Music production gadgets for self-isolation

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Getting Started

Our focus here is on gadgets that help you harness your inspiration, capture it and share it.

By “gadget” we mean a small mechanical or electronic device or tool, (especially an ingenious or novel one) that has a particular function, but is often thought of as a novelty. So, something you don’t need but it would be nice to have. Something that serves a very specific purpose. And, in our case, that purpose contributes in some way to making music in a techie kind of way. For our purposes, we also extend gadget to mean ways of collaborating and sharing music experiences.  

What does our gadget have to do in a period of self-isolation? We’ve applied some or all of the following criteria in picking out our list of items. 

It has to:

  • be fun, 
  • be innovative, 
  • allow us to do new things, 
  • help while away the hours, 
  • help us communicate so the isolation is less isolating, 
  • inspire us to produce new music. 

Sadly, most of them cost money!

Recording Equipment

In times like this, you might find yourselves alone without the inclination to head in to your “studio”. That’s when you need a handy, high quality recording device that captures better quality than your phone. 

Gibson Memory Cable GC-R05 Guitar Cable 5m Memory Function ...

Let’s start with something simple: Gibson’s GC-R05 Memory Guitar Lead (with MicroSD Recorder) is an in-line recording device that you slip in to the audio out of your instrument (guitar, keys, bass, drums, live mix, vox line) and captures a dozen hours of audio. Simple, straightforward, easy to use.

You may still need pen and paper but getting your ideas down in to something like a Tascam DR08 compact portable digital recorder is way cooler.  It provides you with high quality stereo recording in WAV or MP3 from a large-pocket-sized, handheld gadget equipped with interchangeable memory cards. Its built-in microphones have a mechanism to change the width and angle of the sound capture to suit what you’re trying to get down, allowing you to tailor the pattern for your circumstances. There's even a built-in kickstand for placing the recorder right where you want it without having a tower of books, coffee cups and Blu Tack to keep it in position.

In the same vein, a Zoom EXH-6 Six-Track Portable Recorder adds a few extra tracks, Steinberg software, windshields and XLR inputs. Of course, since we’re in isolation, you may have difficulty filling all 6 tracks with direct input but use your imagination to build up the track layers.

iZotope Spire Studio | Sweetwater

Taking those straightforward recording tools on to the next generation is the iZotope Inc. Spire Studio. This is a combination of device and mobile app that work together as a portable, battery-driven eight-track digital recording studio  - about the size of a coffee mug. All the knobs, buttons and sliders that you’d expect from a mixing desk are rendered as software in the app.


Collaboration Software

You know how these days even your aged uncle is an expert on video conferencing software? These little pieces of magic are the musical collaboration equivalents of Zoom or Microsoft Teams.  They allow musicians with appropriately-configured computers to create, collaborate and interact.

JamBlaster - Play music in real time with others from home ...

The headliner in this group is JamKazam.  It is a large, on-line community of musicians who are using the power of the internet to work together, pool resources and either jam together or produce new pieces of work that are more focused. If you are tech-savvy and kitted out to record digitally then have a look at this. It will blow your socks off. You’re advised to make sure the equipment you use is connected fully-wired across your LAN – Wi-Fi is not the best option. Once you get in there, you’ll find on-line sessions, collaboration projects, random noodlings, sets of loops, unfinished symphonies … and the kind of musicians who just want musical contact.

Closely linked with the team behind Spotify, SoundTrap is a collaborative tool and extensive library of samples. It’s aimed at music makers, story tellers and educators. For the musician, it gives you a multi-device, multi-track editing tool that you can use on your mobile device or your computer. Create loops, beats and melodies that you can store in the cloud to use and share. You can get started for free but you’ll need to commit money to get the most from the experience.

In 2019, Spotify also bought in to SoundBetter. This is billed as a “music production marketplace for artists, producers, and musicians to connect on specific projects”. It was originally put together as an online marketplace for professional musicians who wanted to source singers, sound engineers or producers to put the finishing touches on tracks. It still operates that way, but has moved on to help artists license finished tracks and source distribution routes.

Billed as a community of connected, creative musical collaborators, Splice offers a library of beats, loops and samples which are offered for use in your own projects. But it goes one step further, it also offers a library of professional VST plugins for you to license (sometimes with a try-before-you-buy approach) to give your sound a more distinctive voice. It allows you to create with fellow professionals who are looking to work together. As a bye-product you also get access to unlimited file storage in the cloud.

Alternative Approaches

If you want something, wild, wacky, fun and alternative, have a look at Sphero Specdrums. You don’t need bells on your toes to make music wherever you goes, just these rings on your fingers. They are described as app-enabled musical rings. You tap them on any surface to trigger a sound in the connected app. But here’s the kicker, depending on the colour of the surface that you tap, you get a different sound. So while, in simple terms, you turn a rainbow into the keyboard of a grand piano, when you get really creative, that rainbow allows you to trigger samples, switch loops and fulfil the dream of turning the world in to a musical instrument built to your specification. In the right hands they are way more than toys for kids.

CES 2019: Sphero Debuts iPhone-Connected 'Specdrums' Rings ...


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