by Lorraine Kay
Every year thousands of musicians and people working in the music industry gather in Anaheim, California for The National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) Show. This year the attendance was reportedly up three percent from last year with 90,114 registered attendees, representing a new attendance record for the 109 year old show. It was also reported that the international registration experienced a two percent increase from last year to 10,400. The association also reported another sign of economic recovery in this industry was 1147 exhibitors at this year’s show, including 247 new exhibitors.
According to NAMM President and CEO Joe Lamond, “The world’s brightest minds and most innovative music companies came together in Anaheim for four amazing days of commerce, networking and learning. After meeting with NAMM Members from around the world, I am continually impressed and amazed at the resolve and optimism our industry has shown these past years and I believe that we are now on a path of recovery and future growth as more people of all ages and talent levels discover the fun and proven benefits of playing music.”
NAMM is the not-for-profit association that unifies, leads and strengthens the $17 billion global musical instruments and products industry. NAMM’s activities and programs are designed to promote music making to people of all ages. NAMM is comprised of more than 9,000 member companies.
The NAMM Show is one of the largest music products trade shows in the world. Held every January in Anaheim, California, USA the show brings together all facets of the music products industry to reveal new musical instruments/products and ideas to help music products retailers and manufacturers become more successful. Not only the largest but the oldest tradeshow of its kind, the NAMM Show continues to offer without a doubt the most comprehensive opportunity for the manufacturing members of this industry to introduce its newest products and services and allow other professionals to see close up and personal the newest and greatest products. Closed to the public, the show demonstrates to the retail branch of the music industry annually the latest and greatest items available for its customers and this year was no different. Known for its celebrity attendees and performances, as well as a multitude of parties and showcases from NAMM and its exhibitors, for attendees it is four days of “like being at Disneyland”, which by the way is geographically across the street from the show.
Vendor spaces with elaborate displays, promotional giveaways and other attractions are prepared with sales teams equipped with personalized pens, order blanks and brochures ready to take orders from retail store managers to stock inventories for the upcoming year. But it is more than that. The battle to get those retail managers to their display means a kind of war. The best and most successful manufacturers prepare by offering free stuff and demonstrations or mini-concerts by major star musicians and autograph signings. Walking through the show at times is like sailing through the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland as musicians and sales teams take aim at the passing potential customers in the form of simultaneous competing demonstrations. Stevie Wonder was jamming on the latest Dave Smith’s Synthesizers keyboard while another awDisneyland, esome keyboardist jammed on a Hammond organ across the aisle. Impressive, but competing drummers are another matter. If you can imagine several drummers performing drum solos simultaneously from opposing drum manufacturers, thunderously beating loudly and rhythmically. Then there are the guitars, just as shredding guitarists demonstrate impressive new guitars, each seemingly trying to be the loudest and most impressive, all at the same time. But it is not all mega decibel demonstrations, Some booths, like Albion Amps, had its top engineers like Steve Grindrod, on hand to talk about the technology and answer questions, about the products. Other notable engineer/designers available to discuss technology were Dave Smith, Roger Linn, Paul Schreiber, Eric Persing and Don Buchla just to name a few.
The main focus of the show, of course, was the instruments, instruments and more instruments. Every kind of instrument was represented. Much of the show was about education. From school band instruments and instruction books to software applications for teaching. In addition, this year, the show highlighted many new features, exhibits and learning pavilions, offering NAMM members and music product professionals business tips and insight for success in today’s marketplace. Themed “Take It to ’11,” this year’s NAMM Show added a new App and Gaming Pavilion, welcoming this growing market of high-tech music-making product companies to the show for the first time.
iPad and iPod
So, the big star this year throughout the show was the iPad. Many companies, new and established are jumping on the iPad and iPod technology with a wide variety of apps. The possibilities were endless. The connectivity and applications were scattered throughout the show as one manufacturer after another creatively found ways to use the technology to enhance musician’s performances or recordings or to make the business side of the industry a little easier.
“At NAMM we unveiled the trumpet app and it’s been great,” said Tom Scharfeld, president and founder of Spoonjack, a musical app developer. “In general I think this is the place to be for music. Our products are apps and they are sold through the Apple app store so people might ask why would we be here. Well, it’s because this is where music is. Everyone in this room is going to have some sort of interest in what we’re doing. And if they like it they’ll tell their friends. Retailers in particular. They’re working with customers. They’re building relationships. They’re interested in showing them new things. Our products are ultra entry-level instruments. Instead of going off and buying a $1,000 trombone or a $2,000 trumpet they can start off on a three or four dollar trumpet on their phone and learn about how things are structured—the harmonics—and hopefully migrate to the real thing.”
“It’s been great,” said James Taylor, director of global business at Artist Works, an online learning platform for online music schools and academies. “As the weekend went on a lot more education providers and teachers were coming to see what we were doing. As we’re entering a new phase in teaching using iPads and tablets, our product is coming onto the market at the right time.”
One extreme example of using the iPad was demonstrated by Eric Persing of Spectrasonics as he performed on the fly a one man performance on the stunning OMG-1, Persing’s one of a kind custom hardware synthesizer he created integrating the worlds of analog synthesis, computers, software synthesis and the latest multi-touch surfaces into one extraordinary instrument. The OMG-1 was designed by Persing as a live performance instrument and is not a commercial product — it’s truly one-of-a-kind. The state of the art dual manual OMG-1 combines a Moog Little Phatty® analog synthesizer, Spectrasonics’ flagship Omnisphere® software synthesizer, a powerful internal Apple Mac Mini computer, dual Apple iPads®, dual iPods®, and Spectrasonics’ brand-new Omni TR™ iPad app — all integrated into a beautiful, hand-crafted curly maple cabinet created by American artisan Daniel Auon.
Daughter of renowned synthesizer creator Dr. Bob Moog, Michelle Moog-Koussa who was available for comment added, “The Bob Moog Foundation is grateful to Eric Persing for creating and sharing this one-of-a-kind innovative instrument. The foundation’s mission is to ignite creativity at the intersection of music, science, history and innovation. It is fitting that Eric’s OMG-1 does just that. His instrument represents the contemporary convergence of analog and digital, hardware and software. I think Bob would applaud Eric’s efforts to transcend boundaries in order to create an instrument with new and unique capabilities.”
The OMG-1 workstation was and will not be for sale. It is a one-time creation that will be given away as first prize in a contest that Persing will be announcing in March.
The new electronic and technological advancements were everywhere. MOOG, The granddaddy manufacturer of electronic keyboards of course was on hand with several new products.
The Little Phatty and the SLIM Phatty, The Most Portable Moog Synths were demonstrated throughout the booth. Several were set-up for hands-on exploration by show attendees.
The Slim Phatty’s 100% analog signal path, intuitive user interface, rugged construction and rich MIDI, USB and Control Voltage functionality make it a must-have for producers, touring musicians and DJs. Available for the Slim Phatty and coming soon for the Little Phatty with OS v3.0, this free download makes experimenting with alternate scales a breeze. Tuning data is easily editable and is displayed as a ratio, frequency and in cents. Scala files (www.huygens-fokker.org/scala) can be imported and exported for use with other tuning software. An unlimited number of tunings can be saved on your computer and the synthesizer’s hardware can store up to thirty-two different tunings. For traveling, the Little Phatty and Slim Phatty’s convenient size and universal power supplies make them ideal travel partners.
Minimoog Voyager XL was designed in celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Minimoog. The Minimoog Voyager XL is a sonic powerhouse that pays homage to important milestones in the Moog synthesizer legacy. It starts with the heart of a Minimoog Model D. Fat oscillators and warm Moog filters give it that unmistakable Moog sound. From the current Voyager lineage, the XL inherits a 100% analog signal path with stable oscillators, patch storage, touch surface, pot mapping and extensive MIDI control functionality. To all this, add a ribbon controller and 61 note keyboard and you have a monster analog monosynth built on a 40 year legacy of sonic exploration.
Also placed in a strategic place of honor was the return of the Moog Taurus Bass Pedal, the ultimate bass machine. Bass connoisseurs worldwide made this instrument possible by pre-ordering it sight-unseen. Now the wait is over. The new Moog Taurus 3 Bass Pedals faithfully recreates the sound of the legendary Taurus I. Beginning Moog started with an in-depth analysis of the original circuitry, and then added modern amenities like MIDI and USB.
Also sharing the booth was Dr. Bob Moog’s daughter Michelle Moog-Koussa representing the Bob Moog Foundation. The Bob Moog Foundation is a non-profit organization created upon Bob’s passing in August 2005. After witnessing the outpouring of thousands of testimonials from people around the world who had been touched by Bob’s work, Bob’s family and colleagues established the foundation to carry on his legacy.
The Foundation officially launched a year later in August 2006, and is based in Asheville, North Carolina. After volunteering her time as director for over a year, Michelle Moog-Koussa, Bob’s third daughter became the full-time executive director in February of 2007. Over the course of the past three years, Michelle, the Board, and a team of dedicated volunteers have been leading the foundation to fulfill their goals of creating a Moogseum, preserving Bob’s archive and bringing electronic music into the schools as a vehicle to teach children about science, music and innovation.
DAVE SMITH INSTRUMENTS
Dave Smith Instruments’ the Tempest created by both Dave Smith and Roger Linn is a first for the longtime friends. A new analog drum machine, the Tempest is a collaboration between the two designers… In the past the two have consulted with each other on past projects but the Tempest marks the first time a product will carry both the Dave Smith Instruments and Roger Linn Design logos. “If you’re going to make a drum machine, who better to have in your corner than Roger Linn?” said Smith, referring to Linn’s legacy as inventor of the digital drum machine. Both designers, Smith and Linn were on hand to answer questions about the new product.
Though Smith is also responsible for some fine drum machines—most notably Sequential’s DrumTraks and Studio 440 —Tempest is his first to utilize analog synthesis to generate the sounds. “We’ve designed a very flexible new synth voice for Tempest,” said Smith. Linn added, “The design of Tempest reflects a rethinking of what a drum machine needs to be in the current era. It’s not so much a drum machine as a new musical performance instrument for the creation, manipulation, and arrangement of beat-oriented music, with an intuitive and efficient use of human gestures.”
Also new this year is the Evolver Keyboard PE. The Potentiometer Edition of the Poly Evolver Keyboard is DSI’s flagship synthesizer, a nearly-knob-per-function knockout that sounds unlike any other synth out there—except another Evolver, of course! Don’t like a high-end hardware synth that requires wading through endless menus to program? Not an issue with the Poly Evolver’s 78 knobs—60 of them potentiometers—and 58 buttons, including a keypad for direct access of programs.
An analog/digital hybrid, the four-voice Poly Evolver features four oscillators per voice—two analog and two digital—in a unique stereo voice architecture with a real Curtis analog low-pass filter per channel. The digital processing does not simply add effects at the end of the signal chain, but is tightly integrated with the analog electronics for tuned feedback, distortion, bit crushing, and synced delays. It can also process external audio and has separate stereo outputs for each voice.
The Poly Evolver is capable of producing sounds ranging from classic analog to more brash and edgy digital sounds. It is also multitimbral, with the ability to play up to four parts simultaneously through separate stereo outputs. And it can process external audio.
The Potentiometer Edition of the Evolver Keyboard is now shipping. If you’re an owner of a standard Evolver Keyboard, conversions are available at www.davesmithinstruments.com.
For nearly half a century, Korg has set the standard for technical innovation, leadership, and superior sound. Korg has created entire categories of musical products, and has produced some of the top-selling synthesizers and keyboard instruments ever; the instruments favored by musicians around the globe. Today, in 2011, Korg redefines and reimagines the music workstation, revolutionizing the capabilities of the hardware instrument and exceeding the demands of the modern player: introducing the KRONOS Music Workstation.
With nine sound engines, each offering a unique sound-creation technology, 16-part Combis allowing all engines to function together in perfect harmony; and Dynamic Voice Allocation keeping the polyphony high KRONOS sets a new standard. It is available with 61, 73 or 88 keys. The 73 and 88 key models feature Korg’s finest RH3 Graded Hammer Action. The 61 key model borrows the responsive synth action from the Korg M3-61. This new workstation has a comprehensive interface, based around a new large 8” TFT TouchView™ display and uses Virtual Memory Technology (VMT), aided by a fast SSD (Solid State Disk) providing high polyphony and massive, ultra-long, and unlooped samples; offering unheard of performance from a hardware instrument
Offering Smooth Sound Transition: this often-requested feature allows held or sustained notes to keep sounding when changing sounds or modes. There is also a Set List mode: to Organize the Programs, Combis, and Songs you need to perform your set in a single, easy-to-select screen – including performance notes!
You can use up to 16 premium-quality effects at once; individual effects rival dedicated units of 12 Insert effects, 2 Master effects, and 2 Total effects. There is an On-board sequencer that offers 16 MIDI tracks + 16 audio tracks (24-bit, 48kHz recording quality). It has an Open Sampling System, with Instant sampling and resampling from any mode: Program, Combination or Sequencer.
The Sophisticated KARMA® technology generates infinitely variable performance-driven phrases, musical effects, and backing tracks to catalyze your creativity. There is also and Expanded Drum Track for play-along grooves and inspiration and Signature sounds created with guidance from world class musicians
Also of interest at KORG was the KORG Pa3X, Professional Arranger Workstation and the Micro Piano. The Korg Pa Series has a new flagship: the Pa3X, the most realistic, powerful, and easy-to-use arranger workstation ever produced. Once again, Korg has raised the standard of excellence by offering new, richer, and more realistic sounds; creating amazing new features, and offering a fresh – yet elegant – design.
The microPiano digital Piano is charming, conveniently sized, and designed like a grand piano – complete with an opening lid! Small in size, the microPIANO features our expressive 61-key Natural Touch mini-keyboard, carefully designed to provide true playability. The bold, smooth grand piano sound uses the same stereo samples as Korg’s flagship digital pianos, generating full-bodied tones with depth and character. With Built-in speakers and battery power it offers “play anywhere” performance.
KORG’s products were not limited to keyboards, also sharing the spotlight were the PANDORA mini PERSONAL MULTI EFFECT PROCESSOR, an Ultra-compact pocket-size multi-effect designed for both guitar and bass and the KAOSS PAD QUADDynamic Effects Processor Control with multiple effects in realtime using the intuitive Kaoss X-Y touchpad and the nanoSERIES2 Slim-line USB-MIDI Controllers with three compact and convenient USB-MIDI controller models offering serious features for the computer-based musician.
NUMARK presented products from each of its brands, Numark, Alesis and Akai.
Alesis Micron SC was the star of this vendor. With virtually limitless sonic palette, The micron is an eight-voice analog-modeling synthesizer. Despite its small size, it has an impressive big micron sound. The micron contains a powerful sequencing section with phrase, step, and drum sequencing, an arpeggiator, and stereo effects. It has two multi-mode filters, three envelope generators, and two LFOs: the full spectrum of synthesis components for shaping and creating sonorities and textures. For stage and studio-ready quality, the micron has 24-bit audio outputs and inputs via balanced connections.
Each of the micron’s voices contains two LFOs, each of which offers rate, depth, shape, and tempo sync; and three envelopes: Amp Envelope, Filter Envelope, and Pitch/Modulation Envelope. The micron gives you a full complement of stereo effects and powerful synthesis capabilities, great sound, and excellent portability. On stage or in the studio, the micron is the perfect tool for creating exactly the sound you need.
Alesis also offered the MultiMix 16 USB FX is a live and recording mixer with built-in effects that doubles as a computer recording interface so you can mix, record, or do both at the same time. Whether you are mixing a band or sub-mixing a group of inputs such as a drum set, the MultiMix 16 USB FX is easy to use, rugged, and packed with features. Offering microphone inputs with phantom power, guitar-direct inputs, and line-level inputs for connecting everything else, plus a selection of stage-ready effects, the MultiMix 16 USB FX delivers clean audio to your PA and recording systems.
The MultiMix 16 USB FX contains a complete USB recording interface. Musicians and engineers can plug the MultiMix 16 USB FX’s class-compliant USB connection into their Mac or PC without installing any software drivers and enjoy a digital-direct stereo connection with virtually any audio software application. The MultiMix 16 USB FX enables bidirectional stereo signal, so musicians can record the stereo Main output into their computer and listen back using the mixer as an interface from software to headphones and monitoring loudspeakers.
The Alesis QX49 USB/MIDI Extended Keyboard Controller receives power while also transmitting MIDI data to your Mac or PC software or hardware device of choice through standard USB connection, Punch out a drumbeat on great-feeling pads, open up a filter with smooth, tight knobs, or adjust volume and playback of sequencing software with long faders and snappy buttons. QX49’s immense parameter control and velocity-sensitive keyboard get your hands off of the mouse and into the action for a more efficient, visceral music-making experience.
With a 49-note keyboard, the QX49’s pitch range is perfect for performing with software instruments and samplers while still remaining highly portable. Furthermore, the Q49 provides keyboard players with a full complement of controls including pitch and modulation wheels, octave up/down buttons and the ability to send program changes directly from the keys. The QX49’s keyboard can even be split into sections to control multiple instruments at once!
The QX49’s array of assignable controls works with virtually all music software and MIDI hardware devices. Whether you’re looking to fire drum samples, tweak a software synthesizer or adjust individual tracks in a mix, the QX49’s extensive layout ensures appropriate feel and proper response with its eight sliders and rotary knobs, four backlit drum pads and dedicated transport controls.
The compact controller features USB-MIDI and traditional MIDI jacks for easy connection to Mac, PC and MIDI hardware. The QX49 also has two traditional MIDI jacks: one for sending MIDI data directly from the keyboard and the other for routing MIDI data from a connected computer. When not using a computer, the QX49 can also be powered using a wall power adaptor (sold separately) to perform and control MIDI hardware. A footswitch input is also included on the back panel.
The QX49 comes with a copy of Ableton Live Lite Alesis Edition software for performing, recording, and sequencing music right out of the box. The QX49 is also the perfect choice for controlling hardware MIDI devices. Its compact size and portability make it ideal for fitting into existing rigs and then hitting the road. Place it a tier above an existing workstation keyboard and utilize QX49’s streamlined layout to maximize your sound and performance options.
AKAI’s SynthStation49 is the most advanced, intuitive music controller designed specifically for use with the iPad and the first true iPad performance tool for musicians. Working seamlessly with Akai Professional’s heralded SynthStation software, SynthStation49 provides unparalleled music creation capabilities, including direct in-app MIDI recording from its velocity-sensitive keyboard, nine MPC-style drum pads and array of transport controls. In addition to its integration with the SynthStation app, SynthStation49 is also completely iOS CoreMIDI compatible, making it instantly compatible with dozens of music apps already in the App Store and hundreds more on the way.
Dock, power and position the iPad perfectly using the adjustable-angled cradle, or establish commanding control over your favorite computer software using SynthStation49‘s USB/MIDI port. Professional ¼” outputs and extreme portability ensure you’ll be able to take your sequences straight to the stage at a moment’s notice.
SynthStation49 is the only full-featured, professional keyboard controller allowing direct MIDI performance recording onto an iPad. Bridging Akai Professional’s popular MPK controllers with the previously released SynthStation25, SynthStation49 provides immense software control with forty-nine, full-size velocity-sensitive keys, nine backlit MPC-style drum pads and full transport buttons. An adjustable-angled dock for iPad allows the user to easily slide their tablet into the SynthStation49’s cradle and position the screen to their preference.
SynthStation49’s keyboard, pitch/modulation wheels and sustain pedal input provide great feel and the essential controls for musicians and producers to compose, record and perform. The nine drum pads of SynthStation49 give users immediate, intuitive beat-creation capabilities over the 50 classic and modern kits available within the SynthStation software. Program, Sequence, Song select and Transport buttons also provide quick navigation to the SynthStation App’s most used components for a seamless, efficient workflow.
SynthStation49 also contains a stereo pair of professional ¼” TRS outputs with volume knob for easy connecting to other pro audio equipment on stage or in the studio. A headphone output also lets users practice and compose in private. The SynthStation49’s USB port can be connected directly to a Mac or PC computer to receive power in addition to transmitting MIDI to and from music software – a great way to turn the SynthStation App or other CoreMIDI compatible App into a sound module. You can even use SynthStation49 as a traditional USB MIDI controller with your computer – no iPad required!
AkaiConnect SDK allows third-party developers to take advantage of all the professional controls and capabilities of Akai Pro’s SynthStation49 keyboard controller and incorporate support for those controls within their iPad applications. Software developers interested in creating programs compatible with SynthStation49 can submit an application now at SynthStationApp.com.
Yamaha took over several ballrooms of the Marriott Hotel had many new products to demonstrate throughout the day. Everything included pianos, keyboards, guitars, saxophone and other orchestral instruments, sound reinforcement equipment, drums and more. Several artists, including Erick Norlander of Asia were on hand to play the instruments and answer questions.
YAMAHA’s MOTIF XF and XS
In music creation, the MOTIF not only offers its own music creation capabilities, it also offers a system for integrating those capabilities with a variety of software applications. And now Yamaha offers two new models of the Motif, The next generation XF builds on the decade-long heritage of MOTIF, and provides Flash memory expansion capabilities that will set a new standard for keyboard workstations for years to come. And the MOTIF XS has absolutely everything you need to make professional quality music.
The XF with 741MB of internal Wave ROM includes incredibly realistic pianos and acoustic instruments, vintage synths and the hip hop sounds that all of today’s top producers are using. A sophisticated 8-element synth architecture with XSpanded articulation and 18 different filter types let you shape your sound anyway you want, and the 8 front panel knobs and sliders make it easy to do even in real time. 1664 Voices and 97 Drum Kits put more sounds at your fingertips than ever before.
With the new Yamaha MOTIF XS, inspiration is just a key press away. High-quality sounds to inspire you, intelligent arpeggiators to fuel your creativity, recording features to capture every idea, built-in sampling to create full audio/MIDI arrangements, rhythmic Patterns to compose with, studio-style mixing controls and versatile effect processing to master your final productions…
Roland, like Yamaha, took over an entire wing of the convention center for its exhibit featuring keyboards, drums and sound equipment. Roland raised the stage-piano bar with the RD-700NX. Today, the world-famous SuperNATURAL sound and expression of the flagship RD is available at a lighter weight and more affordable price … introducing the RD-300NX! This state-of-the-art stage piano boasts an advanced SuperNATURAL Piano sound engine, E. Piano sounds based on SuperNATURAL technology, a newly developed Ivory Feel-G keyboard with Escapement, a unique Sound Focus feature, and more.
Another star of the Roland exhibit was the debut of the AX Synth in a new premium color: AX-Synth Black Sparkle! Gorgeous glass-particle UV finish that reacts to various lighting conditions. The stylish AX-Synth represents Roland’s new generation of remote keyboards, but for the first time, this one has a sound generator onboard. Unlike earlier models, It is self-contained and equipped with powerful, solo-oriented sounds from Roland’s latest, greatest synths. It also has a Ribbon controller, D Beam, modulation bar, knobs, and easy to see display for stage. It is USB MIDI for easy connection to PC and has a Dedicated V-LINK button for video/visual control.
Analog Haven had such notable designers as Paul Schreiber of Synthesis Technology on hand to demonstrate the MOTM Analog Modular synthesizer and his latest creation the MOTM-730 VC Pulse Divider of which Analog have has exclusive distribution. Recording artist Robert Rich was also on hand to demonstrate the MOTM.
The MOTM-730 is a PIC microprocessor-based digital module that takes an input signal and generates lower frequency square waves at multiples of the input frequency. It is a “big brother” to the MOTM-120 Sub-Octave Mux (in divide mode): the ‘120 divides by the multiples 2, 4, 8 and 16. The MOTM-730 can generate multiples from 1 to 33, as well as ‘half’ multiples (1.5 to 16.5). There is also an 8-step, positive-going sawtooth wave that has 3 user-selectable step intervals.
Of course, guitars were everywhere. Everything from the most simple acoustics Dreadnought models to the most extreme electronic models, elaborately decorated with intricate airbrush designs or inlaid with precious gems. Each manufacturer had its prize signature guitar on display with lines of autograph seekers wrapped around the booth to get that prized autograph of a favorite recording artist.
The list of demonstrations and autograph signings everyday included iconic rock and roll guitarists like Leslie West of Mountain, at Dean guitars signing autographs and promoting his latest signature guitar along with Michael Schenker and Uli Jon Roth and over a dozen other notable musicians.
Gibson guitars had Jackson Browne on hand to demo his new signature guitar and talk to show attendees. “This is a great day for me,” said Browne. “I have been trying to make acoustic guitars loud since I first started playing with a band. So go back 35 years, but most important in those 30 years I figured out what I want. First time I had someone to build a guitar for me and he asked me what I wanted and I figured out that I didn’t know what I wanted. A lot of guitars sound good to me. I liked a lot of different guitars. After playing on stage and playing a lot of different situations I began to realize the various qualities that I liked, Guitars have to be loud. They had to project. They have to have a lot of bottom. I play really simple accompaniment but if I play light it still has to be loud. It has got to be rich and light it can’t just be… But if you want it to be very light, see the problem is, this gets into the pickup, getting Gibson inspired to put this particular pickup in the factory in their guitar has been a real personal triumph for me, because I know how to get these guitars to sound – I mean every guitar can be made to sound good. That’s why when I play solo acoustic – I might have a dozen guitars on stage. And people will say, what do you need all the guitars for – well they are in different tunings and they all sound good for something. There are very few guitars that sound good for everything. While you want a guitar that is versatile and can do any number of things, I think it is a good idea to tune different ways.”
“I just want to thank Gibson for making this guitar. This is my favorite guitar. I’m playing light strings and it’s a meaty sound to it.”
Distinguished by a red spruce top and sustainably—farmed English walnut back and sides, the Jackson Browne Signature model was inspired by Gibson’s legendary 1930s-era Roy Smeck model—several of which are among Browne’s own prized collection of vintage Gibsons—known for its big tone, pure traditional acoustic sound, and flawless projection during concert performance. Responsive and powerful, the “Jackson Browne” has a wide neck, deep round shoulders, and the scale of a classical guitar, with 12 frets to the body. It is as much a fully modern instrument as a vital link to Gibson’s heritage, with innovations including a sophisticated pickup offering unparalleled sound reproduction when amplified, and exceptional gain before feedback capability.
Drum manufactures also had their demonstrations throughout the day and autograph signings. Ludwig tapped into the new iPad craze with as they iintroduced the Ludwig Metronome App, Ludwig, for iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad! Allowing musicians to keep time in multiple speeds and signatures drummers can use the TAP feature to find their own meter, and choose historic Ludwig wraps as wall paper. Ludwig announced that it can be downloaded FREE now at the iTunes App Store!
As always the 2011 show was studded with lots of music artists wandering through the show – checking out the latest and greatest gear and in the booths performing demonstrations of the newest gear and equippment on behalf of the manufacturers. Some just hung around and visited with fans, taking pictures and signing autographs. And then there were some artists, who had their own booth to promote their newest product.
One gracious performing icon was Victor Wooten, who redefines the word “musician.” Regarded as one of the most influential bassists since Jaco Pastorius, Wooten appeared at the Samson booth to play a little bit and talk about the products from the companies that endorse him. He also seemed to enjoy himself and linger to talk with fans and take pictures and sign autographs.
Wooten is known for his solo recordings and tours, and as a member of the GRAMMY-winning supergroup, Béla Fleck & The Flecktones. He is a brilliant technician and innovator on the bass guitar, as well as a talented composer, arranger, producer, vocalist and multi-instrumentalist.
Besides supporting the company that endorses him, Samson and its three subsidiary companies, Samson, Zoom and Hartke, Wooten was there to promote his latest album release, which is a re-release of his first complete solo bass album 15 years ago, “A Show of Hands”. “It is still my best selling record today. So here we are 15 years later and I am going to re-release it to the public. It is a re-mastered version so it sounds bigger and better, plus I added three bonus tracks. So I am really excited about that. When I first recorded “A Show of Hands” I thought I would be recording another solo bass record in ten years. But it is 15 years later and I found out there was no need to do another one. So I am re-releasing this one. And even more exciting is that I am doing it on my own record label. Vix Records. So with the help of my friends I can have more control of all the things that I produce.
Wooten also talked about his bass and nature camps based near Nashville, Tennessee. ”We are in the twelfth year of running the camps. We call it a music and nature camp for bass, because to me nature is a very, very important part of whatever we do. But I don’t think most people realize it. So Instead we lock ourselves in the woodshed and close ourselves off from nature in order to get good at anything. But I just make nature the classroom. And it seems to have a profound effect on people.
Paraphrasing him, Wooten’s approach to playing music combines a simple philosophy of getting back to nature and tapping into one’s own soul and spirit and unleashing the musician within. “I don’t want people to say it exactly like me. You got to mold it so that it fits you. And if it helps you to produce something beautiful, perfect. Most of us are concerned about playing correctly or playing right, where a child just plays. There is no right or wrong to it, they just play. So for us adults we have to relearn how to do what is natural to a child.”
The best place to start is www.victorwooten.com Vixrecords.com to find out about the record. You can go to bassnaturecamp.com to find out all about the camp that I’m running.Wootenwoods.com is a new location that is like a musical retreat center. And it is where I host all my camps. A little bit west of Nashville Tenn.
ALAN PARSONS ASSR
Alan Parsons of the Alan Parson Project was available at his own booth to visit with fans, taking photos and signing autographs and to talk about and to promote his latest product, the groundbreaking video series on music production. An educational DVD Alan Parsons’ Art & Science of Sound Recording is about the recording business, presented by multi-platinum producer, engineer, and artist Parsons, teaching on the most elementary level each aspect of recording in the simplest terms, breaking down everything from microphones, to the most powerful recording systems. It is simply a top-to-toe, soup-to-nuts examination of the sound recording process. The program covers everything from dealing with room acoustics to creating timed delays. From demo loop to iTunes.
Filmed in HD, the project comprises more than ten hours of original video material broken down into 24 sections. Many sections feature interviews with renown engineers and musicans. The DVD Boxed set contains 3 DVDs and features all of the program material or it can be downloaded or streamed off the internet. It can also be purchased in Individual Sections, where you can purchase Sections individually either for download or streaming (one-time-only) view. If you are a school or college you can purchase a special Education License that gives multiple students access to the program material online, plus tutor/director access to student scores on the Quizzes.
BAND FROM TV
Saturday night had a special treat for attendees. NAMM is a non-profit organization and this concert was performed by a band that is all about giving back as well. Although parties and concerts were ongoing all weekend until all hours of the night and in some cases, morning, Saturday NAMM hosted a special concert featuring Band From TV performing at the NAMM Show’s first annual All-Star Celebrity Jam.
The evening’s concert featured actors and reality stars who aren’t usually known for their musical talents along with a few surprises. BAND FROM TV performed a variety of cover tunes and rock n’ roll classics. The Band From TV lineup includes a powerhouse of well-known and acclaimed actors. Members who performed at NAMM’s All Star Celebrity Jam included the band’s founder drummer Greg Grunberg of Heroes and NBC’s upcoming love anthology, Love Bites. Jesse Spencer (violin) and currently starring on House; Bob Guiney (vocals), who appeared on The Bachelor and is now the daily host of GSN: Live; Adrian Pasdar (guitar), from Heroes and Desperate Housewives; keyboard/vocalist Scott Grimes from American Dad, ER, and most recently, Robin Hood.
Rounding out the band are accomplished musicians Chris Kelley (Music Director), Barry Sarna (Eagles), David Leach (Ben Harper), Chris Mostert (Eagles) and child-star turned bass player Brad Savage. ‘Band From TV’ is all about giving, with the majority of the money raised from gigs and the band’s CD/DVD “Hoggin’ All the Covers” being donated back to help the charities in their endeavors. “We just do it for fun. We don’t charge anything. Sometimes these concerts are fundraisers and all the money goes to charities, which sometimes has been as much as a $100,000,” said bassist Brad Savage.
As the show wound-down Sunday there were still enough stars and fun everywhere in the building. We spotted quite a few stars over the four days, some doing demonstrations, some signing autographs and somejust hanging out. We got to spend a brief time with some, including Billy Sherwood of Yes and Asia, Ryo Okumoto of Spock’s Beard and Asia, Erik Norlander of Asia and Rocket Scientists, Peter Tork of the Monkeys, Robert Rich, Stevie Wonder, Alan Parsons, Leslie West, Michael Schenker, Alan White, John Payne of Asia and many others. But even though the stars are fun, the show is about the products and getting them to the consumers. It is about information and education, and about another year of making music.
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By Lorraine Kay
Recently Larry Fast spoke with us about his incredible music career. Most people know about his work with Synergy and Peter Gabriel, but that is just a small part of the contributions he has made to the music industry.
Q. You had a most incredible music and electronics career. Most people know who you are and your track record. I was hoping to hit on some things that are more current. What are you doing now?
A. Some of the more current projects have been in Europe and Japan to a large extent. There have been a few online things. Not having a current Synergy release, that is generally when you get the burst of work.
Q. What about Synergy. Are you going to do another Synergy album? Do you miss doing synergy?
A. Yes, I certainly intend to do more. I am always doing things. I am working and composing right now, but it is for broadcasting media. I’m doing a whole lot of stuff for Tribune Broadcasting for their TV stations. For me the creative process is a little bit different because it’s tailored more like a combination of film scoring and working on miniatures sometimes because they are only 30 second pieces, but many of them, sometimes 50 or 60 of them. So it’s a little different approach but it is still the same things that I enjoy about doing the Synergy records – the process, the creative process and as much as I enjoy working with the technology.
It’s not that different from my vantage point. I’m in the same studio with a lot of the same equipment. It’s just that the end product is a little bit different, which is good because it keeps it from being stagnant on my part. And the end presentation is different. It’s not going to a CD or a final LP or some commodity that is going to be bought in and of itself. It becomes part of something else. So my vantage point is just a little different on it.
I have become so much busier in that arena over the last 10 to 15 years. And it has been, in a way sort of fortunate, because the record industry itself as we all know has collapsed in on itself. So the underlying – I hate to bring economics and business things to it – but the fundamentals of how a record is financed, is not just the recording of it, but the publicity, the distribution, the making of a product has changed.
I hate using that word product, but that is what the record industry uses, they never talk about what a wonderful piece of artistic creation they have to sell. They always talk about “do we have product from this artist?” Well that whole business model is just altered irreparably, irretrievably from where it was when I was doing the early Synergy albums going back over 30 years. And so to fit into this other model, Synergy, as a production company is needs to be viable so that I can continue to do creative music on its own for music‘s sake when I feel like I want to do it, which is something hard to achieve these days.
In the old days the record company was essentially your patron, and your bank. That’s not there anymore so something else has to move into its place. As I’ve gotten busier in commercial media that’s filled the economic gap. It still gives me the same freedom that I had to create Synergy albums when I was signed to a label.
The unfortunate thing, in a sense, is that there are not enough hours in the day. I’m either doing this other thing that I find artistically satisfying but it doesn’t bring Synergy music to a record buying public – what’s left of it, because I am so busy doing the other thing. I’m either creating the underlying environment where I could do a Synergy record, but I don’t have enough time to do one, or if I don’t do that then we’d have enough time to do another Synergy record or two or three, but there wouldn’t be any underlying economic basis to make it possible. So it is a catch-22.
Q. What is your preference? If you could do anything you wanted.
A. I am also involved in audio design engineering and doing some development on electronic things having to do with the hearing disabled. But that’s very much an electrical engineering approach; mechanical and manufacturing design. I devote a small part of each year to doing that – up to a couple of months.
The cool thing about that is I love doing it. I mean that’s what I loved about synthesizers initially. I loved getting my hands on the hardware. Back in the days of the Moog – really diving in there and getting the soldering iron out, drawing the circuit diagram and modifying a module or coming up with something entirely new. I find that just as creative as creating music. Maybe I have attention deficit disorder or something. Whatever I am doing – if I’m doing – I really don’t think I have a true attention deficit disorder, but I get to a point where I am antsy to do something else. So if I’ve been doing electronic design where there is really no music involved, then I can’t wait to get back to do something music and creative.
And then there are the sub-sets of that – I might be working on recording somebody’s album or it might be writing things on my own and it might be for commercial entity. But somewhere in the course of that project and process I’ll find myself getting antsy going, “Boy! I’d really like to design a circuit that does such and such.” And I’m lucky in that I am not working in a kind of job where I am doing something over and over and over and over for decades.
There’s always something a little different. It’s always a little finite. An album doesn’t’ take forever – or a broadcast media project. In fact sometimes those are extraordinarily pressured and over quickly – just days or weeks. I know there is always something new and interesting around the next corner that I am going to enjoy and do that for a while and just about the point where I might be getting bored with it I will be able to do something else. I’m kind of at the supreme opposite. I like doing almost everything. I just like the change, I think, to get some variety to it.
Q. If you were to describe yourself, do you see yourself more of an engineer or a musician?
A. I think more of a composer, creative musician type. But with the underlying skills for the instrument building and hardware. So I’ve got heroes who are composers, you know, wonderful people whether it’s classical composers or more modern composers, or people who are my contemporaries who have made records who I respect highly. But then there is also a whole litany of design engineering people, going back before Thomas Edison right up to guys I was fortunate enough to actually know and work with as engineers – some of the people at Bell Laboratories or like Dr. Bob Moog. So it is a different set of hero worship and I like to bridge those two areas. I like to be able to use the creative tools that come out of the engineering world and do something that has its roots in the purely classical creative field.
Q. What is it about the synthesizer world that you like? What is it that you feel drawn to? Is it the technology, the different sounds you can get, all the filters, or the ability to orchestrate the whole thing all by yourself?
A. Could you give me a “D” – All of the above? Everything you touched on there. I like the amount of control. When I am in a group ensemble situation I am a little sheepish about telling other people what to do, I have enormous respect for my fellow musicians. Say it is a piece of music that I wrote and there are people that I respect highly who are playing on it. When it is my music I am always finding myself a little embarrassed going, “I want you to play that part or I want you to do this.” But what they’re playing is not exactly right. I have been on the receiving end for other people where they are in my face going, “you should have played this and you didn’t play that.” I don’t like being on the receiving end so I hate to be on the delivering end.
The instruments don’t talk back. They are very flexible. Also if I am chasing a particular sound or a particular sub-set of an arrangement or something and I’m working on it for a while and then I decide I don’t like it I can scrap it and nobody’s going to go “Oh, man, I’ve been working on that for like four days and now you’re not going to use it?”
So there’s the social part of it and then the things you talked about. I just have an affinity for the technology. It’s far more computer based now than it used to be but they’re all just tools. I can get the same results from what I hear in my head, whether it was incredibly tedious work on an old Moog modular which might have taken thousands of hours or something that’s in a software synthesizer in a Macintosh now. The end result that I am shooting for isn’t all that dissimilar. So it’s just the tools. I know there are a lot of people interested in the process but many, many more in the listening public really don’t care how you got there. They just care what it sounds like when it’s done.
Q. Do you have an instrument preference when it comes to composing?
A. No, it works one of several ways. Sometimes it’s just something melodic and it’s just sort of floating in my head. And I need to get it down before it evaporates and just drifts away. It could be something that comes up while I am shaving or while I am nodding off to sleep. Things happen. I probably have lost way more than I have captured. But that is almost independent of any instrument. In fact, in the earlier days I would hear something in my head thematically and it might be just capturing it in the moment on a cassette recorder at a piano. But I wouldn’t say I write on piano. It was really just the only tool available right then, But other times if I am in patch creation mode, and this too goes back to whether it was the older analog instruments or computer based banks, I’ll find something sonically that I find to be a very interesting tonal harmonic sound and I might stumble onto something as simple as a two note chord and that will trigger off the creative process – in how can I use this melodically, structurally and underlying something else?
And I will find that in a sense it is the instrument but it is not that it was that manufacturers’ model number or whatever. It was the instrument that was patched up as an instrument in that sense, at that time. And often different manufacturer’s tools or different software will let you reach that same end point. It just happened to be that I was working on a Kurzweil hardware when I was creating patches or it might have been something in Omnisphere or something else in software, but I created something that I could play with from that point forward
Q. Do you prefer to start with a melody first or do you build off a rhythm patch?
A. It can go both ways. It really depends on what the end result is. For some of the scoring type of thing for broadcast media there will be computer generated visuals already. And what I will try to do is find what the visual pulse is. It might be something really simple as a metronome click or it might be a little drum pattern or a little melodic sequence. In that case, yes, it is sort of rhythm first, melody second. But other times it is melody first and then it’s trying to figure out what might be the underlying rhythmic backbone that will work later. It is hard to say. With the graphic oriented things it’s usually going to be rhythm first because otherwise it just doesn’t make sense. You just can’t plunk a melody on top and not take into account that you are part of a multimedia team in a sense. But music for music’s sake can go either way, easily.
Q. You are probably sick to death of people asking you about Peter Gabriel. But what was the creative process when you were working with him? Were they songs that he wrote and you jumped in on the production end of it? Did you contribute composition wise?
A. Probably no more than arrangement. He is really the writer. Peter’s composition styles evolved over a time. But the sort of classic middle period from the third album onward where he was writing with drum machine or drum box, in that case he normally would have a drum rhythm going. Early on there were a couple of those little add-on rhythm machines for organs where you pushed a button for foxtrot, waltz or whatever, that rarely got used that way. There were standard metronomes. The PAiA programmable drum box came out, which was electronic drums in the late 70s, – it was something that was designed by a couple of friends of mine. We were finishing up Peter’s second solo album – we got him a finished version of it and he wrote “Games Without Frontiers” and “Biko” and a number of songs based on these programmable drum patterns.
It was the first time a little hardware box let you pick out a pattern like – “I’m gonna go kick drum, snare, tom, kick, tom and then make it loop.” Prior to that, they already had the patterns picked out for you. So when I was first brought into the process on the third album, Peter had the ability to sit down at the piano and play most of the song if not the entire song – at least the verses and maybe what the chorus was going to be. In most cases, he didn’t have words – he might have a hook line or something.
He was just kind of humming and yodeling along approximately where the melody was going to end up and even that didn’t always stick. What would happen is we would cut the rhythm track. He would fashion it with little bit of input from the band members but with just the piano, bass, drums, and him scratch vocalizing at approximation of where he was going. And he would occasionally have a little guitar added and occasionally I’d contribute something, but we’d get down at least the backbone, the spine of the song on tape and the nearly finished parts of the rhythm track at least.
And then it would go to town, because he would be playing with lyrics, playing with melodies. He’d sometimes have an idea in his head of some sound he wanted to try and he would describe it for me to chase, which I could do. And sometimes he might have stumbled on something on his Prophet 5. Or sometimes he would just turn me loose. And sometimes he would be too busy doing something else and I wasn’t going to waste all of our time in the studio so I would just start working on something and grab a master tape at tea break and say “what do you think of this”?
And he was pretty candid. Sometimes he would say it was brilliant and it would be on the record. Other times he would say – “Not really what I had in mind.” But he was always so nice about it. When it wasn’t what he had in mind, he was just the most generous and polite about it. He was just a very humble person himself and it was a great working environment.
Personally I don’t like pushing other people around. Peter had a nice middle way where he could be enormously polite but he also has a kind of cultural respect where “the man has spoken; let’s listen to what he has to say. It’s not taken as – “Hey! You’re no better than me, why should I listen to you?”
But in my case, I don’t want to stifle someone else’s creative input. That’s the danger. I don’t want to stifle them. I want to give them that freedom, but when the end of the day comes, and I go, well, they didn’t really come up with anything. I didn’t stifle them, but they didn’t really fill the gap either.
Q. Do you have a place that you go inside yourself for creativity? Do you have a muse?
A. I don’t think I have a particular one. Not a kind of spiritual anything. What I do is schedule to clear some time to sit quietly for reading or just focus on what I want to come up with and let the ideas just kind of churn around and they gel. Almost a built in time thing.
Sometimes if I am frustrated about not getting over the next creative barrier – if I just walk away from it for a day, if I have the luxury, if I am not up against a hard deadline or something – it’s really interesting how the log jam will break at that point.
By the same token very much like writing text. Very often I will have to do essays or letter writing or articles or anything connected to something that I am involved with. So, going back to that English 101 thing in college, I write it, and put it away and don’t look at it for a day and come back, and all the non-sequiturs where the unfocused sentence structure and all that will jump out at me.
And I find it’s the same with the music too. I will get my head inside the speaker when I am working on an arrangement and I think it’s brilliant and it can be as short amount a time as just putting everything in standby, going out to dinner, even going out to a diner for 90 minutes or something, come back, play it back and going – “What was I thinking, that doesn’t make any sense?” Structure and post structure parts – start again.
That’s a little bit more of the producer head. I think it’s important to keep that in mind. Keep a focus as a composer on what I’m presenting. In some ways it’s like media, it’s like what’s my lead here? That could be the lead line or the rhythm, but what am I selling to my listener who never heard this before? What do I want them to take away from this? That’s some of it.
If it’s not working, I will sit down quietly, no TV on, maybe read the paper or something where I can let my mind drift And then it’s not like I’m going to a spiritual place. It’s almost like I get into a little discipline thing thinking that if I do this – will that work? Then, to see if the ideas gel. And then sometimes I come down to my studio thinking, “Okay, let’s try to execute those ideas in my head.” Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t. Back to square one try it again.
Q. You have had a really incredible career. What things do you look back at now and can say, “Gosh I was really blessed?”
A. Oh! a lot of it. A lot of the record industry is just such a capricious monster or was. It is becoming less so now because the very things that made it such a self-indulgent, capricious, money-wasting monster have come back to eat its own lunch, But there were a lot of things that I was lucky enough to put myself in the right place at the right time, and be persistent with the right people in the business. I got to know nearly – and work with nearly – everybody who I respected early in my career. And I am talking really early.
One of my first keyboard heroes was Mike Smith from the Dave Clark Five, during the Beatles invasion. I later got to know him and work with him on commercials in New York, which is what he was doing in his later career. And it was wonderful meeting this guy who I had watched on a little black and white TV in my rec room at my parents’ house as a kid, and going, “I want to do something like that”. And here I was sitting in a restaurant with him in New York and he’s telling me about when they played the Ed Sullivan Show.
As I was moving into the business I was working with people I respected like Rick Wakeman and Wendy Carlos, who I got to know shortly afterward and we became very very good friends. Very happy with that. There were a lot of contemporary people that I knew since we were starting together. I was getting started around the same time that Genesis was starting to make their breakthrough, so I got to know Peter as a little bit more of an equal. And it was just really flattering that he asked me to join him after he left Genesis, literally within a few months at the time. He had walked away. He had started plotting what he was going to do next. He had me in the mix so it wasn’t anything I particularly chased but it was somebody who I liked and respected as a contemporary and it just worked out. I had ten wonderful years of doing that.
Through him I met a lot of other really great guys like Tony Levin and Jerry Marotta. It’s just been one good thing after another. Even getting to know Bob Moog. Bob Moog hooked me up with a project at Bell Labs in the mid 70s that he couldn’t do but which is much nearer to where I live here in New Jersey. I also met a lot of really brilliant software engineers and computer music people decades ago – 35 years ago – where I was able to be exposed to the things that we take for granted on laptops now. But it was just all gratuitous things one after the other.
Q. Any regrets? Something you did that you wish you hadn’t or some opportunity that you missed?
A. You can’t do everything, so there are always some projects you can’t do. Early in my career I did a lot of sessions because that is what was bringing the money in, so I ended up playing on some just awful disco records. But it was anonymous and they were for labels like All-Platinum Records and other small R&B labels that were moving into something else. For me it was wonderful exposure because it was a wonderful kind of urban environment and I met some great musicians and some really out-there people who I never would have been able to learn from otherwise. Often I would be the only white guy on the session.
Well you know I was this nerdy guy with all the knobs but they loved the sounds and it exposed me to another aspect of the music business and a creative community. If I had only focused on electronic music and European progressive rock I never would have run into any of that. And it taught me so much about rhythm and groove and how those records went together. Some of the records themselves were terrible. But it was a learning experience, so I regret that some of the records got made but I don’t regret the experience.
Eventually as things got more successful there was a kind of collision of time. There aren’t enough hours in the day. So I have been very fortunate to work on some pretty big records. I have worked on a bunch of Foreigner records, Hall and Oates records and one of the biggest turn of events was with Jim Steinman, who is a producer- writer.
I started out working on the Meat Loaf records that he had written all the music for and his solo albums and a number of things like The Everley Brothers and film scores. But probably the biggest one was Bonnie Tyler. I worked with him as a player with a little bit of production involvement on Total Eclipse of the Heart. And when her follow-up album was to be done I was asked to be the associate producer on the record. That was a very prestigious position for a very multi-platinum selling artist – far better selling than anything Peter Gabriel had ever done at that time.
As it was, Peter was kind of stagnant at the time and he was trying to write the next album. It was dragging on literally for about 2 years where there was no touring and there was no recording. So in the meantime I was offered this very prestigious position in the studio with an artist, far bigger than Peter was at the time. I would have to have been kind of silly to say, “No I’m going to wait by the phone for Peter Gabriel to call me.” So, I went into that project and had a yearlong commitment. During that time, Peter finally did call and say “I’m ready to start on what became the “So” album. And I simply wasn’t available. I had signed a contract.
So I kind of regret that there was a collision there, because from that point forward Peter changed the band that he had had for ten years and I never toured with him again after that. So there is a little bit of a tinge of regret in all of that but on the other hand working with Bonnie Tyler and Jim Steinman lead to many other things so maybe it was a good thing in some regards because I wouldn’t want to just be the keyboardist in the Peter Gabriel Band for a whole 35 years.
Q. Anyone that you have not worked with that you would still like to?
A. Well, yeah, and I don’t think it will ever happen. I just have an enormous respect for Paul McCartney. I think his work as a pop song writer is historic. But some of the work he has done with his orchestral works, I think, is very interesting and I have always gotten a sense that there is an area in the middle that it forms his sensibility. So the Broadway music and the music of the 20s through the 40s and with my kind of Gershwinesc approach from time to time is something that I think he could explore and do really well with.
He touched on that early in the Beatles career when they were doing some Broadway standards. But I think that there is somewhere that bridges the components that make him the writer that he is and some of the things that I’ve worked with over a time. And I would just love to do that. I have many friends that have worked with him including Jerry Marotta, the drummer who played with Peter for many years. It would be a really nice thing; I would really love to do that.
Q. Anyone that has passed that you wish you would have been able to work with them?
A. Nobody particularly comes to mind. It might be because I’m sort of a solitary work on my own. I can’t think of anyone off the top of my head. It would have been nice to meet Stravinsky, sit down and have a cup of coffee with Leonard Bernstein or Aaron Copland. There’s a bit of a regret in there. John Lennon of course, things like that. It is not really overwhelming.
I’ve had this career where I do work with other people. But when it comes down into focus, I try to keep sight of that I am really responsible for me and I shouldn’t be hitching what I do to someone else’s career. It’s fun and it’s enjoyable and they can bring some prestige to it but at the end of the day if I haven’t contributed anything then I am just another side man. So it is more of a sitting down and having a cup of coffee kind of thing.
Take Wendy Carlos – we’ve been really close friends for over 30 years now, and we talk on the phone fairly regularly – at least every couple of weeks and get together. And neither of us has ever said; “Let’s collaborate,” because we don’t really do that. We are both individuals; her working style is so different from my working style. The things that have formed who she is and why she takes a creative approach are so different from mine. She was never a rock and roller. She has never played in an arena in front of 90,000 people. And I never went to classical conservatory. But we both appreciate what the other one does. And I’m happier doing that. I do like hearing the process almost to understand how the other one puts things together. But collaborations aren’t always the ultimate solution.
Q. Do you like performing live, or do you prefer just working in the studio?
A. Studio is probably a little less nerve racking. Live performance can be really exciting. I like it in the band context because it seems to take some of the structured edge off of it. I like it to be structured enough so that I don’t have any unexpected speed bumps or pot holes.
With the Tony Levin Band, we toured extensively over the last decade or so, everywhere from Japan to Russia across the U.S. and Europe – sometimes with the four of us, sometimes five of us. It’s great – it’s very focused. We rehearse extensively and get out there, but if something goes wrong, if I screw up, if I’ve got a little equipment hiccup or something it’s easy to just laugh it off. We don’t’ take it that serious.
So I don’t mind live performance but it still keeps me a little more on edge. It doesn’t keep me up at night, so once we settle into a tour, maybe by the fifth or eighth date we know pretty much how things are going to go, equipment wise, the monitors and even how each of us is going to react to different things musically. Then I find myself relaxing a little bit. But you never can completely, because you are up there. People have paid good money to see you, everything should really go right and that’s a little different than the studio. If something doesn’t go right, now, you fix it.
Q. Have you ever had any train crashes?
A. Oh no, never (he said sarcastically). With the Peter Gabriel Band, Peter was usually the one responsible because he was terrible about forgetting his own lyrics or getting lost in the song. Does it go around three times here or six times? One time we just crashed and burned on a song when we were playing an open air concert in Central Park, New York. He literally stopped the song, apologized to the audience and then we started over again because he couldn’t find the “one” on one of his own songs. It was a little complicated and he came in entirely in the wrong place and we just couldn’t recover from it.
Q. I saw you earlier this year in Carlsbad at the Museum of Making Music at the opening event for Bob Moog Foundation Exhibit and got to hear you give a very detailed and organized lecture. Do you enjoy doing that sort of thing?
A. Yes, I do. I have done others. I did one at MacWorld one year. You could see there was a history of technology there was parallel in that. And I am fairly involved in that with museums and history commissions so I get involved in program presentations. In fact I have something coming up on historic architecture for which I’m sort of a producer on the “Period of Interpretation on Historic Architecture.”
Q. In addition to Bob Moog do you have another favorite pioneer in that area?
A. To me Bob was in some ways a little like the Beatles because he brought in all these threads that had come from before him, Theremin, Novachord, Teleharmonium, and he took all of that – just the way the Beatles took earlier rock and roll and they took a little country, a little R&B and they created a synthesis that was so much more effective than any of those little component parts were on their own. Bob did that both with technology and the tools – even the things that were contributed by his inventing co-collaborators – people that were working at Moog music – and guys like Herb Deutsch, and then later Wendy Carlos. But there were others who took the next steps. There were the computer people, like Max Matthews who kind of single-handedly created the American computer music world in the early 50s. It really predates the Moog synthesizer stuff by 10 or 15 years. There were other people that have worked with Max – some of these just ended up being more obscure names. There were people who have done things like created the underlying math behind digital reverberations – guys like Manfred Schroeder at Bell Labs. They are names that are out there in the highly technical community and I have a lot of respect for what they did.
There are others who just took what Moog had done and took it to the next step, like Dave Smith at Sequential Circuits, who took everything that was great about the MiniMoog and made it polyphonic and computer controlled. And then he was brilliant enough to create what later became MIDI. It opened everything up for the way we moved forward. But even the computer people, the ones who were the home-brew computing clubs in the mid-1970s who started creating microprocessor based tools leading to Steve Wozniak and his contribution to creating Apple and getting a computer platform into everybody’s house or at least starting us on that path – they created one thing after another. So there are a lot of different little names that can pop into there but there aren’t as many who ended up with their names in the dictionary like Bob Moog.
Q. The music industry has really changed. How do you foresee marketing your projects in the future?
A, Yeah, they are shrinking the floor space for CD, tapes and such in Wal-Mart, Best Buy and Target because we really don’t have very much of those big record chain, and people aren’t buying that way anymore. I know even on my own catalog sales, it’s a majority of downloads, not physical media. But with the breakdown of the whole structure, the way record companies used to operate, what I see changing is that there will be a lot of labels, even though they may not be selling a lot of physical media, but little groups of collectives of individuals who are the creative part. And the part that is growing in importance is the distribution arm, even for physical media. But the major labels don’t really have the clout that they used to. It is certainly shrinking and the independents, even independent distributors are doing a lot of their dollar volume in DVD distribution. But they are maintaining some hard CD physical presence, and they do have the tools to put the product in the pipeline. That is something that is not going to go away entirely and that also depends on the age group. The younger pop music buyers are predominantly electronic purchases at this point. The baby boomers I think are going to be hanging onto a physical media thing longer. They may have one foot on either side, but they’ll still be buying CDs.
Q. Is that cost effective from an independent artist’s stand point?
A. It depends on who is paying for it. In the old days when the record company was your bank they paid for the pressing and they ate the problem if they didn’t sell. Your account in theory was in the red, you weren’t going to get any royalties until your first album that didn’t sell paid back and your second one went into the black as well, if that ever happened. So it is entirely possible to have an entire career with a major label that was moderately successful in the public’s eye and never make a dime.
On the other hand someone could print their own album and order a few thousand but could end up with a garage full of CDs because they only sold a few hundred. And then they end up on an iTunes or something through CD Baby and they find they sold another 600 through soft media, so they should be very cautious or on an as-needed basis to literally print a hundred at a time.
Q. From the quality aspect, where do you draw the line as an artist? Downloads are pretty good, but you do lose something, especially when it comes to electronic music. But some people don’t want anything to do with downloads.
A. I know. It is really tough because the audience in a sense is what drives it. And it has been very frustrating. It is not only in audio but the proponents of blue-ray, high definition video are finding that they are getting good acceptance but not as much as they had hoped for. Not as much as they really need to sustain that format long-term. Because in most cases people go, “You know it’s good enough on DVD. It looks pretty clear to me.”
And that’s what you are getting with 128k compressed mp3 iTunes crowd. For most of them it’s like, “Hey, good enough.” And in some ways it’s like when people listened to a lot of AM on their car radios in mono when great records were made. I’m just honestly not sure. It’s possible to do 24 bit and some of the other formats but they are rather obscure and are not really carried for the most part on iTunes. That could give some people the ability, the more golden ears to get better down loaded files. But it is going to be tough.
The unfortunate thing is that it is less expensive to do a short run of CDs that are very high quality. You can run a hundred with 4-color-4 panel printed materials for a couple of hundred bucks and if that is all you’re going to sell as a small artist then you are good to go. Or if you need more you can turn them around in five days and have more inventory. It’s really a question of how does it go out through the pipeline.
Early in my career, the most important thing, of course, was that distribution was good from the record label. Initially they were picking up the bills for the studio costs, all the pressing and the vinyl and literally putting it on trucks and getting it somewhere. But they also paid very good money for a publicist. They worked the record from two sides. From radio promotion, back when radio was playing my kind of stuff, so they had them working the radio stations. But the publicists were cranking stuff out, too. They would have me doing interviews for days in a row, one an hour or one every 90 minutes. It was with the wire services, with things like CBS radio news syndication or CBS news syndication that would go out to all of the member stations within that group, making sure that I was doing meet and greets with DJs and other music writers and that was really it. They were creating a public image.
And that’s where I started to realize when I was kind of new in the business how it worked. I used to think, “How is that person getting so much attention, they are really crappy.” I’d hear some record and everybody’s talking about them. Then I started to see the machine behind the curtain and that’s probably the single biggest thing that is falling apart with the demise of the major labels. Back when we had 7 or 9 major labels and distribution networks, they were all fighting each other. But now we only have two major labels and two kinds of mini majors which are in some cases in dire straits financially, and then a ton of independents. And the whole machine is just different.
In fact last night I ran into my old publicist and she had worked with major labels for a big part of her career. Well that is not there, anymore, so she is an independent publicity shop in New York now and working directly with artists or directly with managers, but not with the labels nearly as much anymore.
So this is another expense in launching a career that seems to be absolutely vital. Take Lady Gaga. They have turned her into a full-blown media phenomenon and the records are just along for the ride. Now that is taking it to an extreme and unfortunately the major labels are down to the point where that’s the low hanging fruit so they are taking marginally creative acts and marketing the hell out of them and making it into something that is a money tree for the shareholders.
But there is something to be learned in there even for the small and independent and creative artist. If you are doing it and making the records and they can be brilliant, absolutely wonderful, and if nobody knows that they are out there beyond your immediate circle – well. Maybe you’re happy with that, but if that’s not your goal then you need to take some lessons from that. It doesn’t mean you have to go and turn yourself into that kind of marketing hype.
My future calculus on any of this would be that I would probably budget three to four times as much for publicity and marketing and promotion than I would for actually making the recording. Making the recording has gotten a lot cheaper so that helps. But it is a big, big part of the puzzle. “If a tree falls in the woods…” And it depends on what your goals are. I know some artists who are creative and they are brilliant and they really don’t have any bit of ego attached, they’re really not in show business. They are just creative people. They can sell 400 CDs when they do it. They’re working another job or doing something else and they are very happy with that and that is fine, more power to them that is just great.
But if you are going to try to create a career where you really are a known entity it does take having at least enough ego to say “look what I did”. I find that I’m not very good at doing that myself. That’s why I would rather turn that over to people who know how to do that kind of marketing and promotion. But it’s falling apart, that is the point.
The whole industry that had served as gate keepers, you go into the machine and there was a wide range of things, there was always an equivalent of Lady Gaga that was selling well, and nobody could figure out why. Nobody in the creative community could because they weren’t seeing the machine. But then there were lots of less-successful artists in terms of selling platinum numbers, but successful nevertheless – artists who were doing meaningful creative stuff.
Q. You majored in History. How did you bridge over to all this engineering stuff?
A. Well, the lucky thing when you are majoring in history is that you have a ton of open electives and I was already skilled in electronics – an advanced hobbyist or whatever – so I had some of the skills already. So, I took engineering courses that I felt I needed.
They were ones where I never took enough engineering to actually get a degree as an engineer because if you are going to be a certified electrical engineer you need to be studying all different aspects of engineering. That’s what the license part is, you know, a bit about building bridges and doing mining and mechanical engineering and structural engineering and all that. I just wanted to get to some digital circuitry and analogue circuitry that would help me make sounds. So I studied some of that.
I took all the music courses that were available that I was interested in – Twentieth Century composition, some theory and stuff. I was also interested in architecture. Probably the most important thing in college was that I was overwhelmed and obsessed with college radio which lead me to work in commercial radio. And through those connections, that was really my entrée into the record business. That’s kind of how I bridged it. I basically made my own curriculum up to get me the skill sets that I needed for what I am doing now.
Q. Did anyone else in your family play music?
A. No. my mother played a little violin as a kid. My father was a trumpet player in a marching band, but he was the one that they told “just don’t make any sound, just keep marching.” One of my brothers is an engineer and the other is a lawyer.
I have got a couple of nieces and nephews who are kind of music obsessive. They don’t work in the business at all but they tend to go to these three day rock festivals and see lots and lots of shows. They post pictures on Facebook about where they have gone. I have one niece who is obsessed with theater. She’s actually working as a stage manager now.
My wife is a music fan – a little bit more music snob than I am. She is not a player but she is an avid listener and concert goer. The good thing is that she has seen behind the curtain now and she sees how it works and she is equally comfortable with record execs and agent types of people. And she’s understanding and she’s charming with all of that. And she has the right cynical edge not to be taken in by the hype.
Actually all the stuff that I described about designing for the hearing disabled – that is an outgrowth of me helping her. That is what she does. She is an electronic technician. She has that background. She deals with the techie side of things and she has worked in installation and maintenance for recording studios and on Broadway and that kind of stuff so we share a lot of that part of our lives too. It’s a good fit and good match. She’s very involved in environmental movements and wildlife preservation and land preservation so she volunteers for a lot of that.
Q. You grew up in New Jersey? Have you any of the influence of the Jersey sound?
A. The guys that I know and work with overlap with a lot of them. I produced David Bryan from Bon Jovi. I produced his solo album in the 90s. I worked with Richie Sambora. I knew a lot of those guys. They were a little younger than I am but we knew them as they were coming up as a bar band. And the E Street guys. I knew Max Weinberg going back. He was at the rival high school from me, always in a rival rock band. There’s an awful lot of coincidence in how that works out. Little Steven was producing some of my friends from high school more recently as a reunion album so I was playing on that. So the influence is sort of that post-Beatles-garage-band New Jersey scene. Yes, it definitely had an influence. It was a distinct culture for such a small state.
A lot of them John and Bruce and that whole crew are based at the Jersey Shore and I am about an hour away from that. I can get into New York quicker than I can get to the shore. So if I was influenced by things it was probably even more of the New York scene, whether it was the rock scene down in the village during the psychedelic days or the academic communities around NYU or Columbia. For electronic music they probably had more of an influence on me than the Jersey Shore bar scene, although I thought it was cool.
I was never caught up in it but I never really played in that circuit. Even the Jonas brothers came out of Jersey. It’s in film, television and music. The Four Seasons, of course, were around. I worked early on in my career with the guys that wrote their music.
In fact, I was doing a session with Frankie Valli the afternoon that Elvis died. Everyone in the studio had worked with Elvis and the session ground to a halt and they started reminiscing and I was basically the kid, I was 10 years or more younger than everybody else on that session. It was amazing to hear them talk about him.
One of the nicest people in the music industry that you will ever meet, Larry keeps busy with his many projects for film and television. Fans of course are always hoping for a new Synergy album and a live performance. To keep up with all that Larry is doing go to his official website at www.synergy-emusic.com. It is a bit behind, but if you email him from there I am sure you can get the latest and greatest news. Larry also has a Facebook page.
Tags: All-Platinum Records, Beatles, Bell labs, Biko, Bob Moog, Bon Jovi, Bonnie Tyler, Broadway Music, Dave Clark Five, Dave Smith, David Bryan, E Street Band, Ed Sullivan, Electronic Music, Elvis, Foreigner, Frankie Valli, Genesis, Gmes Without Frontiers, Hall and Oates, Herb Deutsch, Jerry Marotta, Jersey Shore, Jim Steinman, John Lennon, Kurzweil, L:ittle Steven, larry Fast, Lorraine Kay, Manfred Schroeder, Max Matthews, Max Weinberg, Meatloaf, MIDI, Mike Smith, MiniMoog, Moog, Museum of Making Music. Bob Moog Foundation Exhibit, New Jersey, Novachord, Omishpere, Paul McCartney, Period of Interpretation on Historic Architecture, Peter Gabriel, Richie Sambora, Sequential Circuits, Synergy, synthesizers, Teleharmonium, The Everly Brothers, The Four Seasons, Theremin, Tony Levin, Tony Levin Band, Total Eclipse of the Heart, Tribume Broadcasting, Wendy Carlos