Dear Santa: My Christmas Wishlist

This is my money-don’t-matter Christmas wishlist. If Santa spent the rest of his year as a hedge-fund manager and he had a ton of bread to drop on my Christmas list, this is the one I’d hand him.

So, with that in mind, let’s start off with a new piano.

A New Piano

I live in a studio apartment in Manhattan. I live way uptown, so my place isn’t as small as that sentence might suggest. Nevertheless, I have neighbors that I have to take into consideration when I’m thinking about making music at home.

For me, the perfect instrument has to have three things: 1.) the action has to be superb, 2.) it has to integrate flawlessly with MIDI, 3.) I have to be able to use it late at night with headphones.

The cheap solution is a digital piano. For over 5 years now I’ve been playing and practicing on a Yamaha P-120, and it’s been a trustworthy companion. But come on, now – Santa’s loaded this year – so I want the real thing.

I’ve been eyeing this Yamaha U1SG model for awhile now. It has all the features I need – real action, MIDI integration and a silent feature. The MIDI integration is optical, not mechanical, to it doesn’t change the action at all (very clever, Yamaha).

A New Computer

When some clever jerk thought up the idea of “planned obsolescence” in the mid 20th century, he could never have known how easy the computer industry in the 21st century would have it. As soon as you buy a new computer it immediately begins it’s journey toward becoming a totally useless piece of trash.

And so, while I acknowledge the malice and waste of an industry that primarily makes future trash, I’ll also say this: I totally want a new computer. New computers are just so…sexy, you know? The MacBook I’m writing you from right now is still mostly working fine, but if Santa is loaded, then I’m asking for a new Mac.

A friend of mine recently bought a new computer. While at the Mac store it occurred to him that he could either get a tricked out MacBook Pro, or he could get both a tricked out iMac AND a MacBook Air for about the same price. So, actually, he got two sexy computers. And I have been jealous ever since.

So dear Santa, while I know you can afford the ultra-sexy Mac Pro and cinema display combo, I’m only going to ask you for the 27″ iMac…AND the 128MB MacBook Air. Thanks Santa.

Studio Monitors

Tech-heads and audiophiles are going to cringe at this, but the truth is that I do most of my mixing and mastering through my 1998 Sony stereo system. You remember your ’90s era stereo, right? Double tape deck and 5-CD changer? That summer you discovered hair gel and your (now dead) appreciate for Mel Gibson movies? The Chumbawumba album you probably sourced too heavily from for the mix tapes you gave to friends?

Well, anyway, I hook my MacBook into the aux input of that stereo and do all my mixing like that. It’s not that bad, to be honest. Most people listen to our music through those crappy iPod earbuds anyway, so why are we even breaking our necks on audio quality? Yes, yes, because we care, I know.

So with that in mind, it’s probably time for me to get some nice studio monitors. I like these ADAM A7s. So Santa, if you could throw a pair in my stocking this year, it’d be much appreciated.

New Headphones

It’s time for me to get some new headphones. Actually, Santa, if you could bring maybe 4 pairs of new headphones plus this Behringer 4-channel headphone amp, that’d be very helpful. See, I have singers come over to record at my place pretty regularly now, and it’s becoming problematic that I only have one real pair of headphones in this place.

I like the reviews on these Audio-Technica ATH-M50 studio monitor headphones. Flat response, comfortable design, nice enough to mix with late at night, etc. They are a little pricey, sure, but come on, Santa, you already bought me a piano and 2 computers. Don’t get cheap on me now.

A New iPod

Ok, back to the malice and waste of the computer industry.

I own an early generation iPod – the first one that had a color screen. That makes it sound like I bought it forever ago, but it was really just a few years back. Anyway – I told myself that I wouldn’t buy a new iPod until this one broke. But, actually, this little guy still seems pretty healthy. Can you believe that? I feel like I stumbled upon the only thing in the technology industry that seems to be well-built and durable. At this rate I’m going to be stuck with this 4th generation brick until I’m geriatric. Why won’t you break, for crying out loud!?

So dear Santa, please break my current iPod and bring me a sexy new one. Please bring the 160 GB silver one because I’m greedy and I like to carry at least 25,000 songs with me at all times.

Flip Cam and Final Cut

Sure, I realize that it seems pretty unlikely that I’d become a YouTube sensation. But if this guy can do it (and get a deal with Microsoft out of it), then we all at least have a shot.

Seriously, though, it does seem like video has already become an integral part of a career in the arts, doesn’t it? Whenever somebody wants to find out more about an actor or musician, it seems like they 1.) log on to Facebook to look for mutual friends, 2.) check YouTube for embarrassing (…and/or quality…) videos of performances, 3.) check out the personal website, 4.) maybe, actually, call them (not likely).

So dear Santa, please bring me an instant YouTube kit, which I think would be a Flip cam and a copy of Final Cut. Thanks.

5 Music Gadgets I Can’t Live Without

Metronome & Tuner in one

I let my girlfriend borrow this for a few weeks thinking I wouldn’t miss it and I was totally wrong. Turns out we both can’t live without it. I didn’t realize how much I was using it to check tempos here and there (and to let horn players borrow for tuning…ahem…). This is a priceless little gadget for musicians.

I bought mine…er…my girlfriend’s at the Sam Ash in NYC a few years back. I see Amazon has it for $25. I think it’s well worth the dime.

Bose Headphones

I was actually given these as a gift, if you can believe that. Great gift, right? I thought so too. I really like these headphones – they have great sound quality, the block out an impressive amount of sound without the expense of noise-canceling technology, they are lightweight and comfortable. They fit really well around my ears and stay comfortable for long periods of time.

They are expensive, like most Bose products, but they’ve also lasted a long time for me. I’ve been using my pair for 4 years now and I’m very happy with them. The foam on the ear cushions is finally starting to flake off a bit, but the sound quality has stayed the same and I expect them to stay nice for quite awhile longer. If I lost them I’d definitely replace them right away.

USB MIDI Connector

This 2×2 USB MIDI interface from M-Audio is perfect for my rig. Most keyboard controllers for sale these days have USB connection built in – which means you can skip the old MIDI interfaces and just buy a USB hub (which could save you around $200+). If you have an older board that only has MIDI connectors and no USB (like my Yamaha P-120), buy this 2×2 connector and you be all set. How simple is that? Another priceless gadget.

I also take this gadget on the road with me, even if I don’t have my keyboard in tow. In the places I work I’m never far from a keyboard, and I’m always working on something in Logic or Finale. If I have this cord in my suitcase I can always pull it out and make that abandoned keyboard in the backroom my make-shift recording studio for the day.

MOTU Ultralite

Without exception, I think the MOTU Ultralite is the best audio interface in it’s price range. I’ve owned one for 3 years now and I have no complaints. I have a friend borrowing it right now to record an entire album. I have no doubt that this gadget is up to the task.

The preamps are crisp and warm, the dials and buttons are rugged and satisfying, and the chassis is trustworthy. The firewire port means that it can be bus powered through your computer (leave that big adaptor at home), but it can also be used as a stand-alone mixer if you need it in a pinch (so bring that big adapter). I’ve lugged this little electronic all over the country between tours and relocations, and it’s never complained. Pair this with a good mic and you’re done. This is a great product.

1/8″ Headphone Adapter

My cellphone is a Palm Centro. There are a lot of fancy bluetooth and non-bluetooth headphones that you can use with a phone like mine, but they can be expensive, or they have a special jack – and either way they can only be used with the phone.

Why not just use your regular headphones? All you have to do is buy this 1/4″ to 1/8″ adaptor and you can. It’s only $1.43 at Amazon, and I found mine at Radio Shack for around the same amount. Just make sure that you get a “stereo” adaptor, or you’ll only get sound out of one ear (I made that mistake once).

Once you have the adaptor, you can plug your phone into anything that you can plug your iPod into – your car, iPod speakers (not the docks, the kind with the 1/4″ jacks), other stereo systems. This is really convenient if you have some new music that you are trying to learn and you want to always have it with you. Maybe you’re learning a new standard, or playing with a new band and learning their charts – or maybe you just recorded a new album and you always want to have the new music with you to show others.

You can do all of this with an iPod, of course, but sometimes you want to leave your iPod at home. Say you go for a run – maybe you want to bring your cell phone for safety and your iPod for music – just bring your phone with this adaptor and put a playlist on the phone.

I know what I’m describing here is an iPhone, or countless other kinds of phones, but this is the cheap way that I do it. It works great for me and costs less than $2.