Ahh! I was selected as the 2018 Folk Alliance International’s Artist In Residence!

I’m thrilled and honored to announce that I was selected as the 2018 Folk Alliance International’s Artist In Residence!

This is a project that’s been a couple of years in the making. I’ve been collaborating with some amazing people at the University of Missouri – Kansas City Applied Mathematics department to explore whether or not human involvement is even necessary in the music scene given recent & amazing advances in music technology and artificial intelligence.

I, of course, have my bias, but will the math back me up? Find out in February of 2018!

We’ve got a LOT of work ahead and some pretty amazing projects to top. Click here to see previous Artist In Residence presentations!

What’s FAI?

The mission of Folk Alliance International is to nurture, engage, and empower the international folk music community – traditional and contemporary, amateur and professional – through education, advocacy and performance. Here’s a promo video:

What questions to ask ceremony musicians as you interview them

As you interview different musicians, see if they’re asking the right questions to put you at ease. After all, THEY are supposed to be the professionals, not you! Here’s a quick guide I put together just for you!

Your mindset:
1. You’re the employer, they’re the employee, not the other way around! They’re interviewing for the very important job of providing music for your wedding.
2. Your ceremony musician will be setting the mood an atmosphere for all of your guests. Be clear on what’s important.
3. If you have a vision or request, be up front about it. Feeling guilty about asking will only lead to disappointment down the line.

Questions to ask them:
1. What do you do best?/Why should I hire you?
2. What forms of payment do you accept?
3. What’s the best way for us to communicate?
4. Do you book gigs back to back?
5. Will you take another gig over my wedding if it paid more?
6. What happens if you get sick or have to cancel?
7. Do you offer other services that I should know about?

Things to consider during your interviews:
1. How quickly do they communicate with me?
2. Is this someone I want at my wedding?
3. Will they honor my requests and be honest about their capabilities?
4. Are they focused on my needs?
5. Do I like their music, personality, and offerings?

The battery-powered PA that saved me time and time again!

A little while back, one of my bands was hired to perform at a family reunion. People from all over the country gathered at a hotel banquet hall to celebrate. There was food made right there by the families, games for all ages, and us, a 6-piece live, dance/party band complete with full sound and lighting!

Well, that was the plan.

Unbeknownst to anyone, the hotel’s power grid wasn’t equipped to handle the party, and the room’s circuit breaker broke every few minutes. It was embarrassing, but my little band wasn’t able to get our mixer turned-on without tripping the breaker. On the family’s side, they couldn’t even charge their phones. The hotel’s engineer wasn’t being much help either.

Imagine planning a massive family gathering, preparing a ton of food, hiring a live band, and decorating a hotel banquet room … only to not be able to cook the food, have the band play, and not have any music in the background.

So what the heck were we supposed to do? The only acoustic instrument available was drums. The clients were very understanding and were encouraging us to simply treat ourselves to the food that was prepared, even going so far as to tell us, “It’s okay. There’s nothing we can do about it. You’ll still get paid. Just enjoy the party with us.” Then I remembered! I just happened to have these with me:

No! Not my wife’s bass from her days of playing in a metal band. Those little speakers behind it.

They are a pair of Sunburst Gear speakers (http://www.sunburstgear.com/). Battery-powered PA speakers/studio monitors complete with a mixer, bluetooth input, and speaker stand ports. I ran to my car, grabbed, them, and in no time, there was finally music at the party! The batteries were already depleted from a prior show where I was using them, but they managed to hold out a couple of hours until some very creative cabling helped us get band-level sound going (musicians: we had the entire band–5 vocalists, 2 keyboards, guitar, bass, and drums–going out of a keyboard amp! Hahaha!)

Got another story I’d like to share, but before that, I wanted to talk about …

 

My story with Sunburst Gear

In February of 2015, I was performing at Folk Alliance International and demoing for John Pearse Strings and scouting talent forĀ Stonebridge Guitars. I quickly made friends with David, Nina, and Julie from a new company called Sunburst Gear/Elite Acoustics. They invited me to come try out their products.

I immediately recognized that they were on to something very different from your standard fair of battery-powered guitar amps. First, the sound able to cut through the bustle and racket of the convention floor by highlighting the upper-mid frequencies. Second, the speakers had an actual mixer built into the chassis placed where it’d be easy to reach for a performer. Third, the battery system JUST. MAKES. SENSE.

A lot of battery-powered amps force you to use an inordinate amount of AA or D batteries, more than you’d care to carry with you out on gigs. Sunburst Gear forgoes the need for carrying batteries by placing a rechargeable battery inside the speaker (with battery meter). They also include a cable that allows you to, get this, charge the speaker in your car.

And wow, doesn’t that make a ton of sense for the touring musician who spends hours in … well … a car!

The outer casing is a beautiful, black carbon fiber, and there’s a very sturdy metal handle on top to facilitate easy carrying. On the bottom, there are robust rubber feet so that you can place these puppies on the ground without scratching-up the unit.

 

My experience

I’ve used these daily for the past 2 years. They are my go-to studio monitors. I use them any time I need sound reinforcement but don’t have access to electricity. I used them to provide music for my daughter’s baby shower. I used them when I was driving a big tour van that didn’t have a stereo. I used them as monitors when sound guys didn’t have one for me. I used them for busking. I used them when I was recording artists on location on a laptop. The list goes on and on and on.

This summer has been my most successful wedding season yet, and I owe a large part of that to my Sunburst Gear speakers. On several instances, I’ve had clients who were worried during our consultation because their perfect wedding was an outdoors wedding with no access to electricity.

For me, it was no sweat. I could not only amplify my guitar but also provide a microphone so that guests could hear the ceremony and play background music via bluetooth while I packed away my gear.

If you have questions about the speakers, please don’t hesitate to reach out! I’ve been very happy to see this company of wonderful people grow and expand their product line.

I want to thank David, Nina, and Ahn for supporting artists like me and creating amazing products that help us do our jobs! I also want to thank Todd and Julie without whom, I never would’ve met the folks at Sunburst Gear. Looking forward to seeing where everything goes an being a part of the movement!

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. By clicking on them, you’ll be supporting this site at no charge or disadvantage to you whatsoever!

Top 5 things to discuss with your wedding ceremony musician

It’s not your responsibility to consider all of the needs of your musicians. THEY are the professionals and should be able to advocate for their needs. That said, these are crucial items that can lead to disaster if not addressed. I make it a habit to talk about these with my clients. However, if you’d like to be pro-active, here’s a list of the top 5 things you’ll want to discuss with your ceremony musician to make sure that everything goes as smoothly as possible.

#1. Access to electricity

More than likely, your musician is going to need some sort of amplification. Once you have an idea of where you want your musician to go, you’ll want to have the following discussion with the venue. Feel free to copy & paste the following into an email and see if the musician has anything to add before sending it out to your vendor/planner:

  1. How far are the nearest outlets to where my musician will be?
  2. If extension cables are needed to get power to my musician, are there any safety considerations that might get in the way?
  3. Are the outlets 3-pronged or 2-pronged?
  4. Are the restrictions on how much power can be drawn?
  5. Is there a way to position cables and amplifiers to make sure that they don’t show-up in pictures?

#2. Food & water

Be clear to the musician whether or not you’ll be feeding them. The last thing you want is your musician treating him/herself to your expensive buffet or asking the venue staff about where they can get food (believe me, I’ve seen it happen). However, this will allow him/her to plan ahead of time. If you are going to provide food, ask them when the best time would be to eat based on your schedule of events. At the very least, it’s advisable to provide them with a bottle of water, especially for the hot, summer weddings.

#3. Suitable playing conditions & load-in

Musicians usually have expensive equipment to carry, so make sure that they can setup at a flat, clean, stable surface. Heat and water are the enemy of instruments like guitars, violins, cellos, and electrical equipment and can cause them to go out of tune, malfunction, or even break. Try to avoid having your musician positioned in direct sunlight or anywhere rain, running water (fountains, waterfalls, rivers, etc), or spilling (bar, refreshments, etc) could ruin their gear.

Also ask the venue for the best path for them to take: sometime venues are particular about where vendor foot traffic is allowed. If the musician has to traverse a grassy field or across gravel or up several flights of stairs, their gear on wheels won’t do them any good and could lead to a delayed performance. On that note, try to find out how early the musician can arrive to setup. Ask the musician how long they generally need for setup to make sure that their load-in doesn’t interfere with your or your venue’s plans.

 

#4. Parking

If you’re doing a city wedding or at a location where parking is either scarce or metered, you’ll need to decide whether or not the musician will have an assigned spot or will need to find parking on their own. Be clear if they should bring quarters, expect street parking, need to run outside to pay a meter every hour, go to a parking garage, get valeted, etc. Also consider when they’ll be arriving and leaving and make sure they’re parking in a location where they won’t block or be blocked by other vendors.

 

#5. Schedule of events

This seems like an obvious one, but it’s so easy to overlook! How will your musician know when to begin the ceremony music? Will someone cue them? Will there be a clear sign? A lot of musicians will be reading off of sheet music, closing their eyes, or be looking anywhere but where they need to. So make sure they know what to look for. If you have parts of your ceremony that need music, make sure they know exactly when to expect it. Lastly, be sure they know exactly when to start playing the recessional music!

 

Was this useful? Did I miss something? Let me know in the comments section and happy planning!

Hiring a band? You (usually) get what you pay for! A horror story from my freelancing days, and how you can learn from it.

Money, Money, Money, Money! (Money!)

As a musician for hire, I’ve come across lots of different bands some professional, some not so much. I feel like I now have enough distance from a particularly embarrassing event to speak about my experience in hopes of protecting clients from a bad hire.

Price isn’t everything. However, it can be a pretty good indicator as long as things make sense. For example, a band that charges double the rate of other comparable bands might actually be worth the money because they offer much, much more than those comparably-priced bands! However, if they can’t offer you performance samples or don’t even have a website (and I’m not talking a MySpace website … if you even know what that is), RUN! Just the same, someone who’s low on the pricing might be cheap because no one will hire them for more money. Alternatively, you might have an extremely gifted group that’s just getting started. If that’s the case, you’ve got a bargain!

 

The Gig, The Disaster

I was hired as a keyboardist for a band, and it became clear that I shouldn’t have taken the gig. They had a date for me, but not much else. Since I wasn’t booked, I took the gig. I wasn’t told a time, how much I was being paid (I was doing it as a favor for a friend), what it was for … anything really beyond the fact that I’d be performing their “usual” setlist and that “there might be requests.”

I found out a week before the gig that it was a wedding. That’s also when I was given the list of requests despite my repeatedly asking for them for months prior because, you know, it’s important for me to practice. The night before the event … no, wait, wedding! at 11:30pm, I was asked to learn a couple of more songs because they were “important for the clients!”

The gig was disastrous for me. Despite being promised a set list well in advance, one was never made. The band leader was literally asking the musicians what songs they knew so he could decide what the next song would be! At someone’s wedding! The band was also hired to play the processional and first dance. What songs? I certainly wasn’t told, nor was I until the event coordinator nudged the band leader saying that everyone’s waiting for us to start [names song].

The coordinator had to interrupt us in the middle of songs to say that something needed to happen! We’d take long breaks while the DJ would provide most of the background music. The band manager told us to treat ourselves to the wedding buffet, only for us to be told that we weren’t supposed to be fed or given a table to sit between sets.

The music selection was completely inappropriate for the vibe of the wedding, and it showed in the faces of the guests as they attempted to eat to disco/techno/dance music. This made it extremely difficult to connect with them during the dance numbers after dinner.

 

With liberty & embarrassment for all!

Additionally, sound was a complete mess. The monitors (how musicians hear themselves on stage) kept causing massive feedback that interrupted the wedding on several instances, so they eventually had to be shut down. In other words, we weren’t able to hear ourselves whatsoever. Imagine being a drummer and not being able to keep the beat for the singer! Imagine being a singer and not being able to hear whether or not the guitarist is finished with his solo!

Most of all, imagine being a couple who paid thousands of dollars for a band that came unprepared, botched songs, interrupted the flow of the special day you’ve been planning for over a year, and embarrassed you in front of all of your friends and family.

I wanted to crawl into a hole and disappear. But I couldn’t, and I didn’t. I put on a smile and played my parts like it was the best day of my life. Needless to say, I wasn’t paid very much in the end (nearly half of my minimum rate). At that point, I was so humiliated that I would’ve paid to leave .. and suppose I did using my professional reputation as tender.

 

The aftermath & thoughts

Fortunately, the vast majority of professional bands who’ve hired me have been just that: professional. I don’t think it’s any mistake that the best bands have been the highest paying ones; and boy do they deliver!

I’m not sharing my experience to imply, “Throw a bunch of money at musicians and all of your wildest, musical dreams will come true!” (Seriously, don’t do it.)

Instead, my advice is this: do your research and hire a band that strikes the right balance between price, value, professionalism, and convenience. Musicians can and oftentimes will say anything to get themselves hired. Be sure you call their bluff and see if they can produce evidence for their claims.

Also, be aware that when you ask a vendor for a discounted rate, you’re giving them license to provide discounted services. It’s always worth trying to bargain, but professionals will know their value and turn down gigs that aren’t worth it for them. I made an exception in this case and suffered from it.

My sincere hopes are that you won’t.