Hardware overwhelm: a girl’s guide to buying a new stage piano

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Hardware overwhelm: a girl's guide to buying a new stage piano • CharlotteBax.nl

Good morning my creative friends!

Last month I sold my monstrously heavy, ginormous Yamaha S90SE stage piano with a million features that I never used, to replace it with something simpler, and more importantly: lighter – a Yamaha P115B.

I don’t really know if it is because I am a woman, or just because I am “me”, but I always get a bit overwhelmed when I have to buy a new piece of hardware. Most equipment doesn’t come with practical, easy to use names but some kind of model number, what always seems to be a pretty random bunch of digits, but apparently makes perfect sense to the manufacturer.

This blog post is meant to be a guide to help you buy a new stage piano, but I guess you could use it for basically any piece of hardware you need!

1 – Why do you need something new?

First you want to make clear why you need a new piece of hardware. Is it because you don’t have this kind of gear yet, or does your old equipment need replacement? Are you dissatisfied with what you have now?

I really loved my Yamaha S90SE. It felt like a real piano and the piano samples that I used regularly sounded really good. The only problem was that the instrument was so incredibly heavy, that I couldn’t lift it on my own, let alone take it with me to play gigs! Plus it had a ton of features I never used, which was quite a waste.

2 – What specs are important to you?

Make a list of all the important characteristics of your instrument. Think of what you need based on the previous question (why you need something new) and what you need the instrument for.

For example, I needed it to be a light instrument for playing gigs, but I also wanted to use it at home for rehearsing AND as a MIDI controller for easy part recording. I needed it to have its own speakers, so I wouldn’t have to plug it into my audio interface to actually produce some sound, but it also needed to have L/R jack outputs, so I could rig it to whatever sound system available at a venue.

This is the list I came up with:

  • Light enough to handle on my own (max 15 kg)
  • Speakers
  • Jack outputs
  • 88 keys, weighted or hammer action
  • MIDI / USB
  • Input for sustain pedal
  • Needs to have a way to transpose by half steps

Don’t get scared by very detailed specs such as the wattage of the speakers (yeah it’s nice to know but I just need it to have its own speakers) or specs with difficult words that you weren’t specifically looking for. Usually if you don’t know a word, you weren’t looking for it 😉

3 – Ask around

Because different brands can have very different quality instruments, I recommend asking some piano-geeky friends what they would recommend based on your most important demands.

I asked a former teacher if he could recommend some stage piano that is light enough for me to handle, 88 keys, and with MIDI output. I also sent some links to instruments that were within my budget and that had the specs I needed.

This way I learned that Casio is more of a cheap brand for beginners with not really spectacular sounds and that Yamaha always has a great realistic piano sound. He sent me links to 2 instruments which might be right for me. TWO instruments. Much better than the overwhelming amount you find in webshops!

If you’re entirely on your own and don’t have geeky friends like this, don’t hesitate to email the customer service of some large webshop you will probably buy at! They are happy to help you.

4 – Check your specs

When you think you have collected some nice options, you just have to check the specs. Usually the specs ar listed in the webshop, but for some very specific things, just google for the instrument user manual and use the search function to look up what you need. For example the transposing function is not commonly listed in webshop specs, it’s not important to them. I had to look that one up in the user manual.

Sometimes really simple things such as audio outputs are not listed because they are so common, but it wise to always double check this in the manual! One of the two instruments I compared actually DIDN’T have two jack outputs for audio, only one jack for headphones. Of course I immediately crossed this one off the list! The other instrument had all the features I needed.

5 – Time to buy!

Well, at least you know what instrument you want now! Before buying, you could check if you can sell your old piece of gear online. It’s really great if selling your old instrument covers the costs of a new one.

Also make sure you are buying from a legit company, such as Thomann (or in The Netherlands Bax-Shop). This makes returning or repairing the instrument (if needed) so much easier.

Do you get overwhelmed by hardware specs and names? How do you deal with it?

5 things you need for recording your own ambient sounds

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5 things you need for recording your own ambient sounds • CharlotteBax.nl

Hey folks,

Lately I’ve really been thinking about recording ambient sounds and some more sound effects to create pretty sound kits for my shop. There are a lot of sound in my surrounding are that are really nice or special, if you just take the time to listen and appreciate them.

Maybe you found THE ultimate ambient background sound for a part in you game simply somewhere in your neighbourhood! But how to capture it? Field recording isn’t that hard! When you have the right gear, you’re halfway to getting a professional sound.

1 – Field recorder

First and foremost, you need something to record that lovely sound (duh!). Field recorders used to be quite bulky, but nowadays you can get wonderfully compact handheld recorders.

For example I’m using a Zoom H5 Handy Recorder, which comes with two very fine condenser mics, XY positioned, for great stereo recordings. But it also has two XLR / jack inputs, so you can use your own mics. When done recording, you simply remove the SD card so you can download the files onto your computer.

2 – Wookie condom

Yes. It’s really often referred to like that. Or fuzzy rat (or in Dutch “dooie kat” which means “dead cat”). Use this hairy windshield to minimize any noise from the wind blowing into your microphones. Do you know how it sounds when you’re calling someone who’s outside in a windy place, or cycling? (Yes we Dutchies call people when we’re on our bike…) Not pretty. absolutely not pretty at all.

3 – Remote

You don’t want to catch your own little noises while recording ambient sounds, right? Like breathing, or the sound of your clothes when you’re moving. Best to keep a little distance and start/stop your recording with a remote. Also comes in very handy when you’ve rigged your recorder in some really uncomfortable to reach place.

Take a picnic plaid as well, so you can sit down and relax while your recording is taking place. No chairs! They always creak. Even if you brough one that’s perfectly silent, suddenly it will squeak and creak.

 

4 – Tripod

You don’t want to really hold your recorder in your hand, even though it’s called handheld. Trust me, even something that small can get very heavy when you’re holding it for a few minutes still. And may I refer to those few sentences you just read? About not recording your own breathing, clothes moving, heartbeat, grumbling stomach, etc?

Make sure you have a proper standard to put your recorder on, so it stays still (and doesn’t get dirty). My Zoom H5 recorder fits on my camera tripod just perfect. Lucky me 🙂

5 – A quiet and uninterrupted time frame

You want to record that one sound, and that one sound ONLY. No birds. No stiletto footsteps from your sexy neighbour. No cars. No delivery guy at the door. No place is as quiet as a studio or a dead room, but you can still pick the best time to record! As captain Jack Sparrow says: Wait until the opportune moment!

I live at a student campus, so I have to carefully pick my timeframe. Neighbours may come home from a party at heretical times like 2 or even 3 AM. But almost all students hate getting up early. So I have a 4 to 6, maybe 7 AM timeframe. Very rock ‘n roll. 😉

That’s all you need for recording ambient sounds! If you have any questions, just ask! The comment section isn’t there for nothing 😉