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Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Pulse Of Consumer Electronics: Newspapers

Say what you want about newspapers dying, they are still an accurate indicator of consumer electronics trends.

I've read newspapers daily since I was a kid (except for a few years when I was on the road) and I've noticed that you can pretty much spot the hot electronics item just by watching the number of dedicated product adverts and their placement in the local rag. Here's what I've noticed through the years:

Stereo equipment - Big in the 70's and 80's, until it wasn't. Ironically, the average student or consumer had a far better sounding system back then than he has now. The product was really quality audio, not stereo equipment. Quality audio is a particularly desired attribute today and that makes stereo equipment no longer a major factor in consumer electronics.

Computers - You couldn't turn a page in a newspaper in the late 80's and 90's without seeing an advert for everything from known consumer brands to small mom & pop shops building their own computers at prices you could afford (service was another matter, unfortunately). These home-brew commercial units were replaced in the 90's with national brands like Apple and Dell being sold by the local dealerships. You still see the occasional ad in the Saturday paper, but for the most part, the dedicated computer stores have gone away.

Cordless phones - Not cell phones, the ones you use in your house. In the 90's, if the ad wasn't about a computer, it was about a cordless phone. Talk anywhere in your house without being tethered to a cable. What a concept!

Cell phones - In the late 90's and early 2000's, ads for cell phones were everywhere from both tiny startups to large corporations. Every corner had a store selling cell phones (with a couple more down the block) and they all wanted you to know they had just the one for you.

Big screen TV's - Not the LCD/plasmas that we see today, but the first screens past 36 inches. It was new, it was great for sports, it was big. You needed one.

Digital cameras - The most up-to-date in electronic gadgetry, digital cameras are the latest consumer electronic item to catch the buying public's imagination. Every day, local and national stores run ads in all sections of the newspapers for cameras and accessories of all types and at all price ranges. Take pictures of your life, put them on your blog and website, share them with friends, all in higher and higher quality for fewer and fewer $$$.

I believe that the next trend will be small HD movie cameras like Flip Mino, but who knows? I do know that whatever the trend, it'll be here any moment since the digital camera craze is getting a bit long in the tooth. Until then, I need to upgrade my SLR camera.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Bad Gig Experience

Every band has bad gigs, from the most neophyte garage band to superstar acts like Coldplay. Recently I was asked to comment on some conditions that can cause a bad gig and offer some solutions. While Coldplay won't run into any of the following anytime soon, chances are that they and every other band came across these challenges at some time in their careers.

Here we go:

1) The band is constantly told, "You're too loud!", something anyone who's ever gigged has experienced.
SOLUTION: Play more dynamically. Chances are that if your audience is complaining about the volume level then you're probably playing at one level throughout every song. If you start playing dynamically then you'll never be perceived as being too loud since your music will breathe volume-wise. It's the constant din that the audience hates. To put dynamics in it's simplest terms, play as loud as you can during the loudest sections of the song, play as soft as you can during the most quiet sections of the song, and back-off on the volume during most sections with vocals (like verses).

2) Getting to a venue and finding out that you're playing in the dark because the lighting is poor or non-existent.
SOLUTION: The best thing is to buy a small lighting rig since they can be had for the price of a small amplifier these days. Lights should be considered an integral part of your show and you should always assume that the lighting will be inadequate to make you look good. Even if the lighting rig at the venue is sufficient, your lights can always be used for additional impact. At the very least, carry some colored gels with you since most lighting gels at venues are usually washed out from constant use. It's amazing how good you can look with a fresh gel.

3) The stage is too big.
SOLUTION: This doesn't sound like a problem on the surface, but I've seen too many bands try to take advantage of a large stage when they're not used to it by setting up too far away from one another and completely loosing their timing and balance. A large stage requires some getting used to and sometimes even some different gear if the monitor system is inadequate. Stay set up as close to one another as you're normally comfortable with if it's your first time on a large stage, and gradually spread out in subsequent gigs (if there are any) as you become familiar with the situation.

4) Stage is too small.
SOLUTION: So you have a 5 piece band but the stage is only big enough for the drummer and maybe the bass player? Not to worry, use the stage as a drum riser and take as much space as you need out onto the dance floor. You'll need it to put on any kind of decent show and being scrunched together on a tiny stage doesn't do anyone any good, if you can help it. This is where having your own lighting rig really helps because it can act as sort of a demarcation line of your "new stage." This only works if you're already pretty good and can get the audience quickly on your side and doesn't work if you're just starting out.

There are some other situations that can ruin a gig, like a soundman's tendency to favor kick and snare over the vocals, or slamming the audience in the eardrum with level, that I will elaborate on down the line.

By the way, there's more about this topic in "How To Make Your Band Sound Great".

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Production Workshop At Serve The Song

I've just started a new weekly Production Workshop at Serve the Song. Here's a portion of the post, with a link to the rest.


Welcome to my first Production Workshop post. Every week we’ll look at a different aspect of music, recording and performance, all with an eye on improving your songs and recordings. Speaking of songs, that’s a good place to start since if you don’t have a good song, not much else matters.

We all know it when we hear a great song because we can’t get enough of it. It makes us move, it makes us listen and it draws us in. But it’s a lot harder to write a great, or even good, song than it seems, as anyone who’s ever tried to write one knows. We can analyze great songs all day long to see what makes them tick, but sometimes can learn just as much by analyzing the ones that aren’t that great as well.

Here are a number of common traits that stick out when an artist or band that’s inexperienced at songwriting and/or arranging first play me their songs. Keep in mind that we’re talking about songs from any genre of music. No matter what it is, from rock to country to goth to rock-a-billy to alien space music, you want the song to be interesting to your particular audience, so most, if not all, of the following will usually apply.

For the entire post, go to Serve The Song.

Traits Of A Studio Musician

In August, a book that studio bassist Paul ILL and I wrote will be published entitled "The Studio Musician's Handbook." It's an inside look at everything there is to know about being a studio musician, including how much you can make, how you become one, what it takes to become one, and what's expected of you. There's also a DVD included that takes you inside an actual Hollywood session so you can see for yourself what it's like to be a studio musician.

Here's a brief excerpt from chapter 5.


You’ve got your first session, now how do you keep them coming? First of all, here are the traits that you find in all studio musicians.

Traits of a Studio Musician
Great Chops
Great Gear
Easy To Work With
No Ego
Takes Criticism Well
Proper Studio Etiquette

Let’s go over these one by one.

Great Chops
Studio musicians are expected to be creative, extremely versatile, and have a formidable skill set. They are usually the best musicians in town in terms of plain physical dexterity, and are able to play numerous styles convincingly. Your ability to read music will determine the type of sessions you can play on. For record dates, the ability to read and transcribe lead sheets is essential, but many other sessions like jingles and television and movie scores require expert sight reading.

To illustrate the reading abilities of session players, here’s a story about the late Tommy Tedesco, one of the most recorded guitar players ever and charter member of the famed Los Angeles studio band The Wrecking Crew during the 60’s and 70’s. Tommy was playing on a Jan & Dean date when as a joke, singer Jan Berry turned Tommy’s music upside down on the stand. The take started and Tommy proceeded to play the backwards score note for note. A frustrated Berry yanked the page off the stand and said, “You’re just showing off!”
"...the town is full of guys who play great, so that’s not even on the table. You have to find people who are doing what you want to do and connect with them, and when your shot comes, don’t screw up! It’s as simple and as cold as that."
Studio guitar player Gary Solt
"You don’t have to tell them (studio musicians) what you need, they just automatically go there. When you have to explain to someone how to make something feel better, it becomes a hard place to have it come from if you have to wrap your head around it first. As soon as you have to think about it you’re going to miss part of it anyway. But you can get there, you just have to listen and practice and always pay attention to it. For example, if I have Chad Wackerman on drums, I can tell him to lay back one more hair on the beat and he’ll know what I mean, where with younger players there’s only ahead of the beat, behind the beat, and on the beat. For advanced players there’s a hundred variations of all of those places."
Producer Frank Fitzpatrick
You can read more about The Studio Musician's Handbook on the excerpts page of my website. There's also a brief excerpt of the DVD there as well.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

QR Codes and Music

QR or "quick response" codes are now beginning to pop up everywhere, from Pepsi cans to T-shirts, to magazine adverts to billboards.

Created by the Japanese company Denso-Wave in 1994 for inventory purposes, QR codes contain more data than the standard 10 digit bar code and are relatively easy to scan. So easy, in fact, that a typical smartphone can scan and read a code with a simple click of the camera, and anyone with a computer can generate their own. BayBrain’s offers a QR bar code generator and links to a comprehensive list of software for code reading.

Bands, artists, labels, and even casual users can embed the code with text or links to their favorite images, music and sites, which is great for viral marketing. Upon creating a QR code, Snappr then offers you a chance to transfer the bar codes to hats, mugs and just about anything you can print on. Because the point of the code is to provide additional info to passersby, there are a ton of potential uses for it, from tour dates and bio info to product information to just about anything else you can think of.

This summer, online event register Eventbrite is testing a QR code program for concert and party registration with an eye on increasing efficiency and reducing waste. Let's see how long before it becomes a standard in the concert and music businesses.

Here's a quick video on how QR codes work:


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