BrizBands Blog

Candi at the BrizBand Blog has been kind enough to blog about our involvement with getting the B105 Breakfast crew ready for their live performance at the ekka:
Stavulous Set to Rock The EKKA | Courier Mail BrizBands Blog

I hadn’t seen to the BrizBand Blog before, but after having a quick look around it looks like a great resource.

Thanks Candi!

2 Secret Truths About Singers

2 secret truths about Singers….

Secret number 1 – a lot of Singers have no idea what they’re doing.

There. I’ve said it. Speaking as a Singer myself, I can quite confidently say that we can be a pretty ignorant bunch.

Guitarists can talk for hours about modes, amplifiers and the relative merits of two seemingly identical brands of guitar string but if you ask a Singer about their craft – their instrument, tone production, equipment choice, practice regimes… well they might have a vocal exercise or two they picked up from a friend who “had a couple of lessons with this old lady who made him sing Andrew Lloyd Weber songs” and they will probably sing happily through whatever evil smelling microphone they are given at the gig… and that’s it.

It’s quite an extraordinary situation that we’re so ignorant, because onstage, Singers are the most important member of the band. We are the focus for all the energy (positive or otherwise) of the seething masses.

If we get a sore throat, the gig can be canceled, if we decide to croak our way through the set anyway (or worse, blow out on the third song), people demand their money back.

The audience copes if they don’t hear a Guitar solo all night, but they won’t listen to 45 minutes of instrumentals.

It’s a dangerous feeling having a Singer out the front who isn’t sure that their voice is going to make it through the show….

But Singers who are having trouble with making it through gigs or who can’t hit the notes they want aren’t alone. It’s practically an epidemic.

The cure is embarrassingly simple.
Treat your voice like an instrument. If you’re a Singer, get some lessons. If you’re an Instrumentalist, force your Singer to get some lessons, and if they won’t… have some lessons yourself (Singers hate that!).

If you can’t get lessons, look for help with the technical aspects of singing wherever you can. This can include YouTube, blogs and forums online and there are also some good books, CDs and DVDs available.

A good hint for what to look for in lessons (whether in person or on video etc) is to look for teachers who stress posture, breath, relaxation and sensation.

Posture is important as it takes stress off singing muscles, improves resonance and makes it easier to breathe.

Breath is important as that’s what makes your voice work! Breath is also the secret to getting high notes…

Relaxation is important as relaxed muscles are powerful muscles and relaxed singing is sustainable (gig after gig after gig).

And Sensation is how we learn to sing – we can’t see our instrument so we have to feel it instead.

Secret number 2 – Singers aren’t born (no matter what they say on Idol…) they are made, and anyone can be a Singer.

As always, if you have any questions, email us on help@independentmusic.com.au or head over to our contact page to organise a free, no obligation introductory lesson.

Bass Clarity part 2

Continuing on with our column on Bass clarity.

My “Get Low, Get Loud” technique discussed previously is a simple way to gain clarity in the band room. If you’re unsure about gear, tone and the sympathy of your bandmates/sound engineer, it’s a great place to begin developing clarity.

There are more sophisticated methods available – here’s three.

1. Experiment with a pick.

Playing with a pick causes the string to vibrate differently when struck. It can give your bass consistency and clarity in attack and tone that your fingers may lack (I personally prefer fingers though).

2. Modify band arrangements.

Les Claypool from Primus and Flea from the Chili Peppers are two bass players that you never have trouble hearing. Why? One clue is their guitarists. John Frusciante from the Chili Peppers might put down a lot of guitar tracks, but they are often texturally thin and rhythmically functional. Very few big strummy chords or monster multi-tracked riffs from John Frusciante, and the parts are considerate of vocals, drums and bass.

Primus is the opposite of a guitar heavy band. Imagine if guitarist Larry Lalonde or drummers Brain or Tim Alexander tried to compete with Les Claypool? It would just be a big unlistenable mess, where you couldn’t distinguish any instrument, let alone bass. Instead, the drummer keeps out of the way, Larry Lalonde might make a thin skronk noise every other bar,
and Les Claypool takes up all the room in the arrangement.

Consider your band’s arrangements.
Does each instrument have room (even if some instruments take up more room than others)? Does your keyboard player need their left hand strapped down? Or are you looking at making the next …And Justice For All… (is there a bass player on that album)?

3. Work with your sound engineer.

Beyond controlling foldback, your engineer impacts hugely on your clarity.

I saw Midnight Oil play The Woodford Folk Festival years ago, it was a great gig and eye opening from a live sound perspective.

I generally discourage bass players from using distortion. Poorly applied distortion steals your (sub) bottom end and presets and pedals are generally designed to sound impressive in the store, but the scooped mid-frequencies result in a bass sound that disappears once the guitars start.

Midnight Oil’s gig was impressive because all guitars on stage were distorted, bass included. What should have been a mess was entirely under control from the mixing desk. If one guitar had a bassier distortion, than the other guitars distortions might have more presence in different areas of the mids – each guitar had a distinct sonic footprint where it was distorted and loud, but didn’t sonically interfere with the other guitar’s sound.

You should get a regular engineer for your band (it really helps). Talk to them about where your bass fits in the mix. Work with them to develop a quality bass sound that fits sonically with the rest of the band.

For a good example of what we’ve talked about above check out At The Drive-In’s Relationship Of Command album and always make sure that you trust your own ears first!

As always, if you have any questions, email us on help@independentmusic.com.au or head over to our contact page to organise a free, no obligation introductory lesson.

Bass Clarity part 1

One of the most commonly heard complaints from bass players is “I can’t hear myself.”

Unfortunately, due to the type of sound bass produces (low), it can be very difficult for the bass player to have any sort of clarity and definition in the band room/on stage.

Why is it hard to hear the bass?

Often, the main reason that you can’t hear bass is because it’s competing with guitar (or possibly keyboard). Because guitar takes up so much sonic space (it produces a huge range of frequencies from very low to very high) it is a competition that the bass (which produces largely low frequencies) is
probably going to lose.

Also, guitar being the traditional instrumental focus of the rock band, there’s a good chance that your guitarist will have strong opinions on which instrument should be loudest. No matter how you attempt to compete by turning your amp up, guitar has all those mid and high frequencies to work with and you will need a much larger amplifier than your guitarist to have any chance of competing outright with them.

And at the end of your rehearsal you will all be deaf.

There are solutions to this problem.
Keep in mind that recording situations (and situations where you have a sympathetic sound engineer) will be different.

  1. Buy a monstrously large amp.

  2. Consider playing with a pick. (I
    personally don’t but let’s consider it).

  3. Make sure your songs are well
    arranged.

  4. Politely ask the rest of your band
    to get the out of your way. (And get friendly with your sound
    man/woman).

  5. Go low. Lower. Lower…

1. Buy a monstrously large amplifier.

If you can buy a big amp, it’s important to use it effectively.

For some genres (and some bands) you can go to town with your tone. But with a bright clangy upper mid/top end and a tight punchy, growly middle, however sexy it might sound by itself, you are going to be eaten alive by a loud, distorted guitar strumming an open G chord. And your sound person is then going to EQ the hell out of your sound to make it fit in their mix and ruin your lovely tone anyway. (For more info on this look to point 4 and 5).

The most effective way to use a big amp is turn it up really loud. Really loud. Now get plenty of bottom end in your sound. Don’t touch tone sculpting and slap EQ buttons. Also banned are mid and treble knobs. But go for it with your bass knob (and maybe lower-mids). We’re not going to compete with the guitar, we’re going where it can’t… LOW….

Play the strings firmly, but not hard.
The softer you play the strings, the less harmonics the string will produce, and the more bass you will get (relatively). The more bass, the better chance you have of getting under the guitar. Give it a go, you may be pleasantly surprised at the clarity.

Naturally, always trust your ears and not me.

Points 2, 3, 4 and 5 next time…

As always, if you have any questions, email us on help@independentmusic.com.au or head over to our contact page to organise a free, no obligation introductory lesson.

Record Yourself ALL The Time

Why you should record yourself all the time.

As performers and writers of music there is an important question that we need to constantly ask ourselves – “Is what I am doing really any good?”

Is the song that you have just written a good song?

Is that groove really as funky as you think?

And now I’ve got this great riff, when I play it, does it sound as good as it could?…

How can you tell what you’re doing is any good?

A great solution is to record yourself.
Record everything. Record all your rehearsals, all your gigs, all your demos, all your song ideas, everything.

Something happens when you put things on tape. We can all listen to the radio and say “That’s crap” or “That’s great”. We’ve had lots of practise listening to and judging music we hear. But when we play our own music, our eyes (and ears) glaze over with dreams of rock superstardom (or whatever) and our brain can’t hear what we’re really playing. Putting it on tape allows you to listen with that critical part of the brain that you’ve used all your life to choose music you really like.

Once you’ve recorded your song or idea, you can listen back and hear that the instrumental section takes away the impact of the chorus, the guitar part is fun but destroys the mood of the song, the busy bass part is distracting or that ‘lose’ and ‘obtuse’ really don’t rhyme. (Listen for good ideas that you may have missed too – musical accidents have made hit songs).

Then listen to your actual playing.
You’ll hear where the drummer is slowing down, how the bass and drums are out, how the riffs lack impact because they’re sloppy or how the singer can’t reach that note…

This requires a lot of honesty with your band mates and with yourself. If you’re convinced that your material and playing can’t be improved, compare it to a recording by an established artist. Don’t make excuses or settle for near enough.

And every time you play on tape (which should be every time you play) imagine that you’re keeping it forever and make it good.

You have a lot of choices for gear to record with. Make it simple to use, portable and quick to set up.

Simple to use because you don’t want to have to think about it – you’re busy being creative, portable because it has to go where you go and quick to set up because when inspiration strikes you have to be ready.

I use ProTools LE (with an Mbox) and a very cheap laptop. The laptop won’t even run the ProTools demo but it meets all my other needs (and I’ve used it for tracking commercial recordings).

There are lots of options available like hard disc recorders and even hand held mP3 recorders. Even a cassette 4-track is something!

Take the plunge and then use it all the time – it will be one of the best career
investments you make.

As always, if you have any questions, email us on help@independentmusic.com.au or head over to our contact page to organise a free, no obligation introductory lesson.

Songwriting Tips part 2

Some more song writing thoughts for you…

Communicate

Songwriters use music and lyrics to communicate with their audience.

Imagine that you’re speaking at a rally (protest, political whatever).

Do you use big words? Take ages to get the point? Use long complicated sentences?

Probably not… unless for some reason you want the crowd to be confused and bored?

Song writing is similar. You need to revise how successfully your songs communicate. Record them and listen back to them…

Do you need the long instrumental section with the weird time signature? Does it help communicate you’re in love/angry/whatever? If you lose it, who cares? Even if you like it – if it’s not needed, lose it. If you like it that much, keep it for another song.

Is it confusing if your album/set list has a pop song followed by a reggae song, then punk then pop again?
Probably. Don’t stop yourself writing songs outside of the genres you work in, but you can’t be elusive if you want to communicate.

There are famous artists (eg The Beatles) whose music covers a lot of genres. But their careers nearly always began with one genre, which established an audience, then grew from there.

Don’t let your songs be too similar though – you’ll sound boring and then you’re still not communicating…

Write Within Your Means

The Ramones were never going to write Satriani’s Surfing With The Alien. They probably didn’t want to and they probably couldn’t play it even if they did want to… which they didn’t.

The Ramones wrote what they could play and they were fantastic at it.

Practise hard to improve your playing/singing. You may also aspire to playing more challenging music – but don’t write songs that you can’t play or sing.
They’ll just sound like crap and you won’t communicate anything.

Don’t write songs that you think will sound great with an orchestra or with three guitarists. You don’t have an orchestra or probably even three guitarists and those songs will never sound any good when you play minus the orchestra. Write for what you have.

Write within your means.

Ruthless Refinement.

Once your songs are written you have to be really harsh about how good they are. (This is what you pay Producers for).

Is that verse too long? Is that keyboard part too busy? Could that lyric be better? Maybe the song has a slap bass part that just sounds messy and confusing. Could you simplify that instrumental section so it has more impact? Why is there no chorus for the first 5 minutes? Why is it longer than 5 minutes?

At every stage of writing/recording/performing you have to be cruel and ruthless and uncompromising. If it doesn’t work, throw it out or fix it. If it could be better, make it better.

Refine, refine, refine.

These rules don’t exclude artists who write weird songs for years before they get any success. That struggling artist might be you, but you still must refine what you write until it’s so perfect that people can’t deny what an
extraordinary thing it is you’ve written.

As always, if you have any questions, email us on help@independentmusic.com.au or head over to our contact page to organise a free, no obligation introductory lesson.

Songwriting Tips Part 1

Your ability to write a song, a memorable melody or beat, can make or break your career. There are lots of jobs for people who can’t write; session player, engineer, roadie, boy band member etc, but if you want to be on stage in front of adoring thousands and communicating through your music, song writing is where you need to shine.

If you write a good song, it doesn’t matter if you can’t play (Ramones), record your first album on a walkman at a camp fire (Michelle Shocked), can’t sing (Bob Dylan), sing funny (Tom Waits, Björk), rarely sing (Joe Satriani) or don’t sing at all (Moby).

(Read on Dylan, Ramones, Björk and Waits fans before you get too stroppy…)

This article won’t cover the technical aspects of song writing (lyric and chord theory etc) but instead will cover the common “process” mistakes that I see my Clients make. I’m personally familiar with these mistakes because I made all of them, which is why I’m writing in this blog now instead of
being interviewed for one…

BTW – an excellent book on the technical aspects of song writing is Jimmy Webb – Tunesmith. Every book on technical song writing I have ever read was rubbish… except it.

Why your songs suck.

If your songs are communicating to your audience they will return to your gigs again and again, growing in numbers and hysteria each time, shouting song requests by name and dragging along their record industry friends. If not, it’s because your songs aren’t good enough.

Yes the front of house sound was bad, maybe the drummer kept dropping beats and probably your guitar would sound better with new strings, but it’s amazing how a great song cuts through all that crap.

You have to own up that your songs should be better. All of them.

If you are playing a style of music that is outside mainstream and industry tastes, you need to make your songs so good they can’t be ignored, just like Tom Waits or Joe Satriani.

Your songs suck. Make them amazing so they cannot be ignored.

Respect the journey.

Don’t try to write the greatest album ever right now. You’ll just get frustrated.

Ask every Dark Side Of The Moon owner to name at least 5 earlier Pink Floyd albums – I would be surprised if the majority can. I have read that John Lennon and Paul McCartney wrote 900ish songs together before the first Beatles album was recorded (which was half covers anyway). Judging by One After 909, a song from that period resurrected for the Let It Be album, pretty
much all those 900 songs sucked.

You have to respect the journey. You can’t write twelve songs, whack them on an album and expect anyone to care. If you were to write 100 songs, or more realistically, 300 songs, tour them relentlessly and choose twelve out of those that audiences consistently adored, then maybe you could complain if no one cared.

Respect the journey. Write a lot of songs. Finish them, record them (in an affordable way, like with Pro-Tools or even a 4-track) and throw them away. Write some more.
Don’t worry if they suck. Finish them, record them and throw them away. Write some more.

Next month we’ll talk about communication, writing within your means and ruthless refinement.

As always, if you have any questions, email us on help@independentmusic.com.au or head over to our contact page to organise a free, no obligation introductory lesson.

Amp Emulators

I think amp emulators are the great invention of our time for guitarists. Not just for performance, but also for practise. I know a lot of guitarists will think I’m overstating things here but I’m going to explain what I think is so wonderful about them and hopefully change your minds.

Bad Rap:

Amp emulators have gotchn a bad rap and think this has happened for a number of reasons.

  1. In the past, they’ve sounded terrible and deserved the reputation that they gained.

I’ve owned various pieces of emulating equipment over the years that have claimed to sound just like a real valve-amp. A lot of these failed to sound like a decent solid state, never mind a nice tube rig. Pulling a tone from these beasts has been challenging and ultimately really good practise for being able to get a half-decent tone out of just about any piece of equipment. Until fairly recently though there’s been no point in using them in a professional context at all.

  1. People aren’t very skilled at using them and thus can’t get tone out of them.

Like anything, pulling a good tone requires practise. Just plugging in and hoping for the best is not going to cut it. You can tweak these devices endlessly and learn a hell of a lot about tone in the process.

  1. We enjoy the mystique of the vacuum tube.

I’ve got a beautiful valve amp as well as my PodXT. I still think that the valve amp sounds slightly better, but I’ve used my Pod much more often in recordings lately. Why? Well..

Multiple Amps:

I worked as a session guitarist for many years. By the end of my session days, I would arrive at the studio with only a guitar. Most of us can’t afford to have 20 classic vintage amps, so having the next best thing in one box save a lot of money and lugging.

Practise Your Tone:

Being able to practise your tone is a great boon to a guitarist. It doesn’t matter how well you play, if your sound sucks no one will appreciate anything that you have to ‘say’. I remember it being said of one of Australia’s top sessions players that “he practises his tones, like other guitarists practise their scales”.

Imitating the sound of your favourite guitarist can be painstaking at first, but its a beneficial exercise. Record yourself on a multi-track playing along with your favourite guitar sound. Then listen back. If the sound of your guitar doesn’t disappear into the recorded track, go back and try again.

Consistency:

There are so many variables in pulling a nice tone that it makes it hard to reproduce that great sound that you had yesterday, never mind the last time you recorded. So being able to recall a ‘patch’ and do another take a week or two later, or to improve your tone as your ears get better over time is a lifesaver.

As always, if you have any questions, email us on help@independentmusic.com.au or head over to our contact page to organise a free, no obligation introductory lesson.

 

Choosing the Best Gear to Practice On

Or hard disk or DAT or whatever. The best thing that you can do for both your personal and band practise is to record it. You’ll often hear things that you missed during the rehearsal. Its like a sports team watching videos of their game after a match.

Archiving the recording is good too. You’ll be able to hear your playing and sound improve over time. Sometimes you’ll find some magic moments that ‘just happen’ in rehearsal. You’ll be able to incorporate these back into your songs or playing and this will help define your playing style.

Practise against a Metronome or Drum machine is essential. Everyone needs to be responsible for their own time keeping, not ‘leaning’ on the drummer.

Practise playing accurately first, then work on feel and groove. This may take some time. Until you can play in time and with feel by yourself in the practise-room, you’re not ‘doing your bit’ as a band member.

Play along with albums that you love and record the sound of you and the album together. When you can ‘blend into’ the album that you’re playing with, you’re starting to pick up the groove of the players that you like.

The equipment that you practice on needs to be as responsive to your playing as your gig gear. If its not, you’ll be suddenly surprised when you get on-stage.

Some practise amps have a very limited dynamic range and won’t respond to the nuances of your playing. You won’t notice until its too late that you’ve been striking the instrument inconsistently. You’ll end up playing on some gig equipment and producing nasty tone and wildly varying output volume.

Practice in headphones. The human brain has a preference for reflected over direct sound. When you practice in headphones you isolate all reflected sound and hear only the direct. You’ll hear exactly what you’re playing without the sound be altered by its echoing in the room. In-ear monitors a re great at gigs if you can organise them too.

Rehearse the band in headphones. Either mic up the amps or use amp simulators direct into a console with a metronome. Try playing everything at half speed (with the drummer) and you’ll be able to hear how everyone is phrasing and you’ll tighten up the band dramatically. Then play without the metronome at full speed.

Quiet rehearsals are great because they allow you to hear what everyone else is doing without going deaf. Rehearsing at gig volume a couple of times before a gig is very important. You’ll be able to pick up any noise issues that you gear is having, listen for feedback problems (sometimes caused by microphonic pick-ups on a guitar) and get a real feel for the the way your instrument will sound and feel at the gig.

 

As always, if you have any questions, email us on help@independentmusic.com.au or head over to our contact page to organise a free, no obligation introductory lesson.

Amplifiers and Tone – part two

 

The
continuing saga of getting a good tone out of your guitar and amp,
this time we talk about doing it without bleeding eardrums.

Power Amp
distortion:

Ever played
a vintage amp with no pre-amp gain control (nothing marked gain or
distortion). How did players get overdrive/ distortion out of these
old beasties. Well, the old fashion way, with power amp distortion.
What is it? Its when the power amp part of your amp is overloaded so
much that it starts to clip or distort. How do we achieve it? Simply
by cranking the amp to 10, this usually pushes the power amplifiers
circuit beyond its limits and brings about distortion. Many argue
that this is the sweetest kind of distortion. Unfortunately with a
100w amplifier, this can be a painful experience and unless you’re on
a very big stage, or very well soundproofed studio, your sound
engineer probably won’t appreciate it much. So, what alternatives are
there?

Power Soaks
/ Breaks / Attenuators:

Power Soaks
(they come under a lot of different names) are devices that attach
between your poweramp and your speaker box. These handy tools reduce
the amount of volume coming out of your amp while its running at full
tilt. This way you get that great cranked sound without the hearing
damage.

Amp Mods:

There are
various ways that your friendly valve amp repairer can modify your
precious valve amp to be quieter without loosing its tone. Most of
the amps that you hear live or on album have been mod’ed in some way
or another, so its worth talking to someone who knows to see what
they can do for your amp.

Output
Ratings:

This may
sound obvious, but, getting a smaller amp is a great solution. You
can buy vintage style, high quality amplifiers that have very low
output ratings. Some have an output as low as ¼ of a watt, yet still
will drive a 2×12” or 4×12” speaker cabinet. These amps can be
easily cranked without any danger of breaking your ears. I’ve seen it
argued that in a studio situation, these amps can end up sounding a
lot nicer as the mics that your using will be operating at a much
less distressing SPL (sound pressure level), thus allowing the mic to
sound its best.

Speaker
Simulators:

You can plug
your amp directly into a speaker simulator and then straight into the
mixing console. This way there is no sound coming out of your amp at
all. Volume can be controlled by the engineer and everyone is happy
(as long as you’ve got some foldback to hear what you’re doing).

Amp
Simulators:

These solid
state devices (like the line 6 pod for example) do a great job of
emulating (modelling) real amplifiers. They’re incredibly convenient,
inexpensive and the volume is really easy to control. One of the best
live mixes I ever heard was when the band was all D.I’ed via some of
these devices.

As always, if you have any questions, email us on help@independentmusic.com.au or head over to our contact page to organise a free, no obligation introductory lesson.