z Gear Stories episode 29


Gear Stories 29, Two CRAZY deals, and Deconstructing a song with Ultimate Sound Bank




Hello there and welcome to Gear Stories this month!  (for those of you that are new to this, Gear Stories is my once a month newsletter about cool gear and cool deals that we have at Sweetwater, and it’s not written by a guy in the marketing department… It’s written by my own two hands… yours truly, Jon Gillespie, your sales Engineer at Sweetwater Sound!)


As always, If you don’t want to receive these e-mails, let me know, but before you reflexively hit the “unsubscribe” button, try it, you might like it!


Before I get into the main thing, a few quick bits of interesting news.


Sweetwater is now carrying some unusual new items (at least, unusual for us!).  Here is the list of new categories for us.


Mandolins!    http://www.sweetwater.com/store/search.php?s=mandolin&sb=high2low


Ukulele’s (Who EVER would have thought!?!)  http://www.sweetwater.com/store/search.php?s=ukulele&go=Search


And how’s this for cool – an electric bass ukulele that sounds like an upright bass! – http://www.sweetwater.com/store/detail/UBASS/


Banjos!  (Again, who would have thought!?)  http://www.sweetwater.com/store/search.php?s=banjo&sb=high2low


Harmonicas!  http://www.sweetwater.com/store/search.php?s=harmonica&sb=high2low


And finally, something I NEVER thought we would carry… Lights!    http://www.sweetwater.com/c1032–DJ_Lighting




Now, on the the real Gear Stories!


Blue Quad Cables, and the H4n…. two CRAZY deals!


Usually the first half of gear Stories is about one item that is pretty darned affordable… this time, it’s about TWO items that are pretty darned affordable.


First off, I want to introduce everyone to the wonder and glory of premium cables, so I am offering a simply insane deal on Quad Cables by Blue.  In the studio I hate it when I have to spend money on cables, because it’s not the kind of thing that catches people’s attention, except when they go bad!


My studio is moderately equipped for a pro studio.  Recently, I had to do an inventory of the gear in my studio, and I figured that there was at least three thousand dollars in cables!  Can you believe that?  A thing that nobody notices of cares about… three grand worth.  It feels like paying for air!


But they are a necessary evil, and as I said before, the only times cables are really noticed in the studio are when they go bad, and then you, the studio owner, are standing there with egg on your face!


Recently, I had some trouble with a mic I was using.  It just wasn’t sounding right.  I tried a bunch of different settings on the preamp and compressor… it just sounded noisy and thin and… well, CHEAP!  (And it was NOT a cheap mic!)  Finally, exasperated, as a last ditch effort, I took the mic cable off.


The cable I removed was one that was manufactured some time in the late sixties or early seventies and travelled around with the original incarnation of the band “Petra” before I inherited it and it toured around for more than a decade in my own band, and only later, I started a studio and threw it in the cable bin… it was just plain old and tired. (Like a certain Sweetwater sales engineer I happen to be… I mean know)


I replaced the “Vintage” mic cable with a brand new Blue cable that I had gotten just a few days earlier, since we got such a great deal on them here at Sweetwater.  I was absolutely BLOWN AWAY!  The difference was immediate – clear and rich sound!  What really got me was how many tracks had been laid down over the decades with mics plugged into that old, used up mic cable and what a difference it could have made if I had always been using premium cables!  I remember reading an interview with the daughter of famous musical comedian Spike Jones (I think her name is Leslie) who had grown up and become the chief engineer at Skywalker Sound, and she was extolling the virtues of using premium cables, saying that you  really could hear a difference.  (I must confess, at the time, I thought it was a bunch of hooey!… but I have repented my evil ways… and took WAY too long to do it!)


So now, I have replaced all the mic cables in my studio with premium cables, and I wanted to give you all the same moment of enlightenment, with perhaps a few years less of regret!  But I want to make the process less painful for you than it could be, by offering you this special deal!  Quad Cables by Blue!  There is a special deal going on right now, only by contacting me… you can get them for 50% off advertised price!  (Come on, now… that IS crazy!)  So now they are listed on the web site at $50, and I can, for a limited time, offer them to you for $25!  (Plus shipping) They are 20 feet long and will make your amazing recording mic sound even MORE amazing!


Check out the link and then call me!  http://www.sweetwater.com/store/detail/QuadCable20/    You’ll be glad you did!



Crazy Deal number two!  The H4N handheld multitrack recorder.


Being a studio guy, I had never paid too much attention to field recorders.  When I would go out to record a band live, I used to carry this huge rack of stuff that culminated in a rack mount (gasp!) DAT machine!  (At that time, that rack of gear was worth around four or five thousand dollars!)  Then eventually, the rack was replaced by a shoulder bag full of stuff, complete with a laptop (Which contained in total about $2500 worth of stuff)… but these days things just keep getting smaller and smaller and cheaper, and instead of taking a box or a bag of stuff to a live remote recording gig, now you only have to pull a handy dandy little gadget out of your coat pocket!


Aaah!  But what if you need to record more than just stereo!  Gotcha now!


Well, there’s the H4N by Zoom.  It’s a compact, easy to use field recorder, with some very nice sounding mics and pres, that can actually record four tracks at a time, AND it can be used as a multitrack recorder, complete with overdubbing capability!


But who would want such a thing?    Well… just about everybody.


I have sold them to musicians who want to do multitrack demos of their tunes without having to fire up a computer.  I have sold them to serious recording engineers that get hired to record live gigs.  I have sold them to authors who want to take a kind of “dictaphone” device with them wherever they go to record their ideas.  I have sold them to songwriters who collaborate with other musicians and want to record tracks of their musical cohorts without having to bring them into a studio.  (They just dump a rough mix onto the unit and run on over to their buddy’s place and lay down a few passes and then bring them back to the studio and plug the H4N into the computer with a USB chord, click and drag the new files onto their hard drive and pull them right into their session!)


I have even sold one to a court reporter who has to record courtroom sessions and capture people talking in low voice tones across a large room.  He keeps the H4n in the center of the room where he is, capturing the main action with the built in stereo mics, and then has a couple of sound grabber mics on either side of the room and catches the voices of the plaintiff and the defendant’s camps. (Sometimes even catching things that were purposely spoken quietly so the rest of the courtroom couldn’t hear!   I’m certain THAT could make some interesting listening!)


The fact is, if you are a Sweetwater customer, you probably have a situation where the H4N could be a very handy thing for you to have around!


I was amazed at the overwhelming response when I ran a special deal on the Q3 video recorders a couple of weeks ago, but there were many of you who contacted me, saying that you did not need the video but would really like a field recorder… and the H4N is the most popular field recorder on the market, for obvious reasons!  No other field recorder that we sell can do what the H4n can.  So in response to YOUR response, I have been authorized to offer the same kind of deal on the H4N … maybe even a better deal!


It normally advertises for $299 with free shipping.  But from now until the end of August 2010, you can get your very own H4n for the crazy price of $249 plus shipping.  (A discount THIS low does NOT qualify for free shipping)


Check out the link!  http://www.sweetwater.com/store/detail/H4N/


It comes with a number of accessories at no charge, like the power supply, so you can operate it plugged into the wall (but it can operate for an amazing 11 hours on two double-A batteries!).  It also comes with a mic stand adaptor, a free 1 gigabyte SD card, a wind screen, a mic clip adaptor, a protective case, a USB cable, and Cubase LE software!


There are also a few optional accessories that you can get to go along with it, like a remote control…   http://www.sweetwater.com/store/detail/RC4   and a handy micro recorder pack to carry it an all it’s accessories… http://www.sweetwater.com/store/detail/GMicroPack


And since I know you will ask, it can hold up to a 32 gig SD card… THAT is a lot of audio!


Remember… this only goes until the end of this month, and you have to contact me directly!  This is not an offer that is open to the general public… it is just for my customers!  (You lucky dogs!)







There are a lot of really cool things about working at Sweetwater, and one of the COOLEST things is the people I get to meet.   Of course, I got to meet all of you reading this!  But in the last year or so, I have gotten to meet people like Joe Satriani, Victor Wooten, Ingrid Michaelson,  Adrian Belew, Joseph Jack Puig, Chris Lord Alge, and even that kid from American idol with the blonde dreadlocks from a few years ago… One day I was walking down the hallway, and there was Michael McDonald standing at the receptionist’s desk.  Another day, a tour bus pulled up and Aerosmith got out and took a tour of the place.    I could go on and on… but you get the idea!


At Gearfest this year, I met a guy who was a hero of mine, and I didn’t even know it.  His name is Alain Etchart, and he lives in Paris France.  He is a software developer for a company called Ultimate Sound Bank, and he also was largely responsible for MOTU’s virtual instruments like Mach5, MX4, BPM, Symphonic Instrument, and my favorite… ETHNO!


Alain was there representing MOTU and Ultimate Sound Bank.  I was familiar with the free player that came with my Digital Performer software, called the UVI player.  It works on Mac and Windows formats, and it comes with a basic set of sounds from various libraries that his company created.  I find it handy because I can pull in loops from a lot of other sources and it gives me a very easy way to trigger them and sync them with the tempo of the song I’m working on… but once Alain started showing me the many sound libraries available that were made specifically for this player, I became enthralled with them!


As I conversed with Alain, I told him about the world music project I have been working on for years, called “Dream Rodeo,” and he was interested.  After Gearfest, I mailed him a “Best Of” disc from the project (Which is currently at 16 albums and counting! Each album in a different language!) and he contacted me shortly after that and asked me if I would do one of the songs for Dream Rodeo using only sounds from his sound libraries.  I agreed, and now I  have done it, and I am not only sending it to him, but I will tell you all about it and how it was created.  Also, I have posted the song online, in it’s entirety, for you all to listen to as you read this.  Here is the link…  https://dreamrodeo.com/wordpress/y-song-notes-angola-unidos-em-cristo


The first thing I do when making a Dream Rodeo song is record the vocals (kind of a backward work flow, I know, but that’s what makes it special), then I decide the structure of the song and start adding keyboards and other instruments.


As I listened to sounds from the sound banks, I found one called “Airport Dreams”  and I thought about a vocal track I had recorded for the Portuguese album, with traditional songs from Angola Africa… Once I heard that sound, the two instantly became one in my imagination!


“Airport Dreams” has the recorded sound of an announcement over an airport loudspeaker amidst the ambience of the terminal, along with a pad that has a very abrupt start, but trails off into oblivion, making a chord as the sound unfolds.  The interesting thing is that the announcement speeds up and slows down depending on what note you are playing, so if you play two notes a ways apart, it will sound like two different people, speaking at different tempos, and creates a wonderful cacophony!


I made a pass through the song, putting in the “Airport” sound in strategic places, and then laid down a pad from the Synth Anthology Library called “Dramatic Atmospheres”  It was kind of like an analog string patch.  I did throw a little flange on that with the WAVES MetaFlanger to add some texture.


I wanted another pad texture in the song, so I started digging around through the sounds and saw one called “Fruity Pad Organ.”  I almost skipped it because of the name… but in the interest of being thorough, I checked it out and WOW!  It was perfect.  It is a kind of slow build pad with an organic texture, but the cool thing is that it makes a minor chord, but the note you’re pressing down is actually the fifth of the chord instead of the root, so it brought a new dimension to my improvisation, because I had to think about the chords of the song, which are all major, so I transposed down to the relative minor, and then up a fifth.  That’s a lot of math for a musical mind like mine to calculate while I’m improvising through a song… so I made a lot of mistakes… but they were really COOL mistakes!


It is the mistakes I make that send me spinning off into directions that I never would have thought of, so I was delighted that I found that sound.


At that point, it was time to add the rhythm to the song.  At Gearfest I had heard a sound I desperately wanted to use.  It was a sampled toy drum kit from the Acoustic Toy Museum library, called the Mini Pro Kit.  I made a drum part for the song, using mostly that.  The one thing about that kit was the hat and the ride sounded pretty similar (after all, it IS a toy kit and not a real one!), so instead of the hat from the Mini Pro Kit, I assigned what would be the Hi Hat part to a tambourine sample I found in the “Percussion Store” library.   I also used a “Bata” drum (A south American hand drum) and played a loop for that on my keyboard.  That is the first drum that you hear come in in as you listen to the song.


Also in the Acoustic Toy Museum I found a sound called “Pro Xylo Mallet” which is one of the best xylophone samples I have ever found!   Again, I am so glad I found this sound because it inspired me to add another part in the song that really helped create the moodiness of the whole piece, and I improvised a take through the song with it.  (I even started the song with a single note from that Xylophone flipped around backward!)


After that I wanted to build the song’s texture, and I thought something arpeggiated would be just the thing, so I searched around and found a sound called “Arpeggiated Pad” and laid that down in the second half of the song.   Just to make it dreamier, I put a stereo delay on that.


Finally, the last piece of the puzzle I needed was a bass sound.  This was tough, because I wanted it to be something in keeping with the mood of the whole arrangement, but it had to be big!


With a lot of searching around, I landed on Mini “Moog Power Bass” from the Retro Keys library.  It was actually a little TOO big!  I had to use a high pass filter and some additional effects (Tony Mazariati Signature plug in for bass from WAVES) to make it fit into the texture of the song… but it was 95% perfect the way I found it… it just needed a little tweaking.


A bit of a mix and I was done!  I had only spent fourteen hours putting the whole song together!  What a perfect day for me!


The Ultimate Sound Bank libraries are vast and very diverse, and though my music is dreamy and ambient, there is a LOT of stuff in there for Hip Hop producers and electronica composers!  I barely scratched the surface with this little ditty,  and I think if you are making more edgy or poppy music, or doing sound design for picture, these libraries are a treasure trove!


So, from now until the next Gear Stories comes out, I will be offering 10% off all Ultimate Sound Bank libraries, (and the player comes free with them!)


Check out what is available at this link…  http://www.sweetwater.com/store/manufacturer/Ultimate_Sound_Bank


Remember, you have to contact me directly to get this discount!


And please, browse around my project’s web site, too… https://dreamrodeo.com/


And if any of you foolishly wonder what I look like, click on the “Producer” link at the top and you will see my smiling face!)  I’d love it if you left comments on the forum page too…  What can I say?  It’s the first web site I ever built and I’m kind of excited about it!


As always, if there’s anything else you are thinking about in the way of audio gear, give me a call!  I look forward to being of service.


Jon Gillespie, Sweetwater Sales Engineer


800 222 4700 x 1352

260 432 8176 x 1352 (outside the U.S.)

260 432 1758 FAX

[email protected]


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