Technology used by performing bands for audio, video & lighting (and more)

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Our band, The Dockside Band, has been making the most of technology since we have been performing out, and apparently, some people have been taking note. We have been asked dozens of questions by our friends, club and venue owners and other musicians, they span many topics:

  • How are you controlling those LED lights?
  • Are you playing back to a track? (asked about the computer we use)
  • Your recordings are pretty good, how did you do that?
  • How did you make that video with the shot of the guitarist?

First off, nothing we are doing is magic, nothing is really state-of-the-art or “high tech”, we just happen to be able to pull several functions together into one notebook and let it do a bit of work for us.

The one thing that we decided from the start was that technology was a great thing, so long as it did not get in the way of what we were doing. If we spend more time working on the gear and making it perform well, we have less time to enjoy playing.

Here is a run-down of what we are actually doing with that notebook computer and cameras you see at our gigs…

Light Controller

The notebook serves as a DMX 512 control surface for us. Through the use of a very inexpensive USB DMX interface, and absolutely FREE software, we are able to control everything from the dimmer packs for our PAR 64 (PAR cans) fixtures, to the DMX controllable LED light bars. We have simplified it into just a series of buttons for our loyal sound and light crew (My wife Pamela and daughter Megan) to point and click at, whether it is for a chase, a wash, a color fade, etc.

Audio Recording

The notebook also serves to record just about every gig we do. This is accomplished with an affordable USB audio interface from Presonus and sometimes a firewire Presonus Firestudio. We generally record with a pair of inexpensive AKG condenser microphones placed back where our sound personnel is, which provides a fairly accurate representation of the band’s sound from the perspective of a typical listener.  We have the ability to record every input right off the board, but opt for simplicity. This is cut into tracks once I get it home.

Video Recording

Something we just started playing around with is video…  I’m graphically challenged, so anything you see that I have produced is amateurish at best, but for some reason, people have given us kudos for it. God bless ’em!  This is handled with three Cisco Flip cameras I own, and two that my kids own. We start them up simultaneously before a set and let them record all the way through. We will then try to pull one video from each gig and try to get multiple takes so the video might show the drummer, guitarist, singer, etc.  So far, it has not worked out well as people bump our cameras and move them. We sync in the audio from the notebook whenever possible.

Tracks

A couple of people have said, “You sound like you are playing to a track, the mix is so good”, or “Are you using a track for keyboards?” (since we have no keyboard player. Actually, we have not done this at all. Any synth sounds you hear come from a Roland guitar or bass synthesizer. I have one, but have only used it in one gig, and Chris has one, but has only used it in a handful of gigs. So no, no tracks…  If you look at our setup, there is no audio link between our notebook and the audio mixer console, unless we record direct from it.

A few members from local bands want to learn more about various things we are doing, so as time presents itself, I will make an attempt to detail some of these…  We’ll probably start with lighting since it has been a hot topic of discussion!

New toys we will be implementing will be covered too, such as the awesome Presonus digital mixers which permit control from your iPad, and an iPad control surface interface for our lights is in the works (It is FREE).

Also, if you have something you would like to share, regarding what YOUR band does for any of these solutions, or telling me I should be doing it another way, believe me, I want to hear from you!  I’ll show you mine if you’ll show me your’s!

Got a minute? It would mean the world to me if you would “like” our band:

http://facebook.com/DocksideBand

 

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