This article appeared here, but it was too good not to share. A lot of truth in this post.
A few years ago I shared some thoughts on how to annoy your sound engineer. They seemed to be helpful to people so I thought I’d share some more. Obviously, you might not want to implement all these suggestions on the same Sunday.
Make him touch your ears
You’re too important to learn how to put your ear monitors in the correct way, or in the correct ear, so make him do it for you. Bonus points if you make him try to figure out how to put your belt pack on without getting sued for harrasment.
Have long rehearsals
Sound engineers have nothing better to do than sit at the console while you rehearse that one song again. They love being trapped there while you figure out what songs to do. They don’t mind a bit not being able to go home and sleep because you’re goofing around. It’s fun for them!
Sing like you’re telling secrets
If you can master the art of singing with a whimpery, yet raspy, yet emotional, yet passionate, yet secret whisper from the inner regions of your soul, your sound engineer will have no trouble at all finding a good place for your vocals in the mix. Bonus points if you choose random moments to sing normally before reverting to the whisper again. It’s hilarious.
Tell him what you think about the mix when you’re on stage
You’re standing on stage. You’re behind the speakers. You can’t actually hear what it sounds like in the room. But go ahead and tell him it sounds like your guitar isn’t loud enough. Keep telling him. Until your guitar sounds loud enough to you. You’ve successfully made him your best friend.
Display your awesomeness
First song: you’re on acoustic. Second song: you’re on accordion. Third song: back on acoustic. Fourth song: floor tom. Fifth song: you’re on banjo (but let’s be serious: you can’t really play banjo, so he should turn it down so no one knows). Sixth song: you’re on electric. Your sound engineer will love you.
Can you do me a favor and give me a bit less hi-hat, and bump up the kick by 2b, and pan the electric to the right, and give me about 6db more acoustic in my left, and give me a bit more reverb on my vocal?
Oh and can you get me a Latte too? OK thanks.
Throw him under the bus
Lets say you get an email from Verna, a long-time member of the church, and she complains that it was too loud on Sunday. What should you do? Blame the sound engineer. You are not responsible for your music. Throw the sound engineer under the bus and go buy yourself another scarf.
Expect him to do eight things at once
1. Run sound. 2. Run monitors. 3. Run projection. 4. Record the sermon. 5. Hand out assisted-listening devices. 6. Control lights. 7. Play the video at the right time. 8. Touch your ears. He’s superman.
Give feedback feedback
He loves when you do this! Hear feedback? Tell him you hear feedback. Try to recreate the feedback by thumping your mic with your pointer finger. Or, better yet, try to fix the feedback by holding the palm of your hand over your mic. Then you might create even worse feedback, in which case you can prove to your sound engineer that you really were hearing feedback. Then he might kill you.
Pretend his first name is “Hey”
All sound engineers have one first name, and it’s “Hey”. Seriously, it’s so convenient. “Hey, can you turn my mic on?” “Hey, can you give me a bit more keyboard?” “Hey, can you bring me my scarf?”
What am I missing (besides my Latte)?
One day I was having a conversation with an artist about her career. The artist was a female lead singer of a band that was a small indie outfit in a large city. The band had been together for a few years with very little success in their surrounding area. It was a bit of a shock since the band had a great stage show, sported a great look and wrote really good music. After about 10 minutes of talking with this singer, it was very apparent the issue that had plagued the band from succeeding and winning people to "their camp". In the midst of the conversation, the singer told me that, in more or less words, they knew everything there was to know about music production, studio recording, performing live, sound, microphones and the meaning of life. Well, maybe not the meaning of life, but from my perspective it seemed as if that was about to come out of her mouth along with the words that she and the band had created the heavens and earth in 6 days.
There is one thing that always happens year after year no matter how long I have been teaching, or speaking at industry seminars, and that is musicians and artists overstating how awesome they think they are - or how much experience they think they have. I start my classes every year with these questions; tell us your name, where are you from, what are your experiences in the audio field and why did you join this class or expect to get out of it? It never fails that various students will give everyone their verbal resume, so we are all very much aware of their uber audio expertise. I am not saying that some do not have a decent background in the industry, but you have to look at their age versus the years of experience - and then scratch your head in wonder. Some of the students are 18 years old with, maybe, two years max of experience in audio, yet to hear them talk, one would think they could teach the course at any university nationwide (at least that is the perception they would like everyone to believe). A lot of people remark about my "BS" meter and how I can call it for what it is "a mile down the road". So, in class I promptly call it like I see it. I tell my students my background, in which I get the looks with oooohs and ahhs of impressing them, and then I tell them how I am still learning something new every single day of my life. I continue to tell them that I do not have it all figured out - and that maybe as a group we can teach each other which in return will make us all better at what we do. I finally tell the class that if anyone feels as if they have "arrived" they should pack up their stuff, leave and promptly head over to the academic records office so they can drop my class.
The one thing that will kill a career, faster than a McDonald's drive through stop, is....pride. Pride is the thing that tells a person that they are awesome, better then everyone else and have it all together. It is the one thing that will stop a talented engineer or musician from hitting their pinnacle. It is the one thing that will make a talented band break up. It is the one thing that will sabotage any career including one in the music industry. It is the one thing that everyone could do without. Pride says, "You have it all together, and don't need anyone's help." I have been in the industry long enough to see pride wreck careers and people. Let's face it, nobody wants to work with the guy or girl who thinks they have it all together - and who believes they are better than everyone else. Pride can be the difference between being teachable or continuing in a flat lined rut leading to "nowheresville". I wish I had five dollars for every band, artist, engineer, producer and industry professional whose careers have been side lined by pride. I would own a hefty bank account by now. Pride is the ultimate career killer.
As we (music industry veterans) get older, we need to teach the next generation the art and skill of what we do. This applies to all career paths, as well. How can we do that if we are raising a generation of spoiled, know-it-all brats? That thought alone has frightened me as I walk into a new classroom every year, only to be greeted by more apathetic, more prideful and more distracted than ever students. I want teachable sponges who latch on to every single word, so they may grow, learn and be successful. It is becoming harder and harder to find students who do that. I had a student come up to me after a class last year and state, "I want to be more entertained in your class." I made clear that they needed to join a drama class, and leave mine, if all they wanted was to be entertained. Education is fun! We share A LOT of laughs and good times with relevant subjects in my classes, but I am not an entertainer....I am an educator. There is a difference. I was concerned, after that student approached me, that maybe I was losing my teaching "edge". I started speaking with other professors across campus and each had similar experiences. It wasn't a coincidence that multiple professors were experiencing the same. It is a shift in the quality of students and the current generational mind set.
The one thing that is prevalent in my mind when thinking about pride, arrogance and the entertain me mind set is this thing called a career killer. I wonder how many of those students are working some place that they hate because of their pride and arrogant thinking? I knew of an individual who told me that they felt I should do whatever I could do for them because they attended one of my teaching seminars. They also felt that I needed to give them the contact information of everyone I knew in the industry, as well. That was pretty bold and set me back a little bit. I gave that individual this advice, and I will end my blog with it as well. I stated, "The industry is way too small of a place to be burning bridges when you are so inexperienced. I would strongly suggest that you change your attitude so you will be able to eventually do this for a living. If you do not change your attitude and mind set then I can confidently predict right now that you will be working at McDonald's expediting Happy Meals for the rest of your life. Stop burning bridges, stop feeling entitled, stop being so darn prideful and start working hard. Put in your dues like the rest of known audio world, including myself, have done for years. Nobody owes you a free ride son."
There is a lot of opinion on this subject, and some slight exaggerations too. To answer the question, "Is piracy wrong?" then I think we need to dive into who came up with the term pirates. The term pirates is a label that the software, recording and movie industries have given to people who either host or illegally download and distribute intellectual property that hasn't been paid for. Pirates are the scum of the earth, bottom of the barrel individuals who are single-handedly ruining all of the entertainment industries. Well, at least that is what all the industries want us to think. I am not advocating piracy, of course I am not advocating the name pirate either. I think the name pirate is a bit harsh. The original definition of pirate (which was changed recently to include the digital age) is, "a person who robs or commits illegal violence at sea, or on the shores of the sea". So if a digital pirate has a ship, a drunk crew and is stealing the new Windows system by violence on the ocean (maybe in transport?) or on the shores of the sea, then they can legitimately be called pirates...ARGHHHHH!
The truth is that the software and entertainment industries wanted to label this activity in the most fearful low-handed way possible. I have met a few "pirates" in my time, not the ones dressed like Johnny Depp, but some of the people who "hack", and they were some of the nicest people. Like I said, I do not condone what they are doing, but I do not condone the way in which they have been labeled. Some of the hackers are doing it because they feel they are on a mission. A mission? Yes, a mission. A mission of justice and to "level the playing field" in the professional arena - and corporate profiteering. I am speaking more along the lines of creative ventures like music, graphic design and video creation -and not so much music or movies.
What a lot of these hackers feel is that, like most things, companies cater to the rich and forget about the poor or up and coming. How can they think that? I will use one company as an example here - Waves. Waves is a plug in company that makes plug in software for digital audio workstations (DAWs). As of a little over a year ago their software suite called Waves Mercury Bundle cost an individual $10,000. For those of use who are professionals, and use a DAW called Pro Tools, it is almost a necessity to own the Mercury bundle to stay competitive in the music production world. The problem is that most people can not afford the $10, 000 price tag. Waves justifies their position saying that it costs them that much to program and market their product (which is laughable). One of Waves competitors offers a very similar package with, what I believe to be, better plug ins for around $2,000. If you do your math, that is an $8,000 difference in price. I always have said that Waves had better be including a good used car for the amount I am paying for their plug ins.
Profiteering thinking is nothing new in an industry that is notorious for ripping of its customers (mostly studios and musicians). I have many examples of reverse piracy (that is manufacturers raping and pillaging its consumers) going on in this industry. The first example is that yesterday I needed to order cable ties for my studio. I have taken this summer to get my studio neatly organized from cords to rewiring- and everything in between. I went around and started checking prices through the usual music supply chains for my ties, and kept thinking, "Man, this a lot of money for twenty ties." - It was $30 for 20 ties. They are not made out of gold, they are Velcro for heaven's sake. I decided to think outside of the normal music mind set, and go to other industries to find my ties. I found the exact same ties, that I use, in another industry's listing, which would cost me $8.00 for (get this) 100 of them. That is quite the difference in price.
The second example, is that I purchased a sample CD from a very well known company. Let me clarify this one by saying it was a while ago (think late 90's), and the internet was still moving at snail pace. Back then the company did not have any audio samples to hear, but had a description on their site. When the sample CD arrived, I opened it up, popped it into my computer and it wasn't like anything described on their site. I called the company asking to exchange it for something that I actually needed, and their reply was, "Once it is opened, you own it. No refunds." I told the company that it would be a long time before I did business with them again. On their end, the representative said, "We can't cater to everyone like you who complains. If you feel that way, then go to another company, and do business with them." In the twelve plus years since that time, I have only purchased one sample CD from them, and that was because I needed the sounds for one particular project. Even then, I watched for promo codes and got a 40% off discount.
I believe that "pirates" actually keep companies honest and "on the ball". I liken them to a person who watches his neighbor mow his lawn with a new John Deere mower. The neighbor graciously allows the other neighbor to try out the mower to see if that neighbor wants to go and purchase a John Deere for himself. Pirates (in a way) do the exact same thing. They release cracked software for people to "try before they buy". All of the cracking groups have that motto and, to be honest, it really isn't a bad way of functioning or thinking. Software companies have responded by allowing consumers the option of trying before you buy with restrictions and time limits. The restrictions I have seen are absolutely ridiculous. The software companies limit the feature set, so yo can't even try out the software with every feature or fully. What good does that do? That is like test driving a new car with a flat tire. Some companies require you to purchase a $50 iLok key before you can try it. No wonder hackers want to crack the software.
On my end, I have had terrible luck with companies who claim that this piece of software will "revolutionize" your music making process. I get excited, buy the software or plug in, only to feel like I had just been ripped off. I have paid more than $500 for a plug in, only to find out that it crashes constantly, or that it isn't compatible with Windows Explorer blah blah version installed on your computer. Don't even think about trying to get your money back....it isn't going to happen. You open it, you own it - period. I am now a lot more cautious when purchasing any kind of software. This is a case where having hackers, pirates (add degrading name here) around is actually very good. Companies are quick to point the finger, and say that pirates are the cause of the decline in their businesses. The truth is, that they are the reason for their demise by releasing poor quality products then selling them at outrageous prices. The pirates have been very good for quality control (checks and balances).
There was another company recently that made these crazy claims as to why they couldn't be more consumer friendly. It had to do with hardware, and forcing consumers to purchase their hardware to run the software. A cracking group got a hold of the software, and was able to crack it without having to use any hardware. The cracking group released a statement that this company had been dishonest all along, and they had proof via the code that the software company had built into the program. Within the year, the software company released a version that no longer needed its hardware to function. The hackers became the industry "police" that kept the company honest. Since that time, the cracking group has not released a new version due to them feeling their job was accomplished by keeping the software company honest and "on the level".
So, is it wrong being a pirate? Yes, it is wrong to freely give away somebody's intellectual property, but it is also wrong for companies to be raping and pillaging consumers. It is also wrong for companies to be charging exuberant prices while providing sub par and buggy merchandise. Before a company or lawmaker decides to call other people (or persons) a pirate(s), they should look closely at themselves ridding their closet(s) of poet shirts and eye patches. ARGHHHH!
I was reading an article recently that mentioned Bruce Springsteen not using any kind of track in his live performance. I then kept reading and found out that Bruce and the E Street Band plays 3 hours of material any given night. It was mind rattling, to say the least. I remember the 90's (yes, I lived through some great rock n' roll eras), and the start of the lip syncing phase. Does anybody out there remember Milli Vanilli? If so, do you remember how big of a news story it was when they were "busted" for lip syncing? It was scandalous "back then". So much for scandal when 99.9% of the artists now use tracks in their live shows. Oh we talk about it how tracks are not legit, and complain about it (to some extent) - but then shrug it off as "entertainment".
I want to just put it out there....the best shows are live shows where musicians are sweating over every note. Where musicians and singers are striving to hit every beat and every note the right way. Where the singers come off the stage exhausted, and the crowd leaves amazed. What we have been (and are) producing are lazy musicians under the guise of "entertainment". Who drives this mentality? Let me point one finger (though there are a few to point at various entities)....the big record companies. There was a time (I know when anyone starts with that it sounds "old skool" but who cares "old skool" was "good skool")....so, there was a time when record companies signed - get ready for it - talented musicians AND singers...GASP! Yes, you heard me right. Here is a question, and answer this truthfully, would Bruce Springsteen or a talented person like him get signed in 2012? I will answer that for you - no.
See, we have gone from an industry that use to sign talent to an industry that manufactures it based on looks, latest hair trends and clothing designs. Let me be clear, not ALL bands or singers are talentless. I will mention a name here - and do not string me up for saying it - Lady Gaga. Lady Gaga attended Julliard...and if you think that is an easy school to attend, then I would challenge anyone to attempt to get into it. Julliard students are high quality students who are serious about their craft. All of this to say, while we see some talent in the industry, sadly we see a lot of manufactured artists. Does the word Autotune mean anything? "What is Autotune?", you may ask. Basically in a nutshell, it is an engineer's tool that makes singers who can not sing, sound like they can. Nifty huh? For some artists they use it as an "effect" to make them sound "cool". For a lot of other artists they use it as a crutch because they can not sing.
I remember getting into quite a spirited discussion with a producer friend about the relevancy of Autotune, and its use as a professional tool. I am a musical purist. Yes, I have used Autotune on singers - but I loathe and dislike it tremendously. As a matter of fact, about 80% of the software tools out on the market I can not stand because they are being used to manipulate. My friend, on the other hand, was on the other end of the spectrum in regards to Autotune. He made a comment that it must a good thing since somebody made it. To me that logic is like saying cyanide must be OK to mix into your coffee since somebody made it. Just because we have a lame tool to make somebody, who shouldn't be singing, sound like they can, doesn't mean we should be using it...at all (hear me T-Pain. Go sell insurance). The record companies scratch their heads wondering why sales are going down, and then blame it on illegal digital downloading. That may be playing a small part in the decline, but I want to propose a new theory....your "talent" is talentless so start signing real talent again.
My cry here is bring back the real. Bring back the Springsteen's, Aerosmith's and the like. Please start signing more artists like Adele and bands that refuse to use tracks. Create a rule that if a band you signed starts using tracks then each of you get slapped up or your vacation gets taken away - or your dog has to be put into a shelter. For artists, learn how to play, learn how to sing and stop using lame backing tracks. Oh, and hire a new sound engineer. If the one you have can't make you sound great without using tracks, then find one that can (yes, I know this is all based on the fact the artist(s) can play and sing to begin with). It is time to reclaim our industry. So, let's start searching out great artists, and let us start a new kid of musical revolution. In the meantime, I am heading down to a coffee shop to enjoy a latte, bagel and real live musicians.
Recently I was in a talk with my wife and made the comment that I am finding something very alarming which is the lack of promotion amongst my friends and indie artists. When I talk with my friends or various musicians they all tell me how much they want to do the "music thing" for a living, how they get excited when they think about making music and how it is their passion or calling.
When I hear an artists talk like that I get excited and start dreaming with them about the present and future. After my talk, I will often start searching for my friend, the artist, band or musician online. Some I find on Soundcloud, others on Indaba or like places. I search for websites or YouTube channels...basically anything that will point me to the artists and their art. Then it all starts to hit me, many are not promoting themselves.
In the technological age there is no excuse or reason not to promote your music or craft. Soundcloud has given anyone the opportunity to share their music with the world and what I have found on there is just plain sad. Out of all the friends and artists I know (which are hundreds of people), only three had anything to share on Soundcloud. Almost all of them had an account but when I went to listen to their music ....birds tweeting and tumbleweed blowing around their site.
Of course there are other sites as well to promote your music on. Sites like YouTube, MySpace (yeah I know its so 2005 but still a place to point people to your music), Reverbnation, Indaba, Bandcamp and many more offer services so a person can promote their music. So the questions this...if you don't post your music, or promote yourself, how are venues or anyone else for that matter suppose to know who you are or what you are about? If I were running a venue and an artists didn't have anything "out there", I definitely wouldn't be having you play my venue.
So, here are a few tips for promoting your music grassroots style:
Kevin "Danger" Jackson is a New York-based producer, engineer, composer, performer, educator and Berklee College of Music alumnus. He writes, produces and engineers music for a wide range of artists in the pop, hip-hop, rock, R&B, classical and electronic genres. His work can be heard daily on a multitude of albums, radio and television stations worldwide.