Gino Robair is former editor of EM

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Why Is This So Complicated?

Winter NAMM show

If you read the gear mags or follow music technology online, you’re probably aware that the Winter NAMM show begins today in Anaheim, Calif. Winter NAMM is the most important annual trade show (though, not the biggest) of the “music products industry,? and it’s where manufacturers from all over the world announce new stuff, look for distribution, and talk to the media. Its also great for people watching, thanks to the city’s fair weather and close proximity to Hollywood.

NAMM also means announcements of software upgrades. Rather than repeat myself, you can read my thoughts on the longevity of electronic musical instruments versus the recurring upgrade paradigm here. The upgrades are usually announced with great fanfare, and in many cases it’s warranted—such as the last Pro Tools rev, which was sorely needed to make the product competitive in terms of notation, MIDI, and beat production. Some announcements, however, just seem to pile sexy new features onto an older product while core issues remain unsolved.

Late last month, Ableton CEO and founder, Gerhard Behles, announced on the company’s forum that he was suspending further product development in order to fix the bugs in Live 8. (The product was unveiled at last year’s NAMM show, along with the Cycling ’74 collaboration Max for Live, and the first controller created for the system, the Akai APC40). more

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Music Delivery in the Post-Future

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Over 40 years ago, Mr. McGuire told us there was a great future in plastics. But it’s clear that, in the case of music delivery, we’re entering the “post-future” (to quote Anthony Braxton). Although CD-Baby founder Derek Sivers argues that you “alienate a percentage of your potential audience” by going download-only and not releasing a CD, I find myself wondering how long it will last (if it’s even true)? (In the UK this week, the number one single was a download-only oldie that doesn’t even have a holiday theme!)

Anecdotally speaking, I see more and more musicians giving up on physical formats, both as consumers and as artists. Although I know a handful of groups that can still sell CDs like hotcakes from the bandstand, an overwhelming number of artists can barely give them away, which has led to resignation and disappointment. Instead, CDs and CD-Rs are being treated more and more as business cards than as sellable product, primarily because clubs, radio, and the press don’t take you serious unless you’ve “invested in yourself” (as the booker of one San Francisco bar told me). But it has been clear for years that, at some point, music will be as easy to access as water, once we figure out how the tap will work and what the corresponding metaphor that equals a public utility will be. How will we invest in ourselves as artists at that point? more

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Not Quite a Top 5, But Almost…

Despite the severe economic downturn, this has been a great year for gear, with plenty of useful, convenient and, in some cases, downright innovative stuff helping brighten these dark times. As we enter the holidays, I’d like to share a couple of highlights from 2009, just in case you’re making that last-minute wish list.

Let me start by saying that I don’t have any ties to the manufacturers mentioned. I’m recommending these items because I like them and find them remarkable in some way. The list is arranged by price—low to high—to make it manageable for those of you on a budget (and/or COBRA). All prices are MAP (minimum advertised price) unless otherwise noted.

Cleartune Chromatic Tuner for the iPhone

Cleartune Chromatic Tuner for the iPhone ($3.99)
Although it’s not a free app, it’s inexpensive compared to a dedicated hardware unit, and it’s the best $4 you’ll spend for a tuner in your life. It has a 10-octave range, with an easy-to-read display that shows you how sharp or flat you are by as much as ±25 cents.

Most importantly, Cleartune is convenient. If you’re a guitarist, you can set the iPhone on your amp and the app will register what you’re playing and give you an accurate reading—even on a noisy stage. Just be sure to put your iPhone into Airplane mode, unless you want to hear that annoying cell-phone beep through your amp.

If you’re on the lookout for other interesting apps for the Apple iPhone and iPod Touch, check out EM‘s special iPhone App Site. more

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Jump or Die!

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Ringo Starr (from the film clip for “Rain?).

That’s the phrase composer/saxophonist Anthony Braxton uses when he talks about going onstage and sight-reading his highly complex charts. Like a paratrooper dropping behind enemy lines, you have no choice but to play in a take-no-prisoners way. The band and the audience experience the music for the very first time together. There are no second chances in that environment.

Artists of the caliber of Braxton, Cecil Taylor, and Tom Waits know that exciting music is made when you take musicians out of their comfort zone. For example, it’s common for Waits to roll tape while his players are figuring out their parts, and then keep the sound check rather than have them do a “real? performance. It’s the first-take rule, where the energy and vibe that comes from not quite knowing what you’re doing lends the performance a vitality that you can’t get through comping or multiple takes. It can be messy, but it’s musical.

I bring this up in light of Douglas Wolk’s commentary “The Death Of Mistakes Means The Death Of Rock? on NPR.org. The article is about a topic that many of us have thought about for years: that technology can be used to suck the life out of music if it’s overused. It’s a complaint that is as old as technology itself, and there is some validity to it. However, it’s not something that we can suddenly blame on Pro Tools or Auto-Tune. more

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Gino’s Big Adventure: Building a Personal Studio, Part 1

One last look at the garage, the morning of demolition.

One last look at the garage, the morning of
demolition.

Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7

In doing our part to stimulate the floundering US economy, my wife and I have decided to rebuild our garage. It wasn’t such a hard decision because the structure, which dated from the late ‘50s and had an in-law unit attached, was somewhat flimsy and heading towards uninhabitability. And, frankly, it’s a great time to do a remodel: Because of the building slump, it’s easier to get uninterrupted work from tradesmen.

The in-law unit has been my studio for the past 10 years. However, during the coldest days of winter and hottest days of summer, it was impossible to spend much time in there because of the lack of insulation. (Running a large fan or heater while trying to work with audio does not make critical listening any easier.) So my motivation for remodeling was to get a new room that I could outfit as a personal studio, literally from the ground up. And that’s where this series begins. more

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Today’s Studio: It’s in the bag!

robair-report-200.jpgMy job keeps me traveling, but I like to get a bit of work done while I’m sitting in an airport or train station. In the past few months, I have assembled a portable, yet highly flexible workstation that let’s me listen, edit, and mix recordings with high-quality effects, as if I was at home.

In this video, I unpack my portable studio to show you which components I bring with me (and how many things end up hanging off of my laptop).

Watch the video. more

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Running on Empty? Never!

runningonempty.jpgDespite his incredible talent as a singer/songwriter, I don’t like Jackson Browne’s music. I’ve tried many times, even sitting through an 8-encore concert with his top-notch band. Not to get all Lefsetz on ya, but Jackson Browne just doesn’t do anything for me. When his music comes on the radio, my hand is on the dial in a nanosecond. That is, until yesterday, when, for some reason, I listened to Running on Empty in its entirety. And I liked it! What the hell happened?

In my July 2008 editors note “Listen and Learn,? I talked about turning off your iPod, removing your earbuds, and listening to whatever environment you happen to be, just to see if there was something you could learn from the experience. Whether you’re stuck in a noisy airport terminal, pinned between snoring campers, or trapped in an elevator with Muzak, there is usually some kind of auditory lesson you can take away from an initially uncomfortable or irritating situation. more

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How Pitch Correction Has Helped Our Ears Evolve

The following is the first installment of a brand-new blog in which former EM editor Gino Robair speaks out on issues relating to music technology.

Antares Auto-TuneFor reasons that you can probably figure out, Antares Auto-Tune is one of the few pro-audio tools that nearly everyone knows about. As if to hammer home the fact, there’s even a version of it available for the iPhone.

Kids can hardly wait to add the much-maligned effect to their own voices! Although Auto-Tune is not the only pitch-correction product on the market, the name has already become synonymous with the technology, just as the name Xerox has come to mean photo-copying. more

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