There’s a great line early in the movie The Blues Brothers where our anti-heroes Elwood and Jake Blues (Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi) go searching for their former bandmates, in an effort to get the band back together. They arrive at a rundown boarding house and start asking the landlady pointed questions, all serious-like in their black suits, skinny black ties, and opaque sunglasses.
The landlady eyes them warily. “Are you the police?”
“No ma’am. We’re musicians,” says Elwood.
It’s a very funny moment, especially for musicians, because actor Dan Aykroyd delivers the line crisply and succinctly, as if this were not a non-sequitur, but coming from a place of even higher authority than if they were just cops. He might as well have said, “No ma'm. We’re the F.B.I.”
As musicians, we’re often looked to as the resident authority figure on all matters involving music, audio, or acoustics—even in areas where we may be a little out of our depth. For example, someone might ask you to recommend a home stereo system, about which you may know very little. But you can still answer thoughtfully. Think about how you would shop for a home stereo system. Certainly your approach would be different from someone who didn’t know music, gear, or audio at all. And you can relate that to help people sort out their own thoughts, even if you can’t tell school them on receiver brands or total harmonic distortion percentages.
In my untrained youth, I worked as a salesman at a stereo store, and would watch people come in, approach the wall of hi-fi amplifiers and immediately turn up the bass on whatever was playing at the time to “audition” the system. These tire-kickers would then simply stand at the receiver and start moving to the beat—as opposed to backing up, finding the sweet spot in the equilateral triangle formed by speakers and listener, and standing still for a careful listen. That’s how I could tell these people knew nothing about audio.
From that experience, I formulated my own plan on how I would forevermore audition a system. I would listen to systems with their EQ settings flat; I would bring my own CDs of familiar and varied listening material; and I would always triangulate the sweet spot between myself and the speakers. Lo and behold, that’s how I evaluate audio gear to this day.
I never presumed to have specific technical expertise, just some basic musician-sense. But it came in handy recently when I attended a lecture a friend was giving at a local university. (The subject was screenwriting, and had nothing to do with music.) Once inside the lecture hall, I could see there was a problem up on the stage. Several people were gathered around a small portable sound system, looking worried. I approached the stage and asked if I could help.
“We can’t get the sound working,” said my friend, speaking for the group of presenters.
“I’m a musician,” I asserted. “Let me see what I can do.” And I hopped up onto the stage.
It was a simple matter to solve. They were using a wireless handheld mic whose receiver was plugged into a powered speaker. But they couldn’t figure out the relationship between the output of the receiver versus the volume on the powered speaker. The sound was either inaudible or feedback-squealing loud, and they were flustered. To me it was as natural as setting up a sound on my amp. I first turned both volumes all the way down. Then I cranked the speaker volume three-quarters of the way up and slowly brought up the output on the wireless receiver. The meter on the receiver looked good and the sound rang out clear and loud. I had my friend do a mic check, but her voice was softer than mine, so I momentarily took the mic from her and figured out how to boost the gain on the handheld transmitter. Now all the levels were good. Everyone smiled.
But I didn’t stop there. The powered speaker was on the floor, off the stage and behind a lectern. I lifted the speaker up, put it on the lectern itself, and moved the whole arrangement to the front edge of the stage so that the presenter wouldn’t pass the mic in front of the speaker, potentially creating feedback. I explained to the group that although it sounded good to us on stage, when the room filled up with people, this would guarantee a better sound for the house. Again, approving smiles all around.
Later, my friend commented that she thought I was “just a guitar player” and not an “audio genius.” I explained that all “mere guitar players” could do what I had done, and that “genius” was a strong word for my quick bit of stagecraft. And then she laughed, recalling the way I had said “I’m a musician” when I approached the stage.
“It was like you were saying, ‘Stand back, people, I’m a doctor!’” she said.
|This Week on HC|
GrooveZoo, our partners in collaboration online music creation, have released Version 4.4 of their software, which contains new functionality and enhancements. Here’s a breakdown of the upgrades and features:
New Private Message System. This is now totally revamped with easier to read text and an improved user interface for managing message tags, searching based on message content, and archiving discussion threads. OK, it looks, feels and works just like Facebook’s message system—why reinvent the wheel, right?
Send Casting Calls. Simply upload minus-one file and the system sends an email invitation to the musicians that play the instrument you need recorded. The minus-one instrument is clearly listed in the Session Needs listing in the Open Sessions so musicians can easily filter, search and find sessions that need their talent. Minus-one files are mixes with one or more instruments muted, so musicians only have to download and import a single file to start collaborating.
Publish Files. Publish your collaborative music to GrooveZoo Licensing Library. Your music is exposed to the industry’s top music supervisors where it can be licensed for use in TV and Film.
Multiple File Uploads. Just press the Upload icon, browse, select multiple files and they’re added to an upload queue. The new upload manager allows you to manage the files before and during the upload process. Now it’s easier than ever for Session Owners to upload their source session tracks. The new multiple upload also makes it super easy for musicians to upload their mix file and solo buffered file at the same time.
Add File Comments. Tag your files with comments to clearly communicate your thoughts and ideas with fellow session members.
By Craig Anderton
You've recorded the vocal—but don't touch that mixer fader quite yet
By Jon Chappell
The bible for the used electric and acoustic guitar aficionado—in two volumes and now in their 13th editions
After initially thinking track icons were kind of silly, I’ve become a major fan of the concept. It’s so much easier to scan across a mixer and look for pictures instead of trying to read text, which is usually abbreviated anyway into something cryptic like “KshSB42.”
Track icons are all well and good, but in my continuing quest to make mixing more organized, I’ve started adding “divider tracks” between groups of instruments. For example, check out the divider tracks below (click image to enlarge), which have a solid yellow icon.
The leftmost tracks are the vocals; drums and percussion are to the right of the vocals, followed by guitar and bass further right, and then synths. I’ve found segregating instruments into groups like this definitely makes parsing tracks and instruments easier.
Even without track icons, this track divider technique can also help in more of a “track view” context. In the screen shot to the right, I’ve used a string of = signs to make the divider tracks stand out, and muted them so that the yellow mute button further emphasizes that these tracks are different (click image to enlarge).
Adding track dividers may not seem like a big deal, but when you have to manage lots of tracks, I've found it definitely makes a difference. Combined with color and track icons, you’ll be able to locate the track you want faster and more efficiently.
|Featured Industry News|
This week's pick hits from our News section
A few of this week's top discussions from our Forums
As the number of iPad apps continues to increase, more musicians are considering taking the iPad plunge. But is the iPad3 all that great, or is its value trumped by the discount on the iPad2? Get the answer here.
The opening poster wonders if there are any rock songs that don’t use electric guitar. Turns out there’s a lot of them—and we’re not just talking about Spinal Tap’s “Big Bottom” (which uses three basses). This is one of those threads where you can expect to find the unexpected.
In case you’ve missed this documentary, the Electric Guitars forum will tell you why this is an absolute must-see—and on the 40th anniversary of its release, they also have some reflections on the album itself.
Ever been a little unclear as to the differences between major and minor pentatonic scales when it comes to soloing over a chord progression? How about whether a blues is major or minor, at least from a scale perspective? This thread will school you.
You have to be polished, but you don’t want to rehearse a song to death: The Sound, Stage, and Studio community discusses the fine line between too little and too much rehearsing, and why it’s not a trivial topic.
If you saw the “Dear Musician” this month, this is definitely one of those “Stand aside, I’m a musician” threads. And it’s not just about first-timers—if you want a good, inexpensive backup guitar, there’s plenty of good advice in here.
Lighting is becoming increasingly important. Can you get away with mounting lights on amp cabinets? Are LED lights good enough, or do you need incandescents? And what about controllers? Check out this discussion for some clues.
Cassette tape is becoming a somewhat popular format with some artists for DIY / limited run releases. Customized artwork and inserts created by hand and other personal touches make it unique, but does it have other advantages and disadvantages as a distribution medium? Read the thread to find out.
Picking style makes a huge difference in the sound—but as this thread shows, a lot of the answer about optimum picking styles depends on much more than just the bass and strings.
An old debate resurfaces, and the question remains—does one DAW sound better than the others, and if so, is it due to improved summing and plug-in handling, or is it the converters . . . or something else? Tell us what you think!
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Editorial Craig Anderton, Editor in Chief • Jon Chappell, Senior Editor • Phil O’Keefe, Associate Editor • Chris Loeffler, Reviews Editor