Archive for March, 2015

I have always been into helping charities and volunteering for good causes.  I entered a few tunes from a local cover band I was in (Euphoria) for yet another battle of the band contest sponsored by habitats for humanity and a local radio station.  The bands would play in Eden Park at the very-cool Seasongood Pavilion.  At first it looked like we might not even play, then the dust settled and we would go on to play last.  The other bands were interesting and pretty good.  We were hi-energy progressive rock and we played our short set really well and had a great time.  We even made the goof of mentioning the wrong radio station’s call letters!  Agh!  I thought on that alone we might get overlooked.  But they might not have heard the comment and in all modesty we were really good.  We won a trophy – some unknown band member still has it hidden safely in some underground bunker – and recording time at a recording studio!  For me, this was like candy. 

We were awarded the prize and a limited time to go into the studio.  We decided to use the recording time of three hours (yeah, kind of a tease and they probably figure you will run over and have to pay them for additional recording time) to record a band demo.  Eventually we got a list of songs we wanted to do and had some discussions on what parts of the songs to feature. 

As the time got near, it became more and more difficult to arrange schedules of the various band members (and lets NEVER forget the schedules of the family of band members!).  So I told the band guys that this weekend was it.  This is the deadline and if we do not go in a few days we will lose this opportunity altogether.  After the whining and complaints, we agreed to go that Saturday, the last day before the deadline.   

There are two reasons I bring up this story.  A couple of good lessons keep this fresh in my memory.  The following is the first; 

Sometimes you have to lie.  I knew we had another two weeks to record, but I also knew if I left it up to the band to schedule, it would never happen.  Everyone wants to do it and everyone SAYS they will, but other things always happen and conflicts crop up at the last minute, and it is too late to save the project then.  I knew how the band put things off and I did not want to miss my time at the ‘candy store’. 

The second lesson was learned by the studio recording engineer.  I will share that in the next post.  Here is a bit of the demo we did in the studio so you can get an feel for the mix.    

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

This is another term that is often misunderstood and the results can be unpleasant for the audience and performers as well.  This does not prevent the error from happening over and over.  It doesn’t have to happen to you.  At first glance the term is quite simple.  In its simplest form it probably means “turn things louder”.  And that may be the most widely used interpretation.  But the phrase is not, ‘Sound Forcement‘…… it is reinforcement.  If something is loud enough on stage, ……… wait for it ………. It DOES NOT need sound reinforcement.  In a small room, the trumpet probably doesn’t need much – if any – volume reinforcement.  (certainly not in the stage monitors and little if any in the house mix)  The guitar player with 10 Marshall stacks in a thirty seat room probably does not need sound reinforcement.   Well then, what does?

Simply enough, anything that is not run directly through an instrument amplifier on stage.  This could be the sounds from the keyboards or tone devices, vocalists, special effects FX (usually effects are used in the house mix but can also be sent to the monitor sends) and back ground or other media tracks including the ‘tape’ input for your stereo music player used in our earlier post. 

We will do better if we use this definition for both sound systems we have pulled together for this event.  On stage, do not add anything to the monitor mix that is already loud on stage.  Again there are exceptions and many performers will argue this point, but I try to keep the monitor sends clear of anything I do not need to reinforce.  If it is a big stage and members are far apart – absolutely add a little of an instrument to the other monitor mix.  Everyone needs to hear the other performers.  Just do not add to all monitor mixes if you use multi-monitor sends.  Smaller stages there is little advantage in sending amplified instruments or drum set channels to the monitor mix.

Now, look at the balance from the house point of view. Can you hear the reverb on the snare drum and mounted toms clearly?  Is one vocalist drowning out the others?  Is that trumpet (or cymbal crash or tambourine or Kick drum) not in the mix during the solo?  Can the keyboard player hear the monitors or instrument amp really good but no one in the audience can hear them?  Can solo performances be heard clearly above the mix?

Set and forget.  There are a number of input sources you will be able to set once and leave alone.  The drums should be set up properly during sound check and should not need fader, pan, EQ or volume adjustments during the typical event performance.  So the easy ones are drum and percussion kits along with some keyboards and other tone generators.  Brass, string or choir sections can also be set.  Most of these groups can be balanced during sound check and you will never have to mess with them for the rest of the performance.  That allows you to focus on the variations of vocal performers, solo instruments and ‘guest’ players.  Make sure if you turn the instrument louder during a solo or energy section that you turn it back down when the section is over. Otherwise it is a race to the top and others will need to turn up to hear themselves comfortably.  Then the rest of the group has to do the same to keep up with the neighbors on stage.  It can get ugly at the top.

In small clubs or rooms, there is very little need for large PA systems and huge speakers.  In many situations you will do fine to let the stage volume fill most of the room.  Sometimes all I have to add is the keyboards and vocals, with the effects thrown in on top.  I might bring up a guitar or other solo instrument in the mix, when the rest of the time that instrument fader is off completely in the house and monitor mix.  It simply does not need sound reinforcement there.

In some gigs, a player can be loud enough on stage that you cannot increase over-all volume using the house system.  They are so loud that the PA for a small club will have little effect.  I have been known to take players completely out of the house mix.

I use simple guidelines and want to ensure that any and all performers will be heard in the house.  This includes each percussion instrument to various keyboard textures and sounds.  I keep all levels in balance so one instrument or group of instruments does not dominate the performance or mix.  I make sure band members know they do not have to play loud on stage.  All they have to do is play good and I will make it sound great in the house. You play; let me crank it up!

Through these posts, I am not trying to cement chronological events into their proper place in time or to accurately credit performers and contributors.  Some names will be changed to protect the stupid and I will name names with regards to privacy as the series continues.  I am not drilling down to details as I share experiences, songs or events I have been involved in.

Many comments touch on sharing similar passions and the need to stare resistance in the eyes and push past it to practice, perform, write and blog.  No matter where we are on the paths we have chosen, we can positively affect those around us.  We can benefit from their experience as  we grow from our own.  It is the big picture that is difficult to see sometimes, and I hope to bring up topics that will help add a different perspective.

There are a lot of conversations to be had in our world.  So much of sound reinforcement, songwriting, live performance and related arts appears to be magic to the casual observer.  On the other hand, so much of it is science and that can scare off a lot of interested people.  Thank goodness there are those like you out there that can shape the form out of chaos!  You are the masters that can combine the art and the science and make it breathe on its own.  You have a special way to communicate….. to others, yes; but more importantly to yourself.

One area I hear a number of discussions where people have a good feel for music, but do not understand the science or the art of it is in music theory.  More on this in later posts and I will have a few friends chime in as well as we discuss scary topics like, scales, key, modals and rhythm.  But to start this off at an easy pace think of this;  in our (Western scales) there are only twelve notes to deal with!

Our Bodies Move aka FOR THOSE WHO WAIT”    (c) 12/1987

 

          Lyrics Michael Kennedy

 

Music by Ric Ahlers

 

 

So many people look for love and affection

Think they’re heading in the right direction.

They go searching through the heat of the night

Alone again in the morning light.

 

I’ve seen a lot of selfish devotion

Hopelessly lost in mixed up emotion.

Opening; then closing every door

Never know what they’re looking for.

 

CHORUS:    I’ve never felt a woman feel this good before.

I’ve never listened to her whispers

Or knock upon the door.

Nothing to hide, nothing to prove,

Its love that makes our bodies move.

 

In the beginning there were many pretenders

Holding on ‘til everyone surrenders.

Strangling the love they create.

Love is For Those Who Wait.

 

CHORUS:    I’ve never felt a man feel this good before.

I’ve never listened to his whispers

Or knock upon the door.

Nothing to hide, nothing to prove,

Its love that makes our bodies move.

 

Performing with other musicians requires a deeper channel of communication than normal language. When creating in this environment, every nuance has a meaning.  Every motif can create musical ripples.  Sometimes, two thoughts are better than one.  Co-writing can take a piece further than you would have thought possible on your own.  Try it.  You might like what comes out of it.  Over the years I have worked with a group of songwriters.  Each writer diving in to show off the latest and greatest.  While in one of those small traveling bands from hotel to hotel, I was playing in Corpus Christie TX.  We played a lot of different music for three people, and one of us did not play any instruments.  We wanted to come up with something with a bit more country flavor, and the lead guitarist was working on some soft ballad type chords during practice.  I told him I had written some lyrics that might fit.  I had finally given myself the title of songwriter as you know, so a while back I challenged myself to write a country song.  I had something specific in mind.

I write a lot of songs.  I write a lot of lyrics that never become songs (not yet anyway).  I write a lot of poems that may never become lyrics.  I write a number of songs and I might not even have a recording of it, even though I love to archive and preserve original performances.  Some songs I write for others and do not have a real interest in recording myself.  Maybe because I already have a good idea of what the song is supposed to sound like when a real performer/band records it.  I am not putting myself down here.  I simply do not have the talent or resources of famous stars.  You might laugh, but when I was writing the lyrics below, I wrote them as a duet for some famous country music stars at the time;  Kenny Rodgers and Dolly Parton!

I have only one recording of this song and I will share it with you, Kenny and Dolly you too if you’re listening!  I am singing the male part on this recording.  Not sure if this was ready before we moved on from Corpus Christie to another hotel, but it fell together quickly with the ballad chords at practice, so we performed it live to the more country leaning southern audience.  We were surprised that it went over so well and people in the hotel/audience that were regulars, were singing the words after a few nights in town.  So, I will probably never record this song.  It has always been a distant dream to one day hear others recording this as their own.    I have already heard in my mind what it sounds like with them performing, but this live two-track recording is not too bad for a working representation.

You have seen a million and one videos of live bands or performers.  The stage set-up is fairly common for most band configurations.  We usually do it like they do because it almost always works.  If you have a typical band or act, use the standard stage set up to start with and correct if you need to make adjustments.  Some band or act members will play instruments, some will sing or do both, some will jump off stage and some will be too drunk to walk on their own.  Keep your eyes open and stay close to the volume fader!

I usually turn the volume down on the main amp and the monitor amps before the band starts arriving on stage.  Always make sure to turn the main and monitor volume faders down completely before connecting OR disconnecting  any cables to the mixer or snake.  The snake should already be connected in numerical order before the band is there as it is needed to set up the monitor signals we tested in the last LSR series. 

I know a lot of sound guys that do not do the following suggestion or piece of advice I will give you.  But if you are just starting to do LSR or have been doing for a while and sound checks are not fun and people get angry (with you sound gal and band/act), fire up the sound system this way.

Connect all cables to the snake in an orderly system.  You can use your own rules as needed by the performers or the event to number them, but try to use a system that is easy to remember and easy to repeat,  I will have some suggestions and tips coming in future posts.

Usually, performers will show up at different times.  I try to take advantage of that and direct them to the proper position on stage.  Connect their instruments and microphones to the snake.   Connections can be made simple too as you will see in other topics.  Test their signals from the sound board and make sure to get good working levels (NOT practice levels!)  (More on ‘Gain Staging’ in future posts)  Listen through headphones if necessary to get a good tone and strong signal.  Add player to monitor send(s) as needed.  Now you can talk to performers and have them help you get their levels set.  As each player arrives, the other players will encourage same process;  get into position, plug in instruments, check levels, if applicable add signal to the monitor mix(s) as needed. 

I do all this without turning the Mains volume faders up at all.  For the most part, the audience (and the host that represents the people that paid you and your group for the event!) will not hear much at all, especially as the venue or room for the vent gets larger.  The sound check stage volume should not be enough to bother most people in a club or hall unless they are very close to the front of stage.  After testing each performer’s input signals and getting a good monitor mix, it is time to have the performers do a song or section of the performance that has all members if possible playing.  Do a song or two without the mains turned on to get the feeling of the sound on stage.  Do not rely on the house speakers for this part.  Check with your headphones.  Solo ‘channels‘.  Adjust the monitor mix for each player as needed……..  This is an art of its own and has a bit of science and magic thrown in.

At that point I am ready.  I have good signals, I have tested the Mains and they work as designed and sound good.  The monitor levels are right and during the sound check the performers and players settled in and all players could hear themselves and other performers in proper balance.  If you are lucky, it is time for you and the band to take a break and get ready for the performance and the energetic crowds.  If desired or requested, you can play audio or sound tracks during break through the house system (never the monitors unless specific need) at a moderate level to set the mood.