Jamming is the process by which I probably find most of my musical ideas. I’ve never been the kind of musician that visualizes his music before playing it, that hears it in his head and reproduces it. I’m more of the visceral kind that just lashes out and looks for the groove before thinking about it. I like to think I should concentrate more on what I might do instead of just doing because vision is key to knowing where you’re headed, and that applies to all fields in life. If you know where you’re headed, you know where you started, and knowing both of those things means you know what you’re playing from start to finish. That simple cerebral process is extremely useful because you are less inclined to forget the musical ideas, and jamming does not become a source of frustration when you forgot to record.
How many times have I cursed at my poor innocent instrument because I forgot to record what could’ve been the next “Child In Time“. Even worse is when you find a catchy riff with a unique twist, that you have it perfectly in your fingers one second and can’t manage to re-play it the next. Drives me crazy.
The best solution to this problem is recording of course, but that requires the right material on the spot. Jamming is a spontaneous ‘thing’ rather then an anticipated event – not having that material at hand often results in not recording at all. Either you have you’re studio set-up (turn on the computer, hook-up the mic, launch the sequencer, open up a session, record-enable your tracks and hit space-bar) or you purchase a digital recorder (just hit ‘record’).
With the DAW (digital audio workstation) approach you have a direct visual representation of what you did, so browsing through the content and putting up markers at interesting spots is made easy and practical. In just clicks you can record additional tracks and assemble sketches of songs in no time. The problem for those who are infected with laziness is the hassle of turning everything on in the first place, which brings us to our initial problem of ending up by not recording and losing ideas worth millions. And above all that, you can’t plan inspiration, it just happens.
A portable digital recorder takes care of that. You grab it, push two or three buttons and you start playing. I still hate myself for not having one around. For prices ranging from $100 to $300 we have a couple of options. Here are some quick reviews of the best and most affordable solutions out there:
Line6 BackTrack + mic – $150. Line6 was already selling a line-input model of the Backtrack but just came out with the added microphone version a couple of days ago. For that price you can’t expect top notch mics or converters but to capture jams it’ll do the job. Line 6 included cool little features like automatic recording and a ‘mark’ button that encodes a marker for any idea you want to keep an eye on. Click here for a vid.
Belkin GoStudio – $120. We had covered a little topic on this product a couple of months back but it’s worth mentioning again. Taking advantage of the fact that most people already own an iPod, the GoStudio represents a very attractive solution as it allows users to navigate their iPod menu for recording, time stamping, and playback. To have built-in mics and XLR inputs with all the iPod functionalities for only 120 bucks is a great deal
Zoom H4 – $299. Zoom always had a reputation for creating complex and complete devices for a very affordable price. The H4 allows you to record 4 tracks at once, add libraries of effects to recordings and playback, contains USB sound-card capabilities (which is extremely cool) and so on. Click here for a very informative video about the device.
M-Audio MicroTrack II – $299. The MicroTrack 2 has less built in features than the H4 for the same price but makes up for its simplicity. A straightforward, no-nonsense high-quality portable digital recorder is sometimes better than the alternative of having loads of parameters you can screw around with. More options means more decisions to take often translating as less time spent recording. Click here for a vid.
Yamaha PocketTrack 2G – $299. This is apparently the most portable of all recorders. With the PocketTrack you get a stereo mic, a built in speaker, a 2 gigabyte flash card and an integrated Cubase AI version to record directly in your computer. Cubase AI (audio integration) was specially conceived for Yamaha products to improve compatibility between external devices and audio software. So as for the H4, very cool. Click here for a vid.
and last but certainly not least…
Sony PCM-D1 Digital Field Recorder – $1849. Well yea for that price it had better be the best damn hand-held digital field recorder on the market. Looks so stylish too.
There, no more excuses for all those forever lost musical ideas while jamming!