The best of 2012

2012 was a year full of great things, cool things, intriguing things, wonderful things and things to completely knock your socks off. Here's my list of the best (musical and digital) things of 2012. MUSIC BLOGS

Sibelius 7One of the first things I do each day is read all of the blog posts that are waiting eagerly for me in Google Reader. There are three feeds that, without fail, I will read and learn something from every time.

  • Of Note - a Sibelius and Finale blog by the legendary Robert Puff.
  • Sibelius Blog - hints, tricks and interesting stories about Sibelius by Philip Rothman (originally Daniel Spreadbury).
  • Technology in Music Education - if you're a music teacher of some description you'll love hearing about how the latest technologies can be used in music education.

MUSIC BOOKS

behindbarscover I'm usually not a big reader of actual books but there are some that sit pride of place on my shelf, actually, only when they're not sitting open on my desk.

  • Behind Bars by Elaine Gould - my bible of music notation. I'd really love a digital version too!
  • How to Write for Percussion by Samuel Z Solomon - the title sounds very underwhelming, but is a wonderfully comprehensive guide to writing for percussion.
  • Essential Dictionary of Orchestration - mine is looking old and tatty - a good sign! It's an essential reference for instrument ranges, general characteristics, tone quality descriptions, technical pitfalls and more.

MUSIC RESOURCES

SpotifyThe internet is just one big overwhelming resource! There are four in particular that I have used a lot this year and deserve a mention.

  • Spotify - gone are my days of wasting money buying music only for a specific occasion or to only listen to a few times. Now I can access everything, anywhere, for only a small fee.
  • MusicNotes - I've been buying a fair bit of sheet music lately and you can't go past MusicNotes for the best range, quality and easiest website.
  • MacProVideo - a massive range of resources for users of pro audio (and other) software.
  • MusicPrep.com - has wonderful resources for Sibelius and Finale and even links to books on scoring, notation and orchestration.

MUSIC INSPIRATION

YouTubeYou're procrastinating and you find yourself mindlessly surfing the internet - these are probably the places where I would end up.

  • Scoring Sessions - for any orchestral film soundtrack fan this is a wonderful site of photos, news and videos from scoring sessions in Hollywood, London and more.
  • YouTube - most of the world's pro audio software and hardware companies have channels on YouTube. A recent great watch was the Vienna Symphonic Library Artist Videos.
  • TED - amazing talks from amazing people.

MUSIC SOFTWARE

Pro Tools 10Most of my job would be a nightmare, or quite simply not possible, without the help of some wonderful computer software so a much deserved shoutout goes to them.

  • Sibelius 7 - they've had a rough year but a big salute goes to the number one notation software.
  • Logic 9 - the stalwart DAW in my studio, always impressing.
  • Pro Tools 10 - a new acquisition and some great projects done already, clearly some big steps forward since I last used it a few years back.

MUSIC APPS

FiReI rely on my mobile device rather a lot, here's my top three "I could not live without" music apps. I did a full post on musical iOS apps earlier in the year, click here to visit it.

  • FiRe - a professional field recorder wonderfully adequate to do a great recording when out and about.
  • Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music - dealing with music notation and teaching students all the time means I'm always checking this great app.
  • Dr Betotte - a metronome like no other. 5 volume sliders and mute buttons to, tap tempo, halftime feel, adjustable swing feel functions, multi beat mode...

CLOUD SERVICES

EvernoteThe "cloud" is a hot word at the moment and rightly so - there are some fantastic ways how you can have your data anywhere, anytime and on any device.

  • Evernote - probably my most opened app. Most databases, documents, lists and resources are all on Evernote and thanks to the cloud they are all universally accessible.
  • Dropbox - constant backup of my system and access to it anywhere via the iOS app. Also great to email large attachments to clients for download.
  • Xero - my in-the-cloud accounting software. I can write and send invoices, amongst other things, on my iPhone and have access to it at all times.

WEBSITE DEVELOPMENT

mailchimp-logoEvery musician needs an online home and maintaining mine, learning about the finer details and marketing it is a real hobby - three things make it an absolute joy.

  • Wordpress - always makes developing the website a breeze. Special mention goes to Automattic who has produced many of my most loved plugins this year including the breathtakingly-good VaultPress.
  • MailChimp - I have a newsletter, which evidently you can sign up to here(!), and they always impress me with the service they provide.
  • SoundCloud - could easily fit into several categories mentioned in this post, but I'll add it here. I remember the days when it was such a huge deal (and sometimes expense) to embed audio on your website, but now SoundCloud makes it quick and easy and it looks beeeeautiful.

I hope you enjoy checking out some of these. Got any to add? Leave a comment below.

I survived 2012. This is how it was!

The New Year means it's time to have a look back over the past year and see, through my blog posts, what has taken shape and what I have to say for myself! January started with a very well deserved "Shout-out to VaultPress" after they marvellously got my website back up and running after a meltdown!

3100508059_5c99a0f9e1_zFebruary is the start of the school term and I posted about the preparation work I do for schools.

My typing fingers must have been tired at the end of March - it started with two popular posts, iOS apps for music professionals and Digital music stands vs iPads, following on from, again, two very popular posts I did in 2010.

2012-05-15 APO Open Days 236

Following that were four posts on current projects - "Working on workshops" looked at some teaching workshops I was involved with, "An opportunity to make the floor rumble" talked about my upcoming new work for the Auckland Philharmonia and the Auckland Town Hall Organ. I conducted at the Bay Of Plenty Music School once again and my post, "Bay Of Plenty music school hit Rotorua!", pre-empted my visit there, and finally "Opening up an orchestra" reviewed the first two Auckland Philharmonia Open Days were I ran the "meet the composer" area.

In April I reviewed my time at the Bay Of Plenty Music School in "Making music in Rotorua" and posted photos in "Checking out the pipes" after an inspiring tour of the Auckland Town Hall Organ.

My Confession image May is music month and "A month of New Zealand music" checked out the events me or my music was involved with. It's also 48 Hour Film Festival time and our film this year was "My Confession…".

In June I talked about my involvement with Auckland Symphony's "Night Of The Proms" concerts in "Promenading in the colony" and I posted "Questions for a composer" after answering questions for a student's school assignment.

In July I posted my one word review of each piece from the "Nelson Composers Workshop 2012" where I was very happy to go this year as a mentor.

APO "Tiraki" workshopAugust is KBB Music Festival time and I also posted on the ongoing saga regarding the future of Sibelius in "What the heck is happening with Sibelius!". My piece, Tiraki, started to take shape after another workshop with the Auckland Philharmonia.

September was rather dormant on the blog front but in October I reviewed “What Lurks Among Saints” after being invited by a student I met earlier in the year.

The-Hobbit1In November I had the privilege of "Playing my role in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey", and I posted about the experience.

December was busy with a number of projects. In "Little pieces of Christmas" I talked about a bunch of Christmas arrangements I did for the Auckland Philharmonia and Auckland Symphony orchestras. I also talked about a film I was involved with, called "Sounds Perfect" and its selection into the Tropfest final in “Sounds Perfect” to be in a final". I then prepared music for some very fine New Zealand singers and talked about it in "Preparing for some legends!".

christmas-musicFinally, no year is complete without a "Merry Christmas" post thanking you for all of your support during the year and the compliments of the season.

Another year ticked off the list, another year doing my absolute dream job - let's get ready for an even better 2013!

Digital music stands vs iPads

In May 2010 I wrote a post about digital music stands (or electronic music stands) and what looked like a fantastic new product that very soon would be widely used. 22 months on, the development has been very average and so I thought we should look at where things are at and if other devices such as the iPad are becoming more common and viable for musicians. In that original post, I mentioned that there were two ways you could go about it: either purchasing the software and the hardware in one device (MusicPad Pro, Same Page Music) or just the software to run on your own monitor or device (MusicReader). I also mentioned the eStand which (now) has both hardware and software options available.

There have been several advancements to all products, in particular to the Same Page Music device which has (sadly, I think) morphed into an overly complex and overwhelming array of features, as can be seen in these two videos: video one, video two.

To me, all of the options mentioned above still seem very unattractive - they don't have user-friendly interfaces or ease and practicality in mind. Have a look at this promo for MusicReader:

You may have picked up on two major flaws. Firstly, the conductor for the wind ensemble had to have his device on an office desk, not a music stand. Secondly, on the floor of most ensemble was an array of cables, power boxes and so on. So, on stage they are not very practical, they take a lot of setup time and are still, generally, bulky.

In an industry where technology is moving incredibly fast, 22 months has not seen much development at all with digital music stands. Why is this?

Hello, iPad.

I don't want to preach Apple just for the sake of preaching Apple, but let's face it, so many musicians have iPads and there is a reason for it. They can have everything in one place, communicate with ensemble members, connect with fans - the list could be huge - and also they can have all of their music in one place. Yes, you can have all of your music stored on digital music stands of course, but you've probably got an iPad already for a multitude of other reasons and view and organise your music on the plane, at a cafe, wherever. On stage, just click the iPad in and you're ready to go - no power to worry about, no cables to trip on - a separate device seems quite unattractive, doesn't it? I think for a musician, the thought of taking another monitor or similar device to read music from would a be real burden.

This, I think, is why those standalone digital music stands that looked so exciting a few years ago, haven't taken off like many of us assumed. As of 31 December 2011 there were over 55 million iPads sold - that's a tough market to try and break.

Using your iPad - there are two types of apps. The first are PDF readers where you can do a lot of editing of the meta data and draw on scores etc, but you can't actually change the music:

  • MusicReader - I mentioned MusicReader in my original post and it is still a versatile piece of software, as it can be used on Mac and PC too. They have proved themselves over the years and it allows you to draw, highlight and write on a score, but to be honest the interface is pretty rough.
  • Perform - a nice app with good features for adjusting how the score scrolls. On the pro version, it can listen to where you are and will scroll accordingly. It can also make a video of you performing - if you like that sort of thing!
  • forScore - has a beautiful interface and nice range of features. It has the forStore where you can download a lot of music or you can even download PDFs from your Dropbox account. Some nice features like thorough editing of the score, a metronome and ability to play an on screen piano.

The second type gives you more flexibility with the music:

  • Avid Scorch - once your music is in Scorch, you can transpose by interval or key. If you have a score, you can view the actual score or individual parts and change between transposed/concert pitch. You can play it back and use the mixer to adjust levels if desired.
  • Finale user? - MakeMusic have announced they are bringing out an iPad app in May. Its features seem very similar to Avid Scorch. If you're interested, check out this video posted on their blog a few days ago.

For a daily user of Sibelius and having around 1,000 .sib files, the possibility of growth with these apps is very exciting.

If you are using an iPad, or considering one, these two devices will make you very happy indeed. The first is a product called TheGigEasy which makes it easy to mount your iPad in any environment. Check out this video:

This is a wonderful product, and I think, considering it was named by USA Today as one of the five "Hottest Products" at this year's NAMM Show, indicates how widespread iPad use amongst musicians really is.

You may be wondering about page turns. Well, the second device, AirTurnis taking away any worries in that area. In fact, it works via bluetooth so works with any iPad, Android, Mac or PC device. Check out the video below:

You may also be interested in this video of classical violinist Ray Chen talking about his use of the AirTurn and iPad.

So, digital music stands, I don't think, are proving themselves as great options for musicians, whether classical or contemporary, amateur or professional - not when tablet computing is moving at such a fast pace. Maybe in another 22 months we can have a look at this topic once again - who knows where we will be then!

Thoughts, experiences and links are most welcome.