The Electronic Musician Annual Rock Star Gift Guide - EMusician

The Electronic Musician Annual Rock Star Gift Guide

Making out your holiday shopping list? These music-makers have got you covered.
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If you’re searching for some gift ideas for the deserving artists and studio folks on your list—or if you’ve had a long, hard year and are ready to treat yourself to something nice—you’ve come to the right place. We’ve polled some of our favorite artists, producers, engineers, and DJs to round up their favorite gift ideas for you, our favorite music-makers. We’ve asked each person to suggest one affordable gift and one splurge, so no matter which tax bracket you’re in, there’s enough gear-spiration here to carry you through the new year.

Harrison Mills, ODESZA

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Clayton Knight and Harrison Mills are better known as the top-selling electronica/pop duo ODESZA, whose third album A Moment Apart (Counter Records/Ninja Tune) was at Number 3 on Billboard’s Hot 200 chart when we talked to Mills for this feature.

“On a limited budget, I would say the Shure MV88 iOS condenser microphone. The MV88 is our go-to when we’re on the road. It’s a lot more discreet and portable than a traditional field recording setup, and more sensitive and directional than a phone’s built-in mic.

“On a bigger budget, we recommend Native Instruments’ Kontrol S49 keyboard and Maschine. We both learned production on hardware samplers, so moving over to Maschine a few years ago was a natural progression for us. It’s now the hub of our studio, along with the S49 keyboard. All of the software synths on A Moment Apart were played with the old version of the S49. The new version has the same feel and a faster workflow.”

Mitchell Froom, keyboardist/producer

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Froom’s impressive credits include producing Crowded House’s debut, as well as his many collaborations with engineer Tchad Blake, such as albums by Suzanne Vega, Los Lobos, The Bangles, Elvis Costello, The Corrs, Paul McCartney, and Pearl Jam. Based in L.A., Froom continues to work with national and up-and-coming artists as a keyboardist and producer.

“For me, the best gift to give any musician would be Apogee’s One. I use it almost every day, even when I travel—very simple and high-quality.

“If money were no object, I’d give everyone a Teenage Engineering OP-1. If you’re a keyboard player interested in production/sounds, I think it separates the men from the boys.”

Mystery Skulls

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Luis Dubuc, aka Mystery Skulls, is an L.A.-based songwriter and vocalist whose album Forever went to Number 3 on Billboard’s Dance/Electronic Albums chart. His new Warner Bros. release is One of Us.

“Future Retro out of Austin makes a sequencer called the Zillion, and that would be my budget choice. When I’m writing, it lives on top of my Korg MS-20; I use it pretty much every day. It’s a modern-inspired reproduction of the Triadex [Muse] Sequencer from 1971. It uses shift registers to generate tones and, literally, you can make one zillion ideas with it.

“If money were no object, for myself I’d want an EMS Synthi. I look at them on eBay and Craigslist pretty much every day. You have to be in a different tax bracket to afford one, but I pine for those.”

CJ Vanston

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CJ Vanston is a Hollywood-based composer, producer, arranger, songwriter, and engineer who’s collaborated with artists ranging from Toto and Def Leppard to Prince, Ringo Starr, Barbra Streisand and Bob Seger. He has composed music for Christopher Guest’s films, including Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show, and Mascots, and he’s been musical director and keyboardist on tours with Tears for Fears, Joe Cocker, Tina Turner, and Spinal Tap. Vanston recently produced a new Toto album, recorded the Dalai Lama, and he is wrapping up a solo project for Spinal Tap’s Derek Smalls. Vanston went the extra mile for us, suggesting four gifts for musicians and production folks:

“One, a sound-triggered light show: Hang it from the ceiling. Clients think mixes sound better when this is on. It can make people dance, which is a good thing in my opinion.

“Two, a mini turntable with remote: Put the needle on your favorite passage of your favorite record, then switch it on and off with a wireless remote. Good for making a point to young musicians about what real music sounds like. For example, Me: ‘I don’t think the chorus is hitting hard enough. You’re supposed to be a rock band.’ Band member: “You don’t get our band, or you just don’t get rock ’n’ roll.” Me: [hits remote and “Whole Lotta Love” kicks in at the chorus. Band is embarrassed by how bad their songs sound now. Drop remote, walk out of room.] I credit this idea to my buddy Chris Lord-Alge.

“Three, an instant camera: It’s important to document all of the fabulous people who grace your studio, and create a wall to commemorate them. Unfortunately, we take photos with our iPhones and forget to print them out. That’s why I suggest a modern twist to a good, old-fashioned Polaroid. It’s also useful to embarrass people with, or just for plain, old blackmail. I like the new Fujifilm. Create a wall!

“Four, really expensive and important-looking monitors: I’d say get a pair of Lipinski L-707A Signature monitors. These things are in a class by themselves. You work so hard on your music, why not hear it the way it’s supposed to sound? And they’re only $17k. Enjoy your holidays and never forget how important music is to this world; it’s the best gift of all.”

Torres

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Torres, the alter ego of Brooklyn-based songwriter Mackenzie Scott, has received widespread critical acclaim for her first two albums; NPR’s Bob Boilen named Sprinter, her 2015 debut, one of the best records of that year. Her third album, Three Futures, produced by Rob Ellis (PJ Harvey), was released in September on 4AD.

Her affordable gift suggestion: “A Korg volca beats drum machine did real wonders for my songwriting process. It’s tiny and light, so you can take it anywhere, and its function can be as simplified or as involved as the user prefers. It also doesn’t necessitate recording the drum loop before you can hear it back and play or sing to it. I like to run it through headphones or a little amp to test lyrical and melodic ideas in real time because I can adjust the BPM while I’m trying to get a song structure down. It’s really user-friendly.”

Sky’s-the-limit gift idea: “I recently invested in an Electro-Harmonix POG2 Polyphonic Octave Generator pedal for my board, and it’s one of my favorite pieces of gear now. I use it to soften the attack on my guitar, and it saved me; before that I was just using the volume knob on my guitar to swell into individual notes. There’s also a really nice choral function that you can bring out crisply or tame so that it’s more felt rather than heard. I tend to choose the latter so that the effect doesn’t become too distracting.”

Tucker Martine

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Grammy-nominated producer and musician Tucker Martine has collaborated on projects with the likes of Neko Case, The Decemberists, Modest Mouse, Sufjan Stevens, My Morning Jacket, and Laura Veirs. We caught up with him at Flora Recording, his Portland-based studio, where he recently wrapped up sessions with First Aid Kit.

“The Solomon Mic LoFReQ sub microphone adds serious girth to any kick drum and is dead-simple to use,” he says. “This mic, a few inches from the outside head, paired with a dynamic mic on the inside of the drum, gets me there 99 percent of the time.”

“If money’s no object, a Roland Space Echo can make almost any sound more interesting and blend into a track better. I keep this nearby especially when tracking or mixing keyboards. If I had to get rid of 90 percent of my gear, this is one of the first things I’d keep.”

Tremaine Williams

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Tremaine Williams has touched music as a producer, engineer, songwriter, programmer and stage manager. In 2006, he founded Six7 Music production company in Los Angeles; his credits include Usher, Janet Jackson, 50 Cent, and Ledisi; and his television work includes Empire, Keeping Up with the Kardashians and The Real World. Williams is currently the keyboard tech/programmer on Bruno Mars’ 24K Magic tour, and he will be inducted into the Full Sail University Hall of Fame in February 2018.

“For an affordable gift for keyboard players, I’d recommend Roli Seaboard Rise, Roland Boutique Series, and Spectrasonics Keyscape. I know you asked for one, but these are all in the same price range and I use them all, especially when traveling. Keyscape sounds amazing and has all of the older keyboards and pianos that I love. The Boutique series has a variety of classic Roland keyboards, and now drum machines, but can fit in a backpack. The Roli is mind blowing, especially to a keyboard player. I was on the fence at first, but bending notes and controlling other parameters without taking your hands off the keys is epic and opens up a new world of possibilities regarding what you can do on stage or in the studio as a player.

Williams’ sky’s-the-limit gift? “A 1972 Fender Rhodes Suitcase 73, custom-modded, mahogany and gold. Price tag: $15,000.”

Conrad Korsch

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Korsch is a New York City-based multi-instrumentalist and producer, best known as the bassist and musical director/bandleader for Rod Stewart. He co-wrote and recorded several tracks for Stewart’s Platinum album Time.

“For the budget choice, I’d go for a large-diaphragm dynamic mic like the Beyerdynamic M88, Sennheiser e602II or e902. I always mike a [bass] amp in addition to running a DI, yet believe it or not I don’t have a large-diaphragm dynamic mic! I end up using large-diaphragm tube or non-tube condensers, but then have to move them away from the amp and flip the phase, etc. I always end up getting the sound I want, but I have a feeling it would be faster and simpler just throwing one of the mics I mentioned right up on the grille of the cabinet.

“For a pie-in-the-sky choice, I’d say a Neve 8816 summing mixer. I’ve been mixing in the box all along, but have been thinking about busing out stems to analog then back in for the stereo mix.”

Oak Felder, producer/composer

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Warren “Oak” Felder is half of the Pop & Oak songwriting and production duo. With partner Andrew “Pop” Wansel, Felder has contributed to blockbuster hits by Alessia Cara, Nicki Minaj, Kehlani, Alicia Keys, Busta Rhymes, Tamia, Usher, and more. A Grammy winner for Keys’ Girl on Fire and Usher’s “Good Kisser,” Felder also wrote and produced “How Far I’ll Go” with Cara for Disney’s Moana.

“This might not be low-budget, because this device is about $1,000, but it might be something that a serious aficionado needs to splurge on. It’s the VMS [Virtual Microphone System] by Slate Digital. It’s a flat-response mic and interface that also comes with a suite of plug-ins that allows you emulate the tone and sound of just about any microphone on the market. I used this on Demi Lovato’s single ‘Sorry Not Sorry’ to emulate a Telefunken 251 microphone and you cannot tell the difference.

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“My dream gift would be $50,000 toward room treatment and studio design. It’s at least as important as any electronic device. When I first moved into the house where I live in Atlanta, the room I had designated for my studio was just swallowing all my low end. It didn’t matter what speakers I put in there, it just didn’t kick. I tended to overcompensate for that, and when I listened in another studio or in my car, the bass was too loud. Your room can get between you and the speakers. It’s like wearing a pair of glasses that only show red.”

The Bloody Beetroots

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Italian electronic musician, producer, and masked DJ Sir Bob Cornelius Rifo is the mastermind behind Bloody Beetroots, which has composed for TV shows, commercials and video games and crafted remixes for the Chemical Brothers, Depeche Mode, The Refused, Peaches and Britney Spears. The Bloody Beetroots’ third studio album, The Great Electronic Swindle, was released in October on Last Gang.

Rifo is a big fan of the Electro-Harmonix Micro POG: “This is the guitar pedal I used the most on my new album; this pedal, combined with some fuzzy digital distortion, makes the sound massive, like an elephant, and solid, like reinforced concrete. I can easily say that’s my crazy stack in the final production process.”

His splurge gift would take your commute to the studio to the next level: “Some underestimate the ultimate power of listening to audio masters in the car. I’m a big fan of it. I sometimes ride for hours blasting my tunes as loud as I’m able, so I can analyze the details and correct the mistakes and spurious mixing. Call me insane, but I would like to have a supercharged Land Rover Defender V8, equipped with four subwoofers, three boom boxes, four amps and 13 speakers—all Sony Xplod—so the entire city can listen along and analyze my album masters with me.”

Michael Beinhorn

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Grammy-nominated producer, engineer and songwriter Michael Beinhorn has been making records for nearly four decades, with credits on iconic albums by The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Herbie Hancock, Soundgarden and Marilyn Manson. In 2015, he published Unlocking Creativity: A Producer’s Guide to Making Music and Art (Hal Leonard), which is dedicated to navigating the creative process of music production.

Beinhorn says he finds the most inspiration in gifts of books and music. “I think there’s a parallel between giving recording equipment as a gift to someone who works in music and giving one’s spouse a convection oven or a vacuum cleaner—unless it’s an 18-karat gold vacuum that can also time-travel.”

His book suggestions include Andrey Tarkovsky’s Sculpting in Time, Rollo May’s The Courage to Create, and Yamamote Tsunetomo’s The Hagakure. For music, Beinhorn says, “anything emotionally riveting or interesting makes a great gift for creative types.” His long list includes James Brown’s Star Time, Black Sabbath’s Master of Reality and the seven-record set Arturo Toscanini: Nine Beethoven Symphonies.

“And, if I was gonna splurge on a cost-is-no-object present for that special recording engineer or artist in my life, I’d get them a 12-day guided tour of Tibet or the island of Fernando De Noronha. Or an 18-karat gold vacuum cleaner that can time travel.”

Jeffery Salter, Banditos

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Salter plays lead guitar in Birmingham, Ala.-based, alt-rock band Banditos. The group’s latest Bloodshot Records release is the psychedelic rock ’n’ roots album Visionland.

“As an affordable gift, I would choose the Quartermaster QMX by The GigRig. Not every pedal plays well together, and doing the pedalboard tap dance isn’t conducive to live performance. The QMX gives you standard true-bypass loop capabilities while allowing you to stack or flip-flop effects: simple but extremely versatile for ever-changing/growing rigs.

“For a sky’s-the-limit gift, I would choose the new PreSonus StudioLive AVB 64Ai Mix System. I’ve been using the older compact StudioLive 16 for everything—practice, recording, live sound, and as a mobile live-session console. The PreSonus interface perfectly marries the analog workflow with digital capabilities in a mobile package. The 64Ai has unlimited flexibility with 64 channels and 25 buses, recallable motorized faders, and CAT5/FireWire routing.”

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Matt Rollings, keyboardist/producer

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Musician/producer Rollings performs regularly with top artists including Willie Nelson, Lyle Lovett, and Blues Traveler.

“If money was no object, I’d want a Rupert Neve Designs Shelford Channel strip. It’s all the goodness of classic Neve consoles and modules like the 1073 and 1081, but brand-new. It has a mic pre, EQ, compressor. He just keeps getting better.

“On the more affordable side, I’d pick the new Roland TR-08 Rhythm Composer. It’s a TR-808, with all the goodness of the original, but tons of groovy new features.”

Ryan Star, musician/producer/product developer

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Alternative rocker Ryan Star is also the co-founder of music tech startup Stationhead, which turns playlists into personal radio stations powered by collective listening. His most recent release is After the Elephant.

“On a budget, I am really down with the Roli Seaboard Block. I’d love to use it in a rock piano set with some cool sounds and loops from my phone.

“My dream buy would be the Kemper Profiler Power Rack. I played through it on my last tour in Sweden and I was blown away. It was the first time anything in the digital guitar world has blown my mind.”

Julian Decoret, Joon Moon

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French group Joon Moon—House producer Julien Decoret, drummer Raphael Chassin and American singer/songwriter Krystle Warren—combine retro aesthetics and politically conscious lyrics in an otherworldly blend of trip hop, soul, and jazz. Joon Moon’s debut album Moonshine Corner, was recorded in Studio 237, their Paris recording space, and released in September on Le Plan Recordings. Decoret offers his favorite studio gifts:

“When I used the Roland SH-09 for the first time, I was shocked by the power and capacity of this small monophonic synthesizer. It’s not really popular compared to the SH-101, but to be honest, I don’t understand why. Each time I use it in a studio session, it directly provides a great taste to the production. It has a very solid construction, which is good for using it onstage, as well. It’s really true analog, far more than what we get with a virtual instrument.

His sky’s-the-limit suggestion is the [Neumann] U47 FET: “One of the best microphones we have and use in our Studio 237. Record voices with it, and you’ll never forget the sound. You can also use it for kick drums, as we did on our Moonshine Corner album with the legendary Slingerland Radio King. Drums, horns, strings, and overheads are more than beautiful with this mic. The great thing is that you don’t have to spend your time on production to correct strange frequencies; everything sounds great, directly in the box. I recommend this incredible polyvalent microphone, which is actually identical to the original model.”

Prequell

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French composer Thomas Roussel has created music for prestigious brands Chanel, Dior, Kenzo, Michael Kors, Mugler, and Nike, and has composed, orchestrated, and arranged for electronic music icon Jeff Mills. His October debut, The Future Comes Before, was recorded at Abbey Road with the London Symphonic Orchestra and features Rae Morris, Claire Laffut, Fyfe, Shy Girls, and Cruel Youth.

An affordable gift: “I love the Biscuit by OTO, a filter, bit crusher, and multi-effect. All my sounds, basses, percussions, and beats went through this little box during the production of my album. It gives to the sound a warm dimension. The sound is more lush and dirty, too.”

If the sky is the limit: “anything that Michael Jackson used in a studio, for example the Shure SM7 microphone that Bruce Swedien used for all MJ’s vocals.”

Spencer Ludwig

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A former member of Capital Cities, artist Spencer Ludwig is a trumpeter, singer and producer. His song “Diggy” is featured in the upcoming video game Just Dance 2018. His latest single, “Got Me Like,” was released on Warner Bros. Records in September.

“One of the best gifts to give or to get on a budget would be a Universal Audio Apollo Twin interface. The Apollo has basically everything you need to produce great sounding records and is compact enough to travel with, too.

“My high-end choice would be a vintage Telefunken U47 mic. Everything sounds better on that mic.”