Freelance Business Skills

Work Based Learning Hours Totalled

This is a table showing the total Hours I have spent shadowing and gaining experience in being a live sound engineer.

Work Based Learning Hours Totalled

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Networking and Being Professional – The Two Gigs at the Cookie

These were my final gigs that I went to in terms of shadowing for my work-based learning. The first gig was on the 2nd of April and the next gig was on the 3rd of April.

With both gigs I was able to help straight away as I was comfortable with the venue and knew where most of the equipment was, for example cables, microphones, microphone stands. This was helpful to know as it made the set up of both gigs easier, calmer and more efficient. On both occasions we started setting up equipment at 5:00pm (with doors opening at 8:00pm on both gigs) and had set up everything we could such as doing mic checks and testing the monitors, by 6:30pm. On both occasions we were waiting for the bands to arrive for at least 15 minutes after we had set up everything.

With the first gig I was shadowing an engineer that had been working part-time at the Cookie for a couple of years and with the second gig I was shadowing an engineer who had 25 years experience in live engineering. However even with the difference of experience between them they still showed professionalism in their jobs, which was apparent when the bands turned up. On both occasions the first thing they would do is greet the bands and welcome them to the venue if the band hadn’t played there before. As the bands that were playing were experienced musicians they were professional and polite, which made the sound check run smoothly. As can happen, there were some problems, with either microphones or cable connections but they were dealt with before doors opened.

After both gigs had finished both engineers were talking to the bands and some that had played as well as audience members, while I put the equipment away. In this instance it could be mistaken that I was doing all the work, putting things away, while the engineers were chatting to the bands.

However I was more than willing to do anything I could to help and that if I was to engineer a gig by myself I would need to get used to setting up and packing away the equipment for the gig on my own.

Furthermore the engineers weren’t just chatting to bands and audience members for fun but instead networking. I knew this because once I had put the equipment away I was introduced to some of the bands and audience members by the engineers on both nights. This was a vital skill that I knew would be good to do at every gig, as networking is what can get you your next job. Having the experience and meeting new people I otherwise wouldn’t have done on he night made me realise that one good gig could open doors to many more meaning every gig is as important as the next one, so networking and being professional can pay off in the short an long term of being a live sound engineer.

The stage was well lit and presented, being ready for the gig to start

The stage was well lit and presented, being ready for the gig to start

There was a lot less to prepare with the second gig as the acts were just singers and guitarists with the final band having a percussionist.

There was a lot less to prepare with the second gig as the acts were just singers and guitarists with the final band having a percussionist.

These were two short videos taken from the first gig. The levels were good on the desk and the sound was clear and loud from the front of house speakers. Most importantly the crowd were enjoying the gig and there were no complaints.

Video 1 URL – (https://youtu.be/NVS_FiszgnQ)

Video 2 URL – (https://youtu.be/hM7xbomg6ik)

WBL = 12 Hours

My First Experience of Engineering a Live Acoustic Gig

This was my third event that I was taking part in for the live sound engineering. The event was held at the Musician in Leicester. (February 2015)

For the event, I helped set up the microphones and connect the cables as well as making sure everything was tidy. There was around half an hour to set up the equipment, which was less than planned so efficiency and speed was key as well as the need for safety with cables coiled neatly so there wasn’t any slack, where someone could trip over.

Setting up the equipment before the gig. Making sure the front of the stage was clear of cables as to make sure people wouldn’t trip.

Setting up the equipment before the gig. Making sure the front of the stage was clear of cables as to make sure people wouldn’t trip.

The gig was an acoustic gig for Leicester College so was similar to the Easter gig Leicester College gig but played with only acoustic instruments.

With this gig I was given the opportunity to actually work the mixing desk. This was party due to the musicians being from Leicester College, so there wasn’t as much pressure, but mainly because it was an acoustic gig. With this gig half of the bands playing, were just singers and acoustic guitarists, which meant my job wasn’t too difficult.

When starting out as a live sound engineer, being the front of house engineer for an acoustic gig is definitely a good starting point. This is because there is less to worry about, for example there’s more likely going to be a solo performer that sings and plays guitar so there will only need on be two tracks set up on the desk. Generally setting up the stage will take a shorter amount of time compared to a rock gig because there wont always be the need to set up guitar amps and drum kits but instead DI boxes for acoustic guitars. Another reason is that its easier to mix an acoustic act as there only a few sound sources so there wont be instruments covering up the sound of other instruments through the main P.A. This is what I experienced from working the desk for an acoustic gig compared to what I saw when I shadowed a rock gig, as well as working the desk at the Leicester College Christmas Gig.

In this instance there were quite a lot of channels needed fro this acoustic gig, but comparing it to a normal rock gig, the first five or six channel would be used for the drum kit (i.e bass drum, snare, toms etc.)

In this instance there were quite a lot of channels needed fro this acoustic gig, but comparing it to a normal rock gig, the first five or six channel would be used for the drum kit (i.e bass drum, snare, toms etc.)

As with any gig there’s still chances of equipment not working, which is what happened during the gig, with one of the DI boxes not working half way through the show. In this case its can be said to almost be a good thing that things can go wrong even in acoustic gigs because it gives you experience in dealing with the things that can go wrong and learning from mistakes that can be made.

One thing I learnt was not to move the faders and gain knobs to quickly whilst the act is playing. Although I moved the faders slightly it can be quite obvious to hear with acoustic gigs, as there are only a few sound sources to focus on from the front of house speakers.

(I did the engineering for part of the gig to gain experience in working the desk. Having to mix an acoustic act of two singers, with one of them playing guitar was a good starting point to get a feel of working the desk and using the faders).

Video URL – (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9VQH7uSQRtI)

WBL = 5 Hours

Three Points I learnt From My First Gig Shadowing a Live Sound Engineer

This was the first time I had been shadowing an engineer at The Cookie in Leicester this academic year (November 2014).

As this was my first real look at how live sound engineering works I was watching exactly what the engineer did. From turning on the sound system to how the engineer communicated with the bands and how he dealt with problems.

There were three key basic pieces of information on setting up the sound system that was learnt from the gig, which would apply in any venue

  1. The mixing desk needs to be turned on before the speaker amps, and when switching everything off, the speaker amps need to be switched off first before the mixing desk. This sounds like an obvious thing to do, but forgetting to do so can ruin the whole gig. If you happen to forget the amplifiers and speakers switched on at full power and you switch the desk on, the speakers could blow, which would make them dysfunctional.
  1. All the channels need to be muted and all the knobs turned to zero before starting the sound check and after the gig has finished. Similar to the first point, everything should be turned down before plugging any equipment into the desk before the sound check as not to damage equipment. Also everything must be zeroed after the gig so that whoever uses the mixing desk next wont damage the speakers or other equipment. Another reason is so the next engineer wont have to waist time setting everything to zero for the next gig.

“The desk should be properly zeroed – all faders down, EQ and aux knobs down, filters off, phantom power off, pan knobs centred and so on” (http://www.musictech.net/2012/04/25-tips-for-live-sound/)

  1. The amplifiers should be turned to full power. This is done because amplifiers work best, at maximum headroom. Another reason for doing this is because it helps with the gain structure and control, with the amplifiers turned up to full and the master channels and input channels zeroed, meaning the gains on the channels wont need to be turned up too high. What this also means is that faders can be turned up to 0dB and there will be no distortion from the main mix. Furthermore faders are at their most responsive at 0db, so the mixing can be done subtly by the sound engineer.

WBL = 4 Hours

The Cookie – Leicester College Easter Gig

With this gig I set myself the target of finding out what problems can arise when dealing with less experienced performers and how to deal with them.

When engineering live gigs at small venues or pubs, a sound engineer will always come across less experienced bands at some point. As a sound engineer, you have to be a lot more focused on the job. This is not to say that a sound engineer isn’t usually focused on the job at hand but in this case there’s a lot more chance for a problem to occur, which means the engineer needs to be quick to react.

For this gig, the musicians performing were from Leicester College. For some it was there first year at Leicester College so hadn’t had much experience of performing live, whilst others were more comfortable on stage.

Set list for the night

Set list for the night

Once the equipment was set up safely, the sound check took place. From the sound check the first problem arose, which was the singer wasn’t loud enough. This was to do with a lack of confidence and how far away she was singing from the microphone.

Of course doing a sound check isn’t the same as performing and in some ways, it can be more daunting then the actual performance. With the sound check there are usually people staring at you as you repeat the same part of a song over and over, which can make you feel silly. I know this from experience, as being a drummer doing gigs, so being the singer at the front would be understandably more difficult with less experience. This is the feeling I got from this sound check.

As the sound engineer, you have to boost the performers confidence so you can get the best sound out of them before the show so that the sound levels are good. With this sound check the vocals were turned up to +5dB as well as the vocals channel being sent to two mix buses also with the faders at +5dB with only one light of signal being shown on the desk. The rest of the band was drowning the vocals out even with only the amps on stage turned on and the acoustic drums not coming through the front of house.

With this situation, there wasn’t a lot that could be done to help the singer apart from her actually singing louder. The cable to the microphone was swapped as well as the microphone itself, to see if it wasn’t working properly but there was only a slight difference in volume from the troubleshooting that took place. As is generally the case, time was against us, with other bands needing to be sound checked.

Mixing Desk with the faders set high for the vocals (Channels 13, 14 & 15 on the right)

Mixing Desk with the faders set high for the vocals (Channels 13, 14 & 15 on the right)

When it came to the show starting the bands were louder than they were with the sound checks. The singer who was quiet at sound check was louder, which meant the vocals were clearer and could be heard above the rest of the band. This was through the confidence and adrenaline from performing in front of a crowd and friends.

However, with her new found confidence she started holding the microphone with half her hand covering the mesh grill rather than the handle, which made her quieter and less audible. Once the song she was singing had finished she was told to hold the microphone from the handle and sing as close to the microphone as possible.

Other problematic situations occurred from the other performances such as one singer directing the microphone at the monitors when she wasn’t singing which caused feedback. Another example was guitarists tuning guitars on stage before they were about to perform or not tuning altogether and playing the gig with an out of tune guitar. There was also singers not singing close to the microphone that were about a foot to 6 inch’s away even once they were told to sing closer

To conclude, when working with less experienced performers there are generally more problems that occur as well as a poorer sounding show altogether. In this case, the engineer needs to be ready for anything to happen whether on stage or mixing from the desk.

WBL = 5 Hours

The Small Local Music Venues: The Toilet Circuit – Part 2

It can be easy to except the fact that the live sector is doing well from the figures shown in the previous blog (The Live Music Sector Part – 1) but to how much of an extent is that true? When thinking of live music venues doing well, from the thought of the live music sector performing well, most may think of venues like; The 02 Arena, Hammersmith Apollo, Wembley Arena, De Montfort Hall or Rock City. What people forget is that the live music sector involves small venues such as local pubs and clubs too.

These small venues are shutting down. This is a bad sign for the live sound industry as these venues are the grassroots of the live music industry, where unknown bands make their name and gain a reputation to becoming popular and successful.

The ‘Toilet-Circuit’ is a network of small music venues in the UK where indie, rock and metal bands visit to gain support and make their name. Famous bands have come from playing at venues in the toilet circuit including: Arctic Monkeys, Coldplay, Blur, Pulp, Radiohead, The Killers, Primal Scream and The Libertines.

 As Frank Turner the punk/folk singer-songwriter and ambassador for Independent Venue Week states,

“The toilet circuit is vital. It gave groups like Biffy Clyro and Arctic Monkeys space to develop, hone their craft and build audiences. Without these clubs the only people able to play the O2 Arena will be X Factor Christmas tours.”

 The Toilet Circuit venues have been hosting live music for decades but in recent years, many have been or are being forced to close down including venues such as; The Buffalo Bar in Islington, the 200 Club in Newport, The Freebutt in Brighton, the Kazimier Bar in Liverpool and Nation also situated in Liverpool.

“Soaring rents, residents seeking to enforce noise pollution orders, and developers converting neighbouring office blocks to apartments have combined to force struggling venues, which have traditionally spawned stars from Arctic Monkeys to Ed Sheeran, to close their doors.” – (The Independent[1])

Nation in Liverpool - one of the many toilet venues looking to be closed down.

Nation in Liverpool – one of the many toilet venues looking to be closed down.

It can be quite disheartening to find out old well-known music venues are no longer running because of some noise complaints because the government have decided to build a block of flats next to or above them.

As Alex Turner says “I’m not opposed to development but there’s an imbalance of justice. It only needs one or two residents moving in to make a noise complaint and a venue that’s been there for 25 years can get shut down.”

It begs the question of ‘What do people expect, when they decide to live next to a live music venue that has been playing loud music for years?’

Other closures have been for building of high street retail shops, such as with ‘The Duchess of York’ in Leeds. Kaiser Chiefs bassist Simon Rix described the closure of ‘The Duchess of York’ saying,

“The Duchess is now a Hugo Boss. What’s the point in that? Leeds lost its musical history with the Duchess. Musical history is regularly torn down – CBGB’s is probably the most famous one. And for what?”

What needs to be realised is that if the small venues start closing down then there will be less bands being seen, which would mean less exposure, which would mean less break through acts. Without small venues, there would be less chance of a start to the process of bands making it to venues like the 02 or Brixton Academy or playing at festivals like Glastonbury, which make up a large percentage of the live music revenue.

If the live music sector is to keep on growing then the government needs to realise that the small venues are the grassroots of the live music industry and without them the live music industry may soon decline.

Reference URL’s

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-20599939

http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/music/news/fears-for-musics-toilet-circuit-small-venues-that-nurtured-big-stars-are-increasingly-at-risk-of-closure-9893213.html

The UK Annual Economic Study: The Live Music Sector – Part 1

This is the first of two blog posts that will show how the live music sector performed in the year of 2013 and comparing it to 2012. The information that is used is from the UK Music, Measuring Music – September 2014 report.

The report for each year is published in the summer of the year after, so in this case, 2013 is the latest report on the UK Music Industry. “The music industry grew by 9 per cent from 2012 to 2013 outperforming the rest of the economy by a factor of five.”UK Music, Measuring Music, Sept 2014

UK MUSIC - Measuring Music September 2014

UK MUSIC – Measuring Music September 2014

As a whole, the music industry did well in 2013, with the industry producing £3.8 billion in GVA (Gross Value Added) as well as creating 111,000 jobs.

From the report, it shows that the live music sector was the second biggest contribution to the core music industry.

It made £789 million in GVA compared to the recorded music sector, which made £618 million, as well as the sector of music producers, recording studios and staff, which made £102 million.

The employment FTE (Full-time equivalent) of the Live Music sector was 21,600 in comparison to recorded music with 8,510 and music producers with 9,600.

On top of being the second biggest contribution to the core music industry, the live music sector showed a growth of 26% in office taking, compared to the year before.

This shows how important the live sector of the music industry is, with the increasing amounts of illegal downloading causing falling revenue to the recording industry.

“The pick-up in live music attendance last year might be regarded as a bellwether for general economic activity and consumer confidence. The corresponding growth in employment in the live music industry in 2013 had a significant effect on adding to the momentum behind the recovery.” – Jo Dipple UK Music CEO  

The full Measuring Music, September 2014 PDF is available from the link below. (http://www.ukmusic.org/assets/general/UK_MUSIC_Measuring_Music_September_2014.pdf)

The Blurred Line Between Influence and Copyright

(From left to right: Robin Thicke, Marvin Gaye, Pharrell Wiliams) (ISAAC BREKKEN/GETTY IMAGES; WIKIMEDIA COMMONS; JASON MERRITT/GETTY IMAGES)

(From left to right: Robin Thicke, Marvin Gaye and Pharrell Williams)
(ISAAC BREKKEN/GETTY IMAGES; WIKIMEDIA COMMONS; JASON MERRITT/GETTY IMAGES)

Pharrel Williams, Robin Thicke and rapper TI – real name, Clifford Joseph Harris, Jr. – were taken to court on Friday 6th March over the copyright infringement by Marvin Gaye’s family for the resemblances of the Marvin Gaye song ‘Got To Give It Up’. It was revealed that Pharrel Williams and Robin Thicke made over £3 million each as well as TI making over £700,000, from an overall profit of just over £10 million, with the rest of the money going to the record companies (Interscope, UMG Distribution and Star Trak). (Hollywood Reporter [1]). Of course, the artist’s say that they didn’t steal the song with Thicke even stating, “The record would have happened with or without me. None of it was my idea … I was drunk … [and] I’d say 75% of it was already done when I walked in.” (Hollywood Reporter [2]). However, it was today revealed that the Gaye family had won the ‘Blurred Lines’ case. The Gaye family are to be given money from record and live sales as well as damages caused from the copying of the ‘Got To Give It Up’ song written by Marin Gaye.

What this case shows is the blurred line between copying a song and getting inspiration form a song.

As artists are aware, it can be sometimes difficult to create a song from scratch. Sometimes you need some influence from music, this can be from listening to your favourite bands or going out and listening to different genres you have never heard. Sometimes a guitar riff or drumbeat can come to mind, when you are doing something irrelevant to music altogether. The song ‘Yesterday’ by the Beatles was thought up by Sir Paul McCartney from a dream he’s had one morning. Sir Paul McCartney was interviewed on XFM and told the radio station that “It came to me in a dream…I just woke up one morning and it was in my head.” (Gigwise [3]). Another example of a court case was from Coldplay’s song ‘Viva La Vida’ which had allegedly copied “substantial original portions” from the song ‘If I Could Fly’ by Joe Satriani. Unlike the ‘Blurred lines’ case, Coldplay swore that they had never heard the song ‘If I Could Fly’. The court dismissed the case, with both parties having to reach an out of court financial settlement on their own terms. These examples of Sir Paul McCartney and Coldplay show that there doesn’t have to be a direct influence from music that’s already been made.

Nevertheless, it could still be argued that although Coldplay hadn’t even heard the song ‘If I could Fly’ and that Sir Paul McCartney had one morning dreamt about the song ‘Yesterday’, they both had influences from music but they hadn’t realised. A dream is made up of situations that happen in the day or what you’ve been thinking of recently. It is plausible to think that Sir Paul McCartney had heard music that day but didn’t consciously think about it, with the brain creating a song over night, that in a conscious state (the next morning) he’d put together to make sense. This could be the case with Coldplay as even though the band stated they hadn’t heard the song ‘If I could Fly’, they may have heard it unconsciously and thought they had created a new song but instead were influenced by a song similar to ‘If I Could Fly’. Although not completely similar, these two scenarios had different outcomes with one being taken to court and the other not. What this goes to show is that especially nowadays it’s a lot easier to be alleged of copyright infringement even when you think you created the song from scratch or with the ‘Blurred Lines’ case with an influence from music from the past.

A reason for creating songs that sound very similar to other songs is that other songs are easily accessible in studios. In a post written by the L.A. Times it says about how “Where once an artist could be inspired only by music he or she had already heard and processed, immediate access to millions of musical ideas is now a search engine away.” (LA times [4]). This happens all the time in todays world with the access to the Internet on most electronic devices such as; phones, computers and televisions. Nonetheless, there isn’t a court case made about ‘artistic theft’ everyday because these songs are so common and only a small portion makes it to the big time. “For every visionary are a hundred thieves, and the only difference is one celebrates his theft while the others claim ignorance.” (LA times [4])

This case with ‘Blurred Lines’ was really made for money purposes and not artistic theft. The reason it was made public was to boost sales.

“Even before the trial, the controversy over the similarities between “Blurred Lines” and “Got to Give It Up” appears to have boosted sales of the Gaye song. The biggest week of digital sales on record for “Got to Give It Up” — during which it sold 6,300 copies — occurred in the second half of August 2013 — the same month that Thicke preemptively filed suit against the Gaye family.” (The Wrap[5])

(Robin Thicke – Blurred Lines VS Marvin Gaye – Got to Give it Up)

Reference URLs

1. http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/thr-esq/blurred-lines-trial-reveals-how-778884 

2. http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/thr-esq/robin-thicke-admits-drug-abuse-732783

3. http://www.gigwise.com/news/47473/paul-mccartney-favourite-beatles-song-came-to-me-in-a-dream

4. http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/music/la-et-ms-blurred-lines-notebook-pharrell-williams-robin-thicke-marvin-gaye-20150306-column.html#page=1

5. http://www.thewrap.com/blurred-lines-lawsuit-nearly-doubles-sales-of-disputed-marvin-gaye-song/

Looking After the Most Important Tools for Live Sound Engineering

Everyone knows how important listening is in the music industry. Using your ears is what you do every day, whether you’re playing an instrument, mixing in a studio or indeed mixing for a live sound event. What is often forgotten is that your ears need to be looked after.

As anyone would agree, after playing your instrument (especially acoustic drums, which you aren’t able to turn down with a knob or fader), listening to loud music from speakers or going to a loud gig your hearing isn’t the same. What usually happens after dealing with loud exposure to noise is ringing in the ears, which is known as Tinnitus. If you hear ringing in your ears, which can be of any frequencies ranging from low, medium and high than it would be a good idea to so something about it.

“Once you have a little bit of hearing loss, especially noise-induced hearing loss, you are more vulnerable to more noise-induced hearing loss.” – Jovie Havard Strzelecki

(http://www.sounddesignlive.com/noise-induced-hearing-loss-hearing-aids-jovie-havard-strzelecki/?hvid=3iKNAg)

Here are ways of preventing hearing loss or Tinnitus:

  1. When you’re not playing your instrument, mixing in the studio or going to live gigs try to minimise your exposure to loud noise. This can include: not listening to music on the journey home after exposing yourself to high levels of noise and having moments in the day that are quiet or silent. This will give your ears time to recover from the loud noise.
  1. Keep hydrated. Exposure to high noise levels for long periods of time causes fatigue. A good way to minimise fatigue is to drink plenty of water regularly and in small amounts. As well as hydration regular breaks from sound sources helps. This is evident when mixing in a studio for hours as you start hearing sounds, which aren’t there or think something sounds good when in fact it sounds completely different to what you first thought.
  1. Take a hearing test. It’s best to have a check up now so that further damage can be prevented. Going to an audiologist will help pinpoint if your hearing is bad or good and can show which frequencies most affect your ears. This will help when buying ear protection.
  1. If your working as a live sound engineer as a full time job than buying ear protection is invaluable. There are different types of hearing protection from headphones, in-earplugs and ear buds. Having custom moulded in-earplugs is the best way of having a comfortable noise reduction. Furthermore, custom moulded in-earplugs mean that there is more reduction in noise as it covers up the whole ear and not just part of it. For a full time working musician or live sound engineer, it is worth paying £500 for in-earplugs, as it will help in the years to come.

These points were gathered from – http://www.sounddesignlive.com/3-simple-ways-busy-sound-engineers-can-protect-hearing/?hvid=3GFhIO

Two Questions to Ask Yourself Before Becoming a Live Sound Engineer

People think to become a sound engineer you need to have a talent and know everything about audio straight away. This isn’t true.

From reading the blog from Nathan Lively (http://www.sounddesignlive.com/how-to-become-a-sound-engineer/) called ‘How to Become a Sound Engineer’ the first thing he states is “The truth is anyone can be a sound engineer”.

There are two questions that you need to ask yourself if you want to become a sound engineer.

1. Why do I want to become a sound engineer?

2. What do I crave?

As quoted by Dave Swallow from his book, ‘How to Become a Sound Engineer’: “If you are after fame and fortune, you are in the wrong job. If you want to hang around and be friends with famous people, you are in the wrong job. If you want and crave credit for the work you are doing, you are in the wrong job.”

In my eyes being a live sound engineer is similar to being a football manager. If your team wins a game the players get the credit and if your team loses the manager gets the blame. So in this case if the gig goes well the musicians get the credit and if the show doesn’t go well then the sound engineer gets the blame.

Being a sound engineer doesn’t always including mixing front of house for a bands you like. As Nathan Lively describes “You’ll work with bands you dislike. You’ll work on corporate events with no music.” Having the interest of constantly going to live shows will decrease over time with Dave Swallow saying that he doesn’t even go to live shows anymore. What can be done is realising the job that you do can be hard and that once you have done it well, even if you don’t like it, is that you have achieved something that adds to your experience.    

An important part to becoming a good sound engineer is not so much the physical things you do i.e. working the mixing desk but instead the mental things you do. Mental things such as not being stressed and pride of work (as mentioned before) are important in the job. If things go wrong and don’t plan out the way they should then, as Dave Swallow explains “What are you going to do? Moan about it or get on with the job. I don’t see any point in getting stressed about it. It is what it is. These things happen and it’s part and parcel of being on the road. Things will go wrong. If you stress about them, you’re not really doing yourself any favours or anyone around you any favours, so just chill.”