Posts Tagged ‘#tech’

Written 8-27-1982 by MSK and I recorded it around 4-1983.

The main melodic themes for this song were inspired by my Yamaha DX7 ‘tine’ sound. That sound (or patch) has been used in many professional recordings since the keyboard was introduced.  The guitars and vocals are real-time of course, and everything else was sequenced.

Ann Ellis from my band The Personal Touch does the vocals on this one.  I would play the main piano part and she would sing the lyrics until we got the timing and the feel the way we wanted it.  From that point I sequenced the main piano part.  Every time I play this song I play it as you hear it in this recording, but I play a different last chord.  No two versions have the same ending, and I never know what the last chord will be.  My wife Ellen and I worked on the backing sounds like the strings, brass and pads to make this a full sounding production.  Once I had the basic piano parts and drums done, I don’t think we ever added a dedicated bass line as the song ended up sounding very full.

My buddy Shawn David Anderson plays lead guitar on this one and really drives home with the power and tone I was hoping for.  The lyrics are one of my favorites.  Not necessarily by themselves, but when reflecting on the emotions and events of the time. True multi-track recording capabilities gave me the option to create complex instrumental layers as opposed to the limited recordings I had been able to achieve from a four-track cassette deck!

I even sent this song to be evaluated by professionals.  Among some of the comments it was suggested that the song was too long and that the intro went too long before the vocal lines were introduced.  I have a version that starts when the vocals kick in, but this is my favorite version.  I hope you agree.

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

Three

Another thing that helps recording projects is if the sound board has a number of spare Aux or FX (Effects) Sends.  Some boards offer 6-8 sends for various reinforcement and recording needs.  If you have multiple tracks to record the live performance, use Direct-Outs when available for each active channel on the board.  Record as many separate tracks as you can for the most options during mix down.  If no Direct-Outs available use those Sends!  You can still record the Left and Right Main outs, then use Sends (you can use the ones not needed for monitors and effects…..) to record instruments you want to have independent mixing control later.  If the board offers Sub Groups – even better.  You can let the sound guru use Left and Right Main outs if they wish, and you use the Sub Groups to create 2 stereo mixes you can record as pairs.  Mix the drums and rhythm section (drums, rhythm guitar and bass guitar for the most part) with a stereo image by L-R panning of appropriate channels and assigning those channels to Sub Group 1.   Then take lead guitars and other instruments and hard-pan to the Left out of Sub Group 2, and the vocals hard-panned to the Right out of Sub Group 2.   In only four tracks you have great bed tracks to mix with, and control over vocal processing and adjusting volume of solo or lead instruments.  This still keeps that ‘live sound’ but helps create a better stereo environment and some independence when mixing and processing limited tracks.

One last set-up where I liked the results I got by using stereo in a different way with the following technique.  Instead of thinking left and right as the stereo image, I set up Audience position is 1 (left), and Stage position is 2 (right).  To achieve this I create a Mono mix from the sound board as described and available as above and record to channel 1 of the stereo recorder.  Then I take a quality microphone and hang it from the ceiling above the center of the stage and record this on channel two…….

I dump the ‘stereo’ wave forms into my computer and you can see right away they are offset a bit: one source delayed more than the other.  Recording software allows you to separate the stereo tracks and shift the start time just a little to match the other track and all of a sudden you have a new Live Stereo environment where you can hear what it sounds like to be ON STAGE, mixed with what it sounds like IN THE AUDIENCE.  Try it a few times and you can get great results if you are willing to sacrifice typical stereo images!

 

It never ceases to amaze me how inspired and creative I feel when I change the strings on my guitar(s).  Simple chords sound gorgeous.  The whole body of the guitar resonates with depth.  This makes experimenting and exploring new areas delightful.  It is important to keep tools of the trade not just working properly but living up to their potential.

I watch vocalists go into the recording booth and put on really nice headphones to get a direct audio feed from the soundboard.  Maybe this is not their first time, but when they start singing – and can truly hear what their voice sounds like they get this big grin that turns into a surprised smile.  Hearing through the studio system vocalists can make nuanced changes as they sing ……. and hear the difference.  This gives them more control and immediate results.  They become confident enough to experiment and innovate.  I hope it feels similar to playing my 12 string guitar with brand new strings.

Pictured are of some of my guitars, the drummer from Euphoria/The Chase – Mike Gill, and Steve Steinmann of Iridium.

What tools do you use that benefit from regular care?

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Unseen Dimensions

It is great to be human.  We see beyond our primitive instincts.  We learn by watching others.  We know things our senses blind us to.  We carry lessons learned from one event and apply to others.  This is one of the reasons I love photography.  Our naked eyes and untrained mind can hide what is right in front of us.  With the simple ability to focus and zoom, we are no longer limited to what the unaided eyes communicate to the brain.  With the pictures in this post, it is easy understand the dramatic change in focus alone.  Each picture was taken in the same place and at almost the exact same time.  A slight change in focus and what was invisible becomes clear.  Zoom in further and what is hidden directly in front of us becomes unmistakable.

Perhaps looking for other dimensions is just like that; maybe we need a simple device like the lens array in a camera.  Once we learn how to look – we may be able to see them all around us.

I guess I never really came up with a name for this tune.  Sometimes I will write lyrics and give it a working title.  I do the same thing with musical pieces I am working on before there are dedicated lyrics assigned to the tune.  As I continue to work on a piece, the name often changes when chords are matched with a set of lyrics.  On rare occasion it happens at the same time, and that process is a little different – and easier!  This is one of those weird situations where I never got to either, and this has always been referred to by the date…..  March of 1990.

March in this case also has a double meaning.  It is the pull away from the Winter season where I live.  The steady movement of new life.  The pace of growth that cannot be stopped. The instrumental tries to match that drive and frantic pace of the season.   Driving rhythms, collage of melodies, bouncing themes – and then to dynamics and a reflection of what is now past.  Then back to driving growth.  That is what I think about as I listen to this tune.  Even now, heading to Winter, I feel that March pushing forward.

Back to the Atari 1040 ST, I am sequencing all parts for this tune.  I believe I added a new tone module from EMU called the Proteus 1.  This was an amazing machine and I have not found anything as good and simple to use as the Proteus series.  It was really cool for two major reasons in my opinion.  1) the sounds were just awesome for the time and there were lots of sounds on board.  2) the operating software used was just made for MIDI geeks like me.  It was very simple and allowed the Proteus 1 to create splits, layers and zones, but it easily allowed you to access all 16 MIDI channels at the same time.  I could write a few articles on this alone, but for now it meant you could assign a different sound to any or all of the 16 channels independently.  As described in the MIDI series, this was great because you could use channel 1 for piano, channel 2 for organ sounds, channel 3 for strings, channel 4 for brass or orchestra sounds, 5 for flutes, 6 for sound effects, 7 for guitar sounds, 8 for solo instruments, 9 for the bass guitar sound, 10 for the standard drum channel and still have channels left over.  Playing out in bands and in the studio with this was just a dream.

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

“Rainy Day”            

Cruisin’ down the avenue

Raining in the lightning.

Listening to the radio

Cruisin’ in the darkness.

           Peddle down, let’s burn this town

           Fire from my tires.

           Reflections in my rear view mirror,

           I will find tomorrow.

Comin’ down the avenue

Raining and the lightning.

Reflections in my rear view mirror

I will find tomorrow.

Go for ride real late at night

Rain comin’ down like it usually does.

So I turn the radio to the right

Playin’ the same songs as the other night.

So I slammed the door and I left for good

Now you find me driving in your neighborhood.

Don’t explain it to me, it’s well understood

Everything you do for me is for my own good.

           Turn ‘round the corner I’m still losing my mind

           So I punched it down and left it all behind.

           Tryin’ not to cry I push it all back

           Racing fast to nowhere on a one way track.

           No colors at all, just the burning headlights

           And the crackling of lightning tearing into the night.

           People ask me what I do at night

           I tell them only one thing makes me feel all right.

           It makes me feel all right.

Lyrics by Michael & Ellen Kennedy

Music by Michael Kennedy

(c) 1986

Live_Stage_New2

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.

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.

For this project, we needed a few volunteers and some inexpensive themes.  We took advantage of the resources available.  Ric worked as an auto mechanic so we started there.  I made a couple cameo appearances but the story is about working hard and no time for creating and performing  (you have heard this theme before !) During the Jeep ride up the hill you do not see the driver (Gorgeous George…) but he is still in the Jeep as Ric appears to be pulling it (and metaphorically his career) up the hill.  George is pulling in and out on the clutch so there is real tension and sometimes Ric is literally being pulled back by the Jeep.  Who needs acting skills!

When we moved to the live Personal Touch segments it is the duo before Phyllis Ann officially joined us.  You can see Ric is kicking bass pedals and controlling an accompaniment system.  On his guitar you can see him tap two silver round pads. The one triggers a drum crash from the accompaniment system he is controlling. The other pad triggers a drum pattern change to a drum roll for as many times as he taps the pad.  He is the lead vocalist for the song and yes, he is also playing guitar…….. I am playing my Arp Odyssey, a Yamaha electric piano and my Yamaha DX7 and doing back-up vocals in this video.

For this I think we went into the club the day of our regular performance and shot the raw video segments for the Walking Man video.  We played other tunes for other projects but there is no real audience and we only had to set up once to do the video shots and perform later that night.  I try to be within budget (usually none….) and also with no wasted effort!

For a duo, we packed a lot of punch.  Not only because it was just two of us in the beginning, but  also in the space we could fit.  We had no live drummer or bass player.  I could play guitar and sing and when I was not playing guitar (and indeed, in some songs I would play guitar and keyboards) I could play keyboards and/or control the drum machine that I programmed.

Ric sang and played the guitar and almost all lead guitar parts as he also controlled the accompaniment system that had preset drum patterns, bass pedals, and a foot pedal and switches that let him add backing instruments like strings or piano sounds and at the same time determine if the backing instrument chords were played Major, Minor, 7th etc.  We fit anywhere, as long as they had tall ceilings LOL!!!