Making a Living with the L1®
Making a Living With the L1 by Cliff Henricksen
When I was a full-time musician playing in restaurants and clubs in the early 1970's, I and everyone else doing the same were making $50-$100 a night playing in bands, 4 or 5 piece. I also played in a rock and roll duo with a big PA, singing drummer who occasionally played left-hand Rhodes bass. It was a musical circus, sounded good and we made even more money than most individually. My musical colleagues all nod in agreement to this level of income figure. It is a very good indication that live music performance is dramatically devalued (by its customers) since 1972. This makes me very sad, and it is indeed a "sad situation". The music performance is devalued, but not the musical instruments, the equipment,the transportation costs, clothing or anything else. That's all gone up. But we are still in a time warp on pay.
Today, club gigs pay about the same and the better or perhaps more "connected" players (the ones with long-time local connections) might get $200. Party, wedding, bar mitzvah, corporate and the like gigs will pay more, but they always have. Such gigs require production rivalling big pop concerts (including costumes, sets and big sound systems), a wide variety of musical styles and typically require pro-level performers who often are required to travel extensively. On these shows, original music is basically out of the question. In general, it's rare that a musician in 2006 can make a respectable living simply by performing music in local venues. You must have other work. It seems that inflation has passed most musicians by, indicating that the services of musicians have declined steadily since the 1970's. Why would this be? Here are some possible reasons:
- Musicians have played so loud that audiences have been bludgeoned into staying away, staying home (with the TV, video games or the internet for entertainment), going to church, going to the movies or generally seeking more pleasant entertainment and entertainment environments.
- The proliferation of amplified musical equipment and instruments has expanded so greatly that there is an ever-growing community of musicians who will do anything to get a gig, including playing for free. And so, the market demand for performing musicians and performing bands is totally swamped by the growing availability of bands and players. This forces wages down.
- Musical artists, like all artists, are generally not business-minded by nature. Or so it seems. They don't think like business people for the most part because they mostly think about music, its composition and its performance. Any musician, especially composer/performers, will acknowledge that the brain can get totally consumed with music, shoving all but bare essentials out of consciousness. There's the "right brain" and "left brain" explanation of this too, but I forget which is which. And so, artists and musicians in general make bad business decisions (possibly because they don't want to deal with it), or simply accept the wages that are offered them without comment, complaint or some proactive strategy.
- Triple system amplification tends to make all bands sound similar, so that any artistic excellence is lost in sonic clutter created by this. Thus, a "great" band can't really demonstrate their competence effectively and thus differentiate themselves on excellence of performance. The triple system tends to make all bands playing in small to medium venues sound alike (blurry, indestinct vocals, etc) and thus it seems to lump all such bands as "mediochre" or "annoying" because of excessive levels and chaotic fidelity presented.
- Most musicians today seem to have other employment, because they can't support themselves playing. This contributes to wages going down.
- The American Federation of Musicians was once a powerful force in helping musicians achieve an honorable wage and get group discounts on "benefits" such as insurance and medical coverage. Today it is almost nonexistent, other than for very high-profile work such as Broadway plays, symphony orchestras, some casino gigs and movie film score work. I may even be wrongly optimistic about this.
- Bands playing original compositions seem to be doomed to a life of scraping for gigs that pay nothing, unless they have some kind of recording that is distributed by legitimate means (a "record label", whatever this means in 2006). Popular bands playing popular music will occasionally trick an audience by inserting their original into a set. But if it is announced ("...and here's one of our original tunes..."), the audience mostly gets glassy-eyed and bored. I think this is because the music isn't recognizable.
- Bands "creating" (or attempting to create) original music have a zillion different "music composition" software packages to choose from, many with prefabricated song "templates" in common song formats (A/B/A/B/C/A/B, ETC), or with sampled drum (and other instrument) loops. Some are even free to be downloaded. And so, budding artists or complete bands will use these to "create" new songs by playing them and possibly shouting or screaming lyrics without melody over the chord changes. My opinion is that this is not only a severe limitation on songwriting, it tends to be not-songwriting. I think it discourages the creation of a real song. The great, enduring songs we all love and can sing to ourselves (from Bessy Smith to Sinatra, Ellington, the Beatles, Pearl Jam, Van Halen, Outkast, ...), I believe, started with either a story to tell or with a melody, not with a fully-produced, full-production music track that you insert your-lyric-here into. My children, some of them musicians but all of them music lovers and appreciators, complain that modern music isn't melodic or satisfying in many ways. And so, they seem to prefer music from the '60's thru the '80's. I think that instant gratification afforded by instant-songwriting packages has imposed a severe restriction on new songwriters, including a deep spiritual one.
New music is the lifeblood of the musical community. Not everyone can compose, or, better, not everyone does compose, but the musical community needs new music to stay inspired and fresh, including for their audiences. I think that modern musical technologies in the form of equipment and software has spawned an unprecedentedly large community of musicians who seem to enjoy instant "success" without "doing the work". And so, I think this has given the difficult craft of songwriting ("originals") a bad name and a black eye. It's not to be trusted any more.
Of course, this is dangerous ground here. "Art" in general is often thought of as an unassailable topic, especially within the artistic community. I mean, who (including the author) is to say what's good and bad art, what's the best way to make it and so forth? Critics think they know, but artists often keep a distance from such opinions. Also, a colleague reading this said it borders on Old Fartism. Like "when I was your age, sonny, we made REAL music with sticks, leaves and a wire recorder". Beyond all this, I think that prepackaged compositions are like paint-by-numbers. You end up with something, but by nature you were severely limited in your choices. I think the best art is that which starts from scratch. Make your own frame, stretch the canvas and put on your own gesso. Doing so, it gives the artist an infinite set of possibilities to craft their work from. If you're a piano player, you're limited right off the bat, as opposed to if you could compose for any combination of instruments. I didn't want this to make music-by-numbers users feel like they were bad people. I merely aimed to point out the limitations imposed by such methods. And, agreed, you have to start somewhere. Your early compositions will not be good ones. I think you get better the more you try and the more you write. Music by numbers might be a great way to learn, like riding a 2-wheel bicycle with training wheels. I wrote some songs using "Drum Drops" records (thereby dating me back to the vinyl age) that had the typical pop-tune format and was actually happy with some results. One of those tunes still exists on my made-the-cut list.
On the other hand, here are what I believe are facts about live music:
- Humans need music, almost like they need oxygen. They will be very unhappy without it, in general.
- Humans respond very positively and in a fundamental way to good, soulful and touching music played live by well-intended and accomplished players with excellent-sounding instruments and equipment. Soulful harmonic music vibrates other humans in ways we don't even understand, but it does this at any rate. Every human knows good music and good sound quality. This is easily proven by the volume of sound recordings purchased every day worldwide and what appears to be a convergence of sound quality of music-delivering appliances from reputable manufacturers. Therefore, excellent music is evidently very valuable to most humans. I belive that live music is even more valuable, and I believe it is seriously undervalued as a profession.
- From personal experience, I know that the L1 system is the first commercially-available live music concept that allows musicians to "live in the mix" that they deliver to an audience. I know personally, as a musician, that it dramatically improves any ensemble's experience onstage and it contributes dramatically to improving ensemble communication, performance and the regularity of it. I know personally that with this system and expert musicians, a superior performance is both encouraged and expected. The sonic delivery of this performance is unprecedented in its excellence and attractiveness to an audience.
And so, now that the system has been available for over 3 years, I believe that its use should contribute to musicians' wages if they are willing to devote the time and effort to play in tune, play correctly and serve any audience with what they want. The L1 should set any ensemble apart from any others using conventional equipment. It should also separate those who can play from those who can't, simply by exposing every note that is played, for better or for worse. It is my belief that the use of the L1 system can be a catalyst in making live amplified music in the year 2006 and beyond far more valuable that it was in 1972. And so, it must follow that musicians' wages should surpass those of 1972, only in 2006 dollars (5x or 6x higher, plus). I believe all this from my personal experience with the system, both as a player onstage and as an audience member. These experiences have been unprecedented for me personally.
With all this as an introduction and background, I will herein begin exploration on how musicians can use the L1 in their musical lives to actually make an honorable, equitable living and wage.
The L1 system and its new "toolbox" for the professional musician
The following are new tools that the L1 system gives to the musical artist. These are tools that have never before been available to musical artists in the history of live amplified music or, for that matter, public music performances of any kind.
- Combining common musical instruments with the L1 system creates a totally new kind of musical instrument that has unprecedented qualities of connecting artists with audiences and with their instruments.
- When a musician crafts an airborn tone using instrument, ToneMatch preset and L1 system, a never-before-available complete and totally new musical instrument is created. The human race has never before had such an instrument. This is not a marketing-and-sales statement from the Bose Corporation. It is a statement of, in my mind, profound fact, especially for any musician to consider. Here are some examples:
- Human voice is the most familiar-sounding musical instrument in all of our experience. We know how it sounds live and we know how it sounds witin an ensemble, including from good recordings made with microphones. Human voice loses volume when the distance from the singer or speaker is increased. It is crisp (sibilants) in front of the head and dull in back of the head. Sound systems for voice (using microphones) have the same characteristics of volume change, plus the vocalist or talker can't hear what his audience is hearing. This is not as much a problem for a "speaker" who is simply delivering information to an audience, as it is to a vocalist who is delivering their heart and soul to an audience. The L1 system puts both vocalist and audience in the same soundfield. The tone and level delivered is very uniform. When the vocalist understands this and accepts it, a profound change takes place in the delivery of their performance. The realization that they can live in the delivery creates a bond and connection to the audience that simply was never possible before in the history of delivering vocal to an audience. It is empowering and deeply spiritual. And from this realization comes a change in the depth of the performance. The performer digs deep and connects to their audience like never before. It's true, it's real.
- Acoustic guitars have a familar tone, a tone we as a species have lived with and loved for many centuries, both live and through recordings. A normal acoustic or "Spanish" guitar behaves exactly like human voice: its sound level falls off rapidly (inverse square of the distance) and its tone varies depending on where you are in the audience. Certainly, the player gets a totally different tone than anyone in the audience. When an acoustic guitar, or a guitar-like instrument whose electrical signal emulates or is that of a real guitar's recording, is played through the L1, the player and the audience are put in the same soundfield and, exactly like the example of human voice, an unprecedented connection of the artist, to and through their instrument and to their audience, is made. Properly configured, the "totally new instrument" here has all the tone and soul of a "real" guitar, but it connects to an audience in a way never before possible. Thus, the artist is empowered and actually encouraged to perform at peak level.
- The same is true for all other "amplifyable" instruments, like horns, all kinds of string instruments, pianos, and so on.
- Electric guitar seems to benefit greatly from being combined with the L1 system. Electric guitar on recordings have delighted jazz, rock and blues fans since the invention of these artforms. Electric guitar amps, unfortunately, are very loud and shrill in front of them, loud and dull off to the side, softer but still shrill in the audience section in front of the amps onstage and dull and soft off to the side areas of the audience. In large concerts, amplifying electric guitar tone by placing a microphone pickup in the "right" place is good for the audience but the artist never hears the tone at the play position. In fact, NO ONE, hears this tone but the player. When electric guitar tone is send to the L1 system, everyone onstage and in the audience hears the intended tone and it's more uniform than ever before. And so, like voice and other instruments discussed, the use of electric guitar with the L1 creates, or rather redefines, the electric guitar as a new kind of musical instrument.
- Localized and spatially-distributed ensemble sound and "Stereo" everywhere
- A typical ensemble using a front-of-house PA in a small venue has most of the sound of the band heard from the nearest PA speaker. Plus, those close to the speaker can get toxic and damaging sound levels. The L1 system, properly used (one per player), gives a sonic perspective from anywhere in the room, as the sound coming from every player is easily heard coming from their location onstage. The ensemble will sound full and spacious and vocals from all members will take on a quality of spacious beauty never possible before.
- Musical arrangements employing this tool can produce spectacular "pingpong" musical effects with vocal and/or instrumental exchanges that treat audiences to the musical equivalent of a very good professional tennis match. Plus, the simple soundstage, distributed and spread across a stage, sounds full and rich and allows much more subtlty to be heard from individual instruments than ever before. This is a very powerful tool that will encourage new kinds of musical arrangements that create new and spatial sound scapes for audiences.
- Your bandmates will hear you AND The Mix. And so, you will be able to play so that the song is served. Can't hear the vocal? It's the one thing that sells both the song and your ensemble. Protect it with all your might. Turn it up or, most likely, turn everything else down. This usually translates to playing right within the song. This forces you to listen and play together better than ever.
- Playing in the same soundfield as your audience invites much more considerate performances
- Let's say you had an electrode connected to your finger tip and so did all the people in an audience, and let's say you had a control whereby you could change the voltage, same for everybody including you. Turn it up a little and it's actually interesting and could even be construed as pleasant. Turn it all the way up and everyone's electrocuted. At some level, it gets painful. So naturally, you would turn it up, maybe play a bit with it, but you would definitely back off when it got uncomfortable. That's sort-of like an L1 system. Now, take your electrode off. That's like the triple amplification system.
- Let's say you're in a hot tub with a lot of people...ah, forget all this. You know what I'm getting at. The L1 system puts you, your bandmates and the audience in the same pool, the same soundfield, for the first time. I suppose some musicians want to abuse their audiences, and maybe themselves at the same time. You know; hate and angst music. The L1 is perfect for this. But most audiences want to feel the love, get transported to a better place, feel good, feel God, all that. And so, the L1 system is best used for this kind of thing, in my opinion. It invites a soulful connection, subtlty, dynamics and good musicianship.
- Nowhere to hide
- This is a blessing and a curse.
- Performing is no joke. For most serious and conscientious artists, it is life and death. You practice practice practice so that you can perform without thinking and without making bad notes. When you just play (and don't think), you connect best with your audience. The L1 system, properly used, places you as bare and naked as can be in front of an audience. If you talk to them through your microphone and mumble, they'll tell you. Make a lot of bad notes or play out of tune and they'll let you know (by not applauding, or by not coming back as your customers). There's no place to hide. This is the curse part.
- The blessing is that you are as bare and naked as you can be. And so, the blessing to you is that it forces you to get your act together, to sing in tune, to connect with your own muse and to put on your best performance.
- Lookin good
The L1 tends to disappear visually from most stages. Audiences often forget they are there. This draws attention to you and your beautiful instruments, and maybe your thoughtfully feng-shue'd-out set. It sure gives you more moving room, compared to a stumble-disaser stage full of wedges and amps. Your show will focus on the players and instruments and not on the equipment. This is also a big advantage in events like weddings, barmitzvahs, corporate events, etc (money events) where the event planners want everything to look slick and polished. They love how L1-equipped bands look. It's a selling point for you to them and for them to their clients.
- No Toxic Sound Zone
PA speakers have a toxic sound zone. No one wants to sit or stand there. At the very least, like at a wedding, it becomes a zone for annoyance, where you can't hold a conversation. With an L1-equipped band, wedding planners (for instance) can have tables in very intimate proximity to the band. In a night club, it allows much more seating by having the best seats right on top of the band, not the worse seats as with a normal PA. More seating means more revenue for the club owner and, hopefully the band.
In Review, here are the brand-new tools you will have at your disposal with the L1 system:
- Use of a brand new musical instrument, based on your voice and/or your instrument of choice. This instrument will put you in close touch with your audiences and with all the subtleties and details of your performance.
- A new, detailed and highly spatial sound stage for your ensemble to work with and within. This allows and encourages new musical arrangements that feature spatial motion and clear instrument/vocal detail.
- Close musical communication with your bandmates. Everyone hears the mix that goes to the audience.
- A playing environment that encourages considerate performance by putting performers and audience members in the same soundfield.
- A clean, good-looking performance area that draws more visual attention to performers and instruments and allows unobtrusive setup devoid of equipment clutter.
- The ability to set up anywhere, including inside an audience, without toxic acoustic levels. This appeals to situations that have limited seating areas or that prefer to maximize seating capacity. It also can lead to very intimate performer/audience contact, as in a "house concert" or the like.
Given these new tools to work with, what is then required of the performer? Here are some requirements:
- You must have the desire to reach an audience and to engage them intimately. This may be a new experience for some performers. Once you get to this, you will love it and so will your audience.
- Instruments must be in tune and mechanically and electrically excellent. Any flaws will show up very clearly in performance.
- Playing must progress from playing with a monitor mix to playing with the entire ensemble and producing one's performance in the ensemble so that the mix is right. For instance, if you can hear your instrument above the level of the lead vocal, you're playing too loud and must turn down. In playing soccer, beginners look at their feet and the ball. Expert players experience the entire game, head up, and have a full-spectrum view of the playing field. Playing music from a monitor mix is like the neophyte soccer player while playing within a full L1 system allows all players to hear the full mix, the game, like an expert soccer player. Most players will have to learn how to listen to everyone and play accordingly, possibly all over again. Thus, the player must play differently than he or she ever has. Fortunately, this draws on good but latent skills that every musician has. The comment that "musicians can't mix themselves" is totally wrong. And anyway, it's not mixing; it's "playing together". It's Ensemble 101 in music school. Everyone knows how to do it. With the L1 system in place, such skills are quickly brought forward and enjoyed.
- Work on arrangements, especially given the spectacular soundstage the L1 system offers. Work on multiple-lead interplay, big lush multi-instrumental crescendos, call-and-response vocal fun, and so on. Make each song a jewel and play with dynamics. The system encourages this.
- Playing must serve the song. Everyone must realize that the lead vocal or the lead instrument is selling the song and the band. And so, the rest of the band must support this effort to make the song reach its full potential. Listen to the great recordings of music of any kind. Note where the vocal is in the mix and make this happen at your own show.
- Look good. Since your stage will be clean and uncluttered, your audience will naturally focus on you and your instruments naturally. Give them something entertaining or attractive to look at, because they won't have much equipment clutter to look at.
Working for a Living
So, if you do all this, you will, in time, be empowered and inspired as a musician and as an ensemble and your show will be far more attractive than any using conventional equipment, guaranteed. All the new tools you have to work with are simply not available using the usual triple-system gear. You'll be producing live music performance with unprecedented beauty and clarity and soul. So then, how is this going to allow you, at long last, to be able to make a respectable wage and not 1970 wages, 1/5 or lower than you should be making at $100/player per show?
- First clue: DJ's feature the L1 system in their advertisements. By this time, word has gotten out, mostly through their promotion, that the Bose system is the hippest and highest-quality system for any event. And event planners know that they will have to pay a premium for this at their event. It comes with the "Deluxe Package" because it sounds best, doesn't blast people near it and can be set up with both audio and visual unobtrusiveness. DJ's make more money this way. Why don't musicians? My guess is that DJ's are more enterpreneurial than musicians. They are, obviously, better at business. I can't think of a good reason why, other than the fact that musicians simply don't think along these lines.
Actually, that's not true. Musicians who are in big slick "outside" bands can get as much as national attractions at concerts, $10,000, $15,000 and more for an event, featuring 6-10 players and more. But, these bands are full of expert players and national-level singers who wear tuxedos and lovely evening gowns, or elaborate costumes of all kinds. They play popular songs as well as classic rock and favorite standards with equal expertness. And they travel all over for their dates, not something everyone wants to do.
Most musicians, in America anyway, play in 50-200 seat performing arts centers, restaurants and night clubs for money. Church musicians, I think, are not paid. They volunteer, but nevertheless play in similar venues. So, it's the vast number of musicians in the first category that I am addressing. I believe that this is the overwhelming majority of musicians playing for money in America.
How do you rise above simply accepting the current wage scale for most players? I guess, as I write this (it's just coming out as you see it), you first have to decide that it's unacceptable. This might mean turning down gigs because the pay is disrespectful. Remember; you ought to be getting paid at least $500 for a show, or you're not making enough to keep up with inflation. If you play for 3 hours with some breaks and spend another 2 hours commuting, setting up and breaking down, you will make $100 per hour. Not bad. Competent "shop time" costs $60-$75 per hour. Factor in rehearsals, promotion and paying an agent and you're getting into a reasonable hourly wage. Something you can be proud of.
I'm stopping to think about all this, peparing to go on. I myself have a pretty bad business sense as a musician, so it's a pretty demanding load on my brain right now. This is also because it's a huge problem based on how many musicians accept the wages they get and how the entire business of live music has settled into what I think is a rut.
However, like all problems, there is a solution. Identifying the problem is often the biggest step. The rest is merely work.