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Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Shameful Tributes!

Hi there!

And happy 6th Day of Christmas.

In a newsletter I sent out a couple of weeks ago, I was promoting a show I produce and perform in, called 'The Princesses of Pop'. It is a fully costumed all-ages show paying tribute to Lady Gaga, Rihanna and Katy Perry. A friend of mine, who is a keen music fan and supporter, often passes on my newsletter to his mailing lists to give me extra promo. This time he gets a caustic reply from one of his muso mailees. Along the lines of... (Ok, I'm copying and pasting here, so this is EXACTLY what he said with name deleted to protect the innocent):

'Supporting and promoting a cover band of US mass marketed talentless artistes. I didn't think you would sink to such subterranean depths - SHAME, xx, SHAME'

Really? I know tribute shows aren't necessarily considered cool, but personally I think 'cool' is terribly overrated and I've always known I've had no cool to lose! To be honest, since first putting this show together, I've been waiting for some kind of backlash. As a friend of mine said recently, the trouble with the music business is often the musicians - they're just too cool for their own good. And there's nothing wrong with wanting to play only the music you love and deem to be 'cool' but if you want to be in the 'music', or even, gasp, 'entertainment' business, then sometimes you have to look outside yourself. 

Anyway, the 'talentless artiste' I am 'mimicking' in this show is Lady Gaga. The more of her concerts I watch and the more songs I listen to, the more respect I have for her. She's brought outrageousness back to Pop where it belongs and has many beautifully crafted, irresistibly catchy pop songs that she sings with a strong, rich, properly-trained voice - and anyway, 'pop' stands for 'popular' right? Maybe more cool muso types would like her if she were playing at the Sando...

Have a Shameless new year everyone!

Friday, December 12, 2014

Rehearsal - not for professionals?

Hi there,

When I first left my 'real' job to become a singer, I spent a lot more time rehearsing than I did performing in public. In my very first band, we would rehearse at least twice every week, for gigs that were few and far between. Now, warning bells peal if I get a call to work with a band that 'rehearses regularly'.

Now don't get me wrong, thank goodness I spent all those hours holed up in musty studios all those years ago - it's invaluable time that helps hone the craft. But when you turn professional you rarely have that luxury. Getting a group of pro musicians in the one room at the one time is difficult unless you're prepared to pay them. I probably prepare and practise more for gigs now than I ever did in those early days, but now those neural pathways are mostly forged on my own time. The rehearsal studio is the venue where all the hopefully well-practised pieces of songs come together - it's all about the polishing and the buffing.

I made the mistake once of agreeing to join a band who rehearsed every Tuesday night. I loved the concept of the band, so I jumped in. The band leader sent me a list of songs and the date and venue of the first rehearsal, so I spent some hours getting the repertoire down. I try to aim for about 80% of the final product for a rehearsal - I want to be really familiar with the melody and have the lyrics and form charted out but leave a bit of room to move for changes that invariably happen during the first run-throughs. The band leader called the first song on this first Tuesday and the guitarist asked how many bars were in the intro. Then the bass player asked if it was a single or double chorus. The piano player asked me to sing the melody of the verse so he could work it out. The drummer said 'I haven't really listened to this but I think I've heard it on the radio.' I should have listened to those bells. 

Learning is vital, preparation is critical, but they shouldn't be done when you're in the room with everyone else. Rehearsals are not for learning, not even really for practising. So what's the bottom line? Rehearsals are not for rehearsing...and always listen to bells ringing in your head.

See you next time,

Friday, October 31, 2014

Music is Alive and Well in Sydney

Hi there,

It's very popular to bemoan the state of the music industry in this city - venues closing down, illegal downloading eating up artist profits etc. Not to say those things aren't true... but I witnessed something recently that made me feel very positive about music in Sydney town.

Twelve fabulous local independent artists joined me two weeks ago, on the video shoot for my upcoming single 'The New Bohemians'. The song is about having a fierce independent artistic spirit and all the people that I asked to feature in the clip have been important in my musical journey (now you know I really mean it when I use the word 'journey' because I cringe at its rampant overuse  - but I really think it fits here!).

As far as I know, noone that turned up for the shoot has made millions from their music, but each one has a passion for it that flares up into lots of different artistic projects. In the video I use the imagery of flowers to represent the blooming of creativity and the colour that music brings to the world - and this was very much in evidence behind the scenes as well as in front of the camera. Every artist has their 'something' and on this day everyone had their somethings on proud display. I also witnessed a lot of cross pollination of ideas between different artists that hadn't met before and the enthusiasm in the air was palpable.

You can't put a price on the way you can lose yourself a song, the way music can let you wallow, holler, scream, shout and be transported to a magical place. It can't be all about the cold hards. It may be difficult to make money from our art and even trickier sometimes to find a place to stage it, but it exists and in some sunny corners of this town, it is absolutely in full bloom.

Check out the pictures from behind the scenes of the shoot:

See you next time.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Learn the f@#!$%^n song!

Hi there,

Recently a friend reminded me of an incident at a gig we had done together some years ago. When I say 'reminded' I say 'rubbed a bit more salt in the already open wound'! OK, that may be a little melodramatic, but this particular happening is not likely to slip out of my memory banks anytime soon. I was singing at The Basement, one of my favourite venues - mainly because I feel part of a rich heritage of music when I play there, and the audience are invariably real music lovers...Anyway, it was a tribute show, and as well as doing a few lead songs, I was singing backing vocals for a bunch of other artists, including some that were quite high profile. One particularly 'well-loved' (but not by me, now!) artist had decided, on stage, that he would do a different arrangement of the song than the one we had all tirelessly rehearsed. Well, the rest of us had tirelessly rehearsed but this particular singer is infamous for not learning his material. 

Now, regardless of who is in the right, I believe that a band and backing singers should always follow the frontperson - someone has to lead the charge after all and it's hard to argue with the guy singing the melody into the microphone. So the other bv singer and I did our parts while watching him intently to see where he was going. We did our darndest to follow him as he meandered through his unique version of this particular tune but the band
were struggling and so were we. At one stage he got so badly befuddled even he didn't know where to go next, and decided someone needed to be blamed. Publicly. On stage. In front of everyone. At the Basement! Yeah you guessed it, the poor backing singers copped it. In the middle of the song, he flicked his hands in our eager faces, yelling 'f7^&*#@n backing singers, get it right!!'. You could hear the audience take a collective breath in and I stood there mortified. Do I keep singing and smile as if it were a joke? Leave the stage in a huff? In reality I just stood there with an open mouth and the colour draining out of my face until I could collect myself for the next song. That was years ago but I still feel the pain.

Recently another tribute show was staged at a bigger, even more presitigious venue. The band were top notch and really learnt their stuff. The singers were again, 'well-loved' and didn't bother turning up to the rehearsals. Talent can get you so far and most of the gig went relatively well but there was a train wreck or two - just learn your f@#!$%^n songs! It's our job and it's fun. Don't get caught with your pants down.

See you next time - I've got to go - got some songs to learn!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Would you Take a (Music) Stand?

Hi there,

A photo from I gig I did recently was posted on a Facebook page and someone commented snottily underneath (I might have imagined the 'snottily' but I don't think so!). 'Why are there music stands on stage?' I don't like them either - they take up valuable stage real estate and take the performer's gaze away from their audience. But! Sometimes they're necessary.

So you know, Mr Snotty, why there were stands on stage in this instance? Well, we were doing a gig called 'Exile on Main Street' where we played each and every track, in order, from the critically acclaimed Rolling Stones opus of the same name. Even the Stones haven't played most of these songs live. So unless you're a huge Stones fan, you're probably now thinking, 'hmm, which songs were on that album again?”. Well that's just my point. There was one single you might know, but only because Linda Ronstadt covered it (Tumblin' Dice). After all, 'critically acclaimed' really means 'no singles' right? And it's a double album too - 18 songs. I have fallen in love with this album but let's face it, there isn't a huge audience for this gig and we are lucky if we get to perform it once a year. It's a huge amount of work learning 18 unknown and not incredibly accessible songs as it is, for one gig every year or so, let alone doing it without cheat sheets.

Artistic use of music stands - the NSW Police Band
We are professional musicians after all and do sometimes need to actually make money from our art. I worked out my hourly rate for a gig like this once. When you take into consideration all your time to learn the songs, rehearse with the band and then perform the thing, it is often in the region of $1 an hour – now that would make even Nike blush! Not many of us are musicians for the money of course and having to learn songs is far from a hardship, but give us a break Mr Snotty!

I think nowadays with the gadgets we have available, we can be smart about this. Unless it's an all-singing all-dancing cabaret-type show (where I believe music stands are an absolute No No) I think an electronic tablet (I'm allergic to Apples so I'm not going to say 'ipad') has such a small footprint that it is allowable. I think a glance at it every now and again is forgiveable. I don't think that's the same as being lazy if it's used in moderation.

By the way, we got overwhelming praise for our Exile gig and nobody mentioned our use of music stands – and I don't remember seeing you there Mr Snotty?

Till next time...

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Audience Participation, Yea or Nay?

Hi there,

I had a dream recently that I was on a tropical island. It was my birthday, my mother was there, and I was watching a male strip show. One of them dances off the stage and comes my way. As I try to shrink behind Mum, he goes to grab my hand to pull me onstage...then...wait a minute! None of that was a dream! Yes this really happened, and since this was Noumea I frantically repeated: 'Non Merci! Non Merci!' until the Chippendales wannabe targetted another hapless soul instead. So now you're probably wondering what I was doing at a strip show with my Mum in Noumea? Well that might have to remain a mystery because my actual topic for today is audience participation.
Awkward Stripper Photo courtesy of

I make my living onstage and it is one of my favourite places to be - but only when I feel I belong there (and being the object of a stripper's gyrations is more my idea of wrong place, wrong time). I often try to incorporate an element that includes the audience, whether it is encouraging clapping along, asking a question or two, or in some cases getting someone to join me onstage. I am all for breaking through the fourth wall - I think it is a music performer's job to engage the audience. But let's get back to the strippers...apart from a two minute sloppily choreographed opening sequence, every single part of their show consisted of dragging at least one audience member up to the stage to share the bump and grinding duties. They decimated the fourth wall with one kick from their underdressed quadriceps. If I have spent the time and money to experience professional entertainment I want to be entertained by the professionals, not drunken hens' party escapees.

I work in some bands where audience participation is considered on par with karaoke, far too 'cabaret' (said with a sneer) for some but I don't mind a bit of cheesy goodness as long as it is not the only ingredient on offer. What do you think?


Tuesday, July 1, 2014

An Only Child #!t&c*h! Chick Singer

Hi there,

My hackles heighten when I hear Only Children described as 'Spoilt!' 'Wrapped in cotton wool!' 'Entitled!'. Surely this is a form of minority discrimination? Yes I am an Only Child and while I can be contented in my own company for days on end, I adore hanging out with other people in the universe I live in - the one that I know I'm not the centre of, thank you very much. 

And it seems I am doubly afflicted. I am also a chick singer, OMG! 'Demanding Diva!' 'Bitch!' 'High Maintenance!'. In most of the gigs I do, I am the only female in a band full of male musicians, and I have a great time with the blokes. But, there is something about singing and working with other female singers that I love - we understand each other and we can talk about hair-related issues for hours. More importantly, when female voices combine in harmony, it can be nothing less than transportive. 

Some of the best musical working experiences I've ever had have been with other female singers. AND I should know - looking back over my career I have lost count of how many musical projects I have done with other chicks. My very first foray was an original rap/pop project with two other girls (and Hugh Jackman was our backing dancer for a while there, true story!). 

Tomorrow I will be performing in intertwining brass-like harmony with two wonderful singers as The Andrews Sisters' Nieces. I'm currently in a show with two other fabulous girls in the First Ladies of Soul and have recently put my own show together with three up front, called The Swell Sisters. I ran a showcase for female-fronted original music acts, called PopTarts, for almost 10 years, came across hundreds of female singers and barely a bitch in sight. 

Singing with other women feels like belonging to something where the whole surpasses the sum of its parts. Maybe that's what it's like to be a part of a large family. That I'll never know, but instead, let me be the low A to your B and D (the heavenly harmony stack at the very end of 'Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy' - it's a corker!),


Check out my Swell Sisters:

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

No, I Don't Want To Wing It Anymore

Hi there,

When a punter comes up to say nice things about the band at the end of a set they often ask how long you've been playing together. I used to wear my response like a badge of honour: 'Oh we just met tonight at soundcheck'. 

I spent years making most of my living from freelancing - and that often meant stepping in for other singers at the last minute. No rehearsal, no meeting before the actual gig. Luckily there was a lot of the same repertoire going around and I would pride myself on looking like I belonged with each band, listening out for the changes in arrangement that each band inevitably makes as I busted a disco move to cover up any hesitation.'Winging it' definitely gives you great skills and they have come in handy. But I think I became a bit addicted to the adrenalin of performing on the edge, flying by the seat of my black leatherette pants (freelancer uniform in those days). And I just may have enjoyed a rescuer mentality - my eleventh hour jamming was getting the band out of their jam and they were usually very grateful. 

Every few years I seem to move into a different phase of work and I rarely 'wing it' nowadays. But recently I got a call, a blast from my 'fill-in' past and I wanted to get a fix again. Only I didn't enjoy it nearly as much as I used to. In fact there were times I felt downright uncomfortable. The thrill had gone and I was left hoping that no one I knew walked in and saw me because I simply wasn't at my best. So there it is, I've decided the sensation of a job well done turns me on most of all.

See you next time,

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

But that's MY gig!

Hi there,

I received an email recently asking me to quote on providing some regular entertainment at a local venue. Not long after I did so, I found myself pulled into a conversation thread that included an email from an irate entertainer. The entertainer was the one currently providing the music I was asked to quote on, as it turned out. His email to the booker went along the lines of: 'How f@#$&*$n dare you ask this Amanda Easton to quote on a gig I have been doing for years! This is my gig and you have no right to offer it to anyone else...' etc. I didn't hear from the venue again but I did wonder about the fate of that infuriated incumbent. Do any of us have any right of ownership over 'our' gigs?

I have semi-regular longstanding gigs, that because of overseas trips and the like, I've had to 'dep out' for a night or two. I always recommend the best possible replacement of course, out of respect for my fellows musos. I did this recently and next thing you know I see the advertising for this same show, but a different date (one I would have been available to do) featuring the dep instead of me. Hmm so I guess I lost that gig then.

I must admit there is a bit of 'what about me?' when that happens - reminiscent of that feeling I got when boys on the school bus would overlook me in favour of my prettier friend. But in the creative, transient and esoteric world of showbiz I don't think there is too much that is permanent or predictable and that's precisely what keeps it so enthralling. And, I have been that dep that's ended up becoming part of somebody else's regular show. Instead of thinking any performer is 'better' than another, I really believe 'everybody got their something' and sometimes somebody else's something is more suitable for some shows than others...and anyway, I'll be quite happy waiting for the next musical adventure to come along and sweep me and my something away.

See you next time,

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

20 Feet from Heartbreak

Hi there,

I know I'm not the only singer who went to see '20 Feet From Stardom' and felt the way I did - I sat in the cinema staring at the final credits rolling by, gulping back tears and trying to recover from the blow to the solar plexus the film served me. 

The lump in my throat was partly for the singer who received no credit for a No.1 hit she recorded that was released under someone else's name. Years after, she happened to hear the song on the radio - she was cleaning someone else's house to make a living at the time. The tears were partly for some of the most devastatingly talented singers I've ever heard and their disillusionment in the industry they loved that at times treated them so roughly. So many home truths, so much heartbreaking reality. 

Of course the tears were also for me. The documentary introduced us to singers who dreamt of being artists in their own right only to find after years of playing the support role for established acts, their dreams had passed them by. I spent years as a backing singer working with well known artists: Wendy Matthews, Richard Clapton, Powderfinger, and many more. Did all that work for others mean I didn't pour my heart fully into my own career? It sure was fun being on the road with some of the names I grew up with, appearing on TV, performing to full theatres and in auditoriums. Surely those experiences helped hone my own artistry too? 

I'll never know what would have happened if I'd taken a different path but I've decided not to dwell on what might have been but to see that glass, ideally with bubbly contents, as being half full. In the words of the diva with one of the most heartbreaking stories of all, je ne regrette rien! 

See you next time,

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Do You Play Too Loud?

Hi there,

It's not very inspiring, when you're pouring your heart, soul and voice into a song and mid way through an impassioned top A, someone shakes a finger in front of your face. They are gesturing to you to 'turn it down!' and it's difficult to re-enter the emotional zone once the parade has been rained on.

But do we, as musos or singers, have to have our volume up to the Spinal Tap setting to feel the vibe? I think it depends - the mood of the band should match the room or at least the intended atmosphere of the occasion. Do people want to have conversations over cocktails? If everyone has fingers in their ears, I might get an inkling we need to turn it down. Or do our audience want to lose their inhibitions - and possibly control of their limbs - on a dance floor? If people want to cut loose and the music is too soft they will feel uncomfortable, even if they don't know why. Either way, much as we may not like it, it's not all about us! If we as bands don't fit the brief we've been booked for, venues will stop hiring us and maybe even come to the conclusion that 'live music just doesn't work'.

One of those dreaded emails about volume levels came around from management at a certain venue where I do a regular gig. It asked all bands to keep it down. Of course I grumbled, the guitarist grouched and the drummer groaned. But then we did as we were told and the guitarist took along his acoustic instead of electric, the drummer carried in his cajon instead of the usual small kit and I got to take my head voice and falsetto for a nice night out. We started the gig with pursed lips but then, a few songs in, we found ourselves enjoying playing together in this different, lighter mode, hearing each nuance. The audience loved it and we got booked again. Maybe we'll save our cover of 'Like My Love Pump' for another occasion then...
See you next time,

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

What a Singer can Learn from a Stripper

Hi there,

Many moons ago, a few friends and I decided it would be a fabulous idea to check out the seedy delights of Kings Cross in Sydney. Our road trip through sleazy showrooms and seamy strip joints brought us to an esteemed establishment where we were ushered to seats with another dozen or so punters. Soon after, a young woman ambled on stage in a tiny white bikini. She alternated smirking at the audience and looking for obvious guidance to a gentleman standing at the back of the room. She reminded me of a kid in their first kindy concert, but with fewer clothes. It was vaguely, darkly, humorous at first, watching a stripper in training. It became more interesting if you watched the trainer at the back of the room - the pupil on stage was trying to mimic the teacher's clunky gyrations and gestures, awkwardly pulling her bikini bits to the side to flash this and that and then looking out at us like a deer stuck in headlights.

Let's forget for a minute that we were not experiencing a slice of the often sad and unsavoury underbelly of our city and judge this strictly as a performance. Earlier that evening I had seen unmistakably more seasoned strip artistes flaunting their talents. The surrounds were equally salubrious but I didn't get the same depressing, distressing feeling I did at this last show. Those other women had looked as though they enjoyed their work and took pride in it, no matter how that kind of work may be judged by others. As a result, the audience got caught up in the moment and responded with enthusiasm. The white bikini girl was so uncomfortable and frightened, it was painful to watch for everyone.

Now I'm trying to equate anything I do with a strip show, but I have certainly performed at gigs where I have been less than prepared, proud or comfortable. But I've realised that no matter how much I wish the stage would open up and swallow me on occasions, it's my duty to look like I belong there, look like I'm enjoying it and do the best job I'm capable of. A performer that has committed to their art and is comfortable in their own skin, feels authentic to an audience and they react accordingly.

So there, I learnt all about commitment from a stripper!


Monday, February 24, 2014

Listen to your Mother

Hi there,
At what point do you get so good at doing something, there is very little room left for improvement? Or, when exactly is a dog too old to learn new tricks? 

The poster from my first ever cover band.
One of the comments, supposed compliments I hated getting in the early part of my singing career was: 'you've got so much potential'. I just wanted to be there, not always feel like I was just 'on the way'. But then, over the years and after hundreds of gigs, I could feel myself improving and I saw it all more like a steep hill you had to climb in order to get to that pesky 'potential', where you could surely afford to take a breather. 

But then my mum came to see me sing the other day and when I sat down with her in the break, she looked at me (or perhaps it would be more accurate to say 'looked right into me' like only a mother can) and said: 'you sing differently now'. I held my breath, steeling myself for criticism. She continued: ''I like it much better. You sing higher notes I didn't know you could and the notes move around more. You're a better singer,". I didn't like what I was hearing, because if I really had improved, there must have been something lacking before - and I thought I'd already climbed that hill! 

On reflection (OK and prodding from my husband) I realised what she said was great news - not only because being a better singer can only be a good thing but also, if I'm still learning then I mustn't yet be an old dog!!

See you next time,

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

So You Wanna Ditch the Day Job?

Hi there,

In the dim dark past I had a very well paid, secure full-time job with one of the biggest companies in the world. I was on a very clear upward path promising even greater riches and corporate-type rewards, so I should have been happy and grateful right?

Well, no. I had this niggling sensation that I was in the wrong place. I yearned for a badly paid job where I'd have to struggle for every dollar. A job with no sick or holiday pay, where you're constantly being judged. Where hours of preparation and work are in no way guaranteed to reap any kind of financial reward. So I jumped ship and became a full time singer.

I've been thinking back to those days because in the last week, two different people - one I know well and one I've never met - have decided they want to dump their corporate jobs to do music, and asked me about my experience.

One of the hardest things for me was telling my parents. They only wanted the best for me and had worked hard to send me to an expensive private school and put me through university. They were proud of my corporate career and regarded any music I did as nothing more than 'a nice hobby'. 

Julie Anthony & the St George Dragon
When I worked up the courage to tell them (just after I had told my employers, so there was no turning back) my mother cried for a week and my father told me it was the most stupid thing I had ever done. I still remember his comment: 'Why would you think you could do this? Do you really think you're as good as Julie Anthony?' I really only knew this singer from seeing her sing with a dragon on telly but I knew where he was coming from. Other people told me I was 'brave' which in many ways was a nice way to say 'dumb'. 

Anyway, it's not as if I became a millionaire pop princess that can now say to all the naysayers: 'See! I did the right thing! Look at me now!' But I have a job/life (singing is so much more than just a career) that I adore. I make a living doing what I love, so: 
'See! I did the right thing! Look at me now!'


Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Should you Sing Sick? (When Sound Engineers Suck, Part 2)

Hi there,

I think I've got one of the best jobs in the world but I can't say the conditions and benefits are great. Basically, if I don't sing, I don't get paid. So if you're sick what do you do? Stay home sniffling and feeling sorry for yourself? I might as well be out sniffling and getting paid to feel sorry for myself! Of course it depends:

1. Will I embarrass myself? If I'm not going to sound any good then I don't want to let anyone hear me. But let's face it, singing is such an inconsistent art with hundreds of variables anyway, so as long as I can do about 75% of my best then I'll sing. Sometimes the extra work I have to put into my technique when I'm sick pays off with a better performance than a healthy but lazy one!

2. Will I piss off the band/agent if I don't sing? If advertising and promo has gone out with my name on it I'll try extra hard to drag myself from my sickbed. And if I know the gig will be difficult to cover by another singer - it's last minute, out of town or a specific part that requires rehearsal - than I'll be there.

3. Will I damage my voice in the long term? Nothing is worth that - I don't mind pushing the envelope a bit to get the job done but if it's going to hurt me down the line, I'll slip under the covers and stay there guilt free.

I was at a very big club recently to do a cabaret show with the house band. I was at the tail end of a dose of the flu but numbers 1 and 2 above were definite possibilities so there was no question of pulling out of this one. I was to sing in a huge auditorium on a massive stage where both the audience and the band were way out of spitting distance so there was no danger of infecting them. The only concern I had was the artist that followed me - they would be using the same microphone. I mentioned this to the very friendly lighting guy and he said he'd send the sound engineer backstage to have a chat to me before the show.

Those who have read my last blog may know what's coming next (see 'When Sound Engineers Suck'). Yes, who should walk into the green room but Mr Persnikety.  Now if you are a persnikety sound guy then you're having run-ins with singers on a regular basis. So you're not going to remember one little singer in particular, weeks after the fact, at a venue across town, are you? Damn my rather unusual blue hair. 

Mr Precious laid eyes on me and and smiled maniacally. I gulped and soldiered on. 

'Oh hi there...well I have the flu and I don't want the artist following me to catch it, so I was wondering if you'd be able to give us different microphones?' I said, heart beating, with a big false smile. 

His eyes widened as licks of flame started coming out of flared nostrils only inches away from my face...well Ok that didn't happen, but that's how it felt. He did however tell me there was only one microphone.(?!) He then paused for dramatic effect (the entire band and crew backstage were our audience) and said, with lashings of scorn, 
     'Well, ah, just putting it out there, but did ya ever perhaps think (another pause here to highlight by obvious inability to do just that) that perhaps you shouldn't be performing if you're sick?"  

Cruel stare, Blink, Cruel Stare, more flames out of nostrils. Hasn't he heard of 'The Show Must go On?' And excuse me, but I own a sound system worth less than $2000 and I own three microphones. I was about to sing to hundreds of people through a sound system worth in the hundreds of thousands of dollars - and there was only one microphone - really?

Don't piss off the sound guy...


Monday, January 13, 2014

When Sound Engineers Suck

Hi there,

Now let me start by saying that I have a lot of admiration for a skillful sound engineer and I count plenty of them as friends.  I make this disclaimer lest last week's rant also featuring a (different) sound guy (For the Love of Mike) paints me with some kind of prejudice! In my mind, the audio engineer is a vital part of the team - and let's face it, they have your sound by the short and curlies, so it pays to be respectful.

However... recently I had the displeasure of working with a very uptight sound guy and I had to do a lot of tongue biting. It all seemed to start when I stepped up to the mike during soundcheck and saw it had a wind sock covering it. Those black foam mike condoms are usually used for outside gigs to limit the interference of wind or other background noise or even reduce breath noise in radio or recording studios. In my experience (I've never counted but I've done an average of 3 live gigs a week for about the last 15 years) a mike with a wind sock is almost never used in a live show that is staged inside a venue. That inch of foam breaks my communion with my beloved mike and I hate it! I had also noticed that only two of the four vocal mikes on stage had wind socks. They had to be there by mistake right? So I took mine off. Well a voice from the control room at the back of the auditorium boomed, 'put that back on!' I did so and was duly put in my place. 

I don't know if that exchange coloured the rest of the events at sound check but it seemed I, along with most of the (very experienced) performers on stage that night, couldn't put a foot right with Mr Persnikety on the faders back there. In this particular show - like many that I do - I perform as backing vocalist throughout the show but leave that side-of-stage position to perform lead at different times throughout the set. So of course it is important I check my sound from my backing vocalist position as well as from other spots across the front of the stage. I'd like to add here that the sound was average to poor through my own foldback wedge and no amount of knob twiddling or suggestions/requests from me (!) improved it. When I dared to move towards the middle of the stage, my foldback ranged from atrocious to non-existent. When I raised the issues (I was trying to be polite, really I was!) he gave me a very condescending explanation of how sound systems work and nothing improved. 

The moral of the story? Well if my blog today is anything more than just a rant, the lesson could be 'the show must go on' or perhaps, 'don't piss off the sound guy'. 

By the way, it doesn't end there. I did a gig in a venue at the end of town weeks later and who should walk backstage? I smiled sweetly at Mr Imperious thinking he wouldn't particularly remember me. I was wrong, ladies and gentlemen, very much mistaken. Stay tuned for our next encounter...


Wednesday, January 8, 2014

For the Love of Mike

Happy New Year,

There is a lot of gear pornography in musical blogs. Guitarists in particular have a world of electronics they love to show off and discuss - guitars, amps, pedals and the rest. We singers have one vital piece of gear that isn't talked about too much - the microphone. 

I have moments when I walk on stage, the audience in darkness, and just one thing greets me in the circle of light. It draws me closer and promises to listen and share every sound I make. 

Of course we all know that the quality of the sound system and the sound engineer have a huge bearing on the audio, but it's that mike sitting atop the stand that is the only tangible thing there for me. 

I love that I can whisper to him and he'll listen to every nuance. We have our own secret communion  - and at the end of our lovely dance I treasure the metallic taste left on my lips as a memento of our moments together.

I personally love a Shure 58 - it's the most common live performance mike around my parts - it's inexpensive, robust and I for one like the sound I get from it. I usually have a Shure 58 in my handbag although I often find, in the venues I play, the sound engineer will have their own mikes tuned to their own system and would prefer to use those. 

However... recently at a gig, this conversation transpired:
Sound Engineer: Do you have your own mike?
Me: I do, but actually didn't bring it this time sorry - last time I played here I was told it wasn't needed.
Sound Engineer: You should own your own mike.
Me: Oh I do, I have 3 of my own mikes and usually bring one. Sorry, but I usually find sound engineers prefer to use their own.
Sound Engineer: You can use my mike but you should go out and buy a Shure 58, they're not expensive.
Me: I actually have three Shure 58s, love them.
Sound Engineer: Think of how much money all these musicians have to spend on their musical gear. The least you can do is go and buy your own mike.

My point here? Never undervalue the mike - and beware the deaf sound engineer!