Three types of musicians
The world is evolving fast and we as musicians can use the modern technologies to our benefit for sure. Some people refuse them and this approach is certainly good for not being distracted from playing. Others don’t mind being distracted and they love comparing parameters and watching video reviews of the new gear and buying it. It makes them happy and that’s great too! The third category of musicians consists of people who like to play and sing and don’t even know about tools that could make their musical journey much easier.
I personally show signs of all three groups but probably fit it the third one best. In the following list, I summarize tips on tools, gadgets, and software that has been helping me and my music. Because music is not just my hobby which I would fund thanks to another day job, the price/quality ratio is a huge factor for me when it comes to buying a new equipment so you won’t find the best (and most expensive) stuff here. Feel free to write about your life hacks in the comments!
- A clip-on tuner – No matter how good ear you have, you definitely need a good tuner in some situations. I use Planet Waves Mini Headstock Tuner.
- In-ear monitor – I simply play and sing much better with in-ear monitoring. It’s not cheap for the whole band but for my solo shows, I plug in my headphones directly to the headphones output from the TC Helicon Play Electric pedal that I use.
- Smartphone with a large display – Everybody has a mobile phone but if you’re a musician, buy a smart one with a large display (6-inch is great). You can run several useful apps on it (see below) and you can also display lyrics or setlist on it at live shows.
- PA system – You can make use of a small PA at various gigs and some organizers hire only musicians who have one. I recommend Yamaha Stagepas 400i which serves me great. It’s great if you don’t need more than 4 mic inputs since it also has several great built-in effects. On the other hand, don’t save money on mic stands and cables (I’ve done this mistake twice already and now I’m saving for a good stuff).
- Instrument stand – Having an instrument in a case or even on the wall is an obstacle to start playing. Buy a stand and have your instrument right next to your desk.
- Metronome – I can’t imagine practicing without a metronome and I use a mobile app Soundbrenner which is very easy to use.
- Other mobile apps – iReal Pro is a great play-along app. For vocal warm up, I use a virtual keyboard or guitar when I don’t have a real instrument with me. There are many ear training apps out there. They will help you most in harmony singing. Just search for “ear training mobile app”.
- Tunefox – It can serve you in several ways and you can learn more about it here.
- Dedicated paper notebook – I have my music goals there and I use it for notes about my progress in practicing. This idea came to me thanks to the excellent book by Tom Heany: First, Learn to Practice.
- Music stand – I need a certain comfort for my practicing including having all tools and materials on one spot. I use a massive music stand Tornado BS1312 for it. It can also hold my laptop or mixer in situations where there’s no table available.
Composing, arranging and recording
- Voice recorder – Making a quick recording is usually the most convenient way for me to capture an idea when arranging. Most of the time I’m fine using the Hi-Q MP3 Voice Recorder mobile app. If I need a better quality, I use a handy ZOOM H1 recorder which can also serve as an external mic for my DSLR camera or as a USB mic. It is great for recording rehearsals or live gigs.
- DAW (digital audio workstation) – For multitrack recording in my studio, I use Cubase DAW because I can work very fast in it (I’ve been using it for years). Even the cheapest version (Elements) has everything a musician playing a real instrument needs. Audacity is a great open-source (free) alternative to paid DAWs.
- Notation software – I write sheet music and tabulatures often and I use MuseScore for it. Notation software is great for playing back what you wrote (which is great e.g. for arranging harmony vocals). For creating chord diagrams, I usually go to Chordpix.com.
- Audio interface – To convert audio from analog to digital (you need to do that if you want to use a DAW), you should definitely use a dedicated interface. There are many high-quality interfaces out there and I would matter to me if and what DAW is included when buying one. I use the great Roland Octa-Capture interface.
Listening, analyzing, and personal development
- Music streaming services – I already wrote about the importance of listening for musicians. The streaming services like Spotify, Deezer, Apple Music, YouTube Music, etc. are a great source of both older and new music. I use Spotify and have recently created two playlists for bluegrass music fans. More info here.
- Bluetooth speaker – Listening to music using a built-in speaker in a mobile phone or computer is an unacceptable compromise for most musicians. A good compromise, however, is one of the more advanced Bluetooth speakers on the market. Don’t buy the cheap one (I did and had to return it). My second choice was JBL Charge 2+ and I’m happy with using it in my workshop and at the workshops to amplify the metronome sound 🙂
- Apps for analyzing music – Transcribing guitar solos was one of the things that helped me most in my beginnings. Many desktop players and also the YouTube video player can slow down the music. The online app called Tunetranscriber offers some more advanced features and many people use the dedicated app Amazing Slow Downer, which can even import a song directly from Spotify. I like the idea behind ScoreCloud which should transcribe directly the music you play or import. It doesn’t work for me well, however.
- Podcasts – I love podcasts – a great source of information of different kinds delivered as an audio. I’ve been also loving driving my car since I started listening to podcasts. To search for the ones that you might like, just use Google of directly search within your podcast delivery app. I use Castbox.
- Books – I don’t find enough time to read many books but I’d like to start to listen to more audiobooks in 2019. However, I can recommend a few that I’ve read recently. Besides the already mentioned First, Learn to Practice, check out the book Cal Newport: So Good They Can’t Ignore You and John Powell: How Music Works.
Communication, promotion, booking:
- Social networks – It is definitely a good idea for an active musician to be on social networks. What is the best way to use them? I’m still trying to figure this out but here are a few tips:
- A personal profile is better for participating in the community on Facebook since you can see other people’s posts and Facebook favors showing posts from personal profiles over posts from pages (unless you pay).
- There are many groups focusing on particular topics on Facebook. Add yourself to as many of them as you want and enjoy the posts of your interest.
- Don’t share just your content. There are several good ways to approach this. Be a curator of content.
- When sharing something, add your personal message to it. I’d like to know why you recommend it.
- You can hide posts from certain people and still remain friends on Facebook.
- Check out what Instagram offers to musicians in this episode of the DIY Musician Podcast.
- Posting your videos to both YouTube and Facebook increases their reach significantly. I recently posted a link on FB to my blog with an embedded YouTube video. A few days later I uploaded the video directly to Facebook. Here are the current numbers of views for YT vs. FB – 1 155 : 8 691.
- Website – You should have your own website at least as a hub to your social media profiles. Ideally, put a contact info, a schedule, a good photo, a few words about you/your band and a (live) video there. There are services which will provide you with an admin system and the design. You can do it for free using WordPress.
- Branding – “My music is so cool I don’t have to care about its brand” … is not true for most artists. The first contact with your fans is usually visual (your band name on a program, photo on the poster, profile pic on Facebook, cover image for your YouTube video, etc…). For creating nice looking graphic designs, I recommend the online app Canva.
- Shared calendar – Using just one mobile app (One Calendar), I can let my wife and all bandmates know about my planned events and I also use it to update the schedule on my (band) website.
- Intelligent digital notebook – OneNote is my external memory which I can access from both mobile and computer. I have several sections in it like Music, Podcast, Checklists, Teaching, etc. and each of them holds pages with texts, pictures, voice memos, checklists and other kinds of information. Another similar popular app is the Evernote.
What helps you on your musical journey? Let me and others know in the comments section below. Feel free to share this article or support my further activities if you liked this.
And now let’s get to playing, finally…