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Archive for August, 2010

On Setting Up A Simple, Good-Quality Studio

I came across an interesting blog post at the Technology Resources Blog which talked about what you really need for a good, basic, inexpensive home recording setup, and preached simplicity in the amount of gear you need. I agree with a lot of it, but thought it would be useful to run through the points postulated by the blogger (who is unnamed), and give my comments. So, here goes:

Home Studio Recording Setup – Taking The 6 Simple Steps to Professional Quality Sound
1. The computer
Your computer is the engine that powers digital home recording. Almost all the tools (effects, compression, EQ, etc) for our simple home recording setup reside in the computer. In other words, in this setup we are going to use almost no extra external home studio recording equipment.

Definitely doable these days Other than audio interfaces, monitor controllers, and mics, and if you want to add MIDI, a keyboard controller, you can get by without a lot of external hardware and still have a nice setup.

2. The recording software
Whether you own a PC or a Mac, our setup requires only free (Mac Garageband) or really cheap (PC Mixcraft or Audacity) recording software.

All good programs, Mixcraft is particularly full featured on the Windows side. I might add that by spending just a bit more, at least on the Mac side, you can get into Apple Logic Express, which has most of the features of the full Logic. Steinberg’s Cubase SE, also gives you quite a bit for not a lot, and runs on both the Mac and Windows. Mackie Tracktion is another quality, low-priced, cross-platform DAW. Of course, if you want better a plug-in selection, more built-in instruments, and things like pitch correction and beat detection, you have to pony up some more and move to the pro level DAW software programs, which, considering the power they give you, are still great bargains.

3. Sound card/digital input and output
We do not want to use the built in consumer sound card on our home computer. Instead, we will use a simple, affordable and much better quality external piece of hardware known as an audio interface, digital converter or i/o (in-out) box.

Absolutely agree. Here’s where your quality can get bashed on the rocks. Get the best quality interface you can afford, with the best mic pres.

4. 3 cables
Our system only requires three types of cable: 1/4-inch (for instrument input), RCA (output from i/o box to speakers) and XLR (for microphone.)

Well, most good studio monitors have 1/4-inch or XLR connectors, not RCA, but otherwise, the author is correct.

5. Two Microphones
We’ll be able to record effectively using just two mics: A condenser Mic (for vocals and acoustic instruments and a dynamic mic (to provide an alternative sound option for certain types of vocal recording and instrument recording.)

I’m not sure I agree on the dynamic mic. If I had to choose two mics, I would go with a large diaphragm condenser and a small-diaphragm condenser. I might even go multipattern for the large-diaphragm condenser—if I could afford it—for more miking flexibility. Mics and preamps (which we’re assuming, for the sake of this, will be in your audio interface, are the most critical pieces of gear in your studio, are where you should invest the most money. In other words, buy the best mics and mic pres you can afford.

6. Powered monitors (speakers)
Excellent sounding home studio monitors are available that are very affordable are available but they will still be the most pricey element of our home studio recording setup. For achieving professional quality home recordings we need to take our choice of monitor very seriously because accurate playback is essential for successful mixing.
(Do not use consumer stereo speakers, because they are made to deliberately “color’ the sound to suit the tastes of the general population. This means that bass frequencies are accentuated and certain mid range frequencies are ignored.)
This completes our simple home recording studio. How is it possible to get professional sound using so little?

All very true. You must also take into account your room acoustics, which can misleadingly color the sound of even expensive monitors. Granted, getting your room treated can really balloon your budget (although there are inexpensive solutions available), but it may be a necessity for accurate monitoring, depending on the level of sonic problems you have in your space.

The Easy Home Studio Recording Setup – Good Sound In Equals Good Sound Out
It is the quality of the sound going in to the recording software that will determine the quality of the finished mix. This simple, often ignored fact, leads directly to another truth that is so oft resisted by the home recording chattering class:
A great sound cannot be “made? from studio toys and tools. The sounds all around us are already great. Therefore your only job when recording is to understand how to “capture? all its elements. There lies the real answer to how our simple home studio is possible, because capturing sound effectively is ultimately achieved by removing as many obstacles from the path sound takes from the outside to the inside of your computer.
In other words, the more stuff that sound has to travel through as it is recorded, the more risk there is of injury to the sound.
The temptation to overstock your home studio recording setup is strong and the advice to do so is everywhere. If you can resist the urge to hide behind a mountain of audio equipment and can meet sound on its own terms, the home recording process becomes organic and intuitive. Only then does the possibility of creating magic become a possibility.

I totally agree on the idea of good sound in good sound out (and its more frequently talked about corollary: “garbage in garbage out.”) As for limiting how much gear you have connected in your system, I agree for the most part, although, it kind of depends on what kind of outboard gear you’re talking about.

Home Studio Recording Setup – Examples of Big Stars Using Small Systems
This debate about setting up an effective home studio is really about quality of sound vs quantity of equipment. To help you put a final nail in the coffin of the argument that says a home studio must cost thousands, you may find the following examples showing large scale success achieved with very small recording setups.
1. Eurythmics – “Sweet Dreams Are Made of This? – recorded on an 8-track tape recorder in a living room
2. Bruce Springsteen – “Nebraska? album. tracks recorded on a 4 track Tascam PortaStudio.
3. Oasis – Guitar tracks recorded on Garageband recording software for recent album while traveling in their tour bus.
4. Cowboy Junkies platinum debut record – recorded live to 2-track in a church.
This all begs the question, if performers big and small are out there making professional sounding recordings using a very simple and affordable home studio recording setup, what is stopping you? The answer is nothing should be stopping you from turning your next great song into a great sounding recording that the word can enjoy.

All true, and all good examples. However, I do think people overstate how “easy” it is to come up with good recordings. It takes work, practice, and skill. And, the one thing that the four acts mentioned all had, superb musical skills and great material. That’s what makes the most difference. It’s all about the songs.

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S.F. Electronic Music Festival

If you’re in the Bay Area Sept. 9th through 11th, you’ll definitely want to check out the 11th Annual San Francisco Electronic Music Festival. There’s quite a lineup of performers including Allesandro Cortini, Don Buchla and many others. Here’s the official press release:

San Francisco’s only festival dedicated to electronic music celebrates its eleventh season with four nights of exciting performances and installations, featuring emerging and internationally renowned artists.

Sept 9-11 Evening Performances at Brava! Theater Center, 2781 24th St, San Francisco
Sept 10 Satellite Event: rE/visioning the Collection at the de Young Museum

The 11th Annual San Francisco Electronic Music Festival is proud to offer four evenings of stimulating performances and installations by internationally recognized artists and musicians in the electronic music field. This year’s lineup includes a wide array of electronic music pioneers, modern innovators, and emerging artists, ranging in diverse styles from electro-acoustic, costume rock, tape manipulation, noise, sound sculpture, musique concrete, kinetic sound design, free improvisation, and pop music. The featured artists utilize instruments such as analog synthesizers, home-brewed electronics, acoustic instruments, and laptop patches.

SFEMF has invited a distinct group of artists from across the field of electronic music, including internationally-renowned sound artist Stephan Mathieu, Swiss electronic trio MKM (G. Mueller, J. Kahn, N. Möslang), local legends Caroliner Rainbow Shadow Walking Over Waves Somewhere, computer music pioneer professor John Chowning, kinetic sculptor Trimpin, LA-based experimentalist Joseph Hammer, multimedia artist Pod Blotz, electro-acoustic Ben Bracken, and a unique collaboration by former Nine-Inch-Nails keyboardist Alessandro Cortini (aka blindoldfreak) and synthesizer genius Don Buchla. Lobby installation by Jacqueline Gordon.

rE/visioning the Collection: New Perspectives Through Sound and Media will be presented at the de Young Museum. VOLUME commissioned eight electronic sound and media artists to “plug into? their permanent collection and create new collaborative performances by eight artists: Dave Aju, J.D. Beltran, Nate Boyce, Loren Chasse, Lucky Dragons, Seth Horvitz, Kadet Kuhne, and David Wilson.

Calendar Listing
WHAT: The San Francisco Electronic Music Festival 11
WHEN: Thursday, September 9 – Saturday, September 11, 2010
Thursday, September 9th 8pm @ Brava Theater
Alessandro Cortini + Don Buchla, John Chowning, Ben Bracken
Lobby installation by Jacqueline Gordon
Friday, September 10th 9pm @ Brava Theater
MKM (G. Mueller, J. Kahn, R. Möslang), Trimpin, Podblotz
Saturday, September 11th 8pm @ Brava Theater
Stephan Mathieu, Caroliner Rainbow Shadow Walking Over Waves Somewhere, Joseph Hammer

Satellite event: Friday September 10th 5:30pm – 8:30 pm @ the De Young Museum
rE/visioning the Collection: New Perspectives Through Sound and Media
**A complimentary bus departs from de Young at 8:15PM to Brava Theater
**Discounted SFEMF ticket price on Sept 10 for de Young ticket holders

Tickets & Passes: $16 General; $10 Student/Discount.
Full festival pass: $40
Purchases online at Brown Paper Tickets at or at the door (cash only!)

INFO: Festival hotline: 415.861.3257; Brava Theater: 415.641.7651 || ||

Stephan Mathieu (b 1967) is considered to be one of the most unique composers working in the field of digital and electroacoustic music today. His signature sound is largely based on period instruments, environmental sound, and obsolete media which are recorded and transformed by means of experimental microphony, re-editing techniques, and software processes involving spectral analysis and convolution. Paying close attention to detail and to the affecting content of the piece, Mathieu creates unique sonic experiences working with traces of the perceived reality. His music, at the same time soft-paced and razor sharp, has been released on 18 CDs to critical acclaim, both solo and in collaboration with Douglas Benford, Taylor Deupree, Ekkehard Ehlers, John Hudak, Janek Schaefer and Akira Rabelais. Mathieu has created sound installations for the 4th century Aula Palatina at Trier and the 19th century ironworks Völklinger Hütte UNESCO world heritages and the Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz in Berlin.

Alessandro Cortini (born May 24, 1976) is an Italian musician, currently based in Los Angeles. He is currently best known for touring and recording with the American industrial rock band Nine Inch Nails from 2004 to 2008. Cortini is also the frontman for the Los Angeles based electronic-alternative band SONOIO. He also has a solo project called Blindoldfreak.

Don Buchla Educated in physics, physiology, music, and astronomy, Don Buchla’s multi-faceted creativity has been applied to fields as diverse as space biophysics research, musical instrument design, and multi-media composition. Much of his work has centered on the refinement of communication channels between man and machine, notably the invention of mobility aids for the visually handicapped, the development of instrumentation for bio-feedback and physiological telemetry, and the design of interactive electronic musical instruments and performance-oriented music languages.

Don founded the alternative band Fried Suck, was a founding member of the 15 piece Arch Ensemble, and co-founded the Electric Weasel Ensemble, the Muse and the Fuse, and the Artist’s Research Collective. He served as technical director of the California Institute of the Arts, the San Francisco Tape Music Center, the Electric Circus, and the Electric Symphony. He has collaborated with such luminaries as Ami Radunskaya, David Rosenboom, Anthony Braxton, David Wessel, Morton Subotnick, Peter Apfelbaum, Suzanne Ciani, George Lewis, Nannick Bonnel, and his son, Ezra. He has developed several exotic controllers that provide expressive alternatives to traditional musical input devices; recent inventions include Thunder, Lightning III, Wind, Rain, 50 Fireflies, the Piano Bar, and the Marimba Lumina. He is currently completing a major redesign of the 200 series modular synthesizer (called the 200e) and contemplating his next project.

Caroliner (formed in 1982, in San Francisco) is an Industrial Bluegrass/Experimental/Noise conceptual art Costume Rock band, dedicated to creating a fever dream of American psychedelia – utilizing bluegrass music instruments, weird effects, other-worldly pageantry, and day-glo character outfits similar to those of a “Disneyland ride with a Spike Jones and his City Slickers sense of individuality.” According to the band, Caroliner formed as a tribute band to the singing bull of the 1800s of the same name.

John M. Chowning (b 1934) is an American composer, musician, inventor, and professor best known for his work at Stanford University and his invention of FM synthesis. Chowning’s breakthrough allowed for simple yet rich sounding timbres, which synthesized ‘metal striking’ or ‘bell like’ sounds, and which seemed incredibly similar to real percussion. John Chowning graduated from Wittenberg University with a Bachelor of Music in 1959. He studied music composition with Nadia Boulanger in Paris and received his doctorate (DMA) from Stanford in 1966. He was the founding director in 1975 of the Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA) at Stanford University. Chowning also worked for a number of years at IRCAM, in Paris.

MKM (formed 2004) Günter Müller // ipods, electronics, Jason Kahn // analog synthesizer, Norbert Möslang // cracked everyday electronics.
Their sound hovers between the harsh rhythmic noise of Norbert Möslang´s cracked everyday electronics and the rich sonorities of Günter Müller´s percussion-based samples and electronics. Jason Kahn´s work on analog synthesizer bridges these two worlds, adding high frequency interference and processed piezo microphone and short wave radio input.

Günter Müller has been playing a unique drum set with a mobile pick-up and microphone system of his own invention since 1981. The system allows hand-generated sounds on drums and percussion to be modulated electronically. Since 1998 minidiscs, since 2002 an iPod are included in his electronic set. Nowadays he often plays ipod and electronics only. Various recordings released on FOR 4 EARS, the label he founded in 1990, as well as on Erstwhile, Cut, Grob, List, Audiosphere, Amoebic, Rossbin, Creative Sources and others. ,

Jason Kahn
Jason Kahn is a sound and visual artist based in Zürich. His work includes sound installation, performance and composition. Kahn has given concerts at various festivals, art spaces and clubs throughout Europe, North and South America, Japan, Mexico, Korea, Israel, Turkey, Russia, Lebanon, Egypt, HongKong, New Zealand and Australia. ,

Norbert Möslang
Born in St.Gallen in 1952, plays cracked everyday-electronics. Worked with Voice Crack until the end of 2002 and played also in Poire_z. Played together with Borbetomagus, Otomo Yoshihide, Günter Müller, ErikM, Jerome, Noetinger, Lioinel Marchetti, Jim O’rourke, Kevin Drumm, Jason Kahn, Oren Ambarchi,Tomas Korber, Keith Rowe, I-sound, Carlos Zingaro, Florian Hecker and others.

Trimpin is a sound sculptor, composer, engineer, and inventor. A specialist in interfacing computers with traditional instruments, he has developed ways of playing everything from giant marimbas to stacks of electric guitars via computer. Trimpin has been hailed in New York’s Village Voice as “a genius at circuitry and machinery as well as acoustics and musical structure [who] manufactures orchestras that play themselves. Born in southwestern Germany near the Black Forest, Trimpin spent several years living and studying in Berlin, working as a set designer and meeting up with artists from both Germany and the United States. He relocated in the States in 1979. In 1997, Trimpin received both a MacArthur Award and a Guggenheim Fellowship for his creative investigations of acoustic music in spatial relationship. In 2005-2007, museums and galleries throughout the Pacific Northwest mounted an extensive retrospective of Trimpin’s work.

Pod Blotz is artist Suzy Poling from Oakland, California. The project is experimental and combines sonic tones with tape manipulation, vocals, theremin and organ drone. Pod Blotz aural sounds are very textured and accompany a stark visual component of video, mirrors and light experiments. Its informed by Musique Concrete and Science Fiction concepts and soundtracks.

Joseph Hammer has actively created experimental works since 1980 as a member of the LAFMS collective. His practice draws on the complexities of the process of listening and playing, reflecting on the role of the audience versus the performer, and uses music as it influences our notion of time, memory and intimacy as the basis for improvisation and abstraction. In various collaborations, solo, and as a founding member of the trio Solid Eye along with several other projects (Joe & Joe, Dinosaurs With Horns, Dimmer, Points of Friction), Hammer has performed widely and is an influential contributor to the Los Angeles underground scene.

Benjamin Bracken
For the past 15 years, Ben Bracken has slowly been creating a unique sonic language utilizing
electronics, acoustic sound sources (guitar, cymbal, bells, found objects, etc), electric guitar, and field
recordings. Primarily interested in the possibilities of echo-relocation in sound-based art, his work has oscillated from performance to installation, often blurring the lines between the two. In both, the location of the event becomes an active participant, intimately shaping the nature and direction of each work. Some previous or current musical groups include Crystal Village (With Gregg Kowalsky), Flashpapr, Tiny Lights, Remote Viewing Ensemble, Duo with Luis Maurette, Duo with Zach Wallace, and Bones (with Jacqueline Gordon). Ben has improvised with Le-Quan Ninh, Brent Guetzeit, Kevin Drumm, Peter Kowald, Chris Cutler, Phil Minton, Rhodri Davies, Werner Dafeldecker, Fred Van Hove, and Johannes Bauer, among others. In the spring of 2006, Ben received his MFA in Electronic Music from Mills College. From 2006-09 he curated the Totally Intense Fractal Mind Gaze Hut, a performance space in West Oakland, CA. Ben has just completed his most recent installation, contributing sound, live generated 3D visuals and interactivity to the Illuminated Forest installation at The Lab in San Francisco, CA. He currently resides in Oakland, CA and works at Cycling ’74, the developers of Max/MSP and Jitter.

Jacqueline Gordon
Surrounding contemporary folk aesthetics with multiple layers of sound, Jacqueline Gordon creates mixed media installation pieces that form new psycho-acoustical mythologies. The installation/performance artist received her BFA in Photography from the San Francisco Art Institute (2004) and is currently attending the Stanford MFA program. She has had solo shows at Queens Nails Projects, The San Francisco Arts Commission Gallery (Grove Street) and has exhibited her in work in group shows and festivals in New York and throughout California. Jacqueline has participated in artist residencies at the Bemis Center for Contemporary Art and the New York Studio Program. She has received a San Francisco Arts Commission Cultural Equity Grant (2008), Phelan, Murphy, and Cadogan Fellowship (2010) and recently acquired the Outstanding Student Achievement In Contemporary Sculpture Award from the International Sculpture Center. Jacqueline is a member of the female music collective 0th.

About the Organization
The San Francisco Electronic Music Festival is an artist-run organization founded in 1999 by a committee of eight Bay Area electro-acoustic music and sound art practitioners. Its mission is to provide a highly visible public forum for the diverse community of composers and sound artists working with electronic-based technologies in the Bay Area. Designed as an annual multi-day event consisting of concerts, installations and discussions, the primary focus is on independent artists whose innovative aesthetics challenge academic and commercial standards. The Committee’s goals are long-term: to establish the festival as an annual presence in the Bay Area; to foster a greater sense of community among the diverse group of Bay Area sound artists; to stimulate the creation of new electronic sound works; to increase public awareness of new sound-based technologies and their creative applications; to raise the level of discourse surrounding music and sound-art; and to raise the national and international profile of the Bay Area as a center for electronic music and sound art.

SFEMF 2010 Steering Committee/Curators: Jorge Bachmann, Elisabeth Beaird, George Chen, Matt Davignon, Tom Duff, Marielle Jakobsons, Kadet Kuhne, Jon Leidecker, Kristin Miltner, Pamela Z, Gino Robair, Agnes Szelag and Norman Teale.

Presented in partnership with Volume, de Young Museum, and swissnex San Francisco & The Swiss Arts Council Pro Helvetica.
Fiscal Sponsor: Circuit Network


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Little Feat Drummer Richie Hayward Dies at 64

Longtime Little Feat drummer Richie Hayward died on Thursday from complications of liver cancer. He was 64. Hayward, who has been in the band since its inception, was known for his funky, solid, New Orleans-influenced style of drumming. He was a master at varying his snare hits off of two and four. Hayward’s death is particularly sad because despite his years of success, he had no health insurance, and was depending on money raised at benefits to pay for a hoped-for liver transplant. It always distresses me to see musicians who are ill and have no insurance, and it happens more often than you’d realize. Rock on Richie.

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Performance Video from Spectrasonics with George Duke and Greg Phillinganes

Just got sent a link to a brand new video, produced by Spectrasonics. In it, George Duke plays piano, Greg Phillinganes plays keyboard bass using Trilian as his sound source, and Bob Wilson is on drums. The song is “The Face.”

Click here to go to the Spectrasonics video page, where you can watch or download.


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DP Control App Very Cool

I recently downloaded and checked out MOTU’s new DP Control app for the iPhone/iPod touch (it also works on the iPad). The free app, which controls DP through over Wi-Fi, gives you control over transport, shows time in bars/beats/ticks or timecode, lets you add markers on the fly and jump to markers, lets you control track on and off, add new takes, adjust level and pan on mixer channels, and more. It has worked flawlessly in my tests with it. This is an extremely useful and well designed app, and you can’t beat the price.

Here, left to right, are the Transport, Mixer, and Tracks windows of DP Control:

Read more about DP Control at our iPhone microsite

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Head for the Hills! Cassettes are Back

I understand the appeal of vinyl, but according to a Los Angeles Times piece from July 31st, the cassette is making a comeback, albeit in a very limited way. Mastering engineers around the world are probably saying, “No! say it ain’t so!”

From the story:

“Tapes remind me of Dollar Stores and K-Mart,” said Chris Jahnle, the 22-year-old co-founder of Kill/Hurt, a new Hollywood record label specializing in small batches of outré noise-rock released on cassettes dubbed in his living room.

What got me was this quote from Jahnle:

“MP3s sound terrible anyways, so why not have something that sounds terrible that you can hold?”

Okay, I agree that MP3s are not the equal of non-compressed audio formats, but, shoot, they blow away any cassette I’ve ever heard by more than a country mile.

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Outside Lands Remix Contest: A Few Days Left to Enter

Our friends at Creative Allies passed along this note about a remix contest that has only a few days left for submissions. You’d best get to remixing.

The same nexus that brought the world the microchip, the mountain bike and the Summer of Love will once again light up this summer for the Outside Lands Music & Arts Festival. The 3rd Annual Outside Lands will be held August 14th & 15th, 2010 in historic Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, California to benefit SF Recreation & Parks. Not just your typical music festival, Outside Lands transcends the genre with its staggering fusion of music, food, wine and art. and MixMatchMusic Wizard have teamed up with the San Francisco Outside Lands Music & Arts Festival for its first official Remix Contest. This year’s contest will feature three different artists and songs to remix as well as new easy-to-use web-based remixing tools for beginners. We are excited to announce that one grand-prize winner will be awarded a set at this year’s Outside Lands and a $500 award! The contest starts July 23rd with tracks from Gogol Bordello, My Morning Jacket, Beats Antique and Rebirth Brass Band. Visit to start working on your remix today!

How it works

1) Choose a song to remix
2) Download song stems, its free and easy!
3) Create your remix using the stems and any additional music or beats that either you have created or have a creative commons license for. You can also make your mix online by clicking on the MixMaker button of the widget.
4) Upload an MP3 of your remix via the same widget you used to download the stems. Enter as many remixes as you like!
5) Share the track with your friends and ask them to comment, rate, playlist your mix and share it with their friends on twitter, Facebook, MySpace, and their blogs, etc.
6) Once you have finished and uploaded your remix, Judges will select a winner for each track and one grand-prize winner!
7) Contest ends August 5th, 2010. Winners will be notified by August 8th, 2010.
Judging and Prizes
Enter as many remixes as you like. Each remix will have one winner. Each of those winners will go on to compete for the Grand Prize. The favorite remix of each track will receive a prize pack of CDs from each of the remix artists and two tickets to the festival.
One grand prize winner will also receive 2 passes to the festival with Artist credentials and the chance of a lifetime—a set in front of thousands of festival goers at Outside Lands and $500! Stems and all rights to the submissions for the remix contest will be owned by the remix track artists/labels.
Complete contest rules can be found HERE.
For complete, up-to-date information about Outside Lands visit:

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The Bus, EM's editorial blog, features posts from all the EM editors on topics related to gear, recording techniques and much more. It's also home to posts from a selected group of guest bloggers.


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