The Long Ranger is dead ☠️ Long live the long ranger! As soon as it went away, another brand stepped in to take its place: The Anchor Audio MegaVox. There’s always a love-hate relationship between ensemble directors and these devices. People forget to charge them. Then in an effort to delegate charging responsibility, they get left in cars and then stolen (true story). They get abused! One of the most vulnerable, and critical components is the speaker cone – it’s what makes the MegaVox MEGA.
The cone is molded with three small tabs of plastic. While the cone is recessed behind the front face of the MegaVox, the fabric case is not enough to prevent damage. Anything that sneaks in an hits the code will surely break it off. On any given equipment trailer, there are many opportunities for things to jostle around and break a cone.
Start with this video that shows you how to replace the battery. We won’t actually remove the battery, but they show you how the back plate comes off to access everything inside:
You can skip Step 4 and beyond as we’re not going to remove the battery. Instead get a big Phillips screwdriver to remove the speaker assembly screw through the back. It’s just one screw!
Then pull the speaker out of the front. Depending on how old or well-worn your MegaVox is, it might have a rubber grommet that goes into the front here:
Make sure to take it off the old cone wire and put it on the new one! Use a small flat screwdriver to make sure it’s secure in the housing.
Put it all back together
Then fasten the new speaker with that big screw, and re-assemble the whole thing in reverse order. While putting it back together, double check the antenna connections. Some had come loose in ours, weakening antenna range. Make sure everything is fastened back up before you re-assemble.
Get back to work!
Spending $60 on these is waaay better than dropping $900 to replace it. It’s super easy too. Now we can get back to rehearsal without skipping a beat.
…also marching band, WGI, etc. Well we did it again this year at Minnesota Brass. This season’s problem to solve: harmonicas. The 2023 Minnesota Brass production “Speakeasy” used Billy Joel’s Piano Man as the ballad. I thought it would fun to play a little ditty on harmonica, so I worked with our arranger to put it in.
I had never played harmonica, so I did some research. I wanted to make sure it was achievable, and that whatever I ordered would be suitable. I started with this youtube video and some harmonica note charts:
Harmonica Joe provides an easy harmonica tablature on his site for Piano Man. Looking at the tablature (tab), it’s played using two holes at a time. This allows for a nice harmony in thirds. I double-checked the sounds from the youtube video on my piano (in the key of C).
Then I went to our score, suspected a Bb model would do the trick, and then verified with our click track against the piano.
Click Track: For studio recordings it’s a metronome click for folks to use to stay in time with each other. For pageantry it refers to the MIDI output file of the arrangement produced by the computer’s notation software.
I purchased one harmonica in Bb to see if I could do it. For our ditty we used the bottom line from Harmonica Joe’s tab, effectively the 2nd half of the phrase.
It wasn’t too bad to learn! At one point I thought I broke the harmonica but it just got too wet from saliva and the reeds stopped responding 🤤💦 I put in the case and picked it up later – relieved that it still worked after it dried 😰
The next issue was going to be: where do we put the harmonicas in our uniforms so they’re easily accessible? A couple of our baritone players also have 3D printers and had some ideas. They skipped thinking about putting it in the uniform, and made a clip that goes directly on their horn:
Super easy! You don’t need to dig it out of a pocket. The harmonica slides right out of the holster and the holster clips to the first valve slide.
They all picked up playing the harmonica pretty quickly. The baritones would play on them at practically every break. It was like trying to get a batterie member to stop chopping on a pad 😅 In the end it paid off – it was a nice touch to our Piano Man performance:
I just got done with a fantastic first season with MBI Winds, a new independent hornline that competed in WGI’s Winds class. Our goal was to create an outlet for horn players of all instruments and all ages. We set out to show how hornline culture is cool 😎 And it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
Having worked with RVS since 2020, I felt there was enough momentum from graduates to make an independent group happen. At the start of the season it seemed promising. This was a screenshot of the registration list that wound up in the staff chat for RVS:
AND there was another Independent group from Mankato that was supposed to come out in Exhibition.
The timing seemed right! But I underestimated how hard recruiting is. Recruiting is hard. Harder than getting a college degree. Harder than marching an entire season of drum corps. It was draining! 😓
It wasn’t just me. I soon came to find out that both Minnetonka and Mankato would not be coming out this season for recruiting reasons. I kept at it through late January – that was when we filled our remaining saxophone spots. I was content to keep the group at 20 members even though the drill (and budget) was written for 24. Otherwise I would have gone insane 🤪
Independent Groups are Hard
We don’t have a captive audience like a student body. Members are paying to participate. They can decide in an instant that it’s not worth their time or money. This fact is not lost on anyone inside an independent organization, but I’m not sure if outsiders realize it.
We don’t own any real estate, so facilities are a big deal. The days of hand-shake deals with local band directors are over as just about everything goes through Community Education. Some of the best things Independent Groups can do are:
Partner with a local church or other space that might not otherwise receive income/donations to use their facility.
Find a school district that operates without a Community Education management system and negotiate a partnership directly.
Negotiate a deal with Community Education based on the number of rentals (this is rare, but sometimes possible)
Paying for all of our facilities means we must maximize what we can do in that time. Sometimes the work isn’t sexy, so we must fall in love with chopping wood & carrying water.
All instructors & administration of independent groups are underpaid. In most cases they need to be – to ensure affordability for the members, and the survival of the group. Staff should be there for the love of the activity & the members. If money is what you’re interested in, you’re better suited to finding a scholastic program in a ritzy neighborhood.
Independent Groups are Important
The success of any independent group is usually reflective of the success of scholastic groups in their region. Band directors – think about what your goals are. Not just the goals of your program this year or the next 5 years – over your entire career. One thing that is not lost on me is making music last a lifetime.
How can people help right now? Local band directors, we need your help specifically. None of the things I will suggest are groundbreaking.
Answer your email and return phone calls. I get it, we all have hundreds of unread messages. For every band director I contact I typically get a 35% response rate on messages.
If someone from an independent group is asking for interested members, ask. Even if you think no one is interested, just ask. If someone is interested, great! If not, then you can at least say you did.
We are on the same side. MBI Winds maintained a policy that outside music commitments come first unless it impacts a competition. Recognize that members participating in independent groups are high performers. They’re the ones in all-state band, honor band, etc. There’s a compromise to be made on both sides and communication is the key.
Making it last
I was speechless when I was recognized by peers as going above and beyond to make the season work.
I was super greatful, but my favorite “trophy” for the season was this:
I’m forever grateful for these 20 musicians that dedicated themselves to an idea. We had no basis to know what the group could or couldn’t do – we all just had to believe. I’m hopeful that next season might be a little easier 🤞The groundwork that was laid will hopefully be a good foundation. If we turned some heads and got people to say “that looks like fun” then I think we’re on the right track.
I wanted to buy a USB audio interface to use at home when working on the backing track for MBI Winds. Our winds group uses a multi-speaker setup (currently 3 channels) that I wanted to be able to easily replicate at home without pulling out 2x 100-pound speakers and a 32 channel mixer 😅
So many choices!
I started by looking at interfaces on Amazon, starting with the hugely popular Scarlett and the Behringer 4-channel units. I asked around at work because lots of folks like to use USB audio interfaces for podcast mics, or simply to get rid of headphone noise induced by their computer’s main board. After asking my list went from 2 to 6 units.
I started combing over the instruction manuals and found an issue. Most of the 4-channel USB audio interfaces simply passed the channels 3-4 along at line level without an option to adjust volume. This included the Scarlett and Behringer models I was looking at.
Homework or help?
I had my work cut out for me, but rather than digging in, I reached out for help. Cristian Good is our sales rep for the drum corps, and he really knows his stuff. This was a personal purchase, but I reached out to him anyway. At around 4pm on a Friday I sent him a message asking about units that could also adjust the volume on channels 3 & 4. I figured he’d get back to me on Monday as the homework seemed daunting. Nope, he got back to me within an hour recommending the Solid State Logic SSL2+
There it is, right on the front – the “Phones B” output can be changed to send channels 3 & 4 and be adjusted with that knob.
Channel 3 & 4 outputs
The SSL2+ has a few options for channels 3 & 4 – there are RCA jacks on the back, but these (like the other brands) pass the signal on at line-level. But press the “3 & 4” button and it will switch the Phones B output to channels 3 & 4. You can see the Phones A & B outputs and their corresponding knobs below:
So I have a couple options on how to hook things up at home. I can use the balanced outputs (to the right of the RCA jacks above) for the main left and right channels (1 & 2). Hook it up to a pair of studio monitors and use the big blue knob for the main level.
Or I can use the unbalanced Phones A jack for main left and right channels (1 & 2) and use the Phones A knob for main level.
Channels 3 & 4 will have to use Phones B which is also unbalanced, but that’s not really a big deal to me. I’m not running long cables and the line-level RCA outputs aren’t balanced either.
My next move will be to get some speakers to complete my mini home audio studio. Cristian has already recommended to me this JBL 8″ model, so that’s likely my next purchase 😎
Before we get into Mixer Hell I want to talk about what is currently consuming my life: MBI Winds. It’s a brand new WGI Winds ensemble put on by Minnesota Brass – sort of like an indoor marching band, but just the horn line. Our first contest is in one month and we still have open positions for flute, clarinet, saxophone, baritone & tuba. Here’s more about our 2023 program and how to join: https://mnbrass.org/2022/11/2023-winds-show-announcement/
For this new ensemble we have audio equipment (computer, mixer, powered speakers) that are used for our backing track – non-winds sounds and percussion. Since this is a new ensemble with a limited budget, I took the approach to beg & borrow as much equipment as possible.
I started with a Behringer X-32 console mixer from my old high school care of the Irondale Marching Knights. Put frankly, this mixer is huge. It was going to require a cart, and with only a 5’x9′ trailer I quickly realized that we wouldn’t be able to fit a huge sound cart and the floor tarp and the speakers.
While I like the X-32, it will likely be for sale in the near future…
I had another cart option, a portable injection-molded SKB rack – free of charge from the Blaine HS Marching Band. This one would definitely be a better fit in the trailer, and MBI Indoor Percussion had an old rack-mount mixer they were trying to sell earlier in the year.
It was a Presonus StudioLive RML32AI and at first glance, it could do everything we needed: rack mount, computer audio interface, network control, and at least 8 channels.
My only complaint to start was I couldn’t install the mixer control app on my 3rd generation iPad with iOS 10. The mixer we used at River Valley Sound was a SoundCraft Ui16 which has a built-in web interface instead of an app. You could control that mixer with literally any device that had a web browser, old or new. On my old iPad it worked like a charm.
We were able to use the Presonus mixer for the month of December at rehearsals. But I had to borrow my wife’s (and sometimes kid’s) iPad which could run the control app.
TL;DR? There’s a bug where the main out is muted but not indicated anywhere in the app.
This problem happens when you save the scene with the “mute all” button pressed.
I don’t remember saving a scene, but I for sure used the “mute all” button frequently during equipment setup and teardown.
I found a solution for this, doing this:
Mute the Mono Out, then, in the mute groups screen, save this mute scene in any of the spaces. Press the Mute group button that you just saved the mute scene to. It will toggle the Mute for the Mono Out and the Main Out together.
Please Presonus, fix this bug !!!!
This was for-sure my problem because I tried the fix Saturday morning and was back in business.
The second problem was unavoidable in our circumstance. The computer audio interface on the Presonus StudioLive RML32AI uses firewire. That’s fine, I’m familiar with FireWire. It’s a little old school, but should work. Our sound system computer is an “Apple Silicone” (M1) Macintosh. At first I thought all I needed was a USB-C to Thunderbolt-2 adapter and a Thunderbolt-2 to FireWire adapter. $100 in adapters later, I still couldn’t get the mixer to be recognized as an audio interface on the computer. The Presonus FireWire drivers were consistently listed under Disabled Software in the mac’s System Report.
Presonus support confirmed that they have no plans to support FireWire drivers on M1 and newer Macintosh computers. Maybe performance was lacking? Because it’s certainly still possible to connect other firewire devices to Apple Silicon macs:
The only way to use Presonus hardware with a firewire audio interface is with an Intel-based Mac, or a Windows computer 😖
It was clear we needed another option. There was something about the X-32 that I really liked: cross-platform support. They have mixer control programs for just about everything: Mac, Windows, Linux, iOS and Android. The fact that I could use my Ubuntu system to potentially run the mixer makes my heart sing! 😍
So we landed on a Behringer X-32 Rack. All of the features of the console mixer, but in a rack-mount package. Double-bonus that some of our staff have previously used Behringer equipment and are familiar with the mixing software.