Sunday, October 28, 2012

Think Globally, Act Locally....Not Just For Greenpeace Anymore.

It was a seemingly endless search, looking for a speaker that inspires me sounded difficult at best because there aren’t many who are vocal, that really seem to capture the art and the power of music without turning it into only business.  Until, that is, I happened upon a strange title, just enough to catch the attention. “Abigail Washburn, improving us-china relations…by banjo.” I was intrigued, enough that I clicked on the selection on the TED website and for six minutes and thirty-four seconds, I was spellbound.

Abigail Washburn started out life in law and Washington DC, with intentions of going to China to study their laws, and help improve relations. According to her speech, before she was scheduled to leave for the Far East, while at a party, she heard her first banjo tune. She said “in that moment, I knew I had to take a banjo with me to China”. Described as a clawhammer banjo player, she cites many influences, but strives to incorporate many genres and techniques, even blending Chinese and American styles into her own unique music. 

After leaving college, she traveled through the Appalachian Mountains, home to bluegrass and country n’ western, learning traditional songs straight from the source. It was in Kentucky at Bluegrass convention when a record executive from Nashville approached her about cutting an album. The rest, as they say, is history, and two full solo albums later, she is a much sought after artist for shows all around the US and China.

The inspiration in this woman’s words is her absence of guile about why she plays and sings the music she creates with such passion. Ms. Washburn’s statement, “I see the power of music, I see the power of music to connect cultures, to connect hearts,” is one that should hit home for all of us in the industry. That is what we are here for, that kind of passion for the art is what touches that flame in all of us, and is what we, as industry professionals, should never forget. Sadly though, this get taken out of the equation more often than not.

She also illustrates the power of music when describing one of her trips to China to help with the Sichuan Quake Relief efforts. She was performing at one of the relocation schools for the children of the quake, and how a little girl who had lost her mother asked to sing a special song to Ms. Washburn. Her description of it was so powerful and moving, to see how music connects us all, not just by country but as human beings is a moving illustration of the power of music. “In that moment, we weren’t are American-selves, we weren’t our Chinese-selves, we where just mortals, sitting together in that light that keeps us here.” It is that light that music brings, that light that moves us, reminds us just who we are. She also states that in that moment she has realized her true calling. “I want to dwell in that light with you, with everybody, and I know that US-China Relations doesn’t need another lawyer.”

 Her idea to think globally and act locally is one that every person who wishes to make a difference must do. Start where you live, find the next big thing that touches a part of you, and then figure out how to get it out there so it can touch everyone. Most of all teach and foster those that will follow you. That, in essence, is at the heart of everything I do in music. I think globally and act locally believing that there are good people out there, like me, trying to make a difference, not just make a buck. 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Microphones, To Sing Or Not To Sing?

Microphones, To Sing Or Not To Sing?

Using the right mic for the right application is the key to success or the element of failure to a live show. Determining what’s the right mic for the right application is vital. Vocalists and instruments use different types of mics to get the best sound quality for live shows. It is a good idea to do your research when planning what to pack in your live rig.

Typically for live vocals, the standard mic to always have on hand is the Shure Beta 58. It is a dynamic mic with a high output and a durable steel mesh grill making it ideal for live vocals. For high volume vocalists that are going to be pushing the limits of the mic, investing in a higher end dynamic mic is highly recommended. The Electro Voice N/D967 is perfect for vocalists that love to hit those power notes because of it’s super cardioid pick up pattern with the highest gain before feedback to prevent peaking.

When selecting instrument mics, one of the best choices is one that is known as the workhorse of the industry, Shure SM57. This mic has been an industry standard for many decades, and for good reason; dynamic, durable, and versatile, the SM57 can be used for many different applications. Typically it is best used to mic the snare and high hat on a drum kit, and for the mids and highs of the guitar amp. This dynamic cardioid mic can be spotted on practically any stage around the world, and will always be one of the basic requirements of any live set up. In a pinch, it can also be used to mic the bass amp, although a better choice for that would be the AudixD6. This mic is made for extended low frequencies, with lower impedance than standard ones, which leads to less chances of interference.

Investing in a mic kit for drums is the most economical and practical way to go, as it will give you the basic requirements for the majority of the drum kit. Sennheiser’s E-600 drum kit is an excellent choice for most standard kits, it includes four tom mics, kick drum mic and two condenser mics for the overheads, allowing for full range capture of the drums. In addition to the mics in the drum pack, it’s a good idea to also include an additional mic for the bass tom. Using the Audix D-6, and placing it under the bass tom will allow for the full bottom range of the tom, giving the kit a richer and wider sound, along with two SM57’s, as mentioned earlier for the high hat and snare.  Proper placement of these mics is also essential for the best drum sounds, and ensures they stay out of the drummer’s way.

As always, when searching for the best quality and fit for your budget, do your research. Utilizing sites such as Gearslutz and Harmony Central will give you ratings and professional opinions from those in the know.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Your Own Live Rig On A Budget? Yes, It's Possible!

Working for many large production companies over the years has taught me a lot about live production. I’ve learned that having the right equipment, knowing the industry standards, experiencing what works and what doesn’t, and what a person can use in lieu of more expensive alternatives can make or break someone in the business. There are ways to set up your own rig without spending top dollar. When just starting out, do your research, find what works best, what will work second best, and what to avoid, no matter what the price tag is, then set your budget limits.

Although we would all love to start out with a Midas or Venue console, most small budgets won’t accommodate this purchase initially, but make that a goal to work towards. In the meantime, finding good used gear is a better option than going over your budget to buy new. Aim for the highest audio quality for the best price. Gently used gear is often just as good as new, and sometimes even better because like a new car, most new gear has to be broken in.

Scour the Internet. Resources such as Craigslist and eBay can be a boon for used gear, along with a multitude of other sites that deal in used equipment. Sites such as Musician's Friend,  ZZ Sounds, and Sweetwater are good to start with, along with Guitar Center, which has an online tool that allows you to see used gear for sale in their stores nationwide. The bigger your home-based area, the more equipment you can find for sale locally. Pawnshops yield the most surprising finds, don’t hesitate to check them out as you begin your search for the items you need. Also, in addition to visiting the Pawnbrokers, be sure to visit local music shops-- many of them take equipment on consignment along with selling new.

Always be on the lookout for a good deal, and price ahead for what your next purchase will be. If you tell yourself that you want to pay no more than $1500.00 for the next addition to your rig, stick to that, if you are thorough, you will find what you need in the price range you wanted to pay. There will be big purchases (mixing board, digital snake) where quality money must be spent, so a savings budget is very useful for this.

Until you can make bigger purchases, still book that gig! Equipment can be rented to fill in what you’re missing until you obtain a full-fledged set up. Just make sure you work rental fees into your quoted estimate for clients to avoid losing money by going this route.  Always be creative, never pass up a chance to try something out, ask questions and watch demos, and read industry reviews and tips from sites such as Gearslutz and Review Center, before making your final purchases.