Posts Tagged ‘#drums’

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Think of the stage as a speaker sitting in front of the audience….. sometimes the club or venue actually looks like a box where the performers are positioned. You have the low-end Bass Guitar, Kick Drum and Floor Tom and maybe keyboard sounds or textures. You have the Guitar and Vocals in a mid-rangy area and at the upper end you have symbols and higher range Guitar and Keyboard sounds. All inside the same box just a blasting away at different levels and pointed in all directions.

Now you have a better understanding of the challenge of making these various chunks into a tasty audio stew!

For the best way to present music to the savvy listeners of today, we do what has been done for decades. In the stereo image, you want to create a “room” or “place” for the listener. We have become comfortable with the very low end sounds coming from both speakers at about the same volume. This places the sound to the center of the listener’s field.

We like the vocals or in most cases the melody line to be in both sides equally, again placing the singer in the middle of the left-right field. We are fine if other instruments or singers are more to the left or right as long as the main sounds are where we expect them. We usually place big speakers on either side of the stage facing the audience…… usually in front of the stage and performers…. But as mentioned above this is not a finely tuned speaker cabinet by any means. The components are not necessarily proportionally balanced in volume or location. Setting up the Stage and PA system with this in mind can help reinforce the natural stereo image out in the audience.

Now that I have made a connection that is awkward if not confusing, even though the PA system in all likely hood is a Mono mix coming from both sides or columns of speakers, the listener still hears this as a stereo field. They want the low-end sounds or tones from the center of the stage. Typically the drum – the Kick Drum to be specific for this example – is the most used and most amplified instrument in band situations or where you have audio media. The Bass Guitar player is usually next to the drummer. This helps them keep tighter timing and solid beat, but also supports the stereo image of the listener.

Guitar and other amplified instruments on stage can be heard more from their side of the stage than from the other as an easy example, even if the volume through each side of the Main is sent the same level signal. If keyboards are on the opposite side of the stage from the guitar and also uses a monitor or amp, standing closer to them in front row can make it seem like the keyboards are too loud and those on the other side of the stage think the guitars are somewhat overbearing. It won’t stop them from standing there though! As you get further away from the front of the stage or if the venue is very large, this stereo effect has less and less meaning to the listener. Still, as a rule, most sound systems do not place low-end PA cabinets (or dumps) on one side of the stage and the mid or hi-end cabinets on the other side. It can be however, advantageous to place the low-end dumps in the center of the stage or along the front-center stage area. To make this more inclusive, it is also more comfortable to hear low-end tones coming from an elevation point lower (on the floor, for example) and the higher tones or frequencies coming from higher points (mounted above the stage or on tall poles).

If the volume on stage becomes to strong a level it will negatively affect all the above and more. To reinforce another post of mine, musicians just need to worry about performing great – we sound geeks will make them sound good and loud! I keep dreaming.

Like many songs or projects do, this song combines a number of events in my life with observations I make as an observer on the planet Earth.  I was outside and looked up in the sky one afternoon for no real reason and noticed there was a bright full moon.  I know they happen, it just seemed unusual and weird.  Do werewolves come out on a full moon In the Middle of the Day? I digress.  So I thought that is weird, and how would most people notice there was a full moon? When you’re looking up from the ground.  I worked in a call center for a number of years.  Some of those years get boiled down into a verse or two.  It expresses frustration with the extreme customer and how difficult it can be to ‘act professionally’ when under duress.  But there is also recognition of the people I have worked with.  It feels natural.  We work as a team with no agenda.  I have worked with some great teams of people, some very smart and some very dedicated and some very efficient.  All working together and helping each other. If only we could get big business and politicians to work like that.  On this song I programmed the drums and played bass guitar behind the 12 string and vocals. It was just a quick little ditty about work.  I like the arrangement of the song and it has a few twists to it.  It is fun to play and I hope you enjoy!

In the Middle of the Day

Muscle machine; glorified drama queen,

Held together by something in between.

There’s a full moon in the middle of the day,

Sometimes you just can’t get out of the way.

All the crazies, calling you on the phone

Never get the time to be on your own.

There’s a full moon in the middle of the day

Tell ‘em the Truth; Lies, they won’t believe you anyway.

But it feels natural like this

Everything works the way it’s supposed to be.

Know it with every kiss:
I’ll take care of you, if you‘ll take care of me.

It’s one thing, until you turn around

That’s when you notice, looking up from the ground.

There’s a full moon, in the middle of the day,

Gets to where black and white blurs into gray.

The dumb ones really get on your nerves,

And This One thinks everyone’s here just to serve.

There’s a full moon, in the middle of the day,

Don’t you ever wish you could say what you want to say?

It feels natural like this

Watch out for each other, learn from what you see.

Know it with every kiss

I’ll take care of you, will you share your life with me.

*It feels natural like this.  It feels natural like this….

There’s a Full Moon in the Middle of the Day,

There’s a Full Moon in the Middle of the Day

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When looking at the keyboard as an example of note patterns and the arrangement chart I used for the numerical assignment for each note, it might be natural to think that the Black keys or Shaded fields represent the ‘Half notes’ or notes that are not within a scale. This however takes us down the wrong path. The keyboard offers a clean representation of the note relationships at a quick glance but we need to be careful how we perceive this relationship. ALL notes – no matter what the color – are HALF notes. The color of each key means NOTHING if we are not in the key of C Major. Look at many other instruments and there are no color designators for scales, notes or keys. The guitar has other markings to help know what fret is being used, and this can be helpful for knowing the range of notes in any section of the guitar fretboard, but again, does not directly indicate notes within scales.

Play any adjacent note on the keyboard going up (higher notes – right) or down (lower notes – left) and it is another half step. Each instrument will have its own lingo but the structure is the same. Start with any note and if you skip a note or single key in this example you will be playing Whole notes. For guitar players we would say up one fret or down one fret…. up two frets or down two frets. Brass, wind and other players will talk about sharps or flats. From here it is better to be color blind until you get familiar with other scales and keys. If we start with a Black note for example, it becomes the Root and all notes will stem from that Root note. Some scales will include more Black notes, some scales will include less. The fact that the keyboard pattern has two white notes side by side has little value when thinking about scales, it just helps us understand the amount of separation from the surrounding notes. It is that separation and relationship that we need to focus on. The Perception is the distance between notes and the pattern helps understand their relationship to each other. The Deception can knock us off track if we begin to think the color designators represent a constant scale assignment.

In fact, when I look at a drum set I think the same way……. each tom, for example, should represent a tone or note and they can be tuned to fit within scales. For right-hand drummers or percussionists, the smaller toms are usually to the left-hand side and getting larger as you move to the right. Smaller toms are tuned to higher pitches and lower toms and the kick drum are tuned to lower pitches. YES! I will tune the drums when doing recording sessions so the tone of the drums will fit within the scale of the song. I might re-tune if necessary depending on the song, but that is fairly rare for bands to use dramatic changes. I make sure each tom, snare and kick drum is tuned to the project (that might be easier to understand than tuning to each song….). Like Gary Jefferson would often say to our audiences while the guitar player is silently tuning, ‘we sound better if we are in tune’! If the percussion instruments are not arranged properly and not tuned correctly, it will clash with the other instruments. The result can be unnoticed by many, but even those of us that are not professionals will notice that the recording or performance (as I mentioned I often tune drums for bands I am running sound for) sounds cloudy or awkward and not as tight as it could be even though the players are amazing and well rehearsed. We may not know why…. but we know something is getting in the way of a great performance.

I spent a lot of time in smaller clubs with crowded stages and audience sizes varying from handfuls to standing room only capacity. The challenges come from each of them and have different resolutions. In some ways, I think the large clubs and outdoor events are the easiest to set up and run sound for. If it is a big stage or large arena, you turn everything up so it is in the main mix or no one will hear it. The smaller clubs you don’t necessarily put a microphone on every instrument. You cannot out-power a guitar player with a stack of cabinets. You might not be able to set up independent or multiple Monitor Mixes (stage mix for performers) and many times you have to share monitors (the cabinets or speakers themselves in this case…) between performers with various needs. Add keyboard player(s) or a horn section and it quickly over burdens the PA or sound system.

Setting up the stage with a few solutions in mind can help in each of these situations. In smaller clubs you might not have many options for the arrangement of musicians on stage. Some restraints may be obvious at first. Some will catch you off guard. Knowing what you are up against though can trigger steps to prevent problems.

These are basic but can avoid a lot of small-headache issues:

Place snake closest to center of stage if that is closest to where instruments/vocalists are positioned. Shorter cables are better if they allow performers needed mobility.

Make sure you know where the AC power outlets are. It is a drag to set everything up and not be able to plug in your power amps. (I also recommend bringing long heavy-duty extension cords for versatility)

Try to plug all stage instruments and PA gear along with the mixing board and external sound gear to the same AC breaker box.

Try to plug all lighting or other powered systems to a separate AC breaker box. (If it does not connect to the mixing board to make noise; plug it into another breaker box)

Use balanced (three wire cables) whenever possible. (I have been caught by 1/4″ audio jacks without locks getting knocked out in the middle of a gig more than once and hate anything that does not lock into position. rant now over)

Keep stage volume as low as possible (this is a couple posts all by itself!)

Consider cross-firing stage instrument amps like guitars and bass – rather than pointing at audience.

Make sure sound board is in the best sounding location and also close enough to the stage to connect snake and all gear – especially if you have to route the snake around the outside of the event area for safety or other reasons.

Cables are the first thing to go wrong even when properly handled and maintained. Bring a lot of SPARES.

Turn all power amps (including ones that are built into the speakers OFF or all the way DOWN when connecting or disconnecting gear. (there are shortcuts and general exception practices we will detail later).

Turn all recording gear OFF or down all the way until all devices and channels are connected and tested.

Make sure speaker cables (Mains and Monitors) are long enough to reach the power amps. I bring two long length sets of speaker cables and two short length sets (no matter how many total speakers I have, I will have two full sets….). If one side of the stage is where the power amps are, I use the short cable and the other one might require the longer cable. Sometimes you need both long cables. If I need a spare, I have two!

Drum risers could need low end cuts and even gates to reduce unwanted tones and resonances.

Color Code anything you can. Cables, Mic stands, Monitors, In-Put Channel labels or External gear/boxes. Make it easy to identify in low light. Green microphone goes with green cable goes to green snake plugs into green channel….. I also add a number to make larger sessions manageable. Vocal green 1, 2, 3…. Drum blue 1, 2, 3….. Brass white 1, 2, 3……

Not rocket science, just some thoughts. But if you get in the habit of considering these and other tips each time before you start hauling in equipment into a new venue, your set-ups will become quick and routine, even if the environment is new. If you keep all your gear in one place there are short cut power-up and power-down sequences I will detail soon.

Most of the connectors used for outputs will be 1/4″ male jacks.  These can be for ‘grounded’ (three-wire) or two-wire cables.  To make this part confusing, the cables can be made or changed with adapters to almost any connector type.  For long distances we prefer grounded or three conductor-wire cables as the third wire is used to take common signals from the other two wires, and ‘dump them to ground’.  Common signals would be interference and noise as the plus and negative wires are carrying the signal from the board.  The result is good signal with low noise introduced.  Guitar and keyboard cables typically go shorter distances and typically have a higher or stronger output signal than a microphone for example.  The cables in the snake will use three wire grounded shielded cables even if they are 1/4″ male connectors.

So we might expect to have an XLR connector for the Main Outs to the Main House power amps, but this is not a guarantee.  If 1/4″ jacks are provided it is recommended to use grounded three wire cables.

Most cables will provide a male connector on one end and a similar but female connector on the other end.  Male connectors are often used to connect to In-Puts and Female connectors are often used to connect to the Out-Put.  The male connector of the microphone cable connects to the mixing board In-Put and on the other end the female connector will connect to the microphone out.  Generally speaking there is little advantage plugging an in to an in or an out to another out.   I like to state the obvious LOL!

The mixing board will give us a Main Left and Right out, and probably a Mono Main Out.  These will be connected to the Main or House power amps.  During an event, the amps are usually turned all the way up and the House volume is ultimately controlled by the Main L-R faders on the mixing board.  This is why it is important to turn the Master Volume Faders on the mixing board all the way down whenever connecting or disconnecting equipment or making dramatic changes.

Depending on the board size and configuration you may also have a 1/4″ Direct-Out for many if not all input channels. (this is REALLY cool for recording and a lot of other creative uses…)   These can be really handy for independent channel recording, triggers, audio effects and alternate mixes to name a few.  Basically connect these to external recorder, processor or triggering gear as needed.  I will give some examples as the series expands to other main topics.  You will also have a number of Sends that are used for a variety of tasks and have different names, but with a few configuration details are for the most part the same thing.  Effect Sends, Monitor Sends, Auxiliary Sends, Sub Sends are splitters; they split the signal – keeping the one going to the House or recorder – and allowing you to send a lot or a little of that signal to the Send of your choice using the Send knob. As in the Monitor amps and House amps, the volume knob will ultimately be used to send the proper signal level to the external (and internal) devices or effects.  If you ‘send’ this to a digital delay, it may also have its own input and out put level knobs.

You may also have a two-track input and/or out put.  This is for playing stereo audio devices and for a straight stereo record out option.  Handy to listen to practice tapes, intermission music, PA system tests and other performance related media.

Once we simplify the 12 notes and we are now able to find any Major scale very quickly  (if you only did the exercise to find the other Major scales a few times you would see this is really easy….) and we can continue to explore the Major scales for other Keys.  This is the foundation of the musical theory pyramid.  It is important to understand how we get to the Safe Seven.  No, you do not have to memorize every note in every scale, although ultimately that will help a lot.  For now, try digging in and go over the Major scale for each of the 12 notes a few times.  As you play the new Major scales, sing (or hum!) the Do Re Me song along with the notes you are playing.  (tip for the day; as you hum each scale from the new starting note, you are changing keys!)

When we look back at the Safe Seven article, I showed a simple connection that I will repeat here:

C    D     E     F     G     A     B     C

1     2     3     4     5     6     7     1

There is a lot of math in music and music theory.  But instead of confusing things and making you change from your creative hat to your thinking hat, I find the math connection actually simplifies the confusion.  It allows me to see the connection the various notes have.  Personally, I HEAR and FEEL music more than I THINK it through.  I have friends that can convert and spit out scales, keys and modes as easily as some of us use Pandora, Spotify or I-Tunes to change a song.  I am really amazed at their skills, but that is something I am not all that good at.  But you will see how easy it is to understand the art and the science by following these posts.
If we look at the Safe Seven for each Major scale, we can make an easy conversion (or universal language) for describing note or chord progressions for ANY Major key.  I know, I keep on harping on the Major scales, but the others will be really easy once we have this understood and comfortable with the Mystery of the 12 and the Safe Seven, so let’s keep going.  For those of you new to this blog, I have no formal training and I am self taught.   I can assure you I am no genius.  If I can get this, so can you.  I just hope to make it a bit easier for you if you are just diving in or curious about how this fits together.

Knowing now that we call the first note the Root, and the same note higher or lower on the keyboard are called Octaves, we will begin a simple conversion;  Root = 1.  Each note in the Safe Seven can be represented this way by assigning it a value of 1-7.  We just assigned Root = 1, so moving up is easy.  In the example above, C is the Root so C = 1 and continuing the scale, D = 2, E = 3, F = 4, G = 5, A = 6, B = 7 and the octave is again the Root or 1.   Each Major scale can be represented the same way.  Use the Whole, Whole, Half, Whole, Whole, Whole, Half system to find the Safe Seven and then assign each to their corresponding number and we can stop talking about note names!  As we get more into chord structure and progressions, this will also come into perspective.  But let’s not get stretched too far.  Play with these exercises a few times a day and we will build our solid musical foundation quickly.  I will also go into the names of the notes as they change keys and this can be confusing to many until you see the method to the madness.

I want to give you an idea of perspective on some of the articles I have posted and will continue to post going forward.  This is the first video I have posted and while it is rather BORING, it is so informative at the same time.  I guess I have recorded original tunes since the very late 1960’s.  I recorded everything.  I deleted a lot!  But I recorded everything I could.  I experimented and adjusted and re-did and failed a few more times than I succeeded in the early days to be sure!  I also got into photography and then into video recording.  I practiced the mundane over and over until I got the exposure right, then with video until I could zoom and focus manually.  I joined the photography club in high school and learned to develop and enlarge my own pictures – something I thought was close to magic back in the day!

I shared earlier that I used (and still own!!!) what I think was the first personal computer to come out with built in MIDI ports – The Atari ST!  I used a software program back then to record the MIDI tracks and I could generate SMPTE time code and send a signal from the Atari to sync it up with recording machines (I had the Yamaha 4 track CASSETTE recorder during most of this).  When I talk about old technologies and how we used to record songs (or develop pictures…) It is hard for some to understand the challenges we had and the lo-fi quality of the final mix or product.

I want to use this video as an example of many things I refer to in this blog.  In this video, you will see what I saw when looking at the Atari computer monitor when I was playing or recording tracks.  Keep in mind this is all MIDI equipment available years ago.  The song I posted earlier will now be stripped of all guitars, vocals, effects and additional live sounds you heard on the full mix.  As you watch the video you will hear the sequences being played back live into the VCR input.  I took the monitor video out and connected to video in of the video recorder so this is a straight feed for both.  In the recording software, each “instrument” has a separate track.  Drums are all on one track with additional percussion sounds on different tracks, and as a reminder, each note (as triggered from my DX7 keyboard) represented a different drum/percussion sound coming from a drum machine.  You can hear the metronome from the Atari ticking away in the back ground as it is set to record.  As each track plays you can see the musical notes light up depending on the intensity of the track information.  You can also see the tempo of the song, the names of the tracks and the measures and beats as they click by.

The main piano sound is probably familiar to many of you even if you are quite young. It is the classic Piano Tine sound from the Yamaha DX7 synthesizers.  This video should also give you a sense of quality and resolution available at the time.  It might be difficult to hear the difference in song recording quality today, but we are all familiar with video resolution and HD cameras and large screen TV and computer standards available now.  Just think how this applied to the audio quality back then and then play some really old songs you grew up listening to.   It gives a better appreciation and perspective for some of the classic songs that seem to live forever.

 https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/touch-down/id962542289

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?!!?

Enjoy!

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