Thursday, 9 May 2013

Next For The Blog - Gig Blogs

New Ideas

Well, as the both Mark Keown and Leighton Hume have done a blog post, I was thinking of what other things I could start writing about for this blog in order to keep both reader interest and also to help keep my sanity and allowing me to get my thoughts out there into the ether!

I have made some suggestions to the boys and they have there next writing assignments, but I thought what would I write about?

When I started this, one of the reasons was, in truth, to help with our SEO as the online competition for pop rock and soul wedding bands is really tough, but without regular posting, that actually means nothing, and I forgot how much I enjoy it, so will continue, but that means something to write about.

I still have lots of ideas, but one thing I have decided on has actually come about because at the moment we are really short of recorded material to have on our website, despite me having my studio and us having our YouTube videos up. It's not that we can't record, it's just that, like I said in my blog about the non-gig work, a studio recording doesn't actually give a true representation of how we are live, even though we use backing tracks.

So although we will be putting some studio stuff up, and after a lot of research on the hire of recording gear, for the next function on 19th May, I will be bringing my recording rig to the gig and recording the whole thing as multitracks.

Recording The Thing!

Now, my rig is an M-Audio ProjectMix I/O which is an interface and 9 fader control surface. So it's not exactly small! And whilst I would love to bring my studio PC to be 100%, it's huge, so my laptop will be pressed into service for this.

This got me to thinking about gear, an maybe getting something smaller and better, a new interface and use the ProjectMix just for the control element in the studio, but the interface I could bring to all functions and wedding and then I could get loads of tracks to put up. This then led me to the thought of if I am recording a gig, what about doing blogs about them too. They wouldn't need to be big, but might be fun to do.

So that, I have decided is something I going to be doing from now on, get a few pictures before, during and after (name change to protect the innocent!) and a brief piece on how it all went.


Well, as is my way, rather than just crack on and struggle with the big setup, thought it would be an idea to do the buying of said new interface, so a quick visit to the musical wonderland that is PMT Manchester and I returned home with my new Roland Octa-Capture, and new I am compact and ready to start recording!

Now, I just need to learn how to solder to get the desk and my recording rig talking to each other!

Pretty Vegas

Tuesday, 30 April 2013

DJ Marko and the Wheels of Steel

Hey, Mr DJ, Put A Record On!

Busy, Busy

Well, as lead vocalist of Pretty Vegas and a DJ for 17 years, one way or another I’m out most weekends.  I love it. That feeling when you’re loading up ready to drive to a gig. The anticipation of a good night, when the crowd will sway and dance and fool around, and spill beer and steam will rise from the dance-floor; it gets me going. Setting up the gear is never fun, especially with a work-shy lead guitarist, but I love getting it right; the sound-check; putting on the background music and watching the guests appear; the lights illuminating the stage; the spurt of dry ice as the music surges and the band kicks off. I love it.

Fitting the Bill

We at Pretty Vegas know our music. We all have our ideas about what should be playing when we’re not. Pretty Vegas is, at heart, a rock band; it’s what we grew up on. That’s not to say we don't play with feeling and soul, but we’re never happier than when we’re rocking out with the crowd on the dance-floor, Ritchie on a chair, groin in the air, me and Leighton on the stage and a random lady in the audience banging our tambourine out of time. That had to mean we would end up being a rocking wedding band.

 As resident DJ at a successful country hotel for 17 years I know that rock is only part of the solution. I do a little set of Bryan Adams, Bon Jovi, The Killers and Kings of Leon and it always goes down a storm, but I also recognise the young ladies who want some Rihanna or LMFAO, the mum, dad, grandma or granddad who wants some ‘proper rock n’ roll’ and the 80s fans, revving up for Frankie, Duran Duran or Dexy’s Midnight Runners. I love all music. Various members of Pretty Vegas have been in various different configurations, playing all kinds of music from punk to REM to Metallica to grunge to Britney Spears to Tracey Chapman, since we were just old enough to hold a guitar! We love it all and I pride myself, in terms of being a wedding DJ, on being able to judge a crowd; to look at the spread of people in a room and to establish what they want to listen to.

Pretty Vegas Rocking A Wedding

New Toys

As writer of this blog, I get to talk about the new toys we’ve just bought. Pretty Vegas has just invested in a pair of RCF powered speakers. When coupled with our previous investment of a Mackie sub-woofer, we now sound, as I believe the kids say, unbelievably awesome!

As my colleagues have said in previous blogs, we try to put on a show. We were concerned when we first started out as Pretty Vegas that we didn’t have a light show. We now have a kick-ass light show!  We pay out for the little things all the time - a set of guitar strings here, a £2000 Taylor guitar there! We could get by on some bargain basement second hand gear, but we want to sound good. People sometimes seem incredulous that bands would like to be paid what sometimes amounts to £10 per hour each for a gig. They don’t see what money goes in behind the scenes to get a band to sound like that. To give you a clue, when we go out, because we want to be the best sounding wedding band, we generally have around £10,000 of equipment with us.

I tend to use a combination of iPods and laptops to run my DJ show these days. I’m always a bit suspicious of electronic technology though. I still carry my faithful CDJs and two big cases of discs to every show, just in case. My biggest enduring fear is playing the Bride and Grooms’ first dance and the laptop crashes! Accordingly I now cue the track up simultaneously on iPod, laptop and disc, so there are two failsafes! 

There’s no doubt that technology yields results and as well as the recent upgrades to our PA rig and lights, we at Pretty Vegas take pride in using the best tech and equipment we can.

Dance My Pretties

As a DJ I love nothing more than to make people dance (I think it was Don McLean said that). As I’ve mentioned, I play little sets as a DJ. Unless specified by the Client, I would play a fairly broad range of genres from dance/chart to funk/soul to motown to rock to party to jive to swing to disco to house. If people aren’t dancing then I’ll change the vibe until they do. Often Clients will supply a play list. I will make suggestions about order and what will get people dancing etc. but, at the end of the day, it’s the Client’s evening and usually when a customer supplies a play list it’s because they care about the music they’re going to listen to and the selection is usually pretty much on the money. I’ll play anything! One of my best nights as a DJ was when the Bride and Groom (and all the guests) were into heavy metal and rock. I had a ball playing Foo Fighters, Nirvana, Metallica and the Chilli Peppers. Pretty Vegas may be a pop soul and rock wedding band, but at heart we know what we love!

To tell the truth I just love to play what makes people happy.  I know that sounds really cheesy, and I try to stay away from extreme cheese like The Birdy Song and Agadoo, but it’s true. Sometimes you get a play list of tunes you’ve never heard of. You spend hours and pounds on iTunes downloading obscure sounding tracks, never expecting anyone to be into it. But it often works! If enough people are prepared to get up and cut a rug, then it’s a hit and it’s job done-client happy. 

Mark Keown - Vocals
Pretty Vegas Wedding Band 

Mark Keown - Pretty Vegas Rock Pop Soul Wedding Band Vocalist

Monday, 29 April 2013

New Toys For The Boys - RCF Art 715a's!

Peavey Smeavey!

Just a quick one today, as we have finally put our Peavey UL15 Messengers into retirement. Boys, ye served us well! Whilst we will look back at the time we spent together with happiness, at the same time, we know that our new babies will add an extra dimension to our shows.

RCF Art 715a - The new Addition To The Family

You would not actually believe the "discussions" we had before getting these, and it was only the untimely death of our old power amp that pushed us down this route. I had wanted to upgrade our cabs for a while as they were constantly on the limit, but as with all things, it is the justification of the price when they were still performing well for what would be an unknown benefit to the sound.

The problem with music equipment, is that it is very much a bottomless pit if you want it to be. There will ALWAYS be a better desk, better cables, better effects units, same performance but a third of the size etc... Whilst our aim is to have the best sounding equipment and as a wedding and function band make the best sounding and looking show, this HAS to be balanced with cost to both us, and what we would have to charge to cover the investment. We could have a lighting rig with Martin movable fixtures, the sort used on Strictly, The Voice and X-Factor, but it really could not be justified (sadly!).

With the PA though, you are paying for sound quality, performance and reliability, and as a band playing a wedding simply cannot afford to have a "show-stopper", its not about the investment making you money, its about it not losing you money.

As I wrote last year about how hard it is to find pub gigs, even though the band focus on being the best rock pop and soul wedding band, we still love playing pubs, and given the money paid for pub gigs really hasn't increased in many a year, this kind of investment may seem over the top, but with these new workhorses, coupled with our Mackie SRS1500 sub-woofer, means that we can go from a small pub to a 300 person function room without worry.

Well, that's the theory anyway! We have a short break now due to Mark Keown about to become a Dad for the third time, but as soon as we have our first show on 19th May with these new bad boys, I will report on how they perform, hopefully with some pictures of them in action.


Ritchie Mellor, Lead Guitar - Pretty Vegas Wedding Band
Contemplating How Any Bum Notes Will Sound Much Clearer!

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Creating The Ultimate Set List

Sample Pretty Vegas Wedding Band Set List

Its All About The Show

One of the most overlooked aspects of being in a band is the choosing of the setlist, the songs that make up a gig. Over the years I've seen countless bands play live, and many times I have walked away thinking, "why did they open with this song?", "why did they finish with that song?".

In Pretty Vegas, every gig we do is tailor made for your event!

Its In Our Blood

I ( or should i say we) grew up on the traditions of the larger then life rock bands, that being your Guns n Roses, Metallica, Bon Jovi etc... who when playing didn't just play a gig, they played a SHOW! It was an experience that they created, with lighting, smoke, video's and fireworks. You came away feeling that you had been part of something very special.

Pretty Vegas Wedding Band On Stage With Lights

As Pretty Vegas we try to think big and want to make your pub, birthday, wedding day to feel like its happening in Wembley Stadium! There is a limit on the amount of fireworks we can use indoors (joke!!!), but the show primarily comes down to the power of the setlist, the choosing of the songs ,the order of which we play matter what way you put it,it only comes under one title....THE SETLIST!!!

In Pretty Vegas, one of my jobs is creating the setlist for the show. I like to start with the obvious, The Beginning. It's the start of a gig really sets the tempo for the rest of the night, so the choice has to be made depending on the event, but normally, we start with a bang, a statement of intent about what is to come.

Intro's Please

Think back to any of the great gigs you have been to and I bet you can remember which song kicked it all off first! The first song should be the one that gets the adreneline pumping and should pretty much set the stall for the rest of the night, which is why we like to kick off with a big OTT rock anthem, accompanied with our very own "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly" intro music (Ecstasy of Gold, stolen from Metallica)! Many bands just start, we like to make an entrance.

After we have grabbed your attention its time to slow things down a little with some of our acoustic based numbers as this allows the audience to catch a breath an renew their energy ready for the finale of the set. You can expect the likes of Crowded House, Snow Patrol and Paul Weller in this section.

Pretty Vegas Wedding Band Acoustic Set

This is also where we would place any requests from the crowd making, it the most personal and intimate part of the show. I like to think of it as the MTV Unplugged or VH1 Storytellers section.

The Memory Remains

Like any great story, there needs to be a great ending, something that leaves a lasting imprint on the audiences memory ,something that they will tell there friends about in work on Monday!

The FINALE is something that every band is aware of, but dont always embrace it We as Pretty Vegas treat every gigs end like we are playing to 90000 people. This is Pretty Vegas going at full pelt and really giving it some!!! Guaranteed floor fillers are all you will find in this section, along with the beads of sweat that have also joined the audience on the dancefloor!

In short, like any good book, you need to have a great start, an interesting middle section, and a grand finale. 

If you are looking for a rocking wedding band, a soulful function band or an acoustic pub gig, you can be sure you are getting something unique, exciting and memorable.

Pretty Vegas tick all those box's because we care about our audience, without them we wouldn't exist!!!

Leighton Hume
Pretty Vegas Wedding Band - Guitar And Vocals

Leighton Hume - Pretty Vegas Wedding Band

Monday, 15 April 2013

The Good, The Bad & The Ugly - Up's And Downs Of Band Life

More Than Just Gigging

Wedding Band In Manchester Liverpool Lancs
Wedding Fayres - Fun Sunday Afternoon?

This is actually going to be a tough one to write, as it might be easy for the reader to see it a moan or rant, but actually, if you see past that, hopefully it might help give an insight into the other side of being in a wedding and function band, the side that doesn't involve being on stage rocking.

If you manage to make it to the end of this piece, then hopefully you may have more of an understanding about the work that goes into self-management, promotion and why we actually charge for what we do (and not just doing it for the love of the music, yes, that HAS been said!). If I do rant, I will try and apologise!

Non-Music Work 


Lets start with the worst and work backwards toward the good stuff, I think that might make this a bit more bearable for all concerned.

Finding Gigs

I did talk about this in a previous wedding band blog, but I think its important to understand that most bands, even those that are gigging in pubs / clubs regularly, NEED to try and find new places to play from time-to-time. Whilst offers do come in, they do tend to be from recommendations given from people that have seen us, and as most people rarely travel far to pubs or clubs, that means the catchment can be quite small. Whilst this is great for building up a local following (even cover bands can have these) and guaranteeing "bums on seats", if you want to move into other geographical areas you have 2 options.
  1. Join an agency (losing out on a % per gig and not really knowing where you are play).
  2. Burn some discs, print some flyers, put petrol in the car and target an area and give it some spiel.
Due to our affinity with having control of what we do, we prefer to go and drum up our own business at the moment (not to say it won't change), and whilst these trips are not always successful, we are pretty good at seeing a place and knowing if we would fit, both physically and musically. By doing it this way we have our own small circle of venues that we can play on a regular basis, but without it being so frequently that both ourselves and the clientele get bored.

Pretty Vegas Rock Band Warrington
The Saracens Head, Warrington - We Shared Some good Times!
The other reason for searching for gigs is that unfortunately, sometimes Landlords leave a place, and this happened recently with The Saracens Head in Warrington. This is a venue that we have played since we first started as Pretty Vegas, but despite having some great nights, the Landlords were at the end of their tenancy, and decided not to renew. We played for free at their leaving party (they had been exceptionally good to us over the years!), and despite it being the best night we have had there, it was tinged with sadness as we knew we would never play there again. The pub was getting new tenants and a refurbishment, turning our stage / live room into seating for the new dining expansion. This means that if we want to play for the people that would come to see us, we need to find a new venue, and that means option 2.


Websites Pretty Vegas Wedding Band Use For Promotion

Any band that thinks that there is one route to promotion in this day and age is sadly mistaken, even for a wedding rock band there is a lot of work needed to get your name out there. In addition to the trawling of the pubs and word of mouth, there is a huge amount of web work needed in order for potential Clients to find out about the band and actually approach us for performances.

If you have a look on our links page, you will see that there is whole host of websites and directories that are aimed at helping brides find everything that they need for the big day (most are free to join, some you have to pay for!). Some are more involved than others, but all need work to find, register for, set up and manage, but we have noticed ourselves that we have had a great deal more contact and work as a result, so it is worth it.

Obviously, we have a Facebook page, which is a per-requisite these days, but its amazing how many people rely solely on this for their online promotion. Yes, its easy to setup and run, and it ticks a lot of boxes, but if a band thinks that Facebook is the sole answer, then they are very much mistaken. We tend to use Facebook for local gig promotion, Wedding Fayre announcements, making connections, but mainly for communicating with Clients. As our aim is to try to give them the event they want down to the last detail, its so quick and easy to have a proper conversation about what they want and don't want.


For the uninitiated, SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) is needed to help you get found when people are using search engines to find what they are looking for. So if you search for wedding band in Manchester, wedding bands for hire, rocking wedding band or top wedding band, SEO is what helps determine what it is you actually get  in the results.

Now, I say "for the uninitiated" with tongue firmly in cheek, basically because until about 9 months ago I knew nothing about it apart from using the Keywords section of my WYSIWYG website maker. It was because of my lack of understanding that we weren't even coming up in the first 20 pages of Google searches, so I researched SEO and how to implement it. Hours and hours (and hours and hours and hours) of research, followed by hours and hours (you know this part!!) of registering the site for all the important directories (not related to music, related to actual website listings!), using all the available free tools, looking at tweaks for the website code. All the things that people pay others to do (I am cheap), I did it for Pretty Vegas and whilst there is always stuff to do on SEO, there has been about a 500% increase in inquiries from  as we now appear first page for our target searches. And all done with honest "white-hat" techniques (oooooh, get him with his lingo!).

Wedding Fayres

For Pretty Vegas, wedding fayres are a bit of an odd thing, as it gives lot of potential Clients a chance to see us play, but it never feels to us like they are actually seeing the real Pretty Vegas, and even though we get booking from the fayres, we always want Clients to come and see us in a more realistic setting to be sure they are getting what they want.

The thing with them is, when we do them (we always do them at Briars Hall) we can't help but feel that the other exhibitors are looking at us in anger as we do our "product display" as they cannot do their own one-to-one sales pitches with us playing. In truth though, we always feel that we can't really get across what we are about in a short 20 minute slot on a Sunday afternoon. What Clients are booking us for is a party, and is it better for them to see a video of us in a real setting?

That I suppose is why we normally don't take a deposit until they have been to a proper show. Yes, we can be more sedate or more rocking, but we want Clients to make an informed decision before they part with one of the biggest single expenses of their special day. As I said earlier, we are a rocking wedding band and its important that Clients know exactly what is on offer. Hopefully though, they get a chance to see how dedicated and passionate we are about what we do, so again, its a very important part of the "behind-the-scenes" work that we put in.

Backings & Rehearsals

Pretty Vegas Rocking A Sweaty Pub Gig
Confidence - Comes With Practice!
The only way to get good is playing, and it might come as a surprise to know that even after 20 years, we still rehearse every week as a band, even if just for an hour on acoustic guitars. We do this to make sure that when we gig a song, we have confidence in what we are doing, and to constantly try to improve our setlist. At the time of writing we have 61 songs that we gig with, but have another 4 that we are getting ready to add to that, and have probably dropped another 30 or so that we feel just weren't up to the job.

To give you an idea, even if I find a MIDI file of the track we want, I will do a rough mix and set it up with virtual instruments on the laptop, then we run through it and tweak things (either timings, general structure things to suit how we do things, drum edits) before I do a full track in the studio. Without practice, this is about 2 hours work for every track. If we are doing a medley, add 1 hour for each track within that medley (to ensure consistency in playing and tempo).

Many of the songs we do have had the tracks created by myself from scratch, and as I don't really play keyboards too well, I have to painstakingly run through and sequence each instrument note for note on the laptop. This can mean a track can take me 10 hours to sequence fully, and sometimes, these too are trashed if they just don't work out as we had hoped! That can be a bit heartbreaking, but at the same time, there is no point in being precious if it means a sub-standard track, so I just think of it as a learning process (well, that helps me keep my sanity on it!).

Open Mic Nights

Love 'Em!!

Acoustic Set Pretty Vegas And Steph Woods

Acoustic Set Pretty Vegas And Steph Woods

Acoustic Set Pretty Vegas And Steph Woods
Pretty Vegas Wedding Band - Acoustic With Steph Woods

The best part of open mic nights is that you can run through a song, then play it live an hour later, which is a great freedom for Pretty Vegas given the fact that we use backing tracks and normally have to play in such a regimented fashion (even though I tempo map the songs to add more "swing"). Over the years we have used open mic nights when we haven't gigged for a while, to try new things out, and to get our foot in the door of venues. When starting out, it was a godsend for us to be able to get some live experience, and then they seemed to go away for a while (certainly in our area).

Fortunately, there has been a resurgence in the last couple of years. I think some of this is down the fact that many places want live music, but don't always have the money to pay acts, so this is a great way to get something happening cheaply. It also helps venues build a live music reputation, and for new acts its a wonderful opportunity to get up as audiences are generally as supportive as it gets, helping with nerves and offering advice.

The last open mic night we played (in pictures above) was the best we have ever done, as we had the second opportunity to play with the truly wonderful Steph Woods, who joined us to play some Pink, Alanis Morrisette, Adele, Bon Jovi and Evenscence after we played her leaving party the weekend before.

Steph Woods Female Vocalist WEddings and Parties
Steph Woods - Soon To Be 4th Member Of Pretty Vegas???

As a professional female vocalist, we were extremely pleased when we were booked to play for her leaving party, and more so that she wanted to get up on the night with us and do a few numbers to help celebrate the fact that she was going to Gran Granaria for 6 months to work.

Pretty Vegas and Steph Woods - New Wedding Band Lineup??
Pretty Vegas At Steph Woods Leaving Party

What we never expected was how good we sounded at that first rehearsal, and after 2 more and her party, we had a chat and are all hopeful that on her return, she will be joining Pretty Vegas as a full time member. Hopefully she will get signed in the meantime and we can be her roadies, drinking ourselves to death, but if not, then her being in the band will just HAVE to do!

Anyway, after the gig, we spoke about the open mic night in the venue that hosted the party, and she said she wanted to play again before she went, so we got together, ran through some songs and then got up and played them live in a format she had never done before. She might be a professional female wedding singer, but its fair to say she was out of her comfort zone that night, but excelled and we got another booking out of it, so again, another worthwhile endeavor!

So, Worthwhile?

I hope you have read all this and agree that whilst there is a lot of "thankless" work that goes into the band, its not done without there being a goal at the end, and the main one is having the opportunity to play live and it being a great show, whether its a pub gig, function or wedding. As long as we keep getting the bookings and people keep filling the dancefloor, I assume we will have to keep putting in the work. Hmmm, can Steph run a website?????

Pretty Vegas
(Oh, and this took 4 hours!!!)

Pretty Vegas Rocking A Wedding With A Guest

Thursday, 31 January 2013

This Is What I Like To Call "Quiet Time"

Pretty Vegas - Wedding Band In Manchester, Liverpool and Cheshire

For those that didn't know, that was a quote from the film "Cruel Intentions", and the reason to mention it was that it's been a while since the last blog post, mainly due to Christmas, and also because for most wedding bands, or any type or cover band, January is generally very slooooooow!

Ever since we have been in a band together (about 18 years in various forms! God, I feel old!), on the run up to Christmas, we have always said that this year, that's it, we are going to work like hell in January to do the things we normally struggle to find the time to do.

Every year, the first 2 weeks are always "instead of practice, fancy a pint and a chat instead".

We need to start sticking to New Years Resolutions!

First Christmas For The Future Band Member

One of the reasons for the break was also that it way my son, Vegas', first Christmas, so whilst we booked up gigs up to the 22nd, we all had the Christmas period off.
That was actually a joke, his name isn't Vegas! He is actually named after my favourite F1 driver and acoustic guitars. Little Kamui Breedlove loved his first Christmas.

Hahaha, God I am on fire!

Anyway, the time away gave us the usual breather that we do actually need to keep ourselves sane for the rest of the year, what with us all being married with jobs, family, mortgages (rock n' roll!!), and coming back we have the renewed vigour to start gigging again, with this being the 3rd year in a row of us being fully booked in February. 

The last few practices in January, as per usual, have been us getting back into the habit of playing, and getting together the songs that we have been texting each other about over the break!

New Tunes

With some of the bookings we have so far for the coming 12 months, a few have been getting creative in their requests for songs that aren't currently on our set list, and whilst we keep trying out new stuff, there is nothing quite like a new client making some suggestions to add a few divergent styles to our repertoire. Even though we get booked by the set we currently have, people often use a mix of their own faves, or the songs we have a starting point and think, "hell, you do ..., what about ...?" and that is great for us. Some plainly don't work, but some definitely provide us with avenues to explore.

So this means that for the band, the next few months are going to involve more rehearsal time on, and me in the studio on backings, getting things up to speed. That means staying away from dirty nappies, mashed food being thrown and having my arm thrown up on. And that's just my wife!

Can I get a high five?



Time to give up the comedy and get back to the studio!

Pretty Vegas Wedding Band Guitarist Ritchie Mellor
Prior To Christmas Dinner Growth!!! Gym Time!


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