Monday, 20 February 2017

You Can't Start a Party at 85dB

Another blog to get something off my chest, forgive me.

When you're doing your job, you don't want to feel like you're compromising the product for the sake of someone else. If you worked in an office typing, it would be a pain in the neck if your new company policy was such that you had to wear woollen gloves to save on the company heating bill...

I'm referring to council installed sound limiters of course. Last night, I was performing at a venue for a wedding reception. The venue had a sound limiter, presumably as a result of receiving noise complaints from locals; although the as far as I could tell, the venue wasn't actually that close to any residential homes.

It's important to understand that my issue isn't necessarily with the sound limiter itself, I'm thinking more about a venue's suitability for the service that they are providing. It turned out that the noise complaints were coming from customers staying at the hotel bit of the venue (while we performed in the reception bit).

Although the two bits of the hotel were separate entities, they were by no means separated. This makes me wonder why they offer live entertainment as a service in the first place? I've been in enough live situations to know that our volume level last night was not loud by any means, compared to some bands we were quiet in fact. Regardless, the management of the venue were constantly prodding and poking as we tried to play.

Anyway, back to the limiter. The idea is, if the volume level is too high, the limiter cuts the power to the circuit that your equipment is plugged into. This can be damaging to a lot of modern equipment (the example in my head is a Mesa Boogie valve amp that needs to be switched to standby, then off to ensure longevity of the glass valves inside). As a compromise, the venue offered to bypass the limiter on the proviso that we didn't play too loud; or at least they would come and let us know if there was a problem. This was quite a lot of trust on their part.

However, in the middle of the second set, we were asked to turn the volume down (beyond the PA being too loud, backline to practicing level at this point). Which we did, and remained there. At this point, the venue assumed that we weren't cooperating and decided to engage the limiter without telling us. So the power cut, leaving the audience a little bemused. After this, we continued to reduce the volume, wondering: "What is the point in there being live entertainment at all?"It left a bit of a sour taste in our mouths.

About now, I usually mention how the band carried on and got the job done in a professional manner, this gig was no exception. At the end of the day, you're all working together to create a great night for the party guests. Despite our misgivings, the happy couple were very pleased with our playing; the guests also seemed to enjoy our sets. You can't say fairer than that really.

I think that my overall point here is that if you feel like a live band are going to be loud for the venue, there are other options for wedding entertainment. This isn't necessarily the responsibility of the bride and groom to work out. Maybe it should be up to the venue to let their clients know that live bands will be too loud for their venue; this will save everyone the hassle of trying to tip toe around a machine that governs whether bands are too noisy?

Two final things to consider: 1. I've been at venues where the crowd singing along too loudly has tripped the limiter before. 2. I'm glad that I didn't bring my extension speaker cabinet last night.


Wednesday, 1 February 2017


...or thank goodness it's February! It's been a while since I've posted on here, but I've not really had a lot to say to be honest.

Although, I've not had a lot to do either. I'm sure that I'm not alone in thinking that January is usually a quiet month for musicians. It doesn't seem to matter how old you are or what gigs you're doing; on the whole, in January, there's not a great deal to do.

The way that I see it, some people take this as a good thing! You've worked hard over the festive period and "struck while the iron was hot" (to paraphrase my Mum.) Why shouldn't you have a bit of a break? You could go and see the friends that you didn't see over Christmas, go to the gym, do some practice, maybe even... go on holiday? (Or down the pub if funds allow.) Some people use this time to reinvent themselves, learn new things. Generally, stuff that doesn't involve gigging.

That's all well and good, but personally I tend to struggle with that. I like the occasion of loading the car, driving down the road, setting up, playing the gig and then reversing the whole process. I tend to get agitated when I've got nothing to do. I'd hope I'm not alone in feeling like this. You can feel a bit useless when you have the skills, the equipment and the want to be working, and yet there's no gig to go to.

Fundamentally, I think that you become accustomed to the self employed lifestyle. If you can work, you do work. So we're into February! I'm very happy about this as the diary is looking a little more healthy this month. Albeit, my birthday is this coming Saturday and I feel like I should be working. It's the same sort of feeling that people who fly kites get when the wind blows. "Gracious! The wind is blowing! I'd better get my kite and fly it! It would seem a shame to waste the weather! Who knows when it'll be windy again!" Well, maybe that's an exaggeration...

I think that there is a reason why January is a bit of a blue month. Don't get me wrong, I like the cold weather and short nights and all. But it seems that with all the excitement of Christmas over, I just wanted to get my head back down and get on with it. For me, February couldn't come quick enough!

To all my musician friends who've also lamented the inevitable January blues, we did it! We're out of the other side! Let's get on with the job that we trained for. Well, we'll drive 3 hours to get there first. Happy February everyone!


Monday, 21 November 2016

What if You Can't Be Everywhere at Once?

Until the guys in white coats work out the miracle of teleportation, or self powered flight, we're all going to come up against the issue of double bookings and depping work out. Well, unless you're a hairdresser or something.

A lot of my issues with depping come down to taking on gigs or shows as a financial definite and then having the dilemma of a different gig coming in (usually something where it would be more hassle to find a replacement and organise rehearsals to get them up to speed on non familiar stuff, as opposed to a covers gig where the material is fairly standard, or a show where the written sheet music is provided).  Most people would tell you to honour the first diary commitment, which I do understand in a like for like trade off. For example, you wouldn't pit one function gig with another just because one is worth £20 more or something. That doesn't really seem fair to me. But, if there is an opportunity to perform with an original project rather than the outstanding covers gig, I would aim to seek a replacement for the covers gig, leaving me free to take the original project gig.

It's never really a thing about money. The way I see it, as long as you're doing alright for money that month, I think that it's a good idea to try and favour the original project gigs. Well, especially as a 20 something without a family to support. Perhaps in a few years my priorities will change, but just now that's where I'm at.

So what do you do when it happens? The obvious solution is to find a dep! But it's something I've been struggling with a little bit recently. I know it can't be the case, but I seem to have a problem finding people who will do a job with the same sense of pride as I do. This might come across a little big headed, but that's kind of the point! It upsets me that in theory it should be a like for like swap, however it works out being a slightly sub standard performance in my absence, and I get negative feedback from the band / show / project that I have depped out.

I've been the dep in enough situations to know that if you do a good job, it only does good things for your reputation in circles of musicians. It's simple! Do a good job, get asked to do more things, the wheels keep turning. If anything, it's not a bad idea to try and do a better job than the person you're depping for. That way, you know that you're not letting the side down on a performance.

I'd also like to dispel the idea that you should get a dep in who will do a worse job than you because it makes you look better. Your work should speak for itself, if anything it is a credit to you to be able to provide a dep who can be an exact stand in! It just seems like this would make everything a lot easier.

So I'm coming towards the end of my rant, but my plea to the world is...

- If you're depping on something, take it seriously! It's still a gig at the end of the day.
- Have a bit of pride in the job you're doing. Don't half arse it.
- Don't take things on that you can't do. If this involves reading music, this is quite important.
- The reason I haven't called you again is because you didn't nail it last time. Sorry. It's fairly simple.

Right, I'm glad to get that off my chest.


Wednesday, 28 September 2016

You Can't Buy Class

The stimulus for this blog is one particular client that I did a gig for the other day. You know those people who are very particular about everything that they do? I’ve dealt with irritating clients before, but this one took the mick.

It’s not unusual for someone to request particular songs, or particular styles of music. An accommodating band would be able to sort that out; at the end of the day it’s their event, so why the hell not? Even having a rehearsal to get the songs sorted is perfectly reasonable. Personally, I think that it’s a bit of a shame if you spend the time preparing the songs to miss them out when it comes to the big day. Maybe you’re running late and you have to adapt, all fine. But for a client to just decide on the night that they don’t fancy hearing the first set of songs (that they picked and approved) I think it’s a bit offside.

I suppose it happens, sometimes people change their mind about things. For the most part, bands can be very flexible and do whatever you want on a gig (within reason, I hate the YMCA as much as your guests do). My issue comes when you’re not left to the job for which you’ve been hired. As a band, you should be trusted to do the job correctly and adapt to the event as you see fit. However, the client who I worked for the other day (who’ll remain nameless) couldn’t leave us alone! Whether it was chopping and changing songs in the set or complaining about the volume of the band (or individual singer in one case) she just couldn’t let us be!

There was a sort of Iron Lady type vibe about this woman, I don’t know if it’s just because we were in London and she was relatively well off. Maybe I’m just easily intimidated by people who are older than me. That aside, the band were extremely helpful in jumping through all the hoops that she presented us with. Ordinarily I wouldn’t have a problem with all that, but she spoke to us as if we were hired staff. Like, having money just meant that you could speak down to people who were working at your event. She created an extremely tense working environment for us, which was picked up on by other staff working at the event.

Funnily enough when we were left to our own devices, the dance floor was full and the guests had a great time. I just couldn’t help but feel that no matter who you are or what you’re worth (financially or some manufactured ladder of importance) you have no right to patronise people who are giving up their time and energy to make your event all the more enjoyable. I’ve seen it among waiting staff and their bosses before. Maybe it’s synonymous of a time where it was ok for the boss to treat their staff with such distain.

I have a lot of fun gigging and travelling to different places. I get to see some cool stuff and meet some interesting people. However, sometimes it’s just wrong for people to mess you around in such a way. This event wasn’t the first fiddly gig that I’ve done, nor will it be the last. But a bit of manners never hurt anybody. I’m not asking to be worshipped for every note that we play, but just a bit of respect and understanding wouldn’t go amiss. Anyway, that’s me for now. I must start to do more positive posts in the near future.


Monday, 22 August 2016

A Wedding in Anglesey

So, I thought that I'd tell the story of my gig on Saturday night. No specifics as they don't mean a lot to the story, it could have been any band, any wedding, anywhere.

There was nothing too exciting to say at first, we set up, sound checked, did the first dance, did the first set. All pretty standard at this point. Something fun that happened after that, the groom got up and played my drums for two songs, and to be honest, he was pretty good! We had fun, the audience were with us from this point! All in all, we got to the end of the second set and everyone had a great time! On paper, this was a great gig.

At this point, I think it was about midnight or so? We were due to leave music running until the end of the party (about 00:30) then pack away and drive home. It was in our interest to do this quickly as it's actually a long old way from Anglesey back to Manchester.

But the reason that I felt like writing this story down comes from a noise complaint in the second set...

The wedding was in a teepee next to a hotel in the middle of nowhere in Anglesey, a seemingly ideal venue where it doesn't matter how much noise you make. Power was running from the main hotel to the teepee to power our equipment and all the lights in the tent. As it happened, while our wedding was happening in the teepee, in the hotel a little birthday celebration was going on for someone, doesn't matter who I guess.

While we were playing our second set, a woman (who I didn't clock as part of the wedding party) came to talk to us (mid song as well, that's really irritating.) She asked us to turn the volume down, we did. And this repeated a couple more times. No bother really, we carried on and finished the set, a little disgruntled, but the gig was fun anyway so that was fine.

After this, the end of the night DJ set was going on, we must have played 3, maybe 4 songs until the whole room was cast into darkness. This struck me as odd, my first thought was that surely the power would trip mid set as we were drawing more electricity than at the end of the night for the DJ set? It was a bit of a mystery. As it transpired, the venue had "pulled the plug" on account of the noise being too much.

Naturally we were a little bemused by this, obviously at this point the volume was much less than the full band line up, and the guests were starting to calm down, but this was the situation and we had to deal with it.

At this point, the people in the main hotel had taken to ignoring us as we tried to talk to someone. They had made their point known, could we at least have the lights back on so that we could pack away without falling over and injuring ourselves??? Apparently not.

So we packed away by the flickering iPhone torchlight and set about packing the van, in a slippery muddy field, in the darkness. This whole process took a little while longer as we couldn't see anything. So we ended up leaving later than we had expected to. Annoying for people who had to get up and work again the next day...

After all this rambling, I just wonder why the venue owners couldn't come and speak to us at least, after potentially damaging a load of music gear by killing the power? Or hypothetically letting one of us slip and injure ourselves as we loaded the gear out? Surely as a venue owner, you appreciate that there is going to be noise, and a lively atmosphere at a wedding / party / function / whatever? It baffles me. Naturally the guests were a bit disgruntled as well, because you always look like the bad guy when the music stops suddenly. Thankfully, they were also frustrated at the venue as opposed to taking it out on us.

There you have it, I've been quite lucky with weddings and function gigs so far, but I thought that this story stuck out as a bit unusual and unreasonable. Did we get pissed off? Maybe a little bit, but you remain professional and carry on, even if the venue at which you're working can't do the same. I was happy to get to bed that night. I wouldn't like to have been the person in charge of the trip advisor account the next day...


Tuesday, 16 August 2016

24/7 Customer Service

In this blog, I want to explain why sometimes I like it when my phone runs out of battery, data, signal, whatever.

It's no secret that people who are self employed have to be on top of their emails and messages, as failure to attend to them can lead to loss of work. But I'm starting to wonder if there is a line as to how accessible you are...

For example: I think that it's probably fair enough to be annoyed at someone for leaving it 3 days to respond to a simple message asking for your availability for a gig. In that situation, all you need is a yes or a no; in theory, you should be able to reply to this as soon as you've looked at your diary, or sent a message to someone else asking about it. But sometimes you get out of a rehearsal / your car after a long drive / off stage after a set and your phone has blown up with notifications, and then you have to justify what you've been doing as to your slow reply. I don't think that's as fair.

Maybe this is a result of technology moving forward so much, people are now contactable 24 hours a day if needs be. This is really great news as information can travel quicker than ever before, however, it means that there's rarely a moment where my phone is out of sight out of mind, for fear of losing out on potential work. I sometimes question what it would have been like to operate as a freelance musician back when my idols were doing great things maybe 30, 40 years ago. Obviously back when the internet, mobile phones and tablets were a myth or a dream. "Hey Pino, you ready for another take?" "One second, I've just got to reply to this group whatsapp message about a rehearsal next week." I can't picture it.

Of course, I say 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. But I don't mean that. Owing to my body clock being a bit messed up, I'm often awake when people are sleeping and vice versa. There have been a couple of times where I've got in late at night from a gig and been woken up by a phone call the next morning at a bit of an embarrassing hour. People have asked "Sorry have I just woken you up?" and I lie and say that I've got a cold. So I hardly operate during business hours and the "working day" so to speak. I'm an advocate of the idea that it's ok to still be asleep at 10am, if you only got to sleep 5 hours before that. But with the instant contact thing, people don't know that. I hope that it doesn't come across as unprofessional.

And sometimes it sounds bad, but when you are abroad, or doing festivals and stuff, it can be nice when your phone runs out of battery. There might not be anywhere to charge it, let alone use it. So you submit to the idea that you're disconnecting from the grid. You can actually get on with seeing what's around you, really experiencing everything that's going on without feeling an underlying anxious feeling that you should be communicating with someone to get the job done. And you can be one less person with their phone in the air watching The Darkness do their thing.

In my opinion, this is what can lead to people burning out. Really pushing the boat out. Burning the candle at both ends. (OK I'll stop with those) If you're always contactable, do you ever switch off? Even on holiday, or when you're visiting your parents, the messages still come through, and I always feel compelled to respond as soon as I can for fear of getting a bad name associated with poor communication skills, or being unprofessional; although it can often be quite rude to just drop everything and answer the phone, or send a long complicated email or whatever. I can't be the only person to think like this. It's always good for people to be getting in touch with you to ask for your skills, but sometimes it does get quite tiring.

Apply below for the job of my PA, I'll consider all CVs, I can't pay any money, because, well you know how it is.


Monday, 1 August 2016

One Year On

I haven't written anything for a while, so here goes nothing. Basically, I'm a year out of music college and I'm still getting to grips with this Freelance Musician lark. This post is going to be about how I've been getting on so far.

The first thing is, although it's quite a fun and interesting job, it can be pretty hard. The easiest bit is the playing to be honest. Often this job is made more complicated by the logistics of the whole thing: starting the day in one place and finishing it somewhere completely different. Obviously there has been quite a lot of driving involved; I don't mind that so much, some don't like it, but I quite enjoy the late nights driving back from the middle of nowhere. It can make for some quite interesting stories sometimes. Experiences that you share with only late night lorry drivers and National Express coach drivers. Sometimes I wonder how people with normal jobs would cope if they had to drive for 4 hours to and from work and whether they'd be expected to perform as if they'd not been in the car for so long. I don't know.

Aside from the driving, there's setting up, packing away, carrying things, waiting around. The bits that people don't see. Secretly I quite like setting up and sound checking, but sometimes you're just not in the mood. Again, same with most people.

Not to say that it's constant of course. I get days off and stuff, but when you've been running flat out for a few weeks maybe a month on the trot, you get bored. It doesn't feel so glamorous when you do a set at Kendal Calling and the next day you're sitting in your pants in the flat catching up on all the TV you've missed over the weekend waiting for the next day where you pack the car and do it all again. I've never felt this more so than when I was in Spain for a week in April. When you're doing a gig every night of the week, you get back and it can feel like something's missing. You kick your heels and wonder what the next thing is.

A couple of name drops back there, but the same goes whether you're playing a festival set, or a background jazz gig, a show at a cool venue or a wedding in Cheshire or wherever. And again, I don't mind function gigs, I've always said that. I'm glad to be playing as I'm a pretty shit teacher. If you can earn money playing covers, that suits me better than teaching, everyone's different in that respect.

I've done some pretty exciting things since leaving college. Worked on some interesting projects, and equally found myself in some very weird situations where you just get your head down and get on with it. It is work at the end of the day. Sometimes, I think that it's important to remind yourself that it's a job because it can be quite confusing when you're on your third beer and you're laughing and joking around, but you're technically working. It's a perk, but yeah, sometimes you have to give the gig / project / arrangement the time and respect it deserves.

Going on from that, I've learnt that it's important to be professional and punctual and all the bollocks that everyone drills in to you when you start doing this full time. What they don't tell you is that it's important not to be a dick on gigs. Especially if you are spending an extended period of time with the same group of people. That could be on a tour, or a festival site for a weekend, maybe even just in a van for a day. Some of the nicest people that I know are musicians, I don't think that that's a coincidence. You can probably earn a living in music being a dick, but rest assured, word travels pretty fast and people will be disappointed if they see your name on an email sometimes.

I've rambled on for a bit, but I think that the most important thing is that I'm enjoying this. I wouldn't do anything else. Obviously, being a musician is notoriously unstable financially and emotionally, but I think that although there are times when you're waiting for the next gig to come or worrying about where the rent is going to come from, that stuff is balanced out by playing some really interesting music to people who really care about what you're doing. It really is the case that when you're up, you're up and when you're down, you're thinking about becoming a lorry driver because you like driving and you're up most of the night anyway. I wouldn't change it for the world. Maybe if you asked me again in 3 years time I might have a different answer; but for now, I'm having a really great summer with a variety of different situations and styles to play in. I'm not homeless yet.