In the past, I’ve spent plenty of time discussing music from a fan’s perspective and from the creator’s perspective.
I’ve sprinkled in stories here and there about recording engineers and concert promoters, but for the most part I’ve overlooked the people working behind the scenes.
As it is a new year, I made a resolution to focus on these unheralded members of our music community.
When writing about music, the glory always goes to the musician, but the music community is filled with unsung heroes.
For this column let’s turn our focus to sound engineers and one specifically: Conner Ivie.
Owner of Concert Design Innovations, Ivie has worked as a professional sound engineer for 11 years, however, he has been around the industry virtually his entire life.
“I grew up backstage,” Ivie said. “My dad worked in the production industry, although he was more theatrical oriented. He worked concerts as well, so I have been around (the industry) since I was 4 or 5.”
Ivie’s work takes him all across the country. From big festival stages such as Lollapalooza and Riot Fest to small local events like the Fruita Fall Fest and KAFM Zombie Prom, Ivie is omnipresent, dialing in audio for national headliners and local bands alike.
Ivie and his crew at Concert Design Innovations are the people working behind the scenes engineering the acoustics for live sound. As a fan, you probably don’t notice them but their work is vital to your concert experience.
They are the ones running cables, adjusting speakers and tuning the room for the show. A good sound engineer’s work elevates a band, making them sound better than they probably are, but a bad sound engineer can single-handedly ruin a concert with a poor mix.
“The one thing I wish people knew about audio engineering is that when it comes to the finished product, it is more of an art than a science,” Ivie said. “What you hear at any given show is simply that engineer’s interpretation of what all the individual noises he is given to work with should sound like mixed together, or what we think the majority of people will find most pleasing.”
For an engineer like Ivie, details are everything when starting production for a show. Elements such as temperature, humidity, elevation and wind play just as important of a role as speaker and microphone placement.
When recording an album, sound engineers spend hours or even days controlling the atmosphere to get everything sounding right. For live sound, engineers they try to do the same thing, only in real time.
“Acoustically every show is different from the soundcheck,” Ivie said. “Many of the micro adjustments we make go unnoticed, but enough of them together can be the difference between good sound and great sound.”
The work of a sound engineer often is thankless. It starts when a band loads in and it doesn’t stop until the band plays its final notes. The work also is physically and mentally grueling.
Not only are engineers constantly lugging around sound equipment, they are expected to know the science behind sound and acoustics in order to get the best results from their gear. And finally, on top of all that, they need to have an experienced and tuned ear to make the whole environment harmonious for the fan.
“You can own an amazing sound system, but if you don’t know how to set it up properly then it won’t sound good,” Ivie said. “On the other hand, if you don’t have a good ear, then you are going to make an amazing sound system sound awful.”
Ultimately, sound engineers help facilitate that critical connection between the musician and fans.
As a band showing up to a new venue, there is nothing more comforting than knowing a proper sound engineer is there to put you in the best possible situation to sound great.
As a fan, you should be thankful that someone such as Ivie is sitting behind a mixing board engineering the set. A great-sounding set resonates just as well with the band and fans as it does on the engineer.
Anyone who has spent time around Zolopht, whether that be at one of their shows or just on the patio at Roasted coffee shop or any number of their favorite local hangouts, knows the band’s key to success.
It’s not their musical chops or their engaging live shows (though they’ve got both covered) that make Zolopht one of Grand Junction’s favorites.
It basically boils down to this: It is fun hanging out with these guys.
“Each of them has a great sense of humor, and I often found us all feeding off of it,” said Taylor Riley, Fusion Audio Solutions sound engineer.
Riley recorded Zolopht on its last two records, including its newest, “Flexor,” which will be out later this month. He sees what everyone else sees in Zolopht: a light-hearted group of musicians who make music that genuinely matches their personalities.
“A producer can only be so lucky as to work with such groups,” Riley said.
To his credit, Riley, who has become the go-to sound engineer for many local bands, helped capture Zolopht’s playful and positive moods in the studio, making the new record just about as fun as the band itself.
“We love Taylor,” said Zolopht rhythm guitarist and vocalist Zac Grant. “He’s easy to work with, professional, and best of all, a musician. He’s patient with us and our process, which really helps.”
Pulling the best sound out of a seasoned band such as Zolopht is getting easier and easier.
Between the band’s first record, “pH Balanced,” and the new record, Zolopht has gotten better not only as musicians but as songwriters.
For “Flexor” the band added Daniel “2 Chainz” Ohlson on trumpet and Cody Krieger on saxophone. The expanded horn section brings new depth to not only to the band’s songwriting, but helped rounded out their overall sound.
“The songs on this album are a bit more in-depth, perhaps more progressive than their previous release,” Riley said. “It’s an album made to hear from start to finish, over and over again.”
“Flexor” shows off a band that is starting to figure things out and settle in as a group. Playing and recording with eight other musicians is undoubtedly a challenge, but listening through the album you can hear everyone’s contributions and you really get a sense of where the band is headed creatively.
“When we released ‘pH Balanced,’ we were new to the studio atmosphere as a full band,” Grant said. “We had toured a good amount, but we were pretty new. (With the second album) we were more prepared and had a clear idea of what we wanted this album to express.”
Fans of the first album will find the dynamic sound Zolopht has become known for on “Flexor.” The band pulls influences from all musical styles ranging from reggae to bluegrass and makes the sound its own with vocal harmonies and an accompanying horn section.
Already a favorite live act, Zolopht proves with “Flexor” it is seriously pursuing music on terms that work for all the band members.
Music is more than an identity for these eight musicians. It’s a powerful channel to connect with their fans. “Flexor” shows off the band’s easygoing style and gives you a sense of who these people are.
They love making music, and they love sharing it with their friends and fans.
To promote the new album, Zolopht will play a number of shows this December.
On Friday, Dec. 11, the band is playing the Tap House in Steamboat Springs.
Then Zolopht will head back to Grand Junction for a show with Audic Empire and Coral Thief on Friday, Dec. 18, at Barons.
Finally, on Saturday, Dec. 26, the band will officially release “Flexor” at an album release party at Sabrosa.
Looking for the perfect holiday gift for the music fan in your life?
Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered.
With Thanksgiving in the rear-view mirror, it’s time to get serious about your holiday budget. To get you started, here are a couple ideas for the musically inclined in your life.
No matter your budget, this list has something any music fan would love to receive.
“The Rap Year Book: The Most Important Rap Song From Every Year Since 1979, Discussed, Debated, and Deconstructed” by Shea Serrano — retail $11.99
Serrano’s “The Rap Year Book” is the perfect gift for rap connoisseurs and music historians. A 36-chapter, year-by-year deconstruction of the most important rap songs ever, this tome of rap history is incredibly well-researched and offers much more than a casual opinion on rap’s greatest tunes.
The appeal of “The Rap Year Book” is it’s not just about rap. Citing old music magazines, journalists and cultural events, each chapter offers insight on the music and cultural events that shaped every year since 1979.
Line 6 Helix guitar multi-effect processor — retail $1,499.99
The Line 6 Helix guitar processor is a beast. For studio or stage guitarists, the Helix is a dream rig for musicians who love to experiment with the sound of their guitars.
Have you ever dreamed of playing through a Marshall stack? The Helix can model that sound for you.
Ever wanted to run your guitar through distortion, reverb, delay and stereo modulation pedals? The Helix can also do that.
Basically, this unit replaces your amp and pedal board and is the only workstation you’ll ever need. The customizable interface and large LED display also makes it easy to navigate. The Helix is a dream unit for any serious guitarist.
Marshall amp Bluetooth radio — retail $399.99
Speaking of Marshall stacks — renowned for their iconic, vintage good looks and a powerful dynamic sound, Marshall amps are coveted by guitar players all across the world.
If you don’t want to drop the dough for a complete tube amp combo, pick up the Marshall Bluetooth radio. These little units not only look and sound like a scaled down Marshall amp, they also are completely portable, making it the perfect desk accessory or small room stereo.
With separate bass and treble control knobs, these units pack surprising sound clarity into a very sleek three-speaker unit.
“The Quintet: Jazz at Massey Hall” Record Store Day box release — retail $55
Considered to be the greatest jazz concert ever, “The Quintet: Jazz at Massey Hall” is the special vinyl release to own from today’s Black Friday Record Store Day.
“The Quintet” is a live recording featuring jazz legends Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, Max Roach and Charlie Mingus. Marking the only time these five jazz musicians performed together, “The Quintet” is a must-own for any serious record collector.
The set comes with three 10-inch records, a book containing many never-before-seen photographs from the night, and all the original artwork from the original 1956 release.
Personalized soundwave print — retail $41 to $154
If you’re looking for something a little more customizable and personal, try getting your loved one a personalized soundwave art print.
NotOnTheHighStreet.com will take a song and create a stylish customizable soundwave wall print. Choose between framing options and print colors and add personalized messages to these prints.
Immortalize your first wedding dance, the first album you purchased, or maybe just a special concert memory. Either way, these prints are a decorative art piece worthy of any wall.
Fifty years ago, CF Martin & Co. introduced the D-35 acoustic guitar.
A bigger, bolder version of the exceptional dreadnaught 28, the D-35 has been a staple of modern country and rock music since its introduction.
In the pantheon of great rock ‘n’ roll instruments, the Martin dreadnaught guitar belongs right up there with the Fender Stratocaster, Gibson Les Paul Standard and the Gretsch 6120 as one of only a handful of legendary instruments to have defined modern music.
Imagine Eric Clapton without his black and white Strat, Jimmy Page without his sunburst Les Paul, Chet Atkins without a Gretsch hollow body.
It’s nearly impossible to do as their instruments are as synonymous with the music as they are.
You may think an acoustic guitar is an acoustic guitar is an acoustic guitar. While they may all look essentially the same, the Martin dreadnaught guitar is THE acoustic guitar. Instantly recognized as much for its sound as its styling and playability, the dreadnaught is the guitar all others measure up to.
Maybe the Martin dreadnaught is not as flash as the Stratocaster, but think of any iconic moment in rock history and a Martin guitar was probably a part of it.
Elvis played The Ed Sullivan Show with his D-28. Hank Williams and Johnny Cash ushered in country music by picking away on their Martin guitars.
Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell and Neil Young defined the 1960s folk era on Martin guitars. During the grunge era both Kurt Cobain and Eddie Vedder left their mark playing Martin guitars.
Today, the instrument is as important as ever. You’ll likely find a Martin in the hands of everyone from Ed Sheeran and John Mayer to Thom Yorke and Chris Martin.
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then that should tell you all you need to know about Martin dreadnaught guitars.
The D-28 is the blueprint for every modern acoustic guitar, period. Every guitar manufacturer from Guild to Taylor models its instruments after Martin.
Since the mid-1900s when the D-28 and D-35 models were coming out, every detail, from the shape and size to the “X” bracing inside the body of those guitars, has inspired countless look-a-likes, however few measure up to Martin’s greatness.
Before amplification, Martin figured out how to make an acoustic guitar loud enough to be played next to drums, banjos and other louder instruments.
They were the first to put steel strings on a guitar. They expanded the fret board, beefed up the guitar body and, as a result, turned the acoustic guitar into a featured instrument.
These new bigger, louder guitars, the dreadnaught series, were the turning point for the company.
With the rise of country and rock music, and the demand for a loud acoustic guitar, Martin turned from a small family-owned business into an industry-leading guitar manufacturer.
With many of the models still completely hand-built and assembled in Nazareth, Pennsylvania, (they claim it takes 350 individual steps and over three months to assemble one guitar), Martin’s dedication to quality and sound makes it easy to understand why so many musicians continue to rave over the acoustic guitar.
A truly timeless instrument, the dreadnaught guitars are as relevant now as they were when they first debuted during the mid-1900s.
It’s once again time for beats and brains, aka Zombie Prom.
Over the past seven years, KAFM Community Radio’s annual Halloween fundraising event has grown into a massive money-making costume dance party, hotly anticipated by Grand Junction’s young and old.
An effective and critical fundraising tool for KAFM, Zombie Prom has become bigger, bolder and bloodier each year. Moving to Two Rivers Convention Center, this Friday, Oct. 30, event is set to be the biggest Zombie Prom yet.
If you haven’t already, shred up some old clothes, bathe yourself in blood and stagger your way to Downtown Grand Junction for what might be the best costume party in town.
But for local DJs and electronic musicians, Zombie Prom represents something else entirely: Zombie Prom is a dream gig. It’s the biggest local showcase of the year and a rare chance for DJs to play in front of a large audience ready to get down and party.
The first iterations of Zombie Prom were KAFM parties designed to help evening radio shows raise money during fund drives. After a couple years those parties grew too big for KAFM’s space, prompting Zombie Prom founder and DJ, Ryan Stringfellow to move the event to the Mesa Theater and Club.
That move amplified Zombie Prom into what it is today: an undeniable force, infecting Grand Junction with its bite.
“When we started, all DJs were KAFM radio programmers. We were live broadcasting the party, and the music was a mix of world dance music, trance, pop and EDM,” Stringfellow said. “As the event grew, it happened to be the same time that EDM was really taking off globally, so Zombie Prom was able to mirror that enthusiasm for EDM on a local level.”
As the event has grown, new demographics and a new wave of DJs have expanded Zombie Prom well beyond the EDM box.
With six local DJs on the bill this year, expect to hear everything from old school cuts by the likes of David Bowie, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder and Black Sabbath to fresh pop tracks from Drake, Taylor Swift, Demi Lovato and Fetty Wap.
Part of what makes Zombie Prom so fun, is the diversity amongst the DJs. Each DJ brings his or her own style to the event, and with only 45 minutes to work with, they tend to play only their best and most energetic tracks.
Crafting a killer Zombie Prom set list is more work than one might think. DJs spend hours preparing for the night. For Stringfellow, that means cycling through hundreds of songs trying to find a perfect mix that gels well and brings a high energy level to the night.
“I may really be attached to a certain sound or song but if I keep trying to jam it into my set and it just doesn’t sound good I need to leave it behind,” Stringfellow said. “Intuition is another important element. I tend to drop lots of mashups for Zombie Prom. While two different artists may match up well, others may not. For example, Dusty Springfield and Cypress Hill actually go really well together, but you may not think the same about Tune-Yards mixed with Rihanna.”
In addition to Stringfellow, who DJs under the name Strangefellow, playing this year are DJs Selector Trev, Denim Party (yours truly), Watchman, DJ Jettt and Crumbwave, a new DJ playing dance classics and deep cuts from the 1960s and ‘70s.
As it happens, Crumbwave’s appearance also marks the first time a solo female DJ has played the event.
Locally produced from top to bottom, Zombie Prom is a feast of local talent. From the zombie photo booth to the costume contest, the event is deadly fun.