THE MUSICIAN ’S RESO URCE
How Bitcoin Will Change the Future of Music Purchasing Choose the Right Plant to Press Your Vinyl How to Set up The Perfect Home Studio
BUFFALO KILLERS DEMO TAPED KING KHAN
The Selecter Pauline Black on music’s ability to effect change in today’s political climate
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TABLE OF cover story
THE SELECTER by t. ali. eubank
BUFFALO KILLERS by Anthony Cammalleri
TABLE OF CONTENTS
CONTENTS VOLUME 27, ISSUE 8
14 DEPARTMENTS 4. LETTER FROM THE EDITOR
by Taylor Northern
VINYL OF THE MONTH: Creepshow OST
RECORDS THAT CHANGED MY LIFE: Caustic Casanova
How to Handle Insurance Claims on the Road
How Bitcoin Will Change the Future of Music Purchasing
How to Choose the Right Vinyl Pressing Plant
How to Set Up the Ideal Home Studio
38. GEAR REVIEWS: PreSonus, Yamaha, Supro, Blue Microphones and moreâ€¦
DEMO TAPED by Alex Lane
MY FAVORITE AXE: Gary Blanchard
FLASHBACK: 1959 Fender Esquire Cover
PERFORMER MAGAZINE DECEMBER/JANUARY 2018 3
LETTER FROM THE EDITOR
Howdy, y’all. As we go to press, we’ve just received the unfortunate news that Boston’s own The Noise will f-f-f-fade away. Although we haven’t seen a print issue of the venerable local ’zine in quite some time, The Noise has none-the-less persevered in an online state for a while. Once the go-to mag for the local scene here (and one that introduced me to many bands in my formative years), The Noise’s relevance in an increasingly digital world has diminished with each passing year, and as such the recent news didn’t come as a huge shock to many of us who saw little effort from the staff to make any sort of . Here’s what founder and longtime head honcho T. Max had to say in his final column: “Hi. This is T Max, the founder, editor and publisher of The Noise – the guy who held this ’zine together into its 37th year. And though it’s been a wonderful trip promoting the talented musicians of New England, it’s come time for me to let it go. Lately I’ve been feeling like a second-class angel, waiting to get my wings. And after completing the December 2017, issue #382, I’ll be doing just that. If you asked Leo Fender (RIP) what he thought of musicians… he’d tell you they were angels. By
being a musician and supporting local musicians through The Noise I feel like I’ve earned my wings. I hope each and every one of you will be able to talk to me in person about your experience with The Noise and the community we have called a scene. I want to thank all the writers, photographers, copy editors, distributors and especially the advertisers that supported The Noise which in turn helped thousands of musicians in New England…Music is my medicine… and I’ll never stop taking it. Thank you, thank you very much.” Now, I get the irony of another newsprint-based mag commenting on the transition from print to digital. I do. While we are optimistic that we’ll still be in print for the foreseeable future, we have not neglected growth in the digital domain, which certainly accounts for our continued existence and ability to thrive in an increasingly anti-print culture. In fact, a large percentage of our time is devoted to digital marketing now. Now, that’s not a knock on The Noise, but realistically, as we sit here amongst the tombstones of print mags that have come and gone, we can’t help but think we’re doing something right... Benjamin Ricci, editor
PS – for more in-depth coverage on The Noise, we encourage you to read the Ed Symkus article in The Boston Globe. Or, check it out it online, I suppose…
Volume 27, Issue 8 PO BOX 348 Somerville, MA 02143 CONTACT
Phone: 617-627-9200 Fax: 617-627-9930 PUBLISHER
William House Phone: 617-627-9919 email@example.com EDITOR
Benjamin Ricci firstname.lastname@example.org DESIGN & ART DIRECTION
Bob Dobalina email@example.com CONTRIBUTING WRITERS
Alex Lane, Anthony Cammalleri, Benjamin Ricci, Chris Devine, Francis Beringer, Gary Blanchard, Ged Richardson, Micki Windham, Robert Meigel, Taylor Norther, Tony Eubank CONTRIBUTING PHOTOGRAPHERS
Stefanie Zaenker, Erin Gabbard, Rebecca Thom, Tally Tupelo, Dean Chalkley, Sarah Fahey ADVERTISING SALES
William House Phone: 617-627-9919 firstname.lastname@example.org © 2017 by Performer Publications, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced by any method whatsoever without the written permission of the publisher. The magazine accepts no responsibility for unsolicited recordings, manuscripts, artwork or photographs and will not return such materials unless requested and accompanied by a SASE. Annual Subscription Rate is $30 in the U.S.; $45 outside the U.S.
Performer Magazine, a nationally distributed musician’s trade publication, focuses on independent musicians, those unsigned and on small labels, and their success in a DIY environment. We’re dedicated to promoting lesser-known talent and being the first to introduce you to artists you should know about.
Did we make a heinous blunder, factual error or just spell your name wrong? Contact email@example.com and let us know, cuz we’re big enough to say, “Baby, I was wrong.”
MUSIC SUBMISSIONS We listen to everything that comes into the office. We prefer physical CDs, cassettes and vinyl over downloads. If you do not have a physical copy, send download links to firstname.lastname@example.org. No attachments, please. Send CDs to: Performer Magazine Attn: Reviews PO BOX 348 Somerville, MA 02143
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EDITORIAL SUBMISSIONS In the words of our esteemed forefathers at CREEM: “NOBODY WHO WRITES FOR THIS RAG’S GOT ANYTHING YOU AIN’T GOT, at least in the way of credentials. There’s no reason why you shouldn’t be sending us your stuff: reviews, features, photos, recording tips, DIY advice or whatever else you have in mind that might be interesting to our readers: independent and DIY musicians. Who else do ya know who’ll publish you? We really will... ask any of our dozens of satisfied customers. Just bop it along to us to email@example.com and see what comes back your way. If you have eyes to be in print, this just might be the place. Whaddya got to lose? Whaddya got?”
Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (Waxwork Records)
reepshow is one of the more successful horror anthologies of the ’80s, due in no small part to its legendary creative duo of Stephen King and George A. Romero. But in reality, what helps propel the film above the standard B-movie schlock of the day is not just the lovingly recreated aesthetic of old Tales From the Crypt and Vault of Horror comics, but the brilliant soundtrack score by longtime Romero composer John Harrison.
They located the original analog master tapes in a Pittsburgh attic (for more on that story, read our interview with founder Kevin Bergeron in the Aug/Sept issue). They’ve painstakingly restored and re-mastered the soundtrack for vinyl, and the results are stellar. Our copy sounds fantastic, a dramatic improvement over horror-con-sourced nth-generation versions that have been floating around. The green vinyl we received is ultraquiet, which enables the dynamics of the score to really come alive, even during the softest passages.
Having owned a lousy bootleg recording of the score for decades, I was thrilled to rediscover this gem, courtesy of our friends at Waxwork Records. Waxwork goes the extra mile on all their releases, and Creepshow is no exception.
Of course, what would a Waxwork release be without the fancy packaging? This time around, we’re treated to fantastic new artwork from Ghoulish Gary Pullin, including a killer 11”-square print inside the left gatefold sleeve,
plus additional informative liner notes from Romero and Harrison in the gatefold itself. The soundtrack to Creepshow holds a special place in my heart, and the new package from Waxwork is quite simply a dream come true. Get them while they last, boys and ghouls… For more info, visit waxworkrecords.com
Benjamin Ricci PERFORMER MAGAZINE DECEMBER/JANUARY 2018 5
REVIEWS Rush A Farewell To Kings (1977) This record made me want to play an instrument, specifically bass. I was initially drawn in by “Closer To The Heart” – but the long cuts “Xanadu” and “Cygnus X-1” became a portal to a whole other world of progressive, heavy, strange music that I’m still discovering and learning about.
Deep Purple In Rock (1970) Drawing actual influence from Rush seemed impossible as a teenager. Deep Purple were no less virtuosic, but the meat and potatoes of their best music was always the repetitive, heavy, bluesy riff. This was the kind of music I wanted to make, and felt I could attempt to imitate.
Kyuss Welcome to Sky Valley (1994) I could barely contain my excitement upon discovering this record, and listened to hardly anything else in the spring of 2004. This is the best collection of psychedelic heavy metal riffs ever put on an LP. It was an instant influence on me, and remains so to this day.
Clutch Robot/Hive Exodus (2005) My first Clutch record, and still their best. They seemed like a dream band made just for me – the most memorable riffs, the deepest grooves, fronted by a lyrical madman and genius storyteller. It’s still crazy to me that we get to work with J Robbins, who produced this gem.
’m Francis Beringer, bassist/vocalist for Washington, DC heavy rock band Caustic Casanova. We’ve been busy lately. In the past few months we released a new 7-inch, Pantheon: Vol 2, completed a full US tour, and finished recording and mixing our upcoming full length.
ABOUT CAUSTIC CASANOVA Our new 7-inch, Pantheon: Vol. 2, has a cover of “Cow,” the final cut on Bullhead, on side B. Check out Caustic Casanova at CausticCasanova. com, facebook.com/causticcasanova, and on twitter @causticcasanova.
RECORDS CHANGED 6 DECEMBER/JANUARY 2018 PERFORMER MAGAZINE
REVIEWS Melvins Bullhead (1991) The Melvins destroyed my notions of what heavy music should be. After encountering Bullhead my entire musical aesthetic changed and my songwriting was forever altered. They’re always going further, getting weirder, challenging themselves and breaking yet more stupid rock rules. Track one - “Boris” - might be heaviest song ever written.
It’s easy for me to pinpoint when music became my passion – it’s a clearly defined lightning bolt moment. In the summer of 1999 I saw AC/DC play “You Shook Me All Night Long” and “Back in Black” on an SNL rerun. That backbeat and those huge riffs woke up something dormant in me – it transformed me from a casual music listener into a maniac. AC/DC obsession eventually led to me to discover the following transformative albums, which shaped me into the musician I am today.
S THAT D MY LIFE With Francis Beringer from Caustic Casanova
PERFORMER MAGAZINE DECEMBER/JANUARY 2018 7
Insurance Matters: Wh Claim is Filed Against Y
photo by ianakoz
n this piece, we want to go over the procedures and practices that occur when the unthinkable happens: a claim is filed. If it gets to this point, then something has gone off-script. Perhaps your band has caused damage to the physical structure of a venue during your performance (either purposefully or accidentally), and the venue has decided to take action. What do you do?
What if someone was physically injured at your show and, similarly, theyâ€™ve decided to take action, as well? These scenarios can be scary, especially for artists who are typically focused on making music, and not the intricacies of the insurance process or dealing with damages caused by their actions (or inactions). Look, no one ever thinks that awful things are gonna happen when out on tour, or playing that killer festival. But the truth is, they can, and do. And we want to make sure you know what happens during the process both in instances when you are covered by an insurance policy, and even in the instances when (unfortunately), you decided to not to purchase coverage. 8 DECEMBER/JANUARY 2018 PERFORMER MAGAZINE
K&K’s Chief Claims Officer, Dean Reed, was kind enough to answer some of our questions about the process: What is the first step an artist should take if a claim is made against them? Dean Reed: The most important thing to do is to take down the information of the accusing party and advise the party that you will notify your insurance company so that they can investigate the matter. If the performer is still on site they can take photos of the damage and obtain the name and contact information of any witnesses. If they are no longer at the location of the damage, simply take down the information of the reporting person at the venue and immediately report the matter to their agent or insurance company. I would recommend writing down as much information as possible about what you remember and what is being alleged because memories fade over the course of time. Never assume any obligations or make any admissions of guilt or liability [ed note – our emphasis]. How does that process differ for an artist who has insurance compared to an artist with no insurance? Dean Reed: Instead of contacting your insurance company the artist may want to contact their legal counsel for advice. The need to gather and preserve as much documentation as possible still remains important. Again, never assume any obligation or make any admissions of guilt or liability. Who are the people an artist will typically deal with during this process, and what will those people do for an artist who has a policy? Again, what can an artist without insurance expect? Dean Reed: The artist with insurance will deal with a claims examiner and possibly an attorney defending their interests. They will handle the investigation and advise the artist of the next steps and deal with the adverse party [on behalf of the artist]. An artist without insurance is on their own to figure out what to do, who to contact, and how to respond. [ed note – that sounds like a solid case for investigating insurance options before your play any more live shows, doesn’t it?] And finally, if possible, is there any sort of
time/cost difference an artist can expect with and without insurance when it comes time to deal with a claim against them? Dean Reed: The most glaring difference is the artist without insurance incurs the financial costs and time to investigate, defend and possibly compensate another party for the claim against them. The artist with insurance has a company behind them that will do that for them so that they can focus on their art. We also received some helpful input from Mark A. Beck, Senior Vice President of K&K’s Merchandising Division. “I completely agree with the advice Dean has already provided. And just for reference, I’ve included a section from a standard policy (usually found in all general liability policies in some form or another) that outlines the duties of the insured when something happens. To me, some of the more important points include; reporting the occurrence or suit as soon as practicable, documenting the details of what happened, cooperate with the insurance company completely, and don’t attempt to settle the matter themselves. One additional item that hasn’t been mentioned yet is the importance of carefully reviewing and understanding any written agreements the artist/ performer signs. It is always recommended they seek legal advice before signing a contract. In many cases a written agreement will include specific insurance requirements, so the performer should make sure they share those details with their insurance agent or company. Many times, the contract will require the performer to add the venue to their policy as an additional insured on their policy (essentially sharing their policy with the venue at that point). While this is a standard request and practice in the insurance world, some companies will charge additional premium to add an additional insured, so the performer should ask how that is handled when purchasing their coverage (in our case, we do not charge extra premium to add a venue or someone else as an additional insured). Also with respect to contracts, they often include a clause wherein the performer is agreeing to ‘hold harmless’ the venue for any loss or damage that occurs. And if a loss occurs, be sure to share any written agreements with the insurance company during the claims process.”
What Happens When a t You as a Performer From the Conditions Section of a General Liability Policy: Duties In The Event Of Occurrence, Offense, Claim Or Suit a. You must see to it that we are notified as soon as practicable of an “occurrence” or an offense which may result in a claim. To the extent possible, notice should include: (1) How, when and where the “occurrence” or offense took place; (2) The names and addresses of any injured persons and witnesses; and (3) The nature and location of any injury or damage arising out of the “occurrence” or offense. b. If a claim is made or “suit” is brought against any insured, you must: (1) Immediately record the specifics of the claim or “suit” and the date received; and (2) Notify us as soon as practicable. You must see to it that we receive written notice of the claim or “suit” as soon as practicable. c. You and any other involved insured must: (1) Immediately send us copies of any demands, notices, summonses or legal papers received in connection with the claim or “suit”; (2) Authorize us to obtain records and other information; (3) Cooperate with us in the investigation or settlement of the claim or defense against the “suit”; and (4) Assist us, upon our request, in the enforcement of any right against any person or organization which may be liable to the insured because of injury or damage to which this insurance may also apply. d. No insured will, except at that insured’s own cost, voluntarily make a payment, assume any obligation, or incur any expense, other than for first aid, without our consent. We hope this provided some helpful information, and might make you think twice about neglecting to opt for some insurance coverage the next time you hit the stage. We wish to thank K&K Insurance for their great assistance with this article, especially Dean Reed, Mark Beck and Marketing Manager Lorena Hatfield. For more information, to purchase coverage online or to simply to speak with an entertainment insurance expert about your needs, we encourage you to head to https://www. kandkinsurance.com/Entertainment/Pages/ Entertainers-Performers.aspx.
PERFORMER MAGAZINE DECEMBER/JANUARY 2018 9
image by Isokivi
Is Bitcoin the Future of Purchasing or Just Hy
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of Music Hype?
Still with me? You use a digital wallet (address) where you store and trade these coins to use for purchasing different currencies, goods and services; or for selling (cashing out) for traditional currency, like a dollar or Euro. Your wallet can be connected to your bank account or your PayPal account and used as a passthrough to trade on currency values as they change and are made available. Did I lose you? Now, here’s the revolutionary part, each coin or transaction has a value on the blockchain, but it also has the ability to store extra information on the ledger, a written record of the blocks. This means that it can carry metadata. As a longtime reader of this space, I’m sure you remember our articles about the blockchain and music (catch up with our previous piece on Benji Rogers’ Dot Blockchain at performermag.com). This is all so complicated! Why the hell should you care? I know it can all be painfully boring to learn; but hey, welcome to being a 21st Century musician, now it’s creeping into your industry. Recently, Björk announced she was selling her album using blockchain startup, Blockpool, allowing payment by Bitcoin; and in return, you’d receive 100 Audiocoins. Snoop Dogg made a joke on Twitter about his next album being available in Bitcoin. Imogen Heap did a release around Ether (similar to Bitcoin) on Ethereum. But here’s the thing. I can’t find one person in my network who bought Björk’s album with Bitcoin. Snoop never did follow up on his threat. In short, there’s a lot of hype here, but very little fire. However, I have two producer friends who now take Bitcoin for payment, I know of a VC guy who is doing deals for analog guitar pedals with it, and I am personally being headhunted to help musicfocused streamers figure out the publishing side. Something’s going on. So, let me try to simplify this for you, from a music business perspective.
Separate the idea of buying/selling cryptocurrency from the idea of accepting it as payment. Understand that the power behind Bitcoin is the blockchain, and there are music-focused initiatives, decentralized from major label/pub influence, imperative to the independent musician/artist, and you need to get involved with them right now to stay relevant. You learned how to play instruments, write polyphonic songs, and perform them in front of people; you can do it, THIS IS NOT TOO HARD FOR YOU TO LEARN.
I’m assuming you’ve heard of Bitcoin by now. For those who haven’t heard, here’s a quick primer. Bitcoin is one of many cryptocurrencies; others like Ether, Litecoin, and DASH, are the most well-known of over 1100 actively traded coins on exchanges like Coinbase and Bittrex. What are they? Basically put, they are digital currency that is “mined” by computers working out algorithms on a peer-to-peer system of exchanges, and those “bits” are parts of what’s turned into “blocks” when transactions are created and validated. These actions by P2P computers – not banks - create a ledger of transactions called the blockchain that cannot be tracked or traced like normally currency, but creates value by scarcity and volume of mining and trading.
Here’s the most important thing: this is happening, right now, all over the world. The currency valuation may or may not be a bubble, but the blockchain is absolutely a concept that is here to stay, and there are literally billions of dollars pouring into its development. Some of your fans, your possible investors, are dabbling in Bitcoin. While it’s hard to monitor how many people own, trade, buy, or sell Bitcoins, (it’s anonymous, remember?) there are over 20 million members on the two most popular exchanges in the U.S. alone. Here is your homework. First: Go to Coinbase.com and setup your BTC wallet for free. (I do not get paid for this). This will allow you to accept Bitcoin on your website or social channels. You can then sell it to PayPal for real cash. It is also integrated with Square readers and Cash. me for merch at shows. Second: Go to these sites, sign up and do some research: UJOmusic.com, Songcoin.org, Museblockchain.com (Peer music), Bittunes.com. Some of these are revising their blockchain tech, but they will be “open” soon and you want to be involved early. Third: Get involved and put one track on Musicoin. org (more on them soon) and Voise.com Fourth: Get involved and informed at Open-Music. org and DotBlockchainmusic.com Let me be clear. I’m not here to give you financial advice as to whether you should invest in Bitcoin (or any other cryptocurrency). However, I am here to tell you start getting involved now. Watch this space for more articles simplifying this for you, soon. And if you feel so inclined, here is my BTC Wallet for tips: 174KVhMGZWJXufegWJSgKZ52ZjGtcn1N9x ABOUT THE AUTHOR -Michael St. James is the founder and creative director of St. James Media, specializing in music licensing, publishing, production and artist development. PERFORMER MAGAZINE DECEMBER/JANUARY 2018 11
HELPFUL TIPS FO YOUR NEXT VINY
his summer, Kindercore Vinyl opened our record pressing plant in Athens, Georgia with brand new, state-of-the-art WarmTone presses from Viryl Technologies. Since the mid-1990s, we have all worked as touring musicians, record label owners, audio engineers, and record store owners before getting into record manufacturing. Having dealt with pressing plants as customers before, we are especially qualified to help you navigate through the complicated process of getting a record made. Everything we love about listening to records, and all the various issues you can run into while making them, stem from the fact that pressing records is, ultimately, a physical process. Many of us musicians that came of age in the era of CDs and digital downloads tend to think that our work on an album is complete once it is 12 DECEMBER/JANUARY 2018 PERFORMER MAGAZINE
mastered. In vinyl record production, there are still many more decisions to make before pressing begins, and all of those decisions will affect how your record sounds and looks. Take those tracks you just mastered, for example. Were they mastered specifically for vinyl? If you were planning on using the same masters for your record as you did for digital applications, consider shelling out the extra money to get a separate vinyl master instead. Vinyl records generate their sound from the physical act of running a needle through a groove, so it makes sense that the audio will have different mastering needs than purely digital audio media. You can throw bass at digital all day long, for instance, but if you try the same with vinyl, you might have skipping issues, as excessive low frequencies can literally knock the needle out of the groove. Once your music is mastered, itâ€™s time for
lacquer cutting and electroplating. This multistep process produces stampers, the metal plates that press grooves into every chunk of hot plastic that will become your record. (Physical process!) This is the part of pressing that most people outside of the industry are least familiar with, but it is just as important as any other step. Any imperfections in the stampers will be transferred to your record, over and over and over again. Since this is a complicated process involving expensive equipment and highly regulated chemicals, many pressing plants outsource their cutting and plating. Check with friends who have pressed records before to hear their experiences with cutting and plating, and see if you can gather any recommendations. A vinyl record is an audio medium, but a record is an art object, too. Many of the decisions you make about pressing your record will involve balancing these dual aspects. Most musicians
Special guest article courtesy of Kindercore Vinyl
FOR NAVIGATING NYL RELEASE don’t have an unlimited budget for record pressing, so at some point you are going to have choose which bells and whistles you want to prioritize and make some sacrifices. Picture in your mind your ideal record - how it looks, how it feels in your hands, what it is like opening it for the first time, and of course, how it sounds - then rank your preferences. Is it worth it to you to splurge on a gatefold jacket that can display the panoramic album art of your prog-rock dreams, or is that money better spent on upgrading to 180-gram records that look and feel more impressive than the standard weight? Or should you skimp on the packaging so you can afford to get your album mastered by that one audio engineer whose work is great, but charges a little more than you usually spend? If you want your record to be on color vinyl instead of black, are you willing to accept the minimal loss in audio fidelity that can accompany some colors? (I’m looking at you, metallic gold!) The answers are different for everyone, and you should have some idea of what you want before you start talking to a plant. Make informed choices about who presses your album! Interested in working with a particular pressing plant? Listen to records you know have been pressed there to check quality, if possible. Reach out to them, and ask for a quote or general information. Gauge the speed and helpfulness of their response. If anything happens during pressing that could cause delays or require additional attention, you are going to want whoever you end up working with to let you know as soon as possible. Pressing records, especially for the first time, can be an intimidating experience. Luckily, with more record pressing plants opening all the time, there’s never been a better time for modern musicians to find the right plant to guide them through the process. Questions? Write to Vinyl@Kindercore. com or visit www.KindercoreVinyl.com for more information.
PERFORMER MAGAZINE DECEMBER/JANUARY 2018 13
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SPOTLIGHT Erin Gabbard
ANDREW GABBARD ON MUSICAL AUTHENTICITY AND FRATERNITY
KILLERS Anthony Cammalleri
PERFORMER MAGAZINE DECEMBER/JANUARY 2018 15
t a barn out in Howler Hills Farm, south of Dayton, Ohio, two brothers, Andrew and Zachary Gabbard, have a jam session with their longtime friends Sven Kahns and Joseph Sebaali. They plug in, turn on, and start howling psychedelic tunes into the night as they have done for years - just a group of lads laughing and making music together. The rock band Buffalo Killers recorded their eighth album Alive and Well in Ohio with mellow and harmonious vibes over the course of a year. No stress, no rules, and most importantly, no “faking it.” Released this fall on Alive Naturalsound, the Gabbard brothers produced their new record with the sole intention of creating an authentic sound that stays true to their roots. According to Buffalo Killers guitarist and vocalist Andrew Gabbard, the band is more committed to playing with energy and passion than to engineering their sound professionally.
“I am not much of a gearhead. We’re not learned scholars of recording. That’s what we were excited about, to be able to have our hands on it [the album] and break the rules, because you can’t just do what you want when you’re paying to record at a studio,” Gabbard says. Keeping their hearts and souls embedded in each track, the band, rather than layering their album drum-first, recorded songs on Alive and Well in Ohio with first a live track comprising all of the skeleton instruments, later on adding tracks for vocals or extra guitar spice. “We always do the basic instruments live together: we’ll do the guitar, the bass, and the drums [first]. We try to isolate everything the best we can with walls and stuff, but we try to get a take with very good energy, and then we’ll overdub, we’ll double up a guitar track. We’ll do the vocals and add all the fun extra stuff that we want to add after we get the basic track. That’s just what we’re most comfortable with. You know, looking at each
On self-producing: “That’s what we were excited about, to be able to…break the rules, because you can’t just do what you want when you’re paying to record at a studio.” 16 DECEMBER/JANUARY 2018 PERFORMER MAGAZINE
other in the eyes while we’re recording,” Gabbard says. Creating a raw and unadulterated sound is so important to Gabbard that, even while writing lyrics, he usually trusts his stream of consciousness above anything else to crank out line after line. With tracks titled “Applehead Creek” or “Death Magic Cookie,” one might think that there is an aura of deep symbolic imagery surrounding Alive and Well in Ohio; however, this album’s surreal and mysterious lyrics were not written in the cryptic and metaphorical fashion to which they appear to have been. In fact, most of his words, according to Gabbard, were written on-the-spot. “A lot of the lyrics I had for this album, I just tried to add as much imagery as I could. I usually will write a song, and I’ll just keep the lyrics that first come into my mind - whether they make sense or not,” he says. The evocative lyrics on tracks like “Applehead Creek” or “Outta This Hotel,” were written to bring images to the minds of listeners; images that, Gabbard says, have been written for the sake of imagery itself - not necessarily for any greater purpose. “With ‘Death Magic Cookie,’ I just thought that
sounded cool. I don’t really consider myself to be a very good lyricist or anything, but I just try. I enjoy a lot of fantasy- weird books and stuff, I just to try to add that imagery so that when you learn what I’m saying, it will paint a picture in your mind,” he says. With more surrealist lyrics, a slower tempo, and a vocal softness attached to Alive and Well in Ohio, the album strays from the styles of previous Buffalo Killer records. Unlike the rockabilly vibes of their 2008 album, Let it Ride, or the gritty and soulful energy in their 2006 selftitled debut record, the band’s more recent work is, for the most part, much more relaxed. “We try to take a different approach to each record. We don’t exactly have a direct inspiration for the music, we just work on songs and try to give it as much life as we can. [We wanted to] get a good take of it with the best energy and not put too much thought into it,” Gabbard says. Even with a constantly evolving style, and a widening span of musical taste, Gabbard says he cannot predict or plan the stages to come. The band’s “keep it real” mantra extends to all aspects of their sound, including their selfvision as a group of artists. Buffalo Killers limit themselves to no single genre and refrain from squeezing themselves into one musical culture. They do not consider themselves a ’60s-style band, nor an indie rock group - just four music junkies who will add spices of other genres to their sound if the inspiration slaps one of them in the face. “More so than anything else, we’re super music fan nerds. That’s one reason why, in my opinion, someone else might listen to our albums and think they’re all the same, but the truth is we’ve changed a lot. In terms of experimenting with new genres, the way that this band works is that me and my brother write songs. If I get lucky, and I just happen to have a spark in my head that gives me the idea to write something in a genre, [I will do it]. That’s something that’s really fun, when we get an idea that kind of sounds like something we wouldn’t do, and then you take it to the other guys, and everybody puts their own flavor to it, and then it turns into a Buffalo Killers song,” Gabbard says. Buffalo Killers’ natural authenticity is an attribute rarely mirrored by popular artists. It is easy to call one’s art unique when he or she intentionally creates it to be different in every way possible. Gabbard does not cling to grassroots branding, nor does he any cliché style. When it comes to developing their music, writing their songs, or enriching their tracks with nodes of influence from other bands, nothing is done for the appeasement of their listeners, and nothing is created to fit a specific musical scene. What is the secret to such a level of self-comfort? A strong sense of fraternal musicianship as a band.
“It’s all the songs we’ve worked on and all the time we’ve spent together. We know each other very well, and we trust each other. We really don’t tell each other what to do, as far as parts or what not. We’ve spent a lot of time together in a van, we’ve done a lot of stupid shit together, and we’ve grown up together. We trust each other,” Gabbard says.
Follow on Twitter: @buffalo_killers
Despite the long string of small shows and press releases behind them, Buffalo Killers did not record Alive and Well… with anyone telling them what to do, nor any crowd urging them to change their style. They need not the approval of record producers or music critics because they have taken hold of something far more meaningful: who they are as one united piece of rock and roll’s story. “I feel like in this stage of Buffalo Killers, we all just know who we are. We’ll probably always be locked in with the ’60s-style psychedelic bands, because that’s just the game that we jumped into when we started, but it kind of sickens me at this point when you play with a band, and their songs aren’t very good, and they’ve all got a big, giant Orange amplifier, and they’re wearing bell bottoms. I question a lot of bands’ inspiration for playing music. We could care less if we never sold a record, or if anybody cared, because whether anyone gave a shit or not about us, we’ll still be making records,” Gabbard says.
BUFFALO KILLERS ALIVE AND WELL IN OHIO STANDOUT TRACK: “BLACK HALO”
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SPOTLIGHT 18 DECEMBER/JANUARY 2018 PERFORMER MAGAZINE
KING KHAN courtesy of the artist
Distills the Power of Oakland on Record in His First-Ever Solo Outing
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syche-soul veteran King Khan returns to the scene with his firstever solo record, backed by the Oakland band Gris Gris. An eclectic stew of aural delights, the new LP, Murder Burgers, comes out on Khan’s own Khannibalism label, and we recently caught up with the venerable performer to discuss the making of the new album, his varied influences and his approach to the studio and the business side of things. This is your first outing as a “solo” artist, previously you’ve recorded as The King Khan & BBQ show and King Khan and the Shrines. What spurred the need to go solo? A very close friend of mine was diagnosed with Stage IV cancer and I needed to find a way to pay for a trip to the US to go see him. So, I asked Greg Ashley and the Gris Gris if they would like to back me up and do some shows to help fund my visit. The shows went well so we decided to lock ourselves into the Creamery and churn out some hits. Listening to Murder Burgers feels like having a nice and greasy drive-thru burger experience. Was that your motivation behind the album? Funny you should say that, because the idea was inspired by the Giant Burger drive-thru 20 DECEMBER/JANUARY 2018 PERFORMER MAGAZINE
restaurant which was right in front of the studio on San Pedro Blvd. in Oakland. It was where Big Poppa used to serve some great food and the parking lot was filled with souped-up cars and all sorts of crazies and hydraulics. Sadly, it doesn’t exist any longer. What’s the meaning behind the name “Murder Burgers”? It’s my fantasy fast food chain/death peddler, satisfying my deep desire to be the Indian Ronald MacDonald.... Ravi MacDonald...I wanna make a human vindaloo burger with Uncle Tom Indians like Bobby Jindal. My little brother and I have a term for Uncle Tom Indians; we call them “Uncle Tonys.” The art on the cover is an oil refinery on LSD churning out death, made by the amazing Don Fodness and Reed Davaz McGowan. The album was recorded at Creamery Studios in Oakland over the course of one week. Did you write everything prior to going into the studio? Most of the album contains songs I had written before and never really recorded, except for “Discrete Disguise” and “Teeth Are Shite” which were spontaneous collaborations. What was your impression of Oakland while you were there? Did you check out any Bay Area punk bands?
by the Velvets and perhaps took both of them a little too literally. So, this is a love song that can be applied to the complex relationship between a canine and his/her owner. The deep feelings of loss and celebration, the moment of breaking free and not looking back, the absurdity of holding warm feces in a plastic bag. There are a lot of conflicting emotions in dog ownership... as Lou said so perfectly, “Like a dirty French novel combines the absurd with the vulgar.” The new album is being released on your own label called Khannibalism records. When did you start the new record label? I started my own label a few years back and the first LP I released was the William S. Burroughs record, it was him reading the nastiest parts of Naked Lunch. This album fell into my hands thanks to Lou Reed introducing me to his producer Hal Willner. Hal and I became very good buddies and I was really honored when he asked me to finish this record that he’d been sitting on for almost twenty years. Khannibalism Records has also released a handful of singles from the Invaders documentary film soundtrack and my daughter Saba Lou’s debut album which she recorded when she was just 15 years old. Punk rock is obviously a huge influence on your songwriting and outlandish stage persona. When you were growing up, were there any specific acts that inspired you to become an entertainer? Can you recall any particular concerts or shows that were groundbreaking moments for you? Screamin’ Jay was a big influence, I loved his passionate ridiculousness the same as Screaming Lord Sutch, his music was like Sesame Street for my daughters when they were very young. Little Richard is one of my biggest heroes as well, his sexual abandon and freak preaching makes my soul go bumpity bump. The Ramones are a band that I worship as well, the list is endless. The Velvet Underground, Sun Ra, Phil Cohran, Art Ensemble of Chicago, Alice Coltrane, Nina Simone, Capt. Beefheart, so many important people…
“I think when done properly, playing the music that is inside of you is a form of immortality.”
“Born in 77” is one of my favorite tracks on the album. It reminds me a lot of the Stooges’ “Seek and Destroy” and perfectly encapsulates the raw garage punk energy that you bring to your live shows. What’s this song about? This song was written for the Black Jaspers and is my love letter to the punk rock of the late seventies. It’s the music that still makes me wanna jump up and down and smash things. I tried to approach the lyrics like Iggy, simple and direct. The song is about how my guitar has helped me travel the world and how important it was for me to have found the love of my life, my wife Lil, the person whom I could have never did what I did without. Another standout track to me is “Run Doggy Run.” I feel that one is a departure from the garage rock you normally do. There’s a more soulful ’50s R&B sound to this and you’re talking about love. What inspired this particular track? I re-examined the ideas of “I Wanna Be Your Dog” by The Stooges and “Some Kinda Love”
heard your music? I actually love getting old and hearing all these kids tell me that my music was the soundtrack to their lives, some even say their crazy parents got them into my music. I met a girl in NYC at a Shrines show who told me her grandfather told her to come to the show and it turned out her grandfather was the lead guitarist of the Ventures! Some kids tell me they have listened to my songs as early as 12 years old. I think when done properly, playing the music that is inside of you is a form of immortality.
I had a huge love for Oakland and spent lots of time there hanging out with people that inspired me back when I was a teenage spaceshit. People like Darren Raffaele from Supercharger, who is one of my favorite people in the world. He is as hilarious as he is selfless. He’s worked his ass off for Project Open Hand - this organization has prepared thousands of nutritious meals and hundreds of bags of healthy groceries to help sustain their clients who battle serious illnesses, isolation, or the health challenges of aging. I think Oakland has preserved amazing community work ethics that were born out of the legacy of the Black Panthers and it is very inspiring to see something like that thriving in America. I actually organized my first Black Power Tarot exhibition in the US in Oakland during the 50th anniversary of the Black Panther Party last year at the UFO Gallery. It was there I met Malik Rahim of the Louisiana Panthers who was also one of the founders of Common Ground Initiative, who helped thousands of people after Hurricane Katrina. He is truly an inspirational man and it was a real pleasure to have him come and speak at my art exhibition.
What are your favorite social media outlets for music promotion? Ugh, I am bad at this stuff. I wish I could stop using Facebook, my daughter Bella explained it best when she told me, “If you walked as much as you scroll, maybe you wouldn’t be so fat!” I never had a cell phone or smart phone and don’t plan on getting one in the future; hopefully I can reduce my social media use and just spend the rest of my days reading books, writing songs, and making art. You utilize Bandcamp as your main promotional tool. Is maintaining a full website these days as important as it used to be? I love Bandcamp - it’s really cutting out the middle man and helping artists all over the world take the power back!
Follow on Twitter: @kkbbqshow
KING KHAN MURDER BURGERS STANDOUT TRACK: “IT’S A LIE”
When you go on tour these days, what are fans telling you about how they initially PERFORMER MAGAZINE DECEMBER/JANUARY 2018 21
SPOTLIGHT 22 DECEMBER/JANUARY 2018 PERFORMER MAGAZINE
DEMO TAPED Rebecca Thom
On His Layered Recording Process and Learning How to Scale Back
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But after experiencing the heartbreak, and hurt feelings of a high school breakup, he turned instead to music to channel his emotions. And at the request of his close friends and family, he released the EP Heart on Valentine’s Day, 2015. He was 17. “I wasn’t going to put it out there. I was really just going to have it be something that I said I finished. Up to that point, I hadn’t really done or finished any of my artistic projects. I was always starting new things. Even as a filmmaker - an aspiring filmmaker - I was always writing scripts but never finishing them. You know? Doing things like that.” Looking at a finished product was satisfying, and the feedback he got from friends and family was really positive. But what Alexander found in music was something even greater. “It’s something that I use to get emotion out. It’s something that I really enjoy doing every day, and it’s also something that helps me mentally, and I think that’s really great.”
dam Alexander has a favorite pew at the Antioch Baptist Church North.
It’s the one in the balcony that overlooks the choir stand. From up there, he can see it all: his dad leading the band as the congregation’s musical director, his grandfather leading those in attendance in prayer, and his centuriesold community engaged in soulful selfexploration. As he told National Public Radio earlier this year, “You can see how everything’s moving, how a black church operates. It’s a very beautiful thing.” It’s also how Alexander, known in musical circles as Demo Taped, grew up: learning soul and connection through spoken word and song, in a community whose history is rife with musical legends. He was indoctrinated, early and often, about the power of music and art.
“Growing up, [my parents] both encouraged me to be who I am no matter what. And to be as creative as possible,” he says. “I really started off - when I was really young - I wanted to be an animator. And I remember we had TiVo, and I would pause the TV when SpongeBob came on, and I would kind of go frame-by-frame, and kind of emulate what was going on. That’s when I got my first computer. They were very supportive of that. They got me a little drawing tablet, and I used to animate and do things. But they’ve always been very, very supportive of my art, whichever medium it is.” It’s been an evolution for Demo Taped. What started as a fascination with images, colors, and movement, became a vision for storytelling through picture and an interest in filmmaking. “My first trip to LA was to go and tour - me and my parents were actually going to look at different colleges out there. I was trying to figure out which school I wanted to go to. I had it all planned out. I wanted to be a director.”
“I think it’s important to have [an editor]. Everyone is going towards the same goal, which is to create great songs, so why not listen?” 24 DECEMBER/JANUARY 2018 PERFORMER MAGAZINE
He’s not the only one. Listeners noticed, collecting in hordes on his social media channels. He has over 11,000 followers on SoundCloud alone. Other musicians also took notice, and he was quickly asked to start producing remixes for artists like Sylvan Esso and Wet. Before long, record executives started calling. Demo Taped signed with 300 Entertainment - home to fellow artists like Young Thug, Migos, and Fetty Wap - in 2016. But in the midst of a label churning out trap, rap, and straight hip-hop, Demo Taped is offering up a sound that is earnest, colorful, and soulenriching. The single off his forthcoming EP – “Insecure” - is a departure from the electronic, synth-infused sound he became known for. “I used to start off - and I still do - start off with production, and then write over the production,” he says of his creative process. “I create melodies. Now...I’m just kind of letting it flow. If a melody comes first, or a lyrical idea comes first, I’m trying to get it down and record it. I used to just put it in my voice memos, and put it aside for later until the track is done. But now, I try to record. If an idea comes into my head, I have to execute it. But it’s an ever-changing process. Writing definitely comes last. There’s a lot of building and building and building in terms of production, creating a lot of layers and having to scale back.” That’s the new part of his workflow, he says. The dialing back of ideas in production. “I used to be stubborn about getting notes, and having to go back and edit. I always thought I was
right in a way, in defending my art. But I guess you always need someone else to help you. There’s always an editor. I think it’s important to have. Everyone is going towards the same goal, which is to create great songs, so why not listen?” The result is his latest project: a 5-track EP that melds the hip-hop vibes of his geography, with the spirited, lyrical, self-actualization of a pastor’s grandson. It looks like Atlanta, and it feels like gospel, but it is something totally new and exciting. “For this next EP that’s coming out, I went to LA for that flushing out process and getting every idea, you know, solidified,” he says. “When I went to LA, I sort of wrote down ideas and questions that I had personally, from my own life. And I made a pact with myself, that I wanted to be as open and as honest as possible. I had to share as many feelings as I could - even if it was doubt. I don’t know if there’s really - to me - such a thing as oversharing.” As for production, Alexander is exploring new techniques - and in line with what seems to be a theme in his musical journey - finding ways to mix the old with the new. His “studio” is stationed in his bedroom at his parent’s house. Every morning, he wakes up, and gets right to it. “I just turn everything on in my little studio,” he says. “Now I have a reel-to-reel tape machine. I’ve been using that to record, which is really a new song process. It’s a new thing, so it’s really enjoyable. Learning this new thing, which is old technology.” Even though his process has changed, Demo Taped is still creating and discovering for the same reasons he liked drawing and filmmaking as a kid. “It’s really fun. I kind of take it for granted sometimes. Explaining it to you right now, I’ve got a little bit of a greater appreciation for it.”
He’s putting the work in now, in the hopes of hitting the road early next year to tour this EP. “I’m really excited to play the new songs for everybody. I created them, really, with performing them in mind. I’m really excited,” he says. “I feel good about the future right now.”
Follow on Twitter: @demotaped
And he has no reason not to. While hearing him talk about making a name for himself in music, establishing his place with the label, and soul searching for his new material, it’s easy to forget that Alexander is only 19-years-old. He’s only just begun.
On the power of music: “It’s something that I use to get emotion out. It’s something that I really enjoy doing every day, and it’s also something that helps me mentally, and I think that’s really great.”
DEMO TAPED INSECURE [SINGLE]
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THE SELECTERâ€™S PAULINE BLACK ON THE POWER OF ACTIVISM THROUGH MUSIC Dean Chalkley
t. ali eubank
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SPOTLIGHT PERFORMER MAGAZINE DECEMBER/JANUARY 2018 27
“Billions of people listen to music worldwide and… music has an emotional effect on people.”
ead vocalist and ska legend Pauline Black took a pause while touring in Germany to discuss the new Selecter album and the current global political climate, drawing parallels to the multicultural movement and working-class dissent that gave birth to the original Two-Tone movement.
Black compares the Reagan/Thatcher era with that of Trump/May, and says, “There seems to be an insularity developing in people, where they fell as long as they’re having their own row, they’re going to be okay. But the world isn’t made up like that, is it?” She continues, “You have Reagan, he was all very gung-ho and very ‘let’s bomb the rest of the world’ and we had Margaret Thatcher who though similarly and had a similar foreign policy and domestic policy in terms of her economics. And what’s the best way to divide people? Pit them against each other, and race is a very effective way of doing that, isn’t it? So, there is a huge amount of similarity,” she adds. Black goes on to discuss the new band’s album, Daylights, their fourth studio album since the group reformed, and the one which they’re currently touring behind, having recently completed a U.S. leg playing alongside Tim Armstrong of Rancid and the Transplants. “Obviously we are very pleased with the new album and we’re very, very pleased with how it’s 28 DECEMBER/JANUARY 2018 PERFORMER MAGAZINE
been received; it seems to be universally wellreceived in terms of what the subject matter is about.”
rather than bringing people together, and very similarly in our country with the Brexit vote and us wanting to divorce ourselves from Europe.”
The Selector originally appeared on the double A-side ‘Gangsters’ by the Specials, the first acknowledged Two-Tone single, with their track ‘The Selecter.’ Black explains, “We began in 1979 with the Two-Tone movement. We went on the Two-Tone tour with Madness and the Specials, and really that is a Ska and Reggae mix that we’ve playing now for nearly 40 years.”
Black adds this to the meaning of the new album title: “An anti-racist, anti-sexist stance. With everything that’s come out about Harvey Weinstein, people like Kevin Spacey, and stuff like that. Those are things that have been there for years and years. Why is it only now that we’re talking about it? Maybe it is time to shine a little daylight on these subjects.”
Black adds, “We called out new album Daylights… after the events of the past couple of years, the resurgence of the far right, both in your county and in Europe as well.” She elaborates on the message of the album, “What is fueling the things going on right now? Is it people’s hatred toward each other? Is it that multiculturalism is dead in the water? Or are people just not well exposed to others? All of these questions, those are the types of things that we’re taking up.”
Black also discusses with us the power of music and its ability to effect change, “I don’t know that music is effectual at all. But all I know is that millions and billions of people listen to music worldwide and that music has an emotional effect on people, for the good or for the worse. But it has an effect on people. If you’re a musician like myself, if you write songs, and you have a band, then you would like to feel that you’re using your skills, if you have any at all, to affect environment, music, life, and subject matter, in a way that’s going to move things forward, rather than backwards.”
She digs in a little deeper to say, “The world is full, whether we like it or not, of global capitalism and most people don’t do too well within that, in developing countries certainly. I mean on the album, ‘Paved with Cold’ talks about homelessness, taking back control, pretty much about not having people around, like the president of your country, who seems to have been elected last year on the ticket of division
She continues, “By the mere fact that we get up on stage, anywhere in the world where they will give us a stage and talk about what we talk about. That is our activist stance.” When asked directly about how she feels about
the current political atmosphere in America specifically, she responds, “I don’t know, it’s not for me to share what you should do about your political climate that is yours. We have our issues here in Europe and the U.K. But one thing I think you can do is actually elect a decent president, who doesn’t send these messages out on Twitter and thinks that governing a country is a little more important than having his own fiefdom in the Whitehouse. I mean, you did see sense for a couple of terms, didn’t you? But the backlash from it is a little too much…and it’s quite depressing.” She adds, “I think that the American people are a great people and they deserve a better president than what they’ve elected themselves. But that’s just my opinion, isn’t it? What happens in America decides what happens in a great deal of the rest of the world. Particularly your foreign policy -- it can make it very difficult for others around the world just to go about their business.” Black leaves us on this note, “I think it’s important, as far as I’m concerned and certainly that’s the Two-Tone message, that people stand together and not let those kinds of issues or divisions grow and to cause us to antagonize each other.”
Follow on Twitter: @TheSelecter
THE SELECTER DAYLIGHT STANDOUT TRACK: “FRONTLINE”
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HOME STUDIO 30 DECEMBER/JANUARY 2018 PERFORMER MAGAZINE
How to Set Up the Ideal Home Recording Studio parts I and II, co-presented by
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elcome to the first in a four-part series that will provide real-world advice for setting up your first home recording studio, co-presented by Performer Magazine and Yamaha. In this installment, we’ll take a closer look at what to look for when shopping for home studio equipment, especially when it comes to figuring out which components you’ll need, how they interact together, and what specs you actually need to pay attention to (and which aren’t as important to get started). Yamaha has been kind enough to loan us a number of products from their professional audio range, which we’ll be incorporating into our series as we go – including a Steinberg UR44 USB audio interface, several sets of headphones, including the HPH-MT7 (as well as the MT8’s) and a pair of their legendary HS8 powered studio monitor speakers. Let’s begin by looking at the most important areas of home recording studio equipment. ANATOMY OF A HOME RECORDING STUDIO SETUP Recording studios have come a long way since the days of multi-million dollar complexes with 30-foot long consoles and flying faders. It’s now possible to record professional-quality albums at home, with gear that costs a fraction of what those old commercial studios paid. With that in mind, let’s break down the essential equipment you’ll need to get your own home recording studio up-and-running. HOME STUDIO COMPUTER (CPU) The computer is the heart of the modernday recording environment, whether it’s a six-figure studio or simple bedroom rig. Our recommendation is to get the most processing power and RAM your budget allows for – trust us, you’ll need it. Your DAW and plug-ins (more on those below) have the capabilities to eat up CPU power and memory at an alarming rate. And don’t skimp on the sound card (for obvious reasons), if possible. You’ll also be well-served to invest in an external hard drive for backup storage in addition to a cloud-based storage system for redundancy purposes (in other words: you’ve worked hard, so safeguard yourself from lost data!). Another element of the computer setup that many home users neglect, at least to start, is a powerful GPU (graphics processing unit), which may allow you to extend your desktop to a pretty elaborate multiple-monitor configuration, if your built-in hardware does not already allow for this. More monitors mean more screen real estate, and if you plan on tracking and mixing a lot of channels in your projects, spreading them out can make the process a whole lot easier to see at once.
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HOME STUDIO DAW & SOFTWARE PLUG-INS Great, you’ve got a tricked-out computer system all ready to go. Of course, the next step is to get set up with a DAW (digital audio workstation), the software you’ll be using to record, mix and edit your tracks. Along with your DAW, you should also research what audio plug-ins and software effects you may wish to use for your projects. Plug-ins extend the capabilities of your recording software, and may mimic external hardware devices you’re familiar with like modulation effects, guitar cabinet simulators and reverb units. Your DAW is going to be where you spend the majority of your time during your sessions, so research a few different options to see what’s available. The Steinberg UR44 USB audio interface we’ve set up (more on interfaces below) comes with Cubase AI. Cubase is a popular and easy-to-use piece of software that would make an excellent choice for anyone looking to get into home recording. Arming tracks to record, editing tracks and mixing them together is fairly straightforward, and adding your own plug-ins or using some of the add-ons included in the package is a breeze. As a bonus, Cubase works seamlessly with the entire range of Steinberg interfaces, making for a tightly-integrated recording ecosystem sure to take the hassle out
of setting up a studio rig for the first time. MICROPHONES AND CABLES Depending on your needs, there are a wide variety of mics to consider for your home studio (dynamic, large diaphragm condenser, small diaphragm condenser, USB mics, etc.) – each of which will require (typically) XLR cables. Increasingly, we are seeing more high-quality digital mics with USB and even Thunderbolt connectors, which makes direct hookup to your Mac or PC (and now mobile devices) a snap. Without quality mics to capture the sound of the instruments and vocalists you wish to record, your mix is doomed from the start. What’s the old adage? Garbage in, garbage out… USB AND THUNDERBOLT AUDIO INTERFACES Even the best mic in the world is useless if you can’t get the sound it picks up into your system. In order to actually get audio (and MIDI) signals into your computer, your guitar cables, DI lines, MIDI controllers and microphone cables all need to go somewhere. That’s where an audio interface comes into play. This unit connects your audio and MIDI sources to your computer, typically featuring a combination of mic preamps with analog-to-digital convertors, DI inputs, monitor controls, headphone ports and gain
adjustments. We mentioned the Steinberg UR44 above – this USB interface features 4 mic inputs (mic pres), phantom power for condenser mics, front headphone jacks, MIDI in and out, plus rear outputs for powered studio monitor speakers. A setup like this provides everything a home recording studio would need to get started, and as you require more inputs, you can graduate to more advanced systems. But to begin with, a unit like the UR44 is an incredibly powerful and easy-to-use option that will get you ready to begin recording, right out of the box. Just plug in your new interface via USB, configure your DAW to recognize the unit, plug in your mics or instruments and hit ‘Record.’ CONTROL SURFACE FOR YOUR DAW Sure, you can sit there with your mouse and keyboard and try to control your mix “in the box,” so to speak, but it’s typically easier (and more fun) to feel tactile controls under your fingers. Control surfaces take the pleasure of mixing with physical faders and knobs and turn that into a practical solution for home studios. Control surfaces have come a long way in recent years, and work with most major DAWs and operating systems. If you want to be able to control your sessions in a more traditional manner, your control surface may become the most indispensable tool in your home studio arsenal. These units don’t transmit PERFORMER MAGAZINE DECEMBER/JANUARY 2018 33
HOME STUDIO any audio signals, rather they typically operate by sending MIDI data to your computer that, in turn, tells the on-screen controls what to do. Most units will also enable you to map certain features to some or all of the physical controls, for greater customization of your workflow. Most first-time home recording studios overlook this bit of hardware when first getting set up, and our advice is to not make that mistake. MIDI CONTROLLERS If you’ll be using virtual (software-based) instruments as part of your setup, investing in a good MIDI controller or synth that doubles as a MIDI controller is going to be essential. The good news is that most audio interfaces and DAWs are already set up to handle MIDI in/out and editing. And if they don’t have MIDI I/O (luckily our Steinberg UR44 does), most modern-day MIDI controllers and synths with MIDI allow for MIDI-over-USB, meaning you can bypass an audio interface completely and connect directly to a computer. Now, the reason we mention synths is that while you can certainly buy a MIDI controller on its own (say, a MIDI keyboard with a few octaves of range), those devices only do one thing: transmit computer data to your DAW. That’s great and all, and you can obviously command entire symphonic performances from 34 DECEMBER/JANUARY 2018 PERFORMER MAGAZINE
such devices, but if your budget allows, it might make more sense to purchase a synthesizer that also can act as a MIDI controller. That way, you get the great sound of the synth in question, plus the ability to use it to transmit and (in many cases) receive MIDI data to and from your DAW. One of our favorite lineups of the past few years is the Reface Series from Yamaha. Consisting of four great synthesizers (our fave being the Reface CS), each one doubles as a handy, portable USB MIDI controller. STUDIO MONITORS What good is mixing a song if you’re not hearing it properly? Unlike consumer hi-fi speakers, which often color the sound to make for a more pleasant listening experience, Studio Monitors often offer a FLAT frequency response, which ensures that your mix will sound great on virtually any system. For years, the go-to for home recording studios and commercial studios alike have been Yamahas. You’ve probably seen the classic white speaker drivers in countless photos and videos. We’ve been testing out the HS8 8” powered monitors, and the legendary sound Yamaha is known for comes through loud and clear during tracking and mixing. Our recommendation is not to skimp in this area – hearing your mix through pro-level monitors will be crucial when it comes to crafting the right sound for your project. The
HS8’s offer additional controls for high trim and for compensating for your room environment. These features can make the difference when it comes to producing your project the right way. STUDIO MONITOR HEADPHONES Of course, you’ll also want to test your mix on headphones, to really hear all the nuances you’ve created. We recommend a pair of good closedback studio monitor headphones so you can test your tracks without room bleed and ambient noise leaking through, as you’d get with openback headphones meant more for hi-fi listening. By now, you probably won’t be surprised to find that Yamaha has got you covered here, too – we’ve been regular users of the affordable HPH-MT7 headphones for more than a year, as well as their big siblings the HPH-MT8’s. CLOSING THOUGHTS Now, keep in mind these are the basics you’ll need to get started. For a more serious rig, you can also add a dedicated uninterrupted power supply (UPS), outboard effects, 500-series chassis and modules, power conditioners, soundproofing, acoustic panels, diffusers, and lots more goodies. Head to https://usa.yamaha. com/products/proaudio/index.html to learn more and to find the products that will fit YOUR home studio needs.
How to Choose the Best USB Audio Interface
hat makes the best USB audio interface for my needs? It’s a common question, and Yamaha and Performer Magazine have teamed up to help guide you towards the best USB interface for your money. Welcome to the second in a four-part series that will provide real-world advice for setting up your first home recording studio, co-presented by Performer Magazine and Yamaha. In this installment, we’ll take a closer look at shopping for the best USB audio interface to fit your needs, especially when it comes to figuring out just what an audio interface does, which features are most relevant to your recording situation, and how to make sure you’re spending your money wisely. Yamaha has been kind enough to loan us a number of products from their professional audio range, which we’ll be incorporating into our series as we go – including a Steinberg UR44 USB audio interface, which we’ll be using to provide visual examples below. We recommend the Steinberg UR range for a number of reasons: for starters, they are affordable, easily portable and include clean mic preamps that’ll enable you to capture quality audio from the get-go. You can also read our expert reviews of the Steinberg UR22 USB Audio Interface and the Steinberg UR12 Audio Interface and learn more at the Yamaha Home Recording Hub. WHAT IS A USB AUDIO INTERFACE? Some of the most common questions we get asked are, “What is the best USB audio interface?” Or, “What’s the best audio interface for Mac?” Or simply, “What’s the best cheap audio interface?” If you’re new to computerbased recording, let’s start with the basics: what
is a USB audio interface? Put simply, think of your interface as the command center of your recording experience: it allows you to take analog audio signals coming from input sources like microphones, instruments, mixers and other external devices, and convert those into digital signals your DAW (digital audio workstation, or multi-track recording software) can understand and process. We’ve focused on what makes the best USB audio interface for good reason. For starters, USB has been a ubiquitous standard on computers since the late 1990s. Most laptops and desktops have at least one, if not multiple USB ports available. Second, USB audio interfaces make great choices for mobile recorders, since they are bus powered; this means that the unit can be powered from your computer, and doesn’t require an external power source or brick-style power adapter to lug around. So, if you’re recording on-the-go, you don’t need to find a wall outlet to power your recording rig – nice! And lastly, for the beginner crowd, USB audio interfaces are typically the most affordable options available, and easiest to set up, offering great bang for the buck. ENCLOSURE AND FOOTPRINT
The best USB audio interfaces feature rugged enclosures, and will typically offer a small, convenient footprint that won’t hog precious desktop space in your new home studio environment. We especially appreciate the strong metal housing the Steinberg UR44 comes equipped with, and the unit itself takes up no more space than your average hardcover book. When looking for the best USB interface for your particular needs, make sure the units you’re considering don’t have cheap plastic housings. Even if you don’t plan on taking your rig on-thego, one tiny accident can cause some serious damage in more cheaply-made units. Trust us, we’ve been there. CHOOSING THE RIGHT NUMBER OF INPUTS Most manufacturers offer several models of audio interfaces in a range, where the typical differentiator is the amount of inputs the unit has. Here we come to one of our biggest pieces of advice for newcomers, and it may sound counterintuitive. But when shopping for the best USB audio interface, you may not need to gravitate towards the models with the most amount of inputs. Think of your specific needs, and remember what an interface’s job PERFORMER MAGAZINE DECEMBER/JANUARY 2018 35
is: it takes incoming audio signals and converts those to digital for your DAW. Now, unlike large analog recording consoles, where you typically need a dedicated channel for each track in your session, your interface doesn’t work this way. Only purchase a USB audio interface with the amount of inputs you’ll likely be recording simultaneously, since the mixing will be done through software. You can mix 64 channels in your opus, but you don’t need 64 inputs at once (we hope). So, if you’re a singer/songwriter, you might be able to get away with a simple 2-channel interface, meaning the unit features two microphone preamps that will allow you to simultaneously record a vocal mic and acoustic guitar mic at the same time. Likewise, even if you’re in a larger band, four inputs may be all you need at once. Again, your DAW will likely be able to stack your session with as many tracks as you need for the song you’re working on (the only restriction being hard-disk space nowadays), but since you’re likely not recording 16 tracks at once, don’t overspend on your interface if you don’t have to. One thing to consider, as well, is the usefulness of line-level inputs that most good-quality interfaces will have. What this means is that you can route audio from a stereo mixer, for example, into your DAW as a means to record entire live performances, jam sessions or even as a way to get a full stereo drum track with, say, a six-mic setup into an interface that might only have four mic inputs on-board. Just something to think about… WHY PREAMPS AND A/D CONVERTORS ARE CRUCIAL Once you’ve figured out how many total inputs you’ll need (including mic preamps, line inputs, MIDI – which we’ll get to in a second – instrument inputs, etc.), it’s time to really compare specs on the units you’re considering. The best USB audio interfaces on the market feature top-end convertors, and the UR44’s 24-bit/192 kHz resolution and sampling rate mean that you’ll get high-definition audio cleanly into your DAW. 16-bit might be fine for CD masters and even audiophile listening, but recording is a different beast than listening. As you add tracks to your session, you’ll want to ensure an ultra-quiet noise floor. So, a higher bit-depth will give you that capability during the recording process, so when you output the finished product for release, you’re not encountering any noise issues. And higher resolution means more samples of your music are being taken at any given second, leading to higher quality audio in, and higher quality out. Be sure to read reviews and look at USB interfaces that have high-quality mic preamps. The UR44 we’ve been testing comes equipped with four ultra-clean Class-A D-PRE preamps from
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Yamaha, which we’ve been incredibly pleased with (especially at this price point). Also, be sure that your interface provides switchable +48 V phantom power for any condenser microphones you have in your arsenal that require it. It would be a real shame to set up your rig only to find out you can’t use your favorite mic with your new interface. IS MIDI I/O STILL IMPORTANT TODAY? As more and more keyboard and synth manufacturers start support MIDI-over-USB, the talk has become whether traditional MIDI I/O (input and output) is even relevant anymore. In short, we believe it still is, especially for artists producing beats and manipulating virtual instruments in their DAW. Don’t get us wrong, connecting your new MIDI controller right through an open USB port is easy, we admit, but there’s the rub. You’ve gotta have an open USB port, and since your interface is already taking up one of those slots (and computer manufacturers seem to get skimpier and skimpier with I/O each passing year), you might run into issues where you can’t record audio and have your MIDI controller working in your DAW at the same time. So yes, we still believe that traditional MIDI inputs and outputs will remain important features when you’re looking for the best USB audio interface to suit your application. Keep in mind, too, that you may encounter a case of GAS (gear acquisition syndrome) that leads you down the path of older keyboards, samplers and controllers that don’t feature MIDI-overUSB anyway. In that case, you’ll be glad you opted for an interface that still featured standard MIDI I/O. Heck, your stage show may even require MIDI to trigger lighting effects that sync with your music, and you’ll be kicking yourself if you’ve cut corners in this area down the road. That’s right, your interface can be a handy live tool, as well! HI-Z INPUTS MAKE LIFE EASIER One of the best features we’ve come to love in recent years is the Hi-Z support we’ve seen on many modern audio interfaces. Combo inputs now allow for either 1/4” or XLR connections in one spot, such as on the front panel of the UR44, with two of those inputs allowing direct connection of your guitar or bass, without the need for miking a cab or using an additional DI box. In a world where virtual amps, cabinets and plug-ins can offer you any guitar sound imaginable, plugging straight into your interface is a huge convenience (again, even more so for the on-the-go artists who don’t want to lug extra gear around, or who don’t want to fiddle with mic placement on guitar amps). Hi-Z could be your guitarist’s new best friend, especially in home studios where space is at a premium, and miking a loud amp just isn’t practical (neighbors, anyone?).
HOME STUDIO Steinberg has a few VST plug-ins to complement the Hi-Z inputs found on their UR series interfaces, including VST Amp Rack and VST Bass Amp. Amp rack features a complete suite of classic amps, fx pedals, mics and speaker emulators that will enable you to dial in just about any sound to suit your needs, without the need to buy, rent and lug a ton of hardware to your sessions. Likewise, for bassists, the VST Bass Amp also allows you to convincingly recreate tons of desirable tones in your DAW to get the right sound on your bass line with just a single cable going from your instrument to your interface. Simple, powerful, and saves you money. What more could you ask for?
starters, you can add an external headphone amp that will allow even more participants to monitor the session as you’re recording. Or, you can route audio to external hardware-based fx and processing units, and then back into the interface. There’s a lot that can be done with software, but sometimes a nice piece of hardware is just the ticket for getting the right sound on a track.
FRONT PANEL MONITORING The most important aspects of selecting the best USB audio interface for your home studio are typically going to be the quality of the mic preamps, understandably, and the amount of inputs and outputs available for your needs. We understand this, but there are also some “nice to haves” that shouldn’t go overlooked in your quest. And some of that has to do with front panel monitoring. Setting the right amount of input gain ensures your audio won’t clip going in, and helpful LED monitors on the front of your unit can provide visual cues when you’re “in the red.” Of course, another handy feature to look for is easily accessible, and independent, headphone monitoring. The Steinberg UR44 features two headphones monitor outputs, so multiple band members can listen to what’s going on at once, with their own dedicated volume settings.
DAW COMPATIBILITY, OS COMPATIBILITY AND BUNDLED SOFTWARE With each passing year, the PC/Mac debate and compatibility issues seem to erode even further – meaning that most capable USB audio interfaces won’t be OS-specific anymore. Those days are thankfully behind us, although you should always check to make sure any interface you’re considering can work with all major audio recording platforms. We’ve used the Steinberg UR44 with the included version of Cubase AI and have found it a seamless process to setup and start recording. But you could use almost any modern audio software as the UR lineup supports ASIO, Core Audio, or WDM standards. The best USB audio interfaces these days even offer support for your tablet, in this case iOS support in the UR44 comes standard and is easy to setup with the Cubasis app and a simple, inexpensive iPad camera connection kit.
OUTPUT FOR ADDITIONAL STUDIO FUNCTIONS We’ve talked quite a bit about inputs, but outputs are just as important when searching for the best USB interface for your studio. The right number of outputs will allow you to extend the capabilities of your interface even further. For
Additionally, your interface should feature easily accessible “main outs,” or “main monitor” jacks to hook up studio monitor speakers. These are separate from your line outputs and allow you to connect high-quality studio monitors to listen to your recording sessions in real-time.
That said, it is nice when the interface you’re considering comes bundled with useful (key word, useful) software. The Steinberg UR44 comes with Cubase AI (as we’ve mentioned), a fully-capable version of Steinberg’s own DAW as well as a basic fx suite consisting of the Sweet
Spot Morphing Channel Strip, the REV-X reverb and Guitar Amp Classics. See? Stuff that you’d actually want to use, not bloatware to make bullet points on the box look appealing in the store. AND FINALLY, A WORD ON LATENCY All of this doesn’t amount to a hill of beans if you’re encountering noticeable lag times when monitoring your recordings. One of the last specs to key in on, and scour reviews for, is how well the interface handles latency. Realistically, at least for our needs, no latency is acceptable, and the UR44 we’ve been using for the past few weeks offers zero-latency monitoring. Those Hi-Z inputs are meaningless if you’re not hearing back what you’re playing on guitar in real-time. Even the tiniest discernible lag will throw off your recording and all sense of timing in the performance you’re trying to capture. We’ve used lesser interfaces and have nearly tossed them aside as garbage because they couldn’t handle a super-simple guitar line with even the slightest effect on it. CLOSING THOUGHTS We hope this installment has helped guide you on your way to choosing the best USB audio interface for your needs. Keep in mind that this series is aimed at the beginner home studio user in an effort to dispel common myths about home recording, and to make the entire process much less intimidating than it might seem at first. Head to https://usa.yamaha.com/products/ proaudio/index.html to learn more and to find the products that will fit YOUR home studio needs. And stay tuned for upcoming parts of the series that will focus further on mixing with studio monitor headphones and setting up studio monitor speakers. Until then, be sure to check out the entire range of Yamaha professional sound products and follow Yamaha Music USA on Facebook and Twitter. PERFORMER MAGAZINE DECEMBER/JANUARY 2018 37
BLUE MICROPHONES Raspberry Mobile Condenser Microphone
lue Microphones brings the quality found in their higher end mics to the iOS/ USB platform with their new Raspberry condenser studio microphone. For starters, it doesn’t take up a lot of desktop real estate, and is pretty simple to use: a gain control on one side, and headphone/monitoring level on the other. The back sports a 1/8” headphone out, as well as the USB connection. It comes with a unique tabletop mount for recording podcasts or interviews, as well as a threaded adapter for a standard microphone stand. Inside the grille is an internal diffuser, and the capsule is a condenser
that handles 24-Bit at 48KHz. Great for hi-res audio. Using it as a room microphone connected to an iPhone, it’s perfect for interviews/podcasts/ spoken word formats. It’s sensitive enough to pick up the faint hum of an air conditioner across a room, but it does wipe out a lot of excess white noise to a degree. Connect it to a DAW, and it’s a surprisingly excellent vocal/instrument microphone. The sound quality is fantastic, and again the internal diffusers do a lot for pops, but an additional
pop filter isn’t a bad idea. The headphone out is fantastic for recording vocals, giving a simple way to monitor without having cables draped everywhere. Instrument-wise, acoustic guitars came across nicely, with plenty of top-end sparkle, while placing it in front of a small guitar cab provided equally excellent results. The only downside is it only comes with a lightning bolt cable for iOS devices, so no love for Android at the moment, but it does work on your Mac/PC with Studio One, GarageBand, BandLab as well as MoviePro, so it makes a great mic to use for creating YouTube content with waaaayyyy better quality than your typical device’s internal mic. However, it does work great when connected to a computer using its USB cable. Included in the street price is a copy of Studio One Artist as well as some basic iZotope software, meaning recording and post-production is pretty much covered in one box. Let’s put it this way: for under $200, a singer/ songwriter can equip themselves with an entire mobile production studio with just what’s included with the Raspberry. Overall, it’s a very versatile mic for the serious mobile artist or even voice over situations, as well as a great mic for your YouTube content. For a more time-strapped professional, it’s nice not to have to grab different mics for quick demo sessions while still delivering excellent sound quality. Chris Devine
Flexible, includes great recording and production software, great sound quality. CONS
No out-ofthe-box Android love.
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GEAR REVIEWS PROS
Great sound, super rugged, no distortion on either end of the spectrum. CONS
fter a few ground-shaking bass tests, we can confirm that the new CVE line from Cerwin-Vega is the real deal. But would you expect anything less? At $399, the 12-inch powered speakers we tested were a real treat to put through their paces. For starters, we threw the old “Moog Test” at them, quickly dialing in (and down) some ultra-low bass synth lines, with sub-octave square waves laid underneath. Always our first go-to torture test, the CVE-12’s passed with flying colors. Other enclosures have a tendency to rattle and rumble when taxed at the bottom end of the spectrum, but these were no slouches. They handled the low-end with ease and roundness, where other speakers can only deliver a flubby approximation of the signal being fed. So far, so good. The rest of our tests were a bit more musical in nature, a combination of electronic DJ tracks and live instruments to see how the speakers could handle the entire
CERWIN-VEGA CVE-12 Powered PA Speakers range of frequencies in a band scenario. And again, we were impressed. Highs were clear and came through with plenty of clean headroom. These models come equipped with “Proprietary CV Loud Limiter to prevent distortion,” and we can attest to the fact that whatever circuitry CV has implemented here, it works. And works well. Our biggest gripe is when the “number wars” take over and speakers trade impressive sounding wattage for clarity. We want volume, but we don’t want clipping. And you don’t get that even when cranked past most people’s definition of reasonable limits. Well done. For ridiculous low-end, we paired our stereo PA setup with the 18-inch sub in the range, which extends things down to an even deeper (and something more felt than heard) 26Hz. Even at that range, though, with the tops and sub working in tandem, nothing got muddy or loose in the bottom-end. For DJs, especially, this will be wellreceived.
As for I/O, you’ve got two Combo XLR/ TRS inputs and one XLR out, but the CVE12’s also come loaded with about a halfdozen usable DSP sound-shaping modes. With a little tweak on the back panel, you can adjust things on-the-fly pretty easily. You can even sync Bluetooth devices to play backing tracks or prerecorded music during set breaks. At this price point, the biggest selling point is not just sound quality, which is excellent, but rugged durability. For installations, that might not be make-orbreak, but for travelling bands in charge of their own sound, the enclosures on the CVE series seem built to last. No issues there whatsoever. All in all, whether you’re packing up the tour van or looking for a new in-house solution for your venue, these are well worth a look. Benjamin Ricci PERFORMER MAGAZINE DECEMBER/JANUARY 2018 39
CLOUD MICROPHONES Cloudlifter Zi DI and Mic Activator
Simple to use, excellent way to bring up a signal without a lot of noise. CONS
Graphics are a tad hard to read from above. PRICE
he great thing about recording to a DAW is simplicity, but at times getting a good tone from the start gets overlooked, and means relying on plug-ins to fix things that weren’t well-recorded to begin with. The Cloudlifter Zi can help dial in a great tone from even inexpensive dynamic mics, before your tracks hit the DAW. It’s about the size of a standard DI box, with a combo 1/4” and XLR input and an XLR output. The big knob on the front handles the impedance, with a range of 150 Ohms to 15K Ohms. This part of the circuit uses a Cinemag Transformer, and it acts as an attenuated tone control of sorts. The lower ranges seem to enhance the midrange frequencies and brings in a more focused bass response, and as it’s increased the mids start to drop out, while opening up the high and low frequencies. There are only two switches, the first being the 3-position variable gain control, with Minimum, More and Maximum settings. This helps bump up the overall signal, especially on instruments with passive pickups. The hi-pass filter is continuously variable. When 40 DECEMBER/JANUARY 2018 PERFORMER MAGAZINE
it’s on, the impedance control interacts with this in a nice, musical way. It can help cut out any boominess on an acoustic guitar. With ribbon mics, it can also start to tame any proximity effect.
bass guitar, and pretty much every mic we put through it. Audio-Technicas as well as triedand-true SM58’s really opened up nicely – it was great to hear an added level of clarity to mics we thought we were familiar with.
Like a DI, place it between an instrument or microphone and the recording device. The idea is the Cloudlifter Zi provides additional clean gain and tone shaping for microphones. In other words, it lets the preamp do its job and handle the natural sound of your microphone without adding in its own noise to the signal. Now it does require phantom power, however it does NOT provide phantom power to mics. So, during our testing we placed it in between a mic pre, and the DAW, to compensate for mics that needed phantom power and had no issues. With mics that didn’t need phantom power, we placed it after the mic, before the DAW.
All in all, the Cloudlifter might seem like a gimmick if you haven’t actually tried one yet, but it really helps get a decent tone right from the start even from cheaper gear, and will help tame any audio fuzziness or hazy frequencies that would normally “get fixed in the mix”. Its small form factor and simple controls make it perfect for a studio that may not have a great (or quiet) mic preamp available to do tonal shaping at the source.
Sound wise, it was really musical – that’s the word that we kept circling back to. The frequency range is very full overall, and dialing in that little “extra” that makes a big difference during a session was really easy. It’s like a nice audio spice, just keep adding a bit until you’re satisfied. It worked well as a DI with acoustic piezo pickups,
One of the only downsides is the graphics, which kind of makes reading the values for the impedance control difficult, even in bright light. A minor quibble, considering how well the rest of it was thought out, so isn’t a deal breaker at all. Home studio users take note: if you want better recordings with your current setup, the Cloudlifter might just be the secret tool you didn’t even know you needed. Chris Devine
coustic basses can be large and ungainly, but to produce decent enough low end, it typically needs to be big. Taylor’s figured out how to get that big bass tone in a small package. With a 23.5” scale length, it feels more like an electric guitar neck, rather than a bass neck. With 20 frets installed on the ebony fingerboard, and a well carved sapele neck, it feels fantastic. The neck width is tight enough to do chordal work with ease, and normal sized hands can cover a lot of the fretboard. Guitar players who sometimes have to sub in for a bass player, this has your name written all over it. The top is sitka spruce, and the body is layered sapele, with an inner poplar core. This constructed layer system cuts down on any issues with variations in temperature and humidity that usually wreaks havoc with acoustics. Taylor has amazingly consistent build quality, and that reputation is certainly held up here, as well. The fretwork and rosette detailing are fantastic. Each fretted note rings out with definition and authority. The overall feel is fast, but not something that sacrifices tone for size. Sound wise, it’s mind blowing that so much low end comes out of such a small instrument. Playing with another acoustic guitar player, it sits in the mix nicely. It kind of pokes its head a bit into the lower midranges of guitar frequencies in the higher frets, but somehow doesn’t clutter up the in the mix.
TAYLOR GS Mini-e Bass For bass players who like to sit on the couch and pluck away, but hate to break out a full-scale bass, this is beyond perfect for that situation, and when your band does that coffee shop gig, you don’t have to lug out that full size acoustic. It’s killing a lot of birds with just one bass [ed note – not that we condone killing birds, mind you]. It’s strung with a proprietary string made by D’Addario, with a phosphor bronze exterior and a nylon core. Taylor’s website states that no other string will work on it. A slight bummer for players who might want to change string gauges or manufacturers, but we’re guessing the strings are a part of why it can maintain that big low end. The electronics are Taylor’s ES-B system, which also sports an onboard tuner, with the endpin doubling as a 1/4” jack. It’s very simple with only a volume and tone control, but it’s simple while flexible, EQ-wise, to keep things from getting boomy or brittle connected to a PA system or a bass amp. Included is a really nice gig bag with padded sides that are thick enough that this could almost be called a soft-shell case, with well stitched shoulder straps, and a neck support system on the inside. Overall, it’s so well designed, and sounds fantastic, it’s hard to nitpick. The tuner switch can sometimes be engaged while the bass is in the gig bag, and will drain the battery when it’s
time to play, but removing the batteries can solve that problem. Overall, not a huge deal but worth pointing out. Put simply, this is a travel-sized instrument without the travel-sized tone. Chris Devine
Small size, big sound, hyper easy to play, well built. CONS
Tuner switch can be accidentally engaged while in the case. PRICE
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Excellent sound quality, scalable, intelligent system. CONS
Beta 58 mic casing is plastic.
SHURE WIRELESS GLX-D ADVANCED WIRELESS SUITE GLXD24R/B58 (handheld wireless system) GLXD14R (guitar wireless system) UA846Z2 (Frequency Manager)
hure’s been making microphones since the dawn of electricity, and if there’s a wireless system to have, why not one from a company that’s been at the forefront of sound reproduction technology? In our opinion, the new GLX-D Advanced systems are the way to go with multiple wireless setups. Both the guitar and vocal versions come with the GLXD4R receiver, which is a half rack unit, with an integrated charging unit for their SB902 rechargeable lithium ion battery. There’s about 16 hours of use with a full charge, which is great for bands booked for multi-night residencies or even several sets per night at their local dance hall. Both the Beta 58 and GLXD1 Bodypack use these, and it’s fantastic to see a company make a universal approach for both formats. The bright display gives relevant info on gain, battery life, and wireless channel(s) in use. The gain controls and linking functions also reside here. Rack mounting and remote antenna mounting hardware is included, as well, so integrating this into your stage rig/rack is pretty simple. Connectivity is a breeze - simply connect the receiver to your PA system (or guitar amp). XLR and 1/4” connections are available, and linking them took us just a matter of seconds during a rehearsal gig. Once they’re linked, you never need to do it again. The transmitters intuitively find clear and open channels, which is a lifesaver if you’ve got limited setup time between acts, or for the simple reason that no one wants to fiddle with 42 DECEMBER/JANUARY 2018 PERFORMER MAGAZINE
controls in a dark venue setting trying to find a channel that won’t interfere with your tunes.
Consider it a master control unit, and an insanely smart one, at that.
Sound-wise, the 58 was really amazing; the overall signal was much stronger than a standard XLR cable in our tests and clarity was fantastic (even with movement around a stage). The GLXD1 guitar transmitter also had a nice strong signal, as well. For those who say, “Nothing beats a cable,” you’re gonna be on the losing end of that argument with us. Both units can transmit about 200 feet indoors (typical results are about 100 feet), which is more than enough for even the most demanding gigs. Dropout was a nonissue during our demo, and that’s really the most important thing about any wireless system. Is it going to be reliable when I need it the most? Is it going to cut out if I decide to head out into the crowd during a performance? Confidence in your system is key, and we can say without question the new GLX-D Advanced gear instills the highest level of confidence in a live setting.
All in all, it’s a nice, simple, scalable system that in this configuration would only take up two rack spaces. For performers who are getting to the level where a wireless rig is the next step, it’s a big step up in performance from what you might be used to, without a steep learning curve. Pricewise, it’s not bad either, with the guitar system coming in at $549, the Beta 58 $649, and the Frequency manager at $524.
Now, to keep everything organized in a frequency sense is the frequency manager, which can take nine wireless systems (11 under optimal conditions) and keep each unit on a strong interference-free signal. It can also sense any issues with any of the signals, and seamlessly port the channel over to one that’s better, all on its own with no audio interruptions (again, do you really want to be fiddling with controls when it’s time to be focusing on your set?). It can also provide power to the receivers, so no need for another power strip or supply unit.
The only potential downside is that the Beta 58 microphone casing is plastic, so no mic drops! [ed note - While the casing is plastic, we’ve be assured that ALL Shure products are subject to the same quality standards and drop tests for durability purposes.] That said, the guitar system’s body pack was a nice rugged metal design, so it makes us wonder why not a beefier construction on the microphone? Overall, it’s a system with smart, intuitive options, and not a lot of manual reading to get it up and running. Live performing artists thinking of making that jump into the wireless world should have no fear with these units on stage. In fact, they do most of the heavy lifting for you, which is really our favorite part. Add to the unparalleled clarity of signal, and you’ll wonder why you ever bothered with cables tying you down in the first place. Chris Devine
aylor’s well known for their expertlydesigned, top-shelf quality and amazingly fantastic sound. Their new 810e models certainly cement all that history. It’s of the traditional dreadnought body style, with a Sitka Spruce top, and Indian Rosewood back and sides. It is detailed to the maximum, with maple binding around the body, as well as running around the ebony fingerboard and the headstock. Even the pickguard is rosewood. The inlay around the sound hole and fingerboard is a nice, classy touch. The neck is tropical mahogany, in a wonderful-feeling soft satin finish. A great feature is the beveled edge on the upper bout that prevents any arm fatigue, and on a full-size guitar like this, it’s more than welcome. The neck’s feel is simply amazing; with the satin finish, and paired with the dreadnaught shape, it’s a great blend of old and new. The best way to describe this instrument is perfectly balanced, in every conceivable way. The fretwork
Perfection: balanced, feel and tone are incredible, amazing construction and detail.
is impeccable, and the action out of the box was amazingly smooth all the way across the fingerboard. Chords are amazingly rich, and in the higher registers it still retains plenty of bottom end and mids that don’t get brittle or thin. That first D chord rings out vibrantly, and going up the neck the sound is just as rich even at the upper frets. It just shifts up with no unwanted “bad frequency” side effects. Lead parts seem to lift off the fretboard easily, with plenty of dynamics and resonance. It’s the sound that’s imagined when the words “acoustic guitar” are spoken. Playability is maintained as well, with no effort to move around the neck making any unfamiliar adjustments. This guitar begs to be played. As mentioned, the beveled edge makes long playing sessions a breeze with no fatigue on the strumming arm. With some past experience with other Taylor guitar models, this model certainly lives up to their reputation, and then takes it
TAYLOR 810e DLX Acoustic Guitar
waaaayyyy further into a whole new level of excellence. For a singer/songwriter who wants the guitar to be an extension of their art, this is it. Your search is over. Put down the Sweetwater catalog. Electronics-wise, it’s fitted with Taylor’s Expression System 2, which uses a behind the saddle pickup, separated into three groups and calibrated for the strings being used. There’s also a 9V powered onboard preamp system. Overall, it’s quite robust, and much deeper and fuller than they typical piezo system. Here’s the bad news; all that well-balanced goodness has a price, and the DLX version of the 810e comes in at almost four grand. There’s no flinching at the price, when the quality materials, well thought out design and electronics, as well as the buttery smooth playability and of course the fantastic overall sound are so well spelled out. Perfection has a price, and yes, it’s worth every penny of it here. Chris Devine PERFORMER MAGAZINE DECEMBER/JANUARY 2018 43
SUPRO 1606 and 1605R Amplifiers
upro amps have a special place in rock and roll history. Jimmy Page plugged his Tele into one, and axe-slingers having been chasing that sound ever since. This past NAMM show they were everywhere, tons of pedal and guitar companies had these little amps in their booths, and for good reason -- they’re pretty awesome! Both the 1606 and 1605R come in with just 5-watts of power, but headroom/volume output isn’t dictated by watts. Both could easily keep up with a drummer in a typical rock setting. Both also sport an 8” speaker, and while some players may scoff at such a smaller-than-usual speaker being able to have plenty of low end, it’s been specially designed for Supro to do just that. Since both amps are tube driven, the tubes do a bit of work to help enhance the overall sound, and bring a bit more warmth and low end when things get saturated. Bottom line is, there’s plenty of usable low end for pretty much any kind of music short of hyperdarkhottopiccore. The 1606 is pretty simple with a hi and low input, and a volume knob; that’s it. Its simplicity is quite amazing -- turn it up and it gets even warmer, while adding overall body and tone. That nice rhythm warmth is there at the lower settings, and cranking it up, it really gets nice, tight and crunchy. It’s really not a volume knob, per se, but a MORE knob. It’s amazing that so much comes from just a singular 12AX7 preamp tube and a 6V6 power amp tube. Stratocasters cut, but still can hold fullness, and humbuckers get real raunchy and chunky at higher settings. Rolling back on the instrument’s volume and things clean up a bit, while maintaining that same warmth and depth. Nice. More traditionally, the 1605R has the usual gain, treble, bass, reverb, and master volume controls. This is really quite versatile, sound-wise with a pair of those 12AX7’s a pair 6V6’s as well. The gain is nice and textured well enough to work great on single coils as well as humbucker-equipped guitars. There’s plenty for rich overdriven chords to still have articulation, and leads poke through the mix quite well even at low volumes. Crunchy rhythms are nice and big, and leads sing out with clarity. There’s also a speaker out, so connecting this little wonder to a larger cab yields even more options. Both amps have a similar character that’s kind of a blend of Fenderish sparkle, especially with the 1605’s reverb, and Marshall-ish sweetness. It’s that classic sound that’s perfect for pretty much anything from clean to mean. Players of classic tube driven combos who are constantly blending amps might want to consider one of these to simplify their lives.
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They also make an interesting set to pair together, the 1605R has wet and dry outputs -- connect one of them to the one-knob 1606’s input, and the pair becomes a mixture with one amp being dry (no reverb) and the other being wet (with reverb). It’s an interesting mix of tones. This is great especially in the studio, being able to blend in a reverb signal that’s actually part and parcel of the actual tone source. It is an acquired taste, though, certainly on the vintage side of things. The 1606’s simplicity is fantastic, and the 1605R is just enough extra, control and signal routing-wise. They both respond well to modern effects pedals, as well as a variety of dirt boxes/boosts. So, for players looking for a tube combo that would be a perfect match to their pedalboard, it’s well worth considering one of these. Both amps are really nice and responsive, and it’s just plain hard to find a bad tone. The 8” speakers also had us shaking our heads in disbelief of the low end that’s actually musically usable. The 1606 clocks in at $699 and the 1605R at $999. Tone doesn’t come cheap, and it might be tough justifying that much for such a little amp. But the big tone and simplicity is well worth it. The only other downside is on the 1605R’s retro style knobs are kind of hard to read, where the controls are set with just a small white dot on the lower portion. Not a deal-breaker, but worth a mention. Chris Devine
Great tone, simple controls, interesting routing of reverb (on the 1605R). CONS
Pairing of both using reverb sent to one amp might not be for every player. 1605R knobs hard to read position. PRICE
$699(1606) and $999(1605R), respectively.
YAMAHA Session Cake SC-01
here are so many ways to do personal (headphone) practicing, but getting a band to practice in a headphone environment is problematic at best. Yamaha has hooked us up with their unqiue SessionCake unit that aims to solve this. PROS
Small, simple, linkable to other sounds cakes. CONS
Plastic construction, no nonbattery power options, might be a tough sell for bands. PRICE
So, it’s quite small and ridiculously easy to use, with four big knobs to deal with on the top panel. The SC-01(the red version) is meant for guitar players, while their SC-02 (the blue version, $30 extra) is meant for stereo inputs (like keyboards) as well as for mic inputs. The general idea here is to daisy-chain multiple (up to 4) SessionCakes together, and have each individual player use headphones for personal mixing/monitoring. A drummer with an electronic kit, a bass player, and singer each with one of these can be connected together and practice at headphone level, with the ability to have a personal mix for each player. Now, how many bands wish to practice in silence remains to be seen [ed note - we have the feeling, after viewing the SessionCake marketing materials, that this was developed initially for the Japanese market where perhaps that’s a better selling point?] Only time will tell how the concept is received here in the States. We got only one of the SC-01 units, so we were not able to check out the linking function, but connecting our BeatBuddy drum machine into the aux in, and running a guitar signal through the
Hotone Xtomp Mini running an amp simulator, it worked really well. The small footprint was very nice, and didn’t need a lot of extra cables or adapters to pull everything together. Overall sound quality was great, with no issues to report. So, in that regard, it might just be what practicing guitarists are looking for, especially if inspiration strikes late at night and you don’t want to bother roommates or neighbors with loud amps. A great unique application of this would be as a mini mixer for solo performances. Connect the headphone out to an amplifier’s aux in, and run an instrument and a drum machine or mp3 player in the aux input – it makes for a great busking tool on the subway or for a small solo setup. It’s powered by two AA batteries, which is nice, but the ability to have a separate power supply would be even cooler. But seeing as how the cost is only $69, it’s tough to be overly critical. Sizewise, it can easily fit in a backpack, but its all plastic construction does mean that securing it to a solid surface is a must. Overall, it’s a stupidly easy-to-use personal mixer that can be linked together for band situations, and while we didn’t get a chance to try out the daisy-chaining functionality, it’s still a neat and inexpensive unit that might be the perfect holiday gift for the guitar player in your life. Chris Devine PERFORMER MAGAZINE DECEMBER/JANUARY 2018 45
ULTIMATE EARS UE Pro 4 Personal Monitors
e’ve previously reviewed the $999 UE Pro Remastered in-ears, a joint collaboration between Ultimate Ears and Capitol Studios. And while we fell in love with the customized fit and clarity of sound for both recording and listening, the price tag might turn off artists who’re dealing with a more limited budget. Not to worry, UE was kind enough to hook us up with a pair of their more affordable UE Pro 4 personal monitors. Now, what’s great about these is they’re under $400, but still utilize UE’s proprietary ear-scan technology to custom mold a set that perfectly fits the contours of your ears. Luckily, my 3-D digital ear impression was already in their system from our UE Pro Remastered review, so getting my new UE Pro 4’s was simple. Taking the digital scan, they custom cut a set for me and put on a killer natural wood faceplate that I requested. Now, if you don’t already have a scan in the system, UE will hook you up with a local specialist who can sit you down for a scan. It only takes about 15 minutes, and is totally non-invasive. It beats the old “let’s stick some goo in your ears and make a mold” way of doing things. Anyway, that’s all great, but how do they stack up to the $999 set we reviewed just a few months back? Well, these are designed with session musicians and home recording in mind, and as such, that’s how we reviewed them. Having
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already produced a few demo tracks before using some synths, drum loops, electric guitar, scratch vocals and bass, we ran the same stereo session from our DAW using both pairs of UE in-ears. The results were about what we expected, a tad more clarity on both high and low ends of the spectrum using the UE Pro Remastered set, but the UE 4’s held their own for the most part. I mean, they cost less than half the price, but I wouldn’t throw them out of bed (is that still an expression people use?) The UE 4 Pro’s feature a dual-driver system, and about the same noise isolation as the Pro Remastered set, but that set is engineered with three balanced armatures with multiple passive crossover points, so each frequency band comes through with just more clarity and separation than the UE 4’s can muster. Again, the UE 4 Pros are no slouches, it’s simply that a direct comparison reveals just how amazing the more expensive ones are. But that’s to be expected – if it were the other way around UE would have a lot of explaining to do! Bottom line is this: the UE 4 Pros retain much of the character of their bigger siblings in the lineup, but at a way more affordable price point for most musicians and home recording enthusiasts. The fact that you can still get a custom fit and much of the same quality at the $399 price point is pretty impressive, so we heartily recommend these as an investment in your rig. Benjamin Ricci
Ultimate customized comfort, great sound. CONS
MAKE & MODEL
Epiphone Masterbuilt AJ-45ME WHAT IT MEANS TO YOU
This guitar reflects my sensibilities both visually and musically. It led me to getting the Gibson J45 I wanted since 1966. WHAT IT SOUNDS LIKE
Got a favorite instrument you’d like to share? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
MY FAVORITE AXE
ary Blanchard has been performing and writing songs since 1966. Gary offers uplifting songs that explore themes of hope, love, peace, and nature. His latest CD, Be the Change, was released in April 2017.
Acoustically, it has wonderful resonance and projection, with a nice bottom end. Plugged in it has a natural sound with the ability to tune in the tone to my liking. SPECIAL FEATURES
I love the lack of a cutaway and that the controls for the electronics are stowed inside the soundhole. I had a local artist, Hannah Brookman, paint the top in a 1960s-style. She did a wonderful job of channeling the ’60s vibe as well as my own personality. OTHER NOTES
This is the first guitar that I have named; I call her Dreamer. While my main guitar is a Gibson J45, my most treasured guitar is Dreamer. I knew I wanted the word, Dream, on it, along with a peace symbol; Hannah took those elements and came up with a design that really reflects my sensibilities. I use Dreamer for songs in Open D tuning, so it gets used for most performances. It has great tone and a memorable look! LISTEN NOW at www.garyblanchard.info
MY FAVORITE AXE
PERFORMER MAGAZINE DECEMBER/JANUARY 2018 47
1959 FENDER ESQUIRE
nce upon a time, in a land called Rock & Roll, a man known as Leo Fender developed his first solid-body electric guitar, the prototype for which was completed in the fall of 1949. He would call it the Fender Esquire. The design was as basic as it gets.
Six strings, a single bridge position pickup and a set of volume and tone controls. Done. Over the winter of 1949/50, Fender refined the design, making a few structural and cosmetic changes. Among them was the addition of a ‘tone selector’ switch, which was mounted on a plate with the volume and tone controls. A design that, with not many changes, would last for sixty-seven years and counting. Of course, it didn’t take long (about two months) after the Esquire made its public debut in 1950, that a two-pickup version was introduced and was renamed the Fender Broadcaster. The single pickup version retained the Esquire name. The Gretsch Company, at the time, marketed a drum set under the “Broadkaster” name, and at their request, Fender dropped the Broadcaster name and eventually renamed their guitar the Telecaster. During the transition between Broadcaster and Telecaster, rather than stop production while they waited for the new “Telecaster” decals to come in, they cut the “Broadcaster” off and the guitars were shipped with just the “Fender” logo. Those guitars were dubbed “Nocaster,” a rare and much sought-after collectible. Before you today, we have a 1959 Fender Esquire, courtesy of Don Miggs at the LaLa Mansion recording studio in Tampa FL. Although at first glance this guitar may appear “well-traveled,” I assure you it plays like a dream. The tone is, in true Fender tradition, incredible! It is perhaps the most requested guitar among the musicians recording at LaLa Mansion Studio. I hope you have enjoyed this little tidbit of musical history. From Soho Guitar in Tampa FL. I’m Rob Meigel
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LIMITED EDITION RED
BEAUTY... more than skin deep The beauty of the new Mitchell 120 Series acoustic guitars is definitely more than meets the eye. With seven different models featuring scalloped bracing for enhanced resonance, ultra-thin finishes for improved volume and slim-tapered necks for superior playability, these guitars are unsurpassed in their class. Select 120 Series guitars feature solid Engelmann spruce tops, convenient cutaways and built-in electronics, resulting in superior stage-ready instruments that are within reach of anyoneâ€™s budget. Welcome to the new Mitchell 120 Series â€“ beauty to the eyes and ears.
Published on Dec 18, 2017
Published on Dec 18, 2017
Featuring The Selecter, Buffalo Killers, Demo Taped, King Khan and info about pressing vinyl, insurance for musicians plus Bitcoin's future...