I love NAMM. It's not only a music gear candy store, but it's also a music candy store. There are bands playing everywhere - in various large booths, in the lobby, outside in front, outside in back, at the main hotels . . . if you love live music, you're gonna hear plenty, almost all of it really good. The people who decide who to invite and coordinate everything do a great job.
In the halls themselves, even if you're in some area where they have instruments you don't even play, you're in for a treat. For instance, I always spend some time in the brass area, because I'll get to hear some guys with serious talent checking out the new trumpets. It's really cool to just watch, especially at the small custom instrument makers, because not only do these high end boutique companies attract great players, but the instruments are so darn pretty.
Some booths bring in talent to their booth. The last couple years, the National booth (that's who makes dobros) has brought Doug MacLeod (acoustic blues legend) to their booth to play a few sets. By coincidence, last year, right before NAMM, my family had seen Doug play in L.A. and stayed after the show because my acoustic guitar playing son was so impressed and wanted to talk with him. Somehow the topic of NAMM came up and Doug said he'd be there and invited my son (who's a pretty decent finger picker) to jam with him. Last year, and then again this year, my 17 year old son sitting in with Doug MacLeod. How cool is that?
If you have a question about something, you're gonna get answers from people who actually know the products. (No offense to my Guitar Center friends.) You may find yourself talking to the actual design engineer. Or to the head of the company. I remember looking at the name badge of a guy I was talking to and seeing it said "Roger Linn." I can't count how many times I saw Bob Moog. When I was at iZotope, I had a suggestion for a feature to add, and they brought the design engineer over to talk about it.
And then there's the sight-seeing. There are kids lined up down the aisles to get an autograph from some guy I've never heard of, and I suspect they're not so sure of either. But there's a line, so the guy must be pretty cool, right? So dog gone it, they'll get themselves an autograph, too. Take Paul Gilbert, for instance. Great guitar player and really bright guy (he's been to my studio), but how many 18 year olds are truly Mr. Big fans? It's a fun social experiment to witness.
There are the booth babes. There are the guys who pathetically think they have a shot with the booth babes. There are former metalheads who dress as it they don't know it's 2014. There are women who dress as if they don't know they're in their 50's now.
Speaking of losers, it's great seeing guys like Jay and Nick and Craig and all these other guys I see pretty much once a year at NAMM. And meeting new people like Dirk and Greg and the SoundIron guys and too many people to name. That may be the best part of all. Plus running into people I'd never met before like George Leger, who helped me out about a zillion times when I first switched to Logic. It was nice to be able to thank him in person, all these years later. Great guy. (Especially since he told me he's a Realitone customer. I always knew that guy was smart!)
I love all these things. I even love the constant noise. It bothers a lot of people, but not me. I actually like it. Well, maybe not when I'm trying to show someone Realivox Blue, but other than that . . . wait . . . did someone mention Realivox Blue???
Realitone - There were Stevie Wonder sightings. There were Steven Tyler sightings. But best of all, for the ladies at least, there were Mike Greene sightings! But this studly piece of eye candy wasn't the only reason to come to the Realitone booth. Mike (yes, I'm speaking of myself in third person. I'm not really sure why) was showing Realivox Blue. This is a solo vocalist with sampled legato and all the usual stuff you've come to expect from Realivox, but she also can sing words and phrases that you create by typing consonants and vowels. A February release is promised. (Golly, when have we heard that before?)
UVI - This was a more interesting visit than I expected, so I'm putting it at the top. (Although after Realivox Blue, of course. I mean, we have to give the people what they want, right?) As many people know, my experience with Native Instruments has been less than pleasant lately. Not only are they charging me an outrageous sum to encode Blue, but they put me on a three month wait list to have it encoded, even after I sent them the signed contracts and check for the full amount. Plus they're really bad about answering my emails. And don't even get me started on their lack of help in combatting piracy.
I do love the Kontakt platform (Blue, as well as The Men, will both be Kontakt), but I'm exploring options. Specifically, I've been talking with UVI. They offer a rate that . . . hmmmm, I signed an NDA, so I can't be too specific, but lets just say I find their rate, as well as their terms, very appealing. And . . . their encoding turnaround time is two or three *days* as opposed to months. You know how a developer sometimes seems to be stalling as they say they're "waiting for NI to encode?" Yeah, that. And most importantly of all, UVI seems to actually care.
As most people know, UVI offers scripting and can do pretty much the same things Kontakt can, in some cases more. You don't have to script round robins, for instance. Just drag the samples to the same zone and the round robin is (optionally) automatic. Plus it's a much prettier interface IMO and has really nice effects. Nothing new with any of that. Except here's the news I learned at NAMM:
You know how the knock on UVI (besides iLok, which I'll get to in a minute) is that it can't handle large libraries as well as Kontakt does? And that it's not as slick as Kontakt with multicore processing? Well, I can't remember which specific details I promised not to share publicly, but I can say that both those issues are going to go away. And I think I can share that a really large orchestral library is going to prove it. Regarding iLoks . . .
PACE - I'm told that they are soon going to offer a multiple authorization option. In other words, you will be able to authorize more than one iLok with the same license. (I believe I was told three.) Or in cominations, so you can authorize one or two iLoks, then also have a computer (or two, or maybe even three) authorized with the no-Ilok option. Best of both worlds. I get the impression that after the PACE debacle last year, they're doing everything they can to (finally) satisfy our requests. Personally, I've always liked iLok, but this is even better.
Scorecast - Every year, these guys have a dinner on Saturday night at El Torito. I've never been before, partly because I'm kind of a snob when it comes to Mexican food. (No offense to El Torito, but if you're familiar with La Luz Del Dia on Olvera Street, you know what I'm talking about.) I decided to go this year, though, and see what all the fuss was about. It was pretty darn cool, and I learned about an organization I knew nothing about . . . but should!
I had assumed Scorecast was just Brian and Dean's podcasts. I'm not much of a podcast guy, so I never looked further. Well, it turns out that it's actually a pretty deep composer community with a huge membership and a lot of resources. I'm probably the last to know this, but in case I'm not, you should definitely check it out at http://www.scorecastonline.com/
Free at Last! - Having my own booth is great. But what's not so great is having to be there all the time. I don't get much chance to wander the halls. So I was going to give up the booth this year. But then Alex Davis (Embertone) and George Strezov asked if I'd be interested in sharing the booth, expenses and all. Hmmm, that sounded like a good idea, so that's what we did. Chris Hein came on board as well, so we split the booth time with each of taking two hours a day. Which left me with plenty of time to get myself into trouble, lusting after expensive gear I maybe don't really "need," but . . .
Dave Smith Prophet 12 - I'll cut right to the chase - The Prophet 12 is, IMO, the coolest synth I've ever played. Every preset I played was pure inspiration. I expected to be unimpressed, and even as I walked up to the synth, I kinda made an of myself as I announced I already have a Prophet 5. The guy smiled and said, "This is no Prophet 5." Talk about an understatement.
The Prophet 12 takes it's little brother, the Prophet 08, which is basically just a multi-timbral analog synth (although a really, really good multi-timbral analog synth,) and adds digital waveforms to the mix. Not samples, ala Omnisphere, but waveforms. This is very much a synthesizer, where it's the synth, not a sound designer, that's doing all the work. They nailed great tone with their oscillators (that's where the magic needs to be), but then with incredibly deep versatility of the programming, this synth is a monster. I absolutely loved it. It's pricey at $2,800 (I think that's the price,) but it's so inspirational, especially with the tactile joy of knobs instead of a mouse, I'm really tempted with this one.
Moog - They were showing the Sub Phatty 37, which takes the Sub Phatty to the next level. Unlike the Prophet 12, it's still an analog synth, but the new features make this a great synth. I think they said it will be priced around $1,400 ($400 more than the Sub Phatty and definitely worth the difference IMO) and available in May. The guy who I was talking with for about a half hour was one of the engineers, by the way. How fun would that be to have a job designing analog synths?
Eurorack synths - Speaking of designing synths, there's this whole community of people who build synth modules. They shared a large booth downstairs in Hall E. I didn't have as much time last year to investigate fully, but this year I did, and what a treat it was. Apparently there's a standardized "Eurorack" that houses synth modules, so these tiny companies build and sell (professionally, not just as a hobby) synth modules. You might buy oscillators from one company, then maybe you like the filters from another company, then envelopes from another company, etc. The Eurorack makes the mounting and power supplies standardized, and modules connect with patch cables, so you can create as simple or complex of an analog synth as you like. I had a blast exploring this stuff. Websites where these guys hang out are http://www.synthtopia.com/ and http://www.matrixsynth.com/
Vintage Vibe - Okay, just indulge one more paragraph of my retro-lust. I have a Rhodes and I have a Clavinet D6. Anyone who's had either can tell you that they're kinda hit or miss on how they sound. Well, Vintage Vibe has not only taken the "hit or miss" element out of the equation by building their instruments to much more precise specs, but they also add their own output boards which make these puppies sound the way we wish they'd sound. I didn't think I'd be so impressed, but these are such a joy to play that I kept playing and playing. The tone, as well as the action, is perfect. Plus they're really pretty. If you love Rhodes, Wurlitzers or Clavinets, check these out.
Okay, Back to 2014 - All right, time to wander back to Hall A. The Steven Slate mic emulator is really impressive and at around $2,000, I may have to pick this thing up. Not so much as a true emulator, which I don't really care if a mic sounds "exactly like a C12," but more for the variety of tone. I think they said May for a release? Also the UA Apollo Twin looks like it will be my new audio interface for Logic, now that I can't use TDM inside Logic anymore.
So on to things you might care about:
Eduardo Tarilonte - First off, Tari is a great guy. I really enjoyed hanging out with him. Second off, these vocal libraries of his are great. He was showing Cantos, which is like a Gregorian chant kind of library. (Someone more musically knowledgeable than I am please correct me on that) as well another library of a male alto that is truly unique. Both sound great, plus I love the artwork.
Orchestral Tools - I played around with Berlin Strings for quite a while - longer than I planned, because it's such a joy to play. First, it sounds fantastic. Second, it's really deep. These guys really spent some time on this one and the effort shows. I highly recommend. Plus I always love seeing Hendrik. He's a truly nice guy.
Embertone - Alex and Jon of Embertone were showing their violin and cello libraries which everybody already know are great, along with some of their smaller libraries, which I think get overlooked. In particular, check out the Shire Whistle and take a look at the Jug Drums, which is a deceptively powerful library. Yeah, I know you might think you don't need it, but . . check it out. You'll thank me.
Strezov - George Strezov was showing his choirs and his percussion libraries. He has some really great stuff here and the percussion in particular is a treat to play. There's a ton of versatility to the tone, you can even mix in parallel compression, which is a great trick.
Chris Hein Woodwinds - Chris Hein debuted his new woodwinds library both at our booth as well as at the Big Fish booth. It sounds amazing. He spent a year working on this, with I forget how many samples, but it's a lot. Definitely recommended. Plus his harmonica library is really great and he had a keyboard player (whose name I can't remember) playing which was a real treat.
Broadway Big Band - Yuval of Fable Sounds was showing the Orchestrator which will be part of the Broadway Big band update. BBB is still the premiere big band library and the Orchestrator makes it quite a bit easier to use. It's very slick.
The Candy Cane Inn - Usually I stay at a place called the Jolly Roger. (You have to be prepared to give up a certain amount of dignity when you stay in Anaheim.) It's not the nicest place around, and it's not cheap either, but it's really close to the Convention Center, so that's usually my first choice. But I think they're doing construction there, so I couldn't get in. So I chose the Candy Cane Inn, which is almost as close, but more importantly, really nice! This is the nicest of the 5 or 6 places I've stayed in Anaheim. More kids than the other places (it's closer to Disneyland,) but I like kids, so that was cool, too. Hmmm, maybe I should send this whole report to Yelp.
Best Laid Plans - Hey, I have a great idea! What if I get some USB flash drives with Realitone logos printed on them. Then I could hand them out to my friends or other people I might want to impress. And for magazine guys who I want to do a review, I could load the drives with my stuff. Great idea, right? Well, that's what I did. I got 100 of these babies for around $700. And I started handing them out (when I remembered to) and gave away about 20 or 30 on Thursday.
Then on Friday morning, I checked one of the loaded drives (for the magazine guys) to check which libraries were on it, and . . . it said "Unreadable. Do you want to format it?" Huh? That ain't good. So I checked a few more. About half were bad. I reformatted one, which should only take a few seconds, but it took forever. Then I took one of the drives that didn't go bad and put some stuff on it. Then it went bad.
So . . . if I gave you a drive on Thursday, you better get rid of it. My apologies.