Posts Tagged ‘#band’

Mara – The Making of a Video

I usually did not have to search for new projects.  There were plenty of musicians, bands and performers that did not have a lot of resources – or cash – when starting out.  Working at the local music store chain, I was lucky to know some great players, writers, and musicians of all sorts.  l am attracted to talented people of all kinds.  I often wish listeners of my music would give me the benefit of the doubt that I gave to many of the people I met and came to appreciate.  I realize my songs are not always ‘radio worthy’ or commercially viable, and always hoped someone would look beyond that and realize the songs I offered for what they could be if recorded professionally and marketed on a large scale.  Maybe that day will still come, but back then there were a number of artists that I could help take the next step.

Word got out that I had an understanding of technology and could usually pick things up quickly.  I absorbed owners manuals, dedicated time and when possible drafted other talented people to make projects work.  One of the fun and exciting things I got to do was shoot and edit live musical band performances.  MakeShift Kreations was an early company name I came up with using my initials: M S K.  I believe this was filmed way back in 1988!!!

Using the same video and editing suite from the cable company available for local access channels that I used for my first conceptual video: “Walking Man” I learned how to use multi camera filming and video editing techniques.  In some situations I offered to do videos for friends as this was a new (again, at the time!) medium and was very expensive for most bands.  In Part I, I would like to present the video I made of Mara, a local band with highly talented musicians.  My wife Ellen and I did all the camera, editing and post production work.  These are their original songs performed live over a two-night period. It was a lot of work, but I learned a lot and had a great time.

Please use the following link to see the Mara: Part I video:

https://youtu.be/VwKz1Po4_XM

Black1

Our banner designed by Marty Gillaspy

“Chase The Dream”

When one of the bands I worked with collapsed under the pressures of day to day life, it was quickly resurrected in a new form.  Most of Euphoria members did not want to stop playing so we regrouped with a new guitar player to replace one of the founding members and became The Chase.  We played out with about ten different names for a few months – Scenic Route was another favorite of mine – until we settled on The Chase.  These guys were great.  We had a solid rhythm section, a great lead singer and back up vocals that were tight and an amazing lead guitar player that could feel everything he played. We could play cover songs no other bands would play live.  We also threw in originals from time to time.  The banner was hung one each side of the stage vertically as seen in one of the photos below, and horizontally behind the drum set.  It was pretty eye-catching and a lot of people complimented it.

I am an archivist.  I record everything.  Audio recordings of practice sessions and live performances. Video of many performances and photos of major events.  Before YouTube I posted a number of them on our cable TV Local Access channels using their video editing suite.  I had my fingers in everything.  Some of the projects got finished, but a lot of the raw tapes have only been viewed by me and a select group of people.

I just put together a new video that uses a lot of this vintage raw video and some of the photographs from the time period.  The medium is so old that the quality suffers, but it does a good job of representing the events of the time.  We played in many clubs and outdoor events and I will create future videos to highlight more venues.   For this video I used an original instrumental song that Nick Robinson was working on and our new band, The Chase, made it our own.  There is no video of the song as we only played it out a few times.  Nicky has since re-joined Euphoria when it regrouped a few years ago and is still playing out with some amazing players.

Please check out my latest YouTube post (and other videos while you are there) of his original tune: “Chasing The Dream”.  Enjoy!

Chase The Dream

 

 

In most situations when you want to record a performance, you might not have a lot of time to set up.  The environment might not be perfect, and there are other needs than getting a great recording.   I have tried and been quite successful with a number of techniques.  I will offer a few here for your consideration.

Getting a good mix from the sound board Mono Out or Main Left and Right Outs in a small or medium size venue is very easy to set up, but most likely to be disappointing. The needs of the audience in a live situation can be the exact opposite from the recording engineer’s.  As mentioned in the beginning of this series, LSR is reinforcement.  The sound person will amplify the weaker signals in the House or Mains; vocals – along with a LOT of effects, acoustic guitars, flutes, and even the drums.  They might not need to reinforce the lead or bass guitar as much. So the board mix is heavier on vocals, effects, and keyboard in some cases.  Not a great listen for most people.                                                                                                                                       You can set up a sub-mix if the sound guru gives you access.  If they run Left (Mono) like most venues, you can create your own mix using the Right Mono out.  Using the pan for each channel, keep full signal going to the Left out, and pan toward Center position to send desired amount of signal to the Right out.  You might want to isolate the guitar or bass, add a little toms if they are mike’d, but not heavy in the mix.  You can mix the two outs if you record in stereo and get a great live sound.  This will not give you a perfect stereo field, but most audiences do not remember concerts in stereo.  The sound seems to come from the stage, not left and right cabinets in front of the stage. 

I have also had luck with those portable stereo digital recorders available now for what I think is really cheap for what they do.  You need to set them up correctly and take care of them but they are so easy to set up and you get great sound in various environments.  If you have a SAFE place where you will hear more of the band than the audience (sounds easier than it really is) this is worth a try.

Yesterday I heard that I lost another great friend and musical partner.  My sister called me last night to tell me there had been an accident and she did not have a lot of details, but a great friend of mine died yesterday.  I mentioned Ric Ahlers in my blog posts before.  He was the guitar player/vocalist in the first real band I was in called The Personal Touch.  He co-authored with me one of my favorite songs I called “For Those Who Wait“.  (With music it was titled: “Our Bodies Move“).

Ric was my brother-in-law and was looking for a keyboard player to start a duo to play locally and out on the road.  Though I had only dabbled with piano and was mostly a rhythm guitar singer-songwriter, he gently persuaded me to join him.  Then for about three months he patiently guided me as I learned not only how to play keyboards (not just piano, but all the other sounds keyboard players are responsible for), but also a bunch of popular cover tunes for the first time.  He was way ahead of me as far as knowledge and talent (I try to take my own advice and play with musicians that are better than me!) and had played out before.   We also played our original songs as part of our normal set list.  He had more confidence in me than I did, but I guess that is a familiar story to my blog readers.

We started as a duo and played local clubs.  We had a full sound as we both sang (as well as we could) and I played my 12 string guitar and the keyboards and later programmed drum machines.  He played lead guitar and also controlled a drum machine with an accompaniment triggered by his  bass pedals that played bass and added filler strings and piano chords.  We could play anything from classic standards to Jimi Hendrix tunes and fit into a very small space.

He sat while playing guitar and kicking his bass pedals.  He stood over 6 foot 10!  Some people would come up to shake his hand after a tune and jump back as he stood up to talk to them!!

He was as tall sitting as I was standing and it really surprised people and caught them off guard.  I would have to warn him about low ceiling fans at hotels and lobbies!  We added Ann Ellis as a vocalist and traveled around the county as a trio in his van.  THOSE WERE THE DAYS!

Life is not always easy but Ric was always a gentle giant.  With a heart just as big, he climbed back up if he got knocked down, and carried you on his shoulders if you could not keep going.  He is also family and we will all miss him and are stunned by the sudden loss of a great man in many ways.

There have been many memorable events in my life to date and many more to come.  It might not be apparent at the time the impact any one of them would have at the time.  I have never been diagnosed or treated professionally but I find myself dealing with depression from time to time.  It is impossible to know what triggers those feelings and more difficult to see your way out. On one of those times I could not break the cycle.  I had no motivation or inspiration.  In fact, I did not care at all.  About anything.  I had been through similar situations before so for weeks I kept telling myself it would pass in its own time.  I would get through this one as well.  But that was the only positive thought I had.  Life not worth living.  Nothing made me happy or sad. I forced myself through motions and obligations by shear routine.   I seemed like this would go on forever.  It felt unbearable even though most of my friends had no idea what I was dealing with.

I had tickets to see an amazing show under any circumstances, so I went to see Cirque du Soleil.  It is funny how this affected me.  I watched human beings do what seemed impossible even if you could think of the skills in the first place.  Art and amazing physical prowess seamlessly blended together to tell a story with few words.  Strength and perfection only achieved with years and years of unrelenting practice and sacrifice.  It again showed me the potential of mankind.  Dedication, creativity, trust, respect were all required to make this amazing performance happen.  I realized watching each scene that we are incredible beings when we try. That night I started trying again.  I saw the end of the funk that was created by myself – for myself.  I could see again the beauty of life and the result of hard work when things seem impossible.

History sometimes repeats itself. Funny to think of this after my recent event at a concert to see my musical mentor and hero – Peter Gabriel, performing on tour with Sting.  It is so refreshing to know there are others in the world that struggle to be good.  That work every day to promote peace love and all that corny stuff I could not live without.  In their music and through their lives they can impact so many.  I thought I would never be able to see Gabriel perform.  I have come close, but things did not work out. They almost did not work out this time either.  Of all the artists/people in the world, his music, words and projects affect me like no other person on this earth.  I am who I am with his unknowing help and guidance.  I struggle to be better knowing it is possible.

I grew up listening to Genesis and following his solo career.  I am not obsessed and do not own everything he has.  I do not know every detail of his personal life or career.  But I do think I ‘know the man’.  I understand him as a man and not an idol.  We are growing old together.

Sting was also amazing and sang a number of Peter’s songs, and performing his own tunes and some from the days of The Police.  For me, it was precious, unforgettable and one of the greatest musical experiences I have had.

While performing with my last cover band, Crash Landing, we played local clubs, festivals and private parties.  In this picture of a live set up, you will see a fairly standard rock/blues/country/alternative/jazz band stage arrangement;  drums center rear, Lead Vocalist center front.  Keys (and/or rhythm guitar) on the left as you look at the stage and the lead guitar player on the right.  In smaller clubs the keyboards get crunched back in the corner next to the drummer……  no sour grapes here!  Bass player close to the drummer. (either side doesn’t really matter)  In reality, most bands will not practice in this configuration, but this is the way most of us play out live and we are quite used to it.  In our case, Crash Landing has a number of vocalists.  All but the drummer sings in this band.  The bass player takes front stage position and sings a number of lead vocals.  So does the guitar player.  You can see where the microphone stands are placed for the vocalists.  Close up pictures later in this series will show other microphone positions for the instruments.  These are good places to start.  If you have limited time or setting up for a number of bands in an evening, you go with the standard format and shape the sound from the board as much as possible.  Knowing or having experience doing the quick set-up successfully a few times you will see the standard configuration and mic placements work well for the vast majority of performances.

We can also see the positioning of the vocal stage monitors across the front of the stage.  There are various thoughts on how to set these up but the differences can seem minor.  For this many vocalists across the front, this spacing and direction worked fairly well.  The drummer and/or other non-vocalists might also need monitors.  (it would not be unusual for the keyboard player requiring a monitor to hear the keyboards and a vocal mix if they sing)  This stage size gives players room to breath AND hear.  When inside on a smaller stage, everything seems to collide and jumble.  Outside you can hear yourself play much better (depending on the sound engineer, of course) and at times you might actually struggle just a little to hear the other players!  Take two steps closer to them and they are plenty loud.  This should be an easier situation for a sound engineer.  If I had to do a first gig in my life as a practice run, I would want to do an outdoors gig.

Crash Landing

I had a theme for lyrics slowly coming together for the last few days.  On the edge of being complete I centered on the idea of how wonderful and supportive it is to have your loved ones with you to start each day.  To wake up together and face the challenges and the glory of each day. Yeah, I am a romantic in many ways, but those are the things I think about when I don’t concentrate.  For me – THAT IS THE KEY.  My lyric and melody ideas come from observation and experience, not from a lyric making template and time schedule tune-creator cookie cutter band in your box session.

I sat, as I am now;  sitting at my computer looking out the window and my small yard.  Birds at the feeder, squirrels trying to get what the birds spill, and most often a gentle breeze.  And I came up with the first chorus in 30 seconds or so.  It just summed up the things that make me happy with what I have done so far in my life and why looking forward is so precious.

The second verse was another theme that became clear once I had the idea for the chorus.  I have had a few conversations lately with friends and family with a noticeably different view of the future.  AS I get older and plan the future as much as possible I realize now some of the things I am planning will be the last time in my life that I will probably do it again.

I don’t look forward to doing things for the first time as we did growing up, I am looking forward to the last time.  And that brought me to the second chorus; I look forward to watching children and grand children learning and doing things for the first time.  (Helping when you can and staying the hell out of the way for most of it!)

The first and last verses try to summarize a belief that I have; If you are quiet and listen to each other, you will earn their love.

Now that I have written the lyrics and shown to a friend, he put a great song and melody to it.  We are going into my studio over the next few weeks to arrange the song and record a rough demo.  Then we will have other friends add finishing parts (like vocals again…. anyone know a great vocalist??!!) and do the final recording and mix.

I thought it would be fun to post the various stages of this project so you can see a little how these things develop from concept to final mix.   I will post the lyrics now and promise not to share too many variations as this is a trial and error process with lots of suggestions and compromises.

For now, the lyrics:

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

“My Heart Is Silent” © MSK 12-30-2015

 

I will close my eyes

If you will be there when they reopen.

My Heart Is Silent

Still listening to thoughts you have spoken.

 

As the Firsts in life

Moving full circle to become their Last,

Looking forward is

Much quicker than unwinding the past.

 

My Heart Is Silent

My needs are few;

A space to breathe

And living with you.

 

Waiting for you

Unwilling to think you might not return.

Letting you go

I’ve always known your love is something I had to earn.

 

My Heart Is Silent

My needs are few;

Watching children grow

And living with you.

 

I will close my eyes

If you will be there when they reopen.

My Heart Is Silent

Listening to thoughts you have spoken.

If we start from the stage things actually be come easier.  If the mixing or sound board is the hub of processing sounds, the stage is the hub for generating sounds!  Most Live Sound Reinforcement events would benefit if the engineer spent more time here.  It is not uncommon for the sound guy to spend fifteen minutes making sure the kick drum has every frequency needed pumped up loud enough to message your spine (and ear drums) but they take two minutes to set up the stage monitors.  And most do that right after the band sets up  - – – – – when there is no music playing!

So let’s take a minute and walk up on stage and see what it physically looks like.  If you are familiar with the band you have a good idea of acceptable arrangements:  Overall dimensions.   Where are the riser(s).  How tall are the ceilings. Where are the AC outlets.  You may not be able to direct where the performers set up in a number of cases but you can influence some.  Where should the drums/keyboards/horn section go.  Where is a good central place for the snake (multi-connector cable connected to the mixing board).  Where do the monitors go (unless using in-ear monitor systems).  For me, this is also a good place to determine where the house speaker cabinets and amplifiers are placed.  BTW, if you are not familiar with the band or act make it a practice to find out.  Go to their website or media page. Get an idea of what they do live, if you can.  Ten minutes on-line will save you a bunch of headaches if they turn out to have specific requests for their instruments or performers.  I can also tell you from personal experience if you go up to Player C and say, “Hey, I got that adapter you need for your axe”, the player is going to notice the effort.  They will relax and you can let them know they are in good hands.  Getting the band’s cooperation is not necessary.  It is not in the books.  In some situations it might even be a waste of time.  I will still try every time.  Getting their cooperation…… sets up a great performance.  Then I focus on stage sound…..  and most band members will go out of their way to help during sound check and throughout the performance before 20 minutes of equalizing the kick drum.

Now that you have a good idea of the dimensions and set up requirements, place each performer in the best location and set up their respective microphones and monitors as needed.  Set up House gear and test.  From the mixing board, use a ‘talk-back’ microphone sent to the stage monitors to test and communicate with the performers.  Band members might feel like they are inside a cage at the zoo, looking out at the visitors!  Sometimes all you can see are the stage lights in your eyes.  The venue may be quite dark.  So the more comfortable they feel; the more like rehearsal you make it feel, the better the blend among performers.  The better the blend, the better the whole event will unfold.

Going forward I will go over a few details and outline this process to make it easier as well fun!

________________________________________________________________

Through the beginning to the end of the last chapter, we have concentrated on the hub or the central nervous system of a Live Sound Reinforcement assignment.  I have been focusing a bit on live performance in a typical band or musical event.  We now understand how most equipment for the House PA, the stage monitors, effects, and even lighting systems use the mixing board as the central hub.  The mixing board’s usefulness does not end there!  Once equipment is set up, connected, turned on and confirmed functional, most of the adjustments made for the rest of the evening will happen because of changes to the mixing board.  It also becomes the Master Device, and all other connected devices are ultimately controlled by the mixer.  The sound engineer is the ONLY person that should touch the mixing board.

The next logical step would be to describe the components of the House PA system and how much power (or how much money do I need to spend….).  After all, this is what most people hear, right?

Obviously, I set up as a trap question.  The answer seems obvious.

If I said, “I sound like a broken record”, most young readers will not know what that means! But I will repeat myself on certain themes and I feel one a’ comin’!  The next important thing is not the House PA and the number of speakers and amplifiers you need.  Most small venue mixing engineers go straight for the house and main systems, completely ignoring the most important ingredient guaranteeing a great performance.  We will avoid that trap now and focus on the stage and more importantly – the musicians on the stage.

When bands practice, they ultimately find a good use of space and volume so each member can achieve the two primary goals;

1) Hear myself (usually louder than any one else.  This is not ego and we will get into that later)

2) Hear the other performers (usually not as loud as the performer wants to hear him/her self!!)

Once they settle in and can accomplish the above – practice is comfortable and productive.  Each member can hear themselves and can also hear enough of the other members to blend with them.  If you saw a live symphony orchestra and all you could hear were the trombones, it would seem like an awful performance.  If you were a musician in the orchestra and all you could hear were the trombones……………

Now we can go back to the band members standing on a stage or venue they have never seen or played in……   and now understand that this is a very real challenge, and the smaller the venue… the smaller the budget.  Lack of Resources can be difficult challenge to overcome.

In larger venues it was quite normal to have a smaller mixing board off to the one side of the stage.  All the instruments and monitors would connect to this mixer, and it would ‘split’ all channels and send them equally to the House mixing board out in the audience area.  (it can also be used to send signals to a recording van parked outside).  The sound engineer on stage makes the band members happy by concentrating on the performers but does not affect the signal going to the House board.  That way the House Engineer has full control of the unaffected incoming channels from the stage board.

Good enough for now and in the next few sections I will focus on the stage sound and mix.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/retrograde/id962542260

For another look into the times, Lack of Concern is a gem in a time capsule.  These were good times.  I was still working at the music store.  Playing with toys, buying a few here and there and energy I can only imagine looking back, LOL!   It was a period where a lot of music was written and performed.  Lots of projects.  Learning as much as we could.  Showing it to others!  That was the fun part.

The words in a number of my songs are important to me.  In the same way I have been told that aromas and fragrances can help recall a specific event in the past, lyrics do for me.  They are a portal that allows a connection to create itself again.  With that memory brought to the surface I can recall many of the events that inspired thoughts that somehow managed to become poems or lyrics.  I surround myself mentally in the time.

“Tease me with the truth, baby, don’t tempt me with a lie” is one that puts me back at that time, in that mood.  This song contains a number of those portals.  This song asks the basic question; … ‘do you know what you are doing and still do it, or are you completely unaware of what you are doing?”.  I just love the upbeat arrangement in this song.  For this song I had the Yamaha DX7S, their updated model and a drum machine.  My wife Ellen and I do the vocals. I play acoustic rhythm guitar parts and Shawn my buddy! comes over to play the lead and decorative guitar parts.  I just let him run wild during the entire song and pick the gems to accent parts of the song.   This may be the only time I have recorded this song.  It is also one I rarely play out, but I think it is catchy in its own way.