MIDI Talk 10: Whynot Jansveld Takes Tech On Tour
Making a living in music is a hustle, but diversification strengthens your ability ride the winds of change that so often sweep through the industry. Whynot Jansveld is a case in point. As a bassist, Jansveld has toured with far more artists–well-known to obscure–than there is space in this article to name, but we’ll throw in a few: The Wallflowers, Richard Marx, Butch Walker, Natasha Bedingfield, Gavin DeGraw, Sara Breilles…OK, we better stop there if want to get to his words. You can hear the entire conversation here.
He has appeared on both daytime and late night talk shows, and worked with numerous producers of note. But his bass career is not his only one.
Jansveld has also built himself secondary careers as a composer, particularly writing a lot for Founder Music, a stock music library, and as a mastering engineer, many of his clients being the same folks for whom he plays bass.
A native of The Netherlands, Jansveld emigrated to the US in his 20s to attend Berklee College of Music in Boston. “I grew up on a lot of rock and pop music on the radio, and a lot of that came from (the US). Ultimately, that’s why I wanted to explore it and became a professional musician here,” recalls Jansveld.
After coming to Berklee to do one semester and graduating after spending three years there instead, Jansveld slipped down the road to New York, where he worked for 16 years before relocating to Los Angeles 10 years ago.
Tech On Tour
Jansveld’s introduction to music technology while, at age 18, Jansveld traveled for a year playing bass with Up With People, a US nonprofit organization founded in 1968 to foster cross-cultural understanding amongst young adults through travel, performing arts, and community service. The troupe traveled with early digital music technology: a Roland MC Series sequencer and a Yamaha RX5 drum machine. Jansveld took the bait. “I just started messing around (with the sequencer and drum machine) in our free time. I wanted to learn how that all worked and I thought I could somehow make something out of it. And I did.”
At Berklee, Jansveld took the next step when a bandmate sold him a Macintosh SE computer loaded with Opcode Systems Vision, a very early (and, in fact, visionary) MIDI sequencer program.
Today, Jansveld’s primary gig remains touring as a bass player, which puts a lot of his emphasis on music technology on mobile systems. Powerful devices in small, robust packages are valuable to him. His heaviest use of music technology on the road is for composing and mastering, but some of it naturally finds its way onstage, as well.
Jansveld’s mobile technology use is mostly behind the scenes. At his level of touring, musicians are expected to arrive at rehearsals for a tour already knowing all of the material, so Jansveld often needs to create song charts while he travelling.
“It used to be that you’d have a stack of papers (of charts), but now, I write all my charts on my iPad with an Apple Pencil.” This works for Jansveld because he doesn’t need to be hands-on with his instrument in order to transcribe.” I think I’m a little bit different than most musicians, in that I almost never touch a bass guitar while I’m preparing for any of this, even up to the point where I get to the rehearsal. I do it all in my head. I get a big kick out of being on a five-hour flight and transcribing a whole set of tunes. I have my in-ears (monitors) plugged into the iPad, and three-quarters of my (iPad) screen is where I write my chart, and the little quarter of a screen is my music program. I’m playing the music, rewinding a little bit, and writing as I go along.”
Jansveld also carries a mobile production rig for composing on the road. “I have a laptop and a little bag with an Apogee Jam (USB guitar interface for iPad), an Apogee mic, some hard drives, and a couple of cables, and that’s it. I can work in my studio at home, disconnect everything, close the laptop, put it in a bag and take it on the road. (I) open it up in a coffee shop, and everything that I was working on is there and I can keep working on stuff.”
Mastering is more of a challenge. “(That), obviously, is a little hard to do on the road because you are on headphones. I try to avoid doing it on the road unless somebody needs something quickly.”
The Show Must Go On
Jansveld sees the impact of technology in support infrastructure for performances, as well, especially in the areas of monitoring and show control.
“Having in-ears, you can have a beautiful mix, but it does feel like you’re cut off from the world,” he laments. “Sensaphonics have this technology where the in-ears also have microphones on them and you can mix the sound of the microphones with the board feed coming from the monitor side of things.
“It’s a little bit of a hassle to deal with, but at the time (I got them), it was worth it to me to do, because (I could) feel the room. I can’t overstate how important that is to me, because I’m not just there to play the notes, I’m there to perform for sometimes an incredibly huge room with a lot of people in it, and I want a (strong sense of) how that feels to me and how that makes me play and perform.“ Hearing the “outside world” also improves Jansveld’s onstage experience, because “even just walking towards the drums, the drums get louder.” Onstage communication is improved, as well. “If the singer walks up to you and says something while you have normal in-ears, you just nod and hope it wasn’t something important.
“I now use ACS in-ear monitors instead of Sensaphonics, because they came up with a system that also lets in ambient sound from around you, but instead of using microphones and a second belt pack, it simply uses a vent with a filter (like a custom earplug) that keeps the seal intact.”
Digital mixers can store in-ear monitor mixes as files that can be ported to another mixer of the same type. “That is super, super helpful if you’re doing a run of a few weeks, because every time you get to sound check, it’s already been mixed from the night before, It’s an incredible timesaver because, (without that,) you spend a lot of time on, ‘OK, kick..more kick. OK, snare…more snare,’ and it seems incredibly repetitive for no reason.”
Show automation is another area where Jansveld sees the effect of technology on touring. “Currently, I’m touring with the Wallflowers, and before that was Butch Walker, and both of those were really rock shows,” he points out. “Changing something up was just a matter of changing up the setlist.
“(On) some tours, everything is run by Ableton Live including the lights and all of that kind of stuff, and it takes a lot more to change things up because somebody has to go in and reprogram stuff. But for a band that doesn’t have a lot of money to spend on the tour and wants to make an impact, it looks incredible, because everything is timed. The chorus hits and the lights go crazy and come back down on the verse.”
Jansveld also sees greater reliability than existed before in the ability to play backing tracks, another highly automated task.
Mastering Kept Simple
“Never in a million years growing up did I think that mastering was something I wanted to do, or that I had the skills or ears to do,” Jansveld muses. “I ended up doing it four or five years ago simply because friends of mine had some new tracks mastered and were pretty unhappy with how it sounded. I had started composing music, mostly for commercial stuff, and had used those (same) tools to make my stuff sound as good as I thought it could be, so I just told him, “Why don’t you send me your tracks and I’ll see if I can beat (the other mastering efforts). That led to a whole bunch of other stuff with him and people that he recommended me to, and it took off from there.
“I don’t do anything special and I don’t have any tools that you or I or anybody else don’t have access to. But I take the time, and I pay attention, and I trust my ears enough and my experience in music enough to know what I want to hear. I don’t start altering things just because someone is paying me money to master it. If the mix sounds great, I make it louder but I keep it dynamic. It’s a simple concept, but apparently it goes wrong often enough that there’s room for me to do this.
Jansveld tries not to overcomplicate things in mastering. “If I had to put it very, very simply: “nice and loud” still works all of the time. It kind of works everywhere: on CD, on vinyl, it works for MP3, it works coming out of my phone. It sounds dumb, and it can’t always be that simple, but that’s my experience. You’re definitely pushing up against 0 dB (peak level) or a little bit less, you’re definitely compressing and limiting things, but with the tools we have these days, you can get things nice and loud, still have them be dynamic, and not really experience a feeling that things are squashed or pumping or just made worse.”
What Do You Want From Life?
When asked what he would ask from music manufacturers, Whynot Jansveld’s request is to harness more powerful technology for his bread-and-butter needs: “I would love a floor box with a bunch of switches on it that can load Audio Units plugins. Plain and simple, just a big old hefty processor, a really amazing CPU, a bunch of RAM. I have incredible stuff I can use on my computer, and I’d love to use all of it live.”
As we prepare to take our leave of Jansveld, he raises one more point on which to comment: “We haven’t talked at all about what Audio Modeling does, but it’s certainly exciting technology for me. What you guys do, where you basically create these sounds out of nothing, is pure magic for me, and there’s no limit as to how far that can go. I can’t wait to see what’s next and I’m having a lot of fun playing your instruments. I’m going to be using them a lot.”