Zen of Recording

iNAMM, Therefore, iAM

It was a longer schlepp this time. In years past, the geographic considerations of attending the 2015 Winter NAMM show (the annual meeting of the North American Music Merchants, which is actually world-wide, but WWMM is soooo much harder to say) have been almost a non-issue, considering its proximity to San Diego. It’s not as close to Mountain Green, Utah, from which I embarked in my teeny little rental car at around midnight the night before, so as to cover the 717 mile trek with a minimum of traffic and other distractions like, say, daylight.

Many folks have asked how I can so easily traverse this many miles in one arduous sitting, myself often among them. I really don’t know. As a kid, I was an “are we there yet?” kind of traveler, though this was mostly due to my propensity for carsickness. That is, when I wasn’t riding in the back of the pickup truck with my sisters and the dog). Aside from good music, strong coffee, and Cool Ranch Doritos, I guess it all comes down to astrology. I am a Capricorn. The goat. This is the sign of the goal-oriented. Up that hill… up that hill… until the goal is reached. This is evident in my work ethic, wherein I am constantly striving not for perfection nor even reward, but completion. That ethos as served me well in business, for obvious reasons. I mean, how can your clients be happy if your work’s not even finished? Onward I drove into the black cloak of night…

The NAMM show was what it always is: a huge freakin’ trade show, stuffed to the gills with weary but friendly music product exhibitors, uniformly black-clad attendees (berets optional), and rock stars you’ve perhaps vaguely heard of, playing guitar as loud as they possibly can without bothering the folks in the booth next to theirs.

That said, this was also the most organized, secure, and efficient NAMM event I have been to in the last 15 years of attending. As I’ve been a harsh critique in the past, I feel it’s only fair to throw those fine folks a high-five this time around.

In my view, innovation and evolution seemed to take a back seat to commerce where the majority of vendors were concerned. It just felt like we were being offered mostly “3.0 versions” of proven products rather than something that was actually new.

That is, aside from imitone, a new audio-to-MIDI software application that allows users to sing into a microphone and hear it back as any VST/ MIDI instrument in real time. It appears to hold incredible music creation potential for kids and pros alike, including the non-musically inclined. Unfortunately, it’s still in its beta testing stages, but you can bet I’ll be on it upon its release!

At the end of the first day, I attended a press conference from IK Multimedia, a company whose instruments and processors have been covered here many times (T-Racks, SampleTron, Miroslav Philharmonik, etc.). They were one of the few exhibitors who actually did introduce something new.

The iRig Mic Field ($99) is a small, lightweight stereo microphone for your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch. Rather than the standard mono, mid-fi mics in those devices, the iRFM captures a spacious stereo image, via two high-quality condenser capsules within its handsome two-inch square black housing. Simply plug it into your iDevice’s “lightning” port (“power jack”), which continuously powers the unit. In practice, I got about an hour and a half of recordings on a full charge.

Downloading the iRig Recorder free app into my phone was useful as the primary interface when setting levels and recording. For $4.99, the full version offers additional editing and processing functionality. Both offer additional tools, toys, and social media via in-app purchase. It also works seamlessly with the Voice Memo and Camera apps and GarageBand.

I first tried it out just doing little “field” recordings of birds, cars driving by, walking over bridges, etc. I was impressed by the width of the stereo field and how lifelike all the details showed through. As a mobile-oriented product, I did find the thin plastic housing a little disconcerting and at $99, I would definitely not recommend putting it in your back pocket!

One of my favorite bands right now is the Shook Twins, from Portland, Oregon. I found out they were going to be playing nearby for three consecutive nights, for free. I thought they’d be great for the live bootleg audio and video tests and they (awesomely) agreed to let me record their show. With their unique blend of harmonies, variety of acoustic instruments, and electronica-esque low end, I knew the iRFM was in for a workout.

The mic has a thumbwheel volume dial for controlling the input level, which I did while checking the meters in the app. There is also a handy green LED in the mic, which lights up red when the signal goes over 0. Very helpful.

I felt the sound seemed best using the iRig Recorder app for capture, but the video and memo apps worked great, too. My position was about 20 feet from the stage, slightly off-center but somewhat triangulated between the band’s PA speakers. Still the sound was somewhat diffuse, with a great deal of room and crowd ambience present in the signal… until I realized I had it in backwards, pointing away from the band! I guess that’s a good thing, if you want stereo audio for your selfie videos, but it was a little frustrating in this context. Once I got it all oriented correctly, I was very impressed with the lows that extended down to 34 Hz and the highs, which gently rolled-off at around 16k. For a hundred bucks, it taught my iPhone a very handy new trick indeed and I can’t wait to incorporate it into studio use.

As far as the Shook Twins show, let’s just say that on my next big drive, all I will need is the coffee and chips, the good music’s taken care of.

Sven-Erik Seaholm is an award-winning independent record producer (kaspro.com), singer and songwriter (reverbnation.com/ svenerikseaholm)

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