Friday, 17 October 2014

Review: Porter and Davies BC2 & Gigster

The last drum monitor you will buy ...

Most of you, I'm sure, will have at least read about 'silent' drum monitors.  These are the drumming equivalent of Force Feedback for gamers or Tactile Feedback for smartphones & tablets.

Tactile or 'Haptic' technology has been around since the early 1970's.  It came about because as controls (typically) have become more electronic and virtual, there has been found a need to transmit some kind of tactile response to the user.  On Smartphones this might be a low frequency 'buzz' when you touch the screen.  On aircraft it's often a rumble (much like some video games) which increase or decreases when a control surface is operated.

Now that more and more drummers are using IEM (In Ear Monitors) and Electronic Drums (see some of my other Shlogg posts) we are increasingly isolated from the tactile nature of our instrument, and so haptics are riding to our rescue!  There are a few manufactures in this space today, Fischer with their Buttkicker and Pearl (who partnered with Buttkicker) have consumer models for drummers but these consist of a large pneumatic device which clamps to the drummer's stool - and a large amplifier to power it.  However, Porter and Davies are walking a different path.

They came out with the 'Bum Chum'.  I don't know why they thought it was a good name, but they did.  These days they call it the 'BC' which now stands for Bone Conductive ... hmmm ok ...
Dodgy names aside, the BC is now in it's second iteration and features a seat top, the 'engine' to drive it, and the leads required to hook it together.  The engine comes in it's own flight case, which has sufficient space in the lid for you to store your leads in transit.

You will need your own seat base (standard 7/8" post) and a microphone on your bass drum.

The idea is this.  You have a microphone on your bass drum, you connect it to the BC2 engine, which in turn connects to the seat top.  There are some small adjustments to make on the engine (gain, frequency curve, volume) and you feel your bass drum through your butt.  The Bone Conductive part comes in because you 'hear' your bass drum because the vibrations travel up your spine and into your eardrums.  Whatever.  It just works.

In fact, it works so well and it so powerful that if you run an entire electronic kit through it and turn that volume knob up ... you will find yourself battered and bruised!

I've been highly sceptical of these devices over the last few years.  I came to the conclusion that this would just be a glorified force feedback joystick for a computer game, that ultimately just makes your hands tingle but otherwise doesn't give you an improved tactile feeling from your drum kit.  Well, I've continued to read every single review from every single drummer who used any of them over the years, and pretty much all the seasoned pro's are finding the best performance and highest reliability from the Porter and Davies devices.  When my favourite drum store (Graham Russell Drums) became a stockist I just had to try one out and the rest is history!

It's difficult to describe a sensation, particularly when you don't really have something to compare it to.  When people ask me, I tend to say it's a little bit like having a massive drum monitor behind you on full chat - but without the actual sound.  You 'feel' your snare and your toms, perhaps not a lot, but a little.  Get down to your floor toms and you can definitely 'feel' some rumble coming off them.  But when you lay into your bass drum - that thing is slapping you hard in the chest.

This is effectively what you get from the BC2.  You feel the low end of your drums (mainly your bass drum, if that's what you're mic'ing up).  There is definitely some sound associated with it as well, but I reckon its tactile 'haptic' feedback that is tricking your brain into thinking you can hear it.  Whatever the science is, the effect will revolutionise your playing.  With my IEM's feeding click and backing directly into my ear canals, I haven't been able to hear my drums for years.  Where my beats actual land has been 50% experience and 50% luck.  Now I'm part of the groove again and it's true what the pro drummers are saying - after a couple of hours with the BC you will never want to play without it again.

The Porter and Davies solutions are not cheap.  Buttkicker will sell you their solution for around half the money and who knows - it may be exactly what you need.  However, before you spend a penny I urge you to do some homework and try them out where you can.  The cheaper devices can be prone to overheating (basically, work them hard and they just stop) and they can be more irksome to set-up and adjust to suit the individual.  I wanted a reliable, easy to use, high quality solution and this is exactly what P&D do.  When you try one, you will realise it's a better upgrade than that new snare drum or cymbal set that you've been thinking about ... which I'm sure will make it less of a wrench to fine the cash.

Porter and Davies also product a rackmount version for the road warriors (BC2rm), and a slightly cut down version for the session player (Gigster).  All of them are identical in terms of components and performance, the only difference being the Gigster doesn't provide phantom power (although it does respect it) and does not have a switchable power supply.  

I had a lengthy email discussion with Dil Davies and he recommended I go for the Gigster.  I don't need to use it in the USA or Japan (right now) and the slightly smaller form factor means it sits well on a tray or shelf in a 19" rack unit.  He was right, and that's the model I went for.

In summary.  If you gig, or record - I think you should buy one of these.  No I'm not sponsored (I actually don't think that P&D sponsor anyone?) and I genuinely believe this will improve every drummer's playing.

BC2 £999
BC2rm £999
BC Gigster £799

Monday, 13 October 2014

Review: Graham Russell Drums

The best and biggest drum shop in the UK ...

A lot of drummers in the UK (and probably beyond) will already know about Graham Russell Drums.  Despite the fact that he has never run a big ad campaign or put billboards up or anything, his business has been gone from selling some second-hand drums in his garage (albeit a very nice garage!) to a warehouse store on a busy industrial estate.

The business model is deceptively simple.  Buy used drums and cymbals at a fair price, and sell them on - still at a fair price.  Whatever this approach might lack in terms of profit margins compared to new kit, it obviously makes up for in volume.

The store has now grown to the stage where Graham will never turn down a part exchange, has main dealer arrangements with many accessory & consumable suppliers, and is able to buy up new overstock items and bankruptcy stock.  All sold at competitive prices and available via (normally next day) delivery via mail order - for those unfortunate enough to not be within striking distance.

Many drummers I speak to have never been to a specialist drum shop.  I suspect this is both a sign of these (Internet) times, as well as the fact that most musical instrument shops are forced to stock a wide range of musical instruments just to stay in business.  Certainly all of the stores in my area have one drum kit (if you're lucky) and it will normally be a half-size effort in the window, under several years of dust and faded from the sun.

A specialist drum shop is a revelation in itself, let alone one the size of GRD.  At 5,00 square feet, over two levels, with soundproof rooms for trying out gear, rehearsal rooms, toilets, and ample (free) parking - it can be a little intimidating the first time you arrive!  However, the friendly and helpful nature of Graham and his staff soon put you at ease and despite sensory overload at the sheer quantity of shinies on display - you will discover a method to the madness.

Downstairs, on display and  playable are the majority of the drum kits.  They are adorned with hardware, cymbals and pedals - so you really can step right up and try something out.  Now, I say the majority, because there are way too many kits for them all to be set-up on the many drum risers Graham has in the showroom.  Many of the kits have to be stacked-up like Russian Dolls, but if you need to take a closer look or to hear something it will get set-up for you.  Also downstairs is a bewildering selection of pedals, sticks and skins.  Around the bottom of the double staircase are some sofas and coffee tables (you WILL have hot beverages forced on you!) so you can take a break, or in my case encourage my other half to park-up with a cup of tea and a magazine while I am off busy drooling.

Going up the staircase you will pass a show-kit at the midway point on a glass platform (it will depend on stock, but there a gorgeous gold-plated DW kit there for a long time) before you get to the upper level.  At the top of the stairs is an entire side dedicated to cymbal trees.  You could be forgiven for thinking you were in a massive distribution warehouse, I kid you not.  Around the stairwell will probably be some low-end kits and electronics, to one side a hardware forest, to the other more cases than you have ever seen in one place (GRD is a Protection Racket main dealer) and at the end are the soundproof rooms.

I have visited half a dozen times since Graham moved into this new place, and every time there is more gear.  Popular stuff changes hands so quickly that it sometimes doesn't even make it to the website so if you have a particular need (or spot something highly desirable on the website) I recommend you give Graham a call as quickly as possible.

I've tried to give you a flavour of the shop, because no pictures I've seen have done it justice.  What you also can't get from a picture is a sense of the service.  With next day delivery, you don't have to be local (but it does help).  Several times I've bought something from Graham (once a Bonham kit, once a DW Edge Snare) and not been able to settle with them.  A quick chat with Graham and things can be sorted out at little or no cost.  Whether it be an alternative, a refund, or just some advice on how to get the best from your purchase.

Graham doesn't do sponsorship or discounts (he argues his sale runs 365 days a year) so you can be assured that my favourable review is based on my experience and my hard earned cash - and nothing else 8-)

Monday, 8 September 2014

Review: Drumlites

Drumlites - lighting for the inside of your drums!

I've been looking for lights for the kit area of the stage for yonks now.  I'm not (necessarily) talking big gigs where things like PA, foldback and lights are generally taken care of by people who know what they're doing - I'm talking more about the small/medium sized gigs where you're typically left to your own devices!

Regular Shlogg readers will know that I partially fixed this problem a few months back.  I got hold of a KAM Party Bar with floor mount that I have back behind the drum kit.  This is an inexpensive item and one that's fast and easy to set-up.  As well as providing 'some light' (I'm sure somewhere there is a graph that matches quality light against money spent?) it has basic DMX connectivity so can be controlled by something else, or even control something else to a limited degree.

That's all well and good for lighting the centre part of the stage (assuming that's where the kit is) from the back.  I know we all want supertroopers hanging from the ceiling directly over the kit, but away from large theatres and stadiums this just isn't going to happen.  So I've kept looking and that's when I found Drumlite.

These are basically LED strips that fit inside your drum shells.
Now I know what you're thinking, "I can go to Maplins and buy some LED strips and stick those inside my drums", and you can - but these guys have gone ahead and fixed most of the problems you will encounter doing it the DIY way.

  • They fit the drum

Yup, you give them your drum dimensions, and this will actually fit correctly.

  • You don't have to drill your shells

With clever use of 'pigtail' connectors, you'll not be making any holes in your shells.

  • They supply a wiring loom.  

Drummers have a lot of gear to set up, we are first in, last out at most gigs.  The last thing we want to to add just as much electronics to our set-up as the guitarist or lighting guy has!  The wiring look is also cut to length, so you will have the minimum cable mess and the fastest set-up possible.

  • They have a range of matched controllers available.

From wireless remotes, to sound activated, and simple or complex DMX systems - the guys have it sorted!

  • They will support you

This is two guys with some great ideas who genuinely want to make you, and their company, a success!

And I can tell you this from my own practical experience!

I ordered a set of Drumlites to fit my ten-year old DW collectors kit.  I gave them the sizes, but no more detail (perhaps I should have, as you will see later!).  I opted for the simple DMX controller (so I can hook it up to the stage lights) .  My package duly arrived a few weeks later.  As they are in the US and I'm in the UK, I actually received a Customs bill through my mailbox but this was as expected.  Ok I didn't expect the UK customs office to sit on my package for a fortnight in total - but that's a different issue!

I unpacked and checked the contents and everything was funky.  I won't go into detailed instructions here, but I will say read the instructions carefully, and rehearse the installation before you actually do it.  I found it difficult to feed the cable connectors through the drum air holes, it was do-able, but quite tricky and very frustrating.  When I later contacted the guys I found out that DW have smaller than usual air holes.  If I had told them I had a DW kit they would have supplied the 'slimline version' - doh! Still, I did get the kit installed and trundled-off to a gig that night to try them out!
I found it kinda hard to marry the plugs up with the sockets on the drums at a gig scenario.  In poor light, working against the clock it's not the easiest job, but I did manage it and the drums looking truly stunning.

A couple of weeks later, I decided to get the kit out in the drum room and see if I could make plugging-in the cables less of a chore.  This is where I found a second problem.
Either as a result of my ham-fisted cable plugging, or from trundling back and forth to half a dozen rehearsals in the mean time, the copper pins on the sockets were badly bent.  After hours of fiddling, I only managed to plug one of five drums in.  This was a serious problem.

Being late evening UK time, I detailed the issues as best I could in an email and shot it off to the guys across the pond.  Within an hour I had a response, apologizing for the bother, offering to send me a replacement set of (slimline!) cables free of charge, and promising that a 'heavy duty' solution was already in the pipeline.

Now that is what I call Customer Service!

This is two guys who've found a solution to a gap in the market and are working their butts off to fill it with satisfied customers.  For that reason alone they deserve to do well, but I'm not joking to say that this is a great product from a great company who are making great improvements to it all the time.

If you want your drums to look as good as they sound, I can't recommend Drumlite highly enough!

Review: Sabian Paragon Cymbals

Produced by Sabian for Neil Peart of Rush fame ...

In 2003, after a lifetime playing Zildjian cymbals, Neil Peart starting working with Sabian on a new range of cymbals that were to become the Paragon line.

This was a big deal in the drumming world.  Neil had changed drum manufacturers a few times over the years (currently with DW) but his cymbals had always been a constant.  As probably the World's best and most respected drummer, this was going to get people's attention.

It's always been known that Neil is a perfectionist, and understandably the opportunity to work with one of the best manufacturers on his 'perfect' cymbal sound wasn't something he could pass up.  The result of all the hard work isn't just a signature ride or a sub-genre like the HHX 'Evolution', but an entirely new range which is the cymbals that Neil himself plays every day with Rush.

Enough with the background, you can find much more from the Sabian site or Neil's site, what you're interested in is what they sound like and how they perform.

I've worked through almost all the cymbals in the range.  13" and 13" hats, 16", 18" & 20" crashes, 8" and 10" splashes, 22" ride and 19" china.  There is more to the range, but not much ;-)

I expected a traditional sound, something like AA's but with a modern take, and I certainly wasn't disappointing.  I won't go into the metal mix or the complex hammering processes, but to my ears these sound like AA's with AAX hammering.  The original castings were all in natural finish, but after people saw the highly polished look of Neil's touring set-up (hand-buffed by Neil's drum tech) they wanted the same look - so they are now available in brilliant finish as well.  Unlike some of the HHX range, I couldn't tell a difference in the sound between natural and brilliant.

The 14" hats have a slightly wetter and rockier sound than the 13" hats, which have a bit more of a faster 'fusion' sound to them.  I understand that Neil used to play the 13" hats as his mains with some 14" Vault hats as his auxiliary pair.  For Clockwork Angels, neil used the 14" Paragons as his main (not sure if he changed his aux hats).  Personally I preferred the 14" as main hats, and the 13" as my closed auxiliary pair.  Even half open, both pairs resisted the 'clanging' noise that AAX's tend to give, but weren't quite as washy as say, HHX Groove Hats.

The 16" crash is probably your main 'go-to' cymbal.  Certainly that's how I found it and had two of them - one either side.  Even from the same batch they had a sufficient tonal difference that it didn't just sound like I was hitting the same cymbal twice.  The 18" crash I tended to reserve for big impact and to be quite honest, the 20" was too much of a beast for me.  I did try it as a light ride for a while, but with anything other than light jazz your sticking would vanish under a tidal wave of ride wash.  Not really surprising - it's not supposed to be a ride cymbal!

As far as ride's go, the 22" is peachy.  A highly defined 'ping' that becomes more prominent the further up the cymbal you play.  It is predictable, but not in a dull way.  It does exactly what you expect it to, which included not being the slightest bit crashable!  Now, I'm not Neil and have to buy/carry, set-up and store my own gear.  This means that as far as cymbals go, I ideally want a cymbal to do at least one thing perfectly, preferably two!  This means that I like a ride cymbal to be crashable and this definitely isn't in my opinion.  Not really a fault, just worth bearing in mind.  The ride is currently available in a gorgeous 'Steampunk' finish which is the same as Neil's touring set on Clockwork Angels.  Snag one of those if you possible can!

The splash cymbals were very easy to sort.  The 10" is a nice, focussed splash that cut almost as well as a regular crash (although much quieter of course).  The 8" seemed utterly pointless to me.  I know it's only a size down from the 10", but that seems to make a world of difference.  Barely audible at any volumes, all of the 8" splashes should be fashioned into attractive ashtrays in my humble opinion :-)

Opinions on the china cymbals seem to be pretty divided.  Most reviews I read, and people I spoke to, maintained that the 19" is the best china ever made so I got that one.  And you know what, I think it is.  I'm one of those people who love the idea of a china, and favour playing them for rapid accents.  The only issue I had with it was the same as I had with the ride, it's the perfect china, which means it can't really disguise itself as anything else, like an occasional crash.  Nope, it's a china - live with it!

In summary, I would describe the Paragon like as a traditional cymbal brought up-to-date.  Whether you favour Zildjian's A's, Paiste 2002's, Sabian AA's, or whatever your 'classic' range of choice happens to be, I think you will enjoy the Paragon's and that fact that they will move you gently into the 21st century.  The whole set is available as a limited edition in a replica flight case - very nice.

Personally, having lived with them for over a year, I think I've come to the conclusion that although I love their medium-to-heavyweight rock credentials - I tend to favour cymbals that are a tad more flexible (no pun intended!) ... ;-)

Thursday, 31 July 2014

Review: Katy Perry - Prismatic World Tour

**  Possible Spoiler Alert  **

It's unusual for me to review a live concert, and hard to do without completely spoiling the plot!  However, given that many of you either won't be able to get to the show, or won't even want to, it seems quite valid.

Firstly, cards on the table.

My name is Shaggi and I'm a Katy Perry fan.

Most of my muso fans mock me, they don't 'get' Katy Perry.  Well, I like to think I'm no music snob, I like good stuff, from any (well ok, 'most') genres, and so should you :-)

What I'm not going to give you, is a bunch of spoiler photos (you can google for those if you want them) nor am I going to give you a blow-by-blow account of the show (you can wait for the DVD).  What I will try to do is give you my impressions of it, good and bad (if I can think of any) and what I took away from the experience 8-)

This isn't the first time I've been to a KP concert.  I saw her back on the Teenage Dreams tour and whilst I didn't publish my thoughts on that, I think enough people have seen the 'Part of Me' movie or various clips on the web, so I will probably draw some parallels to it.

After Icona Pop left the stage (truly awful - in case you were wondering), the lights dimmed and there was barely discernable movement on stage as technicians and people got into place.
The show started with rumbling drums and staccato movements from the dancers with almost strobe-like lighting.  Naturally, I'm a sucker for a good drum sound and this didn't disappoint.  I've no idea if they were 'live' drums, samples, or a backing track, but it really did sound like Thor himself was taking his mighty hammer to task on a helpless drum kit!  The beat eventually evened out  and Katy took to the stage for 'Roar'.  Nice start.

At this stage I realised there was no band on stage.  Roar isn't a particularly band-orientated song, on the record at least.  I'm not saying it isn't musical, but it's not like you can pick out drums, bass, guitar ... no it's pretty much samples and by the time we reached the first chorus I had come to the assumption that rather than go for the Teenage Dreams Tour approach of a 'live band' with some samples and backing tracks - this show wasn't going to feature a live band.

And then ....

The band popped out through trap doors onto the stage!

Very cool, and that happened a lot during the show.  The band would disappear, dancers would disappear, Katy herself would vanish .... only to reappear on an completely different part of the stage.  Clearly, some very clever shenanigans going-on under the stage to make all that happen.   This was the theme to the stage set-up, and whilst I'm aware it's very theatre (Dahling!) that shizzle never gets old IMHO.

Despite the live band, despite the guitar battles (two guitarists flying around the 02 never gets old!) this was much less of a band concert and much more of a KP show.  Take that as you will.   Sometimes the band would completely obscured by pieces of scenery, sometimes they weren't even on stage (but still playing while under it), sometimes they were active parts of the show (tabla solo for example) but most of the time they were purely incidental. As a pop act I'm of the mind that a 'show' is what I want and what I was expecting.  If this were a rock band .... well I might feel a little differently about it.

As a show centered on one person, you notice when she's not there.  It's a complex set-up, some of KP's outfits were truly off-the-scale, and combined with all the dancing and acrobatics it's understandable that she isn't on stage 100% of the time.  She will be somewhere in that wonderland under the stage, either being transported around, or being (re) dressed by an army of wardrobe assistants, or maybe just catching her breath and re-hydrating.

Some of these moments were obvious.  Extended dance sections, mahoosive cartoon Shaggy on the big screen rapping at us, you know the kind of thing.  Always something to stop you from getting bored and I preferred this approach to Teenage Dream Tour (which showed clips from an ongoing 'movie' loosely themed around the show) between songs.  This seemed more fluid and even when KP wasn't actually singing, she would be on stage if she could be - dancing and shape throwing ;-)

High points?

Well, the drum intro was devastating.  The lights 'in' the drum kit where a must have (yes, I've ordered them).  The tabla solo was a nice touch and unexpected.  The old-school stagecraft was very enjoyable.  The use of mechanical trapdoors, wind machines, wires etc was done really well, and made a change from 'how many lasers can we fit on stage' show that some pop artists go for.

But the biggest high point was when Katy stopped and looked directly at myself and my two companions, whilst flying around the arena on a bunch of balloons.  If anything summed up the experience, it was probably that :-D

Monday, 28 July 2014

Moving Pictures

... and everything else ...

Sorry I've not Shlogged for a few weeks.  I've been moving house - which, as it turns out, is what this weeks Shlogg is all about!

I posted a while back about the rental market.  Mainly about the fact that every rental property you want is already taken before the advert even comes out.  Certainly, this still holds true.  Mostly.  The house that myself and my 'significant other' finally settled upon, after four months of searching was so new to the market that the agent hadn't even listed it.  We viewed it a few hours after the agent got the keys, and said "Hell Yes!" to it before lunchtime was over.

I say this is 'mostly' true, because this property had in fact been listed by a different agent for several months.  We had seen the advert and ruled it out for several reasons - not least of which was the fact the rental was too high.  As it happens we were able to negotiate the rent to a level that all parties where satisfied with.  That and a bit of creative thinking on our part (where to put the drum room!?) and we nailed it.

First a bit about the property itself.  
I think it's fair to say it's our dream house.  It's on the outskirts of Maidstone ('our' town), close enough to the main road to ensure fairly easy car journeys and decent facilities (gas, broadband, transport), but far enough away that we don't avoid stepping outside our front door for fear of being collected by a speeding lorry.  It's also quite literally on the banks the of River Medway, and an outstanding water view was something very high on our wish list.

We definitely nailed it.

Anyway, pleasing views and second floor drum rooms aside, what I wanted to warn you about is the actual move itself.

Our move was fairly complex.  My other half lived in a second floor flat.  That's six flights of stairs.  She had been there for a year, so a pretty typical collection of furniture, sofas, etc but not a decade's worth of collectormania. 

I lived in a ground floor apartment.  Again I had been there for enough time (18 months) to collect all the usual essential bits & bobs, but not enough time to have every loft space, garage and dusty corner filled with clutter which needs moving.

So we decided to move ourselves.
My other half had a definate 'get out of Dodge' date, so we concentrated on boxing and packing her stuff first - after all, my clutter could follow-on at our leisure.  When moving day came along, we figured we had over half of her stuff neatly boxed-up, carried down the (did I mention 6 flights?) stairs and stacked-up at my place.  We were probably right, but we didn't fully grasp just how much stuff was left to shift on moving day, nor did we realise the time and pain impact of the (6 flights - 6 flights FFS!) stairs.

We did the move, but it was extraordinarily painful.  
One full day for four people to move half a flat's worth of stuff into a house.
What this gave us, was a lovely big house that we could barely get into, due to the massive amount of furniture and boxes clogging-up the ground floor.  It would take us two more weeks (9 days of which were vacation days!) to pack and move my own gear in.  I'm sure it will be months before the last box is emptied and everything is in the right place.

So the moral of this story.
Unless you're moving into your first place, or you really do live like a monk, don't try and do your own move.  There are professionals out there who, for a small fee, will pack-up everything you own, magically transport it to a new location, and even put every box and piece of furniture into the correct room for you.

Don't be a tight-arse.  Let the pro's do their jobs!

Now, back to completing all those half finished Shloggs I have backed-up ... ;-)

Thursday, 24 April 2014

3 Googles and a Drummer

How Google can work for Musicians.

Musicians aren't generally famed as technology users.  At least, the stereotype is that if you're a 'muso', you into the more organic side, and if you're one of those modern breed of techno-freaks ... well that electronic stuff isn't really music is it ;-)

The truth is a long way from this.  There are people who use only computers to make music, who care deeply about the composition, melody, arrangement, sound ... they just choose to do it using their PC.  Conversely I'm sure there are people who honestly believe that unless your instrument is made from bamboo and coconut grass and performed in a bog in Mississippi - it's just mass-produced junk.

However the rest of us are somewhere in the middle :-)

I play acoustic drums, I play electronic drums, I sing when I absolutely have to, and I use technology to help me where I can.  There's a lot more to contemporary music than just playing your instrument, so let me take you a little journey and I'll attempt to highlight how Google, in my case, is as important a tool as my drum key.

1. Learning Songs

Like most drummers, I'm in several bands.  I suppose we are fewer in numbers than those banjo players, so we tend to pick-up more gigs.  My bands range from a pure function band (think dinner/dance), a rock covers band (pubs, clubs, parties), and a symphonic metal band (festivals, theaters and specialist venues).  It's a wide range of music much of which is outside of what I normally listen to for pleasure, so I have to make it as flexible as possible to listen to the stuff I need to learn.
I use Google Play Music and I subscribe to their 'All Access' service.  For those familiar with Spotify, it's similar to their Premium service, with a major advantage.  It integrates seamlessly with your existing music collection.  I don't know about everyone, but I have my entire music collection in mp3 format - so this is a big plus for me.  I can access Google Play Music on my phone, tablet, TV and of course PC.  So wherever I go, I can create/amend/listen to unlimited music and playlists.

2. Song Notes, Charts, and Set-Lists

When I'm learning a new song, I chart out the arrangement and make notes about temp, time signature etc.  As well as forcing me to understand the song at a basic level, it forms an aid memoir during subsequent rehearsals (although I try not to rely on them for gigs).  I create all this in Google Docs, and using Google Drive I sync them across my usual smartphone/tablet/PC mix. I maintain a folder hierarchy and include any midi files, click tracks or associated goodies that I may need.  It's all kept together, it's all kept up-to-date, and I even have a tablet holder as part of my DW rack system so I can access it all from behind the kit.

3. Navigation

I used-to have a dedicated GPS doohickey in the car to help shuffle me from one gig to the next.  Now I just use Google Maps.  Like any other GPS system, it's not 100% accurate 100% of the time, but it's always gotten me at least close, and Maps has the advantage of integrating completely with Satellite and Street views so you can zoom in on your destination from above, and even take a walk down the road in question to work out loading bays and car parking spots.

This is my 'Holy Trinity' of Google products and how they help me in my day-to-day drumming duties.  There is more, of course, and many different ways of doing the same things.  I could talk about my expenses spreadsheets that have fully functional macros to automate everything - every bit as good as Excel for my purposes.  I could talk about how Google backs up all my photos, lets me share them on G+, write my Shloggs on the move, gives me notifications about upcoming appointments, services my email & instant messaging requirements, helps me share files and documents .... the list goes on and on.

You may already do these things electronically, indeed I could be preaching to the choir and you already make use of Google to achieve them.  You definitely don't have to use any single vendor for them if you don't want to, but I find the convenience and integration is very useful and Google seem to have more strings to their bow than anyone else.

A couple of final points: -

  • No, I'm not sponsored by them.
  • No, I'm not concerned about privacy (Google are going to show me ads.  They may as well be based on things I'm interested in!).

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Apartment Hunting ... on the Interweb

As much a dialogue, as it is a Shlogg !

I've been living in a (private) rental apartment for 15 months.  If I had the choice, I probably wouldn't be moving, not just yet anyway ...

It's not that I'm in love with the place, or my way of life for the last 15 months (although I find I do like being a city boy!), it's just that change leads to effort, effort leads to cost, costs leads to hate, and hate leads to the ... oh, wait.  
I certainly don't hate where I am, and it's probably way too easy to stay - but the choice has been made for me.  My landlord is moving away from the area and whilst there's the possibility I could continue to rent the place from the new custodians ... a possibility isn't enough to hang your hat on.  Especially when it comes to your home.  I'm happy to play it chilled and all 'back-of-the bus', but I kinda like to know where I'm gonna live next week.

So, a move it is.  It could easily have been a really irksome task, but there's a silver lining. My other half and I have decided to get a place 'together'.


Yes the timing thing helps.  I'm out of my first year and onto a rolling monthly basis, and my other half has her rental contract up at the end of June.  But the truth is, if I was still under a binding contract I'd be looking for a way to buy myself out of it - given the offer on the table ;-)

Anyway, enough of the slushy stuff.  How many of you have been apartment hunting recently?  I'm not talking about buying a property, I know that's a whole different deal complete with it's own patented style of stress and problems, I'm talking about renting. 
I'm talking about the blink-and-it's-already-gone side of the market!

We started looking a couple of weeks ago, and it seemed like it would be simple enough.  These days all the rental companies are online.  There are even aggregators ( to make things even easier for you.  "This will be just another form of online shopping!", I foolishly said to myself.

It's not.

Every apartment you find online, that you actually like, has already gone.  They go so fast that they don't even bother to update the listings.  I couldn't work out how people moved so fast.  Brand new listing, phone the agent "sorry, it's gone".  HOW!  How do people get to them before they're even listed?  After a week or two, the penny dropped.

You see, everytime you call an agent about another (already let) property.  They get your details.  After two or three fruitless calls about yet more properties they no longer have, the agents know you name, your numbers, what kind of property you're looking, what areas interest you, hell they even recognised my voice by week three.  And what all this means is, the moment they get a property that matches, they call you.  Now, in week four, we are viewing properties that aren't even listed.  I'm pretty sure that I just left a viewing that the incumbent resident didn't even know she was leaving yet (she was still there, doing her washing and charging her laptop up).

As it happens, we didn't want this particular one.  But we do have three more viewings this week for properties with no listings yet.  I reckon that the third one may well be a keeper.  So apologies to all those who've started looking at rental in my area.  We now have the tips on all the top places before the Internet knows about them, and the best one, the one you've been waiting for, the one you've been praying would come up this month?

It's already mine.


Monday, 14 April 2014

Review: MEElectronics M6 In Ear Monitors (IEM)

MEElectronics M6-BK MEElectronics M6 In Ear Headphones

I've written several articles now on IEM.  It's a subject that I have a keen interest in, and so should you!  IEM not only offers unparalleled quality of live performance monitoring, it also protects your hearing - ironically something that's often neglected by musicians.  The rising popularity of IEM has given us much more choice, and helped drive down the costs across the board.

This review is a case in point.  Five years ago you had to go a long way north of £100 for a half decent pair of monitors.  A little over a year ago I paid more than that for a set of (ACS) monitors which whilst pretty accurate in terms of sound reproduction - certainly were not as good as the (Shure) pair they replaced.

Now you can get a pair delivered to your door for under £20 from a consumer retailer (Amazon, in this case).  Quite frankly that is incredible, and I had to get a pair if only to find out how bad they were!

MEE have quite a range of IEM/Earphones/Headphones.  I opted for the popular M6 model and while they are marketed as Headphones, make no mistake, these are IEM.  They follow a similar design model to Shure's range and also include a 'memory' sheath to the part of the cable that goes around the top of the ear.  This sounds like a fine idea and may well work out to be so.  For now, after two rehearsals I'm still struggling to get the bends in the right places - but that might just be me.  I opted for cool black, but they do have lots of colours including a nifty looking clear set ... maybe next time.

The MEEs came with a selection of silicon tips, essential to get the right fit for your ear canals.  Sorry foam tip fans, there's none for you here!  Personally, I've always been a fan of the silicon ones, and I didn't have too much trouble finding the right ones to fit my ears.  There's only one pair of each, so no spares, but at £20 for the package you're not going to be in too much trouble if one gets lost or split.  Let's face it, at this price you can have two or even three packs in your gig band if you really need to be covered for all eventualities.
The whole lot packs away in the supplied neat little case.  A very good package I think we will all agree.  But what you really want to know is, "what do they sound like?".

I have read several reviews that complained about these being somewhat 'bass heavy'.  I suppose that may be true, they do emphasise the lower frequencies a little more than my last set (ACS), however it's difficult to think of a scenario in which this is anything except a major positive!  I don't know, perhaps if you are a bass player and you need your bass guitar particularly high in the mix, you may be left with the impression that your instrument is a little bassier than it actually is.  This is a very minor niggle though.

The sound quality is excellent and the fit/sound exclusion is so good, that if I didn't know better I could honestly believe that a zero had been left off the price.  Come next payday, I will have no second thoughts about buying a spare set to keep in my gig bag .... just in case ;-)


Friday, 28 March 2014

Review: Alesis DM10 Studio Drum Kit

Not quite the new model ...

Anyone else notice the price drop on several Alesis kits over the last month or so?  I did, although I wasn't sure why at the time.  A bit of Googling revealed an announcement from Alesis that several of their existing models would come with mesh heads this summer.

Nice, and one of the few critiques I've read about their kits while I've been researching.  Mylar heads may be what we have on our acoustic kits, but by their nature we don't really want acoustic noises coming from our electronic kits if we can help it.

Of course, we've been able to buy mesh for some time now and a few companies even produce 'kits' for you to convert your Alesis kit - so it was a sensible move for them.  Nothing fundamentally wrong with the drum kit, let's just give people the improvement they've been asking for.

For anyone looking to buy one of their kits right now, this represents a dilemma.  Do you buy now and take advantage of the slight price drop, or do you wait for the summer and pay over the odds for the relatively minor upgrade.  I was all for the latter, but after being messed around with unrealistic delivery dates from certain suppliers (you know who you are G4M!) I changed my mind and decided to take the 'current', bargain priced DM10 Studio.  After all, I can always change to mesh heads at a later date and there are no other changes to the package (none you can't update for free via USB anyway).

I ended up placing my (online) order with not the cheapest retailer (although it was close) but a reputable company I knew, and who would deliver next-day at no cost ... as well as throwing in some extras to help sweeten the deal.  They were true to their word and the kit arrived 24 hours later in perfect condition.  Nice one Andertons.

Everything came in two boxes.  One huge one with the entire kit inside (that can barely be moved by one person) and another with headphones, pedal, stool and sticks.  This constituted the 'extras' I alluded to earlier.  I won't bother reviewing those items as they will probably end-up on eBay anyway.

This is very well packaged.  By this, I mean It's a whole bunch of components which are individually labelled, bagged, boxed and padded and fitted snugly into a very large box.  You will need a knife or scissors to open the many  boxes and 'a lot' of room in which to toss the empties!

It took me a good couple of hours to unpack everything, flick through the excellent instructions and assemble it.  There was nothing difficult in here, even if this is your first drum kit.  However, if you are familiar with drums, racks and electronics you will find the experience reassuringly straight-forward and well documented.

The wiring loom is pre-assembled and cut to length.  This means you don't have an enormous amount of flexibility in terms of set-up, but at least you won't be in cable hell if you stick with the recommended configuration.  There are a lot of cable clips as well and although I (obviously) haven't yet spent time tidying it up, it's nice that you won't have a spider's web of cables hanging from everywhere.

Before I used the kit in anger, I decided to perform all the software updates first.  There are a bunch of them, but they are available as a single download from the Alesis website.  Just unzip the file and run through the updates one-by-one.

Things to note:
#1 The USB cable isn't included, even though they say it is.  However it is a standard peripheral one (I'm sure your USB printer will have the correct one to borrow).
#2 Follow the instructions in the PDF document included in the download.

Yes I know #2 should be obvious, but I'm a bloke and didn't even open the PDF document.  Needless to say, I was scratching my head in confusion before I finally caved and read the (short) document.  The instructions are simple and clear and all the updates installed flawlessly - even if they took a few minutes to run (the soundfile update is massive!).

Assured I had made a reasonable first-stab at positioning all the pads, and feeling a little smug that all the updates had been installed - I started plugging the cables into the back of the module.

Hmmm ...
I know the DM10 module crosses at least two kits, but I've never seen a DM10 configuration that wasn't 1 x snare, 1 x kick, 4 x toms and 4 x cymbals.  So why isn't the module labelled up this way.  The cables are, and most of the module inputs are, but towards the end you are faced with perc 1, perc 2, perc 3 etc.  This meant that plugging in the last few toms/cymbals was a bit of a lottery.  Not a massive problem I know, but surely a tom pad is a tom pad .... regardless of whether you're using it to trigger a helicopter sound?  Pity they didn't stay consistent for what was otherwise a faultless process, although I should point out that that separate assembly poster does give you some hints for which channels to plug the pads into - even if the back of the module itself does not ;-)

Donning the headphones and flicking on the module for the first time revealed everything working, straight out of the box, but there was a lot of crosstalk going on.  If you're familiar with electronic kits you know what this is, if you're not .... imagine striking the snare drum and (also) hearing a cymbal trigger.  Even worse, imagine hitting a tom and hearing a cowbell (set to a drum rim on the other side of the kit) trigger about a hundred times!

Crosstalk and (re)triggering is nothing new on electronic kits, I've never used or even heard of one that doesn't experience it when first set-up and even on the cheapest kits it is usually 'dialled-out' as part of the set-up and calibration process.  There are a lot of settings for each trigger and I don't need to go into them here.  I recommend checking out the guys on the unofficial Alesis drummers forum.  I read one thread there in ten minutes and it was enough to get my kit completely calibrated in under an hour.

The Unofficial Alesis Drummer Forum

I'm now 90% happy with the config.  In my experience you will continue to tweak and adjust over time, but I'm comfortable that I have a very workable set-up which may need a little fine adjustment to be perfect.

So, the kit is up and running.  What are the first impressions?

  1. The rack, pad and cymbal set-up is very solid.  We are not talking the build quality of my DW stuff, but nor are we talking anything like the same money or weight.
  2. The sounds are amazing.I used to have a D4 and for it's time, it was spectacular.  20 years on I really wasn't expecting the sounds this much more realistic, useful and  so damned good!
  3. Mylar heads are not going to last long.I'm a fairly heavy hitter, but I'm not mental.  I can see me getting one of those mesh head conversion kits sooner rather than later.
  4. I am used to electronic kits and am happy to configure/calibrate it.  But I can't shake the nagging feeling that Alesis should have done most of this themselves with the default settings.  There are already a bunch of updates on the Alesis site ... why don't they add another or even better update the settings in one of them.
    Some people, probably newcomers to electronic percussion, will doubtless be put off.  Which would be a crime - this is a stunning drum kit!
  5. The bass drum pad wobbles a bit.  It's not fallen over yet, but it doesn't seem completely happy about being attached to my DW 5000 double pedal.

Two days after taking delivery of the kit, and only two short evenings to fiddle with it, I'm happy enough to take it to a (new) band rehearsal.  For me, that speaks volumes.  I'm the guy who likes to be 100% prepared for everything.  I'm the boy scout who has spares of everything, won't play a song unless I know it, and won't use any piece of kit until I'm completely convinced it won't let me down.
As I suspected, the DM10 won't be replacing my DW kit anytime soon.  But it does have it's place and for me at least, that place is for practising at home and for gigging with the function band.  I love it.Alesis DM10 Studio Page

Friday, 14 March 2014

Electronic Drum Kits - This Is Now!

The current state of electronic drum kits ...

As those who've read my other Shlogg post will know - I have a history with electronic drums.  I'm not proud of it, but it is what it is and over the years I've made peace with it and try to treat it as a learning experience ;-)

Pearl Hybrid Kit
Today, things are quite different.  I'm sure even the absolute worst electronic kit on the market is better than the absolute best from 20 years ago.  20 years is a long time in consumer electronics and even those technologies from back then that are still around today ... they now cost a fraction of what they did in 1994.
On top of this we have a huge variation of hybrids and a lot of the technology from way back has crossed-over completely.

DDrum Triggers
We had triggers back in the 80's and 90's.  These haven't changed significantly and in fact I know that the old DDrum (the original Scandinavian company, not the modern far eastern company who bought the name!) triggers are quite sought after.  The same might be partly true of Simmons (again, the original English company, not the far eastern one who recently bought the name!) where I've seen their iconic pads go for far more on ebay than they should.  Perhaps it's collectors, perhaps it's art, but honestly - I can vouch for the fact they are not nice pads to play!

The classic Simmons pad

In terms of pad choice and hybrid kits, you can now have a 'regular' drum kit that has jack plugs on the shell to trigger sounds.  You can get cut down wooden shelled kits that are silent until you hook them up to drum module, but look almost identical to an acoustic kit.  Even most top-end  fully electronic kits have pads that look (and feel) much more like traditional drums than they have at anytime since Mr Simmons sent the e-kit mainstream.

Roland TD30
With choice comes competition.  That's not only good for the market and the technology, it's great for our pockets!  You can literally spend anything you want these days.  Just work out what you want to spend, and you'll be able to dial-up at least a dozen kits that come close to your target.  I recently went into my local Maplins and played a £150 kit that plugs into your laptop.  It wasn't wonderful, but it was a working drum kit.  I've also played £10k's worth of Roland drum kit that was truly staggering.  I'm not necessarily recommending either of these options, but I suspect most of us will be shooting for something between the two extremes :-)
An inexpensive USB Drum kit
Why all this interest in Electronic drums again, didn't I learn first time?
Well.  The idea of electronic drums is compelling.  Smaller and lighter than an equivalent acoustic drum set (actually, this is arguable - what amp are you going to use?), they sound the same in your lounge as they do at Wembley Stadium (not a problem most of us have), you can be loud, or quiet, at the turn of a knob (depending on your amp - this is definitely true) and you get hundreds - maybe even thousands of different top-quality drum kits at the push of a button.  That last reason is the real killer isn't it.

Like most drummers, I find practicing a real PITA.  So much so that I rarely do it.  Unless you are lucky enough to live on a secluded island - your practicing is likely to be driving someone crazy.  At least your family and friends, if not your neighbours or your whole street in a built-up area!  However, rock-up to your electronic kit and pull on your headphones and no-one will ever know just how annoying you are ;-)

Neal Peart (the electronic kit is closest to the camera)
Likewise, being able to flick from a Phil Collins sound, to Dave Grohl , to John Bonham , to Aaron Spears .... you get the picture. Some of the most fun and distinctive sounds aren't even drums in the traditional sense.  Anyone seen Neil Peart's solos over the last ten years?  Hell, he triggers an entire Big Band during his solo!  Great fun, and something I find far more enjoyable than 20 minutes of really fast paradiddles ;-)

So, electronics kits are nice to practice on.  They have a niche slot for live performance (my new function band seems a likely candidate) and the prices have dropped significantly whilst the capability has increased many fold.  For myself, I'm not prepared to let go of my beloved DW Acoustic kit.  I've still found nothing that plays like a good acoustic kit and actually enjoy working to get a good sound at different venues, studios etc.  It's an art-form in itself and I won't be parted with it.  But that doesn't mean that an e-kit wouldn't be worth addition to my arsenal.

As a second kit, I'm not looking to invest in a TD30 or get DW to build me a custom electronic shell kit like Mr Peart (above) has done.  I'm looking at the middle-ground, something that I can (re)cut my teeth on.  I'd like something capable that might last me a couple of years, and hopefully teach me what I like (and loathe) about the electronic kits of today - before I go re-mortgaging the house.

Alesis DM10 Studio
The Alesis range has come to my attention.  They will fit you out with something starting at £199 and going up to around £800 .... which is about where Roland kits start off!  I figure the bang-for-buck is pretty high here and whilst it's not cutting edge, you get a lot of value from the fact they are using the tried and tested technologies that have become mainstream.

I'll let you know what I decide, and how I get on with it ;-)