Tone Talk with Mia Morris

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I’m a multi-instrumentalist that started visiting Nashville when I was 12-years-old to take drum lessons from Chester Thompson. Chester was an adjunct professor at Belmont at the time and has had a great career that included playing for Frank Zappa and Genesis. My family eventually moved to Nashville, and after living here for almost five years, I’ve played with over 200 artists and bands on drums, Cajon, bass, keys, and guitar. In the last two years, I’ve released around 40 of my original songs and have more than 100 vlogs and music videos on YouTube. I’ve toured with country, pop, and punk bands playing clubs and festivals, but my own music is typically classified as alternative rock or pop/punk. I grew up playing mostly rock music, and I would say grunge has had the biggest influence on my writing.

What is your definition of tone, and how has it changed over the years?
Strangely enough, the more I think about tone and the more gear I have at my disposal when I’m recording songs, the smaller my tones have gotten. I spend the largest amount of my time recording full songs in the studio. After doing that for a couple of years, I don’t hear or even think about any particular instrument or track as a stand-alone tone. All the individual sounds combine to create one wave of music that needs dynamics, excitement, and space. The only way to end up with those is to start with tones that occupy the spaces where they are most suited and still convey the most emotion without getting in the way of any other track’s unique strengths.

Which guitars, amps, and pedals are you currently using and why?
I don’t make the same choices recording in the studio as playing live on stage, and I can find my way to similar tones using a lot of different gear. I usually find my favorite sounds by changing the tone source instead of manipulating the source too heavily. For me, that means a Les Paul when I want a distorted tone, Strat for clean, and a hollow body (Gibson in my case with nickel strings maybe) for throaty indie tones. I can put any of those through a pedalboard, various amp and head choices, or even a BOSS or Line 6 all-in-one effect/amp sim and force a huge range of tones out, but I would only do that live because I don’t want to haul a bunch of gear through an airport. When you can, find an instrument that’s suited to make the noises you want naturally. Use mics and mic placements that capture what your ears and brain want to hear, and hopefully, there will be less to fix when you listen back.

What about strings?
They make a bigger difference than I used to think and are especially important when finding bass tones. Change over to flatwounds if you don’t believe me. With guitars, especially acoustic, finding the right strings not only makes it easier to play better but also helps with your intonation. I mostly use GHS.

Are there certain recording techniques you prefer in the studio?
That is constantly changing for me, so I’m not a reliable source for any particular answer. I mostly record things one at a time, re-record things often (sometimes entirely different versions of the same song), and most of what I do would probably be completely unacceptable if I was paying for studio time, engineers, and musicians. Fortunately, it’s just me, a laptop, my instruments, and my dog in my basement, and it’s something I do every day, right or wrong.

How do you keep your sound consistent onstage?
I don’t. I front my own band playing drums. There is so much wrong with putting a lead vocal mic anywhere near a drum, let alone a snare and cymbals, and I’m constantly having to make choices to send a soundman something he can do his job with. I experiment with low-volume cymbals, hybrid trigger setups, acoustic drums, and headset mics. My best advice might be, don’t let drummers sing. 🙂 When I’m hired to play bass, I use one of my Ibanez basses or a fender-shaped object through a helix line-6 doing as little as possible to the signal.

What does your practice consist of?
I grind. I play lots of instruments for lots of artists, and I’m not exceptional at any of them. What I can do is show up well prepared for every practice, session, and performance. I learn all of the material well enough not to make mistakes, and I understand that my job is to make the music better however I can.

Favorite guitar riff or lick that inspired you to play guitar?
It wasn’t a lick that inspired me to learn guitar. It was hearing a singer-songwriter play with just a mic and an acoustic guitar and somehow created the dynamics and power that entire bands strive for.

What is your advice for young women who hope to work in the music industry?
The music industry is completely unpredictable. Because of this, it’s extremely important to work your ass off as much as you can. Occasionally, bands or artists are seeking female musicians, especially if they also want bgv’s, but regardless, many will have preconceived ideas about you as a woman. Use this as an excuse to try even harder to prove any doubters wrong because, at the end of the day, you might end up the best in the room and can thank them for giving you the motivation to get there.

Connect with Mia Morris on Instagram – Instagram