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Learning New Material...Quickly.

Evenin' folks,

Unsurprisingly, this'll probably be a long post as I use ten times as many words as are necessary but bear with me...

I'm filling in for my friends wedding band over the next year or two, with the first show being next month. They play around 300 shows a year so they're well known and in demand, so it's a total honour to sing with them and I want to be at the top of my game as much as possible by then. Basically I've got about 2-3 weeks to learn 57 songs before I rehearse with them, some of which I don't even know and stuff like Ed Sheeran, which I'd usually avoid with a ten-foot barge pole! After I get the main set down, it'll be fine and I don't see it as an unrealistic goal to have all songs sorted within the timescale, but I've got a few questions that I hope can also help others hence posting it here.

- I've sung some of these songs before when my technique sucked. I hit the notes (sometimes) and distorted a lot through trying to reproduce someone else's sound. For example, "Long Train Running" really suits my voice when I belt and I can slide into the clean "Oooohh...where would you be now" smoothly from a more distorted tone BUT I don't want to distort that way anymore (or at all until I'm solid in Volumes 2 and 3). I've noticed that I still fall into those bad habits when going into higher notes but I'm trying to retrain the muscle to relax.

Is there any way to optimise this process? Is is best to just go back to basics, work softly and gradually build it up?

This band run a silent stage, basically, and all use in-ear monitoring with individual mixes so there'll be no problem with volume if I still need to pull back a bit. They're also really professional and understand the importance of the vocal (their live mixes are pristine in terms of vocal level), so I'm not worried about blow-outs or fatigue. I know if I get these wee annoying habits out of the way, I'll be able to do the whole set with ease and without losing my voice the next day.

- I plan to strip every single song, even if I know it well, back to pure vowels and spend this week doing nothing but that (after warm-ups and exercises, of course). I figure training my throat to stay open like this while also having to memorize the words and their vowel sounds will be a two-fold exercise. Do you think spending a week doing at least 3-4 hours a day, working on vowel sounds without full lyrics, would be overkill or not enough? I know it's likely down to whether or not I feel I've 'got' it any quicker or whether I feel I need more time on specifics, but I thought I'd see if you folks had any input.

Aside from these questions, I was wondering whether anyone had any other tips on learning new material quickly? I know I've had to learn 40 songs and the arrangements the band I was with did, all within about two weeks and basically just constantly listening to the songs and reading the lyrics was about as complicated as my approach got. When I write it all out, it seems like a daft question...hahaha!

Comments

  • ikingiking Posts: 212Pro
    If you've learned 40 songs before - it sounds like you can do this easily. Unfortunately, I've got no surprise tips. 3-4 hours sounds like a lot, but ok, if you
    can do it safely.

    What caught my attention - if you don't mind digressing a moment - was this statement: " This band run a silent stage, " What is that?

    There have been discussions on here before about the problems trying to sing over
    amplifiers, so I'm curious what you mean by this technically?

    thanks

  • TommyMTommyM Posts: 270Pro
    Digress away! The band all use software-based amplification going straight into the mixing desk, so there's minimal hardware aside from some outboard gear like pedals, etc that are then routed back to the desk too. The drummer uses an electronic kit so that all just goes direct to the desk too. We all have iPads setup to set our own monitor levels with a central output to the main speakers, so we can boost ourselves in the earpiece if needs be without feeding back as would normally happen.

    The biggest problem with the last band I had was their onstage volume. It led to oversinging massively which resulted in me almost losing my voice for good, so the silent stage idea seems like a great way to avoid it. Better still, it minimises the load out as there's only really the PA to put away rather than lugging amps and cabs around too.
  • ikingiking Posts: 212Pro
    The band all use software-based amplification going straight into the mixing desk, so there's minimal hardware aside from some outboard gear like pedals, etc that are then routed back to the desk too. The drummer uses an electronic kit so that all just goes direct to the desk too. We all have iPads setup to set our own monitor levels with a central output to the main speakers, so we can boost ourselves in the earpiece if needs be without feeding back as would normally happen.

    This sounds great. It's basically what I envisioned when I play live again - although I
    didn't know how to set it up. I also wondered how/ where you find a drummer with
    electronic kit - since many love to hear their own full onslaught crashing it seems.

    I'm wondering how this works in actual practice, too, looking forward to any update reviews you might offer.

    I'm also curious how the audience reacts to sound pressure, or the lack there of, as well.
  • videoacevideoace Posts: 1,734Pro, 2.0 PRO
    This is where I respectfully disagree. Software based amplification can never reproduce the sounds of a nice warmed up tube amplifier. I'm old school on this subject.
    Same for the electronics drums. I have a set myself, but they will never beat the sound of a natural wood kit.
    Some tech stuff is cool, like the wireless age we're in. No more tripping over cables! If it makes my work easier, I'm all for it, but if it's more complicated than what I presently use, I have no use for it.

    Peace, Tony
  • ikingiking Posts: 212Pro
    i've played with some guitar amps that nicely blew my trousers off - lol. And that
    sound pressure is important. However, I've also heard some excellent guitar amps
    VSTs.

    But as for the audience feeling the sound pressure? How about a cabinet in front
    of each musician - routed to their instrument only.
  • highmtnhighmtn Posts: 13,863Administrator, Moderator, Enrolled, Pro
    I play an acoustic drum kit with triggers. It's the best of both worlds. And in-ear monitors let you hear what you want to hear at the level you want to hear it, without having to crank volumes up in the room.
  • TommyMTommyM Posts: 270Pro
    I'm still an old-school gear-head too and love the sound and feel of analog gear, whether it's amps or synths, but recent developments in software emulation are impressive and, in some cases, actually do replicate classic sounds faithfully. I completely get the argument for hardware over software, or even just as Bob says a best of both worlds setup as, as iking mentions, stuff like sound pressure and the more tactile aspects of blasting sound are important in the overall experience.

    One example I could give where I genuinely found a VST matched the hardware was a Moog emulation I've got. The weight in the bottom end is FELT even through a crap setup like mine, in the same way a real Moog is. It's almost indistinguishable!

    This is where I think things get really subjective though and where only music geeks like ourselves really start to notice changes. Given the fact that this is a wedding and function band, the audience is only really looking for a glorified soundtrack to their evening. Maybe a handful of people, if even that many, in any given wedding party will notice the difference sonically between a classic amp and kit setup and a maybe 95% digital setup (they still use pedals, outboard compressors, noise and feedback limiters).

    As I'd said, the bass player is one of my best friends and he and I were in a band together for years so I know that he's a total gear-head too. I was actually shocked when he told me that their backline was pretty much exclusively digital 'cause this guy had Ampeg cabs, Ashdown heads and all sorts of great hardware. They spent their first year or so together using hardware only, but a large part of the reason for switching, and something I think a lot of people don't know about, is the issue of in-house limiters in venues. Over here (I don't know if you folks in the US get the same thing) most venues of the size where weddings and functions take place have limiters on their audio systems that cut the power if they're exceeded. This is largely why the drummer switched to an electronic kit (with his own kit multi-sampled at varying velocities for realism, as well as his sample sets) and why the whole band gradually moved to software. It took out one of their 'moving targets', so to speak, and also avoided complicated load ins for older building like we've got here in Glasgow, e.g. "St Andrews in the Square" is an 18th century classical church and the route for the stage is circuitous to say the least!

    Based on their feedback from clients, the comment I keep seeing coming up is that they sound as though they're basically playing back a recording of themselves because they're so tight musically, and the sound is balanced out front in a way that keeps everything punchy like a mastered mixdown. That, to me, isn't necessarily a good thing and I can see why it'd come across that way. Their singer is good, but he's got no charisma, his performances sound lacklustre and he just sounds like a decent pop/rock singer. I'll see if my friend is ok with me sharing a live recording of them to let you hear what I mean. I want to make the whole thing more LIVE and passionate sounding; it's a wedding after all, people are loved up and happy so, as an entertainer, I think it's my job to tap into that and bring it out in the performance. Otherwise, it just sounds drab. The bass player is a great showman, he used to do 360 degree spins with his bass flying in the air while doing one-handed tapping and all this cool onstage stuff, so I think him and I working together again will make us both perform even more.

    Anyway, digression and anecdotes aside, I actually agree for the most part with the hardware over software thing, however I would say that the technology is constantly improving. It's difficult, if not impossible to recreate organic colours in the sound like the high-end air present when blasting through an amp or slamming a kit, but I suspect that we'll see development on that front very quickly. Whether it'll ever take over a hardware setup remains to be seen, there's always those of us who just love analog and even seeming trends towards software-only set-ups tend to die down as analog gear takes on more digital circuitry.

    Thanks for all the comments here, it's great to hear your perspectives on this and to talk about it with you!
  • highmtnhighmtn Posts: 13,863Administrator, Moderator, Enrolled, Pro
    We're all coming from different viewpoints, and we each want whatever it is that we as individuals prefer personally. That's fine and normal.

    I remember back in the late 1960's and 70's hearing that one day there would be no backline and everything would plug straight into "the board". We didn't even HAVE boards back then. The first bands I was in would fill up all 4 of the paralleled inputs on the guitar amps and plug high-impedance mics into the guitar and bass amps. That was IT! No control over the individual inputs whatsoever. Feedback city. Lo-Fi.

    Then later I was working with bands that were recording in studios. The studio sound was INCREDIBLE compared to what we sounded like live. I wanted that "studio sound". Not the garbage that the equipment of the time (the much-revered "Analog" sound) would produce. Don't get me wrong. The GUITARS sounded GREAT when the tubes were glowing blue and orange with every chord. But the vocals and bass and drums and keyboards sounded awful. The band AS A WHOLE sounded awful. All of the bands did. Big time, or local. No fidelity. No clarity. Lots of feedback. No monitors. Blah blah blah. Another "progression" at this time, tube amps went away, in favor of more powerful "solid state" transistorized amplification.

    As we moved along, Mixing consoles started to become affordable, and line outputs became more common to insert into the main sound system.

    Fast-forward to now, the little band I am in has inputs for everything into the console. The backline is just for individual monitoring... "more me" (but within reason, volume-wise).

    We have stage monitors, but I'm using in-ears with my own mix. What people out front are hearing is essentially THAT SOUND that I always wanted. What I'm hearing in-ear is just what I always wanted. Sounds Hi-Fi, like a good recording. But it's live, with emotion and drive, yet sounds "as good as" a record. And when a venue wants the volume down, we can drop the sound in the room and still have a comfortable sound on stage or In-ear. Our stage monitors are about 3 times what our mains are capable of, not that we ever push them that much. And our mains just cruise at a clean volume that doesn't even break a sweat.

    You go hear another band and the drums are weak, the vocals sound like everyone has cotton in their mouths, and there is no "mix", just a blare or indistinguishable "LOUDNESS".

    Of course, this is just what I like. Some people might find it to be a burden to have to set up, tear down, and transport such a system. To me it's satisfying, because I'm looking forward to what the system does.

    If you like something more primitive, or more cutting-edge, then go for it. The choices now are incredible.
  • ikingiking Posts: 212Pro
    Well, I guess I'm a mixture of old and new school also. Ill embrace the silent stage now to try. But Ive enjoyed playing live with acoustic kit drummers for sure. In fact one band I was in, had 2 drummers.

    It was understood that the more visible showcase rock clubs would use part time drummer #2: a known session drummer. Singers idea and a good one. That guy really grooved and everybody went up a notch.

  • highmtnhighmtn Posts: 13,863Administrator, Moderator, Enrolled, Pro
    I'm not dissing acoustic drum kits, especially great-sounding ones. But I used to carry around about 10 mic stands just for the drum kit, a sub-snake to run to the main snake to reduce cord-winding time, and we would spend HOURS trying to get a sound that approached what we would take HOURS in the studio trying to dial-in.
  • videoacevideoace Posts: 1,734Pro, 2.0 PRO
    Thats why I like my electronic drums for recording. No mics, cables, time to mix, etc....
    They sound the same every time i set them up, and takes minutes for that.
    The new clip on drum mics seem pretty cool even though I haven't tried those yet on my acoustic set.
    Do you have any experience with those at all @highmtn ? I've been thinking about buying a set.

    Peace, Tony
  • TommyMTommyM Posts: 270Pro
    @videoace We used to run AKG clip-ons live and in pre-show rehearsal on the drummers maple kit. I always remember the toms being super beefy and the ring on the snare could really be made to cut through the guitars onstage. Not sure of the ins and out, i.e. specific models and what they were running through to the desk, but I definitely remember them seeming far more responsive than classic mic techniques. If I remember rightly, we stuck an SM57 underneath the snare too but that's neither here nor there.

    I really want to get an electronic kit purely for my own recording and writing. Space and noise-wise, it makes more sense and I really dislike using a MIDI controller to play drums or programme them directly. Ideally though, gimme a nice Mapex kit with a Tommy Lee-sized kick drum and I'd be a happy boy!

    I totally get the argument for acoustic drums in a live setting over exclusively electronic, and would much rather have that cause it just brings that movement and energy to life. Like I'd said, the reasons for the drummer in this band having an electronic kit are largely related to logistics and the limiter issue; the guy pounds the kit so one too many transients and it's literally lights out!
  • highmtnhighmtn Posts: 13,863Administrator, Moderator, Enrolled, Pro
    The electro-acoustic set gets the SMACK of the stick against the head that just isn't there with pure electronics. There's your transient. Some venues don't want any smack, though.

    Those really short-body clip-on mics are pretty cool, because you can get them in tight without the end of the mic and the cord connector getting hit by a stick or a cymbal wobbling. Those Large-diaphragm Kick mics that come with a lot of mic kits are pretty popular for getting a beefy low-end.
  • bentkbentk Posts: 1,025Pro, 2.0 PRO
    The tough part for me would be the lyrics... i mess them up so many times it's absolutely ridiculous. I really have to know a song by heart to do that a 100% correct every time. I play my guitar with pretty much every song, so knowing the lyrics by heart makes it easier to do two things at once.

    But you said it yourself, listen to the songs regularly. Play along as well, it's good to know the basic structure of a song even if you are only singing. You've tackled something like this before, so you just need time on your side.

    And of course the complexity of the songs can be a problem. I would start to tackle the more difficult songs first and see where you get.

    All the best,

    Ben
  • TommyMTommyM Posts: 270Pro
    I feel your pain with the lyric issue! Hahaha! I'm taking lyrics with me and also planning them out with breath markers to keep myself right, but I'm hoping that I'll have the songs down by the time I need to perform with them. Most of them are ok, but there's stuff I've literally never heard in my life before and would never, ever listen to, e.g. "Shut Up And Dance With Me", an atrociously bland pop song, so I'm trying to reinterpret them into something a bit more lively and rocky.

    At the moment, I'm breaking each song down, even if I know it well, into its vowels to rebuild from there with a good open throat technique. So far it's been amazingly effective both in learning the songs and sorta casually imprinting the sound of the lyrics if not the specific words yet.
  • bentkbentk Posts: 1,025Pro, 2.0 PRO
    edited April 18
    It's smart to break down the songs and practice them. You discover areas you can improve which will make it a whole lot easier. I practice my 'difficult' songs a lot to improve them, knowing how much weight i should shed from my chest voice, where i can lean more into the sound, where i should go easy on the vowels/consonants etc.

    For instance, some higher songs require lighter singing, so it really needs a different approach. I can't take up too much weight throughout the whole song, it will tire me.

    I have to say that all this stuff kind of becomes more natural in time, but i still always thoroughly practice songs.
  • DiegoDiego Posts: 4402.0 PRO
    I usually break down the song into different parts as well.
    Then I just put it all together. I have how I want it to sound in my head, and I practice each part that way until I get a similar or exact result.

    As for the Lyrics, I've had some embarassing moments while singing live. lol.
    I usually like to understand the song and get deep into it so It gets stuck onto me.

    Good Luck!
    -Diego
  • highmtnhighmtn Posts: 13,863Administrator, Moderator, Enrolled, Pro
    edited April 19
    When I'm trying to crash-learn a lot of material, I tend to burn CD's with all of that material on them, and listen to them everywhere I go until the time comes that I have to perform them. I brainwash myself through repetition. It's even better if you know the order that they will be performed in, so you start to associate the end of one song with the into of the next, if you set up the order of the burned CD's in the order of your setlist.
  • TommyMTommyM Posts: 270Pro
    Already on it! Hahaha! I've got them ripped to my phone, and also on a playlist on YouTube to leave on in the background to subconsciously embed the damn things! I actually managed to find original instrumentals for about 90% of the set last night, so I'm going to start just singing through the whole lot every day and refining the approach.

    My friend has sent me a load of their live recordings for the arrangements as there's a few medleys in there too, and a few wee fun excursions such as when I need to launch into singing in Punjabi...yes, Punjabi. I love a challenge...hahaha!
  • Furious_PhilFurious_Phil Posts: 1,176Moderator, Pro, 2.0 PRO
    I feel for you mate! I have a terrible memory for lyrics, unless they are a part of me :wink:
    One of the things that fetch me up the most is if the lyrics are syncopated, or otherwise rhythmically strange to the song, especially when I am playing guitar as well. I have a 10 song set/accompaniment coming up at the end of the month, that is tricky so all of the reasons listed... but I'll make it through, somehow... and you will too!
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