5 Tips For Keeping Your Music Gear Safe On Tour | Hypebot

Thief-vbc17-flickr

Ari Herstand tells an all too common story of having his music gear ripped off and then goes on to share a series of tips for keeping your gear safe. Planning ahead and thinking things through can make a big difference even for local shows. If you have additional tips for keeping your gear safe, please share them in the comments with Hypebot readers.

As Ari Herstand puts it, “Your Gear Will Get Stolen” (via Dotted Music).

Reducing the odds of that happening requires some forethought and a clear plan to follow no matter how you’re feeling after the show. Here are some points to consider when you’re thinking it through.

5 Tips for Keeping Your Music Gear Safe On Tour

“Don’t Forget The Sheet”

Ari advocates camouflaging your gear if it’s otherwise visible through the windows of your vehicle. For example, a bunch of equipment in the back of an SUV can be covered with a sheet so it’s not so obvious that the cargo is valuable.

“Don’t Advertise Your Band On The Side Of Your Van”

Part of camouflaging is not painting a big sign on your vehicle telling crooks that valuable gear is stored inside. That’s good advice from Ari but tough for the marketer in all of us to accept.

“Get An Alarm Or Bright Blinking Light”

It doesn’t always help but it can sometimes make a huge difference.

“Walls Are Your Friend”

Back that thing up! If you’ve got a van or trailer with a back door, backing it up to a wall at night is a smart move. Note that, in a pinch, light poles and similar obstacles that are positioned to block access to the lock may suffice.

“Insure Your Equipment”

After getting shafted by State Farm, Ari found MusicPro Insurance to be a much more effective solution to musicians’ needs.

Bonus:

The only time I’ve been seriously conned by a stranger was when I was in extremely familiar and safe surroundings. I was mislead by the context to assume the best rather than objectively evaluating the situation.

So just cause you’re back at your favorite hometown club with all your friends coming to the show, don’t get sloppy with gear security. That’s a bad way to kill a homecoming party.

Tips? Tales of woe? Tell us about it in the comments!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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5 Big Tips That Will Save Your Band’s Tour | Music Think Tank | Hypebot.com

BY: SIMON TAM

There’s a lot of great advice out there about how to book a tour but I haven’t found many things about how to survive on tour. Going out on the road can sometimes be a dangerous affair: long hours on the road with little sleep, many late nights, financial risks, etc. Here are 5 easy tips to remember that can save your band’s tour:

  1. Set a Driving Schedule: For most of my touring career, driving consisted of having whoever felt the least tired drive for as long as possible, then switching off to someone else when they got too tired. There was no set order and sometimes people would make irresponsible decisions (drink after a show so they couldn’t drive or not getting the rest needed, etc). I had too many friends get in horrible accidents in tour and knew something needed to change.

    With my current band, The Slants, that changed. We now have a specific driving order set before the tour begins and everyone is responsible for a 3 hour driving shift in the day or 2 hour shift at night. The schedule is posted in the bus so people can see who is next and prepare accordingly. This way, we get a 1-2 day break between shifts and people give up beds for those about to take the wheel next. The driver also gets privileges like deciding what’s on the radio. We also have a co-pilot to make sure the driver is alert and can help them stay awake as well.

    One other thing: plan your route carefully. I know our band’s limits so I make sure the route doesn’t exceed a safe, reasonable driving schedule each day.

  2. Secure Your Gear: We all know stories about bands who get their gear ripped off during tour – people break into trailers, steal vans, or sometimes steal gear from the back of the venue. Luckily, my bands have never had that problem. It’s probably because we are paranoid about our gear. Here’s what we do:

    1. Add Deterrents: A wheel lock like the club is good. A wheel lock, like this one, with a 125 db alarm and flashing strobe is better. If you have some extra money to spend, this list has even better ones. The harder you make it for someone to break in, the better. Another easy trick to protect your bus/van is to unhook the distributor cap at night.

    2. Get Better Locks: If you have a trailer, you better be using the “puck” style lock. It’s much stronger and can’t be cut off. You should also get a locking hitch and locking hitch pin as well.

    3. Park Smart: When staying the night somewhere, back up the vehicle/park against walls so that it is harder to open large doors. If you have another car, have it block the vehicle in.

    4. “Night Guard:” If we are unsure about a place, 1-2 people will sleep in the vehicle overnight. In the past, I’ve also created a dummy using a sleeping bag and mannequin head, to feign someone sleeping inside.

    5. Cover the Windows: It seems simple, but if people can’t see what’s inside, they can’t tell if expensive equipment is inside.

    6. When in doubt, unload: I can’t tell you how many times we’ve unloaded gear into hotels and motel rooms, just to be safe. It’s better than getting your stuff stolen!

  3. Get Healthy Habits: Make sure everyone stays hydrated and eats well. A case of water and bottle vitamins is a small investment. Try to avoid fast food if you can. Get to know some remedies for the times that someone gets sick.

  4. Deposit Large Bills and Checks: It’s better to not have large amounts of cash on you at all times, even if you have a locked cash box. Make regular deposits and pay for gas/other expenses using a debit/credit card instead. Speaking of cash boxes, lock it up during the show. This is the one I recommend.

  5. Have an Inter-Band Agreement Before You Tour: It’s good to set realistic expectations over each other’s duties as well as having a plan on how money, responsibilities, debts, and things will be divided. What if some band members believe that merch should only be sold to get gas money but others believe some things should be given out to promote the band? What if someone has a lot of friends and takes up all of the guest list spots? Who will handle social media and promotion? Some simple communication, especially things in writing, can save a lot of heartache on the road.

Touring can be great for a band if it’s done right. Investing some time and money ahead of time can keep you and your gear safe so that you’ll be ready for another round of hitting the road!

—————

Simon Tam is the President and Founder of Last Stop Booking, author of How to Get Sponsorships and Endorsements, and performs in dance rock band The Slants. Simon’s writing on music and marketing can be found at http://www.laststopbooking.com. He is on Twitter @SimonTheTam

The Zen of Ear Training – Part 2 | DiscMakers

by Evan Kepner

In the last lesson we covered a few different strategies for starting to train your ears. This included singing with your instrument, singing over a drone, and singing intervals in all the keys. Now we’re going to take it a few steps further and work to really develop our ears ability to pick out notes and relationships. Remember that these exercises take time – developing your ears is a long process. I would practice the exercises from the first lesson and this lesson over the next several months and you’ll start to see development. It’s not a forced thing, more of a gradual opening of your ears.

By this point it should go without saying that each exercise should be done in every key. Break them into small chucks where you do a few keys each time your practice and eventually cycle through all 12.

Exercise 1:

We’re going to expand from last week’s “singing a scale” exercise to singing the different modes. Playing along with your instrument, sing each major scale ascending and descending in the starting from each note of the scale Therefore you’ll sing first Do Re Mi Fa Sol La Ti Do, then you’ll sing Re Mi Fa Sol La Ti Do Re, them sing Mi to Mi, Fa to Fa, etc until you are singing in the second octave. If it’s uncomfortable to sing that high take it down below your initial “Do” for the scales that may be out of range.

This is important because it set you up to hear outside of the normal scalar patterns. If your relative pitch is only good for an ascending or descending major scale starting on the root you’ll be pretty limited. You want to make sure your ears are open to the other diatonic combinations. Once you are comfortable singing and playing try to do it without your instrument. The reason for using your bass while you play is to 1) ensure your intonation is correct and 2) train you to hear the notes and relationships as you practice. When you can do it accurately without your instrument it means you’ve really started to internalize the relationships between the notes – this is a exactly where you want to be.

Exercise 2:

Again with the modal-singing, but this time do it as arpeggios. Therefore you’ll sing the following (ascending then descending):

Do Mi Sol Ti Ti Sol Mi Do

Re Fa La Do Do La Fa Re

Mi Sol Ti Re Re Ti Sol Mi

Continue through all the different starting tones in the major scale. Again, if singing two octaves is too large a range drop the exercises down below your starting tone (but keep the same ascending/descending relationships, don’t switch octaves half way). Start off playing with your instrument and again once you get comfortable try doing it accurately without accompaniment.

Exercise 3:

This is the time for a little brute force memorization. Do whatever you have to do, but memorize the sounds of the E, A, D and G strings. These are pitches you need to be able to instantly identify when you hear them. Every day make a point when you practice to sing these four notes for 5 minutes and play along. If you have a tuner that can pick up sound without being plugged in test yourself by singing into the tuner every day. Eventually you’ll be able to nail each of these. It will make everything so much easier if you know these four pitches solidly. We’re using them as a reference since they are our open strings.

Exercise 4:

Once you’re comfortable singing the different modes, singing all the intervals, and singing arpeggios, you are ready to move onto working with chords. We’ll start with major thirds. Play a major third on your bass in a comfortable singing range. Just listen to it. Take note of the two tones you’re playing and reference the “subtleties” you identified from the last ear-training lesson, you should be able to pick out the qualities of each tone in the chord. Once you feel you can hear the separate tones, sing them with the chord from low to high (just a generic “La” for each is fine). For example if I’m playing a G-major third, I would play, listen and then sing the G and the B while the chord is sounding.

This exercise will help you develop your ear for picking out the different notes in a song. The soloist may have a linear line, but there will be lots of other instruments playing and a fair amount of choral arrangement in any song. Being able to pick the notes out in each chord is essential. This will also help you develop your ear for perfect pitch since you are focusing on the subtle differences between each set of notes.

Play different major thirds all around the neck. Move chromatically to start, and then pick starting tones at random. If you have difficulty picking out the individual notes in the chord play each one separately to start and the together. For example if you could not pick out the tones in a G major third, play the G, stop it, then play the B. Sing each note. Now play the G, let it ring, and play the B – again sing each note. Finally play the G and B at the same time and sing each note. With practice this becomes easier.

Exercise 5:

Repeat exercise 4 with all the other intervals. The more compact intervals (major and minor second) will be the ones which are more difficult. Work with both major and minor intervals all over the neck. You’ll find over time that it will be easier for you to hear the individual tones in each interval, as well as recognize certain things about the interval itself.

Exercise 6:

Now that you’re comfortable with the different intervals it’s time to expand to full chords. Start off with basic major and minor triads using the same concepts in Exercise 4. Sing each note in the chord while paying special attention to the subtleties of each pitch. This exercise will not do you any good if you just rush through it, so be sure to pay careful attention to each tone as you sing it. If it’s necessary set your metronome to 40 bpm and sing for two clicks on each note. That way you’re really letting your ear soak in the tone and how it stands out in each chord.

Once you feel good about the major and minor triads start trying other three-note chord combinations, such as a major or minor seventh (without the 5th). If you can easily identify a chord type, such as major 7th, minor 7th or dominant 7th you’ll have a great head start in any music scene you play. These are the foundational chords to a lot of modern music.

Exercise 7:

If you have a friend that plays guitar or bass test each other for different strings of notes. Start small, have them play one note for reference that you know (such as E A D or G since you already memorized those tones right?), and then play another note afterwards. You can get 3 trials to hear the note and then you have to give the answer as to what it is. Testing yourself will really help your ear develop. Once you are consistent naming one note with a reference pitch have your friend play two notes in sequence after the reference. Then three, four, five etc. The longer the sequence of notes you’re able to hear, remember and name correctly the better – soon you’ll be able to hear an entire line!

Once again I need to reiterate that ear-training is a journey and a constant pursuit. You can never have ears that are too good. It’s a good idea to think of reference songs to help you remember pitches and intervals. For example “Twinkle Twinkle little Star” is a major fifth followed by a major second. I agree it’s not the sexiest song out there to remember this by, but it’s so ingrained in my memory I know I’ll never sing it out of tune. Whenever you listen to the radio try to pick out the chord progressions – is that a ii-V-I, a I-vi-ii-V or a IV-iii-ii-I ? The most important thing is to keep up with it, a little bit everyday is way better than a lot every few weeks – your ear will mature with time.

Article courtesy of our friends at notreble.com, the site for bass players.

Read more: The Zen of Ear Training – Part 2 – Disc Makers Echoes http://blog.discmakers.com/2009/11/the-zen-of-ear-training-part-2/#ixzz2Yfq6YRNo

The Zen of Ear Training – Part 1 | DiscMakers

by Evan Kepner

An important part of every musician’s evolution is ear training. It’s a strange concept, but becoming an active and educated listener pays off in a huge way. First lets cover a few points about what ear training is and isn’t and then we’ll get to the exercises. Ear training is a broad term used to cover two aural developmental practices – perfect pitch and relative pitch. A common misconception we’ve got to dispel right away, perfect pitch is learnable, but your expectations need to be reasonable. Learned perfect pitch is a very subtle thing. It’s not that you suddenly can call out every note in every tune; rather it gives you a deeper perception of music. The best analogy is to think of describing different shades of color to people. Relative pitch is equally important (and more-so for certain types of playing) and is the art of hearing the relationships between tones even if you don’t know the exact note e.g. minor third, descending diatonic scale, etc. This is also learnable with practice.

Ear training will not diminish your ability to enjoy music. Incredibly, I’ve heard other musician’s say “I don’t want [insert “perfect pitch / trained ears”], it means I won’t enjoy music anymore.” WHAT??!! That’s like saying you don’t want to see color because it diminishes your ability to enjoy art. I think this is an excuse because ear training can be abstract and difficult, do not believe this. If you make a regular point to practice ear training it will pay off.

I’ll admit that ear training is difficult for me. As a grounded bassist and otherwise instrumental player I don’t really relish the idea of singing a lot… that’s why I’m an instrumentalist, and why no videos are included with this lesson (believe me it’s for the better). Over time I’ve found that these exercises have been extremely useful in my musical development. I make a point to do singing exercises regularly (and I am NOT a trained singer by any stretch of the imagination) and it gets easier over time. Remember that these are all a process of refinement. If you can tell that a bird chirping is higher than a dog barking you can learn this, we just have to work to where our ears can distinguish finer and finer pitch differences.

Finally, why bother? In the gigging world the musician with the “biggest” ears wins. If you have developed your ability to hear quickly and accurately, you’ll never be lost in a tune and you can get through most obstacles in a gig on the spot. Good ears = lots of gigs. Also transcription will become much easier and this is one of the most important steps in developing a soloing style for jazz.

For this lesson the exercises are very sequential. Each one builds on the abilities learned in the last. These are also very plain-clothes, salt-of-the-Earth, non-flashy drills. I like to think of them as musical meditation. Without sounding too corny, seriously try to clear your mind and immerse yourself in the individual tones, there’s a lot of subtlety here. Part two will take this another step farther, so make a point to work on these exercises in preparation for more.

Exercise 1:

Sing a scale. This is the classic Do-Re-Mi drill from grade school, if you don’t remember the notes it goes like this:

Do Re Mi Fa Sol La Ti Do

This is important though, you have to be able to sing these tones in key. Play along with your instrument as you sing these scales. Just make it part of your practice routine, anytime you play a scale you sing it as well.

Exercise 2:

Once you feel comfortable that you can sing a scale in tune, focus on each interval. For example sing and play the following at 40 bpm, changing notes every 2 clicks:

Do Re Do Re Do Re Do Re Do Re

Doing it over such a long interval is important, you need to really let your ears soak in each tone. Now once you have that down, repeat it but only play “Do” on your bass. You’ll be singing Do Re Do Re Do Re while your bass is sounding a consistent Do Do Do Do Do – creating a drone. I cannot stress enough how important this boring simple exercise is to your ear development. You really need to meditate on each note, we have some serious bass zen going on but this is what it takes.

Exercise 3:

Remember this is all about development, which happens slowly. Repeat exercise 2, but do it with each interval in the diatonic scale. That means you do Do Re, then do Do Mi, then Do Fa etc, each to completion. Start small, pick one interval a day to start and dedicate yourself to spending 10 minutes on it. So Sunday would be Do/Re, Monday Do/Mi, Tuesday Do/Fa and so on. Set a timer.

Again this is all to get your ear used to distinguishing the subtleties between the pitches. Try to pick out one thing that differentiates the tones from each other. For example when I compare an F# and and Eb the F# has a more twangy sound to it. My best typed rendition would be “rrrwaanng rrrwaanng rwaaang” underneath the actual pitch. With an Eb I hear a more “woooooaaaa wooooaaaa woooooaaa” – it’s a very delicate difference but it’s there, and that’s what you have to hear and take notice of in this exercise. If you don’t hear anything that stands out, don’t try to force it. Continue with the exercise and come back to it another day, you want the subtlety to be something that is noticeable to you without intense effort.

Write down your “identifying subtlety” for each note. Some people find it useful to associate the tones with colors, others don’t. The important thing is that you identify something about each tone that sets it apart. This is the first step to developing perfect pitch.

Exercise 4:

Exercise 3 is great for really getting inside the tones, after you do it for a week or two you can start to streamline the procedure just to keep your ears “refreshed.” Now keep the metronome at 40bpm, but count in 4/4 meter (one beat per click). Now sing exercise 3 with each diatonic interval getting one measure. This means you’ll have:

Do Re Do Re | Do Mi Do Mi | Do Fa Do Fa | Do Sol Do Sol | ….

When you hit the octave, sing coming back down referencing the higher Do (the octave tone). Ascending you have Low-High (in terms of the pitch relationships), descending you’ll have High-Low (since the octave is the highest).

Exercise 5:

Repeat Exercises 1-4 in the different keys. In exercise three you should notice a lot of overlap in your “identifying subtleties” – once you’ve identified a tone as having a particular characteristic try to focus on hearing it when that tone comes up in other keys. For example, an F# should have the “rrrwaanng” sound whether it’s in the key of D, G, E, A or B even though its intervallic relationship is different in each one.

If you have a recording device you can make yourself different practice tracks for different keys to do at different times. For example, make a practice tape for the keys C, G, D and A to work on during your commute to work. Another for E, B, Gb and Db to do during your lunch break and finally one for Ab, Eb, Bb and F to do on your commute back home. You’d have all twelve keys covered without losing any of your normal practice time (assuming you don’t shed and drive…).

There’s a lot going on here, and it’s worth taking the time to do these exercises properly. As musicians how often do we really take the time to immerse ourselves in a single tone’s quality? This is a process of musical discovery! A final note would be don’t try too hard and don’t force it. Eventually your ear will open up, it will be different for everyone and will take time. There’s a reason why lots of musicians don’t have good ears, developing them takes a lot of patience and a lot of practice. Keep at it and in the next lesson we’ll step it up a notch.

Article courtesy of our friends at notreble.com, the site for bass players.

Read more: The Zen of Ear Training – Part 1 – Disc Makers Echoes http://blog.discmakers.com/2009/11/the-zen-of-ear-training-part-1/#ixzz2Yfp1Eayx

Using a MIDI Controller In Your Home Studio | DiscMakers

Practical advice and gear tips for integrating a MIDI controller into your studio set up

The technical nuts and bolts that go into making a modern recording have changed dramatically over the last two decades. Customizable, affordable studio gear allows musicians to make records in their home studios that can often rival the quality of the professional recordings made in the past, and using a MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) controller has become increasingly more commonplace for home recording enthusiast.

A MIDI controller can come in many forms, and can serve a wide range of purposes – for live performances and for recording applications. It’s worth mentioning that a MIDI controller doesn’t actually produce any musical sound on its own, but rather triggers bits of MIDI data from its output to either a computer using a DAW (digital audio workstation), soft synth (software based synthesizer), or analog synthesizer module.

MIDI data protocol was invented by synthesizer manufactures in the early 80’s to create an industry standard that would allow multiple brands to be used in the same musicians’ setup, since the keyboard portion of a synthesizer could communicate with another brand’s sound module.

After MIDI Controller

A more recent rack of sound modules controlled by a MIDI keyboard controller. (Photo courtesy of Blurred Ren.)

Before MIDI Controller

Yes keyboardist Rick Wakeman with various analog keyboards and synths in the pre-MIDI era

As the home studio has evolved, so too has the MIDI controller to fit the needs of the musician and the software that has become a part of the studio arsenal. Controllers now have moved well beyond acting as a keyboard for module synths and enhance any musician’s DAW and SoftSynth, enabling one to retain a tactile experience in an environment that seems to require more and longer use of the computer keyboard and mouse.

Bringing your DAW mixer to life with MIDI

One of the components that will expand your home studio’s functionality and flexibility is a controller to handle the mixing functions of your DAW. For the beginner or occasional home studio user, this may not seem like an essential purchase, but there are definite benefits to doing so, especially when you start doing a lot of tracking and mixing.

Mix board controllers can range widely in price and design with some looking more like a traditional analog mixer that you may find in a professional studio and others looking and functioning more like a hybrid DJ/studio mixer. Each knob and slider on this type of controller is assignable and can be programmed to control one or more parameters on the screen within a DAW. (We’ve opted to describe linear controls as “sliders” rather than the analog term “faders” for this article.) Even though some of the more high-end controllers look much like the analog desks mentioned above, they actually replicate a great many of a DAW’s most used functions without the need to be a slave to your mouse and keyboard.

Behringer MIDI Controller

The Behringer BCF 2000 is a good choice for an entry level MIDI controller.

Novation MIDI Controller

The Novation ZeRO SL MkII provides more control options but a steeper learning curve than some basic models.

In the $200 – $350 range there are several cost-effective options that provide a lot of control for the dollar. The Behringer BCF 2000 is a very sturdy controller that offers the basics for a simple home studio setup. A very intuitive layout and motorized controllers make this product a good choice for someone who is looking to just plug and play. There are eight 100mm sliders in the controllers that give the user a great range of motion. With the “bank” feature, you can control as many tracks as you want, and assignable knobs up top give another level of control of the board to the user.

The Novation ZeRO SL MkII will give you a little more control of you DAW’s mixing functions than the BCF 2000, but may take longer to get used to as it has a slightly steeper learning curve. The design of this controller departs from traditional layout of a studio mixer somewhat, and its innovative design allows for Novation to pack more control into less space on its surface. In addition to the eight faders, the Novation has 32 buttons, eight encoders, eight knobs, and eight drum pads. This controller offers a tremendous amount of control in the $300 price range.

MIDI Controller knobs

A close-up of the APC 40’s smart knobs. The LED rings make adjustments a snap on a darkened stage or in the studio.

Akai MIDI Controller

The AKAI APC 40 is a perfect complement to the Ableton Live DAW program.

The BCF 2000 and ZeRO SL MkII are geared more towards tracking-oriented DAWs such as Pro Tools or Logic, but if you’re an Ableton Live user, the Akai APC 40 is the must-have controller. Built specifically for Ableton Live, the APC 40 takes everything on the screen and gives you eight sliders, a dedicated bank of eight “smart” knobs for sends and pans, and another set of eight more “smart” knobs surrounded by LED rings, that adjust parameters to whatever Ableton effect is selected. These “smart” knobs auto update in real time as you select and adjust different features while you see it on your computer screen and hear the difference. All of this is pre-mapped and will work immediately out of the box, so all one has to do is literally plug-and-play. In addition to the mixer/effect controls there is a grid of buttons that control Ableton’s loop clips and give it the ability to be a solid live performance controller as well. It’s a great value and available for $300.

For the musician with a bigger budget there are more elaborate MIDI controllers that more accurately duplicate the functions of an analog desk. Why is that helpful? Because it allows you to spend less time manipulating your DAW with the keyboard and mouse, and achieve a real studio feel by doing everything directly on the board. Controllers at this mid-level will usually range between $900-$1,300, but the added investment will significantly improve your mixing workflow. Being able to mix on a physical layout frees you to use your ear more, and to rely less on pointing and clicking on everything that is laid out on the DAW screen.

Mackie MIDI Controller

Mackie’s MCU Universal Control allows you to abandon the mouse and keyboard to take control of your session needs from the console.

The Mackie MCU Pro Control, which retails for $1,100, is among this class of desktop MIDI consoles, and is a very versatile controller. The system works with all of the major DAWs, which is not always the case with these types of controllers; other controllers may be built exclusively for Pro-Tools or Logic, so be sure any product you are shopping will be compatible with your programs. These controllers have dynamic encoders (meaning they are infinitely variable) on each channel strip that can easily be switched between several control features, allowing you to tweak pan, plug-in parameters, effects sends and returns, and EQ points, without having to be preprogrammed to do so. They typically will include other features such as jog wheels, sturdier construction, weighted/motorized sliders, zoom keys, and all of the function keys from a traditional computer keyboard, all of which keep your workflow concise and eliminate the need for the mouse and keyboard while tracking and mixing (other than to type track and song names).

While it’s beyond the scope of this article to look at even higher end MIDI controllers, Avid and Solid State Logic are just two of the designers that make more elaborate control systems costing tens of thousands of dollars should you happen to win the lottery.

MIDI for guitarists/bassists

Digital audio tools continue to impact the recording world, and evolving from that technology came VST (Virtual Studio Technology) plug-ins that are now integrated into all DAWs. Such programs allow for audio manipulation of thousands of virtual instruments and effects from hundreds of companies, all controllable by MIDI. For any guitarist or bassist recording at home, they’re a great alternative to collecting several head and cab combos, along with stomp boxes, in the quest to get the ultimate tone.

Guitar Rig MIDI Controller

Guitar Rig 5 is the latest edition of the virtual collection of guitar and bass amps, cabinets, and mic set ups that cover nearly every type of gear.

Some of the major players in the amp-modeling world are Waves GTR3, IK Multimedia’s Amplitube and Line 6’s Gear Box, each of which offers an ever-increasing range of sound options as they have evolved. If you want the Mercedes-Benz of this product category, jump right to the Native Instruments Guitar Rig 5, which for $199, models 17 amps, 27 cabinets, 16 mics and 54 effects. All of these modeling software applications can also be manipulated with MIDI controllers (more on that below), while producing sounds so realistic that they are often indistinguishable from the actual amplifier recordings, not to mention they will set you back a tiny fraction of the price of collecting and maintaining the various vintage amps, heads and stomp boxes they emulate.

Guitarists, being the finicky bunch that we are, may complain about playing squeaky clean notes and chords straight into an audio interface and then adding all the tone and color by clicking away on a computer; and really who could blame anyone for that? If you’ve ever stood in front of a half stack and held out a long note with some sustain and feedback, it’s a lot of fun! But if you live in an apartment or your kids are sleeping on a week night, you may have to rethink that option. Thankfully, utilizing a combination of amp-modeling software and MIDI controllers give guitarists, bassists, keyboard players, and even vocalists a range of possibilities from traditional stomp box type setups to out of this world effect manipulation and flexibility that is unheard of for analog setups. Just add a modeled Big Muff-type distortion effect plus ultimate phase shifter with a dash of ring modulation for a weird and wild touch of modeled sonic spice!

Behringer Foot Pedal MIDI Controller

The Behringer FCB 1010 is built for the studio.

Roland Foot Pedal MIDI Controller

The Roland FC-300 is sturdy enough for the stage.

In order to get the most out of these VST amp-modelers, one should consider adding a MIDI foot controller, so that just like with analog pedals, a guitarist or bassist can have all of their effects at the tip of their toe. Some foot controllers to consider incorporating into your studio or live performance set up that could replace traditional pedal boards are the Behringer FCB 1010, which retails in the $150 range and the Roland FC-300, in the $450 range. Both of these offer strikingly similar features when it comes to functionality; the major difference is that the Roland is made with metal pedals and built to take a beating if you take it on the road or have a heavy gigging schedule.

Both pedal boards contain MIDI in/out ports in the back, amp channel controls jack, and power supply sources. To incorporate the pedal board into your setup you’re going to need an audio interface that has a MIDI-in port to connect from the back of the pedal board. In your DAW or VST plug-in program, there will be a place to configure the MIDI routing to make sure that your computer is getting the signal. If you’re having difficulty configuring your MIDI pedal board, don’t stress, it’s likely that someone on YouTube already has done it and will gladly show you how. Once you have a connection going you should be able to assign each pedal to a different parameter within your DAW or VST modeler and use it to turn effects on and off just like an analog setup. An advantage to using a MIDI pedal board is the ability to use banks on the board, which could allow you to have more freedom – instantaneously changing tones, amps and cabinets for different songs and styles (especially handy in a cover band that may have a lot of styles and eras in a particular set.)

McMillen MIDI Controller

Keith McMillen Instruments has a reputation for thinking outside the box with their innovative products.

While the Roland and Behringer offer great alternatives to the traditional analog stomp boxes and accompanying pedal boards that most guitarists are used to, Keith McMillen Instruments have created a pedal board MIDI controller, called the SoftStep, that embraces the fact it’s a MIDI device, and isn’t trying to virtually recreate analog setups. The SoftStep controller does not require being routed through an audio interface like the other controllers; it can be plugged directly into your computer using a USB cable. This controller can be used similarly to the Behringer or Roland pedal boards since it can trigger virtual pedals and effects on your computer, but it does much more. The SoftStep does not have pedals on its board, they feel more like drum pads and have a flexible and rubbery feeling to them. These pads not only detect on and off, but also are sensitive to where your foot is putting pressure on the pad in relation to an imaginary X/Y axis, similar to the way a laptop track pad works. Pressure along either the X- or Y-axis of the controller sends different MIDI data out into whatever is receiving your MIDI information, such as your DAW program, so you can use each pad as an expression pedal if you wish and map it to multiple parameters.

This can be used in a wide variety of ways including controlling LFO rates, chorus intensity, distortion amount, DJ filter sweep type effects, and nearly anything else you can imagine. A controller with as many options as the SoftStep would require a bit more practice for someone who is new to it since there is no analog equivalent, but once it has been incorporated into your set, it allows you to “play” the MIDI controller more like an instrument, as opposed to being a row of on/off switches.

Read more: Using a MIDI Controller in Your Home Studio -Disc Makers http://blog.discmakers.com/2013/05/midi-controller-in-your-home-studio/#ixzz2Th2KdcRK

In The Studio: Tonal Factors Of An Electric Guitar

Here’s an excerpt from The Ultimate Guitar Tone Handbook, available here.

OpenBobbyOGuitarToneJust like most things in life, something that seems so simple on the outside is very intricate on the inside and a pickup is no exception.

Here are the numerous factors that contribute to a pickup’s sound.

The number of turns or winding. This is the number of turns of wire around the bobbin of the pickup. The more turns, the louder the pickup, but the worse the high-frequency response becomes.

The number of turns is measured by the electronic resistance of the wire, which is measured in ohms. The higher the ohms value, the hotter the pickup but the less high-frequency response you’ll have.

Humbucking pickups have more resistance than a single coil because there are more turns of wire, which is why they’re hotter and have less high end.

Type of wire used. The diameter and insulation determines the number of windings that can fit on a bobbin, which will determine the resistance, which determines the output, etc.

Type of winding method used. Nany of the pickups in the early days of the electric guitar were wound by hand, which meant that there were more or less than the required number of windings on the bobbin, and an uneven wind would also affect the capacitance of the pickup, which can cause a peak in the frequency response.

This problem was virtually eliminated when manufacturers switched to machine winding, but while every pickup was now the same, some of the magic that occasionally came from a hand-wound pickup also disappeared.

The type of magnets used. Although Alnico (a blend of aluminum, nickel and cobalt) is the alloy of choice for most pickups, occasionally you’ll find pickups made of other materials such as ceramic or neodymium. This will affect the strength of the magnetic field which we’ll cover next.

The strength of the magnets used. Magnets used for pickups are categorized by strength on a scale of two to five with five being the strongest. A stronger magnet will produce a louder and brighter sound while a weaker one will produce one that’s warmer.

The magnet height. How close the individual magnets are to the strings will determine how loud that string is. On pickups that have adjustable pole pieces that’s not so much of a problem, but on pickups with fixed pole pieces (like a Fender Strat or Tele) that could cause a slight imbalance in the string output.

As an example, prior to the late 1960s, most guitarists used a wound G string, so the fixed height of the magnets on a Strat were different to compensate.

Pickup cover. Metal covers on humbuckers can cause a resonance that results in feedback problems at high volumes. That’s why many of the early rockers removed their pickup covers, and why many guitars and pickups are sold that way today.

Pickup potting. Many pickups are sealed in wax to eliminate vibration induced signals that make a pickup microphonic. The heat from the hot wax can weaken the magnet though, thereby changing the pickup’s sound.

Potentiometers. Although not exactly a part of the pickup itself, the volume and tone pots are part of the electronic circuit along with the pickup and can affect the sound. The higher the resistance of the pot, the more high end will pass.

Fenders use 250k ohm pots, Gibson uses 500k, and many other manufacturers use 1 Meg pots.

There are other factors such as winding direction, magnetic polarity, and the type of bobbins used, but their contribution to the final sound is subtle at best.

Intangible Factors

As if the known factors in building a pickup weren’t enough, consider the many intangible factors as well. For instance, most pickups loose their magnetic strength over time because of environment and electrical interference.

Pickups can become weakened or demagnetized completely by leaning your guitar against an amplifier with large transformers, or even from taking your guitar too close to the train motor of a subway (as happened with Andy Summers of the Police).

Another intangible is the fact that tolerances of just about every component were much looser until the 1990s. While the difference was indeed subtle, add enough components at the edge of their tolerances together and you suddenly get a pickup that sounds different even though it’s made the same.

Go here to acquire The Ultimate Guitar Tone Handbook.

Bobby Owsinski is an author, producer, music industry veteran and technical consultant who has written numerous books covering all aspects of audio recording. For more information be sure to check out his website and blog.

Singing Tips – Don’t Tax Your Voice Before a Vocal Performance

What makes a great vocal performance? There are many answers to that, and they don’t all require being the most technically gifted singer with a five-octave range. Confidence, charisma, and the right repertoire are among the many subjective elements that go into any great performance – live or when recording vocals in a studio – in addition to having chops as a singer.

“‘Synthesis’ is this fancy word we throw around in our college,’” says Daniel Ebbers, Associate Professor of Voice at the Conservatory of Music of the University of the Pacific, “and I do think it’s an important thing. We study all these things individually, but it’s the synthesis, a command of your vocal instrument, a command of the stage, a command of the language and the language you use – all these things synthesized together make a great performance.”

Of course, much of what helps a performer reach the point where all these elements come together is preparation, practice, and experience. A good vocal warm up, and general vocal care, can help ensure your peak performance.

Performance Preparation

When preparing for a performance or studio date, “the obvious thing to do is rest,” recommends Ebbers. “But there are environmental things you might not be aware of or consider an issue, like being in a place where the decibel level is much higher than you think it is. In order to compete with the sound, you have to strain your voice to speak louder to be heard or understood. Many times, people are unaware that they’re in such an environment, because there are so many noisy places in our world, and we’ve come to accept them and adjust. But when you’re a singer, you have to be more aware of these environmental conditions.”

If you’re playing club dates, bars, or parties, the quality of your performance and your vocal health can be severely impacted in the hours leading up to your set by talking and socializing before you get on stage. “Don’t go screaming at a football game or tax your voice before a performance or session, even if it’s two weeks before a session,” says vocalist, studio owner, and producer Jon Marc Weiss. “That can take its toll on your throat and vocal chords and can really mess you up. Keep in mind that you need to keep your voice in tip-top shape so that when you’re called on, you can perform.”

But it’s not just the days and hours leading up to a given night’s performance that you need to consider, especially if you are singing in a stage production or any performance ensemble that requires nightly or continuous performances. “Very often, after a performance there’s a party, a reception or something,” cautions Ebbers, “and many famous singers will say, ‘I’d love to come, but I can’t, it’s not possible.’ It’s all common sense stuff that revolves around rest and awareness of your instrument.

“All instruments are subject to environmental conditions – humidity, heat, all sorts of things. But instrumentalists get to put their instrument in a case and walk away, or put it in a room that’s ideally suited to make it sound good. As vocalists, we have to take our instrument everywhere, and there’s this intersection of our lives and this instrument. So there are all sorts of things you need to pay attention to that other instrumentalists don’t have to. But good health is good singing, and whatever you can do to keep yourself healthy is important. Every person is different, and every voice has it’s own limitations and set of things it can tolerate”

Image of singer via ShutterStock.com.

via Singing Tips – Don’t Tax Your Voice Before a Vocal Performance.