In this digital age of computers, devices and the internet, this wonderful thing called a PDF is becoming an asset that we really can’t live without. We make them, receive them, explore them and store them – but as musicians, what are the ways in which we can use them and enhance our working environment?
The acronym stands for “portable document format” and that describes them well – no matter what software application you are using, what sort of operating system you are on, or even what device, the PDF will look as it should as a fixed format. Also, it can’t be edited, which is great for a whole raft of reasons. They have been around since 1993, but it’s only in the last 10 years or so that they have really come to fruition, as we are sharing documents like never before and are using the internet to distribute our material. And because of all this, software is now also making it increasingly easy to export, save and share in this most wonderful format.
iOS (iPad and iPhone) apps. They are often enough to quite simply blow your socks off! There is one for pretty much anything, especially with music. In June and September 2010 I wrote two posts titled “iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad apps for the music professional” – be sure to check out those posts here and here. Eighteen months on I think we should see what apps have stood the test of time and what the new ones are on the block.
It is that time of the year again and your family and friends are most probably asking for ideas of what to get you for Christmas.
Here are my top ideas for all composer-musicians:
SoundCloud gift voucher – SoundCloud is one of the most valuable online resources for composers and musicians. To really unleash its power you need to go premium and even better, get someone to gift you a subscription.
Mollard conducting batons – Most composer-musicians will conduct their music, many twilight in conducting further. Mollard batons are absolutely supreme, I have several – they will even engrave your name on it.
Evernote subscription – Every composer-musician has so many ideas to remember and projects to oversee, with Evernote you can now remember everything!! Gift a subscription here.
iTunes voucher – Not only necessary to top up your stock of Beethoven, Rachmaninov, Mahler and Ligeti, you can purchase all of the incredible iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch apps that are made for professional musicians. In fact, check out my two posts on the best pro music apps to get: the first post here and the second post here.
A gift of time – If you don’t want to spend money why not give a voucher to say you will do all of their jobs and chores for a weekend (or heck, a week) so they can hibernate and write some very fine music. That is priceless!
I hope there is something there to add to your Christmas list. Let me know your best ideas!
Musician? Got your iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad? Well, what are you going to put on it? As a musician, sharing my time between rehearsals, conducting, composing and teaching, I have fine tuned a collection of amazing apps for my iPhone that I find are absolutely essential and I hope will help you save you a lot of money and give you some great tools. Just a note, I’ve used all of these on an iPhone but they are all available (if not now, will be very soon) on the iPad.
Field Recorder – This is an outstanding digital recorder for the iPhone. One review of it says “Audiofile Engineering’s FiRe application is by far the most advanced stereo audio recording application we’ve seen for the iPhone and iPod Touch, going far beyond the limitations of previous go-to apps…”. It is a professional quality recorder and the list of features is huge so check out the link. It has a beautiful interface, the quality of recording is amazing, you can edit in the app and can export as WAVE, AIFF, CAF, AAC, Apple Lossless, AAC, Podcast, Ogg Vorbis and FLAC. So handy for capturing a rehearsal or auditions, taking field recordings and pretty much endless possibilities.
Dr. Betotte TC – There are many metronomes but few powered up for the music professional. Dr. Betotte TC has all the normal features of a normal metronome such as playing any time signature, beat divisions, the ability to save your tempos and settings to a playlist, tap in a tempo – but it has got so much more. For a start all of the rhythmic divisions have their own volume sliders, one click halftime feel, options for swing tempo, you can import your own audio samples and the playlist can auto advance. Some nice other features (which are so easy to access) include an alarm timer that syncs with the metronome and customisable gradual up/down, step up/down and quiet count buttons. These step up/down buttons are so handy for students learning a passage, as it gradually gets faster over time (or however you set it up). What I do like about this metronome is its visual capabilities – it’s often really unhelpful just having a “beep, beep” metronome. For learning scores or for reference in rehearsals it is so handy to just have a ticking needle, or a huge “1, 2, 3, 4, …” being counted on screen. This is by far my metronome of choice.
Stay In Tune – There are a lot of tuners available, a lot of good ones and generally they all have the same features. It’s how they deliver the features which makes the difference. Stay In Tune is my favourite – it has a wonderful, clear interface, you can also easily produce tones, calibrate and select specific tunings for different instruments. It is also one of the most accurate and gorgeous I’ve found.
Backline Calc – It’s a musical calculator and perhaps the last app you would think about looking for, but once you have it you’ll realise how handy it is. There are six categories and some examples include: Length (sum times, compare tempos, song length, beats to tempo, time to samples), Pitch (MIDI note, frequency and wavelength conversion), Timecode (frames to timecode, convert timecode), Electric (power, voltages), Acoustics (distance to time, sound pressure level, panning) and Files (file size). These are only a few examples – a very handy little app.
Chordmaster by Planet Waves – The most advanced and intelligent guitar chord reference. You can make chords easily with sliders, you can strum them and the overall interface is beautiful. It’s also nice to see a popular and well known music accessory company delving into apps.
SoundHound – We all hear a song on TV and want to know what it is and there are several apps who help you out with this, the most popular being Shazam – but these don’t go much past the novelty factor of holding the device to a speaker and finding out the song. I like SoundHound as it provides a few more features such as effectively picking up you singing personally, or you can just type the title, album, artist or lyric. Also, in the results, it provides iTunes links, all the lyrics, YouTube videos and the ability to easily share.
Karajan® – Music & Ear Trainer – Karajan is by far the finest ear trainer. It is powerful and very customisable in each of the categories – intervals, chords, scales, pitch and tempo (bpm). It has detailed statistics so is great for students using in lessons or for your own interest. Personally, I use the tempo recognition all the time (great for conducting) and the pitch recognition is handy too. The pro version is entirely worth the money. (iPad screenshot below)
Oxford Dictionary of Music – Yes, your dream has come true. The entire Oxford Dictionary of Music is available on the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad. It has a wonderful interface, easy search and is regarded as the most up-to-date music dictionary out there. Also good to note that no internet connection is required to use the app. These guys only do dictionary apps so they know what they’re doing. This is a must.
Circle Theory – Based around the Circle Of Fifths, this is a handy reference tool. I use it mainly with students using the more straight forward functions like seeing the relationships between notes, key relationships, key signatures, intervals and triads. But I’ve also used it myself for transposing between keys, checking notes of transposed instruments and as a reference for modes. A great little app.
Virtuoso Piano – Well we have to touch on some instrument apps. I’m sure the first app any musician gets is a piano but many are very basic. My favourite is Virtuoso Piano Pro as you can have multiple keyboards, easily flick between octaves, calibration and record/play features. Another really great app.
Guitar: Play and Share – Without question this is the finest acoustic guitar app. I’ve been playing around with it a lot lately and it is wonderful. Very clever, very easy to use and the sound quality is fantastic. Loads of features and ways to customise, different guitars – who needs a real one?
I won’t mention any more instruments as there are so many good ones (and far more that are rubbish). But if you’re interested in these, the video below is a great watch. It is from the Rend Collective Experiment featuring David Crowder and they produce the whole song from iPhone instruments. Awesome.
ProRemote – This is the only app I don’t own due to the whopping price tag (NZ$124.99, US$99.99), but it gets my attention and admiration. It is a remote control for ProTools, Ableton Live, Apple Logic or Soundtrack Pro. They say it “is like having four Mackie Control Universal Pro’s but better because it is wireless and much less expensive. You get almost $5000 of hardware for the price of ProRemote.” Very impressive. (iPad screenshot below)
Well it is an amazing series of products that I hope you will all enjoy checking out and using. I have found them all to be essential with my day to day work, saving so much time and hassle. Please let me know any other feedback, any great apps I have missed or your comments.
There are a few things that, honestly, if I didn’t have to help me out day-to-day, I would completely fall apart. Sounds drastic, but the amount of things to be done, managed, scheduled and announced each day is crazy.
Things is mind-blowingly clever – it’s my to do list and task management. It’s made for the mac so runs seamlessly and of course looks beautiful. You have all of your tasks and projects lined up in the Next list, then each day you can manually filter them through into the Today list, or if you have set a due date or recurring task, it will automatically appear. All tasks are categorised into projects or areas of your business. You can even tag each task to have even more control.
The scheduling of tasks is great. Say you submit a weekly timesheet, have it pop up in your to do list on the day so you don’t forget. Do a thorough computer backup once a month? Be reminded. You can select that it reminds you on the day it’s due or however many days beforehand. Got your tax return due? Have it remind you two weeks prior so it’s done well before due date.
There is also an Inbox, which I love. It’s where you throw all your ideas in so you don’t forget any, then later you can filter them into where they should be. For example, at the end of a rehearsal I have so many things in my head – music to be copied, extra players needed, absentees and so on. I fire all these into my Inbox, then later that day I will tag these with “conductor”, put a due date if necessary and file it away.
How do I efficiently list all these things I need to remember at the rehearsal? Well, Things has an iPhone version. By the time I get home from the rehearsal, all these tasks are sitting on my desktop waiting for action. Likewise, if I’m at home I can list all the jobs I need to do out, and while I’m out, I’ll be checking all the tasks off and of course when I arrive home again it’s all checked off there too.
When you complete a task it doesn’t just disappear either – it goes in to your logbook, so if you ever need to check back for anything, it is there waiting.
These guys have won many Apple and product design awards, it’s brilliant. It is rather expensive if you want both versions, Things Mac is NZ$79 and Things iPhone is NZ$13.99 – but worth every cent.
iCal and iCal Duration
Okay, yes yes, iCal is a nice calendar and every Mac has it. But there are a few nice ways to use it and to “pimp it out” for some serious usage.
I work for myself and I like to keep track of all the time I spend on what. Not just each project, but what areas of my work eg: how many hours of conducting I did last month, or how many hours of composing I have scheduled next week. Of course you could do this manually and count up all the hours, but having the ability at a few clicks is very handy.
To ensure it is set up right, I make sure the title of each event is the same eg: “Kristin orchestra rehearsal” or the title of the piece I am writing – each time it is entered. Then in the “notes” field of each task I enter what area of work it is eg: “teacher”, “composer”.
Then you use the Search feature and put in “composer” or “Kristin orchestra rehearsal”, or whatever, and you are given all of those entries. This is where a neat little tool comes in.
iCal Duration is a great piece of Apple Script that is so simple. Once you have done the previous step, select all of the entries you wish to and click the iCal Duration button. In seconds you will have the total hours and minutes of your selection.
This is so handy, and say I was orchestrating a job, I’ll just work, work, work and keep good track of the time in iCal, then when it comes to invoicing I just put the job name in to Search and there is the total. Brilliant. Of course, iCal syncs seamlessly to iPhone also.
There is so much to keep on top of these days and it really can be time consuming, far too time consuming, but there are some great tools which allow you to do a lot in very little time and effort.
For Twitter, I was a diehard addict of Tweetie, and I still think they have the most gorgeous iPhone app, but recently I just needed a few more features. I debated between HootSuite and TweetDeck for some time and settled on the latter. HootSuite does have scheduled tweets and inbuilt stats, but has an appalling iPhone app which straight away puts them at the bottom of my pile.
TweetDeck lets you manage twitter, facebook, myspace and linkedin in the one place. You can send updates to all, some or just one place. You can do everything you’d ever need to do on Twitter, your friend feed comes through from facebook and you can “like” or comment, and for myspace and linkedin you have the status updates. You can have columns for almost anything from latest friends so you don’t forget any of those follow backs, to keyword searches to keep on top on trends and the area(s) you are working in.
TweetDeck can’t feed your blog RSS into tweets or doesn’t have the inbuilt stats like HootSuite, but for me who has used twitterfeed (feeds blog to tweets) and bit.ly (shortening and stats) for quite some time, I was quite happy to be able to keep using these services.
TweetDeck also syncs between your iPhone version and desktop version, so all your columns and settings are always up to date. TweetDeck saves me hours of time each day as in a few seconds I can do what I need to do without the hassle.
What are your indispensables?
What are the sites and software that help make your life easier every day? Let me know.
I have a routine: every morning I wake up, lean over and pick up my iPhone, I check the news, then I read all of the latest feeds from my favourite blogs. The blogs are music ones of course, and for years I have been filtering through them and the ones I like are the ones that stay. I use the term of “blog” rather loosely – some of these are actual blogs, some are more updates and news, but all just as interesting and worthwhile. Just a note, the links are to the actual RSS feed, not to the website, so they will open in your RSS reader.
Sibelius Blog: A must if you’re a Sibelius user. News, interviews, the latest movies to be scored on Sibelius, tips and more. Run by Daniel Spreadbury, Sibelius’s Senior Product Manager.
The Electric Semiquaver: All about writing with music notation software. The first line of his latest blog sums it up very well: “How music notation software can both assist, and completely destroy, musical texture.”
CompositionToday: Nice updates, news and resources about and for classical composers.
Musical Perceptions: “Perceptions about music, perceptions that affect music, perceptions colored by music, perceptions expressed by music”.
Echoes: They are disc manufacturers for independent artists but it’s a really nice blog of “insights for independent artists”.