Communicating With Sound Technician

I just got the following email with questions about how to communicate with your sound technician.

Hi

I have played in big bands many times where the sound men didn’t really help all that much. Frustrating.
You sound like you know what you’re talking about!!
Right now – I am directing a Praise Band in Xxxx Xxxxx, XX. I don’t know who to contact about some questions I have to help me communicate with the sound man there. Are you interested or able to help me?

Some questions I would like to address – –
-How to communicate with the sound man while on stage in front of church. Reason it is so important during the performance is because the sound man doesn’t have any ears. :/ Need to tell him when to turn up mics (for solos and duets and when the inexperienced guitar player’s part is actually being play correctly so it should be turned up, etc. etc.He seems to have a mind of his own when it comes to vocals being above band volume.)
Uff. Seems so hopeless. He can speak to me on the mic he has connected at the board. However, he never knows when I NEED HIS ATTN. (I can’t really use my hands to signal him on stage during the service)
I tried a 2-way radio but he didn’t want to wear ear buds all the time (as I can understand).

Thanks, Diane

Diane, it can be very frustrating working with sound technicians who can’t or aren’t willing to help you out. Unfortunately, many sound technicians have the idea that they know better than the music director how the band should sound and want to do their own thing, regardless of what you ask them to set up for you. Since I don’t know your particular sound man personally and the performance situation, I can’t give you specific advice, but here are some general things you can try or think about.

Treat the Sound Technician As An Integral Part Of Your Ensemble

This is just interpersonal skills 101, but I feel it’s important that your sound tech feels that you take him/her seriously and trust their judgement. That can be a double edged sword if they don’t have the same vision for the sound as you do, but start from that point and go from there. I try to remember to thank our sound tech during the performance the same way I introduce members of the ensemble on stage. The trouble is, the better the sound tech is at doing his or her job, the more “out of mind” they are. Sometimes I mention to a sound tech before the show that if I forget to thank them on stage that it means I was extremely happy with their work.

So basically, remember that you will catch more flies with honey than vinegar.

Spend Some Time in the House Listening To the Ensemble With the Sound Tech

Whenever possible (hard to do if you’re also performing as well as directing), spend some time out in the house at sound check and listen to how it sounds. See if you can get the sound tech to mix the sound as close to how you want it to be so he or she gets an aural picture of your needs.

Since I most perform with jazz groups when I use a sound system, I have to trust that the sound tech understands what jazz is supposed to sound like. Too often they come from a background of mixing sound for rock groups and then have a skewed understanding of how things should be miced. With my big band, for example, I want the sound tech to mix the band in such a way that we’re approximating the sound of an all-acoustic jazz ensemble. A sound tech with experience mixing rock bands will often want to over-mic the rhythm section and we end up with an unbalanced sound. With a sound tech I’ve not worked with before I will step out into the house to listen to the mix during our sound check to ensure that it sounds right.

Find a piece or tune that involves everyone in the group but is also simple enough that they can run through without you up on stage. During sound check run out to the sound board and help your tech mix it the way you want. Since it’s hard for you to communicate during the service, try to take care of as much as possible ahead of time.

Communication While On Stage

This is frustrating, and I don’t have a good answer. Maybe some visitors reading this can offer suggestions. The best sound techs are focused during the entire show and keep coming back to watching the music director. When they do, you can unobtrusively point at the vocals and then point down to indicate to turn them down, etc. If you work with the same tech regularly you can both come up with some specific hand signals to help make your on-stage needs clear. But if your sound technician is not paying attention, that’s not going to help.

The best solution, if you can find a tactful way of doing so, is to make your sound man understand that it’s important for the music that he keep his attention on you and make your adjustments as needed. Another option is to get him a “liaison” between you and him to assist him during the service. That assistant can be someone charged with keeping an eye on you and passing along your needs, freeing him up to focus on other things.

Thoughts For Further Discussion

What advice do you have for Diane? What are your strategies for working with sound technicians? What’s the worst performance from the sound tech that you’ve ever dealt with? What are the best experiences you’ve had with a sound technician and why was it so good? Please leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Female Trombonists Needed To Take Survey For Research

If you’re a woman or girl who plays trombone, please take a moment and consider taking Holly’s survey.

Hello!

I’m currently a Music Education major at Nazareth College and I am writing a paper on gender bias in instruments for my educational psychology class.

I’m looking for female trombone players to take a survey on their experience in a primarily male community.

If you could send this link to any female trombone players you know or tag them below in the comments, that would be greatly appreciated!

https://docs.google.com/…/1-GkS3pZi0Oa6OyljSgK1sq5…/viewform

Thank you!

Holly

Weekend Picks

Here are some random music related links for your surfing this weekend.

An old post by David Valdez in Casa Valdez, he discusses the 8 Tonic System for Improvisation to help you explore new sounds in your improvisations.

The 8 tonic system is an attempt to organize and simplify the methods that have been used to teach improvisors to use Hexatonic/Triad-Pairs in the past. Hexatonic scales used for improvisation is now an important tool of the modern improvisor, yet there are inherent problems with the methods that have been taught up to this point. The biggest problem with Hexatonics is that they immediately sound formulaic and too much like a pattern. The other problem is that in order to use a wide variety of different Hexatonic/Triad-Pairs the player must commit many different formulas to memory in order to make the correct calculations to find the HT/TPs. These formulas are short calculations, like: Major triad from the #11 and Major Triad from the b13, but they start to add up and get overwhelming.

Here’s an interesting discussion by a rock guitarist that I think is good advice for any musician on improving your rhythm.

Here’s an oldie but a goodie by James Boldin for music teachers on Guidelines for Private Instruction.

And lastly, here’s a briefer performance of Wagner’s Ring Cycle by one of the masters.

Upcoming Gigs

I’ve got some more public shows coming up, if you’re in the area.

Tonight, (Wednesday, February 17, 2016) I’m performing with the Greenville Jazz Collective Big Band at Chicora Alley in Greenville, SC. We play two sets of big band jazz starting at 7 PM.

Friday night (February 19, 2016) the Low-Down Sires will be playing from 8:30 PM until 11 PM or so at the Cork and Keg, downtown Asheville. The Sires specializes in jazz from 1920s New Orleans and Chicago, with a smattering of other music thrown in. It’s great for swing dancing or listening.

And on Saturday (February 20, 2016) the Asheville Jazz Orchestra will be back at Highland Brewing Company. We play two sets from 7 PM to 9 PM, featuring big band jazz from the Swing Era up through contemporary charts.

If you can make it out to one of these gigs please come up and say hello.

fMRI Study Shows Tongue Position While Playing Horn

Dr Peter Iltis conducted a study using a functional MRI chamber at the Biomedical NMR Lab at the Max Planck Institute in Göttingen, Germany, watching hornist Sarah Willis’s tongue position as she plays in different registers, different tonguing patterns, and different dynamics. This (safely) replicates some of the fluoroscopic studies that were done with brass players. Check out some of the footage.

It’s pretty clear in this video that her tongue position raises as she ascends and lowers as she descends. I also find it interesting how there is a slight “bump” with the tongue arch when slurring. In other words, her tongue arch to slur up might jump up high and then snaps down to a slightly lower position, but still higher than it was on the lower note. This may be the equivalent of attacking the note with the tip of the tongue, giving it an extra push to slot, but with a much smoother attack to the pitch for slurred notes.

Iltis is interviewed about his research on a second video. Since he is also a horn player he has a good understanding of how brass players play as well as are taught about tonguing.

Weekend Picks

It’s been a while since I’ve been able to post some weekend picks for you. Here are some random music-related sites for you to browse this weekend.

Do you like brass band music? Do you like drinking? If you like both, you probably would love Serbias Guča Trumpet Festival. The Dragačevo Sabor Trubaca brings in more than half a million people to a small village in Serbia for a wild weekend of brass bands and drinking.

It is believed this Balkan brass tradition emerged in the early 20th century, around the time Serbia, Greece, Montenegro, and Bulgaria formed the Balkan League to battle the Ottoman Empire in 1912. “During the Balkan Wars, and then during World War I, military bands came through the area, playing mostly brass instruments,” Smith says. “These instruments were adopted by the Balkans, who created brass versions of pre-existing folk songs. In Serbia in particular, they embraced brass music to the extent that they consider it their national style of music.”

You can read more about it in A Frenzy of Trumpets: Why Brass Musicians Can’t Resist Serbia’s Wildest Festival.

If you are studying aural skills or teaching ear training it’s nice to have a repertory of familiar songs to help you recognize intervals.

Although some may have changed since this article was posted in 2013, it gives you some practical advice for dealing with flying with your musical instrument. As always, check ahead when traveling with your instrument.

Lastly, remember to Be Like Bill. See more of Bill here.

Be Like Bill

Upcoming Gigs

I’ve got a few public gigs this weekend for anyone around western North Carolina, beginning tomorrow night, Thursday February 11, 2016. I will be performing at Club Eleven on Grove with Mick Glasgow’s House Hoppers. There is a swing dance lesson that begins at 7:30 PM and the dance starts at 8:30. This is a special Mardi Gras/Valentine’s Day themed event, so if you want to come in your Mardi Gras outfit you can join in the costume contest.

This Friday, February 12, 2016 I will be playing and directing the Asheville Jazz Orchestra at our monthly show at the White Horse Black Mountain. We’ll be playing our usual mix of big band jazz ranging from 1930s up through original charts, but with a focus this time on the hits of the Swing Era.

On Saturday, February 13, 2016 I’m playing two shows with the Low-Down Sires. The first is at the Marshall Fanciful Flea’s Madison Has HEArT fundraiser to raise funds to help heat homes for needy families in Madison County.  We are being flexible with our start time, but the music will be going on with several groups from noon until 5 PM.

Saturday evening we’re heading over to Noble Cider beginning at 6:30 and will be playing a couple more sets of traditional New Orleans/Chicago style jazz with the Sires.

If you can make it out to one of these shows please be sure to come up and say hello to me on a set break or afterwards.

Stylistic Playing – Traditional Jazz versus Modern Jazz

I recently read a great essay by trumpet player Gordon Au about playing traditional and modern jazz styles. I’ve played a couple of times with Gordon in swing dance bands at Lindy Focus. Gordon was such a fantastic swing player that I assumed that he specialized in playing in older jazz styles. As it turns out, he is equally skillful in modern jazz playing and has quite a bit to say about the different “camps” promoting different jazz styles.

As a musician who has extensively studied and performed both traditional and modern jazz (alternatively, read: early, Dixieland, 1920–30s; vs. contemporary, avant-garde, post-bop, etc.), it saddens me to see fans in either camp bashing the other. On the one hand, I don’t understand it because they’re so similar—part of the same tree!—blood relatives separated by hardly any time at all. (More practically: how far can you subdivide an already miniscule fan base, and why would you?) On the other hand, I totally understand it because while they’re both jazz, they’re quite different, separated sometimes by very contrasting goals and aesthetics. And that surface similarity concealing inner difference is a prime recipe for sibling rivalry.

I too find it interesting and somewhat disconcerting how otherwise accomplished jazz musicians don’t demonstrate stylistic playing outside of their particular area of interest. In particular, I’ve found that excellent modern jazz players will often not be able to play a convincing solo in a swing or early jazz style. Frequently musicians that I hire to play big band don’t know standard Swing Era phrasing and nuances that make a chart by Fletcher Henderson, for example, sound different from Maria Schneider. There are some musicians I frequently play with that specialize in earlier jazz styles and struggle if the music is more modern. At least, that’s not uncommon among the musicians I happen to work with most frequently. I should also say that there are some musicians in my area that are virtual chameleons, like Gordon, and you would swear they specialize in whatever they happen to be playing.

In my opinion, attentive and extensive listening is the key to performing whatever you’re playing in an appropriate stylistic manner. You must know what it’s supposed to sound like before you can interpret it. Serious jazz musicians should spend some time doing some transcribing in all styles in order to make they phrasing, note choice, rhythmic language, vibrato, articulations, and other nuances sound natural while playing in any jazz style.

Gordon has some great points to make regarding the different arguments between traditional and modern jazz enthusiasts and is a great read. Go over and check it out and if you have the chance to hear him play live, jump on it!

 

My Lindy Kraze 2016

The past couple of months have been busier than normal for me, but busy is good. When things slow down a bit, hopefully soon, I will be getting around to more regular updates again.

Low-Down Sires LogoIn the mean time, I will be performing at My Lindy Kraze in Huntsville, AL this weekend, Friday January 15 and Saturday January 16, 2016. If you’re a swing dancer come on out and dance along to the Low-Down Sires. If you are in the area and were looking for a lesson or just to hang out and grab coffee or a beer drop me a line. I will have some down time on Saturday afternoon.