Friday, April 21, 2017

Keeping Up With The Jetsons

I was at a panel discussion for drum teachers when the question of electronic drums came up. The drummer-educators on the panel seemed to agree that electric wouldn't do unless there was no other way. These were seasoned pros and perhaps a bit old school, but the message was clear. 
The main issues seem to be nuance and ‘feel’. True, electronic drums aren't as sensitive to touch as acoustic drums, they can lack a convincing rebound, and they can have a compressed dynamic range, but with developments in sensors, software and ‘head’ material, the gap appears to be closing.

Then, aside from the sensitivity thing, what's so wrong with electronic drums?

Require power: Without some sort of power source, you have a fairly elaborate set of practice pads. So batteries and headphones at a minimum, and more if you want to play live.

Too small: The pads typically are smaller -- e.g. 10" snare pad, 12" cymbal pad -- and just plain harder to hit.

Too limited: Finite sounds, instruments and settings; finite control over settings; and the racks can be hard to adjust.

Don't look impressive: In the days of techno bands, fine, but I can't see a metal drummer sitting behind a set.

Good ones are expensive: And so they should be, comparable to quality acoustic setups.

Not-so-good ones proliferate: Below a certain price point (e.g. under $500, with a few exceptions), you're looking at toys, not musical gear. Avoid.

Well, what's right then?

Dozens, even hundreds of sounds at the touch of a button: Pretty hard to top this.

Try different tunings, styles with less fuss, risk: It's a great way to experiment with new sounds to see if they work for you without messing with your acoustic instruments.

Change voices mid-song: Imagine having two or three or more sets available at the same time (depending on the nature of the controls).

Compact, easy to move (mostly): Even take them on the road for practice.

Play at 4:00 AM at full volume: With headphones, of course.

Better response than a practice pad: Head feel can be very good; some are nearly as physically and sonically responsive as real drums.

Dynamics getting pretty good: Modern triggers now incorporate a number of sensors and better sound processors, giving a big boost to dynamics.

Rock out in your own little world: I don't usually play heavy rock, but when I do I like to switch my e-kit to 'Bonham mode'.

So if you've been toying with the idea of an electronic set, I really can see no reason not to make like George and jump right in!

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Thinking of Buying Online?

Online shopping is big business. Like the catalogue stores of yore, all manner of goods are available in virtual shops. You can browse the photos and make your selection in minutes, and your purchase will arrive at your door in a matter of days -- except when it doesn't.

Most of the time, online shopping is painless, reliable and secure, and for hard to find items, may be the only option. Online stores earn their reputations by reliably filling their commitments in a timely manner. I've also found that customer service can be first rate, and the people really know their way around the products.
So, is on-line purchasing all good news or will you be giving up some important perks and conveniences? Let’s see.

A few on-line stores offer free shipping or may include it above a certain dollar amount. Otherwise it's a function of order size, weight and shipping distance. It can get expensive and it’s not refundable.

The product warrantee should be the same, but how do you act on it? You'll likely have to ship items back. And who will pay for shipping? Both ways? The process should be as pain free as possible.

Bait and switch
It looked so good on the web page. And what a great write-up! But when it gets to your door, what the ???? It’s rare, fortunately, but it happens. Many of the larger want ad sites offer vendor ratings. Some credit card companies provide protection for online purchases.

International Orders
A real shocker here in Canada, and a constant source of frustration, are excise tax and customs duty on international shipments. If a broker is involved, expect the tax bill to be anywhere from 20% to 80% of the order's value! This can be a deal breaker, so find out ahead of time.

Direct Sales
Some companies are opting to sell directly to the consumer, bypassing the normal sales and distribution channels. This can be good for the consumer since two levels of price mark-up have been avoided. And remember, there are still the issues of shipping and returns.

Try before you buy?
A good way to burn up good will at your local music store is to try out stuff there … and then buy it on-line. But people do it all the time (and then wonder why music stores are struggling to survive). Better to stick with commodity items that are familiar or fairly generic if trying is an important part of the process.