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 ;-)