THIS HOLIDAY, GIVE THEM EVERYTHING THEY NEED TO START RECORDING focusrite.com/scarlett
Giving the gift of a Focusrite Scarlett studio pack provides the musician on your list everything they need to get started recording onto a computer straight out of the box. Whether you choose the Scarlett Solo Studio (1 mic input) or Scarlett 2i2 Studio (2 mic inputs), youâ€™re choosing from the best-selling range of USB audio interfaces in the world with over 3 million units sold to date. Along with an audio interface, both bundles include a microphone, headphones, XLR and USB cables, and recording software and effects. They will be recording their Holiday themed album in no time.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
VOLUME 29, ISSUE 6
by Sarah Brooks
30 YIANNIS PAPADOPOULOS by Blair Barnhardt
INSIDE 4. LETTER FROM THE EDITOR 5. How to Avoid Career Killing Mistakes 8. Get to Know Beatchain 10. Overcoming The Challenges of Booking Gigs 12. Create Your Own Sound as a Drummer 14. Why You NEED Insurance as a Live Performer 16. How to Handle Pre-Gig Nerves 18. Phonocut: Press Your Own Vinyl at Home 36. GEAR REVIEWS: Warm Audio, Mackie, AKG, BOSS and moreâ€¦
by Michael St. James
PERFORMER MAGAZINE DECEMBER/JANUARY 2020 3
LETTER FROM THE EDITOR
from the editor
Volume 29, Issue 6
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
Talk about trial by fire (you’ll find out what I mean if you read on) – our cover star this month is none other than Yola. And to hear her story is to truly understand what overcoming life’s obstacles means. Before knowing anything about her background, I knew almost instantly upon hearing her voice that we HAD to feature her in upcoming issue, and when we found out a new record was on the way, we immediately set the wheels in motion to nab her for an interview. People often ask how we choose the artists we feature in the mag on the website. Honestly, the music comes first, and when it comes to knowing which artists have “it” (whatever the hell “it” is), it just comes down to instinct, taste and experience. I’ve been in this business a long time, and I can usually tell within seconds of putting on a new record whether or not the artist has that extra something special to make my ears prick up and take notice. Yola’s got it. Boy howdy does she have it, and if you haven’t heard her music yet, drop what you’re doing (after reading all the ads in this issue, of course) and head on over to YouTube, Spotify or whatever your preferred listening app is these days and give her stuff a spin. We’ll wait… Are you back? Yeah, you’re welcome. Speaking of dropping what you’re doing, have you subscribed to our YouTube channel yet? No? Ugh… we’ll wait…again. Back so soon? See, that wasn’t too painful. Now that you’re “smashed that bell,” as the kids say, you can stay on top of our latest gear reviews, product demos and more from your fellow artists as we test out new gear all year long. Do YOU want to review gear for our YouTube channel? Hit me up via email at email@example.com and let’s chat! Anyway, stay warm this holiday season, and we’ll see you at NAMM!
Benjamin Ricci ABOUT US / 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. 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 CORRECTIONS / Did we make a heinous blunder, factual error or just spell your name wrong? Contact editorial@ performermag.com and let us know, cuz we’re big enough to say, “Baby, I was wrong.” 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?”
4 DECEMBER/JANUARY 2020 PERFORMER MAGAZINE
DESIGN & ART DIRECTION Cristian Iancu EDITORIAL ASSISTANT Bob Dobalina firstname.lastname@example.org CONTRIBUTING WRITERS Andrea Abbondanza, Blair Barnhardt, Benjamin Ricci, Chris Devine, Gideon Waxman, Joe Ciaudelli, Joe Solo, Michael St. James, Robert Calabrese, Sarah Brooks CONTRIBUTING PHOTOGRAPHERS David LePrince, Ashley Mae Wright, Garrett Lobaugh, Jess Baumung, Matt Bender, Monty Jay, Tanner Appling, Alysse Gafkjen ADVERTISING SALES William House Phone: 617-627-9919 email@example.com © 2019 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.
How to Avoid The Biggest Music Career-Killing Mistakes
n my 28+ years as a record producer and founder of The Music Success Workshop, I have learned quite a bit about achieving the goal of making it in the music industry. Along the way I have observed many mistakes musicians have made. Most of them are commonly made. So, I made a list for my weekly emailed tip sheets called The 9 Music Career-Killing Mistakes. Here are few of them: 1. Assuming you know how the industry works. 2. Waiting to be discovered. 3. Cheap sounding demo production. (To get the full “9 Mistakes” list, along with vital information on how to avoid them, sign up for my weekly Music Success tip emails - free - at joesolo.com.) But the biggest mistake of all is NOT listed there. So, we’re gaping to talk about it right here, right now. The Biggest Mistake is . . .
Not learning from the mistakes YOU make. Know that doing so will require a level of
self-reflection and self-honesty that is 100% . . . well . . . honest. And that could be very difficult for us creative types. Because our musical creations are our babies. We often feel our music reflects the very person we feel we are at the deepest level of the soul. And receiving criticism about anything to do with who we are or what our music means to us can be downright painful.
number one reason why people don’t make it.” When they let ego get in the way of learning how they can improve - which is often already habituated by regular life before we hit our teenage years - far too often, people don’t ever obtain the mindset needed so they can learn the lessons from the multitude of mistakes and failures that their journey through the music industry has to teach them.
So, we rationalize. We deflect. We create diversion in the conversation. This is the ego at work.
You see, making it is only partially about your music. And don’t get me wrong - the music has to be undeniably great. But moreover, being successful is truly about developing yourself both as a musician and as a person.
The #1 Reason Why People Fail I speak on achieving music success all over the planet - at music conventions, universities, industry conferences, etc. And after each talk, audience members who have questions that they didn’t get a chance to ask during the talk lineup outside. I stay to answer each person’s question until the line is empty. This can take hours. I’ve done this well over hundred times and if there is one question I get asked more than any others it’s this: What do you think is the best thing I can do to make it? My answer - 3 words: “Control your ego.” I go on . . . “In fact, uncontrolled ego, it’s the
So, having good character counts. Authenticity counts. Reputation counts. Personal Growth As Success Ingredient When I speak of ego, I’m not referring to the part of your ego that makes you feel good for the accomplishments in music you’ve made. But rather the part that protects you from feeling pain. But if music is your life and you deeply desire to make your living at it, personal growth is monumentally necessary. And growth is painful. But by cultivating the habit of putting ego aside to take in what people have to say about you, your music, and where you are in your music business journey will result in having grown much. PERFORMER MAGAZINE DECEMBER/JANUARY 2020 5
And it’s that growth which is key to achieving your music dream. To put it another way, success in music is truly a race against yourself to arrive at a mental place where you have a fully matured character. Because that breeds confidence. And confidence is infectious to people. With it, you will attract fans, press, A&R people, music supervisors, managers, publishers, and other music industry personnel who are vital to getting the music success you desire. The 64 Bar Harmonica Intro
It’s also a smart idea to learn from the mistakes that other people have made so you can make your own brand new mistakes to learn from. No point in repeating the same ones that your colleagues have made. A few years ago, I was producing an artist who really wanted to make his name as the top harmonica player on Earth. And he also wanted to be known as a hit pop singer/songwriter. I thought this was a great goal to have. I always encourage thinking big, dreaming big, and taking the action necessary to bring these thoughts and ideas to full fruition. Success on a global scale in the music business always starts with good, tight songwriting. So, we started discussing the parts arrangement of the first song of four that he hired me to produce for him. He played me his demo . . . and I kid you not . . . it started with a 64 bar harmonica solo! Keep in mind one of his goals was to be an accomplished, top selling pop artist, worldwide – and that means being on radio. I advised him, “If you want to be on the radio and be successful at selling records in the pop world you’re going to have to let go of the 64 bar harmonica solo at the beginning of the song, as no pop station would ever play such a thing.” I suggested that it might be better to start out with a bar or two of harmonica to hint at what is to come later in the song. Then at the appropriate time have an eight bar harmonica solo where he could deliver his talent in such a way that it would leave people wanting even more harmonica later on in the song. Always Leave Them Wanting More As you well know the old saying “always leave them wanting more” is a basic show business tenant that has done well across the range of entertainment ever since the days of vaudeville. The reason I know this is because my grandfather and his 11 brothers and sisters were traveling vaudeville performers from the 1920s. And he
6 DECEMBER/JANUARY 2020 PERFORMER MAGAZINE
MUSIC BUSINESS used to tell me all kinds of techniques to keep audience interest in their act at a maximum. So, this was the thinking I wanted to apply to the harmonica plan: Give the listener a little taste of harmonica pizazz upfront, eight bars of mind blowing world-class harmonica playing during the solo section, and then at the end of the song we would re-introduce his playing as the primary melodic instrument during the song’s outro. One of the primary benefits of hiring a seasoned record producer is he or she brings pure objectivity to the project. I have not lived with and breathed somebody else’s music for years and years on end like they have. So, when I introduced the concept of “always leaving them wanting more” with regard to his harmonica playing, and suggested we reduce his 64 bar solo intro down to just 2 . . . he freaked out. You see, he had lived with the arrangement that was on the demo version of his song for so long - along with his idea that the lengthy intro solo would be the mechanism which would certainly and instantly propel him upwards to being the obvious top player on the planet - that he had an extremely difficult time wrapping his brain around the idea of the more pop oriented arrangement of a short, 2-bar intro.
And here’s the kicker of the story: Through the years he had been told by many, many people to consider shortening the long intro. But in response his ego had adopted the attitude “they just don’t understand my music.” I’ve heard this rationalization from artists hundreds of times throughout my career. Ugh. It’s one thing if half the people like your music and half don’t. This happens a lot. And in such a case, I would suggest seeing if there is some fat you can trim off the song, and also look for opportunities to bolster the best received aspects it. But if 8 or 9 out of 10 people are not liking your material, that is worth paying close attention to. Stick your ego in a closet and lock the door, and rework your material in different directions until it undeniably resonates with listeners. I want to leave you with an additional handful of common music career-killing mistakes you can learn from. After reading these, see if you can come up with your own list of mistakes you’ve made. And then think about what you learned from them. And more important, identify those mistakes that you could still learn from. Remember, be honest with yourself. Because integrity counts, too. And self-integrity is the most important form of it.
Being close minded to other people’s ideas. Relying on technology to get your vocals in tune. Setting your instrument’s volume waaaaay too loud for the size of the venue. (Us guitarists need to pay particular attention to this one.) Expecting industry gate-keepers to listen to your music submissions right away. Submitting too much of your material at once. Submitting material and not properly following up. Acting like a jerk. ABOUT THE AUTHOR Joe Solo is the record producer who developed Macy Gray, and is founder of The Music Success Workshop. He is also CEO of Joe Solo Music+Entertainment Inc. His client roster/credits includes: Michael Jackson, Fergie, Warner Bros Records, Sony Entertainment, Apple, Epic Records, and many others. For more useful tips go to joesolo.com PERFORMER MAGAZINE DECEMBER/JANUARY 2020 7
BEATCHAIN – COMPANY IN
hile building a fanbase is impor ta nt , it can’t be your full time job when you should be writing, recording, and playing live shows - you know, doing the actual music. But in this AI and algorithmic world, there’s got to be a way to harness technology to do some of this for you, right? Beatchain may just be that solution that independent artists can use to not only monitor and guide their growth online, but also serve the fans they have more efficiently and create deeper connections. I spoke to Ben Mendoza (CEO and co-founder) and Steve Jones (Creative Director and co-founder) about the new data-driven music world and how independents can utilize the same AI and ML tools the big guys do. Is this a social media growth platform, distribution partner, or artist portal? Steve: Record company in a box. We are aiming to offer a complete suite of tools all provided in
one place. We are not at war with majors, there is a ton of value in A&R. But to get to that level if you want to be signed, it becomes a lot more about running a business at some point. We get up and coming artists on the map, take fairly known ones and help them grow bigger. From there, they can make the decision whether to trade some control for a smaller share of the pie. But this puts the control in their hands. Ben: Music industry in the box is a great way to put it. Everything from social media growth to online advertising, distribution to email campaigns. We are a big piece of the jigsaw, providing tools that save an enormous amount of time all in one place. When resources are precious, like for most independents, you really have got to make the most of what you do but be efficient. Using multiple platforms is a disjointed experience and can be very expensive…Beatchain is everything in one place. The first thing you do when you sign up for Beatchain is connect all of your social media and streaming profiles within “Insights;” explain why that process is important. Ben: This is how we can benchmark where you are at online and begin to help guide your process to growth. Take, for instance, when you connect your Spotify profile, you can see where your fans are, you can see the artists you are like, you can also see affinities in the fan sets. Fans that like you and another artist can find fans that drink a certain beer, or show. It can amplify your engagement with those fans. Steve: We’re focused on what we can offer the independent community vs. the record industry. Majors usually hold all of the streaming data: the fans, their locations, and so on. They also have comparative data of many artists on the label they can leverage for new ones. We are joining up all those different data points into one dashboard. Your mailing list, your social, your streams and more, all in one place. and it starts with Insights. Musicians sometimes glaze over with talk about AI and ML and comparative targeting. How does it specifically work on Beatchain?
8 DECEMBER/JANUARY 2020 PERFORMER MAGAZINE
Ben: We sort of do two things. When we do the comparisons, we do try to pick people similar (size of following) and we also look for the next level of artists for the type of music you do and the types of fans that will be receptive. That way we can analyze which posts are being more successful and identify how to target those fans. The platform can see that, for instance, this type of post is getting more traction vs. another one at these times of days. The second thing is to really help artists by providing templates, tips, and scheduling, even help in promotions. The key to discovery is getting your music in front of the right people who are open to your music, not just any people. In terms of data sharing, this seems very powerful in terms of tour planning if you can isolate fan communities by region. How can artists’ managers and promoters take advantage of that? Is the data shareable with talent buyers? Ben: We’re building the manager view internally at the moment, might be sexier at release. So, you could have an array of all your artists, all in one view. You could do comparisons on all of your acts, and take action from that data. The more info that is gathered, the clearer the decisions can be. Let’s talk about Launchpad. This is a really cool area where artists can manage their social media posts. Ben: There is quite a difference between getting a “like” and getting engaged followers. We look at things like return visits, time of interaction, engagement. With Beatchain, you can see what is and isn’t working, and then can generate subsequent posts that really drive those engaged followers. Steve: I think “Tips” in Launchpad is really cool as well. When you click to post, we’ll give you some “best practices” guidelines to help make it easy and quick. We also have an area for a Media Library where you can preload a ton of concert photos and band content for use later on in scheduling posts. It’s all right there in one platform. Beatchain is offering distribution services. Are you doing direct music
N – A RECORD N A BOX distribution to DSPs or is this a 3rd party partner? Ben: We signed a deal FUGA as our preferred partner, but Beatchain will be handling the frontend. We plan on doing the whole run: profile setup for new artists, ISRC codes, everything. We are rolling out to the 15 major DSPs, but not all of them. Again, we want to be efficient and optimize the experience first. What do you guys think about releasing singles vs. albums? Should artists be releasing more or less? Ben: Beatchain can help you determine that and then you can make the best decisions on how often or how much to release. Steve: Once you can master your fanbase and keep the ones you have engaged while growing new ones, the value to it is long-tail. The more material you put out, the more they keep streaming, but you must own everything. You must own the cycle and control. It’s a volume thing, same as going back to venues as a live act. There is no reason why threeyear-old albums can’t become surprise successes now. It’s really just about connecting those people. When you go out on tour, you have to find a legitimate reason to reinvigorate that catalog. Most of the world hasn’t heard that song. There’s this mindset that we need to move on to something else, ‘we released that in 2012.’ No, making sure people know about your older work is important, too. Invigorate those assets, make sure you direct people to it on social. Give us a little info on Fanbuilder. Any other features coming that you can hint about? Ben: Yes, we’re really excited and already testing it, slated to release it in early 2020. Fanbuilder is a way to utilize our expertise in platform advertising to focus your efforts in gaining the right kinds of fans. Another cool feature is Campaign Manager. We are providing templates on how to release an EP, how many weeks out, what kinds of content to use to promote it. This is sort of a mixture by integrating ads,
promoting artist profiles and getting more fans and engagement. Steve: We are able to create a whole range of ad groups, things you include and exclude for targeted audiences. The software understands the parameters in terms of locations, likes, genres, demographics, it will take and test hundreds of different ad sets. We are making it cost effective. Take a small piece of your budget, could be $10/ day or even week and it will apply that across hundreds of tests, then take that budget and spend it on the ones that are working and throw out what isn’t working. Ben: Email management will be coming by the end of the year, too. We want to help artists run multiple campaigns for different reasons–tour, launching an EP, etc.– with templates based on industry experience.
make an effort to run a business just like any other. A plumber, even if they are great at their craft, can’t go out and expect business to fall at their feet without getting the word out. If you aren’t comfortable with online stuff, you need to learn. Beatchain is trying to make that process easier for all levels of musicians; if you don’t take action nothing will happen. Sign up for free here: https://Beatchain.com 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.
Steve: We are looking at live ticketing, as well. We’ve developed our own ticketing solution, but we can also mix and match with what you already like. You are experts in building music careers -- what is important for indie artists to understand in order to grow and succeed in 2020? Ben: The old industry way was to advertise through billboards, TV, and radio. You can get traction, but you can’t measure how many people look [at a] billboard. In social media terms you can tell exactly what worked and what will work based on what others are doing. We believe in data, but more importantly, measurement and action. Beatchain is taking the experience of the market and applying that to growing fanbases efficiently while making it available to everyone at every level. Steve: There has to be a shift for artists to understand that they aren’t special. You have to PERFORMER MAGAZINE DECEMBER/JANUARY 2020 9
o you want to play in a new venue or another city?
Sometimes booking gigs can be challenging because you don’t know where to start or how to reach out to the right people. If that’s the case stay with me, let’s dive into the process of organizing live music shows. HOW TO GET GIGS The best way to book shows is to have good videos and well-recorded, high-quality music ready on the right platforms (Bandcamp, SoundCloud, Spotify & YouTube), and an excellent live set. To have better chances, use YouTube to publish your videos and get them out there. It might be hard to have everything ready straight away and at the same time, especially if you are just at the beginning of your career, but this is the first step to catch promoters’ interest.
As you may know, promoters publicize and promote performances by organizing gigs, booking bands or artists and advertising the shows to bring in paying audiences and profits. Today, the competition in the music industry is tough -- there are countless talented musicians, like you, that would like to play their local venues and beyond. But the venues are few are the bands are abundant. This makes it difficult to get a spot in the right venue. You, therefore, need to make friends with the best promoters in your music genre or, at least, find the right booking agent for your project. But before you get a gig for your band, you must be aware of how to promote your music as band, and how you can do business with your venue of choice.
Many musicians and artists have huge dreams of being well-known and famous after they write or record their first five songs. However, that’s not the way that it works; it takes a lot of hard work and dedication to get there. As times go by, reality sets in and it becomes clear you need to put in a lot of work before your dreams can come true. As such, it is essential to make the right decisions and be disciplined enough to see the fruits of your labor. Most people believe that you need to build an audience before you can get a gig, but that’s not always true. Venues and promoters could ask if you already have an audience before they can organize a show with you, but if you’ve started getting traction on streaming services before you’ve built up a big live show, that could still work in your favor.
CHALLENGES OF BOOKIN TO GET GIGS AND HOW T 10 DECEMBER/JANUARY 2020 PERFORMER MAGAZINE
That’s why, as a singer or a band, you must know your local music scene first. Do your research and find out which venues and promoters support up-coming artists? Which bands in your area could use a supporting act? Which venues have touring bands that might need a local opening act? Getting a gig can be easier if you know the right venues to approach. It can be even more comfortable if you are working with several bands because venues will ask for numbers, and if you don’t own all your own live sound equipment, you can share amongst each other. FIND THE RIGHT VENUE If you want to organize a memorable gig, make the first move by sending emails to the right venues. But before doing that, try to find out the person who is in charge of the organizing gigs on their website, and send them an email with your booking request and your promo package. If they don’t answer, try to contact them via phone calls to see if they are interested in your music project. Often, organizers will tell you that they will contact you, but sometimes that doesn’t happen. If they don’t give you an answer straight away, be proactive by following up after a week or so, through email or phone calls. Do not stop until you get a response, but please always remember to be polite and professional. People are often busy, primarily because they work and manage the bookings, the bar, or have
other activities that need their attention to their day-to-day lives. Keep in mind that in the music industry, especially at the bottom level, a lot of people organize concerts, shows, and listening parties because they love music and they want to support their local scene. Please note that if your band doesn’t have a following, it might be tough your first gig if you book the venue by yourselves because you will need to do the promotion – and yes, sometimes this means you pay for the venue’s rental fee, and see to it that you make a profit. Pay to play sucks, For sure if you treat your band as a brand you will have more chance to be known to new fans and expand your audience. SPEAK WITH THE RIGHT PROMOTER Promoters can do a lot of the work for you if are headlining at the venue, but be prepared to get saddled with a lot of the promo work yourself to get a crowd through the door (and sometimes more importantly, to the bar). If the promoter is interested, they will typically need a poster that you have created for yourself so that they can hang them at the venue and in the surrounding neighborhoods to help spread the word about the upcoming gig. So be sure to have these at the ready, usually with a blank white strip at the bottom so you can print them in bulk and then customize them with the venue name and show date/time once the gig is booked. CONCERT CROWDFUNDING Crowdfunding can be a great way to raise money to organize unique shows at nontraditional spaces and make the shows more sustainable for musicians and venues. Most bands do not make money on their first shows, some bands even end up paying out of pocket sometimes (pay to play sucks!), but this doesn’t have to happen to your band. PROMO IN THE DIGITAL AGE You must always be ready to introduce yourself to promoters and venues, and you should, therefore, have a standard promo package.
Always ensure that this promo package is short and sweet, with a quick demo CD, or at least a Bandcamp or Spotify link to your recording, a brief bio, a sheet to introduce the band, and any press clippings that you might have. If you are going to use an email to send your promo package, refrain from using attachments because most people do not open them and your email can end up in the junk folder. Instead, always include a link to where people can listen to your music.
START LOCALLY First of all, I suggest that you start organizing shows with your peers in your local area and then when your live show and your music is ready for the next step, that’s the time to branch out and see if you can do show swaps in other cities with bands you either know, or can connect with through other bands you do have relationships with.
MAKE THE GIG MEMORABLE This might be your first deal, or fifteenth, but you have to handle it in a way that will have a lasting impact on your ability to get future shows. Rehearse, be on time for soundcheck and performance, be professional, be courteous, and play a great show. Regardless of the music scene, remember that the stage is your office. As such, you should respectfully relate with the promoters, the venue, the audience, and your other band members for chances of getting a better gig in future. It can be tough to get gigs at first, but your performance, patience, and discipline eventually pay off. Even if there are only a handful of people in attendance, remember that you never know where those people will end up or what connections they may have now. So, play for a crowd of 10 the same way you would play for a crowd of 10,000. Although most bands find it difficult to book live gigs -- your band does not have to be troubled if you know what to do about it. Good things take time – it’s the same with music, businesses, and even art. However, it is essential to keep things professional. Always remember that there is a thin line between persistence and desperation, and do not make your band vulnerable to disadvantages by appearing desperate and pathetic. Take the “no’s” gracefully and move on. Don’t badger the promoter about why they won’t book you.
ING YOUR GIGS: HOW W TO HANDLE THEM
PERFORMER MAGAZINE DECEMBER/JANUARY 2020 11
HOW TO FIND SOUND AS Not only is drumming an amazing form of self-expression, drummers have a unique responsibility to hold the music together. Drummers lay down the beat that drives the music forwards, allowing listeners to truly feel and move to the music. Whilst drummers share a fundamental role in almost every musical group, each drummer has a unique flair and spark of madness that means no two drummers are the same. There are so many different factors that determine a drummer’s individual sound, and you might be wondering how to explore these to help shape your musical identity. Here are my top tips to helping you develop and forge your own distinctive sound behind the drum set. Explore Different Styles of Music There is a never-ending wealth of music available online in today’s modern world. The advent of digital has made it easier than ever for artists to write, record and distribute music. Just to put things into perspective: 40,000 songs are uploaded each day onto Spotify! Most of my musical maturity has been developed simply from spending time playing along to different styles of music; and figuring out what works best behind the drums. Enjoying practicing and playing along to new music will begin to shape your own musical tastes and subsequently your playing style will be a reflection of that. There are gems in every genre, so don’t be afraid to go outside of your comfort zone and to push yourself creatively. You might be surprised to learn that genres that seem worlds apart have more in common than you think. For example, you will find that elements of modern metal such as rhythmic syncopation are deeply rooted in jazz and swing. Develop Memory
12 DECEMBER/JANUARY 2020 PERFORMER MAGAZINE
There is no other instrument quite like the drums, especially with regards to the way in which they are played. Drumming is a physically demanding activity and there are a wide range of dynamic motions involving each limb being utilized both independently and in synchronization. Do not underestimate that drumming is largely muscle memory! If you can familiarize yourself with challenging sticking patterns, rhythms and fills you will recall and process this information with little effort. By pushing yourself to learn and practice new grooves and patterns you can continually expand your musical repertoire. Learning a musical instrument is a never-ending journey of growth, and for it to be fulfilling you will want to try new things that may feel uncomfortable at first. But through experimentation, practice and repetition you will become both highly skilled and versatile as a musician. Train Your Internal Metronome There is a principle dictating that it takes roughly 10,000 hours of dedicated practice to master any particular discipline. If this applies to a particular area of drumming, I would most definitely attribute it to time keeping. Whether as a drummer you are drawn to legendary groove masters such as Steve Gadd, or impressive chops players such as Eric Moore: it’s important to instill a strong sense of timekeeping to be able to support other musicians; this is the fundamental role of the drummer. Because there is such a variation with how drummers play (due to the physically demanding nature of the activity), each drummer has an individual sense of timekeeping and rhythm. And the ability to play a consistent, steady beat is arguably the most simple but sought-after skill. Whatever route you decide to take your playing, even the most creative drummers need to have an integral, unwavering understanding
of rhythm that defines your internal metronome. Expand Your Drum Set Horizons There are virtually endless possibilities for drum kits and choosing a unique setup. There are so many varieties of drums and cymbals, and also infinite ways to set up your drums in order to suit your playing style. Cymbals have a huge impact in defining a drummer’s unique sound. Because they cannot be tuned or altered, no two cymbals sound the same. Even two cymbals of the exact same model will have different sound properties because of their extensive (and expensive) hand-manufacturing process. Along with innovative new lines of drum sets and cymbals; electronic drums can provide drummers with the tools to push musical boundaries. Because of this, modern hybrid drum sets are becoming immensely popular within the drumming community. Hybrid drum sets incorporate acoustic drums with electronic elements such as drum triggers and modules enabling a drummer to explore limitless sound opportunities. Drum triggers mean that any sound sample can be blended with acoustic drums to open up new creative realms for drummers of all styles. When finding the perfect drumming equipment for your musical pursuits, it’s important to use your own ears to determine what sounds good to you. Listen to clips online, or better still, go into a music shop and try stuff out to see what you resonate with, and what will help forge your own identity behind the kit. ABOUT THE AUTHOR Gideon Waxman is a London based drummer with over 14 years experience. Since completing a Music Degree at the University of Westminster, Gideon has been touring with metal act Familiar Spirit. You can find more of his advice at Drum Helper (https://drumhelper.com) a free online resource dedicated to helping drummers achieve more from their playing.
ND YOUR OWN S A DRUMMER
PERFORMER MAGAZINE DECEMBER/JANUARY 2020 13
Here’s What Yo Without Liability
e’ve written numerous articles on insura nce f o r musicia ns, covering every thing from basic terms and phrases, to specific details about liability coverage and policy requirements. We’ve also asked our readers to write in with any insurance-related questions they may have, so that we can help provide answers for bands 14 DECEMBER/JANUARY 2020 PERFORMER MAGAZINE
trying to navigate the business end of their affairs. This month we take on another readsubmitted question. This time dealing with just what, specifically, are some of the downsides of facing a lawsuit and “going it alone” without an insurance policy in place. “Let’s say I don’t have any liability insurance, and I go out and perform and something awful happens. What exactly are the next steps? Do I get sued? Can I just
pay the damages? I know insurance is a good idea (and sometimes required), but what really happens if I try my luck and do things on my own?” Well, let’s tackle the real-worst-cases here, just so you have a sense of not only what financial obligations you may be facing, but also the time and headaches involved with being subject to a lawsuit for damages. See, it’s not just the money, which is what most people focus on. Sure, financial loss and responsibility are at the tops of everyone’s minds, but think about the other things
You Could Face ty Insurance
Do You Know The Risks You Run Without Proper Insurance? Benjamin Ricci involved when accidents, neglectful actions and purposeful vandalism occur. As always, please consult a legal professional with any questions, this is just meant to get you thinking about some of the consequences to your potential actions. Let’s jump right in. Say you land that festival gig, things get out of hand and you blew off your obligation to carry a liability insurance policy like the promoter requested. Hopefully they’ll be smart enough to stop your performance until your obligations are met, but let’s say they’re as careless as you are and let you go on anyway. Things go bad. Really bad. You wreck the stage (maybe not on purpose, but still), people get hurt (again, perhaps not on purpose, but injuries are injuries). The ultimate worst case. Your actions led you here. Without insurance, remember? Now, even with a proper policy, you wouldn’t be off the hook (see our past articles for what happens in those cases), but now (in our hypothetical, at least) you’re facing a lawsuit. A big one. Damages. Dollar signs. Medical bills. No insurance policy and no insurance company to help guide you or pay damages. Remember, if someone gets injured due to your actions, medical bills don’t just add up, they snowball. And the one thing a lot of people don’t take into account are future lost wages that injured parties may try to recoup if they are unable to earn a living now that your bonehead moves cost them their ability to work. Think about that – what it would be like to be out of work and not provide for your family. The time lost, the wages lost. Trying to keep a family afloat. These are important things to keep in the back of your mind. Like the saying goes, it’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt. So again, it’s not just the money, it’s people’s lives. And time. Time is a big one here. Do you really know how lawsuits can work? How many
steps are involved and how much time and energy they all eat up? Let’s break it down a bit, and you’ll start to get the picture. For starters, let’s assume this is a civil case and not a criminal one (seriously, let’s hope you’ve done nothing criminal). There are a lot of steps involved in filing and carrying out a suit, starting with what might be one of your best bets if things truly are your fault: trying to settle out of court. Now, here’s where that insurance policy would have come in handy. You could have worked with trained professionals to help you navigate all of this. But you chose to roll the dice. So now you’ve got to take the time to research attorneys, and then take the time out of your own career to make tons of meetings. See how a lawsuit can disrupt your life, even at these beginning stages? OK, let’s assume you can’t reach an agreement with the harmed parties and settlement doesn’t happen. Bad news, you’re looking at more headaches. The suit’s now filed, the evidence is gathered and all sorts of pre-trial discussions, motions and the like are in store for you. Sounds fun, huh? This is all assuming damages are fairly extensive, and can’t be resolved in small claims court. Even that’s no walk in the park – real life isn’t exactly like Judge Judy. Where were we? Oh yeah, summons, motions, answers, and potentially more legal steps ahead. Sometimes you’re still able to settle at this stage, but if not (and this is an abbreviated look at the process), you could be headed to trial. Now, in reality, most trials don’t last months like you may see in super-high profile criminal cases (OJ and the like are usually the exception to the rule), but even a few days out of your life constitute time you’ll never get back, and time the plaintiffs won’t get back, either. So here you are, at trial. The time to settle is out the window, and let’s say you go through the
whole process, and they prove their case against you (again, this is a super-abbreviated example, but bear with us), and you’re found guilty. Judgements may be granted, and you’d be right in thinking that the while ordeal is over. But you could still be wrong! What if you were still convinced you were not responsible in this scenario, and you and your attorney agree that you should appeal the verdict? Or let’s say there was a problem or error during the trial that you think affected the outcome - you could be looking at starting the whole process all over again! Look, this article isn’t meant to scare you (we’ll leave that to clowns and spooky little girls crawling out of the TV), but it is meant to get you thinking. Be smart out there, especially on the road. Your safety and the safety of those around you, in attendance, and those working the show should be paramount (along with a good performance, of course). And we’ll reiterate, just so it’s 100% clear. This isn’t meant to be legal advice in any way shape or form. It’s just a way to get your brain thinking about some of the things one MAY encounter when things take a turn they weren’t planning on. Life happens, be prepared. CONCLUSION You’ve heard us repeat it a million times, but to be sure, always check over your insurance policy and ask your provider to answer any questions you may have. They have the answers, trust us. The best policy (no pun intended) is consult a professional whenever you’re in doubt. Stay safe out there and look for more tips in the months ahead. And in the meantime, check out kandkinsurance.com – you may qualify to get a quote or even purchase insurance online. PERFORMER MAGAZINE DECEMBER/JANUARY 2020 15
our heart starts racing, a lump forms in your throat, your palms begin to sweat and your stomach is in knots. These are all symptoms of anxiety and very common. Musicians, actors and public speakers face these challenges regularly. Often, even the reassuring words of your friends, family or band members aren’t enough to squash these feelings. In this guide, we dive into why you get pre-gig nerves and offer you some helpful tips to deal with this inconvenient aspect of performing. Why You Get Performance Anxiety Before we get to the tips, it’s important to understand why you get performance anxiety. The human brain is a complicated and wonderous thing. It has pushed humanity to amazing achievements but it also has a funny way of messing with us. To put it in simple terms, our brain has two main areas of processing. The left hemisphere and the right hemisphere. The left hemisphere handles logic, planning, numbers, and judgment. The right handles creativity, emotions and sensory inputs like sound. When you go to perform your left hemisphere kicks into high gear. It floods you with critical thinking, preoccupation with details and criticism. This leads to a rush of chemicals that trigger the symptoms of anxiety. This “paralysis through analysis” can be debilitating and will impact your performance. If your right hemisphere is in control you’ll get that “in the zone” feeling. This leads to a more relaxed and expressive performance. The trick is to minimize your left brain from dominating your thoughts before going on stage. This will reduce anxiety and increase the chances of a less stressful performance. How To Handle Pre-Gig Nerves Now onto the tips to help you banish those nerves -- there are two areas we’ll cover. The first is general advice on how to feel more confident and prepared. The second round of tips will give you some things you can do in those final moments before getting on stage.
NERVOUS ENER HANDLE PRE-G
16 DECEMBER/JANUARY 2020 PERFORMER MAGAZINE
Lifestyle Taking charge of your day-to-day life is a big step towards reducing performance anxiety. As a musician, you need to continually grow and evolve. Here are some things you can do to help you prepare to tackle pre-gig nerves. > Practice - The most important tip is to practice and practice often. One of the reasons you’ll get anxious before a gig is because somewhere deep inside you don’t believe you are good enough. If you have practiced and rehearsed you’ll be more confident in your skills. This confidence helps to minimize the self-criticism before a gig. > Preparation - There are times where you are confident in your skills but other things get you stressed. For example, you may show up to a gig and realize one of your speakers is not working. Or you may have left some critical cables at home. For a DJ you may arrive at a club and face DJ equipment that is different from the DJ equipment you have at home. These lastminute issues can ramp up your stress levels and
bring on anxiety. Double-check your gear or have a checklist you follow before you set out. You can also get in contact with the venue or booker for any information you need. By taking the time to prepare before gigs you can prevent unexpected issues. This minimizes the potential of extra stress and anxiety. > Meditation - We live in a busy and hectic world. Taking time out of your schedule to practice meditating is a fantastic way to deal with stress. Finding your center and learning to control your thoughts is a tool everyone should learn. These skills translate to handling performance anxiety. There are many different ways to meditate. Take some time to find a way that suits your lifestyle and incorporate it into your daily routine. Before Your Gig These tips will help you tackle the nerves you get right before going on stage. These nerves can come on suddenly and without warning. Having these tricks up your sleeve can help you get refocused.
> Don’t Arrive Too Early - You don’t want to arrive late but you also don’t want to arrive too early. If you get to the venue too early you’ll get too much time to think. If you do arrive early you can meet the person that booked you. You can even run some pre-show checks. Then I suggest you get out of the venue and find somewhere that you can relax. Have a light bite to eat or anything that helps get your mind off the performance. Trust in your preparation and practice. > Avoid Alcohol - Some people may recommend you have a drink to take the edge off. While this may work for some it will backfire for most. Firstly, you want to be a professional. This will lead to further bookings and you’ll establish a positive reputation. Secondly, while alcohol can lower your inhibitions it can also impact your cognitive skills. This will result in you not delivering your 100% best. It can also establish a negative routine that you’ll end up relying on. Save the drink for after the show to celebrate your successful gig. > Breathing Exercises - Deep mindful breathing is a great way to tackle stress and anxiety. This is why I recommended meditation. Breathing exercises are a big part of meditation that you can incorporate into your pre-gig routine. When faced with stress your body reverts to short and shallow breathing. This triggers the fight or flight body response. By using deep diaphragmatic breathing, you help calm your heart rate and avoid that natural biological response. Final Thoughts There is a wealth of information out there on ways to handle stress. By using the tips above you can establish a foundation that you can build on. Keep in mind that nervous energy is not always a bad thing. If you feel nervous, it’s because you are taking your gig seriously. That healthy level of nerves is something to embrace as a part of your musical career. Even established artists who have been touring for years still get pre-show jitters. The difference is not letting those nerves overtake your ability to perform. Take some time to put in place the tips in this guide and you’ll be well on your way to less stressful gigs.
ERGY - HOW TO -GIG NERVES
PERFORMER MAGAZINE DECEMBER/JANUARY 2020 17
PHONOCUT - Burn Your Own Vinyl at Home
million years ago (the ’90s) when people had big ol’ box computers and brick phones, PCs suddenly could burn CD-Rs, and soon after DVDs, for archives and backups. What initially was meant for storage of digital files and photos, soon became the new blank cassette for music lovers. Now, you could burn a greatest hits CD from your collection of multiple CDs and even old cassettes. The iPod wouldn’t arrive until 2001,
18 DECEMBER/JANUARY 2020 PERFORMER MAGAZINE
but there were definitely plenty of download sites slinging MP3s; and software like WinAmp, Musicmatch, and Soundjam for Macs (which would eventually become iTunes) that enabled you edit and rip from your computer. Then of course, there was Limewire and Napster and all the other fileshare P2Ps.
bands could print their own booking CDs that looked professional (although the blue disc grooves were a dead giveaway) and sounded great. Bands started selling these at shows too. If you had a printer and a decent computer with a read/write disc drive, it was relatively cheap per piece.
By 2000, everybody was making their own CDs, “mixtapes” and compilations emblazoned with markers. This was great for fans. Soon after, you could buy a stack of CD-Rs for relatively cheap and companies like Neato started making printer sheet blanks for CD face designs (remember the Stomper!), and even CD inserts. Then disc drive companies started offering different writing speeds (8x,16x, 32x, etc.) so you wouldn’t have to wait forever. You could now make a relatively proper CD with a printed faceplate, a cover and insert, even a spine to put in blank jewel cases.
I still have fond memories of those early days, having to print 100 CDs - including labeling and cases - in time for the next show. We’d stay up all night, drinking and playing video games, just waiting for that “DING!” that signified the disc was done copying, 4 minutes at a time. Basically, we could do 12 an hour, for 8 hours, but it was worth it. Fans loved it. We could go record a demo and sell it that weekend, no need to wait 4-8 weeks. We could put a special one out for touring. We’d do multiple different color releases with bonus tracks. People collected them.
But it wasn’t just fans catching on, independent bands could now skip the 1,000 minimum purchase at Oasis or Discmakers, including screen-printed complicated artwork, and do short runs on a home computer. Now,
Well, what if you could do that same thing for your fans with vinyl now? There is no doubt that vinyl is having a resurgence globally. Chances are, many of your
Anyone who has dealt with vinyl on a large scale knows that the actual hidden risk and huge cost comes in the form of shipping. If you could cut your own records and stay up all night sliding them into sleeves and then bring them to the shows, that would be revolutionary. PHONOCUT aims to do just that. The tagline is great: “PHONOCUT. HOME VINYL RECORDER. High quality records at the push of a button.” Yes, it’s meant as a high-end compilation play, but that’s how CD-Rs started too. One huge difference, with PHONOCUT, in addition to feeding audio recordings into it, you can record directly to vinyl. Might seem a bit scary, but how cool is that? Imagine doing a special acoustic session. Or even just voice tracks with some accompaniment. The team behind PHONOCUT is filled with heavy-hitting industry and creative pros: Impossible Project founder and Supersense visionary Florian “Doc” Kaps, known for rescuing Polaroid film from oblivion in 2008, in partnership with lathe master Flo Kaufmann, Internet Entrepreneur David Bohnett, and Arts Technologist KamranV. After 4 years of development, they blew past their initial Kickstarter goal of $250,000 in around 7 hours. Now, PHONOCUT has added a stretch goal of $500,000 and as of this writing, they are only about $10k away from that goal with a few weeks to go. I expect they will do another one so check the link. The first ones are expected to ship in 2020, which gives you plenty of time to save up for one.
about vinyl-specific mastering. I know it’s super important to some people, but your fans really won’t care if you deliver them a freaking vinyl signed by the band. The basics: The PHONCUT is a lathe, meaning it cuts grooves into a blank vinyl. The reported initial cost will be around $1,100 or so. Again, as a fun purchase that’s a bit steep, but a band could easily save up some gig money to buy one for the business. It works using a 10-inch vinyl blank, which can hold about 10 to 15 minutes of audio on each side for 30 minutes total. So, it’s not really aligned for your 10 song album, but definitely geared to an EP length, maybe 3 songs per side, or so. It can be connected to a desktop, laptop, or even phone, and comes with a companion app that helps with adjustments and formatting. The true magic is being able to seriously just plug and play, by using a jack and pushing a button you’re cutting records, live or otherwise. Some blank media comes with it, but there are plenty of media suppliers out there and I imagine more will be coming. A quick look around finds that depending on weight, color, and shipping, you could get 10-inch blanks for about $2.75-$3.00 per piece, or $750 for 300. You’d have to also think about sleeves and covers too. Fullcolor standard custom prints are roughly $750 for 300 pieces or $2.50-$3 per piece. That puts you at about $5-6 a copy in materials. I would try to get to $10 profit before shipping. Selling them at a gig would cut that out. A good target price would be $12-$15. That means you’d need roughly $3500 to buy the machine, and do a 300 run to get started, and if you sold through, you’d be profitable after just one run.
Currently, there are some limitations to consider, like it records in real time. Meaning, if you have 30 minutes of recorded audio, it’s going to take at least 30 minutes to cut the record, I imagine variable speed will be added soon. Also, I would imagine there will be the capability to do a 12 inch version, perhaps a 45 rpm (single A and B side) too, on the horizon. But for the time being, those limitations actually help the independent not get too bogged down in production.
fans are part of it. But if you’ve looked into releasing vinyl, you know the struggle. Vinyl mastering, high-volume minimums, shrink wrap, color pressing, and more, make it a huge investment without knowing whether or not your particular fans will buy it. It’s one thing to have a bunch of discs in your closet, at least those can become coasters, but a bunch of unsold vinyl records just feels wrong.
Again, it’s only a 30 minute record in total, but you could do so many different cool releases. You could do a double album! Ooh, that’d be fun. You could release one every 3 months or so, mixing in some seasonal releases like Summer Jams, a Holiday album. DJs - you could do a kick-ass maxi-mix and go give them out to other DJs in the city. As an artist you could do a song story album; recording yourself talking a little bit about the creation or meaning of the songs and mix that with the music. You could do a Spanish side and English side of the same 3 songs. You could do a cover album of your favorite tunes by others. Speaking of which, because of the time and track limitation coupled with the low-run strategy, covers would be a cheap at $.091 per song per copy. You could do 5 covers on a run of 300 records completely legally for under $150 in mechanical licensing. You can visit https://phonocut.com to find out more, be notified on the Kickstarter or open orders. 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.
Now, the PHONOCUT is not cheap; no leap in technology is. This is not entirely new tech, Third Man Records and others have been recording direct to acetate, and it’s not the only direct vinyl lathe out there either, it just looks like the best, and it’s geared especially for home use. Expect all of these prices to change a bit as they get into production, but I want to breakdown some possible costs and possibilities for the independent artist/band/DJ as they stand now. One question that will inevitably come up is quality. I assure you, they have figured this part out. The company has videos with side by side sound comparison for you to judge. Also, for the time being, let’s put aside the arguments PERFORMER MAGAZINE DECEMBER/JANUARY 2020 19
SPOTLIGHT 20 DECEMBER/JANUARY 2020 PERFORMER MAGAZINE
AHI Crafts Songs of Truth to Comfort our Complex World Sarah Brooks Garrett Lobaugh & Jess Baumung
PERFORMER MAGAZINE DECEMBER/JANUARY 2020 21
hkinoah Habah Izarh, otherwise known by his stage name AHI, is an antidote to the hyperconnected, yet disconnected world we occupy. With a career built from humble beginnings, he made genuine connection and the pure love of music cornerstones of his musicianship as he grew his fan base with his sweet, soulful, moving indie-folk ballads. Speaking to him was like speaking to an old friend, warm and convivial; and his sentiments, just like his lyrics, allow us to thoughtfully consider the space we take up in the world and how we can make an impact just by being ourselves. Your stories present themes and stories that are so visceral and so emotional with such ease. How do you tap into these deep emotions and feelings and bring these lyrics to the page? I write everything for myself first. It has to move me and mean something to me first. And I believe that if you go deep enough into your own feelings, then it will connect and move others as well. We are all human beings living the same life for the first time, and although we are complex creatures, the things that move us are very simple. I try my best to home in on those things and be as honest and straightforward with it as possible. You started out by touring independently for over 100,000 miles. What was this experience like, and what did it teach you? Be ready. You never know who’s in the audience and what they are going to take away from it. I’ve performed for all kinds of people from every walk of life, and the biggest philosophy I’ve taken from that is “ten or 10,000”; it doesn’t matter how many people are in the room, give everything you got and leave it all up there on stage. The next show will be a new experience. Your career also got a kickstart from a Bob Marley video you posted online. Tell me about this.
“I believe that if you go deep enough into your own feelings, then it will connect and move others as well…” 22 DECEMBER/JANUARY 2020 PERFORMER MAGAZINE
I was in Oxford Circus with my wife and daughter, and we accidentally shot a fatherdaughter cover of “No Woman, No Cry.” The song got a small amount of traction at first, and then out of nowhere I noticed the YouTube streams going up by the hundreds each time I refreshed the page, and my Facebook likes were doing the same, so I knew something had happened. I realized the official Bob Marley website and estate had shared my video on their social platforms once I received a letter from Rita Marley herself. It was a bit surreal, because Bob Marley is my all-time [favorite] songwriter and singer.
SPOTLIGHT Your songs are like a conversation. Once your listeners hear your songs, what is your intention? Is it that they live more intentionally, have hard conversations that they need to have, or simply take care of themselves? I just want people to feel something. You mentioned it can be hard to fit into the music scene. Can you speak more to that and how you create your community in this space? I’m pretty much an outsider in a lot of ways. I don’t come from a musical background, either, and I started in the scene later than most. So, I often feel like I don’t really get this industry, which has also helped me navigate in my own lane, to be fair. Like I said, we are all just human beings, and I’m not much different than you or anybody else. I feel like if you approach your emotions, feelings, and deep thoughts with a purity and honesty, it’s gonna resonate. And when people hear my songs, they really stick with them because they feel the humanity in it. They know it’s sincerity and unprocessed. Your latest album was produced analogto-tape first. What was your intention with this? Truth be told, I wasn’t planning on doing it that way. I’ve always appreciated the idea of analog recording. Primarily because I feel like when you record analog, less is getting in the way, the vibrations and sonics remain pure and intact. When analog is done right, it’s unlike anything, and all of the earlier music is recorded that way. But when the possibility was presented to me, I
was a little nervous because I kind of outgrew my romanticism for analog and began to think about all the obstacles that could come with it. Andrija Tokic (Alabama Shakes, Hurray For The Riff Raff ) who produced In Our Time walked me through his studio before we started recording together and explained how the process would be. Everything was done manually. There’s no spacebar, or cut and paste; when you need to redo a vocal, it’s literally Andrija counting you in and hitting the large button on the tape reel to record the new vocal over the last one. Thankfully we didn’t have to splice any tape or do anything too rigorous, but I was extremely surprised with how it turned out, and I’ll forever own all the original tapes from the recording of In Our Time.
What’s next for you? I’ll be putting out some new music in the next decade. 2020, to be exact. Expect a new album and some of my best work to date.
Follow on Instagram: @ahimusic
What production elements do you utilize most with your genre-blending music? It basically all starts with my voice, my guitar, and my songwriting. Everything else kind of lives around that. How do you bring your connection to your audience to your live shows? Again, it starts with the songs. But I also do a lot of storytelling at my shows, and the audience is always down for it. Sometimes my stories are just shy of ten minutes—that’s almost like three songs—and it’s just me talking to the audience, but they always want more. It goes back to the idea that those people out there are the same as me, and that’s exactly how I treat every one of them.
AHI IN OUR TIME STANDOUT TRACK: “MADE IT HOME”
PERFORMER MAGAZINE DECEMBER/JANUARY 2020 23
YOLA The Soulful Powerhouse Who Literally Emerged From The Flames to Create Stunning New LP Michael St. James
24 DECEMBER/JANUARY 2020 PERFORMER MAGAZINE
SPOTLIGHT PERFORMER MAGAZINE DECEMBER/JANUARY 2020 25
itting alone in my bedroom/ thinking about the trip to come/ My bags are packed and I’m ready/ I think I’m gonna make a run, oh lord.” Do you feel that? The sense that something’s gone terribly wrong, no one is coming to save you, but you’ve made a plan, you’ve packed, you’ve got this, you’re going to grab the world on your terms. That’s Yola. Those are lyrics in “Walk Through Fire” from Yola’s debut album of the same name–inspired by her horrific experience of narrowly surviving a house fire–produced by Dan Auerbach (Black Keys) on his Easy Eye Sound label. Some will tell you that “albums are dead” and singles rule all; make them sit down and listen to every one of these twelve tracks. It’s a story of tragedies, abuse, remorse, even literal fires, but most of all, triumph. It’s a soundtrack for everyone who’s ever hastily packed up a car in the middle of a cold night to hit the road in search of a better life. It’s a love letter to the late ’70s when sad songs made you feel better because the singer touched your soul. The entire record feels like a night of sipping whiskey sitting in a worn-in easy chair while crying over faded pictures and smiling in front of a fireplace fueled by burning love letters. Walk Through Fire has earned a Grammy nomination for Best Americana Album, which is no surprise as the songs are all primarily penned by Yola and Dan Auerbach with additional writing by heavy-hitters such as Joe Allen, Dan Penn, and Pat McLaughlin. In addition to some thoughtful producing by Auerbach (earning him a Grammy nomination for Producer Of The Year), the eclectic sound is shaped with appearances by legendary sidemen such as Dave Rowe, Billy Sanford, Bobby Wood, and more, all contributing to the sonic magic. You can feel the country on this record with echoes of early Elton John (and her rendition of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road on the Deluxe edition is the best I’ve heard). I hear a lot of classic, oldschool pop in the tradition of Cilla Black with grand production and soaring vocals. There’s plenty of blues and soul, strings and fiddles give it that Americana touch, and there’s a bit of Stax magic in the production too, but it’s so much more than that. Yola is so much more than that. This is singer-songwriting at its best. My hope is that every little boy and girl picks up a guitar and belts these tunes out in whatever style they see fit. “Faraway Look” is the standout lead single
26 DECEMBER/JANUARY 2020 PERFORMER MAGAZINE
Let’s pause on Yola’s voice for a moment. It’s incomparable in every sense of the word. She has created a vocal style that transcends genres with a delivery so damn honest it makes your face squinch up. Let me guide you to some of the deeper cuts. “It Ain’t Easier,” with its rousing chorus, reminds us all of how we all can take love for granted. “Keep Me Here” is one of those special songs and performances in the grand tradition of ballads that are supposed to be sad but make you feel in love; it feels like a hit across the decades. If the male voice sounds familiar, it should, that’s Vince Gill on there! The Queen of Country-Soul came up from hard-scrabble beginnings in Bristol, UK, the child of an immigrant, and haunts Nashville these days in-between touring the world as a headliner (see tour dates below) with the wind of four Grammy nominations at her back, including Best New Artist. Yola’s already shared the stage with Dolly Parton and Mavis Staples, written for Katy Perry, and been blessed by James Brown who said, ““Soul’s a thing and you got it!” She’s even an honorary member of The Highwomen– Amanda Shires, Brandi Carlile, Natalie Hemby, and Maren Morris– contributing on the selftitled single alongside Sheryl Crow. And she’s just getting started. She’s not an up and comer. She’s not about to make it. She’s here, and you’d better pay attention, she ain’t going nowhere. I wanted to get her thoughts on this whirlwind of a year, delve a little deeper into her creative songwriting process, and learn about this big headlining world tour. UPCOMING TOUR DATES January 7 – Cambridge, MA @ The Sinclair January 8 – Brooklyn, NY @Music Hall of Williamsburg January 10 – Washington, DC @ 9:30 Club January 11 – Philadelphia, PA @ World Cafe Live January 12 – Toronto, ON @ Horseshoe Tavern January 14 – Evanston, IL @ Space January 15 – St. Paul, MN @ Turf Club January 17 – St. Louis, MO @ Off Broadway
January 18 – Indianapolis, IN @ Hi-Fi January 19 – Columbus, OH @ A&R Music Bar January 21 – Cincinnati, OH @ Ballroom at the Taft Theatre January 22 – Asheville, NC @ the Grey Eagle January 23 – Carrboro, NC @ Cat’s Cradle January 24 – Atlanta, GA @ Terminal West January 29 – Puerto Alvaro Obregon, Mexico @ Hard Rock Hotel Riviera Maya February 7 – Houston, TX @ the Heights Theater February 8 – Austin, TX @ Scoot In February 9 – Dallas, TX @ the Kessler Theater February 11 – Denver, CO @ Bluebird Theater February 12 – Salt Lake City, UT @ the State Room February 14 – Billings, MT @ Pub Station February 15 – Missoula, MT @ Top Hat February 16 – Seattle, WA @ the Crocodile February 18 – Vancouver, BC @ Venue Nightclub February 19 – Portland, OR @ Aladdin Theater February 23 – San Diego, CA @ Music Box February 25 – Los Angeles, CA @ Troubadour What a wild ride you are on; nothing like making it after a decade plus, huh? I know
Marketing has to do what they do, but what do you think of the Country-Soul tag? Does it adequately square you up? I don’t think I belong strictly in any genre, I think the classic pop is also a very clear genre included in this album but almost no one refers to it until I mention it. I think people can listen with their eyes too much at times and it gets in the way of how we really feel about the music. I like to refer to myself as genre fluid.
and is deservedly nominated for two Grammys, Best American Roots Song and Best American Roots Performance. The follow-up single, “Ride Out In the Country” is worth your time, especially the video. There is literally something to praise in every single track, whether it’s the perfect slide guitar, the swirling Wurlitzer, the array of tremolo-drenched guitars, the warmly mixed reverb, or Yola’s own powerful voice that grabs you like you like a preacher tryin’ to save your soul.
I know some of your background, have you had a chance to buy something silly to celebrate, something just for you? Oh, hell yes! I went to Milan and I was a very naughty girl in Prada in the bag department and Gucci shoe department. I’m not currently living anywhere but I’m gonna look fabulous whilst I’m on the move. I’d love to find out more about your songwriting process. Are you a notebook kind of writer, do you have bits and pieces,
“I think the emotional fall out of this year will be playing out in songs for a while to come.” you’re still in the middle of the madness, staring down big things for next year, but what are you feeling like right now? Are you just enjoying the ride, any nervousness? Is any of this seeping into the new material for the next album? I’m feeling mostly exhausted. Physically and emotionally, it’s equally as challenging to absorb everything that’s happening. It’s like a blur, and you inevitably find yourself in a state of disbelief. In the moment, when I received the news that I’d been nominated for four Grammys I was definitely intermittently crying for 24 hours, of course I was! I think the emotional fall out of this year will be playing out in songs for a while to come. Throughout your entire catalog I just keep thinking damn, what a great singersongwriter. Yeah, there’s country, there’s blues and gospel, there’s some 70s California R&B, but it doesn’t feel strictly anything.
or do you sit down and write a whole song? Do you write with a guitar? What’s your process? Writing for me is a matter of finding my flow state. Sometimes it’ll be before bed, it’s mostly when I’m doing housework and chilling at home. If I’m co-writing I like to bring ideas that have sprung up this way to the session and maybe see the work through new eyes. Sometimes whole ideas will come out fully formed like “It Ain’t Easier” -- the busier I get the rarer that becomes. Space for boredom allows my mind to do the deepest foraging and make the most elegant connections. You’ve been a topline writer on multiple projects, co-written on many others, and I’m sure there are sort of briefs or direction; how is this experience different when you kind of have free range to write for you as the artist? Do you find it harder or easier or harder to write without any restraints? PERFORMER MAGAZINE DECEMBER/JANUARY 2020 27
The freer I am, and almost more importantly the freer I’m made to feel, the easier it is for me to create ideas. The constraints of a brief definitely make the process slower, but also help you develop new ways of creating ideas. If someone comes to you to write something for them it says that they trust your output and sometimes this can make writing easier as you know you have a seal of approval before you’ve picked up the pen. You know it’s gonna get cut, you know it’s gonna get a proper campaign. Writing feels like a muscle that needs exercising in varying ways to stay fit, writing also needs the faith and trust of those participating to truly achieve its full potential. Being able to write in all these different ways as the artist, as a co-writer, as a feature artist gives me a more rounded knowledge of the craft. You’re a damn fine guitarist, what guitars are you liking to play on tour right now? A lot of singer-songwriters have names for their favorite guitars, do you? My main guitar is called Huckleberry and he’s a Fender Paramount acoustic. I just got an American Classic Telecaster in shell pink -- I’m still thinking of a name for her. After striking some gold with the first record writing with Dan and all of the other incredibly talented songwriters - Dan Penn, Bobby Wood and others, have you built in a process now? Do you bring the bulk of the songs, do y’all have writing sessions from scratch? How is that process changing now that you are on the road for the foreseeable future, are you demoing on the bus? With the second album we’re writing, songs are being written in many different ways; some songs are ones I’ve come up with already and had in the locker ready for this album…some songs are written on the spot there in the session. The freedom to do this I feel is going to represent who I am more and more accurately the more albums I release. You’ve spoken about being part of this “wave” in music - I’m assuming that’s a genre thing, but also a cultural thing, right? It’s damn good to see more women getting power and especially women of color. The wave I’m talking about has absolutely nothing to do with genre. The wave I feel happening in music right now is one of a gentle shift on paradigm across the industry. Look at my general field category at the Grammys, the Best New Artist Category is diverse in gender, race and sexuality. It’s no accident that in an era where we are talking particularly freely about issues that affect women and minority groups that we see a surge in the success of those very groups. Feeling
28 DECEMBER/JANUARY 2020 PERFORMER MAGAZINE
If you don’t want to get political I’m fine with that, but I just feel that your story is exactly the thing the world needs to hear. All of this current madness as it relates to you as an immigrant, as someone who hustled and worked for everything against
So, I do music licensing, good god I want to license to hell out of “Keep Me Here” (and tons of other tracks too). That is a bona fide hit song. I know Dan knows all about licensing helping out with career trajectories (Black Keys), what’s your view of song licensing? Have any of the songs made it to a licensing world on TV show or ad that have surprised you? A number of songs I’ve been involved with have been licensed to TV. I was involved in a song call “Blind Faith” that was the title music to the
“Space for boredom allows my mind to do the deepest foraging and make the most elegant connections.” racism, sexism, nationalism and more, and are triumphing in the face of it. I wanted to give you the opportunity to speak on this from your point of view. Is this something you still feel the struggle with? I think the main barrier I still struggle with is one of cognitive bias. Everyone on the planet has cognitive bias- yet no one want to address it. So, we live in this world of denial where we are making strides where people who are virtuous in one way miss out a whole other Category, usually race. I still feel people in conversations wanting me to give them the “all clear,” as if I’m the mayor of all black people. Another form bias takes is in colourism. I have taken it upon myself to specify that I would like to create more images and media with dark skinned women. Even in apparently some media and social outlets, I see pictures, video and artwork of black women that look specifically mixed or light skin when a black woman is cast. Everyone should be aware of this, if they are casting or creating content with people of colour, to not create a caste system when casting. It’s like we have to remind people to push for a type 4 hair texture and a complexion darker than Kelly Rowland. In these cases, it’s subconscious the conditioning and subsequent erasure of dark skinned black women that I have to fight against using my own output of media. I made sure to specify all these things when animating my new music video for “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.”
Olympics and then Athletics for four years, also a song from my EP called “What You Do” was licensed to the show “Dear White People” on Netflix. In both one cases I can honestly say I was surprised, the first because I wasn’t the artist, and the second because I hadn’t been particularly pushing for sync and it was picked up seemingly out of the blue. Some Americana type artists have trouble translating intimate music as the shows get bigger, but you don’t seem to have that issue. How are you finding it as a performer taking these crafted songs to bigger stages and crowds? The aim is to be genre ambiguous as much as possible to show that your roots are diverse. For me that means when it’s time to do a live show it’s my job to show the versatility of my music. A record in a snapshot of a moment in time in a place. It reflects where you were. Every show you subsequently do can show how you’ve come to understand, move on from or grown from that moment. Every day you feel new and slightly different to the day before. It’s my job to bring that to the performance by being present. I know you toured with Phantom Limb and others and have played some big shows, but I think it’s fair to say nothing like this. I’ve seen the schedule, it’s a proper slam booking tour. As a performer, what kind of challenges are you finding being the headliner? Any
difference in how you treat your voice, or warm up playing? You’re right to say that this tour is reaching far higher than I ever have previously. Previously however, I didn’t have the knowledge I have now. I’m pretty sure if I didn’t have a detailed knowledge of the psychological, environmental and anatomical effects on my voice specifically I’d not have even made it this far…I’m an absolute stickler for advanced notice on all activity so I can prepare a sustainable practice, especially regarding sleep. I used to lecture a combination of subjects pertaining to voice health and it never ceases to be useful for me now. Still, I know I’m not exempt from many of the effectors, stress, exhaustion, low mood, osteopathic issues and chronic muscle tightness are things I have to manage all the time.
free to express yourself seems like an obvious boost to anyone’s art form. If I don’t feel like I can talk about gender or race then I’ll feel stifled in many other ways, too. The wave is bigger than the emergence of a genre of music by far.
You have so many big shots shouting you out (and rightfully so), now that the spotlight is on you, who do you want to hold up that you’re listening to, someone that we should give some love to? I’m taking Amythyst Kiah out on tour and she is a perfect example of me wanting to lift up fellow women in the industry and shine a light on a righteous talent.
Follow on Instagram: @iamyolaofficial
YOLA WALK THROUGH FIRE STANDOUT TRACK: “WALK THROUGH FIRE”
PERFORMER MAGAZINE DECEMBER/JANUARY 2020 29
Y PAPADO 30 DECEMBER/JANUARY 2020 PERFORMER MAGAZINE
Greek Guitar God
YIANNIS OPOULOS Opens Up About Life on the Road For a Very Famous Frontman Matt Bender
PERFORMER MAGAZINE DECEMBER/JANUARY 2020 31
32 DECEMBER/JANUARY 2020 PERFORMER MAGAZINE
After watching some of the live videos with Scott, you guys look like you have been together for 10 years, you really fit in well on stage! Thank you very much! You know what we’ve been together with Scott I think this is the fourth or the fifth year, if I remember correctly. During these years we’ve toured a lot on and off the stage. The thing that makes the difference in this camp is the fact that we get along with each other so well. I think it takes every kind of job to another level if you like your co-workers, if you’re having fun, especially for our kind of work, where what we do has very much to do with feelings, and the energy on stage. Trust me, the smiles that you see when we are on stage; these are the same smiles that you see when we are below stage -- when we are having fun with each other; we joke. It’s that cool vibe and it comes out on stage, people get this positive energy because they enjoy a great rock show because we are having fun and they have fun with us! It looks like you’ve used all the benefits of the YouTube, Facebook, and everything related to social media, now take me back to what it would have been like as Yiannis growing up in Athens, Greece in before all that existed? What do you think that would have been like? Obviously one of the toughest things would be the lack of social media and all these opportunities that are created -- especially if you have a strong presence and you constantly upload material. But the biggest problem I believe is the fact that rock music in general wasn’t so popular and still is isn’t the most popular music genre in Greece so to make ends meet I would possibly be playing for any kind of Greek singer and playing traditional Greek music. Long story short, I believe I would follow a similar path that my father did, as a musician that would be the best way to do it, I would assume. I am grateful! I’ve always wanted to play music, you know. I remember listening to Metallica records and imagining myself being on stage and playing in front of huge crowds, playing those riffs! I know it sounds strange, it’s like I am living my childhood dream right now with Scott and I really appreciate that! It looked like you used a little Mesa Boogie Mark IV amp head in one of the videos I saw.
Do you still love the warmth of a vintage tube amp or are you completely sold on doing everything digital with devices such as Fractal Audio and Avid Eleven Racks? I really do like the sound of the tube amps but what I do also like is the fact that I have something that sounds pretty, pretty, pretty good. I have been using the Fractals and I couldn’t be happier; it makes your life so much easier especially with international travelling! I mean I like the sound of the tube amp when I am recording, but I have been recording so much with the Fractal in sessions…it’s pretty reliable, I am so happy. Do you get frustrated on stage and in the studio when the song material doesn’t allow you the full opportunity to shred? One thing I have learned being a session musician is the fact that on a good song your job is to make the [track] sound good and your job is not to go start ripping solos -- so having said that when I am asked to go in the studio I try to make up parts that make the song sound better as a whole, and obviously if I am asked to do a solo I
How many hours a day on average do you have a guitar in your hand? Oh man, at minimum, I try, and I am not counting the stage time, at least two hours. I have days where I play six hours a day, I mean, that’s my life…I try to do it as much as I can.
managed to track down Yiannis via SKYPE while he was on the last leg of “The Space Between the Shadows” Tour with Scott Stapp in Brazil to ask a few pertinent questions about the guitar, life on tour and staying motivated as a very prominent sideman.
Do you use Pro Tools or Logic on a regular basis to record ideas that jump into your brain, or your iPhone voice memo app or something similar? First of all, I use Cubase, I’ve been always using Cubase, this is number one. Then, usually I have some kind of idea if it’s going to be a riff or a melody and then I start building around it. I try to hear where the riff or the melody takes me, if it’s going to be a heavy song or a ballad -- what’s the musical direction of the song? But if I am writing for somebody else and I know it is going to be pretty straight forward and I know what kind of orchestration will be used, I am much faster and I write usually everything and I just go in the studio until it’s done.
“When I am asked to go in the studio I try to make up parts that make the song sound better as a whole.” try to play something that fits the song. I mean I do have my own playing style but I try but I try to blend it with the kind of music that I am asked to play at any given point. It has to flow; it’s music, it’s a pleasure for any kind of listener and this is what I do and how I think when I am trying to compose or to play a part. What would I want to hear if I was listening to the song on the radio? So, this is how I work and I try to think that way when I am with other people in the studio. What are the 5 favorite effects pedals that you cannot play without? Strymon Timeline Delay Pedal Strymon BigSky Multidimensional Reverb Pedal Jam Pedals (Greece) Waterfall Chorus Pedal Andy Timmons Signature Drive Pedal [JHS Pedals] Jimmy Dunlop Cry Baby Wah Wah Pedal
Do you “hear” the rhythm first or do you “hear” the melodic lead solo first? Both actually, it depends! I would say there’s a little bit more to it. I have moments where I have a melody in my head and I just sing it into my phone and I go home and I find everything else and I just build around it, everything originally related to it! It can work both ways. It’s not a specific recipe! What advice would you give to our readers on dedication of time, and the patience and talent that it would take to become even close to the caliber you are at? First of all the talent doesn’t take you anywhere unless you have the time on top of the instrument! What I have always seen is that people that have the talent just move on fast up to a point but when the talent leaves and they are PERFORMER MAGAZINE DECEMBER/JANUARY 2020 33
required to keep up they just don’t put the time in, they just give up. Talent is obviously one of the most important factors but persistence and taking the time with the instrument, taking the time to understand how it works and how to make it sound good, it’s even more important than the talent factor itself, you know? So, my advice has always been, never give up! Are the bands you tour with more health conscious nowadays? I think that is a big “depends,” I don’t know if it is a trend but I think many band members follow that lifestyle but I’ve also seen bands where they don’t do it, they stick to the old stuff. Certain people, I don’t know if it is about the time! After watching a bunch of your videos, I saw that you had a little wrap that you put around the nut of your guitar. Is that like a muffler or something on the first fret? Right -- so there are many different ways that you can use this thing. This is the Fret Wrap by Gruv Gear. I am using it first of all when I am recording mainly just to keep the unwanted noise out of your playing, because we are people not machines, you know. Well you are kind of like a machine! You know you may miss a note here and there and it is a shame to do an entire take because you missed a note. Especially if you don’t have much time! This is something that makes things easy and fast and it is the main use I have for it. I’ve found that if you use it behind the nut it also helps the instrument resonate a bit better but the main usage is when I am in the studio. Let’s say you and I are I the studio and you come up with a riff -- do you commit everything to memory or do you rely on tablature or sheet music? It depends on the situation. If I am in a quick recording situation and I have to improvise I can use my phone and I have a video of myself and then If I have to reproduce it again I just take the time to check the video and try to relearn what I did (if I can’t reproduce it immediately.) But for anything that I compose or any kind of songs/solos that I did for competitions, everything is composed and not improvised -so the time that I was composing the solo, at the same time I had my Guitar PRO software open and I was transcribing myself. So, all of the songs that I have on my website, these are solos that are transcribed 100% by me and they are 100%
34 DECEMBER/JANUARY 2020 PERFORMER MAGAZINE
When you are doing sessions in Nashville, where most of the session players communicate through the Nashville number system do you have the ability to talk that language and adapt to pretty much any playing style, tempo and tone on the fly?
Yes of course I understand it, having a formal training at the Music Conservatory to be able to understand the language and be able to communicate with other people and not just in Nashville but also in many other situations, and you have to be able to do it on the fly! You have to know how to change things immediately. Were there other bands and players internationally outside of Vinnie Moore, Slash and Yngwie that influenced your melodic tunings and lead solos? That is a good question, to be honest I am not exactly the rock type of guy -- I am more of a metal head, I like In Flames, I like Opeth, I like I like Dark Tranquility and I am really a big fan of the Swedish metal scene as well, but regarding the guitar playing I have always liked different guitar players and looked forward to new techniques coming to the table, regarding my playing at least. So, for example I may have started with Slash and Richie Sambora but throughout the years as I was thinking more into technique I was more into players like John Petrucci or Steve Vai or Yngwie Malmsteen or Vinnie Moore. Later I got into players like Allan Holdsworth and Brett Garsed – let’s say more fusion players because I really love that! So, your learning is evolving? For me, that’s the key. I mean obviously you need to have some kind of identity, some kind of a base if you are a jazz player, or if you are a rock player or any kind of player. The key is always to learn how to outstart (v. to jump out) your playing, make it even more rich and having new ideas to take you to the next level so that you are becoming a better player and so that you are not bored when you touch things! It merely starts from your need to step away from what you are doing and find new ways of expressing yourself!
Follow on Instagram: @yiannis_papadopoulos PERFORMER MAGAZINE DECEMBER/JANUARY 2020 35
AKG LYRA USB Microphone
esktop USB Microphones used to be one trick ponies -- yes they worked, with not a lot of options, and placement was dictated by “all in one” mounts that may have looked cool, but were anything but flexible. Leave it to AKG to come up with a Desktop USB mic that delivers quality sound, with plenty of sound options, and flexibility in the newly released Lyra. First off, the modern-yet-retro design is very eye catching, and thankfully it’s got “go” to accompany the show. Underneath the grille are four mic capsules, a pair facing outwards on each side. The front panel has a listing of selections for the mic patterns; Front, Front and Back, Tight Stereo, and Wide Stereo. A mute switch button lights up red when engaged, and a headphone level control sits here as well. The back side has the selector for the microphone pattern, as well as mic gain. It kind of seems weird that the mic selection is shown on the front, but controlled from the rear, but it makes sense in a way, as to not confuse the headphone level with the gain level. At the bottom is a USB C connection as well as a 1/8” headphone input. The alloy base has a nice opening to allow routing of the cables, while the yoke section is detachable, and able to be threaded upon a standard microphone stand. Consider the ‘Front’ mode as the head-on version, with the forward capsules engaged, great for voice overs, and recording vocals or instruments facing it, while the ‘Front and Back’ mode, like the name implies, works great when the sound source(s) are facing the front and back. Great for interviews, as well as an acoustic duo playing together. The stereo modes are very expansive, even in the ‘Tight’ mode, which 36 DECEMBER/JANUARY 2020 PERFORMER MAGAZINE
captures a small ensemble playing with no issues. The ‘Wide’ stereo mode works great when getting a group together that might not be able to crowd around the mic evenly. The stereo modes work great connected to an iOS device for practice/ room recordings. We connected it to our DAW (PreSonus Studio One), and the overall sound quality in each mode was excellent, with no issues -- simply place it near the sound source, and it’s ready to go. The mic stand mount comes in handy for optimum placement. As a desktop mic, it’s nice to have one that doesn’t need anything extra. The stereo modes really capture room sounds, so keep that in mind when using it for that extra “air.” Practical applications abound with this, from content creators looking for high quality sound to pair with their videos, or podcasters who’d normally need multiple microphones and stands, it keeps the feel of interviews professional, yet casual. It’s easily placed in a room with multiple people with no “hollow-ness” or far away tunnellike effects. Using it as a single one-on-one style mic for voice overs, it delivers nicely as well. The only downside is that AKG only included a standard USB cable, so recording to Android and iOS devices means getting specific cables for those applications. Thankfully we had an iOS device cable and it worked great connected to an iPad’s recording app. AKG really knocked it out of the park with a durable, great sounding, and ergonomically functional mic that can work for any multimedia venture: from recording music, YouTube and Twitch streaming, to podcasting. Chris Devine
Great design, excellent sound, easy to use settings to choose from CONS
iOS/Android cables not included STREET PRICE
BOSS WL-60 Guitar Wireless System
ireless systems often don’t get along well with pedalboards. BOSS now has your pedalboard in their sights with their new WL-60 Wireless System.
Easy integration into any pedalboard, bypass mode, great sound, decent range CONS
Plastic construction on transmitter/ instrument pack. STREET PRICE
It’s pretty simple overall; with just a pedal sized receiver to place on your board. It has the usual 1/4” ins and outs, while power is supplied from the industry standard 9v power connection, or a pair of AA batteries. Want to power your pedals? There’s a 9V output jack, so with a daisy chain power cable, your other pedals now have juice. This cable isn’t provided however, and neither is the 9v power supply. Wait, why does it have an input jack? Well if there is some interference that can’t be overcome, just plug a standard cable in, and it works as a pass through, and doesn’t need to be unplugged, moved around or off a pedalboard and bypassed with a cable. The transmitter/belt unit is pretty simple; as it runs on AA batteries, and only has an on/off switch and channel select function. Included is a small braided 1/4” cable, with one end straight, and one end angled. Perfect if you have a Tele with a vintage jack, where angled plugs won’t really fit, or if you have a front mounted input jack on a pickguard, you can keep a low profile on the instrument with the angled end. Getting it running is easy; plug in, power up, and hit the SCAN Button on the receiver. Within moments it will tell you via the well-lit LCD display what channel is best, and you just select that channel on the transmitter. All done. Now go play. The receiver’s display shows the channel, battery level, and lights up SIG when it’s getting signal. It also has a level display on the channel signal’s strength as well. Now the channels can be
set manually without the scan mode, if need be. Speaking of battery life, the AA batteries can go for about 25 hours. Nice. The range is about 65 feet, so for small to medium sized stages it’s perfect. Like all wireless units, line of sight is a big factor in maintaining a strong connection, but we had no issues going around to another room, and still getting a healthy signal. BOSS has also added in a “CABLE” mode, with an emulation of a short cable, like a 10 footer, for example. There’s also a long version as well, which has the feel of a 20 foot cable. Cable length does make a difference in tone, as longer cables can take a bit of high end out of the signal. That’s not a bad thing, with single coils that can make all the difference, producing a slightly sweeter tone. The player can also bypass these variations as well, in the off setting. Sound wise, it’s great with no added hiss or noise; players can easily find room on their boards for one of these. The only con is both the transmitter and receiver are made out of plastic. For the receiver that will live on a pedalboard, that’s not such a big deal, but the transmitter could easily take a fall on a stage, and the wire belt clip isn’t that robust, it kind of felt like it was going to slide off, and when we tried attaching it to a guitar strap, it fell off with minimal force, and dropped to the floor. We didn’t want to bend or distort the wire clip for fear of breakage, but it fit easily in a back pants pocket. Overall though, for the price and the sound quality, it’s a real good deal for players who want a reasonably priced, easy-to-use and great sounding wireless solution that is simple into put into any pedal board, for most small to medium size stages.
Chris Devine PERFORMER MAGAZINE DECEMBER/JANUARY 2020 37
e have had a lot of experience with Warm Audio products, from their preamps to their microphones, and they have been excellent values. Now they’re at it again, with a set of active and passive DI Boxes that deliver. OK, first things first, what’s the difference between active and passive DI boxes? Good question. Here’s an example: let’s say you’re running a bass guitar with active pickups, the passive version would be the best to pair it with. How about an acoustic guitar that has a pickup but no preamp? In this case the active version is the one to go with. If the device has power, the DI doesn’t need any on its own. Each unit has the usual 1/4” input and thru connection points, phase reversal and ground lift selectors plus a variable pad is selectable. The pad has a range of -30dB to -3db. The active version requires power, which can be provided internally by two 9v batteries, or by phantom power. The active version can be run in passive mode, for greater flexibility. Looking under their respective hoods, the build quality is excellent. The only minor quibble is the mini toggles are a bit proud, and stick out past the edges. If the exterior casing was a bit longer, or the toggle switches were shorter, that would be a bit better, and less chance for the switches to get damaged or broken. But in real-world practice, this shouldn’t be much of an issue. When doing ANY direct recording with guitars, a DI makes a big difference, especially when going into a DAW, running into an amp sim plug-in for example. Using the active unit was perfect in getting healthy and clean sounding levels into our DAW via our interface. The pad got the signal to a great output level, without any noise or coloring at all. Our test bass guitar was a simple passive Yamaha BB 404, and again, we got excellent (and ultra clean) results. It’s transparent, and just brings a better balanced signal into the picture. The adjustable pad is quite helpful, with a tunable range, not just an “add specific DB here” that might not be enough, or worse, could be too much. To give the passive one a workout, we connected it to the speaker/recording out of our BOSS Katana
guitar amp, and ran the DI into our interface, in the “amp out” mode. Again, the clarity was perfection. No need to add in EQ to fix any issues. With so many amps and amp simulator devices out there, they may have outputs to go right into a mixer, but
not all of them have XLR outs. The DI box gives the opportunity to get a cleaner, balanced signal, as well as eliminate ground hum and phasing issues. Trust us, these are all good things. And at this price, these Warm boxes are pretty much no brainers.
WARM AUDIO Direct Box Active and Passiv 38 DECEMBER/JANUARY 2020 PERFORMER MAGAZINE
GEAR REVIEWS PROS
Overall for the money, the active version offers the best flexibility, with a selective active or passive mode. Studio owners that might need those options, add this to next year’s budget. The passive version might be best for guitar players using them in a
live setting, post amp. Regardless, they’re both professional level DI boxes, at a smart price, that bring out more of what’s already going on, without any additional tone coloring. Chris Devine
sive DI Boxes
Active model can be passive or active. Pad is very useful. Reasonably priced. CONS
None STREET PRICE
Active DI box: $199 Passive DI Box: $149
PERFORMER MAGAZINE DECEMBER/JANUARY 2020 39
MACKIE ProFX 16v3 Mixer
ackie’s latest revision to its classic ProFX mixer lineup adds a number of useful upgrades, without a hefty price tag. Taking a look at the mixer itself, there are a few things to point out that other units in this price range lack. Namely, insert points per channel (at least on 1-8, your standard mic channels) are a very welcome addition that far too many boards omit. The mic pres themselves have been upgraded to Mackie’s famed ONYX preamps, which we’ve tested before in previous mixers as well as Mackie’s most recent USB audio interfaces. Suffice to say, further testing of the new ProFX v3 mixer yielded similarly positive results in the sound quality department. Vocals were crisp and clear, with just enough “presence” to feel alive and not processed. This could really be the next board for your band’s rehearsal space or even for live gigs – especially with on-board Hi-Z inputs so you can go direct without the need for additional DI boxes. You get 3-band EQ on each channel with a sweepable midrange (pretty standard), as well as a number of aux sends and FX sends per channel. Throw in a few assignable groups, and that pretty much rounds things out. Standard stuff, but well done, and built to last. Speaking of those FX sends, here’s where Mackie has really stepped things up to compete with the likes of Soundcraft, whose Signature 12MTK still holds a place as our office “go to” compact mixer. Soundcraft has the luxury of being owned by Harman, who also controls dbx, Lexicon and more, meaning they have access to great digital fx to add to their mixers right out of the gate. 40 DECEMBER/JANUARY 2020 PERFORMER MAGAZINE
Luckily, the folks at Mackie have also turned their attention to the on-board fx in their latest v3 series, and the results are great (even without the luxury of those brands as sister companies). Digital fx in compact mixers have come a long, long way in the past 10 years. Whereas in 2010 I would have said a lot of manufacturers’ on-board fx were borderline insulting, here we are closing out the decade with a mixer like this, featuring a KILLER suite of great-sounding fx that range from big reverbs, lush choruses and great modulation fx like delay and flange.
actually DOES deliver. And for under $500, it delivers in spades. We’re super impressed with all this compact unit has to offer, and we think it’ll make a perfect addition to any band’s gear arsenal. Benjamin Ricci
PROS So, the mic pres are better, the fx engine is much improved and super-useful, and you’ve got on-board USB for recording. Now, the good news is you get a 24 bit/192kHz 2x4 interface, which means you can record your gigs, rehearsals and even tracking sessions into your DAW. And Mackie has even gone above and beyond by including a basic version of Pro Tools as well as dozens of really great plug-ins to help you get started. While that’s all great, and totally worth the asking price, in future revisions we’d absolutely LOVE to see the ability to add more I/O over USB, including the ability to use the board as an analog front end for your DAW, bringing your DAW channels back on individual hardware channels in a multi-track mode, much like our Soundcraft board is capable of. Mixing (no pun intended) the best of both worlds would make this downright indispensable. But that’s more of a wish-list item (and suggestion in case the folks at Mackie are reading), and not a criticism of what the board
Easy to use, priced competitively, good build quality, improved mic preamps CONS
Would be nice to have USB returns on each channel STREET PRICE
MACKIE SRM-Flex Portable Column PA System
hese portable “column style” PA systems seem to be all the rage these days, and it’s no surprise why. With their lightweight design, and easy-to-assemble form factors, coupled with a line-array inspiration, and you can see that the ease of use combined with the sound reproduction of more high-end solutions in an affordable package is pretty darn tempting. Mackie enters the fold with their new SRMFlex system, which features a base unit and a 3-piece tower that all clicks easily into place. One of the nice things about this type of design is that compared to a fixed-driver type of PA speaker (which is what you’d normally throw up on poles, fly in a larger setting or use on stage as a wedge), you can actually change out where each of the high and mid-range drivers sit (and disperse sound) so you can adjust them to the real-world height of your audience. So, if you need to adapt to different types of stage setups and floorplans a lot in your gigging, this can be just the thing for you. The whole package is pretty lightweight, overall, and will easily fit into just about any touring vehicle (even a Smart Car). For house concert performers and small combos, you’ll appreciate the on-board I/O and builtin mixer, meaning that you can plug all your gear (mics/acoustics/keys) into the SRMFlex without the need for an additional powered mixer (and more cables to trip over). You even have on-board Bluetooth for
streaming backing tracks, as well as some pretty useful reverb options. The unit sounds great in action, mixing instruments and vocals with ease. You can do this on the unit itself, of course, or even better with the Mackie SRM-Flex Connect app for your smartphone. We’ve controlled a number of Mackie mixers and PA solutions in the past using their apps, and they’re super easy to use and setup. A lot of manufacturers’ apps flat-out suck, and are totally unintuitive. But Mackie’s been nailing the wireless app game for years, and this is no different. If you want to be able to mix easily from the stage, or even have someone mix FOH-style from their iPad in the crowd, you’re covered. But the good thing is that even though you can access everything through the app for wireless control, you can also get to everything you need with physical buttons and knobs. No menu-diving, which if you’ve read any of our reviews before, you’ll know we hate menu navigation as much as Sonicstate’s Nick Batt loves Pulse Width Modulation. And that’s A LOT. At the end of the day, this is a serious PA solution for serious musicians. It sounds phenomenal, it has all the inputs and control you’d need for most singer/songwriter and small band applications, and it’s dead-simple to use and lug around no matter what your gig situation calls for.
If you’re in the market for a PA solution for yourself or your group, and you don’t want o buy huge bulky speakers and a separate compact mixer, we recommend you check it out. Benjamin Ricci
super easy setup, great sound quality, wonderful app, no external mixer needed CONS
none STREET PRICE
PERFORMER MAGAZINE DECEMBER/JANUARY 2020 41
n September 2018 we got to check out the Mod Duo, an all in one effects unit, with a simple and easy to navigate software controller that was editable through a browser. Now comes the Mod Duo X, adding in some extra real time control. First off, it works like the Mod Duo -- connect it to a computer via USB, and start up a browser, and with a couple of quick directions from their website, it’s ready to go. A virtual pedalboard appears and a bank of pedals and effects for the analog signals are available to make a signal chain to whatever the user may need: overdrives, modulations, delays, reverbs, cab simulators. Everything to make a super serious guitar/bass rig that sounds fantastically realistic. There are a ton of MIDI related utility functions for synth/keyboard applications as well as DJ’s with practical items like sequencers and filters. So truly, something for everybody. Like the previous Mod Duo there are two large display screens, but now the addition of 10 control knobs that can be assigned to parameters of the effects via the browser software. Want one knob to control a delay time, and another to control the EQ on a distortion? OK, done with a click. The four soft touch buttons can also engage or disengage effects, as well. The display screens tell the user which control is assigned to which parameter, and respond in real time. If it’s connected to the browser, the corresponding knob will also respond visually. The browser format has one quirk though, on real pedals the inputs are usually on the right, 42 DECEMBER/JANUARY 2020 PERFORMER MAGAZINE
MOD DEVICES Mod Duo X and outputs are on the left. Somehow in the software they do it the opposite way, so it can take some getting used to when planning out a virtual pedalboard. But that’s just a minor quibble.
assigned a knob to a parameter on a virtual pedal, and one worked, and another one didn’t in the browser, but did on the device, which was slightly annoying.
Sound-wise the effects are beyond excellent, and are fantastic for generating guitar sounds that might not be possible in the real world without a pedalboard the size of a surfboard, and enough patch cables to re-configure a mainframe computer from the 1960s. The reverbs and delays were super rich and offered up plenty of ambient textures that swirled while maintaining clarity. All of the pedalboards that are created can be saved to the pedalboard, and on its own, not connected to the computer, can be recalled, and their respective parameter editing knobs are right where you need them.
Overall the sounds are fantastic, and the ability to create, save and recall pedalboards is very easy to do, and delivers excellent sound quality. Chris Devine
It’s a stereo unit, with headphone outs as well as CV/expression pedal connectivity for real time foot control and synth hookups. While it does work and behave like a pedal, the soft buttons really don’t function like actual footswitches. MOD does make a controller (not included) that will connect to the unit via a CAT 5 Cable, and offer up that functionality. Kind of a bummer though as a guitar pedal board related device, however a keyboard player or DJ that might use it on a desktop should have no issues without a foot controller. We did have a couple of issues; the included USB drive was supposed to have a manual on it, ours arrived blank, but we were able to access info on the manufacturer’s website. There seems to be some small glitches too; for example, we
excellent sounding effects, plenty of virtual effects and instrument controls CONS
needs external footswitch for stompbox use STREET PRICE
GEAR REVIEWS PROS
Great overdrive, beautiful 3-band EQ, excellent tonal options.
REVV AMPLIFICATION G2 Preamp/Overdrive/Distortion Pedal
n June of 2019 we got a chance to review Revv Amplification’s G4 Pedal, which is based off of the Red Channel of their Generation series of amps. Now they found a way to distill the lower gain sounds into their new pedal, the G2. It has a similar layout to their other G series pedals; a three band EQ, volume and gain, and the three way voicing control with red or blue modes. Now, when the term ‘low gain’ meets a pedal that’s green, it’s easy to assume TS style response. Not here; this pedal has its own thing going on. First off, it’s one of those pedals that likes clean amps, as in, don’t run your amp slightly dirty. The best response is running into a clean, nondistorted source. Yes, you could use it as a boost, with low gain and high volume, but you would be missing out on what this pedal can offer. Plugging in front of an amp is the most traditional situation, but it can be put in the effects loop of an amp and using the power amp section, as well as running into a DAW with an amp sim/IR. Our test rigs included a Fender Blues Jr, a Boss Katana, as well as running it into Radial’s JDX Direct Drive/Amp Simulator into PreSonus Studio One. The sounds that came out of this lil wonder were beyond awesome. We really liked the high gain tones from the G4, but the G2 really had a nice and open quality, without any over saturation. The
gain is plentiful for leads, especially for players who like to hear a lot of pick dynamics and overtones. There aren’t a lot of lower gain pedals with a three band EQ, most have just a “tone” knob that always seems to be a compromise, but here the three band EQ seems tailored for guitarists, where it’s actually practical. It’s hyper flexible enough to work with single coils that won’t get too sharp, or humbuckers that might get muddy. A lot of overdrives seem to get flabby, but here that bass can be tightened up for a better low end response. The other EQ controls work in the same fashion, and in this case it adds up to tailoring a tone without having to rely on gain for dynamic punch. For extra added tweak-ability, the voicing knob’s red mode offers up a big amp-like richness that just feels and responds beautifully. In all of the rigs we used it with, it truly blew us away. There’s an element of underlying clarity as well, where it’s not over-coloring anything. Big open sounding chords with articulation, and leads just sang. It felt and responded like a great, natural amp. Players who seem to ride between multiple pedals for overdrives/distortions/ boosts could easily clean up their board with one of these, and wouldn’t be missing out on any usable drive tones that are big, responsive and practical. Chris Devine
PERFORMER MAGAZINE DECEMBER/JANUARY 2020 43
SAMSON Z45 Studio Headphones
reat sounding, reasonably priced studio monitoring headphones have been kind of mythical. Yes, you can get expensive sets that sound great, but trash your wallet, or a cheap set that just sounds like trash. Samson’s Z45’s really fit the bill with well thought-out design features, and pretty good sound for the money. Inside each lamb-skinned ear pad is a nice 40mm driver with rare earth magnets, large enough to project a full spectrum of frequency response of 15Hz to 22kHz. The closed-back design also helps the response by blocking out unwanted external noise. The headband is well padded, and the earpieces have a very well done articulated joint that allows the headphones to be collapsed for easy storage in their included carry pouch. Rounding out the kit is an 8’ straight cable, and a coiled cable, both of which are detachable, and secure to the headphones with a quick, secure twist to prevent them from popping out. These were VERY comfortable to wear during long sessions, with no physical fatigue to speak of. The pads sat nicely on the ears and blocked out 44 DECEMBER/JANUARY 2020 PERFORMER MAGAZINE
the outside world during tracking. Sound-wise, they had excellent articulation with an overall smooth tone that made ear fatigue a non-issue. There’s a bit of a pronounced midrange, which is always welcome [your mileage may vary] in tracking, especially if you’re trying to zone in on something like a guitar part or a snare drum’s cut. They responded very well to external EQ, so if that midrange isn’t wanted, it’s easily dialed out to be less prominent. Ever see that meme where they diagram all the high end gear and the process to make a great recording, only to have an artist’s hard work to be heard through ear buds? Yeah, if you’re recording, spending some money on a decent set of headphones is important, but getting a quality set that don’t need a bank loan? In most cases users were looking at cheap (sound quality and cost) versions that were lackluster. These new cans from Samson deliver a great sound for a reasonable price, which is quite refreshing. They won’t break the bank, and they deliver excellent sound, which are qualities in gear that’re getting harder and harder to find these days. Chris Devine
Good sound, low price, well designed, comfortable
None STREET PRICE
mart musicians multi-task their gear; a mic that works great live, should work great in the studio. And a lot of musicians sometimes bleed over into YouTube, Twitch, and podcasting, so a lot of the gear can easily be used in a different application, if you already have it. Even smarter is finding reasonably priced items. Samson has put a great little microphone kit together that covers everything above at a reasonable price. Now, this isn’t high-end stuff, but it’ll get you started. Staring with the mic itself, not only is an XLR connection there, but a mini USB connector and a 3.5mm headphone jack. So, what this means is, if you want to plug it into a standalone mixer or interface, no problem, or want to connect it to a computer via USB, or an IPad (with an adapter cable, not included)? Again, no problem. Included is a mic clip, mini tripod and extension, windscreen, as well as USB and XLR Cables. So for this price, the accessories may be worth the cost of admission alone if you’re setting up a streaming channel for, say, video game playthroughs. Using it as a live mic there’s no problems at all, it works with the response of a great dynamic microphone, with plenty of depth and clarity. One slight quibble with live mics though are on/ off switches. In the heat of performances, it’s really easy to inadvertently turn it off by accident. However, in a studio, having the ability to mute a mic at your fingertips easily, is a welcome feature. In a small studio format, it works fantastic – for content creators who might want a great mic that isn’t big or in the frame of their shot, this can easily sit on a desk and with a normal speaking voice, the audio can be captured without coloring from the room, all while not picking up extra background noise. For interviews, using this connected to an iOS device is a no brainer, making it a remote podcast studio essential.
SAMSON Q2U USB Microphone Recording and Podcasting Pack
decent sounding dynamic mic, USB & XLR connections, inexpensive CONS
none, especially considering the price STREET PRICE
Overall for the money, it’s a dual use mic that has all the extra accessories needed, and gives the option for traditional XLR use, or USB with no issues or worries. It’s great when a dual use item actually performs without sacrificing one of their worlds – and at $59 it’s hard to nitpick any of the features or quality. Vocalists/Twitchers/ podcasters, this is a simple and easy solution that falls into that “no brainer” category. Or a perfect stocking stuffer for the budding content creator on your list. Chris Devine PERFORMER MAGAZINE DECEMBER/JANUARY 2020 45
GAMECHANGER AUDIO Plasma Rack High Voltage Distortion Module
t’s well known that tubes really are the heart of overdriven tones, but that’s a standard vacuum tube. What about a Xenon filled tube running at high voltages? Gamechanger thought the same thing and the results are very unusual, and very interesting. Opening the box, it was hard not to notice the block circuit diagram silkscreened on the top, that maps out the signal flow -- yes it may look intimidating, but it gives the user an idea of how everything interacts with, well, everything else. The front panel hosts the gain, volume, voltage (more on that later), high, mid and low EQ and clean blend knobs. There is also a tremolo with rate and depth controls. If desired it can be set to a dynamic mode, and responds to picking attack. Peppered amongst those controls are back lit push buttons that cover sustain, over saturate, clean EQ and clean gate. There’s also a front mounted Xenon tube that lights up like a lightning storm on the 4th of July, and reacts to the player’s attack. The rear panel sports all the ins and outs, and has balanced and unbalanced connections for Audio, MIDI and three effect loops, along with an expression pedal input. So, when plugging in any distortion device you expect the typical, warmer, soft clipping at lower settings, gradually getting gnarlier the further the knobs get pushed. Well, not here! This unit begins at gnarly, and just goes to insane. It starts off in the hard square wave area of signal manipulation. Guitar wise, it certainly can rip. Chord work is super modern and tight. The 46 DECEMBER/JANUARY 2020 PERFORMER MAGAZINE
3-band EQ can really dial in usable frequency space easily. The big thing that helps maintain clarity is the clean blend control, however if the gain stages are pushed, and the gate is engaged, it sounds like a broken fuzz pedal, but in a good musical way. This isn’t traditional in any way, its hyper modern, and has a big angle of attack when it comes to pairing it with guitar. The tremolo circuit is also quite mental, it can certainly do nice warm haunting pulses, up to stuttering like a laser gun. Pushing it even further it’s almost goes into ring modulation. The expression pedal output can be assigned to any control on the unit and gives real time control a great twist, especially on the tremolo or the clean blend. One unique application on this is for drum machines and synths. It’s nothing new, using distortion devices to make even canned beats and presets unique, but running them through one of these really opens things up. This makes a lot of sense as this is rack unit, and with the knobs allowing real-time analog control, adjustments make sequences and beats a true interactive performance, not just a “press play” process. Overall, it’s quite wild seeing that lighting arc across the front panel, but for guitar players who are going to pedals instead of rackmount gear, along with the high price tag, Gamechanger’s pedal version seem to make a lot more sense for the gigging 6-string (or bass) player. But for the synth and drum machine world, or the recording crowd, having one of these in a rack within arm’s reach, really makes a lot more sense. Chris Devine
hyper flexible EQ, super high gain distortions that go into infinity. Works well with synths and drum machines CONS
Slightly pricey, might be overkill for many guitarists STREET PRICE
K Multimedia’s new iRig Keys 2 PRO MIDI Controller is entering a crowded field of MIDI controllers for today’s modern workflows. So, what sets this apart from other keyboard controllers on the market? For starters, you get a full 3 octaves of FULL SIZE keys. For producers and home recording enthusiasts who despise mini keys, this is a welcome addition at this price point. The keys feel pretty good, too. Not the best action, especially when compared to something like the Akai Road 88 that we recently reviewed, but that was geared more towards the traditional piano crowd with weighted keys and realistic action. The iRig Keys 2 PRO is decidedly more synth-action and plastic feeling, but not spongy or cheap in any way. Best of all, it’s velocity sensitive, so you can really dial in the dynamics with your VST-based synths and even when controlling external hardware synths and modules that accept velocity. The pitch and mod wheels feel good, as well, and didn’t require any special mapping in our DAW, nor when using analog hardware. There’s even a handy headphone jack so you can listen to your work when tinny laptop or iPhone speakers just won’t do. The top panel is rounded out with
IK MULTIMEDIA iRig Keys 2 PRO MIDI Controller your standard octave up/down pads as well as program change pads, which allow you to move quickly between your sounds. There are also a few programable dials that you can map however you see fit; not as many as other controllers we’ve tested, but again, you’re talking under $150 here. And the kicker is the software. Here’s where the value proposition becomes downright ridiculous. Yes, we can easily control desktop synth modules with this unit, and honestly that might be enough to justify the price tag. But you get a TON of really killer virtual instruments (like, thousands) with the free download of IK’s SampleTank 4 SE, which means your Mac/PC or mobile device will never be starved for sounds again.
great price, awesome soft synth package, full size keys, 3 octave keybed CONS
none At the end of the day, this is a killer MIDI controller. It feels good, it offers full size keys with velocity sensitivity, nice pitch/mod wheels and even a few custom knobs to map in your DAW. But the software package just puts it over the top, and should make this an easy buy for any home studio or producer looking to beef up their sample library or VST-based instrument locker all in one fell swoop. Highly recommended. Benjamin Ricci
PERFORMER MAGAZINE DECEMBER/JANUARY 2020 47
STEINBERG UR44C USB Audio Interface
ortable in recording usually means small, but at the cost of options or connectivity. Steinberg’s new UR44C brings ‘portable’ without stripping out inputs, preamp quality or recording possibilities. Size-wise, it’s not much bigger than a hardcover book, with four combo XLR/1/4” inputs. The first two are optimized for microphones as well as acoustic instruments, while the other two are meant for instruments like a bass going direct, or an electric guitar from an amp sim or effects type unit like an HX Stomp or Helix. Each has its own gain control, and peak signal notification LED, and phantom power is available for those DI’s and condenser mics that might require them. Two1/4” headphone jacks each have their own levels, and a main output control finishes off the front panel. The rear panel has power selection, which can be from the USB C or the included wall power supply. MIDI in and outs reside here as well for keyboard or pad controllers, you’ve got 1/4” outputs for monitors as well as four line outs available, and finally for extra inputs, two 1/4” connections round things out. So why two power sources? Well connecting to a Mac or PC, USB will do fine, but it can be connected to an iOS device, with the correct cables (not included), the wall power supply can provide power in this configuration. Included 48 DECEMBER/JANUARY 2020 PERFORMER MAGAZINE
is a gaggle of free software to use; Cubase AI, Cubase LE, and Steinberg’s Basic Suite FX, which covers EQ strip morphing suite, Rev-x Reverb, and Yamaha’s guitar amp classic plug-ins which cover clean, crunch, drive and lead amp models. Finally, it does have its own dspMixFx software that makes it a more robust portable platform, with its own mixer interface. It will also work with any other DAW software, of course, if Cubase isn’t your thing. Recording at 32 bit and a 192kHz sample rate, matched with Yamaha’s D-Pre Mic preamps makes for a great starting point. Everyone always throws around the term “natural” and “transparent” when it comes to mic preamps, but that’s usually only found on bigger, and more expensive interfaces. Well, they’re here, and they are spectacular! Plugging in a variety of tried and true instrument and vocal mics, yielded great sounds right off the bat, with minimal tweaking. Plugging in guitars with our Radial JDX cab sim also brought great results. Players who want to bypass amps and use plug-ins, no problem there either. It’s also running its own internal DSP which means processing functions are running off of the unit and not the DAW, freeing up some of your CPU’s power. Loopback connectivity is also a possibility, being able to patch in signals and make it a live streaming broadcast unit. Since the unit is so small, and has six inputs, it’s practical to bring to practices, and put
together what could be the bed tracks of a band’s future release. Run line outs from the FOH mixer to it, and doing that live album just got a whole lot easier. As a value proposition, it’s really a perfect unit for home/desktop recording, and can go more than a few steps further than the usual ‘cheap’ DAW interface you might have started out on. Connected to an iOS device, or laptop, it’s now a true portable studio that can easily fit in a backpack and still deliver great quality. Chris Devine
Great preamps, low latency, small portable footprint CONS
iOS cables not included. STREET PRICE
per system with qualified 600 MHz trade-in through March 31, 2020. Visit audio-technica.com for details.
Versatile High-Fidelity Wireless 3000 Series expands the possibilities of performance
Interchangeable capsule options
• Class-leading, extremely wide 60 MHz UHF tuning bandwidth for maximum versatility • True Diversity operation reduces dropouts • Unique multifunction button on the handheld and body-pack transmitters can be used to switch to a backup frequency should interference be encountered • Automatically adjusts squelch setting to maximize range while minimizing potential interference • Frequency scan and IR sync for ease of setup • Handheld transmitter offers industry-standard thread mount for use with six interchangeable A-T microphone capsules, as well as other compatible capsules
Find your s ta g E and
Lose yourself effortlessly in the bright tones and just right feel of Elixir® Strings. Night after night, gig after gig—express yourself with the consistent playability of Elixir Strings.
E n g i n E E r E d F o r g r E at to n E a n d l o n g l i F E GORE, Together, improving life, ELIXIR, NANOWEB, POLYWEB, OPTIWEB, GREAT TONE • LONG LIFE, “e” icon, and designs are trademarks of W. L. Gore & Associates. ©2009-2019 W. L. Gore & Associates, Inc.
Featuring Yola, AHI, Yiannis Papadopoulos and much more...