There have been a number of interesting things in the news this week in the keyboard world.
Firstly, there's been a noticeable increase in the release and coverage of apps - especially iOS (e.g. iPhone, iPad) apps - enabling users to play, record and/or learn keyboard on screen
. Playing piano on a flat screen really is a big industry now!
Next, as a piano player nearly all my life, this one came as a bit of a surprise to me - there is actually such a thing as a left-handed piano
! Yes, a piano which is a complete mirror image of a standard piano, specially designed for left-handed players by a left-handed player. The piano has all the highest pitch notes as the far left of the keyboard and all the bass notes towards the top / far right. Strange but true.
Finally, I was amazed by this very cool online music player from Japan called Songle
. It enables you to upload a link to any URL containing an mp3 file (or a link to a song on SoundCloud) and it will analyse and provide a visual representation of what it finds in the song. Structures, chords, beat analysis, interpretation of where the chorus starts... pretty amazing stuff.
There's never a dull moment in the world of music...
Today I read about a new app called Condition One
, which promises to revolutionise the way online media is consumed.
Essentially the app enables the user to view a video on screen, but becomes immersive in that when you turn the screen in any direction, the moving image on screen will pan in that direction.
It is best to see a demo of the video (below) or download the app to test free to see what it can do.
It left me thinking how great it would be to have the app change the stereo panning of the audio - as well as the vision - based on where in the "image" you were "looking". The experience at the moment, while somewhat immersive, is still quite one-dimensional - something that stereo panning could assist with overcoming.
Imagine seeing an image of a truck pass by on screen, you could hear it approach on the right and move to the left of your screen as the sound would pass from right to left also. Then if you move the screen to the left to focus on the truck, the object now in the centre of your screen, the sound of the truck would also be moved to the centre.
Technically this would be a huge feat, but surely not too far off...
Some time ago I started using SugarSync
, a great tool for easily accessing, synching and sharing files across multiple computers and mobile devices.
While this sounds a bit techy, in reality there are some awesome things you can do with SugarSync. One of them I particularly like as a composer - and that's being able to carry my music portfolio in my pocket.
Now you might think you could just have a playlist setup in iTunes or something and have that stored on your phone, ready to play when needed. Sure, that would allow you to access your music on the go, but what if you wanted to quickly and easily share
one of your tracks with someone? Maybe you're a muso wanting to send a demo track or two to a venue manager you just met. A player looking to join a band you've just seen play live. Or a composer keen to share a demo of your work to a prospective client...
SugarSync not only enables you to access and play your music on the go from your phone, but you can simply tap a button to send a link to that track via email. Sweet.
Here's a rundown of a few steps I take each time I finish a new composition. These quick steps make it easy to access and share my music anywhere, anytime, with anyone:
- When I finish a new track, I use XLD to convert the large WAV file to a more transportable mp3 version
- I then drag the mp3 to an "mp3s" folder on my desktop, where all my project mp3s are stored
- This folder is automatically synched to SugarSync, which means that by just dragging the mp3 to this folder, the next time I open SugarSync on my phone I'll have access to the track - including the ability to play it and share it directly with others.
Hope you find this useful. Now get out there and spread your music to the world!
For many years now, Apple have been selling the Airport Express
, a small portable unit which can plug into a power point to create a simple wireless network. One of the most popular uses of this device is to stream an iTunes library wirelessly from a desktop or laptop to a home stereo (potentially at the other end of the house / building). This is a setup I enjoy at home myself, but getting it to work correctly is not always as "plug and play" as you would hope. My stable setup these days is the result of many bleary-eyed, late night Google searches for ways to improve signal strength and decrease dropouts.If you are reading this post with similar trouble, hoping for some guiding light, I won't even begin to cover off all the potential solutions that have been offered over time (which you would likely have read to exhaustion already!). However, other than the usual suspects of improving line of sight between your sending and receiving devices (minimizing distance and walls between the two), checking you have followed correct setup procedure, ensuring security settings are consistent between sending and receiving devices, not having your microwave running or any other electrical / magnetic interference nearby,
etc etc, there are less hit and miss opportunities to improve your streaming results...Check the cleanliness of your selected channelThe Channel your WiFi connection is transmitting on can be easily crowded by other communications nearby, including neighbour's WiFi networks and other equipment. The good news is, free tools are available to help check which WiFi channels provide greatest strength and least noise in your area. I have successfully used iStumbler for Mac though
there are several other options including Windows-based solutions such as NetStumbler
. Ensure IPv6 is turned OFF in your network settings
On Mac (I'm not sure if this is relevant to PC users?) you need to turn off IPv6 for both
Wi-Fi and Ethernet networks. This procedure is referenced in many posts relating to reducing iTunes streaming dropouts
. The process is as follows:
Hope this helps you keep the music flowing nice and cleanly from your desktop / laptop to your remote speakers. Nothing is more frustrating than wireless audio dropouts!
- Open System Preferences→Network and select the Ethernet service in the sidebar.
- Click on the Advanced button, then select the TCP/IP tab.
- The Configure IPv6 field should be set to Off.
- Click OK, then Apply.
- Repeat this process for the Wi-Fi service.
- Open Airport Utility and restart the Airport station that is running AirPlay.
As a music composer
, it has been years since I've been able to settle for a default ringtone on a phone. Many years back, the ability to import your own short audio clips started appearing in the dominant phones of the day - Siemens, Nokia, Sony, Motorola...Then a few years back it seemed every magazine and TV show within arm's reach of a gullible teenager offered a way to download the "latest hits" (Crazy Frog, anyone?) to their phone as a ringtone. Amazingly it's still occurring today. If you're an iPhone owner, you've possibly already wondered at some point how you can get a different ringtone to everyone else, and expand that relatively limited default range of options. The number of apps in the app store to "help" you create ringtones is testament to the difficulty many people experience. In reality, while not clearly communicated, it is quite easy to create your own ringtone from an existing audio track you have in iTunes (or you could contact me to create a custom ringtone for you!). The following instructions are based on running iTunes 10.5 on Mac, however the process in older versions and on PC is quite similar:
1. In iTunes, highlight the audio track you want to use as your ringtone. It doesn't matter if it's too long or doesn't start at the point you want it to, you can sort this later...
2. Right click and select "Get Info".
3. Click the Options tab.
4. Check the boxes next to Start Time and Stop Time and enter in the times you want your ringtone to start and stop.
5. Click OK.
6. Right click on the same file again and choose "Create AAC Version".
7. You'll see a new, shorter audio file appear under your original file.
8. Right click on this new shorter file and choose "Show in Finder" (or "Show in Windows Explorer" if on a PC)
9. Change the extension of your audio file from ".m4a" to ".m4r". You may receive a warning message but that's fine, go ahead, make the change.
10. Swap back to iTunes and delete the short ringtone file you just created in Step 6.
11. Import the file you just renamed with the extention ".m4r" into iTunes.
12. Now just connect your iPhone and sync your playlist. You may need to drag the .m4r file into the Ringtones section on your iPhone.
13. On your iPhone, you can now choose this ringtone alongside all the old boring default ones!
Happy ringing! And please, no more of this...
Recently my family and I went on a driving holiday up the East coast of Australia. We traveled 1985 kilometres, saw kangaroos, dolphins, whales, blue tongue lizards, beach, bushland, highway, dirt tracks, sunrise, sunset, caravans and high-rise buildings. It was brilliant. But there is one thing we didn't find often in our accommodation along the way. A stereo.
During our travels we stayed in six apartments. Fortunately as we were travelling outside peak season, we were able to find some quite premium places to stay at significantly reduced cost. Great views, plenty of space, modern appliances, flat screen TVs (in one case three of them!) - but only one apartment had a stereo system.
I realised many years ago that when traveling, even more essential than clean clothes is the inclusion of a headphone jack to RCA connector
- so that your portable CD player (in the "old days") or an iPhone / smartphone could be easily connected into the auxillary input of any stereo you find on your travels. A great way to unwind and feel a bit more "at home" in otherwise unfamiliar surroundings.
Dutifully I took my headphone to RCA connector on our trip but it was rarely used.
At first it crossed my mind that the lack of a stereo in each apartment could be due to a lack of space. But no. These destinations had ample space, plenty of vacant shelving and access to powerpoints.
Could it be to keep noise down? Surely not. Are the common massive televisions expected to be kept at a low volume any differently?
With the transportability of music now a reality and not a luxury, I remain surprised.
In one stopover, we had a great time listening to a selection of chilled music from my tinny iPhone speaker while we relaxed at the end of the day. It truly became the modern transistor radio
I don't expect my readership extends broadly into accommodation-service-provider territory, but if I happen to do so I urge you to consider placing a small stereo system in each room you offer.
"We're all going on a silent holiday. No more music for a week or two...".
Often I post less than positive comments on the state of the music industry. The difficulty on getting yourself heard
as an artist, the popularity of television shows revolving around people singing covers
, and the popularity of Auto-Tune
. This post is like an ad break from those "heavy" thoughts - simply to draw attention to an app which is likely to be very funny very quickly (then become very old very quickly!). It's called Songify, released July 7 2011 on iTunes.As a precursor to understanding Songify, it is recommended that you become acquainted with the work of The Gregory Brothers.
These guys first came to my attention when I saw the clip below.
The Gregory Brothers commonly take recordings of (usually already comical) footage and use Auto-Tune
among other tools to put the words to music. In the example above, Antoine Dodson was originally providing a report to camera crews of a crime scene. Next thing he knows he's a YouTube sensation with videos, albums, TV interviews and T-shirts baring his name. With the release of Songify, anyone with an iPhone, iPad or iPod can take a recording of their own voice and it will automatically turn it into a "song". The results do get a laugh as you hear the most mundane comments turned into the kind of thing you hear on the charts.
The app is free and incredibly fast and easy to use.Does it make anyone a musician? No! Is it funny? Yeah. Will it have longevity? Absolutely not. Enjoy for a few minutes until you're sick of it!
If you're using social media such as Twitter or Facebook, or have ever been sent a YouTube clip of some band or performance you just have to check out, you'll know what I mean: it's not always "the right time" to listen to something new. Maybe you were out and didn't have a decent set of headphones on you at the time. Maybe you were at work and couldn't fain looking busy while you were listening to a new clip. Maybe you
just don't have the time to give a new track the attention it deserves at the time it comes to your attention. So much new music I discover is found while online. An email, a tweet, a YouTube clip, a link to a website. It's not often I become aware of a new artist or performance via radio, TV or press. For this reason, I've become a real fan of using Instapaper to save these links, emails, websites etc to a single spot that I can come back to later when I have more time. Instapaper is a very simple to install, simple to use, and free means of "bookmarking" the bits and pieces you come across online, saving them to a neat spot to check out later. In the words of the developer on his FAQs page:"I appreciate great writing, but I’ve become frustrated with the quick-consumption nature of many devoted blog readers... popular blogs are now full of useless “list posts” with no substance or value... well-written content is out there, and we do have opportunities every day to read it — just not when we’re in information-skimming, speed-overload mode...The times we find information aren’t always ideal for consuming it. Instapaper helps you bridge that gap."Tweaking the intention slightly, from consumption of written articles to attention to undiscovered music, I find Instapaper equally compelling. To paraphrase the above,
I appreciate great music, but I’ve become frustrated with the fast-food style nature of many artists and listeners. Commercial radio and other popular channels are full of hear today gone today artists bringing little of substance to the listener. Well composed music is out there and we do have opportunities every day to listen — just not when we’re in information-skimming, speed-overload mode...
The times we find new music aren’t always ideal for consuming it. Don't let inconvenience stop your discovery of new music.
Some time ago I set my home up with a couple of Airport Express
units. These enable the wireless transfer of music from iTunes on my Mac computer to another room where the Airport Express is plugged into a stereo. This provides a nice seamless experience as you move from one room to another, with the audio from several different stereos all in sync. With the popular Remote app for iPhone,
it is also possible to control iTunes directly from the phone. All the features you need are there, such as the ability to search, browse by artists and of course play, pause, and navigate from one track to the next. However, the luxury of controlling iTunes from your phone is only possible if iTunes itself is already open on your computer. A real hassle if you're relaxing in another room and get the urge to put some music on without iTunes already open! There are many solutions to this, with varying levels of additional functionality, cost, and complexity to set up. One simple solution I discovered recently is the free and easy Desktop Controller
app. Once setup, this iPhone app lets you launch any app on your Mac via your phone - perfectly solving the issue of being too lazy to leave the couch to go and launch iTunes!But I had an additional hurdle. When not actively being used, my Mac will go to sleep, needing a password to be entered to wake it up. While this is the case, the Desktop Controller app will not be able to launch iTunes. The solution - another free app called NetAwake.
This very simple app lets you wake your computer remotely via iPhone. Problem solved!So in summary, if you have the same indulgent need as me to be able to put music on remotely using your phone, even if your computer is asleep, you can do this by installing these three simple FREE apps. Happy listening!
Whether you are aware of it or not, we've all heard the use of Auto-Tune
. Many commercially released songs are tweaked using this technology to "improve" the vocal performance.
A commonly referenced use of the tool is Cher's "Believe" track
from over a decade ago. The un-natural sounding, almost robotic tone from the vocal undeniably made the track. It was an entirely new sound for commercial charts and made the ears prick up due to how unusual a sound it was.
Now, Auto-Tune is everywhere. The use of the tool as an effect has cascaded through the years from Cher, through to many "R&B" artists of today such as Usher, Kanye West and Lil Wayne. Smartphone owners can even download the I Am T-Pain
app to get "that sound".
Locally I was at first surprised to hear Guy Sebastian using Auto-Tune for its effect on his recent release "Who's That Girl
". I respect Guy as a very talented vocalist and songwriter - why would he
need to correct his voice? His use of pitch-shifting is testament to the fact that it is now used to capture the modern R&B style in an otherwise already-quality recording.
However the effect is no longer creating a unique sound, but a generic
sound to modern pop music. The ability to correct pitch to sit perfectly in tune has created a monotony to modern music. A single episode of Glee is proof enough of that (or if you need further reading material, Google the phrase "Glee autotune").
The issue seems to draw into question the reliance of this vocal correction tool to produce a good performance outcome, rather than recording the right performance (or performer) to start with. It's no longer being used to add a once-fresh flourish to a song - rather, many songs simply could not be made listenable without it.
But on the flip-side, I believe there is a value to Auto-Tune. It's hard to sum up my feelings on the matter any better than Recording Engineer Eric Valentine, discussing techniques he used in the recording of legendary guitarist Slash's solo album "Slash" (Audio Technology Magazine, Issue 76, August 2010, p40):"I actually get more honest performances from singers when I capture them in a computer. I can edit their performance, for instance tune a really cool performance, where the emotion is exactly what we want but it's a tiny bit out of tune in some places. I'll only nudge things a bit to make sure it's not distracting, meanwhile definitely making sure everything keeps sounding like real human beings singing... It just allows me us to use really great, unreproducible but slightly flawed performances".
This I believe is the key. Use Auto-Tune sparingly - and only to a level so that any minor flaws in an otherwise powerful performance are removed so as not to be distracting in a recording. Use of Auto-Tune in LIVE performance though? Hell no!
After all, it's the human-ness of a performance we all want to see in the live environment, right? Some duff notes and on-stage personality are part of the reason we go to live shows. To err is human and to share that experience can provide a level of connection and intimacy between the performer and audience that can't be obtained with intent.
To err is human. To rely on a corrective tool for your success is unforgivable.