Zooming into the Future with the DSA
by Harry Hewlett
One of the key things that draw singer-songwriters to the DSA is the excellent opportunity it provides for them to perform at a variety of musical venues. My philosophy is that each of our members wants to be a star, at least for a few minutes each week, and there isn’t a no better place to do that than at one of our open mic or showcase events. I think it is my responsibility to give them that opportunity and help them look and sound as good as they can, to their audience and themselves. Traditionally, the primary way of doing this was to provide them with as many excellent music venues as possible, and the DSA has been one of the best organizations in north Texas at doing this. Before the COVID-19 shutdown, the DSA sponsored monthly events at Half Price Books, Opening Bell Coffee, Dunn Brothers Coffee, and Love & War in Texas, all famous and prestigious acoustic music venues. Other popular events included playing on a big stage at the State Fair of Texas in Dallas, two stages at the Deep Ellum Art Festival, and on the Cityline Stage at Wildflower Music Festival. Exciting and impressive offerings, but all came to a halt with the shutdown. It was like someone just took a giant needle and punched a hole in our prominent singer-songwriter I-want-to-be-a-Star balloon.
Whoever said that necessity is the mother of invention was right. The desire for 15 minutes of fame has now invented a very creative use for a product called Zoom.
It is a software program representing a whole genre of similar products designed to give their users the ability to conduct virtual online meetings, seminars, classrooms, and other kinds of group meetings on the internet. It is free or, in some cases, a low-cost real-time solution. It creates a virtual video meeting room while all the individual participants are somewhere by themselves in their own remote and protected locations. That is a major oversimplification, but you get my drift. One giant leap of the imagination and you can see all our previous real-world playing opportunities and venues converted into virtual events, all online and happening on some digital stage way up in the iCloud. That’s what we’re now doing, and boy is it fun!
However, there are many challenges, and the learning curve is steep. For example, all of DSA’s performers have to learn how to use Zoom and have the right computer equipment – not all of them are equally trained or have the same talents in that regard. One of the significant challenges is the fact that this Zoom software was not designed specifically for open mics and showcases (musical meetings), so some good old American ingenuity is called for. We think we may have found it! Whoopie!. Our virtual open mics and showcases are streaming to the whole world on Facebook, at least to those who want to see them, and all from the privacy of our homes. Most surprising is how much fun and satisfying these events have become to the performers. The training is still ongoing, and the future of all this Zooming and streaming is uncertain, but all agree that it is here to stay, and in some significant way. So, watch out real-world venues, your virtual competition is here, and you are going to have to adjust. The musicians and songwriters love it – and you can catch NO virus while doing it.
Things you will need
There are a lot of ways to skin a cat, but if you are going to Zoom with DSA, there are three things you are going to need: the right hardware, the right software, and the proper training. When the show starts and the spotlight shines down on the artist, all the technical stuff must be right.
Ideally, you need a good desktop or laptop computer, a high-speed internet connection; a decent stage mic; a digital interface box or mixer with a USB connector; and good earphones for monitoring without feedback. I use an iMac (a laptop could work just as well) with an SM58 mic and Yamaha 10-channel MG10XU mixer with USB. I was using a Focusrite Scarlett Solo digital interface box (instead of a mixer). Still, when I discovered that I could use the mixer and have added EQ capability, I chose it, and the Scarlett became redundant. If you want to use a mixer that has no USB, I recommend pairing it with the Scarlett. Needless to say, whatever your choice, your computer is going to need a good video and sound card for viewing & streaming.
iPad & iPhone Sound Issues
The jury is still out on the iPad (and iPhone) because of sound issues. It seems that the Zoom software was programmed to filter out any sound that wasn’t in the vocal range, making the recording and streaming of most accompanying musical instruments almost impossible. However, it looks like the Zoom engineers and programmers are listening and have eliminated most of this concern with their latest version 4.6.10 (or higher). We are testing it now, and the preliminary results look promising.
There are several meeting software options out there, but DSA has chosen Zoom because of all its features, and its universal acceptance as a premiere meeting software program. Also, there are hundreds of free training videos available on YouTube, covering just about every aspect of Zooming and streaming.
DSA Training Classes
The best way to learn is through actual use and experimentation. Zooming is so much fun training has not been an issue, but we do provide it during, before, and after all events. All you must do is ask.
Currently, Harry Hewlett is serving the Dallas Songwriters community as the Director of A&R and the Co-Director of Song Contest for the Dallas Songwriters Association (DSA). Here is his complete profile with the samples of his music, images and live performances and it can be viewed at: