Tuesday, 31 January 2012

DESTROYING Myth #6: Music Stands make you look like a Pro!

This one is perhaps my BIGGEST PET PEEVE!!!

Granted, there are times and situations when the use of a music stand is a necessity and practical. However, if you are using one outside of these precise scenarios, YOU LOOK LIKE A HACK!

Now, I can already hear the rumbles of people, many of which are friends of mine whom I respect immensely, saying that I am WAY OUT OF LINE on this one. Well, I will now endeavour to argue my point and convince you to at least reconsider doing this if you do, if not stop the practise all together.

I will start by listing the situations where it is a given that music stands are not only acceptable, but often needed:

1. Orchestral music. I include things from string quartets to full blown symphonies. Basically, styles and disciplines of music that have been founded on the use of sheet music and hence, stands. The people playing music in these situations are not generally referred to as BANDS.

2. Jazz ensembles. I am not talking about jazzy bands, but situations where jazz musicians get together to jam on various pieces of music. There tend not to be rehearsals for these situations, so the use of guiding sheet music is what gives the musicians the shared structure they will use to then create their own improvised thing. Cool, man. (snap those fingers)

3. Guest musicians. This are those situations where a band invites a guest instrumentalist, vocalist, or small ensemble to join in a song or two, but there is not time to rehearse with these guests before the performance and the guests need sheet music (and/or lyrics) to guide them through.

4. Recitals. If you don't know what this is, click here and read #2.

That doesn't mean there aren't other situations where it might be acceptable, nor does it mean that some of the above 4 cannot be avoided.

So, this is my stance. Whether or not you use a music stand in your BAND's live performances should be dependant on whether you actually care if the audience is to become FANS of your band or not.

Sure, if you are a function band playing gigs like weddings or are the house band at a hotel where your actual role is to act as a living breathing radio, then music stands are not going to be a detriment. You are a perfectly valid band, but your role is as a commodity rather than as artists. In these situations the goal is to definitely be a great band that is very proficient at your task, but equally important is to NOT be too much of a focal point; you don't want your performance to detract from what people are really there to do. Remember, you are there to build a client list rather than a fans list.

This does not follow through for cover bands, however. As a cover band that is playing at different venues in order to DRAW A CROWD, you should indeed be trying to build a following and gain fans that will come to see you over and over again. Therefore, YOU NEED TO PRESENT YOURSELF AS A PROFESSIONAL! (like the chaps in the above photo!) Just because you are playing covers rather than originals doesn't mean that your crowd doesn't want you to be into what you are doing and taking them with you.

You might be begging the question, "But doesn't using a music stand show your professionalism? After all, REAL musicians like jazz guys and orchestral people use them." Well... NO! If you just want people to appreciate your virtuosity and adeptness at your instrument or even your sight reading abilities, get in one of the above described situations.

The thing is, if you are in a band that expects to gain a following of FANS then people expect and deserve a certain amount of effort on your part. That means you should KNOW WHAT YOU ARE DOING! Part of your job is to sell the fantasy of perfection just like in the movies.
Let me give you an analogy here: if you went to a film or a play and the actors were walking around with scripts in their hands reading off their lines instead of having them memorised, would you feel cheated? I'm betting you would. And that is how we feel when we see you staring at a piece of paper at your gig. We want to feel YOUR EMOTION from the stage, not just hear you playing the right notes at the right time.

The worst case scenario, and I see this so often it is depressing, is when someone has one of these horrible 'PROPS' on stage, and it is obvious that they don't need it! They are literally using it as a prop, and the act of going and flipping a page on it then never looking at it again is just a TAD BIT INSULTING to the intelligence of your crowd. Really, we don't buy it.

Now, I do understand the comfort of having notes to guide you through a new piece that you are still not completely comfortable with, and I do understand how having notes or music can help out a fill in player even after a bunch of rehearsing; no-one is perfect. But at least put in the effort to hide your cheating from us, your audience. You can't do that with a big, ugly music stand with a light glowing at the top placed between us and you. We want to feel like we are part of what you are doing, not just casual observers, and we can't feel that if you put obstacles between us.

Try rehearsing your songs until you actually know them before you hit the stage. If you need notes to help, make the writing big enough to where you can read them from a piece of paper on the floor. That goes for your set lists too. Just like toilet paper, we all know it gets used, but we don't want it shoved in our faces.

So, bands... PLEASE... Unless you are using it as a percussive instrument, KEEP THE DAMNED MUSIC STANDS OFF THE STAGE!!!

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Breaking Myth #5: They're all out to rip you off! (part 4)

Yeah, I wanna check out your band. Can you put me on the guest list?

This one goes out to the audience, or potential audience. Just where have you been hiding?

For some reason people seem reluctant to part with even the smallest amount of money to see bands live. I am talking about the bands that are out there playing in your local clubs and bars, not about the superstar shows at the super room that you fork a big chunk out for months in advance for. I'm talking about the treasure trove of talent that is available to you pretty much all the time and for a pittance.

When I lived in Los Angeles up to the beginning of the current millennium, folks would go to several shows a week; sometimes even more than one a night! That was because there were more than enough amazing bands from all over the planet playing all the time. Well, L.A. was and still is a metropolitan talent magnet.

The point is, that because there were so many shows and people were going to as many of them as they could afford, the door prices were kept pretty low. Usually you could expect to find a show with 3 or 4 local bands for $5. From that, with rare exceptions, all the bands would get their gas money and a few dollars extra., but more importantly, they would be gaining invaluable stage experience and (if they were any good) a strong following (of incalculable value). If one of the bands on a bill was on tour from the further reaches or one of the bands happened to have garnered a bit of success and was guaranteed to pull in a much bigger crowd, the price might jump up to as much as $10. From what I understand those prices have pretty much doubled in the past decade (gas/petrol has more than doubled in cost over that time).

Here in Cyprus, most of the shows with the local bands run at about €10. That money not only gets split among the bands, but sometimes the venue gets a cut as well. The thing is, there are a lot less shows here in Cyprus than there were back in L.A. Maybe if more people went out to support the vast talents we have here, we could manage more shows and maybe even get the prices down a touch.

I wouldn't count on that last bit. But I will say that it is a damned shame that we don't have 2 or 3 shows a week in each of the cities (Nicosia, Limassol, Larnaca, Paphos) with packed houses. We certainly have enough musical talent on this island to warrant it.

None the less, people seem to think that €10 for an evening of great live entertainment is a rip off. Why is that? Is it a erroneous perception that the bands aren't any good? Have people lost the love of music? Or has it somehow become un-cool to go to a show and support local bands? I'm not sure what the causes are, but I do think I know a couple of things that perpetuate it.

One of the big problems is that people go to shows because their friend's band is playing. Not that going to support your friend's band is a bad thing. I think more people should go see their friend/workmate's bands. You might actually be shocked at the talent that unassuming accountant actually has.

And when you do finally go out to see your friend's band, plan on seeing all of the bands that are playing. Go out to the show with the intention of having a great time. Go out to discover an amazing band that was in your back yard the whole time. Don't just make an appearance so you don't have to feel guilty about never supporting your friend. Believe me, that isn't doing anyone any favours. In fact, if you do that, you ARE getting ripped off! Your money is better spent if you just pay your friend €10 and not go see them.

So, come on people! Let's get out there and discover and support our bands. And don't be a purist; try some bands that are outside of the little niche scenes your friends are in. There is truly a wealth of brilliant music and performances to inspire you and make you feel alive. And, it's bound to be better value than dinner and a movie!

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Breaking Myth #5: They're all out to rip you off! (part 3)

Ah, c'mon! You record your own band for nothing...

This is a problem, I would venture to say, for anyone who owns/works in a studio (or even just has some recording equipment) and also has a band.

What tends to happen is that, being the recording person, a friend's band decides it's time to record something, and they figure they can get a 'FRIEND' deal from you. This is fair enough on the face of it. Most recording engineers/studio folks I know Do usually offer their friends a pretty sweet discount. Some go so far as to completely cut out the usual charges for either the facility or their own services to run the facility. On rarer occasions they even reduce the fee on what it is they are still charging for.

So, let's say the studio charges €200 for a 10 hour day (the standard) and the engineer also charges €200/day. That breaks down to €20 per hour each. That means with no deal you are paying €400/day (€40/hour) to record. A 10% discount works out to €360/day. A 20% discount works out to €320/day. And 40% would be €240/day.

In the real world any of these discounts would be considered good under most circumstances. However, with the 'FRIEND' deals I know about people are offering 50% discounts (€200/day) and sometimes even  as much as 62.5% discounts (€150/day)! AND quite often the days go for longer than 10 hours without the bands being charged for the extra time!!!!

     NOTE: This example is at the almost unrealistically low end of the scale. Charges are based among other things on quality of the facilities, gear, and personnel. There is usually a damned good reason for the prices they charge.

THE SHOCKING THING IS that bands will still give their friends grief about how high those extremely discounted rates are. The bands still feel like their friends are TRYING TO RIP THEM OFF. And I think I can explain why...

These bands see their friends with this studio/gear. They then see/hear really good quality recordings of the bands directly associated with these studios coming out; knowing that the bands didn't need to raise extra money to record. They also think that this gives these bands an unfair advantage. As a result, they feel that their friends should, by virtue of the 'level playing field', give them the same advantages for the same 'NO COST' prices.

What these bands seem to be able to ignore is that although the studio related band didn't need to fork out the money for the daily rate of the studio nor the engineer (maybe!), there was still a huge investment made in these recordings.

The original cost of the recording equipment alone would probably be beyond most band's recording budgets by a long shot. There is also the cost of buying/renting the facilities known as 'the studio'. And last but most certainly NOT LEAST is the cost of getting the professional knowledge and skills to engineer/produce a recording properly!

Now, for that last point, there are usually a never ending number of hours invested in gaining invaluable experience and often doing menial, unpaid grunt work just to be around to glean some knowledge. None the less, even if the only investment was doing a music engineering degree at a college or University, that costs a fair few thousand just in tuition fees (not counting the other costs of doing a degree).

The fact is, and this sentiment seems to pop up in all parts of this blog, studios need to make money to survive. Even if you are not lucky enough to have a 'FRIEND' to take advantage of, the costs you (and you should) negotiate may not go as low as you hope, but that does not mean you are being ripped off. As with all businesses, there is a point at which lowering prices more equates losing money. Would YOU do that?

Of course, your recording business friends are going to take advantage of their situation and record their own bands for 'FREE' and then charge you to record your stuff! If a friend of yours is a carpenter and they use their knowledge, tools, and experience to build themselves a house all by themselves with only the immediate costs being that of materials, would you ask, no... EXPECT that friend to do the same for you?
So, when you are asking for a 'FRIEND' deal to get your brilliant material recorded ask yourself, "Am I asking my FRIEND to cut their own throat in the name of our friendship?"


Friday, 13 January 2012

Breaking Myth #5: They're all out to rip you off! (part 2)

We don't "DO" corporate sponsorship!

This time I am going to talk about how promoters/venues sometimes make offers or requests that may seem a bit dodgy on the surface, but when you look a little deeper, what they are trying to do makes sense and is not necessarily just a ploy by them to line their own pockets even more.

Again, this one is pretty heavily pointed at the way things are done here in Cyprus, but I am guessing it is not completely unique to our little island.

One of the things that happens here nowadays is that most venues/promoters get shows sponsored. It is generally a way for them to keep the promotions costs down.

The deal is (again, I am talking about the norm although there may be other situations that happen on occasion) that the sponsors cover the cost of getting high quality full colour fliers and posters printed in return for having their name/logo on said fliers and posters. Some of them might also ask that their product get some promotion or be pushed (like if a beer company sponsors, they probably want their product pushed at the bar) on the night of the gig.

Now, some bands might have 'issues' with 'EVIL CORPORATIONS' having their name/logo in any way associated with their band's name/logo. However, if you are doing a gig at any bar, club, or other typical venue YOU ARE BEING SPONSORED by not only the club, but, most likely, some the very ENTITIES you don't want to have named on your flier.

It seems to have become a very popular thing to say, but unless you are playing a squat somewhere, YOU ARE SUPPORTING AND BE SUPPORTED BY THE EVIL CORPORATIONS. What do you think they are selling at the bar; tap water and home brew? If you're really against these companies, just not having your respective names/logos on the same piece of paper seems a bit of a superficial protest to me.

If you and or your band are REALLY opposed to a certain sponsor then by all means you should stand your ground, but fully. Don't do any gigs at venues that have any affiliation with the sponsors you oppose. If you are against BRAND X beer, don't just insist that BRAND X is not on the promotional material, but that it's name, logo, and product are in no way associated with the gig. Have the venue rid itself of those images and products for the night of your gig. That, or simply do not do gigs at those venues.

In fact, if you are that politically and morally righteous, perhaps renting a non-venue and doing it all the way DIY is the best choice. That way YOU will have final say on all elements involved in your gig.

Okay, maybe I am going a bit overboard. However, unless the sponsor is insisting that YOU become their mouthpiece, I don't see the big issue. If you have a problem with one of the sponsors, then by all means make a statement along the lines of "We'd like to thank BRAND X beer for helping with the promotion of the show, but we would like to point out why we do not support them..." then explain why they are evil.

In actuallity, them sponsoring you gives you the perfect platform to voice your views on them. So where is the problem? Sure, you will be opening up a potential BIG ASS PUBLIC arguement, but you believe in your point, right? And no press is bad press!

Another thing I have heard of bands complaining about is the venue wanting a cut of the door (entry fee people pay for the gig). Okay, there are some venues that don't ask for any of the door, but every gig, venue, and situation is different. The fact is that if the venues don't make money (or even cover their costs) they will go out of business and you won't have anyplace to play. Unfortunately, I have seen this exact thing happen to loads of my favourite places to play/see gigs.

I guess the real question you need to ask yourself is, "Are we doing this gig to make money from the door, or are we doing this gig to get people into what we are doing so we might make some money in the long run (or even to just have the best time ever)?"

What the venues are doing is trying to minimise their risk of loss. If you are really concerned they will take advantage of you and your legions of fans, you could always work a deal where they take 1/2 the door until they reach an agreed on amount and then any additional door money goes to the bands.
(click image above to learn all about the evils of 'pay to play')

Believe me, it could be worse! You could be faced with the dreaded "PAY TO PLAY" option, or the venues could just make you rent their place for the night and do all of the work and staffing yourself! If you are worried about keeping the entry fees down, perhaps you should consider taking less profit from the door yourself...

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Breaking myth #5: They're all out to rip you off! (part 1)

They want HOW MUCH (for their professional services)?!?!?!?!
Okay, this myth has quite a few aspects, so I am going to break it up into a few 'parts'. (New Year's resolution is to TRY to keep these things a bit shorter)

In this first part I am going to talk about the live sound person and their true value. Now, I think I should start by pointing out that things run a bit different here in Cyprus than they do/did in the other places I have lived/toured. The difference is that here in Cyprus venues tend not to have an 'in house' PROFESSIONAL sound person.
There are a number of advantages to having an 'in house' sound person.One is that they get to know the room and equipment intimately and, therefore, should be able to quickly get a good sound for pretty much any band. Two, their pay is usually a flat rate for every gig paid to them as an employee of the venue. As such, it is generally not something that the bands/promoters need to worry about.

Now, some people might think they SHOULD be aware of the cost of the sound person and should be able to negotiate this cost. Well, are they also concerned about the pay of the bartender, door person, servers, promoter, or other people working in a venue during the gigs? Probably not, and they shouldn't be.

True, you don't want to get ripped off nor be taken advantage of, but that doesn't mean that someone else should be. There is a difference between looking out for your own best interests and sticking your nose into someone Else's. More on this point later...

If a venue in Cyprus does have an 'in house' sound person, they might have gotten their 'training' by reading the manual to the mixing desk or maybe watching a Youtube tutorial... (yes, I actually know a couple live sound engineers who have admitted this to me)

Now, I am all for the DIY way of doing things. There is a LOT to gain from teaching yourself by doing, but that does not equate (necessarily) to good nor professional sound. At least not until enough time and effort has been invested to actually master the craft. As with playing an instrument, you aren't going to be a pro (or even listenable) by just reading a 'how to' book or watching a couple Steve Vai guitar tutorials on the Internet.

This, I assume, is why some bands have approached me and a few other professionally qualified sound engineers I know to do sound for their gigs. They are aware of the 'limitations' they will face with getting good sound at their gigs with the 'in-house' engineers or the venues they are playing simply have no one to do the sound. The problem in these situations is that the expectations of cost of such a service seem to be SEVERELY MISGUIDED!

Let me relay to you a couple situations that happened recently with a very good friend of mine (no, really... a friend, not me) with gigs he was asked to do sound for. This friend holds a degree in audio engineering from perhaps the world's most pre-eminent Audio Engineering Schools. He also has a good deal of practical experience. 

Situation #1, my friend was asked to do sound for a 3 band gig here in CY, by the bands. When they asked him how much it would cost, the quote was truly reasonable. Their response was that they felt the price was WAY TO HIGH. Well, they ended up getting someone else to do the show who is NOT trained in sound in ANY WAY and ended up paying that person the same amount as was quoted to them by my HIGHLY QUALIFIED friend. 

Situation #2, the same friend was asked by some bands to do sound for another 3 band gig and the same quote for cost was given. The bands tried to get my friend to include some of his personal (high end) sound equipment into the price. I am VERY PROUD to say that my friend refused and did not get the gig.  I'm not sure who ended up doing the sound for the gig, but I am guessing it was someone substantially LESS QUALIFIED than my friend. 
I still can't be sure what happened in the 1st situation, but I am guessing that because my friend is friends with a couple of the bands on the bill, they figured they should get the service for much less, if not for free. The funny thing is, the quote they were given was quite a 'friend discount' anyway... At least 25%.

The 2nd situation is a more typical and, I think, sadder one. It is sad because, as it seems, one of the bands saw no inherent value in the service. The venue already had all of the equipment needed for the gig, but the bands, or possibly only one of them, felt they would only be getting their "MONEY'S WORTH" if my friend also hauled along his personal sound gear! The funny thing is, I actually know ho much my friend charges for his sound gear ALONE, and that cost is almost 10 times the quote he gave for his engineering services.
Here is the reality. He was going to be investing a minimum of 10 hours PER GIG. That includes setting up, sound checks, and being ON TOP of the sound during the gig. It does not include getting to and from the gigs. Apparently, someone said to my friend something along the lines of "You want that much to just STAND at the mixing desk during the show?" Well, unfortunately there are sound people on this island who don't even do THAT MUCH, but if that is all they are doing, THEY SUCK! 

A good, professional sound person is pretty much always WORKING to make sure that the band sounds AS GOOD AS POSSIBLE THROUGHOUT their set. This usually means adjusting not only volumes of individual instruments/vocals throughout, but occasionally finding and dealing with out of control frequencies as they pop up on individual channels, and working the effects to make the band sound even better. If the band is pretty static stylistically and dynamically AND it is an amazingly fortunate night, it may be a pretty simple task, but that RARELY happens!

What a professional live sound engineer is offering you is their knowledge, experience, and LOVE of what they do. Getting a friend who knows "a bit about mixing boards" is NOT going to give you the same results. I know first aid, but I don't think you would want me doing any major surgery on you. I am a pretty damned good driver too, but I don't think I will be asked to drive Formula One any time soon. Get my point?

As for the folks out there that think the sound engineer should be also providing you with gear... THAT IS A DIFFERENT BUSINESS! There is a HUGE separation between sound engineer and sound equipment rental company. One may hire the other or even both be part of one combined venture, but the two are mutually exclusive. 

I have been known to lend a piece or two of my personal gear to friends or to bring along something that I think will make my job easier (usually something that is not already available from the house system), and I might even do so for no charge! BUT that is because the people I am working with or for have shown me respect and have made me feel welcome. I have NEVER done so on demand and WOULD NOT simply on principle. And the idea of bringing in my entire rig as a FREE-BE on top on my charges for my engineering services... Well, um, let me think... NO!

The fact is that most Professional Sound Engineers have no interest in ripping off the bands that they work with. Yet, just like you, they don't want to get ripped off for their work either. Most of them are musicians and quite a few have gotten into doing live sound because they have had to suffer through bad sound people themselves

Remember, these are the people that ultimately have the last word on how good or bad your sound is going to be at a gig. THEY ARE NOT YOUR ENEMY! As a matter of fact, they can and should be your greatest Allie. Trust me on this next point: NO PROFESSIONAL SOUND PERSON WANTS TO SIT THROUGH A BAD SOUNDING SET! 

Although doing live sound is a TON OF WORK and you almost always are TRYING TO DEAL WITH PROBLEMS LIKE FEEDBACK it is a job most of us love. We get to make the bands sound great! Hey, we are listening too! The key is we are, hopefully, listening a little more intently than the average audience member AND we are hell bent on keeping your band sounding as good as can be so you can concentrate on playing a great show and having a great time!

So the next time you are wondering if the extra 50 Euros (dollars, pounds, whatever) is worth it to get a REAL PROFESSIONAL LIVE SOUND ENGINEER, consider the SERVICE they are going to provide you with and the benefits of having a Pro with not only good intentions, but skill and experience, at the desk.

(So much for keeping it short, but just imagine if I had not focused just on this one point! Hahaha.)

P.S. By the way, there is nothing wrong with buying your sound person a few drinks and even dinner. It might just make them warm to you even quicker! ;-)