Archive for May, 2015

For me, sequencing is fun and very versatile.  I am not the kind of keyboard player that can jump in on any song and just start jamming.  I do better if I can take my time and learn, practice, and improve before practicing with a full band.  A lot of this might be from the lack of confidence in the early days, but in reality I find myself a jack of all trades and master of none.  If I had spent more time on any one instrument, I might have gotten pretty good.  Fortunately – or unfortunately, I have always been interested in so many different things that my chops were not the best.  As a percussionist, I was able to hear what I wanted, but did not play drum kits so my feet and hands were always locked in perfect step!  Sequencing gave me the ability to lay down rough performances on the keyboard (and remember I use the keyboard keys to ‘trigger’ the drum sounds, so I am still playing keys).  Once recorded using MIDI – again I am not recording the sounds but the physical action and movements, I could enter the Edit Mode on the sequencer and make corrections to timing, notes, durations etc. until the piece felt good to me. For the drums, the standard practice is to use the Quantizing feature (I can go into this later as well for future posts) to make sure all beats were perfectly ‘on the grid’.  I have used drum machines and sequencers since they first came out.  The sounds are great but too often the result of overusing the quantize feature makes the drum tracks sound mechanical – unmoving – and even impossible for a real drummer.  I preferred to leave a little slop here and there.  I want emotion in my songs, not perfection.

In “Bassics”, I just enjoyed the new sounds I had and played with this Bass Guitar patch and came up with the basic groove.   I like adding textures and unusual percussion/FX sounds to keep the songs flowing and changing.  Available sounds are so much better now, but I still enjoy bringing out these old tunes.

The sound board or audio mixer represents the hub in most audio mixing and mastering functions.  everything connects to the board.  Even the lighting system will use channels in the snake to connect from stage to console.  Things get plugged into and things get plugged out of the mixer as needed.  Today’s mixers are blue tooth USB WiFi fire-wired and light-piped together and will connect to an amazing array of devices.  So far we have focused on what gets plugged to the Inputs of the sound board.  There are a number of connection possibilities for the Outputs as well. We have already discussed some of them earlier, so this can be brief as you already know a lot of this in general.

On most sound boards you have a number of analog-out options.  In earlier discussions we talked about XLR and 1/4″ cables and connectors.  These will continue to be the main ones used for outputs.  On the front or face of most mixing boards you will see a stereo headphone out.  It will usually have its own volume knob and probably a selector to pick the options to Monitor including Stereo Out, Solo, Effects Sends, Effects Returns, Sub or Groups, Auxiliary Returns, and other options.  On the back or the top of the mixing board you will see the panel for Out-put connections in different sections.  There are some rules to determine what type of Audio Cable is used and whether it is a male end or female end and whether it has two connectors or three (or more).

In the early days of mixing boards, microphones and keyboards, it was important which brand you purchased.  If you wanted to get ‘that sound’ you had to have this mixing board channel strip or that particular keyboard.  Later on the computer industry similarly shot through their early days and you had the Macintosh or the Windows PC.  If you were brought up with one you could not be talked into the other.  Most modern equipment from PC’s to Automobiles can do everything.  They all have similar platforms and emulators.  There is style and quality as there always will be, but you can get software mixing programs and microphone/guitar emulator plugins that will make your audio tracks sound like anything you want —-THEY CAN EVEN MAKE YOU SOUND LIKE YOU ARE SINGING IN TUNE!!

So if you like Pepsi, no problem.  Want Coke?  Press this button……  More comfortable using a Mac?  Go for it.

All it takes is cash, a thorough understanding of what all the terms mean and a good idea where all the buttons are?!!?



INTRO: Quiet Nights, I sit without lights,

Then what I play, accompanies me.

Accompanies me.

I’m a man of refined habits,

But not refined too much.

I’m searching for the spirit

While I find the touch.

Locked inside no prison

But can not call your name.

Outside your rock tree garden

Where silent lovers came.

Mourning come and shed no tears

For those they should have saved

While rocks beneath the water

Become tombstones for the grave.

INTRO: Quiet Nights, I sit without lights,

Then what I play, accompanies me.

Much of my early years I had tons of energy.  Like most people my age, I got up early and stayed up through the evening.  Unlike most, I got a bit extreme with this and as I started working I seemed to be able to handle the after hour and evening shifts quite well.   Staying awake for 24 to 48 hours at a time was almost normal.  I obviously was not!  As most of the household was quiet and recharging their internal batteries, I would pull out my 12 string guitar.  In the very late and dark hours, I would reflect on the day(s) past and go over experiences I or friends had.  The fullness of the 12 strings (when I could afford to replace the old strings with new ones…) for me is just an amazingly soothing and inspiring environment.  The guitar noodling started to reflect a mood and the experiences would turn into words, phrases or thoughts that I would repeat and refine until they started to gel into lyrics.

I would use this method over and over.  Alone at night, lights out and everyone quiet or sleeping.  Even now, decades later, this is still my favorite time to reflect and create.  If you can, find your own time and environment that you can settle into quickly.  If you cannot find the time – MAKE it.  It does not have to be hours at a time.  Rarely do we write a masterpiece or complete a painting or poem in an hour or so.  The important thing is to set aside time – even little bits – and noodle, sketch, sing, or even think.  Build your stage for creativity and perform there as often as you can.  The masterpieces will create themselves…

Quiet Nights – An original tune I wrote based on this idea.

I have been very fortunate over the years in a number of ways.  As I look back on my history and the events I have been involved in, this rule became obvious to me.  I have always performed or created music with people that are much better than I am.  I did not do this by design, it just seemed to happen over and over.  One of my favorite bands I have been involved with for many years is Euphoria.  Think of all the adjectives you know to describe excellence and you can use them all for the members of the band.  They invited me to run sound for them and that is how I got the nerve to be a sound guy.  As they played out and I ran sound and helped with musical toys as a music store manager, we became great friends and shared a real passion for great music.  When the keyboard player decided to work on other projects, they found out I played keyboards and asked me if I wanted to take his place.  I cannot tell you how much courage it took to say yes.  I had never really played out before and we were into progressive rock and really complicated songs – many you heard clips from the studio demo posted earlier.

I knew I was not ready for prime time, but I got my keyboard gear together – practiced on my own every spare minute I had and forced myself to show up for practice.  I had big shoes to fill.  To their credit each of the band members were extremely patient!  The knew it would take me some time to get to their level.  Some songs on our set list were replaced with songs that had less emphasis on the keyboard until I could get my chops up to speed.  Some we had to drop altogether.  But they all worked with me and did not make me feel like I was slowing them down or not up to par.  Had it not been for their great attitude and flexibility, I may have thrown in the towel and called it quits before it got started.

The only better piece of advice in this area I think is just as important is to always play with great people!  Band life can be hard work, physically challenging and demanding and at the same time can be disastrous

I am famous for doing things the easy way and if I can, as cheap as possible.  Now that does not mean forget quality and versatility.  It means I won’t spend money on gadgets that I don’t need.  I try to run as clean a mix as possible, and making sure everyone gets heard.  If they are up there ‘playin it‘, I want the audience to hear it.  In reality, it doesn’t take a lot of gadgets to accomplish those two major things; make it sound good and loud enough for the venue, and put all instruments/vocals/strings/spoons or tambourines, I don’t care what it is….  in the mix.   As a band member, hiring sound guys and their rigs, a number of times after sound check and a few songs of the first set, my microphone was turned down so low, no one could hear me even in-between songs.  I could not get the sound man’s attention, or anyone else’s for that matter because no one could hear me (and as a keyboard player I was usually in the back corner of the stage in the shadows Ha!).  So eventually I just adjusted the microphone stand down toward the floor in front of me.  It is easy to hit the wrong button or turn the wrong knob; happens all the time.

Remember that the sound guy cannot hear what is really happening up on stage.  Sometimes you THINK you can.  But you as the sound engineer should be the first person to know what is going wrong when it does.  Keep an eye on all performers – they will look to you first.  As a performer and studio guy, I could tell when the guitar player broke a string, or if the drum head split and when or if the drummer had too much to drink on his birthday gig.  Things will go wrong but a lot of the time it is the sound guy.  You make an adjustment and grab the wrong knob.  They all look alike in the dark part of the venue or room.  The consequences can be anything from a non-event to a full blown crisis, depending on which knob you grab.  Obviously for the extreme crisis, you will know right away what happened and will probably be able to correct quickly.

It is the slow creepy ones that will get you.  Two songs later something changes on stage and chaos begins.

I suggested we set up the mixing board so the FX Returns are plugged into open channels so you can control their volume with the faders rather than the FX Return knobs.  I always turn the effects down in-between songs.  (you also get EQ and other benefits)  This makes it SOOO much easier to see in the dark clubs. I also use the sub-groups to assign drums, vocals, and other groups of mics their own fader that feeds directly to the Main Out or house out.  If there is a problem with one group, you can quickly test by adjusting that sub-group fader and see if problem goes away.  If not, return it to where it was and go to the next sub-group.  This way you do not have to go through fader after fader searching for a bad signal or feedback loop.   Once you narrow down the offending group, you will have a much better idea what the source is!

I would say most live performances the sound board is mixed to a Mono output.  In smaller rooms or clubs, I loved running in stereo.  I mixed for keyboard progressive bands a lot and the stereo keyboards and samplers consumed the rooms when mixed right.  Not in volume——– The vocals (sometimes three sometimes five in the band) panned as well.  Overkill in a way, but not much work and easy to arrange with equipment versatility.  Most boards have stereo FX that can add lot to the imaging.  But again, that is not the norm.  So you can either set board up in stereo and have the Main Output plugged into the MONO OUT to your system, or you can mix to mono and use one Main fader or the other.  That’s about it.  We have covered the entire mixing board, in its basic format.  Headphone outs, Tape or other inputs, on-board effects, Solo or Audition functions as well as digital features make new sections.

Oceans of Oil” (@) MSK 1989

You go through life,

And I don’t complain.

Good things die

The rest stays the same.

Politics and money

Garbage is king.

The Liberty Bell

Doesn’t even ring.

Oceans of Oil, tinsel stars

Clouds are dark – the air is sick.

Swarms of people like killer bees

Mother Earth is on her knees.

You believe what you feel is right

And now you are going to make a fight.

You have no idea what we’re going through

If it’s your choice, nothing else will do.

Oceans of Oil, tinsel stars

Clouds are dark – the air is thick.

Swirling with pain and lost emotion

Mother Earth may soon need that abortion.

You believe that what you feel is right.

Clouds are dark.

As someone who truly loves the outdoors and nature (for a city guy!) I sometimes think there is no end to the way we have devastated the natural resources we were blessed with.  Environmental tragedy after another, corporate greed and individual apathy seem to be everywhere at once.  This is a disturbing and dark look (from my perspective) at what we are doing to our planet.

The music is rich with textures and soundscapes.   One of the tricks I used was on the sound of the ‘toms’ as they repeat, the tuning changes and gets lower and lower.  This is a simple MIDI trick.  there are ways of doing this that can take a bit of time and planning, but what I did was very simple.  As in the past, I use the keyboard to trigger the drum sounds when recording drum tracks.  I recorded the simple beat with the tom sound.  Then when I played it back, I started recording on the same track and used the keyboard ‘pitch bend’ stick to slowly lower the pitch as it played.  That took about two seconds and once that was done during playback the drum toms would sound like they were being de-tuned in real time.  Depending on how quickly the stick was moved, you could change the rate of pitch change.

My wife sings the melody and I add some vocal phrases and back up.  To get her vocals to punch through the mix even though her vocals are smooth, I took a direct out (really it was an insert cable and we will get into that later) and fed her vocals into one channel of a stereo compressor/limiter to compress or ‘squash’ the levels, then I took the out put and ran it into the other (stereo side) side and used the limiter function.  This allowed me to get a good signal by lowering the hot portions of the vocal track, and then pump it up to the point that the limiter would stop extreme levels from getting past a threshold point I set.  I got a very clean vocal signal and smoothed out the peaks and valleys of the volume levels, allowing me to turn up the over all volume in the mix without distortion.

As we continue down the signal path, we get to a new section.  This is separated from the EQ section and generally uses a different color coding for the associated knobs.  The next group is the Aux Sends.  Each send represents an output jack that will go to external audio sources. One example would be the stage monitor mix(s).  If you have two monitors on each end of the stage serving performers, you can use Aux Send 1 going to the left monitor and use Aux Send 2 going to the right monitor.  If performer 1 wants to hear themselves and a little bit of performer 2 in the same monitor, simply send a lot of performer 1’s channel to Aux Send 1 and a little of the performer 2 to the Aux Send 1.  If performer 2 does not want to hear performer 1 in their respective monitor, simply turn up performer 2’s channel Aux Send 2 up a bunch and do not turn up Aux Send 2 on the channel for performer 1.  That was probably harder to say correctly than actually doing it.


You can use Auxiliary Sends to route a signal from any channel to external effects boxes like Digital Delays, Reverbs, and even recording devices in a pinch.  You can use it to trigger light boards that have an Audio Input mode.

These Auxiliary Sends can sometimes be switched from Pre to Post.  Some are fixed either way.  This can also get confusing but if the channel Aux Send is in Pre mode it means Pre-Fader.   The volume faders on each channel will affect the level of the signal that is sent to the House or the Main Out of the mixer and when selected, to the headphone out.  It is a good idea to solo instruments in the headphones to pick or change microphone locations and isolate room noise and other performers.  If the Aux is set to Pre-Fader, it means that the Aux Send levels will be determined before the channel fader has any effect.  Turn the channel volume fader all the way down and you will still have plenty of signal going to the Aux Send.   If the Aux Send is in Post Fader mode, the amount of signal sent to the Aux Send for that channel will be directly affected by the level of the channel volume fader.  Fader off = no Aux Send level.  The number of sends will vary widely.  In this case, more is better!

At this point the example starts a new section.  This will affect the Main Out section.  This is where we can set the stereo Pan position, Mute or un-Mute the channel, and Solo the instrument for gain staging and troubleshooting during a performance.  When running in stereo, general rule is very low frequencies get panned to center.  After that, adjust to performance and venue.  Sometimes the stage sound is very loud, and listeners close to the stage will only be able to hear that performer.  Sometimes the shape of the stage or design of venue will require creative solutions using stereo panning.

This strip includes a pair of colored LED’s for signal strength and Peak warning level indicators.  Occasional red for short periods of time are OK, but better to avoid as long as you have a strong signal otherwise.  After we have set the various knobs correctly and have good signal strength, we can use the channel volume fader to set the level of that channel in the House mix.   Channel Mutes can have different affects.  Some boards Muting a channel will stop that audio source from all outs, and some might allow Aux Send 1 & 2 for monitors.  See manuals for lots of details I cannot cover in these articles.

Other examples below with different lay-outs;


But here is the good news;  we have just learned 75% of the face of the mixing board.  Each channel duplicates what we just went over.  All those knobs are now grouped logically, easily identified explained and we understand what each one is for.  Here on in it is repetition for gain staging and sound check.  Use Pad and 1st Gain Stage to adjust signal strength, add or subtract frequencies using the channel EQ, set amount of Aux Send to monitors and effects and set the stereo field positions as we watch level indicators and set channel volume fader.  Repeat.  Finished!

Next we can go over the benefits of Group Sends and the other 20%

Recently I was asked in comments (The Observer) if a song I posted was recorded at home or in a studio.  I replied but thought I might expand on that a bit and also introduce another version of “The Pleasure Tax”.  As my brother and I got older we kept writing poems that were now almost always designed to be lyrics.  We got better.  Instead of playing the bongos, I played the toy organ I mentioned and everything else from there.  Here is where I get to also blame my parents again.  For Christmas we all got cool toys, but many of mine seemed to be music makers; recorders, tiny piano ‘tinkley’ toys, little ukuleles and eventually guitars with plastic strings and a drum set that was made for a three year old, but you get the point.  So we got better and we played instruments and my brother started playing guitar as well.  We had more toys to create music so when we wanted to record them (I was probably fourteen or fifteen by the time recording was a possibility) we wanted to add the various instruments and record them all together.

Through the years, we met other musicians and became great friend – or as I seem to recall – we met great friends that were also musicians.  Eventually there was a central core of serious song writers.  Sometimes there would be around eight or ten core writing members.  It would seem there was a competition going (and there always was!) to write the coolest or most clever or the most groovy song.  And we would have friends that would stop by and jam once in a while or would write lyrics and were willing to turn them over to a group of people that would fit them , with force if necessary, with a musical arrangement, melody line and harmonies.

The rambling link to all this is when we often played a collection of each other’s songs, we more than likely played with different performers supporting a few core members.   Those were exciting days!  One time you would sing the song and the lead vocalist was not there.  So you let an ‘orbiting member’ do the vocal melody and you sing the harmony part.  Most of us played instruments and sang – especially if we wrote the song as you can guess – so if the lead vocalist also played guitar, we filled in as a ‘core member’.   On one visit or jam session you performed and sang your song all by yourself to the group.  In other visits you were surrounded by full instrumentation and a choir of vocalists!  So here is an example of all that tied into a version of this song by a full band I toured with.  You heard us play live to an audience in Texas when we played the original song “Our Bodies Move” posted earlier.  We also played other original songs and snuck them into our sets.  One of them was “The Pleasure Tax”.  We called ourselves The Personal Touch.  Ric and I were a duo and when we decided to add a female vocalist as recommended by a booking agency they decided to sign us up for out of state gigs.  We got some studio time when signing up and we performed some original tunes and some cover stuff…. done The Personal Touch way.  “TPT” by TPT!

So this is rare original song of mine that was recorded in an actual studio.    We are a trio and there was a studio drummer.   Everything else is The Personal Touch with a very new vocalist.