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Cheap Advice On Live Sound
48 Tips To Make Your Band Sound Better
(pdf format)

This is the real deal. You get 48 full-length articles from the Cheap Advice Guy covering all aspects of setting up and running a live sound system for a band.

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Also available in Kindle and Nook editions.

Make A Cheap Music Video Of Your Band

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This is the story of how a really cool music video got made on a very low budget. It all began with the first CD of original songs by Rusty Strings, the band I run sound for, called Please Stay Tuned. The band asked me to do the cover art for the CD, and the design concept I came up with involved having the band photographed striking the same onstage pose repeatedly, but in five different outfits: formal wear, winter coats, Hawaiian gear, super-casual, and bathrobes. For some reason they went along with this idea!

Since the band would be posing on a stage for the CD art anyway, we decided to take advantage of the situation and shoot video of them lip-syncing to one of their songs in the various outfits. Luckily, we had access to a local coffeehouse with an actual stage from 8 AM to 1 PM on one August Sunday, time enough to go through the song twice in each outfit, with two video cameras running continuously during each pass. The band hammed it up, lip-syncing to the version of the song that would be on the video, while the camera operators shot a variety of long shots and closeups of the various band members. It was fun!

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Mini-Tip: Use Dynamic Mics Onstage

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When your band starts looking into microphones to use onstage, one thing you will notice right away is that there are two kinds of mics in wide use: dynamic mics and condenser mics. Condenser mics tend to be more expensive (sometimes much more expensive), and their sensitivity and frequency-response specs tend to be better than their dynamic brethren. So, you might assume, we should get condenser mics to use at our live shows if we can possibly afford them. Well, in my opinion, no. Dynamic mics are the way to go. Here’s why.

1. They are more rugged. Condenser mics are sort of “studio sissies” that don’t take well to being dropped, stepped on, etc.

2. They are less sensitive. Onstage, super-sensitive condenser mics can aggravate leakage and feedback problems.

3. They are cheaper. You can get Shure SM58s for vocals and SM57s for instruments for around $100 each.

Save the high-priced jobbies for the studio. For the real world, get yourself some dynamic mics!

[An expanded version of this Mini-Tip appears in my eBook Cheap Advice On Live Sound.]

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It’s a Recorder! It’s an Interface! It’s the Zoom R16!

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I got into computerized recording fairly recently, finally scrapping my trusty (or more accurately, dying) Yamaha MD8 (an 8-track MiniDisc recorder) and substituting a MacBook laptop running GarageBand, Logic Express, and Cubase. A quick rainy weekend spent rewiring the whole studio and I was ready to go!

To get audio in and out of the laptop, I bought an Audio Genie Pro two-channel interface from American Audio. (See my article A Simple Audio Interface For Your Computer for more info about this device.) The Audio Genie Pro’s two-channel limitation was not really a problem, since I usually only record one thing at a time anyway, even if there is another musician with me, which there usually isn’t.

A problem arose, though, when I went to transfer dozens of unfinished 8-track songs from the MD8 to the laptop before bagging the old gear. The MD8 lacks a digital output, and with only a 2-lane “audio highway” leading into the laptop via the Audio Genie Pro it would take four passes to transfer each song. Plus, the resulting tracks would have to be painstakingly realigned on the computer to bring them back into time sync. There had to be a better way!

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Analyze Your Spectrum For A Better Mix

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When we mix a song, one of the things we are always listening for is tonal balance - that’s right, the old bass & treble bit. Too much bass and it’s boomy or bottom-heavy. Too much midrange and it’s squawky or boxy. Not enough treble and it’s muffled or dull.

Of course, problems like this are relatively easy to hear, diagnose, and fix with a bit of EQ. Drop that bass, boost that treble! But what about subtler problems? What about cases where you know there’s something wrong with the EQ but you aren’t sure just what? No problem! Riding to the rescue is the spectrum analyzer, which allows you to see what’s going on with your EQ, so that you can fix the sound.

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Solo Performers: Use Recorded Backing Tracks

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I don’t suppose anyone reading this remembers The Perry Como Show, a musical variety program that ran in various forms on NBC-TV during the 50s and early 60s. Perry Como was a Bing Crosby-like crooner who enjoyed immense worldwide popularity in those years. I remember watching his show from time to time back when I was about 9 or 10 years old.

At the beginning of each show I saw, Como would sit in what looked like an ordinary living room and perform an opening song. Now, here’s why I’m telling you all this. Before he started singing, he would turn and lift the tone arm of a phonograph on the table next to him and then drop the needle on the opening grooves of a record. Music would swell, and Perry would croon. That’s right, he sang along with a record, karaoke style!

At the time, I couldn’t figure out why he did this, but later I realized that it was a clever artifice to gloss over the fact that Como’s singing was accompanied by lush orchestration despite the lack of any actual musicians visible on the set. (Earlier versions of show had featured a live orchestra, but by the time I was watching it they were apparently down to just a record player.)

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A Simple Audio Interface For Your Computer

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When I first set up a simple computerized studio for MIDI-plus-audio recording, I used the audio hardware that came with my computer (a Windows machine from Hewlett-Packard) to get audio into and out of the Cubase software I was learning at the time.  Since I planned to record alone in that studio, my needs were simple.  I used an external mixer to route microphone signals to the “Line In” connector on the PC, and I used a MIDI-to-USB cable to directly input MIDI parts from a keyboard.  The PC’s “Speaker Out” connector was connected to a power amplifier and a pair of desktop speakers.

As I worked with Cubase, I came to realize that using the PC audio hardware was not the best approach for this kind of recording.  The main problem was that I was unable to use the various monitoring modes offered by Cubase, since everything that came in on the Line In connector came right out the speakers, whether I wanted to be hearing the input signal or not.  I needed a way to listen to only what Cubase was actually putting out as a monitor signal, not what I was putting in.

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Should We Run Our PA System In Mono Or Stereo?

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We’ve all gotten used to hearing recorded music in stereo by now. Only real old-timers (like me) can remember when all records were mono and a “hi-fi” system only needed one speaker. Stereo arrived in the mid-60s, and following a brief period when each record was available in separate mono and stereo versions, often with very different mixes (see Pepper, Sgt.), we finally reached the point where all records, all cassettes, all CDs are now in stereo.

Lots of bands that play live have PA systems with two main speakers. Since home stereo systems also have two speakers on the left and right, the question arises, should we create a stereo mix of the PA signals to play through the “stereo” PA speakers? My answer is basically no, but before I go into why, let’s quickly review exactly what stereo is in the first place. (Audio engineers can skip the next section.)

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Use Standard Image Formats For Your CD Art

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Sharing your home-recorded music with others is easier than ever in these enlightened days of the Internet Age.  Your DAW, whether hardware or software, undoubtedly has a way of exporting your song as a WAV or AIFF computer file, which can be easily converted to a space-saving mp3 file.  The mp3 file can then be carried around on your thumb-drive keychain, loaded into your iPod, or even uploaded to the web for all the world to hear. Cool!

Still, there’s a special satisfaction in having an actual high-quality CD with your recordings on it to give to people - like family, friends, booking agents, whoever. And, for those who treat their music as fine art, the ability to design the CD label and the booklet and the back cover of the case presents a wonderful opportunity to extend the artistry and themes of the recorded album into the visual realm through its packaging. Let’s face it, a CD with well-designed artwork is a lot more impressive than one with “New Songs 09″ scrawled on the label with a Sharpie!

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