About Black Box Band

For years, I played keyboard in bands, four piece and five piece, and that was lots of fun. I sang background vocals and usually had some kind of Hammond organ. In those days, I muscled my equipment in and out of a van, sometimes every night we played. Usually though, it was two or three nights a week. My day job was as a computer programmer in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

I grew tired of the personal interactions with three or four other guys and went on my own after many years in a group. I took a few jobs as a lounge/supper club singer/keyboardist but there really wasn't that much work of that type. All the playing I did in the band and solo was pretty much in Nova Scotia with the one exception of a US tour in a backup band out of Montreal, Quebec for the Ronettes.

Around 2006, when I was living in Edmonton, Alberta and still working with computer software, I decided to get back into music. What would be the modern interpretation of my favourite music? Of course, being a computer programmer, it should involve computers. Being an "older guy", I figured that I may as well play older stuff, so I picked 50s 60s music, which I really like. A problem is emerging because I occasionally find songs that I really like and want to do but are not really 50s 60s. SO, I just play them anyway and hope nobody notices.

Brian Dee - Feb 2013 in GuatemalaI started off with PG Music's Band in a Box as my main software but recently changed that to RealBand, which is an offshoot of Band in a Box and more like a digital recording product. It uses bits and pieces of actual digital music to create real drum, base and other tracks. I want it mostly for base and drums, so I'm happy. I have a second computer running GigaStudio Orchestra, a very powerful digital library of sounds that is served up in the most exotic ways. Just to give you an idea of the power of this software, it was used to produce the sound track for 'Enemy of the State' with Will Smith and Gene Hackman. No doubt, it's awesome. I need one more computer to handle my main vocals. It runs Cubase which can suitably process my voice for a 50s or 60s song. I use a second mic which goes directly to a TC Helicon Voiceworks which uses my own voice as a starting point and creates up to four harmony voices with individually variable voice qualities, even female voices. How cool is that? Cubase can also provide all kinds of other weird and wonderful synth sounds that were popular back then. Of course, like life, things are always changing. When you see me live, I will probably have a least some new hardware and different software.

My goal is to have a good time! I play for charities and benefits here and there but my favourite gig is playing at weddings because it's a place where everybody is there to have fun. Of course, there's nothing like a big 50s and 60s party or dance! My number one rule is to play only songs that I like. No commercial pressure for me and no other band members to argue with about what songs we are doing. As a result, my attitude is always going to be positive and you know I am going to be having fun! If you`re in the Edmonton, Alberta area, please look for me if this is your kind of music or Contact me to book Black Box Band for your wedding, dance or charity function.

Best regards
Brian Dee
Black Box Band 

In case you might like to know more about the time and effort it took me to build all my equipment, learn songs and save the money to buy what I needed to put this project together, I'll write something on it here.

I have to tell you that one of the biggest obstacles is that little voice in your head. It keeps saying, maybe this is too much money to spend on "a hobby". Maybe this money should be going on the bills. Here's more. Maybe people won't like your singing. Maybe you will get really tired of hauling all that equipment around or, worse still, maybe you will hurt yourself lifting those heavy speakers. Or, here's another couple of good ones. Maybe you won't like doing this and you will want to quit after spending all this time and money! It will all be for nothing and it will be "another" big waste of time! Notice the "another" because there are always other experiences that have been cataloged into the "waste of time" catagory. 

Well, yes, I had most of those thoughts, to varying degrees. There were several offsetting good things that were happening though, that I could plainly see and hear. I sang and sang and sang. Every time I got in the car to go to work, I put on my music and I sang my heart out. I remember the first song I picked, I couldn't reach the top two notes but I figured I would move the key down later when I was ready to perform it. Turns out, slowly, the unreachable notes became within my range and I actually started to sound better. It happened very slowly though. Now, after several full years of singing, my voice is really quite decent. I'm quite relieved that I didn't have to play somewhere really early in this process, because I don't know how good I would have sounded. 

The money was a tough one. It started out pretty small. $2500 was my budget, not counting the speakers, which I put in a big grey area somewhere. I would get to them "eventually". When I hit $4000, and still had no speakers, I was getting concerned. I didn't really care how much it cost, just as long as I would be able to buy everything I needed. I just didn't want to run out of money! Fortunately, that doesn't usually happen if you're working. I spent every spare penny, or make that dollar, on music stuff. I saved up cash in an envelope until I could afford to buy that next thing. I put a list up on my computer at work so that I could see and dream about what I wanted next. I drew a graph with a purple marker how much money I had already saved, with the graph line being the total price. When I scrounged another $20 from my cash flow, I would mark it on my graph and put it in my envelope. That's how I bought almost everything. In the beginning, I did a computer software contract on the side which gave me about $4000 and I felt it was fair to spend that on my music. So, I did actually get a decent start on things. I got a huge deal on the speakers when I found a guy in Edmonton going out of business and willing to give me a good price on almost all the speakers I needed. Also, having a credit card helps.

In the end though, it was the endless dreaming about this that carried me through. I wanted it so badly, nothing was going to get in my way. Every new song that I put in my 'Songs to Learn' playlist was so exciting. When I look at my play counts in ITunes right this minute, I see that my 40 most played songs go from 126 to 183 plays and I have been singing along to pretty much every single one of those plays. Every day that I am not playing out there, making somebody smile, is a missed opportunity and I am very sad that things are not moving along faster. But, I just keep telling myself that things will happen in their own time and that I can keep practicing my singing and improving my voice in the meantime. Speaking of improving my voice, it's not something I really expected. I am totally amazed that my voice has improved and how much it has improved! I can certainly understand strength training for muscles! I've done it quite intensively. But, I didn't think I would or could see those kinds of results with voice training. My voice will never sound like Roy Orbison, I guess, but I keep pushing. The first time I sang Cry by Johnnie Ray, I was only doing it to challenge myself and stretch my abilities a bit. It was a technique that I called, "try something impossible just for fun". Now, I believe I can sing it just fine. Wow, what a great surprise for me!!

So, here's how I would summarize my experience for you. A process like this should only apply to something you love. Please be passionate about your goals, otherwise don't pursue them. Practice, practice, practice! It's the same way you get to Carnegie Hall, as the old joke goes. As much as you think you're doing ok, push yourself with repetition. It creates neural networks in your brain, it gives you confidence, it makes you feel more comfortable and when the time comes to perform, the twenty unexpected things that might happen to you will not phase you as much if you are more or less on autopilot just because you've done this a hundred times!

In my case, I built a special studio where I can set up my stage exactly as it will be when I perform. All my cords and cables are routed the way I want them and I know they all fit. Imagine getting to a performance and discovering there are a few cables that are too short or there is no room for the light stand in that particular spot. Once I place my keyboards the way I want them, I prove to myself that I can switch back and forth between songs smoothly and easily. I can also see that it looks good because I have huge mirrors on one wall so that I can actually see what I will look like to the audience. Now, I am quite confident that my performance will come off as expected. Also, if you go to this extreme to work out all the bugs, your brain will come up with other details that need attention. It's very neat how this works. It's like working out the foundation of a house in your mind, and only then can you start thinking about how the main floor needs to be built on top of that foundation.

Hope this all helps you. I want everyone to believe that you can do whatever you want with your life. It all starts with your thoughts. The more you think about it and imagine it, the more it starts to become like reality. Your subconscious mind cannot distinguish between reality and imagination. That's why fears are so destructive. Your hormones don't know if it's real or imagined. Both trigger the same response. Good luck to you and the pursuit of your dreams. Start thinking about solutions, not problems. Go for it... my blessings!!

Brian Dee, 
Black Box Band