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What Makes a Song Eternal?

songwriting Dec 29, 2020

We’re in the height of the Christmas season, and it’s been weeks of holiday movies, TV specials, Christmas songs on the radio and streaming non-stop.  As we listen to our old favorites and some new ones, there is one song that has piqued my curiosity- ‘Carol of the Bells’.

The song is just over 100 years old and began as a Ukrainian Folk song called “Shchedryk” to usher in the New Year. Yet it has endured, having been recorded and performed across every modern genre of music.

There are many versions of it from orchestral to heavy metal, from techno to a cappella and it’s almost always a hit or at least a fan favorite no matter who it’s performed by. But why?

When I first learned how to play it on the piano in my childhood, it quickly became a holiday favorite of mine. There were a handful of other Christmas songs that I enjoyed playing but there was just something about the melody of Carol of the Bells that grabbed me.

Of course,...

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The Myth of Golden Ears

Are the best sound engineers and producers born with better hearing, a pair of  ‘Golden Ears’ as they say?

Not necessarily, but what they do have is a pair of well trained ears. 

EQ’ing is the manipulation of frequencies. In order to do that effectively, you need to be able to identify what you hear and what adjustments need to be made so you can achieve your desired result.

The first step in doing this is knowing how to listen.

Your ears are always on however, you’re not always listening. We use our ears all the time but exactly how much do we hear and how do we hear?

Hearing is different from listening.  How much of your environment are you tuning out on a daily basis?  If you live in the city, do you even notice the traffic noise anymore?  Sirens blaring, horns honking, garbage trucks emptying dumpsters? If you’ve lived in a noisy city long enough, my guess is that has all become part of background noise that your brain...

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How can you practice your music mixing skills when there is nothing to mix?

Many live sound engineers and technicians have been trying to figure out ways to keep up their mixing skills during the pandemic with the lack of live shows and events.

While it may have been a long time since you’ve had your hands on the faders and it may still be some time before you get back to mixing, there is a simple way that you can improve your skills in the downtime- by focusing on listening. 

It’s easy to forget just how important critical listening is.  When we are in in the midst of a tour or constant work, we tend to operate on auto pilot. For anyone who has been mixing for an ample amount of time, listening becomes kind of like breathing… until we don’t need to do it for a while.

I’m not talking about every day listening, of course we’re always hearing sounds and noises around us, music or television in the background.  What I am talking about is  active listening in the form of critical listening. 

Critical...

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Go Team!

Uncategorized Nov 15, 2020

When I first started working in live sound I wasn’t mixing, I was just helping set up all of the equipment and patch the stage.  I was brand new at this and working as an unpaid intern. 

I’d assist a co-worker on what was essentially a one-man gig just to gain experience. Part of my job would be to help him load the truck with all of the gear we needed for the gig.  Because I had a firm grasp on signal flow, it allowed me to picture the entire system and all the individual parts in my head.  In doing so, I was able to be extremely thorough, making sure we had everything we needed to do the job. 

Most of the time I worked with the same person doing small local bands.  He’d show up at the shop and we’d load the truck and then drive off to the venue some 30 - 45 minutes away.  Inevitably we’d be setting up and my co-worker would realize he forgot this or that.

As he’d start to panic over forgetting an important...

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Reaching your goals

Uncategorized Sep 19, 2020

Goals are great.  It’s good to have something to work towards.   But sometimes goals can seem formidable.

What do you do when your goals seem too big or too difficult to achieve?  You break them down into smaller parts.  You work at it one small step at a time, baby steps if you will.

Start with your goal in mind and ask yourself, ‘self, what is the first step I can take towards this goal?’  If that step seems too daunting, ask yourself if you can break it down even smaller.  Often times we put aside our goals because they just seem too big and just unattainable.  But every goal was achieved by taking the first small step and then the next, and the next.

I recently visited the Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC.  Being the science geek that I am, I love all things space and physics related.   When you think about how we were able to send men to the moon back in the 1960s, that was a HUGE goal.  It didn’t...

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For the men who want to support women in audio.

I've been getting these questions a LOT lately- “How can I as a man support women in audio?” “What can we do to make the historically male dominated world of audio/music production more inclusive to women?” “How do we get more women in audio and tech?”

The short answer is HIRE THEM! I should note that these questions have come from men in the business who truly wish to see the industry become more inclusive and balanced. 

Here are some simple ways men can support women in audio and other male dominated fields.

1- Treat the women you work with, with the same respect you treat the men you work with. Women are not asking for special treatment, they just want to be acknowledged as equals. 

 

2- When someone asks you a question that should be answered by a female colleague, rather than you answering the question, direct that person to your colleague.

Example: The system engineer is a woman and you are the monitor tech but the local crew...

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What is the most important tool in your tool kit?

Your ears are the most important tool you have as a sound engineer, producer, or musician.  And the best thing about them is they are FREE!  They don’t require any software, measuring microphones, or computers.  They are with you wherever you go

I’m not saying that computer based tools and other measurement devices are not worthwhile, but they are just tools and should only be used as such.   The problem comes when you start relying on those tools to tell you how things sound.  After a while you just stop using your ears or simply forget to ‘listen’.

When I was very young I learned how to play piano by ear.  I was actually pretty good at it until I started taking piano lessons.  Once I learned how to read music somehow my ability to pick things up by ear got lost.  It seemed much easier to get the sheet music for whatever song I wanted to learn rather than spend the time plunking away at the keyboard to...

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Mixing Keyboards and Playback Tracks

I talk a lot about getting great sounds from the source.  This includes balancing keyboard patches and playback tracks.

When you’ve got a keyboard player with a variety of keyboards, synths, and rack full of sounds it’s very important to work to get not only the levels but the tones balanced.

It’s equally important with playback tracks or stems that can come in many different configurations and from many different sources.

I’ll start with keyboards.

There can sometimes be a big difference in what the keyboard player hears coming from their rig in IEMs and wedges, versus how it translates through the PA.  For example, they could be compensating with extra high end to cut through their monitor mix while that extra high end is far too much for the FOH mix.  

This becomes a problem when you've got for example;  a string patch where the high end is screaming and an organ patch that is too muddy and needs more highs.

The ideal thing to...

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Need some options for gaining live sound experience?

So you want to get started in live sound and you are wondering where you can get some experience or a job? How and where do you do that?

How much do you know?

If you have only very basic or no knowledge, you’ll want to choose carefully. Equally important as what you learn is who you learn from. Studying under the wing of someone who is well respected and has a professional attitude will get you further than the local sound tech who is known for being miserable and doing shoddy work. 

If you have zero knowledge and are looking to get some education in audio and music production there are many options, ranging from basic courses to full-blown university degrees. 

No matter which route you choose, it’s important to understand how this business works. The reality is you are not going to graduate from one of the many technical schools and be immediately hired by Taylor Swift to mix her next tour.  

Degree or not, you need to gain some real-world...

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 9 Tips on Avoiding and Eliminating Feedback in Live Sound.

1. Know the frequencies.  In order to eliminate feedback you must be able to identify the frequency feeding back.

2. Use proper speaker placement. Keep the mic line upstage of the PA Speakers.

3. Ring out the vocal microphones in the PA.

4. Start with good sounds at the source.  

5. Use the right microphone.  Pick the right type of mic and pickup pattern for your needs. 

6. Use proper mic placement.  Close mic’ing is the preferred method in live sound.

7. Understand and implement proper gain structure of your inputs.

8. Use subtractive EQ rather than additive.

9.Understand signal flow to avoid unwanted mechanical feedback.

 

For a more in depth explanation on any of these download the FREE ebook ‘7 Things Every Live Sound Engineer Should Know’ .

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