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News - July 2007

Strategies for Learning - Music Magazines    14th July 2007 (Audiomidi)

by Brent Hoover

As the project studio market explodes, more and more resources have become available to the new or experienced home studio musician/producer so that you don't need to learn everything the hard way, by trial and error. We will be doing a roundup of books soon, but to get your started you might try Digital Audio by Peter Kirn, then from there we sell many good books on individual programs.

But how does one keep abreast of new technology, learn new tips from people who've been doing it for a while and just generally increase your knowledge while not constantly making the time investment of reading another book that explains what a soundwave is.

Ah, Magazines. And now your local newstand carries a multitude of monthly glossies, one of them probably catering directly to your skill level and taste. Let me give you an overview of what's available out there (that I know of, I'm sure I missed some people), so if you see one that seems to really fit your needs you can know what you are looking for.

Last time I did this I broke the magazines into different categories but now the lines have become so blurred that I would spend most of my time deciding which category the magazine is in, and may mistakenly have someone miss out on a great magazine. I will describe each magazine, who they are aimed at (in my perception) and I will offer my opinion of what are the best, which you can pay attention to or not. Also remember that magazine subscrition are usually dirt cheap (around $20 a year for most domestic) so you can take a chance and not have risked that much. That said, let's begin in no particular order than the pile of magazine on my floor.

Sound on Sound - This magazine is an audioMIDI.com favorite and in my opinion the best all around music technology magazine published today. The focus is on the electronic musician so expect reviews of most new software releases, but mic pres, hardware compressors, etc. are included too. Anything that might be applicable to the studio musician though they general stay away from items that go over $5k. They feature columns devoted to each of the major sequencers platforms and to Mac and PC, so your chance of finding a useful piece of information is high. In fact I find that my SOS's pile up the most because I want to read a majority of the articles and can't find the time. Also subscribers receive access to the archives online which contains some amazing tutorial series including a near legendary synth programming tutorial by Gordon Reid. Sound on Sound also has the rare reputation of calling a spade a spade and giving some pieces of gear bad reviews, sometimes really bad, something you rarely see in almost every other music mag.

The only downside is that SOS comes out of the UK. This used to be a big problem because the magazine ran you $12 to $14 at the newsstand and all prices were in pounds. Now they publish an "international" edition which only lowered the newsstand price to $9.95 but the ads and review are in Dollars and subscriptions are much cheaper and we here at audioMIDI often offer special rates. The only other downside to it origins in the English Empire is that they feature artists who are popular in England but unknown in the U.S. Maybe thats not a downside but you don't get the interviews with your favorite artists as often. (published monthly)

Tape Op - the Maverick amongst Music Tech magazines they have this crazy idea that artistry comes before gear. That being said, the magazine is chock full of gear reviews and interviews with gear makers. They also regularly carry interviews with small studio owners, legendary studio engineers or producers. The emphasis is very much on recording live instruments (aka indie bands) rather than synthesized studio artists, with the perspective that new and shiny doesn't necessarily trump old and weird (as long as its cheap). If you have been recording your buddies bands with your portable eight track and wonder if there might be money in this sort of stuff this magazine was made for you. If Steve Albini was a magazine, he'd probably be Tape Op. Tape Op also sponsors a conference every year that features workshops and speakers of renown usually some time in June. While the newstand price is $4.50, subscriptions are FREE. Just visit www.tapeop.com and sign up (you can also pay if you prefer to review Tape Op first class mail). (published bi-monthly)

Virtual Instruments - You know the market is getting bigger when people start to get more and more specialized and certainly Virtual Instruments in one of the biggest growth areas (thank god, so I still have a job). For the Virtual Instrument lover/user this probably won't be the only magazine you read but it's a pretty essential one since there are so many VI's out there now that trying to sort the wheat from the chaff (god I hate chaff) would take an incredible amount of time as new instruments are released literally every day. While the name does accurately depict its focus, it does cover issues that VI users would be interested in, such as reducing computer noise, optimzation, etc. For users of VI's this magazine is a must, its practically got your name on it, although it probably shouldn't be the only magazine you subscribe to. (published bi-monthly)

Electronic Musician - Here again the title gives you a pretty good idea of the target audience, mixing up reviews of both hardware and software and tutorial articles such as "Quantizing Audio Drum Tracks in Logic Pro" (which would allow you to match the functionality of Pro Tools famed "Beat Detective", so its a big deal, if you have Logic Pro). It also features interview with artists, engineers and producers.

There was a period where I thought that EM (at the time one of the few Music Technology mags) was taking a serious dip in quality but it has undergone a renaissance of late (last year or so) and is back in my "to read" pile. Sometimes its reach is so broad that I only find one or two items on the cover that strike my interest, but if I read it all the way through I feel as if I have learned a lot. EM is one of the more readily available at newsstands (I got my first one at an airport) and subscriptions are just a little more than $20 for a monthly publication which is a good deal even if only one article a month was up your alley. (published monthly)

Keyboard - While keeping its original roots as a magazine for the piano/organ player, then the synth player, it now covers most areas of interest to the electronic musician like reviews of softsynths and sequencers while still carrying articles on Oscar Peterson solos and comping. The magazines "Key Buy" award is usually a reliable stamp of approval that a particular product is of quality and I personally enjoy it because of its balance of "gear and ear" since its so easy to get lost in all the amazing products coming out that I often forget how little I know about making music and Keyboard reminds me that I should probably work on my 7th chord inversions instead of loading up another Virtual Analog synth. (published monthly)

EQ - We thought we were going to lose our friend EQ for a while as it went through some hard times but its back, better than ever. While covering much of the same area as Electronic Musician, Keyboard, and Sound on Sound, I find that the "tone" of the magazine a bit more practical. Their subtitle is "Make Better Recordings NOW" which I think put the finger on it that it has a little more of a practical, nuts and bolts flavor to it that is more immediately applicable to the stuff you are working on today. (published monthly)

REMIX - Originally targeted mostly towards DJ's Remix has grown into one of the best Music Production magazines available. Great mix of interviews with high-profile artists like AIR and LCD SoundSystem with practical articles, concise reviews, CD reviews, and the acknowledgement that electronic artists do occasionally play out. If you are more in the Tape Op camp (live recordings) you won't find much here, but for electronic music artists, Remix is a "must read". (published monthly)

Scratch - The one and only magazine designed strictly for Hip-Hop producers, and too long in coming. (also wins extra points for not spelling scratch with a 'k'). While sometimes the quality can be spotty, and it carries a slick, photo heavy layout it inherits from its parent publication XXL, if you are an aspiring or acheived hip-hop producer you need to read every word of this magazine because nowhere else does anybody understand the techniques and methods unique to hip-hop. This shouldn't be your only magazine, you will probably need one or two of the above magazine to get your tech chops up, but now that Rap is Dead, its producers finally have a magazine. (published bi-monthly)

DUB - Just in case there is anyone out there who is as stupid as I am, and buys magazines in a hurry when off to a job, gig, or plane. DUB has nothing to do with dub music, its about cars. My copy should have been labled DUH.

Computer Music Magazine - I just recently discovered this magazine by standing high as I could and seeing it way in the back filed with the computer magazines. Main downside is that this magazine comes from the UK so it cost me $16 for this magazine (nearly the price of a book) but I considered it money well spent for two reasons. One is it includes a DVD that is not filled with trialware, demos, and promotional videos. It came with a boatload of samples and a completely free DAW software. While all prices are in pounds and many of the artists I have never heard of, this magazine is packed with great how-to's and great reviews. Plus it has a generally more cutting-edge technology outlook than any other music tech magazine with an article covering Vista long before it was released and an article entitled "Will there ever be a new form of synthesis?". Down side, subscriptions are pricey even for Europeans. Yearly subs are 97 Euro or 85 pounds, and you can get a subscription for one quarter for a little less then $30 (cheaper than my $16 at the newstand but then you have that lost in the mail element).

MusicTech - Another new discovery from UK, another high newstand price ($16.95), and another one that comes with a free DVD of actually cool stuff. The main difference is that MusicTech covers both electronic music production and recording, so there is talk of such primitive items like Mics. Other than the very cool DVD however, I saw nothing in it that wasn't covered as least as well by American publications, so if you live in the US I can't recommend paying the extra expense, but for UK or European readers its an excellent equivalent to something like EQ or Electronic Musician.

Singer & Musician - Why someone doesn't give them a hard time about saying "Singers AND Musicians" as if singers weren't musicians I don't know, but I guess it makes sure that Singers know this is especially for them and won't include tablature to any My Chemical Romance songs. While there is some coverage of equipment its limited to live performing equipment and articles cover issues such as "Schtick or Staple: The Fine Art of Stage Banter". Good magazine and interesting read but electronic musicians will find little of use here.

Pro Audio Review - Really, magazines for musicians feature straight-ahead names that need little or no explanation. Not so with other magazines. Can you tell if you don't already know what "Wallpaper" or "Good" or "Tricycle" are about? (design, politics/activism, and Buddhism if you cared). But Pro Audio Review is just that, completely full of pro audio reviews and nothing else. No how-to articles, no artist interviews, just extremely in-depth, technically sound, knowledgable reviews of equipment most of us can't afford. However sometimes there is a crossover between what our customers buy and what PAR reviews, and if you want an extremely in-depth and professional review (rather than the opinion of some guy who tried it for a week and thought it was "awesome") before dropping some serious cash on a piece of equipment, PAR has got it. (published monthly, digital version available)

Music Connection/Performer - While these two magazines are not related in any way financially they both fill the same invaluable niche, covering the local music scene for musicians. In other words, live reviews of places you might actually play, reviews of local indie CD's and stories on up-and-coming local bands. And for Music Connection at least, even demos reviews, which, if very positive will often lead directly to label interest (if you're interested in labels).

Performing Singwriter - I really enjoy this magazine but it has almost nothing to do with anything technical about music production. It's mostly focused on the interviews with well known artists (Mary J. Blige is on the cover of the Jan/Feb issue on my desk) talking about their songwriting process in a serious way to other songwriters. Sort of like "The Actors Studio" used to be, focusing on the craft, not the fluff. There are gear reviews and a little overlap, but if you write songs rather than "make beats" this is a great magazine. But you better also have a Sound on Sound or EM/EQ around for when you are ready to make that song a recording.

Billboard - This magazine was designed for people who are bound for the forth level of Dante's Inferno (the hoarders and the wasters), aka record industry people. Of course its well known for its charts and that's why its mentioned here because if you are a producer who works with many artists it is often important to know what's "Hot" and sometimes industry news (like if the record company you are negotiating with is about to be bought or go out of business). Otherwise its filled with pictures of hardcore rappers and "angry" indie rockers with their arm around record executives with haircuts from 10 years ago, which while hilarious, can't possibly justify its $300 subscription price. (it is weekly though) Fascinating like a train-wreck, but possibly unavoidable if you are in "the game".

Radios and Records - This magazine is designed for fifth level aspirees (the glutinous), that is the people who decide what records get played on radio. It also features charts which don't reflect sales but airplay (often a precursor to sales I've heard). While this expensive and hard-to-find if you don't live in an industry town magazine should be kept away from the children and you may want to prepare a small essay entitled "Why I love making my art" before reading it, its worth picking up at least once to see how people on the other side of the radio see us and probably a wise read to stay abreast of current radio trends if you are in "the game".

MMR - Don't read this magazine, it's not for you, if you can even find it. It carries all the secrets and tricks we that sell music equipment use to make you spend your paycheck on music equipment even though the rent is due and the baby needs to go to the doctor.

MIX - Along with Keyboard, Mix has been around for a long time, a rare feat in the publishing business. Mix has struggled a little bit to keep up with the times as the days of the big studio with the $300,000 SSL Console are fading, but it has adjusted and you will find many articles directed at the project studio. Because of its prestige it does tend to attract a higher caliber of writer and the column by Stephen St. Croix can sometimes be worth the price alone, but otherwise its fairly indistiguishable from the pack of quality how-to/review magazines published today. But it's widely available and has a consistent level of quality even as it struggles to find it's focus.

Summary - Magazines are terrific sources of information that you can't find anywhere else. But they can also be a trap into thinking that you NEED the newest piece of software or hardware to make music. And you may or may not, but keep your eyes on the prize and of course, MAKE MORE MUSIC.


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