Today we thought we’d depart from our usual trick of interviewing musicians and instead focus on some of the more technical aspects of our show. To this end, we consulted with our sound engineer who also doubles as our in-house technical guy for the website, marketing, promotion and many other aspects of running the band.
Andrew is a professional videographer and sound engineer in the real world. He also runs a small business doing marketing consulting for other small businesses. You can find out more about him on his website: www.carillonvideo.co.uk
But first, the news….
But before we get to the interview, we thought we’d share a few snippets of news that you might be interested in. First up, The Cavern (Liverpool) looms large in our diary. This Friday which is the 29th January, we will be live in front of one of the biggest crowds we have played, if you don’t count the festival type shows we have done in the past. So, if you want tickets there are still a few left and they’re available direct from the Cavern website.
Following on from The Cavern, we have two shows at The Lion Quays, Shropshire. Friday 19th Feb will be a Genesis only set. Saturday 20th Feb will be a hits set (featuring Genesis, Mike & The Mechanics, Gabriel and Collins solo stuff). You can get tickets from the Mundell Music website.
Special guest star
Coming up later in the year, we have something a little different for you. Mama will be performing at The Slade Rooms (Wolverhampton) on Saturday 2nd April and we will have a special support act. The John Hackett Band will with us for a truly memorable event. You can buy tickets for this show on the Wolverhampton Civic website.
And now, here’s the interview in full:
Mama: Hi Andrew! How’s it going?
Andrew: It’s going well, if a little busy! I’m not exactly used to being interviewed though, so you’ll have to bear with me! 🙂
Mama: Okay, well let’s start with something easy then. How did you get into all this technical stuff?
Andrew: Well, when I was a child, I always wanted to be an airline pilot. I am not sure why, even now, but it might have been something to do with all those dials, buttons and switches. I think I just like complicated things. Due to the fact that I was born with a significant hearing loss, I couldn’t do that, so I ended up falling in love with doing sound for live bands. Ironic, I know. Fortunately for me, my dad was always involved with a band and I spent my entire youth traipsing around the North West, visiting theatres and all manner of venues, putting in sound systems. It’s probably fair to say I have personally been in virtually every theatre in the area at one time or another. When I hit adulthood, I went to university to study pro audio and video for four years and after that, I started my own business doing pro audio. Nowadays, I also do pro video.
Mama: Indeed, pretty much all the video you see on our website is filmed with your cameras. What kind of vidoes do you normally make?
Andrew: I always tell people that ultimately, I’ll make any video for the right price (no jokes please – I’ve heard them all), but mostly I focus on wedding films, corporate training videos, shows, events and aerial video. That is, making a film with a camera carrying remote control aerial platform (a drone, if you like).
Mama: How did you get involved with Mama?
Andrew: That came about because I used to frequent The Moses Gate in Farnworth, which is a great little live music venue. Mostly the bands were heavy metal or rock bands and one day I saw a poster for a Genesis tribute band. As a Genesis fan, I thought I couldn’t miss that. They were doing two nights. I went to the first night and I was blown away by the professionalism of the show (considering the size of the venue), the scale and intelligence of the lighting and of course the performance by the guys on stage. It just sounded so much like Genesis and felt true to their live shows, even though it was on a much, much smaller scale. I went back the very next night to be blown away. Some time after that (maybe a year) I was asked to mix sound for them. When Face Value split, I was asked to mix sound for Mama. Me being me though, I threw myself into it head first and advised the band that I was equally useful in a marketing and promotion role as well as a website author.
Mama: So you do everything except play an instrument?
Andrew: I guess that’s about it, yes. Although I am also a musician. I play drums.
Mama: Tell us a bit about what “doing sound” actually means.
Andrew: Well, at the top level, I take all the inputs coming from the stage (microphones, instruments etc) into a console at the back of the room (front of house) and I then provide several mixes back to the stage. One of those mixes will go to the PA system which is essentially what the audience hears. So I mix the concert sound. The other mixes go to the individual musicians so that they can hear themselves. Each mix is made up of different levels of each instrument or microphone because each musician needs to hear different things to play their bit. I also create mixes that go into effects devices such as reverb, delay and echo. Basically, I’m taking twenty two sources of audio from the stage and creating ten mixes that go back to the stage.
Mama: It sound like there’s a lot going on for you during a show then!
Andrew: Well yes and no. A lot of the work is done in the sound check before the audience come through the door and I also use a lot of technology to make things much easier to manage. On the flip side, many professional bands use a front of house engineer (for the audience sound) and a monitor engineer (for the stage mixes) so that the workload is spread out. But I do both and the technology helps me to do that.
Mama: I guess Genesis themselves were always known for pushing the boundaries with lighting and sound technology, not to mention studio technology. What do you use for live shows?
Andrew: My main equipment is a digital console. It’s digital in the sense that the audio signals are turned into numbers at the stage end and fed down a network cable to the back of the room and they only turn back into real audio when I sent them back to the stage. Essentially, the audio is kept in the digital domain for as long as possible to increase the sound quality. The digital console also allows me to save a whole show so that next time I go back to that particular venue, I can just recall hundreds of settings by pushing a button and the work is mostly done. Then I just tweak what is required for that particular show (such as balancing the instruments and pushing the solos), whether it’s new songs, new instruments or new arrangements of old songs. The digital console is also very clever because it allows me to easily push all the audio to a computer system so that I can then create a multitrack recording of the show. This is just like you would record in a studio and again, it’s all digital. So I can take that computer anywhere and remix the audio again and again for CD or DVD or to put on the website. So we have a massive amount of flexibility with our current systems at our shows.
Mama: You’re getting a bit geeky now.
Andrew: I guess I am a geek at heart! Haha.
Mama: How else are you involved with Mama? You mentioned marketing and promotion.
Andrew: Yes, I run my own business so it’s fairly logical that I would also know how to market and promote that business. The skills are transferable. Back when I started my own business I was stupid. I figured all one had to do was buy some equipment and put an ad in the Yellow Pages and clients would then start booking me. I did exactly that and the phone didn’t ring for a whole year. Actually, I think it rang once and it turned out to be a wrong number. Regardless, I decided to get good at marketing, fast. It turns out, modern marketing is also very geeky, so I threw myself into that and ended up hiring myself out as a marketing consultant to other businesses. What works for my business and other businesses, also works for Mama.
Mama: So you’re saying you do the Mama website?
Andrew: Yes, I guess I am. But I also do all the online digital marketing that runs in the background. That’s not very obvious to a casual website visitor I guess, but that’s where the website traffic comes from. Building a website is easy. Getting traffic to it is entirely another thing altogether.
Mama: So what would you say is the secret of putting together a great show, from a technical perspective? What makes a show successful?
Andrew: Well, I don’t really think it’s a technical exercise. At the end of the day, any business has to have a good product. All the marketing, promotion and technical prowess in the world won’t get you far if your product is fundamentally rubbish. So I’d start with the quality of the show. I’m fairly confident that when people come to see a Mama show, they will have a great time and they will tell their friends. That’s because the musicians are fundamentally great musicians, we’re all passionate about what we do and the quality we do it too and we work very hard at it. The show has to look good, sound good and entertain. After that, we look at marketing and promotion. We do our own marketing which we normally run alongside a venues marketing. We do this because the venues don’t necessarily have access to a large Genesis loving crowd, but we do because our website only gets visited by people who are genuinely interested in Genesis. I know through experience that if you create the right product, then the marketing and promotion is simply a way of getting the word out and convincing people to just give us a go. The rest, that’s down to the show.
Mama: What advice would you give to people who wanted to do the things you do with Mama?
Andrew: For sound, listen. For marketing and promotion, research.
Mama: Er, could you expand on that a little?
Andrew: I guess. I think for sound, one has to listen to a track – any track by any artiste, it doesn’t matter. Listen to the individual instruments and compare how they sound with the same instrument in a different track, by a different artiste. Listen to how the individual components work together. Most importantly, work out WHY those components work together, the way they do. Once you’ve figured that out – the “art” if you like – then it becomes a technical exercise. You just have to figure out HOW they made those individual sounds work together. And if you’ve done THAT, then you can do it yourself. There’s a lot to it I guess. I have thirty years of experience (and I’m only forty two I think?) but once you figure out how to pull something apart, it’s not too hard to work out how to put it all together. That’s what mixing is really. It’s about taking many little things and putting them all together to make one big thing that stands on its own. Actually, that’s not what being a sound engineer is about. The real secret of sound engineering is keeping musicians happy because at the end of the day, if you have happy musicians then they perform well and you get a great show, which makes the mixing that much easier. If I was to identify the single biggest mistake that sound engineers make, it would probably be that they think of the whole thing as a technical exercise instead of what it really is – a people exercise.
Mama: And marketing?
Andrew: Marketing is a fast changing environment. If you think, the internet is only thirty years old. Maybe not even that old? So everything is constantly changing. The subject is huge. The only real advice I could give would be to immerse yourself in everything marketing. Do your research. Once you do that, you’ll quickly see how vast it is and you’ll be able to focus your efforts on the technology that works best for you. Gone are the days when promoting a show meant putting posters up. These days, it’s about interrupting your target audience (Genesis fans I guess) and pulling them away from what they’re doing so you can give them your message. There are many ways to do such things for sure, but the old ways are fast becoming obsolete, which is probably why a lot of venues are complaining that live music audiences aren’t what they used to be. The problem isn’t that people are no longer interested in live music. The problem is that they no longer respond to posters in the same way, for example. They’re too busy poking their friends on Facebook or watching YouTube videos to see posters.
Mama: Anything else you’d like to add?
Andrew: Erm. I dunno really. I think all I can say about the Mama experience is that I got into it because I was passionate about technology, Genesis and live music in general, but the real reason I do it is because I enjoy being with the band and crew and doing what we do. Ultimately for me, it’s a people thing. A social thing if you like. That’s what I get out of it. I just think it’s great that so many people share our passion for this music so much that they are willing to spend money on tickets and come to our shows, so that we can invest that money and make the shows even better. I really look forward to doing bigger shows in the future, with people I really enjoy being around. It’s great. For me, it’s what life is about.
Mama: Thanks for your time mate!
Andrew: No problem. 🙂
Have you got a question you’d like to put to our sound engineer or the band? Why not leave us a comment below?