7 and recorded via MIDI.  Each time you hit play’, you are regenerating all the sounds to make this song. See the MIDI series for MIDIMike’s intro to MIDI by clicking here.

Speaking about lyrics that never become songs, etc., sometimes I write and record a demo or rough track of a song and it just never seems to go anywhere.    Some of them do get resurrected, many don’t.  For some it may be as simple as a tempo change or a different arrangement.  Other times for me it is mysterious.  In honor of Saint Patrick’s Day, I would like to post lyrics to a song in the making.  As this platform gives us access to followers around the globe, I do not want to leave anyone out, so please take this as intended.  If I don’t mention your country, other people’s songs will!

Then in a later post I can bring in the recorded demo tracks.   I like the lyrics for the most part and I love the idea behind the song, but it is not there yet.  Maybe after a pint or two of Guinness and some suggestions from you I can finish this song.  And of course, that could be a topic in and of itself.  We hear phrases like “final mix”.  Some people say there is no such thing.  Others say you just have to stop at some point and let it go.   Much of this may depend on your final goal.  Are you a singer/songwriter trying to get a break and some air-time?  Are you shopping for places your band can perform your unique style?   Do you want to have a clean demo to send to your favorite artist?  Is this a sound-track for video/YouTube?  Do you make sound effects for games?

We can always say make it as good as possible but that is very subjective.  Hire 50 sound engineers and you will get 45 different mixes (there are always people that look over your shoulder!)  Tip for today;  it takes a really long time to fix it in the mix even if you know what you are doing.  It is much easier and preferred to get the great sound first, and then record it properly (using gain staging and other procedures mentioned earlier).  When you record a great sound it will sound great.  As a sound guy for a local band I would get compliments on the sound (House from the audience but almost always monitors from the band).  I thank them and tell them the band sounds great, I just let everyone hear them.

“A Part of Me”                                                                   © 08-2000  MSK

American Indians gave me my soul,

A spiritual guide for all living things.

Each man’s fate is his to control

Peace with Nature, the warrior sings.

A Part of Me belongs to all of Them

From the Germans strength was my first lesson.

Trial and precision as you master these.

Pride that’s passed down from son to son.

Built in each hand crafted Masterpiece.

Oriental neighbors have shown me the light

Truth, Balance, Eternal harmony.

The beauty of patience and delight

Traditions deep within history.

A Part of Me belongs to all of them.

I’m proud to be an American.

Sisters and brothers from every shore,

That’s what makes us Americans.

Part of Me belongs to all of Them

From the Irish I inherit my pride

I stand my ground and I will speak my mind.

I will honor the lands and the tide,

And I’ll never leave a neighbor behind.

My English side embraced nobility.

Dry humor in the face of foes

Hardy enough to capture the seas.

Portraits legends and heroes.

African Americans forced to become

A torn people of two nations.

Tribal tales and melodic rhythm

Passed onto the next generation.

The French helped me understand

Style and grace can be nurtured like wine.

To believe there is no better place

Life shared with friends, bread and wine.

A Part of Me belongs to all of them.

I’m proud to be an American.

Sisters and brothers from every shore,

That’s what makes us Americans.

Part of Me belongs to all of Them

Year after year

They want to raise their children here.

Because sweat blood and tears

Can amount to something here.

There’s a lot of people in my life

A part of Me belongs to all of Them.

Your song may be different and that’s OK.

Sing it with your fellow American.

This is a good time to walk around a little if you can. If you have a helper that can baby sit the board for a while, slowly walk around the venue.  Listen to the various instruments as you walk to different sections and notice how each area sounds as you pass in and out of range of the main speaker clusters. Listen again for areas that ‘drop out’, especially in the main audience areas.  Talk to the host.  Make adjustments and respond to their suggestions.  Interact with the audience if you are good at that sort of thing.

Bring all that listening back to the sound board.

What adjustments can you make to improve the house mix?  Is a player sounding great when you are right in front of the stage but fades quickly if you are back further or at the bar?  Does the kick drum or one of the vocalists sound muddy and hard to hear clearly.  Listen to each instrument again.  Use the headphones and solo tracks do they sound muddy in the headphones too?  If so, you might need to change the EQ settings or other audio processors, change microphone location, REPLACE the microphone cable!, put rings on the drum heads to stop heads from long ugly tones, hey, there is a lot of stuff that goes into making the band or performance sound good.

It can go wrong.  I have gone up to drummers during sound check to ask them if they have any objections if I tune the drum heads for them before the gig.  Far too many drummers don’t know how to do this and far too many more don’t know that you even can.  If the kit is out of tune and generates all sorts of random harmonics and overtones, there is no way to get it to sound ‘awesome’.  It can sound loud and it can sound full, but it will never sound good.

I have probably upset a few performers as well by asking that they tune their instruments before we start playing.  One of the benefits of also being a musician in a number of bands is I can tell when something is out of tune.  I don’t think I can get drunk enough that playing out of tune is a good thing, but there obviously are a few out there.  If they cannot tell the difference that is worse than being too drunk, but we all sound and play better when everyone is in tune.  Some bass players can’t tell any more so you have to politely step in once in a while.

In a large club in front of a packed audience, the lead vocalist roared into the microphone, ” I ain’t got shit in the monitors, sound guy,  I got nuthin’ up hear at all…”.

I responded with a simple but effective test that I could do from way out in the audience.  I reached up to the main faders and yanked them down completely before he got to the “…… sound guy,  I got nuthin’ up hear at all…” part.

So he ended up with the band now reduced to stage volume.  As he was saying …’sound guy …’  He was booming through the on stage monitors at an amazing decibel level.  He apologized to me and the audience when I turned the mains back on and we rocked out the rest of the night.  The house was loud enough that he could hear them more than the mains and he was not used to that feeling.  That the sound guy would not have the vocals loud enough in the main mix and he would need to hear the monitors really loud on stage.  He ended up really happy with the mix and did not have to scream all night over the band stage volume.  Keeping things solid can include a number of unexpected challenges that are better met head-on, but these business relationships should also be kept friendly and cooperative.

Have spare cables for everything, even if the sound system does not use it.  Power cables for devices and amps.  Adapters for audio cables.  Tape, markers and paper.  I bring guitar cables and a few spare mic cables everywhere.  Batteries.  Small hand tools.  Power outlet tester.  Flashlights.   Drum head tuning keys.  Zip ties, the list could go on but session after session, someone will need those things for the show to go on and you will be the champion pro.  You gain cooperation and trust for the next gig.  Win win.

We all know the saying about weak links.  When you have so many components – each connected with cables and software and processors, it can take a while to troubleshoot the system when you have a failure.  Yes failure.  If you are the sound guy or gal and things don’t work or it sounds bad, YOU are the failure!  There are basic steps you can take and I can describe them in a generic way, but that type of advice will not apply to every system out there.  No two clubs or sound companies have the same sound equipment.  The best advice is to keep the number of links in any chain as low as possible.  The more links, the more of them that could be or eventually become weak.  It is not always practical to have a spare of every component, but finding local music and sound stores open in your area is getting tougher.  If taken care of properly though, most professional PA equipment available today will last a long time.  More on “Maintenance and Tips” in a future SLR series.

If we look at the typical piano keyboard the visual impact is beneficial to demonstrate this big picture ….

You will eventually see the repeating pattern of white keys and black keys.  The pattern repeats over and over.  The piano is ideal because even though it is squeezed to save space, the keys and notes are linear;  to the left the notes or tones produced get lower, and to the right the notes get higher.  As we look to the center we can locate what is called ‘middle C’.   We can use this note as a good reference on the piano because it makes the key of C Major easy to see and play.  Other instruments will make it easier to see and play other keys.  This has to be detailed later, but for now, if you start playing the middle C and then play each sequential white note, you are playing in C Major.

A simple count however shows there are 12 notes between each ‘repeat’ of the cycle or each octave visually displayed on the keyboard.  That’s it.   12 notes and then it repeats.  Now that doesn’t sound too mysterious, does it?  The mystery comes in on knowing what notes to avoid.  If you eliminate the notes that are not within the scale or key you are working in, it becomes like the key of C Major on a piano; you will easily see and play the right notes.

    1       2      3      4      5      6        7      8      9      10      11      12
     C C#    Db      D D#   Eb      E      F   F#   Gb      G G#   Ab      A A#   Bb       B

In the key of C Major, it would be a safe guess based on the above, to play white notes.  It the simple chart above you can also see the numbers greyed that represents the black keys.  In this example, the black keys are not within the C Major scale.  For other scales and variations of scales, they WILL!

Generally speaking, if we are playing the C Major scale, playing black keys will not always fit in with the other notes being played.  White keys have a much better chance of ‘fitting in’ with other notes being played.

Which reminds me of a joke about musicians……..

What is the difference between a jazz band and a rock band?

The jazz band plays thousands of chords to three or four people and the rock band plays three or four cords to thousands of people!

In Euphoria at this time, I am the keyboard player and I do some back-up vocals and percussion.  

I get to set up in the recording control room and listen to the studio speakers for monitors. I can look through the glass and see the other players; drums in isolation booth, guitar amp and bass rig in separate areas with go-bo’s and sound partitions avoiding spill-over.  Vocalist was in place in booth, but we are doing scratch vocals now for the most part to keep the musicians on track.  The studio is using reel-to-reels back then, but they are great machines and the board is more than I had gotten my hands on at the time.  To let you know I was the performer here.  I was not the engineer and I kept my mouth shut.  [OK, maybe that was a hidden lesson if we think about it!] 

To set up the story a little, when Euphoria plays live and the guitar player breaks a string (in our band this happens all the time and even our BASS GUITAR player breaks strings regularly!) we have to stop the song.  The guitar players will grab another guitar or change if needed…… 

And no matter where we were when we had to stop playing the song, we started from the same place and continued the song to the end.  So when we came into the studio, we knew what songs we wanted to record and in what order, but we also knew which part of each song should be on the demo.   We did not want to record a bunch of full songs all the way through.  When we were ready to record, the vocalist would call out what song and Verse 1 and 2….  Chorus 2…….,  Verse 3, Solo – then Verse…..  Whatever it was that we wanted to record.  We did not play all the way through and then have the tape ‘cut’ to those areas;  it is all we recorded.  We caught the sound guy off guard.  He must have initially thought we were going to go way over time.  As it happened, we did all the cover tune sections we wanted and had time over to play with an original tune the guitar player was working on. 

Oh, yeah, there is still a lesson for the recording engineer in all this.  He told me during a number of conversations (I asked about stuff after all, but I tried not to back-seat-drive the recordings) that he had struggled for two years on getting the drum booth tight.  He had changed the drum heads multiple times.  He bought more and more expensive microphones.  He used the latest gates and processing gear.  He moved everything up, down and sideways.  He changed soundproofing a million times.   

Here is what he said to me that day, “All this time I thought I didn’t have the right drum booth and gear.  It wasn’t until tonight that I figured out that I just did not have the right drummer!”.   

Unfortunately the other band members would not let me tell the drummer that for a long time in fear his head would get really big and explode!  

Journey – Separate Ways

Black Crowes – Hard to Handle

Yes – Long Distance

Yes – Changes

The Who – Can You See the Real Me?

Shooting Star – Last Chance

Queensryche – Jet City Woman