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Bands: Don’t Fall Short on the Basics

1. Practise Practise Practise
2. Band Equipment
3. Finances & Contracts
4. Transport
5. Promoting your band

In 2011 the music industry is a difficult enough place to make money as a musician or band but yet so many who strive to “make it” fall short on the really obvious aspects of band life.

1. Practise Practise Practise:

- How often do you practise?
Most bands practise once a week. Then again, most bands are amateurs and never get further than the odd gig in their local pub. If you want to stand a better chance than most to turn your band into a career, practise as often as possible. Simple. The reason for this is that if you only ever rehearse once a week, by the time you meet again, you have to RE-LEARN everything. Rehearsing every couple of days means you BUILD on that knowledge and you make progress much faster.

- Make it count
Some bands spend more time in the practise room sitting around smoking than they do playing or writing. The way for a band to really make progress is to work on the weaker aspects of the band. It’s no good hoping that the problems will solve themselves in time, in fact usually bad habits just get worse if they’re not tackled. If the backing vocals have only ever been a theory, concentrate on them until they are tight, strong and in tune. If the drummer and bassist never seem to know where they are in the songs, try running through the songs with ONLY drums and bass. It may take some guts to be the first to point out someone else’s shortcomings, but if band members can’t take criticism from each other, it’s never going to be much of a band.

- Recording yourselves
This can be crucial in tackling all sorts of problems. If the drummer is attempting fills that he can’t play, he’ll not be able to deny it being a problem when you can all hear it in the recording. Listening back will also give you a better understanding about where you speed up or slow down unintentionally in the songs. Recording the basic parts of the songs can help a lot for planning the arrangements for proper recording such as extra guitar parts, backing vocals, percussion or keyboard parts if any extra parts are required. These recordings are very useful to producers when you first walk into the studio. Apart from giving the producer a better understanding of the songs, it can actually save you studio time (your money). Some producers (including myself) pretty much INSIST on hearing demos of all the songs before quoting for producing an album, as it demonstrates commitment, shows the producer what the band’s strengths and weaknesses are, teaches the producer the songs AND the process itself will have ironed out a lot of issues in the band before hitting the studio.

- Hearing each other:
Correctly positioning your amps in rehearsal is crucial. Having them full blast beside your feet will mean that you’ll hear as much guitar sound bouncing around the room as you will directly from the amp. Try putting the amps at head height and turned towards whoever can’t hear them. You may want to invest in a decent vocal mic to reduce feedback. You can’t go wrong with a Shure SM58 or a dynamic mic by Sennheiser around €150. Of course, before you throw money at the problem, experiment with different layouts in the room to find the one that gives you the least feedback. Don’t forget that hanging duvets and carpets on the walls can help to reduce feedback. And no, don’t bother trying egg boxes, they’re too thin.

- Click-tracks: (metronomes)
If your songs mainly have a consistent tempo from start to finish, try practicing with a click. Drum manufacturers make metronomes for drummers (you can also use a drum machine or a laptop). If the songs get recorded to a click in the studio, the recording, editing & mixing can be a faster process and your band will probably sound tighter. Even if you don’t want to record with a click, rehearsing with it is still a good idea to teach everyone to stick to the right tempo.

2. Band Equipment:

It’s really quite obvious. You wouldn’t jump out of a plane unless you knew you could rely on your parachute, so why get on stage without knowing you can rely on your instruments and amps? The studio is more forgiving, but any time that is spent on fixing & setting up your equipment is recording or studio time wasted.

One general principle is that as soon as you notice something loose on your gear, get the screwdrivers out and make sure EVERY screw on all your instruments and amps are tight. It’s the reason why I rarely have to replace, fix or throw out any equipment.

- Guitars & Basses:
Get hard cases for them, and put big stickers on them too. Better still, stencil the band name on them.

If you don’t change your strings, your guitar will sound lifeless. That bright sparkly sound you get from your guitar when you change the strings is the way your guitar is MEANT to sound all the time.

Make sure that your guitars and basses are set up properly. Learn to adjust the height and length of the strings, this will need done if you’ve never done it or if you have changed the gauge of strings that you use.

If the action is wrong due to a curved neck (or a flat neck) you’ll have to adjust the truss rod. look it up!

To set the intonation (length of each string) use your tuner to compare the 12th fret with the open string or the harmonic of the 12th fret. If the 12th fret is SHARPER than the open string or harmonic, adjust the screw at the end of the bridge so the section of the string that vibrates is made LONGER. If the 12th fret is FLAT compared to the open string, you need to SHORTEN the string length.

If the knobs are wobbly on your guitar, fix them before they get any worse. Check the side of the knob to see if there’s a tiny screw or allen bolt to loosen. If not, just pull the knob straight off (like on a strat for example). You’ll see a hexagonal ring that you should tighten. Try to not let the stem of the pot turn, as it could strip wires inside.

If the output jack is dodgy (it’s not an INPUT jack, it’s an OUTPUT jack!!), tighten the hexagonal ring around it. Try to not let the stem of the jack output turn, as it could strip wires inside.

- Amps & pedals:
If you gig a lot, consider getting a pedalboard and flightcases for them. (check out diago pedalboards)

If you know what settings best suit you, be smart and write them down on a strip of white electrical insulating tape below, above (or ACROSS) each button or knob. This means that when someone uses your amp at a gig, you can very quickly reset your amp to your own settings. If you amp is digitally controlled, save all the settings for each channel. You can even save the settings to patches in 2 different banks in case you overwrite a patch by mistake.

For your FX pedals, “which should i use? power supply or battery?” DUH. BOTH. That way, if the power supply is unplugged or burns out during the gig, just unplug the DC inlet and the battery will kick in.

- Cables:
Cheap cables are unreliable and noisy. Use them at your own risk. Professional bands use roadtrunks to carry their cables. Usually, a little silver suitcase is all you need. If you’re organised, you’ll lose fewer cables at gigs. Consider marking all your cables with coloured tape or cable ties so other bands are less likely to take your cables “by mistake” after a gig. (here at Westland Studios we use yellow/clear cable ties at either end, so please use another colour).

- Drums:
Get cases for them. What’s the point in buying an expensive kit if you can’t afford to protect it? Also, if you gig a lot, consider getting a mat and marking out where each foot of each stand or drum should be. You can use duck tape or a marker. This will speed up your setup time, and is handy for when you get a drum tech!

Change the skins more often than once every 2 years! For kick, look into Evans patches for where the beater hits the skin. The white or clear patches add more of a click to the sound than the black ones. Both will significantly extend the life of your bass drum skin.

Learn to tune your kit. If you do, you’ll already have an advantage over most other drummers. Make sure they are new skins, trying to learn drum tuning with old skins is like trying to chat up a girl with your mouth full. Start by tightening each lug with your fingers, until they are all as tight as you can get them. When they are all “finger-tight” you will probably notice ripples in the skin. If you don’t, press the skin in the centre and/or tilt the drum towards a light so you can see a light reflecting off it.

Use a drumkey to tighten the lugs on either side of the ripples to get rid of them. Try not to tighten any of the lugs much more than the others. Once you’ve got rid of the ripples, place the drum on your knee or on a pillow to dampen the skin on the other side. Now hit the skin beside each lug in turn to see which lugs need tightened to match them with the lugs that produce the highest pitch. Usually you’ll find that two or four opposing lugs need tightened. This requires a certain degree of musicality. When you have them all sounding the same, the drum should sound quite deep and even. If you want it tuned higher, remember to tighten the lugs evenly. Start with quarter turns of the drumkey, moving around the drum by tightening each opposite pair of lugs before turning to the next opposite pair. (If you number the lugs clockwise, the lugs of a six-lug drum would be tightened in this order: 1-4-2-5-3-6.)

If it really isn’t working, any decent studio engineer should be able to tune your kit before you start recording.

Don’t forget to adjust you bass drum pedal. If the spring is too loose, you may not be able to play doubles fast enough. If the beater is set too short, you’ll not be able to kick hard enough to get a decent hit.

- Vocals:
Your singer’s voice is an instrument. Try to stay away from dairy products before gigs or recording sessions and if you smoke, give up. Regular exercise, good diet and regular practicing will all help your endurance and strength. It may not seem “rock n’ roll” but it is professional. Have your lyrics typed out TWICE. This is useful in the studio, both for you to have beside you as you sing, but also for your producer to help him to help you.

3. Finances & Contracts:

- Band Finances
The trick here is to treat the band as a business. To do that, you might want to think about starting a bank account which all of you pay into regularly (maybe by direct debit). This account should be used for band expenses such as studio time, merchandise, posters and even instruments and amps. The idea is that eventually you won’t need to pay into it, but just take money out! This all depends on trust of course, but if you can’t trust each other at all, you’re probably not going to go far anyway.

- Band contracts
Most bands are close friends, but even married couples can draw up pre-nuptial agreements. As an example, the Smiths allegedly spent more time in court than in the studio. When money comes rolling in, things can change unless you’ve all agreed on who is entitled to what. A simple contract as to the split of royalties within the band can save a lot of time, money and tears in the long term. It may even save the band from splitting due to disagreements.

4. Transport:

A band with no transport is at a serious disadvantage. A second-hand van or minibus can be bought for the price of a small car. The fewer vehicles that are necessary to transport the band and equipment, the better due to many venues’ stage entrances being down small alleyways. Trailors are also bad news for this reason, and turning can be a real problem not to mention the issue of having to lock it to a railing during the gig.
When packing the van, make sure the equipment is secure and the band are safe. In an accident, a flying marshall stack could easily kill.

5. Promoting your band:

You could be the best band in the world, but if no-one knows about you, no-one will know to buy your CDs & merchandise or come to your gigs. Back to the day-job.

Some pop acts have made it big with no musical talent worth mentioning, but they have a marketing team with a big budget that can get their name out there and associated with established names in the music industry.

Be creative. It doesn’t really matter how you get your name out there, as long as you do.

- Online
Setting up a proper website can be expensive and time-consuming but there is no excuse for a band to not at least set up a social networking site. It may seem ridiculous, but even the choice of an email address can affect how others treat you, get a proper official-looking email address, even if it’s just a Gmail for the band name.

- Merchandise
These days most pop & rock acts make as much (if not more) money on their merchandise as they do on their music. This may sound depressing, but if the income from merchandise is what allows someone to pursue their dream career as a recording & gigging artist, they maybe that person shouldn’t complain.
I often see bands playing on stage without their band name written on a banner up behind them or anything written across the bassdrum skin or stickers on their guitars. The worst ones don’t even introduce themselves over the mic. (and even when they do, half the time all you can hear is a mumble.)

If this article makes sense and you think it could be useful to your band, email it to your band members, PRINT IT OUT, and take it to your rehearsal room to go though it together.

Written by Alwyn Walker
Westland Studios, Dublin, Ireland
[email protected]
00353 (0) 879 668 333

Choosing and Purchasing the Right Computer Accessories

The world today seems so fast nowadays. And indeed, one of the things that have contributed to such a pace is technology, an entity which, until now, has been changing the lifestyle of man. One of the aspects wherein the effects of electronic science is most noticeable is in communication. The development of computers powered by the Internet has bridged the gap between races and nations. Today, in just one click of the mouse, you will be able to converse with your loved ones wherever they are in the world.

Such is the importance of data processing machines, that is why many Information Technology professionals find some means to enhance and develop their existing features and specs. Various computer software have been introduced over the years to cater to the changing needs of the users. Aside from this, supplementary parts for the desktop must be procured in order to make the best out from programs and facilities. But remember that most of these materials are now costly, therefore, it is vital that you plan your purchases first by following the considerations below.

In shopping for computer accessories, it is important that you determine your monetary allocation ahead of time. And once you do, never exceed the fixed and decided amount as much as possible. Quality products do not necessarily mean that they have to be expensive. There are online shops you can surf in the Internet which have complete displays, all in affordable prices. So be resourceful enough in canvassing for suppliers whose merchandise fit your funds.

In looking into this factor, you must consider first the model of your electronic machine. Remember that there might be video graphic cards, TV tuners, CD writers, and expansion cards which are specifically and distinctly made for your equipment. If you do not have any idea as to what merchandise to buy, then you can ask your PC manufacturer or dealer regarding those or do a little research on the World Wide Web.

There are items that can customise and enhance the appearances of your gadgets, such as special bags, suitcases, and laptop screens. Make sure that you choose those that are of your taste, but of course, do not sacrifice quality for looks. Always buy from authorised manufacturers for these products.

When procuring new supplementary parts for your devices, it is really a must to choose well since whatever you install or use for those gadgets might also affect their performance and function. So to get the best items in the market, just be guided by the factors mentioned above.

RFID and the Supply Chain (Part 1)

The management of supply chains is constantly developing due to momentous changes such as the Internet, E-commerce and the globalisation of supply chains. Its success often relies on rapid, accurate and efficient handling of data. The trend towards lean and agile distribution channels and the growth of Fourth Party Logistic Providers (4PLs) within the supply chain industry requires significant organisation and management. The efficient control of these activities requires supply chain knowledge, operational information and importantly, timely and accurate data to support the decision making process. Essentially, effective and efficient data acquisition techniques are required.

RFID is a generic term for technologies that use radio waves to communicate the identity of individual items over an air interface. RFID works similarly to bar code technology in that an item has to be interrogated by a scanner or reader for it to be identified. Barcodes, however, have one significant downfall, they require line-of-site technology. That means the scanner has to see the barcode to read it, which usually means items have to be manually oriented towards the scanner for it to be read. Conversely, RFID does not require line-of-site and can be read as long as the item is within range of the reader.

RFID is now being considered as an integral link in E-Commerce environments. The technology in theory should enhance and complement Electronic Data Interchanges (EDIs) to facilitate quick response and the generation of exception reports. This should allow real time information to be transmitted to partners within the supply chain supporting the decision-making process. Ultimately RFID should provide immediacy of data right down to individual item level identification. This can help bridge the gap between the customer, the order and order fulfilment process to the satisfaction of the customer. This means that it can enable the enhanced responsiveness expected within an E-Business environment.

The supply of on-demand barcode label printers currently represents one of the most widely used AIDC technologies (technologies such as: barcodes, smart cards, magnetic stripes on credit cards, optical character recognition etc) in supply chain applications (e.g. EPOS, warehouse and inventory management). Due to mandates set by influential leaders in the retail and defence industries, barcode label printers with RFID enabled capabilities present a real opportunity for companies to develop and extend their product portfolios by providing products which will enable companies to meet compliance objectives. Opportunities also exist to provide printers for those companies faced with compliance for when usage and acceptance of the technology becomes more prevalent. An entire new market segment will have emerged, requiring a widespread ongoing supply of printers, peripheral equipment and consumables.

Bar code systems Bar code systems include the symbologies that encode data to be optically read, printing technologies that produce the machine-readable symbols and scanners and decoders that capture the visual images of the symbologies and convert them into computercompatible digital data. Barcode scanning reduces errors associated with manual data handling, and produces visibility to aid supply chain management. A significant benefit of bar codes is that they are extremely cheap to produce and provide an efficient means of item identification. Unfortunately, according to some sources, bar codes are proving increasingly inadequate in a growing number of applications. Bar coding is an optical technology, which introduces constraints regarding orientation of the product (invariably requiring human intervention) and cleanliness of labels and scanners for fast efficient data collection. Bar codes can be easily copied and so become an easy target for counterfeiting. In addition, standard barcodes have low storage capacity, cannot be reprogrammed and only identify the manufacturer and product and not the unique item. Industry bodies indicate that bar code systems are now a mature technology with limited potential for further growth.

RFID is emerging as a complementary technology to help overcome some of the drawbacks associated with bar code technology. RFID systems consist of transponders (tags), which are made up of a microchip with a coiled antenna and an interrogator (reader) with an antenna. The tags are attached to the items to be identified and the RFID readers communicate with the tags via electromagnetic waves. RFID middleware (software) provides the interface for communication between the interrogator and existing company databases and information management systems. RFID is a term used to describe any identification device that can be sensed at a distance by radio frequencies with few problems of obstruction and mis-orientation. The devices are often referred to as ‘RFID tags’ or ‘Smart Labels’.

In its most basic form, a smart label consists of an ultra- thin RFID tag often referred to as an inlay. Inlays for smart labels are available in the 13.56 MHz, 860 to 930 MHz and 2.45 GHz frequency ranges. The inlays are embedded in label material, which is printed with human-readable text, graphics and bar codes (passive smart label). The printed data both supplements and backs up the information that is programmed into the tag. An evolutionary product to passive smart label technology is the smart active label (SAL). SALs can be defined using the same definition of smart labels above, but for one clear distinction, the inclusion of an integral power source. This distinguishing characteristic allows SALs to provide enhanced functionality over passive RFID smart labels including sensory, processing, display and locating capabilities. Smart labels are typically used for disposable applications and are not as durable as permanent RFID tags, which can be encased in materials to withstand harsh environments. Although one company suggests that the label material can be developed to withstand environmental conditions and that appropriate adhesive can ensure the label lasts the required duration.

Smart labels are referred to as smart because of their flexible capabilities provided by the RFID tag embedded in the label. The tag can be programmed and/or updated in the field allowing the same label to be reused serving multiple needs and disparate applications. Subsequently, the label is no longer static as a bar code label, but dynamic in its capability when equipped with RFID. Supporters of RFID suggest benefits which include: cost savings through automating the check-out process, a reduction in labour associated with performing inventory counts; improved theft prevention and increased authenticity control, a reduction in inventory holding cost, diversions and improved product availability. Unfortunately, an exact description of how the benefits are attainable in practice has often remained vague. The main criticisms on RFID technology are that it is too expensive and that it is unlikely that the investment will pay off. It is also argued that RFID is an over-marketed, hyped technology and that existing bar code based systems already provide most of the needed functionality.