Tuesday, October 13, 2015

An Open Letter to a Fellow Musician

I received a question via a colleague's fan mail feature.  He might not have been aware that those reading could not reply.  In the email, he asked what solutions his colleagues in music could offer him for recording on his iPad.

There are dozens of inexpensive solutions.  A friend of mine has an 8-track recorder with two input channels, which saves the tracks to an SD Card.  He bought it on special at Sweetwater for $150. You'll need to buy an SD card adapter for your iPad if you go this route.  You could buy a USB-to-lightning port adapter for your iPad, and run your USB interface that way.  I bought an Alesis 8-channel mixer for around $150.  It has two output channels, which would work perfectly for live demos and live performances - provided you have access to 110 v outlet.  It also has 48v phantom power for your condenser mics.  You'll be stunned at how good your sound quality is.  Below is my one-take testimonial.

I think AKAI has a 4-input interface that doesn't require an external power source.  Again you'd need a USB-to-lightning port adapter, and you'll probably get the most mileage out of your iPad battery if you record with a dynamic, rather than with a phantom-powered condenser microphone.

This does not apply to Pro-Tools interfaces, which are proprietary to the point of being ridiculous.  If you have a Pro-Tools interface, it won't work with anything except the software developed exclusively for that interface.  To run it on a PC, I needed 200 GB of space available.  It's a good system, but I think with Pro-Tools, you'd do your best work on a desktop Mac or PC. I would avoid using smaller computers - even laptops - with this system.

The cheapest solution, given your current resources is to add the GarageBand app to your iPad.  The only hardware you'll need for the most basic recording is your Apple earbuds.  These must have a microphone on the cord leading to one of the earbuds - mine is on the right.  Drop the earbud and mic into the sound hole of your acoustic guitar.  You'll need to play with the recording volume to minimize distortion before you begin recording, and of course, you'll need to arrange the cord so it doesn't interfere with your playing hand.   Use the other earbud (if necessary) to keep time with the metronome feature on your GarageBand app while you record.  Once you've created/assembled your guitar loops on the timeline, you can add the vocals.  Pan all of the accompaniment tracks that you need for proper vocal timing to the left.  Insert your left earbud into your ear.  To avoid excess noise, drape the cord between the mic and the earbud over the edge of your hand (between the thumb and forefinger) so that the mic is facing you.  Hold the earbud mic 12-15 inches from your mouth when you sing and keep your mic hand as steady as possible.  You want to hold it like this because any movement along the cord will make a scratching sound in the mic.  My laptop crashed a few months ago and I wound up writing songs on my iPhone GarageBand app, using the method from above, just to keep the music going.  I have another friend who records all of his music this way.

I hope this answers your questions.  Good luck!

Saturday, September 19, 2015

The Music 'Industry'

Dear pop music,

I'm kicking you out. It's not me, it's you. How do I say this? You're fickle, predictable, profit driven, and when it comes right down to it, you're pretty damn shallow.  To tell you the truth, I've been meaning to say this for a while: you just don't have anything to say.   Yes, yes: all of us adults have been in love – it's nothing new, and frankly, the only thing truly remarkable about love, is when it lasts for several decades.  Funny how that never gets more than a footnote from you (i.e. "happily ever after," etc.).

Long before the record guy came along, we were making music and telling our stories.  Most of these were not about love. Most of the stories we told about ourselves were about our lives, our jobs, our families.  We didn't play to sold out arenas; our music never appeared on records, nor was it ever broadcast over the airwaves – most of us never saw a dime from our music.  If we were lucky, our people took time to stop in to see us at the local beer joint or come to a barbecue to watch us play.

Why did we play, if not for fame? Why did we sing, if not for accolades and/or money? We did it because the newspaper, the radio, and later, the television, were all tools of propaganda. We did it because we are the only people who will tell the truth about ourselves - we are the only people who can be counted on to tell the stories of the forgotten poor and working folk.

Dear pop music, you were, yourself, quite the distraction. Remember when we used to spend 10 bucks on an album with only two or three good songs on it? Yeah, your fault! I believe your industry even coined the term "throwaway" for songs meant to fill up your crappy pop albums. And now, the makers of these "throw away" pop songs are whining because they're not millionaires anymore. Funny: we used to share cassette tapes all the time and it didn't hurt the industry at all. Not that any industry has a right to exist: you can't force consumers to demand a good or service. And let's face it: you've been giving us the same crap since the 1950s.

So later days and better lays, pop music! And don't let my foot hit you in the ass on the way out.