Working with Headphones

“To can or not to can THAT is the real question!” Hamlet

Sure, we use headphones to record but the question arises if you should just always use them?

The sound in the headphones is so focused and if you get good ones then they are really great for one of the most important things a musician does…transcription.

Transcription is basically learning a song by ear. Now here they are really good because you are not competing with local background noises and you are right inside of the engineer’s mix as it were.

I am practicing, writing and recording in a apartment as well, so for me they are great as I dont live alone and sometimes I want to work early or late. Cor songwriting they can be quite good in that kind of environment because you are literally creating within your own little world.

I use a Zoom L12 mixer and multitrack which is pretty intuitive and I did record my first cd on it. I’d say it’s only two weaknesses are that the effect you chose for that song is the only onboarding affect you get. You should vary effects per instrument preferably so I also use a few other exterior pedals and keyboards often have their own onboard as well.

There is, of course, different recording software out there like Protools and Reason but I presently dont have the money or time to invest in them. I do want to but it will sadly have to be later.

Where headphones fall a little I think is for the organic feeling of creativity and for rehearsing for a show. Especially for guitarists (and bassists like myself) you want to get closer to the feeling of not using them and the amp is part of your sounds creation. The headphones give you a sense of security that is going to be lost when you hop stage. I have found that as you go from headphones to not to rehearsal to gig to recording studio the stress naturally rises with the highest at a live recording. So for these you want to practice as close as you can get and leave the headphones for more coming up with ideas or study.

Getting ready for a show on this Friday out in Langford, British Columbia so my practice quickly popped through the other instruments before staying on bass. And yeah I did the exact same thing, standing…using a mic…no headphones…everything to recreate the same environment. You dont have to stand too but I find it does just for going over your set, give you that same angle that changes when seated.

So have a look online for what is good and within your price range. I use Audio Technica M40s which have a great sound and durability.

Thanks for reading!

Cheers,

Tom

Band Survival Guide

So you’re finally going to do it! You’ve been playing and have decided to get in a group and the next step will be under the lights. The lights might be a cafe or a senior’s home or a friend’s living room but theres no need to be nervous.

Trust me, it’s all about having fun. I have been working in the same band for over 800 shows now so on my end I’ll try to get you started.

We’ll do it as a top ten, so here are my top ten suggestions to the applause.

Gear ready?

Now imagine you have some but when you’re just getting going you want something simple and reliable. Try everything you want to bring before a jam or gig and make sure theres no wierd noises. Bonus hint : No patch cords from pawn shops. Super cheap gear will always get you. If it’s super cheap you will not want to know why!

Oh Hungry? Hang on…

I got this from my mom who tried doing a gig after a dinner. Yeah, it was rough. You want to wait two and a half hours between your last meal and your gig and make the meal light but with decent protein. Classic peanut butter or almond butter is my favorite but then I dont have allergic so aim for light. You want to feel relaxed and light and able to sing fully.

Imbibe after.

This actually comes from working with some pro filmmakers. Especially if you are a bassist or drummer stick to beer and weed at the end of the show not before it. Especially with my last bit of advice which I also follow if someone gives me a beer I can actually make it last 2 hours. Melody players are better for this but for rhythm players you want to be ahead of the beat and not behind it.

It’s about time.

“Rhythm is the whole deal” Jaco Pastorius. This is something to bear in mind both playing but also about your musical life. Putting in time practicing at your most creative time (morning person versus a night owl). Being on time. For a small show my band will show up 30 min before and 60 minutes before a big event where you need to connect with people like the sound person. Early is fine as you can settle into it. Late ain’t fashionable.

Practice

Now we all to a degree know this but you should more importantly practice the bands material on your own between jam sessions. I use a Sony recorder which then loads into the computer so I can pull up any tune we’re doing and make sure I’ve got it down. Even if you’re great you need to be there for “shots” or hit the right chord on that one beat when the drummers kick comes down. One great player said it “if i dont practice for two days i know it. If i dont for four days my audience knows it.” Heres my harshest advice though…abandon ship if the rest of a group only practices at rehearsal. My band isn’t like this but ones in my early days sadly were. This doesn’t get better. You’re better off with people who take their craft seriously.

Attitude

Dont worry, this ones chill, which is the point. Bring a fun vibe to the game. Take it seriously on your end but be supportive and have a laugh. Your great attitude and the fun you’re having will rub off and they’ll feel it out there too.

As Billy Joel said “theres a job, there’s a gig here.” Some stuff you have to do in a band isn’t playing : setting up gear, hauling equipment to and from vehicles and stages, interacting with public, organizing things and even helping with things not in a musician’s role (like moving a table when you get to the venue, or setting up chairs). I remember seeing Martin Gore of Depeche Mode helping their opening act in set up with things like winding up cables. Egos stay outside. Many hands make a light load.

Marketing point I was told ages back…never talk the band down. I understand being self effacing but too much makes you sound like you really think it’s not worth their time. If people ask what’s happening dont ever say “Nothing…”. Instead tell them how you’re going into the studio soon…you got some new sounds you’re trying out, even if the studio is your friend’s living room and the sounds is a delay pedal-doesn’t matter. If you’re not into it why should they be, let alone pay for your art?

Stick with it. The greats ground through it too.

Speaking of Martin, lots of bands like Depeche Mode had absolutely terrible public debuts. ABBA’s first performance fell flat and Sting’s first review in a local paper said that “If the Police get a better singer they will be great!”

Just because it’s not perfect now doesn’t mean it won’t get better. I remember lots of well meaning people voicing shall we say concerns that it wasn’t working for me. That rarely happens now. I’m the same person but I’ve practiced, performed and kept showing up for years.

Creative 1 + 2

This is a classic which falls in sync with attitude. The basics here is that in the creative process you have :

Stage one.

– anything goes, bring every idea you have to the table.

Stage two

– take all the ideas and make them into a work.

For us it’s great to just apply this concept to rehearsal where there is lots of creativity happening. Try your weirdest ideas out and try what ideas are pitched from the others as well. Not just in playing but in how to run the project. There are so many things you can do that as one music business mentor said

If you run out of things to do, your doing it wrong

How you look

I’m not good at this, but fortunately others in the band are, which helps. Take how you look seriously in terms of what you are presenting to the world. While the sound should speak for itself you want to look like you are meant to be there. Look into things like basic design or color theory, or have someone you trust go with you on what looks right for what your doing.

How you look 2

Easy one I got from a friend and it’s a simple lady one, but try to look up. An old saying is never turn your back on the audience which is sometimes true, but try to find parts where you dont have to shift position on your instrument and look out there. I sometimes look above them or sort of dont focus on one specific person, but you will find what works for you. It also helps with posture which helps with both resisting injury but also for vocals. Not only that but like with attitude, it sends a strong signal.

Well that’s it, and like I say this is more a loose guide but I hope it helps.

If this did help and you go huge, send me tickets for the west coast Canadian leg of the tour.

Cheers,

Tom

Apps for Musicians! The Ear Gym!

In the interest of trying things out, I’d thought I’d give a try to trying things. Hopefully that made sense!

I’ve loaded and deleted lots of apps over the ages as I have a little, little phone with not much room and I just keep a few in play.

Let’s kick off with the second in a series of ear training apps I’ve tried, “The Ear Gym.” Ill keep this brief and tight as I’m short on time like yourself.

Way tougher than “functional ear trainer” it actually puts you through paces with interval recognition which is excellent. I’m a big believer in “The Talent Code” (check this out or maybe I’ll do a bit on it later), and anything that puts you in that just-beyond-ability sweet spot is great. I do wish it would go more into recognizing full chords but maybe that’s soon to come ot elsewhere.

8/10

Know an amazing musician app? Post in comments below!

Cheers!

Tom