Thursday, 3 November 2011

VOLUME! Is BIG better or is it true that LESS is MORE?

The age old problem for musicians of all genres is VOLUME.
Can I be heard, is the volume of the parts equal so the blend is right, is too loud, is it too soft, and most importantly… will it make me go deaf?

What made me think of this was the traditional Yacht Club gig we played on Cup Day. We set up on the back deck over looking the bay, which is open and people are pretty close to us. Because it is in the afternoon and a bit more intimate, we play at a volume level to suit. We don’t need to make sure the punters at the back can hear us or can FEEL the SUB kick, because if they’re at the back.. they want to talk.

Every now and then a gig just CLICKS and all the planets align perfectly and everything just sits in the pocket and feels really good. These are the gigs you hang out for and was the case with this gig. So I started thinking about what it was that made this work.

Aside from the hopefully rare occasions that your bio-rhythms are stuffed and you just can’t get your head to co-ordinate with your fingers and you play like a total dick, not to mention a musicians pre-occupation with ‘the sound and tone’ of their instrument or equipment (another blog’s worth there) on any given night, most gigs are good. But there are the great ones where everything just sits right and is magical.

An audience, venue, management etc. can make or break a gig sometimes, but the volume can be the difference between a good gig and a great gig. Here… LESS is MORE.

Yes it IS frustrating when the granny at the table 2 metres in front of the PA complains because the acoustic set is too loud and you barely have any level on the vocals and instruments and the foldback is way louder than the Front of House. But when everything is so loud that it’s even hard to hear the foldback which is cranked at full tilt before feeding back uncontrollably, that is bordering on Weapons of Mass Destruction territory. Or at the very least, hearing damage… because you just know that at the end of the gig your ears are going to ring like crazy and all you’ll be able to handle on the drive home is ABC Classic FM as long as it is soft smooth music… forget Triple J or anything with drums!

So when the volume is wound back to the perfect level, the foldback is just right and you can hear ALL the vocal parts which means you can pitch perfectly.. bliss. Your guitar blends perfectly with the other instruments and you can wind up the volume a touch for your solo, then wind it back to sit with the rest of the guys as the song continues.. more bliss. Even light and shade starts to work when everyone isn’t competing for space. You can ease back in the song and it will change the colour of the music which changes again when you come back in at an essential point in the song. It all works beautifully when the competition for volume is removed from the mix… total bliss!

I am not saying that playing at a good volume is to become “Merv and the Magictones” orange shag pile carpeted instruments cabaret band. Just that there is the finest line between a good volume that still kicks arse and a level that turns good music into a hard to listen to wall of crappy mush.

… and it may prolong your hearing for a few more years too, which has got to be a good thing.

Rock on, and if you are aware of the Merv reference above from the Blues Brothers… “don’t you go changing”

Thursday, 22 September 2011


So you have some music swimming around in your head, some chords and a few lines of lyrics with a really cool hook line. I used to love to walk and while I stepped a beat I would imagine music of all sorts. The only thing that I was limited by was the tempo of my walking pace. I soon got over that by imagining a different beat and unlinking the song in my head from my walking beat.

The really important thing is to get it out of your head and into a recorded format.

A few steps first… write it down! Write the words, write the chord progression. One trick I use is with my smart phone, I’ll actually record myself playing the chords so it doesn’t get lost in the translation. Sometimes when you’re just doodling around on the guitar you’ll hit upon some really interesting chord shapes and progressions which aren’t immediately easy to just write down.

Once you have a bit of a structure to the song it’s easier to then actually record it. You have a better idea of the drum beat you want, the tempo, the sound etc.

Getting the music recorded…. WOW… how easy is it these days to create CD or broadcast quality music in your own lounge room or bedroom or where ever!

Get yourself a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) Some are free, some are not, some are easier than others to use, some integrate with internal and external sound cards or modules better than others. So here are my experiences.
I use MixCraft5 and I bought it for $90 with some extra drum loops and BeatCraft which is a drum beat creator. I bought it after using the trial version because it recognised every sound module I plugged in with no fuss. Others did not and I had to do a lot of tweaking and preference setting to get them to work. I want plug n play.. it should be THAT easy!
My friend uses and swears by Cool Edit pro because it syncs nicely with his big mother sound card with 16 in and out channels which he patches through patch panels into his big mother desk etc. etc..
I do my stuff in a little study room so I don’t have a huge setup. Or you might be in your bedroom, shed, kitchen or where ever.
MixCraft5 is like the PC version of Apple’s GarageBand and has lots of click n drag instrument loops, drum beats and virtual instruments that you can use the PC keyboard to play or plug in a USB keyboard controller.

The drum beat.. well that’s pretty straight forward, click, drag and drop into one of the tracks.

The guitars or bass are recorded via a USB sound module. These can be called guitar to USB recording links and look like this.
There is one made by Behringer for about $45 or check eBay for the same thing, probably from the same factory and for about $12 delivered. Comes with drivers if needed and some recording software as well but I didn’t like their program so looked for something else and found MixCraft.

The vocals are next and can be a little bit more tricky. There are heaps of USB microphones out there for all different prices. I bought a thing called a Lightsnake USB microphone cable which has the sound module interface built in AND has phantom power to power a condenser mic. I bought one ages ago for about $6 but they are now around $30 delivered and work best with a condenser mic which you can pick up on eBay for $45 delivered. Just remember that if you buy a condenser mic, it requires phantom power, either from the lightsnake or a mixing desk which then goes to a USB interface, again Behringer make a cheap one for this purpose, or you need an external phantom power supply which you plug the standard mic cable into then into an interface. I opted to keep it really simple.
If you want a USB keyboard to play the virtual instruments in the recording package, they range from about $60 up (I have a basic MAudio one), but you don’t have to have one at the moment. Just use your computer keyboard.

So that is my very basic set up which allows me to record what’s in my head.

Be sure to comment if you need any feedback on what you’re doing or you have an other ideas you can pass on to me.

So that’s it. Play it. Record it. Enjoy it!

Till next time,
Rock on

Monday, 8 August 2011

Originals or Covers – The Musicians dilemma

Well, you’re in for a treat today so please read to the end!
Musicians, for the best part, are creative souls and always trying different things to get the music from inside them to the outside world. We are such diverse creatures that there is an enormous range of music to suit all tastes.

Getting YOUR original music out to an audience is very hard work for most musicians unless you happen to be in the RIGHT place at the RIGHT time where someone who has the POWER and likes what they hear, will put the time and money into producing and distributing your music. So even if a musician has a yearning to produce original music, doing so and making any money from it is often elusive.

Audiences are many and varied, and the ones who usually go out to the pub to spend money on drinks and have a dance usually want to hear their old favourites, and so cover bands exist to perform for such people. Make no mistake, we enjoy performing and playing covers earns us some pocket money to keep updating our gear and having some fun. Maybe not pay the mortgage for most of us, but we still get to play.

Well recording has changed radically since the day we bought our first Tascam or Fostex 4 track tape recorder which wowed and fluttered its way through numerous track bounce downs to produce a scratchy demo for your family and friends. Now we have so many computer programs that we can create studio quality recordings in our own homes. So the original song genie is now out of the bottle and with the internet can now be shared with the world!

So the treat for you all today is one of many original songs that has been penned by Pat, the front man of MADLLIPS, and is up on that amazing resource, You Tube.

Please click here to have a listen to Pat’s song – Feels Like I’m In Love.

Enjoy and until the next blog.. rock on.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

The Rock Musicians Apprenticeship

Playing country townsThe Rock Musicians Apprenticeship.

Doesn’t matter what walk of life you choose but everyone goes through some sort of apprenticeship when they start out. Muso’s in a rock band are no different… in fact our apprenticeship is character building, fun, demoralising, hilarious, painful, bonding, disgusting, sensational, just plain sad, healthy, unhealthy and will either make or break you in the music game.

Let me explain… the first thing that happens when you have banged together your equipment, built a band, put together a repertoire and put yourself out there via an agent or slogged around to pubs and clubs, is getting gigs. The honing of your music and performance can only be done in a LIVE situation so you need gigs. Sadly, the venues and the agencies know this so you can expect to be doing the most weird arsed gigs imaginable and often playing to a few or NO people.

I personally, and all of my muso mates have done the country gig circuit (which is where the agencies send you) and we all have tons of stories to tell.. or not!.. and even though we are done with driving to the middle of BF Nowhere we carry fond memories of those times.

When you’re playing a pub in a country town, usually called the Commercial, the Railway or the Royal Hotel.. every country town has pubs with these names, the gig could be packed and fantastic or empty and demoralising. The difference is usually as simple as Johnno having his 21st birthday at the local Mechanics Hall or Jacko is getting married. Many times we have had those situations where the publican says “last week the joint was full, but it’s Davo’s birthday and the footy team lost so everyone’s at his place getting blind”

So you play to an empty room except for two bar staff and a couple of old regulars who are there every day until stumps and the old dog who sits on the doorstep. Kinda sad, but you have to push past that and realise that you’re also doing this because you LIKE to play music, not just the free beer and travelling for miles to play in the middle of nowhere.

So when the gig’s over and we’ve packed up and heading back to the room at the El Crusty Sheet 6 Star Country Stay motel or worse… the supplied hotel room upstairs in the bed with the buggered springs, musty sheets and a million mosquitoes, flies and spiders… the only place to get something to eat (if you’re lucky) is the local pizza joint. So we hoe into a Supreme, Capricciosa and Hawaiian with the slab we bought from the pub, but the best thing is that in the morning when we wake up feeling like crap, that cold left over pizza will become the staple breakfast on these country gigs and we will learn to love it.

Well, I'm not in a hurry to do it all again, but have very fond memories and many stories of mateship, music, many miles, pissed punters, no punters, excess of everything, crap beds, weird publicans, great publicans, equipment failures, country girls, sheep, electric fences, milking machines, country boys and their utes and well…   might stop now!

Rock on
Play anywhere anytime but most of all, have fun

Monday, 27 June 2011

Review - MADLLIPS are in da house!

Hi Everyone,

this blog is a review of the gig we played last Saturday for a lovely lady's birthday.. It is amazing to be playing all these 50th birthdays for people who just don't look their age at all.
Maybe the fact that they opt to have a LIVE rock band play for them gives an indication of how young they are at heart!

We play many parties, in many places, venues, function rooms, club rooms and even.... yes LOUNGE rooms.

Yep, MADLLIPS can set up in pretty compact little areas and produce a great sound and have everyone dancing the night away.

You still get a great light show with flashing lights, lasers and smoke, even if we can't get the whole lighting rig into the room... and we still have just as much fun.

The great thing is when it's so intimate is that we can dance with you, party with you laugh with you and everyone has fun.

Being wireless we can dance from room to room while we still play music.. it amazes a lot of people, but we've been doing it for a while now.

Thanks Lyn & Tony for looking after us and it was a pleasure playing for you.

Rock on and party hard..


Friday, 24 June 2011

Tales from the road: Losing a fan belt in the middle of freakin’ Nowhere

Playing in a band looks like all fun and frivolity from the front, while we play, sing and dance, making music for happy punters to dance to.
However, just have a little look at the floor along the front of the stage, then along the sides and then at the back of the equipment.
Dozens and dozens of cables are plugged in to a piece of equipment at each end. Then of course unplugged and rolled up at the end of the night.
The equipment is a carefully thought out array of power amps, mixing desks, amplifiers, lighting desks, drum machines, foldback speakers, front of house speakers, effects units, lighting rigs and it goes on and on. This stuff is set up and packed up time and time again, loaded into our vans and lugged from house to gig then back again and again and again.
So that’s the gear… let’s spend a moment on the vehicles which travel all over the place carting all the gear and us crazy muso’s.
For a long time I had a Toyota Hi Ace which we loaded up and the three MADLLIPS boys would head off to the gig.
One fateful night we played a gig at the Growling Frog golf course in Yan Yean. Great gig, but the drive home was not so great. As we’re travelling along I could hear an unusual whistling noise. Now those of you familiar with Hi Ace vans will know that the engine is tucked away under the front seat with what is laughingly called access via the middle seat that lifts up and a little side panel. The ever increasing noise was coming from under our butts and this time it wasn’t the vindaloo! The noise suddenly stopped which we thought was pretty good, until the temperature of the motor started to increase rather quickly.
We pulled over, lifted the seat to realize that we had done a fan belt. We took a moment to ascertain where we were. The middle of freakin’ nowhere with no houses, no street lighting, no passing traffic, no sign of life and now, no bloody fan belt.
Well, we’re resourceful men and this was way before “Bear Grylls” so we set about doing what “McGyver” does with a bit of pipe, a garbage bag and some gaffer tape. Problem was we didn’t need to build a hang glider. But all was not lost! We had gaffer tape (duct tape for all you American TV show watchers), guitar leads and various bits of wire. We attempted to fashion a temporary fan belt but then found we struggled to actually fit it.
Time to ring the RACV. Thank God for mobile phones! The man in the yellow van turned up about an hour later, fitted a fan belt that he told us he just resupplied the day before, charged me $185 to join up on the spot, and we continued on our way.
So we made it home at 4:30am still believing that just a few more minutes and we would have had that guitar lead fitted and singing like a top.
So the moral of the story is, make sure your RACV (or similar) membership is paid up, and ring ‘em straight away if you break down… and ALWAYS keep your sense of humour.
You will look back and laugh!
Rock on

An excited MADLLIPS fan!

Tuesday, 21 June 2011


.. well short answer is NEVER,
however if you are playing a fund raiser for some really great people, the theme is  Country & Western and a lot of time has been spent setting up the venue to look like a big ‘ol barn, complete with a cow, a horse and a bucking bull… well why not.
All those years ago when the country lost its mind and bought so many copies of Billy Ray Cyrus’s single to make Achy Breaky Heart number one in the charts, we didn’t add the song to our repertoire because we wanted to maintain some musical integrity.
We capitulated only when we were doing a gig at the Lavington Sports club in Albury and the gig was going ok. However when we took a break and the DJ played that song, the dancefloor was completely full in seconds… I still shake my head with despair.
So we learnt the song… two chords, A and E with a 4 note riff. Took about 3 minutes and that includes the time to open a few stubbies, tune the guitars, plug stuff in and do the crossword because we really didn’t want to play the song, but how do you fight against mass insanity?
We played the song at a couple of gigs after with great success and more to our total delight, the song disappeared almost as fast as it had hit the charts and we couldn’t drop it from our set quickly enough.
So for our friends at Warrandyte we dusted off the hayseeds and cow shit from good ‘ol Achy Breaky Heart and played it for them while they did a line dance routine and great fun was had by everyone.
We would also like to thank Dinah for great organizing and Rolf for taking another great set of photos of the gig as well.
Rock on… and ya’ll come back now… ya hear!

Photos courtesy Rolf Meuller