In a previous post, I gave a broad overview of how I became who I am today. As promised, here is the first of many side stories from my adventures as a musician.
Do you ever do something you think is amazing, only to look back and realize how simple and newbie-like it really was? This happens to me ALL THE TIME. Let’s segue into the end of my last year in high school. I was on the verge of becoming a college kid…all grown up and whatever. But first, I had to get through my first musical as a keyboardist.
I volunteered to play Keyboard 2 and 3 for our “senior show” production of “The Wedding Singer”. Yes, I did have two books in front of me, and flipping pages on both of them while changing patches every few seconds was a little intense for a first gig as a musical theatre keyboardist. I survived. Somehow. Here’s proof. See the two books…and how I only had one stand light? I don’t even remember only having one light.
I knew very little about music technology back then. I had a basic understanding of MIDI. I knew it was some kind of code that enabled sound to be made, and that was it. Yes, everything I did back then was, for lack of a better term, SO GHETTO. I had recently gotten a MacBook Pro as an early graduation present, and I discovered MainStage a week before opening night. It was a life-changing discovery as I taught myself how to create sound patches.
The next few days were sleepless due to nothing but intense curiosity. I wasn’t getting paid for my work. I hadn’t mentioned MainStage to anyone else, so I wouldn’t be letting anyone down if I didn’t figure it out. BUT I WANTED TO FIGURE IT OUT. SO BADLY. Since my sound synthesis skills back then were completely nonexistent, I listened to the Broadway Cast Recording, and chose presets that resembled the synth sounds I heard. Since most of the cliché 1980s synth sounds in “The Wedding Singer” are a product of either subtractive or frequency modulation synthesis, I was able to find almost everything I needed in MainStage’s ES2 and EFM synthesizers. I also used a lot of the included sounds included in the EXS24 sampler. I had no clue what these different synthesizers and samplers did at the time, but it didn’t matter. I was able to program a whole show (split the keyboard into different zones, layer sounds on top of each other, etc) for two keyboard books in about four days. I’m still impressed to this day. MainStage isn’t exactly an easy program to learn, especially when you have almost no knowledge of MIDI and sound synthesis.
Here’s where it gets crazy. You see, I had no idea what an audio interface was at the time. Sometimes you know you need something, but can’t afford to buy it. That wasn’t the case at all. I just flat out had no idea that there was something in this world called an audio interface. In a desperate attempt to get sound from the computer to the keyboard amp, I took a connected a stereo 3.5mm to 1/4″ adapter to a balanced 1/4″ cable. The 3.5mm side went into my computer, and the 1/4″ side went into the amp. It worked, but it must’ve sounded horrific. I say “must’ve” because I probably had no idea what a good clean signal sounded like.
The first band rehearsal was filled with technical difficulties. I tried to troubleshoot MIDI issues with my nonexistent knowledge. Everything eventually worked out in the end, and we had time to run through most of the show. Oh…forgot to mention this. Before we were able to get a keyboard amp…I brought in my pair of M-Audio AV40s and used them as “amps”. I must’ve looked like a douchebag. Those speakers did get loud though…
I didn’t own my own keyboard back then, so I used the school’s Yamaha Clavinova. My friend Garret, who played Keyboard 1, used an S80ES he borrowed from another friend. Classic keyboard with great FM sounds that are perfect for the show.
The show itself was a hit, and many people said it was the best senior show they had seen in years. I like to think that my completely unoriginal preset synth sounds had something to do with that. We had two show days, and I finished closing night feeling inspired and ready for the future. I would eventually take a one year “figuring out my future” break as a biology major at Northeastern University, but now I’m back to music.