The last year has seen some wonderful music and audio gadgets brought forth into the world. Being a musician as well as a lover of all things gizmo, I’ve taken the unusual step of narrowing my perspective somewhat to an area particularly close to my heart – technology for musicians – and bring you a few of those advances that have managed to jump above the crowd to attract my attention.
In no particular order, I start with one of the most recent…
Boss eBand JS-8 Audio Player
I wish that I’d had one of these when I was learning to play guitar, it would have made the whole process a whole lot quicker and much less of a headache. As the name suggests, it’s an audio player which stores and plays up to 4000 WAV and/or MP3 files but it’s so much more. Bedroom guitarists, budding songwriters or professionals needing to brush up or polish playing between performances will benefit from being able to change the pitch and tempo of tracks, record and playback what’s been played for analysis, take advantage of over 100 onboard effects or create user-generated sounds and learn from numerous training aids. All-in-all, one heck of a guitar companion.
Ableton Live is a software tool to help with the “composition, songwriting, recording, production, remixing and live performance” but its layout can be somewhat overwhelming and even, dare I say, difficult to get to grips with. Thankfully, the Novation LaunchPad has been developed to make sense of the Live Suite. It looks like some colossal Tetris nightmare but in fact makes using Ableton Live much more intuitive, automatically mapping to the suite and allowing users to command proceedings using the 64-button grid. Far too many options to list here, I recommend that any mixers, producers or performers reading this who want to make the most of the Live suite take a closer look.
For DJ’s who are not quite ready to trade in their decks for the wealth of digital music manipulation that laptops can offer, Numark’s NS7 might not be the cheapest or the lightest way to go but it does offer the very best of both worlds. Take comfort in all those familiar looking aluminum decks, faders, knobs and buttons and at the same time unleashing the digital manipulation power of laptop software.
No-one can deny that the iPhone has taken the gadget world by storm and why shouldn’t those who enjoy making music not benefit from the huge app library now available. There are lots of useful apps to choose from but here I offer a couple of my favorites, first up is the ChordMaster. In full glorious color it’ll show exactly where fingers need to be placed, the name of the chord being played and will even play an example of what the correct chord should sound like. Left-handers are also catered for.
FourTrack puts a multi-track recording studio in the palm of your hand. Track bouncing, volume metering, layering, panning and mixing are all presented in a relatively simple interface which makes recording-on-the-go a breeze. Of course, users will need to invest in an external microphone and/or headset and there’s no option to upload tracks to a web host or send by email, and it’s quite pricey for an app but a very competent, portable, intuitive mixing tool.
There have been a few guitars of late which have ditched exotic hardwood in favor of other materials with less of a devastating impact on our environment. One of the latest additions is the Handle from XOX Audio Tools which is made from carbon fiber. Claimed to have a greater harmonic range than wood equivalents, the lightweight and futuristic-looking Handle is quite a desirable six string but one that is perhaps out of the price range of the average bedroom axe-grinder. It is already finding favor with some professional players though (including Hettory, Joe Walla and Ernie Jackson).
If there’s one thing I like most about the web it’s the wealth of free software on offer. One such freebie is the iNudge music creation widget. Down the right hand side you’ll find some colored square icons, each representing different sound matrixes such as organ, frogster and drums. Clicking your mouse in the main square grid creates a pattern. Put them all together and you’ve got a multi-layered, if a little techno, sound machine to get your groove on baby – oh dear, I sound old don’t I? Seriously though, give it a try. It’s easy, so much fun, and sharing your creation with the world is as simple as clicking a button. Nice.
Are there any gadgets of interest to musicians that I’ve missed or you think worthy of mention?