Electronic Musician magazine is pleased to bring you a host of creative gift ideas for the musical friends in your social circles. This year’s “rock stars” actually represent a range of musical styles, from RYAN Playground’s electronic R&B to Delicate Steve’s take on world music, to punk rock from Good Charlotte, and many others.
As in past Gift Guides, we asked our shoppers to suggest two gifts: one that’s affordable on a working musician’s budget, and one that each player would buy with a bottomless bank account. Their creative suggestions include a soldering gun, meditation CDs, stage keyboards, e-drums, earbuds, and loads more instruments and audio tools.
We kick off this year’s guide with a guitar master, and a reminder that the latest releases by these talented artists also make great gifts!
French-Canadian producer, singer, and songwriter RYAN Playground released her first EP showcasing her electronic R&B music in 2016, and celebrated the release of her debut album, 16/17, this past September. Her music has received praise from Vogue, FADER, Stereogum, and more.
RYAN’s affordable gift choice is a pair of Perfect-Fit CMP Model Custom Musician Ear Plugs. “I have some custom ear plugs to protect my ears from high volume, and I’m telling all of my music friends to do this because I think it’s very important,” she says. “Visit a local audiologist, and they will take a mold so that you can protect your hearing.”
For her high-end idea, “I recommend that people go in for a luxury instrument if they’re passionate about it,” RYAN says. “I saw this guitar in a shop: the Fender American Standard Ofset Telecaster guitar. I fell in love with this guitar. It was expensive, but I have never regretted buying it. There’s something very special about how the treble sounds. I’ve been into punk music all my childhood, and there’s something in the sound of the pickups that is very particular to the kind of things I listen to.”
Parisian DJ and producer Zimmer is best known as a remixer for artists such as Wunder Wunder, Brooke Fraser, Gallant and others. He is currently on a headlining tour of the US, supporting his EP Ceremony. Zimmer’s affordable selection is the u-he Diva. “This has been my go-to synth for the past five years,” Zimmer says. “With just this and a DAW, you can make beautiful music. It emulates all the classics — Juno, Moog, Prophet — and you can switch the components. Fifty percent of the sounds in my music come from this.
“If money was not an issue, I’d dream of having a pair of Barefoot MicroMain 27 monitors. To me, they are the holy grail of studio speakers. There’s no better feeling than hearing music with perfect speakers in a perfectly treated room.”
Keyboardist Rachel Eckroth’s projects have included the jazz trio Antelog, backup vocals and keys for KT Tunstall, and playing in the house band for NBC-TV’s The Meredith Vieira Show. Eckroth also served as music director for the Women’s March in Washington, DC in 2017. Her latest solo release, When It Falls, is out now. When we spoke, she was gearing up for a tour with Rufus Wainwright.
“My budget pick would be the Avalanche Run pedal by EarthQuaker Devices,” Eckroth says. “This is a super fun reverb and delay pedal that includes tap tempo and other features like Reverse and Tails mode, which lets the sound naturally fade after the effect is switched off. I love it because it can be used with any electric instrument; pedals are not just for guitarists anymore.
“My ‘sky’s the limit’ gift would have to be the Moog System 35. This giant five-oscillator modular synth has an optional keyboard attachment — the 960 Sequencer Complement B.I always find myself daydreaming about having an entire modular synth wall in my house. Moog are only making 35 of these total, so you should get yours today!”
Delicate Steve is the project name of musician/songwriter Steve Marion, whose first album of experimental world sounds commanded the admiration of other artists as well as fans when it was released on David Byrne’s Luaka Bop label in 2011. Since then, Marion has performed on albums by Yeasayer, People Get Ready, and Paul Simon, to name a few. This holiday season sees the release of Delicate Steve’s The Christmas Album.
“I was trying to think of a gift that would interest guitarists of all styles, skill level, age, gender, race, religion, and I could think of only one gift: Master Chunyi Lin’s Butterfly Guided Meditation,” Steve says. “By using this guided audio meditation, you will be able to remove any negative energy and/or blockages in your body, sending the energy back into the universe and helping to make you a better guitarist and a better human being.”
Marion’s fantasy gift is the Carter Custom Instruments' Little Gent. “I was lucky enough to be gifted this guitar by master builder Jeremy Carter in 2012. I used it that night when Delicate Steve performed at Terminal 5 in New York. It went on to replace the Fender Mexican Strat — that was given to me as a Christmas present in 1999 by my parents — as my main live guitar.”
We covered indie and hip-hop artist Yoni Wolf on emusician.com this year when he produced and mixed a terrific young Cincinnati band called The Ophelias. However, Wolf is best-known by his project name WHY?, whose latest album, Moh Lhean, is out now on Joyful Noise records.
Wolf thinks the perfect gift for the giver with little or no budget is a “Craigslist piano, if there’s space. You can find used uprights online any time for one or two hundred dollars, or free. If I’m writing a pop song, a melodic song, I’ll always put together the chords on the piano, because it’s the perfect instrument for writing and arranging. The real gift would be moving it, actually! So, if you’re a big strong person, that’s the greatest gift you could give a musician.
“On an unlimited budget, I’d want some big, expensive compressor. I feel like with vintage units that only have one or two knobs, they instantly sound good and carve out their own space; it’s very difficult to get that with plugins. I’m not a purist. I use computers all the time. But if I had my preference, I would have some of those boxes and I’d work on tape with a big Neve board.”
Hop Along guitarist Joe Reinhart produced and engineered the band’s debut album Bark Your Head Off, Dog, which was released earlier this year on Saddle Creek Records. Hop Along finished a headlining tour with a performance at Pitchfork OctFest in September before joining The Decemberists’ European tour.
Reinhart recommends buying each musician on your list a pair of Vater earplugs. “They come with a carrying case that fits effortlessly snug in the weed pocket of most jeans,” Reinhart points out. “Miraculously, I’ve had mine for seven years.”
On the spendy side, Reinhart wouldn’t mind a Neve BCM10/2 mixing console. “It has a vintage look and sound that meets modern workflow demands,” he says. “Nobody would be bummed to have this as the centerpiece of their studio or bedroom. Mom, if you’re reading this, I was a good boy this year. Mostly.”
Clyde Lawrence is one half of the brother-sister duo Lawrence. The pair wrote the songs on their debut release in their family home — hence the album title Living Room. Clyde has also had a career as a successful composer whose music has been used in commercial films such as Miss Congeniality(2000),Music and Lyrics(2007),The Rewrite(2014), and Landline(2017).
“One item that every artist or producer should have is a Universal Audio interface,” Clyde says of his more affordable gift. “Most of our music is recorded into a UAD Apollo. It sounds great and it allows you to tie into Universal Audio’s amazing network of plugins. It’s super-easy to use, and it can fit in a backpack. They just came out with a new version called Arrow, which is USB-powered so you can use it on-the-go without a power source.
“If budget and space aren’t a concern, I’d love to get a Roland V-Drums electronic drum kit,” Clyde continues. “Living Room combines live and digital elements, and being able to use a kit like this, rather than a standard sampling pad or a laptop, to record a performance of drum samples using human feel, would be awesome.”
Producer, songwriter, and musician Jack Splash has provided writing and production for scores of top-selling artists, including Alicia Keys, Kendrick Lamar, John Legend, Jennifer Hudson, and many more. Recently, Jack produced the new album by St. Paul and the Broken Bones, Young Sick Camellia, which combines classic soul with inventive synth sounds and effects.
For the budget-minded shopper, Jack recommends the Roland TR-8S drum machine. “I have an original 808, but I love this newly updated Roland drum machine because it gives you the classic sounds and vibe of the original TR-808 and 909. It also gives you the ability to import and customize your own drum sounds like you would do with a classic MPC. In essence, you get the unique workflow of a classic step sequencer drum machine but with the ability to import any wild sounds you want.”
His dream gift is a Barefoot Masterstack 12. “I’ve had my eyes — and ears — on these for quite some time. Their sound is impeccable. You can make amazing music on crappy monitors, but then, it’s also very nice to make magic on some breathtaking beauties like these!”