• A Christmas wish list for the recording songwriter.
So, I would imagine that a lot of aspiring songwriters out there are pining for many a gizmo this Christmas. If you are among the hopeful -- and you're a guitarist -- here's what I would wish for if I were you!
Computer - 24" iMac
I'm a Mac! And as such, I would NEVER invest in a PC. It's a matter of principle, you know? But seriously, the recording process presents enough challenges, and therefore is most enjoyable with an easy-to-use, non-virus-prone computer. A Mac. Which Mac? Well, I'd go with an iMac. It's all-in-one design minimizes cable clutter, alwasy a scourge on the recording scene, and, if you get the 24", it's huge screen makes editing and mixing way more convenient. If you've got coin to spare, bump up the memory to 4GB. Don't spring for a huge internal drive, though, because with DAWs, you want to record to an external drive.
External Disk Drive - G-RAID2
The hard drive world is overpopulated, no question, but in my experience, there are two brands that stand out for recording, Glyph and G-Technology. I have one of each, and the Glyph has been flakey, whereas my GRAID2 from G-Tech has been flawless. If you opt for the GRAID, which you should, bear in mind it is not a RAID drive in that it backs up your stuff; instead, it uses RAID technology to increase performance by writing to two drives instead of one. For back-up, read on.
Back-up Drive - DROBO
A DROBO drive enclosure looks like a little chest of four drawers, when you pop the front off, with each drawer not a drawer at all, but a drive bay. To add storage, you just buy internal SATA drives, which offer the most storage for your buck. In fact, I just added a terabyte drive to my DROBO for a little over $100. Amazing. Anyway, I won't labor to repeat what is already on the DROBO site, so to read more, click on the above link. To automate your back-up routine, I would suggest SuperDuper, which, despite it's cheesy name, absolutley rocks!
Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) - Mbox 2 (MBox 2 Pro if you also track at a pro studio)
Man, there are so many DAWs out, you could spend months just researching them all. Allow me to save you the trouble. Just go buy a Digidesign Mbox 2, which comes with Pro Tools LE, the "light" version of Pro Tools for project studios. From everything I've read, and from all the discussions I've had, Pro Tools is the standard for a reason: it's easy, reliable and sounds killer. Other DAW boxes will tout their mic pre-amps and what not, but trust me, you ain't gonna hear the difference unless you're in the presence of an engineer who can tell you what to listen for. If you move back and forth between a pro studio and your home set-up, spring for an Mbox Pro, which can read files recorded at 96KHz, which is what the full version of Pro Tools uses.
Guitar - Line6 Variax Guitar
The magic wand! A Line6 Variax is a modeling guitar that can create the signal output of all the classic electric guitars (Strat, Tele, Les Paul, Rick, etc.), plus it can decently model several acoustics. I have a Variax 700, and it is my go to recording guitar, because it can just do so much, and all silently (critical for tracking acoustic parts at 3:00 AM in an apartment). To read about the various Variax giutars, visit line6.com, but keep in mind that the guts of all the electric models are the same. If you just want the sounds, and don't care to much about how well the guitar plays, just get cheapo Variax 300. If you've got the dough, though, get one of the nicer models.
Amp Modeler Plug-In - IK Multimedia Amplitube 2
Last year, I did a three-part post on amp modelers (which you can read here: part one, part two, part three), which are software plug-ins that model the sound of the worlds gerat amps, and concluded that of the ones I looked at (Amplitube 2, Digidesign Eleven, Virtual Amp Room), the best bang for the buck was Amplitube 2, which is what I own. It offers so many incredible variations, I figure it gives you the best chance of finding your perfect tone. Quick note: the upcoming version of Pro Tools will include a light version of Eleven, and that might be all you need!
Microphone - Shure SM57
The Shure SM57 is a classic workhorse mic. Yeah, there are other mics that sound much better, but as far as I know, no other mic offers the SM57's ability to work on just about everything. Obviously, if you're a vocalist, you might want to spend more time finding a mic that matches your voice, but if you're like me and SUCK, just get a Shure. Also, be sure to get a boom stand.
Headphones - AKG 240
My friend Cory Verbin got me a deal on a pair of these eons ago, and I have never heard anything better. Plus, they're VERY comfortable.
Drum Machine (software) - Doggiebox
The world is overflowing with interesting, very high quality drum machine software, but for my money, the best deal out there is Doggiebox. For about $40, you get a super simple, great sounding drum machine. Yes, you have to program your beats -- no loops for the Dogg -- but the process is so easy, you won't mind. I also recommend Digidesign Strike, which I use all the time now that I have figured the thing out, but it's nearly $300, and I'm not prepared to say it's ten time better than Doggiebox.
I have an old Fender P-Bass, but if you're just tracking bass lines to give your demos some bottome, buy whatever. I'd suggest looking on ebay for a used Mexican-made Fender.
You will notice that I have NOT listed a pair of studio monitors. The reason is I just don't think they're really necessary, a statement likely to cause an aneurysm in any engineer's brain. I dunno... get a good pair of headphones, make a mix, then play it around on different systems, tweaking as you go.