The Problem Must Be Me

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I wish I was immune to doubt. If I state something with assurance, it is because I am sure. If I am mistaken, I am more than willing to accept my error and correct any problems that might have arisen. Doubt creeps in when conflict arises. If I am bucking popular opinion, even if I am sure of something, some doubt begins to gnaw at me. “Everyone else is so sure. Maybe I am wrong.”

Today I was thinking back to my days working public address (PA) systems. I never ran sound for bands or orchestras, but one and two person speaking engagements. The rooms varied from concert hall to outdoor venues. Some rooms had a built in system, in others, equipment would be brought in for the occasion. The same speakers were present for many events. Sometimes, we would do as many as three or four events in a week. For the most part, these events went well, but if I got any complaint, it was usually the same request, “Make it LOUDER!”

Facilitating that request should be pretty easy. Simply raise the volume on the board. Right?

There is one mitigating circumstance that sabotages any adjustment I could make: These speakers had no microphone control. They would turn their heads away from the microphone, stand two feet away, mumble, eat the microphone, etc… Yet, they would complain after. In fact, everyone would complain, co-workers, audience members, supervisors. Was I doing something wrong?

I knew that the speakers had enough power. I knew that I was using quality, tried and tested equipment. I knew that I had not accidentally turned something off. However, if so many people insist that I’m the problem, aren’t I?

Nope.

Thank goodness for the Internet. I did a little Google search using “public”, “speaking”, and “microphone”. Just about every site, written by engineers and public speakers alike said the same thing:

1. Keep the microphone a few inches away. Some sites said 2-4, others 6-8. No one said one foot.
2. Keep the microphone in line with your mouth. Not to the left, or the right, but in line.
3. If there is feedback, get closer to the mic, not further away. It allows the engineer to lower the gain and reduce feedback.
4. Project. You don’t have to shout, but you are not having a conversation. You are addressing an audience.

I could add links, but won’t. If you’re interested, do a search on your own. I doubt you will find many sites that would not advocate these four rules. It’s possible, but the vast majority will echo these four sentiments.

Am I still sure that the problem was not me? Yup.

Anytime a professional speaker would appear, a politician, motivational speaker, or anyone used to speaking to large audience, there was never a single problem. They all utilized a little microphone control and projected their voices. Sure, some of them had naturally booming voices, but I could lower the gain for those presenters. I never had any issue with them not being heard or understood.

Full Disclosure: What not use a lavalier microphone? I’m not a huge fan of lavs since I worked with chronic mumblers and people that refused to project. Was their mumbling problem always their fault? No. Some people just have a heavy accent that does not make them easily understood. I’m not faulting them for that, but don’t expect a lav to work well if you swallow your consonants and want to hide the microphone under your tie or lapel for photographic purposes.

Maybe the problem was psychological, a form of mass hysteria. If everyone in an enclosed environment demands that something is true, does it take the form of fact in everyone’s mind? Everyone would insist that there should not be a problem with standing a foot away from the mic and off the to the right. It should still pick up the speaker, right? He’s nearby.

I have to admit. Doubt really did gnaw at me. Was I doing something wrong? Is the problem me? I looked for ways to overcome it through more advanced equipment, speaker placement, and equalization. If it keeps happening and everyone insists that it is my fault, isn’t it my fault?

Hell, unequivocal, no!

The funny part is, if someone from this old job reads this, they will probably come up for some reason why it is my fault. In spite of plenty of sources supporting my side, they will insist I am wrong. I guess it is good to be plagued by doubt, because if not, I would be just like them.

Office

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What is the working dream of middle America?

The question is not about the desire for possessions or personal relations, but what is the ideal working environment? Is it an office job? Is it working outdoors? Does it involve tools?

I overheard two gentlemen talking the other day at my gym. Permit me a moment to put this in perspective. My gym is in the suburbs, between a middle-class area and a very upper-class area. There isn’t much public transportation in the area, so most of the people at least have access to a car. The busy times are before nine and after five, so most people probably have jobs that fall between what are generally considered normal working hours.

To paraphrase, the conversation was about the working environment. Both men agreed that the best thing for job security is to go unnoticed. “If they don’t know your name after three years, you’ve done a good job. Oh who’s that? That’s Pete.”

At first, I was appalled. Is that really the dream, to go unnoticed? Don’t make waves? Don’t try to improve anything? Don’t try to advance? That can’t be it, can it? Then I thought back to my days of office work and I remembered a quote from the holy grail of movies on office life, Office Space.

Peter Gibbons: It’s a problem of motivation, all right? Now if I work my ass off and Initech ships a few extra units, I don’t see another dime, so where’s the motivation? And here’s something else, Bob: I have eight different bosses right now.
Bob Slydell: I beg your pardon?
Peter Gibbons: Eight bosses.
Bob Slydell: Eight?
Peter Gibbons: Eight, Bob. So that means that when I make a mistake, I have eight different people coming by to tell me about it. That’s my only real motivation is not to be hassled, that and the fear of losing my job. But you know, Bob, that will only make someone work just hard enough not to get fired.

Was there any chance for advancement at my job? Nope. I wasn’t in the friend zone with upper management. If I made any suggestions for improvement, I had to spearhead the project and sit through endless meetings. The meetings would end with the incorporation of the whims of the people above me, however ridiculous. If the new initiative was successful, I received a hearty pat the back, and not one extra dime. Come annual review time, I might receive a cost of living bump, but nothing more for my additional work, just excuses about the money not being available. Seems a great deal of money is tied up in my new project. Ironic.

Maybe the dream is anonymous mediocrity.

Gig Review: November 25, 2009

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Another Thanksgiving Eve, so another Ricky Blues gig at the Mediterranean Taverna. As a special addition, Rick Donato was back in town on break from his Chorus Line gig to join us on the drums. Also on the drums was Glen Sacchi. Unlike many recent Ricky Blues shows, we were without keyboards and horns. It was different.

Instead of doing an entire Pink Floyd second set, we shortened it to the material that would work without horn and keys. There were more jams than usual, and we pulled some songs from the bin that we haven’t played in quite a while.

Playing songs that are not a part of the regular repertoire is always interesting. While there is a level of familiarity with the piece, since it is not in the recent muscle memory, if feels new. Throw in musicians you have not played with in a while and it becomes even more interesting. It the musical equivalent of walking a tightrope that is not very high of the ground.

One lame part of the night: Someone hit my car and left a very large dent in the driver’s side rear. No note, no number, no nothing. Weak. Since I’ve played there a million times before I probably know who did it, as the crowd there is regular. Not that I know who the person is, but they’re probably a familiar face. The sad part is, I would not have been upset. I would have said, “No worries.” My vehicle is over twelve years old with plenty of bumps and bruises and is on its way to the junk yard in the sky, but the fact that someone would hit me with no regard is lame.

Here are some pictures from the show:

Created with flickr slideshow.

Béla Fleck and the Flecktones @ Tiles Center: November 22, 2009

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I wonder how many fusion fans are not musicians. It’s very rare that I’ll get into a non-musicians car and hear Return to Forever. Nevertheless, even non-fusion fans can appreciate the sheer virtuosity of certain groups and musicians.

Béla Fleck and the Flecktones are described as a cross between bluegrass and funk. Each of the musicians have been lauded in numerous circles for their innovative playing and composing.

This particular show was at the Tiles Center on the Long Island University campus. It’s a big ass concert hall, around the size of Alice Tully. I was in the fourth row so I could see all the little twists and turns that each musician made throughout the show. They are currently touring with their original lineup: banjo, bass, drumitar, piano, and harmonica. (Last time I saw them it was sax and clarinet instead of keys and harmonica.)

What the hell is a drumitar? Read for yourself.

The song of the night was undoubtedly Sinister Minister.

Definitely check out the Flecktones if you can. Even if you never purchase an album, see the live at least once. It’s a wonderful show.

Additional Links:

Victor Wooten’s website
Futureman’s website
Béla Fleck’s website
Howard Levy’s website