2012 was the year crowdfunding went mainstream. The success of Amanda Palmerʼs Kickstarter campaign threw the alternative fanfunding model into the limelight, and now most musicians are turning to their fans and friends for ﬁnancial support pre-release. But what is the best crowdfunding platform for you? What are the advantages and disadvantages of each platform? Hereʼs a helpful chart outlining the key features of four of the top crowdfunding platforms out there.
Nearly every touring musician has at least one story about load-in or breakdown gone awry — that emotionally scarring gig where the venue promised a full drum kit but only delivered a broken snare drum, the festival slot when you expected fifteen minutes to set up but only got fifteen seconds, or that sickening post-gig moment when you realized your vintage Les Paul had grown legs and walked out of the club, all by itself.
Can such situations be prevented? Quite often, yes, and adopting common-sense habits like showing up early, making lists, and packing ahead of time can save you considerable trouble and grief before and after you hit the stage for your music gig.
Beyond that, many players develop their own sets of best practices through hard-earned, on-the-gig experience. Here are tips from bassist Tony Tino, guitarist Laurence Yeung, keyboardist Arlan Schierbaum, and drummer Josh Giunta to help you maximize your effectiveness and minimize your stress when setting up before and breaking down after a gig.
Know what to expect with house gear
Many venues will have some eclectic variety of house gear available for your backline. Drum kits and amps, in widely varying conditions, are among the most common pieces of backline equipment you’ll find. A quick look online, or call to the venue or your bandleader, can usually tell you what to expect.
If you’re using house equipment, though, know that whether it’s a keyboard, microphone, or guitar amp, it probably has seen lots of use and abuse – so adjust your expectations accordingly.
“Even if a club says they have drum hardware, I always have my own hardware in my car, just in case,” says Giunta. “A lot of clubs in New York will say they have a kick pedal and throne, for example, but they can often be broken or missing. I’ve had to play gigs without a kick pedal before. That’s not fun, so it’s better to have your own on hand.”
Try to give yourself a window in which to get to know the house gear you’ll be using. “I always leave time to tune house drum kits,” continues Giunta. “A lot of times, I have to use weird tunings to get the sound I want. I’ve had to detune drum heads entirely and leave them floppy to get a good sound, and sometimes they’re so shot that I have to crank them very tightly to get a good tone. Try to leave yourself time to adjust and adapt.”
Though Yeung brings his own amp whenever possible, when he does use house amps, he recommends sticking to their clean tone channels. “In general, I don’t mess with distortion or overdrive on a house amp,” he says. “You don’t know when or how it’s going to break up. I see club amps basically as speakers for amplifying my sound, rather than a tool for helping to create my tone, so I rely heavily on my pedals, and the guitar itself, to create the tone I need. I bring a compression pedal and two different types of overdrive pedals to every gig, and those help me smooth over the rougher edges and work with any amp.”
Bring a survival kit
Depending on your instrument, the specifics may vary, but the theme remains the same: bring all of the non-instrumental bits and pieces that will make your instrumental work go off flawlessly.
Schierbaum recommends dark-colored power strips and black extension cords for electricity, extra audio and speaker cables in case something fails unexpectedly, and bags for pedals, cables, mics, tuners, and other things. Packing a music stand doesn’t hurt either, in case there’s nowhere convenient to put your chord charts or set list.
Yeung recommends a survival kit that also includes a collapsible luggage cart and a small tool kit. “I always keep screwdrivers, an Allen wrench, and needle-nose pliers in a bag somewhere,” he says. “If something goes wrong and I have fifteen minutes to fix my amp or guitar before a gig, having those tools can be a real life saver.”
Dial in your gear ahead of time
Regardless of the instrument, having your equipment ready right out of the case will make a huge difference when it comes time for the first downbeat. First and foremost, this means making sure your instruments are in tune and that your gear works, says Tino. If you haven’t used a particular piece of equipment recently, test it out at home prior to the gig — you don’t want to discover on the bandstand that your signature vintage overdrive pedal has a short circuit and can only deliver a noisy fart instead of a raging growl.
For keyboardists, instrument preparations often mean having all your sounds programmed into easy-to-find soundbanks, so you don’t have to waste precious minutes searching and tweaking. Taping a cheat sheet with song-specific patch location information to your keyboard can be helpful.
For guitarists and bassists bringing their own amps, Yeung recommends a similar sort of pre-show homework. “If I know the style of gig I’m playing, I usually have go-to settings on my amp that I can dial up right after I plug in,” he says. “I also try to construct my rig in such a way that I can adjust the tone as much as possible from the guitar itself. You may not be close enough to your amp while you’re playing to adjust things mid song.”
Fit your rig to the gig
Are you flying halfway around the world to play at a mountaintop winery, or going down the street to jam at the local blues bar? Either way, the nature of the gig will help dictate a lot about what you bring, and how you bring it. “The equipment a musician may need to bring can change for many reasons, like location, travel method, size of venue, style of music, and so on,” says Schierbaum. “If air travel is involved, pack light with the essentials. If the gig is local, it’s easier to bring extra things you might need.”
Specifically for his fellow six-stringers, Yeung recommends bringing “as few pieces of gear as humanly possible. People tend to hate guitarists not just because we play too loudly, but because we often have way too much gear for what we’re doing,” he says. One easy step to streamline your guitar rig? “Use a pedal board,” says Yeung. “I have five pedals mounted in an old SKB model that has a central power strip and everything’s already connected. You just show up, plug it into your power strip, plug in your instrument cable, and you’re done.”
Part of customizing your rig also means knowing when to bring redundant instruments and amplifiers. “If you’re playing delicate, vintage gear, things can sometimes go on the fritz unexpectedly,” Yeung says, “so sometimes packing a backup is worth it.”
Get a sense of space on stage
Tiny stages can be tricky, and it’s probably not the best thing if you’re packed in so tightly that your trombonist brains your drummer every time he slides out for a low note.
While many spacing issues get worked out on the fly as everyone’s setting up, it can be useful to know what you’re dealing with ahead of time, so you can nip major problems in the bud. If you aren’t able to visit a venue ahead of time, clubs often have stage diagrams or photos of the performance area available online. Reaching out to musician colleagues who have played a given space before can also give you what you need.
When choosing who goes where, remember that sightlines are important. Does the bassist take visual cues from the drummer? Make sure your accordion player isn’t positioned right between the two of them. “A lot of the bands I play in are large, so it’s important to know where I’m setting up,” says Yeung. “It keeps me from being in the way of my band mates, and also helps me position my amp in the right place. Guitar amps are very directional, so knowing where I’ll be standing can help me figure out if I’ll have to mic or DI it, or if it will be alright on its own. Miking a guitar amp is an added layer of complexity that can eat up extra setup time.”
Minimize the risks of theft, loss, or damage
In the dim lights of a rock club, all patch cables can look the same, so it never hurts to label yours with a distinctive color of tape. Similarly, if the band after you has a keyboardist with the exact same Nord Electro as yours, some sort of ID tag or marking on the instrument and case can help prevent unfortunate mix-ups.
“When I’m out on a gig in New York City, I keep my bass with me at all times, whether it’s before or after a performance,” says Tino. “Have your stuff insured, so just in case something does happen, it will be taken care of.”
If you’re travelling to gigs via car or van, Tino further recommends staying mindful of the weather, and not keeping any sensitive gear inside the vehicle if the temperature is trending extremely hot or cold; he also advises to keep any potentially valuable piece of musical equipment locked in a trunk or otherwise well out of sight. Certain gear requires additional precautions, Schierbaum points out. “If a tube amp is hot from a show and goes directly outside into freezing temperatures, the tubes can fracture from the cold,” he says.
Be nice and lend a hand
“When it comes to loading in and breaking down, work as a team,” Schierbaum advises. “Help your band mates with directions, equipment, and stage setup. I will even help the band playing before me to clear the stage if they are short-handed.”
“Most bands don’t have roadies, so after you’ve taken care of your own gear, help with someone else’s,” adds Yeung. Tino agrees, also advising that, if there’s a band on after you, help them with their equipment as well, if need be. The music world can be surprisingly small, and you never know when a minor kindness rendered to the band going on after you can pay you back in unexpectedly cool ways.
“If you’re working with techs and roadies, always thank them for their help,” adds Schierbaum. “Let them know they are appreciated.”
Be efficient, punctual, and respectful
“If you’re not early, you’re late,” says Schierbaum. “Even for a small club, many veterans will arrive an hour or two before the gig starts, even if their set up only takes ten minutes, to acclimate themselves to the room and the people around them. This also gives them extra time, in case of traffic or vehicle problems.”
If you find yourself with downtime before a gig, use it productively, as you may only have minutes on stage to set up after the act before you finishes. “I try to set up as much as possible offstage before hand,” says Giunta. “Before you go on, have your high-hat clutch on your high-hat and get your sticks out and handy.”
Being quick applies to breaking down as much as it applies to setting up — especially if there’s a band going on immediately after yours. “Talking with your friends on stage while the next band needs to set up their stuff is not good for the club, the audience, or you,” says Tino. “Be courteous of the next band coming on stage. Stay organized and know where all your stuff is when you set up, so when you’re breaking down, you’re not scrambling around while the next band has already gone on.”
Regardless of whether or not another act is nipping at his heels, Schierbaum always likes to break down right away before hanging out with friends, fans, and bandmates. “That way my equipment is organized, safe, and ready for load out,” he says.
Know the lay of the land
If possible, visit the venue you’re playing in advance and catch another band’s show. Watching other acts load in, set up, play, and break down will tell you a great deal about what to watch out for when it’s your own turn.
If you’re hauling lots of gear, also pay attention to the entrances and exits, staircases, and pathways to and from the stage. If you have to haul your Marshall stack up three flights of stairs and push it through a café space full of cramped tables, you may want to leave a little extra time for setup and bring a sturdy dolly — or opt for a completely different rig.
Be flexible and focus on the music
“I used to be really finicky about having everything set up exactly as I wanted it, but the longer I’ve been playing professionally, the looser I’ve become,” says Giunta. “There are gigs where you literally have two minutes to set up before you start playing. At the end of the day, if you’re stressed about where the snare is as opposed to the high-hat, it’s going to disrupt your concentration and your ability to do a great job. Ideally, you want to be able to sit down and play in any context.”
Regardless of the technical aspects of any show, Schierbaum affirms that the music itself is the most important thing. “It’s a great idea to learn the songs, write charts, and memorize in advance and then review right before the gig,” he says. “If the only choice is to learn the material just before the gig, study without distraction and make written notes if necessary, but consider where you’re going to put your notes during the show so you can avoid distracting yourself or others with your papers.”
Tino agrees that being prepared and knowing the music is key — as is relaxing on stage and enjoying yourself, no matter what technical hurdles you may have to deal with. “Making a living playing music is rewarding in itself,” he says. “Be courteous and enjoy the gig. Have fun!”
Image courtesy of ShutterStock.com.
How To Tour As An Indie: On The Road
Excerpt from our guide, Touring As An Indie: Strategies for booking, promoting, and thriving on the road.
Indie Touring Posts
Our collection of posts and articles on touring can help you make the most of life on the road.
Michael Gallant plays eclectic indie rock with Aurical and progressive jazz with the Michael Gallant Trio. He is also the founder and CEO of Gallant Music, a content and music creation firm based out of New York City. For more, visit auricalmusic.com and gallantmusic.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Michael_Gallant.
hellz to the yeah!
In addition to your microphones, DAW/console, and room, an essential part of any home studio set-up is your signal processing gear. From the dynamics control of compressors and limiters to the effects processing of reverb and delay, these tools are necessary to create a professional-sounding final product. But for the new engineer, these effects can be fairly mysterious, and a tendency to overuse plug-ins and outboard gear is commonplace, especially for someone just learning the nuances of the art of recording.
We’ll explore the functions of these units by way of a fictitious example. You spent the last two weekends tracking instruments and vocals for a friend’s rock band using your new digital audio interface and music production software. Because the tracking took place in the same room as your interface and computer, everything was monitored on headphones. Now you’re faced with mixing the project in a spare bedroom using near-field monitors. In all, the first part of the process went well: the tracks sound pretty good, the band’s time and tuning were on, and the performances had the right energy. Inevitably, there are a few things that caught your attention that will need to be addressed with your signal processing software.
First, there is a very wide dynamic range in the lead vocals and various solo parts. Second, the direct-recorded rhythm guitars sound flat and dry. Finally, the drums were so loud in the room while the group’s drummer recorded that it was difficult to do any critical listening during recording. All you are sure of is that each mic was working and that none of the drum levels seemed to overload, but you’re pretty sure the drum tracks will need some fine tuning to sit properly in the mixes.
How can you best use your typical signal processing plug-ins to enhance and optimize your recording? Understanding how the dynamic control processors like compressors, limiters, EQs, and gates function, and knowing how to use multi-effects such as delays and reverbs to perfection will make you a better producer and engineer. It’s also important to remember that signal processing tools are just that – tools. There are no rules stating you can’t use them in different or novel ways to create new sounds. But before doing that, it makes sense to learn about the basic parameters of each and the functions they were invented to serve.
Compressors and Limiters
While it’s common to use compressors and gates when going to tape, let’s assume that little to no plug-in processing was used in the tracking of the instruments. (One reason not to use plug-in processing to tape is that it is destructive, which is to say, you can’t go back and remove it once the audio has been printed to the drive.) In our scenario, the tracks were recorded clean, with only guitar amp tone control settings, stomp boxes, and microphone placement used to establish the overall sound of the track.
After setting the instrument levels, you begin the mixing process by working on the lead vocal of track one. The singer was varying his voice tone and volume levels throughout the song, toggling between low whispers, soft and loud vocalizing, and ultimately to a primal scream and growl in the outro. How will you treat these very different vocal dynamics so they fit into the overall mix?
Two of the most useful plug-in tools for such a scenario are compressors and limiters, which are used to manage the wide fluctuations caused by an overly dynamic delivery, vocal or otherwise. The difference between compressors and limiters is basically that compressors have a variable output level while limiters have a fixed output level.
A compressor reduces the amount of output signal level in relation to the input signal level according to a given ratio, beginning at your user-defined threshold. In other words, it brings the loudest sounds down, and brings the softest sounds up. This is ultimately determined by the ratio setting. For example, you set a threshold for the output signal. A compression ratio of 2:1 means that for every 2 dB the input level is above the threshold you’ve set, the output level is reduced by 1 dB. A ratio of 4:1 means that if the input signal is 4 dB over the threshold, it will be brought down to 1 dB over the threshold, or reduced by 3 dB. It’s as if you were riding the gain on a console fader. When the input signal gets too loud, you pull the fader down, lowering the gain. When the signal gets too soft, you push the fader up, raising the gain.
A limiter allows you to set a maximum output level that will not be exceeded, regardless of the amount of input signal level. It’s often described as a 60:1 ratio, or ∞:1 ratio. Anything that exceeds the threshold is brought down to the output level you’ve set.
In our example, the sections where the vocalist sang the verses were dynamically consistent, but in a few spots, the vocal level dropped down to an intimate, whispery style, and the signal is getting lost in the mix. Here, compression will do the trick.
Depending on how great of a dB variation, start by setting the ratio to approximately half the difference between the highest and lowest vocal level on this track. For example, if there is a 10 dB difference between the vocal’s dynamic high and low point, you can set the compressor’s ratio to 5:1. Now reduce the threshold setting to the point at which you want the gain reduction of the vocal to start. You begin to notice the sound of the gain reduction as it kicks in and it may sound a little unnatural. Try adjusting the attack time of the compressor. The attack and release time parameters control how fast the compressor will respond as the signal crosses the threshold. Now you may find that the overall vocal level has been reduced considerably. Even though you like the evenness of the vocals, the level is now too low in the mix. When using gain reduction, it is often necessary to raise the output gain of the compressor to bring the vocal back to a usable listening level.
On the phrases where the singer screamed and growled, a better choice might be a limiter. If the verses and the screaming phrases are on the same track, separate the sections by copying the screaming and growling vocals to a new track. Let’s say that the screaming is consistently much louder than the growl and that the growl is near the level you want the verse vocal to be. Insert the compressor plug-in on the new track and set the limiter’s ratio to the maximum value. Now adjust the threshold of the compress/limiter to a point at which both the scream/growl vocals produce the same output signal level. With a limiter you can easily knock down the louder scream so it’s equal to the growl’s amplitude.
As you learn about compressors and limiters, try experimenting with different ratio and threshold values. Tweak the attack and release parameters and experience their effect. Try some of the presets found in the plug-in preset menu in your software. If you are working with the Compressor/Limiter Dyn3 in Pro Tools, a helpful visual indicator for setting compressor parameter values is the real-time dB level indicator. This small square in the input/output graphic reflects input-to-output levels as compression or limiting begins to affect the signal.
Try playing with the factory presets. The presets that come with your music production software were designed by recording studio professionals and are offered to you as a starting point. You can also create, name, and edit your own presets for future use.
The drums offer a completely different challenge. Although you may use some dynamic processing on the drums, such as a limiter placed on a stereo group channel output, if recorded individually, each drum needs to be listened to and treated on its own. During recording, it’s often difficult to distinguish between the direct sound of the drums in the room and what was being recorded. Now at mix, you might hear things you didn’t notice during the tracking session. The kick drum sounds a bit “tubby,” there’s an overtone ring somewhere in the snare and the deeply-tuned floor tom has a five-second tonal decay time. None of these drum issues are insurmountable when using the right kind of plug-in processing.
First, it is important to keep in mind the type and style of drum sound you want to produce. For rock, the kick and snare are primary. They need to be tight, clearly defined and in your face. Let’s start with the kick. After placing a limiter on the kick to even out the level, you found the overall kick drum timbre did not cut through. The large diaphragm dynamic mic you placed on the kick delivered a deep fat bottom but the midrange frequencies are over emphasized and the top end frequencies are weak. For making adjustments relating to frequency, the right plug-in tool is the equalizer (aka EQ).
The EQ is a frequency-specific amplifier, and it comes in two basic flavors: graphic or parametric. Both essentially make tonal adjustments by increasing or decreasing amplitude at specific frequencies, but in the case of the graphic EQ, the bands are set at fixed center frequencies across the 20-20kHz bandwidth. The number of bands may vary from five to 30.
To fine tune the kick drum, we’ll grab a 7-band parametric EQ. It provides a smaller number of bands, yet gives the user more precise control over each band than a graphic EQ. Each frequency band has a dB control, usually +/-15 dB, a sweepable frequency range control, and a “Q” control that sets the width of the frequency band to be adjusted. The higher the Q, the narrower the frequency band that will be affected. Conversely, lower Q values result in a wider bandwidth range being boosted or cut.
In the case of the kick drum, the low-mid to mid-range frequencies (500Hz to 2.5kHz) are causing the “tubby” kick sound. Tune the EQ’s frequency band to emphasize the tubbiness in both amplitude and bandwidth. Don’t be afraid to be extreme with the frequency’s amplitude control. You want to really hear the influence of the EQ on the kick drum’s sound. Once you have found the frequency at which the tubby sound is most extreme, drag the frequency point into negative values. This should greatly reduce the proper frequency range to minimize the kick’s unwanted tone.
The technique of emphasizing and then subtracting unwanted frequencies is one way to eliminate annoying hums, rings, and any other frequency zones that need to be equalized. This technique will also be very effective on the ringing snare drum overtone. Finally, to give the kick drum a bit more definition, you can use the same method of experimenting to find the right frequency to boost to emphasize the kick drum’s attack. It turns out that it is at the high-frequency EQ band at 7kHz. By boosting the EQ to brighten the transient attacks, the kick sounds fat, but now has the attack to punch through the mix without overpowering the other tracks.
Continue reading about Noise Gates, Reverb, and Delay in Signal Processing For The Home Studio Owner: Part 2.
Keith Hatschek is a regular contributor to Echoes, author of two books on the music industry and directs the Music Management program at University of the Pacific. Jeff Crawford is a recording engineer and producer with more than 30 years industry experience. He also teaches music technology at Pacific.
Music & Money: How to Get Paid What You’re Worth
Here’s a great lesson if you want to generate the kind of music revenue you know you deserve. I first came across this idea in a blog post titled “How to Get Paid What You’re Worth” by Peter Shankman.
Here’s the golden nugget:
“You can always come down in price. You can NEVER go up.”
There’s power in those 12 simple words. For example, imagine the following dialogue:
“Hi. I’d like to hire your band for a business meeting. How much do you charge?”
“Well, we could probably do it for 500 bucks.”
“Great. Let’s book it.”
“It’s a done deal … Wait! On second thought, it’ll actually cost you $900. Is that OK?”
Needless to say, this is not a good pricing strategy. However, imagine this dialogue instead:
“Hi. I’d like to hire your band for a business meeting. How much do you charge?”
“Thanks for asking. First, I need to know where and when it is, how long the event is, etc.”
“Sure. It’ll be March 17, from Noon to 2 PM. And it’s right here in town on the south side. It’s a Saint Patrick’s party for our sales managers.”
“Sounds great. And we are available that day. Our rate for corporate shows like this is $1,000.”
“Oh … I was given a budget of no more than $700 for entertainment.”
“Hmm … well, since it’s in town, I’ll extend a $300 discount. We can do it for $700.”
See how this works?
“You can always come down in price. You can NEVER go up.”
So … put a reasonably high value on the musical products and services you offer. You can always negotiate or lower your “normal” fee when it feels right. But if you don’t start from a position of value to begin with, you short-change yourself and your income.
This pricing philosophy also extends to your albums and merchandise sales. If you think that keeping your prices low will endear you to fans and increase sales to the masses, more often than not you will be disappointed.
When you start with prices that are cut to the bone, you leave yourself no room to offer discounts or do special promotions.
There’s a better way!
Let’s say you would be happy to sell your full-length albums for $10 each. Instead of promoting that price to start with, put a price of $15 on them.
That gives you room to create incentives. Perhaps you could promote “Buy one album for $15, two for $25, or three for $30.”
That type of offer makes the $30 price seem awful tempting. By doing this, you would increase the amount of the average sale – and still get the $10 per album you want!
So remember …
“You can always come down in price. You can NEVER go up.”
What are your thoughts on getting paid what you’re worth? How have you gone about generating more music income? I welcome your comments.
You can read Peter Shankman’s article that inspired this here.
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I’m down with this!