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How-To | Sheltered Turtle

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 for 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!

How to properly wrap audio cables: the no-knots method!

Ever since I saw this video, my life changed into one free of tangled cables. If you wrap your headphone in this manner, you’ll never have to spend precious time gingerly pulling out knots. The over-under method also prolongs the life of your cables.

I also highly recommend getting some cheap velcro cable ties from Amazon so that you can keep everything organized. With the amount of gadgets that need chargers, wires, cables, and adapters, it’s great to be able to make sure that I never have a drawer that looks like cable spaghetti.



Video Tutorial | “Broken Arms, Broken Neck, Mended Heart”

Welcome to the first episode of a series where I teach you how to play my music!

I’m focusing my efforts on this series over the 5 minute tutorials because I feel that they will be more helpful to people. We’ll go over specific techniques I use in the songs so that you can learn my song or add some more tools to your arsenal!

Grab your guitar, and let’s get started!



The Engle Guitar Hammer — http://amzn.to/1fWjuuY
Stonebridge Sheltered Turtle custom guitar — http://www.stonebridgeguitars.com
MiniFlex Microphone Model 1 — http://www.miniflexmic.com/
John Pearse Stings 700M — http://amzn.to/Pkg1Ac
John Pearse Armrest — http://amzn.to/1eEnT5G
Grover 106 Tuners — http://amzn.to/15Rbi0P
Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS5 (main video) — http://amzn.to/1aqFDSG
Logitech c920 (tutorials) — http://amzn.to/1ncYnOb
Focusrite Scarlett 18i8 (interface) — http://amzn.to/1aKrK24
Vox VAC19 (cable) — http://amzn.to/12BWEcq
Full Disclosure: The Amazon links are my affiliate links. By clicking on these links before you shop on Amazon, you can help support my music … at no additional cost to you! Basically, when you click on the links, you’re telling Amazon to donate a portion of the proceeds to help make my music. That’s it! Thanks so much for your support!

Why can’t I sing? 7 easy tips to become a better singer

I’ve been receiving a lot of feedback from an article I posted in a little while ago titled Overcoming fear of singing. If one thing has become clear from your E-mails, Facebook messages, Tweets, and face-to-face conversations, it’s that I’m not alone in these fears and insecurities. Since then, people’ve been asking to relay some tips. Here they are!




1. Go on a date

… with your voice. Be engaged, good-humored, and listen to everything it says. Get to know it.

Similar to learning an instrument, a big part of improving singing is becoming familiar with your instrument, in this case, your voice. Find your limits (how low/high can you sing?), the ranges your voice sounds best (somewhere between your limits), and the tone/volume/style that seems to fit you. More on the last bit later.

A lot of people get discouraged because they try to do covers that never quite sound very good. Many times, the cover falls short because they’re trying to sing like the artist and not like themselves. Learn songs in different keys (basically higher or lower pitched from the original recording) and see which keys feel comfortable for you. Don’t worry about how it sounds, rather, become familiar with what your body wants to do. If you listen, it’ll tell you.


2. An audience of me

Ever heard your voice through the phone and hate the way your voice sounds? (“Do I really sound like that?”) The reason why this is so shocking is because when you talk you’re not hearing your voice, you’re hearing the vocal vibration in your head. In other words, we all hear voices in our head: every time we talk! Don’t worry: you’re not going crazy, especially if that voice tells you to give me all of your money.

The voice you hear when you sing sounds different from the voice that people do. Using a mic and PA allows you to better hear what audiences will hear. If you don’t have access to that, you can simply record yourself over your phone and listen back to it (if you’re an iPhone/iPad user, this is a fantastic option). If you don’t get used to the sound of your own voice, you’re going to spend your entire life fighting it instead of forming a partnership. 


3. 10 minutes of heaven

This is a singing tip from one of my favorite singers, Bobby McFerrin. Set a timer and sing for 10 minutes straight. No accompaniment, no instruments, no breaks. Just sing. Make things up. Make sounds. Make-up your own scat vowels. Don’t prepare anything or think about what to sing. Improvising for 10 minutes straight is harder than it sounds, but you’ll be surprised with what you come up with.

Do this on a regular basis (once daily for me during my commute to teach), and you’ll gradually come to see improvements in your flexibility as a singer. This is a great opportunity to incorporate a new technique you’re focusing on whether it’s falsetto, vibrato, beat boxing, scatting, etc.

Because you’re the sole musician for those 10 minutes, work on breaking down your fear and reservations; try something goofy and different. The point of this exercise is not to sound amazing for 10 minutes. It’s to work on your instincts as a singer by setting aside time to be a purely instinctual singer.

Think of this as the equivalent of having a giant piece of paper, closing your eyes, and scribbling randomly until a timer goes off. It’s not going to look like the Mona Lisa or much of anything really, but you will become aware of how you hold the pencil in your hand, what direction scribbling feels comfortable, how fast or slow you can draw, how hard or soft you can press. That awareness will become your singer’s instinct.


4. Get down with it

Mechanically, a singer is a lot like a bagpipe–every girl’s dream, I know. As a singer, you’re a wind instrument. Without the proper airflow, your singing won’t reach its maximum ability to … bagpipe. My point: posture is important. Try this out: lie down flat on the floor on your back. This position will force you to have a straight back which is good for airflow.

Take a deep-bellied breath sing, “Laaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhh.” Your belly should go from looking darn-near pregnant and deflate like a balloon (disclaimer: if you actually are pregnant, your belly will still look pregnant). Repeat this 5 times, taking care to stay relaxed and not rush through the exercise.

You should strive for a similar airflow when you sing. Sing an easy song (still on your back) and see if you can recreate the sensation. Repeat until your girlfriend comes home to find you singing “Mary had a Little Lamb” on your back and institutionalizes you.


5. The jaws of a snake, the face of Jim Carrey

A lot of beginner singers lock their jaws when they sing and don’t let their mouths drop past what it normally would while talking. Try exaggerating mouth, jaw, and face movements. Watch any good performance of the Star Spangled Banner. In the closing, climatic notes of the song the singer’s mouth is probably wide open. An open jaw drastically opens the sound of your voice. You might not like it right away, but it sounds better to the listener. Like with any practice method, you want to practice by exaggerating desired results so that instinct will eventually override bade habits.


6. Go international

Sing with an accent. You might be surprised with the results! By consciously adopting a different manner of enunciating, you’ll immediately become more conscious of your spoken syllables. When you sing in your usual way, it’s easy to fall back on sloppy speaking patterns. You don’t have to be convincing, but you do have to be consistent and sincere in your effort as goof as you might feel. It can be fun, and in the process, you might stumble upon more poetic elements to the language in your songs.

7. Don’t go it alone

Go to open mics. Watch singers sing. Try it for yourself. Most open mics I’ve been to have very positive and supportive vibes; they understand that many people there just want a low-pressure outlet to be musical in a setting outside of their bedroom. You can also join a choir or amateur singing group. The main point being to get experience singing with other people. You’ll learn good habits from the bad and can often get direct tips from those you admire.


Have any singing tips that’ve worked for you? Want to see more posts like this? Disagree with something in the article? Write it in the comments below!

What is Adobe Bridge used for? 5 Easy tips to get you started!

As I work on booking performances for 2014, I realized that I need a quick and easy way to edit the photos I take/are submitted by fans. I’ve dabbled in Adobe Bridge but never quite got why  it’s any better than just organizing my photos in file folders to begin with. As it turns out, I was missing out on a lot!

This great tutorial made it pretty clear that I was wasting a lot of time with my old workflow.


Click here for SLR Lounge’s full article.


Here are my takeaways:

1. Editing in Camera RAW mode allows you to make most the contrast, saturation, and other edits quickly and easily.

2. For someone like me who has all of his photos organized in dated folders, there is a way to preview the photos from multiple folders.

3. By going through Bridge, you edit multiple photos simultaneously through Camera RAW.


Not covered in this tutorial:

Bridge also allows you to rate your photos using a star system (1-5 stars) or flagging photos that aren’t any good. Then you can have bridge only show photos that are above a certain rating (4+ stars for example). This is great when you’ve taken a bunch of photos and have a handfull of duds that you don’t want to sort through.


Have some more beginner-friendly tips regarding Bridge, Camera RAW, or other Adobe products? Share them in the comments below!