Ask Mike is online again! If you’d like to ask me a question, just use the email link at the bottom of each page or the ‘contact’ button in the menu to write me an email. I’d be happy to answer them!
I get a lot of questions about what goes on behind the scenes with the artists I work for, and sometimes I can talk about it and sometimes, due to non-disclosure agreements I have to sign, I canít. A Keyboard reader asked me recently about what an artist like Mariah Carey does on New Years Eve and I can talk about that so here goes!
I put in my years playing in club bands on New Years Eve for the ìone night a year drunksî that go completely nuts and honestly I am glad to be out of that scene. Because of that, if I have a New Years Eve off I usually stay home and avoid the drunken revelers. Iíve been told that makes me look ìjadedî by more than a few people,, but thatís just not my idea of a good time.
Some of the most fun I had on New Years Eve was playing with Earth Wind & Fire. We did three years in Las Vegas, two at Caesars Palace, and one at the MGM Grand Arena. We were done with the shows before midnight so we had a chance to party or not at midnight. One year we taped a couple songs at the Rio before our Caesars Palace show for VH1. At the Rio instead of dropping the glittery ball like they do in Time Square at Midnight they dropped a car from about 100 feet in the air and destroyed in on TVÖ VegasÖ.
A couple years ago Mariah performed in Times Square on New Years Eve. It was incredibly cold and windy but of course she wears what she wears which isnít much, so it was interesting to say the least. The security in Time Square is really oppressive. You have to go through metal detectors to get anywhere, and if you get a spot in the crowd to watch the show you canít leave for any reason or they wonít let you back in. I donít understand how or why anyone would spend hours in the cold without being able to go to the bathroom or anything else, but they do. Yeah I know, Iím jadedÖ what do I know about ìfunî?
I was indoors at the TV studio doing my thing staying warm! Since it is that cold and itís a live TV show most artists pre-record the music but will sing live. Itís not ìcheatingî it just makes senseÖ Have you ever played outdoors in that kind of weather? I did a couple times and itís really hard to keep the fingers moving after a few minutes, and guitars will not stay in tune in those conditions.
This year we did a show in St Barths in the Netherlands Antilles in the Caribbean so that was a welcome change for sure. The only problem was there was no time for anything but traveling and working! We did two days of rehearsal in Miami at SIR, then flew to St Barths and did the show. I spent four days in beautiful weather and never even got to stick my foot in the water.
Getting to St Barths requires flying to St Maarten, then getting into a boat for the 40 minute ride to St Barths. The boat my wife and I got into for the trip over was a speedboat and we made the bone jarringly fast trip in about 20 minutes. I think the boat driver enjoyed watching us hold onto the boat for dear life and spill the beers they gave us for the trip all over the place. Big funÖ.
We played at a very small club right on the water for a very elite rich group of 200 people on a stage that wouldíve been small for a bar band. During sound check the band and background singers got attacked by mosquitoes and other flying insects, luckily during the show it wasnít that bad. The ceiling was only seven feet tall so there was very little lighting, and to top it off there was a column right in the middle of the stage that Mariah and the two dancers had to navigate around, not your typical setting for a Mariah Carey show.
In the audience there were celebrities like Jayzee, Beyonce, LA Reid, and many others so there was quite a bit of pressure to make this as good as possible considering the conditions. The show had to end precisely at 11:59 and 30 seconds so that they could count down to a very elaborate fireworks display that went off at midnight. While the fireworks were going off I had to quickly pack my stuff and get it out of the way for Timbaland to perform on the same stage for the rest of the party.
After as many years as Iíve been doing this I usually finish my part of the show and get out, no after parties, or staying up drinking until 5AM like the rest of the band for me. I suppose, again, that makes me jaded, but Iím just over the whole party till you drop mentality, especially when we had to get back on a boat at 8AM, and that ride with a hangover would not be good. So, does that make me ìjadedî? Yeah probably, but Happy New Year!
Iím just curious, are you buying vintage keyboards for a ìmuseumî or are you actually using them in your studio? It seems like a lot of work to get these older keyboards into working condition, and then once you do, how do you actually interface them with your MIDI stuff? Do you just play the parts on each keyboard, or can you recommend a good MIDI to CV converter? I bought a Fender Rhodes and am having a really hard time finding someone that will work on them where I live. Any suggestions?
No, Iím not building a museum, although it does look that way at times around here. As Iíve said before eBay is great, but sometimes I do buy stuff that seemed like a good idea at the time, then I get the gear and wonder what I was thinking, and how Iím going to incorporate it into my studio. I have sold off a few of my vintage keys that I wasnít using, and donated a few of them to charity. Donating to a non-profit organization or school that can give you a donation letter with their tax ID on it for the IRS is a great tax deduction, and it just feels good to do it. I gave a Hammond A100 organ and Leslie to a local church, and a Korg Trinity to a correctional facility in Florida and I know theyíre really using these keyboards for something good, not just reselling it or sticking it in a corner.
A few months ago I recommended some synthesizer service places in and around LA, but youíre right once you get your synths up and running, then what? I recently bought an Encore Expressionist (http://www.encoreelectronics.com/cont_expres.html) 8-channel MIDI to CV converter. In its most basic application you can have 8 CV synths connected and assigned to their own MIDI channel. Among the advantages to using the Expressionist are that one of the biggest issues with playing an older synth is the keyboards are typically out of adjustment making the synth really hard to play and keep in tune so using a MIDI keyboard will give you an immediate improvement there. Itís beyond the scope of this column to get into everything the Expressionist can do, but some of the cool features include being able to scale the pitch of your vintage synth across the range of the keyboard which comes in handy if your synth goes sharp or flat the higher up the keyboard you play. In the past, youíd have to either open up the synth or use a screwdriver to adjust the tuning, and sometimes even that wouldnít work. You can also set up splits for example using one synth for a bass part, and another for a solo sound.
Some other cool applications, you can take your 8 CV synths and group them into a polyphonic synthesizer setup with intelligent voice allocation (imagine an 8 voice synth using your fat vintage stuff!), the Expressionist also has 4 assignable LFOís, built in portamento, and 100 setups in memory. The built in LFOís enable you to use all three oscillators of your Mini Moog for audio for example, (in the past oscillator 3 wouldíve been dedicated as an LFO), and the LFOís will restart based on MIDI clock if you so desire. Plus, the most obvious advantage to using MIDI is that you can manipulate your performance fixing any timing issues. The unit will convert CV and generate gate or S-trigger as well. In my opinion this is by far the best MIDI to CV converter out there, especially if you have more than one CV synth. Letís face it, the difference between being successful in this business and not is having a different sound from everybody else. This will definitely get you started in the right direction.
Fender Rhodes technicians are really hard to find, especially if youíre not in a town like LA. A few really good sites about repairing and finding parts for the Rhodes are http://www.fenderrhodes.com/ http://www.vintagevibe.com/c-6-rhodes-parts.aspx and http://www.speakeasyvintagemusic.com/services/rhodes-restoration/. My favorite though by far is Vintage Vibe. They have a lot of original parts, but also manufacture their own replacement parts usually improving on the original. They are a small company, but have great customer service. Anytime Iíve called them with an issue or question theyíve been really helpful. Vintage Vibe has a lot of videos on You Tube demonstrating how to tune, regulate, and do many repairs to Fender Rhodes, Wurlitzerís and Clavinets here:
all for free! You gottaí check their videos out! Thanks Vintage Vibe for this wonderful service!
If youíre in the LA area and donít want to deal with fixing your own Rhodes check these guys out:
They repair, restore and upgrade the Rhodes piano with custom modifications. While they donít do house calls, if you can part with your Rhodes for 7 to 10 days they will have it fixed up like new, or upgraded to even better than new. One really cool thing about these guys is theyíll take pictures of the work on your Rhodes and post it online for you to see their progress. That is very cool! They also can replace the tolex that invariably gets dinged up over the years, and can even do a ìsparkle topî in gold or silver to your existing Rhodes top.
Another Rhodes technician worth mentioning is David Ell, who is referred to as The Rhodes Man, http://www.therhodesman.com . He is providing repair, restoration and custom Fender Rhodes electric pianos for sale from his workshop in Kennewick, Washington.
Itís also fun to do a search on You Tube for Rhodes and check out some of the classic performances using a Rhodes. The VIís come close, but nothing sounds or feels like a properly set up Fender Rhodes. Sometimes to take your sound to the ìfutureî it really helps to understand the past, but itís still about making music, so donít get too hung up on all the technology and forget what youíre doing this for.
Keyboard asked me to keep you guys posted about ways to update your old analog keyboards, like the chop I did to my Hammond A-100 recently. I found a company called Synthwood (synthwood.com) that did a great job rebuilding my Sequential Circuits Prophet-5 and Pro-One, and Moog Taurus 2. They specialize in custom woodwork for synthesizers, but will install custom electronics like mod and pitch wheels that light up and flash at∑the rate of the LFO as well as other mods. They did an amazing job restoring my Prophet-5, getting it into mint condition inside and out. A description and pictures of exactly what they did are online at matrixsynth.blogspot.com/2007/07/ synthwood-prophet-5-case.html.
Recently, George Mattson of Syntar fame got involved with Synthwood. Tooling up for Synthwood gave George the opportunity to build his own cabinets for his eagerly awaited Mattson Mini Modular synthesizer. They also took in a Moog Taurus 2 of mine that had been beaten up and replaced the wood sides, so if you have any old wood-paneled synths, chances are they can make them look better than new. -Mike McKnight’,’Interested in getting your old-school synth rebuilt with exotic woods? Here’s some very beautiful work in cocobolo for a vintage Minimoog (at left) and a Moog Voyager (at right). My Sequential Pro-One is in the process of being done with paduk wood (after DHl destroyed it in shipment…) (pictures are available in the picture section).
The Pro-One is one of my favorite synthesizers, but it has a less-than-deserving vacuum-formed plastic case on a metal chassis. Since the chassis was more or less a similar design to the Prophet-5, Synthwood thought it might be possible to make something that resembled a mini Prophet-5. Stephen at Synthwood contacted Dave Smith and asked him if he would allow them to use a slightly modified version of his Poly Evolver wheel box design for the Pro-One project. They had already built a prototype using the wheel box from a keyboardless Prophet-T8, and Dave was happy to help.
I have a studio on the West Coast with a grand piano, five keyboards, and a Mac Pro with dual flat screens. I’m moving to New York and want to bring everything with me. I have a good piano mover lined up, and I have flight cases for my keyboards, but how do I get the rest across the country? Should I fly or rent a U-Haul? Is a moving company trustworthy with expensive gear?
I’ve had bad experiences flying stuff com≠mercial, even in road cases, so I can’t rec≠ommend that route. They won’t fly anything over 75 pounds anymore any≠way, so that route would likely be difficult and expensive.
You could go with an air freight company like Rock-it Cargo (www.rock-itcargo.com).
Most major tours use companies like them. They can arrange things with planes or trucks (depending on how quickly you need it) and have lots of experience shipping musical gear, so you can rest assured your equipment will arrive in one piece.
Some people try to save some cash with FedEx, UPS, or DHL. The only way I would even consider that is if you still have the original packing for your equipment; they got your computer and screens from China to you in the first place, so they should be just fine for shipping cross-country. I would pull the hard drives out of the Mac Pro and put them in your carry-on luggage, though.
If you do elect to ship with DHL or someone like that, insure it for full replace≠ment value, pack it insanely well, and make getting a signature part of the requirement for delivery. I should mention that I just had a very beautiful SCI Pro One get crushed while being shipped by DHL, so be warned that damages can happen.
U-Haul is a horrible idea for a 3,000- mile trip with expensive gear. Don’t even think about it! If the truck doesn’t break down, or bounce your gear to pieces because of the horrible ride, someone will break into it on the way. I know this from first-hand experience.
Your best bet is to have the piano movers take your keyboards in road cases and your computer setup in the original packing along with your piano. I wouldn’t trust a normal moving company, but in my opinion, a rep≠utable piano mover would be fine, since they’re already transporting your most expen≠sive piece of gear. If they won’t take your gear along with the piano, then ship your other gear with Rock-It Cargo insured for full replacement value with the hard drives removed from your computer, packed as well as you possibly can.
What advice can you give on a) what skills a keyboardist should be proficient in to be ready for a major tour and b) how to land such a gig?
You need to be an excellent player who can function in many styles of music by ear and by reading charts. The most important things, though, are less obvious.
You need to know the music of the artist that you’re auditioning for before you set foot in the door. It’s a waste of everyone’s time to show up at an open audition unprepared. You should have a general idea of the artist’s “look” and dress appropriately. Don’t be late and don’t run your mouth about all the stuff you’ve done; just get your gear set up, nail the parts and the sounds, and remember to not overplay. I’ve seen great musicians do this and lose a gig that they could’ve grabbed with a little more discipline. Once the audition is over, give the musical director your contact information and move on. They’ll call you if you’re what they’re looking for.
Once you get the gig, nail the parts exactly like the record. Only then can you expect to take liberties with the music – if the artist allows it. It’s disrespectful to play stuff that is not appropriate to the style of the artist just because you have chops.
Treat the gig in a professional manner. I repeat – do not ever be late. At rehearsals or TV shows, between songs, resist the temptation to jam, especially when other people are working. Once again, always be prepared for the music. If you have your “chemical issues” under control, fine – but be careful, because it’s not worth losing a gig over, and if you’re stupid enough to try transporting your “chemicals” across state or country lines and get caught, you’ll be dragging down the entire production. There is no faster way to get fired. In this business, once you get your first gig, other gigs will come to you via word of mouth, so you really don’t want a reputation for being late, or being stupid with drugs. Just work hard and keep your mouth shut and you’ll get plenty of work.
There is no definite “want ads” way to find openings in tours. Without being annoying, try to network with other musi¨cians who have the gigs you want. Keep your eyes on the trade magazines to see who is coming out with a new CD or a new tour. Send resumes, brief and to the point, to management of artists that you feel you are a good fit for you musically. Explain (again very briefly) why you would be good for their artist.
On my website is a list of trade magazines and resources for finding gigs: www.mcknightsoundsinc.com/content/links.htm.
99 percent of getting the gig is luck, but 100 percent of keeping the gig is being professional and doing the best job you can.
You probably have heard this question countless times but I’m hoping for your input on getting started with entry-level music production. I’ve been reading ‘Keyboard’ since the late 80s and much of what I read still seems very technical to me but I’m hoping some of it will click once I get my hands on some gear and perhaps associate with others who are knowledgeable. What about a computer? Someone suggested to me that Macs are best for music applications (seems like they are also mentioned a lot in your column). What about the music production software? Hoping to zero in on something that is easy enough for me to grasp in the beginning yet also powerful enough for when I am better at it and want to tackle some serious music projects. Your input is always appreciated.
I do get that question a lot, but fortunately every year I have better answers for people like you looking to learn more about music production software. If you look through Keyboard youíll see tons of advertisements for great schools that have correspondence courses about music production, and many others that have great videos about specific software platforms.
I am a big time Digital Performer user but recently got Logic 8 and wanted a quick tutorial so I could finally figure out what Logic was all about. I went to MacProVideo.com and found exactly what I needed. They have many really great videos explaining how to use Logic, Pro Tools, Garageband, and many other applications. For years I tried on my own to get my head around Logic with no success, after a few videos with MacProVideo.com I was finally making music with Logic. MacProVideo.com gives you a very cool program called N.E.D that you use to check for new tutorials via the internet, and then you can download and watch them instantly, no waiting for a DVD. Very coolÖ
I know there are many more people out there that are using PCís instead of Macís for music production, but in my opinion the Mac is still superior to PCís for music and video. Macís come bundled with Garageband, which is actually a cool little program for coming up with music very quickly. For ìseriousî music production you still need to know Pro Tools, as it is arguably the ìstandardî. For $249 you can get an Mbox micro interface and Pro Tools 7.4, pretty powerful software for the price.
I love Logic for the virtual instruments and plug ins, and Apple has recently knocked the price of Logic way down. But for me Iíll always use Digital Performer, especially in live situations. The point is that there are so many great options for making music, and so many educational materials available to help you that now is the best time to dive into music production. You wonít waste days getting frustrated with manuals and will be able to concentrate more quickly on making music! Mike
Did you ever get one of the Hammond A100ís you have ìchoppedî (taken out of the church style cabinet and put into a more portable custom cabinet)? Who does that in the LA area?
That has been on my ìto doî list for years but just recently I got it done and couldnít be happier with it! I had 2 Hammond A100ís in my vintage keys studio from one of my Ebay buying binges. When I came to I realized that it just didnít make sense to have two big church organs, and since the A100 is identical to a B3 electronically, itís the perfect candidate to be chopped. I also had a Leslie 910 that was totally trashed that I wanted to get fixed at the same time. Bill Axman and his wife Joanna of Alltek Organ and Keyboard Service in Corona, CA (website – http://alltekorgankeyboard.com/Site/Welcome.html ) did the chop and repairs for me. Check out the before and after pictures! They do amazing work.
Bill and Joanna will do house calls in the LA area if you need basic repairs, but chops like this need to be done at their shop. Itís a very complicated process to first dismantle the A100, remove the electronics, build the new custom cabinet, add hardware, install the A100 electronics, and tolex the cabinet. Check out how they had to turn the A028 Hammond amp on its side to make it fit (inside A100 picture).
Joanna does the custom cabinet, tolexing and wiring, with Bill doing additional wiring and repairs. They went through the organ and Leslie and replaced whatever tubes and electronics that had gone bad and wired the organ so that I have several outputs (see rear panel) for a 122 Leslie, a 910 Leslie, and 1/4î out. There is an input for a pedal that changes speeds on the Leslie (top) and the bottom 2 1/4î jacks below that are for the Ernie Ball volume pedal. They completely serviced the organ and Leslie so everything is working perfectly and it just sounds amazing!
I wanted to go for more of a rock n roll look rather than the black carpet covering they usually put on their chops so I went with Red Marshall Tolex on the A100 (looks kindaí like a Vox Super Continental on steroids!) and black Marshall tolex with Marshall tweed grill cloth for the 910 Leslie. The Leslie 910 had to be almost completely rebuilt, but now itís just screaming loud! Thereís nothing like having a Leslie on both sides, no Virtual Instrument even comes close to that sound.
The only thing that some organists might miss are the bass pedals so I bought the Moog Taurus pedals to add to my ìprogressive rockî rig, all I need is a Prophet 10 on top and I can play with ìYesî! If only it was that simple! Feel free to email me if you have any additional questions. Mike
So how do you handle taxes? Iím getting killed with the 1099ís every year!
I am not a tax guy, so please take this advice and research it yourself thoroughly before filing your taxes OK? My tax guy, and probably the best entertainment tax guy around is Keith Clark in Burbank, CA. http://www.hnrclark.com/contact.html.
I have an S-Corporation called ìMcKnight Sounds Inc.î in California. Whenever someone insists on paying me without taking out payroll taxes I have them pay me through my S-Corporation. Whenever possible, that is how I do all of my billing, although many companies and TV shows still prefer to pay me as an employee with holding taxes. Thatís fine with me, because at some point weíve all got to pay! I try not to get paid as an individual without taxes being taken out as I am liable for not only paying my own income taxes, but also a pretty hefty self employment tax for social security. Having an S-Corporation really helped me out there, but again research it and speak to your tax adviser to see if itís good for your situation. Whenever possible, the best thing for my situation is to have a tour pay me half in salary (income taxes, and social security paid) and half paid to my S-Corporation for equipment rental, and other services rendered. That way Iím paying the taxes that need to be paid, and have more capital available to re-invest in my company.
Also, keep in mind that if youíre touring a lot you have to pay taxes in each and every state that you perform in. This is a huge pain in the a–, but has to be done or they will come after you.
Some very basic tips: Keep really good records! Be aware of how much you can ìexpenseî each year on musical equipment, and whether or not itís a better idea to depreciate your gear instead. For example, if you had a great year and bought a lot of gear, and feel pretty certain that next year may be a bit slower it might be a good idea to elect to ìexpenseî your gear this year for the most tax write-off. If you donít need the write of, then depreciating over 3 to 5 years is a good idea.
Almost ìeverythingî that you buy (within reason) for your trade is tax deductible until you have too many years in a row operating at a loss then the IRS calls your living a ìhobbyî and disallows your expenses, so please get the best tax guy you can find and follow their advice. I play by the rules, and pay my taxes, but I have absolutely no problem getting the maximum deductions allowed by law! Mike
I just purchased my first Hohner D6. Do you know anyone fairly local (OC or LA) that does repair and/or upkeep work on these instruments?
Any info would be greatly appreciated.
In LA thereís a company called Advanced Musical Electronics http://www.advancedmusical.com/ (310) 559-3157 that does work on Clavinets and other vintage gear. Theyíve been in business for 26 years fixing just about everything, and if youíre not in the LA area you can send your gear to them.
A really good site for Clavinet parts, upgrades and repairs is http://www.gti.net/junebug/clavinet/. My personal favorite site for finding old and rebuilt parts for a lot of vintage gear is http://www.vintagevibe.com/c-13-hohner-clavinet-parts.aspx. If you want your clavinet to be repaired and restored ìjust like Stevieísî then check these guys out http://www.elecedge.com/
They also restore Fender Rhodes as well. There are many other sites out there just google clavinet and you can waste a whole day finding cool stuff! Mike