Liverpool Sound City is seeking Bands & DJs from all genres. Voted the UK’s best metropolitan festival // best festival emerging talent at the UK Festival Awards, Sound City is a 2-day extravaganza of incredible live music & arts, attended by 20,000+ music lovers over 2 days with a 1-day music & digital industry conference running tandem to the event.
Sound City is going back to its roots!
The latest edition of the award-winning metropolitan festival of live music and arts, will take place on the 5th // 6th May Bank Holiday Weekend 2018. We are returning to Liverpool City Centre taking over a wide variety of interesting spaces to deliver the very best breakthrough acts and major names both from across the UK and abroad, as well as a host of independent record label parties & showcases hand picked by a panel of acclaimed regional, national & international curators.
Established in 2007 Sound City has grown over the past 10 years into one of the most cultural and important events on the music calendar. The festival has earned an outstanding reputation for its inventive use of a wide variety of spaces over the use – from cavernous warehouses through to setting up a stage on the banks of the Mersey, and this is set to continue next spring in the heart of Liverpool. We’re giving you the opportunity to apply to perform at the 11th edition of Sound City, with the very best of breakthrough acts and major names both from the UK and internationally.
This is your chance to showcase your music to thousands of music lovers and an international audience of music industry delegates. Past apply to play applicants have included: Catfish and the Bottlemen, Grimes, Ed Sheeran, Dan Croll, Eliza and the Bear, Christine & The Queens and loads more!
September 1970, Creedence Clearwater Revival were in the middle of a nine-week run at #1 on the US album chart with their fifth studio album, Cosmo’s Factory, named after the warehouse in Berkeley, California, where the band rehearsed. Bandleader John Fogerty was so insistent on practising almost daily that drummer Doug ‘Cosmo’ Clifford began referring to the place as ‘the factory’. The band – guitarist brothers John and Tom Fogerty, bass player Stu Cook and Clifford – had signed in 1964 to the San Francisco based Fantasy Records, an independent jazz label. Fantasy co-owner Max Weiss initially named the group the Golliwogs (after the children’s literary character, Golliwogg), apparently to cash in on a wave of popular British bands with similar names. The band, who hated the name, then suffered a setback in 1966 when the draft board called up John Fogerty and Doug Clifford for military service. Fogerty at least managed to enlist in the Army Reserve instead of the regular Army, while Clifford did a tenure in the United States Coast Guard Reserve.
Re-grouping the following year, new management at Fantasy extended their deal along with agreement to a name change. The group arrived at their new title Creedence Clearwater Revival from three elements. From Tom Fogerty’s friend Credence Newball’s name they added an extra ‘e’, making it resemble a faith or creed; ‘clear water’ came from a TV commercial for Olympia beer; and finally ‘revival’ spoke to the four members’ renewed commitment to their band. After the release of their debut album, Creedence Clearwater Revival, AM radio in the US started to pick up on their version of Suzie Q, the 1956 song by rockabilly star Dale Hawkins. There was something different and fresh about CCR: whether it was the raw edge of John Fogerty’s voice, or the driving force of the rhythm section, CCR sounded different to everything else, delivering for the most part, short sharp songs, a rare thing in 1967, the year of psychedelic jams and long freakouts. Not totally immune, the band’s other side manifested itself in long, guitar-driven versions of selected songs on their album, including 8 minutes of Suzie Q.
The band toured and toured, playing every club they could from state to state, and in the middle of this, recorded second album Bayou Country, featuring seven songs that were well-honed from Creedence’s constant live performance. The single, Proud Mary, was an instant success; radio loved it, giving CCR the chart hit they needed, peaking at #2 on the Billboard chart. Bob Dylan named it his favourite single of 1969, and Ike and Tina Turner went on to record it, as did over 100 other artists. CCR were defiantly on a roll, and their follow up single didn’t disappoint: Bad Moon Rising was released and also peaked at #2 on the US chart, while going to #1 in the UK. The band appeared at both Woodstock and the Atlanta Pop Festival, and continued to tour, while the hits kept coming: Down on the Corner, Fortunate Son and two reworked Leadbelly covers, Cotton Fields and Midnight Special.
After touring Europe for the first time, the band returned to San Francisco to record what many consider is the finest CCR album, Cosmo’s Factory. The work ethic of what was one of America’s most committed bands can’t be faulted. They released their fourth studio album, Willy And The Poor Boys in December 1969, seeing it peak at #3 in the Billboard album chart, where it stayed for 60 weeks, going double platinum in the process. But, even before the album’s chart success, Creedence had gone back into the studio to record the first single A and B sides from their next album. Released in January 1970, the double A-sided single, Travelin’ Band / Who’ll Stop The Rain?, was to peak at #2 on the Billboard Hot 100. The first of three double-A sided singles released from Cosmo’s Factory, Travelin’ Band was an exciting rocker in the tradition of Little Richard, a pretty much autobiographical song about life on the road. Inspired by John Fogerty’s love of 1950s rock n’ roll songs, it was deemed so much in the Little Richard style that, in 1972, Richard’s music publishers launched a plagiarism suit, based on the song’s alleged similarity to Richard’s Good Golly, Miss Molly, although the suit was settled out of court. Travelin’ Band was also a UK hit, reaching #8 on the chart, and its use of horns indicated that Creedence were expanding their options from their traditional two guitars, bass and drums sound.
Who’ll Stop The Rain? marked a new maturity on the part of John Fogerty’s songwriting, and has endured as a song that is just as well regarded as any in Fogerty’s canon. The song’s three verses allude to a sense of undefined malaise, pondered by ‘good men through the ages’ and the Woodstock generation. In more of a folk-rock style than Travelin’ Band, it was a thinly-veiled protest against the Vietnam War, with, in the final verse, references to music, large crowds, rain, and crowds trying to keep warm, inspired by the band’s experience at the Woodstock Festival in August 1969. Fogerty was quoted in Rolling Stone as saying: ‘Certainly, I was talking about Washington, when I wrote the song…’, and at a 2007 concert he said: ‘I was at Woodstock 1969… I think. It was a nice event…It started to rain, and got really muddy, and then half a million people took their clothes off! … Anyway, then I went home and wrote this song.’ Much covered by other artists including Bruce Springsteen, when Creedence Clearwater Revival was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1993, Springsteen performed the song with John Fogerty. Who’ll Stop The Rain? even inspired the title of a 1978 film starring Nick Nolte, which saw its name changed from Dog Soldiers when the song became available for use.
Not content with a major US hit getting play on both its sides, the band went back in the studio in March 1970 to lay down two new Fogerty originals, Up Around The Bend and Run Through The Jungle. Written and recorded just before the band flew to Europe for their April tour there, the songs illustrated more sides to Creedence’s sound. Up Around The Bend is a high-spirited energetic rock tune with a distinctive and catchy guitar riff. The highly-regarded other track, Run Through The Jungle, in contrast, features Creedence’s swampy choogling style, with jungle effects created by backwards guitar and piano, plus harmonica. Listed as Tom Fogerty’s favourite CCR song, he said: ‘It’s like a little movie in itself with all the sound effects. It never changes key, but it holds your interest the whole time. It’s like a musician’s dream. It never changes key, yet you get the illusion it does.’ Credited by some as another anti-Vietnam song, John Fogerty corrected that impression in a 1993 interview with the Los Angeles Times, saying ‘I was talking about America and the proliferation of guns, registered and otherwise. I’m a hunter and I’m not antigun, but I just thought that people were so gun-happy – and there were so many guns uncontrolled that it really was dangerous, and it’s even worse now.’ The double-sided Up Around The Bend / Run Through The Jungle climbed to #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart from May 1970, and was certified gold by the RIAA for sales of over one million copies. It was also Creedence’s second-biggest UK hit, charting in June and hitting #3.
On the back of the first two smashes from the album, the final recording session took place in June 1970, yielding the third double-A side single in Lookin’ Out My Back Door / Long As I Can See The Light. Lookin’ Out My Back Door had a swinging, country-skiffle feel, with upbeat lyrics that reference Buck Owens, tangerines and elephants, and a temporary tempo change at the end of the song. All this, plus a country-style dobro, gave the band another hit, reaching #2 in Billboard’s Hot 100, although it did actually hit #1 in Cashbox. Meanwhile Long As I Can See The Light started with electric piano and a gospel feel, echoed by the song’s lyrics and a horn section, complete with sax solo. In the UK, after Lookin’ Out My Back Door had exited the charts, Long As I Can See The Light was promoted on its own and reached #20 in September, just before Cosmo’s Factory hit the shops. The June 1970 sessions included one John Fogerty original, the uptempo Ramble Tamble, a seven minute rocker, which started in the style of the early Sun sessions that were an obvious influence on the young Fogerty. After 2 minutes or so, the song changed tempo to a more leisurely mid-pace, and featured an instrumental riff-based central section over three chords until 5:30 or so, when the original tempos returned, followed by one last verse.
The cover songs included Arthur ‘Big Boy’ Crudup’s My Baby Left Me, famously made famous on Sun by Elvis Presley, and Roy Orbison’s Ooby Dooby from the same stable. Before You Accuse Me was written by Bo Diddly, (Ellas McDaniel), and Creedence had already recorded it in the 1968 sessions for their debut album but it remained unreleased at the time. Remade for Cosmo’s Factory, the song was later played live extensively by Eric Clapton. In the style of their earlier long workings of Suzie Q and Keep On Chooglin’, the band completed the album with a full eleven minutes of the Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong Motown classic I Heard It Through The Grapevine.. An album made during stress and chaos, filled with raging rockers, covers, and intense jams, Cosmo’s Factory was finally released in the US in July 1970. Fogerty’s classic compositions for Creedence both evoked enduring images of Americana and reflected burning social issues of the day. Bringing things back to their roots, the mix of rockabilly, swamp pop, R&B, and country was hugely successful on release. It became the band’s only UK #1 album, and equaled that feat in the US, where it stayed in the chart for 69 weeks, going on to be certified 4 times Platinum for 4 million copies sold, the band’s best-selling release.
Demonstrating its timeless appeal, in the film The Big Lebowski, Jeffrey ‘The Dude’ Lebowski has a cassette of the album in his car stereo. One car scene features Run Through The Jungle, while another scene depicting The Dude smoking marijuana in his car is accompanied by Lookin’ Out My Back Door. In 2003, Cosmo’s Factory was ranked #265 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. It should have been higher…
A narrow reading of the release schedule for 2017 would suggest indie remains a tired, homogeneous scene stacked heavily in favour of established, straight, male artists including Father John Misty, Dirty Projectors, Fleet Foxes, Everything Everything and Mac DeMarco. Guitar bands remain a mainstay on festival bills, too, with Kasabian, Liam or Noel & Kings of Leon as safe bookings alongside Arcade Fire and Bon Iver. These groups, all of whom could have played the same events at least a decade ago, hardly speak of a genre looking to revive itself through new ideas. But a number of new artists and a flurry of albums also released in the past year tell a very different story: indie rock and DIY guitar music is more diverse than you thought.
Earlier this year, Dave Longstreth of Dirty Projectors was forced to backtrack on an Instagram post in which he asked if the alternative music scene had become “bad and boujee”. The problem, Longstreth suggested – to Fleet Foxes singer Robin Pecknold of all people – was that indie rock had become too “refined and effete”, detached from “lived, earned experience”. This idea appears to crop up every year: in 2016 MTV asked: “Is indie rock over the white male voice?” and in 2015 Pitchfork looked at the “unbearable whiteness” of indie.
The trouble (as in every decade) is the entire term ‘indie‘ which opens up a raft of boxes stamped with the genre term. When we went from punk to ‘post-punk‘ into ‘new wave‘ in the late 70’s this opened up the door to a whole raft of ‘indipendant‘ releases which happened to spawn The Jesus & Mary Chain, Cocteau Twins, Bauhaus, The Cult, Cure, R.E.M. & a whole ‘120 Minutes‘ of brand new alternative music for a ‘Radio Free Europe‘ This spawned the beginning of an explosion of which was to peak with Blur, Oasis, Pulp, Primal Scream & Radiohead taking the ‘indie’ into million selling mainstream & creating a whole different ball game for both artists & labels which divided the media & the fans of the genre who were starting to get older… Also the lines got blurred by Nirvana, Pearl Jam who were ‘Rock‘ and straddled both NME & Kerrang! Thus was born the term ‘indie-rock’ & both worlds shuddered.
The turn of the century saw The Strokes, Franz Ferdinand, Editors, reclaim the ‘underground sound‘ yet once again the mainstream embraced, by the time Coldplay, Snow Patrol & the game changing sound of The Killers (who were/are the 21st century U2) dropped into an indie arena by taking the whole shebang into the one place where the shoe gazzers of old never trod ‘The Stadium‘ this meant that you could start your career doing the ‘toilet tours‘ in small clubs & end up in Wembley Stadium… A fine example of this is Muse who i saw in a small club at the turn of the century & in the centre of the twin towers (now an arch) in London years later..
For me as Jay-Z said when asked about selling out “Yeah, i sold out Madison Square Gardens” was his reply.. What is the point in dreaming of being a rock ‘n’ roll star, struggling to buy gear to play any ol’ shit hole, scrapping enough money to record that ‘demo’ then slowly moving through the ranks ‘parting waves‘ they call it on american radio to eventually get to the posistion where ‘music’ is what you do every day of your life.. To achive that takes money! a by product of selling ‘records’ is that you become more popular & have to play bigger gigs… Ask any previous act that was broke, in a van, heading to a club somewhere if they are doing it for the fame, the cash, the girls (or guys) the drugs & they will say… No we are doing it for the music man.. Ask them when they are in the stadium when they have the cash, fame, drugs etc to give it up & go back! The second word will be ‘off‘ with the first word being optional…
The Gospel of Sass!!! From the moment the name Queen Zee & The Sasstones was first seen on a poster it was one near impossible to ignore. Bold, brash and oozing with attitude, it’s not a title which can be forgotten easily. What came from their first ever live show lived up to their namesake totally. An anarchic tour de force which shook the newly founded Drop The Dumbulls to its very core. In a set which lasted no longer than 15 minutes, the band played a couple of original numbers and finished with a cover of The Prodigy’s Fire Starter, not leaving the stage until they’d smashed up their instruments in a wall of screaming distortion and interference. In this first short glimpse, they had proved themselves as a force to be reckoned with, kicking and screaming all the way, they set themselves apart from just about everyone, capturing a DIY spirit within noisy pop songs. “Listening to heavier music helps you understand pop music,” Zee tells us, embarking on one of her familiar long tales. “There has to be that adrenaline-pumping moment that makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up and fight, and dance and make you want to have sex and drink too much alcohol. So many bands fail to grab that and just meander on, whereas us – a band who love punk, hardcore and metal – we appreciate the need for that moment. You get it with Skepta, you get it with trap, you get it with ska. I think it was LCD Soundsystem that said you should be in a punk band before you’re a DJ. If you listen to Queen Zee you’ll see we fuckin’ love a drop, a breakdown and a hook, and every song has a chorus: they don’t all have verses but they all have a chorus.” Eat My Sass is out on 22nd September.
In the past year, we have also heard Everybody Works by Jay Som, an intimate and eclectic album of lo-fi fuzz that has drawn comparisons to Blood Orange & Nick Cave, and queer act Muna, who champion the use of safe spaces and gender-neutral toilets at their live shows, and refuse to adopt the gender pronouns he or she in their songs. Elsewhere, this summer brought Nadine Shah’s Holiday Destination, in which she addresses the rise of nationalism in the UK and how, as a Muslim and a second-generation immigrant, the political climate has led her to a “proper identity crisis” Mitski was a regular spot on last year’s best-of lists with her album Puberty 2, on which she tackled the whiteness of all-American culture with the magnificent single Your Best American Girl.
Seazoo is a five part indie pop explosion from North Wales, a highly energetic troupe whose live shows are a mandle of limbs, instruments, & off kilter melodies. The band’s debut album is completed, with the band set to unleash their wares in November. For now, though, Clash Magazine is able to premiere new single ‘Shoreline‘, and it’s a fast-paced, ludicrously infectious return. Produced by Ben Trow & mixed by Mike Collins, the crisp studio techniques allow the sheer zest and outright fun inherent in Seazoo’s music to come lurching forth. Set to be released on September 4th, you can check out ‘Shoreline‘ up front on the Clash website.
Then there is Vagabon’s Cleaning House, on which Laetitia Tamko sings: “What about them scares you so much? My standing there threatens your standing, too.” Tamko was attending protests inspired by Black Lives Matter when she wrote the song, which talks about her journey as a teenage immigrant arriving in the US from Cameroon, alongside the need for justice for the deaths of black men Alton Sterling and Michael Brown. When you include bands such as Crying, Aye Nako and the bluesy solo music of the enigmatic Massachusetts artist Mal Devisa, the future of indie looks encouraging.
Speaking from the back of a van between tour stops in Detroit and Toronto, Tamko says the change within the scene is undeniable. “The people who inspire me are the people of colour who are unapologetic about their place in the world,” she says. “Different people from places outside the US have different takes on art and bring a whole new perspective.” Tamko says she felt isolated by the clique-ish indie community she encountered early on, but she refused to compromise in order to fit in. “I wanted to prove to myself that I could be a part of this, but not in a way in which I blended in,” she says. “I wanted to exist there on my terms, and to be seen and to demand respect. A shortcut wasn’t for me.”
Then there’s Rhode Island-based Latin punks Downtown Boys, who released their album on Sub Pop in August. Victoria Ruiz of Downtown Boys is similarly uncompromising. Her band has established itself with its intersectional politics and a brand of sax-laced punk that lends itself perfectly to Bruce Springsteen covers. Ruiz, who is Mexican-American, says work by Beyoncé and Kendrick Lamar, as well as increasing political consciousness, have boosted the visibility for artists of colour. “Black Lives Matter forced us all to ask why certain people are not on the bill or in the audience. Perhaps it’s that the invitation just wasn’t sent. People tend to ignore the issues they don’t consider their problem, but when these things are being forced, you can’t shy away from it.”
Indie is becoming less white in the UK too, but at a slower pace. Rachel Aggs, a gay, mixed-race, London-based musician, splits her time between DIY punk bands Shopping and Sacred Paws, with whom she released the album Strike a Match in January. She says she regularly plays to all-white crowds at home and that the messages about her heritage in the music can be lost.
“That was subtly demoralising,” she says of feeling ignored. “We thought we were making a statement and nobody wanted to talk about it. We didn’t care, but it was isolating.” She points to London’s Decolonise festival and the work of promoters DIY Diaspora Punx as evidence of a shift. Change, she says, is simple: “More brown people should start bands and more white people should talk about why there’s no brown people at their shows. We can’t be scared of this conversation.”
The Korean-American musician Michelle Zauner, who records as Japanese Breakfast and releases the follow-up to her acclaimed debut this month, admits she is wary that the progress of her peers could be taken as little more than a trend. Speaking from Philadelphia, she says: “I just don’t want to think that women of colour making music is the new chillwave, and next it’s on to cats playing keyboard,” she says. “I read food articles about how Korean food is over and it’s all about Vietnamese and I think, ‘Fuck you. It’s not going anywhere.’ My identity is not your fad. You don’t have to spit it out at some point.”
Music Venue Trust has announced plans for Fightback 2017, a major fundraising drive in partnership with Pledge Music.
Fightback will launch a series of MVT merchandise and special items, including artist signature T-shirts, VIP Fightback and aftershow tickets, and the chance to own an exclusive, signed Fender Mustang guitar, to support the campaign to protect grassroots music venues. The six-week campaign concludes on Tuesday, October 17 with a celebratory gig at Camden Electric Ballroom following Venues Day 2017 which takes place on at Ministry Of Sound in London and will provide an opportunity for “VIP Speed Dating” between the UK’s top agents and grassroots music venues.
The Sandbox has been developed in association with eight of the UK’s leading live music agencies, ITB, CAA, X Ray, Coda, UTA, Primary, ATC, and Marshall Arts. Representatives of grassroots venues will get the chance to spend 10 minutes networking directly with agents representing new and emerging artists at Venues Day.
“The Sandbox is a fantastic opportunity for venues to meet with agents and talk to them directly about their venues right across the UK,” said Music Venue Trust (MVT) CEO Mark Davyd “We’ve been working on this quietly for some time, and really appreciate how the industry has got behind the initiative to support this idea. The Sandbox is all about playing nicely and building something great together.” The day features a full programme of panels, sessions, workshops, one-to-one advice and opportunities. MVT will coordinate 10-minute slots for venues to meet and greet agents, to pitch their venue and to allow agents to pitch their acts. “We hope The Sandbox will create new touring opportunities for artists and agencies,” said Beverley Whitrick, strategic director of Music Venue Trust and the event producer of Venues Day 2017.
“One of the main things we learned from our regional meetings last year was some venues, particularly in unusual or rural locations, feel under-used and lack the connections to access great artists. Even in cities, some of these venues have access to very specialist audiences which could be really valuable information to touring artists. We have so many venues that could benefit from this, we’re going to use a speed dating format to try and give as many of them the opportunity as possible. We aren’t expecting any marriages, but it could be the start of some beautiful and productive friendships.”
The Sandbox is supported by Openstage, a tech platform that enables “geo-linking and geo-funding” allowing users to create and fulfil demand geographically. The MVT Artists Signature series of T-shirts kicks off with a limited-edition shirt specially designed by Frank Turner. Just 200 shirts are available, featuring a print of handwritten lyrics signed by Turner. More signature shirts will be announced in the coming weeks. Early Bird Tickets for the Fightback 2017 concert at Camden Electric Ballroom are on sale now, with special VIP and Aftershow tickets also available. And there’s a challenge for brands and companies who want to connect with fans, artists and venues in the grassroots sector; Gold, Silver and Bronze sponsorship packages for Fightback 2017.
MVT strategic director Beverley Whitrick said: “Between 2007 and 2015, over a third of the UK’s Grassroots Music Venues were forced into closure. We were losing twenty venues a year, every year. Music Venue Trust launched our Emergency Response service in 2016 thanks to generous fundraising and support from artists, fans and brands. We promised that Emergency Response would make a real difference. One year later there are the same number of venues open. This isn’t rocket science. We can stop venue closures like The Cellar in Oxford and The Sound Lounge in Tooting, we just need the resources to do it”.
The Trust is keen to hear from more artists who would like to be involved. Contact email@example.com
Even as legacy music shops continue to shutter across the country, Midwestern institution Used Kids has managed to stay afloat for the last 30 years and counting. How do they do it?
It’s the morning of this year’s Record Store Day at Used Kids in Columbus, Ohio, and a line of collectors—including a few who staked out spots in folding chairs—is already snaking through the High Street sidewalk. The store’s owner, Greg Hall, 54, bounds down a poster-filled staircase to greet the early risers with a huge grin and an open box from nearby Buckeye Donuts. With silver hair tucked under a ballcap, chain wallet looping out of his shorts, and hiking boots over his white socks, Hall is gregarious and instantly approachable. He laughs loudly and often; his guffaws make that oft-written but seldom verbalized “ha ha ha” sound.
At 8 a.m., customers flood the 30-year-old independent music haven, and the free doughnuts and coffee give way to pizza and cans of PBR on ice. Local indie rockers and rappers perform on a stage in the back of the windowless store, which feels worn and lived-in but less dusty than in years past. Racks of records—organized by handpainted, yellow-and-black signs—sit in black bins perched on cinder blocks atop a faded checkerboard floor. Even though Used Kids occupies an upstairs space, it smells like the basements where much of the store’s used stock originated. By mid-afternoon, the sought-after Record Store Day releases are picked over, but customers continue to pour in. One woman searches in vain for an exclusive 7″ by My Chemical Romance frontman Gerard Way, while a local MC on deck to perform browses the jazz section. The shop feels vibrant, energized, like it did in the mid-1990s, when the CD boom flushed Used Kids with more money than previous owners Dan Dow, Ron House, and Bela Koe-Krompecher knew what to do with: The store grossed about a million dollars annually in 1996 and 1997.
It’s Thursday, May 26—opening day for the new Used Kids shop on Summit Street. You could call it a soft opening. There are no balloons or grand announcements. Sarah Campbell, a junior in high school who’s worked at the store for two years, rings up customers. Records fill the bins, but boxes are piled in a corner where the stage will go, and a big sign outside the building still says “Beer Wine Carry Out”—a holdover from the previous tenant. Hall is jovial but visibly exhausted, sweating in a tattered shirt and shorts while gripping a cold can of beer and troubleshooting a printer issue. Last night he was up late dealing with a backed-up, overflowing toilet. But the store is open. There’s a new color scheme in play with the red brick and the jet-black bins. It’s skeletal but functional. And people are here—more people, in fact, than would normally be at the old location on a Thursday afternoon. A few are regulars, like the middle-aged man in an olive suit and yellow button-down who comes in every few days in hopes of padding his Beatles collection and a younger guy who’s on a never-ending quest for acid-jazz CDs. Other browsers are Used Kids newbies.
“Never seen that guy before, never seen that guy before,” Hall says, smiling and pointing. “That feels good.”
I flip through some bins and realize I’d love to own Louisville songwriter Joan Shelley’s most recent record, Over and Even, though it’s the type of niche LP that most stores wouldn’t stock months after its release. Finding it would be a crap shoot. I dig a bit anyway, looking through the folk records, then over to the “Indie – S” section. There it is. Hall’s philosophy—anticipating the records his customers want and stocking them, no matter the cost—works on me. I pony up $19. As I’m checking out, the guy in line behind me tells the clerk that he lives nearby. He’s been watching the renovation progress with excitement, waiting for the store to open. I ask him how often he made it down to the old location. “Almost never,” he says, and walks out the door with a stack of records.
Hall started his obsession with music as a punk-rock kid from rural Ohio who made his way to Columbus for college in 1979 and paid his way through Ohio State working at SchoolKids Records. After graduating, he worked suit-and-tie jobs in the VHS industry until the mid 2000s. Having experienced firsthand the change from VHS to DVD, Hall is sensitive to the way industries switch formats and repackage the same stuff. But he’s still bullish on vinyl. He’s frustrated by the high price points for new LPs. “If a punk rock band can walk in and sell me their record for $9 and I sell it for $15, there’s no reason Billy Joel can’t do the same thing,” he says. But he doesn’t think the so-called vinyl resurgence is merely a trend. He thinks it’s different, something deeper. “Young people started reacting instinctively, realizing they liked the tactile experience of music—I don’t even think it was conscious,” Hall says. “They enjoy face-to-face interactions, not downloads from some piece of machinery. It’s better socially, better for the community, and people can feel it.”
In April, when Hall had the choice to either close Used Kids or move, he quickly found a new space about a mile and a half north—farther from a lot of students, but also farther from the wrecking ball that keeps hitting other businesses near Ohio State. Used Kids probably won’t get as many just-passing-through customers at the new location, but it’ll offset that with a convenient parking lot, free street parking, and easier drive times for the community of artists and musicians who live just north of OSU. (Hall also hopes to one day open a small, boutique offshoot of Used Kids on campus again.) When Hall bought Used Kids from Dow in 2014, he and Tom Shannon lit a smudge stick and walked through the High Street space to ceremonially rid the store of any lingering impurities and give the shop a new, fresh start. “Moving to the new space,” Hall says, “is kind of like the final smudge.”
Before purchasing Used Kids in September 2014, Greg Hall began moonlighting at the store, helping Dow get organized and revamping the online business. Dow hadn’t made substantial improvements to the store in years; friends say he was worn down and “damaged” after decades at Used Kids. “When I bought this store it was struggling mightily,” says Hall, who took on “significant debt” when he made the purchase. “Taking a risk, losing money—it’s all part of doing business. I don’t take any money home. I want to bury my capital back into the shop. It’s gonna take that to turn the store around and keep it alive. And I’m not into just survival. I wanna make it rock. When Greg took over, it was almost night and day with how we managed everything,” says current Used Kids part-timer Kellie Morgan, 30, who fell in love with the store in high school and has worked under both Dow and Hall. Morgan recalls Hall giving her an ambitious goal—to make Used Kids “the coolest fucking record store between New York and Chicago.”
To do that, things had to change—which is something Used Kids had not done for a long time. It was dusty, disorganized, and still charming, but had begun to feel like a relic. “I’m kind of old-fashioned and stuck in my ways,” Dow said in a 2012 interview. “I’m just so against change.” Hall could not be more different. “I think change is something that is super important for people to be able to deal with,” he says. “I accept it, hustle my ass off, and change, change, change. I do the Bowie thing.” For Hall, part of changing is diversifying. Used Kids now sells turntables and stereo equipment. (“They gotta have the shovel to get the gold,” he says.) Some of the stereo equipment goes in the online store, too, which is managed by Tom Shannon.
Shannon, a tall man with a serious gaze offset by a soft-spoken disposition, came to Used Kids at the tail end of the CD boom and hung on through the tough times as others came and went. Armed with two decades of experience at Used Kids, a master’s degree in library science, and years of fronting deafening garage-punk trio the Cheater Slicks, Shannon is Hall’s trusted consigliere. He handles specialty buys that require the most expertise, as well as all of the store’s eBay sales, which has been an essential part of Used Kids’ business strategy since 1999. Used Kids was not the first record store on that stretch of High Street in Columbus. In the ’70s, just a few doors down, there was Mole’s, one of only a handful of shops in the country to sell used records. Mole’s was run by Kenny Stone, a chatty Elvis Costello groupie who, like many record store owners of yore, wasn’t fond of paying taxes.
One of Stone’s first employees was Dan Dow, a shy music lover who went on to form twisted country-blues outfit the Gibson Bros. (Jon Spencer later replaced Dow in the band). Following Dow to Mole’s in the mid ’80s was his buddy Ron House, who’d been fired and rehired three times from another High Street record store, the memorably named Magnolia Thunderpussy, before finally quitting when the owner accused his friend of stealing $20. “My friend might have stolen $20,” House tells me, “but I quit in solidarity.”
By that point Dow was running the daily operations of Mole’s. Curt Schieber, who owned nearby basement store SchoolKids Records and ran the label No Other Records, decided to move his shop upstairs and asked Dow if he would want to sell used records on the lower level. So in 1986, Dow and House pooled their record collections and named the basement store Used Kids Records. While House managed the money, Dow hired more help, like Mike “Rep” Hummel, who recorded or produced records by the Gibson Bros., New Bomb Turks, Guided by Voices, and House’s band Great Plains.
Meanwhile, punk kid Bela Koe-Krompecher was working at three different record stores near Ohio State. “I would go to Used Kids every day and buy records,” Koe-Krompecher says. “I remember one day Ron was like, ‘Hey, you want a beer?’ It was like, Yes! I’m in! I was 19. I felt so proud flipping through dollar records drinking a black label. This was the world I wanted be a part of.” Dow soon asked Koe-Krompecher to work at the store full-time, offering him $12,000 a year, free records, and the joy of drinking beer on the job. The Used Kids annex, a basement space next door that was joined by a staircase, opened in 1990 and employed Dow’s good friend Dave Diemer (nicknamed The Captain for his love of Captain Beefheart) and others. By the early ’90s Dow made House and Koe-Krompecher part owners, and as they hired more part-timers—most of whom also played in Columbus bands—Used Kids became an underground hub, garnering a mention in a 1995 Entertainment Weekly story about the rising profile of Columbus’ music scene. It was a clubhouse, a place for outsiders to congregate, with plenty of beer and pot to go around.
At this point, the independent record store is an endangered species, and only the shops that are willing to change and adapt have a chance at surviving in an environment where music communities have migrated online. With all the talk of a vinyl resurgence over the last several years, it’s easy to forget that the format still represents only 12 percent of physical album sales. It’s not like the 1980s and early ’90s, when you needed two hands to count the number of record stores on this stretch of High Street across from Ohio State University. This year, on Record Store Day, Used Kids is the sole remaining music shop in the campus area.
In the fall of 2014, Greg Hall bought Used Kids in hopes of carrying it into the future on High Street. But right before Record Store Day in April, he got some unexpected news: The owners of the building housing Used Kids had ideas for the space that didn’t involve the store remaining there long term. Hall could either close and liquidate or move. Closing was a last resort, but relocating would mean leaving the area the store had called home for decades. Like most record stores, though, Used Kids struggled through the first decade of the 2000s—not to mention the fire that destroyed everything in 2001. It reopened, but sales slowed. Employees left or were fired. But while fellow legacy stores like Ear X-tacy in Louisville and, more recently, Other Music in New York, closed up shop, Used Kids somehow survived.
Used Kids’ presence has always been an integral part of Columbus’ music scene, from the clerks behind the counter who launched labels, started cult bands, and booked rock shows at nearby venues, to the hunched crate-diggers who forged friendships over racks of wax. If Used Kids were to close, a cultural legacy would die with it, and its death would raise the question: If an institution like Used Kids can’t make it, who can?
“People who work in a record shop are far more interesting and genuine than anyone else you’ll meet in other aspects of the music business,” says Jerry DeCicca, who founded doom-folk act the Black Swans and joined the Used Kids staff in the mid-’90s. “At Used Kids, I finally found a place that culturally valued the same things I did—I had more in common with them than 99 percent of other people in the world.”
Still, contrary to what you may hear about eBay carrying the lion’s share of sales at brick-and-mortar record stores nowadays, Shannon says the vast majority of sales—90 percent or more—still come from in-store purchases. While some overseas sales remain strong (“Anybody who sells records sells a lot of soul records to British people,” Shannon says), most online business comes from U.S. customers. “Selling records is still very difficult, and only an extremely small percentage of records are highly desirable,” Shannon says. “The big issue with record stores is getting stock. It’s a very finite quantity out there. Getting original pressings of things is getting harder and harder.”
Some record stores refuse to sell online, claiming it robs walk-in customers the opportunity to find sought-after records. But Hall says Used Kids shouldn’t be a museum: “I do not want to see a $50 record sit on the floor. We sold a 7″ single for $2,800 not too long ago, so I can get $2,800 in seven days, or I can let it sit here for years and hope the right person comes along.” To keep the used stock fresh, Hall does home visits all over Ohio and beyond. Plus, he has a network of basement pickers. “I want a bunch of people feeding into this store,” Hall says. “I’m gonna miss a thousand deals every day, but I want to try to capture as many of them as I possibly can—every day, just jamming cool records in there.”
That philosophy carries over to new stock, as well. Hall orders far more new records than Dow did. On any given day, for example, you’ll find multiple sealed copies of Spoon’s back catalog at Used Kids. “Some stores order it in if someone asks, but that doesn’t work,” Hall says. “I realize the big capital risk, but that’s part of the cool factor: If you don’t have it, you can’t sell it.” While it seems completely antithetical to how we think of record stores and their employees today, Used Kids was on top of the world, like a newly signed band using its major label money on drugs and booze, and feeling like the good times would last forever. They didn’t.
Towards the end of the ’90s, after those million-dollar years, relationships began to fray. Dow had a kid. The Captain died in 1998. Sales began to decline. House’s band got dropped from a major label. Koe-Krompecher had become an alcoholic, and bands he’d poured his life into were breaking up and battling mental illness and succumbing to drug addictions. In January of 2001, Jerry Wick, a Used Kids fixture and singer for Anyway band Gaunt, was struck by a car and killed while riding his bike. Then in June of that year, the entire store burned in an accidental electrical fire. “Those guys were out of their mind when that happened,” DeCicca says. “The store was never the same; Dan, Ron, and Bela were never the same.”
While House and Koe-Krompecher look back at the fire as a good thing for the store, since it forced them to regroup and reopen a few months later in the new upstairs space, it was devastating at the time. Meanwhile, downloading was growing more and more popular, and the market for used CDs tanked. Vinyl sales remained stagnant. With less money to go around, tensions among the owners and employees grew. In 2007, Dow fired Koe-Krompecher. They haven’t spoken since. (Koe-Krompecher still runs Anyway Records and is now sober and married with two kids.) DeCicca and House left in 2008, though House remained part owner for a few more years and continues to perform with a couple Ohio acts. “For all the bands I played in, I was always best-known for just being the guy who worked at Used Kids,” House says. The store continued to subsist under Dow, aided in part by the uptick in vinyl sales nationwide in 2008, it couldn’t regain its former glory. Ongoing construction around the OSU campus was making traffic and parking worse while also replacing longtime independent businesses with chain restaurants. And even though thousands of students walked by the store every day when school was in session, few actually came in.
When it came to business, Dow had a get-the-music-to-the-people philosophy. Everything was priced to sell. For used CDs, an album the store purchased for $3 would sell for $5, $4 for $7, $5 for $9. For used vinyl, a 50-cent record would sell for $1, and $2 records would go for $4. “I don’t think we ever sold anything for more than $25, ever,” Koe-Krompecher says. Then, in the mid ’90s, Used Kids went from doing $100 to $2,000 a day in sales, and then more, all thanks to the CD boom. “The way people latched onto CDs was amazing,” says House, who remembers buying three boxes of Counting Crows promotional CDs from a customer, even though he had never heard of the band. “We were selling Counting Crows CDs for months,” he says. Another time, a huge winter storm knocked out the store’s power. But just as House was about to put up the “Closed” sign, 15 customers showed up in below-zero temps to buy CDs in a store with no heat.
While used CD sales carried the store, the annex side, which sold mostly used vinyl, wasn’t nearly as busy and began to feel like a forgotten corner. But the annex employees stuck around because of Dow. “No one made tons of money, but we were treated very well,” DeCicca says. “Dan trusted people—probably too much. He didn’t count the money in the register. If you messed up and needed to borrow money, you could. They paid my health insurance. A street guy would walk in, and Dan would give him $20 to take out the garbage.” Flush with CD cash, the owners were riding high. “We definitely got a little arrogant,” says House, a thick, intimidating figure with piercing blue eyes, ruddy face, and a nasal yowl who was known around town as the quintessential, smart-ass record-store clerk. “We put a mural up—it was my idea—that said, ‘The center of the universe.’ And we definitely felt like that. When you’re making so much money, you really think you know what you’re doing, even though it might just be luck.”
While Dow was releasing music on his OKra Records label, Koe-Krompecher launched his own imprint, Anyway, releasing music by Columbus bands along with then-little-known Dayton group Guided By Voices. (Koe-Krompecher says the sonic hiccups on “Hardcore UFO’s,” the leadoff track on GBV’s 1994 classic Bee Thousand, are partly due to Used Kids’ tape deck eating the cassette.) Around this time, Koe-Krompecher also began booking bands like Pavement, Sebadoh, Magnetic Fields, and others at nearby venues.
The labels, the bookings, the bands—they all raised Used Kids’ profile and brought more and more people to the shop. The Ramones came by. And, at the height of Pearl Jam’s fame, Eddie Vedder stopped in and ended up hanging out all day. “He was ringing people up, drinking beer,” Koe-Krompecher remembers. “When Sonic Youth was in the store, we were listening to My Bloody Valentine,” House says. “They go, ‘Whoa, that is so weird. We played with them three months ago and they didn’t sound anything like this. Now they sound like us.’”
By pulling triple-duty in the local music scene, the staffers and part-timers at a basement record store helped to turn the Columbus music scene into something truly special. But it wasn’t just a local phenomenon. Used Kids became a bastion of independent music in the Midwest and was well-known in certain circles all over the country. In Europe, Gibson Bros. fans ascribed mythical status to the store.
“People today might not realize how exciting it was to be in a record store in the ’90s,” says House.
With an endless amount of gear out there, setting up your first home studio can seem like a daunting task. But it doesn’t have to be.
For aspiring artists interested in making music at home, there has never been a better time to get started. The options are plentiful, and prices are a fraction of what they once were: A basic bedroom studio, put together on the cheap, can yield the kind of results that would have required booking time in a professional studio not so long ago. But given all the choices currently available online or at a gear shop, it can be hard to know where to begin. The good news is that there is no one right answer. Even so, in talking to a number of creatives from across the musical spectrum, we’ve narrowed things down to give budget-conscious novices some guidance. While prices can easily start to add up as you build-out even the most basic studio, there are ways to economize. Second-hand stores, Craigslist, and eBay are all crucial resources—one good thing about the relentless pace of music tech is that musicians are forever getting rid of gear in order to make room for new toys. Start with what you can afford and trade up further down the line.
“Discovering gear and getting to know its ups and downs is a huge part of the fun,” Animal Collective’s Noah Lennox, aka Panda Bear, tells me. And no matter what kind of gadgets you buy, expertise does not come instantly. “There is no shortcut for the long, hard hours—or years—an artist has to spend learning their tools,” says Eric Burton, who makes intricately chaotic tracks as Rabit. Before we get into the specifics, though, here’s one more piece of valuable advice courtesy of D.C. bass music producer Rex Riot: “Get a good chair. If you’re not comfortable, you’re not productive.”
Chances are, you’re going to want to use your computer as the centerpiece of your setup. Maybe you’ll do everything totally “in the box”—that is, on software instruments alone. Or maybe you’ll run a digital audio workstation (DAW) like Logic or Ableton to use the computer as a glorified tape recorder to capture and edit the sounds you make. But don’t assume that you’ll need to rush out and buy a powerhouse new machine. “Literally any computer made after 2001 will work to make music,” says electronic producer Adrian Yin Michna. “I currently use the PowerMac G4 from 2003—you can get them for $60 on eBay.” Likewise, the Mac vs. PC debate is, at this point, a non-issue. If you have a preferred operating system, stick with it, though it’s worth bearing in mind that certain software applications will only run on one platform. FL Studio, a beat-making program popular with hip-hop producers, is currently PC-only. Logic, on the other hand, will only run on Macs.
A more difficult decision may be whether to go with a desktop or laptop as your recording hub. If you plan to use your computer during shows or like to work on the road, then a laptop will probably be your instrument of choice. Desktops offer more bang for your buck, though, and you’ll have more options in terms of monitor size. If you think having scads of open Chrome tabs clutters up your screen, just wait till you’ve got a dozen plugins running in tandem: That 15-inch laptop screen can fill up awfully fast.
If you’re using primarily external equipment—drum machines, microphones, synthesizers, guitar—“then you won’t need that much in terms of horsepower,” says Michael Green, the UK house producer who records as Fort Romeau. On the other hand, if you plan to make your music primarily using software synthesizers and effects, you’ll probably want to max out your RAM, which can boost performance and operation speeds. Most of the musicians I polled suggested going with a minimum of 8GB of RAM. And if you can afford it, when it comes to hard drives, investing in a solid-state drive (SSD) is a good idea since they are far faster than traditional hard disk drives. New York bass producer Jon Shulman, aka Proper Villains, says an SDD “will make a cheap computer run like an expensive computer, and an expensive computer run like the damn Death Star.”
The audio interface is a funny piece of gear. You might spend a couple hundred bucks or more on one, plug it in, set it up, and then never touch it again. But it’s an absolutely indispensable item, for several reasons. First, and most obviously, if you’re running any kind of external audio into your computer, be it synths, voice, or guitar, the inputs on the audio interface are the only way to get those sounds into the machine. And if you’re using monitor speakers (more on those later) instead of headphones, it serves as the link between the computer and how you hear your work. Finally, the audio interface is what actually processes all the audio going into and coming out of your computer, via analog-to-digital and digital-to-analog converters—it’s what translates all the ones and zeroes in your digital project files back into analog audio signals, and vice versa.
Your computer already has audio converters built into it—they’re what allow you to chat on Skype and listen to Drake MP3s directly through your laptop speakers—but they aren’t designed for professional-grade audio. And while virtually any standalone audio interface is going to have better converters than the ones your computer comes with, you can generally count on them to improve in quality as you go up the price scale.
How much you should shell out for the best converters is up for debate, though. “Your converters are the least sexy but most important part of your studio,” says Jonathan Snipes of the noise-rap group clipping., whose intense vocals are an important part of their songs. “If you have a cheap interface and multi-track a ton of vocals into it, it’s going to sound bad, even if the writing and the ideas are really good.” Then again, Fort Romeau’s Mike Greene says, “The difference between an adequate interface and an exceptional one is really something to worry about only if you’re trying to set up a world-class recording studio.” Matthew Dear, who has recorded everything from electro-pop to techno across the last 15 years, goes even further in his dismissal of the importance of converters: “Honestly, it doesn’t matter. My power supply cut out recently at a live gig, so I ran everything out of the mini-jack on my laptop and could hardly tell the difference.”
Along with the converters, Bret Winans, of the DJ-centric New York music store Turntable Lab, tells me there are a couple of other things to keep in mind when shopping for an audio interface: the number of channels you’ll want to be recording at the same time and how the interface connects to your computer, whether it’s through USB, Firewire, Thunderbolt, etc. On the cheaper side, Winans recommends the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 ($150), which features high-quality conversion, two stereo input/output channels, and USB connectivity. The Roland Duo-Capture EX features preamps, which are necessary to hook up microphones to the rest of your setup. Ultimately, the choice will depend a lot on how you make your music. If you plan to have multiple synthesizers and drum machines running in tandem, then you’ll need enough inputs to accommodate each one of those instruments. If you plan to use microphones, you’ll need to make sure the interface has inputs with mic preamps, like the versatile Roland Duo-Capture EX ($179). “It’s always better to buy something nicer with fewer channels of I/O [input/output] than something cheaper with more channels,” says clipping.’s Snipes. At a higher price point, Spencer Doran, of the experimental electronic act Visible Cloaks, praises the Apogee Duet ($595), which has become something of an industry standard. “If you’re primarily working solo, there’s no need for something expensive with a large number of inputs—the Duet is as stripped down as it gets, but has nice preamps.”
Of all the choices you make while setting up a home studio, this one might be the trickiest. Judging music will always be a subjective activity, and the same goes for judging how it sounds. At the same time, certain generalizations tend to hold true: You want speakers that sound neutral and don’t unduly color or flatter your productions. They should not boost the bass, for example, because that interferes with your ability to adequately hear just what in the heck is actually going on in the lower frequencies; the speakers you listen to music on are not necessarily the speakers you want to make music on. Still, everyone will likely have a slightly different idea of what neutral sounds like, and there are other factors that will affect the music coming out of your monitors, including the size and layout of your recording space. “Your monitors are really only as good as your room and your ears,” Fort Romeau’s Greene says. So, unless you’re preparing to acoustically treat your studio, there’s little point in spending thousands on a pair of monitors.
KRK Rokit 5 monitor speakers are a go-to for novices and pros alike, with an unbeatable price of $149.
Greene suggests going with a pair of KRK Rokit 5s ($149), part of a family of budget-line speakers that have a reputation for punching above their weight. Experimentalist Holly Herndon made her first few records on the KRK Rokit 8s, and Laura Alluxe Escudé, a musician who has also worked on backend tour tech for Kanye West and others, buys the KRK line if she needs a set of monitors on the road. “The price point is good, and they sound great,” she says. Another important piece of advice that the musicians I surveyed told me: Try out lots and lots of speakers. Go to the music stores around town and bring music with you to play through them. Do you like how it sounds? Does it seem like an accurate representation of the music as you know it? Does it reveal aspects of the sound you’ve never heard before? And then spend time with your speakers; get to know them by many different kinds of music on them and learning how certain details are rendered. “You can have the best speakers in the world, and if you don’t know what to listen for you’ll still be making bad mixes,” says clipping.’s Snipes. Nicer speakers can also be easier on the ears, he adds. “Sometimes speakers can be harsh and exhausting, which can make it difficult to work on music for extended periods of time.”
Focal’s Alpha 50 speakers offer neutral sound and are perfect for smaller recording spaces. The French company Focal has won fans around the world for its CMS line, with prices running well upwards of $1,000 per pair (to say nothing of its ultra-high-end SM9, at nearly $8,000 per pair). But their Alpha line—including the Focal Alpha 50s ($299)—is aimed at more modest budgets. These speakers are widely praised for their clear, neutral sound—clean in the highs, detailed in the mids, and full in the low end without feeling gimmicky. “The Focal Alpha 50s are small but perfect for my apartment,” says Sleigh Bells’ Derek Miller. “I’ve become disciplined where volume is concerned, which my neighbors are happy about. If the spirit of the track isn’t there at a low volume, I keep working.” And given the ways that most people will listen to your music—on laptop speakers, crappy earbuds, and even straight from their phone—Proper Villains’ Schulman suggests testing out your sounds on something comparably lo-fi. “It’s a common newbie mistake with electronic stuff to mix it so it will knock in a club or on a car stereo, but then the mix falls apart on a home listening system,” he says, “so I always check my mix on a $30 Dell Soundbar. As long as that can get loud enough for your space without distorting and you have a sense of what things sound like on them you’ll be fine,” says Visible Cloaks’ Doran. “It can actually be kind of misleading to have a posh monitor setup—some of the most insane sound design out right now was mixed on really inexpensive monitors or even on headphones.”
Though headphones will fatigue your ears faster than monitors and they have a comparably limited frequency range, it’s smart to have a set on hand so you can work late at night or test how mixdowns sound outside of speakers. Monitoring headphones should be comfortable enough to wear for hours at a time, have a wide frequency response—check the technical specs on retailers’ websites to compare different models—and have as neutral a sound as possible. Turntable Lab’s Bret Winans suggests avoiding consumer and DJ headphones, which tend to pump up the low end, and to try Beyerdynamic’s DT 770s ($170) or Phonon’s SMB-02s ($350).
Grado’s SR60e headphones won’t wear your ears out during marathon recording sessions. For something in the middle of that price range, you might consider AIAIAI’s TMA-2 Monitor Preset headphones ($215), which are made with studio work in mind. They’re comfortable enough that you can sit beneath them for hours without even realizing they’re there, and they sound fantastic, with a rich, reliable response. For both budget and comfort, Adrian Yin Michna suggests Grado’s SR60e cans ($79), which he finds remarkably unfatiguing, even after eight hours of music-making. “Instead of spending $400 on headphones,” he suggests, “put some money aside for that vintage synth.”
Digital Audio Workstation
In terms of creative work, your choice of a digital audio workstation (DAW) might be the most important choice you make. The name sounds complicated, but a DAW is simply the software environment where all the recording and editing of your music will happen. Personal choice (Mine=PreSonus Studio One) is crucial…
There are a number of different DAWs out there. Image-Line’s FL Studio ($99-$899, depending upon the features selected) is popular with hip-hop and footwork producers, though it also has fans in EDM artists like Porter Robinson and Madeon. Steinberg’s Cubase ($99-$579) has long represented the gold standard for many drum’n’bass artists. The comparatively inexpensive Reaper ($60) is an evolving platform with a passionate user base behind it. Bitwig Studio ($399) is a fledgling tool that’s reportedly great on Linux. And then of course there’s Avid’s Pro Tools ($599, or $30 for a monthly subscription), the veteran workhorse that’s a longtime favorite for recording live instruments and bands. But the big DAW rivalry these days really comes down to Ableton Live ($99-$749) and Apple’s own Logic Pro X ($199). which is a common digital audio workstation for many power users.
“For producers working on a Mac, Logic is a natural next step after GarageBand,” says Turntable Lab’s Winans. The Apple program comes loaded with highly regarded software synthesizers and effects, but some users complain that it’s beginning to feel dated, at least compared to the competition; many of its popular software instruments haven’t been upgraded in years. Power users tend to prefer Logic for recording audio from multiple sources, and its MIDI features—that is, the connections that allow the software to communicate with hardware controllers and external devices like synthesizers and drum machines—are solid. But its learning curve is steeper than Ableton’s, and its workflow can be less intuitive as well. Ableton Live was originally introduced as a live performance tool, but it eventually developed into a full-scale DAW, and many musicians—particularly electronic music-makers—use Live as their principal composition and recording tool in the studio. Virtually every artist I surveyed praised Ableton for its quick, intuitive workflow and flexibility. Its two principal working environments—Session View and Arrangement View—facilitate different modes of working: one loop-based and jam-oriented, and the other more traditionally linear. And Ableton’s own on-board instruments and effects are nothing to sneeze at, either.
Ableton Live is the favorite DAW among artists polled for this article, though musicians stress that expertise within a program is more important than the program itself.
“For 90 percent of people new to music making, Ableton Live is really the only DAW worth bothering with,” says Fort Romeau’s Greene. “It’s not perfect, but in pragmatic terms, its pros vastly outweigh its cons.” If you’re in doubt, try out the demo versions of various programs and see how each one resonates with you. “Ultimately, you want a DAW that you know how to operate with your eyes closed,” says Michna. Visible Cloaks’ Spencer Doran agrees: “The truth is, as long as you can sink enough time into developing a good workflow, almost any DAW can give you interesting results.”
Akai’s MPK Mini offers a small keyboard, knobs, and pads in order to control the sounds going into your productions. Mouse, trackpad, keyboard—none of them make for a particularly intuitive music-making tool. Which means that you’ll want some kind of controller interface—whether a piano-style keyboard or an array of pads—in order to trigger and control sounds within your DAW. The range of options is, once again, pretty staggering. You might do just fine with the Samson Graphite M32 mini keyboard ($69). If you like knobs to twist and pads to hit, something like the Akai’s MPK Mini could get you started for $100—though if you want full-sized keys and you’re partial to playing chords, you might want to move up to something like Akai’s MPK 249 ($399), which boasts four octaves, semi-weighted keys, aftertouch, and a mess of assignable knobs, faders, and pads. All of these controllers more or less seamlessly integrate with whatever DAW you’re using, but if you want a device that functions as a three-dimensional extension of what you see onscreen, try Native Instruments’ Maschine ($599) or Ableton’s Push ($799). The Maschine is a pad-based instrument that integrates with Native Instruments’ software instruments, samplers, and effects to facilitate quick, intuitive writing, editing, and performance techniques like pattern editing, step sequencing, and sample slicing. Push takes a similar approach, with an expansive array of pads designed to mimic Ableton Live’s Clip View, and numerous built-in and freely programmable controls to give hands-on access to Live’s key features.
Here’s where the list of possibilities really becomes unlimited. Though both Ableton Live and Apple Logic Pro X come pre-loaded with an extensive range of samplers, effects, and other virtual instruments—sometimes called “soft-synths” or “VSTs”—there are plenty of downloadable a la carte sounds out there. In terms of versatility and quality alike, many inexpensive software instruments today are capable of sounds as rich and substantial as those produced by far more expensive pieces of hardware.
If you have classic sounds in mind, you might opt for a AudioRealism Bass Line 3 ($100), which emulates the sounds of a vintage Roland TB-303 bass synth, or a clone of the classic TR-808 drum machine like the D16 Nepheton ($109). At the opposite end of the soft-synth spectrum there’s Cycling ’74’s Max ($399), a visual programming language that can be used to design everything from software instruments, like these monstrous vocal sound effects, to scientific applications, like a map of the electrical currents running through the Amazon forest’s root system. Its complexities are not for the faint of heart, but its possibilities are limitless, and there’s a constantly growing library of virtual instruments created and shared by Max users. Max for Live ($199), meanwhile, offers a suite of instruments, building blocks, and lessons to be implemented directly within Ableton Live.
For many musicians, Native Instruments will be a good first stop. The Berlin company, active since 1996, is one of the giants in music software, and their Komplete suite of software instruments ($599) offers an extensive collection of synthesizers, samplers, effects, acoustic emulators, sample-based instruments, drum machines, and more. Among Komplete’s instruments are the heavyweight Massive (a favorite synth of dubstep and bass producers), the Battery drum sampler and sequencer, the Guitar Rig amp simulator, and various sample-based instruments that painstakingly recreate different types of acoustic tones. “The amount of amazing synths and samplers and sounds and effects that you get with the Komplete bundle is ridiculous,” says producer Laura Alluxe Escudé. “You could just get that and be totally set.”
Berlin’s U-He began as a one-man operation, but these days the software developer Urs Heckmann has built his boutique virtual-instrument company into a formidable operation with a growing range of products. The Zebra 2 ($199), the current version of a soft-synth that’s been around for more than a decade now, combines a variety of synthesis types with a powerful modulation engine to offer an instrument that’s powerful, surprising, and sounds great. (Composer Hans Zimmer even used it on The Dark Knight soundtrack; you can purchase his sound set and custom update to the instrument for $99.) Any Cable Everywhere ($73) and Bazille ($129) both extend modular-synthesis techniques to the virtual realm, while Diva ($179) leverages classic synthesizer design to offer amazing sound quality. For an alternate approach to modular-style synthesis, you can try the excellent, Buchla-inspired Aalto ($99) from Seattle’s Madrona Labs, which particularly excels in the creation of dynamic, evolving sounds and sequences.
For more effects, many of the musicians I surveyed swore by Valhalla DSP’s line of plugins like the Valhalla Plate classic plate reverb ($50), Valhalla Shimmer reverb ($50), and the free Valhalla Freq Echo frequency shifter; Sleigh Bells’ Derek Miller, Laura Alluxe Escudé, and Rex Riot’s Nicholas Rex Valente all recommend Soundtoys plugins, like the Echo Boy delay unit ($99)— manna for dub fanatics—and the Decapitator analog saturation modeler ($99). Finally, Berlin’s Ralf Schmidt, a former Native Instruments employee who makes music under the alias Aera, suggests keeping an eye open for the many free VSTs that are available online through sites like KVR Audio and Soundhack. He specifically recommends Ichiro Toda’s Synth1 as “the perfect beginner synthesizer to learn about making sounds.”
The wide world of hardware instruments encompasses decades’ worth of electronic gizmos—synthesizers, drum machines, sequencers, effects—not to mention all those more traditional sound makers like guitars and drums and flugelhorns, to name a select few. But when it comes to electronic gadgets, despite the allure of classics like the Roland TR-808 or Juno-106, their worldwide fame means that prices have skyrocketed in recent years; many eBay sellers are asking close to $4,000 for 808s in good condition. Fortunately, for users looking for that classic sound, there’s a robust market in modern replicas. Roland’s TR-09 is a compact version of the company’s classic 909 drum machine. Roland’s Boutique series is a line of miniature versions of the company’s most iconic machines. The TR-09 ($399) is a scaled-down replica of the TR-909 drum machine, one of the building blocks of techno. The TB-03 ($349) is heir to the TB-303, the bass synthesizer that begat acid house. And the JP-08 ($399), JX-03 ($299), and JU-06 ($299) modules recreate the legendary Jupiter-8, JX-3P, and Juno-106 synthesizers, respectively. For Kraftwerk fans, there’s even a vocoder, the VP-03 ($349), based on the VP-330. Each module, roughly the size of a paperback book, can slot into an optional, plug-and-play keyboard dock, the K-25m ($99), or be controlled by MIDI.
Korg has also been doing a brisk business in reviving various workhorses of yore. They recently brought back the ARP Odyssey, a versatile duophonic synthesizer originally released in 1972, in an effort overseen by ARP co-founder David Friend; the new model ($799) remains faithful to the original’s architecture and analog circuitry, simply using new parts and manufacturing. The MS-20 mini ($449), meanwhile, is a scaled-down version of 1978’s MS-20 that reproduces the original’s analog circuitry. Korg has even rolled out the SQ-1 step sequencer ($99), an update of the ’70s-era SQ-10 unit, which can be used to control any number of machines. Korg’s Volca series offers analog synths at budget-friendly prices and offers an even more back-to-basics sensibility—with even more appealing price tags. Volca Keys ($159) is a polyphonic analog synth with built-in loop sequencer whose simple structure makes a great first synth for novices. Volca Bass ($159) is a simple analog bass synthesizer and step sequencer that features 303-like functions. The Volca Beats ($159) combines both analog and digital synthesis into a powerful, compact drum machine and step sequencer. And further machines—the DX7-inspired Volca FM digital synthesizer, Volca Sample digital sample sequencer, and Volca Kick analog bass-drum generator (all $159 each)—offer even more creative possibilities at a nice price.
For beginners interested in going the used-gear route, start with any basic, older-model keyboard from Roland, Yamaha, Casio, or Korg. “Set your budget at $100 and bask in the goldmine that is eBay or Craigslist,” advises Michna. “Demo the synths on YouTube and look up what instruments your favorite bands used. You may find that some synths are one trick ponies, but take that pony and ride it.”
Shure’s $99 SM57 instrument microphone is a standard piece of equipment that has been around for decades. Even if you’re not planning to sing, consider investing in a decent microphone. Start with Shure’s SM57 ($99) for instruments or Shure’s SM58 ($99) for vocals. “These are studio workhorses that can be used in a variety of applications,” says TurntableLab’s Bret Winans. “They’ve been around since the 1960s are are in use in seemingly every studio in the world. This is the number one place you can really sound like you and no one else,” says Michna. “Get a mic and just start recording sounds. It could be you humming, clapping, or strumming a guitar. Chop it, loop it, pitch it, and reverse it. Then record more sounds around your house and layer those. Nobody can touch that.”
Whatever equipment you decide to use, take your time, check out what artists use accross the board & only spend the money that’s needed, not because you think it will make you great or sound like your favorite band.. Stop, Look & Listen..
Young people have fled terrestrial radio. Carmakers have focused newer models on music streaming. But will radio truly go the way of the dodo? According to a new report published by Musonomics, radio will most likely fade away in ten years. But, wait. Why?
Larry Miller, Director of New York University’s Steinhardt Music Business Program, performed the study. He admitted that he grew up “in the radio industry” and started his career as a DJ. However, Miller had to take into consideration several factors that may signal the end of the terrestrial medium should it fail to adapt. In his executive summary of the study, Miller lists eights reasons.
1. Against the internet era, AM/FM radio has lost its resilience. Digital services have endangered radio once again.
2. Precious music charts once driven by terrestrial radio like the Billboard 100 have now included digital plays.
3. Generation Z listeners (born after 1995) has become uninterested in the AM/FM medium. They prefer music streaming platforms like Spotify and Pandora.
4. Among younger music fans, radio has declined as a source of music discovery. They have increasingly turned to sites like YouTube to discover new artists and songs.
5. For using master recordings, broadcast stations don’t pay any royalties. Digital services, including streaming platforms, have become an important source of discovery and revenue.
6. Carmakers have started pushing out radio from newer model vehicles. They have begun implementing competition to the dashboard, decreasing radio listenership.
7. Smart speakers, like the Amazon Echo, don’t have radio antennas. They have also begun shaping consumer practices and preferences. Traditional broadcasters will be “left behind in this critical and growing part of the market.”
8. Radio’s rating system fails to deliver on specifics that advertisers demand. This includes “the passion a listener feels toward specifics stations.” The rating system also under-samples younger and ethnic demographic groups.
Speaking about the shift from radio to streaming, Samuel Potts, Head of Radio at Columbia Records UK, said, “Previously, in the era of the traditional customer journey, we generated discovery for 8 to 12 weeks…allowing customers to discover new music by promoting through intermediaries such as TV, radio & press)…then the purchase of new content would come afterwards. That spending pattern doesn’t generate confidence in radio as the primary promotional tool for all genres of music. Radio has not meaningfully invested in new programming or advanced digital services for smart speakers…The smart speaker train is leaving the station and it’s time for…broadcasters to get on board.”
So, what does this have to do with the death of radio in ten years? Simple. As streaming gains strength, people become increasingly dissatisfied with the terrestrial medium!
Radio just can’t compete with streaming
Larry Miller cites streaming’s growing strength in the music industry. Streaming data plays an important part “in determining which songs” radio stations play, not the other way around. Streaming now accounts for 20-30% of data that comprises the Billboard Hot 100. Sales comprise 35-45%, while airplay remains at 30-40%. Citing a 2016 RIAA study, streaming accounted for 51% of all US music industry revenue.
Terrestrial radio just can’t compete with streaming’s features
In a recent MusicWatch report, only 53% of respondents said that they felt “very satisfied” using the radio in the car. In areas where radio traditionally shined, a low 27% said that they felt satisfied with the quality of sound through the medium. 25% said that it played the best music. A dismal 13% felt satisfied with radio’s social media integration.
Younger generation of music fans have all-but-abandoned the AM/FM broadcasts
Streaming platforms like Spotify have emerged as the primary vehicle for “exposing fans to new music.” Historically, writes Miller, labels would’ve focused on promising new music exclusively on radio. Not anymore. Streaming services combine music discovery, consumption, and monetization in one place. So, major labels increasingly look away from the terrestrial medium and towards streaming platforms to generate revenue.
Car companies have started to abandon the terrestrial medium
Looking at newer vehicles, Miller notes that carmakers have started to “relegate” radio from the center of the dashboard. Indeed, for every manufacturer, in-car media screens have placed easier access to streaming platforms like Spotify, Pandora, and iTunes.
Why did you buy a smart speaker? To listen to better music than on the radio
According to Edison Research, Americans 12 and up now own a smart speaker in their home, including Amazon Alexa and Google Home. 70% of owners said that they now listen to more audio since they purchased their smart speaker. So why do more Americans choose to purchase smart speakers? The answer may surprise you. 62% of those surveyed said that they purchased a smart speaker to “hear better music than on AM/FM radio.” Only 38% said that they still continue to listen to music through the medium.
Miller continues citing more reasons why the terrestrial medium will fade out. You can check out the complete report here. http://musonomics.com/musonomics_report_paradigm_shift_why_radio_must_adapt_to_the_rise_of_digital_08.29.2017.pdf