Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The benefits of Googling future purchases

Profire 610 serious recording bug. Not accurate
A loopback test with the Profire 610 shows that it has a serious random sample offset bug. The 610 is not consistently accurate in the sample start point when recording, meaning the start point drifts in time.
If you record e.g. a prerecorded track (1) out of output 7, into a new track (2) thru input 1 with a phono jack cable, you will see that each time you reopen the project or restart the host program, repeat the process and record the same track again, the start time will never be the exact same as last time when zooming into sample detail. It is drifting randomly by a few to many samples left or right arbitrary. Which means it is not able to do "sample accurate recording" as of today.

After skimming through this entire thread - it's become clear to me that the M-Audio ProFire 610 is NOT going to be the way I go.

Out with the bad, in with the good --

Designed by the company that revolutionized mobile music production, the ProFire™ 610 FireWire audio interface transforms your Mac or PC into a powerful 6-in/10-out recording studio. Premium digital converters deliver high-definition, 24-bit/192kHz audio throughout the signal path.

While attempting to record two tracks simultaneously in studio today, I was once again dismayed by the apparently malfunctioning second channel on my two channel Firebox. The 48v phantom power switch has also lost its ability to be activated and the unit has a dicey relationship with Garageband in that it sometimes shuts off or introduces audio crackle when I switch between tracks and/or features in the DAW. In other words, it's a poor excuse for an audio interface and I'm ready for something reliable.

After a bit of research, I've decided upon the M-Audio ProFire 610. It apparently has pretty nifty pre-amps, though they aren't tube so I stand behind my recent purchase of the ART Tube Pac. After checking out comparably priced interfaces, it seemed that what the Firebox had that many units do not is a 1 X 1 MIDI port - something that I need in order to utilize my Roland Fantom and virtual instruments in Garageband. Narrowed the choices quite a bit. On top of that, the ProFire 610 has two separate headphone jacks, each with their own volume control. It amazes me that many higher-priced interfaces don't even go this route. It comes in handy when recording tracks simultaneously with another warm body in the room.

Interestingly enough, another unit that I'd balk at if paying retail, is cheaper than what I'd be willing to pay for the M-Audio unit. The Saffire Pro 40 seems to be chock full of goodness with many of the same features as the ProFire 610. Ah - decisions, decisions.

I won't really be able to sell a somewhat defective Firebox - so I'll probably pass it on to my daughter, Casey, when I get her started with a DAW set-up of her own. It won't be perfect, but it will be enough for her to build upon.

Regarding the Rode NT1a (has anyone else noticed that the model name actually spells "rodent"??), I may hold off on that for a spell, as the combination pre-amp and new interface should be enough to give all the mics a boost (apparently, the Firebox has a notoriously low db gain.)

Besides, there are other gear fish to fry. (to be continued.)

Tools, Baby, Tools!

It goes without saying that home studio recording and project recording are not the same as going to a full-fledged professional studio. It's worth the money to have an experienced hand at the faders and a facility with the equipment necessary to make you sound your best.

That said, there's something attractive about the D.I.Y. ethic, which can fan out over many levels - from novice buying their first multi-track recorder to careerist, making decisions on the best DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) for the buck. Recording yourself and others at home offers plenty of benefits including the ability to track whenever you desire and without keeping a wary eye on the wallet clock. Another benefit is the gradual education you receive by slowly immersing yourself into the infinite world of gear, gear and more gear.

Over the years, having a home studio rig has become more affordable with plenty of resources out there to lend you a helping hand. Believe it or not, what's also made home recording so attractive is the fact that millions of people tend to listen to their music via mp3 files. This compressed audio format tends to level the playing field just a little bit in terms of fidelity. A very little bit.

During my own engineering journey, I find there are purchases made that greatly plus my ability to create and record good-sounding music tracks. Cruising on that for awhile, I continue to add onto the knowledge of recorders and mics, processors and amps, hardware and software. In recent months, I've purchased a couple of microphones (Shure SM57 and SM58 Beta) which have already improved the quality of what I record here at home. The next logical step was to get into an inexpensive microphone pre-amp to help warm up the tone that those microphones (and others in my collection) pick-up.

After getting a lead from David Lee King (@DavidLeeKing on Twitter), I ended up setting my sights on the ART Tube Pac. (A play on Tupac, perhaps - who knows?) I've long preferred the sound of tubes over solid state for amplifiers, so it made a lot of sense to employ their warmth to vocals and instruments during the recording process. As you get deeply into the whole production process, a rather largish world of details begins to unfold. Like the difference between dynamic and condenser mics or the wonderful world of manipulating frequencies during the E.Q. and mastering process, the deeper you go, the more there is to absorb. Compression plays a big part in all three phases of production (which, for you non-tech heads out there is pre-production, production and post-production) and it seemed handy to have a mic pre that would also allow for some signal compression.

So, I'm waiting on delivery of this unit sometime this week. Next on the list will be to upgrade from the PreSonus Firebox recording interface to something a little less glitchy with more inputs and sonic controls. Then: I'll be stepping up and looking for a good deal on a Rode NT1a.

As David put it, "amazing how there's ALWAYS more gear out there, huh?" It's true. Especially if you continue to develop, nourish and perfect your craft, whether it be playing an instrument or recording one. You need the proper tools to do the proper job.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Dulcimerica 151 - "Winter In Bardstown Pt. 2"

Eternal Cabbage

Jerry Rockwell is the mad scientist/genius of the mountain dulcimer, applying music theory to this simple instrument and exploding/exploring the possibilities within/without its structure. His "Eternal Cabbage" chordal exploration is a great exercise for playing and recognizing partial chords up and down the fretboard.

While you're over at his site, poke around and investigate some of the other pages too. Do it till your head hurts - then bookmark where you left off and come back for more. It's guaranteed to get you playing better/smarter in a heartbeat/New York Minute.

I have no idea what this/that is all about. Some kind of hidden theme - need more coffee to suss that out.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Hands-On Training

You may not be familiar with Mike Casey, the performer - he's a wizard on mountain dulcimer, limber like a gymnast on the fretboard. His book "Hands-On Dulcimer" is like spring-training for serious players.

Chock full of exercises for the left and right hands, this book is something I use to warm up before launching into playing or working out tablature or studying music theory. It consists of a number of targeted modules that help to develop and firm up strumming, flat and finger-picking, melody and chordal development as well as strengthening finger and hand muscles to do the work.

Great for all skill levels, it's either a great introduction to techniques such as hammer-ons, pull-offs and slides or it's a rigorous work-out for those familiar with those ornaments. It's probably a good thing to face; you don't just learn all of this stuff and then automatically "have it" for the rest of your life. Nay - even seasoned professionals need to crack away at scales, chords, various rhythms, picking patterns and studies in order to, as I call it, "stay on the horse." The moment you stop learning is the moment that your music starts to go south (and I don't mean Key West, either.)

I highly recommend this book to not only my students, but also anyone who is serious about stepping up their game on mountain dulcimer!

Amazon coupons are available for this book.

Winter in Bardstown Pt. 1

Saturday, February 13, 2010

A little drone with your coffee?

I really am a late bloomer.

Throughout my musical career, I've flirted with the idea of gratuitous merchandise like t-shirts, hats, printed thongs, the stuff you buy, but have been mainly focused on producing the music and getting it out there.

Until now.

No, now I've gone all Bing*Mart and have officially cracked open a schwag store on Reverbnation. For starters, because there's more stuff to come, the "Got Drone?" line has finally hit shelves. Dulcimer-land has some pretty famous shirts, clever ones that people like. I know that "Got Milk?" parodies are so very 1980, but as a child of the 70's, that seems jolly progressive to me. The great thing about "Got Drone?" is that it's not just about mountain dulcimers for it could also be about bagpipes, hurdy-gurdy, vacuum cleaners, etc.

Not only t-shirts and tote bags but also stainless steel travel mugs for your morning coffee. The jury is still out regarding "Got Drone?" thongs, mainly due to available printing space and not so much about the social implications.

And then, there's the logo marketing. As many of you have no doubt noticed, I've taken particular care about establishing a cross-platform "look" for my websites and social media networks. In somewhat disgusting marketing-speak, this is called "branding" and though it doesn't involve vaqueros, iron rods or painful heat, it's still a slightly disturbing yet necessary part of raising your visibility in an ever-crowded marketplace.

Back when the internet first became commercialized and open to the public, people were hip to set up web pages, even though they had no idea what on earth to do with them. They'd labor intensively over the thing for a week, proudly set it up and then sit, blankly looking at their static web counters, wondering why no-one knew they were there. With the sheer amount of people rubbing virtual elbows with you on the 'net, you've got to somehow get their attention. Just long enough for you to show them what's inside the box, kind of like walking down a supermarket aisle when blammo! something leaps out at you visually and you have to go over and inspect it. Branding is part of the first line of attraction. Somewhere along the line, I managed to acquire some maddish design skillz, so I eventually came up with my own logos, colors, layouts, etc. If you're not a designer; find a starving art student/webmaster and pay them with Netflix gift cards.

Once you've settled upon a visual identity, allow that to be a common thread in your online presence. Much like the familiar red and white Coca-Cola logo, people will come to recognize you on a crowded shelf. This wasn't such a big deal when mom and pop ran the places, but with more and more of a big-box approach to commerce (aided mostly by the internet and not so much the big box stores), you have to shout awfully loud to be heard even half of once.

You'd think I'd have long been into the merchandising side of this, having really dug into the whole branding concept, but two things have kept me from stocking up on logo jewelry, embroidered toilet paper caddies and signature pool covers.

One. Space.

Two. Cash.

I know. It may seem like I'm on a $&#%@! boat a lot of the time, but remember, the boat was rented. Just like the tux. Great ideas cost great amounts of money and, without investors or that flash-in-the-pan success and advertising, you can end up a million-seller ("got a million of these in the cellar.") But when Reverbnation suddenly opened up a way for artists to sell 0n-demand merchandise, well - that changed everything. You can design your merch, have them pay for production and ship it as well. That is treat-filled. Wish I could work my books and CDs like that (and I know that I can - just have to put that in motion.)

Granted, the retail price of the items is pretty much eaten up by production costs - so what's the profit? The profit is in extending your visual reach beyond the internet. Just the fact that anyone would want to wear a t-shirt with your name on it should be enough to make you pretty happy. What then exceeds happy and clutch-shifts into overdrive glee is knowing that X number of people may see the shirt (or mug or thong), have your name or band float across their frontal lobe, file it away under "Google This" and before you know it, you've got another click on your page views.

Strict marketing talk can be a soul-numbing experience, so be sure to remember that both you and the people who embrace your mission are just that: people. And more important than any flashy bling or schwag is what you have to say, how you say it and what effect it has on others. Sure, there are those out there who are all icing and no cake. But take one bite of that and you may be prone to pass on that particular brand (unless you're an all-icing kind of person in which case there's a special level of misery reserved just for you.)

Now, having said all that, can I interest you in a "Got Drone?" chamois?

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Pinching Myself (and liking it)


I just had to take a moment and reflect on something. Seems I've been go-go-go for a while here, which has resulted in some pretty eye-opening stuff.

The 1st Annual Key West Dulcimer Fest wrapped up not even a week ago and was a tremendous success. Before then, I'd not organized anything larger than an open mic night (unless you count the production of the short film "Meds"), so it was a blast to see a whole year's worth of work culminate in a four-day party with music, great weather, wonderful people and a sweet vibe.

Now, back home in the studio, with nothing on my schedule except a recording session at Full Sail next week and my usual monthly two-nighter at Dicey Reilly's Irish Pub, I can finally settle down and finish work on my recording projects. Kinda. Because each day, I'm still managing my career; it's a lot of juggling, working online, maintaining connections and making new ones. You know how you could always do more, but then again you could always do less and somewhere in the middle is a decent place to be. There's a place where you can still do it for the love and not let it break you, or leave a sour taste in your soul.

As I'm doing my morning administrative stuff on this Saturday, I happened to look at my booking calendar and was stunned to see that, during this first week of February, I'm already scheduled for every month of the year except December (which has traditionally been a month that I've taken off in order to rest up and enjoy the holidays with my family.)

I used to lie awake, just before sleep descended upon me as a child, dreaming about a life like this - doing what I love, traveling, making music, meeting people, lending a hand, cruising in happiness. What that all amounts to is this: dreams do come true.

But not only if you believe - there must be hard work involved as well. Along the way, there were many who tried to dissuade me, convince me there was another path or outright discourage me from my attempts, dismissing them as futile. Others, however, drop e-mails now and then with the gentle words "I always knew you'd make it happen."

After I finish typing this blog, I'm going to sit down and continue doing what I've always done - fighting and scrabbling for each little bit of purchase on the slippery slope of life. Every day, it's run scales, work with a metronome, dig into different tunings, learn songs that I don't know, write and record, design and connect. It never stops, but it sometimes plateaus, and those are the moments when you can sit back, relax and appreciate the view.

This is one of those moments.

Moment is over - back to work. : )

Thanks for all of you out there who believed, and thanks to all out there who did not. Thanks to those who support and encourage the music and thanks to those who don't.

I'm pinching myself and liking it.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Festival Action - Low Action - High Action

It's been awhile since I've posted here, mainly due to keeping up information on the Key West Dulcimer Fest website.

What a blast and what a joy! The festival ran smoothly, the weather was amazing and we're looking at 2011 for our next time around.

There are lots of little details that have been floating in and out of focus since the final day; moments of music, leaps forward in ability, all of the minute things that combine to create a wonderfully eye-opening experience.

Huge thanks to Folkcraft Instruments for their sponsorship of the festival and the hard work of Richard Ash on-site, connecting with instructors and working on dulcimers. Stephen Seifert and I have been talking about low action vs. high action (we've both been huge fans of low action) and finally decided that a higher action was necessary for the styles of playing that we both employ. Richard raised the action on three of our instruments and the difference is incredible. Sure, you have to work a little harder, not much, but enough to win great results. The dynamic range of the instruments have opened up and, dare I say it, has made them just a touch louder. We went with low action to make fretting easier - but I offer that anything totally easy won't yield the best results. It's like working out - the harder it is, the greater the reward (or something like that.)

There will be video coming along in a little while, some more recollections and announcements of dates and instructors for the next festival - soon!