Singers…equipment you need to get started

Thanks to Lalita from South Africa for this question…

Dear Kenny
Thank you so much for all the help. I am VERY NEW in the music business (I don’t have anything, no backtracks, no equipment, NOTHING). Money is the problem and I don’t know what to buy to start, what name, brand ect. What tips do you have on what sound speakers etc to use to start off on a very small budget? I’m from South-Africa in the free-state.
Thanx alot.
Lalita Johnston

Hi Lalita

First have a look at the article I’ve written about equipment you need to get started – you’ll find it very helpful if you’re new to the music business.

Once you’ve read through the article and have a rough idea of the kind of equipment you should be looking for, take a trip to your local music store and ask them their advice on what type of equipment would be suitable for you.

The guys in your local music store will most probably know of local manufacturers who make less expensive but still good quality equipment.

They will also have good local knowledge of the types of venues you are likely to be singing and performing in so will be able to advise you of the right type of equipment to suit the venues in your area.

The internet is a great place to buy musical equipment if you know exactly what you’re looking for, but if you’re unsure (especially if you’re just starting out) you can’t beat a good local music store with experienced sales staff who have good knowledge of all the local venues and equipment available in your country…


is mp3 quality as good as minidisc?

Thanks to Derek for this question (often asked) about whether mp3 quality is as good as minidisc…

Hi Kenny,

What a site you have. I downloaded some information on various topics and took this on holiday. My wife thought I had flipped.  However I said that what I was reading would make me a better performer and earn her more money to spend on holidays. That worked.

I would now like to ask a question re Apple I Pod Touch. Currently I use minidisks and have read your article on MP3 players.  I would like to go this way. Is the I pod OK???  What about the playback quality??

Any advice would be appriciated.


Hi Derek

Hope you enjoyed your holiday.

iPod mp3 playback quality is excellent and if you play in live music venues I can gurantee that no-one will be able to tell the difference between the sound of a minidisc playing backing tracks or an iPod playing backing tracks.

I conducted a test many years ago when I first set up MP3 Backing Trax. I invited a bunch of singer/musician friends to come listen to me perform while I used a variety of different formats and asked them to give me feedback on which sounded best.

I sang the exact same song four times, each time the backing track was being played by either an mp3 player, a minidisc player, a CD player or a DAT machine.

I asked them to listen carefully and see if they could tell me which was which.

They all chose differently and had different opinions on which sounded best.

I then played the four songs again, but this time I told them which playback machine I was using as I played it.

This time I managed to get a full agreement from them all that the CD and the DAT machine were the best quality sound.

Then I revealed that I hadn’t played the backing track from different machines at all – although I had the CD player, Minidisc player and Dat machine on the stage with me (which they could see), I hadn’t actually plugged any of these in to the PA system. They had heard the same song eight times in a row played each time from the exact same mp3 player!

One or two of them were initially not too happy at having been “duped” until I sat down and explained that the purpose of the experiment was to show them that in a live music environment there are usually so many other factors going on that affect how the audience hear sound (the general burble of the audience talking and the space that the sound has to travel from the speakers to your ears etc) that it is impossible to tell any small variations in quality between formats when playing live at a gig.

For this reason, mp3 in any live music environment will sound every bit as good as any of the other music formats which are technically supposed to be superior. Audiences cannot tell the difference.

It would take a very good pair of highly trained ears to tell the difference between the sound of an mp3 and the sound of a minidisc, even if wearing high quality studio headphones.

And I bet if I challenged even the most dedicated “audiophile” to tell the difference, I could still stump him…


Playing live piano along with a backing track

Thanks to Luther from California USA for this question about playing a live instrument over a backing track…


Hi Kenny,
I’m a solo piano player who is looking at playing a place where others use backing tracks. I never used drum machines because I don’t like the distraction but backing tracks might do. So I downloaded your free one to check out the drum and bass qualities etc. By the way, since I’m in California, how would I figure out prices. Just got a 5 pound note as a tip at a gig last night. Don’t know what to do with that either. Thanks very much,


Hi Luther

I play piano too and playing live piano over the top of a backing track adds a really great live feel to any backing track.

And the good thing about using backing tracks rather than just a single instrument is that it gives you (and your audience) a full band sound.

As more and more entertainers use backing tracks, todays audiences have now come to expect a full sound from entertainers so sadly the old solo piano/vocalist or solo guitar/vocalist tends to sound very empty and a little bit too dated for todays discerning audiences.

It’s even quite common nowadays for bands to use backing tracks. They will usually have special backing tracks created with a click track so that the band can still get the sounds of violins, brass section, synthesizers etc – sounds that are essential to the song but they couldn’t achieve live without employing a brass section or a string orchestra.

Some musicians who don’t understand backing tracks often think that if it is pre-recorded then it is somehow fake in some way, but this simply is not the case.

Take a look at just about every Broadway musical and every major artist who performs live nowadays (artists like Madonna etc). They all have their drummer wear a pair of headphones and play along with a click track so that they can use pre-recorded parts as well as the live instruments.

This is done for two reasons:

1. It makes much more sense to pre-record a particular piece of music which will only be used in one particular passage of one song rather than employ a musician to stand there the whole night just so that he can play that small 30 second part.

2. If a musician calls in sick, a replacement has to found at short notice. So the guitar effects or keyboard/synth sounds are usually set up to change automatically at certain parts of the song so that the right sounds will be played at the right times. Yes, it’s easy enough to find a replacement musician even at short notice and give him the written music sheet so he knows exactly what to play and when to play it. But what you can’t do is write in to a music sheet exactly what synth sound should be selected when he plays that part and how it should be selected. The stand-in musician won’t be familiar with the equipment he’s going to be using but that doesn’t matter as long as he just plays what’s written – the pre-recorded click track and program changes will do the rest.

On a lighter note, I can tell you what the five pound UK bank note that you were given as a tip the other night is worth….erm…not very much I’m afraid!

It used to be worth a lot of money until the recession hit us here in the UK!

Seriously though, it’s probably worth around $7 – $8 USD. That’s not a lot, but I suppose if 100 people asked you for a request every night and gave you a five pound note, that would be a rather nice little bonus!

It’s probably not worth changing it in to dollars – perhaps you could just keep it and give it as a gift to a friend who is maybe thinking of visiting the UK…


Mixer problems – sound bleeding to other channels

Thanks to Howard for this question:

Hi Kenny

I get “bleed through” in my mixer when I source an ipod (or any mp3 player/laptop) into my mixer. I connect to Line 3 input and “crank it up” (the source output) to match the sound levels of the other channels.

I can’t stop the sound from bleeding through, even if the channel slide is all the way down. It bleeds through the fade selector switches too. The only way to eliminate the bleed is to turn down the source, but then the output is not high enough to match other sources (CD). Help!


Hi Howard

If sound still bleeds through when the volume of that channel is pulled right down it usually means that there is a problem at the mixer side of things rather than a problem with the iPod, laptop or mp3 player.

With mixing desks, two things immediately come to mind which can cause sound to bleed through where it shouldn’t.

The first possibility is that your mixer has poor circuitry or a problem with its circuitry.

Poor circuitry is a common problem in less expensive mixing desks, but even many good quality mixing desks can start to perform less efficiently after they get to a few years old. If the problem is a cheap mixer, there is no real solution except to live with the problem or buy a better quality mixer.

But if you use an expensive mixer that’s just become a bit ropey after a few years of wear and tear and gigging, you could ask your local electronics engineer to give it a service and that may be enough to fix the leakage. But don’t just hand it in to your local music shop and ask them to do a service on it though – ask to speak to the engineer first and tell him exactly what the problem is and ask him if a service will actually solve that particular problem (no point in paying out money needlessly).

In some situations a solution to leakage could be to buy a noise gate and insert the noise gate between the mp3 player and your mixer. You would then set the threshold of the noise gate so it will “gate out” any unwanted noise. However noise gates are really designed to stop unwanted noise such as hiss from devices which are supposed to be silent when switched off. From what I gather, you want your mp3 Player to still continue to play music while you have the volume turned right down. If this is the case, then a noise gate won’t help.

The next possibility is that your mixer is absolutely fine – it’s the mixer settings that are the problem.

This is especially true if you have a more expensive and complicated type of mixer with lots of different routing possibilities. The leak could be caused simply because the settings for that channel and/or the cabling for the mixer output are not set correctly and it’s bleeding some sound to areas of the output it shouldn’t.

You say you plug your mp3 player in to channel 3. That immediately suggests to me that something may not be correct because an mp3 player requires TWO input channels because it is stereo (a left channel and a right channel). I would expect you to have to use TWO channels on your mixer for your mp3 player (eg channel 3 for the left sound and channel 4 for the right sound). But if it’s a DJ type mixer you have, the channels may ALL be stereo, so although your mixer calls it “channel 3”, channel 3 has two stereo inputs. If so, then that’s ok.

Mixers, especially the more expensive mixers out there, often have the ability to route the input and output signals in a variety of different ways. So if you are using a monitor-out from your mixer to your amplifier instead of the standard main-out, this could cause leakage.

Similarly if you use the headphone-out from your mixer to your amplifier (which you should NEVER do by the way!) then that could cause leakage. in fact if there is anything set up in your mixer whether it’s an input or an output that’s not connected the way the mixer needs it to be connected according to its operating instructions, you can expect problems.

This is especially true if you don’t have all the input signals properly trimmed, or don’t the pan on each channel set correctly, or the output from the mixer to your amplifier isn’t coming from the correct output.

If everything attached to your mixer is connected and set properly, then the leakage is most likely to be down to the first possibility above (poor circuitry).

If you know what you’re doing, you may be able to sort the problem by doing something as simple as buying a can of compressed air from your local electronics shop and air-dusting the channel fader. That will remove any dirt and grime that could be stopping the fader getting right down to zero. However don’t even attempt this if you’ve never done it before and don’t know what you’re doing – these compressed air cans have a habit of malfunctioning from time to time and squirt a little bit of liquid when they should really only be throwing out air. Liquids and electronics are a BAD combination(!) so if you’re not sure, leave it to a qualified engineer, even if it does sound like a pretty simple job…



Thanks much Kenny!
It is a Gemini PMX1600 mixer used with a PV500 amp. It has always worked fine, but I’ve only recently attempted mixing in a laptop or iPod to it, so the bleed thru problem may be inherent in this unit. I use a mini to split cable to connect to the stereo input of Ch3 (or 4, doesn’t matter, same effect). I have started to get an intermittent white noise problem too (sometimes goes away when I cycle power to the mixer, but not always). Looks like it’s time for a new mixer…..

Hi Howard

Yes, the Gemini is a DJ mixer and generally DJ mixers tend to be not as good quality as recording studio / live music type mixers.

The white noise problem you mentioned may be an earth loop problem, especially if you notice it more when you have your laptop plugged in.

Some laptops have a known problem with earth loops but don’t always give off the type of buzzing you would expect to hear with an earth loop problem. Instead the laptop sounds as if there is interference coming through it which sounds a bit like low frequency white noise that’s breaking up a bit.

You need a ground loop isolator placed between the laptop and the mixer to stop the noise (you can get a gound loop isolators for around £15 from stores like Maplin