Learn your craft

I’ve just seen this question posted on a well known music forum: The kind of equipment required to make a NUMBER ONE dance hit… “. This is not an uncommon question and you see variations of the same all over the web. “What mic/compressor/desk/software do I need to be successful?”.

There appears these days to be a common misconception that either a) appearing on a national  talent show or b) owning all of the right gear will give you a glittering career or make you a renowned songwriter and musician. How many times do you hear on the X-Factor “This is my last chance. I don’t know what I’ll do if I don’t get through”. This is usually spouted out by a 16 year old whose gig experience is performing at family functions.

We seem to be raising a generation who expect to succeed with the minimum of effort. I’ve heard the arguments that there aren’t the venues, outlets and recording opportunities that once existed and frankly that’s nonsense. There are hundreds of pubs and clubs within the UK that have live music. We learnt our craft playing cover versions in crapholes and being ignored by a sparse number of punters. We learnt our craft by backing singers who had the timing of a broken watch and the memory of a goldfish on valium. We learnt our craft getting knocked back by managers, record companies, other musicians and all and sundry. We learnt our craft by listening to our peers and practicing our backsides off. We learnt our craft via word of mouth gigs and traveling all over the country in a clapped out Ford Transit. Most importantly we knew it was a craft and a business.

The young performers today have a range of tools, from recording equipment through to the internet, that allows them to get their material out to a wider audience than ever before. However it still takes a little bit of talent and a LOT of hard work and practice with the emphasis on the latter. The knocks that we took equipped us for more knocks. The contestants on the X-Factor don’t just get their 15 minutes of fame, they also get 15 minutes of public rejection as one by one they are voted off by the public. Even the winners tend to have a shelf life less than that of a bag of sugar. This isn’t the way to develop our music industry and talent. It’s just the way to put money into the TV companies and greedy individuals.

Back to the question raised by that young man on the music forum. Terry Manning is an industry veteran whose engineering/producing and performing credits include Al Green, Booker T, ZZ Top, Lenny Kravitz and Shakira plus hundreds of other well known artists. When asked “what equipment do I need to sound like xyz” his response is “A great song, great musicians and a great arrangement. “.

No doubt I’ll be viewed as an old timer who’s out of touch and I expect the responses will be similar to the original poster of that question when points similar to mine were posted by other forum members. His erudite responses included:




Ah the youth of today.

A little gem from Apple

A couple of weeks ago Apple released a major update for Logic Pro X which has added a lot of new features and functionality that most other software vendors would probably charge for. Alongside this they also released an update to MainStage 3, their live performance software.Included in this update is a superb little program called Auto Sampler.

In 2012 Apple bought a company called Redmatica which didn’t go down very well with users of Redmatica’s great app Keymap Pro, a wonderful little sampling tool. Apple have a history of acquiring companies whose products never again see light of day so I was pleasantly surprised to see Auto Sampler which is obviously based on Redmatica software. This utility allows you to sample either an internal or external instrument with little to no user input. Just set the midi channel, input channels, range of sampling, how many velocity levels, sample length and the interval of notes you want to sample and off it goes. Come back 10 minutes later and it’s all done and an EXS24 instrument created. It even puts it straight into the EXS24 preset menu. This is a great little program for sampling external midi keyboards and sound modules and has been a little underplayed by Apple. Ironically I’ve already used it to sample my sampler – the Emu E6400 Ultra has some classic sounds on it which I’ve now got available within Logics EXS24 thanks to Auto Sampler.

Unfortunately Auto Sampler not been built into this Logic release so you need MainStage 3.0 in order to get the sounds into EXS24 but there is hope that a future update will include Auto Sampler and some of the Keymap features (along with a much needed facelift to the EXS24 sampler). With Apple also buying Camel Audio things are looking bright for Logic and MainStage users.

The subscription model comes to the Music Industry

There was a huge kerfuffle around a couple of announcements at NAMM 2015 and the introduction of subscriptions models for software. Members of the site Gearslutz were positively apoplectic although it doesn’t take much for that to happen.

For those who don’t know there is a growing move to subscription software – in other words you rent it on a monthly basis. Adobe moved most of their products to the model in 2013 and, whilst expensive, has proved to the very successful for them. Adobe have a very basic approach to subscriptions – stop paying and you lose access to the software. Avid, the owners of Digidesign, appear to be taking same same approach with their ProTools subscription offer. It does appear as though they are going to still offer an outright purchase option though the details are vague. The selling points are good – automatic, regular updates as part of the subscription so you are always running the latest version. For the developers it offers a steady income stream instead of relying on users to pay for upgrades.

Whilst I am a user of the Adobe subscription service I don’t like the fact that if I stop paying then my software ceases to function and I can’t reactivate it without taking out a new subscription.

So what are the alternatives?

Sonar have also introduced a subscription model but there is also the option to purchase outright. If you don’t want to upgrade then fine but if you do then you can join the subscription service as and when you need to but it is for a minimum of twelve months. At the end of the twelve month period you can cancel the payment but keep the software. A much better solution than Adobe and Avid.

Slate Digital have gone one better. Pay $19.99 a month and you get access to all of their plugins and any new releases whilst you are subscribing. Sounds the same as the others? Not quite – you can subscribe on a monthly basis. So if you need a Slate plugin for a mixing session just pay $19.99 and you can use them. The subscription can recommence at any time as and when you need. Slate still offer the option of outright purchase and if you subscribe for 12 months they will give you a $200 voucher to spend on their products.

Software subscription models are going to become more and more prevalent and I fear that in a couple of years time it will be the only way to use much of the software we rely on today. On one hand it offers a lower initial outlay in order to be able to use the tools we need but all of these small subscriptions can add up. For optional subscriptions a user may be forced to pay because an operating system update forces an upgrade of their applications – Apple updates are famous for this. The next twelve months are going to prove interesting.