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Thread March 26, 2016 editorial: comments

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1 March 26, 2016 editorial: comments

The “Glamorous” Life of a Musician

I’m sure you’ve had this happen: Someone asks you what you do, you tell them you’re a musician, and they say something like, “Oh, it must be so glamorous.” And you think to yourself sarcastically, “You don’t know the half of it.”

There are plenty of adjectives that can describe what it’s like to be a musician, but unless you’re a super-successful recording artist, “glamorous” probably isn’t one them. Sure, we get creative satisfaction from playing, but it frequently comes at a price. We have to put up with crappy working conditions; late hours; long drives; malevolent, exploitative and larcenous club owners; playing to empty clubs; being squashed onto tiny stages; enduring subpar sound systems and grumpy sound engineers; driving in bad weather; and lots of other indignities that would never be mistaken for being “glamorous.”

And then there are the health hazards musicians face: Thankfully, one of the worst ones, second-hand smoke, has largely been eliminated by the anti-smoking laws that have been in place around the country for the last decade or so. I remember before those bans were enacted, musicians had to put up with a perpetual cloud of second-hand smoke (supplemented in many cases by first-hand smoke), doing who-knows-what kind of damage to their bodies as they worked. Back then, when I came home from a gig, not only did my clothes and hair reek of smoke, my gear did, too.

Although it’s not as dangerous as second-hand smoke, one hazard that we still face is excessively loud volume. We have ourselves to blame for that to a large degree, as we’re the ones who keep turning up amps, asking for more monitor volume, or bashing on drum kits. But as I’m sure you’ve experienced, it’s pretty difficult in an onstage band situation to keep the volume from getting out of hand. As a result, we have to choose between continually exposing our ears to damaging sound pressure levels or wearing earplugs that can turn a gig into the musical equivalent of showering with a raincoat.

There is a potential solution available to the decidedly unglamorous problem of overly loud stage volume: wireless in-ear monitors. We just finished a three-part series about them, which talks about what they can offer, and the practical considerations. Unfortunately, because there is some initial investment required, and in-ears represent a fairly radical change in the onstage experience, many musicians are hesitant to even consider them. I’m hoping that will change, and that was one of my main motivations for writing the articles. Musicians can’t control most of the not-so-glamorous conditions we regularly encounter, but monitoring is an area in which we can improve things in a positive way.

So what about you? Would you ever consider switching over to in-ear monitors?

2
Not sure about wireless in-ear monitors. My view is that the day of the lead or cable is pretty much over generally.
The only unavoidable wires will be those that take mains power to the cabinets and other systems and even they could probably be replaced by low voltage connections as has happened with lighting and other electrical installations. (The current mania for ever increasing health and safety legislation makes this almost inevitable; no more Leslie Harveys etc).
Someone somewhere has got to be working on a Bluetooth or WiFi compatible multiplexer which will connect 4, 8, 16, 32, 64 devices each with its own encoded channel secure from interference and cross-talk.
I envisage that mixing desks will contain the multiplexing transceivers which will talk to 1/4"/XLR transceivers plugged into guitars, keyboards, microphones and so on.
The multiplexing software will give each sender a unique identity "on the night" and every connected instrument will have a login telltale on the desk showing its status, activity etc.
The sound engineer will have the choice of either directly controlling the instruments or letting the musician do what they like "locally" changing the signal when it arrives as appropriate (or not :) ).
Personally can't wait and can't understand why it's taking so long.
3
I brought my young niece to a public gig last summer... the band were all wearing in ear monitors.

She asked me "are all the band deaf?"
So every time I see in ear monitors now , I see hearing aids. Not a good impression really!
4
Mike, great read here! Thank you so much. I'm passing this one along to my live sound students. I find it very interesting that in most situations in live sound, the monitor position is the first position to put a new engineer, which with these days and nearly every band touring with in ear monitors is absolutely ridiculous.
5
The one thing that stands out in your article was the statement about "second-hand smoke". Believe me, I've spent untold hours in smoke-filled venues; suffocating atmospheres that were almost unbearable! Even the guys who actually smoked in our band, found these conditions intolerable. I can remember riding on an Amtrak train where (then) the passengers had a choice of sitting in a smoking or non-smoking car. It was amazing how many "smokers" actually avoided the smoking cars! So, that was a very real problem even back in the day.

Your article brings back some fond, and not so fond, memories. "Glamorous"? Hardly!
6
Mike: Another illuminating article. I look forward to them. Many thanks.
Eric
7
Quote:
I envisage that mixing desks will contain the multiplexing transceivers which will talk to 1/4"/XLR transceivers plugged into guitars, keyboards, microphones and so on.

That would be very cool, assuming the signals were not degraded or subject to interference. I can't tell you how happy I'd be to get rid of some of the wires in my studio. Especially my stupid headphone cable that continually gets tangled up with anything and everything.:-D
8
Quote:
She asked me "are all the band deaf?"
So every time I see in ear monitors now , I see hearing aids. Not a good impression really!

I suppose it does look that way a little, but the irony is that wearing in-ears actually helps musicians protect their hearing.
9
Quote:
Even the guys who actually smoked in our band, found these conditions intolerable.

That says it all right there. If there's enough smoke to bother a smoker, yikes! :mdr:
10
Quote:
Mike, great read here! Thank you so much. I'm passing this one along to my live sound students.

Awesome. I'm glad you found it useful. :bravo: