I first learned of the K.I.S.S. concept in college jazz lab band. The professor, a horn player by the name of Bart, introduced the notion to soloists. I loved Bart; he was awesome.
Evidently there are two ways to interpret K.I.S.S. Keep It Simple Stupid, or, Keep It Simple, Stupid. I always considered the latter as proper interpretation. Evidently, the U.S. Navy, who by the way, coined the acronym, identifies with the former. Just keeping things stupid simple, or simple stupid, alleviates greater frequency of errors.
I’ve always thought in terms of, “Hey Stupid, keep it simple.” But that’s me and my sarcastic mind set.
I think it is a perfect way to interpret a mix, especially when starting with a foundation. Simplify, keeping the concept stupid simple, identify your substructure: drums, vocals, melody, rhythm tracks, use your own judgment, then base your mix on that.
I constantly cross reference mixes from the big boys, using compromised sound sources ( iPhone speakers, bluetooth speakers, crappy head phones, extremely low volume near-field play back, listening from another room, car stereos while driving…)
For me, the ultimate foundational K.I.S.S. mixing technique: Isolate the kick and the lead vocals. Make those two voices as musical as possible, then move on. That’s what I do. E.Q. and compress the kick drum and vocals and blend them the best I am able; everything else follows.
K.I.S.S. can also be applied to personal rehearsal. Being a drummer, I imagine the concept is much less complex. I break down rhythmic passages into 2’s and 3’s and slow the metronome to excrutiatingly slow BPM, requiring painful concentration, actually making my brain hurt.
When practicing like this, I can actually feel new neural paths carving different channels through my brain. I have told this can delay Alzheimer’s but does nothing to alleviate Some Timers or Delayed Intelligence.
In all my endeavors, I try to start with as basic as an idea as possible. It’s overthinking that complicates matters.
When I was in Junior High school band, our music instructor hammered in a basic musical concept over and over and over. He always said, “Listen to what is going on around you.” I think that is a basic fundamental of performance.
If one of the members of the band plays louder than everyone else, it is probably because they aren’t even bothering to listen. It’s especially important in dynamics.
One of the basics I had to learn to master was how to lead the band in to the next section of a tune. That was a struggle; learning how to play underneath the vocalist, allowing them to hear themselves, coming down at the beginning of solos, all the while not losing intensity in my performance.
How many times have I played with a guitar player or bass player who are always too loud, drowning out other players. I haven’t got time for it; I do not have a six hundred watt Class D amp driving my drum kit.
Not every stage has a monitor system. Lower decibels equates to a greater ability to hear one another.
I also believe that folks who are struggling with tempo haven’t learned to really hear what is being articulated from other performances. I used to be so concerned about which note was coming next and concentrating on the moment, I would lose focus of overall context. A big no, no.
I have a bass player friend, who, whenever we gig together, we lock in to one another and work dynamics for each song. It is totally compelling, working as a team, supporting the other band members. Everyone has got to be on board with this. It doesn’t help if the rhythm section is working its butt off and some guitarist or trumpet player, or who ever, is obliviously playing, ignoring dynamics.
Is music a conversation? Listen. Is there a melodic question? Listen. Do you want to answer? Listen. Do you want to make a statement? Listen. Do you want to help others sound better? Listen
Getting a great mix can be very tough. Recording well requires quality inputs, correct performance, and extreme listening skills. The adage, “It’s not the gear, it’s the ear” holds a lot of truth. Better listening begets qualitative judgement, which enhances desire for equipment that can satisfy ever expanding qualitative judgement, which creates gear sluts, people who always need some better gear. That’s me.
Of course subjectivity is involved, but its more satisfying to be objectively subjective (oxymoron, maybe) when proper equipment is utilized.
My first real studio experience was when I was 19. We had no idea our band was terrible. Spending three hours recording four cover tunes on traditional two inch tape and some big console, excitement and expectations were huge. The engineers mixed it out for us in about a half hour. Those big old JBL studio monitors sounded great at full tilt; you know, loud is best. We were presented a cassette tape of our session which promptly went on to the car stereo.
Feeling like rock stars, disappointment was huge when we compared our three hour session to cassettes produced by big labels. We had no understanding that those projects could take weeks and months of ten to twelve hour days before release. And that’s before mastering. Mastering?
We understood nothing. Sometimes it still feels that way.
I choose to hang with folks who are smarter, more talented and more driven than myself.
Daily, I take time to read and garner other peoples ideas, checking to see if their concepts and practices are adaptable to my circumstance. I think I have applied maybe 1 out of 1000 suggestions. You might think it takes a lot of time to do this. I ain’t going to lie, it does. This habit is actually an extension of personal rehearsal and reading habits. I understand the results of constantly applying myself, seeing no immediate return on my efforts. It’s a cumulative effect; more fuel creates a bigger flame.
As you can imagine, 1 out of 1000 ideas acted upon isn’t a huge return. Face it, most concepts I look at aren’t that great and most are just flat out stupid. That’s okay, I can live with it.
The biggest result is increase of process. My process is far greater now than when I first started churning out ideas. I spent the first months of idea gathering just thinking of anything and writing it down. Any concept is worth writing down, no matter how dumb or inaccessible.
Still, the biggest purveyor of new ideas acted upon is personal rehearsal. Music is a limitless world of possibilities. Virtuosity is achievable in so many different genres, it is truly mind blowing. I believe that music has direct connection to elements of the universe; I see and understand this more and more.
Back to my first statement: I can’t over emphasize how important friends are for inspirational growth. Because they are who they are, just being around them is a form of collaboration. For me, innocuous collusion is cool. It is truly awesome to sit in front of the console and flat screen, together, piecing out arrangements, parts and voicings.
One of my nicknames is Chuckles; I snigger a lot. There’s too much that could make me cry, so I choose to counter with a grin and a snort, embracing absurdity. Yeah, man, life is too short and difficult.
Another nickname is Pelon. My Latin friends gave me that name but usually there is a preface that I won’t mention. It’s quite amusing in Spanish but the English equivalent translates in very harsh terms. The first time I heard it I almost cried I thought it was so funny.
My journey along this path has been littered with countless failures and disappointments; I could dwell on those ad nauseam but what’s the point. I choose to find humor in life’s challenges because of the monumental ironies which preclude its course.
Those I choose as my friends need to have thick skins, big smiles and the ability to shrug off the inevitable shortcomings of this existence.
As much as possible, I try super hard to shield myself from negativity. Well meaning friends and relatives, seeking sympathy or empathy for their less than positive situations, inadvertently drop their experiences into my refuse pile.
Which brings me to Negativity Bias: negative situations have greater impact on one’s state of mind than a positive situation of similar intensity. Perhaps this explains some of this Covid mass hysteria thing. Hey folks, last I looked there were flowers and grass growing, birds singing, a beautiful sunrise and sunset ( somewhere, anyways ).
Since I have a brain, I prefer to wile away the hours, sniffing at the flowers.
If I am an average of the five people I most closely associate with, then those folks are the average of the five people they most closely associate with, meaning those folks are the average of those five people: exponential ad nauseam. Results: mediocrity, negativity, fear, unmotivation paired with demotivation, lack of expectations; these can become symptomatic to my head space.
Welcome to my cocoon. I am a the expectant caterpillar, metamorphosing into a beautiful butterfly ( I have an aptitude for triteness ). It can only done in a protective sheathe.
Mackncheeze Music Podcast # 12: with Todd Ainsworth cofounder of Seattle Country Band, Hartwood –
Bryan At Mackncheeze
Does any one remember rotary phones? My biggest challenge with those phones was lack of privacy. There was no solitude when conversing; who ever was in the kitchen or living room became an audience to conversations with girl friends. I hated that.
I remember my first debit card. It felt like The Beast was taking over civilization, creating minions of mindless citizens who no longer had to count out cash. Now there is currency based on algorithms; who knew.
I finally started talking to Siri. My Iphone face plate needs replacing and I discovered I could open apps by commanding Siri. She is the only person I’m comfortable with not thanking, but still catch myself.
The ultimate good old days: using analog and digital drums for decades before going back to acoustic.
If I’m using a loop or sample, I make my own. It’s first generation and hasn’t had its 2nd and 3rd harmonics erased and then manipulated back. The weird thing – my samples actually punch through the mix with out having to depend on much filtering.
Some vocalists have super powerful abilities; lots of line in their voices, tremendous breath control and two to three octave ranges.
This vocalist has great pitch control but is a super quiet singer. Certainly great in laying down tracks quickly and efficiently, but, he ain’t Garth Brooks.
And I get asked to do this?
It’s kind of like a bald guy asking the barber to make him look like Jason Momoa.
Okay, I’m guessing he wants more depth.
Vocal tracks were cut with a Neumann TLM 102 through an LA 610.
I duplicated the original tracks four times and routed the tracks into a sub mix. I did a high and low shelf Eq on the sub mix, cutting off those frequencies which did not effect the tonality of the vocal track, reduced or flattened nasty ones. Track 1 had no plug in assignment with volume set higher than the others. Track 2, set at lower volume, had no plug in assignment but I put a little sub mix of delay. I used a two millisecond slap delay with a Waves H Delay plug in. On tracks 3 and 4 a I put two more delays of varying time delay, panned hard right and left. When those tracks were auditioned as solo, they sounded like a big gobbilty goop of delay bouncing all over the place. Putting them way down in the mix, almost to the point of inaudibility, thickened the overall vocal landscape.
(Side note, I really suggest watching Funkscribe’s break down video of Stevie Wonders Superstition. What Stevie did with delay is awe inspiring.)
I then added a vocal plate with a low pass filter, cutting off most of the verb frequency at 2 k, boosted the vocal eq sub mix with a bit of 100 hertz, and, surprise, not Garth Brooks, but one happy singer.
I discovered a long time ago that I flourish around folks who are less inhibited. Folks willing to expose their talents on stage have a warped, fun loving relish for life; and incredibly thick skins. Oh Lord, and an endless stream of being novel and extraordinary.
It started in high school when I hung out with the theater folks. My best friend and I worked as stage hands for the thespian group. We painted props and staging, acted as stage hands, and had great times with much laughter. They were people who understood the twist in my brain that determines my behavior.
And I learned.
These are my people-
People I feel joy being around; being comfortable with one another.
Non argumentative people, who have opinions different than my own, open to the opinions of others.
People who don’t put down others.
People open to opportunities, mine and theirs.
People who enjoy the company of my friends and family.
Those who are not envious and jealous.
Folks who listen.
No drama. Please, God, no.
Folks who do not drag down my time, whose bad choices do not affect my choices and decisions.
No such thing as perfect friends but everyone I choose to be my friend hangs in these categories.
Endorsed by Genzler Amplification, MTD Basses, GHS Strings, Tsunami Cables, Access Bags and Cases, Bartolini Electronics, Sonic Nuance Electronics
Sean: As a bassist, I’ve been playing for 25 years.
I fell in love with the instrument. I quit middle school band. There wasn’t a spot in the school band for an electric bass player. The band director was upset with me because he was a saxophone player. I had been performing in early morning classical quartets with him, and he was grooming me to follow his footsteps.
At that time I became a really, really rebellious teenager. I basically said fuck you to everything, dropped out of band and found my own way.
My high school musical experience was completely different and was totally wonderful. The band director was a very forward thinking technological guy. His name was Duane Duxbury. He ended up developing a curriculum using digital technology. This was at Jackson High School in Mill Creek.
At the time it was incredible, totally valuable and I didn’t realize it. I started building first hand experience with multi track digital recording. We were recording on High 8 tapes. It was a digital format that looked like little cassette tapes used for VHS recording. The unit was a Tascam DA 88 which could record 8 tracks; we also had a DAT Master recorder. The school got a number of the very first CDR drives. I remember being so excited to use it and buying my first blank CD for like 20 bucks in 1997 dollars. It would take 30 minutes to burn 40 minutes of content.
I got involved with Jazz choir. That was another very serendipitous thing. The Jazz choir director was an opera singer. She was a live stage person but really had no background in jazz. She was unrestrained and was a free spirit. Her name was Janet Hitt.
At one point I decided I wanted to make my living as a session musician. After high school I directed my studies to ready for that course of action. I planned to move to LA. I studied under Steve Kim; he got me ready for the move.
Mackncheeze: How was that move to LA?
Sean: ( Laughs ) That’s a whole another long story. In the end it didn’t work. It was the early days of the internet and I had done apartment shopping online. I found a place but had never seen a picture of what I was getting into.
I freaked out when I saw the place I was supposed to live. It did not have a kitchen. It was one of the few freak-outs I’ve ever had in my life. I decided LA kind of sucked. I was there for 2 weeks.
I came back and finished school, graduated from the University of Washington with a BA in linguistics and a Minor in music.
The whole experience did not stop me from playing professionally. I’m a hired side man and a recording artist. Now my focus is doing my own solo stuff.
I have worked hard and I’m starting to get notoriety for the work that I’m doing. My focus now is in composition and recordings.
I had a recent revelation. My time is normally playing with a bunch of different bands. It’s not music that I have a personal stake in. I’m a hired player. It pays a lot of the bills. The realization is that I’m ready to make a pivot away from that. I convinced myself for so long that was the way to legitimately make money.
Perhaps I’m still in the process of rediscovering that teenage excitement. For me it’s about having ownership, not playing other people’s parts, not just being a hired player.
What I’ve learned is that when I’m playing I always speak with my own voice. My favorite players are the ones who come up with their own statements and their own voice.
In a total sense, I really like a lot of chime and attack. I love players like Geddy Lee and Chris Squire and Les Claypool and Flea. I love guys who play with picks; I love present, harmonically rich sound.
I have always been a band leader, a singer and a front person. As a bass player that is not a commonality. It’s the way that I express myself in music.
Mackncheze: Who are you touring and working with.
Sean: I have a company by the name of Fairchild Sound. It does a number of things, it is my umbrella company for working as a contract player to create videos for a brand. I’m a consultant. I use it for any sort of business endeavor. It’s really not a lot of what I do. Most of what I do these days is teach and record.
Recently I have been working with Miller Campbell. She is a second cousin of Glen Campbell. I do a lot of regional shows with a Billy Joel and an Elton John tribute band. I play on remote recordings which is the majority of my session work.
I worked for Behringer for a short time. This was 7 years ago. When I was working for them at NAMM, we were doing a series where I was interviewing artists all day long. I got to interview Don Randi who is the keyboardist for The Wrecking Crew. He owns The Baked Potato jazz club in Studio City, California. Still playing. Wonderful guy, great guy. Lots of really great stories. For some stupid reason he seemed to to like me.
In my time with Behringer I was also on the team that did product reviews for salespeople. We were doing feature walk throughs, like what Sweetwater does. We were doing this on the equivalent of what, eight years ago, would now be Zoom technology. The stuff was available to the public most of the time and we would put it out on YouTube.
Mackncheeze: How did you get the gig with Bass Gear magazine.
As a bass specialist I had been writing reviews because I am incredibly nerdy. I was always into technical aspects of music and gear. I had been writing reviews on Talkbass.com for a long time. I believe the editor saw what I was doing with one of the bass products at NAMM. I received an email from him and he asked, “If you ever want to do that stuff for us we would love to have you involved.” I was hugely impressed. I was like, “Oh my God this is great.”
It’s a great publication; they care a lot about bass gear. It’s all very technical. It’s the former Bass Player Magazine. They were recently bought out by the UK’s Bass Guitar Magazine.
It used to be in print. By the time I got my first piece published it was the last print edition. I’m excited that I got to see that but also bummed that the print format is gone. At one time the distribution on that was 300,000. That’s globally.
Things definitely changed when we went online only. One of the things we struggled with is creating a format that makes it feel like a periodical publication. We publish a couple of issues a year. It’s a big collection of reviews, interviews, editorial pieces and stuff like that. It’s graphically laid out to look like an issue of a magazine, which is very cool.
What is the price of our relationships? I often joke that I do not have the emotional, intellectual, spiritual and financial capital for another girl friend.
I ask myself: what am I willing to spend to consummate my musical relationships?
The answer is simple yet surprisingly complex.
First: I haven’t got time to work with folks who are unpleasant. A good criteria – is this some one I would break bread with? Do they have a good heart? Is their conversation engaging? Do they like animals? Are they funny?
Second: Is there proficiency in their playing? Is there commitment? Are they able to back up words with action?
Third: Are they worth my friendship? I used to be altruistic in my musical relationships. No more.
Has any one you have worked with ever committed to a rehearsal and then not shown up? Did they even contact you?
I get that there exist extenuating circumstances.
Did you reschedule with them and have the same result? Those actions are an indication self importance. It is happened to me many times. I no longer give people power over me.
Maybe I appreciate the one trick pony. Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice shame on me.
In my network and associations, I have experienced superficiality among many players; they just won’t get back to me. But the moment they want something……
Anymore, I’m not jumping through hoops. Done with that circus.
Jonny: Oh, Man. I’m a human man. I’m a person who has always just loved music, it’s one of the things in this world that has made sense to me. As I grow older, I’m starting to see other things that are contributing to my existence.
I was more cynical as a kid; it was about the money and the system and the Man, man. As I grew up I realized it’s actually not so bad. For me, as a teenager, music was really the only thing that held it together. It was pure and made sense and gave me this emotional rush and vibe. Songs would pop into my head. Dreams would come up a lot.
When I was a kid I wanted to be an inventor or a scientist. I was one of those geeky kids studying lasers, magnets and holograms; taking stuff apart. It’s in my blood. My Grandpa was that way. He was the old man equivalent to me, representing part of the industrial revolution. His shop full of old Model T parts, wood working vices and all this crazy stuff. I got this bug from him.
Mackncheeze: Where did you learn all that you know about vintage equipment?
Jonny: It started as a kid. You have to have a pretty decent foundation in science, in general, and a foundation in how things work. I had a book called How Things Work. I would go through the book to see how gears and pulleys would work and all this different stuff. That really helps when you start layering those abstractions to higher levels, like electrons and stuff like that. A lot of You Tube videos. Lots of trial and error and fucking stuff up. When the magic smoke appears, I conclude my understanding wasn’t correct.
Mackncheeze: You’re not joking about the magic smoke?
Jonny: In the world of electroninics: you can think you understand it, but there is no subjectivity, it’s not like politics or social media. When there is magic smoke, you have been proved that you are wrong, and when you are wrong , you have to go back and figure it out. You have to figure out what electrons want to do, where they want to go.
Mackncheeze: The level you are at, there are absolutes….
Jonny: Yeah, definitely. If you got something blowing up, or you get zapped, or your circuit doesn’t work, that’s that.
Mackncheeze: Is that a comforting place?
Jonny: Yeah. I like the world of logic and rationality. That world has intrinsic beauty. Like mathmatics. It’s counter intuitive to the music thing.
Mackncheeze: What is your educational background?
Jonny: Basic High School.
Mackncheeze: You studied music, didn’t you?
Jonny: Not really. I literally stayed at home and played guitar for six to eight hours a day; obsessed, laser vision. I was sixteen and this was the time before You Tube tutorials. The best you could hope for would be finding some tablature, most of it inaccurate.
I had a CD player boom box. I would put on Stevie Ray Vaughn or B.B. King. It had a rewind feature with play/pause, one note at a time, learn it, move to the next note. For a while, I also took Flamenco Guitar lessons.
When I went to school for digital audio engineering, they made us take pretty basic keyboard theory which was really helpful, especially with writing. Afterward, I started thinking about taking it a lot deeper and almost went to Berklee in Boston. That involved a lot of money and a lot of debt. I saw the trap coming down the horizon.
Mackncheeze: The Fat Kids have been a big part of your life and you have toured with them.
Jonny: Yep. Its been seven or eight years ago. We decided to go on tour, no recording contract, just mainly for fun.
Our drummer is a pilot. We flew down to Portland looking for a bus, ended up buying one from a Mega Church in Kirkland. We put a lot of work in, creating sleeping quarters, bathroom and kitchen.
We did two and half tours with that thing, it finally broke down in Weed, California.
The Fat Kids is a great band, but I’m really pumped on a concept that could play all genres, from Rap to Heavy Metal to Flamenco to Surf Music to Gospel, you name it. There is merit to almost every style of music.
The way I write songs, they just pop in to my head, full verse, chorus, bridge, lyrics, melody, harmony, it’s all there. With the Fat Kids I couldn’t do old schoool country or old school gospel or hard rock songs.
With this base , I want to get the studio up and running. A real legit studio with digital and analog, with a lot of different rooms, video capabilities, different audio capabilities. One day I might be doing a modern pop song and the next doing a vintage thirties style jazz recording.
You’ll notice with the studio’s gear, I have modern designed gear as well as vintage old school counter parts.
Really looking forward to working more with the studio and getting away from the touring , as much as I like it.
Mackncheeze: Whats the vision for the MOB?
Jonny: First and foremost, we really want to have cool stuff coming out. We have a good team; paying the bills, staying in the black. The dream would be to have a Motown style of thing, recording, writing, creating hits.
Mackncheeze: What are the top sites you hit.
Jonny: A lot of time on You Tube, geeking out on electrical videos, applied science, prototyping stuff, how to build different things, philosophy, random podcasts.
Mackncheze: Is that firing you up?
Jonny: Yeah, a lot of audio books. Going through some pretty cool stuff.
Mackncheeze: What books and authors do you recommend?
Jonny: Hunter S. Thompson; David Goggins’ book, You Can’t Hurt Me, great stuff; a huge fan of Ayn Rand; The 50th Law; The 7 Habits of Highly Effective people has some useful stuff in it; Jordan Peterson’s The 12 Rules For Life; The Greater Courses; a lot of geeky stuff.
Mackncheeze: What’s your biggest struggle?
Jonny: Overcoming the results of depression. Since I was a kid I have been manic depressive. I went to a shrink for a while and tried Zoloft, Wellbutrin, Prozac. That shit would make me way worse; I would go from a two week cycle to a one hour cycle. It’s what got me into philosophy; trying to make sense of the world without completely changing my psychology with pills.
It’s quite a challenge to overcome: Going to the gym and being healthy, using philosophy, taking on as much personal responsibilty as I can and not making excuses for anything. The David Goggins’ book helped a whole lot.
Exercise is essential; one single factor that will change your outlook.
Mackncheeze: Whats the most exciting thing you have ever encountered?
Jonny: The first tour we did with the band. It was like so many great things wrapped into one. A little miniature Jack Kerouac adventure, but you’re with your friends, playing music, travelling, seeing new cities, that was awesome.
If there is a junky high in music that I’m trying to chase, that’s it.
Mackncheeze: What’s your greatest association?
Jonny: In some ways its like apples and oranges. My Dad, Zech Valette, Josh Menache. I have spent the last 10 to 20 years weeding out those who are not compatible with me. The folks who are in my circle of friends are good people who I actually connect with.
Mackncheeze: The most important thing you want to say?
Jonny: The world is very divided. I wish people could genuinely put themselves in other’s shoes. Most people in the world do not wake up in the morning and say to themselves, “I am going to be as shitty as I can today.” Most people are trying to get by and do a good job and put food on their table and not be dirt bags. If people could put themselves in other’s shoes with that in mind, it would lead to much better things coming out of the world.