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Thursday, December 17, 2009

2 Defining Moments For A Modern Guitar Player - Part 2

Yesterday I looked at the first of what I considered the 2 defining moments for a modern guitar player. These are moments when the light goes on and player's skill set takes a big turn towards what's required by a professional musician.

Just as yesterday, this post is an excerpt from the band improvement book "How To Make Your Band Sound Great," but was prompted after finding a couple of guitar pedal sites that I liked. Unfortunately, I didn't mention the site that really inspired me yesterday and that's As I stated then, I've become more of a purest after my defining moments and generally don't use pedals at all (especially when there are so many cool high quality effects in the studio), but I totally understand that they're integral to a player's sound (especially delays and modulation). Plus, I do like the proliferation of good pedal sites.

Here's the 2nd excerpt and defining moment:

Defining Moment #2 - When you learn to play clean without the help of distortion or sustain.
This might sound like the same thing as number 1, but it’s not. Playing with distortion is fun but the sustain gives you a false sense of security. The problem is that it can also cover up a lot of mistakes and technique problems that you might have. Distortion and artificial sustain can give you a false sense of your ability and the way to get around that is to learn to play completely clean. Yes, you might not like what you hear at first, but with some practice you’ll find that it’ll make you a much better player because now you can hear all the nuances that you’re either doing well, or need work on that you just can’t hear through the distortion. Remember back in Chapter 1 when we talked about your influences? Remember how we talked about how important the nuances in the playing were? This is the way you learn and refine them in your playing. If you can sound great clean, you’ll sound even better dirty!

Less Is More
Expanding on the above, playing with fewer effects and less distortion helps your band in another big way - it’s a lot easier for you to fit into the mix. The more effects (reverb, delay, chorus, flange, vibrato, etc) and distortion that you use, the harder it is for the audience to discern exactly what you’re playing. This means that the sound of the band turns into a mushy din instead of an exciting mix of instruments greater than its parts.

I’m not saying to stop using your pedals. I’m saying that you should use them with discretion. You don’t need to use them on every song, and you usually need a lot less of them than you think too!

When you’re playing live, if you think of your set as a record or CD (meaning a group of songs released at the same time that are designed to fit together), you’ll notice that the guitar sounds change a lot from song to song. In the studio, this means using different guitars, different amps, different effects - all in the name of keeping the sound fresh. While it’s impractical to do this to that extreme when playing live, you can still do some subtle things toward this end like using different pickup combinations, using different effects in different songs, or different amp settings if your amp will allow you to do it. But once again, the word is discretion. A little goes a long way!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

2 Defining Moments For A Modern Guitar Player

I'm not much of a guitar pedal guy anymore. I used to have more than a human could possibly use all over floor when I was a kid playing in clubs (in the days before pedal boards), but I eventually learned that I sounded a lot better without most of them. That being said, I recently came across a couple of pedal sites that I liked - the Guitar Pedal Blog and Pedal Heaven. They got me thinking about my pedal experiences so I thought it might be a good time to post this excerpt from the band improvement book "How To Make Your Band Sound Great" regarding what I believe to be the two defining moments for a modern guitar player.


From personal experience, I have found that there are two defining moments in an electric guitar player’s career that turns his mindset from that of an amateur to one of a professional. What I’m going to tell you might be hard to take because it might go against your idea of what sounds good and is fun to play, but believe me that it will help you in the long run.

Defining Moment #1 - The day you hear that the sound can be bigger without pedals or anything in between your guitar and amp.

Yes, it’s true. Most of those sounds that you’ve been hearing on recordings (especially on classic 60’s and 70’s recordings) have been a guitar plugged straight into amp with no pedals (or one at most) in between. What gives it that big sound is the type of amp and the fact that it’s turned up pretty high, if not to max!

Let me tell you about when this moment happened to me. I was jamming in a garage with slide guitarist extraordinaire Gerry Groom and bass player Paul ILL (my co-writer on The Studio Musician's Handbook) and a drummer. Gerry was a protege of Duane Allman (of the famous Allman Brothers Band) and was so close to Duane that he willed Gerry his beloved Les Paul when he died. The guy really had some amazing chops and a lot of experience and was once dubbed by Jimi Hendrix’ former manager “The next great American guitar player”. I was no pup either, as I was playing about 15 years at the time and had a couple of major label record deals (back when they actually meant something) under my belt.

Gerry plugged his 1960 Les Paul Black Beauty into his 1964 Fender black-faced Super Reverb and the sound was glorious. Lots of sustain with some really good sounding overdrive. I plugged my 1981 Strat into a small rack (which was popular to have at the time) of distortion devices, chorus units, EQ’s and noise gates which then went into a fabulous 1977 Marshall JMP 100 watt half-stack. While Gerry’s guitar sang with richness and as much sustain has he wanted, mine sounded thin and buzzy, although just as loud. After about a half-hour of jamming, Gerry looked at me and said, “Why do you even use that crap (meaning my rack gear)? You’d sound a lot better without it.” I loved my pedals and rack gear and the way it made me sound while I played by myself, but I had to admit that his rig sounded better than mine by a mile. He had the sound I kept trying to get by using all the pedals and rack gear, but he got it by using none of it!

I unplugged everything and when straight into the amp, turned it up and………..Wow!! It really did sound better once I tweaked the amp’s controls a bit. It was a little shocked about how high I had to turn the amp up to get the sound, but it really was the sound I heard on countless records that I’d been trying to achieve. It was that simple.

But it did take a new technique to learn how to control the amp. I couldn’t just jump on a pedal to get enough volume to go from rhythm to lead any more, I had to do it with the volume control on the guitar. And much to my amazement, it was easy! You turn down the volume control and the sound cleans up and you automatically get some highs in your sound, giving you some nice rhythm definition. No longer were my rhythm parts heavy handed and too full. Now they were always just right. This was my moment of clarity.

Granted, it really depends on the amp. Most amps (like the ones described in Chapter 1) will work well, but a few won’t. That’s one of the reasons that guitar players much prefer tube over solid state amps. They have the right sound when you turn them up while solid state, for the most part, just doesn’t. Likewise, if the amp has too much power, you just might never be able to turn it up where you need to in order to get the right sound, especially if you play in small venues. That’s why a 50 watt amp is a lot more versatile than a 100, because you just can’t drive a 100 to where it needs to go without your audience wearing hearing protectors like you see on an airport flight line.

Now I’m not saying to throw away all your distortion and overdrive pedals because they certainly have their place, but get the sound from the amp first, then add your pedals. If you can’t make the guitar sound great plugged directly into the amp, then consider an amp that will get you where you want to go.

Tomorrow - Defining Moment #2

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

7 Tips For Keeping Your Voice Healthy

Since the vocalist is the only musician who can not put their instrument away in a protective case after the gig or rehearsal, it’s important to take very good care of it. Eventually every singer has some vocal trouble, and if you’re not careful, it can really lead to long term damage. That’s why it’s important for a singer to learn to be especially aware of the need to take care of himself. Here's an excerpt from the band improvement book How To Make Your Band Sound Great with 7 tips to help vocalists keep their voices healthy and ready to sing at every gig and recording session.

1 - Aside from being sick, the number one cause of vocal problems is not getting enough sleep. When you’re tired, all the parts of your body needed to support your vocal cords tend to weaken a bit, which leads improper breathing and thus throat problems shortly after you begin to sing. Get as much sleep as you can (preferably seven or eight hours) the night before a gig, or at least take a nap on the day of the gig so you can feel somewhat refreshed.

2 - The next thing is to avoid milk (and any dairy products for that matter) from three to six hours before you sing. Anything with milk in it will cause an excess production of phlegm around your vocal chords, so that’s a definite no-no.  The old remedy of milk and honey for a rough throat is very soothing after the gig, but not before!

3 - If you are hungry before a gig, don’t be afraid to eat, but just eat until you’re satisfied and don't stuff yourself with a seven course meal. Try not to eat in the last hour before your performance in order to avoid that excess phlegm again. If you do feel phlegmy, you’ll have the strongest temptation to clear your throat (which can be harmful) immediately after eating, but waiting an hour is usually enough time for your meal to settle.

4 - And speaking of clearing your throat, there are some that say that you should never try to clear your throat because it can cause some damage, but it’s usually necessary because excess mucous inhibits really inhibits your singing. The trick is to find a way to clear your throat without irritating it and the best way is to do a gentle "whispered cough" and then swallow and repeat. If this doesn't work, you need to deal with the excess mucous production. Squeeze a 1/4 of a lemon into a tall glass of water and sip over a period of about twenty minutes. This should cut through a lot of the excess mucous.

5 - Other things to avoid are alcohol, tea (despite popular belief), coffee, cola and anything else with caffeine, since these actually have a dehydrating effect, which is quite the opposite of what you really need.

6 - One thing you should do is drink lots and lots of water (ideally two to three quarts a day - the more the better) because a dry throat leads to a sore throat. If you live in an arid climate like Arizona, sleep with a humidifier next to your bed and try to warm up your voice in the shower. The moisture can be an incredible help for your voice. Also, learn to breathe in through your nose as much as possible. This will help moisten the air before it reaches your vocal cords.

7 - Finally, some singers swear by Entertainer’s Secret, a spray mixture that lubricates the vocal cords and was developed by an ear, nose and throat specialist.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Recording Session Etiquette - Part Three

In the third and last part of recording session etiquette, we take a look at  what should happen when the session ends. As with parts one and two, this list is a partial excerpt from The Studio Musician's Handbook.
  • It’s perfectly natural to develop relationships with people you meet on sessions, but make sure you don’t ruffle any feathers in your noble efforts to make new friends or create more work for yourself. You want to get called back for the next session and you want the team you just worked with to refer you for more work.
  • After your tracks are completed and you’ve basked in compliments during playback, let whoever hired you or your point of contact know how much you enjoyed the experience and how much you’d like to come back again.
  • Remember to honor rank and be careful to defer to established relationships. If you just finished a synthesizer overdub for a producer but his engineer got you the gig, your best bet is thank the engineer for the referral at a time when the producer is present. Then let them both know you are available for more work. You’ll quickly develop a keen sense of when it’s cool to hang out or if you should quickly be on your way.
  • Be careful not to be overly friendly with the staff. This can be misinterpreted and come back at you later if you make someone feel the least bit uncomfortable.
  • Be careful about making unsolicited referrals for your friends. A general rule of thumb is only refer someone when you’re asked to recommend a player or singer for work. If you’re good at what you do and act professionally, producers, artists, contractors, engineers and managers will inevitably ask you for recommendations and then you’ll have ample opportunity to create your own ”A Team”.
  • Fast friends and strong bonds can be made amongst recording musicians. Often a sense of “family” prevails and often it’s perfectly appropriate to hang out and socialize after sessions. Recording musicians often end up touring or doing media promo dates with artists for whom they’ve made records, and lifetime bonds can be formed. Just remember to acknowledge the individual(s) who create these opportunities.
Follow these pointers and the ones from the first two posts and you'll always be perceived as a professional, which can go a long way to getting you more work. Make no mistake, you need talent to make it in the recording business, but talent alone will get you nowhere unless people like working with you.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Session Etiquette - Part Two

Knowing the proper etiquette while recording is almost as important as doing your gig. If you make people uncomfortable or do something that's considered out of place and chances are that you won't be asked back.

In recording session etiquette part two, we'll look at the way everyone expects you to act during the session. Once again, these are points taken from The Studio Musician's Handbook, but most of them apply to just about everyone on a session.
  • If there’s creative dialogue with the artist, songwriter, producer or engineer, make sure that your opinions are wanted and warranted before you offer them.
  • Be careful about musical references. You may think that the track you’re working on is great because it reminds you of Dusty Springfield’s classic “Son of a Preacher Man” only to find out upon your mention of it that it’s on the artist’s “Ten Most Overrated Songs” list.
  • Whether you’re on your own or part of an ensemble, focus on your work first. If you have input for other players, make sure it’s warranted and you can actually help them out. Players often tweak each other’s parts or help one another to understand a written passage, remember a song’s form, or get a sound.
  • Remember – always defer to whoever is in charge. That person is usually the producer, but you may be receiving guidance or input from a musical director, the artist, or the engineer.
  • Keep an open mind. Greet suggestions with willingness and always respond positively. If you’re receiving input from more than one source and they contradict one another, diplomatically point that out and let them resolve it.
  • And don’t forget – if you can’t keep your cell phone outside the studio, TURN IT OFF (not just on vibrate - that’s a distraction too).
  • Put away the magazines, computers, iPhones, and anything else that can be a distraction. The last thing a producer wants to see is you updating your Facebook status in between takes!
  • If you need time to check your messages or Facebook, make sure you ask first. Most sessions have timed or natural breaks when you can meet you individual needs, but be sure to always ask if you wish to leave the recording environment while there’s work being done, even if you’re not directly involved at that moment.
  • Your behavior should always be positive, and you should strive to be “present for the moment.”
  • There’s a time and a place for everything, but sometimes cajoling, goofing around or humor doesn’t belong at a session. Then on another day with the same people, the session may be all about the gags and laughs. Studio pro’s know how to “go with the flow” and are experts at reading people and situations.
  • If people are conversing, treat the session like any other workplace and try to avoid potential conversational “hot spots”: politics, religion, family and money.
  • Everyone likes a good conversation and a funny joke, but it’s best not to risk being misinterpreted or misperceived as offensive.
  • Earn and honor rank. That means if there are players on the session with more professional or personal history with the artist or producer than you have accumulated, let them lead. Everyone benefits when everyone gets along and knows their place.
  • Always wait until the job is done before you ask the powers that be if they are open to your creativity. It’s appropriate to do so before you offer your ideas. Always ask first if they are open to your input. If so, and you hear it in your imagination, let them know.
Tomorrow - Session Etiquette Part Three


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