Archive for July 7th, 2012

July 7, 2012

BUSTING OUT OF THE GARAGE

I recently toured the Musician Rehearsal Center (MRC) in Sparks, Nevada, a unique facility that rents secure, temperature-controlled and sound-dampened rehearsal spaces to musicians. It’s located in an industrial area and features easy load-in and load-out for gear, is accessible to electronic key holders 24/7 and also features a large stage with professional lighting, audio and video equipment. The owner/founder Bill Woody is a former musician who wisely saw a need for this. As he gave me a tour, we joked about all the garages and basements where we rehearsed in our youth, hoping that the neighbors or our parents wouldn’t get too sick of hearing us play. Oh, if those walls could talk!

While providing a solution for musicians who really do want to rehearse — and really don’t want to irritate the neighbors — the MRC is also a place where musicians can network, post info about their upcoming gigs, gather feedback from others in the community and so on. And the MRC recently hosted a Musician Faire and Fanfest for the benefit of the Northern Nevada Food Bank and The Washoe County School District Music Department.

In a similar vein, I heard from a friend in Chicago about a Haymakers Reunion that took place a few months ago. Haymakers was a popular nightclub that closed in the early ’80s, so the actual reunion was held at another venue called Durty Nellie’s. But many bands and fans who were fixtures at Haymakers got back together for an energetic afternoon and evening of live music. This event also raised money for charitable organizations.

The bottom line is that busting out of the garage is important to musicians and composers on so many levels. At some point, you need to get out there and share your music, sometimes even when you’re not sure that you’re ready to do so. Networking with other musicians can be valuable, as is finding out (from audience reactions) whether you’re on the right course or maybe need to rethink the type of music you’re attempting to present or promote. Last but not least, it doesn’t hurt to donate your time and talent to worthy causes in your community. It’s not just a way to gain exposure, but can really make someone else’s day and/or help them to keep their good work going.

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July 7, 2012

IN PURSUIT OF MUSICAL GEAR

Women want shoes. Musicians and composers want gear. The tendency is to want more, more, more, but finding the money and the physical space to store or transport everything can become problematic.

Throughout my career, I have probably spent enough money on equipment that I could have purchased a small house. The unfortunate part about keyboards and recording gear is that, unlike a lot of other instruments, they become obsolete pretty quickly. While the obsession to get the latest and greatest is always present, it’s not always necessary.

How do you know what you really need to get the professional results that you want? Do your homework. In my experience, impulse buying of musical equipment has rarely worked out well. While I usually plan my purchases well in advance and down to the length of cables required, I have also been guilty of some awkward purchases.

At the moment, I’m in the process of trying to unload an 88-note MIDI keyboard controller with fully weighted keys and lots of buttons, knobs and sliders. At the time I purchased it, I was looking for a semi-weighted keyboard. But the alternative was a basic 88-note keyboard with no other controllers. I went for the big, cool-looking one, thinking that I would get used to the weighted action and the other controls would give me more options. I ended up never using the other controls and never got used to the weighted keys.

So how do you know what to buy? Any purchase can be a leap of faith. But you can certainly swing the odds of buying something useful and inspiring in your favor.

Ask respected musicians and composers in your community (or those who have a presence online) about the pros and cons of various instruments or studio tools. Although there are User Reviews of equipment on the Internet, I tend to take those reviews with a grain of salt. You can sometimes pick up tips that relate to your needs, but not everyone has the same needs as yours.

Find reliable retailers, as well. I’ve had a very positive, long-term relationship with the folks at Sweetwater in Fort Wayne, Indiana. The staff there is very knowledgeable. And because I’ve purchased gear for my full-time jobs at various companies and for my own personal studio, they’ve given me fair prices and attentive service. In fact, before I bought the aforementioned MIDI keyboard, I bought another controller only to find out that a key controller function that was important to me didn’t work. They sent me another one and the same thing happened. Sweetwater then tested the function and found that all of the brand new units were like that. They stopped selling that keyboard and made sure that I was able to buy my second choice — at great expense to them. Integrity has always been important to me when making big purchases and Sweetwater has always come through.

Bottom line, there is no easy way to make your purchasing decisions. Define your needs and your budget. Do a lot of research, both on-line and in-person. Buy your equipment from a retailer that you trust and will support you if things go wrong. And remember, you never know when that latest piece of gear will inspire you to write the next big hit.

This was my first solo act, Mr. Christopher, in which I played flute, drums, piano and a synthesizer that I designed and co-built. It was a pretty avant-garde show at the time.