This is for the traveling artist, the artist that finds themselves in the same predicament of being underprepared for every show time and time again. This session will focus on the following questions: How do I prepare to the best of my ability for a gig as a deejay, emcee, or musician and how do I effectively pack myself for a tour?
For the modern DJ, musician or producer, rapidly advancing technology has greatly broadened the spectrum of equipment available to use on stage. This in turn has made stage set ups become extremely complex for some artists, myself included. Back in the day, I started traveling with just two turntables. Then I shifted to bringing two CDJs and eventually settled on using software and my custom controllers. From my many years of touring with many different set ups at countless venues and clubs, there is one thing that I have learned: You can never, ever, be over prepared.
Let’s start with the obvious, you have to make sure you have your weapon of choice, your main gear, packed up safe and secured correctly before you even take off. Meaning that if you are using a laptop, computer controller, drum machine, keyboard, acoustic instrument or any other equipment that might be needed on stage, make sure you have a safe place to store it. A cushioned bag or hard case are the best places to store your equipment in while traveling. While a soft case can work with the right padding around your gear, I highly recommend investing in a hard case. Even more ideal, a hard case with fitted padding inside to make sure your equipment isn’t moving around and damaged while traveling. Using a hard case with padding pretty much covers you in any unexpected travel situation, like your airline forcing you to check all bags, or turbulence, or on a bus getting crushed by other luggage, or a spill in a car, etc… Even though a hard case isn’t 100% full proof from protection, it is way more protective and reliable than a soft case is.
Next, you can never have too many accessories for your gear. If I’m using turntables, I’ll bring with me my own set of needles (Not all venues supply these for you, same with the vinyl), my own headphones, two slip mats, and an empty USB drive ready to go if needed. For those who use controllers or USB devices, be sure that you at least have enough USB cables for each of your devices with you. I usually bring one extra/backup USB cable for every four usb cables I need.
Every venue is different and you want to be prepared for any situation. In order to avoid problems with output connections, I suggest carrying a ⅛ inch to stereo RCA cable, a stereo RCA to stereo quarter cable and a quarter to quarter instrument cable. Other key items to include in your bag that might not be completely obvious are a good set of Direct Input boxes, small roll of gaffer tape and a small screwdriver with multiple heads.
As a vocalist, the most important thing needed on stage is your voice. Owning your own high quality and reliable microphone that can travel with you is a great way to keep it protected. Used venue microphones may not always be in the best condition, they may not even be sanitary and neither of those scenarios will nurture and protect your vocal chords. I would also suggest traveling with some kind of scarf or neck garment to keep your neck warm. Another trick to keep your throat happy and healthy (as well as the rest of your body) is staying hydrated. Some of these suggestions may sound excessive and can even make things more expensive for you at first, but arriving fully prepared for a gig, healthy, and having a drama free setup makes for a bigger overall pay off. You want to be able to perform on stage no matter what circumstance you are thrown into. The more self-sufficient you become, the easier it is for the show to go on in any situation. These are just suggestions from my experiences and research, but there are more options out there. Do some research into them. Also, if you have any suggestions or questions about anything, email me at AskAmpLive@HipHopDX.com.
Now onto reader questions.
Analog Vs. Digital Reader Questions
“Hi my name is Ru. I am an artist/songwriter and I am trying to figure out how to split royalties or determine my worth on a song. I sometimes write (Usually Chorus Only. Melody and lyrics) for other artists to perform. What is the common split on royalties? Also, if I write and perform the song as a featured artist, what should the split be and how should I know to ask for more percentage if the hook is a hit? Thanks for your time. I appreciate all the knowledge its a blessing.”
Hey RU, thanks for the question. There are different variables that can affect the publishing splits. Things such as if the artist you are writing for is a big artist. In addition, did you write the music melody, is there a music producer entity involved that provided a full track already, and do you have any hit songs in your catalog? All these things make the whole process negotiable.
Just in general, if you were given a track and you wrote a whole song to it (chorus, lyrics, melody) for an artist, you would probably do a 50% writers split with the production entity. If it is just the hook that you wrote, the the split could be from 5% to 25% of the writers portion. Again, this is all negotiable and could change depending on your situation and relationship with those involved. Hopefully, anything that you are involved with will someday be a hit, so you want to try to have the percentage splits and your overall business handled in your best interest. This is usually done before the song is released. I would also strongly suggest if possible getting representation and working with a music industry lawyer about any negotiations.
“1. Why so many oldschool artists despise digital sound when it is the digital revolution that provided the ground for the electronic music rise in the 90s, which shaped the musical world that we have today? Imagine running an underground 24/7 online radio and you have to play vinyls only, this is at least to say inconvenient, you must have a separate storage rooms just for the records. So the question is which sounds better: A true vinyl record or its 24/96 wav file digital copy?
2. Can you really make a difference between a digital synth emulator and the real analog synth that was emulated? Which leads to the most important question: Let’s say I give you a task to produce a stylistically undefined simple 30-seconds instrumental track but I want two versions of it—he first entirely produced in the analog domain and the second entirely produced in the digital domain. Which one of the two tracks will have better sound qualities (depth, frequency and dynamics)?
3. Last question: Can you make a donkey to sound like a bird and vice versa? OK, I know you can, that was a joke Have a nice day and thanks for sharing your experience, it’s really valuable, I appreciate it.”
– Petko aka Steven Steven
Hey Petko, thanks for your question. Unfortunately because of space constraint, I can’t answer all of the questions, so I will pick some key ones that I think apply.
1. Just like I mentioned in the Analog Vs. Digital article, it is totally up to the ears of the individual listening rather vinyl sounding better than digital. Personally, if I am going to listen to a song that I know was recorded, and mixed in a totally analog environment (which means recorded to tape also), then I would rather hear that song on vinyl. You just get a better experience and really hear the warmth of the music. So in that situation I think vinyl is better than its digital copy.
2. I think it really comes down to what you are using. But in 2015, with a lot of work and knowledge of mixing, yes you can probably make a track that was produced in a analog domain and a digital domain sound the same. It may take many many hours, but it can be done
3. Yes, I think I could make a donkey sound like a bird. Welcome to the Digital Age, where time-stretch and pitch bending is a norm!
Amp Live is one half of the Bay Area’s Zion I crew. For the past 15 years, the producer-slash-deejay has performed all over the world as part of Zion I as well as a solo artist. Follow him on Twitter @AmpLive. Submit questions to AskAmpLive@HipHopDX.com.