Welcome to the Crossroads

Woke up this morning, ordered the last bit for the Modular system because of a nice sale over at Perfect Circuit Audio, made some coffee, and found this waiting in my Tube of Yous feed…

And it makes for a perfect addendum to Dynamic Range Day yesterday. 🙂

Rick Beato is another Saint here in the APITE Pavilion of Greatness. My Saints are those who give up a lot of their time and experience for free to pass on the baton of enlightenment to those that want to stop by and listen. He’s worth watching and following if you’ve even remotely interested in making or listening to music.

One of these days I’ll do entire post on Saints.

But for now go watch the video. I’ll wait – it’s less than 10 minutes.

Did you catch the ‘Junk Food’ analogy? Kinda fitting, isn’t it?

I tell my students over at EduCorp® that you have two choices in today’s musical landscape: you can play the Pop game by its rules and its changing goalposts and maybe, just maybe, you’ll make it up the foodchain to ’stardom’ and ‘fame’. 

Or you can strike out on your own and donor art the way you want to.

Because there’s never been a better time to do just that. From creation to distribution to promotion, you have access to it all for next to nothing thanks to the power of technology and The Interwebz®. Just add your ideas.

But just like the proverbial Crossroads, you better make that choice wisely – AI is already figuring out how to duplicate what the ‘roomful of scientists’ are doing in Popland (and other Genres was well), and soon they’ll be able to flood the airwaves with sugar-coated addictive earworms targeted directly at the psychometrics of any given demographic market. This will be here sooner that you think, so if you want to ride out the rest of this train and try to collect some sweet, sweet cash before it comes to an abrupt stop, then you had better start yesterday. And good luck – you’ll need plenty of it.

Oh, and one more thing: don’t think you can play ‘both sides’ of the game. The chances of putting something out yourself and getting picked up by the machine for big dollas are ancient history. And even if you do manage that one-in-a-billion chance, you’re going to have to play by their rules anyway, so you might as well just play their game from the get-go.

Ian Shepherd started Dynamic Range Day to get the word out that even though digital recording and the the underlying technology behind it is a boon for musicians and engineers (higher quality recording, much less noise and artifacts, and can be easily mass-produced making it more affordable to the masses) it caused us to push the limits to the point where we were sacrificing dynamics for sheer loudness to be heard over the rest of the herd.

As humans, we like dynamics in our audio. And an ever-growing cadre or musicians and engineers is fighting to get that back.

Rick Beato is essentially saying the same thing with this video. It sounds great. It’s been recorded and produced to perfection using the same digital technology stated above. It’s catchy and addictive. It even has dynamics…

But it’s still Junk Food…

And just as the experts are telling us that too much of it is not good for our health, Rick cautiously warns that too much ‘overproduced’ pop can be hazardous to your creativity as well. Like Rick, I admire the production. The perfection. The absolute attention to detail. But ultimately it rings hollow to my ears – I know it’s going to be replaced by something else coming down the production line very soon. 

As humans, we like imperfections in our audio. And there are artists out there fighting to get that back too.

Surprisingly, Mabel McVey has an acoustic version of ‘Don’t Call Me Up’ that features just her voice and acoustic guitar. But unfortunately it’s not a demo or a live version performed in a small venue. It’s a textbook confection of Pro Tools and Melodyne and Autotune – professionally corrected and perfected to the Nth degree.

Same potato chips, slightly different flavor.

I loves me some technology, but I’m also playing for Team Human  and I know good and well that the tech is simply tools for people to use – for good or bad.

So we can either race towards perfection until the machinery does it for us better and cheaper and easier, or we can run in the other direction with all of its uncertainty and messiness and frailties and childishness.

Welcome to the Crossroads.

Permission to Play

I’ve been digging through the gadgets and gizmos show at the Winter NAMM Show (or as I usually call it HotNAMM) trying to show all of you some cool new toys that were announced, and came up with a whole bunch of nothing. 

The was nothing really new. I didn’t find anything moving the needle forward. 

It’s honestly been like this for years.

The MIDI 2 Spec (if it takes hold) might push makers and manufacturers to change things, but that could be many years down the road.

It seems the idea well has run dry, and we might as well just pack it up and become Accountants or something, right?

Wrong.

Nobody knows what’s going on right now.

Styles and Genres are Decadal Influences are being rapidly sucked up in a vain attempt to create something that resonates with listeners. Spotify and Apple Music have opened up the entire catalog of recorded music for the kids to explore and plunder.

Gear I lusted over 35 years ago is being rehashed as the panacea for all our musical woes. Nostalgia is winning over futurism.

To that above statement let’s not forget about the return to vinyl and various tape formats…

And anything popular might as well be created by AI, because certainly sounds like it is.

The great ‘powers that be’ in our Industry have recovered from their digital desert and returned to actually profitability.

Are they investing in new talent?

Hell no.

They have no idea what’s going on right now either.

So we have a couple of ways of looking at this:

1) Everything stinks and we should just become Accountants or something.

2) This is a golden opportunity.

(Spoiler: it’s number two.)

Why?

Because when everything sounds the same, or looks the same, or just seems the same, doing something – anything –  off the beaten track perks up our eyes and ears.

And our imaginations.

Do something bizarre. Make something you know isn’t even close to popular. Run in the other direction.

You have Permission to Play – because nobody really knows what’s going on anyway. 🙂

 

MIDI 2.0™?

MIDI, or Musical Instrument Digital Interface, is one of the biggest advances in music technology of the past several decades. It’s approaching 40 years old!

As a standard, it’s held up surprisingly well over those (almost) four decades.

But about a decade ago, the MIDI Manufacturers Association (or MMA as they are called by us nerds) started thinking about how to update the standard for the modern musical and media landscape.

They named the concept ‘HD MIDI’. Yes, the ‘HD’ is exactly what you think it is, and yes, it’s a stupid name.

I railed against the idea at the time, and was even surprised to find its creator Dave Smith (of Sequential) was also not so thrilled about it. 

His reasoning was the same as mine – if it still works, why fix it?

Today, just in time for HotNAMM®, the MMA has announced MIDI 2.0™. Yes, it’s now a Trademark too.

You can read the preliminary here.

So do I feel the same way about it 10 years later?

No.

MIDI needs updating.

DAW’s as well as Music Hardware and Software have exploded in functionality and power along with computational technology, and I’m not sure that continuing to put ‘Band-Aids®’ on the original spec is going to cut it anymore. Some of the new tech like MPE (MIDI Polyphonic Expression) needs more than just an 8-bit Data stream, and faster communication and new control capabilities will most certainly lead to more innovation – which we sorely need in the Industry.

And the MIDI 2.0™ spec calls for total backwards compatibility, which ‘HD MIDI’ was not really certain about…

So hopefully these ‘tests’ go well and we’ll be incorporating the results into better bloops and bleeps very soon.

Now, what I do find very interesting is that Roland (who worked with Dave Smith to create MIDI) is on this upcoming ‘Prototyping Team’.

Sequential is not.

Maybe Dave still feels the same after all these years… 🙂

Project Studio Tea Break

It’s the Cold, Flu, and Holidaze® Season. That time of year when everything goes BatS#*! Crazy

Here in APITEland, EduCorp® goes clinically insane trying to squeeze everything in before the end of the year, Holiday Decor in every store months before you want to think about it, Holiday Music everywhere months before the actual season, Black Friday/Cyber Flargsday sales on anything and everything (yeah, I gave in too – more in a second), and the ritual coordinating family and friends for holiday plans whilst trying to keep at least one one eyebrow above water. And December has just started…

One of the things I’ve been doing to keep myself sane over the season is indulging in Audiocasts. I did a bit of pruning over the summer, trying to whittle down what I really enjoyed verses what I was growing tired of, which of course leaves me more ‘room’ for new ones. (like somehow I magically have more time after doing that…)

Saint Ian and Jon Tidey over at The Mastering Show did an episode of their favorite shows, and one of the ones they mentioned that I hadn’t heard of was Project Studio Tea Break (title tie-in!). It’s become a highlight of my listening regimen. 🙂

PSTB, as it’s colloquially called, is Mike Senior and Jon Whitten. Mike should be well-known from Sound On Sound fame (you do read SOS, right?) and as an Audio Engineer, Author, and all-round Font of Knowledge in the Audio Kingdom. Jon is a composer firmly rooted in the theatre and dance community, and brings his unique perspective to the ‘Professional Audio Chitty-Chat Internwebz® Delivery System’ norm. For a ‘Professional Audio Audiocast’ PSTB is light on technical prowess and snobbery, aiming for (ahem) a good poke in the ear towards recording technology, techniques, and the interpersonal relationships everyone in the industry has dealt with.

The odd tip or trick sneaks in every once in a while, but this is not what you’re looking for here. PSTB is as the name implies – a time to take a break and have a cuppa and talk about dumb stuff before the clock starts ticking again. It’s an hour of clearing the fuzz out of your mind – not worrying about why you can’t figure out how to make the snare drum ring disappear or why the backing vocals sound strangely out of tune even though you’ve triple-checked them on every piece of technology you can get your hands on and they all tell you they’re fine. It’s the couple of pints at the pub after a long day nursemaiding a computer, recording, mixing, and hoping the session backs up so you can fix all the mistakes with fresh ears tomorrow. It’s reading about the latest shiny Company X announced that everyone is talking about but you know is complete and utter bullshit and won’t change games or move anything forward except the company’s bank account. It’s the relief of stepping outside after applying a bunch of studio foam with that spray adhesive, or the glorious smell of brand-new silicone-jacketed cabling. It’s a peek inside what your engineer, producer, or musical director is really thinking.

So you can see how this is right in the wheelhouse. But don’t just trust me –  click the link above and get caught up (there’s only eight episodes as of this writing) or subscribe in your favorite player. If you’ve spent any time in the musical landscape (and if you’re reading this you have) then you’ll enjoy every moment and look forward to the next monthly fix.

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In other news I bought one of the new iPad Pros – the 11” model this time. I know, I know… I kinda trash-talked them a few posts back, but after getting my hands on one I decided it was time to move my 1st-gen on to my brother (who’d better not be reading this since it’s his Christmas present) and get something smaller and…well, better.

Why?

USB-C.

From the moment I connected a USB-C Digital AV Multiport Adaptor (stupidly long name here kids) to it and connected the HDMI port to a monitor I could see the future. Having the iPad display big and crisp on an external display is an absolute joy, but instinctively reaching for a mouse or trackpad instead of the screen is just antediluvian IMO. I’m also betting this has to drive the Mothership® Engineers bananas as well, so there’s some Skunkworks iOS version update allowing this just waiting for Phil Schiller to give the okay. And since Apple is still gung-ho about the ‘It’s a computer! It’s a dessert topping!, It’s a floor wax!” moniker (Hat tip to Charles over at Space Javelin for reminding me of this) they have to be looking into this – just having an external display for the GraphicsHeads doesn’t make sense for having this usable by the entire ‘Pro’ market. I guess we’ll see if I’m correct next spring.

I also like the smaller size – it’s easier to hold in my sausage paws and doesn’t feel like I’m doing a workout after 10 minutes. The True Tone display is gorgeous, and it can do true ‘split screen’ apps (unlike the previous smaller versions of the iPads Pro).  I’m spoiled by Face ID on the iPhone, so having it here is great (although my sausage thumb always seems to be covering the sensors which it smugly tells me), and the new Pencil is just stupid clever and I like the fact that it rides on the top instead of being lost in the bottom of my bag somewhere.

Oh, and the new NanoStudio 2 has been piquing my interest and looks pretty impressive, so I’m looking forward to trying a true DAW-like experience with in on a mobile device (bleeding edge, yada yada, what about Auria? I get it…) 

Lastly, I’ve been compiling the ideas for the ‘Musical Gifts for the 2018 Holidaze® Season’ post (last year’s post here) and that should be out within the next week or so, hopefully leaving me some actual time to spend with the fam over the (actual) Holiday Season. 

Until then, stay sane out there!

Roland Boutique TR-08: The Missing Manual

Having owned four of the original TR-808’s, I can tell you that the original manual was packed with information and explanation. Today’s trend of poster-sized, multi-fold, multi-lingual instruction sheets pales by comparison. Even a downloadable PDF from the website is better than what comes in the box (usually…) 🙂

Sure, you can head over to the Tube of You’s and dig for some visual info and tips and tricks (and twelve gazillion unboxing videos), but having a well-crafted quick and handy guide to look if you get stuck or don’t understand something is an absolute necessity with a lot of music (and tech) gear.

I love my little TR-08, and although it operates very much like it’s older brother it does have some new tricks up its sleeve so I have to dig out that poster to remember what they do and how to get them to function. This will become my new go-to for that – thanks Sunshine Jones!

Go here for the manual, and you can also click the ‘non-fiction’ tab in his Nav Bar to find more Missing Manuals and other goodies. What great gifts to the community.

Kudos to Matrixsynth for the find.

Universal Audio Apollo-X Interfaces

Hits all the buttons: Thunderbolt 3, Unison preamps, scary dynamic range, superb quality, immaculate sound. 

Yeah, they’re expensive and the plugins are pricy too (although UA runs lots of sales over the course of the year and you can pick up some great deals), but as an Apollo Twin owner I have to say that it’s one of the best investments I’ve made for audio interfacing – you do get what you pay for. If you’re looking for a studio upgrade you should be looking at these.

I’m betting they’ll have a desktop version (Twin-type chassis or an update of the Arrow) soon which might be better for ‘the rest of us’ 🙂

More info here