18th September 2014 - 31st December 2014…
This entry is dedicated to the memory of Mrs McGlumphy of Arbroath, who sadly passed away after a month of headaches and health scares.
With PITF over and all my gear de-rigged, cleaned and organized (and a cubic foot of dust in the vacuum filter) - I once again needed something to occupy myself with. There’s always the anticipation of an upcoming gig/event and all I can think about (or WANT to think about for that matter) is that gig, and nothing else after it. So you could also imagine how confusing and listless the days after the event are. I could have made this entry into a Bon Jovi SongFic, or whatever - just be grateful that I didn’t.
Having been either too busy or too depressed from not being busy, I have missed quite a large chunk of blog entries. So, here’s 3-and-a-bit-months worth of goings-on all together. This should make my life seem more interesting than it actually is…
Apologies if the dates are a bit out…
To start things off, mid-September saw a charity night organised by John Justice & Ross McGillivray of The Pillars Bar & Salty Dog Dundee respectively. With Ross DJing, I was asked to supply some lights for the evening. Aside from the usual pre & post event “How Do I Get There” & “How Do I Get Home Again”, everything went according to plan, weirdly.
Stevie C & DJ Ross providing lights & sound hire for a charity function
In true Stevie Style, I had no gigs for ages and then was asked to work several lighting & sound gigs on the same night. As I had already agreed to a slightly lesser paid (albeit local) gig at The Plough Inn, I stuck with that one. Because who flakes out on a gig they’d previously agreed to do?
The channel list looked like this by the end of the night:
And I know how to spell Cajon.
Coupled with a demanding performer (no names - but he wasn’t in The Cundeez or Ganked) who cupped the mic, repeatedly disconnected the monitor and shouted at me during the gig and a guitarist who cranked everything to 11, I’m surprised I’m still sane. I had the 2 support acts mixed well, with the musicians happy with their monitors and no feedback; but this all went to pot with the last act of the night (particularly with a 500Hz-ish howl - aided by the cupping of a mic). At least I was paid well. More on this later.
The gig looked like this:
Ganked, The Cundeez & XSLF playing at The Plough Inn, Forfar
Some advice for bands?
Specify monitor mixes/positions in your rider/tech notes instead of just assuming that they will be provided (they won’t be).
Don’t say you want nothing in the monitors and then berate the sound guy 2 beats into the first song because you can’t hear anything in the monitors.
Turn up for sound check (it exists for a reason - your set IS NOT the time for sound-checking).
Don’t call the sound tech “OI! MR SOUND PERSON”.
Don’t berate the sound guy because you can’t/don’t learn basic mic technique.
This next bit - a rant of sorts (we’re back on old format sc.net) - is not aimed at any of the singer-songwriters, bass soloists, jazz musicians, rock bands, college bands, pub bands, ska/reggae/funk performers, music collectives, DJs or drag/tribute acts that I have worked with. You guys have been great.
Having finally completed the mammoth task of sorting & editing the files from BonFest 2014, I set about orchestrating a proper mix. I had previously provided a few quick mixes (and even synced them to some video from my point-and-shoot to give an idea of how they would come across with the final product: a DVD release). Thanks to some clever production techniques, I have created some mixes that play well with most ears and on most systems.
Some such techniques include: parallel compression, buss compression, mixbuss compression, OH-grouping, manual multi-band instrument compression, reverb gating, swapping reverbs for echo, re-amping (yes, again!)… I should point out that I’m using these techniques to affect the mix subtly, by only a couple of dBs tops. That said, it’s amazing how just a couple of dBs buss compression can help glue a mix together (if you haven’t already - go try it NOW). I’m getting pretty good at mastering a mix to reasonable loudness and balance (often comparable to a commercial release) without brick-walling & smushing the life out of it.
Stevie C mastering Parisienne Walkways by The Chris Slade Timeline
I offered my usual service: that I would record BonFest 2014 with my laptop. Also having never given a quote for a set recording package (usually I just hang out with the FOH guy and plug my laptop/interface into the direct or group outs of his desk for some practice at live recording and to give me something to occupy myself with in the months ahead), I looked to BECTU and PLASA for some ideas on pricing.
I naively quoted for 4 hours of recording per night with another 4 hours per night for editing/mixing & mastering, not forgetting a couple of hours for travel/setup - even though some of the folks at Gearslutz advise against providing a package price (especially for the mix/mastering stages). I used the “Going Rate” as advised by BECTU - who recommend no less than £295 (Rolled Up) for a 10 hour day, only to be told by the organisation that “no-one actually gets the BECTU rate”. I hope this isn’t true. What if an employer told you “no-one actually gets the minimum wage”?
My plan was to be paid an advance/deposit which I would use to buy a new HDD (in the order of 500GB-1TB), specifically for the purpose of the weekend recording project. Thus, I would remove my Macbook’s HDD and replace it with the brand new drive - installing only Mac OSX, Logic Pro 9, Cubase Studio and IsoTope Ozone (I kept my install discs handy for this reason).
Note: the BECTU rates are for labour only, not for any element of kit hire, etc. Ergo, I would be paying for extra equipment, studio time etc out of my own pocket. This is important because, as I made clear at the time, my rates would not be pure profit - far from it.
It was also my intention to block-book studio/control-room time at Clearwater in Perth (or another similar studio). This would have been important as I would have access to an acoustically treated monitoring environment and industry standard monitor speakers to mix on. Instead, I’m having to mix on Sony headphones, Sony ear-buds and Dell multimedia speakers in my box bedroom as not only did I not get an advance, I haven’t been paid anything of the massively reduced recording fee.
I finally got into DD8’s studio for an hour in November.
So, I am at the point of having to send MP3 mixes to the support bands and fellow engineers to gain feedback on my work, as the hiring organisation are still quiet and otherwise engaged. I’ve experienced some red flags that are all too familiar to users of the website clientsfromhell.net.
So there you have it: my hard drive is bit more ruined thanks to a weekend of abuse, my mental health and self-esteem have suffered likewise and I haven’t been paid. It feels good to know my work is valued. If you want a professional service, you pay professional rates - ergo you get what you pay for. Why is it that especially in the arts and creative fields, it seems acceptable to haggle prices down? Would you try the same approach with the power company or your supermarket? Would you be happy for your 9-to-5 boss to cut your pay - especially after you had carried out the work - for no other reason than their wanting to pay you less?
Consider me jaded and disillusioned.
Of all the live recording engineers I’ve spoken to on-line and IRL, it would seem I was offering a fair deal. I just want to cover the cost of my ruined hard drive and go back to working with/for people who value me and my work.
So, some thoughts for the budding mobile/session/live recordist:
How much? How much for how much? Who gets recording/production rights/credits? What gear do I need? Mics? Splitters? Cables? Transport? Mic hire, transformer/direct splitting or direct desk feed/split? DAW or HDR? Isolation? Live, studio or hybrid with overdubs (think Talking Heads)? Times/dates? Power? Do a reccy of the venue. Take pics & detailed notes. Just a recording? Multi, group or stereo? Mix? Master? Stems? ISRC code? Delivery format? Deadlines? Approvals? Payment before submission.
Check out this Glenn Fricker video on how to avoid being f***** over in Pro Audio. And why you’ll probably make more money by selling hand-jobs than live recordings.
The Salty Dog ready for an all year round Xmas, again
Normally the initials FOH refer to live sound, not the biggest house music event in Dundee. This year saw me setting up sound & lights in The Salty Dog, pre-partying and then finally heading to Fat Sams for the main event - where I was able to catch up with a lighting designer friend over some heavy bass. What a night.
DJ Ross before & after the purple haze: Salty Dog Dundee
The Salty Dog function suite before & after
In The Salty Dog (& Pillars Lounge/function suite) I’d set up the usual Soundlab Vite pods along with a mirror ball, laser, powered speakers and Pioneer DJ decks - which were also fed into the Salty’s PA system. The Salty had the usual club scanners and moonflower twisters.
Festival of House at Fat Sams Dundee. Lights by Drew Priestley & Shane Forge
In between continuing to mix the BonFest audio, I also continued supplying lights for DD8 Music. This was another of those nights where I attempted to be at 2 shows at once, namely the DD8 Bonfire night, and the Korova Conspiracy at The Salty Dog, below.
Stevie C supplying lights for DD8 Music’s Bonfire Night
I can indeed confirm the existence of The McEwans Cavalier Man, and that he does indeed drink… Tennent’s.
My groovy lights, Baxter Park Sunbather & The McEwan’s Man (Drinking Tennent’s)
So, it’s Panto season once again, and I once again feel happy and content. In other words, the mild depressive episodes have been ousted and replaced by the mildly manic feelings of having regular employment for a month and a bit. It felt amazing to get back into a regular job that played to my skills & experience. Familiar faces & visiting production cast/crew alike, I could not have worked with friendlier people on The Webster Theatre’s production of Jack and the Beanstalk. I even got a few original on-the-fly jokes into conversation in he green room. Go me.
The only major thing to go wrong was when my follow spot burnt out. Specifically, mid-cue. I remember thinking “this is smelling a bit hotter than usual…” After noticing “heat haze lines” above the spot and the strobing/flickering effect that the cooling fan was causing - I knew at once what was wrong. Thankfully now end-of-cue, I shuttered off, just in time to see the cooling fan completely stop. This was a proper f*** me moment. I powered off the ballast (not wanting to rely on the safety cut-out - being very well aware of what can happen to HID lamps, especially unguarded ones) and went to inform the acting head technician (my belt pack mic wasn’t working either) about my predicament.
I waited for the unit to cool, swapped out the ballast and re-struck the lamp - and everything worked as normal, for 5 minutes. The fan would happily run on its own, but with the lamp ignited, would slow and eventually die after about 5 minutes. Awaiting the arrival of the replacement some 3 days later, I tried adopting a system of anticipating a stand-by, and using this to strike the ballast/lamp, completing the cue and powering down before the fan had a chance to die again. This worked surprisingly well, until the actors started improvising to suit the audience in the second act. So this was shelved as not only would I have to worry about cues, pick-ups and actually following someone, but also fan speed and air intake. This has been my most stressful gig to date.
Who uttered The “M” Word?
What was even more annoying was the location of the electronic dimmer (as opposed to a mechanical shutter) on the replacement spotlight. I would have needed 3 hands or a tail to work it properly. I just didn’t realise how used to the old (Vedette 12M-MT) spotlight I was. All in a day’s work.
It’s here I produce a photo of an original Jim Henson puppet (the sausage dog) making a guest appearance and dancing with Sue Gherkins. However, due to what happens on the road staying on the road and various copyright considerations, perhaps not. I’ll see how my email to John Binnie pans out…
One of my favourite quotes comes from Matt McGinn (Coldplay’s Roadie): “Don’t start to think you’re cool - because that’s when things blow up”. I did start to think I was cool during the first few days of the run - and stuff did go wrong. I panicked/got anxious - as usual, and in doing so, didn’t do something to 100% of my ability. The easy bit was leaving the spot light bridge, running down the steps, out of the building, along the fire exit and alleyway, into the backstage area and into the wings and awaiting my cue… Basically, I just panicked (having not known what the cue was the first time), and in the heat of the moment, didn’t splay my arms wide enough to carry something (simple physics, really) - the result being that a prop plywood cloud I was moving pivoted on my arms and fell into the back cloth. Thankfully no-one noticed, I learned from my mistake and this scene change ran smoothly the rest of the run. Still got my heart racing every time.
“The Giant’s Power Is Waning” was my cue.
No, not defibrillators. That’s what an audience member called it (she was scared of being near any speakers). Anyhoo, since I don’t have any pics of the lights I was asked install for an evening in a local primary school (taking pics around kids is always weird), you’ll be glad I decked the Green Room out the exact same way - LED fairy strings draped from the roof tiles. I’m still finding bits of glitter in various items of clothing…
Stevie C’s LED fairy lights in the Webster Theatre Green Room
And as usual, I heard the Panto covers of songs before the originals. And as usual, I liked the cover versions better.
My Secret Santa at The Webster Theatre gave me an LED torch. How did they know?
One of the many good points about doing lighting hires for people, is that you get invited to parties where the lights are being used. That said, I have been propositioned in the past in a manner such as this: “we need to borrow some lights for a party, but you’re not invited”. I’m paraphrasing, of course. So, anyhoo, lights, DJ Ross, Alyth, madness, hangovers all round…
Stevie’s Light Show at The Burnside Inn, Alyth
So because Panto season is now finished… New year projects you ask (or read)? Soldering LED fairy strings, fixing LED RGB floods, more session mixing/mastering, a partial website re-hash, fixing a pair of Peavey Pro12’s, building some disco screens, the usual Jan/Feb slump, the A word and sorting the rest of my life…
I’m still waiting for Triage to provide that “Rapid Workplace Re-entry Support” they promised me after finishing my stint at the Panto LAST YEAR. Maybe Santa brought them some computers that actually work.
I should probably point out that unlike my Last.fm profile, these Top 40 are just the songs I love the most at the moment - not necessarily what’s been played the most or been recently added.
* Bands I have been mixing
It’s a long way to the top if you want a sausage roll.