Friday, 30 November 2012

Creating The Backings Pt1

"Well, You Only Need To Punch The Information in Once!"

Yes, we are a Wedding Band now, but this has not always been the case, and before we started Pretty Vegas, we were all in a band called The Small Party; we gigged, we recorded an album, and came second in a nationwide Battle of the Bands, playing at Manchester Academy. We are real musicians!
The reason we came to using backing tracks is simply down to logistics. Its easier to fit 3 guys, guitars and PA in 2 cars than it is trying to fit 4 guys, bass amp, drum kit and PA in 2 or more cars!
When we started doing the whole Pretty Vegas thing, we were torn for a LONG time about actually using backings instead of a full live band, as we simply weren't sure of how well the whole thing would come across. Would we feel like frauds using backings? How good would they sound? Would a lack of freedom inhibit us (or could we play well to a click?!?!)?
As usual, I wanted to prove the concept, and the lure of not having to tell the drummer what to play EVERY SINGLE TIME was very appealing to me. As the old joke goes;
" Whats the difference between a drummer and a drum machine?
With a drum machine, you only have to punch the information in once"

Cubase, MIDI and A Big Hole In My Pocket

When I first started playing, I bought a Fostex 4-Track and played around a little on it, but never really took the recording side of things seriously. I had a BIT of knowledge, but in truth, it was (and still is in some respects) me fumbling my way around to try and make something work. I think it is still in my loft!
When The Small Party started, it came about from doing acoustic pub gigs (no bass, no drums), but over time, more and more originals came into the set, and after a while we had about 10 songs that we regularly played, so the idea was, lets record them and see what happens. I got an old copy of Cubase (I knew someone that used it, so could always ask for help!), some books, a pair of monitors and a recording interface and went to town. Not all results were successful, but on the whole, we were happy, and decided that we should save up gig money and go into a "proper" studio (own by the Someone). When doing the demo's, I played bass and programmed the drums using Groove Agent, and the results were good, not GREAT, but certainly were good enough to get the message across when coupled with layers of guitars and vocals.
After the heartbreak and desperation that comes from being in an original band, we had time apart, and even though we still saw each other regularly, we didn't play music, as the mindset with us was that it was "too soon". Then I got a text from Leighton asking if I could do good sounding backings using Cubase for us to try?

"Hmmm" thought Ritchie!


A quick scout around T'internet and I found LOTS of MIDI files that I could load into Cubase, then use Groove Agent to play the drums. I could always play the bass, or I could use another bass virtual instrument. I could spend a weekend and do a load of tracks and all done!
Please note the use of the word "could"!
Even with the rosiest-tinted glasses, our first foray into the world of using backings was an unmitigated disaster! The mix was awful, the tracks sounded rigid and we kept wandering out of time to the point that after 60 seconds it was time to stop the track. The good thing was, we could work on the timings. And we did.
After a few hours, we were getting the hang of it, and we knew we could do it, but we needed to improve the sound and get the tracks to have a bit more bounce about them, and as the newly appointed "Head of Recording and Engineering" for our as-yet unnamed project, I had the task of getting them right. Problem was, I didn't know how!

Hello Mr Credit Card


I am not sure if you have ever tried to use a laptop for mixing and recording, but when I first started this, my "rig" was a single core Sony Vaio lappy (not a particularly good one!), a basic M-Audio Fast Track interface and some Edirol Micro Monitors. I heard on the rumour mill that Abbey Road was petrified.
 I decided at that point that I needed a new Digital Audio Workstation (DAW, recording software), and some better virtual instruments, so, Mr Credit Card, meet Mr Cubase, Mr BFD2, Mr Trillian and Mr Kontakt!
Once I got the new software, I found myself in the position of my poor old Sony laptop struggling to deal with what I was throwing at it; big sample libraries, small CPU power. My new HP work laptop had also been called into battle, it having 4gb of RAM and a Dual Core processor, but even that was struggling under the weight of what I was asking it to do. However, I also realised that mixing on a mouse was NOT conducive to an efficient workflow, and as a result of this I had to choose, new interface / controller or new computer??? At this point, websites and Wedding Band Blogs hadn't even been considered!

The decision, however, was NOT that simple, as I looked at the options, an a new breed of processors were around the corner, and a new garage was also being discussed between myself and the good lady wife. At the time, my "studio" was the larger of the spare bedrooms, which also was a study / dumping ground for all my wife's teaching materials, and had already been earmarked as being the bedroom of our yet-to-be-conceived firstborn. "Hmmm", thought Ritchie, yet again!

And so, with Mr Mastercard only just having recovered from his first pummeling, I bought the cheaper of the two potential purchases, my ProjectMix controller, with a firm eye now being kept on CPU's and their progression. How long would it be before my "Flexible Friend" would receive another onslaught?

Not long at all!

My New Room


Whilst working on tracks and getting up to speed with basic backings, I had my garage built, resplendent with a room at the back that would be my new studio. The problem was, that whilst I had identified the new for a new computer, I also knew that my monitoring simply wasn't up to scratch, as mixes I had done weren't translating well when brought into rehearsals. Much time had since been spent on the forums over at Sound on Sound and I knew that despite having good headphones, I needed to improve my acoustics in the room and the monitors playing back the mixes, so prior to completion, I bought some Auralex panels, and constructed a whole host of broadband diffusers, ready to be mounted. This was the cheapest part!

After MUCH research and on completion of my room, I placed all my acoustic panels and diffusers in the room in the correct location, and again, it was time to "splash the cash", this time in the form of a pair of Adam A7X monitors to replace the, quite frankly, shocking Edirol offerings.

With the room now containing many a nice toy (including mic's and vocal screens, all purchased on the QT!!!), I knew it was time to get the powerhouse computer and really get this show on the road!

As usual with me, once my mind was made up, that was it, I HAVE TO HAVE IT! So a quick trip to Bolton to SCAN to "just have a look" meant that by 6pm that day, I was home, with a new i7 based PowerDAW, loaded with 16GB of RAM, 3TB of storage and a shiny new 27" monitor. £1500 did NOT return home with me that day! That then meant that after a few days of loading virtual instruments onto my new pride and joy, I would actually be able to start getting the tracks ready, using full quality samples, and not having to freeze everything, then un-freeze, just to make a few changes. After 12 months of rehearsals and a slow and steady increase in my knowledge of what I was doing (well, sort of anyway!), things were about to go crazy as I could finally unleash the type of sound I had in my had for Pretty Vegas.

Pretty Vegas North West Wedding Band

Pretty Vegas Studio Shot


Saturday, 17 November 2012

Choosing Songs For The Band

So Many Songs, So Little Time

For a Wedding Band that plays a variety of styles, it can actually be VERY difficult to choose what songs to learn that will be a success within a set. Having too much of one thing may alienate a section of the audience, whilst having too many disparate styles may fails to connect you to your crowd, and as humans, there are only a finite number of songs that you can learn and remember. Well, that's the case for us anyway! We do have a lot of songs in the set list that get played on a regular basis, but there are some that are definitely "pub" tunes, "function" tunes and "wedding" tunes, so when we have a gig coming up and are working on the set list for that show, we choose what we think will have the most impact and enjoyment for the crowd. This can either be a rough guess based on previous performances there, or from a wild stab in the dark after speaking to the event organiser.

Some Songs Just Work

When we started playing years ago, we realised that some songs in our set suited our style better than others, be it the arrangement, tempo or harmonies we used. These tunes just have a certain something about them and always go down an absolute storm, be it a function in Manchester or a wedding gig in Liverpool
This video of us doing "Take Me To The River / Please Please Me" is an example of what we do that ALWAYS blows the roof off!
It's probably because we have learned so many songs over the years, many which are no longer part of the set, that when we look at new songs, we know if it is of a similar style to what we do then we can generally make it work quite easily. The obvious problem with this is that it can quickly make the set sound too similar and lacking in diversity. This is not a problem for bands who stick to a particular genre, but that is NOT what Pretty Vegas are about. 

Medleys - A Pretty Vegas Speciality!

Please, watch this video.

As music lovers, there are sooooo many songs that we would love to play, but due to time constraints, original song length or its structure, we can't realistically play the full tune.

This is where our trademark medleys come into play, mainly in thanks to years if watching Live Metallica shows!
In some cases, we will actually "segue" songs, like we do with "Take Me Please Me", which are full songs that just happen to run nicely into each other and keep the audiences attention / dancing shoes moving. We also do Prince's "Kiss" straight into "Perfect 10", which is great because our lead singer Mark Keown is built like a brick s**thouse, is about 6'4" and does all the female and falsetto parts!

Singer For North West Wedding Band Pretty Vegas
Mark Keown - Big and Scary but Sings Prince For Fun

For other songs that people know and love, we generally look at what are the main elements of a song, what are the fundamentals that make it what it is, the hook, the solo, the breakdown, then try to incorporate that into a medley. That way, people get the song, but the attention of everyone in the room is maintained as the medleys we write are usually done to get a wide variety in that will keep everyone bouncing, even if they don't like THAT particular song.
In an earlier post about why it is Why Its Harder To Get Gigs in 2012 I mention about the decline that has occurred in pubs playing live music, and the one thing that has always been said when we play at a venue for the first time is about our diversity when selecting music, and the medleys we play. The general consensus is that we provide something for everyone.

Getting Picked For The First Team

As a band we are always looking at the songs we play, and seeing how we can strengthen our set, and in many cases, when chatting we use a football analogy.
"Yeah, but is that song strong enough to be picked for the first team or will it be left on the bench. Its good, but its no... (insert current set song here!)"
What still surprises us is that when we are looking at new songs to add to our repertoire, they aren't always songs that have only just been released. You would be surprised how many songs we have actually "forgotten about", classics that for one reason or another have been overlooked.
Take "Rolling in The Deep" by Adele, that was an instant favourite, but we discounted it until the other two boys were at Download and saw a metal band do a version, and by doing a mix of the cover and the Adele original, it is now permanently in the first team. That song had been out about 6 or 7 months when we added it to the set and at the moment it shows no signs of going anywhere, in part due to the continued success of Adele in the UK and US, and in part because its a great song that we do well. Then there are songs that you hear on the radio and think "God, how did I forget THAT!"
Recently, we finished getting "Brown Sugar", "I Feel Good", "Jailhouse Rock" and "Dakota's on Fire (Dakota and Sex on Fire segued) up to standard, and these are songs that many bands would consider to be essential for their set, but for us, we either forgot or didn't think that at the time we first tried them that we could do them justice. Ultimately, its easy to say "no, not good enough" and leave a song alone, but as we grow as musicians, we do re-visit songs too and find that from a different perspective they can be part of the set.

Or at least on the "Subs Bench"!

Our Indulgences!

These are songs that we know aren't THAT well known, and are generally saved for pub gigs due to being a BIT more obscure or not an acts Top 10 hit, but as Pretty Vegas, we feel we do a stunning version of. We also include them in the Set List on the website as potential Clients can also see our diversity, and it may be one of their favourite tunes than nobody else does!
Some examples of these for Pretty Vegas are:-
  • Bad Things - Jace Everett (Theme From True Blood)
  • Call Me Number 5 - Paul Weller and Kelly Jones
  • Its Only Natural - Crowded House (They did other songs, not just Weather With You!!)
  • The Captain - Biffy Clyro ('Mon The Biffy!)
The funny thing with these songs, AND the "Enter Sandman" solo in the middle of the Shakin' Medley, is either when we are playing, or after we have finished, we nearly always have a few members of the audience go wild about them, almost like its an "in-joke" because they are not the most well known of songs. We think of them as songs for music lovers played by music lovers.

Client Suggestions

At some point during a gig, or when we are taking wedding bookings, someone will suggest a song that we don't play, or an artist we don't cover, and whilst we will take specific requests from clients for functions of weddings, if we are playing a pub gig and the same song gets requested in different locations, that certainly pricks our ears up, and as part of moving forward, we need to ensure what we provide meets peoples expectations. That doesn't mean that if enough people say it we will play a Steps song, but more a case of keeping our minds open to different avenues for this thing we do, and ensuring that everyone at a Pretty Vegas show, the band included, come away happy.
Thanks for reading
Pretty Vegas Wedding Band

Sunday, 11 November 2012

"Movember" Charity Gig - Success!!!

Roaring Success!

Just a quick post to say that the Movember Charity Event I posted about yesterday was a roaring success thanks to Jo Wright and her great organising skills, raising nearly £500 for the Movember charity.

With a music for the evening provided by Pretty Vegas and the food by Gina Hamlet, it was a chance for the men (and women!) to don their Mo's and get partying, with a raffle, that whilst not QUITE shambolic, showed that Jo needs a bit of work with the microphone in preparation for next years event!

Anyway, here are some picture from last night, so hopefully you can see what a great night you missed!

Thanks again Jo, keep up the great work

Pretty Vegas

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Why Its Harder To Get Gigs in 2012

Times, They Are A Changin'

All of Pretty Vegas are 34-35, so we are not that old (well, in our minds certainly!), but even we remember when we started, how there seemed to be live music of some sort always available near us. This could have been 2 guys with acoustics, guitarist / vocalist with backings or a full band, but pubs made a point of having it on regularly and as you knew when this would be, you could make a point of going down to the various acts playing the local circuits. Yeah, mostly, they were covers, but you didn't mind as the standard was usually pretty high, the pubs were packed, and the beer flowed.

Back then, the money was OKAY, but was topped up with free drinks from landlords happy with their establishments being packed  to the gills, even on a Sunday night.

So what, exactly, has changed in such a relatively short space of time?

The Recession

There is no doubt that people have less disposable income to go out for a night on the town. Prices have gone up, taxes have gone up, and supermartkets sell 24 cans for £12. Not really hard to see why there has been a general downturn in pub attendance just on these basic facts is it? I mean a lot of places will still have their "regulars" propping up the bar, but rarely are they being replaced by new customers who devote a night or two (or whole weekend) to one venue, and as such the landlords have to look at how to still shift pints without the additional costs involved. Food is okay to bring additional money in, but the landlords really need to go for that change in a big way, new kitchen, refurbishment, more staff, and this is expensive. So why pay for entertainment, when its not going to attract new customer, and reduce the profits for the ones they have.

People Want More For Their Money & Death of "The Local"

I don't really think its a stretch to appreciate that when times are tough, people want to get bang for their buck, so if they are buying food, do they want to eat in a nice, relaxed environment, where everything is clean and tidy, with a wide selection of dishes, or a place that "does food" as long as the darts team aren't at home.

The transition from pub to pub / restaurant is not generally a small step, and there is usually the alienation of the former clientele in favour of a new one, one with cash to spend on products with greater mark-ups, and the cost in doing to is usually VERY high. This means that in order to recoup the expense of this transformation, the only option is to maximise seating for the new aspect of the business. Don't get me wrong, some pubs HAVE successfully merged the two, but they are very much in the minority, and this has generally meant that what was the typical "Local" is either now looking very shabbier compared to the new swanky eateries, or have been closed and turned into gastro-pubs or brasseries. And the last two aren't typically looking for live music (unless you are a Mickey Bubbles tribute act at Christmas!)

PV At The Saracens Head in Warrington, Great Venue, Too Close To Wine Bars

The Infamous Wine Bars

FACT:- Men want young women => young women don't go to dives =>  men don't go to dives.
As more and more people want the celebrity lifestyle, nice cars, nice houses, nice nights out, ridiculously overpriced wine bars  and bar/clubs have become the places to be and it is DJ music that is wanted in these types of establishments. This not only drags in more punters, it drives down the desire to spend a night listening to live music as the men will generally go where the women are. The problem is that maybe typical old-fashioned pubs haven't really adapted to this change by refurbishment of existing premises, but retaining the essential elements of what drew people there in the good times.

 "Live Music Saturday Night - Karaoke With Jim!"

 For me, this is one of the fundamental problems with getting live music back into pubs and that is the easy entertainment that comes from karaoke; cheaper, occupy less space and the familiarity of the same songs every week by the same people.
Pubs are essentially about community and if you see any karaoke host "off-duty" they are in many cases revered as Gods by the public, and with the same faces singing the same songs every week, it endears them to their fellow punter for getting up and "having a go"!
Whilst I would much prefer to have this than a DJ playing hard-house, it is still getting away from what live music is about, and yes, we do use backing tracks for our shows, but we would play with a full band if it was logistically possible, but it isn't for us, and this is a topic we fought with for a long time before starting Pretty Vegas as we thought it was selling out, but in this day and age, its the only way we could do what we could do to keep ourselves playing live music.

But Wait, There IS Hope!


The flip side of all this, is the increase we as a band have seen in live music at Weddings and Functions. Rather than years ago where the organiser wanted to have just a DJ, the amount of people looking for bands to play in this environment can only be seen as encouraging for all musicians, so I think that this only really backs up my point.
As a Wedding Band the market is competitive, but this is good for all concerned as market forces keep costs within a reasonable limit so people can have the entertainment in the evening that they are wanting, and musicians can keep working.
As a Function Band there is still room for growth as clients are still reluctant to pay more than what they would for a disco, but that is changing as the cost of hiring a DJ has steadily increased, not a massive amount, but certainly more than they were, and this does mean that for a working band, functions represent the middle-ground between pubs and weddings.
This must mean that there is still a desire for live music to be played, and as i put in my first blog I will keep striving to get Pretty Vegas out there to the masses, and if this means this is achieved by changing some of the perceptions of how live music is to be performed, the composition of the structure of what is a "live band", and what sort of places will play live music, then that is definitely something I, and we at Pretty Vegas are prepared to do.

Pretty Vegas - "Movember Charity Event"

"Movember" Charity Event

Just a quick post to say that Pretty Vegas are playing a charity event tonight for Movember, the mens health charity made famous by celebrities and supporters growing moustaches and other facial appendages to raise awareness of prostate and testicular cancer.
The event we are playing is at THE UNITY CLUB in Standish near Wigan, starting at 7.30pm, with £7 entry fee, buffet, disco, at set or two by Pretty Vegas and more.
I will post some photos of the event so everyone will know what they missed, but hopefully word will spread and the event will be a complete success.
Please spread this if you are a supporter or care about the issues addressed by the charity.
Pretty Vegas
Pretty Vegas - Northwest Function Band - Supporting Movember at Charity Gig
Pretty Vegas - North West Function Band Supporting Movember. 'Taches to be added later!

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Pretty Vegas - Northwest Wedding Band Blog Introduction

Pretty Vegas North West Wedding and Function Band
Pretty Vegas - Thats me on the left!


Back With A Bang Band

Hi all, I actually started writing a blog a while ago on various subjects, but due to various reasons, I just didn't have the time to actually do anything as regularly as I wanted, but loved the freedom of expression, so I thought I would start this blog in order to give me something more direct to focus on, so this is my blog about Pretty Vegas, Wedding and Function Band, my own wedding and function band.

Erm... Why Would I Want To Read About This?

Fair point, but I actually think it might be useful for potential clients, other people interested in playing a cover band, or even existing band members who are in the same position as us. I plan to not just post about things like up-coming gigs, but also the ins and outs of what it is like playing in a gigging band in this day and age, for people OF a certain age with families, day jobs, mortgages etc...

I know there won't be 10,000 people reading this per day, but if you do read it, and do like it, then please do let me know.

What Will I Write About?

I want to really document all aspects, from what it is like choosing the tracks Pretty Vegas play, the ones we decide against, producing the backing in the studio, how we promote ourselves, playing weddings, keeping your head up whilst playing to empty pubs, new equipment and equipment choices.

Some of this is to help me keep my sanity despite wife, baby, band, work etc... but is also hopefully going to be informative, useful and most importantly, interesting.

Please feel free to add suitable comments, and I look forward to posting again very soon.

Pretty Vegas