Monday, 29 April 2013

The Hairy beast in the hangout

So the continuing story of my adventures in get-together land, or as they call them on Google plus Hangouts on air. 
Last night I found myself being invited to do a late show, well it was late here in the UK, 11pm to be precise. Over in the US of A it was 3pm on the west coast which is where the host was for this particular outing. Well I wasn't too sure whether I would do this one as I was at the wrong end of a bottle of wine by the time we were due on air. On top of that looking at the line up it looked very thin, in fact there's was only me in the list and the artist who was going to be doing the featured slot. That was earlier in the evening though, and I supposed that come the time to go there would be more of us. I was wrong.
The invite dropped into my inbox at about 10-30pm, time for a soundcheck. I click the link, and when the screen opens up I'm seeing a hairy beast thats half Gorilla and half wolf. It's not a real hairy beast but one of those silly overlays that follows your face.
Our host Jefferey has decided that the show needs more "entertainment" and seeing as he's bought himself a new webcam with effects built in he's going to use this big bear face to conduct the show. From then on in it's going to go downhill. There's just me in the chat window and him with his new found avatar face that's a bit distracting, and not exactly conducive to presenting heartfelt songs. 
Never-the-less we go through the sound check, me with my new fangled mini mixer, hoping it's going to come out sounding sweet on the other side of the world, playing to a hairy beast, and a transparency of some  suspension bridge by night. God knows how that fitted in, buy hey I'm a wee bit tipsy so what do I care.
No-one else shows up by the time we're due to go live. "Do you want me to start, or do you wanna go on straight away Colin" says Jeff.
I opt for the first spot, mainly to get it out of the way as the wine is starting to kick in. I start off with one called Honeypot hero, a jaunty tale about a fella that died too young. Jeff likes to mask the people in the get-together so I'm playing to a ghostly white screen, but there's only Jeff there in his daft hair beast mask so I figure thats for the best. 
I haven't done this tune for ages, and what with the wine and no lyric prompt, I stumble on the second verse, although being the pro I am I get away with it. Nobody notices cause there's actually no-one there, except the hairy one of course. I finish to a deafening silence, no applause, just Jeff saying a delayed well thank you Colin, have you got another. I do a song called Pepperpot, which if you come from Ulverston you'd get, but I'm not sure it's a west coast hit, but hey, I'm doing my thing for England.
By the end of the song, lo and behold someone else has popped into the film strip of the hangout, another songwriter. That song also meets with silence as they've both got their mics muted. Oh well this is not exactly setting the airwaves on fire, and Jeff wants to go over to our new recruit for a tune, and asks if thats Ok by me. Sure says I. But now we have technical difficulties as he's not ready. Jeff says he'll do a song, but Jeff has got a dreadful sound on his guitar, or was it my bad ears, been having trouble with them this week, bit bunged up in the eustation tube dept, so maybe it was me.
The after his song it  all starts to fall apart tech wise. We can't here the other guy, he can't hear us, Jeff      clicks buttons and links, and the whole show grinds to a halt. Jeff says he's going to abandon ship close down and come back in. The screen goes blank. .........................
I decide I've had enough and bed is calling to me, almost half eleven and this get-together has not got together at all. Nobody came, shame, the format seems to have run out of steam just when I was starting to feel comfortable with it.
Perhaps it's to do with the time it happens for the States, maybe there was other stuff happening, that attracted the better artists to play elsewhere. Who knows. 
Next week I'm the featured artist on with Johnathan next Sunday, maybe that will be better. I just hope it's not a repeat of this week. To work it needs a full house in the chat window at least. You need an audience, although it won't be the first time I've played to an empty venue and I don't suppose it will be the last.
Perhaps the format is wrong, I've discovered The Pirates Pub which has a much better atmosphere, much more jolly, as pirates are. The songwriters showcase is a brilliant concept but it's going to need more pazzaz to  attract a wider audience, but I'm afraid that the hairy beast is not the way to go, sorry Jeffery. 

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Playing on

StreeJelly - Online Busking

The above is the logo for a buskers online live music website that I found courtesy of one of my G+ music friends called Cecilee Linke. I had a look at it last week and thought I would give it a try.

All you need is a webcam and a mic, sign up to streetjelly and broadcast to the world. Anybody can drop in and watch and if they like what they here they can tip the artist with tokens bought via paypal, so just like busking on the street, but you can do it from your living room.

So tonight I gave it a try, I'd scheduled myself to play at 5.30pm, you can do that by entering a time into their calender of up and coming performers.

Now I've done these hangouts where there's someone to soundcheck you before you begin the show but this is the first time I've tried to do this on streetjelly and there's no-one here just me and a few prompts on the screen.

I'm a bit short of time to get set up for my five thirty start but I'm sure it'll be fine. I plug in a couple of mics into my big mixer and run it through my soundblaster soundcard which has worked fine for my hangout gigs. Although I've just recently bought a mini mixer for doing these sort of things I decide to go with what I know.  Then as I'm setting up with 15mins to go I find I can't get the headphones working, thats the first thing that goes wrong. I find a fix for that problem and get the mic on the guitar and the vocal working and check it with a trial run on my internal Samsung software. It all seems to work fine.

I've got five minutes to my allotted time slot and I fire up street jelly into pre broadcast mode. There's a prompt that says I can do a test to see what my viewers will hear, I hit the test button and another screen opens up that is about ten seconds behind the one that I see. I don't know if it plays automatically and fumble to get some other cans plugged into my laptop to check out the viewers feed, and they get caught under the wheels of my office chair, 3 mins to go. I can't make any sense of this feed and I need to get myself a drink of water, and a cigarette before I have to start broadcasting. I can't find my baccy, so resign myself to going live without a smoke, but at least I have my water and I hit the START BROADCAST button.

This is it, I'm on and I say hello and play my first tune to what appears to be no-one. I do tune number two and there's action in the chat window. Someone called Frankie tells me that I am   very distorted and very quiet. Sounds fine in my cans, but out there in cyberland it's awful. I push faders up and down but the   feedback is the same, it's still very distorted.

I get advice on fixing the problem via the chat window that confuses me, right click on my video feed, go to settings, change this and that, oooooooooooohhhhhh shit. I decide to close down and come back with just my laptop mic and webcam.

That works, they can hear me loud and clear now  so I do the show on gear lite, which is now fine at their end. From my point of view its a disaster sound wise    but I carry on and do about half an hour playing to two listeners. Mind you they are very nice to me and I get to the end of my set a bit shell shocked... Bye Bye everybody.

So lesson learned, prepare and prepare, do the sound check, and make sure its going to work before hitting the start button. Have your set mapped out like it was a gig, give yourself lots of time to make sure you get it right. This new technology is very scary and a  bit temperamental and it's so easy to mess up.

Playing to no-body except a chat room is anther learning curve, in a lot of ways I failed tonight on mostly tech levels but its only a small failure. Next time I will make sure I have enough time to prepare and have my set list and my sound sorted before I go live. That means working stuff out a couple of hours before and not a couple of minutes before.

It's scary and its a learning curve, pick myself up dust myself down and start all over again.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

I'm going to call them get togethers

So after last nights disaster with deleting my blog post just after I'd spent a couple of hours writing it, I'll have another go.

Three or four weeks ago I decided to try my hand at these hangouts on air and joined the open mic songwriters showcase shows. So this is the story so far.

Last Sunday, they ran an earlier version to try and connect with musicians in the Uk and Europe and I was down for the 7.45pm slot. I decided to do this one from my studio in Ford Park. The studio is based in an old, very large mansion house, that is no longer a house where people live. In the week it has various users who hire rooms and offices. At the weekend it is quite often empty, especially in the evenings, and as this was Sunday evening it was as quiet as the grave, except for me and my hangout friends on my laptop.

So here I am in an empty house, in the control room of the studio sitting watching the first couple of artists and then it's my turn. I'm the only guy who's shown up from the UK, all the other performers are in the States or Canada.
Just prior to me doing my thing I felt nervous, like I would at a gig. With a band it's not as bad, but doing solo gigs always brings on that tension. To get that same feeling sitting by yourself in an empty house, about to perform to a webcam and five or six faces in a film strip at the bottom of the screen. Like playing to miniature pixies.
I get my introduction from the host, Jonathan Blackshire and I tread carefully into the opening chords of King Canute. At the end of the song there's a ripple of applause from out there in hangout land, from the others watching and waiting to play.

Now here's the weird thing, suddenly this feels just like a live gig, where you can feel the energy from the audience feeding into your performance. But this is me playing to a laptop in a room all on my own, so how does that work. Maybe that "vibe" is not just in the room were in. Often you can only see the first couple of rows of people anyway and the rest are invisible and just felt.
Well in a way thats how it was doing the gig on this internet "get-together", I prefer that to the google name of  hangouts, but I digress.

In a lot of ways it's more like doing a recording session, with just you and the engineer. In that case you perform for the engineer/ producer, so thats how I see it. But there is a difference, and that is the size of the audience that may be watching. Beyond those few people in the film strip there could be thousands, or at least twenty.
So Hangouts on air, that are flagged up in advance, like a gig, become something else, not a live gig and not a recording session. This is a completely new way of interacting between the performers and their audience. From the artists point of view, well mine anyway, I still was nervous before I began, but as soon as the first few bars had been played I was Ok, just like doing a regular live gig. The vibe from the audience could be felt, across the madness that is the internet with it's masses of wires, and satalites and things plugged in, and out at the other end. It's a miracle the whole thing works this good, it passeth beyond all understanding.

And it was fun like live gigs are fun.

I know people are going to be resistant to pick up on this and give it a go. I've met a lot of blank stares when I mention HOA, understandably, I suppose, but when I explain it, they seem to dismiss it as a weird thing to do. They're still stuck with live is best, and I agree, perhaps it is. But recording music in a studio is a bit odd, you have to do quite a lot of it to get the best results, it's a craft and it takes time. HOAs are to me very new, and it will be interesting to see how they develop in the next couple of years.

I'd like to do one with the beat combo, I don't know if you could do a band, although we're sort of acoustic so it might work. But that will come, bands doing live hangouts, I can see it not too far off. In fact I'm sure some are doing it already.

On May 5th I've got myself booked as a featured artist on the songwriters showcase, that's a bit of a step up but I'm really looking forward to it, see you there everybody, Ill send you an invite.

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Adventures in Hangout land

I just spent a couple of hours writing a really good piece on my hangout experience and due to probably too much wine I deleted it. So I don't think I've got the heart to do it all again.

Just to say that I am enjoying this new adventure.

Friday, 5 April 2013

hanging out on google plus

Thought it's time to restart this blog about me as a musician. It's been a long long time since the last entry, and anyway that was the past and I back to talk about the future, well my future in music in 2013.

This will be about my adventures in Hangout land. In hangout land we all sit alone in our little musical dens and play tunes to one another, and the other 26 that may be watching and listening.

After you get past the technical stuff that you've got to get your head around, it can be fun, if a bit nerve wracking the first time you get involved.
I've done a couple so far, one in the studio and one at home, and I've got my third one booked for Sunday. And on top of that they want me to do a feature slot, thats where you get half an hour, on May 5th.

So this will be my journey through this new medium of performance, in computer land, watch this space.

I just had an idea, may be a bit ambitious but how about doing the feature show with the beat combo. It could be done. Be a technical nightmare of course, maybe have to try it out first.

All this will be done on G+ my latest passion