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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!