In our efforts to make available as much music business information as possible for Alabama music artists, Alabama Music Office.com has asked music business professionals from all over the world to share their knowledge and experiences.
Let’s look at PA systems—where the amount of myth-making can be pretty substantial.
A 3-way speaker is always better than a 2-way speaker. Not necessarily, and this applies to studio monitors and hi-fi speakers as well as PA systems. A well-designed 2-way speaker, with separate low- and high-frequency drivers, can often provide a more balanced sound. A 3-way system requires two crossovers, which can introduce more errors than the single crossover used in 2-way systems. 2-way systems have only two sources where sound emanates, whereas a 3-way system has three points that all need to be co-ordinated. Of course there are good 3-way systems and not-so-good 2-way systems, but the quality depends on many factors other than the number of speakers.
Analog is better than digital. For guitar amps, analog can give certain desirable colorations due to the way the technology distorts. But the point of a PA system is clean, distortion-free sound with high levels of power; for that, digital excels. What’s more, digital Class-D amplifiers are smaller, lighter, more reliable, generate less heat, and result in more power in a more portable package than typical analog amplifiers.
You can judge a system’s power by its specification in watts. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but most wattage specs are meaningless because they rarely state the testing protocol, the efficiency of the speakers, and the amount of distortion that’s considered acceptable (for example, an amp could be rated at 150 watts with 1% distortion but at 200W with 10% distortion). Without knowing this kind of information, you’ll never be able to compare apples to apples—it would be like measuring gas mileage for one car speeding down a highway, and another coasting downhill in neutral.
For example, Cerwin-Vega’s P1500X powered speaker system has the same output spec as a competitor, yet if you play through them side by side the P1500X sounds both cleaner and louder. Why? They use different testing protocols. C-V’s power rating is based on the maximum clean power level before distortion (past that point, a limiter kicks in so it won’t play any louder anyway). Some competitors allow the amp to distort before the limiters engage, while others give a power rating with no protection circuitry (limiter) engaged at all. The result is essentially a theoretical value—it’s like saying, “This is a 1000 watt amp” and then adding in fine print “but that much power would blow up the speakers, so the actual output is 250 watts.”
Output also depends on speaker efficiency, not just wattage. If the speakers aren’t efficient, the power just becomes heat and produces no sonic benefit anyway.
Bottom line: Good luck comparing PA system specs. Your best option is to ignore the numbers, and put different systems through their paces in a performance situation—you’ll find out real fast which ones deliver and which ones don’t.
How well a system covers a venue depends on its power rating. This is partially true, but an equally important spec is dispersion (given in degrees). Some speakers project sound over a narrow “sweet spot,” but the volume drops off rapidly away from that sweet spot. Speakers with wide dispersion spread sound more evenly throughout a room, which gives greater coverage for a given amount of power.
Cerwin-Vega’s P1500X (shown from the back) provides useful specs: 540 continuous watts, 1500 dynamic watts, two-way speaker system, Class-D amplification, and 90 degree dispersion horizontal/65 degree vertical before the sound level drops by 6dB.
PA systems make lousy guitar amps—so for solo acts, you need a PA and a guitar amp. This isn’t a total myth, because there are some guitar amps with “signature” sounds that are difficult to duplicate digitally. However, a good multieffects with convincing amp and cab simulation makes a great complement to a PA system—where the multieffects provides the tone, and the PA provides the power and clean amplification. In fact, a system like the P1500X that includes a three-input mixer is ideal for solo artists: plug your guitar with multieffects into one input, mic into another, and backing tracks or another instrument into the third input.
So there are the five myths. If nothing else, you now know how to make salespeople nervous: when they tell you a PA speaker has a certain number of watts, ask “With what percentage of distortion?” If they start sweating . . . now you know why.
This is adapted from a recent post on ProAudioSpace.com, and we thought we’d share it with a wider audience. It’s definitely something that a lot of artists could benefit from. Enjoy! —ed.
I’ve been doing sound professionally for close to a dozen years. I started in clubs and moved onwards from there. Currently, I’m quite comfortable as technical director and FOH mixer for a 600-seat theatre in Ontario, where I have the pleasure of working on a nice Meyer/DiGiCo rig, but I’ve done it all. Toured the U.S. and Canada, mixed in venues from tiny clubs to arenas to sheds, and mixed the Much Music Video Awards live to a million people on TV. Music is super fun. Playing and mixing it are amazing. And getting paid to do those things is even better.
I have seen a number of similar lists and/or posts, but I think I have a few pearls of wisdom to share. I should mention that there are a lot of references to “sound guys” in here, but the same can refer to sound gals as well. And some of the following items may seem like plain logic, but I’m putting down all the ones I can think of — in no particular order...
Sound Check is Not Rehearsal
Seems pretty simple right? The definition is in the name, after all. But not so much. Here’s how it works; you run through all the inputs — kick drum through vocals — putting it in monitors where required then in the front of house system. A good way to do this? As the sound guy (either at monitors or from FOH) calls each instrument, raise your hand if you want it in your monitor, then lower when there is enough. Then run a couple songs to make sure everything is good. Running your whole set is not an option. Despite that...
Soundcheck is for the Artist, Not the Sound Guy
I don’t care what the venue is, generally speaking they are empty for sound check and full of people (hopefully) for the show. I call people “meat baffles” because I enjoy dehumanizing an audience and because of the astounding amount of audio a human body absorbs. Get your monitors and stage volume right. I can make a band play 10 songs during sound check to get the mix perfect, but as soon as the audience arrives, all that work goes out the window.
Turn it Down. Turn it Down!
Even you, drummer. This is gonna take a while. So you played your heart out one night, got off stage and had your afterglow ruined because your buddy says he couldn’t make out words you sang or your lead guitarist’s solos. You spend the rest of the night sulking in the merch booth and staring daggers at the sound guy. Guess what? It’s almost certainly entirely your fault. Think back...what was the second thing you did during your set? Right after you checked to make sure your crotch stuffing was dressed left and right before you pulled your long glossy locks out from under your guitar strap. That’s right, you turned your guitar amp up. And now you can’t hear your vocals in the monitors, so you asked for more of that. Then your bass player decided he should turn up because it’s the only way anyone will pay him any attention. And your drummer is kinda inexperienced, so he hits his cymbals as hard as he can, and also constantly, so now the sound guy is crying in the fetal position and your loyal audience is listening to a pleasant mix of guitar fuzz, bass rig shaking itself apart and cymbal hiss. Get your stage volume right at the start of sound check and leave it. This theme will be revisited in later points.
I Can’t Fake Dynamics
One of the most important skills a young band needs to learn is dynamics. By this, I mean a volume knob, and the difference between loud and quiet. Cymbals and snare drums are often main culprits here. Hitting them too hard makes everyone else try to play louder (see above). Another common problem is volume differences between a guitarist’s amp channels. Nothing sucks the power out of a change between a clean intro and dirty hook than stepping on your distortion pedal and having the volume drop. Imagine this happening at the start of “Smells like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana or “Song 2” by Blur. The rule is: if the clean channel volume is X, the dirty channel is X + 3 dB, and the lead channel is X + 6 dB.
Never Ask the Audience “How Does it sound?”
It sounds great. If it doesn’t, as we’ve discussed, it’s probably the artist’s own fault (or at least the guitar player who turns it up to 11 after the soundcheck). But the audience always assumes it’s the sound guy’s fault, and now the artist is really, really mad at you.
Never Discuss Anything Technical in a Way the Crowd Can Hear
Mixing monitors and front of house simultaneously sucks, but until you reach a certain level, that is usually how it is going to be. If you need more monitors during your set, ask yourself “Did I turn my guitar amp up? Maybe that’s why I can no longer hear my vocals.” Now that you’ve worked out that you are dumb... you still need more vocals in the monitor. Meet the sound guy’s eye, point at your mouth, point at the monitor, point up. Every sound guy on planet earth will understand these signals. Doesn’t seem to be happening? The sound guy may be talking to a hot girl/guy. There is only one way to verbally request more monitors mid-show; in a friendly, polite voice, ask the sound guy (preferably by name) for a touch more vocal in the monitors. Be aware of your tone of voice (this is good practice for being married). Do not ask more then twice. Sometimes speakers can only go so loud, and remember, this wouldn’t have happened if you had not turned your guitar amp up.
Keep It Simple
I once had a band with two guitarists expect me to mic six guitar amps. I don’t care who you are, but that is not necessary. I will excuse this kind of behavior in certain rock stars because they are supposed to be excessive. It is never necessary. Similarly, I have had an opening band bring a drum kit that Neil Peart from Rush would be jealous of. I’m talking two kick drums, two snares, 10 toms on a rack, roto-toms. How many mics does this guy think I have? Always assume you are opening, always assume you have no time for changeover between bands. You should be able to set up your entire rig — by yourself — in five minutes.
Keep Backing Tracks to a Minimum
I’m a purist, I like to see people playing what I’m hearing. But I understand some songs sound better with a string section, and some bands can’t afford to tour with an orchestra for one song. So I get that backing tracks have a place in live music. But do us a favor; make sure these backing tracks are mastered, volume has been normalized and by God, don’t play it off an iPod. At least if you do, make sure you plugged it in. If your tracks sound like crap, it will become very obvious going through a high-quality sound system. Also, if there is lead vocal in your backing tracks, you are lame. Quit now.
Practice your Banter
This sounds lame but is really important. If you feel awkward talking to the audience, then, chances are, you sound awkward as well. Speaking off the cuff usually is at best boring at worst is misconstrued to be offensive. Remember; just because you meant it as a joke when you said “Hitler had some good points” doesn’t mean everybody gets your twisted sense of humor, you freak. Also, it’s a guarantee that someone with a popular YouTube account was filming at that moment, so you better be ready to back up your “Hitler was great” thesis to the whole world with some interesting new facts.. On the subject of planning your banter, unless you are in Phish...
Rehearse Every Second You Are Onstage
Rehearse setting up your stuff. Rehearse walking on stage as a band and every move you make until you push your way through the screaming fans to get to the tour bus after the show. Hell, rehearse pushing through fans if you can. I’m not saying do everything in ‘sync (pun intended), but the only way to look natural on stage is to rehearse until it is natural. Set lists are not just the songs you are playing in order but should also have breaks and banter notes. DO NOT STOP between each song — ever! Nothing takes the wind out of your sails and kills energy like pausing between each song. Your set should look something like this: three rocker songs, pause to say hi; two rockers, pause to intro ballad; ballad, pause to apologize for ballad; two rockers, pause to say bye and thanks, close with one or two rockers. Oh, I was kidding about apologizing. there are no apologies in rock ‘n’ roll.
One of my favorite time signatures is 7/4: a nice lucky count of 1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – 5 – 6 – 7. I’m not sure why. There isn’t a particular song in 7/4 that resonated with me at a crucial early stage of musical development — at least nothing that leapt out at me as being a specific example of that time signature in the same way that songs in, say, 5/4 did. But then when you step back and look at it, there are some really, really big songs that use that time signature. Pink Floyd’s “Money” is probably the most famous. Oh and the verses of The Beatles’ “All You Need Is Love.” And you can see the intro of Rush’s “Limelight” as either 7/4 or alternating sets of 4/4 and 3/4. The point is, these are all songs that don’t really draw attention to their odd time signature in an obvious way. Your ear simply ‘figures out’ where the downbeat is after a couple of listens, and you can get on with enjoying the song.
So I thought it might be fun to look at a few different ways to approach this time signature. I find that some time signatures encourage me to write in a way that results in my riffs being a sort of ‘Part A, Part B, half of Part A again’ format, which seems to work really well for things like 5/4. But 7/4 just seems to really flow for me. So I’ve made a little track that features three different ways to play 7/4. You’ll hear them all in the track below, but let’s break them down. The first example (Figure 1 in the tab) is a riff performed with a sort of classic-rock feel (or at least ‘classic Aussie pub rock’ feel), and I play it exclusively with the ring finger of the fretting hand, sliding between the notes. I feel that this adds a sort of slinky, snaky feel to the riff that really suits the dirty rock vibe.
The second, Figure 2, is the exact same notes as Figure 1, but this time it’s played with more of an alternative metal approach somewhere between Tool and Mastodon. I use heavy palm muting to bring out the percussiveness of my Les Paul, and to give the lead guitar somewhere to fit in.
The third, Figure 3, is more of a straightforward blues riff built off the good ‘ol I-IV-V pattern, although there’s a sense of thematic continuity with the other riffs: we’re still using the same basic rhythm and we’re also still using a similar set of intervals, it’s just that this time they’re at the top of some chords instead of forming a single-note riff.
I plugged my Les Paul Traditional into my Marshall and put all of these into a Soundcloud clip which starts with me noodling along and improvising with octaves and lead licks against the rhythm guitar and bass before the lead guitar drops out and the rest loops on, giving you about 12 minutes’ worth of 7/4 backing track to play along with. I’ve included a section where the rhythm guitar basically plays a single E5 chord so you can really put the focus on the lead guitar and how it maintains the sense of rhythm. The best scale to play over this is E Blues, because it takes advantage of one of my favorite intervals, the flatted fifth. It’s great for switching between evil, ominous metal, angular progressive rock and moody bluesy expression.
In the age of social media we are all focusing on Twitter, LinkedIn, G+, and Facebook and, we’ve forgotten an important basic: Your online press kit – the asset that makes it easy for others to publicize your brand.
In many ways, your online presence is equivalent to creating your own online billboard. If you are in control of your website and your social channels, and you have a good grasp of 2-way conversation mastery, your online billboard will have the exact messaging for your tribe (potential customers and fans).
However, if this is not the case, here are some predictable scenarios:
You are featured on a website or in a conference program with a random photo of you that someone Googled.
You are introduced at an important talk by someone who is summarizing from a and Wikipedia page that focuses on all of the wrong things. (I’ve seen this happen multiple times – it’s not a good look).
You want all assets to be as much in your control as possible that you always have your best foot forward.
Follow this guide to ensure that you are in control of your brand and your image.
How To Post A Perfect Press Kit On Your Website
Editors, bloggers, conference organizers and even potential customers will deeply appreciate having seamless access to your information because they are constantly under deadline.
Here are the four assets to include:
1. YOUR BIO
Make sure your bio is easily locatable on your site and it can be easily cut-and-pasted (not in a PDF format that they can’t easily grab).
Your bio should NOT just be a “who, what, when, where, why” or a list of business accolades. Invest in having a bio written that brings out your signature story. This should be a compelling and relatable story that evokes an emotional response from the reader.
Post a long form, 250 word, 100 word and a Tweet sized bio and you have pre-delivered every possible type of bio request that may come your way (no one will ever ask you to edit your bio down again or worse, edit it for you and forget the most important parts.
TIP: Post 4 versions of your bios
In 250 – 200 words
In 100 words
In 1 tweet
TIP: Make sure the bio can be easily cut-and-pasted!
2. YOUR PHOTOS – MAKE THEM EASY TO FIND AND DOWNLOAD
Thumbnails are great for quick and easy loading but are detrimental for use in print (if you are a speaker or attending a conference where there is a directory, your photo may be appearing on posters, flyers and in a printed conference guide.
You should always have a few downloadable photo options on your site in at least 300 dpi / jpg format. Also post vertical and horizontal photos so editors working on a tight format won’t have to resize anything.
TIP: Create an easy-to-see link that says “click here for a hi res / low res jpg.” That way, busy editors can get what they need easily. When the photos are downloaded, make sure they are properly named so that editors can find them in folders and on messy desktops!
3. INCLUDE YOUR BOOK COVER, LOGOS, OR ADDITIONAL ARTWORK
Are you an author? Do you work at a company that has a logo that might be used (or perhaps it’s your own logo and you want it used)? Include your book cover art in both hi res and lo res (jpg format). This way, if your book, or company is being mentioned, the artwork can be easily added.
4. INCLUDE PRESS CLIPS OR CLIENT TESTIMONIALS
What you say about you is one thing… However, what others say about you is trusted in a different way. So, if you have press or blog posts that were written about you or pieces you were quoted in, include them on your press kit page.
TIP: Don’t link out to articles (the sites you are linking to may take them down or go dead, so make sure you include the articles archived on your site).
Another great addition is testimonials to add from clients. If you are struggling to find some, use your recommendations from LinkedIn. If you don’t have any, send an email out to a few colleagues, your old boss or a trusted influencer in your field and ask them for a testimonial.
5. INCLUDE YOUR SPEAKING TOPICS
If you are a speaker, include a list of the topics you have spoken on and give a description of each of your talks. If you have visuals of you up on a podium or teaching in front of an audience, include them in this section.
If you are not (yet) a speaker and you want to include a list of topics and themes, you are capable of speaking on these topics for people to reference.
FINAL TIP: If you can’t easily modify your website to include all of this information, you can easily set up an about.me page and include the 5 assets listed here.
Here’s to protecting what you want to say and show about your brand online.
I’ve written on this topic before, but I recently came across some hard statistical facts that seem to bear out what I’ve believed all along about the role of natural ability in achieving success as a musician and songwriter (as well as virtually anything else).
I’m currently reading Malcolm Gladwell’s “Outliers”, a study of the most successful people in a variety of fields. Music is one of the areas he explores, citing specific scientific studies and the data they produced. Interestingly enough, the data was more or less the same across the board, regardless of the field being studied. The question these studies attempted to answer was, are the most naturally gifted in a given area the most likely to be successful?
In every case, the studies Gladwell cited concluded that the answer was no. Even the names that immediately come to mind as the very pinnacle of achievement – Bill Gates and Mozart were two prominent examples – while unquestionably gifted, did not reach their household name status on talent alone. In both cases, these individuals were presented with opportunities to maximize their potential through sheer chance, and followed through with years of hard work.
The “hard work” part is not news. No one would disagree that success takes work. But one of the most interesting things about these studies is that the researchers didn’t find a SINGLE case of an individual that achieved great ability while working less hard than their peers. In other words, they couldn’t find a single instant of pure talent being enough. More importantly, they also did not find a single case of a natural washout – someone who did not achieve if they put in a comparable level of hard work. So while this is not a groundbreaking realization, it should be highly encouraging.
Here’s another really important point. The most successful people in every field didn’t just work hard…they worked MUCH harder than everyone else. Those of us that didn’t have those fortuitous early advantages Mozart and Bill Gates had probably have to work even harder than that. But the beauty of it is, when you love what you do, hard work isn’t work at all. Have you ever gotten lost in something and then looked up to find that hours had passed in the blink of an eye? We don’t always get quite that absorbed, but that love and devotion to our craft help create the circumstances that make hard work more enjoyable. And when things just aren’t connecting, we can look to another factor: discipline.
Let’s face it, artists and musicians are often not considered disciplined people. But this is an erroneous social perception. Discipline is what separates the good from the great, because it allows us to be productive even when we’re not at our best. Life is complicated and full of distractions. We depend upon inspiration and great ideas to create great work, and what makes that channel open up is still one of the great mysteries of life. We have skills, tools, and methods, but still we’re only human…no one is at their best all the time. Author and speaker Og Mandino says in his book The Greatest Salesman In The World, “only a worm never stumbles.” Kind of a funny quote, but the meaning is clear enough.
So let’s back up for a moment. Though we may have been rated and separated as children into groups of “talented” and “ordinary”, we can argue that such classifications are far less important than we were raised to believe. This is good news for those of us who were herded into the “ordinary” pen. And while being classified like that may have held us back in earlier years, here we are today pursuing our passions. More good news. Given all of this, I’d like to ask you to consider something: is there something you’ve wanted to do in music that you chose not to do because you didn’t think you had the ability?
I’m not talking about self-imposed limits that we choose for other reasons – for example, working within a specific vocabulary to fit a certain market. I’m referring to what we tell ourselves about who we are and what we’re capable of. This obviously has a huge impact on what we do, because we’re unlikely to put effort into something we don’t believe we’re capable of doing well.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t take specific goals, current abilities, and life circumstances into account. But I know for a fact that there are many people out there who would like to have greater skills than they currently do but don’t really believe they have “what it takes” to reach a higher level. Well, “what it takes” has more to do with your drive, persistence, and time-management skills than it does with “talent”. So to return to my question: ARE you limiting yourself? Why? As the saying goes: if not you, who? If not now, when?