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Chris Marion

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About Chris Marion

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    Chris Marion is an American musician best known as a member of Little River Band and for his contribution the gospel and country music industries. Although graduating college with a B.A. in Psychology, he is a classically trained pianist and has worked in the music industry professionally for over 35 years. As a resident of Nashville, he is involved in the recording industry working in the genres of Gospel, Country and Rock. Since 2004, he has toured globally with the classic rock act Little River Band as a keyboardist and vocalist.

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  1. Find out how Adele is using MILFs, British comings, singular sensations and happy endings to single-handedly save the recording industry from fiery destruction By Chris Marion A dark, dire tale of plummeting CD sales and digital downloads has dominated the music industry narrative lately. Revenue that supported the lavish debauchery of executives and rock stars alike has all but disappeared in the profit drought of the great recording recession. Sadness, despair, and most importantly, seeking who to blame has fallen like a wet, bedbug-infested blanket over the once-shining Kingdom of Major Labels. But behold! In one fell swoop, a champion has come forth, and a savior is reborn with the second coming of the British “phenom” that is—Adele! OOPS – SHE DID IT…AGAIN They say that records are meant to be broken (according to the recently released archival work, “What They Say”). Apparently, the newly maternal and totally svelte torch singer, Adele, studied up on what “they” say and took it to her well-conditioned heart. First, her release of “25” easily broke the vaunted solo female artist single-week record of legendary operatic talent Britney Spears (1.3 million units). The Englishwoman, who may yet attain the coveted “upstart tart” status if only she can get hold of some trashier clothes, then proceeded to detach the strings from the seemingly unbreakable record long held by the estimable boy band NSYNC when sales rocketed past 2.4 million. She’s selling music at a time when you’re not supposed to be able to sell music. Why? Here are three reasons why Adele is literally plucking the recording industry from the fiery pit of sales hell. ADELE 2015 – HELLO MILF Put your dirty mind aside, and pay attention. Acronyms (IMO) are helpful abbreviations (or in the case of this subsection title, "initialisms") that use the first letter of each word in a colloquial phrase to form a separate word. I have coined a new acronym to honor why Adele is the new savior-hero of the music industry: MILF—Music I Listen For. This new release is filled with organic trysts that make love to the aural pleasure centers of my (and this week alone over 3 million of your) musical tastes. As you listen with rapt emotion, you feel like this tonal temptress is breathing each track into your ear. The MILF Factor™ is one reason why this new mum’s music is giving mouth-to-mouth to an impotent industry. THE BRITISH ARE STILL COMING Americans have always had an obsession with anything British. Although we had edgy, all-American rocking acts like Bobby Vee and punk-rock progenitors The Archies, teenage fangirls ripped off their knickers without second thought for the first invasion of the fabulous four from Liverpool. Our blood lust for the English is as logical as having an old girlfriend who thrust her hand into your chest, ripped out your heart, and then proceeded to spit into your gaping chest wound—yet you still keep her old sweatpants because they have a slight fragrance of the dryer beads she used. Yes, we still swoon about the moves of the sagging septuagenarian, Mick Jagger, even though he might break a hip with those same moves—but it seems no one cares about American Heart frontwoman Ann Wilson’s new EP, even after her drastic weight-loss saga and revitalization. Yet the slim-fast and sales-furious Brit, Adele, is reviving our revered music industry (and just in time for your Christmas shopping!). ONE SINGULAR SENSATION When one’s star explodes to the point that it creates its own gravitational influence on the cosmos, one loses the weighty surname and joins the ranks of the “one-namers.” Elvis, Madonna, Prince, Zamfir—these icons need only one name to receive adulation throughout the entire cosmos. Adele began her career after ditching her last name Adkins—and by cleverly exploiting SING (SIngular Name Gravity), set into motion a serendipitous plan destined to save her chosen profession. It is prophetically fitting that her “25” drops during the Christmas season: Her ardent fans are threatening to boycott Starbucks unless her image is added to holiday cups, and her new CD is featured prominently at every location checkout. (Okay, I made that up. But admit it—for a second there you thought it could be true.) HAPPY ENDINGS While the aforementioned conclusions are all in good satirical fun, I would be remiss if I didn’t herald a legitimate example of Adele’s business acumen that actually might contribute to saving the music industry—from itself. Adele and her record company have barred “25” from any streaming whatsoever. (Curiously, this feisty Brit’s stance has not received the amount of attention that Taylor Swift garnered for refusing to allow her new record, “1989” to be streamed on Apple Music earlier this year.) Both of these courageous stands are demonstrating that artists must not roll over and play dead while settling for the table scraps from sweetheart deals that streaming companies negotiate with greedy suits at record companies. Artists and writers alike are cheated out of legitimately deserved royalties, while record companies have been impotent to protect the very people who create the music they give away. To preserve the hallowed exchange between artist and fan, it will take bold artists like Taylor and Adele who also continue to create incredible music that creates demand. 3.2 million units of “25” sold in one week of retail sales support the proverbial “Field of Dreams” axiom—build it, and they will come. The music industry desperately needs a hero from the other side. Hello, Adele. _____________________________________________________ Chris Marion is an American musician best known as a member of Little River Band and for his contribution to the gospel and country music industries. Although graduating college with a B.A. in Psychology, he is a classically trained pianist and has worked in the music industry professionally for over 35 years. As a resident of Nashville, he is involved in the recording industry working in the genres of Gospel, Country and Rock. Since 2004, he has toured globally with the classic rock act Little River Band as a keyboardist and vocalist. For more useless trivia and minutiae concerning Chris or to contact him directly, feel free to visit his personal website www.chrismarionmusic.com.
  2. Are you the best person to help avoid those Spinal Tap moments - or do you need professional management? An artist’s work is never done. That’s borrowing from an old colloquialism, but it certainly applies to the fledgling artist’s career. The proverbial question for any artist or band is when do I need some help? For all the effort required to create something commercial, marketable or appealing, there's an equal effort that goes into managing or administrating said career. There are two pivotal issues to consider in deciding whether you or your band need management. Is your administration starting to bog down your creation? Is there really anything to manage? Let’s take a look at a few of the tasks that someone in (or out of) the organization has to take care of for the band to really flourish consistently. It might shed some light on the subject to hear a take from Ian Faith, the infamous band manager in Spinal Tap. Ian Faith: "For one thing [i do] that goes wrong...one...one single thing that goes wrong, a hundred things go right. Do you know what I spend my time doing? I sleep two or three hours a night. There's no sex and drugs for Ian, David. Do you know what I do? I find lost luggage. I locate mandolin strings in the middle of Austin!" As Ian laments, band management can be a thankless job - but someone has to do it. Here are some of the functions an administrator or manager provides: Artist Representation – a manager is the frontline spokesperson for the band. He or she represents the artist in fiscal decisions, directional planning, and is the official liaison in business dealings. Promotional Coordination – managers plan and coordinate publicity or promotional activities. Effective promotion requires persistence and constant advocacy. Like Ian says, it’s really the manager’s work that is never done – it just changes locations. Booking Coordination – although management can sometimes be involved in booking arrangements, in some states it is illegal to manage and book a band simultaneously. Yet realistically, management works hand in hand with the booking efforts and coordinates as the artist's representative. Production and Merchandise Management – a manager works with merchandising and fulfillment for the artist. As I’ve alluded in prior articles here at HC, merchandising can be a significance revenue resource for a band or artist. It’s logical that the management is at the helm of these decisions. Artist Development – a manager is involved in the development and enhancement of all aspects of the artistry of an act. Costuming, choreography, branding, health and personal maintenance are all significant to helping an artist not just maintain but flourish. Personnel Coordination – behind any successful career is a crew of hard-working employees that are delegated responsibilities by someone in management. Someone has to coordinate the worker bees. If your creativity is being impacted by the preceding administrative tasks, perhaps it’s time to consider some help. But before your start trolling for your own Ian Faith – is there enough revenue to justify the commissioned work of a manager? Most managers are compensated with a percentage of the revenue generated by the artists they represent. If your band is working for $500 per night at the local VFW, you’ll definitely have difficulty finding a professional management firm to coordinate with the veteran working the door for your cash. Typically, a manager will receive 10 to 15 percent of the gross revenue from an artist being represented. Therefore, it’s not fiscally sound for a manager to commit time and resources when there's no legitimate potential for compensation. You might even consider that if you're looking for someone to help you make wise business choices, would you want to align with someone who makes poor business choices for themselves? Ultimately, the best person to manage your business might be who you see in the mirror. No one has more skin in the game than you do. Even if you eventually develop enough of a career to need outside management, you still need to be able to oversee your career and strategic business decisions. The history of rock and roll is littered with story after story of inept artists being taken advantage of and exploited by bad managers. Develop some great self-management habits early on by following some of the above management tasks, and you'll be on the way to managing your own career. As always, my friends, manage wisely. _____________________________________________ Chris Marion is an American musician best known as a member of Little River Band and for his contribution to the gospel and country music industries. Although graduating college with a B.A. in Psychology, he is a classically trained pianist and has worked in the music industry professionally for over 35 years. As a resident of Nashville, he is involved in the recording industry working in the genres of Gospel, Country and Rock. Since 2004, he has toured globally with the classic rock act Little River Band as a keyboardist and vocalist. For more useless trivia and minutiae concerning Chris or to contact him directly, feel free to visit his personal website www.chrismarionmusic.com.
  3. Find out what modern recording has in common with pig lips, birthing canals and orphans by considering the following proverbial question: what difference does it make? By Chris Marion Perusing through the flow chart above might leave you with a depressing conundrum – what difference does it make? In this magical mystery tour through modern recording, your masterpiece is birthed through over a half million dollars of the best recording hardware and software on terra firma, only to end up being squashed into a $1.99 mp3 and listened to on a $12 set of factory iPod ear buds. Oh, the madness! This is not the musical nirvana you fantasized about as you sold platelets, pimped your girlfriend and convinced your mother to refinance…for the second time. Let not your heart be troubled, embattled grasshopper. Your entertainment sensei will guide you back to creative bliss and in the process, you will either find out what difference it makes or the futility in asking proverbial questions. Garbage In, Garbage Out All of the world’s best recording gear can’t change the quality (or lack of therein) of what you record. Making a difference always begins with presenting quality material in the first place. Strive to record your best and most polished work that is ready from prime time. Bright red lipstick can’t change the overwhelming fact that you’re slapping it on the lips of a pig. Save pigs (and potential fans) the frustration. Coming Soon To A Birthing Canal Near You Look at the recording of your musical masterpiece as a birthing process. In this irreverent analogy, your studio of choice would be the birthing canal and the gear you use to record would represent the various birthing tools and instruments. While being born in the trappings of a barnyard manger makes for a compelling Christmas story and robust immunities, most prospective parents would choose the most high-tech, advanced maternity facility available to insure that their creation bounces into the world as a pink, healthy screamer. Doesn’t your recorded offspring deserve the same beginning? Don't let your material suffer the "forcep" marks of novice or deficient recording gear and technique. It makes an astounding difference to the sonic "viability" of your recording to choose the best facility and gear available. Don’t let your musical progeny sound like it was born (or recorded) in the back seat of a Greyhound bus rolling down Highway 41 – no offense to rambling men around the world. The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow Just as that curly-headed optimist, Little Orphan Annie, sang, each day brings a new sunrise… and usually a newer version of yesterday’s technology. Take courage! Your fans might be listening to your creation on a cheap-ass pair of iPod ear buds manufactured by underpaid, pre-teen Asian kids today, but tomorrow, they’ll be enjoying the same music on the 2.0 version of cheap-ass ear buds, now endorsed by an aging, one-time rapper for quadruple the cost. Sorry, capitalism might not breed optimism but it does tend to net new and improved products, at least in packaging. In all sincerity, audio technology for sound duplication and digital audio itself has advanced exponentially since the early days of its inception. Gone are the days of unsightly earphones and curly phone cords. The consumer-grade in-ear-monitors that are widely accessible to teen-age girls at Hot Topic are light years ahead of the first set of iPod buds in frequency response and clarity. Likewise, the mp3 has come such a long way from the early days when a German professor was trying to figure out how to transmit 20 seconds of a Suzanne Vega song over an ISDN digital phone line without distortion that made the song unintelligible. What the function?!?! The very future of digital music depended on hearing a Suzanne Vega song? Let us give thanks to the gods of rock for their gift of distortion... Seriously, the encoding and compression scheme that goes into creating an mp3 continues to advance and improve the format for clarity and reproduction. Annie is right – the sun will eventually come out for better quality digital audio and improved ear “thingies” for her and Sandy, the dog, to listen on. Considering these three unorthodox perspectives on the difference "it" makes might not compel you to rebook your session at Abbey Road Studios. Still, it makes sense to exert as much control as you can over what you create. Don’t let your creative cream curdle before it ever rises to the top. Commitment to quality will always make a difference… even on a Suzanne Vega song. ____________________________________________________ Chris Marion is an American musician best known as a member of Little River Band and for his contribution to the gospel, rock and country music industries. Although graduating college with a B.A. in Psychology, he is a classically trained pianist and has worked in the music and recording industry professionally for over 35 years. A resident of Nashville, he tours globally with the classic rock's Little River Band as a keyboardist and vocalist. For more useless trivia and minutiae concerning Chris or to contact him directly, feel free to visit his personal website www.chrismarionmusic.com.
  4. Need to revive a flagging career? Steal - I mean, be inspired by - these four mantras from the studio world by Chris Marion Now that I have your attention with the Pulp Fiction of titles, let's get down to the down and dirty of your sad, little version of American Idle – a stalled and flat-lined journey to achieving your rightful place in rock stardom. All rock stars have been there, where the wine, hookups, and gigs for pizza and beer are just not doing it anymore. The thrill is so far gone you can’t even get excited about drunken groupies. Never fear, crestfallen rock god – your revival rests in applying these fantastic four simple euphemisms from the recording industry to your career and your life. Master these mantras, and you will be moshing through sweaty hordes in no time. 1. Get the Sound Right at the Source Fixing it in the mix is the king of lazy studio mantras. In recording, often musicians and singers might perform sloppily and depend on the engineer to fix their poor performance by mixing it light or, for a vocal example, tuning or adding effects to a lame performance. But there is no Antares Auto-Tune plug-in for real life. Do it right the first time. Mediocrity is the quickest way to stall your career trajectory. If you find yourself wondering why clubs or agents are not remembering to call you for booking, maybe it's because you are not giving them anything worth remembering. be deliberate be diligent be determined 2. Rehearse In Red This is a favorite saying in the fast-paced recording milieu of Nashville, where producers love to get five to six demonstration recordings done in a three-hour session block. Players rehearse the chart while the engineer is already recording and more often than not, that effort ends up with keeper tracks. Yet “rehearsing in red” applies to all music business pursuits – you don’t always get another shot or another call back. Sure, tonight you're in a smoky rat hole bar for that casual sit in on the gig of a friend, but it might lead to the call to sit in on a regular, paid basis. The freebie-backing vocal you contribute to a session might be the one recording that lands the proverbial big shot. Treat every opportunity, every note played, and every melody sung like your career depends on it – it just might. make it count make it memorable make it undeniable 3. Less Is More In a world of “more me,” creative restraint and discrete minimalism can often be refreshing – making you stand out in a crowd. The music that we are inundated with in every aspect of our daily lives is more often than not over-produced, over-compressed, over-promoted, and consequentially, over before it starts. We live in a world that is mass produced and disposable. Sadly, our art often imitates our life. What can often distinguish an artist is an organic product that has room to breathe. What can make a musical career distinctive is focused, deliberate, selective decision-making to avoid the shotgun effect of inundation. The revived rockstar is: distinct discrete discerning 4. Stick to the Click Track A drummer friend refers to the click as the annoying sound that tries to distract him from the tempo. In recording, the click track represents the tempo, the pathway and target for which everyone is aiming. In a career sense, a click track is your planning and goal orientation. Developing a written master plan from task to task is like career GPS, because a GPS works by positioning your location against constant satellite points - you know where you are and where you want to go, so you can make a step-by-step plan to get there. Back in the ancient days of your rock and roll hall of fame heroes, they used sextants with the stars in the sky. Perhaps the application here is that you have to follow a star to be a star. establish a course based on planning stick to the course you plan constantly refresh your course based on the reality of your progress Maybe in your demigod bravado, these fantastic four seem a bit too simplified. Hey rockstar – your America is the one that is idled… Here is a final simple acrostic (no, I didn't mean "acoustic" - this is a sentence or grouping of words where the first letter of each word also form a related word) that also happens to represent some aging rockers who keep their stardom constantly revived: KISS - Keep It Simple, Superstar. Chris Marion is an American musician best known as a member of Little River Band and for his contribution to the gospel and country music industries. Although graduating college with a B.A. in Psychology, he is a classically trained pianist and has worked in the music industry professionally for over 35 years. As a resident of Nashville, he is involved in the recording industry working in the genres of Gospel, Country and Rock. Since 2004, he has toured globally with the classic rock act Little River Band as a keyboardist and vocalist. For more useless trivia and minutiae concerning Chris or to contact him directly, feel free to visit his personal website www.chrismarionmusic.com.
  5. Welcome to the follow up article to the Ins And Outs Of Playing Recording Sessions. That article gave you an extensive list of tips and ideas to begin or enhance your entre into playing sessions (and getting booked to play them again). Through the past 25 years, one of the great privileges that I’ve had is sharing a cue with some amazing players. Creating an original track from scratch with world-class players is truly a magical experience. It’s a creative conception formed from the musical DNA that each player brings to the collaborative effort. As indicated by the header photo, this article was originally intended to spotlight the rigs of several session professionals. When I started developing the content, it became clear that to really understand the ins and out of being a recording session player, rather than focus on their rigs you really have to dig down to that DNA level of the player and examine a composite of the lives and musical experiences they bring to the creative table. I made some big promises in the first article to give you a glimpse into the inner sanctum of recording in this follow up. The three interviews that resulted from this quest have been some of my favorite to date. All three of these friends are titans in the recording industry as well as in live touring. Together they represent over 100 years of world-class contribution to this industry. You’ve heard their playing on countless recordings as they have recorded and performed with icons in popular music. Now sit back and be inspired as we visit these fellow musicians and look at the industry from their expert perspectives. LELAND SKLAR Our first perspective comes from a guy whose resume covers over a half century of excellence and he’s still going strong. Leland Sklar paints a distinctive visual with his signature flowing white beard but it’s his iconic bass groove that has carved his place in pop music history. He has played and recorded with superstars from James Taylor to Phil Collins to Toto. He might be pushing septuagenaria at the age of 67 but he brings a young man’s wonder and enthusiasm to the musical experience. He is a wonderful conversationalist and I could fill 10 articles with the wealth of insight and anecdote he brings to an interview. CM - Lee, your contribution to recording is legendary. As a kid growing up in Milwaukee, was professional music something you dreamed of? LS - “I had no aspirations at all in the music business. I was an art and science co-major and had never really thought that music would turn into a career. I had always been in bands but it was one of those things where I couldn’t imagine that it would ever happen. I met James through one the bands that I was in. He had just cut his first record on Apple (the Beatles British label). He got offered a gig at the Troubador and he remembered me from a rehearsal that he came to. He asked me to play the gig and the next thing you know he’s on the cover of Time Magazine and he’s the new wave. I was in the right place at the right time.” Shortly after the Troubador gig, James Taylor invited Sklar to do a month long tour. Lee dropped out of school and never went back. It turned into something that no one had really expected and he says he’s been on the road ever since. Lee was classically trained as a pianist starting at the ripe old age of 5. CM - The obvious question is how did you go from being a classical pianist to one of the most revered bass players of popular music? LS - “I arrived at middle school believing that I would be the piano player for the school. The music teacher said 'Look, we have 50 kids here that play piano but I can really use a string bass player'. I didn’t even know what he was talking about but he pulled out an old Kay upright and gave me some pointers on it. As soon as I pulled that thing up against me and struck a note I fell in love with the bass and piano just kind of dwindled to the side. All these things are accidents. You just kind of wander through life and sometimes you come to forks in the road. Even though I don’t think any of them are wrong, they just lead to different places.” CM - But you obviously paid attention to the opportunities that those varied forks offered. It seems like you made deliberate choices rather than just wander. LS - “I am cognizant of things going on around me; I’ve paid attention. I try to stay up on styles and what’s going on in the music community, players and what not because I want to be relevant. I don’t want to be one these players that sits around talking about the cool records they worked on 30 years ago – I want to talk about what I’m working on right now and tomorrow." When I mentioned one of the other players to be interviewed in this article - David Hungate of Toto - and his standing contest with Lee to be the longest active bass player in pop music, Sklar had nothing but compliments. LS - “I love Dave and he has played on some amazing music through the years. I’m thrilled that he’s finally back on the road with Toto. Jeff (Porcaro) was one of my dearest friends and I worked with him though the 80’s almost more than any other drummer.” I asked Lee if he could name a favorite drummer to work with and he had a predictable answer based on the breadth of this experience. LS – “It would be absolutely impossible for me to name one with the host of great players I’ve worked with. When you’re looking at Jim Keltner and Vinnie Colaiuta, how do you make a statement about anything except they’re all amazing? From Simon Phillips to Sean Pelton – these guys are all incredible. That’s one of the best blessings of my career as far as I’m concerned. It’s not as much the artists I’ve worked with but the players I’ve worked with. I’ve been blessed to work with some of the best in the world. I mean from Ian Paice to Charley Watts, how could you go wrong?” CM - Do you find yourself responding to each drummer differently? LS – “Absolutely, each guy brings a different feel. But it’s ultimately more predicated on the song or the style you’re working on. I get internally into the drummer and where he’s playing. For example, Russ Kunkell sits so sweetly on the back side of the beat where John Robinson, he’s dead center and almost pushing toward the top of it. But, the thing is that all these guys are so musical and have big ears.” CM - Lee, as you’ve worked in a variety of genres from rock to jazz to even working country records in Nashville; does your style and interpretation change dramatically from genre to genre? Would you say that this requires versatility? LS – “I really don’t think it is versatility as much because I really don’t dramatically change the way I play. I seem to have settled into a style of playing that accommodates a lot of genres. There wasn’t a lot of difference for me from working on Steven Curtis Chapman to Reba McEntire. Obviously if you’re working on a complicated fusion project it requires a completely different headspace but I don’t feel like I have to change my style too drastically as I move from genre to genre.” CM - How have you seen the recording industry change from the early days of 2 inch tape and a group of great players getting together in the same room collaborating to the current days of digital home studios? LS – “The pendulum is swinging in another direction. I don’t think it (studio recording) will ever be what it once was because the business model has changed. I still do some collaborative studio stuff; as a matter of fact I am working on a record with Judith Owens in the studio with Russ Kunkel and Waddy Wachtel. But then I also frequently get booked to go to a home studio to overdub bass on a project that’s already recorded. I don’t enjoy that aspect of the business these days as much as the excitement and exhilaration of being in a room with amazing artists and players with all the creative juices. When you go to play on something already recorded you start with handcuffs and restrictions on what you can play. You can’t really make the track breath like you would like to because chances are it’s already been clicked out. I’ve even heard something I played on after it’s been mixed and thought that if I’d had any idea that’s where it was headed, I would have played a different part. But, I like to work and if that’s how the work comes in, that’s what I do.” CM - You’ve been in the business a long time and you’ve seen lots of changes. How do you deal with that “elder statesmen” categorization when you are working with younger artists? LS – “Well, my mantra has always been ‘don’t be an old fart’. If I’m working on a project with a younger artist, the last thing I’m going to say is something about the 'good ole days' or 'man, this sure would sound better on 2 inch analog tape'. A lot of these kids have no idea what you’re talking about. Now if someone brings up how we used to do it with analog, I am happy to talk about it and discuss editing and splicing, etc. But I never want to be the grumpy old guy. I am as excited when I walk into a studio today as I was when I did my first session in 1969. Recording has changed because the world has changed. I don’t want to be the guy who basks in his old glory. I want to be relevant.” CM - I hear from a lot of guys in Nashville that with the industry contracting, the amount of recording has really diminished. Guys that used to be able to stay off the road and focus exclusively on studio work are having to take road gigs as well. At one time, working both sides of the fence was frowned upon by producers. You seem like you’ve relished both the live work and recording. LS – “Honestly, if I was told I would have to make a choice, I would choose live. I love the immediacy of live performing. In the studio, you can play a note and scrutinize it for a week. Live, you play the note and it’s over. I feel very fortunate that I’ve been able to balance the two very well – almost 50/50. Some years it fluctuates to more live or more studio recording but typically it’s pretty balanced. I’ve done tours with Phil Collins where we were gone almost a solid year so obviously, my availability was limited for studio work. But it usually balances out.” CM - If you had to give some sage advice to the aspiring session player, what would you say? LS – “It’s hard to give anyone specific advice these days. I would say that whatever you are doing, make sure that you market it well. For instance, if you have a home studio recording situation, make sure that people know you can do this. Post stuff you are doing on the web or on Facebook so you can promote yourself." "It’s important to hone as many skills as you can. Good reading chops are very important for a studio guy. That’s not to say that you are going to be required to read Beethoven or Chopin, but you have to be as prepared as you can. It was an education for me to come to Nashville and have to wrap my head around the Nashville Number system. But it’s a brilliant system that makes it easy to be flexible with keys. As a studio player, you show up at the studio to a blank canvas and you have to leave having created a masterpiece. You can’t afford to say I’m not feeling it today. You have to have your stuff together in order to be able to pull this off." "If you are trying to be a pro, then treat this professionally. If you get a call to do a 10 AM session, at 10 AM you need to be sitting in your chair, tuned and ready to play. You are not pulling into the parking lot with an excuse for being late. Be prepared for what’s going on. Before you start imposing yourself on the song, listen to it. If the song only needs whole notes, there’s no embarrassment in playing just whole notes. When there’s a playback, you go into the studio and listen. You don’t just sit there in the lobby and tweet or post on Facebook. Be engaged, be interested – this is your career." "Producers really respond to engagement. It’s interesting that most of the time, when I am working sessions, I see faces that I’ve been seeing for years. It’s guys who have figured it out and show maturity and consistency in their professionalism that continue to do the bulk of the work. It’s not that it’s a good ole boys club. I think it’s just that time and money are tight. Producers want someone who is tried and true who can come in and nail it fast.” CM - Do you need to have thick skin to handle occasional disappointment? LS – “I would say that’s extremely important in how you handle rejection or disappointment. If you get an audition that doesn’t end up with a gig, you can’t just sit there and think you suck. There are always variables that are out of your control whether you think you might be the best guy for the gig. Brush it off and move on. Invest in yourself. It’s important to meet as many people as you can and really promote what you do but even more than that, believe in yourself and what you have to offer.” LELAND SKLAR'S RIGS CM - Let’s talk about your rig. You have an old Fender Jazz that you nicknamed Frankenstein. Do you still have that bass? LS – “Sure do and it still sounds amazing. The main bass that I’ve had for many years was built in the 70’s. John Carruthers, who used to be the main repair guy at Westwood Music (in West Los Angeles), and I put a bass together from spare parts. I had a ’62 Precision neck but I didn’t have a body. I really don’t like Precision, I’ve always preferred Jazz basses. So I had John reconfigure a Precision body from a template of my old ’62 Jazz. I went to Charvel and bought a blank alder Precision body. I hung a dozen of them on a wire and tapped them finding the one with the sweetest resonance. I got a set of the very first EMG pickups that are really Precision pick ups but we put them where the Jazz pick ups would have gone on the bass. We reversed the position of them so that the half of the Precision pickup that would be on the E and the A string is actually closer to the bridge than the neck. We flipped both pickups into that position. The cavity that was routed for the actual Precision pickup is where we placed the two 9 volt batteries because the bass runs on 18 volts. We put a BadAss bridge on it but when we reshaped the neck, we had to strip the neck down. I was walking around the shop looking at wire hanging on the wall and noticed some mandolin wire that we ended up using for the frets. I absolutely love the feel of it and I’ve had it on all of my basses since. I also have the first hip shot drop D tuner prototype on that bass. That’s why I always refer to that bass in interviews as Frankenstein." "Other than that, I’ve got a signature model I’ve done with Dingwall and that’s my go-to five string. It has the Novax fan fretting on it that I also love. I’ve used that bass with Phil Collins, James Taylor/Carole King, Lyle Lovett and Toto. A few years ago, I came across Warwick. I have a Hofner bass but it’s a delicate, tiny bass. I wanted something I could get those sounds with that had a little more meat and potatoes. I found the Warwick Star Bass II that’s semi acoustic. It looks kind of like the Epiphone that Jack Cassidy has and all those semi hollow body basses. Fell in love with it the first time I played it. In the studio, if I don’t need a 5 string, that’s my go to bass – even more so than the Frankenstein." "For amplifiers I’ve been with Euphonic Audio for many years now. I use the 800 iAMP combo in the studio. On tour I’ve used the iAmp 800 head with a 4x10 bottom or a single 12 plus two 10's. For the Judith Owen tour, they came up with a MICRO amp - 500 watts, two channels, universal voltage and it weighs 2.2 pounds. For a cabinet I use a single 10 or a single 12. I take that to gigs and guys ask 'what the heck is that rig'. But it’s just beautiful and so light." "As far as pedals, I have a few but rarely plug them in. On a session yesterday I used an Aguilar Octave Divider but normally I use effects only if the song is just screaming out for it. Other pedals I use include a Boss OC2, a TC Electronics Chorus/Flanger and a Pigtronix Envelope Filter. I’ve been through massive racks but now everything is in mothballs in the warehouse.” CM - Do you prefer to use an amp when you’re recording in the studio? LS – “I definitely prefer to mic an amp if the session allows. Sometimes an engineer will want to blend the direct input with the mic or use some type of effects pedal. But the tonality from an amp is a great option on a session." It was a great pleasure to interview Leland - 45 years of an active career and he’s still going strong. For more biographical information and a sobering look at an abridged collection of recordings Lee has graced over the years, visit his wikipedia page here. ROB MCNELLEY Let’s switch to the a 6 string guitar hero by the name of Rob McNelley. You might not recognize his name outside of Nashville circles but you would recognize a lot of his recordings with Rob having played on hundreds of country singles. He was named the 2014 ACM Musician of the Year, a very distinctive honor in a town full of amazing players. You would also recognize the artist that he is currently doing a world tour with – none other than Bob Seger. I caught up with Rob on a day off in Tampa. CM - How’s the tour going with Bob Seger? RM – “It’s going well, it’s a pretty easy tour to be on with private planes and 5 star hotels. It’s way over my head – I don’t even touch a bag. I hadn’t been on the road in a few years and this kind of came out of nowhere. But I thought, 'yeah, I have to do this' – how many tours are out there like this? I have to pinch myself when I’m playing Madison Square Garden with Bob Seger. The music is great." CM - How has your extensive touring with Bob effected your session work in Nashville? RM – “Obviously it all depends on how long you’re gone. I know I did two and a half months with Seger last year and I was kind of worried that people would stop calling. I was actually flying home on off days and playing on records. But so far - knock on wood – I’ve been able to make it work with only a couple of issues where I had to pass on the session. I think we’re seeing a day and age where it’s generally accepted that it’s OK to go out on the road whereas 20 years ago it was frowned upon. Back then there was a hard line between whether you were a session guy or a live player. Very few people were able to walk that line successfully. But there was enough work to support you; there was so much work in town playing on records that you didn’t need to go out on the road. With the industry contracting and the changes in budgets, the money is just not the same. So when a great tour pops up, it’s very easy to see the potential to offset what you can’t make doing sessions exclusively." CM - Has the home studio thing effected your work patterns? RM – “I’ve had to buy my family ear plugs… I have a rig where I can do guitar overdubs at the house. It’s very much a part of the modern musician deal. Having another avenue to record is a great opportunity. I get contacts from people in other countries who have seen my name on records. They wouldn’t have access because of proximity and can send me files over the internet to get guitar on the records because of my home rig." CM - How have you promoted yourself? RM – “It’s very much a word of mouth thing. I honestly haven’t gone out there and actively pursued it. I’ve had the opportunity to work with some great artists and I guess people have liked my playing enough as I’ve done recording to remember me and seek me out. I do have a website but it’s down at the moment as I retool it for my own record that I am working on. After I won ACM Guitarist of the Year, I definitely noticed an increase in awareness of me outside the circle of people that I regularly work with. When you play on a lot of records in a short period of time, people still pay attention to that." CM - How did you make a transition into recording? RM – “I never really thought I’d be a session player and never really pursued it, to be honest. I was on the road with Delbert McClinton and his schedule wasn’t that crazy so there was a lot of down time. I would play gigs around town with anybody that would call me and sort of fell into session work. I had a couple of publishers who started to hire me for demo sessions and I treated it just like another gig. People started hiring me for their recordings and it just fell into place. I loved it immediately – the chance to be on the creative side of coming up with parts. I just keep showing up ready to play." CM - Obviously, when you show up you bring a dangerous arsenal of ability and talent. Were you self taught as a guitarist or did you study and take lessons? RM –" I did not take lessons. I grew up around a bunch of musicians in and out of the house all the time. Somebody would show me this or that or I just watched people play to learn how they were doing it. I did take music theory in high school but that was the only formal training." CM - Did the theory help you in your career? RM – "Theory and the ability to read are definitely helpful because they help you not only work at a faster pace but in intercommunication. You can speak the language in musical terms in the studio and understand each other when you are trying to work through a chart instead of having to say ‘hey, you know at that one soft part of the song’…" DAVE MCNELLEY'S RIGS CM - Talk a bit about your live rig versus your studio rig. RM – “I always use two small amps, a 64 Fender Delux Reverb, my mainstay amp for almost everything and also an old Matchless DC30 combo. It’s not stereo – I just run a blend of both amps with mics. In some halls I use an amp by Analog outfitters called the Sarge, a little 18 watt EL84 amp. Whatever sounds the best in that venue for the night. I like amps that get into the breakup a little early so I don’t have to play loud. It’s kind of a loud rig naturally. For Seger’s music it’s pretty straight ahead. I have a couple of overdrive pedals, volume, echo and tremelo pedal." "Guitar wise, I have several guitars out here – a Gibson custom shop Les Paul, a ’58 reissue, a Telecaster Custom, a Paul Reed Smith baritone guitar, and a ’53 gold top (Les Paul) that is my standard go-to guitar." CM - Obviously you prefer to have an amp rig when you are playing live. Are there ever situations where you go direct in a live situation? RM – “I do have a Kemper at my home studio and I’ve modeled some of my amps. When we started this tour, Moose (Jim Brown, auxiliary guitarist and keyboardist for Bob Seger, also an accomplished session player himself) discussed bringing out our Kempers just to give the sound man the option of blending that into the guitar signal. Some of these arenas do not sound great even with great gear. We actually ran out of time in production rehearsals to implement that. But, I’ve been really impressed with the Kemper and I think we’re finally at a point where that stuff sounds good and feels good to play." CM -When you are playing live, do you use in ear monitors or wedges? RM – “I’m actually on wedges. Bob uses a combination of both – he likes to pull out his ears at times to respond to the crowd. But I love the freedom of working on wedges. I’m going about this completely old school. I’m not even using a wireless; I am using a cord." ROB MCNELLEY'S RIGS CM - Describe your studio rig. "I always have a Fender Deluxe and an old . It’s all pretty much vintage gear. I’ve got an old Matchless DC 30 head and a 64 Bassman head that still has the presence knob. I’ve got a ’72 50 watt Marshall head. I pretty much run everything through a 2x12 cabinet and if I need it I use a Marshall 4x12 cabinet. I have a big pedal board but I find myself playing directly through the amps. There’s an interesting difference between doing demos and doing masters as far as amps vs. effects pedals. On master sessions I typically have time to work with amps and mic placement where on the average demo session, we need to add layers in a hurry so I use more pedals and outboard effects. I carry all my own guitars to sessions. My amps and pedals are in storage but I go into the guitar closet and grab whatever I need for the day guitar wise. I have three guitars that I always have with me on a session – a ’65 Strat that I’ve had since I was a teen, a sunburst Fender Tele with a P90 in the neck that I have played pretty much every day since I got it, and a 1969 Gibson 335 mono version." CM - If you had to give an aspiring guitarist career advice, what would that be? RM – “One key thing to try and learn to do - always work from the assumption that the artist and the players you are working with are great. Always read the room and realize that you are there to make the client happy. If you can accomplish that, you’ve accomplished the real key aspect of recording or performance period. Anybody that gets a call to do a gig or a recording deserves to be there based on the invitation. If you treat a client or another player like they’re a star, you walk out of there with much better results and a better reputation. Treat everybody like you would want to be treated." "As well, it’s so important to keep your ego small. If someone doesn’t like the part you’re playing, you can’t have any emotional investment in the part. Just give your best version of what they want. That’s what gets you called back." DAVID HUNGATE Getting called back has not been a problem for Rob McNelley these days. He is certainly a rising star in the recording industry. Our next interview involves a musician who has over 40 years of experience in the recording industry. As a young gun in LA, David Hungate played on some of the biggest records of the day. He then formed a band (Toto) with some other veterans of recording that garnered its own critical praise along with selling multiplatinum numbers of units. CM - Dave, I know that you’ve been in the music business for a long time. Were your early formative years also filled with music? DH – “I grew up in a little town in Missouri of about 1700 people. I was a trombone player and started taking lessons from the principal in the St. Louis symphony at the age of 7. I went to college at North Texas State. They had a terrific jazz department with big band music. It was my time there that really facilitated a career hanging out with guys like Dean Parks (hugely successful guitarist) and Tom Malone (trombonist that was musical director of Saturday Night Live band). Dean Parks was really my main influence. He was playing alto sax in the first band and I didn’t even know he played guitar. He was the first guy I ever knew whose goal was to be a session player. He would sit around with a metronome set at the slowest tempo and practice keeping subdivided time in his head between clicks. We were all going to school to be jazzers and then the Beatles and Hendrix hit and we realized the big bands weren’t coming back." CM -Were you already doing some recording at this point? DH – “Dean and I put a little band together to play some hippie clubs around Dallas. He had already been doing some jingles but as a band we went to a little four track recording studio and cut four sides. My first professional session was on a jingle for a studio in Ft. Worth. I started getting quite a bit more work around ’69 or ’70 in the Dallas area doing jingles." CM - How did you end up in LA from Texas? DH – “This band with Dean ended up getting hired to be Sonny And Cher’s backing band but I had another year of college and decided to stay. I continued to do sessions and gig some around Dallas. Shortly after I graduated, Dean and the guys put in their notice and Dean recommended me to replace him on guitar. I had played some guitar in high school so it wasn’t a huge stretch. Within a month of taking the Sonny and Cher gig, they landed the TV show. Sonny came to us and assured us that he would get us an audition for the TV band, really unheard of for that time. But, I got the gig playing guitar for the TV show and moved to LA. Dave McDaniel was playing bass at the time and was a great bass player. He just had a hard time getting to tapings and I ended grabbing my bass out of the car and playing the charts down after he missed a couple of sessions. I then moved over to bass because I really considered myself more of a bass player and became the bass player for the TV show." CM - How did you end up hooking up with the guys who together would play on so many records then end up starting Toto? DH – “About two months after I moved to LA, I got booked to do a session at Leon Russell’s house. It started at midnight and didn’t pay anything but Jim Keltner was going to being playing drums. He was THE guy and I really wanted to work with him. When I got there, they were already running the song down so I plugged in and put the phones on. The drummer was just killing me so when we finished the take, I walked into the booth expecting to meet Keltner but instead found this short, shrimpy guy that looked like he was twelve - Jeff Porcaro. I ended up getting him on the Sonny and Cher gig but he had connections as well. He and (David) Paich were really tight and I ended up getting more work from those associations. I did the Ironside TV show with David’s dad, Marty for a couple of years. After that it just kind of happened – I was in the right place at the right time.” CM - How did the whole Toto thing come about? DH – “The Toto thing got a real boost from the success of Boz Scagg’s Silk Degrees record. We all played on that and Paich had a hand in arranging and writing for that record. We had this hot band and we were on this hot record so people started approaching us. We didn’t really have to chase it. It was an exciting time. But, I was still struggling with the whole session guy versus live thing. There used to be a real thing with session guys as a point of pride that they didn’t have to go on the road. I had a kid and that’s really why I left Toto in ’82. They were going to do a big tour and I had a new baby and a three year old. We had moved to Nashville already." CM - How has that changed through the years now that your kids are probably grown and touring has changed? DH – “Oh it’s a helluva lot more comfortable than the 70’s now that the bunks don’t smell like Kerosene and you have internet and satellite. I hadn’t been on the road in 30 years when Vince Gill called me in ’08 to do a Christmas tour with him and Amy (Grant). I had a ball and continued to tour with Vince for 3 or 4 more years. He wasn’t out that much – maybe 50 dates a year. So, I kind of like being on the road now. Toto is about to do 2 months in Europe followed by a month in the US and even Japan. I’m hoping that I can keep my stuff together physically to do that." CM - What’s it like to be back with Toto after all these years? DH – “It’s fantastic. I was completely surprised to get the call after 34 years of being away. Paich said he was afraid to call because he thought I’d hang up on him. Everybody’s really mellowed. I had not had a lot of contact with them through the years. But after all these years, there’s a lot of love. All the words and bad feelings are behind now. We just want to have fun and there’s no drama." CM - In regards to your transition in moving to Nashville, was it a challenge to move from being in a hot pop band to playing country? At the time you moved to Nashville, the vibe was very traditional. DH – "I had played on some of the Eddie Rabbitt stuff back in the ‘70’s and I’d had worked with Kyle Lehning. But, there was still a transition coming from pop playing to country playing on 1 and 3; it’s very precise – no where to hide. There is a real art to playing that reserved and making the note lengths just right. And, the first time I got a look at the Nashville Number system, I thought what the hell is this stuff when all of a sudden a flat 3 appears with no reference to reality. I mean, I understood the theory of it and it definitely made changing keys on the fly much simpler. I can remember in LA you’d being reading a chart that was completely black with ink and then the singer would say that’s not the right key. I would be retuning the bass to be able to play the chart. In Nashville, it took a good couple of years to get in the groove and meet some people. One of the first records I worked on in Nashville was a Chet Atkins record with David Briggs. Atkins had been an idol of mine and it was the beginning of a great friendship. In 1984 he asked me to co-produce a record with him." CM - With the advent of home studios and digital recording, have you added that to your arsenal? DH – “Back in the 90’s I had a full blown 24 track recording rig but once I got out of the production side of things we unloaded that. Looking at what happening in the industry today, it’s really helpful for a young player to have a rig at home and be able to do that. As far as advice for a young aspiring player, I’d say you need to be able to play a bunch of styles fairly convincingly. You need to be versatile with the instruments – for a bass player it’s good to be able to play some upright. I didn’t play until I moved to Nashville and even then I would cheat and put fret marks on the side of my bass. It was funny to do a gig with some symphony players who actually played upright bass and have them all see my dots on the neck of the bass – what a poser. But the lesson here is doing what you have to do to get the job done. It’s also imperative for a bass player to be able to use a pick. It’s not that common in Nashville on country records but for a pop player, it’s a must." DAVE HUNGATE'S RIGS CM - Talk a little bit about your live and studio rigs. DH – "Live, I use a minimal pedal board with a few stomp boxes. I use a MXR bass DI, TC Electronics Chorus, MXR 10 band EQ, MXR bass compressor and a Boss octave divider. With Toto, I am using two half stacks of the SVT amps. My studio rig includes a V76 Telefunken Preamp, a Tubetech midrange EQ, a Tubetech broadband EQ and an Teletronix LA-2A." CM - Ever use an amp in combination with your direct rig? DH - "I used to use an amp with a mic frequently in LA on sessions but when I unloaded the amp for my first Nashville session they asked what I was going to do with that. I’m not a stickler for that but if you want to get a real rock and roll sound, an amp is essential." In conclusion, these are three great examples of musicians who are out there making a great living and creating great music. They’ve found unique ways to blend live performance opportunities with being on the cutting edge of creating the popular music of the day. Just the two bass players represent almost a century of world class contribution. The encouraging thing I find in common with each of the gentlemen is a sense of humility and gratitude. It’s a great privilege to be able to contribute and participate in the creation of the popular music that we listen to today. As well, it’s a great legacy to have worked with so many great artists and thusly having created a portfolio that will shine. I hope you enjoyed this series of articles. It was a great pleasure to interview these guys and get a glimpse of what recording looks like out of a textbook and class room. All the best my friends and as always, hone your skill and be prepared. Until the next article, record wisely my friends. Chris Marion is an American musician best known as a member of Little River Band and for his contribution to the gospel and country music industries. Although graduating college with a B.A. in Psychology, he is a classically trained pianist and has worked in the music industry professionally for over 35 years. As a resident of Nashville, he is involved in the recording industry working in the genres of Gospel, Country and Rock. Since 2004, he has toured globally with the classic rock act Little River Band as a keyboardist and vocalist. For more useless trivia and minutiae concerning Chris or to contact him directly, feel free to visit his personal website www.chrismarionmusic.com.
  6. Technique: The Ins and Outs of Playing Recording Sessions My big dream when I moved to Nashville in the mid ‘80’s was to be a session musician. I had enjoyed a taste of recording through a few high school and college bands and was confident that I had the moxie to step up and leave my mark on the recording industry. Almost three decades later, I look back and see some things I did right matched by many things that I stumbled with. Sometime my experiences are less of a great example and more of a horrible warning… Regardless of whether you aspire to be the first call guy in your hometown or in Manhattan, there are some things you can do to raise your personal bar. In these session recording articles, we’ll examine some of those techniques and tips, interview some living, breathing professionals who are already making a living doing what you aspire to and then take a look at some of their rigs. You’ll be surprised that the size of your ability is a lot more important than the size of your rack or guitar collection. The Tip List 1. Hone your talent – in most serious music towns like Nashville, your coffee barista at Starbucks probably has better chops than you. You have to be talented just to enter the playing field. Here are some specific areas to focus on: a. Music theory – there are a great variety of sessions that are recorded in Nashville in a great variety of genres. Some sessions require that you read actual music, even note for note depending on your instrument. Other projects use what’s called the Nashville Number System (click on the hot link to find an article that I wrote about this fantastic versatile system). As a player, you have to be ready to do either or you are immediately limited. It’s always important to ask a producer who is calling to book you what is required in this session. Nothing will make a producer lose your number quicker than not being able to step up and read charts. Time wasted is money wasted. b. Technique – There are two considerations here that are pivotal in your marketability as a player. It’s important to know what to play but also how much of it to play. You have to familiar with a broad variety of genres and techniques. Then, you have to have the sensibilities to recognize how to apply these techniques with discretion and taste. c. Accuracy – Some producers love to spend loads of time and recording budgets on minutia – drum sounds, mic placement, lunch, etc. Regardless, when the red light goes on, you need to be able to play the chart accurately from the first pass. As a matter of fact, in Nashville we usually rehearse in red. The key here is know your limits. It’s better to play simple well executed licks correctly and accurately rather than take three or four takes to almost get an advanced shredder lick. 2. Gear Readiness – knowing exactly what you are going to need for a session requires some deliberate planning and thorough discussion with the producer – ahead of time. Focus on these aspects of readiness: a. Functionality – the time to repair your gear is before the session. Make sure your cords, inputs and outputs, et cetera are clean and functioning properly. Put in the time so you don’t waste recording time. b. Applicability – Bring the gear you are going to need for the session requirements. Again, go above and beyond in your initial conversation with the producer to know what sounds or instruments he needs from your position. It will even prevent miscommunication on the fact that you don’t play banjo or own one. c. Familiarity – Know your gear inside and out. Know how to get to your sounds and where they are located. Know the signal chain from top to bottom to be able to alter if the need be. 3. Hone your people skills – I can walk out of my house throwing a stone and probably hit two guys that are better players than me. But, one thing that has often gotten me return calls is my ability to relate and hang. Here are some considerations for you: a. Be punctual – this is such an obvious point but it’s one that often plagues creative types the most. If you know it’s going to take you 30 minutes to set up and get ready, give yourself adequate time to do this without costing time for everyone else. Know the address of the studio and plan ahead of time taking things into consideration like access, rush hour and errands on the way. b. Be flexible – the customer is not always right, obviously. Clients and producers are hiring you for your expertise because they don’t have it. But, they do know what they want and they are signing the check. Cater to them. Make an effort to find that right sound or incorporate their demo love lick into what you end up recording. Take their suggestions and try to apply. c. Be discrete – take into consideration your surroundings, the personnel on the session, and the client in the things you say or joke about. You might think the song is the biggest piece of crap you’ve ever heard but it might be important to your client. Hold your tongue and be positive. d. Be creative – offer suggestions and ideas when applicable. Your idea might be the signature that takes the song to the next level. But, don’t over press your idea in a way that is offensive. Offer – don’t demand. e. Be considerate – be a team player on things like not getting lost between takes, listening and noting changes to charts, listening to what everyone else is playing and accommodating and limiting your distractions like personal calls, texts or constant social media updates. It’s frustrating to have a player miss a downbeat because he’s paying more attention to his smart phone than the cue. f. Be communicative – be able to articulate what you need in terms of cue, inputs or gear. Communicate your needs to the producer, session leader or even the engineer as they arise. 4. Hone your promotional skills – the Nashville recording industry is all about relationships – who you know. Here are some networking tips that will amp up your potential: a. You must be present to win – get out of the house and meet people. Often, it’s those person-to-person contacts that will put you in the minds of artists, producers and even other players when sessions or projects come up. Go out to writer’s nights or clubs and actually meet and chat with other players. Gigs as well as potential sessions usually develop because someone knows you’re in the market. b. Be able to articulate what you do – know what it is you can do and be able to talk about it as well as what you have been doing with it. I am not advocating launching into a 5 minute diatribe about your resume but it’s good to be able to talk about what you can do when it comes up. c. Have a way for a potential client to reach you or listen to what you do – I have a friend who always carried a pile of business cards and you could tell who had talked to from where the pile was distributed. But this guy ended up working a lot because people knew where to find him when they needed what he did. A business card is not a bad means of doing this. Having an easy to remember website is also helpful that contains your contact info and even samples of what you do. A potential client might meet 10 other guitar players that night – try to make your contact memorable and make it easy to find you in the future. The days of handing out demo CD’s and resumes are long gone. EPK’s and cloud based demos are really where the industry is now. d. Follow up promptly – if you get a call or an email, respond immediately even if you are unable to do a session. If a producer has taken the time to track you down and call you, he just might be waiting to hear back from you before he calls someone else. Be considerate. e. Be generous with your time and availability – This falls under the category of paying it forward. There have been times when I was in famine mode that I’ve done a comp track or sat in with someone on a writer’s night for no pay just as a favor. I can’t tell you how many times this has ended up paying me back ten fold. If the person is any part human, they will feel some level of indebtedness to you for your generosity and often send paying work your way when it comes around. This is not always true per se. Yet, sometimes, others seeing you being a stand up guy will bring it back to you even if the particular client doesn’t. Sowing good and generous seeds can’t help but reap goodness in return. 5. Alternative Recording Outlets – Today’s recording industry has changed so dramatically from those mid ‘80’s when I came to Nashville. In those days you had to record in big rooms with big budgets on big rolls of 2 inch analog tape. With the advent of digital audio recording, it’s possible to duplicate the same pristine recording in your basement while you lounge in your boxers. Recording studios are black holes for money as you chase the ultimate piece of gear or format. I do think it’s important to be able to have a good means of capturing what you do instrumentally from your home. Here are some due considerations: a. Proper gear for recording – just buying a cheap USB mic and recording into Garage Band is not going to cut it here. On the flip side, you don’t have to have a 32 channel SSL console to record clean guitar tracks in your basement. Plan on having a computer, an audio interface, a monitoring system, microphones and necessary cabling. b. Proper software/ hardware - the industry standard for digital recording is Pro Tools. Yet, functional DAW’s are plethora and fairly economical depending on your needs. Most files are interchangeable and transportable across various formats. Poll producers you work with regularly and find out what they use. c. Proper promotion of your capacity – this area of recording is not like the “field of dreams” – just because you drop 20 K on a Pro Tools rig, projects will not automatically drop into your lap. Let your clients know that you have the capacity to do your tracks at home if they need stuff without a big studio tab. You might even comp a couple of tracks just to promote your rig. d. Operational ability – PLEASE – know how to properly record your instrument before you start promoting your home rig. I have a friend who dropped a few thousand on a Mac, preamps and mics but wasn’t even sure how to hit record in his software. But he accepted 10 songs thinking he could certainly pull it off. He ended up losing the account and 5 times more work because the tracks were noisy and in the wrong sampling rate. Do your due diligence and learn your rig before you jump into the home recording alternative. In conclusion, even following these suggestions religiously will not guarantee that you will set the session world on fire. The industry has changed dramatically. Home recording and the contraction of CD sales has seriously effected how much recording is going on period. But, participating in the creation of recorded music on the spot is one of the most fulfilling things I do. It’s a magical thing to sit in a room with a group of talented players and create. Next week, we’ll spend some time talking to some of those talented musicians and pick brains for their own tips and advice. We’ll also peek into their racks and hear their tips for the latest greatest essential piece of gear. Until then, record wisely my session friends! Chris Marion is an American musician best known as a member of Little River Band and for his contribution to the gospel and country music industries. Although graduating college with a B.A. in Psychology, he is a classically trained pianist and has worked in the music industry professionally for over 35 years. As a resident of Nashville, he is involved in the recording industry working in the genres of Gospel, Country and Rock. Since 2004, he has toured globally with the classic rock act Little River Band as a keyboardist and vocalist. For more useless trivia and minutiae concerning Chris or to contact him directly, feel free to visit his personal website www.chrismarionmusic.com.
  7. Merchandising From A To $ Whether your band is Maroon 5 or you’re just five guys marooned in a cargo van in Gary, Indiana every Friday night, you stay in business by generating revenue. Besides performance fees, there is no more consistent method to generate revenue than the sale of band merchandise. It not only augments your performance income but it also represents phenomenal promotional value when a fan leaves with a physical representation of your band in clothing, audio or various other sundry types of product. We’ll camp out in merch world this week to examine technique and strategy for getting you started correctly or enhancing what you already have going. Developing Your Product Line Having great marketable merchandise is by no means accidental. It requires careful planning and consideration. Let’s look at some specific angles. Know your demographic It’s important to have a good idea of what your fans or usual concert attendees might consume, wear or be interested in. If you entertain frequently at retirement homes, selling a band thong might end up being a frustrating task – not just for your merch girl but for staff at the nursing homes after the shows. Take a look at your crowds and base your merch development accordingly. Know your budget limitations It’s really cool to walk up to a full merchandise table. It’s not so cool when you have to pay for all of that merchandise up front. Let’s do some math – if you buy three dozen t-shirts from sizes S-3X at $7.50 per t shirt (average bulk t shirt rate) that looks like this: $7.50 x $36 x $6 = $1620.00 Now you can sell these t-shirts for $15 to $30 per t-shirt but this might not happen the first night at the VFW. Consequentially, it’s smart to have a merchandise budget that is independent of your normal operating expenses. In my coordination of merchandise for my band, I try to pigeonhole proceeds from nightly sales to cover not only outstanding merchandise invoices but to cover future purchases before funds go into general band revenue for royalty consideration. In your band, it might require some discipline to avoid using CD sales to cover the band bar tab but in the long run, merchandise sales can sustain themselves. Design is paramount You might love your girlfriend’s killer stick man and stick dog sketches but will 100’s of your fans want to wear a t-shirt with her design? It’s worth going with professional artwork and layout when you are investing hard earned band monies into products that will represent you every time a fan dons your gay apparel. Most screen printers and merch fulfillment companies have in house designers that can create camera ready designs that will pop on t shirts and other product. There might be a nominal fee but your fans will thank you in the long run by wearing your stuff proudly. Variety is the spice of sales The endearing adage in merch world is you have to have it to sell it. I’ve found that having a good variety and several choices increases the odds that you’ll sell something and even up-sale to multiple pieces. It’s also important to have a range of price points for sale. Not everyone has the liquid funds after dropping cash for tickets and beer to buy a band leather tour jacket. But, they might drop 5 dollars for a signed band picture or a koozie. It’s smart to have the variety in your lineup that will satisfy a variety of potential customers. Choose the right merchandise fulfillment company I can’t emphasize how important this is to the process. We use a company called Future Shirts for our t-shirts, hoodies, and various novelties from key chains to pictures. My representative at Future, Jourdan Coker is just as essential as I am in our merchandising because she applies her expertise in her field to help us fulfill our orders. Here are some of the considerations that go into something as simple as a t-shirt order: design and artwork manufacturer of line size availability type of fabric color inks for screen printing logistics of manufacture and turn around merchandise trends for other customers seasonal trends ordering and purchase tracking and coordination When you have a good working relationship with a fulfillment company, they partner with you in the process and really invest in you as a client. It’s also important to investigate the reputation of a company you are considering working with. If it sounds too good to be true, it’s probably not true. Legitimate fulfillment companies might not be cheap but they deliver what you pay for. Again, you can’t sell it if doesn’t get fulfilled and shipped to your house. Selling Your Product Performance venue sales – of all possible sales points, venue sales in association with your performances is the most optimum. Hopefully, your performance has given fans something to motivate their interest – now it’s time to mop it up and exploit. *** Your merchandise set up and sales are part of your performance! Treat it with the same deliberate planning and preparation that you put into your shows. For a live band in a regional or local situation, you have the potential to easily double your revenue on any given evening. Likewise, any piece of merchandise that you send home in the hands of a fan is promotional. Here are some methods and considerations that will enhance performance sales and give you maximum bang for your buck. - Create an attractive display – often display is an afterthought – you merely throw some CD’s into a pile on a crappy dark table. You’ve got to create something visual that draws fans to your table like a moth to the flame. Go to Kinko’s or your local printer and create a banner with your band name that you can hang behind your table. Use a couple of old speaker stands to raise it up higher and use a couple of clip on utility lights to illuminate the banner. Create a grid that is easily transportable to set up and tear down to hang up t-shirts and CD display models. Use sale proceeds to constantly improve your display. The effort translates to increased traffic. Like a “field of dreams”, build it and they will come. They have to come to the table to buy merchandise. Make sure that your table is located in a strategic spot where traffic is higher. Finally, make sure that you plan ahead for adequate table and AC for any lights. My band has a collection of utility tubs as well as a rolling hard case for the nightly set up. Having something with wheels makes it easier to stage. For your information, here’s a suggested inventory list of what you might need to have in your tub: 50 ft power chord power strip with multiple outlets black table cloth (dress up a crummy table or even cover your merchandise after setting up) packing tape – the swiss knife of display assembly carpet utility knife to open boxes, etc bungees – great for hanging banners, signs, or even holding stuff together on a rolling cart over bumps utility lights – light up the banner, light up the autograph area after the show, be able to see how to pack it up laminated price list for all merchandise – easily put together at any kinkos or copy place price tags for all displays sharpies – have them in colors that suit your product (ie: black t-shirt needs a gray sharpie) optional – your own fold up table and a chair for the seller settlement sheets for count in and count out calculator if you don’t have one on your phone - Have a designated seller with proper preparation and essential tools – I know that we think sex sells and it seems like a great idea to have the drummer’s hot girl friend in a thread bare t-shirt and cut offs as your merch seller. If she has limited math skills and the personality of a slice of white bread, you are not doing yourself a favor. The optimum merch seller is part carnival barker and part auctioneer. He or she has to be able to engage customers all the while keeping count and taking inventory. Be picky! There’s nothing worse than losing sales or even worse losing money because you have someone at the helm who is incompetent. Here are some specific considerations: make sure the seller is familiar with all stock and pricing. Make it easy for them to just sell. I recommend counting in and counting out to keep from having to keep an item-to-item sales tally. ESSENTIAL: have a bank with adequate change. There’s nothing worse than having the line back up because you have to find some one with two fives to make change. Hit the bank the day after your gig and prepare the bank in a designated money bag. A toiletry bag makes a great combination money bag and sharpie container. make sure that the seller knows your sizes and where each product is located. Nothing worse than having to dig around for a 3x only to realize that you don’t have it in that t-shirt. make sure that you have adequate staffing for the event. If you are playing your Aunt Harriet’s luncheon, one seller will suffice. If you are playing a street festival with 20 K in attendance, plan on having some back up just in case. Don’t lose a sale because you have just one swamped seller. - Expand your potential sales by having a credit card option. There are a variety of options available that turn your smart phones or tablets into functional credit card terminals. Gone are the days when you needed a phone line and an expensive band provided terminal to swipe a credit card. My band uses Square Up. I have a 4G tablet that is designated for merchandise sales and a little dongle that plugs into the 1/8 audio output slot. Square Up charges 2.75% per swipe and deposits the funds into designated banking account within a couple of business days. You can create templates for each piece of product that make tallying up as simple as pressing the icon for that merch piece. As well, it will tally your sales for the end of the night calculations. There is no long term contract or monthly fee and the swipe dongle is included in the creation of an account. Our credit card sales always add 30 to 40% more gross sales on any night. When people are used to buying a .75 cent coffee with their debit card, don’t miss an impulse buy for your stuff. - Promote your merchandise from the stage – I don’t advocate trying to pitch the merch table between every song like a PBS telethon. However, make a pitch early by using the old “if you like this song, it’s on my greatest hits and near misses CD at our merch table over there”. This connects the music they’re hearing to the merch table. Even if they don’t like the music, remind them that there’s a crap ton of CD’s sitting in your mom’s basement that you are trying to unload. Then pitch the merch one more time before the last song. Trying promoting the fact that you are going to sign autographs and babies right after the show. ***see the next suggestion*** - Always plan on going out to the merch table right after the show is completed. Do this especially if you follow the previous suggestion that you announce it before the last song… Seriously, if anyone likes what you do or at least thinks your lead guitarist is a hottie, draw them to your merchandise area. Again, more traffic means more sales. Web Sales and Aggregators In a previous published article called “Let’s Make A Deal Pt. 3 – Be Your Own Distributor” I touched on the previously mentioned stuff but went into serious detail about web sales, aggregators and fulfillment companies. Rather than try to cleverly disguise the fact that I am plagiarizing myself, the above hotlink will get you to this content and outline some serious opportunities to sell your merchandise online and even have a 3rd party fulfill your orders. It’s a great service that takes the head ache out of having a web presence. In conclusion, I caution any artist or band considering whether or not to dive into merchandise sales. Obviously, it requires deliberate investment and planning. There is bookkeeping, accounting, inventory, storage, restocking, design, delivery and the most daunting task of fortune telling what is going to sell and what will not. I have a closet full of tubs with odd sized t-shirts that never sold, old photographs and various CD’s that we no longer sell. On the flip side, our merchandise sales generate a great deal of revenue for the band on a nightly basis. I am willing to coordinate it and in my opinion, the benefits out weigh the costs. Hopefully after processing this information, you will have enough information to make an educated choice about your own merchandise sales. As always, sell wisely my friends. Here are some repeated links for services listed above if you are not familiar with the blue highlighting that indicates a hot link (not judging)… Future shirts – www.futureshirts.com Square up – https://squareup.com Let’s Make A Deal – http://www.harmonycentral.com/articles/lets-make-a-deal-part-3---be-your-own-distributor Chris Marion is an American musician best known as a member of Little River Band and for his contribution to the gospel and country music industries. Although graduating college with a B.A. in Psychology, he is a classically trained pianist and has worked in the music industry professionally for over 35 years. As a resident of Nashville, he is involved in the recording industry working in the genres of Gospel, Country and Rock. Since 2004, he has toured globally with the classic rock act Little River Band as a keyboardist and vocalist. For more useless trivia and minutiae concerning Chris or to contact him directly, feel free to visit his personal website www.chrismarionmusic.com.
  8. Where else but Vegas can you find a collection of Classic Rock Veterans that hail from acts like Heart, Bon Jovi, Whitesnake, Survivor, Bad Company and Starship? The good news is that you don’t have to raid any vault to enjoy an evening of your favorite hits from the people who originally recorded them combined with a healthy dose of classic music from the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s presented in a colorful chronological overview. Here’s the line up that you have to see to believe: Howard Leese – Guitar (Heart, Bad Company) Doug Aldrich – Guitar (White Snake) Robin McAuley – Lead Vocals (MSG, Survivor) Paul Shortino – Lead Vocals (Rough Cutt, Quiet Riot) Jay Schellen – Drums (Hurricane, Asia) Andrew Freeman – Lead Vocals (Offspring) Michael T. Ross – Keyboards (Lita Ford) Hugh McDonald – Bass (Bon Jovi, Ringo Starr) Stephanie Calvert – Lead Vocals (Starship) Carol-Lyn Liddle – Lead Vocals (Masters of Rock) It’s often said that Vegas is the place where good music goes to die. As an aging artist myself, I would beg to differ in that classic rock never really dies, it ages like a fine wine. When you have singers and players that maintain their form and abilities, Vegas can provide an excellent platform to reach a genre on a regular basis. The town is a resort destination and obviously there is a demand for great entertainment. Raiding the Rock Vault takes the regular Vegas staple to the next level. Being able to cover 3 decades worth of hits is a daunting task for anyone. However, I must say that these guys and girls really rise to the occasion. The music is presented within a chronological dramatic framework that connects the repertoire with historical events that were occurring in the corresponding era. You can’t really appreciate Woodstock era music without considering the Vietnam conflict that was occurring simultaneously and some of the unrest in the country. It’s all in context with video interspersed with some comical drama (it is still Vegas…). The impressive aspect of the musical performance is the duplication of the sounds and tones from song to song. Doug Aldrich and Howard Leese cover the electric guitar work with deft accuracy down to even guitar selection. For Jimi Hendrix stuff, Doug even plays a guitar that looks like Jimi’s lefty set up. Of course for Led Zep, Doug plays a double-necked 12 string/6 string combo. These guys match the licks and leads note for note. Even though Doug came into the business on the backend of Whitesnake and Dio success, he cut his teeth on this classic rock and plays it like the veteran he is. For a guy who has seriously lived the rock and roll dream, Doug is really very down to earth and approachable. We chatted for almost and hour with him actually taking the time to call me back twice as inevitable interruptions came. He presents as a guy who realizes that he’s been blessed with a great opportunity. DA – “I recognize that I have been seriously fortunate in my career to have landed some great gigs and been at the right place at the right time. Sure I’ve worked hard and practiced hard as a student of my craft but I know guys who are playing club gigs who can shred circles around me. I have been fortunate to be able to surround myself with seriously talented musicians like here at rock vault or working with David (Cloverdale of Whitesnake) and Dio or even Howard here at Rock Vault. These guys took me under their wings as a little brother and shared a wealth of knowledge that I’ve been able to apply to my own career and musicianship.” Interestingly, Aldrich has never received any extended period of formal guitar instruction. DA – "I got an electric guitar pretty early and immediately got the bug. I loved sports but ended up focusing on playing guitar. I took a couple of lessons but I just never connected with my teacher. Eventually when I lived in LA, I ended up with almost 70 students. It was a great chance to pad my income when gigs were slow. Everybody wanted to play like Eddie Van Halen so a rock electric guitar teacher was a real commodity. I tried to take a different approach with students and really connect with them like it didn’t happen for me. Consequentially, I ended up learning a lot about the instrument myself. I wanted to be able to challenge my students so I would get on Youtube and watch different things and read books and manuals. Youtube is an excellent tutorial resource because there is a wealth of great videos that show you technique and fingering on the fret board. It would have been great when I was a kid learning how to play guitar." As he mentioned, Doug moved to LA in the real heyday of rock scene around Sunset Boulevard. The clubs like the Roxy, Whiskey and the Goldrush were teaming with talented and creative musicians. Aldrich never really had to play in cover bands like many musicians on the way up do. DA – “I immediately joined a band playing lead guitar and starting writing music. There was a demand for bands playing original music so we had a lot of opportunity to play and create. I actually auditioned for KISS at one point and still have a good relationship with Gene Simmons to this day. I realized that if I was going to be performing on this level, I really needed to step up my game and I got serious about my craft.” Doug would go on to tour with Whitesnake for over 12 years and become a widely respected rock guitarist. He’s really happy to be off the road and working in one location on a nightly basis. DA – "This is a good place to be at this time of my life with a young son and a family. But it sometimes is just as busy working six nights a week. It’s hard to keep a balance between family and work but I guess it’s the same with any gig." It’s this life outlook that serves Aldrich very well. When asked if he might have some wise advice for an aspiring shredder, he shares insight that certainly reflects an unflappable perspective. DA – “I think it’s important for an aspiring player to be determined and not let the inevitable ruffle your feathers. Make the best of whatever situation you are in and believe in yourself and your ability. Take your shot!” SNEAK PEAK BEHIND THE AMP RACK Doug’s go-to guitar is a Gibson Les Paul ’57 reissue Gold Top . He reports that he’s literally played thousands of shows with this guitar. His Whitesnake rig was accented by vintage Marshall Greenbacks with a Bradshaw switching system . These days he alternates between Marshalls with slant speaker placement and straight loads. For many of his personal guitars, he has Tonepros bridge s installed because of the versatility and dependability in constantly changing situations. Like many other electric guitarists these days, Doug is also fond of the Fractal Effects unit for amazing amp mods and effects. Because the Rock Vault show requires so many signature guitar sounds, there is a collection of classic guitars at the guitarist disposal. For much of the rock stuff, Doug uses various Les Pauls including a replica of his Gold Top. For the Led Zeppelin song “Stairway to Heaven”, Doug uses a Jimmy Page Gibson EDS 1275 that he reports was quite a bear to master. Interestingly, the double neck guitar that he uses for Hotel California later in the show is one that is wired differently than the 1275 much like Don Felder set up his guitar. For Rolling Stones as well as Deep Purple tunes, Aldrich uses a great Nash Telecaster that has a wonderful bright tone about it. For Jimi Hendrix, uses a left handed Fender Strat that was restrung for a right hander, the exact opposite of Jimi’s setup but it achieves the same unique sound. One of his favorite guitars to use during the show is an Epiphone SG that he plays during AC DC songs. He reports that this inexpensive guitar really has a great SG tone right out of the box and only costs in the $200 range. The endearing thing about Doug Aldrich is that he still has genuine awe for creating music. It’s refreshing to talk to someone who still appreciates the mystique and privilege of making music as a professional. Doug still has much to contribute to his craft and you will always enjoy an amazing performance when you see him in a show. Of course, Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Howard Leese has been playing much of this music since it’s creation in the 70’s. The California native was a member of the band Heart from the mid 70’s when they created their breakthrough debut Dreamboat Annie. Hit songs like “Crazy on You” and “Magic Man” thrust the band into platinum sales and spot lighted not only Howard’s guitar work but thick soaring analog synths. He toured with Heart for over 20 years and still tours intermittently with Paul Rogers and Bad Company when not Raiding the Vault. While he might pushing the range of when the average fellow is considering retirement, 6 nights a week Leese demonstrates that he’s just getting his second wind as a lead guitarist and musical director of Raiding the Rock Vault. Male lead vocals are split between Robin McAulley, Paul Shortino and Andrew Freeman with female leads being covered by Stephanie Calvert (Starship) and Vegas native Carol-Lin Liddle. Lead vocals from this era of music present any vocalist with a challenging range to cover. These vets do it all night. McAuley has been singing hard rock in bands like MSG and Survivor for years so this collection of songs is right in his comfort zone. When I spoke to Robin, he related a that his foray into lead vocals was rather indirect. RM – “Getting started in the Irish music scene, I had originally planned to be a drummer and perhaps sing backing vocals. I realized quickly that there were many better drummers than I could amount to be and focused on singing as well.” Robin would soon begin covering lead vocal responsibilities in associated bands and eventually become the front man in a signed band that enjoyed substantial radio play – Grand Prix. Grand Prix would tour the European metal scene and even garnered an opening slot for Iron Maiden. He attracted the attention of Michael Schenker, a noted rocker who offered him a position in his band that would eventually become the McAuley Schenker Group and gain substantial critical success in rock circles. Robin credits Schenker and his producer, Frankie for teaching him a great deal about versatility and rock showmanship. RM – “Michael was an amazing writer and singer who really took me under his wing. While I was reluctant to accept the position at first, it really was a great opportunity to tour and collaborate.” Robin would eventually be invited to join Survivor from his association with producer Frank. RM – “This was also a case of me reluctantly following up on an offer that lead to the Survivor slot. I went to the US to rehearse with the band and literally within 4 days, we were opening for Eddie Money in front of 10’s of thousands. I had to learn 30 songs before that first show. If I could just remember the beginning lyrics, I could usually get through the song.” Although having been primarily a metal singer, Robin found the Survivor slot a great opportunity. RM – “Survivor really has a great body of work and such wonderful melodies. It was a great opportunity to expand my versatility and it serves me well in covering so many genres of pop music in Raiding The Rock Vault.” Rock Vault really presents especially the singers with the difficult task of covering iconic songs that were sung by iconic singers and stylists. I asked Robin how he approaches this on a nightly basis. RM – “I will have to admit that for me it is always sobering to understand the emotion and sentiment that these songs generate among the fans who come out to here it. I have on numerous occasions found myself getting a little choked up during parts of the show when I can see listeners literally crying as they hear these songs that were part of the tapestry of their lives. That’s what makes it fresh for me every night.” Likewise with Paul Shortino, his tenure in Quiet Riot and Rough Cutt make his contribution to the vocals of the night memorable and enjoyable. Andrew Freeman and Stephanie Calvert bring a fresh take on some classic rock and roll lead vocals. Andrew was a member of the punk rock band The Offspring. By the time Freeman began touring with the band, they were at the apex of their radio success and literally playing arenas around the world. AF – “There were times when I would have to pinch myself realizing what an amazing opportunity this was. It was a great experience and it definitely effects my performance and ability to front the Rock Vault band on songs I sing lead.” Although much of the repertoire from the show was recorded before Andrew was even born, he still brings an amazingly relevant interpretation of his songs each night. AF – “I grew up listening to a diverse cross section of music but had a love and respect for classic rock.” This definitely shows up in Andrew’s contribution to each nights performance. He’s an extremely competent front man and engages the crowd in anthem rock form with natural ease. This is the case from top to bottom with the Rock Vault staff in terms of their ability to handle to flow professionally. AF – "We advertise the show as classic rock and roll by those who created it. When you have the experience and credentials that we all bring to this show like Howard (Rock Hall of Fame, Heart), Hugh (Bon Jovi) and Doug (Whitesnake, Dio), you really take the stage with authority and credibility." It’s truly impressive that these younger members of the cast are able to step right into big shoes and represent this great collage of rock and roll standards with such ease. Stephanie Calvert (Starship) is perhaps one of the younger members of the cast but is still touring with Mickey Thomas and Starship. She fills the incredibly big shoes of Grace Slick in the Starship show. SC – “I grew up in Vegas and cut my teeth singing songs made famous by some of the greatest rock and roll female vocalists of all time like Grace and Janis (Joplin). The opportunity to audition for the female lead position in Starship was a logical step for me because this was the style of music that is my comfort zone. Ironically, when I was in high school, my favorite band was Starship.” In the current lineup of Raiding the Rock Vault, Stephanie has the opportunity to sing lead vocals on another iconic female rocker song - “Alone” by Heart and Ann Wilson. SC – “It’s a great opportunity to sing a song by one of my favorite vocalists, Ann Wilson accompanied by the lead guitarist who actually played on the record (Howard Leese). It’s surreal to be sharing the stage with guys as a peer that I literally grew up listening to and revered.” Having toured with Starship for over 8 years now, Stephanie brings great poise and passion to the Rock Vault show. She reminds the crowd that rock and roll is not just a man’s world. SC – “It is harder for a woman to carve out a space in an industry that has historically been man’s world. Trying to walk the line between professionalism and still exploiting your sexuality and femininity requires some deliberate effort and thoughtfulness.” When asked if she had any sage advice for an up and coming female rocker, she had this great insight to share. SC – “I think it’s important to be tough but still embrace the fact that you’re a girl. It’s important to know your strengths and focus on developing your craft in areas that support and spotlight your strength. Always bring your best game when you have the shot.” Stephanie is most definitely carving out her own history through Starship and Rock Vault. She brings a memorable flair to the show when she is not on the road with Starship a little over 50 nights per year to the nightly approval of all in attendance. Carol-Lin Liddle, best know for her participation in the Vegas production Masters of Rock fills out the lead vocal duties. The rhythm section of the Rock Vault band brings some veteran chops to the show. Hugh McDonald of Bon Jovi fame plows a deep groove on bass guitar. As Jon Bonjovi takes some time off from touring, it gives Vegas crowds an opportunity to hear Hugh stretch out with this repertoire. Michael T. Ross of Lita Ford and Missing Persons ilk covers the broad spectrum of keyboard responsibilities. No different than the demand on a guitarist for the varieties of guitar tones over three decades of music is the demand on a keyboardist to travel from Rhodes and Hammond to the analog synth sounds of the 70’s and 80’s. Jay Schellen formerly of Hurricane and Asia contributes a deft performance on the drum kit traveling across multiple genres and a collection of iconic drummers and sounds. This show that runs five nights a week at the all new Tropicana is one of the highest rates shows on the strip and it’s easy to see why. The producers have assembled an all star cast and a phenomenal show that pumps some life into some classic rock hits. Raiding the Rock Vault proves that Vegas is the place where music goes to be revitalized and represented in all of it’s glory. To find out more about Raiding the Rock Vault or to purchase tickets for the show, visit here. Chris Marion is an American musician best known as a member of Little River Band and for his contribution to the gospel and country music industries. Although graduating college with a B.A. in Psychology, he is a classically trained pianist and has worked in the music industry professionally for over 35 years. As a resident of Nashville, he is involved in the recording industry working in the genres of Gospel, Country and Rock. Since 2004, he has toured globally with the classic rock act Little River Band as a keyboardist and vocalist. For more useless trivia and minutiae concerning Chris or to contact him directly, feel free to visit his personal website www.chrismarionmusic.com.
  9. From The Front Of The House - The Role of a Sound Man The best way to frame this article might be with a classic joke: What’s the difference between God and a soundman? God doesn’t think he’s a soundman. While that’s perhaps undeservedly harsh, there is no one in your organization beyond the band members themselves that can be as pivotal to your live performance being successful. Your front of house engineer is just as essential because he is taking what you create and translating that with the tools he has for reproduction to the crowd in attendance. You might be creating brilliance that is unrivaled since the Beatles crossed the pond but without a competent sound engineer exploiting adequate production resources, you’ll not only be unheard but you might even offend some attendees. Maybe it’s now understandable why conscientious engineers struggle with a bit of a “God” complex since they are actively creating something out of what often appears to them as the void… Obviously, mixing live audio is as nuanced as it is individual. The purpose of this article is by no means tutorial. My purpose here is to explore the basic functions of the front of house engineer in concert production and offer some insight on facilitating a good production experience whether you are a musician, engineer or even a manager. Perhaps you’ll end up not having to use God’s or your soundman’s name in vain. PREPARATION The most essential part of FOH job begins before he even gets to the venue – preparation. The soundman hosts a party of “KNOW”. 1. Know your band’s show. a. Set List – your FOH needs a set list worse than the bass player. This set list should indicate who sings lead, who plays the leads at what point in the song, tempos, if you switch to banjo during a song or when the chain saw mic needs to be turned on. The FOH should never have to guess what’s coming – this means stuff gets missed. b. Input List – like a set list, this gives your soundman an opportunity to be prepared for signal flow, where that signal is coming from and what gear he needs to process said signal or even route said signal. c. Equipment List – Since the FOH is typically a production manager from the standpoint of the band, it is essential that he has an intimate knowledge of the gear the band is bringing. It’s his responsibility to make sure that gear is functional and that you have mics, DI’s, stands and cabling to get signal to front of house in the first place. There is no greater groove buster for the flow of a production than to be shut down because you don’t have the right patch cable or DI. d. Stage plot – this is so essential to pulling off a professional production yet it’s a commonly overlooked item. Often on a fair date throw and go, you have a very brief opportunity to turn the stage for your band. If the crew has a definitive list for where personnel and gear is to be located on stage, you don’t waste precious time with bumbling stage hands needing directions for pedal board placement. Have multiple copies with large simple print that you can even make out on a dark stage. Artwork is not as important as functional direction. This is an excellent segue to the next “KNOW”. 2. Know what production awaits you at the gig. a. Advancing the show - in Little River Band, our FOH is also the production manager. He advances every gig with the venue weeks before the performance. He makes sure that the nuances of our equipment rider are being met adequately. If there are holes or things that the venue cannot or will not provide, he knows ahead of time and makes preparations. b. Establishing a relationship with the venue or promoter – your FOH or production manager is often the first member of the organization that the client comes in contact with. Personalities can make or break a successful event before you even pull up in the van. It is extremely important to not only lay the ground work for a positive experience, it also helps to make sure you get what you need to pull off the best show. c. Scheduling – in an article that I wrote several months ago about the art of putting on a show, I praised the day sheet as the savior of many a production. It’s amazing the difference that knowing the schedule, coordinating everyone’s schedule and then following the schedule can make in not just making an event a positive experience but even raising the potential that you’ll get rebooked on subsequent events. You can be the most gifted artist of all time but if you show up late for sound check or load in, you effect everyone in the production from top to bottom. Since the FOH has more skin in the game in terms of getting his job done, it makes sense for him to be the clock boss. 3. Know what skills you have to offer and the pitfalls to avoid. a. No man is an island – although the FOH usually wears many hats, when the downbeat starts your primary job has to be mixing. If you have difficulty just pushing the faders without having a stroke, don’t try to hit lighting cues, guitar tech or simultaneously chase down the sleazy promoter to get the check. b. Assemble the right team – obviously if you are working the VFW in rural Arkansas, you probably won’t need to hire an LD to turn the 4 incandescent stage lights on and off during the show. Again, this involves knowing what awaits at the venue and who you’re going to need to pull it off efficiently and professionally. c. Know your gig – if you’ve never worked on a Midas digital console, ask (no let me recommend that you beg) for the system tech’s help to get your show up and running. Arrogance will not only tank your mix but the show period. When you advance the production, know what you’re getting into and make sure there is going to be a systems tech available. Often, you can do some research online or even at a local music store if you are unfamiliar with a piece of gear. The most important role of the FOH is making sure that each voice and instrument can be heard during the show, not programming the right compression ratio for lead vocals. When all else fails, plan to get signal and mix it. PRESENTATION You’ve arrived at the gig – now it’s time present your best show and produce this list of “BE”s 1. Be a follower the plan and stick to the schedule – I know I am repeating myself here but it is essential that you follow your schedule even at the expense of comfort. Plan for delays, plan for equipment failure and plan for the inevitable by striving to meet deadlines as quickly and as efficiently as possible. 2. Be flexible and creative – Our crew guys are some of the best in the business in this department. Inevitably, you won’t have exactly what you need when you arrive or gear fails. Being a diva or a hot head solves nothing. The goal is pull off the show if at all possible. Be able to step back, assess the situation and come up with an alternative route if need be. Level heads alway prevail. 3. Be orderly – get into a routine. Our crew guys have their specific responsibilities and they execute from arrival to departure. We plan on a sound check everyday at 4 PM. I am always amazed at the way these professionals pull it off regardless of the situation. The pivotal secret to this is having a orderly flow for executing your responsibilities. You could set your clock by what time our FOH guy is typically sending audio to the racks and stacks each day to tune the PA. He accomplishes this consistency by being diligent and orderly. 4. Be organized and clean – it is incredibly amazing to consider what an impact organization and cleanliness can have on consistently pulling off a production. It might take a little extra time and anal retention to keep your cabling rolled neatly and clean but it saves an exponential amount of time when you are trying to set up. I love a clean and neat stage. Besides the aesthetic appearance value, it streamlines set up and tear down as well as locating the inevitable bad line. 5. Be persistent to get the line check or sound check you need. If you just get a line check, make sure the vocal mics are attenuated to accommodate the relative volume of the singers using them. As well, check the guitar patches or amp volumes the players will use. The guitar tech’s version of Stairway to Heaven might hook him up with a bar fly after the show but if that line is used to accommodate speed metal through a Marshall stack, make sure levels match the demand. Don’t blow out one side of the PA on the first chunk because you are unprepared. EXECUTION Preparation is done, presentation is completed and now it’s time to execute (and I’m not talking about the lead guitarist’s girlfriend who wants to hear more guitar). This execution is accomplished by following a list of “DO, DO, DO’s”: 1. Do start on time – be ready to hit the mutes or push up the master faders when the clock hits the magic time. If you’re in the back of the house, have some way of communicating with the band or crew person backstage either by radio, cell phone or even a pre-designated flashlight blink. There’s nothing worse than seeing guys playing on stage and not hearing them because the FOH is putting in his drink order with the hot bartender. 2. Do have your set list in front of you and have a hand on the essential faders – You know that lead vocal is coming so be prepared to respond with a fader as needed. Likewise, know which lines need attention as the show unfolds. 3. Do protect the integrity of your workspace – make sure that your area is secure from drunks sitting their beer on top of the console case or effects rack. As well, put up some police tape around your area if it is in a high traffic area that has inadequate security. Nothing busts a groove like a drunk chick tripping over the power cable and unplugging the console because you didn’t cordon off your space. 4. Do show sensitivity to volume – obviously, you want your band to be heard over the din of the crowd and the built in limitations of the room or concert venue. But, nothing diminishes the concert satisfaction like volume fatigue. Perhaps this is further qualified by being sensitive to the genre in question. If you are mixing a metal band in a concrete room on a metal festival – slam away. If you are mixing a smooth jazz show at a wine festival, 125 dB is not going to leave a pleasant bouquet with the attendees. 5. Do find inspiration – at this point in the day, you are as much an artist as the performers on stage. Find the joy in creating that drew you to the job in the first place. If you are diligent in your attention to all of the aforementioned issues, finally you can enjoy what you are called to do. CONCLUSION As mentioned before, this article was never intended to be a tutorial. My desire was to identify some aspects of what is expected from a FOH engineer and provide some insight based on the experience of living and working with some of the best professional audio engineers out there in the work force. Obviously, there are great educational resources out there to provide you with audio and gear knowledge. Besides actual schools like Full Sail University, there are some fantastic published works that have been mainstays in training and technique. Here are some of the most notable with links: The Sound Reinforcement Manual by Yamaha (Gary Davis and Ralph Jones) Soundcheck: The Basics of Sound and Sound Systems (Tony Moscal) Heil Sound Book: It All Starts With the Microphone (Bob Heil) As always, my friends, enjoy your view from the front of house and mix safely! Chris Marion is an American musician best known as a member of Little River Band and for his contribution to the gospel and country music industries. Although graduating college with a B.A. in Psychology, he is a classically trained pianist and has worked in the music industry professionally for over 35 years. As a resident of Nashville, he is involved in the recording industry working in the genres of Gospel, Country and Rock. Since 2004, he has toured globally with the classic rock act Little River Band as a keyboardist and vocalist. For more useless trivia and minutiae concerning Chris or to contact him directly, feel free to visit his personal website www.chrismarionmusic.com.
  10. In Part 1 of Music Composition for the Dunce, we discussed music theory and some basic tools for music composition. In this installment, we’ll apply some of those components to develop your compositional technique. Before jumping into the pool, let me give you some encouragement from a couple master composers themselves – Claude Debussy and Igor Stravinsky. Debussy said, “Works of art make rules; rules do not make works of art”. Stravinsky offers perhaps the most honest assessment – “Lesser artists borrow; great artists steal”. My point here is that rules of theory are a framework and guide, not necessarily an electrified fence to keep you in. It’s cool to color outside the lines. When you have a conversation, you speak best about something you are familiar with or of something you are familiar with. Echoing Igor, your compositions will likely reflect music that you love and listen to. Let’s get down to it… The are three basic methods to approach the writing of a song: 1. Starting with a lyric and creating a melody and accompaniment around it. 2. Starting with a melody and creating a lyric and accompaniment to support it. 3. Starting with an accompaniment or series of chords then creating lyrics and a melody that matches the accompaniment. Since creating lyrics is really more of a literary practice, we’ll focus on the second and third of the above three methods of composition – accompaniment and melodic creation. You might say that these two methods work harmoniously together. While this is admittedly a cheesy play on words, it is accurate to say that the melody is built around the chords and rhythms of the accompaniment and the accompaniment is designed to support and melody. Just like the proverbial “which came first” debate where chickens and eggs are dependent upon each other for survival and continued creation, melodies and chordal accompaniments cooperate to create music. ACCOMPANIMENT OR CHORD PROGRESSION Since the accompaniment or chord progression of a song is the framework that melodies and lyrics sit on, we’ll first take a look at the method of connecting chords together. In our glossary of musical terms, we defined key signature as the series of sharps or flats found at the beginning of each staff in musical notation. For the purpose of expanding on composition, the key signature or “key” of the song is the chord or key that is the predominate chord that everything circles around. It is sometimes called the tonic or the 1 chord of the song. Very often a song will end of the tonic or key of the song in an action that is called resolution. It is also quite common that sections of the song like the verse or the chorus will end on the tonic. Rolling Stone recently named Bob Dylan’s song “Like A Rolling Stone” as the top song of all time. However, Bob would have to kneel at the altar of none other than “Happy Birthday” as the most performed song of all time. For the sake of great examples that most living humans could reference, let’s consider the birthday song to see how some of these terms play out. Let’s say for the sake of argument, we start our version of the “Birthday Song” in the key of C. Therefore, the tonic chord for the song is the C chord and since there are no sharps or flats in the key of C, the music staff would show no accidentals in its registration. The second chord that supports the lyrical word “you” (as in happy birthday to YOU) is G, also known as the dominant chord. For the purpose of classic simple composition, you might say the dominant chord is the best friend of the tonic chord. Before I expand on this relationship, I want to present a concept called the circle of fifths, one of the most common methods for developing chord progressions. Historically, composers have observed this circle of fifths in transitioning from chord to chord. The fifth refers to the interval within an eight-tone scale from tone 1 to tone 5 in the scale. This is where it gets a little dicey for the music theory challenged – but hold on and I will simplify it as much as possible. I could do an entire piece on the 12 semi tones in a chromatic scale and how ascending up in the interval of a fifth would eventually take you through all 12 tones of the scale. But, for the purpose of general composition, moving in fifths from chord to chord is common compositional practice. Because many songs adhere to this method, it also sounds very natural to the ear. For example, the first two lines of “Happy Birthday” looks like this in the key of C: C G Happy birthday to you G C Happy birthday to you As you can see, the chords go back and forth from C to G to C in an interval of a fifth. In the third line of the birthday song, we are introduced to perhaps the 2nd most common companion of the tonic chord – the subdominant or the 4 chord (based on the interval of a fourth between the tonic and the subdominant). The third line of the song would read like this: C F Happy birthday dear “reader” I live in Nashville, the home of country music. There is a popular joke in town that has a guitar player taking lessons. On the first day he learns the one chord. In the second lesson he learns the 5 chord. In the third, he learns the 4 chord. When he doesn’t show up for the fourth lesson, the teacher calls and asks why he didn’t come for the lesson and the new guitar player answers that he got a gig with a country band. There are a lot of country songs that simply work the 1, 4 and 5 chords exclusively. One of the most popular country songs of all time, “He Stopped Loving Her Today” demonstrates how brilliantly the progression is used even its simplicity (in the key of G): G He stopped loving her today C Placed a wreath up her grave D Soon they’ll carry him away G He stopped loving her today In the first installment of this series, I introduced you to a word I’ve used a few times already in this second article – the chord. A chord is a group of 3 or more notes that are sounded together in a harmonious relationship. There are essentially two types of chords – major and minor. These terms refer to whether the interval between the 2nd and 3rd tone in the corresponding scale is a full tone or a semi tone. For example, in the key of C major, the third tone in the scale would be an E natural. On the other hand, in the key of C minor, the third tone would be an E flat. In both of the previous song examples, all of the chords referred to are major chords. Adding minor versions of chords gives us an even broader arsenal of alternatives to extend the progression of chords. Let’s take a look at a popular Everly Brothers hit, “All I Have To Do Is Dream” for an example of using the 6 minor chord in a progression (in the key of C): C Am F G Dream, dream, dream, dream dream. As you can see, going to the 6 minor chord of A minor transitions naturally to the subdominant F chord in this line. This is the same progression of the proverbial “Heart and Soul” piano song that even novices master easily on the family piano as well as the Police hit “Every Breath You Take” Another common progression variation involving minor chords uses a phenomena called the circle of fifths. Descending through chords whose root tones are one fifth apart follows a natural harmonic relationship between the tones. Weaker or earlier chords might begin as minor then as they circle closer to the tonic become major. Let’s turn to another classic for an example of this type of progression – “Over The Rainbow”. In the last line of the verse, we see these chords (in the key of C): F C (1) Am (6 minor) And the dreams that you dare to Dm (2 m) G (5) C (1) Dream really do come true. Finally for this section, you can also use chord voicing to help transition to a new chord. The most common transitional voicing is the addition of the flat 7 to the chord. When adding a 7 to the dominant (5) chord, it usually signals a transition to the tonic. Likewise, adding a 7 to the tonic will usually lead you to a subdominant 4 chord. TIP: Become a student of chord progression. Study your favorite songs from a chord progression perspective. You’ll find that there are commonalities in progression and even voicing from genre to genre. Developing your ear in the recognition of the uniqueness of chord progression will only make you a stronger composer yourself as you expand your own chord and progression vocabulary. MELODY As I indicated earlier in this article, the melody walks arm in arm with the accompanying chord progression. Typically, a good melody not only matches the cadence of the lyric, but it also compliments the chordal accompaniment. This is accomplished by moving in and around the notes of the triad and voicing of the accompaniment. Not every note of the melody must represent the tones of the triad or chord cluster. However, a stronger melody is at least moving toward a tone in the cluster as it passing through the cluster notes. These non-cluster tones are called passing notes and indicate movement toward the cluster. Let’s go back to our first example of “Happy Birthday”. The melody in the key C is this: G - G - A - G –C -B Hap-py birth-day to you Even though the “birth” syllable note is an A, it is passing through to get to one of the tonic cluster tones. Obviously a melody walks the fine line between the lyric and the chord progression that accompanies it. It’s job is to give the lyrics wings to soar above the accompaniment. You can demonstrate movement and emotion. You can capture the attention of the listener with rhythm or syncopation. As well you can show climax with an ascending line or closure with a descending line. TIP: Enduring and memorable melodies are often the ones that are easiest for the amateur singer to duplicate. Be intentional and yet simple in your melodic development. Don’t be afraid to break a rule for emphasis or follow a rule for comfort. CONCLUSION As I write these articles, I am always intimidated more by what I am unable to share in the space available within time constraints. As the chief of anal retention, I feel compelled to share it all and sadly often share too little. If anything in this circumstance, digest this information and use it to hone your craft. The best recipe for developing compositional skill is just sitting down and doing it. Don’t follow Stravinsky’s suggestion to outright steal other ideas. But, don’t be afraid to borrow and make it your own. Who cares if you ever receive accolades and grammy awards. Writing is such a wonderful outlet for your expressivity and world view. Dig in, my friends and as always – compose wisely! Chris Marion is an American musician best known as a member of Little River Band and for his contribution to the gospel and country music industries. Although graduating college with a B.A. in Psychology, he is a classically trained pianist and has worked in the music industry professionally for over 35 years. As a resident of Nashville, he is involved in the recording industry working in the genres of Gospel, Country and Rock. Since 2004, he has toured globally with the classic rock act Little River Band as a keyboardist and vocalist. For more useless trivia and minutiae concerning Chris or to contact him directly, feel free to visit his personal website www.chrismarionmusic.com.
  11. We’ve covered songwriting over a series of Harmony Central articles that outlined a variety of writing aspects including technique and even interviewed a couple of songwriters. In the introductory article, I quoted a statistic that showed your likelihood to being struck by lightening as slightly higher than writing a hit song. Although not everyone is going to write a hit song, what about just composing music just for the fun and creativity of it? The operative thing to remember about every successful composer is this: they all started somewhere. If you don’t try, you’ll never succeed. With this first installment, we’ll give you some tools and framework to help you get started on your creative journey. INTRODUCTION Music is very much like a separate language. In the utilization of language, you have a vocabulary pool that you draw from with each word having a specific definition. Depending on the form or instance of the word, it might be a noun, verb, adverb or even an adjective. To communicate or speak the language, you combine different words together to communicate the idea you want to express. There are rules for how you connect words together to form sentences and communicate. Creating music requires the same form, the same implementation of musical vocabulary and there are similar rules for how you combine terms from your musical vocabulary pool to create a song or composition. THEORY 101 First, let’s establish a basic vocabulary of musical tools with which to work. 1. Theory – this is the set of rules and framework from which music is created and practiced. 2. Pitch – the degree of highness or lowness of a tone created by instrument or voice. 3. Note – a written sign indicating the pitch and duration of a sound or the actual pitch/tone itself. 4. Chord – a cluster of notes sounding together; usually at least three. 5. Melody – a sequence of musical notes. 6. Rhythm – a regular and often repeated pattern of movement or sound. 7. Measure – the rhythmic subdivision of a prescribed number of beats. 8. Time signature – a fractional figure indicating the number of beats per measure on top and the duration of each beat on the bottom. 9. Scale – an arrangement of notes in a system of music that ranges over 8 different pitches. Scales vary in intervals depending on the mode (major or minor). 10. Key – a group or system of notes based on a particular first note (or tonic) and functioning within the mode of the scale. 11. Lyric – the formulaic expression of thoughts and phrases 12. Accompaniment – a collection or pattern of chords that support a melody. 13. Step – the interval between each note of the scale. A tone is a full step while a semi tone is a half step. OK, are you overwhelmed yet? As in any language, there are people who are better communicators of it than others. Even if you have the vocabulary of an elementary student, you can still basically communicate. It may not sound as eloquent, but it still communicates the speaker’s thoughts and wishes. *** In the creation of music, expressing your thoughts is paramount. It may not be as smooth or eloquent as a professional composer, but it is still a unique expression for you. There is technically no right or wrong in this sense. If you follow and apply some of the basic rules of theory, you might find that your ability to express gets easier or smoother. And, perhaps your creation will be more palatable to someone other than your border collie and mother. For the purpose of this brief article, we’ll focus on the rudiments of basic composition. There are hundreds of thousands of books and series that have been devoted to the writing of a song. I’m not so presumptuous to believe that I can teach you how to compose a song within a couple brief articles. I can however introduce to you to the form and function of composition. This article will put you on the starting blocks that will hopefully propel you into a lifelong race that satisfies your creative muse. Let’s divide a song into three components: 1. lyric 2. melody 3. accompaniment All three of these components utilize the musical vocabulary that I listed earlier in the article fairly interchangeably. Obviously, each component can exist and occur independently or function together in support of each other. Let’s take a look at some common applications of theory and musical form within a song. KEY SIGNATURE As aforementioned, this term refers to primary tone or tonic on which the song is based. The key signature or relative key is important to establish early in the song development because it will effect where the range of the melody will lie and how a singer might sing it. There are 12 possible key signatures as follows: A - A#(Bb) – B – C – C#(Db) – D – D#(Eb) - E – F – F#(Gb) – G – G#(Ab) TIME SIGNATURE In the glossary above, the time signature is defined as a fraction with the numerator (or top) number representing the number of beats per measure (as a division of a whole note) and with the denominator (or bottom) representing the duration or rhythmic value of the beat. For example: 4/4 = 4 beats per measure with the beat duration being a quarter note. This is a standard time signature used in most songs. 3/4 = 3 beats per measure with the beat duration being a quarter note. This is commonly referred to as a waltz. CHORD This term describing a cluster of tones striking at the same time is the fundamental building block of any accompaniment. The relationship between the tones or pitches of each note is significant and usually includes the 1st, 3rd and 5th tone of the reference key of the chord. For example: A “C” chord would include a C (the root of the chord), an E natural (if the chord is a major chord) and a G. As long as all three of those pitches are represented in the chord, it is still a C chord no matter which pitch is the lowest note in the chord. Chords are used to support the melody as the melody usually weaves around the intervals of the chord being played in the accompaniment. Some notes in the scale being sung against the chord are dissonant and less desirable. RHYTHM Rhythm refers to a pattern of note durations and movement that is regular or repetitive. Rhythm can be represented in the melody line or in the chord progression within measures. Like chords, rhythmic variations make compositions interesting and unique. If you think about each measure as a grid of subdivision, you need 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32 etc. increments to fill a measure depending on the rhythmic value. Sometimes the rhythm might connect note values by tying the note duration to the next note’s value. As you can see, there can be no written rule to say exactly what rhythm is to be observed. However, the ultimate rule of thumb is that your rhythm should support the melody or lyric for intelligibility and clarity. The more intricate or syncopated the rhythm, the more information that the listening brain has to process. MELODY As this term refers a sequence of notes that are linked together, the melody too is a completely unique signature component of a song. It usually directly lines up with the accompaniment. In other words, the melody should match pretty closely to the tones and intervals of the chords that are being played underneath. The intervals between the notes can vary greatly and often are used to portray emotion or lift the attention of the listener. LYRIC This is perhaps the most daunting part of composing and writing a song in that typically song lyrics have some semblance of rhyme and consistent cadence. Again, there is no rule that requires all song lyrics rhyme even loosely. Some of the classic songs in music history ignore perceived rules of convention. Perhaps this makes them even more memorable. Nevertheless, the important focus should be that lyrics should express your thoughts and your sentiment. In the next installment of composition for (part 2) … we’ll look at some ways to apply these tools and even seek some advice from a couple of hit songwriters for their craft. Until then, compose wisely my friends. Chris Marion is an American musician best known as a member of Little River Band and for his contribution to the gospel and country music industries. Although graduating college with a B.A. in Psychology, he is a classically trained pianist and has worked in the music industry professionally for over 35 years. As a resident of Nashville, he is involved in the recording industry working in the genres of Gospel, Country and Rock. Since 2004, he has toured globally with the classic rock act Little River Band as a keyboardist and vocalist. For more useless trivia and minutiae concerning Chris or to contact him directly, feel free to visit his personal website www.chrismarionmusic.com.
  12. In this current series of articles concerning the venerable Bob Heil and his contributions to live sound reinforcement, we’ve spent a great deal of time talking about the speakers and amps that Bob adapted for his live rig. His priority in design and configuration was always intelligibility – the ability for the listener or attendee to hear and distinguish the various components of the live performance. There is no more important signal source in live audio than the microphone. Whether it’s reproducing the human voice or various instruments, it’s important to choose the right microphone for the right task. Regardless of the quality of your PA rig, garbage in is still garbage out. Once Bob Heil left live sound in the ‘80s he turned his attention to the manufacture of microphones - first in the arena of his first love, ham radio. Then, at the behest of long time friend Joe Walsh, he focused on commercial microphones. He understood that designing the right microphone took blending his knowledge of frequencies from years of tuning and maintaining the thousands of pipes on the Wurlizter Organ with the technical abilities garnered from ham radio operation. Through years of innovation in microphone design and creation, Bob Heil continues to impact live sound in an all-new way. True to form, he has a microphone (or two) for every stage position. He makes my job of putting together one “Heil” of a stage microphone setup incredibly easy. VOCAL MICROPHONES A well-designed vocal microphone has a diaphragm built to capture the operative frequencies of the human voice – 80 Hz to 1100Hz (F2 to C6). It also has the right polar pattern that prevents as much feedback as possible and delivers more of the singer’s voice. Heil offers several phenomenal designs for this task. I can testify firsthand in regard to the functionality of Bob’s vocal microphones because all five vocal positions in Little River Band feature Heilsound microphones. PR 35 The PR 35 is the flagship vocal mic in Bob’s fleet, featuring a large 1.5” shockmounted, humbucking voice coil to ward off unwanted handling noise and electronic interference. This design provides amazing off-axis noise rejection. This translates to more of the singer’s voice being picked up by the microphone and less of the guitar player’s 110 dB of amp volume. But, the PR 35 is just as much at home on a guitar cabinet, with a smooth flat response throughout its range. The shockmounting in the design also minimizes low-end feedback. We have three of these vocal mics across the front of our stage and two being used for reproducing the lead guitar amplifiers. PR 31 BW The PR 31 BW is a little 4” powerhouse; an all-purpose microphone that LRB uses at my keyboard position as well as the singing drummer’s position. With its astounding -40dB off-axis rear rejection, it is a dream come true with guitar amps and crash cymbals all around me. I would recommend this mic for any live application where space is tight and bleed is an issue. The Fin The Fin is Bob’s take on the classic Turner microphone but with superior, modernized Heil electronics. It features a large, low-mass diaphragm element driven by a powerful magnet. This translates to rich sound that is accented by a cool blue LED. when hooked up to phantom power. INSTRUMENT MICROPHONES It’s worth mentioning that all of the aforementioned vocal mics also double as effective instrument mics. The PR 30, with its low-cut roll off switch, makes for a phenomenal guitar amp microphone. It will take the high output volume of an amp without being overdriven to distortion. But let’s take a look at some specific Heilsound microphones for specialized instrumental duties. PR 48 The PR 48 is a specially designed kick drum mic with a 1.5-inch diaphragm sealed in a vulcanized shockmount. It has a built-in low-pass filter that bumps up the frequencies where the kick drums resonate the most. It will easily handle up to 148 dB of SPL and is housed in a sharp-looking black steel chassis with red screens. PR 22 With a large dynamic cardioid and its ISO BAND isolation mounting, the PR 22 is a sound man’s dream for snare drums. With special porting and phasing plug design, most noise to the rear of the mic is eliminated. The PR 22 can take a full on snare hit without overloading. The older cousin of the PR 22, the PR 20 makes for a phenomenal hi-hat microphone with -30 dB of rear rejection and a frequency response of 50Hz to 18kHz. It will also take the peaks of cymbal frequencies with a maximum SPL of 145 dB. PR 28 With its -35 db rear rejection, the PR 28 serves phenomenally well in the role of tom mic. It isolates the input smoothly and also features a dual-suspension element to limit unwanted vibrations. Like its cousins, the PR 28 also handles an impressive 142 dB of SPL. PR 30 The PR 30 features a large diaphragm that is perfectly designed for overhead cymbals. With its large capacity to handle input, it withstands sound pressure that would literally shred the typical ribbon microphone. With the humbucking coil, the PR 30 is an excellent choice to run noise-free even surrounded by electrical sources and stage lights. CONCLUSION When you consider the design and innovation that has gone into each microphone in Bob Heil’s line, you can see that he has not created his products in a sterile lab or assembly line. These products were more often than not born out of listening to musicians and sound engineers and finding out what they really needed. As a matter of fact, you’re likely to meet Bob, like I did, at a sound check. Tell me the last time you saw a CEO from a major live-sound company at your sound check. From the early days of building a mic or two for Joe Walsh and then sending the prototypes out with the Eagles, Bob Heil has attempted to create products that meet the specific needs and demands of the live stage show. He’s the everyday guy hanging out backstage, albeit probably with a snazzy pair of blue suede shoes and a Ben Sherman shirt. Who says a mad scientist can’t dress well? It’s been such a pleasure to interview Bob and then spotlight some of the products that we use every day. While this may have sounded like some sort of infomercial for Heilsound, it’s really just a testimony to products that I see working regularly and dependably. These are great products and they are created by a smart, hard-working fellow. As always, tour “intelligibly,” my friends. For a closer look at these and other Bob Heil products, visit the Heilsound website. Chris Marion is an American musician best known as a member of Little River Band and for his contribution to the gospel and country music industries. Although graduating college with a B.A. in Psychology, he is a classically trained pianist and has worked in the music industry professionally for over 35 years. As a resident of Nashville, he is involved in the recording industry working in the genres of Gospel, Country and Rock. Since 2004, he has toured globally with the classic rock act Little River Band as a keyboardist and vocalist. For more useless trivia and minutiae concerning Chris or to contact him directly, feel free to visit his personal website www.chrismarionmusic.com.
  13. A View From The Side - Bob Heil - Part Two In my 30 plus years in the music business, I’ve been blessed to meet some really interesting people with compelling stories. I’ve found more often than not that success is a result of charisma combined with a great work ethic rather than talent. Then, on a rare occasion I come across someone who possesses a generous portion of all three of the aforementioned components. Their lives and their careers are graduated by one great achievement after another. Interestingly, you usually find a healthy dose of humility present because these individuals have a sense of blessing. As I spent an incredibly rich hour and a half chatting with Bob Heil, I knew immediately that this was going to be one of those occasions. Trying to pick the best pieces of his interview for this article is like trying to pick your favorite chocolate from a Whitman Sampler. You know each choice is going to be amazing no matter what corner or layer (except for those horrible chocolate covered cherries – those things are nasty). I found that the best approach was to pop a general question and just let Bob go. Enjoy, my friends! CM – Bob, you’ve had such an amazing and enduring career on so many levels that it’s difficult to really focus on specific topics but, let’s start logically at the beginning. Are there some specific points in your early years that directed your career toward audio and sound reinforcement? BH – It really started for me as I was playing the theater organ at the Fox (Theater) in St Louis. I played for about 15 years on a regular basis. The Wurlitzer Organ at the Fox is one of the few original setups still operational today. Part of my job was tuning and voicing the 8,000 pipes from 32 feet to 1 inch and the amps/speakers that were part of the system. I learned so much about frequencies and tone. Each pipe had a reed and various sized horns that help to create the timbre and pitch as the air flows through. It’s those nuances that really developed my ear and ability to translate the knowledge to live audio. Along with that was this ham radio thing. I love that; I love to build and I had some wonderful mentors. One of them was the chief engineer of KMOX, CBS radio in St Louis who taught me how to soldier and build stuff. I started to get tired of playing 4 hours every night so I began to look for something different to do. So, in my little hometown of 2000 people Marissa, Illinois I started a music store called Ye Old Music Shop. I ended up getting a Hammond Organ franchise – probably shouldn’t have gotten one that close to St. Louis. But, Chris, I look back and realize that so many blessings came to me at just the right time. I turned that into a great opportunity because I started renting Hammonds to concert promoters. Most dealers were also Steinway Piano sellers and all the salesmen wore suits – “ooh lah lah”. If you came in with hair down to your shoulders and jeans, they would kick you out. And, with my background at the Fox to guide me, I built dozens of crazy Hammond set ups with 3 manuals and even multiple Leslies. So I got this reputation among promoters as someone who could hook them up with special set ups and Hammonds. I would go into the huge concert halls with as many as 19,000 seats and the PA was just these column speakers, like the Shure Vocalmasters. CM – Wasn’t that the same type of PA that the Beatles used for the historic Shea Stadium Concert? BH – Yeah, and literally you couldn’t hear the band for the crowd noise. Not putting anybody down; that was just what we had to work with. So I thought, ‘wait a minute’ and the ham radio guy in me kicked in. I bought like 48 A7’s (Altec Voice of the Theater) and a bunch of Mcintosh amps. I heard that was the best stuff. I was not really into audio per se in those days, just Hammonds and ham radio. So I put this PA together with a little Altec mixer with 6 knobs and mixed from the stage. We were doing Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and all these incredible people with that rig. Man it was big and loud – 24 of those mothers a side. Nobody had ever done that before. Then I got hooked up with the James Gang. Belkin was their manager and he hired me to go out on a tour, something I had never done. CM: So this was the point that your friendship with Joe Walsh got off to a start? BH: Right, a couple of dates into that tour, Joe and I found out that we were both hams (radio operators) and our whole relationship changed. He had someone he could experiment with. Since I mixed from the stage, he could look back during a song like "Funk 49" and we could make changes on the fly. We couldn’t mix from the front because those little mixers didn’t have line drivers and the long cabling was not functional. But my relationship with Joe has been one that has endured throughout my sound reinforcement days and even when I started making microphones. There’s nothing like having a global band like the Eagles to beta test prototypes on. CM: From the James Gang, you really stepped up onto an even bigger stage with the Grateful Dead. Can you talk about how that all came about? BH: I was going by the Fox Theater one day and noticed 4 huge A4’s just sitting in the parking lot. I ask the stage manager George Bales what he was doing with them and found out they were going to trash them. I called a friend who had a big truck, took the cabinets home and started building my biggest PA yet. A few months later I get a call from Bales from the Fox again inquiring about those big speakers. I confirmed that I had them put together with amps and a new console that I had bought from a studio. He said talk to this guy because they showed up without a sound guy and a PA then handed the phone to Jerry Garcia. Their sound guy and production manager had an outstanding drug warrant and had gotten taken into custody in the previous town along with most of their PA. ***(EDITORIAL NOTE: that night has been dubbed by an entertainment writer, Dan Daley, as “The Night That Modern Live Sound Was Born”. The massive system that Heil put together featured the big A-4’s as the base of what was over a 5 foot stack with 60 and 90 degree radial horns – a combination that was not being used in live sound at the time. He also minimized feedback in the wedges by taping a second smaller microphone behind the main vocal mics which he ran out of phase with the monitors cancelling out leakage and potention feedback. For a FOH console, he adapted a Langevin studio recording console and culled a technique from his ham experience that used a balanced passive attenuator at the input stage of the console to allow adjustable gain on each channel input. The result of all of these unorthodox and untried methods - Heil could push his PA to almost 120 dB.) BH: Man, did Jerry like it loud and that PA was loud. The guys hired me and my crew on the spot and we hit the road with the Grateful Dead. That show with the Dead in St Louis changed live sound history and it really changed my life. I continued to fine tune my system and even created multiple rigs to keep up with the demand our reputation was creating in rock and roll. CM: Well, you definitely had such an incredible impact on live sound that is still reflected in the way we do sound reinforcement even today. The Dead tour established a new level of achievement in touring and live sound. But the next big call you received gave you an opportunity to expand your influence and your brand outside of the US to Europe as well. BH: We were out on tour in Chicago with Chaka Khan. I got a call from the Sunn sales manager saying that we needed to get that PA to Boston. The Who had just started their Who’s Next Tour in the US and it was off to a rough start. I asked when they needed it and he said tomorrow night. I literally leased a 707 and even loaded the truck onto the plane and we made out way up to Boston to meet up with the Who. We did the Who’s Next tour for a year and a half across the US, Europe and back here again. During that time, Pete Townshend and I became very close. He called me a while after we returned to the US and said he was conceptualizing a quadraphonic arena tour which had never been done. Of course, that was a challenge to me and I assured him that we could do it. Amazingly, as I designed and put the system together, Pete was still writing the music for the production. BH: When we debuted Quadrophenia at Madison Square Garden, we were able to fly Roger’s voice around the room from corner to corner. It was a massive PA that could hit 115 dB before it would feedback. The Who loved it loud. That Quadraphenia mixer along with the first talk box is on display in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. We were the first company to be invited to display at the Rock Hall. CM: How did you make the transition from live sound to microphone production? BH: The connecting thread through all of this is my ham radio work and even my relationship with Joe (Walsh). I left live sound in the 80’s when punk rock invaded. I started concentrating on building and developing products for ham radio. I had a home in California and would visit with Joe periodically or keep in touch on amateur radio. He called me one day with a request. He said he had been using my Goldline ham mic for vocals live and it performed better than some of the other popular mics they were using. When we bench tested and compared some of the mics, there was a common inconsistency in the mass produced microphones from the assembly lines overseas. So I started building different mics and sending them out with the Eagles to experiment with. That’s basically how my commercial microphone line got started. CM: Bob, you’re 74 still tooling around back stage areas and as healthy as ever. What’s on the horizon for Bob Heil and Heilsound? BH: One thing that we’re working on right now is a prototype headphone. We’ve taken the David Clark style headsets that the pilots and aviators use to communicate and modified them to make them more comfortable. Those headsets are like a vise squeezing your head. Ours are more comfortably functional and still have 26 dB of passive noise cancellation; even have a phase reversal switch. These headsets will also have a great live sound application for talkback and clear com communication on stage. CM: Do you see Heilsound making the jump into consumer headphones that are so popular now for hifi audio? BH: I did make a set of headphones for Bob Workman, Charlie Daniel’s FOH engineer that are very high fidelity and we’re looking at that for possible mass production. The important thing to me is consistent production quality. I was in Best Buy the other day looking at some popular headphones and most of the thin spindly wires coming out of the phones were broken. It’s all about brand name and marketing and there’s no concern for quality or durability. That’s not the way we do things here. CM: Bob, looking back at your career I can see that "no" was never part of your vocabulary. BH: There really weren’t many of who really knew what we were doing. Anyone from that era who says they did is lying. When we needed something, we had to design it or make it. Often it was the formally trained folks who would say ‘no, it can’t be done’ or ‘that’s not the way you do it’. I never settled for that. So many of my ideas and designs were out of necessity and not knowing any better than to just try it. I have been so fortunate and blessed with great timing and the right opportunities to try. END OF INTERVIEW This is a small but rich portion of my conversation with Bob Heil. I was taken aback by his humility and approachability. Here’s a guy who’s known everybody and worked with so many superstars but he would still take an hour and a half to tell me stories. The coolest thing about Bob is that he still gets excited about the music business. He’s still innovating with an unwavering desire to be excellent. That, my friends, inspires me and I hope that it does the same for you. Next week, we’ll take a look at what one “heil” of stage set up looks like with some of Bob’s best products. For a closer look at many of Bob’s Heilsound products, visit his website here: If you missed Part 1 of this interview - Click Here Chris Marion is an American musician best known as a member of Little River Band and for his contribution to the gospel and country music industries. Although graduating college with a B.A. in Psychology, he is a classically trained pianist and has worked in the music industry professionally for over 35 years. As a resident of Nashville, he is involved in the recording industry working in the genres of Gospel, Country and Rock. Since 2004, he has toured globally with the classic rock act Little River Band as a keyboardist and vocalist. For more useless trivia and minutiae concerning Chris or to contact him directly, feel free to visit his personal website www.chrismarionmusic.com.
  14. One of the best advantages (of the many) of being in a successful band is access to great gear often before the general public. Obviously, manufacturers want to spotlight their latest and greatest with artists who will use it publicly and endorse it on their tours. It’s great reciprocal promotion. More often than not, the exchange and relationship is very sterile – you deal with an artist rep who coordinates the gear you need. Most CEO’s just want the promo picture with you and carte blanche access on the premier shows if at all. From my first encounter with Bob Heil of Heil Sound, it’s obvious that he is a different breed of executive and an exceptional kind of human. He definitely has the creds: - a pioneer in large arena sound reinforcement having provided PA and tour support for The Grateful Dead and The Who including the Madison Garden Quadrophenia Show - invented the Heil Talk Box that was synonymous with 70’s classic rock and roll with Peter Frampton, Joe Walsh and Richie Sambora of Bon Jovi. - First manufacturer to have an exhibit at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame - Helms a globally successful microphone company that has products on multiple world tours - Champion of amateur radio having invented numerous products improving the transmission and reception of signal. - His company was the first to install home theatre systems in the US - Part of development team for RCA Direct dish system Most guys with this type of scientific brilliance and pedigree would put a speed freak to sleep within five minutes. Yet Bob is a natural conversationalist and having spent many years hanging out backstage with the likes of Jerry Garcia, Pete Townshend and Joe Walsh, he has some colorful stories to tell. “I remember some of the best times hanging around Fremont Street in San Francisco back in the day”, recalls Bob. “We weren’t consumed with causes or politics – it was just about having fun and creating great music.” Heil’s giftedness is in his ability to apply his science and creativity toward making music and the experience of music greater. He made his entrance into music in a very unique way as an organist at various venues in Missouri and ultimately became the house organist at the Fox Theater in St. Louis at the age of 15. “I learned how to voice and tune the pipes as well as operate the amps and speakers that were part of the system,” Bob remembers. “I actually adapted some of the old speakers from that Wurlitzer System for my PA that I used for the Dead show at the Fox.” A theater organist has to approach musical performance as if he is the entire orchestra. You are in command of the arrangement and tonal nuances utilizing the various pipe and reed sounds. “Rudolph Wurlitzer even marketed his commercial theater organ as a unit orchestra,” Bob explains. “And, the Fox Theater in St. Louis has one of the few 4 manual Wurlitzers still in it’s original installation from the 20’s.” Bob still plays plays the Wurlitzer organ at the Fox regularly and has even completed a recorded project of many of the songs he performs. He reports that Joe Walsh has even personally introduced him in some of his performances. Throughout his various careers, Bob Heil has demonstrated a remarkable ability to apply his command of scientific knowledge to problem solving and improvement of live sound reinforcement. In one of his first “big league” audio appearances in that historic show with the Grateful Dead at the Fox, Bob came up with an ingenious technique to combat feedback from vocal microphones. He used a second microphone taped behind the primary vocal microphone that was run out of phase with the monitors. Therefore, leakage from the monitors did not feedback into the system because of phase cancellation. Bob reports that the Dead loved this because they could get the system incredibly loud with minimal feedback. We use several Heil Sound microphones during our shows on amps, drums and vocals. The microphone that I use for vocals every night employs some of this same innovative design. The Heil PR31 BW features -41dB of off axis rejection. Let me translate this in a way that helps you understand how this amazing this microphone really is. I sing in falsetto most of the night. While it’s a beefy tone that often pegs a couple of inline compressors, it still can’t compete with the physical volume of multiple guitar amps and crash cymbals all around me. With a normal mic, not only would I have to deal with all of that extraneous sound in my in ear monitor mix, the front of house engineer has to treat my vocal mic like the 3rd guitar amp mic. The PR31 cancels the bulk of that noise that is happening off axis on either side of my vocal microphone. Result – more usability of my vocals in the mix and much more ease in dialing in a great in ear monitor mix. The PR31 is still employing some of the same concepts as Bob’s Grateful Dead phase fix but with the benefit of decades of refinement and continued innovation. Let me reiterate that I greatly appreciate Bob’s ingenuity every night. That’s enough Heil history for now. In the second installment, we’ll dust off some of Bob’s rich collection of road stories and pick his brain for thoughts about the future of sound reinforcement. Until next time, reinforce wisely my friends! To go to Part 2 of this interview - Click Here Chris Marion is an American musician best known as a member of Little River Band and for his contribution to the gospel and country music industries. Although graduating college with a B.A. in Psychology, he is a classically trained pianist and has worked in the music industry professionally for over 35 years. As a resident of Nashville, he is involved in the recording industry working in the genres of Gospel, Country and Rock. Since 2004, he has toured globally with the classic rock act Little River Band as a keyboardist and vocalist. For more useless trivia and minutiae concerning Chris or to contact him directly, feel free to visit his personal website www.chrismarionmusic.com.
  15. Crunching The Nashville Number System When I moved to Nashville in the 80’s and had my first opportunity to participate in a recording session, I was abruptly introduced to a notation system called the Nashville Number System. Imagine already being intimidated by being the new guy on a session and then realizing that you would have to speak a completely different language to communicate musically. I was handed a chart with a collection of symmetrically arranged numbers with various chord voicings, dashes, slashes, parentheses and symbols. After I recovered from the shock and awe of the moment, I recognized that this rudimentary notation based on the degrees of the scale was actually the simplest and most efficient way of all time to get a bunch of musicians on the same page – literally and figuratively. HISTORY The Nashville Number System (NNS) was originally developed in the 1950’s by Neal Matthews, Jr. of the world-renowned vocal group The Jordanaires (Elvis, Patsy Cline, George Jones) as a way to teach the singers their parts in the recording studio. It’s very similar to the Movable do solfège system that assigns a syllable to each degree of the scale or note. Movability is the operative function of both systems in that regardless of what key you are in, the degrees of the scale remain the same. Where in the solfège system the one of the scale is “do”, in the NNS the first degree of the scale is just the numeral 1. The brilliance of the Matthews idea that the degree delineation for the scale can also to apply to chord roots as well single notes. A Nashville harmonica player by the name of Charlie McCoy recognized this application and started using the system for chord charts in the recording sessions he was leading. While Nashville had some of the most phenomenal technical instrumentalists in the world, many were self taught and had very basic knowledge of music theory. But, even hillbillies could count (or cipher as Earnest T. Bass used to say on Andy Griffith) from 1 to 7. (editorial note: I can take the liberty to poke fun since I hail from rural Virginia and rarely wore shoes as a child.) We called this self-taught musical ability “playing by ear”. You learned the tonal relationship between intervals and chords naturally, you just didn’t have a specific term for it. The NNS at a basic application gave these self-taught players a simple way to communicate chords and intervals on the fly. As the system developed and became integrated into common use for notation, simple ways for notating things like rhythm, chord voicing, structure and even augmentation blossomed. The NNS could be as simple or as complex as the user required. Most of the industry changing music that was created in Nashville over the next few decades was directed by charts written with a version of the NNS from Patsy Cline to Peggy Lee to even Elvis Presley. It is as iconic to Nashville as the Grand Old Opry itself. THE BASICS The basic chart written with the NNS is based on the tonic or the key of the song. Therefore the 1 chord represents the key of the song. As you can see in example at the top of this article, the key is usually written at the top left of the chart as is the key signature for a song. In the key of C, the numbers would represent the degrees of the C scale as follows: C-1 D-2 E-3 F-4 G-5 A-6 B-7 Since the numbers remain the same regardless of the key signature, once you establish the key of the song, the chords represented by numbers are all relative to that ascribed key. Numbers written without any additional chord voicing or accidental are assumed to be major versions of the ascribed chord. Like traditional chord symbols, voicing like suspensions or dominant 7ths are notated to the right of the chord number. NNS also uses some of the abbreviated or symbolic notations that Jazz charts used like “sus” for suspended voicing or a triangle for major interpretation of the voicing that follows. In NNS, chord accidentals like flats, sharps or naturals are usually notated to the left of the chord number. Inversions like altered bass notes are notated with a slash separating the numbers either to the side or underneath. The additional or subsequent number would represent the bass note of the inversion, not a chord itself. For example, in the key of C, a C chord in first inversion or a C with an E bass would be written as C/E. STRUCTURE Charts written with NNS are the same structurally as traditional notation with measured division or bars. Each measure is represented by a single number or a group of numbers. A single number indicates that the referenced chord is played for all the beats of that measure. Groups of numbers (often referred to as a split bar) are either underlined, enclosed in parentheses or are boxed. Two numbers grouped together would indicate that each number or chord gets half of the number of beats for that measure. If the syncopation is not equal between the chords, often a number will be followed by a dot or dots to indicate different beat spacing. For example, in 4/4 this notation: (1..4) would indicate that the 1 chord gets three beats and the 4 chord gets one beat in the measure. Hash marks can also be used to show beat divisions. Here is a list of several other rhythmic figures or expressions that are common in the NNS: 1. Diamond – a diamond around a number indicates that the chord should be held for the entire bar. When the diamond has a stem on the right side, it indicates a half note diamond. 2. Marcato – just like classic notation, the “hat” symbol indicates that the note is to be played strongly and choked. The staccato symbol can also be used for this expression. 3. Tie – when a tie connects two measures (often from diamond to diamond) it indicates that the measure is tied to the next and the chord is not re-struck. 4. Push – since you typically don’t have the luxury of rhythmic notation, a push symbol (< or >) is used to indicate that the attack of that chord is either pushed an 1/8 note earlier (<) or an 1/8 note later (>). This is also referred to as the “and” of the previous or subsequent beat. 5. Brackets – often brackets ( [ or ] ) are used to indicate a one measure time signature change 6. Trill – trill markings with a horizontal jagged line indicate rolling the single note of the chord or octaves for that measure. 7. Fermata – just like classic notation, a fermata indicates that the note or chord is held until signaled choke. Often this will be written over a diamond. 8. Mod – when a section of the song modulates or changes key, MOD is written with an indication of how many steps. After this point in the chart, the numbers represent chords in the new modulated key. 9. Ritard – either written out or abbreviated with Rit. it indicates a gradually slowing of the tempo. SECTIONAL FORM The NNS makes song sections very obvious by dividing them with lines or additional space. Here are some common terms used for sectional ID: 1. Intro – this is the first section of bars for a song. Length varies but it precedes the first verse 2. Verse – typically the section of the song that follows the intro and precedes the chorus, pre-chorus or channel 3. Channel – Not always are of a song structure but it part of the pre chorus where the song lifts to the Chorus. 4. Chorus – The section of the song where the hook, signature line or title is presented 5. Turn around or T/A – this is a section that follows the chorus and either gets you back to the verse or takes you to the Bridge. 6. Bridge – like the classical definition, this part of the chart gets you from 2nd or 3rd chorus to subsequent choruses and can also be where modulations usually occur. 7. Outro – the other bookend of the chart that contains the ending for the song. These terms are of course standard to classical notation. However, used in an NNS chart, they create even more clarity in sectional delineation and make it easy to call out a specific section of the song. One beautiful aspect of the NNS is that it really develops your ear and strengthens your ability to recognize intervals. Part of my musical training as a classical pianist and a music major in college for a period of time included ear training and theory. The NNS really puts the rudimentary aspect of theory to work. When listening to a song and writing a chart, you start to hear the interval associated moving from chord to chord. As well, it strengthens your ability to improvise and recognize interval relationships. The Nashville Number System has become so widely used that even classical notation programs like Finale or Sibelius allow you to choose NNS for chords symbols. This gives you a powerful arsenal with the ability to either use slash notation or even specific rhythmic notation for complex syncopation. As a matter of fact, I often chart songs in the key of C just to get the framework down. Then, I transpose the key signature accordingly to fit the chosen key of the singer. This is a general overview of the Nashville Number System. There is a plethora of books and tutorials that are floating around the internet that expand dramatically on the subject as well as examples of classic songs written in this system. As always in the learning of any new language, practice makes perfect. NNS is just another notational language that is easy to learn and extremely practical. The whole purpose of chord charts is to get a group of musicians on the same page. A chart using NNS can make that possible even with a wide variety of musical skills and abilities. Dive in and crunch your own numbers, my friends. Chris Marion is an American musician best known as a member of Little River Band and for his contribution to the gospel and country music industries. Although graduating college with a B.A. in Psychology, he is a classically trained pianist and has worked in the music industry professionally for over 35 years. As a resident of Nashville, he is involved in the recording industry working in the genres of Gospel, Country and Rock. Since 2004, he has toured globally with the classic rock act Little River Band as a keyboardist and vocalist. For more useless trivia and minutiae concerning Chris or to contact him directly, feel free to visit his personal website www.chrismarionmusic.com.
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