Film/TV composer Nathan Barr showing a bunch of cool rare old instruments. Especially that restored and improved organ from 1920s that we’ve heard on many-a-film.
A few people asked about what I use for recording the Planet Performance podcast so here’s a quick rundown. This is just my preference, there are of course many other ways to do it.
So what’s in the box?
- Two microphones. These are vintage Electro-Voice RE 635A. I got them from ebay for about $150 for the pair. Used to be newscasters favorites in the 70s or thereabouts. They are dynamic mics with omnidirectional pattern, which is unusual for a dynamic mic. They are also pretty slim. An alternative new mic for the purpose could be the classic SM58 which would be under $200 for the pair.
- Two foldable desktop mic stands – $20/pair on Amazon
- A 2-chanel USB interface Behringer UMC204HD. It’s a good mix of price and functionality/quality. About $100. Audio nerds may dislike Behringer due to its humble beginnings of ripping off old gear and making it cheaply and poorly. But that’s in the past. The mic preamps (that take microphone signal and amplify it) that come with it are highly regarded Midas, which is a company bought by Behringer. An affordable alternative could be Scarlet 2i2. I picked Behringer also due to the “Insert” feature that let’s me plug in a hardware compressor during recording. Which I no longer travel with to save space, so there’s that.
- The mics plug into the interface with the mic cables. I carry a third mic cable as a spare.
- USB cable that goes out into the computer (comes with the interface).
I use Reaper to record and edit and mix. It’s a professional DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) that costs $60, though it comes with unlimited trial version. A free alternative would be Audacity , which works on any operating system. Or GarageBand if you’re on Mac
You have a musician friend, family member, colleague, or, god forbid, significant other? Wondering what gift to get them? I’m here to help.
These items are all under $50, actually most under $20. And although some may look like toys, they are useful in the pro studio (or the bedroom studio) to add sparkle to a composition or just for plain fun. Time to make “Wolfgang” happy!
#1: Xylophone (Glockenspiel)
OK, see what I mean when I talk about toys. But this is not a toy. OK, it is also a toy. But then everything is a toy. Where was I? Ah, story time.
I was in this studio and asked the engineer (who’s also a working film/games composer) if he can do any magic to make a few particular notes of my guitar solo sound more bell-like. Him: “Yo, why not make it real, yo? Instead of faking it, do the real thing.” Turns out glockenspiel is the composer’s favorite most useful tool. So we did use it. It was awesome. I went home and bought the same one, pictured above. And below.
See it in action:
So yeah, go buy your favorite musician friend, the Musical Hope of All Future Generations, a nice little Glockenspiel. They’ll love it!
$21.99 – $38.49
Holy Molly, the melodica!
Gorillaz, do I need to say anything further? They have so many songs that feature the melodica.
And if you think it looks like a toy or is only for simple little melodies, just check out my favorite living musician, Jacob Collier, shredding on the melodica:
Another cute little instrument that sounds unique. Check it out in action:
Go get the Kalimba and make the virtuoso-to-be jump for joy.
Something, something, legend of Zelda… The ocarina is kinda like a recorder, except not quite. It’s rare that you can create so much joy for under $15. Just watch…
OK, it’s time to move to percussion territory. “Sinatra” needs percussion. There’s no such thing as too much percussion. There are two things about music: rhythm and melody. You need the rhythm. You want the rhythm. You tap to the rhythm. You bop your head to the rhythm. Your heartbeat is a rhythm, you’ve lived with the rhythm all your live. OK, that’s plenty. Let’s go!
$12.56 – $17.99
Every track needs a shaker. What’s shakin’? The shaker’s shakin’, that’s what’s shankin’. Bacon.
Banging two sticks against each other, what could be more enjoyable? I’m pretty sure there’s a picture dictionary out there that shows a clave as a definition of “pure joy”.
What’s not as much joy is being in the same room when your Johan Sebastian plays those. They are loud.
$11.95 – $20.95
This one is important. It’s not reserved for bare-chested old hippies too stoned to realize that Woodstock’s over. You can bet your left nostril that pretty much every single pop song on the radio today has a “tambo” track in there. Maybe just to “lift the chorus”, maybe all throughout, buried underneath and “propelling the song along”,
The tambourine is a necessity. Playing it looks deceptively easy, but it can use some practice. Imagine Future Star is in the studio and is asked to “just a add a tambourine on the bridge”. You don’t want this to be their first introduction to the Instrument. In a high-pressure situation no less. And then everyone goes “Pfft, dude cant even play the tambo”.
You don’t see these everyday, do you? Just get a pair and let Mr/Mrs/Ms Cool get wild.
Just another percussion instrument to add to Genius’ musical palette. It’s cool, Latino (I think), passion, dancing… what’s not to love?
Protecting one’s hearing is just too important. Especially for musicians, audio engineers, and similar folk. They should never leave the house to go to a concert, to a band practice with Bonzo The Loud Drummer, to a jam with Jimi-Who-Likes-Feedback, or jump on a plane, or, heck, even go to some obnoxious movie theaters.
The foam plugs you buy at the pharmacy are fine for industrial sounds, say if Future Star holds a day job at the airport destroying luggage. But not good for anything music-related (band practice, live show) because they don’t cut all frequencies evenly and everything sounds too muffled.
Do your musician bud a favor and give them the gift of a decent set of ear plugs. And maybe while you’re shopping type “2” in the “Quantity” box cause just maybe you’ll need ear plugs too… with all these new percussion instruments in your vicinity.
Bonus: Honorable mentions
The recorder and the harmonica are not explicitly in the list above because they are all too common and chances are that “Mozart” already has them. They do tend to find a way to sneak into your life, even if you never reach into your pocket and buy them yourself. If that’s not the case, by all means, procure one of those.
Also, if she/he own these ear-insults, they do come in different shapes. E.g. the harmonica your friend blows into is more likely in C. You can still get a weird one, e.g. in Bb. Or buy a chromatic one, that has all the notes. Or buy a harmonica holder ($12.99) so Mr.Bluesman can have his hands free to insult your hearing playing another instrument simultaneously. As for the recorder, there are wooden, more “worldly” ones, also tiny metal shrill ones… feel free to explore.