Zen of Recording

Navigating NAMM

Hurtling up the 5 North from San Diego, tardily en route to a 9:30 meeting in Anaheim is not for the squeamish. Especially if you’re the only one hurtling. The rest of the southern California commute seemed to be lazing along this particular Thursday morning like jetlagged tourists with no real destinations, while I had somewhere to be. I took a deep breath, exhaled, and settled into the ebb and flow (mostly ebb) of endless asphalt and taillights stretching out ahead.

Siri offered no solace or alternatives, just intermittent traffic updates—deadpanned assurances that all hope of professional punctuality was indeed lost. Suddenly, slicing through the syrupy swirl of pontificating podcasters and the screams of my bursting bladder came three beautiful words: Alternate Route Available. Minutes later I was parking in a neighboring street, checking and rechecking to see if I had legally done so. It almost seemed too good to be true, but it did in fact appear that I was totally fine. I locked the car and hoofed it the half mile or so to the Anaheim Convention Center. It was 9:07 a.m.

The usual generic blare of an unfamiliar band on an outdoor stage drew me in the general direction of the tent that held my media credentials. I wound my way through the coffee-sipping clusters of product exhibitors and sales associates and acquired my badge, finally ready to enter the show. I opened my NAMM app while waiting in line for the security check and searched for my appointment’s location. It began to look like I might actually make it to my meeting, just a couple of minutes late!

Alas, amidst the merging of the NAMM and the AES conventions some companies were listed in multiple locations. I, of course, went directly to the wrong one. I texted my dilemma along with my apologies for being late and received updated coordinates. As I quickly turned toward the correct building, I received another text: “You DO know our meeting is scheduled for 11:00, right?”

I nearly went from hurtling to hurling.

Traversing the aisles felt much like I would imagine a marketplace in Marrakesh might, as I headed toward the media center for a cup of joe, a bag of chips, and a moment to gather myself.

The excited cacophony of exotic sounds, foreign tongues, and huckster pitches buzzed with the electric intensity of a Tesla coil. I couldn’t help but fall under its spell, reaching for brochures as if I were smelling fresh cut flowers on offer.

IK Multimedia (ikmultimedia.com) had some lovely bouquets for example, casting a wide net in targeting the needs of guitarists, engineers, producers, and content creators alike. Guitarists will swoon over the Amplitube Signature gear collections of Brian May and Joe Satriani, Z-Tone DI/preamps, AXE I/O SOLO audio interface, and iRig Pro Duo I/O. In addition to an attractive White Edition of their iLoud high resolution compact studio monitors, engineers will salivate over the chance to impart the famously recognizable acoustics of Sunset Sound into their recordings, along with a host of their echo chambers, plate and spring reverbs, via the T-RackS Sunset Sound Studio Reverb. Having listened through all the audio demos online, I can tell you this thing sounds fantastic! Producers also garnered a trove of analog and digital audio treasures with the updated iRig Keys 2 and full-key sized Keys 2 Pro 37 key controllers, Uno Synth, and the new Uno Drum Machine. Even bigger news was its introduction of the MODO DRUM virtual instrument, whose modal synthesis/sample hybrid allows users to customize virtual drum kits not just by swapping drums and cymbals, but editing their physical parameters like dimensions, materials, skin, playing style, sympathetic vibrations, and room acoustics. Again, even a cursory listen through their online audio demos created a high level of excitement and anticipation for all of the sonic and creative possibilities! Equally exhilarating was the incredible sound and playability of their new Hammond B-3X “next-level” virtual instrument. Developed “in close collaboration with both the Hammond Organ Company, of Chicago, Illinois, and Suzuki Musical Instruments Mfg. of Hamamatsu, Japan,” the B-3X represents a stunning recreation of one of music’s most elusive, iconic instruments. The staggering attention to detail includes several selectable tonewheel sets of the 91 tone generators, customizable second and third Harmonic Percussion (Volume, Volume Compensation, and Decay Time), Key Click (On click, Off click, and key click color), Generator Leakage, authentic Vibrato Scanner for chorus-vibrato effects, a signal chain that includes stomp boxes like the Tube Screamer, Boss CE-1, manual and auto-wahs, spring reverb and graphic eq, and, of course, a parallel path for further meticulous tone crafting through an array of available Leslie cabinets and/or guitar amps, as well as mic setup, selection and placement. There’s even a Post FX section including an 1176 FET Limiter, Neve 1081 console EQ channel) and a digital reverb, to give it a final coat of studio sheen…the sum total of all this attention to detail cannot only be easily heard, but deeply felt.

The 2020 NAMM show was full of success stories like this and I look forward to taking a closer look at them (as well as the products I’ve just described) throughout the coming year. And yes, my meetings went great and there’ll be more on the results of those soon, as well. Until then, I wish you good music and clean signals.

Sven-Erik Seaholm is a singer, songwriter, recording artist and producer who worked on 2020 SDMA nominees Calamity (Pleasure Plug) and Via Satellite (A Thousand Mountains).

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