For the Technoweenies

This may be a geeky post for the technoweenie-interested crowd who likes to see what goes on under the hood. When the eighties version of the Black Diamond Band was started, we had all came from bands where there were more than three in the group. We had heard of a new technology, known as MIDI (Music Instrument Digital Interface) which was in development just a couple years before we formed our lineup. The idea was if and when a guitar solo would come up, or certain songs had orchestral or certain key-instrument sounds to make the song sound like the song, it was a very intriguing thought to try this out so that when the guitar was busy on a solo, half the sound of the rhythm section didn’t just disappear.

We bought a Yamaha DX-21 piano-synth, a Roland JX-8P synthesizer, and a Roland D-110 rack-mount MIDI sound module, which all ran from a Passport Industries (California) interface driven by Windows 3.1 on a 80286 PC! Told you it’d get technoweenie in here.

Cheating or Saving Money?

Many of our musician friends sometimes would poke fun, or call it cheating, but in the end it saves money on paying an extra couple people in the band.

To this day we use “backing tracks” on around a third of our show. The technology has changed quite a bit in thirty years, not so much MIDI anymore; now just an iPad playing a couple of stereo-WAV files in sync with the drummer. The first stereo file is a click track and a cue track, and the second file is a stereo version of the backing parts that play along with the three of us; usually piano, organ, strings and sometimes acoustic guitar, etc…depending on what the song needs to sound more like the original.

We’re Here For a Good Time

For example, the backing track for “Here For a Good Time” by Trooper, has a busy percussion track with a scraping sound, and two cups playing in a pattern during the verses, a grand piano track, and a strings track, along with the click for the drummer and a cue to keep the lead vocalist in the right spot instead of running off the rails causing a train wreck…it happens!

All these tracks are normally recorded in our own studio. The on-stage program is called BandHelper® and runs on an iPad, driving an audio interface to the audience and also routed to certain monitors on stage. The system also shows lyrics on the screen on various songs where the lyrics are tough to recall…kinda handy these days. The interface can drive lighting cues and assign different effects patches in the PA for different reverb and echo settings for example.

“When I started my first band it was ‘cause I got excited about the Beatles and it was like, ‘wow, there’s music like that out there!’”