Reaper for Live Playback – updated Videos, Feb 2017

Here’s an updated playlist of videos outlining a method of using Reaper for live playback (backing tracks) on stage.

There are five videos:

  1. Import Template: multi-channel routing for your audio interface and setup for midi program change.
  2. Import Audio: how to import multiple tracks to your playback session
  3. Import Audio Custom Actions: explanation of the custom action for importing audio
  4. Navigation Custom Actions: four custom for navigating the set list – Previous/Next Project Tab, Stop and Play
  5. Custom View: some tweaks to the display, including SWS Notes and Project List

If you are using Reaper for live playback, I’d love to hear from you. It’s always great to hear how other people are using Reaper, it’s such a flexible and powerful tool.

Free Download Pack of Custom Actions for Live Playback Here

(When importing audio using the “Import Audio” custom action, it will prompt you to insert a marker – this is where you can input the “stop” command marker, which is “!1016” [without the quotation marks])

Baby Loss Awareness Week (9-15th Oct 2016) My experience.

Baby Loss Awareness Week (9-15th Oct 2016) My experience.

It’s Baby Loss Awareness week (9-15th Oct), and bereaved parents are being encouraged to speak up and help break the silence around baby loss. I am a bereaved father. I would like to share something of my experience.

*trigger warning – baby loss*

In January 2014, we went into hospital expecting to give birth to our boy/girl twins. The pregnancy had been exceptionally healthy and there were no known issues with the babies. During labour, our daughter fell on her own umbilical cord and died. Our twins were delivered just after midnight. Our daughter was stillborn. Our son was perfectly healthy. We believe that our daughter would also have been perfectly healthy, had it not been for the terrible accident she suffered in the hours before her birth.

The night of the birth was traumatic, devastating, joyful, wonderful, and everything else in between. I still cannot properly describe the mess of emotions we went through that night.

We were very lucky to be surrounded by an amazing team at Gloucester Royal Hospital. I will never forget the level of care and understanding that we received there. After 48 hours, we moved to a smaller maternity unit, and a day or so later, we went home. Leaving the hospital with one child is usually the best feeling in the world for most parents; for us, it was the most bewildering mixture of the deep love we immediately felt for our new son, combined with an almost unbearable pain, impossible to comprehend.

I can now safely say that through most of the first year after the birth, we were in a state of shock. I am forever grateful to the support and counselling we received from our GP, our bereavement midwife, Footsteps in Gloucester, TAMBA, and Child Bereavement UK. We were also (obviously) supported by our wonderful families and friends, and continue to be.

Returning to work, for me, was unknown territory. I learnt a lot about myself, my limits for suffering, and about the importance of working with people that care about your emotional welfare. Two months after the twins were born, I went back to work as musical director for a short tour of the UK. The management, touring crew, and my bandmates were so understanding and supportive, it felt like coming home to family.

It is now two and a half years later, and we are stronger and more at peace.

I read once that love is knowing the beginnings of grief. I didn’t really understand that before, but I think now I do.

If you are a bereaved parent reading this, please know that my heart goes out to you. Maybe time does heal, maybe it doesn’t, but at the very least, time will give you more breathing space between the moments of grieving. I hope you find more peace and less pain.

Advice for friends and relatives:

  • If you are a friend or relative of a bereaved parent or sibling, and you don’t know what to say, just say “I don’t know what to say”. That is good enough. Being present is what matters.
  • Please don’t tell people “you’re doing brilliantly”. People in shock/grief can look really good from the outside – don’t let that fool you.
  • Please don’t say “you should be feeling better by now”. There is no timetable to this. Allow people to be bereaved, it’s a permanent part of who they are now.
  • Don’t say “well at least…” There is no good way of finishing that sentence.
  • Do bring food, even if you just leave it on the doorstep!
  • Do help with laundry, dishes, cleaning etc. It really helps.
  • Be consistent with your support. Call once a month for six months rather than six times in one week.
  • Put dates in the diary for future shared events. It really helps to have something to look forward to.


Thanks for reading. I hope it helps in some way.   John Garden.




Hard Times – Part Three: Personal Challenges

Hard Times – Part Three: Personal Challenges

Here is the third and final instalment of my blog about enduring and overcoming “Hard Times”. I didn’t want it all to be from my perspective, so I asked around for some input from friends and colleagues. The following shows my questions in bold, their responses in italics, and my thoughts in plain text. If it sounds like I’m giving advice, please feel free to ignore it. Take what is useful and leave the rest.


• Personal challenges (being away from family / illness etc).

A response to this below in italics:

“It’s really important to be ill when you are ill.  Anyone who doesn’t understand that is mad.  Ditto making time for family.  It’s all possible if you can calmly but assertively discuss what you want.”

I think the important part of this advice is “what you want”. A lot of the time when I am working on a project, everything feels hugely important, and admitting that I am ill or need some time with family seems indulgent, as if my absence would damage the project (of course, everything is usually just fine without me). Being able to say what I want isn’t always easy for me. Although sometimes, as a performer, you just have to get on stage and do the job no matter what state you’re in, in many other cases it is always possible to negotiate what you need. It really helps me to know in advance what my limits are, before demands take their toll. Unfortunately, I generally only learn what my limits are through hard-won experience….

For a touring musician or technician/manager, one of the biggest challenges is being away from loved ones and friends. Being away from your home and daily routine can also be very upsetting for some people. One of my biggest realisations after nearly a decade of touring was that I wasn’t “OK” all of the time when I was on tour; the overriding emotion that I had spent more than ten years masking was that of loneliness. Even though I enjoy the company of my colleagues and friends on the road, I still miss my family and friends back home. There is a sense of powerlessness about not having the choice to just jump on a plane or train and go home when you’re feeling a bit low. Realising this got me halfway to finding a way to cope with the emotion when it arose. I am most guilty of isolating myself on tour, so I try to make an effort to stay connected with band members and crew. There are always opportunities for socialising, or organising a dinner together. On a few recent tours I started a “fit club” with a few of the crew, which involved some stretching and fitness drills etc. Having this outlet made a huge positive impact on my state of mind during those tours.

• Being out of your depth.

Some straightforward advice:

“Take a step back, listen to what others say and support the goal.”

Being out of your depth is an ideal situation for learning new skills. If I’m out of my depth, it generally follows that I am surrounded by other musicians or crew who are more experienced and knowledgeable than me, so it’s the perfect time to swallow my pride and say “I don’t know how to do that, can you show me?” One of my weaknesses is not being able to make that admission of being less than perfect in a work situation.

Here’s another response (in italics):

“I tend to put my head down and get on with it. It doesn’t last long, this feeling – I learned a long time ago I’m a quick study, and I aim to please. It’s usually a case that I think I’m out of my depth but actually I just need to climb up a level. I’ve only had one or two real “imposter moments”, and even then the work stood up. So I don’t worry so much about this anymore.”

As this contributor points out, being out of your depth is the perfect opportunity to level up.

This can be a scary prospect, and in the past I have called on support from other friends and colleagues in the industry to find the courage and confidence to help me through the process. Knowing that I have allies I can call on when I’m feeling overwhelmed is a huge source of strength.

• Feeling undervalued.

“I feel that most days so partly found a way to live with it.”

I have just had a meeting with an artist/producer manager who said that even some of his most successful clients still say this to him. People who have recorded or mixed multi-million selling albums. They still feel undervalued and unsure of themselves. It almost seems like an industry-wide affliction, at all levels of experience and ability.

Here’s another response:

“On the occasions that I’ve felt undervalued whilst working on a project, it almost always means the problem is the client, not me. Either that or the match just isn’t right and you need to walk away. I feel undervalued (in a horribly passive way) when I don’t have work.”

In my experience, we are only ever undervalued by other people because of their ignorance. Sometimes the client just cannot see the quality of your work. There’s nothing you can do about that. But it is dangerous territory, especially when it comes to valuing your time. As a freelancer who sets their own rates and negotiates their own contracts, it can be very confusing to work with one client who agrees to my “top” day rate for one job with no argument, and then work with another client who wants to negotiate me down to under half of my normal rate the next day.

I realise now that much of what adds value to my work is the years of experience already behind me. It’s not necessarily about what I do on the day, but it’s about the decisions I make based on what’s gone before. I don’t need to impress the client, I just need to do what I do. Sometimes my feeling of being undervalued is compounded by the fact that I over-extend myself unnecessarily. Over-working the job will cause resentment when you are not only undervalued for the job you were asked to do, but you were also undervalued for the extra effort you put in.

I am only now just learning to put sensible boundaries on my efforts, especially if I feel that the client may not value my work.

• Having too much work…

Three responses to this situation below:

“Plan-in time off, enjoy it while it’s there, build a financial buffer.”

“Never, ever a problem – the maxim “if you want something done, give it to a busy man” holds true. I quite like it when it’s like this. At end-of-project crunch time, it’s bearable because it’ll pass.  The only thing I’ve done where it was months of sessions without a break taught me never, ever to do it again. I love my job, music is my life…but I still work to live. I’m not prepared to sacrifice my marriage, my peace of mind or my health for the sake of a gig.”

“This can still happen from time to time.  Head down, drink water, eat your greens, sleep well and try and enjoy what you’re doing (it’s what you chose to do after all, eh?)”

There are a couple of scenarios that are familiar to me with regards to this; one is the dreaded diary clash, and the other is poor time management. An example of the diary clash happens is when a gig is offered to you in the middle of a tour that you have already committed to. As I have said in an earlier blog post, once it’s in the diary, it stays in the diary. Although it can be painful turning down a gig that you might see as more prestigious than the one you’re already committed to, in the long run I think it’s better to be known as someone that honours commitments rather than someone who chases glory above all else…

When I am not on the road, and mostly doing a variety of jobs in the studio, I do struggle to manage my time effectively. As a touring musician, I’m used to meeting challenges head on and trying to find a speedy solution (generally the same day). As I do more studio-based work, I’m understanding more and more that jobs aren’t always started and finished in one day. Sounds obvious, but it was surprising for me to find out how much I needed to shift my preconceptions around work when moving between the two worlds.

• In Conclusion

Something useful that I have learnt from hearing other people talk about being freelance and running your own business is that our business is based on relationships, so the more we can build those relationships, the healthier our business will be.For me, the most dangerous thing is to only think of my clients as an inconvenient obstacle between my work and my income. If I treat my clients as part of an ongoing project (my career), then I can share with them my success and prosperity.

I’ve been working in music for nearly twenty years now, and it’s amazing how much I still have to learn about operating as a freelancer in the music industry. I do quite a variety of jobs, and I find that all of these principles apply, regardless of the actual details of the job.

I hope that you have found some of this useful, and, as always, I look forward to hearing from you. I’ve already had some very interesting feedback and some great suggestions for further reading and future subjects I could write on.

Thanks for reading.


Hard Times – Part 02: Working With Difficult Clients

Hard Times – Part 02: Working With Difficult Clients

I wanted to write a piece about enduring and overcoming “Hard Times”, but I didn’t want it all to be from my perspective, so I asked around for some input from friends and colleagues. The following shows my questions in bold, their responses in italics, and my thoughts in plain text. If it sounds like I’m giving advice, please feel free to ignore it. Take what is useful and leave the rest.


  • Working with difficult clients.

Here are a couple of responses to this question:

“Make an extra effort. Either clients are difficult because they know exactly what they want and you follow their lead, or they are difficult because they are insecure and/or hiding their incompetence with a lot of bravado. Either way they just need TLC.”

“Try and see it from their perspective and work the problem from that angle.”  

I agree with this absolutely. Insecure clients can be very difficult to communicate with. Lots of clear questions and clarifications help.

Another response:

“I’ve usually found a way to get through this for the benefit of the project. My ego kicks in, also, which helps. Despite my protestations I am very good at what I do, and these clients need me.”

Exactly. I try to remember that I am there because of my skills and experience. Sometimes the client may not actually be aware of just how good you are, which can be frustrating.

Here’s a response that I don’t agree with completely:

“I have had clients I would never, ever work with again but I’d rather have a difficult client than no clients.”

As stated above, clients can be difficult in many different ways, but there are always ways that I can choose to engage with – or detach from –  the difficulty. Here are a few examples from my own experience:

  1. Outrageous Demands

The phone rings at 2am. It’s my client. They are calling from another country and they are in the middle of an emotional crisis with another colleague or band member. I take the call and talk them down. Then the phone rings again. It’s the other band member, calling about the same drama. I take the call, talk them down, then go to work in the morning, completely exhausted. My mistake? Taking the call. Having my phone on. I engaged in the drama. The only phone call I should be taking at 2am is from an immediate family member or very close friend. Yet I still took the call, and ended up resenting BOTH clients by the morning. I have heard this kind of thing referred to as “Triangulation”.

  1. Undervaluing/Underpaying

“I’ll pay you £20 to do the work.” The job was going to take two hours. So that’s £10 an hour. After tax, £8 an hour. After my overheads etc, probably just about minimum wage, and I can find a minimum wage job anywhere. Yet, time after time I have engaged in these kind of work agreements simply because I would rather be doing work in my chosen field than anything else. Fear drives this decision. I worry that there will be no other work ever again, so I take anything that is offered. Agreeing to the clients’ low fees puts them in control of my business and, ultimately, my career. I have to decide what my day rate is and go no lower. I have to decide what my hourly rate is and go no lower. When the phone rings or the email pings, if the offer doesn’t match (or better) my going rate, I must politely decline, or offer an alternative arrangement that meets my minimum requirements. So much easier said than done, I know. Negotiating my worth at the start of every job gets exhausting. It really helps to print out my minimum day rates as a reminder, so that they are in front of me when I’m on the phone or writing the email. Remember – if you get flustered in the middle of negotiating fees, you can always say: “Let me have a think about this and I’ll get back to you.”

  1. Overly Emotional or Argumentative / Abusive or Disrespectful Behaviour

Sometimes I convince myself that this kind of situation just comes with the territory of working in the creative arts. When I am feeling confident in my own value, I generally walk away from people that create unnecessary drama at work. It’s not always that easy, though, especially if you are all living on the same tour bus for weeks at a time. I’m sure that sometimes I have been the overly emotional person in the equation. Being away from home, putting yourself on stage every other night, losing sleep, not looking after your health, it can all contribute to a pretty shaky emotional state.

It’s important to learn how to differentiate between normal emotional reactions and toxic emotional behaviour. Frustration and anger aren’t inherently evil emotions, they have their place. Aggression and intimidation, however, should be unacceptable in a working environment. I have encountered this on the odd occasion, and I have to admit that in the heat of the moment it’s hard to know what is the right thing to do. I would like to think that if I ever felt unsafe or threatened, or if I was unable to control my own anger, I would be able to take a step back, sit down with someone I trusted and talk through the issue.

  1. Substance Abuse

Uncontrollable sadness or anger isn’t helped by drink or drugs. Being on tour is an especially fertile ground for substance abuse, because of the likelihood that you will be surrounded by free alcohol on the backstage rider, and possible (probable) offers of drugs from other musicians, crew or fans. Being away from your usual routine, from your home, family and friends can trigger feelings of loneliness, lack of control or even feelings of invincibility, which in turn can encourage excessive drinking or drug-taking. If you are working with a client who is struggling with addiction, you need to look after yourself first. Ask yourself if it is wise to continue the working relationship.

If you feel that you are having issues with alcohol or drugs at work, please talk to a friend, family member or your doctor. There are other organisations that can help you.

  1. Inappropriate Boundaries

Where does a work relationship end and a friendship begin? I have observed over the years that many of my work colleagues have become good friends. This isn’t normally an issue, but if someone who has become a good friend then also becomes a client, there are a few pitfalls to avoid:

  • Don’t do mates’ rates. Mates’ rates are ok if 90% of your clients are not your friends. The longer you work as a freelance creative artist, the more likely it will be that you will count more and more of your clients as friends and vice versa. So when 90% of your client base are also your friends, it becomes very bad business (for you) to work at mates’ rates for the majority of your income. As someone said to me recently – “Your mate would rather pay you than pay a stranger to do the same job.”
  • If you want to socialise, set aside time to socialise. Don’t bring your social life to work. Monday – Friday: in the studio; Saturday: barbecue. You could be hanging out with the same people all week, but make sure that they know when you are working and when you are socialising.
  • “Can I just pop over and play you a few ideas?” – In this situation I have to decide if this is a paying gig, or something that is in my “creativity for the sake of creativity” category. Most of the time I know if someone is willing to pay me for my time or not. If I think this is a non-paying opportunity, then I add it to my “creativity” time budget. You might decide to budget two days a month to non-paying creative work. It could be one week every month. It’s up to you to decide what is appropriate to your current situation. If you have space in your “creativity” time budget, then allocate it to your friend, and let them know when you can hang out. I have to remind myself that I’m not obliged to give away all my time for free, but I do believe that it’s important to allocate some time to creative exploration. This kind of “free-play” will always feed back interesting ideas into your regular work.
  1. Lack of Commitment

You are doing a great job, but your client isn’t pulling their weight. You’re at the studio at 10am, they don’t show up until 2pm. You know the song inside out, they forget the second verse. You’re ready to mix the song on Monday but they don’t send you the stems until Wednesday. This lack of commitment on the part of the client impacts on your productivity and ultimately your income. This is where your written agreement comes into play. I usually clarify things by email before starting a job; it doesn’t have to be a printed contract to be binding. Put down the dates you are agreeing on, the day rate you are agreeing on, and any additional costs, i.e. travel, accommodation etc. If you envisage that the time budget will overflow, add a contingency fee or additional hourly rate. For example, my mix fee is based on a day rate, which includes two free revisions. After that I charge by the hour for any additional revisions. This avoids endless revisions and encourages the client to think carefully about the revisions they ask for.

You can’t change or control the commitment of the client. You can, however, decide whether or not to engage with that client again. Make sure your terms are clear; set a limit on each project.

  1. Fear of Success

This seems like an oxymoron, but I am finding out it is more common than I realised. I experience it myself on a daily basis. A classic example of fear of success is the never-ending album. The rewrites, the remixes, the alternative alternative artwork decisions; they are all symptomatic of fear of success. As the person working for a client with this issue, it can seem like the job becomes a constantly expanding epic that will never end. As exhausting as the job may seem, the obsessive overworking is still less daunting to the client than the prospect of actually being seen by the world and having their efforts judged.  There are a few options available here – one is to set a time/effort boundary, and let the client know that you have to stop working on the project at a specific point; the other option is to try to coach the client through their fear, and get them to the point where they are ready to let go of the process and finish the job. I don’t think either one is the right way, but the decision has to be made that reflects your best interests. If your health is suffering because the work is spiralling out of control, I would recommend taking a step back. If you believe in the project and the client, then pushing through to the end could be the best decision you ever made.

When I stop and think about it, I believe that if I engage in a working relationship with a difficult client, I contribute just as much to the dysfunction of the relationship as the client, simply by taking on the job in the first place.

Here’s a brief yet very important response from another colleague to the general question of working with difficult clients:


It’s important to remember that you can always negotiate something. Even if the fee is unmovable, you can still negotiate your time. If the client is making outrageous demands, break it down into a list, and agree on the things that are definitely possible, possibly possible, and just plain impossible.

More to follow in the final Part, Part Three, including Personal Challenges, Being Out Of Your Depth, Feeling Undervalued and When There’s Too Much Work…

Thanks for reading. As always, I appreciate your feedback and comments.



©2016 John Garden

Hard Times – Part One: When There’s No Work…

Hard Times – Part One: When There’s No Work…

I wanted to write a piece about enduring and overcoming “Hard Times”, but I didn’t want it all to be from my perspective, so I asked around for some input from friends and colleagues. The following shows my questions in bold, their responses in italics, and my thoughts in plain text. If it sounds like I’m giving advice, please feel free to ignore it. Take what is useful and leave the rest.

Part One – When there’s no work…


“Put the financial handbrake on and call around”


Limiting your outgoings during hard times is obviously a good idea. My favourite part of this advice is to “call around”. Don’t tweet, don’t facebook, don’t email – pick up the phone. In order of effectiveness, using the phone always comes first. Then email. Then social media. But sometimes when we are feeling the squeeze and work has gone quiet, the last thing we feel like doing is talking to other people. In my head I usually imagine that everyone else has a full diary and every job they are doing is a well-paid dream job, so why would they want to listen to me moaning about my situation? But I have to remind myself that we all need support, and the best way to find a solution to a problem is by asking for help. Pick up the phone. Do that first.


“A terrible spiral of self-doubt, self-loathing, worthlessness. Eventually hits a zen-like state or the drought ends. In the former, I carry on being ready but stop actively being terrified. In the latter, it’s like a huge burst of energy; like the sun has come out after a very long storm.”


This is such an honest response, and there is a lot of truth in it. When you are freelance, every job that comes in can feel like a validation of your whole self. By that logic, when there are no jobs coming in, it can feel like you are being rejected completely by the world. A little detachment can go a long way. When work comes in, I try to remember that it’s just my business that is being validated, not my whole being. Similarly, when the work goes quiet (again), it just means that I am on the other side of a repeating cycle. More work will come in, and then it will go quiet again. This is guaranteed. It is the reality of freelancing.


There is a very important phrase in the quote above: “carry on being ready”. When I am half an hour away from stage time, I try to be ready – dressed appropriately, gear set up, body warmed up. When I am three weeks away from my next job, I carry on being ready – make sure my gear is all working, my website is updated, business cards printed, showreel current; there are always things you can do to carry on being ready.


“This is a good time to research a new area or write.”


I once met a visual artist who painted during spring, summer and autumn, and every winter he researched a different artist. He would spend all winter reading biographies of that one artist, letters they wrote, doing studies of their artworks. We might not be in control of our work schedule in this way, but we can remember to use the quiet periods to listen to new music or read about the lives of other musicians and creators. One of the most interesting things about reading biographies of creative artists is learning about all the projects that didn’t happen. A boxer once told me “You train 100% because by the time you get in the ring, you’ll only remember 30% of your training.” The same applies to our creative endeavours. What makes it to the stage and what comes out of the studio is always only ever going to be a percentage of the original vision. Keep developing new ideas, keep working on new collaborations. Some of them won’t ever see the light of day, but that is not a problem unique only to you. It’s universal; but we still get to share 30% of our dreams with the world.


“I tend to put my energies into something musical that’s nothing to do with my work – even if it’s only for an hour or two a day, it helps.”


Putting your energies into something musical that has nothing to do with your regular work is a magical enterprise that will generate unexpected results. I highly recommend it. Investigating a different artform can also be very instructive, especially when you go back to your first art and realise how much you actually know already.


“Most importantly, if there is an end in sight to the fallow period it is important to rest and catch up with family and friends.  It may also be a good time to reacquaint oneself with oneself.”

If you’ve been working in the creative arts as a freelancer for more than five years, then it’s likely you have a capacity for very hard work and intense focus. You might not realise it, but you have probably also developed a will of iron, and an ability to withstand a lot of uncertainty and worry. This combination of intense hard work coupled with periods of deep “worrying” is guaranteed to induce exhaustion. Because there is usually no set rhythm to these cycles of productivity and “rest”, it can be very difficult to put in place a regular routine of self-care. In your professional life you have probably developed some very good techniques for being flexible and aware to the moment; remember to apply these skills to your personal, inner life as well.





To some people this may seem impossible. Or maybe one of these things is possible, but not all of them. I agree. Some days I look at a statement like this and think – “that’s just not possible”. But the point is, what else is worth striving towards?

Part of the problem that I have encountered when thinking about my work in this way is that I immediately stumble on the first point: DO WHAT YOU LOVE. When I am feeling good, and my life feels centred and balanced, and I’m working with good people, and I have a few interesting projects lined up, it’s easy to think that I am doing what I love. But when work is quiet, or I am collaborating with difficult people, or my diary is empty for the next few months, I start to question – am I actually doing what I love?

Identifying what you love to do is that important first step in being able to follow up on the second point – DO IT EVERY DAY. Let’s come back to the first point again.

Breaking this down into its components:

The first word that matters here is “YOU”. Who are you? What makes you you? Specifically, as a musician, or creative artist, what makes you unique? Don’t confuse this with “what makes you innovative and completely original?” That is not a useful train of thought. There are plenty of great musicians out there who aren’t necessarily as wildly creative as someone like Björk or George Clinton, but their contribution still matters just as much. The combination of all of your interests, passions and experience make you the person you are today. Let that inform your investigation into who you are.

So this person that you are, that is unlike anyone else on the planet – what does this person love to do? Is it simply “play live music”, or is it a more complex collection of activities, such as “make field recordings, play in a motown tribute band and compose music for experimental theatre”. Think about it. Write a list. Write down everything you’ve ever done in your creative career to date; what did you love, what did you hate? What do you want to repeat?

When you have identified your areas of interest, and made a decision that you want to pursue these activities with more focus, there is just one thing left to do: tell people about it. Here’s an example: I love playing guitar. But for most of my early career in my twenties, I was mostly getting work as a keyboard player, because that’s the instrument I was most confident playing. At some point, I decided that I was getting frustrated because I didn’t get to play guitar with all these great musicians I was meeting, so I started telling people: “I mostly play keyboards, but I really want to get a gig playing guitar.” Within a week or two, I got a gig playing guitar with a great psychedelic rock band called Jukes. We toured Ireland with a couple of other Twisted Nerve bands, and I met one of my best, lifelong friends on that tour. None of that would have happened if I had kept my desire to play guitar to myself.

Work out who you are and what you love. And then, the next part of this step: “DO IT EVERY DAY.”

Do it every day. And if you can’t do the thing you love every day, do something that will bring you closer to it every day. Pick up the phone, send an email, write a song, make a guitar, learn a new instrument, the possibilities are endless.

I have been guilty many times in my career of letting days go by without chasing the thing that I really love. I wish that I had put a little more time aside to doing the things that I really wanted to do, because I can see now that when I did put time into doing the things that I truly loved, amazing things happened, and sometimes the changes came fast.

Before I really got into touring as a musician, I was doing a lot more studio work with local bands in Bristol, and there was nothing I loved more than producing and mixing records. I also got to play on most of the records I was working on too, so it was  a combination of all of my favourite activities. I still loved playing live, and was playing in a few different original projects, as well as the usual paid jazz gigs. At some point, my touring work overtook my studio work, and after a few years I was hardly doing any recording or mixing at all. It took me a long time to realise that I missed the studio work, and in 2012 I decided that I wanted to seriously focus on mixing again. I knew that I had dropped the ball, and had a lot of catching up to do. But I was so passionate about mixing again, it was pretty much all I could talk about. Luckily I am often surrounded by very talented audio engineers, either live or in the studio, so at every given opportunity, I was picking people’s brains about techniques and approaches to mixing.

I set myself a goal, which was to mix a record for commercial release within five years. Realistically, I didn’t expect this to happen within five years, but it was good to have a target to aim for.

The fact that I was making so much noise about mixing meant that I was probably pretty hard to ignore. As a result, when the artist I was working with decided they wanted to release a live album of our tour, their management asked me and Sean McGhee if we wanted to mix it. Obviously we said yes, and, as a result, I had my name on a commercial release well within my five-year time frame. Within a year I had mixed another live album for the same artist.

I love mixing, I love playing, I love writing, and I love working with other musicians, crew and management. The more I do, the more I love it. And I keep refining what it is that I love. Sometimes the list gets longer, sometimes it gets edited down a bit. It changes, just as I change through the years.

Of course, I struggle, and it’s not always fair or easy. But I love going to work every day, and I’m grateful that what I do in the world is an expression of my various interests and passions, as well as those of the people I collaborate with.

“NEVER GIVE UP” – because the arts are the hallmark of a civilised society, and now, more than ever, we need to show the world that we can be civilised; we need to keep shining a light when there is darkness.

What I Pack for Local Gigs / International Tours

Sometimes I tour with roadies/technicians who look after all the gear for the band. Sometimes I do a local gig where I am responsible for bringing all my own gear. I thought I’d write a breakdown of the two different scenarios. It’s mostly relevant to keyboard players, but there may be some crossover for other musicians. If you’re interested, read on, and I hope you enjoy!

What I Pack For A Local Gig

Keyboards – Nord Stage 88 + whatever extra synths might be required for the job. Any keyboard that I am transporting needs to be properly flight-cased, or in a protective case/pelican.

Stands – I use a “table” style stand (Kwik Lok or similar) with attachable arms for a second keyboard.

Seat – an x-frame piano stool that folds down for transport.

Power – bring at least two power strips, and if possible an outdoor/garden extension cable that winds up onto itself.

Cables – Jack to jack cables as needed, plus about four spares. Any patch cables needed, plus spares. Midi cables, plus at least two spares.

Foot pedals – sustain pedal plus one spare. Any switch pedal/rotor pedals/volume pedals etc.

Carpet – I sometimes bring my own carpet (like a “drum carpet”) in case the flooring is unsuitable for taping down pedals.

Gaffer tape – never leave the house without gaffer tape.

Sharpie – never leave the house without a Sharpie.

Electrical tape – I use this to tape up cable coils at the end of the night. Nothing worse than getting home and unpacking a viper’s nest of cables onto your living room floor the next morning.

Paper & Pens – Manuscript paper, song charts, pen/pencil for making notes.

Music Stand – I have a heavy duty music stand (kwik lok or similar) that folds down, and doesn’t get bent like the flimsier models.

Clipboard – useful for keeping charts on the music stand, or for mailing list at end of the night.

Merch – don’t forget your merch if you have any to sell.

Clip–on lights – I have some clip on lights (Mighty Bright or similar) which come in handy for either reading charts, or seeing where your foot pedals are.

Pelican case – I use pelican cases for transporting heavy gear. They do a “gun case” that is great for 73 note keyboards (although travelling internationally with what looks like a gun case can be problematic).

Leads bag – I have used a “Plano” soft-sided, hard-bottom tool bag for leads for many many years, and it has been very reliable.

Powered speaker – some kind of powered wedge speaker is useful for smaller venues where you might not get great monitoring options.

Effects – as a keyboard player, I don’t use too many effects pedals, but increasingly I try to use effects boxes that can take midi program changes, so that I can link them up to my main keys program change, and minimise the tap-dancing on the floor. I like to put my Nord Stage through an FMR Audio Really Nice Preamp, just to give the piano a little extra bite; and I generally will put the whole submix through an FMR Audio Really Nice Compressor to control any peaks that may occur – it also helps to blend sounds together (very useful when you don’t have a dedicated FOH engineer). I use a cheap and cheerful Alesis Nanoverb if I want to add any reverb to specific keys patches. The reason I like the Nanoverb is mainly its size and price!

Line mixer – depending on the number of inputs I need, I might bring a small line mixer to the gig, either a Mackie or one of the 1u rack mixers like an Alesis etc. Sometimes this isn’t necessary, as I’ll only be using one keyboard, especially for a more straightforward singer/songwriter gig.

* * * * * * *

What Gear I Take On Tour

Pretty much all of the above, with a few changes/exceptions/additions:

Cases – I wouldn’t take the soft-sided tool bag on tour. Everything needs to go in either a Pelican or a hard flight case. Sometimes the tour backline technicians will build a dedicated “keys trunk” which will fit all of my keyboards into one large flight case, and I would leave most of my own cases either at home or in the band’s lock-up storage (usually at the rehearsal room we have been using prior to the tour).

Cables – Again, to avoid confusion, I would work out previous to the first tour date, which of my cables will be used on tour, and what cables the techs want to use for the tour. Some techs like to hand-make all of their own cables during rehearsal, so that the whole stage has a consistent quality of cable.

Laptops – A lot of my touring gigs will involve laptops. I don’t recommend using your personal laptop on stage, as once it’s part of the gig, it should really be “frozen” and not used for anything else. If you are taking your laptop offstage every night and downloading updates / new apps etc., then you are introducing more variables to the playback setup, and therefore more opportunities for mid-gig failures. In a perfect world, the tour production will purchase two laptops that are used exclusively for the show, and once the show is programmed and up and running, you should turn off the wifi and “freeze” both playback laptops’ systems for the duration of the tour. Don’t download any updates to the OS or the software until the tour is done!

MP3 Recorder – This can be very useful on tour. I usually give the FOH an mp3 recorder to record each show, just a stereo mix off the board is fine. I generally don’t end up listening to most of the recordings, but if anything weird happens, you can always reference back to a previous show to find out what might have changed. (Don’t advertise the fact that you are recording the shows, as people might get the wrong idea and think you are scrutinising their work. It’s purely for reference.)

Keyboards – I might take extra keyboards on a larger-scale tour, as there will be road crew to help you set it up and break it down each night. If I am using all midi-gear, then I make sure that me and the keyboard tech have a midi dump of all the settings as they were at the end of rehearsals. As we come to the end of each leg of the tour, it’s useful to do another midi dump of everything, as the sounds generally get tweaked from show to show (hopefully improving the sounds). Some keyboard techs will take a midi dump every day, but sometimes there isn’t time for that.

Paintbrush – On larger tours I like to have a paintbrush with me for brushing down the keys, as keyboards get surprisingly dusty sitting around a venue all day; especially during festival season, where some festival stages can get really dirty from whatever gets blown onto the stage.

In-Ear Monitors – I currently (2013) use JHAudio in-ear monitors for production tours. I have had my ears tested and fitted a few times in the last ten years. The only problem I have had with in-ear monitors was when I was wearing the “soft-mould” style IEMs, I used to get frequent ear-infections. Since using the harder-mould models, that’s less of a problem; but I sill use a dab of tea-tree oil on a cotton bud to clean my ears when I’m in the middle of a long tour, just to stave off any potential infections (thanks to Ana Matronic for that tip!).

Ok. That’s about all I can think of. Hope it was useful to any other keyboard players out there. Drop me a line if you have any comments or questions!