Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Why should rock stars expect to be rich?

You might enjoy a piece I wrote for Word magazine called Why should rock stars expect to be rich? - arguing that the future record industry simply won't be able to maintain the kind of salaries that pop stars of the last century were used to.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Building a Bleep Labs Thingamakit

Dr Bleep was kind enough to send me a Thingamakit - his build-it-yourself light cell powered noise synth (it's the big brother of the Thingamagoop). The box arrived a couple of months ago and sat in the corner, mocking me. Fear of soldering is a terrible thing, and easily cured by a pair of Velleman crawling micro bugs - £10 from Maplin, 1 hour each to solder together, two happy kids, two parents with soldering fume headaches. So far, the Thingamakit is a joy (being assembled next to an open window and a desk fan). Every component is labelled, the manual is clear and helpful, with useful things like a big colour photo of how the populated board should look. The circuit board is was white until I gunked it with solder flux. Best of all, it worked first time. The kit comes complete with an unfinished 1790NS case and a drilling guide, but perhaps something more interesting will turn up.
Anyway, what should I build next?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The New Yorker on playing live with laptops

There's a nice piece by Sasha Frere-Jones in this week's New Yorker called Laptops go live: "To protect his Panasonic Toughbook, Gillis [Girl Talk] covers it in Saran Wrap and uses a mouse rather than the track pad. (“My hands just get too sweaty,” he explained to me.)" Above - Battles, who use loopers live, with the laptops just acting as sound sources.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The first ever photograph of a ukulele, being played by...

Just reading the wonderful Alice in Sunderland, which includes this photograph of three English girls taken in the Summer of 1858 playing machetes, the Madeiran predecessors of ukuleles (legend has it that three Madeiran carpenters went to Hawaii in 1879 and started making tiny four stringed guitars). Anyway, the photograph is the first time anyone took a picture of a machete or a ukulele, and the girl on the left? Alice Liddell, Lewis Carroll's inspiration for Alice in Wonderland...

Monday, September 15, 2008

Tenori Off: The unplugged, acoustic Tenori On

Kentaro writes with exciting DIY news from Japan: "TENORI-ON is one of the coolest electric musical device: it is portable, easy to play and good for audio-visual performance. But I have not purchased it yet because it is expensive and a shortage in Japan. That is the reason why I made an unplugged version of TENORI-ON, so-called 'TENORI-OFF'" Exemplary hacking skills, Kentaro.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Waldorf Blofeld Keyboard: £599 gets you 49 keys and sampling

Always nice to see a new hardware keyboard, and the new Waldorf Blofeld Keyboard is nice-ish. Hard to really judge the look from renders (although it's already on sale at Dolphin) - but it's visually reminiscent of the discontinued Alesis Ion. Unfortunately, unlike Alesis, they haven't added any knobs - so this does little more than a £299 desktop Blofeld and a cheapo MIDI controller. And yet... the keyboard also includes 60mb of sample memory. It's far from clear what this means (the Waldorf blurb is: "Just imagine to add a vocal-like noise spectrum to a typical Wavetable pad, spice-up a virtual-analog solo sound with a strong attack sample or just process any other sample with the countless oscillator and filter modulations.") or whether a future Blofeld desktop upgrade can add the sampling option.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Alan Parson's '10 things everyone recording music should know'

More from Alan Parsons (Part 1 was here), via MT reader Adam, his all time best recording tips:

1. Keep cable runs short particularly low impedance I.e. guitars and mics. It WILL affect the sound. Having said that I don't believe expensive cables offer significant improvement.

2. Even the best instruments and recording equipment will probably sound like crap in the wrong hands. The reverse can also be true.

3. Don't suck the life out of a recording by overuse of limiting and compression.

4. Go for performance not perfection.

5. Log EVERYTHING on a recording so that anyone can pick up where you left off. Particularly tracks that should not be used - better still, get rid of them.

6. Always consolidate tracks (in other words all tracks should have the same start and finish times) so that they can be loaded onto a different platform. Give every track a meaningful name.

7. Even if your ideas are making all the difference, make the other person think they were theirs.

8. The two most important things on a great record are: 1. The Song. 2. The Song.

9. Never trust anyone in the music business with a vowel in their name.

10. The check is NOT in the mail.

Thanks Alan & Adam. If you live round the corner from someone famous, why not ask them to write a list for Music Thing...

Monday, September 8, 2008

Alan Parson's 10 best bits of music gear ever

MT reader Adam lives in California, near Alan Parsons, who engineered 'Dark Side of The Moon' and lots more. Adam kindly picked Alan's brain for me, persuading him to write this list of his all-time favourite gear...

1. Neumann Km84 Microphone - good for anything except vocals.

2. Fairchild 660 Tube Limiter - great for vocals and bass.

3. Drawmer Noise Gate - although modern plugins can do the job

4. Orban or dbx de-esser for problem sibilance on vocals

5. Audio Technica AT 4033 Microphone. I've been using this as a favorite vocal mic. for years

6. Autotune when used tastefully. Most times it is overused

7. The Fairlight and the Linn LM1 Drum Machine changed the world. I worked with both. It's hard to imagine life without Sampling and Drum sequencers

8. A real orchestra with a great arrangement and a competent conductor. It saves hours and usually $$ too

9. Yamaha Motif XS synth. Easy to use and great sounds

10. Any DAW for time shifting tracks in either direction by microseconds or several minutes. This is a newly afforded luxury in the digital age

Up next: Alan's top tips for music making. (Picture via SoS)

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Studiospares Mono Valve preamp/eq has retro lab chic for £55

Thanks to cheap Chinese manufacturing and our endless faith in 'warmth', the world is full of really cheap tube preamps (the Art Tube MP is less than £30). This £55 Studiospares Mono Valve is a rebadged Soundking MAP100TU (the picture is actually a Norwegian version). Soundking are a vast Chinese factory employing 2,200 people. Even so, I'm strangely drawn to it. Why? 1) You don't see 'Valve' used so much any more, even in England, home of the Valve Sound System. 2) It has an eq (though it doesn't seem to be valve powered 3) It doesn't just have the same 12AX7 low-voltage tube that everyone else has. No, it has two 6N3 tubes, which are some Chinese number that nobody uses. I'm sure it sounds very ordinary, and certain that Eric Barbour wouldn't approve, but... 4. It weighs 2.1kg, as much as a brick. 5. It has a built in PSU rather than a wall-wart. 6. It looks ugly/beautiful. The only downside for me is the XLR output on the back (I'd need another cable) and the lack of an instrument input. Anyway, what's a better way to spend £55?