NAMM Blog: Day 3 (Jan 15, 2011)
More than ever, the NAMM show is becoming a mash up of the analog world – with its historic musical precedents made up of strings, reeds, mallets, speakers, mics and the best traditional music making elements – with the increasingly digital music world, where speed, portability, and innovation rule. When it comes to acoustic instruments and music making, there really are no new products, simply refinements and leaps ahead that improve existing tools and techniques.
At the 2011 NAMM show the work of a whole new generation of creative music brains are on display and I’ll share just a few of the more innovative products and people in my third and final blog posting from Anaheim.
Everywhere I look, Apple’s iPad is in play as the user interface for many of the coolest products. Perhaps none was as revolutionary as the twenty-minute demo I received from Reactable Live! This product’s inventors really thought outside the box. It’s actually a bit hard to describe in words. Imagine a space age instrument that combines sampling, digital effects, modular synthesis a la sound building blocks, and a giant multi touch “turntable” that creates a tactile sound sandbox, and you’ve got a truly innovative breakthrough in music-making.
Reactable started as a project in the labs of a research university in Barcelona, Spain a number of years ago. Using a circular workspace, you simply place any of the five types of sound tools (they look like pieces in a board game) on the touch screen surface to create or modify a sound. Rather than try to explain just how it works, you can follow the link at the end of this story to the company’s website which has a number of helpful videos that will quickly explain the possibilities offered to any musician by Reactable.
Speaking with Josep Viladomat at the booth, he said, “We wanted to create a better and more intuitive way to make music… using a [computer] keyboard is typing!” Marcos Alonso, one of the team that helped to develop Reactable, mentioned that this was their first trip to LA, and that word was getting out to more people about the product. “After we posted the first video on YouTube in 2007, interest really picked up to get the product to market. Bjork used it on her most recent tour and two or three studios have now added it. DJs in London and Germany seem to be starting to use it, too.”
The full system is totally portable, breaking down into a gig bag and two soft carrying cases. This kind of innovation comes at a price, though, as a full-blown system sells for $12,000. However, they’ve just launched the iPad app version for $10. For a guitar player like me, this is a really intuitive, powerful and fun way to relearn music making and create some original and unique sounds with a refreshing modular synthesis approach. Definitely my #1 “must see” product of this year’s NAMM show!
Continuing with the small (and inexpensive) is beautiful motif, I strolled around a whole new section of Hall E, where the start up companies are often found, where a section of the exhibit hall was devoted to Apps. My two picks for first runners up to Reactable are JammIt and Sample Lab. JammIt is a ridiculously easy to use practice app for any guitar, bass, keyboard player, or drummer. Unlike other rehearsal products, the JammIt team has licensed the original masters, so you can play along with the actual recording. Faders control the backing track’s drum and band parts, while a click is adjustable, too. You can speed up or slow down the original part while keeping intonation steady. As the song plays, you see your choice of either the actual music notation or the tab version. The App is free, and songs are $8 purchased three at a time. By far, the best play along learning aid I’ve seen to date with a very intuitive interface.
Sample Lab is another top of class iPad App, which offers a flexible and powerful audio toolset for the recording musician or composer. There are two main work spaces: the Main Sequencer page with eight sampler tracks and the Beat Trigger page. Sample Lab comes with a library of 100 samples, but readily allows you to import WAV, MP3 or iTunes audio files. Sample Lab inventor Aaron Pride showed me how quickly you could build or modify a track, using the intuitive GUI he designed. Sample Lab combines the power of a full featured sampler with a very sensitive input/triggering interface, making it ideal music making App for a traveling musician or even backstage at a local gig between sets. Highly recommended – priced at $8. See the link at the end of this story to find demo videos on the company’s website.
Continuing the small, powerful and sexy thread, I found myself at the IK Multimedia booth, checking out the latest and smallest version of their category leading guitar modeling software, AmpliTube. For 2011, the IK brain trust has come up with iRig, a pocket sized $39.99 interface that lets you plug your guitar, bass, or key board into your iPhone, iPad Touch or iPad. Then, just access the AmpliTube “Free” App to start rocking. If you want the full blown suite of guitar amp, speaker and stomp box plug-ins, the entire set is $19.99 in the App Store (choose from the iPad, iPod Touch or iPhone versions). With its built-in four-channel recorder, you can build a song from scratch and export it to your workstation as an M4A audio file. With this App, you can take your music making tools with you literally anywhere. Thank goodness, we musicians are still needed to come up with the notes!
As you probably know if you read my two earlier NAMM 2011 blogs, I’m a guitar junkie, so I had to spend my fair share of time playing all sorts of different guitars. Today, I stopped by the Daisy Rock Guitars (DRG) booth and spent a few minutes with their latest axe, the Stardust Elite in Cherry Bomb Burst finish. With looks reminiscent of a classic Les Paul Junior, a solid sycamore body, twin humbucking pickups, a tunable bridge and stop tailpiece, the Stardust Elite represents an outstanding value in a guitar that delivers solid quality, tone and style. When I think back about my first electric guitar with its terrible action and too-wide neck, I realize that today’s young guitarist (female or male) can get a nice guitar at an affordable street price of $250. Among all the guitars I played this week under $500 retail, this is certainly one of, if not, the best value I discovered.
Finally, as a music business teacher, I’m always scouring the show for new books that give the unvarnished truth about how the business of music really works. My NAMM book pick is veteran songwriter and publisher Dude McLean’s small, but insightful book, The Songwriter’s Survival Guide to Success, which was just published. I like the fact that he combines the concept of both survival and success in the book title. Today, more than ever, an artist has to have tenacity and persistence to sustain one’s self in the face of the intense competition for discovery.
Don’t be fooled by the weight of this book. McLean has worked his way up to the top of the publishing world over his 30-plus year career, and he doesn’t mince words as to what it takes to not only analyze your own songs with brutal honesty, but he gives the reader a road map with personal anecdotes along the way, to help the aspiring songwriter navigate the often obscure path toward recognition, acceptance, and finally, success as a commercial songwriter. I’m going to be recommending this book to my students and think it well worth the investment if you are serious about a career as a contemporary songwriter. It’s available from Hal Leonard Publishing (and Amazon) for $ 14.99 in print, $9.99 for Kindle.
It’s been a great three days of discovery for me at this year’s 2011 NAMM show. I hope that someday you have the opportunity to participate in this musical mega-event. I know that each year, I leave re energized to keep on making music and sharing my love of music with the people I meet.
Reactable (check out the video demos on this site)
Sample Lab (two helpful video demos on the site)
Daisy Rock Guitars
Dude McLean’s website
Purchase The Songwriter’s Survival Guide to Success