Some of the world’s most renowned technicians and programmers have teamed up to launch a new music technology helpline, aptly titled MuSOS (short for musicianSOS). Initiated by MIDI and synth tech Mat Davie; Alex Turner (live tech and rig designer for Gravity Rigs), and Matt Cox (MIDI tech for The Chemical Brothers), the collective offers one-on-one assistance to users of music technology, via voice and video call.
Their idea for a music technology helpline sprung up when the UK went into lockdown earlier this year. Cox remembers gearing up for summer festivals before seeing the live music sector’s schedule clear virtually overnight. “MuSOS presented itself as a way of keeping everyone focused and working but also of re-connecting with the musicians we’d normally be supporting – they are in exactly the same boat,” says Cox in an exclusive interview with MusicTech.
The helpline currently operates on a pay-what-you-can donation model, with musicians paying technicians via PayPal. “We are under no illusion that musicians everywhere are feeling the financial impact of the pandemic – as much as technicians are,” says Cox.
It’s no secret that the pandemic has taken a toll on the collaborative engineer-musician relationship, a relationship that Cox says thrives best when built on trust. With physical distancing in place and diminished face-to-face interaction, MuSOS wanted to expand its “solid system of support” back to artists. “We are re-connecting musicians and engineers, but online instead of onstage,” Cox explains. The helpline isn’t merely a one-off service, he says, adding, “Continued support is also part of the plan.”
The hive-mind is home to a long list of celebrated techs. Among them is Ali Staton, playback technician and programmer for the likes of Madonna and M.I.A; ACM live-sound lecturer and Muse engineer Johannes ‘Jim’ Norris-Brown, and Dan Roe, a keyboard and MIDI technician for stadium-fillers such as Rihanna and Adele.
“Our engineers’ input and suggestions have been invaluable in terms of how we address problems, how we delegate and how we support each other on [helpline] requests,” says Cox, adding that MuSOS aims to continue to evolve and grow their contact base.
From providing in-depth MIDI knowledge and resolving software issues to facilitating equipment trouble-shooting and live streaming advice, the MuSOS collective offers vast skillsets. “MuSOS’s real strength lies in its members. As their numbers grow, so does the knowledge of the group and hopefully its effectiveness in answering and helping people,” says Cox.
The helpline’s website – which is delightfully simple and easy to navigate – was designed and hosted by psand.net, a group of internet experts who they met at Glastonbury festival streaming gigs. As requests are submitted, a technician can take on an enquiry while feeling “safe in the knowledge that behind them are a bunch of other experienced heads ready to offer advice if needed,” Cox explains.
MuSOS has assisted The Prodigy’s live guitarist Olly Burden and Tom Rowlands of The Chemical Brothers. “Plug-in issues, corrupt and missing sample libraries and hardware audio function questions have all arisen so far,” Cox says. “We are ready for anything, though.”
MuSOS has the potential to reach beyond cities and into rural areas where access to one-on-one music tech education is often hard to come by. “There’s a real opportunity for people to pass on their knowledge and help each other massively here,” says Cox. “Even if you are not in the middle of a vibrant musical community like Berlin, London or NYC, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be able to get tech help.” The collective currently has crewmembers based in Portugal, USA, Australia and Canada, as well as in the UK.
While some musicians enjoy conducting their own tech research, others appreciate specialised and direct assistance, allowing more time and energy for making music. “You can’t beat focused, bespoke advice, especially if you are in a session, or working live at that very moment and have an issue that’s brought everything to a grinding halt,” says Cox.
On top of corresponding by email and phone, MuSOS are using Zoom and alternative video-communication software to help musicians. “We can call each other discreetly through a ‘waiting room’ without swapping numbers, and retain a degree of privacy, something that’s important to many people in our industry,” Cox explains. He assures all enquiries will remain confidential with no data being shared with third parties.
“We are here to help, with any job, however trivial it might seem,” Cox says.
“Answers are only a click away.”
To visit the MuSOS helpline, click here. For further information and to become part of the MuSOS collective, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.