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Thursday, June 2, 2011

Life On The Tour Bus

Ever wondered what life is like on a tour bus? Here are a few stories and tips from Chapter 10 of The Touring Musician's Handbook that illustrate that life on the bus may not be what you pictured.
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As stated in Chapter 1, the tour bus is looked upon as the mansion on the hill. It holds a unique place in the minds of concert goers and musicians everywhere, but when it comes right down to it, it’s just a way to get a bunch of people from point A to point B as comfortably as possible. The definition of comfortable, however, is in the eye of the beholder. Let’s take a look at life on the bus.

The Bus Itself
Most tour buses are laid out the same. There’s a small front lounge (see Figure 10.3), a larger rear lounge, bunks for either 8 or 12 people, a galley, and a bathroom with a shower. Most also have a satellite television in both lounges as well as a DVD player and sound system, wireless Internet, and maybe even an X-Box or other gaming device. Many now have iPod docs as well.

The rear lounge can usually be reconfigured as a twin or queen size bed as necessary. There are multiple air conditioning zones (up to four on some buses), so there’s usually at least one area that you can find that has a temperature you’re comfortable in. The bus also has a generator so you’ll have plenty of AC power for plugging in laptops and anything else requiring external electrical juice. Most bunk areas are small, but many have a flip-down television, a DVD/CD player, and their own power outlets.

If the artist and the band share the same bus, it’s not uncommon for the artist to commandeer the rear lounge, even though it’s supposed to be for everyone (you better knock before trying to enter). Someone might even sleep back there if they’re claustrophobic in a bunk.

Life On The Bus
Because you share such tight quarters with seven to eleven other people, it’s very easy for tempers to fray. That’s why everybody has to be on their best behavior, no matter how difficult that may be. Because you can offend someone without even knowing, you have to be extra considerate of everyone on the vehicle and respect their physical space and personal belongings. Keeping yourself and your area clean and dumping the trash at every stop goes a long way to keep from setting off anyone’s phobias or quirks.
“Traveling by bus with eight other people is not something everyone can deal with.You have to have a certain type of personality to handle the intimacy and lack of privacy. The bus is close quarters, you can't walk down the aisle without bumping into someone, you can't sit alone anywhere without there being noise and a conversation, maybe someone watching a movie or listening to music. It's difficult to read because there are too many distractions and there is literally nowhere to go except to your bunk, which is about the size your coffin will be when you die. You have to be extremely cool and conscientious of others and hope they will be the same to you because it can be completely psychologically draining.”
 Sue Foley
"As far as the bus goes, you never want to leave any of your stuff out in the aisle. When I started touring, they told you once to put your shoes in your bunk and if you didn’t listen, the next morning they were gone. You always want to clean up after yourself and you don’t want to go to sleep leaving your beer bottles or food out." 
Walter Earl
You also have to take into consideration the opposite sex if you have a mixed male and female band. Women have different needs and a different energy from guys, which changes the dynamic of the behavior on the bus dramatically. Surprisingly, it tends to get mellower as the testosterone levels seem to decrease.
"I know this is going to sound really old school but I always bring a book because sometimes when you’re on the bus with a lot people crammed in, the chances of having some kind of unpleasant discourse between band members or management or crew is pretty high. The longer you’re out, the less sleep you have, and the more you see the differences in personalities. It’s inevitable that there’s going to be a blow-up. I always want to have an escape or a self-defense to get out of those social situations which can go bad and lead you to losing your gig. Burying yourself in a book is a good way to stay out of those situations."
Ed Wynne
Is it a smoking bus, and does that bother you? How much are recreational drugs or alcohol a part of your touring life? Can you sleep on the bus? These are the things you must ask yourself before you take the gig.

TIP: Buy a cheap pair of slippers just for the bus. They’re easier to slip on and off in the tight quarters of your bunk.

You can read additional book excerpts for this and other books on my website.
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Wednesday, June 1, 2011

A Look At A Real 60's Jazz Vocal Recording Session

Here's a gem of a video that not only shows what it was really like in the studio back in the early 60's, but just how good some of the musicians were back the. It's called The Audition At RCA and it's about the great jazz vocalist Dave Lambert. It was also one of famed documentary maker D.A. Pennebaker's first films. He was famous for music docs like Don't Look Back with Bob Dylan, Monterey Pop, and Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars, among others.

Dave Lambert was one the first true jazz vocalists as well as the originator of vocalese. You won't find any autotune on these vocals, that's for sure. Give the video a few minutes, it's gets better as it goes along.

I love how sterile the studio was in those days. There's no vibe to the studio whatsoever, but it never seems to matter in this case as everyone just smokes. Also check out the 3 track recorder, the sound of the drums, and the label guys hanging in the control room.

Lambert from Peter on Vimeo.
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Help support this blog. Any purchases made through our Amazon links help support this website with no cost to you.

You should follow me on Twitter for daily news and updates on production and the music business.


Don't forget to check out my Music 3.0 blog for tips and tricks on navigating social media and the new music business.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Networking Your Way Into The Music Business

Here's part of an interview that we did for The Studio Musician's Handbook (written with Paul ILL) that features Onree Gill, keyboardist and musical director for Alicia Keys. In it, Onree describes how he got his break into the business, which is a perfect example of just how important networking can be.
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"What I did was simple. When I was 18 I started going to industry parties, like a birthday party for Bell, Biv, Devoe or something like that. They’d get you for $25 at the door, so the only people there were industry people. I would pay the cover charge or try to get a hookup from someone on the inside, then I’d ask around to find out who everyone at the party was. It would be like, “The guy over there with the white jacket on is head of A&R for Sony,” or “This women in the blue dress works for Columbia.” After I found out who everyone was, what I’d do was to walk around and just say “Hello” to everyone. I didn’t strike up a conversation or anything, I’d just walk away as I was making my rounds.

So I kept going to these parties and bashes and kept going around saying hello to the same people over and over. It got to the point that when they saw me coming, I looked familiar to them and they’d think, “He’s always at these parties. He’s got to be in the music business.” At some point months later I’d go, “Hey, you still at Sony?” and they’d go “Yeah,” and I’d pass him my card and he would pass me his and all of sudden I’m setting up meetings. That’s how I did it."
You can read more excerpts from all of my books on my website.
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Help support this blog. Any purchases made through our Amazon links help support this website with no cost to you.

You should follow me on Twitter for daily news and updates on production and the music business.

Don't forget to check out my Music 3.0 blog for tips and tricks on navigating social media and the new music business.

Monday, May 30, 2011

4 Steps To Transition From Playing Cover Songs To Your Own Music

I’d venture to say that almost all bands start by playing cover songs. After all, what better way to get your chops together than by emulating something already tried and true - i.e. a hit song.

The problem comes when a band or artist begins to gain some popularity as a result of playing cover songs, yet has aspirations of one day playing their own music. Unless you’re extremely clever right out of the box, chances are that your self-composed material doesn’t get the crowds going the way the cover material does. This means that as soon as you begin to play one of your own, that hot enthusiastic crowd suddenly goes ice cold, making you feel like your song just isn't cutting it.

Before you begin to think that way, remember that it’s not your fault that your material doesn’t get the same kind of response. A hit record has usually been finely crafted by a slew of experts, and it’s been burned into your audience’s consciousness over a long period of time. How can you compete with that? Chances are that through no fault of your own,  you weren’t able to put nearly that same kind of time or effort into your material, and of course, it's all new to your audience.

So how do you make the transition from cover artist to playing your own material? Try these four steps.


1. Take what you think is your best song and work it up show-wise so it’s the best song in your set. This means that you concentrate on the dynamics of the song, the lighting, and the movement of the players on stage. Don't know what I mean? Watch a concert by your favorite band or artist. At some point during the set (or several times even) the show will peak thanks to something that goes beyond just standing there and singing and playing. That's what you want to do. I realize that it isn’t as easy as it sounds, but this is a step you’ve got to take.

2. Next, connect that song to one of the hot cover songs that you do that's similar in theme and/or tempo, then play them together in a medley.  Keep working on it until your song get's the same response as the cover because it probably won't happen the first night that you play it. Don't get discouraged, these things take time to perfect for every artist or band, even the hit makers.

3. After you’ve gotten your audience used to one of your songs, use the same technique to put a second, then a third song into your show. It's a gradual process, so just be sure that both your songs and the show around them are as well-crafted as you can get them. It's quality you're going for, not quantity.

4. Finally, since you have to still play cover song for the time being, don’t play them exactly like the record. Don’t be afraid to give them your sound. Remember that you're audience is digging more on the familiarity of the song rather than how close to the record your performance is.

Remember that the above steps won’t work if you can’t write a song to save your life, your arranging ability is hopeless, or you don’t put the requisite work into the show. But if you do, this can be a way that you can gradually transition out of being just a “cover band.”

By the way, at all costs, don’t call your songs “originals.” This one word signals amateur and labels the song as inferior in the audience’s mind. Instead, use “my (or our) music” or “my (or our songs,” or better yet, don’t even identify it. If it’s any good, people will find out soon enough who wrote it.
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Help support this blog. Any purchases made through our Amazon links help support this website with no cost to you.

You should follow me on Twitter for daily news and updates on production and the music business.

Don't forget to check out my Music 3.0 blog for tips and tricks on navigating social media and the new music business.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Dire Straits "Sultans Of Swing" Song Analysis

I was at a party at a swanky Beverly Hills establishment a few weeks ago when I got to talking to a group of Gen Xer's about music. Much to my surprise, one of them whipped out his iPhone and dialed up a song and announced, "This is the greatest song ever recorded." As it played, nearly all of his friends agreed, much to my surprise. While I was expecting to hear something more from their generation, the song that played was actually "Sultans Of Swing," the song that launched Dire Straits to international stardom. I figure that if they think so highly of the song, it's worth a song analysis.

The song is from the album Dire Straits, which was made for only about $20,000, mere chump change in the big budget days of 1978. Like all song analysis, we'll look at the song form, the arrangement, the sound, and the production.

The Song
"Sultans Of Swing" is about as straight ahead a song arrangement as you'll ever find. It fits almost perfectly in what you might call the "textbook" song form, which looks like this:

Verse, Chorus, Verse, Chorus, Verse, Chorus, Solo, 1/2 Verse, Chorus, Solo

The Arrangement
There's nothing fancy about the arrangement at all. It's a rock band playing at its simplest and best.

  The Foundation: The bass and drums.

  The Pad: None

  The Rhythm: The rhythm guitar

  The Lead: Lead vocal and lead guitar

  The Fills: Lead guitar

The Sound
In 1979 analog recording might have been at it's peak and this recording certainly is a testament to that notion. Everything sounds completely real and unprocessed. The drums are dry and in your face without being too compressed, and the snare is very snappy (sounds like a lot of under-snare mic). The vocal and rhythm guitars have just a touch of reverb to give them some space but the lead guitar has a a lot of a slightly delayed verb that pushes it back in the mix, giving all the elements a nice front-to-back image.

The Production
Muff Winwood's (Steve Winwood's brother) production is sparse but effective. It's just the band playing with very limited sweetening, but the song is a perfect example of how that can be just as effective as a song that's heavily produced and layered. The rhythm guitars are doubled and split left and right and the lead guitar line in the chorus is doubled, but that's about it. What matters here is the performances, and the band just smokes, especially drummer Pick Withers and his great high-hat work. Of course, Mark Knopfler went on to become a guitar god as a result of this song as well.

Send me your song requests.

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Help support this blog. Any purchases made through our Amazon links help support this website with no cost to you.


You should follow me on Twitter for daily news and updates on production and the music business.

Don't forget to check out my Music 3.0 blog for tips and tricks on navigating social media and the new music business.

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