Sound Advice – Cheap Music Tools



So you want to build a band and all you got is your trusty rusty old harmonica? Afraid you can’t afford to spend thousands of dollars setting up the right gear, but don’t fret, just work with what you got, until you get what you want. Start small and build up your kit, and here’s a handy list of 10 indispensable pieces of equipment you can get for under $150 each.

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Wah-Wah Pedal: Run your vocals through it, run your drum machine through it, run one playback track on the left and run the same track through the Wah-Wah Pedal panned to the right. Modulate with ferocity. $120 or $50 used.

Used Cheap Bass Guitar: Adds tons of smooth bass to any track. Even if you can’t play, just play the root key in time, or just pluck it once and let it fill up the bottom. Hit it staccato with the kick drum. Face it, sampled basses sound really thin. You’ll be glad you got it.

Pawn-shop Short Wave Radio: You can find them cheap, and when you run through the frequency band it makes a sound like an old Sequential Circuits Pro-One from the early 70’s. Plus you are able to pick up people speaking Chinese or Brazilian.

Shakers, Maracas, Tamborines, other Small Percussion Instruments: I’ve gotten endless use out of these when you just need to fill up that last bit of space on a track, plus it adds a live feel to your beats and you don’t need a whole drum kit to do that. Get a pair of sticks for about $10, and just hit stuff at random.

Noise Gate: If you don’t have one, get one! You can get a pedal version for under $150, and once you listen to the difference of eight tracks with line level noise versus eight gated tracks, you’ll use it for every track afterwards.

Envelope Filter: Again, pedal versions go for less than $150 but these things modulate automatically with the amount of amplitude run through them. Drum machines sound incredible through them, as do bass guitars.

Radio Shack Audio Raid: Take $100 down there and spend a day playing with the stuff. They’ve usually got crystal radio kits for around $15, sirens, alarms, cop scanners, oscillators, and a catalog of all the stuff that makes weird noise and has cool flashing lights.

Power Conditioner: Clean power is really a major noise reducer and good for eliminating that 60hz power hum. One of those things you might not notice until it’s gone.

Metasynth Software: Actually this might be more than $150 (I don’t know, I have a beta version) but I’ll bet it’s pretty close and it’s software that interprets visual information as sound. Time and pitch are on an X/Y axis and colors are interpreted as timbre – you can scan in your favorite photos and hear how they sound as tones. Or, you can paint with the mouse – with a little practice I was painting bizarre landscape symphonies. Very unique sounds, fun to play with.

Concert Tickets: Spend a few crowns on tickets for a band with a style of music that you write. Whenever I see a band that really blows me away, I run right home to the studio and whatever money I spent on the tickets is minuscule to the amount of inspiration I get from just being at a show.