Musician Spoken Here
We discuss gear, the road, recording and smelly vans with the people who make all this happen.
The Music Store
(Note: This was written a few years ago. I just found it on a thumb drive 🙂 )
It was a moment. The kind of moment that takes us by surprise by being so inconspicuous at first but unfolding in front of our very eyes to leave us in awe. My day wasn’t going so well, having too many irons in the fire and not enough time to put them all out, plus the constant drizzle outside mixed in with a cold north wind made for the perfect recipe of self pity stew. My last stop was at a local music store to I could see if I could rent some sound equipment for a small show at the end of the month, just a scant two weeks away. I walked in the store only to find that some older gentleman, in his late 60’s or early 70’s, had the gall to be wasting my time by getting what amounts to a private tutorial on how to set up and run a small sound system that he was thinking of purchasing. “Jeez”, I thought to myself, ”why doesn’t this old fart go on the road for a decade or so and learn how to do this like the rest of us had to?” Because Kris, the owner, is a person who’s vast knowledge of all things musical and therefore commands my respect, I have a seat and plink away on one of the many guitars he has on the wall and patiently wait to see if he can make the sale. Either that or the old guy’s brain locks up and needs to be taken away.
After the first eternity passes, I have learned that the older gentleman is a dobro player and wants the PA for small informal gigs. After some discussion about tuning and playing styles, Kris gets the system set up and disappears to the back only to return with a dobro so the older gentleman can take the system out for a spin. Oh great I think, time for some redneck noodlin’ while the daylight fades and I age another year. As the guy starts playing its apparent that he has some talent on the instrument but he also posses a pretty darn good voice too. I’m jealous right away because I sing like old shoes smell and sometimes curse the night at my misfortune. After a few tunes, Kris grabs an acoustic guitar and joins in what becomes a makeshift jam session. Now I’m not your bluegrass or country kind of musician, more of a ham fisted dork, who, left alone with a guitar and an amp can cause small animals to beg for a quick death but what was happening started to mesmerize me and sooth the sarcastic selfish oaf that walked in on this unlikely scene on this unlikely day.
I sat quietly on a chair while these two ran through some classics from Hank Williams and artists who’s names I did not recognize. They even managed to get through a song written by a local musician some 15 years ago. The music store had now taken on the atmosphere of the shooting of a documentary, with both men exchanging stories between songs. I suddenly remember the i-Pod in my pocket and quickly fire up the video camera, hoping to capture some of the magic I was now experiencing. Kris would talk about all the different styles of music he has played, and all the different bands he starved with. The older gentleman then reveals a priceless story…his father was a fervently Christian man, so much so that he attended church three times on Sunday. He was also a decent guitar player and wanted nothing more than to teach his son to play the mandolin with him. Although the young boy loved to listen his father play he never took him up on the offer. “I loved my Dad very much, he was strict but he was still a great father. I just knew that if I learned to play that mandolin, I would be going to church three times every Sunday!” said the older gentleman. But this story doesn’t end here.
The phone rings and Kris has to break off the jam to take care of business so the old guy strikes up a conversation with me, making small talk about the sound gear and dobros. He introduces himself as Paul and then tells me that he always wanted to play but somehow never got around to it until about nine years ago. He was at a bluegrass festival in Texas, saw somebody playing a dobro and knew right then he was going to learn how to play. So it had come full circle and I’m sure his father would approve, even though Paul still won’t go to church three times on Sunday.
As I drove home later I could not stop thinking about what I had just witnessed. Two complete strangers able to sit down and create their own little universe with their own language. Strip away the cumbersome weight that the genre labels carry, forget about the latest technology that the “pros” say you need to rise above the noise. I have heard music in it’s purest form by people who play for the sheer joy of it. Its a moment I’ll never forget.
The First Step Is Admitting You Have A Problem
I admit it. I am a gear slut deluxe. If it’s got knobs, faders, lights and buttons I go into a glazed eyed coma of which only the purchase of a piece of electronic heroin can snap me out of. The latest addition to the studio is an Art Pro VLA II tube compressor. Dual channel with 12ax7 pre amp tubes that make my voice sound like the balls swing by the knees. Well maybe that went to far. But it does allow the Shure SM7 to flex it’s muscle. In the very near future, I am thinking about exchanging those tubes for some high end stuff and getting a rack pre amp because the pre’s on the board might be a little weak. If anybody wants to donate an Avalon, I might swallow my pride and accept the offering 🙂 Haven’t even tried using a condenser with this unit, it’s kind of like sex. The anticipation makes the experience even more better.
It’s A Stretch
At first it didn’t seem like a big deal. When I set up the production desk for broadcasting, I just grabbed a boom mic stand, placed it next to the desk and weighted the legs down (everybody has a weight bench being used for a coat rack) and called it good. As time went on, it was becoming a distraction because when you put a heavy piece of hardware like an SM7 on the business end things start to slip. The compression clutch on the boom arm and height collar wear out causing the mic to be everywhere except where I needed it to be. You can see a little of that brain damage in the pic from the previous post. Now I would rather spend my budget on shiny things with lights and meters but my patience was at at an end. Luckily, Kris at 8th Note Music had these Heil PL2T boom arms in stock and by some weird coincidence, he had sent me a pic before I told him I was looking at a solution. When looking at trade mags for boom arms I was kind of balking at the prices they were getting. *Warning – Sarcasm Alert* After all, broadcasting gear is specialized and therefore worth 10x the price of stoopid old studio/stage gear. Long story short, I got the Heil and mounted it on the desk and was immediately impressed with the rock solid feel. The tension spring in the arm is as fluid as you want it to be and routing the mic cable is a breeze without having to take the end off and re soldering after getting it snaked thru the boom. The most surprising thing is the difference it has made when working on the air or with the DAW. A little push, it’s out of the way. Any adjustment stays that way until you adjust it again. You wouldn’t think a piece of thin metal with a mic mount would be a big deal. But I couldn’t imagine working without it now.