Wednesday, October 19, 2016

And It Will Sound Like . . .

Some friends are starting up an old guys’ R&R band and they need a bass player. They aren’t going to ask me because, “You don’t want to be in this band. It’s gonna be loud and sound like shit.” Of course, they know me too well. I don’t want to be in a band like that and haven’t since I was in my mid-twenties.

I missed the “opportunity” to run FOH for a “bluegrass band” at Hobgoblin this past Saturday because of family obligations. I know one of the band members a little and he’s a fine musician, a terrific songwriter, and a nice guy. The band’s banjo player/sound guy and I had a couple of email conversations and it was obvious (at least to me) that we wouldn’t work well together, so missing the gig wasn’t at all painful for me. Sunday, I was at Hobgoblin for another gig and, as expected, the house sound system was mangled and as far from reasonably “zero’d” as possible. [Who turns powered speaker systems’ volume controls to “off” and messes with the crossover settings?] The questions that cued me into knowing this wouldn’t be a fun gig were all about the number of monitors (4) that would be needed for a 5 piece “bluegrass” band in a 70 person (max) venue. Any is too many, four is a symptom of deaf rockers pretending to be purists.

jefferson_airplane_pillowUK1Somehow, this sequence of conversations reminded me of one of my favorite 60’s albums, Jefferson Airplane’s “Surrealistic Pillow.” There are lots of stories about how “awful” the studio experience was for the Airplane kiddies, but it’s pretty obvious from the quality of the playing that some actual musicians were involved in the making of the record. Post-Pillow, the Airplane’s zombies were big stars and in charge of their own sonic future; which accounts for the godawful sound of every other recording they made in the band’s lifetime. The band had no input as to how their instruments or voices would be recorded by RCA’s actual engineers (guys in white coats) and if they couldn’t play a part, someone else did. The lack of technical input from the kiddies resulted in a historic record of the times.

IguanaStudiosKidsParty-2386Those days will never return. Everyone with $500 and an ego can afford a decent recording rig, today. Goldman’s rule, “nobody knows anything,” has been multipled by millions of uninformed, tasteless kids with a cheap microphone, Pro Tools, and an endless collection of loops and plug-ins. I guess the logical extension of the rule would be “nobody knows anything and everybody thinks they do.”

The end result for me has been that when I’m asked if I’d be interested in a recording project and, if so, what would it cost, my reply is, “If I like it, I’ll do it for free. If I don’t, you can’t afford me.” Most of the time, I won’t like it and the conversation doesn’t get that far because I change the subject before the question is asked.


Anonymous said...

My favorite bluegrass moments all come from when some pretend hillbilly thumps on the microphone and says, "Ken ya hear this out there? I caint hear it up here." Followed by the usual lecture about how much more honest and pure acoustic music is than electric music. Once your music is in the pa, its electric.

Thomas Day said...

I've had the same experiences and share your opinion. I do think there is a dramatic quality improvement available from using microphones rather than instrument pickups. Once you're direct-to-DI with your instrument, you might as well be playing a synthesizer. I despise acoustic guitar pickups.

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