Monday, September 28, 2009

In the Studio & On the Road

Dr. M. during the second set of a performance with the Church Street Ramblers at a charity event. Guitar: Martin SWDGT, a D-18GT Sustainable Series. Cotton pleated skirt by Club Monaco, 5th Ave., NYC

Not all microphones are created equal. That is why when I perform, I prefer to bring my own rig and not use the house mics. I also use mic preamps to smooth out peaks and valleys in the signal while adding a bit of compression and reverb. All of these elements make for a polished performance and confidence on stage.

Most venues still use dynamic mics. They may have gone wireless but they are still dynamic and in my opinion muddy as compared to the condensers I use in the studio and on tour. I learned early on to bring the best gear to recapture that "studio sound". Using Audio-Technica's ATM710 condenser mic with my DigiTech Vocalist Live 2 and Vocalist Live 4 immediately brought the professional sound I was looking and listening for to my live performances. There is no reason to be afraid of condensers any more if you use the right ones and place them away from the speakers. Now if your style consists of screaming into the mic well, a condenser might not be for you. However if you wish to pick up subtle nuances in your vocals and instrumentals...get a good condenser!

How you prepare for your concerts will certainly effect the finished product, that is your on stage appearance. Getting your sound stage under control starts in the studio. This is where you begin to try out different microphones to see how they work and respond. You can also try wireless applications in the studio first before taking them on the road. We tried a Fender wireless system which was made for one of their PA systems. It came with a dynamic headset mic which was adequate but nothing to write home about. Even worse, it could only be used with that particular Fender amp. We went back to Audio-Technica and found that they had a condenser wireless system utilising the same ATM710 mic that we were so impressed with as a cabled mic! Now we were on to something as Audio-Technica's Series 3000 Wireless System was very easy to set up and unlike the Fender, did not require a trans pack. A battery within the mic housing provides the phantom power needed. The results were pretty incredible. Sparkling clarity and transparency on vocals and everything else you want to throw at it. Nearly feedback proof, it has an easy to access mute button and UHF offering multiple channels.

Mic preamps are a must for recording in the studio but also have a place on the road. Many come as rack mounts but I prefer to travel light. Moreover foot pedals allow me to make adjustments for my vocals and guitar with out having to turn my back to the audience to do so. While I really enjoy using my BOSS GT-10 guitar multi-effector for recording, it's just overkill for most venues. The DigiTech RP-90 is a good alternative for my electric guitar or I'll pack a smaller harmonizer such as the Vocalist Live 2 (VL2) or the Electro Harmonix Voice Box + Vocoder. These preamps or signal processors help to even out your vocals and give you great harmonies by tracking your guitar chords. In the studio, I use the Vocalist Live 4 with pitch correction and many more tweakable features I want on my recordings. Same thing with the GT-10 which has nearly 400 presets for clean and dirty guitar. I also use the far more sensitive Audio-Technica AT4047/SV condenser with the Vocalist Live 4 and the T.C. Helicon VoiceTone Harmony G with the Audio-Technica AT4050 multi pattern condenser. This sort of effort truly pays off when you play back your newly burned CD's. Likewise a poor quality mic can fail to capture your spontaneous creativity.

So what does my road rig look like? A lot like my recording studio! Depending on the size of the venue, it can be a very simple set up with my instrument, condenser mics, signal processor and drum and bass machine. I use the BOSS Dr. Rhythm boxes both live and on recordings and have been very pleased with their easy operation and results. In fact, I got the Instructional DVD for the BOSS DR880 which shows basic and more advanced programming. Really my road rig mirrors my studio rig with the exception of the digital recording equipment. I've also found that there are high-low alternatives. Take for example, if you can not afford the VL4, consider the VL2 or the Voice Box which will still give you basic harmonies and a great finish on your vocals at about half the price. Sometimes it is wiser to leave your more fragile and expensive studio boxes in the studio. I would include the VL4 in that category. I've taken on the road but always used a padded flight case. Plastic knobs and pedals often do not fare well roadwise. All metal chasis and foot switches tend to hold up much better. Once you practice with quality gear you will want to showcase this level of precision for live performances. So here are My Studio and Road Rig Picks!

See more essential gear from my private studio and road set up in the left hand column with some great deals PLUS FREE shipping to boot! Coming Up Soon..... our Best Guitar Gear for 2010 hit list and our Top Gear for Audiophiles. Check this out before you do any gift shopping!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Kanye Interrupts Again!

Kanye is at it again? He hasn't even heard my CD so how does he know Beyonce's is better? Either way, I appear unruffled by his critique. Look for coverage of my upcoming CD project with C.F. Martin Guitars, Audio-Technica Microphones & Planet Waves Custom Pro Mic Cables!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Rockin' at Russo's

Dr. M. having a rockin' good time at Russo Music Center!
Martin Sustainable Wood Series D-18 in Cherry. Long Tee by Audio-Technica

Time for New Guitar Strings?

Some days are just made for good times. Most guitarists revel in spending a little time at their favorite music shop among instruments they may dream of owning someday. This past Friday afternoon was sunny and warm. Perfect for a ride out to Russo Music Center located at 1989 Arena Drive in Hamilton, NJ. Better than a candy store for guitarists, this store has beautiful Martins, Gibsons, Fenders and Taylors to name only a few top brands. My mission was to seek out someone knowledgeable about guitar strings especially for my acoustic guitars. I know what new strings or even a change in the type of strings can do for your tone and playability. At a Free Martin Guitar Clinic, Dave Evans put a set of light strings on my D-16GT which has a pickup. That guitar has sung so sweetly ever since! It also plays like a dream and has become my favorite now. PHOTO: Professional Guitarist Barry Peterson stops in to play a Martin Eric Clapton Signature 000-28. Hear our podcast of him playing "Tears in Heaven" on this guitar! Dr. M's Radio Show

If you want to take your acoustic playing to the next level, let me suggest at least trying some new strings. A seasoned guitar tech will be able to tell you which strings to choose based on your picking style, genre of music and of course the size of your guitar. I always thought putting light strings on a Dreadnought was a bad idea. This might be true if you are playing it acoustically. In my case, I only use my D-16GT in the studio for recording and with an amp. Therefore, having heavier strings for more volume was not necessary in this case.

I really began to have my eyes opened to new possibilities when Chris Colletti showed me the advantages and disadvantages of using certain string gauges on my acoustic guitars. After a little discussion, he was able to figure out the perfect fit for my two Martins, the SWDGT which is a D-18GT in cherry and the Little Martin LX1E. Sometimes strings can just go dead from being on too long. Chris made a lot of checks in the alignment of the neck, the bridge and other points to make sure the action was as low as possible without buzzing. Chris also said a Luthier can sometimes work on a saddle to make the action lower, making the guitar effortless to play.
Chris also suggested that I try a set of Elixirs Nanoweb technology strings which are very comfortable to play. They changed my vision of what medium strings could feel like! I don't know about you but I don't care for heavily calloused finger pads. The strings will be a make or break factor in how often I'll pick up the guitar too. Martin SP Lights were a revelation in what a change in string gauge can make in your playing and the guitar's response. I doubt if I'll ever go back to Medium strings on my D-16! Using the lighter strings even helped lower the action naturally on this guitar.

TIP: If you want to maintain volume and bass, you'll most often need to stick with a medium or heavier gauged string. Try splitting the difference with something like the Martin SP Light / Medium strings. Sort of a half and half approach. They seemed more balanced for my Little Martin without any significant loss of tone or volume. I am one happy picker now!
PHOTO ABOVE: Chris Colletti, one of the guitar pros at Russo Music Center doing a set up on my Martin SWDGT.

Want to learn more? Listen to some great guitar playing by professional entertainer, Barry Peterson and Chris Colletti's advice on how to pick the best strings for YOUR guitar.

It's all right here at Dr. M's Radio Show Podcast LIVE from Russo Music Center!

PHOTO: Dr. M and her Little Martin LX1E with new Martin SP Medium/Light Strings. Pigment Dyed Distressed Hoodie by Audio-Technica.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Rev Gen 2009 Exceeds Expectations

Jon Foreman of Switchfoot capping off Saturday night's line up at the 2009 Revelation Generation music festival.

Christian rock, contemporary, urban, metal, acoustic and some genres yet undefined were offered at this year's Revelation Generation concert in Frenchtown New Jersey, Sept. 4-5th. With its professional sound & staging effects, it is easy to see how this event is one of the most well attended in the tri-state area. As a family oriented venue providing many types of music to sample, it is Delaware Valley's premier music festival.

According to concert promoter Sean Grom, over 25,000-30,000 people were expected this Labor Day Weekend and the weather plus the music made for a incredible turn out. Offering more than just great music, the Revelation Generation concerts have opportunities to minister and be ministered to. Five stages, games, skateboarding exhibitions, food and merchandise vendors make this a true festival in every sense.
Photo: Dan Haseltine of Jars of Clay performing on Friday night. Together for over 16 years they released their tenth album, Long Fall Back to Earth this past April 2009.

Last Concert for Delirious?

Every concert has a story. Rev Gen is celebrating it's 5th anniversary this year. Their quest to provide wholesome musical and cultural entertainment has been met with success evidenced by huge increases in attendance each year. This is at a time when many other concerts are being cancelled because they can't fill the seats. People are looking for value for their purchasing dollar. Spending a day out with your children in farm country is becoming even more appealing as the economy continues to regain its footing.

This year was bitter-sweet as were watching one of the last performances by Delirious as a band. Impeccably dressed, all of the members showcased immense virtuosity while sealing the deal with their performance of My Soul Sings which will likely be their final CD. Better known for such spiritual anthems as the 1994 classic, I Could Sing of Your Love Forever and My Glorious, this is one of their last American dates.
Photo: Members of the British band, Delirious during a radio show interview in the press tent. This is the group's last tour according to Martin Smith (far right), who does lead vocals and guitar.

BarlowGirl & Fireflight-Women Taking Charge

With male bands dominating, it was refreshing to see some all women bands. Barlowgirl are three sisters and integrated groups such as Flyleaf and Fireflight. As many of the concert goers were young women this was encouragement for them to get involved and express themselves musically.

Barlowgirl did a fantastic job of reaching out to the audience both musically and emotionally. Speaking as a sisterhood, they spoke to the audience about choices and opportunities.

The family warmth they share extended to the crowd. Their playing was a little reserved perhaps because of their their family church origins. That's simply their performing mode. All the same the vocals were tight and well done. BarlowGirl has four albums out with another one being released on September 22 nd, 2009. Photo Above: Rebbecca Barlow on her Gibson during BarlowGirl's Saturday afternoon set on the New York stage.

Taking Flight

We also liked Fireflight as the women in that band were not shy to take some of the same risks as the guys do in post grunge. Fireflight played with heart but left the "croaking" to the guys in the band. Very well balanced between high energy and artistic expression. True to form.

Featured on tour with Disciple, Family Force 5 and Decyfer Down, Fireflight has also played Shoutfest. Their album, The Healing of Harms was their major label debut. This 2006 release reached #37 on Billboard Magazine's Top Christian Albums chart.
Photo: Fireflight taking off Saturday afternoon on the Philadelphia Stage.

Relient K, Reliably Rocked

Relient K, so named after one of the band member's cars by the same moniker. Known for their sometimes quirky, oftentimes moving lyrics and high energy stage shows, they are one band you will not forget. Although they are categorized as a pop-punk band, they defy pigeon holing. Their frontman, Matthew Thiessen, showed amazing versatility on the piano and guitar while holding it all down with solid vocal performances. Not afraid to sweat but still looking very fresh, the band gets big kudos for knowing what the audience wants and then bringing it.

Thiessen knows how to interact with the audience while keeping a tight hold on the set list. It was great seeing him switch from a Gibson to a trumpet for what he called one of the band's silly songs. There was nothing silly about their performance which got the audience motivated and involved.

Relient K's upcoming tour includes Australia this month with their new album, Forget and Not Slow Down, set for an October 6 release. To find out more about the band's concerts and CD's visit Relient K online.

Photo: Matthew Thiessen during Relient K's Saturday afternoon performance at Rev Gen. PODCAST ALERT!!! Hear our LIVE Podcast from Relient K's Rev Gen performance at Dr. M's Radio Show.

After their cross-over hit, I Can Only Imagine, MercyMe has sold millions of discs, toured the world and are consistently on the radio station's playlists. Why? Well perhaps part of the package is their warmth. Hailing from Texas, they are not ashamed of their Southern Baptist roots. While on tour last month, the band was involved in a fatal crash when a vehicle turned into the path of their tour bus. No one on the bus was seriously injured but all four passengers traveling in the car were killed. MercyMe has continued their touring despite this tragedy which says something about their convictions to their work in reaching people. Their latest album, All That is Within Me is being promoted amidst non-stop touring. They are also helping the Go Foundation which is a missionary cause. Visit MercyMe to learn more about their work and music. Photo: Bart Millard, lead vocalist. MercyMe's performance of I Can Only Imagine was a moving interlude.

The Revelation Generation festival is perhaps one of the best organized events I've covered to date. Most of the staff are volunteers and I have found them to be genuinely concerned with the safety and welfare of the concert goers. The grounds are clean and the crowds very well behaved with perhaps a little expected rowdiness amongst metal fans at the Philadelphia Stage.

One of the standout performances of the concert was Needtobreathe's Yahweh. What impressed me with the band's tightness and unity in playing. Their music video for this song reminds me of a Beatles theme. They are definitely the band to watch. There are concerts and there are events. This was a happening. Hands down the Revelation Generation Concert of 2009 was the best to date and a must-go for music lovers of all genres.
Photo: Relient K's bass guitarist, John Warne working that Fender during their Saturday afternoon performance.

For more information on the Revelation Generation concert series, visit them online.

All photos under Copyright 2009 Dr. M. All rights reserved.

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Rev Gen's 2008 Concert