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Equipment education class should be mandatory

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [DB]' started by Mr Ralph, Apr 4, 2015.

  1. Mr Ralph

    Mr Ralph

    Jul 12, 2014
    Hinckley Ohio
    I think there should be a mandatory equipment class for music majors in school. I play at two churches. We regularly get players from different music schools in the area. I am amazed that these kids come in and have no idea how to amplify their instruments. They know nothing about mixers, mics, DI boxes, ect. If you are planning on playing music for a living you should possess a basic knowledge how to plug in and what equipment you will need to own. A basic understanding of feed back and how to deal with it. Not every place they go will have a sound person. I get singers who want to sing a foot from the mic while having a brass quartet seated next to them and they cannot understand why they cannot be heard. I am not saying they need to be sound engineers but a basic concept should be mandatory
  2. Sorry, but if you want specialists you need to hire specialists. Most classically-trained musicians only ever play acoustic settings. Honestly, I've never had a gig where I was required to supply my own electric equipment. The handful of times I've been plugged in, there was a sound engineer doing all the work for me.

    This is a little like expecting a pop singer to sing un-mic'd in a big concert hall and then being disappointed when they can't project like an opera singer. There's a reason people have to go to college for this.
    DC Bass likes this.
  3. Jeff Bonny

    Jeff Bonny

    Nov 20, 2000
    Vancouver, BC
    In today's environment of recording and sound reinforcement there is no reason a primarily acoustic player who calls himself a professional (or has those aspirations) should not be somewhat conversant in at least the basics. I don't care how good a player you are not taking an active interest in how your instrument is coming across to the audience is amateur hour.
    moles likes this.
  4. Johnny L

    Johnny L

    Feb 14, 2002
    Victoria, TX
    There needs to be an additional class I think for escaping from buses others try to throw you under.

    It's not as easy as it looks...
    Jeff Bonny likes this.
  5. MikeCanada


    Aug 30, 2011
    Toronto, ON
    This seems extremely context dependant.

    If your bread and butter is orchestral playing either with a permanent seat or as a freelance/sub player, you could spend your entire career completely oblivious to amplification and never have a problem. In the event that you are amplified or mic'ed for whatever reason be it a recording session or you are playing in an orchestra behind a rock band, anything other than playing the bass is someone else's problem, and I believe it should be. An orchestra of 50 amateur sound guys with all of their gear hangups and ideas about how their instrument should be mic'ed would be a complete nightmare to the professionals running the session.

    If you are working as a church musician, have a small group that plays corporate events, weddings, bars, etc. or you play a genre that is often amplified such as jazz, I agree that you should know how to be heard in those situations, and own (some of) the gear required to do so. A pickup or microphone for your own instrument and an amplifier for bass, keyboards, guitars, and things usually amplified or a mic (and possibly DI) for instruments and voice that typically go straight to the board isn't unreasonable. Knowing how that gear works and some basic trouble-shooting like eliminating feedback or vocal mic technique should be expected. At least one person present should have some basic knowledge of the PA, even if that ends not much beyond "this knob makes me louder".

    The problem that arises with increased frequency is that many musicians find themselves out of context as they scramble to try and find enough work. Pianists that had their hearts set on concert halls end up playing funerals, violists that wanted to join the big symphonies are playing wedding string quartets, brass players that lived and died for marching bands are playing Easter Sunday, and anyone that can sing is taking any gig that involves voice regardless to what they would usually do. Since the vast majority of people in the first classical/acoustic group find themselves (in)voluntarily in the second amplified/mic'ed group, you find a lot of fish out of water. Some people take an interest in it, and some people still believe that playing their instrument is their only requirement, and if people can hear it is someone else's problem.

    It wasn't all that long ago that many venues requiring sound reinforcement provided it. Churches (even little ones) typically had a decent PA, a few extra mics around, and someone who knew how most of it worked. Bars and clubs (even little ones) had a working PA, back line, and a sound guy. It was just an operating cost if you had live music. I see a lot of venues now that either require you to bring your own, or they have a bare bones system and no one to run it, or it is in sad shape from years of neglect and no budget for maintenance.

    There is a lot of talk about reforming music schools, keeping them relevant, and supplementing the instrumental training with job/life skills. To a large extent I agree that students should leave college/university/conservatory with more than "I can play my instrument really well" and there are some very practical gaps in education, but there are plenty of musicians that will never need that information (or use their baroque history class either) down the road, but how we determine what should and should not be taught goes a lot deeper than some rudimentary audio knowledge.
    DC Bass and Don Kasper like this.
  6. Of course I'm interested, but I'm also interested in 100 other things directly or indirectly related to my work. Why should I be so interested in electronics when it's one of the least common parts of a classical musician's career? As I said, strictly classical players are trained to work acoustically. If you want us to be amped, then somebody needs to be running tech.

    My current job includes more amped gigs than I expected (contemporary music -- some composers like to mess with electronics), but we have a full-time sound engineer working for us. I trust him to handle the mic's and speakers, and he trusts me to play the bass. Just as it should be.
    thabassmon likes this.
  7. Mr Ralph

    Mr Ralph

    Jul 12, 2014
    Hinckley Ohio
    I understand both points and certainly if you are playing an instrument that is normally found only in orchestral settings than yes it may be something you may never use. With that said no education or information is useless. Unfortunately a good majority of music majors will not find jobs in major orchestras so they might be looking for side jobs where they will have to own and know how to use these things on their own. I do not mean to imply that this will teach them about sound engineering but an acoustic guitar player and vocalist as well other instruments normally found in non orchestral settings might need this. Just look at the forums on TB about amps, mics and pick ups. They should know what a DI box is and phantom power. The basic difference between a dynamic and condenser mic. What the controls on a small mixer are and basic info about EQ and feed back. To those musicians this could be valuable information.

    My thought was it would be a class just to explain what these items are and when they would be used. This is what brought me to this suggestion. I had a student from a local college music conservatory, a guitar major. He showed up with no pick up, or mic. He did not know what a DI box was. He had a small gig coming up and did not know how to amplify himself. I lent him equipment. I also get vocal or music theatre majors who have no idea where to stand in relationship to the mic or why. These kids all said they wished there was a class they could take to teach them the basic knowledge. I asked.

    I also do not want to offend any sound engineers. This is not to say that they could learn in one class the knowledge which took you years to learn. But would it not make your job easier if they at least showed up with the right equipment and some idea of what they need to do to make your job easier. This is assuming there is a sound engineer available. I can say I have been to many small venues where the musicians were on their own.

    Maybe the class should be and elective but it should be available and probably recommended for certain instruments. Unfortunately some musicians will never have the luxury of just showing up and playing while some one else takes care of these things. They either will not have the skills, desire or what ever.
  8. Jeff Bonny

    Jeff Bonny

    Nov 20, 2000
    Vancouver, BC
    You're saying you're "trained" to work acoustically and in the same breath talking about being amplified on a paying gig. Any audio technology that is ever part of your job you should at least be familiar enough with it to know whether or not the technician responsible for it is competent. Without this knowledge there is no basis for trust and what you really have is faith which is a poor substitute. It's no accident that many of the best audio engineers are musicians and often very good ones.

    I've been a stagehand for many years and seen the "don't know, don't care" attitude from musicians most of my life. I know better than to try changing your mind at this point in your evolution. But I would say to anyone who's on the fence here that musicians of any genre who don't understand the technology involved in bringing their music to a live audience can easily find themselves at odds with actually bringing their music to the audience. So is that your job to worry about it? Hmm.....
  9. MrLenny1


    Jan 17, 2009
    For years I have worked with "vocalists who do not own a microphone".
    That has bugged me till this day.
    The arts are underfunded and will remain the same until
    we can introduce a ball in there somehow.
    Plenty of money for sports programs.
  10. Eric Hochberg

    Eric Hochberg

    Jul 7, 2004
    I give my jazz bass students amplification guidance as a matter of course, as they need to know.
    I have done a couple of classes for a live sound course at Columbia College in Chicago as the guinea
    pig for demonstrating micing techniques for double bass. Really interesting experience and I learned
    a few things myself.

    Even though I rarely give pro engineers tips, it doesn't hurt to be somewhat
    knowledgeable about the process. You may want to repeat certain successful experiences with sound
    and recording. For example, back in the 80's after I had been consistently recording in Chicago studios for a few years,
    I found myself at a session where the engineer just couldn't get my bass to sound right.
    He tried everything he knew. Now, I was in a carpeted booth and decided to take my bass out into the
    main room with hardwood floors. Bam, that was it. Sound fixed. We found a piece of plywood, put it on the floor in the booth,
    and the problem was solved. From then on, whenever I showed up at one of the many studios in town,
    I requested plywood to play on if a room was carpeted. Eventually anytime double bass was on a session, plywood would be on the floor
    when I arrived.

    Now, classical players already know this as I hear they like to slam their spikes into the wood floors
    they often play on. But it was a new concept for me at the time and well worth understanding.
    Last edited: Apr 8, 2015
    Chris Fitzgerald likes this.
  11. Of course I'm more interested now that I'm working with electronics, but I don't think it's an essential part of everyone's education. What I've been doing for the last year (Ensemble Modern) bears no resemblance to the freelance work I had in the States. Our sound engineer has been with the group since their work with Frank Zappa, and I'm told he's one of the best in Germany. I'm content to trust him.

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