Using long cables with your PA system

Glenn from New York asked another question today about running long cables in a PA set up…

Do you think I need to use a direct box to make the connection to the PA, especially if the cable run is long?

Hi Glenn

The problem with using long cables is that they can adversely affect the sound. Usually you’ll notice a reduction in volume, but sometimes the quality of your sound can be degraded as well.

Generally, you’ll find you can run cables up to 10 feet or thereabouts before you start to notice any real drop in volume. And that’s a problem that’s easily fixed.

If the long cable is from your amplifier to the speaker, then as long as you have plenty of extra power in your amplifier, you can just drive the amp a little harder and it’ll compensate for any power loss the long cable may be causing.

Similarly, if the long cable is from your audio device to the mixing desk, then a bit of extra gain on the output of the audio device or turning up the gain/trim on the mixing desk channel will compensate.

But if you start to get unwanted noise, either from the long cable itself, or just from the fact that the mixer is boosting the input signal by so much, then a DI box is the answer.

Personally, if it’s only now and again you will be running cables over a distance (and you haven’t noticed any noise problems from running long cables beofre), I’d continue to use long cables rather than having to invest in a DI box and all the extra setting up etc that will take.

However, if you’re going to be regularly running long cables or you have unwanted noise in your system, a DI box may be a worthwhile investment.

Backing tracks on a Numark DJ player

There seems to be quite a lot of you getting quite excited about the Numark iDJ among backing track users. Here’s another one from Glenn, a singer from New York, USA is thinking about getting rid of his old Roland sequencer and going down the route of iPod, Numark, audio backing tracks…

I am considering retiring our Roland sequencer (MC-80) which still uses
floppy disks and using an iPod for backing tracks. I am considering
purchasing the Numark iDJ as an interface between the iPod and the
PA system. Bigger navigation buttons would be a plus. Do you have
any opinions about this product?

Hi Glenn

This piece of equipment seems to be getting a lot of interest from backing track users. I haven’t used one myself so can only go on what other customers have been telling me about it.

It seems to be very good from the point of view of the button sizes (just as you mentioned). I’m also lead to believe the sound quality is exceptionally good because it takes the iPods sound out of the big connection at the bottom of the iPod rather than the headphone socket.

The main downside with the Numark is that some singers are reporting that the autocue isn’t very accurate so sometimes they miss the first couple of seconds of a song – a bit of a disaster if the song has a count-in, a chord or note to pitch you, or a short intro before the vocal comes in.

Don’t let that put you off though. Just make sure you try before you buy.



Music product manufacturers taking things too far?

Derrick from the Scottish borders loves singing with our backing tracks. However, he used to be a keyboard player but has since given it up due to failing eyesight…

Hi Kenny
Although I’m new to singing (8 months or so), I’ve been playing/gigging keyboards for about 20yrs. I’ve had loads of fun entertaining on the keyboards over the past 20yrs but failing eyesight has made me turn to singing so I no longer need to wire up keyboards on-stage & … worse still … be able to see the keyboard controls clearly!  I don’t use any graphics and memorise everything I do to save my sight probs.  … The ONLY way I can now do it as to read a screen is a major prob for me!  HOWEVER, I’m getting a big kick from working to get back in the entertainment scene.  So far I have only sung in karaoke bars (in Scottish Borders + Fuerteventura-Canary Isles –  where my brother + family live) but, my confidence is building to take it the next stage – MP3 backing tracks + me singing so I plan to be a “one man enetertainier” – Great fun!… Thought you might be interested in this feedback from one of your loyal customers Kenny. … If music be the food of love then I intend to become a fatty!
Derrick Dance
(Yup – DANCE … that’s my REAL name ..,. not stage name!).

Hi Derrick

Glad to hear you’re still enjoying your singing and entertaining.

I’m a keyboard player myself and I agree with you completely. I’ve noticed that the new breed of keyboards today don’t do any favours for anyone with eyesight problems. And it’s not just keyboard manufacturers who thrust these small screens etc on to us – mp3  manufacturers are just as guilty.

Years ago, music keyboards had tons of buttons so it was easy to get to know where all the buttons were. Once you had familiarised yourself with the geography of your keyboard, you could then simply “feel” for whatever parameter you wanted to select or make changes to.

This was important, not just for people with eyesight difficulties, but also for live gigging musicians who had to keep eye contact with their audience or were reading music while playing so needed to be able to know where vital keyboard functions were without looking (especially things like fill buttons and where to change the sounds etc).

Nowadays manufacturers don’t put lots of buttons on their machines. They claim to favour a minimalist look with hardly any buttons, but the real truth is that buttons are hardware and hardware costs money to manufacture.

It’s more cost effective to them to install one piece of hardware (like an LCD screen) and then write software in to the chip that controls that screen to take care of all the commands that our old style push-buttons used to handle. And you usually find that all the functions of the keyboard are accessed from that one LCD screen in the centre of the keyboard via a series of confusing menus and pages!

This is a real pain.

For example, changing the rhythm of a song to a rock beat (which we keyboard players used to be able to do by pressing just one button) now involves pressing the screen to bring up the rhythm menu, pressing the screen again to bring up the page where all the 4/4 rhythms are, pressing the screen again to select the particular rock rhythm you want, then pressing the screen again to exit from that menu and going in to another screen to change the sounds for the right hand. And if you want to change the sounds you’re right hand plays from a piano to a guitar, you have to go through pretty much the same series of confusing functions all over again!

And it’s not just music keyboards that get this cheap and confusing “page after page of menus” treatment either.

Mobile phones, mp3 players, iPods, DVD players…in fact just about everything in the electronics world today suffers from manufacturers attempts to keep hardware costs down by reducing the amount of buttons and dials on their products.

I get quite annoyed when I hear manufacturers boasting about their new “cool” touch screens and how much they benefit us, the customers.

What a load of rubbish!

What they really mean is that they’ve managed to reduce their costs by getting rid of all the handy buttons and creating a skimpy product which now consists of a plastic shell, a single circuit board inside with a chip, and an LCD screen). I don’t see anyone bringing the price of their products DOWN because they’ve incorporated a new touch screen in to it do you?!

Oh dear, I’m beginning to sound like one of those grumpy old men who hark back to how good it used to be back in “the old days”.

If you see me in the street, say hello. I’ll be the guy with the eighties mullet hairdo with a mobile phone the size of a brick glued to my ear….!



Beware of illegal backing track companies

When I started MP3 Backing Trax way back last century(!) the mp3 format was fairly new. There weren’t too many backing track companies around at that time either.

However, as the years have passed every cowboy company imaginable has jumped in to the backing track business and customers, understandably, find it difficult to tell the good guys from the bad guys.

You can’t always tell by price either. Just because tracks are cheap doesn’t mean the backing track company are working illegally and not paying the proper royalties. Most companies that have a good sized library of backing tracks (i.e. a large back catalogue) can usually sell their tracks quite inexpensively.

In fact we do this. We have backing tracks which only cost a few pounds that you can download instantly. Of course it took us hours and hours of work to create these backing tracks, so how can we sell them for a few pounds I hear you ask?

Easy. Once the backing track has been created one time, we can sell it over and over again forever more and make our money back that way. We still get paid for all the hours of work we did, and you get a backing track for a fraction of what it really cost us to produce. Everybody’s happy.

Not so with special arrangements though.

Special arrangements are one-off backing tracks that customers ask us to produce specially for them. We’re unlikely to ever sell these tracks again – they’re usually quite obscure songs that don’t have popular appeal. So we have to pass the full cost of production on to the customer. We calculate the cost of these types of tracks by using an hourly rate of 20 GBPounds per hour. If it takes us 10 hours to create your special track, you can reckon on it costing you £200. Simple.

But recently I noticed we’ve been “undercut” a couple of times by some other backing track companies.

in one instance, we quoted a girl called Julie from England £140 to create a special track for her. She declined our quote and told me she’d got another comapny to produce it specially for her MUCH cheaper than our quote.

Here’s what I told her:

Hi Julie

The track the other company are creating for you may be an illegal track (i.e. not their own work). Many of the cowboy companies buy a midifile for a few pounds and run it through a sound module and sell it to you as an mp3 backing track that they supposedly created themselves. This is illegal.

The easiest way to tell if the track quote they’ve given you is “correct” is to divide the price they’ve quoted you by 7 (because there’s about 7 hours work in creating that particular track you asked us for).

This lets you know how much per hour they are charging you to produce this track for you.

If it calculates out to be a really low hourly rate, then you’ll know that there is something fishy about it – no professional musician will work for a few dollars or a few pounds per hour so alarm bells should begin to ring if the musicians can make more working at MacDonalds than they can creating your backing track!

As an example, we lost out a while back on another special arrangement for a customer where the customer used another, much cheaper company than us.

There was 6 hours work involved in producing the song and we quoted him £120 GBP (£20/hr). The customer replied and said another company could produce it for him for £25 GBPounds so he wouldn’t be using us.

The thing is, with there being 6 hours work involved in creating the track, that meant that the company who quoted him £25 GBPounds were working for just £4 per hour.

My niece is still at school and has a little Saturday job in a shop that earns her more than £4 per hour!

Of course what was really happening is the other company were buying a midifile for £5 and spending an hour putting it through a sound module and creating an mp3 backing track from that. Hence the £25 GBPounds price.

The customer had just bought himself an illegal backing track and didn’t know it.

We refuse to work illegally – never have, never will. The unfortunate thing about doing things legally and correct as we do is that we often lose out to other companies who are quite happy to pull in business at any cost and don’t care whether the customer they’ve supplied is going around afterwards unwittingly using illegal music.

These cowbiys will probably tell you it’s not a midifile, and that it’s all their own work. They don’t mind telling you a whole load of lies – all they want is your money. So, the best you can do to protect yourself is to make sure you have it in writing from them that they produced this backing track for you all by themselves, from scratch.

That way you have, not quite protection, but at least an explanation to a certain extent should there ever be an investigation in to the tracks you are using and their legallity.



Gverb is greyed out in Audacity

Jeremy has been recording himself singing to some of our backing tracks and asks why the Gverb plug-in on his version of Audacity is “greyed” out.

Hi Kenny,
How do I apply reverb..there is only gverb on the effects
menu and all greyed out. The help menu says “Audio”
has to be selected.

Hi Jeremy

Gverb is not present in some versions of Audacity.

It was supported for a while in Audacity but Gverb was more of a project by Audacity programmers who were messing around with reverb algorhythms rather than a proper professional reverb plug-in.

I do know that Gverb was never one of the best reverb plugins anyway – there are much better reverb plugins around than Gverb so it’s probably about time they let it RIP!

If your particular installation of Audacity DOES have Gverb, then it will be in the plug-ins folder in your Audacity installation directory (on Windows computers this you’ll find it in the “Program Files” folder).

If GVerb is installed correctly in the plug-ins folder it will show beneath the separator in the Effects menu when you bring it up.

Much better, easier to use, (and free) reverbs out there are Freeverb and Anwida Soft DX Reverb Light (do a Google search and you’ll find them).

I personally recommend Freeverb.



Scandal Duo (Costa Blanca)

A warm welcome to Scandal duo, the latest band to build themselves a free web page and get listed on the MP3 Backing Trax YourSpace section.

Originally from Yorkshire, this great duo are now working down in the Spanish Costas playing every type of music genre imaginable.

Take a look at their website HERE