Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Heineken Beer Offers Free Mick Hargreaves Download until 11/17/2010

Free download of "Can't Keep Track of You Blues":

Every download counts as a vote towards "featured artist" status. If you're feeling especially kind, click on the "Share" button to post the download link to your Facebook page. I'll buy you a beer. Promise.

Redemption Center II - Due Early 2011

Due Early 2011
Redemption Center II
Dreams, Demos & Designs

While organizing gear and gathering archives together in anticipation for a new recording studio setup for Lantern Sound, it became obvious that I have a treasure trove of great recordings that have never seen the light of day. Many of these band demos, pre-production recordings, outtakes, and songwriting ideas date back to the days of me playing bass in the awesome, pre-internet, NYC 60's influenced garage band The Tonebenders (with Doug Cox, Mike Corcoran, Dave Martin, Charlie Servello).

Look for this very raw, recorded-in-analog collection to be available digitally at mickhargreaves.com via Paypal or Credit Card in early 2011.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

7 Steps To An Easier Online Musical Presence

I've been wracking my brain for over a year now, inching my way towards an online operating existance I call "auto-pilot". I wanted to get to this point before I released any more new music.

The challenge is this: Make it as little work as possible to gather fans, push music out them, keep them updated, and publicize events and releases. This means everything done online, whether it be blog entry, a new song, a new show, or a status update, should have the effect of a stone thrown in a pond: One throw, many ripples.

People (musicians) have been asking me how I did all this, so I'm here to spill the beans on what I can remember, and what I've learned. Keep in mind, this is an evolving process (it's the worldwide web), and your mileage my vary; please customize as you wish. Be patient, methodical, and purposeful, and when frustrated, put down the mouse and pick up the guitar. This will work for you, and if you ever see me, buy me a beer at the bar as a giving of thanks.

I've tried to keep this free of too much techno-jargon, and understandable to the uninitiated. I've included my own sites as examples of "how I did it". As you yourself go through the actual process, it will certainly help if you have (or a friend has) a basic understanding of HTML code.

1. Reverb Nation is the Bomb.


I can't say enough good things about this site. In one location I'm able to list  shows, manage an email fan list, upload music, generate a press kit, even host an online store. I can also push out various functions such as Fan email collectors, Show Itineraries, and Music Players via "Widgets" that can be  embedded on other sites and blogs. The profile page could use some cosmetic  help, but what it's really about is Reverb Nation's "behind the scenes" engines;  they drive most everything else out there for me; add a show or a song on Reverb Nation, it gets updated elsewhere. Heck, when I send an email to fans from Reverb Nation, they let me post a link to the email on other sites so non-email list members can read the missive too.

2. MySpace Stinks - So don't get rid of it. 


The recent "Quit MySpace Day" was perpetrated by operatives who work with BandCamp and SoundCloud; it was an amusing, but silly ruse. Sure, MySpace is ugly, klunky, owned by Rupert Murdoch and some major record labels, and it's never lived up to it's promise(s); it's still an important online outpost though. Google yourself; your MySpace Music page consistently shows up near the top. Remember, bookers, journalists, and other "industry types" still use your MySpace page as a "one-stop-shop" information-destination.

However: Forget about adding gig info here, and get rid of the MySpace music player. Swap in a Reverb Nation music player, fan email collector and show itinerary widgets. Synch up Myspace to Reverb Nation and your Facebook Fan Page by tweaking their respective "settings" panels, make sure you provide links from MySpace to any other important things (videos, etc.) and... Congratulations - you just put MySpace in animated suspension; you'll never go back there unless you want to change a pretty color or something. Bonus: If you use the new MySpace profile 2.0, you can add a custom banner. Whee.

3. Be the Blog.


A blog (for instance, the one you're reading) is the one place you can add/post/write about pretty much whatever you want in just about any form, including embedding music players (from Reverb Nation), putting up artwork, large-format photos... you name it, you've got a blank canvas. Treat it as your periodic "fan newsletter" if you like, or more. While you're at it, in the sidebar of your blog, be sure to embed music player, show itinerary, Twitter, and fan email gathering widgets. I use blogger for both my personal music blog (you're reading it) and the Songtrails Radio Hour Blog.

Synch up things so that when you post a new blog entry, a link to that entry gets auto-placed on Twitter, MySpace, Facebook, etc.

Still from the "Bridget" Video - p.donnelly

4. YouTube account.


This, of course, is where your music vids will reside. Of course, you'll want to embed video players at your various sites, but you'll also want to save even more work (natch) by having new videos and favorites auto-post to other sites, so synch/link this account with your Reverb Nation, MySpace, Twitter accounts, and with your...

5. Facebook Fan Page.


Assuming you've already got one of these (if you don't, stop reading right now and get one - it's where your fans are), go ahead and add a "Band Profile" tab, which is generated via your Reverb Nation account. Of course, you're already busy at work linking this very important FB Fan page to all the other music sites you're using.

6. Linking it all together.


While this really is the trickiest part, and one that requires a lot of trial and error, hopefully you've been doing this site-by-site as you go along. My experience with having all these sites "talk" to each other is that you'll need to... Investigate, link 'em up one at a time, then test 'em one at a time. If it's broke fix it, if it ain't broke, don't you DARE touch it - move on to the next link in the chain to be worked on. When something goes wrong, change only one setting at a time. Be patient; sometimes it will take a while for your new post at Blogger to show up over at your Facebook pages. The hard work, boredome and monotony will pay off, trust me. Coffee will help. Frustrated? Step away and pick up the guitar.

One major component is Facebook Applications (albeit with their inherently clunky workings), which permit a load of cross-pollinating to/from your FB Fan page. I had to bite the bullet and also get a Twitter account, which for now functions as a "bridge" between certain sites that have trouble "talking" to each other. People (younger demographic, too) WILL follow you at Twitter as well, so it's probably worth having, even if just on auto-pilot. Room for future expansion here.

7. Bandcamp: Bigger bomb-diggity than Reverb Nation; In fact, it's the crown jewel.

Or, getting your own website/URL hosted on the cheap

This was the big surprise in the whole process; because on the surface, Bandcamp is just another site to host your music. But it's oh SO much more.

I signed up (free), and uploaded some some songs. Fine. Then I realized that BandCamp lets you sell music directly to fans (suck eggs, iTunes), lets them name their own price, and collects fan emails in exchange for free downloads (Reverb Nation will also do this for you). They also let you REALLY design your own page, but here's the kicker:

Once you obtain your very own URL (such as http://www.mickhargreaves.com) courtesy of a domain registration service like Go Daddy, Bandcamp will actually let you have that URL "point" at your Bandcamp page, while still displaying said custom URL! ( I believe this is called "DNS Mapping" or something.)

Do the math: You just got a custom domain and some free web hosting for very little money, boys and girls.

Fold in some smart HTML Image Mapping (attached to a custom header image) at Bandcamp, and you've got a website with URL of your choice that links everything together. Again, you need to be versed in some basic HTML code, image-mapping, and web-hosting stuff, but face it: This is 2010 and you need to suck it up, or at least find someone who can do it for you. Barter!

Your old road is rapidly changing
Please get out of the new one if you can't lend a hand
For the times, they are a-changin'

See how other artists are using BandCamp.

Downside: The work is never done.

But for you, there's a lot less of it now. There's always some tweaking to do, some issues to investigate and solve. For instance, do I really need my music on Reverb Nation (for music widgets), Bandcamp (selling/bartering music direct to fans) AND iTunes (because everyone else is there)? For now, the answer is yes. But check back in a few hours...

[ 10/26/2010 Update: sometimes sites you "link" together mysteriously stop "talking" to each other and things need re-setting. No one said it would be perfect. ]

Back to The Music

Remember actually Making Music? Welp, we've just freed up a bunch of time and put our minds at rest by getting our nitty-gritty, annoying, boring Inter-Web things set to auto-pilot. Now we can go create some music.

Next Techno-Web-Music Post:
Soundcloud, and all that IT can do. And... Here's a late entry in the web-hosting-for-music-artists category:


Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Obsessive Compulsive Department: Basses 'n' Strings

If you're into bass, or even guitar, you'll find this interesting; if not, save yourself now and turn the channel... things are about to get really tedious, boring, and string-centric. MH

During my seasonal systematic cleaning, polishing and setup of my various basses, I decided it was time to get real (and keep it real) about string selection, particularly with respect to what string set would be best for each bass. Take notes, establish benchmarks, that sort of thing. Combining my existing experience with a load of research into availability, reviews, and pricing (I was up until 2am one recent night pecking away on the inter-web), I came up with the following list of instrument / string pairings. This list is of course tailored to me, and it's evolving by nature; your mileage may vary. Feedback (not from the bass amp) is always welcomed.

Dates, where noted, are the last time strings were put on the instrument. Except for the Danelectro tic-tac, all basses are four strings. Like Terry Day's t-shirt says,

"If four strings was enough for Willie Dixon, it's enough for me." 

Fender 1966 Precision Bass
(Photo: In-studio pajama overdubs, Libby Johnson "Perfect View" recording sessions.) The grand-daddy of all my basses. Bought in 1993 for
(please don't hate me) a measly $675 when I was with The Gripweeds, it's my recording log, and rarely sees the live stage. The butterscotch color is probably some sort of severely-yellowed Fender white. I've swapped out the tuners, knobs, bridge, and pick guard, but kept all the original parts stored away. The pickups and pots are still original. To duplicate the James Jamerson sound as closely as possible, I've been using La Bella 0760M "Deep Talkin'" Flat Wounds  (.52 .073 .095 .110). I don't even remember the last time I changed these puppies; like James did, I'll keep a set of strings on this bass forever. Bring on the funk, please... literally.

Lakland 2007 Duck Dunn Precision Bass 
My main stage bass, a dream to play. Candy-apple red with big fret markers, P Bass body and passive electronics, fast J Bass neck, Lindy Fralin pickups (which they longer come with; Lakland was sold in April 2010 and there's a whole new production workflow and supply, apparently. They now have Hanson pickups). Purchased a couple of years ago on Craigslist. I'm getting tempted to put a replacement tortoise shell pick guard on. Someday I'd like to get a Hip Shot D-Tuner slapped on to this bass, so that would mean a thicker E string, if not a thicker set all together. For now, to duplicate the strings and gauges that came on this bass from the factory, I chose GHS M3050 Precision Flatwound (.45 .65 .85 .105 - 10/5/2010).

Fender 2006 MIM Jazz Bass
(Photo: onstage with Los Blaggards, high above Major's Cove) This is my backup stage bass, bought out of necessity in Iowa City, IA (thanks, Berge) during the Jaguar Bass "problem-period" (more on this below). Midnight Wine color, and I swapped out the white pickguard for a tortoise-shell. Like the Lakland, right now it has a new set of GHS M3050 Precision Flatwounds (.45 .65 .85 .105 - 10/5/2010) but ideally, I'd like to go with a lighter gauge set to bring out more of the "J Bass" character, something like the GHS 3025 Flatwounds (.045 .060 .075 .095), or the La Bella equivalent.

Fender 2006 MIJ Jaguar Bass
It seemed like a good idea at the time; it took modifications to make it work right. J Bass neck and pickup profile. I immediately took it on the road with Matthew Grimm and the Red Smear, where it gave me unending electronic problems, to the degree that after the infamous Dallas TX show, I purchased the aforementioned Jazz bass in Iowa City, mid-tour. Back home, I had the active 9V electronics removed, and there was never a problem again. Only the pickup selector switches, volume and tone knobs remain functional.
Because I still want to have one bass with round-wound strings in the arsenal, and I had a couple of sets laying around, I've put on a set of Dean Markley MED 50-105 Medium Gauge Blue Steels. We'll see how that experiment goes. 

Carlo Robelli Acoustic "Freedom" Bass 
Yes, it has an eagle in the soundhole; I had to have Richie Havens sign it. I get a very pleasing "upright" sound from this instrument, especially if foam (or as some players do, a tampon - I have yet to try this) is put under the strings near the bridge. String selection on this one is an ongoing experiment. Right now, to keep tension low I've gone with a set of Fender 9050L Flatwounds, Light gauge (.045 .060 .080 .100). They're a bit bright, so I'm using a cloth or foam mute under the strings. A set of black nylon flat wounds might be really nice on this thing though.

Danelectro 6-String Bass
These Danelectro (Tic Tac) basses are typically strung up (.024, .034, .044, .056, .072 .084), all roundwounds.
They're tuned E to E one octave down from a normal guitar, sometimes with the top-note strings tuned to C and F instead of guitar-conventional B and E. I think the set I currently have on mine (another Craigslist buy) is single strings from the same manufacturer cobbled together. It's due for a new set very soon, and it will probably be a custom set once again. Danelectro's custom sets are apparently no longer available. Suggestions?

Some Context: Danelectro baritone guitars are apparently strung up .014 to .068. The standard set of GHS Electric Bass Boomers for Fender VI Bass 6-String (used extensively by the John Lennon and George Harrison in-studio when Paul was on piano) runs .025 to .095; this obviously yielded a much more bass-like tone.

Next up: Guitars

photos: Ray Reeves, Ingrid Silva, Paula Donnelly, Jim Marchese, Dave Henderson

Shots Fired In Dallas, TX

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Weird Coincidence: Mick vs. Led Zeppelin

Just noticed this, several months after I released the music video for my recording of Gary Jude Anderson's song "Bridget"...

Still image from the "Bridget" music video:

Front cover of Led Zeppelin's "In Through The Out Door" LP (1979):

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Katy Perry vs. John Lennon

The New York Roots Music Association & Saturday Night Social Club presents 

Saturday, September 18th 2010 8PM - "IMAGINE THIS: The music of John Lennon" - American Legion Hall Post 1812 Plainview NY - Performances of the "Rock and Roll" & "Imagine" LPs by members of The Blaggards, The Hornets, Mike Bifulco, Russ Seeger, and many special guests. $10, Cash Bar

Recently , I was ordering a large coffee in a suburban Starbucks that's located on an actual village Main Street, a nice contrast to the soulless, strip-malled, limited access highway location-situation currently poisoning the US landscape.

I took notice of two CD's displayed shoulder-to-shoulder at the point-of-purchase: The new John Lennon best-of collection, "Remember", and Katy Perry's latest twinkie-gasm, "Teenage Dream".

Perry's release is festooned with a sticker proclaiming "Cotton Candy-Scented!", and the twenty-something register-girl catches me SNIFFING it. Busted.

Launching into damage-control mode, I hold both CD's up and say,

"Some contrast, huh?"

"Actually, I just listened to it, it's pretty good," she replies.

"The Katy Perry?"

"No," she says, holding back a smirk. "The John Lennon."



Catch some of us chatting about the show and performing some of Beatle John's solo material TODAY (Wednesday, Sept 15th) on Tom and Heidy Ryan's "American Hit Radio" at 5pm Eastern, WHPC 90.3 FM Garden City NY.

Mick Hargreaves solo acoustic shows East Setauket NY Sat 10/2, Bridgehampton NY Sat 10/9 (w/ Caroline Doctorow & The Steamrollers).

The Blaggards MTK Sat 9/25, NYC Sat 10/2, Bay Shore NY Sat 10/9

The Songtrails Radio Hour next new show Sat 10/2, 7pm WPKN 89.5FM Bridgeport CT, 8pm WEER 88.7FM Montauk NY

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Bass-Playing Döpplegangers: 10 Questions for Judd Fuller and Mick Hargreaves

Judd Fuller (Nashville, TN) and Mick Hargreaves (NY, NY) are bass playing brothers-in-arms who've never met in person. Through the modern day miracle of "social networking" they becamoe aware that they both favor four-string basses with flatwound strings, like the same types of music, enjoy a nice tasting ale, they both shave every bit of hair off their heads, and doggone-it, they actually look similar.

It is only fitting that we put ourselves head-to-head (pardon that particular pun), posing "Ten Questions for The Bassist":

Judd w/ Thunderbird Bass
1) What song or artist whomped you so hard over the head that you foolishly decided to pursue music for a living?

JUDD FULLER (left): Sometime in '76, I first heard "Tumbling Dice" by the Stones....I had always loved music and particularly The Beatles, but hearing the Stones on my friend's car stereo made me have a fit and re-think my life decisions. I promptly quit the wrestling team ( I was a sophomore, and probably on my way to a decent high school career ), and devoted even MORE time to smoking pot and playing in garage bands. Damn you, Keith Richards!

Mick w/ Lakland Duck Dunn Bass
MICK HARGREAVES (left): Surprisingly, not the Beatles. It was NRBQ. I heard their "At Yankee Stadium" LP, then saw them live a few times and I was hooked. I particularly dug the sounds Joey Spampinato got from his basses, which were mostly Danelectro's and Jerry Joneses. Flatwound strings, pick, thumb, and finger technique. Their fans comprise one of the coolest musical "cults" around.

2) Who would you cast to play you in the movie of your life story?

JF: I'm gonna say Russell Crowe. He's kind of stocky, but not weight-lifter stocky, I think he likes beer, but is possibly willing to work out hard enough to burn off the previous night's 12 pack, plus he plays music. I just feel this one. Though at this point he would have to shave his head. I think he'd be OK with it.

MH: Why, Judd Fuller of course. He's got the looks, the ability, the sense of humor, the total lack of hair on his head... He'd be a natural!

3) How did you gravitate toward the bass?

MH: Fifth grade, and they paraded our classmate, Rheinhart Yu (half German, half Chinese) in front of the class to demonstrate the cello, and he smoked it. I mean, he was way beyond what you'd think a fifth grader would be capable of. Afterwards, they asked the class if anyone was "interested" in cello. Sure, I thought, I was "interested" in that, I'd like to find out more about the instrument. I didn't know I was signing up to learn how to play the damn thing! I wound up having an awesome teacher, Mr. Johnson, who sadly later died fishing when his boat swamped off Montauk and he got sucked down to the briny deep in his waders. I also remember somehow agreeing to go for lessons in the middle of the summer when everyone was out having fun. I had this super-hot chick teacher (I was in fifth grade, remember, so that didn't mean a thing), who I walked out on because she made me wait too long one day. That was my first musical rebellious moment, I suppose. Soon, other things (high school being what it is) distracted me away from music, but when I got back to the music, the electric bass was a natural point of return, and I never looked back.

JF: When we were in ninth grade, my friend Tommy Greenwald was playing with some guys who needed a bass player. He played keyboards, we had an afro-sporting white kid named Brian Howard who played a mean Hendrix-style strat, and Eric Michaels who was a good drummer....plus his parents let us rehearse in his basement. I had played a bit of guitar at that point. I tried out by playing bass lines on a borrowed electric guitar. I guess I got the gig. I rode the train in from CT. and bought, with cash pinned to my sock, a Fender MusicMan bass from Manny's, as a birthday gift from my mom. We played dances, battle of the bands, etc., mainly Kiss and Sabbath covers. Brian once threatened to bring in a live chicken and kill it onstage 'cuz we were playing at a rival junior high school's dance and he wanted to piss them off. He didn't. He settled on busting up a lousy acoustic guitar bought for that purpose. Did he? I don't know, you'd have to ask those guys.

4) When did you start becoming follically challenged?

JF: Around age 26. I fought it for a while, and then just arrived at the acceptance stage a lot smoother than I thought. Tried Minoxidil around age 28, but it didn't take. Though to this day, I still have dreams wherein I look in the mirror, have a full, luxurious head of hair, and think, "wow, this is awesome"! And then I wake up. Damn. Plus when I go swimming, I still come out from diving in and shake my head to get the hair out of my eyes....

MH: June 19th 1995. It was a cloudy day as I recall. Actually, I just shaved it all off before work one day and never looked back. The only thing I've ever put on my noggin' is moisturizer. Judd, just think of all the money we save by not having to go to the barber, and not having to buy shampoo or conditioner... and all the time saved by not having to dry the head of hair after showering or swimming/surfing!

5) When loosening cavities is important, what's your bass rig of choice? (Please include amplifier, instrument, effects/processing, and playing style details.)

JF: What's weird is that these days, I don't play an amp on stage. It's all DI. I'm at the mercy of the Front-Of-House engineer. It's a strange Nashville phenomenon. A sterile stage so the singer can hear himself better. I'm not fond of it. BUT: When I did use a rig in Nashville, it was a Genz-Benz 1200 head, Genz-Benz 4 X 10 with deep portals. No effects other than slight compression and EQ. Most important were the thump of the strings....either flatwounds or LaBella tape wounds. And the style of play. My fave influential players: Rick Danko, Paul McCartney, Joey Spampinato from NRBQ.

MH: Ampeg SVT-II rack mount head, plugged into a 4x10 cabinet loaded with Eminence Legend BP102 10-inch drivers (the same drivers currently used in Ampeg's 8x10 refrigerators) and a single 15" cabinet (not certain about the driver, I'd have to open it up - which is on the "to do" list). I'd use my Lakland Donald "Duck" Dunn P-Bass, because it's louder than my 1966 Fender Precision. I normally don't have it in the signal chain, but if I want to ensure the very back molars are loosened, I'd throw in the ol' trusty Boss compressor pedal, with the Monte Alums mods. I'd use a pick for extra attack characteristics. I will say, Judd, our fave bassists are almost identical, and I too drank the flatwound Kool-Aid long ago. We need to get a beer, son.
Mick w/ '66 P-Bass
6) Favorite Bass Player Joke?

MICK HARGREAVES: The kid returns from his first bass lesson and triumphantly announces to his dad  that he learned all the notes on the E string. The next week, he learns all the notes on the A string. The third week, he doesn't come back on time. His dad is beside himself with worry and anxiety. Finally, the kid walks in the door at 1AM and says, "Be cool, daddy-o... I had a gig!"

Judd w/ The right kind of 6-string...

Q: What is the range of a good 5-string bass?
A: About 10 yards, if you have a good arm.

7) What US state, in your opinion, has the most annoying assortment of roadside billboards?

JF: Tennessee, no doubt. A lot of religious blather on billboards, telling me that "HELL IS REAL", and "JESUS IS THE ONLY WAY TO GOD", and asking, "Where will YOU spend ETERNITY?" Hey, brah, believe what you want to believe, but keep it private....I'm spiritual, I believe in a power greater than ourselves, no doubt....but I would prefer your beliefs stay out of my life!

MH: I always got the impression that Missouri was the Bible-billboard-belt...

8) What's your number one pet peeve, pertaining to bass, bassists, bass playing?

JF: Dudes that strap their bass up to nipple and / or chin height. Keep it low, with 'tude. It's more important to look cool than to be comfortable. Looking cool is all we got....

MH: I call that the "Herman's Hermit's" height adjustment.  For me... hmmmm... it would be easy to say the fifth and/or sixth strings (I'm a devout four-stringer), but we've all heard that one before, and as soon as I say that, I'll probably wind up on a recording session that calls for a five-string part. So, scratch that. I'd say just a general trend towards overplaying and an inattention to "economy of notes". Guitar players who play bass are often guilty of this.

9) If you were re-born as a bass, what would you be?

JF: One that sounds like a perfect amalgam of all the bassists that influenced my playing. But looks used.

MH: I'd be reborn as the 1961 Fender P-Bass that was stolen from me right out the back door of a club in Hoboken, NJ back in 1991. I was an idiot for bringing that thing out to shows.

10) What's the favorite venue you've ever performed in?

MH: I tend to hang onto the weird ones. So, it's a toss up between Leipzig, Germany and Death Valley, California.

Leipzig is in old East Germany near the Polish border. The Grip Weeds were on tour, and the club was in this giant old subterranean, labyrinthian jail. One can only imagine what went on down there down through the ages. We played what must have been a huge mess hall, with a vaulted ceiling. The kids spoke almost no English aside from "Cigarette" and "American". The show was nuts.

Death Valley... played there twice with Matthew Grimm & The Red Smear in a "town" on the edge of the valley. The town is basically a campsite, gas station and motel that share a water source. "If the water ever dries up, we're finished." Comedian Doug Stanhope and his entourage of beautiful nutcases buy the place out for three or four days once a year and it's completely off the hook. The porch of one of the motel buildings is used as a stage, and at night it's a combination of bands and comedy. There's a ghost town nearby. It's so hot (duh) that people have inflatable kiddie pools in the motel rooms.

JF: I've performed in arenas, stadiums, theatres, huge clubs, churches, and absolute shit-hole bars. But my absolute fave venue I've played in is a little family-owned bar in Oak Bluffs, Martha's Vineyard, MA., called The Ritz Cafe. For a couple of years I would play every Monday night there with three bad-ass Boston-area players: John Caban (guitar), Brian Alex (guitar), and Tom Major(drums) . We would play funk covers (The Meters, Kool And The Gang, etc., or just funk versions of other people's songs, depending on what mood we were in....never a rehearsal!) and the vibe was just amazing. On Monday nites, the line would be around the corner, Just a bunch of hot, sweaty people dancing, right in your face, and we would improvise, lay-out, hammer it home, do whatever...I've never felt musical energy that thick with either the players, or the people watching and dancing. I miss it!

Judd Fuller playing the Danelectro Longhorn bass with Rodney Atkins
Mick Hargreaves backstage at the Stephen Talkhouse with Junior Brown

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Lantern Sound Adds Class A Tube Mic Pre's

After much research and Just Plain Thinking about what to get, the decision was arrived at, and the purchase made... The new arrival, just intsalled in the Lantern Sound mobile recording rig is a an ART Gold; a dual-channel, class A tube microphone preamp. The bonus was that it had already undergone a wise tube-swap: The crummy Chinese tubes (standard issue out of the box) had been replaced with Tung-Sols by the previous owner.

The ART Gold undergoing gruelling quality-control bench testing upon arrival.


The ART Gold intalled in the rack. Edirol FA-101 digital interface glows upper left, RNC dual channel compressor lurks in the shadows, upper right. Mackie 1204 VLZ mixer is used for headphone/control room monitoring. Mackie mic pre's are pressed into service when needed, directly feeding inputs on the Edirol.

Jeff McLary during a break,
  recording in the Songtrailer.
Edirol I/O sits atop the ART Gold.

Jeff McLary of the Long Island Hornets volunteered to be a guinea pig for a tracking session "shakedown cruise" to run the rig through it's paces, and test out the new signal path routing. He performed one song live INSIDE the mobile van ("The Songtrailer"), just an acoustic guitar and vocal. 

The Rode NT1 (original) large diaphram condenser mic was used on the soundhole of the guitar, and was routed through one channel of the ART Gold, while Jeff sang though MXL R144 ribbon mic (figure 8 pattern), using the other channel of the ART Gold. A Shure SM57 was used up on the neck of the acoustic, routed directly in to one of the mic pre's on the Edirol I/O. (Not an ideal mic choice, but never fear: A matched pair of small diaphram condenser mics are on the way).

I loved the ability to adjust microphone impedance to actually vary the sound of each microphone, and the separate input (tube) and output (analog) gain controls are great to have. Results were very pleasing, and when the track is done, it will definitely be posted in the usual locations. One of the next things I'll be doing is to take advantage of the Figure 8 / Cardiod mics at my disposal by testing out some mid/side mic'ing techniques on the acoustic guitar. More soon...


Monday, July 12, 2010

An Affordable Class-A Tube Mic Preamp?

If you're using any of this gear or have comparable alternatives, please chime in... 

While researching various affordable ($300-$500) high-voltage tube mic preamps (dual-channel preferred) in advance of a purchase for the Lantern Sound project studio in the not-too-distant future, I came across some other (i.e. not valve-state) VERY interesting pieces, the first and most notable being the single-channel Golden Age Project Pre 73, which is selling for only $299 US. If it lives up to the marketing-speak, it's probably quite a piece, or maybe this is just too good to be true:

"The PRE-73 is the first one-channel low-cost preamp on the market that is using a fully discrete signal path with three separate transformers for the balanced mic input, the line input and the output. The circuit is very similar to the classical preamp section of the Neve 1073 pre/eq module with a corresponding sound character that is warm, punchy, sweet and musical."

 Golden Age Project 73 Single Channel Preamp

Not to mention the fact that the input impedance of the microphone input can be switched between 300 and 1200 ohms. That's going to provide a lot of tonal variety.  Interesting and yes, tantalizing, especially when the name Neve gets tossed around.

People have apparently been talking highly of the Focusrite ISA One, which has a mic preamp based on the pre from their classic Forte console. Four switchable mic impedances, line input, headphone output for monitoring, a flexible independent DI input, insert point, and optional digital upgrade. This is something you'd probably use for a long time and you'd be guaranteed to get your money's worth... $599 US.

Focusrite ISA One

The Presonus Studio Channel is a 1U channel strip device that incorporates a VCA-based compressor and studio-grade three-band parametric EQ (mid-band has variable "Q", comp and EQ being position-swappable in the signal chain with the press of a button), with a class A tube preamp, with a VU meter and a hi-pass filter. Good reviews, but no variable mic impedance, and no digital interface, although there is an expansion slot for the future addition of digital output card (apparently currently in planning). Some OK reviews; one demanding writer said the unit was wanting for more headroom, and the compresser didn't pump and slam enough; but he also said he's looking for a "compressor that resells hard drugs and kicks up the tribute to the producer". About $250 US.

Presonus Studio Channel

The solid state "class-A mode" (huh?) Focusrite Trackmaster Pro ($300 US, and based on their Green range of pre's) improves upon the Presonus piece with the inclusion of a lo-impedance mic switch (hello, ribbon mic users), an opto-instead-of-VCA-based compressor, and the addition of a latency-free monitoring capability. It has mid-scoop EQ only, but has an A-D option that can be fitted later. Some strictlly OK reviews, and Focusrite says it's "ultra clean sounding but if you run it hot it will not sound quite as warm and forgiving as the original Track Master" (which, by the way, have been seen going for $150 on Craigslist). Hmmm...

Focusrite Track Master Pro

The Presonus Eureka ($500 US) is a step up from their Studio Channel; 1U, with a class-A discrete transformer-coupled mic preamp, variable mic input impedance, full featured compressor/limiter & 3-band true parametric EQ, promises ultra-low noise and high headroom, with an optional 24-bit / 192K I/O card.

Presonus Eureka

The ART Digital MPA-II IS a Class A tube device and has just about everything except EQ and compression sections: Variable microphone impedance, two channels of low OR high voltage preamplification (configurable for dual mono or stereo operation with a mid/side option), variable input impedance, full digital functionality. and big VU meters. Seems like a lot in one box, for a little over $300 US. Another case of "Too Good To Be True"?

 ART Digital MPA Pro II

Other Preamps

The Grace 101 ($550) reportedly offers transparent, uncolored sound, while the FMR Audio RNP ("Really Nice Preamp", $475; I already have their stereo RMC "Really Nice Compressor"), boasts plentiful headroom, compressor inserts, and takes up only 1/3 rack space, but it has stepped gain control, they admit that it is a bit noisy, and it's in an ugly box, if you care about that. The ART Voice Channel might be a nice choice if one channel in two rack spaces is an option (for me it's not); and the Groove Tubes Brick was an exercise in a no-nonsense stand-alone mic pre, but it doesn't have a 1/4" balanced output; only unbalanced instrument "throughs" to employ the piece as a DI. The utilitarian ElectroHarmonix 12AY7 (true Class A, XLR and balanced 1/4" outs) would perhaps prove to be a better choice in this type of box.

Conclusion: Leaning Towards Used.

I already have a Roland/Edirol FA-101 Digital interface (w/ two integrated mic preamps) to get things into the digital realm, the afore-mentioned RNC mono/stereo compressor is fine for tracking, and while EQ could be nice when re-amping, or with troublesome vocal sounds, I can do without it on the tracking side of things. In the end, what I really need is two balanced gozintas and gozouttas of real Class A tube pre-amplification, with variable impedance adjustment.

Drumroll, please...

Right now, the cost effective solution looks to be finding a used ART MPA Gold unit; these seem to have a good reputation, especially when upgraded with good tubes, i.e., not the Chinese ones they came with. One could even load the thing with two different tubes, for variety. Stay tuned: The search is on.



Some comments from over in Facebook Land:

"i have recently discovered the Golden Age Pre 73. also, a pal swears by the ART MPA II... oh - duh....wrote that before i read your blog. but great minds, etc. etc. etc." Chris B
"I've heard a lot of great things about the ART MPA II. I myself got a pair of old Ampex 601's from an old mono tape deck on eBay & use those" Buddy W
"I have a Eureka. It's pretty darn good. Not the greatest, but it's the ears, not the gears, right? I'll prlly get an MPA to match with my VLA and to do mid/side stuff... Also, can't remember if the 12AY7 is calss A, but it's really, really great for cheap. Especially for acgtr" Jason L

[ I'm due to pick up an MPA Gold for $100 on Saturday. In Williamsburg Brooklyn, of course. Yeah, that 12AY7 is sure getting some raves, especially with regards to recording the folk-box... and it IS indeed true Class A; at 200V, it is not power-starved. ] Mick H

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Currently Coveted Music Gear

Legend BP102-4 Bass Driver The 4 ohm speaker Ampeg currently loads in their 4x10 and 8x10 bass cabinets. I'll soon be throwing four of these into a Trace Elliot 4x10 speaker cabinet that's built like Fort Knox (the drivers failed long ago). They handle 200 watts each, and I'm hearing that might be a conservative estimate. A perfect match for my beloved Ampeg SVT-II rack-mount amplifier head. Bring on the booty, Rootie Au Vootie.

Ebow Yup, an Ebow for the bass guitarist. You'll see. [ Update: Picked one up on Craigslist for $60 US. 7/8/2010 ]

Fender Acoustisonic DSP 30 Amplifier Cover Do I need to explain?

BIAS Peak LE 6 Mastering Software Basic, affordable post-mix mastering to get the song in the ballpark sonically. Now that I think of it... might need some new reference speakers now. Back to the research...

Ampeg SVT-II bass amplifier head If you'd like to loosen some cavities, this is one way. I got mine for a steal in 1991, and will never sell it.  If I ever see another one of these selling (relatively) cheap, I'll pick it up. You might want to leave a little more rack-room for cooling than shown in this photo (not mine).

Monday, June 28, 2010

June 2010 Recap, July 2010 Anticipation

Self portrait, bass amp view, NYRMA rehearsal June 2010.

June 2010 finishes with a bang, July to be crazy in the best of ways. Thankful for the work...

Tues June 29 7pm, I'll be appearing "In The Round" at Long Island's premiere live music venue, The Stephen Talkhouse, in a series hosted by Nancy Atlas. I'm hearing it's a great night for music lovers, with a great blend of serious song trading and hilarious stories and wackiness. The following month, I'll be doing a similar show happening over at the Bay Street Theatre Songwriter Series in Sag Harbor Sun July 18.

See a full list of all shows, with everyone,  everywhere...

INSIDE INFO: Those who attended my solo show at The Local 269 Friday June 19th might be interested in Stephen Bailey's blog post, which explains how things sometimes work (or in this case don't work) "behind the scenes".

FOR A CHUCKLE, here's a snippet from vocal rehearsal the night before, with Gary Pig Gold, and my talented sister-singer Jen:

THE BLAGGARDS rocked the Rodeo Bar (and New York City) for the first time Sat June 26. Hot on the heels of the release of "Kinks Unkovered", the Kinks tribute CD released 6/22 on Paradiddle Records - the band honky-tonked and rocked... and rolled... deep into the night to an enthusiastic crowd. Tom, Steve, Rich and myself really look forward to returning there ASAP. Meanwhile, there's a new music video that accompanies The Blaggards contribution to the CD, "Last of the Steam Powered Trains".

 The Blaggards at the Rodeo Bar NYC, June 26th - photo: Blair Buscareno

Upcoming shows with The Blaggards include Oyster Bay NY Thurs 7/1 at Fiddleheads, and Shelter Island NY Sat 7/10 at Lil' Joe's Pleasure Lounge. A surely nutty date looms when the band does a special "Heidy's Birthday" show at Nicks (Montauk NY)  Saturday July 31.

CAROLINE DOCTOROW and THE STEAMROLLERS performed Fri June 25 at Arlo Guthrie's church (Great Barrington, MA), better known as "Where Alice Used to Live", now going by the name of The Guthrie Center.

Gary, MH, Caroline, Andrew at The Guthrie Center

Caroline, with Andrew Carillo (Joan Osborne, guitar/sitar/mando guitar) Gary Oleyar (Loggins & Messina, fiddle/vocals) and myself (bass/duet vocals) performed "The Songs Of Richard and Mimi Fariña" to a full house. Lots of great vibes, nice people and good food. The dressing room is directly under the steeple (please resist the urge to pull on that big think rope connected to the bell), and there is no shortage of history and great spirits in the place, going back to Woody, and beyond. Upcoming Caroline Doctorow shows include the New Bedford MA Summerfest Sat 7/3 and Sun 7/4. 

THE NEW YORK ROOTS MUSIC ASSOCIATION and SATURDAY NIGHT SOCIAL CLUB continues to roll on - the next Night of Social Pleasure: "Buffalo Springfield Night" Sat July 17, Plainview American Legion Post 1812. The Blaggards, Russ Seeger, Mike Bifulco and others will be backing guest performers such as Caroline Doctorow, Gene Casey, Butcher's Blind and many more doing your favorite Buffalo Springfield material. Follow NYRMA on Facebook and Twitter.

MATTY LIOT and THE BIG UP toil hard finishing up a series of recordings begun at Sonic Youth's studio in Hoboken NJ, now finishing with the Lantern Sound mobile rig on location at the band house. When these recordings are finished, it is hoped that the mobile rig will find a more permanent home ASAP.
Matty Liot shows include Wed Aug 4th (acoustic set at Guild Hall, East Hampton NY) and Fri Aug 6th (electric set at the Stephen Talkhouse, Amagansett NY).

Getting ready to do the radio show in the Songtrailer.
(I think Caroline has the good photo w/ us both.)
THE SONGTRAILS RADIO HOUR is heard on WPKN 89.5 (Bridgeport CT) and hosted by Caroline Doctorow and yours truly, and there are reports that you'll soon be able to catch archived episodes on WEER 88.7 (Montauk NY) on Saturday nights. More info as that develops. The next new episode of the show airs Saturday July 3rd at 7pm Eastern. This show will be available the very next day at the Songtrails Radio Hour Podcast/Blog.

SPECIAL OUTDOOR TREAT FOR NYC FOLKS: I'll be in Bryant Park, playing bass with Libby Johnson on Wednesday July 7th at 5pm in a free open-air show.


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