Ask Mike


Hi Mike,

I apologize, I know you must get questions like this constantly, but I was wondering what advice you could give on a) what skills a keyboardist should be proficient in to be ready for everything that a major tour requires and b) how to land such a gig. I obviously don’t expect to be touring with a major artist right away, but what would you say are the major requirements and/or most common deficiencies that you find among keyboardists? I’m a Berklee grad and a full-time professional musician, so I’m looking for a way to get to the next level. Thanks!


Hi Tim,

I do get this question a lot, but it just never ceases to amaze me how completely unprepared many musicians are when they show up at an audition, so maybe this bears repeating. Obviously you need to be an excellent player that can play many styles of music by ear and by reading charts. The most important things though are a bit less obvious. You need to know the music of the artist that youíre auditioning for before you set foot in the door. Itís a complete waste of everyoneís time to show up at an open audition unprepared. You should have a general idea of the ìlookî the artist is looking for as well and dress appropriately. Little things mean a lot. Donít be late, doní run your mouth about all the stuff youíve done, just get your gear set up, nail the parts and the sounds, and remember that the most important thing is to not overplay. Iíve seen dozens of really good musicians overplay and lose a gig that they couldíve done with a little more discipline. Once the audition is over, give the musical director your contact information and move on. Theyíll call you if youíre what theyíre looking for.

Once you get the gig, then itís crucial to really nail the parts and sounds exactly like the record, then and only then you can expect to take liberties with the music if the artist allows it. Itís just disrespectful to play a bunch of stuff that is not appropriate to the style of the artist just because you have the chops to do so.

Treat the gig in a professional manner. Do not ever be late, at rehearsals or TV shows between songs resist the temptation to jam, especially when other people are there working and would appreciate the silence to get their job done.

If youí have your ìchemical issuesî under control fine, but be very careful, itís not worth losing a gig over, and if youíre stupid enough to try and transport your ìchemicalsî across state lines or to other countries and get caught youíll be dragging down the entire production. Trust me, 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 donít want a reputation for being late, or being stupid with drugs. Just work hard, keep your mouth shut and youíll get plenty of work.

As far as finding tours that are looking for players, thereís no definite ìwant adsî way to find the openings. You need to network, without being totally annoying, with other musicians that are playing with the types of bands you want to play with. Keep your eyes on the trade magazines to see who is coming out with a new CD or a new tour. Send resumes, very brief and to the point, to management of artists that you feel you are a good fit for musically explaining (again very briefly) why you would be good for their artist. On my website is a list of a lot of trade magazines and resources for finding gigs:

99.99% percent of getting the gig is luck, 100% of keeping the gig is being professional and always doing the best job that you can. Thereís always someone just like you waiting for his or her chanceÖ good luck!

Fly commercial

Hi Mike,

I need to build a rig that I can fly commercial. It needs to have 8 outputs, and needs to be able to read and generate time code. Plus I need an audio switcher to switch between rigs if one of them goes down. I will be using Digital performer for the live show but will still want to have Pro Tools LE with me on the road for edits, and transferring new files from the studio to DP. I already own 2 fast Mac laptops. What do you recommend for the rest of the rig?


Hi John,

If you want to fly commercial you need to try and keep the weight of your rack fully loaded at 50 pounds if possible. Some airlines will allow up to 70 pounds, and if youíre flying business class or better wonít charge for the extra weight. If youíre flying coach, then be prepared to pay more if youíre over 50 pounds, and if itís over 80 pounds they wonít fly it at all. I would get the best three-space rack you can afford, with 1î shock mounting foam. Jan Al Innerprizes makes the best racks on the market in my opinion. Here is their website I would fly my laptops and hard-drives in my carry on bag, and any additional large cables or power strips in my suitcase.

For audio interfaces in a small system you have to go with the MOTU Ultra-lites. They have plenty of ins and outs, and sound really great. Since youíre using DP itís really easy to read and generate code with the MOTU SMPTE setup console. If you need 8 analog outs for the show, then you should use the main outs L&R for audio instead of the analog 7 or 8 outputs which youíll need for generating code, as you have to use one of the 8 analog outs for SMPTE. If youíre receiving code any input is fine, but it would make sense to use input 8 if output 8 is being used to send code. The Ultra-lites are very good on the road, but sometimes the attachable rack ears will crack if someone throws the rack around so be sure and get a couple extra sets from MOTU. The units themselves are rock solid, and in one rack space youíll have an incredible amount of inputs and outputs. Remember, on your laptop always use the 400FW port for the audio interfaces, and the FW800 ports for the hard drives.

Another must have if youíre using time code live is a Brainstorm Electronics SR-15+ ( This 1 space unit will take your time code that you are sending or receiving, reshape the code, amplify or lower the level of the code, and give you an additional 5 outputs of code if you need to send code to video, lights, sound, and have a couple lines for spares. Each line has a ground lift switch, which comes in handy when sending code to departments that have different power to avoid ground loops. It also has an easily accessible switch in the front that can switch which of the 2 inputs (front or rear) is receiving code. This is essential if your audio switcher only has 8 ins and outs and you need to be able to switch code sources quickly during a show.

The most important part of this small rig is the audio switcher. The Radial SW8 is absolutely the best switcher out there for a rig of this size ( You can chain them together if you have a bigger rig. To switch between rigs you can either manually hit a switch on the front, use a footswitch, or you can have it auto-sense when to switch. If your code is being sent out of output 1, and thereís code on both input 1ís, then it will stay on the A system. If the code on the A system stops it will immediately switch to the B rig. This is very powerful for situations that require immediate switching in case of failure, but I prefer to switch things myself. The SW8 has 16 inputs (DB25 or 1/4î), and has 8 outputs in the front that are transformer isolated XLR mic outputs. There is also an additional DB25 mirror of the front 8 outs on the back that you can use for editing on your external mixer. It also has a ñ20 db pad for the XLR outs. It sounds great and I have flown it all over the world with no problems.

I also carry along a Digidesign Mbox2 (although the new Mbox 2 Mini looks very cool) for doing my Pro Tools transfers on the road. You can do transfers pretty easily from PT to DP by simply consolidating the audio so that everything starts at the same place, save a MIDI file for tempo and location information, then drag the audio into DP and import the MIDI file. The problem with this is that you have to rename the tracks in DP, and rebuild your mix, unless you did a bounce to disk in PT which can be very time consuming if there are a lot of separate tracks, that need to stay separate. I use Digi-Translator to save the PT file as an AAF or OMF file, then again save a MIDI file for tempo and location points, then open the file in DP. The files are all named just as they were in DP; the volume automation is there as well. The only issue is that I have to redo my panning. For some reason that is still not transferred properly. If anyone out there knows what Iím doing wrong with the panning please let me know and Iíll pass it along to everyone in Keyboard-land.

So, now you have a very powerful rig that you can do almost everything with in a three-space rack, carry-on bag, and a small suitcase. Honestly, this has been my primary rig for all of my TV work I do in LA for some time, and it works great. My G5 towers that I used to tour with are sitting in my studio, although my G5 tower with PTHD is still getting a lot of use! That may change in the future though. Please keep the questions coming! Mike

My father…

Last year, at the end of Mariah Careysí tour my Father passed away. We were in Japan, and were supposed to go to Hong Kong but the Hong Kong promoter cancelled at the last minute, so we were sitting in Osaka for a few days so we could use the flights that were already booked to get us home. When Mariah heard that my Dad had passed away she made arrangements to fly me and Eric Daniels (Keyboardist) back to Boston immediately so I could be there for his funeral. She insisted on having Eric along just to keep me company, and make sure I was OK. She flew us first class, had a limo waiting for us in Boston, and put us up at a hotel, all at her expense. Mariah absolutely blew me away with her kindness and generosity, and even though she always had my love and loyalty, sheís absolutely stuck with me forever now. I guess the point Iím trying to make here, is that on tour your family sometimes is the people you are working with.

However, there are no ìsick daysî on tour. As long as youíre not flat on your back in the hospital, youíre expected to do your gig. On some of the tours Iíve done if any of the musicians or singers on stage get sick, I can usually cover most of the parts from the computer. I make a habit of recording really important original musical and vocal parts for just that scenario, and normally I can use the parts from the original recordings.

The tour will not hesitate to call in a local Doctor to take care of the touring personnel. Theyíll write prescriptions, give shots, etc.. To make sure the show goes on, usually at the tours expense.

If the pop star gets sick, there are a couple options. They have insurance that will pay for the lost show, but if theyíre not too terribly sick I can either change the keys of the songs to make them easier to sing, or put in the studio or live vocals for that evenings performance. I try to record the singersí rehearsals for that very purpose so it wonít sound too ìcannedî.

Some artists will change the show removing some of the more difficult songs or failing that just take the insurance money, as the lip synch thing would just never work for them. If a show is cancelled the production personnel still get paid.

Many big dance tours will actually train someone to be a substitute dancer to fill in for a dancer that gets hurt or has a family emergency. With musicians itís a little harder. I have about 3 people that I could fly in on a moments notice to fill in for me. I havenít done that on extremely short notice yet, and hope I never have to. I currently have Marco Gamboa working in my place on the Marc Anthony/Jennifer Lopez Tour. I was able to get most of the programming done, fly him in, train him, then watch him run the show for a few days before I went home.

I did that because of family issues. My Son is 16 and is going to high school at the same school where my wife is a teacher. You can imagine all the possible problems that could create! Also, the previous 2 years I have been gone for the first 6 to 8 weeks of the school year, and it didnít go well, so this year I had to make a change.

On a personal note, this is my third marriage, and in this business itís not uncommon to have a personal life that gets trashed by the long hours working, and weeks away from home. This is a tough gig, and it takes an even tougher person to put up with someone doing this gig. I am very lucky to have someone like that in my life, and I wish all of you the same!

‘,’What happens if you get sick while you’re on a big mega tour? Or if one of your parents dies, your wife gives birth to your first baby, or your house burns down? How do you balance real life with tour life – and make sure you have a real life waiting for you when you get home? If you’re gone for a week at a time, a month, or upwards of 6 months, it still sounds like it could be really difficult.




Hi Mike,

How many people are employed on a large tour like Mariah Carey? What kinds of job opportunities are there on a tour like that? Can you give me an idea of the basic salary range? How do you get started in that line of work?



Hi Stuart,

Typically on a large-scale tour there are about 80 or so people traveling full time to make the tour happen. For this column weíll talk about the C party, over the next couple columns weíll get to the A and B parties. The basic salary range for the crew can be anywhere from $3000 – $6000 per week for department heads, and $1500 to $5000 for other touring personnel. All traveling expenses are taken care of and there is per diem ranging between $35 – $75 per day.

Each tour has a head rigger and a staff of 2 to 4 riggers. They are responsible for hanging the points for the motors in the ceiling that the lighting and sound rigs are flown from. They have to get this job right every night or people can get hurt. The weight limits of what can be safely hung and how it can be hung vary from venue to venue and the riggers have to know the math and physics to get this done safely. The riggers are the first ones in and the last ones out so they work really hard on tour. One thing to keep in mind if youíre on tour, never piss anyone off that hangs several tons of stuff over your headÖ. Be nice to these guys!

Next is the head carpenter and a staff of around 6 touring carpenters. They are responsible for building the stage, and usually help run stage cues during the show as well. In rehearsals theyíll build any custom set pieces that are not fabricated somewhere else, and have helped me with custom keyboard stands that blend in well with the set. They usually build the set at one end of the venue while the riggers; sound and lights crews are working at the other side of the venue. Once the rig is ready to be raised, then the stage rolls into place.

The lighting crew consists of a lighting director and a staff again of about 6 to 8 people.

The sound crew consists of a front of house system engineer, monitor engineer, and a crew of at least 5 traveling personnel that oversee the setup and wiring of the sound system.

The video crew consists of a video director and around 6 or 8 crew. Their jobs are to run the cameras for the video screens, hang and maintain the video screens, and operate the computers that generate content for the video screens. The video director calls the cues during the show for what is actually put up on the screen.

There is an electrician on most big tours that ensure that each department has the power they need safely. Sometimes that entails bringing generators on tour.

Backline techs are the guys that set up and maintain the gear for the musicians on tour. The keyboard tech is responsible for assisting with the programming and wiring of the keyboard playerís rig and sometimes on smaller tours will do digital audio playback. A good knowledge of MIDI and sound design is required. The guitar techs take care of the bass and guitar playerís rigs dealing with the wiring and programming as well. The drum tech takes care of the drummer (duhÖ). It really helps if the backline techs are decent musicians as well for the line check before the band gets there so that the sound guys can get a good start dialing in the mix. But please, if you get a gig doing this, resist the temptation to jam any more than is absolutely required for the sound guys because the rest of the crew has to work and the last thing anyone wants to listen to is a bunch of noise while theyíre trying to get the show set up.

There is a wardrobe department that has a head wardrobe person and at least 2 or 3 full time traveling wardrobe people.

One of the overlooked parts of a big tour is the ìambienceî person. Itís their job to make all of the dressing rooms look nice and make sure theyíre properly stocked with whatever is required. That usually entails hanging some kind of fabric on the walls or bringing furniture so the ìpop starî and band donít feel like theyíre in a locker room, which is usually exactly where they are. They also have to make sure the rider listing all of the items that will be needed for the dressing rooms is properly stocked. Sounds like a small thing, but this can make all the difference in the world when youíre on tour and can have nice rooms to hang out in before the show.

On a large tour there are usually 15 to 25 trucks, and 6 or so tour busses that will require full time drivers. Some of the drivers will assist with running the spot lights and other show related duties if the drives arenít too long between shows.

During the show the stage manager oversees the stage cues, and making sure the pop star is in place.

The production manager oversees getting this ìcircusî from venue to venue. He is the person that makes most of the hiring decisions for crew jobs on tour so you want to be sure to be on their good side. The production manager assistant is the person that makes all the day-to-day stuff either work or not. A good one will make sure the crew is taken care of by making sure thereís a way to get personal laundry taken care of, the busses are properly stocked with food and drink each night, and a myriad of other things that make life on the road more bearable.

In each city the production will hire 20 to 40 local crew that assist in loading the trucks, and any other department that needs help that day.

If youíre interested in getting a job with the ìCî party please check out my website I have several links to websites dedicated to how to get a crew gig, and tips on how to do the best job possible. Briefly, to get a job on the C party I would recommend working at local rehearsal studios, joining the stage hand union or getting on the list of local hands at the major venues in your town.

Please email me if you have any additional questions as itís tough to get everything into one column. Next month weíll talk about the ìBî party. Mike


Last month we talked about the ìCî party on a tour. This month weíll hit the ìAî and ìBî parties. The interesting thing about being on a tour like this is that there are a large variety of jobs available, and being a musician only plays a small part in most of them.

The ìAî party consists of the ìpop starî and their entourage. The tour manager is the person responsible for co-coordinating the day-to-day activities for the A party. They will have an assistant that makes sure all of the A party knows what time to be in the lobby to go to the gig, deal with ticket requests, and all of the other day to day activities to make things comfortable on tour.

Artist management usually has at least 1 or 2 people out on the road to deal with the local radio station people, fan clubs, and other promotional activities.

There are at least 2 security people on tour to protect the artist. These guys are usually ex-police or ex-military. A really good security person will go out of their way to avoid confrontations, but rest assured if there were trouble they would handle it quickly and decisively.

On a Mariah or Madonna type tour there is a large group of stylists, hair and make up people on tour. These people are normally employed doing TV and movie work when theyíre not on tour so they usually are very well paid.

The artist personal assistant has one of the most demanding jobs. They have to be with the artists almost 24 hours a day, then magically when the artist is asleep has to do a long list of tasks and somehow manage to get some rest themselves.

Many of these tours bring along their own private chefs, Doctors, massage/chiropractors, and ìspiritual adviserî specialists on tour full time.

The A party typically will travel on the private jet with the artist, but if itís a bus tour many of them will go by bus.

The ìBî party is generally the band, singers, dancers, video director, front of house mixer and that is normally the party I travel with. Personally, 9 times out of 10 if you have a choice, the C party is the better choice for traveling with. The B party has to deal with a lot more egos, and a lot more ìnewî people on tour that donít quite get the rules about punctuality, and the concept that this is actually a job not a 24 hour a day party.

The road manager, and their assistant make sure everyone knows where theyíre going and what time to be there. Normally the B party will travel by bus, but sometimes the artist has a large charter plane and will put us with them.

I get a lot of questions about how to get a gig playing on big tours like this. On my website I have several good resources for finding crew and musician gigs on tour.

Unfortunately thereís no simple way to get a gig as a musician on a tour. You have to do the normal networking that any musician has to do. I would suggest finding out where the big rehearsal studios are if youíre in LA, New York or Nashville and check there often for who is about to start rehearsals. Keep an eye on Billboard and the music trade magazines for who is releasing new music, find out who manages them (also usually in the trade magazines), and then send them a very short resume. Itís normally a word of mouth thing though when theyíre looking for a band, but sometimes people get lucky and get a job that way. I have gotten many people gigs that have sent me resumes, but the ones that are referred by other people I know always have an advantage.

If you find out that there are auditions do your homework about the artist and the music they are playing. I was working with Katherine McPhee recently and she held auditions for her band and singers and I was extremely surprised at how many players showed up not having any idea about her songs or the ìlookî she would want. and were totally unprepared.

Generally for ìpopî gigs reading music is not crucial, for TV itís essential, and it never hurts to be able to chart things out yourself no matter what. Know your gear, and work on being able to play many different styles of music, and to be able to quickly learn songs by ear.

The word of mouth way of getting and keeping a gig is all about basic common sense. If youíre a lunatic, late all the time, or high all the time, a slob to travel with, and in general not a fun person to be around, you will probably never work on a major tour again no matter how good a musician you are. One of the biggest mistakes musicians make is they donít know when NOT to play. Play the parts, and do the gig that youíre being paid for, not the jazz gig you wish you had. Itís just embarrassing to hear guys that overplay, and donít really know the songs in the first place. The front of house guys that I work with will turn the musicians off in the PA that play like that. In short, common sense and a great work ethic is the difference between making it out here or not, simple as that. Mike


Mike’,’Iím in the initial planning stages of putting together a fast, rack-mounted P4 machine whose primary purpose will be running Cakewalk Sonar and Project 5. As this will be an expensive machine, Iím curious as to how having other high-performance applications (like Photoshop) would affect it. The apps would not be running at the same time as the music software.


Well, Kofte, I just do things a certain way because Iím a bit paranoid ó I do big tours where anything going wrong is my butt in a sling. So I keep my show computers free of any other applications Iím not totally comfortable with. However, in my studio, I have all kinds of applications running: Internet, games, everything. . . . If I can beat it around for a while without problems, then Iíll put those applications on my backup touring computer, but still never on the main system.

Keep in mind that I use Macs, not PCs; either way, if youíre running a computer with an OS that is more or less bug-free (not necessarily the newest version of course) then youíre probably okay with (legitimately licensed) programs like Photoshop, but like you said, not running concurrently with your music apps.

Like I said, Iím just a bit more careful than I probably need to be, but thatís why Iím still working at this level. All itíd take is one major meltdown on tour or on TV, and Iíd be flipping burgers! Mike

Software synths

The adaptation of all of our software synthesizers, samplers and effects to OS X is a high priority for us. NI products under OS X (except Traktor DJ Studio 2.0) will support Audio Units, Core Audio, and Core MIDI, as well as VST 2.0 and RTAS. RTAS will not be available for OS 9.x. Until the release of the OS X versions, all NI products can be seamlessly used under Mac OS 9.x.î

For users of MOTU Digital Performer: MOTU and Native Instruments are actively working together to provide mutually compatible products for an integrated music production environment under OS X.

ìEngineering teams at MOTU, NI, and Apple are in close contact and place the highest priority on the seamless operation of Native Instruments plug-ins within Digital Performer via the Audio Unit (AU) plug-in standard. Compatible updates of all NI plug-ins will be available as soon as possible.

ìCurrently, NI is focusing on making all Mac products compatible with OS X and Audio Units. Since MOTU integrated Audio Unit support in Digital Performer 4.1, NI will no longer be developing updates or future products for MAS.î

Nika Aldrich from Sweetwater had this to say from the retail perspective. ìAll of my customers are madly in love with OS X. and have nothing bad to say. Except for one freak whom we arenít sure really exists, since he emails us from different a country each time. The buzz always has to do with compatability.

ìThere are also a lot of people who donít want to switch because they canít get updated versions of their cracked plug-ins. [Ugly, but believable. ó Ed.] But for the most part, weíre seeing a lot of stability and support for the OS X platform from the major players in the industry.î

Brian Miller of at Emagic had this to say about Logic and OS X (These tips are also very useful for you OS 9 folks).

ìOne thing thatís good to know is that in Logic 5.2 and later, the audio instruments were moved down on the channel strip from above the insert slot (which is just for effects) to the input slot. Logic still only allows a single audio instrument to be played in real time. But there is a workaround using the I/O plug-in, which forces a track into Live Mode. (This works in OS 9 also.) Basically, insert an I/O plug-in on the audio instrument track and select any input and output in the I/O plug-in. Then bypass the plug-in. Now the instrument is in live mode, so you can use channel splitters or transformers to create layers and splits in the environment and play multiple instruments at the same time. The sequencer does need to be running. ìUnless youíre using a lot of samples with a RAM-based sampler plug-in, 512MB of RAM should be okay. If you use a lot of samples loaded into RAM, more RAM will really help. One thing to watch out for is that OS X uses virtual memory, so it will allow you to load more samples youíre your available RAM will hold without warning you. It will swap the RAM to disk, which will cause all sorts of playback problems (because RAM swapped to the hard drive is much slower than real RAM). You can keep an eye on your RAM usage in the activity monitor in Panther (Mac OS 10.3). In Jaguar (10.2.x) you can go to the terminal and type top-du and keep an eye on the page outs. With the G5ís support for up to 8GB of RAM, there may not be much need for disk streaming from sampler plug-ins anymore.

ìThere are some problems using certain FireWire drives and OS 10.3 (Panther) that can cause data loss. I believe it is related to the Oxford 922 chipset, which is for FireWire 800 and USB 2.0 drives. Firmware upgrades for the drives usually solve the problem.

ìItís a good idea to repair permissions frequently. Open the Disk Utility and select your hard drive. On the First Aid tab, Verify Permissions, and then Repair Permissions if needed. This will ensure that the permissions are correct. Corrupt permissions can cause all sorts of problems.

ìWhen using a laptop, itís a good idea to use an external FireWire drive for audio playback and recording with more than eight tracks; the internal system drive is pretty slow. Itís a good idea to keep samples on a separate drive if youíre using VSM (Virtual Sample Memory) in the EXS24 extensively. You can also keep EXS24 samples on a separate drive, just be sure the actual .EXS sampler instruments are in Logicís Sampler Instruments folder or at least an alias for the folder where they are located. Logic will search for the audio files if it canít find them. This can cause a long loading time the first time you load an instrument. In Logicís Project Manager you can select your sampler instruments folder and go to ëFunctions > Find unresolved file references for selectedí and it will search and find all the samples for each instrument, so loading is fast even the first time.

ìOpen the Energy Saver and set Optimize Energy Settings to highest instead of automatic when using the computer as a DAW.î

Thanks Brian! That was great stuff! Next month we dive into Pro Tools HD Accel and OS X.

Weíve got space for one reader question.

In the Dec. í03 issue, part of a question from Irwin asked whether having other software on a laptop used for music would be courting trouble. Mikeís reply seemed to say only, Be sure to buy, not pirate, the software.î’,’This is part two of a continuing series about OS X. I got some really great tips from some more software manufacturers. I hope you find them useful. Iím preparing to update all of my Native Instruments virtual synths. Native Instruments had this to say about OSX.



I have a system based on hardware synths: Clavia Nord Rack2, Novation Super BassStation, Elektron Machinedrum, Ensoniq ASR-X sampler. I have them all connected to a MOTU MTP AV.

I want a reliable solution for storing and recalling patches on those synths through Digital Performer. I donít want to edit the synths from a patch editor, I just want a way to have my patches recalled when I open various projects in DP.

Thanks in advance.


If youíve done a lot of custom sound programming for each song, hereís what I would suggest: Add MIDI tracks for each synth, and transmit the sys-ex data for each synth to the respective tracks upon completion of the song. When you call up the song again, simply play those tracks to each synth, and youíll have the sounds you used for each song right there. Obviously, youíll need to have each synthís MIDI in and out plugged in and sys-ex recording enabled in DP, and on the respective synthesizers for this to work.

If youíre using the factory patches, put a patch change at the beginning of each MIDI track to get the synth to the right sound. Document as much as possible in the Comments window. That really comes in handy down the road.


Hello Mike,

I emailed you earlier this year when I was about to embark as the musical director for the U.K. pop group Westlife. You were very helpful then. I again need your help. I have attended a few arena tours in the U.K. and have sat in the main sound engineerís booth. A lot of what Iíve heard is cluttered and muddy. Iíve also gone through the Janet Jackson Hawaii DVD with headphones quite a few times to learn placements of instruments ó this was because I mixed the live DVD for the Westlife tour. What I noticed about Janetís DVD is the use of reverb on the sequenced parts. My natural assumption would be that adding reverb in an environment like an arena would result in a loss of clarity, but the Janet mixes are nice and clear.

Do you use effects when programming for a live show? If so, what type of reverb setting would be suitable? Is it best to run it as an auxiliary, insert, or let the front-of-house engineer deal with it? Does it actually help to reduce the clutter in a live mix?

Steve Sydelnik once told me Madonna insisted on soundchecking every day and she was always there to ensure the mix. Was this to make sure everything got heard correctly?

Next yearís tour with Westlife will be longer, taking in Asia and South Africa. As theyíve asked me back again I want to take their show to another level. Your help and advice is, as always, much appreciated.


I agree with you that adding a global reverb to everything in an arena makes things muddy to say the least. I use reverb very sparingly ó if I use it at all, itíll be on finger snaps, shakers, any light percussion that had íverb on the original recording. Iíll usually do a bounce to disk (or freeze) to free up CPU power, keeping the dry version just in case the FOH person prefers it dry. Dry tracks make it easier for the FOH guy to match the live elements with the computer tracks.

Madonna was at every sound check, but thatís not the norm. Mariah only came to one sound check the entire tour, and that was because we were adding new songs to the show. I prefer to have the pop star there whenever possible, so if you can convince the Westlife boys to come in often, theyíll have a much better performing experience.

We were in Asia in February. Hereís my advice on that: Bring vitamins, work out, and take good care of yourself over there. Have Nyquil on hand and if possible, have your doctor give you Zithromax (an antibiotic) just in case. Also, be extremely careful about the water. I got deathly sick once in Manila from just taking a shower. Seriously. If youíre in a good hotel youíre probably fine, but it wonít hurt to be cautious.


Dear Mike, I really like your 411 column. Itís the first thing I read when Keyboard arrives each month. Maybe youíll share a bit more about live performances on TV shows, the Super Bowl, and the like by big-name recording artists. I find it hard to believe that with all that heavy choreography, these people are really able to sing. In fact, I think theyíre lip-syncing and I really hate that. Is it really that hard to sing well live? Or are they really singing that well live? Fill me in so I can stop hatiní. DAN

I feel your pain. Madonna always sings live. Other artists? Well, thatís a story for another time. Most times at the Super Bowl and shows where the transitions are ultra-tight and thereís no opportunity for retakes, the TV production team insists that the artist lip-sync. Sometimes, though, the artistís own management secretly prefers the lip-sync approach. . . . Again, a story worth telling. But if I want to continue in this line of work, I canít tell it until a) I get a real job or b) I retire. The Grammy performances are always live, unless of course youíre Milli Vanilli. [Ouch! óEd.]

But to stop avoiding the question, most artists do prefer to sing live (if they can) but due to technical constraints are sometimes forced to lip-sync. Was that politically correct enough?

Mike McKnight Sounds Inc.

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