Review: Urei LA-4

You can hear sound clips of this and other reviewed pieces of gear here:

Urei LA-4

Urei LA-4

The Urei LA-4 is a classic opto limiter that is useful on various instruments, such as vocals, guitar and bass. It has a unique sounding compression, with ratios selectable from 2:1,4:1, 8:1,12:1, 20:1. Anything above 8:1 is considered limiting. It also has variable threshold and output level. The LA-4 is primarily a single channel unit, with the option of stereo operation when linked to another unit. They do not have attack or release controls: the attack and release are nonlinear and are determined by the gain reduction. As such, the LA-4 is rather smooth sounding over a broad dynamic range. The LA-4 is great on vocals, giving a nice clarity and smooth compression that tames most erratic vocals. With a pair of LA-4s strapped for stereo operation, you can run compression on a stereo channel of background vocals. However, compared to its opto sibling, the LA-2A, the LA-4 have less warmth and presence. Hence, for to fatten a lead vocal, the LA-4 would not be the first choice of compressor when put up against the LA-2A (which we also have here in Digital Bear Entertainment). With that being said, LA-4s are perfect for background vocals that benefit more from sheen than from weight.

On bass, the LA-4 also has a rather smooth operation and compression. The non-linear attack and release ensure that the compression is not overly harsh or unnatural. The LA-4 also maintains the low frequency information from the bass track unlike other compressors that may lose low end information and make low register instruments overly crunchy on the high end.

The LA-4 is useful gear and a great addition to any studio. Compared to its other counterparts such as LA-2A and LA-3A, it is certainly the “blacksheep” of the family, with it being less present. However, it is definitely useful when you need a smooth and natural sounding compression.

Rules to Take the Stage By

This is a list of rules you should memorize and live by when performing at clubs or other public places. I have compiled this list after years of watching acts do stupid things that really hurt them, and ultimately lead to their downfall. Don’t make these mistakes.

    • Know your material. Don’t start and stop. Be prepared to fall down, be heckled, have equipment fall over. Be sure you can sing on key without the monitors. Know what to do if the monitor mix is bad or cuts out entirely.
    • Know how long you have to play. Don’t run over. That’s amateurish. Don’t tell the audience “we have 3 more for you” only to be told “only 2 more” by the soundman. Play too little and the fans will be thrilled when you announce an extra song, kind of like an encore.
    • Make sure the room knows who you are. Introduce the band name before you start, or immediately after the first song. You have to mention the name 7 times before you’re off. Similarly, use the CD name with the band name. Mention song titles as you go. Point out which are on the CD for sale. Mention the web site. Mention the mailing list. Mention the mailing list again. Each time use the band name.
    • Getting names on your mailing is the key mission of the evening. Playing a great show and selling CDs or T-shirt are just part of the process. In the end, gaining the new fan and their contact info is the bottom line.
    • Know the names of the acts you are playing with that night. Mention them by name, and the order or times they’ll play. Remind your fans to stay. (This should be reinforced in your email newsletter too – stay and build a scene…). Don’t just say “stick around” or flub the other band’s name. Thank the other band for sharing the bill. Promote them from the stage and they’ll want to share the bill with you again, and they’ll remind their fans how wonderful you just were.
    • Don’t bitch about the sound or soundman. Most are brain-dead. Accept it and work with them. Above all, leave your egos at home. Be professional. Tip the bar folk well and, while onstage, remind your fans to do so too.
    • Set up – you should never let more than 5 minutes elapse between the end of the act before you and starting yourself. If that means you have to help them load out, so be it. Don’t lose the energy in the room while you set up.
    • Load out – Divide and Conquer. Just after you play is a crucial time. Your fans and potential new fans need you. Don’t get mired in moving equipment or talking to the other bands. Send your frontman and chief sideman (lead guitar, for example) into the crowd to meet fans, shake hands, point out the mailing list, mention CDs or T-shirts. Have the backline guys do the rapid load out. Once the gear is out of the way, it can be gotten later.
    • Have a visible presence. You must have 2 banners with your name and logo on it. One should be visible behind the band as you play. Be sure it is not obscured by your heads. Don’t use a kick head for this reason. The other should be over your merchandise table to attract buyers/fans.
    • Know your fans. Get to know their personal details. Go beyond names to significant others, children, jobs, personal problems. The more you know, the more they will feel bonded to your band.
    • If you’re lucky enough to have an industry insiders come to one of your shows. Don’t rush up to them before you play. If they introduce themselves, thank them for coming, tell them you hope they enjoy the show, offer them a drink (say, “can I get you something to drink?” NOT “wanna beer”. You never know who is a recovering alcoholic). After the show, send a band member to them immediately. Don’t wait for them to approach you, they’ll feel neglected. Thank them for coming, tell them you hope they enjoyed the show, offer them a drink.
    • Guest list. Never let an industry person pay the cover. That’s what the guest list is for (OK, you can use it for your parents too, on occasion). If there is no list, prepay the venue the cover charge for that guest.

There are other rules you need to learn too, like not staring at your feet or the walls or the ceiling (I’ve see these, don’t laugh) and tricks you can use like how to engage the audience (or force yourself or your bandmates to do so). For more on this, call Digital Bear Entertainment’s Artist Relations Dept. 617 522 4550 x0. However, these above are the basics. You gotta know them and live by them. You’ll definitely be judged by them. Be professional.

Building Professional Relationships Around the World

Technology is having profound effects on the fundamentals of our society.  While some of this isn’t so good for the music industry, there are aspects that do benefit musicians.

Recording on your patio!

Recording on your patio!

Composers can write entire scores on their laptops, and people use websites such as SoundCloud to share their music across the whole world. Working in a remote fashion, bands have been able to record songs across entirely different continents! With the advent of cloud-based data transfer, online collaboration with studios and producers around the world is becoming more common.

As this trend progresses, we are seeing more artists working with remote mixing and mastering studios. As a staff member of Digital Bear Entertainment, a mixing studio in Cambridge MA, I have noticed that it is becoming less common for clients to be present in the studio while we work on their music. Of course, we welcome the Artist to come in, but are finding that even if that particular client lives fairly close by, they do not always come in. This means that regardless of where the client lives, the vast majority of communication takes place over telephone and emails. Distance no longer matters.  Mixing this way is a lot simpler and more productive than it may seem.

Initially, I think both we, and our clients, were squeamish about this loss of face-time.  After all, music is such a personal connection.  Yet, music is really all about making that personal connection in a way that spans time and space.  Using technology to our advantage, we have found that we are able to span time and space, and maintain that connection!

There are some side benefits of working this way too. Streamlining the studio workflow can save a lot of time spent in the studio. As we all know in this industry: time is money and any reasonable cost cutting is helpful! Time and money is also saved when you factor travel into consideration, and it is possible to have a record mixed or mastered without taking time off your day job.

Perhaps one of the most important benefits of working with a remote studio is getting the right people to helm your project.  Not only are the talents of individuals no longer locked to their location, but the political influence they can bring to your career is available even if you are nowhere near them.  We certainly get involved with our clients beyond just the mixing; providing management consulting and career development that you can’t get wherever you may be.

Office Bitch or MVP? How Gen-Yers Can Use Entry Level Jobs to Their Advantage

This is a great article.  I would only clarify that “office bitch” doesn’t mean bitchy person at the office, but rather “gopher” or “slave”.  That took me a few paragraphs 🙂

Office Bitch or MVP? How Gen-Yers Can Use Entry Level Jobs to Their Advantage.

JT’s Picks: Good Night, States – Country/Static

What would you get if Bruce Springsteen used a bunch of mangled digital synths embedded in all his ballads?  If you add deeply understated vocals coupled with female backing and the occasional duet part, you get Good Night, States.  GN,S is a band from the Mid-Atlantic region with members from Pittsburgh, Philly, and NJ, so the Bruce connection is real.  Their new album, Country/Static is aptly named.  A collection of deep ballads delivered with quiet intimate vocals, traditional rock arrangements, and odd twisted synth sounds.

Play: Good Night, States – Inside

Stand out tracks include Inside for its sheer beauty; Fog In The Valley for its basic normality; and Head In My Direction for being as upbeat and rockin’ as Good Night, States gets.  Some of the synth parts seem quite at odds with the basic tracks.  I’m not sure whether this entirely works, but it is very intriguing.  Check out Everybody Is Sound for a particular example.  Tired of Making Sense channels U2 for a mild change of pace.

If I had to levy any criticism, and you know I do, it’s just that GN,S is a bit mopey.  It’s not that I don’t appreciate a good song that makes me want to contemplate suicide, but a whole album of that just seems overwhelming.   I think each song is very successful individually, so you be the judge of the compendium.   Good Night, States’ Country/Static is available April 5, 2012.  Go get it!