Life in the gear industry isn’t always as glamorous as it may seem. My idea of it years ago was playing guitar through prototypes, testing new products and talking to famous people all the time. Some of those are true, but it’s far less than most would imagine. Most days revolve around spreadsheets, marketing insights and subsequent planning, loads of content creation and customer-service stuff. It’s still great because it’s based on a passion of mine, but sometimes like I’ve said before that expectation and reality usually aren’t the same thing. Occasionally though, I do get to get out from behind the desk and go have some fun. I’ve been a long-time fan of Cory Wong’s, and he and I had been talking for a few months because he was interested in an amp that I have (Tone King Imperial MKII). He’s been wanting to try one, so I found out that he was going to be playing a show in Virginia not far from me, and I decided to make the trek to VA Beach and take a few Wampler’s along for him to try as well.
 
Soundcheck started at 5 pm for the gig at 9, and from the moment I walked in Cory treated me instantly like a long-lost friend he hadn’t seen in a while. He’s genuinely just one of the sweetest and most genuine guys in the world. I’ll be the first to say that I’m a fan and had to curb my enthusiasm to be professional…and it only borderline worked. Soundcheck started, he and the band ran through the setup with visuals that they ran directly from Corey’s MAC from the stage, operated by Kevon Gastonguay who also pulls synth duties. Normal soundcheck proceeded as they adjusted all their levels and they ran through 3-4 of Cory’s classic songs (Dial-Up, Pleasin’, and Clouds) including a new section they were going to add to a song for the live set. He had said before that he loves the Ego Compressor, but it really hit home when he never shut it off the entire night and that it was the only pedal that he said he used with Vulfpeck as well. This show was different than most I’ve been to because Cory isn’t a lead singer, but more so a harmonizer. The backing screen has always been part of the show at every concert, but Cory integrated with it, so it was like another band member. He had recorded Antwaun Stanley singing in a booth and harmonized with the video, using vocal effects he had set on his mic for ambience and voice changing effects. 
 
I knew from the initial few notes that these guys were the next level of locked-in to the groove together. I’ve been very fortunate to see quite a few live acts, and I’ve never seen a band so rhythmically tight as Cory and his band. We hung out for a few hours while Cory tested some pedals (Mini Ego, Tumnus, Clarksdale, FTEv2, Ethereal and a pedal no one has seen yet). He loved the new pedal, as well as the Clarksdale and Tumnus, and it was refreshing to see that he knew exactly what he wanted and needed for live use, and in his playing style, he just didn’t need a delay. He said they’re fun but just unnecessary for him.  He was straight with me the entire way with what he loved and wished was a bit different, but in the eend, e kept coming back to his love of the Ego Comp. The guys finished up and headed to go get some food, so I watched the opening act Jacob Sigman and his band sound check as well. Their guitarist was in need of a reverb pedal and asked if I happen to bring anything. So, we loaded up the Ethereal and dialled in a great slapback with a touch of plate reverb, and he loved it. He used it the entire show and adjusted it on the fly, and it sounded killer. 
 
The show was fantastic. Jacob's band was tight and had a great mix of synth-pop with funky rhythms. After about 7 songs Cory hit the stage and they went to town like it was the last gig they were ever going to play. It was like a master-class in musicianship and rhythm, as the grooves were so tight that it felt like the whole building was locked into it and moving with them. Cory had just recently gotten the coveted “Koz Nod,” which is the industry nod from Dave Koz which serves and an official welcome into the world of smooth jazz. They played for about an hour and a half, and it left me the most inspired that I’ve ever been. He did play some incredibly cool solos, but his rhythmic chops are on another level, and his strat just sounded perfect into the Imperial MKII. The entire time Cory was grateful, joked with the crowd and just made it feel like a bunch of friends hanging out and jamming.
 
Coming back around to the Imperial MKII, he loved the amp but literally only had a use for the rhythm channel (blackface). One thing that I can say is that there’s absolutely no substitute for raw talent, practice, and subsequently refined skillsets from the combination of both. Fundamentally, gear is a tool, and he showed me that clearer than any other player I’ve seen. Gear is fun, no doubt, but a tool nonetheless for musicians to express themselves. Some do it with extravagant rigs and various combinations of effects wizardry, and others cut to the bare bones and let their hands do the talking. Most of the night it was just Strat > Ego Compressor > Imperial MKII, and it sounded great. No frills, just incredible honed skill that made me reassess my own playing and evaluate what was important in my gear choices, and what I had just as excess. I can definitely say that after seeing him play through my amp, that tone is DEFINITELY largely in the hands.
 
 

I think like lots of people I’m totally and utterly ‘fed up’ (edited by request of the boss) with the price of concert tickets these days. I mean, it has been reported that on average people are paying nearly $400 to see Adele, nearly $240 to see Taylor Swift… the cheapest price for the Rolling Stones near me is about $160 (which you would need a telescope to actually see them) and so on and so forth. The question I’ve been asking myself recently is why?

I have a couple of theories about this - and they may be crap, or I may be full of BS (likely), but something somewhere has changed. And that thing, I think, is mostly due to us. But I’ll get to that in a minute.

Their fault.
Ticket touts… Scalpers…. Whatever you call them. The advent of the internet and sales on the internet has made it very easy for third parties to get involved and make a quick buck or two (million). It’s really hard to tell which are the legit sites and which aren’t, legislation has been passed to restrict this from happening but the trouble with the law is that it doesn’t move as quick as the brains of the people who are trying to take our money for effectively nothing. Is this a fight we can ever win? Also, the promoters of the events charge what they can get, so why not maximise on ticket prices if they know it’s still going to sell out? Everyone would do it if they could.

Our fault.
Those of us who are of a certain age will remember the Napster ‘revolution’ and remember seeing Lars from Metallica on TV moaning about theft, copyright infringement (and the subsequent lawsuits that followed) and most people laughed at him and treating him pretty badly… I do believe this was when the whole “Lars is crap” thing came from (well, that and the snare sound from St Anger, but that’s a different story) as he was actively stopping everyone’s fun in getting free music, because everyone loves free stuff, right? It’s always been interesting as being a kid listening to rock music in the 80’s, Lars was a legend up until around this time, then everything changed.

ANYWAY.

Since the whole filesharing thing has been embedded into our psyche (and lets it, pretty certain that at one point everyone has either done it or is close to someone who has) the eventual response by the music industry was to provide streaming services (I know it’s much deeper than this, but let’s face it, it was all they could do) and everyone jumped on it as, well, for all intents and purposes, it was still free. These days a lot people pay a company like Spotify about £10 a month to lose the adverts but in my experience, in just talking to people, most people just put up with the adverts and have it for free, because right now, that concept of ‘free’ music, or a variation of it, is legal.

What does that do for the bands? And I know what you are all thinking, 99% of the bands didn’t get an income from record sales so this doesn’t apply, but I’m looking at the large-scale acts here… obviously, a massive chunk of their income has gone. Completely. There is that famous break down of payments from Spotify that shows that a band in 2016 who had their songs streamed over 1,000,000 times and received a total payment of just under $5000. At this point, I could list how much that would have broken down if those had been airs on the radio or physical sales, but I won’t, because we all know that an income from that would be well in excess of $5000.

You know what this means, don’t you? Of course, I mean that the bands, record companies, management etc etc have to reclaim their income from elsewhere (as they ain't going to take a pay cut) and the only viable place to do that is either via endorsement deals (rare that they pay that well), merch sales (and those are now pirated ridiculously – just check out all the many adverts in your FB feed of companies selling cool band related shirts) and touring. Before the Napster revolution a band used to tour to support the album in order to provoke sales, but these days it’s pretty well their only source of real income. This is a hard pill for us to swallow, especially when you consider that the most expensive tickets these days are bands like Rolling Stones (and I’m pretty certain they’re fairly comfortable financially) but they are still a business, and guys who manage them aren’t going to let them go out on a tour to support an album that won’t sell, so that income figure has to come from somewhere else.

The fans fault (and yes, this is a little tongue in cheek)
Our expectations of live shows are somewhat more complicated than they used to be… Long gone are the days when you see a band and it’s a bunch of people playing the hell out of their instruments with a few lights behind them, you now have full interactive shows with everything from massive custom built OLED video screens showing content aimed specifically to the night of the performance, to fireworks, light shows that are just incredible, complicated sets with raising platforms etc and just about everything else… Shows are now events. Each time we go to see a show we expect it to blow us clean off our feet, it has to be better than the last one we saw so touring bands are obliged to up their game every time. It all kinda adds up. As an amusing aside to this concept of crowd expectation, a mate of mine – Tim Stark - is the chief builder at Mansons Guitar Works, so he makes every guitar Matt Bellamy plays, both in the studio and on tour. Those of you who have caught a live show from Muse knows what this means, as it’s expected now by the crowd… Let’s just say that the expectation of the crowd keeps Tim a very busy man, and those guitars are hand built in the UK, so they aren’t a $100 Squier used for the final song of the night!

The sad thing is that due to the way everything pans out, we are unlikely to see concert tickets come down to a more sustainable level for your regular person any time soon. You will always be able to see your favourite band, well, I doubt you’ll see them, but you’ll be able to hear them as you’ll be SO far away from them you’ll end up just seeing the video screens. The reason many people took the Napster route, and all the services that followed them, was because they couldn’t afford to buy all the music they wanted so they downloaded it. Stole it. The people who could afford to buy the music still did… And now, the people who could afford to buy the music still can and now they are the only ones who can realistically afford to pay top dollar to see the best bands, actually see them. The irony is not lost on me.

Here’s a final thought - I travelled 400 miles (round trip) by bus to see 6 bands in 1988… Helloween, Guns and Roses (full original band), Megadeth, David Lee Roth (with Vai), Kiss (without makeup) and Iron Maiden (full “7th Tour of a 7th Tour” production) for a total cost of £31 (about $60 USD at the time). Even with inflation that only comes to £80 ($115 USD) today. I wonder what that show would cost now?

 

 

 

Gigging - Part 2

on August 31, 2017
Following up on my last blog regarding the shining example of where things can go very wrong at a gig (you can read that here: http://www.wamplerpedals.com/news/blog/general-chat/gigging-what-not-to-do-part-1) , I’ve compiled this quick list with the help of some friends from the industry regarding things that will help prepare anyone for a successful gig.
 
1.    Know the material – Practicing learning and knowing the songs back and forth is a major thing. If you’re not comfortable with a part, discuss it with the band and see what options there are. In the end though, there’s nothing that can replace good practice. Practicing the full set will help get the bugs out of the performance. Your singer can even practice the banter with the crowd during each set. Locking down that show to where it’s second nature will make your performance and the audience’s experience much more enjoyable for everyone. In the end that’s the main goal, right? We all love playing music and the audience is there because they love the music. It’s far more fun when you don’t have to worry about whether you recall the chord changes in the verse or what key the solo is in!
 
2.    Be Prepared – I’m sure you’ve heard the old saying of “It’s better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it.” This doesn’t necessarily mean you need to pack an extra amp and 15 guitars, but you can if you want! We do our best to maintain our gear, but often it’s at the least opportune timing that something is prone to failure. Having a few backup items can really help when the time comes and you’re in a pinch. An extra set of strings, extra picks, extra patch cables and long cables, a headstock tuner, super glue, a multi-tool, and even in some cases a fallback for when an amp goes down. If your amp goes down mid-gig, it’s not a bad idea to have some backup setup, maybe a cheap cab sim that you can run directly into the mixer from your board. The hopes are that you’ll never need it, but again it’s better to have it. Having trusted and reliable gear will cut out a lot of worries. Make sure you’ve got solid patch cables that can handle a bit of contorting and movement. If you notice a short at any point then troubleshoot or swap it out. If a guitar has a problem, it’s good to bring a spare just in case as well.
 
3.    Tuning – This seems like a no-brainer, but there are still some that jump in head first without tuning, and that’s completely preventable. Take the time to ensure each band member with applicable instruments are in tune (also part of #2). There’s nothing worse than an out of tune instrument. Pedal tuners and headstock tuners are cheaper and more reliable now than ever. They’re also great because you can tune silently so you’re not bothering the audience while you’re getting setup. If you’re having problems with your guitar staying in tune, throw on a new set of strings and stretch them properly before the gig. If there’s still a problem it may be worth taking it to a tech to see if it needs a setup. Also, if you have songs in different tunings, be prepared to either tune quickly and quietly, or have a backup guitar that’s already in the alternate tuning (see #1).
 
4.    See #1
 
5.    Stage Prep and Presence – Before getting to the gig, practice setting up and tearing down your rig. Getting it down to a science will make it quick and efficient (especially if playing with another band at the gig). It’s a good idea to get a feel for the stage if possible. When plugging in your guitar, be sure to loop it through your strap to ensure that when it’s stepped on, that it won’t rip the cable out of the input jack. Make sure cables going into and out of your pedalboard are away from high traffic areas if possible. You don’t want your drummer or singer stomping on the output cable and breaking the jack on your pedal. Aesthetics are a big part because the audience will be looking at the band as their source of visual entertainment. That may seem contrived or like selling out, but people judge with their eyes first (it’s just the way the world is now). Trying to keep a cohesive attire that’s appropriate for the gig is great. Stage presence, lights, all of it adds up to the combined experience for the audience, so plan accordingly to give the best visual representation of where you want the band to be. Again, it’s leaving a lasting impression on the audience as to what they will remember. 
 
6.    In the Mix – After setting up, it’s good to test the mix with a soundcheck. Be sure to take the time to setup each instrument so the level sits right in the mix. Nobody wants to hear only one instrument drowning out the others. If you can find a way to do so, step back from the stage to where the audience will be to see how it sounds. Having the levels right can really make a dramatic difference, especially when it comes to guitar tone. Depending on the height of the stage, you don’t want to blow the ear drums of the people in the front row, so the position of the amp makes a difference too. An important thing to remember is that your tone at home is going to be very different than in a live situation. Each room has its own contours and obstructions that absorb or reflect the sound, and the natural compression of the speakers and the added character of a louder amp will make your drives sound different. All of those goes back to #1 (can you see a pattern yet) where practice makes perfect and eliminating variables can make for a smoother gig. Usually, more often than not, the venue that you’re playing in won’t need a 100w half stack. Finding a nice combo amp (1x12 or 2x12, etc) makes for easier portability and less overkill on volume. 
 
7.    Identify Yourself – It’s good practice to make sure that your band’s name is very easy to see, so that way it leaves an impression and something memorable. If you can have it advertised by the venue, perfect! The goal is to create brand/band awareness to create an image for the band and subsequently what kind of a show people will expect when they see or hear the name. It’s not a bad thing at all to promote your social media pages, so long as it’s tastefully mentioned. Having a defined name that’s memorable and easily searchable will make it easier for users to find your page and your music going forward.
 
8.    See #1
 
9.    Promote the Venue – Venues have bands come play because it offers a show for their patrons. The end goal is that everyone likes getting paid, so the more the venue makes, the higher chances there are of being asked to come back and subsequently fostering that relationship with venues. While we’re on venues, it’s not a bad idea to have a contract signed by the band and the venue owner, just to be covered. You never know sometimes…
 
10.    Promote Yourself – The goal is always to spread the word and help people identify your band. Taking the time to make sure your band’s name and social media usernames are present makes a significant difference in our age of technology. You want to be easily searchable, so a banner or something that has the username of your pages is great to have posted somewhere for people to easily see. Have the singer promote the pages and repeat the band name periodically through the gig to leave that impression on people’s minds.
 
11.    Make People Move – People come out to have a good time, and they’re choosing to spend their money and time to see a show. Playing covers establishes a connection for a feeling of familiarity, and depending on the song it can make people dance (fast or slow songs), sing along, etc. Original songs are fine sporadically mixed in, but when just starting out it’s good do have a set of songs that will keep your audience entertained and wanting more. As much as it may not be fun to do, top 40 songs and songs that are currently relevant go a long way. Not saying that originals are terrible in the least bit, but gradual introduction will go a lot further to building your audience. If you can get people moving and involved, you’ve done your job! 
 
12.    Be good to your audience – I recently saw a video of Nickelback in Portugal that was having rocks thrown at them. Despite the hate they receive, they were there to play their music and the people paid to see them. After the second song, the band gave them the middle finger and walked off the stage. I know I’m beating a dead horse here, but keeping the audience happy is an integral part of any gig. Reading the crowd and gauging their responses as you go along is key. If things aren’t going so well (maybe a low-key crowd, etc), have a few songs that are a bit different than ones you played before. 
 
13.    See #1
 
14.    Play for the Song – We all want to include massive solos in songs, mainly because they’re insanely fun to play. That being said, knowing when to play is just as important as knowing WHAT to play (see #1). Just like Miles Davis said: “Don’t worry about playing a lot of notes. Just find one pretty one.” It’s okay to embellish some, but it’s also good to let the song “breathe” so to speak. 
 
15.    Have Fun – The main thing is to have fun! Yes, it may be a gig that will put food on the table, but most of us picked up the instrument because we love it and love playing. Most of the things listed above are all precautionary and once you do a once-over on your rig they’re done for good. Play the music you love, soak in the moment and enjoy yourself. You put in the work to get there, you deserve a bit of fun!
 
These are definitely not all of the things that can help create a successful gig, but it at least gets you started!