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Comments Regarding the Recording Process

This is an essay I’ve written as the introduction to my recording course at UC. I got to thinking and thought it might also make a good blog post since it deals with a lot of the issues that concern every musician that makes ‘records’ or plays in studios. Interested in your comments…

Inthestudio.jpg

Well that should about cover it!

Trickery?

During this course we will examine all the techniques and “tricks” if you will, that are employed every day in the process of making recordings using computer based Digital Audio Workstation software.

Once you see the degree of control and precision you can obtain with today’s music software it is easy (and common) to claim, “that’s cheating!” but I don’t see it that way. Certainly it’s possible to take someone with marginal skills and make them sound pretty acceptable (or even mostly excellent), as long as they don’t have to sing anything too challenging or convey any real emotion. This happens every day in our industry with our pop stars and the seemingly industry-wide emphasis on image first, musical content and talent second.

If image is commonly the most important thing then is it really improper to shore up their lagging musical skills? After all, when you see an actor singing or playing a musical instrument in a movie, do you really want to hear what it sounded like on the set, or the professionally produced soundtrack? Is that cheating?

If you still are inclined to say that it’s cheating then who’s fault is it, the tools themselves or the people that decide how to use them? Does the fact that some people ‘abuse’ the tools mean the tools have no valid use and therefore don’t deserve to exist in the first place? Of course not, so just because rapper T-Pain has a career because of his abuse of AutoTune™ doesn’t mean you shouldn’t know how pitch correction is accomplished or be best applied in your personal recording situation.

Visualize This!

To try and put these issues in the correct perspective, first of all consider that as a human organism you take in over 65% of all your information via only one of your five senses, your eyes. That leaves 35% or less for your other 4 senses of touch, smell, taste, and finally what we’re concerned with, hearing.

This weighting towards the visual gives rise to the phenomenon of hearing an unedited recording of a show that you were at (or played) that seemed like an unbelievable show at the time but upon listening without the visual component, it doesn’t seem quite as good as you remember it. You can hear all kinds of mistakes and sloppiness that escaped you during the show once the visual component is removed.

 Recordings are therefore fundamentally different than live performances in that there is:

  • no visual element to distract the ear from attentive music listening
  • Recordings can be played back over and over and are subject to intense scrutiny so little inaccuracies that would be played and gone forever in a live performance can and are played over and over forever.

Layers

To combat this it is necessary to have more control over the individual parts of the music, so recordings are usually done in layers: rhythm tracks, extended rhythm tracks, vocals, background vocals, solos, extended orchestration and sweetening.

In order to be at its most successful, multi-track recording relies on each individual part to have a certain usable degree of acoustic separation from the other instruments on its own track in the recording. Recording in layers enhances this; it’s impossible for the guitar solo to bleed into the vocal mic if it was recorded a month later! 

This layered approach also has logistical benefits in that while in the studio you only have to deal with at most, four to eight musicians playing simultaneously at any one time. This allows the producer to better guide the musicians to the desired performance because he only has to monitor a few individual musical parts at one time. If you had to do a contemporary pop recording in a single live take, you’d need a drummer and drum sampler, bassist, bass synthesizer player, four guitarists, eight keyboard players, lead vocalist (who actually knows how to sing), nine background vocalists, horn section, a full-time arranger and orchestrator, and a freaking HUGE studio and about a week of rehearsal and about $20,000 a tune budget.

Recording in layers with good track separation also allows for the ability of the music to breathe and evolve as the recording progresses. Many recordings are a song’s very first incarnation and the full scope of the meaning of the song and how best to present it are frequently only fully discovered during the recording process, and sometimes that revised vision for the music requires major structural changes which would be impossible if you had everybody’s track bleeding onto everyone else’s.

Finally: The Point

The upshot of all this is that a recording is not the capturing of a single performance into a recorder, but rather a series of performances, carefully composed, performed, and managed, applied in layers to create the final “performance” which takes place only when the buyer of the song hits the PLAY button on their playback device. Therefore, controlling pitch and rhythmic accuracy are all geared towards achieving the best possible performance from each individual as they lend their artistry to whatever layer(s) of the project they happen to be on.

The presence of high powered software tools allow producers to keep rare and inspired studio performances by doing a little minor surgery, rather than have the musician do another take to fix some subtle (but objectionable) flaw and risk losing spontaneity and creativity for the sake of perfection. Doing more takes also means more time, and since studios charge by the hour the deft application of software tools can both save time and enhance creativity, which is a good thing. Any time you can get a good performance and help your budget that’s a big plus.

So, getting back to the subject of whether all of this is ‘cheating’ or not, I say “no way”. It’s only truly cheating if you purport your recording to be something it is not, like saying it’s all live performances or all first takes or whatever when it’s not. Are you any less creative or is your music less communicative by having it be a little better in-tune than it was when you played it?

I’ll Forgive You…

It’s frequently noted by the musicians that I work with that the recording studio environment is a very unforgiving, challenging, high pressure environment and those kinds of situations are generally not the perfect recipe for creativity and inspiration. To be a successful studio musician you need to be very much in control of your skills and emotions; your performances are NEVER under as much scrutiny as they are in the studio (except for private lessons, but then those aren’t getting released!) so being confident, focused and unflappable while still being creative and open to direction are key desirable traits.

Here’s something interesting that has made itself known to me over the years: even though the public has known since the 70s that ‘you can do a lot of things in the studio’, when you hand somebody a CD they are still predisposed to think it’s a single live band performance and that everything on it is exactly as you intend it to be. So a word to the wise: if there’s something on there that you think is perhaps not exactly perfect to your standards just shut up about it and nobody is going to notice unless you tell them, so don’t mention it! Frequently when I hear people comment about work that I have done, the things they latch on to as being either pleasing to them or not their preference are never the things that I would criticize if I had to.

This last thing may sound a little backwards, but it really isn’t. Ultimately music is about expression and creativity and anything positive someone wants to take away from a recording you’ve made is good for everyone even if it’s not exactly what you intended. That’s one of the things that makes music so great is that it has different meanings to different individuals so relish that fact instead of being bugged by it.

“Show Me the… nevermind”

Which brings me to my next topic, money. In addition to recorded music being an ‘art’, it is also simultaneously a retail productnever lose sight of that. Any music that will end up being released commercially, either on CD or for download, is ultimately a ‘product’ who’s vehicle is art. The idea behind any recording is that it should ultimately be the revenue source that allows you to have enough money in your budget to do the next project without having to fund-raise from scratch.

The really amazing thing about today’s technology is that for the cost of a decent computer, some music software, a couple of decent microphones and some kind of hardware box to get those high quality sounds into your computer you can do truly master quality recordings on your own if you have the artistic vision and are willing to put the time in to obtain the recording skills necessary to realize your vision for content and sound into the final stereo product.

Course of Action

This course is designed to give you a glimpse of the techniques that are possible and a methodology that works but ultimately will serve as just the starting point for your own career with respect to recording. I encourage you to get started right away because one huge mistake I think a lot of people make is to think that unless you can’t record something truly artistically monumental it’s just not worth bothering with. I think this is an attitude that only paralyzes one into inaction.

Making a truly great recording will most probably come from the experience of making a series of recordings that are increasingly ‘less marginal’ until you discover the procedures and techniques that work for you every time. How many major league baseball players hit a home run their first time at bat? Not many (102 all time) and you can be sure that virtually all of the players that went on to greatness were not on that short list. If you record something that truly sucks, there’s an easy solution: don’t release it!

Fifteen weeks from now you’ll have a much more informed understanding of the intricate and fascinating marriage of art, musical skill, conception, technical knowledge, and execution that it takes to bring a musical conception to recorded reality so I encourage you to get started exploring right away. Knowing how to make a decent recording, even if it’s just a single instrument as a supplement to teaching lessons, is an invaluable aid to any musician’s career. I can’t tell you how many people come to my studio who are accomplished performers with advanced skills who are already in their late 20s who tell me, “Wow, that’s the first time I’ve really heard myself…”, a comment which continues to flabbergast me.

I have also heard the following comment a lot, “Now that I’ve recorded this piece with you, after listening to it I can hear all the little things I should have done when I played it, and all the little interplays with the other instruments. I understand this composition so much more thoroughly now, I really wish I could record it all again!” What would have kept this from happening? A really good recording of rehearsal, a ‘demo’. Going through the demo process will make you that much better when you go record for real and are paying by the hour.

Bill Gwynne, 2014

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Portable Computing Tech Update: SSD Drive In A Macbook Pro 17"

 Laptop upside down, bottom removed and ready for the upgrade

Laptop upside down, bottom removed and ready for the upgrade

For a couple years now I’ve been hearing about the benefits of SSDs (Solid State Drives). If you don’t know about these yet, it is fast very reliable RAM memory in the form factor and electrical configuration of a computer hard drive but since it’s all RAM chips: no moving parts! No physical spinning platter in your drive means no read/write head seek time which means a huge increase in speed. I’ve not tested my system just yet but I hear you can do a cold boot in something like 20 seconds instead of a minute and a half!

Because I’m a freelance audio engineer guy now I bought the most capable (for audio recording) laptop at the time: a 17” MacBook Pro. Last year I upgraded the internal hard drive from the standard 500GB to a 750GB because in order to mirror the setup I have at home and at the studio I needed a larger, faster drive to record a lot of 24-bit tracks at once and acommodate the large virtual instrument library files I had been getting for Kontakt 5, Battery 4 and the like. This drive had 128GB of flash RAM on the drive that acts as a temp buffer for recently accessed files and I noticed a definite speed increase when it came to opening and closing projects in Digital Performer.

I have to send a huge shout out to OWC computing “www.macsales.com” for their line of products and tutorials that make this such a relatively easy undertaking. It’s not so easy your Mom could do it but if you have experience taking things apart, keeping track of lots of little screws and can follow directions (written by people who actually know English!!!) it’s not that tough.

The package you go for is this: buy a new, faster hard drive and an empty drive enclosure from them and they include all the tools you’ll need, an illustrated booklet with step-by-step directions and if that’s not enough they’ve got videos of someone doing the install on their website, awesome!

The procedure is this: take the new drive and temporarily install it in the new enclosure. Hook it up to your Mac and format it for Mac OS X extended (journaled). Do NOT use the “Case Sensitive” option as that can have negative downstream effects later if you try and do anything with Windows formatted drives hooked up to your system.

Next you run a copy of a program called “Carbon Copy Cloner” which will make an exact copy of your current internal startup drive onto the new drive in the external enclosure. This is a bootable startup volume that is indistinguishable in all but the drive name from the original. Some applications will detect this change and require you to reauthorize them on the new drive by typing in a serial number or putting in your original install CD but other than that when you boot off the clone it will look exactly like ‘your’ Mac right down to the clutter on the desktop!

Once you’ve verified the clone is bootable, you can open the computer back up and swap drives so your older, smaller drive is in the external enclosure and the new larger drive is in the internal drive bay. Fairly straight ahead, but is that good enough for me? Nooooooooo!!!

Music projects have big data footprints on your drive and video projects are 20x that! Since it seems to be a law of digital ‘nature’ that “data expands to fill the available space”. I purchased a 960GB Crucial SSD which should give me some breathing room (you never want to run a drive up anywhere close to full-huge performance hit) but I still don’t really have comfortable room to store a lot of projects, especially HD video ones.

Once again OWC to the rescue! They have a package you can get where you can remove your optical drive (which I still need to make client CDs and DVDs) and put it into an external enclosure that connects via USB. They also make a special bracket that you can use to mount a traditional 2.5” notebook hard drive in and use the optical disk’s data wiring to have two physical drives inside your Macbook. So I bought the bracket and a 1TB standard drive that will go in the (formerly) optical drive bay. It’s important to note that you should be using 7200rpm drives if you’re wanting to record or play back projects with a lot of tracks or HD video.

One of the huge benefits of doing a clone of your internal startup drive is that if your disk gets physically damaged in a fall or just data corruped, you can just plug up the cloned external drive and be up and running again in two minutes!

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Converting Your Home Studio For Computer Based Music Production

Along with the big change from tape-based recording to computer based recording was a huge decrease in the price barrier to getting a home recording setup up and running. Used to be that there was a huge “quality divide” between what you could accomplish at home as opposed to a professional studio.
Well those days are gone forever now and depending on what kind of music you make and your skill level, you can actually have a world-class ‘facility’ right in your laptop computer! However, depending on how long you’ve been working on the engineering side of the industry there are still some analog considerations you need to make regarding studio monitors, control room acoustics and microphone selection and placement.
Lately I’ve been receiving calls to act as a consultant to people who want to get their home situation up and running in tip top form, or to transition their existing home facility into the computer age by having me work out a scenario to make the computer the heart of things instead of the “holy alliance’ of tape machine and mixer.
One such call came recently from longtime studio client Bob Trach who had started making the transition to computer-based recording years ago but needed to update the analog side of things and have me go through and see how to best integrate the best of the old stuff with the new setup.

 Rack mount mixers and patchbay

Rack mount mixers and patchbay

 EQ Channels and outboard processing

EQ Channels and outboard processing

Basically Bob had two big racks of analog gear and a couple of patchbays, giving him the equivalent of a mixer analog signal path but through the use of outboard EQs and processing of various types. One of the big advantages of mixing entirely in the computer is that you can work on the mix in stages if you want and when you save and come back later, It’s exactly how you left it, ready to be taken to the next step. This one thing is a huge benefit of the computer; I remember having to scramble to complete a mix in the allotted time that took hours to set up and 15 pieces of outboard gear and if you had to abandon the mix due to time constraints, you had to start over from the absolute beginning next time.
So the task was to eliminate as much of the old analog gear as possible that would be duplicated by the software and only keep units that contributed something unique to the studio. Out went a bunch of analog EQs, compressors and all but one of the patchbays. Kept were a reverb (useful for having some verb while tracking), an Antares Vocal Processor and a couple of fave synth modules.
Bob is a guitarist who plays both electric and acoustic (nylon and steel string) and when he’s composing doesn’t want to have to fool around with configuring things on the fly. He wanted a setup where everything is connected and ready to go all the time; just push the record enable button and go. That meant adding another audio interface to the setup to accommodate all the simultaneous analog input from the various mics, synth modules and effects units. This gave each analog source a dedicated input into the system-neat & tidy!
Also in the analog realm was dealing with the various microphones he would use to record his various guitars and to make sure they come up in the headphones at the right level and sounding good. This also meant devising some mic positioning guidelines to help guard against the kinds of sounds that homes produce, like flushing toilets and furnaces.
Bob has quite a collection of virtual instruments as well so the most significant task was to build him a really complete, scrupulously labeled recording template file so that when a project was started, everything was in place and routed correctly. This meant all virtual instruments were installed with default patches enabled, effects were installed with auxiliary sends already routed, MIDI tracks already created for each instrument and assigned correctly, and all of the internal connections made to make everything appear in the headphones with no fuss. Included in this task too was installing basic dynamics control processing and some overall processing on the Master Bus.
This took quite a long time and a thorough treatment required a lot of naming and configuring but the end result is destined to save him a bunch of time and confusion. Which input was the Roland in again? No guesswork now and no distraction from creativity.
The end result is that Bob is really happy with the new setup and music recording is only a couple clicks away instead of 10 minutes configuring your software! Here’s what we came up with in the end:

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Doing Live Sound for Aja, a Steely Dan Tribute Band

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Doing Live Sound for Aja, a Steely Dan Tribute Band

Today is going to be a fun day in live sound land! I get to work with one of my favorite bands, Aja, who play the music of Steely Dan and do it amazingly well.

This gig is kinda bittersweet because some of the key members of the band have moved or will be moving and I'm not sure whether or not the band will be able to continue in it's current configuration. I hope that they can figure out some way to keep it going; they've got too much time invested and sound too good to just let it die, but hey, it's hard to find work for a 10-piece band full of busy top-notch players.

Technically, they would have to be considered a "tribute" band (which I'm generally not all that fond of) but I gotta say, these guys and gals do it just right. At one end of the "tribute spectrum" are the bands that try and be exactly like the originals to the point of dressing exactly like the particular band member they are to portray. This is more like acting/impersonation to me rather than music which is fine, but theater and music are not the same disciplines, so I'm out.

What Aja does particularly well is pay homage to the original flavor of the music without trying to play "transcriptions" of the recordings. A perfect example is some of the Steely Dan guitar solos. This music has been around long enough that everybody knows those solos well, at least the opening few licks. So what Aja does is play the opening few licks of solos in a style that is very similar to the original in note choice and rhythm which captures the correct flavor of that moment, but also allows the player the freedom to improvise and be creative in the solo the way solos should be. Very few people actually know the solos all the way through note for note so this is the perfect balance of familiarity for the audience and player creativity.

This same concept is carried out through all the parts in all the songs; soooo many times I've heard audience members exclaim to the band after a show, "It was just like sitting there and listening to the record!" Actually, if you compared the two side-by-side they wouldn't be all that similar, only the really important identifiable parts are, and that's what makes this band great: their ability to instinctively know what's a key part, and what's something that can be embellished.

Since this might be an important show, I think I'm gonna multi-track record this one; you just never know...

UPDATE: here's a rough mix of one of the tunes from that performance

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Live Sound at MidPoint Festival-2009

Mixing Main Stage-Contemporary Arts CenterSept. 27, 2009. Repost from my old blog
I got a call to do be the live sound mixer at one of the feature stages for the Midpoint Music Festival. My particular stage was in the ‘black box’ theater in the basement of the Contemporary Arts Center. There were 4 bands on the bill that night, I was to mix the first three bands, the headliner band “The Dø” had their own sound mixer. In fact they had their own special mixing console which arrived late and due to the complexity of their stage setup ended up eating into the first act’s setup time to the point that the whole show started 30 min late.

Geopgrapher
The first act “Geographer” was a trio from my hometown of San Francisco. One of the interesting things about this band was that there was no bass player! Low-end duties were handled by a guy with a 6-string cello (extra low and high strings) who could really generate some powerful lows by digging into some 5ths with the bow, yet could really sing a melody when called for; he also had a laptop for playback.

The other guys in the trio were all really good as well. As a matter of fact I was really  impressed with all the groups’ songwriting and compositional abilities. As a producer in the studio, one of the things you look for in a solid music arrangement is that at each moment  in a song there is a clear thread of “this is the thing to listen to at this moment” and all of these groups did a great job of this.

This was a good thing because there was no seating for the audience and I was standing in the back, no riser for the sound gear so since I’m short, and everyone in the audience was at least 6’ 5” (or seemed that way) I couldn’t see the bands at all. If I hadn’t seen them all onstage during setup I would have run into them in the green room and thought “who are you?” So I was happy that the music had clear cut arrangements so I could follow the music using only my ears as my mixing guide since I couldn’t actually see anybody playing.

Occasionally I’d have to hunt around the console on the channel ‘solo’ buttons to see where that new bass or synth sound was coming from but these guys were all professionals and had worked out all the mixing issues from their playback systems. The guitarist also had a laptop for playback, I think all told there were six computers on stage throughout the evening. These guys were really nice and easy to work with and since they were first, I had the most coherent, easy to find on the console, setup for them.

The Console

Midpoint 1-Console.jpg

One of the challenges of being a hired gun soundman is that you have to be able to walk in and mix on whatever they have for you there. The live sound industry is an industry in transition right now, making the move from analog consoles to digital. There are lots of reasons to use digital consoles these days but consistency of the user interface from manufacturer to manufacturer and immediacy of use is not one of them. On an analog console there is a physical control for each function (mic preamp, EQ, sends, panning) on each channel; this leads to lots of knobs on the control surface. The upside is you can just reach over there and turn a knob. The downside is that with so many controls, there is much more to go wrong so reliability can be an issue if the console is not meticulously maintained.
A digital console has all the same functions as an analog console but there are no knobs, just buttons. There is an LCD screen with an overview of all the functions for an input channel and a field of “soft knobs” to control that channel’s EQ, sends etc. So when you want to adjust something on a channel, you have to go to that channel, hit a “Select” button which puts all that channel’s functions into the display, available for adjustment. The upshot of it all is that if you really need to get to something fast, you have to remember to hit that select button first before you can adjust an effect send or something. You have to retrain yourself so your impulse responses are different.

The huge advantage of a digital console is that a ton of stuff you would normally have to bring outboard gear for is built into the console. There is a compressor and gate built into each channel. The console has four (or more!) multi-function effects processors built-in; all this keeping from you having to tote around a rack of compressors and effects.

Another huge thing is that you can store your setup for instant recall so if you’re working a tour situation you can configure the console in seconds instead of an hour. The console has a USB port so you can save entire setups to your flash drive to move setups from console to console as you move from region to region.

Overall, the user interface software on the Yamaha LS-9 is pretty good which is unusual for Japanese software; I think they have really done a good job at listening to the concerns of people who have to use these things. There are all kinds of good shortcuts (a double button push here, a dedicated soft knob there) to speed things up but you have to know them all to achieve the same kind of immediacy that you have with an analog mixer. But I digress…

The Subjects
The second band I mixed was The Subjects, from New York, a fairly large band with two guitars, multiple keyboards, bass, drums vocals, but only four guys. Today’s music seems to make variety of sounds a priority (a welcome change from the ‘anti-keyboard’ mentality of the 90s guitar bands) but from my perspective it’s a challenge because the bass part could be coming from any one of three different places, the bass player, a keyboard, or some mystery computer somewhere. 

This was the third setup of the night and things were getting a little scrambled on the stage with mic lines getting crossed and moved to accommodate each new instrumentation. We needed and additional direct box on a synth, couldn’t find one…  Decided to just go ahead and mic the amp, the amp didn’t work… Try another amp and we’re good but a precious 5 minutes was wasted; so much fun flailing on a setup in front of an audience.

I liked these guys a lot; the drummer had a really good voice (in spite of the ‘setup turmoil’ caused by him being a left-handed drummer) and they went through a fast-paced well thought out set. Good compositions with lots of sonic variety and a really solid performance. I would love to work with these guys often enough that I really knew the tunes and could really focus the music instead of doing damage control and chasing the bass part around the console.

You, You’re Awesome


Next up was You, You’re Awesome, a ‘group’ (a duo) with what I think is a stupid name but what do I really know? Anyway this group was a guy with the weirdest collection of old keyboard crap I’ve ever seen and a drummer. He actually had an Atari cartridge game system with cartridge in it labeled “Sound Synthesizer” or something like that; a couple of those cheap 4 octave synths with the miniature keys and some old stuff that was so obscure I didn’t even recognize any of it, all setup on little portable tables and one keyboard stand. Oh, and there was a MacBook as well.

From a setup perspective I loved these guys. The synth player had all his crazy setup run into his own onstage mixer and he says to me, “I run everything (even the vocals) through my mixer so all I need is two lines out from the mixer”. This is the dream setup situation for a tense festival changeover, and then for some reason he only had signal on one side of his mixer so now we only needed one line! Just to make sure, I asked him , “so if the vocals are too soft you don’t want any kind of independent control?” and he says “No, it won’t be an issue”. 

Well I quickly found out why, it was a band that played all instrumentals! The vocals all got run through a vocorder, distortion box or whatever and really functioned musically like another instrument, and not really the purveyor of lyrics in the standard sense.



These two guys slammed through 40 min of unbelievably energetic electronic rock and I wish I could have seen this guy make all that junk make all those sounds! It was completely ridiculous in a totally cool way. So I mixed his one input against the drums, got a good tonal balance, made sure he wasn’t hitting the compressor in the channel too hard and just let them flow. 

After the set was over as they were tearing down I said to the keyboard guy “You’re a genius to get all that music out of all that crap!”, gesturing to his setup. I said it with a smile and he took it the right way and thanked me for the ‘compliment’. This group was hands-down the most creative act of the night for me.

The Dø

Midpoint 4-The Do.jpg

So now it was time for the headliner, The Dø, a very technically complex group from outside the US, some from France, some from Mexico. Since they were using their own mixing console we had to completely shut down the system during changeover so that we could move all the lines from the microphone snake from our console to theirs. This had the really pleasant byproduct of shutting up the really annoying blonde white girl in rap garb who was “entertaining” the crowd during our previous changeovers by singing along (badly) with that Pokerface tune that’s on the radio and generally acting idiotic. She was devastated that she couldn’t ‘perform’ during this break because of the system being down, but I was inwardly smiling that I wouldn’t have to respond to her imbecilic “Hey soundman, turn this shit UP!” remarks when I was obviously on the stage right in front of her. What a zero…

Anyway, it took a long time to get the system back to the condition it was when this all began but at last it was go time. The crowd had thinned out a bit and The Dø launched into their set. I wanted to like this group; they were very tech heavy with full in-ear monitoring for all performers, all kinds of effects on the voice, drum triggering, electric instruments, computers onstage and I just had to admire their chutzpah to try and make all this work in the hectic environment of a multi-band festival situation. When you’ve got this much stuff onstage and your act depends so heavily on it, it requires a massive amount of planning to reliably set it up and have it function consistently night after night, in another country, with a different electric standard!  So I just had to respect them for even trying to pull this off.


The bizarre part is that once this was all up and running and they launched into their set I realized that have completely had enough of that female whiny, nasal, high pitched, vibrato-less vocal style, even when it’s all distorted through a guitar pedal!

Their high-tech soundguy who did an amazing job of getting this insane rig up and running hardly touched the console during the show and I thought the vocal was buried for the first couple of tunes. It appeared that once the show was up and running he wasn’t overly concerned about the balance, maybe on instructions from the band or something. Curious…

I didn’t have anything to do during this act except listen so after taking a couple pictures I found myself involved in a riveting game of solitaire on my phone. I’m sure they’re a much better band than I make them sound like here (there were some very interesting musical change-ups in some of the later tunes), and they were all civil enough although their stage manager came up to me during the show just as I was moving the red 10 to the black jack yelling “Where are the stage lights? Turn on the lights!!!” I don’t like to be that “pass the buck guy” but I had to tell him I wasn’t in control of the lights and I didn’t even know where the light console was! Well he was ticked, but it brought to light a last little observation about this night: They had a 15ft high projection video screen behind the band showing avant garde videos while the bands would play in darkness on the stage

Maybe I’m just freaking old, but I thought this was really disrespectful to the musicians. I still play in bands and it seems like audiences are so used to DJs and playback based entertainment they don’t know how to act in front of a live band anymore. It’s like audiences just completely ignore the fact that we’re live human beings up there; how many times has my salsa band Tropicoso finished off a hot tune like La India’s Soy Mujer (which has a dynamite strong ending) to be greeted by virtual silence even thought the club is nearly full? Perhaps we need table tents with audience etiquette tips on them now, but I digress… again…


At Midpoint they kept the stage lights almost completely off and there was only ambient light for the performers because of their stupid videos. Which would you rather see, a live band that’s come all the way across the Atlantic Ocean from France to play their first international tour, or black and white video of a guy doing stop frame animation of pieces of moss crawling around on his face or applying live snails to his skin? Hmmmm

Overall, this was a fun, challenging gig in many ways and I thank Doug Staub from Yamaha for hiring me and getting to work on a  cool new console. One of these things is definitely in my future!

If you were there and see things differently leave a comment!

Bill

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Rockin' Thunderstorm Recording

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Rockin' Thunderstorm Recording

A repost from my old blog, June 25, 2009…

Last night we had a rockin' thunderstorm go through in the middle of the night. Sensing an opportunity for a nifty sound FX recording (and the fact that I wasn't sleeping anyway), I set up my portable Zoom H4 recorder, peeked it out the door under the eaves and lit it up for an hour.

After extracting the file I went through and edited out the extended periods of just rain and was left with a smorgasbord of thunder FX. It seems that I got all different perspectives on here: distant rolling off the hills rumbly things and the crrrrack of one that's right on top of you. Seems like the last third of this thing has some of the most interesting sounds.

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