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Some Tips on Making Your Band More Popular
By Doug Ducey
5/24/2012 8:40:00 AM  

live music adviceIn the last three decades, the live music scenes all over the country have really taken a hit.  Different types of entertainment like DJ’s and Karaoke now work in the clubs and dance halls that used to book live bands.  Now, more than ever, live bands have to be at the top of their game if they intend to stay busy and make a decent income from their efforts.

That being said, here are some observations I have made over the years.  This is not meant to be a lecture or a “slam” to anyone, just some things I have noticed that I hope to pass on to anyone that reads this. 

  • Turn it down…no one will sit there and have their hearing damaged by a band that is too loud.  You may have all this huge, powerful gear in order to do outdoor shows, but you don’t need to bring it all to a club that barely seats 100 people.  If you see people standing and leaning across a table yelling in each other’s ears to be heard, turn it down.  They’ll stay longer and the venue manager/owner will be happier.
  • Take a little time and get the PA EQ’d properly…make sure the highs are not piercing and the lows are not muddy sounding.  Same rule applies to guitars…make sure they don’t override the PA and drown out the singer.
  • Only play songs that you play and sing well…does this make sense??  It may be the #1 song in the country right now, but if you play it poorly, people will notice.  Maybe there is a really high note that is just completely out of your singer’s range…pass on doing the song.  Maybe there is this fantastic guitar solo that just has to be played exactly like the record to be effective and your guitarist screws it up every time…pass on doing the song.  If there is a cool drum solo, and your drummer keeps dropping his sticks, pass on the song…etc. etc.   No band will ever impress a crowd if they do any songs that are just “so-so.”  They all have to sound good.
  • Play songs that you have the instrumentation for.  If you are a “guitar band” and do not have a synthesizer, you’ll need to avoid tunes that are heavily synth laden.  Once I heard a band cover Van Halen’s “Jump” with only guitars and no synthesizer…it was awful!!  Why would you play something you suck at??
  • Learn some new or different material and mix up the order on the set list.  Regardless of the genre, your regular followers will soon tire of your set list if you play the same songs in the same order every gig.
  • Don’t stay in one place too long.  Unless you are a “House Band” at a venue, if you play many, many gigs at the same place, you run the risk of becoming “stale” there.  After a while, the crowd of regulars will know your set list better than you do.  Move around and gain more fans.  If you are lucky enough to snag a House Band job, keep in mind that you’ll need to constantly working up new and different tunes as often as possible or the concept will not work for any length of time.  Also, the band members can and will get bored playing the same old stuff.
  • Start on time and don’t make band breaks last too long…people will leave. 
  • If you are over 21 and playing the bars, keep alcohol consumption to a minimum.  Drunken bands don’t work much and when they do, they don’t make a lot of money.
  • Keep the set moving!  Play one song after another with a minimum of “dead air”.  If someone has to tune during the set, have a “front man” designated and make sure he is talking to the crowd about…anything!!  Find out what specials the place may be running in the near future and use tuning time to promote the venue…they’ll love you for it!!  Once I had an agent that explained it to me like this…”Let’s say you’re in your car and cruising down the Interstate listening to the radio.  A song ends and you have nothing but silence coming from your speakers…no music…no announcer…nothing.  What happens after, say, 10 seconds?  What happens is that you change stations!  Being on stage works the same way…if you treat your audience to a bunch of dead air and long pauses between songs…they change venues.”  He was so right on this one!  A mediocre band that keeps the show rolling will out draw a band of monster players, but they mess around between songs and have a lot of dead air.
  • Have “hand out” sheets for the venue patrons with your upcoming schedule of shows.

Always do your best to be a crowd pleaser.  Listen to your audience, particularly when they request tunes, and look at adding tunes you get a lot of requests for.  You should always have fun in your band, but remember; it is still a business and needs to be treated like one.

Keep rockin’!!

Tags: Band Tips, Band Guide, Rock Band Tips, Rock Band Guide, Live Music Tips, Live Music Guide
Categories: N/A
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Jam Sessions-Making Music Just For Fun
By Doug Ducey
11/17/2011 10:19:00 AM  

Merriam-Webster's Online Dictionary defines the term “jam session” as: "an often impromptu performance by a group especially of jazz musicians that is characterized by improvisation." A jam session can simply be two or more musicians that get together to play music in an unrehearsed, relaxed atmosphere.  You can jam to any type of music and have a lot of fun doing so.

Now that summer is over and winter is fast approaching, it’s a great time to think about getting some of your musical peers together and spend an evening jamming.  Jam Sessions can be a major learning experience for a player, regardless of experience level.  Since all musicians interpret music in their own special way, being a participant at jam sessions will allow you the opportunity to walk away with some new licks under your belt.  Jams are also good ways to experiment with different musical genres.  Another plus in participating at jam sessions…it’s a lot of fun!!

One of the coolest things about jam sessions is that you can have musicians from totally different musical genres as participants.  If they are serious and somewhat open minded, they will find a way to play together.  It’s their way of communicating and this is where the learning part comes in…you get to see and hear some licks and musical tricks that maybe you haven’t seen and heard before.  You might be exposed to and become excited about a genre that you were not interested in previously.  Maybe you’ll learn a jazz or blues lick that will sound so awesome in that Country Swing tune you have been playing.  Maybe a Classically trained player plays something that catches the ear of a Metal guitar player and is soon used in a Rock song he is working on.  It’s a great way to expand your musical knowledge…and did I mention that it’s a lot of fun, too??

Never been to a jam before?  Well…you need to change that and get jamming!  For you “first timers” here are some things to keep in mind in order to make the process productive…oh…and fun:

  • Let’s say that you play the guitar and are going to jam with another guitarist.  Play a chord progression through a couple of times, then one of you play rhythm while the other guitarist solos and then trade off.  Pay attention to each other’s solos and you’ll pick up some new licks.
  • If you have no clue where to start, try listening to some blues and get comfortable with it.
  • If you are in a setting with several players, don't hesitate to join in and jam, even if you do not have as much experience as the other players.  If and when you solo.
  • Keep them somewhat simple at first until you get comfortable with the music. As the jam progresses, don’t be afraid to get out of your comfort zone and experiment.
  • Jam sessions are supposed to be enjoyable (and if you didn’t know…they should be fun) so chill out and don’t get frustrated if you or anyone else makes mistakes. Otherwise there is no point.  Take some breaks and have some water, soda, beer, etc.  Maybe have some snacks…then go back and have a nice jam.
  • If there is a large group of players, try not to have everyone playing at the same time…split the group up so that different combinations play together.
  • Try and jam in a place where the distractions are few.  Turn the TV off and get down!

Now, when you’re ready to jam, all you and your group of friends need to supply are your instruments, some talent and creativity and the willingness to learn and have some fun.  Some understanding and forgiving neighbors will help as well.  Let’s Jam!!

Tags: jam sessions, playing for fun
Categories: Band & Orchestra, Pianos, Digital Pianos & Keyboards, Drums & Percussion, Guitars & Folk
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The Power of Rock Steady
By Doug Ducey
9/1/2011 11:58:00 AM  

rock steady teen program
Some time ago West Music began offering a program known as Weekend Warriors which originally was aimed at the “Baby Boomer” musicians.  This was designed as a tool to get the guys and gals that at one time had played in a band an opportunity to play again.  This is a nationwide program and has been very successful all over the country.  What we found was that there were a huge amount of younger players that were interested in this type of program, so we decided to launch a similar type of program specifically for these young players.  This program was named Rock Steady and we just finished our first 6-week session and celebrated with a concert from our first product of the program…a 5 piece band called Stereosurge! 

The program is open for young players that have been playing their instruments for at least a year, but had never taken part in a band before.   Rather than this being a private lesson on the instruments, we held private lessons on how to start, rehearse, promote and maintain a band.  We set up a “backline of amplifiers and drums and furnished PA for them to use during rehearsal.  All they had to do was bring their instruments and a desire to make some music.

When I first set out to develop this program, I wanted it to be more than just an opportunity to make noise.  I truly wanted it to be an educational experience for these young players.  So in addition to rehearsal time, we held some regular classroom sessions and discussed topics like “What to look for in a prospective band member,”  “How to rehearse with your newly formed band,”  “Once you’re ready to play, where do you play?”  “How to make a Band Promo Packet”  etc. etc.  These sessions were followed by at least a 2 hour rehearsal.

We had 5 “rockers” take part in our first sessions…3 guitar players, a bass player and drummer.  Three of the guys sang and they were pumped and ready to rock!  The first song we worked on was Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”  The band (having never attempted to play alongside other musicians before) literally attacked the song.  As I suspected they would be, the results were less than satisfactory, and a look of extreme bewilderment soon was apparent on  5 young faces.  So we tried it again…a little better, but still pretty rough!  Again…Hey…at least they started together this time… and again…and again…and again and each time it got a little better, but still had a long way to go before we could perform this in front anyone that wasn’t unarmed.

We talked about it a little, and I pointed out that the band had some positive things going for it.  First, our drummer and bass player seemed to be working together very well… and the drummer seemed pretty solid, in other words the tempo seemed to hold real steady.  Now all we needed to do was get the guitars to listen to what the foundation of our rhythm section was doing.  We played it again, and the difference was like night and day.  Each time we started the song, it got tighter.  The look of bewilderment was soon replaced by broad smiles and “Rock Star” stances and we were off and running!

Each member was given CD’s and tablature of material they had chosen and had assignments to learn another song.  The next session they learned The Ramones “Blitzkrieg Bop”.  For the most part, they came prepared and it didn’t take much time at all for the tune to come together.  You could tell that they were gaining confidence and I was proud of them.

The time just seemed to fly by us, and soon our 6 weeks were up.  Now it was concert time.  We set up in our West Music Conservatory and parents, friends, family members and teachers showed up to hear our finished product.  The band had a set list of 7 songs…everything from Nirvana to Bob Dylan to Cream to The Kinks to The Ramones…and the guys were ready!  It was their time to Rock…and Rock they did!!

Everyone in the crowd had huge smiles on their faces…you could feel the sense of pride in the air…the concert was a huge success.  Parents, Grandparents, friends and neighbors were impressed…as they should have been.  These kids worked hard and did a wonderful job.  I felt like “proud Papa.”

So, our first session of “Rock Steady” is behind us and I want to personally thank Dylan Jeffrey, Joe Feldmann, Derrick Davis, Jacob Brendes and Nicholas Morris and their parents for making this the success that it was.  The next session will start close to the end of October/early November…I can’t wait!!

Tags: Rock Music, Weekend Warriors, Rock Steady, West Music, West Music Rock Steady
Categories: Band & Orchestra
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The Power of Music
By Doug Ducey
1/27/2011 2:17:00 PM  

For nearly eleven years, I have been associated with West Music Company from Coralville, Iowa. I remember how impressed I was when I first got on board here and read our mission statement:


At the time, I had no idea how much truth there is in that statement. Since then, I have many times witnessed how participation in music can and truly will enrich anyone’s life. I have demonstrated guitars to kids with low self esteem and witnessed their faces light up when they play that first “G” chord I have just taught them as they shop for their first guitar and realize that “WOWI Can Do This!”  It’s been fun to watch them as they progress in their skills and see how their individual personalities change and how much pride they exhibit just from learning to play a musical instrument. But, whether you are a music maker or not you “participate” in music simply by listening. Music could very well be one of the most powerful and influential forces we encounter in our lives. Every year, Doctors and Therapists are uncovering more and more benefits that participating in music can bring to our lives.

Music can be and has been used as an effective way to teach different subjects in school. How did you learn the alphabet? You sang “A-B-C-D-E-F-G” and in a day or two you knew the alphabet. How did you learn to count to 10?  You sang “One little, two little, three little… etc.” until you were able to count to 10.


Studies have shown that elementary school students involved in regular music programs really do “do better” in school. Their basic mathematic skills and reading abilities improve along with their self confidence and self esteem. By being involved in a group activity, a youngster will become more disciplined in their behavior and their creative nature will be inspired.

Teens at the Middle and High School level that are involved in Band or Vocal Music programs are more likely to get involved in other extra- curricular activities. They seem to better connect socially with their peers. They also seem to be a more active participant in the day to day classroom environment.

As an adult or senior, listening to music has been shown to reduce stress and lower blood pressure. Playing music “exercises” the brain and fights memory loss as well as stave off depression and loneliness.

Music can be very influential in our overall decision making process. Think about your day to day life for a minute. Have you ever wondered why a lot of retail stores have music playing?  In a grocery store environment, customers relax more when there is music playing in the background. If a customer is relaxed, he/she will take more time shopping in the store, and more than likely will purchase more. The background music can serve as a reminder for an upcoming holiday. 

The type of music playing in a store can be an indicator of what the store is selling. In a shop selling girls “junior” style clothing you can bet that the current “pop” music will be coming through their sound system. A “western store” will no doubt be piping in some country music, while an electronics store will most likely be blasting out something loud and up-tempo in an attempt to show off their products and entice you to buy. Studies have shown that store employees are happier and more efficient when there is music playing in their workplace.


The field of Music Therapy has grown by leaps and bounds in the last 40 years as we find more and more evidence of the therapeutic value of music participation. Children with developmental and learning difficulties, as well as children and adults with autism spectrum disorder or special needs along with elderly. Alzheimer’s and dementia sufferers have all been shown to benefit from music therapy. Even completely non-responsive dementia patients have been known to react to music by tapping their feet to the rhythm and even singing the lyrics when hearing an old favorite. Some patients even manage to sing entire songs, even though they are not typically capable of communicating in other situations. Alzheimer’s patients often experience improved levels of functioning during and after music therapy sessions often showing better interactions with their families afterwards.[1]

Music has been shown to offer huge benefits when used by nursing homes. Overall alertness and social functioning of elderly residents improves. Some studies have shown that elderly patients in nursing homes have better appetite and improved mood when music is played during meal times.[2]

Dr. Oliver Sacks, at the Hearing before the Senate Special Committee on Aging entitled “Forever Young: Music and Aging,” stated: “The power of music is very remarkable… One sees Parkinson patients unable to walk but able to dance perfectly well or patients almost unable to talk, who are able to sing perfectly well…I think that Music Therapy and Music Therapists are crucial and indispensable in institutions for elderly people and among neurologically disabled patients.” 

Music Therapy has also been most effective when used in Hospice facilities. Music therapy has been shown to offer pain relief. Studies found that chronically ill patients in Hospice care who received music therapy experienced a significant reduction in pain intensity and required less pain medication. Music also helps to improve their overall psychological state by reducing depression among music therapy participants.[3]  


The healing power of music goes beyond just helping those patients with special needs. It can also have a positive impact on their families as well. The American Music Therapy Association in Silver Spring, Maryland reported that during a Music Therapy session an Alzheimer’s patient who had been deteriorating for five years that danced with his wife. The wife said “Thank you for helping us dance. It’s the first time in three years that my husband held me in his arms.”

In another case, the wife of a man with severe dementia said “When I was encouraged by a Music therapist to sing to my husband who had been lost in the fog of Alzheimer’s disease for so many years, he looked at me and seemed to recognize me. On the last day of his life, he opened his eyes and looked into mine when I sang his favorite hymn. I’ll always treasure that last moment we had together. Music therapy gave me that memory, the gift I will never forget.”

In both of these cases, the healing power of music helped them cope with and survive an unfortunate time in their lives.[4]

Music plays a big role for those of us left behind when we lose a close friend or family member. Many people who have lost a loved one find great comfort with music. A specific song can remind us of a certain event during the time that was lived. Words to a specific song can often make us feel better than anything that anyone can say. Some families will have certain songs that were a favorite of or important to the deceased played at Funerals or Memorial Services. For some people, music can have a soothing effect while they are dealing with their grief. Any way that someone can heal during the grieving process is important and using music can be most instrumental in their healing process.

As you can see, music can and does impact our lives in many positive ways regardless of our age. You don’t have to play a musical instrument for this to happen, but it is so much more enjoyable if you do. Kids… get involved in school band or start a garage band!! Adults…if you played as a child, keep doing it. Play music with your children!! Baby Boomers and Seniors…dust off those guitars, pianos, drums and horns and make some noise!! Do yourself a favor and get involved in a local music program like Weekend Warriors or New Horizons Band. Your children and grandchildren will love it and you’ll be their inspiration to follow in your footsteps. If you don’t play an instrument, that’s OK, too. Just keep the music playing on your radios, CD players and iPods…we’ll all benefit from it!

My close friend, Jon Baumgartner, summed it up best when he said “Music is like air…it’s all around us so we take it for granted. But what would we do without it?”  Very profound JB…very profound!!

[1] Source-Clair, A.A. Therapeutic Uses of Music With Older Adults Baltimore MD: Health Professions Press

[2] Source-growthhouse.org

[3] Source- Longfield,V. (1995) The Effects of Music Therapy on Pain and Mood in Hospice Patients. Unpublished Master’sThesis:Saint Louis University U.S.A.

[4] Source-American Music Therapy Association   info@musictherapy.org

Tags: Music Therapy, Music Participation, West Music, West Music Values, Doug Ducey, Healing, Musical Power, Musical Healing, Power of Music
Categories: Music Therapy
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Electric Bass Buying Guide
By Doug Ducey
12/7/2010 11:48:00 AM  

Since the bass is used in virtually every style of music, a good bass player can always find a band to work with.

The bass is somewhat easy to learn, but it does help to know a few bass basics when shopping for an instrument for the first time. Hopefully, this buying guide will answer a lot of questions a first time buyer might have, but if you need additional assistance, contact any West Music store and one of our Combo Associates will be happy to help you.



When choosing an electric bass, make sure that the instrument is not too heavy. Be sure it balances well on your shoulder and is not "neck heavy," as you’ll constantly be re-adjusting how you hold it. Be sure it has the look and sound you want. The important thing about the look of a bass is that you like it and are proud of it. You will be more likely to play it if it fits you and your musical style.


Many companies have begun manufacturing affordable "starter" basses. These are good playable basses, are less expensive, aren't as heavy -- nor are they as elaborately finished as the more expensive basses. The quality of hardware and pickups are not as good as their high-end counterparts, but these are good, playable instruments that will take you through the first steps of learning to play the bass. If the player is uncertain of their talent or sustained interest, these lower cost instruments let them try to learn the bass without a big investment. If you are sure that your interest and enthusiasm will be more of a long term commitment, it might be better to go to a little higher end, "intermediate" bass, which can make the learning process a little easier.


For players just getting started, try a 4-string bass so as not to overcomplicate the learning process. You can play pretty much anything on a 4-string bass. The 5-string basses add a lower B string. Pop and funk music, and even the current country bass players often use these lower notes for a heavy bottom. The 6-string bass extends the instrument's scale on both ends.


By far, the most common type of electric bass would be the solidbody. In better quality basses, the bodies are often made of a solid piece of wood-alder, maple, swamp ash, mahogany, or some other wood that will transfer the vibration well. The lower-priced solidbodies are usually made of ply, softer woods, or pressed woods. Used mainly in jazz and folk music, hollowbody basses are just that -- a hollow body, like an acoustic guitar, but they still use the same magnetic pickups as the solidbody basses. These basses are used in music that is quieter and needs a more acoustic like tone. The big advantage to a hollowbody bass is that they are usually lighter in weight, but they are more limited in the volume they can produce because they feedback easier than a solidbody bass.

Hollowbody Bass

Another type of hollowbody bass is the acoustic-electric, which is really an acoustic instrument that uses a piezo pickup to amplify it. Most often, the piezo pickup will be located under the bridge and has an on-board preamplifier that allows adjustments when played plugged-in.


Bass necks are usually made of mahogany or hard maple because they are strong woods that will handle the tension put on the necks by the tightening of strings. Necks are most commonly made from a single piece of wood, but sometimes necks are manufactured from multiple pieces of different types of wood that are laminated together for added strength. Rosewood, ebony, or maple are usually the woods that make the fret board of a bass. The best fret boards are smooth, hard, and dense so that they wear slowly. String tension can cause a bass neck to bend a little, making the fret board bow, so most bass necks are fitted with a truss rod, sometimes two that allow the neck to be straightened or curvature added as needed.


Most basses have necks that bolt onto the body. The bolts keep the neck stable and don't allow it to shift up or down. Since you want a solid, tight connection between the neck and body, it is better to have more bolts than less to achieve greater stability and better vibration transfer.


A bass neck that is permanently attached to the body with a mortise or dovetail joint is called a "set neck." Basses of this type have a greater sustain and resonance. They are harder to adjust than the bolt-on necks.


This neck type is usually found in high-end basses. This type of neck continues as one piece through the body. With a thru-body neck there is no joint between the neck and the body, which results in better response and sustain.


If you are a beginner, buy a fretted bass. It's best for a beginner to let the frets do the work of keeping the notes played accurate rather than relying on precise fingering and good ears to produce the desired intonation. After you have been playing a while, you may want to try a fretless bass as a second bass. They sound a lot like an upright bass, which can be wonderful for certain types of music.


A heavier more massive bridge will anchor bass strings better and transfer more vibration from string to wood. The best bridges are made of brass and are often plated with chrome or nickel silver. The bridge saddles should be adjustable both up and down, forward and back. Adjusting the saddles up or down makes the strings lower or higher over the fretboard to change the bass action. By moving the saddles forward or back, you are making adjustments to the string's length. This is done to improve the instrument's intonation.


Single Coil Bass Pickup

The two basic types of pickups are single-coils and humbucking pickups -- and there are many, many variations on these two. The single-coils are the oldest type of pickup with a thinner, clearer tone that cuts through a mix more easily. They are more noisy than the humbucker types.

Bass Double Coil or Humbucker Pickups

Humbuckers were created in an effort to cancel the hum or noise found in single coil pickups. In addition to being free of noise, they produce a much fatter sound and can get muddy when played at higher volumes.

Fender P-Bass with Split Coil Pickup

A split-coil pickup is a single-coil wired to function like a humbucker. The two halves of the pickup are separated and one side's polarity is reversed from the other. This allows for the single-coil sound, but without the noise.


The terms "active" and "passive" refer to the preamp circuitry of the bass. Active basses need power, usually provided by an onboard battery. This system has a stronger output and more tone control. Active basses can have separate EQ controls divided into frequency bands, such as low-, mid-, and high-frequency boost/cut controls. Passive systems operate without any power source and have fewer controls: usually a volume knob, a tone knob, and a blend control if there are two pickups. These basses do not depend on a battery that can die during a performance. More simple to operate, they have a more traditional low-fi sound that is preferred by some players over the active hi-fi sound.


With so many basses to choose from, you may feel a little overwhelmed with your search for a bass guitar for the first time. Keep in mind that you should buy the best instrument that you can afford. The better quality instrument you have will simplify the learning process as it will most likely be easier to play and sound better. Make sure the color and shape appeal to you and the weight of the instrument is something you can comfortably handle. Since you are a beginner, select a 4-string fretted bass. As you progress, you can move on to the 5- or 6-string basses, and you may even want to try a fretless bass for added versatility. As you begin the study of the bass guitar, consider taking lessons to get you going. Lessons will help you learn faster and keep you from picking up any bad habits that first-time players often do.

Most importantly, HAVE FUN!!! Playing music is supposed to be fun… that’s why we call it playing.

Tags: bass guitar, electric bass, bass buying guide, beginning bass, beginner bass
Categories: Guitars & Folk
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Wireless Microphone Buying Guide
By Doug Ducey
12/7/2010 11:46:00 AM  


Whatever part you play in your musical group, there is a wireless product available to suit your needs. Here are some of the systems you have to choose from.

hand heldHandheld Microphone System

These systems combine a receiver and a microphone with either a built in transmitter, or a separate transmitter that plugs directly in to the mic. Perfect for lead singers because there are no cables to interfere with the singer’s performance and no body pack attached to the singer’s clothing.



Instrument Systems

These are generally used by guitarists and bass players, but are usable with any electric instrument. A small cable connects the instrument to a body pack transmitter and the receiver “receives” the signal generated and feeds it to the amplifier or sound system.


Lavalier Mics w/Body pack Transmitter

These are like the instrument system in that they employ a body pack to transmit to the receiver. A small mic is clipped to the users clothing and connected to the transmitter when being used. Public speakers, worship leaders, stage actors and presenters use these systems.




Headset or Headworn Systems

Fitness instructors, drummers that sing, singing dancers and dance instructors would benefit from a wireless headset system. Again, the headset mic is connected to a body pack transmitter by a small cable. These systems allow increased hand movement as they are mounted by a small boom and held in place by the headset, thus making the microphone constantly in position to be used.



Clip-on Wireless System Clip On

These are much similar to the lavalier system in concept, but are designed more for use by woodwind and brass players as the clip-on mic is designed to be affixed to a horn. Horn players love these because they are no-longer encumbered by a mic stand and are free to move about if they so choose.

All types of wireless systems have at least one thing in common, they all use batteries. Whenever possible use a good alkaline battery like a Duracel© or Eveready© and keep the batteries fresh. The life of a battery will vary from system to system, so check your owners manual to see what the estimated battery life is for your particular wireless unit.


Wireless systems operate on either VHF or UHF frequency bands. Most VHF systems operate in a band width of 174 to 216MHz. This would be in the same range of television channels 7-13. UHF uses a frequency range from 470 to 805MHz (the range for TV channels 14-69). Higher priced wireless systems are usually a UHF system because they have a higher transmitter range and offer less interference from TV signals. UHF also has more transmitter range than their VHF counterparts because UHF signals move through the atmosphere more easily.

The interference issue is changing. This is due to the FCC assigning parts of the UHF range for public safety communications. The band is becoming more crowded still because the higher end of the UHF spectrum (above 900MHz) is a general purpose range for cordless phones, ham radio and garage door openers. Wireless use in this range is not advised because interference problems are very likely. The VHF band is becoming more crowded because digital TV transmissions have recently been added to this band. Even though the UHF band is more crowded that it used to be, there is still more open space here than on the VHF band, which is why it is still the most preferred band.


A wireless system is only as good as its sound quality. You don’t want a system that “drops out” frequently or is prone to outside interference. You will want a wireless system that has a good “distance range” and ultimately sounds like a wired system. A well designed system with easy to use controls and easy to read displays is a must. If you are a musician that gigs every weekend or a full time player that travels a lot, a durable, ruggedly built system is a must.

Diversity is all about reception and freedom from dropouts. One external sign of diversity is two antennas, although not all dual antenna units are true diversity receivers. Usually, diversity means that two antennas are monitored and the one receiving the strongest signal is selected automatically. Reception is in part a function of position and is influenced by the locations of the transmitter and receiver. Using two antennas, you reduce the chance of dropouts occurring and get a much stronger, clearer signal. In a live performance setting, the fewer dropouts the better. Diversity circuits can be a simple, passive two-antenna system or they can be complex systems using two receivers, systems that add antenna phase switching, and the list goes on and on. You need to decide if you need diversity in the first place. If you need a system that will operate in a stationary location, an open location like a church, you probably would not gain anything by having diversity.

Frequency Agile Systems that have several frequency patterns that you can select are said to be frequency agile. In any location, one frequency may work better than others and be clear of interference from other signals. Having the frequency agile feature also allows more ease in using multiple wireless systems at the same time. If more than one band member is going wireless, you need to have a choice of frequencies. This feature is not so important if only one wireless system is being used. Some frequency agile systems will automatically choose the frequency with the strongest signal and least interference. This is a great feature known as Automatic Frequency Selection and again is especially useful when more than one wireless system is being used.

What Frequency Should I Get? If you are purchasing a wireless system, especially one that is not frequency agile, you will have to select from several frequency options. The frequencies are designated by a combination of a letter and a number. Unfortunately, each manufacturer uses their own system for this and they are not standardized from one manufacturer to another. The letter designates a particular band range for the unit, while the second part, the number, refers to a specific frequency within the range specified by the letter. You will want to choose the letter that works best for your location, and a number that is different from any other systems that will be used alongside of yours. If you have any doubt about which system will work best for you in your location, contact a West Music Associate, and they will be happy to assist you.

What The Heck is Companding and What Does It Mean To Me? You’ll see this term used in system descriptions, and the term is a combination of the terms “compression” and “expanding”. Each manufacturer uses different companding technologies, and some are much more sophisticated and more effective than others.

The signal is compressed by the transmitter, then the receiver expands it again. The process is necessary because microphones and instruments have a grater dynamic range than transmitters are capable of handling. By compressing the signal at it’s front end, and then expanding it again at the receiver end, the dynamic range of the mic or instrument can be better realized. Companding circuitry is also used in noise reduction systems and can give a wireless system a better signal-to-noise ratio and a higher dynamic range. This is greatly dependent on the quality of the circuitry design.

Since systems from different manufacturers, and sometimes even different systems from the same manufacturer will have different methods of companding, always avoid mixing the components from different systems, even if they use the same frequency. Dropouts, interference and other unpredictable results can occur.

Displays: You need to be kept informed of how well your wireless system is working, so you’ll need a display that is easy to read onstage and one that is well lit. It needs to tell you the channel you are using, signal strength, and a low-battery level warning indicator or battery level meter. The battery level meter or warning indicator is usually located on the transmitter, but some of the upper-end systems have these indicators on the receiver.

Front of wireless receiverWireless Receiver


How ‘Bout Those Wireless Monitor Systems? These systems use much the same technology as a wireless microphone system, but it turns it around. The central unit is the transmitter. It takes the monitor signal form the mixing board and sends it to a body pack receiver that uses “ear-buds” that are connected to it. True, you don’t have monitor speakers taking up stage space, the real benefit here is better monitoring. The ear pieces isolate the performer from external sounds and make it easier to hear than with regular stage monitors. Feed back problems are reduced greatly and the monitor mix stays consistent when/if you move around the stage.

Earbud wireless monitor systemWireless Monitor

Again, using a wireless system can make your performances much easier. The “freedom from wires”, the ease of movement around your stage setting, all help to enhance your entire performance. Now, the only question left is how much you need to spend on a system. If you play professionally and travels to various venues, you might want to look at spending more for a more advanced system with more advanced features. If you playing situation is more casual, and you are only using one wireless, a lower priced system likely will serve you well.

As always, do your homework. Analyze carefully what you want the system to do for you and your performance. Research the brands and get all the knowledge you can from manufacturers websites. Do not hesitate to call one of West Music’s associates with any questions you might have.

Tags: Live Performance, Wireless Performance Equipment, Wireless Sytems, Handheld Microphone Systems, Instrument Systems, Lavalier Mics, Headset Systems, Clip-On Wireless Systems, VHF vs UHF, VHF, UHF, Frequency Agile Systems, Companding, FAQ, Wireless Receivers, Earbud Wireless Receivers
Categories: Live Sound, Recording & Software
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Microphone Buying Guide
By Doug Ducey
12/7/2010 11:44:00 AM  

It used to be that the price of the mic was a direct reflection of it’s quality. In the past few years, many microphones are available at a much lower price and perform quite well for their intended application. Most of these lower priced mics copy the basic structure of their more expensive counterparts.


Before you can answer this question, you have to decide how you are going to use the mic. Will you use it for live vocal performances like in a band setting? Is it for recording? Will you use it to mic an instrument? Maybe you’d like a multi-purpose mic. Once you decide on the application of the microphone, you can narrow your search considerably.


If you get a basic understanding of the specs and terminology, selecting the right mic will ne an easier task. Take some time and read the following:

Polar Pattern GuidePOLAR PATTERN: The polar pattern is the shape of a mic’s field of sensitivity or the directions from which the mic accepts or ignores incoming sound. An omnidirectional microphone responds to sounds coming from all directions. A bidirectional mic picks up sounds from east and west while excludinf sounds from the north and south. A unidirectional mic hears sounds from one direction and ignores sounds from other directions.

The most common microphones are unidirectional and they come in three polar patterns: cardioid, super cardioid, and hypercardioid. All three are patterns that reject sounds coming from behind the mic or from the sides. The cardioid pattern is roughly a heart shape, which makes the mic more sensitive to sounds coming from straight on or from the sides, but rejects sounds 180 degrees opposite the direction the mic is pointed. Supercardioid microphones accept accepts a little more sound from a 180 degree direction, but rejects more from each side. The hypercardioid allows yet more sound from 180 degrees, but rejects more of the sound coming from 90 or 270 degrees.

Polar patterns for these types of microphones are very important if you use the mic in a noisy setting like a singer’s mic in a band setting. The cardioid, supercardioid and hypercardioid mics will tend to exclude all sounds except the singer’s voice which results in a less “muddied” sound and allows more gain before feedback occurs.

Some condenser microphones are multi pattern and their polar pattern can be changed either by means of a switch or by interchangeable capsules from one pattern to another-from omni to cardioid, for example. Having a mic with this feature makes for a much more versatile microphone, especially in the recording studio.

FREQUENCY RESPONSE: This is the range of frequencies from low to high that a microphone will respond to. These frequencies are stated as a range such as 80hz to 15khz. A good vocal mic would have a frequency response in this range. If you needed a mic for miking snare drums and toms, look for a mic with a range that starts around 50hz. Lower sounds like a kick drum a low end of 30hz to 40hz is desirable.

RESPONSE CURVE: Frequency response only tells you the range a mic can reproduce, but the response curve refers to the shape of it’s frequency responsiveness. Starting at zero on the low end and dropping off at zero on the high end, it takes the form of a curve when applied to a graph. In this curve there will be peaks and dips at certain frequencies that give the microphone a certain character, thus making it more suited for certain applications.

EXAMPLE: A mic intended for vocals may have a spike in it’s upper midrange, thus resulting in a smoother more intelligible sound reproduction.

Frequency Graph

SPL and Sensitivity: How quiet a sound a mic can pick up is referred to as the mic’s sensitivity. Since a microphone’s sensitivity is measured by different systems, for the less experienced user it is probably enough to know that the lower the number, the more sensitive a microphone is. SPL stands for sound pressure level and is expressed in dBs. A mic’s SPL describes the maximum volume of sound that the mic can handle. In a way, this is the opposite of sensitivity. This is of the utmost importance if the mic must deal with loud instruments. Average SPL level is around 100dB and a high SPL is 130dB.

In addition to the specs there are other factors that determine the characteristics of microphones. Manufacturing precision can affect a mic’s performance. As a result of this, some of the lesser expensive microphones aren’t consistent in their sound reproduction. How the mic is built and the kind of metal used also effect a microphone’s performance. Listening to similar microphones is the best way to choose the one best suited to your needs.


Microphones usually fall into one of two categories: Dynamic or Condenser. Dynamic mics do not require a power source, while condenser mics do. Further explanation of this follows, so pay particular attention to this next segment.

DYNAMIC MICROPHONES: Dynamic mic’s usually have a high SPL capacity. They are extremely rugged and have a polar pattern that rejects off-axis sounds. Since they have internal shockmounting, they tend to be used for live sound applications like vocals and instrument miking, but some are also used for recording. (The Shure SM57 has been a staple of both the studio and the stage for a long time.) Dynamic mics are usually affordable, and additionally, many manufacturers have introduced economy series mics that offer great performance at a budget friendly price.

Sm58 sm58 Microphone

Dynamic microphones use an inductive coil connected to a diaphragm that’s placed within the field of a permanent magnet. As the diaphragm moves, it moves the coil, thus varying the voltage the coil produces.

CONDENSER MICROPHONES: A condenser mic will have either an external power supply, use phantom power or have internal batteries. Newer mixers will have phantom power, but if you have an older mixer, check to see if it has phantom power before buying a condenser microphone. If the mixer does not have phantom power, free standing external phantom power units can be purchased to accommodate condenser microphones.

While most condenser mics are used for recording, there are some that are used for live sound applications such as miking pianos and acoustical string instruments. Other applications include overhead miking of choirs and cymbals.

Many condenser microphones have roll-off and attenuation switches used to enhance a certain mic’s versatility. The roll-off switch alters the frequency range, usually on the low end, reducing response or cutting it off below a certain level. This is used in live situations to reduce low-end rumble and to increase an amplifier’s efficiency. Lots of amplifiers don’t produce very low end sounds, but they use up power trying to. Rolling off the bass keeps the PA power amp from having to deal with frequencies that are below it’s capability. In recording, rolling off the bass results in added clarity. Attenuation switches alter a mic’s sensitivity or volume, so that high volume sources won’t overload the microphone.

Large Diaphragm MicLARGE DIAPHRAGM CONDENSER MICS: These mics have diaphragms from three quarters to an inch in diameter. They are very sensitive and require external power and shock mounts. Since they are large and so sensitive, they are unsuited for miking live performances, but are excellent for recording voices and many instruments. These can be very expensive, but recently many manufacturers have been producing more affordable large diaphragm condensers designed like the expensive models and work quite well for nonprofessional recording.

Small Diaphragm Mic

SMALL DIAPHRAGM CONDENSER MICROPHONES: These do especially well in reproducing higher frequency sounds and sound sources that change quickly in volume. They have a diaphragm that is one-half inch or less in diameter and are used in both recording and live performance applications. They require phantom power or a battery to operate. These are well suited for overhead miking of cymbals.

SHOTGUN MICROPHONES: This style of mic has a narrow and extended polar pattern. They are used mainly for broadcasting because they excel at picking up specific sound sources from a distance. Pic of shotgun mic

SUMMARY: Do as much research as you can before purchasing a microphone. Most manufacturer’s web sites are full of information and specs on their products. You’ll be amazed, and maybe a little confused with all the choices available, so take your time when choosing a microphone. For further assistance contact any West Music store and one of our knowledgeable Associates will be glad to assist you.


Tags: Microphone Guide, Microphone Tips, Microphone, Polar Pattern, Product Guide, Microphone Help, Frequency Response, Responsive Curve, SPL and Sensitivity, Dynamic Microphones, Condenser Microphones, Small Diagram Condenser Microphones, Shotgun Microphones
Categories: Live Sound, Recording & Software
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Ukuleles Are Still Hot and Getting Hotter!!
By Doug Ducey
8/30/2010 9:21:00 AM  

ukuleleI am astounded at the current level of popularity of the ukulele!! 

Everyone is playing these things.  There is no specific age group, as everyone from grade school kids to retirees have caught the “Uke Bug”.  The title to this blog says they are still hot, because to be honest, I figured this would just be a passing trend or fad. Man…I stand corrected!!  It looks to me like the folks taking up the ukulele are in it for the long haul.

Check out YouTube…use “ukulele” as your search and see how many videos pop up.  Ukulele clubs are forming all over the country.  Recently, the group “Train” had a #1 record with a tune called “Hey, Soul Sister” that featured a ukulele out front in the rhythm section.  Don Ho must be looking down from the heavens with a smile on his face!!

Manufacturers are coming out with more ukulele products and accessories daily.  I get correspondence from everyone offering tuners, gig bags, hardshell cases, etc. for all the uke enthusiasts.  Fender has released a couple of ukuleles shaped like their legendary “Telecaster” guitars.  Not to be outdone, Ibanez has released the “Iceman” uke…I guess this one is for the “shredder” uke player!!!

More and more songbooks are coming from all the music publishers, along with instruction books and chord charts.  (My favorite is "AC/DC for Ukulele").  Check out the internet and see how many websites are devoted to the ukulele. The resurgence in the popularity of this instrument is truly amazing!!

This makes me very happy, and not just from the standpoint of my being a Music Retailer.  It’s great to see this because the ukulele is now responsible for making more new music makers, regardless of their age group.  It has also brought a ton of people back to being music makers.  I have talked to many people that had given up the recreational pastime of playing music for one reason or another, and now they are back experiencing the joy of making music.  Many are taking part in ukulele clubs like the Johnson County Ukulele Social Club in Iowa City, Iowa. 

Many grade schools across the country are starting children as early as the 3rd grade on the uke, challenging the recorder in popularity among this age group. Again, creating more music makers.  I wonder how many of these "junior" uke players will move on to another stringed instrument like the guitar or violin.

Well, in terms of popularity, the uke is back!!  True it never really went away, it just took us a while to rediscover it.  If it is just a trend or a fad, I hope it stays around for a long, long time.  It’s such a happy sounding instrument and will make you smile!!

Click here to see West Music's Ukuleles and accessories.

Tags: Ukulele, Ukulele Popularity, Getting Back into Music
Categories: Guitars & Folk
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