Back in the heyday of the Grateful Dead, a special sub-scene emerged: The Tapers. Not to confused with tapirs, an exotic animal, Tapers would record the live shows to share with other people later.

Does that sound familiar?

I would argue that, in many ways, livestreaming your show is a new form of taping. It’s an attempt to capture part of the experience so as to give something to your current audience, and hopefully reach some new enthusiasts as well.

The thing with taping or livestreaming is that the physics and logistics have not really changed. Sure, the delivery endpoints are different, especially with livestreaming being a whole bunch of intangible data being fired over the Internet, but how you get usable material is still the same. As such, here are some hints from the production-staff side for maximum effectiveness, at least as far as the sound is concerned.

1) Directional microphones are your friend.

While it might seem like a good idea to grab a wide, or even 360 degree soundfield, you will generally get a better result overall by being selective. Especially if you’re streaming from a bar or club, it’s really not a great idea to capture all the conversations, room reflections, and general disruption happening around you. A full-on shotgun mic probably isn’t necessary; Just find a decent cardioid or super-cardioid and point it at what you want to hear.

2) Keep your gear out of the way. Super out of the way, actually.

Audiences have an incredible ability to walk into, stand on, swat, and otherwise mess with your recording setup, often without even trying. Endeavor to find a spot where your streaming goodies are protected from the general public. The audio human’s spot can be pretty good for this. Just remember to ask politely first.

3) Run your own gear as much as possible.

As a sound operator, I am (as a rule), happy to help by pressing record on your device. However, it’s important to understand that the start of a show can be a bit like getting an airliner off the ground: A lot is going on that requires my close attention. I may end up forgetting to hit the little red button. If you can do it yourself, that’s much better.

Also, if there is any complexity at all to getting things rolling (beyond just pressing the aforementioned button), you really should take care of it yourself. It’s THE way to ensure success.

4) A direct feed might sound better, but…

…remember that many direct feeds are just a split from some output, often the main bus. There are many rooms and situations where the main bus is carrying a ton of vocals and just a touch of a few other things. Unless the PA is truly doing all the heavy lifting, you may find that a line-level feed isn’t musically balanced.

I like clean audio as much as anybody – maybe even more – but I can also recognize when “clean” isn’t necessarily the best capture of the show as a whole.

(There are some ways around this conundrum, but they are beyond the scope of this article.)

5) If you want a feed, please do your advance work.

Find out the day before, or earlier, what kind of connections and signals might be available to you. Sometimes, it’s easy for a sound tech to get something sorted out for you…and sometimes, it’s nearly impossible. The difficulty generally rises as the amount of time before the show decreases.

And please, please, educate yourself on the different kinds of audio connections that you might run into, and have your own adapters. Again, when speaking for myself I can say that I’m happy to help out in whatever way I can – but it’s always best when YOU are “Johnny On The Spot” in terms of having what you need to make your own gear play nicely with everything else.

A while back, I went out to see a hard-working Schwilly Family Band at a venue near my house.

They dazzled the crowd with grace and charisma in a way I hadn’t seen before.

They get booked a lot, playing about 300 shows a year.

They had one of the most diverse and interesting merch setups I’ve seen in a long time. ALL homemade stuff. Even the CDs.

They were truly impressive in every way, so I figured they must be making some pretty decent money.

But alas…

As it turned out, they were still struggling to make ends meet and to make sure they had enough gas to make it to the next city.

It only took a short conversation in front of their awesome merch table to get to the bottom of it.

They had implemented the genius idea of DIYing their merch. Really beautiful and creative stuff. And a GREAT way to save on costs.

But then they undid their efforts by WAY underpricing their stuff.

Here’s the deal:

DON’T try to be the “Walmart” of music. They have to move a LOT of volume to make up for their small profit margins. And you’re not ever going to move that kind of volume.

You make premium art, which should be reflected in your pricing.

If you have the time and creativity to make your own merch (or anything else related to your business), that’s great! Use that as an opportunity to lower your costs… NOT your prices.

Otherwise you’re just undercutting other musicians, undervaluing your own work, and reducing the perceived value of music in general.

And worst of all… you’re being your own slave labor!

Put a value on your time. Account for that in your pricing, and pay yourself for your work.

I promise that REAL fans will be happy to pay what your stuff is worth. And those who aren’t, must not be that into you. So there’s no reason to cater to them.

It kind of reminds me of an unsubscribe message I got recently: “Thanks, but I’m trying to save money”.

I didn’t bother to respond to her, since she has opted out of receiving my free advice.

But I’ll happily give that advice to you…

“Saving Money” and “Making Money” are two VERY different goals. But it’s a LOT easier to save money when you’re making money (as opposed to saving it as a way of avoiding spending it).

As Adam Carolla (an actual rich guy who started out poor) says:

“Focus on making dollars, not saving pennies.”
When I was working for “The Man” just to make ends meet and living from paycheck to paycheck, my savings account was full of dust.

But now that I MAKE money and pay myself first by funneling 10% into a secret savings account before I even touch it, I have enough in there to cover a few months worth of expenses if anything goes wrong.

If you want to learn REAL business skills (which are often at odds with conventional wisdom), that’s exactly what I teach in the Musicpreneur Apprentice Program.

If you want to start MAKING money so that you can start SAVING money, the best thing you can do for yourself is invest in an education that will teach you how.

Click Here To Join The Musicpreneur Apprentice Program

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

I’ve got good news and bad news for you.

Which do you want first?

I hope you said “bad news” because that’s what I’m starting with.

It’s a difficult truth that a lot of musicians have a hard time swallowing. But an important part of my job is delivering difficult truth’s and helping musicians move past them.

Here goes, like ripping off a band-aid:

You will never be able to only make music if you want to make a living at it.
I know it sucks to hear that, so let’s get on with the good news:

As soon as you swallow that pill, you’ll be able to start moving towards a profitable AND fulfilling music career.
If you ask anyone in the music in-DUH-stry they’ll most likely tell you that the sky is falling and it’s practically impossible to make money as a musician anymore.

The truth, however, is quite the opposite.

What is becoming impossible is the sustainability of large corporations with huge overhead in the music in-DUH-stry.

All of the non music-makers and middlemen that have been banking on the
“traditional” music in-DUH-stry are having the rugs pulled out from under them and scrambling for the last pennies of a dying business model that’s based on “mass marketing” and “mainstream appeal”.

The REAL truth is that there has never been a better time in the history of music to be a professional musician. Demand is higher than ever, and opportunities abound…

IF (OF COURSE there’s a big fat “IF” attached to it)…

IF you are willing to LEARN HOW TO and DO THE WORK OF building your own entrepreneurial business around your music…

In other words, IF you are ready to become a Musicpreneur.

You still have to make great music. But that’s just the entry point. There is more great music happening right now than ever before.

Contrary to popular belief, that does NOT mean that there is more competition. What that actually leads to is more demand for a greater variety of music.

Think about it. You’re not selling cell phones. People aren’t just going to pick one and then be satisfied for 2 years.

You’re making music. And the digital age means that people can literally (not figuratively) carry around all the music that their hearts desire.

What REAL music superfans WANT is to connect directly with music, and musicians who inspire them, heal them, and give them permission to be themselves. And REAL music superfans are STILL happy to pay for it.

So the only questions that remain are:

~Are you willing to let go of the traditional music industry model and start creating your own rules?

~Are you ready to learn what it takes to build and manage your own business, focusing on creating the music you want to create, and serving a community that loves what you create?

~And are you willing to do the work?

If you answered “yes” to ALL THREE questions, then you’re ready to join the Musicpreneur Apprentice Program. So click here to enroll!

“Hey, Man. It’s a touch loud in the house. Can I trade you some amp volume for monitor gain?”

“But my amp’s only on, like, two!”

Have you been part of a conversation like this? I have. It rarely ends well, because somebody is always frustrated or disappointed at the end. Oftentimes, there are at least two somebodies: The audio human and the amplifier user.

The sticking point in the debate is an idea that “low knob position = acceptable volume.” Unfortunately, this notion is anything but watertight. The reality is that acceptable volume = acceptable volume, with the position of any relevant control being nearly immaterial.

To put it another way, the position of the knob is the cause, and the resulting audio output is the effect. In the end, the effect is what matters. If the effect is causing a problem for the band, then the “state” of the cause isn’t a valid argument that the overall result is okay.

Nobody has ever fought a speeding ticket by claiming that the car’s accelerator was only a third of the way down.

The same reasoning also applies when the disagreement ventures into drive percentages. Somebody might say, “I’m only using about 10% of the amp, and for it to sound right I need at least 40%.” That’s fair enough in some respects, but it points to an issue of bringing an artillery piece to a neighborhood cap-gun game. If the amplifier doesn’t sound good until most people think it’s too loud to sound good, then the amplifier doesn’t actually sound good.

It’s the wrong tool. And the wrong tool at the right price, or with the right look, or with the right capabilities for some other job is still the wrong tool.

If two is too loud for the band, then two is too loud. If you’re finding yourself in this kind of situation, it may be time to do some horse-trading. Find yourself a rig that’s just a little too hot for the band when it’s wound up all the way, and you’ll have lots more room to actually use the front-panel settings for creative control.

You might even end up with something easier to carry, as a bonus. (Maybe.)

Dear Musicians,

Over the years that I’ve worked with you, many things have become apparent. One of those concepts is that, quite often, you need me to make some sort of change in the middle of a show. Often, that change is necessary to make your life on stage more comfortable, such that you can create the best possible experience for your audience.

At times, it may have been hard to get that change made for you. Such difficulties commonly arise due to communication problems. As such, I am writing this letter to help you transmit your needs and wants to the audio humans you will inevitably encounter.

First and foremost: Please use your words.

I understand that there is a stubborn stigma attached to “talking through” an issue in the middle of a show. However, any aesthetic problems this can cause are quite minor, especially when you consider that not getting a need met may cause real problems with your performance.

When it comes to a complex topic, especially in a pressure situation, the ability of spoken language to convey nuance and relay information unambiguously is a huge bit of leverage. By speaking over the PA, you can make it very clear, say, that “I think my vocal is starting to feed back in the highs.” There’s actually a lot of information in that sentence, yet it comes across quickly and elegantly when turned into speech.

On the flipside, I’m not sure how that concept would be effectively transmitted by way of hand signals – unless there was a lot of rehearsal time with the engineer involved.

Also, concerts are full of distractions to the eye. A sound operator may have their visual attention elsewhere, while still devoting their ears to the music. As such, addressing them over the PA is generally a sure method for getting their full attentiveness returned to you.

My second point is in regards to visual signals: Think big, think simply, and think patiently.

When you don’t have the opportunity to verbalize a request, visual communication is a necessity. However, as I’ve alluded to already, it has limitations. You have to restrict yourself to basic concepts that have a small number of interpretations, and require no rehearsal to understand.

(Many years ago, I had a musician attempt to take me through a large number of hand signs that would convey things like “The stage-left guitar needs more midrange in the monitors” and “Less reverb on my vocals for this next tune.” I can’t say that it worked out very well.)

Simplicity and “largeness” go together. Remember that the audio engineer may be quite a distance from you, causing detailed motions to become lost. Ad-hoc sign language at shows must be “big” so that it can be seen, and only so many ideas should be signaled in a short period of time.

I highly recommend the approach of “Who, What Instrument, Where, and Up/Down.” For instance: Point at the guitar player, mime the guitar playing, point at your monitor, and then make an up or down motion until the guitar level is where you want it. It’s compact, relatively unambiguous, and the involved motions are easy to see.

As to patience, please do remember that it takes time to interpret your signals, figure out how to get you what you want, and then start to make it all happen. Several seconds may have to elapse before you hear any change, and some “iteration” may have to take place before you’ve gotten exactly what you want. This is simply an inherent hazard of doing things on the fly, but when taken in stride it’s not too hard to handle.

Hopefully this all makes sense. Effective communication is important for a good show, and a little bit of forethought about how to go about it can make a huge difference.

Thank you for taking these thoughts into consideration.

Your friend,

Danny (An Audio Human)

I seem to be on a bit of a theme lately.

The last time around, I talked about how most bands don’t need more or better gear to solve their problems. Mostly, they need to work as a team.

That idea closely ties in with equipment used to reproduce the sound of the band and it’s gear. You know – PA systems. There’s a myth about sound-reinforcement gear which can be voiced in many different ways, but usually boils down to this: “This problem will get better when we’re on a big stage, with lots of monitors and a big FOH system for the audience to listen to, all with enough power to melt somebody’s face off.”

You know what I’m going to say, of course. The above is not true.

Bigger and better reinforcement rigs are sort of like fortune or wealth, as understood by Marie-Jeanne Riccoboni. She said: “Fortune does not change men; it only unmasks them.” In the same vein, I can tell you that more and better PA rarely solves a problem with a band. Rather, it confirms the problem, or makes it more obvious.

I’ve been in more than one situation where the monitor system was far, far better than what a band was using in rehearsal. We had much more power, better initial tuning, and a ton of EQ available. Do you think the poor singer could finally hear themselves?

Not really. All that the extra toys did was confirm that the rest of the band wouldn’t give the vocalist any room to work. They were convinced that pro-audio could make up the difference in their teamwork (or lack thereof). Unfortunately, the difference was too great to be mended. There wasn’t enough gain-before-feedback to undo their steamrolling.

On the other hand, a PA becomes a powerful tool when used with an act that sounds balanced and beautiful right out of the gate. In that case, the system’s reserves can be used to optimally translate the group into whatever space they happen to be in that day. Tasteful sweetening can be applied, just as one might season a bit of carefully prepared food; Good ingredients can be enhanced, but bad ingredients will stay bad.

There are limits to these metaphors, of course. In some cases, an engineer can use a powerful system to blast over a problem. Depending on the situation, this might result in a tolerable sound. It might also be so loud that half the audience leaves. Even so, the need to take drastic measures is an unmasking: It tells you that something is very wrong somewhere.

A great PA with an experienced operator won’t fix inherent flaws with your music or performance. What it will do is make them obvious, because everything that can be improved will be improved. The unsolvable problems, then, will remain…unmasked.

Ever been in a creative rut? It’s something I struggle with regularly. When I’m in a creative funk, nothing feels right. Everything sucks. I feel like I’m beating my head against a wall…and the Muse is mocking me. I begin to wonder, “what if my best work is behind me?”. Fear creeps in. I feel like I’m trapped in a dark pit of…. nothingness. And I hope to God I can climb out.

Maybe for you it’s not that strong. Or maybe it is. But we’ve all been there. There are days when our creativity flows, when the Muse dances along with us, and inspiration is offered up to us like a holiday gift from the Universe. Those days are intoxicating, right?

But then there are days when the well runs dry. Every song lyric falls flat. Every chord progression is lifeless. Nothing feels new. Nothing excites our curiosity or our playfulness. Everything is dull and gray.

In those days, what do you do? How do you grow your creativity? How do you feed and water and nurture it? In my experience, I’ve found three basic starting points that have helped me.

Get outside voices. Innovation is literally everywhere. Steve Jobs once said ‘creativity is just connecting things’. When I need a fresh shot of creativity, I immediately look for outside voices to inject into my soul. I recently asked my FB tribe for suggestions on audiobooks (I like to listen while running, driving, etc.). Fiction. Non-fiction. History. Psychology. Drama. Graphic novels. The response was amazing! (Not only did I receive about 30 widely-varied suggestions while I slept that night, it also gave me a priceless insight into my community…). I grabbed 2 random suggestions (someone in my community actually ‘gifted’ me a book on Audible.) and got started. Sometimes I ask for music suggestions. Sometimes it’s a random TED talk or artist interview on YouTube. And sometimes I ride my bike to our community library and pick a random children’s book. I watch Telemundo TV shows. I buy a coloring book. I do whatever I can do to make my right brain chart new territory. For me, it’s not necessarily about the source of the voice. It’s more about exposing myself to a new voice. That’s helped me gather enough ‘escape velocity’ to blast out of the rut I’m in.

Get out of your head. Yes, creativity can be difficult sometimes. It can take effort. But remember, all creativity is play, not work. You don’t work a violin! The moment my creative endeavor becomes ‘work’… I’m done. Finished. Kaput. You see, work comes from our head, but play is in our soul. The moment I can get out of my head and return to ‘play’, I’m free. When I’m creatively stuck, I create something disposable. Something that no one will ever see or hear. I write a bad song. I record the most horrible drum track I can play. I pull 20 random words from a random website and write a silly song. I draw a terrible picture. I build something out of Play-Doh or Legos. Whatever it is, I focus on the ridiculousness of play, remembering that play, like art, is its own reward. It doesn’t need justification. Recreation is recreation.

Get into your heart/emotion. Emotion is the seat of passion. And emotion creates motion. When you’re stuck, you gotta get moving, right? Pick an emotion and go to that place where you feel it can intensely (a memory, a hope, a fear, a dream ) and create something from within that state of mind/feeling. Typically, I think anger and love are the two emotions we can tap into quickest. (Remember, the goal is to get moving quickly.) Ask yourself, “What makes me angry?” Is it injustice? Is it wounds you’ve suffered? Is it something personal? Political? Cultural? Whatever it is, hop online and read up on the latest statistics or events about it. Get really pissed. I mean, like, Hulk-turning- green-pissed. Now go write. Vent. Vomit. Purge. Sit down at your notepad or keyboard and freakin’ bleed. The same can be said for the emotion of love. Going through pictures, videos, memories or even gifts that belong to a loved one can stir up powerful, passionate emotions. It can be even more powerful if that loved one is no longer living. (My mom passed away just before Mother’s Day this year, so this has been especially helpful for me lately.)

Do YOU ever get stuck in a rut? These are just three starting points that have helped me. What do YOU do when you’re stuck creatively? How do YOU approach it?

I would love it if you’d leave your thoughts.

I have always been attracted to music. Ever since I was a young kid I was fascinated by music, my favorite toy was the fisher price record player.

When I was 7 or 8 my dad had to go to Germany for work and one of the healing things that occurred for me was he sent a cassette tape with his voice on it and some music. I would listen to what he had to say and then play the music he had sent. It was not a replacement but it did help heal me from missing him.

We recently had a trip that we took where we had stops and performances each night. On each night a different story was related to me and all stories had a musical healing in them. All stories were random and unexpected from the source they came from and out of ordinary conversation.

The First Story:

There was a woman who had gone into a coma. Someone she knew wanted to visit her upon hearing this but her location was undisclosed. He somehow managed to find out what hospital and room it was she was staying in.

He went to her room and upon seeing his friend laying there in a coma he did not know what to do. So he simply grabbed her hand and started to hum not a melody just hummed. He left sad that his friend was in a coma.

The next day he received word that she had come out of the coma.

He went and visited her. She then told him that she had been lying in this void she knew she was in a void but had no idea what to do to leave the void. And then she heard humming and while it took her hours to find her way out of the void it was the humming that sent her back to consciousness. Humming to me is our primal music it had to be the first thing a human did on their discovery of singing.

Story No. 2:

We had finished a gig and were doing the usual stand around and share stories laugh and enjoy each others company. I became engaged with a woman who shared this story with me. The loss of color and back.

There was this girl she had known who had attended a catholic school as a child. The school had an art assignment of drawing flowers where you make the circle and do the petals out from the circle and paint the petals a certain color etc.

Well this child was an artistic child and had paid attention to flowers very closely and so some of her petals were big and some were small and some were white with a hint of purple or red or whatever artistic choices the child felt it needed to make.

This was not taken to kindly and the student was reprimanded by the teacher with a paddle or spanking. This spanking caused the child to not be able to see color for years.

Then later on in life this child who had not seen color for years started playing the violin. As she started becoming a decent player on the violin she started seeing color again.

Story No. 3:

A musician friend of mine was asked to play at a lunch party for a community organization working with individuals with disabilities. He set up and played for a room of about 15 people.

When he stopped he went around to each person and shook their hand and asked their name and said thank you for listening to his music. It was such an amazing experience just playing to them, but then he came to a girl in a wheelchair.

She was obviously pretty low functioning and had to be pushed in her wheelchair. He started to shake her hand and introduce himself and the staff told me she doesn’t speak… and before they could finish saying that she spoke up loud and said “Music” clear as day!